NEVER SAY CAN'T
When I was a junior in high school, I played the part of Bella the maid in the annual junior class play. I do not remember much about the plot, but Bella’s IQ was below normal. Bella had many humorous lines evoking frequent laughter from the audience. One line stands out in my memory. Bella had inherited a large sum of money from her mother’s relative. A nervous junior playing the part of an attorney asked Bella, “Where were you born?” In a poor attempt at a southern drawl, my answer was: “Ah was born in a house. Mah mamma was with me at the time.”
Well, I was born in a house in rural Indiana, and my mother was with me at the time! So was my twin sister!
My step grandmother (Grandma Nellie) kept a diary in which she would enter the weather report each day, mixed with the day’s events. The following entry from February 9, 1935, was found after her death: “Albert came over to tell us that Lola &
Everet had twin girls. Cloudy-but warmer and thawing...” On February 10th: “We started over to Everet’s and got as far as the Orvil Smiley place out of Pine Village and met Everet. He said the doctor has ordered Lola not to have anyone in to see her until after Wednesday...the twins’ names are Janice Irene and Mabel Maxine. The first baby was born at 9 a.m. and 2nd at 11:30...
Then on February 24th, she made this entry: “Lola got up last Tuesday. We went to Everet’s today to see the twins. Lola had a terrible time when they were born. Had to call Dr. Flack and put her under chloroform and take the second baby. It is a cripple, having the right hand and arm off to the elbow. It was that way before it was born.
Hold that thought: “before it was born.”
We were probably the most energetic people in our family. (Mother lived to be 90!) Since I had not experienced an amputation, there was no trauma, pain, nor adjustments to a new way of functioning. My parents did not treat me as though I were different.
TWO HANDS NECESSARY?
Our family attended church, especially on holy days. My mother had a very strong faith in a living Creator/Redeemer God. She convinced me that I did not need two hands. She said God had a recipe for me and had put me together with everything I needed. If two hands were necessary, God would have given me two hands - therefore, when something needed to be done, I could do it. Itwas so convenient for me to dodge the things I didn’t want to do. I would just say, “I can’t do that!” Mother would say, “You mean you don’t WANT to.” Then she would set about making sure I could conquer any task I needed to accomplish. (One time, when I was older, I came to tears and said, “Mother, isn’t there anything I don’t have to WANT to do?” She said, “If you don’t want to do it, say you don’t WANT to, but don’t say you CAN’T.” So, I said, “I don’t want to.” She said, “Do it anyway!” There was no escape . . . and my father approved!
A NEW WOLRD OF REJECTION
When I went to elementary school, children laughed and stared. They said they did not want to play with me because I looked funny. When my twin and I went home and told my mother about their overt rejection, she held me close and loved me. She said, “I feel sad that you are feeling sad, but I must tell you something very important: Those poor children! IT IS MUCH BETTER TO BE BORN WITHOUT YOUR HAND THAN TO BE BORN WITHOUT YOUR MANNERS!” To this day, I find myself pitying anyone who would take advantage of me or is rude or insulting. What a heritage my mother gave me!
WHAT IS THAT I HEARD?
I mentioned that our parents took us to church. I knew all the Bible stories. They were exciting, but they were onlySundaySchoolstories! OneofthereasonsIhad trouble believing Biblical truth is that I did not understand what I heard. A classic example of this happened after attending a funeral when we were about five years old. We heard the pastor repeat several times (referring to Heaven), “There will be no more sorrow or sighing.”
Somehow, we caught the two words, “Sorrow” and “sighing.” Much to our parents’ amusement, we began a long relationship with two imaginary playmates, “Sarra” and “Cya.”
This approach to Biblical truth was to be my pattern for several of my young years ...a universal trend I see without age or geographical limits.
Our imaginations were typical of children. Janice would pretend to be a music director of imaginary people in our living room. I “played” the imaginary piano on the table with my left hand and right elbow. When we were nine years old, we got a real piano. I found myself at the piano playing (with my left hand and right elbow) any musical pieces I heard on the radio. (That was BTV: Before Television!)
We lived on a farm two miles north of Perrysville, Indiana - population 350. My mother took us to one of the two local piano teachers. I remember Miss Adams’ now-familiar perplexed look as she said, “I will teach Janice to play piano, and Mabel can sing.” I observed my twin during three lessons. Each time I returned to show the piano teacher that I could also play Janice’s assignments. About the fourth lesson, Miss Adams decided she should teach me to play piano, also.
Miss Adams married during our first year of lessons. The other piano teacher in our community became our new teacher. She discovered I was only “hearing,” but not reading music. I complained that Mrs. Riggs was no fun. She made me read music notes aloud, count, and expected good technique.
Her steadfast attention and instruction helped chart the path I would follow. (She later became our public-school music teacher.)
I was beginning to discover what it means to have and use natural “gifts” that God gives us; however, I was not yet convinced that God was a real person, or that He was truly involved with us personally.
I heard many Bible chapters and verses read throughout my young life. I think I questioned most of the explanations I was given.
King David wrote songs to God and about God in the Old Testament part of the Bible called Psalms. Psalm 139 is one that David wrote.
The first two verses of that psalm say (in a paraphrased version, Living Bible), “O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit or stand. When far away, you know my every thought.” I would question...
NOW HOW CAN THAT BE TRUE?
HOW COULD GOD KNOW WHAT I AM THINKING AND WHAT SOMEONE ELSE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD IS THINKING?
I could not grasp the concept of a God who knows everything and is everywhere. It seemed far too
much to understand. (Frankly, it IS too much to understand!)
In verses 3 and 4 of that Psalm, David said, “You chart the path ahead of me and tell me when to stop andrest. Every moment, you know where I am. You know what I’m going to say before I even say it.” (Verse 5 continues), “You both precede and follow me.” My mind must have shut off before the next words, “and place your hand of blessing on my head.”
DOES GOD BOX US IN?
DOES THIS MEAN I CANNOT DO ANYTHING UNLESS HE SAYS I CAN?
Verse seven REALLY caused consternation to my young mind: “I can never be lost to your Spirit. I can never get away from my God.”
NEVER GET AWAY FROM HIM?
IF THERE IS A GOD - AND HE’S ALWAYS “THERE”
- WHY WOULD HE LET GOOD THINGS HAPPEN TO BAD PEOPLE AND BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE?
- WHY DID GOD MAKE MY SISTER WITH TWO HANDS AND ONLY GIVE ME ONE?
- DOES HE REALLY CREATE US?
- DOES HE ACTUALLY “CHASE” ME WHEREVER I GO? ARE WE NEVER LOST TO HIM BECAUSE HE HAS AN ETERNAL CAREER OF CHECKING UP ON EVERYTHING I DO?
- DOES THIS “ALWAYS THERE” MEAN HE HAS TO KEEP HIS FINGER ON ME TO HAVE A RECORD OF ALL THE GOOD AND BAD THINGS I DO?
Each summer, “our” church and the only other church in town cooperated in a Vacation Bible School for two weeks. It was a delightful time with singing, games, Bible stories, handcrafts, etc. The same summer we acquired the piano, our VBS teacher was from the “other” church. (I record that year as one of the milestones in my life!)
Our teacher had a gift for explaining to us children clear and simple truths about ourselves and God. She showed us correlating portions from the Old and New Testaments that clearly demonstrated each person is born as a “sinner” and cannot reach God by our own efforts. My view of God and the “merit system” just did not fit into this picture. It ran amok of my youthful concept that God demanded so much from me if I were to receive His promised rewards... a dilemma I thought God could have avoided in the first place!
The Old Testament proved to be more than just the familiar Sunday School stories I had been faithfully taught. I tried to fathom God’s system for a blood sacrifice that had to be made over and over for the admitted “sinners.” This was supposedly a picture of God making that sacrifice on the Cross and a constant reminder that He had promised to supply a sacrifice for all mankind.
Mrs. Hickman said God’s sacrifice on the Cross was one that could cover all our sins and God would see us as completely forgiven and perfect when we accepted that sacrifice.
One other assertion she made from Christ’s own claims was that Jesus is not only God’s son, but he IS also God. Wow! My nine-year-old mind was whirling out of control, but never would I let ANYONE think I comprehended less than my peers. In recent years, I have often contemplated that I was probably more probing and harder to convince than the typical child who does not deal with abnormalities.”
A familiar Bible verse was the theme of our two- week classes: John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever would believe on Him would not perish but have everlasting life.” If the next verse was mentioned, it took me years to discover “the rest of the story”.
“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” This was my first conscious introduction to a personal God who deals with us personally and wants us to receive Him as our Savior and KNOW Him.
At the end of VBS, Mrs. Hickman offered to help us pray if we desired to receive this gift God has offered us. She often quoted the New Testament verses, Romans 10:9-10, “If you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
My sister was so impressed that God had given us this free gift of salvation, she prayed with the teacher and her sweet, child-like faith brought her life a new vibrance. I DID confess with my mouth, my lips moved with the same words in “prayer,” but in my heart I still did not trust Jesus to be my Savior... so many questions in my young mind were begging for answers.
WHY DID GOD NOT MAKE A PERFECT WORLD THAT WOULD NEVER HAVE SIN IN THE FIRST PLACE?
I can only venture a finite answer to this infinite question. Because we are made in the image of God, could we conclude that our responses are much like His?
When I became a mother, I realized how sad and incomplete my relationship with my child would be if I had to MAKE him return my love. Perhaps that is why God made humans capable of choosing to love Him ...to return HIS love?????
I stayed up late nights sitting on the edge of my bed, staring out my window at the glittering stars in the black sky wondering about this God who supposedly created this entire universe... and ME! (When I later confessed to Mother my pattern of “late nights,” she was astonished.)
By the time I was in junior high school entering my teens, I was in demand as a pianist for all the school events, parties, etc. Now the kids were not laughing at me! They no longer said, “You can’t play with us!” In fact, my piano playing became the envy of many. Because I could read music, I was invited to sing in the high school choral group because they needed another alto voice. I played baritone in the school band, but when we marched a long distance, the baritone became too heavy to carry with my one hand. Thus, I often traded instruments with others. Over the course of my years in the school band, I played the cornet, trumpet, french horn, and altonium.
Janice & I were known in several communities as “the Watkins Twins,” singing and playing at public events, Youth for Christ rallies, funerals, and churches, but WHY WAS I SO EMPTY?
There always seemed to be a whisper in my heart - a sense that there must be a real God, and a vague longing to know him. The summer before my 13th birthday, I signed a pledge at church camp to read the Bible from beginning to end. I fulfilled that pledge (skipping genealogies!), but it was the most boring exercise of my life.
The following January, I was with some young people at a Youth for Christ rally. There was a chart stretched across the front of the auditorium with a “time line” from the beginning of the Bible in the book of Genesis to the last book in the New Testament, the book of Revelation. In the middle of the “ages,” was a cross. The speaker gave an account of Scriptures in the Old Testament pointing to the Perfect Sacrifice. Those who trusted in that promise knew God and were “saved” by their looking forward to that sacrifice - the Cross. Then he followed with the New Testament promises of “salvation” for all who were looking back at the sacrifice that was made for us. He proclaimed that we could not make ourselves righteous enough for Heaven, but on the Cross, we were accepted. This is not something that is forced upon us, but we must “accept our acceptance” for it to become ours.
But wait! This is the place that it is OK to admit “I can’t,” is it not? YES! And it is OK to say I really DO want to do it God’s way as revealed to us in Scripture. So, in front of many friends who were unaware of my masquerading as a “believer,” I made a public profession: “Jesus Christ is Lord. I believe that God raised Him from the dead and He wants to live His life in me!” I finally accepted my acceptance ...my GIFT.
I finished the endless debate of who God is and my unfounded concept of the “merit system.” I finally “did business” with God, understanding that He does love me and had made the necessary preparation and provision for me on the Cross to be “righteous” in HIS sight.
Again, I was reminded that God did not send His Son to the world (Mabel) to condemn the world (Mabel), but that the world (Mabel) through Him might be saved. I was not perfect...just accepted. I did not have to wait until passing from this earth to know if I was good enough for Heaven.
I did not see any bright lights, hear ringing bells, or have great emotion. I don’t think I felt any different that eventful night. A strange thing did happen: the very next day, the “boring” sense of reading the Bible was replaced by an insatiable craving to read as much as I could. I COULD read the Bible with a thrill I had never known. Not only COULD I read the Bible; I WANTED toreadit. IcouldactuallyUNDERSTANDthethings that had previously seemed cloaked in mystery (although I believe the life of faith has many unanswered mysteries.)
I HAD NOT FOUND THE ANSWER TO ALL MY QUESTIONS,
BUT I HAD FOUND THE ANSWER TO LIFE IN CHRIST JESUS.
As I write this years later, I still have many unanswered questions. Perhaps I must wait for Heaven for the answers. IwonderifitwillevenmatterwhenIseemy Savior face to face. After all these years, I discover more and more that Jesus is truly who He says He is and the Bible is proven over and over that it truly is God’s Word - His love letters written to me.
I claimed Paul’s same confidence in Christ’s powerful working in us from Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (That is all “the “things” He has called me to and wants me to do!)
Psalm 139 no longer holds the frightening shadow of a manipulating God who was keeping score. David penned words that have become my own in verses 13-16, “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit them together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex. It is amazing to think about.”
YOUR WORKMANSHIP IS MARVELOUS AND HOW WELL I KNOW IT!
At the end of that beautiful Psalm, David declares, “I cannot count how many times a day your thoughts turn toward me, and when I waken in the morning, you are still thinking of me.”
My mother was right: I really did not need two hands!
I eventually discovered that when I give God everything - no matter how small, He gives it back multiplied over and over. The following are only a few of the “gifts” He has given back to me.
In my high school junior year, I became the accompanist for all the choral groups. My last year in high school I inherited my teacher’s (Mrs. Riggs) beginning piano students. She ardently taught me how to teach. I taught piano for many years.
I began a double major in Christian Education/Music in college, finishing in Christian Education. It was there I met and married Ed - the love of my life, enjoying 64 years together.
I have had the privilege of speaking and giving mini concerts all over the United States (Alaska included), Canada, Far East Russia, Taiwan, and Japan.
For a few years, I served as the national Director of Women’s Ministries for a large denomination. After 30
years of pastoring churches, my husband & I were missionaries in Taiwan, Alaska, and Japan with SEND International. It was sheer joy to teach conversational English and women’s English Bible studies in Taiwan. What precious gifts these have been to me!
Probably the most obvious gift that has brought unlimited joy has been our son, Mark, who has brought his wife Lauren, our granddaughter, Taylor, and grandsons, Connor and Blaydon, to us.
Yes, God’s gifts are many, but the greatest gift is His Son, Christ Jesus. Because He has promised to fill our darkness and emptiness with His light and life, I am committed to sharing this amazing truth with “my world,” it really is no secret!
There is the skeptic who smiles and assures me that my positive thinking is the secret to my “happiness,” and smugly dismisses God’s work in my life or the reality of Christ. I can assure you, to be created with one hand was not my idea, nor does every day hold only those events I would choose.
My past does not really define me with its failures and successes, but I eagerly anticipate my future. Why? A glance in the rear-view mirror reflects countless times God has been at work - so often without my conscious knowledge of His activity. Yet, He has faithfully kept His Word. A close look at Him in His Word each day has not only given me positive thinking, but powerful living ...with just one hand!
Yes, I will praise Him for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. It is amazing to think about. His workmanship is marvelous and how well I know it!