— Charita’s Story

— Charita’s Story

                          Charita & Kevin

I was raised on a ranch in SE Montana where life was ‘ideal”, until I turned 14.  I was the youngest of four girls in our family, with one younger brother who was my buddy.  Duane and I did everything together.  I know that I had a doll and I had dresses but my ideal day as a child was climbing to the top of cottonwood trees, playing pirates, or cowboys and Indians, in our “fort” in the creek; or baking mud pies on the bottom of an upside down water tank on a hot summer day.

I must back up and say that I’m sure my parents didn’t feel that my childhood was “ideal” because when I was almost 3 years old, one winter night just before Christmas, I wandered upstairs after bedtime and, unknown to my father, I climbed onto a chair behind where he was working with his Shopsmith wood saw.  He was working on a cabinet for mom for Christmas and didn’t hear me.  I wanted to kiss him goodnight and as I leaned towards him I slipped and fell into the sander portion of the saw which severed my right hand just below the wrist.  Thankfully my grandfather was at home and had some medical experience from being in WWII.  My dad got pulled over by a highway patrolman as we sped toward the nearest hospital in Belle Fourche, SD, 90 miles away.  Needless to say there was considerable recovery and times in my childhood when I was called a “cripple” by mean-spirited kids, but my parents handled it well and I believe that I grew up with a good attitude for one who is “handicapped”.

I remember attending Vacation Bible School and how important it was to my mom to have her children “confirmed” in the nearest Lutheran Church, also in Belle Fourche, SD.  My aunt was always inviting us to the local Baptist Church, but my dad wouldn’t have anything to do with that.  He always said that she was “too religious”.

Everything changed just before I started high school, when my mom was diagnosed with cancer.  Suddenly everything became scary and revolved around treatments and finances.  Finally, my parents made the decision to move away from the ranch to Boyes, MT, where my mom could become postmistress and my parents would run a little general store.  I loved high school, except I was always a bit of an “outsider” not having attended the first 8 grades with the rest of my class.  Mom’s health continued to deteriorate and I was only allowed to be in choir and band, as extra-curricular activities, because I always had to return home immediately after school each day.  I really disliked living at Boyes as we were confined to a very small area.  My days of running free on the ranch were gone.  Mom made it to my high school graduation but was very ill by that time.

I was fortunate enough to be named high school valedictorian (my handicap “spurred” me to prove I could be “better than others” in at least that area of my life) and I was awarded quite a few scholarships which I had to give up because my dad made me stay home, the Fall after graduation.  By this time I was very discouraged and felt like I would never get away from home.  I also began eating too much, exercising very little, and became overweight.  My self-esteem tumbled.

After much begging, my father finally allowed me to begin college at Eastern Montana College in Billings, MT, in the fall of 1974, and I was ecstatic!  During that semester I was again a “loner” and attended an “on campus” concert of some kind, by myself one Saturday night.  I remember sitting alone in my row and I noticed a girl in a wheel chair sitting at the opposite end of the row.  During the intermission she wheeled over and struck up a conversation with me.  I remember being jealous of her “bubbly” positive outlook on life.  I kept thinking, “you are in a wheelchair, how can you be so upbeat about life?”  Before the intermission was over she had invited me to attend her birthday party the next weekend.  Somehow she got my contact information and kept calling me during the week.  More to get her to stop calling me, I finally relented and agreed to attend her party.  Her name was Dotti Drake and she and her friend, Tekla Finn, picked me up at my dorm the next Saturday morning.  By this time I was a bit panicked, but with nothing better to do on a Saturday, I went.  As we went into her family’s A-frame cabin in the woods, outside Billings, I could hear guitars and joyous singing coming from inside.  The room was filled with girls our age singing praises to “the Lord”.

I remembered hearing about this “Jesus” in VBS and one memory from high school stuck with me,  deeply.  I had always loved singing (my mom always made her 4 girls sing whenever we went visiting, when I was a child) and I remember listening to an older classmate practice her solo contest piece.  She was singing about “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” and I can remember at that time thinking, “who is that talking about?”  Although Mom was very adamant about us getting “confirmed” in the Lutheran Church, we never talked about Jesus in our home that I can recall.  I remember her just being very relieved after we got confirmed– like we were then “safe”, or something.

Hearing those girls sing about Jesus and feeling the “fellowship of the Holy Spirit” was like a warm blanket covering my cold and lonesome heart.  I had always lived my life doing “the very best that I COULD DO” and knowing that I couldn’t really rely on anyone else.  I just thought that I had to work harder and better to be a success.  I was always sad and worried, but at that birthday party I felt nothing but joy and love– and I knew right then that I wanted whatever those girls had.  I don’t remember any of them “preaching” at me but Dottie and Tekla were very faithful in picking me up for church, and I went with them several times.

At Christmas that year (1974), I came home and my mom was completely bed-ridden.  We had “Christmas” standing around her bedside and I remember how we couldn’t even touch or sit on the bed without giving her a lot of pain.  On January 2, 1975 the ambulance came to our house to take mom to the hospital in Belle Fourche.  I’ll never forget how, as they were loading her in the ambulance, she grabbed my hand and said, “Don’t let them take me to the hospital, I’ll just die there”.  I didn’t know what to do.  I was only 19 and had never lost anyone close to me.  That night she slipped into a coma and I never got to speak to her again.  She passed away January 3, 1975.

I went back to college after Christmas break but I knew my dad was struggling.  He and my brother were fighting a lot.  I think they were just hurting so much.  At the same time my oldest sister, Linda, who was a county extension agent in Miles City, MT, had contracted hepatitis and had to come home (I believe in mid-February) to rest for two weeks.  At the end of that time the doctor told her she could go back to work– part-time, but to take it easy.  This was not the thing to say to a first-born, “workaholic”.  I had caught a ride from Billings to Miles City for spring break, and was going to ride home to Boyes with Linda.  When she got home from work to her apartment in Miles City, she looked horrible.  She was so tired that she asked me to drive home.  When we got to Boyes, I couldn’t wake her up.  My dad had to come and get her out of the car.  She went to sleep on the couch in the living room and we couldn’t wake her up, again.  We didn’t know it at the time, but her organs were slowly shutting down from the hepatitis.  The ambulance took her to the hospital in Belle Fourche and she was life-flighted to Denver during the night.  My dad and I caught a flight from Rapid City to Denver the next day, but Linda never woke up.  She passed away in early April.  She was 24 and engaged to be married.  I was due back to school in Billings, but I had to quit school and come home to help.

Talk about a wake-up call.  Nothing will get a person to look at their own mortality than a death in the family, especially 2 deaths in 3 months’ time.  I started thinking again about the things I had heard in the church services with Dottie, and my cousin (son of the aunt who always “preached religion”) invited me to a Bible Study in the summer of 1975.  The study was on the last book in the Bible, The Revelation of Jesus Christ– and it scared me spit-less!

About this time one of my other sisters had met her future husband, and I began attending college at Black Hills State in Spearfish, SD.  Her fiancée was a member of the Nisland Independent Church and they had special meetings with Evangelist Gary Walker, from LaGrange, WY.  I attended the meetings, and by this time my heart was so ready, that on the first night of the meetings I couldn’t wait for the service to be over, so that I could go to the alter and ask Jesus to be my Savior.  That was in the fall of 1975, and praise God, I have never looked back.  Jesus saved me and washed my sins as white as snow!

Shortly afterward I met and married my sister’s husband’s brother (my brother-in-law), and we have been married for 40 years.  Kevin was saved as a small child.  We spent 27 years working on his family farm and feedlot.  We were blessed with three wonderful boys during that time, and I was very happy.

In 2004 we had sold our farm, and it was obvious that we needed to “move on”.  One of our sons was living in Newcastle and another one was living near there.  So we packed up and moved to Custer County, SD.

Both Kevin and I have grown so much since we moved to Custer County, SD, and started attending church at the Mountainview Baptist Church in Custer.  Pastor Matt Furse challenges us, and we are constantly given opportunities to serve the Lord, and to stretch our faith through these ministry opportunities.

I’m so thankful for the faithful people who shared the love of Jesus with me, even when I acted like I didn’t want to hear it.  I know now that, through them, Jesus was reaching out to me, and through tragedy– I finally listened.  My favorite verse in the Bible is Romans 8:28 which says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”  I ignored God for many years, but I’m so glad He didn’t stop “seeking” me.  Trusting Christ was the best decision that I have ever made!

A VERY IMPORTANT “GOD MOMENT” IN MY LIFE:  When our second son, Paul, was born, we were not aware until the moment of his birth, that he had a severe bilateral cleft-lip and palate.  Though very serious, his birth defect was treatable through years and years of surgeries.  However, the doctor telling me that he was “healthy” did not help me deal with the initial shock of the birth defect, and Paul’s “appearance”.  Every parent who wants their baby, feels he or she is the most beautiful thing in the world.  But, this was not the emotion I felt upon Paul’s birth.  I knew that I loved him, but I was devastated by his initial appearance and it felt like a “world of guilt” had been dumped upon my shoulders.  I told little Paul over and over again as I held him that I was sorry, I was so sorry.  As he slept in his cradle by my bedside I tried to pray but couldn’t even form the words.  As I held the Gideon Bible upon my lap and cried tears of desperation I heard a beautiful, male voice tell me, “Lean on Me, I’ll help you”.  The voice was so real that I quickly turned my head to see who it was but, of course, there was no one “visibly” there.  However, I know that the Lord, through the Holy Spirit, encouraged me that day.  It was still a very tough time but I knew that God would see us through, and He did.  Paul is now 35 years old, with 4 beautiful children of his own.