By Grayson Hester
Glynda Jackson believes God speaks in threes. This work-from-home call center agent and relatively new Corbin, Ky., resident – relative at least to the families who have lived there for generations and will likely stay there for many more – maintains that her “faith isn’t where it should be.”
Nonetheless, she believes in a triune God who speaks in a fittingly trinitarian manner – even if that God doesn’t always speak in words. Sometimes, this God speaks in wags. The first wag Jackson recalled was that of her aunt, chidingly wagging her finger in Jackson’s face as she struggled to organize her finances.
Before Jackson moved to Corbin in 2015 “due to health concerns,” she lived in New York where she got divorced. It was a bad marriage,” she said. “I was having financial difficulties.”
After the divorce, Jackson lived with her brother and his family for a while. It was a period of respite bookended by marital dissolution and chronic disease. Jackson knew she had to make a change, if for no one else but herself. Corbin was far away, to her it became family.
“I was diagnosed with Wolf Parkinson White Syndrome, causing my heart to race,” Jackson said. “And I have other medical concerns as well. I felt like I needed to come home. So, I came to Corbin and moved in with my aunt.”
Divorce plus disability put Jackson in a precarious financial situation, a reality she shares with a large swath of rural, Appalachian people like her.
Without compassionate guidance and literacy education, people close to or currently experiencing poverty face little opportunity to get out, strained equally by a lack of resources and unethical institutions like payday lenders who siphon off what little they have. Even those with the best of intentions can fail the people they try to help, teaching financial skills with their hearts in the right place but with their noses firmly stuck in the air.
“For years, my aunt had tried to help me budget, save, whatnot, and it was a constant struggle,” Jackson said. “And it was more so I felt like she was wagging her finger at me. And while I didn’t so consciously, I guess, subconsciously, I shut down.”
Where Dave Ramsey failed, however, CBF field personnel Scarlette Jasper succeeded. Somewhere in the space between the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016, Jackson was put in contact with Jasper and the financial literacy ministry which she provides both personally and through her organization, White Flag Ministry.
Immediately, Jackson sensed a difference. It was here that God spoke through the second of three wags – ironically, the lack of one. “I would describe Scarlette as kind and nonjudgmental. One of the things that she told me in counseling about my finances is that she would not judge what I spent my money on as long as I could account for it,” Jackson said. “And even if I messed up, she didn’t wag her finger, but would put me back on the right track.”
Jasper brings a holistic approach to financial literacy counseling, imbuing all three words of that title with their respective meanings. As part of her work with CBF, she is able not only to budget with people, but to pray with them, as well.
Often when she needs help, Jackson will call Jasper before anyone else, even the close circle of eight or nine friends she has cultivated here and even before her doctors, because she feels the absence of that finger wag as acutely as she did its presence.
“Well, besides being a financial advisor, with her being a minister, of course she does the counseling,” Jackson said. “So, if I’m just stressed, I can call her. Sometimes I will call her before I call my doctor. She will talk me through things, and I’ll feel better afterwards.”
Even though her life is not without its struggles in every area – with her Parkinson’s, her bipolar disorder and with Covid-related isolation – it is still the financial struggles with which Jackson contends most.
Fortunately, Jasper is a reliable and kind source of help. “Well, I mean, pretty much, the finances is the hardest part for me. I’m very independent,” Jackson said. “My mother was also disabled, so I’m very independent. And I think the best thing that [Jasper] does for me is to help me with my finances. A lot of people who are bipolar like me tend to spend excessively, and they may be aware of it.”
She and Jasper devised an accountability system of sorts; Jackson can input her financial information and Jasper can peruse it, flagging down any irregularities or places where the all-important “accounting-for” is lacking.
The relationship is reciprocal and the help is mutual. Where Jasper helps with financial literacy training and counseling, Jackson utilizes her call-agent skills to pass along information, connecting people to resources and networking with her broader circle of family and friends. In inviting people to that proverbial banquet, as Jesus instructs in the Gospel of Luke, we are inviting them to a relationship, not a transaction.
It’s the kind of ministry the CBF seeks to do, the kind of world we’d like to build.
“‘A place at the table,’ to me, is where anyone can have a seat, without judgment,” Jackson said. “They can bring what they have to offer. They don’t have to just receive, but they can also bring to the table.”
While it is not always easy, it is (pardon the pun) paying off. “Well, my budget is not exactly where it needs to be, but it’s improved,” Jackson said.
So improved, in fact, that Jasper and Jackson have reached a new leg of their journey and the third of three wags – this time, the wagging of a puppy’s tail. Given Jackson’s disability and limited mobility, she is in need of a service animal. And, with Jasper’s help, it is very likely that she’s on her way to getting one.
“Well, Scarlette is a blessing. One thing that she’s helping me with right now is coordinating efforts to get a service animal,” Jackson said. “I believe God speaks in threes, and I was just mentioning to my godfather that one of the possible names for my dog is Lazarus. So I’ve got that confirmation four times.”
This dog will very likely be a puppy and, understandably, Jackson is more than a little excited about it.
As such, the way God speaks isn’t the only thing about God in which Jackson believes. Having borne witness to God’s work through Jasper’s counseling and through her close-knit community in a new place, she has arrived at a mission statement of sorts. “Well, I believe in loving your neighbor as yourself and being kind and just helping people. That’s part of what we’re put on Earth to do— to serve God and serve one another.” That’s nothing to wag your finger at.