September 1, 2011 - There are sentimental birthdays, and then there are landmark birthdays.
Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.—2 Corinthians 9:7
By Richard Greene
For Ray "Whitey" Rash of Aitken, S.C., Aug. 18, 2000, was monumental. That day, he received a phone call from Evelyn Carlisle, known to family and friends as Shelby.
When Ray picked up his ringing telephone, Shelby was on the line. "Happy Birthday," she wished Ray.
"Why it is my birthday,” he responded, thanking Shelby and sheepishly admitting he had plum forgotten how special Aug. 18 was. “I’m so glad you called!” he added.
“Why are you so glad?” Shelby quizzed Ray, wondering what was behind his enthusiasm.
After some discussion, they agreed to meet, and that’s when things turned interesting. Before long, they realized that God had been working in each of their hearts to knit together a heartwarming love story.
Ray’s wife, Helen Christine, had died almost two years earlier. Ray and Helen had met in 1963 on a southern California farm in the middle of the desert, where Helen grew up and where her dad hired Ray after his six-year stint as a Navy Seal. After marrying, the couple moved around, finally settling in Augusta, Ga., near the border with South Carolina. Ray and Helen reared two children—Raymond Jr. and Rhonda Rene.
It was in the context of his fatherly role that Ray discovered his need to give his heart to Christ. “I taught our children that the Bible is God’s Word and that they should follow it, but I wasn’t practicing what I was preaching.”
While driving his van one day, Ray sensed God’s conviction and started crying. He pulled off the road and surrendered his life to the Lord.
At midnight on Sept. 5, 1998, a panic-stricken Helen woke Ray, her lungs filling with fluid. Ray called for an ambulance, but Helen passed away before it could arrive.
Two years later, a rather lonely Ray was yearning to settle down again. He remembered Shelby, whom he had met in 1988 at a music hall while he was playing guitar and singing lead for the country and Gospel group The Wooden Bucket Gang.
During the summer of 2000, he tried to find Shelby, but his search proved unsuccessful. “My heart sank into my knees,” Ray recalled. “But then I sensed God telling me, ‘Go home, sit down and wait. She’ll call.’” Ray obeyed.
Meanwhile, Shelby had lived much of her adult life as a single parent. Born in Lisbon, Ohio, she had mostly grown up in South Carolina, where she met and married Frank after dropping out of the 10th grade. Joy was born shortly before Shelby’s 18th birthday.
Deborah was born two years later. When their marriage collapsed, Frank took 2-year-old Deborah, and Shelby lost contact with her until this past February, 46 years later.
As a single mom, Shelby’s life spiraled downward. Growing desperate for change, she did something she was not accustomed to doing—she went to a friend’s house and asked if she could go to church with her. That Wednesday night in 1975, Shelby watched a movie depicting hell and God’s judgment. She shuddered.
The following Sunday, Shelby went to the church her brother and his wife attended. At the invitation for people to commit their lives to Jesus, Shelby went forward to confess her sin and accept Christ as Savior.
“My life turned inside out,” Shelby said. “I no longer wanted to do the bad things that I had been doing. Smoking. Drinking. Drugging. Sex. I had no desire for any of it anymore!”
Shelby exercised great caution over where she went. She did not want to venture into areas of temptation that might overwhelm her. “I was so afraid of committing sin, it seemed the only place I’d go was to get groceries or pay bills,” she said, chuckling.
Even 13 years later, Shelby was hesitant when longtime friend Nancy invited her to go to Mr. K’s to hear The Wooden Bucket Gang in 1988. Nancy assured her that the music hall’s atmosphere was family-friendly. Shelby agreed to go, and while there she was casually introduced to Ray. Shelby also happened to be present on a much later visit to Mr. K’s when Ray’s birthday was celebrated.
In August of 2000, Ray’s name was dislodged from Shelby’s memory bank. She sensed God’s prompting to call Ray to wish him a happy birthday, not knowing God was working in Ray’s heart as well.
That’s why Ray was so glad Shelby called that Aug. 18. The sparks kindled, and the two married on Sept. 28, 2000. “We’ve had a blast together!” exclaimed Ray, now retired.
Tragedy struck on Aug. 4, 2008, when one of Shelby’s grandsons, James, was killed in a car crash after returning home from serving with the U.S. Marine Corps. Shelby received a significant amount of money from a life insurance policy James had taken out.
After paying off what they owned on their vehicle and their home in Aiken, Shelby and Ray put the rest aside in a will, naming BGEA as one of the beneficiaries.
“We’d been familiar with Billy Graham for years and years,” said Ray, who just turned 70. “God has so blessed us, and we wanted to give to the ministry of BGEA because it honors and proclaims Christ.”
But Shelby started “feeling guilty.” Why wait, she thought. Why not give some now? So Shelby and Ray have donated several major cash gifts from their estate to BGEA’s evangelistic outreach, with more to come later when their will is executed.
“I sure miss James,” Shelby said, her voice breaking and tears welling in her eyes, which are protected by dark glasses because of macular degeneration. “But if one person is saved through what God has provided, it will be well worth it.” ©2011 BGEA