She looked at my husband and said, “Could you explain your childhood to me? Would you call it stable or unstable?” I knew I was next to answer this question. You see, we were in the middle of a psychological evaluation for becoming church planters. As I listened to my husband’s answer, my mind wandered to my own memories of childhood. How would I respond to this question? I knew there wasn’t a right or wrong answer, yet I felt the familiar pull towards a ‘right’ response. What was my childhood like? How would I describe it? Was my experience one of instability or was it stable?
As an outsider looking in, my life looked quite unstable – 7 cities, 9 schools, 12 houses, all before graduating college! That’s a LOT of change. Initially we first moved because my dad changed careers and had to do some schooling out of state and then we moved to another state for the new job. This makes sense. People move for their careers all the time. I mean, we’re doing that. We are moving to a new house, a new city, even a new state because we feel like God’s asking us to take this leap and start something new. I can’t fault my parents for choosing to move us.
But then the unthinkable happened – well, the unthinkable for my young heart and mind. After some rocky circumstances, my parents divorced. It was tragic to my 10 year old heart and what was worse, it necessitated a change of living. Heading into 5th grade, I started my new life in a different house, city, and state than what I had become used to. New classmates became new friends, houses changed and stability started to settle in. I had a rhythm and was coming to terms with the changes in my life that I had no control over. I was joyful and thrilled to be making friends, attending a gymnastics school, and have a great church to attend.
Things were going well until mid-way through my second school year there and I had to move yet again. I wouldn’t know the reason for this move until I was older, but all I knew was that we were heading back once again to the place we had left. I was sad to leave my current home, but excited to be going back to a place that was connected with so many happy times in my early childhood. Perhaps I was most excited to be reunited with my dad and also with my best friend. Relationships are hard to come by and I was getting two of them back! However, one thing no one tells you when you’re 12 is that things aren’t probably going to be the same as they were a year and a half earlier. I found out that my friend had moved on and found a new best friend. I had to attend a completely different school district where I once again knew just about no one. My dad remarried by this time and so even time with him was drastically different. All the things I had known in this place were 100% different. It might as well have been moving to a brand new place. I was crushed. It was really hard to gain traction here, but I dug in my heels and worked to make those new friendships. I enrolled in dance classes and even though they weren’t my beloved gymnastics, they were a great way to use my excessive energy and have a load of fun in ballet and jazz dance.
Later, I learned that the reason we moved back so quickly is because we didn’t know how long my dad had to live. He was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. This hit our family like a ton of bricks. What would this mean for Dad? What would it mean for me? Was my daddy going to die of cancer? Would he get really sick and be bald? Would he live to see my wedding? All these questions and more would lay low in the back of my mind for the remainder of his life. I didn’t know that the reason we moved was because his initial diagnosis gave him a short time left to live. Amazingly, Dad ended up living for many years more before he died from complications of cancer. Without knowing all this, we moved to be near my dad and get as much time with him as we could because we had no idea how long we’d have with him. This was a super weighty burden to carry as a pre-teen.
Not long after, things were starting to feel stable again. I had friendships with kids at school, friends with kids next door and in my church. I was singing, dancing, and playing trumpet whenever I had the chance. We had a cozy little home and I got a dog to call all my own. The new normal was just that, normal. I knew what to expect and could depend on it. Even Dad’s cancer wasn’t so scary any more and he was in a sort of ‘remission’ for the time being. Things were looking up.
Photos of me with my mom and dad.
Then the now-familiar transition was announced. We’d be moving once again. Unfortunately we had to move before our housing would be available and therefore transition in a nearby town for 1 month. During this month the school year started and I spent 2 weeks in a new school, surrounded by new friends, and a new schedule. Our transition home was sparse and just enough to get us by until we could move into our apartment. It was such a hard month. Even harder was leaving my 2-week old school for the next one.
I had barely got my schedule down when we moved to our apartment – another new house, new school, new bus, new classmates, new activities. Ever resilient (to moving) and outgoing, I quickly adjusted. This was a fun place with neat kids and I liked where we were living. We lived in a very international community, with incredibly kind neighbors. I quickly adapted and enjoyed my final year in middle school. Next stop, high school! Unfortunately, my middle school was the one that split between two high schools. I never interacted again with my friends who went to the other middle school. This was a loss for me, but I soldiered on. I stuck with the friends who transitioned along with me to our high school.
Believe it or not, high school was a time of stability for me. Even though we moved two more times, I got to stay in one school, with the same pool of friends, and develop some of my core gifts in one place (mainly singing) for all four years. I held down a job that stuck with me into college and I attended a college that was down the street from my high school. Can we say, ‘searching for a non-changing life’? These were happy years for me and the highlight, besides choir, was my church youth group. This group of people; pastors, volunteers, and peers; remained steadfast, gracious, and encouraging while high school drama swarmed around me. I’m so thankful for the friend that invited me to her church and the youth group that embraced me, all of me, until it was time to head off to college.
While in college, we moved once more, but I had a lot more ability to choose my own things now. I stayed at the same university for 4 years in the same major with great friends and classmates. I loved my time during these year and even met my husband. It truly felt like I came through what seemed like a very unstable childhood into a place of security and settledness.
So, did I have a stable or unstable childhood? With so many changes and upheavals, many would answer, ‘Unstable’. And as I thought things through, I saw that too. But, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t the ultimate answer to this question. As I sat in my memories during our psych eval, I realized that through all the tumultuous upheavals in my life, something remained steadfast in me. Something was always there and never changing, only ever growing and deepening. This was my relationship with God.
Indeed, it was God Himself who was the Constant. As a young child I asked Jesus to come into my heart and be the leader of my life. Through music, Bible reading, prayer, and relationships, I came to know him more and more. When we first moved to my new school, I knew that God would help me find friendly people to be around and that there’d be many new people to play with. When my family broke apart I needed God to be my Comforter. My heart was so sad for so long and He was the only one who I could truly tell my deepest sorrows and longings to. He listened and comforted me while I grieved, accepted, and healed from this new reality. When I was a child of a single parent and it was really hard to have all the things a child needs, I turned to God. It was Him who I saw as my Provider. When we needed something, we asked God and He provided it for us! Even when we didn’t know we needed things, He always came through. We saw His provision through a myriad of ways, but the ones that stuck with me the deepest were through the body of Christ.
When I think back to times that should have thrust me into being ‘a statistic’ due to being a child of divorce, I wasn’t. When I think back to times that should have taken me out due to grief, I wasn’t. When I think back to times that should have caused me to abandon all security, safety, and stability, I didn’t. During this time, I came to know God as my constant provider, my good father, my closest friend, and the ONE I could rely on no matter what. God turned the tumultuous times of my life into a steady flow of His LOVE and GRACE. He was always gentle, friendly, and trustworthy as He guided my young heart through the challenges of childhood and into adulthood. Jesus was that FRIEND who sticks closer than a BROTHER and I found much stability in Him. It was God, not just my faith in Him, but God the person who was my STABILITY. He grounded me. So, I look back on my childhood as stable, not as unstable. My inner world was rocked, but not overturned. Because of God, I knew truth, security, safety, friendship, intimacy, love, grace, and so much more.
Now was the moment. My turn had come to answer the interviewer. “Yeah, from the outside many would say that I had an unstable childhood, but inwardly I know that it was surprisingly STABLE. Let me tell you about it…” And that’s how I answered this very poignant question.
…And in case you were wondering… yes, my dad did live to see my wedding and hold my first child. I’m ever so thankful for that.
(To receive new blog posts directly to your inbox, enter your email address in the box that says ‘Follow Blog via Email’)
(If you know someone who would find this story helpful or encouraging, please feel free to share it! Thanks for reading my post!)