Overcome Fear with Faith

Inspired by 10 memorable words, he's relied on faith to wait out tough times.

By John Sherrill

As appeared in

Once again I straightened the For Sale sign in front of our house in New York. Although my wife, Tib, and I lowered the price again and again, two years had passed without a single bid.

To make matters worse, just before the recession hit, we’d bought an apartment in Massachusetts, intending, in our mid-eighties, to move near our daughter. Maintaining both places and paying taxes in two states was shrinking our savings alarmingly, undermining our retirement security.

As I went back inside I remembered an earlier time when a disastrous economy wiped out people’s nest eggs. The Great Depression, as it became known, locked the whole country in fear. We’d been here before as a nation.

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I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, during the Depression, and I saw what financial ruin could do to families.

I remember going with my best friend, Van Varner, to peer—scared, poised to run away—through the window of an abandoned house where a neighbor had committed suicide after the 1929 crash.

I was seven in 1929, too young to be concerned about anything but the changes in my own life. Mother no longer took me to Mr. Coppolo the barber, where I liked smelling the jars of ointment for “Gentleman’s Hair Styling.”

Instead, she perched me on a tall kitchen stool and cut my hair with the kitchen shears. Van’s mother started cutting his hair too. We’d look in the mirror in his front hall to decide whose mother did the worse job.

More serious was the disappearance of school lunch money. Usually I walked to Belknap Elementary with 15 cents in my pocket, just enough for a sandwich, fruit and milk.

Now Mother sent my sister and me off with sandwiches in brown paper bags. No way to save a few pennies by skipping the fruit, to stop at The Candy Lady on the way home for forbidden jawbreakers and Dubble Bubble gum.

I noticed changes in my parents’ routines too. Mother no longer threw away scraps of soap but put them in a little wire box with a long handle, which she swished around in the dishpan to get suds and save the price of a new bar.

Dad stopped driving the Chevy down to the seminary where he taught. Instead, he rode the swaying, clanking trolley, which was slower but cheaper.

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I liked visiting the seminary. I’d read the quote carved over the entrance of the big gray stone building: “Lo, I am with you alway.” I liked the way the “s” was left off “always.” God couldn’t spell either.

There was evidence of the Depression there too. Dad loved his Coca-Cola! His office was so hot in those pre-air-conditioning days that the papers on his desk would stick to his arm.

His relief was to walk down to Manny’s newsstand on the corner—once every morning, once every afternoon—and bring back an ice-cold Coke.

One afternoon when I went to Dad’s office I saw a warm, half-finished bottle of Pepsi on his desk. “You get the same amount,” he explained, “and save a nickel.”

Money seemed to be the topic of every adult conversation. One night when my parents had dinner guests from the seminary and I was supposed to be in bed, I crept to the top of the stairs and listened to the conversation down in the living room.

Much of it I didn’t understand, but I followed enough to know that the entire faculty had just taken a salary cut. “Do you think,” someone asked, “the whole school will have to close?”

As the Depression worsened...1930 ...1931...1932...everyone was afraid. Our friends the Carlsons had lived in a mansion with white pillars and a sweeping drive. In 1932 Dr. Carlson sold his mansion and moved his family into a little brick house even smaller than ours.

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Dad’s fear went all the way back to his own boyhood, growing up during the Great Agricultural Depression that hit West Texas in the 1890s. Dad told us about the dust storms, the dying cattle, the stores closing one by one around the courthouse square in Haskell.

Dad’s father ran the hardware store in town, but hard-pressed farmers no longer purchased new tools. “My father and I dug up the backyard,” Dad said, “and planted a garden out under the windmill. Mother raised chickens. We lived on eggs and vegetables from our own garden.

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please pass my email address on to John Sherrill----thank you
Debbie Sherrill Courtney Austin, Texas

Thank you for sharing your story, Mr. Sherrill. I am in my 20's and I always love to hear the wisdom of those who lived through the Great Depression. The detail in your story felt like I was there just like when my grandparents tell me stories of their childhood. God Bless you and your wife and I'm so happy you could move closer to your family!

Thank you, Mr. Sherrill, for sharing your memories. I was fascinated by your recollections of the Great Depression and yours and your friends experiences. You have a fantastic memory! You made my day and left me with a wonderful reminder of where my trust and hope lies. God bless you and Tib, always.

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I completely and thoroughly loved this article! It was so encouraging. Being able to hear firsthand about the Great Depession from someone who lived through it and made it out to the other side successfully helps those of us experiencing our own personal financial great depressions these days! Basically, that applies to everyone these days - we all are in the same boat! BROKE! Trying to save a penny is almost impossible. I am disabled and live on a fixed income and I just got released from my second stay for a week in ICU with double pneumonia and sepsis and heart and kidney failure! I have lupus and severe diabetes and I am living on borrowed time but at least, I AM LIVING! I may be tethered to oxygen and in a wheelchair and have very little family and very few I can depend on, but I still LOVE LIFE!! I LOVE GOD and JESUS and am thankful for EVERY SINGLE THING that is still GOOD in my life!! I am still happy even though I have had a very difficult life. I am only 51 years old and have even broken 16 bones in a matter of a few months and had several strokes. So I take NOTHING for GRANTED! It can all disappear overnight and nobody knows that better than me! My son has been in comas on life support 4 times in 10 months also due to a brain injury he suffered 18 years ago. We can wallow in self pity and waste precious time or we can find happiness in the wonderful things around us that is so easily taken for granted! Don't waste time - we don't have time to waste!! Anything can happen to anyone at any given moment. We never know what is just around the corner! It coould be a mack truck headed straight for us!! Or it could be a bouquet of roses! But I still wanna be around to see!! Curiosity keeps me going at times! I could give up but I still have too much I wanna do and see and people I want to help in some way! I have had so many bad things happen in my life that I can relate to just about any situation anyone can find themselves in and I survived despite the odds always being against me like the ones who made it through the Great Depression. It can also be called The Days of Our Lives (like the soap opera!) cos it IS all about the days of all of our lives! I can talk forever, but thank you for this article and keep writing them! I want to be a writer also and encourage people like this helped me! I know that FEAR is our enemy. We have to keep looking forward and not behind us cos we are not going backwards but forwards! Otherwise we STOP and if we stop, we quit making progress. That forward going motion propels every step we take so keep looking ahead! God bless you all and NEVER GIVE UP! Your Sister in Christ, Deb

Thank-you so much Mr. Sherrill for sharing your life and your families lives. I appreciate your words of looking up and not giving fear the chance to bring us down. I have read many, many stories that you and your wife have written in Guideposts. I especially, appreciate those stories in the Guidepost Prayer Companions. Realizing the economy myself in trying to sell my parents farm for more than 3 1/2 years, I must not get discouraged. As you said, there is one particular person that is meant to buy my folks place.

May God bless you and Tib greatly.

Loved the comments as much as your story, sir. I also loved hearing about you and a young Van Varner.

Thank you Mr. Sherrill for this encouraging and inspirational story of how God works in the lives of countless people in every circumstance they encounter for the good of His people, demonstrating His power, compassion, mercy, love and faithfulness. These memories should be treasured and shared for all readers to contemplate how trials make strong faith and keep strong faith in those who truly trust in the Lord God Almighty. Praise God and thank Him!

I really appreciated you sharing your story it gives me courage to continue in this economical crisis that is presently facing me in my country Jamaica.Thank you.

Thank you for sharing this story of how we all need to be inspired to react differently to these difficult economic times. We have much to learn from our parents and grandparents and how with faith and hope and resourcefulness this country will survive. One of my favorite parts of your message was your mention of Van Varner. I've read Daily Guideposts for many years and still miss his messages. So interesting to know that you all grew up together and were friends and followed a path of both writing for Guidepost Publications. May God continue to bless you and your wife. Always know that the messages that both of you write bring comfort and hope to all of us who are blessed to read them!

My Dear Mr Sherrill,
I have been following the stories of you & Tib for over 35 years through Daily Guideposts. Each one seems to speak directly to me on that day. Coincidence? I believe there are no coincidences in life only God at work in ours. This story is another one. I have been filled with fear lately over the unGodly path our is heading. Your article was just what I needed to hear/read..."Fear Not is my new motto". THANK YOU & Tib for all the years of encouragement!!

Your story has given me a real comfort this morning! It is heartwarming and brings back memories for me about my parents' stories of growing up during the Depression. It also hits close to home for my husband and me. My husband owned and operated his own business for over 40 years. Unfortunately, it was directly tied to the real estate market Work slowed and slowed until finally he reached a point where he realized it was time to give it up. It was a family business, so our son and his family of 6 depended on it as well. That was about 9 months ago. Our son is working at half his salary in a starting position...but he IS working. Our home has been on the market with not a single offer. We are living with our daughter's family in a different city, as we had planned to do at retirement.
God has richly blessed all of us. Our marriages are strong. Our childrens' families are solid and happy.
Our only real concern has been the empty house we are still paying for. I will now pray that God finds just the right family for our home. That insight of yours will become mine. And we will continue to look up. We are all trusting in God's Plan for our lives.
Thank you for some reassurance this morning. God bless you.

Oh, John, I'm so sorry that you all have had this struggle. You've been on my mind ever since I read that you were selling that house and moving, probably because I have an inkling of how much that house meant to Tibby. I've been praying for you off and on, whenever you both come to mind. But I've been keeping in mind that battered patient card at Sloane Kettering as well. God has taken marvelous, miraculous care of you for half a century of borrowed time. I've not the slightest doubt that he will see it through to the end.

Greetings in Jesus' Matchless Name! Thank you so much for sharing this. It is very interesting and encouraging. God bless you richly!

I liked your story. You painted a picture for us of what it was like growing up during the depression. The details were necessary to your message. People take comfort in things that are familiar to them, especially children. When things began to change around you, and you were able to sense the strain on your parents and community, of course you would feel fear. The true test of faith is moving beyond fear to a place of peace in trusting that God will get us through anything, not always in the way we want but in the way that's best. I am learning to look at life's little moments like when my I catch my 15 year old and my 11 year old laughing at a video, or a night walk with my kids and our dog. These small moments are a gift from God and I cherish them and remember them when the threat of the world tries to creep in and scare me. My story and Gods plan for my life could be told through these moments and I believe Mr. Sherrill that the moments in your life that you express so well in your story were all part of Gods plan for leading you to a life of faith.

Thanks so much Mr. Sherrill for your encouraging insight into how we must lean only on the Lord during these financially trying days. I too as a believer,struggle with fear,but you have helped me to remember that God will always see us through the hard times. Thank you again for your wisdom. My Dad isin a nursing home and I don't get to visit him to gleen his wisdom on the subjects affecting us these days. He also lived during the depression era and he will be 93 this September 5.I desire you and your wife's prayers for him and all of my family.I will be praying for you and your family also. God Bless.