Coming Home

see By Dr. Adam Tune

Photos by Mary Beth Richerson


When I was 12 years old, my family moved from Northern Louisiana to Wilson County. Being the son of a preacher, moving was nothing new, and the place my parents bought on Old Horn Springs Road in Lebanon would be the 4th house that I would call home. Immediately upon our arrival, I felt like I had been missing out on life. The first time we drove around, we saw streets with names like “Stumpy Lane” and “Tater Peeler Road.” The first time we went out for dinner, I learned that I could order off of a breakfast menu. That first week I was introduced to both Country Music and College Football. And on our first Sunday at the new church, I met a 6th grade blond girl with the prettiest green eyes I had ever seen. I remember thinking to myself “I have arrived!”

But that move here also brought with it something else, something I wasn’t ready for. A Community. Most of my new friends had not only lived here their whole life, but their grandparents lived here too. Everyone knew everybody. They didn’t just have homes; they had a homestead. The people here seemed to have found the good life, and I was a little jealous.

As a teenager, I decided that a community was not good at all. Not only did everyone know everybody, but I felt like everyone was concerned about everybody. When I got paddled at school, my mom knew about it before I got home. Once after being pulled over on West Main, my dad paged me while the officer was writing the ticket because someone had passed by and called him. The Mayor would say “Tell your Daddy I said ‘Hey!’” and the ladies at the bank would ask “How’s you momandem?” By the time I graduated, I no longer thought that I had arrived. All I could think was “I’ve got to get out of here!”

My parents moved to Virginia after I graduated High School, and when I started College at MTSU, I was ready to leave too. Only I couldn’t completely leave. I was still in love with that blond green-eyed hometown girl, and after six years Kimberly Carey had finally noticed me. We began dating our senior year, and even though I had moved to Murfreesboro, I made many trips back to Lebanon to be with her and her family. And even after attempting to move to Virginia to be with my parents and work in D.C., I was still in love with Kimberly, and I just couldn’t stay gone. We married in 2001, and her father built our first house one mile down from their home on Coles Ferry Pike.

For the next 8 years we continued to work and live here in Wilson County. During that time our family grew and we moved 3 more times. I was restless. In the back of my mind, I still thought “I got to get out of here!” And in 2009, we did. I became the preacher for a church in Maryland and for the next 7 years I would only return to Wilson County a handful of times. But living up north, I began to miss
being a part of a community.

Kimberly and I wanted to move to a place where we could finally put down roots and create a place for our kids to return when they moved away. We almost moved to North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Memphis. But in 2016, I accepted the job as the minister for the UNA Church of Christ in Nashville, and we moved right back to Wilson County. Shortly after returning, we discovered that we didn’t need to put down roots nor did we have to make a home for ourselves. Our roots were already established. We were returning to the homestead.

Upon our return to Lebanon, I began to feel nostalgic about my surroundings, and soon I wrote my first book—a 25-day Christmas Devotional that celebrates the memories of Holiday tradition and rejoices in the remembrance of the nativity story. It was published in September and released just in time for that season of the year where we celebrate faith, family, and friends. Back to Bethlehem, a 25-day Christmas Devotional, can be purchased through Amazon and locally at Square Market.

But if you are from Wilson County, you are already accustomed to this kind of celebration. Here faith, family and friends don’t just come together once a year. It happens every day. Here we know one another. Here we’re concerned for one another. When you have a community, you don’t have to search for the good life. You live it. You miss it when it’s gone. And you hold it tighter when you get it back.

Now as I drive the streets of Stumpy Lane and Tater Peeler Road, as I watch my kids attend the same school that we attended, as I order my dinner off the breakfast menu, as I watch football with my childhood friends, and as I write this sitting in my new home…back on Coles Ferry Pike… right behind my in-laws, I think to myself “I have arrived!”

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‘Here’s to Strong Women – May we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.’

Written by Amanda Crowell

Once upon a time in the last year of the last century, there were two moms of two little girls, both of whom
were two years old. Both moms were fairly new lawyers who had ended up in Wilson County after marrying Wilson County boys whom they met while attending school in their own hometowns.

The moms first met at their local Bar Association luncheon in Lebanon. After a brief conversation, they learned that they were both practicing law with part-time schedules, and their little girls were attending the same daycare on the same three days each week. It didn’t take long to discover that Angel was the mom
of little Madison that my Maggie was always talking about –our little girls were best friends!

go Top photo:  Amanda’s daughter, Maggie (left) and Angel’s daughter, Madison at their kindergarten graduation in 2003. Bottom photo: Maggie and Madison shortly after Madison’s high school graduation in 2015.

Fast forward twenty plus years, and Angel and I are engaged in something we never dreamed of that day when we first met. After more children and many years of practice, three years ago we joined forces to create our own law firm, Kane & Crowell Family Law Center.

Housed in a historic Victorian building built in the late 1800’s, the office has been transformed over the last century from a family home to a doctor’s office, to a dress shop, to a church building and finally into our law office. Today each room is filled with the everyday hubbub of lawyers, paralegals and law clerks taking care of clients and running to the courthouse, conveniently located right across the street.


Back when we first started practicing law, like many women we were determined to have it all. Raising children, working in a demanding field and trying to find a balance between the two. We laugh now because back then, we were known as the “part-time” lawyers because we often worked around our children’s school schedules. It sure didn’t feel like part-time when we were sitting at our dining room tables preparing for
court after putting the kids to bed! But at the time, very few others were doing it our way so it was nice to have someone as a sounding board who was facing similar struggles.

As the years passed, we went from part-time lawyers to each managing our own large, family law practices. And as Madison and Maggie graduated from high-school and our other children seemed to need us less, the decision was made to come together and build a different type of law firm.

The office of Kane & Crowell is family oriented, both in our areas of practice as well as how we choose to
manage our team. A team that now consists of another attorney with three children of her own, three paralegals, a law clerk, receptionist, and bookkeeper.

And plans are in the works for more growth. We practice what we preach in that family comes first. We chose to distinguish our practice as a family law center because family law is what we know and
what we do best. Every family is likely to find itself in need of legal services in the area of family law at some point.

Our practice encompasses beginning of life issues such as parentage and adoption actions to mid-life issues such as divorce, custody, and child support, to end of life issues such as probate and elder law. Along the way, everyone needs a good Last Will and Testament and the appropriate powers of attorney. We take care of these family needs on a daily basis.

People often ask if we represent more men or women, and it is impossible to say. We represent our clients,
whoever they may be, and we strive to represent them with excellence. We have a wonderful, experienced staff who are crucial to the success of our business. The staff can empathize with our clients in that they or their children have often been in the same need of legal services as our clients find themselves.
We are a small office – predominantly of women–and we strive to maintain a family atmosphere. Angel and I know the importance of balancing work and family, and we try to accommodate the family needs of our employees just as our prior employers did for us. Many of our staff members leave early to pick up kids or attend school events and every Friday one team member takes a half-day. Practicing law can be demanding
and we are mindful of that so we strive to ensure our team likes coming to work– spa days, office lunches and holiday parties to enjoy a good laugh are a must!

A business partnership is a lot like a marriage—you need to share the same values and goals, but it is best if
you bring different strengths to bear in the operating of the business. Angel and I took a series of personality tests when we first joined forces to work on this new business model and found that
although we had thought we were a lot alike, our strengths were actually different from each other and were complementary to each other. Being aware of this and understanding our different personality types helps us work better together. I could paint a rosy picture of two friends going into business together
and living happily ever after, but truth be told, business relationships require lots of communication and compromise.

At the end of the day, friendship and shared goals can be the glue that holds it all together. The practice of law is stressful. Family law is especially stressful for all involved. Having a business partner who is equally experienced and who walks the same legal paths as I do allows us to bounce ideas off of each other and
commiserate when things get difficult. Two heads are definitely better than one.
In a couple more decades, I hope that we can look back and say that we accomplished something good together and that families in Middle Tennessee were better for our having put our heads together to build a family law practice. For these two moms, there have been many blessings along the way.
Our little girls are now in their third year of college and becoming strong young women in their own right. And yes, they are still close friends despite having gone to different schools since first grade.
Last year, Madison visited Maggie on campus for a weekend despite the seven-hour drive. Our husbands are also good friends. The Kane and Crowell bonds of friendship, whether formed in daycare or over a professional luncheon, are sure to endure.

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Bird Eggs in One Basket

After making the decision this year to actively pursue a writing career (more about that
in my blog Mommy Moments “When Life Gives You Lemons and Lyme Complex” for
Wilson Living online), I began writing a little bit every day.

I finished the draft on a different children’s story about a bird and read it to the toughest
critic I know: my now four-year-old daughter. I asked her what she thought. Her hesitant
reply was, “Well, I like it, but I wish I had a blue jay story because the blue jay is my
favorite bird.”

And so I sat down while my kids were taking a nap and wrote “The Blue Jay Blues.” I
had some feathery inspiration, seemingly having birds on the brain. My husband
recently put up a hummingbird feeder and a songbird feeder in our backyard, little things
that have brought big entertainment to myself and my children.

We all have our favorite birds, my son the hummingbird, myself the cardinal and my
daughter, of course, the blue jay. Fitting that my daughter picked the notoriously mean
bird as her favorite, as she delights in terrorizing her little brother.

But then I got to thinking about it. Was the blue jay really a bad bird, or was he just
misunderstood? This sparked the story for “The Blue Jay Blues,” with more inspiration
flowing from my time living in Memphis where both my husband Ensley and I attended
law school. You think Memphis, and you can hear B.B. King’s electric guitar. You can
visualize a lyrical, neon trail of heartbreak dancing down Beale Street.

“The Blue Jay Blues” is a story about a blues playing Blue Jay who just wants to play
with the other birds, but they’ve all heard that Blue Jay is bad news. Overcoming his
bad reputation, all the birds perform in the Blue Jay Blues Band. It’s a rocking good time
with an educational bent, throwing in some facts about Blues music and blue jays.

While I’ve sent out many of my other stories to find a home at a big publishing house, I
decided that I wasn’t going to wait until an elite in New York decided to give my blue jay
story a chance. I had my marching orders from my daughter, after all.

I asked for divine wisdom on how to proceed. It just so happens that my daughter
received an angel book by a publisher whose name included the word “wisdom.” Seeing
that as a sign, I did an online search trying to find the book’s publisher, thinking that was
where I should send my story. Well, I couldn’t find the angel book publisher, but landed
instead on Wisdom House Press, an independent publishing house in North Carolina. I
decided to take a leap of faith, or a flight of faith as it were, since birds apparently are
my muse.

So about all those eggs in one basket. During “The Blue Jay Blues” production, I had
the idea for a Southern poetry journal. Much of my writing begins in a journal, so I
thought why not put my pen to paper on paper already containing my words?
I began thinking of all the sayins' of my late grandma from Crossville and began turning
those expressions into poems. My list keeps growing every day, with “new” old material
supplied by my Lebanon grandmother-in-law Madeline Hagan, and the current tally is at
more than 600.

I decided to split the sassy sayins' into multiple books. The first I’m sharing is called “A
Big Helping of Southern with a Pinch of Poetry: A Sassy Southern Journal.” From
canning to a can-do attitude, from big hair to big dreams, with A Big Helping of Southern
I hope to leave you hungry for seconds! Of course, I want you to buy my journal, but I’ll
give you a taste (just don’t ruin your supper!):

“Life is like a potluck, what others make you can’t dictate. But you create your own
menu, so make something delicious to adorn your plate!”

“All your eggs in one basket is said to be foolhardy. Unless you’re making omelets, you
need a few broken eggs for a brunch party!”

Come out to hear a reading of “The Blue Jay Blues” during Wilson Living’s
Breakfast with Santa Nov. 16 at 8 and 10 a.m. The event will be at the Wilson
County Fairgrounds’ James E. Ward Ag Center.

Andrea Hagan is a mom full time, a lawyer part-time and a wordsmith on the weekends.
Check out her blog Mommy Moments for Wilson Living Magazine online. Andrea and
her family live in Lebanon where her husband, Ensley, was born and raised. Andrea is
an interloper from Sparta, but we won’t hold that against her. Be sure to check out
Andrea’s website for more information about her upcoming
projects and to purchase her books.

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Discovering the Spanish Life

How studying abroad became the adventure of a lifetime

Narrow cobblestone streets and tile-adorned buildings exuded the rich history deeply rooted in the breathtaking city.

Citrus aromas danced through the air radiating from orange trees that lined the streets, while vibrant hues of pinks, oranges, purples and yellows exploded from the flowers blooming on terraces and down sidewalks.

Gelato shops marked the most-visited areas of the city, inviting tourists and locals alike with masterfully crafted rose-shaped delicacies situated in crunchy cones. The sounds of Spanish voices rang from the doors of every shop and home filling not only Seville, Spain, but also my heart with the lilting syllables of the gorgeous language I longed to learn.

For three spectacular months, these sights, smells and sounds flooded my senses as I lived and participated in the Spanish culture as a full-time student.

I had not originally intended to spend the spring of 2017 studying in another country. However, as former plans fell through, with a leap of faith, I dove into what I can only call a God-orchestrated adventure.

The daunting idea of spending months away from my family transformed into the most spectacular journey of my life, resulting in profound personal growth.

My usual tendencies to stay within the safety of a comfort zone close to home were quickly challenged as I discovered studying abroad would require of me a boldness that I was unaccustomed to.

Hours wandering lost in the city thanks to my directionally challenged mind developed outstanding navigational skills. Comfort-stretching conversations were rewarded with beautiful, encouraging friendships and weeks stumbling over attempted conversations in Spanish resulted in the shattering of a language barrier.

Many of the most important aspects of my wonderful adventure happened outside the classroom in other areas of my life in Seville. By living in the home of a Spanish family, I was able to form relationships with both of my “parents” and my two little host brothers.

Their presence and our daily meals together quickly became an integral part of my weekly routine. Additionally, I met regularly with a Spanish student by the name of Ana to improve my Spanish and her English skills.

What began as a meeting for mutual advancement quickly blossomed into a friendship as our conversations were filled with shared interests and many fits of laughter.

These relationships and other encounters with people from various cultures opened my mind to better understand those around me with different ways of thinking and living.

Some of my best memories come from the moments I took to explore my temporary home on my own. The historic city came alive as I ventured into the winding streets, using the soaring towers of the Cathedral of Seville and Maria Luisa Park as my compasses to navigate.

Half way through my stay, I even had the chance to share my new home with my family as they visited Spain during their spring break. I fell so in love with Seville that by the end of my journey, I dreaded saying “goodbye.”

My story would not be complete without mentioning the continuous fulfillment of one of my greatest passions: traveling. One of the richest and most exciting aspects of my life in Spain was the almost weekly exploration of a new city or country.

From the desert sands of the African Sahara to the breathtakingly blue waters of the Tenerife Sea, the unimaginable beauty captured in the distant corners of the world still continues to astound my mind.

I have now traversed the cities and sites of Spain, beheld the magical aura surrounding the colorful Pena Palace in Portugal, explored the treasures of London, experienced the wonder of the snow-dusted mountains of the Swiss Alps, ridden a camel through the Sahara Desert and kayaked with dolphins in an unforgettable turquoise sea.

Time and time again, I have marveled at the blessing of being able to see so much of the world, and because of this, I have the courage to dream of the places my next adventure will take me.

For those marvelous three months, I discovered an amazing life in Seville, Spain, learning, growing and maturing. Many times, I would reflect on my life as if I was living a dream too unbelievable to be true. Countless interactions with people and living in the midst of an alternate culture greatly expanded my cultural view and acceptance as well as my ability to interact in Spanish.

I was blessed by an unmatched opportunity to traverse Europe to dream destinations, exponentially growing my confidence and independence. Ultimately, I credit this remarkable experience to the fact that it was situated right in the middle of God’s perfect plan for my life.

Through this journey abroad, I developed a deeper dependence on the Lord and His provision, which has prepared me to expectantly await whatever new and exciting adventures lie ahead.

Until my exploration of the world resumes, I am content to find the joys of life situated back home in Tennessee.

Rachel Pettross, a graduate Friendship Christian School, is currently a student at Tennessee Tech University. She enjoys traveling, reading and being with family. She plans to teach elementary school after graduation and continue exploring the world.

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Life’s Adventures

He helped America redeem itself in the Space Race, and she’s lived in two countries and six states. But they found a new piece of the good life, and each other, in Wilson County, perhaps when they least expected it.

Charlie Bradshaw, the rocket scientist next door (more on that later), and his charming wife Loyce call Geers Place home now. And if you ask them how they got there, they’ll tell you about one amazing adventure after another, each of which brought them closer to “home,” landing them right where they belong.

Starting another chapter
Married now for two decades, Charlie and Loyce weren’t looking for love after their spouses died. He was considering a move to Florida, where his Lebanon friends feared he was destined to become a drunken beach bum. And after a lifetime spent moving from city to city with her military husband, she was reconnecting with a sister who’d settled in Lebanon.

That sister, Joyce Badger, was the common denominator.

Joyce and her husband, dentist Bob Badger, had come to know and love Charlie as a neighbor and had for months pleaded with him not to move from his farm on Cedar Grove Road. Instead, they, along with a bevy of friends encouraged him to find a companion after his wife died.

Loyce recalls how her sister and brother-in-law were always having Charlie over for dinner, begging him not to move and telling him he needed to find “a nice lady to go out to eat with.”

One night at a dinner party an exasperated Joyce said to Charlie, “well if ever you were going to date someone, what kind of woman would you like her to be?” And just to shut her up, Charlie said, “I’d like her to be just like you.” He didn’t expect her to call his bluff. He didn’t know she had an identical twin.

Naturally, Loyce was invited to the next dinner party, and she says Charlie was willing to see her again because she had ties to somewhere he’d never visited — Alaska.

“He latched on to me because I’d lived in Alaska for nine years. He’d never been there, and he was fascinated by it.” The scientist in him couldn’t resist hearing about continuous daylight and what life was like for this widow who spent nearly a decade there with her late husband of 31 years.  Turns out, he couldn’t resist her either. The rest, as they say, is history. And Charlie finally made it to Alaska, several times in fact. Two of Loyce’s children still live there.

The couple is grateful for the good life they’ve found and the new chapters of life they’ve written together since that dinner party. They’re also thankful their families blended well. Both had grown children when they met, and Loyce remarks, “So many times marriages with grown children are tough, but his children loved me and mine loved him from the very beginning. We’re one of the lucky ones. We’ve been married nearly 22 years, and it’s been a great marriage, even though I didn’t want to get married.”

For two people who didn’t want to get married again, they surely make it look like it’s worth the trouble.

The rocket scientist next door
Before meeting Loyce, Charlie had plenty of adventures of his own.

He had enlisted in the Navy and entered the V-12 program for training and was taking Calculus at Sewanee. In a meeting with a professor, the professor began by going over the details of Charlie’s C average but quickly put his grade book aside. This was not a meeting of condemnation. Rather, it was a meeting of encouragement. He saw Charlie’s talent and encouraged him to think about mathematics as a career.

With that nudge, a lifelong love of mathematics began.

Charlie finished the V-12 program and was shipped to the Pacific Theater of World War II to prepare for the invasion of Japan. He saw action at Okinawa but, like thousands of America’s enlisted men, was spared the dangers of invasion when President Harry Truman ordered the use of two atomic bombs. Six weeks later, Charlie found himself walking through Hiroshima, the first city hit with an atomic bomb. Asked what he thought as he took pictures of the carnage, Charlie recalls, “we can’t have another war with these weapons.”

After the war, Charlie completed school and joined the faculty at Tennessee Polytechnic Institute and settled his family in Cookeville. In 1951, a new opportunity arose in Huntsville, Ala., that took Charlie into the world of Wernher von Braun, the German rocket scientist who surrendered to American forces at the end of World War II — and whom Charlie describes as “the greatest person I ever met.” While von Braun and his German colleagues built rockets, Charlie’s team calculated their flight times and trajectories with a “slide rule and desk calculator.”

In 1953, they launched Redstone, America’s first guided missile, and it followed the path that Charlie’s team had calculated. However, the days of the “slide rule and desk calculator” were coming to an end. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory received the first computer in the South, and Charlie transferred to east Tennessee to oversee its installation.

In 1955, Charlie returned to Huntsville as the Deputy Director of Computation and installed the first computer at that location. By this time, there was an international competition to put something into orbit.

“We had the capability to put the Redstone in orbit before the Russians succeeded, but Eisenhower didn’t want to use a military missile,” he says. “That’s when they (the U.S. Navy) started Vanguard, and it was a tremendous failure. Vanguard never made it. So the Russians beat us. Then 85 days later, we were in orbit. Redstone was ready, and the calculations were all done. We could have beaten them, but we weren’t allowed to.”

With a string of successful launches, the Mercury program was established to take people into space. Now, Charlie’s calculations did more than determine the trajectory of a rocket. They determined where to have ships waiting to pick up returning astronauts.

In 1962, the stakes were raised when John F. Kennedy announced the goal of putting a person on the moon. According to Charlie, this had always been von Braun’s goal, but concerns remained.

“We always knew sending people to space would happen, but we still had questions about whether man could survive on the moon,” he explains.

At one point, President Kennedy toured the Huntsville facility and met the administrative staff. He was introduced to von Braun and other German scientists. After meeting a line of people with German names, he was introduced to someone named Charlie Bradshaw. The president immediately responded, “How did you get in here?” Charlie remembers, “I thought since he was the president I better not laugh, but everyone else did.”

Charlie “got in” there by being one of the best mathematicians in the nation and stayed through the Apollo 11 mission that put the first men on the moon.

In 1970, Charlie left the space program to direct the installation of the first computer at Vanderbilt University and oversee its operation.

Charlie remained at Vanderbilt until his retirement and then he taught classes at Cumberland University. Looking back on his career, Charlie says sending rockets into space made him more interested in the universe, and that interest led him to become a stronger believer in God. In fact, he declares, “I become more of a believer the more I learn.” Without a doubt, Charlie has learned a great deal.

Written By Rick Bell and Jessica Fain

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Presidential Perspective

Experiencing country’s changing political climate first hand

The 2016 presidential election was undoubtedly the most tumultuous of my lifetime, so after receiving tickets to sit on the Capitol grounds with my high school classmate living in Northern Virginia, I booked my flights to Washington.

Stepping onto the DC Metro at Reagan International, I was greeted by typically irritated commuters along with the sights and smells of public transportation in a major city. Though born and raised in the South, my time living in New York City cemented the unspoken rules of mass transit — don’t speak to strangers, keep your head down and most importantly, don’t make eye contact.

I took my standing position in the corner when several large men stepped onto the train in full Texan regalia: three-piece suits, cowboy hats, shined boots and large Donald Trump buttons on their lapels. The typical train atmosphere of silence, screeching brakes and smartphone screens was filled with laughter and southern drawls as the Texans discussed with other supporters from throughout the South and Midwest about the various inauguration balls they were planning to attend.

The presence of these Republican Texans on a crowded Metro train packed with citizens of the District of Columbia, 90 percent of which voted for Hillary Clinton, was a microcosm for the entire inauguration weekend. Supporters of Mr. Trump had won the battle, and they were here to celebrate the victory.

Wandering through the National Mall, it was as if the entirety of the District had left town for the weekend, leaving a void to be filled by Republicans for the first time in nearly a decade. Vendors sold buttons and cheap scarfs, and the sidewalks were swarming with peoples of all kinds, each wearing a bright red hat reading “Make America Great Again.”

At 4:30 a.m. on the morning of the inauguration, my friend and I took the Metro into the city. During inauguration festivities, the DC Metropolitan area essentially closes for business, but the Metro was teeming with energy from Mr. Trump’s supporters from all around the country.

Arriving at our checkpoint at Union Station, we stood in line for the 6 a.m. opening of security, being conducted by the always-joyful Transportation Security Administration. We walked through metal detectors, had dogs sniff us and the officers even made us take our wallets and smartphone cases apart. Finally, we took our seats in the front row of Section 11 at 7:15 am to await President Trump’s Inauguration.

It was a typical January morning in Washington — cold and damp with a drizzling rain. There were no protestors here, just a sense of unity for all of those who had fought to secure Mr. Trump’s place in the White House. Many around us had volunteered hundreds of hours to the campaign in battleground states, so this victory was personal.

Soon enough, the choir began to sing “God Bless America,” and the ceremony began. It was filled with prayer and excitement, though a momentary speech by Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer brought boos and an uproarious chant of “Trump, Trump, Trump.” When Mr. Trump finally took the stage, the aura of unity in the crowd was unlike anything I had ever experienced, as the National Mall exploded in cheer and applause.

His inauguration day will be the only time in his presidency that President Trump will be surrounded by supporters in Washington, DC. By the next morning, many had returned home, and Washington began to erupt in a wildly different tone.

My friend and I knew the Women’s March had been scheduled for the next day, so we decided to take the Metro into the city. With no bright red caps in sight, we instead saw a wave of pink hats and picket signs — hundreds of thousands of angry Americans protesting everything from women’s rights to environmentalism and gun violence. No longer did the people gather to chant for the president, but instead, they began to say “No Trump, No KKK, no Fascist USA!” Pouring down the National Mall and Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House, the protestors were never violent, but undoubtedly angry.

The 2017 presidential election was a turning point for the United States political sphere. The momentum that carried President Obama and the Democratic Party to victory in 2008 and 2012 could not be passed onto Mrs. Clinton, and President Trump stood ready to address the grievances of millions of Americans. Though time will tell of his ultimate success, his inauguration weekend proved his election is the most polarizing in decades.

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Ellie and Kellie

A country star and a local girl recovering from surgery cross paths


By Laurie Everett

Country music singer Kellie Pickler’s got that Dolly-Parton’ish shine and glitz on the outside, but the glam shines even brighter on the inside and her heart glows like the sun.

Her heart was sending some rays toward local Ellie Denton, 10, an honor roll student at Byars Dowdy Elementary School where her mom Rachel teaches kindergarten as well. Dad, Jason, is a well-known trial lawyer.

This blue-eyed blonde young lady is a big fan of Kellie’s and watched her on American Idol some years back. She now catches Kellie’s reality show “I love Kellie Pickler,” produced by multi-talented Ryan Seacrest. How Ellie ended up crooning and cuddling on the lap of evervescent Kellie on nationwide television has its own “reality” background that surpasses some milestones most of us won’t see in a lifetime.

If you look in Ellie’s eyes, you see an old soul for one so young and vibrant. To say she’s been “through it” is a major understatement. It’s fun to note, Ellie is one of four siblings, and used to being “in the middle” of the organized, wonderful chaos that is this family’s life.

“I can only say how fortunate and happy I am to have a wife who paid attention and listened to her mother’s intuition,” Jason said as he reeled back to when Ellie was just three months old. “We both noticed issues with one of her eyes; it was bigger, and her nose was a little crooked.”

Everyone chalked that up to pressure from the birth canal.

Dad was in Memphis when his wife called him and blurted out something “just was not right.” When mom pressed on Ellie’s eyebrow it gave way in a way it should not.

A surreal few days with three radiologists and a CAT scan revealed the bubbly baby was diagnosed with craniosynostosis. It’s a big word even for these educated parents. In layman’s terms they could understand it’s a birth defect that has a baby’s skull formed together too soon and doesn’t allow the brain to grow as expected.

“One in 2,000 children have this condition, and they are not sure it’s genetic,” Jason said.

Another fast forward and Vanderbilt surgeon Dr. Kevin Kelly operated on Ellie to reshape her head by manipulating her skull. He also straightened her nose and reformed the orbit of her eye.

It was a scary nightmare for these young parents whose daughter was born seemingly healthy.

Jason said his little baby “lost a lot of blood” during the intricate surgery and even had six blood transfusions. She was in ICU four days and in a regular room three days before she could go to the comfort of her own home.


Life’s a blast

Things went great for years. Ellie grew strong and tall. Her daddy’s dark hair she was born with turned blonde from the meds and therapy. She squeezed in regular eye doctor and neurologists’ appointments as she learned to love horses, raise chickens and become a major component in an award winning clogging team called “Evermean, Evergreen Cloggers.”

But then this idyllic childhood born from strife was shadowed by some persistent headaches. Fall 2015 Ellie noticed some lumps on the top of her head. Coupled with unusual headaches, this portended something was “off.” A CAT scan revealed a shocker: two holes in her skull never healed.

“Yes!” said her dismayed dad. “She was clogging and riding her horse and her brain was unprotected!”

May 2016 Ellie went under the knife again. A vivid description was “she was cut from ear to ear.” But, these parents are on their knees grateful the operation was a great success. Ellie was discharged days before predicted.

“Ellie is very strong,” said her dad. “It was smooth sailing. We kept our eyes on her in case of rejection of materials used to seal up her skull. She is in her Christian faith and baptized. God and Jesus are a big part of our lives.”

And, yes, those blue eyes are mature for her age.

“Her pain and tolerance are more than most of us adults will ever endure.”

An aside. Ellie’s parents know her ability to persevere. When Ellie was three, her right finger was cut off in a bizarre accident. It was reattached, but she immediately learned to be a lefty.

Ellie does not live in a bubble. She’s a social butterfly. Images capture her trotting on “Spanky” her horse, surging down a slide into the pool and clogging up a storm in competitions. She’s the queen of the family’s 10 acres and is immersed with the goats, chickens, dogs, and cats as well.


The special Kellie Pickler

L-R: Rachel Denton; Andi Zack-Johnson, Kellie’s friend/cast member from show; Ken Johnson, Andi’s husband; Kellie Pickler; Ellie Denton; Jason Denton; Kyle Jacobs, Kellie’s husband.

Let’s get back to singing “Red High Heels” with private idol Kellie. Seacrest tours the country with Kellie and other stars. They pinpoint childrens’ hospitals to bring the warmth and love of superstars to children just out of surgery and recovering. He and Kellie visited Vanderbilt where Ellie was recovering in May.

“I remember, Ellie felt terrible the day Kellie visited the hospital,” said her dad. “She had tons of swelling and was in pain.”

Ellie could not resist and walked into the room where Kellie and her husband Kyle were visiting other sick children.

“Kellie was so warm and loving,” Jason recalled with emotion. “She’s so highly intellectual and carries herself well. She asked if anyone knew ‘Red High Heels’ and Ellie perked up and said yes. She crawled into her lap and sang.”

The moment was played on Kellie’s show and the superstar said she might have a run for her money from Ellie.

“You have such a great voice,” she quipped. “I’m going to have to watch out. You are going to take my job.”

When they captured this scene with Ellie, it was clearly a special moment. Ryan Seacrest, whose permanent charity studio at Vanderbilt was the place where the little Vanderbilt concert was filmed, later shared the clip on his Instagram. (To see this episode of I Love Kellie Pickler, search YouTube for I Love Kellie Pickler S02E09 Giving Back”—Ellie’s scene is around the 22 minute mark.)

Ellie said it was a once-in-a-lifetime moment. She’s practicing for the cheer squad for next year and is really into her American Girl dolls, and of course, Spanky.

“We were very blessed this Christmas to be surrounded by family and friends,” said mom. “We received way too many gifts.”

Medically, Ellie is also soaring. She still takes meds for headaches and they visit and receive positive reports from her regular doctors.

One “angel” moment in all this was a special “angel nurse.”

Jason said the same nurse who gently cared for little Ellie when she was five months old was at the hospital in May and Jason “heard a familiar voice.”  That voice was the same nurse from years before. She sought out Ellie and reached out again.

“That’s how memorable our Ellie is,” Jason said quietly. “That’s how lucky we are.”

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The Outskirts of Town

Rick Bell remembers life before west Lebanon boomed


By Rick Bell   

A few months ago, my family moved into the house where I grew up. For my wife Necole and my stepdaughter Isabella, it created more space while we build a new home. For me, it brought memories of my youth.

When I walk through the kitchen, I can visualize my mom Elaine cooking dinner while talking with my grandmother on the telephone. In the days before cordless phones, the cord could stretch across the room.

When I take the trash to the driveway, I remember my dad Charles beating me at H-O-R-S-E. He only shot free throws, and he never missed. I also remember my sixteenth birthday when my dad and I returned from a Tennessee football game to find my new car sitting under the carport. It was wrapped in a giant ribbon and bow.

Headed to senior prom

When I am allowed in Isabella’s room, memories from two time periods come rushing back. When that room belonged to my older brother, I wanted to hang out with him and his high school friends while they listened to music. When the room belonged to me, I listened to music and played video games.

When I walk through the backyard, I can still see the bell-shaped swimming pool that was there for decades. That is where my mom taught me how to swim and where Vacation Bible School always spent one day out of the week.

When I pull into the driveway, I remember a Halloween party from my elementary school days. My parents covered the yard with scary props. On a foggy night, my brother saw them in his headlights and was too scared to get out of the car. The props probably scared him more than they scared my elementary school friends. I also remember pulling into the driveway after a weekend night out with my friends. The T-Tops were out, and the radio was blasting.

The house creates a ton of memories of everyday events, but it also brings forth memories of the way things used to be. A few years before my birth, my parents bought some acreage along a two-lane highway on the outskirts of town, and my grandfather J.W. Vanhook built the house with his father Will Vanhook doing some of the carpentry work. Being outside the realm of city services, they also had to dig a well for water and put in a septic tank. We did not even have a street address. Instead, we lived on a rural route.

home-rick-bellDespite the mail listing, we did not live in the countryside. There was a country store with a couple of gas pumps across the road. Next to the store sat Bethlehem Methodist Church. When I was small, I always wondered why we drove to the other side of town to First Baptist Church instead of going to the one across the street, which seemed to be the easiest thing to do.

Several homes were scattered along the highway, and I believe that our neighbors thought the same thing that we did when we got into the car and headed east. We were “going to town.” Of course, that meant driving some miles. Along the way, we passed Snow White Drive-In, Maple Hill Church of Christ and a few businesses. However, we were not officially in town until we got to Dick’s Food Market, which was in the strip mall where CVS now stands.

As I grew, the area around our house also grew. My grandfather, my dad and others developed the farm across the

Playing basketball with Dad

road into the neighborhood of Shenandoah before creating Horn Springs Estates. As the years passed, there came Richmond Hills. Then, my aunt Nancy Eubank built Southfork, and my aunt Peggy Keel developed Geer’s Place.

With a scattering of houses along the highway turning into neighborhoods filled with hundreds of homes, businesses expanded our way. Kroger moved into a complex that also contained K-Mart and the Martin Triple, Lebanon’s first multi-screen theater where I spent many Friday and Saturday nights. Eventually, Kroger moved across the road and created space into which more businesses moved. It also made a great turning point for those of us who liked to “Cruise the Main” in high school.

Suddenly, our house was no longer on the outskirts of town. The City of Lebanon annexed the land and brought services into the area. With convenient commerce and sewer, the situation changed. We no longer had to “go to town.” We were in town, and a lot of other people, who lived in places like Five Oaks, were in town, as well.

When we moved back into the house, we moved into a different world than the one where I grew up. Although I still listen to the same music, I am no longer the kid playing video games. My wife and I are the adults with all of the responsibilities. However, the differences are also on a larger scale.

Decorating the tree with Mom

The two-lane highway is now a five-lane road. Bethlehem Methodist Church does not sit next to a country store. It sits next to an office building and the neighborhood of Waters Hill. One of the houses in which my grandparents lived is now Cumberland Animal Hospital. Maple Hill Church of Christ is still located across from Snow White Drive-In, but it is also between Sports Village and Publix. When we “go to town,” we pass a continuous line of businesses that include Beauty Boutique Salon and Spa, which is owned by my wife.

The area where I grew up is now the City of Lebanon’s Ward 6, and I am proud to serve that ward on the city council. For years, it has been a prime location for development, and land values have steadily risen. To continue that trend, we need to insure that this area continues to develop responsibly, with neighborhoods like Iroquois, which was developed by Mark Brown and my brother Jack, and Hamilton Springs, a transit-oriented neighborhood being my developed by my brother and me.

When I was a kid, the outskirts on the west side of Lebanon was a great place to grow up. As more people moved into the area and it became part of the city, it continued to be a great place to live. With more growth on the horizon, I want the children of the future to be as happy living here as I was living on that rural route on the outskirts of town.

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there and back again

Ministry uprooted Maleah Bell’s family to Texas… then, finally, ministry brought them home


By Maleah Winfree Bell

During the past few weeks, I have engaged in a time of reflection. In early July, our daughter, the youngest of our three children, married the love of her life. This event left our nest officially empty. For the record, I have a long way to go before I am old—I got an early start—but healthy reflection can be a good thing at any age, right?

I was born in Lebanon at the old McFarland Hospital as my husband, Greg, had been almost two years prior. He grew up in Mount Juliet; I was raised in Lebanon. In God’s timing, this Blue Devil met and married the Golden Bear, and the journey began.

Greg and Maleah earlyAfter we married, we rented an apartment in Hermitage because few apartments existed in Wilson County. Two years later we were able to purchase our first house in Mount Juliet. Our son was born during the five years we lived there, and we eventually bought a larger house. When our son was seven years old, we were blessed with a daughter. I had worked for a publishing company for ten years, but Greg and I decided the children needed me at home. Not long after that the Lord surprised us with our youngest daughter. Greg was preparing for the future time when he would run the family business, and I was a stay-at-home mom. Life was good.

Then one day Greg announced to me he felt called to ministry, and we would need to move to Fort Worth, Texas so he could attend seminary. Neither of us had ever lived anywhere else, and all our family and friends were here. But a year later we sold most of our belongings, packed up our children—ages thirteen, five, and two—and headed west into the unknown. We became the out-of-town relatives.

Bell kids smallThe first thing we noticed about Fort Worth was the lack of tall trees. They looked more like bushes to me. I also recall the first time I saw the Trinity River. I remember commenting, “that’s not a river, that’s a stream.”  We were definitely not in Tennessee anymore.

It’s not that Fort Worth was a bad place to live. I found a job to help support us while Greg attended school, and I enjoyed working there. North Texas was a good cultural experience for our kids. They made friends from other races, and they learned to accept people who were different from them. The Mexican food and BBQ were phenomenal, but there wasn’t a country ham to be found anywhere.

I didn’t transplant well. During the time we lived in Texas, three of my family members passed away, and there was no money for me to travel home. We came home to visit the family for vacation week and Christmas, and I cried every time we left to go back to Texas.

Bell family in TexasIt is amazing how things you take for granted become important when you are away from home: U.T. football, the leaves changing, and songs such as “Rocky Top” and “Tennessee Christmas.” Not to mention I missed pulled pork and Krispy Kreme donuts. During our time in Fort Worth the first Cracker Barrel in the area opened. Of course we went to eat there during its first week. What else would good Wilson Countians do? When Greg ordered—you guessed it—country ham—his meal came with a verbal disclaimer about the salt content.

After graduation Greg accepted a pastorate in northern Alabama. It wasn’t Wilson County, but it was a lot closer than Texas! When I resigned from my job, the owner of the company asked me if there was anything he could say to convince me to stay. When I told him we were moving much closer to home and family, he said, “Well, there is no way I can compete with that.” And he was right.

Our son was a freshman in college and had a military service commitment, so he stayed in Texas. The rest of the family headed east. We enjoyed a three-year pastorate in Alabama, and I sold Pampered Chef cooking tools to supplement our income.

Proverbs 37:4 says if we delight in the Lord, he will give us the desires of our hearts. In 2003, God gave me the desire of my heart and moved us back home. Greg was pastoring in Nashville, and we wanted our girls to attend Wilson County Schools, so we resettled in our home county.

Through a sequence of events I found myself back at work at the publishing company where I had worked previously, only this time it was in an editorial job instead of sales support. I did not have an English degree, but God knows how he has gifted us, and my strengths were a match for this position. My boss was a veteran in the publishing industry, and I received a publishing education no English degree could match. A year later I was thrust into the middle of a project that would occupy the next seven years of my life—The Voice Bible translation. How many people are given an opportunity to help birth a new translation of the Bible? After The Voice Bible was published, I became an editor for Bible studies and reference books.
family-current-wedding-photosmallIn May 2015 the company restructured, and I was thrown into the world of unemployment. I needed to maintain a flexible schedule for family reasons, so I decided to become a freelance editor and writer. Challenges come with being independent. I have to step outside my comfort zone and market myself continually, and the work can be inconsistent. But I can take my parents to their doctor appointments or pick up my granddaughter from daycare if I need to. This year has been particularly difficult with the death of a beloved pet, the deaths of several relatives, and the stresses of wedding planning. Working for myself has allowed me to be available for those times.

There is no way I could write this article without acknowledging God’s hand on the journey. I recognize only He could have orchestrated the events that have brought me to this point. He knew when I would need a different balance between family and work. It was His plan for me to spend many years in the publishing major leagues so I could learn the skills that would prepare me for this season.

Maleah current headshotMy feelings about our empty nest are similar to those I felt when seven years of producing the new Bible were completed—a little empty but a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction knowing I have done my job. Our three children are now fine, young adults with their own families.

Will Greg and I always reside in Wilson County? Only God knows that. We joked with our children that we are going to retire in the Caribbean, to which one of them responded, “Who would we go to if we needed something?” But wherever God takes us, I can honestly say that my heart will always be in Wilson County because here is where I find my piece of the good life.

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The Perfect Piece

Melinda Spivey married into a family that adopts… and years later, that’s how their daughter Merissa joined them

By Melinda Spivey

Rick and his daughter Merissa, both adopted into new families… 35 years apart.

What a pathway for so many children was laid when baby Moses was placed in the river. How many children have been blessed with wonderful homes since then; and more importantly, how many homes have been blessed with wonderful children?

I met Rick in college. I had known him through his aunt and uncle but didn’t know much about his family’s love for children until after we started dating. It didn’t take long for me to know that we were going to have a long life together.

He comes from several generations of a family that supports adoption and foster parenting in Smith, Macon, Sumner, Dekalb, and Wilson counties. In his family, they have adopted 8 children and his sister and her family have welcomed well over 100 foster children through the years in their home. As we started talking about the future, marriage, and kids, he asked me how I felt about adoption. Intrigued by the way they were so willing to open their homes to children, I was drawn to that kind of love. We talked about it and I told him that I would be willing to follow his lead; and if the timing were right in our marriage, I would love to adopt a child.

Madison, Cameron, Merissa. This picture was taken in Red Boiling Springs before the wedding of Brandon and Lindy Clark, who is the son of Merissa’s foster parents, Jo and Hugh Wayne Clark. This wedding took place right in the middle of the adoption process.

Being adopted himself as a baby through the Agape agency in Nashville made this even more important to him. We were married, made our home in Carthage near our families, and in the next few years were able to have two children of our own.

During this time, Rick’s mom had a daycare in her home. Jo and Hugh Wayne Clark, a foster family who attended church with her, had a baby from Agape that they asked her to watch. This baby was named Merissa. I loved the name Merissa and always wanted to use this name because my sisters were named Meranda and Melissa and this combined their names. We joked in the beginning about her being our adopted baby because her name was perfect. A few months passed and Merissa continued to not be placed in a home, continuing to be drawn to our hearts. In May, Rick and I attended our two nieces’ graduation, where the Clarks were present. It was that night when I felt a huge conviction to want this baby in our home permanently. The next morning I mentioned to Rick my feelings and he admitted that he felt the same way.

Rick called the Agape agency, which if you remember was the same agency that placed him years ago, to inquire about her placement. He told them that we had experienced the joy of parenting and we would NEVER take the place of someone’s only chance of having a baby, but if they didn’t have a placement for her we would love to have her. She told him they were looking at a family in Memphis and would be in touch. My heart sank. I was, all of a sudden, devastated that it may not work out. Through the Clarks and daycare, we had grown to love this baby who already had the name we would have given her.

ris 3
This picture was her first bath in our home after the adoption.

The next morning Rick received a call at work. He was told that it was important and he needed to take the call. It was the caseworker calling. She said the family in Memphis had backed out and they were interested in talking to us. We went that afternoon to meet with them. During this meeting, the case worker told us all about what would happen during the adoption process. I had so many emotions. Was this truly in God’s plan for us? Would she be happy in our home? Would we be able to give her the best life possible? Will my other two kids want a baby sister? With all the questions that came up, I could hardly contain my excitement about the possibility of adopting this precious baby girl, nor could the rest of the family.

Our two other children were persistent in asking daily when the new baby was coming. Within the next few weeks, we continued to go through the adoption process. During this time there were so many signs pointing to us that this was the right decision for our family and in God’s plan for us. One thing after another happened to show us that God had put this sweet baby in our lives for a reason.

I have to be honest, there was doubt at times that we were making the right decision and over whether this was the right placement for her. I prayed that this decision was right for her and not because my emotional attachment to her name, but because it was in God’s plan. My husband would continue to say, “If it’s in His will it will happen, and if not, we will know.” Daily, things would just work out too perfectly for her to be our baby. Trusting in my husband and keeping the faith, we proceeded rapidly with the process.

Merissa at her kindergarten graduation ceremony at Forks River Elementary School.

After home studies and visits, parenting classes, and mounds of papers to complete, Merissa came to live with us in July, just a few days short of her daddy’s 35th adoption anniversary from the same agency.  As they say, “the rest is history.”  We changed her middle name to Elaine after Rick’s sister, who also has a deep love for foster children.

Merissa fits perfectly in our home and knows her role as the youngest child or “baby sister” well. She is the youngest of three children. Her older siblings are Madison and Cameron, whom she looks up to. We have normal sibling rivalries, a busy schedule of sports, school events, and family functions, and we love deeply. She told me just this week that she looks up to Madison and her favorite thing Madison has said to her is, “Dream big and when you think you are dreaming big, dream bigger.”

The three women of the family… at dinner on formal night in the Sunset Dining Room aboard the Carnival Sunshine.

Adoption is a very open and talked about subject in our family. We want her to know that she grew in my heart instead of my tummy.  Rick often says he appreciates his birth mother for recognizing that he would need a better life than she could give him during that time. He is thankful for the sacrifice she made to allow his mom and dad the opportunity to adopt him and loves his birth mother for the sacrifice she made to better his life.

Moving forward, we want to instill that “agape” love in our own children, that they may want to spread the love of adoption with others and share a “piece of the good life” with the world.





Top photo: Family photo… Merissa, Cameron, Rick, Melinda, and Madison.

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