Beginning at the Beginning
To begin at the beginning of my life, we have to go into eternity past. Ephesians 1 and Psalm 139 are two of the many passages that speak of the very specific ordering of creation by the Lord Himself. My place in His universe was set in distant eternity past, long before He took action on any of His plans, long before He spoke the world, the sun and moon and stars, the animals and birds and fish into existence. Even before He worked the creation of Adam and Eve, I was in His mind.
This fact is true of every single human being who has ever existed. It is true of me and it is true of you. By the grace of God He confirmed this truth in my innermost being at a very young age, and it has been an anchor to my identity. I did not just “happen”; I was not a natural consequence of human actions. I was not an “event” in the lives of my parents.
No, God specifically chose to create me, Becky Lynn Lapsley Black. His love made this choice, so that He would be able, through that love, to bring glory to Himself. The love that He showed in creating me has been a deep-seated reality to me my entire life.
As I write this, I think of the many quilts that I have made over the years. Each quilt started out as an idea that was shaped by my personality. Its colors, its size, its style....everything about each quilt was an expression of myself and my desire to serve others through the quilt. As I worked on each quilt, choosing the fabrics, cutting and sewing the top, day after day, carefully hand-stitching the quilting, I was being poured forth into that quilt. And when it was completed, I always signed, dated, and noted a Scripture passage in a corner of the back. I put my name to my creation. Those few who knew me well could identify a story in my life that went with the quilt. Those who knew me a little could look at one of my quilts and be able to identify it as mine; it "looked" like me. Those who didn't know me at all would admire the handiwork, but it wasn't until they turned the quilt over and read my name that they could identify the creator of the quilt.
And so it is with the creation of the “Becky Lynn Lapsley Black Quilt” by the Lord Jesus. From His mind and heart, according to His desires and for His purposes, I was planned and executed at the “perfect” place and time in History. King David had this same sense of his destiny. In Psalm 139 he is talking with God and puts it this way:
As God planned and created my body and personality according to His love and purposes, so He also planned to call me to be His own child. On May 12, 1953, my body was born into the world, but my spirit was dead. The Scriptures teach that at birth, we are "dead in trespasses and sins." We have the physical ability to communicate with our fellow man, but we have no ability to communicate with our God. The sin of Adam and Eve has robbed every person born of woman; their sin is inherited by every person, and their banishment from the Garden of fellowship with the Creator is also inherited.
Scripture teaches that it is in the heart of God to embrace every person into His family of righteousness. He is not willing that any should be banished from Him. His heart is one of love to each single human being. And he made a Way, sacrificing His own most-precious thing, His own dear Son, so that those He loved into existence could have a way to His table and home.
But how can dead people get up and walk the Way to the Father's table? It is impossible, except that the Father touches them and awakens them, breathing spiritual life into them, and causing them to choose the Way He's provided.
I do not pretend to understand the doctrine of pre-destination. There are many things about God and His Way that I do not understand. This gap in my understanding has never disturbed me, for I know that in the day that I understand everything about God and His ways, is the day that He ceases to be God. Yes, He made my mind to think, to evaluate, to consider and to judge, but the exercise of that ability must be done in humility. Part of using this gift correctly is the acceptance of the reality of limitations.
Some people are tempted to throw all the words of God away because they cannot understand some of the words. Scientists and historians and other specialists accept their limitations. As we humans come to the study of God, why are we not willing to accept limitations? I have always been amazed at the pride of mankind in dealing with the Almighty One. It is subtle, but it is there: "If it doesn't make sense to me, then I do not accept it."
I have never personally struggled with the trustworthiness of the Scriptures, or the living God they present. The fact is that every person must live by faith. As each one reaches adulthood, he must choose who will be trusted. The vast majority of mankind chooses their own judgment, or society's norms. Most decide by default, most of the time not even realizing that they are making a decision. The default choice is untrustworthy.
As the storms of life arise, the foundation upon which we stand, the truth basis that we have chosen, the belief system we have embraced becomes tested. It is just a matter of time before all false systems of truth (which are systems of lies straight from the Evil One) fail us. Sometimes that event happens early, leaving people who are disillusioned, distrustful, depressed, angry, cynical, with backs turned against God in rebellion. Sometimes that event issues a complete paradigm shift, with a radical shift from one belief system to another. This reaching from one leaking lifeboat to another might give a temporary sense of safety, but it is just a matter of time before the next trauma in life shows the second lifeboat is just as untrustworthy.
One of the things I do not understand about my Father is how He creates so many people, how He loves each one personally and completely, how He desires them to live with Him and He has made a Way for them to His table, yet He breathes His Spirit into only a select group, so that they can arise and walk the way to His table.
The Scriptures teach this about my Father. I do not understand it, but I accept it. And one day, when I am at His side without the residue of Sin bombarding my thinking, I will understand Him completely. (This is my understanding of 1 Cor. 13:12: "Now we see only an indistinct image in a mirror, but then we will be face to face. Now what I know is incomplete, but then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known," ISV.)
I am content to know that one day I will understand. I am content to live a period of time with poor comprehension of Him and His ways. And actually, it is a blessing that I do not understand all things about Him. Because if I really knew all things about Him, I would have a complete grasp of how vast, how utterly beyond description, how disparate is the gulf between Him and me because of my sin. I would see the brutal ugliness of who I am naturally, and the stench of my sin would overcome me and completely immobilize me.
But in His grace, He has given me only a measure of understanding both of my sin and of His Way, so that I am not overwhelmed. That measure includes the fact that He chose me from eternity past not only to come into existence physically, but also to be made alive spiritually, purified by the Son, and made fit to sit with the Father at His table. Why did He choose to give me His life? Out of the billions of people upon this earth, why me? I will never know, except that somehow He decided that through this simple person His glory could shine, and His purpose in creation would be satisfied.
Years ago when I was making a quilt, I would design it on paper, and then I would head to a huge warehouse of fabric. There I spent hours considering fabric. I would simply glance at the texture, weight, color, or design of most of the fabric; they were quickly discarded as not fitting the quilt in my mind. A few pieces I pulled from the stacks and considered more carefully, playing with them in my head. Still fewer pieces were gathered together, to see how they fit with each other. And in the end, out of the thousands upon thousands of folded bolts of fabric, I left the store with a handful of fabrics, confident that these carefully chosen ones would comply with the quilt that still existed only in my head and heart.
At my birth, I was one of thousands upon thousands born around the world. I was born with a healthy body and bubbly personality according to the plan of my Creator. But I, like all the other thousands of babies, was born spiritually dead. Although in my body the ability to develop speech, mobility, and mental acuity existed, there was no ability to develop spiritually. I was doomed from birth to be worse than handicapped; I was doomed to be a walking corpse. This was the price of being human, of being a descendent of Eve. And no amount of make up or fancy clothes or nice living or education could cover up that fact.
But God in His mercy, for reasons of His own, chose me to be His own. He breathed into my soul the breath of Life. The oxygen of Heaven infused into my being, awakening me to Reality, giving me strength to get up and be productive.
As with physical births, my spiritual birth took place after a time of gestation. My moment of spiritual birth came in early summer of 1958, just after my 6th birthday. The gestational period was marked by the love of my parents and grandparents, by many prayers to the Father on my behalf, by many teachers of the Lord, by a happy and safe home emotionally. I learned first the love of the Father for me, as demonstrated in my parents and as taught by many adult Christians around me.
The birthing pains began shortly after our return from church. We were on furlough from Ethiopia, living in our home in Dallas, Texas. We had returned from Sunday School and church at Grace Bible Church. We had driven the distance from North Dallas to the White Rock Lake area of Dallas and we gathered around our dinner table for Sunday dinner. At the time we had my parents Brad and Betty Lapsley and 4 children around the table. At ages 6, 4, and 2 it was a time of mild chaos. An infant sister 6 months of age added to the color of our lives. My parents had taken early furlough because of sickness from repeated bouts of hepatitis. But we were preparing to return to Ethiopia in time to enroll me in the mission boarding school.
"Daddy, when can I ask Jesus into my heart?" My question arose out of seeming nowhere. Although, at least in my memory, there was no discussion of spiritual things taking place at the table, my mind was turning over the issue of my spiritual neediness. I was overwhelmed by my absolute inability to "be good." I knew my heart. I knew my thoughts fell far short of God's thoughts. Mine were self-centered. Me, myself, and I were my gods. Selfishness ruled my day. That does not mean that I was always unruly, and it does not mean that I didn't love others. But if I were in a situation where I needed to make a choice, invariably I chose my own desires over the needs and desires of others.
Even children know what lurks in their heart. They might not be able to define it in words, or explain it in theological debates, but they know. The Scriptures teach that God has written on our consciences that we fall short, and He has shown us His Presence through the natural creation around us. Looking up at the stars, we see His vast power and grandeur. Looking at a wildflower, we see His intimacy and gentleness. For this reason we are "without excuse." Even a child can act upon the awareness within him of his own sinfulness and of his just separation from a holy God. Even a child can follow the trail of creation to sit at the feet of the Creator in love and provision.
"Well, you can ask Him anytime," Daddy replied. I took him literally, and began my prayer to my Creator at the table, in the midst of our family meal. "Wait. Let's do this together!" he responded. What a special moment it was for my parents, watching God birth their first child into His family, as He had birthed her into theirs.
I was what was called a "honeymoon baby." My mother had come from Miami, Florida to Dallas Bible Institute. She was a relatively new Christian, having been brought to the Father through a high-school youth group. She wanted to study the Scriptures. Her heart was so open to God, so child-like in simplicity. She was very beautiful. She was by nature a trusting person, and God supplied godly counselors who guided her spiritually. Her parents were nominal Christians. Her mother had been the organist of First Presbyterian Church in Miami for many years; she had wanted to be a nurse, but her father didn't approve, so she had studied organ in college, during a time where women didn't usually attend college. She was also very gifted in sewing, and made all the costumes for the Miami Ballet. She loved the out of doors, and raised roses, many of which won prizes at the Florida State Fair. She was very efficient; my mother often commented on Granny's efficiency and productivity. She also has said many times that I am very much like Granny in personality and giftedness.
Granddaddy, mom's father, was a banker by trade. He managed several banks over his lifetime. Mom described how when she was a little girl, they would get in their family car, drive from their small town in Alabama to the large area bank, have a picnic, go to the bank, and withdraw all the cash Granddaddy needed to operate his bank for the week, and race straight home to get the money into the bank vault. It was the Depression that closed Granddaddy's bank and moved the family to Miami.
Granddaddy loved fishing, and my only memory of him was going deep-sea fishing with him -- just him and me on a medium-sized fishing boat off Miami. This trip was shortly after my spiritual birth, in the summer of 1958; he died a couple years later while we were in Ethiopia. Spiritually, Granddaddy had no time for his Creator and Redeemer; he was self-sufficient. But on his deathbed, a friend of mom's visited him, telling him again of his spiritual need and of God's provision. As he lay dying, he realized he really wasn't as self-sufficient as he thought, and he opened his heart to the Father. So Granddaddy and the thief on the Cross are sitting with my Father in our Home, both having been made right with Him at the last opportunity.
One day in chapel at Dallas Bible Institute, a missionary was speaking. God stirred the heart of my mother, and in her simple, trusting heart, she yielded to Him and His appointment to leave the comforts of America. She was willing to forego the American Dream, and to be His ambassador to people who have never heard anything beyond the incomplete message of the stars and the flowers around them. This decision was made at a time when the whole of America was flush with a sense of strength and optimism. Hitler's war was over and the factories of America were buzzing with productivity. The god of Materialism was calling; echoing that call were the gods of Comfort and Security. This trinity that we call the American Dream put many in bondage, and a generation of Christians lost sight of their Father and His claim upon their lives.
I've heard Mom's story over and over and over many times. "In those days, I lived with several other girls in a house, and I would go for walks in the neighborhood to have my prayer time with the Lord. Soon after this chapel, I was asking the Lord, 'where should I go?' The sun had set, but the moon was bright. And as I walked, the moon made a shadow in the shape of the continent of Africa on the sidewalk in front of me. I sensed a confirmation that this was His answer to my question. So my heart was turned to service in Africa as His ambassador. But I didn't tell anyone; I just hid it in my heart."
As I have already said, Mom was very pretty and feminine. She was godly, sweet, and innocent. She was a tender, beautiful flower ready to be picked. And many of the young men at DBI wanted her. Several proposals came to her, including one from Ty Hungerford/Hardin (who later became a movie star in westerns, sometimes performing alongside Ronald Reagan). But her counselors advised her, and although her heart was full of love and tenderness for everyone, none of the proposals were “right.”
Then came my dad. What my mother was on the feminine side, my father was on the masculine side. He was charming, dashing, handsome, and smart. He was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary....and he was a prankster. He loved practical jokes. Mom had been warned about him, but somehow they ended up going to a rodeo together. On their third date, Dad asked Mom, "Will you go to Africa with me?" His proposal of marriage was rooted in his calling to Africa as a missionary. She readily accepted.
Daddy came from a strong family that was well known in the Dallas area. His father was Col. J.B. Lapsley, affectionately known as "Big Father." (Yes, he was big!) I look very much like Big Father, and we were very close. The Lapsleys came to America in the mid-1700s, settling in the southern reaches of the Shenandoah Valley, near Lexington, Virginia. In fact, a "run" (river) is named Lapsley Run, and you can still visit the old stone house built on Lapsley land in 1793. From Virginia, they moved to Kentucky, where they were "dirt farmers" for 5 generations. Big Father's father died suddenly, while working his field, leaving Big Father, at the age of 12 or 13, with the responsibility for his mother and handicapped sister.
The family moved to Dallas. Big Father graduated from Dallas High School, alongside "Big Brown Eyes," as he lovingly referred to his future wife, my grandmother. He worked very hard in his adult years, having a career in the military as well as in banking. The young couple took all their savings and sent Big Father to officer's training at the outbreak of World War I. In the military, he had many positions of serious responsibility, including the management of all Allied material and lands in Korea, and the burial of all US soldiers in Alamance. He refused promotion to General because he preferred to be on the ground level of action. In banking, he started as a janitor, and ended up serving as Vice-President, in charge of all the real estate loans of the First National Bank of Dallas. We joke because once he refused a loan to a man; this man's revenge was to name a street "Lapsley Street" in the heart of a slum area of Dallas. In the 1970s the First National Bank building was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River; in high school I loved to go up to Big Father's office and the observation tower on the 51st story, from where it seemed we could see all of Texas!
Daddy's mother was a 4 foot-11 inch power house. We called her Grandmommee. She came from a strong stock of ancestors -- 6 of them had been on the Mayflower (including Governor William Bradford) -- judges, bankers, lawyers, owners of railroads, the strong upper crust of Southern society. They were good people who dealt justly with conditions of their time. We have several wills and letters of these people. Their humility, their wisdom, their generosity, and their graciousness amaze me. The times and conditions of our day are vastly different from theirs, but it is clear that the same God who has given grace to me was there giving grace to them.
Grandmommee's father was a private in the Confederate Army; he served with the First Texas Heavy Artillery, guarding the coast of Texas. (We have a letter he wrote to his father, who had the largest salt works west of the Mississippi River, and who was the first of my family to move to Texas. We have the diary of their journey from now-West Virginia to Texas.) After the war everything was lost, of course. Grandmomee's father entered medical college and became a prominent doctor in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He was the publisher of the first Texas medical journal; the journal was published on the bottom floor while the family lived in the upper floor. I have a picture of their home, the women in the front wearing dresses to the ground. Grandmommee was born in 1891; the picture was taken about 1895.
By age 12 Grandmommee was orphaned. Everyone was poor then. She and her sister were shuttled from home to home, but a large part of her upbringing was under the care of her maternal grandparents. Grandma Wilson had been born and raised in the pre-War years, in a home that was the epitome of Southern elegance. And she brought to Grandmommee the strength that comes from losing all except dignity, spiritual life, and self-control. At her birth, Grandmommee weighed only 2 1/2 pounds. "Forget the baby, let's try to save the mother," were the words of the doctor. (The mother was Fanny Wilson Brooks, a delicate woman who suffered with asthma; we have a picture of her taken on her wedding day in delicate Victorian dress, and many have commented that my face looks like hers.) Grandma Wilson took the tiny infant home and put her in the oven to keep her warm. Grandmommee ended up living 105 years and influencing thousands for the Gospel. When the Lord of Creation determines Life, there is no power that can override His determination. He is still the Lord of Life and Time.
Grandpa Wilson had come from the western-Missouri frontier; the cruelty of Lincoln's army left deep scars in these counties. Frank and Jesse James had the farm neighboring Grandpa Wilson, and they were in the one-room school house together. He watched the transformation of their lives under the cruelty they suffered. In contrast to the James brothers, Grandpa allowed the Spirit of God to purge vengeance and bitterness from his soul. Apart from the grace of God in our lives, we would all have sought to repay evil for evil.
Grandpa Wilson studied for the ministry. He served in many capacities in the Confederate Army and was wounded several times. After the War, he settled in Texas as an itinerate preacher. Grandmommee travelled with him, and while they rode in their buggy, he taught her of the Lord. Grandpa Wilson was instrumental in starting Texas Wesleyan University in Ft. Worth, TX, and he had a great influence on the spiritual condition of the greater Dallas/Ft Worth area.
This is the physical heritage that God chose to give to me. My spiritual heritage is much more vast and significant. Although we have traced my physical ancestors to the early kings of Europe, we have been able to trace my spiritual ancestors to the two who walked with the Lord of Glory in the Garden. Much of this spiritual heritage is written for the public in the Scriptures and you can read it there. Hebrews 11 is a good summary.
In the other chapters of this little biographical book, I will attempt to record the work of the Father in my life since He brought about my spiritual birth into His family. Physical ancestors are temporal; time erases their footprints and influences. But spiritual ancestors are eternal. While death parts physically, those in His Family are never parted. And it is with great anticipation that I will come to the Table and sit with those who have gone before me, my eternal spiritual ancestors.
Advertisement for missionaries with the Sudan Interior Mission, about 1952.
Grandmommee and Big Father, about 1976.
Our family when I was birthed into the Father's family, 1958.
My baby shoe, 1954.
Our prayer card, when we went to Ethiopia the first time, early 1954.
A rare letter to me from Big Father, 1973. Notice the address "Dear Me." We were very similar.
A quilt I made for my mother in 2008; the blocks were personalized to reflect her spiritual journey.
The childhood home of Grandma Wilson is still standing and occupied in Greensboro, AL.
Grandpa Wilson, Chaplain in the Confederate Army and itinerary Methodist minister after the War.
My paternal great-grandmother, Fannie Wilson Brooks, on her wedding day. Many have said that I have her face.
William Bradford Brooks, my paternal great-grandfather, Confederate soldier, medical doctor, and editor of the first Texas medical journal.
The home where Grandmommee grew up; the medical printing press was downstairs and the family quarters were upstairs; about 1895.
On my parents' wedding day in Miami, FL, 1952: Granddaddy, Granny, Mom, Dad, Grandmommee, Big Father. (Iron Ross, Hilda Ross, Betty Ross, Brad Lapsley, Allie Noyes Lapsley, Col. J. B. Lapsley.)
August 26, 2013