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Journey of Spirit Walk of FaithOur Relationship with God
By Brenda CampbellJones Franklin CampbellJones
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Brenda CampbellJones and Franklin CampbellJones
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMamma's Spiritual Legacy: God Will Make a Way Where There ain't no Way!
Have you heard about Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? Or maybe you've read it. I like the title because I think it's true. When it comes to the basics—such as our emotional and spiritual personality— our attitudes are usually formed by the time we reach the schoolroom, if not before. The groundwork for my spiritual life, I learned at my great-grandmother's knee, even before kindergarten.
My great-grandmother, whom we called Mamma, was one of those "old souls" from a simpler time, an old soul who knew the secrets of a closer walk with the Creator. She didn't have much formal schooling (she might have made it to eighth grade), but Mamma knew the most important spiritual truths in a nuts-and-bolts, bread-and-butter way. That is the special gift of simple believers, like those plain country folks who crowded around Jesus in the hill country of Galilee. Those were the people who listened when He taught about the love of our Heavenly Father, and those were the folks whom He touched and healed. Those were the ones who really believed when He taught, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened" (Matthew 7:7–8). Although my great-grandmother lived in a different time and place—in the southern United States during the era of segregation and not in Roman-occupied Galilee—she was one of those simple believers.
As long as I can remember, at 11:50 pm on New Year's Eve, Mamma would gather everyone in the house (even visitors) and summon us to the living room. We'd get on our knees and "pray the new year in." Mamma would start praying just before the Santa Fe Railroad midnight horn would blow, signaling the incoming new year. We'd all thank God for allowing us to see another year and ask Him for His blessing. I've continued this practice throughout my life.
These days, we're also reading a lot about spiritual teachings in books such as The Power of Intention, Change Your Thoughts-Change Your Life and The Ultimate Happiness Prescription. These books teach about the innate powers of our minds and spirits to create a blessed life and to overcome our problems. The spin-off courses, lifestyle coaches, and so on are a phenomenon to behold. They testify to the spiritual thirst that abounds in our world. But I think Mamma would say that we should not overlook the fact that all the "secrets" we need are already in the Bible. In the book of Psalms, King David plainly says, "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him" (Psalms 25:14).
Mamma was one of those who feared Him; she had eyes and ears of faith.
When I was a very small girl and Mamma taught me Bible stories, I thought she'd walked with Jesus along the dusty roads and sat at His feet when He gave the Sermon on the Mount. When I pictured Jesus and His apostles, I'd imagine Mamma, wearing her red sunhat and clutching her straw purse as she trudged along with them or walked on dry ground through the Red Sea with the children of Israel. She could have been telling me stories about our family. It was only later on—when I'd started school—that I realized these things took place long ago in a far-off land and that Mamma hadn't been there in person!
What I was sensing as a little child was the aliveness of Mamma's faith and how real the Bible stories were to her. Her learning came right from the Spirit. So, when it came to spiritual things, I grew up with the conviction that if Mamma says it's true, it's true and I can trust it. She was my reliable guide. There's a saying that "God has no grandchildren." Each person in each new generation needs to forge his or her own relationship with God. That relationship of faith isn't something that can be handed down like the china and silverware. Teachings and traditions can be handed down, but each child has to make those teachings his or her own. It took me a long time to really "get it," to begin to make Mamma's faith my own. Actually, it really took the whole adventure of our dream house to begin to bring these soul lessons home to me. But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, I need to tell you about my beloved Mamma, my first spiritual teacher.
She was born Edna Mae Lewis in 1903 and grew up in the segregated South, in the small rural own of Tallulah, Louisiana. Like her mother before her, Mamma worked as a cleaning woman for white families. She had three children, one of whom died at birth. When my mom, Earnestine, was nine, Mamma and her husband, Pete Miller, whom we called Daddy Pete, moved the family to Las Vegas for a short while and then to the housing projects in San Bernardino, California. From there, they moved into a nice, three-bedroom house on the west side of San Bernardino.
Mamma raised her own children, two grandchildren (one of whom is my mother), and me, her great-grandchild. Four generations lived under her roof. She was our matriarch, and we loved and respected her. (My own dad, David Campbell, the son of a preacher man, wasn't a part of my life, I'm sad to say.) Mamma was a strong, unbeaten African American woman, an unsophisticated countrywoman who'd had a hard life but knew how to love and nurture.
She may have been poor, but she lived the richest, most vibrant faith and the closest walk with God I've ever seen. This woman never owned much materially, but in the ways that counted, she was rich beyond what most of us could imagine. To her, God was so real that she could just reach out her hand and touch Him. Now I ask you, when all is said and done, what else do we really need?
Mamma taught me to have a nonnegotiable faith in God's goodness and His unconditional, ongoing care for me. "God will make a way where there ain't no way," she'd instruct me. Just like when the Israelites fled the Pharaoh and ended up with their backs against the sea and no way across, God made a way through the sea. He made a way where there was no way.
She also taught me to pray not for a long life but for "good religion to live with and to die with." Part of her "good religion" was to feed any hungry person who came to our door. She'd always feed them, even if we didn't have much to eat that day. She'd say, "You never know if it's Jesus comin' back." But she never gave them money, because she said if it wasn't Jesus, they might go buy alcohol with the money!
Mamma had no formal theological training, but she learned from her church community, her Bible, her hymns, and the example of her own faith-filled mother and grandmother. Yet, today we think we are so much more sophisticated with our overeducated ways and the use of computers and technology. I believe that we're passing up something vital and irreplaceable if we forget the simple faith of Mamma and the multitudes like her—those simple believers who weathered the storms of life and came through victorious by trusting in God. Storms are still storms, today the same as yesterday, whether they're in the segregated South or in Silicon Valley.
But what does all this mean in practical terms? What does faith convinced that "God will make a way where there ain't no way" look like? To me, it looks just like Mamma.
A true story of my childhood illustrates Mamma's influence on me. I call it "The Miracle of My First Tooth," the day when God made a way "where there ain't no way" for me. I was in first grade, and for weeks, I'd been working to loosen that tooth. All day long, I'd wiggle it. I couldn't wait to place the little white jewel under my pillow and get a visit from the tooth fairy. The tooth fairy, I was assured by both my mother and Mamma, would leave me a shiny new dime. It was 1958, and a dime was a lot of money.
One sunny school day, during recess on the playground, I felt the hard little tooth fall onto my tongue. Instantly, I stopped playing, stuck out my tongue, and dropped the white speck onto my hand. Smiling broadly, I slipped my treasure into the right pocket of my shorts. I patted my pocket. My tooth would be safe there.
When the bell rang, we ran to line up in our respective classes. I hurried to my desk but couldn't sit down. I was too excited. I couldn't wait to show Miss Laguna, our first-grade teacher, my prize. So, I reached into my right pocket ... but I couldn't feel the hard, sharp little tooth. I dug deeper. Where was it? Deep and deeper I dug. Worry started fluttering in my belly. Maybe I'd been mistaken about putting it in my right pocket. I plunged my hand into my left pocket. No tooth there, either! My heart began to sink like a stone flung into a pond. Feeling frantic, I thrust both my hands in both pockets and poked my fingers into the seams and followed them to the corner. Maybe the tooth had gotten stuck. No ... no ... nothing! Finally, in utter, mute disbelief, I pulled both pockets inside out.
Tears prickled behind my eyelids. My precious tooth was gone. Gone, gone, gone! And gone was the tooth fairy and her shiny new dime. I couldn't believe it. I hurled myself up to the front of the classroom. "Miss Laguna! Miss Laguna! My tooth came out at recess! It was just here, but now it's missing!" I could hear my voice crack with despair.
Miss Laguna looked at me kindly. She misunderstood. She pulled my chin up and toward her and inspected the new gap in my teeth. "It sure did come out, dear."
"No!" I cried. "You don't understand! I had it in my pocket, and now it's missing. It fell out, and I put it way down deep into my pocket—right here." I pointed to my pocket while biting back my tears.
"Did you look in all your pockets, dear?"
I nodded, pointing to the pocket flaps I'd turned inside out. "See, I did! It must have fallen out on the playground. Oh, Miss Laguna, I have to go back outside and find it. Please!"
Miss Laguna smiled a little, a kind of sad, pacifying smile that I'd sometimes seen on grownups' faces. She looked deeply into my eyes. "Brenda, it's a big playground. It's impossible to find a tiny tooth out there. I'm so sorry, dear, but it's simply impossible."
Now my emotions began to overflow in earnest. All that turmoil of loss churning in my stomach became tears rolling down my cheeks. "What about the tooth fairy?" I cried. "She won't come if there's no tooth, Miss Laguna. What will I do?"
All that work! All that tugging and pulling and stings of pain! But at that exact moment, an image of Mamma flashed into my mind. What would Mamma do? I knew immediately. I could hear her voice, as clearly as if she were standing beside me. Mamma would say, "Brenda, God makes a way where there ain't no way." Period.
"Miss Laguna, I'll ask God, and He'll help me find it. With Him, anything is possible."
I saw something in Miss Laguna's eyes that I didn't understand at the time. It's a look that I now know and that I've witnessed often. It's the look of someone who'd really and truly like to have faith but who allows him- or herself to be pulled down by doubt and what is "reasonable" in the eyes of the world. Miss Laguna sighed, glanced away, and looked down at her desk. Then she raised her eyes to mine. "All right, Brenda. You have fifteen minutes to look for your tooth. Take a friend with you."
"Yes, ma'am. Thank you." I breathed in deeply and dried my tears. God would make a way. Mamma had said so. I grabbed my friend Mary Ellen and we ran through the hallway and out into the sunny playground. It stood empty, silent, and huge before us. "What are we looking for?" asked Mary Ellen.
"My tooth!" I pointed to the gaping hole in my top teeth.
Mary Ellen frowned. "Okay ... but how are we going to find it here?" She kicked at the leaves. "There are leaves everywhere!"
"We'll find it," I said. "God will make a way. Let's go."
With our little eyes glued to the ground, we retraced my steps, visiting everywhere I'd played during recess: on the merry-go-round, on the swings, the seesaw, in the sandbox. Nothing. Nothing but leaves, twigs, dirt, and an occasional candy wrapper.
My heart felt empty. I kept blinking back the tears that were filling my eyes. I turned to God, just like Mamma taught me to do whenever I felt upset. "Dear God, please, please, please help me find my tooth. Mamma said You can make a way where there ain't no way. And right now, dear God, I need a way to find my tooth and You are the only way I have!"
I opened my eyes. Right in front of me stood a huge oak tree surrounded by fallen leaves. I felt drawn to those leaves. I walked over to the tree and began rustling through the decaying gold and brown foliage.
"Brenda! What are you doing?" called Mary Ellen. "It's time to go back in!"
Ignoring my friend, I concentrated on my task, even though I wasn't exactly sure what I was doing. I made a small clearing until there was just one single leaf left. I stretched out my hand and turned over that leaf. The light caught a small white object.
"My tooth!" I shouted. "I found my tooth!"
I picked up my tooth and put it in the palm of my hand. "Thank you, God, for helping me find my tooth!" I prayed out loud. I wasn't ashamed for Mary Ellen to hear. My happiness was uncontainable. "Thank you, God! I knew You'd make a way."
Both Mary Ellen and I gazed joyfully at the glistening ivory speck. With my tooth securely grasped in my hand and my fist securely tucked in my pocket, I skipped back into the classroom. Miss Laguna was addressing the class. In my exuberance, I ran to her desk and interrupted her.
"Miss Laguna! Look! I found my tooth! See, God made a way!" I opened my hand and displayed my treasure.
"Oh my, oh my," she said, her hand going to her mouth. Then she beckoned the other children, and we all gathered around the teacher's desk and marveled at what God had done.
This is the heritage of unyielding faith that Mamma gave me, even before she taught me about following God's guidance that comes through dreams. You see, this trusting faith is the foundation for hearing God's voice in any situation. Jesus told us that if we had faith the size of a mustard seed, we could move whole mountains (Luke 17:6). Please don't discount my story of answered prayer because I was a child at the time. The Bible teaches that to receive the Kingdom of God, we must be like little children (Mark 10:13–15). That means we need to have the simple, uncomplicated faith, like a child does. Unfortunately, even if we have this type of faith in childhood, we often lose it as we grow into adulthood. As adults, we tend to rely on ourselves rather than on God. We erroneously believe we are self-sufficient and no longer need God. Our egos take first priority, and our closeness with God is lost. We begin to assume that childlike faith is foolish. It has taken me the better part of a lifetime to realize that childlike faith is not foolish.
Spiritual life seems to be full of contradictions, and having the faith of a child is one of the biggest paradoxes. You see, just like Mamma knew, in order to grow into the adulthood of faith, we need to remain simple and trusting, like little children. The faith of a child is not something weak or small. It's something uncomplicated, because it's rooted in a heart that's unified in its trust in the goodness of God. To be spiritually strong, we need to know in both our minds and our hearts—at the very cellular level—that God is with us, God is for us, and, "God will make a way where there ain't no way."
Mamma believed God communicates with us, and she lived her life accordingly. She talked to God like most people talk to their best friend. She'd say, "Father, I don't know what to do. Just show me the way, tell me what to say, and send your angel before me to blaze my path." And with simple, trusting expectation, she listened and answers came. Sometimes those answers came through dreams, prayers, or through God "speaking" through circumstance and people. As soon as I was old enough to listen, she taught me to trust in Divine guidance. From as far back as I can remember, I took trusting in God as a part of life, just as I took Mamma's love and buttermilk biscuits as part of life.
Excerpted from Journey of Spirit Walk of Faith by Brenda CampbellJones Franklin CampbellJones Copyright © 2010 by Brenda CampbellJones and Franklin CampbellJones. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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