This blog is where I can pour out my heart with my longing for God.

Posts tagged ‘death’

“They Shall Rise Up In The Land”

KKK robe
Have you ever had a nightmare or a scary experience while you sleep? I believe some things that happen in the night are simply the result of too many tacos before bed. However, there are other experiences that are direct attacks from the enemy (satan and his demonic henchmen) who try to hit us under cover of darkness when we are in our most vulnerable state. THAT is the kind of attack I am about to relate to you……

The year was 1999. I have no memory of what went on that long-ago day or that evening before bed. My first recollections begin when I was engulfed in the following dream……

I was in my den during the daytime, pacing the floor, troubled by something. My dear friend, Vicki, was sitting in the floor with her back against the couch, flipping through a book on the coffee table. All of a sudden, I gasped and cried out, “I remember what I dreamed last night!”

Vicki stiffened and abruptly quit turning pages. “You don’t even have to tell me!” she said, in mournful tones. “You dreamed of a man made of ice.” Terror gripped me as she indeed had revealed exactly what I had dreamed; somehow the “Iceman” seemed absolutely and insidiously evil.

Immediately upon Vicki saying that, I woke up (or so I thought). It truly was nighttime, and I was in my bed. Suddenly I heard Vicki prophesying loudly as she walked up and down in my narrow hallway, “They shall rise up in the land! They shall rise up in the land!”—over and over again repeating that phrase.

I remember thinking, “If she doesn’t hold it down, she’s going to wake my babies!” My daughter Abigail was still in her crib, with my son Elijah in a toddler bed at the foot of her crib.

Then came the horror. Into my bedroom—not from the bathroom door, but from the door that opened up into the hall where Vicki was prophesying—walked a hooded figure in a white KKK robe. The pure evil he exuded began to stifle me. He walked by the foot of the bed, ignoring my husband on the closer side of the bed to the door, and approached me. As he did, I became more and more panicked and suddenly realized I was paralyzed.

I had had that feeling of paralysis during sleep before; you try as hard as you can to utter even a word, but you struggle and can only speak in slow motion, if at all. The only times I have experienced this, though, are when I am dreaming of a demonic attack against me……same thing in this case.

As the Klansman rounded the corner of the bed and came closer to me, I began to try to pray aloud. I strained against the paralysis, only able to moan rather than speak clearly what I wanted to: “JESUS! IN THE NAME OF JESUS!” Still, I kept struggling to get out those words, knowing that the name of Jesus was the power that would make this demon flee.

The evil apparition stopped directly beside me and simply looked down at me. I don’t remember the look of his eyes through the slits in the pointed hood. I just remember the hatred that oozed out of him toward me. Without words from him, I could absolutely sense that he was spewing out a caustic and total hatred and desire for vengeance toward me. He wanted to harm me, he wanted to destroy me…..but he knew he was not allowed to, which made him even more furious.

It was then that I saw my husband rise up to lean on his left elbow and stare down at me. He just kept looking at my face, while I wondered why he didn’t do something. Inside I was crying out, “Don’t just lie there! Wake me up! Pray against this demon standing beside me!”

After a while, he finally nudged me and said, “Leslie, Leslie, wake up!” It was only then that I could move and speak. Immediately the Klansman disappeared.

“Why did you wait so long to wake me up?!!” I cried.

His face looked surprised as he asked, “How did you know I waited?”

“I SAW you just leaning there, looking at me!”

“How did you see that? Your eyes were closed.”

I shook my head, puzzled. “I don’t know how I saw it, but I did. I was awake in another dimension and could see everything going on—even you staring at me, trying to decide what was wrong with me.”

“What on earth was going on?” he asked.

Terror still sending chills up and down my body, I shook my head again. “I can’t talk about it now. I’ll tell you in the morning.”

When morning’s light indeed came and I told him what had happened, he gasped and interjected: “I had a dream last night of several of us looking at a map or some kind of paper in critical times, and we heard a voice say, ‘You’ll know the enemy when you see him. His name rhymes with ‘Iceman.'”

Well, as you can imagine, that’s all it took to nearly make my hair stand on end!

For the next year, I’d periodically think about “Iceman” or “a man made of ice,” and I’d wonder about the connection with “They shall rise up in the land!” and the KKK demon visitor. My instinct was that “They shall rise up in the land” had to do with civil unrest somehow—stemming from issues involving race. But at that time, there were no major news stories dealing with racial issues, despite the ever-present specter of racism.

That was the very year—1999—that I finally began hosting prayer meetings in my den for revival in my hometown of Walnut Cove, N.C. I knew the dreams and visions of local revival that God had given me since early 1996 were calling me to intercede for my town. One dream, in particular, that stood out was of an incomplete circle of people standing at what seemed to be my old junior high (now Southeastern Stokes Middle School). The people were primarily black, but there were a few white people scattered here and there. I was directed of God to walk down a hill and join hands with those people. When I did, the circle was complete, and a steeple began to rise into the air in the middle of our circle.

I remember thinking, “What’s up with this? Am I supposed to go witness to all of my junior high friends? What does this mean?” I didn’t know, but I knew the racial contrast in the dream was key.

So people—black and white—began to meet in my den every week, praying/interceding for revival in Walnut Cove. And I heard God direct me to hold a community tent revival in the downtown area.

The story of how He worked out that tent revival in the year 2000 is an amazing one, but not the subject of this blog. The pertinent story began on the day we began to raise the huge tent on a vacant lot beside East Stokes Outreach Ministry in downtown Walnut Cove. As the men labored in the August sun to erect the massive cover, an older black man named Henry Gibson—known locally as “PeeWee”—came limping across the property, on his way back from the store.

Suddenly, PeeWee stopped, leaning on his cane, staring solemnly at the workers. I approached him to say hi and then noticed the tears welling up in his eyes. “Are you okay?” I asked with concern for this man that I liked so much.

“Yes, ma’am,” he kindly replied. Then he shook his head as if in disbelief and continued to speak quietly, “But I just can’t believe it! Black men and white men working together here to put up this tent!”

I was puzzled. “Yes, sir. The church I go to in Winston-Salem is multiracial.” I didn’t see why that was such a big deal in the 21st century.

I guess my voice relayed my questioning, because PeeWee suddenly turned his eyes from the tent workers to focus intently on me. “But, Miss Leslie, don’t you understand what that means on this land? On THIS property?”

I shook my head, “What’s so special about this property?”

He asked in amazement, “You don’t know?” As I again shook my head, he continued, “This is the vacant lot where the KKK used to burn their crosses to keep us black folk in line…..back when I was very young.”

His eyes took on a faraway look, and I knew he was not with me anymore. He was in the 1950’s and early ’60’s. “Yep,” he sighed. “This was the place those crosses burned. It wasn’t often—just every now and then when they wanted to make sure we knew our place.”

Then his eyes rejoined the present as he turned again to the tent workers. “So this means something, Miss Leslie. Seeing black and white men work together on THIS land to put up this tent to bring revival—it MEANS something!” His tears spilled out of his eyes onto his cheeks, and my own eyes were suspiciously moist as well.

racial reconciliation

PeeWee’s story—one I had never heard—stayed at the forefront of my mind for the rest of that steamy summer morning. As I drove home in the late afternoon to rest, I still pondered the divine justice of how God had worked it out to let that vacant lot be the only one we could find for the tent revival that was designed to bring glory to God by uniting all races and cultures in our little Southern town.

When I arrived at home, my answering machine was blinking. I pressed the button and heard an unfamiliar female voice. She sounded angry—almost threatening—as she insisted I call her back. I did not recognize her name, but her tone let me know I better check to see what was going on.

So I returned her call, noting that the last four digits of her number were the exact same as those of my dear friend Tracey in Winston-Salem. This lady’s number, however, started with “591” rather than Tracey’s “784.” (I still remember the final digits but won’t repeat them, in case the lady is still at that number. I still have her name written down as well—16 years later.)

She answered the phone and was immediately belligerent, demanding to know why I had called her house earlier in the afternoon. Startled, I began to protest, “Ma’am, I have been gone all day. I certainly did not call your house from this number or any number!”

“Yes, you did!” she nearly screamed. “It showed up on my caller ID!”

“But I couldn’t have called you when I wasn’t home! The only thing I can figure is that perhaps my husband was calling our friends in Winston-Salem who have the same exact number except for the first three digits. And he probably just forgot and automatically dialed our local ‘591’ first,” I kept telling her, wondering why she was so irate. I soon found out.

“Well, when I saw your address was ‘Pine Hall Road,’ I began to be afraid,” she finally confessed, beginning to calm down. “You see, my ex-boyfriend lives on Pine Hall Road, and I don’t want anything to do with him.”

“Oh!” I replied, finally comprehending. “I see—you thought maybe he was calling you from a neighbor’s or something.”

“Yeah,” she shared, her anger dissipating. “And to be honest, I am scared of him. He is stalking me, and he can be dangerous. You just don’t mess with Iceman.”

My blood felt as though it lost several degrees of warmth as goosebumps rose up on my arms. “Did you say Iceman?”

“Yeah, you ever heard of him? That’s my boyfriend. He was the first to bring crystal meth into Walnut Cove, so they started calling him Iceman. He’s a drug dealer.”

In my astonishment, it was all I could do to finish talking to this lady, but as I did, I was furiously writing down what she was telling me about Iceman—what kind of car he drove, his real name, and more. I had never heard of him, but I didn’t think it was an accident that all of this had happened on the very same day I was told of long-ago KKK activity in Walnut Cove. My mind was racing back to the year before—when I had dreamed of “Iceman,” followed by a demonic Klansman tormenting me in the night.

I never spoke with that lady again, but I never forgot the “too-much-to-be-coincidence” quality of that August day.

That was 16 years ago, and only periodically does the subject of my dream and demonic encounter come up—primarily just between my children and me. But it resurfaced this past Wednesday night, July 6, 2016, as a deep prayer session ended at the church I now pastor in Walnut Cove—”The Well.” The only three people left praying were my two adult daughters and me.

I had heard God tell me of a demonic stronghold in Walnut Cove that was like a fungus—something that grows sometimes inconspicuously, but as it takes hold, it has one goal—to decompose anything it touches. It was revealed to me that such a fungal-type evil force has been allowed to spread unchecked through our town, decomposing even the very buildings that are allowed to sit and decay. (He revealed specifics about this to me, but I must protect the privacy of some individuals.)

As I told my girls what God had shown me, my daughter Meghann began to research fungi on her iPhone. She suddenly spoke out, “Scientist found two types of fungi on Otzi the Iceman!”

When she said, “Iceman,” my senses were alerted. My other daughter Chelsea cried out, “Remember when I felt led to study Otzi the Iceman a few years ago because I kept feeling something about Mom’s ‘Iceman’ dream that was never resolved?!”

I did indeed remember. Otzi is a 5,300-year-old mummy found frozen in the Austrian Alps; literally, he has nothing to do with anything we are praying about. Figuratively, he does—even if it is just in the timing of when a mention of him “pops up.” That the mention of “Iceman” would surface again on this night of deep intercessory prayer when God had just revealed a major cause of the prior decomposition of Walnut Cove was uncanny……especially when this entire week had been dedicated to a special service we were holding on Friday night, July 8. The guest speaker for that service was my childhood friend, Peggy Adams, a former Stokes County girl now living in Tennessee, who is a powerful intercessor in the Kingdom of God.

When Peggy came for the first time in April 2016, she told us that God had given her three words for our direction/mission in Walnut Cove: reconciliation, redemption, restoration. She said reconciliation primarily means reconciling the races in our town—that some sort of reconciliatory healing needs to take place. I nodded in agreement because I have known since the circle dream long ago that one of my primary callings in Walnut Cove is to help with that racial reconciliation.

racial reconciliation 2

That is why the devil would like to torment me. That is why a demonic Klansman stood over my bed and hated me—wanted to destroy me. But the enemy cannot have his way with God’s people; nor can he stop God’s plan for racial reconciliation to take place in Walnut Cove.

Our nation is in turmoil today. Videos of black men being shot and killed by white police officers are making the rounds online. News bulletins are flying through cyberspace and across TV screens, telling the latest in the deadly, retaliatory murders of police officers in Dallas, TX. Facebook and other forms of social media are alight with hurt, anger, outrage and often even hatred.

Yes, I hate injustice and am saddened/shocked/angered by these murders. But I also recognize the enemy’s tactics to divide us as a nation right now, in particular. And I urge Christians everywhere not to be a part of this division. Yes, stand up for what is right—absolutely! I am standing in agreement with you for that! Wrong is wrong and should be justly punished.

praying at crossBut even so, we Christians are called to do everything we do—even protesting and crying out for justice—with God’s grace. And we need to recognize that rather than getting embroiled in the multitudes of arguments out there, the most helpful and powerful thing we can do right now is pray—and not just some quick “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayer either, but rather a deep prayer for our country and its people. Couple that prayer with fasting, as Jesus said, and you will more easily be able to tear down the demonic strongholds of racism, prejudice, injustice and hatred.

“They shall rise up in the land!” Yes, that is happening even as I type. But when the enemy’s minions rise up to divide and conquer, and when we allow our hurt and emotions to make us rise up in bitterness and hatred, let’s remember how to turn this thing around. That will happen when God’s warriors RISE UP in the Spirit and in truth and say, “No more! God, send us a fresh outpouring of Your Spirit across this country! Lord, baptize us anew with the Holy Ghost AND with FIRE!!! We rise up, Jesus, in Your name to demand that satan and his demons back down before Your righteous and holy presence!”

He is looking for a people who will pray with that kind of authority and in the love of God.

“Who will go?” the Lord said.

Like the prophet Isaiah, may you and I join together to cry out, “Here am I, Lord! SEND ME!!”

here am i

The Old Paths: Our Loss, Heaven’s Gain

(This was originally published in The Stokes News on December 8, 2011, 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.)

Mike Joyce, the longest-running sheriff in Stokes County history!

Mike Joyce, the longest-running sheriff in Stokes County history!

It was a breezy Sunday morning in Iowa. The September sun shone on my ballcap-clad head as I walked into the tunnel made by the arching cornstalks at the Field of Dreams.

I plucked an ear of corn and guiltily put it inside my jacket. Even though I had found no restrictions on picking corn, I still worried that I was committing a crime. Was that the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson shaking his head at me?

But ever since former Sheriff Mike Joyce had shown me the ear of corn his stepson Joe had brought him from the Field of Dreams, I had been determined to have one. And now I couldn’t wait to tell him about mine.

I never got to tell him.

Once home, I had to work furiously so I could resign from The Stokes News in late September. One of my final stories was about Joyce preparing for a bone marrow transplant and the importance of him being shielded from infection.

So I figured I would just save the story for when he came home from Duke Medical Center at the first of the year. He and I had big things to do! We shared a dream–to create a Stokes County Sports Hall of Fame/Museum.

On the old paths, I’d go to Danbury each Thursday to pick up the public records for the paper. If it was “my lucky day,” Sheriff Joyce would beckon me into his office–a baseball lover’s dream. His cherished baseball memorabilia adorned the walls, the cabinets, the desk.

I never tired of hearing his stories–usually baseball stories, because he was one of the few people I knew whose passion for that most excellent sport surpassed even my own. He’d loan me baseball movies, tell me little-known baseball facts and often discuss Stokes County’s own rich baseball heritage.

Sheriff Joyce felt that Stokes should have a place where local sports heroes and their accomplishments could be memorialized for the public to view. His idea captured my fancy.

I imagined the fruition of that dream. I could see the ribbon-cutting, with Sheriff Joyce presiding and local sports legends present–the Nunn brothers from up Nancy Reynolds way, Kenny Dennard, Bill Murrell, Dusty Ackley, Mikey Joyce and so many others.

I had a sneaky little plan to persuade museum supporters to name the museum in honor of Mike Joyce. I kept my idea under wraps because he would have protested, being the incredibly humble and unselfish man that he was.

We never got to plan that museum together. Just two months after Sheriff Joyce announced in late 2009 that he would not seek re-election, he was diagnosed with leukemia.

I watched him fight the good fight for nearly two years. Although I wasn’t the sports editor, I begged to cover him throwing out the ceremonial first pitch in April 2010 when Field Two at Lions Park in Walnut Cove was named after him. He reminisced about coaching teams there, telling me how he still had the game ball from when his son Mikey pitched a perfect game.

It was a cruel blow to hear that the leukemia had reared its ugly head again late in the spring of 2011. But through aggressive treatment, it was soon forced back into the abyss where it belongs.

And then it was time for the final assault on the disease–a bone marrow transplant that would conceivably put the lid on the cancer and bring Joyce home again to his beloved wife Gail and family, his trusty motorcycle and plenty of good sports to watch.

But none of us are promised tomorrow, and neither was Sheriff Joyce. Before the transplant, leukemia came back with a vengeance for a third time. I kept thinking that surely such a great man who had done such enormous good for Stokes County wouldn’t die before enjoying retirement. It didn’t seem fair somehow.

But that’s not how it works. In this fallen world, the rain falls on the just and the unjust, and as Billy Joel sang, sometimes “only the good die young.”

I was on the road to Orlando, FL, when a county leader texted me on December 1, “He’s gone to Heaven.” I was asked to write the newspaper story even though I was on vacation and was no longer the editor of The Stokes News. I gladly wrote it on my laptop as my daughter drove. It was loaded to the website using McDonald’s free Wi-fi in a little Florida town.

I spent the evening searching for remembrances of Sheriff Joyce on Facebook, taking notes on the heartfelt stories I found there. And then it hit me. I was doing exactly what writer Terence Mann (played by James Earl Jones) did in the movie that Sheriff Joyce and I loved so dearly, “Field of Dreams.”

Mann collected notes from personal testimonies about the life of a small-town doctor–Archibald “Moonlight” Graham. I had once compared Sheriff Joyce to Graham in a feature story I wrote, and now I was collecting testimonies about him. Both men had dreamed of playing professional baseball.

Here are the last couple of paragraphs of my 2009 story:

Archie Graham makes it to the majors for about five minutes—not even long enough to get one at-bat. He returns to his hometown and becomes a doctor who is beloved by the entire region for over half a century.

Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) agonizes over Graham’s coming so close to a dream that was never realized. “Some men would call that a tragedy,” he insists.

The wise old doctor replies, “Son, if I’d only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes, then that would’ve been a tragedy.”

Many would argue that the analogy is a good one for Sheriff Mike Joyce’s life. Law enforcement may not have been the “field of his dreams,” but he has striven to fulfill his destiny with loyalty and integrity. A tragedy, perhaps, for Joyce that he didn’t get to play major league baseball, but a tragedy indeed, for the citizens of Stokes County, if he had.

When Mann interviewed the locals about Doc Graham, he heard how children who could not afford eyeglasses or milk or clothing would never be denied these essentials because Dr. Graham would make sure they were provided for.

Similarly, I heard stories of Sheriff Joyce’s big heart. Kathy Grubbs Marshall told how she dropped in one day to see her grandpa about six months after her grandmother died. Sheriff Joyce was there and confessed that he often went by to check on Mr. Burke. He was so at home there that he went to get the “nabs jar” and they all shared a Pepsi.

Mr. Burke was a staunch Democrat and Sheriff Joyce, a rigid Republican. But that didn’t matter when it came down to deeper issues of the heart.

Another person told how the unpretentious sheriff once dressed up as a woman to take part in a womanless beauty pageant to benefit a young boy who had leukemia. Jennifer Mickey Fulp shared the story of Sheriff Joyce going weekly to visit her ailing grandpa, former Stokes County Sheriff Clyde Duggins.

No fanfare, no self-promotion, no ulterior motive other than doing the right thing and caring about fellow human beings.

Was he perfect? Of course not–the only perfect man walked the earth 2,000 years ago.

But Mike Joyce will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the best people to ever breathe our good ole Stokes County air. He was one of the most beloved leaders in county history, with support from people in all political parties.

Sheriff Joyce, I will miss your quiet laugh that sometimes made no sound but shook your body. I will recall your compassionate eyes and hear your slow-paced, kind voice. I will remember your true humility and integrity and use it as a model to aspire to.

I will even admit that I pulled for the Texas Rangers in the World Series but am still glad your beloved St. Louis Cardinals won, for your sake.

I hope to press on with plans for a Stokes County Sports Hall of Fame/Museum, but it won’t be the same without you. I won’t rest until it bears your name, but how I wish you could be there to cut the ribbon.

But you’ll be watching from Heaven, I figure. I’ll bet that somehow you even know about my ear of corn from the Field of Dreams in Iowa. Hope to see you on the other side–on the new paths where there is no leukemia, no sickness, no pain.

And if there’s a field up there where old baseball players go to play the games of their dreams, save me a spot on the bleachers right beside you, will ya?

Me and Mike Joyce at WCLL

Me with Sheriff Mike Joyce on the opening day of Walnut Cove Little League when Field 2 at Lions Park was named after him. He threw out the first pitch of the 2009 season.

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

DSCN4170

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.

Living a Life That Brings Joy. . .

The joyful life of Inez!

The joyful life of Inez!

When I was five years old, my parents decided to build a house. What an exciting time it was for this very young couple! They enlisted the aid of a local builder, L.G. Brown, who was quite a bit older than them. He and his wife Inez already had teenagers, but they also had a young daughter named Donna–only 14 days younger than me. Donna became my first-ever best friend, so her mother, Inez, became a sort of extra mother to me.

Inez and Donna not long ago

Inez and Donna not long ago

The years flew by, but Donna stayed a constant in my life, as did her mother. My elementary school friends and I saw quite a bit of Inez who brought Donna to school each day. Most of us rode the school bus, but Donna was having separation anxieties, being the youngest child in her family and very attached to her mother. I usually bought a cafeteria line lunch, but I remember that Donna almost always brought her lunch in those early years. And yes, I suffered some childish pangs of jealousy when I’d see Donna’s cheese puffs, packed by her mommy.

When it came time for me to begin leaving the nest a little–occasionally spending the night with a friend once I was eight or nine–it was to Donna’s house that I went first. Inez always gave us free run of the place–letting us stay up as late as we wanted, letting us eat junk and pretty much leaving us alone (but always safe). My first-ever movie with a friend was in fourth grade when Donna’s older sister, Bobbie, took us to a Disney flick. We were late for the one we wanted to see, so we ended up seeing Kurt Russell in “The Computer Who Wore Tennis Shoes.” Then we went back home to Donna’s where Inez was waiting to warmly enfold me in a bear hug just as if I were her own child.

Junior high brought the same situations–sleepovers at Donna’s. Only the locations were different, as they often moved to different houses that her dad built, fascinating me by a change in venue. There were 1 a.m. runs through the yard after telling ghost stories, stepping on slimy slugs that we couldn’t get off our bare feet. There was “The Midnight Special” on late-night TV, sometimes followed by “Shock Theater.” There was the donging of the big grandfather clock that never failed to disrupt what little sleep I got. There was delicious food ever available, even at 3 a.m.

And there was Inez–always wearing a smile, often laughing a laugh that was more like a gurgling girlish giggle, and forever loving us all with her very expressive type of love.

Inez and Donna's daughter Laura not long ago

Inez and Donna’s daughter Laura not long ago

When it came time for the big move to high school, Inez took Donna and me to Hanes Mall–a fairly new establishment with awesome stores like the “County Seat” and “Just Pants” where we could get Levis in any color of corduroy. The day before we entered South Stokes High School, Donna and I bought matching royal blue corduroy Levis and light blue sleeveless shirts to wear on that oh-so-important first day, since I was spending the night with her. (I believe we ended up chickening out of actually wearing the matching outfits that first day, lest the coveted boys from the neighboring town of King think us immature!)

By that time, Donna lived in a square house. Wait, you say. Many houses are square, right? What’s the big deal about that? Well, let me explain. Donna’s house was a square with the middle cut out with space for a big old swimming pool. So to reach the other side of the house, you had to walk the whole perimeter of the square to get there. Very unusual but very cool to a teenager like me. Donna’s room was at one end of the house with a living area between it and her parents’ room. So we could play our music and laugh and be loud. Inez never fussed at us, no matter how loud we played “Float On” or “Boogie Fever.”

The very jolly Inez in costume, joking around as she often did!

The very jolly Inez in costume, joking around as she often did!

All too soon, we were adults, but Donna and I kept in touch. I was at her wedding in the middle of the square house. We had our daughters, Chelsea and Laura, the same year. Donna was the secretary at the Extension Office when I led a 4-H club, putting us in constant contact. And always in the background was Inez, still grabbing me for a bear hug whenever she saw me around town. When she was first diagnosed with lung cancer in the late ’90s or early 2000s (can’t remember), I invited her to a healing service at my church in Winston-Salem. She and Donna came, and before I knew it, there was Inez at that altar, her hands uplifted, having the preachers lay hands on her. Her faith was shining out of her bright eyes!

Inez always kept us laughing and was so full of joy you couldn't be sad around her.

Inez always kept us laughing and was so full of joy you couldn’t be sad around her.

Inez and I became even closer when I went to work as news editor at The Stokes News. Our office was beside the pharmacy where Inez would often go. My desk was right in front of the big picture window that looked out onto the sidewalk traffic. Inez would suddenly appear in that window, her whole face engulfed in smile wrinkles, waving to me or blowing me kisses. More often than not, she would rush in the door to give me a quick hug before going next door. Sometimes she would share with me a new poem that she had written. Once I even used one of these poems about her childhood memories of the creek in my “The Old Paths” column entitled “Down By the Crick.” She was so thrilled with that!

One of Inez's beautiful poems. I have a whole folder of them--handwritten onto lovely notepaper.

One of Inez’s beautiful poems. I have a whole folder of them–handwritten onto lovely notepaper.

After I quit my job to become a full-time mommy once more, I didn’t see as much of Inez, but Donna kept me posted on her health. When I heard that Inez had become primarily bedridden at the age of 83–almost 84–I told Donna I would try to visit her mother. Well, I stay very busy and kept putting off my visit until finally Inez called my mother and said, “I thought Leslie was coming to see me!” I had to laugh because I could hear Inez saying that in her vivacious way.

Inez never lost her smile or her joy. And Donna, her sister Bobbie and the rest of the family were constantly there for her.

Inez never lost her smile or her joy. And Donna, her sister Bobbie and the rest of the family were constantly there for her.

So I went right over that very day, taking my eight-year-old son Malachi with me. I knew Inez’s health had been failing rapidly so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I entered her bedroom. But I should’ve known she’d be lying there with a big grin and still laughing that very distinctive laugh that made you feel good just to hear it. We talked and prayed and laughed and had such a good time together! I went to make her feel better, but as usual, it was the other way around.

While we prayed, I opened my eyes to see her eyes shut tightly, her feeble hand clutching mine, her lips trembling as she praised God for touching her. It was as if the glory of God was in that peaceful room where this woman of faith lay in trust of her Savior. Malachi helped me pray, which blessed Inez so much.

Before we left, she insisted on blessing us. She made me pick out some jewelry that she had so enjoyed making. So I took a set of pinkish/lavender pearls.

My precious pearls that Inez made.

My precious pearls that Inez made.

Then she told me to get a silky white scarf from her dresser and take it as my own.

My scarf from Inez!

My scarf from Inez!

As if that wasn’t enough, she told me to pick a book from her shelf, telling me she had already read those and wanted to bless others with them. I chose one called “The Journey” by Billy Graham.

The book Inez wanted me to take and read

The book Inez wanted me to take and read

Then it was Malachi’s turn. She had a supply of toys that he could choose from. I thought he would surely choose a stuffed animal, but he picked a pink heart-shaped case. He promptly drew a picture of me on it with black marker and said I was his heart.

Malachi with his heart from Inez

Malachi with his heart from Inez

As I left Inez that lovely summer afternoon, I did not know it would be the last time that I saw her. I got a very sweet thank you note she wrote me in her own fragile handwriting. Even the tone of that sounded cheerful and upbeat, despite her intense suffering.

The card I will forever treasure

The card I will forever treasure

I kept thinking I would go back by there but never did.

I got the word on Tuesday morning, August 20, that the end was nigh for Inez. My mother had gone by there to pray for her and said that although Inez’s eyes were closed and she could not respond, she seemed to be humming something. Donna thought it was a Steven Curtis Chapman song–something about “perfect.” I immediately thought it could be “His Strength Is Perfect” which would’ve been ideal for the situation. A dying woman, no strength of her own, realizing that all she had to rely on was HIS strength. Inez’s humming proved to me that our spirits are aware even when our flesh realm seems out of commission.

A few hours later, I heard that she had passed. Several times that day, I sneaked off to the bathroom to cry. (Yes, maybe I am still too proud to really cry in front of people.) I would read something Inez’s granddaughter Laura had posted on Facebook, and I would tear up. Then I’d act as if I were simply going to the bathroom, and I would weep privately a bit. Many of the tears were happy ones. I could absolutely imagine joyful Inez, with her preciously childlike spirit, entering the presence of the Lord. What a reunion with her Savior and those that she loved, such as her beloved husband L.G. and their firstborn son, Mike!

Somehow Heaven seemed a bit closer knowing that Inez had just entered those beautiful realms of glory.

Tonight I will pay my last respects to this woman who was such a constant in my life for so many years. And I will know that she leaves behind the kind of testimony that I want to have. When I think of her, I see a smile that takes up her whole face. I hear that giggle that sounded like a teenager. I feel the love that she oozed toward me and others. I remember a generous heart who wanted to give more than receive. I recall a go-getter personality that at the same time, almost paradoxically, exuded peace and a laid-back feeling. She didn’t care if her house was spotless and dust-free; she’d rather play with her kids. She didn’t feel the pressure to be at every regimented church meeting and program; she simply lived the Gospel each and every day.

Yes, the angels surely rejoiced when Inez leaped through the door of Heaven , whole and strong once more. But for those of us left behind, the world is a little bit gray today. The comfort is in knowing that it isn’t over. We who know our Lord Jesus will see Inez again, and we will spend forever in eternal bliss where the Lamb is the light and there are no more tears. Inez will never shed another one, but today, I just might.

A letter to my little son

Dear Malachi,DSCN7129

This has been a day that will go down in infamy–December 14–when 20 young children were shot and killed in a Connecticut school. I know that you were somewhat aware of what was going on due to me watching CNN all afternoon, but I tried to keep you occupied with the pleasantries of our daily life so that you wouldn’t totally process what happened. I know that you, with your sensitive nature, would’ve deeply pondered the senseless killing.

I’m writing this to you so that one day, you can look back and read it and understand just what your mommy went through on this horrific day. Parents nationwide are shaken to think that innocent children were slaughtered in what is supposed to be a safe environment.

I’m also writing this because you are not with me tonight, and I long to hold you close. I’m reading on Facebook tonight how parents all over America are clinging to their children as if to reassure themselves that surely this couldn’t ever happen to them. I just read comments by hard-nosed newspaper editors and reporters who said they rushed home from work to clasp their children and tell them how much they love them. One man said that his daughter is in college, but all he could see today was her five-year-old face.

I do not begrudge you your time with your dad. I am so glad you have a daddy who wants to be with you and will take good care of you while you’re there. But that doesn’t mean that I am not having a particularly hard time tonight with you gone. At the time of such tragedy, parents naturally want to be near their children. And tonight I sit alone when what I need is your little head on my shoulder as is your late night custom.

After you left tonight, the house was suddenly so quiet. But I know that, God willing, you will soon be running around the living room again, playing your brilliantly imaginative games with your Mario figures. It makes my heart ache to think about those parents in CT whose houses will never be the same again. No five-year-olds playing with their Barbies in the floor. No six-year-olds running their Lightning McQueens and Maters over the furniture.

Empty

A few minutes ago, I heard your little voice on the telephone. You said, “Mommy, when are you gonna pick me up?” And when I told you I’d see you early in the morning at your basketball game, you cried out, “Yay!!” Before I hung up, you said, “Wait a minute, Mommy!” Then I heard your voice bark like a dog. You told me, “That was my doggie telling you good night.”

You insisted that I tell our dog Rocky good night for you. So I, too, barked like a dog and said, “Rocky says good night to you, too.” Then your sweet little boy voice told me, “I love you, Mommy.” And I choked back tears as I said, “Love you, too, little buddy.”

I am tormented by the thought of the parents of the deceased school children–parents who would literally give a limb or vast amounts of money if they could only hear the sweet voice of their little child. No more “I love you” at night before bed. No more “Mommy, will you read me a book?” after bath time.

I find it comforting that just before and at the time of this tragic school shooting, I was able to spend such great one-on-one time with you. I will never forget your face yesterday when you reached your decision about attending the midnight showing of “The Hobbit” with your four siblings. You had had such trouble deciding–having looked forward for so long to the premiere of that movie–but when you did, you were rock-solid. You smiled at me and informed your brother and sister, “I’m staying with Mommy! I want to see the movie with Mommy!”

My heart just melted like warm butter when you said that. And when they all took off a little after 10 last night for the movie, you and I snuggled up on the couch to watch “Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer.”

Remember how we bundled up to go outside on the deck and watch the Geminid Meteor Shower? You saw the first one and pointed it out with joy! The memory of the two of us in the frigid December air, our faces looking heavenward to the crystal clear sky where stars glistened with unusual clarity, the peaceful silence of the night, is a memory that has now been etched in my heart.

When we got too cold to stand out there, remember how we rushed inside, turned off all the lights and watched from the big window in the living room? We each saw a few meteors streaking through the sky–gasping with delight at the sight–before we gave up the vigil and went to bed. You barely had time to strategically place your favorite stuffed animals around your pillow and kiss me before you were asleep. I remember gazing upon your innocent face before I switched off the lamp and snuggled up beside you.

Empty

This morning, weren’t we so excited to wake up and know that it was OUR turn to go to the movie?! I kept looking back at you on the ride to Winston-Salem as you were happily staring out of the window at the sunny December day. When I’d ask, “You okay, buddy?” you would nod and smile. I remember telling Alan what a nearly perfect boy you are when your other siblings aren’t bugging you!

So there we sat in the darkened theater, our 3-D glasses on our faces, ready to see Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf and our other friends from Middle Earth. We shared our popcorn, and I kept admonishing you not to drink too much so that we wouldn’t have to miss part of the movie to go potty. Through the exciting movie, I kept looking over at you–just wanting to see the joy on your face. Sometimes you would feel the scrutiny and turn to smile reassuringly at me. Occasionally, I would take your hand and you would squeeze mine.

When it was done, I enthusiastically asked you, “Where do you want to eat, little fella?” You thought for a minute, having been torn between Burger King and Taco Bell (after telling me with superiority that you just didn’t care for sit-down restaurants), and decisively said, “Taco Bell.” How you tore into those soft tacos! And weren’t you thrilled with the Baja Blast you don’t normally get to drink?

In the midst of this idyllic day when I was so thrilled to have this mother-son time with you, there came a text that changed the mood of the day. It was your sister Meghann telling me about the elementary school students being shot and killed. For a split second, the world stopped turning as I imagined the horror for the children before they died, the torment suffered by their parents and the scarring of the children who escaped but witnessed the carnage.

And I held you even closer, trying to come to terms with the fact that we live in a fallen world where monsters exist all around us, clad in normal clothes and walking the ruts of life just as we do.

I wish I could tell you it will never happen again. I wish I could assure that you will never feel hurt in your life. I wish I could shelter you from the pain and sadness that are inevitable parts of this life on Earth.DSCN7243

But I can’t. I can only point you toward a God Who loves you unconditionally, Who has promised us peace in the midst of the storm, Who holds us in the palm of His hand despite the rigors of life in a fallen universe. And I can pray that you will see His light in the gray day of normal life, that His love can spread to the Adam Lanzas of this world so that they no longer feel the need to strike out with harm to others.

Before long, you will be too big to sit on my lap. You will eventually grow taller than I and move into a place of your own. I would hope that you will have children so that you can experience these feelings that I feel for you.

But until then, I pledge to take care of you, to mentor you, to protect you as best I can, but most of all, to love you unconditionally in a way that only a mommy or daddy can do. Such love overcomes all tragedy and the hatred that leads to the violence we saw today.

I wanted you to know all of these things, my little son. This has been a day of great joy yet great heartache for me. But through the sun and the rain, one thing remains constant–the love that God has given me for you.

Love,

MommyDSCN9533

Remembering Caden: a message to parents to cherish their children

Before I had kids, I thought I loved children. I suppose I did, to the best of my ability, but that love cannot begin to compare to what I feel now for children. All it took was giving birth to Meghann a quarter of a century ago to convince me that the love of a mother is perhaps the fiercest love on the planet.

In a parallel fashion, take away a woman’s child and you will see the most intense grief imaginable. My mother’s heart cannot comprehend what crushing pain would ensue at the permanent loss of a child here on Earth.

But tonight, I got a small taste of that pain through the death of a child I don’t even know.

Each day, I had been checking the Caden Beggan Facebook page for updates on a six-year-old boy in the United Kingdom who was battling a horrible disease. I found out about the child through Beth, a friend in Scotland whose aunt goes to my church here in the U.S. Each day, the boy’s dad would post “Caden is alive” as the opening message for the daily update on Caden’s condition. I was always overjoyed to see those three words of hope: CADEN IS ALIVE.

Tonight as I went to the Facebook page, the three words were missing. Instead, the dad’s daily post read:

Dear friends,
Caden Riley Beggan
Born 29th September, 2006
Died 20th November, 2012
. . . in Mummy and Daddy’s arms.

Thank you for all your support.

Caden is alive forevermore . . .

Despite the blessed assurance in the last line, I gasped aloud and dissolved into tears. Looking at the innocent little face staring at me from the cover photo, I could not imagine what the parents must be feeling to know they would never again see that adorable little boy on this Earth.

Yes, the hope of Heaven brings great peace but does not displace the grief of missing someone you love while living out this mortal life.

I read that post nearly two hours ago, yet tears still stream down my face and occasional sobs rack my body. You see, I have an eight-year-old son–my baby boy Malachi–who is about the size of a six-year-old. He is a little boy with big brown eyes, a ready smile, a delightful heart and infinite love to give.

In fact, he sounds a lot like little Caden as his daddy described him on the FB page.

As I look at the pictures of Caden, many of them taken fairly recently, I note his strong little legs and arms, ready for play and action. Just two weeks after being diagnosed with meningococcal septicaemia on October 23, those legs and one hand were amputated in an attempt to save Caden’s life.

I see his alert eyes and smiling face–taking in the big, wide world around him. But after being found lying on the bathroom floor of his home that horrifying October morning, little Caden’s responsiveness was dimmed–the eyes closed more often than not, the smile erased by a destructive disease that ravaged his small body.

A nation went pink as Caden’s story swept the UK and indeed the world. Pink was the color the Beggans hoped to see as the blackened skin damaged by the meningococcal septicaemia was replaced by healthy, pink skin. A bus was painted pink for him. Followers of the FB page worldwide donned pink, painted their fingernails and toenails pink, drew pink pictures, sent pink flowers, did whatever they could to “think pink” with regard to well wishes for Caden’s skin to grow rosily pink once more.

But it was not to be, for whatever reason. Caden’s little body could no longer fight the nightmarish disease, so his little heart stopped beating as he slipped from the arms of his mummy and daddy into the arms of Jesus.

This little boy’s plight had captured the attention of his homeland and many people around the world. Close to 45,000 people were following his day-to-day battle via the FB page.

But around the globe, there are multitudes of other sick children suffering and dying at this very moment. They may not get the same media exposure, yet their plight is just as dire, their parents’ grief just as bitter. Please help me lift them all up in prayer on this cold November night.

In my own life, I watched my precious friend Heather give birth to a beautiful baby girl who passed away a couple of days later. I saw my cousin Rosanna deliver two babies who now rest in the arms of the Father. In my newspaper job, I interviewed the parents of a teenage girl who was killed in an automobile accident. The list goes on.

I cannot fathom what sorrow these parents have known. In all of these cases, the parents were Christians who believed in life after death and knew they would see their beloved children again one day.

But even though that blessed hope fills the heart, it does not fill empty arms right now.

My first marriage ended in divorce–a bitter regret for me despite my happy second marriage. Two of my children are grown and on their own. Although I see my three non-adult children pretty much daily, there are some nights when they stay with their dad. This night that Caden died is one of those nights.

As I called to say good night as I always do on the nights that they aren’t snuggled up here at home with me, I held it together pretty well as I talked with my older son Elijah. My little Abigail had already fallen asleep, so I knew I would have to wait until she jumped into my bed early in the morning to talk to her.

But when little Malachi’s voice came through the phone, my eyes welled up with tears once more. He told me to tell his stepdad Alan and our dog Rocky good night, then he exclaimed happily “Yay!” when I told him Alan would pick him up early in the morning to bring him back to me. As always, he let his stuffed doggie tell me good night. By the time he said, “I love you, Mommy,” my voice was trembling, and I quickly said, “I love you, buddy” and hung up the phone before dissolving once more into sobs.

I want nothing more right now than to hold him in my arms. Tomorrow does not seem soon enough.

We as parents have been given these precious, impressionable lives for whatever time God decides. They are ultimately not ours, but His; however, He has blessed us with them for a season–to nurture them, teach them, provide for them and most of all, LOVE them. What a privilege is this most wonderful state of parenthood!

Hold them tight while you can, don’t sweat the small stuff and know that the love given to you by your little child is unconditional at this point–something we can usually only count on from God.

And while you hold them close, remember to say a prayer for Caden’s mum and dad who are longing to feel the warmth of little Caden once more. Wrap the Beggan family in your arms, dear Lord, and comfort them with your love.

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning–that eternal morning where Caden is waiting with outstretched arms for his parents to join him when their race is run.

Yes, Caden is indeed alive forevermore. . .

“Get Right, Church, and Let’s Go Home!”–remembering my friend Scottie. . .

Pretty Scottie

I was covered from neck to wrists to ankles in horrid, red, scaly sores. Clear skin was becoming scarce on my body, particularly on my trunk where the sores seemed to thrive. Embarrassment was my constant companion when I had to go out in public.

Finally, a diagnosis came–pityriasis rosea–a viral, itchy, scaly skin disease. Cure? None–it runs its course in about two months or less and can recur. Its trigger? Unknown–possibly a lack of sunlight.

“Great,” I said sarcastically. My dad had been diagnosed with Stage 3 Lentigo Melanoma the year before, so I had determined to avoid the sun for fear of skin cancer. Now I avoid the sun and get a disease–albeit not deadly–that can be caused by too little sun. Just great. :/

So I sighed and swallowed my pride each time I went to church and had to wear a dress. Even pantyhose couldn’t disguise my sore-stricken legs. I felt like a leper.

Here she came across the pews after church service one Wednesday night back in about 1993–my friend Scottie, a vivacious brunette with a contagious laugh that was almost like a little girl’s giggle. She gave me that look that would cut right through you–a very real look that could detect anything hidden. “What’s going on with you?” Scottie asked.

I told her my dilemma, and she patted me on the back. “Come up to the shop tomorrow,” she said. “I’m gonna put you in the tanning bed and clear those things up.” I hesitated, not sure how to tell her that at this crucial juncture in our lives, I didn’t even have money for tanning sessions.

“I’m not gonna charge you,” she seemed to read my mind. “Come up tomorrow on your lunch break.”

So the next day, I hurried just up the street from my job as an orthodontic office manager in Kernersville to Scottie’s hair salon on Main Street. She welcomed me into the suavely-decorated shop (grays and pinks maybe? It’s been a long time) with her characteristically big smile, full of pretty white teeth.

Before long, I was settled into a tanning bed for the first time in my life, praying fervently that the UV rays would zap those disgusting sores. Scottie would have me back up every few days until, within two weeks, those sores were fading rapidly. Her joy was almost as huge as mine.

“What’d I tell ya?” she giggled that melodic giggle that always made me want to laugh along with her. I was so grateful and never forgot her kindness.

That was nearly 20 years ago, but still those nasty sores try to come back every now and then. When they do, I head to the tanning bed (a rare occasion) and often think of Scottie and her big heart.

Scottie was so at home in her various barber shops throughout the years.

It came as quite a shock to me when the phone call came this past Sunday night that she had passed away. Scottie? A woman so full of life that you just knew she was going to live to at least 120? No way!

I had heard a couple of years ago that she had been diagnosed with cancer, but I had no idea it had gotten to this point. I kept up with her via Facebook, enjoying the pictures of her in seemingly good health. My problem was that I couldn’t imagine anything on this Earth getting the best of Scottie. She was a bit larger than life to me, I guess.

We both had left the church we used to attend together–me in 2003 and her in 2010–and we lived in different areas. I had seen her a time or two through those years, but as often happens when people move away–even if it’s just to another town in the same region–you lose touch.

Scottie back in the day, a few years before I met her.

Yet I thought of Scottie often, like when I’d get a haircut. During my first few years at our church back in the ’80s, I had let my hair grow out to my waist–no bangs, no layers. I was “Plain Jane” Leslie. That vibrant Scottie got hold of me at a makeup party she hosted one night and said, “Come up to the barber shop! I’m gonna cut that ole long hair off and make you look your age.”

I thought I would faint as I saw those long brown tresses hit the floor of the shop she then shared with Jesse on West Mountain Street in Kernersville. “My hair, my hair! What have I done?” I was crying inside.

But when Scottie whirled that chair around to show me the finished product in the mirror, I was pleasantly surprised. Soft layers framing my face down to my shoulders. Scottie was right! I looked like a teenager again! She was like the cat that swallowed the canary when I walked into church on Wednesday night, stunning everyone with my new do.

When spiral perms became all the rage, here came Scottie, telling me my hair–steadily growing longer again–would look great with those long ringlets of spiral curl. And guess what? She was on the money again. Oh, the time we spent together at her shop as she spent literally hours rolling up my hair in those heavy spiral curlers every few months!

Spending time with her was fun–made me feel like a little girl again, sharing secrets and giggling. When she gave birth to her daughter Tiffany, I hurried over to see if maybe childbirth had slowed down that irrepressible Scottie.

Of course not. There she was dressed in nothing but one of her husband Greg’s white shirts, positively glowing with happiness and still laughing. Her joy, like her laughter, was contagious. “They told me I might never be able to have children,” she confided in me. “But they were wrong.” And she always gave God all the glory for it.

Scottie and her beloved Tiffany!

Scottie proudly showed us her little Tiffy. “I prayed for a girl, and that’s what I got!” she declared, shooting Greg a look that dared him to disagree. Not that he would’ve–already he looked proud as a peacock when Scottie would show her many visitors a picture of him as a baby to prove how much Tiffany resembled her daddy.

We were all part of a close-knit church family–sharing birthday parties, camping trips, choir practices, youth camps, revivals, fellowship dinners. Scottie made every party more fun, bringing her infectious laughter and fun-loving personality.

She would tell me how she visited Graceland once right after Elvis purportedly died and how she thought she briefly spotted him there. Once when our pastor mentioned Elvis for some odd reason in a sermon, my family looked over at Scottie from our third-row pew on the right to her second-row pew in the middle. We teased her, mouthing the words, “Elvis is dead.” Her expressive eyes lit up with fire and she pursed her lips together defiantly, shaking her head no. Oh, the fun we had with that.

When I first heard she was battling cancer a couple of years ago, I kept saying, “I’ll go see her.” I did get her mailing address to send a card, but I never did actually lay eyes on her again. I had gone through a tough divorce that left me embarrassed as a Christian, and I let my pride keep me from showing my face around many of my old friends. My irrational fear of possibly being treated differently by those I had so loved (certainly not by Scottie and probably not by anyone at all–the enemy tells us things like this to keep us separated) kept me holed up here in Stokes County. Pride/embarrassment is no excuse; it was selfish of me.

Plus, we humans have this procrastination gene that prompts us to say, “I’ll do it real soon.”

Well, guess what? Real soon became two years, and I lost the chance. Yes, I prayed for her and I communicated through Facebook, but how I wish I could’ve seen those sparkling eyes one more time or heard that musical laugh that just tickled my insides somehow.

If you have somebody you long to see again, don’t put it off. Go now. Tomorrow is not promised to any of us.

“As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, And its place remembers it no more.” Psalm 103:15-16

I’ve cried several times this week when I’ve thought of Scottie and how her days on Earth were over so soon–only 57 years old when she left us. But some of those tears have also been happy ones because of beautiful memories of her praising God at church, deep gratitude that I was able to know such a strong woman of God, joy thrilling down in my soul that Scottie isn’t gone–just in another dimension–an eternal one where she waits for us to join her in the presence of the Lord one day.

I have lost a lot of beloved people in my life. But somehow I can’t imagine any of them being quite as excited as I can imagine Scottie being when she first saw Jesus. That’s not a slam on any of those other saints of God that I so loved; it’s simply a statement about Scottie’s bubbling joy that she was never ashamed to express. Others of us–with me as chief–let pride hold us back from so much. But not Scottie. She was REAL, as real as real gets.

And I know she’s REAL happy right now–finally at home with the Savior that she so adored and was never ashamed to proclaim.

Scottie loved her family–husband Greg, daughter Tiffany, son-in-law Clayton and precious grandson Clay.

I’ve heard that Scottie requested that someone sing “Get Right, Church, and Let’s Go Home!” for the funeral. We’d all do well to listen to the message of that song and prepare ourselves to enter in. It won’t be long, and we’ll be there with Scottie, shouting along with her and the other saints in glory who have been cheering us on all along.

Scottie fought a good fight, she finished her course, and most importantly, SHE KEPT THE FAITH. Henceforth there is laid up for her a crown of righteousness in a place where there is no more cancer, no more pain, no more crying, and the Lamb will be the light. I figure Scottie’s gonna be snuggled right there next to Him.

“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” Rev. 21:4

The Old Paths: Mayberry is my state of mind

I’ve been a little more sentimental lately. (I wasn’t even sure that was possible since my children avow I would have a lock on the “Sentimental Sap” award every year.)

But it’s true.

I’ve been more conscious of the passage of time, the loss of simplicity in American life, the need to go back to the restful old paths (my most common theme). Last week on June 28, I even posted a short clip from The Andy Griffith Show onto my Times of Refreshing Facebook page with a status that read: “This little snippet from the Andy Griffith show fits my mood today. We are too much in a hurry! Watch how this harried man becomes calm as he hears Andy and Barney sing an old hymn. Come on and watch it and agree with me that we need to slow down and find the old paths of life.”

I even posted the clip on my personal Facebook wall, with the status of “I became calmer just watching this. See how walking the old paths brings rest to our souls (Jeremiah 6:16)?”

The clip was from an episode entitled “Man in a Hurry.” This man who cannot enjoy life for always being in a hurry begins to find a measure of peace as he hears Andy strum the guitar on the front porch, singing “Church in the Wildwood,” accompanied by Barney’s tenor harmony. The contrast is marked as the man paces back and forth while the restful singing goes forth.

As I was choosing the YouTube clip, I also watched one in which Andy plays the guitar and sings “There Is a Time.” That one made me so sad regarding the passage of time that I quickly exited it.

Well, today, I posted that one on my wall. Because today, Andy Griffith died.

I heard the news about mid-morning as I logged into Facebook and saw a status that read, “R.I.P. Sheriff Taylor.” I gasped and cried out to the hubster, “Oh no! Andy Griffith is dead!” I suddenly began to cry, and the hubster came rushing over to the couch to put his arms around me and comfort me.

I was shocked–not only that Andy had passed away, but also that I was so shaken. If you had told me last week that I would be sobbing over Andy Griffith’s death, I would’ve looked at you strangely. Become sad? Maybe. Actually shed tears? No way.

But when it actually happened, my grief was very real. I went back and watched the clip I posted last week and cried some more. I posted the “There Is a Time” clip, watched it again and cried even harder. A couple of hours later, I posted the song “I Miss Mayberry” by Rascal Flatts with a video tribute to The Andy Griffith Show. And I boohooed a little more.

Call me a glutton for punishment, but a few hours after that, I posted a short clip of the episode in which Andy persuades Opie to let his caged birds go free. When the following dialogue took place–Opie: “Cage sure looks awful empty, don’t it, Paw?” Andy: “Yes, Son, it sure does. But don’t the trees seem nice and full?”–I broke down yet again.

Now maybe it’s hormones today, but then again, maybe it AIN’T.

I’ve seen a similar reaction all over America as news of Andy’s death spread like wildfire. One local TV news channel devoted all day to remembering Andy Griffith. Specials on his life abounded. I saw grown men cry as they were interviewed for news specials.

Why did Andy’s death affect us this way? He was 86, he had lived a good life, he seemed ready to go by Christian standards. Why are we unable to let the good Sheriff Taylor go gently into that good night?

Because I believe his death signified the ending of an era–an era that represented to us a simpler time of our existence, that reminded us of our childhood, that is rapidly fading into the mists of yesteryear. As long as Sheriff Taylor was alive, Mayberry seemed to still exist somewhere. There was the hope that we could somehow regain even an iota of that peaceful lifestyle.

The Mayberry state of mind crosses gender, race, culture. The Andy Griffith Show was all about white people, yet I saw countless black people interviewed today–all of them lamenting Andy’s passing. Women today primarily work outside the home and wear jeans like the men–unlike most of the Mayberry women who stayed home, wore dresses and lived to cook for their families–yet these modern women shed tears today at the loss of Mayberry’s native son.

It would be almost unAmerican to say you were unaffected by Andy’s death. Don’t we all recognize the opening theme just as soon as the first bar is whistled? Who hasn’t tried whistling that themselves? Don’t we all laugh when Barney says, “Nip it. Nip it in the bud!”? At one time or another, haven’t we all tried to mimic Goober’s Cary Grant impression of “Judy, Judy, Judy”?

It hits us in the collective gut of nostalgia to hear Andy is no more on earth. Who’s gonna make sure Barney keeps that bullet in his shirt pocket? Who’s gonna lock up Otis for public drunkenness and bring him some of Aunt Bee’s good cornbread in the jail cell? Who’s gonna catch Ernest T. Bass when he’s chunking rocks through storefront windows? And for that matter, who’s gonna sit around and pick and grin with the Darlings?

The days of my childhood are long gone. No more Sunday afternoons under Grandpa Bray’s shady old oaks while neighbors and relatives drop in to sit in web-design lawn chairs and discuss if the blue mold’s taking the ‘baccer, how many quarts of green beans they’ve put up for the winter, how hot this July weather has been. No more swimming in the creek with the cousins after we’ve wandered through Grandpa’s pastures and picked blackberries. No more catching lightning bugs and putting them in pop bottles on summer evenings while Uncle Sam played “Uncle Pen” or “Let Me Be Your Salty Dog” as my daddy and the other uncles sang along.

But there is one thing that remains from my childhood days. The Andy Griffith Show. It was on the air before I was born, and it has never once gone off the air since the last episode was filmed in 1968. I can click on my TV every day at 5:30 p.m. and catch it on a local channel even now. It is one of the last existing ties to my childhood. I have never known a day of life without Sheriff Taylor.

Until today.

Yes, I know The Andy Griffith Show will probably run until I’m long gone. But losing Andy somehow makes the show seem even farther back in time, even more removed from modern life.

We strain a little harder to reach back to a time when Aunt Bee was pleased as punch to keep her Taylor boys well-fed, when Opie always had his “Paw” to confide in, when Andy strummed his guitar on the front porch while Barney stretched and said, “Well, I think I’ll go down to the corner and get me a bottle of pop.” Pause. “Yep, I figure I’ll mosey on down to the corner and get me a pop.” Another pause and stretch, “That’s the plan. Head on down to the corner and get me a bottle of pop.”

Lest life seem overly perfect, Mayberry had its thorny issues. Aunt Bee faced pickling problems and was ever challenged by her bosom buddy Clara Edwards. Opie sometimes told fibs and had to confess to “Paw.” Barney often sneaked off to call Juanita down at the diner and serenade her while poor Thelma Lou was at home alone. Ernest T. Bass turned up with his violent ways at all the wrong times. And Otis just kept a-drinkin’.

But still, Mayberry life seems ideal to us today in our rush-rush-hurry-hurry work-a-day world. There was a sense of community that we are lacking. Neighbors took time to sit on the porch and visit. Floyd’s Barber Shop was a hangout for the men. The Pyle boys–Gomer and Goober–were ever-present when a helping hand was needed.

Andy’s job of sheriff kept him on call around the clock. But he somehow found time to spread a quilt on the green grass to picnic with his best gal, Helen Crump. He took Opie down to the fishing hole and maybe whistled while he went. He made time to play his music with the Darlings, complete with a gen-u-INE jug instrument.

You skeptics are thinking, “Get a grip, Leslie. Mayberry is a fictional town on television, for goodness sake!”

Yes. Yes, it is. But Mayberry is more than a made-up town. It’s a state of mind, I’ve heard people say. And it’s most certainly MY state of mind.

Because I remember those times. I was part of the Forest Chapel Community Club where we had potluck dinners with the neighbors, and where grandmas, uncles, aunts, cousins played against each other in Rook tournaments. We had three TV channels, no cell phones, no computers, no video games. My social networking involved bouncing the basketball loudly in the yard in hopes that my neighbors across the road would hear me and come out to play “HORSE.”

THAT’S why we cry over Andy’s passing. Because many of us still long for the Mayberry state of mind where life flows peacefully and seems to move in slow motion compared to the jet-fast pace of modernity. A place where Ange is patiently advising the Barneys among us, licking his lips saying “Mmm, Mmm!” over Aunt Bee’s pork chops, calmly counseling a penitent Opie, singing and playing for us at the end of a hectic day.

The faster we move through life, the more we yearn for the old paths of life. Andy was representative of that rustic, slow-paced way of living. And now he’s gone.

Nope, we’re not just mourning the passing of Andy. We’re mourning the passage of an era that will never come again.

Thank God that way of life, as well as Andy, will live on through reruns of his show. We’ll continue to tune in and reminisce and laugh and wish it could be that simple again.

Remembering Whitney

Whitney Houston

I am always sad to hear about a death, especially what seems to be an untimely one. The death of Princess Diana kept me riveted to the TV for days, as did the sudden passing of Dale Earnhardt. It seems like yesterday that I was priming tobacco for my neighbor when my buddy Jack walked up to the barn to say, “Did you hear that the king is dead?” I sat up late that night, listening to “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” and sniffling over Elvis Presley’s death.

But I don’t know that any of them affected me the way Whitney Houston’s death has. Maybe it’s because she and I were about the same age. Perhaps it’s because when I was just entering young womanhood, she was also finding her way as a young woman–singing about the things we young women dreamed of–“Saving All My Love For You,” “All the Man I Need,” “The Greatest Love of All.”

And as she aged so gracefully in appearance, Whitney also got even better vocally–for a time. And still she sang songs that seemed to come from MY heart–“I Will Always Love You,” for one.

That same heart of mine ached when I began to hear rumors of her substance abuse problems. I grieved to see her extraordinary physical beauty begin to deteriorate–not because of the normal aging process but because of the effects of the drugs and alcohol. For some time, she was a bag of bones, and her face–though still lovely–grew haggard.

Whitney's changing appearance

I always pull for the underdog, and so I was heartened to see Whitney seem to make a turnaround. She “fleshened up,” as Grandma would’ve described it. Her face took on a shade of its former glow. She went on a world tour again. She was preparing to film another movie.

Then one quiet evening at home, the shocking news that she was dead at 48 stunned me. I haunted YouTube for a while, listening to old Whitney tunes, finding new ones I had not heard. I watched old interviews with her.

I am grieved over any type of waste, but especially the waste of a promising life. Yes, I know she did more in 48 years than most of us would do in 90, but there was so much left in her. I had to battle some ugly thoughts toward her ex-husband Bobby Brown; she had seemed so pure and naive before hooking up with him. (Yes, I realize Whitney had free will and made her own choices to enter the dark and sinister world of drug use, but temptation often comes through appealing people.) I prayed not to hold any hard feelings toward Bobby and don’t.

But what fascinated me (and haunted me) most about Whitney’s life were her early years in the black Baptist and Pentecostal churches. (I say “black Baptist” to differentiate from “white Baptist” because the two church styles are very different.) I wondered if she later missed being such an integral part of these powerful churches. I know that she still sang some gospel songs, especially when she made the movie “The Preacher’s Wife.” But recording some gospel songs to random mass choir backup is quite different from actually being a vital part of a personal church music program.

I watched an interview that Whitney did with Diane Sawyer in 2002. The poignancy of it was heart-wrenching. Diane asked her what her perfect life would be in 10 years. Whitney detailed her dreams of being retired in 2012, watching her daughter grow into a productive woman of God, living a good life, having grandchildren.

She could not have known way back then that that would be the very year of her death.

Diane Sawyer’s interview with Whitney (2nd video clip–wait for it)

Diane asked her which of the drugs was her biggest demon. Whitney looked at her contemplatively and replied with raw candor, “That would be me.” She clarified that the drugs weren’t the demons–that SHE was her own demon in this situation since she made the choices. Diane persisted in this line of questioning, wanting to know specifically what people who wanted to help be the barrier between Whitney and drugs could pray for. Diane probably thought that Whitney would name a particular drug or other temptation.

Whitney looked at Diane as though they were on two different planets. With great passion, she declared that she didn’t want people to pray about the drugs. Instead she wanted them to pray for her soul, that she would be able to be stronger and make good decisions.

At the end of the interview segment that I watched, Whitney’s fervor increased as she pointed to the sky and avowed that no matter what anyone said or believed, she knew that she was a child of God and that He loved her. Then she quoted the words of the old song, “Jesus loves me; this I know.” And she smiled sweetly and trustingly.

And when that same Whitney–10 years older and more worn, her once exquisite voice hoarse and ragged–sang the last song of her career onstage at a pre-Grammy party the night before her death, it was “Jesus Loves Me.”

Less than 24 hours later, she was dead.

I’ve already heard the debate: Did she go to Heaven or not? My daughter Meghann’s response to that was, “I am not God, and therefore, I do not dare presume to judge.” What a wise girl God has blessed me with!

If your doctrine tells you that we can lose our salvation based on our works and that we’d better not die while swerving off the narrow road or we’re sho nuff out of luck (and grace), then you may think there’s no way she made it to the pearly gates. If you ascribe to the “once saved, always saved” doctrine which believes that we are truly sealed to the day of redemption and that it is not of works that we are saved lest any man should boast, then you assume she made it on home.

I don’t have a soapbox in this debate. I trust in my all-wise and all-knowing God to make the right decision, and I wouldn’t DARE speak a word against the dead in this case. We don’t know what her last thoughts were. Even if she was in a state of intoxication, who knows that she wasn’t crying out to God to forgive her, to deliver her, to help her? I wasn’t in the hotel room. I don’t know.

Young Whitney, the choir girl

I only know that I am still haunted by the old video of the pencil-thin little girl with cropped hair–looking somewhat like a young boy–singing in the choir at her New Jersey church. I ache at the memory of the exquisitely lovely 38-year-old woman whose eyes lit up with excitement as she told Diane Sawyer how the “Holy Ghost fire,” as she called it, would be on the people’s faces when she would sing in church and that’s when she knew that God had truly given her an infectious gift.

And I will remember her best perhaps as she sang a song called “I Love the Lord”–her beautiful voice ringing out to tell the world that “He heard my cry, and pitied every groan. Long as I live, while troubles rise, I’ll hasten to. . .His throne.”

THAT’S the God I blog about. THAT’S the God I long for. THAT’S the God I serve. The God who hears our heart’s cry and pities every groan. I believe that’s exactly how He felt about Whitney.

Tag Cloud