I’m CSPC member Monica Perdue, and this is how I’m living deeply.
The day my son was born, I was 66 years old. Vincent was a preemie who started life in the NICU. The day after his arrival, I had cataract surgery. So imagine: I’m at Walgreens buying medicine for cataracts AND a special type of binky Vincent needed! I brought him home from the hospital when he was two weeks old, and I’ve had him ever since. Now he’s 10 and I’m 76. How we got here is a long story: A family member, a pregnancy, and drugs, and I was there to take Vincent once he was born. DCS wanted a relative to care for him if possible, and I was really the only one around who could. I was kind of tentative with him at first because I didn’t know where the situation was going. I was still working and very blessed to have people willing to watch him. But after about six months, I went, ‘You know, this is not the way to do it. I either have to go full-out or… I don’t know what. This isn’t fair to him, and it’s not fair to me.’ I was taking him to a babysitter at 7 in the morning and picking him up at 6 at night, then he went to bed at 7. What is that? He was so precious, but where was the quality time? So I decided, ‘No, this needs to be a commitment- mental, emotional, the whole thing.’ I decided I needed to quit work. (I was retirement age anyway, after all.) So I retired, and we became attached at the hip. I legally adopted him, a lengthy process that finally became official when he was about two and a half. No way I could’ve ever predicted any of this. My own three biological children were well into middle age by this time. When they were young, I was raising three children under the age of four! I was trying to survive- I wasn’t the best mother I could be. But with Vincent, I had the time. I would sit for hours and hold that child as he slept. It was just a joy. There was a tenderness with him that I couldn’t have when my older children were babies. I saw this all as a blessing: God was giving me a second chance.
To understand my story, you need to understand where I came from. Growing up, I had loving parents, but we were transient. My father just had a job where we moved around a lot. I don’t know how many grade schools I attended, but I know I went to three different high schools. Moving on to the next thing became a big part of my personality- never really settled, never really established. I couldn’t get attached too deeply to anyone, anything, because who knew what was going to happen next? Even after my children were grown, life was still that way. I was working for a company in Cincinnati, and in 1998 they asked me to transfer down here to Knoxville. ‘Okay, that sounds good. Nothing new for me.’ I had just come off breast cancer treatment the year before, which got my attention and had me searching spiritually. I was raised Roman Catholic, but I’d left that behind many, many years earlier. I’d always believed in God, but I wasn’t connected, wasn’t living it, wasn’t feeling it. Once I moved to Knoxville, I felt like I needed to connect. So I started church shopping. I live right by CSPC and drove past this church for two years. ‘Nah, too big,’ I thought. ‘Plus, I don’t even know what a Presbyterian is.’ But every time I drove by, I wondered, ‘What is going on there?’ It didn’t matter what day of the week it was- the parking lot was always jammed. Then one day, I thought, ‘You know what? Stop. Just go in. You’ve been almost everywhere else. Just go in.’ So I did, and I have to say the music is what got me, moved me, made me feel comfortable- like I belonged here. It was awesome. So I kept coming back, and after about a year I joined the choir, which I’ve now sung in for 20-some years (By the way, if you’ve never sung in the choir- do it! It’s wonderful to help lead worship!) The music just opened my heart and my soul, and drew me in. It still does.
God had used CSPC to shape me so much that adopting Vincent was the natural thing to do. I didn’t feel a tug to do anything else. I finally had a home, was finally settled. I was better prepared in my spiritual life to parent again. Growing up Catholic, I knew God, but I didn’t know Jesus. And they may have taught it- I don’t know. I may just have not heard it. But to me, religion had seemed like a lot of hocus pocus and magic: ‘Poof, God can turn water into wine!’ The whole thing was ‘Poof!’ It wasn’t a real relationship kind of a thing. I’d never read the Bible before, so to hear John Wood open the Word every week was amazing. To take a passage and make it make sense in my life, so it wasn’t just a bunch of gibberish on a page, was phenomenal. Through all this, my heart grew more open and loving because I finally had a heart! Well, that was how it felt, anyway. Coming to CSPC made me a softer person. When you’re going from one place to the other looking for the next thing, you tend to be a little hard. You don’t want to form connections or open yourself up. Because you don’t want to get hurt. So God has been helping me with that. And that was what prepared me to welcome Vincent as my son, to make the most of my second chance at parenting. Sitting in the choir loft for 20 years, you see people at CSPC whose children progress through nursery school, kindergarten, and the youth program, then get married and have their own kids. I wish I could have given that to my children! So ever since I got Vincent, I’ve prayed every day that he has that. And he has had it here. CSPC has helped breathe life into my child. His big thing is soccer, so the Sports Ministry is working with him a lot. They have all taken a special interest in him. So have two of his Sunday School teachers. (One has a son his age and will invite him to do things with them.) Everybody knows his name, and that makes me feel good. A CSPC member even gifted Vincent with a piano when he started taking piano lessons. So we’re blessed.
Being blessed, however, doesn’t make everything about our lives neat and tidy. For instance, the fact of my age is just unavoidable. I mean, I am old. Most of his peers’ parents are in their 20s and 30s. It’s a strange dynamic. Vincent asked me one day, ‘How come sometimes I don’t get to go and play with all of my friends?’ And I had to sit down and explain to him, ‘Honey, your friends’ mommies all know each other, and they all get together as mommies, and then the kids play. They don’t want somebody that’s as old as I am hanging around.’ It’s not that people exclude me- they just don’t think to include me, and I don’t blame them. Here’s another example: somebody at church asked me the other day, ‘How old is your grandson?’ And I went, ‘Well, he’s 10, and he’s actually my adopted son.’ He was sitting right there in the pew. So later I brought it up: ‘Remember when the lady asked how old my grandson is? [He’s actually my great-grandson.] How do you want me to answer that question?’ And he says, ‘Well, I’m your son, you’re my mom.’ And I’m like, ‘That’s how we’ll do it then.’ It was time for him to define how he wanted to do that.
If I stay up at night over anything, it’s thinking about what would happen if I were to pass. Yet I try not to have too much angst about that because it’s out of my control. I believe I’ve been given this child for a reason. I believe I will see him graduate from college. My father lived to be 90, and I’m darn healthy. So I believe all those things. But if something were to happen, he would go to my daughter, who lives with me and, unlike when he was born, is now at a place in life where she could care for him. She’s a believer who knows I’d like for him to stay plugged in at CSPC. That gives me peace of mind. My main goal is to give him what he needs spiritually. Because of my age and being female, there are many things I can’t do or give him, so I also pray that a young man will come alongside him and help him grow as a Christian man. But overall, I see God’s kindness all over both our lives, and I trust that won’t change going forward. I’m healthy and feel good, and I really do think I’m a much better mom this time around. When I was young, I was there for my kids, but I did not necessarily connect with them. The three of them would be playing, and I would be in the room reading a book. Now, with Vincent, I’m present. Especially when he was little, we went everywhere and did everything. Sometimes I think I even used him as my excuse to go someplace. If I wanted to go to the zoo, I’d say, ‘Let’s pack up and go to the zoo!’ I don’t know what I’d be doing if I didn’t have Vincent- I had no plans for retirement at all. At this point in life my energy is still good, and I can’t think of a more fulfilling way to spend my time. Vincent is absolutely a God miracle, and I’ve loved being able to nurture him from the get-go. A final part of the story that’s very special to me is that Vincent was part of the last group of kids that John Wood baptized. What a joy- because John had such an impact on me! God really used him to open my eyes and my heart. And that was a priceless gift to this mother who didn’t even know how much she needed a second chance.