Steel Magnolias

“Honey, time marches on and eventually you realize it is marchin’ across your face.”       – Truvy, from Steel Magnolias

October 9-10, 2015

On our way to Texas we decided to overnight in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Natchitoches, pronounced “nack-uh-tish”, should not be confused with Nacogdoches, a Texas town, or with Natchoswitchees, a high calorie snack food.  The town, established in 1714 near a village of Indians of the same name, is the oldest permanent settlement in the region and has Cane River Lake running through its downtown. For a number of universities, it serves as the spring break training location for their crew teams. For Civil War fans, it’s known as the town set on fire by Union solders as they retreated after failing to capture Shreveport. Music fans may know it as the site of the 1973 plane crash that claimed the life of singer Jim Croce, who was unable to save time in a bottle. For shoppers, it’s the place to visit Kaffie-Frederick, Inc., which was founded in 1863, has been featured on Duck Dynasty and Cajun Pawn, and is the oldest general store in Louisiana. For Louisiana sports fans, it offers the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. Tourists may know it for its Christmas Festival lights and Bayou Pierre Alligator Park. Food fans will head to Lasoyne’s Meat Pie Restaurant, home of the famous meat pie, one of the official state foods of Louisiana. For history buffs, it offers the Cane River National Heritage Area, a 116,000-acre area that includes sites such as the Oakland Plantation, Melrose Plantation, Magnolia Plantation, and several more. Put all that together, and you get a town named one of the top six places to retire in the United States by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine.

Steel Magnolia House
Steel Magnolia House
General Store... General Nerd
General Store, est. 1863… Specific Nerd, est. 1966

What drew us to Natchitoches, however, had nothing to do with any of those things. Instead, we chose it primarily based on a popular and award-winning movie that was filmed there: Steel Magnolias. This 1989 comedy-drama is about the bond between a group of women in a small southern community, and how they cope with the death of one of their own. The film is based on a play by Richard Harling, which is based on Starling’s real life and death of his sister due to early diabetes. Dolly Parton, Daryl Hannah, Sally Field, Julia Roberts, Olympia Dukakis, and Shirley MacLaine star in the movie, which grossed over $135 million.

My Lil Pumpkin
My Lil Pumpkin
Nacog Riverfront Garden
Natchitoches Riverfront Garden

We did a combination driving/walking tour to several homes featured in the movie, including the Steel Magnolia. We shopped along Main Street, which lines the beautiful Cane River Lake. We had lunch at Lasoyne’s Meat Pie Restaurant and ordered, of course, their signature food, meat pie. It lived up to the hype. While there, we got a picture of a picture of Daryl Hannah visiting the restaurant during the filming of Steel Magnolias. We walked through the gardens along the riverfront where a wedding had just taken place, and enjoyed the various Halloween and Thanksgiving scenes throughout the downtown. Kaffie-Frederick General Store lived up to its billing, “You can find ANYTHING here!” We had an excellent lake-side fish and burger dinner at Cane River Bar and Grill.   Needing our free WiFi fix, we finished off the night chillin’ at McD’s, where I blogged and tried to salvage my Fantasy football team and Lil Jan watched (drum roll)… Steel Magnolias on Amazon.

Lasoyne's Meat Pie
Lasoyne’s Meat Pie
Miss Hannah Loves 'Em Too
Miss Hannah Loves ‘Em Too

That brings us back to the movie, Steel Magnolias. Why that title? It is supposed to reflect the idea that the film’s female characters can be both as delicate as the magnolia flower, yet as tough as steel. Trading in three man-cards, I did a little more research on the magnolia, and found that there’s more to its story. Magnolias are multi-faceted with the potential to become trees, shrubs, evergreens or deciduous plants. They produce magnificent flowers in different colors, which have been popular around the world for centuries. The Japanese use the magnolia tree for its medicine and also grow ornamental shrubs. The bark is believed to reinvigorate a person’s chi, the life energy that breathes through all. (In America, that’s called mojo.) In China the magnolia denudate, or “jade orchid” is associated with China’s mighty imperial past, and was often used in Chinese art. During Victorian times, the magnolia flowers symbolized dignity, nobility, poise, and pride. Elsewhere, the flower has symbolized endurance, eternity, and long life, perhaps fitting since there are magnolia fossils dating back 20 million years.

The Cast
The Cast

In the United States, and especially the South, the magnolia grandiflora blooms with foot-long, scented white flowers, and symbolizes magnificence and splendid beauty. For some, the flower means the South. In fact, its been called the Southern emblem, and both Louisiana and Mississippi have the magnolia as their state flower. Even the magnolia’s colors have significance and have served as coded messages. White means purity and perfection; pink recalls youth, innocence and joy; yellow means joy and the coming of spring; green is associated with health and luck; and purple means power, sort of an explanation point that you would use with the other flowers…like a Pokemon Energy card. So, if you want a sick person to get well in an amazing or powerful way, you might send them green and purple magnolias.

flowers 2

So it is an amazing flower. It’s strikingly beautiful, yet very tough, unlike other delicate flowers. When you add “steel” to it as a modifier, it suggests something of amazing strength and beauty…a flower tough enough to survive even with changing climactic and geological conditions. Steel Magnolias, then, becomes a rather brilliant title for a movie about strong Southern women.

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”                 – 1 Peter 5:10

We have been blessed to know and be inspired by some real-life Steel Magnolias. We’ve known some women who have faced adversity, overcome obstacles, and kept their faith. These women are as strong as steel and courageous as lions. They are beautiful inside and out. Their lives and examples are better than any Hollywood movie. So we thought we’d close by recognizing a few of our favorite Steel Magnolias.

Our first Steel Magnolia is Jaye Trovillion. Jaye lost her husband, Allan, to cancer several years ago. By all accounts, he was a loving husband, father, and friend and his death was an incredible blow. Although we moved to Florida shortly after his death and never got to meet him, we feel like we know him through the testimony of others. We can’t pretend to know the level of pain and sadness Jaye has endured. But we know this…Jaye got back on her feet. Jaye loves the Lord and held on to her faith. In the years since his death, she has taught Bible classes, inspired and served on multiple mission trips, and been an example to young and old of what it means to walk with the Lord. Wanting to help others deal with similar losses, she established and leads a grief support group. The loss of a loved one is not something you get over and put behind you. And yet, it is possible for healing to occur and to begin functioning again. For a steely few, women like Jaye, it’s even possible to continue to live lives of joy and passion, encouraging others along the way.

Jaye in Honduras
Jaye in Honduras
Jaye in Paris
Jaye in Paris

Becky Beggs is our second Steel Magnolia. Becky was diagnosed with advanced cancer a couple of years ago. The news was devastating, knocking Becky, husband Todd, the entire family and their friends off their feet. There seemed to be a lot more questions than answers. Why her? Why now? She is a faithful Christian, wife, and mother to two teenage boys. She’s in her 40s, full of life and has so much to offer to so many people. In the midst of disappointment and frustration, she too regained a foothold and began to fight back. She started an intense regime of chemotherapy and surgery. Our church prayed for her individually and collectively, and continues to do so. Even with her hair falling out and at times feeling sick all over, she returned to her Guidance Counselor position at the local Christian school whenever she was able. The Guidance Counselor title doesn’t do her justice, as she is also a life coach, mentor, friend, and Christian example to hundreds of young people…and more than a few adults. We don’t know the precise outcome of the cancer battle for Becky, or anyone else for that matter. But her steely resolve to fight cancer while keeping and professing her faith is such an encouragement to those who know her and those who are going through similar fights.

Becky & Todd
Becky & Todd
Foundation Christian Academy in Becky's Corner
Foundation Christian Academy takes the court for Becky

Our third Steel Magnolia is Hayley Waldron. We don’t know Hayley as well as the other two. We went to college with her parents, Tim and Lisa Smith, and remain friends.  We’ve gotten to know her through her friends, including our son, Kyle. We have also gotten great insight into her character and faith through her Facebook posts. Hayley’s husband, Harrison, was in a serious 4-wheeler accident a few months ago while they were in New York for a wedding. He sustained a life-threatening traumatic brain injury, and the doctors weren’t sure if he would survive. As a young, immensely talented newlywed couple, they were living for God and making a difference in the world around them. And then this happened. More questions. Why him? Why them? Why now? Why God? While I suspect Hayley has asked her fair share of questions, she hasn’t lost her faith. She hasn’t given up on Harrison or on God. Rather than withdrawing into a shell, which would be understandable, she has kept her family and friends updated on his status, and has continued to proclaim the awesomeness of God. She has inspired thousands of people across the country and around the world to go to their war rooms, drop to their knees, and pray for God’s healing of Harrison. That’s faith, folks! It’s trusting in God even when you don’t have all the answers. It is knowing, even in the darkest storm, who is piloting the ship.

Hayley and Harrison
Hayley and Harrison
Fighting the Good Fight
On the road to recovery

Earlier this year, we had the opportunity to hear Dr. Kent Brantly, an Ebola survivor, speak at Lipscomb University. Kent said that faith isn’t believing that everything will be good and pleasant for Christians in the here and now. In fact, the Bible tells us to expect difficulty, suffering, and even some persecution. Rather, Kent’s definition of faith is “believing that God is who he said he is, and will do what he said he will do.” Wow! Let that sink in for a moment. That’s a game changer. Because if God is who he says he is and will do what he says he will do (spoiler alert: He is and will), then that changes everything. It means that things end really, really well for Jaye and Allan, Becky and Todd, Hayley and Harrison, and all who put their faith in God. God has written the final chapter in their stories (and ours) and they end amazingly well, regardless of when or how our earthly stories end. Jesus once said, in John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take hear; I have overcome the world.”

Thank you, Hayley and Jaye and Becky, for being Steel Magnolias, living examples of holding on to faith in even the most trying of circumstances. Please know that your lives and your faith have encouraged and strengthened many people.  If God ever decided to write a sequel to the Bible set in the 21st Century, and wanted a Job-like book on faith in times of trial, I suspect he might include the Book of Jaye, the Book of Becky, or the Book of Hayley.  Thank you for putting your faith in a Savior who loves you and has overcome this world. We count ourselves among the many who have been blessed and inspired by you.

Big Steve and Lil Jan

Note 1:  To learn more about Harrison and Hayley’s story, check out Hayley’s Facebook page or this excellent article:  http://www.christianchronicle.org/article/he-s-with-me-and-he-s-fighting

If you’d like to donate funds to help with Harrison’s medical care, you can send a check (w/ “Harrison or Hayley Waldron” in the memo line) to their home congregation which is serving as a collection and distribution point for donated funds.  The address is:

Tusculum Church of Christ
6117 Nolensville Pike
Nashville, TN 37211

Note 2:  To learn more about Becky’s journey, check out her blog at:  http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/beckybeggs

If you’d like to donate funds to help with Becky’s cancer treatment, use this link:  https://www.gofundme.com/dp7odg

 

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