To the Girl I Bullied in School | Opinion

Her name was Sarah. But we rarely ever called her that. We called her lots of names, but never Sarah.

It was a small-town church school. We served kids with Bibles and bullies.

And I'd like to say that I was the hero. That I swooped in, a true Christian savior, and told all the other kids where they could shove their criticism. I'd like to tell you that I lead a prayer meeting and revival, and that we all held hands and sang "Kumbaya."

But we didn't, and I wasn't.

I was the mean girl. I was the one passing time by passing ugly notes. I pointed and laughed. I'd say "shh" every time she talked. She, like every kid who is treated horribly by an obnoxious prick who should have known better, didn't deserve to be treated that way. And I don't deserve her forgiveness. But she gave it to me anyway.

Her name is Sarah.

I will spare you the triumphant yarn of how my life changed, because I am not the hero in this story. She is. Suffice to say that time did pass and I did change.

I experienced the God my small school always preached about (by the way, She was so much different than how they described Him—and yes, I switched pronouns on purpose.) I became an author and a speaker. I now travel the country preaching sermons, and spend my days teaching at Christian universities. I started getting attention for my blog on Facebook. 60,000 followers has a lot of overlap in small-town networks. I am the girl from your high school who never fully paid for all my sins, and my privilege isn't lost on me. Nor was it lost on Sarah.

Sarah noticed.

So she did what any millennial would do. She took to social media, and she set the record straight. She posted that it was very upsetting to her that the mean girl from 7th grade is being granted a podium and a platform. She told everyone that it made her sick to see me succeed. That mean girls still finish first.

A friend of mine screenshot her post and sent it to me. "Can you believe what she is saying about you?", the friend said.

My first instinct was to get defensive. I was not at all the same girl at 32 as I was at 12. So much had happened in 20 years. How could she still be angry?

But then I realized that yes, even after 20 years, she was still angry. And she had every right to be. For 20 years she had carried the trauma of bullying. I am sure it impacted her high school years, and then her college. I am sure it made her less trusting, or wary of people, perhaps specifically other women.

So I wrote her a long message. I told her that she didn't have to respond, and that she didn't owe me her forgiveness, but that I was truly sorry for how I treated her 20 years ago. "No magic wand can make any of what I did to you better," I wrote. "but I have to offer you this sincere apology and I pray that maybe it can come with a small piece of closure. If you'd like, I can call you, and say this again on the phone. I am so sorry, Sarah, and I hope that in spite of all of my insensitivity, you shined."

She wrote me back and said she was crying. She said she was bullied from kindergarten to high school. "Time passes, but the memories stay," she wrote. And then she forgave me. She didn't have to, but she did.

Not only did she forgive me, but we have sent countless messages back and forth through the last couple of years, talking about boyfriends and husbands, college and jobs. I daresay that we are friends now, and I asked her for permission before I wrote this article.

I tweeted about this experience this week, and over 2,700 people resonated with it. The comment thread is filled with stories. Bullies admitting who they were, and victims describing how those dreadful years made them feel. Several people tweeting that the story inspired them to go and say they were sorry to people they knew they had hurt.

If you are waiting on someone's else's apology, please, at least for the time being, accept mine. I am so sorry for how you were treated.

If you are someone who has some apologizing to do, let me say this: I don't know who you've hurt, or who is waiting on your "I'm sorry." But you should give it to them. You should own up to who you've been, if you want to live up to who you are today.

And remember: they don't have to forgive you. The victims of our cruelty don't owe us anything. But there is a girl from my 7th grade who is beautiful, strong, and loving. And I hope she shines, despite my insensitivity.

Her name is Sarah.

Dr. Heather Thompson Day is Communication Professor at Colorado Christian University, and a contributor to the Barna Group, an evangelical research institution. She can be found blogging on I'm That Wife.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​