Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Loss, Loneliness and Leaving

My family in the Bottoms 1974
 I grew up in Meredosia, Illinois: Dosh—a small town of less than one thousand people. Dad sent Mom away when I was eleven. He was abusive and all my sisters and I had were each other. Our house burned to the ground that Christmas. A new house trailer replaced it, but we were on survival mode only. When our stepmother, Mary, and her four kids joined our family, we were isolated from the world we knew.
We moved to Arenzville—first into a trailer then an old farmhouse, then back to Dosh to the old Standard Oil gas station. Mary forced us to make and wear floor-length dresses and skirts every day. We didn’t play anymore. Then we moved to “the bottoms,” across the river in Brown County, where we lived in a converted school bus. I didn't continue in school, opting to work the land.

Winters were the hardest. No matter where I lived after Mom left, I was cold—I still can’t stand to be cold. I left the bottoms at seventeen and never went back there or to Dosh.

Through the advent of Facebook, I’ve reconnected with a few people in or from Dosh. When we talk, I feel a deep loss. I don’t remember things they say I did or we did together, and I missed that "coming-of-age" time with prom and other school activities. It seems my sisters and I weren't the only kids who suffered some type of abuse growing up there. As we share we are helping each other to heal.

Today Angela said, “Seriously, all of us know life can just suck, at times. But there is something in each of us that can overcome those times. I think Berta got an extra dose of the overcoming stuff... so... Super Powers is my answer.”

After lamenting about my despair and death wish, I realized I do have Super Power. I wrote:

“I didn’t know God knew me in the days I thought I was living in hell. Even after I made a profession of faith, I felt guilty. How could He love me? Didn’t He know how bad I was? Yes He did. It was my problem with self-deprecating guilt. When I quit hating myself and accepted His love and forgiveness, I forgave myself for doing what I’d done to myself, and others. God is my Super Power.”

“Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD." And you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:5 NIV).

“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:13-14 NIV).

In Christian Love,

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Planting Seeds

Looking back over my life, I see God’s hand in every day, even before I knew Him.

Though I had made a profession of faith in my twenty’s, I was far from Christ. I felt I was drowning in a sea of personal sin I didn’t dare share with my Christian friends.
Fear of their judgement scared me in to my own private hell.

Then I went to a retreat where I heard Christians talk about their sins and God’s forgiving heart. My shell shattered and I cried out to Him and found freedom in the love and forgiveness He held for me. I made a promise then, “I’m going to tell everyone I meet about Jesus.” And I did. Friends turned away and “perceived enemies” became brothers and sisters.

Eight months later an accident severed my spinal cord. I came home weak and weary six months and nine days after my injury. My power wheelchair had one true asset then—it reclined. I withdrew from life, laid back and hid behind veiled eyes. I refused to face my future.

The cost was high in body, mind and spirit, but God’s blessings are phenomenal. In His infinite wisdom, He prepared the way. Earl had served as a hospital chaplain on a reconstructive surgery floor where many of the patients had a spinal cord injury. In rehab, the staff taught us how to take care of me at home. According to them, I would live to within five years of my natural lifespan if I had something to look forward to and got out of the house routinely.

Earl took me on nearly every pastoral visit and preachers meeting he went to, but I just leaned back in my wheelchair with my eyes closed. He encouraged me to keep a journal and try teaching Sunday school. He loved me even when I failed.

As I filled those roles with study and preparation, I learned more than I taught. I read the story about how David sinned but was a man after God’s heart.* Job lost everything yet said, “Though He slay me, yet I will trust Him.”** I began sharing my story of God’s faithfulness again and grew stronger in my faith each time. I wrote my brief story and passed it out as a tract to everyone who spoke to me.

While in a small group studying Steve Harper's Devotional Life in the Wesleyan Tradition many years later, a friend pointed out my seemingly fearless sharing of my faith. I made light of it, “I just tell what God has done for me, but I’ve never led anyone to accept Christ.”

She said, “You may not have, but you have planted many seeds. You may never know until you get to heaven how many people are there because of your testimony.”

Those words have encouraged me to be bold as I tell my stories of His faithfulness to friends and strangers. Old and young. Churched and un-churched. In stores, in doctors offices or on the telephone with sales associates. Earl says, “Imagine that, Berta’s talking.”

Jesus tells us to make disciples. You too can plant and water to prepare hearts for God’s harvest. Trust Him and tell what He has done for you.

Paul wrote, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:6 NRSV).

In Christian Love,

*Acts 13:22 KJV
**Job 13:15 KJV

Friday, August 2, 2013

Because Of a Wheelchair

It took years for me to adjust to my new life. Paralyzed from my shoulders down with minimal use of my arms, I sat in a large black power wheelchair and stood out in a crowd.  People stared and I often overheard them talking about me. “What’s she doing here?” “What does she want?” “She can’t sit there.”  Many said they were sorry I had to be in a wheelchair while still others yelled at me as if I couldn’t hear. Most people just walked around me. In my pain, I withdrew and hid behind veiled eyes.

Until one day, someone asked me to teach a Sunday school class. I didn’t want to do it, but God wouldn’t let me go. I accepted knowing He would be my strength. That single invitation gave me the courage to step out of my uncomfortable-comfort zone and speak up about the healing love of God’s presence in my life. My disability opened many doors for ministry; the wheelchair however, couldn’t go through all of them.

Buildings with narrow doorways, steps or other barriers set physical limits to my ministry while much of society continued to shun me. As I took a stand for Christ’s sacrifice “for the least of these” word of my ministry spread and I found I could be both a minister of the gospel and an advocate for persons with disabilities.

I prayed for healing from past hurts and God gave me an incredible ministry. God’s call may not be a “dream come true” but if you’ll accept it, He will bless you through it.

Father, it is my prayer that you would work through me, and use my disability to open doors and share your word everywhere I go.

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are (disabled), but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12 NIV).

In Christian Love,