Monday, June 25, 2012

Standing Alone

During the beginning of my seventh grade year, I was invited to join ranks with one of the most popular groups of girls at school. I’m not sure why—it might have been because I was in the same ward as a couple of the girls who already belonged and this was their version of “fellowshipping” me. My family wasn’t as active in the Church at the time and dedicated leaders had already gone to great lengths to include me in mutual activities during the summer. 

Regardless, I weighed the pros and cons and eventually accepted their invitation. I’ll admit it boosted my self-esteem--which at that age was quite fragile. We had moved back to this area a couple of years before and my shy nature had hampered my social status. It hadn’t helped when a girl who befriended me, passed away from a rare kidney disease a few months later. After that traumatic experience, I retreated into a shell of isolation.  

Joining with this boisterous group of girls helped pull me out of my secluded state. They were fun, looked up to by the others in our class, and I no longer felt alone. Then one weekend they decided to have a slumber party. There were about 14 girls in this group and all of us were to gather at one girl’s home Friday night after school.

I felt so excited—knowing this was a major social event. My mother drove me the five miles into town to the house where the party would take place and as I exited the car with my sleeping bag and small suitcase, I was certain this would be a night to remember. It was . . . but for a very different reason than the one I’d anticipated.

It started out as a typical gathering of preteen girls with lots of giggling, pizza, pop, and candy. We played several games outside and when it grew dark, we retreated to the family room downstairs where we rolled out our sleeping bags and prepared for bed. After we had all changed into nightgowns or pajamas, we sat around on our sleeping bags and visited for several minutes. 

Finally, one girl suggested that we play the game of “Truth or Dare.” I wasn’t familiar with this particular pastime and as they started, I began feeling uneasy as the questions asked became quite crude. The dares weren’t much better. I sat there in shock, knowing that things had taken a decided turn for the worst. Then, suddenly it was my turn. I slowly stood and faced these new friends. I refused to answer the vulgar question directed my way. I was then hit with a dare that went against important standards, items I didn’t realize were implanted in my soul until that moment.

I stood quietly for several seconds, contemplating my fate. I knew that if I refused to cooperate, I would probably be asked to leave, and that my membership in this particular group would come to an end. Nevertheless, I stood my ground. I looked around at the faces watching me and said simply, “This is wrong, we shouldn’t be playing this game.” I was then assaulted by several taunts like: “Chicken!” “Baby!” etc. and so forth. I began making my way to my sleeping bag, intent on packing my things and calling my mother for a ride home. Before I could roll up my bag, another girl moved to my side. She stood bravely and faced the others.

“Cheri is right—this is wrong and we shouldn’t be doing it.”

After this girl spoke, two or three others moved to our side of the room and echoed their support.  Gradually, every girl admitted this wasn’t a very good game and those guilty apologized for indulging in it. The atmosphere changed and the rest of the night was fun and lighthearted.

I learned something about myself that night—I was stronger than I had ever believed. It was okay to be different and not follow the crowd, especially when it veered toward items that were wrong or harmful. A couple of years earlier, a wise grandmother had cautioned me to avoid being a “sheep.” I didn’t fully understand what she meant by that until the night of the slumber party. 

If you are acquainted with sheep, you know that they tend to follow around in a group, regardless of the danger involved. If one of the leaders decides it’s a good idea to work their way through a weak spot in the fence, they will do just that, and the others will follow, often with perilous results.

Through the years, I’ve tried to avoid the sheep mentality, and have followed my own path. This hasn’t always been a popular choice. People are often offended or outraged when I ignore the “norm” of the moment to pursue what I know in my heart is the right thing, at least for me. I have made many mistakes along the way, and tried to learn from them. None of us can be perfect in this mortal world, but each day, we can strive to be a little better than we were before.

Someday, we’ll all stand alone, facing our Redeemer with what we have done, and become. I suspect that money and material items won’t mean anything. What will matter is how we conducted ourselves through a variety of mortal tests. Were we kind? Patient? Thoughtful of others? Did we exhibit faith when the way wasn’t sure? Did we stand up for what was right—even if it wasn’t a popular choice? 

As I saw years ago, sometimes making a positive difference  means being brave enough to stand alone. History is full of examples of those who did just that and changed the world for the better. It lies within each one of us to be as they were—we just have to step away from the crowd and follow the path we know is right.