EARLY RELIGIOUS LIFE.
My religious life dates back to early childhood, as I suppose it does with most persons. I do not know who taught me my first prayer, only as long ago as I remember, I repeated the Lord's Prayer with sister Rebecca before retiring, but I did not often pray in the morning. I was not taught to. Strange that so few parents or even Christians pray in the morning, because the day time is when we are more sorely tempted, when battles are fought and lost, because we did not give ourselves and all we are to God in the morning. Till I was about twelve years old my father usually had family prayers and read the Bible, but the lesson was not explained to us children, and I had but a dim idea of what prayer and the Bible meant. During this time an Episcopal minister boarded in our house part of the time, but he did not talk to me personally about my soul, but when he left, he gave me a little book of sermons for children; each sermon had a prayer following, which the author said must be read in a closet. I did not know what that meant, but in our house was a closet without a window where old things were stored away. Into that I took my little book, leaving the door a little open, so that a few rays of light might fall on the book. I knelt and read the prayer after each sermon, just as the writer told me to do. I cannot repeat one word of the book, only the title, "Come, ye children, hearken unto me and I will teach you the fear of the Lord." I know this book gave me a correct idea of sin and brought conviction to my heart. I saw how I had disobeyed my parents and been often selfish and angry with my brothers. I learned also that God loved me, a little child, and I wanted to love Him. I really believe I gave my heart to the Lord in that dark closet, when I was about nine years old, but I never told any one, not even my sister, but I read her the book. I was a timid child and no one asked me questions on those subjects. Brother Richard has told me since he has grown that when about ten years old he used to shed tears because of his sins and try to pray, but no one helped him. That was the golden opportunity to lead him into a fuller knowledge of God, but it was lost and he did not become a Christian until forty years of age. I myself became very thoughtless, did not confess Christ until about twenty-one. You see how much was lost, because my early faith was not nursed with careful lessons from God's word, and yet my parents were Christians and ministers often visited my home. But they did not think that a little girl's heart could be hungry for God, or else they did not know how to tell the sweet story of Jesus' love to little children.
Do you wonder that I am so very anxious to give every little child a good book, telling them about Jesus and His love, and also do I long to show parents how to feed the souls of their children. These and similar thoughts are the steps that led up to our Fireside School.
My mother was a Presbyterian, therefore I committed their catechism as well as the Episcopal. I did not understand much of it, but I am glad that I learned both. They do teach the great fundamental truths of our religion. I have noticed that all our evangelical churches agree on all but a very few subjects and these few have been so largely discussed that they have grown to be mountains and separated God's children, and made them forget the ten thousand subjects upon which they agree. It is the devil's plan to scatter God's people. God's plans make us all one in Christ. Rebecca and I took great delight in learning by heart the hymns in the prayer book. At one time we could recite fifty. Sister, by simply listening, learned things quicker than I could and remembered better. She could not only see with her hands, but her ears were almost as useful as my ears and eyes together. She knew each one of the family and the neighbors also by both their step and their voice.
My mother was a very industrious woman and took but little time for reading. Farmers' wives in Pennsylvania, and perhaps everywhere, had, I fear, more than their share of work to do. They milked and fed the cows and other animals, and cultivated the vegetable gardens, etc. We seldom had a servant to help with the work, except when mother was sick. The men who helped with the farm work did not do the chores around the house, as they do in the west. Father and my brothers were, also, busy till late in the evening. Father was very generous and would really lend to the neighbors what he needed that very day himself. He surely "gave to him that asked." This often brought great inconvenience to the work at home. He also had a way of asking every neighbor that called to stay for dinner, or if he were a stranger to spend the night and many nights. Yes, every one received a warm welcome at our home, but father did not always think how much extra care his hospitality brought to his wife. I have noticed that many husbands are just as thoughtless as dear father. There is such a thing as being unwisely kind. Father was very willing to go security for all that needed such help, and in this way lost much of his property, which dear mother had fully done her share in earning. Father was a kind of a doctor, extracted teeth and gave medicine. Mother was very kind to the sick and poor and knew how to nurse and take care of them. My oldest brother taught school in the winter and worked on the farm in the summer. He was very kind to his parents and to all of us. When about twenty-seven he left home for Illinois, which was then the "far west." Brother Alexander followed shortly, also Adderly. This left me alone with my parents. They moved west in 1858 and I taught school there that year and returned to Pennsylvania to settle up a business and meanwhile taught school. Dear father left us for heaven the spring of 1860.
But I must return and tell you more about my girlhood life. When I was about fifteen years old our family had the whooping cough. The three youngest also at the same time took the measles. The older ones had passed through that disease. These two diseases together were very hard to manage. Alas, alas, the angel of death came to our dear home and within about one month's time carried away the pet of the household, our three-year-old sister, and our two dearly beloved brothers, Willie, aged five, and Wilson, eight years. Oh, how dark and sad and still was every room in our once happy home. Mother gathered together all their clothes and playthings into a room and there she would shut herself in for hours and weep and talk to the children as if they were present, calling them by name in the most pitiful way. We could not induce her to come out until she had thus unburdened her breaking heart. Sister's grief was more quiet, but it seemed to me it was deeper. I was more troubled for mother and sister, because I thought they, too, would die and leave me all alone.
About two years after the death of the children our beautiful home was burned to ashes, also my books and other treasures that I prized highly; about six months after, my darling sister moved to the house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Dear sister had never recovered from the death of the children. She talked much about them when she was sick and the joy of seeing them. "No one is blind up there, no one is sorrowful, death cannot enter there, and Joanna, you will come soon, and we will all be together, and we'll see Jesus, and oh, how happy we will be." This was the way she used to comfort me, because other sorrows besides death had come to our home. I never can tell you how much I missed sister Rebecca and I miss her to-day. Her pure, unselfish love for me was great, and my heart needed just such devotion. Then she had been my special care from a child. Mother missed her even more than she did the little children, because during the last years I had been away from home teaching much of the time. Sister was very fond of singing and the night before she died an angel sang for her our favorite hymn, "Awake my soul, in joyful lays." I was with her when she said with great delight, "Joanna, some one is singing our hymn," then she repeated it in part while she listened in a rapture of joy. But that music was only meant for sister's ears. I could not hear it. Whatever it was, God sent it to prepare my poor sick, tired sister for her dying hour. You may call it imagination, but it was as real to her as the vision of heaven was to the dying Stephen, Acts 7: 55-56.
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