IN THE VALLEY OF DECISION
“FROM THE AGE of seventeen up to twenty-two the question of full consecration presented itself repeatedly,”Martha Wing recorded. “As I grew older, I saw the necessity of absolute consecration to God. I had many hard battles over it, and Satan invariably conquered. These times of spiritual anguish and struggle were always succeeded by long periods of coldness and indifference, when my religion was scarcely more than an outward form. During this time I was seeking for a fuller spiritual experience.”
The point over which this consecration battle raged was, of course, whether Martha would follow her plans for a literary career or the Master’s plan for her life — “to live and work just for Himself.” Sincerely she sought “for a fuller spiritual experience, but when she was shown the price she would have to pay for it, she considered it too great and drew back. No matter what else she was doing, this struggle was ever in the background and often came to the foreground of her thinking.
Martha remained in Sand Spring throughout the summer of 1892. Conditions in her home were completely different now, for both of her sisters were married and had homes of their own. Even before Martha had gone to Canada, Nettie had married Leslie W. Graham, a railroad agent, and now they were living in Davenport. Just four months before her return, Ada had married Fred J. Stevenson, a farmer, who lived just on the outskirts of Sand Spring. The home life of days gone by was a thing of the past.
As for Martha, in September she went to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where she stayed for the next five months continuing her education. Then, after a month with Nettie and Leslie in Davenport, she returned to Sand Spring where she taught in a nearby district school for the spring term of 1893. That summer she spent a week at the World’s Fair in Chicago and attended a brief summer school session at the Normal School in Manchester. In the fall she resumed her teaching, but in another district school located a little further from Sand Spring. There she continued to teach through the winter term of 1895, when poor health forced her to give up her work.
The next years were spent in vain efforts to regain her health. Neither rest, change of climate, nor medicine helped her condition. Loving relatives did all they could to make her comfortable. After a time with Ada, then with her mother, followed by a visit with Nettie, Martha went to Kansas where she spent three months in the summer of 1895 with various members of Uncle Stephen Tuttle’s family. Upon her return she divided her time among the various members of the family. In her desperation she “tried allopathic and homeopathic physicians.” All to no avail. Nothing bettered by any means, she rather grew worse.
“Among the wages Satan gave me during my illness,” Miss Wing later wrote, “were stomach, liver, and kidney trouble, palpitation of the heart, continuous and severe headaches, female weakness with a partial paralysis of all lower organs, all resulting in a diseased state of the nerves that kept the entire flesh of my body in constant pain, resembling inflammatory rheumatism, especially at nerve centers, such as wrists and ankles. I was also subject to severe attacks of pain in the sciatic nerves, so that often I could not move for hours at a time and had similar attacks in the large nerves of the shoulder.
“After a time the vitality of my body became so exhausted that any extreme pain or severe nervous strain would cause a sudden anesthesia of the nerves, so that in a few minutes from the beginning of the attack my whole body would become cold and stiff, so that I could not so much as bend a finger. I always, however, retained perfect consciousness, directing those about me what to do so long as I could speak, the muscles of my lips and face being the last affected.
“Through all this worn-out condition of the nerves, I have much reason to be thankful that I was not ‘nervous’ in the usual sense of the word. My illness, all through was manifested by physical pain and exhaustion, and not by any lack of nerve control.”
At only twenty-two years of age Martha Wing had to face the fact that although she was not confined to bed, except at intervals, she was nevertheless “a helpless invalid.”
Of course, her physical condition, bad as it was, was not all that was troubling her. There was something else which, in reality, was far worse. That “something” was the result of the word her uncle had casually uttered: “Mattie, something seems to tell me the Lord wants you to live and work just for Himself.”
Throughout the months and years since she had first heard that Divine Call to “total self-surrender” Martha had tenaciously clung to her plan for a literary career. Her illness, except for brief periods, did not preclude mental activity. In fact, that was almost her sole outlet and occupation. She could read and write when she could do little else, and she utilized every opportunity to pursue her main interest — writing — with the hope that some day fame would be her portion.
I said, “I’ll be a writer,
And I’ll give cause
For this great world to pause
Just to read.
Oh, I’ll make myself a name;
Oh, I’ll rise to heights of fame;
Words of power and words of might
Shall I for this great world write, And ‘twill heed.”
So I seized me pen and ink, And I set me down to think;
And I thought, — and I thought, —
From morning until night,
But — I — really, I couldn’t think
Of a single thing to write.
So she wrote about that — a delightful, simple, autobiographical lyric full of ambition and reality, a very wholesome mixture for any aspiring author.
In similar vein was another poem, entitled, “My Poem:”
Once I wrote a poem
For the world to applaud;
The thought it was deep,
The subject was broad;
Mighty waves of inspiration
Billows high of exaltation, Seemed to roll
O’er my soul.
“Sure,” I said, “the world will gaze
In great wonder and amaze
At its power.
Soon the time must come to me
When all the world shall plainly see
That I am great —
Patient, then, will I wait
For that hour.”
Sotto voce: I’m waiting still.
No, she was under no delusion about the merits of her productions, but she would plod on — practicing, polishing, pressing toward her goal.
A cursory examination of the few poems written during this period which have survived — thanks to Nettie’s interest and care — show that outside of such purely personal lyrics as already quoted, two themes predominate: nature and children. “Autumn,” “Wind Heralds,” “The Robin,” “0 Sea!” and “The Golden Rod,” are representatives of the first class, while “Rocking” and some lullabies belong in the second category. A closer study of the poems reveals the author’s special liking for birds and flowers. What is really important, as far as poetry is concerned, is the choice of the appropriate words and meter for the subject. In this she was quite successful, for one can almost hear the robin chirp and the waves of the sea rise and fall as she writes about them:
Do you know the song that the robin sings,
On the top-most bough as he sways and swings?
And it seems sometimes that each high note
Is too clear and strong for his little throat.
First he sings clearly his sweet, mating song;
You can hear him warble it all day long:
“Come here, O come here,
Nest time is near;
See, I’ve the best
Little place for a nest,
High in this tree
For you and for me.
My dear, O my dear,
Come here, O come here.”
O Sea, what sorrow hast thou?
What meanest thy desolate moan?
Are there doubtings struggling with hope
In thy murmuring undertone?
Do the gathering clouds foretell
The fate that is waiting thee,
Or readest thou now my fears,
And dost thou but answer me?
In another personal lyric Martha Wing couples her delight in nature with her delight in reading, always one of her favorite occupations:
A leisure hour, a pleasing book,
A golden, languorous day;
A hammock swung in a shady nook
Where breezes love to play,
Where naught is heard save the drowsy hum
Of honey-hunting bees;
For wealth can never furnish claims
That will compare with these.
So the weary weeks dragged on and on, spent with as much enjoyment as possible under the confining, painful circumstances, hope continually being deferred, “fightings and fears within, without.” Periodically she sought the Lord, not for physical healing, for she did not know Him as the Great Physician, but for spiritual blessing. Then the necessity for “full consecration” would again present itself, and Martha Wing would again recoil and give up her quest — defeated and frustrated.