Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Power of Love to Change a Life

This is an excerpt from Joseph Stowell's excellent book Loving Christ (pages 13-16):

"Ruth McBride Jordan lives in a cozy home in a lovely part of New Jersey, near Trenton. At the ripe age of seventy-six, she graduated from Temple University with a degree in social work administration. She travels widely, serves in the homeless shelter of Jerusalem Baptist Church, and runs a reading program at the local library.

"With a sense of appropriate pride, her son James tells her story in his best-selling book, The Color of Water. He relates that not only is she the mother of twelve grown children and the grandmother of twenty, but all of her children have earned college and graduate degrees and have distinguished themselves in their professions. That is an unusual track record for any parent, but it is all the more unusual because Ruth had reared her children during the tough years of the sixties in New York City, a time when racial unrest and lack of clear identity led many children to the streets and to far less stellar outcomes. Beyond that, the most amazing fact is that Ruth raised her children alone as a white Jewish woman in Harlem. Her husband, a black Baptist pastor, died early, leaving her with nothing but the resolve and motivation to do the best that she could in the midst of impossible circumstances.

"Against the backdrop of her childhood, her story becomes even more amazing.

"Ruth's father, a Polish immigrant, was an itinerant orthodox Jewish rabbi in Virginia. Her mother was a shy invalid who spoke little English and was often physically abused by her husband. Leaving the itinerant ministry, Tateh, as Ruth called her father, opened a general store in which Ruth was forced to work long hours. He treated her as a contribution to his economic success, and he also abused her sexually. Although she loved her mother deeply, she found little solace in her mother's frail and intimidated spirit.

"As a result, Ruth spent most of her adolescent years looking for love outside her family....She fell in love with a neighboring African-American boy who often shopped in the store. For the first time in her life she felt as though someone cared for her...She became pregnant and risked the wrath of the small town in which her dad's store was located. Her mom sent her to New York City to spend some time with her aunt so the problem could be 'dealt with.'

"Returning home, Ruth found that life would never again be the same. As soon as she finished high school, she ran back to New York...There she met Rocky and once again felt loved. She reveled in the warmth and affection of someone who cared for her--only to discover that he was a pimp, wooing her to become part of his harem.

"...Ruth met Dennis McBride. There was something authentic about his affections. This time she was wonderfully loved and was confident of it. Ruth felt safe and valued as he transferred a sense of dignity and worth to her lost and lonely soul.

"But the secret to her dramatic recovery from a disastrous history did not come from her husband's love, as wonderful as it was. He died, leaving her a penniless widow in a Harlem flat, overcrowded with kids.

"Her strength and resolve came from another man, a man Dennis had introduced her to.

"Years later, Ruth told her son James the secret--the secret that enabled her to rise like a phoenix out of the ashes of her dad's abuse. 'I was afraid of Tateh and had no love for him at all...It affected me in a lot of ways, what he did to me. I had very low self-esteem as a child, which I kept with me for many, many years; and even now I don't want to be around anyone who is domineering or pushing me around, because it makes me nervous.'

"Ruth reflected on the harsh and insensitive slurs of those who decried her marrying a black man. 'Well, I don't care. Your father changed my life. He taught me about God, who lifted me up and forgave me and made me new. I was lucky to meet him or I would've been a prostitute or dead. Who knows what would've happened to me? I was reborn in Christ. Had to be, after all I went through.'

"James writes that during one of her most difficult times, 'Ma was utterly confused about all but one thing: Jesus...Jesus gave Mommy hope. Jesus was Mommy's salvation. Jesus pressed her forward. Each and every Sunday, no matter how tired, depressed or broke, she got up early, dressed in her best, and headed for church...

"How do the Ruths of this world manage to come through with hands held high in victory? What is the secret to rising above the debilitating effects of brokenness, burdens, bondage, temptation, and all the other things that life so often inflicts upon us?...

"The answer is clear...and the answer holds our only hope. It is a love for Christ so compelling that it drives and defines all that we do--a love that is defined by the life-changing goodness that Christ brings to our existence. When our love for Christ moves beyond a mere mental assent to a living reality, it motivates us to deal with life in unique and powerful ways, regardless of our circumstances."


Bob, Sarah, and Miriam Logsdon said...

Great story - I've read the book and it really is an amazing story. Thanks for reminding me of it! -sarah

Terry said...

You're welcome! I didn't realize that you had read it. Thanks for the comment, Sarah.