Music is my stress relief, and singing is my favorite way to praise God. Three years ago, God blessed me with an extraordinary job, so I paid off all my debts and started pledging. In September a year ago, I was diagnosed with a fast-growing breast cancer that didn’t kill me so I started giving my Social Security income to the church. It’s not just giving the money – it’s like growing a garden. I help plant the seeds and get to reap the benefits.  It makes me happy that after many years of not being able to contribute, I can now make a difference.

In many respects, I’ve had a tough life. One of my brothers was murdered, my niece and little sister both raped, my husband killed by a brain tumor, my parents both dead of cancer within a year of each other, my own diagnosis of a fast-moving breast cancer, and now other debilitating health issues. But I’ve also been constantly blessed with good friends and family, a voice to sing praises to God, a quick mind that helps me adapt, and a caring spirit. Jesus loves me, and always has.

When I was unemployed, I resented the “pressure” from the church and other groups for me to pledge money I didn’t have so I accepted the guilt and gave the minimum. And I kept praying, still helping a senior shut-in with whom I was close and making the best of things, keeping my mind and heart going until better times could arrive.

During those seven very hard years of unstable employment, taking work when I could find it, I received occasional help from church members, like a garden weeding crew when I fell and broke my ankle. I still prayed and prayed that something had to change – and suddenly it did. Out of the blue three years ago, I received a call from a gal with whom I used to work and soon found myself doing government contract work that allowed me to dig myself out of the awful financial hole I was in. It took me about two years to retire the more than $70K of debt I had accumulated (not counting the student loans). What a relief to have that behind me – thank you, Jesus!

Then last fall, I realized I was finally in position to take some “extra” money and put it where it would do my soul the most good – first addressing the building fund paydown then other budget shortfalls as I could, especially in my favorite music department. And while I couldn’t do much time-wise, I found little ways to help: providing snacks on Sunday mornings, buying hospitality supplies when we are running low, supporting the Fuller Center and Family Promise, serving Communion on an extra shift or two, bringing cookies to meetings, and serving on the Session.

Finding ways to make a difference in the lives of others has always been something near and dear to my heart. Through this journey I realized that I have more of an extended family here at Parkville Presbyterian Church than I knew – and in working on my own state of grace, I have broadened my ability to love and be loved. I rediscovered that I make the best decisions when I consider my relationship with God and don’t worry too much about worldly pressures and perspectives.

Since this decision makes me very happy, I pledged myself to carry on for as long as possible.

Johanna Strother