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The Old Paths: Revival rising

**This was originally published on Thursday, April 28, 2016, in my newspaper column, “The Old Paths,” in The Stokes News. Due to a website change a few years ago, the publishing company broke all links to our old articles which were archived online. This was a tragic mistake and resulted in the loss of thousands of newspaper articles. Little by little, I am putting my old columns on this blog so that they can be preserved. Each column may be updated to reflect present times when transferred to this blog.**

revival rising--endtime revivalAlthough it is obvious from my columns that I am a Christian, I try to stay away from too much discussion of religion in my writings for secular publications. I was advised to do so years ago when I was editor of The Stokes News, and I obeyed…..with only the occasional mention of “the Good Book” or “the Man upstairs” (couched in those generic terms to spare me any scolding from the higher-ups). I typically write about family, our Southern dialects, county events, nature.

Yes, I noticed that even big-city secular newspapers often have a regular religious columnist or a “Religion” section. The Washington Post even has a religion reporter. Nonetheless, I kept on writing columns that would not rankle the likes of my former publishers at Heartland Publications, being the good little girl that I am.

But today I am stepping outside the bounds of “good-little-girlism.”

Recently, there was something in the realm of religion going on across this country that is most definitely newsworthy. In fact, it is so newsworthy that secular newspapers were picking up the scoop. For instance, I read an account of these events in The Logan Banner, a newspaper owned by the same company that owns The Stokes News.

The event? Revival breaking out amongst youth in WV and KY schools. No, I’m not getting this confused with the movies “Woodlawn” and “Facing the Giants.” This isn’t a movie I’m talking about; it’s real life.revival rising--woodlawn

Teenagers were preaching in the halls of their high schools. Kids were repenting in the school gym during lunch period. Youth were congregating on football fields at night to pray.

Although I’m sure this youth revival was actually birthed through prayer long before the initial sparks flashed, one of the first catalysts for this fiery outbreak was a young man named Skyler Miller, a two-time leukemia survivor who decided to preach in the halls of West Virginia’s Logan High School on March 24, 2016.

The Logan Banner reported: “‘I had been praying for a long time that Jesus would send me into the hall to preach the gospel because I wanted to be fearless and bold for him just like the disciples and apostle Paul,’ Miller said. ‘About 20 minutes before I did it, he told me, ‘Today is the day, Skyler. Go be a light and let the broken know who I am.’”

Rather than mocking him, students began to sit down in the hall to listen to Miller. By the next day, Good Friday, he was preaching in the school gym on his lunch break.

Less than a month later, just a bit south at Mingo Central High School, the school’s prayer club announced that a revival service would be held in the school auditorium. By the next day, word got around that the auditorium would not hold the expected crowd, so the event was moved to the school’s football field.

It’s a really good thing they moved it because the Williamson Daily News reported that nearly 3,000 people showed up. (And folks, this is in a town as small as my hometown of Walnut Cove—population 1,400!) Pictures from the event went viral on the Internet—teenagers with their hands raised, tears pouring, on their knees, being baptized in an inflatable swimming pool in the end zone. I saw pictures of weeping, praying students at several schools in the WV/KY border regions—not just high schools, but also elementary and middle schools.

It was indeed reminiscent of the scene in the 2006 movie “Facing the Giants” where students are in prayer huddles on the football field, as well as the scene in the recent Sean Astin movie “Woodlawn” where students are praying in the school gym. The latter is, in fact, based on the true story of the revival that swept through Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, AL, in the mid-1970’s.revival rising--facing the giants

Why am I so interested in this revival phenomenon? Because in 1996, I dreamed of a great revival in the area of Southeastern Middle School in Walnut Cove, NC. It was the first of many dreams of a revival starting in Walnut Cove, a town I hated at the time. I was taken by surprise by these dreams and fought for a while against what I knew to be true—that I would not be able to escape my hometown and needed to stay in order to pray for the coming revival.

In October 2000, I attended a Christian youth conference in Charlotte, NC. I had been studying the great 1906 Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles and was desperate to find a rare old book by Frank Bartleman, an eyewitness of that revival. Suddenly, I was approached by an older lady whom I did not know. She handed me that very book and said, “I got this for myself, but God told me to give it to you. You’re going to need it.” Talk about astounded!

I never saw that lady again.revival rising--azusa street

Fast forward through 14 years of praying, hungering, thirsting for this revival in the town that I no longer detested but had fallen head over heels in love with. We arrive at late 2014 with me at a prayer meeting at the church I pastor, The Well. Enter another woman unknown to me. Since she came with a visiting friend from a church in Clemmons, NC, I assumed she was trustworthy.

After a time of prayer, I suddenly felt from God to go to this mystery lady and ask her to pray over me about Walnut Cove. I hesitated but finally yielded. Imagine my shock when she told me she had been waiting for me to come to her, and then laid her hands on my head and began to speak of Azusa Street and a revival coming to Walnut Cove. She spoke of things she could not have known in the natural.

But it is what she said next that hit me even harder: “This revival will be focused on youth.”

I had known that, to a degree, ever since that incredible Charlotte youth conference in 2000. This is why I organize annual youth rallies in Walnut Cove at Lions Park or in London Elementary School Gym. This is why I host youth Bible schools all summer long…..because I believe what swept through these small coal-mining towns of West Virginia and Kentucky is going to sweep through Walnut Cove as well.

Our youth are hungry for something more than traditional religion. They want a current move of God. They’ve searched long enough in drugs, alcohol, promiscuity. They want something real and lasting.

Yes, I’ll go back to writing about springtime and children and the old paths. But I just figured that if the Washington Post, The Logan Banner, the Williamson Daily News and others can touch on religion occasionally, so can I.

I feel revival rising…..revival rising--generation rising

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Forever and Ever, Amen

**This was originally published on Thursday, April 7, 2011, in my newspaper column, “The Old Paths,” in The Stokes News. Due to a website change a few years ago, the publishing company broke all links to our old articles which were archived online. This was a tragic mistake and resulted in the loss of thousands of newspaper articles. Little by little, I am putting my old columns on this blog so that they can be preserved. Each column may be updated to reflect present times when transferred to this blog.**

I’m catching my breath after a whirlwind weekend. Besides the typical weekend routine of church activities and ball practices for multiple kids, my sister, brother and I threw a 50th anniversary party for my parents. It was worth every ounce of energy expended.forever and ever--young couple

A golden anniversary is a once-in-a-lifetime event. It should be celebrated and remembered. Fewer and fewer couples make it to that milestone in this day and age, and thus I spent much of the weekend pondering what makes a happy marriage.

I’m not talking about what makes a marriage last, because I’ve seen some miserable marriages that lasted several decades. I’m talking about what makes a marriage happy.

On Friday, I went to Ingles grocery store to buy the cake for my parents’ surprise party. I was rushing to get into line at my niece’s register, but an elderly couple made it there just before I did. Although I was in a supreme hurry, it turned out to be a blessing that I was behind this charming couple.

I heard the lady comment that she and her husband would celebrate 68 years of marriage this year. I stared unabashedly at her. “Did you say 68 years?” I interrupted in my never-met-a-stranger way.

She smiled a dimpled smile and said yes. I told her she didn’t look nearly old enough to have been married that long. She proudly told me, “I’ll be 87 my birthday.” My eyes bugged out as I told her truthfully that she looked about 15 years younger than that.

Then came an even bigger shocker. She told me they only dated for two weeks before getting married.

Huh?!

Don’t we tell our children they better get to know someone well before they make that vow? Don’t we teach them that marriage is a decision that must be well-thought out? How can you think out such a thing in two weeks?

This sparkling-eyed lady became even more animated as she told how she had met “Mr. Right.” She said that as soon as he walked into her office all those years ago, she thought he was the best-looking thing she had ever seen. They fell for each other on the spot, dated two weeks, tied the knot and aren’t far from 70 years together.

“When you see a good thing, you better grab it while you can,” she grinned like a mischievous little girl. Meanwhile, her tall husband, who also looked much younger than his years, stood to the side smiling tolerantly yet affectionately. He teased her a little, and you could tell those love fires were still burning.forever and ever--old couple

Here is a marriage, like that of my parents, which has survived an amazing number of years, not with the bitter silence and withdrawn emotional state of many marriages, but with laughter and love. Too many times I’ve heard older couples say they don’t see a need for a 50th anniversary party because there’s nothing to celebrate. That pretty much tells you the sad state of their marriage.

Obviously, the secret to a happy marriage is not necessarily a long courtship with well-thought out plans.

I’ve heard that children whose parents have a happy marriage have a better chance of having the same thing. Statistics in the last decade have not proven this to be true. My brother and I were both the product of a happy home but ended up divorced. I take my share of the blame for the breakup of my marriage and will grieve over it, to a degree, for the rest of my life.

On the other hand, my good friend up in Sandy Ridge came from a broken home yet has been married happily for 30 years; so has his sister. Kurt Warner, who was one of my favorite pro football players, tells of growing up in a broken home with many trials and tribulations, yet his own marriage has endured happily for many years—a real testimony for a professional athlete.

happy marriage recipeI knew a couple in Mt. Airy who were blissfully married for well over 50 years when the husband died. The wife, usually a stoic woman, fell apart, wondering aloud how she was going to live without him because they had been so close. Yet two of their three children ended up divorced. This proves yet again that growing up with happily-married parents does not ensure marital bliss for someone, and vice-versa.

Although the precious lady I met in Ingles talked about her husband’s stunning good looks 68 years ago on the old paths, we all know that physical appearance fades. The most stunning woman will eventually wrinkle and go gray. Even Botox and Miss Clairol can’t completely fix the ravages of old age. The hottest man around will see his looks decline as his hair thins or falls out and his love handles develop love handles.

So physical appearance obviously isn’t the secret to a happy marriage.

Of course I believe a reliance on the Lord is a key, but I’ve seen many a Christian stick it out “for the sake of the children” while being absolutely miserable for the long haul.

Some of you are thinking, “People just need to be committed and keep their word!” I agree, but remember—the subject of this column is not what makes a marriage last, although I believe that is supremely important. It’s what makes a marriage man that makes u laughhappy.

Laughter surely plays a key. My daddy was telling us at Sunday dinner about the April Fool’s joke he played on my mama this year. He said he was cracking up the whole time she was falling for it, and she said that when he reminded her what day it was, they both just fell apart laughing. A couple who can laugh together like that after half a century has found a secret.

I’m convinced that finding someone you laugh often with is a treasure.

Kindness, thoughtfulness, forgiveness, loyalty, humility—all of these are keys to a happy marriage. I’m obviously no expert, but I want to be. No one wants a failed marriage.

To that adorable couple whose names I don’t even know, to my parents and all others who are making marriage work well—I tip my hat to you. Keep laughing and keep loving…..forever and ever…..Amen.

**I am posting this old column to my blog on May 24, 2017—a little over six years since I ran into that charming couple at the grocery store. For all of these years, I have wondered who they were. Today I found out. As I was looking for an obituary for a friend’s grandmother, I “happened” upon one for a sweet-looking lady named Laura Jane “Janie” Mills Willis. Her face struck me as one I had seen before, so I read the obituary of this supposed stranger. Turns out she wasn’t a stranger after all! She was my “mystery woman” of the serendipitous grocery store encounter! I am rejoicing to have found her at last, but I am sad that she is gone now. Janie died peacefully at her home at the age of 93. Her beloved husband died in 2014—three years after he stood smiling lovingly at her in the Ingles checkout line. They achieved that 70-year mark for marriage. Although they are now gone on to be with the Lord, their love story will continue to inspire me for the rest of my life. Meeting them that long-ago day was truly a divine encounter.** 

http://www.forbisanddick.com/obituaries/Laura-Jane-Willis/#!/Obituary

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Laura Jane “Janie” Mills Willis

The Old Paths: One Day When the Glory Comes

**This was originally published on Thursday, January 22, 2015, in my newspaper column, “The Old Paths,” in The Stokes News. Due to a website change a few years ago, the publishing company broke all links to our old articles which were archived online. This was a tragic mistake and resulted in the loss of thousands of newspaper articles. Little by little, I am putting my old columns on this blog so that they can be preserved. Each column may be updated to reflect present times when transferred to this blog.**

selma_posterAlthough my busy schedule doesn’t often allow moviegoing, I am a sucker for a cheap matinee. On rare occasions, I’ll choose to see the same movie again, but it has to be a doozy. I set a personal record with Facing the Giants and Pride and Prejudice—six times apiece in the theater. But normally I wait for the DVD.

Not so with Selma.

I started my Selma sequence with the hubster in early January 2015, then took four of my five kids to see it on the Friday before MLK Day to prepare them for that, and finally went with the fifth kid for the thrill of seeing it on MLK Day in a full theater. When my teary-eyed teenage son left the theater, he said, “Mama, everyone in America needs to watch that movie.”

I agree. If you could somehow edit out LBJ’s frequent cursing, you could even make it required watching for school children each January.

Selma is a movie that will make you think about preconceived notions—something we all need to do. So often we are locked into our iron stereotypes that first began to enchain us in our younger, more formative years. But typically, stereotypes are based on falsehoods whose fabric is actually more like gossamer-thin spiderwebs than the iron chains we perceive. They look scary, they are uncomfortable to deal with, but in the light of truth, they can easily be brushed aside. Selma indeed brushes aside some of those stereotypes.

The ultimate white racist would say “all black people are alike” and vice-versa for the black racist. It’s simply not true. Are we so simpleminded that we can’t see how ridiculous such thinking is? Where there was the young black man wanting to use violence against the militant whites in Selma, there was the somewhat older black man saying violence would accomplish nothing. Where there was the one black student leader practically idolizing Dr. King, there was another such black student criticizing the esteemed leader. All black people are alike? I think not.

Where there were vicious white people in the movie who used weapons to brutally attack the black protesters, there were other white people who watched the TV coverage of the violence and wept at the injustice. Where there were ignorant white people who taunted the nonviolent black marchers with heckling, middle fingers and overuse of that detestable “n” word, there were many other enlightened white people who thronged to Selma to march with Dr. King. All white people are alike? I think not.

People are people—some good, some bad and a whole lot in-between. Color of skin is meaningless in the reckoning of human hearts.selma-movie

As a white woman, I’ve often heard Dr. King degraded by white people who point to his alleged indiscretions. In the movie, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover called Dr. King a “moral degenerate.” And no, the Civil Rights leader is not painted as a saint in Selma; his wife Coretta calls him out on the issue of other women, and he does not deny it.

So does this mean we don’t listen to a thing he says because he was a flawed human being in some ways? Oh, and you’re not? And I’m not? He who is without sin stand up and lead the way for us. Oh, wait—that wouldn’t work, would it? We would be without leadership. We certainly exalt the Founding Fathers despite some of their indiscretions. We don’t throw out the Declaration of Independence because its primary author, Thomas Jefferson, may or may not have fathered children by a slave woman.

I feel a disturbance in the Force, as Obi-Wan Kenobi said in Star Wars. The Ferguson events from a few years ago and similar ones since then seem to be fueling the fire for racial issues to once again take the forefront 50 years after President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. If you are one of the ostriches with your head in the sand who keeps saying, “Oh, there’s no racial injustice anymore. That’s past. Things are all better”—I would ask you respectfully to come back to reality.selma_poster-2

One thing we can do is to open up lines of communication and dispel ignorance through education and hands-on interaction. Dr. King once said: “Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated.”

I read a news story of a black man who encountered the Ku Klux Klan. Rather than direct hatred toward them, he decided that if the white people in the KKK could just get to know him, they would like him and thus change their worldview. He went out of his way to befriend some of the members, and it worked. Some of them eventually left the KKK after getting to know the black man. They admitted to the news reporter that their generations-old ignorance of black people had bred distrust in them and that the distrust had led to hatred.

Tools like the movie Selma, Black History Month each February, community-wide events like the STOKES STOKED Youth Rally I organize in my hometown of Walnut Cove, N.C., every August (where it isn’t just the few token black people at a white-themed church service or a few token white people at a black-themed service but rather a true mixture of different worship styles)—these are opportunities to open up meaningful dialogue and dispel ignorant stereotypes.racists-blood-the-same

It’s easy when you’re in the majority to purposely ignore and downplay the cries of the minority. From that vantage point, it’s convenient to point to the laws for equality that look good on the books. But when you’re a minority—whether black, Hispanic or perhaps a female in a male-dominated profession—it’s easy to see that there many legal loopholes that allow discrimination to still seep through.

Despite the fact that history has always been thus—even Jesus’ people, the Jews, have long been an oppressed minority—we cannot let up in this war for equality, understanding and consequently, LOVE. May those who fight for such justice become the true majority—a moral majority who believe that the war CAN be won.

As the theme song from Selma says:

“Now we right the wrongs in history

No one can win the war individually

It takes the wisdom of the elders and young people’s energy. . .

When the war is won, when it’s all said and done

We’ll cry glory, oh glory!”

when-the-glory-comes

 

A Veterans Day Remembrance: Jay Kitts

(I wrote this back in 2012 when I was a reporter for The Stokes News. It was originally published as “Just in time for Veterans Day. . .Walnut Cove soldier returns from Afghanistan” on Nov. 15. The subject of the story, Jay Kitts, passed away on June 13, 2015, from cancer at the age of 54. The article has been edited accordingly.)

vet jay--pam and guysVeterans Day holds a special significance each year for Pam Kitts of Walnut Cove. Not only did she have a husband in the military but a son as well. In 2012, with her husband Jay still deployed with the U.S. Army Reserves to Afghanistan after 14 months and her son Nathan stationed with the Coast Guard in Ohio, the upcoming holiday was destined to be bittersweet.

Or so she thought.

Just a week before the Nov. 11 holiday, Pam received word that Jay would be coming home. He landed back on American soil in Texas on Nov. 5 for medical checks and briefing. It looked to be perhaps a couple of weeks before he would make the flight back to North Carolina.

But then Pam got the call that made her heart rejoice. Jay would be flying home on the eve of Veterans Day–Saturday, Nov. 10.

“The unit in Ft. Hood, TX, worked overtime to try to get the soldiers home for the Veterans Day holiday! We were not expecting them for another week,” Pam explained.

Before she knew it, she was on her way to PTI Airport in Greensboro. “I was anxious and so excited,” she recalled her emotions. “I just couldn’t wait to see and hug him!”

Waiting for Jay to arrive....

Waiting for Jay to arrive….

Pam and several family members and friends were on hand with banners and American flags to welcome Jay home late in the day that Saturday. Before long, he was back in the arms of his wife and home just in time for the day that honors him and all of those who serve in this nation’s military.

“I was ecstatic to see my family and friends and grateful to be back home!” Jay said.

vet jay--airport crew

Jay is home at last!

The Kitts family reunited!

The Kitts family reunited!

It was a long time coming. Master Sergeant Charles Jay Kitts had been deployed three times overseas, serving active duty in Desert Storm and stationed in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan. He was also deployed another time stateside as an RDO (Rear Detachment Officer).

But that most recent deployment with the 378th CSSB (Combat Sustainment Support Battalion) out of Fort Indiantown Gap, PA, may have been the toughest. During the two months of training in NJ and then TX, followed by 12 months in Afghanistan, Jay’s father-in-law passed away, Pam had two surgeries and his 14-year-old daughter Katelyn underwent three surgeries.

“It was hard leaving behind your family and worrying about what’s happening with them and not being there for all the hardships and milestones,” Jay admitted. “I kept my faith in God and trusted that He would keep my family and me safe and bring us back together soon.”

A specialist in logistics, Jay worked 12-16 hour days in Afghanistan, always with the knowledge that enemy forces were out there to bring harm to the military. He faced protestors and occasional Afghans who would try to get into the camp.vet jay--w:arabs

“It was tough,” he confessed. “Days were long.”

But during that time, there were things Jay accomplished that he was proud of. He actually helped build a forward operations base in northern Afghanistan and served as acting mayor of the base.

vet jay--on duty

In 2012, Jay had been with the Army Reserves for 30 years with six years of active duty. This Wytheville, VA native remembered first wanting to enlist because his dad served in World War II and because he, too, wanted to serve his country.

And Jay did not serve alone. Pam was right by his side. They met on the job in the summer of 1986 when he moved to Walnut Cove, quickly fell in love and married in Feb. 1988. Pam said that since she and Jay had been able to put down roots in Walnut Cove–not having to move around–deployment was perhaps harder on them.

“The toughest thing about THIS deployment,” Pam noted, “was that I had to deal with my emotions and pain of losing my dad to cancer without Jay by my side.”

Jay was allowed to come home on emergency leave for two weeks for his father-in-law’s funeral, but when he had to go back to Afghanistan, Pam said her emotions hit their peak.

“I think the shock of my dad being gone and Jay gone again was so unbearable,” she recalled. “I needed him. Jay was truly my soulmate and my rock to lean on besides God. . .but God saw me through, and friends and family helped me, too!”

One of her comforts was her daughter, then a freshman at South Stokes High School. “Katelyn helped me so much in keeping my spirits up,” Pam declared. “She showed me what a remarkable young woman she truly is!”

Pam said that although Katelyn–a daddy’s girl–had missed her dad and longed for him to be there for her, she was very proud of him and remained a trooper and big supporter for both parents.  

Pam and Katelyn were all smiles when Jay got off the plane in Greensboro that 2012 Veterans Day weekend. By their side was Nathan whose unit had worked with him to allow him to come home to greet his dad.

Pam was relieved to have Nathan there: “It’s one thing having to worry about your husband, and then it makes it tougher to worry about a son, too! I am proud of my husband and son, but I have to say I pray a lot that my son never experiences having to go overseas or any war. I worry a lot about that.”

But Pam put those worries out of her mind that weekend when her family was finally reunited. They spent Veterans Day together in a church service that was dedicated to veterans and included a testimony of thanks from Jay and a special outdoor flag presentation by the South Stokes High School JROTC. They hung and flew the US flag that Jay had flown over Afghanistan in honor of Germanton Baptist Church for their support of him and his troops.

Home at last!

Home at last!

When he got home, Jay said that he planned to transition back with his family, spending quality time with them while getting back into the routine at his job.

Pam remembers being overjoyed to settle back into life with him. “There were so many things about my husband that made me so proud of him,” she declared. “Jay was dedicated and loved God, family and country. He truly stood for what he believed in.”

RIP, Jay Kitts–you are missed every day by those who so loved you. But they will be with you eternally one day!vet jay--abroad

Peace in the Valley

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My front yard is not really a yard at all, but it’s lovely!

My heart is overwhelmed on this late June evening to be sitting on MY deck–not the landlord’s deck anymore, but OUR deck. The journey to this monumental day of home ownership started about six years ago….

It was 2008. I was a struggling mom–separated and headed toward divorce–who lived from paycheck to paycheck on my meager salary as news editor of our county newspaper, The Stokes News. I was desperate to find a place to live that would be appropriate for my children. One day after covering a county commissioners’ meeting for the paper, I went up to Commissioner Leon Inman, who is also a realtor, and said, “Leon, I need you to find me a house.”

Helpful as always, he smiled kindly at me, “Tell me what you’re looking for, Miss Leslie.”

At first, I simply said, “A place big enough for my kids and me.” Then almost unconsciously I shared my heart, “And I’d like a bigger-than-normal lot with a creek and woods.” I was taken aback by my very specific and idealistic request, but then I thought, “Why settle for less? Ask for the best.”

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The entrance to the property

The VERY NEXT DAY, Leon called me to say, “I have just the place for you.” I drove to Danbury where he took me to a little house, sitting on about 2 1/2 acres with a creek in the backyard and big, beautiful trees everywhere. He admitted to me that the house was rough and needed a ton of work, and boy, was he right! It had been in the hands of his realty company for quite a long while and had not sold yet.

It was nothing to look at really, but somehow I took a “violent fancy” to it. That is the phrase Almanzo Wilder used to describe what his “Little House on the Prairie” wife Laura Ingalls Wilder felt when they first spotted the deteriorated farm they later bought and turned into a paradise in Missouri. Almanzo said, “. . .coming from such a smooth country, the place looked so rough to me that I hesitated to buy it. But wife had taken a violent fancy to this particular piece of land, saying if she could not have it she did not want any because it could be made into such a pretty place. It needed the eye of faith, however, to see that in time it could be made very beautiful.”

When I saw the property in Danbury, I felt like Laura, one of my favorite people who ever lived. I had “the eye of faith” that she had; I saw that the property had the potential to be a veritable paradise. I could even visualize what the rundown house could be turned into.

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The meadow I look at every day!

One thing that struck me was that the house had an exquisite view of a lush green meadow where a beautiful black horse roamed. One meaning of my name “Leslie” is “from the meadow.” I thought in amazement, “My name even fits this locale.”

Yes, I’m a Walnut Cove gal–that is my hometown where I have been called to minister primarily. But I was born in Danbury, our county seat, and have always been captivated by that quaint little “Gateway to the Mountains” town. For years, when we’d ride down Highway 89 through Danbury, I’d point over to the general area where this beat-up house was located (couldn’t see the house from the road) and  say to my family, “Man, I wish I could live over there!”

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Tucked away in the valley!

So here I was with a chance to live by that very meadow, and I couldn’t afford to buy the little house, even though it was a steal of a deal. In desperation, I found a way to get the owner’s name, and I called him, asking if he’d consider a “rent to own” deal. He said he would’ve, but that the house was in the hands of the realty company. My heart sank, yet I held onto the faintest silken strand of hope.

At the end of many county commissioners’ meetings in Danbury, I’d ride down to the deserted little house, sit in the driveway and let the peace of the valley it nestled in overtake me. I watched the leaves turn brilliant colors all around it. I watched its bare trees caress the winter-blue sky. I watched spring begin to awaken in that valley all around the little house that seemed as vacant and lonely as I felt some days. The longing in my heart to live there was overwhelming.

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Guineas from the meadow paying us a visit!

Months went by, and then one day, the phone call came. The owner contacted me at The Stokes News office and told me the realty company’s contract on the house had run out and he was willing to rent to own. Overjoyed, I leapt at the chance. My daughter Meghann was now a college graduate with a full-time job, and she wanted to move into the downstairs area and pay part of the rent.

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My personal “Rivendell”!

The landlord, being a very conscientious and super guy, put new carpet in two rooms upstairs, painted the walls and replaced some of the ceiling tiles, so the house didn’t look quite as bad as it had originally. We moved in on July 1, 2009. The house had a multitude of issues, as any house that has been sitting vacant for a long while does. But nothing dimmed my enthusiasm for it.

I remember the thrill of seeing the golden late-summer/early fall flowers burst into bloom all around the perimeter of my new yard. Opening my windows and hearing the pleasant gurgling of the creek was pure pleasure for me. The black horse grazing in the velvety meadow became known as “Jet” to my daughter Abigail. When spring came, I didn’t even mind push-mowing the huge yard, because the lush green grass was full of yellow dandelions and purple violets to feast my eyes upon. From my yard, I could see the curvaceous mountains we Stokes County folks call “The Three Sisters.”

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You can grow some good watermelons down by a “crick.”

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The hubster’s garden spot!

I finally remarried, and the hubster moved in on Sept. 1, 2010. My daughter Meghann gladly relocated to another rental house with my other adult daughter, Chelsea; Meghann had never been fond of my little house since we found a black snake and assorted lizards in the downstairs area where she slept. The hubster, however, quickly fell in love with the place and teasingly used Almanzo’s words to describe me: “The wife took a violent fancy to it.”

We tried unsuccessfully over the next few years to buy the place, but no mortgage company would touch it, despite our good credit and accumulated savings for a hefty downpayment. The house was indeed built very oddly, like an eccentric and unusual vacation home; therefore, no comp values could be found for it. In other words, nothing comparable to it was selling in the area during the recession, and comp values are absolutely necessary in this era of new and stricter mortgage laws.

There were times I felt downright desperate–realizing we were futilely throwing money down the tubes via monthly rent payments. I felt angry as well–agonizing over how unfair it was that two people with good jobs, good credit and a nice savings account couldn’t get a loan just because their house was a strangely-built one with no comp values to be found. I still owned half of a house from my first marriage which I had the right to move back into, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to live there again after all the heartache of the broken marriage.

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Life at “Deer Creek Cottage”!

In the meantime, my kids had also fallen in love with the little house by the meadow. My teenage son begged me to stay there, saying he had grown immensely fond of it and enjoyed its proximity to the 4-H office, somewhere we spend a lot of time. My little boy also said he wanted to keep living here. My teenage daughter was a bit more reluctant about it, mainly because her cousins live next door at the former house. Eventually she too admitted how much she loved what we sometimes called “Deer Creek Cottage”–after a Thomas Kincaid painting and because multitudes of deer frequent our creek.

For nearly two years, I was petrified to apply for yet another loan–to be approved until the end, only to hear the underwriter say, “No, we don’t want to take a chance on this weird house.” I was paralyzed by a fear of being disappointed yet again.

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Paradise even in winter!

Finally, in the summer of 2013, I wrote on a piece of paper, “Buying our house,” and put it in the big family Bible at “The Well,” our ministry house in Walnut Cove. I placed the little note strategically at Psalm 55:22–Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” I literally cast that burden on the Lord, and I determined not to worry about it any more–to simply trust Him with the house situation.

AT LAST, we found a company that agreed to finance, although they made us jump through what we felt were crazy, unnecessary and aggravating hoops (expensive structural inspections and all sorts of extra stuff). My poor hubster earned even more of my respect as he dealt with the issues singlehandedly. He handled every bit of the financial side of things and the loan application which was all-consuming for many months. There were constant delays, due a dishonest appraiser who seemed to delight in coming up with complaints about the house, which made the mortgage company delay the closing time and time again as they nitpicked about trivial things that ended up not even mattering at all.

The stress of it was wearing on Alan, although he kept telling me to not worry about anything. But I knew he was eaten up with the burden of it.

My turning point came one day in May as I stood barefoot in the morning sunshine in our garden near the creek. I turned to look at the little house, and my heart felt positively pinched with love for it. Suddenly, I felt Him comfort me, and I said aloud, “The Lord will provide.” A peace settled over me, and I repeated that phrase for the next few weeks….until at last, the loan went through, as satisfactory comp values were finally found in the area.

Today–June 27th, 2014–we closed on our little house. Despite a respiratory virus that was trying to attack me, I felt a deep joy all day long. Now we could begin to repair the little house. Our wonderful landlord had done some great things while we rented–even put on a new roof. But there is much more yet to be done; we hadn’t wanted to spend money on something we didn’t own.

I may not stay here forever, but why pay rent when you can own and resell one day if you choose? And if I ever decide to sell out my half of the other house I own, the hubster and I will use that money to pay off this house that we got for WAY under tax value. Then we will pretty much be debt-free. We would be able to travel extensively if we so chose and live out our dream of visiting every MLB stadium in the country, God willing. Not many people our age can already be debt-free.

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Our frequent visitor to the creek

More than one family member has said they have no idea why we would want to buy this fixer-upper house. I simply reply that the hubster and I adore it, the kids have BEGGED us to buy it, and the house isn’t as important to me as the lovely lot on which it sits. Several of my friends, when they drove down here for the first time, breathed deeply and said (and I paraphrase), “Wow, I feel such peace down here in this lovely little valley.”

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Jet has provided much viewing pleasure for us, particularly Abigail!

Yep, tonight it’s peace in the valley for me. We are homeowners at last–in a historic and picturesque town with a gorgeous state park just minutes away and the mighty Dan River within walking distance. But I’m content most days just to stay here and listen to my little creek meander merrily along and watch Jet graze in the sunshiny meadow. My beloved Walnut Cove is just 12 minutes away down a beautiful highway, and I’m there nearly everyday at another house I love–“The Well.”

Doubly blessed? Yes, I am. And I thank God for it all. You think He won’t give you the desires of your heart? Think again, my friend. Delight yourself in Him and watch Him work!

My "front yard"--growing richly in the blessings of God that hover over us!

My “front yard”–growing richly in the blessings of God that hover over us!

The Old Paths: Pass It On

*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:

Anita at one of her final Relay for Life events--her dear friend Jan Clary to the right. Jan has also gone on to be with the Lord.

Anita at one of her final Relay for Life events–her dear friend Jan Clary to the right. Jan has also gone on to be with the Lord.

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.

Anita with her family at Old-Fashioned Day at First Baptist Church long, long ago. She is the girl in the white cap to the far right.

Anita with her family at Old-Fashioned Day at First Baptist Church long, long ago. She is the girl in the white cap to the far right.

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: theoldpathsatwalnutcove@yahoo.com 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!

My Aunt Louise: She Made Happy Tracks

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Me with Aunt Louise at her 50th wedding anniversary celebration on March 20, 2014. She was already suffering greatly in her health, but you would never have known it.

I don’t remember life without Aunt Louise Bray. I was a Bray by blood and she, by marriage, but she bore the name nearly as long as I have–having married my daddy’s brother before I was even two years old. So when my memory really began, Louise was already part of my life.

I was born “Leslie Bray” into a world with a big happy family of Brays surrounding me–Grandpa and Grandma next door on one side, Uncle Sam and Aunt Louise on the other side, Uncle Ira Lee and Aunt Sammie Jane within sight up the road, and Uncle Donald and Aunt Sylvia not too far away. My first memory of a visible place other than my own home was the teeny white house beside us where Sam and Louise lived; it was the only building within my sight in those early years.

I faintly remember it burning down one horrible night, and then Sam built them another house in the same spot. Before long, Mama was sending me trotting on my little-girl legs up the dirt path beside Daddy’s tobacco field to Aunt Louise’s if we needed to borrow a cup of sugar or something else. We didn’t have a telephone at first, so I’d have to relay the message in person.

Then progress made it out to Dry Hollow where we lived, and Ma Bell hooked us up! But we were on a party line with Sam and Louise–or rather, with Louise, because nearly every time I picked up that turquoise phone receiver, she was on the line. She was rapidly moving up the ranks in Hazel Keller Cosmetics at that time, so she was always talking to somebody.

The Bray sisters-in-law--Christmas Eve 2011.

The Bray sisters-in-law–Christmas Eve 2011.

Somehow my childhood memories of Aunt Louise seem to be summertime memories. Mama, Louise and the Bray aunts would take us cousins to Hanging Rock State Park to swim. In later years, Louise would sometimes load a bunch of us kids up in her little Volkswagen bug and off we’d go to swim at Tanglewood, windows rolled down and that little engine chugging.

Louise with the Bray sisters-in-law she loved so much--Christmas Eve 2013.

Louise with the Bray sisters-in-law she loved so much–Christmas Eve 2013.

I remember a few times she’d have a bunch of people over to their house when Uncle Sam would play the guitar and sing with some of his friends. He had this one song about how he used to date a skinny gal but then he married a fat girl and was so happy with his life. I remember Aunt Louise throwing her head back and laughing that loud, contagious laugh when he’d sing that one.

Uncle Sam and Aunt Louise on their 50th wedding anniversary. She had so longed to make it to this day, and she did!

Uncle Sam and Aunt Louise on their 50th wedding anniversary. She had so longed to make it to this day, and she did!

As I became a teenager, sometimes Louise was my co-conspirator in girly things. Or maybe I should say she was the instigator; I just followed along, as you tended to do with Louise and her take-charge style. She sure enough instigated the secret eyebrow-plucking session at her house when I was about 14. By the time I went home, nervous about what Mama would say, my bushy eyebrows were gone, and in their place was a thinner, nicely-arched brow. I don’t remember if Mama was mad or not; I just know I was thrilled with my new look.

Before long, Louise decided to take charge of my hair. She loaded me up in that VW Bug and drove me all the way to Eden in neighboring Rockingham County where Toad Warren had a hair salon. I came home with a new do that was one of the best cuts I ever had. I think of Louise and that trip to Eden every time I look at my sophomore school picture and see that fabulous hairstyle.

I don’t sport that short haircut any more, but I still have the plucked eyebrows and a bottle of “Patricia Gale” perfume Louise awarded me when I won a contest at her daughter Rosanna’s birthday party long, long ago.

Louise with her daughter and best friend, Rosanna--Christmas Eve 2013.

Louise with her daughter and best friend, Rosanna–Christmas Eve 2013.

If there was anybody who seemed to have the golden touch, it was Louise. If she joined any type of sales company, you could betcha by golly wow she’d soon be a top producer. So when she said she was going to open a restaurant on her property in Dry Hollow, who was I to doubt her? This woman could sell an igloo to a desert nomad and convince him he just HAD to have it.

Sure enough, before long, the Hillbilly Hideaway was open, and tantalizing smells of country ham and fried chicken were wafting through the atmosphere to our house. Friday and Saturday nights would see cars parked up and down our normally lonely country road, and Louise would charismatically welcome them all into her and Sam’s dream-come-true restaurant.

Louise's charisma was evident anywhere she went! People all over the world loved her.

Louise’s charisma was evident anywhere she went! People all over the world loved her.

And adversity didn’t stop her. When the first Hillbilly Hideaway restaurant burned down, she and Sam built another one in its place. Not long afterward, they built one in Reidsville about 45 minutes away. When that one, too, burned down, they opted not to rebuild it but continued to thrive at the restaurant beside their house.

If you asked Louise why she had such success in her life, she was quick to give the glory to God, with a mention, too, of the work ethic she was taught in her farm girl days in northern Stokes County. She vowed and declared that Jesus visited her restaurant one day, and after hearing her tell the story numerous times and feeling the goosebumps rise up on my arms, I don’t doubt that she entertained an angel unawares.

It was July 4, 1979. Due to larger than expected holiday crowds at the restaurant, the staff suddenly ran out of natural gas for cooking. Rather than shut down as many people would’ve, Sam and Louise gave customers the news at the door and told them they’d feed them whatever they had already cooked ’til it was gone, and the customers could pay whatever they thought it was worth.

In the midst of the hubbub, a strange man suddenly walked in. He was bald, dressed all in white and had knots the size of chicken eggs, according to Louise, on his neck. “I’m hungry, and I don’t have any money,” he told her. “Could you just give me some bread and water?”

Big-hearted Louise placed him at a small table to the side and went to get him a biscuit and a glass of water, as he had requested. He was appreciative when she placed the simple meal before him, and Louise turned away to handle the crisis the restaurant was experiencing.

When she thought of the mysterious customer a few minutes later, Louise figured she’d better check on this man who looked somewhat like the cartoon character, “Mr. Clean,” on television commercials. But he was gone–a half-eaten biscuit, a partially-empty glass of water and a napkin on the table to prove he had been there.

Louise ran to the front door where Sam was keeping watch to alert arriving customers of the restaurant’s dilemma. “Did you see that man leave?” she asked him, knowing that there was only one door in and out of that first Hillbilly Hideaway building.

“No one has come by me,” Sam assured her. He, too, had seen the lone man walk in several minutes before.

“But are you sure?” Louise pressed him. “Because he’s gone!”

Sam nodded his head vehemently, “Yep, I’m sure. He didn’t come out this way.”

Louise walked slowly back into the restaurant, cold chills running over her body. He had vanished. The man had simply vanished without a trace. She formed the opinion right then and there that she had fed Jesus.

“Maybe Mr. Clean was in white a long time ago–I don’t know. But THAT Mr. Clean didn’t come to my restaurant. Jesus did,” she told me. “And I would go up against a knife on my neck on that one. I am positively sure of that. I’ll believe that to my dying breath!”

And so she did.

That vibrant, vivacious soul left us on Thursday night, May 8, after a blood clot went to her lung earlier that day. She had been at the Kate B. Reynolds Hospice Home for a few weeks. The last time I saw her she was sleeping there when the hubster and I went to visit and pray for her. She had no memory of us being there, but my cousin Rosanna said that after we left, she woke up and was alert, asking for her lipstick. We laughed over that because that was so much like Louise to want her makeup on, no matter what.

When Louise was in Hospice Home, once she told her daughter Rosie, "I want to go home." "Mama, Daddy is here, and I'm here. Wherever we are together, that's home."

When Louise was in Hospice Home, once she told her daughter Rosie, “I want to go home.” “Mama,” Rosie replied, “Daddy is here, and I’m here. Wherever we are together, that’s home.”

Aunt Louise's family in later years also included her granddaughter, Joanna, pictured here, and grandson, Colton. Two other grandchildren, Samantha Louise, and Ethan Otis, had already gone on to Heaven.

Aunt Louise’s beloved family in later years also included her granddaughter, Joanna Faith, pictured here, and grandson, Colton Adam. Two other grandchildren, Samantha Louise, and Ethan Otis, had already gone on to Heaven.

I kept hoping for a miracle like the many other times Louise had stared death in the face and come back strong into the land of the living, but it was not to be this time. I know she is in Heaven where regrets are no longer known, but I’m here on Earth where I regret she didn’t get to see the book I was writing about her life published. My goal is to present her bigger-than-life story in such a way that those who knew her never forget her and those who didn’t know her wish they had.

She was a woman of such strength that I somehow thought she’d live ’til the Lord came back–this determined woman who stood her ground when banker after banker refused to give her a loan to build the restaurant back in the late ’70’s because she and Sam refused to sell alcohol there. “You’ll never make it out there in the middle of nowhere unless you serve alcoholic beverages,” these masters of finance told her.

“There will never be alcohol sold in our restaurant,” Louise vowed. “It will be a family restaurant. Jesus will own it, and me and my husband will just run it for Him.” That was her firm stand, and she never wavered.

Now people from 120 countries have visited the Hillbilly Hideaway, including Barry Manilow, “Garfield” creator Jim Davis, Billy Ray Cyrus and countless other celebrities. Weekends still find the place packed as crowds travel long distances to sample the fried chicken, patented Hillbilly slaw, buttery hoecakes and other delicious examples of country cooking.

The restaurant will undoubtedly continue to thrive, but there will be a big hole in the heart of those who loved seeing Louise’s beautiful face and smile when they walked into the quaintly-decorated building. I know my heart is missing her right now. I wish just one more time I could sit and read aloud to her the latest chapter in her book and see her eyes get big with interest as if she’d never heard it before, even though it’s her own fascinating story.

“You know, it’s like it really ain’t even me you’re talking about, Les,” she said to me one of the last times I read to her. “But I really lived that life, didn’t I?”

Yes, Louise, you did. And you lived it well. We’ll miss your big laugh, your big heart and your big zest for life. I figure Heaven lit up with even more joy when you entered the gates. And your happiness when you saw your Savior must’ve been indescribable. Give Samantha and Ethan those kisses you’ve been longing to give them ever since they left you way too early, and tell Grandpa and Grandma we’ll see them soon. When we all get to Heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be!

But until then, we’ll keep making happy tracks on this ole Earth–just like you did.

Our last Christmas with Aunt Louise. She's standing in Heaven's sunshine now.

Our last Christmas with Aunt Louise. She’s standing in Heaven’s sunshine now.

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