My early years were spent climbing trees with friends, going to the park with friends, and riding bikes with friends. My whole childhood was filled with friends – friends that I made on the street, friends at children’s church, friends in school, friends at friends’ houses, etc.
Everywhere I went, I collected friends like I collected stickers. I was the popular one, the one everyone wanted to be friends with. I always made sure to include everyone, and I was a bold leader. Warmth and laughter followed us whenever we spent time together.
But somewhere along the way, I lost that part of who I used to be.
But now – after so many years – it has been reclaimed. Unexpectedly and joyfully.
It’s been a journey.
High school was where everything started to fall apart. There was this one specific girl that I grew up with – a girl that had been one of my closest childhood friends. A spirit of jealousy, gossip, and comparison started to creep up in her heart, and overnight she became one of my worst enemies.
I no longer had the boldness nor the courage to stand up for my beliefs. My beliefs were of inclusion, friendliness, and positivity. Yes, the light is stronger than the darkness. But for some reason, I just couldn’t stand up for myself and others anymore. And so she won and claimed the ground for herself. The darkness in her heart soon enveloped the hallways of our school, and eventually in almost every hallway of my life.
Realizing I had lost the war, I withdrew. I gave in and threw my white flag in the air. I started embracing being alone, and I no longer had friends around me. Everyone wanted to be her friend, please her, be in her ‘good books.’ I felt powerless; I didn’t know how to handle the darkness that surrounded her. She influenced everyone around her, and it engulfed all who crossed her hallways.
It became my default lifestyle to be a loner. I only had a select group of friends… And even those friends I kept at a distance, never fully trusting them. I expected that they would eventually turn against me. Just like she had done.
There was this song that I listened to in high school, and it always stuck in my head. It’s called ‘High School’ (original!) and it’s by SuperChick, a Christian rock band that was popular in the early 2000s. The lyrics go like this:
High school is like a big competition
Beauty contests, prom court is the mission
There can only be one queen, one king
Everyone voting, everyone competing
But these are the rules, the way of high school
If someone puts you down, that’s so high school
Someone talks behind your back, that’s so high school
Thinking you have to get them back, that’s also high school
I know I’ll be graduating early
The funny thing is, we tend to think that it all stops when we finish high school. Gossiping, betrayal, bullying, backstabbing. Unfortunately, it can continue way after our matric farewells.
My uncle had a father who belittled and abused him with his words. And so my uncle grew up, always fighting for the underdog. Fighting for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves.
In a conversation I had with my uncle, he told me that he’s been teaching his children how to stand up to bullies. ‘Bullies are everywhere,’ he warned me. ‘They’re not just in high school. The sooner you learn to stand up to them, the easier your life will be.’
He probably knows what he’s talking about, for he’s a fighter in the form of a lawyer today.
I recently read this article email sent to me by Darling Magazine. It was titled ‘How to Deal With ‘Playground Bullies Who Are All Grown Up,’ and it gave some great insight into how to rule the hallways.
‘In the hallways and on the metaphorical playground of adulthood, bullies far too often go unnamed and unchecked. Adult bullies don’t play by the rules, and there is no teacher to yank them to the principal’s office.
When we were children, we may have been told that bullies would grow out of their bullying ways, but that expectation can be misleading. Adults can be bullies too. But just like in childhood, the more they are named and exposed, the less power they have.’
The article also states that ‘more than anything, bullying thrives in isolation.’ Because when the victims are isolated, they are ‘much more likely to doubt themselves and to feel powerless.’ I chuckled when I read that because this statement hits the nail right on the head.
Darling also asks two great questions: Have you ever encountered an adult version of a bully? and How have you learned to speak up for yourself and others in the face of bullying?
These are great questions to ask yourself and others when having conversations. Bullies are still real, but so are community and real friendships.
I’ve picked up on something that is prominent in small towns:
Small town = small mindsets.
What I mean by that, is that I have lived in small towns. In between, I’ve also lived in big cities – Bloemfontein and Johannesburg. The contrast is quite evident in the way people live their lives.
In small towns, people fight for their place in the sun. They think there’s not enough space for everyone, so they need to claim their spot. Anyone else that is better or bigger than them, is a threat to their livelihoods. This applies in businesses, churches, relationships, etc.
This makes me think of another place where the attitude is the same… Yep, high schools.
Gossiping is also rife in small towns like these. Everyone knows everyone, so it seems to give people the permission and access to talk and talk and talk and talk.
Small town = small mindsets.
Whereas in big towns there’s plenty of competition, but there’s more than enough space for everyone. Also, gossip is not as evident because those people have fuller lives, better things to do. The world is a bigger place, and there’s a place for everyone because the sun shines on everyone.
Jeffrey’s Bay is a small town. The smallest one I’ve yet lived in. That small mindsets syndrome is here, and it’s unfortunately quite evident. I have noticed it almost immediately, but I choose not to engage.
I refuse to let this new playground of mine become rife with jealousy, gossip, and comparison. I refuse to let it happen here. Not on my watch. Not while I’m ruling these hallways with kindness, boldness, and inclusion.
In 2017, I had the honour of doing Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM) in Redding, California. Because I had to attend the classes every day, I had to organize lifts for myself. One of the girls who generously drove me around was called Lila, a lovely American young woman. One day, as she was dropping me off at home, she made a statement that profoundly stuck with me:
‘Some things can only be healed in community. ‘
At BSSM, we were taught that our relationship with our earthly father is usually how we experience God. While our relationship with our mother impacts our relationship with Holy Spirit. And that how we experience Jesus is usually in connection to how we experience our siblings and/or our friends.
I have always had a fantastic relationship with God and Holy Spirit, because of my relationships with my earthly father and mother. But Jesus was always distant to me, always a foreign concept. I never spoke to Him, never recognized Him in my life. He simply didn’t exist.
Lila went on to tell me, ‘I never had a good relationship with my father. But here I’ve found a spiritual father in the form of my Revival Group Pastor. It’s restored my relationship with Father God. And it’s something that never would’ve happened all by itself. People need people.’
And that statement would become a realization in my life, as well. I made friends at BSSM. Actually no, that’s not the right way of saying it. People made friends with me. They sought me out, searched me out, pursued me. Before that, I had believed the lie that I was fine all by myself. I was alone, but I wasn’t lonely.
But these people sought me out, and we became friends. These were quality friends, the kind that had high moral values, high standards and lived their lives abandoned to God, Holy Spirit and Jesus.
And so in the process of building these new relationships, my relationship with Jesus was restored as well.
I moved to Jeffrey’s Bay about eight months ago, and I’ve made so many new friends. Simply because I had received healing at BSSM through genuine friendships. How I view and experience friendships have been restored.
I’ve made so many solid, quality, gems of friendships since I came here. Some days, it’s hard to even remember all the names of the friends that I’ve made.
Even through all the lockdowns and isolations, I continued to build friendships. We visited each other, spent time together, encouraged one another. This is my season of embracing friendship, of building friendships, regardless of what governmental regulations are.
In God’s family, there’s not meant to be division but rather diversity. Inclusion instead of exclusion. And it is with this focus that I am building my friendships.
Last weekend I held my first ‘Girls Gathering,’ in which I invited some of my friends to come and have a light brunch with me, at my house. I was amazed by how well everyone got along. We laughed, we shared, we fellowshipped, we connected. And this is only the beginning, only the start of what is yet to come.
With this Girls Gathering, I am following up on my prophetic word that I received for this year (read my column ‘My Past Rewritten’ for more on this). I am 21 this year, which means I get to redo the last 10 years of my life. One way of walking in that promise is by hosting these Gatherings. As a teenager, I didn’t have any social gatherings because of what was going on in my high school. In fact, I think I didn’t even host my 14th, 15th and 16th birthday parties because I felt unsafe with inviting school friends over to my house.
I came across this campaign by Milan Murray, a South African actress whom I had the honour of meeting a few years ago (she interviewed me for her television program, Ontbytsake). She recently launched a campaign called ‘You Can Sit With Us,’ and it’s a project that drives inclusivity.
Milan said, ‘We work with tweens, and we find that something that they struggle with – in primary school, specifically – is exclusion. It is part of our mission to support mental health, mental wellbeing, emotional resilience in this age group and to say ‘you can sit with us’ is one of the things we want to teach children in primary schools to do more often.’
Even though this campaign is aimed at tweens, I love this idea so much and this is what I want for my Gatherings. Milan also said, ‘This campaign is aimed at making the circle bigger, to invite people who are not necessarily like you to come and sit with you.’
This is how the Kingdom of God is supposed to look like. This is how we are supposed to live our lives, with friends embracing and celebrating one another. In this place there is room for everyone, and all are welcome.
It’s still important to keep the boundaries. Yes, we can be friends with everyone, but not everyone should have the same level of access to you.
My father loved to share this concept on relational boundaries, and it has stuck in my head:
In life, there are three kinds of friendships that surround you. The ones that are under you, the ones that are beside you, and the ones that are above you. Make sure you understand who belongs where.
The friends that are below you, are the friends that you have to challenge to rise up to your level. They might not be as spiritually mature, they might still have areas that they need to grow in. Friends like these tend to only take from you, and you get nothing back in return. Friends like these need to be kept within boundaries. Don’t spend too much time with them, or you will burn out quickly.
The friends that are above you, are usually friends that are your mentors. They are successful in an area in which you are still growing (marriage, business, etc.), and you want to learn from them and grow in those areas as well.
And then you have the friends that are next to you. They are the ones on the same level as you, you can laugh together, it’s a safe place, and you can journey through life together.
For most of my life, I had friends who were below me. It was exhausting to always be one step ahead, always having to pull them up to my level while getting nothing in return. These were friendships that took and took from me. It exhausted me, burnt me out, and left me feeling empty.
While at BSSM, for the first time in my life, I had friends next to me and friends above me. They challenged me immensely, encouraged me outside of my comfort zone, and pushed me to think deeper about life. I am so grateful to them, for it was through them that I am now able to find friends who stand next to me, as well as friends above me.
What excites me about my new season here at Jeffrey’s Bay, is that when I look at the friends I’ve made, they have the same values that I have. We celebrate one another, encourage each other, build one another up. I am blown away by the quality – and the quantity – of rare precious stones I’ve discovered. I do not need to look any further, for it’s all right here in Jbay.
I discovered this gem of a song called ‘Crowded Table’ by The Highwomen.
I love the fact that it’s a group of women who recorded this song together.