More than two generations ago, My Mama read to me from a book that became tattered and worn from use. It was “Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes.” In it was one verse, above all the others, that I still recall. Strangely enough, even in my childish mind, it also made me a bit uneasy.
There was a little girl
Who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead;
When she was good,
She was very, very good;
But when she was bad, she was horrid.*
I was never sure if it was the words that had an impact, or if it was that long, searching look Mama gave me when she finished reading it. I considered that she might be trying to visualize a little curl in the middle of my forehead, but I think not.
I loved my little brothers, and for the most part, I helped with them and we got along quite well. But, when I was nine, there was an incident with my younger brother, Dave. He stubbornly refused to help me rig a jump rope so I could practice, and thus be able to “wow” the girls at school. All I required of him was to hold one end and throw it, jump-rope-style after we attached the other end to a fence post. It was my project for that Saturday morning. I had thought about it long and hard. It was a good plan, a simple thing to request, and there he stood, firmly grounded.
“No! This is girl stuff! ” That was when I lost it, and planted an ungentle blow across the side of his seven-year-old head. Looking up, I spotted Mama peering out the window, and that little rhyme danced through my head. “When she was good....” I knew my reminder was on its way
I was an honor student, and well-behaved in school. Yet, one Friday, when I was about 12, a friend was having a sleep-over (then called “bunkin’ parties”). She didn’t remember to invite me until we were on our way home on the school bus.
“Sure, you can come! Just get off the bus at my house, and my Dad will take you home tomorrow. You can wear some of my pajamas, and I’ll loan you a T-shirt for tomorrow. Ple-e-e-ase come. I have some great new records! ” That was all it took! I “sent word” by my brothers to “tell” Mama where I would be, and even as I stepped off the bus at Jody’s house, I could hear that verse, “When she was good, she was very, very good, but ...” This time Mama made a definite impression upon me about my independent, unpredictable spirit. Forever, after that, I got off at the right place on the bus route.
At fifteen, not allowed to date, I began to “arrange”to meet this cute guy at basketball games and school functions. It was relatively innocent, and never progressed to anything further, but again, I got busted, with my brother Dave dropping hints to Daddy and Mama. I guess he figured he owed me one! Anyway, here I was again, with that voice in my head, “...she was very, very good, but when she was bad, she was...”
Yep! “horrid ” That was the word.
Lest I leave the impression that I was a guilt-ridden loonybird , I’ll quickly say that I had godly parents, and a happy, healthy childhood. Yet, early on, God began making me face up to myself and the tremendous possibilities for wrong that were in me. One of the things He used was the nursery rhyme, simply because in it was a principle with which even the apostle Paul struggled. In Romans, chapter seven, he stated, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do.” (Romans 7:15 NIV)
Yeah, I get it! I totally get it, Paul.
Thanks, Mama, for seeing that in me and making me see it.
Thank you Jesus, for saving me, and for giving Your strength to over-rule and overcome the “horrid” in me. And thanks for Your patience as You’re still working, after all these years, to produce some “very, very good.” Dave would say you have a big job!
* This rhyme, I later learned, was actually part of a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, probably mid 1840's.
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