Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children

James Browning

stories from the book
by James V. Browning

We Shall Behold Him

Mary Beth Kissee

A young couple married Christmas Eve of 1949. The young woman, Vera, was 25 years old, an old maid according to her standards. Darrell was a young man of 23, a new Christian, ambitious and anxious to make a life for his new bride. He grew up among a loving family, picking cotton in the fields of Arkansas during the depression. She, a small town girl, grew up in a conservative Christian home, her heart tuned to the needs and rigors of missionaries on the field for the sake of Christ.

For years they tried to have a child, but no child came. As the story has been related to me, they prayed for years and years—seven to be exact, and God had an answer for their prayers.

Somewhere else in the USA, a couple of people engaged in immoral sexual activity, resulting in what today we term a crisis pregnancy. I don't know the story. I can only imagine the shock, the shame, the indescribable hurt and torment for a young woman with a growing tummy. A baby? She had her own life still ahead of her. What was she going to do? Why did this happen to her? She was unable to care for this child on her own. What would she do?

I’m sure there were cries to God as to why she was “cursed” by this unfortunate pregnancy. In the 1950’s, you were considered to be about the same level as a whore if you came up pregnant and unmarried. Little did she know that the crisis in her belly was to be the long-yearned-for-answer-to-prayer for another’s just as earnest cry to the heart of the Heavenly Father. I was the baby in her belly. I had a place of destiny prepared for me before the foundation of the world. What Satan meant for evil, oh, God meant for good. She didn’t have a plan, but God did.

I think often of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who bore the shame of her “crisis pregnancy.” What men called a bastard, God called His Holy Son. God’s ways are not man’s ways. My conception may not have been holy, but my redemption was. My origin may have been full of impurity and lust, but my end is nothing short than the honor of the glory of the Lord. When God touches something and calls it clean, it’s clean, baby. A lot of people struggle with the fact that they were an unwanted pregnancy (or whatever you want to term an illegitimate child), but when God shows up on the scene with His agenda, He loves to take the foolish things of this world and confound the wise. He loves to turn evil into beauty. He loves to mock the strategies of the adversary. He took me up from a miry pit and set my feet on solid ground. He gave me a home, a mom and daddy, then He gave me Himself.

I remember the night when I, as an 8-year-old girl heard a preacher talk about our heavenly home. He called for those who wouldn’t go there if they were to die to ask Jesus to forgive them and save them. I met my Savior. I recall my tears at the sweetness and joy I felt in my heart even at such a young age. The Father was rejoicing. I was His. He was mine. I was no longer an object of sin. I was fully a person of grace.

My mom and dad never said a negative thing to me about adoption when I was small. They always told me that God had just planned it that way. They told me I was special. They told me my birth mother loved me, but couldn’t take care of me so she gave me to them. They reinforced this with so much love that I always felt a little sorry for those boys and girls whose parents didn’t get to “pick” them. Their parents just had to take whatever they got.

I have never met my birth mother or birth father. I had a closed adoption. I don't know anything about them. Although I’ve never met my birth mother, I’ve always had the strangest feeling that she was a Christian and has been praying for me all my life. I haven’t been able to quite understand the reasons for certain successes in my life when others just as able failed. (Not to say I’m any big success and I could write a whole book on my mistakes.) It seems the more I know about the kingdom of God, the more I know that our victories are won or lost in the prayer closet. I have a sneakin’ suspicion that I have had two mothers praying for me all my life. Most people only get one. One had her hands on me, molding me, shaping me, loving me, whacking my sassy backside, and hailing heaven on my behalf. The other sending angels on assignment, her tears on my birthday filling that bottle in heaven, her love being sent “air mail.” The just shall live by faith. If she has been praying all these years for me, she has an incredible reward for her in heaven. She’s living not by what she sees and can hold in her hands. She is living out there in Faithville pleasing the Father! Hallelujah!

A lot of people always ask adopted people if they have ever met their birth parents. Nosy. But understandable. Ha! Personally, my answer is, I have left this up to God. I believe that this, like all events of import in our lives, we MUST seek the will of the Father. Shall I run ahead of God and do what I want, or shall I wait just a few more short days here on earth and have an eternity to spend getting to know her? Just like we should in all things, I want to listen for the direction of my Father. Yeah, it could be really cool, wonderful, heart-wrenchingly sweet. But it may also get in the way of what God is doing in another person’s life. I’ve left this decision to Him. It’s too big for me. (Plus...I’ve more relatives now than I can keep up with! Ha!)

I grew up as a child out on a ranch in Oklahoma. I rode horses and became a semi-professional barrel racer by the age of 14. I have been a youth minister, worked in campus ministries in Oklahoma, done resort missions in Crested Butte, Colo., been a short-term missionary to Romania, have sung and produced a tape of Christian music in Romanian, taught vocal music, been a Bible teacher/author and speaker---just been so many different things, I get confused myself.

  • Continued...

    I think of my life like a packet of ketchup—you know, the kind you get from a fast-food restaurant. When I was in high school, we used to play “chicken” with them. Whoever was “it” and showed enough courage would take the ketchup packet and smash it with their fist, and risk getting squirted themselves or killed by somebody it hit! You see, just like that ketchup, I was filled and packaged by a certain brand name. But when God’s big fist came down on me, I squirted in every direction! Although I was packaged Baptist, I’ve been squirted all over the place.

    Late Bloomer: If you knew me, you’d say I was a singer. A vocal artist. I paint with my cords, my vocal cords. I love to lift my praise to heaven and let it soar in graceful nuances that dance around the throne of God. I love to rip out measures that shout JESUS IS SO AWESOME! GOD IS SO WONDERFUL! HE IS SO HOLY! Sweetest of all are the soft lullabies of the spirit as the Father holds us every so tenderly. Ooh...just let me sing. He’s sooooo good.

    When I was a kid, I never had any idea I could sing. God surprised me one day in my junior year of high school. I thought I was a cowgirl. He thought otherwise.

    The high school choral teacher grabbed me in the hall. “Mary Beth, you’ve got to join the chorus this semester.” “Huh?” I grumbled with a look that said you gotta be kidding! I can’t sing.

    He convinced me that I had enough history in church choirs that I should let him listen to my voice. Only if absolutely no one else could hear this humiliating display would I comply. So I trudged after him down to the music office.

    As we ascended and descended the scales, I fearfully watched his eyes as they kinda bulged out from time to time. I remember thinking, “I probably sound like a dying cow,” as I reluctantly continued this tortuous exercise. At the top of my range, he stopped, paused and said in a very direct manner, “Mary Beth, do you have any idea what you’re doing?”

    “No,” I whimpered.

    He exclaimed with a force that made me nearly jump out of my skin, “Mary Beth? You’ve got A VOICE! You’ve got an incredible instrument in there and you’ve GOT TO do something with it!”

    I thought, “Yeah, right. Is this the way you get goofy people like me to join your chorus?” I moaned out a reply to which he immediately replied that he was calling my mother, and he thought I should begin voice training immediately.

    I did, and it was fair to pitiful for quite a while. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that all the lessons began to pay off. I wanted to become a Christian concert/recording artist in the worst way. I wanted to use my voice for Jesus.

    Looking for a Supernatural Reason. As is pretty typical for a young girl during the ages of 17 to 23, I fell in love at least two or three times. Swept off my feet. Knocked-out loopy. Looking for a Mr. Right.

    The Mr. Right’s turned out to be Mr. Wrong’s as far as the will of the Father was concerned. I was 23 with a broken heart and heading straight into my first semester of seminary.

    The conclusions I came to during the times on my face with God that year, began for me a testimony of God’s grace that has evolved over the past 18 years. (Yikes! 18 years? Sounds like a dinosaur!) What God has worked in my life and the lessons he has baked into me through the fires of refining are some of my richest treasures. His words to me are sweeter than honey.

    I recall a moment that I consider one of my altars of sacrifice. There is a cost to following the Savior, you know. Romans 12:1 says, “I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” I had just been challenged in an early morning Bible study by a statement, “If there is any other explanation for the events of your life other than the supernatural power of God, He won’t receive the glory, you will.” Standing in the middle of my dorm room at OBU, down in the basement of Kerr, I stood and committed two areas of my life to God. I gave these to Him to work and receive glory for His supernatural ability, my music and my husband.

    A Testing Fire. After I graduated from OBU, I enrolled at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. In Texas, I continued singing although I was in the theology school. My heart was split down the middle between wanting to go into ministry discipling young Christians and a Christian music career.

    In 1984, the year before I graduated from seminary, a group of dear Christian brothers in Christ wanted to see me record an album. I didn’t have the funds available to do this alone, so through their aid, I recorded an album project the fall of ’84.

    Some dear friends also took it upon themselves to help me get my singing career in high gear. They wanted to use some of their connections in the Christian music world to launch my career. We did some traveling, talked with record producers, and letters were being sent alerting prominent people of my budding career. Inside me something was saying, “No. This is not the way.” Was it me, or was it my Lord?

    As a young Christian, I was taught that God will guide you and direct you in your ways, but when your inner guidance mechanism conflicts with the professional ideas of others, it can create quite a problem. I was miserably torn. In my quiet times with God, I knew that the Father was saying, “STOP. This is not the way.”

    You risk sounding super-spiritual when your heart and soul tells you that you must follow the guidance of the Lord and it disagrees with others. You risk being a total fool if you fall flat on your face. You find out you’ve a lot to lose if you’re wrong. You might look like an ungrateful wretch in the eyes of others. However, if the thing that matters most to you is what Jesus thinks, you may be willing to risk it. If you can see yourself standing before the heavenly Father on the day when your deeds are judged and rewards are handed out and know-that-you-know-that-you-know you’ve followed the will of God, then it is definitely worth any risk.

    I called a meeting with my friends to tell them I could not continue in the direction of a music career in the way they were mapping it out for me. They were shocked. My parents were utterly embarrassed. The response of my friends was, “Mary Beth, you just don’t have the commitment it takes.” I thought, “Yeah. If I didn’t have commitment, I’d never be sitting here doing this.” I left weeping and dejected, yet in my heart I knew I had been obedient to the Lord. How could this be God and be so embarrassing for my parents? How could this be God and I disappoint these dear people?

    There are times in our lives as Christians that God puts us to a test. He tested the children of Israel in the wilderness to see what was in their hearts. He will test us and try us to purify us that we might come forth with faith as pure as gold. 1 Peter 1:6-7 says, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

    God Shows Up. It was October of 1985. I limped home to Texas, thinking my career in music was over. The Lord kept encouraging my heart that He who had called me was faithful. Waiting on God became very precious to me. “Either God comes through for me, or I’m sunk, dead-in-the-water,” I thought. The Lord encouraged me through His word in Zechariah 4:6, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit”, says the Lord Almighty. I figured if God could lead a couple of million people around a desert for 40 years and provide for them, He surely could provide for me, too. My life was a whole lot less complicated than their predicament.

    I recalled the altar of sacrifice in my dorm room nine years earlier at OBU. Had God a supernatural reason for my career? Oh yeah, was that just a spiritual ambitious statement made by a very naive girl, or did God take me seriously? Was He about to show His strong right arm?

    Another friend of mine, James (Newt) Wall was on a plane around the first part of November. He ran into another friend of his who just happened to be on the same flight, U.S. Congressman Wes Watkins of Oklahoma. Congressman Watkins was visiting with my friend, Newt, when he said, “Hey, Newt, I need some help. I’ve rotated onto this committee for the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington this year and I’m supposed to find some music. Who do you know?”

    Mr. Wall had been sponsoring a Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast for the town of Seminole for nearly seven years, and I had been the guest soloist at almost every one. At these breakfasts, I had the pleasure of meeting Congressman Watkins and other dignitaries, but did not know any of them personally.

    “Well...Wes,” Newt started in his thick Oklahoma drawl, “Don’t you remember that gal who sings for us at the Seminole Prayer Breakfasts?” Congressman Watkins responded affirmatively. “Why don't you get her to sing for the breakfast?”

    I’m not sure exactly how the conversation went after that. I was not a nationally known singer, by any means. I’m sure Sandi Patty would have been available at the drop of a hat for the President. Amazingly, Congressman Watkins told Newt to have me send a demo tape to the Prayer Breakfast Committee, and they would consider me.

    The day Newt and his wife, Mary Ellen, called to tell me about the opportunity to be considered for the soloist, I shook all over. Head to toe. Shaking with excitement. Do I want to sing for the President of the United States and leaders from more than 150 nations? Ahhhh! How would they EVER choose me? I’m a nobody!

    My Daddy, who can’t carry much of a tune in a bucket (but who is one of my favorite singers) used to sing a line from an old song to me. “You’re nobody ‘til somebody loves you!” He certainly loved me, but this nobody was loved by Somebody else, too. Somebody who ran this whole universe, and He was just about to show me what He could do when I put things in His hands.

    One day in December, I received a call. “Mary Beth?” This is Phyllis from Congressman Watkins’ office in Washington calling. I have good news for you. You’ve been selected to sing for the National Prayer Breakfast.” All I can remember after that is telling myself over and over not to hyperventilate. Of course, being a woman, the first thing that enters your mind is, “What am I gonna wear to sing for the President of the United States” I was bouncing off the ceiling.

    The night before the breakfast, I was in my hotel room with one of my dearest friends in the world, Amy Wall. Amy and I began to pray for the coming events of the morning. As I was praying, I was impressed to pray for the ambassadors who were to be in attendance. As soon as I began to pray for them, I felt the Holy Spirit speak to me in my inner heart and say, “Tomorrow I will make you an Ambassador of my Presence.” Whoa. Huh? What was that again?

    I guess one of the deepest desires of my heart was to know the presence of God—to just walk with Jesus—to be a part of His operations—to be a delight to His heart. When I was a student at OBU, I began to read about revivals. At seminary, I heard stories from professors of tales of God doing extraordinary things as one of His servants ministered in power and anointing. There have been men who lived so much in the presence of God, that when they entered a pulpit the presence of God fell upon the place and God was glorified. I hungered to know the presence of God like that.

    God uses the simple to confound the wise. I guess I got to be the simple that day, or at least in my eyes I was. I was up, dressed and down in the ballroom for a sound check. Secret Service agents were already scanning the area. I had not received a lot of instructions about the order of events, or where I would be seated or anything yet. I wandered onto the stage. Across the front of the stage was the long head table set with presidential china. I was in a dream. I should be in a cow pasture. What am I doing here? This is ludicrous. I glanced down at the place cards. They read: President Reagan, Mrs. Reagan, Vice President Bush, Mrs. Bush, Senator Lawton Chiles of Florida, Mr. James and Susan Baker, Mr. Billy Graham, General Paul Kelley, Commandant of the Marine Corps, Senator John Stennis of Mississippi, Congressman and Mrs. Wes Watkins of Oklahoma, and down at the next to the last chair, I saw a card with my name, Miss Mary Beth Kissee. Wow. Oh God. Wow.

    The song I had prepared to sing was the glorious song, “We Shall Behold Him”, by Dottie Rambo. It ended on a note extremely high for an 8 a.m. breakfast, but it portrayed my heart like no other.

    We met in the green room before the start of the meeting. The President and Mrs. Reagan entered and passed through our line, greeting all the program personnel and shaking our hands. We sang “Happy Birthday” to President Reagan (it was his 75th), and then proceeded onto the stage.

    I looked over the crowd for my parents. I found them towards the back grinning from ear to ear. I saw my friend, Amy, seated down in front and we winked and giggled at each other. Immediately below me was Anita Bryant, seated at a table. I knew there were so many very important people here, but I was so ignorant, I didn’t know who they were! I was seated next to an Ambassador who had been involved in a horrible hostage situation. I tried to make small talk with this nice ambassador as I tried to eat my presidential breakfast.

    Each of the individuals at the head table took their turn in the order of the service and suddenly I was up. The gentleman who was in charge of the stage had positioned me back on the stage away from the podium to sing. I though this was very odd. It seemed rather strange. Typically everyone signs and speaks from the same location. Oh, well. I hit my mark and the song began.

    In order to see me, those seated at the head table had to turn around. President Reagan turned his chair and I was singing directly into the smiling eyes of the leader of the Western world.

    The song goes, “The sky shall unfold, preparing His entrance. The stars shall applaud Him with thunders of praise. The sweet light in His eyes shall enhance those awaiting...and we shall behold Him...then face to face.”

    President Reagan’s eyes were glued on me, full of joy and his head nodding in full agreement. I felt the glory of the Lord lift my heart and I began to sail out into the heavens with glorious chorus, “Oh, we shall behold Him. Yes, we shall behold Him. Face to face in all of His glory. Yes, we shall behold him, we shall behold him...face to face, our Savior and Lord.”

    The second verse continued, “The angels shall sound at the shout of His coming. The sleeping shall rise from their slumbering place...and those who remain shall be changed in a moment...then face to face.”

    I was lost in another world. I was lost in the glory of God. I was singing to the King of the Universe. What mattered the kings of this world? The song ended on that note that screamed to the sky he was “Savior and LORD!”

    Numbly, I looked ahead, still feeling rather fuzzy from the presence of God I was experiencing. President Reagan had leapt to his feet and was applauding madly. The whole place was up out of their seats also. The place was exploding in applause to the praise of the King! King Jesus!

    I stumbled my way back to my chair, passing Billy Graham, who smiled graciously and knowingly. “He knows,” I thought to myself. “He knows God showed up, too.” Maybe I wasn’t the only one who felt that awesome Presence.

    At the end of the morning after the President gave a glowing testimony reflecting His faith in God, we adjourned. People began swarming the stage. Men and women were introducing themselves to me, congratulating me, thanking me. I was still trying to figure out who they were as they were introducing themselves. Suddenly a man grabbed my hand and introduced himself as head of one of the Olympic Committees. He said, “Listen, your song was great, and your voice was wonderful, but what the whole place responded to was this presence of God that fell in the room.”

    “Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!”, I was screaming inside, yet trying to look as dignified as I could in such company. “You did it, God! You did it! Oh, Glory! Oh, Jesus! You did show up!”

    I have often wondered what effect that morning had in the history of our nation. For at least three and a half minutes, I know that crowd of world leaders had to feel something different. They had to know they had an encounter with God. They had to know Jesus is real. Three and a half minutes of God would change a world.

    It has been years now that I had the marvelous privilege to be an Ambassador of His Presence. Of course, I have wondered if I had really gotten the whole thing a little out of proportion because I was so overwhelmed at the day—overwhelmed that God used me, a no-name. Overwhelmed that He showed me He could have me sing before kings and then send me back to cleaning my toilet the next week. He can do whatever He wants!

    Another Purpose in Mind. Today as I am writing this, it is February 6, 1998, exactly 12 years ago to the day that I sang for the National Prayer Breakfast. Many people thought it would be the start of a big career in Christian music for me. Many people thought I would surely be singing at Billy Graham crusades, but God’s plan was to take me back to the wilderness, back to the training stables, back to the world of ministry in the lives of people, back to the churches, back to hurting young people, back to young women in crisis, and back to a generation of young people hungry for purity and hungry to know God.

    In 1988, I became the Director of the Crisis Pregnancy Center, Tulsa, for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. I, who was a crisis pregnancy myself, now was reaching out to young women. I was trying to help them choose love instead of death for their babies. I worked for another crisis pregnancy center in Tulsa in 1991, when I began to write a program for young women who wanted to pursue purity and God’s vision and purpose for their lives. Pure Vision: the Strength to Wait was born.

    Pure Vision is now an 18-week discipleship/purity program focused on pushing people into Jesus and the Word of God. These are the lessons that the Lord has burned into my 41-year-old single brain about purity, obedience, holiness, forgiveness and purpose. I long to see a nation of young people with the strength to stand for righteousness and truth and purity. I long to see them know the presence of God. I long for them to know my Lord Jesus.

    I’m almost ready to take Pure Vision to the world, the church world, that is. That’s where you’ll find me, I guess, unless God reaches down, taps me on the shoulder and has another President that He needs me for! Ha.

    Yes. God supernaturally did a work in my music career. What about my husband? Yeah. I ask daily. I know God has used these years for His glorious purposes. I’ve prayed for that husband since I was 17 years old. He must be out changing the world for Jesus. I can wait a few days more.

    “I’m waiting, God. Yes, Father, I know Abraham waited a long time for His promise. Yes, I know your strong right arm.”

    Thank You to My Birth Mother. “Once upon a time, there was a young girl...who gave her baby to Jesus. And Jesus took that baby and one day she sang before kings.” Thank you, dear, precious whoever you are. You are loved.

    A Big Thanks. I want to thank you, Oklahoma Baptists, for being an instrument to bring me to my precious mom and dad. Without them and Jesus, I’d be nothing. My mom is in heaven now. She dearly loved Oklahoma Baptists and the work she was able to do for God. We will always be thankful for Oklahoma Baptists who made possible an organization called The Baptist Children’s Home through which my adoption was arranged. I have been blessed so much by Southern Baptists. They helped get me to my parents, helped introduce me to Christ, helped me grow in the Lord, helped me attend Oklahoma Baptist camps, Vacation Bible Schools, choral festivals, conferences and the University. I can say I’ve been fed, clothed, housed and taught by Oklahoma Baptist. I can also say, thank you. Thank you so much. As Ray Boltz’s song says, “I was a life that was changed.” Thank you for giving to the Lord. What a mighty God we serve!

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