Those of us who are believers in the Christian faith know that the concept of sainthood can have two related, but differing meanings. Some see saints has being very special followers of Christ who through their strong beliefs and devotions have had great impact on large numbers of us due to their works and efforts to promote and expand the Fellowship of Christ to others. Even more of us, myself included, see sainthood from a much broader perspective, as the devotion of all Christians with their efforts at living God's Commandments and their individual commitment to faith in Christ as the Savior. There are so many Christians who have never gained fame through their efforts, often staying in the background and perhaps not even realizing just how their daily missionary work has such great impact on others. They do so not for recognition or for glory because they know in their hearts that the glory always belongs to God and they are fully satisfied just trying to do that. And since they are also humans like all of us, they know they are frail and will make mistakes that are sinful, yet through their efforts God will reward them after life on earth is done with eternity through Life Everlasting. My mother's closest sister, my Aunt Sylvia, an Outer Banker by birth and a lifelong resident of Nags Head was one of those saints who impacted many, including me very directly from the time she impacted my life as a young child.
Sylvia was a beautiful young girl and smart, too, but upon graduation from high school first in her class at Manteo High School, she fell madly in love with a handsome and fun loving young man from Nags Head, Hal Wood Culpepper, and devoted her life to him instead of furthering her education as she was well qualified to do. I can remember Mom talking about how smart she was and how her father always thought Sylvia would be the most successful of the Etheridge sisters in the outside world, not Mom, who had to work much harder than anyone to make it in studying to be a nurse. But Sylvia's decision also became fateful in a very positive way and as I grew older and looked back on things, I realized it had to be her calling from the Almighty, even though at the time she probably didn't know it. In the period from her marriage until the mid- 1940's, Uncle Hal, a very smart man, made a lot of mistakes in his lifestyle, yet all knew that despite his earlier days of being a ladies' man, he only loved Sylvia. He enjoyed gambling and enjoyed drinking, however, which created hardship for Sylvia and their young son, but when he got deathly sick in the mid -'40's, the experience changed him dramatically and he gave up his heavy drinking and limited his gambling to a regular card game that he kept within limits. He also honed his self-made skills as a master builder of both small craft vessels and beach cottages. Dad entrusted him with building our family cottage and that wonderful old place, while no longer in the family, still sits proudly on the oceanfront in Nags Head. As a young boy, Uncle Hal taught me how to crab as well as many other things about the water. There is no doubt in my mind that Saint Sylvia's prayers and commitment to the man she loved played a major part in his change, that plus his love for her.
I remember as a young boy attending church at Nags Head Baptist, where Sylvia taught me Sunday school in the summers and sang in the church choir, when the pastor, Frank Dinwiddie, was preaching on Revelation for a month. I was truly petrified by what he was teaching and became quiet and sullen. Mom noticed I would sit on the beach dune thinking and was quiet and reserved. It was Sylvia who recognized the reason and talked with me, explaining how God never meant that Book of the Bible to be a topic for children. And later, when I experienced my first hurricane on the beach, it was Sylvia who sang this frightened little boy to sleep with Jesus Loves Me as the house swayed on the stilts and the sea shells washed through under the floor. She had a most soothing way about taking fear away and replacing it with peace.
Even as an adult, coming back to the Outer Banks on periodic fishing trips to the Cape, I would call Aunt Sylvia just to tell her I would stop by on the way by for a visit but not to do anything for us other than just to enjoy a little time together. And always, when I arrived, on occasion with a group of guys in my fishing party, I would find a full meal with all the trimmings and a fresh cake in the center of the table awaiting us. She would not let us leave until we were stuffed. This was after Uncle Hal had passed away and she was alone. But, you see, no matter what situation she ever found herself in financially, the Lord always took care of her. I know it was because he didn't want her talent in the kitchen to go to waste for she was as good a cook as I've ever seen and she always tried to fatten me up. She did that for many people for she loved to see others enjoy what she could concoct.
I vividly remember the visit to Nags Head in the early 1990's when I took Mom and my sister to say our last goodbyes to this special lady we all loved at her funeral a that little church where she had been one of the founding members. It was packed and it was hot but when they sang "Jesus Loves Me," the memories of Aunt Sylvia, a true saint of a woman to me, flooded out of my eyes in tears and I thanked God for my having had her in my life. And I guess that NO, this isn't really a devotional, but I thought it was worthy of writing since those saints who we come in direct contact with in our daily lives are so important to us. I only hope that you have a wonderful saint in your life like Aunt Sylvia was in mine for I was truly blessed by her presence.
Dear Lord, I thank you for the saints that you have so graciously given each of us in our lives on earth. Please help us to use that experience and the joy they brought to each of us to keep us strong and faithful to you no matter what we face in this world. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.