I am truly grieved that Lynzee Benoit never had the chance to meet Bart Palosz.
She would have warmed Bart's heart with words of encouragement, assuring him that his towering stature, Polish accent and pockmarked face couldn't keep the God of the universe from lavishing His love upon him. And Lynzee would have undergirded Bart's spirit with truth, the truth that the God who so loved him also had a unique role for him in this world, a role that ultimately would lead to indescribable fulfillment.
But all 15-year-old Bart Palosz knew and experienced on August 27, 2013, was discouragement … denigration … and desperation. It was the first day back to school, and it would turn out to be Bart's last day. He went home and later that afternoon killed himself with the family shotgun.
You see "back to school" for Bart meant "back to being bullied," and when he discovered that his sophomore year in high school was going to be just like the previous seven years, full of torment and pain, he drowned in hopeless despair.
Lynzee can tenderly relate to Bart's pain, she has suffered at the hands of bullies because of facial asymmetry due to missing muscles and associated problems stemming from hydrocephalus. But Lynzee's pummeled spirit has instead found rich renewal, basking in the inexhaustible, comforting truths of her Lord and Savior found in His Word. She'll never have the chance to say it to Bart, but she's saying it now to others who are bullied:
"There is way more to life, to the grand scheme of things, beyond what people think of you – whether you are to them – too fat, too skinny, you've got too many freckles or acne, or your face doesn't look right. You were created by Someone who holds you in the highest esteem … you are the apple of His eye."
As millions of children contemplate going back to school, it's critically important that parents, educators and friends remember that some will be experiencing far more than first-day jitters – they will be racked with overwhelming fear. Now is the time to #StopStandUp against Bullying!
Seven Steps to Stand Up to Stop Bullying
1. Explain how God makes everyone unique and valuable.
We need to appreciate and learn from those who are different from us.
"As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another."
2. Model relationships of respect, kindness, civility and self-control.
Children most often learn how to interact and relate to others by observing and interacting with their parents, siblings and other family and friends.
"In everything set them an example by doing what is good.
In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech
that cannot be condemned."
3. Purposefully connect with your child's online community.
Monitor your children's connections and communication on message boards, blogs, school-sponsored sites and all of their social media.
"Whoever would love life and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.
They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil."
(1 Peter 3:10-12)
4. Own responsibility for preventing and stopping bullying.
Children and teens are not equipped to handle harassment and abuse alone, but need a support network of parents, educators and peers.
"For the sins of their mouths,
for the words of their lips,
let them be caught in their pride."
5. Work with your community to prevent bullying and to protect children.
Recognize that bullying doesn't affect just a few children, but many children.
"Plans fail for lack of counsel,
but with many advisers they succeed."
6. Encourage your children to stand up for themselves and others.
Explain that ignoring bullying indirectly gives approval to abuse. Clearly convey that many bullying situations can be stopped with proper intervention.
"Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.
Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone,
without comparing themselves to someone else,
for each one should carry their own load."
7. Redeem the heart of your child – whether they are the bully or the one being bullied.
Your parental involvement is crucial. Learn how to guide both bullies and their victims toward forgiveness, healing and changed behavior.
"Do to others as you would have them do to you."
Stop for a moment and consider: If today is a school day, countless children are being bullied. They are experiencing immense emotional and physical pain. For far too long … far too many have looked the other way or have relegated bullying as "just a part of growing up." In the simplest of terms, bullying is abuse and the bullied are victimized … so what will you do … to Stand Up to Stop Bullying?