A Little Girl Lost

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Love


Earl’s arms around me assured me that I was OK. After work the night before I’d gone to his apartment and told him I was going to The Caravan. He said, “If you drink too much call me.”
I didn’t drink too much, and I didn’t have a good time. The usual raucous crowd didn’t draw me in as I sat by myself at the bar nursing a warm Budweiser. Anger seethed through my veins. I had changed. What do I do now?
When I saw Earl the next day, I burst into tears and said, “I wish I had just gone home last night.” He wrapped his arms around me and said, “I love you.” He had spoken those words to me before, but as I calmed down, he looked into my eyes and continued, “Will you marry me?”
“Yes. Yes. Yes!” I wanted to get married right away, but Earl insisted we wait a respectable time. We set the date for December 29, and shopped for my wedding gown and my engagement ring together.
We found my gown at the first bridal shop on our list! White lace covered the simple white gown and formed elbow-length sleeves. I tried it on and it fit perfectly. The “V” neckline lengthened my already long neck. The bodice fit my small chest and the skirt was long enough that I wouldn’t need to have it altered. I turned around and around looking at my reflection in the room of mirrors. I felt like a princess in a fairy tale.
Shopping for my ring happened the same way. I saw exactly what I wanted at the first jewelry counter. “This is it.”
Saturday afternoon, December 29, 1985 my sister, Bobbi, nervously helped me put my gown on and checked my hair and makeup. My friend, Demita, came in and said, “Let’s go upstairs now.” She directed me to the sanctuary entrance. She settled my veil in place before slipping into a back pew.
I nervously peeked into the sanctuary and saw Earl and our pastor, John, standing at the altar. When the Wedding March began, I stepped into the sanctuary. My bouquet shivered and my mind whirled as I made my way to my future husband. I focused on Earl’s blue eyes. How had I missed the love they held for me?
John opened the service by reading 1 Corinthians 13, the Love Chapter. We quietly repeated our vows, exchanged our rings, and John said, “Earl you may kiss your bride.” He did so with a grin that matched mine—from ear to ear. John presented us, “Reverend and Mrs. Earl Dickerson.”

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:5-8 NIV).

In Christ,
Berta
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Earl Would Tell You


Earl would tell you how angry I was when we were introduced.

Sitting at the nurses’ station one afternoon I saw him. Tall with dark wavy hair and wearing a blue lab coat, he was walking away down the hall. 
I leaned toward the nurse I was working with and said, “Ralph, do you see that guy?”
“Yeah?”
“I’d like to go out with him.” Now, I never dated men I worked with, and I guarded my private life at work. My heart skipped a few beats. How could I think this, let alone say it out loud.
“Haven’t you met Earl? He’s the chaplain,” Ralph said.
Raising my hands as a shield, I said, “Chaplain? Never mind! I don’t want anything to do with a preacher.” There was no room in my life for a Jesus freak to tell me how to live.
When Earl came back up the hall Ralph called him over, “Earl, this is Bert.”
Earl looked me in the eye, “Hi.”
“Hi.” I looked away. How am I supposed to talk to a chaplain?
Earl worked days and I worked afternoons, and he began calling and inviting me to eat supper with him in the cafeteria. We talked. I told him about my three-year-old daughter, Kari. I tried to explain why I’d left her with her father when we divorced but couldn’t. I filled him in on my nightly escapades at The Caravan—my bar. Maybe I was trying to shock him, but I learned he grew up in North Memphis and had his own stories to tell.
He was a seminary student at Candler School of Theology of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. He was doing an internship in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) there at Methodist Hospital Central in Memphis. I didn’t know what any of that was, and I didn’t ask.
Early in my shift one afternoon in late August, Earl came to see me without calling. “Can you come out by the elevators for a minute?” he asked. We stood alone, “My internship is over and I’m going back to seminary.”
With my arms folded over my chest I asked, “When are you leaving?”
“My car is already packed and ready to pull out. I wanted to say good-bye.”
“When are you coming back?”
“I haven’t decided whether or not I am coming back.”
We hugged for the first time. A moment. And he got on the elevator and was gone.
I didn’t understand what I felt as I remembered his arms around me. The dam burst and tears poured from eyes that had been dry for many years. I told myself I didn’t care about him.
In Christ,
Bert(a)
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I Can’t Kiss a Preacher


Earl and I talked as we ate supper together several times a week at the hospital where we worked. A year flew by and I hadn’t thought much about our relationship until he surprised me one evening, “Would you go out with me?”
“Are you crazy? No.”
I’ve told him so much. How can he like me?
A month later, he asked again, “Will you go out with me?”
Reluctantly I agreed and on a hot July evening in 1985, I sat waiting for Earl in the hospital parking lot. (I wouldn’t tell him where I lived.) My palms were sweaty and when I saw his baby-blue Thunderbird, I caught my breath. I still couldn’t believe I was going on a date with a preacher. I’d even had my hair done and was wearing the only dress I owned.
Earl got out and held the door for me. My voice cracked as I said, “Hi.”
“Hi.”
We ate at The 91st Bomb Group restaurant on the Memphis airport flight line. (Earl remembered that I liked to fly.) Supper went well then we sat in the lounge and watched the runway and airplane lights as planes took off and landed.
We were unusually quiet for us on the trip back to the hospital. He parked next to my car, turned and asked, “Can I kiss you?”
“No!” I pulled away.
I can’t kiss a preacher. I’m too bad.
My exposure to religion happened at a vacation Bible school when I was in elementary school. Classmates laughed at my reading skills and giggled when I sang off tune. One girl said, “You can’t be baptized in my church.” I believed her words and knew I couldn’t be good enough to be a Christian.
What did it take to rescue me twenty-some years later?
Love.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:5-7 NIV).
God loved me before He created me. Earl loved me from the first time we met, through my full salvation and continuing to this day.
God’s patience shown through Earl’s kindness. It poured from his heart every time I cursed. He never called me down unless I used God’s name in vain.
God’s word says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:10, 11 NIV). Earl never gave up his “Christian” music—or anything else—no matter how much I protested.
God had laid me on many hearts and those people prayed diligently for my faith walk. (I’d made a profession of faith and been baptized before we married—because I thought a preachers wife should be baptized.)
God’s Son died that I could have everlasting life. Earl lived his faith before me and showed me unconditional love.
Earl trusted God’s word for my redemption. “The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does” (Psalm 145:13 NIV).
I realized years ago that God had sent Earl to me, just as He now sends me to others. An important way of thanking God is by passing it on to others
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19, 20 NIV).
In Christ,
Berta

Love – God’s Way


Do you remember Valentine’s Day in elementary school and your hope that your friends would have special cards or candy hearts just for you? You went through your cards one by one with pride and felt the love of your friends.

\When you reached middle school and began testing the water with “going steady” and “dating,” you blushed each time you saw him/her. In high school, relationships grew more important, raising many on the status pole. You were in love and you wore his/her class ring proudly. You’d fight anyone who dared to breach your relationship yet break-ups happened.

We left high school, met new friends and made a few wrong choices as we grew into adulthood. Our desire to be loved ripped our hearts out time, and time again, yet we continued to search for the elusive.

When I met Earl, we ate supper together several times a week at the hospital where we worked. After two months, he told me he was moving back to Atlanta to complete seminary. I asked him when he would be back and he said he didn’t know if he would return to Memphis. We hugged for the first time and he left.

My heart broke. I cried rivers that evening as I remembered his strong embrace and the musk scent of his cologne. I didn’t know I loved him then, I only knew it hurt to say goodbye.

Reunited a few months later we continued eating supper together. When he asked me out one year after we met, I declined. He asked again, and The Reverend John Jones read 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter, at our wedding six months later.

I didn’t know the Lord when I met Earl, but He knew me, and He had a plan. In the 28 year’s Earl and I’ve been married Jesus became my Lord and Savior, we’ve pastored four United Methodist churches and we’ve raised our daughter in a Christian home.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8 NIV).

In Christ,
Berta

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Thank you,   
Berta

A New Creation

In 1972, my stepmother began to isolate my sisters and me (along with her own children) by moving us away from the town we knew and restricting our access to peers. I quit school and worked alongside Dad each day in the wooded area deep in the bottoms along the Illinois River where we lived in a school bus.

I enlisted in the Navy in 1975 and followed orders 24/7 in basic. At my “A” school and then my permanent duty station, I had time off. Used to structure, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I didn’t understand why everyone in my barracks sat crowded together in the lounge watching television. I tried to make friends but was socially inept.
Lonely, I started drinking and fell in with the wrong crowd. I did fine for a while but alcohol soon became my enemy as people took advantage of me. Tired of being used and thrown out like yesterday’s trash, I grew hard-hearted. I lived by my own rules and hurt many people—mostly myself.
I’d heard about Jesus in those days but believed I had to be perfect in everything I did for him to love me. Imperfect as I was, I knew He couldn’t.
But when I met Jesus, I knew He loved me. As dirty as I was, He wrapped me in His loving embrace. He knew everything about me—the good, the bad and the ugly. He washed me clean. He healed my wounds. He saved me from my life of sin and death. He set my feet on the Solid Rock.
I received a new and loving family. Forgiving. Accepting. Welcoming. Alive in Christ.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18 NIV).

In Christ,
Berta

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God’s Plan

The New Year had come and I was driving to meet my Emmaus reunion group. The next thing I remember was my husband, Earl, telling me, “You were in an accident.” I’d been in the hospital for seven weeks with a spinal cord injury. Paralyzed and on a ventilator, I had little to look forward to.

After three months in ICU, Earl had me transferred to a rehabilitation hospital that focused on spinal cord injuries. I felt comfortable there, surrounded by others in wheelchairs with injuries like mine. Yet once at home, I felt lost. Who am I? A pastor’s wife? A mother? A nurse? I’d had those roles before the accident. 

“God, why did you let this happen?” I prayed. “I’m a Christian. I read my Bible. I go to Sunday school and Bible study.”

Rather than answer me directly, God spoke through the people of God.

The church we were serving, Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church, remodeled the parsonage, held fundraisers and gave me time to recuperate. The churches in our Conference, and people everywhere, who had heard about my accident, prayed and took up special offerings for us. Strangers visited, prayed with me and lay down checks. 

Each new appointment fell heavy on my heart. Another remodel and the pressure of learning new names to place with new faces overwhelmed me. But God blessed me as He gave me a ministry at each new church. 

At our second church, Maple Spring UMC, I tried my hands at teaching Sunday school. At the third, East Dyersburg UMC, I wrote for the church newsletter, taught Sunday school and started a telephone ministry with women who had difficulty getting to church. While serving our fourth church, Concord UMC, I added many areas of ministry within the local church, the district and the conference.

God’s love and the continued prayer and encouragement of you who are reading this carry me through the hard times. Today my life is everything I thought it couldn’t possibly be.

“Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare” (Psalm 40:5 NIV).
In Christian Love,

Berta

Please take a moment to read about God’s love for orphans and pray for the Flowers family as they move through the adoption process to bring their son home from El Salvador. www.facebook.com/Bringing.Carlos.home

For The Children

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” (Psalm 68:5 NIV)

I had a visitor last week who had just returned from a mission trip to El Salvador. Before she left on the trip, she was anxious about flying. During our visit, she didn’t mention flying. She told me many stories about the orphaned children she met. Their zeal over receiving a stuffed animal or a bag of snacks brought her great joy.

But what brought tears to her eyes was one little four-year-old boy who sat on her knee and talked. Though they spoke different languages, they both knew love. As an orphan, he had known hardship and loneliness but he recognized and accepted her love without fear.

I have listened to the testimony of other missionaries. Love freely given seems to always be the cord that connects them to those whom Jesus loved. Whether in El Salvador, or the mission field where God has called you to minister, remember what Jesus said, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 NIV).

I asked my friend if she would go again. “Definitely—for the children.”

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40 NIV).

Father of the orphaned, as you call us to minister to your children with love give us the courage to go to the mission fields you would send us. In Jesus name, Amen.

In Christian Love,
Berta
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