Once upon a time. She was 14 and alone. The kitchen sink was full of sewage. No one knew, but her … and the Lord.
Junior high had been a struggle for her, as it is for many a lonely teenager. But her experience in 9th grade had rocked everything in her world. The pain of her shame was so sharp she couldn’t sleep. Night after night, she’d stay up ‘til the wee hours, crying – sobbing – because she didn’t fit in. And she never would.
She’d wanted so badly to fit in. But she was poor. Very poor. Living in a middleclass neighborhood. Pretending she was middleclass. But she wasn’t. How many of her friends knew that? Only the few who’d dared to enter her house.
From the outside, the family home seemed quaint – some might even say it was charming. Yellow unpainted stucco that, seen up close, looked like thick cornbread batter, dolloped and swirled in a more-or-less uniform pattern. Perhaps the oldest structure on the block, its uniqueness stood out among the rows of neatly painted white houses that lined both sides of the street in a very quiet neighborhood. French doors led from the small veranda into the living room on one side and into the dining room on the adjacent side, adding to its enchanting ambience.
If you looked closely at sunny reflections in its huge picture window, you’d see wavy places, revealing the fact that it had been installed a long time before its present tenant had been born.
The grass was green enough, except for the scattering of bright dandelions, which always seemed to pop up in defiance within just a few hours of being mowed down. A closer look revealed that the lawn’s rich color was the result of a thick combination of clover, broadleaf, and volunteer grasses that had drifted onto the lot from other, more intentional plantings over the years.
The inside, however, told a different story. The whole place reeked of wet wallpaper. Layers and layers of ancient wallpaper that someone had tried unsuccessfully to strip away. Here and there the bare plaster revealed an old and now-ugly past … stained with yellowed paste, chipped in places, and sometimes revealing the rough surface of the lathe underneath.
No central air. No central furnace. Only a gas stove that stood on the weathered wooden floor in the dining room. The kitchen cabinets, painted with thick ivory enamel, were no longer squarely connected with their doors. Behind the kitchen stove and the hot water heater that stood next to it, someone had attempted to pretty it all by tacking up a large piece of bright yellow linoleum trimmed with broad black stripes that made its crookedness all the more apparent. Nothing matched.
The dark hardwood floors of the living room and bedrooms no longer shined. Their varnish had worn away decades before. The stairs creaked. The lighting was dim. Dark and lonely. Hot in the summer and cold in the winter. No wonder she escaped so often … sometimes to neighbors’. Sometimes to her only friend’s house. Mostly to her church.
She felt safe at church. She knew it’s where she belonged.
When she was younger and lived on the other side of town, she’d ridden the Sunday School bus with her older brother. They’d walk two blocks to stand on the corner in front of the Christian Bookstore and pitch pennies while they waited to be picked up. Back then, she only got to go on an occasional Sunday morning.
Thanks to an urban renewal project, however, they had to move to another house, which was back in the old neighborhood. The best thing about it: Now church was just six blocks from home. Before the family owned a car, she’d walk there and back three times each and every week – Sunday morning services, Sunday evening services, and Wednesday night prayer meetings.
The summer she was 12, she left church shortly after dark to walk home. She remembered that it was that particular June because she was wearing the polka dot blouse and matching wraparound skirt she’d make in 7th grade home economics that spring. Ever cautious about her surroundings, she watched and listened as she headed for home.
Just a block or two from the church, she heard footsteps behind her and looked over her shoulder. It was a man in a checkered shirt. Not wanting to appear afraid, she turned her head back in the direction she was going and quickened her steps, but only slightly so as to appear calmer than she actually felt. Kansas was always rainy in June, and the sidewalks had puddles here and there – mostly small, but some large. She lengthened her stride to make it over one of them – at the same instant the man did.
He wrapped his arm around her neck, slapping his hand tightly over her mouth, and commanded, “Don’t scream.”
Then he yanked her purse from her hand and took off. She didn’t know in which direction. Her heart was pounding so hard she couldn’t think. As soon as the man had let her go, she began screaming at the top of her lungs. Instinctively, she headed back to the church. Visibly shaken and out of breath, she ran into the foyer where several adults were still visiting. Her Sunday School teacher offered her comfort as she told the story. The police were called, and the pastor gave her a ride home. She didn’t sleep well for months. Lots of months.
Now she was 14 … and living alone. The kitchen sink was full of sewage. No one knew, but her … and the Lord. Instead of crying, she plunged. And plunged some more. And as she plunged, she sang aloud every hymn she’d ever learned. How Great Thou Art. Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us. Glorious Freedom. All four verses of every song she knew.
Sing the wondrous love of Jesus
Sing his mercy and his grace
In the mansions bright and blessed
He’ll prepare for us a place.
When we all get to Heaven
What a day of rejoicing that will be
When we all see Jesus
We’ll sing and shout the victory.
Instead of singing and plunging her way through her fears, she should have told someone so they could call a plumber. It all seems pointless now. Or does it? How could she have made it through such a dark time without the Lord?
Many times throughout the years, life struggles would cause her to question the reliability of His love for her. But she always knew He was there.
However, it’s only one chapter of my story … a chapter that had its origins in early life experiences and beliefs I’d held about who I was.
Excerpt from Ephesians 5 Romance: the Truth about Love by Dr. Debi Smith
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