Friday, March 28, 2008

The Rolling Pin is Mightier than the Sword

Before Jesus came to the Litton house—we learned to speak of those days as B.C. (Before Christ)—my father was a hard fighting, hard drinking sailor. One day Dad came home under the influence of strong spirits and found my mother rolling out biscuit dough for supper. Dad yanked open the door of our short refrigerator and reached over it to grab yet another longneck beer. He popped the top off and took a deep swallow. My mother, frustrated by his drinking, suggested he go light on the booze. In a rare and very stupid moment, my father backhanded my mom. He then staggered into the bedroom and fell into their bed. Within moments she could hear him snoring. The sting of this slap could not compare to the devastation her woman's heart felt. I mean, she was cooking the sorry cuss's biscuits and he hit her.

My mother is not only a fantastic cook, she is an amazing seamstress. She quickly pulled the sheet tight around my dad and stitched it into a human cocoon. He looked like Lazarus lying in his tomb. Then she went into the kitchen and found her rolling pin. I don't remember the exact words she used, but they were something poetic, along the lines of, "You sorry S.O.B., you may have just gotten a sandwich out of me but I am about to get a meal out of you!" Then the beating began. Shouting, cussing and pleading, he was helpless to defend himself, bound up in that sewn sheet. Dad passed out only to come to from time to time with a terrible headache. He later said that when he woke up he wasn’t sure if he’d died and gone to hell.

The next day my father reported back to his ship and promptly checked himself into sickbay. Upon seeing this bruised and battered chief boatswains mate, the doctor said, "Litton, what in the world happened to you?"

"Oh, doc, I got in a fight last night with a bunch of Marines."

Diagnosed with a very bad hangover, and a well deserved domestic butt kicking, my dad learned a lesson. Southern women may be sweet and they may be great cooks, but they are resourceful when it comes to abuse. A stitch in time and a rolling pin can do more damage than the United States Marines.

In the remaining years my father gained a new respect for my mom and never mistreated her again. After Jesus came into the Litton house, He routed the demons and healed a host of painful memories. Today my mother still cooks for my dad, and we still laugh when we tell that story. I was a little boy that hot summer night in a Navy housing project, but I’m glad Jesus came and never left the Litton house.

Ed Litton
(My parents 50th Wedding Anniversary. A living miracle!)

Friday, March 14, 2008

Welcome to Bountiful

A few years ago Tammy and I were spending a couple of days in New York City. We loved to walk in Manhattan. We spent the better part of the day walking to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and on our way back to our hotel we went past the Trump Tower. We went inside and approached the uniformed doorman. In typical Southern style I asked, "Sir, where is your restroom?" His answer was sharp and snappy. "My restroom is in Queens but you'll need to get a cab to get there." I said, "I bet that wasn't the first time you've been asked that question, was it?"

What was I thinking? I should have expected that kind of response in New York. There would be something wrong if a doorman in New York upon hearing a dumb question in a Southern drawl didn’t answer in this manner. But it made me think about the uniqueness of the environs I inhabit. It made me wonder what my neighborhood is like to strangers and visitors and walkers who need a restroom. Well, that led to another thought.

Do you remember the Walgreens ad campaign of a couple of years ago? The one that shows an idealized community where everything goes right and nothing ever goes wrong. The place is called "Perfect." A voice then reminds you that real life is not perfect, and that is why you need a Walgreens nearby. I don't know that I would want to live in a place called "Perfect." Beyond the reality that hits when I move in and "Perfect" ceases to be just that, there is no place this side of the New Jerusalem that is or can be perfect. Most people accept this truism, but we still long for a place that is near perfect.

This side of heaven, I think I would prefer a place called "Bountiful." Bountiful is a place God desires us to live our lives. Bountiful is a place where God's grace matches and exceeds life's dilemmas. The Apostle Paul talks of it in Second Corinthians. "And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work." Bountiful is God's answer to a sinful fallen existence where pain, heartache, suffering and hard things abound. For all too many people, "Bountiful" is as far-fetched as Walgreens’ "Perfect." In fact it is very close to a corner near you.

In Bountiful, God's grace meets you where you are and lifts you to where you need to be. Grace abounds for the failures of life. Grace rules relationships and grace supplies our needs. God provides for those who trust in him with all of their heart. Lest you begin to see the place Bountiful as some resort, let me remind you that it is a place of the harshest reality. Grace comes bountifully to those whose diagnosis is bad, whose child has Downs Syndrome, whose love of a life just walked out, and those touched by death's icy fingers. Bountiful is not what you would expect; it has a high crime rate, bad traffic, lousy attitudes and very poor service.

So why should I want to be there? It is God's way. He planted you in a less than perfect world to be the object of His grace and love. In order to do what He desires most, communicate his love to hurting humanity. Bountiful is not for the faint of heart. It is for the brokenhearted. You see God has planned a place called Perfect, but it is still under construction, nearing completion but undone at this hour. Bountiful is God's answer for an otherwise bare existence. The New York doorman was not a guy with a bad attitude; he was a reminder to me that God's grace is bountiful, and a good laugh at your own expense is worth the price of admission.

Come see me sometime, down the street, past the signpost that reads, "Welcome to Bountiful!"

Ed Litton

Monday, March 10, 2008


When stars are in the quiet skies,
Then most I pine for thee;
Bend on me then thy tender eyes,
As stars look on the sea.
For thoughts, like waves that glide by night,
Are stillest when they shine;
Mine earthly love lies hush'd in light
Beneath the heaven of thine.

There is an hour when angels keep
Familiar watch o'er men,
When coarser souls are wrapt in sleep -
Sweet spirit, meet me then!
There is an hour when holy dreams
Through slumber fairest glide;
And in the mystic hour it seems
Thou shouldest be by my side.

My thoughts of thee too sacred are
For daylight's common beam;
I can but know thee as my star,
My angel and my dream;
When stars are in the quiet skies,
Then most I pine for thee;
Bend on me then thy tender eyes,
As stars look on the sea.

Edward Bulwer Lytton

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Millstone Incident

My Dad grew up in the Great Depression. I grew up reliving the Great Depression through my father's amazing storytelling ability. His vivid descriptions filled my hungry mind with color and depth and just enough facts to make me feel as if I was actually there.

My father was one of ten children, each struggling and starving in their own way. As one of the youngest and shortest of ten children my father grew up street wise, scrappy and hungry. Adventure was always the quickest way to distract him from his busy mind and hungry stomach.

One spring day my father, affectionately known as "Shorty," was traipsing through a wooded hillside that overlooked the rusting coal mining town of Coburn, Virginia. You don't get the nickname "Shorty" for being the biggest kid in the pack, so you have to be quick to action in order to keep from being lost and left behind. With his older brother PeeWee and his buddy Don Evans in tow, their adventure took them to the top of the hill so they could overlook the town. Almost to the crest of the hill, they saw it. They must have been up this hill a thousand times, but for some reason they’d never seen it—an enormous millstone, standing upright and just waiting for them to find it.

The three boys saw opportunity. A few ideas bounced among them as they surveyed the two tons of rock shaped for milling grain into flour. The grist mill that had once surrounded the grinding stone was long gone, leaving the stone standing silent and alone. Not being versed in weights and measurements, it never dawned on the three boys that this thing was heavy. Really heavy. So they took a rope from my grandmother's clothesline and secured the millstone. The plan was to knock away the stump that held the stone and let the mighty rock gently roll down the hill so they could salvage it and make a killing off its sale.

PeeWee took an ax in hand and barked out the question, “Ready?” Shorty and Don held the rope tightly, bracing for the slow descent down the hill. PeeWee sliced the dead stump with a whack, and the millstone moved for the first time in decades. It moved slowly at first, then when the rope snapped, it freely rolled down the hill. With the boys in chase, the millstone began chewing up trees and spitting them out both sides. Nothing could stop it. It smashed a fence as the boys ran helplessly along dodging limbs and falling trees. It kept rolling downhill, picking up speed and moving right toward a house.

At the foot of the great hill was a shack owned by a strange woman named Jane Hicks. The boys watched in disbelief as the stone rolled straight toward her house. Living next door to Jane was the Adkins family. Baldy Adkins was another friend of my father. When I asked my dad why anyone would name a kid "Baldy," he assured me that he was not prematurely bald and this was his nickname, he said the Adkins family was so poor they shaved their kids’ heads to keep from having to pay for haircuts—and that it also helped keep the lice population down. Baldy's mom was hanging clothes in the backyard when she heard the commotion coming down the hill. Jane was in her kitchen when Mrs. Adkins yelled, "Jane, get out of that house, all hell is breaking loose!" Jane dove from the porch seconds before the millstone slammed into the house and split it in two.

No one saw the Litton brothers or Don Evans for over a week. They just melted into the mountains until the heat was off. Upon their arrival back in civilization, they were just in time to watch a man with a team of horses pulling the millstone down the street to salvage. It would be years before the statute of limitations expired on the fear of these three young men. Thankfully for them, everyone found a huge distraction when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Within a few short years the three boys would be off at war and the world would never be the same.

The best part of this story is the part I did not tell you. You see, Jane Hicks made moonshine in that little shack at the bottom of the hill. My dad said that on Saturday night after she had finished brewing and taste testing her product, Jane was riding high. Alcohol can do strange things to people. Jane would climb the hill behind her house above the town and scream like a panther. Funny thing, after the Millstone Incident, no one ever recalled hearing the panther again. What the Federal Revenuers could not do, three hapless and hungry boys with wide eyes and big dreams did. I don't know if Jane was saved that spring day, but I know that whatever happened to her, the panther never screamed again and no one ever purchased old Jane Hicks’s brew. The Lord sure does move in mysterious ways.