Back when my only friend was God

November 15, 2005    By: Geoff J @ 11:35 pm   Category: Life,Personal Revelation,Scriptures

The discussion at Rebecca’s post on Bullying over at FMH reminded of my darkest days… Middle School.

To understand my tale you’ll need some background info (also see this post). My parents were both raised in Southern California and converted to the church in the late 60s (thanks to tracting no less). They had one son at the time and I was born a few years later. We moved to Southern Oregon in the 70s and four more children were born that decade. Then in the late 70s my mom suddenly had a massive stroke. We survived and she is healthy (though somewhat disabled) to this day, but you can imagine what a challenge it would be for a family with six children, five under the age of ten, to basically lose mom for a few years while she tried to learn how to walk and talk all over again. By the early 80s mom was recovering pretty well, though she remains largely paralyzed on her right side. My parents decided it was time to move back home to live by family again. We loaded up the truck and moved to San Diego.

That’s when my trouble started.

I was a popular enough sixth grader in Oregon. Life was pretty good I thought. I felt pretty good about myself. But a series of unfortunate circumstances ended that nice childhood bubble for me. First I got quite chubby as a 12 year old. I’ve never been chubby since but as a seventh grader I was. On top of that, I discovered we were poor! I never thought that in Oregon because everyone else was about like us. But in San Diego we were relatively poor – especially with dad trying to get a new business off the ground. Further, I had an Oregon sense of fashion which as it turned out could not have been dorkier. Combine that with the fact that I was a bit of a “pretty” kid, with naturally red lips and what some people at the time told me were “cow eyes”.

Ok, do you get the picture? On the first day of seventh grade in cool San Diego, a chubby, androgynous-lookin’ poor kid from Oregon with severely dorky clothes shows up on the scene. Needless to say I was an obvious and irresistible target for bullies.

Not that I was constantly picked on. I found some folks that were nice to me. But at some point in my time at that Middle School I became the favored target of a flunked-several-times kid named Mike. I don’t remember much other than the fact that he was post-pubescent and had a few cronies that followed him around. I do remember that I had PE with these guys. Among the indignities I suffered was getting my shirt ripped down the middle (especially humiliating to a chubby kid), being ridiculed for the fake Nike shoes I wore (donated by a charitable ward member), and having a big nasty wad of Mike’s chewing tobacco spit on my back (how did he manage to chew tobacco in school?)

Over time I became despondent. I had nowhere to turn. My mom was still trying to recover — I was just glad she knew my name again. My older brother was 18 and stayed in Oregon. My dad was trying to start a new business and keep our family together – I didn’t dare burden him more. What was I to do?

I remember quietly weeping in despair in my room the night after I had the chewing tobacco spit on me. In my mind’s eye I see that pathetic Mormon boy; that deacon feeling there was no one on earth to protect him. I see myself kneeling that night and begging God to help me… to rescue me. I also remember how it felt that night when I knew that I had “broken through” and God was at least listening. Just knowing he heard me was enough to keep me going.

The next day I reluctantly went to school again. I didn’t encounter Mike that day so I counted it a blessing. It wasn’t until we were waiting in line to get on the bus for home that I heard the news: Mike had been expelled from school that day.

Yep, you heard me right. It was the day after.

God got Mike expelled from my school… for me.

And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive. (Matt 21: 22)

I’m not going to say that Middle School was a breeze thereafter but I do know one thing – God is a very useful friend to have. I later learned something of the Abrahamic covenant that applied to my story:

And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee (Abr. 2:11)

Heirs of the Abrahamic covenant indeed…

33 Comments »

  1. Wow, great post, Geoff.

    Comment by NFlanders — November 16, 2005 @ 12:21 am

  2. This is a wonderful post, Geoff! And what a valuable lesson to learn at such an early age. Although, after seeing that picture of you as a Ninja, it’s difficult for me to imagine you as a chubby 12 year old.

    Comment by Elisabeth — November 16, 2005 @ 5:15 am

  3. Thanks, Geoff – I really like this post. My guess is that your experience then has now made you more kind to people who don’t quite fit in.

    Do you still retain your Oregon fashion sense? Or maybe your wife would be the one to ask about that!

    Comment by Mark IV — November 16, 2005 @ 7:03 am

  4. I hope that Mike was not only expelled, but referred to the proper authorities and incarcerated in a proper juvenile detention facility, where people like Mike belong.

    Comment by Jordan — November 16, 2005 @ 7:03 am

  5. I was just saying the other day that although I have no desire to homeschool, I would in an instant during the middle school years if my daughters had the time I had. By high school, I think most of the kids had kind of settled down, but seventh grade was hell for me. I’m glad you came out of it okay. Cool story.

    I wonder if Mike has a criminal record now? Have you googled him?

    Comment by Allison — November 16, 2005 @ 7:26 am

  6. To answer a few questions –

    Regarding my chubbiness: I think I my body might have been preparing for the high school growth spurt. Either that or I was eating to much. ;-)

    Yes, this experience has given me a little bit of a Zorro complex I think (protect and weak and defend the defenseless and all). Or maybe it is a Three Amigos complex…

    Regarding fashion sense: Actually, the experience made me become acutely aware of the positive and negative effect fashion choices can have on the perception people have of you. It led to me having a discerning sense of fashion early on I think.

    Regarding Mike’s fate: He was sent to another school in the district where he finished the school year. We were in high school together and even played on the same JV football team later. I ended up being a couple of inches taller than him. Unsurprisingly, he was a sort of sad case himself. Whereas I prospered and flourished later in High School he sort of just faded away. Poor and academically challenged; I don’t think he made it to our graduation. I hope he got some kind of diploma though — I think he was dealt a rough hand in life. Rather than feeling animosity for him I feel nothing but pity and concern for him now.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 16, 2005 @ 8:47 am

  7. That’s so nice and Christ-like of you, Geoff.

    Mike’s fate shows what is wrong with the system. He was sent to another school in your district! He should have been banned from attending any school in the area, and imprisoned in a juvenile facility.

    And I am kind of shocked that after such an experience you would go on to play football. I hope your experiences taught you not to take advantage of others because of your size and your athletic abilities. My experience has taught me that as far as bullying goes, high school football players are the worst offenders of all.

    Comment by Jordan — November 16, 2005 @ 8:53 am

  8. I might print this out and use it for a FHE, thanks Geoff.

    Comment by Susan M — November 16, 2005 @ 8:54 am

  9. Geoff:

    You know, come to think of it, I am not really sure this experience did teach you a lesson. I was reading over at the “snarkernacle” recently (and no, I am NOT that person), and noticed that you called him/her a “pencil-necked geek” just because he/she expressed a distaste for football.

    The reason I remember it is because the assumption that anyone who hates football must be a “pencil-necked geek” really bothered me. That and the fact that “pencil-necked geek” is a pretty negative name that nobody likes to be called, and language like that is usually (at least in my mind) associated with bullies.

    Comment by Jordan — November 16, 2005 @ 9:00 am

  10. As far as Geoff’s fashion sense goes, it is alive and well. I’m the one in the relationship who is being told to go back and change! He was telling the truth when he said he has nice rosy red lips too.

    I love that story, thanks for sharin’!

    PS. I made it safely to Washington for anyone who was wondering.

    Comment by kristen j — November 16, 2005 @ 9:07 am

  11. Ha! Well at 6’0″ and 160 I wasn’t exactly a hulking high school kid, Jordan. I was just a receiver/cornerback on the JV team. I became big enough and well-liked enough to be able to try to lift some socially weak kids at times though. I discovered that the older we got the less bullying was an issue though (at least overt bullying). It seemed to peak in seventh and eigth grade and subside from there. I also think it is unfair to focus on someone because of the sport they choose to play (football in this case.) And I don’t think Mike did enough to me to go to “juvie” either. I said it over at that other thread but I have run into much more severe bullies in the business world. My experiences early on with Mike prepared me to deal with the adult bullies later. Mike was just a kid that flunked a few grades and got kicked around a lot in life. I don’t find it surprising that he thought kicking others around was the appropriate way to act.

    Susan – Thanks. I’m flattered!

    Comment by Geoff J — November 16, 2005 @ 9:09 am

  12. Great story! I too may use this for a FHE.

    Comment by britain — November 16, 2005 @ 9:15 am

  13. Re: “pencil-necked-geek”

    Lol!

    Don’t read too much into that Snarkernacle comment, Jordan. I have a pretty good idea who the snarker is and I suspect I am the pencil-necked-geek of the two of us. I was actually borrowing that line from Aaron B. Cox in his exchange with Christian Cardall (the character and the author). I’ve never used that term before in my life. I was just ribbing the snarker back for calling my post at BT “banal”.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 16, 2005 @ 9:16 am

  14. Ok. Sorry.

    FWIW, It bothered me when “Aaron” said it way back then too.

    Comment by Jordan — November 16, 2005 @ 9:18 am

  15. No worries Jordan.

    But I do have a post where I confess to some bullying a few years before the experience I told here. I called it The Strong and the Weak. These two experiences in tandem have shaped my view on this bullying subject to a large extent. Having been on both sides of the equation I feel I can “hate the sin but not the sinner” on this subject.

    The problem I have with the rather extreme measures you are advocating is that I get the feeling you would have thrown me in juvie for my childhood act of meanness too… (Let me know if that is true when you read that post)

    Comment by Geoff J — November 16, 2005 @ 9:31 am

  16. I believe that boys are much, much more fragile than girls. Girls can cry. Girls can be bullied without their femininity being destroyed.

    I’m not minimizing the pain girls feel, I just feel that it’s harder for boys. Especially in middle school.

    Comment by annegb — November 16, 2005 @ 9:40 am

  17. Geoff:

    Naaa- that was not a physical offense against the person and probably would not rise to a crime under any scheme. Though under the tort scheme I envision, which would make it easier for the victims of bullying to sue, the boy would probably have been able to sue your parents for intentional infliction of emotional distress. If the parents *know* they might be liable for lots of money, then they may take a more active role in preventing such things from happening.

    It is a sad story though. And the really hard thing to deal with is that kids, probably even my own at some point, do those sorts of mean things. Which is why I have real trouble with the admonition that we should be like children, who are often pretty rotten to each other.

    But no worries- in the land of Jordan you would not have been in Juvenile Detention or “juvie”.

    Comment by Jordan — November 16, 2005 @ 10:18 am

  18. Well the overall point I want to make clear is that I count the entire experience a major blessing in my life — as awful and painful as it was at the time. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

    In the day of their peace they esteemed lightly my counsel; but, in the day of their trouble, of necessity they feel after me. (D&C 101:8)

    And thus we see that except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions, yea, except he doth visit them with death and with terror, and with famine and with all manner of pestilence, they will not remember him… For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. (Hel. 12:3,6)

    And now when Alma heard this, he turned him about, his face immediately towards him, and he beheld with great joy; for he beheld that their afflictions had truly humbled them, and that they were in a preparation to hear the word. (Alma 32:6)

    Comment by Geoff J — November 16, 2005 @ 11:36 am

  19. One of the things that I regret about my days in elementary school and junior high was that I didn’t have the courage to befriend and stick up for kids that were bullied. I was sensitive enough to feel deeply sad for them, but I didn’t have enough self-esteem or courage to stick my neck out for their sake. I’m sorry, Geoff, that kids like me who knew how bad you felt and wished that the bullies would just stop didn’t do anything. We could have made it easier on you.

    I was sensitive to the feelings of the bullied because I was kind of bullied by my best friend and my big brother. I was poor and somewhat chubby (from 7th to 10th grade) and my friend teased me mercilessly about everything. My Payless shoes shoes were an endless source of material for him. My brother wasn’t particularly mean, I don’t think. He teased me a lot, though, and I hated the feeling of being powerless against him. I was lucky to have my mean friend, though, because associating with him raised my status enough that I never became a general target. He wasn’t mean to other kids to their face, so I wasn’t a bully crony. I guess I can be proud of that. But I don’t know if I would have found it in me to stand up to him if he had bullied others.

    You know, if I wasn’t around as a release for my friend’s bully tendencies, maybe he would have needed to exert his bully energy on other kids to make himself feel big. So maybe I did my small part.

    Comment by Tom — November 17, 2005 @ 1:16 pm

  20. Well, I think the experience was a great blessing for me because I fear I had potential to be quite a bully (see the earlier post) and being on the receiving end awoke the empathetic/sympathetic and compassionate sides of me. Even so, my younger brother(s?) had a lot of lingering resentment for me as young adults for my real and/or perceived unkindness (or at least lack of gentleness) at times anyway.

    An interesting factor that we don’t talk a lot about in bullying situations is that there are often three parties: The bully, the bullied person/ victim, and the bystanders. We are probably in the role of bystanders most often and how we choose to act when we witness bullying is an important question (as you mention).

    Comment by Geoff J — November 17, 2005 @ 1:37 pm

  21. Oh man Geoff, Geoff, Geoff.Obviously you were’nt humbled enough by this experience.

    [Followed by long attack against the evil Geoff J. based on previous encounters at the Thang - Editor]

    Comment by chris — November 17, 2005 @ 11:00 pm

  22. Chris, Two words: Paragraphs, please.

    You lost me back in the middle, but I sense you are irritated at Geoff. There are several Geoffs and they all spell their name the same way and I’m not sure who ever I’m talking to. Perhaps you could say, “Geoff, the linoleum savant” or “Geoff, the published author” You get my drift. I frankly wish everybody would remind who you are, my brain cells are dying quickly and I forget who I’m fighting with. But not Geoff. I’m pretty sure I never cussed at anybody named Geoff.

    I haven’t wanted to talk about this because I get all weepy and ridiculously depressed, but Tom reminded me of something. This could be more advice to help your kids with bullies.

    My James came home one day in the seventh grade and insisted that he would never go back to school until he had some other pants than the Sears Toughskins I had bought him all his life. He said the kids were making fun of him. I was sort of beside myself, I mean, we were robbing Peter to pay Paul and Mary those days. But I took him and bought him those pants.

    Now he’s dead, a suicide, and I wonder what he must have gone through and I torture myself with why in the hell didn’t I buy him 501′s in kindergarten. These things haunt me. Good thing I’m an onery gut, huh? Nobody get maudlin.

    Now I don’t think we should buy our kids way out of being a target, but Victor Kline in his book, which I referred to on the other blog, advises us to try to avoid things that would make our kids a target. That, in my opinion, is good advice. Kids tend to pick on the fat, the skinny, the different. Dr. Kline puts it so much better than I did, and I’m sorry for those of you who went through it, but if there’s some small thing, like a pair of Wrangler jeans, that can help your kid feel better, hock the house and do it.

    You guys, you want to know what not to raising your kid, I’m your middle aged woman.

    Comment by annegb — November 18, 2005 @ 1:56 am

  23. Geoff, again excellent post, as was rusty’s at nine moons. The important part of what you have said cannot be understated. When we go to the Lord and seek to do His will we are blessed. In every encounter, in a negative setting, if we have the understanding of the Abrahmic covenant it will help us to act instead of react. Just knowing He loves us and will protect us is enough to turn the other cheek, and walk away. Sometimes satisfaction comes in just knowing the Lord has heard your prayers.

    Comment by chronicler — November 18, 2005 @ 9:43 am

  24. Chronicler- I don’t believe that.

    Comment by Jordan — November 18, 2005 @ 10:07 am

  25. annegb – Good advice. I actually think my problems had as much to do with my Mom’s stroke as anything else. Had she not been incapacitated I might have had more fashion and diet/fitness guidance, etc. I am not really worried about my kids being bullied, or being bullies for that matter. I am more worried that about the possibility of them not standing up for the weak and bullied around them. We do talk about that quite often when they describe bullying they see with other kids. I tell them to either find an adult or speak up in defense of the victim (while avoiding becoming targets themselves.) These same principles apply in adult settings too though I think.

    Anyway, I think your advice to help our kids avoid being targets really is solid. But as you mentioned, sometimes the circumstances of parents’ lives make that pretty difficult.

    chronicler – Despite Jordan’s disagreement, I appreciate you noticing that spiritual point of this post too. Bullying happens in our fallen world. But communication with God happens too. We can’t always control when we will be bullied but we can control our communication levels with God (at least the outbound portion). I think that one of the best parts of our Mormonism is the Gift of the Holy Ghost. If we don’t use it we are wasting our most useful gift. I believe that attempting to deal with all of these kinds of problems without relying on God as well is a variation on “relying on the arm of flesh”.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 18, 2005 @ 10:16 am

  26. You know I think a lot of us think this goes away once we’re adults but it really doesn’t.

    One time I was standing by the bus stop with my kids and these two girls were teasing another little girl (a younger sister of one of the mean girls)mercilessly. All of the other parents were just watching this take place and finally I walked up to the little girl and said, “Do you know these girls? Are you ok?”

    “Yes, she’s my sister,” she said pointing to the tall one.

    I looked at the sister and said, “Nice big sister.” The older girls walked away and I never saw them teasing her at the bus stop again. Also anytime I see some goofball kid throwing rocks or beating on another kid I always make them stop.

    I think a lot of people are just thinking it’s none of their business.

    Comment by kristen j — November 18, 2005 @ 7:37 pm

  27. Jordan I don’t understand your comment. Exactly what don’t you believe?

    Geoff, i have had far too many times been the opposed one to deny that Father hears our prayers. I will not go into a diatribe on personal experiences of injustice however, I will say I know he hears and exacts His will necessarily. May not be my will always, but I still learn from each experience.

    Comment by chronicler — November 19, 2005 @ 7:31 pm

  28. kristen, I’ve had similar experiences. I was in a parking lot at a shopping mall and a bunch of boys were ganging up on another boy – harassing him, taking his stuff, throwing down his backpack, etc. The elementary teacher in me got fired up and I walked over and demanded to know what was going on. I yelled at the boys and told them to get out of there. I stayed with the other kid until the others were gone and I asked if he was okay. He said he was and left. I hope my actions didn’t make it worse for him later. I think if more grown-ups just stood up to kids, we’d be better off. Now that I have my own kids though, my protective instincts might prevent me from getting involved for fear the bully-kids might hurt my own children.

    Comment by meems — November 20, 2005 @ 2:13 am

  29. Chronicler: OK. I will be more specific.

    Geoff, again excellent post, as was rusty’s at nine moons.

    I believe and agree with this.

    When we go to the Lord and seek to do His will we are blessed.

    I have trouble believing this lately.

    In every encounter, in a negative setting, if we have the understanding of the Abrahmic covenant it will help us to act instead of react.

    I don’t believe this lately.

    Sometimes satisfaction comes in just knowing the Lord has heard your prayers.

    I don’t believe this lately.

    Just knowing He loves us and will protect us is enough to turn the other cheek, and walk away.

    I don’t believe this lately.

    Comment by Jordan — November 21, 2005 @ 7:52 am

  30. So Jordan, what has shaken your faith? I haven’t always had complete faith that this happens and there ahve been a few times I really questioned if i was significant enough to participate in the promise, however, when evaluating the large picture versus the small interchanges, the promise has always been fulfilled.

    So again I ask, what’s happening with you that has pulled you off center? (Not trying to sound like a pollyanna at all)

    Comment by chronicler — November 21, 2005 @ 9:49 am

  31. Chronicler:

    It’s been a struggle for me lately. But I have already detracted too much from GJ’s post, which actually is quite good. I hope that the point of Geoff’s post, which indeed is good, is not lost on people because of the tangential issues I have been raising. Please proceed with the constructive discussion and disregard my comments.

    Thank you.

    Comment by Jordan — November 21, 2005 @ 11:42 am

  32. Jordan, you haven’t detracted at all. Honest questions and comments help to round a discussion. I will respect your wishes to take the focus off you at this time however. I wish you well and hope your Thanskgiving is a good gathering. Just remember, everything happens for a reason. Peace bro, I hope the struggle doesn’t take too long.

    Comment by chronicler — November 21, 2005 @ 1:59 pm

  33. Yeah, Jordan, been there.

    Comment by annegb — November 21, 2005 @ 9:07 pm

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