This is a hard blog post for me to write. Because it means I have to reveal some things about my life and my family’s history that aren’t exactly the funnest things to talk about. Because I don’t have a perfect life, and even though I had a wonderful childhood, it was at times far from ideal or rosy and pretty.
I recently had the opportunity to share my faith and offer some support and encouragement to a woman that I sort of casually know, but who had posted something on Facebook about some trials she was going through in her life. Financial problems, troubled loved ones, and overall discouragement at the lack of prosperity in her life. I commented with a few words of encouragement and a Bible verse (Psalm 121:1) and later got a message from this woman sharing her heart about how hard she is trying to trust God, but how difficult it can be when things just don’t seem to be working out in life, and you can see how hard that is on those you love.
To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what to say in response. Here I am, a seventeen-year-old kid with a publishing contract and twelve hundred dollars worth of camera equipment. What could I possibly have to say about financial hardships or suffering in life?
A lot, actually.
My parents got saved later in life. My dad had lost both of his parents when he was a teenager, and he’s told me time and time again that he was always pretty much the life of the party in every circumstance, drinking too much and experimenting with drugs from a young age. My mom’s parents separated when she was seventeen, and she lived on her own in the city and worked her way through college, where she met my dad through mutual friends at a restaurant where she worked as a bartender. (Whoa, my parents have such a romantic story, right? That’s where I’m sure going to look for my husband–at a bar! Not!) Anyway, long story short, they fell in love, got married, and had two daughters. Then when I was five, my dad decided out of the blue that he wanted my mom to homeschool me, to which she promptly replied “You’re crazy!” and then “But I don’t know how!”
So she got some help and figured out what kind of books she needed to buy and how this whole homeschooling thing is supposed to look. One of the curriculums she decided to use for me was a Bible program to teach me basic Bible stories and help me memorize some verses. She’d been attending a lukewarm church for a while and thought it would be a good idea to teach her girls some Christian morals and stories. But what she wasn’t planning was just how gripping the simple Bible stories would be on her adult heart. The first story she read through was the introductory “ABC’s of Salvation”. And that was all it took. One simple kindergarten-level telling of the love of Christ for sinners, and her heart was pierced. She confessed to the Lord just how much she needed Him in her life, and from that day on, she was a changed woman.
God started working on my dad at about the same time. So within a few months (he knows it to the day!) my dad was down on his knees asking God to take over his life. He said that pretty soon after that, when on a Christian retreat with some men from the new church they were attending, He knelt by his bed and asked for God to take away his addiction to alcohol. And he said that after he prayed that, he felt the hugest weight lifted off his shoulders. He came home, dumped out every beer left in his fridge, and hasn’t had a drink since then. Not because he believed alcohol was evil or sinful–but because he was excited for the opportunity to show the world that he was a different man.
Well, the road in front of them wasn’t easy. In fact, it was bumpy and painful. Because only two weeks after my dad came to Christ, he got laid off from work. My mom hadn’t worked in years, so for the first time our family was completely without income in the midst of a huge nation-wide financial crisis. And, if things didn’t seem desperate enough, my mom soon found out something else: She was pregnant. With child number three.
I was probably only five or six when all this happened. But what I didn’t realize at the time was that our family was entering into a stage of life that would last for the next four or so years. And that was the time we all fondly call, “Food Pantry Days.”
Why? Because we were poor. We were more than poor! I was too young to realize a lot of it at the time, but my parents are very quick to admit that they struggled keeping food on the table. Milk was a necessity we couldn’t afford a lot of the time. We ate boxed spaghetti just about every night. Without butter. Without cheese. I remember complaining about that to my friends. Boiled spaghetti with salt for supper. And pbjs on food pantry bread for lunch.
Christmases came and went. We learned to make things for each other. I remember hand sewing a sleeping bag for my little sister’s doll and making a crown out of pipe cleaners and party streamers for the baby. One Christmas I complained about the lack of toys I got, and I’ll never forget hearing my mom crying about it later and feeling the worst kind of guilt in the pit of my stomach. I didn’t know we were poor! All I knew was that we ate spaghetti with salt and frozen chicken nuggets and lots of people gave us hand-me-down clothes. Which were usually too short considering how freakishly tall I was.
Things got better in time, obviously. My dad had been working at a low-paying job for Habitat for Humanity, but he eventually moved on and was hired somewhere else. The bills got paid. We were able to pay off whatever credit card debt we’d racked up and even started saving to build a house. We were back on our feet financially and life was looking good again.
I didn’t know very many details of that time in our life until I was much older. But then my parents started sharing about it openly. They had no shame in the change they would collect to buy milk or eggs or whatever else they needed. They were quick to admit that they had fallen into debt that had burdened them until they could pay it off. They confessed that they had considered bankruptcy then had declared it not an option unless they were willing to one day go back and personally repay all of those people every cent they had borrowed from them.
But the biggest truth they’re willing to admit is this: That they would not be the people they are today if the Lord hadn’t walked them through those trials. My dad will be the first one to tell you that. He honestly believes that God put him through all that so soon after his salvation as a way to grow him quickly. Because sometimes, my dad will tell us, you need to hit rock bottom in life. Because it’s when you’re sitting at the very bottom that you have no place to look but up.
My dad told me something once that both simultaneously shocked and touched me. He told me that his number one prayer in life wasn’t for my prosperity or overall happiness. His prayer was only that one day God would bring me through some kind of trial. That me and my husband would face some obstacle that would just prove itself to be too big to overcome. Too painful or too scary for us to handle. And that, through that trial, God would show Himself to us and draw us closer to Him.
I have to admit that hearing my dad say those words has meant more to me than few things I’ve ever heard him say. Because I know that he loves me enough to honestly want that for me. Because He wants me to have the same beautiful, intimate, childlike relationship with Christ that my parents do. The kind of relationship that comes through walking hand-in-hand with the Father through some hardship. The kind of relationship that grows from a deep abiding trust that God will always bring me through.
So how did I respond to my friend on Facebook? I told her a few of these things. I offered to pray for her. And I shared this song by Laura Story, that has always proved itself to be nothing but a comfort and encouragement to me as I think about what mountains God has in store for my future. Because sometimes, God’s blessings do come through raindrops. His healing does come through tears. And my parents are living proof that sometimes, it does take a thousand sleepless nights to really know that God is near. And I have found that, indeed, every trial in this life has proven itself to be God’s mercies in disguise.