There are things that come naturally to you. Is it sports? Math? Science? If so, that's good. Maybe you can teach me. I didn't do well in any of those subjects at school, but there was one thing I was very good at... standing out.
I was never one to go with the flow.
When I had difficulties in class I took up tutoring after school to get the grades I wanted. When I had trouble reading music, I learned how to play by ear, and when I hated dressing out for gym class, I tried to pretend like that wasn't the case by finding one thing I was okay at and really making an effort.
I was a bit of a go-getter in high school. That didn't mean that things came easily to me, it just meant that when I wasn't satisfied with my progress, I would tackle the problem with positivity and a deep breath, hoping to be the last one left standing. But that wasn't always the case.
In middle school, my main concern was how to "fit in."
I had trouble making friends and ended up pursuing a friendship with the one person in class that never seemed to care about anything. We'll call him Collin.
On the first day of seventh grade, Collin sported a red mohawk, baggy black pants and... well, everything else was also black. Immediately, the teachers seemed to single him out as a future trouble-maker. I thought that was unfair so the further everyone else seemed to get from him, the closer I got.
This was before I met Christ.
Now, Collin and I weren't best friends or anything, we didn't tell each other our secrets or bond over illegal substances, but we did share one thing in common. We didn't mind standing out in a crowd. While Collin did that outwardly (with his dark baggy clothes and rebellious demeanor), I did that with my pen.
I distinctly remember our study on Edgar Allen Poe. The reading of The Raven and Annabel Lee introduced me to a whole new way of writing. One that evoked real emotion and not all of it pleasant.
I was in awe of how Poe could make one feel what he felt: sadness, depression, fear... and I connected with that. I started out on a new mission: if I couldn't talk about my struggles, I would make others feel what I felt, through my writing.
I remember one piece I wrote in particular, it was titled "Hell." And it was literally about me being dragged to hell by a demon. The imagery was vivid, but in case there was any doubt about it, I'd even drawn a picture to accompany my writing. The few people I shared it with were shocked that I'd written something so dark. Especially because outwardly I appeared like nothing ever bothered me. But in reality... everything did.
I didn't need people to tell me I didn't belong. I knew that already by the way they looked at me, or the way they snickered behind my back.
They ridiculed everything from my clothes to the way I spoke. They called me a poser because I dressed in dark clothes and wanted to learn how to skateboard... not knowing that I got the clothes out of a bag of donations and got my Walmart skateboard from my friend for Christmas.
It was a painful time in my life. I got introduced to pornography at that time as well and fell into a cycle of sin followed by guilt that lasted for years.
One day I got called into the guidance counselor's office, not knowing what it could possibly be about (I always tried to be on my best behavior at school). I was shocked to find out that one of my classmates told on me for asking: "Would you miss me if I were gone?"
When the guidance counselor asked me about the incident, I smiled and shrugged it off as a hypothetical question. She let me go back to class.
While the word "suicide" never entered my mind consciously, looking back, I see the destructive patterns of thinking that may have ultimately brought me to my end. A mix between a lack of communication with my parents, and peers, paired with my low self-esteem, and a tendency to want to inflict pain on myself.
A change of pace couldn't have come fast enough.
The summer between my seventh and eighth-grade year, I met the woman that God would use to change everything. Her name was Monica.
Monica was a missionary to Uzbekistan and she'd been a student of my mom and dad when they taught Bible classes at their home church when she was a young girl. It had been years since they spoke but my dad was now the Pastor of a Spanish Church and eager to have me and my peers in an environment where we could grow in Christ. He organized a young ladies' retreat for the Spanish church girls, and it was there that I got to know Monica.
When Monica arrived she brought me a beautiful rag-doll that my aunt had sewn for me in Costa Rica. I took the doll to the retreat, but when I went to my bunk that night, I found the doll covered in tape, her hands and feet bound, looking like she'd been kidnapped. I laughed it off as my 'friends' gauged my reaction, but inside, I could feel my heart breaking apart.
"Dani, why do you let them treat you that way?"
I was shocked to hear those words come out of Monica's mouth. In fact, I was shocked she could even see me. Shocked that she even noticed. No one ever seemed to notice.
Something changed in my heart that night. The next day, for the first time since I was a child, I prayed.
I couldn't tell you how much time passed between my prayer and God's response, but it wasn't long after the retreat that I was standing during the invitation, and hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit convicting me of my sin and my very real need of a Savior.
No one prayed with me. I wore dresses and sang hymns. I memorized the scriptures. In fact, I'd been so good at playing church for so long, that when the time finally came that Jesus saved my soul, nobody knew it. At least, not at first.
When I walked out of service that night, I felt brand new.
God came to me that night at a little Spanish Church in Pinellas Park, Florida and since that day, He never left my side.
When it was time for school again, I was ready. The eighth grade would be my year to start serving the Lord. I'd e-mailed Monica to tell her about my desire to become a missionary like her and the news thrilled her so much that she promised to come back to the USA to visit me soon.
She passed away two months later.
I'd never lost someone close to me, but when I heard the news, I cried like I'd never cried before.
Before Monica left the USA, she had made me promise her something. "Promise me that you will learn how to play piano." She said. "Please, for me."