BALATON - Every time Luke Nelson was bullied in high school - which was often - the incident left invisible scars, wounding his body, mind and soul to the core. At his "Stand Up" presentation Wednesday at Victory Christian Church in Balaton, Nelson gave his personal testimony to nearly 200 people, explaining how bullying affected his life and how he was able to find his own worth through God.
"I want to talk to you about how bullying can leave scars in someone's live, forever," Nelson said. "You take this piece of paper and you crumple it, and the more you crumple it, the more creases it gets. This represented my life when I hit rock bottom, when I was made fun of, when I was laughed at and when I was called names. And each one of these creases in the paper represent a scar I got every time that happened."
Nelson said no matter how much a person tries to unravel that crumpled up paper and make it look like it did before it was damaged, you can't do it.
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Kami Hanson, left, finds comfort in the words and prayers from Luke Nelson (center) and Peter Backstrom at a “Stand Up” against bullying presentation Wednesday in Balaton.
"It's still full of creases," he said. "From a distance, it might look fine, but up close, it's full of creases. I would just laugh it off with the students who were bullying me. I tried to take all that pain, all that hurt and just shove it way down where I could just forget about it. So on the outside, I may have looked fine, like nothing was wrong, but on the inside, I was full of pain."
Nelson said he came home after that first day of high school crying and begged his parents to homeschool him.
"Then there was the second, third, fourth and fifth day of school," he said. "I could not take it anymore. It hurt."
Nelson's struggles began before he was even born, he said, and followed him through his young life.
"Before I was born, I had a blood clot in my brain," he said. "As a result, I lost one-third of my cerebellum on the bottom right side. And when I was born, the doctors told my parents that I was a miracle baby, not only because most babies would not have survived something like this, but also because I would have been dead instantly if this blood clot was just a millimeter closer to my cerebellum."
Early on, doctors said Nelson would never experience a normal childhood.
"They said I would never know what it's like to go outside and climb trees, build forts, ride a bike or throw a football or baseball around with my own dad and my brother," Nelson said.
Instead, Nelson went to therapy, where he learned how to throw a ball, catch a ball and to hold a pencil in his hand.
Simple tasks were difficult for him. But at the age of 5, Nelson was able to quit therapy and start kindergarten.
"It was during those K-8 years that I really started learning about myself, meaning that I started to see that I wasn't like all my friends or fellow classmates," Nelson said. "What came easy for them in school came twice as hard for me. And as a result, I was extremely frustrated. I was mad. I wanted to give up."
Nelson said he was also embarrassed because he couldn't seem to comprehend the things his classmates could. It was during that time that he found a Bible verse that ultimately saved his life.
"It's Philippians 4:13, and it says, 'I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,'" Nelson said. "I would tell myself that I could do all things and that would just be enough to get me through that wall, to get me over that hurdle and I was able to conquer the task at that time."
Nelson also came to realize, through his parents' guidance, that he was made in Christ's image for his purpose and his glory.
"So no matter what I had in my mind, if I had Christ, if he was number one, and I was looking toward him, I knew I could get through it," Nelson said. "I put God first during those K-8 years. But all that came to an end when I entered high school."
Nelson said he remembers the walking to his first class and getting made fun of by a group of kids standing in the hallway.
"They started making fun of me and even started mimicking me and nodding their head with me," he said. "They called me Bobble Head. And the reason I nodded my head, and I still do to this day, is because of the blood clot."
Nelson began telling himself that he wasn't good enough and that he'd never amount to anything and said he even started blaming God. He contemplated suicide, but immediately had a flashback from his K-8 years, when he looked to God.
"I told myself, 'Luke, you're better than this,'" Nelson said. "I started telling myself again, that I could do all things through Christ and that I was made in his image. I kept my eyes on him, not looking to the left or to the right or trying to take it under my own power. I already tried that and it didn't work."
A defining moment in his life came when one person, the most popular kid at Marshall High School, chose to stand up for him.
"I was in the men's locker room getting ready for cross country practice, and there were a couple of football players getting ready for their practice," Nelson said. "A couple of them started laughing at me, calling me names and nodding their heads at me. And the captain of the football team, Sam Wiener, the most popular kid in school, went up to his teammate, his friend, and threw him against the locker and started yelling, 'Stop making fun of him. You don't know who he is, what's wrong with him or what he's been through.' And instantly, they all stopped making fun of me."
Nelson encouraged everyone in attendance to stand up against bullying.
"If you took 10 seconds, just 10 seconds, to stand up for somebody who is getting made fun of, laughed at or getting called named, you could potentially save their life," Nelson said. "And not only that, if every one of you here just took 10 seconds to stand up, you could potentially put an end to bullying in your schools."
Peter Backstrom, a senior high youth leader with his wife Tanya at VCC, revealed some startling statistics during the evening.
"Every 30 minutes, a teenager attempts suicide due to bullying," he said. "About 47 teens are bullied every five minutes. Statistics like that are pretty huge. But we know there's an impact we can make with this. Luke is a living testimony of God's healing and grace."
Nelson also suggested reaching out to people, noting that there are compassionate individuals who bullied victims can turn to, including himself. At the end of the presentation, Nelson invited everyone to come up front and pray with him.
Channa McCurdy was one of many connected with Nelson.
"I thought the presentation was really heart-touching," she said. "Sometimes another person's story hits people because they might be going through the same thing."
McCurdy, who is a senior at Elkton (S.D.) High School and attends church in Ruthton, said she was bullied when she was younger.
"It brings you down," she said. "It's like you feel separated from everyone else. And you don't know who to go to, if you can even go to anyone."
McCurdy remembers how one person was able to make a difference in her life.
"There was this one girl, when I was in fifth grade, and she was new to the school I was in," McCurdy said. "She was told all the rumors about me, but she still came to me and talked to me."
Nelson, a Balaton native, plans to continue traveling and sharing his story, reaching out to as many people as he can. To contact Nelson, go to: firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Facebook.