Chapter 3: Bending His Way
Imagine this little African girl landing in the New York airport. I had never seen an escalator before. I had never seen an electric door before. And so many cars! Where were the donkeys and goats on the roads? And everyone was so busy, going here and there. No one had time to sit and eat kolo. And the indoor plumbing...! I was so confused by the bathtub handles bringing out hot and cold water; how could I balance them to produce a tub with the right temperature?
After the Mission's debriefing of my parents in New York, we flew to Dallas, Texas, and moved into the home of Grandmommee and Big Father. I remember feeling that the whole world was in great sadness. This was January, 1964, just 3 months after the assassination of President J. F. Kennedy on the streets of Dallas. The whole of America was in shock, and Dallasites were especially confused by the events transpiring on their streets.
My father was busy tending to his invalid wife, trying to get us moved to our home in the White Rock Lake area, trying to get us kids arranged in our schools, and trying to process his own feelings about leaving Ethiopia. We took a 1-year leave of absence from the Mission, hoping to buy time for healing in the hopes of returning to Ethiopia one day. Of course, my child's mind didn't understand “leave of absence.” All I knew was that despite the stress of things, I was so happy! I had my family together again. I was with my parents, under their protection and nurture. The weight of caring for my siblings no longer rested upon my shoulders.
In the following months, I finished fifth grade at a public school down the street from our home. To say that I was a spectacle is an understatement! Not every school had a student move from a lifetime in Africa. They laughed at me when I wore the same dress to school on consecutive days; never mind that in Ethiopia I wore the same dress all week long. They laughed when I heard the bell ring to change classrooms, and I exclaimed "Is it time to go home already?" They teased me that I was really African, but I had put whitewash on, and it was coming off in spots (thereby producing the freckles with which God had so richly blessed me).
But I quickly adapted. Adaptation is a gift God has given to children, and missionary kids have honed that gift to perfection. On the mission field, there was no time to process things. Emotions could not be indulged. There was work to be done for the Kingdom, and self-pity or self-indulgence cut into the Kingdom work; it sapped energy and emotions that were needed for more important things. In today's world of self-indulgence, I suspect that we do not really understand the words of Jesus about putting our hand to the plow and not looking back, or about forsaking all others to follow Him, or about counting the cost of discipleship. These are foreign concepts in our American churches today. But I thank God that He taught me early the joy of crucifying self for a greater purpose.
Along with all the childish teasing of my classmates at Hexter Elementary School there was a genuine amazement and interest in my life. The school administration would cancel classes and arrange extended assembly times for me to tell everyone about life in Africa. So I told about the wild animals, about boarding school, about eating kolo in the huts, and about my parent's work. For a time, it was fascinating to adults and children alike. But then Life moved on.
Our 1-year leave of absence from the Mission ended, and we were officially terminated as missionaries. I spent 2 years at Hexter. While there, I was a crossing guard, learned Texas history, and started my own bank account. It didn't take long for me to realize that I was different from my peers. And I was happy to be different. My attitude about life, my expectations of relationships, and my general maturity level separated me from the average student. I was able to talk with adults. I was serious about the deeper issues of life. And underneath I was still grieving the loss of my Ethiopia.
Grades 8 and 9 were spent at Hill Junior High School. I continued to be in a class all my own, though I joined the Pep Squad. Although I attended the sports games, somehow they seemed so frivolous and full of vanity.
My high school years were at Bryan Adams High. My grades averaged a solid B+. Two classes that served me well for many years were short-hand and typing. I continued to think differently than my friends at school; their lives revolved around boys, fashion and cliques. I couldn't understand such shallow affection. I wanted my life to count for something important.
I was taking piano lessons weekly, learning classical music as well as hymn arrangements; by junior high I was the pianist for my Sunday School class at Grace Bible Church. This musical skill has enriched my life (and others) many times over in personal and corporate worship. We attended church regularly and were involved in all the activities, including Pioneer Girls and Vacation Bible School. A favorite memory was the whole extended family going out to Luby's Cafeteria for Sunday dinner. This was Big Father's treat, and many days it was an investment of hundreds of dollars; I remember his receipt going for yards! Almost every Sunday I got chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and creamed gravy. Sometimes I splurged and got a fresh strawberry pie. After dinner, we all went to Grandmommee's house for the afternoon. Since we lived a good distance from Big Father and Grandmommee, this was usually the only time we got to see them. On a rare occasion, I would go to their home for overnight. It was like entering a very special, warm palace, complete with air-conditioning and ice cream floats!
Key women in the church became mentors to me -- Martha Mattay, Ruth Pryor and others. The superintendent of our junior high Sunday School class opened each Sunday with a recitation of 1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." At the time I thought, There are other good verses in the Bible, why do we have to open with the same one EVERY Sunday! Little did I know that the Lord would use the truth of that verse in my life decades later. My mother enrolled me as a worker in the church, helping in VBS, keeping the nursery, etc.; few of my peers were active in this way, but I enjoyed it.
She also enrolled us kids in the Bible Memory Association program. From September through April we had weekly assigned verses to memorize. Prizes were sent to us periodically throughout the year, and those who completed the annual program qualified for BMA camp. So part of our summer routine was spending a week at BMA camp in Louisiana.
Although the verse assignments left much to be desired (because they were individual verses instead of passages), I loved the rewards and the camp. The rewards I chose were commentaries or plaques with verses, and some of those I still have today. The week at camp was highly focused on spiritual issues. We spent mornings discussing our verses with others who had also memorized those same verses. We had devotional meetings in the early morning beside the lake, and we had chapel programs in the evening. The afternoons were free for recreation of swimming, horseback riding, archery, etc. How different today's "Christian" camps seem to be -- 95% recreation and 5% devotions. I cannot overstate the spiritual impact that BMA camps had on me. It was during these weeks that I began to understand the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, and began to listen to His gentle, soft Voice guiding me. It was here that I learned some wonderful songs of worship and testimony. "Like the woman at the well, I was seeking...for things that could not satisfy...and then I heard my Savior speaking...'Draw from the Well, that never shall run dry'...'Fill my cup, Lord; I lift it up, Lord. Come and quench this thirsting of my soul. Bread of Heaven, feed me til I want no more. Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole'."
God was working in my heart to bring me to full surrender to Him, and I found in Him a joy, a love, a companionship, a security and a comfort that was beyond anything offered by the world system. How I praise Him for His goodness to me in drawing me to Himself in intimacy at such an early time in my life. The song "Living for Jesus" expressed my desire.
Living for Jesus, a life that is true,
Jesus, Lord and Savior, I give myself to Thee,
Living for Jesus Who died in my place,
Living for Jesus through earth’s little while,
Another routine summer activity was the swimming lessons of the American Red Cross. Each summer my mother enrolled us kids in the ARC program. By my senior year in high school, I had completed all their swimming courses, Junior Life Saving and also Senior Life Saving. With this skill, I served as life guard during summers and vacations at Pine Cove Camp in Tyler, Texas. Not only was I a life guard, I was also the instructor for water skiing. Although I did not have the coordination myself to ski, I understood the sport theoretically, and was successful in teaching many campers to ski for the first time, to ski with a single ski, or to ski with the round disc.
As I matured into a young lady, I grew tall and slender.
I was frequently asked "Are you a model?" or "Do you play basketball?" I did neither; I lacked the clear conscience for one and the physical stamina for the other. I always wanted to be 6 feet or 6 feet 1 inch; to me those were very special women. But I never made it; I can only claim 5 foot 11-1/2 inches barefoot. I have always delighted in being tall, and do not want to share even one centimeter that the Lord has given to me!
Another happy memory of these Dallas years was our family camping trips. We had a tent trailer, and we packed 8 people and 2 dogs into this trailer.
I was a 5th generation Texan and my daddy used our camping trips to teach us about Texas. So while my mother read Texas history in cartoon format to us at bedtime, my father took us from one end of Texas to the other on family vacations. In the process I became very “proud” to be a Texan! The history of Texas is unique in the United States. Long before Virginia was settled at Jamestown, or Massachusetts was settled at Plymouth Rock, explorers were roaming the coasts and inner lands of Texas; they were looking for the Fountain of Youth and the Pot of Gold. The names of Coronado and LaSalle, explorers of Texas in the 1500s, were etched in my mind. I felt the challenges facing Moses Austin and his son Stephen F. Austin, the organizers of the early settlers in the 1820s. And then came Texas' struggle for independence from Mexico -- Col. Fannin at Goliad, Davy Crocket, Daniel Boone, Jim Bowie and others at the Alamo, Sam Houston at San Jacinto. These stories became very dear to my heart. Texas is the only state that was a completely independent nation (for 10 years) before joining the USA. The Republic of Texas joined the United States of America by treaty arrangement. And when the USA failed to honor the treaty agreement, Texas decided to secede in 1861. She was the seventh state to secede from the USA (a mere 6 weeks after the secession of South Carolina). The Article of Secession lists 19 breaches of the treaty by the USA, nullifying the treaty. Several months after secession, Texas joined the Confederate States of America. My family was deeply involved in that (failed) war of independence.
It was on these camping trips that my love of history evolved. The past fascinated me, and knowledge of the past helped me to make sense of the happenings of today. Years later, while in college, I helped my grandfather with our family genealogy. I have always considered it a special blessing from the Lord that we could trace our biological roots and recite stories unique to our ancestors. Like it or not, we are stepping on the heels of the Past and it is a wise person who listens to the encouragements and the warnings of those who have gone before. Somehow I have felt a personal connection with each of the persons in my past, especially those who were also family in the Lord.
During these years in Dallas my mother continued to suffer terribly with headaches. All the tests for brain cancer proved negative, and the doctors were at a loss to explain the cause of her illness. Many a day I came home from school to find my mother curled up in bed, curtains drawn, and I knew that it was up to me to prepare supper and guide the children in their homework. I was happy to do this for my mother. Somehow doing it now in Dallas, in our family home, was vastly different from “being mommy” to my sisters in boarding school. As the medical tests continued to come back negative, and as the years rolled by, my poor mother was attacked spiritually through other Christians and the Evil One. Lacking medical evidence, it was presumed that the cause of my mother's handicap was her spiritual failure, and that somehow she was failing her husband and the Lord by not bucking up so we could return to Ethiopia. Of course, none of this was disclosed to me at the time. But I know that she passed through some very deep waters because of unanswered questions. How often the Evil One uses our ignorance to suit his purposes! How important it is for us to give the benefit of the doubt to others, and to cut off the accusations of the Evil One to our own mind! Only the Lord Himself holds all knowledge; only He knows what and why He is allowing; only He knows the beginning from the ending. And if our focus is to simply walk honestly and humbly before Him, then we can trust His Spirit to convict and to guide according to His purposes.
It was not until I was in college that my mother was healed. For 13 years she suffered with these horrific headaches. Early in that time frame, she went to a chiropractor, but the treatment left her in a terrible condition of wracking pain, and she “swore” she would never go to a chiropractor again! But the day came when she was lying in bed again, and she prayed, "Father, if You want me to try another chiropractor, then You must show me by doing 3 things. The chiropractor must be a woman, her office must be local, and she must have an opening for me this afternoon." Then she got out the yellow pages and dialed. On the first call, all three of these conditions were met! So she got dressed and drove herself to the office. It was this woman chiropractor who found the cause of Mom's headaches. The diagnosis? A jammed top vertebrae. The top vertebrae was jammed at an angle into the base of her skull! Only then did we realize that all the rough roads in Ethiopia had finally damaged her vertebrae. The chiropractor gently worked with Mom, and in a very short time the headaches were relieved.
It is my opinion that making my mother an invalid was the only way the Lord could keep my family out of Ethiopia, so that I did not have to return to boarding school. By the time of her cure, all of the children were in Junior High, High School, or College, and the logistics of returning to Ethiopia were seemingly insurmountable. So we remained in Dallas.
There is a saying, "You can take the girl out of Africa, but you can't take Africa out of the girl." As I approached my senior year in High School, we began to plan for my college education. Considering possible fields of study, there was really only one choice for me: nursing. I knew I wanted to go back to Ethiopia, and I figured that the people needed nurses -- so I was going to become a nurse! It never dawned on me to ask if I liked nursing, or if it fit my personality, or if I would be good at it. The need of the people was all that counted.
To be a missionary nurse, I not only needed a nursing education, but I also needed a Bible education. A minimum of 1 year's Bible education was required by most mission boards. So we began to look for a school that would offer both Bible and nursing, preferably in the same setting for the full 5 years required. Biola College in La Mirada, California (near Los Angeles) was the only school offering a B.S. in Nursing with an integrated Bible education on the same campus for the entire course of study. So I enrolled in this college. (Interestingly, the nursing program was the outgrowth of the School of Missionary Medicine.) My plan was to complete my bachelor's degree, then take a year of specialized training in midwifery and tropical diseases before applying to SIM for Ethiopia.
The day we flew from Dallas to Los Angeles I was struck with appendicitis. We didn't know what it was, put a hot water bottle on it, and 4 days later I was rushed to the hospital deathly ill with peritonitis from a burst appendix. So my college days started with a bang!
The first 2 years were spent studying liberal arts and sciences; the last 3 years were spent studying various aspects of nursing practice.
Between these two segments I took the summer to go on Practical Missionary Training. This was a 2-month program in Central America designed to help college students become better informed about mission work. It was a great program, but when I entered a hospital in Guatemala, I immediately became nauseated, overcome by the smells and sites. "Oh, no!" I exclaimed to myself. "I've made a big mistake! How can I be a nurse if I get nauseated at the smells and sites of a hospital?" What followed was a great time on my knees before the Lord, asking Him to guide me. What a relief when my clinical courses started that Fall and I was just fine! (The only other time in 33 years of nursing that I became faint was when I was watching an amputation surgery. Otherwise, God blessed me with a strong stomach.)
Now comes the romantic part of this journal :)
As part of my preparation for the mission field, I figured that I needed a husband who was spiritual. What better place to find such a person than in the Bible Department? At that time, the Bible Department had the largest number of majors in the College, followed by the Nursing Department. So I kept my eyes open and began dating men in the Bible major.
Boy, was I in for a shock! As already written, my whole thinking and worldview was different from most of my peers, largely because of my upbringing in Ethiopia, but also because God matured me in Him so deeply in my high school years. And what I found in these Bible majors were men who were as spiritually shallow, vain, and frivolous as the rest of civilization!
In November, 1973, I'd had enough. I “met” with the Lord in my dorm room to discuss the situation. I readily admit that the communication was one-way; I don't remember a thing He “said,” but I remember well what I said. "Lord, I'd rather go to Ethiopia single than married to a man to whom I must be a spiritual mother! So, let's just forget about a husband. That part of the plan is hereby deleted." After this “conversation” with the Lord, I was so happy and free. A big load had been lifted from me. Now the road to Ethiopia was wide open!
Little did I know that the Lord was about to introduce His choice for me -- and it would be a Bible major! About 2 weeks later I was standing in line at the cafeteria. It was about 6 p.m., and I was due to be at work at 6:30. (I worked at the college switchboard; it was the old-fashioned kind with all the cords and switches!) As I waited in line, I looked toward the door and saw a tall man helping his blind roommate through the door. "There's your husband," the Lord said to me, as clear as if He were standing beside me in person! I thought to myself, "Maybe I should remind Him of our discussion"; then I told myself, "No, He knows."
There was absolutely no doubt in my mind of His word to me, and there was no doubt of my accepting His decision. From the moment He spoke, I accepted His appointment. As Dave and Rubens came behind me in line, Dave offered me a chocolate-covered macadamia nut candy; he had just received a box from his mother in Hawaii. I thought to myself, "You don't know this, but you are offering this to your future wife." I ate the nut (Dave's version is that I've been nuts over him ever since!), moved through the cafeteria line, and sat down at one of the tables. Dave and Rubens joined me, but our meal together was short, as I had to be at work soon.
It took Dave 2 years and 8 months to come to the conclusion that I was meant to be his wife. During that time we "dated" off and on.
One of our favorite times together was the annual Christmas festivity called "Celebrate the Son." This was an assortment of events, including drama, chorale, and orchestra; we moved from building to building for each event, and finished the evening by singing the Hallelujah Chorus with the orchestra in the gymnasium. Other times were just sipping coffee in Bob's Big Boy coffee shop. In fact, it was Dave who taught me to like coffee! We never went to a movie, except the surfing movies shown in Huntington Beach along the coast highway. Many people said, "When are you two going to get engaged?!" I wasn't in any hurry. I knew he was taken; we were already engaged on the Lord's books, and that was good enough for me. Besides, I needed to finish nursing school.
But my goal for finishing nursing school had now changed. Marriage trumped Missions, and Obedience trumped Overseas. As Dave and I talked, it became clear that Dave was not appointed to mission work; his heart was in education. As a wife, it was my part to bend to him, not the other way around. Through the years, folk have asked me if I wasn’t being disobedient by forsaking Missions for Marriage. My answer is this: God never appointed me to Missions; I had appointed myself, because of my love for Ethiopia. It was what I wanted to do; it was a working out of an inner longing. Marriage, on the other hand, was a definite appointment by God. How could I equate His appointment to my longing? No, Marriage (in my case) definitely trumped Missions.
My love for Ethiopia, my interest in mission work, and my desire to use my gifts and abilities for people less advantaged remained in me. But I was no longer footloose and fancy free; I was bound to work alongside another, yoked together. My plans for my life had to be voluntarily submitted to the life work of the man to whom I had been appointed.
I completed my bachelor's degree, graduated on a Saturday in June, 1976, and drove off with my family. Where I came from, if a woman is not engaged to be married, she is to return to her home upon graduation. So returning to Dallas with my family was never questioned. As Dave says, when he watched me go away in that big van, something happened inside him. He was lost. He phoned our pastor's wife, Doris Hakes, and 2 days later she sat across from him at lunch and said "Don't you know you're supposed to marry that girl!?" With this clear guidance, he wasted no time! I had figured that he would come to Dallas in September and we would be married in December. Instead, he came to Dallas in July and we were married 6 weeks later.
On September 11, 1976, the Lord established our marriage at Grace Bible Church in Dallas, Texas. It was the first afternoon wedding in that church. It was a relatively simple affair. My sisters served as my bridesmaids, arrayed in a rainbow of colors, and an assortment of men, including blind Rubens Marshall, served as Dave's groomsmen. I sewed my wedding dress and my mother made the bridesmaids dresses. Dave and his groomsmen wore traditional Hawaii wedding dress of white shirt and white slacks. I carried a cascading bouquet and Dave had a maile vine lei draped over his shoulders.
As part of our ceremony we placed pikake leis around our mothers. For myself, all of this wedding hoopla was for the benefit of my parents and others who had supported me over the years; I could not deny them the joy of my wedding day.
Today so many young couple have totally self-centered weddings; “This is MY day!” they proclaim to all. Such a sad way to start married life! As far as I was concerned, just say the magic words to make me his wife -- everything else could be chucked away! The simple African girl was showing again :)
To this day, "Mrs. Black" is my favorite name.
September 6, 2013