by Cori Smelker
“Peanut, I’m so proud of you! You’ve come such a long way.” Aleta’s eyes glistened with tears as she reached out and hugged me. We were saying our goodbyes before starting our long ‘trek’ south from Michigan to Texas.
Mom Aleta and I have known each other for ten years, but it is only in the last two years that we have grown close. I call her “Mom” although she’s not my mother. Nevertheless, she is a mother to me, and more besides; she is a confidant, a dear friend. Most importantly, she is my spiritual mentor and cheerleader.
She calls me “Peanut” because she claims I’m her “peanut gallery” always cheering her on. She says she’s never met someone who believes in her so empathetically. I’m not sure I believe that! Most everyone who knows Mom Aleta loves her. I think I’m just one of many who love this woman who is so close to the Lord.
Her relationship with God initially drew me to her. I see in her the qualities I wanted. I notice in her the love for Jesus that comes before everything, and I witness how that love spills over into every aspect of her life.
When we first met, I was a young mom, with five kids. Four of them were under the age of three, and one of them cried constantly. I worked three nights a week to supplement the family income. My husband, Terry, worked long hours himself, and we were deeply involved in the kids’ ministry at church. I was filled with stress. My sanity hung by a thread and any little thing would cause that to snap! The carefully planned and put-together world that I’d built was quickly unraveling.
God, in His great mercy, brought in Aleta. I’m an outgoing person, generally with a big smile plastered to my face; and for the most part, I’m happy-go-lucky. Underneath though, were secrets, a seething mass of unforgiveness, and insecurities that stemmed from sexual abuse.
For years, Aleta and my relationship had been more like acquaintances, saying “hi” on Sunday mornings, and me passing on prayer requests to her. However, one day Aleta, in her wisdom, invited Terry and I to dinner.
From that night on, everything changed! I took her aside in the kitchen and asked if I could talk to her at another time. She looked in my eyes and said, “Cori, I’ve been waiting for this moment for a while now. God wants to work in you.”
Immediately I felt a sense of relief. I just knew this little lady, all 4’11” of her, could minister to me. Later that week I remember I wrote her an email. I confessed I felt like an outsider because I couldn’t experience the same emotions I saw others exhibiting. It was a hard admission to make, one I had never made before to anyone.
She simply said, “Honey, I know. I’ve been there. That’s why God brought us together.”
2 Corinthians 1:4 says, “He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.” Aleta Clair was the person God brought alongside me.
She had been through her own hell when she was a young girl. She had to go through her own time of healing, and recovery. She recognized in me the early symptoms of breakdown that she herself had gone through.
The first night I was to meet with her, I was as scared as all get out, my stomach flip-flopped, and I thought I might throw up. What if I tell her stuff and she hates me?
I carried around so much guilt for the things I had gone through. I believed I was responsible, not only for my own abuses, but the ill treatment my abuser had heaped on other girls after me.
Instead, Aleta was loving, accepting, kind and gentle. I needed that so badly. I had grown up in a harsh environment, one that didn’t allow room for mushy stuff. I had been the mother for my own family; and I had never been mothered myself.
Even though I needed a mother’s love so desperately, Aleta never allowed me to become dependent upon her, which would have been very easy. I was so needy, and didn’t even know it until I spent time with her! Aleta always directed me to the Lord. He is the healer — she was the facilitator.
When I called her, or emailed her with one of my thousands of questions, she would pray with me, and tell me to go off by myself and spend time with Jesus. She was (and still is!) endlessly patient and answered every single one of my questions, even the dumb ones, thoughtfully and prayerfully.
During that time I journalled hundreds of pages as I explored many feelings for the first time. I dredged up memories long forgotten and long suppressed. I emailed many of them to Aleta for her input.
I guess I was testing her too. I wanted to make sure she loved me in spite of all I had been through. I was a nervous wreck half the time thinking she would read my stuff, call me and tell me she never wanted to hear from me again! The opposite was true. She would see me at church and give me hugs and kisses and just love on me and pour out a healing balm of words.
After six months, with Aleta’s guidance, I told her, “We’ve gone through my spiritual and emotional house, picking up debris. We’ve examined it together; sometimes I have done it alone. I have put all the trash into bags, and placed it by the side of the house. Now, I’m ready to take it down to the street, to the cross of Jesus, and let it get collected, to let Jesus take it.”
Of course, He cannot take what you don’t relinquish, and you can’t relinquish what you don’t know. Through the Holy Spirit’s gentle prodding I had come to the realization of what was inside that needed to be released.
On the 1st of April 2002, I went to Aleta’s home.
We talked for a while, and then she said, “Honey, are you ready to pray?”
“Me, pray?” I spluttered.
I can’t pray in front of her! She’s a spiritual giant. I’ll blow it and sound like a total idiot! I’d rather teach a group of cynical engineers than pray in her presence! Aleta picked up on my sheer terror; I think the pallor of my face gave it away!
“Cori, honey. This is your journey and you have to take the next step. I can’t do it for you.” she said gently.
I knew she was right, so I closed my eyes, grabbed her hand and stammered out the words. It wasn’t perfect, but I realized I wasn’t trying to impress anyone, least of all Aleta. I was talking to the One who had done the work in my life. I was talking to my closest friend and ally. I was giving over all my burdens to the One who loved me best; and who wanted to heal me.
That was almost two years ago and nothing in my life is the same! From that point on, I have been a changed woman. Some of those changes came instantly; others have developed over time.
The greatest difference in my life is my capacity to love God and to love others. People who have not seen me in a while, either do not recognize me or else they see such a change in me they ask what has happened. It is only through God’s grace and mercy that I am who I am today.
After that day, my relationship with Mom Aleta entered a new phase. She is my Paul. I am her Timothy. She has taken me under her wing. She taught me how to hear the voice of the Lord. She trained me in prayer and intercession. She showed me how to step out in faith and find my own path. She has taught me to find my own destiny, which is not hers.
In the middle of 2003, my husband and I took a drastic leap of faith. We were offered a ministry position down in San Antonio, and after much prayer, we decided to make the move, along with our five children.
Before we left for Texas, I had to put something on paper for Mom Aleta: “Few people come into our lives and make the whole world seem bright, but you’re one of those rare and splendid jewels. When I’ve been sad, you have made me smile, and laugh. You showed me who can truly fill the hole; and you made me feel strong enough to take on the whole world (well, my portion of it anyway!) I appreciate the many things you’ve done for me. The prayer, the many hugs and the wise counsel all mean so much to me.
“You have been my mentor and helped me spread my wings — you have been there to encourage me. You are a blessing to me, my heart rejoices in the good things I see Him doing in and through you. I am blessed every time you pray with me; I am blessed when I see you reaching out to others in need. People are drawn to you, His presence radiates from you; the joy of His Spirit is all over you.”
My goodbye to Mom Aleta was one of the hardest I have ever experienced. I may not be dependent upon her, but I sure miss her hugs, and her gentle touch on my shoulder as she passes me in church. I miss seeing her lovely blue eyes twinkling at me.
Mom Aleta is not my physical mother; she’s much more than that! She is my biggest cheerleader and encourager, she is always there for me, and she loves me. More than anything, she loves me.
We talk on the phone a couple of times a week, and email one another. We pray for each other and she is often on my mind. Paul and Timothy were separated by distance, but their relationship was close, no matter what. Mom Aleta and I are apart physically, but the spiritual connection that God has placed between us cannot be severed.
My name is Cori Smelker, a transplanted Brit/South African, now residing in Texas, after 10 long winters in Michigan. Nothing against Michigan, 4 of my 5 kids were born there, but I’m not used to being bundled up for 8 months of the years, and eaten alive by mosquitoes for the rest! I came across your site, and thought I would submit a couple of my stories.
I am the moderator for the board on Faith Writers, work from home as a writer for several clients, doing a variety of writing from credit union information, relocation material, technical writing and devotionals. I also enter several contests a year, and with my first one I placed in the top 10 and the story will be published later on this year. I also wrote for the Weekly Challenge for the Faith Writers site. The challenge has run for 23 weeks now, I wrote for the first 14 weeks, and never placed below 4th.