Standing Up to Old Bullies

Lynda Frederick had been bullied in high school. Now 25 years later, she faces her enemies again—this time on her terms.

High school life for Lynda Frederick was the worst you could imagine. From dodging flying objects to garnering a nickname as the "scum of the school," Lynda left southern California after graduation and never looked back—until a few years ago, when on a whim she decided to reconnect with some old classmates online.

That decision changed the course of her life—leading her to forgive those who had hurt her 25 years earlier. It even landed her in the midst of a media storm about her experience.

On November 18, GMC's pilot show, I Forgive You, will air Lynda's journey to forgiveness. Here's a TCW glimpse behind the scenes of her story—including tips for parents and teachers who want to end bullying both inside and outside the classroom.

What kind of bullying did you endure in your high school years?

LYNDA: The bullying was an everyday, look-over-my-shoulder kind of thing. It was everything: what I wore, how I looked. It didn't matter what I did, I always got picked on. I got called the "scum of the school," and had things thrown at me. People tripped me. I didn't feel like I had any escape; I just kept dragging every day to get through school. I wasn't an honor roll student; I barely passed. When I graduated, I couldn't get out of there fast enough.

How did you cope?

My family wasn't supportive, and my religious upbringing was focused on all the things I wasn't allowed to do—go to dances, celebrate holidays, things like that.

I had one person I could go to for support: my psychology teacher, Mr. Bree. He was a big inspiration to me because his classroom was always open. Many times I would go into his room crying, and he would take the time to listen even if he had been busy doing something else.

With that kind of painful experience, it seems unlikely to reconnect with your classmates. How did that happen?

When I left California 25 years ago, I swore I'd never go back, but when I found an alumni group on Facebook a few years ago, I guess curiosity got the best of me. I wanted to see what everyone from my school was doing, so I decided to catch up with a few people I knew and liked, and it went from there.

After a few years I felt courageous enough to let the group know what I was struggling with and see how they would respond. So I wrote a poem and posted it on the Facebook page:

that little girl who came to school with the clothes she wore the day before
instead of asking why … you picked on her
the little girl who had to walk to school while others rode the bus
instead of asking why … you picked on her
the little girl who had bruises and was dirty
instead of asking why … you picked on her
the little girl who was always crying
instead of asking why … you picked on her
the little girl who had unshaven legs while the other girls were shaving
instead of asking why … you picked on her
the little girl who was hungry all the time and would sometimes beg
instead of asking why … you picked on her
the little girl who didn't celebrate holidays or participate in school functions
instead of asking why … you picked on her
the little girl who was different in many ways
instead of asking why … you picked on her
you spat on her
you called her names
that little girl was me
that little girl was longing for friendship and didn't get it
that little girl needed a hug and was pushed away
that little girl had love in her heart to share with all but no one wanted it
that little girl was me
that little girl grew up in difficult times at home and at school
and instead of asking why … you picked on her
this WOMAN has grown up now
however the little girl inside still cries
because her childhood was shattered
because instead of asking why … you picked on her

Wow, that's a powerful poem. What happened after you posted it?

Things went absolutely nuts. One of my classmates decided she wanted to get me out to California for our 25th reunion, so they raised enough money to fly me there. I couldn't believe it, but I told myself, Okay, I can do this.

When they were raising the money, somebody mentioned it to the news media in San Diego. So when a reporter called, I didn't think much of it really, so I did a phone interview with them. The next thing I knew I got calls from all over the place—I even had the Oprah show call me.

Then Arnold Shapiro from GMC TV called me and suggested an appearance in which I meet and confront my classmates and talk to them about forgiveness. I'd seen some of his shows and knew they were quality, so I agreed. My kids were like, "Mom, you're a celebrity!" but I thought, Oh my, let me curl up under my rock where I belong, okay?

What was it like to go back to your high school after 25 years?

At first I was nervous and shy; I didn't know what to do. Finally I said, Forget this. I'm just gonna open up and go with it.

I actually had classmates come up to me and hug me—people who'd been snots to me in high school. A lot of them knew I was coming because they'd donated money to fly me out. It was amazing; at the end of the evening I walked out feeling a big weight lift off my shoulders. It was great.

How were you able to forgive your classmates for hurting you?

Christ forgave us; he died for our sins. Bullying is a sin, but I've also sinned. All of us have. I figured, if Christ gave his life for me and forgave my sins, then I could forgive them. Christ died to do that. I don't think I could die for just anybody. I mean, I'd die for my kids, but I couldn't die for the world to forgive them their sins. I don't have that kind of strength, but I do have the strength to forgive—why hold it in?

Once I decided to forgive, I felt the burden lift from me. It was a burden I didn't have to carry. The Bible tells us to put our burdens at God's feet. I carried that pain of being bullied for so long, yet when I finally did forgive, with God's help, it was easy.

You're a parent. How did your childhood experiences shape the way you raise your children?

I've learned to listen to my kids, and I let them know I'm always there for them. I've also taught them how to speak up for themselves. My two boys, who are 20 and 22, did pretty well; boys are boys, they can manage themselves. My daughter, who's 14, struggled with being picked on, though, and that was another thing that got me to write the poem. Watching what my daughter had to experience and feeling that pain again had an effect on me.

She got picked on because of the way she looked or how she dressed, and I told her, "You know, if they don't like it, tell them not to look." It's hard, though, because even though I'm telling her these things, I know in my heart it's easier said than done. I've been there. Yeah, I could walk away—I tried to walk away—but the hurt's still there. So I know that even though I'm telling her to walk away, I know it still hurts her. I let her know, "I'm still here for you—don't be afraid to speak up." My problem was that I never really spoke up. So I tell her, "You have teachers and your counselor to talk to. Say something, don't hold it in."

Having lived through bullying and now looking at it from an adult's perspective, what advice would you give anyone hoping to stop it?

I think more adults—teachers, parents, pastors, counselors—need to have their doors open. This is serious—so serious that kids are killing themselves because they don't talk about it. They don't tell anybody, because they're scared to tell. They need a safe place to go and talk.

My daughter is on a respect team at school. They focus on bullying, and if they see it, they speak up. Orange Glen High School (my school) has a group like that now too. More schools need to have something like that—where students speak up for the other students.

Everybody needs to open their eyes—parents need to leave their ears open; teachers need to leave their doors open students need to work together instead of working against one another. If there are more doors open, maybe kids will start walking through them and start talking.

The best thing I can do is leave my door, ears, and arms open for my kids. I send up lots and lots of prayers. Hopefully that will save lives.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Allison J. Althoff

Allison J. Althoff is Today's Christian Woman's online editor. Follow her on Twitter @ajalthoff.

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