“Your very lives are a letter that anyone can read by just looking at you. Christ himself wrote it – not with ink, but with God’s living Spirit; not chiseled into stone, but carved into human lives – and we publish it.” II Corinthians 3:2,3 The Message
Small town U.S.A.
Once upon a time, there was a little girl born to Iowa farmers. I was number five of eight children and lived on the farm until the age of seven when we moved into a small town of about 900 people called Wall Lake, even though there was neither lake nor wall. We had two claims to fame. One, we were the hometown of the crooner of “Moon River,” Andy Williams. Two, we had the largest popcorn processing plant in the world where both my parents worked. Popcorn was as plentiful as the sands of the sea, and in my childish consternation, I often wished it was in a cookie factory instead!
We were a God-fearing, Catholic family, who attended church regularly, and my siblings and I received religious instruction called catechism throughout our school years. There in Wall Lake, I attended the same school from second grade through my high school graduation. I lived in a Norman Rockwell painting from the 50s and 60s – small town, large family, hard-working parents, moral values, a closed society that was left somewhat untouched by outside forces until the late 60s and 70s.
In the elementary years, I had many friends to play with as we lived catty-corner from a Catholic family of 13. It was the kind of era where a kid could play outside from daylight to dusk, coming home only to eat and sleep, and parents would not be concerned. We also had many relatives – aunts, uncles, and cousins – in our town and surrounding communities.
However, I was a shy, quiet, insecure little girl…a brainy bookworm, who in spite of being from a large family, was plagued with loneliness in the junior and high school years. The cliques in the upper grades were well established in my little school, and I, for some reason, never fit into any of them. There were a handful of us, maybe three or four, who did not have a clique to belong to. As such, I always felt like an outsider. When a pretty or popular girl had a birthday party, I was left uninvited. In high school I walked home alone from school and games. It wasn’t that I was disliked…just ignored. I felt there were tight circles drawn that shut me out, leaving me lonely, rejected, and even more insecure. I longed to have the elusive “Best Friend” with whom I could share thoughts and dreams…someone who would know me and like me for who I was. However, I really did not know how to let myself be known either so I continued on in painful isolation and silence.
In my high school yearbook, the saying under my picture read, “A rare book of which only one copy is made.” I never knew if that meant I was rare as in weird or rare as in valuable! I so longed to be a person of significance and value. Much later, as a Christian, I discovered that loneliness was a key to intimacy with God. God did not “do away” with loneliness in order to bring me into intimacy with Him. He used it as a predecessor, a teacher, a key to open the door to intimacy with Him. Later, this became one of the themes of my life, a life lesson as it were, which I developed into a study and shared with many women.
In my home growing up, I fared somewhat better. I had a wonderful mom and a good relationship with her. Raising eight children, her world consisted of cooking, housekeeping, laundry, working part-time at the popcorn plant, and keeping peace in a small, crowded house of kids and pets. She did not leave me outside to observe her world but drew me in and alongside her. Her love for reading, writing, and beauty in nature and the arts was also passed onto me from her.
My father, on the other hand, was stern, aloof, and distant. Hugs and kisses were unknown to me from my dad, let alone affirming, encouraging words. He himself experienced rejection from his father and was passing it right along to us. It wasn’t until later in life that I forgave him and began to develop an honoring, loving attitude towards him. Several years before he passed away in 2000, I wrote him a tribute and out of doing that, I discovered my legacy from him even though he was never able to articulate it to me. This, too, became a life lesson, the power of honoring loved ones by writing them a tribute, which I developed into a teaching and shared with many.
1967 ~ The Summer of Love
I was 11 years old in August of 1967 when something of profound significance happened to me that changed me forever. On a hot, dusty Sunday afternoon in late August, I was playing with some friends and my sister in a huge sand pile not far from our house. We had carefully constructed elaborate edifices resembling castles, and suddenly one of my friends in a fit of anger knocked mine down. I was furious and decided I had had enough and started stomping home. My sister was not far behind me.
I walked past the tennis court, which the town converted into a skating rink in the winter, and a small building next to it that was a “renovated chicken coop” used as a skate-changing house. I turned my head and glanced in that direction while hot, angry tears were racing down my dust-covered face. To my utter shock and amazement, inside the little, doorless chicken coop stood an angel! I stopped dead in my tracks and brushed away the tears. Could this be possible?
She was beautiful with fair skin, curly brown hair, and was dressed in a long, pink robe. I noted instantly that she was barefoot and had no wings. She was a stranger to me, and besides, no one dressed like that in our little town, not even in the ’60s! She looked right at me and was smiling as if she knew me! My first inclination was to walk up to her (she was only about 30 feet away) and ask her, “What are you doing here?” Somehow, I knew that I shouldn’t approach her. I stood there for a few seconds longer just staring at her. She held my gaze and continued to smile. My sister walked by me, but she didn’t stop or ask me what I was looking at.
Later at home, I pondered the meaning of this. Was this my guardian angel? Did she have a message for me from God? I wish I would have talked to her! I knew that angels appeared to people in the Bible but never dreamed I would see one in my little hometown. I felt special and thought maybe God had a plan for my life.
Many years later, I would discover that much was happening on the world scene in the year 1967. It was in June of that year that the Six Day War occurred where Israel recaptured Jerusalem and the Temple Mount after being in Gentile hands for over 1,870 years (since AD 70). The war’s swift outcome was truly a miracle as shown by unexplained enemy blunders. There were many testimonies of angels being seen in Israel during the Six Day War.
It was also the Summer of Love, when as many as 100,000 people converged on the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco creating a phenomenon of cultural and political rebellion called The Hippie Movement. Ironically, the summer of 1967 also saw some of the worst violence in U.S. cities in our country’s history because of the race riots/insurrections that occurred in places such as Detroit and Newark. This aspect of the summer of ’67 is often called The Long, Hot Summer.
In addition, 1967 is thought to be the beginning of the Catholic Charismatic Movement and the answer to the prayer of Pope John XXIII, who ushered in the Second Vatican Council in 1964, with the hope that the Holy Spirit would create a “New Pentecost” and a transformation in the Church. A retreat was held in February 1967 with several faculty members and students from Duquesne University, a Catholic university in Pittsburgh, when the Holy Spirit came and filled several of the students. The professors had previously been baptized in the Spirit a week or two before. What happened quickly spread to graduate students and professors at the University of Notre Dame and others serving in campus ministry in Lansing, Michigan. From there, it spread around the nation and the world, and the Catholic Charismatic Movement was born.
As an 11-year-old girl, isolated in a small town in Iowa, I was totally oblivious to all these events taking place in the world. Today, I am in awe of a God, who saw me amidst all these happenings and wanted to let me know I was loved by Him and had a calling on my life. I was part of a much, much bigger picture as I began to find out seven years later.
1974 ~ Born Again
Our little town consisted predominantly of Catholics and Lutherans of German descent. No one, it seemed, ever moved to Wall Lake. However, in 1974 two families relocated to our town – one family were Southern Baptists from southern Illinois, the other Pentecostals from Northern Minnesota.
The Baptists had a daughter, who happened to be my age and was starting her senior year, too. The Pentecostals moved in just a block from us. When I met Joyce, the Baptist, at school, I determined she would be that friend of whom I had always dreamed. She didn’t know it yet, but she absolutely was going to be MY best friend whether she liked it or not! Unbeknownst to me, Joyce had decided she was going to lead me to the Lord, whether I liked it or not! She carried a big Bible on top of her stack of books, which she carried from class to class. She had tracks in her pockets and the name of Jesus on her lips.
I also met the Pentecostal family and babysat their children. They shared with me that salvation was by grace alone and not by works. This really flew in my face as a good Catholic girl, who was working hard and had probably earned at least a few decades out of Purgatory by then! I didn’t think I was bad enough for hell but certainly not good enough for heaven, so Purgatory fit me just right. My goal was to earn time out of Purgatory through good works and try to die with the least amount of sins on my soul. The struggle in my mind between working for salvation and receiving it as a free gift was intense! Which was true?
One evening while pondering these matters, I took a piece of paper, drew a line down the middle, and on the left side, entered all the reasons why the Catholic teaching of salvation through works was true. On the right side, I listed reasons why salvation by grace could be true. This was an exercise in futility! I was more confused afterwards than before. Finally, out of frustration, I went outside and sat on the back steps, looked up at the stars, and said, “God, if you’re really there, show me the truth!”
It wasn’t long afterwards that Joyce gave me a book of the testimony of a young, Catholic man, who had encountered Christ in a personal way. I devoured the book, and as I read how he prayed to Jesus to receive Him as his personal savior, I prayed the same prayer. The date was May 3, 1974. Immediately, I felt light as if a load had been lifted from my shoulders.
The following evening was the opening of a Christian coffeehouse for youth in the basement of the Methodist Church. I went with Joyce and there heard all about being born again from a Baptist pastor! Then I knew it was true. I was born again!
Later, when I discovered this Scripture about angels, I knew why I had seen one seven years prior: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve those who are going to inherit salvation?” Hebrews 1:14. And by the way, Joyce did become my very best friend, and we are still friends to this day.
I have known and followed Jesus for nearly 46 years through many ups and downs. I don’t believe just because I saw an angel with my own eyes. I believe because I know Jesus Christ lives in me!
“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” II Corinthians 5:17 New Living Translation