Of funerals and letting go

CSLewisQuote_purpleI went to two funerals yesterday, and I’m working on a third (my own).

The first one was through the pages of a book – the true story of a little girl whose family loved her very much. A tragic accident cut short her very full and vibrant 5-year-old existence.

The second one was in the church where I grew up – the true story of a good man who lived long and prospered. He was 86, and I grew up with his sons.

The third one … well, we’ll get to that. First I want to talk about Maria Sue Chapman and Roy Glenn Provence and the marks they made on the world.

ChoosingToSee_coverIn the book I was reading yesterday morning, written by Maria’s mom, Mary Beth Chapman (wife of contemporary Christian singer Steven Curtis Chapman), we get to know Maria as a giggly, silly, princess of a girl who loved to laugh and dance, climb the monkey bars, swing, and play with her big brother Will. Her mom paints a full picture of Maria, from the moment Steven laid eyes on her in China to the day they said goodbye to her five years later.

Excerpts from Maria’s funeral, as well as the hours and days immediately after the accident, show that the Chapman family and friends – while grieving – believed God to be sovereign, loving and full of grace, mercy and hope.

Even in the midst of wondering why the accident had to happen, the family’s aim was to honor their sweet girl and bring glory to God through her death, by witnessing to the fact of His goodness and our need to turn to Jesus as Savior.

In the middle of my grieving with the Chapman family, I had to put the book down to get ready for another funeral. (Click here to read my review of the book on my other blog.)

Fast forward a couple of hours to Pleasant Valley Missionary Baptist Church.

RoyProvence
Roy Glenn Provence, 1929-2016

Roy Provence, by all accounts, lived a full and prosperous life.

Was he rich? Not in worldly possessions. He certainly made a decent living and provided for his family, but his real riches were evidenced by his loving wife, children and extended family, a boatload of friends and the mark he made on the world by serving the Lord through his church and his daily life. All you had to do was look around the sanctuary yesterday to see the impact he had on all of us.

Roy’s son Keith, the youngest, was my high school classmate. The night before Roy died, he asked Keith to sing at the funeral.

And Keith, while grieving, stood at the front of the sanctuary, guitar in hand, and carried out one of his dad’s final requests:

Farther along we’ll know more about it,
Farther along we’ll understand why.
Cheer up, my brother, live in the sunshine,
We’ll understand it all by and by.

Roy knew Jesus, and he led his family to know and serve Jesus, too. God’s presence was evident in that place yesterday, for we know – as Roy’s oldest son, Ron, preached – that Roy was with Jesus and that Jesus was among us.

We grieve for Roy, we hurt for his family, but we are not without hope.

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

In Jesus, we have hope. We have peace, mercy and joy, even as we grieve the loss of a beloved one.

We know that Roy is in a better place. No more pain, sorrow or suffering. He is rejoicing with Jesus!

We miss Roy, but – if the Provences are anything like my family after we lost my dad, and I know they are – we wouldn’t ask for him back for a second. For we are the ones who see only this side of heaven. Roy has crossed over into the arms of his Savior. There is no better place to be, my friends.

So … I bet you were curious about the third thing.

My own funeral – the true story of a recovering perfectionist.

Perfectionist tendencies don’t die easily. I tend to struggle, strive, question, beat myself up, beat others up (unfortunately) and generally plow through life on my own power.

Trouble is, my own power doesn’t get me very far. It doesn’t help me to be very gracious or loving – to me, to others, to my Savior. It means I design my life according to my own plans and schemes.

Pitiful, eh?

So I need help.

The summer I graduated from college, I spent a bit of time with my Uncle Bill in Yuma, Ariz. He gave me a book that I’ve come to consider the best daily devotional book I’ve ever read: My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. (I’ve found so much wisdom – and conviction – in the pages of this little book that I’ve given it to several people as gifts over the years.)

The Jan. 15 reading (coincidentally, my friend Keith’s birthday) talks about a “white funeral.”

“There must be a ‘white funeral,’ a death with only one resurrection – a resurrection into the life of Jesus Christ. Nothing can defeat a life like this. It has oneness with God for only one purpose – to be a witness for Him.”

I’ve spent a good amount of time striving. For the past few years, I’ve struggled, questioned, researched, agonized, fretted and strategized over how I could serve the Lord and be a witness to Him through my writing, my career and my everyday life.

My writing serves a twofold purpose: 1) to help bring extra income to my family (and by extra I mean eliminate the paycheck-to-paycheck existence) while allowing us to bless others with our abundance, and 2) to be a witness to my Savior’s goodness, kindness and mercy.

Most of my striving in this area has been figuring out a way to make both of those goals mesh: to tell stories authentically, to be honest and transparent about my life (the good and the bad) and to draw people in without coming across as greedy and selfish (because of the ways I might earn money through blogging: sponsored posts, affiliate links and the like).

Bottom line: If I had to choose one, it would be Jesus.

My relationship with Him makes everything else possible. If I didn’t have Him, I would have no hope, no joy, no peace.

And probably no friends. (Maybe my dogs. Maybe.)

While my outward life may not always look like the picture of Jesus’ love and mercy, He is there with me. He goes ahead of me, behind me and beside me. Sometimes He carries me on His back. (He certainly carried the burden of my sin on the Cross.) Jesus has saved me from myself more times than I can count.

And while you may not be able to tell it, my No. 1 goal is to bring others to know Him, too, despite my foibles and fumbles, my feeble attempts to be like Him.

“There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, NLT).

There is no other name under heaven that deserves honor and glory except the name of Jesus. I know this to be true.

So I strive, I strain, I struggle, I plot and I plan.

And all of it is in vain.

For, as Oswald Chambers says, “Death means you stop being. You must agree with God and stop being the intensely striving kind of Christian you have been. We avoid the cemetery and continually refuse our own death. It will not happen by striving, but by yielding to death. It is dying – being ‘baptized into His death’ (Romans 6:3).”

As Mary Beth Chapman discovered – after Rambo-ing through most of her life – God is good, He has a plan, and His plans are not always the same as our plans:

“Real success in the kingdom of God is not about being strong and looking good and knowing all the right answers. It’s about continually yielding oneself to Jesus and determining to take purposeful little steps of obedience, and the ragged reality that it’s all about God and His grace at work in us.”

These people – Maria Sue Chapman and her family, Roy Provence and his family – have all witnessed to me of the grace, mercy and love of Jesus.

As King David cried out to God for rescue from physical foes, I cry out to Him for rescue from my own enemies of perfectionism, weak faith, reliance on self … of the times I’ve failed to be a witness to His goodness and faithfulness.

Psalm61.3purpleI’m having a white funeral. My death to self won’t be an easy one, but don’t worry: The God of Israel will be my rear guard.

What about you? Do you need to have a white funeral?

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A simple Christmas

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10, NASB

Christmases in the Oakley house are pretty simple. I would characterize them as more sentimental than material, and for that I’m grateful. Being “poor” in worldly wealth (but not in spirit) has its advantages!

These are some of the things that have allowed me to feel abundantly blessed this Christmas:

SHOPPING

Heavenly Treasures global market at our church. I bought gifts for all the women on the Taylor side of our family (immediately family, that is). All the proceeds go to small-business owners (which may simply mean one artisan struggling to feed her family somewhere in Cambodia, Vietnam or another area where poverty is the norm). Blessings: 1) We bought these gifts for a fraction of what we would have paid in stores; 2) they are handcrafted; 3) most of all, we helped someone who’s hurting in another part of the world.

I also took advantage of a clearance sale online and bought seven copies of a book I read years ago – a book I wish I could give to every woman I know: $5 apiece, one for each woman in the Taylor-Oakley clan.

My stepson, Courtney, who lives in Oklahoma, was blessed recently with a promotion and a good raise, and because one of my main missions in life is to help people be good stewards of their God-given blessings, instead of buying him a gift he doesn’t necessarily need, or writing him a check like we often do at Christmastime, we put money into his savings account at the bank where I work.

When I turned 50 last month, Bruce pooled his money with birthday money from my mom, and he took me to the jewelry store. (This is the type of splurge I rarely indulge in, but I figured a half-century was a special enough occasion.) He helped me pick out a beautiful opal ring. I’ve always loved opal, and this ring is so special to me.

So because we splurged at birthday time, we kept it simple for Christmas, although keeping it simple has always been our norm. We have such abundant blessings throughout the year, we don’t buy much for each other at Christmastime. We also have our anniversary coming up next week, so Bruce suggested we combine the occasions and buy a house gift for ourselves. We really don’t know what that might be, but while we were shopping Saturday for my brother and his stepson, we ran across a DVD copy of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” (Bruce is a mixture of realist and sentimentalist, and often the sentimental side wins – he loves the idealism of this movie, and so do I, although I fall closer to the realist side of the fence. And we both love old movies and the great Jimmy Stewart.) So here’s a recap of our conversation in the store when I picked up the movie:

Me: “Do we have this on DVD?”
Bruce: “I don’t think we have it on DVD or anything else.”
Me: “Household gift. Ten dollars.”
Bruce: “Great.”

End of conversation. End of Christmas shopping for Bruzy. Simple.

This type of Christmas spirit allows me to breathe during the holidays, because I hate shopping. It’s a little easier at Christmas because then I’m shopping for others, but I still would rather sit near a sunny window with a good book than fight the crowds at the shopping center.

MUSIC

I could listen to Amy Grant’s Christmas albums year-round. Oh, what am I saying – I do listen to Amy Grant’s Christmas albums year-round. You might hear “Tennessee Christmas,” “Breath of Heaven” or “Welcome to our World” in my car during the blazing heat of July. To me, these songs and albums are timeless and always a breath of fresh air. Each album is better than the last, and she includes some incredibly beautiful pieces in the mix. The last album, “A Christmas to Remember,” is especially full of pieces that cause me to stop what I’m doing (unless I’m driving), close my eyes and savor every note. I also tend to wear out my Christmas albums by: Collin Raye, Andrea Bocelli, The Carpenters, and John Denver & the Muppets. Heck, even the classically trained Bocelli sings with Miss Piggy on his album. My favorite Christmas song? “Oh Holy Night,” especially Martina McBride’s beautiful rendition. Bruce’s favorite? “Silent Night” – and John and the Muppets do a pretty good job of that, singing it first in German (the language it was written in), then English. Bocelli sings it in three languages.

MOVIES/TV SPECIALS

Since we canceled our satellite service in August, I didn’t get to watch wall-to-wall Food Network like I love to do between October and December, and I didn’t get to OD on the sappy movies on Hallmark Channel, but we still have the good ol’ standbys on VHS (taped from TV in the mid-1980s) and a few on DVD. Another challenge this year: Bruce and I had about four weeks to pull together the White River Christmas Half-Marathon & Relay (long story), and my only Christmas-special “viewing” would fall more into the category of background noise. Nevertheless, I got to listen to these as I did my half-marathon work or cooked for family: Rudolph, Frosty, Charlie Brown (I love Linus’ soliloquy on “what Christmas is all about”), and my favorite, the Grinch (another lesson on the true meaning of Christmas, plus it rhymes!). I also had these movies in the VCR: “Christmas in Connecticut” (my favorite Christmas movie, but only the Barbara Stanwyck version) and “White Christmas” – “snow, snow, snow, snow!” I think I even listened to “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” early in the season. Oh, I almost forgot: I did get to sit and watch an entire movie, start to finish, when Bruce and I spent Dec. 23 with Mom watching the remake of “Miracle on 34th Street.” (The 1994 version isn’t quite as good as the original, but the cute little girl and the beautiful scenery [and wardrobe] make up for it.) Movies I didn’t get to watch: “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Story.” (There’s still time, right?)

FAMILY (FURRY AND FOUR-LEGGED)

Our two fur-babies are … well, my babies. I have a stepson, but I never gave birth to children of my own, and Salsa and Pepper warm my heart every day, even 30 seconds after they’ve infuriated me by wetting the carpet, barking incessantly or begging for snacks. We call our girls The Spice Dogs, and when I created this blog in 2007, they were part of the inspiration for the name (I was also baking spice cookies that evening). They’re good help around the kitchen, too: When I drop a bit of food while chopping, mincing or mixing, they rush to help me clean it up.

FAMILY (HUMAN)

I’m writing this on Christmas morning, 10 a.m. (savoring a steamy and wonderful cup of coffee with my favorite flavored creamer). We’ve spoken to some family members by phone today but haven’t gathered for the big celebration yet. We’ll go to Mom’s later for a feast of food and fellowship (more on the food below). I look forward to seeing those I rarely see throughout the year because of busyness, physical distance or, dare I say, apathy (on my part as much as anyone’s).

Bruce has been sick the past couple of weeks, and I’ve been trying to figure out why this cold/sinus junk has caused me more worry than other recent minor ailments. And why I might have seemed to overreact yesterday when he wanted to run a longer distance than I thought he should. Could it be that we’re “overdue” for a Crohn’s flare-up? The average for Crohn’s patients is 5 years, and his latest flare-up started in 2007 (and I did not marry an “average” guy!). I realize that it’s insane to worry – God has us covered. I suppose it’s just an opportunity to flex my trust muscles; after all, He is the Great Physician.

On Christmas Eve, Bruce got an opportunity to be the social guy that he is. We started with an afternoon run with some dear friends, the Tuckers; a family member, Bill, from out of town whom we had never had the opportunity to run with before; an awesome running buddy, Rita – who is growing to be a great running partner for me because, even though she’s a lot faster, she is sweetly willing to hang back with me, the slow one. She and I have had some great conversations, and she’s really fun (yesterday, we conspired to pretend we ran up a crazy hill when we saw Bruce and Shane – and I swear it was her idea! Unfortunately, we topped the hill and the guys hadn’t paid a bit of attention to us!).

I should have a separate category called Family (Running), because our running family is really precious to us. No space today to count all the ways, but in the spirit of Christmas, I’ll mention the great run last Tuesday night before our Roadrunners club Christmas party. Again, the speedsters took off without Slow Suzy, but Rita stayed behind with me. (She has a good heart.) On another note, I loved being able to attend a Christmas party in my sweaty leggings, running shirt and sports watch. (That’s just the way we roll!) This was only three days after my work Christmas party, which was beautiful and wonderful (except for the slightly inebriated Santa), but for which I made a most unfortunate choice of shoes, one of which had to come off before the party was over because my left foot was killing me!

But back to the main topic: Family (Human). After our run, I rushed to get clean and start the pecan pies, which needed to be out of the oven by 4:45 so we could attend the Christmas Eve service at Mom’s church. This church service has become a bit of a tradition for Bruce and me, starting even before we moved here in 2010. West Baptist always has a beautiful Christmas Eve service (which could also fall under the Music category). As I was whipping up the filling for the pies, I realized that someone had put the vanilla extract bottle into the cupboard with about three drops of extract remaining. (Seriously, who would do that?) Mom – on speed dial – to the rescue. Fortunately she’s less than a mile away. I sent Bruce over there, told him not to stop by our church to make sure the bathrooms were clean (part of his job), not to pass Go, not to collect $200. Just get back here with the vanilla. And he did.

The pies? Well, let’s just say the jury’s still out. I had to leave them in the oven (turned off) and put them back on to bake after all the evening’s festivities. I’m still not sure they’re quite right. But I’m also pretty sure no one will leave the table hungry this afternoon, pecan pies or no.

But wait! There’s more! (Isn’t there always?)

After the service at West, we went to my Aunt Pat’s across the street from our house. Her son-in-law, the aforementioned Bill (running buddy from out of town), had requested a family get-together in the spirit of the old days (the old days of our family, that is). Aunt Pat’s relatives from both sides gathered in her kitchen, which is only cramped when lots of relatives visit. Strange, she noted, we have all this space in the rest of the house, but everyone congregates in the kitchen and dining room. Not strange to me at all – Aunt Pat makes some of the best holiday treats west of the Mississippi. Can you say peanut butter fudge?

And then … we left that party to go to our church, Fellowship Bible Church in the old Landers Theater on Main Street. Whereas the West Baptist celebration was bright, colorful and upbeat, the Fellowship service was quiet, candlelit and reverent. Both services were full of beautiful music, and each was unique and meaningful in its own way. Each service fed my spirit and focused light on the One whose birth we celebrate, and whose Light takes away the darkness.

The Oakleys ended the evening together quietly – mama in her kerchief (OK, a red plaid flannel PJ shirt) and papa in his cap (his ubiquitous hooded sweatshirt), with one of the fur-children nestled under her bed down the hall and the other one begging for belly rubs. Both two-legged Oakleys spent the next hour reading, growing sleepy and sipping … okay, people, I’m not gonna lie. I wasn’t sipping a picture-perfect mug of steamy hot chocolate. I was indulging in a 10 p.m. glass of diet Coke, which I rarely drink after 3 p.m. And Bruce was sipping apple juice or water or something.

Now back to our fantasy.

FOOD

Three things I almost insist on having at Thanksgiving and Christmas are pecan pie, Cranberry Salad (made with red gelatin, apples, oranges, pineapple and pecans) and Aunt Pearl’s Potatoes. (As I’ve mentioned before, we don’t have an Aunt Pearl and have no idea who she is, but we loooove her hash-brown casserole!) And because I’m the one who has a strong need for these three dishes, I’ve become the designated maker of them. How else am I going to be sure it happens? The pies … we’ll see. (Dec. 29 update: Let’s just call them “pie soup” and be done with it.) The cranberry stuff is ready, and the potatoes will go into the oven soon.

I also have a year-round craving to bake, but my schedule doesn’t allow it very often anymore, so the holidays are when I get to indulge in that. Even when I’m tired, baking sweet treats, breads, even pizza dough, makes me very, very happy.

And then there are the dirty dishes. But since this is a post about counting blessings, being with family and remembering our Savior’s birth, we’ll skip over that part.

Post-script: leftovers (lots of them)

Have you ever eaten mashed potatoes for breakfast? Yeah, me, too.

REMEMBRANCES

My dad died 15 years ago this week. Every Dec. 23, I think about the day he died. That was a day full of pain and sadness, but knowing that my dad knew Jesus makes it so much easier. Even on that day, we had a measure of indescribable peace knowing he was no longer in pain (the pain my brother and I had known him to have our entire lives) and he is with Jesus now. Dad had told a relative just that morning that he was ready to go and was not afraid to die. None of us knew then that this would be his last day on earth. But we have the hope that surpasses all human ability to understand, and that’s because we know the Savior he rests with now.

Dad died 11 days before my wedding. In the ICU, when we weren’t sure whether he could hear us or not, as I held his hand I told him he needed to stick around and give me away next week, that I wasn’t ready to let go of him. But the Father had other plans, and Dad was gone within a couple of hours. That’s OK. My plans aren’t necessarily God’s plans, and His ways are not always my ways. He is sovereign, He is wise and He is, above all, GOOD. He takes care of us, even when we don’t always like how He goes about it. But even amid the not-liking, we had blessings: My Uncle Charles and Aunt Pat, who had just arrived at their daughter Kathy’s house in South Carolina when they got the news of Dad’s death in the evening, turned right around the next morning and drove back to Arkansas. They were here in time for his funeral. Now, that’s family.

God has blessed me with good family, good friends, a good job, an abundance of physical comforts (too much sometimes) and an ever-increasing awareness of just how good He really is. I thank Him for everyone He has put into my life, whether it’s to teach me, to reach me or just to bless me with caring and warmth.

As we celebrate His incarnate presence on the earth, may each of you feel His love, remember His sacrifice and give your life to Him.

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6, NKJV

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Goodbye, Sheriff Taylor

(CNN) — “Actor Andy Griffith, who played folksy Sheriff Andy Taylor in the fictional town of Mayberry, died Tuesday at the age of 86, his family said.”

A quick glance at my iGoogle news page while I ate a turkey sandwich during my lunch break Tuesday made me alter what I had planned to write about. The first headline that caught my eye, and that prevented me from reading any others: “Actor Andy Griffith dead at 86.”

I had just spent a hot hour-plus standing in the drive-through lanes at one of my bank’s branches, handing out little flags, patriotic wristbands and bottles of water, just like we employees do each July. In the minutes between cars, I was pondering the Fourth of July and what I would write about it.

I’d been trying to compose a July Fourth post in my head for a week or two, and I had no idea how I could do this day justice with my words. My dad, Bruce’s dad and many of our relatives and friends gave of themselves to their country, something I’ve never done – at least not in the way they did. I’ve never experienced that living sacrifice that so many demonstrated so ably and nobly, many of them before I was born.

So how could I write with any depth of insight about what it took for them to serve their country, both in times of war and beyond?

I can’t.

I can only say how grateful I am to my dad, my father-in-law, my uncles and countless others for what they gave up for me. They gave me a country where I could work, worship, play and love my family, then go to sleep at night without fear.

They gave me a country where a town like Mayberry can exist in every state, if we want it to.

Sure, those days of Mayberry were the 1960s, and we’re much more sophisticated now, aren’t we? We have touch-screen phones, spray-on tans, automated teller machines, and refrigerators that remind you when you’re out of eggs. Heck, I bet that fridge would even order you a dozen eggs and a gallon of milk and have it delivered to your door if you asked it to. We barely have to lift a finger to get through life these days.

But is that such a good thing?

We talk to each other by emailing, IM’ing or texting, not by picking up the phone, dialing and listening to a live voice (yeah, I’m guilty of it, too). The chirping bird I listen to the most? It’s the ring tone I hear when Mom calls me on my cell. At my Nanny and Papa’s house, if you wanted to make a phone call you had to wait for one of the other parties on your party line to hang up. I bet kids today don’t even know what a party line is.

Remember Sarah, the operator on “The Andy Griffith Show”? When Andy or Barney needed to call Mount Pilot or Raleigh, they talked to Sarah first. She had to put the call through.

Sarah knew everybody’s business.

So did Gomer, Goober, Floyd, Emmett, Howard, Aunt Bee and her friend Clara.

And when an outsider happened by, he wasn’t an outsider for long. Some of my favorite episodes involved needy “strangers” who came to town not knowing quite what they had gotten into, but leaving all the better for it. And by the time they left town, they weren’t really strangers anymore. They were just folks.

Remember Malcolm Merriweather, the very proper English butler? He rode a bicycle and taught Opie to draw faces on hard-boiled eggs. We missed him when he went back to merry old England.

Or the businessman whose car broke down in Mayberry on a Sunday – the day before an important meeting in Charlotte? He learned a lot about living the quiet life, just hanging around Mayberry, sitting on Andy’s front porch and listening to the sheriff quietly hum and strum his guitar. (Didn’t you love Andy’s front porch with its swing, where he could peel an entire apple with his pocketknife without breaking the strand?)

If you watched the show as much as I did, you’ll remember these sweet, funny, crazy and wonderful people and their shenanigans:

  • The Darlings (pronounced, of course, Darlin’s). Oh, how they could sing and play that mountain music.
  • The high-strung, rock-throwing Ernest T. Bass. Remember when he tried to get educated to impress “Romena” (Ramona)? Andy tried to teach him geography and such. Ernest T. would sooner throw a rock through a winder than learn manners.
  • Sweet, lovable Otis, the town drunk.
  • Aunt Bee and her pickles that tasted like they were canned in kerosene. Too many Aunt Bee stories to tell.
  • Barney Fife. There’s so much to say about goofy but lovable Barney, but probably my favorite Barney moment was when he told Andy he could recite the Preamble to the Constitution from memory, and then tried to prove it. Classic Barney and Andy.
  • Andy and Barney’s girlfriends, Helen Crump and Thelma Lou. (And before Miss Crump, Ellie the druggist.)
  • Gomer Pyle making a “citizens arr-ay-est!” of Barney.
  • Gomer’s appropriately named cousin, Goober. “Hey, Andy!” “Hey, Goob.”
  • Opie being mama to a nest of baby birds after he accidentally killed their mother with his slingshot. I still cry right along with Opie when he realizes the mama bird is dead.

Some of these were merely moments (or brief minutes) rather than full episodes, but they stuck in our memories and have touched our hearts over and over, no matter how many times we’ve watched. (And if you don’t get the warm fuzzies from watching Andy, Barney and the rest of the folks of Mayberry … well, then, you’re just an old grump!)

1960s Mayberry was a simpler time and place, and I think we like it so much, still today, because our lives have gotten so busy and complicated. And because our good-hearted Andy Taylor was so wise and patient (most of the time). All the town folk took their problems to Sheriff Taylor. With all the goings-on in Mayberry, both silly and serious, they knew he would always come up with the right solution to their problem.

Sometimes the stories made us laugh, and sometimes they touched our hearts. Much of the time they did both. The show was a unique combination of heart and humor, and I hope I get to watch episodes until the day I die. And who knows? Someday I may be watching it in hologram, or with some technology that hasn’t even been invented or imagined yet. Wouldn’t that be ironic?

And when past meets present, old meets new, technology ain’t always such a bad thing.

As I was writing this, a friend posted on Facebook: “Andy Griffith marathon on TvLand.”

I immediately turned on the TV, saw what episode was playing, and texted my brother: “Andy Griffith marathon on TVLand. You working today? The Darlin’s are singin’.”

JT texted back that he was watching, then a minute later: “You did know that Andy Griffith show’s 1st show debuted on Oct 03, 1960.” I texted back: “I knew it started in 1960 but didn’t know Oct 3. That was a great day all around!”

Andy Taylor and Jim Taylor, born the same day.

Who knew a text message could give me the warm fuzzies?

Ain’t technology great?

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Farewell, Barney Sellers

My family said goodbye to a dear friend on Friday.

Barney Sellers, faithful husband, father, grandfather – and friend – passed away on Jan. 2, 2012, at age 85. He and his wife, Betty, had just celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary on Jan. 1, and he died about three hours after midnight.

Barney was an award-winning photographer, known for capturing on film everything from civil-rights marches to celebrities to heads of state, including at least two kings: Elvis Presley, the king of rock and roll (happy birthday, Elvis), and “Martin Luther the King Jr.,” as the hospice chaplain who spoke at his memorial service jokingly told the gathering.

But I knew him as a gentle man devoted to family and friends first and to taking pictures second.

When Barney retired to Batesville after 36 years as a staff “photog” (as he called it) at The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, he and Betty Sue moved across the street from my parents in 1988, while I was in college at ASU. Barney and I had that in common: We both earned journalism degrees at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, not too far from Barney and Betty’s old stompin’ grounds in Walnut Ridge.

While he and my dad became fast friends (they both loved to tell stories, and lots of them), I looked to him as a source of teaching. As a student journalist, I, too, was interested in photography. Beyond technical skills, however, the tips I picked up from him had more to do with composition than f-stops and shutter speeds.

Dad and Morgan at Barney’s

Barney wasn’t one to photograph people – although one of my favorites is a black-and-white picture he took of my dad and niece sitting together on a bench in Barney’s front yard when Morgan was about 3. And, as a favor, he took my wedding pictures (and wouldn’t accept payment). In fact, it was on my 14th wedding anniversary last week that my mother told me of his passing. (If you subscribe to The Batesville Daily Guard, take note of Page 1 of the Jan. 3 edition, which features not only a photo of Barney accompanying the article but a shot he took of downtown Batesville under a huge full moon.)

My house and my mother’s house are adorned with pictures Barney took, and I can’t recall being allowed to pay him for a single one of them. I would be at his house, admire a picture among the dozens (or sometimes hundreds) he showed me on a particular visit, and the next thing I knew the photo was double or triple matted (by Barney) and given to me or my family as a gift. Mom was responsible for taking them to the frame shop, although the birthday gift he gave me one year (an aerial shot of the White River dam in Batesville), a wedding gift (of a huge full moon above a barn) and my favorite gift from Barney – a photo of double streaks of lightning in the night sky above the Memphis bridge – came complete with frame. He was very generous with his artwork.

Barney’s newspaper years were successful and spanned decades, but, after his official retirement, he was better able to indulge his passion for rural scenes. His “business” was called Barney’s Barns and Rural Scenes, but he was more teacher than businessman. He held photography workshops, taking eager students around scenic Arkansas and elsewhere, teaching them how to see the beauty in a simple dirt road, falling-down barn or old rusty plow.

His son Stanley – or “Chobee,” as I’ve always known him – told me Friday that probably 80-90 percent of Barney’s work centered on his beloved Ozarks.

Yes, Barney saw things that no one should have to see – he photographed civil unrest in the Memphis of the mid-20th century, he went to war (serving two stints in the Navy) and he was there the day singer Jerry Lee Lewis lost his 3-year-old son to drowning in 1962. But despite that – or perhaps because of it – he was able to see the beauty in God’s creation that many of us are too busy to notice.

I remember the time he was visiting my dad at the shop Dad had built in our back yard, and Barney saw a spider web hanging from a corner of the building. Barney said, “Don’t touch that,” or some such admonition to leave the web alone. He trudged back up the hill to his house, returned with a squirt bottle, misted the spider web and shot a typically stunning picture of it, water droplets sparkling in the moonlight.

If not for Barney, I probably wouldn’t have had the “eye,” or the presence of mind, to snap a picture of the spider-web-covered jade plant in Morro Bay, Calif., when Mom and I visited in 2006. In fact, I’m sure that my affinity for photographing “plant life” over “real life” had something to do with Barney. When I spent a summer in Guatemala after college graduation, I took lots of shots of hillsides, mountains, rivers, lakes and volcanoes, and when I returned home and proudly showed my parents all my wonderful pictures, Mom said, “Where are the people?” (She is more of the “line people up like statues” school of photographic thought, whereas Barney wasn’t so much into that.)

Barney liked to tease my mom; he had a wonderful sense of humor – sometimes mischievous, sometimes dry like mine. He loved to laugh, and he loved people.

Barney’s “uniform,” as I recall it, was a pair of khaki pants, a chambray shirt, a bandanna, sometimes a vest, thick eyeglasses and – more often than not – two cameras hanging from his neck. And when he would amble down the hill to our house – whether on foot or in his Jeep on the way to photograph some dilapidated thing down some dirt road (Chaplain Brent said he was told that Barney “knew where every barn was in the state of Arkansas”) – he frequently carried a can of Coke supplemented with Metamucil. “He’d nurse that thing all day, it seemed like,” my mother recalled Friday as we reminisced on the way home from the service. To me, the Coke and Metamucil were simply part of the Barney package.

Barney was old school and had his own way of doing things (hence the recording of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” at the memorial service). According to his family, he took “thousands and thousands and thousands” of photos in his lifetime, all of them with a film camera. His daughter, Susie, had tried to convert him to digital photography but didn’t succeed. Chobee told me about all the prints and negatives in the house, in the garage, in a 10-by-16-foot storage building. Chobee had tried to get his dad to let him sort and catalog them but, again, didn’t succeed.

“He had his own way of cataloguing them, and none of us knew what that way was.” Chobee tried to reason with his dad: Someday we’ll need to know your system. Barney promised to teach him the system, but that day never came.

Barney’s health hadn’t been good in several years. His children had been trying to persuade their parents to leave the split-level house in Batesville – where Barney didn’t do well on the stairs “and kept scaring the daylights out of all of us,” according to his son Richard. They wanted their parents to move back to Memphis, where Barney’s cardiologist and other doctors were. So, even though “his heart was in Arkansas,” according to Chobee, he and Betty Sue finally left their home state and in 2007 moved back to the Memphis area, where Barney died.

There are a few things I regret in life – not getting my Nanny or my Aunt Jo to teach me how to quilt (I paid for classes at a store after both of them had passed on), not getting my Grandma Tressie to really teach me how to sew garments, not spending more time with Dad underneath all those cars he worked on, so I’d know how to change my own oil … and not spending more time at Barney’s elbow, soaking up his knowledge of photography and his love for all things rural. Now it’s too late for all of that.

But if there is anything Barney taught me, it is to keep doing what you love – and to love your family and friends while you’re doing it. I’m determined to keep working on that lesson.

We will miss you, Barney.

It’s appropriate that Barney’s family had his remains deposited in a vintage camera case. On a date to be announced, his ashes will be scattered at his favorite spot in the Ozarks.

I took a small portion of information for this post from The Batesville Daily Guard and The Commercial Appeal. To view some of his work, please visit both newspapers’ websites (links above). The Commercial Appeal‘s site includes a gallery of Barney’s news and feature photos.

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