August 1996, I walked into my first high school art class. As soon as I walked in THERE HE WAS, my hero. Standing there basking in the glory of his purple tie-dye jeans and Nirvana tee shirt was the rockstar that would change my life forever. I didn’t know who he was from Adam but I was about to find out. After meeting him my life was never the same.
The weirdest part about this friendship is that we weren’t really close friends. He was two grades older than me. It appeared to be the stereotypical freshman crush. I tried to talk to him almost every day. He made fun of me every day. His teasing was hilarious. He nicknamed me “total embarrassment”. My best friend was appalled by this but I never took offense. I knew he was just kidding. But what I didn’t know was how God was using this brilliant young man’s example to change my life.
If I were to describe him to someone who knows me now they might think I was describing myself. But this is the before part of the story. When I was younger I desperately and unsuccessfully tried to be “cool”. I wanted all the cool kids to dote over me. I just knew if I could be friends with them my life would be exactly the way I wanted it. So I waited and waited for that ship to come in. When it did I would dress, talk and act just like them. No matter what school I went to this never happened. I felt trapped. How could I be awesome without their friendships? It went against every social concept I had. Acceptance through compliance is the key to “awesomality”, right? That 17 year old junior flopping across the art room would forever shatter that lie for me.
Rockstar lived unapologetically. He loved Jesus and liked Nirvana. He loved his momma and drove really fast. He pushed every social boundary he viewed as ridiculous. He kept the boundaries that kept him true to himself. He did and said what he saw fit. Some people loved him and some did not but he didn’t change himself to suit each situation. He was one of those people that regardless of if you loved him or hated him you wanted to know what he was up to doing. He was himself from the minute he was born. I had always felt a little “weirder” than others. Before Rockstar, I always tried really, really hard to get people to like me. Epic fail. Watching Rockstar day in and day out inspired me. It was like he was handing me a ticket to be myself. I had never met anyone similar to me before. The other “originals” I had met before were rebels without a cause. Rockstar had a cause.
My transformation to “Rockstardom” didn’t happen my freshman year. But the concept was engraved in my heart. I moved after that year. I went to a school where I just knew this was going fit in. The coolest of the cool were going to love me: THIS WAS IT. It wasn’t it. Actually my popularity at my new school seemed to be a record low. I didn’t make any friends at all until November. Then I made a few friends but something didn’t feel right. They were wonderful girls. They accepted me as I was but my heart still felt really unsettled. I felt like I was living half my life. I didn’t know what I wanted but I knew I hated I had. I hated feeling like I was still waiting for my ship to come in, waiting to be myself. Then one day I really started thinking about it. What did I want? I really didn’t want to be friends with the kids I thought would make all my dreams come true. They were not that interesting. I loved my friends but they were not resolving this problem either. I still felt trapped. If I didn’t want what I thought I wanted, WHAT DID I WANT? Who or what was going to bring me the peace in my heart? I was trying so hard but I couldn’t even tell you why any more. I wish I could tell you the next moment was the Holiest moment of my life. I wish I could report that utterances of the Holy Spirit came out of my mouth in that art room (see the trend here). They did not. I won’t repeat what I said but it can be loosely translated “forget this”. At that moment something broke in my life. Whatever was holding back the full extent of the Shala Peeples experience died that day.
Boom, just like that freedom came to me. I was free to be myself. I began to live unapologetically. I served my God but was honest about my shortcomings. I didn’t hide them. I didn’t beat myself up over them. I just put them on the “to do” list for Jesus and myself. They were part of me and my journey. I also didn’t pine after friendships I didn’t have. For the first time in my life I felt free. Others began to notice. I began making friends everywhere I went. By the end of that year my life had completely flipped. I had engaged in a one on one conversation with almost every person in my class. The days of waiting to see what life brought me were over. If I wanted something I went after it. It was amazing. I was able to bless others with a part of me that before I was saving for only God knows what reason.
Another gift from my short lived friendship with Rockstar was the nickname. From age 15 to present every time I do something embarrassing I can hear him say “total embarrassment”. It always helps me to remember to take the situation lightly. Embarrassing moments come and go but knowing and loving who you are and who God made you to be is permanent, just like that brown paint line Rockstar left on the school building with his truck.
August 2010, 14 years later, Rockstar and I communicated via Facebook. He seemed exactly the same the way I remembered him. He still loves Jesus. He still cherishes his family, which now includes a beautiful wife and an adorable mini-Rockstar. He still makes art. He still says and does what he see fit. He still lives unapologetically. What I found interesting about our conversation is that he seemed to view me in the same way I viewed him. He commented on our kindred spirits. I guess he could see the rockstar in me before I could see it in myself.
I knew I picked a good hero.