A Summer at the Park

Photo by Erin Song on Unsplash

By Teena Myers

Yvonne credits her Catholic roots for the discipline she needed to live the Christian life. Her devout parents taught her to read the Bible, pray, and be faithful in church attendance. In her junior year at high school, her lifelong friend and neighbor, Annette, left for a Catholic boarding school. Annette returned the following summer with an unusual zeal for God. She had been “saved” during a Catholic Charismatic meeting during the school year. The day after Annette returned home, she bought Yvonne lunch and gushed about the personal relationship she had found with Jesus. The next day, Yvonne asked Annette to tell her about Jesus again. By the end of the conversation, Yvonne surrendered her life to Christ and spoke in tongues.

Annette and Yvonne quickly became a missionary team. They invited friends to meet them at a park. Annette played her guitar and spoke about Jesus. Their friends were receptive to the gospel, and many accepted salvation and were filled with the Spirit. Under Annette’s leadership, the small group quickly grew into a two-hundred-member fellowship.

“Without the guidance of a trained clergyman, a small group of teenagers started a movement in our community,” said Yvonne. “We simply fell in love with Jesus. The meetings in the park continued until the end of the summer when Annette returned to boarding school. Annette taught us basic principles, but without the structure a church offers, we didn’t have the tools to grow in our faith. When I enrolled in college, my heart was tender toward God, but I left my salvation experience in my past and stopped growing in the knowledge of God.”

Yvonne enrolled in college intent on fulfilling her lifelong dream of becoming an actress, never forgot the summer she worshipped God in the park with Annette. She joined the first bi-lingual theater company in the nation where she met Jose Sanchez, who she later married. The plays they performed were often double cast in both Spanish and English speaking actors. During summer break, they toured in Mexico for college credit.

She had acquired thirty-six hours toward a theater major when she realized the necessity of a job that provided a steady income. She learned elementary education would accept her hours, so she changed her major hoping to teach theater to children while she pursued her dream. After she graduated, the only open position was in special education.

A decade had elapsed, and she was pregnant with her second child when she kept running into people telling her about Jesus. Yvonne drove her car into a grocery store parking lot and spotted a friend she had not seen for years. “How you have been,” exclaimed Yvonne.

“I am great. You can’t imagine how great. Why don’t you come to my office and let me tell you what has been happening in my life,” he replied. Yvonne followed him into a storeroom in the grocery store. She sat on a box and listened to a familiar story.

Yvonne grew uncomfortable as he talked about Jesus and how he had found a personal relationship with God. She suppressed her longing to return to the relationship she had once had with God. Her life had changed dramatically since that summer in the park. She had married her husband in the Catholic Church. Her husband and her extended family were devout Catholics who would not welcome her defection. She walked out of the grocery store intent on forgetting the encounter with her friend, but the subject of Jesus arose again.

A couple who rented property from Yvonne’s parents befriended Yvonne and her husband. They spent a lot of time with Yvonne’s family, which she interpreted as friendliness, but the couple had an ulterior motive. They wanted to share their faith and did so often. Yvonne felt cornered when they came to her home. Their enthusiasm about God stirred up memories of her summer in the park. Yvonne would sit as far back on her couch as possible, and then cross her legs and her arms clinging to a life she didn’t want to change.

“I felt that every time I turned around someone was telling me about Jesus. I was resisted, but my husband was even more resistant. I knew if I surrendered everything to God my marriage might end. When we moved to a new community, I knew God was chasing me. My new job assignment in special education was in an abandoned building surrounded by barbered wire. I was one of two teachers and six educational assistants. My first day on the job Sylvia, the other teacher, said to me, ‘I am so glad you are here. Praise the Lord.’  This time I was more than cornered. I was trapped. Every day, she talked about Jesus and shared scriptures and encouragement. Within thirty days, I surrender my life to God and so had the six assistants.”

Yvonne waited for an invitation to Sylvia’s church. When she didn’t receive one, Yvonne invited herself. “We have services on Wednesday night and Sunday,” said Sylvia. Yvonne knew she could not attend on Sunday. That day was reserved for her Catholic church. She jotted down the address to Sylvia’s church to visit on Wednesday.

That evening she approached the subject with Jose. “I feel God is calling me to him. Do you want to go to church with me on Wednesday night?”

“No,” said Jose. “But you do what you feel God wants you to do.”

By the time Yvonne checked her girls into the nursery, the service had already begun. She heard music as she entered the sanctuary and felt like she was in the park with Annette again. Immediately she lifted her hands to worship God and spoke in tongues, which she had not done since the summer in the park. “I surrendered my life to Christ, and that is when my Christian walk really began,” said Yvonne.

Yvonne returned home enthusiastic about her renewed relationship with God. She continued to attend the interdenominational church on Wednesday night and the Catholic church on Sunday. As Yvonne had feared, her divided commitment produced marriage problems. The tension steadily increased until Jose contacted an attorney to file for divorce.

The following Wednesday, Yvonne went to the pastor’s wife and wept. “My life is falling apart.”

The pastor’s wife replied, “The Bible says to seek first the kingdom of God and all his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you. It does not say these things will be taken from you.” She brought Yvonne to the front of the church and invited the congregation to join her in prayer. Suddenly, the pastor’s wife said, “It’s done.” Yvonne walked back to her seat wondering what was done.

That night, she slipped into bed still pondering her pastor’s declaration. A few minutes later, Jose walked into the bedroom. “I am so sorry, Yvonne. I was going to make a big mistake. You can go to church wherever you want and take the girls too. I don’t want a divorce.”

God had spared her from divorce, but a long walk through a desert lay before her. Yvonne and Jose attended different churches for many years. They moved to Laredo shortly after Yvonne renewed her commitment to God, where she joined Church of the Crossroad. Jose found a Catholic church to attend. On occasion, he attended an early mass, so he could join Yvonne at Church of the Crossroad. He also helped her when she wrote and directed plays for her church, but he remained committed to the Catholic church.

Yvonne experienced a crisis of faith the day she answered her phone and heard, “He’s dead. He’s dead.”

“Mom, what are you talking about?”

“Your father is dead.”

Yvonne’s father had conquered insurmountable odds most of his life. The tenth of thirteen children, he quit school at thirteen to help support his family. In 1964, he started a business in South Texas when there were few Hispanic business owners. He was a successful business man until the oil bust of the 1990’s. He hid his depression as business dwindled until the financial pressure provoked him to take his life.

The tragic death of Yvonne’s father left her in shock and questioning God’s love. “I could not imagine any emotional pain could be that difficult,” said Yvonne. “I was extremely confused when I returned home from the funeral. I had been a Christian for several years and thought I had an intimate relationship with God. When I opened my Bible and read ‘All things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose’, I said, ‘How are you going to work this for good?’”

Yvonne had reached a crossroad in her relationship with God. She believed he was a loving God who protected her family, but he didn’t stop her father from committing suicide. She faced a difficult choice. Believe God’s word is true. Turn her back on God forever. Yvonne prayed, “I don’t know how you can work this for good, but that is what your word says, so I take you at your word.” That day she began a journey of surrender.

Daily, she awoke to surrender her life to God during endless days of emotional pain and depression. She often took her children to school and then returned home to lie on her bed until time to pick them up. She arrived at the school dressed and smiling as though she had been an active member of society that day.

As Yvonne learned to surrender, God surrounded her with the love of her family. One day, she picked her children up from school and brought them home to stay with the housekeeper while she ran an errand. Her five-year old son sensed her distress and refused to leave her side. Knowing there were no words to comfort his wife, Jose often sat on the bed reading a book, while Yvonne wept her pain into submission.

“God taught me that surrender is a song to him. Regardless of the circumstance, surrender is the appropriate response. Life is not fair, but we serve a God of justice.”

On Mother’s Day, twenty years after Yvonne’s first act of surrender to God, she was dressing for church. “I am going to church with you today,” said Jose. Yvonne was thrilled with the wonderful Mother’s Day gift her husband gave her.

The following Sunday, Jose said, “What time do we leave?”

“Are you going again?”

“Yes,” said Jose.

The next Sunday, Yvonne was afraid to ask if he planned to attend church with her again. She waited to see what he would do. Once again, he dressed and attended church with her. Ten years later, Jose is still attending church with Yvonne.

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