Friday, April 10, 2015

A Spiritual Legacy

The man who led me to Jesus is now with Him. His wife Jennie, my 'nother mother as I call her, sent me a message yesterday afternoon letting me know.
Sometimes it's really hard to be so far away from friends and family. I'd so dearly love to be able to wrap my arms around my sweet friend and hug her tight. I'd also like to be able to sit and swap stories and laugh and cry with the family and their large circle of friends. John had such an impact in so many lives, and leaves a strong spiritual legacy. Each of us has our "John stories", some so funny you can't help but hoot with laughter and others so tender they bring tears to your eyes.

I met John Sholly almost 40 years ago, when I was selling things for some club or another at school and he bought a bunch of stuff. He always did; all the kids knew he was a soft touch and he was usually the first stop when you had candy or knickknacks or whatever to sell.

At the time John was pastoring two churches in Southeastern Kentucky, one at the mouth of Hell-Fer-Certain Creek and the other up Sheol. Here's an old photo of John at Sheol. He needed that big red truck to get to the church. There wasn't much of a road, and at one point (at least) you had to go through the river bed. I remember some nail-biting trips, especially one time when John was sick and I went with Jennie. The river was running high and I wasn't sure we'd get through. But that woman can drive. We made it to the church -- and on time!
John and Jennie poured themselves into the youth in the area, opening their home for all manner of activities and meals. They put together a choir with kids from up and down the Confluence area and "took the show on the road", traveling to churches and camps in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Maryland. We often made the local newspaper with our various trips and activities at the church.
I was part of the Brethren Bunch for two years, despite the fact that I can't carry a tune in a bucket. The group was more about opportunity and grace, and less about talent. John and Jennie went way beyond forming a choir. During every trip they tried to include something special, whether it was visiting a synagogue to learn about the Jewish faith or stopping to see the battlefield at Antietam.
(Can you find me? Hint: I'm the one wearing a brace.)

Without a doubt, the trip most of us remember best is the one to Washington, D.C. where we swarmed the downtown streets, fascinated that we were outnumbered by foreigners in our own national capital. We visited the Smithsonian and Washington Monument, toured the White House and sang on the Capitol steps. What an amazing experience for kids fresh from the mountains of Appalachia!

We never knew what John would throw into the mix. We were aware that we could be called on at any moment to quote a chapter of scripture from memory. Some were much better at this than others (ahem). But we might also be asked to state our address -- not an easy thing to do when we didn't have street names or numbers but rather hollers and creeks. And John could be very creative in how he introduced us. None of us will ever forget the time we became "Harry Nostril and the Nine Nasty Nose Pickers" at a camp in Ohio.

John and Jennie were instrumental in my going to Grace College, when they paid the registration fee and took me to visit the school. They also came to visit during my first year away from home.
Less than a year later John was one of three pastors who officiated at our wedding, and Jennie played special music for the ceremony. They also bailed us out of a tight spot by donating a Plymouth Satellite to use on our honeymoon after Ivan's little VW Bug died a sudden and painful death (the engine seized) the week before we got married.

It wasn't the first time John had provided a vehicle for me; it was actually the third! But we won't talk about how I managed to total a beautiful Chrysler New Yorker within the first eight days and a second vehicle within four months. (Yes, this is how I came by the nickname "Crash", but we won't talk about that either.)

John and Jennie continued to be a part of our family and our life, making regular visits and calls back and forth from wherever we were living as both families bounced around. There we were in Indiana while they were in Iowa, now they've moved to Michigan while we head to Florida...

They drove down to Florida to see us shortly after Tina was born. She was too little to do more than coo at her "Uncle" John and "Aunt" Jennie but our son Jon, who is named after John, thoroughly enjoyed all the attention they gave him. We have lots of sweet memories from that visit, including Key lime pie and walks on the beach, and a trunk load of grapefruit that caused the car to drag from all the weight.

Then it was our turn to visit them in Michigan. You know that saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words?" This is a perfect example.
Looks like a couple guys playing instruments while our kids look on. But there's so much more to it! Yes, there's the element of music and reminds us of all the music-making going on in the Sholly household. That cabinet serves as a lovely backdrop but what the casual observer wouldn't know is that the lower cabinet is the same one our daughter crawled into with the cookie jar, stuffing her face with so many cookies she couldn't even talk when we finally found her (and where she picked up the nickname Cookie). The uninitiated would not realize this was taken in the home where John and Jennie were houseparents to boys with multiple impairments, or that this visit would propel us into a similar position with the same organization a year later.

This organization had a main campus and four group homes. Which meant four sets of houseparents, and by the grace of God, we were all believers. The men worked together to provide activities for the boys in our care. Camping trips, days out on the boat, games of pick-up basketball... It would not have been possible to stick with that job as long as we did (nine years) had we not viewed it as a ministry -- because John and Jennie viewed it as a ministry and set the example.

The guys also shared their hobbies and skills and enjoyed spending time together. Before long three of the four men had British MG sports cars. They were always helping one another with construction projects at the group homes. It was a community-within-a-community. We were there for one another when things got tough. After John had ear surgery, Ivan was taking him home when they passed an MG parked along side the road. John suggested that could be Ivan's next project, to which Ivan replied he didn't need any more projects. About ten miles down the road, John turns to Ivan and asks, "What's a garage egg?" hahahaha  That's what he heard instead of project, and the phrase has stuck.
(One of the other houseparents created this fun magnet.)

Despite the fact that we moved six thousand miles away, we've continued to stay in touch, via email, Facebook and an occasional Skype chat as well as visits whenever we are stateside. John and Jennie also remained a part of our kids' lives. When Tina graduated from college and friends gave an open house for her in Jonesville, John and Jennie shared in the celebration.

It was a joy during a recent furlough to attend their 50th wedding anniversary celebration. What a blessing it has been to know them for most of that time and see how God has worked in and through them.

The last time we saw them, we stopped in to say goodbye and ended up in the garage where John was working on another 'garage egg'. This time a sign for their church. This is a good example of how John liked to use his talents to help and benefit others.

That was last Spring. We knew they'd both been struggling with various health issues, and John's had heart problems for years. So the news of his passing isn't altogether a surprise, and yet we are never ready for the death of a loved one. My prayer is that those who gather for the funeral will remember the way John loved to make people laugh, the way he could light up a room by just walking in, and the way he always, ALWAYS brought the conversation around to what God was doing. We have many special, wonderful memories but for me the most important one is the 40-year-old memory of John making clear the way of life through faith in the Lord Jesus. I remember him pounding the steering wheel as we traveled to Grace College, 8 hours there and 8 hours back. I was a captive audience and John made sure that I understood the Gospel before that trip was over. It was because of his life and testimony that I came to know Jesus as Savior.

I'm only one of many whose lives He touched. I'm sure in the coming days, there will be a lot of love flowing in person and through social media for the family. Lots of photos and memories will be shared. I'm going to close with a photo I borrowed from their daughter's Facebook page. They took a serious family shot at Christmas, but I like this one so much better. It truly captures a wonderful, fun, typical moment in the life of our friend.

We rejoice and grieve. I know that John is rejoicing! He's with Jesus and he's been reunited with Arjay, his son who died 30 years ago. I can only imagine how sweet both reunions were, and how much John is enjoying heaven right now. At the same time, we will miss him. Miss his booming laugh and quirky smile. Miss his prayers and encouragement. Miss his friendship and love. We will miss him.


rita said...

Beautiful, moving story! Thank you! A glimpse of the tapestry God is weaving, intertwining our life paths with others.
I picked you out right away, but hadn't noticed the brace until you mentioned it. Another story.

Mari said...

I'm sure he heard "Well done, thou good and faithful servant". What a legacy he leaves! I'm sorry for the loss you and his family are feeling, but happy for his joyful homecoming!

The Bug said...

I loved reading about your friend. I was thinking "Well done, thou good & faithful servant" too :)

TMart said...

Just looking over Grace Brethern website and saw that John went to be with his Lord in 2015 -- John and I went to seminary together and worked together at a local church in the area. I have warm memories of John over those years!

Ted & Ruth Martens -- retired in 2016 to tampa florida - previously Trenton, NJ