EASTMAN — Labels can stick, then stay in place when they don’t really apply. Even positive labels such as “good” can start to weigh as the carrier tries to live up to expectations.
Madelyn Pruitt, who just finished her junior year at Dodge County High School, got the label of the “good girl” in middle school. A spiritual foundation built by her grandparents and parents, Robert and Kelly, led to Madelyn’s desire to seek God’s direction in her decisions and prayer to receive Christ when she was nine years old.
“My grandmother was a Bible Drill teacher at First Baptist Eastman, so I was constantly being fed the gospel and Scripture through this ministry as well as my parents and church family,” she remembers. “As I continued to grow, I realized I was a sinner and could never be ‘good enough’ to get myself to heaven.”
It wasn’t until middle school that Madelyn, a member of First Eastman, began feeling a little out of place. Largely protected from temptations before then, junior high was different. As a cheerleader her sixth and seventh grade years she admits to drifting somewhat. It stemmed, she says, from that label – “good” – that tends to get placed on Christian kids trying to do their best to honor God, saddled with expectations of perfection at 12 or 13 years old.
“I was always considered the ‘good girl’ and oftentimes felt like I wasn’t accepted for who I truly was,” she says. That is, she was just a kid trying her best to do what was right, far from being perfect. “I began to long for more attention on myself and wanted to fit in with the popular crowd. I took my eyes off Jesus and got distracted by the desires of the world.”
Madelyn’s testimony doesn’t veer from this point into the I-established-my-first-cartel-at-14 territory, but she hung out with a crowd that led her to do things she hadn’t before, notably disobey her parents and disjoint her walk with Christ.
“I found myself acting like someone I wasn’t, and knew my relationship with Jesus wasn’t my top priority,” she admits.
“It’s hard for a teenager to be busier than her, with clubs and everything, but she does a great job balancing it all,” says Daryl Summey, student minister at First Baptist Eastman. “Church never seems to suffer. There have been times when she couldn’t be here for an event or trip, but I’ve never questioned her commitment to personal spiritual growth.”
In First Eastman’s student ministry, Madelyn has taken part in two mission trips – one to Bellville, IL and an overseas trip to Istanbul, Turkey last year – as well as local service projects such as building and repairing wheelchair ramps and visiting nursing homes. In addition, she’s in the youth choir and been in events like 30 Hour Famine and each year since the seventh grade been an Encounter Now (discipleship) Weekend participant.
The challenge for Madelyn and others is to balance those church activities with her desire to be salt at school and beyond (in her case to the state capitol). Athletically, she ran cross country as a freshman before focusing on tennis the last three years. At DCHS, she’s been a Fellowship of Christian Athletes leadership team member since ninth grade.
Last September, Madelyn applied through an essay contest and was chosen as a delegate for the State Advisory Council Board to represent Dodge County High in Atlanta, where she attended three meetings at the state capitol. Familiar by now with multitasking, she worked in a visit to the House of Representatives since her cousin, Jimmy Pruett, serves Eastman and District 149 there (the last name spelling difference, she says, stems from confusion in the military years ago). In February she returned to Atlanta to serve as a PAGE for Cousin Jimmy at the Capitol.
This summer, the rising senior will join other students from around the state on Georgia Electric Membership Corporation’s annual Washington D.C. Youth Tour, representing the Ocmulgee EMC. Locally she has been on the Junior Board Bank of Eastman Directors since the tenth grade, a position she’ll maintain through the rest of high school, and competed in the Miss Chieftain pageant her sophomore and junior years, placing 2nd runner up and 3rd runner up, respectively. A student council vice president in 11th grade, she was elected DCHS Student Council president for her senior year.
Oh yeah, she also works every afternoon and Saturday at The Flooring Gallery in Eastman, a job she’s held since last summer.
Holding all of that together while growing in one’s relationship with God isn’t accomplished alone. Madelyn credits Summey and the student ministry at First Eastman in helping her along the way, starting when she joined the youth group before her eighth grade year.
“They had a profound impact on me that I’ll never be able to thank God enough for,” she relates. “I made friends with others who had such an evident love for Christ and a desire to serve Him more.
“God began to stir up a fire within me through other believers and His word that I hadn’t been living a life worthy of Christ.”
Galatians 1:10 became a central verse for her during this time: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
“God was showing me that He remained faithful to me when I had forsaken Him,” Madelyn says. “No matter how hard I tried to be successful on my own … nothing can come close to compare to the satisfaction and eternal riches of knowing Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.”
Her hectic schedule outside of church, she stresses, has led to more encounters to share what she has learned inside church.
“The more I’ve been involved in my school and community, the more opportunities I’ve had to to build relationships with non-believers and and share the gospel with them. One of my biggest lessons is how I’m nothing apart from Christ. The Lord gives me all my strength and abilities to accomplish things for His glory, alone.”
‘No retreat, no regrets’
“The time I have on this earth is short and I want every bit of it to be used for the one who created me and gave me the talents and abilities to accomplish so many things in life,” she adds. “My heart’s desire is to live with no retreat or regrets so that others may get a glimpse of the Father’s unending love and mercy.”
This last school year Madelyn gave a speech she titled “Defining Moments,” with the key moment in everyone’s life, she said, being whether or not you accept Jesus for who He said He was. For her, it’s not a topic broached lightly but something that should be on everyone’s mind and heart. For the believer, it should overflow into a love for those who haven’t had that Moment yet.
One of those who’s watched Madelyn’s spiritual walk isn’t surprised by that focus.
“She’s very outgoing, loves people, and is super genuine in her faith in how she talks to the people,” says Summey. “She’s one of the most evangelistic students I’ve ever seen and isn’t afraid to talk to others, even atheists.
“Madelyn’s stance for Christ doesn’t drive people away, but in fact brings them toward her. She doesn’t exclude others because of her faith but reaches out to those who wouldn’t necessarily fit in church.”
Her student pastor may have stumbled onto something. In a time when hero movies and standing up for your principles no matter the cost are all the rage, perhaps it’s time for a new label.
And why not? Super Genuine seems to be more appropriate anyway.