Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children

James Browning

stories from the book
by James V. Browning

God Worked on Our Behalf

Pattie Simmons

My younger sister, Ila, and I tried to hide our discomfort as we walked toward the auditorium, watching all the other prospective students walking with their parents. It was High School Day at Oklahoma Christian College and I was embarrassed that my parents weren’t with me for this important event. We had come a long way and college was the obvious next step for me. I was nervous and scared and my sister was a welcome presence at this new phase of my life.

My parents had married young and within a few years, had three girls. Life in rural Texas was hard on a family of five and my parents didn’t survive the turmoil in their relationship. So in four quick years, our family life ended...in divorce. Little did I know how common that word, divorce, would be in my vocabulary from that point on.

Over the years, my mother struggled to make ends meet. Raising three girls wasn’t easy or fun. Seeking to provide financial stability and a soul mate, she married three other times. Each marriage brought a constant barrage of change in our lives, and we girls quickly learned to rely on each other for comfort and support. Every stepfather had different child-rearing ideas. Flexibility was learned early. Through all of this, one blessing was very clear: Michelle was added to our family when I was eight. What fun it was to have a new baby sister!

Summer vacations were spent with my father and his family. The highlights were any time spent with our grandparents or with special aunts and uncles. They continually gave us special attention and abundant love. My earliest memories always include my grandparents and the trips we children would take with them, but my father was never a part of these trips. We did, however, take many trips to the “Strip,” my father’s favorite place to purchase liquor. The youngest child of eight, he was a wildcat, selfish and immature. He, too, married three additional times. Although we could escape with our grandparents, our time with my father was our reality. We learned early to keep our father’s house clean and keep out from under foot to avoid his quick temper, wicked tongue and harsh punishments. Each summer, we girls became more and more independent. My grandfather always said one stick is easy to break, but tie three or four sticks together and they are much stronger.

My favorite memories with my mother were when she was single. Although she worked long hours, her free time was spent entirely with us girls. We would go to the park, bowling, play games or make potato soup together. That’s how we came to know she must be dating someone new, she was never home.

With the exception of constantly baby-sitting Michelle, we were living the average teenagers’ lives: school, sports, activities, friends and dating. I had my heart set on a cute guy who went to a church nearby, so I, too, started going to his church, hoping he would notice me. Although I never conquered his heart, my heart fell in love with Jesus.

It was our oldest sister, Cyndi’s, high school graduation day. Our mother had just introduced us for the first time to her new fiancee. This would be our fourth “father.” We felt betrayal, confusion and anger. This was the reason for our mother’s recent absences and neglect. They were also excited to announce we would be moving to a neighboring city. The future certainly looked bleak.

To make matters worse, our father surprised us by announcing he would be arriving from Texas just in time for graduation. Although we spent time together during the summers, none of us was comfortable with our father or his life style.

When our father arrived and learned of my mother’s recent behavior, his temper exploded and our fate was sealed. True to our father’s irrational nature and lack of clear thinking, he decided we would live with him. We were without choice. Cyndi’s big day was quickly turning into our worst nightmare. She was brave enough to do what we all wanted to do--flee.

I remember the place where my life finally came together, but actually it was the moment of truth for us all. The four-foot patch of concrete that served as our back porch was our only place of solitude that day. As Ila and I tried to sort through it all, we began to search for options. “Father God, you know our situation and our pain. Please help us to find another option.” This is the day I learned to fully trust in the Lord.

The characters were already in place and the relationships had already been cultivated. The Father had been working on our behalf. Through various organizations in school, we were acquainted with two older Christian couples, who ironically lived right across the street from each other. Fred and Catharine Winslow owned the local lumber yard and had already put me to work helping around their store. Early on, they discovered our home situation and would unexpectedly drop groceries and milk off to us and check on us. When they learned we would be moving to Texas to live with my father, they discussed our situation with their neighbors. They made the decision to extend an offer to us to take us into their Christian homes. While the officer was attractive--we would live right across the street from each other and attend the same high school-- we felt guilty leaving Michelle behind. But faced with the options, we rationalized that we could see both Michelle and Cyndi any time we wanted since each lived within an hour’s drive.

Again, God worked on our behalf. He allowed our father’s heart to soften when the idea was presented to him by the two couples. Our father agreed to allow us to try it for one year. But in his pride, he offered no financial support.

  • Continued...

    We certainly had a lot to learn and our ”adoptive” parents were more than generous in patience. New rules brought the breaking of old habits. Although there were struggles working out the differences in our new relationship, finally stability and calmness were a normal part of my life. I blossomed under their care, but additional expenses slowly began to be a burden on the Winslows.

    Oklahoma Baptist Homes provided hope. They helped the option to stay a reality by providing the watch care over the situation and providing financial support. James Browning, Assistant to the President, immediately committed my name to memory. Out of the countless number of children they support, he always knew me. His continuous care and support helped me to become more confident.

    The one-year trial period turned into two-and-a-half years. I learned a lifetime during this short time. The Winslows encouraged me to continue to attend church and I gained two new families, the Winslows, their children and grandchildren and my church family.

    Catharine was an excellent cook and exposed me to many new foods, as well as teaching me how to prepare them. Fred made sure I learned how to be a conscientious employee and that I knew how to handle my paycheck wisely. Love and support were shown by their attendance at most of my school functions. History came alive to me with their stories and various trips. And daily, I observed their Christian character.

    Back in the auditorium at Oklahoma Christian, we sat tensely waiting. “Why was I here?” I had already been accepted at another college. As the program for the day was announced, we began with a devotional. As a scripture was read, I began to relax. Then God made my decision amazingly clear: we began singing a cappella. It was as if the heavens were open and we were at the feet of God, praising Him. As shivers ran through my body, I knew this was the perfect place for me to begin my adult life.

    But it became clear that the price of a Christian education was significantly higher than that of the state college where I had already been accepted. I had been given many scholarships to the state college, and would be eligible for none at Oklahoma Christian. Again, Oklahoma Baptists supported me financially. I certainly couldn’t have made the choice to “invest” in my eternal future, as well as my education, without their financial support.

    Oklahoma Christian proved to be a wonderful choice. One of the opportunities I was also able to accept with Oklahoma Baptists’ help was a semester studying in Europe. What a wonderful time of growth! As my mind was opening to a world of new knowledge and friends, I was also coming to terms with and developing my own faith. I also met my husband at college and know that God’s hand was here, too, for He has given me a man who seeks to serve Him wholeheartedly. We eventually went back to Europe, where we worked with a Christian University, teaching business and God’s love to students from more than 40 countries.

    While in Oklahoma Christian, I stayed very busy: I worked part-time at an insurance company; I was a member of the Student Council; my senior year, I graduated as Valedictorian.

    As you can imagine, Fred and Catharine are still very special to me. What a joy it was to introduce them to my grandparents and those special aunts and to watch their friendships grow. Now in their old age, I have the opportunity to return some of the kindness they showered me with by visiting and caring for them.

    Although my childhood was dysfunctional, I would never ask God to change it. I have learned so much and grown so strong through the trials suffered then. Just look at the beautiful place it has brought me: Blessed beyond imagination, with a solid Christian faith, a wonderful loving husband, the strongest of friendships with my sisters and my mother, and a future filled with hope for a better, different life for my children.

    Although I was never directly involved with Oklahoma Baptist Homes nor a part of the wonderful love and care they show through their Homes and Boys Ranch, they will forever be special to me because in those times of crisis where I needed financial support in order to make the right choice, they were there. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

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