• Tami McCandlish

I'm No Anti-Bullying Speaker

I had just spoken to 100 students and left thirty of them in tears. As I sat in my car reflecting upon their faces, shielded by their hands, heads buried in friends’ shoulders, I tried to convince myself things went well. Effective speakers evoke emotion. But something was off. I hadn’t come to do what I was supposed to do.

I never wanted to become an anti-bullying speaker or speak only in schools, but it seemed like the most obvious path, so that's where I started. I assured thousands of students they weren't alone and that because I overcame, they could too. Unlike popular speakers, I wasn't some self-reliant superhero who survived bullying because I looked inward, but students wouldn't know from the way I told my story. I thought the best way to relate to them was to focus on the details and sprinkle faith in at the end. It seemed to please the schools, and they invited me back. But the world’s definition of bullying was changing, and the longer I worked in the educational system, the more I felt the establishment resist the heart of my story.

“I know your story is faith-based, but I want to make sure you don’t say Jesus,” said one counselor who invited me to speak at her school.

When I sought funding to run a school’s anti-bullying program, the president of a children’s non-profit said, “This isn’t faith-based, is it? That would be a dealbreaker. Faith doesn’t belong in schools.”

The people who made these statements didn't seem to consider how censoring my story and work contradicted the anti-bullying efforts they supported. I didn't deny the effectiveness of nonspiritual programs, so why would they refuse my message because it was rooted in the love of Christ? That fired me up, and whenever I get fired up, I tend to dig in harder.

But as I sat in that school parking lot, thinking of the kids I had just further scarred, everything that caused me not to identify with being an anti-bullying speaker added up and helped me see my message was out of alignment. I realized I approached bullying differently than most speakers and that implementing systematic change was a monumental task way over my head. I didn’t know how to end bullying, and it wasn’t my mission to figure it out. I was just a girl with a story who wanted everyone to know the transformational power of Jesus to heal their hurt. If being an anti-bullying speaker meant leaving God out, I wanted out. So rather than dig in, I withdrew from the movement to overhaul my whole perspective.

I’m glad I did. My story is better for it.

I'd love to live in a world where no one was mean, but, unfortunately, mean happens. And when it does, when it leaves people affected beyond school, I'll be here to meet them in their pain, to show them the love of Jesus, who saves us when we think we aren’t worth saving. He healed my wounds, provided me stability, and helped me move forward in forgiveness and love. Why would I keep that to myself when it could help others? It's a message people deserve to hear, and each person has the right to accept or dismiss. So wherever the Lord calls me to speak, whether at a school, church, conference, on television, or through the Internet, I'll acknowledge the issue without limiting the best solution I know how to share, and I pray it will reach people more powerfully than it did before.

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