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FIRST-PERSON: Starting at a Calif. bus stop to life in Ga., God is at work


ATLANTA (BP)–Never say “never.”

Sitting on a bench in the hot California sun waiting for a city transit bus to take me home from high school over two decades ago, I dreamed of many things.

Some were whimsical. A pair of Nike tennis shoes, a date for the senior prom, a 35-millimeter camera with automatic settings and a fairy godmother to take my place scrubbing the kitchen floor on Saturday. Some were heartfelt. A whole family with a mom, a dad, two kids, a car and hope for the future. Some were practical. A cool shade tree, a pair of jeans that fit and a bus that arrived on time so I wouldn’t face my grandmother’s stern lecture about staying too long at the library.

Never could I have imagined I would be married to the man of my dreams and living in Georgia. Never could I have pictured my little family driving along a rural pine tree-lined highway where the Whistle-Stop Café of Fried Green Tomatoes fame is perched, while my two college-aged children sang popular country western tunes in the back seat of our Buick.

My smile was so big, my husband almost pulled off the road.

“Look, there’s a silver lining in the clouds just past that lake over there,” my vibrant daughter Belinda said, reaching into her purse to grab a disposable camera. Squinting through the imperfect lens, she laughed and said she hoped nobody spied her looking the fool while trying to get off just the right shot.

I almost landed us on the side of the road for a second time as my husband veered and swerved while taking in my excited gulps. He had no clue I was a having one of the biggest flashbacks ever.

Who would have believed it? There I was, a chica from Southern California, enjoying every last drop of Luzianne sweet tea I could find, and getting high off helping the kids spot kudzu vines and old confederate graveyards. Living in a big house in a big yard with a big tree and both of my big kids in college. A long way to come for a tall, naive 17-year-old in cheap sandals, clutching a stack of books while counting out 35 pennies for the last bus home.

It had been an emotional kind of day. The kind of day that kind of hits you upside the head with revelation. My baby boy successfully auditioned for a scholarship and entrance into the music program at Brewton-Parker College, a Georgia Baptist school. My daughter came along to check out little bro’s new school. She’ll be a junior at Union University, a Tennessee Baptist school in Jackson. At her age, I was a sailor from the West married to a soldier from the East and about to start a family. College was the impossible dream.

So what’s so strange about this picture? Well, let’s start with the girl at the bus stop. I was born in the West and never left until I joined the U.S. Navy at 18. Initially raised Catholic, my mother, sister and two younger brothers and I accepted the Lord when I was 12 and began to attend an evangelical church. Although it was confusing at times, I continued in parochial school through the eighth grade, and then went through a unique family situation which resulted in me living with my grandmother for my senior year of high school.

This entire time I hadn’t seen or spoken to my father, but had adapted in some ways to two different stepfathers. Dyslexic and lacking in math and social skills, I attended 22 different schools through high school and barely made it into the Navy with my G.E.D. It was only there I discovered I was actually pretty literate from spending so much time losing myself in books over the years. I ended up in naval intelligence and even got to do a short stint at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

A child bride of sorts, I counted my husband and our relationship as a miracle. He was saved at a revival shortly after he proposed marriage, which was only shortly after we met in Texas. That was nearly 21 years ago. Since then I raised two children, earned three degrees, put my husband through seminary and moved 17 times.

Now, over two decades later, I have at least three pair of Nikes in my own closet in the multi-level house we lease across from a suburban country club. I have a digital camera to use along with the super-duper computer set-up my brilliant husband rigged. I use Mop & Glo on our no-wax floors in a huge, comfortable kitchen. My two impossibly good-looking children share with us the two well-worn but usable cars sitting in the garage with an automatic door opener. There is a huge shade tree in the front of the house, my jeans almost still fit and I don’t have to worry about bus schedules, just the price of gas.

Nana passed away years ago, so no stern lectures, just the warmth of the rich ivory afghan she crocheted for me. And books, more books than I could have ever dreamt of, line the walls of our home and stand proud in the bookshelves in my classroom at the high school where I’ll teach this fall.

Best yet, like then, I have a hope for the future. My hope is in Jesus. More eternal than things, more lasting than any earthly relationship even, my steadfast hope for the future has been in trusting that Jesus is the answer and he knows the answers.

Not all things have been magical in Georgia. Just eight months after my husband accepted a call and headed south for a church position, and just three short weeks after the rest of us joined him here, he resigned his position. Today, after several weeks of prayerful and tearful contemplation, God used the circumstances of our little trip further south to Mt. Vernon, Ga., to reveal to me what I might miss, might I not keep looking and trusting.

Our hope for the future comes only from him. Not any living soul, not any earthly good offers the same hope for the future. It is good. He is not finished yet — this next chapter of our lives remains in his hands. As it should.
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Hannigan, of McDonough, Ga., is a national correspondent for Baptist Press.

    About the Author

  • Joni B. Hannigan