For my tenth birthday my aunt and uncle gave me a short children's book called, You Are Special. The book is set in a village made up of little wooden puppets called, Wemicks. The puppets run around all day trying to impress each other with how talented, beautiful, or smart they are. Each one has a box of star stickers to stick on other Wemicks when what they see pleases them, and a box of dot stickers to give to others when they fail. How many stars or dots a puppet has determine how popular they are.
In the story we first meet a small, not-so-handsome, clumsy, tongue tied, puppet named, Punchinello. He has been given many dots by the puppets around him. Eventually he meets the woodcarver. My favorite part of the book is when the woodcarver puts his hands on Punchinello's shoulders and says, "You are special because I made you, and I don't make mistakes."
Looking back over my life these words had an amazing impact. When my aunt and uncle gave me this book for my tenth birthday, they read it to me and told me, “You are special.” The book was put on my shelf and forgotten, but those three words stuck with me. Years later I was talking with some of my Mom's friends when something one of the ladies said reminded me of the book. Suddenly I had an idea. It was to take the You Are Special book and two teen novels and put them together as an interpretive speech. In an interpretive speech you use literature to tell a story and make a point.
I was a junior at the time and homeschooled. Contrary to popular belief, homeschooling did not protect me from all of the scary things in high school. In my junior year there were a couple of epidemics spreading though our homeschool group. I use the word epidemic because it's the only word that brings to mind all the emotions and thoughts felt not only by those struggling, but by anyone watching the situation unfold. Heart Breaking. Delusional. Horrible. Pain. Loss. Void. Confusion. Panic. Disorder. Dead. Just like an epidemic, it spread like wild fire.
By the time I was a senior, I had twenty-three friends in my circle who were dealing with some form of self harm, and eighteen friends who had a form of eating disorders. Given the unique education circumstances we were in, we all grew up to be very close, more like family than friends. I remember nights when I was up at all hours, instant messaging three or four people and texting another few, trying to help process their troubling emotions. They all had different reasons for harming and depriving themselves. Some did it because of family issues, some because of relationships, some from stress of school or jobs, some for attention, and some merely because everyone else was doing it. Yet, ALL suffered from the lack of feeling special or valued by those around them. I had to show them the truth, and I prayed my speech would open their eyes.
I remember one of the first times I gave my speech in competition. It was through the NCFCA, a national league where homeschoolers competed in forensics. It wasn't only an opportunity to grow our communication skills, but to hang out with friends and travel. I stood looking at my judges and a room full of my friends. I knew this would hit home with nearly all of them. I took a deep breath.
“God, for your glory. Please give me your strength and open their hearts.”
I looked up and began pouring all my emotions and prayers for understanding into the stories for the next ten minutes. As I finished, tears streaked the faces of not only one of my judges, but nearly everyone else in the room. My job was done. They had heard me.
After walking out of the room two of my best friends and my mom came and hugged me. There we stood in the middle of the hallway crying in a group hug. The girls had both struggled with cutting themselves, and my mom had been watching everything going on. The girls looked at me and simply said two words, “thank you.”
I continued to give my speech in many competitions and some community settings, each time feeling more and more sure that it was what God put me here to do. Even though many times I was shot down by judges, parents, and strangers, I knew I did what I had to do. Nearly every criticism came from a place of fear. They feared imperfection. They feared someone on the outside would see past the masks they put on to the broken pieces beneath. The most resistance I felt was from the parents of my friends dealing with the issues. Instead of figuring out how to help their kids, they thought it best to keep it hidden because of what people might think. The more resistance I felt, the more determined I became.
I qualified with my speech to the national NCFCA tournament in North Carolina at the end of my senior year. I spent almost all my graduation money to drive myself and mom out there for the week. Imagine how I felt when judges told me I was talking about issues that were “too personal,” and that I should "not bring God into such things.” When I read these comments on my ballots I wanted to scream to the world, “THIS IS WHERE GOD IS! HE IS WITH THE BROKEN. CAN'T YOU SEE? WE ARE ALL BROKEN AND WE ARE SPECIAL TO HIM!” However, I don't think the whole world would have heard me.
I spent the three-day drive home upset and feeling like a failure. I slept more than I drove (as my Mom often reminds me). I didn't understand how people could feel that way. My mom cheered me up as best as she could.One of the best memories I have is having wine coolers in the hotel hot tub one night and just letting it all go.
The next day the drive was finally over, and I was home. That's when it happened. Texts and Facebook messages came flooding in. People who needed help, friends of those hurting themselves, and even a few parents at a loss for what to do with their kids, contacted me after seeing my speech. I knew I wasn't a counselor, psychologist, or even an adult for that matter, but I was able to turn them to helpful resources and give encouragement. In every instance I reminded those writing that the most important thing for someone to hear is that they are special, not because of actions, accomplishments, or what anyone said about them, but because God made them, and He doesn't make mistakes. I told parents and friend to remind those hurting that they were loved no matter what. It's a wonder what those two thoughts can do for a person's self worth.
This experience shaped a very large part of the person I am today. I now know I can stand up and talk about tough issues that most people want to push under the rug and keep quiet. I know that each person is special, no matter what they wear, believe, say, or do. I know I am created by God, and he loves me not for all the things I do or don't do, but because He made me, and he knows my heart. I know that I want to help and encourage people. In whatever I do, I want everyone around me to feel loved, accepted, and safe.
I may not have come away with a trophy or a title, but I walked away from high school knowing I made a difference. God used me, and I am special no matter what messes I get myself into. I learned that the dots and the stars from people don't matter and don't get to stick to me, because the only opinion at the end of the day that truly matters, is that of my Creator.
At the end of You Are Special, the not so popular puppet, Punchinello, has met the woodcarver and talked with him. He is walking out the door of the shop when the woodcarver calls to him.
"'You are special because I made you, And I don't make mistakes.'
Punchinello didn't stop, but in his heart he thought, I think he really means it.
And when he did, a dot fell to the ground."