Updated: Oct 21, 2019
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.
Visitors. Visits. Some are welcome. Some not. Last week, my mother and I went visiting. To Arkansas. With only a few days advance notice, we hopped in my vehicle and drove from Waterford, Michigan, to Little Rock, Arkansas. Not a casual jaunt—1,800 miles roundtrip.
LD, one of my dear father’s brothers, is dying. My dad had eight brothers and now two remain. My dad, the second youngest, passed on in early 2011. The uncle we visited in Arkansas is the second oldest. He and “the baby”, Freddie, are the last remaining sons of Lonnie and Lennie Shellnut. There were two daughters and one remains.
Last month, after hearing Uncle LD was not well, I bought a plane ticket to visit him in November. Then I got a call that he was put into hospice care. “I can’t wait until November,” I thought.
I am not particularly close to this uncle, but had thought of him fondly over the years, having seen him only occasionally on childhood visits to Arkansas and as an adult, infrequently at Michigan family reunions to which he rarely travelled.
My sweet mom knew that I had a strong desire to see Uncle LD, so she offered to travel with me. We left on a Tuesday evening and returned Friday midday. We spent about seven hours in his hospital room and 27 on the road. It was a really good visit and trip.
I had told my cousin, his daughter, that we were coming. She didn’t tell him, so it was a surprise. This is a classic Shellnut move, we love surprises. It took Uncle LD a minute to get his bearings. He is 93, partially blind from macular degeneration and also hard of hearing. He looked a bit confused…visitors from Michigan?
We reminded him, “Bennie’s wife—Bonnie—and his oldest daughter—Shawn.”
He was pleased. I know he woulda made us some biscuits if he’d a been home. Probably not near as good as Aunt Bernice’s, his dear wife of 58 years who passed on in 2005. I do recall, she made the best biscuits and gravy every morning of my summer vacation that I was with them, promptly at sometime-way-too-early, before the rooster had the notion to crow.
Uncle LD’s poor ole’ body is deteriorating. In his heyday he was a strapping bricklayer, now his large weathered hands are part of his only useful limbs. A recent fall resulted in his immobilization. Bedsores have come.
It was sad to see, but I knew what to expect. I know he is discouraged, but he is not bitter. His mind is clear, reflective. He has lived long enough to say goodbye to many loved ones, including his only son and a great granddaughter. His two daughters live nearby and look after him, along with a number of grand and great grandchildren. LD is a loved man.
My girlhood memories of him are few but good. I believe my strong desire to see him stems from my father’s admiration of him. LD loves Jesus, his faith and family are paramount. And just as he lived that out, so did my father. Priorities matter.
Those were precious hours we spent with LD at the John L. McClellan Memorial Veterans Hospital, listening, praying, reading, playing and learning.
Born April 17, 1926, to sharecroppers in central Arkansas, he recalls planting and picking cotton before he was tall enough to see over the plow. His big brother Hurley, he said, “got the cooperative donkey, I got the ornery one.”
At age 16, he bought his last pack of cigarettes, KOOLs, he recalls. “I got on a train, smoked one then decided to be done and threw them away. What a waste of a quarter! I coulda bought a pint of ice cream,” he said with a grin.
We asked a lot about his WWII service. He was 19 when he arrived in Scotland with the US Army on the Queen Elizabeth in July 1944. “We had to wade to shore, that water sure was cold!”
As a private in the infantry he quickly advanced to corporal, in charge of a squad of six. His battalion pushed German forces out of France, back into Germany toward their ultimate surrender. When we thanked him for his sacrifice, he teared up and said, “Those who didn’t come back were the ones who made the real sacrifice.”
After the war, he met Bernice and they married in her mother’s Royal Oak, Michigan, living room. They moved to Arkansas where he helped raise three children and hundreds of brick houses in and around Sheridan.
LD has a charming smile reminiscent of my father’s, eyes twinkling. My dad also had the same deep creases in his neck skin, which I always found interesting. LD’s arms are mottled with spots from years of sun exposure.
We prayed with him, blessing God for life and salvation. I read the Bible, he requested a few chapters from Proverbs. We sang Amazing Grace, his voice quiet, quavering. We played dominoes for two hours. He schooled me a time or two on good strategy. You are not a fully realized Shellnut unless you can play pinochle and dominoes. Sorry to say, I have never had the patience to learn pinochle.
Before we said goodbye, we prayed and sang The Lord’s Prayer.
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done
On Earth as it is in Heaven
We left for Arkansas on the eve of Yom Kippur. I had looked forward to celebrating our atonement with family at our local Messianic synagogue. Instead, my mom and I spent the first night in a decent Terre Haute, Indiana, hotel and the next in a very sketchy Little Rock motel. Many prayers were answered that night!
These temporary dwellings made me all the more thankful for home. Still, I know my current earthly home is not my permanent dwelling. Five days after Yom Kippur, we celebrate Sukkot/Feast of Tabernacles. This is the seventh appointed time on the Biblical calendar, the culmination of the fall feasts.
Scott and Bella built our sukkah/booth before I returned from Arkansas and we added leafy branches just in time to shake the lulav and etrog on Sunday eve. This is one of the Lord’s commands for the festival, to take fruit and tree branches and rejoice for seven days.
Another command is to live in a booth for seven days. A booth/tabernacle is the temporary dwelling the Israelites lived in when God brought them out of bondage from Egypt. Living in a tent reminds us of the temporal nature of our existence. We observe the command by mainly spending time in the sukkah sharing meals.
When Bella was younger, I used to set up a little tent in the backyard and we would sleep out together. On clear nights, the full moon was a comforting night light. Since Sukkot begins on the 15th day of the Hebrew month, there is always a full moon.
Today, there is no temple in Jerusalem for sacrifices or pilgrimage. But as a “lasting ordinance”, we have the great privilege of embracing these appointed times, meeting with Adonai on his terms, remembering, resting, rejoicing.
To me, this is the most wonderful time of the year. A celebratory reminder that the Lord provides and Messiah will return to gather us, as a hen her chicks. He will tabernacle with us permanently one day.
The enigmatic Shmini Atzeret/Eighth Day punctuates the Sukkot holiday. It’s the Lord’s “let’s-hang-out-one-more-day-together” Sabbath after the seven days of Sukkot. He wants us to tarry with him another day, savoring all that is and is to come. Immanuel. God with us.
No one knows the birth date of Yeshua/Jesus, be it October, June or December 12 or 25. But there is speculation that his arrival coincided with Sukkot. If the Lord didn’t tell us the exact date of the arrival of his son, it must not be that important. Not like the dates he did give us—his appointed times.
I like to imagine Yeshua did arrive at Sukkot-time. And I do believe that when the great shofar/trumpet is blown to announce his return, it will—not coincidentally—occur during these beautiful fall feasts. May our lamps be full of oil, ready for the bridegroom’s return!
My kids introduced me to this cool band, The Oh Hellos. This particular song--the second of a four-part set--always gets me choked up, as I imagine the angels' proclamation that day outside Bethlehem and the gravity of its full meaning. Hope you enjoy Mvmt II, Begin and Never Cease.