The following includes a story I do not tell often. I don’t think I’ve ever told my family about all of it actually… But, if I’m talking about moments that have caused me to become who I am… This is one of them…
I think I was in 2nd or 3rd grade. It was Christmas time. My family lived in a tiny little house with very little storage, so we had a storage unit. We went to said storage unit to pick up our Christmas decorations. We were on our way home to decorate and, because we HAVE to drink eggnog when we decorate our tree, we stopped at the grocery store to get some… AND because my family travels as a herd, we ALL went in to the grocery store to buy it, leaving our Christmas ornaments unattended in the back of our Volvo station wagon. Someone apparently thought that the boxes looked to be filled with great treasures so they broke a window and stole them. Dandy.
We did not have extra money to fix car windows so it was boarded up with cardboard and duct tape. A few days (or weeks?) later my brother (I only had one back then) and I pulled out our sleeping bags, as we did every Friday night, and watched movies in the livingroom until we fell asleep. A couple hours into our asleepness (yep, that’s a word) I woke up to banging on the front door, glowing out the window, my dad RUNNING in the room and opening the door to a fire man and then frantically running down the porch stairs towards the glow. I stood up and walked to the doorway and stared as our car and tree went up in flames. They stopped the fire, but the car was no longer a car… just a frame of a car. The fireman suspected that either someone purposefully set fire to the car or they just dropped a cigarette in it and POOF! We will never know.
Our minimal insurance did not cover car fires… and if we didn’t have money to fix the window, we certainly didn’t have money to buy another car. So, we went without one for a really long time… a couple years maybe? The timing of things is a blur. In that long carless period, we road the bus everywhere and walked places that were close enough. Public transportation is an adventure, let me just say. I learned so much about people through these adventures. My parents, especially my overly talkative father, were constantly “making friends” with all kinds of people. I learned a lot from that. I also learned a lot about flexibility and endurance despite challenges.
Another challenge came during this carless period when our washing machine broke… and, shocker, we didn’t have money to get that replaced either… but that is what laundromats are for. However, going to a laundromat with all of your laundry can be a challenge when you do not have a car. Have no fear though. There is always a way. My mom packed up all our laundry in the hamper and pillow cases. The hamper went inside our “little red wagon” and we were each handed something to carry. We walked up the big hill by our house and down the street to the shopping center where there was a laundromat. I’m not going to lie, my prideful little self found the whole situation rather humiliating, but I acted tough. I didn’t want my parents to know it bothered me because I was sure it wasn’t exactly a picnic for them either.
I walked slower than everyone else… on purpose… I wanted to lag behind because well, I just wasn’t happy with the situation… We walked the back way through the shopping center, behind Vien Dong (the vietnamese grocery store we shopped at). Three men sat on the brick wall drinking from paper bags, like most people do on a Saturday morning. They were snickering about the little family with laundry in a wagon. My family was several yards in front of me at this point. They may have even been around the corner. One of the men hopped off the wall and started walking towards me. He turned to his little drinking pals and said, “they look too clean to be homeless” and then… he sniffed me… and said, “smells clean too. I don’t know.” Then, laughing, he found his way back to his wall.
I felt worthless. Honestly. I did. I walked into the laundromat, handed my mom my pillowcase full of laundry and said, “I have to go to the bathroom.” I walked into the not so clean public restroom, locked the door, sunk down to the floor, and wept. In those few minutes I remember being angry with God for allowing me to be born. Maybe a dramatic reaction to a stupid drunk man behind a grocery store… but I felt it… and for so many reasons, that day I really felt like things would be better if I had just never existed.
Depressing story? Sure. Maybe. But… They meant it for evil, God meant it for good. What good? Well, for one… I learned to have a heart of compassion.
Experiences and moments like these, God used to shape my heart. I eventually learned that my life was VALUABLE and BEAUTIFUL to Him, but I will never forget what it felt like to not know that wonderful truth… and because of that, I will spend the rest of my life teaching others about the God who loves them in the midst of that brokenness and who wants to bring them through it, like He did for me. Those days, I was in a pit… and I now can sit with others who are in pits of their own and say, “Let me tell you about my Savior… He climbed into the pit I lived in and carried me out… and He wants to do that for you.”
Because of a thief, a fire starter, and drunk man… I am where I am today. If I knew who they were, I’d tell them “what you did for evil, God has used for good… and I am so grateful.”