Patrick B. McGuigan | October 5, 2008

A Chance to Choose

Patrick B. McGuigan

In the life of a reporter, you hear lots of stories. Many, even some good ones, never work their way into print. This one did. Among other things, it is a story about choices.

Jolene, 16 years old at the time, awoke in a temporary place of safety, a shelter where the father who had abused her for years could not find her. Police officers and DHS workers had taken her there after coming to the home she shared with her father's mother and a younger sister, also the object of the man's warped "affections."

Jolene was tough, a survivor. When they were little, Jolene's mother had physically abused the two girls. Jolene had burn scars on her hands to remind her of that pain, and of the mother who simply left one day. When the father's abuse increased as they grew older, Jolene's younger sister filed a report against the man. The girls were rescued and Jolene went to the shelter. Although grateful to be away from her abuser, Jolene nonetheless did not want to stay there.

There's another preface to the shelter story. After her mother had disappeared, as the home situation fell further into the pit of hell, little Jolene responded to a boy's invitation and began to ride the Sunday church bus to Windsor Hills Baptist Church in west Oklahoma City. It became "home"-on Sundays, at least. Her grandma, sister, and two younger female cousins began to go, too. They learned about Jesus and the Bible.

Her father, a trucker, was gone most of the time. As the years passed, he sneered more and more about the church time his mother and daughters had when he was away. Jolene learned to "keep church at church" in order to avoid conflict.

‘The Best Birthday Present I Ever Received'

It was at church that Jolene heard stories about Mary Slessor, an unmarried missionary in Nigeria who had saved the lives of thousands of African babies, raising many of them as her own. Jolene yearned to follow the same path, even as she attended a public school and only heard about mission work on Sundays.

From a distance, Jolene would listen to other girls her age laughing and having a good time. She remembers, "They dressed in such lovely dresses and always had perfect little curls in their hair and beautiful matching bows. I had never fit in with these girls. Our lives were very different, to say the least. They were pastors' daughters, teachers' daughters, or college students' daughters. These were the types of girls who went to Christian schools, not me!" Even without her father's hate and abuse, there was no money for tuition at such a place. Every time he came home, all the money was gone, spent on marijuana and other drugs.

Jolene was grateful for Sundays, when she glimpsed another world. One man at church, "Brother Russell," heard about her dreams of mission work, and made a choice. One day he asked the girl, "How would you like to go to the Christian school here (at Windsor Hills) to prepare for your future?"

For one of the first times in her life, she was given a choice. Jolene said yes, and Russell paid her tuition.

Twenty years ago this month, on her tenth birthday, October 23, 1988, she entered Windsor Hills Baptist School. She told her teacher it was "the best birthday present I ever received." She fit in academically, but "I had a harder time fitting in with the students. ... I was already streetwise, tough, and bossy. I had learned to stand up for myself, and I often challenged the other girls and made them cry."

But, Jolene recalls, "God gave me a friend that year by the name of Rebecca, who was an only child and took a liking to me despite my personality quirks."

After a couple of years, her patron finished college and went off to Africa. There was no one around to pay her tuition. Teachers and the principal didn't have the heart to send her away, so they kept their mouths shut. She told me, "My time in the Christian school had done wonders for me. My grades were phenomenal, I was learning numerous life skills, and I was spiritually growing and maturing. My joy and zeal were obvious to everyone."

In her ninth grade year, a new principal came. Reviewing school finances, he discovered no one had paid her tuition. He talked with Jolene, and they formed a plan that allowed her to work "in the school after hours cleaning the bathrooms and vacuuming floors in order to take care of, in a small part, my own tuition."

By 14, Jolene lived in two worlds. Her school and church was one; the other was the place she went to at 3 p.m. most days, a place "full of cursing and drugs"-and abuse. That "home" was filthy, with only a tiny corner of the bedroom she shared with her sister an imperfect refuge from the harsh reality of her life away from Windsor Hills.

Jolene wondered why such awful things happened when she loved God so much. She tried to avoid being in the same house as her father, and often found ways to stay overnight with school friends.

Then, within just a few weeks time, the two female cousins who used to ride the bus to church with her on Sundays committed suicide. Her younger sister began to hint that she no longer wanted to live, either. The younger girl grew so desperate she was hospitalized. That's when counselors learned of the awful family secret the two girls shared.

That's how Jolene came to the shelter, shielded from her father's abuse but longing to return to the place she considered her true home, Windsor Hills Baptist School, and to church. Other kids in the shelter told her nobody ever got out before at least six months had passed. All she had with her was a backpack and the few things she'd grabbed when the DHS and police came.

That night in the shelter, she picked up her King James Bible and began to read the Psalms. She lingered when she got to chapter 4, verse 8: "I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety."

Unknown to her, the people of Windsor Hills were looking for her. When she was allowed to make one telephone call after being at the shelter for several days, she called the church. An associate pastor, Joe Finn, remembering the street-smart tough little gal, asked her, "Jolene, do you want to come back to church and school?"

Jolene had a choice. She said yes. Mind you, she was "thankful for places such as this shelter that protect children and for those who lovingly work in them; however, I was also glad not to be in need of this place anymore."

Finn's boss, Pastor Jim Vineyard, talked to Oklahoma County District Attorney Robert Macy, describing Jolene's situation as he understood it. A busy man on a busy day, Bob Macy had a choice. He said yes, and dispatched his secretary to the shelter.

As Jolene recalls it, Macy's secretary arrived as "the most beautiful woman I had ever met, and she made me feel like I was the most important person she had to take care of." Jolene learned that her friend Rebecca's family wanted to be her guardians.

A New Home

A judicial hearing was held, and Rebecca's family assumed responsibility for Jolene. They took her home, across the street from Windsor Hills Baptist School. Rebecca's parents said Jolene would be given an allowance, the same as Rebecca's. When she returned to school, classmates made signs that said "We love you, Jolene!" After school, the other teenagers swarmed to welcome her back home. When she walked across the street to Rebecca's house, she was escorted into her first "own room."

That night in bed, she opened the letters from her classmates: "I smiled and wept as I read the precious words my peers had written. They did not know why I had been gone. All they knew was something terrible had happened in my family and that I was in need of special prayer. No one ever asked me to explain the details to them. Everyone just loved me for who I was and rejoiced in having me home."

Today, Jolene says, "I cannot be so sure that my life would have turned out so beautifully if Mr. Macy had not stepped in and taken action." Her father went to prison. Jolene went on with a new and blessed routine in life. She was given the chance to make good choices. Many girls like Jolene never get the chance to choose what comes next.

On May 15, 1997, she became the first person in her family-that includes parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings-to graduate from high school. As she crossed the stage, expecting to get her degree from Dr. Vineyard, she was thrilled when it was presented by "Brother Russell," the man who had sponsored her entry into Windsor Hills Baptist School so many years before.

At school, a young man named David, older than Jolene, had kept his eye on her for quite awhile. They became friends. One day, after praying about it, she told him her story, every bit of it. She was amazed when he still wanted to spend time with her. They fell in love. At dinner with friends on the evening of October 23, 1999, her birthday, David proposed to her.

Another choice. And, Jolene said yes.

Life might have gone differently. Jolene's three half-brothers, abused by her mother when they were children, wound up on the front page of newspapers. The oldest boy, just a teenager, killed his adoptive mother, and injured his middle brother. Jolene often remembers the two female cousins who ended their own lives.

A story like this might seem all good and bad, black and white, without shades of gray. Instead, it includes this. Jolene wrote often to her once-abusive biological mother. She wanted a chance to talk, but the woman ignored Jolene, even when she was invited to her wedding. But suddenly, the mother reached out after those three sons, Jolene's half-brothers, fell into the pit.

Jolene and David went to see her mother, in Arizona. At first, things were tense, but at the precise moment they met, Jolene had hundreds of friends praying for the lady. Before too long, sitting in a Denny's restaurant one day, Jolene's mother said, "I never thought any of my children would ever return to see me again."

David told the woman that Jolene had already forgiven her, that God forgave sinners, and that Jesus had died for her sins. Jolene's birth mother had a choice. A few hours later, she was born again.

Jolene is now a beautiful woman. On the outside, only her hands hint at the years of abuse. She and David are missionaries-in the Ukraine, rather than in the Africa of her childhood dreams. No doubt, she now understands the verse in Scripture: "There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless, the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand" (Proverbs 19:21, KJV).

Jolene thinks about the future, and her past:

"Though I am still young and have three small children yet to rear, I can already look back at my life and see God's amazing grace. First and foremost, I have the Lord to thank for putting people in my path to help and inspire me. ... I am thankful for a man named Bob Macy, whom I have never met face to face, but who has had a great influence on my life. He went beyond the call of duty to help an insignificant teenager."

But, not one of us is insignificant to the One who chooses to love us. Along the way, Jolene was blessed by the teachers and students at a Christian school in Oklahoma City. Like Bob Macy, they said "yes" and gave Jolene herself the chance to choose.


An editor at The City Sentinel in Oklahoma City, OCPA research fellow Patrick B. McGuigan (M.A., Oklahoma State University) is the author of two books and the editor of seven. He is presently writing a biography of former Oklahoma County District Attorney Robert H. Macy.

Patrick B. McGuigan

Independent Journalist

A member of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, Patrick B. McGuigan is founder of CapitolBeatOK, an online news service, and editor of The City Sentinel, an independent newspaper. He is the author of three books and editor of seven, and has written extensively on education and other public policy issues.

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