My Testimony – Given at PCS, May 2008
As members of Penticton Christian School we believe we are part of a community. Sometimes we even think of ourselves as a family, and that is truly what we are as members of the family of God. Usually when we think of a family, we think of people who know each other well, who not only experience life together day by day, but also who share their memories and their history. Parents and grandparents tell their children about their lives before the children were born. Older children tell younger brothers and sisters about things they remember from before the younger ones were born. Aunts and uncles and cousins also share their memories at family reunions and other events when all the family get together.
But at a school, sometimes we don’t know very much about each other. Older students and younger students spend most of their time in different classrooms, so they don’t always get to know each other very well. Parents and grandparents of students are part of the Penticton Christian School community, but because many of them aren’t at the school very often, we don’t always get to know them as well as we wish we could. In our classes we are often very busy with our day to day lessons, and while we have those memories to share, we don’t always get to know about each others’ life stories. Sometimes it seems hard for students and teachers to share their stories, because it can feel awkward to be open with each other in teacher-student relationships. What concerns me especially, is that even though we are a Christian School, we often don’t know each others’ stories about our life journeys with our God who is the Father of all of us, and who makes us into the greatest family ever.
I have been a teacher at Penticton Christian School for almost four years. Soon my time here will be over. And when I think about that, I feel sad to think that although I have talked with my students at different times about what I believe, and have shared a few stories about my relationship with God, I have never told the whole story, and maybe because of that, I have not really become part of the Penticton Christian School community and family the way I could have. So today I am going to talk to you about my life with God, and hopefully it will help us to get to know each other a little better, and be closer in this family. Maybe someday some of you will share your stories with me and with each other, and that might also help this Christian school community become more of a real family.
I was born 53 years ago this summer, just down the road in Summerland! My parents lived on the Queen Charlotte Islands, where they were teachers, but they were spending their summer holidays with my mom’s parents, John and Emily Mott. My grandpa Mott at that time was an orchardist, but he had done other really interesting things in his life. He was born in a sod hut on a prairie homestead in the 1800s, where his other 8 brothers and 1 sister were also born. After a number of years, the surveyors came through that area, and it turned out that the Canada-US border ran right through their soddie, so all the children, being born on the border, were given the choice of Canadian or US citizenship! He also tried inventing airplanes and also made his own radio before they were available commercially. When my grandfather became a young man, he heard the real gospel story for the first time, and he gave his heart to Jesus. He became a minister. At this time he met Emily, who had also given her heart to Jesus. An interesting thing about my grandma, was that she was from the Clemens family, and Samuel Clemens was her great-uncle. You have probably heard of him by his pen name, Mark Twain, which he used when he wrote books like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. After my grandparents married, they moved to Edmonton, where my mom was born. Later they moved to the Okanagan, and my mom grew up in Summerland. My mom gave her heart to Jesus when she was a young girl, and followed Him faithfully all her life. She was quite adventurous and was always trying out new things. She took nurses training, secretarial training, operated an orchard, and finally became a teacher. She was very pretty and full of life, and many young men asked her hand in marriage, but she would not marry a man who did not love Jesus. Finally, at Teacher’s College, she met a young man who fell in love with her as soon as he saw her, but while he was a very good young man, he did not know Jesus personally, so she would not date him. But she did invite him to get-togethers with other Christians, and after some time he really gave his heart to Jesus. Finally, when she was sure he would really follow Jesus all his life, she agreed to get married to him.
My dad was born in Rouleau, Saskatchewan, where his parents, John and Bessie Wright, operated a store. You may have heard of Rouleau; it is the small prairie town where the show, Corner Gas, is filmed. The family moved to Surrey when my dad was about 11 years old. They were good people, and went to church sometimes, but they did not understand about giving your heart to Jesus. However, my Wright grandparents did send my dad to a Sunday School when he was child where he did hear the gospel message, and always after that he wanted to know more about how to have a relationship with Jesus. When my dad graduated from high school he went off to be a soldier in Europe during World War II. Then he came back and went to University, and finally to teacher’s college where he met my mom, and finally found out more about how to really become a Christian and have a personal relationship with Jesus. After he really became a Christian, he also explained to his parents how to follow the Lord in a real way.
Already you can see that I am very fortunate because I grew up in a home where both my parents, and my grand-parents too, knew Jesus. After I was born, my parents dedicated me to Jesus when I was only a couple weeks old. They started taking me to church right away, and my life was filled with church events. It is true that I had lots of loving relatives, grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles and lots of cousins, and they were always a close family who spent many holidays together, going camping and skiing and other fun activities. But also, right from the beginning, I had another big family. There is a saying that “it takes a village to raise a child” and that is true. Children whose families have many relatives, friends, and church family too, are so fortunate, because they have a lot of people to care for them and guide them. I do not remember any time when I was growing up that I did not have a church family. Church was a really important part of our lives. On Sunday morning we would go to Sunday School and then church. On Sunday evening we would go to church again, and when we were in our teens we would go to youth choir practice before Sunday evening service. We would go to prayer meeting on Wednesday evening. When I was a child, I went to Pioneer Girls and to Christian Youth Crusaders, which were church childrens’ clubs. When I was a teenager, I went to youth group. In fact, sometimes I went to 2 or 3 youth groups. And I went to the Christian club at high school called Inter School Christian Fellowship, or ISCF. Often, there were special church meetings with evangelists, and we would go to church every evening for a week or two. I remember when I was a teenager, the Sutera Twins came to Vernon first, and then to Kelowna, and held revival meetings for about 8 weeks, and we went to a lot of the meetings. When I was still quite young, about 6 or 7 years old, our family started going to Family Bible Camp every summer, and when I was 9 till I was 14 I went to Christian Youth Crusaders Camp. I also went to ISCF camps and Youth Retreats all through my teen years. I was involved in lots of Youth group musicals, horseback riding trips, ski weekends, and all kinds of other great activities.
You might think that almost all I did was go to church activities, and that I was probably a really strong Christian. And that should be true. When I was a child, I hardly ever got into trouble. I was obedient at home, and did very well at school, so that I even got to be in a special class for gifted students. Even though I had always gone to church, and always won all the Sword Drills and Bible memory contests and got the most badges and awards at the church clubs and things like that, I guess I thought that since I was almost always very good, and knew the Bible so well, that I must be a Christian. Even though I had heard over and over again about giving your heart to Jesus, I guess I must have had a kind of idea that only bad people needed to do that, though I don’t really remember thinking about it at all. When I was about ten years old, I did go forward in a Crusade led by one of the Billy Graham team evangelists, but that was mainly because I wanted to be able to get the little workbooks they handed out, that you could fill out and send in. I thought it would be neat to fill in the booklets and mail them in and get them back marked. I thought I would get 100% and I was really quite unhappy when I got a couple answers wrong! I thought I was pretty smart, and I loved to learn about and take part in new things, but when it came to the most important thing of all in life, choosing to accept Jesus and become a Christian, I really didn’t seem to get it. When I was about 12, I went forward at Family Bible camp to the altar to give my heart to Jesus, but while all my friends were crying when they went forward, I didn’t really have any emotion at all, so I wondered if anything had happened, because at that time I thought you must have to be emotional to become a Christian, which I later realized really isn’t a requirement at all. I do think that at that time I did first open my heart to Jesus, and I was very serious about being a Christian, but it didn’t take long before some people told me that I wasn’t being a very good Christian, and pretty soon I was ready to give up. I saw some other young people who seemed to really get it, and whose lives were changed, but it didn’t seem to be happening to me. It seemed to me that I couldn’t have an exciting testimony, because I didn’t have any really bad things in life to be changed from. Sometimes I even thought maybe I should first go out and do something big and bad, so I could have a real reason to get saved. Besides, I also had the idea that to be a real Christian you had to be real serious all the time, and never act silly, and that was hard for me, because I loved to have a lot of fun, and laugh, and do crazy things with my friends. All my friends always said I was the life of the party, and even today I like to do crazy fun things, though you might not know it from school, where I try very hard to be a respectable teacher of course!
When I was in the gifted class in grade 7, we had a teacher who was an atheist. I had always been brought up in such a church environment, that I didn’t realize that there were people who didn’t believe in God. All that year, she told us all the reasons why she didn’t believe in God, and she questioned all our beliefs. She said she was just teaching us to think for ourselves, but that year I really began to have some doubts about the beliefs I had always accepted. Then, the next year, when I started high school, in grade 8, I had to go to the same school that my dad taught at. The very first day of school, some grade 12 boys found out that the commerce teacher, Mr. Wright, was my dad, and they started to laugh and shout through the halls of the school, “Hey you guys, we’ve got another Holy Roller in the school!” I was so embarrassed I wished I could disappear. But I also decided that I wasn’t going to give any of the students a reason to call me a Holy Roller again! So I started, bit by bit, to live a double life. I was still going to church and camps and Youth group and all those things, but at the same time I started to go to parties where all the guys and girls were pairing off, and everyone was smoking, drinking, and doing drugs. Of course, I would tell my parents I was studying with a friend or something like that. I didn’t actually get involved at first, but by hanging out with one of the wildest groups in the school, I was getting quite a reputation. At the same time, my dad insisted that I go to the ISCF club and even told me I could not take dancing in PE class, and when he caught me dancing in PE anyway, he yelled at me and at the teacher in front of the whole class. Quite a few incidents like that happened. Looking back, I know he was worried about me, and wanted me to believe in Jesus like he did, but I just thought he was mean, and trying to humiliate me. It made me very angry against him, and it also made me more determined than ever to be cool. Being cool became my biggest goal in life.
I started having boyfriends, and by half way through high school I was drinking, and by the end of high school I was also using drugs, but still my parents did not know, and still I was involved in all kinds of church activities. I thought I was pretty cool to be able to live life that way. Yet all along the way, no matter how cool I was trying to be, and no matter how much fun I thought I was having, I just couldn’t seem to avoid God. He seemed to be tracking me all the time. I loved to read, and I came across a poem called “The Hound of Heaven” by Francis Thompson. When I read the first few lines, I could really relate to it. After only reading it once, I could not get these lines out of my head:
“I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat — and a voice beat
More instant than the Feet —
“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”
And that was how I felt, as if God was hounding me, following me, never giving up on me. When I was 16 or 17, I went to the Sutera Twins crusade, and once again went up to the altar, but once again, the first time I did something I did not even have any idea might be wrong, someone accused me of not truly being a Christian, and again I gave up.
In my first year of college, I spent more time partying than studying, and before I knew it, I was pregnant. I was really, really scared. When I went to the doctor, he suggested I could go and live in another city with my relatives, but I was pretty sure all my relatives would be ashamed of me. So instead I decided to get an abortion. It seemed like an easy way out. But I found out it wasn’t so easy. I discovered that I was actually lonely for the baby, and I felt so guilty about the abortion. My parents knew what had happened, and they pressured me to marry the father of the baby, and even though I did not want to, because I knew what he was like, I was so emotionally upset that I went ahead and married him. We moved to Vancouver, and even though I was going to University and even still going to church, we continued to use drugs and also got into a lot of other things. Almost right away he was being unfaithful to me, as well. We went to a Bible camp one time, and I was hurting so much that I was ready to just give up and totally turn my life over to God, who even yet never seemed to leave me alone. I knew with absolute certainty that God was real and that He loved me, and I was ready to give myself to him, but my husband told me he would never follow God and also told me that he did not want to have any children with me, which broke my heart, but I didn’t believe in divorce, so I decided not to choose to follow God anyway. I guess I thought it would be too hard to have God coming between us, just like when I was a teenager. I didn’t want God coming between my friends and me. And I still wanted to be in control of my own life, and didn’t want to take a chance of Him making me do or say things that would take away my fun, or chase away my friends, and ruin my life the way I wanted it to be.
Soon I graduated from University, and got a job teaching high school on the Queen Charlotte Islands, in the very town where I lived for the first few years of my life, teaching in the same classroom that my mom had taught in. My husband got a job in a logging camp and we didn’t see each other much. Both of us got into a lifestyle of constant partying, but mostly with different people. Without God in our marriage, it became worse and worse, and soon we broke up. I became an alcoholic, going to school in the daytime and drinking every night and weekend. I got a new boyfriend, Lionel, who was a Haida native, and we had a baby daughter together. And yet all that time, God was still being the hound of heaven, still reaching out to me. I just couldn’t get away from Him. When our baby was about 4 months old, my boyfriend, whose grandfather was one of the very first Haida ministers, told me that I had to take our baby to church. Church there in Masset was held on Sunday evening, and there was a church bus. He called up the pastor, who was also a Haida, and told him to pick me up in the bus. Every Sunday evening, the church bus would come to our door, and my husband would put our baby in my arms, throw my coat over my shoulders, and push me out the door and lock it behind me. I was not allowed to come home unless I came home on the church bus so he would know we had been at church. Once in a while, Lionel would come over to the church, really drunk, and stagger in and plop himself down on the front row, and loudly shout “amen!” during the sermon. I was so embarrassed. I was also scared because it was a very lively native Pentecostal church, and I had never seen church people who sang so loud and danced in the aisles, and were always laying hands on each other and praying for healing and stuff like that. I just sat in the back row, holding my baby, and my knees shaking like mad, I was so scared. But at the same time, I could see that God was real in the lives of those people. They would tell about how God had come into their lives, after they had gone through terrible experiences in the residential schools, and losing their families in fishing accidents, and being alcoholics and drug addicts. And God really had changed them! I was so amazed. One night, when my baby was about 9 months old, a girl of about 14 years old, came and sat down beside me, and very quietly told me that it was time for me to finally give my heart to Jesus. She took my baby, and I went up to the altar, and there in that little native church, I really truly finally gave my heart to Jesus. He had never stopped following me, never given up on me, never stopped loving me. A month later I was baptized in the cold waters of Pure Lake in front of about 200 people, almost all of whom had been my drinking buddies in the bars and dance halls. When I came out of the water and looked at them all watching me, I knew that I could never, ever give up again. I had to show them that Jesus was real and that He had really come into my life.
My boyfriend also gave his heart to Jesus soon after I did; the Hound of Heaven had been following him too, all through the years. His grandfather had prayed and prayed for him, and God answered those prayers. We quickly got married. But Lionel was really alcoholic, and he was also proud. He told God, “I want You to be my Saviour from my sins, but I don’t need You to save me from alcohol. I’m a tough Haida warrior, and I can do this myself!” Well, for about two years, he kept on telling God that, and yet was drinking more and more. We moved to Inuvik for a new start, and he got drunk the first night there. But there was a group of Christian native men there who welcomed him, who were truly the family of God to him, and finally, not long after our second daughter was born, Lionel finally gave up and asked God to deliver him from alcohol. And God did!
Over the years, we had three more children. Lionel went to Bible College and we lived in various places. It has been a long journey. Sometimes the way has been a lot of fun, and other times we have gone through great struggles. Even though God has forgiven us for our past, and is teaching us to follow him every new day, we have had to live through some consequences of our past actions. When our five children were all teenagers at the same time, Lionel was rarely home because he worked in a logging camp, and sometimes I would feel like I was a total failure as a mother, when my children would get in trouble or I couldn’t seem to keep everything on track. One time I stood on Red Bridge over the Similkameen River in the middle of winter, and planned to jump in and die. But even in that moment, my heavenly Father spoke words of peace into my heart, and encouraged me and told me He still had many plans and purposes for my life. He has taught me more and more to trust Him for every day and every moment of life, and stop trying to be in charge, stop trying to do things my way, and instead let Him be in charge, because truly He loves me and everything He does is for my very best. We have now lived in Penticton for 5 years, and our last child, our son Peter, is graduating from High School. We have a 7 year old grandson, and 2 more grandchildren on the way. Our four daughters have all grown up and are all in permanent relationships and have jobs and educations. God has called my husband into a new career, and it looks like we will not be living here much longer. All these years of following Jesus have truly been an adventure. Many times there has been great joy, but many other times there has been great sorrow and trouble in our lives. But no matter what has happened, God has been with us in this great adventure, and we know He will continue to be with us until we reach the end of our journey here on earth and cross the river of death to stand face-to-face before Him, where, as we read in the story of The Last Battle of Narnia, we will have just finished the cover and title page of our life stories, and the great, eternal adventure, the real story that goes on forever, will begin. And I am looking forward with great joy to that moment when we will join those who have gone to Him before us; my parents, my grandparents, Lionel’s grandparents, the three children we lost in miscarriages, my baby that I aborted in my teenage fear… all will be waiting for us, and with them, we too will go forever “further up and further in” with Jesus, and with our Father God, and the Holy Spirit. And always I am praying that my children and grandchildren will also heed the call of the Hound of Heaven, and choose to follow Him too, with all their hearts. And I pray that every one of you here today will also heed His call. His life is the most real, most cool, more awesome life that you can ever imagine. In fact, His life is the only real life, for He Himself is the Light, the Life, the Way; and real love, real family, real community is only to be found in Him. Won’t you choose to follow Him now, today? Don’t make my mistake, and waste years running from Him. Turn to Him, choose Him now. You’ll never regret it. You’ll find love and life. I promise.
Date March 2008