In this story from November 1958, the singer and actress shares how faith helped her cope with her career and busy life with husband Roy Rogers and their kids.
The front door slammed as Cheryl ran for the high-school bus. “Three children off,” I made a mental note. “Four to go.”
In the bedroom I had finished the first braid in Dodie’s hair and was reaching for the rubber band when a shriek from the bathroom sent me running there. Debbie had cut her lip against the washstand.
I was still dabbing with a wad of cotton when Sandy appeared in the doorway in his pajama pants.
“Mama, make Dusty stop throwing my socks!” he demanded.
“Dale!” This was Roy from our bedroom. “The recording session’s at ten, you know!”
I dashed for the kitchen and started cracking eggs into a bowl. “After the kids are off, I’ll just have time to get that laundry sorted,” I promised myself. For two days my washing machine had been out of order and the soiled-clothes heap was now a mountain.
The phone rang and I jerked the skillet of eggs off the fire.
“Mrs. Rogers?” The lady’s voice was apologetic. “Could you and Mr. Rogers be at the studio at nine instead of ten this morning?” An especially hectic beginning to a day? No—just a very average morning at the Rogers’ house.
If you have children and a busy husband, it probably sounds a little like mornings at your house, too. And not only the mornings, but all day long the noise and the rush and the thousand little crises go on.
Most of us can rise to the really big emergencies; the problem we mothers share is how to get through a normal day.
And actually, I sometimes think my day is easier than other mothers’. I do have Mrs. Ordono to get most of our meals and to be with the children while I’m working. And a lady comes in to do the laundry.
People ask me how I manage to raise a family and at the same time keep up with the fast pace of Hollywood. I tell them the pace of Hollywood is a vacation after the pace of a home with seven children in it.
I’ll never forget one perfectly run-of-the-mill Saturday when Mrs. Ordono was away for the weekend and the children had been yelling since dawn. If I can’t get off by myself for a moment, I thought, I’m going to be yelling too. I needed to sit down, compose myself, and ask God for a little patience.
But to talk to God, I believed, you needed silence—and there certainly wasn’t any of that in the house.
So I ducked a small plastic plane that was sailing through the air and headed for the big rocks in back of the barn. And there, I tried to concentrate on a prayer for strength.
But all I could think about was the children. Why didn’t Linda finish her lunch? Should I have left the boys alone with that rope? What was Dodie getting into? ...
“It’s no use,” I said aloud. Prayer wouldn’t come and I walked slowly back to the mayhem in the house with the feeling that not even God had any help for mothers.
I felt the same sense of failure when I tried to read the Bible. I had the feeling that Bible reading had to be a thing set apart. So I put aside a special time for it: half an hour first thing in the morning.
But if your house is anything like ours, there isn’t really any “first thing” in the morning. You open your eyes, and the next thing you know, one child feels sick, another has lost his homework, and you’re snatched up into the whirl of the day. Then I wondered why I didn’t get my Bible read!
At last I decided I had to get away for a few days of peace. And so, with four other women from our church, I joined a three-day retreat at an Episcopal convent high in the hills near here. For three days none of us was allowed to speak a word.
And up there in the silence, I learned something about our noisy home in the valley. It was such a simple discovery I am almost ashamed to repeat it, but it’s made all the difference to me. I learned that our home is not a convent!
The orderly life that those holy women lead up there is the most beautiful and selfless in the world, but I suddenly knew it was not my life. I was a wife and a mother, and my religion had to be like my life—as spontaneous and spur of the moment as the little crises that keep me jumping.
I still think Bible-reading is the best way to start the day. But now in my kitchen I keep a little box shaped like a loaf of bread. It’s called the “Bread Of Life” and in it are tiny cards with scripture verses on them.
Now, instead of trying to find an imaginary free hour, I need only a free second. While I’m waiting for the cereal water to boil, I have time to pick up one of the cards and learn it by heart.
The Bible itself I save now till the end of the day when the children are in bed and there are no—well, not so many—interruptions.
And I’ve found a wonderful place to pray, once I realized I didn’t need total silence in which to do it. It’s my car. Our ranch is so far from everything that I have lots of driving to do.
It’s a long way to the grocery store or the dry cleaner’s, and when one of the children makes a friend at school, he’s sure to live at the other end of the valley.
I used to fret over the wasted time I spent at the wheel. Now I drive just as slowly as I dare. I have time to think about each child and to pray for understanding and patience with him.
Bible lessons are different now too. We have a family altar in our living room—actually an old radio cabinet with a dresser scarf and candles on it—and our original plan was to gather around it each evening for prayers and a brief lesson.
But it was club night for one child or choir practice for another and somehow we didn’t get the lessons in very often.
Today, instead of having a set hour for religious teaching, I try to introduce my children to Jesus Christ in the little day-to-day things that happen all the time. Dodie has always been painfully afraid of the dark. One night she began to cry as I tucked her into bed.
“Don’t turn the light out, Mama,” she begged.
“Would you be afraid if I were here with you?” I asked.
“Of course not,” said Dodie.
“Well, I can’t always be with you, of course. But, Dodie—the Lord can.”
Dodie was silent, so I tiptoed out, leaving the light on. In a few minutes—oh miracle of miracles—I heard the light click off. And, just audible, I heard Dodie’s little voice speak two words. She said to the dark, “Hello, Jesus.”
A week of lessons couldn’t have taught her—or me—as much!
Another time I was walking with Debbie on a lonely corner of the ranch when two vicious-looking dogs rushed at us. The little girl screamed.
Debbie had come to us from Korea where dogs were trained to kill during the war. She wouldn’t even come near our gentle old Bullet, and these dogs were really savage.
Then I remembered the lesson I’d read to the children about love casting out fear. I held out my hands to the dogs and put every bit of love I could into my “Nice dog!” The dogs slowed down, puzzled.
I kept on telling them what good dogs they were until they stopped growling and started sniffing my hands instead. Then suddenly they both tried to lick my face!
Never was a lesson in love so swiftly taught!
So I’m not trying to get away anymore to ask God’s help. I’m inviting God right in, to the most commonplace, troublesome times of the day—and finding that He makes them brighter.
Take bickering at the dinner-table, for instance. The children used to come clamoring to the table bringing the afternoon’s quarrels with them and Roy and I would spend mealtime as an unwilling court of appeals.
Then a while ago I had an idea. During meals at the convent, the Mother Superior read aloud from the Bible. What if I read aloud at the dinner table, just long enough for the ruckus to quiet down?
The Bible itself, of course, was a little difficult for the five-year-olds. Then I discovered The Moody Bible Story Book, simple enough for Dodie and Debbie but complete enough for our teen-agers.
Each chapter takes about ten minutes to read, long enough for quarrels to be forgotten. And if my own potatoes are a little cold by then—why, the Bible has help for that too:
Better a morsel of dry bread,
and peace with it,
Than a house full of feasting,
Proverbs 17:1 (Goodspeed Bible)
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