Randy Willis is an American novelist, biographer, rancher, and music publisher.
Randy Willis is the author of Twice a Slave, Three Winds Blowing, Louisiana Wind, Beckoning Candle, The Apostle to the Opelousas, The Story of Joseph Willis, and many magazine and newspaper articles.
Randy Willis...novels about adventure, family, faith, and the character of a man that touched generations.
Coming soon: A series of Children's Storybooks beginning with Ole Sally Swims the Mighty Mississippi.
Josh Willis, Adam Willis, Randy Willis & Aaron Willis
Randy and Josh Willis
Come…! Look…! Choose...!
I grew up on a Louisiana red dirt road. I have walk them. I have ridden my horse down them—working cows on what was then the open range. I have driven cars and trucks a many a mile down their winding paths. I love those roads.
One of my favorite poems is The Road Not Taken, written a century ago, this year, by Robert Frost. The last stanza contains my favorite words written by Frost: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference. Oh, how true that has been in my life.
Yet, there is another road, perhaps even less traveled. It’s not a red dirt road or the one Frost wrote about. Come…and look…and choose this road —if you will. It will change your life. It will even change your destiny.
Did you know?
In 1829, a man named George Wilson was found guilty of six charges and given the death sentence. But, Wilson had influential friends who petitioned President Andrew Jackson for a pardon. Jackson granted the pardon, and it was brought to prison and given to Wilson. To everyone’s surprise, Wilson said, “I am going to hang.”
There had never been a refusal to a pardon, so the courts didn’t know what to do. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and Chief Justice John Marshall gave the ruling, “A pardon is a piece of paper, the value of which depends upon the acceptance by the person implicated. If he does not accept the pardon, then he must be executed.”
God loves you, and yes, He has provided a pardon for you, paid for with Christ’s own life-blood, but you have the right to refuse the pardon. Jesus was crucified between two thieves.
One thief said yes to Jesus, but the other said no to Him. One accepted the pardon and the other refused it. The question to you and I today is the same as it was 2,000 years ago: which thief on the cross are you? The one who said yes to God’s pardon or the one that said no to His pardon? I have chosen to say yes. You have the same choice.
Did you know…?
God is seeking you!
The last invitation in the Word of God is found in Revelation 22:17: “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.”
Are you thirsty? Then come. Let him that hears come. And, whosoever will, come.
That invitation is to you…it is to me…it is to everyone!
Bring your disappointments, bring your failures, bring your fears, bring your heartaches. The Holy Spirit says come to Jesus.
He loves you. He wants to save you. He will save you. Come to Jesus, and drink the water of life freely.
He suffered, He bleed, He died, because He loves you. Listen to the still small voice, of the Holy Spirit, saying to you come to Jesus. Don’t wait—come!
“Look to Me, and be saved, All you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:22)
“All you ends of the earth” is the Aboriginal people of the Central Australian desert. “All you ends of the earth” are those in darkest Africa. “All you ends of the earth” are the isolated tribes in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. “All you ends of the earth” is presidents, world leaders, and kings. “All you ends of the earth” is the polished lawyer, and the gifted doctor, and the brilliant college professor. “All you ends of the earth” is the prostitute, and the drug dealer, and the rapist, and the thief, and the murderer. “All you ends of the earth” is you…and me.
God’s Word, the Bible, states, “So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.” Those that looked lived. Those that looked were healed. Those that looked were made whole. Those that looked were saved. They didn’t wait to they were a better person. They just looked.
Jesus tells us that this is a picture of Him being lifted up on the cross. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15) That serpent represented the sin of the people. Christ was made sin for us. Will you look to Jesus—will you put your trust in Him—the One who died for your sins.
Will you put your faith in Jesus—the One who shed His life-blood for you…and for me?
Some years ago my eldest son, Aaron, was in an automobile accident. His back was broken so badly that the doctors said he might not ever walk again. After fusing several vertebrae in his lower back he was able to begin the long task of healing from the spinal fusion surgery, in a rigid plastic back brace. Later, his doctor finally agreed to let him briefly remove the brace to take a shower, as long as someone was with him.
As I was driving to pick he and his brothers up for the weekend, unbeknown to me, his brother, Josh, and he removed the brace so he could take a hot shower, in his shorts. Josh was with him, but was much smaller than him at that time.
As I drove, I decided to stop at the post office, when a still small voice spoke to me saying, “you need to go now.” I passed the post office and drove as fast as I could wondering what that warning was about. There were no cell phones then. As I entered the house I asked his mother where he was. She said in the shower. I ran to it and as soon as I entered the bathroom he said, “Dad, I’m dizzy.” I stepped into the shower and placed by arms under his arms from his back. He immediately passed out. I told his younger brother to help me move him to a bed, while their mother called 911. His dead weight was more than I could have ever imaged. We got him onto the bed without reinjuring his back. I knew if he had fallen he might have been paralyzed.
As I prayed, following the ambulance to the hospital’s emergency room, I noticed the symbol on the back of the ambulance. It was the American Medical Association’s (AMA) logo of a serpent wrapped around a staff. The sign of healing medicine reminded me of the bronze serpent on the staff lifted up by Moses. Many Christians believe that’s were it originated from.
But, more importantly it reminded me of Jesus being lifted up on a cross for my son. God’s son in place of my son…I really can’t fathom love that great. To this day, I cannot see that symbol without giving thanks to the Lord for that warning, and the shed blood of Christ lifted high upon a cross for my sins, for your sins, for the sins of the entire world. Surely, there can be no greater love than God giving His Son’s life-blood for us.
When we arrived at the hospital, the doctors gave him intravenous (IV) fluids and two bottles of Gatorade for dehydration. The hot shower, along with pain medication and dehydration, had caused his blood to rush to his feet and therefore faint.
Will you look to the One that was lifted up on a cross for you? Will you look to the Great Physician—Jesus, to heal you of all your pain? Will you look to Jesus, who took your place on a cross and died for your sins?
Jesus hung between two thieves on a cross. One of them rejected Him, but the other one put his faith in Him, “Will You remember me when You enter Your kingdom?” Jesus replied, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43) Now, both of those men were guilty. One put his trust in Jesus, and the other chose not to. Again, the question is, which thief on the cross are you?
Now, there was a third cross that day. It was for another criminal named Barabbas and he represents us. Jesus was crucified on a cross meant for Barabbas—it was your cross, too—it was my cross, too. Jesus bore your cross and my cross. He took our place on that cross. The just for the unjust. The Righteous for the unrighteous. The sinless Lamb of God for the sinner.
Self improvement will not qualify you for salvation for God’s Word says, “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10) Comparing yourself to others will not work either, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Doing the best you can will not save you for the Scriptures record, “But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6)
Ask yourself, If you could be good enough to pay for your sins then why did Jesus have to die for you? The answer is you can’t.
Come—come just as you are. Will you say yes to Jesus—today?
There’s a Scripture that I love, and it explains things so very simply.
It says, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:9-10)
You can settle this question right now in heaven and on earth by saying yes to Jesus—accepting His pardon, just as that one thief did on the cross.
There are no exact words. Praying is just talking to the Lord.
If these words are how you feel in your heart, then pray:
I come to You in prayer, asking for the forgiveness of my sins.
I confess with my mouth and believe with my heart that Jesus is Your Son, And that He died on the cross at Calvary that I might be forgiven.
Father, I believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and I ask You right now to come into my life and be my personal Lord and Savior.
I repent of my sins and will surrender You all the days of my life.
Because Your word is truth, I confess with my mouth that I am born again and cleansed by the blood of Jesus!
In Jesus’s Holy Name I pray. Amen!
The most famous words ever spoken:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
“Whoever,” that’s you…that’s me…that’s everyone. Come to Jesus. Look to Jesus. Choose Jesus. Today!
All Scripture references are from the New King James Version (NKJV) of the Bible.
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” – Jim Elliot (Evangelical Christian who was killed, in 1956, while participating in Operation Auca, an attempt to evangelize the Huaorani people of Ecuador ).
One of my favorite novelist...Lew Wallace
One of my favorite novelist, Lewis Wallace, was inspired to write his second novel, in 1880, by an agnostic. The novel was conceived after sitting on a train, listening to Colonel Robert Ingersoll for two hours.
Wallace wrote that Ingersoll poured out "a medley of argument, eloquence, wit, satire, audacity, irreverence, poetry, brilliant antitheses, and pungent excoriation of believers in God, C...hrist, and Heaven, the like of which I had never heard."
Until then, Wallace had been indifferent to the claims of Jesus. He wrote, "Yet here was I now moved as never before, and by what? The most outright denials of all human knowledge of God, Christ, Heaven... Was the Colonel right? What had I on which to answer yes or no? He had made me ashamed of my ignorance: and then--here is the unexpected of the affair--as I walked on in the cool darkness, I was aroused for the first time in my life to the importance of religion... I thought of the manuscript in my desk. Its closing scene was the child Christ in the cave by Bethlehem: why not go on with the story down to the crucifixion? That would make a book, and compel me to study everything of pertinency; after which, possibly, I would be possessed of opinions of real value."
Wallace subtitled the book, a tale of the Christ. He later wrote, "It only remains to say that I did as resolved, with results — first, the book Ben Hur, and second, a conviction amounting to absolute belief in God and the Divinity of Christ."
~ Randy Willis
Twice a Slave | Randy Willis Author
Twice a Slave has been chosen as a part of the Jerry B. Jenkins Select Line along with four bestselling authors. Jerry Jenkins is author of more than 180 books with sales of more than 70 million copies, including the best-selling Left Behind series.
The son of a white man and a Cherokee, Joseph Willis must live as a slave on his own property. After his father gives him his freedom on his deathbed, an angry uncle prevents his emancipation and confiscates his property.
His struggle for freedom is complicated by a love forbidden by society and his new found spiritual faith. Declaring himself a slave to Jesus Christ, he experiences an eternal freedom no man or government can suppress - and challenges most men would flee.
With a faith molded by tragedy, Joseph finds the courage to forgive - and to change the course of a new nation.
The journey of Joseph Willis from North Carolina to Louisiana is filled with intrigue and inspiration. It describes the struggles of Native American slavery and the profound impact that Joseph Willis made on the newly acquired Louisiana Territory.
The story of Joseph Willis begins at the close of the First Great Awakening in America and ends at the height of the country's Second Great Awakening.
It illustrates the faith of a person of low social stature and how his simple faith changed the course of Louisiana history. The story captures the hardships of early Evangelical leaders and the inspiration of the manner in which they overcame great obstacles.
Joseph Willis lived as a slave two times - the first time because of injustice thrust upon him, and the second time because of the love of God that captured his heart and soul. It's an untold, yet unforgettable story.
Twice a Slave has been chosen as a part of the Jerry B. Jenkins Select Line along with four bestselling authors. Jerry Jenkins is author of more than 180 books with sales of more than 70 million copies, including the best-selling Left Behind series.
About Joseph Willis
Joseph Willis' life is a story of triumph over tragedy and victory over adversity!
. He was born into slavery. His mother was Cherokee and his father a wealthy English plantation owner.
. His family took him to court to deprive him of his inheritance (which would have made him the wealthiest plantation owner in all of Bladen County, North Carolina in 1776).
. He fought as a Patriot in the Revolutionary War under the most colorful of all the American generals, Francis Marion, The Swamp Fox.
. His first wife died in childbirth, and his second wife died only six years later, leaving him with five small children.
. He crossed the mighty Mississippi River at Natchez at the peril of his own life, riding a mule!
. He entered hostile Spanish-controlled Louisiana Territory, when the dreaded Code Noir (Black Code) was in effect. It forbade any Protestant ministers who came into the territory from preaching.
. His life was threatened because of the message he brought to Spanish-controlled Louisiana!
. His own denomination refused to ordain him because of his race.
. Joseph Willis preached the first Gospel sermon by an Evangelical west of the Mississippi River.
. On November 13, 1812, Joseph Willis constituted Calvary Baptist Church at Bayou Chicot, Louisiana. He went on to plant over twenty churches in Louisiana.
. October 31, 1818, Joseph Willis (and others that had followed him from the Carolinas) founded the Louisiana Baptist Association, at Beulah Baptist in Cheneyville. Joseph had founded all five charter member churches.
. After overcoming insurmountable obstacles, he blazed a trail for others for another half-century that changed American history.
. His accomplishments are still felt today.
Randy Willis is a fourth great-grandson of Joseph Willis and his foremost historian.
Without Louisiana College there might not have been "Sunshine."
When I was a boy one of my heroes was the man standing to the right of President John F. Kennedy. I had a gracious letter that he had written to my mother after her first husband had prematurely died. When I entered the entertainment business there were only two famous people, in that world (there were many in the sport's world) that I wanted to meet. One was Roy Rogers and the other was him. Years later I was invited by a friend, who was his band leader at the time, to meet him in his home. ~ Randy Willis
I wrote this about him. Without Louisiana College there might not have been "Sunshine."
Perhaps I should explain in more detail. Without Louisiana College there may never have been the classic hit song "You Are My Sunshine. "
The year was 1920. The son of a poor sharecropper from the now-ghost town of Beech Springs in north Louisiana decided he wanted to get an education. His family was so poor that he did not have a bed in which to sleep until he was nine years old.
Upon graduation from high school, he began the task of choosing a college. One of his neighbors had something called a college catalogue. Later he would recall, “I was amazed and believed you could order a college just as you ordered something from Sears. I’d never seen a college, had never been on a college campus, but I read it and it told all about Louisiana College at Pineville. I decided that’s where I would try to go.” The college had been established just fourteen years before in 1906.
But how could he pay for tuition, books, housing, and food? He didn't have any money or know anyone that did. He decided to try and get a job at the college. On his second day on campus he went to the college employment office and found a job in the soon to be named Hattie B. Strother Cafeteria. Hattie was the beloved Dean of Women of Louisiana College. She would serve as Dean of Women for 21 years. Hattie Strother's maternal great-grandfather, Joseph Willis, had preached the first sermon by an Evangelical West of the Mississippi River, but it would be a decision by her brother that would forever change Louisiana history.
Hattie's brother, Willie Strother, was a history professor at Louisiana College. He would teach there for 35 years. The young sharecropper's son would attend his classes. He wished to get his degree in history. It would also be during the student's freshman year that a classmate of his and Willie and Hattie's brother, Harry Winfield Strother, would die from injuries in a football game at Louisiana College.
After acquiring the job in the cafeteria he joined the glee club. Professor Dunwoody soon assigned him to the college quartet. He sang lead. About the same time he received a gift, a used guitar. He taught himself how to play it. As winter approached he became desperate for money. With his guitar, he began to sing on the street corners in Alexandria. When an officer would tell him to move on he would move to another street corner.
The young student's name was Jimmie Davis. He would graduate from Louisiana College, earning a bachelor's degree in history in 1924 and in 1927 a masters degree from Louisiana State University. He would become a two-time governor of Louisiana and record one of America's best-loved songs, " You Are My Sunshine. " He was inducted into six halls of fames, including the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Southern Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame, and the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.
But none of this would have happened had it not been for two encounters on the campus of Louisiana College. In his third year of college Jimmie simply just did not have the money to continue. He tried banks for a loan. They all turned him down. Later, he would write, "Everyone ought to be hungry and try to borrow money at least once in their life. To be broke and turned down, well, it's something."
With his dreams put on hold the college boy found himself in back of a mule again, plowing and picking cotton from sunup to sundown . Jimmie made $75 and supplemented that by slipping back into Alexandria and singing on street corners. After one year in the cotton fields he was able to return to Louisiana College and obtain his degree in history when Willie Strother loaned him $120 (the equivalent of $1,500 today).
But, there would be yet another encounter on the campus of Louisiana College that would have a greater impact on Jimmie's life. While walking across campus a man introduced himself to Jimmie. The stranger was striking looking, well dressed, and friendly. Jimmie said, "At first we talked about football and baseball." He was the son of a sharecropper too.
Then he began to ask Jimmie questions and explained who he was. "I'm Robert G. Lee . I'm holding a revival in Pineville tonight and you're invited." Dr. Lee had served as pastor of First Baptist Church of New Orleans for four years. The bold and future three time president of the Southern Baptist Convention (and future pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis) added, "Jimmie, can I ask you something? If the Lord would call you today, would you be ready to go." Jimmie replied, "Dr. Lee, I hope He doesn't call me today because I don't think I could make it." Dr. Lee replied, "The Lord's been good to you, and it's something you ought to think about." He closed by saying, "I hope you'll come to church tonight."
Jimmie later wrote, "I realized that everything I had, everything I had ever had, and everything I would ever hope to have on this earth had come and would come through the grace of God."
Jimmie continued, "That night I went to church. Dr Lee gave one of his most famous and beloved sermons, Pay Day, Some Day. There's no doubt of it, the man had the finest command of the English language that I have ever heard. Before he had finished, I was ready to go down the aisle. And when he gave the invitation, I was the first one down and made public my profession of faith and united with that church." Willie Strother was there. He was a deacon in the church.
Jimmie would write of his beloved college, "Every man needs God as a partner because you can't make it by yourself. I knew it was my duty to try and contribute something to life, not just take from it, and I determined to try to be a better citizen. I believe that was the most important thing I learned at Louisiana College."
Jimmie Davis would go on to change Louisiana history and impact the lives of thousands through his music and life. In 1999, "You Are My Sunshine" was honored with a Grammy Hall of Fame Award and the Recording Industry Association of America named it one of the Songs of the Century.
"You Are My Sunshine,” was designated an official state song of Louisiana in 1977.
The Sunshine Bridge was completed in 1963 over the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Governor Davis named it after his signature song. His horse was also named Sunshine.
Governor Davis died in his sleep peacefully at his Baton Rouge home on November 5, 2000. He was 101 years old and had continued to make public appearances until a few months before his passing.
~ Randy Willis
Website: www threewindsblowing com
Amazon author's page: http://amazon.com/author/randywillis
Bibliography: Jimmie Davis's papers can be found at the Louisiana State Archives, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. An obituary appears in the New York Times, 6 Nov. 2000. An uncritical biography is Gus Weill's You Are My Sunshine: The Jimmie Davis Story, an Affectionate Biography (1977). Davis's first term of governor is well covered in Jerry Purvis Sanson's Louisiana during World War II: Politics and Society, 1939-1945 (1999).
Randy Willis, Jake Willis and John Wayne
I'm in the mood for a fast horse or a slow train and they're no trains in sight! ~ Randy Willis
John Wayne, Jake Willis, my Quarter Horse Dollar—and yes, me. This scene, more than any other in the movies, reminds me of my Dad, Jake Willis...!
After watching my favorite John Wayne movie, Big Jake, for the umpteenth time, I've decided it's time for a ride. Dollar and my destination is the Guadalupe River near Sisterdale. There, hopefully, I will write a chapter or two on a nov...el that I'm working on.
Big Jake has always reminded me of my Dad, Jake Willis. Dollar was named after two different horses, Dollor and Dollar, that John Wayne rode in his final westerns. The horses are often confused. It is Dollor that carries Wayne when he makes his famous charge, reins in his teeth, in his Oscar-winning portrayal of Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. And it's Dollar that Wayne rides in the sequel, Rooster Cogburn, as well as in his final film, The Shootist.
Vaya con Dios
~ Randy Willis
Beckoning Candle is my new book that will be released in 2017. It is based upon my father Julian "Jake" Willis's life and my namesake, my grandfather, Randall "Ran" Willis's life. It is a nonfiction novel (i.e.: the story of actual people and actual events told with the dramatic techniques of a novel). Truman Capote claimed to have invented this genre with his book "In Cold Blood" (which I read many years ago). I will keep you updated with the release date.
Randy Willis and Jake Willis
It’s 16 degrees this mornin’ at my home. When I was fetched up (between Angleton and Danbury) the first thing on my mind on a morning like this was the livestock. Nothing’s changed, the livestock is still the first thing on my mind. If needed I will saddle up, but I hope it’s not needed!
photo: My Dad Jake Willis and me. It was 17 on that morning.
Randy Willis | A Christmas Story
A Christmas story inspired by actual events.
Excerpted from Three Winds Blowing (Epilogue) by Randy Willis
Christmas Day, December 25, 1852, Forest Hill, Louisiana
Great-Grandpa Joseph Willis relived much of his life in Louisiana on the wagon trip in October of 1852 from Evergreen to Babb’s Bridge. He poured out his heart to us, and I discovered a joy in writin’ and keepin’ an account of all his stories.
Just when it seemed that no day in our family would ever top the 1845 Willis Feast of Thanksgiv…ing…it did. It all begin the first time ever I saw a white Christmas, December 25, 1852, in Babb’s Bridge, and the entire family was there. Each family member brought a decoration for our tree. The cedar was so big that we had to cut it down three times just to get it inside the door. There were strings of popcorn, wooden figures, sugared fruit, paper dolls cut out by the girls, gingerbread, and somebody even brought a bird’s nest. We had ornaments that had meanings, too, like a pine tree, which symbolized eternity, pinecones that meant warmth, and a teapot that signified hospitality, which has always been taught by our family. There were candy canes with the Good Shepherd’s crook, with white stripes for the purity of Jesus and his virgin birth and the bold red stripes for Christ’s shed blood. At the top of the tree was the star of Bethlehem made from a quilt. And, the Christmas stockin’s stuffed with nuts, candy, and fruit hung on every available nail.
I’ll never forget the looks on my cousins’, brothers’, and sisters’ faces. Dolls, books, tablets, pencils, wooden soldiers, and even a rockin’ horse were unwrapped that happy morn. I got a new writin’ tablet that I started using to write this.
Christmas Day started with a few flurries, and everyone ran out to see the snow. Mother taught us to make something I’d never eaten before—ice cream. She showed us how to add milk, cream, butter, and eggs with the snow in a pewter pot. She had read where President Thomas Jefferson had even made ice cream with split vanilla beans. Imagine that! Our traditional hot spiced cider warmed us from the cold. The smell of roasting chestnuts in Mama’s cast-iron skillet in the fireplace brought back precious memories of Christmas past.
As the flakes began to fall steadily, more guests arrived, including Mr. Cormier and Miss Adelaide. She was with child, due in a few months. Mr. Cormier told Great-Grandpa, “If the baby is a boy, we are gonna name him Joseph.” Great-Grandpa’s face shone with an all-knowin’ peace. You could hear the excitement in their voices as Mr. and Mrs. Cormier brushed the snow off.
Mr. Malachi Perkins, Miss Eliza, Randall, and Emily came in together. Mr. Perkins went right up to Great-Grandpa and gave him a hug, sayin’, “Pastor, we consider ourselves engaged, but as you know by Louisiana law, we can’t get married. We’ve fallen in love, and if it was legal, we’d be hitched already.” He hesitated, then went on, “We so want to do what’s right in the eyes of the Lord. I remember ya tellin’ me how your mama and daddy had a clandestine weddin’. I don’t want to bother ya on this special day, but would ya mind thinkin’ ‘bout it in a few days and lettin’ us know if ya’d perform our weddin’ ceremony?”
Great-Grandpa took all of two seconds, grinned, and said, “Ain’t gotta think about it, Malachi. I’d be honored…if ya don’t mind if I do the ceremony sittin’ down. I’m a half-step slower than I used to be.” Everybody laughed.
“Ya know, Pastor, ya could get in trouble for doin’ it!”
“Yes, I know, but I’m ninety-four, and my race here is almost run. What are they gonna do, shoot me? They already tried that, when I was only knee-high to a grasshopper.”
The entire room seemed to be filled with a sweet joy. We all cheered and clapped. Randall and Emily looked the happiest. Great-Grandpa motioned for me to come over and whispered in a voice real low, “Quite a few folks are named after me now. If you ever have a son, Dan, you should name him Randall, after Eliza’s son. You can even nickname ‘im Randy, if you so like. That way, our descendants will remember that miracle and share it with their children.”
We watched the storm bringin’ heavier snow, which seemed to be driven by a blue norther as our neighbors Mr. and Mrs. Robert Graham arrived. And yes, Julia Ann was with ‘em. Great-Grandfather asked to be carried to the barn to talk to his aged four-legged friend, Ole Sally. He told her he had a gift for her—a mule blanket that all the Willis women had made. They had made a matchin’ blanket for him, too.
I listened to ‘im sweet-talk ‘er in ‘er ear. He thanked ‘er for being a good friend and told ‘er that he could never have done it without ‘er. As Ole Sally leaned over the stall gate, Great-Grandpa kissed ‘er on the nose. She backed ‘er ears, and he laughed, sayin’, “Aww, you know you like it.”
We carried him back to the house, and then I asked him to share his annual Christmas story once again. Everyone gathered ‘round the fireplace. He looked like he was doin’ what he loved best.
The wind was blowing the snow so hard we didn’t hear Mr. Ford arrive with Mr. and Mrs. Peter Tanner, the brother and sister-in-law of his late wife. Mr. Ford rushed through the door with a great big smile, sayin’, “Looks like Solomon Northup will be freed on January 3rd. He’s gonna be a free man!” Again, everyone clapped and cheered.
Great-Grandpa’s heart was full of joy. Mine, too! He beamed as he said, “I don’t see how a Christmas could get any better than this.”
He’d started to tell the Christmas story when there was a knock at the door. I jumped up to answer the door. There stood a snow-covered, half-frozen woman in a green hooded cape. Her hair was all wet and matted. All of a sudden, I recognized her—and so did everyone else. There were a few gasps and then lots of hugs. Great-Grandpa couldn’t see very well, as his eyes were dimmed by age. He asked, “Who’s that? Who’s here?”
She put her finger up to her lips to keep everyone silent. No one said a word as she went over to Great-Grandpa, hugged him, and said, “Merry Christmas, Pastor Joseph Willis. I love you with all my heart.”
His eyes glistened as he pulled her to him and said, “I love you even more, Miss Elvy Willis. Welcome home! I’ve saved a place beside me for ya. You’re just in time to hear my favorite Christmas story again.
“He was born in a little-known village. He was brought up in another community that people said nothing good would ever come out of. He worked with his hands in a carpenter shop until he was thirty, and then for three years, he traveled as a country preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never commanded an army. He never owned a home. He never went to college. He never traveled more than a couple hundred miles from the place where he was born.
He was rejected by the religious folk of that day. While he was still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. One friend denied him. Another betrayed him. Many even hated him. He was turned over to his enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial and was then nailed to a notorious prisoner named Barabbas’ cross between two thieves. His executors gambled for his only possession—his coat.
“Most of his friends had abandoned him by then. When he died, he was laid in a borrowed grave. Then, on the next Sunday mornin’, he rose from the dead. As we look back across eighteen hundred years and examine the evidence and sum up his influence, we must conclude that all the armies that ever marched, all the ships that ever sailed, all the governments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, and all the presidents that ever led combined have not had the influence on mankind that this one Country Preacher has had!”
Not a sound was heard ‘til Great-Grandpa said, “Merry Christmas, everyone!
I got a stirrin’ in my heart and started singin’, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”
Great-Grandpa and Miss Elvy joined in: “Let earth receive her King; let every heart prepare Him room….” Finally, everyone was singin’. “And Heaven and nature sing, and Heaven and nature sing, and Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing. Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!”
Randy Willis and Darrell Royal
My friend Coach Royal died four years ago.
For many years I would have a pickin’ party at my home honoring Coach. He never missed one.
This is a photo taken at the last one, on March 13, 2011, at my Austin home. Pictured with me is: Rattlesnake Annie, Lenny Vaughan (Stevie Ray Vaughan’s widow), Coach Royal, and Freddy Powers (longtime songwriting partner of Merle Haggard).
He was famous for inspirational Royalisms like, “Dance with the one that brung ya,” “When you get into the end zone, act like you’ve been there before,” and “You’ve got to think lucky. If you fall into a mud hole, check your back pocket you might have caught a fish.” My favorite was: “The mark of a man is how he treats people who can never do anything for him.”
He had a great sense of humor, too. Once when we were shooting pool, after playing golf all day (at Bill McDavid’s home on Willie Nelson’s Cut-N-Putt Golf Course) the phone rang. Freddy Powers asked me to answer it because I was the closest to the phone. Coach said, “Randy, if that’s Edith tell her I’ll come home when I’m damn good and ready.” And before I could get the phone to my ear he added, “and tell her I’m damn good and ready right now.”
On October 12, 2012 (a few weeks before Coach’s death) Coach Royal recited “The Eyes of Texas” while the Kyle Family sang back up. Less than a month later The Kyle Sisters, would sing “The Old Rugged Cross” at his funeral at Coach’s request. He had also asked them to change the lyrics when they sang it, tweaking the line “So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down” to “till my burdens at last I lay down.” He added, “my trophies don’t mean much to me now.” Remarkably, his request was made with Alzheimer’s. Coach died on November 7, 2012, due to complications of Alzheimer’s disease.
Aaron Eckhart played Coach in the movie “My All American.”
Randy Willis | Robert E. Lee
When Robert E. Lee was two years old, his dad went to debtor’s prison.
After resigning from the U.S. Army, in 1861, Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s 200-acre Arlington estate, where he had married his wife Mary, raised seven children, and lived for over 30 years, was occupied by Union troops.
The government seized the property in 1864. Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs recommended it as the location of a new military cemetery to be named Arlington National Cemetery. To ensure the house would forever be uninhabitable for the Lees, Meigs directed graves to be placed as close to the mansion as possible, and in 1866 he ordered the remains of 2,111 unknown Civil War soldiers killed on battlefields near Washington, D.C., to be placed inside a vault in the Lees’ rose garden.
General Lee would never return. Most men would have been bitter, but not General Lee.
Attempts to embroil Robert E. Lee in politics failed, though The New York Herald endorsed him for President in 1868 on the grounds that he was a much better man in every way than U.S. Grant. Lee refused.
After the Civil War, General Lee visited a Kentucky lady who took him to the remains of a grand old tree in front of her house. There she bitterly cried that its limbs and trunk had been destroyed by Federal artillery fire. She looked to General Lee for a word condemning the North or at least sympathizing with her loss.
After a brief silence, General Lee said, “Cut it down, my dear Madam, and forget it.”
Perhaps we all need to cut down a few trees today and forget them…?
~ Randy Willis
“Looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled.” Hebrews 12:15 (NKJV)
photo: Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial, formerly named the Custis-Lee Mansion, is a Greek revival style mansion located in Arlington, Virginia, that was once the home of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
The horse reminds me of Robert E. Lee's horse.
Randy Willis | Texas Baptist Children's Home
Randy Willis | God swings a moghty big loop....
Randy Willis |God swings a mighty big loop....
“He bridled her and proceeded to rub the mare all over with a saddle blanket while he whispered to her. One ole cowboy yelled, ‘Bite her ear.’ Another, ‘Snub her to a post.’ Another, ‘She’s got crazy eyes.’
“Jimbo ignored them all, except to say, ‘She’s not crazy, just afraid.’
“Didn’t take long for him to get a saddle on her. He climbed on her real slow like and rode with a new found confidence. She seemed to trust him.
“Suddenly someone cracked a bullwhip and yelled, ‘Ride ‘em, cowboy.’
“She must have jumped ten feet. And, as everyone hooped and hollered she reared up falling over backward on top of Jimbo. The horse got up but not the boy. He just lay there in the dry dusty dirt. I was the first one that got to him and he sure didn’t look good. He tried to talk, so I bent down close to his mouth to hear his words.
“’Please get my Book, the one that boss Jake gave me.’
“First I thought I hadn’t heard him right, but he said it real clear again.
“’Please get me my Bible.’
“I sent one of the others to fetch it from his saddlebags. I tried to make him comfortable, but there wasn’t much I could do. Wondered how we’d explain all this to boss man Jake. When the Book arrived I show it to him. ‘Here, Jimbo, here’s your Bible.’”
“’Lay it on my chest and open it to John 3:16, please. Put my finger on those words.
“He spoke all raspy like.
“’Please, do it, please!’
“I found that verse and lifted his hand. He cried in pain cause his arm was broken. I placed his finger on the verse.”
“’Tell boss Jake I made that decision just like he told me I should.’
“With that he closed his eyes and was gone.” The barber had tears in his eyes as he ended the story.
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I paused a minute, then said, “Boys, I made three decisions after I heard the barber’s story. The first was to name the creek we now live on Barber Creek. The second was to have you boys bury me one day with my Bible opened on my chest with my finger placed on John 3:16. And the third was to give every cowboy that works with us a copy of the good Lord’s Word. Your copies are in the chuck wagon. Rooster will show you where.”
Jeremiah and Jacob seemed to be moved the most.
Jeremiah spoke first, “Mr. Willis, our sister Mary told us about that Carpenter. Is He for real?”
“Boys, He’s as real as the skin on my bones.”
“What does that verse say Mr. Willis?”
“It says that whosoever puts his trust in Jesus will have everlasting life.”
“What does whosoever mean? Who’s that?”
“I reckon, Jeremiah, that’s you and me and every cowboy and cowgirl. Even the mavericks, the culls, and the undesirables. God swings a mighty big loop. But, there’s many a cowboy that doesn’t want His brand.”
There was a peace in the camp as an unseasonable cool breeze blew in.
Then Jeremiah said, “I want His brand.”
Jacob added, “Me, too.”
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An excerpt from Louisiana Wind by Randy Willis
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Vaya con Dios,