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

Posts tagged ‘love’

Forever and Ever, Amen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huh?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura-Jane-Willis-1495462763

Laura Jane “Janie” Mills Willis

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The Old Paths: One Day When the Glory Comes

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

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

Not so with Selma.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As the theme song from Selma says:

“Now we right the wrongs in history

No one can win the war individually

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

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

We’ll cry glory, oh glory!”

when-the-glory-comes

 

“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: What about the children?

**This was originally published on Thursday, September 26, 2013, in my newspaper column, “The Old Paths,” in The Stokes News. Due to a website change a few years ago, the publishing company broke all links to our old articles which were archived online. This was a tragic mistake and resulted in the loss of thousands of newspaper articles. Little by little, I am putting my old columns on this blog so that they can be preserved. Each column is updated to reflect present times when transferred to this blog.**

Little did I know in early September 2013 when I penned a newspaper column about time healing our hurts that our county would suffer several horrendous hurts that very week. I had used the example of Sonia Luster—the 16-year-old killed in an automobile accident on her way to North Stokes High School in 2008—noting that she died the day before the Stokes Stomp, our county’s signature festival.

NSHS--Dee Luster

Sonia Luster’s mom, Dee, at the North Stokes High School graduation the year that Sonia would have graduated—wearing a shirt with a picture of Sonia graduating from an earlier grade.

Imagine my horror at the 2013 Stokes Stomp when I heard the tragic news that three other Stokes County youth had just been killed in auto accidents—one the night after I wrote my column, two others the night before the Stomp. My heart felt like lead as I was told the heartbreaking details of the wrecks that affected every high school in the county.

One victim was a West Stokes High School student, another a South Stokes High student, another a recent graduate of Meadowbrook Academy in Stokes County. One driver, who survived but was charged with DWI and two counts of felony death by motor vehicle, had attended North Stokes High.

I had left the county fair in King on Wednesday just an hour or so before the first wreck occurred on nearby Meadowbrook Road. On Friday, I had left a prayer meeting in Walnut Cove just an hour before the second wreck; it happened on Highway 89—the very road I traveled to get home. Being so near the accidents, both in place and time, made me strangely affected, although I knew none of the victims.

Not knowing them didn’t matter anyway. Mothers lost sons those nights. I am a mother of two sons, so this was heart-wrenching to me.

What was also devastating was the fact that alcohol was involved in both accidents. One driver was of legal drinking age, the other was not. Legal or not, no one should drink and drive. Why is this a problem? And why does Stokes County have one of the highest rates of alcohol-related crashes in the state?

Years ago, I sat on a committee that had received a grant to study the high incidence of alcohol-influenced wrecks in the county. We spent hours searching for the root of the problem and how to resolve it. We even brought in teenagers to help. An initiative was launched to lower the number of these accidents.

And still they happen. Why?

There are many reasons: lack of fulfillment in people’s lives that leads to alcohol abuse, that youthful feeling of invincibility which results in the skewed thinking of “It can’t happen to me,” too little awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving, etc.

One of the age groups most affected is youth ages 16 to 25. We can argue that we are not training up our children in the way they should go, that peer pressure to consume alcohol is strong, that irresponsible adults are purchasing alcohol for underage drinkers.

But I will also argue that there aren’t enough worthwhile activities for youth in Stokes County, especially on weekend nights. If you’re in King, it’s a little better; you are near Highway 52 which will take you in a flash to Winston-Salem where there are multiple things to do, such as bowling or going to the movies. In King itself, there may not be too much to do except eat at a restaurant that stays open late. The Stokes Family YMCA is located there, but it closes at 8 p.m. Friday night and 6 p.m. on Saturday.

Late at night in Walnut Cove, you can go eat at a couple of restaurants. That’s about it. You can’t even do that in Danbury, Pine Hall, Lawsonville or Sandy Ridge.

There are those of us in Walnut Cove dedicated to helping local youth prosper through education, recreation, service, a move of God; we are lobbying for a recreational center in town. We argue that kids need a place to shoot basketball, have space for games/seminars/tutoring, watch movies, hold Christian youth rallies and functions.

There are not even any real parks for children. There is an outdoor public basketball court in the London community of Walnut Cove—not ideal late at night or in freezing weather. There is Fowler Park—a lovely place but one which has no bathrooms or playground equipment. What kid wants to just sit under the picnic shelter or walk around the short path? At Lions Park, there is some rather outdated playground equipment, but again, no bathrooms unless baseball games are going on nearby.

So if you are a young person in Walnut Cove on a weekend night, you can either hang out in the Food Lion parking lot or hang out in the Food Lion parking lot. And repeat.

How do we get what we need for the youth? Community involvement is a start. We need more people to care about this issue. Most adults either have children, will have children or have/will have grandchildren who need a place for wholesome recreation in town. So you SHOULD care.

Some of you have lots of money that you can’t take with you. (Yeah, I said it.) Some of you know where to find money/grants, even if you don’t have any money personally. Some of you have land that would be a perfect place to locate a rec center. Some of you have skills that could be used to construct and outfit such a place.

So what’s stopping us? I say we can have a place in Walnut Cove (and other towns) that will give our kids somewhere to go to do something constructive. Would you rather see your kids at the local rec center playing handball, basketball or Uno late on a Friday night or out on back roads drinking illegally and then driving around because there’s no place to go?

If you are willing to put your hand to the plow to make this happen, contact me; I will be glad to welcome you to the group that is pushing to provide something for our youth in this town. My heart is to bless the children. I know the Town of Walnut Cove needs revenue; that’s why the leaders push for businesses to come to Town. But can you imagine how blessed Walnut Cove would be if Town leaders would get behind the effort to bless the Town’s children? Revenue would follow, per God’s promise that if you seek first His Kingdom, everything else you need will be added.

We don’t need any more young people killed on our roads because alcohol was an easy answer for “What is there to do?” That “easy” answer often turns into something hard for all of us to bear. We’ve had enough of that. It’s time to redeem this next generation. Who’s up for the task?

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A Veterans Day Remembrance: Jay Kitts

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

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

Or so she thought.

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

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

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

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

Waiting for Jay to arrive....

Waiting for Jay to arrive….

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

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

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Jay is home at last!

The Kitts family reunited!

The Kitts family reunited!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Home at last!

Home at last!

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

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

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

Peace in the Valley

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

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

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

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

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

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The entrance to the property

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

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

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

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The meadow I look at every day!

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

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

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Tucked away in the valley!

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

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

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Guineas from the meadow paying us a visit!

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

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My personal “Rivendell”!

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

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

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

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The hubster’s garden spot!

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

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

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

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Life at “Deer Creek Cottage”!

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

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

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Paradise even in winter!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our frequent visitor to the creek

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Old Paths: Pass It On

*This was published in The Stokes News on June 24, 2010, in my regular column, “The Old Paths.” Due to the fact that all Internet links were broken to our old articles when Civitas Media switched websites, I am slowly but surely posting all of my old columns in my blog so that they will be archived as they SHOULD’VE been on the newspaper website.

**This particular column was perhaps my very favorite of all I ever wrote. It was about my precious friend, Anita Burroughs Mabe, who died of cancer at the age of 46 on June 22, 2010. She passed away on our weekly newspaper press day, and I knew I had to write a column about her–whether or not I had time. So late that night when everyone else had left the newspaper office, I poured my heart out in this column.

When I finished proofing it, I looked at the clock; it was 3:11 a.m. on June 23. When I saw the 3:11, chills went all over me, because that particular number always reminded me of my beloved hometown of Walnut Cove, since Highway 311 runs straight through it. If anybody understood my one-track-mind calling to Walnut Cove, it was Anita.  I began to sob so vehemently that I fell off the chair into the floor where I lay for a while, weeping loudly in the grief of losing Anita. She had always supported my ministry to my hometown, and now she was gone. But there was still a mighty work of God to be done, and she would’ve urged me to continue.

The next spring, I sent off the application to finally incorporate the ministry God had told me to start in Walnut Cove–Times of Refreshing (on the Old Paths). I waited and waited for it to come back from the North Carolina Secretary of State’s office. When it arrived at last, I was taken aback by the date stamped on it–June 22, 2011. Exactly one year after Anita’s passage to Heaven, the ministry was approved by the State.

So every year on June 22, I celebrate the calling of God He put in me for Walnut Cove, and I think of Anita–that bright soul who is probably smiling down now, saying, “You go, girl! God’s got your back!” Here is the column I wrote the day she passed:

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

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

One of my favorite church youth group songs back when dinosaurs roamed the earth was “Pass It On.” I remember the swelling feeling in my heart as we sang those beautiful words, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going, And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing.”

We often sang it at summer camp, sitting around a campfire in the dark of the evening. I would sing it, tears in my eyes, yearning to be one of those sparks that would spread God’s love. I could envision the world catching on fire with the glory of the Lord as all of the “sparks” spread what they had to others.

We lost one of these “sparks” this week.

Anita Burroughs Mabe’s earthly light was extinguished on Tuesday, June 22, 2010.

Or was it?

My first clear memory of Anita was at First Baptist Church when I was six years old. I was sitting on the front row in Sunday School one summer morning when my little friend Anita walked in. My eyes bugged out at the change I saw.

In an era when all little girls wore dresses to church, Anita appeared in a little shorts jumpsuit–blue, if I remember correctly. What was even more shocking was the fact that her blond hair was almost gone–not just cut in the popular girl’s “pixie” style, but cut like a boy’s.

Turns out that while her mom was away, her dad had to chop off her hair for reasons I can’t remember now. Was it that five-year-old Anita had begun to cut it herself or did she have something in it like gum? I don’t recall.

Whatever the reason, she ended up coming to church dressed like the little boy she looked like that long ago day. I can still clearly see those big blue eyes defiantly daring me to say a word.

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

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

That spunk carried Anita through many a tough year. Diagnosed with cancer about five years ago, she fought the good fight of faith and did not waver in her belief that everything would be all right.

The day of her passing from the earthly realm was press day for me–the most demanding day of my week. I alternated between crying and laughing all day long as we rushed to get this week’s paper completed. I’d look over at my general manager, Shannon, also a dear friend of Anita’s, and tell a funny Anita story. We’d laugh awhile then grow silent and weepy again as we realized our time with her was done….for now.

As the day grew more hectic with reports of power outages in King and last-minute stories to write, I escaped by mentally reliving the serenity of my last day alone with Anita.

It was a May afternoon. There had been a Wednesday morning prayer meeting at Anita’s house. She sat on the couch, fully participating, even reading aloud her assigned Bible passage. We all watched a video composed of pictures taken at the benefit event held for Anita at Germanton Park the week before, set to beautiful praise and worship music. Those bluer than blue eyes that had changed very little from those in the determined face of the five-year-old girl I once knew welled up with tears of gratitude for the community support. As everyone began to leave, Anita looked at me and with a calm smile said, “Stay awhile, Les,” using her nickname for me.

We spent a few hours in her quiet living room, peace pervading the atmosphere. She, the ever-busy and always-in-demand, longtime funeral director, and I, the too-busy and also in-demand news editor–enjoying a slow and easy spring day, talking about the things of the Lord and the joy our children had brought to us.

At one point, her eyes widened as she looked at me, and she exclaimed, “You’re MARRIED!” I was flabbergasted. Not even my family knew that I had recently eloped, but somehow Anita sensed it. She was thrilled when I admitted that I had indeed remarried. For months, she had encouraged me to do so, telling me with a poignant knowledge that I better snatch up this opportunity because we never know when our last days on earth will be.

All good things must come to an end, and so did our rare interval of peace together. As I drove off, my last glimpse was of her waving to me as she very slowly and weakly walked to the mailbox, the bright sun shining down on her.

That same joy was on Anita’s face on Friday, June 11, as she attended her son Colby’s graduation at South Stokes High. She smiled at me and said, “Hey, girlie girl,” another of her nicknames for me. Later, I saw her in her wheelchair looking out onto the football field minutes before Colby marched down the track. Her face was expectantly smiling, almost childlike with joy and wonder.

No matter what your religious beliefs are, allow me to believe that’s what Anita’s face looked like this morning as she passed into the presence of her Savior. Before, she could “only imagine,” but now she knows.

The legacy of friendship and compassion that she left behind from her years of comforting the bereaved all across Stokes County is monumental. Was she perfect? No. Who is? Should she be idealized? No. She was mere flesh and blood, as are we all.

But even in her humanity, Anita carried with her a spark of the divine. That spark warmed me during a cold period in my life a few years back. How can I forget how she picked me up one winter’s night when I was feeling like a prisoner in my own life and took to me to Walmart, out to eat and riding around on dark Stokes County back roads late at night–just two gals pouring their hearts out to one another.

I believe you call that true friendship.

I told her how much I appreciated that at a time when many of the people I thought were friends had made themselves scarce while I struggled to stay afloat. She said  she would never forget something her daddy told her–that a true friend is someone who would drive from here to Georgia to bail you out of jail without even having to know if you were guilty or not.

A month or two later as I struggled to see the light of day from the pit I had fallen into, Anita once again came to get me. She took me to Kernersville and bought me a cheeseburger and fries.

She fed my body with my favorite comfort food, but she fed my soul with the unconditional love of God.

As I looked into the mirror on Tuesday while getting ready for work, I threw up my hands and cried out, “But I just want to talk to her again!” My world seemed a little darker with Anita’s spark extinguished.

But then a revelation hit me. Any candle that glows brightly and uses its fire to light other candles will never truly go out. That individual wick may be bare of light, but the same fire that once engulfed it now engulfs other candles that still burn brightly. A candle that has shared its fire with others is never truly extinguished.

And so Anita’s God-given spark lives on. What would she want us to do with it? Pass it on….by loving others with the love of God, reaching out to improve the lives of those around us, helping youth, praying for our communities, comforting those who are hurting and being a true friend no matter what.

We lost a friend temporarily, but while we yet live, let us endeavor to keep the fire of God’s love going. “It only takes a spark to get a fire going . . .Pass it on.”

**One way we are passing on that spark is by resurrecting the annual youth rally that Anita began in the summer of 2008. For years, she and another group of moms had gathered at the start of every school year to pray for their children. That gave her the idea to hold a “Stokes Stoked” youth rally to kick off each school year. The first one at Lions Park on Aug. 30, 2008 brought about 400 people out. The next summer, weather forced it indoors to London Gym, and the turnout was not as good. By the next summer, Anita was gone.

I felt then that we should continue the youth rally in her memory, but life was more than I could handle at that time. LAST SUMMER, however, was the time to do it! We reserved Lions Park for Sat., Aug. 30, 2014–remarkably enough, the exact same day and date that Anita held that original rally–and had over 500 people in attendance, with at least 24 local churches participating. We plan to hold STOKES STOKED again this year–probably around the Labor Day Weekend once more. Contact me via email at: theoldpathsatwalnutcove@yahoo.com if you would like to play a role or give a donation toward the many expenses we will incur–stage rental, hot dogs for giveaway, Bibles and more. LET’S PASS IT ON!

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