Enduring Faith

Boyce Bowdon

Boyce Bowdon

By Boyce Bowdon –

When Joane Schmidt was 5 years old, her parents woke her up yelling and screaming in the kitchen. “I ran to see what was happening,” Schmidt, now 84, said. “My father was holding my mother’s head over the sink and was about to chop it off with a butcher knife. Somehow, I managed to stop him.”

Schmidt said her parents were good people when sober, but fought physically when they drank. A few nights later, she heard a voice reassuring her that her life didn’t have to be the way it was.

“I knew immediately God was speaking to me,” she said. “He was promising me that my life didn’t have to be the way it was. I didn’t have to feel alone and afraid all the time. God was going to walk with me every step of the way and when I couldn’t walk another step, God was going to carry me the rest of the way.”

Schmidt said what God told her that night changed her life. “What was happening at home didn’t change much,” she recalled. “For the next seven years — until my parents got a divorce — they kept drinking and fighting and I kept managing to stop them.”

What was different, she said, was not what she faced but how she faced it. She didn’t feel alone and afraid any more. She became more cheerful and hopeful.

“Several of my friends knew I had been going through a lot with my parents,” she explained. “They would ask me, ‘How can you be so happy, Joane?’ I didn’t tell them the Lord had been talking to me. They would have thought I needed to be locked up.”

After her parents’ divorce, Schmidt had a new problem. “My mother wanted me to testify against my father. I knew both of them were at fault so I refused to testify for or against either one of them. When I refused, my mother became angry. She kept yelling at me over and over, saying she hated me and that she wished I had never been born. When I was 14, I started working and saving a little money. So the day I turned 18, I moved into a rooming house.”

Photo courtesy of Boyce Bowdon.

Photo courtesy of Boyce Bowdon.

One night not long after she moved, Joane said God spoke to her again even more vividly than before. “God told me again that he loved me,” she said. “And then God told me something that was too good to be true. He told me he was going to use me to help many people experience his love! I was astonished!” Schmidt said that night God placed in her heart a passion for serving others that has never left her.

When she was 20, Schmidt moved 150 miles southwest from Bartlesville, the Oklahoma town where she had grown up, to Oklahoma City. She took with her the promises she heard God make to her — that God was going to walk with her every step of the way and when she couldn’t walk another step, God was going to carry her the rest of the way. And the promise that God was going to use her to help many people experience God’s love.

Her positive attitude, pleasant personality and strong work ethic helped her find a good job, meet the love of her life John Woolery, and get married. One of the first decisions they made after their wedding was to make church a vital part of their lives.

“My parents were not church-going people,” Schmidt said. “The only time I remember going to church when I was a child was with my grandmother when she and her friends were making quilts to give to people poorer than us. While they quilted, I sat on the floor and ate my sandwich and played with toys. I didn’t have a relationship with God —at least I didn’t know I did.”

She said going to church, Sunday school and Bible studies for more than 60 years has undergirded her childlike faith and has deepened her commitment to follow Christ. Church, she said, has also helped her be a better parent for her three daughters: Linda, Leslie, and Lori.

Schmidt said God has always had his hands on her. But she said that doesn’t mean every day has been beautiful and happy. One of the difficult times for her family, she said, occurred when an economic downturn hit Oklahoma.

“John couldn’t find a job that would produce enough income to meet our obligations,” Schmidt said. “After we lost our home, we rented a small house, and furnished it with odds and ends. We used a cedar chest for our sofa; our chair was one we got off the street that somebody had thrown away. “

Photo courtesy of Boyce Bowdon.

Photo courtesy of Boyce Bowdon.

Schmidt said remembering what God said to her all those years when her parents were fighting continued to give her hope. “I was confident that with God’s help we would make it through those tough days, and we finally did. God supplied all our needs in all kinds of ways.”

In the mid-1970s another crisis struck. Her husband came down with cancer and after 18 months of being in and out of the hospital, he died at only 52 years old. Still, Schmidt’s faith in God comforted and sustained her.

“I knew life happens to us whether we love the Lord or don’t love the Lord. I knew I could either have a pity party for myself, or I could pick up the pieces, with God’s help, and go on.”

After John’s death, Sunday was the loneliest day of the week for Schmidt. She missed seeing John in the choir. After church, she dreaded going home to her empty house. She knew she was not the only church member who had lost a spouse and was lonely on Sundays. She discussed the problem with her pastor and suggested that a singles ministry would help. Knowing she was an excellent organizer and leader, he encouraged her to develop what she believed was needed. Schmidt started a Sunday school class and a singles group.

One day after this Sunday school class, a medical doctor named Art approached her. After reminding her that the previous week she encouraged class members to make a list of their goals, he handed her his handwritten list.

Schmidt told him his goals were between him and God. But he insisted she read his list: “Goal: 1. To be your husband. Goal 2. To keep you happy always. Goal 3. To find God the way you have.”

Just a few months later, they married. However, even though she now had a new husband, Schmidt still had a compassionate heart for widows. “I knew what they were facing,” Schmidt explained. “So I started inviting widows to my home for a luncheon. “

Before long more people were coming to the luncheon than Schmidt could serve in her home. So, with the pastor’s encouragement, they started meeting at the church. Schmidt continued to prepare and serve the lunch. The group chose to call themselves ‘Live Wires,’ which Schmidt said described them perfectly.

For more than 18 years, Schmidt cooked and served meals and led the group. She retired in January 2013 so she could provide more care for Art, who was 90 and having severe health problems.

Schmidt still holds her head high and looks for opportunities to brighten the lives of others, especially people who struggle to make it through another day. She assures them — with her words and by her example — that they don’t have to be victims of the past, the present or the future.

There was one other thing Schmidt reminded me about the story I’ve shared with you: “When you write this,” she said, “Remember it’s about what God has done with me, in me, and through me. It’s God’s story, not mine!”

Boyce Bowdon, who was a United Methodist pastor for 20 years and director of communication for the Oklahoma Annual Conference for 24 years, now writes inspirational articles and books from his home near Oklahoma City. 

Comments

  1. Leon Bird says

    What a wonderful story, and a wonderful sense of calling. Keep up the good work, Boyce, we need a lot more of it.

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