Where it all began
Proverbs 31:25 ~ She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.
I think if we really want to know where it all began we have to go WAY back and look to where it really all started. My Momma' is from the very deep southern parts of Arkansas and by the grace of God she met my Dad who happens to be from the most Northern tip of Michigan. Literally a 15 minute drive from the Canadian Border & some of the most beautiful back country you have ever laid eyes upon. She came here in tow with a friend one summer to work on a farm and found herself head over heels in love with the likes of the man I know as my Dad.
However, this story, MY story, began even farther back than the likes of those two love birds. It actually really started with these two: Jimmy and Juanita, also known as, My Papaw and Granny, To anyone that was lucky enough to know them, the greatest love story ever told. The kind of love you search your entire life for. The soulmate kind. The Once In A Life Time kind you see in the movies type love. The kind that stops you in your tracks, takes your breath away and when your eyes meet for the first time makes you literally say aloud, "There you are, I've been waiting my whole life to find you." That kind of love.
As a little girl growing up we didn't get to see them as much as I would have liked. Momma’ chose to live in the Northern part of Michigan with my Dad and to be near his family. My Momma' told me that I was about 4 when Granny had her seizure that caused her accident that put her in a coma. Shortly after they moved her into a nursing home where she stayed until her death. I remember very little about her other than she would sing a lot in the kitchen when we were there. Her voice would carry throughout the house, it was beautiful, inviting, and I remember wanting to be closer to it. I do remember sneaking down the hallway to the telephone table, climbing up and sitting so I could watch her in the kitchen from across the hallway.
She did manage to find me sitting there giggling while she sang once, she crossed the kitchen with a smile on her face, picked me up and took me in with her. She never did stop singing, “I will cling to the Old Rugged Cross, and exchange it some day for a crown.” (I would learn later in life that it was her favorite hymn.) She was cutting up peaches and sat me on the counter next to where she was working. I remember my Momma' coming in and snatching me up not long after.
Years later she would tell me how they were never allowed on the counter as children, let alone in the kitchen when Granny was cooking. It was just forbidden. No Children in the kitchen, but how her Mother had softened with age when the grandbabies had arrived. "How the times changed when you kids came along.", Momma' would say. That I was lucky for those moments I did have with my Granny, even if they were very few. Momma often said I should cherish the memories that I do have before the sickness took her. Sometimes that is easier said than done, I had very few memories of my Granny and some days I was worried I was losing even the ones I did have!
The years would come and go, as they went I would watch my parents together and there was no doubt that they loved one another. I just couldn't help but feeling like there was something more. I had always been the dreamer in our family. The one who felt like my wheels were spinning faster than they could carry me. I just KNEW there was something more out there. I couldn't grasp it, I couldn't find it, but I knew even as a little girl it existed and I was going to make it my life's mission to find it. It wouldn't be long until God would show me the first true sign that he did truly exist.
After my Granny went into the nursing home and we would go down to visit, sometimes our parents would take us with them. It wasn't something my Momma' ever talked openly about, nor my Dad. I don't think it was a subject that either of them knew how to approach without fighting with one another. My Momma' would often leave there in tears, or she wouldn't say much of anything, there was never an in between. Even though my brother and I would look at one another across the van and expect the other to know the answer, we never quite did. Papaw always just told us to pray. No matter what, we needed to pray, that God would pull us through it. So I did just that, each and every time we went there.
Going there meant that My Momma' got to see her Mother, but I started to grow disdain in my heart for even having to go. Mostly for the despair my mother would feel by the time we would turn to leave. Even as a young girl I could feel her hurt, see her guilt, hear the despair in her voice when she spoke. When you are THAT young, you “don’t know nothin’!” so you keep your mouth shut, respect your elders, mind your manners, and like my Dad would say, “Just sit back there and you be quiet.”
He meant well. Don’t take that out of context. In his own way I am sure he felt like that by us being quiet we were helping my Momma' by giving her what space he thought she needed. Like us I don’t think he quite knew what to say, and rather than say the wrong thing, he said nothing at all. After all these years, looking back, I don’t necessarily think that was what my Momma' was looking for at the time. Like I said, I was young and I didn't know much of "nothin!" so even if I had wanted to help I don't think that I could have. I prayed A LOT during those times. I wasn't sure what else to even do. In hind sight we all could have done things differently, but at the time the Lord had different plans.
I only ever got to go one time with Papaw alone to see Granny. Momma' was off doing something and he asked if I wanted to tag along. Even as young as I was I knew riding along with him was better than sitting at the house in the middle of the afternoon, so I gladly said yes. Papaw was a preacher, well a Reverend rather, and one of the best to ever grace this Earth if I do say so myself. There really wasn't anything more special than watching that man give a sermon about the good Lord in front of an entire congregation.
You honestly felt like he was speaking directly TO YOU no matter what message it was that he had chosen for that day. He really was something, and there hasn't been another like him since. Not one that could speak to my heart and soul in such a way. I can’t be certain if the Lord did that because he was my Papaw, or because he was THAT good of a preacher man. Either way, I’ve never met a man that could speak to my heart and soul about the good Lord the way that my Papaw Jimmy Lewis could.
Anyhow, he lived a pretty simple life my Papaw, he never needed much to survive. He used to tell me that as long as he had a few coins in his pocket, a bullet in his gun, and the Good Lord on his side he would never go hungry and he would never go without. He loved his family, he loved his church, he loved the Lord, and he loved the idea of eternal life after death in heaven with the Lord more than anything.
On this particular day God was going to show me what TRUE LOVE looked like. The one thing that I had been LOOKING for my entire childhood life and was JUST certain was out there, but couldn’t quite find. The part of me that I always felt like was missing from me even as a child. The good Lord knew that the one and only person that could show me what I needed to see was the man that I already admired so much because of his love for him.
When we got to the nursing home he grabbed his bible and checked his shirt and pants to make sure they were suitable. I smiled nervously at him; this was the part where the deep breaths usually started, followed by fighting back tears, and instead he winked back at me. I remember thinking how he looked like a giant standing there next to the car as he grabbed his Bible off the roof of the car and asked me if I was ready to go inside.
He must of known something was amiss because I just stood there staring at him with my head cockeyed waiting for the outburst that didn’t come. This was a strange turn of events for me, and even though I was a tad scared about what wasn't happening yet, I was certainly intrigued at what could come from this. When he pulled his handkerchief from his pocket I breathed a sigh of relief that it was finally happening, and yet all he did was wipe his nose. He smiled at me, “Pollen.,” he said, as we started to walk inside. I cracked a small smile at him, still uncertain at what was even happening, and all I knew is that it was making me more nervous with every second that passed.
The nurses all knew him by name. Hearing them call him "Mr. Lewis and Hey Jimmy!" made me giggle out loud. He smiled down at me and asked me if I knew the way. I told him I did, he told me to lead the way. When we got to Granny's room I went to sit in the chair outside the room and he asked me, "Child, what do you think you are doing?" To which I replied, "We always sit out here when we come. Sometimes we color, or read, but mostly we are told to just sit quietly while they go inside to visit." He asked me, "Have you ever been inside?" I told him I had a couple times and shrugged my shoulders. He looked at me with a smile and said, "Come on!," while he motioned me through the door.
It was just as I had remembered it was; when we were there the last time I mean. Momma' would call us in at the end of their visit and ask us if we wanted to talk to Granny. I had held her hand and tried to find words to say to a woman I couldn’t remember, that I didn’t know, and that I wasn’t even sure could hear me. Back then I never knew how much those moments would come to hinder my adult life when it came to having social anxiety. How unapproachable I would become as an adult because I would instantly shut myself down when forced into any type of situation when someone wanted INSIDE my bubble.
Papaw pulled a chair up for me to sit right next to the bed, and then he told my Granny, "Juanita I brought Rebecca with me today. She tells me she has been here a couple times before but something tells me she has NEVER really been inside and talked to you." As he raised his eyebrows in my direction, I knew that he was reading me like an open book. He was absolutely right. The only thing I had ever honestly said to her when I was standing there was, “I love you.” and “I’m Sorry.”
Until that moment, I had never had a reason to feel bad about it, I never felt there was anything wrong with how I had spoken to her previous to those moments. At the time 5 words were all I could muster, and they were enough for me. Even those 5 words were a struggle. Looking back now, I had failed miserably and I hadn't even known it, but God was about to show me that when you TRUST him it will change you FOREVER.
The way my Papaw spoke to my Granny was beautiful, so open ended. It was as if she was awake and staring right at him ready to converse back, and it literally caught me off guard. He wasn't upset, or weeping. The love in his voice when he spoke her name and told her of the Ladies at church that asked about her. Of their casseroles at the luncheon, and how Mrs. So & So was STILL making the SAME one because she knew how much Juanita loved it. How one of the ladies from the choir was STILL overcompensating for her not being there after all this time and singing just as loudly as ever. How the church was growing, and a younger crowd was coming with their Grandparents. How they had found and taken care of the bees nest again this year out near the back of the church.
How the Sunday school teacher had asked him for some extra funds as some of the boys decided to eat the paste, and she needed to replace it.
(I sat there with my nose crinkled up because I knew precisely which boys had eaten said paste, it was the same boys that poked the bees nest with a stick and got them riled up in the first place. They weren't nice boys, at least I didn't think so, they were mean to me. They would run through the cemetery next to the church over the graves and pretend they were pirates while they hit the headstones with sticks.
I liked to stand next to Papaw at the end of Church Service outside when he would shake hands with all of the people in the congregation. It took some maneuvering to get from the very front pew of the church out through all the people to the back by his side, but dang it if I wasn't proud as a peacock standing next to that man when I would get there. Momma' always like to sit right up front when we would visit, so when church would end, and the singing was over, I think she sensed it as much as as she knew I just loved being by him. She would smile down at me, nod towards the door, and say, "Go on!" and GO ON I usually did.
The doors would open wide and everyone would come out and shake hands, hug, visit and just live in the moments right after the service. Papaw would talk to EACH and EVERY person in the line, and even though they knew who I was he would always motion over to me and introduce me anyway. As a little girl that was SUCH a BIG deal to me. "You look just like your Momma'." "Your Sweet as a Georgia Peach. " "I just love your dress." Even the older men in the church would give me butterscotch candies or show me their pocket watches, and tell me a small story that went along with how they ended up with it.
It was always such a beautiful time, but those awful boys would sneak up behind us and yank on my braids. Every. Single. Time.
Once my Uncle Donnie caught them, and made them sit over near the fence. They weren't allowed to move until it was time to go. I remember looking over at them and they stuck their tongues out at me. Wicked little boys they were. Jealous over a little girl. A Pastor's Granddaughter no less. It was a tad ridiculous. I would learn as a teenager from my mother that those boys belonged to a single mother in the church, and that Papaw was kind of the only real male role model they had. They didn't really mean to be mean to me, they just didn't know any better. I remember telling her that if I wanted to be teased like that; I would just stick close to the likes of my own brother. Kind of like I did when he embarrassed me SO bad in church that I never sang in front of a congregation ever again!)
Then he stopped and chuckled as if the two of them were stuck somewhere in time laughing together over an inside joke. There was no sadness, no bitterness. He wasn't even angry. Then he started talking about the weather, the temperature, that he was wearing short sleeves in the church because it was so hot.
I sat in complete disbelief at what was happening in front of me. I literally fell in love with what was happening before my eyes. When he opened to read from the bible I knew for the first time in my life that I had a purpose. I had listened to him more times than I could count stand in front of an entire congregation and read the word of God, but this was different. This was something else entirely.
This was a different side of him I had never seen before. He spoke with such conviction, such passion for what he was saying. You could have heard a pin drop in that room if it weren't for him reciting scripture. It was the most intently I had ever listened to anything in my entire life, and when he was done he looked up at my Granny and Thanked her for listening.
He continued to talk with her and then asked me if he could be alone with her for just awhile. I shook my head yes, but this time before I left her room I asked if I could tell her Good-Bye. It was the very first time I wanted to, and looking back now I think parts of me made peace with certain parts of my life that day.
He looked me at and nodded, and when I reached by her bedside it was the first time I really noticed how peaceful she looked lying there. Being there with him that day showed me many things, and the greatest of them was Love. What I had witnessed between them that day was rare, and it wasn’t something I was ever lucky enough to ever see again. My Papaw loved my Granny, she was his soulmate and as long as she was living and breathing on this planet he belonged to her. That. Is. Love. Not only did he love and adore her, he did so with the Lord and the Bible and when he added the two together it was the most phenomenal thing I have ever witnessed in my entire life.
I never knew how long we were really there, it wasn't until we stopped at the store on the highway on the way home and he let me get some penny candy that he told me that what I had heard was him practicing his upcoming sermon. I told him that it was beautiful. He asked me if I had been saved and allowed Jesus into my heart. I told him I wasn't sure I was ready, and that I didn't think Jesus would want to live some place so small.
I remember him chuckling as we got back in the car as he said, "Child, Jesus gave all so that we could be here today. You don't have to have a lot for it to matter. It isn't about the space, it is about giving that space to him that matters." It would be MANY years later, LONG after he was gone before I would finally come to realize how true those words really were.
I asked him once if he knew if Granny was saved. He smiled at me, got real quiet, and then said, “I live every single day knowing that no matter what the good Lord has planned for her and I, we will spend eternity with him. The only thing she loved more than me were her babies, the only thing more than that were her grandbabies, and the only thing she loved more than all of you was the Lord. I have no doubts your Granny was saved Child, and that she would want that for you as well. Just as I do.”
I had the smallest taste of what real and wholesome love was truly like as a child. I would spend many a day as a young teen and into my adult years chasing after what I thought that would be. Many a heartache would come to pass, and many blessings would then in turn be blocked from my own doing. God tried to teach me a valuable lesson that day, that I didn't learn the value from until MUCH later in life.
He is amazing in that way. Showing us the value in the moments, lessons, and plans that come and go as he sees fit. He doesn't give us what we WANT, in turn he gives us what we NEED. We could learn a valuable lesson in just having patience and trusting that his plans for us will always prevail. The rest will reveal itself as he sees fit, and they will do so in his time.
So even though my walk with the Lord would be a difficult one for me to understand in the years to come, he never left my side. In the blogs to come you will learn how I blocked my own blessings, pointed the blame in every direction but my own, and was unable to see the bigger picture as I was trapped behind the shadow that the devil had cast upon my life. It would take some time for me to surface, and for my true calling to come to light.
Now that we know where it all began, we can start the process back….
Jeremiah 29:11 ~ For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.