Stories with Black Headers are inspirational stories from Gayle's own experience. The stories that follow with Blue Headers were probably collected for use in devotional talks. Their sources and their veracity are unknown.
A Rumpled Fender
Gayle's new boss, Frank Woods Sr., was a corporate bankruptcy attorney. He had amassed enormous wealth by negotiating for equity positions in corporations he was able to pull out of bankruptcy. One of his expensive cars had been hit by another driver in a minor accident, shortly before Gayle had the outstanding luck to be hired as Mr. Woods' chauffeur. The car had been sent out for repair. When it came back, Mr. Woods called Gayle over to examine the car with him. "See here? This is where I was hit by this guy," said Woods. "The repair looks pretty good. But see this area over here? That area was damaged too, but not by the driver. That dent was my fault. I backed into a fence. But the great thing is, when I sent it in for repair, I told the shop to repair the whole thing. So now the driver who hit me had to pay for repairing everything. Pretty smart, eh?" Gayle didn't say anything. But his new boss pressed. "Smart of me to do that, wasn't it?" The idea of losing his new dream job loomed as he answered, "No sir. I don't think that's right." His boss quickly turned his back on Gayle and walked away. Gayle stood there, staring at his feet, thinking about how he'd just lost a great job, and how he would probably have to drop out of school for a lack of money. But Mr. Woods came back in a few minutes, and put his arm around Gayle's shoulder. "You can work for me any time, kid," he said, and sauntered off. The question had been a character test for the new chauffeur. Gayle had passed.
A Chipped Bathtub
On a hot Texas summer day, the irrigation system stopped functioning on the grounds of a certain house in Fort Worth, and the entire garden needed water. Eleven-year-old Gayle was hired to help the housemaid water the plants by hand. The division of labor was divided thus: the maid stood in the garden and directed where the water should go. Gayle's job was to haul the water to the garden, bucket by bucket, from the nearest bathroom in the mansion. They'd been at it for over an hour when it happened. Gayle was in the bathroom filling the bucket from the tub's spout. As he lifted it out of the tub, he misjudged the location of the bottom of the bucket. He clipped the bathtub as he swung the bucket over the side of the tub. To his horror, a golf-ball sized chunk of the porcelain tub tumbled out and rolled across the floor. Gayle did a quick calculation of the cost of a new tub and realized he'd be in serious financial straits. There was no way he could pay for school and pay for the tub's replacement. As he stood there staring in disbelief at the dislodged chunk of porcelain, the maid called to him impatiently. And Gayle panicked. He grabbed the chunk of porcelain and thrust it under the small area rug in the center of the bathroom. As he exited the room, he noticed the chunk left a telltale lump in the rug. He took his costly bucket of water to the garden, sick with worry and praying the whole way. But he said nothing to the maid. He emptied the bucket and returned for a refill, praying furiously as he walked. As he entered the bathroom, he first saw the rug. The telltale lump...wasn't...there. He turned his head toward the tub. There was no chip in sight. He ran his hands over the side of the tub. It was exactly as it had been ten minutes earlier, with not so much as a scratch on it.
["I Love a River" was written in Gayle's handwriting on three pages of yellow notepad paper, found in a binder of material dating from his Platte Valley days. It, and the lyrics below it, may be the closest he ever came to writing poetry. It's evidence of the deep attachment he felt to the Brazos river that runs through Texas. The Brazos starts west of Fort Worth, runs between Cleburne (where he lived) and Glen Rose (visible in the bottom left of this aerial photograph of a section of the river that Gayle would have known well), runs near Crawford, through Waco, past Houston, and empties into the Gulf of Mexico near Freeport.]
I Love a River
I love a river. It calls to me with that unheard voice. I long to answer its beckoning. Someday, if God wills, I shall return to her sanded banks and thank Him once again for a river--my river.
Today I sit within four walls, but when I close my eyes I can feel the gentle Brazos breeze against my cheek. Just above the cedar cloaked ridge the full moon lifts--a silvery dish, marred from time to time by high, thin clouds. As the moon sails higher in the sky, the stars that a few moments ago shown so brightly seem to fade in reverence for this greater light.
I place an ancient cedar stump on the bed of coals, before me, and watch the small red nuggets shoot yellow and blue flames toward its dry flaky durmis. Tonight this old stump reveals to me, as I watch it consume away, the events of history that it has seen. Painted warriors, herds of white faced cattle, cowboys singing by another campfire--a campfire of antiquity. Wagon trains, conastogas pulled by lumbering oxen. Wild horses, dens of rattle snakes, flights of greedy buzzards. All these and more are envisioned as the cedar burns and crumbles.
This sleepless dreaming is disturbed. A trail of lightning flashes along the bank of dark clouds just above the southeastern horizon and for a moment the eerie stillness is almost unbearable. Then across the vast plain sweeps the low and thrilling rumbling of distant thunder. The gentle breeze hears the rain-god's message and slips away across the still dark water of the river. The air becomes warm and heavy, laden with the enticing aroma of cedar.
All is still save for the sound of burning wood and the chirp of a cricket. It is an awesome stillness. The passing of a seeming eternity brings another low rumble of thunder, distant, yet near. An owl at the upper end of the nearby hollow sends his call into the still night.
Clouds reluctantly slide across the smooth surface of the earth's satellite, and with the stillness the darkness now intermingles. The sky above is haunting in appearance. Strange lights play among the tumbling, black clouds. Suddenly a jagged sword of fire pierces the sky and strikes the rock ridge across the valley. The roar of heaven's artillery is heard!
A gentle breeze urges the smoke of my dying embers toward the northwest. Behind that gentle breeze I hear angry winds moving across the valley and see the pointed tips of cedars waving devilishly as they advance.
Today I sit within four walls, but when I close my eyes I can feel the gentle Brazos breeze against my cheek.
Oh Carry Me Back to the Brazos
These handwritten song lyrics were found in the back of a file. Clearly the Brazos loomed large in Gayle's psyche.
Oh carry me back to the Brazos,
Where the water flows fast and free.
Where the stars at night shine so brightly
That's the place that my heart longs to be.
Oh bury me out on the Brazos
Where the waters flow fast and free.
Let me lie there in peace & quiet,
With six foot of dirt over me.
I dream of those hills & those valleys
And the steep rockie trails we knew
I dream of the cliffs & the canyons
With the sky up above them so blue.
Those days are now gone forever
Now old & feeble am I,
So take me back to the Brazos
And there in peace let me die.
I love that swift flowing river
With its rocks and its shifting sands
How it rushes & roars on its journey
As it wanders on through the land.
That river has some strange attraction
Now just what it is I can't tell
But its spirit now to me is calling
With that voice that I know so well.
Oh how I love the old Brazos
What a wonderful place to be
With its hills and valleys & canyons
That's the place where I long to be.
Those long lonely nights on the river
Bedded down by a bent cedar tree
Let me lie by a smoldering campfire
With a blanket of stars over me.
Elder Dower & the Ham Sandwich
[This is a story Gayle liked to tell about one of his professors, Elder Dower.] One summer, Elder Dower was colportering (a bygone practice of selling religious books door-to-door, a popular part-time avocation for devout SDA ministers and ministerial students from the '20s to the '60s (?)). One day, Dower was having a pleasant conversation with a prospect, while she was hanging laundry in her yard. A little dog was playing in the yard, too. It was noontime, so the woman offered the minister a sandwich. (Also not unusual, in the gentler country we have left behind.) He gladly accepted. She went in the house and returned with a ham sandwich. As a devout SDA, he could not eat ham. He wasn't sure how to politely extracate himself from the situation, but at that moment the woman said, "Let me get you a glass of milk." While she was in the house, Dower dug a shallow hole in the yard with his heel, slipped the ham in the hole, and patted down the dirt. As the woman returned with the milk, Dower was happily eating what remained of the sandwich. But the dog caught the scent of the ham, and came over to investigate. So Dower stood on the spot where he'd buried the ham. He tried to strike up the conversation again, but the dog persisted, scratching insistently around the minister's shoe. Finaly the lady said, "I think the dog wants something under your shoe. Why don't you move your foot?" So Dower ashamedly removed his foot. The dog unearthed the ham and devoured it. "You don't eat ham?" the woman asked, incredulous. "No ma'am." "Well what kind of a religion doesn't eat ham?" And that started a conversation that eventually lead to the woman's joining the SDA church. (I'm not certain her dog was happy about that.)
Thumb in the Bathtub
Gayle knew a very ambitious minister who began ignoring his own family to better serve his flock. One day the minister's supervisor called him in and gave him an assignment, and made the minister promise beforehand he'd actually carry out the assignment, before he knew what he was. Once the minister promised, the supervisor instructed him: "Have your entire family crowd into your bathroom, and fill the tub with water. Have a pencil handy. Mark on the wall how much space your family takes up, from the floor up, and from side to side on the wall. Now mark the water level on the side of the bathtub. Now stick your thumb into the water, and mark how far the water level rose when you stuck your thumb in it. Compare the difference in size your family takes up, versus the amount of difference in the water level with your thumb either in or out of the water. Plan your days accordingly." The poor minister actually carried out his assignment and reported back to his supervisor that he got the point.
The following stories with Blue Headers were probably collected for use in devotional talks. Some appear to be parables; their sources are unknown.
Most Important Question [File Dated July 1998]
During my second month of nursing school, our professor gave us a pop quiz. I was a conscientious student and had breezed through the questions, until I read the last one: 'What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?'
Surely this was some kind of joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, dark-haired and in her 50s,but how would I know her name? I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank.
Before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our quiz grade. 'Absolutely,' said the professor. 'In your careers you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say hello'. I've never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy.
A Story for Mary [File Date May 1998]
Jeremy was born with a twisted body, a slow mind and a chronic, terminal illness that had been slowly killing him all his young life. Still, his parents had tried to give him as normal a life as possible and had sent him to St. Theresa's Elementary School.
At the age of 12, Jeremy was only in second grade, seemingly unable to learn. His teacher, Doris Miller, often became exasperated with him. He would squirm in his seat, drool and make grunting noises. At other times, he spoke clearly and distinctly, as if a spot of light had penetrated the darkness of his brain. Most of the time, however, Jeremy irritated his teacher.
One day, she called his parents and asked them to come to St. Teresa's for a consultation. As the Forresters sat quietly in the empty classroom, Doris said to them, "Jeremy really belongs in a special school. It isn't fair to him to be with younger children who don't have learning problems. Why, there is a five- year gap between his age and that of the other students!" Mrs. Forrester cried softly into a tissue while her husband spoke. "Miss Miller," he said, "there is no school of that kind nearby. It would be a terrible shock for Jeremy if we had to take him out of this school. We know he really likes it here."
Doris sat for a long time after they left, staring at the snow outside the window. Its coldness seemed to seep into her soul. She wanted to sympathize with the Forresters. After all, their only child had a terminal illness. But it wasn't fair to keep him in her class. She had 18 other youngsters to teach and Jeremy was a distraction. Furthermore, he would never learn to read or write. Why waste any more time trying? As she pondered the situation, guilt washed over her. "Oh God," she said aloud, "here I am complaining when my problems are nothing compared with that poor family! Please help me to be more patient with Jeremy."
From that day on, she tried hard to ignore Jeremy's noises and his blank stares. Then one day he limped to her desk, dragging his bad leg behind him. "I love you, Miss Miller," he exclaimed, loudly enough for the whole class to hear. The other children snickered, and Doris' face turned red. She stammered, "Wh-Why, that's very nice, Jeremy. Now please take your seat."
Spring came, and the children talked excitedly about the coming of Easter.
Doris told them the story of Jesus, and then to emphasize the idea of new life springing forth, she gave each of the children a large plastic egg. "Now," she said to them "I want you to take this home and bring it back tomorrow with something inside that shows new life. Do you understand?" "Yes, Miss Miller!" the children responded enthusiastically - all except for Jeremy. He just listened intently, his eyes never left her face. He did not even make his usual noises. Had he understood what she had said about Jesus' death and resurrection? Did he understand the assignment? Perhaps she should call his parents and explain the project to them. That evening, Doris' kitchen sink stopped up. She called the landlord and waited an hour for him to come by and unclog it. After that, she still had to shop for groceries, iron a blouse and prepare a vocabulary test for the next day. She completely forgot about phoning Jeremy's parents.
The next morning, 19 children came to school, laughing and talking as they placed their eggs in the large wicker basket on Miss Miller's desk. After they completed their Math lesson, it was time to open the eggs. In the first egg, Doris found a flower. "Oh yes, a flower is certainly a sign of new life," she said. "When plants peek through the ground we know that spring is here." A small girl in the first row waved her arms. "That's my egg, Miss Miller," she called out. The next egg contained a plastic butterfly, which looked very real. Doris held it up. "We all know that a caterpillar changes and grows into a beautiful butterfly. Yes that is new life, too" Little Judy smiled proudly and said, "Miss Miller, that one is mine." Next Doris found a rock with moss on it. She explained that the moss, too, showed life. Billy spoke up from the back of the classroom. "My Daddy helped me!" he beamed.
Then Doris opened the fourth egg. She gasped. The egg was empty! Surely it must be Jeremy's, she thought, and, of course, he did not understand her instructions. If only she had not forgotten to phone his parents. Because she did not want to embarrass him, she quietly set the egg aside and reached for another. Suddenly Jeremy spoke up. "Miss Miller, aren't you going to talk about my egg?" Flustered, Doris replied, "but Jeremy - your egg is empty!" He looked into her eyes and said softly, "Yes, but Jesus' tomb was empty too!" Time stopped. When she could speak again. Doris asked him, " Do you know why the tomb was empty?" "Oh yes!" Jeremy exclaimed. "Jesus was killed and put in there. Then his Father raised him up!" The recess bell rang. While the children excitedly ran out to the school yard, Doris cried. The cold inside her melted completely away. Three months later Jeremy died. Those who paid their respects at the mortuary were surprised to see 19 eggs on top of his casket, all of them empty.
The Emperor's Seeds [File Dated January 1999]
Once there was an emperor in the Far East who was growing old and knew it was coming time to choose his successor. Instead of choosing one of his assistants or one of his own children, he decided to do something different. He called all the young people in the kingdom together one day. He said, "It has come time for me to step down and to choose the next emperor. I have decided to choose one of you." The kids were shocked! But the emperor continued. "I am going to give each one of you a seed today. One seed. It is a very special seed. I want you to go home, plant the seed, water it and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from this one seed. I will then judge the plants that you bring to me, and the one I choose will be the next emperor of the kingdom!" There was one boy named Ling who was there that day and he, like the others, received a seed. He went home and excitedly told his mother the whole story. She helped him get a pot and some pl anting soil, and he planted the seed and watered it carefully. Every day he would water it and watch to see if it had grown. After about three weeks, some of the other youths began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow. Ling kept going home and checking his seed, but nothing ever grew. Three weeks, four weeks, five weeks went by. Still nothing. By now others were talking about their plants but Ling didn't have plant, and he felt like a failure. Six months went by, still nothing in Ling's pot. He just knew he had killed his seed. Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing. Ling didn't say anything to his friends, however. He just kept waiting for his seed to grow. A year finally went by and all the youths of the kingdom brought their plants to the emperor for inspection. Ling told his mother that he wasn't going to take an empty pot. But she encouraged him to go, and to take his pot, and to be honest about what happened. Ling felt sick to his stomach, but he knew his mother was right. He took his empty pot to the palace. When Ling arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by all the other youths. They were beautiful, in all shapes and sizes. Ling put his empty pot on the floor and many of the other kinds laughed at him. A few felt sorry for him and just said, "Hey, nice try." When the emperor arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted the young people. Ling just tried to hide in the back. "My, what great plants, trees and flowers you have grown," said the emperor. "Today, one of you will be appointed the next emperor!" All of a sudden, the emperor spotted Ling at the back of the room with his empty pot. He ordered his guards to bring him to the front. Ling was terrified. "The empero 9r knows I'm a failure! Maybe he will have me killed!" When Ling got to the front, the Emperor asked his name. "My name is Ling," he replied. All the kids were laughing and making fun of him. The emperor asked everyone to quiet down. He looked at Ling, and then announced to the crowd, "Behold your new emperor! His name is Ling!" Ling couldn't believe it. Ling couldn't even grow his seed. How could he be the new emperor? Then the emperor said, "One year ago today, I gave everyone here a seed. I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today. But I gave you all boiled seeds which would not grow. All of you, except Ling ,have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When you found that the seed would not grown, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you. Ling was the only o 8ne with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. Therefore, he is the one who will be the new emperor!"
"I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (John 12:24-5). This scripture reminds us that the person who is willing to take less now will receive more later. By "dying" to ourselves now, we live forever. Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). It's not enough to just look like a Christian on the outside. Jesus wants us to be genuine.
Worship [File Dated March 1999]
His name is Bill. He has wild hair, wears a T-shirt with holes in it, jeans and no shoes. This was literally his wardrobe for his entire four years of college. He is brilliant. Kinda esoteric and very, very bright. He became a Christian while attending college.
Across the street from the campus is a well-dressed, very conservative church. They want to develop a ministry to the students, but are not sure how to go about it. One day Bill decides to go there. He walks in with no shoes, jeans, his T-shirt, and wild hair. The service has already started and so Bill starts down the aisle looking for a seat. The church is completely packed and he can't find a seat. By now people are looking a bit uncomfortable, but no one says anything. Bill gets c loser and closer and closer to the pulpit and when he realizes there are no seats, he just squats down right on the carpet. (Although perfectly acceptable behavior at a college fellowship, trust me, this had never happened in this church before!) By now the people are really uptight, and the tension in the air is thick. About this time, the minister realizes that from way at the back of the church, a deacon is slowly making his way toward Bill.
Now the deacon is in his eighties, has silver-gray hair, a three-piece suit, and a pocket watch. A godly man, very elegant, very dignified, very courtly. He walks with a cane and as he starts walking toward this boy, everyone is saying to themselves, "You can't blame him for what he's going to do. How ca n you expect a man of his age and of his background to understand some college kid on the floor?" It takes a long time for the man to reach the boy. The church is utterly silent except for the clicking of the man's cane. All eyes are focused on him. You can't even hear anyone breathing. The people are thinking, "The minister can't even preach the sermon until the deacon does what he has to do." And now they see this elderly man drop his cane on the floor. With great difficulty he lowers himself and sits down next to Bill and worships with him so he won't be alone. Everyone chokes up with emotion. When the minister gains control he says, "What I'm about to preach, you will never remember. What you have just seen, you will never forget."
Pearls [File Dated June 1998]
The cheerful girl with bouncy golden curls was almost five. Waiting with her mother at the checkout stand, she saw them: a circle of glistening white pearls in a pink foil box. "Oh please, Mommy. Can I have them? Please, Mommy, please!"
Quickly the mother checked the back of the little foil box and then lookedback into the pleading blue eyes of her little girl's upturned face.
"A dollar ninety-five. That's almost $2.00 If you really want them, I'll think of some extra chores for you and in no time you can save enough money to buy them for yourself. Your birthday's only a week away and you might get another crisp dollar bill from Grandma."
As soon as Jenny got home, she emptied her penny bank and counted out 17 pennies. After dinner, she did more than her share of chores and she went to the neighbor and asked Mrs. McJames if she could pick dandelions for ten cents. On her birthday, Grandma did give her another new dollar bill and at last she had enough money to buy the necklace.
Jenny loved her pearls. They made her feel dressed up and grown up. She wore them verywhere -- Sunday school, kindergarten, even to bed. The only time she took them off was when she went swimming or had a bubble bath. Mother said if they got wet, they might turn her neck green.
Jenny had a very loving daddy and every night when she was ready for bed, he would stop whatever he was doing and come upstairs to read her a story. One night when he finished the story, he asked Jenny, "Do you love me?"
"Oh yes, Daddy. You know that I love you."
"Then give me your pearls."
"Oh, Daddy, not my pearls. But you can have Princess--the white horse from my collection. The one with the pink tail. Remember, Dad dy? The one you gave me. She's my favorite."
"That's okay, Honey. Daddy loves you. Good night." And he brushed her cheek with a kiss.
About a week later, after the story time, Jenny's daddy asked again, "Do you love me?"
"Daddy, you know I love you."
"Then give me your pearls."
"Oh Daddy, not my pearls. But you can have my babydoll. The brand new one I got for my birthday. She is so beautiful and you can have the yellow blanket that matches her sleeper."
"That's okay. Sleep well. God bless you, little one. Daddy loves you." And as always, he brushed her cheek with a gentle kiss.
A few nights later when her daddy came in, Jenny was sitting on her bed with her legs crossed Indian-style. As he came close, he noticed her chin was trembling and one silent tear rolled down her cheek.
"What is it, Jenny? What's the matter?"
Jenny didn't say anything but lifted her little hand up to her daddy. And when she opened it, there was her little pearl necklace. With a little quiver, she finally said, "Here, Daddy. It's for you."
With tears gathering in his own eyes, Jenny's kind daddy reached out with one hand to take the dime-store necklace, and with the other hand he reached into his pocket and pulled out a blue velvet case with a strand of genuine pearls and gave them to Jenny. He had had them all the time. He was just waiting for her to give up the dime-store stuff so he could give her genuine treasure.
So like our heavenly Father. What are you hanging on to?
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