Stories bind us. Stories captivate us. We share stories all the time. They have the power to move us emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Stories relate us to each other. This is only the beginning of my story.
This is arguably the easiest and hardest post series I’ve ever written. It’s really easy because the stories I’m about to share are so vivid I can recount them with little to no effort. The challenging part is these stories are ones that I keep close to me and don’t openly share and where I am most vulnerable. I’m open about most all aspects of my life, but I’ve never actually written them down. Everything you’re about to read is raw and true. Only the some of the names have been changed. My only hope is someone finds hope in the words they read.
It was a dark and stormy night
There have been many times where I can say definitively that God orchestrated the events that unfolded in my life. There is only specific event in my life where I can say I heard the audible voice of Him tell me exactly what to do. Only a few people know this story in it’s entirety and I’ve always told it the same way because I remember exactly what happened, it was that vivid.
I was seven years old and fast asleep one night and I awakened, in my head, to a voice. It was not a loud voice, more like a strong whisper. “Zach,” said the voice, “wake up. Zach, wake up now. You’re being attacked.” As hard as I tried I could not force myself out of this “dream” or state of mind. I was not dreaming, however. It was as if some force – an evil – had arrested my mind and my sleep and would not allow me to awaken. “Zach, wake up now!” the voice persisted. I finally proclaimed, “Yes God, I’m awake. Go away Satan!” and my eyes were opened.
It was storming violently outside when I climbed down off the top bunk of the bed I shared with my brother. I slowly walked to my parent’s bedroom. I’m not sure of the exact time, but it was pitch black and the only light that guided me was the frequent bursts of lightning. I woke my mom first and my dad awoke shortly thereafter. I told them about my dream, the voice, and the presence I had felt keeping me from waking. I told them I knew it was God telling me to wake up and I knew it was Satan (yes, I used that exact wording) keeping me asleep and I told him to go away. I told them I felt like God wanted me to become a Christian and accept him in to my heart right then and there was no time to waste. My parents did not question what I had told them and promptly knelt by my side and offered me a prayer to accept Jesus Christ as my Savior and in to my life. When I was finished I went back to bed and slept peacefully the rest of the night.
Full disclosure, it was not until I was nine years old that I truly understood what it meant to be saved. It was then I was formally baptized in front of my peers. I technically was baptized as an infant, but I personally have a theological disagreement with this approach to baptism. Different post for a different time.
Pushed to my limit and the kindness of a few
My siblings (younger sister and two younger brothers) and I, grew up in church. I went to youth group, attended private school (until 8th grade) and cub scouts all at the same church. My dad was a deacon and my mom sang in the choir. Six out of seven (often seven out of seven) days we were at the church for one reason or another. Many of the kids that I grew up with also had families who invested in the same things and were around as frequently as my family was. Naturally, this was both a blessing and a curse.
Allow me to paint a picture in your head of my outward appearance. Until my sophomore year of high school I weighed in at a whopping 110 pounds. That’s the same year I both grew out my trademark afro, bench-pressed my body weight, and outgrew my dad’s shoe size. More on high school in a later post. Prior to that year I weighed around 95ish pounds (more depending on if I was soaking wet or not), buzz-cut shaved head, braces, and standing 6 feet tall. Yep, I was every bit of a too tall, too weak, too lean, nerdy machine. The only benefit was I could fit in some really tight places making hide and seek a blast. No one expects anyone to be hiding behind a Coke machine.
It was all of the years prior to 7th grade that were the most trying. Being at the church so often I found myself surrounded by the same people week in and week out. Having the same people around is great when it’s people who are your friends. Having the same people around who are not your friends and do not even remotely care to be, not so much fun. In fact, the latter group contributed the most to the darkest, most painful parts of my childhood. They were straight up bullies and I was their victim of choice. At the time, I didn’t understand why these kids did not like me. I had not done anything to them. I tried my best to get along with everyone.
Unfortunately, there came a time when I wanted to quit everything and disappear from being around these kids. My parents would not let me quit anything without first exhausting every attempt to rectify my reason for wanting to quit. Looking back I respect my parent’s earnest pushing to not let me quit. I distinctly remember sitting down with two different youth pastors and explaining to them that life in youth group was an absolute hell. I remember telling my Scoutmaster on a week long camp trip that I was finished and wanted to go home because I was so tormented. I remember teachers doing their best to listen and help me. It was so bad that in the second grade I pleaded with my mom to homeschool me, and by the grace of her heart she did for that year. That was short lived. When you have three siblings, two of which were still in diapers, homeschool was a tough reality. I truly thank my mom for all that she endured that year and my dad for allowing us the option to try.
Every time I would tell someone my situation, they would try to “deal with it” however they knew best and that only made everything worse. I remember praying passionately to God to make it all go away. I cried many days and nights for something to be different. It was a combination of two things that put an end to both the bullying and the fear to stand up for myself: being pushed to my limit and the kindness of a few.
Pushed to my limit
The day my bullies vanished was in 6th grade. I was coming up the stairs from recess and a guy, say his name is Greg, started harassing me from behind. Greg was pulling at my legs, pushing me in the back, and calling me names which were a daily par for the course. I had had enough. I bolted up the stairs, burst through the door, turned, and waited. Greg, seeing that I was upset, filled him with excitement and encouraged him to rush after me. Little did he know what awaited him on the other side of the then almost closed door. He blasted through the opening and right in to my waiting hands. I immediately flipped him upside down, threw him to the floor, and pinned him down to the point he was screaming for me to release him. Remember, I was not strong kid in the least. I was outmatched by Greg easily 10 to 1 in both size and strength. It was as if I was possessed by a wrestling champion and it was amazing. It was over before it began. To this day that is the one and only fight I’ve ever been in.
Before I let Greg up I forcefully told him, “you’re going to stop bullying me and my friends. I’ve had enough, and so have they. If you ever do anything again I swear you’ll end up here again. Got it?!” He agreed to my terms, uncontested. To make the entire ordeal sweeter was I had witnesses, lots of them. We were both surrounded by his friends (my bullies) and a handful of my actual friends. From that point forward he and his friends were much nicer and stayed out of my way. I, nor my friends, were never bullied by them ever again.
Kindness of a few
The other contributing factor that lead to my eventual escape from torment was the kindness showed to me by a few key individuals in my life. These individuals selflessly came to my rescue and showed me such kindness and spoke truth in my life. I don’t know where I would be today without them. They are also the most humble, generous people I know. They all impacted my life during these formative years.
I debated a long time about whether or not to list their names. Alas, I could not let them go unrecognized. I realize that I may have unintentionally left someone off this list who was there for me, and for that I am deeply apologetic. I do not desire to diminish our time together. I only want to recognize those who had a profound impact on my life and changed it drastically. In no particular order:
- My parents, Glenn and Patti
- Lee Lovett (pastor)
- Tony Allen (Scoutmaster)
- Morgan Mellette (Scout Leader)
- Bryan “BP” Pierce (youth pastor)
- Mrs. Stone (4th grade teacher)
- Mrs. Hutchinson (5th grade teacher)
- Mrs. Purcell (6th grade teacher)
- JB Boonstra (friend)
- Zack Phillips (friend)
- Jack Hutchinson (friend)
In reality it was God and his goodness that lead to my victory. I believe to this day that God showed up for me and gave me super natural strength to stand up for myself. I believe that God strategically placed individuals in my life to help guide me and work feverishly without compensation or benefit to themselves on my behalf. Those debts can never be repaid, nor do I think they would accept payment even if it could be repaid because of who they are. God is good.
What I still can’t understand
As I get older and reflect on the years of my early childhood, I’ve come to the realization that in order for me to appreciate who God has designed me to be, those situations had to happen. I am a better person for them. While, yes, I was bullied extensively and it was heartbreaking, I know what to look for in my own children. I know how to talk to them and consul them on a level that most would not understand.
What I still can’t understand is why I can only remember certain things, mostly good, from my childhood. Aside from a few extreme experiences, all of the really bad stuff seems to have been erased from my memory. No matter how hard I try to recall things, I simply cannot bring the memories back. I’m not talking about a day or even a week. I’m referring to entire months of memories gone from Kindergarten to 6th grade. I kid you not.
I know that some – maybe quite a few – will say that the events that happened were too painful at the time and my body was going through the motions but my mind shut down to save me. While I don’t necessarily disagree, I take it just a little further and say God has purposefully removed those memories because they were too painful to relive. Either way, they’re gone and I can’t get them back and to be honest, I’m not sure that I want them back. I remember plenty of good things (and some bad) that happened and it’s sufficient enough for me.
More to come later
I want to close out this first post with a few more thoughts. As I get older I feel the need to begin writing this stuff down, because one day I will forget. I realize these are only two stories from my childhood. These stories were not mere events in time, they were monumental, marking moments for me growing up. They were also some of the points were I was most vulnerable. As I typed this post emotions and feelings I have not felt in a long, long time welled up inside me from the depths of the deepest part of my soul. I would be lying to say I didn’t get a little misty-eyed remembering both the day I was saved in Christ and the day I was saved from bullying.
If you are in need, please feel free to reach out to me or anyone for help. If you are a parent, please talk to your kids and get involved in what they’re going through, good or bad. If you are a kid, please talk to your parents, teachers, and youth pastors.
Photo by Alex Woods on Unsplash