Well, Grandma is definitely in the doghouse. Ever since your birthday, I have wanted to tell you the story of when I was 12 too. It was to be my gift to you. But it took me all these months to figure out what I wanted to say and how to say it! Why? Because my 12 and your 12 are a very different story.
Your mom and dad have filled your life with so much sweetness and love, it makes me a little teary-eyed. I know it’s not always perfect (a big family does have its share of FRUSTRATION!) but all the good at your house seems to far outweigh all the irritating parts. At least that’s what I think. I hope you do too!
But as hard and different as my 12 was, something happened that year I will never forget. And I wanted to share it with you.
I don’t remember how long after my birthday it was, but I know I was 12 and in the sixth grade. And my life was a mess! The kids at school were particularly mean. I wore dresses to school, with knee-high socks. I don’t remember what the other girls were wearing, but it certainly wasn’t that. So the boys (but also the girls sometimes because they wanted to show off for the boys) thought it was funny to come up behind me and pull my socks down around my ankles.
It felt like the whole day I was pulling my socks up, only to have them yanked down again. It might sound small and insignificant, even funny, but it wasn’t. It was very degrading to have other kids think they could constantly target and mock you, just because they felt like it, and you had no control over it. The teachers didn’t care to intervene either. Other stuff was said and done by the kids, that just made me feel so alone and unliked. I did have one friend, but she moved away. It all hurt a lot.
Home was not a very nice or safe place to be either. Unfortunately, when adults are unhappy, kids are often not treated very well. And that’s what happened at my house. There was lots of yelling and hitting going on. So even though I dreaded going to school, I dreaded going home even more.
I would get off the bus at the top of the hill, look down to our house at the bottom, to see if my mom’s car was there. If it was gone, hurray! Then I knew I would be safe for a while. I could read and maybe even sneak a snack. I was so hungry after school, but we weren’t allowed snacks.
But if Mom’s car was home, yet Grandma’s car was also parked out front, hurray! Then I knew it would be a quiet, uneventful afternoon. Mom wouldn’t get angry if Grandma was there.
But if only Mom’s car was in the driveway, my stomach dropped to my knees. And I walked down that hill as slow as I could.
Then there was church. But unlike home and school, it was a good place to be. Even though there were a lot of rich, snobby kids, who looked down on those of us who didn’t wear the nicest clothes or have the nicest stuff, it was still safe. Kids didn’t tease you or laugh. I guess they knew you shouldn’t be mean at church. And the teachers wouldn’t allow it anyway—thank goodness.
But it was much more than that.
The stories I heard—stories about God—did something to my heart. In all the hurt of my little-girl world, there was something else out there. There was something big and strong and good. And it was more than just a story. It was God, and it was hope. I didn’t know exactly how it would all figure into my life; I just knew there was a goodness out there more powerful than all the badness around me. And good things in my world were very hard to find. So I clung to them once I did find them. And every Sunday morning, I clung on tight—for dear life.
But now, at 12, I was losing my grip.
While I heard about all the goodness at church, school was a nightmare and home was only getting worse and worse. What I was hearing and what I was experiencing weren’t matching up. And I was getting desperate. I didn’t know how much more hurt I could take.
Whether hurting on the inside from the constant stream of unkind or angry words and the suffocating crush of loneliness and neglect or hurting on the outside from all the bruises and welts, I just ached all the time. And then one morning, as I sat in front of my closet, putting on my shoes for school, I couldn’t take it anymore.
I heard screaming coming from another part of the house. I didn’t know what all was going on (I think my brother had done something), but whatever it was, it wasn’t good. And the ache I felt for him, for me, for our whole mess of a family, just seemed to well up inside me, and I felt like I was going to explode. And I did—in tears.
I remember thinking, “I don’t want this kind of life. I don’t want an angry, loud life where everyone is always getting hurt. I want something very different. But how do you get that … from this?”
Then suddenly, I knew how. Home and church weren’t matching up because they were different. If I wanted my life to be different, I realized I needed to choose between them. And somehow, I understood that I was free to choose—and that no one could make that choice for me or take it from me. So I looked up at the ceiling of my bedroom that morning—and I chose. I chose with all my heart.
“God?” I sobbed, “I know You’re there … I’ve heard about You all my life at church. I’ve heard … I’ve heard how much You love me and sent Your Son to die for me, to be the payment for my sins … for everyone’s sins. And I’ve heard … that if I believe it, You’ll save me and take me to Heaven someday. Well … I want you to know that I do believe. I believe in You and what You did for me. I believe it all. But …”
I struggled through my tears to get the words out.
“But … I can’t really wait for Heaven, God. I really need Your help right now down here. And I’ve heard that when I do believe, You’ll also send Your Spirit to live inside of me, to help me right now. That’s what I really need, God. I need You and Your Spirit right now down here.”
And sitting there in front of my closet, my shoes half on and half off, He came. He came bringing so much love and goodness into my aching little heart that I thought I was going to pop again. And I did—with more tears. But this time, they were good tears.
I finished putting on my shoes, dried my eyes, and took a deep breath. I knew nothing had changed on the outside of my life—and probably wouldn’t. I could still hear the screaming going on. I might not even make it out the door without getting hurt myself. But something was different. Very different. And I knew what it was. The God I had always heard about was now inside of me. I wasn’t alone anymore. And somehow, I just knew that that is what would make the difference.
I don’t remember how I finally made it outside, but I did. I climbed over the broken part in the back fence, ran down the embankment to the road below and started off to school. It still wouldn’t be a safe place to be, but that didn’t matter anymore. The kids could hurt me—but they couldn’t really hurt me. Not now. I was safe and held and loved in a way that they could never touch.
And as I turned to walk along the dirt path toward school that clear, sunny morning, I remember an overwhelming feeling I had never felt before. I felt free. I was a 12-year-old girl, caught in a home and school that didn’t help you, but hurt you. Yet, I was free. From that day forward, only gravity kept my feet on the ground. The rest of me was soaring.
I still am.
Meeting God in front of my closet when I was 12, Riley, changed my life. I hope the rest of your year will be just as wonderful!
2 Replies to “Letter to Riley”
Debbie, sounds like we grew up in the same house and went to the same school! I have the same story and the Lord met me in the same way (only I was 15). My life was never the same after that! Praise His name! Thanks for sharing!
Hi, Lyn. I’m sorry you had to go through it too. It’s funny that when we’re little, we feel so alone, like we’re the only one. But then later on, we find out we weren’t alone after all. I wish I could have found it out at the time! But then we wouldn’t be who we are. And I kind of like who we’ve both become! ♥
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