Then and Now

Joan Shaffer

I was born in Akron, Ohio, in 1952. One sister, Cindy, was born in 1954. We grew up in a small town that had the distinction of housing three industrial companies: Goodyear, Firestone and Goodrich Tire and Rubber Companies. My parents managed a family-owned tavern whose clientele were comprised largely of individuals living in the neighborhood and factory workers stopping in for a quick beverage after a hard day’s labor.

The Early Years
As the story was told repeatedly throughout my childhood, the family business had been started by my maternal grandfather, an immigrant from Macedonia (a country located in the central Balkan Peninsula in Southeast Europe). Upon arriving in the United States, grandfather settled in Youngstown, Ohio and opened a tavern there. He later relocated to Akron and began a new venture with the neighborhood tavern. Grandfather had a passion for gambling and permitted the illegal activity to be conducted on the premises. A select group of card players was provided a private room for their gaming endeavors and those who had the power to prohibit the activity either joined the group or turned a blind eye to the goings on.

Grandfather was introduced to my grandmother, also an immigrant from Macedonia and ten years his junior. The two were joined via an arranged marriage and that union produced my mother, their only child. After some years in Akron, my grandparent’s saved enough of grandfather’s winnings to purchase the piece of property on which their home and tavern were located. I never met my grandfather as he was born in 1892 and died of a sudden heart attack in 1946 at the age of 54, leaving a young widow.

After grandfather’s death, grandmother withdrew my mother from high school and a marriage was arranged for her with a man whom she scarcely knew. As a result of grandfather’s untimely passing, there was no one to run the family business; so mother and her new husband were charged with running the tavern and maintaining the family’s income.

That ill-fated marriage ended within months. Freed from that unfortunate union, my mother met and then quickly eloped with my father. He was a local boy who swept mom off of her feet with his jet black hair, big brown eyes and love of big band music. Dad’s family were immigrants from Bulgaria, (a country which occupies a portion of the eastern Balkan Peninsula). Their shared culture and mutual love of music and dance gave the newlyweds hope for a promising future. They returned from their honeymoon, took up residence with my maternal grandmother and dad took over management of the tavern while mom cared for the home.

This living arrangement may have been intended to be a short term plan, but it remained as long as I lived in my home. Tragedy struck soon after my parent’s marriage, preventing mom and dad from ever owning a home of their own and always residing in the grandmother’s residence. Mom was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer shortly after their marriage and within four years, dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and given only five years of survival. Mom underwent extensive surgery to eradicate the cancer and dad’s health progressively diminished to the degree that he quickly became disabled and incapable of managing the family business. Social services in the 1950s and 1960s were not developed as they are today, so my parents quickly became dependent upon maternal grandmother for shelter, clothing and all manner of financial support.

My family was very religious and preserved their religious and cultural traditions. I grew up speaking two languages and my home was steeped in Eastern Europe song, dance, food and religious observances. The church served to provide religious instruction as well as cultural cohesiveness. Many church events enabled this ethnic group to interact with one another frequently throughout the month and thereby ensuring that their beloved customs were perpetuated and passed on to subsequent generations.

Our family observed Holy days, and we had our house blessed once per year by the priest and when difficulties arose, we had a makeshift altar in our home where we prayed to God in our time of need. We attended picnics, church dances and various activities that kept us in fellowship with our church family, but Bible study was not encouraged. This is not to say that it never happened, only that there is no recollection of it.

Leaving Home
At the age of seventeen, I was selected to work as a secretary at one of the rubber companies. As this opportunity provided me with a consistent salary, I exerted my independence and moved into my own apartment. My world view changed and I embarked on a lifestyle economically and socially different from the one in which I was raised. For the next 10 years my friends became the mainstay of my life and our shared pursuit of happiness led us down many roads that did nothing to improve our morality or our spirituality.

The 1970s were a time of ambiguity. President Richard Nixon faced impeachment for the Watergate scandal; and Vietnam veteran’s returned to a less than enthusiastic stateside welcome. The environmental concerns and the sexual liberation movement were simultaneously addressed in the frequently viewed bumper sticker — “save water, shower with your steady.”

In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in favor of Roe v. Wade and that the U.S. Constitution contained the right to abortion. My first child, along with an estimated 43 million unborn babies, fell victim to this cultural holocaust. The decision to end my child’s life within the first trimester, although sanctioned by the nation’s legal system, could never be justified, excused or reconciled by my own conscience.

The unalterable offense positioned me for a self-imposed exile from God. The inability to forgive myself for this murderous act kept me from seeking God as I believed Him to be as despairing of me as I was. All my feelings of unworthiness before the abortion were exacerbated by this fate-filled act. I believed myself to be damaged beyond redemption with the feelings of shame and guilt worn as an ever-present shroud. As a young adult, my childhood religion was reduced to appearing in church for weddings and funerals. God was not a driving force in my life, though I did acknowledge Him, but did not pursue Him. Saint Augustine wrote, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.” These words accurately depict my spiritual state during my young adult life. Attempts were made to fill my emptiness with people, places and things. Although there were fleeting pleasures of sin, true contentment eluded me.

When I was 27 years old I married my best friend of 10 years shortly after we realized our friendship had blossomed into a sweet love. Our first child, a son, was born within the first year of our marriage. Two years later our daughter was born. There was an expectation that with the love of a spouse and the unspeakable joy of motherhood would come the contentment that had escaped me for so long. Yet, despite the unspeakable joy that those relationships can bring, there remained within me a restless heart, I remained unsettled and left longing for something that I couldn’t express or understand.

When the expectation of a peace-filled life did not come to fruition, unrest began to permeate my soul. I was finally living the life I believed would complete me and bring me the joy I longed for. Yet, there was no peace for my weary soul. It was Blaise Pascal, who wrote, “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.”

Born Again
It was on my 30th birthday that a dear relative invited me to join her for Sunday morning worship. She knew I was unhappy and she longed to share with me the missing piece of my life. It was in this non-denominational church that the Gospel was preached and I was presented with the opportunity to surrender my life to Jesus Christ and enter into a relationship with the Living God. I heard the message of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. I learned that He died and took my sins upon Himself and He saved me from eternal separation from God. He took my past, present and future sins, that I might be cleansed, forgiven and free to walk in newness of life. Just as I was physically born into my family 30 years earlier, I was spiritually reborn into God’s family as I accepted Jesus’ death on Calvary’s cross as punishment for my sins. It was at that point, at that time on my physical birthday, that I was spiritually reborn into a new life, a new heritage and a new inheritance. Life as I had known it ceased; I was now a new creation in Christ. (“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:17).

It was a dramatic conversion, nothing short of miraculous. Because Christ died I was forgiven. (“Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good” Psalm 25:7).

There came an instant desire to read and understand God’s Word. The Bible became my passion, a whole new world opened up to me as I longed to know the God who loved me and gave His life for me. I finally experienced the deep, unending contentment that I had been longing for. My life did not become trouble free, but my peace was secure as I trusted God with each moment and each day of my life. (“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” Philippians 4:7).
To my husband’s credit, he never hindered me from pursuing my relationship with Jesus. He did, however, say it was a phase that would pass so he was content to let it run its course and believed that the “old” me would be back in short order.

After three years of watching my life change, seeing how peaceful and content I’d become and observing me live my faith in practical and consistent ways, my beloved husband called my pastor and said he wanted what I had. In the living room of our home, my husband prayed to receive Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and thus began his journey of faith. (“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” Matthew 5:16).

In the coming years, my husband was responsible for helping my father join the family of God. He prayed with Dad to receive Jesus Christ as his Savior. Dad outlived the doctor’s prognosis that he would only live five years with Parkinson’s disease. He lived 48 years with the disease and accepted Jesus in his late 70s. Dad’s journey with the Lord was something sweet to behold. He lived in a nursing home for 10 years as the Parkinson’s disease rendered him unable to care for himself.

One Wednesday evening, I made an unannounced visit to the nursing home to spend time with him. When I walked into the nursing home, I found my father in the Chapel attending a church-sponsored midweek service. I stood in the doorway of the Chapel and watched my dad with his broken body twisted and slumped in the wheelchair, tears in his eyes, unaware of my presence, singing as audibly as he was able, “Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” I stood riveted, humbled and awed at the power of Jesus to redeem and renew a surrendered heart. (“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” 2 Corinthians 4:16).

My husband and I have had the privilege of watching our son and daughter embrace the Lord Jesus for themselves and marry spouses that are like-minded in their devotion to Christ. As we watch our children raise their children in the love and admonition of the Lord, we praise God that they are faithfully sharing their faith and providing their children with the opportunity to know and love Jesus for themselves.

In the 32 years that I’ve been walking with Jesus Christ, I’ve seen many dark days and passed through some deep, turbulent waters. These trials tested and purified my faith. The devotions that I’ve penned are heart-felt and intended to encourage my beloved grandchildren and great-grandchildren to walk in God’s truth and seek Him with all their heart, all their soul, all their mind and all their strength. These writings are a legacy to my loved ones that they, too, may one day proclaim, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

Jesus said “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3).

Walking with Jesus