My Story by Ellen Whitley

Let’s Just Begin

June 7, 2015

I have been asked to write about my Christian journey and how I got to the point of starting an Episcopal worshiping community in Wise County, Texas.  Someone said, “There’s a first time for everything.”  So, here I am writing my first blog about being an Episcopalian and worshiping God, and I can do that by walking in faith knowing that Jesus is right beside me.  Whew!  Scary stuff, but He’s got my back!  I must warn you, there are some things written here that are not pleasant to read; however, I believe all that has happened in my life is important to where I am today in my Christian journey.  So, please bear with me.

I was baptized, confirmed and married in the Episcopal Church when I was nineteen….a long time ago.  I got away from the church for a while, divorced and stayed single for about seven years until I met this tall Texan who charmed me off my feet. We married in a non-denominational church and we did try some different churches a few times, but nothing really “clicked.”

A little background here….my father was Roman Catholic and my mother was Protestant.  Mama also had some teaching in the Christian Science faith.  My brother and I never really felt like we belonged anywhere even though daddy would take us to Sunday Mass every now and then.  I loved the service even though it was in Latin.  Like I said, we only went occasionally.  So when I met my first husband and walked into an Episcopal church for the first time, it was like, “Wow!  I’ve come home.”  I loved the ceremony, the vestments, the altar (at that time the altar still faced the wall with the cross), the hymns, the kneeling….all of it.

When we had children and they got to the age of Sunday school, the girls and I would attend Episcopal services wherever we might have lived at the time.  We moved around a bit seeing as my hubby was employed by a railroad.  I believe you need to give your children a sound foundation….then as they grow they’ll probably move away from religion for a bit, but that foundation, that love for God, will always be with them.  My husband worked many long hours and was hardly ever off on Sundays (or holidays for that matter–Santa and Easter Bunny came to our house on odd days because they knew the girls’ daddy worked on Sundays and holidays.)

So, that’s the way it was–the girls and I worshiped together.  Later, I worked for Episcopal priests and learned more, reading Morning Prayer daily for one church.  One priest was a chaplain at Texas A&M; he eventually married our younger daughter.  Then after the girls left home I attended services alone.  My husband was not at all ready for a religious commitment–that is not something you can rush.  God’s timing is very precise and we’ll talk about that later.

When I retired hubby was already retired so we decided to move to Wise County so as to be closer to our girls.  I searched for a church but was unable to find one where my expertise would be welcomed, such as reading Morning Prayer or reading the lessons during the service.  So, I didn’t go to church.

More to come….

+ + + + +

Searching and Healing

June 8, 2015

So, for a year I just decided to wait until a church found me…..well, that never works, does it?  Then, in 2006, I became extremely ill.  I had a hiatal hernia which left my stomach three inches up inside my esophagus.  The reflux (GERD) was so bad that my throat was always sore and nothing helped relieve the heartburn.  Even water caused me pain.  Because we were worried about Barrett’s Esophagus which could lead to a cancerous condition, I decided to have the surgery which would wrap part of my stomach around the esophagus and stitch it to tighten things up so the food from my stomach would not back up into my esophagus.   All was good for three days until I awoke that third morning unable to breathe.  I called my doctor and he told me to meet him at the hospital.   My sensitive esophagus had developed a leak!  God be with me….esophageal leaks don’t end well.

I was fighting off sepsis–a massive infection, as well as pneumonia.  My doctor didn’t leave my side for long.  He had to try to patch the hole, but was unsuccessful, having trouble doing so with the laparoscopic tools, so he ended up having to make a very large incision.  The poison had filled my abdominal cavity and my intestines were swollen.   And I was bleeding….they couldn’t find out from where….thinking maybe it was my liver.  They kept giving me unit after unit of blood.  Finally, they found that my spleen was bleeding, damaged from the tools trying to save me, so my spleen was removed.  Have you ever heard your heart beating so loudly that you couldn’t stand it?  My heart rate was up so high they thought I would have a heart attack.   I remember being so hot.   They had fans blowing on me and the air conditioning was turned down as low as it would go.  There were tubes coming from all parts of my body and then one day I asked my husband a question that would break his heart.  I asked, “Am I going to die?”  I wasn’t afraid; it was just a matter-of-fact kind of question.  Then my husband said, “If you would have asked me that yesterday, I don’t know what I would have told you, but today you are better, so, no, you aren’t going to die.”  I said, “Well, okay, but if I am dying I want to talk to a priest.”

All that time I knew God and His angels were with me.  I could feel them around me in the room….I knew they were up around the ceiling and that if I slept, they would protect me.  Some think it was the pain meds that made me think there were angels around me, but I know better–they were protecting me while I slept and as I healed.

Getting well took a long time and I had several surgeries after that to repair incisional hernias developed from my massive wound.  After I finally did heal, I thought again about worship and how I needed to feel that special closeness I remember feeling during Holy Eucharist.  I visited a church but did not find the “feeling” I was looking for, plus I was told I might not be able to read lessons unless the men of the church were agreeable to having a woman read the lessons.  That shot me down to the point of sadness I hadn’t felt in a long time.  So, I let it go.

However, God kept placing thoughts in my head all along, telling me to find a place of worship.  I wondered why I survived when surely I was very close to death.  So I began to look again–to no avail, I must add.  In 2010 I did, however, find a church that was about 50 miles from my house and finally took Communion for the first time in about 5 years.  I cried!  What a wonderful feeling to be at the Lord’s table.  But, the distance made it hard for me to attend. At that time, the church I visited was meeting in a school which didn’t bother me because it doesn’t matter where you are when you worship our God….just as long as you do it.  I only attended about three or four times because the distance became a burden.  My health was iffy and my husband’s health was deteriorating–so again, I stopped going to church.

Then, in 2013 all hell broke loose.  My husband had been having trouble with his right leg and foot because his circulation was poor.  He ended up losing his right leg below the knee, then a week later they had to take it above the knee because the muscle tissue was dying.  All this time I felt God was with us and he was still in my head telling me to search.  How could I search when my whole life was in turmoil?  I could barely find the energy to get up every morning to face the day!   Hubby came home and was there for four days when the strokes hit.  I remember calling 911 telling them my husband was having a stroke. Off to the hospital where he had several more strokes and then a massive stroke and then seizures.  There he was on a ventilator not sure if he would live or die….then we were told that he had nodules in his lungs that lit up like cancer.

What can we do now?

+ + + + +

What am I Supposed to do?

June 12, 2015

The first strokes left hubby with just a few words; actually he spoke in numbers–zero, zero, five, five–and he could say “okay.”  He could understand what we were saying but he couldn’t respond.  A few days later he was following instructions from the speech therapists, and they thought he could go home.  Bam!  The massive stroke hit and our daughters and I were present for that.  How horrible to see your husband/father writhing in what looked like terrible pain while trying to roll himself up into a fetal position.  The nurse immediately called for oxygen and they wheeled him away to ICU.  I believe the quick actions of John, who was an ICU nurse on the floor at the time, helped to save him.

My husband was on a ventilator in ICU with tubes coming from every which way.  Scary sounds of the machines clicking and beeping, numbers flashing, alarms going off!  So much more than I thought I could bear.  Strength came from our children who were there much of the time.  When the pulmonary doctor told us it looked like hubby might have cancer, I made sure we talked to him out in the hallway.  I didn’t want any negativity to be in the room.  I told the doctor that we couldn’t handle that right now….that we would handle one day at a time–one problem at a time. Right now, we had our loved one unconscious and breathing with the help of a machine.

The neurologist talked to us telling us that hubby had a clot in his heart and that it was throwing off pieces up to his brain.  He didn’t know how many strokes he had, but said they were numerous and that the last one was massive in the frontal lobe.  He checked my husband’s brain activity and said it was slow, but that perhaps the sedatives caused that.  We didn’t know what to expect when he woke up–whether he would be able to talk, walk–or whether or not he would even come out of it alive.  We weren’t given much hope.  We cried a lot that night.

Our son-in-law stayed that night with him and all the next day we stayed in his room and listened to the machines talking to each other.  I went home that night and the kids told me to sleep in the next day….that there wasn’t any point in becoming completely exhausted.  So, when I got up the next morning and was having an unrushed cup of coffee, the phone rang.  It was a nurse from the ICU.  “Has anyone contacted you this morning?”  I told her that no one had. She said, “Your husband is extremely irritated and aggressive, to the point that he hurt a nurse by grabbing her hair and slamming her head into the bed.  He also pulled out the ventilator.  He may calm down some if family could be here.” I hurriedly dressed and drove the hospital and walked into the room to see my husband sitting in a chair.  He looked up at me and said, “Hello, beautiful lady!”

He spoke….

+ + + + +

Beginning Anew

June 21, 2015

After hubby came home, there was complete change in the way we did things.  I was left to handle the chores that he had been doing or we had shared.  I carried all the groceries, fed the animals, lifted and carried bags of feed.  All of that along with my usual chores around the house.

My husband had therapy three times per week even before he received his prosthesis.  As you can see, the stress level was growing considerably on my end and hubby also had his own stress dealing with healing and the fact that there were many things he couldn’t do anymore.  That is hard on a person who was used to handling things his way.

I prayed and prayed that we would get though the stress.  Then after he was fitted with his first prosthesis things changed some.  My husband was able to do some things to help me around the house.  He did what he could and I was grateful.  I must add here that our neighbors were instrumental in my keeping my sanity!  Without them to help by feeding our animals, letting the dog out, and just watching over our place, I don’t know what I would have done.  They are not just friends—they are family; I love them and thank God for them.

We got through most of the next year with hubby having a few hospital stays, but all in all, things were better.  I still longed for a church family with whom I could “let it all hang out,” all the while knowing their prayers would sustain us.  Many prayed for us and that is all well and good, but I wanted the closeness of a church service and the oneness of fellow believers praying to our God.

In November of 2014, God kept nudging me to do something.  In my mind I would ask for a place to go to church, but instead of finding an actual physical place to go, God told me “It’s time to DO something!”  So, I reached out by writing an email to the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.  What I said was that there were no Episcopal churches in Wise County where I felt comfortable after the split, and asked if there was anything that could be done to help me and others in the area who felt lost.

At this time, my husband had been growing closer and closer to God, feeling His presence and wondering why he, too, survived.  He wondered what it was that God needed for him to do, just like I had felt after my ordeal.

I received a reply from the deacon who worked in the diocesan office saying she would talk with the bishop and let me know what could be done.  Bishop High called me and we set up a time for him to come to our house to chat.  How cool is that?  He came and was so warm and encouraging by telling us there were many who would be willing to help us get organized.  After the first of the year (2015), Deacon Tracie organized a group of wonderful folks from the surrounding counties to have a luncheon meeting in Boyd to see what we could do in Wise County.

We went to the first meeting and were asked what our expectations were regarding worship.  I just told her that I wanted to worship with Morning Prayer and receive Communion when feasible.  The second meeting was in Decatur and after the lunch we went to the Little White Chapel (the original Church of the Ascension) and I read Noon Prayer out under a big tree on the property.  It was wonderful.

One couple who wanted to worship together said, “Let’s not just talk about it, let’s do it!”  So on March 15, 2015, the first Morning Prayer service of The Episcopal Church of Wise County was held in our home.  Nine of us were gathered.

But, I wanted to GO to church; I didn’t want to START a church!

+ + + + +

Me?  Start a Church?

July 2, 2015

Come on!  Who am I to start a church?  How can I lead prayers when I remember how terrified I was to give a talk to pass speech class?  Really, Lord?  This is what you have in mind for me?  I just wanted to GO to church.  After I realized that He actually REALLY meant it, I began to say my daily mantra, “I choose to trust you, Lord.”  Because I feel that by saying this daily, you actually begin to understand that it IS a choice.  God gave us our freedom to choose and He couldn’t have done that lightly, especially since He knew how frail we would be without Him in our lives.  So…..I choose to trust—daily.

Most of the time I find that God doesn’t send lightning bolts down to remind me to do something or go a certain way.  I find that His gentle voice speaks softly in the back of my mind….kind of nudging me, if you will, in the right direction.  Now don’t get me wrong–I don’t always pay heed to what He is trying to tell me, but ever since hubby went through his amputations and strokes, I listen more closely.  I guess you can call it a “gut feeling.”  Of course, I do feel that God kind of popped me in the back of the head when He told me it was time to get up off my backside and do something!  I guess He got tired of waiting—remember I said that God’s timing is perfect.  That’s when I wrote to the diocesan office.

The Morning Prayer service we had at our home was simple but very heartfelt.  The nine of us got to learn a little bit about each other and talk about what we wanted out of our services.  What we all wanted was to worship God first and then have fellowship.  We figured we would be meeting at our home for a while and then swap houses occasionally to change the scenery.

My hubby told me the next evening that perhaps we could use The Boonsville Community Center in our little town, so we asked and were given permission to use it as long as we needed without any charge.  Talk about a blessing—we had a little money but we were just starting up.  More doors were opening for us and we quickly went through them.  We received a call from the diocese that Bishop High wanted to come to celebrate and preach our first Holy Eucharist in our new building.  We were given three days to get that space ready for the service.  Our altar was made out of a drop-leaf table the Center had which we covered with a tablecloth and lace.  We were given an altar guild kit from the “loan closet,” some candlesticks, glass cruets, chalice, some wafers, etc.  I took a large cross off of our bedroom wall to hang on the wall behind the altar.  It was during the Lenten season so it was draped with a purple veil found with the altar guild kit.

It was a beautiful service and twelve people came to receive Communion.  I knew that God had plans for us and my husband agreed with me.  This feeling we had could not be quelled and so we continued.  Each week we lugged all the donated Prayer Books and hymnals to church, along with coffee, cups, juice, and snacks.  We made the space ours every Sunday and it worked out really well.  All in all, we had eight services in The Boonsville Community Center.

To thank the wonderful folks for the use of their building, hubby and I gave a donation to them, letting them know how much we appreciated their kindness.  We also gave a donation to the Boonsville/Balsora Volunteer Fire Department because the Center’s electricity was on their meter.  We wanted to acknowledge their kindness.

Next:  Hubby’s great love offering.

+ + + + +

Hubby’s Great Love Offering

August 8, 2015

As wonderful as it was to have services in the Boonsville Community Center, the table we were using was a bit too low for an altar.  Because we didn’t know where we would be having church services in the future, we figured we would need a portable altar.

Hubby has a wonderful mind—he can make blueprints in his head, turning a board this way and that, measuring, drilling, sawing, and he tried to tell me what he had planned for a portable altar.  Of course, my mind and his are not exactly on the same plane.  I tried to envision what he was talking about but it never looked in my mind what it was supposed to look like.  So he had to try to draw me a picture to help my poor brain understand what he was talking about.

He went to the lumber yard and checked out all the different boards; he bought some beautiful red oak wood that would be perfect for the altar.  But, because it was during the Easter season, my honey decided we needed a paschal candle stand so we could have our paschal candle lit during our Morning Prayer services and our occasional Holy Eucharist.  He did all the construction and I used wood filler and sanded and sanded– then stained it.  It was very well received by the congregation.

Paschal Candle Stand

While plans for an altar were flowing in and out of hubby’s mind, a visiting priest noticed we didn’t have an altar book stand….the altar book had to lay flat making it hard for the priest to see the text.  Well, you know what that meant?!  Hubby had to make an altar book stand, which he did that very next week.  He admits that there are mistakes in some of his work, but it doesn’t matter; what matters is the reason he was making these items in the first place.

Back to the altar.  I forgot to tell you that there is not one nail or screw in any of his projects.  He wanted everything to be put together with pegs.  He made the two legs and then turned his attention to the altar top.  We used the altar before it was completed; my husband stood and with tears in his eyes, told the members of the church that this was a labor of love and that he wanted to give back.  The altar wasn’t finished but it was like our church—it was a work in progress.  My dear decided he didn’t like the way the legs fit into the top, so back to the drawing board he went.  The final design is perfect; the top fits beautifully onto the legs and it is as sturdy as can be.  To his delight, he was asked if his portable altar could be used at our Diocesan Convention in November.  What an honor!

 

        

 

The next project was a lectern.  Again, in his mind he made plans for what he wanted to make and, again, I couldn’t envision what he was talking about.  But a few weeks ago we used the lectern, unfinished, but it is so beautiful.  It matches the legs of the altar.  We need to fill some areas with wood putty and sand everything smooth before it can be stained.

            

 

The last project for a while was an extension to the credence table in the church.  The table, which holds the wine, water, bread, chalice, etc., is a bit small for our use.  We have to remember that this table, which is attached to the wall, is the original one built with the church.  I guess everything was a lot smaller then.   As you can see from the picture, the new one sits on top of the old.  Hubby added two crosses to the original centered one and matched them perfectly.   It turned out so well.  He does admit that there are a few small nails in this project….some of the pieces are thin and pegging them would be difficult.

God has given my husband a talent which improves with each project he works on.  I am so very proud of his accomplishments, not just for the finished items, but for the reason behind each task.  He knows that it was God who was with him when he was so ill, and he knows it is God who is with him today.  And, for that he and I are humbly grateful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

+ + + + +

A New Community in an Old Chapel

As I mentioned in my blog, “Beginning Anew,” after our second organizational meeting in Decatur, the group went to the Little White Chapel (the original Church of the Ascension built in 1889) to have noon day prayer.  My hubby walked around the church and was so excited about the fact that it was not being used—his mind was already calculating how he could get in the church.  He actually lost sleep over how we could get the information we needed to get into the building.  He researched the internet trying to find out who owned the building.  Finally, hubby drove by and saw a phone number on the sign out front.  He called the number and talked to a man who said he was the owner….he agreed to meet with us at the church.  This was on a Tuesday.

We met the owner that day; he showed us around and told us some history behind the chapel.   Years ago, it was called “The Church of the Crosses,” as it had three crosses on top of the roof.  Built in 1889, the Episcopal Mission of the Ascension originally stood on Main Street. The building was briefly used as a mattress factory in 1940. It moved to its current location in 1940 and eventually became a church again.  Then it closed when it and another church merged.  It was a wedding chapel for a while and then stood vacant for 2 years.

When we told him we hoped he would allow us to use his building for our worship services the owner gave us the keys the very same day.  After that we found out that we would have a priest on that next Sunday for Holy Eucharist.  I had 2 years of dirt, spider webs and dust to clean in those few short days.  Thank God for my friend, Deborah, who helped me deep clean the church.  If you read my blog, “Seventh Sunday After Easter,” you will be able to actually feel what we were feeling on that very first Sunday in that church.

I want to share with you how the Holy Spirit works.  The owner’s girlfriend just happens to be an Episcopalian.  She would go by the little church and just sit on the bench outside.  One day she went by, sat on the bench, and prayed that the little chapel would again be used for worship!  It was about a week later when the owner told her that my hubby had called and asked about using the chapel for church services.  She got chills when he told her because she felt it was the answer to prayer.

So, now you know how I got to this point in my life—how I started an Episcopal Church.  What have I learned through all of this?  I have learned that we never know what God has in mind for us.  Our human mind might want to do something, but if it doesn’t line up with God’s way, it’s not going to work.  God’s timing is perfect and He will give you the strength to do what He needs you to do.  Your paths will be straight.  I would like to close with Psalm 62:5-6

“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my help comes from him.

He alone is my rock and my salvation.   He is my fortress; I will not be shaken.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *