I was a bully, but one event at Christmas changed that

“It was the best of times and the worst of times.”

Dickens’ classic dichotomy has been used to describe many times and seasons of life. It comes to my mind most powerfully as I ponder my most memorable Christmas, for it truly was the best and the worst all wrapped up in one.

My family, like most families, is filled with memorable characters. One, was my uncle. He would always pop in our house to recruit my dad to his latest idea. “Hey Eddie,” he would say with the vivid excitement of a child with a new toy, “I just bought a dune buggy. Leg’s go mudding.”

And out the door they would go.

Another day, “Hey Eddie, I just bought a gas station. Let’s go look at it.” Still another day, “Hey Eddie, I decided to put a new roof on my house. Can you help?”

It was such a regular pattern that it became normal. So, it was no big deal to see my uncle barrel through the door urging dad to join him in whatever he was doing.

But one day, it was different.

It was Christmas Eve. My uncle still barreled through the door. He still wanted my dad’s help, but his normal childlike excitement was replaced by the grave seriousness of adulthood. My dad felt it too. So, he bolted out of the door without asking.

I waited nervously until they returned. That’s an understatement. I waited on pins and needles until he returned.

He sat down with a heaviness I rarely saw in my father. There was an unusual sadness across his tired face. His voice cracked as he told me where he had been. My uncle reconnected with an old friend, one that fell on some hard times. He was fighting the fight no one wants to fight, but all too many do – cancer. The treatments had robbed him of his vitality and emptied his bank account.

As a dad, I cannot imagine what it must have been like to face a Christmas with no presents for your children, knowing the reason for the empty spaces under the tree was a sickness you cannot control.

His story was so moving. My active uncle quickly moved into action, and he knew just the man to help – my father.

So, the two of them scrapped up what money they could find, raided their own Christmas trees, and went like wise men bearing gifts. There was a joy in my dad’s voice when he spoke of their excitement. However, that joy soon vanished and tears filled his eyes as he looked at me and said,

Shane, they have nothing. Soon their daddy will be gone, and they have nothing.”

Perhaps it was that look on his face, or maybe it was the way his voice cracked that made this the best of times. It could have been the tears in his eyes, for they do not come often. It might been a boy’s pride in his father who responded to a need with sacrifice and joy.

I am not sure what it was, but that moment was one of the best Christmas moments I remember.

But it quickly became one of my worst.

As my dad told the story, it occurred to me I had not asked to know this poor unfortunate family’s name. To this day, the words cut like a knife, for when he told me the name, I instantly recognized the name of a classmate.

The classmate was memorable because he was not like the rest of us.

He did not talk the same… act the same… he did not dress the same… or smell the same.

He was different in what we considered all the wrong ways. My friends and I never stopped to ask, “Why?”

We never considered he was dealing with pain. It never occurred to us that he was dealing with things he could not understand, for reasons he could not control.

So, we made fun of him. We taunted him. We made his school life, one that should have been some relief, a greater burden. I was a bully. 

When his name left my father’s lips, tears filled my eyes, but for quite a different reason. My father’s tears were tears of compassion; mine were ones of regret. Shamed by the love of my father, I did my best to live differently from that day forward.

As I tell this story, I am acutely aware that many students sit in school just like my classmate. (I want to call him a friend, which he later became, but I still do not deserve the title.) They are taunted and mocked. They are tormented and troubled.

Their lives are made hard by people who should know better.

Recently, Kimberly Jones and her son Keaton from the Knoxville, TN area made national news. Kimberly was picking her son up from school, not for the first time, because her son did not want to have lunch in the cafeteria. Evidently, the daily ritual of having milk poured on him and food stuffed down his pants was just too much to take.

On this particular day, he asked his mom to make a video, a heartbreaking video, where he makes his plea to the world. With tears of brokenness, he described his life, his agony, and at the same time, describe life for many others. “People who are different,” he says, “do not need others to criticize them. It is not their fault.” The video ends with his hope, “It’s hard, but it will probably get better some day.”

Thankfully, many are responding to this young man’s plea. Athletes are helping. Stars are inviting him to cool, new experiences. Countless people have voiced support. Yet, his core question remains.

Why do they bully? The answer is not simple.

Some people bully to make their sad, small lives feel better and bigger. Others bully because they have not seen enough counter examples like the one my father gave me. Still, others do so because they operate in a context where such behavior is allowed. I could go on and on and never really come to a solid answer for why this happens.

At Christ’s Legacy Academy, we are not so naive as to believe that this is not an issue for us.

Yet, as Christians we have warrant to act, and to do so in ways that bring justice and comfort. We work for justice because we realize that all people are made in God’s image and deserve respect and dignity. We know that how we treat our fellow man is how we treat the God who made them in His image. It was, after all, our Lord who said that what we do to the least of these, we do also to Him.

We also bring a message of comfort for the afflicted, for our salvation was won by a man who knows what it is like to suffer taunts and humiliation, to be slandered and beaten. He endured the shame to bring us glory.

Thus, we have a Savior who identifies with us.

He is the one name who knows the pain we carry. Let’s respond with justice and mercy as Christ would have us.

As a school, we are not perfect, but we will not stop striving. We must. After all, we have the greatest moral foundation to act with justice and mercy.

This Christmas season, I urge you to learn from my example. Do not make the same mistake that I did. Be an instrument of blessing. Make someone’s load lighter. Honor the image of God in others by treating others with respect. Let’s start a new trend in our country.

Christ’s Legacy Academy, let’s continue to work to make our school a school of joy, respect, and dignity for all peoples… in Jesus Name.