Winning Isn’t Everything

[Note: This is the text of a speech I am currently delivering in competition for Toastmasters International. I hope you will enjoy reading it.]
3:17:12Creative Commons License Ludovic Bertron via Compfight
During the Zheng-Kai marathon in China, Kenyan runner Jacqueline Kiplimo saw a Chinese elite disabled athlete struggling to drink water. He had no forearms or hands with which to hold a water bottle. Jacqueline ran with him and helped him at all the water stations. This slowed her time, but she was still hoping she could make it up by the end of the stations. Jacqueline pushed hard for the final kilometers and she finished – second. Choosing to aid a fellow athlete cost her the win and the $10,000 cash prize. Since that race in 2010, it isn’t the winner everyone is talking about – it is Jacqueline and her unselfishness. Winning isn’t everything.

Winning isn’t everything? What an ironic concept in this competitive context. There is no thrill quite like being the winner, but that exhilaration is short lived, and the trophy soon gathers dust on the shelf. Yet, I have observed – and so have you – that a true winner is not necessarily one who comes in first or has the highest score at the end of the game. Could it be that our best and most important lessons are learned in situations where we don’t appear to win?

I was privileged to represent South Carolina in regional International Speech competition in Jacksonville, Florida. Just before the evening’s events, a sweet friend from our district handed me a card of encouragement signed by many friends and well-wishers. That thoughtful gesture bolstered my confidence and made me feel as though I was already a winner. I was third in the speaking order and left the platform feeling I had delivered the speech of a lifetime. After hearing the first two very good speakers, my son was thinking, “Mom is toast!” But welcoming me back to my seat with a big hug, he exclaimed, “Mom, you were awesome!” Wow! Winning the admiration of my son was better than anything!

After all 8 speeches were finished, so many from the audience rushed over to say how much they enjoyed the speech. One lady gave me a hug and said she would never forget the message. It was then I knew that whether or not I had won the contest, I had won the audience. This fact was further borne out when I was announced as the second place finisher. Disappointed, I whimpered to the trophy presenter, “but I wanted to win!” Upon turning to face the audience for the Kodak moment, I noticed the audience was standing and applauding. This did not register with me as unusual until later when a Past International Director commented that in all his years in Toastmasters, he had never seen a standing ovation for a second-place contestant. For a speaker, winning the audience is the bigger and “bestest” win of all.

Winning isn’t everything, but disappointment at not winning can be blinding and cause us to miss important life lessons. After a recent non-winning situation, I read a blog post by Michael Hyatt. He suggested handling losses in a positive manner not by asking “Why me?” but asking instead “What does this experience make possible?” Putting a positive spin on a difficult and even devastating situation helps us to heal more quickly and without any lingering bitterness. By making just that small paradigm shift, you could be someone’s Jacqueline Kiplimo.

Structured Procrastination

Thanks to a fellow Toastmaster, this week I was introduced to something I had never heard of before – structured procrastination. After my friend finished speaking on the subject, I realized I am majorly afflicted with this malady! Hearing his speech was like finally getting a correct diagnosis for symptoms that here-to-fore were vague and nebulous. It was a good news/bad news scenario to be sure!

Quoting Robert Benchley who wrote in “Chips off the Old Benchley, 1949,” “. . . anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.” This blog post is the perfect example of what Benchley is talking about. I have been wanting to write another post ever since the last post several weeks ago. But if you looked back over my calendar of activities since that last post, you would certainly understand why it has been difficult to commit to this writing. There were dozens of meetings – each with varying degrees of importance – lunches for both ministry and business purposes – speaking engagements – grandchildren to pick up from school – a friend’s birthday to be celebrated – evening programs to attend, surely you get the picture. At some point you have to do laundry, wash the dishes and vacuum a seldom-lived-in apartment! It seems that for any given space of time there are several choices of how to spend it. Help me out here. Do any of my readers identify with this struggle?

Benchley says, “Structured procrastination means . . . the list of tasks one has in mind will be ordered by importance. Tasks that seem most urgent will be on top. But there are worthwhile tasks to perform lower down on the list. Doing these tasks becomes a way of not doing the things higher up on the list. With this sort of appropriate task structure, . . . the procrastinator can even acquire, as I have, a reputation for getting a lot done.” Based on comments from my friends, like Benchley, I am perceived as someone who does get a lot done.

I truly have been incredibly busy. Yet, there remain undone several very important tasks including, until now, this post! A dear soul has offered to produce a video and to revamp my website to help drive business. This is a hugely important task and should have already been done. But I have let too many urgent but in reality unimportant activities take precedence. Stephen Covey would be so disappointed in me, but the sadder fact is I wonder how disappointed Christ is in how I have invested my time. Generally speaking my choices have been good ones, but there is no question that I should have made better choices and set higher priorities.

Christ is the ultimate example of good time management. When you look at how little time he actually spent in the flesh on this earth and all that he accomplished, you realize he never went anywhere or did anything randomly or without plan or purpose. He was amazingly effective in a short amount of time. At the wedding feast in Cana, he did not succumb to the urgent pleadings of his mother but waited until just the right moment to turn water into wine. Even the times he went apart for rest were for the purpose of equipping himself for continuing ministry.

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey says it is not an issue of time management but of self-management! Ah, there’s the rub! The choices I make often reveal a lack of self-discipline. It is much easier to clean out the email inbox than to compose a new blog post or write a contest speech. Ministry to others is among my priorities, but when so much time is spent in this worthy pursuit that proper rest is not taken and other spiritual pursuits are compromised, I have to wonder how ultimately effective is such ministry. Proverbs 16:3: “Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established.” The Lord is our resource for right self-management.

Perhaps there is hope. Since starting this post, I have steadfastly battled urges to make a cup of tea – have a snack – go through unopened mail – check my bank account balance – start a new reading project – straighten my desk – check the emails that have dinged in while composing this or finish a Hallmark movie that I left to write this post! The Lord be praised!

Redemption in Snow

Frozen Vista Randi Scott via CompfightThere is nothing quite like a good snow to halt the pace of life and give time for quiet contemplation. I live in the South, and my area is being blanketed with snow, sleet and freezing rain in unusual proportions. While reading in Exodus recently, I came across Exodus 11:10: “And Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh: and the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go out of his land.”

We are such performance-based, results-oriented people. Each time Moses went before Pharaoh, in his humanity I am sure he wanted results, i.e., for his people to be allowed to leave Egypt. How many times we read that in response to God’s command, Moses “stretched forth his rod” and saw both miracles and plagues. The plagues were for the Egyptians; the miracles were for the children of Israel in that they were protected from the plagues. Surely Moses would have been justified in asking why it took so many plagues before Pharaoh begged for the Israelites to leave Egypt, but all we read is of Moses’ obedience to the command of God. I found it eye-opening in Exodus 11:9 where the Lord told Moses “Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you.” If I were in Moses’ shoes, I know what my reaction would be: “Why should I even try if there is no hope that I will be successful?” And then God told Moses why he was hardening Pharaoh’s heart: “that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.” This information did not come to Moses until before the tenth judgment. And in a divinely-placed parenthetical moment, God instituted Passover, the clear picture of redemption. This message of redemption was the wonder that God wanted multiplied in the land of Egypt.

My thoughts turned to those I know serving on the mission field. One shared his frustrations in learning a new language – frustration because of his deep desire to share the message of redemption. Another friend has been on the field for many years, has reared a family there and is experiencing heartache with respect to one child in particular. Both of these are in situations where, like Moses, it is difficult to see God’s bigger picture. How will redemption be manifested in these situations? That remains to be seen, but we can have confidence that there is a higher purpose being played out. Like Moses, the challenge for these servants of God, and for us, is to respond in obedience and without question to the call of God on our lives.

There is redemption even in this beautiful snowfall. Families are indoors together where stronger bonds can be forged without the distraction of everyday life. People are staying off the roads and thus lives are being saved. Perhaps some are “redeeming the time” with extra prayer and Bible study. While there are aspects of this snow that are disruptive and even dangerous – we may lose power – there is no doubt that God’s redemptive purposes, his bigger picture is being played out as he continues to demonstrate his sovereignty and grace.

The Lord be praised!

“Occupied with Joy”

" There is night so we can appreciate day, sorrow so we can appreciate joy, evil so we can appreciate good, 'YOU' so I can appreciate 'LOVE' ! "Creative Commons License Parvin via Compfight
My pastor has been preaching through the book of Ecclesiastes on Sunday evenings. Recently he referred to Ecclesiastes 5:29, and I had one of those I’ve-never-seen-this-before moments. Here is the verse from the ESV: “For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.”

Who of us does not identify in some measure with Job and all of his sorrows? Life does not get much worse than what Job experienced: loss of children (the worst loss I can imagine), possessions, boils covering his body, and all were allowed by God to prove his servant. Reading through the book of Job, we see him acknowledging his grief and desperate state, but he fights to accept it all as from the Lord, and “in all this Job did not sin or charge God for wrong.” (Job 1:22)

Since there are now many days of my life, I find that I remember less and less of the bad days and more and more of the good days. For instance, like every mother, I remember the birth of my first child. My husband was there for the labor and present in the delivery room. Although the process was considered uneventful by medical standards, it had a profound effect on my husband who held my hand afterwards and stated, “I will never put you through this again!” How soon we forgot the pain and trauma of childbirth as we went on to birth three more! Yes, I remember the pain, the sleepless nights, colicky babies. I remember that those things happened, but I remember more the joy each of my children has brought, not only in their growing up years but also as they have matured into Godly people who desire to please the Lord. It is he who has so marvelously occupied us with joy; for if we remembered only the pain of our days, surely we would all be suicidal.

Lately doors have opened to share my struggle with cancer. In writing and speaking of all I have endured in these 20 years, there has been a recounting and a remembering of the woes of the disease. Yes, there was suffering, sickness and a dragging through life that was not fun. But what I most remember is the kindness of friends and family who helped with meals (even gift certificates for dinners out), their faithful prayers that continue to this day, and a loving heavenly father who truly occupied me with his joy! How amazing is that?! Pretty amazing! I have truly experienced God’s enduring grace and he has occupied my heart with his joy.

Getting through his testing was not easy for Job. Neither is it easy for us to get through the hard times of our lives. To come out on the other side of a trial with joy and rejoicing, there has to be the deliberate choice to see God in everything and to know any hard place is for our good and his glory. As I have read through Job, it seemed that Job suffered forever. I was surprised to learn that all of these griefs of his life covered a period of about one year. Job certainly had the correct perspective as he proclaims: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold….” (Job 19:25-27a) This is a powerful demonstration of what it means to be “occupied with joy.”

The Lord be praised!

Onward, Forward

When Mr. Whitney mounted the platform and slid onto the piano bench at Rose Hill Church of the Nazarene, the congregation knew what was coming next. He would sweep his knuckles across the keyboard and launch a rousing rendition of “The Fight is On!” The refrain to this Gospel song by Leila N. Morris is as follows:

“The fight is on, O Christian soldier,
And face to face in stern array,
With armor gleaming, and colors streaming,
The right and wrong engage today!
The fight is on, but be not weary;
Be strong, and in His might hold fast;
If God be for us, His banner o’er us,
We’ll sing the victor’s song at last!”

But it is the chorus to another Gospel song in a similar militaristic vein that has been swirling through my head here at the New Year. This refrain from “Sound the Battle Cry” has become my mantra for 2014:

“Rouse, then, soldiers, rally round the banner,
Ready, steady, pass the word along;
Onward, forward (emphasis mine), shout aloud, ‘Hosanna!’
Christ is Captain of the mighty throng.” (William F. Sherman)

Each time I ask “What next, Lord?” his answer is simply this: “Onward, forward. I have the path planned, and I will guide you step by step.”

Recently I saw a bumper sticker that read “Boldly going nowhere!” At first I chuckled but had to admit that I often feel exactly that way. It is then the Lord gently reminds me that because he is in me and I in him, and because I am seeking to know and do his will, he will guide, he will accomplish, he will bring the shouts of “Hosanna!” to my lips. Every day is an adventure of trust, of being satisfied not to know what is coming next but to welcome whatever it is in full assurance that “all things work together for good….” (Romans 8:28). But it is the rest of that verse that brings the most encouragement: “All things work together for good to them who are the called according to his purposes.”

Happy New Year! The Fight is On! The Lord be praised!

45th Anniversary

I sent this message to my children this morning and decided to share it with you:

“Today would have been our 45th wedding anniversary had your father lived. We were actually married on a Thursday, the day BJU dismissed for Christmas vacation. While almost everyone was scurrying off campus and heading home, we were hurrying to be at Dr. Bob Jones, III’s office by 4 p.m. for our wedding. After the ceremony, there was a small reception held on campus in the home of Bill and Flora Fulton. The guests threw rice as we got in the rented Pontiac to start our honeymoon. The weather was gray and drizzly as we drove up through the watershed area to the Colonial Inn in Brevard. We spent Thursday and Friday nights in Brevard and returned home Saturday to set up our apartment before going back to work on Monday. We turned in the rental car and walked everywhere we needed to go. Bi-Lo was just across Pleasantburg Drive, so we were able to keep your dad supplied with pickles. It was many months before we had a car of our own.

The absolute best that came out of our union is you – our children. Each of you has been and continue to be worth every sacrifice and investment two very imperfect parents ever made. To see your heart for the Lord in your service to others is a joy and blessing beyond words.

Last year about this time, I even got to take the cruise your dad always wanted to take for our anniversary. But ever since November 18, 2009, he has been on the trip of eternity with Christ. Somehow I don’t think he misses never having taken that cruise down here. The Lord be praised! Love, mom”

Keneth and I were married on December 19, 1968. Choosing that date meant that almost every year thereafter our anniversary was celebrated at someone’s Christmas party. That was just fine, because those parties were usually nicer affairs than we could ever have afforded on our own. How gracious was our God to give us those blessings.

Many have commented that they enjoyed the stories from my childhood. The story did not stop there. God continued to shed his grace and mercy throughout my life in leading me to Bob Jones University, bringing my life partner, and sustaining us through some dark and challenging days. As God gives grace and utterance, we hope to share more of his goodness. There will be things hard to write, but we write in praise to the Lord for sustaining grace and overcoming power.

Since starting this blog, there have been times when I was tempted to stop. In the face of so many other bloggers and millions of words, I feel very intimidated. Just when I get to that point, someone will tell me what a blessing the posts are and I am encouraged to keep sharing. The goal in the beginning was a weekly post; but the reality is that a meaningful post is better than a weekly-for-the-sake-of-schedule post. It takes time for a thought to weave and develop before it can be shared effectively. My sincere thanks to loyal readers (both of them!) who have patiently endured the lapses.

At this Christmas season, I pray the true miracle of Christmas will be reborn in our hearts. Christ had to be born supernaturally for the expressed purpose of dying an inhumane human death for our sins. As we look at the beautifully decorated trees in our homes, may we visualize a naked tree cut and shaped into a cross onto which Christ’s body – an ornament as of a pearl of great price – was hung for our redemption. Truly, the Lord be praised!

Thanks Living

For the born-again believer, Thanksgiving should be much more than just a date on the calendar and an annual acknowledgement of God’s goodness. Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., said, “When gratitude dies on the altar of a man’s heart, that man is well nigh hopeless.” Charles Spurgeon would agree with Dr. Bob for he wrote: “Absence of gratitude is a sure token of an unrenewed heart.”

The Scriptures have much to say regarding thanks giving. I Thessalonians 1:18: “In EVERYTHING give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” What about “everything” do we not understand? I have identified three things that encompass the “everything” for which we should give continual thanks:

Thanks for what he gives that we ask for – answered prayer.
Thanks for what he withholds for our good and his glory.
Thanks for what he gives that we did not ask – learning to live thanks by raising our conscious awareness of God’s gifts.

What is the first or most important prayer God answered for you? I hope you said, “The sinner’s prayer for salvation.” Considering the price Jesus paid to ransom our hell-bound souls, should we not offer continual praise and thanksgiving for his “unspeakable gift?” (II Corinthians 9:15) Might it be possible to learn how to live our thanks? We who are so naturally ungrateful, could we learn how to live in a state of constant gratitude? The Apostle Paul makes the case in Philippians 4:11-12 when he wrote “For I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” The implication is that we can change from ingratitude to gratitude. We start by thanking God for answered prayer.

As we grow in our gratitude lifestyle, we then learn to thank God for what he withholds. Do not the Scriptures declare “no good thing will he withhold….?” (Psalm 84:11) We turn again to Paul in II Corinthians 12:7-10 who prayed three times for his thorn in the flesh to be removed. What victory Paul experienced once he understood the purpose for the thorn was “that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” For me, God has chosen not to heal my cancer. But he has enabled me to thank him for the cancer and to experience him in ways I never would have except for this physical trial. The Lord has also seen fit to withhold remarriage from me. About two years after my husband died, I went through a time of great loneliness and desire for companionship. There were relationships, but they never developed. God taught me that he could use me much more effectively by being single. I have great freedom and flexibility that would not be mine otherwise. (Besides, it takes an awfully good man to beat none!) My heart is settled in the Lord and his plan for my life. I truly thank him for what he is withholding from me.

Where the greatest growth in gratitude and thankfulness occurs is in thanking God for what he gives that we did not ask. There is so much he gives that we just assume and take for granted. Seeing those gifts requires a heightened awareness of every good and perfect gift that has come and continues to come our way from a God who “daily loadeth us with benefits.” (Psalm 68:19) We achieve this by enumerating – listing – everything we recognize as God’s tokens of love to us. Psychologists say people who take the time daily to list at least five things for which they are thankful are 25% happier than most. My heart was opened to the idea of enumerating God’s gifts by Ann Voskamp in her book, “One Thousand Gifts.” Ann was challenged to make a list of 1,000 gifts from God. She carried a notebook with her everywhere she went as a reminder to be alert to even the smallest detail and see God in it. The miracle of that exercise was that she realized when she reached 1,000 gifts she had not even scratched the surface of God’s goodness and bounty of love towards her. But the intentionality of listing God’s gifts kept her in a constant state of awareness of the inexhaustible love God has for her. It is in this heightened awareness of God’s blessings and gifts to us that we are able to move from mere thanks giving to thanks living! When our first breath in the morning and our last thought at night is praise and thanks to God, when we thank him upon each recognition of his goodness and are aware of his presence with us each step we take during the day, then we can experience the ecstasy of thanks living!

May God challenge us to be truly aware of him. The Lord be praised!

Living in His Presence

Most recently, the Lord has impressed upon my heart the intensity of his presence with me, with all believers. He is cultivating within me an awareness that God is with me step-by-step every moment of my life. In this process, I am learning just how intently the Lord wants to order my steps.

Yesterday was a good example of this. I started the day in the Word then transitioned to the many tasks before me. From the standpoint of logistics (we love logistics!), this is how I laid them out: Bank, Office Depot, exercise, home to shower and finish a project, meet friend for lunch, deliver project, gas for car, home to prepare for evening meeting.

I was not far into this list before the Lord began revealing that I had not chosen the best order. Thus, I immediately asked him to direct my steps according to his plan. As it turned out, the exercise took longer than I had planned but worked to my advantage as I was able to include a foot massage that worked wonders! No time to go home and shower or finish the project, only time to meet friend for lunch straight from the 135-degree sauna! But as a result, I was in a much less rushed frame of mind and could better enjoy the fellowship with my friend. The Lord enabled me to complete the remaining items on the list in timely manner – they were just not completed as I had planned them. No worries. God’s way is always better!

Grasping the reality of God’s presence with me is altering my prayer life. I think twice before praying “Lord, please be with….” Why? Because God is already WITH (fill in the blank)! Thus I can pray, “Lord, encourage (name)” or “empower your servant for ministry.”

This morning was a good example of my ignoring when the Lord was trying to order my steps. I had committed to an early morning business networking meeting about 20 miles from my home. Upon waking, I sensed the Lord trying to tell me this event was not the best use of my time. Instead of asking the Lord to confirm his will in the matter, I proceeded. Several things had distracted and prevented my getting on the road with enough time to meet someone who was driving the final leg to our destination. Sure enough, they left without me and I had no idea how to get to the meeting place. As I sat in my car, deeply repentant, I asked the Lord “where to from here?” The Lord directed my steps back home and opened a window of time in which to write this post!

On the outbound trip, I noticed inbound traffic on the interstate was backed up several miles and moving very slowly. As I made the return drive, I was swallowed up in this delay; but with Christian radio in the car, I listened to a blessed sermon about how God uses imperfect people to accomplish his purposes. My heart was encouraged. Even in my ignoring God’s leading this morning, he turned the situation to my good and his glory. How amazing is that!

Psalm 37:23: “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord….” But I like verse 24 that reads, “Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholds him with his hand.”
Proverbs 16:9: “A man’s heart devises his way: but the Lord directs his steps.”
Exodus 33:14: “…my presence shall go with thee….”

The Lord be praised!

Another Husband for Mother

Mother continued working in a local hospital where she met another patient who fell in love with her. By this time, the divorce from Vernon was behind her, my sister and I were well into high school, and some of those six brothers were pressing on towards the teen years. No doubt Mother was feeling a little overwhelmed at the prospect of continuing as a single parent. One week before my high school graduation in May 1963, she married Kelsey. He was a good man who worked for the state of Arizona maintaining a stretch of unpaved mountain road out from Globe, a city about 80 miles east of Phoenix. It was obvious that he loved Mother and wanted to take care of her. He was even willing to be a father to the boys; but as time would prove, he came a little late to that task. Nevertheless, he did his best.

I was no longer attending a Nazarene church but instead had been invited by friends to an independent Bible church where I was growing in the Lord and had a strong youth group for fellowship. Through the influence of the youth pastor, I felt the Lord wanted me to attend a Christian school in South Carolina, so I made application and began working to earn money for college.

In July, Mother took my sister and the boys with her to Globe. Because of work, I stayed in Phoenix. They were enjoying an afternoon at Roosevelt Lake when tragedy struck. My seven-year-old baby brother, who had been sitting on a rock with Mother monitoring his every move, suddenly fell off the rock into the water and was immediately sucked down into a deep hole. Mother, who could not swim, instinctively dove in but could not reach him. She subsequently passed out and somehow floated to shore. My sister and brothers were witness to all of this. Miraculously, just as this was happening, Kelsey, who had been grading the road that day, was the first person on the scene. My brother’s body never surfaced, and divers had to be called out to retrieve it. Mother told me later that when she came to in the water, she knew she could not save Lloyd. The faces of all her children kept flashing before her face. She knew she had to make it to shore and save herself for their sakes. Seems there were lots of miracles at Roosevelt Lake that day.

It was at my brother’s funeral that I realized I had a different view of death than most people. Yes, there was a sense of loss, but I was excited that he was in Heaven with Jesus! However, that excitement kept me from fully entering into the grief my mother was experiencing in the loss of her child. Credit youth and immaturity if you will, but I soon learned the depth of her grief when I received a letter from the college to which I had applied. Without my knowledge, Mother had written the school saying she did not think it was a good idea for me to enter in the fall, that I did not have the finances and she could not help. The school was asking me how I wished to proceed in light of my mother’s letter to them. In her mind, she had just lost her youngest in death. Having her oldest go so far from home for college was akin to losing another child. Out of respect for Mother, I agreed to postpone college. In God’s timing, he allowed me to enter school in the fall of 1964. Through his faithfulness and provision, I graduated four years later. Only one other of my siblings has obtained a college degree.

Today there are six of the eight Roberts children still living. I am the only one who does not live in Arizona. Years ago, we lost another brother who had fought in Vietnam. He finished his tour of duty and returned home only to be taken in a freak motorcycle accident. God even brought good out of that loss as several of his organs were donated to save the lives of others.

During my college years I was greatly burdened for the salvation of my brothers. At night from my bunk bed in the dormitory I would cry out to God for their souls. Finally, in a breakthrough moment God gave me the assurance that each of my brothers would come to know him. As the years passed, I watched God fulfill that promise.

To those readers who have followed this narrative of my childhood, the message that I pray comes through is that God is loving in all his ways, deliberate in EVERYTHING he allows in the lives of those who belong to him – and I belonged to him before I knew him because HE had chosen ME before the foundation of the world! That baby girl conceived in sin and reared in poverty and abuse was at all times under the watchful eye and protecting hand of a loving heavenly father.

There is much of God’s grace that was manifested in the ensuing years of marriage and rearing of my own children, and he may allow the sharing of those stories in due time. For now we will stop this narrative and continue in another vein – all for the purpose of displaying his glory in order to bring “Light for the Night – encouragement for the dark places of life.” The Lord be praised!

Settling in Arizona

Awesome Cactus in Carefree AZ

Although I did not make the connection at the time, it was God’s abiding grace that brought us safely to Phoenix. How incredulous that my mother would drive alone with 10 children in the car, pulling a trailer half way across the country. As I learned later in life, when it comes to the welfare of her children, a mother will do whatever it takes.

The house Vernon had for us was nice enough, so we settled in. Had the landlord known 10 children were moving in, I am not sure he would have consented to rent the place. I think Vernon told the man he had two children, which was true. He just neglected to mention that his wife had eight of her own!

Arriving after the midpoint of a school year was difficult, but we managed to enroll and life settled into a routine. Early on the scene of our lives was Aunt Vera. She was related to Vernon distantly, but she was from Arkansas and seemed to take an interest in our family. She helped us get started to Orangewood Church of the Nazarene. Like everyone else, she loved my mother.

Mother eventually found a job at a local hospital. I finished the eighth grade and was preparing to enter high school when we made another move across town to a house with cheaper rent. The roaches and scorpions were highly offended by our presence, but the house was situated at the foot of a mountain in a desert-like setting that afforded my brothers lots of space to roam and explore.

Life with Vernon and his children was never easy. His temper flared often and we never knew what might set it off. Mother worked days and Vernon worked nights. When we were in school, he had no trouble sleeping during the day, but summers were another story. I was well into my junior year of high school when something I said or did sent Vernon into a rage. My sister insists my typing woke Vernon from sleep. I thought it was that I had been peeling potatoes and he did not like the way I was peeling them. At any rate, he became so violent and threatening that I ran from the house when I saw him go for his gun. I fled across the desert to a phone booth outside a café near the house and crouched out of sight until I saw him drive by in the car trying to find me. Once he had passed without seeing me, I ran up the street to a friend’s house to call my mother at work. Her shift was ending soon, and by the time she came for me, she had determined it was not safe for me to return home and had arranged for me to stay with Aunt Vera.

This incident occurred in early January, 1962. During my stay with Aunt Vera, she learned that my sixteenth birthday was approaching, and she wanted to have a party for me. Everything was going along fine until I found out that the friends I had invited would be bringing me presents! No, this could not be! It was not right that anyone should spend money to buy me a present, so I cancelled the party. Aunt Vera was disappointed, but I was relieved.

However, it was during this time that news of my father’s death reached me. Mother came to Aunt Vera’s to tell me he was dead. As I later learned, he had come to Mama’s house on Christmas Eve. After dinner, he went into her living room where our pictures were on display and spent a good bit of time looking at each one. Afterwards, he started a drinking binge that resulted in his death. I asked if I could go to his funeral and was told that he had been buried almost immediately after his death on New Year’s day. Somehow I felt robbed.

Eventually it was deemed safe for me to return home, but Vernon was not happy. It was not too many months afterwards that Vernon took his two children and returned to Arkansas where he filed for divorce. Although Mother was glad to see him go, she did feel somewhat abandoned. Had it not been for Aunt Vera and a few other friends, Mother would never have made it. She kept working at a job she loved, my sister and I were old enough to make money cleaning houses, so somehow we managed. Then, Mother met another man.