By Billie Marie Zal
I hated to grow up and if I had been less realistic I might always have been just a child at heart. Childhood is carefree. At least it is if a child is given a proper environment. I loved every moment of it; I could love people and be loved back. I could do things that were not exactly proper and be excused because “I was only a baby.” I could be little and coy and cute and people loved me for it.
I remember how much fun I had as a tiny youngster. I lived in a hotel apartment in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and it was exciting. I must have been around three years old and I was the pet of the entire hotel.
One day I ventured forth (across a busy city street) to see some movie star photos that were pasted on billboards. Even at that tender age I was entranced by music and “stars,” and show business. I still recall how the folks who owned the photographic company welcomed me. They took my hand, led me into a room filled to my knees with every kind of glossy print of the big stars and told me to pick out the ones I wanted. By the time I had my chubby arms full, my folks had missed me, had panicked, and called the police.
I would have gotten a sound spanking if Daddy had not been so delighted with this great “find” of mine. Relieving me of my burden, he admonished me never to leave home again without asking and Mama regained her composure (she had been hysterical). It seemed good and safe to be missed so much that I secretly vowed to disappear every once in a while as I grew up so that I would be missed. Being missed, to me, meant being loved.
Another time my sister and I got all dressed up in our Halloween costumes (always a clown suit, until we finally outgrew them) and each of us carried a tiny jack-O-lantern up and down the dark hallway of another big apartment complex where we lived. Suddenly I found myself quite alone. The shadows of that pumpkin lantern danced eerily against the walls and I heard a low, horrible, cackle. My hair literally stood on end; Kathleen, my sister, had hidden and was scaring me. I ran screaming down that hall into the safety of Mama and Daddy’s apartment. Kathleen really got it for teasing me, but beneath all the uproar I again felt loved. I had “home” to run to when I was afraid, and parents who made those fears go away. I again
decided that I would never leave that home and that safety. I wouldn’t grow up. Then I would be safe.
Going to school should have been a frightening experience for me. I was so close to my folks. But Kathleen was already in school and that made it exciting; I would be getting to see her once in awhile. And besides, I was desperate for knowledge. I learned everything I could…I figured out how to read by studying the refinery gate fence (we lived in “company houses” in a refinery camp), and without realizing it I had quite a good education even before I entered first grade.
Because I always made straight “A’s,” I was accepted and loved by my teacher (who was a large, black haired woman both strict and loving), and being special to her, I felt “little.” I just didn’t think there was any necessity to grow up.
It is when we do leave the security of our homes, though, that we get our first taste of growing up, whether we like it or not. Strangers do not excuse us our faults as “family” does. People hurt us and nobody makes them pay for it. Once I was sitting in a car with some older girls, waiting to ride home with them. One of them reached over, grabbed my hat, and wiped her boot on it. I couldn’t fight back, I was far too small. Her cruelty hurt me deeply and I was bewildered. Being “little” hadn’t helped one bit.
So I began to learn. Life doesn’t let us remain little. If we insist upon NOT growing up, we either have a nervous breakdown when we do become adults or we live in a fantasy world where reality is rejected and our minds forsake us.
God was especially kind to me by making me face the reality that I had to grow up. Mother was not one of those sweet, mushy, easily manipulated women who fawn upon their children and have the attitude, “Oh, well, let her have her way…she’s only a child.” Instead, she was super strict and I am continually praising God for her.
Kathleen and I would take a bath, for example, and we would draw an “invisible” line down the middle of the tub. One side was mine and one was hers. Being the smaller one, I always got the lesser side. When I would let out a scream that my side was smaller than Kathleen’s Mother would lunge into the bathroom with her peach limb. The argument ceased right there.
Daddy was always there, too, which made for some great times as a family. On a Sunday
we would all drive up to Hot Springs to pick up crystal rock. In those days there were so many lying about that all you had to do was pick them up. Now you have to dig for them.
Usually on the way home Kathleen and I would begin some kind of a fight. I think it was from sheer boredom, and we probably wanted Mother to do her thing. It would begin with a little argument as to who should sit on which side, or just anything that would offer us a reason to quarrel. Again, Mother would rise from the front seat (Daddy always drove an enormously large car, so it was quite a feat for her to get to us), swing her huge hand tooled leather bag around and around, and by the time she was ready for the strike we were both sitting meekly in our corners, viewing the beautiful landscape.
I didn’t realize it then, but Mother was helping me to grow up. All the “cuteness” in the world wouldn’t save me from certain judgment if I went too far.
I think that life teaches us the greatest lesson of all when we face the fact that not even our parents can help us and get us out of our predicaments forever. On the one hand we want to do our own thing (this happens at puberty, thus the hostility toward parents), and on the other hand we want our folks there to settle us and pull us out if we get in too deep.
But parents are human and they aren’t able to forgive and forget easily. Not when a child goes on and on in rebellion and refuses to listen to reason. It is at such a crossroads in our lives that we realize our parents are not God. They can go only so far, and that is all.
God permitted many things to happen to show me that my parents were not infallible. For one thing, Daddy had always been a great provider and many times he went into debt to give my sister and me beautiful and expensive gifts. Mama, too, did without. She wanted us to have lovely things and gave up her own comforts so that we might be blessed with abundance. Of course this was not exactly conducive to our growing up, but on the other hand it presented us with a picture of God as a Father who was a giving Father.
But the day came when Daddy’s job at the oil refinery came to an end (a larger company bought them out), and we were faced with poverty. I can still remember Mama sitting there, opening and shutting her giant purse (it made a loud clicking noise) and telling us that we had no money left.
This was the first day of my adulthood. I sat there and looked at her - her beautiful brown eyes so filled with worry and despair - and I made a mental decision that no matter what
happened I would somehow help make things a little easier for her and daddy. I would never ask for another thing. I would be cheerful and help in any way. I was growing up. Even my parents, I now realized, could not over rule what God had ordained. I began to shift my expectancy from humanity to God.
Another terrible crisis came when my sister almost died. I had gone to college on a scholarship and this was a blessing for my folks because they didn’t have enough to eat, let alone feed me. In those days there were no food stamps or unemployment compensation and I don’t think my mother and dad would have taken advantage of it even if there had been. Anyhow, my sister lay desperately ill in a hospital and daddy called me at college. He was crying. Swallowing my pride, I begged a friend for enough money for bus fare home. I had to be there, they needed me.
When I arrived at the hospital mother had aged twenty years. Suddenly I knew that it was MY TIME to be the strong one. It was my opportunity to take over and soothe her fears and give her and daddy all the encouragement I could during the hours of crisis that faced us. Some of her and daddy’s own strength now supplied MY need. Faith took over and I was suddenly very sure that my sister would survive. The operation took five hours and the physician had warned that death might be eminent. I knew better. My Father God told me that she would live.
Again, I remember Mama’s eyes following me - questioning, testing me to see if I really believed. And I did. And my sister lived. Faith is infectious, and it poured out of me into my parents and no doubt into the doctor who performed the delicate surgery. He came out shaking his head, saying that he believed she would make it. Some weeks later, with several pints of our daddy’s blood within her veins, she emerged thin but beautiful, and perfectly healed.
Growing up comes on so subtly that we might miss it if we didn’t take time to sit and think. I survived the ordeal in spite of some pretty awful tragedies in my life, and then, much to my surprise, I had to face growing up all over again after I was born again.
I hear so many people talking about their salvation experience and this is good. But often I detect the hint of “babyhood” in their lives. If God is their Father, they surmise then there should be an abundance of good food, good health, good friends, and a happy-ever-afterward experience.
This just isn’t the case for a child of God who wants to grow into the full stature of Jesus
Christ. We are born again. We are babies. We can either remain babies, or go down, down into experiences that literally kill us. We want money, and God sends poverty. We want health and God permits illnesses. We want friends and friends we had depended upon forsake us. It is simply a process called “growing up.”
I cringe sometimes when I hear fellow believers who speak as though the world is just one big merry go round for all of us. It is not. It is a hostile world, owned by the devil. It is a world where we either grow up or we become infantile enough to live in illusions.
Unfortunately we cannot even “make” our children in Christ grow up. Like my dear Mother, I can’t forever “wield the rod.” The day comes when you just let the children go…they must fend for themselves and find their way to the Creator. You cannot do it for them. I do not know many grownups in the Christian faith, but I meet a lot of babes. I hear a lot of religious programs emphasizing the benefits of a new life (gifts, etc.) but seldom do I hear anyone who has gone down deep into the grave AFTER he is born again. We die twice. That is a fact.
Growing up gives us the security and self assurance that we need to survive the coming events. I don’t expect to make it unless I maintain a discipline that comes with maturity. If you want to grow up you quit being a child.
Think about it.
- From the February, 1994 Wingspread
The sun is shining this morning after a long spell of cloudy and dark days, and very cold temperatures. We were spared all the really bad weather. We had only rain here. It was like we were in a little pocket protected from it all. And we thank God. So many people have suffered without heat and power. We need to pray for them all, especially our friends on H Block at McAlester, who have had no power for days. They are in dark cells with no windows or heat. It sounds to me these are similar conditions that the Apostle Paul endured, in prison below the streets of Rome, writing letters that are now “life” to us and waiting to be beheaded.
Rodney and I are fine. My eye surgery went well. I still have Glaucoma, of course, and it will need treatment the rest of my life. I know God will let me keep my vision as long as I need it. Ed and Shirley both had checkups and they are fine. Both are amazing for their age. And Brian and Gail work hard, both at their jobs, and around here. There seems to be no end to their energy. They are constantly taking on new projects. More on that in upcoming newsletters. We are all well and blessed.
I had halfway hoped for a little bit of snow so that I could take some pictures for the newsletter. But it didn’t snow. However, we managed to get enough pictures together to make this collage of life on Baca mountain.
Prayer Requests for February, 2007
For Robert Heffernan, Brickeys, Arkansas, that he’ll be able to walk on his own soon.
For Willie Hoffman’s Mother who’s having knee replacement surgery. Willie is at Florence, Arizona.
For Robert Heffernan at Brickeys, Arkansas, for the Supreme Court of Arkansas to show favor on his petition.
For Roger Best, McAlester, Oklahoma, that he gets transferred to Joseph Harp at Lexington, Oklahoma.
For Jerry Herring, Huntsville, Texas, for his “knowledge of Christ to keep increasing,” and for his friend, Sue, for her Social Security case to be settled.
For Raymond “Peanut” Sanders, Iowa Park, Texas, who has high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
For Willie Scott, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, for his health.
For Ron Chaney’s Mom, and her boyfriend, Nick. They are planning to get married. Ron lives in Atkins, Arkansas.
For Ponnell Buchanan at Dixon, Illinois, and for his friend, Star, who has cancer; and for Gary Weathersby and “Brother Chill,” for their health.
For Michael Small, Menard, Illinois, who asks that we pray for all the men and women in our Armed Forces.
For Robert Ross, Helena, Oklahoma, for positive results with his case, and also for his wife, Karen’s health.
For Jessie Cummings’ cell partner Rick, who is recovering from bladder cancer surgery. Jessie and Rick are on Death Row at McAlester, Oklahoma.
For Robin Harris at Cushing, Oklahoma, for favor with the Parole Board in April.
For Sister Ann and all the Carmelite Nuns in Little Rock.
For all of us at Wingspread.
“The Chief danger than confronts the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, heaven without hell.”
William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, in late 1880s
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