She was a young woman with only an eighth grade education. That, and being a Black woman born and living in the South, relegated her to menial, unskilled-labor jobs, with never enough pay to support her family.
Divorced with two small girls to raise, she decided to move north at the suggestion of a relative in New York. She hoped to escape the wretched ghetto in which they lived, find a good job, and give her children a chance at a better future.
But the promises of the North were as empty as those of the South. After months of looking she could find no work and was forced to seek help from the city of New York. She went on home relief, as it was called back then.
The phrase was a cruelly ironic misnomer, for people on public assistance were treated worse than second-class citizens, so it didn’t feel like home. And the amount of assistance received was so small, it was barely a relief. But the circumstances in which the young woman found herself permitted her no other choice, so she suffered the indignities that accompany being one of the disenfranchised.
The only housing she could find was a tiny one-bedroom apartment, called a “cold-water flat.” That meant that the apartment had no running hot water and no heat. The landlord was what in those days was called a “slumlord.” He had several apartment buildings, all run down and in need of major repairs, all without heat or hot water, and all in economically depressed parts of Brooklyn, New York. The apartments were worth no more than $15 a month. But the slumlord charged $50 a month. And he demanded the rent on the first of each month.
The problem for the young woman was that the welfare checks didn’t arrive until the sixteenth of the month. She explained that to the landlord and asked to pay the rent on the sixteenth.
The same cold heart that let him cheat his tenants was the same cold heart that told the young woman, “You get my rent by the first or I’ll throw you out on the street.”
As the young woman stood in her tiny kitchen letting these words sink in, she turned and saw one of her little girls staring at her, eyes wide with fear. The little girl heard what the landlord had said. And the little girl had seen people who had been evicted, their belongings set helter-skelter on the sidewalk by the city marshall; people walking by staring—some of them snickering—while the hapless victims, now homeless, stood hopeless.
“Momma, what’s going to happen to us?” the little girl asked.
Her mother gathered her daughter in her arms and calmly said, “Don’t you worry, sweetheart. Even though that mean man thinks he’s got me beat, nevertheless we have a heavenly Father who will do our fighting—and God will win for us.”
Be It Resolved
The woman who said those words with such conviction and certainty was my mother. July 4 was her birthday. She would have been 82 years old. I think ?it very appropriate, as I remember her, to tell you something of the spiritual legacy she left to me. Perhaps you may glean a gem to keep for yourself.
I’ve always thought it was fitting that my mother was born on July 4 (Independence Day in the United States), for she always heeded the promptings of the Holy Spirit to live independent of the evils around her, even though she was just a nominal churchgoer prior to us becoming Christians in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
I’ve never forgotten that experience from almost 55 years ago. By all outward appearances my mother was alone, without hope, and at the mercy of a hateful, heartless man who didn’t care what happened to her and her children.
But my mother wasn’t alone; she wasn’t without hope. She knew she was the daughter of the King of the universe—and He was watching over her.
Despite her limitations, my mother organized the other tenants and they filed a complaint with the authorities. The landlord responded by taking the tenants to court. In the end a judge ordered the landlord to reduce the rent to $15 a month. And, in a punitive award, we lived rent-free for more than two years.
Now life didn’t become easy for us; we continued to struggle in considerable poverty for many years. Even after my mother eventually found a job we endured many adversities.
What Do You Think?
1. Are you by nature an optimist or a pessimist? Why?
2. On a scale of one to five (with five being the most), how easy is it for you to believe that God's will is being fulfilled, even under forbidding circumstances? Explain.
3. What negative event in your life has, in hindsight, had some unexpectedly positive results?
4. What counsel would you give someone who's currently being oppressed physically, emotionally, or spiritually?
But with each fresh trial, I still can hear my mother saying: Even though such and such has gone wrong, nevertheless God will see us through.
“Even though” and “nevertheless”; I’ve come to realize that these words are loaded with enormous spiritual implications. They say something important about a person’s attitude and life perspective. These words separate two opposing positions and point up the tension between those positions. “Even though” acknowledges that there is indeed evil in the world, because of Satan. But “nevertheless” affirms that there is also good, thanks to God. Most important, these words confirm that good will overcome evil.
Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Jesus has already conquered sin and evil. But until God’s timing is accomplished and Jesus returns, things will—too often—not go well for us.
I am grateful for having learned from my mother’s calmly modeled lesson. Even though we will have adversity, nevertheless our faith will overcome that adversity.
We overcome through faith in Jesus, who has already overcome. Faith gives confidence, peace of mind, and most of all, hope. Faith gives us strength to hold on, if only by our fingertips. Faith affirms that even though we don’t know why, nevertheless, we do know Who.
Let me conclude with this paraphrase of Paul’s testimony: “Even though we are hard pressed on every side, nevertheless we are not crushed. Even though we are perplexed, nevertheless we are not in despair. Even though we are persecuted, nevertheless we are not abandoned. Even though we are struck down, nevertheless we are not destroyed” (see 2 Cor. 4:8, 9).
My mother would say a resounding “Amen” to that. And while I wait to see her again, I know that even though the race may be hard at times, nevertheless, through Jesus, the victory is already mine—and yours.
The late Gwen Ashley worked as administrative assistant for the president of Adventist Risk Management. This article is adapted from a worship presentation she made in 2003. When she passed away in 2008. She was head elder of the Beltsville, Maryland, Seventh-day Adventist Church. This article was published August 26, 2010.