Roy Exum: Why Governor Lee Prays

Tuesday, October 8, 2019 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Back in my early beginning, this before kindergarten, there was a song we loved in Sunday School called “This Little Light of Mine.” We had a great lady who played the piano with the gusto that every young child loves and she let us ham it up, singing loud, too. The second verse was where you’d shake your finger just like your Mom would when you were not acting right … “Won’t let Satan blow it out, I’m gonna’ let it shine! Won’t let Satan blow it out, I’m gonna’ let it shine! Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”

Now that nearly 70 years have passed, it was the fourth verse that got me all tangled up: “Hide it under a bushel, no! I’m gonna’ let it shine! Hide it under a bushel, no! I’m gonna’ let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.” That bothered me because my mentor, Mr.

Elmer Pettyjohn, was teaching me about pints, quarts, and gallons with three sizes of Mason jars about then. I knew there was no dadgum way a bushel – don’t care if it was soy beans, feed corn, or wheat from the big combine – could possibly hide my little light. There was just no way until Elmer went and got a bushel basket, lit a stub of a candle, and showed me that if you placed the basket over the candle, it would hide the light. “Well, Boss, how come the song doesn’t go ‘bushel basket, no!” and Elmer always had time for his sonny boy.

“Well, let’s sing it that way …” he reasoned and we did. It sounded goofy. “Sonny boy, that’s how they talked back then … Tell you what, go get me a quart of water.” I fetched the middle jar, ran to the garden spigot, and came back with water. “Is that a quart?” he asked and I told him it was. “Looks like a jar to me,” he raised his eyebrows. “Then how am I supposed to carry the water?” I asked my great swami. Elmer laughed, pointing to the basket, and succeeded once again in the lessons taught on any given afternoon on the farm. “The same way you go get a bushel!” (I was taught that one fourth of a bushel was called a ‘peck’ in dry measure and, no, the only ‘peck’ I can ever recall was from a mad chicken.)

Along about the same time, I wanted to know if God has ever talked to anybody that Elmer knew. “I mean, somebody who actually talked to God,” because his Belle and Elmer were black, and among the most blessed I would ever know. “Sure … you can talk to Him anytime you like … that’s what we call our praying.” I told Elmer that wasn’t exactly true, ‘cause God doesn’t pray back. “Oh yes He does. God answers prayers … who do you think made jars and baskets? Prayers are how we talk to God and when good things happen to you, that’s God answering prayers.”

Man, Elmer had an answer for everything.  And from that very day, I knew what prayers were about and how they carried conversations to God like jars carried water and baskets carried bushels. Pretty cool, huh? Elmer was a curious mix of a man. He was a yardman who only years later I found could not read, yet he and Belle were as prized as anyone in our family. It was also never lost on me that, for years, our dogs preferred Elmer’s company second to none.

Today I am just as puzzled why folks get huffy over our state’s 50th governor, Bill Lee, calling for a statewide ‘Day of Prayer’ this Thursday. As one who prays throughout every day, I have never had one soul in ‘my three score and ten’ ask me not to pray. Oh, I get requests from friends and strangers all the time and, on some days, I’m a threat to use a single shot. (That’s when you pray for just one person and nobody or anything else, giving full strength to the prayer – that’s a single shot.) While prayer most certainly makes a difference in my life, I don’t foist my religious beliefs on anyone. I am very open about ‘This Little Light of Mine.’ Why should anyone possibly want to lay their non-beliefs on me?

Think about this: To be a believer is very simple, and doesn’t cost a penny. There is that old rag where a non-believer asks a believer, “What if when you die, you might find out there is no God, no heaven or hell?” My answer is always the same. “Because of the laws and wisdom I have learned from the Bible, I have no doubt I’m a far better person here on earth than I  could ever be without Christ in my heart. Because I believe there is Eternal Life, I know I’ll see my mom and dad and my brothers again, this along with many thousands of others I have loved and admired. 

The biggest thing for me is my belief enables me to have a faith and there have been days when I have felt it was my only rope. If you have a faith, the hope that comes with it is divine. You can believe miracles happen, and know it when they do. But if someone tries to go through life with absolutely no belief, that void of faith rules out the chance of hope. It’s a two-way thing and one without the other simply doesn’t exist.  And, hey, what are you going to do when you die and find out Salvation is really true? By then it will be too late, too late for a trust in God. You are going to feel pretty silly going down instead of up, but I know some friends who feel like you do … tell them hello for me ...”

Some wonder why Bill Lee would push for a Day of Prayer, the wacky news media eager to point and the liberals seemingly beyond reason. But the answer is so easy. When Bill Lee was running for Governor, remember what happened? Randy Boyd, a best friend of then-Governor Bill Haslam, had the early edge and then there was Diane Black, equally wonderful, her millions meaning nothing after you chipped away the meaningless PR coating. I wrote stories on both of them and repeatedly called it my favorite election because I genuinely liked everybody. 

Bill started as an obvious third in the early going. Tom Decosimo got me some quiet time with him and he told me about his wife Carol Anne. They had four children together, his company’s success was off the charts, and then came that afternoon in 2000 when his wife was killed instantly when she tumbled from the horse she was riding.

No one has any idea how totally devastated Bill and his children were. He took time off from his company and he’ll tell you, this while looking straight in your eye – “Without Jesus Christ I never could have done it.” Now the Lord had Carol Anne as his close angel and from heaven the governor’s race was virtually ordained. Randy had a bad advisor who initiated mud-slinging and Diane sadly had enough Potomac fever in her DNA that she got drawn into the smear. Bill Lee would have none of it. Time and time again Boyd and Black taunted him but his strength came from heaven. He flat out refused to be drawn down to that level.

Chris Devaney, the Lookout Mountain native who ran Lee’s campaign, has since called the Governor’s Christian stance one of the most thrilling he has ever seen. By the time Boyd and Black realized they had badly misread the Tennessee people, Lee’s 39 percent of the votes in the winner-take-all Republican primary outshone Boyd’s 24 percent and Black’s 23. Eight years after Carol Anne’s death there was no doubt it was with her heavenly blessing Bill would marry the second wife, Maria, and with Lee’s rich blessing from the Lord, the power of Bill Lee’s prayers – which we actually watched as they were answered -- cannot be doubted.

You think his prayers are phony, he who guided four kids without their real mom for eight years by himself? Some limp-wristed critics fault his date of Oct. 10 for prayer and fasting because they say it is just one day after the Jewish sacred celebration of Yom Kippur, but the nitwits haven’t yet figured out Jesus was the mightiest Jew of them all. Please! Ironically, the governor’s worst critics will be high on his prayer list.

I’ve got three prayer lists. The ‘A list’ is hallowed by me because the only thing that can bless those who are terminally ill, lost at sea, still missing after the years that have passed and such is a miracle. I ask God for His grace, His relief from pain – physically and mentally – and that His peace would warm each one’s people. The ‘B List’ is the most crowded because every name has a realistic chance to climb out of the darkness, no matter the type or the circumstances or the reasons. 

There are people in jail right next to the everyday strugglers, the ones who need a kidney transplant, both ‘sides’ in a divorce, the parents of a kid on drugs, and stuff that friends face that is hard to believe. Man, everybody is carrying baggage these days and it was Elmer who taught me, “God doesn’t always come when we call Him but there’s never been a day that the Lord wasn’t right on time!” Add that to my family’s belief that “Nothing bad can happen that God won’t put something better in its place.”

“The C List” may seem benign, or outside silly, but it has all the depth of the other two. I got a note from a dear friend who wanted just the first name of the Brainerd High student who was shot within an hour or so after cussing out a teacher. Her prayer group wanted to intercede for the kid despite how caustic the student had been, no matter how vulgar his bark. That’s powerful.

It is Tennessee’s greatest blessing to be able to pray as one this Thursday. Relish it, join in it, and watch for the Lord to honor our lands and our people.

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