PART II OF A DREAM COMING TRUE. . .
When I arrived that early spring day of 2011 at Walnut Ridge Assisted Living at the behest of the imperial Mrs. Lois Dodson Smith, I was nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. I loved Lois–feeling a kinship with her as far as our intense love for Walnut Cove–but she intimidated me just a little. She was a woman who knew what she wanted and usually got it, too! And she could be stern if crossed.
So with a bit of trepidation, I entered her room where I found her with her daytime sitter, Robin, and my mother, whom Lois had also requested to see. My mother had known Lois all of her life, having grown up in First Baptist Church where Lois was a prominent member. Lois had always been fond of my mom, calling her “my little girl” for as long as my mother could remember. And now, my mother went faithfully every Thursday to minister in song to the residents of Walnut Ridge, always taking time to visit with Lois, as she had for many, many years.
As we went to the dining room to talk, Lois pinned me to the chair with her penetrating gaze: “If I gave you my house, Leslie, what would you do with it?” Robin, who loved Lois like a mother, had prepared me somewhat for what Lois wanted to talk to me about, and I was still somewhat in shock over it.
You see, Lois owned a large, two-story white house on Second Street in Walnut Cove. She claimed that it was one of the oldest houses in town–perhaps THE oldest. She had moved into it at age six after her father–the owner and proprietor of the famous Dodson Hotel–had passed away suddenly. From that point on, Lois lived in the majestic white house all of her life until she made the difficult decision to move to the Assisted Living at age 86.
In the early part of the 21st century, Lois donated her house to the Town of Walnut Cove, asking them to use it for their town hall. Her love for her town was well-known, as was her generosity and willingness to help others. The local paper did a big story on the donation, with a picture of Lois sitting on her porch.
The years passed, and the Town did not follow through with Lois’ desire to convert the house into a town hall. After studies were done, they determined that the cost to transform the house into a place of business such as they needed would be prohibitive, and parking would be an issue. The once-regal house stood vacant, deteriorating more and more as the years went by. The Town and other organizations used it for storage, and Lois constantly chafed at the thought that her house stood empty.
Once, in about 2006, my mother was visiting with Lois as she did weekly. Lois said, “Judy, I wish I could get my house back from the Town. I would give it to you and Leslie and your ministry and let y’all do something good with it!” My mother told me about the incident, but I merely shrugged my shoulders in resignation, never dreaming that the house would be owned by anyone but the Town.
So when the Town voted to give the house back to Lois in Feb. 2011, I was shocked. But I never dreamed she would remember that once upon a time she had wanted to give it to us. In fact, I don’t remember the thought ever crossing my mind.
Until the day the sitter called me. . .
As I sat with Lois, I nervously told her the visions and dreams I had for the town I loved so passionately–to have a place of refuge for those who were weary, burnt out, at the end of their rope. To see the the drug addicts set free. To see the alcoholics delivered. To see the chains of poverty and ignorance broken. To see God’s Spirit poured out in a mighty way in Walnut Cove!
Lois listened carefully and questioned me more specifically. How would I use her house for that?
I told her we would use it as a place for church groups to meet, for Bible studies to be held, for classes on healthy living, for workshops on how to break addictions, for a food pantry, for Christian counseling sessions, for whatever the Lord directed. I also related to her my childhood dream of having a chamber set aside for missionaries/evangelists/preachers/teachers to be able to stay for a time of seeking the Lord and/or rest. I mentioned as well that I wanted a room set aside as a historical museum for Walnut Cove, appropriately named the Lois Dodson Smith Room.
When my spiel was done and my heart for ministry had been poured out, Lois sat back with a satisfied look on her face. “I want you to take my house–you and Judy–and do something good for this town with it,” she said matter-of-factly. There were occasional times in that final year of her life that her mind wandered, but there were more times that she was the same old Lois she had always been, and this was one of those times.
And once she made her decision, she never wavered. Lois constantly talked to her sitters and the employees at Walnut Ridge about her desire to give the house to us. She was even bold enough (as always!) to tell the pastor and deacons of First Baptist Church who came to visit that she wanted her house to go to “Judy’s crew,” as she often called us.
But due to legal circumstances beyond our control, Lois’ will was never changed. Although our ministry, Times of Refreshing, was incorporated as a non-profit entity with the State of NC (churches are automatically nonprofit anyway, but we went the extra mile), we were not a 501(c)3 federally. For this reason, the house wasn’t transferred to us, despite Lois’ wishes.
I will never forget the last time that I ever saw her alive. It was a Tuesday–the worst day of the week in many ways for me. Tuesdays were press days and often found me working 18 hours straight to put out The Stokes News. When the phone rang that late July morning, I nearly didn’t answer it, but now I thank God I did.
It was Robin, Lois’ beloved sitter, telling me that Mrs. Lois wanted to see me. I began to make my excuses that it was press day, and I was running behind. Robin, who knew the rigid Lois better than probably anyone else, simply listened and then repeated, “Lois wants you to come down here.”
I sighed and knew then and there that I would obey. Within the hour, I was in Lois’ room, along with Robin and my mother. Lois kept asking, as she did every Thursday when my mother visited, “What are you all doing with my house?” We kept telling her that we couldn’t do anything with it, since it wasn’t ours. She insisted that the house be given to us. We once again repeated that the decision to do that was out of our hands. She even instructed Robin to pick up the phone and call her lawyer. I asked if we should leave the room, being very uncomfortable with the thought of being present while she talked to her lawyer. Lois told us to stay right where we were.
And so we did, eying each other nervously. We had never once asked for the house to be given to us, and although we felt that her offering it was God’s gift to us, we didn’t want to get in the middle of anything or cause trouble.
As I left her room later that day, I hugged her and told her I loved her. At the door, I looked back at her as she sat upright in her favorite chair. Her face was staring at the wall in front of her, leaving me to see only her regal profile. Her face was solemn, and somehow I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would never see her alive again. Tears sprang to my eyes, and I left quickly before I began to weep openly–something I finally did once I was alone in my car.
On Thu., Aug. 3, my mother saw Lois for the last time. They discussed the house which had not yet been willed to us, and Lois’ last words to my mother were, “It’s in the Lord’s hands now, Judy.”
Five days later, Lois Dodson Smith passed from this earth at the age of 93. Her house went to First Baptist Church, per her unchanged will. Bitterly disappointed, my mother and I decided to trust Lois’ last words, leaving it to the Lord. We never approached the legal system nor the church, opting rather to avoid any trouble or ill will and to honor Lois’ memory peacefully.
What had seemed like God’s beautiful answer to my childhood request to have an “Elisha house” now seemed, through Lois’ sudden death, to be no answer at all. To come so close to your dream and feel it slip away is a heart-wrenching thing, but I kept hearing Lois say, “It’s in the Lord’s hands now.”
And so it was. And so He miraculously moved. And so, through the goodness of many people, the dream did not die after all. . .
(Continued in “If You Build It–Part III”)