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Happily Many Afters
by Becca Gossman

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"Be a Turtle." At the ripe old age of 21, after the death of my two year old son, the Lord called my husband, Vaughn, to be a preacher. Now, most preachers don't just start out as full-fledge preachers, they all have to start somewhere. We started out as youth pastors at the La Puente Church of the Nazarene in La Puente, California, which at one time was a fairly small rural area east of Los Angeles where orange trees blossomed and fresh air could still be found. By 1979, it was a small speck in the vast metropolis of Los Angeles County where gangs began to rule and the church took on many new cultures and communities. Dr. A.F. Hayes, and his sweet wife, Alyce, were pasturing at the time of the horrendous event of Eric's death and began to mentor Vaughn in the ministry. Pastor and Mrs. Hayes took us on as their own "children." Pastor gave great advice, one which we never forgot and has been told and retold throughout our 25 years of ministry. Vaughn had asked Pastor Hayes, "What happens when you stand in front of the congregation and just totally forget what to say or do?" Without a blink of an eye or a twitch of a grin, Pastor Hayes replied, "When you stand up in front of your congregation and forget what to do or say, always do something spiritual," he paused a moment and said, "take an offering." It has always been one of the greatest bits of advice Vaughn ever received.

As for myself, I was so young; I often felt helpless and intimidated, so I went to Mrs. Hayes and expressed to her my feelings. In complete seriousness she said to me, "never worry about what people say or do, just be a turtle." She was such a sweet, loving person, and so wise, I never questioned what she meant by "be a turtle." However, through the years, I have learned what it meant to be a turtle.

Although, intentional or unintentional, people often say things that can hurt, or can cause intimidation or lack of self-confidence, and by just letting that comment or "concern" roll off my back like a turtle, by keeping my thoughts and comments to myself it has saved me time and again. Let me give you a good example: One very stressful year after my doctor almost gave me a complete hysterectomy, after I was told I was going to have a baby, and after the c-section birth of that baby, my fourth son, Matthew James, and after my recovery from cervical cancer (all in one year), and then after my husband sent out resumes and after we decided to move to Eastern Oregon, we loaded up the U-Haul and headed North. Away from my Daddy and Momma, my sisters and friends, far away from home, we loaded up the truck and left. The farther North we went, the lonelier I became. I was driving and following that U-Haul truck with my nine year old, my seven year old and my seven month old sons. I tried not to cry as the loneliness took a stronger hold on me; and I tried to remain cheerful and encourage the boys as they too were missing grandparents, aunts and friends. But, as we came closer to the town of our arrival, the state became more and more desolate. I had never seen the town, or the church, or the parsonage. It was at a point of desperate despair that Vaughn pulled into the driveway of the parsonage. I calmly got out of the car, people were waiting and some began to arrive to help unload the truck. I walked around to the passenger side, pulled a soaking wet baby out of the car seat and walked over to Vaughn to take my first tour of my new house.

The kitchen was a soft putrid green and gold that definitely would not match my strawberry dishes and red-checkered curtains. The old gold shag carpet showed a well-traveled brown path that circled the kitchen, dining, living room and hall. I pulled Vaughn aside and whispered, "Don't unload the truck, please take me home." I never heard his reply because at the moment Gordon (Vaughn's youngest brother) appeared in the doorway. I yelped with glee and ran to him, hugged him and begged him to take me with him when he left. He smiled, leaned to my ear and began to pray for me. It helped; I pulled myself together and began to help to unload the truck.

After everyone left, we ordered pizza from Charlie's Pizza. It had to be the worst pizza I have ever eaten in my life, only palatable by the soda that washed it down. Gordon helped me unpack until late at night while Vaughn prepared for the morning services. I called my Daddy and Momma and cried and sobbed and wept and they prayed for me and we said goodbye. I drug myself to bed at midnight dreading the next day; I fell asleep and woke to a bright Labor Day Sunday Morning weekend. I dressed the boys, took my shower and began to dress when I realized: I couldn't find my nylons or my dress shoes, I couldn't find my tennis shoes, I couldn't even find my slippers. There was nothing else for me to do but to go barefoot. What was I to do: the first service, young, trying to make an impression (of what or why, I know not), lonely, desperate and now barefoot. I pulled myself up straight, gathered the boys and walked to the church -- barefoot. I walked in, put on a smile, shook hands, and greeted people -- barefoot. At that moment, I found the bottom of the barrel I was wallowing in when I heard, "the Pastor's wife always plays the piano." I couldn't believe my ears. I never had lessons, I never played for anyone, and I was barefoot. I walked down the aisle on the cold outer tiled floor, sat down at the bench and put my barefoot on the pedals and as the song were called out, I plunked away -- barefoot. Finally, finally after what seemed like hours, the service was over, and I thought to myself, "well that wasn't so bad, I actually did it, when an old, old haggard woman walked up to me an simply stated, "well, honey, our previous Pastor's wife played much better than you." Be a turtle! Be a turtle! It was here that I wrote this poem: BLOOM WHERE YOU'RE PLANTED Transplanted from a fertile soil To dry and dusty ground To teach the love of Jesus Where everyone is bound. Their lives are hard and bitter Cold hearts and hate remain And I must trust in Jesus That victory will reign. But I find myself sinking In the hate that spreads like fire I feel that cold, dry dusty ground Make my life embittered. But I must look at them I must move on and try I have to bloom in that dry, hard ground I will not let my own faith die. The Master Planter The One who brought me here Will send His never-thirsting water To make new growth appear. The seeds of joy and peace and hope Imparted in my life Will cause that hate to go away That steals away the life. I ask of Him And He renews a hope inside of me To carry on and finish And the garden I will see.


Written by: Becca Gossman

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