In Part 5 – Abide With Me, Eric practices walking and talking with God. In today’s instalment, Gemma asks for help.
It was Friday afternoon and Gemma sat waiting in the car. Her eyes followed the departing students in their green blazers, some walking, some chatting, some cycling and others waiting for the bus, but she didn’t see any of them. She’d had a rotten week. It wasn’t fair. Why did Jade and her gang have to pick on her? Every day this week, they’d made her life miserable and today had been really bad. Her face was impassive but inside she seethed, thoughts roiling like a cauldron. “God, I hate school! Please help me!”
The car doors pinged and the boot lid rose slowly, just as they did every weekday at 3:45. Her mum, Jenny, heaved a bulging briefcase and a large box of exercise books into the boot. “Hello sweetie. How was your day?” she asked.
“OK” mumbled Gemma, eyes averted.
“You know, if there’s something wrong you can always talk to me,” said Jenny as the car turned out of the school gates into Bolsover Road.
But she couldn’t, could she? It was bad enough Mum being a teacher, but if Gemma told anyone she’d never hear the end of it. She’d be labelled a grass and she knew it would just get worse. She quickly changed the subject. “Mum, why has dad gone weird?”
“What do you mean, dear?”
“Well, he’s never really spent much time with me; he was always working or watching the telly. But he’s been different lately.”
Jenny negotiated the Walford roundabout before replying. “I know what you mean. Have you noticed he’s started doing the vacuum cleaning and the ironing? It’s certainly taken the pressure off me. I even had a bunch of flowers last week, and it wasn’t even my birthday! I quite like the new Eric. I think it’s good, don’t you?”
Gemma brightened. “First Dad said he was sorry for being sarky about me and hassling me and then he asked if I needed help with anything. So that’s when I asked him if we could paint my room. I didn’t think he’d actually do anything, but before you know it we were down at B&Q choosing colours. Doing the room together was well cool. What’s happened, Mum? What’s up with him?”
Jenny smiled. “He’s been praying.”
“Yes. Every morning before breakfast he nips into the study for twenty minutes. It seems to be doing him good.”
“Is that why he’s so horribly cheerful over the cornflakes?”
The car pulled up in their driveway with a jolt. “I expect so dear, but it’s a small price to pay, don’t you think?”
Next morning, at breakfast, Eric was contentedly wolfing down a waffle spread with honey. Gemma looked round carefully to make sure they were alone. Even so, she hesitated before taking the plunge. “Dad, there’s something I have to tell you, but you mustn’t tell anyone else, especially Mum, OK?”
“What’s up, Gemmy pie?”
“Dad, please don’t call me that. This is serious. Look at this.” She handed him her phone.
With growing distress and anger, Eric read through screen upon screen of social media entries going back for months. He held in his hand a record of bullying, taunting and daily humiliation of his lovely daughter. There had already been three cruel jibes so far this morning. The ringleader seemed to be a girl called Jade.
He prayed inwardly: “Thank you Lord, for bringing this to light. Please show me what to do and please take all the lies and hurt out of my little girl’s heart.”
“I just had to show someone, Dad. I can’t take any more. I don’t know what to do.”
Eric rested his arm on Gemma’s shoulder. “I’m so glad, you told me, sweetheart. You’re right, this is very serious. I promise you we’ll sort it out. Tell me love, is it physical? Do they hit you, or is it just words?”
“Just words, Dad, but they hurt so much and it won’t go away. Please make them stop.”
“Come here, sweetie.” For the first time in years, Eric hugged Gemma. “Listen to me. None of this is true. Every word of it is a lie. You are my lovely daughter. You are God’s child and he has made you special and beautiful and given you so many talents and abilities.”
“But Dad?” Her eyes went to the phone. “What about … ?”
“They’re lies Gemma. All lies. The truth is: I love you; mum loves you; God loves you. You are the best”
“Thanks for saying that, Dad”.
“It’s true. Now, I’d like to think and pray about how we can get this sorted out. Would you be happy to leave your phone with me, just for today, and we’ll decide what to do tomorrow? Let it be my problem today, not yours. How does that sound?”
Gemma raised her gaze. “That sounds good.” She picked up the phone, and turned it off. “Here, Dad you take it.” It was so hard to hand it over, but as she let it go, some of the pain went with it.
Sunday morning found them walking, deep in conversation, through Priory Park. The warm spring sunshine lit up the yellow primroses and bluebells, long-tailed tits flittered through the trees and a squirrel watched them nervously as they passed. “Yesterday, I looked up your school policy on bullying on the internet; it looks really good,” said Eric. “I know you asked me not to tell anyone, but we really ought to speak to your Head of Year. What’s Mrs Heathfield like?”
“She’s all right… sensible… and kind.”
“Even if Jade and co. stopped picking on you, they could just start on someone else. We do need to talk to her. If I came with you after school, would that be OK?”
“OK, I’ll make us an appointment.” Eric continued: “There’s something else; when I prayed this morning, God reminded me of this amazing thing that Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’. I’ve been learning that love and prayer together are a pretty powerful combination. Do you think you might be able to give that a go?”
“Love them and pray for them? Dad, they’re so mean. I don’t know if I can. Dad, I don’t want to be afraid of them ever again. If I prayed, would God stop them picking on me?”
“I know that when we start doing what God says, then things start to get better. They are mean, but how about if I pray for you every day and God protects you and helps you? Could you love them and pray for them then?”
Hope took hold of Gemma’s hand. With her dad and God on her side, perhaps she could. “Yes, I think so.” Faith joined hands with Hope and with Gemma, making a strong circle. “With you and God on my side, I can,” she said.
Sitting on the park bench, in front of the lake, father and daughter prayed together as they looked out across the peaceful waters. Eric began. “Father, protect Gemma every day this week. Let school become a safe and happy place for her. Please give Mrs Heathfield wisdom to put an end to this. Thank you for loving us, even when we do things wrong. Help Gemma to love Jade and her friends like you do. Amen”.
Gemma carried on from where her dad had left off. “Lord, I don’t even like Jade and her mates, so how can I love them? But you said ‘love your enemies’, so if you show me how to do it, I will. Amen”.
She paused for a moment as if thinking or perhaps listening. “OK God, I forgive them for all those lies… Now what? Oh yes, pray for them… I think they must be pretty messed up inside to want to hurt people, so please sort out the things that make them mean. Amen”
As they walked back home, Gemma felt lighter than she had for a long time, as if a weight had been lifted off her back. Before they went into the house, Eric said: “Gemma, you know you can talk to me and to God, anytime you like. Together, we’re a strong team. It may take a little while, but this will get sorted out”.
“I know Dad.” She smiled. “If God’s on my side, it’ll be cool.”
If someone is being bullied, it is vital that they get help from someone they trust.
You might like to read ‘No More Bullies’ by Frank Peretti.
Preview: (Part 7) – Holy Ghost and Fire
“Dad, you’re into prayer. What is praying in tongues?” asked Gemma over the dinner table.
“Uhhhh,” said Eric. His chin dropped and he looked wildly at his wife, Jenny, hoping for support.
“I think I’ll go and make some coffee,” she said, smiling to herself…
©Peter Hendra April 2018