God can touch us in many different ways. When I was sixteen years old I was in my room late one night reading a small Gideon New Testament. It had been placed in my hands a year earlier by a man wearing a suit and tie, standing on the sidewalk in front of my High School. I had finally begun reading it, trying to make sense of it
all. That night, I read this verse: Acts 26:16, “Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me.”
I felt as if God were speaking directly to me. To this day I’ve considered that moment as my call to ministry. But today I was reflecting about the years prior to that call...the difficult years...parents who weren’t capable of fulfilling their job description, family addictions, insecurity (which came through a lack of being validated), and fear...fear of seemingly everything, especially tomorrow...the future.
But today I was looking back, beyond what I’d known prior to that night in my bedroom in Louisville, Ky., and I thought of Joyce...Joyce Adams, “Aunt Joyce” as I called her. She was the first person who ever made me feel loved.
We’d visit her and Uncle Orville each summer. They lived on a farm, in a traditional white farmhouse that resembled a large two-story rectangle...windows across the front, door in the middle, and a concrete stoop, maybe a foot high. We never entered through the front door. We always drove up the gravel drive and came in the back way, through the kitchen.
Ah, the kitchen. Aunt Joyce was Queen there. Every morning she’d cook a country breakfast (a far cry from Pop-Tarts, frozen waffles or toast, my normal morning cuisine), and she’d let me help. No, I didn’t learn how to cook...but I learned something better...I learned how to feel love. It overflowed from her life. I knew very little about God or the Church, nor did I care that I knew very little...but there was something about Aunt Joyce that made me think, “She is sooo good.” That was it. I didn’t think “so loving,” because I didn’t know how love felt, or what it meant. So I thought, “sooo good” instead. She was gentle, soft spoken, always smiling...or so it seemed. Sometimes she sang as she cooked. “What a friend we have in Jesus.” “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.” I don't recall her ever asking me to sing along, nor did she preach; she just sang. It was happy singing, like a busy robin welcoming the sunrise on a Spring day.
When the farmhands had all eaten, they’d go out to work in the fields. I wouldn’t see them again till the sun was about to kiss the earth in the Western sky. After they’d leave, Aunt Joyce would turn to me and say, “Gary, you’ve had a good meal, and it would make me really happy if you’d take a nap on the settee. (I didn’t know what a settee was, but she’d point to the couch). I never got the feeling that she wanted me out of her way; instead it seemed that she genuinely wanted me to rest.
Next to the settee was a big, old, ticking clock. To this day, that’s why I love clocks! There was a window too, which she’d open so I could feel the breeze blowing through the long, white sheer curtains. So there I lay, listening to the tick-tock-tick-tock...feeling the cool breeze, and falling asleep...the taste of farm-fresh bacon still in my mouth.
Today it occurred to me that my encounters with Aunt Joyce were my first encounters with God. Her love was limitless, yet simple. She truly longed for me to experience peace. She knew our family, and she knew that peace was a concept unfamiliar to me, and somehow she hoped and cared that a little six-year-old boy could experience it. And in that way...she was God to me. And in that way...she changed my life and heart.
Why am I writing this? I don’t know, really. All I know is that Aunt Joyce didn’t quote verses, or insist that my behavior meet her expectations, or expect me to be just like her (things we church-going people usually excel in). All she wanted...was for me to feel loved...and secure.
It worked. I believe the Holy Spirit first introduced Himself to me on that little farm in Troy, Ohio. I never really realized that until today. I always thought it happened ten years later, on that night of Bible-reading in our little brick home on Paramount Drive. Today...I realized that sometimes God works through bacon, biscuits, a settee, an old clock, and a morning breeze. And yes, friend...sometimes, indeed most often He works...through love.
Aunt Joyce died not many years later...cancer...age 43. I miss her. I wonder if she knows? I wonder if she realizes how grateful I am? Maybe Jesus will read this to her. If so, here’s what I want to say: “Aunt Joyce...thanks. You changed my life. I love you. I’ll see you soon. I’m sure you’ll be cooking breakfast for somebody when I get Home. Save me a seat. I've got lots to tell you."