Monday, August 28, 2017

Remembering Betty Owens

     Church. Some love it, some hate it, and some are indifferent.

     In 1974 I was a 26 year old mother of five, moving to a new neighborhood. I was broken, flawed, and so shy, I hardly spoke. I hadn’t always been so broken.
     I had been attending Bethel Pentecostal Church of God since I was 14, but that year I decided to attend Victory Assembly of God, a small church closer to home in my new neighborhood. Attending Bethel and Victory were decisions that would be pivotal in my life. At Bethel, I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ for the first time. At Victory, the course of my life was set.
     Betty Owens was the pastor’s wife at Victory. She would become my friend, mentor, and family. Looking back, Betty was flawed and broken too, but she hid it well, having overcome much because of her faith. She took me under her wing, encouraging me to get involved and develop in ministry within the church.
     The church grew and so did I. Betty believed in me and pushed me out of my comfort zone. Whenever I told her I couldn’t do something, she’d say, “Of course you can. I’ll show you and help you.”
     Over my thirty plus years in that church, many things happened. In 1974 my oldest child was 9 and my youngest was 1. My children grew up. I remember Betty during times when we didn’t have enough food, or I couldn’t provide Christmas, or pay for my kids to go to camp. Betty would rally the church to help. I was embarrassed sometimes, and Betty would tell me that’s what church people do.
     Betty was there for me during some of the most difficult times of my life – times when circumstances almost destroyed me. My struggles in a bad marriage. My divorce after 22 years. My 15-year-old daughter having a baby, making me a grandmother at 32. Another daughter giving a baby up for adoption. Another daughter rebelling and leaving home. Betty was my shoulder to cry on, my encourager, and she never failed to pray for me and my children. Or give us a lecture and a piece of her mind.
     Betty loved to laugh and have fun. She was often the instigator whenever our ladies group pulled pranks or got into shenanigans, and I have pictures to prove it. She coordinated all my daughters’ weddings, and Pastor Leroy performed the ceremony. They oversaw many of my grandchildren’s dedications.
     Because of Betty’s and Leroy’s example and support, I have children in ministry today.
     We got older – Betty and I. It happens. Even as her health deteriorated the last several years, she always managed to look beautiful. She was a classy lady. It grieved me to watch Parkinson’s destroy her body. In December of 2016, Betty went home to the Trinity (God, Jesus, Holy Spirit) she had dedicated her life to serve.
     That last week of her life while her children, Becky, Philip, Sheila and I were talking about Betty going to heaven and what would she be do there. I said she would help Jesus set up for the marriage Supper of the Lamb.
    Has your influence made someone a better person? Changed the course of their lives? Brought hope? 
    There will never be another Betty in my life. I can never repay her for all she was to me and my children. But, I, and every one of us, can be a Betty in someone’s life. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Why I Write

It was 1981. I was in my early 30’s, a young mother of five children. I was active and involved in church with a life filled with crises. My marriage had hit bottom, my oldest child – a fifteen-year-old daughter – was pregnant, there was never enough money to meet our needs. The list could go on, but you get the idea. 

I loved Jesus. When plagued with despair and depression, times when my faith was shaken, I clung to God – sometimes by a slender thread. I remember standing in the church kitchen on a Sunday after our ladies had served food, set up and took down the fellowship hall. As president over our women’s group, I had been busy. In a quiet lull, my shoulders slumped with the enormity of the problems I was facing. 

One of the church ladies walked into the kitchen. I pasted a smile on my face and engaged in small talk. Few people knew everything, but most knew some of my struggles. Mary gazed at me with compassion. “You are such an inspiration, Leola. No matter what you’re going through, you never miss church. You stay strong in your faith.”

I thanked her. She left the room. I gritted my teeth, fought back tears, and mumbled, “I don’t want to be an inspiration anymore, God. I just want the pain to go away. I want to not hurt anymore. I want my life to be okay. Why? Why is all this happening to me?”

There have been a few times in my life when the spirit of God has spoken clearly to my spirit. He did then. He simply said, “Because of what I’ve called you to do.”

For years, I thought the “calling” God referred to was this thing or that thing. I’ve always been involved in ministry in the church. Years after God spoke that to me, I worked nineteen years in the ministry of Teen Challenge. Maybe that’s what God meant.

Do you feel called by God to be a writer? It was a dream re-birthed in me before I retired from Teen Challenge. I can truthfully say it’s what God has called me to do at this stage of my life. So why hasn’t my writing journey been what I anticipated it would be? Especially since God reminded me, “Because of what I’ve called you to do.” I know now that all my experiences in life, the good and the not-so-good, have set the groundwork for my writing. 

The voice of our writing is usually an extension of our life experiences. I write/want to write about real life issues Christians face. As my own experiences weave in and out of what I write, I understand that although God isn’t responsible for the things that ripped my heart out, He has used it to bring depth to my writing that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.
I’m truly convinced God has called me to write. So why do I have so many days where I just flat out don’t want to write? Days I ask myself what’s the use. Who’s going to read my stories or books? 
You know what? The enemy of my soul tells me those things. I’m responsible to write. God gets it to whoever it’s meant for. 

God, I pray for those who are struggling right now. Whether it’s in their personal life or in their writing journey. Remind us of your faithfulness. Remind us that what you have birthed in us will accomplish your purpose if we stay true to the calling. Your love, your mercy and grace are sufficient. You reign over our lives in splendor and majesty. Thank you, father God.