When You Are Ready To Move Forward
There is some big news in my hometown. It seems a longtime basketball coach and teacher was molesting students. One victim, after carrying this burden for almost 30 years finally spoke up. The predator, Ronnie White, was sentenced to 7 years in prison and served 3 months. Attorney and Christian author, Dee Wampler, defended White stating, “My client has an outstanding record as a coach and teacher for many years with the Springfield school system.”
But Wampler is wrong. As is now well known, at least a dozen people were aware of accusations against White spanning decades. I’ll weigh in here. I was a student at Parkview High School from 1988-1992. White was my driver’s ed teacher. I remember that it was common knowledge that White had an eye for his female student. I can remember seeing him place his hand on girl’s knees as they drove the driver’s ed car. The principals that supervised White can cite ignorance, but most of us knew what he was.
A question often comes up, “Why didn’t they say anything?” That is a tough question. One for which I cannot give a definitive answer. Every victim is different and every student is different. However I will attempt to shed some light on the subject. I was a victim of physical and verbal abuse during my time at Jarrett Junior High (a “feeder school” to Parkview). My story is not nearly as sensational as others, and likewise, I did endure nearly what others have. However, my experience provides a glimpse of what victims go through.
In my memoir, Baggage Claim, I write:
“On one occasion, I was tied into an equipment bag and kicked repeatedly. Another time, I had jock straps shoved into my face. I was also thrown in the garbage dumpster beside the school more than a few times. All under the watchful eye of a sadistic coach, who seemed bent on turning my life into a living hell.
I had enough problems with my fellow students bullying me, but bullying wasn’t reserved to kids. At first, the idea that a teacher was bullying me was incomprehensible to me. I would hear from other students about things he said about me. However, this proved to be far worse than the usual taunting of coaches and gym teachers. On more than one occasion, this man would trip me or push me as I walked into the locker room. He also began to make crude comments about me when I had to take a shower after gym class. I was terrified of what might happen if he caught me alone.”
I was the proverbial 90-pound weakling in school, due to a rare condition known as Kallman Syndrome. I will leave off every time a teacher or coach made fun of me because I was not as fast or as strong as the other students. I think that behavior is totally inappropriate from a professional educator, but I will not call it abuse. What I will call abuse is my teacher, Michael Hunter, being entertained by watching students attack me, tie me into an equipment bag, and kick me. I actually got in trouble for that one when it was all over. I was told to toughen up. It was apparently my fault that I could not stand up to four other students at once. I will call it abuse when this same teacher observed a couple of other students throwing me into the trash dumpster. I will call it abuse when this teacher shoved me, tripped me. And when he began making comments about my anatomy in the shower, I started going to extremes (like faking sick or getting detention) to avoid him.
But I never said anything.
At first, I did not say anything because Mr. Hunter was a member of the same church as my family and I. I assumed at the time that he was friends with my father. I was generally well behaved, so I also assumed that any problems at school with teachers were my problems.
I spent my two years at Jarrett afraid. I was a constant target for bullies, but I carried that burden. In my mind, there was no solution that would not put me up against an even scarier problem.
I did have one occasion where I tried to say something. It was in eighth grade. I was sitting outside after lunch. My history teacher was supervising the students who spent this time milling about, talking, or playing basketball. He was talking with a couple of students and the three of them were making fun of some other students. Something about it really got to me. In my idealized worldview, teachers were supposed to be the defenders. This time, I said something. I told one of the kids they were making fun of. I was hoping he would do what I never could. And he did. Once we got back to class, he went right up to our teacher and confronted him. I was impressed. Then I was grabbed by the back of my collar and taken to the hall, where this teacher screamed at me to say I made it up. I complied immediately. Then I was taken to the principal’s office where the principal this teacher told me that I could get in a lot of trouble for lying about teachers. Then I was told that I “obviously had problems” and was sent to the counselor. I do not remember the counselor’s name, but as I look back, I think she was a kind person. She seemed bewildered and kept asking me what was wrong. I was crying, but I was not going to say anything. The message was received.
In High School, I was far too cynical to ever think that the administration or the teachers would be on my side of anything. I never had to endure the abuse that I put up with in seventh grade, but I did put with regular taunts from coaches. At 17, I was 5’3" and weighed 98lbs. I was the opposite of everything they valued. By then, I had just learned to take it.
Along comes this story about Coach White. When it first broke, I noticed something strange. Some of my friends said, “That’s not surprising.” Others were shocked. As an adult, I realize that some of us had learned that adults were dangerous. If you are not in that group, you probably will not understand. When you are in that group, you see a lot more of the red flags than other people do. You recognize right away when you run into someone who is stepping over the line. Of course, that is the same group of students who will keep quiet. The predators know this.
Why didn’t they say anything? Well, for starters, they did. There were many allegations. The teachers that I dealt with have also had allegations. Those allegations fell on deaf ears. That only has to happen so many times before people learn just not to say anything at all.
As I write this, I know that many people will have completely different memories of my teachers than I do. A quick look at one Facebook page, and I see that the guy who terrorized my 7th grade year posts a lot about faith and character on his page. Several of my friends like those posts. I am sure they would be hard pressed to think any different of him. That is not why I am writing this. I am writing this because I there is something that I want everyone in a position to hear an accusation to know: It will always come as a surprise to you. Listen anyway, and trust someone else (like the police) to do the actual investigating.
No one says anything because no one is listening. Start listening, and you can change things for the better.
In Baggage Claim, I spend some time discussing a rare condition that I have that has had a profound impact on me. Here, I answer some questions about this condition.
Did you know that 1 in 5 people struggle with depression, anxiety, or a more severe mental illness? Further, 2 out of 3 people that struggle with mental illness are not getting help.
Let's do the math...
If your church has 100 people attending, then 20 of them struggle with some form of mental illness. Of those 20, 18 of them are not getting the help they need. That's right, 18% of your church are suffering in silence!
How is your church meeting that need? Many times, church is the first place a person turns for help. Sadly, most churches are not prepared.
Now here is the dirty little secret of ministry: pastors are not immune! The 18% that struggle with mental illness may include you or a member of your leadership team. I know, because as I served churches for 16 years, I was one of those that struggled with depression for which I never told anyone or sought help.
The results were that my family suffered, my ministry suffered, and throughout that time, there were many times when I could have lost everything.
Last year, I finally reached my lowest point. I detail it in my book, Baggage Claim: One Minister's Journey Through Depression to Peace.
I am currently scheduling dates to speak at churches. I am available for 1, 3, or 5 messages. The ideal arrangement would be for your church to schedule one Sunday to dedicate to this growing need. On that Sunday Morning, I will present a message of hope, encouraging those who struggle to finally admit there needs. We know that the first step is to say, "I need help." After all, Jesus taught that blessed are the poor in spirit!
Following the morning service, I encourage you to plan a luncheon for your church leaders. During this time I will present a simple, but important, message: Warning Signs For Ministry Leaders. This message gives practical advice of what everyone in leadership should be aware of in their own lives and what they can do to prevent a problem.
Finally, we will conclude the event in your evening service with a message about what the church can do to reach out to those needing mental health ministry. I will talk about the vital role that the church plays, the growing need, and some practical things that any church can do to help.
I encourage you to use people in your congregation for music and testimonies!
I do not have a required fee. Instead I ask that your church take up a love offering and allow me to set up a book table for the event.
Please contact me, to schedule this event right away! Email me or call me at 417-501-4975
I look forward to working with you!
Recently, I was having a conversation with my psychiatric nurse practitioner. She is the person that manages my medication. I have been taking Effexor, Remeron, Buspar, and Klonopin for a little while now.
She asked me, “Are you having more good days than bad?”
I was not really that sure how to answer that question. Depression has been a part of me for so long, that I got in the habit of thinking of things in terms of bad and not so bad. When she asked me this, I thought for a minute about all the work I have been doing to get a handle on things and reframing thoughts. I replied, “I tend to think of it in terms of having manageable days and bad days.”
She looked concerned and then made a plan to get me off of Effexor (you have to wean off that one) and try Lexapro.
It took me by surprise to think that the goal is to have more good days than bad.
To most people, that last sentence might be shocking. I suspect that those with Major Depressive Disorder know what I am talking about.
I think the surprise for me was that I have worked so hard to overcome depression. That is, to not be controlled by it. Yet the goal is even greater. The goal is not to simply not be depressed, but to be happy.
Hope is powerful. Studies have shown that hope is more motivating than fear. When people can see radical, positive change, they accept change much better than when they are just told "do this or something bad will happen." In other words, go ahead and set those goals high. Thrive on hope!
Of course, a depressed mind does not like to hope. My counselor reminds me that when I have the bad days, it is important to take some time to remember the small things that show progress: I did something I needed to do today, I took a walk, I made it through the day. Those little things remind us that we are moving in the right direction. If you can just take one step in the right direction then you have every reason to keep on hoping.
Recovery is not an event, it's a journey. Keep moving forward!
How are you moving forward? Share your story here!
Aaron Davis is the author of the novel "Street Preacher" and the upcoming memoir, "Baggage Claim: One Minister's Journey Through Depression to Peace." If you would like to invite him to speak to your church or organization, click here.
Several years ago, I was on staff at a church as the youth pastor. Conflict developed between the senior pastor and me and it made my life miserable. Eventually, I was fired without even being told the reason. I was cut off from our church and the friends I had there. I was hurt. I had been lied to and lied about. The worst of it was that there seemed to be no way to fix it.
Anger consumed me.
At the time, someone told me about “car prayers.” Think of the car this person drives, they suggested. Then, every time you see a car like that, pray for them. Pray that the Lord blesses them.
The pastor of the church that fired me drove a white Ford Exhibition. I determined to pray for him every time I saw one of those on the road. Suddenly, I saw a bunch of white Ford Exhibitions!
Eventually, the more I prayed, the more my anger subsided. It no longer mattered wether or not I was ever proven right or the pastor ever got what was coming to him. In fact, the more I prayed, the more I saw my own faults and was able to become a better minister.
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45a, ESV)
Love for your enemies is not natural. It it not natural to want the best for someone that has hurt you. It requires supernatural intervention. We can love others when we are secure in our identity as sons and daughters of God (fellow heirs with Jesus in the spirit of adoption). From that security, we can begin to see others the way Jesus sees them. We see them as loved and forgiven, just as we are loved and forgiven. This is why when Jesus tells us to love our enemies, he then tells us to pray for them. We can pray even when we don’t love and in doing so, we invite the Holy Spirit to intervene.
Are you harboring a grudge against someone? Has someone hurt you and you find it impossible to let it go? Start with some “car prayers” and see what the Lord can do!
Have you found that praying for someone makes it easier to forgive them? Share your story here!
Aaron Davis is the author of the novel Street Preacher and of the upcoming memoir, Baggage Claim: One Minister's Journey Through Depression to Peace. For information on inviting Aaron to speak to your church or organization, click here.
Last fall, I announced that I was embarking on something I called, "The Baggage Claim Project." I promised to do three things:
First, I am happy to announce that not only have I written the book, but it has been accepted by a publisher! We are in the editing stages now and are planning for a July release!
In fact, take a look at the line up of upcoming releases from 50/50 Press!
Second, last month I completed the process of becoming a certified speaker and coach with the John Maxwell Team. This has been an incredible experience that has taught me a lot, preparing me to tell this story!
Now it is time to start telling this story!
Here is where you come in! I am looking for churches, ministries, civic groups, etc where I can tell this story. Every time I tell my story, I hear back from someone that has begun to get the help they need because of what I said. Please talk to your pastor or your organization's leadership about having me in to share! Contact me here! You can learn more about my public speaking gigs here.
Aaron Davis is an author, speaker, and life coach. He currently lives in Springfield, MO with his wife and their two sons. He also serves as a hospice chaplain.