Dwayne Friend- My Friend

I’ll never forget when it first happened. I was working on an art project with my fellow third graders when the thought occurred to me that I was going to die. A sour feeling boiled in my tummy and my head swirled in dizziness. I told the teacher I wasn’t feeling well and she called my mom to pick me up. A few nights before the realization of my mortality, I had watched a TV movie about a person dying from a brain tumor. I witnessed death in a dramatic way.

I never spoke of my fear of dying to anyone. I just dealt with it in the only way a third grader knew how, silence.

Fear is a powerful enemy that captures our souls, binding us in invisible chains.

Every Sunday morning I woke early to turn on the TV to an evangelist named Dwayne Friend. He wasn’t a stereotypical evangelist with slicked back hair and a loud voice. He just played the electric guitar with a big grin on his face, loving every minute of it and then he would give a short sermon all in a half an hour. He was big in the Midwest so his bus often rolled into our area for a crusade and people would come from miles around to fill the auditoriums.

I made sure I sat in the front row because I couldn’t get enough of his infectious smile and happy attitude. You can’t hide a genuine heart from a child.

My fear of death consumed me, especially at night. I would lie awake and fight sleep thinking that I would die while I slept until exhaustion consumed me. Sleep would come in the classroom where I was supposed to be paying attention. My classmates and I always made fun of others falling to sleep but now the tables had turned.

Yet I had something to look forward to. Dwayne Friend was coming to a nearby town. I had gotten so I would clamor backstage to get close to him and if I was lucky give him a hug. He always spoke kindly to me and I felt God’s love radiate from his smile deep down into his heart. This time was going to be different. I had a present for him, a carefully wrapped dollar in some Kleenex, tucked it in a flat box. Before the service started I gave it to his son to bring to him and then took my place on the front row.

Wow! He loved to pick the guitar and I loved to watch him. He never missed a beat as he joyfully strummed out a song. I loved one ironically called “Goodbye World, Goodbye.” As I sat mesmerized by his talent, his twinkling eyes full of mischief met mine and I couldn’t help giggle. All I thought about was meeting him backstage afterward

This may sound like a little girl smitten with celebrity, but I assure you, it is not. I saw something in this man’s heart for God that I desired in my own. He truly loved Jesus and I wanted to be like that too. Someone who is known for loving Jesus with their whole heart so strongly that the joy of life can’t help but radiate from every pore in the body.

But, I was not free to be this way. I was chained to my fear of death.

When the final call to give your heart to Jesus was made, I ran out the side door anxious to meet my friend. Many people had gathered there already and I felt like a sprout among the Redwood trees. He wouldn’t notice me peeking between the legs of towering adults. But suddenly it was like the Red Sea in Moses’ story, the crowd parted and a hand extended to me. I ran into the arms of my friend. I hugged him so tightly I didn’t want to let go.

“I was digging through the Kleenex wondering what I would find and then I saw your gift. You did that on purpose, didn’t you?” he said holding me in his arms I saw  his dimpled grin up close and it felt the same way as it did from far away or on the TV, genuine.

I shook my pony-tailed head in affirmation. I didn’t know what to say. All I knew was he had accepted my gift joyfully and I was being held in the arms of a man of God. But then something even cooler happened. He invited me to see his bus. It looked like a typical Greyhound bus that you ride from city to city, but that didn’t matter to me. I was inside my friend’s home on wheels. We sat down on the first seat and I nestled into his furry bear coat as my mom snapped a picture. I was in heaven.

Back at school I was shackled in a quiet hell by the fear of dying. No one knew of the silent killer within. It nagged at my body and I went home often with horrible headaches. My insomnia worsened. My parents had no clue of my sufferings.

Yet I continued to get up faithfully to view Mr. Friend on Sunday mornings. But this time as I listened to his sermon, the idea occurred to me that I should write him a letter and tell him about my secret. After all I felt loved by him and I trusted him. I knew I could tell him and he wouldn’t shame me for my struggle.

‘Dear Mr. Friend, It’s me the girl who sits in the front row at your crusades and the one who gave you the dollar wrapped in Kleenex. I have to tell you something that no one else knows about me. I am afraid to die. I try to stay awake as long as I can to keep from dying in my sleep. I don’t know what to do about it and thought maybe I’d ask you. Thank you for listening to me. Christy’

I put the letter in the mail the next morning and went off to school.

Less than two weeks later as I walked in the door after school, my mom handed me a letter from Dwayne Friend Ministries. It was in an official envelope and my heart skipped a beat. I hugged it to my chest and ran to my room, closing the door behind me.

Sitting on my bed, I took great care opening my treasure. I pulled out a plain white paper with a short note, handwritten in Mr. Friend’s stylish flair.

‘Dear Christy, You don’t have to be afraid of dying. If you have asked Jesus into your heart you will be instantly in His presence. Love, Dwayne Friend’

It was short but to the point. I had accepted Jesus as my savior when I was about 3 years old. What he said was true. His simple words of truth drove away my fear. That night I fell asleep when my head hit the pillow and never worried about dying again.

In my adulthood I have faced chain- shackling fears but the Grace of God has freed me from them. I often think of Mr. Friend and how much his influence on a young believer meant to me. I am grateful for his exuberant joy and love of playing the guitar- Mr. Gospel Guitar is what he was called by Nashville. But most of all, I am thankful he took the time to help a third grader, trapped by fear and in need of some spiritual guidance.

I have tried to contact him and thank him but only find his smiling face on You Tube doing what he loves, picking his guitar. If I don’t get to see him again on this earth, I will celebrate with him one day in Heaven and thank him there with a bear hug from this little girl.

Thank you Mr. Friend, I am eternally grateful.

“God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.” – II Timothy 1:7

Here’s a link to him playing his guitar:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiLYLnzqEzE

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Popcorn Ed- World’s Greatest

I think of my grandpa every time I eat popcorn. Microwave, kettle corn, caramel corn, movie popcorn, but especially fresh-popped brings one thought to my mind, Grandpa Ed. His popcorn was the best and no popcorn could ever replace the world’s greatest.

My Grandpa never saw me, but I knew he loved me. As a successful dairy farmer, it’s said he’d gotten maculate degeneration and gone blind in the early sixties, I was born four years into the decade.

Every time we visited Valley City, North Dakota our first stop would be Grandpa Ed’s place. We’d visit a couple times a year when my parents brought us to see our cousins. I was always envious of them because they could see Grandpa Ed every day. There were times he lived with them, but the times I remember the most were when he lived in a small second floor apartment next to his business, Ed’s Popcorn Stand, home of the best popcorn in the world, or at least that is what everyone’s opinion was. Instead of using his disability to live off the government, he decided to go into business for himself and set up a popcorn and candy stand.

Arriving in Valley City, we’d park by Ed’s Popcorn and I’d run out the car door anxious to get inside. It was a small building, about 12 feet wide by maybe 20 feet long, about the size of two small backyard storage sheds put together. Three or four adults could fit in the entry and often times at Ed’s Popcorn’s busiest, a line of people would go out the door.   Once inside I inhaled the buttery aroma of popcorn and greeted my Grandpa. He always unlocked and opened a little door located under the counter and I would crawl in to receive my welcome hug. My older sister, Cindy would follow and we’d be lifted up with loving arms to have the privilege of sitting on the back counter which housed the candy bins, much to the envy of younger patrons.

The candy bins held so much sugary goodness, it was like our own personal Willy Wonka factory. Grandpa would let us sample whatever we wanted while our parents watched from behind the security screen. Of course they had taught us not to be greedy and we each politely filled a small brown bag of goodies. The decision was always difficult, but the Swedish fish and gummy red coins always ended up in my bag.  While we chose our candy, Grandpa would fill a bag of popcorn for each of us, my parents included, to munch on. If it wasn’t fresh, he popped more. There was nothing like its hot salty goodness crunching in your mouth.

Even though Grandpa Ed was a local celebrity, security was necessary for a blind man’s business. The entry was separate by a half-wall where the secret door was hidden under a skinny counter top ledge. The upper half was enclosed with thick chicken wire fencing. A square door in the center of the wire barricade on the counter top allowed the exchange of money and goods. The front window by the candy bins also could be used in a similar fashion, but I only remember Grandpa using the inside door. We would sit on our privileged spot and watch people pass by the window, knowing they couldn’t resist its mouth-watering scents and come in for a treat.

Although he was blind, the rest of his senses were keen. He could feel and identify every coin and always gave correct change. He could smell paper money and tell you what the bill was. The minute the door opened, he greeted his customers with a hearty “Hello.” Legend has it that he had been tested once by someone trying to take advantage of his blindness. They handed him a bill claiming it to be something it wasn’t and he denied service to the person. Never underestimate the heightened senses of the visually impaired.

Grandpa knew where everything was in the popcorn stand. I’d watch as he made his way around the carefully arranged room. Next to the candy bin counter was the famous popcorn machine. He’d measure the exact amount of oil, pour it in and then add the popcorn, not too much or it would burn. He had it down to an exact, perfect-popcorn science every time and soon the magic popping sound would tease our ears and the smell of salty butter would tantalize our taste buds. He always made sure we were safe and clear of its heat.

Next to the popcorn machine was a tall red Coca-Cola dispenser. It kept glass bottled soda pops cold for the thirsty customers. It was the kind that required payment if it were outside the safe walls of the popcorn stand. It’s paint so smooth and shiny you could see your reflection in it. Grandpa had stocked the bottles in order and could feel the painted labels so he knew his customer was getting what they asked for.

Since the entry took up only about half the length of the stand, beyond its end wall sat a freezer full of frozen delights. Grandpa kept everything from push-ups to freeze pops, fudgicles, fifty-fifty bars, ice cream sandwiches and other pre-made frosty desserts. It was an extra special treat when he offered us our choice of the freezer stash. With all the wares of his business filling the small space, he always made room for his young, blind friend to pull up a folding chair and hang out in the back with him.

When Grandpa closed the stand for the day he’d lock up and secure both the back and front entrance and make sure things were turned off. We’d head next door to his second floor apartment. I held the same amazement of his keen senses just watching him ascend the staircase. Inside his simple abode, everything was arranged and placed conveniently for him to find. I’d snuggle into his lap on his favorite recliner and we’d visit or listen to his radio.

Before ending our visit to Valley City, the last stop was always Ed’s Popcorn Stand. Grandpa gave us another bag of candy and we’d leave with extra large bags of his famous popcorn to snack on for the long drive home.

Although visits were few and far between, Grandpa would call us. I loved listening to his voice and hearing his infamous chuckle over the phone. He’d always ask about what was happening in my life and never minded if I complained about how my basketball coach treated me. As I described it all to him, it was like he had been there with me. He loved to talk and listen to us. One year he bought me a talking Flip Wilson doll and on one of our calls requested I pull the string so it could talk to him. I’ll never forget how he laughed at its silly wisecracks. It’s been more than 35 years since he passed away and I can still hear his voice and endearing giggle. I cherish his voice.

Recently there has been a movement of some residents of Valley City to resurrect the old popcorn shed and make it a sort of historical monument. As I have read through the various Face book posts my heart is warmed to hear how many people loved my Grandpa. He was always a gentleman, kind and thoughtful to everyone. His life most likely touched and inspired more lives than I can imagine and I’ll bet I am not the only one who thinks of him when I eat popcorn.

I don’t know much about my Grandpa’s history. I know he was a WWI infantry veteran stationed in France. I don’t know what made him who he was. What I do know is what matters most. He loved us very much and I can still feel his hearty hug embracing my young admiring heart. He never let his disability stop him from doing anything. He inspired many people with his determination, kindness and uplifting spirit. As his granddaughter, I will always think of him when I enjoy popcorn of any kind and can only hope such qualities will be manifested in my life.

Laughter Can Change Attitudes- It’s a Good Medicine

Hoss Family Camping Legend- Please note the names have been changed to prevent cataclysmic, permanent embarrassment.

After wiping sticky fingers and faces and tucking 3 children under five in for the night, we climbed into our sleeping bags exhausted. Oh the joy of being horizontal and relaxed. Sleep came instantly to our exhausted bodies. We’d spent the first night of camping in the emergency room with our younger son with an out-or-control asthma attack.

Unfortunately, our restful bliss didn’t last long.

“Mom!” I wet Grandma’s sleeping bag!” In my cloud-fogged half conscious state of mind, I heard our eldest moan.

Handing my husband the flashlight, I mumbled directions on where to find a change of clothes.

Unbeknownst to us, David hadn’t liquidated Grandma’s sleeping bag, he had only piddled a drop. To an adult robbed of much needed rest, one drip sounded like a waterfall. He stripped our son down to his birthday suit and left him standing in the crisp, frigid mountain air.

Just as Daddy retrieved a clean pair of Star Wars briefs from the bottom of the suitcase, David announced in desperate crescendo, “I have to go. I have TO GO! I’M GOING!”

The sound of running water in a friend’s borrowed tent is not a good thing. I sat up to witness my son, looking like a concrete cherub fountain letting it flow. Daddy’s cupped hands swayed back and forth trying to catch it.

When the cup method failed, Daddy attempted to pinch the nozzle off as his fingers impersonated a tweezers, clamping at the source of the flow.

“STOP! STOP!” he screamed.

David stopped… when he was empty.

Fortunately the tent was pitched on a slight incline and the flooding river raged to the southeast corner, away from anything vital to our survival. I emerged from my comfort zone and began sandbagging the dike.

It took every one of our clean towels to sop up the flood. The indicator on David’s tank was definitely on the big “E.”

“That’s it!” Daddy roared, his hands in the air. “We’re going home!” The ideal family camping trip had just been rained out.

Clearly I understood and respected how my husband felt. Our weekend campout, meant to be restful, had been just the opposite. I sympathized, yet a giddy feeling bubbled from deep within my tired spirit and I wanted to laugh.

So I did.

There was no containing my behavior as I dropped to the deflating air mattress and rolled about with joyful, gut-splitting fits of funny-bone ecstasy.

Daddy glared. David shivered.

I stopped my carousing to assess the severity of the situation. How bad could it be? When I dared look at my husband in the shadowy flashlight, his stern face began to tremble. His lips widened to dimple his cheeks, he swallowed, twice and gave up the fight. His laughter billowed in waves and I joined him allowing the best medicine to overflow and drench us with healing joy.

I’m not sure how long we convulsed at the hilarity of the situation while David skipped naked about the tent.

The thin tarp walls seemed to bellow in and out from our spontaneous eruption probably awakening the entire snoozing campground. But that didn’t stop us. We were making a joyful noise and loving every minute.

Our heavy, stressed out hearts from the extended stay the night before in the ER, no sleep and a urine soaked tent, were made light and merry because of a Biblical remedy found in Proverbs 17:22, “Laughter is great for the soul, a good medicine.**”

Laughter is a good medicine. The healing power of God’s prescription never fails. We just have to put it into practice.

Diagnosis: Heavy Heart

Rx: Humor, Side-splitting Laughter

. **My paraphrase

Love is Blind – One Night of Domestic Violence Opened My Eyes – WARNING- Language and violence- read with caution

The following account is a fictionalized version of actual events. As a young girl I lived in a fantasy world, longing for true love. My blind ambitions lead me to this situation.

         Town gossips were wrong about Gabriel. Abbey determined to make tonight’s celebration a success to prove it.

            The aroma of garlic bread and lasagna baking battled for dominance over the musty odor of the one-room basement apartment. No matter if the flatware didn’t match and the plates were different sizes, newlyweds had to start somewhere.

            This will prove I know what he’s needed from a woman. Stability.

            A shadow passed the rectangular window next to the bottom of the flat’s single entrance.

            Abbey skipped stairs to the top landing ready to plant a sultry kiss on the man of her dreams. She swallowed hard and held her breath, wishing.

            Keys jingled and the knob turned. Gabriel forced the door smacking Abbey into the flimsy handrail. His heavy stomps made the old wooden steps creak in pain.       

            Abbey rubbed the small of her back and followed.

            His spirit will pick up after he eats.

            Plopping on the couch, Gabriel leaned back and ran his hands through his salt and pepper hair. Abbey approached him from behind the couch and slid her arms around his neck, kissing his salty ear. She thought she sensed his smile and read it as an invitation to move further to kiss his neck on her way to his lips, but he grabbed her arm, squeezing until his knuckles turned white. Abbey yelped in pain.

         “Did I hurt you?” 

        She backed away, rubbing a red bruising hand mark braceletting her wrist. Garlic smell of lasagna ready to be eaten interrupted her thoughts and she remembered the evening’s quest.

          “I made you a special dinner.”  She rounded the corner of the couch and knelt by his side. “It’s our fifth month anniversary. Don’t you want to celebrate?”  She rested her head on his lap, hoping his eyes would meet her passion hungry gaze. He continued to stare ahead, unmoved by her offering. She closed her eyes.

          His hand ruffled the back of her dress as it moved upward. She waited for a caress. He gripped the neatly brushed French knot and yanked her head back, breaking her hair barrette, its jewels skittered in all directions. Abbey winced at his strength.

          “Gabe,” she choked, “what are you doing?”

          He released his grip and resumed his lifeless stare into nothingness.

          Abbey stood. A tear dripped down her cheek. The caution flag waved. Friends had warned her but she’d casually excused his dominating behavior. She was his hope, his savior, the one to begin anew with. Gathering the broken pieces, she slunk into the kitchen and fed the trash.

          Hot breath blew on her neck and her skin rippled with goose bumps. Gabriel whipped her around, squeezing her shoulders as if trying to fold her in half.     

          “Don’t you think I would figure it out? I’m not an idiot you know.” Angry spittle spattered in her face.

           “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Her knees wobbled like Jell-O dropped from of a mold. 

           Gabriel released his grip, stomped to the dresser and pawed around in her top drawer. Abbey gingerly approached as he turned to face her holding the object of his rage.                

         “I found this when I came home for lunch today.” He held out a ceramic frame laced with tiny roses, in its oval middle a photo of Abbey hugging an old beau.

          Abbey’s heart sunk to her toes. It hadn’t been that long since she had made her choice. Fond memories still fresh from experience had not allowed her to let go completely and she had hidden the photo. Apparently not well enough.

          “We haven’t been settled long enough for me to sort things out. It’s an old photo. It’s nothing.”

           “Liar!”

         The fierceness caused Abbey to step backward into the kitchen. Stumbling against the table a carafe of ice water toppled, splattering the floor. Gabriel approached clutching the frame, profanities spewing from his mouth.

         “You’re my wife, not his. This should have been trashed before you took my ring!”

         The timer buzzed. The lasagna was done.

        “I’m sorry.” She whimpered.

        He smacked the frame on the cement sending glass shards scattering across the floor. The photo landed in the spilled water. His foot stomped and twisted to mangle the image of the competition. “I should have known you were a whore when we first met.” He gripped her arm and twisted it behind her back. She screamed.

       “Stop it Gabriel, you’re hurting me.” Her cries stuck to the support beams of the house above.

 

      The timer continued to buzz.

       Shoving her toward the couch he pushed her over its backside. Her thin frame somersaulted over the couch landing her feet on the floor. Dizzied by the sudden flip, she lay stunned. Gabriel dropped on her, clawing and tossing her on the couch, a lion preying on a lame gazelle.  Fist after fist pummeled her skull accompanied with female degrading profanities.

        “I’m going to kill you! You god dam bitch!”

         BUZZZZ…

        Abbey flung her hands to her temples in defense. She had to get away, run for help, but the only way out was up the stairs and Gabriel blocked her escape. 

        She was going to die. But she didn’t want to, not in a basement before her twentieth birthday.

        BUZZZZ…

        “Help me! Help me!” Terror screamed from her lungs as Gabriel continued to beat her head as she sunk deeper and deeper into the sagging couch. Doesn’t anyone hear me? Blackness and a million spinning stars hazed her vision. Strength faded from her limbs.

            I don’t want to die.

            From deep in her gut a flicker of hope sparked, kindling the desire to live and fight for survival.

            I was meant for more than this.

            Cowering from the blows, she mustered one last yelp.

        “God help me!”

        The Almighty heard her plea as angels seemed to whisk her to her feet, up the steps and out the door.

This happened 30 years ago. After leaving it in my past, I never thought I would want to talk about it again. Then came opportunity to help others in domestic violence situations and I changed my mind. My story is now part of an anthology of survivor stories that can be found at http://cryofthenightbird.com/

Awareness helps- please share this post to get the word out so that those who need help will be inspired to get it.

My Hero is Wickedly Green

The most notorious villain in movie history is my hero.

In fact, some would say I’ve taken her a little too close to my heart. It began in high school, some thirty years ago. Being a quiet, sometimes shy and well-behaved teenager, I went unnoticed by the popular crowd. I lacked self-esteem, felt extremely awkward and to make matters worse, I had a hideous laugh.

I couldn’t concentrate in class on audition day. My stomach roiled at the thought of getting in front of my peers and doing the unthinkable, pretending to be a make-believe character in front of an audience. Giant moths had invaded my stomach, fluttering like they do to get inside a light bulb, except they were clamoring to get out of me, tickling their way up my throat. At three o’clock I rushed to the bathroom closed the stall door and tried to talk myself out of it.

My friends’ words played like movie credits in my mind.

“We dare you!”

If I didn’t give it a try, I’d be a coward. Maybe the Lion part would suit me better?

No. It had to be the witch.

I dug deep to find my courage. So deep, my toes curled. Taking a deep breath and clicking my heels, I pushed open the door and marched to the auditorium.

Our director seemed to think I’d be perfect for Dorothy. Was it because I was a respectful, attentive listener and quietly reserved Christian girl who would never think of being the Wicked Witch of the West?

After reading and singing for Dorothy, I returned to my spectator seat to await my opportunity. The Moths returned, now the size of pterodactyls. The clock on the wall clicked out seconds, millions of them. I became oblivious to the rest of the auditions, wafting into a tornado daydream.

I returned to reality with the suddenness of a house dropped onto a cornfield.

Someone called my name and in a Technicolor daze, I tiptoed to the center of the stage.

From the darkness below the voice asked, “Which scene?”

“Yes,” I replied.

A rumbling guffaw cut the still air of the auditorium.

“Let’s just start from the scene where she suddenly enters, taking the munchkins by surprise,” the voice said.

I took a deep breathe and crouched into a witchy pose. The cackle spewed loud, long and wicked. I pointed a crinkled finger at Dorothy and in my best Margaret Hamilton imitation asked, “Who killed my sister? Was it you?”

I read through the rest of the scene and silenced the audience with another spine tingling laugh.

The deed was done. I’d crossed a threshold that would change my life forever.