Meet my friend Billie Jean Newhall. She’s a walking, talking, dancing testimony to God’s amazing love. I double dog dare you to read her story and not fall in love with her.
Born a happy baby, with a perpetual smile, Billie Jean’s testimony begins as a memory given by her mother, Star.
“We lived next to a tiny country church. I was about two or three years old. I’d walk behind the preacher imitating him… back and forth. I loved it there. It was the place I felt love.”
Born in 1957, to her 15 year old mother, the first born of five children. Recently Billie Jean received a surprise phone call from her brother Teddie, (second born) who was adopted out at birth.
“He used the computer… found me and my brother Michael. My other brothers are gone. Johnny died as a baby, probably SIDS, but mom thought she was being punished for adopting out her first son. Kelly, jumped off a bridge in 2001.”
No matter what changes or hard times came her way, one constant remained… Billie Jean never stopped seeking God’s love. As a young girl she hung out in a friend’s book store, reading scripture. During this time, she surprised everyone, revealing one of the many gifts bestowed on her by God.
Still today people, like me, turn to Billie Jean if we’re stumbling to recite a verse correctly. Remembering scripture verbatim is an amazing skill, but when I asked her to name her best trait she said, “I love people.”
She’s right… as usual.
If you’re thinking she’s some “zippity-do-dah” phoney baloney, fake kind of lovey dovey person… you couldn’t be more wrong. She loves deeply, gives it away freely, whether family, friend or stranger.
I asked if she had a favorite scripture to which she belts out…
“ Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9… God gave me that scripture when I needed it.”
The time of need she’s referring to was one of sexual assault and abuse. A scared teenager who needed the strength to speak out and stand up to a violent predator. Joshua 1:9 got her through that ordeal and has continued to serve as her personal encouragement from God.
Last August, Billie Jean faced the death of her dearly loved mother. Despite a flat tire in “the middle of nowhere,” her Uncle was able to drive 250 miles and back, uniting mother and daughter for a last visit.
Only God knew how much she needed this moment with her mom. Her last visit still hurt. Under the effects of morphine, Star had lashed out at Billie Jean, angry that she could not stay with her; an irrational, out of character attack leaving her confused and hurt.
“I was there with her when she died… the only one she’d let touch her. I rubbed her, patted her hand and asked. ‘Do you ‘ikes’ me mama?’ That’s what I used to say as a baby. She was thirsty… I’m the only one who could give her a drink.”
Later, feeling helpless, sitting in silence by the door, Billie Jean heard her mother’s voice.
“I know you’re there.”
It was a blip of a moment, but exactly what she needed to hear. As the closest family member, the life support decision fell on Billie Jean. After prayerful thought, she pressed close to her mom, whispering.
“I give you permission to go.”
With those words, came peace and her mother’s parting breaths.
Two months later, grief still raw, Billie Jean finds a lump on her right breast. The diagnosis is cancer, showing in her lymph nodes and bones as well. When asked what she’s learned through this, she assumes a natural pose, arms stretched out, palms up, stating.
“To rely completely on God.”
She admits to times when grief smothers her prayer voice, yet faith never wavering, she adamantly states, “God is with me through the hard times.” In a sweet session of worship, soaking in His presence, Billie Jean received an encouraging word from her Father.
“In the shelter of His wings.”
The exact words needed to carry on as she always has, relying on God. After a mastectomy and radiation therapy, she put her foot down, ordering her friends to…
We were cramping her style. Getting in the way of the job God has called her to do… to be… the job of spreading joy. A job she aces. When we stopped bugging her about cancer, she became herself again. The dynamic woman ever ready with a dose of joy, a huge helping of love, a barrel of fun and more dance moves than Michael Jackson. Dancing to her name sake song, she pauses momentarily to say.
“I don’t’ dance exactly like Jackson…”
Maybe not, but this gals got rhythm. As one of her many friends, I can say to know her is to be blessed. God uses her to touch many lives. The employees at our local North Star Cancer center looked forward to her radiation treatments, and have since told her to come back anytime to visit.
God is with her, always, she knows that. Last week she ended up in the hospital suffering from dehydration, unable to focus.
“I wasn’t myself. I kept crying. I couldn’t pray, but I know God was listening to me anyway.”
Through this experience in the hospital, she received the gift of understanding… for a nagging hurt about her mother’s death. While sick, dehydrated, emotional, and disoriented, Billie Jean understood why her mom had lashed out at her.
“She wasn’t herself… it was the morphine… she was disoriented like me. Now I understand.”
She needed the experience to heal the hurt, lingering behind. No one knows what lies ahead, for Billie Jean, nor any of us. In the meantime, she’ll continue doing her favorite things; worshiping the Lord, dancing, preferably with flags and giving away hugs, smiles and encouragement to friends and strangers alike.
Again, her favorite scripture comes to mind. Joshua 1:9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
I hope you enjoyed hearing a small piece of Billie Jean’s story. We all have a story of God’s love for us. A story of yesterday, today and tomorrow. A work in progress that needs to be shared.