"What would it take to speak for student week of prayer?" I asked my religion teacher/high school vice principal. She then told me to go talk to my principal, which I did the following week. This is how I found myself in front of the entire school, telling one of my favorite stories. My principal told me I could speak if I wanted to, and I started drafting what I would say.
If you've been reading for a while, you'll know that back in October I wrote a piece called When You Finally Get to Say Thank You, in which I wrote about the camp staff member who encouraged my writing, made the harder parts of my life better, and then how I got to tell him thank you when I saw him at the Leadership Conference I went to back in September of last year. After that whole experience, I knew that if I were to speak for SWOP (student week of prayer), I'd tell that story. I wrote it out before leaving for England, but when I got back and checked my email, I learned that while I was gone, the theme for the week had been chosen: Your story and how it fits into your community. Now, you may be wondering why I didn't wait to write until I learned the theme, and to that I say that my principal told me not to worry about it and just write it out and connect it all together later. But I am not a "connect it all together later" kind of person. So I spent three hours on the Wednesday night after getting back from England rewriting everything. The stories stayed the same, but the meaning at the end was totally different.
For the elementary school, I focused more on the beginning of the whole story, drawing comparisons from the parable of the lost sheep and how AH left most of the campers to walk with me. I ended it like this: "I don't know any of you well enough to know your lives story up until now, but I promise you that God is there. God is the shepherd who finds the sheep and takes it home, and God is the camp counselor who finds the seven year old and walks her through five years of difficulty." For the high school, I told the whole story (even the end where I got to say thank you) and connected it to how God sends the people we need when we need them, and ended it saying this: "...whether you are like the five year old who needs someone to help them, the six year old who is walking by themself, the twelve year old who is spending most of their time alone, or the eighteen year old who is trying to figure out what their life is going to be like, God is there. He’s there to hang out with you, to walk with you, to comfort you, and to help you. He will send the people you need when you need them, and probably when you least expect them."
If I'm being honest, I wasn't expecting a good reaction from the teachers and student body. I figured they'd listen nicely, my Economics teacher would say something (because she's lovely like that), but that would be it. But no, when I finished I saw that some of my teachers were crying. My film teacher (who taught me religion last year) came up to me the next day and confirmed what I'd noticed, which was almost unbelievable for me. The day before, in Journalism, I'd been talking about what I planned to say and the four other people in the class all gave me pieces of advice. Before I started, a couple of them wished me luck, and when I finished they told me I'd a good job.
While I talked, people laughed when I tried to be funny. They listened to what I said. Before I started, people told me I didn't have anything to be nervous about. My economics teacher wished me luck before I left, and Annaliese texted me later and said that when I left, my teacher said that I didn't really need luck. When I finished, I was told to keep writing. People I don't talk to very much told me I was a good speaker, said I was funny, and gave me hugs and high fives. I was given support from the masses, and that's not something I'm used to.
It's hard to explain why I appreciated everyone who said something so much. When you've been put down by the people you're surrounded by for so long, it's mind-blowing to be lifted up. I listened to my talk before writing this so it would be fresh in my mind, and the thing that stood out to me the most is that when I was nine years old, I never would have thought I'd get to the point where I'd stand in front of my school and tell them my story. When something bad happens in your life, it takes a really, really long time to get the point where you can talk about it to yourself. It takes an even longer time to talk about it to other people, and it takes so much longer than that to be able to share it with people you don't even normally interact with. I've gotten to the point where I can share parts of my life's story with a larger group, and that's why being supported by so many people was invaluable.
To those of you who told me I'd be fine before I spoke, to those of you who came up to me after I finished and told me I'd done well, and to those of you who continually support me outside of this one instance- thank you. I don't think I can ever fully express how wonderful you all are and how much I appreciate all of you, but thank you. Whether you're family, friends who are like family, classmates, or teachers, I'm thankful for all of you. I wouldn't have been able to share these pieces of myself without you.