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While driving through Nashville on a brilliant spring afternoon, I stopped at a busy intersection where I noticed two young women sitting together at a bus stop. One was tall, her large frame amply carrying a great mass of weight, while the other was petite and svelte. By appearance alone, you would easily think they were strangers just waiting for the bus. However, as I sat watching them I noticed they were engaged in a carefree conversation. It wasn't guarded or stifled as it is with strangers or purposely polite as it can be with acquaintances. One filed her nails as the other dug through her purse looking for that last piece of lint-covered gum at the bottom of it, their conversation never waning for a moment. Glancing down the street and then to their watches, the decision was made to forsake the bus ride and walk to wherever they were headed. As they got up from the bench their disparate sizes could be seen in full view. These two really didn't look like friends. But as they began to walk, one of them said something that stopped the other in her tracks, doubling her over in laughter. The laughter shook her every inch, and she grabbed the shoulder of her friend in support; and together the two stood on the side of a busy street in Nashville and laughed in complete and total hysterics. There was no doubt that these two were friends.
Driving away I was reminded that a friend doesn't have a particular size or face, skin color or age, position or wealth. There are no rules or demands, conditions or limitations—friends are simply people who choose to open their lives to someone else, sharing joys and burdens, hardships and triumphs—not because they have to, but because they want to.
Within this book are stories of people who have chosen to be a friend and who have joyously celebrated the priceless treasure that is friendship. Their stories will touch, encourage, challenge, and most importantly, inspire your heart to spring up as a sheltering tree, providing power, promise, and refuge to someone who shares an undeniable, unmistakable connection to your soul—a friend.
We all need sheltering trees
Friends in our lives
who'll get down on their knees
And lift us up before
the King of Kings
We all need sheltering trees
Randy Travis has been a mainstay in country music for fifteen years. Number one hits like “Forever and Ever Amen,” “I Told You So,” and “Diggin' Up Bones” have rocketed record sales into the stratosphere. With more than twenty-five million records sold, Randy Travis is not only a mainstay but a country music superstar. But this country music icon doesn't have the “better-than-you” attitude or ego that so often accompanies a bona fide superstar. Gold and platinum records, awards and world travels have not affected the modest, self-effacing Marshville, North Carolina, native. “Places become a blur after fifteen years,” he says in a rich baritone drawl. “You may forget years or places, but you can't forget a person who touches you.”
Katie Beth Watson was a starry-eyed nine-year-old when her young life touched the singer's. “I was struck by how grown up she acted,” he fondly remembers. “She was a very sweet little girl, but it wasn't like talking to a kid; it was more like talking to an adult.” The Make-A-Wish Foundation had contacted Randy's management company with a request from a little girl who desperately wanted to meet the man behind the voice on so many of her favorite records. Katie had already undergone a heart transplant when Randy spent time with the lively, charming, brown-haired little girl backstage before one of his concerts. “I remember thinking that she looked like a normal child. You'd never think she'd had a heart transplant because she didn't look sick. She had bright eyes and rosy cheeks, and she loved to laugh. The only difference between her and any other child her age was how she spoke, but I guess you learn how to speak on an adult level very young in life when you go through something like that.”
The Katie Beth whom Randy met that day was a sharp contrast to the picture Randy had seen. After her transplant Katie Beth was hooked to a complicated tangle of tubes, wires, and medical apparatus to help sustain her fragile life. “It was unbelievable how many wires and things were attached to her little body.” As Randy sat talking with Katie Beth and her family, he was struck by how loving and kind each of them was. “Her folks were great with her,” he recalls in a voice that reflects genuine warmth and respect. “They spent every minute they could with her, and they made every minute count. It made me aware of how I spend my own time with people I care about.”
As the years progressed, it became obvious that the heart transplant was not working as doctors had hoped and that Katie Beth would have to endure another long operation. Since their first meeting, Randy had visited with the little girl several times but had never noticed a dramatic decline in her health. “She was always the same, sweet Katie Beth. If nobody had told me, I wouldn't have known that she was getting sicker.” Before one of his concerts, Randy spent some uninterrupted time with Katie Beth and asked her point-blank if she was going to have another transplant. “I'll never forget what she said to me,” he says in deep awe. “She just looked at me and said, ‘No, I don't want to go through that again. I know where I'm going when I die.'” The man who had made his living performing before millions of fans worldwide was humbled by the words of a sick little girl. “I was at a total loss for words,” he recalls. “I couldn't say anything. I was amazed at her strength—how brave she was. Death wasn't something she was afraid of. She knew exactly where she was going, and she wasn't worried about it. I'd never seen such strength before.”
One fall, Katie Beth made a trip to Salt Lake City, Utah, to watch Randy tape an episode of Touched by an Angel. It would be the last time he would see his little friend. “I could see she didn't feel well,” he recalls, “but she was laughing and giggling just like she always did. She had a wonderful sense of humor.” Katie Beth watched the taping process in amazement. After each take she sat wide-eyed as makeup and hair people swarmed Randy, powdering and pampering before the cameras rolled again. “Finally she said, ‘I don't know how you can stand all that,' ” he laughs. “She really was a funny little girl. I was so glad she was able to be there because she really enjoyed herself. She met Della Reese and Roma Downey and the other cast members. It was just great to have her there.”
Shortly after the trip to Salt Lake City, Randy received word that Katie Beth had died. Thinking about his relationship with her, he realized that their friendship had made a tremendous impression on his life. “Our friendship did a lot more for me than it did for her. When you meet someone like Katie Beth, it makes you consider what you do in your life. That's what got to me more than anything else—how do I live my life? If you live how a godly person should, you can face death and anything else in life with Katie's kind of strength.”
Randy spent more time with Katie Beth than any other child he's met in his fifteen-year career. “It's a good feeling to meet and talk with someone who wanted to meet you,” he says warmly. “I love kids. I love to spend time with them and talk with them, and it's wonderful to be put in a place where people, especially kids who've maybe come out of a background of abuse or pain or sickness, want to talk and spend time with you. When you know that you've made them feel good just because you took the time to be a friend to them, to talk with them and get to know them—you think, Well, maybe I've done a little bit of good in all I've been given in life.”
The years and places have continued to blur for Randy since Katie Beth's death, but the memory of the little child who looked death bravely in the face is still clear in his memory. “Her only problem was she was born with a weak heart,” he says slowly, “but that never diminished her strength. She was a strong, brave, wonderful little girl and someone I'll remember for the rest of my life.”
Randy recently released his fifteenth album, Inspirational Journey, a labor of love that took four years to complete. He continues to work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and others like it, considering it an honor to meet and talk with children just like Katie Beth across the nation.
|Randy Travis and Katie Beth Watson||12|
|Rebecca St. James and Karleen Lindsey||18|
|Luci Swindoll and Marilyn Meberg||26|
|Arthur Ashe and Stan Smith||34|
|Dr. Johnny Hunt and Odus Scruggs||38|
|Chonda Pierce and Alison Evans||46|
|Point of Grace||54|
|Dwight Watson and Ron Frost||64|
|Stormie Omartian and Roz Thompson||72|
|Carolyn Arends and Bernie Sheahan||82|
|Mac and Aimee Powell||88|
|Mark Wills and Charles Wilkes||96|
|Michelle McKinney Hammond and Brenda Blonski||102|
|Rebecca Lynn Howard, Shannon White, Josh Whitaker, and Jimmy Howard||110|
|Zig Ziglar and Dr. Dwight "Ike" Reighard||116|
Posted January 18, 2003
This book is so touching in so many ways. One article in the book tells about the friendship that country music star Rebecca Lynn Howard had through high school and after she moved to Nashville, she returned back home to sing at Shannon White's wedding and five days later she received a phone call to sing at his funeral. This article should show everyone that you should never take friendship or anything else for granted. This is so touching for me because Shannon is my big brother and loosing him when he was 19 in a car accident it was devistating. Me being his baby sister I encourage you to buy this book it is a great gift for anyone. It was definatly a wonderful gift for everyone in my family expecially my mother.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 6, 2001
This is a beautiful book to buy for yourself (it looks beautiful on a coffee table!) and it's an awesome gift for a friend. The stories that Donna VanLiere and Eddie Carswell include in this book are heartwarming, funny, touching and inspiring. There are stories about celebrities as well as everyday people and I found them all equally enjoyable. The story about country singer Randy Travis made me cry, the Arthur Ashe story inspired me, the Luci Swindoll story made me laugh hysterically, while a story from a pastor named Johnny Hunt in Georgia challenged the way I live. There are many other stories of friendship included in this book and there's also a c.d. of the song Sheltering Tree included in the back. As I said earlier, it's a great gift. I know you'll enjoy it as much as I do!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.