People ask me all the time how this Texas boy ended up in central Arkansas. I always say, “I’m glad you asked; it’s a God-story.”
Born and raised in small town Texas, I was that quintessential, “everything-bigger-and-better-in-Texas” kind of guy. Most of my brothers and sisters still lived there and I had no plans to ever leave again. (If I ever did, a Whataburger would most certainly have to be nearby!)
In 2011, I was the pastor of a small church in a suburb near Fort Worth. It was a new church, only six years old. We had seen some successes and more than a few setbacks. 2011 began as our best year but then things got tough. In just a few months’ time, we experienced 4 or 5 families move out of the area. In a church with an average attendance of about 60, you can imagine the financial problems we faced. So, my wife Kathy and I did what we always do when we are facing a crisis; we prayed. The Lord always seemed to bring the right people our way at the right time. This time it seemed different though.
Sure enough it was different. Instead of bringing us a few new families, God opened a door for us to merge with another larger church in town and I went on staff there. It was a smooth transition our church family made fairly well. However, after about six months, it became clear to me that this was merely a temporary move. God still had plans that would shake my world.
In May of 2012, after not being able to find work with substantial income, and my position at the church only part-time, I reached a frustration level that opened my heart and my thinking. There had been little hints of Kathy and I moving to Arkansas through things people said but it certainly wasn’t anything I planned to do anytime in the near future. However, those hints became nudges until during the height of my job-seeking futility, I said to Kathy, “What do you think about making a trip to Arkansas and checking out the job market?” Of course, with our daughter Kristen and our son Josh here already, she was all over that idea; especially since Josh and his wife Crystal already had given us a grandson, Jude, and she was pregnant with our first granddaughter.
There just happened to be a job fair in downtown Little Rock the week we were here. Of course, I went and filled out more than a few applications. I circled that convention hall floor several times making sure I stayed clear of the funeral home booth. No way was I going to go to work for a funeral home. But then the Holy Spirit reminded me that I had told Him I would go through whatever doors He opened for me, so I did indeed go by that booth.
The man I spoke with happened to be a sales manager for preneed funerals. He scheduled an interview with me for later that week. Before I had left to go home, he was asking me to begin training in less than two weeks. “There is absolutely no way I can do that”, I explained, “My house is on the market and we had had no offers yet.”
Then I explained to him another reason I couldn’t at this time. Because of some life-changing circumstances in her life, my younger sister Ruth was living with us. I explained all of this in detail to the manager. He was more than understanding suggesting I could start next month, in June.
Kathy and I said our goodbyes to the kids not knowing how long it would take to get everything done back in Texas before we could ever call Arkansas home. My mind was telling me months, maybe a year. However, within two weeks, we had two offers on our home and my little sister had not only found a job, but a place to live. We knew God was doing something!
We began to sell everything we could and pack what we had to have. In June 2012, we loaded up the U- Haul and made our way up Interstate 30. It seemed somewhat surreal because it happened so fast. I still was not sure why we were here but just knew God had directed us. Kathy was happy to be here, but I was not and didn’t mind questioning God on more than a few occasions.
Crystal, our daughter-in-love, had experienced mostly a normal pregnancy. Then, October 11th, 2012 came. This was the day we would all go to the hospital and experience the birth of our first granddaughter, Briley FAITH Turner (Faith is capitalized purposefully, and you will know why before the end of this story). We waited for what seemed like an unusually long time in the waiting room considering this was a C-section delivery. When the family was finally called in from the waiting room, naturally we were expecting to see our beautiful new granddaughter. She was not in the room. Josh and Crystal were there but no Briley FAITH in sight. Immediately we knew something wasn’t right. Crystal and Josh tried to explain a little of what they knew and in a few minutes the doctor came in and gave us more details. She was not breathing on her own and had to be intubated immediately after birth. However, there would be extensive tests to be done before they would know what was happening. We spent most of the day at the hospital with the family and after quite a while, we did get to see our precious, beautiful granddaughter for the first time. She had tubes all around her and a cooling cap on her little head. “What was going on, Lord”? We didn’t understand this at all.
Two weeks later, the diagnosis came. I got the call from my wife while I was a work. It was the worst possible scenario. Our granddaughter had a rare genetic condition called Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). In fact, she had the rarest form of the disease, type 0 they called it. Her little muscles would never get any stronger; indeed, they would only grow weaker. It was terminal and whatever length of days she was to have on this earth, she would always be on life support.
Oh, so heartbroken! I got into the golf cart at the cemetery I was working at and rolled out into the park as far as I could to get away from people. Tears begin to flow. I sobbed bitterly and cried out to God. I questioned Him. I even wondered if God was taking out His wrath on Josh, Crystal, Jude and Briley for some sin I had committed (I know this is not biblically accurate, but I felt it anyway).
Then the Spirit of God spoke to my spirit. It was so obvious to me now. THIS is why God used some tough circumstances to get us to Arkansas. We had to be here during this season. We needed to be here for the kids. All the trials we had been through with the church, with my work situations, seemed so trivial now. Of course, we needed to be here. What had made no sense to me was crystal clear now.
Briley FAITH lived 61 days and what a life she lived! Though she never left the hospital room, her story has traveled the world through Kathy’s blog (brileysdailydose.blogspot.com). Though she never got to go home; she is eternally home in the arms of her Savior Jesus Christ. Though she never got to dance, we will see her dance one day (I intend to have a Pawpaw/granddaughter dance in heaven some day). Though we never got to hear her cry, much less sing, we know she is singing praises to the One we adore. Every day of her short life on this earth was a testament of God’s unfailing love and overwhelming grace to her parents, to her brother, to her grandparents and to so many who saw God
do some unusual things in their own lives. Shortly after the diagnosis of terminal, Josh told his mother after returning from a solitude time of prayer at the hospital, “God’s got this.” And how He did!
Her celebration service was unlike anything I had ever witnessed before; such outpouring of love from our small community! We heard story after story of how God moved in lives and touched hearts of people we didn’t even know. The Spirit of God worked in a young lady and she gave her life to the Lord right there at the service!
Because God had opened the door for me to work at a funeral home, all funeral expenses were paid. How about that?! Does God know what He is doing or what? Even when I don’t get it, He does. He knows exactly what is best.
Less than a year later, Josh and Crystal adopted a beautiful baby boy right out of the hospital. Reid Silas is Pawpaw’s “little buddy”. Dec. 1, 2015, Crystal then gave birth to Abbott Reece, Pawpaw’s “sweet pea”. Jude is now 8 and playing baseball. He has such a strong spiritual connection and understanding of eternal things that very few children ever experience. All the children are healthy and SMA free.
Our daughter Kristen married a young godly man by the name of Ben Smith in Feb. 2016. They had their first child, a girl, September of 2017. Molly Jane Smith is the happiest baby I have ever seen and is absolutely beautiful. She is Pawpaw’s “love bug”.
Arkansas is our home now, at least until we reach out eternal home. “Lord, I thank You, for everything You did to get Kathy and me to Arkansas when You did! Thank You for all the things that didn’t make sense to me at the time but make perfect sense now because they were a part of Your perfect plan. Thank You that we were here for those short 61 days we had to share with our sweet Briley FAITH! Thank you for the precious memories we have of holding our little heavenly messenger. Thank you for your FAITHfulness.”
And when I hear “Pawpaw” from one of our little grandchildren’s lips, knowing full well it is meant for me, it reminds me of how this proud born Texan now is more than content to call Arkansas his home.