When I was in elementary school, I was bullied by an older, bigger girl from 1st to 4th grade. Back in those days, it was considered “kids being kids” and complaining did no good. I endured regular abuse from the bus stop to the playground to the classroom. I lived life in a constant state of anxiety and fear but I learned to survive by keeping a low profile. It was a real struggle to get the balance right because I innately craved attention and praise. While I wanted to raise my hand in class and play rambunctiously on the playground, I didn’t want to suffer the consequences of drawing the attention of my bully.
I was finally free of her grip when she didn’t show up one day in the 4th grade. Apparently, her family moved and she transferred to a new school. School remained a challenge because there were still girls in her old “gang” who didn’t like me, but they didn’t torment me the way she did. I slowly started coming out of my shell.
In the part of Arizona where I’m from, we have something called Rodeo Day in February. The rodeo comes to town and kids get two days off from school. Our rodeo parade, La Fiesta de los Vaqueros, is the largest non-motorized parade in the country and has been held each year since 1925. It’s a big deal around here and something kids look forward to. To mark the occasion my 4th grade year, the school had a contest where all the kids could submit a menu for lunch that would be served to the entire school on Rodeo Day. The menu I submitted was:
I had no idea what ambrosia was made from but it sounded impressive. We had just learned about Greek mythology in class and apparently, ambrosia was the food of the gods. When it was announced that I won the contest, I was so excited! My bully used to eat the best parts of my lunch, leaving me with the soggy vegetables, so with her gone I was certain it would be the best lunch ever.
When the day came for the school to eat my Rodeo Day meal, I was thrilled to find that it was being served family style. Big bowls of fried chicken, green beans and mashed potatoes were lined down the middle of the cafeteria tables so that we could serve ourselves. I couldn’t wait to see how the lunch ladies interpreted my ambrosia. It turned out to be canned fruit cocktail smothered in yummy whipped cream. Food of the gods indeed!
A few days later, I was called out of class to go to the cafeteria. The cafeteria manager wanted to see me. Her name was Margie and she had a quiet confidence that instantly made me trust her. She congratulated me on submitting the winning menu for Rodeo Day and told me that everyone really enjoyed the ambrosia. I couldn’t ever remember feeling so proud. It felt so good knowing that no one could take the moment away from me. She handed me a little wrapped box and I opened it and found a small gold cross necklace and stud earrings with my birthstone. Suddenly, I deflated. My ears weren’t pierced and I wasn’t Catholic. My bully had told me that I couldn’t believe in Jesus unless I was Catholic and I thought that meant I couldn’t wear the necklace. I thanked her anyway and went back to class, disappointed that my bully had managed to ruin my Rodeo Day success after all.
Now, as a grown-up, I see it differently. I see it as God showing up in my life even when I didn’t think that I was allowed to believe in God. I see it as another sign that I was loved and protected. The cross disappeared sometime in the last 34 years but I’ll never forget how God used Margie to reach out to me. I’ll always appreciate the time she took to find out when my birthday was so that she could give me something uniquely special. The belief that only certain people were worthy of following Christ stayed with me up until the moment I chose to follow Him myself. I became a Christian despite the surety that I wouldn’t be accepted, completely missing the point that we’re all broken in our own way.
When I look back now, I see that there were a lot of signs like that. Little nudges that kept me from losing hope completely. God has never given up on me even when I’ve come close to giving up on myself. The real beauty is in the way we can all be used as vessels to deliver hope to someone else.