Nothing got my attention more as a child then when I heard my daddy’s belt come ripping from his pants with that ever fateful snap at the end. I don’t think there’s a thing in the world that can bring such instant remorse. My brother and I had a knack for quarreling with each other, but I can clearly remember the last time we ever fought. I was in 7th grade, he was in 10th, and we were sent to do the evening chores. Now any farm kid knows the rivalry of whose animals are better, and we’d spend all year making sure we could beat the other in the county, district, and state fairs. The show ring was our Octagon, and every decision leading up to that point was crucial. I reckon most kids don’t fight over sires and dams and tattoo numbers, but that was the norm in our neck of the woods.
On this particular day, one of those humid, sticky, mid-May evenings, we were in a hurry to get to a friend’s high school graduation and time was of the essence. My brother was the faster milker, so on the walk over we agreed he’d milk all the goats while I did everything else. Long story short, he was milking my state champion Nubian when she decided to kick the milk pail over in his lap. He got mad, tied her legs up, and took her food away, and I hollered he was purposefully hurting her as a form of sabotage! The fight was on. We rolled around that barn hall slinging buckets and cans, shovels and rakes, barrel lids and tie down straps until the sound of Dad’s belt brought us to a screeching halt. We were covered in milk, hay, manure, fly spray, Show Shine and Diatomaceous Earth, and I really don’t know how my dad kept from laughing as we must have looked quite the sight. When the confessions had been told and the whippings doled out, we probably went on hating each other for about a week. Best as my memory serves though, that is the last time we even argued, let alone fought, and the last time Dad ever had to use his belt for anything other than his pants. In fact, my brother and I became best friends, and have remained so.
We had a drug problem when we were growing up too. Our parents drug us to church every time the doors were open, and the Holy Spirit drug us to the alter nearly every sermon. At the age of 11 I realized my need for a Savior and walked down to the front of our little country church where I gave my heart and life to Him. During that service, in which I was under conviction, I remember very vividly that still small voice saying, “This is your last chance”. Now I don’t pretend to know what would have happened if I had not accepted Christ that day, but I do know that trials I faced throughout my teenage years would have definitely hardened my heart towards God had I not known His love and grace, and felt His sustaining power during those difficult years. Still, bitterness crept in, and when I left for college I swore I’d never come back, and I’d certainly never step foot in that church again. But the harder I ran the harder, it seemed, God held on to my life, guiding me down ever clever paths to lead me back. He began to open my eyes to the carnage around me and to the great need of revival in my heart and in our country. I suddenly realized that my seemingly normal childhood wasn’t normal at all. My parents had dared to do what others in their generation deemed as old fashioned, silly, and even abuse. They had raised us with a Bible and a belt, in a time where even the “Bible Belt” had forsaken those principles.
As a young adult I found myself having more in common with the older folks around me than with my own peers. I married at the age of 19 and got a job life guarding at the YMCA as it was the only job in town that offered the hours and flexibility I needed. Many elderly ladies would come in to do their aquacise, and, as they’d swim, I’d chat with them from the pool deck. One particular lady was very bitter in nature and seemed to criticize my every idea. I was foolish in her eyes for marrying young, for giving up my bank career to work minimum wage, and for my plans to be a mother and to home school. After two years of walking that deck every afternoon at one-thirty, she said something I’ll never forget. I was 21, pregnant with our first, and had told her it was my last day to lifeguard. She looked up at me from her noodle, tears in her eyes, and said, “Dear, I wish I had raised my daughters like I was raised, like you were raised, with King James Bible and Daddy’s belt.”
I never saw her again. We moved back here to my hometown (yeah, yeah… never say never) and I seized hold of the truth that, even in places with a church on every corner, America needs to get back to using those ol’ leather tools if we are going to turn our country back to God.
(Danielle Hooten contributes Dear America on a regular basis to The Sun Times)