Apples, cherries, plums, peaches, pears and grapes. Orchard country; beautiful Niagara on the Lake, Ontario. This is where my twin brother and I were born in 1948. Our family also included two older brothers.
But my arrival was not a happy one. It resulted in a great disappointment to my mother. From my earliest years I heard her lament with angry tears, “Why did I have to have a girl?” On a regular basis she would tell me that I was ugly, that she hated me and that she wished she could give me back!
As a preschooler I occasionally would find some solace by walking with my twin brother to the little creek about 1/4 mile down our country road. There we would catch gleaming sunfish with our tiny hands and play with frogs and turtles while the leaves of the poplar trees whispered nearby. It was always a welcome escape.
One afternoon upon our arrival home, my mother picked up my brother in her arms, put him on her lap and hugged him. As I stood there staring, she got up, pushed me into the porch and told me not to come back. I waited there until much later. When my father arrived home he saw me standing all alone opposite the coal bin. I still remember the grieved look on his face. Without a word, he breathed a heavy sigh and allowed me back into the house.
Often, after another screaming tirade directed at me, I would either freeze or burst into huge sobs. If I cried, my mother would sometimes call one or more of my brothers into the room while she mocked me. In their uneasiness, they often scattered.
Every Christmas I would get a doll. This was very stressful because I did not appreciate dolls but had to pretend to be very thankful. They were artificial and I did not know what to do with them. As they accumulated, however, I discovered that there was something that I could do with them that was half enjoyable. I would line them up in a neat row on the floor of my closet. Then the next day I would reorganize the lineup. One day, however, when I came home from school, my mother burst into my room and began screaming, “I burned all your dolls!” The closet floor was bare; they were gone. What my mother did not know was that I was secretly cutting out pictures of ‘real’ babies from newspapers and magazines and pasting them into a scrapbook which I hid in the back of a drawer. They were pictures which I would look at often, anticipating the day when I would perhaps have my own children.
When I was eight years old, my dad sold the farm and we moved to a new house a couple of miles down the road. It was about this time that our family began attending an evangelical, Bible believing church. I loved the Sunday school and mid-week Bible classes. As a result I memorized scores of verses, and more importantly, I heard the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I learned from Scripture that:
“All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Saviour.” (Romans 6:23)
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
I knew that I was a sinner. What I needed was a Saviour. That Saviour would be Jesus Christ who took the payment for my sins upon Himself when He died on the cross. I needed to come to Him by faith and receive this gift from Him. There was nothing I could do to earn this salvation. No one else had the power to forgive my sins or to pay the penalty for them. And I discovered that He was freely offering it to me! I simply had to come, by faith, into His finished work on the cross and His resurrection from the dead.
At an evening revival meeting, I became very convicted of my sin. After an invitation was given to receive Christ, I expressed, in tears, my desire to do so. My oldest brother tenderly offered to go with me. He led me to a Christian counsellor who shared Scripture with me. I only too gladly gave my heart to Christ. I was 11 years old. Everything became new! My entire being felt alive and clean. By the grace of God I had been born again by the Spirit of God.
Nothing, however, changed in the home. My mother’s unexplained disgust for me continued relentlessly. Shortly after my salvation experience, it occurred to me late one evening in bed that I should ask the Lord to take me that night to be with Him. The thought of dying and not having to wake up in the morning was extremely comforting. To my young mind this was the answer. I knew that if I died, two things would happen. I would go to be with Jesus, and secondly, the whole family would be relieved that the source of all the discord in the home would be gone. So I begged God in prayer to “Please take me tonight.” I prayed and prayed, until I fully believed that He would do so. I fell asleep in complete peace. The next thing I knew it was morning. I was still very much alive.
Alhough my mother did not, to my knowledge, ever physically strike my brothers, they were no strangers to her many verbal attacks. No doubt, this was very difficult for them. Each brother reacted differently. One advantage they had, however, was that when the hysteria began they were free to leave the room. I was not.
Late one night, I was drifting off to sleep when I suddenly heard my mother screaming in our kitchen threatening to get a gun and kill me. I froze in terror as I heard her go down the steps to our basement and return with the gun. She burst into my room, pointing the gun at me. Just then, having heard all the commotion, either my dad or one of my brothers grabbed the gun from her and slammed my door behind them. No one ever mentioned the incident.
At the age of 17, I returned home one evening after being out with a couple of friends. I was totally unprepared for what happened next. As I entered the house, my mother was standing in the kitchen exploding with rage. She came toward me, backing me against the porch door. In a split second, she pushed me out of the door and down the flight of stairs onto the concrete below. She slammed the door behind her. Though my body was racked with pain, it did not compare with the trauma of the sudden fall and the demonic look I had seen on her face. Cowering in fear I took refuge in the garage and lay down in the back seat of our car. About midnight, I heard the sound of my oldest brother’s vehicle come up our gravel driveway. I walked toward him and explained what happened. He took me by the hand and led me back into the house, past my mother, and safely to my bedroom.
It was shortly after this that my emotions began to shut down. Though I would continue to go through all the motions of school, church and home life, I became detached. I was completely void of all feeling. My grades in school plummeted. I did not possess the strength to care.
Shortly thereafter, my oldest brother expressed to me his concern about my well-being. He mentioned that he would not always be around to rescue me. He had a plan. It was his desire that when I graduated from high school, in about a year’s time, that I would leave the province and attend a Bible school in Manitoba for a year. He also offered to loan me the necessary funds for tuition and train fare. His words breathed new life into me. I had hope, something I had not experienced for years. The plan would be our secret.
The following year I actually graduated from high school - first in my class. In privacy, I applied to Bible school and shortly thereafter, received my acceptance. A few weeks before I was to leave I dropped the news to my mother. The Lord had given me wisdom as to how to approach her on this. My mother had always been tormented with a ‘fear of what people think’. So, staring down at my feet, I told her about the plan, including the fact that our pastor knew about it as the Bible school had asked him for a reference. That information restrained her from what physical action she might otherwise have taken. She glared at me, mumbled a few unkind words and walked away. Nobody in our church ever guessed that there were problems at home. It was a well-kept secret.
The day came when I could leave. My brother drove me to the train station. When the train began to move I exhaled. What a wonderful feeling to finally escape the abuse of so many years!
The year at Bible school was extremely beneficial in many ways. I began to learn how to socialize. My nerves were less frazzled. I went to sleep every night not having to fear what might happen in the night. But most importantly, I began to understand some of the blessed truths of the Bible, the Word of God.
Shortly after Bible school I moved to Winnipeg. I had never seen the inside of an apartment before nor had I ever been on a city bus. Two Christian girls and I got an apartment together. I quickly landed a secretarial job and began attending an evangelical church. I joined the choir and became very active in the college and career group. There I met the young man who would become my amazing husband three years later.
When I got engaged, I called my parents to see if they were interested in coming to the wedding. My mother was unsure. I secretly hoped they would not come as I feared the possibility of some conflict that I might not be able to handle on my special day. On the morning of my wedding, my parents flew to Winnipeg where they met my fiancé for the first time. To my shame, my father did not walk me down the aisle.
After four years of marriage the Lord blessed us with our first son. I would stare at my newborn every day and wonder, “How could anyone not love their child?”
In 1976, when our son was 22 months old my husband was required to attend actuarial meetings in Niagara on the Lake, Ontario. Even though the meetings required his attendance at the hotel for four days and nights, he wanted us to travel there together as a family. I thought it would be okay to stay with our young son at my parents’ new house. I was wrong.
The first night was one of complete terror. Just as I was dozing off to sleep, I heard my mother’s voice downstairs. It was escalating into loud screams. She suddenly burst into my room, switched on the light and began to shout obscenities at me. I sat up in horror, concerned about the safety of my little boy in a playpen beside me and that of my unborn child. My dad followed close behind her, grabbed both of her arms and forced her out of the room. The next day my son and I moved down the road to the home of my brother and his family for the duration of my husband’s meetings.
Shortly after this incident my husband and I took a vacation to a lakeside cabin in northern Ontario. My husband’s parents lived there year round and we loved visits with them. During that week, my husband was suddenly called away to a business meeting in Chicago. That night, my father-in-law, a man who loved the Lord, came to my cabin to see if I needed any help in my husband’s absence. Our toddler was already asleep and I invited dad to stay and visit. We talked about the pending birth of my second child, who was due in four months. In time, the conversation changed to personal matters of the heart. I do not remember what it was that I said, but his response to me was, “Dorothy, you have unforgiveness toward your mother.” I felt like exploding. I immediately expressed, “But you don’t know what she has done to me!” My reaction stunned me. It was totally out of proportion to how and what he had said. I asked him to leave. He had struck a nerve! My heart was exposed.
The Lord, in His faithfulness, began to use my father-in-law’s X-ray words to convict me of a dark corner in my soul. I was absolutely helpless to repent of it. It was robbing me of the freedom and joy that comes from a heart emptied of itself. About a year and a half later, I was playing with our youngest son when the Lord suddenly put a prayer into my heart. Immediately, I prayed it back to Him. “Lord, I can’t forgive her. You do the work in me!”
About three weeks later, as my husband and I were reading in bed, the Holy Spirit, in answer to that prayer, suddenly filled me with Himself. All the bitterness fled. My heart was flooded with forgiveness. Christ did in me what I could not do. My chains fell off, I was truly free! Free to love, free to forgive, free to begin living out His life in me.
I learned that forgiveness is not merely a feeling, although it can lead to remarkable changes in our feelings. It is not forgetting, nor excusing. Rather, forgiveness is choosing, by the grace of God to release the offender from every form of retribution. It is exactly what Jesus accomplished on the cross at Calvary for all those who will put their trust in Him.
Although I sought a meaningful relationship with my mother in the following years my love for her was not returned. Only the Lord knows all that was in her heart and the reasons behind her tortured soul.
A few months prior to my encounter with God regarding the matter of forgiveness, my husband had begun a very personal, agonizing spiritual search. He was seeking assurance from God concerning his salvation. At the age of 8 he had prayed to receive Christ while attending a Bible Camp. Now, in his early 30’s he wondered how real that had been. Then one night, after six months of intense prayer, God broke through and took away his fears and awoke him to true saving faith. Our joy was boundless!
With our mutual, new desire to follow God completely, many of our priorities were changing. We began to sense that God was calling us into full-time Christian ministry. We did not know what that would look like or how to go about it. But we did know that we should become debt free. So we sold our beautiful country ranch house and waited on God for further direction. Five years later, in 1983, the Lord opened the door for my husband to leave his position as Vice President at his company. We built a small house in the north end of Winnipeg next door to the church building and Christian school where he had been called to become a pastor and teacher. Our sons, then ages 9 and 7, were thriving in their new school and church family.
Nine years later, in the midst of the joys and challenges of serving the Lord in this capacity, God interrupted the flow of life as we had known it. My 46 year old husband suddenly became very ill. It began with an unusual debilitating headache. This headache and subsequent neurological symptoms effectively rendered him unable to ever teach or preach again. After months of hospitalizations and medical procedures to discover the cause of this mysterious, crippling illness, we were given the diagnosis. My husband had a malignant, inoperable brain tumour. He was given a prognosis of 4 - 6 months to live.
The most emotionally and devastating event in my life came five weeks later with a telephone call from the hospital just after midnight. “Your husband has slipped away”, the nurse said. The next excruciating experience was to tell my teenage sons.
The shattering events of his illness and death left our sons and I completely dependent on our Lord in ways we had never experienced before. We began to look only to Him to become our source of strength, hope, peace and healing. Over time, through the love from our church family and comfort of the Scriptures, our Sovereign, loving God became all of that to us and more!
Though it is decades later now, my tears still fall. However, I rejoice always in the fact that my husband is with the Lord. We will see him again. I know this, because God cannot lie. He has promised us from Scripture that “Christ is the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.” (John 11:25)
God has blessed me more than I could ever have envisioned. The Lord led my sons to just the right Christian ladies to marry. They had waited on Him and He did not disappoint. Today, each of these young women calls me ‘Mom’. And there’s more - God has blessed me with 12 beautiful descendants who call me ‘Grandma Dot’.
God has also given me the privilege of serving Him through Faith Church. For about 25 years I have had the joy of teaching Bible studies to women. It is a delight to observe these ladies of various ages and cultural backgrounds as they seek to be grounded in the Word of God. In some ways they have taught me more than I have taught them. They bless me more than I could ever bless them.
In every season of our life - "GOD IS FAITHFUL!”
“He gave me beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness…” (Isaiah 61:3).