[May 2020] Many years ago, when my husband was young and hot and a rock star, I gave him my permission to remarry if, for some reason, I should die before he did. He protested of course, but I explained that I just wanted to go on record that IF I died first and IF the right woman came along, I wouldn’t be sad or upset (in heaven) if he wanted to remarry. I then quickly followed with a LONG list of women he could NOT marry; women whom, in fact he should use his fastest shoes to run from if they came calling. These were mostly church ladies I knew would show up on my doorstep with delicious meals before the ink even dried on the little x’s over my eyes.
When I finished, he said, “That’s a pretty long list. Anyone NOT on the list?”
I thought for a moment, “Yes, Alice Chamblin is NOT on the list of women you can’t marry. She’s the only one. If I die, you can marry Alice and I know you’ll be in good hands. She’s the real deal, that’s just who she is. She is caring, loyal, Godly, resourceful, hard-working, she is a good cook and keeps a nice house, she’s a great parent, plus she’s got a hilarious sense of humor. You’d have how to learn to play cards, but that’s a small price to pay.”
If you look up “how to make lemonade out of lemons” you will undoubtedly see Alice’s picture. She learned early in life to make the best of whatever life threw her way. She was only six years old when county officials stepped in and separated her from her biological family. A series of work-farm orphanages, harsh foster homes, failed adoptions, and abusive fathers kept her away from any semblance of a real family until she was adopted at the age of nine and a half. From that day on she worked hard to cultivate real family relationships. The Cory family. The Peterson family. The Chamblin family. Her church family. Her Camp family. Her fire station families. Her Westfield school bus family. Her Discipleship Walk family. Her Reins Of Grace and Farmfest families. The sun rose and set around her sons’ families and those beautiful grandbabies. And her close friends were just like family to Alice.
I only knew Alice for the last half of her 70 circles around the sun. In recent years, we’d sometimes take off on girls’ weekends or gather for board games at her kitchen table where we laughed ourselves breathless, cried over the littlest things, and shared the most intimate stories. Over and over, her life’s work confirmed those aforementioned amazing character traits were exactly how God had her hard-wired. It’s just who she was. She had a way of making herself available to follow God by serving others. Alice’s heart was tender for people down on their luck and for little children in need of a smile and a word of hope.
Alice’s story is hers to tell, but let me assure you, from start to finish, it is an amazing account of God’s grace and faithfulness at every crazy twist and turn. She always knew in her heart that God would answer her prayers and protect her. When Alice prayed, God answered. Maybe not exactly how or when she expected, but she always believed He had something better in mind and would answer her cries in His own time.
So this week when I heard that Alice had been killed in a senseless accident in broad daylight right in front of her cherished grandchildren, I started crying and I can’t seem to stop. I keep thinking of that tape replaying in their minds. I keep seeing her granddaughter who Alice pushed out of the way as the silver Ford F-150 pick-up truck swerved to the wrong side of the road hit her Gaga but missed her. And then kept right on going. I keep seeing her teenage grandson who came running when he heard the screams and tried CPR to no avail. I keep thinking of her big strapping firefighter sons who protect people every day but could not be there at that split second. I keep seeing her lifelong friend who got to the scene just in time to ask the paramedics if she could see her face one last time before they zipped up the bag. I keep thinking of her youngest son, Terry, and how someone had to form the words to let him know what had happened and I imagine his disbelief as he tried to process the news; she was his champion his whole life. How does one even make that kind of phone call? Ever since, those images have replayed in my brain over and over again, morning, noon, and night. And I can’t seem to stop crying.
Today I am praying that God helps me to re-frame those reruns so I can see the miracles and the blessings in the mix of that Tuesday afternoon. What a miracle that Audrey was not hit as well; it could have easily been both of them! What a miracle that Ike came running and they were able to accurately describe the truck that led to an arrest the very next day! What a blessing that her last two months were spent with her family under a stay-at-home order because of this stupid corona-virus! What a blessing that Terry had an awesome mom for the first three and a half decades of his life! What a blessing Alice got to meet her first great-grandchild. What a blessing that we got to have all those girls weekends away where we laughed and cried ourselves silly. I could go on and on. So instead of replaying that horrible accident scene over and over again in my mind, I am asking God to help me re-frame that moment to see all the miracles in play on that pretty day in May.
I want to imagine something like this: The Pearly Gates fly open and there’s Alice! The heavenly hosts are startled! Alice pipes up, “Don’t look so surprised! I didn’t expect to be here today either!” They open their arms (wings?), embracing her, welcoming her, as they escort her to the Throne Room and along the way she sees her parents Pauline and Vern, her brother Bruce, her first daddy John Eickleberry, and many others who have gone on before. She sees Pastor Tommy. She sees Pastor John. She sees Marie and Mike. She sees Jenetta. She sees Keith’s brother who just arrived a few days ago. She sees so many others. And then she sees Jesus! The One who saved her soul and has been there for her answering her prayers since she was six years old. It is a beautiful scene of redemption and reunion, all earthly pain is forgotten.
Our hearts are broken today, but I have a suspicion that if Alice could have written her own script for leaving this life, it would probably have included some sort of scenario where she is working outdoors in the fresh country air with her grand-kids one moment and gone the next. No falling into poor health, no nursing home, no broken hip, no dementia, nobody taking care of her. Full of life one moment and gone the next! God in his mercy answered Alice’s prayers. Again. Though we are left with our hearts broken clear in half.
One tiny detail hangs in the balance. The man who hit Alice and drove off. I am believing from this moment on that God will use this tragedy to reach that man, that he will be off the roads for the foreseeable future, that he will have a come to Jesus moment and will live the rest of his life clean and sober and spreading the message of God’s mercy. Alice would love that.
Because that’s just who she was.
[Daniel L. Sullivan (37) of Tipton, Indiana, arrested 11 previous times for driving under the influence, was charged with a Class 4 Felony leaving the scene of an accident causing death. On May 19, 2021, the one year anniversary of Alice’s death, Mr. Sullivan stood in a Hamilton County Courtroom and was sentenced to 12 years on 1 count plus an added 8 years because of habitual behavior. Alice’s family was in the courtroom. Audrey (14) spoke first. She assured him she had forgiven him, wished him success in drug and alcohol rehab while incarcerated, and encouraged him to find Jesus along the way. She told him she looks forward to the day to be able to shake his hand and say, “Welcome to the family of God.” Mr. Sullivan faced the family, broke down and cried as he told them how sorry he was. Audrey’s dad spoke last assuring him that the family had indeed forgiven him. The rest is up to God.]