Good for Something
Seeing our worth in the eyes of God.
by JoAnn Wray
“Stop squirming! Hold still while I tie your shoe.”
Whack! The frustrated mother slapped the four-year-old across the face. Then she twisted his arm for emphasis. “I said hold still!”
The boy looked at his mom, bewildered. I could see his pain clearly. Pain I knew and recognized.
I was twenty-five when this happened in a grocery store cereal aisle. Suddenly, I was a child again, my mother criticizing and slapping me. The memory was so vivid and swift, I ran from the store to my car. Sitting in the heat, sweating, I recalled an incident I thought I’d never revisit.
Anger and fear
“Will you hold still!” The pins in my mother’s mouth never moved, though her words cranked out loudly. She yanked my skirt hem down. “Now turn to the left.” Pins flashed off her fingertips, anchoring the hem.
“Mom, please? Just a little shorter? I’ll be the only girl in sixth grade with my skirt so long!” I held my breath, praying she’d let my knees show.
A pin stopped in midair. Mom gripped it so tightly, her knuckles paled. Through clenched teeth, she said, “Just exactly why do you want your skirt so short? Do you want boys to treat you like a tramp? Is that it?”
Her eyes, like a wild dog’s, looked hurt and angry. “You good-for-nothing. Come on, I don’t have all day! Get down from that stool.”
Fear twisted its knife in my heart, and cold sweat beaded my forehead. I recognized that look from Mom . . . the look that said she was boss around here . . . the look that said I’d done something terrible.
Her icy stare and curled lip convinced me I was good for nothing. I gulped, then flinched, but there was no slap. Not this time.
“Get out of that skirt now!” Mom’s hands gripped her hips in a drill sergeant stance.
I turned, walking toward my room where I’d left my play clothes on the bed. I hadn’t gone two steps when
Mom yanked my hair and pulled me within inches of her face.
“Not in there. Get that skirt off here. Now.” She grabbed a slotted serving spoon, a favorite tool for spankings.
I couldn’t believe what I heard. Disrobing in the kitchen? What if someone sees me?
A smirk settled on Mom’s face when she noted my trembling hands undo the skirt button and zipper. I slipped it off and handed it to her. She glared as if waiting for me to finish.
I stood there not understanding — not wanting to. “Your clothes! All of them! When you get them off, wrap this scarf around you.” She flung a large red and white scarf my direction.
I watched it flutter to the floor and tried not to cry. “What did I do? I promise I’ll be good! I promise! Please don’t make me.” I wiped my tears and nose with the back of my hand. I must be really bad for her to punish me this way. Mom hates me.
“Just do it, and make it snappy.” She drummed a cadence with the spoon on her left palm; her eyes narrowed.
I fumbled with my blouse buttons. As I started to slip out of my undergarments, my three brothers ran onto the front porch demanding Kool-Aid®.
Mom stepped in front of the screen door, “Go sit on the blanket under the apple tree. I’ll bring it to you, boys!” Her voice was sweet as honey.
I grabbed for the scarf and wrapped it around me, holding it in place with my arms, unable to figure how to fasten it.
Mom stomped across the floor and grabbed my shoulders.
“Here! Tie it like this!” She knotted two corners and placed it under my right armpit. “Now you’re ready!” Her voice, as strident as a screech owl’s, pierced my heart. I must be really bad.
She shoved me toward the screen door. She was a big woman, impossible to fight. “Go on. Get out there. We’ll see how much you like parading your flesh around now.” With that she pushed me out onto the front porch and locked all the doors.
I couldn’t stop sobbing. She hissed, “Shut up! The neighbors will think I’m killing you. You have to learn a lesson. Sit in that chair until I say you can move.”
As she busied herself making Kool-Aid® for the boys, I turned the wicker chair so its wide back protected me from the street. I climbed in and curled into a ball. Two hours later Mom unlatched the screen door and said two words. “Come in.”
I ran to my room, but it was no haven. As oldest of the five kids, I had to share my room with my sister now. I wondered what I could do to please Mom. Just eleven years old, and already I was an overachiever, striving please her, longing to hear the coveted words of approval. It seemed no use.
In 1974, married with two small children of my own, I was haunted and consumed by fear and rejection. Mom still tormented me with accusing phone calls. Control was her game.
She’d tell my father that I phoned and upset her. Her favorite refrain was: “Your father is disappointed in you because. . . .”
She called several times a week, taunting me and pushing me to the edge of hysteria. During the first five years of my marriage, I attempted suicide six times. Depression came in smothering waves and disabled me for days at a time. After each call, I fell into an abyss of rejection. I’d phone my husband, Roger, sobbing.
As a result, his job performance suffered. Then in late August 1974 a friend from Roger’s office invited him to revival meetings at his church. Roger asked me to go. I balked, trying to control him with my pouting.
For the first time, Roger didn’t cave in. He looked at me and said “OK, choose. Me or your mom — which one is it going to be? I’m going to this meeting whether you do or not.”
With that stunning announcement, he retreated to the bathroom. I hadn’t moved when he came out. “Well? Are you going or not?” he asked.
I stared at him a moment, fidgeted, and stared at the carpet. “Well? Yes or no?”
I couldn’t believe he’d dare to go without me. I rushed up the stairs, grabbed my purse and makeup bag.
At the church we found seats with Roger’s friend. I felt exposed, as if all the terrible things I’d ever done in life could be read on my skin. The service started with a man who sang glorious tenor. I stared as he shared his story of having cancer of the larynx. Doctors told him that he’d never sing again; but there he stood, singing with a voice so clear and joyous, the roof could have floated off. “I was healed by Jesus Christ!” he proclaimed.
The evangelist stood. I can’t recall the words of his sermon, but I do remember God was there. Finally, the evangelist walked down two steps. His hands reached toward the audience, but I saw God’s hands extending. “If you aren’t afraid to give your heart, your life to God’s only Son, Jesus Christ, this night, I dare you to stand up!” His eyes pierced my soul.
To my shock, Roger stood in answer to the evangelist’s call.
I froze in place, every muscle screaming at me, Don’t move!
“If you love God, if you believe in Jesus and want Him in your heart this night, then walk to this altar and allow us to pray with you,” the evangelist pled.
Roger looked at me, then up the aisle. He bent and kissed my forehead. “I love you,” he whispered. “I have to do this.”
I watched in disbelief. He’d been my anchor; why did he need God?
The evangelist made one more plea. “Why don’t we all gather round and pray with these folks who have come to Christ tonight?”
I barely waited before I hit the aisle, almost running toward Roger. People all around whispered and shouted prayers and even sang songs of praise to God. I’ll just act like them, I thought. No one will know how awful I am. No one will know what a bad person, what a good-for-nothing I am.
Hands clenched in prayer, I squeezed my eyes shut. Old feelings of rejection tore at me. “God, if You’re there, I want to give You my life. I’ve messed it up from the day I was born. I can’t do anything right. If anyone is going to fix me, it will have to be You.”
I knelt, tears running down my face. Something changed; a heavy weight rolled off my life.
I prayed simply and asked Him to forgive me and run my life. For the first time I knew I was loved exactly as I am, without needing to prove anything. I knew Jesus Christ was alive and real. He died on the cross for me — me! Roger and I left that meeting changed forever by Christ.
Words of love
Mom’s calls no longer triggered countless days of dark depression. A few years later, she finally received Christ into her own life.
In 1979 my husband and I decided to move several hundred miles from our home state. We visited my parents before leaving. As we walked to the car, Mom put her hand on my shoulder. I noticed a sheen of tears in her eyes. “What is it, Mom?” I asked.
She sobbed, then said, “I don’t want you to go. I love you too much.” Such hugs and weeping!
I was thirty years old. For the first time in my life, Mom had just told me she loved me. She needed to say it as much as I needed to hear it.
Saying yes to Jesus, I’d discovered I was I was good for something in my mother’s eyes. More important, I was good for Someone.
Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked New King James Version taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.