Friday, September 28, 2018

His Name is James

His name is James. He lives in a little shack in the isolated community of Crusoe Island deep in the Green Swamp of coastal Columbus County, NC. It's located right off Highway 130 between Whiteville and Shallotte. He’s proud of his family surname, or at least until it trickled down to his own father, who along with James’ mother, was an alcoholic. James’ family once owned big blocks of land in downtown Shallotte, North Carolina, but when James’ daddy got his inheritance, he began to sell off bits and pieces. During his drinking binges, he sold the land for way under market value to buy whiskey. He eventually squandered it all away. The children had a rough time of it. James didn’t have much of an education. His parents didn’t think it important.

James grew up a rebel with somewhat of a temper to match his red hair, but somehow, he met and married a “good woman” (in his own words). Even though James knew by his own family history that alcoholism can tear families apart, he followed the path of his father and he lost his good woman. Addictive cycles are hard to break. He was a hard worker though. Without an education, he took menial labor jobs, most of them on shrimp boats, but a few carpenter jobs here and there. Not much money, but he was paid in cash, so he scraped by.  He drank and hung out with his buddies on weekends and would probably have continued along that path until he died.

But one day, something fabulous happened that would change his life forever. He got saved. He quit drinking then and there, cold turkey, he said. He started going to church every time the doors were open. He found some better jobs and saved up a little money and pretty soon he was wooed by another woman and remarried. A woman who talked him into buying a little piece of land and making a down-payment on a double-wide. It was the best house either of them had ever had and she was happy with her new-found wealth. And she was a good housekeeper; you know the kind that keeps the house and throws the husband out the door. And that’s what she did. She had a job and said she would make the payments. She didn’t, and she didn’t let him know that she was so far behind on the payments, neither of them could have come up with the money to pay what they needed to pay to keep it out of foreclosure. So that’s where it went, foreclosed by the bank. And there went his life savings and along with it, his credit.

And right after that is when we met him. James loves working with wood and is very talented. He makes beautiful vintage-style dough bowls and other smaller wooden bowls. I bought a few things he had made, not knowing that this was his main source of income along with a few odd jobs. He was sixty-two by that time and it’s hard to get a job at that age. He resorted to drawing his social security early, but it was less than $500 per month because of the years of scraping by on the cash he was paid and not paying into social security. Some people would say this was his own fault not paying into SS, but when you don't have much of education and you're just scraping by at a poverty level, you live for the here and now, not the future. When we found out his financial condition, Henry hired him to come to work in our weekend tackle business at the beach. He worked for us seven-plus years until we closed the business two years ago. We came to love him and we’re proud to call him our friend.

What drew me to James was his witness for the Lord. He didn’t have much - an old shack in the swamp, a beat-up old truck that was always breaking down - but he was happy. The Lord provided for him, he said - maybe not the things he wanted, but the things he needed.

After Hurricane Florence came through, the news stories of the flooding in Whiteville caused us to worry about him. We called him several times but got no answer. We left messages. Today he called us back. He lost everything he owned in the flood. His home, his old pickup that was no longer working, and even the small used car he had bought by saving up money from selling dough bowls. He was home when the flooding occurred. His power was out, and he hadn’t heard the threat of floods or he would have left with at least his car. The “house” had filled with two feet of water. He knew he needed to leave and when he stepped off his porch, he was in water up to his neck. He took his one-man boat to the nearest road and got a ride to a shelter. After the flood waters receded, he came back home to find most everything inside ruined, including his refrigerator. He said he salvaged his mattress by drying it out in the sun for the next few days. When we talked to him tonight, he was waiting for his niece to pick him up to get a few groceries. He bought some lumber yesterday to rebuild his floor.

The bad thing is that he will get no government assistance because he doesn’t own the property, he only has a lifetime estate from the owner to live there. James has fallen through the cracks. When Henry talked to him on Friday, he said, “I’m blessed. So many people had it much worse than me. They lost their lives, or they lost their children. I’m still here and I don’t know why.”

His biggest blessing, he says, is that he knows God and knows He’ll be with him through thick and thin. He always has. And here I am thinking that this poor guy has gone through a lifetime of hardships and how could he possibly not throw up his hands and say, I quit. But no, he’s blessed, not materially or physically, but with spiritual blessings that exceed all understanding. That’s James.

I’ve thought about setting up a “Go fund me” page for him or a fund through a church for donations. I’ll try to figure it out in the days ahead and let other people be blessed by helping the man who is always “blessed” no matter what his circumstances.

One of the many small bowls I've purchased from him over the years.

 UPDATE: I just talked with James, telling him we are trying to get some help for him. His most pressing need right now is transportation. He is hard at work at this very moment replacing his floors to make his house livable. They were made of particle board and were caving in from the flood. He is living in it as he is working on it. He will need a refrigerator and some kind of small old truck that runs. He wanted me to know that he didn't call us just to ask for help. "I'll get by," he said. "The Lord will take care of me." I said, "James, sometimes the Lord takes care of you by using other people." His answer, "I never thought about that.

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