My Bill Done Bought Me a House

“He makes his home where the living is best.” Latin proverb

I grew up with dreams of getting married, having children and buying a home. In 1979, Bill and I got married and six months later, at the age twenty-three, we bought a house in Tarboro, North Carolina. It wasn’t an extravagant house by any means. It was a small, white, wood frame, two bedroom home with one bath and a floor furnace in the hall. It cost us $23,000 and to me, it might as well had been the Taj Mahal. We did what many couples seem to do; we got a nice dog named Muffin. Every day, Bill would sing this song to her: “Oh do you know the Muffin Girl, the Muffin Girl, the Muffin Girl…Who lives at 1100 Chapel Street?” Our mansion. Our dream.   It was time for a baby.

John was born three years after we were married. I quit my job so that I could be a stay-at-home mom and all of a sudden, finances got pretty tight. We sold the house for $29,000 to pay off our debts and moved into a nice rental home on a pretty street with brick homes. Life was good! We then got pregnant with Natalie and moved into the house next door because we needed more space. Once again, we were renters.

When Natalie was almost two years old, we left Tarboro so that Bill could pursue Christian Education Administration at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia. We put everything we owned into a U-Haul truck, said good-bye to the corporate world and went out on “Bill and Donna’s Excellent Adventure” to see where God would take us. In Virginia Beach, Bill got his education and Donna got another baby, Stacey. What was next for this family of five?

New Orleans! We lived in three different abodes, one a pretty little town home set in a garden courtyard. The courtyard had thick, jungle-like greenery and trees I had never seen before, making up a type of exotic forest. Everything about New Orleans was different. The people talked like they were from the Bronx and they had Mardi Gras! The food was fabulous and I learned to cook Cajun delicacies. But I felt as if I was in a different country! My fourth child was born there. Jeremy. I think some of the music from New Orleans seeped into his soul. We always left each city with a piece of it in our hearts.

In Atlanta, we stayed in a Christian retreat center just outside the city. We had rustic rooms that looked like kid’s camp bunk rooms. The children thought that they had died and gone to heaven. They could jump on all the beds and run and play all over the expansive property.  We were the only ones staying there for months. It was almost like a vacation.

Orlando was our home for nine years and we lived in eight different places. At first, we lived in a condo on beautiful Lake Lotus. This was my first Florida home and my best remembrance of it is looking out of my sliding glass doors on the first morning up and seeing the mist rise out over the lake as a tiny boat sat on perfectly still water.  Some snowy white birds were on the shore and I thought to myself, “I live in Florida.” I smiled to myself for weeks, thinking I was the luckiest girl on earth.

We moved our growing family and tribe to what we called the “blue house.” It had four bedrooms that were filled to the brim with life. The first morning we were there, the older children went to school and by the time they got home, I had the house entirely decorated. Pictures on the walls, my cross stitched master pieces prominently displayed for all to see. I remember that Natalie walked in after school, looked around and said, “Momma! You put up our ways on the wall.” She automatically felt like she was home.

When we got married, I began cross stitching. I decided not to read as much (I was an avid reader) but to do something during my spare time that showed the work of my hands. During my pregnant and nursing years, (eleven or twelve years) I was a cross stitch artist. I spent so much money on custom framing that I could have made a down payment on a small house! Bill was always fussing about it, but I decided that my artwork would be a legacy for my children. No matter where we lived, that art decorated our walls. The day my last child, Cody was born, I stopped doing it and began to read again.

My last two children, Isaaca and Cody were born when we lived there. They were rare, Florida natives. Our family was complete. One dream accomplished!

Later, we lived in two other nice homes on lakes, one of which I actually caught my boys playing with baby alligators at a retention pond in the neighborhood. Next, I got to live out another dream of mine by living in a log cabin. We weren’t in the mountains but in Florida! I thought it must be the only log cabin in Orlando. The neat thing about it was that Bob Ross, the artist on T.V. lived next door. He was the kindest man. He took care of wounded squirrels and birds. One time, he showed Bill and me his basement studio and his 19th century art collection.  I know you’re jealous! It was so cool!

For me, the best thing about the house was the front yard and porch. I planted beautiful fern and caladium beds flanked by multi-colored impatiens in the front yard in the deep, green shade. I loved to drive into my driveway, sit in my car and look at that loveliness and from time to time, glance over at Bob Ross’ house. It satisfied me.

Of course, I’ve written about the apartment complexes we lived and ministered in. That certainly satisfied our desire for adventure but it also taught us that no matter where you live or who you live around, you find that people are just people. I recall that our son Jeremy made friends with a Haitian boy, Marcus, in one of the complexes. They played together every day and made a fort on the corner of the property with trash they found lying around the neighborhood. It was probably nicer than some of the temporary homes in Haiti. I hated that someone tore it down one day. There were two broken-hearted little boys!

Orlando entertained us all the time. In one house near Kissimmee, every night at 7:00, you could see the fireworks from Disney, Universal Studios and Sea World. It was the Fourth of July every day! At the apartment complex in “the hood,” you could see helicopter light shows all the time. They always flew low over where we lived, seeking out car thieves, drug dealers or murderers. We were Christian adventure junkies!

Miami was interesting! We lived in a condo at a resort right on the beach. Bill sold time-share out of it by day and did Spanish speaking church services at night and on the weekends in the conference rooms. Our apartment had two bedrooms and a sun room. There were eight of us and most of the kids slept on pallets on the floor. We felt as if God had given us a year’s vacation! After that, we got to stay for several months in an apartment in a flower nursery. That was odd, but hey, the place was loaded with nature’s colors and beautiful birds lived all around us too! It was so tropical. Plus, there was a great Cuban restaurant across the street at the gas station. Did I tell you Cuban food was one of my favorites?

I loved Miami! It was blue and aqua and green and white and it smelled of all kinds of foods and it was the only place where I had ever been where you could stand on a street corner and hear car radios blasting in at least three different languages at one time. Sensory overload! It was glorious!

The next place we lived was Alabama, God’s Country! We lived there for nine years and served in a church with the loveliest, kindest people we had ever met! We lived in one house for eight years, the longest time we had ever stayed in one home. The kids really grew up in that house and over time, it became a showplace to me. I planted rose gardens and dug flower beds in red clay, as hard as cement. I added truckloads of black, rich soil to the red dirt and mixed it with my hands every year and miracle of miracles, the flowers were stellar! My pride and joy! My little bit of heaven!

I had an artistic friend, Candice, who came and painted in free-hand, lyrics on my walls. I had a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song, “Our House,” painted all around the house, over the fireplace, the piano, dining table and chair railing down the hallway. It was our mantra. It made us all happy to see it and we smiled every time we walked by the beautiful, free flowing words. That house held so many dreams in it…It was a magical house where our kids came to live there as young children and left as adults.

The children all moved to Nashville, Tennessee because music was calling and they had dreams to live out. When that happened, I had a breakdown. We were leaving Alabama too, and they were all in a new town without me. I felt as if my life had been pulled out from me. My life was a beautifully, set table and someone yanked the table cloth out from under it.

But God had plans for us. Bill and I went to Sneads Ferry, North Carolina to work, after twenty eight years of ministry life, at my cousin and her husband’s real estate company, Treasure Realty. Our lives had completely changed and in my heart I thought it was only temporary. Bill and I desperately wanted to be in Nashville. We made plans pleaded with God to let us go…open the doors…get us near our children. They were our home. We just wanted to be near them.

And somehow, it didn’t happen. Nothing worked out for us. There was not even a crack of door opening anywhere. So…

We lived in lovely places in Sneads Ferry. Twice, we lived in condos on the beach. For a little over a year we lived in a garden home and since last March, we’ve lived in my cousin’s downstairs apartment in their home on the Intra Coastal Waterway. Not too shabby! God always gives us the best places!

We’ve been here for three years now and I have to tell you, after a while, we just chose to be happy.   I can’t tell you the day I decided to do that but we thought, “At our age, we need the stability of work. Also, we are celebrated here and people love us! We have other family members near us. What’s not to like?”

Little by little, I began to see myself in Sneads Ferry. Bill and I started looking for a house, not to rent but to buy! I must announce that we found one.   We saw it on a Sunday and within a few weeks, it was our house! We are over the moon ecstatic about it! After thirty-two years, we are home owners again!

We are having the inside painted now and we will move in a few weeks. I can sit on the front porch and actually hear the ocean roaring from a half mile away. When we lived in Alabama, we lived right off of Interstate 20 and at night I would lie in bed and hear the big trucks rolling down the highway traveling to and from Atlanta and Birmingham. They sounded like the ocean’s roar to me and I would pretend I was at the beach, going to sleep under the oceans hypnotic spell.

I don’t have to pretend anymore! It is the ocean and I have a big front porch! Come and sit with me and let’s visit!

My brother-in-law, Keith used to always tease me and ask, “When are you guys going to stop renting houses and buy one?” I’d always answer back, “Don’t you worry about it. My Bill is going to buy me a house one day.” It became a family joke and as some of my Southern friends would say, “Donna’s Bill done bought her a house!” I just may have to have Candice come up and paint some free-spirited words on my wall or just put the old ones back because: “Our house, is very, very, very fine house.”

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Oh, and by the way…Nashville is never out of the picture! One day, Nashville. Me and You…Just you wait and see!



Here’s a couple songs….enjoy!






Confessions of a Scared White Woman


 All we knew to take with us into this hell-hole of an apartment complex was love.  I hoped it was enough.  

I always thought that by this time in my life, I’d be like Ruth Bell Graham, sitting in my mountain home at my breakfast nook, looking out over the hills that I loved as I drank a cup of tea and wrote inspirational notes to those who needed a sweet word of encouragement.  Instead, I’m standing in my downstairs apartment on the intracoastal waterway looking at a winter’s thunderstorm come in from the southwest, bringing its watery grey sheets of rain across the narrow pier, scattering the shells left earlier by hungry gulls.  I always wondered how the shells piled up and then mysteriously disappeared overnight.

I have no sweet notes to write to anyone today, (or most days, for that matter.)  These days I remember a lot from ministry experiences and the years we raised our children.   I’m thinking that these stories are part of their heritage, to be told to our grandchildren and shared by our friends.  I’d like to think that if I write them down, they can encourage or entertain, at the least.  Here’s one from 1995.

“We came from Bethlehem, Georgia bearing Betty Crocker cake mixes into the jungle.”
― Barbara KingsolverThe Poisonwood Bible 

We’d been asked to come and minister at an apartment complex in Orlando, Florida:  George Town Apartments.  It was in the Pine Hill’s area and was nicked named, “Crime Hills.”  We couldn’t wait to get started.  So ready to make a difference in the world, we were fearless and had no idea what to expect.  Ever read “The Poison Wood Bible?”

We decided to have our first meeting on a Wednesday night.  Rita, the apartment manager, had taken a two bedroom apartment and turned it into a clubhouse.  Chairs were set out in the living room and Bill’s keyboard was in the corner.  With great music combined with a message designed to touch the heart of  this troubled mini-world we had found ourselves suddenly assigned to, plus light refreshments,  we were ready to take up our challenge.   Let the good times begin and let our light so shine before men!

About thirty minutes before the meeting began,  those of  us who came early decided to go and knock on some of the resident’s doors to ask them to come.  I didn’t go.  The children were all with me at the clubhouse.  Bill put on his best preacher’s smile and went to the first apartment door, knocking loudly.  A lady with a checker-board smile greeted him and asked him into her house.  He stood at the door, introducing himself and telling her about the new services that would begin that night.  He wondered if she would like to come and try them out.

Very graciously, she declined, saying, “Well, You see….My sista’s just got stabbed!  I don’t think I can make it this week!  The amb’lance is here and they’re gettin’ her ready to take her to the hospital.”  And sure enough, two EMC’s passed by Bill, carrying a lady out on a stretcher.  The ambulance was out in the parking lot.

Apologizing, Bill backed out of their way.  He was so freaked out he didn’t offer to pray for her or offer any words of comfort to the sister.  “I understand…maybe next time,” he muttered, and  moved on a little more cautiously to the next apartment to see if anyone was home.

Meanwhile, back at the clubhouse, some of the residents had started to trickle into the room.  There was a man there who seemed to be nervous and sweating profusely…either he had not had his medications that day or he had taken them all and then some!  There were a few dear old “mommas,”  who had for a few years been afraid to come out of their apartments .  They entered the room with  wide eyed curiosity, wondering if their prayers for thetumblr_lwbl09AKsK1qf84ybo1_1280 neighborhood were finally being answered.  A church, right down the sidewalk from their doorway!  A few young momma’s were sitting happily in the seats, seemingly unaware that their children were running around the room, glad to play  in a new environment.  Of course, we didn’t mind babysitting.  We took care of the children and promised them snacks for later if they behaved themselves during the meeting.  The mothers were just relieved to have someone other than themselves show some interest in their rambunctious children.

I can’t seem to recall the others who came.  I believe there was a gay man named, Richard.  It was explained to me that he had at one time been a big time night club owner (of the drag queen singing and dancing variety)  and had experienced a radical conversion over to Christianity.  He had even been interviewed on Pat Robertson’s 700 Club.  I didn’t ask questions but it seemed that he felt he had taken a fall from Grace, again, and didn’t feel worthy of God’s love.  He was mentally disabled, beaten down  and lived quietly at George Town Apartments.  He only wanted to “feel” Jesus like he used to.  I wanted that for him too!  It seemed so important for him.  He would talk and cry, remembering when he used to “be” someone.  If nothing else, he was loved by us.  Sometimes he would cook for us, Cajun food and luscious cakes…He later moved to South Carolina near the beach and lived in a trailer.  It’s funny the particular things one can remember.

The room was almost filled up and Bill was back in time to start our meeting.  Allen and Betsy Quain, our partners in ministry were there with their four children.  Between us, we had ten children!  That was enough alone to start a church!  Oh, wait a minute….We had already done that!

Bill started to play the keyboard.  We had set up a sound system loud enough to blow the roof off the building!  Rita wanted us to open the doors and set the speakers outside so that the residents could hear the music and the gospel as it was preached.

I  have to admit…Bill, Allen, Betsy and I could sing!  We sang as if we were singing  before thousands of people in a stadium that night!  People started opening the doors to their apartments, letting the music seep into their hearts and souls.  Black folk, white folk, people from the Islands….it didn’t matter.  A peace seemed to descend down from heaven over our city block.  The Kingdom of God was near and the people could touch it.

A few policemen came in as we started our meeting.  One stood by the front door and the other by the open sliding glass door.  I thought it was sweet and later mentioned it to Bill, “Can you believe that even the police came into the meeting?”  You could imagine my surprise when Bill answered back, “Oh, Donna…Rita told me she asked them to come.  She wanted them watching both doors because the word was out that we were there and we were messing up drug deals that were going down…Even messing up some prostitution rings… The prostitutes couldn’t come out on the sidewalk…You know…They were there to protect us from getting shot.”

You know, right then would have been a good time for me to put my foot down; to say,  as a mother, “Bill, we can’t take our family into this hell hole!  It’s dangerous!  Someone could get hurt.”  But I didn’t.  Because I knew deep down inside of my spirit, there was a calmness that couldn’t be explained.  I had felt God’s spirit of peace descend upon us as we sang, as we held those beautiful children in our arms as their mommas worshipped God.  As we did the only thing we knew to do: love them.  Love was already in the air.  It had come in on the gentle breeze, through the windows and doors, on the music notes in the quiet summer night.  It had entered my heart, causing me to want to serve these lovely, lonely,  people.  The adventure was calling me….I couldn’t help but say, “I’m glad the police were there, then.  I may be afraid but I can’t wait until next week.”

I had fun choosing this song to go with this post.  I’m sure the writers intended it to be for two people in love.  I’d like to think this one was meant for me and the people of George Town Apartments.  It always helps to fall in love with the group of people God calls you to serve!



Did I Ever Tell You About the Time… Confessions of a Food Stamp Thief

My husband, Bill and I were having dinner with some friends last night and in keeping with a conversation we were having about how  poor we were when we were young and in “the ministry,”   I told them this story.  They asked if I had ever written a blog post about this and I said, “No.  I’ve never written about any of my adventures in faith that I experienced when we lived in Orlando, Florida.”  I went to bed later, sat my computer on my lap and inspired by what we had talked about, I decided to tell you some of our stories.  Maybe they are for now.  For you or for me, I don’t know.  This is only one of them.

There is nothing beautiful about poverty.  I can’t think of one poetic thing to say about it that would make it sound romantic or make it more “hip.”  No, it is the ugliest and scariest thing I’ve ever confronted as an adult with six children.  It kept me wary of its power as I kept it at bay from an uncomfortably short distance.  I hated it.

Bill and I  had gone out on a limb.  Way out.  We had moved our family of nine and thirteen other families into an apartment complex in the most drug infested area of Orlando, Florida. Moving into an apartment complex in the Pine Hills area of the city, sometimes jokingly referred to as “Crime Hills,” our family had taken two, three bedroom apartments and cut a door between the two to make a six bedroom apartment, big enough for us all to spread out. Compared to everyone else’s apartments, ours was newly renovated and as long as we stayed inside, we never felt like we were living in the “hood.”  But inevitably, we had to go outside and live amongst the others.  We became them.

We had always wanted to make a difference in the world and be on the “cutting edge” of what God seemed to be doing.  Having been on large church staffs,  there was always the idea that we were taking back our cities for God. Taking back our nation.  One day Bill asked me, “Donna, what if we just took one city block and brought the Kingdom of God down to it, close enough for the people to feel God’s presence?  Do you think it’s possible?  Forget taking the city, let’s just take a block!”

Be careful of what you wish for!   At the request of our friend, Rita Garrett, the apartment manager of George Town Apartments, we moved into the “stronghold,” to live with the drug dealers, addicts and prostitutes.  The only way for God to get us to know him was to send Jesus to live with us down here on earth.  We thought that was a good example. I had never felt poor a day in my life until I moved into George Town Apartments.  Byrd fam Orlando

As a ministry, we lived off of tithes and offerings. Something about moving our ministry into a drug and prostitute infested area made stable, financially secure families want to run away from us as far as they could.  Heck…I couldn’t blame them.  It was a ministry and a rather dangerous one at that.  We didn’t expect everyone to jump on our bandwagon of servitude to the down and out.

Tithes and offerings began to dissipate.  We had to look to God as our source and lean totally on Him for our finances, not just those who were tithing to the ministry.  Every morning, Bill gave me $20.00 to go shopping for our family.  $20.00!!!!  That’s all and that included paper goods and toiletries!

I would go to the Winn Dixie, right up the street from the apartment complex and get my grocery cart and shop for the day’s needs.  It didn’t take long to spend the money and somehow I managed to get the basics for all of my family.  All of my needs for the day would barely cover the bottom of the grocery cart.

I remember doing something that I was ashamed of.  We bought well over $100.00 worth of food stamps from someone willing to sell theirs.  I’m sure it was illegal.  We probably paid $25.00 for them.  I’ll never forget going to the store and buying all the groceries I could possibly use but in the end,  I pulled out the suspect food stamp book and paid for them.  I was humiliated.  I never did that again.  True confessions of a food stamp thief.  But I was lucky.  I was an educated,thirty-something white lady who spoke English. Those few things alone made me a misfit in a community of brown skin and generational poverty.  I was the lucky misfit.

As our finances dwindled, so did my high hopes and spirits.  As we voluntarily lived in this ghetto hell, we understood more and more the power and prison of poverty.  Our experiment with living in the stronghold was making differences in others around us, but it mostly was making adjustments in us. I began to understand how impoverished people lost themselves to despair or held on to their faith in God as if their life depended upon it.  It was always one extreme or the other.

One day, I was walking around the store, trying to make my needs fit into a $20.00 grocery budget.  I walked beside a lady who had a cart full of food.  I prayed, “Lord, let me fill up a grocery cart like that.  It would be so nice to buy for several days in advance.”  I looked at the meager supplies in my cart and kept walking.  I knew that one day things would change.

A few weeks later, I was at the apartment managers offices, just talking to the staff.  I told them I had to leave and go to the grocery store.  For some reason, I had Bill’s cell phone with me.  (This was  in 1995 when everyone in the family didn’t have a cell phone and it was quite a luxury.)  I was carefully going through my grocery list and nearing my limit, when all of a sudden I got a telephone call in the grocery store.  I had never had a telephone call in a store!  Literally, I tell people that God called me up that day through His servant, Rita, the apartment manager.  When I answered, she said, “Donna, I intended to give you some cash when you were in here a while ago for groceries.  Can you come and get it?”

Well, of course I could and I did!  I parked my cart on an isle that didn’t seem busy,  left the building and went straight to my car and drove to the George Town Apartment offices, picked up the cash and went back to Winn Dixie to fill up my cart (to the brim!)

I’ll never forget how God heard the prayer of a poor minister’s wife!  All I wanted was to be able to feed my family as we ministered to the impoverished in a crime ridden area.  God was faithful and to this day, I will always remember when God called me on the telephone in a grocery store (via Rita Garrett’s voice) and told me to come and get the money to fill up my grocery cart!  Is there anyone reading this who is looking in their “grocery cart” and coming up short ?  Don’t be surprised if “God” calls you up in a grocery store and tells you to come and pick up some cash to make it happen!  Ask God to fill up your cart!  Really…if He did it for me, He can do it for you!


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