(You can read part one of the post here.)
I was nine the year that Daddy left us. My little brother was seven. My older siblings were 14, 16, 17, 19 and 22. It was primarily us three youngest ones that spent the rest of our growing up years under Mama's roof. She had no car, no job, and was still recuperating from a stay in the mental hospital due to severe depression. It could have been a recipe for disaster. But God...
I don't remember how it happened, but I've been told that an old family friend that attended a church in the next town over from us heard about our plight. Evidently, we had attended that church at some point in our past. That friend then sent someone to come and give us a ride to church. I have no other memory of that first Sunday besides sitting in the pew next to Mama feeling shy and different. Back then being from a broken home was a rare thing. I knew only one other student in my elementary school whose parents were divorced. I knew no one from church that came from a broken home.
I know that little church wasn't perfect. I've heard said that instead of the scripture saying "Where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there in the midst of them" it should say, "Where two or three are gathered in My name, there are problems". Since Mama was never one to get involved in the inner circle of church "politics" we were blissfully ignorant of any problems in the church. I can remember the first church my husband and I worked at during our Bible college years, I was quite shocked and disillusioned that everyone didn't love each other. All I had known up to that point was the little church that had loved us into wholeness.
Eventually, God provided Mama with a good job and an old teal and white Chevy. She drove clear across town to work, about a forty five minute drive one way, choosing to keep us in the home we'd always lived in. Each Sunday we'd drive thirty minutes to the neighboring town, driving through the tunnel and up the hill to that little brown church.
The pastor was a big man, very tall and very large. He'd have been scary intimidating if he hadn't been so kind and lovable and such a tease. His method of greeting us kids as we entered the church on Sunday was to put his big old hand on our head and tousle our hair. Unfortunately, we were still kids to him clear into our teenage years when we were well past the age of wanting someone messing up our Sunday morning hairdos.
In some ways, the pastor stepped up and filled in some of the gaps in our lives from not having a live in father. I remember him congratulating me from the pulpit when the fact that I'd made the honor roll was printed in the local newspaper. It gave me the desire to keep doing well in school. I wanted him to be proud of me. When I went through a stage of being terrified of the devil and demons, Mama called him and he took the time to talk me through my fear. When I was in high school, a fairly new guy to the church started dating me. The pastor watched out for me by driving to our house and telling me and Mama the surprising news that this new guy was an almost 30 year old divorced man. Gulp! As naive as I was, what a mess that could have been if our pastor hadn't been bold enough to "interfere" in my life.
But, it wasn't just the pastor that stepped up to the plate for us, it was pretty much the whole church. Our Sunday School teachers took us on camping trips and picnics, the leaders of the boys' club took my brother fishing, the leaders of the girls' clubs took me on trips to the beach, the young married couples taught our youth groups and led our youth choirs. One young wife and mama took the time to write me a note that changed my life. These people invested their love and time and effort into us. We had no fancy programs back then, no cutting edge strategies, no paid staff members other than the pastor. What we did have were people who took the time to care about us.
My older sister started dating a boy from the church soon after we started going to church there and dated him all through high school. They got married after graduation and then went to Bible college. They have been ministers for almost 40 years.
My little brother, who struggled in school when he was younger, ended up graduating high school with honors. He then graduated from Bible college, eventually getting his master's degree and ultimately his doctorate. He and his wife were pastors for several years before becoming missionaries in East Africa.
Me, I graduated high school and went off to Bible college, too. There I began dating the man I've been married to for almost four decades, the nephew of the pastor of that little brown church. Together we've been in full time pastoral ministry for just about as long as we've been married. Our three daughters are all involved in ministry as well. Our oldest daughter and her husband pastor Hope City in southeast Portland, our middle daughter and her husband head up Ask for the Nations, which is the missions organization through which we do our outreaches into Ghana, our youngest daughter is involved in several areas of ministry at Hope City.
God's grace is amazing, isn't it? Yes, the situation Mama and us kids were left in A.D. (after the divorce), could have, should have, been a disaster. But, by God's grace, Mama got better, got a good job, and got us into a church that loved us. By His grace she kept us there, where we were spiritually loved and nurtured and cared for. By God's grace, our lives were changed forever. Praise be to God.
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