Wednesday, May 26, 2010


There isn't much about a carnival that I like. I know that sounds strange. I've never been able to figure that out myself. I just don't like carnivals. I've never been one for rides either. I get dizzy just watching the merry-go-round go round and round. Seriously, I just don't even handle the mildest of rides.

When I was a kid I used to go to Steeplechase Park at Coney Island. I liked to go even though there were few rides I could handle. I remember one time I went with my cousins Bobby and Joe from Pennsylvania. I was old enough to know you didn't have a crush on your cousin and old enough to want to please a boy. They talked me in to going on the roller coaster. I survived. It was very difficult.

Then there were those tubes that you walked through. Never having been coordinated, I felt like a fool. My mother said she always enjoyed the swing. I don't think I ever had the courage to go on it. I thought that was pretty whimpy that my mother liked a ride I was too scared to go on.

Adjacent to Steeplechase was the Parachute Jump. I would watch that thing and imagine what it was like to sail down floating with the help of strings and parachute. I sometimes wish I had worked up the courage to go on it. Coney Island is just not the same with out it.

Later in my childhood I went with the neighbor to Palisades Park in NJ with her Girl Scout troop. It was painful. She was so upset with me. I hadn't realized that the reason you took a friend to an amusement park was that you needed someone to be your partner on rides. She wanted to go on the Crazy Mouse. I said NO. She told me I was a bad friend and she wished she'd never brought me. I went on it. I survived. As I remember, it was fun. I am sure there is a huge lesson in that - it is okay to do thing you are afraid of because sometimes you find out they are fun.

What I do like about carnivals is some of the carnival games. I don't care for the tossing the ball, throwing the dart, knocking down heavy object type of games. I'm a Skee Ball fan. I also like those games where you squirt the water in a target to make a boat or something else move. That's the most competition I can handle.

I also like Wac-A-Mole. It can be quite exhilarating to wack anything. I usually do quite well with it. I may not be coordinated and I may be a whimp but I do have good reflexes. I like the instant reward that comes with wacking that mole back in its hole.

Sometimes I feel like my life has been like a perpetual Wac-A-Mole game. It seems that I go from one crisis or problem to another. I keep wacking at them. They disappear. Then a new one pops up. It seems they never stop. This game never seems to end.

Frankly, I'm tired of it. 

Suddenly it occurred to me yesterday that I don't have to keep putting coins in the machine. I can walk away and not play this game anymore. I don't have to fix everything. Those little tickets coming out of that machine just don't buy enough happiness. I'm ready to stop playing Wac-A-Mole and live my life.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Keep On Keeping On

Today you will find me as the blogger on Kingdom Bloggers. Our theme this week on KB is doubt. It has sort of amused me that this would be the theme since I just wrote Confessions of a Former Optimist.

On KB I wrote about Thomas and his doubts. I wrote about the disciples hiding behind locked doors because of fear. You really should check it out - you can do so here:

Sometimes you just need to be shown. Sometimes you just want to know what is real and what isn't?

I ran out of steam or space, not sure which, before I finished my thoughts on doubt. I wanted to talk about the opposite of doubt. Many would say it is faith. I have a hard time with the concept of faith. I just don't really understand it.

At times my view of faith has been distorted through the lens of my own works. If I confess it enough, I'll have it. Now, I think there is something about being careful what you say - I also think you can go way overboard with that concept. 

I was talking about forgiveness yesterday with a wise friend. She said, Joyce, sometimes you've been too quick to forgive. Incredulous I asked her what she meant. She said you can't forgive what you can't name. If you forgive something just because you "should" without naming it, you don't know what you are forgiving.

Wow - talk about something to mentally chew on for a year or two.

It's the same with faith. First we have to figure out what we actually believe. Then we need to figure out why we believe it. It's easy to say it's in the book therefore I believe it. That is sort of like when Peter made his declarations of faith in Mark 14:
29 Peter blurted out, "Even if everyone else is ashamed of you when things fall to pieces, I won't be." 30 Jesus said, "Don't be so sure. Today, this very night in fact, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times." 31 He blustered in protest, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you." All the others said the same thing. 
Peter had a lot of faith that day. He made all the right statements. We also know with in a few verses we read that true to Jesus' words, Peter denied every knowing or following Jesus.

When it comes to doubt, I don't think doubt is really the problem. Nor do I think it is faith. I think the issue is endurance. I'd like to be rid of all my doubts and be a woman of great faith but I will only be that if I endure. 

After the faith chapter comes this verse. I think it is the answer to our problems with doubt.
Hebrews 12:1 Do you see what this means - all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we'd better get on with it. Strip down, start running - and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Confessions of a Former Optimist

Some people will find it very hard to believe that once upon a time, I was an optimist. People hear my laments over and over again. I lament where I live. I lament the loss of a career and/or the lack of one now. I miss Nashville. I miss my family. I lament over broken relationships. I lament the past, the present and sometimes the future. But truly, once upon a time, I was an optimist.

I used to run a very large Senior Center in Connecticut. When I finished my degree at the University of Missouri in Recreation and Park Administration it seemed an odd major for an uncoordinated girl from Brooklyn NY with three small children and pregnant with the fourth. However, you have to know my emphasis within Parks and Rec for it to make sense.

My emphasis was Therapeutic Recreation with a specialization in Aging Studies. I had the required coursework for a certificate in Aging Studies. After four years of working at a neighborhood mental health facility in Missouri, we moved to Connecticut. Finally, I landed my first job in my chosen field.

My office was in the basement of the town hall. I was to start their program for Senior Citizens and their new Senior Center. I taught line dancing myself. That was fun! I learned the ways of Connecticut. I used to think that your town was like your godfather in Connecticut. People called for all sorts of reasons.  I learned well. I moved on to a bigger Senior Center.

For nearly ten years, I rode a great career wave. It was a great ride. Not only was the Center bigger it grew while I was there.  I had a large staff. I was respected statewide in my field. I knew the state politicians and more importantly, they knew me. In 1995 then Representative Barbara Kennelly chose me as a delegate to the White House Conference on Aging. Also chosen as an alternate for Senator Chris Dodd and as a delegate by the then Governor, it was a recognition of my leadership in the field. I had a growing national reputation as well.

My administrative assistant at work was also my best friend, prayer partner and closest ally. She was the classic glass is half-empty person. I was the classic glass is half-full. What a great team we were! I would dream, she would bring me to reality. Together we planned and implemented amazing programs and special events.

Sometimes I would wonder how I got there. I had set my goals high. I had reached many of them. Life was good. Not only was it good professionally, it was good personally. There were struggles with family issues but I had this optimistic attitude, then I might have called it faith, that God would work everything out.

It was good spiritually. Lunchtime would find me on my knees crying out to God for revival. It came. I had purpose. I seemed to be a whole person riding a wave of blessing in most areas of my life. After years of hard work, grit and determination, life was at least half-full.

Suddenly the wave broke. It broke leaving shattered pieces of me along the beach. I will likely write in more detail about this part of my life at some point. I have mentioned it here. Vicious people who spread lies and malicious innuendo, perhaps generated by jealousy destroyed my career. Unsubstantiated accusation became fact in the minds of people. I was brought to the brink of despair. I was like Humpty Dumpty. I was sure there was no way to be put back together again.

Eventually by God's grace, I was put together. The scars from the cracks and broken pieces remained. I have  never ridden a wave like that again. I am not sure I would take the risk to swim that far from shore to catch a wave like that either.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my optimistic days. I’ve been thinking I need to start seeing the glass half-full again. It may not really be half full but there is something in that glass. I'm still breathing. But I am not sure I can. Before it came natural and my vision was 20/20. Now I need glasses. I need to find those glasses. I need a new prescription for seeing.

It might even be worse. I might have cataracts. I am going to the Great Physician. Only He can give me restored vision and remove the cataracts. I need to see more clearly. 

Friday, May 21, 2010

It's YOUR Time

For such a time as this… If you spend any time in Christian circles, you’ll hear this phrase mentioned. It comes from the story of Esther in the Hebrew Scriptures. I’ve taught the book of Esther many times. I’ve even done more than casual research on the book. It is a fascinating and empowering story.

I read in something I received today the phrase “for such a times as this.” It stopped my day. It seemed to hit my soul. I think sometimes we become conditioned to these common phrases that they no longer have any power in our lives. They become mere clichés.

There are times in charismatic circles when someone has a “word” for you. These words are usually sprinkled with scripture that can be nothing more to us than spiritual clichés. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that these words may not be words that empower and enlighten through the work of the Holy Spirit. What I am saying is that we don’t hear them anymore because our ears no longer hear.

I have a sense today that I need to hear what the Lord is saying. Maybe you do too. I don’t mean I need someone anointed to come by and speak a word over me in some ecstatic state. Not that I disagree with that, God has spoken to me many times through a anointed utterances.  Rather, I need to hear what the Lord is saying because it’s true. I need to hear it simply or perhaps profoundly because it is the unchangeable Word of God.

I tend to want those “fresh” words. I sigh when I hear a scripture verse. It is like – oh yeah, I know that. Or, I say to myself, I memorized that when I was 10 years old. Or, I say to myself, I’ve heard every sermon possible on that phrase. I want something new, something specific. I want to hear ‘thus saith the Lord to you Joyce Lighari, you will have a new sense of direction and you will know the will of the Lord for you.” Wow – wouldn’t I love to hear that? It would even be better if He told me exactly what direction I was supposed to go in. Sometimes we want a “prophetic fortune” rather than the discipline of finding out our direction through perseverance, struggle and even pain.

For such a time as this? What time? Now? Here? Was I born by accident? Well, maybe in the eyes of my mother and father I was. Maybe I was the accident they didn’t plan on having but to God I wasn’t an accident. He knew. He not only knew, but He decided that I would be born when I was and that my parents would be who they were.

God has been with me all of my life. That is not a unique truth only for me. It is true that He has been, is now and always will be with His creation. We are part of Him and He is part of us. Even when we don’t know He’s there, He is. When we don’t want Him in our lives, He is. Before we know Him, He is with us and knows our names. He planned us. The Divine Name,  Yahweh, I am that I am, means He is. That is enough.

We are all here for “such a time as this.” God’s timing is beyond our control. He wants us to come into alignment with His timing. I’ve been resisting this timing. I’ve been saying I must have missed His timing. I’ve been thinking maybe He forgot me somewhere along the way.  I’ve been thinking I am too old. It’s all over but the grave.

Last Saturday when I was asked why I was in the doctoral program, I answered that it is finally my time. I wonder today if that wasn’t one of the most profound and empowering things I’ve said in a long time. I wasn’t even sure I meant it. It just sounded good.

I told them I’d helped a husband get a PhD and that I had raised 8 children. What I didn’t say was that I typed and corrected his dissertation. I encouraged him, helped his career in many ways. There were times I sat for hours and days typing on a typewriter resume after resume. To say I’ve raised 8 children means I birthed them, changed their diapers, nursed their illness, stayed up late at night helping with projects, worried, prayed for them and so very much more. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I’ve face some very difficult situations in order to raise these children.

When I ended my answer with, now it’s my time, I didn’t tell them how I felt that maybe it was too late for my time. In faith I said, it’s my time.

Today I am hearing “for such a time as this” in a new way. It isn’t a special word for special people. It is for me and for you, for our children, for their children. If Jesus tarries, it will be for the people 100 years now or a 1000. We are all here for such a time as this. I may not know what I am supposed to do during this time, but I know I am here for such a time as this…

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Glimpse of the Future

When I started this “mini-series” leading up to Bethany’s birth, I had no idea I would cover such emotionally charged ground. Since I do plan to write a book, it is probably wise that I stop telling the story at some point.

Before I stop let me share a few highlights. Bethany came home just in time to join me at a shower that the church had for me. I remember the woman who hosted it, and where she lived. I can’t remember her name. I remember Jane took us in her white Cadillac.

I wanted to breastfeed Bethany. I tried to express milk to bring to the hospital. I had little luck. One day I went in and they told me they had just given her some of my milk. I didn’t have any milk there. Whose milk it was, I have no idea. Nevertheless, it didn’t harm her.  After weeks of struggling with nursing, in the middle of the night I uttered a simple prayer. I asked God, if you want me to nurse this child you’ll going to have to help me. Literally, from that moment on, she and I figured out breastfeeding. 

I lived with Jane and Duane for about a month. I will forever be grateful for their love and hospitality. They were just people I happened to meet at church. Yet, they were so much more. They were my lifeline. As I’ve said before, they were Jesus in flesh to me.

Two of my support team, Dr. Mausch and the social worker Peg Williams, came to my house not with a gift for the baby, but some new clothes for me. The shower blessed me with clothes for my daughter. The Wardrobe, a social service agency in Columbia, gave me diapers and clothes for the whole family. In the fall of that year, I would stand in line, referral in hand, to get new clothes and shoes for Nathan for school.  Food stamps and WIC vouchers bought our food.

One day, I picked up the local newspaper to read that Alvin was engaged to the woman he brought to the hospital. We were not divorced. In a story you won’t want to miss, I called the father of the girl. After his investigation, he ordered his daughter to break the engagement.  Alvin had told her family many lies including denying two of his children. He had charmed the girl. She gave him money many times to file for divorce. He never did. Ultimately, that task would fall to me.

In a rage one day, Alvin shot a hole through the front of the trailer. Had his sons been in their bed, they would have been shot.

In the process, somehow, by God’s grace and mercy, I figured out how to apply for financial aid. By the time Bethany was 3 months old, I was an official freshman at the University of Missouri Columbia. Between classes I would come and nurse her. At night once the children were in bed, I would do my school work eating a box of Kraft Mac & Cheese and a bottle of Diet Coke. Some nights I was up all night.

Three and a half years later, I graduated. December 1978, married to my husband of now 32 years and pregnant with our first child, I received a Bachelor of Science degree in Recreation and Park Administration.

During those years, people would bring me food. I became a master at using the system to get out of the system. I relentlessly pursued child support from Alvin, but never got it. I heard he married before we were divorced. I don’t know if that is true.

Two special women came into my life during this time. Single and working they befriended me. One day one called and said they’d decided to pay for me to have a phone in my trailer. A young single man in the church sent me his tithe check to help with supporting my family. Like the loaves and fishes Jesus multiplied for the multitude, Jesus took care of me. We never went hungry. 

These are just the highlights. The details will wait. There is still so very much to tell. I hope this small section of my life story has given you hope. What God has done for me He will do for you. That’s not just words. That’s truth. Truthfully, I have needed to hear my own story again. I need hope too. I need to be reminded that the same God who got me through that, can get me through everything and anything. 

I’m not closing this blog. I will continue to write here and share glimpses and stories of hope. What has God done for you? I’ll bet you have a story to tell as well.

Revelation 12:11
But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Empty Arms

Alvin did come to the hospital on Sunday. Bethany was still in ICU. I was still in the private room. I don’t think I had seen him since the beating. I felt conflicted because of the children. They should have a father. But he was no father to them. He abused them. I was not sure how to navigate the spiritual landscape of divorce. I still believed in the old fashioned values concerning marriage.

Some people will still tell you that God always wants to restore a marriage. I think that is true. However, both people in that marriage have to come to the foot of the cross and be willing to be changed, molded and transformed into whole people. Alvin simply didn’t. Alcohol and other “demons” controlled his life.

I had begged God to change me. I had begged God to make me into a good wife. Yet my instincts as a mother also told me it was past time to protect these children. There was a new child lying in the ICU fighting for her life.

Alvin walked with a strut. He strutted in with no shame. His sister had told him I had the baby and that it was a girl. I said: I’m naming her Bethany Joy. She may not live. She is in the ICU. Do you want to go see her? 

He replied: No.

Then he started asking me what I was going to do about a divorce.

I said: nothing.

He said: I want to get a divorce.

 I said: go ahead.

Largely at the urging of my mother to just get the divorce I had divorced him rather quickly the first time. I had found an attorney. He did the work with the understanding that the Alvin would pay for it. Alvin never showed for any of the proceedings. It was mostly paper shuffling. The attorney never got paid.  I decided if he wanted the divorce so badly, he should go get it. I’d already been through that once.

It’s hard to imagine now how defeated I was at that point in my life. No self-esteem. My self-worth in shambles. I struggled to imagine that I would ever be anything more than a rejected person. It’s like Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter, instead of an A, mine would be an R.  I’ve learned that there are some things in life that you never fully get over. Rejection is one of them. It’s like a wound that can never truly heal. Regardless of future successes or love, regardless of friends who cheer you on, you wait for the next rejection to open up this festering wound once again. Once the wound is open, the pain returns once again.

He walked out. He never turned to go see his helpless daughter lying in the ICU. Later I learned his girlfriend was waiting in the lobby. Soon I would read of his engagement to this woman. For now, I didn't know she existed.

I walked down to the nursery to peek at her. She had tubes going everywhere. Later that night they would let me scrub, don a yellow sterile gown, reach through the holes, and touch her. My mother and Murl returned from their weekend trip. They went to the nursery as well. Peering through the glass while blood gases were taken, I remember Murl’s pained face at seeing this helpless fatherless child fighting for her life while being pricked repeatedly.

 My Pastor came to see me. He offered a prayer. He asked me her name. I told him Bethany Joy. He repeated it. He said that’s nice. He added you could call her Bethy Joy. I often did. Jane was in and out all weekend. She told me to come to their house when I was discharged. I thought that was a good idea since I had no phone in the trailer.

On Monday, Nathan, Jason and I were reunited at Jane’s farm. Bethany stayed behind. As I was leaving the hospital, I was told that the cardiologist needed to see her. They had discovered a heart problem. For the third time, this time with no husband, I left a hospital after giving birth with no child in my arms.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Tragedy Comes Very Near

Once in the delivery room Dr. Halverson took his place. I was already fully dilated the full ten centimeters. I was ready to push. I hadn’t seen Jane since the Emergency Room. I was alone, all alone. I assumed she was somewhere. I was pretty sure she was praying. It was a very good thing that she was.

While I was ready to welcome this new member to my family, I was worried about our future. I knew God. I’d known Him since I was a child. I had received Jesus as my savior many times. I was always riddled with guilt so I almost always responded to an altar call. One can’t be too careful about one’s salvation if you are full of guilt.

I really felt my life was over. Alvin and I had remarried. I had such hope. I thought sure we were going to be that couple with the great testimony. Eventually, I would be the preacher’s wife. I would be respected. But here I was, ready to bring another child into the world. We had no money. I didn’t even have a telephone in the trailer I lived in. I had a roof over my head, but it was sparse. I had no job. I lived on welfare, food stamps and WIC.  My AFDC (welfare) check was $150 a month. I would get a $20 raise for this next child. In return for this money I would go every six months to be reevaluated for welfare. It was a demoralizing but necessary experience.

Push. Push. I kept pushing. My feet were high in the stirrups. Masked faces of strangers gave instructions. The baby’s heart was being monitored. It stopped. With lightening reflexes Dr. Halverson grabbed the forceps. I had no anesthesia, no epidural, nothing. Everything began to blur. With precision he pulled the baby out of me. It was so quick that I was amazed to see a ball of flesh being whisked across the room by the doctor.

Was that my baby? Was my baby born? The pediatricians attended to the baby. Dr. Halverson began to repair my torn flesh. I asked him, is the baby alright? He said, I don’t know. Then I said what was it? Is it a boy or a girl? His answer terrified me. He said I don’t know. It was so quick I didn’t look. It’s not good.

As he walked over to the warmer where the pediatricians were suctioning and checking vitals, he came back and said, It’s a girl. Delighted all I could think of was, I have a daughter, a daughter… He looked at me again and said, Don’t get too excited, it’s not good. I don’t think she is going to make it.

The pain, the noise, the smells of the delivery room all mixed with my emotions. Should I be happy? I had a girl. Should I hold my emotions in fear that she wouldn’t live? Would I get to hold her? I said her name to myself, Bethany Joy.

Quickly before taking her to the ICU they showed her to me. No touching. No breastfeeding right after birth. Just a quick glimpse of my daughter was all I was allowed. I felt so all alone. I was scared. I didn’t know if I could handle much more.

Birthing was dealt with much like surgery in 1975. I was taken to the recovery room. Several sleeping mothers were in that room with me. I couldn’t sleep. Saying my bladder was full they inserted a catheter. Then Jane appeared.

I was so glad to see her. She was a spiritual rock. If there was any hope for my daughter’s life, I thought her prayers would do it. She smiled. I said it’s a girl. The Glory Hallelujahs rolled out of her mouth. Tongues followed. The nurse came in and told us to be quiet.

I said Jane, it’s not good. She said God is able. I clung to that. In the morning they took me to a private room. This was a luxury never given to a woman on welfare. They said I still had a fever and a UTI. The truth was, they feared Bethany would die. They didn’t want me in a room with other women as they held and caressed their newborn babies.

Bethany had aspirated just before she was born. She was born with pneumonia. She was three weeks early. Small but over 5 lbs she laid in the Isolette in the same hospital as her brother had six years before.  

It was Saturday morning. Commencement exercises were going on across Stadium Blvd. I could see it from my window. My peers were capped and gowned ready to launch into the world armed with an education. I watched them with tears streaming down my face. There was no future for me. I was a single mother with two sons and daughter who might not live.

Alvin was nowhere to be found. 

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Countdown Begins

This time the doctor at the Medical Center wasn’t in Clinic 7. He was in the Family Practice Clinic. A resident preparing to care for the family, he was kind, very kind. Ultimately he would save my daughter’s life by his quick action in the delivery room. They had a social worker see me; her name was Williams. She knew her job and was always kind. Another professional, a nurse practitioner with a PhD, Dr. Mausch would see me as well. They were a great team. This time I had support. Dr. Mausch, Peg Williams and Dr. Halverson – I thanked God for them.

Two other angels stepped in to help me, Jane and Duane Shingleton. He was the President of the Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship International (FGBMFI) Chapter in Columbia Missouri. She was the President of the Women's Aglow Chapter. They were the quintessential Charismatic couple. They owned a large hog farm. Alvin had worked for them for a short while. They befriended me and loved me. They prayed for me and bought me food. They were Jesus in flesh to me.

It was three weeks before my due date. I had a fever. I had some pain. I went to the clinic. None of my support system were there that day. Another doctor examined me said I was fine. The temperature was due to a Urinary Tract Infection. He put me on antibiotics and told me to rest.

I went to my mother's first. She was heading out of town with her husband to his mother's. She said I could stay in the house, alone. Alvin's sister Judy had agreed to watch Nathan and Jason when I went into labor. She agreed to take them for the weekend since I wasn't feeling well.

I called Jane. She said come here. I went. The board for FGBMFI was meeting at their house. The men gathered around me, anointed me with oil and prayed for me. I went to bed in their son's room. I tried to sleep. The pain continued and escalated. My fever spiked. It was the first time I had a UTI so I had no idea what to expect. The doctor told me I had plenty of time before the baby came. 

At 2 a.m. I got up to go to the bathroom. Tiptoeing I tried to silently slip into the bathroom. I was bleeding. Dr. Halverson had given me his home telephone number for such an emergency. I called him. He said meet me at the hospital. 

I walked to the Shingleton's bedroom door and knocked. Jane, can you drive me to the hospital. Off we went. I had no idea what to expect. I had been told I wasn't in labor.

As Jane drove her white Cadillac, she prayed. She prayed in English, she prayed in tongues. She rebuked everything she could think of, and prayed for my child. Like something out of a novel, a black cat also crossed our paths that night. With that she exclaimed, Oh, did you feel that? With that she hit the gas, rebuked the devil and got me to the Medical Center where Dr. Halverson was waiting.

No birthing rooms were available in 1975; it was to a cold exam room I went. I was in labor. It was time for the enema. Everyone in labor in 1975 had to have an enema. Trips to the bathroom while ready to push my child into the world were the result. No labor room this time, a swift trip to the delivery room, alone, I was ready to deliver.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Ice Scraper

I don’t know why I stayed. I supposed it was because I had nowhere to go. There were no domestic violence shelters in 1974. I still believed in miracles. I wanted one. I prayed desperately for one. Ultimately, I would understand that a miracle of deliverance did come. It just didn’t come like I expected it to.

We had never gone back to Columbia First Assembly after Alvin returned from the Army. We had become quite worldly. My mother was going to Christian Chapel so we went there too. Lacking the strong leadership of Brother Parker and perhaps never really having a relationship with God, just rules, Alvin never connected there.

I stayed at Christian Chapel during our first divorce. Now it was viewed as my church and First Assembly still seemed out of the question. We ended up at the new Highland Park Assembly on West Worley near Nowell’s Grocery Store. They met in the garage of the Pastor’s home, Brother Cooper. All I clearly remember about Brother Cooper is that he always wore a bow-tie.

Tears of repentance notwithstanding, Alvin unraveled. We were back where we started. Abuse at home, with a good face on Sunday morning. There was no one I could tell.

It was January 1975. I don’t recall the exact day or date. I just remember it was January. He had come home from an all night sex orgy with the two college coeds. I was furious. Perhaps fueled with the image of my mother-in-law with the knife, we fought about his behavior. I don’t remember much of the fight. I do remember leaving.

I ran to the car. He came after me. He grabbed the ice scraper out of the car to clean the windows. Nathan at school, Jason in my arms, I screamed and cried. Seeing his anger, now knowing full well that a beating was soon to come, I locked the car doors. Infuriated, he pushed open the vent window of the car reaching the handle. He opened the door.

He beat me. While it is a little scar, I still have a scar on left arm from that beating. With the ice scraper he beat me mercilessly. Then he got in the car driving like a maniac. I pleaded with him to let me out of the car. He did. He stopped at a gas station on Route B and said get out.

Jason and I got out of the car as the gas station attendant stared in amazement. I wasn’t bleeding. He had been careful where and how he hit me. I was crying. Mascara making black streams down my face. I used a pay phone and called my mother.

We never lived together as man and wife again. I lost all my belongings other than a few clothes as I abandoned the apartment I could no longer afford. With those belongings were my parents bedroom set that I had inherited from her when she bought her trailer. Now it was to that trailer I moved once again. This time I occupied it alone with my boys as I waited for my child to be born.

I drove the beloved 1969 Volkswagen Beetle that was now bequeathed to me. Me and my boys going to welfare appointments, prenatal care at the Medical Center, church and the park, waiting for the next member of our little family to come.

I no longer begged God for Alvin to come back. I did beg God for a daughter. I loved my sons, but I was sure this was my last child. Once again, I was an outcast. Once again, I saw myself as so undesirable that I’d be alone for the rest of my life. Certainly, having a daughter would make it better.

God heard my prayers. Soon a daughter would fill my arms. But not before yet another emergency.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


I was living in a four-plex on Weymeyer Drive northeast of Columbia. Ironically, his cousin, on his father’s side, owned it. A cousin he barely knew. Now married again, he moved in with me. Nathan had started kindergarten. As a harbinger of things to come, Nathan had spent his first day of kindergarten with the principal.

This is the actually apartment, second floor.

Many were the exploits of Nathan. He had been thrown out of Sunday School because he would climb in the windows and bark like a dog. Nathan was just like his mother. He learned even more quickly than I, that attention comes by acting out. He also had tremendous energy and creativity. He had the nerve to do the things he thought about. Considering all the trips to the ER, it is a wonder he lived.

I had gotten a job, a real job. I worked for what is now Shelter Insurance, then call MFA Insurance. I would descend to the bowels of the building on West Broadway to file thousand of little papers in hundreds of five drawer filing cabinets filling the basement. I had never learned to type. I still was not a high school graduate. Yet, I suppose for my qualifications, it was a good job.

The pay was so bad I could still get food stamps and some help with daycare expenses. If I had a sick day accrued, I’d take it. The supervisors behaved like prison matrons watching us scurry, yelling at us if we were not fast enough. Many a premium notice was put in the wrong file in an attempt to hurry or by a worker just tired. Shoving papers in random files was common.

I got a small promotion in spite of my poor work habits. I was made a list puller. This meant I would pull files and take them upstairs to the underwriters and claims adjusters. I was able to sit part of the time. Better yet, it meant I could leave the basement.

Before Alvin came back into our lives, I managed to get my GED. I had been told that no one could pass this grueling test without years of GED classes. Nevertheless, I decided to try. I not only passed but they told me they had never seen a score so high by someone who didn’t take the classes. On an IBM selectric, I learned to touch-type through adult education at Hickman.

I had a babysitter just before Alvin and I remarried.  I would not only pay her, but I was bring food that I had gotten with my WIC vouchers, food stamps and commodity foods to supplement. Nathan would complain they hadn’t eaten. I didn’t believe him. Jason, still in a diaper had horrible diaper rashes. The age of a grandmother, the babysitter seemed wise and competent to me.

One day I left work early and came to pick up the kids. My sudden appearance revealed the horrible truth. The children were corralled in one small space; they had been there all day with no food. Jason’s diaper hadn’t been changed all day. He was soaked with urine and feces. I never took them back there. I never found a good babysitter either. I went from one bad experience to another, always finding out too late that the babysitter was not caring for my children.
Alvin was back, things would change. I quit my job. The passion of being newlyweds again led to a pregnancy. The drinking had stopped. The abuse hadn’t. One night in October, the air turning cold, Alvin caught Nathan touching himself. Little boys do that. He grabbed Nathan and started beating him with a metal, long handled shoehorn. With welts forming on his legs Nathan was thrown outside, in the cold, to stand on the deck in his underwear. That would teach him never to touch himself again!

Knowing that the shoehorn could be used on me next, I still begged for Nathan to be allowed to come inside from the cold. Dressed only in his Underoo briefs, he was shivering and crying. Alvin relented. I held Nathan trying to comfort us both. I had made a mistake again. I had let Alvin back in our lives. Now I had vowed once again, for better or worse, to be his wife.  On top of that, I was carrying another child.

My mother became Mrs. Rowland Murl Martin just after Christmas that year. A bride is a bride. A bride turns her attention to her new husband. Her problem daughter frequently got in the way of her new life. She distanced herself from me. She made suggestions that I could not live with. Once again, she spoke of foster care.

The drinking resumed. He’d stay out all night. He was remodeling a trailer for two young coeds. He slept with them both between repairing and painting their walls. I complained to my mother-in-law who told me her tale of her first husband’s infidelity. She said:

You need to do what I did. I knew Bernard was sleeping with another woman. I waited until he came home in the wee hours of the morning. I waited for him in the kitchen, in the dark. Once through the door I grabbed him. I opened his pants and pulled that thing out. With a knife in my hand I told him that if he ever put that thing where it didn’t belong, I’d cut it off. That cured him.

She recommended the same threat for her son. Somehow, I couldn’t see myself doing that. If I had tried that, I suspect the threat of the knife would have been turned on me in seconds. I prayed. Oh how I prayed for my marriage to be "restored."  I had dreamed of the day we'd be together again. Sometimes prayers should not be answered the way we want. This was one of those prayers. Sometimes dreams should never come true. This was one of those dreams. I thought I’d had a miracle. This miracle, this dream come true was a horrible nightmare unfolding before my eyes. Another baby on the way, I had to stay. I had no choice.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Wedding Bells Ring Again

Being a veteran and older, Alvin was now credit worthy. Alvin was ready to get a business loan and be an entrepreneur. He started with a used tractor, mower, rake and baler. Soon he moved up to a brand new blue Ford tractor. It didn’t have a cab but the summer heat of Missouri was not a problem for him.

I drove the red and white Rambler station wagon. He had a blue Chevy pick-up. With the boys in the car, I would travel the gravel roads to find the field where he was mowing. I would have a jug of tea, some sandwiches or left over fried chicken. Often I would get lost, as directions were always vague. Attempting to turn around, I'd end up in a ditch. Somehow I always got out.

Then he found the baler. It was meant for the flat fields of Kansas, not the hills of Central Missouri. It was a novelty. We drove to St. Louis together. He returned driving this monster through St. Louis rush hour traffic with me dutifully following behind.

We picked up a few employees. I think all of them eventually got paid. I did the books. Alvin would mow and rake. The men would help with the hauling. The conveyor belt on the baler was to have eliminated this expense, but it didn’t work.

I kept trying. I kept failing. Now I wanted to die. I had thoughts of suicide since I was a child, the result of shame. Twice, in some sort of desperation I overdosed with pills. I was taken to the ER. They released me as a neurotic woman looking for attention. Alvin yelled at me. Alvin was screaming at me once day in the pick-up truck as I opened up the door in an attempt to jump out. He grabbed the door is it swung open just in time to prevent my success.

With the help of the GI Bill, he went to the University. I tried as well. I was admitted without a High School diploma for summer session. I dropped out without doing proper documentation. Those F’s still stand on my transcript. Ultimately, they prevented a graduation with honors.

Alvin took Greek to prepare for ministry. I helped him with the flash cards. He also found a social life. He started to drink. He started seeing other women. He started sleeping with them. I knew but I didn’t want to believe it.

We moved to another house. We did without food as now money went not just for his clothes and tools, but for alcohol. More than once I rode in terror on the gravel road to our house while he drove drunk. I would beg him to stop. He would back hand me and tell me to shut up.

He had a job at the Scottish Inn as a night clerk. I would go and beg him to forgive me, to come home. In later years he would tell our sons that he left me because I didn’t iron his blue jeans with a deep enough crease. I also didn’t fold his underwear correctly. I had been rebellious. I still don't think jeans should have a crease. Nevertheless, I would iron them. The fact that I could iron and starch fatigues with perfection were forgotten.

It wasn’t enough. He was gone. He left. I was alone. I couldn’t afford the rent. I moved in with my mother. I applied for welfare for the first time. Commodity foods again appeared on the table. In time I would be one of the first to receive food stamps once implemented.

At one point, I almost went as an inpatient to the local mental health facility. Alvin found out and said he’d take the children.  I did not go nor did I mentioned it again. My mother urged me to put Nathan and Jason in foster care. Her rationale was that I could get them back after I got my life together. I wouldn’t do it. These were my children. I’d do whatever it took to keep them with me. I was now a single mother.

My mother pushed me to get a divorce. I found an attorney. The attorney filed. Alvin never showed or contested. We were divorced. I continued to pray that God would restore our marriage. I knew that God wanted our marriage to survive. We had exchanged vows. I meant them. In my heart I wasn’t divorced.

I don’t know how many women he was with over those months. I know he came back one day. He said he’d changed. He told how he dropped to his knees in the middle of a ball field and sought God for forgiveness. Redemption had come. Our marriage was saved.

While my mother was in Canada visiting my brother as she contemplated a marriage to her suitor, Murl, Alvin and I remarried. God is great. God had answered my prayers. God has done the miraculous. We started talking about the ministry again. 

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Parson Comes to Call

When I started this series with the entry A Draft, I had no idea where it would go. Like a snowball that cannot be stopped as it rolls down the hill gathering more snow, this story keeps going and growing. Many of the details are still laying in the snow pile. You are hearing just the highlights, or lowlights. Everything is true.

Nathan would run the trailer court. Often he'd sneak out of bed before I got up. He'd be outside playing by the time I did. It was a safe place. His best friend was Butch Hamilton. I could peek out the windows and see Nathan and Butch digging for frogs and worms. Too excited from play, trip inside to use the bathroom were optional. Nathan picked up a southern accent from his friend. Life seemed good. I had good neighbors. Army communities are like that; people cling to each other.

Betty Boomer would take me to the store. Later, another Army wife decided I had to learn to drive. She gave me her car keys and said drive. That was all I needed. At 19, I finally had a driver's license. Marion, another neighbor, took me under her wing. I’d run in and out of her house for friendship, advice and an occasional cup of sugar. I wanted Alvin to reenlist – a re-up bonus would buy a double wide trailer. He'd make Sergeant. We’d be set for life.

Jason’s lack of development was our only major problem.  Because Jason was quiet, Alvin never abused him like he did Nathan. Nathan was already being beaten by the belt for minor infractions. The Bible said to spare the rod was to spoil the child. I thought it was right.

It was a weekday morning. Brother Boomer came to my door. He knocked on the screen. Not responding fast enough, he walked in. 

I was holding Jason. He said he was there to pray for Jason. He said he was concerned for us. We sat down on the couch together to chat about Jason's health and development and the upcoming hospital stay. I expected him to pull out oil to anoint my son. God would heal him.

A father of four, and a pastor, he seemed fatherly to me. He was dressed in work clothes. Without warning, he moved closer on the couch  He had no oil in his hands. Without warning, he leaned close to kiss me saying I see how you smile at me. I know you want me. He leaned closer kissing me hard on the mouth. He attempted to open my shirt grabbing my hand to his crotch.

In shock and horror, I pushed him away. He persisted. I resisted. I got up. He followed me. I walked toward the door. I pushed him out the door. He said, I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. He complained that in the struggle to get him out the door, he had ripped his pants.

As soon as he was in the car, I ran to Marion. I told her what had happened. She told me to call Alvin. I did. He asked me what I did. He asked me if I had done anything. He asked me if I had asked for it. Pleadingly, I told him NO to each of these questions.

Marion, wiser, was my advocate and support. I stayed with her. A scant hour later, Brother Boomer returned. He had showered. He had on a blue leisure suit. His hair slicked. He was ready to make a new impression. He knocked on the screen again. He went in again. I could hear him calling my name. He walked through the trailer searching for me.

On post, Alvin found his wife, a civilian employee. He asked her what was wrong with her husband. She knew. She didn’t know it would be me. But she knew. She knew he had a problem. This was not the first time. When he came home, he again questioned me. It must be my fault. I must have done something.

That night, while I hid in the bedroom, Brother Boomer came the third time that day to the trailer. He came and apologized to Alvin. He told him he was sorry. Alvin accepted his apology. Maurice took a tent and went to the mountains. He went to fast, pray and repent. Once forgiven, he preached the next Sunday.

I lost a lot that day. I almost lost my faith that day. Months of struggle to reconcile how this man of faith, my pastor would want to violate me. I wondered if it really was my fault. Had I smiled too much at him? Alvin believed I had done something to encourage him. Once again his wayward wife needed to be controlled. 

Betty Boomer never spoke to me again. She and her husband continued in ministry. Finally, confessing my sins and doubts, whatever they were, we looked for another church. We found a Church of God. Ironically, now we looked too worldly to be holy. I was brought to the altar more than once to be saved and sanctified. I suppose they meant well.  We experienced all-night sings and heard Vestal Goodman for the first time.

I heard a song for the first time during that period. Now an old classic, it was the new Gaither penned song. It is still a song that can move me to tears. It penetrated my weary soul. It helped me heal.

Jesus, Jesus - how many times that was all I could say. 
Play the clip. Let it minister to you as well.

In spite of my protests and desire to stay, he took an “early-out” rather than a “re-up.” I traveled back to 909 Wilkes Blvd. My mother bought her first home, a mobile home and moved out. Alvin joined me. We were back home, ready for the next chapter. A business, Lynne Custom Hay and Straw Services, an education at MU, suicide attempts and abuse were just around the corner.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Death and Birth

I went once to Fort Leonard Wood and stayed in the guesthouse for the weekend. He wasn’t supposed to have visitors during Basic but I took Greyhound anyway. I brought Nathan and remember in the quietness of that room he learned to point to his nose, eyes, ears, mouth and chin on command. I can still see his sweet little face as he sat on my lap and we played. 

I went to his graduation from Basic. He came home for a short leave. My stomach was growing as another child was preparing to come into our family. He moved on to AIT, Advanced Infantry Training, at Fort Polk Louisiana. The welcome sign at Fort Polk declared it was the training ground for Viet Nam.

I bought a Greyhound bus ticket to go to Louisiana for a weekend visit. Sunday we rode an old school bus to church in Leesville. The young pastor of the church gave us use of his car for the day. We drove around the swampy environs of Leesville enjoying our day of freedom. We returned the car to him after the Sunday night service. The next day I boarded the bus. Both Nathan and I had taken Dramamine in order to sleep. It probably wasn’t a good idea. I didn’t know any better.

Back in Columbia, my father was sick. Something wasn’t right. He went to the ER.  At 19, I thought my father old at 71. It was his gall bladder. Even in 1971, gall bladder surgery was fairly routine. During surgery, his blood pressure dropped. They didn’t complete the procedure. He came out with an open drain from his stomach. They would attempt surgery again later.

He never recovered. Over a period of two months, my mother would sit at the hospital day and night. Often I would join her. My dad was alert most of the time. He would sit with a oxygen mask on his face reading his favorite newspapers. In long discussions with my mother, they settled their affairs. She knew he loved her before he died. She knew their finances. He spent those hours preparing her for his end and her future.

During this time, Alvin opted to be airborne. Both the 101st and the 82nd were out of Viet Nam. If you were in an airborne unit, it guaranteed you wouldn’t go to Nam. Several weeks at jump school at Fort Benning then to Fort Bragg, the home of the 82nd airborne. I was to join him. He had a trailer rented off base.  

The day came to leave for North Carolina. I would leave at 2:00 a.m. by Greyhound for the airport in St. Louis. I would sit at the airport until early in the morning and fly to North Carolina with Nathan. One of those urgent dreaded calls came from the hospital-come to the hospital now. I went with my mother. He had a near death experience seeing himself leave his body and come back. Once stable, we went home for some sleep. The next morning, a Sunday, he scolded my mother for not bringing the newspaper.

I went to North Carolina. My luggage was never recovered so I wore my only item, a red wool jumper in the blistering heat. Much to Alvin’s dismay, I would wear the jumper without a shirt as a sleeveless dress. We had some bad experience with churches but finally found a small independent Pentecostal church pastored by Maurice  Boomer. He and his wife Betty provided transportation for us. Even though Betty wore pants and they watched television, Alvin liked them. I convinced Alvin we could have a television too.

Early in June, the Red Cross notified Alvin’s commander that my dad was near death. Red Cross paid for our tickets and off we went. He lasted another week. I was there when he died. He was unresponsive most of the time. He breathed his last on Sunday evening, June 13, 1971. My brother, also there at the time, took charge. Arrangements were made. My other brother didn’t come to the funeral. We laid my dad to rest. I still feel the loss of that day. I was too young to understand the magnitude of that loss that day. I do now.

I went to North Carolina. My brother went back to Canada. My mother grieved alone. She lived alone at 909 Wilkes Blvd. She worked part time as a caregiver for older adults.  

Jason was born. Like his brother, his birth was a horrendous experience. Gas was slapped on my face as I writhed in labor. For the convenience of the doctor, I had been induced. To assure a quick delivery I had been given too much Pitocin. After a quick unsuccessful attempt at an epidural, they slapped the gas on my face. When I woke up, Jason was in the nursery. Complications kept him in the hospital. Once again, I went home with empty arms.

Jason was a sweet, quiet, good natured baby. But Jason was sick. We had many trips to the ER. He was in the hospital with bronchitis and pneumonia often. We was allergic to milk-based formula and would projectile vomit. At 9 months, he still wore 1-3 month size baby clothes. He wouldn’t walk until he was 22 months of age. A hospital stay for evaluation and testing was scheduled.

Army pay was regular but it would disappear fast. Money was tight after the first week of the month. In desperation for money, I got on the city bus. My childhood in Brooklyn made me proficient in bus travel. A short trip to downtown Fayetteville would take me to a seedy place where you could sell my blood for $15. That $15 bought a lot of food at the Winn-Dixie in those days.

The Boomer’s helped us from time to time. The church was nice. Brother Boomer came to my house one day to pray for Jason’s health. I let him in the door only to find out that wasn’t his only reason for the visit. 

Friday, May 7, 2010

The First Moonwalk

Alvin had finished high school just before we married. He was a year older and a year ahead of me. As my class, Hickman 1969, donned their caps and gowns, I was preparing for yet another move. Having passed the test for his exhorter's credentials with the Assemblies of God, we packed our belongings for our first major move to Neosho Missouri, the flower box city 242 miles away. Neosho was to be the home of the new Ozark Bible Institute.

Neosho, only 76 miles from the international headquarters of the Assemblies of God, was at odds with its denomination. Worldliness had crept in to the Assemblies in the form of lipstick, eye shadow, television, short hair, short sleeves, mixed bathing, and all manner of sinful behavior. Their quarrel was not doctrine. It's quarrel were standards. Alvin was to be in the first class at OBI. As David confronting Goliath, OBI would be a challenge to the backslidden Evangel College and Central Bible Institute (now Evangel University and Central Bible College). They would teach only the Bible proclaiming

Without Holiness No Man Shall See the Lord

We found an apartment on the second floor of a house on College Street. The small three-room apartment shared a bathroom with a room lent out to an older man from time to time. The plan was that I would work and help support Alvin through school. The apartment was convenient. I could walk to downtown or church. A Laundromat was on the corner, clothes lines in the back.

Our landlady a pleasant but opinionate woman did childcare. They were worldly folk with a television. They didn't like the holiness people. They didn't understand why being Baptist was not enough for heaven. Nevertheless, our landlady had more compassion for me than most people.

Once settled, I began my job search. I would walk the square in Neosho day in and day out. There were many stores on the square, but I persisted visiting each store many times. I was 17-year-old high school drop out with a child. If I had money, my landlady would watch Nathan while I begged for a job. Other times, I carried him with me as I walked downtown to beg. Finally, the owner of the drugstore got sick of seeing me. He told me he'd hire me on a trial basis for 25 cents an hour. If I worked out he'd give me the normal pay of 50 cents an hour. It was my landlady who convinced me that I couldn't afford to work for that. It wouldn't cover the babysitting.

We couldn't afford formula for Nathan. He was too young for regular milk. I followed a recipe I found for homemade formula. Using evaporated milk and adding corn syrup and water, I made my own formula. Evaporated milk was cheap. Even so, I would have to collect bottles and pennies to have enough to buy just a few cans of milk to feed our son. Alvin found a job working nights at the Buddy L plant. He made barbeque grills. He would go to school during the day and work at night.

I decided to try high school again. I enrolled in Neosho High School. As a married woman, I wore only holiness standard clothing. Only a single woman could wear her hair down. I would secure my hair tightly in a bun or a French roll. My face scrubbed, I attempted to blend in with the class of 1970. Again, I took typing. The typewriters were all manual uprights. There were no letters on the keys to assure we learned to touch type on the QWERTY keyboard. Pounding the keys, I thought someday maybe I could get a good job as a secretary.

The evening of July 16, 1969 as we came home from the Wednesday evening church service, our landlady called to us. She asked us to come in. She said we shouldn't miss history being made. Alvin, ever holy, forbid television watching. We had just left church.

This Baptist temptress was luring us to forbidden territory. Live coverage of Neal Armstrong's stepping off the lunar module, the Eagle, was the bait. Ever sinful and prone to temptation, I begged to stay. We did. Nathan was placed on a pallet on her clean floor. I sat on the couch. Alvin clutched the doorknob still struggling in his soul with this sinful behavior. We watched the first moonwalk. 

I had watched on the school television rolled into our classroom all the precursors to this day. In fuzzy black and white I saw Shepherd blast off into space. I had watched with wide eyes as John Glenn splashed down after orbiting the earth. I was so glad I didn't miss the winning lap of the race to space.

Alvin decided he didn't need Bible School after all. Back to Columbia we went. This time to another upstairs apartment west of Columbia over less hospitable landlords. My parents had moved to subsidized senior housing at Garth Towers. I was a frequent, too frequent guest in their home. We were thrown out of our apartment for lack of rent. We stayed with my parents. They were on the verge of being asked to leave because of our presence. My parents decided to rent a house that we could share. Our next stop was 909 Wilkes Blvd.

I got pregnant again. It was 1970. The Viet Nam war was raging. Uncle Sam promised money, insurance and security in return for service. Alvin decided it was time to do his duty for God and country. In spite of his deferment, he enlisted. 

Underneath I was terrified. I was terrified I'd be a widow. Yet, there was another, even darker feeling lurking deep below. The abuse had already taken it's toll. I knew divorce was out of the question. Christians were forbidden to divorce. I was sure divorce would solidify forever my place in Hell. In horror at times I would think that maybe he would go to Viet Nam and be killed. I'd be free. I'd be a widow but I'd be free. 

As if she knew, my mother-in-law would at times scream at me her own fears of Viet Nam. She would say he's going to get killed and it's all your fault. I would cry. I would beg God to forgive me for these horrible thoughts. He went to Basic. As Johnny Carson would come on the television each night, I would write long letters on blue stationary sprayed with cheap perfume telling him the activities of the day, pledging my fidelity and love. 

Death was around the corner - my great ally and support had gotten sick. He soon would be gone.