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Through the Years--My Testimony

by Donna Franklin
Psalm 34:1-3
“I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: the humble shall hear thereof,
and be glad. O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.”
“Everything is going to be all right.” These were the very first words I was aware of God speaking to me, deep down inside my being. And they changed my life forever. That was June 9, 1969, 40 years ago.
Way back in ancient times, 1935 to be exact, I was born in my grandmother’s house in South Sioux City, Nebraska. My mom was 20 and my dad 22, and my sister was 14 months older than me. I was the baby in the family for nearly 5 years, then became the “one in the middle” when my younger sister was born in 1940. The oldest of us had the honor of being born in a hospital in Sioux City, Iowa, where my mom was kept in her bed for a full 10 days at a cost of $50. After that experience, they sent for the doctor instead.
None of the men of the family were much on religion, but my mom’s mom was a devout Catholic, and prevailed over the heathen elements concerning our upbringing. She started and ended her days with prayer, kneeling beside her bed, and was a willing volunteer at church functions—which consisted mainly of card parties, showers, and floral decorating committees. This grandmother was my role model. I see myself still trying to be like her in many ways.
Dad and Mom didn’t attend church. But when I was 5, Grandma convinced Mom that my little sister and I needed to be baptized. We were taken to a nearby church where little Geraldine had a normal Catholic baptism. I had to lean out over the baptismal font while a trickle of water was poured (I thought) down the back of my neck. Years later I got a copy of my certificate of baptism and found that one of the wealthiest men in that area had signed it as my Godfather. He was one of the founders of the Iowa Beef Producers.
My dad was a “truck farmer.” We lived in Dakota City, west of the Missouri River. Dad was born and raised there, and we had a little house right next door to a boarding house. The land across the road grew our vegetables and each Saturday, Dad drove into Sioux City to peddle them to his route of customers. In the winter, he worked helping to cut ice on the river and putting it into big icehouses, where they surrounded it with sawdust. All year long, that ice was cut and sold to townspeople to keep their iceboxes cold enough for food storage.
In 1942, as the country was mobilizing for war and coming out of the Depression, Dad left for California, planning to get a job in a defense factory. Instead, he was hired on by the Southern Pacific Railroad as a conductor on streetcars around the Los Angeles area. By the end of the year, the rest of the family joined him. We had an apartment on a steep hill in an area of Los Angeles called (I think) Dayton Heights. We’d been at school some months, when we got there one day and found it nearly empty. I was grown up before I realized what had happened that weekend: they’d rounded up all the Japanese—the majority of people in our neighborhood—and took them out into the desert to be kept in camps until war’s end.
It was pretty exciting to be in the city in those days. The possibility was strong that we’d come under attack because of L.A.’s strategic importance to the defense industry. Tethered blimps floated above huge and brilliant searchlights that lit up the sky, while down below, we practiced blackouts. Air raid wardens ran through the area looking for any tiniest beam of light shining out of a window. It must have been an amazing sight for those flying over, to realize a giant city lay below, with absolutely no hint that it existed when it was night.
I was 9 and beginning the fifth grade when our folks decided to part ways. By that time, Dad had become a real trainman and was gone on trips that kept him away for days at a time. We had moved into Hollywood by then and attended a school just off Hollywood Boulevard. My sisters and I were taken to our grandparents’ farm north of Sioux City, where we spent the next school year. When we got back home, Dad was living elsewhere, and Mom was having to work. She became a waitress, not having completed high school, and sometimes a barmaid. Sometimes she brought men home with her, and sometimes they spent the night. When I was in the seventh grade, we went back to the farm for another year of school, and during that time, Mom divorced her second husband—an alcoholic carpenter who only worked when he wasn’t drinking.
Each summer, because Dad got a family pass for a round trip ticket to anywhere in the U.S., my sisters and I were sent to spend the summer with our grandparents. Those were the good times, those summers. We weren’t latchkey kids then. We had a lot of kinfolk, and lots of them came to visit the farm for our grandmother’s famous Sunday chicken dinners. We had regular meals, consistent lives, and things to do from morning till night. We had grownups to watch over us and teach us values. And, we had regular Sunday Mass at a little country church a few miles away.
My older sister and I were sent to catechism in Hollywood, to prepare us for our First Holy Communion. This was the result of our grandmother’s nagging, and we enjoyed going. Catechism isn’t like Sunday School…it is heavy indoctrination into the Roman Catholic beliefs, and consists of much memorization of answers to questions. Also, we learned the “standard prayers,” which are the “Lord’s Prayer,” “Hail Mary,” and “Glory Be…,” all necessary to be able to recite the beads of the rosary.
We were taught about the confessional, how you enter, kneel, and wait for the priest to open his little window. Then, you begin by saying the “Act of Contrition”: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been ________ since my last confession, and these are my sins…” When you’d finished telling him whatever you could remember that needed confessing, he would give a “penance”: “Say 5 ‘Our Fathers’ and 10 ‘Hail Marys’.” That done, you were ready for Communion.
At the proper time in the Mass, you’d go forward and kneel at the railing. The priest came by, stopped in front of you, and you opened your mouth wide. He laid the wafer on your tongue while reciting something in Latin, and you closed your mouth and assumed an attitude of great piousness. Because you couldn’t chew the wafer (it’s a little circle of unleavened bread), it stuck to the roof of your mouth and you waited for it to dissolve enough to swallow. The reason you couldn’t chew it was because the priest had turned it into the body of Christ, and you wouldn’t want to be guilty of chewing on God!
My aunt lived several blocks from a little church in Sioux City. It had a ceiling painted somewhat like Michealangelo’s Sistine Chapel and stood unlocked during the day. When we were staying in Iowa and spent time there in town (we got to go in every Saturday for shopping), I often went to that church by myself and sat quietly in one of the pews. I guess, looking back, I was meditating. I had Bible cards with pictures of young ladies dressed like nuns, kneeling in prayer while lovely rays of light descended on them from heaven. I wanted to be like that. Unfortunately, that was not something I was able to attain to, but I think our Lord must have smiled down on that lonely child and instilled, then blessed the hunger I felt for spiritual things.
I was about 13 when we were given preparation for our Confirmation, another Catholic sacrament, again at Grandma’s church. They said it meant getting the Holy Ghost and becoming a good soldier for the Lord. Sounded great to me. I started getting excited thinking about what was going to happen to me. I chose a confirmation name—Theresa—for my favorite saint, and waited for the special service.
The bishop came out from Sioux City, and those of us being confirmed took our places at the altar rail. He went down the line, pausing before each of us. First, we kissed his ring in reverence; then he anointed our foreheads with a drop of oil (that was received the Holy Ghost) and slapped us softly on both cheeks (that was enduring hardness for Christ). When it was over, I walked out the door with a feeling of the greatest disappointment you can possibly imagine. I was stunned because NOTHING had happened. I was just the same. There’s been no divine visitation. I truly believe that I left my Roman Catholic religion behind me that night, because never again did I have anything to look forward to in their traditions.
I learned some valuable lessons growing up: I would NEVER put my kids through the hell of having divorced parents. I vowed not to get “hooked” on alcohol, because what I’d seen over the years made me sick. I was going to be different from those around me, IF ONLY I could figure out how to do it.
From having wanted to someday become a num, I made the decision to marry and have a big family. Everyone I knew lived pretty much the same way as we did…if there were any genuine Christians around, they must have avoided us, because I don’t remember meeting any (the nearest would have to have been my grandmother). There wasn’t anyone to show me or tell me that there was something better than the existence we called LIFE. And everything was so colorless; no matter what came my way, it failed to satisfy. I’d hear, “Well, just wait until you…graduate, get married, have children, etc.”  But every event that should have been significant just left me wondering: “Is that ALL there IS?”
And we all continued down the well-traveled and broad way, dead in sin but assuming we were “living it up.” I married and nothing really changed. I had six children and remained in my lonely and shallow existence. I would have kept going that way till my funeral, but the God I didn’t know reached out to help me.
My fifth child, a daughter named Susan, had childhood cancer. When she was four months past her seventh birthday, on June 9, 1969, I stood by her hospital bed and watched her enter eternity. At that time, the Lord reached down and made me aware of His presence, and His words entered my heart: “Every thing is going to be all right.” I began to pray that He would show me what I had to do to be saved, because I knew I was lost, on my way to hell, and knew I wanted to go to heaven someday to be with Susan.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, God was changing me, making me see myself as I was and helping me recognize my sins. I stopped reading books that were immoral, feeling convicted about them. And, though I didn’t know it then, He was working miracles in my behalf.
We left California to move to a little town in Wyoming, feeling it was God’s will. When I first married, my husband was prospecting for uranium in the high desert near that town, and we always talked about someday moving back up there. That day came in September of 1972. My family consisted of my husband, four sons, one daughter, and myself.
A family from Louisiana had moved to that part of Wyoming about six months before us, to start an Apostolic home missions church. That’s where we heard the wonderful news: you can start all over again; you can be born into God’s family; you can have a real experience with God; you can have TRUE LIFE. And it happened to me! This time the pastor told me I would receive the Holy Ghost, and THIS TIME I really, really did. I had the exact same experience the apostles and other disciples had in the New Testament church.
I no longer ask, “Is THIS all there IS?” I am LIVING for Jesus, enjoying each new day, learning and growing in His Word, and serving Him with all my heart. Who could ASK more than THIS? But there really IS more! Lot’s more…for when I get through having a wonderful life down here, I am going to go home with My Lord and enjoy eternal life through the ages.
I’ve been on both sides: I know what it’s like to be “out there” as one of the crowd, thinking you’ve got it figured out, that you know what life is about, never realizing that there’s any other way to live. And, I’ve been on the inside, born again just like the Bible says. I know Who Jesus is, and He’s my best Friend and my Guide.
It’s been 37 years since we spent our vacation in Wyoming, back when the first person we met there was the Apostolic preacher who would become our pastor. God had it all worked out! We went home, sold the house, and moved. I watched my children receive the Holy Ghost and begin to live for God. I buried my husband six years later, his death being the result of hanging on to things Jesus wanted to deliver him from. The Lord sent a fine Christian man to become my mate, and then sent us to Oklahoma so we could get closer to Him and leave our pasts behind.
The Lord has been there with me and blessed tremendously. I attend church services expecting to worship Him and enjoy His presence in the midst of His people. He has spoken to me many times and given me great and precious promises. Many of those promises have already come to pass; others are going to be fulfilled up ahead. He speaks to me in prayer, quickens His Word as it’s read, speaks through the ministry, and sometimes—just out of the blue—He’s there to share special secrets with me. There have been many, many miracles—some that I wasn’t aware of till later on. There have been so many times of healing and times when He came to fight battles for me.
He brought us to this church because He knew we needed to be here. I don’t believe there has ever been anyone who has been as thrilled, satisfied, and content to be in God’s will as I am right now. I am truly thankful for what He’s done and is still doing. I am so thankful to be a part of God’s family. I desire to give the Lord all glory and honor.
There is a joy that saturates my days. I have even felt it in the midst of grief and tragedy. One of these days, I’m going to finish my work—whatever He’s called me to do—and then I’m going to go HOME! I’ll see you there!