Losing “Mamma” and Finding Mother
In 1920, at the age of seventeen, I secured the consent of “mamma” and “papa” to go West to work for some months. It was decided that I should go to the home of my mother’s uncle who was living on a large farm out on the Panhandle in West Texas. I had been working in that part of the country for some months when suddenly the sun of my life turned to deep darkness. A message had come from Mississippi saying, “Mamma is dead.” The only mother I had ever known was gone. I had often wished that I might die first. After this message came I had no heart to remain in the West.
The heart of winter found me back in my home State, and at the homestead where my father, and step-mother (who was only six years older than myself), and a small baby girl were living. Both my father and step-mother were good to me, but the old home place had lost its attraction for me. I wanted to go somewhere — but where?
Just at this point in my life came a letter — the first of the kind I had ever received — a letter signed “Your own mother.” My readers may try to imagine my feelings. Many years had passed without my having heard even a remote word as to whether my mother were alive or dead. Now a letter was in hand inviting me to come to her. It appears that my great uncle in the West had written to his brother, my mother’s father, telling him of my whereabouts, also suggested that if he knew where she were living, and would contact her, then in turn if she would write to me, I might be ready to go to her. The messages went the round, thus a letter from my own mother.
At this time, I fear that I was no longer the good boy I had been in earlier years. I remember having been told by someone how well my mother liked to play cards. My thoughts were, “I have never yet found anyone who would stay with me until I got my fill of card playing. Perhaps I shall find that one in the person of my mother.” I was careful to have a good deck on hand, two weeks later, upon my arrival in the delta country of northeastern Arkansas.
It was a great meeting for my mother, and a strange meeting for me. It was the day following that I met my brother, for he was away when I arrived. We formally shook hands as I said, “Hello Robert,” and with his rejoinder, “Hello Tolbert.” We were both approaching young manhood, and had never once played together in our lives, nor had we spoken to each other before now. I had never heard of my half-sister, Lottie Mae. (Now a missionary in Haiti.
Upon letting my mother know of the cards which I had brought with me for those anticipated games I received the shock of my life, for she said, “Son your mother is glad to have you here, but you must not take the cards out of your suitcase in this house, for we have no card playing in this house.” I explained to her that I had heard that she greatly enjoyed playing cards. She informed me that such was true at one time, but that a change had taken place in her life. She then told of what the Lord had done for her. Immediately I dubbed her as a “fanatic,” for I learned that she was a believer in holiness. My previous impressions of such people were that they claim to be “as good as Christ,” “can’t sin,” “can’t be tempted,” and “that they think they are sprouting wings.” To put it mildly I wished that I were elsewhere.
About this time I formed acquaintance with a neighboring family which afforded me a bit of carnal comfort since they believed as I did — “that everybody must sin more or less every day, and of course there is no harm in an innocent game of cards.” Upon being asked how I liked my mother, I replied, “She is all right, but I have no time for her religion.” This was no little grief to my mother. She conducted family devotions each day. When present I always bowed my head in respect; but I blew my top one morning after mother had audibly prayed for my salvation, and that the Lord would call me to preach the message of holiness. This was going too far. I said, “Look here, you may pray for me as much as you like, but I want you to leave that holiness preacher stuff out of your praying. If I hear you pray like that again I am leaving.” Mother sweetly replied, “All right son, I shall not pray audibly again in this way, but I shall continue to pray.” How wicked for young people to thoughtlessly crush and grieve the hearts of praying parents by such cutting remarks!
Within only a few weeks I was miserable and ready to leave. It meant added grief to mother for me to take my brother with me. He had known the Lord, but was now in a backslidden state and shared with me in my attitudes. The following months were months of misery. I later left my brother and launched out on a course of rambling. Many hundreds of miles from home I was taken ill with high fever. In my sinful state I promised God that I would go home if He would spare me. I was soon out of bed, but continued in those parts for some weeks. “Where Is My Wandering Boy Tonight,” played on a record, served to deepen conviction. I kept my word and returned to northeastern Arkansas, but after some days I left again to be gone “permanently” (?), and wrote mother to this effect. Hardly one month had passed until I was ready to be on the move again, but tried to go in an opposite direction from home, but it seemed that an irresistible hand was laid upon me — I went home. Upon arriving at our place late one night I thought to change my voice and surprise my mother, but, to my astonishment, she said, “Son, come on in, for I know who you are.” She had been near death. A telegram had been sent to my brother who had been visiting our father in Mississippi. My brother arrived in the afternoon and I arrived late the same night. Upon being asked if a telegram should be sent to me mother said, “No, he will come anyway.” This marked the end of my ramblings for the devil.
During the early part of December of 1921 special meetings were conducted in a country school house. W. M. Lusk was the leading light in this meeting. He looked straight at me while he preached — even pointed at me, as I supposed — and uncovered my sins to the extent that I became angry and accused my mother of telling him all about me. This conviction climaxed with my conversion on the 12th day of December. What a change! My friends thought I had lost my senses. One sinning religionist who was a strong believer in unconditional eternal security remarked, “Bustin is a good boy, but he has gone crazy over religion.” This poor man died a sad death within little more than a year. People held him on his bed while he died. The young lady whose side I left the night I went to the altar rejected God, ran away and married a drunkard, and has lived in a domestic hell for long years. Others rejected the Lord and are now in eternity without hope. Yes, I gave up everything, but my everything was so very small in comparison to that which I received, and I am yet receiving.
Four weeks after my conversion I was praying in a corn crib loft — consecrating my heart and life to God. I even promised Him I would be a “holiness preacher,” or anything else He wanted me to be if He would fill me with His precious Holy Spirit He answered by fire. The heavenly flame burned upon the altar of my heart, and after nearly thirty-two years it still burns. Praise Him! Praise Him! I did praise Him, and sang hours on end even though I am not a singer. His call was clear. I didn’t know all that the future held, but I knew that I must preach the blessed Gospel of complete deliverance, and began to plan accordingly. I knew nothing of how far this call would take me in the years to come. Its joys and sorrows were in the unknown bundle, but I shall have reason to praise Him for ever that I heard His voice and heeded the call.