Billy’s Gift

15 07 2018

If you could see into my basement studio, you’d find many items besides musical 20180715_182707instruments. Pictures, paintings, statuettes, antiques and numerous collectables; most of which would not have any value or meaning to anyone except this man. Nearly every item brings back a memory from my early days and the people that made a difference in my life, some who still do. It’s quite an array of garage sale artifacts, as I call them, but at times just sitting down, staring at my treasures and remembering brings a type of warmth and comfort to the Gray One’s soul.

Recently my Lady and I did a small concert back in my adopted hometown of Fremont, Ohio. It was an incredibly hot day for an outdoor gig, but it was good to be back where most of my memories were created. It was also great to see friends that showed up to hear us perform. That was a joy in itself; seeing dear folks that represented different stages of my life there. A wonderful couple that I’ve known since childhood. Some of my fellow alumnus from the great class of 73! There were two precious gals there that attended the church where I came to know Christ; the Grace Brethren Chapel. A real special treat was seeing an old friend from my first job at the Fremont Drive-In, Sweet Lady Jane Orndorff! Numerous others were there that my feeble mind can’t remember at this moment. So great to see them all, but I have to say the happiest moment came when I laid eyes on someone that I haven’t really known well until recent years, but now so blessed to call her friend and Sister.

Wynn Shell is the daughter of a dear saint everyone loved and knew simply as Billy. She could light up a room with her very presence. Billy never met a stranger; the moment you met her she treated as if you had been friends for years and then never forgot who you were.

I met Billy just a few years after we settled in Ohio. My best friend and his family invited me to their church, St. John’s Lutheran there in Fremont. Ma had sent me to one church where I never felt comfortable, so I quit going all together until St. John’s. On the first day of attending Sunday School, my feelings of insecurity started to set in. The only person I knew was my friend and everyone else either ignored my attendance to the class or stared making me feel uncomfortable. I realized I looked a little different in what I wore and being raised in an Appalachian home gave me a different accent than the rest which usually brought laughter. So, I was nervous in this new setting just hopping it wouldn’t be too long before we got out of there. Then the teacher, a kindly woman with a broad smile walked over to where I sat and said, “So what’s your name, honey?” My eyeballs grew larger than saucers! This gal had a Southern accent similar to mine. As Ma had taught me to say when someone asked my name, I blurted out “John David Miller.” “Well John David, it’s a dandy pleasure to have you join us!” And a friendship began that lasted until the day the Lord called her home. Billy not only became a friend, but one of my mentors making sure I understood the love of Jesus and what the Bible was really saying, not just in teaching Sunday School to a group of rambunctious preteens but in every facet of her being. She was the first person I ever heard speak of a personal and everyday relationship with the Lord. As the years went on and I would only see her occasionally, Billy still showed an interest in what direction my life was going. During my most rebellious times she caught up, sat me down and talked. Not as a lecturer warning me to straighten up before it’s too late, but she spoke to me as a friend, someone who cared what I was doing with my life and letting me know God had His eye on me because He had a special plan for my future. Now knowing her heart, I’m sure Billy said that to many; but words can’t express how deeply that message took root in this man. I have been privileged to sit under the teaching of some of the best biblical scholars of our modern age and have read the writings of countless others from history in hopes of a better understanding on the One I call Savior. But when I envision those who have made the greatest impact on this man, you can be sure that the beautifully spirited “Traveler of the Rock Road” who always greeted me with “Well Hello, John David,” will always be counted as one of the best and dearest teachers’ in my life. She was the living example of Ephesians 4:2 “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

So, returning to the concert in the park a couple of weeks ago where I got to see her beautiful daughter and legacy, Wynn, was pure delight in itself. Then she said, “I have something for you that belonged to mom.” Following her to her car she opened the trunk, and there was the old crank telephone you see in the picture. Many would say to receive such a rare antique in great condition was valuable, and they would be right. But Wynn wasn’t giving me the phone as an heirloom, she was giving me a piece of her beloved mother. This was something I could see Billy taking great pride and love in, keeping it in an unspoiled condition, caring to ensure it stayed the way it was made to be only better, and loving to show this treasure off. I saw all that because that’s what Billy did in the lives of the people she touched and loved. And yes, the Gray One was near to tears.

As the writer Amy Carmichael said, “You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.”

Thank for the gift of love, Wynn and Billy.

Since I’ve moved it into my studio I’ve stopped often to study it, remembering one of my first mentors, and the gift of herself she gave to me long ago.

I’ve even pick up the receiver, placed it to my ear and allowed my imagination to hear four precious words spoken to me. “Well Hello, John David!”  Someday.

See ya next time.






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