Mum before her recital; age 16.This story is about how uncontrollable events scar deeply… and how scars are never the end of the story.
This story is about how uncontrollable events scar deeply… and how scars are never the end of the story.
“You’re nothing but a whore, a Devil’s Daughter! How dare you wear that short dress to church! Just you be sure to stay away from all my sons. I don’t ever want them influenced by a girl like YOU!”
It was 1969, during a well-attended Sunday evening Baptist Church post-service reception in the fellowship hall famously known as After-glow times (certainly not ‘parties’). The evening service had been superseded by a hymns recital sung by the elementary-aged choirs for whom my mum was the volunteer director. The pastor, deacons, music minister, youth leader, women’s leader – you name it, the home team were all watching the tall, full-figured imposing –and most influential woman in that church – spew these hot, angry words at a twelve year-old girl.
Yes. Me. In front of everyone. Loudly. Hotly. Making certain everyone’s eyes were on me. Indignant at my misbehavior. 12-years old. My sin? Shorter hemline than what she felt proper girls should wear and my hair was parted in the middle, not on the side like ‘proper girls’ should.
Mini-skirts had arrived on the teen-scene. My mother refused to let me have one. I was teased at school for my “Pilgrim’s Smocks” so much so that I had finally gotten her to reach the hem compromise of just BELOW my knee. Still humiliating, but a salve to my new-girl-at-school soul. As for the middle-parting hair, I was so proud of it because my super popular sister loved to style my hair in the latest fashion. Who knew that the way one parted one’s hair was indicative of deeply flawed wickedness within one’s soul? Within this actually a virgin 12 year-old’s soul?
It had been such a sweet night for mum. Newly and painfully divorced, music and teaching music to the little ones was her one solace from stress-filled days at work and broken, angry, torn hearts at home. She’d even persuaded my brother Richard to come with his girlfriend. Quite a feat considering how angry he was at this congregation that had behaved so coldly towards the demise of her marriage. In those days, the woman was always at fault. You know, she should have tried harder to keep her man. My sister and brother, by now in their older teens felt they did not have to suffer watching this behavior Sunday after Sunday and had stopped. I had to keep attending with mum.
After Mrs. Stephens had spent her voluminous anger on me, no one said a word. Not the pastor, music minister, youth pastor, Sunday school Coordinator, bible class teachers, other adults and parents. No one. Not.One.Word. Not during the tense moments of silence while I stood numb. Not in any Sunday nor Wednesday that followed. Not ever. From leaders to parishioners. No one said a word. Ever. Not even my mother.
Livid and in apoplectic rage, later that evening at home my brother berated her for letting such a vile scene play out unchallenged and vowed never to step foot in church again. I was later to learn, during my own divorce, that my mum was barely coping. Her mother had died two weeks after dad left and he had only been gone just over a year.
This, and the lack of anyone at the Afterglow coming to her aid that night, and my poor mum was a beaten woman. But my siblings and I did not know that at the time and it affected us badly to feel unsupported by her and no dad to come to our aid. Nor church leaders. Nor, God, we thought.
I plunged into six years of denying God–all for hatred of His people.
Coupled with two other devastating neighborhood physical events -which are stories for another time– within this same month, I did sin and sin grandly. Bad Girl? YOU BETCHA! At 12 years old, I had been trying to be a good girl, but no more. Mini-skirts? Ha! FOUR inches ABOVE my knee! No one could stop me. My poor, dear mum… To this day– to this day– I pay for the scars I added to the scars of people like Mrs. Stephens, relatives and neglectful church leaders. Yes, I added scars.
My reaction, my choice, my foolishness……But the story does not end with scars.
Mum kept going to that church. I could not figure out why. She would tell me, “Bethie, the church is a HOSPITAL. SICK people attend. Jesus came to HEAL SICK-in-the-soul people. And, those who remember that they’re a fellow patient —and not the doctor—are the ones who fare best….We’re here to take each other to the Healer, not try to be the healer. Like the friends who cut a hole in the roof and lowered their disabled friend into the presence of The Healer. ”
I was about 16, with a toddler a baby and a rarely present husband, when mum called me to say that Mrs. Stephen’s daughter, not barely a teen, had been killed in a car-accident. An oncoming car broadsided the passenger side when Mrs. Stephen’s, at the wheel, was taking a curve around a mountain on the way to their luxurious cabin in Marble Falls, TX. The wreck so bad that the young girl’s casket had to be closed during the funeral. Busy with two children to raise now that I had quit my follies wherein the resulting consequences were an unplanned pregnancy and difficult marriage, I felt sympathy mother to mother, but cared little else for Mrs. Stephen’s sorrows.
More years pass. My mum and I have kept in touch, things getting easier as real life helps me understand and sympathize more with her scars that left her psyche with a permanent limp. She calls me excitedly early one Monday morning. It was as if she had waited all night for the earliest polite time to call me. Breathless she exclaimed, “Bethie, Mrs. Stephens got up in front of the WHOLE church last night and wept and wept and asked forgiveness!”
Really. Who cares. Why?
It turns out that the day her daughter died so began Mrs. Stephen’s days of reckoning with God. In her tearful, repentant speech she told of how in her grief, she cried out the “Why, God, Why?” question. God’s tender response, “She is with me now and you’ll see your daughter soon. … But, I want to see My other daughters whom you are turning away from Me.” God then said to her, “You see the pain it feels to lose your daughter to someone else’s uncontrolled behavior? You are killing My Daughters. Stop it.”
Mrs. Stephens that tearful Sunday eve told the congregation that she had spent the intervening years privately opening her heart to God’s conviction and by the time God was done reckoning with her, she had counted 64 –SIXTY-FOUR–young girls whose relationship with their Father (Father God) she had killed. She was asking forgiveness from whom she could find, but she could not talk to all the girls; me being one of them. Then, God nudged her to publicly confess and publicly ask for forgiveness.
And here I am. And here’s my Mum, too. Healed. God did this and it was marvelous in our eyes.
So began my way back. The journey to Wholeness continues to this day.
Scars are never the end of our story.