The youngest of 10 children, I grew up in the foothills of South Carolina. We were all born at home. We didn’t have much, but we had love and parents who worked hard in the fields to put food on the table and who cut wood to burn in the winter to keep us warm.
By the time I was born, two of my sisters were already married, leaving six of us children at home (two of my older siblings died as infants). I can remember feeling the rich soil under my bare feet as I followed behind my father plowing the fields. Or when I walked alone, with the bright sunshine on my face as I looked up and talked to God. I made up songs of praise to Him–not knowing that one day He would use me to tell others about Him.
My mother had accepted Christ as a young woman, and she would read the Bible to us. I remember how at the supper table she would talk about the Book of Revelation and what was to come in the end times.
I didn’t go to church as a child–my father stopped driving before I was 12, and my mother had never learned to drive–but our television was always on when it was time for a Billy Graham Crusade to air. One particular week in 1972, his message was life-changing for me. I can remember him saying, “Don’t reject [God] … You can get saved right where you are … in your living room, motel room or wherever … God loves you.” These words stuck with me all week. I knew that Jesus was dealing with my heart. Even as a teenager, I knew that I had sinned–by looking at someone else’s homework and taking the answers, by not telling the truth and by saying bad words. I knew that I needed peace and that Jesus was the only way to get it.
By the end of that week, I bowed on my knees in front of our black and white television and asked Jesus to forgive me and to come into my heart. After that, I remember going out onto our porch, looking up at the night sky and feeling like I wanted to go to heaven right then! I was so grateful that Billy Graham explained salvation in a way that I could understand.
A few days later, I wrote to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and they sent me some literature, which included Scripture cards. In the evenings I would sit on the edge of an old iron bed in our living room and read them to my dad and aunt, who listened attentively.
That summer, at a revival, my father, brother, sister-in-law and others in my family accepted Christ, and we were baptized in a river. My father was 70 years old, and he learned how to read that year by studying his Bible.
In 1976 I was married to Roger Gravely. We had a son, Adam, in 1983, and a daughter, Leah, in 1988. Life was good, and we followed the Lord together as a family.
But my life took a 180-degree turn in 1995-96 when, within a span of 13 months, I lost my three sisters–only 46, 49 and 56 years old–to lung cancer. And my brother, Loyde, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1996.
Many times when I would pray for Loyde it seemed that the devil would say, “Why are you praying for him? … Where was God when your sisters needed healing?” But I kept praying, and God renewed my faith by sparing my brother. God let me know that He does hear, He still answers prayer–and He is in control! After the removal of a malignant brain tumor, intense chemotherapy and lung surgery, Loyde has been cancer-free for nine years. My faith in God has brought me through all of the heartache and trials of my life, and He has blessed me beyond measure with a wonderful family.
I would not have chosen this path–watching so many loved ones go before me–but God did choose it, and I have grown so much in my faith as a result. God has opened many doors for me to tell others about Him and to give my testimony. I am not ashamed of my Lord. I am bold to confess Him as my Savior–at work, pumping gas, getting groceries–anywhere and everywhere. He has done so much for me, the least I can do is tell others that I am thankful to Him for His love, mercy, forgiveness and all the blessings He has given me.
As I look back and see how God placed me in my family and took me through trials and triumphs, I know now that this is all part of His plan for me.