A String of Pearls
by Gina Johnson Smith
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It was the turn of the century. A beautiful baby girl was born to a sharecropper and Baptist preacher in rural Arkansas. With almond-shaped eyes, cocoa-hued skin, strong Cherokee features, and a sharp intelligent mind, she grew into a beautiful confident woman. Over time Lillie Roberta Williams became a single parent of two active boys. After the death of her beloved father, she moved from her comfortable and familiar surroundings, finding work on the cotton farms of southeast Missouri and taking in laundry to make a living. Despite this, the lessons of her parents and grandparents continued to resonate in her spirit – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”.
Early in her life she began to understand what faith is. “You begin to stand on the Word of God when there’s no other way”, my grandmother once told me. Being a child at the time, I didn’t understand her words, yet they had been firmly planted in the soil of my soul.
Life in rural America was grueling. With her boys, she rose before sunrise and prepared their lunch pails for the cool, dusty ride to the cotton fields. The truck was full of men and women – Blacks, Mexicans, Indians, and yes, Anglos - all like her – trusting God for the way, yet doing whatever work was available to take care of their lives. After arriving at the cotton field, she would fasten her eight-foot cotton sack with the wide cotton straps around her broad shoulders, find a row and with her boys in tow, begin picking; dragging the long bag behind her. Where the cotton was fluffy it was easy to grab, but where the boll was only partly open, it was difficult to extract and hurt her fingers. Often the sharp needles on the tip of each hull would cut her hands and they would bleed. As the hours wore on, the intense Missouri sun would blaze down, baking her already sun-cooked skin a deeper shade of burnished brass. Being obedient children, my uncle and father would help her by picking cotton too, and playing safely near her. After many hours and over 100 pounds of cotton picked, she would drag her heavy cotton sack to be weighed, would get paid, and with her children close by would return to the truck; sweaty and exhausted, with sore muscles for the long ride home.
Upon arriving home she continued her long day by preparing a meal for them and washing the laundry on the tin washboard. At nightfall, she would have thought-provoking conversations with her children and would end her evening as she began her day – reading her Bible and meditating on its significance to her life. She was an innovative and highly favored woman, always finding creative ways to bring additional income to care for her family and others less fortunate.
Many years of this schedule left her with severe headaches, sometimes so bad that she couldn't work for weeks at a time. During these difficult times my father and uncle would scour the neighborhood, begging for money to purchase the B.C. Headache Powder that helped her feel better. These headaches went on for months until she finally went to see a country doctor. This doctor advised her to make arrangements for her children's care, because she wouldn't live another year.
This diagnosis was her date with destiny. This was her fateful moment. Whose report would she believe? Life had dealt her many blows, but this was the biggest. Would she stand on the many promises she had intellectually learned from the Bible? Would she move to a new realm of understanding and action? Knowing she had work to do, children to care for and a life to live, she decided to take a stand – while she did not deny the diagnosis, she decided to defy the outcome. She stood on her most holy faith and moved her intellectual understanding into a manifested belief. She saw her life and her outcome. She visualized her future. She saw this illness, this event, as an opportunity – not an obstacle. She saw it as a story to share – a testimony, if you will – to the power of the mind, to the power of prayer, to the belief that "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
In the proceeding year, she did all she could to work, exercise her body through the harsh work of the cotton fields and take care of herself and her family. She listened to her body and its needs. The body has a remarkable way of communicating its needs to us – we need only listen and answer. She decided that she would "prove God" by standing in faith – "…with His stripes, I am healed", she would say with her mouth and meditate on in her spirit, while doing all she could do naturally to take care of herself. It would be a year before the headaches would depart. She had found her answer and had been released. She knew in herself that she was now whole. The doctor ultimately confirmed it and long story short – she outlived him!
It is stories like this and many others that my grandmother shared with me as we tilled the rich, moist earth and picked the hot, ripe tomatoes from her front yard garden in the heat of the afternoon sun - stories of genuine faith and steadfast hope. By sharing these stories and allowing me to see her use this faith in her everyday life, I learned the powerful principles of living a life of faith. Over the years she would stand in faith for many things – a job, a house, the health and well being of her self and others. She had become a woman of faith.
It is in understanding this that I too subconsciously learned these principles – doing all I could, yet standing in faith, trusting that God is in control, orchestrating the strategic and necessary steps behind the scenes to bring to pass His will for my life. And because faith is a growing thing, she (and I) sometimes failed to pray, sometimes failed to do all we could, while releasing the outcome. Releasing the outcome allows you to know that God in control – “thy will be done”.
My grandmother was a powerful woman. Like Timothy's grandmother Lois (2 Timothy 1:5), my grandmother lived genuine faith. Her faith was genuine because it was lived – it was experiential to her everyday existence. Watching her life, her ability to overcome the obstacles that challenged her life, I learned the power of That relationship. I learned unyielding faith in every and all circumstance. I understood how to trust Him – I learned it was necessary to my very existence. This faith traveled from my grandmother's life realm to become a part of mine.
My journey has not been too different from my grandmother's. Like her I became a young parent of two children. Like her I held an open heart to the adventures of life. Also like her my life was challenged. Like her a doctor's diagnosis of cancer led me to my date with destiny. Like her it was a moment of decision. Whose report would I believe? It is when we're most challenged, when the control is out of our hands that our truth can be told. The truth of what we believe is revealed. Would my natural instincts kick in or would I stand on my most holy faith, trusting Him for the outcome? In remembering the experiences of my grandmother, the stories told over and over that imbedded themselves in my consciousness, in seeing a way made out of no way – I knew how to activate faith. I understood the importance of my words, my mind and my heart. It was within this understanding that my faith blossomed. He and I were alone together in this dance of surrender and trust. It was within this that I learned to bring the powerful forces of unity to bear on this situation. By involving my doctor not only in my treatment, but also in my faith. By understanding how locked up emotions and unreleased issues bring about destruction to the flesh, I learned to let go, truly love and truly let God.
Cancer-free for over 10 years, the lessons of my grandmother continue to resonate in my life and more of his favor is showered as I walk in faith and love. I continue to trust Him and like a committed Lover, He continues to show up and show out. In living this faith, it has been passed on to the generations through my daughter, my son, and my grandchildren. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me", resonates through the fiber of my family, for we are people of faith and favor. We are committed people and as a result covered people.
Every believer must ultimately come to the place where he is going to trust God's Word completely before he can experience consistent victory. We have to decide to give up our crutches: our selves, others, bank accounts, logic and reason, or human perspective. God has given His written word and the promise of His light to all His children. We must learn to believe it, live in it, use it, and claim it. Through our relationship with Christ, we have been granted access to every good and perfect thing. We have also been given the tools to fight the opposition that rises against us through our thoughts. Yet in spite of this, many of us walk in confusion, lack, and destroyed lives – we flow on the waves of life, being impacted by every situation thrown our way, being provoked towards resentfulness and revengefulness.
Life lessons have taught me that the only way to survive is to trust in the Word of God in very practical ways. It is only through knowing His Word and having intimate knowledge of Him can I rest. It is only when I fully trust Him that I am not moved by the circumstances and situations of life. Do I sometimes get knocked off kilter? Absolutely! But what I know for sure is this – that during those difficult times, during those uncertain moments, I challenge myself back to what I know and what is truth – that God is there waiting for me to acknowledge Him. He is waiting for me to get to the end of myself and know that He is there, waiting, like a patient Lover for me to run into His open arms and feel his warm embrace of safety. For perfect love and perfect peace exist there. He is waiting.
He is waiting for you, too. Has life dealt you a blow? Have you lost your way? Does it seem cold out there? Know that He is waiting for you to come home to Him. He wants to show you what is possible with Him. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" is for you.
My grandmother lived a life of faith from the cotton fields of Missouri to homeownership in Southern California. She understood "now faith is… - Hebrews 11:1.." and helped to instill in me the genuine faith that dwelled in her.
It is never too late to live a life of faith. Begin today to grow your faith walk. And when you do, watch Him show up and show out!
What are you waiting for?
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