Thursday, February 19, 2009

Overflow of the Heart



(This picture was taken some time during high school--try not to laugh too hard, it was the year of the hat...OK, not really, but it was the year for leggings and bulky sweaters.)

(Due to a copy editing deadline, I will be reposting some of my older pieces for the next few days. This story is special to me, because it is the first story I wrote when I decided to begin writing again. I think that the subject matter (our words) is one to which all can relate. Although I do discuss some painful high school memories in this story, I'd like to stress that I harbor no old wounds. I've learned so much from those experiences and share only to offer comfort to others and assess how I have grown. It is all part of the journey to becoming.)

The burst of cool air was the only refreshment I felt when entering the auditorium. Anxiety over which puce plastic chair to choose overwhelmed me. I was careful not to sit near the “in crowd,” as I knew I was not welcomed. It was also important for me to not sit anywhere I could be spotted by class comedians, “Clown-Around Cal” and “Sarcastic Sam” (names changed to protect the guilty), for I was one of their favorite targets. I resigned myself to a chair close to the back of the room and near an aisle. If a quick escape needed to be made, I was sure to be ready.

“Today is the first day of the rest of your lives and when you are old, you’ll remember the next four years as your days of glory,” said high school guidance counselor Mr. D.

My life has got to get better than this, I thought as I crossed my legs and slumped forward, hoping not to be noticed.

Growing up in a small Northern town, I attended 13 years of school with the same kids. Those who shared crayons and blocks with me in Kindergarten became those who hurled insults and food at me from the fourth-grade until close to graduation. I identified with underdog characters in Hollywood coming of age movies like “Lucas,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Pretty in Pink,” and “Never Been Kissed.” You know the movie, there’s always at least one kid who stands out like a blue velvet tuxedo complete with ruffled shirt. In my high school, I was one of those kids. Only for me, there was no day of redemption. No tearful apologies, no dream date to the prom, no first kiss after a football game, and no convicting speeches given in the cafeteria that ended with thunderous applause and a renewed spirit of unity.

For years, I spent most of my time trying to fix myself. I would wonder what was wrong with me and then go to extremes to amputate the culprit. I stopped wearing my glasses and I lost more and more weight until my size one jeans were loose around my waist. Since trying hard not to be noticed didn’t stop the verbal barrage, I tried to earn approval by excelling. I worked hard in school and earned leadership positions in various student activities. I joined the drama team and co-starred in plays. I even volunteered to serve on several outreach projects, after all, how could “they” hate someone who is good to others, I reasoned. I even tried to bargain to those who bullied with their lips; for exchange of just one day free of scorn I would do their English homework or clean their lockers.

Despite my efforts, daydreams, prayers, and pleas, the teasing didn’t end, not even for a day, not even for an hour. Books were still thrown off my desk, signs that read “I’m a dork” were taped to my back, feet continued to trip me as I walked to the front of the classroom, and worst of all, taunts echoed in my ears and in my heart.

I graduated high school with two goals: Number one: Get as far away from that town as possible; and, number two, find out what was wrong with me.

My life took a turn for the better at the Christian college I attended. It was there when the Lord provided me with friendships that last still to this day. Friendships that have drawn me closer to understanding the character and love of Jesus.

After college graduation, I moved to Orlando, Florida to pursue a career in public relations. This is a move that can be credited only to the grace and love of God. It was in Orlando where I continued to blossom into the woman God created me to be. There were many moments that can be written about, but one, very simple moment had a significant impact on my future.

My roommate and I were hosting a gathering of church friends and the subject of high school reunions was broached as several yearbooks were passed around. I mentioned that my fifth-year reunion was just around the corner and I had no intention of returning for the festivities. When asked to explain my strong feelings about skipping the reunion, I briefly shared that I was the local outcast.

My friend Eric, raised his eyebrow and incredulously questions “You?” “Kids made fun of you?” When I confirmed his suspicion, I braced myself for his next questions. Here it comes, I thought, he’s going to ask me what was wrong with me back then. When Eric started his question, I cringed, because it seemed like he was going where I thought he would go…only he didn’t. Instead, he shook his head and emphatically spat out the words “What was wrong with THEM?”

I gasped and it took every ounce of pride I had to refrain from leaping into Eric’s arms and hugging his Alabama neck. It was then on the living room floor of my first adult home when the truth behind the ugliness of high school finally pierced my heart. There wasn’t anything wrong with me. Sure, I had gone through a gawky phase. I walked funny in elementary school, and I made my share of social slips; but I did nothing to warrant the harassment I received. There was nothing wrong with me. There was, however, something wrong inside the hearts of my tormentors. Whether it was fear, insecurities, anger, grief, or pride, there was something wrong in their lives that enabled or propelled them to wound another individual.

It hurts to admit this, but there have been many times in my life when my words were no cleaner than the words spoken to me by my high school nemeses. Matthew 12:34 (NIV) states “For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”

So every time I speak a harsh word to my husband in the heat of an argument, every time I let a sarcastic comment slip out in a moment of frustration, every time I bellow in anger in the presence of my young daughter, in those moments there is something wrong with me, because there is something wrong with my heart. Regardless of how provoked or justified I may feel, I am still responsible for my own words. Words that I know are not easily forgotten.

Matthew 12:33-36 - New Living Translation

A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad. You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak.




16 comments:

Denise said...

Awesome my friend, thanks for sharing.

Paula said...

This is beautiful. I'm glad you posted it.

Liz said...

This was great! I can so relate to the picking and torture too. I dealt with a lot of it in elementary school. Thanks for sharing.

Beth said...

Wow! Awesome post. I think if we went to school together, we would have been great friends! I can relate entirely to being teased and picked on in school, and yet I also relate to letting words slip out that shouldn't be said. Very convicting!

Tara said...

Thank you so much for posting this - so beautiful and I can relate so much. SO much.

graceunbound said...

Wow. Total 'a-ha!' moment for me. All those times of trying to re-invent myself and really there was nothing wrong with ME all along.

Lois Lane II said...

How very, very true. Thank you for sharing this! I was always the dork in high school (though I don't think I had as bad of a time as you), and it was really in college that I realized, "Hey, I'm okay. Nothing's wrong with me." But I love those verses. Thanks!

MOMSWEB said...

The last paragraph hit home with me as I posted just this morning about being my husband's GOOD thing! Bless you for blessing me!

Jenn said...

I can't even begin to imagine how you must have felt during your high school years. Thanks for sharing this time of your life with us. I'm so glad you realized that you are wonderfully made by our Lord and that He loves you for who He made you to be.

sister sheri said...

I'm so glad you posted this... I am sure it is going to touch a lot of lives!

Southern Gal said...

I haven't been to your blog in a while. I'm sure the Lord led me here today. Your story echos some of my own. Never a part, always right outside whatever was happening. Only difference is I still live in the same town. I still see the same people. And I pray that one day the Lord will open their eyes as they look down their noses at me in the grocery store or high school events that I attend for my son. One day they will know that God looks on the inside, not on the amount of money you make, the clothes you wear or where you live. I struggle with that, "Is it me?" stuff sometimes. When I really know the answer. You stated it beautifully. Thank you.

Melissa said...

You have a wonderful way of touching the hearts of many.

Becca~TimeWellSpent said...

Oh, you just about broke my heart with this post! Kids are so cruel and heartless sometimes. I have no doubt this not only makes you a more compassionate person but a really good mother who teaches her young girls to think about the feelings of others. The Lord works for good even the bad things that happen.

kevin said...

I am a new blogger, and you are my first following one, I like your posts which lead me to another kind, patient, conscious world, for sure. Thank you for sharing.

Rachel said...

This post moved me to tears. It was like reading a page out of my own life. Thank you!

Gretchen said...

What a powerful post, Angela. Thank God for all the crummy days, right, so we can see them for what they were. So nice to have those blinders removed. Bless Eric's heart, too. God used his mouth in a mighty way.

xxxooogretchen

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