ELVIS & ROSEMARY
This morning my eyes popped open at 3:28. It’s a given that I’ve been an early riser most of my life & I do enjoy the quiet. But even I think that waking at this hour is a tad bit ridiculous! In retrospect, I might be getting a “boost” from the yummy, oreo-peppermint ice cream dessert I made for the church party last night. Though I was sleeping on the couch before even making it to the bed, my body let me know it wasn’t happy with that food choice. (DGL tabs are my friend.) It doesn’t help that I’m starting to feel the countdown to Christmas infringe on my peace of mind & I’m thinking in lists. Plus, this week held some unexpected, unscripted, non-holiday, related challenges.
This week, I had great conversations with both of my sisters-in-law. Texting can only go so far between the miles, the health updates, & life details in general. When it feels like I’m writing a book on my phone, it’s just better to talk. It was time to hear each other’s voice & have another question/ answer session. Ladies, you know what I’m saying! Second best to seeing a soul in someone’s eyes, is hearing the heart in someone’s voice. Shortly after concluding our catch-up times, I received some news that rocked, & stopped, the course of my day.
It all started back in the Spring of 1991. We’d moved to Arizona to take, what was perceived to be, a dream job helping people. In the process of finding a new, biblically solid, church home, it was recommended that we visit a particular fellowship that met in a new office complex. The music was great, the people appeared friendly, and the teaching was encouraging & meaty. At the close of the service, the couple sitting behind us struck up a conversation. Being the child-loving grandparents that they were, they were observing our girls during the service…at that time 11, 9, & 6 years old. These folks were warm & genuine from the get go. They seemed to fit together. Both had beautiful eyes & smiles that lit up their entire countenance. And she struck me as a classy lady. Not overdone. Not unapproachable. Just a natural, soft beauty, set off by dark eyebrows & perfectly graying hair. So began our 26 year relationship with Elvis & Rosemary.
Elvis & Rosemary had been “lifers” with Campus Crusade, serving for over 40 years in varying capacities & locations. They married young, had babies quickly and lived intentionally. They were in their early 60s when we met them. “Full of life” is a phrase that would aptly describe them. Even though they had 4 married children, & a good amount of their own grandchildren, they “adopted” us as an extended part of their hearts. Because we were 28 hours from any of our own families, this became a real life-link for us. They didn’t replace our parents & we weren’t substitutes for their children. We just had a God-ordained spiritual connect & togetherness.
Rosemary had the gift of hospitality. And cook? The only way to describe it is, WOW! She served lunch in a manner that was so welcoming, you just felt loved. Elvis liked to hunt, & she could prepare dishes that you never fathomed could be so good. Like baked quail & venison chili. Elvis was known for his evangelizing—any time, any place, with anyone. There were no strangers in his estimation. He would approach folks at random & ask if they had made the wonderful discovery of a relationship with Jesus Christ. And if they died, did they know where they were going? Elvis knew his Bible & could quote it at will. He was rarely without gospel tracts & distributed them in unlikely places... like in the shrubs & rocks of Lookout Mountain, where he hiked regularly. My girls grew up with the knowledge of Elvis & Rosemary’s godly influence. They can tell some stories of their own. We connected in life, & served together at church. Elvis & Rosemary were a safe place. We were family because we were like-minded & united in Jesus.
When we moved to Kansas 8 years ago, leaving Elvis & Rosemary was one of the hardest things to face. We have pictures of the day we said goodbye. It wasn’t easy & I think we all felt a little sick to our stomachs. They stopped by, again, the day the movers came. We all knew there was a possibility we wouldn’t see each other again, this side of heaven. They were growing older. They had both dealt with some health issues & Elvis was struggling with the increasing limitations of Parkinson’s disease. The truth was, we weren’t financially able to hop a plane anytime we wanted. And we would be 17 hours a part.
During our recent years of separation, Steve was able to see Elvis & Rosemary once, when on a ministry trip. I was not able to go. Plus, our family was still growing with the addition of 4 more grandbabies. We determined to visit them in 2016 but, due to unforeseen circumstances, we had to cancel/reschedule our flights twice. It was frustrating! By this time, Elvis & Rosemary were in private home care. Talking on the phone wasn’t enough anymore & I was feeling a little panicky. FINALLY, things came together 10 months ago in February 2017, when we surprised them with a visit. Our 3 extended times with them were some of the sweetest memories ever! The hours were well spent as we caught up with pictures, brought it in lunch, and sipped tea on the patio. We were never at a loss for words. It was a pleasure to serve them, & honor them again, in person, for their love & investment in our lives. The hugs were long overdue & much appreciated by all of us. Once again, the goodbyes were hard. But we were all very thankful!
Rosemary & I try to connect regularly. She assured me of their prayers during cancer & was always eager for an update. 2 months ago, Elvis surprised us both while we were on the phone. He asked to talk to me. Because of his failing health, this was a rarity. With Rosemary holding her phone to his ear, he said my name & we verbalized our love for each other. Then he said he hoped he could see us again. I felt so blessed to have that experience! Elvis went Home to Jesus on December 14, 2017. Even though I’d talked to Rosemary a few days earlier, I/we weren’t ready to embrace the loss of this sweet, Godly man. Although a normal part of the life cycle, it feels odd & sad. Our family is just a little ripple in the big pond of people that Elvis influenced. The Lord, alone, only knows those numbers! The news & pictures of his passing, brought me to an emotional standstill. I functioned on rote. Rosemary previously said that after 68 years together, when he died, part of her would die with him. I get that. And I ache for her.
At my own Dad’s memorial, we chose Psalm 15 as the scripture reading. The heading in my Bible reads, “Description of a Citizen of Zion.” I think it aptly describes Elvis too. (Dad & Elvis did get to meet.)
“O Lord, who may abide in Thy tent? Who may dwell on Thy holy hill? He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart. He does not slander with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor take up a reproach against his friend; In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord; He swears to his own hurt, and does not change; He does not put out his money at interest, nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken.”
I know you don’t know Elvis & Rosemary. But I hope you are somehow blessed to have read my reflections about them. The oldest living generation is a gift, an invaluable, often untapped, resource of knowledge & wisdom. We would be the better for taking time to sit humbly at their feet & listen to their insight and stories. They have much to say & not a lot of time left to say it. And as my sweet Mother once reflected, just because you’re changing on the outside, doesn’t mean you change on the inside. Your emotions don’t grow old. You still need to be loved & know you are valued. Make the most of the relationships that God has given you. You never know how long you have someone. Your goodbyes could be sooner than you think. “A gray head is a crown of glory; it is found in the way of righteousness.” (Proverbs 16:31); “You shall rise up before the grayheaded, and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:32)
The following is a tribute to Elvis by my husband.
I'LL SEE YOU SOON ELVIS
By Son Stephen
In my life-time, there have been four father's that have marked the boundaries of my soul, my own father, my father-in-law (to whom I dedicated my book, The Principled Patriarch), Dr. Charles Solomon & Elvis Priest. Each infusing Truth into my soul that would form my love and dedication to Biblical Patriarchy.
I have had the grievous experience of seeing three of my fathers pass from this life to the next. The recent passing of Elvis leaves a gaping hole in my soul. I find myself closing my eyes to see all the memories, the adventures & investments he made in me. The more I see, the more I sit, the more I sit, the more I realize he is still very much alive in my mind. His life, influence & investment in me as a son - stuck! In his death, and life, I find my legacy. Although I can no longer hear his voice, see his face or see his gentle smile, I know, in God's reality, that he has not left me/us. Instead, every day he surrounds me with memories that profoundly influenced every pocket of my own legacy.
One of my most treasured memories is, watching this man love his dear wife (Rosemary) with each & every ounce of strength, loyalty and faithfulness he had to offer. His union with Rosemary is truly one of the greatest "love stories" I have witnessed in my life-time. Like Rosemary said to Jane, "when Elvis dies, a part of me will die with him." Not only do I get that, their marriage taught me that.
As for his influence on me in ministry, well, I have no words to communicate his impact. His outreach to others is expressed in his statement to me: "Stephen, life is ministry because He is our life." With that said, I am compelled to tell you this story.
After the two of us preached at funeral years ago, we stopped at a place I had wanted to tour - the Biosphere. We walked up to the ticket counter, bought the tickets and before walking away, Elvis asked the lady if she knew where she was going if she died today. I thought, "Oh Boy! Here we go again!" I thought this gesture was a bit fruitless. She looked right into his sweet face and said, "I'm not sure." With that, he handed her a 4-Spiritual Laws tract and asked for a commitment to read it. After finishing the tour, we were walking by the ticket booth and this precious lady came out of her booth and loudly proclaimed that she read the tract and prayed the prayer - emphasizing, I'm a Christian now!
I am only one of hundreds, if not thousands, that have stories like this one. Elvis was the real-deal and anyone who knew him, knew that. Elvis was, and will forever be, a true Patriarch, a husband, father & friend, who was a light in a dark world. His life was a living example of traditional Biblical values that taught, men & women alike, what it meant to glorify God the Father through His indwelling Son. Even though he was always quoting the Word, it was in these words that marked me, "a city set on a hill cannot be hidden." I am a leader today who shines as bright as a city on a hill - thanks to Elvis. His life cemented in me - a leader in Christ, can never be forgotten.
I have learned that when a Patriarch dies, the light he radiated grows dim, but only for a night! If you close your eyes, sit back and let the memories flash by, you will begin to see that this Patriarch, and his light/life in Christ, can be embraced over and over again. You might even find his legacy infused into your soul.
Good bye for now my father, be assured, I will see you soon!