Every thing that happens to us in life affects us, good or bad. Sometimes these events are obvious; other times, these events are subtle and we think we act the way we do because it's our "personality" or "how God created us." But that's not the case at all. Our life events shape us and influence us. They act like a filter on the lenses we use to view the world. You've heard the phrase, "rose-colored glasses?" Well, everyone walks through life with tinted glasses. It's up to us, with the help of a good community and Holy Spirit, to clean them up so we can view the world through His eyes and in the healthiest way possible.
When I was 6 years old I got caught in a really bad storm. I want to tell you about it because it has affected the way I handle life situations, personal struggles, parenting, marriage, relationships, everything. I didn't know, at 6 years old, that this event would burrow so deep inside of me that I would use it as a baseline to do life. But I did. We'll start back in the Spring of 1977.
I was in the first grade. On the way home from school that day it started to rain. Not just rain, it started to pour. Lightning, thunder, strong winds - all of the elements were there for the perfect afternoon thunderstorm. I was riding Bus 19. From kindergarten through high school, that bus was packed full of kids. All of us knew one another quite well. We played together, went to school together and spent lots of time with each other on that bus ride to and from school every week day.
Our home was located on the main highway and our gravel drive was short and sloped down toward the house. Four beautiful trees sat in our front yard. They provided a natural source of entertainment for my siblings and me. Lots of climbing, hanging, and jumping to the roof of our house happened with those trees. This particular day, however, they were whipping and bending and shaking with the wind. They didn’t look so beautiful in that storm. They looked dangerous.
As the bus neared my stop, an older boy who lived up the road from me, told my 6 year old self to run like crazy when I stepped off that bus. The rain was coming down and the driveway looked like a small stream. The bus stopped; the stop sign came out and the door opened. My bus driver told me to be careful and smiled. I ran as hard as I could to the front porch. I heard the air brakes on the bus make the familiar sound as the door closed and it started moving down the road.
The rain was coming in sideways. I was really scared! I ran as fast as my little legs would take me and I made it! Up the steps, onto the porch I went, over to the front door, turned the knob and
In my haste to get to the door, I didn’t notice Momma’s car wasn’t in the driveway. That meant no one was home. The wind was howling; lightning pierced the sky and thunder rolled. All I could think was, “I’m alone!”
My heart was pounding as I stood there trying to figure out my next move. Do I stay on the porch and wait for Momma? Do I try to find a window or door open in the back? What do I do?! I didn’t know the right decision!! I was panicking. I looked across the field through the rain and saw my neighbor’s house. It looked like a million miles away. My adult self knows it was less than ½ mile; but at 6 years old, it may as well have been 100 miles.
I decided to run to my neighbor’s. I took off up the driveway back to the main highway at full speed. It seemed the safest route to me -- asphalt roads over muddy fields and electric fences. About midway up the drive, my shoe got stuck in some muck and I stepped right out of it. Instead of stopping to put it back on, I just kept running!
Once I was out on the main highway, I ran toward my neighbor's home. In just a moment, it seemed, an old pickup truck stopped by me. This old gentleman opened the passenger door. “What are you doing out in this storm, little girl?” I looked at him and all I could think was, “This is safe. The storm won’t get me.” I vividly remember an 8-track tape playing the old gospel song “I’ll Fly Away” and I just knew it was okay to get in his truck.
So I did.
He asked me where I was going and I pointed to my neighbor’s house. I told him my Mom wasn’t home and I didn’t know when she would be back. I remember his smile and his baseball cap. I felt safe. I wasn’t afraid. He dropped me off in the driveway of my neighbor’s house. As he was pulling away, my neighbor was running to his car.
Apparently the school principal forgot to announce that I was to get off the bus at my neighbor’s. So he was racing to my house to pick me up. When he saw me get out of that truck, he looked so angry. I was confused. Shouldn’t he be relieved? Shouldn’t he be happy I was safe? Why did he look so mad at me?
“Mary! What were you doing getting in that truck with a complete stranger?! Don’t you know he could have hurt you or kidnapped you?! You could’ve gotten killed!”
I was shocked. I remember standing there feeling like the worst person in the world. I thought I had made a good decision. I thought I had done the right thing. But according to my neighbor, I had made a bad decision. And because of that decision, my 6 year old self noticed that he was withdrawn from me; angry at me. He didn’t comfort me or even tell me everything was going to be okay.
As an adult I look back on that moment and I realize that he was probably freaking out because I was his responsibility until Momma picked me up. He was probably just as scared as I was when he realized the mistake the principal made that day. But my 6 year old self saw the anger, heard the disappointment in the decision I had made, and felt alone when I desperately needed to feel comfort.
I don’t remember much else about that afternoon. For years after that I was terrified of storms. Every time they blew in, I panicked. My heart would pound and my vision would feel shaky. Any time there was thunder, wind or lightning, I would freak out and ask myself: “Should I keep driving? Should I pull off the road and find an overpass? Should I get in the tub and cover my head? Should I just sit here in the living room until it passes?” I never seemed to find peace in my decisions and it tormented me.
As I stated earlier, I had no idea how much that one life moment at 6 years old would shape my worldview. I wouldn’t discover that until 40 years later sitting in an office, talking through some parenting frustrations with my pastor.
My 6 year old self remembers “You didn’t make the right decision in this storm; I am upset with you.”
You see, I wasn’t only afraid of physical storms. As I grew up and began to face difficult decisions that come with age, I also became afraid of the storms of life. Each one caused me angst; “What if I make the wrong decision? What if pick A and I should have chosen B? What is the right thing to do here? I don’t know so I will just do whatever I need to in order to protect myself from this storm because no one else will protect me. I will try to make the right decision so people will love me and will not leave me.”
In that moment a seed was planted in my 6 year old heart by the enemy of our souls, the devil. Scripture tells us he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). His sole purpose is to deter us from living as true sons and daughters of God. He wants to sever that relationship and keep us bound to the lies he feeds us. He uses the circumstances and events of our lives to reinforce those lies in the hope that we will stay trapped by them forever.
That was the first lie I believed: If I don’t do the right thing during the time of crisis, the people closest to me will withhold love from me and eventually leave me.
From this point on the devil would use any moment he could in my life to reinforce this lie. Believing this lie (taking it on as a truth in my life) would eventually cause me to see God through that filter. If I didn’t do all the right things for God, He wouldn’t love me and would abandon me.
Not a very fun place to live from, trust me.
I’m the oldest of four children. Yes, we are all very stereotypical in the “oldest, middle, baby” stages you read about. I tease my siblings a lot about being a guinea pig for our parents to test their parenting skills. Of course that isn’t really true, but let’s just say that by the time my youngest sister was growing up, she had it way easier! (Just joking, sis! Well, sorta.)
At an early age I discovered I loved music. I remember the day my parents brought home a piano and placed it in the living room. I was so excited! I was probably around 6 years old. I couldn’t wait to learn to play that beauty. Even today, 42 years later, it sits in my home and my youngest daughter plays it with the same enthusiasm I had at that age. That ol’ piano has gotten some good use!
When I started playing, I would sit and practice until I was forced to do something else. I remember wanting to be at that piano every waking moment. I would practice chords, melodies, key changes, and, as my skill increased, runs and intros and endings to all the gospel songs I could find. Back then, my repertoire was limited to the hymnal at our church and a few vinyls that my parents had of Bill and Gloria Gaither. I wanted to play every song, sing every song and be a part of the team at church as soon as possible.
So I practiced. I even asked a sweet lady at our church to help me. She played by ear as well and boy was she talented! Her name was Janice. She had the best spirit and was such an encouragement to me. Every Wednesday night I would stand by her during the song service and watch her fingers move up and down those keys. It was fascinating! She would show me a few things after church and then I would spend the rest of the following week practicing it over and over again.
Eventually I graduated from the sidelines and was allowed to play during a church service! Oh my gosh! I was so excited! From that point on I would ask to play every chance I got. Back then, we had church of some sort 4-5 times a week so I had plenty of chances to ask. I’m sure it was annoying to all of the adults, but I was determined to play that piano. Everyone was so gracious to compliment my progress; as well, there were a few who would remind me that I wasn’t quite ready for the big stage. No matter to me. I was determined to get up there and be the star piano player. Those naysayers weren’t going to hold me back.
When I was around 11 or 12, I was given the opportunity to play the piano during the offertory at our yearly District meeting. Now, this wasn’t your normal run-of-the-mill church service. No sir! This was a weekend of about 12 churches gathering for a series of meetings to build community and to share with one another. So my playing for the offering was a big deal, y’all. I practiced all sorts of fast songs, as fast songs were the custom in our denomination to play for the offering. I finally decided on one and sat down to play. The blessing was given and it was my time! I played those keys to the best of my ability. I was so nervous. Receiving the offering only took about 60-90 seconds, but it felt like I got to play a whole concert up there. When I was finished, the District Overseer came back to the pulpit and said something to the effect of, “That was Mary Smith, folks. Didn’t she do an amazing job playing for the offering? Thank you Mary!” The crowd applauded.
The. crowd. applauded.
At that moment two things happened: First, I was hooked on the applause. I loved that sound. It was magical! Second, my 11 year old self thought this: “Wow! I did the right thing. I did a good thing. They love me. They thought I was amazing. I’m the best! I want to do this all the time!”
Both those things happened at a level I didn’t immediately recognize. It wouldn’t be until I was in my 30’s that I would piece together some of the filters that I had allowed the enemy to place on my lenses. But that moment was pivotal for me - burned into my brain - because I fell in love with the praise of man. I somehow equated that praise to being loved.
Yes, I know that seems silly. I understand how warped that it is. I even get that you may not have experienced that and it seems, to you, that I should’ve been able to just shake that off, to put it in the proper perspective. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t do that because the door had already been opened to this line of thought, to this belief system when I was 6 years old. That little girl knew she hadn’t made the right decision and because of that felt that love was withheld.
So, logically in order to feel love, all the decisions I made in life had to be correct. The more I “got right,” then the more I was loved. Therefore, I needed to be perfect and I needed to do all the things. I had to be the best, be first, be the only one who could do it. If those things aligned, then I was fully loved. That’s what I felt and believed.
I fully believe from that point on the enemy of my soul was able to use small things here and there to reinforce those beliefs in my life. I agreed with them in my soul and they became my truths. Not God’s truths. My truths. But the sad thing is that my truths were really only partially true with a bunch of lies mixed in. They were also reinforced by events and circumstances in my life which made them easier to believe.
This is how it all started for me. It took many years of digging through the soil of my heart to get to the root of it all. But Jesus was patient and gracious and loving. He put people in my life who walked with me, encouraged me, helped me dig out the roots and cheered me on as I discovered and embraced the me God has created me to be. Over the coming posts, I'm excited to share with you how Papa set me up to receive healing in my heart, my mind, my will and my emotions so that I could be free from the lies the enemy had me believing and so I could walk in peace, joy and the fulness of being His daughter. See you next week!