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He pulls me higher.

March 11, 2015

There I sat – on the middle school gym floor in those awkwardly hideous shorts and shirt- both of them too big for my super tall and gangly body. Our gym teacher was explaining how the boys would soon go to their locker room and the girls would go to theirs and we would all be checked for this thing called ‘Scoliosis.’ I’d never heard of it before and as the teacher explained to us what it was (an abnormal lateral curvature of the spine), I looked around the room, wondering who might have it.

I followed the rest of the girls into our locker room as some of them cracked jokes about who would be found ‘crippled.’ I remained quiet, trying to drown out their comments; I. was. terrified. One by one, we took off our shirts (leaving on our sports bras) and bent over to touch our fingers to the floor so the teacher could see if our spine was straight or not. When it was my turn, I prayed that no one would watch. I was terribly shy, as well as terribly concerned that the ‘popular girls’ would point out my stomach ‘fat’ as I bent over, but the knot in my stomach didn’t form until my teacher remained silent for a little too long as I stood there, bent over.

“Okay, Emily. Stand back up and then bend over again.”

You know that pit that starts in your stomach and slowly crawls up your throat and then into your face? It was most definitely in my face at this point. My teacher didn’t say anything else and I put my shirt back on and stood with the rest of my friends as the remainder of the girls were examined, but at the end of class- just as I was walking out of the gym and to my next class- I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was my teacher, and she had that look on her face – the one that says, “I want you to think everything’s fine but really I’m feeling sorry for you right now.” She handed me a piece of paper and instructed me to give it to my parents when I got home. I stuffed the paper in my backpack and tried to shove the entire experience out of my mind for the rest of the day.

When I got home, I handed the paper to my mom. “What’s this?” she asked. I told her I didn’t know, which was somewhat the truth – I hadn’t read it. I was too afraid. My mom read it, folded it back up and asked me what I wanted to eat for dinner. Wait, what?? Seriously, that’s it?? My dad got home from work, we all ate dinner together and I thought for sure I was in the clear. It wasn’t until later that evening when my dad came over to me and said, “Hey, Emmy. Come here, I want to take a look at something.” My heart sank. I knew. My dad, a doctor, wanted to look at my back and it was in that moment I knew he’d read the piece of paper. I knew there was something wrong with my spine.

Fast forward a few weeks later as I sat in an exam room, with my mom, at a specialist’s office. The doctor explained to me that yes, I had Scoliosis, that no it was not a disease but rather a disorder – and I’ll tell you right now- it still felt like a death sentence in my middle schooler brain. He then explained that it would be really important to try and correct it as soon as possible, and before I could process any of it, I was being fitted for a back brace.

Guys? Do you remember how hard middle school life was? You take the crazy hormones, classes that only seemed to get harder, classmates who seemed to get meaner and meaner, and then you add the fact that I was already the tallest girl in my grade – make that the tallest PERSON in my grade. Let’s just say, I wasn’t being asked to any of the school dances. In fact, for quite awhile I was picked on for my height alone. And now I was supposed to wear this brace that would ultimately make me taller? In a time where kids are supposed to be finding their confidence and stride, I was about to lose mine. Happy days were not ahead.

This brace, while I could wear it under my clothes, was still very visible. It started at my mid-hip and went all the up to my armpit; it was stiff – literally this big, thick hunk of plastic. It was so stiff in fact that I had to learn how to walk, sit, and sleep with it on. It bulged out from under my shirt, often times pinching my sides, and in the instance I dropped something? Good luck trying to bend over and pick it up. Gym class was the only time during the day I could take off the brace, so naturally gym time became one of my favorite times of the day. I could breathe deep, bend and stretch, and once again I felt normal. But when it came time to put it back on? Tears. Not only did I hate myself while wearing this thing, but others began to pick on me… and I’m not talking about the occasional joke here and there- I’m talking full blown bullying at my locker, in the hallways, and in my classes. I look back on that time and thank GOD that Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter were not around. I had the ‘popular’ girls calling me ugly, the ‘popular’ boys reminding me that there was a reason no one wanted to ask me out, and one of them who went as far as accepting a dare from his friends to run past me in the hallway and hit me in the side as hard as he could – in front of everyone. Of course, he didn’t physically hurt me, because the brace protected me, but mentally and emotionally – to this day that moment is one of the most painful of memories.

I felt ugly, to say the least. Like some tall freak show, roaming the halls, and I didn’t feel like I could talk to my parents about it because I had to wear the brace- there was no getting around it. I was stuck. I wanted to hide. I wanted to shrink- to be short. To blend in with the crowd. I wanted to be a nobody, someone nobody talked about.

Of course time went by, I continued to (mostly) wear my brace, and I didn’t die from embarrassment. I eventually ‘graduated’ from my brace stage and no longer had to wear it, my back had straightened as much as it was going to and really had improved greatly, but my spirit was still pretty broken over the emotional scars that brace had caused. My mind told me I was still pretty uncool, and it wouldn’t be until the end of high school that I would begin to feel somewhat comfortable in my own skin. (Of course, this is when I began  modeling – something that truly helped me begin to accept my height!) To this day, I am beyond thankful to my small group of friends who stuck by me, continued to walk beside me in the halls, and tried their very best to encourage me. (And those in that same group who kept my secret when I would secretly take off my brace and hide it somewhere, haha. You know who you are!)

My time in middle school was clearly not the best time (you could not pay me enough to relive those days again!), but it was because of that time that I’ve often thought about what I might tell my own daughter someday:

To stand tall, even when your heart feels low. To keep your head up, especially while in the face of adversity. To remain kind, to not sink down to the level of those who spew hurtful insults. And don’t you dare blend. You were not made to blend; you are a shining light.

 

My wish for you today is that if you are currently going through one of these hard chapters, that you first understand you are not alone. If you feel stuck, like you want to hide, if you feel like you simply blend in with the crowd – if you feel like a nobody, I’m telling you right now, you are most certainly a somebody. (Jesus sure thought so, and continues to think so.) You were not created to feel that way… you were not created to blend. You were not created to blend. Shine bright, hold your head up high. We don’t ask for the hard moments in life and while we may not always be strong enough to push through them, He certainly is. And it’s in these moments we can still carry ourselves in a way that might offer compassion to someone else who might quietly and secretly have a similar story… to someone else who has a story. Because everybody has a story… we have many, many stories.

While the brace was straightening my spine in those middle school years, Jesus was strengthening my heart, reminding me of His beauty that lives in me. His truth that even in the moments I feel ugly and low, His love for me is stronger, and strong enough to pull me through, to pull me up.

Through it all, He continues to pull us higher, closer to where He is.

 

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  • Jae

    Dear Emily

    I had scoliosis, too. No, I still have it to this day. Mine was diagnosed as dextroscoliosis with about 25 degrees curve towards my right side. It was discovered when I was in 4th grade at only 11 degrees and progressed quickly as I enter my adolescence.

    I was advised to undergo physical therapy for six months, but I was stubborn so I didn't follow through with my exercises. I was candidate for ortho-braces, and I somehow know how difficult it was because I had a classmate who wore one in grade school. No, I didn't wear the horrendous braces in my back, but wore it in my teeth instead.

    I write you this to let you know that I feel for what you felt back then. I think these struggles are what mould us all into what we are today.

    Your friend,
    Jae

  • Powerful.
    There is more to say but that sums it up.
    POWERFUL.

  • Gosh, I am so glad not to be in school any more. It was lonely and awkward. Thanks for sharing this, it made me a little teary to think of you going through that but wow, you are strong. School was a struggle for me because of my curly hair, my braces, and my struggles to fit in after chemotherapy. Sending you a big hug.

  • I love this and you so much! You are such a strong woman. I teared up for middle-school you but you made it through the ordeal beautifully!

  • Em, this story and your heart are just so… awesome! And talk about timing. Hunter and I will be having a conversation with our youth students tonight about this. About how to handle bullying and mean people; about how to rise above it and know that they are worth so much more than what those little brats are saying; and how to forgive those people who have hurt them to be able to fully move forward. Love your heart and you!

  • Wow! Thank you so much for sharing this story. I was just talking to someone the other day about bullying. Middle school was rough for me as well. You have grown into such a beautiful person inside and out and I appreciate so much you opening up and sharing your story!

  • Just beautiful. I will never understand why and how people can be so hateful and hurtful to others, but I can see that this experience has made you a strong person! Thank you for sharing!

  • tears are rolling down my face – this is beautiful. i remember that day in middle school- so well. you are so amazing- inside and out. as a middle school teacher, it 's so hard to witness bullying. so hard. thank you for sharing this. so powerful and wonderfully written!

  • Sweet Em….that makes me so sad and having another daughter that I know will be in middle school before I know it just makes me want to push her closer to Jesus every chance I get!! I had a friend who had to wear a brace too and I just remember her feeling exactly like you did. Junior high was probably the worst time in my life and the biggest influence over me having a low self esteem for many years. ugh

  • Oh my word, Emily…what a tough thing to go through as a middle-schooler! I'm a small group leader for a bunch of 8th grade girls and I wish I could just protect them from all of the mean people and hurt that they face. So glad that God is stronger, greater, and more loving than this world is!

  • This is an amazing post. I couldn't image going through that as a middle-schooler. I cut my nose open in elementary school and had a bunch of stitches on my face, then I wore a band-aid over them and was mocked for that- kids can be so cruel. My heart hurts for the things children are put through. That being said, I love the positive that has come out of this. I was thinking of Faith's insecurities series the whole time- this would be a great addition!

  • so sorry to hear that you had to go through all that! but even though it certainly sounds like you had to go through some awful times, you wouldn't now be you without them:-) i've only known one person with back braces (in high school) and it always seemed strange to me that she got made fun of because of it. after all she was the only one who ended up with a nice posture! also, i didn't know you'd done modelling! xx

  • oh my goodness! This is so amazing. This is the sort of thing I DREAD when both kids get to middle school. I want them to be themselves and to not feel pressure about fitting in, but ooohhh those mean comments are WORSE now. My little brothers are in middle school and it's bad. I couldn't imagine your poor middle school mind back then. ugh. I love that you were able to overcome and your confidence now SHINES through! you're amazing! thanks for sharing your story! ((( and I agree with Cassie down there!!! )))

  • Em

    Love, love, LOVE this post. However I'm so sorry you had to go through that in junior high. It's hard enough as it is! You couldn't pay me enough to relive those years either…

  • Wow Emily, this is such a great post. One thing you said was you can't imagine social media being around at that time. I struggle with how much bullying has progressed in life because of social media. I see it constantly and it breaks my heart every time. I am so glad that you grew from this experience and have such a great lesson to teach now. God does have us go through these struggles to make us stronger. He's funny like that. What a great God we have!

  • Such a beautiful post. Sadly, middle school is one of the most difficult times in life We do become stronger by what we go through. Thank you for sharing your story. It is by sharing our personal struggles that we provide inspiration and hope to others.

  • Emily I love love love this post!! Middle school was the worse and I'm sorry you had to go though those hurtful times. It was very brave to share this post. Having met you in person i know you are such an amazing person and although this was a hard time you took from it something beautiful. You are such a beautiful person inside and out and I'm glad to say we are friends! Favorite part of this post "don't you dare blend, you were not made to blend. you are a shining light!" So true and so beautifully said. Love ya friend!

  • I was in tears by the end of this, I love the line, You are not created to blend! I've been struggling with where I fit at my current job and struggling because I feel so different from many of my co-workers. Thank you for being willing to share your story.

  • Liz

    Oh, Emily <3 My heart loves this post. I remember those kind of checks sooooooo vividly. But to actually have to go through with a brace and whatnot in the midst of fitting into middle school awkwardness, you are incredible. I can totally relate to the lanky/gangly part of it all. That in itself was enough. Your words are so beautiful! <3

  • Oh Em. *hugs* middle school sucked. I'd never do again either. While my experience was not a severe as yours, I can totally relate and understand how you felt. I was picked on for just my name, and also because I was likable. Too likable I guess.

  • So. Many. Tears.
    I'm getting in the car to come hug you.
    Middle school is the worst. I was overweight, had glasses and braces and my family didn't have near the money the rest of my private school peers families had. Kids that age are mean. Like really mean.
    This is a beautiful show of your grace and heart.

  • Oh my heart. Such a beautifully painful post. Why is middle school so hard?!? UGH! Always thankful that the Lord takes such painful situations and uses them for good. And…amazing you still have those same friends in your life!

  • Gosh, those years felt SO lonely! Bless you, Rachael – I can tell you right now that one of my middle school teachers seriously helped me get through those times simply by being positive… by being THERE.

  • Oh, Jae! I'm so, so sorry you had to go through that. I suppose technically I still have it too (sometimes I notice when I'm trying on clothes and they fit differently) but not having to wear a brace isn't quite of a daily reminder 😉 Beautiful hearts, beautiful minds – that is the true beauty that flows from us to others, and you are most certainly beautiful – inside and out.

  • 🙂 Thanks for reading, Brittany.

  • I see middle-school aged girls today and seriously just want to hug and hold them! (Of course, I don't- haha, but I sure want to!) I'm so sorry you had to go through those hard times, Llinos. Had we gone to middle school together, I most certainly would have been your friend 🙂

  • Thank you, Christine! 🙂 XO

  • I can't think of a better couple to talk to middle schoolers about this stuff – I'm sure you guys did such a great job! Love you back!

  • I'm so sorry you had rough middle school years, Lora! We made it though and I'm proud of us! 🙂

  • I know! I think going through it also opened my eyes to others being bullied… I was always aware of the person sitting alone at lunchtime, etc. Definitely a big topic of discussion I'll be having with my kids someday 🙂

  • XO!! I was just telling Rachael (1st commenter on here), who is also a middle school teacher, that having a teacher in that time who was such a positive person and always present with her students really helped me during those times so BLESS YOU and your work, Nelle!

  • Same! It took me a long time to find that confidence again. I think this also helps us remain aware and present for others, like how you'll be with your daughter because you understand! I was just telling my husband the other day- while I know bullying still exists, I think it's become more of the cool thing to do to stand up for people being picked on. I just read THIS article the other night and feel like this can only mean HOPE! http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/12/cheerleader-down-syndrome-bullied-desiree-andrews_n_6853032.html

  • I sure wish I'd had you as a small group leader back then, Betsy!! 🙂 I can only imagine the positive influence and comfort and hope you're bringing to those girls!

  • It's such a trying time! I love that Faith has started that series… I think it's really empowering to share our stories and remind each other that we DO make it through.

  • You're exactly right, Laura 🙂 I really believe that God can take the painful times and turn them into something good, and I definitely feel like He did that for me. Thank you for reading! 🙂

  • Thank you, lady!! You know what though? Your babes have an excellent mother and will remember that their self-worth does not come from the opinions of others! XO

  • Thank you, Em! 🙂 Yes, I'm SO glad those days are long gone!

  • For sure, such a good song 🙂 We all have a story!

  • I completely agree!! Facebook didn't come out until I was halfway through college, and even then- it wasn't used like it is today. God definitely has a way of taking the painful chapters and turning them into something good… it's the silver lining and the important part to focus on. XO

  • Thanks so much for reading, Sheryl, and for your sweet note 🙂

  • Faith! This note from you was like a virtual hug 🙂 Thank you for your kind words. Can't wait to see you at the next Influence Conference!! XO

  • I'm so sorry you're going through that, Diane! I felt that way in a previous job and prayed and prayed about it and felt God tell me to stay because He wanted my influence amongst that group of people. And then once I made the decision to stay and obey, He opened up another opportunity for me elsewhere 😉 Funny how He does that!

  • Thank you, Liz!! Tall girls unite!!!! 🙂 XO!

  • Girl it SUCKED. haha. I've never heard ONE person say they enjoyed it. (I think we should just skip it completely.) And isn't that the way?? You get picked on if you're mean and picked on if you're nice. It's kind of a time when you feel like you just can't win.

  • aw, Meg!!!!! <3 Had I known you in middle school, we would have been there for each other for sure. I'm so sorry you had a rough go of it too. We made it though 🙂

  • It is just the WORST, man! Those friends who stuck by me in that time are my very best friends to this day – such a blessing. And yes, PRAISE to a God who takes the pain and makes it good again. xo

  • Aww thank you! You're too sweet 🙂

  • I actually witnessed something similar at my sons school last year regarding a little girl with downs. There is hope!

  • I know! I keep telling myself there is a reason I am here – thanks for your support!

  • Such a beautiful story Emily! I had the exact opposite effect in school. I was the short one who was bullied because of it. Middle school really was a rough spot. I do not envy kids today in the tough situations they have to deal with with all of the social media and such. So glad you took this time and made it positive.

  • What a great story..Growing up is so hard and kids can be SO MEAN!! I hate it so much, and I pray everyday that my babies will be protected from bullies!! 😉

  • It's always something in that time, isn't it? I'm so sorry you had to experience it too! It's really unfortunate and I just hope that standing up for others is now becoming the "cool thing to do."

  • I know it, lady! I could go on and on about why I think it happens and things that need to change…

  • Middle school really is the worst. Kids teased me for being home schooled, but at least I didn't have to endure them everyday.

  • It's terrible, it's always something isn't it?! I'm so glad those days are behind us.