Faith and Work Wisdom and Wit From My Pa

This post continues an ongoing series curated by Ben Norquist on diversifying the faith and work conversation. 

By Billye Kee

Wisdom and wit from my Pa…..shared by a proud granddaughter, raised in Alabama during segregation and Jim Crow.

One of the greatest influencers in my life was my grandfather, William Curtis White, Sr.  He was known throughout several counties in southeast Alabama for both his wisdom and his wit. As his trusty sidekick from age 3-9, I had the pleasure of riding with him into town, to visit relatives who lived in other towns or way out in the country.  He was quite the educator, though he probably only completed 8th grade.  He talked to me about “grown folks stuff” even though I was a mere child and he expected me to understand and adhere to his lessons on morals, ethics, legalities, service to others, using your ears and when to hold your tongue.  I suppose most of his lessons stuck.

One of the most valuable lessons that I learned from my Pa was in regards to work or what one does with himself in life.  It seems that those pesky verbs DO and BE are at the root of what everyone wants to know about you.  People ask children, “What do you want to BE when you grow up?” They ask teens, “What are you going to DO with your life?” And of course, every graduate hears, “What are you going to DO with that degree?” These questions imply that man was born to BE or DO something, not just to exist and be a leech.  As Christians, we know this is true and I learned this early from a wise old Christian man whom I called Pa.

Well, my Pa told me that a person ought to be able to do something with his HEAD, something with his HANDS, and something with his HEART.  I found that statement/lesson to be true for him and his offspring.  I watched my Pa read his Bible, his Handy Home Medical Advisor, his Deacon’s Manual, and numerous other books that were on the built-in bookshelves that he crafted with his own hands. He was known by many as “smart” and though soft-spoken, his words made an impact on the hearer.

As a carpenter and a farmer, that old Curtis White was quite industrious.  He planted and harvested vegetables, tended his orchards, picked his pears and peaches, and shared with family and friends.  There was never a shortage of fresh corn, tomatoes, green beans, or peas. I guess it took brains and brawn for raising chicken and hogs because my Pa was always building something – chicken coops, hog pens, fences, you name it – he built it.

Deacon Curtis didn’t just build stuff at his house.  He put in the hardwood floor at our church (and I helped or was in the way). That floor is still there after 55 years and I get such a proud feeling to see the manifestation of his good works when I visit my home church in Alabama.  He really put his head, hands, and heart into that labor of love that has lasted for generations.

Mr. Curtis had a heart of gold and he believed that the widows and fatherless were the responsibility of the church.  He picked up the “commodities” (government subsidies) for those who could not make it into town on distribution day and he drove miles down old country roads to deliver these monthly rations.  He took peppermint candy for the children and would often fix a porch or steps while visiting.  He was always willing to lend a helping hand.

In later years, when he stopped farming, my Pa drove a school bus and worked in the cafeteria at the school for Coloreds.  I’m not really sure what he did in the cafeteria besides talk to the children, but I think he fixed/maintained equipment, cleaned, and kept the floors sparkling.  He was so kind to the children and called them by name as he greeted them in the morning and afternoon. Everything he did, was done to glorify God and that’s the lesson that has carried me through college, into being a corporate manager, studying the science of hair care, managing a small business, and working with college students!

There’s so much of my Pa in me and as I reflect on the many lessons that I learned from him, the HEAD/HANDS/HEART lesson always rises to the top of my mind as the most profound. When I left corporate telecommunications after 12+ years and God led me to beauty school (which I absolutely did not want to do), I clearly understood that my hands were not gifted for the artistry of hair services, so I used my head and learned the science of chemical services and the geometry of cutting.   I committed my head, heart, and hands to God and asked Him to work on my patrons’ hearts while I worked on their heads.  Imagine someone accepting Christ in a beauty salon!  Yes, that did happen at Perfect Image Salon.

Just when I thought I had found my CALLING and was doing exactly what God wanted me to DO, things changed! My life was changed in a way I would never have imagined.  I was an only child and didn’t believe that being a mother was part of God’s plan for my life.  Imagine my surprise when my new vocational calling became motherhood!  Whoa, Nellie.  This was indeed a horse of a different color.  As a matter of fact, this was not a horse – but a real live baby.  Now, I thought this is it.  I know exactly what God wants me to BE, a mother (Spoiler Alert: a working mother).

Whatever you DO, whether with your head, your hands, or your heart, let it honor and bring glory to God.


Billye Kee is Interim Assistant Director of the Office of Multicultural Development at Wheaton College. Billye is a “developer” who finds joy in watching others reach their potential. During her 13 years at Wheaton, she previously worked as Telephone Services Manager, Career Coach and now serves in the Office of Multicultural Development. Although she spent two decades in corporate telecommunications, she defines her vocational calling as encouraging and supporting the development of others. She is married to Chip Kee and they have one daughter, Krista.

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