The following post was originally published on brooklynsalisbury.com as a 6 part series in October, 2014. This post is meant to be a summary/autobiography of my life until the age of 17.
I had always been a strange little girl. The second in a family of three, I loved to play outside in the dirt. I loved animals and plants and I loved trying new things. I started a bug collection when I was five. I caught bugs, euthanized them with rubbing alcohol, and pinned them to a board with the needles that my older sister used for sewing. I also loved lizards, and would spend hours chasing them around the house, rarely catching one, but enjoying the experience nonetheless.
The world was an exciting and fascinating place. I was home-schooled and was given many opportunities to discover the world in ways which other children could not. My family’s intense involvement in our local 4-H club was one of the ways in which I discovered the world. When the Colorado State Fair rolled around, I was fascinated with the amazing people I would meet. Thousands of crafts would be entered into competitions, with only a few coming out on top. Given that I was only five, I could not wait until I was old enough to enter my own projects.
I was a very tall child. Basketball came easy to me, given the fact that I was a head taller than every other kid in the league. I took pride in my height. I was also very independent. I wanted to do everything by myself. I was competitive with my sister who was three years older than me, anything she did, I had to do. The world was a wonderful and exciting place for me, and I looked forward to my future. However, all that changed when I turned ten.
When I was ten, my exuberance for life started to fade. I no longer was proud of my tall stature, but felt awkward and stupid. I no longer excelled at sports, but rather, lumbered down the court or field in an uncoordinated manner. People teased me about my height. Everywhere I went, it seemed that someone had a joke or comment to make about my abnormality. “Giant,” “monster,” and “freak of nature” were a few of the phrases that were used to describe me. In addition, I had health complications. I would have stomach aches that would land me in bed for extended periods of time. My muscles were unable to stretch or grow, so sports were soon out of the equation. I was easily tired and was disallowed from staying up late at parties or doing other “normal” things that my friends did because I would get exhausted. I had to eat a special diet to keep my body functioning and was kept from my favorite foods. I still chased lizards, but was discovering more and more that if I wanted to be popular, I would have to act like a “normal” girl.
As I mentioned before, I was a very independent child. At the age of ten, I became completely independent in my schooling. My mother no longer dictated my school schedule, but gave me that responsibility. I graded my own school work and often babysat my little brother. I unconsciously degraded my mother’s role in my life, and she unconsciously accepted it. Considering my mother’s busy schedule, chores I took upon myself were hardly noticed. Despite the fact that I kept myself busy, I felt like a worthless individual.
I do not quite remember how I had received the news, but I remember my family’s devastation upon receiving the report. Samantha, a girl in our 4-H club, had committed suicide. She had shot herself in the head, her brother having discovered her dead in her room. Though we had not seen Samantha for a couple of years, my sister cried for days over her death. My mother and sister attended her funeral, along with another thousand people who went to the ceremony. Though I neglected to realize it at the time, Samantha’s death had a profound impact on me. I saw how much people were willing to love someone who was dead, and to a person who did not feel loved, I saw the concept of death as attractive. As the popular song by The Band Perry states, “It’s funny when you’re dead how people start listen’.”
As I grew older, my feelings of self worth diminished even more. I no longer saw the world as a wonderful, innocent place, but rather, a harsh planet in which I was not welcome. I was a very angry and hurt twelve-year-old. I hated myself. I thought that God hated me. All I wanted to do was to be loved, but I thought that was an impossibility. People were constantly telling me I was too tall. People would literally yell at me if I wore high heels, and my friends criticized me over my choice of clothing and unpainted nails. The older, popular kids ignored me, and if they did say something to me, it was usually in regards to my height. My mother paid little attention to me. My little brother had mental disabilities, so all of her focus was on helping him learn to read and write. I saw how hard it was on her, to teach my brother, so I stayed out of her way and did what she asked. I seldom made trouble, therefore, I was seldom noticed. I tried to be a perfect child, so mom could focus on my brother’s schooling and my sister’s extracurricular activities.
I soon developed hatred for my brother. He was a naughty child. He refused to listen and often brought my mother to tears in frustration. He rarely got in trouble even though he was constantly mischievous. Because I had established myself as a respectable kid, anytime I acted out in the ways he regularly did, I would get in trouble while he went unpunished. To me, life was unfair.
I was a burden to the world. My family was experiencing monetary problems. My special food was expensive, and I knew my presence in the family weighed heavily on the pocket book. I was so frustrated with myself. The only time I was noticed at home was when I did something wrong. I was constantly bombarded with the notion that I was freakishly tall. I was often reminded of the fact that I was taller than all the boys I knew, and it was often suggested that I would never be wanted in a romantic sense. I remember one time, while putting on a play at church, I was cast as Mary and a boy much smaller than me was cast as Joseph. I was excited to have so many lines. However, the boy made a big deal about me being taller than him. “I’m not playing Joseph if she is going to be Mary!” he exclaimed. So, as things go, another girl was given the part.
There I was, twelve-years-old, wondering if love was real and wondering why God hated me so much as to give me health problems and make me tall and awkward.
I would punish myself physically. I had been doing it since I was seven. I remember sitting at the piano as a young child, trying to learn a new song. I would get frustrated when I kept messing up. I would discipline myself by grating my nails down my bare legs, as I was wearing shorts. The pain I inflicted on myself was my way of making myself pay for not being good enough. I remember my mom caught me doing it when I was throwing a tantrum. I was in trouble for something, I can’t remember what, but I was mad at myself. . .
“Why are your legs red?!” my mom exclaimed in the middle of her reprimanding.
“Because,” I said, sniffling, not wanting to say what I did to myself.
“Because why?!” she asked again.
“Because I was mad at myself and ran my nails down my legs!” I admitted.
“No!” she exclaimed. “No! You do not hurt yourself!” I could see fear in her eyes. I could also see tears welling up. However, I was too far into my tantrum and she needed to punish me for what I had done earlier. She went over to the kitchen and got out the wooden spoon that she used to spank us kids. By that time, I was on the floor in a heap, crying. She grabbed me by the arm and dragged me to the couch all while saying “You do not hurt yourself! You do not hurt yourself!”
“No! No!” I cried, dreading the impending spanking.
My mom was crying as she spanked me. The spanking was because of what I had done earlier, but it was also because of what I did to myself. I was seven. I did not understand what I was doing to myself, but my mom did. At that point, however, she was too scared to address it as she would have if I had been twelve. I wish she had. Maybe then I would have stopped.
I was never a cutter in the traditional sense. I had never taken a blade to my arms and had never thought of it as an addiction. It was something I did for not being good enough, a way to punish myself for my own existence. I would scratch myself, pinch, slap my face, punch my stomach, slam my head against a wall, or pull my hair. The pain felt good because I felt it made up for all of my shortcomings. I wanted to feel something, because depression makes feeling almost impossible.
Wherever I went, I thought about dying. Whether I was standing atop a long staircase or walking down a busy street, thoughts of jumping or stepping out in front of a car seemed to overwhelm me. I would have fantasies of what it would be like to die in a tragic manner. Maybe all the people who constantly teased me would finally feel bad. I planned on leaving a note for every one of them, telling them it was their fault and leaving them to live with shame and guilt in the knowledge that I died because of them. I knew that if I died, I would finally get some attention. My mom would finally notice, people might finally care, and better yet, I would get my revenge on everyone who had ever hurt or abandoned me. However, I believed in a heaven and a hell, and I did not know in which I would end up if I decided to take my own life.
God was far away. I thought of Him in the same way I thought of everyone else in my life, distant and waiting for me to perform. I thought that the only way he could like me was if I was someone incredible, but I was not. I was weak, insecure, sick, and angry. I focused all of my time and effort into being liked by those around me. However, I thought that because I lived selfishly, God hated me. I thought that because no one else seemed to care about my existence, God wouldn’t either. Christianity was a hobby for me. I memorized verses and sang worship songs, but I never put a name to the image I had created in my head. God was a distant, uncaring creature whom only loved those who were perfect. I was not perfect. Therefore, God could never love me. I was completely alone.
Though I was fed up with life, I still lived it. I still did what was expected of me and pretended to be happy. However, when I was thirteen, my world changed forever.
One day, I was sitting at the kitchen table doing math problems. I starting to feel sick and couldn’t concentrate. At first, I expected my symptoms to disappear in a week or so, but they didn’t. My health issues started to escalate and my body slowly started shutting down. At first, I still attended some social gatherings, but was soon too weak to leave the house. Eventually, my illness got so bad that I was bedridden and could not think well enough to carry on an intelligent conversation. I couldn’t go to see friends and even talking on the phone made me tired. I was lonely because my family was always busy or gone. I felt as if God had left me to die. Why? Because I was never good enough.
I was so lonely and felt useless. I couldn’t study, do school, or even read my Bible. Everything that I had been doing to add some value to my existence was now taken away. After about 2 weeks of my body slowly shutting down, I started to wonder if I would ever get better. No one could figure out what was happening to me. I was taken to several doctors, but none of them could do anything to help. My symptoms were excruciating. My internal organs were swollen and hot. I was loosing weight. I was exhausted all the time, even after sleeping fourteen hours. I could not carry on an intelligent conversation because my brain was not functioning correctly. No one could understand what was happening to me and I thought that it would never end.
I was tired of the get well cards telling me that people were praying for me. I was tired of being told to trust God. I was tired of people sending me flowers. I thought of the flowers as a representation of myself. Slowly dying, making everyone else happy by pretending to be strong. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I was completely useless. A lump in a bed, waiting for the day when I wouldn’t wake up. I was waiting for the day when they could put my pitiful, forgotten body in a casket in the ground, under a stone that no one would visit. I was forgotten by the world. I was forgotten by the people I had tried so hard to get to notice me. I wanted to forget myself, to forget my life, and end it all right there. I remember I would crawl out of bed and climb in the back of my closet. My mom or sister would come into my room and try to coax me out. “No,” I would respond. “I belong in the closet with the rest of the junk.” Everyday I thought about suicide, ending it all before it could end me.
After two months on my death bed, my parents were able to locate a doctor who could help me. The practitioner still didn’t know exactly what was wrong with me, but the treatment was working, so we continued with the treatments. As I slowly started to recover and regain my strength, I came to some amazing realizations. First of all, I discovered the value of life and health.
Though it took two years to fully recover, I was brought to a stage of health I had never experienced before and was able to do more physically than I had ever been able to achieve. I realized how fragile life is. There I was, thirteen years old, and I had almost died. What had I done to make an impact on the world, to leave a legacy? Nothing. I had done nothing. I had lived selfishly and done nothing for others. If I had died then, I would have left the world as it was, my life having brought nothing to improve the earth and those in it. After all, I also discovered the love of God. A love so large that He would care about a sickly and selfish 13-year-old and give her health agian. A love so large that it would require nothing of me, but love me no matter what I did. A love so large that it would would provide a way to eternal life through the simple factors of belief and trust. A love so large that it would give itself to a person who had previously denounced love’s existence. A love so large that it didn’t care whether or not I loved it back, but was selfless in its giving. A love so large that it cared about six-foot-one, awkward, strange, and opinionated Brooklyn Salisbury. Who was I to continue to live selfishly? After experiencing the love of God in the ways that I did, I couldn’t help but share that love.
God started to change my life. I ended relationships that I had previously maintained and befriended people that I had previously ignored. I learned to stand up for the right things and speak the truth. I joined the choir at church, and a few months later, became a backup singer for one of our church’s bands.
My mother and I became best friends. We repaired the broken places in our relationship, and I obtained a large amount of love and support from her. My brother and I became friends as well. I learned to love and appreciate him for who he was and recognize and adapt to his differences as a mentally handicapped individual.
Shortly after I turned fourteen, I resolved to share the love that I had experienced. I started an organization called Encouragers for Christ (E.F.C.), to help teens in their walk with God and equip them to serve their community. I was convinced that no one was too young to serve God, just as no one was too young to die. E.F.C. had teens cleaning parks, singing in nursing homes, helping at food pantries, and doing yard work for the elderly. I sent out weekly newsletters for E.F.C. Though the organization was hard to maintain at first, I started gaining headway, establishing a board of directors and soon having about 100 people receiving our newsletters. It was hard work, but it was worth it. I was now confident in the person that God had made me and wanted everyone else to experience the confidence and love that I had come to find in my Christ and Savior.
After E.F.C. had been around for a couple of years, our board of directors felt called to host a youth conference. The conference was called Living Intentionally For Eternity or the L.I.F.E. conference. It took 8 months to plan. It was the hardest thing that I have had to do. Because E.F.C. was a fairly new organization, it did not have much of a basis of contacts and reputation. My board of directors and I had to establish contacts up and down Colorado’s front range. For six months I was working sixteen hours a day on school, work, ministry, and conference plans. The whole purpose of the conference was to inform teenagers that they were not alone in their struggles and that God could use them, no matter what they had done in the past. We wanted to encourage teens to realize that God wants to use young people. We wanted students to know that they do not have to wait until they grow up to serve Him. Therefore, in compliance with our theme, everyone on our staff was a teenager. Our advertisement, fundraising, networking, booking, planning, decorating, organizing, and even logos and graphics were all handled by students under twenty-years-old.
The conference was rough on our executive staff of four. At sixteen, I was the youngest on the main staff but also the director. There was so much to do, and seemingly so little time in which to do it. Not only did we have a lot on our shoulders, peoples’ confidence was less than strong. I was constantly doubted when I told people what we were doing. Questions I was often asked were “Are there any adults involved in this process?” or, from the very conservative, “Don’t you think it’s a bit inappropriate for you as a girl to be directing men under you as your staff?” We tried to shake it off, but contentions seemed to be constantly persistent. However, I was at peace. I had never been more trusting in God than at that time. I knew that He had called me to put the conference together and I knew that He would make it a success.
The conference was planned for a Friday evening and a Saturday morning. We had four speakers booked. We had a band for worship. We had concessions to sell. We met with every youth pastor in our city as well as in cities around us. We planned for six hundred students to show up. On the actual day of the event, we had about thirty student volunteers, ten adult volunteers, and two cops for security. We had t-shirts, expensive door prizes, and some amazing theme decorations. We were ready for God to move.
At our best session we had about 110 students. However, the small number of attendees was by no means discouraging. At our first altar call, we had the teens write something on a sticky note which they wanted to surrender to Christ and stick it on a cross. The theme of that night was to let teens know they are not alone in their struggles, no matter how serious their struggles might be. I cried as person after person walked up and wrote something they wanted to give over to Christ. Everyone in the room went up, even the staff. Two heroin addicts gave their lives to Christ. God moved that night.
I could not thank God enough for what He had done through a couple of teenagers who were willing to serve Him. As we were cleaning up after the conference, I thanked God for all that He had done, and for using me to do it. I went up to the crosses to see what the teens had written during the sticky-note alter call. Almost every note contained something on the more “serious” side. Porn addiction, cutting, depression, lust, impurity, drug addiction, and alcoholism, were all commonly found on the cross. My heart swelled even more in remembrance of what I had gone through, and how I thought I was the only one who struggled. Every single teen who had come to the conference was now blessed in the assurance that they were not alone and should not be ashamed to get help. All the kids who had shown up were “church kids,” and were our target audience. We had accomplished God’s mission, and living in His will is an indescribable feeling.
After the conference, I felt as if a huge burden had been lifted off the shoulders of the students in my sphere of friends and acquaintances. People were more open about their struggles and willing to get help. God used E.F.C. to burn down a door that had been closed for far too long.
After the L.I.F.E. conference, E.F.C. was taken out of commission. It was not that we had failed, on the contrary, we had done what we had set out to do and God made it clear that we should move on to different things. Three of the four executive staff members went off to college, myself being one of them. Though I was still in high school, I was earning dual credits to get an associates degree by the time I graduated high school. At this time, I started doing more with music. A local promoter discovered me and started to book me at various events. I had worked hard to develop my musical abilities. When I joined our church’s worship band when I was fourteen. I spent a whole year on the very back of the stage, observing and listening to the other musicians work together and make wonderful music before they even turned on my microphone. I learned how to use a personal monitor, how to work together with other musicians, and most importantly, how to lead a congregation in sincere worship to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Learning how to play music was frustrating for me. I would work for days to get a song to a suitable standard, making sure that my pitch and inflections were flawless. I had no vocal instructor, and knew little about music theory. Everything that I learned and taught myself was from observation and personal research. I even learned how to play piano by ear. Sometimes I look back and wonder how I learned certain musical concepts. God guided me and helped me to persevere, even on the days when I would show up to worship practice and no one was there because the band forgot to tell me that practice was cancelled.
After a year of observation and self-teaching, one of the vocalists in the band finally heard me sing. She was astonished and told the worship leader to give me a song to lead. I can still remember the expression on our worship leader’s face after I completed the last note at practice. God had grown me musically, kept me humble, and prepared me to be a true worship leader. Pretty soon I was leading songs on a regular basis. A year after that, I was playing piano along with the band. At the age of seventeen, I was an official worship leader at our church. I had also made my way to the “professional” level in both my solo career and motivational speaking. Churches around town would invite me in to give a sermon and play music for them.
I had not always wanted to be a musician and speaker. I had my own plans. I always considered my musical abilities to be inadequate and the music industry as impractical. I am a very organized person, and when looking for a career, I wanted something with a clear educational path and a practical salary. However, God had different plans. While I was planning on joining law enforcement, God was opening doors in the entertainment industry and introducing me to international recording artists. While I spent time pumping iron, God spent time preparing hearts and lives for the messages that He would later have me deliver. It took a lot of heart-softening, but eventually, I came to the realization that my plans were nothing compared to what God was calling me to. It all came down to trust. I lacked faith to believe that God would take care of me and provide for me in the unstable climate of ministry. However, God soon brought me to the realization that He is all powerful, and as long I make Him my everything, I will have all that I need.
God has given me a lot of opportunity to invest in people’s lives. Often, a complete stranger will come up to me after a concert and spill their life story. Many times, a mere acquaintance will cry on my shoulder. I have heard stories that have affected me profoundly, for both the good and the bad. I have seen complete blessing and great tragedy. I have heard horror and hope. Most importantly, however, I have learned that God is sovereign in all circumstances. I pray that He will continue to give me the words to say to the brokenhearted and humility when people make me their role model.
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This is my greatest fear: That I will become prideful in my illusion of “success” and wander away from Him who brought me to my current state. At every utterance of the child who says “When I grow up, I want to be just like you,” and every time I am asked to sign an autograph, my heart grows fearful for the amount of expectation that is upon my shoulders. I am not perfect, I never will be. I only hope that God will use me despite my imperfection to bring humanity to His glory. I hope that God will use me to help people become more like Him and that He would spare me from those who try to become more like me. I am still in disbelief at the place to which God has brought me. I am looking forward to continually learning and growing in his sovereign hands. To God be the glory!