Why I Didn’t Survive High School

Why I Didn’t Survive High School

by Lucinda Secrest McDowell

Of course I always knew I left high school after my junior year and went straight to college at seventeen. I just couldn’t remember why

Until this week.


Lucinda Lee Secrest, age 15

I discovered one of my many childhood diaries and was shocked at the bleedings of my young teenaged heart, spilling out over pages filled with both Scripture and Rod McKuen poetry…

Though I seemed to ‘have it all’ (home, good grades, loving family) there were days I was desperately unhappy. The pages I wrote are filled with names and incidents of everyone in my small town who crossed my path.

And did or did not choose to linger.

My whole sense of identity and worth appears to have been based on whether or not ‘other people’ liked me, invited me to their parties, or spoke to me in the hall at school.

hsseventeengirlboyTalk about insecure.

Talk about self-absorbed.

Talk about pitiful.

I tried to fit in. But I’m afraid my ‘relational difficulties’ — bossiness, neediness, a judgmental spirit, I confess from my perspective now — pushed people away instead of drawing them closer. (Sadly, even now I sometimes come across to others in a way that is not uplifting, but inadvertently intense. I hate that.)

Stuck in the pages of my sophomore year diary is a poem I wrote but never shared with anyone. Even then I was searching for authenticity, but not knowing where to turn:

hsmeangirls“Some people live among ‘friends’ and are lonely,

‘friends’ are not friends, but acquaintances.

It’s a blow when you realize the ones you thought liked you…


You (and others) only adored them.

I’ve been lonely in the midst of friends.

I’ve been sad in the midst of happiness.

I cried while others lived.

No one calls. No one truly likes me.

But I won’t change for them!

I won’t become a stereotyped fake.

No, I won’t change.

But I also won’t be living when others are living,

I’ll just be existing.

hsmckuenbooksSurely somewhere there is someone who feels as I do.

My life is running away and I haven’t yet ‘lived.’

What can I do to keep from dying?

Yes, the ‘heart is a lonely hunter’.

It searches for someone to love and to be loved by.

It looks for meaning in life and for friends.

Not just ‘friends,’ but friends who listen and understand.

My heart wants something MORE

than false promises, false flattery – false confidence.

The heart is a lonely hunter.

When will it find?”

– Lucinda Lee Secrest, age 15

hsteengirlsI knew there was more… I wrote that so many times in my diary. I wanted to know myself but, more than that, I was desperate to know that my Creator loved me and had a Story for me to live.

That’s why I lingered long —  nose in books, pen in hand, ears to music, and mind to dreaming.

I didn’t survive high school simply because I hadn’t found Strength and Hope and my own true Identity through a relationship with Jesus as Lord. While He was my Savior, I had never bothered to dig deeper and discover the Truth and Power found in God’s Word.

My barometer for meaning was the ever shifting tide of current circumstances and other teens. Though I prayed occasionally, I was not yielding everything in my life to the Lover of my soul…

hstruckBut the “Hound of Heaven” was chasing after me. And I was running away, at least in my heart.

Christmas Eve — “I read some ‘Seventeen’ stories that weren’t any good and then I laid down on the bed and thought about moving away or running away. Somehow I feel that everything would be alright if I could just start over again at a new place. I love Mama and Daddy muchly but nobody gives a tinker’s damn about me. I’m not sure why but I’d like to know…”  later that same day…Mama let me drive the truck around the block and I loved her for it. It made me feel better.”

But God wouldn’t let me get away. Not just yet.

Woman at beach throwing her arms back behind her.I somehow made it through 10th grade. As a cheerleader. And I also made it through 11th grade, but midway discovered that I could actually get accepted at university using my junior SAT scores. So, after much agonizing (and great support on the part of my parents) I left high school and entered Furman University at the ripe age of seventeen. Hundreds of miles away from home. Knowing not one other person on campus. Ready for a fresh start.

And God met me there. He wooed me to Himself and literally changed my life.

Forty years later, He called me back to high school as a teacher. And I also bravely attended my first high school reunion and had a marvelous time…

Are you longing for more?

Are you a ‘depressed teenage cheerleader’ (of any age) who is fooling everyone else but can no longer keep up the mask? Are you enslaved to people-pleasing to the point that how you feel today is totally dependent on who ‘liked’ your Facebook post or how many people signed up for that Bible Study you are leading at church?

hsgirlcryingstepsOh dear friend, this is not the way to live! And you don’t have to anymore.

Know today that beyond the shadow of a doubt God loves you with an Everlasting Love and He longs to gather you with Lovingkindness (Jeremiah 31.3). You matter to Him. And He wants to shower you with His Grace — a pure gift. You and I can never be worthy enough for all He has for us – we can only choose to accept it as a Gift.

But we can be Thankful. And we can reach out to other “depressed teenage cheerleaders” and help lift them up and show them the way.

Gotta run. I’m heading out the door to spend my day at High School. Maybe I never survived my own years there, but perhaps in some small way God can use me today to encourage someone else to survive theirs….?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????


My friend Allison Bottke’s new book “A Young Woman’s Guide to Setting Boundaries” asks young women such as I was “Are you able to accept the truth that you have precious worth in God’s eyes? … God’s love and your identity in Christ never change. But when you don’t know how much you are loved by God, you give yourself away to other things and people… Claiming your identity and understanding your value aren’t passive exercises, especially if you’re uncertain or confused about God’s plan and purpose for your life.  When you know your identity in Christ, you can find the strength and wisdom you need to be genuinely assertive, set healthy boundaries, and walk in ways that bring glory and honor to God. You are not likely to slide into negative self-talk or self-defeating habits when you truly know and believe that you are a daughter of the King with a divine birthright and an incomparable identity. Don’t miss the vision God has of you and the value He places on you!”

©2014 Lucinda Secrest McDowell  EncouragingWords.net

 NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

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7 Responses to Why I Didn’t Survive High School

  1. jim douglas says:

    Cindy- love your candor and honesty! such a breath of fresh air! you are speaking to so many! ….yep- when I met you at FU- I thought you were one of those that “had it all”- unlike me that felt like a loser!…thank Godness we grew up and held on to Gods eternal love!

  2. Thanks, Jim. Fortunately, there is plenty of Grace and Mercy to go around….

  3. maggierowe says:

    Cindy, I knew you left HS after 3 years but always assumed it was because you were so smart you piled up credits early (which you are, of course.) I didn’t realize it was so painful for you, especially because you were a cheerleader, etc. Looking forward to hearing stories of how you have been able to encourage teenagers going through those tough times in high school right now.

  4. Rebecca boswell says:

    ……Cindy……I never knew u were so very unhappy. I wish I could have been of some comfort or help to u. Sometimes I think when one has to struggle to find their way they grow in so many ways that others never do. I am sure that u will be very helpful to many kids in school today. Take care of ur self sweet girl! I love u……Rebecca

  5. Thanks Maggie for your encouragement. Honestly, I too had ‘forgotten’ (suppressed?) most of those struggles. But they do help me be more empathetic. I wish I had lots of stories to tell about how God is using me as an encourager to the students I see each day, but I don’t. Honestly, I just do my best and hope a smile or affirmation (or even my firm structure in a changing atmosphere) will be a small light. Often we never know how God is using us. I suspect that my daily foray into the world of teenagers is one of those times…

  6. Rebecca, you are too kind. Honestly, I think most teens struggle with the whole identity thing. And I’ve learned that a whole lot of adults do too. I did have to find my way. And I did not have an ‘unhappy childhood’ — merely felt stifled by the pressure to conform. Somehow I suspect you understand! Thanks for the love. You have mine as well…

  7. If you have read this far, let me say that I have almost deleted this blog several times, lest I be misunderstood or (heaven forbid) judged for baring my soul. I share it in Gratitude because “True gratitude embraces all of life: the good and the bad, the joyful and the painful,the holy and the not-so-holy” according to Henri Nouwen. “We tend to divide our past into good things to remember with gratitude and painful things to accept or forget…. If God is found in our hard times, then all of life, no matter how insignificant or difficult, can open us to God’s work among us. To be grateful does not mean to repressing our remembered hurts… We realize that any dance of celebration must weave both the sorrows and the blessings into a joyful step.” (from “Turn My Mourning into Dancing” by Henri Nouwen)

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