WAS RAISED IN AN ADVENTIST HOME by a loving, Christian mother. My father wanted no children, so when Mother became pregnant with me, she was told, “Get rid of the kid or get out!”
As an infant, I was dedicated to the Lord, and baptized at the age of 8. My mother and her extended family reflected the Savior’s love and greatly influenced my childhood. We were poor in material things, but wealthy in faith and love.
Sabbaths were the highlight of our week, and we walked to church in all types of weather. Some of my most treasured memories are of Sabbath school and camp meetings. There were times when there was not a bite of food in the house, but I grew up seeing answers to prayers and experiencing God’s care and mercy.
Feeling the Pull of the World
When I was in the seventh grade, we moved from New Mexico to Colorado to live where there was a church and a church school. The school was across town, so I had a long bus trip every day. I worked to help with tuition, sometimes until midnight: and many times I still had homework to complete after my shift ended. During my sophomore year at Campion Academy, financial problems forced me to transfer to public high school.
At first I upheld my standards, but I soon found myself wanting to be like the other kids. I began to resent that I couldn’t take part in activities other students enjoyed on Friday nights and Saturdays. I resented the fact that I dressed differently. When I arrived at the bus stop on my way to school, I rolled up the waistband of my skirt so it would be as short as those of the other girls. I began dating non-Adventists. Pretending to go out with girlfriends, I instead met boys and went to the movies. Each time I did something I knew I shouldn’t, it became easier to compromise my values.
Instead of attending Union College after completing high school, I decided to work for one year and go to a business college. I rationalized that with the money I saved it would be easier to concentrate on my studies. The pattern of my life took me from all I once held dear. Within a few months I met and married a young man who wasn’t an Adventist. My husband attended church with me a few times after we were married, but we soon stopped going. We had two daughters, and I realized that these children whom God had entrusted to my care needed to go to Sabbath school. In the meantime, however, I had picked up some bad habits. I smoked and ate foods I knew I shouldn’t. My husband was in the military and had received an overseas assignment. He lived a single lifestyle while he was away, but said he would settle down upon his return. I couldn’t accept that arrangement, so at the age of 20 I found myself divorced with two small children.
Within a year I married another non-Adventist, also in the military. The burden I felt for my daughters to go to Sabbath school became so great that I found an Adventist church, and my husband joined my daughters and me in going to services. After our son was born, my husband was transferred to San Antonio, where one of the first things we did was to find a church we could attend regularly. My husband was eventually baptized and became active in the church.
One Sabbath, however, my husband was approached by two church members who told him he wasn’t keeping Sabbath properly. Discouraged by this criticism, my husband stopped going to church altogether and eventually slipped into alcoholism. The alcohol made him verbally and physically abusive. I finally had to file for divorce.
For the next 25 years, my children and I never went to church. Repressing my mother’s positive influence, I wanted nothing to do with religion in any form. I wasn’t mature enough in my Christian experience to realize that God hadn’t let me down; I had been disappointed by frail, fallible people.
With my children grown, I felt free to do anything I wanted. I soon met a man totally opposed to organized religion (that was fine with me). We fell in love, married, and moved to the Texas coast. Rick was the love of my life. He had suffered a heart attack six years before I met him, and doctors had given him just five years to live, so our time together was bonus time.
When I met Rick I had carefully wrapped my Bible and put it away in a trunk, but the Lord hadn’t given up on me. From deep in my memory I recalled health principles I had learned as a child from my mother to prepare healthful meals for Rick. These changes in diet helped us both.
Rick’s health slowly began to deteriorate, however. And 10 months after our move, we learned that my mother was dying. I had always felt I had a safety net in her, because she prayed constantly for me. She was such a spiritual person I felt she had an “in” with God. Her death was a reminder of both my own mortality and the necessity of having something on which to anchor my faith.
The next two years were extremely difficult. Rick was in the final stages of congestive heart failure. We cried together, laughed together, and talked for hours on end. One day, while I was preparing dinner, the full impact of what was about to happen hit me. I would soon be alone. What would I do? What about Rick? How could I help him and make things easier for him? For the first time in years, I prayed. I didn’t even know what to ask for, so I simply prayed, “Dear God, help us both.”
That simple prayer was apparently what God had been waiting to hear. He answered in ways I could never have imagined. The outcome of Rick’s illness was inevitable, but God made it as painless as possible. Shortly after my prayer, I received a phone call from my sister saying she felt impressed to be with me. I wasn’t alone when Rick died.
After my sister returned home, I was engulfed in despair and loneliness. Everything was in a haze. Nothing brought me pleasure. I couldn’t concentrate. It was difficult, but I made sure I dressed and went somewhere each day, if only to the post office or to the store.
Just when I needed a miracle, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America sponsored something they called “Operation Homecoming,” an invitation to former church members to come to any Adventist church for a visit.
I put the letter aside because I had no intention of going to church again. A few days later a second letter arrived with the same invitation. I knew there was an Adventist church about five miles from my home. When my sister and brother-in-law had come for a visit, he wanted to attend church. We took him to the Scenic Hills church, dropped him off, and picked him up after the services.
He said to me later, “I think you might enjoy that little church.” At the time, I wasn’t interested. I still had no intention of attending church, but the Holy Spirit had other plans.
For some reason I can’t explain, I found myself being warmly greeted by Anita Dunn at the Scenic Hills church. I sat in the back row so I could make an inconspicuous exit. I stayed for the entire service, but I left quickly as soon as it was over so no one would see my tears.
I vowed that I would not return, but the next Sabbath found me again at Scenic Hills. Gloria Webb sat next to me each Sabbath and repeatedly invited me to join the church. My answer was always, “If I don’t join, they can’t kick me out.”
I began keeping Sabbath faithfully, gave up a number of inappropriate habits, and began paying tithe again. I eventually returned to the Adventist church through profession of faith.
My Adventist heritage, passed down from my mother, was there when I needed something to hold on to. My family, and the lessons learned in church and church school, kept me from giving up when I felt I had nothing for which to live.
Questions for Reflection
1. What are your earliest, fondest memories of growing up in a Christian home? What were the sights, smells, and feelings that made you feel secure?
2. Who were the greatest spiritual influences in your childhood? What made them so?
3. If you could trace you spiritual success to one individual or incident, what would it be? What makes it significant?
4. How are you transmitting your spiritual values to the next generation, either in your family or in your congregation?
The scars from my experience are still there, but the bitterness is gone. Jesus Christ is the only one I now look to as an example. Every human is flawed, but I’m not discouraged. The road back to faith is painful, but not coming back is worse.
God’s Happy Ending
Just two months before her death, Mother sent me a letter in which she wrote: “Time is short. Say a prayer and ask for help, and we can all go through together. I want you along with me, and I can be at peace.”
Will she be surprised to see me when Jesus returns? I don’t think she ever doubted that someday, somehow I’d return to what I knew was right. In Mother’s Bible Isaiah 43:5, 6 is underlined. In the margin she had written, “Can I claim this promise?”
I marvel that Mother’s desire for me is exactly the same as God’s, for He said: “Fear not: for I am with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west; I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back: bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth.”