When I was 8 years old, I told a lie.
I had just moved in with my dad after living with my mom. We had driven to my mom and stepdad’s house to pick up my older brother for the weekend. While we were waiting in the car for him to come outside, I watched my stepdad walk between the house and his minivan, loading rifles into the van for hunting (or so I had assumed). I didn’t like my stepdad, and my dad liked him even less; but I loved my dad and pictured him as this superhero. I noticed my dad’s hands clenching as he watched my stepdad. Then an idea crept into my already-corrupted young mind: what would happen if my stepdad were to point one of those rifles at us? I bet it would make my dad like me even more (8-year-old logic). So I looked at my dad and told a little lie.One little lie seemed so innocent.
By the time we reached the police station to file an official statement, my mind had already grown that little lie into a full-blown mental fantasy, and my young mind had a difficult time differentiating fantasy from reality. Moreover, I didn’t understand situational gravity or the concept of ramifications. So, I told the police the same thing that I had told my dad. They believed it, and so did my dad. At that point, I believed it myself because I was so immersed in the mental fantasy I had created around that one little idea. And so I believed it for years after.
One little lie had become my reality.
The last memory I have of my stepdad comes from when I was 10. I was visiting my mom’s house one weekend; it was my first time seeing her in months. I recall cowering in a corner while he towered over me screaming “I hate liars! I hate liars!” I didn’t know what he was talking about, so I just sat there quietly cowered over in a ball; but the words stuck in my mind. That was the last time I ever saw my stepdad. I wouldn’t hear from my mom for the next decade. I didn’t know it at the time, but my stepdad had made it clear to my mom that I wasn’t allowed to be a part of their family. His reason was valid enough: I had lied about him, and refused to admit it. That lie almost ruined his life and his own family. One little lie had wounded him beyond what he was willing to forgive.
One little lie destroyed my family.
It wasn’t until I was 12 that I realized I had lied about my stepdad pointing the gun. I would sit, night after night, playing through that memory in my mind, allowing myself to see it objectively. Over and over, I watched him simply walk from the house to the van, the rifle in his right hand, pointed slightly at the ground and away from people and vehicles, until he put it in the back of that blue Ford Aerostar. I tried convincing myself again and again that I just wasn’t remembering it correctly, but the more I played it back in my mind, the clearer and clearer it became. I wanted to tell my dad, but I couldn’t; I was too afraid to speak up, and so the reality of that one little lie began to slowly eat away at me.
One little lie was eroding my sanity.
As self-esteem gave way to self-loathing, I began to hide away in my mind, creating fantasies based on memories, in which I would tweak one thing here, another thing there, until I felt more comfortable in isolation than I did in the company of other people. I developed social anxiety and a horrid stutter that made it so I couldn’t even utter a single word. People laughed at me, I lost any semblance of friendship I had with anybody, and I became the outcast that the outcasts didn’t even talk to. I dreamed of having friends, but I was the outcast, so instead I created friends in my mind that I would talk to out loud in public. I would walk to and from school taking strange routes, just so I wouldn’t see other people. At home, I would retreat to my bedroom. When my older brother stopped coming over on weekends, I would just sit by myself and build things out of Legos. When I would get stir crazy, I would go out and get myself into trouble. I developed sticky fingers and started getting arrested for theft quite a bit. By the time I was 15, I found myself incarcerated for 13 1/2 months in a maximum-security juvenile corrections facility in northern Wisconsin.
Granted, there were numerous other factors involved in the whole decline, and several other things were going on during all that time which contributed to my strange state. However, (the reality of) that ‘one little lie’ was quite possibly the primary catalyst, the first thing that got the stone rolling.
For years I dreamed of having a relationship with my mom, and I would always wait in hopes that she might call. Of course, the call never came. Eventually, I started to hate my mom just as much as I was hating my dad (another story in itself), which caused me to simply hate myself even more. When people would ask about my mom, I would just tell them “If she died tomorrow, I wouldn’t care.” For a small part, it was true. I believed it, even though I was lying to myself. Though the main cause for my downward spiral into suicidal depression around 16/17 was stress and anxiety, that ‘one little lie’ certainly played a substantial role. One of the main reasons why I cut myself was because of that ‘one little lie’.
One little lie was ruining my life.
The shortest route home from my high school took me right past my mom’s house, but seeing the house just brought more pain in knowing I wasn’t welcome there. Even on the coldest days (and Wisconsin gets pretty cold), I would walk the long way around to get home. My dad continually blamed my mom for not letting me go and visit her, saying that if she really loved me she would call me. As always, he blamed it all on her. In hindsight, I don’t blame him. After all, though I knew that ‘one little lie’ to be what it was, he still believed it to be reality. I couldn’t handle it. I was falling apart (well, more than I already was) and I reached a breaking point.Finally I came clean. I told my dad about that ‘one little lie’ and what really happened all those years ago. Of course, he didn’t believe me. In hindsight, I don’t blame him for not believing me. What parent would believe that their 8-year-old child would (or even could) tell such a heinous lie? This drove me further away from my dad, and what was left of our relationship at that point plummeted to the brink of nonexistence. I would leave home for days at a time to avoid him. I distracted myself from thinking about my dad with just about anything I could. Mostly, this consisted of girls and cutting. I ended up getting expelled from school during this period, and that was when other things began to temporarily take over my thinking.
One. Little. Lie.
Fast forward from spring 2008 to November 16th 2011. I was 20. Things between my dad and I had improved, and Christ had gotten hold of me (which is another story in itself). It was my first semester of Bible college, and I had just recently told my dad I wasn’t going to be returning home for Thanksgiving break. It had been over a decade since I had last seen my mom, and I had come to a point of accepting the consequences of that ‘one little lie’ as being permanent and irreparable. I was sitting out in the lobby between classes, and decided to pull my phone out of my pocket to check my text messages. I noticed I had four missed calls, so I decided to check them. All four said “mom” (because, for some reason, I elected to have her number stored in my phone despite not even remembering what her voice sounded like). I did a double-take to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. Four missed calls within a ten-minute period, all from mom.
Time stood still.
I called her back. She answered. There was no awkward introduction; there was no “Hey, it’s been a long time.” I simply asked “Hey, you called?” The reply came.
“There’s been an accident. Brian’s dead.”
My stepdad. Dead.
In an instant, ‘one little lie’ didn’t even matter anymore. An impenetrable wall which stood firm for a decade through my adolescent and teenage years suddenly came crashing to the ground. My entire world was flipped upside-down. I called my dad back to tell him what had happened, and that I would be driving home for break so I could see my mom. I was offered a free pass to leave school a few days early for the family emergency, but I declined, electing to stay and finish out the week of classes before returning home. I needed time to process through the phone call and its implications before I just jumped up and left.The drive home seemed longer than the initial drive down to Missouri. I stopped at my dad’s house for ten minutes and immediately drove over to my mom’s house. Walking in for the first time, I turned and saw a middle-aged woman curled up on the corner of a couch. I knew it was my mom, but I barely recognized her. I knew she had just lost her husband, but I was overwhelmed in the moment by anger. How could this woman go an entire decade without trying to contact her son? I had to ask her. So, in all my selfishness and anger, I asked her why she never once called me. Her response, which I will not disclose here, had the effect of a wrecking ball that destroyed my fortress of anger. As if my world could not have been flipped any more, it was in that moment. I had a mom again, and at that point, that was the only thing in my life which mattered to me.
Oh, there’s one little thing I forgot to mention.
I didn’t just have a mom again. I suddenly had a little brother. He was 15 at the time, the son of my mom and my stepdad, and he had just lost his dad forever. I wished to empathize, but I couldn’t. He had loved his dad while I had spent a decade hating him. Water met fire in my mind. I don’t remember speaking to him even once during the entire break. Through the ten days of being home, I was too stunned, too overwhelmed by new information, to interact. I wasn’t the only one, though. We were all stunned by everything that was going on. Our lives (mine, my mom’s, and each of my three brothers) were changed permanently.
Over the last couple years now, I’ve been incredibly blessed to be able to build relationships with my mom and little brother, and to rebuild with my older brothers. I remember a conversation with my mom in which I told her I wished for years that we (her, my stepdad, and I) could have simply let go of the past and started over on a clean slate. She told me she had presented the same idea to my stepdad a couple times, but he wouldn’t go for it. There was a wound in his heart from my ‘one little lie’ that he only saw one cure for, and that cure was justice and truth. He wanted his name cleared. He wanted the mark on his record blotted out. In a way, I can empathize with him.
To this day, my dad still does not believe me when I tell him that I had, in fact, lied as a child. Again, I really don’t blame him for not believing me, no matter how frustrating it can be. But at this point, it doesn’t even matter anymore. What matters is that I learned, in the most difficult way possible and over a 12-year period, how much ‘one little lie’ can wound and destroy. One little lie cost me my family and from that point, I never knew what family could be besides broken. It wasn’t until I recently got pneumonia that I was able to see, even briefly, what family could be.
Throughout the writing of this post, God has reminded me of a few things that I’d like to share with you. The first is that one’s past does not dictate or determine one’s future, though choices always have consequences. The second is that I have been made new in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), and I am not who I used to be. The third is that the past is irreparable, but the future is left to choice. Nothing can change what has already taken place, and the only way out is forward, but the path laid out before me is never set in stone. I always have a choice. The fourth is that no matter how foreboding or insurmountable something may seem, nothing is too great for God to handle. The thought of having a relationship with my mom had become something I had written off as impossible by the time I was 19. Yet (this brings me to the fifth thing) just because I had written it off and was done with it, doesn’t mean God had written it off and was done with it. He’s always working, and He’s always there, even in the darkest of times.
When I was 8 years old, I told a lie that cost me everything, and there is no happy ending to this story. There is only solace in knowing that in the ashes of death, life was able to spring forth in the form of renewed relationships with my mom and siblings. There is always beauty to be found in tragedy, though. Where I expected my mom and little brother to harbor resentment toward me, I found only love and acceptance. This reality became clear over this last Thanksgiving break when my little brother hugged me and said “I love you!” Building relationships with my mom’s side of the family has shown me that nothing is impossible to God, and the story now is far from over.
The story is never finished until Christ calls us home.
The purpose of me writing this is so that hopefully something in this will catch your attention and turn your focus toward that reality.