It’s time for a bit of back porch blogging. It is about 65 degrees, 8:03 pm, and the air is fresh with a new cool front. I love spring! The feel of the cold air and scent of the rain always brings that nostalgic feeling of a season before. By the time you’re 40 something, like me, the years just sort of run together and you’re not exactly sure when you last experienced this goodness. But when something even as small as a weather change can spark gratefulness, each sunset seems new and special because you are aware of the grace of a Mighty Hand that has spared you, guided you, and strengthened you through of the most dire, most painful, even deeply regrettable times, to the highlights of your own personal history.
It was one warm spring day in 1983, that a seventh grader in Mrs. Stovall’s math class, bewildered and shut down, took a chipped piece of broken mirror derived from a brush-mirror combo, that had been battered in her purse, and started to point the end of it into the tender flesh of her wrist and carve, holding back the hot tears of rejection, pain, and misery. That child was me. The other children, started to whisper among themselves until finally Mrs. Stovall, stopped her lecture and came to my desk. “Laura, what is wrong? Do you need to talk?” She said to Vicky, the girl on the back of my row who always had her nose in a book, to escort me to the office where I could speak with the counselor. It was there that I learned an important life theme. But first, I have to go back even further.
On the outside, it seemed I had an idyllic life. As a very young girl, I lived in the center of what is now “Yuppyville” in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Austin, TX on Duval Street, in a cute little rock gingerbread house that was built around 1920. Mom and Dad decided that they wanted to live debt free, build their own house, and live off of the land. So, my great-grandmother’s home in Austin was our weekday refuge, while each weekend we made the long trek out to Leander to work on the new home. My dad, was the carpenter, the electrician the plumber, and well, he had help from some friends, too! And within a couple of years, the house was still far from move-in ready by most standards, but it was ready enough that we had a roof over our heads and a wonderful serene place out in the country. It became a beautiful home as the finishing touches were added. There we gardened and gathered, tended animals, raised chickens, quail, rabbits, goats and pets. My brother milked the goats and I took care of the rabbits and quail. Every other week, it seemed we had Sunday company after church for some fresh caught fish to fry, or my mom’s special venison recipe with some homemade bread, and homegrown vegetables. Don’t forget her homemade peach cobbler from handpicked peaches from Stonewall, Texas that we harvested together as a family.
On warm spring days, during the school year, on the walk home from the bus stop, we picked Agarita berries that grew wild and ate them as an afternoon snack before we walked a quarter of a mile up a little hill through the meadow and the woods to home where mom was often waiting with fresh milk and delectable newly baked brownies. We built forts, climbed trees, went to music lessons, sang trios; nearly every day in the summer after our chores were finished, went down to the swimming hole where my close friend lived on a 300 acre ranch (which at times, she and I roamed through more woods than were possible.) Days were filled with music, and learning and real play that did not entail sitting in front of the television or using a remote. They were days that left you tired, and ravenous for supper, and drained so much that you got to sleep with ease, at sundown. On Friday evenings, we went with our family to prayer meeting. Back then it was still legal in Texas for kids to ride in the back of the pickup truck. So, we packed it down with foam rubber mattresses and sleeping bags and after the all of the youth games and activities, trampoline turns, and refreshments were over, my brother and I would fall asleep on the long ride home snug in our sleeping bags under the starry Texas night sky.
Even as picturesque as all of this sounds: routine, predictability, tradition, family Christmas and Thanksgiving celebrations with sometimes, fifty or more family and friends; grandparents who prayed over us and made handmade gift items by expert seamstresses, and other grandparents who gave exquisite gifts, or taught us how to fish or hunt; even with a room of my own, a beautiful collection of my own treasured keepsakes and toys, there was still something missing!
I could not place my finger on it then, but sometimes the air seemed dull, the house lifeless, the boredom ramped. When the dust settled, and the activities waned, and it was just me, and the rest of my immediate family, there was the loneliness, sorrow or guilty conscience, feelings of insecurity, nightmarish fears, and habits that haunted, a deep sense of longing to belong, to be loved to really know and be known. It was in that intrinsically deep place that my parents began to seek to go further with God. They wanted to know exactly what God had for them beyond this little idyllic world they had created. And then they heard the “call” of God to drop everything and go to Bible School.
The summer after my fifth grade year, we packed up our things and the four of us moved into a stuffed little apartment in Dallas, on the second story of Maranatha Building on Fawn Ridge Drive. There my parents attended Christ for the Nations Institute. My brother and I immediately went from having a whole lot of land to explore and our own room to having to share a room with partition down the middle, share a closet and a tiny bathroom. It was coming of age for us. Instead of woods to roam, we were less than four minutes from the ghetto. I gave my folks not a few scares in my ignorance, by just taking off out the door to walk around the college complexes, and stayed gone for hours like I had stayed outside for hours back home. Only this was before cell phones, so if they could not find me, they were worried sick. At that time, I had to learn a different kind of responsibility than that of taking care of little animals.
We had never heard of homeschooling back then, so the most common way of educating children of the missionaries and Bible College students who attended there was to put them in private Christian school. I attended two of them. At the first one, we had to wear navy and white uniforms, and being a self-paced learning system, we were required to mark our own scores. Incidentally, I learned a great lesson about integrity-the hard way. It was there that some gifts were nurtured, but the general worldliness, and perverseness, of a few of the youth who had been placed there because of being suspended from other schools, and were there as a last resort seemed to creep through the larger group until it seemed that the shelter and protection that my parents desired to find in a Christian environment evaded us.
At the second school, I saw the hand of Providence at work when my homeroom class had a grand piano in it. I often came in early to school and my teacher allowed me to play piano. Word got around, and I was asked to play for the seventh and eighth grade morning chapel services. So there was a paradox. I was in a time of tremendous growth yet a time of excess emotional pain. Guilt and rejection seemed to riddle my mind for no apparent reason. Fears tormented me. There was so much talk of the end-times, and the tribulation, and there was so much expected of us. Many teens in that school drove fancy cars. Most of them wore designer clothes. This was back in the days when the name or the swan, the alligator, or polo had to be showing! Some of the kids in the school were never known to wear an outfit more than once during the whole year. It was a time of raging hormones; a time of not fitting in. Clusters of girls moved about in catty gossiping circles. I felt like a wannabe with the wrong hair, the wrong makeup, and thrift store clothes. Even if I did get the name brands, the pants were too big. Or, if I had the right dress, the shoes didn’t match. I felt my parents were too busy in their Bible courses for us to freely communicate about miscellaneous needs or supplies for projects, so I always felt just a little off, a little set-back; just a little confused, misfit. That may not have been what everyone was thinking, but it was the phantom in my mind. It was there that I found myself that spring day, trying to cut away the pain reaching for the broken mirror in math class. It was there also, that I found the grace of a new life in Christ.
I had already been saved at a young age. I had prayed the prayer, “Jesus, come into my heart, and forgive me of all my sins; I want to be saved!”, while standing on the kitchen chair when I was five years old. It was followed by a heartfelt song, and sincere worship to the tune of “Oh, Holy Night” and “Silent Night”. This is where I first met His love and reached out to Him wholeheartedly. But after, my elementary school years passed by with relatively neither huge problems nor huge spiritual growth, I was just me. A kid playing, tormented at times by the nagging reality that I was a sinner. Even though I had confessed Jesus and knew I was one of His, I was still sinning, still yielding to temptations and still carnal in my way of thinking. Not much had changed other than I had memorized a few verses, and felt very sentimentally spiritual at Christmas time and Easter, whenever we saw a good passion play. But Christ was not at the center of my life. He was savior, but not Lord. I thought my parents were prudish, and religious. I mentally complained without ever opening my mouth, that they were old fashioned and felt I was so much more “in the know” than they were. They were dated, out-of-style, boring and weird. When I pointed the finger at them, the other three were pointed back at me saying, “I’m different; I’m not in style; I’ll never be popular; I’m not part of the ‘IN’ crowd. My life is boring. We get our clothes at charity stores; I hate these sinful habits that I have but I don’t know how to stop doing them. I hate myself. I want to die” Like a broken record, the lies, began to overwhelm me until finally that day, in front of everyone I was letting all natural, self-love, go and replacing it with self-hate with abandon. And finally in the counselor’s office I was faced with a real decision. She wanted to know why I cut my arm. There I sat, baffled, ashamed and a little surprised I had done it. I remember her asking me why and I just shrugged, and said “I guess, I don’t really know, I just have these thoughts sometimes that I don’t want to live.” She listened politely, encouraged me, told me I could come talk to her any time, and gave me an assignment to memorize. Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” She told me to write it down several times, and then she would follow up with me.
The tearing away at my spirit and my thought life that had begun little by little had to be taken back and restored little by little, over time. But even then, there was one, really good, big push that catapulted me on my way like a spinning inner tube going town a tunnel of a water slide. A group of dedicated, singers and drama team came to that school. They did a play called “The Master Potter” and used pottery making and drama together to form a story about a guy who had really blown his life up with drugs and alcohol, and ruined his life. There he was rebelling, yelling at God, and as he did, the ugliness of sin was added to the potter’s wheel. It deformed the beautiful clay pot that had been made, until it was no longer useful. It was marred in the hand of the potter. When the man finally repented and came to himself like a prodigal son, The Master Potter began to form out of the old hunk of clay a brand new vessel. The play gripped all of us and we were down at the altar from first period on into the lunch break. Tears were shed. Kids were saved. Lives were rededicated. I was one of the ones who once again had a turning, a rededication, or a sorrow for sin that led to repentance.
After that, it was like I had turned a page in history. I was free! I went to school smiling and being friendly! Putting the scripture in my heart was the best thing that ever happened to me. I began to spend time reading the Bible in the morning before school and journaling, expecting that God would speak to me and comfort me through His word. Even if it was just one scripture that stood out, I expected God’s word to apply to my situations in life and it did! I began to cultivate a gratefulness for what He had done for me and look forward to that time of fellowship each day. I can’t tell you that I never had more pitfalls throughout my years as a student, but from then on it was me and God. We had a relationship. I knew I could count on Him to be as close as the mention of His name. My prayer was, “No matter what, Lord, don’t let me ever get to a place where my heart is hardened toward you again or that I am out of your will. Please keep me in the center of your will.” He has been tried and true, through many kinds of trials and errors. Eventually, when we did move back to our country home in Leander. There, Jesus kept me through the trials of public high school. When in the times of temptations, as promised, He always provided a way of escape. He also made me succeed in whatever I set my heart to do!
I cannot say that I never have a sad feeling, or despairing thought, or moment, but I can see past the façade because I know that it is a lie. For many years I was tormented with fear. But, God has restored given me hope and truth that He is the Great I AM. He is exactly what I need Him to be in that moment of fear, sorrow, temptation, or pain. God is a good God! I know that He will never leave me. And looking back on my life, I am so grateful for the people He put into my life and for the good things He has done! This is the very essence of receiving Philippians 4:8 as a lifelong belief, that it is many little things, many little decisions that add up to a lifetime of choices. The more we give our time and attention to the “praise-worthy, the good, the true, the excellent, gracious or lovely and of good report” the less that fear, doubt and distrust has a place, and we find out there is contentment in just being attached to HIM. SELAH!
When I started writing this evening, I was out on the porch admiring the cool breeze and sunset. Now it is past bedtime and I’m sitting in my recliner. I could not stop writing because I so wanted to share this with you. There’s an old hymn that sums up the matter. Hopefully, you can look at the words again as if you’re seeing them for the first time.
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!”
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!
Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!”
Hymn by Thomas Tobiah Chisholm