Please read with patience. I haven’t even gone back to proofread yet. I’m just writing as it comes to me. I’ll polish it later.
My story…we have to go back to the beginning. I thought this to be an appropriate day to write, since it’s my birthday. My mama is no longer here to share my special day with me (her birthday is on the 29th, so we always celebrated together), but it will be a great day anyway. While still living at home, my birthday would always begin with the story of my “birth” day. Then she’d tell me about my name and how it was chosen. Here it goes…They kept us in the hospital until the 29th (her birthday) and I still had not been give a name. You see, she and my daddy couldn’t agree on a name. Daddy wanted Gina Marie and Mama wanted Amy Annette. On the 29th, the nurse told her she had to choose a name. Daddy came in and she told him that she had officially named me Amy Annette (wasn’t true…just watching for a reaction). He had a “pouting” party. Mama said, “Well, I see if I’m going to be able to live with you, I had better name her Gina”. So, he got his way and here I am…”Gina Marie”. The sad part is…he chose the name after Gina Lollobrigida.
I was Mama and Daddy’s third child. Mama turned 19, four days after my birth. Her first baby, Pam, died at 7 1/2 months old…the day President Kennedy was assassinated. It was very sad to hear this story. She had taken Pam to the doctor and had been told to just give her baby aspirin. That next morning, she woke up to see Pam’s eyes open and her gaze set. She asked the next door neighbor, Mrs. Merchason (I think that was her name) to come over. Mrs. Merchason knew something was wrong and went to call the dr. Mama went next door and overheard her telling the dr’s nurse to find the dr….the baby was dying. At that moment, Daddy cried out that she was gone. He had been rocking her and watched her take her last breath. Mama grieved and held on to her baby (her body had been laid on the couch). When the funeral home came to take her body away, Mama fought to keep her. Mama was pregnant with her 2nd child at this time and felt if she didn’t let them take her and didn’t calm down, she was going to lose this baby also. There’s much more to this story (dr. should have hospitalized her and the night before she died, he had been at a fireman’s meeting and was suffering from a hangover the next morning…long story). A few months later, Kenny was born. The same doctor delivered him and Kenny should have been a c-section. He was breach and the dr. forced the delivery causing brain damage. Now, my mother is 17 years old and has lost one baby and is now faced with a second baby with mental retardation. This brings me back to my birth. I was the 3rd child, but I was the unplanned baby. My mama was a little overwhelmed. She told me it was a good things I was such a “good” baby, since she just couldn’t afford to “spoil” me.
I was raised with an older brother that I truly cherished. He was hard to deal with when he was young. He had a violent temper and could be very aggressive. I know my mother said she had to be very careful not to leave me with him unattended, since he was known to hurt me (bite me). As I got older, Kenny and I became very close and I understood him in a way others could not. This could be another book to write 🙂 Okay, when I was 4 1/2 years old, we were blessed with my baby brother, James Stephen (Stevie).
I had a really good first 5 years of life, but Mama then went to work at a cafe. That was a major change in my life. But, somewhere along the way, my parents lost sight of what was important. At some point my parents were invited to a “benefit” dance. My mom was introduced to alcohol and discovered that when she drank she could be around smoke and not have an asthmatic episode. This opened doors for “partying”, which were never there before. We moved around a lot and “partying” became more and more important to them. Most Fridays were filled with me hearing my Daddy tell my Mama to drink. You see, he had to get her a little intoxicated before going to the dance halls. If not, she would have problems with her asthma. So, they slipped farther and farther away from us. We were not well taken care of. There are so many horror stories, but I’m not writing to remember all of this. I’m writing to show you where the Lord took us and what He took us from. Just believe me…life was pretty sad. As far as our health, it wasn’t a priority. Fast food and junk food was a staple in our home. Mama did normally fix breakfast before leaving for work. It was either oatmeal or pancakes. When we’d get home from school, we’d eat left over pancakes or oatmeal from the morning. I’m not sure how we survived the weekends, since they were filled with Mama and Daddy partying, hangovers (I can still smell the stench), and more partying.
The end of my 6th grade year took us away from the Houston area, back to my mother’s home town. In fact, we lived in the back of a convenience store, which my grandfather had built. He had died when my mother was three years old and my grandmother tried to run it herself. She couldn’t do it and eventually rented out the front part. We were going to stay in this town for just a couple of months, but I fell in love with the people. I had moved so often and had never learned to make friends. I was extremely shy. The kids in this town accepted me immediately. I felt safe for the first time in many years. I convinced my parents to stay another school year and enroll my older brother (they had pulled him out of school for the rest of that year. Back then, in Houston, Kenny went to a special school on a different campus. He had been beat up and bullied while riding school buses and in our different neighborhoods. Mama had decided to not enroll him for the short period of that school year.) Our seventh grade year, Kenny went with me and Stevie to the small town school. The kids fell in love with Kenny. He still lives in this town and is still loved by young and old. All three of us (Kenny, Stevie and myself), began to thrive emotionally. Life was much better, but Mama and Daddy still had their priorities messed up. Physically and spiritually, our lives were still a mess and “unhealthy”.
Jumping ahead to 1979, I had gone to church a few times with a friend. I would spend the night with her and her mom would buy me hose and I’d borrow one of my friend’s dresses. This happened several times and this was the only time I had attended church, except when I was 4 or 5 years old. I had gone a couple of times with my grand mother back then. My parents were totally against anything church related. I don’t think they were aware that I was going to church with my friend. God was putting several things in to play…church with my friend….a paper back Bible left on my doorsteps….christian friends put in my life..AND a math teacher who made a deal with us. Coach O’Neil said that we could skip doing our homework, if we attended a revival night church service. I asked my parents if I could go and they agreed, since it would benefit me. That was major. Up to that point, we were NEVER allowed to go to church. Their biggest complaint? “That’s where the hypocrites go.” Anyway, I asked if I could keep going and they said yes, under certain conditions. First, we had to walk (they picked us up a few times, but then Mama was afraid her car wouldn’t crank and she’d have to deal with one of those hypocrites). Second, we couldn’t talk about church or God. Third, we were to never allow anyone to come talk to them about church. Okay, I could do this. We started walking to church…me and my brothers.
God is good. He had been speaking to me for years. I had always been afraid I’d die and go to Hell, but I thought you couldn’t be saved unless you went to church. The only Bible teaching I had, was from the Blue Bible story books in doctor’s offices and a little “penny” Bible … you know the kind that are about 2 inches by 2 inches and have around 10 pages in them. I had read that booklet over and over again, while growing up. Anyway, one day I told a friend I was going to give my life to Jesus that Sunday. Of all days, there was a huge crowd of the “popular”, “older” kids from school and I was too embarrassed to go up in front of them. My friend told me it might be my last chance and that scared me. When the invitation came, I was the first one down the aisle.
I went home and told my mother what I had done…I had surrendered my life to Jesus. I had made him the “boss” of my life. I told her I wanted to be baptized, even though I really didn’t understand the purpose of this. She told me I could be baptized, but they would not attend. The rules still applied…we’d get ourselves to church, no talking about church, and no one visiting them from the church. The day I was baptized I went home and told my mother it was the happiest day of my life. I had no idea what an impact this would have on her life. It’s the only “church” thing I ever said to her for a long time. You see, this comment took her back in time. It took her back to the time of my sister dying. After Pam died, mama started going to church for a little while. She had gone forward to be “saved” and was baptized. This decision was not about surrender. It was not about Jesus, his life, his death, his resurrection, or her need for repentance. This decision was totally based on my mother’s want to be in heaven one day with her baby. She thought if she just did what they told her to do, she would be able to go there when it was her turn to die. There was no real commitment. There was no surrender. There was no life change. Because of this, she didn’t remain in church. So, many years later, when I told her that it was the happiest day of my life…she wondered…why didn’t she feel that way when she had been baptized? No wonder she had seen people as hypocrites. She had never had a true salvation experience. She had tried to be religious, so she couldn’t understand why others seemed to be more religious than her. She didn’t understand that there are many religious people, but that there can also be a true relationship with God. She didn’t know people could really love Jesus and experience that love in return. She didn’t know just how real our Lord is. Okay, time goes by and I am burdened for my family. Remember the rules…I can’t talk to them about it, but I could pray. I had a youth minister, Tim Lovelady, who would go to the alter with me every church service…Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday. You know, I was a young person and a very young christian. I had never been taught “how” to pray, so all I knew how to do was to simply talk to the Lord. I was very honest with Him and this was my heart felt prayer…”Lord, make my parents miserable.” Time ticked on and I did a lot of praying. It was a Friday night, I think, and my parents had gone out for a night of “partying”. They had not been gone long, when they returned. This never happened. I asked why they were back so early and my mother said, “I just wasn’t having any fun.” I tear up now…just remembering. That next week, my mother cut out a skirt and hand sewed it (back then…everyone wore dresses to church). My mama drove us to church that Sunday. Oh my, I want to jump and praise God now as I tell this story. It was just a matter of a few weeks before my mother got saved and surrendered her life to Jesus. I’ve never seen anyone change the way the Lord changed my mother. She had the most filthy language…more so than my father and from the time she got saved, I never heard another cuss word come out of her mouth. My Mama stopped the partying…she had no desire. This didn’t set well with my Daddy.
Well, we no longer had to walk to church. Mama was faithful to attend with us. You see, Mama was saved…Daddy didn’t like it. Daddy was going to church with us. He told Mama, “I’ll go with you to church, but I’m still gonna go out dancing”. He said it with a “smart elic” attitude. (Daddy’s words). Of course, he never went out again. Daddy really tested mama. You see, she totally adored my Daddy. Daddy used that against her. He threatened to go partying without her. They had both been extremely jealous of each other. Before her salvation, she would have done everything within her power to keep him happy. Now, she told him she would not go, but always reassuring him of her love. At one point, he grabbed her and told her she was going to dance with him and was going to go out with him. She told him, “I hate you.” “Get behind me Satan.” Mama didn’t know that was in the scripture. This completely shocked my daddy. She quickly explained, “It’s not you I hate, but Satan who is trying to hurt me.” This is the moment Daddy knew that what had happened to my mama was REAL. He knew he could never win her back to the life she had lived before, so he decided to join her…sort of. I can’t remember exactly how long it had been, but our church (Central Baptist) was in revival. It was a Monday evening and somehow the Pastor and the Evangelist beat us home. We drove into our yard and was terrified at the sight we saw. The two ministers were standing in our yard, talking to my Daddy. Mama told us to get out of the car and go straight to the house. We all did, including Mama. After they left, Daddy came inside and never spoke of the meeting or what was said. We certainly did not ask. Daddy went to each revival night church service. Every night he felt God calling him, but each night it got a little easier to ignore Him. It was the last night of the revival and Daddy didn’t move. The Evangelist came by him, at the end of the church service, put his hand on his shoulder and said, “Son, I was hoping you’d make your way down tonight, because the Holy Spirit can quit working on you.” Daddy went home and went to bed for a good night’s sleep. He couldn’t sleep…he kept hearing the words…”quit working on you” over and over again. Finally, he felt God tell him, “You know what you’ve got to do….not in the bed…get down on your knees.” “Bow down to me son, this time it’s going to be real.” Daddy was saved. Another miracle. God completely changed him into a new creature. I hope I remember to tell you later, about the time God showed me just how significant this change in his life would be to me. It will be much later, while living in Marshall. I’m writing this to remind me to tell you about it. Back to my story, Mama and Daddy were faithful and soon our whole family had surrendered to Jesus. Remember this…when we gave our lives to Jesus…we GAVE our lives to Jesus.
So, life had changed drastically. Kenny, my older brother, had begun to blossom. It’s like his whole life was different. His communication skills began to improve. His coordination was also improving. You see, stability in a home changes everything. I still had along way to go. There was a lot of healing that needed to take place. Satan has a way of bringing up the destruction of the past, even when there is so much victory in the present. We had been saved, but now we had to grow. Growing sometimes hurts, but it is worth it. I was at the beginning of my 8th grade year. I had very little confidence. I hadn’t lived anywhere long enough to make long term friendships, but suddenly I was in a church family. I had friends, but there were still the scars of the past to work through.
There are so many stories to tell, but this is the most important of the details…my whole family remained faithful to God. We studied our scripture together. We attended all church services possible. We were starving for God’s word, truth and knowledge. God was faithful to feed us. Did we mess up? Sure we did. Were we perfect? No, we were not. Did we ever walk away from God? No, we did not. Did God ever abandon us? No, He did not. Were times always easy? Absolutely not. We went through some hard times, especially financially. I don’t know if you guys remember, but economics were really bad during the late 70’s and early 80’s, especially with construction work. I watched my Daddy lose his job. We lost our mobile home and moved across the street into a one bedroom rent house. Every day my mom walked out of our rent house and had to look at our new mobile home across the highway, with someone else living in it. She struggled with this, but still remained faithful to her Savior and He was faithful to her. We eventually were able to move two houses down, into a three bedroom house. You know, this may sound terrible, but I’m being honest…those houses should have been condemned. In fact, if you’re familiar with my hometown, those houses are now gone. As hard as it was, as humbling as it was, they were times when God grew us. I remember this one particular Christmas, while living in the one bedroom house, we had no money for gifts. We made gifts for each other. I saved burned matches and glued them on paper in the shape of crosses. One Sunday before Christmas, we got into our vehicle and found three gifts in the back floor board. There was also a little coffee can with a little mouse outfit around it. To this day, I do not know who purchased those gifts, but I remember the moment so well. Our church family had provided us with a gift. This was the only real gift that year. I still have my bracelet. Kenny, my older brother, still has his dominoes in its wooden case, and my younger brother’s R2D2 robot has long been gone (he had a really good time taking it apart, once it quit working). Oh, the lessons we learned during those humbling days. I know l learned to be content in all things. It’s a lesson I still lean upon to this day. So, times were hard. Life wasn’t easy, but it was good.
We moved several more times…all around that little hometown. When I graduated highschool (1983), things were still pretty tough. There just wasn’t any work. Daddy found odd jobs to do. He cut down trees for awhile, but it was hard. I was in my first year of college and working to help contribute to the home. It all seems like a blur now. It’s amazing, all the things that happened in such a short amount of time. I finished my first year, but then my family moved to California. Construction was booming there. How exciting…moving to California….you know…California Girls , Beach Boys, Disneyland and everything a person could ever want…right? It didn’t go so well. We moved just out of L.A. My younger brother, Stevie, didn’t fit in. His only salvation was that he played the drums (he was in 8th grade) and he was good. They would bus him to an honor band, but the little town boy, didn’t know how to relate to the LA kids. We moved to a smaller community, Beaumont California, and I went to work in an airplane parts assembly plant. I worked in the inventory department and worked every hour of overtime they would give me. I saved my money (I couldn’t afford out of state tuition, so I was trying to get back to Texas) and finally the day came. We packed up my little Datsun. My mama, my little brother, and myself…packed inside to return to Texas. It would be temporary for my mama, but I and my brother would be staying. Mama got us set up in a rental trailer in our hometown. It was the end of my little brother’s 8th grade year. I found a job and after a few months Mama returned to California. She was torn between my daddy/older brother in California and myself/little brother in Texas. She split her time between us, when she wasn’t working. Stevie (my little brother) would spend summers with them, but I had him during the school year. We did this for several years. Were times always easy? Absolutely not.
I’m going to end here…for now…but I will be back for more of my story.