Valdosta Daily Times

March 25, 2013

Finding grace in life’s interruptions

Quinten Plummer
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Charlie Scarbrough says his father never woke on that Christmas Day in 1933 and today the Grace Hospice chaplain points to his father's death as the first interruption that'd place the 80-year-old comforter where he is today.

“Everyone has interruptions in their lives,” says Scarbrough. “We'd all like to control our lives and have everything running smooth and on a high plane. But no matter how hard you try, you'll have these interruptions that redirect the course of your life. The first interruption came before I was even aware of it.”

The life Scarbrough’s mother and father had envisioned for their only son was derailed during his infancy when his father died of pneumonia, says Scarbrough.

“He loved baseball,” says Scarbrough. “He pitched for a sandlot team out at the edge of Tallahassee. He got home that night, which was Christmas Eve. My mom said 'I have supper ready.' But he said he just wasn't hungry. He went straight to bed and never woke up. That pneumonia just took him out.”

So Scarbrough and his mom, who he estimates to have been around her early 20s at the time, moved from Tallahassee to live with his grandmother in Wakulla County, Florida, which became his home.

“It was a rural community about seven miles from Sopchoppy,” says Scarbrough. “Sopchoppy has always been my home town, because that’s where all of my friends were from. I grew up there in a little community called Medart. Living with my granny, who had nine children, my cousins would visit often. I was a pretty typical boy who enjoyed fishing, hunting and other outdoor activities.”

Scarbrough graduated Sopchoppy High School in 1952 and went to work with the Florida Forestry Service, while many of his peers had been selected for tours of Korea.

“It was the only work I could get because the army was right on my heels - the draft was still in,” says Scarbrough. “I worked for the forestry service for about 18 months, up until I got my greetings from Uncle Sam. 'You are hereby ordered to serve your country.'”

The Korean war was going hot and heavy, stated Scarbrough. But God smiled on him and sent him to keep the peace and drive tank retrievers all across Germany instead of sending him to join the South Koreans in their fight against brothers and sisters in the north.

“I was pretty proud to serve there in Germany because I had four or five uncles who helped to win that war,” says Scarbrough. “Everything I saw over there reminded me that my uncles were very much a part of winning that war. I was just there to keep the peace, but it meant a lot for me.”

Scarbrough found that the military was a good life, he says. He got to visit seven foreign countries during his military service, which was a big deal for a country boy from Sopchoppy who had never ventured north into Georgia until he was about 15 or 16.

But after returning to civilian life, a career in appliance sales and subsequent promotion landed him in the state of Georgia permanently.

“I came to Valdosta not knowing anyone,” says Scarbrough. “You just have to face that that's a major change in your life and it's almost permanent. I could've gone back to Florida, but I wanted to be successful.”

There were three things that kept him here, he says. The first was his job, the second were the Valdosta Jaycees and third were Valdosta High School Wildcats.

“I was in my mid-20s and I met the movers and the shakers of Valdosta through Jaycees,” says Scarbrough. “These were young businessmen, just as myself, and we were all trying to establish ourselves in our community. For example, I met the Mayor of Valdosta when were both Jaycees.”

Scarbrough recalls fundraisers for community improvements with the Jaycees, as they vaccinated hundreds of Valdostans against polio by selling drops of the newly concocted elixir on sugar cubes for 25 cents each.

But Scarbrough faced another interruption in his life and his name would soon be etched on a tombstone at the clubhouse where his bachelor's club met, but a hospital visit would connect him to the love of his life and render him virtually lifeless to his single friends.

In 1967, Scarbrough married Virginia Gunner who was a registered nurse at the hospital.

“That little girl captured my heart,” says Scarbrough. “It wasn't love at first sight, but she was such a beautiful person both inside and out that she just lured me down to the alter.”

After about three years of marriage, he says Virginia became pregnant. Within roughly a week from delivery of his son, Scarbrough's plans were interrupted again.

“We went to the doctor one afternoon, about a week before delivery, and the doctor told us he couldn't find a heart beat,” says Scarbrough as he breaks contact with his interviewer. “That was a major, major interruption. We were just supposed to flow into parenthood. We'd be attached to a baby and that would be our life. But we lost our son.”

The Scarbroughs struggled mightily, but Virginia at least had solace in her Baptist church on Lee Street. A preacher from her church rendered spiritual and emotional support to the distraught couple, and his efforts ignited a flame in the fabric of Scarbrough's soul, setting him on a quest to uncover everything he could about God.

The pastor sat down with Scarbrough and his wife and explained why they needed the Lord. He says he wanted to throw the pastor all of the curves he could.

“I didn't dislike him, but I wasn't a seeker,” says Scarbrough. “The Holy Spirit began to really work on my heart. Sometime it takes more than that one visit. Between the first two visits, my heart began to yearn for something I didn't have. And in between the second and third visit, it escalated to the point where I was plain miserable.”

The pastor, on his third visit, started asking questions that melted Scarbrough's heart.

Do you believe in God? Do you believe the scriptures I'm reading to be God's words? Do you want to be saved? Do you believe He can save you?

“He asked me to lay my hand on the Bible and led me in a sinner's prayer,” says Scarbrough. “It really did break my heart that I had been so hard to reach, and I was 37 years old by then. But I was happy and joyful that I could know the lord. I wept, and the preacher left immediately because he knew my wife and I needed some time to ourselves.”

The following Sunday set Scarbrough on the path to joining the Lee Street Baptist Church, teaching Sunday school and becoming a deacon. But that wasn't enough, said Scarbrough. His desire to know God's word was insatiable at that point.

The Scarbroughs still longed for a child to complete their family, a longing that, like his quest for God, had not been satiated. So, they applied for a child through the Georgia Department of Family and Child Services.

In December 1970, Virginia sent a letter to the couple's case worker and asked for a baby for Christmas. But for the sake of foster parents, DFCS would sign a child away from care of their temporary parents during the holidays, says Scarbrough.

“We got a call three days before Christmas and we brought that baby home on Dec. 24,” says Scarbrough. “No one in our family, except Virginia's parents, knew we were going after that baby. We adopted a 2-week-old baby who has been an absolute joy to raise.”

A joyful interruption he deemed daughter Cheryl to be.

“When you bring a child into your home, your home will never be the same,” he says. “Of course it would be to the better. But we had no clue at that time that her mother would die.”

Just as Cheryl turned 3 years old, Scarbrough says her birthday was on the ninth of December, her mother, Virginia, died on Dec. 15, 1973.

“That was a major Interruption,” says Scarbrough as he breaks eye contact for only the second time. “We had our lives planned out with Virginia being the mommy, Cheryl being the child and me being the father. But when Virginia died, I had to be the mother, father, sister and the brother. Losing your wife is a major event. It changes your life forever. But that's what my life has been, a life of interruptions.”

He says he wasn't raised around kids and didn't have any experience rearing a child. I tell people I didn't raise her, we grew up together, he says though he concedes that Cheryl was cooperative and respectful to her surviving parent.

But he needed more to occupy his troubled mind, and he found what he was looking for through in school.

After enrolling as a 41-year-old freshman at Valdosta State College and completing a moderate amount of course work, Scarbrough transferred his remaining credits to Brewton-Parker's Norman Park campus in town so that he could work towards a degree in divinity, he says. By that time, he was Baptist from head to toe.

After finishing up his degree, a feat that required nine years of on-and-off-again schooling, he says he felt burdened to do something with it. So he made himself available to any church where he could preach, delivering the only sermon he knew over and over again, which was his account of how God had seen him through the loss of a son and a wife.

He was later ordained by his church and called to pastor several area churches, spending about a year at Westside Baptist Church in Adel as interim pastor eventually landing at the Morven Baptist Church. He says he spent about 10 years living in Morven and pastoring his flock, while his daughter matured and fell in love.

“It was breathtaking and I was overwhelmed with joy,” says Scarbrough who had the privilege of walking her down the aisle and turning around and officiating the ceremony. "I had walked that aisle several times myself, both in joining the church when I asked to be ordained. But nothing could compare to walking that aisle and giving my little girl away to her intended.”

By then, Scarbrough says his age was catching up with him. He moved back to Valdosta where his old church had merged with the Azalea Baptist church to form the Crossroads Baptist Church.

Shortly after joining the mega-church, the new pastor asked Scarbrough to serve as the church's associate pastor to senior adults.

“I love the people that I serve,” says Scarbrough. “We have several members that are in their 90s. They stay as active as they can, and I like to do what I can for them. If they don't drive, for example, I'm their taxi service. That's what you call a 'nuts and bolts pastor,' doing what you can to serve the Lord.”

The nuts-and-bolts pastor had enough experience and qualifications backing his toolbox that he also went to work for Grace Hospice. He had known the owner of the hospice because their children had been friends since the third grade, he says.

“I've had a lot of experience in dealing with people with needs, people that are near death, or people with loved ones that are near death,” says Scarbrough. “I deal not only with the patients, but the family and the staff here at the hospice because it's a stressful job. We temper it by knowing that God is in control.”

While most people think it takes a special kind of person to be a hospice nurse, Scarbrough says it is really a calling. His mother spent her last days on earth living with her son, according to Scarbrough who says she passed away several years ago as he breaks eye contact for a third and final time.

“I tell people I don't give medicine and I don't give advice – I give the human touch and the Lord Jesus Christ,” says Scarbrough. “And if that isn't the best calling on a person's life, nothing can be. I don't try to do anything but what God gave me the ability to do and that's to be a comforter and someone who can empathize with people experiencing difficulties. I've had my share.”

These days he says he tries staying active while continually enriching his spirits. Scarbrough has no doubts about where God has led him to this day, he says.

“My mom, my granny, and my wife prayed me into this position,” says Scarbrough.