I’m Not Lonely Anymore

February 24, 2007

I’m Not Lonely Anymore
by Penny Ann Rice
Undated, originally published in the New Life Zoa Free Paper

I became fatherless at the age of three. My father left my mother and I and we never heard from him again at all. Since I was very close to my mother, it seemed that my world was still rosy even without my daddy.

I was the apple of my mother’s eye, the “penny in her pocket.” We did everything together and the warmth and security of her love seemed all that I needed. When she was at work, Grandma and Grandpa were right next door watching over me.

When it was time for me to go to school, Grandpa was there to pick me up and take me home. He showed me how to walk back and forth from school as I grew older. He was a kind old gentleman with a twinkle in his eye. I could sit for hours listening to him tell me stories about his life. Until I was about ten years old, I had weak ankles and was constantly twisting them out of place. Several times my grandfather would walk to my friend’ houses to pick me up and carry me home until my ankles snapped back. But in spite of all the love he showed me, Grandpa was not my daddy. He couldn’t pick me up and swing me around or hold me close and call me “his girl.”

My mother seemed to sense that I needed a younger man to look up to, so she dated several men, often taking me along to see how I like them. But the “right” person didn’t appear and Mother became immersed in the vicious cycle of working, coming home to see me, cleaning, paying bills, etc. She was too busy to go to church, although she sent me to Sunday School. And as I passed my seventh birthday, there was a change in our relationship.

Mother was tired when she came home and left me to find my own amusement. She would lay on the couch, smoking cigarette after cigarette. I knew she still loved me, but something was sapping her strength. She began vomiting regularly, so much that I took on the job of fetching the pail for her. She kept working and denied that anything was wrong. But one day as she was bathing, she screamed in pain. I ran to get Grandpa and Grandma. . . before I knew what was happening, my mother was whisked away in an ambulance. Finally we found out what had been making her sick: cancer. For months we prayed and waited, but the cancer had already destroyed most of her internal organs. She died shortly after my eighth birthday.

 

It took me a while to realize what had happened. I was used to staying with Grandpa and Grandma anyway so when I was put in their custody, the change was barely noticeable. But as I got older and saw my friends’ parents active in school activities and saw the young fatehers and mothers doing things with their children, I became envious. Not having brothers and sisters made me feel even more lonely. As I grew up living with aunts and uncles, I knew they were trying to fill that void but the loneliness was still there. Finally in college I read the following passages in the Bible which really comforted me:

“Thou art the helper of the fatherless” (Psalm 10:14) and “When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.” (Psalm 27:10) and “The Lord preserveth the strangers; He relieveth the fatherless and widow.” (Psalm 146:9)

I wondered how these promises would be fulfilled in my life, but I clung to them whenever the loneliness welled up inside me. And then. . . after 18 years of being without a daddy, the Lord gave me a daddy—and a mommy again—when I got married. As soon as I was blessed with a husband in the marriage ceremony, the realization hit me as we walked out the church door. I turned to my new father-in-law and said, “Now I have a Daddy again!” What an emotional release it was for me to know that I was someone’s daughter again. . . “somebody’s girl.” And even though my husband’s parents live hundreds of miles away, my heart is at peace because I am still “their girl.”

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Picking Up the Pieces, 1986

February 24, 2007

Picking Up the Pieces
by Penny Ann Rice
1986, for the New Life Zoa Free Paper

This article is especially for those who have felt the powerful effects of being in a broken home. It is the story of how God can pick up the scattered pieces of our lives and restore the joy of being who we are. It is a challenge to know the emotional healing that comes from forgiving and loving those in our families who have hurt us.

My parents, especially my father, had planned not to have children. World War II had ended only a few years before; and it would take time and money to build the lifestyle that Gertrude and Harrison Bean dreamed of. “Gertie”, an attractive brunette, had put off marriage until age 31. She had become bitterly tired of growing up “without” during the Great Depression and wanted to make sure she would have a better life when she married. She and “Hal” were working toward that goal when Gertie became pregnant with me in 1949. Although both of my parents were proud and happy when I was born on February 15, 1950, their dream became more unrealistic as the years went by. My mother devoted her time to raising me, and Daddy went from job to job. Arguments heated up to physical abuse and separation, an attempt at reconciliation, and then finally Daddy left for good. I can still remember seeing—through three year old eyes—Daddy slamming the front door behind him, the chenille door curtains swaying from the impact, and my mother bursting into tears on the sofa.

Life remained fairly secure for me, however, even though Mom had to go back to work to support us. Her parents lived on the other side of the duplex house and were my babysitters during the day. Every weekday in the late afternoon I would sit on the porch steps and watch the heavy traffic go by on First Avenue in Maywood, Illinois, until my mother would come home from her secretarial job at the veteran’s hospital. We were very close and she worked so hard to make sure our lives were pleasant—too hard. Shortly after I entered the first grade, cancer began its two-year rampage in her body.

By the time she went to a doctor, it was too late. A month after my eighth birthday, she was gone. Her death was not published in the papers, because my mother’s family did not want my father to claim custody of me. And so grandparents, aunts, and uncles all pitched in to take care of me for the next ten years.

I often wondered what happened to my father, but it was not until after I was married and had three children that I really made a serious attempt at finding him. Since yielding my life to Jesus Christ and letting His love saturate the lonely, hurting areas of my heart, I had forgiven my father for abandoning us; and I wanted him to come to know Jesus too. This became my prayer since 1980. For six years I have made sporadic and unsuccessful attempts to find my father. The biggest problem in doing this was not knowing his birth date, place of birth, or social security number. In fact, all I knew was that he had been in World War II in the Army Air Corps.

But the Word of God promises that if we delight ourselves in Him, He will give us the desires of our hearts. This year God unlocked the mystery of what happened to my father after he disappeared out of my life thirty-three years ago!

It all began on a very ordinary Saturday when I was training one of our office workers on mailing list correction word down at the New Life Evangelistic Center headquarters in St. Louis. We were “knee-deep” in paperwork, when a woman came in the office to volunteer her time. Normally she worked up in the Channel 24 television department, but that day there was no one to supervise her, so she decided to help in our office. Now, I am quite used to the Lord sending in people to help when we are knee-deep in work, but I didn’t know that He sent this woman to also help answer my prayer about my father.

As I talked with her, the thought kept rattling around in my brain: “Ask here where she works!” Finally I asked her and what she told me sent chills up and down my spine. She said, “The National Archives for the US Armed Forces.” Immediately I told her about my father and she explained that, with everything now on computer, she could search his records just by his name! The information she gave me three days later sent me on a tailspin for three months as I tried to determine if, indeed, the records she found were those of my father. In a way I wanted to believe that they weren’t. . . . the records revealed death by heart attack on June 24, 1983!

The records also stated he was born in 1902, meaning he was forty-seven when I was born—instead of forty as it appeared on my birth certificate. I tried several other sources of information, including my mother’s work records from the VA hospital, but could not determine if this were really my father. Then the Lord gave me the idea of calling the hospital in North Chicago where this man had died in 1983. I prayed specifically that God would have me talk to the right person. . . and sure enough, a very understanding social worker read me everything she could over the phone from his medical records.

Then she got the adrenalin flowing in my veins by informing me of his two daughters who both lived in Illinois! She did not know if they were natural or step-daughters, but one of them was “incompetent” in a nursing home. The other was named Judy and she did not know her age or anything about her, except that she was married and working. I almost flipped when this kind social worker gave me Judy’s home phone number!

After praying for about a week, I called the number. It took several tries before we finally caught each other at home, but on July 21, 1986 at around 7:45pm my mind was finally at rest! This man born in 1902 was my father, and Judy and I are half-sisters! She was born in August of 1960—when Daddy was 57! He had never told her about me or my mother, although he did tell her about his first daughter, Dorothy (born in 1923!) who is in the nursing home.

As Judy and I have corresponded since that night in July, we’ve discovered that our father was married four and possibly five times and live a life of much deceit and instability. But I also saw in him real kindness and loyalty in some of the remembrances that Judy has of him. Her mother also died of cancer when she was eight, and Daddy placed her in foster care after that. It is amazing how much we had in common as we grew up victims of the vicious cycle of our father’s instability. But we have both learned the joy of forgiving and even loving him, in spite of the rough times.

I do not know if Daddy is in heaven. . . but I do think it’s exciting to realize that God put it on my heart to begin praying for his salvation three years before he died!

In the meantime, it is so wonderful to see God picking up the scattered pieces of Harrison Bean’s children’s lives and bringing us together in a unique way. Judy and her husband Mark plan to come to St. Louis during the Thanksgiving holidays. How good it will be to hold my very own sister in my arms and spend time getting to know her! And I haven’t forgotten our sixty-three year old sister Dorothy. She suffers much from dabetes, but she can communicate to a certain extent. So my desire is to love her through letters and, of course, in my prayers.

In the midst of all my search for the truth about my father, I discovered an exciting and almost ironic fact: my father was the son of a minister—Rev. James Madison Bean of St. Clair, Tennessee! In spite of a wayward son, God did not forget the grandchildren of His servant, James Bean! Truly, God is a God of the fatherless. He watched over Judy and Dorothy and me all these years and. . . only He could bring us together in spite of all the odds against it! And I can’t wait to see what He has in store for us girls in the future!


All Alone

February 21, 2007

All Alone by Penny Rice
(Originally published in the New Life Zoa Free Paper)

My body trembled in fear as I heard my mother scream for help from the bathroom. I ran as fast as I could, but being only eight years old, I tripped several times up the steps to my grandparents’ apartment. They rushed back with me and found my mother sprawled on the floor, unconscious. When the ambulance came and she was put on a stretcher I kept calling to her, hoping she’d wake up–but she just lay there white and still. Then several days later I found out why. . . she was dying of cancer. My whole world was shaken. Five years earlier my father had left us to shift for ourselves. Now my mother would be gone, too.

At the funeral, the pastor took my hand and assured me that God would take care of me. I nodded my head, but I couldn’t see how He would take care of me. For the next ten years, I wondered even more if God loved me. I seemed as though He were playing games with me–just when I would settle down to living with one set of relatives, something would happen and I would be sent to live with another set of relatives. I developed a growing fear that no one really understood me. My pillow was often wet with tears of bitter loneliness.

What I did not realize was that God was leading me through these trials and tragedies to make my heart hungry and open to Him. Then when I was broken and felt so alone, He revealed the plan that He had for my life. At a small junior college, He led me to a serious-looking sophomore named Larry Rice. It did not take me long to see how devoted He was to God and how he really cared about people. God had sent me someone who could understand me and the loneliness in my heart began to dissolve. Many of the doubts and fears in my mind about God were answered and I began to trust more and more in Him. Three years later, Larry and I were married and we put our whole future in the Lord’s hands saying, “Send us wherever you want us to go!”

With a few more circumstances at work, He brought us to St. Louis to become founders of New Life Evangelistic Center. Each day is full of reaching out and sharing the love of Christ with people. God could have chosen anyone for this work, but He chose a frustrated, lonely girl from the suburbs of Chicago who had no idea what it meant to serve God. Now the tears that sometimes wet my pillow are tears of happiness and gratitude that God would reach down and give my life a purpose.


You Can Learn a Lot From a Bride

February 21, 2007

You Can Learn a Lot From a Bride by Penny Rice
(Originally published in the Zoa Free Paper, 1988.)

The glow was unmistakable on my friend’s face as she spoke of her forthcoming marriage. As we drove along the highway together, her enthusiasm about the wedding day was highly contagious–and we discovered that even a splitting radial tire on my little Toyota could not cool the fever of our excited plannings. We laughed like silly schoolgirls while we knelt on the wet shoulder of the highway. . . and quickly realized how differently the Japanese think when it comes to designing car jacks

And yet what a difference our mood of excitement made in the way we faced our unexpected car trouble. (Usually I am not the most patient nurse in treating ailing cars.) Needless to say, I was glad there was a happy, bride-to-be with me on this trip.

This little incident has made me wonder how many more brides all over the world right now are brightening the days of family and friends in an otherwise discouraged and lonely world. To be around someone who is happily awaiting the day when her beloved one comes for her. . . to see the sparkling eyes. . . the blooming cheeks. . . the lilt in her walk. . . is a feast for the eyes.

Pondering these thoughts has brought me to another dimension–because I’ve usually found that the simple truths of life always seem to point to some deeper truth that God is trying to reveal to us. Could it be that what God Himself desires is for His people to love and long for Him like a bride longs for her bridegroom?

That idea does not appear too far-fetched according to Hosea 2:19-20: “And I will betroth you to Me forever; yes I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, and in steadfast love, and in mercies. And you will really know Me then as you never have before.” And in Isaiah 54% we find: “For your Maker is your husband–the Lord Almighty is His name–“From Jeremiah 3:3 comes this: “The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love, I have drawn you with lovingkindness.'” THe Apostle Paul even told the Corinthian Christians: “I (Paul) promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.” (2 Cor. 11:2)

What really grips my heart about this deeper truth is that I’ve discovered that Jesus behaved just like a bridegroom when He lived on earth! No–Jesus never married–but instead He actually betrothed Himself to all those who believe in Him and give their hearts to Him. It was easy to understand how Jesus became our Bridegroom, when I learned about the following seven steps in the traditional Jewish Wedding:

1. Before the bridegroom could pick a bride, he must have his father’s approval. (John 17:24, 1 Cor. 1:9)

2. At the betrothal (engagement) ceremony, the bridegroom must do three things:
a)drink a cup of covenant (wine) (Matt. 26:27-29)
b)pay the price (1 Peter 1:18-19, 1 Peter 2:24)
c) make this speech: “I am going to leave you for a long time and go back to my father’s house. I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2,3)

3. The bridegroom must then begin building the bridal chamber and make provisions for a seven-day honeymoon. It had to be just right to win his father’s approval. If anyone asked him when the chamber would be finished, he was supposed to say, “I don’t know, only my father knows.” (Acts 1:7)

4. Meanwhile, the bride would wear a veil whenever she went out and she was called “set apart,” “consecrated,” or “bought with a price.” She always waited at home every night for the traditional “catching away” by her bridegroom to the bridal chamber. She would be waiting with her bridesmaids who would all have their oil lamps filled and waiting for the important moment. (John 17:16,17; Jude 1:24)

5. When the bridegroom and his party came close to the bride’s house, they would shout. Then the bride and her party knew they were coming. The bridegroom would literally grab his bride and run by the light of the oil lamps to his father’s house. (1 Thess. 4:16,17)

6. As all the wedding guests watched, the bride and groom went into the bridal chamber and would not reappear until the seven days were over. There was feasting going on during the seven days among the wedding guests. (Rev. 5:5-14)

7. The couple then emerged as husband and wife from the bridal chamber and the marriage supper was celebrated. The veil was gone from the new wife and the couple then lived in the place prepared for them beforehand. (Rev. 19:7-9, 1 Cor. 2:9, Isa. 25:6,7,8)

[Source: Zola Levitt, An Israeli Love Story]

The corresponding Scriptures I’ve chosen for these seven steps reveal how Jesus will come to claim His Bride–all those who truly love and obey Him with all their hearts–and we will live with Him forever.

What occurs to me next is that if we are betrothed to the most wonderful Bridegroom in all the universe, Jesus Christ, shouldn’t we be a little excited about it? In fact, just thinking about our Bridegroom coming in the clouds to get us ought to put a sparkle in our eyes, a glow on our faces, and a lilt in our steps as we look up and say “Come quickly, Lord Jesus, come quickly!” Perhaps it is time that the Bride of Christ awakens from her slumber, fills her lamp with the oil of the Holy Spirit, watches and prays for her Beloved One’s soon, and brightens up the darkness all around her as she waits.

I don’t know about you, but even in the midst of a busy schedule, I’m listening for my Beloved Bridegroom’s shout and I can’t wait for Him to sweep me off my feet!