Slow Cooker Conversion

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My mother-in-law, Linda Whitney (Grandma Linda, to my kids) had more questions than most teens her age in the 1950s. She loved and respected her parents, but at times she wasn’t sure whether she agreed with their beliefs.

Linda’s mom, Vernettie Jones, had a houseful of kids, so there wasn’t much time for them to sit and talk about the Church’s teachings. They would talk for a bit, but then her mom would be called away. “Ask Elder Dugger!” she would say over her shoulder. “He can explain it better.”

“Why don’t we celebrate Christmas?” Linda asked her dad, Russell. “All my friends do, and I like all the lights. Our house is so dark!”

Russell knew the Bible and was strong in what the Church taught. He was also from a generation that taught children should be seen and not heard. Young people should respect and trust their elders, who knew more than they did.

Seeking answers

So many do’s and don’ts were preached from the pulpit in those days, Linda wasn’t sure what she agreed with. But she knew where to find the answers: the Bible! She read and studied it for herself, but some things were confusing for a young person to fully understand. It would take years of studying and maturing for her to learn what God expected of her. It might not be exactly what her family taught, or her church, but what her Creator revealed to her would end up changing her life.

One day Linda decided to take her mother’s advice and write to Elder Dugger. Would this busy man have time to read a letter from a kid? She waited a long time, but eventually a reply came — a thick letter! Elder Dugger had thoroughly answered each one of her questions. Thanks to his answers, she began to read and study her Bible with a new understanding.

Life changes

About this time, Linda and her family moved and began attending a new church. Under the preaching of Pastor Elder Heuer, they were inspired to live holy lives. They learned to examine every area of their lives for anything that might offend their Lord.

After Linda graduated from high school, the family moved again. There wasn’t a Sabbathkeeping church anywhere nearby. Tragically, her dad, a kind, good man, was drinking by this time. Linda vowed she would never become an alcoholic like him, not realizing that the same disease ran in her blood.

One day Linda met a handsome, charming young man. They soon married and made a home of their own, with her husband working long hours as a logger. Over the years, they had three kids, and often extra kids were at their house. Life was full.

Their friends and family members made an arrangement. Each family would take turns hosting all the kids at their house for the weekend so the other couples could party. The parties at Linda’s house were the best, in some people’s opinion. The next morning would find partyers passed out in the yard and all over the house, and the mailboxes on the corner knocked over — again!

Linda and her family were soon joining the neighborhood decorating contests for all the holidays. She went all out. Her house was the darkest at Halloween and the brightest at Christmas.

Firm beliefs

The next few years brought hard times. Linda lost a child she had hoped to raise, and her husband was unfaithful occasionally. Both her parents died. Though her life was almost unbearable at times, she never completely gave up.

But even during those tough years, Linda observed the Sabbath and refused to eat pork. On Sabbaths she would take her kids to her sister’s house for church with her family. Friends and neighbors would roll their eyes and talk about how strict she was about not eating pork. “Once she threw away a really nice pot because someone had used it to cook pork in!” a neighbor laughed.

Linda didn’t care what they thought. She knew what she believed.

Ups and downs

Sometimes backsliding isn’t an intentional, sudden turning around or a rejection of the truth. It is periodically wandering off the path and going in circles, trying hard to stay straight in the fog of life’s circumstances. That’s what happened to Linda.

In comparison, conversion isn’t always an immediate, miraculous change. It can happen like a slow cooker — working over time. It often comes as a result of daily struggles with choices that lead us to become something we never imagined possible. Such a conversion may be slow, but it is a hard-won victory worthy of angels’ applause.

So it was with Linda. She had a glimmer of hope that her life didn’t need to always be out of control. She also feared that she couldn’t be a part of her future grandchildren’s lives if she didn’t sober up.

In rehab Linda began to see God in a much more powerful way. She learned to call on Him, lean on Him, and not beat herself up when she slipped. Realizing His mercy and grace, Linda became stronger each day.

Despite her progress, Linda faced temptation to return to her old way of life. The road home from work took her right past the bars she used to haunt. When the tug of habit became too strong, she would grip the steering wheel and cry out, “Jesus, Jesus, JESUS!” until the car and her thoughts were filled with that powerful, wonder-working name. Every day Linda repeated her battle until she arrived on the peaceful road home.

Some days for Linda were easy, but some were wearing. Temptations would hit her when she least expected, and she would find herself alone in her car with the blinker on, ready to lose all she had gained for the flashing lights of the tavern.

Again she cried, “Jesus! Help me!” and He would come, not with a flash of lightning but with a strengthening of resolve — just enough to keep her car on the road, headed for home.

Turnaround

As the years went on, Linda became an inspiration to her friends and family, and even to strangers. Many of them turned to sobriety and to a faith in Jesus. Linda even hosted a church in her home. Instead of the wildest parties on Saturday nights, her home became known as the best place to be on a quiet Sabbath afternoon.

This little home church plunged into the Scriptures daily. As they were washed in the Word, the Holy Spirit revealed truths to them that others have studied their whole lives to find. These believers had a simple yet strong childlike faith that gladly obeys. When they came across a verse in their studying, they would embrace it and ask, “How should we then live?”

Out went books and movies that were contrary to this new walk. Out went the Christmas tree. Some of the neighbors shook their heads with confusion and rolled their eyes with amusement, but Linda and her friends were as bold as ever. She looked up leaders of her church that she had known in previous years. Elders Dugger and Heuer were gone, but it wasn’t hard to find others who had the same passion. They took turns visiting these new converts each Sabbath.

About once a year, Linda would do a house cleaning. She would pull out books or other things that she had brought into her home that year. If she felt they didn’t glorify God, out they went! Linda also examined her life for habits that needed a refreshing.

There is no way of knowing how many people’s lives were changed for the good because Linda allowed God to turn her life around. She went on mission trips overseas. She was a missionary every day, everywhere she went. She witnessed in the store, on the airplane, and on the sidewalk. Linda was a willing vessel for God to use.

New story

Linda fought the good fight until the day she died. She never claimed it was easy, and she never condemned others who struggled. She was a shining light of hope and healing to all who were touched by her example.

Linda Whitney died several years ago. My older girls remember sitting on her lap as she warned them about the dangers of alcohol. She was open with them about her struggles and victories.

Grandma Linda’s story may be over, but theirs is just beginning. I wrote this story for them, so they would never forget. I wrote it for my young son, who never met his grandmother, so he can learn. I wrote it for myself, and for all of us, so that when this life finds us struggling or confused, we will call on Jesus. He is always near and will answer — every time!

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Sarah (Lemley) Whitney writes from Kalama, WA, where she lives with her husband, Luke, and their three children: Rebecca (18), Zipporah (16), and Joseph (8). They attend God's Little Wilderness church most Sabbaths. They also frequent Portland, OR Church of God (Seventh Day).