Jacksie P.

In a town with a population of 1,200 and 5 churches, one can’t expect to find many members in each church. My Presbyterian church was one of two, served every Sunday by one minister. Before Sunday school the entire congregation, children included, gathered in the front part of the church on chairs adjacent to the sanctuary, to sing hymns before going to our classes. Very early in life I heard most of the old hymns and sang out very loudly.

Most of the time there were only two of us in my class. Out the window of the small room I could see my house, as my family lived in the church’s manse. There was no division between the properties. I could go out the back door of the church, across the yard and into the back door of my house. A common hedge fronted both buildings. I guess we were given priority to rent the home because my father was the band and chorus director for the school system, and also the church choir director.

Our home’s proximity to the churchyard and my introduction to the church and its music so early in life made me one of those persons who claim that they never knew a time when they didn’t believe in God. Didn’t have to be “saved.” Of course, as I have matured spiritually, I can look back and see the many ways, besides clinging to a loving source, I have been touched over and over by His grace.

Of course, as I have matured spiritually, I can look back and see the many ways, besides clinging to a loving source, I have been touched over and over by His grace.

Unfortunately, or maybe because of a very dysfunctional family life that was kept secret others, I came to look to God out of desperation. My father was sexually abusive and prone to tirades, breaking anything or kicking any pet in his way. To everyone not living with him, he was a likable chap. His foul language was not that of a choir director or later, as the Clerk of the Session, and an active member of the Presbytery. When I was three years old, the trustees of the church came to look at our broken coal furnace. They had removed the very large air vent from the middle of the floor, leaving a giant hole. As I gazed in wonderment at the space, I bellowed out, “Jesus Christ!” and was quickly snatched and shut up.

My mother sided with her husband and seemed ill-equipped to lavish love on or any interest in her two daughters, except to make it clear that our behavior should not bring any shame to the family. Although she touted her Presbyterian heritage with pride, she eventually stopped attending church. Once, when hospitalized, our minister blamed her back spasms on her lack of faith. While she remained at home on Sunday, she proclaimed to us girls, “If you don’t go to church today, you may not go anywhere else.”

By that time, we had moved to another small town four miles away. While my Dad remained at the previous church because of his role as Clerk, and my mother stayed at home, my sister and I attended one of two churches in that town. The Methodists had all the youth programs, and that’s where my best friends attended. For nine years I participated in youth and adult choirs, summer camps, and Methodist Youth Fellowship. My senior year in high school I was president of both my local and district Youth Fellowships.

In the meantime, as I reached college age, both my parents were drinking heavily. While I could have turned to destructive forms of rebellion, instead I drew closer to my God. At that time, my immature faith was one of, “If I try to do good, bad things won’t happen to me.” In the past 50 years, I have learned that suffering is just part of life, many times as a result of poor decision making. Yet, at the same time, and with more perspective, I have also learned that God intervened in my life with wonderful gifts that I no longer interpret as coincidence or just good luck.

After attending a teachers’ college chosen by my parents, I instead tried X-ray school, because I did not want to become a teacher. After a few months I quit, wanting a four year degree in order to enter the mission field. My parents were relieved and agreed to send me to a small college in North Carolina owned and operated by the Presbyterian Church, USA. My plans for the mission field led to a career in Child Welfare. I plodded through eight semesters of graduate school, saying in the midst of each one that I would not continue. I did receive my Master’s degree in Social Work. God guided me to use my talents in the way He desired, even as I rebelled.

However, my career was stunted by an affliction that I thought was due to the lack of self-confidence. I trembled all over whenever I had to counsel just two parents, let alone lead a group. I didn’t excel in my field because I turned down opportunities to advance. God had other plans for me. After having many roles in my church in Asheville, I was ordained as an elder. I longed to serve my fellow members and especially to be able to serve them communion. How could I possibly carry all those tinkling little cups in my shaking hands? But first, I had to appear before 32 elders to relate my spiritual journey. I was a gifted speaker, but only alone in my own home. When I mentioned the dread I had over the upcoming ordeal, a friend said, “I know what doctors take to be calm when they have to give a presentation.” When I went to my doctor for just one pill, he told me that I had Essential Tremor, an inherited affliction that could easily be treated. Just at that time in my life I was “healed,” so that I could continue in the role God planned for me. That was the first time I was able to see that God enters our lives in very visible ways to further His work.

After telling my faith story in the session meeting, I was asked to speak at a Family Night Dinner. Our church was in turmoil because our very gifted minister had been asked to leave after misusing the church’s discretionary fund. People were confused and sad. My ability to tell our members all we had accomplished during our interim time lifted their spirits. God was working in me. As a result, I had a life-changing opportunity when I was chosen to serve on the pastor search committee with a dedicated, selfless, spiritual group of Christian friends. Had I been more involved in my social work career, I would not have been able to spend the many hours during week-days, nights and on week-ends, as we faithfully went about our search.

More recently, I was forced to give up a ministry to a resident I had been visiting for two years at Broadmeadow Nursing Home. After a period of mourning, I was ready this time for what was to come along next. I was able to say to God, “Okay, I’m open to what you have for me now.” I was sitting at my desk recently, wondering what I would do if my current church had another frustrating year with the Stewardship campaign, and I found myself longing for a church with pews and organ music and, at the same time, knowing how I had come to love many of my fellow church members. At that very moment, the phone rang and the ID said the caller was from our Presbytery. It startled me. It was a blatant intrusion into my spiritual life, when I had so recently and reluctantly given up my visitation at the nursing home. The caller asked me to serve as a on a commission to help guide the direction of another Presbyterian church in town. This time I knew what was happening as it transpired, and I accepted the invitation!

I love my God not because I haven’t suffered. I’ve been divorced twice; I have bouts of depression; I’m impatient, and I am a social phobic. But now I have more perspective and can see how throughout my life how God has entered my daily reality, touched me, used me, and therefore blessed me, even when I didn’t know it at the time. I have many more wonderful examples, most outstandingly that at age 38, after being assured that my husband and I could “not in a million years” conceive a child, I gave birth to a daughter. I love Him for giving me the many precious dogs who have comforted me over the difficult years; truly an expression of a God who wants to delight us with his creativeness.

I love my God not because I haven’t suffered. I’ve been divorced twice; I have bouts of depression; I’m impatient, and I am a social phobic. But now I have more perspective and can see how throughout my life how God has entered my daily reality, touched me, used me, and therefore blessed me, even when I didn’t know it at the time

Finally, my family’s exposure to music, along with my early church experience, the many years spent in the youth choir, and later in other church choirs over the years, has given me a soul that rejoices at all times to hymns, carols, and symphonies. His grace makes me say, “Is it I, Lord?” and mean it.

I love God because he so obviously loves me.

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