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  • shawnmariespry


Sing to God!

Sing praises to His name.

Exalt Him who rides on the clouds —

His name is the LORD—

and rejoice before Him.

A father of the fatherless,

and a defender of the widows,

is God in His holy habitation.

God settles the lonely in families;

He leads the prisoners out to prosperity,

but the rebellious dwell in a sun-scorched land.

Last week I travelled south to visit family. In August, when I heard my 93-year-old uncle had fallen and was not well, I had a strong desire to visit him. So I asked my cousin, Tina, to join me and we booked a flight to Dallas. Tina married my cousin Glenn, oldest son of Bob and Marie (Shellnut) Leach.

My cousin Paul Leach, with his mom, my Aunt Marie, and me at Tina and Glenn Leach's wedding in 1979
Glenn and Tina Leach on their wedding day, August 4, 1979
Tina and I with her two children--BethAnne, holding baby brother Bradley, February 1983

Something deep inside—call it gut—told me I needed to visit Uncle LD. As it turns out, I have been able to visit with him twice in the last two months. When I heard he was in the hospital, my mom and I made an impromptu trip to see him in the Little Rock VA hospital. (See “Glad Tidings”)

I was concerned that if I waited until November, I might not see Uncle LD this side of heaven. I know that if my father was alive, he would have done the same, visit his sick brother, to encourage him. My dad was a gem of his family, always concerned to meet other's needs.

Tina and I had such an excellent time! We rented a car in Dallas and drove five hours north to Sheridan, Arkansas, where Uncle LD is now at home. He is receiving hospice care as his daughters and their children look after him the best they can.

Being with Uncle LD was truly a gift--the gift of time well spent. A wise rabbi gave a message the Sabbath I visited my uncle, which resonates deeply with me. Rabbi Glenn Harris of Congregation Shema Yisrael says:

“Of all the resources you have at your disposal, [time] is far and away the most valuable. More so than money and more so than your abilities. Your abilities, though they may wane from disuse, remain with you, and can be reacquired or honed if you discipline yourself. And if you lose money, you have the possibility of making it back through hard work or ingenuity.

But time is irretrievable. Once you spend it, it’s gone. How much time have I wasted on lesser things? How much time that we might have given, that I might have given, to prayer, to study, to visitation, to encouraging others, to hospitality, has been squandered on truly unimportant pursuits.”

Tina and I visited with LD and his daughters, relishing the opportunity to listen, learn and encourage. We hoped to be a breath of fresh air in what often can be such a dark and disheartening time. We were so blessed, caught off guard by LD's wit and humor.

The secret to a good long life, according to LD? “Hard work, clean living and…” Wait for it. “…lots of sex.” This from a faithful Christian man who was married to one woman for 58 years. He was certainly hard-working and clean-living, bragging about giving up cigarettes when he was just a young whipper-snapper, not yet 18.

In the 40 hours we spent at his home, we talked a good bit, laughed, prayed and—some of my favorite moments—sang old hymns together. Tina and I enjoyed assisting with some basic needs. In one hilarious moment, LD—in perfect Shellnut style—caused us both to jump in fright when he playfully snapped his teeth at Tina while she readjusted his nasal cannula. The absolute best part was his deep belly-laugh and ear-to-ear grin, so pleased was he with his shenanigans.

Uncle LD in a moment of pure joy, laughing with his grandson Brent, November 2019
Tina and I took some time out for a trip to the local family cemetery, just down the road from LD's
My grandmother's grave...she be singin' with the angels

As Tina and I sat long and talked much, we enjoyed trying to identify the people and places in the photographs surrounding us. Uncle LDs home is full of precious family photos, on every cabinet, mirror, lamp and tabletop.

Uncle LD's home is adorned with every photo anyone has ever sent, a couple of the many Christmas cards my sister Heather sent him.
Uncle LD possessed many precious and rare photos I'd never, Grandma Lennie and Grandpa Lonnie. c. 1940s? She may have been pregnant with my my dad, Bennie! She was likely pregnant with one of the younger of 11 Shellnut children.
Lonnie and Lennie Shellnut with 10 of their 11 children, the final, Freddie would soon be born.
Another gem, here is LD and Bernice's family among other Shellnut children, including my dad, far left, as a teenager and Tina's mother-in-law, (Emma) Marie (Shellnut) Leach on the far back right, c. late 1950s

I didn’t choose this Shellnut family. They chose me. My adoption by Bennie and Bonnie was a precious gift. Though I only cost them a few hundred dollars, my worth is inestimable (see my previous three-part series.)

My parents always told me that I was adopted, that my birth mother chose to allow another family to raise me because she was not able. At some point as a child, I began to wonder, what did it actually cost to be adopted. My mom and dad refused to share those details, knowing I would not have the wisdom to discern that the administrative cost of my adoption was clearly not equal to my true value.

Only when I became an adult, did I receive all the paperwork associated with my adoption, including these receipts. I was able to learn non-identifying information about my birth mother, but not her name. My legal birth certificate indicates that my parents are Bennie and Bonnie Shellnut.

Six years before I was born, my father went to Arkansas to live and work with his older brother—Jimmie—who, like LD, was also a bricklayer. Bennie was able to participate in his brother’s family life as Jimmie and Thelma adopted their first child, Tracie.

My parents holding Tracie Shellnut, Uncle Jimmie and Aunt Thelma's daughter, 1967, Sheridan, Arkansas

My mom later shared with me that my father was so impressed by witnessing the joy Tracie brought to the family, that after my parents were married, it was an easy choice to pursue adoption when they were not able to conceive.

From left back, Jimmie, Bennie, Hurley, Shawn, Bob and Marie Leach; left front, Thelma, Lennie and Bonnie, early 1990s, Ortonville, Michigan

Our family is full of adoption stories. Maybe yours is also. Adoption is such a beautiful gift, for everyone. November is National Adoption Month, a time to celebrate and promote the joy of providing a family to a child in need.

My adoption by Bennie and Bonnie was a precious gift.

God settles the lonely in families. We are participants in this awesome opportunity when we choose to support single mothers as they parent…when we provide respite care to foster parents…when we adopt an infant, child or adolescent into our family.

Don't delay, for as Rabbi Harris warns us, "time is irretrievable." Let's be mindful to spend our time on greater things, truly important pursuits, such as visiting the sick and imprisoned, and caring for the fatherless and widow.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Make a joyful noise to the LORD,

all the earth.

Serve the LORD with gladness;

come into His presence with joyful songs.

Know that the LORD is God.

It is He who made us, and we are His;

we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.

Enter His gates with thanksgiving

and His courts with praise;

give thanks to Him and bless His name.

For the LORD is good,

and His loving devotion endures forever;

His faithfulness continues to all generations.


More Joy!

After leaving Uncle LD's, Tina and I travelled to Hot Springs, Arkansas to visit her dear Aunt Violet and cousin Sheila. We carried on to Fort Worth and Waco, Texas to visit with more Shellnuts. A few more photos of our lovely travels...

Tina embraces Aunt Violet, the youngest of Bob (Jessie) Leach's siblings

Blessed by the Willingham ladies, Jennifer (Shellnut), made us a delicious dinner and we visited with her darling daughters, Kenleigh, Jocelyn and Jillian while their daddy hunted in Michigan with Tina's husband Glenn, November 16, 2019
The "Boss Baby" and I had lots of fun giggling and playing with dominoes
Mario or Uncle Fred? Uncle Fred!! He made us a bang-up breakfast with the best Texas-style, highly-caffeinated coffee we could have hoped for, along with great conversation, November 17, 2019

A grand finale and perfect bookend to our travels, visiting with the youngest Shellnut, five-day-new Penelope Hope. Congrats to Ben, Hillary, and Peter Smith and grandparents Fred and Mary!

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Nov 24, 2019

Beautiful celebration of family and the blessing of adoption. Thanks for sharing.

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