Friday, May 18, 2018

Jesus Became my Shepherd. (As told by Bertha Mae Sollenberger Crider Heisey)

I used to hear my mother tell stories of her life and I always heard them through the filter of being her daughter. Now, I read them through the lens of a middle-aged woman—and I absorb them as one woman talking to another woman about their lives.

As I make my way through my fifties I am starting to see how powerful it is to begin to look back over your life and connect the dots. I share more of her story with you, in remembrance of Mother's Day and a life that inspired so many other people, including me.

My mother, Bertha, was asked to tell her life-story for a series that featured various residents at Menno Haven, a retirement community in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania where she lived out the last decade of her life until she passed away. We are fortunate that someone asked this of her, otherwise, I'm not sure we'd have her stories in such detail.

Bertha tells her story at Menno Haven with the help of Aspen.
May 21, 2012

To prepare something for her to read to the other residents, my mother (with the assistance of my sister, Aspen) revisited memories and contemplated her rich life, the meanings and lessons she felt she learned. As they focused on a few of the key stories and settled on a theme, this is what they put together. (Re-edited by Aspen April of 2014).

Jesus Became my Shepherd

"I was born February 6, 1923, in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and my parents were Avery Landis Sollenberger and Frances Wingert.

I grew up in Culbertson with my two brothers, Chester and Avery. Our family was very involved in the Air Hill Brethren in Christ Church. I remember one evening at a testimony meeting, I was about 5 or 6 years old and the women were all sitting together (this was back when women and men sat on separate sides) and I was curled up beside my mother, nestled to her side. Listening to all the testimonies, I began to feel sick in my stomach. I told my mother, "I feel sick!"  She must have had some sort of intuition about what was happening to me, because she whispered back: "Do you want to say something?" and I said, "Yes."

She had me stand up but I wasn't tall enough to be seen by the preacher, so she said I should stand up on the bench. Then the preacher saw me and asked if I wanted to testify. I said, "Yes, I want to love Jesus too!" and oh my...what a feeling I got when I said that! I plopped down on the seat beside my mother.
Bertha Mae Sollenberger (as a girl).

I still remember the satisfaction I had from obeying God, telling a group of people that I wanted to love Jesus too. Even though I was a young child, I believe something happened then and there that helped to lead me all my life.

Jesus became my shepherd.

This early experience of testifying set in motion a spiritual yearning and seeking that has lasted my whole life...I always felt like I wanted more of God—a deeper and richer experience.

At the height of my young married life when I seemed to have everything I could ever want, I did not feel the complete assurance that I was ready to meet God, and I remember praying: "Lord, I must know that I am your child, at any price." I just did not know what or how high that price was going to be. My prayer was answered and I do have that assurance for which I yearned.

I can see themes that have been woven into my life, and certainly an overarching theme would be this: No matter how difficult the experiences I have faced, (a car accident, a young husband's death, the death of two children, and sickness) God always prepared my heart just prior to the event, which helped to make the pain bearable.

I could only see those connections and the weaving of this theme in hindsight, but it always led me to a feeling of being cared for by God, and it helped me accept and have peace about the life-altering and traumatic happenings in my life.

By telling a few of the key stories in my life, I feel like that little girl, almost 90 years later, standing up on a bench and saying now: "I still want to love Jesus, and I have a lifetime of experience and stories about how He has taken care of me."

Frances:  One of my mother's favorite songs was the hymn, "God Will Take Care of You". I remember playing it for her on the piano because I knew she loved it. In elementary school, I even created a banner made out of burlap and yarn for her. As an adult woman, I'd get tired of dragging it around every time she had to move to another level of care in the retirement home. But now, as I go back and read her story, I see why this saying was so special to her and why she kept the banner. I keep that banner hanging in my office and I just can't throw it away.