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Dicy McCullough: Thankful for this kind of friends

By Dicy McCullough

        Have you ever been friends with someone only later to discover they are friends with or related to other people you know? Recently, I found that to be true of one of my friends, Kirby Hills.
I met Kirby when I began playing the piano for Franklin Baptist Church a little over three years ago. She and her husband, retired pastor John Hills, attend church at Franklin, with John filling the pulpit on occasion, as needed.
Kirby is not only a retired pastor’s wife, but also a retired teacher. When I discovered her maiden name was Heglar, I wondered if we had more in common than teaching. Asking if she knew Dwayne and Annie Heglar, I was surprised when Kirby said Dwayne was her nephew. I explained I knew Dwayne and Annie because they went to Back Creek Presbyterian Church in Mt. Ulla when I was organist there.
I soon learned Kirby grew up in Mt. Ulla, the oldest of four children. Until she was about 9 years old, her family lived in a three-room block house at the intersection of Back Creek Church Road and Highway 150. Even though poor, she remembers how proud her daddy was when he could afford to add one more room to their little house. She believes her ability to sympathize with those less fortunate came out of those early experiences. Eventually, her family moved to a farm where money wasn’t quite as tight.
Learning about Kirby’s childhood gave me a little more insight into not only the experiences that influenced her, but the people as well. Those people included teachers at Mt. Ulla Elementary School and a neighbor who lived across the street. That neighbor was Mrs. Ada Sloop.
Mrs. Sloop’s husband, Sam Sloop, died when Kirby was in second grade. Not wanting to stay by herself at night, Ada asked Kirby’s parents if Kirby could stay with her. To an 8-year-old girl living in a four-room house, Mrs. Sloop’s two-story house seemed like a mansion.
Kirby said she loved talking with Mrs. Sloop in the evenings, especially over a delicious bowl of hot oatmeal. When it was time for bed, however, she recalls being a little anxious, not wanting to go upstairs and sleep in a room by herself. Looking back now, though, she said the time spent with this wonderful Christian lady was well worth it. The seeds of kindness and wisdom Ada planted in Kirby’s life helped to mold her into who she is today.
Wanting to be either a teacher or a missionary, Kirby didn’t have to choose because in a sense she became both. While attending Bryan College in Tennessee, she became attracted to John Hills. Before long, they realized not only did they have similar backgrounds but similar visions as well. Called to preach from the time he was about 15, John could relate to Kirby’s childhood because he, too, grew up poor, only in a different country. He was from Canada. After graduating with a teaching degree, Kirby married John, traveling with him to different places to be a pastor’s wife. They moved to Salisbury in 2002. John laughingly said, “We moved to Salisbury just in time for the big ice storm.”
Filling in for Pastor Joe Thomas at Franklin Baptist Church one Sunday, John delivered a sermon using his daughter’s dog, Zephyr, as an illustration. He said Zephyr always gets excited when she thinks she’s going for a ride, but on the other hand, she gets really quiet when she sees suitcases. At the word “go,” with tail wagging, as soon as the car door opens she plants herself in the back seat. John said, “Wouldn’t it be great, if we all felt that excited about our relationship with God?”
John and Kirby are that excited, even now, and yet they go about their lives quietly living what they believe, not boasting or bragging or wanting attention. In their own unassuming way, their lives speak volumes, attracting people to them. Many come to share their problems or stories because they know both John and Kirby have a listening ear tempered with years of wisdom and experience. Encouraged and influenced by the people in their lives, now they are the ones encouraging and influencing others.
As we reflect on our blessings during this holiday season, if we’re fortunate to know people like John and Kirby, we should be thankful. I know I am.
Dicy McCullough’s books are available at local bookstores, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. Contact her at 704-278-4377.

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