PROSSER - Jarri McClarin of Baker City, Ore. didn't know what true love was until she was a teenager.
The Lower Valley Christian Women's Connection guest speaker said she hadn't heard that she was loved from her mother, her father, her stepfathers or any of the adults in her life.
As a result, McClarin bounced around from one home to another throughout her younger years, believing love was unattainable.
This past Tuesday she told the Christian women that her story began 61 years ago.
"I'm not ashamed of my age," McClarin joked.
She said when McClarin was a 1-year-old her mother decided to flee the family home.
"That was during a time when being a single parent was unheard of," said McClarin, stating her mother quickly remarried, but the man whom she married was an alcoholic.
McClarin's mother quickly decided the relationship was unhealthy and she took her children away from the situation in the middle of the night.
That's when McClarin found herself being shuffled from one relative to another. She would spend lengthy periods of time living with extended family.
One summer McClarin was sent to live with her biological father, a stranger to her. He had a new wife and five other children.
McClarin said her stepmother wasn't particularly pleased with the situation and in an attempt to find somewhere to belong, McClarin began riding the bus to Sunday School.
She admits it was the idea of candy being offered to youngsters attending Sunday School that most appealed to her. She was also enticed to attend the Good News Club meetings during the week so that she might further satisfy her sweet tooth.
McClarin said her mother didn't return for her until a year after she was expected to. McClarin was 12-years-old at the time and expected to see her older sister, but soon found her sister had moved out of the family home and the family home was no longer the same home she had left.
McClarin's mother also had two new men in her life and asked the youngster to select from between them who would be her new stepfather.
As a child her understanding was limited, so she said she chose the man who had given her a pet.
It was soon learned the man whom McClarin had selected as her mother's new husband was an alcoholic. His habits led to more upheaval.
But the family found a home in Oregon. McClarin said they stayed there for four years and she developed a friendship with two other girls. Those girls, she said, were Christians and they invited her to attend an event at which Nicky Cruz, a former gang member and author, was speaking.
At the age of 16, McClarin said, she was interested in the opportunity to leave town so she accepted the invitation to attend the meeting.
That decision led to the beginning of a life filled with love for McClarin because she was inspired by Cruz's testimony. When he issued an altar call, McClarin said, "I literally ran to the front of the room."
She was led through a prayer for forgiveness, acknowledged the desire to have a personal relationship with Jesus and felt transformed.
"God became my father...a father that wasn't going to disappoint," said McClarin.
She said it was a few years later while she was in her second year of college that she met and married her first husband, Pete Chumway. Sadly, he was killed while working for the Department of Forestry a few years after the couple's second child was born.
McClarin said she knew there was a very real possibility that she may not be meant to remarry. So she asked God to be the father of her two boys. She asked Him to provide her a husband who met very specific criteria, including the willingness to wear a three-piece suit every once in a while, if she was indeed supposed to remarry.
About 10 months later that man was standing on her doorstep. That man, Richard McClarin, became her life partner and the two blended their families.
Sharing a little more of her story, McClarin said her biological father sent her a letter shortly before he died. That letter told her that he loved her. She visited him in the hospital after receiving the letter and had the opportunity to hear him say the words.
She said she has also had the opportunity to mend several other relationships through the years.
"All of my little girl dreams have really come true," McClarin said, detailing some of the adventures she has had in life.