Roger’s questions (by Billy Coffey)

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You wouldn’t know by looking at Roger Willis that he’s one of the best Christians the world has ever known. I always thought that was his secret. You know, being meek and lowly in spirit and all. Jesus said blessed are those. And that’s Roger.

He’s not tall—five-foot-seven, five-foot-nine in his boots. A scraggly gray beard juts out almost perpendicular from his chin. Aside from the occasional trim, it’s sat untouched for the last fifty years or so. Just there, jutting out and seeming to defy gravity, as if daring the world to hit the man behind it.

And the world has been happy to oblige. Roger hasn’t had what most would call a good life, and what’s worse is that he’s innocent of making it that way.

Things started off well enough in that true, Southern way. Roger was born to a farmer and a school teacher soon after Hitler called it quits in ’45. His childhood was the perfect blend of innocence and dirty hands, and he was kept free from the realities of the world until two weeks after his tenth birthday. That’s when his father was killed when his tractor rolled on the back forty of their farm.

It was just Roger and his mother then. The two made due well enough. Roger’s mother kept him in school until the ninth grade, at which point she bowed to his wishes to devote himself full time to farming. By then, there wasn’t much choice.

Roger’s mother joined her husband just after his nineteenth birthday. That was a tough time from what I’ve heard, and understandably so. But God was looking out for his favorite Virginia farmer, because right around that time was when Mary Booker walked into his life. Roger remembered her from school way back when, remembered how pretty she was and how nice. The two of them met when Mary began attending the Methodist church where Roger had been born and raised. Their first date was for ice cream down at the Dairy Queen. They were married six months later.

Things turned around for Roger then. The farm was producing everything from corn to cows in abundance, and the Willis family grew to include a son and daughter. I think there are seasons in life much like there are in the world. If I’m right about that, then the next twenty years or so was Roger’s spring, when everything grew and blossomed and the winds were all soft and smelled like new life.

Then came Vietnam. All that kept Roger’s son from volunteering was knowing his father would have to run the farm on his own, but then came the draft notice. His son left Virginia in the summer of ’69. He died in a rice field eight months later. Roger’s spring was over then.

You could say the autumn of his life arrived twenty years later, when his daughter died of what he called “The woman cancer.”

Winter came last year when Mary Booker Willis, Roger’s wife of nearly fifty years, passed on after a stroke. Roger lost the farm soon after. The corn and the cows stopped growing, and he was too old and too tired to start over.

I’ve told you all that just to tell you this: you would not know Roger Willis has suffered such loss. No. Speak to him and you will hear a song in his words and see the brightness in his eyes. Sit near him at church, and you will hear his voice singing above the rest. Listen to him pray, and you will know that Jesus is more than his Lord, He is a friend. Pass him in the store, and you will walk away happier than you were. Roger will make sure of that.

Amazing, isn’t it?

How could he have such faith after such suffering? How could he not simply continue, but thrive?

I asked him the other day at the hardware store, and his answer surprised me.

“I doubted,” he said.

When his father died, Roger doubted. Same with his mother and his son and his daughter. Same with Mary. When he lost his farm, too. He doubted God, doubted His love and even His very existence. He doubted aloud in the darkness of an empty house and an empty bed, calling out to the great Not There. He doubted an answer would come. One always did.

I’m going to remember that. Because I’m often fooled into thinking my faith is made stronger by my answers. It isn’t.

It’s made stronger by my questions.

To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at his blog What I Learned Today and follow him on twitter at @BillyCoffey

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12 Responses to “Roger’s questions (by Billy Coffey)”

  1. Candy September 27, 2010 at 12:10 am #

    “I’m often fooled into thinking my faith is made stronger by my answers. It isn’t.”

    Thank you again, Billy. And thank Roger for me, will you?

  2. Karin September 27, 2010 at 12:39 am #

    If I can’t ask questions and express my doubts then there is really no trusting relationship, is there?! Then I just pretend all is well because I don’t want to hurt His feelings by asking, or make myself look stupid. I don’t like pretending any more and I ask away. Sometimes He gives an answer and sometimes He doesn’t. He loves me anyhow and He’s teaching me to love and trust Him more with each question I ask. What a great post – thanks!

  3. V.V. Denman September 27, 2010 at 8:13 am #

    Having a positive attitude in the face of trials has always been a struggle for me. I wish I had more Rogers in my life. Thanks for sharing him.

  4. Heather Sunseri September 27, 2010 at 8:28 am #

    “It’s made stronger by my questions.” It’s difficult to hear God’s answers if we don’t ask the questions. It’s difficult to hear God if we don’t talk to him.

    Thanks, Billy!

  5. Joyce September 27, 2010 at 8:51 am #

    I wish we heard more about the Rogers of this world. Thanks for sharing his story today!

  6. Joanne Sher September 27, 2010 at 10:57 am #

    So incredibly poignant and powerful, and thought-provoking. Roger is such an inspiration. Thanks for sharing him.

  7. Jeanne Damoff September 27, 2010 at 2:45 pm #

    Yes. Truth told beautifully. Thank you.

  8. Kelly Langner Sauer September 27, 2010 at 2:54 pm #

    Yeah, so I’m just gonna sit here and cry quiet for a bit.

  9. jasonS September 27, 2010 at 2:56 pm #

    Too true. My answers dilute things, but if I’ll be honest with God–good, bad, & ugly–He’s faithful to bring healing. Great post, Billy.

  10. Helen September 27, 2010 at 5:54 pm #

    To retain such faith after losing two children… God bless him, that man truly is an inspiration! Even his prayer in doubt is inspirational! Thank you for sharing Roger’s story.

  11. S. Etole September 28, 2010 at 9:10 am #

    Excellent …

  12. Cassandra Frear September 28, 2010 at 2:53 pm #

    “Made stronger by my questions.” Great line.

    How true. We’re in a dynamic relationship with our Heavenly Father, and it’s still developing. We should have lots of questions.

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