By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY —It’s everywhere, it’s everywhere! Billboards, commercials on TV, ads in magazines and newspapers, comments by family and friends all designed to make you feel, well like a failure simply because you don’t fit an image of perfection. Right?
Two weekends ago, two teenaged girls, students and friends at Olathe Northwest High School, took their own lives. Stunned, grieving friends and families are trying to make sense of what happened. Across the metro, voices are rising, asking the question, “What can I do to keep this from happening to my child, or to me?”
A motivational presentation to middle school students at Our Lady of the Angels School Nov. 17 by “not perfect,” a local group of adults and teenagers, was geared to encourage the students to turn the tables on the pressures and begin to like, no, love, themselves for who they are. Prayer, turning to God for help and guidance, is a good place to begin.
Not perfect was started by Cindy Wittman in 2011, after a long time of feeling the need to “be” perfect; to be what TV, magazines and society viewed as “perfect.” Wittman said she finally realized that she only needed to please herself, and God.
“God is perfect,” she said. “He lived the ‘perfect’ life for me so I don’t have to.”
The not perfect team, Wittman, her husband David, Shawn Gaupp, Kristin Gowers, Donna Berewer, Adeline Nkikabahizi, Erica Baker and the Wittman’s granddaughter Avrie Gaupp, had all experienced the pressures and suffered because of them. The group was willing to share their stories as a way of showing what can happen through prayer and realistic dreams.
Shawn Gaupp told the students that, “Perfection is not attainable, but dreams are.” Following that line of thought, Wittman said, “Perfection isn’t attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can attain excellence!”
Societal, parent and peer pressures to be perfect— perfectly formed, a perfect student, a perfect friend— can be overwhelming to an adolescent or young adult. They may turn to drugs, alcohol, harmful relationships or self-destructive actions, including cutting, to try to deaden the hurt and the pressure.
“I wanted to help our youth break free from these pressures,” Wittman said, “accept themselves and others for who they are. If you don’t love yourself first, you can’t love anyone else. I’m not perfect, none of is perfect, but then we’re not meant to be perfect.”
The presentation— real life testimonies and candid reflections, accompanied by real-life tears from the not perfect team, music, videos and audience interaction was aimed to break the cycle of teenage self-harm, depression, suicide, anger, bullying and peer pressure by reaching out, empowering youth to make positive decisions.
“Our youth are constantly bombarded with false messages leading to unrealistic expectations,” Wittman said. “Victoria’s Secret commercials are a prime example. C’mon, how many of us look like those models? Many young people believe that anything less than perfection is failure. That kind of pressure results in incredible stress and can lead to unhealthy attitudes and damaging practices.”
Facts and figures on the video screen underscoring his words, Shawn Gaupp said that suicide is the third leading cause of death in youths ages 10 -24. Girls attempt suicide twice as often as boys, but boys are four times more successful, given the methods they use.
“If you hear friends talk about death,” Gaupp said, “suicide, feeling depressed; if they, or you, have trouble concentrating, lose interest in school, sports, or other formerly favorite things, talk with them, try to find out what is bothering them. Tell a trusted friend or teacher. Remember, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. There is no coming back.”
Up on the screen flashed the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number: 800-273-8255.
Kristin Gowers, a teacher at Our Lady of the Angels, shared her story. “It’s not easy when friends take their lives or lose it in a drive-by shooting. When I was 16, one of my best girlfriends took her life. I’ve been through it, the emotions, the stress, the confusion, the hurt. If any of you needs to talk, you know who I am, and I’ll always listen. I don’t bite.”
Shawn Gaupp reminded the students that Jesus was without fault or defect, in other words, perfect. “None of us are perfect,” he said, “and chasing perfection can lead to anxiety and stress, which can lead to hurting yourself, using drugs or alcohol. Strive to be your best, set goals, but make them reachable. God gives us the ability to overcome our challenges. In our imperfections, we grow closer to God.”
Avrie, a victim of bullying, tried drugs and alcohol, then began cutting herself to try and relieve the pain and hurt. “I’ll have those scars to remind me always,” she said. She was fortunate in that her family was there to support her and get her help. The teen, who had lost sight of God, found Him again. Remember, she said, “You are beautiful and amazing. And God is there for you.”
Redeemed is a word the not perfect team uses a lot. “’Redeemed’ tells us just how much Jesus loves us, unconditionally,” Wittman said. “What is unconditional love?” She called a seventh grade student to the front of the room. The girl softly answered, “Love that never stops.” “YES!” Wittman called out. “God looks at us as a best friend. We can talk to Him about anything.”
A poem flashed on the screen. Dividing the room into groups, Wittman had the students read the verses aloud by group.
“If not for you, all the good you have done would not be done.”…“If not for you, the song of life would have missed a beat.”… “You are the face, the heart and soul of God.”
At the close of the presentation, David Wittman and Shawn Gaupp brought in an old door. Why a door? Think of the old saying, “When the Lord closes a window, somewhere He opens a door.” The not perfect team wrote on the door something they wanted to break free of. “By writing it down, you can begin the process of breaking free and becoming someone you’re happy being,” Cindy Wittman said. They then encouraged the students to write on the door. Hesitant at first, they soon were waiting for their turn.
Wittman said the not perfect team makes presentations all across the metro area, to middle and high schools and to adult groups. To learn more about not perfect, or to contribute to defray presentation costs, visit www.notperfectsite.com.