*This was published in The Stokes News on June 24, 2010, in my regular column, “The Old Paths.” Due to the fact that all Internet links were broken to our old articles when Civitas Media switched websites, I am slowly but surely posting all of my old columns in my blog so that they will be archived as they SHOULD’VE been on the newspaper website.
**This particular column was perhaps my very favorite of all I ever wrote. It was about my precious friend, Anita Burroughs Mabe, who died of cancer at the age of 46 on June 22, 2010. She passed away on our weekly newspaper press day, and I knew I had to write a column about her–whether or not I had time. So late that night when everyone else had left the newspaper office, I poured my heart out in this column.
When I finished proofing it, I looked at the clock; it was 3:11 a.m. on June 23. When I saw the 3:11, chills went all over me, because that particular number always reminded me of my beloved hometown of Walnut Cove, since Highway 311 runs straight through it. If anybody understood my one-track-mind calling to Walnut Cove, it was Anita. I began to sob so vehemently that I fell off the chair into the floor where I lay for a while, weeping loudly in the grief of losing Anita. She had always supported my ministry to my hometown, and now she was gone. But there was still a mighty work of God to be done, and she would’ve urged me to continue.
The next spring, I sent off the application to finally incorporate the ministry God had told me to start in Walnut Cove–Times of Refreshing (on the Old Paths). I waited and waited for it to come back from the North Carolina Secretary of State’s office. When it arrived at last, I was taken aback by the date stamped on it–June 22, 2011. Exactly one year after Anita’s passage to Heaven, the ministry was approved by the State.
So every year on June 22, I celebrate the calling of God He put in me for Walnut Cove, and I think of Anita–that bright soul who is probably smiling down now, saying, “You go, girl! God’s got your back!” Here is the column I wrote the day she passed:
One of my favorite church youth group songs back when dinosaurs roamed the earth was “Pass It On.” I remember the swelling feeling in my heart as we sang those beautiful words, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going, And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing.”
We often sang it at summer camp, sitting around a campfire in the dark of the evening. I would sing it, tears in my eyes, yearning to be one of those sparks that would spread God’s love. I could envision the world catching on fire with the glory of the Lord as all of the “sparks” spread what they had to others.
We lost one of these “sparks” this week.
Anita Burroughs Mabe’s earthly light was extinguished on Tuesday, June 22, 2010.
Or was it?
My first clear memory of Anita was at First Baptist Church when I was six years old. I was sitting on the front row in Sunday School one summer morning when my little friend Anita walked in. My eyes bugged out at the change I saw.
In an era when all little girls wore dresses to church, Anita appeared in a little shorts jumpsuit–blue, if I remember correctly. What was even more shocking was the fact that her blond hair was almost gone–not just cut in the popular girl’s “pixie” style, but cut like a boy’s.
Turns out that while her mom was away, her dad had to chop off her hair for reasons I can’t remember now. Was it that five-year-old Anita had begun to cut it herself or did she have something in it like gum? I don’t recall.
Whatever the reason, she ended up coming to church dressed like the little boy she looked like that long ago day. I can still clearly see those big blue eyes defiantly daring me to say a word.
That spunk carried Anita through many a tough year. Diagnosed with cancer about five years ago, she fought the good fight of faith and did not waver in her belief that everything would be all right.
The day of her passing from the earthly realm was press day for me–the most demanding day of my week. I alternated between crying and laughing all day long as we rushed to get this week’s paper completed. I’d look over at my general manager, Shannon, also a dear friend of Anita’s, and tell a funny Anita story. We’d laugh awhile then grow silent and weepy again as we realized our time with her was done….for now.
As the day grew more hectic with reports of power outages in King and last-minute stories to write, I escaped by mentally reliving the serenity of my last day alone with Anita.
It was a May afternoon. There had been a Wednesday morning prayer meeting at Anita’s house. She sat on the couch, fully participating, even reading aloud her assigned Bible passage. We all watched a video composed of pictures taken at the benefit event held for Anita at Germanton Park the week before, set to beautiful praise and worship music. Those bluer than blue eyes that had changed very little from those in the determined face of the five-year-old girl I once knew welled up with tears of gratitude for the community support. As everyone began to leave, Anita looked at me and with a calm smile said, “Stay awhile, Les,” using her nickname for me.
We spent a few hours in her quiet living room, peace pervading the atmosphere. She, the ever-busy and always-in-demand, longtime funeral director, and I, the too-busy and also in-demand news editor–enjoying a slow and easy spring day, talking about the things of the Lord and the joy our children had brought to us.
At one point, her eyes widened as she looked at me, and she exclaimed, “You’re MARRIED!” I was flabbergasted. Not even my family knew that I had recently eloped, but somehow Anita sensed it. She was thrilled when I admitted that I had indeed remarried. For months, she had encouraged me to do so, telling me with a poignant knowledge that I better snatch up this opportunity because we never know when our last days on earth will be.
All good things must come to an end, and so did our rare interval of peace together. As I drove off, my last glimpse was of her waving to me as she very slowly and weakly walked to the mailbox, the bright sun shining down on her.
That same joy was on Anita’s face on Friday, June 11, as she attended her son Colby’s graduation at South Stokes High. She smiled at me and said, “Hey, girlie girl,” another of her nicknames for me. Later, I saw her in her wheelchair looking out onto the football field minutes before Colby marched down the track. Her face was expectantly smiling, almost childlike with joy and wonder.
No matter what your religious beliefs are, allow me to believe that’s what Anita’s face looked like this morning as she passed into the presence of her Savior. Before, she could “only imagine,” but now she knows.
The legacy of friendship and compassion that she left behind from her years of comforting the bereaved all across Stokes County is monumental. Was she perfect? No. Who is? Should she be idealized? No. She was mere flesh and blood, as are we all.
But even in her humanity, Anita carried with her a spark of the divine. That spark warmed me during a cold period in my life a few years back. How can I forget how she picked me up one winter’s night when I was feeling like a prisoner in my own life and took to me to Walmart, out to eat and riding around on dark Stokes County back roads late at night–just two gals pouring their hearts out to one another.
I believe you call that true friendship.
I told her how much I appreciated that at a time when many of the people I thought were friends had made themselves scarce while I struggled to stay afloat. She said she would never forget something her daddy told her–that a true friend is someone who would drive from here to Georgia to bail you out of jail without even having to know if you were guilty or not.
A month or two later as I struggled to see the light of day from the pit I had fallen into, Anita once again came to get me. She took me to Kernersville and bought me a cheeseburger and fries.
She fed my body with my favorite comfort food, but she fed my soul with the unconditional love of God.
As I looked into the mirror on Tuesday while getting ready for work, I threw up my hands and cried out, “But I just want to talk to her again!” My world seemed a little darker with Anita’s spark extinguished.
But then a revelation hit me. Any candle that glows brightly and uses its fire to light other candles will never truly go out. That individual wick may be bare of light, but the same fire that once engulfed it now engulfs other candles that still burn brightly. A candle that has shared its fire with others is never truly extinguished.
And so Anita’s God-given spark lives on. What would she want us to do with it? Pass it on….by loving others with the love of God, reaching out to improve the lives of those around us, helping youth, praying for our communities, comforting those who are hurting and being a true friend no matter what.
We lost a friend temporarily, but while we yet live, let us endeavor to keep the fire of God’s love going. “It only takes a spark to get a fire going . . .Pass it on.”
**One way we are passing on that spark is by resurrecting the annual youth rally that Anita began in the summer of 2008. For years, she and another group of moms had gathered at the start of every school year to pray for their children. That gave her the idea to hold a “Stokes Stoked” youth rally to kick off each school year. The first one at Lions Park on Aug. 30, 2008 brought about 400 people out. The next summer, weather forced it indoors to London Gym, and the turnout was not as good. By the next summer, Anita was gone.
I felt then that we should continue the youth rally in her memory, but life was more than I could handle at that time. LAST SUMMER, however, was the time to do it! We reserved Lions Park for Sat., Aug. 30, 2014–remarkably enough, the exact same day and date that Anita held that original rally–and had over 500 people in attendance, with at least 24 local churches participating. We plan to hold STOKES STOKED again this year–probably around the Labor Day Weekend once more. Contact me via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to play a role or give a donation toward the many expenses we will incur–stage rental, hot dogs for giveaway, Bibles and more. LET’S PASS IT ON!