“What was your first childhood memory?”
There are a few answers that I could give to this question. My earliest memories begin around the time when I was 3 1/2. For example, I can remember a few fleeting moments from my mom’s 29th birthday, which happened a few months after I turned 3. Okay, well, I can remember at least one moment: Mom blowing out a ton of candles on her cake as me, my dad, my two baby brothers, & our friends & family sang “Happy Birthday”. Seriously, before she started blowing, the cake looked like it was on fire – a sight very impressive to behold for a three-year-old.
But if you’re going for vivid memories, I would have to say that I don’t really have any until the summer of 2001. There are two early memories in particular from that time that come to mind.
The first is captured *almost* perfectly in the photo below. I say almost because although a picture may indeed be worth a thousand words, it cannot fully communicate the thoughts & feelings of that little girl in the green dress.
Judging by the expression on her face, a skilled observer might be able to discern that she is excited, happy, & proud to be helping Mom by pushing her baby brother’s stroller. You might be able to imagine the feeling of the ocean’s salty spray on her face, of the sand between her little toes, the wind on her face – gently tossing her little brown curls backward, playing with the hem of her dress. For any person who has ever been to a beach, these sensations are easily recalled by the memory & brought to the forefront of the imagination.
But let’s think about the inner sensations that she might have experienced in the moment when this shot was taken. In that moment, was she excited, proud, & happy? Oh yes, she most certainly was.
I’ll tell you a few more things about that little girl. In that moment, did she feel beautiful? Oh yes. As most women will tell you, there’s just something about wearing a long skirt/dress & the wind hitting your hair just right that makes you feel like a girl in a movie – dramatic, glamorous, even beautiful. And if you know any little girls, there is also a good chance that you also know how, from an early age, we love pretty things; but even more than that, we love to feel beautiful.
Some things don’t change with time. Some things, like the fact that we all want to be happy, to be excited about life, to be proud of ourselves &, in particular for women, to feel beautiful – these things are “truths universally acknowledged”.
Now, I don’t have a picture of my second earliest memory, which is probably a good thing, because it’s not exactly a pretty one. However, I remember it just as vividly as the first.
It was another hot Georgia summer day. I was three, almost four years old. It was almost dinner time, but I was playing outside by myself in our front yard. Earlier in the afternoon, my mom, my two baby brothers, & I had been playing in the dirt with our little plastic buckets & shovels. They had already gone inside, but I didn’t want to stop playing just yet, so Mom had said that I could stay outside until she called me in for dinner. After, all I was growing up fast into a big girl.
I remember I was sitting there, in the dirt pile that we had made, when a thought came to me: “Wow, this dirt is brown, just like chocolate is brown!” (Actually, it was red Georgia clay, but let’s all cut a little four-year-old girl some slack.) Using my superb almost-four-year-old chain of reasoning, my next thought was: “I love chocolate. I wonder if this dirt tastes anything like chocolate?”
Just in case any of you are curious, it doesn’t. It tastes gross.
I wish I could say that I learned my lesson that day, & from then on, I listened to my mother when she told me that there were plenty of things in this world that are not to be tasted or eaten.
But that would be lying.
I can remember another time, I was probably about five-years-old, when I got curious about the bottle of hand-soap in the bathroom. Now, if you’re one of those people who has to experience things for yourself & learn from your own mistakes, I understand, but for the rest of you, listen to me when I tell you this: hand-soap is well-named. It can do wonderful things for washing your hands, but it should definitely stay far away from your taste buds.
I found myself thinking about these two memories recently & I can honestly say that I was surprised when I found myself asking the question, “When did I stop being that little girl?
When did I start being less than the person that she wanted to be when she grew up?
When I was a little girl, I wanted to do & to be so many things. As early as I can remember, I wanted to be a mom. (There are even pictures of me pretending to nurse my baby dolls because that’s what I saw my mom doing for my baby brothers.) Over the years, I can remember wanting to be a preschool teacher, an Olympic gymnast, a fashion designer, a professional singer, & an actress. Not much has changed in that area for me. I still have a strong desire to be a mother when the right time (& Lord willing, the right man!) comes along. I’m still ambitious to help people & to do what I can to make this world a better place for those whose lives I have the power & opportunity to touch.
But that little girl, she was a light. She was sweet & funny & loved to read stories to her stuff animals. She was mischievous & sassy & would spend hours a day playing with her Barbie dolls & making up a whole little world for them. She was loud & playful &, for some reason, preferred sleeping on the floor for her naps rather than her bed. As I’m sure you could tell from the photo at the top of this post, there were times when she was quite a wild child, but she was also a Mommy & Daddy’s girl at heart.
As I’m sitting here, looking at these old pictures & reading what I’ve had to say about them so far, I’ve been asking myself another question.
What is it that captivates me so much about the little girl in those photos?
Then it hit me. She was fearless.
And I’m not.
I’ll be real with y’all here: it may not always seem like it, but the truth is that I’m afraid of a lot of things. Some are silly fears; I’m afraid of elevators, tight spaces, and sometimes the dark. These are things that I know I can deal with & they really only scare me when I’m faced with them. I don’t worry about them when they’re not around & they don’t haunt my dreams.
So what does scare me then?
The future. To be more specific, my future. What am I actually going to do with my life once I finish school? What will God call me to do with my life? Is He calling me to do something right now? Am I doing everything that I can to be open & receptive to His voice speaking to me? Or am I blocking Him out whenever I decide something based on what I want, what feels like a good idea to me in the moment?
I want to be holy. I want to be a saint. I want to love God to the best of my ability & to put Him first in my life. He has been so good to me because that’s Who He is. He is literally Love Itself. But what if I’m failing Him? What if I’m too weak, too selfish, too prideful, too stubborn to really be the person that I want to be, a woman who follows God with her whole heart?
These are things that I have been struggling with for a long time now, but they really seemed to intensify while I was in Italy this past semester. I was sitting in the chapel one day when I realized something.
I’ve become an expert in the field of self-deprecation.
They say that God works in mysterious ways. I can testify from personal experience that this is certainly true. But, what they don’t tell you is that the Devil’s ways are not so mysterious.
To get at us, he uses methods that are so familiar to us that we don’t even see him coming. He attacks us through our own insecurities, our own struggles, our own addictions, our own actions, our own reactions, our own words.
With that being said, are we still responsible for the choices that we make? Yes, absolutely. When I sin, when I make a mistake, when I give in to a temptation to do something that is wrong, then it is “through my fault, through my fault, through my own grievous fault”.
Once I acknowledge this, then the question becomes: “How do I move forward?” I can answer that in a single word.
Simple, right? Wrong. It’s been three years since I first figured out (as in really figured out for myself) that trust in God is the answer to all my questions & all my worries. Three years ago, God spoke to my heart in a real, tangible way that I had never before experienced & I have never been the same. (I love telling that story, so trust me, it will be a blog post one of these days.)
But I’ll tell y’all something else: trust is HARD sometimes! Trusting someone else with little things can be difficult, but trusting someone enough to place all your hopes, desires, & even your whole life in their hands? That takes courage. I don’t know if the little girl in those photos would have described herself in this way, but she was courageous. Granted, you might say that at four years old, she probably didn’t have much to be afraid of. I admire her nonetheless.
You’ve probably heard courage described in a hundred slightly different ways. Well, here’s another one for you, one that I learned when took a class in Ethics this past semester & read Aristotle for the first time: Courage is the proper response to fear.
Yeah, you read that right.
Courage is the proper response to fear. Being fearless is just an appearance. It’s just an image, like a photograph. Believe it or not, fear serves a purpose; it can warn us of danger, it has the power to slow us down enough to really consider & make smart decisions, & it leads us to strive for survival in dangerous situations, to preserve the precious gift of life given to us by God. Of course, there is such a thing as too much fear; you know, when you’re so caught up in all your worries & all the things that could go wrong that you fail to move. At the same time, there is such a thing as having too little fear, called recklessness. This can be just as detrimental. Like I said before, fear inclines us to do whatever we can to preserve our own life when faced with a situation that threatens it; when we act recklessly & ignore that gut feeling of fear when it is warning us of danger, then we are failing to respect & to be grateful for the beautiful gift of being alive.
So, the challenge for me & for all those who likewise find themselves filled with fear is this: put your trust in the One Who you know is all-good & all-Love, & have courage. Don’t be afraid to act – get up, take action, make your move! Whenever that self-deprecating voice starts whispering lies in your ear, tell it to back off. Acknowledge that it is a daily fight to trust & to be courageous, & yes, sometimes it is really, really difficult. If you feel this way (I know I do all the time), your feelings are VALID! But believe me when I say that you are stronger & God’s plan for you is bigger than even your strongest feelings & fears.
I’m not speaking these words from the position of someone who has it all figured out. I’m speaking them from the position of someone who is fighting a battle that begins anew each time the sun rises again. I’ve been blessed to have had lots of help & encouragement to aid me in my fight & I suppose that this is me trying to pass some of that on.
“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
– Philippians 4: 6 – 7
I want to go back to being more like the girl in those old photos. I want to be bold, unafraid to be who I really am no matter who I’m with, ready to help the people around me, & content wherever I find myself in the moment. I want to be joyful no matter the circumstances. I want to always remember that I am beautiful, no matter what anybody else says, including that deprecating voice in my head. I want to look forward to the future with excitement & with the confidence that I will never be alone.
Because I won’t be.
It’s like Mother Angelica said: “What worry-warts we are! We worry instead of saying, “He’s watching me, He sees me, & He loves me.’ That’s why He says, ‘Courage. It is I, do not be afraid.'”
Be. Not. Afraid.