When the Levee Breaks

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Important Disclaimer: I have people of every form, fashion, and faith reading my blog and I’m happy more than you know that each and every one of you stop by and take the time to give GB & GSF a read. This particular post, however, is one of my more personal revelations so I’d like to ask the handful of atheists and agnostics who stop by from time to time if y’all wouldn’t mind just skipping this one. It’s just going to make you laugh at me and right now, I don’t need laughed at and while I’m a firm believer in free speech, it’s my blog and this is my heart I’m bearing here so any snarky comment is going in the circular file drawer. Having said that, let me tell you about breaking levees.

My life has slowly gone to Hell in a cheap Dollar General handbag for the last twelve years. It started with getting fired from Woodmont, but it’s steadily picked up speed until now I feel like I’m riding with a one way ticket on a runaway train, and to make matters worse, I haven’t had the foggiest idea why. I haven’t done anything that differently in my life, but stuff just keeps coming faster and faster and faster down the years. Now, I’m standing on top of my metaphorical levee, it’s leaking like a sieve, it’s going to break, and I know two things I didn’t know before: 1) This levee’s gonna break and 2) I know why. Let me enlighten you with what I’ve figured out.

I was literally prayed into this world, into my mama’s womb, and prayed out nine months later. Laugh if you want. I don’t care anymore. Mama told the story to me a million times how everyone else thought I was destined to be a girl, but Mama said, “No, I prayed for a big, healthy baby boy who would look just like his daddy.” Ask the people who still walk up to me in a store and say, “Hey, Frankie!” if she got her prayer answered.

When I got to this world, I dropped right onto a flood plain and great rivers of evil were rolling all around me and a black rain kept falling and still the deluge comes to this day. I never thought to worry though because even though I didn’t realize it at the time, I had one of the most massive spiritual levees this existence has ever seen. I had Big Granny and Aunt Lib. I had Granny Wham. I had Papa John. I had Mama, and by the time I was 25, I had Budge and those were just the main ones.

This was a crowd of praying people. Some people garden, some restore cars, some paint landscapes for hobbies, this bunch prayed . . . a lot . . . and a lot of those prayers were for me. Big Granny had retired by the time I was born so she’d pray hours and hours at a time for her family, but every now and again, she’d call Mama and pray for her special on the phone then she’d tell Mama to put the phone to my infant, then toddling body so she could pray for her “Shanlon” as she called me.

Aunt Lib worked second shift at one of the mills in Laurens. She lived and breathed the power of Pentecost and anyone who knew her knew she had the goods. She’d get off work after midnight and come home dog tired but instead of going to bed she’d pray for her family just to supplement the praying she’d done walking the floorboards of the weaving machines in the mill for the previous eight hours.

Next to my Mama, Granny Wham was the most formidable woman on this earth. She had an iron will that would not break even though it bent precariously a time or two, but she prayed Papa Wham home from Europe during World War II without a scratch on him and she prayed Daddy home from Vietnam without a scratch on him that anyone could see. If Granny Wham said she was going to pray for you, she wasn’t making idle talk. Your name was going on the list she would quietly and calmly review before her Lord every night before she went to bed. Everybody else on this page except for Budge and Granny Wham were all Pentecostal. Granny was a sprinkled Methodist turned dunked Southern Baptist Sunday School teacher and when she got on her knees she wasn’t talking to hear her brains rattle. She had every scrap of faith in the world that whatever she was praying for would come to pass no matter how improbable. Granny Wham was a serious prayer warrior.

I remember one of the last nights I ever spent the night at Granny and Papa Wham’s house. I was a teenager. Papa and I had watched a Braves game into the wee morning hours and instead of driving home I just laid down in Aunt Cathy’s old room and went to sleep. I sat bolt upright and looked at the clock on the headboard read 3:37 AM and I heard soft noise down the hall in the den. When I eased into the room, Granny Wham was on her knees at her favorite chair with her Oxford Blue Schofield Reference Bible laid out on the seat. She was praying and crying. I walked over and laid my hand on her back gently. She looked up towards me through pouring eyes and I asked her whatever was wrong. She said, “I had a dream I was in a wide open field and in the middle of the field was a mound of logs with a white sheet laying on it and as I walked closer to it I saw it was on fire, and when I got closer still I saw a body was under the sheet and it was on fire as well. Then I got right up to it and I was scared to pull back the sheet but I heard a voice telling me to.” Here she broke down for a minute and when she could speak again she said, “It was Frankie (my daddy). He was dead and burning and I don’t know what it means so I got up and came in her and I’ve been praying ever since.” When she reached a level of care need Cathy couldn’t give her at home, Granny moved to Martha Franks Retirement Center and even though a stroke left her barely able to speak intelligible words, God didn’t have trouble understanding her I know. Every time I went to see her, which was so very much less than it should have been, she was either napping in her bed or praying in her bed with her hands laying softly on the last bible I bought her to replace the Schofield that fell apart. Granny prayed.

Papa John (Mama’s daddy) was a Pentecostal preacher and a loom fixer at a cotton mill. People laughed at him and ridiculed him and put him down as tongue tied and uneducated. They didn’t know the pain that seared Papa’s soul and mind. Papa fought his own personal demons all his life and even though they broke his body with multiple strokes and multiple heart attacks and a car wreck or two for good measure, they never broke his spirit. He preached God’s word on Sunday morning and Sunday night with all the fervor and fire of a John Wesley or Charles H. Spurgeon right up until he had a big stroke in the church parking lot that left him unable to speak above a whisper. People gave up on him and people thought he was odd and funny, but Papa never gave up on God. The last several years of his life, Papa couldn’t get out or get up much without help. Instead of watching the old westerns he loved with Roy Rogers and Lash LaRue, he’d sit from late afternoon until dawn with his father-in-law’s ancient family bible on his lap reading and praying, mostly for Mama and me. The last words I heard him speak were a prayer.

Then . . . Mama. All my life Mama drilled into my head I didn’t belong to her I belonged to God and He had just allowed her to raise me. I once asked Mama if she loved me more than anything or anyone (I may have been five) and she replied without pause, “Everything and anyone except Jesus. I don’t love you more than Jesus, little man.” Jesus was the center of Mama’s universe no matter what anyone else may have ever believed about her. In all three trailers we lived in together, Mama wore a low spot in the carpet at the foot of her bed where her knees rested. She literally had callouses on her knees from kneeling before the Lord in prayer. When the COPD put her in a recliner for good, she couldn’t do anything else so she sat all day and long into the night watching the Gaither Gospel Homecoming series on DVD and praying, even though she couldn’t get to her knees anymore. The last three years of her life, she seldom left her chair except to use the bathroom. She couldn’t even get a shower unless the hospice nurse helped her she was so weak, but she still prayed for me. She was praying for me when she lost consciousness that final time.

Now, they’re all gone. Aunt Lib died September 3, 1997; I preached her funeral. Big Granny died February 9, 2001; I preached her funeral. Papa John died October 16, 2006; I preached his funeral, Granny Wham died February 5, 2008; she had wanted me to preach her funeral but Daddy and Cathy wouldn’t allow it so the idiot passing himself off as a pastor at her church who never darkened the door of her nursing home room the entire three years time she was there preached it, and so that left Mama and she went home March 25, 2013 . . . two years and two months from tomorrow.

All my levees broke, but the storm never let up. Looking back, I could feel a change after Big Granny died, but the hits really started pouring in after Papa John died and when Granny Wham died in February, I had my first stay at Charter Behavioral that November. The five years between Granny Wham’s death and Mama’s death saw my life seriously go into decline emotionally and mentally. Mama was strong praying for her little man though. With help from Budge, she almost single-handedly kept the darkness away from me. So that’s how I noticed what was happening . . . Mama knew she was going to die and she spent so much time praying for me that, with Budge adding a wife’s prayers along too, it took the darkness two full years to finally leak past the prayer levee Mama laid down.

But now she’s gone and my precious Budge is trying to hold back alone what the combined effort of the five greatest prayer warriors I’ve ever known could barely keep at bay. It’s a testament to her own strength that I’m still standing instead of cowering under the kitchen table in the fetal position. I feel it though. I hope no one thinks I’m casting aspersions on my precious wife’s praying ability. It’s just harder for one pillar to hold up what six once held.

I don’t know what is going to happen, but I know it’s going to be bad. My head stays in a whirlwind; thoughts will not settle down, some days motivation to MOVE is impossible to scrounge up. I am on the brink of tears every moment of every day. My decision making ability is becoming suspect. I’m having trouble getting out of the house. Pack after pack of black dogs chase me and The Tape plays over in my mind almost constantly. I live afraid of what comes next and I know some of you won’t understand that or will think I’m wallowing in self-pity. Honestly, I don’t care what you think. I know what’s in my head and guts. I know what I’ve faced WITH help and now I’ll face worse WITHOUT help.

So that’s the story and I don’t know why I didn’t realize it sooner but it’s like the old axiom “You don’t miss the water ’til the well runs dry.” I don’t want to carry on, but I don’t have a choice until I’m hammered down so hard I can’t rise anymore.

Until then, I still love y’all and hope y’all still keep your feet clean.

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4 responses »

  1. Pingback: Breakdown Hangaround Hangover | "Granny Beads and Grocery Store Feet"

  2. In the time I have been reading your blog, I’ve felt I’ve found a kindred spirit. You have spoken often of going through struggles similar to my own. I know it is probably small consolation, but you have often helped me to feel less alone in what I am going through.

    We were both blessed to have the love and prayers of people who always loved us, even when we have felt most unloveable, and especially when we probably should have been.

    I have also very recently lost that last person in my life that was truly holding me together, even if by love, sheer faith and spiritual superglue. I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t think of my grandmother and wish for just one more talk with her, or just to hear the sound of her voice again.

    I am lost, and I have no idea how I am going to hold it together. What remains of my birth family is falling apart, and other than my husband I don’t have anyone to turn to. I love him dearly, but sometimes he just doesn’t understand the struggles I am going through. I sometimes envy that he doesn’t. I wish I could just let things roll off my shoulders the way he does.

    I had been in a shop the day my grandmother had her stroke, and found a turtle ornament I thought she would like. Grandma loved turtles, she collected turtle things, and we were always finding them for her. Finding a new turtle she didn’t already have was like finding treasure. In the days since she passed, I have been trying to remind myself of the inscription upon that last turtle that I never got the chance to give to her.

    “Never give up, great things take time.”

    Slow but sure…that’s what she always used to tell me. She’s never steered me wrong…

  3. There are no explanations for the kind of chaos and pain you are caught up in right now. As a fellow believer, I can only offer you this…deep, heartfelt prayer for your peace in this storm.

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