As the oldest child of a struggling, single mother, I was parentified at a young age. An original latch key kid in the 1970’s, I would pick my baby sister up from day care on the way home from elementary school and then take care of her and the chores until my mother got home from work. From as far back as I can remember, my mother sought my advice on everything from budgeting to dating. As the child of alcoholics and an alcoholic herself, this somehow made perfect sense to my mother. She was emotionally arrested at about 16 and I was very mature. Her happiness became my job.
While I was trying to “fix” my mother, I was navigating my other life with my father’s family which was also quite dysfunctional. (See my post “Father’s Day Reflections”) By the time I was 10, my mother had gotten married and divorced a second time and my internalized worries became physical. I developed severe stomach pain of unknown origin. They sent me to the school counselor but it was 1974 and childhood anxiety wasn’t well understood. I learned to cope by attempting to control my circumstances and everyone around me as best as I could. This continued long into my adulthood and when it didn’t work, I would fall hard.
It’s no real surprise then that since God used these struggles to draw me to Him (See “Why Silvered Belle”), one of the first Bible verses he would show me was Philippians 4:6-7. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I can still remember the first time I read it. I was blown away by its simplicity. You mean I can just pray and God will give me peace? I memorized the words. What I didn’t realize was that God would take me through many more hardships so that I could learn how to live them.
The first major trial would come about 2 and 1/2 years later when my husband was promoted to a job in the Northeast, which as far as this Southerner was concerned was a foreign country. Since my hungry soul had been on a steady diet of consistent biblical teaching on how to be a wife, mother, daughter, etc by the women in my neighborhood bible study, I wasn’t ready to leave the nest. As my anxiety took over, I begged my husband not to take the job but he was convinced that it was best for his career and our family. Our marriage was always struggling and I even thought about not going, but I knew that wouldn’t honor God. So I begrudgingly packed up all that we owned and headed to Philadelphia with our two kids.
It was March and although we left at the start of Spring in Texas, we arrived to a snow storm in Philly. The stoic, Catholic church directly across from our neighborhood was the complete opposite of our warm, charismatic parish in Dallas and nobody spoke to us for 3 straight Sundays. Our neighbors would close their garages before they even turned the car off. On Easter, the Priest announced they had canceled the nursery indefinitely due to staffing issues and we spent the service chasing our 2 young children around the foyer. I went home and cried for 3 straight hours.
I was angry with God. Why did we have to move? Why did I have to leave my wonderful friends and the security of our Christian community in Dallas? Hadn’t I suffered enough in my life? Now that I was a Christian, my life was supposed to be easier, right? As I cried out to Him, he reminded me of my favorite verse, Philippians 4:6-7. “I’ve got this”, God said to me. “Trust me and I will show you a better way. Not easier but, better.”
I was desperate for fellowship and I called my mentors in Dallas. They had been praying for us and suggested we look for a different church that would disciple our whole family. You see they knew that my husband was not a true believer at the time and saw this as God’s leading. After much prayer and tears on my part, he agreed to try a Non-Denominational church since we both believed that the Bible was the inherent word of God and the only doctrine needed.
The very first church we visited ended up being the one we chose after a few months of looking around. These precious believers welcomed us lovingly from the beginning. My husband would come to trust Christ soon after we got there and would grow in wisdom through the fellowship of their men’s ministry. Eventually all my children would come to faith in that church and become very active in their children’s and youth programs. God even called us to homeschool there for awhile. (More on that call later.) A couple of the women are still some of my closest friends to this day. This church family would come along side us through every trial we would go through for the next 10 years. (and there were many) And through each one, God would chip away at my stubborn pride and anxious heart.
I still struggle with letting go of control and God is still teaching me how to trust Him everyday. But, the lost, control freak that I was before I found Jesus has faded considerably, having died a little through each opportunity to practice His peace. When I can get my eyes off of my problems and fix them on Jesus, I can see His loving kindness and patience to make me more like Him, and I’m thankful for it. Learning to surrender our will to His is never easy but, God tells us time and time again not to fear. He has promised us peace when we pray and trust Him and I know and have seen that He keeps His promises.
Isaiah 41: 10, “Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”