When I was eight years old, my family and I lived out in the country, so I rode the bus to and from school every day. When I was in third grade, our bus driver gave us assigned seats, forcing me to sit next to a teenage boy who was twice my size.
We’ll call him Justin.
For whatever reason, Justin liked to pick on me. Even though there was a giant age difference, he’d call me names, punch me in the arm, and take up the whole seat so that I was barely able to balance on the very edge of the row. Even as I write this all these years later, I’d love to invite Justin to three five-minute rounds in an octagon (but that’s beside the point).
One day I came home from school with a folder full of papers from the last several weeks. They were all graded and marked up with comments, and I was supposed to show them to my parents.
As soon as I sat down on the edge of the row, Justin grabbed the folder from me. I tried to get it back, but with his size advantage, he kept me back with ease. Then he grabbed a Sharpie out of his bag and began to write cuss words all over my assignments. The words filled the entire page, all the way from the top to the bottom. And I’m talking about the really bad words, like the one that starts with f.
Remember, I was only eight.
I didn’t know what to do, what to say, or how to stand up for myself. Instead, I just sat back and watched it all happen, thinking about how strange this situation was. When I got home and my parents asked me for the folder, I tried to hide it. But when you are eight, you aren’t nearly as clever as you think you are, so my parents quickly figured out where it was.
“What happened here?” asked my dad. (For clarity, my “dad” married my mom and adopted me.)
His voice was stern and had one of those tones that let me know I better have a good explanation. I didn’t know what to say, so I just told him that Justin, the high school boy who lived down the street, had done it.
He kept staring at the papers for what felt like forever. “Get in the car,” he said, finally breaking the silence.
“What?” I asked, trying to figure out what was going to happen next.
“I said get in the car, now.”
We jumped in the car and sat in silence. I was terrified; my dad was not the type of man you wanted to make angry. He was also not the type of guy who liked to waste gas, so instead of cranking the air conditioner, he rolled the windows down, and we drove to Justin’s house.
When we got there, he left the windows in his car down, so I could hear everything happening on the front porch as clear as day. He walked up and started pounding on the front door. It wasn’t one of those friendly “Hey neighbor, I’d love to meet you” kind of knocks. It was more like an “I’m here to do some damage” sort of knock.
Eventually, Justin’s dad came to the door, and unfortunately for him, he was a much smaller man than my dad. My dad did not introduce himself or attempt to make any sort of small talk. He didn’t open with, “Hey, there might be a little issue at school we should address.”
None of that.
Instead, he held up a stack of papers with the f-word written across the front and said, “You see this?” Keep in mind, this was Kansas. Out in the country, we just played by different rules.
Justin’s dad looked so confused. “Um, yes?” he said timidly.
Then my dad threw the stack of papers in his face and the pages fluttered to the ground. He took another step forward and got in Justin’s dad’s face. “If your kid ever touches my son again,” he yelled, “I’ll be back. And I’m not going to touch your boy, but I will deal with you. We clear?”
“Ye-ye-yes sir, we’re clear,” Justin’s dad said with the smallest, most fearful voice I’ve ever heard from an adult man. Then my dad slammed the door shut, slammed their screen door shut (just for effect), and walked back to the car. Before he even got back, I could already hear Justin’s dad yelling for his son and the sound of discipline beginning in the house.
For better or worse, my dad took care of the problem.
You should’ve seen me get on that bus the next day. I walked to my seat with my shoulders back and my head held high. I had a brand-new swagger. Justin was already there, and I sat right down, looked him in the eyes, and said, “What’s up, Justin?”
He didn’t utter a word. Instead, he scooted over as far as he could to give me as much room as possible, and he stared out the window.
I walked different.
I talked different.
I acted different.
Why? Because I knew my dad had my back.
I believe the same thing will start to happen to you when you realize that your heavenly Father is with you. When you know that the Creator of the universe has your back, you will begin to put your shoulders back and walk with a whole new swagger.
I know anxiety is real.
I know depression is real.
I know how scary it feels in the middle of the storm.
But you need to hear the same thing Joshua needed to hear all those years ago. The God of the universe—the one who speaks and creates oceans and mountain ranges, the God who does the impossible and isn’t afraid of anything or anyone—is walking with you.
Shawn Johnson shares his battle with anxiety this Friday on LIFE TODAY. Excerpted from Attacking Anxiety by Shawn Johnson. Copyright ©2022 by Shawn Johnson. Used by permission of Nelson Books, an imprint of Thomas Nelson.