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Black Opinions

Viewpoint: The Gift of a Lifetime

By Dennis Edwards
Editorial Columnist
New Journal and Guide

She’s 85 now, her health’s a little fragile and the call came at the most unexpected time.
Nena Bryans, the Presbyterian Sculptor, needed to talk to a friend she’d never met, the broadcast journalist and Baptist preacher whose face she wouldn’t recognize. Some years ago Nena did a sculpture called “Even the Winds and the Waves Obey Him.” I saw a donated version roughly three years before while visiting Richmond’s Union Presbyterian Seminary.

It was among the roughest times in my life. There was a need to reminisce about living on campus in the late 70’s while attending the School of Theology, Virginia Union University. The sculpture compelled an internet search for the artist. A flattered Nena had one left in her studio. All I could do was tell her why it snatched my breath away.

Nena’s dual-sided work creatively takes advantage of threatening elements to capture this wonder on the wayward waters of Lake Gannesaret. One side depicts a tired savior asleep on the boats floor. Panicking Disciples franticly wake him while windy waves make their small boat look like a precocious child’s bath tub toy.
Jesus’ disciples fear a pounding death is inevitable against menacing rocks waiting ever so patiently in an impatient distance. Their plight seems confirmed by a huge wave curling above, poised to swallow a sleeping Savior and distressed Disciples.

On the other side of that sculpted wall of water stands a triumphant Christ, hands raised, commanding needlessly anxious winds and waves to settle. From here a once ominous ripple cowers in retreat. Words, spoken as much for his disciples as the elements, ring out in silence “Peace Be Still.”
Memory brings Henry Blackaby to mind “The truth of the situation was not that they would sink.” The truth was resting in the boat.

It is not the circumstances we face that define us. It is the presence of Christ in our lives redefining our circumstances. The entire sculpture speaks to those overwhelmed by what feels like the futility of the lives we live.

We hadn’t talked in a while. So there was delight at Nena’s call about two weeks ago. Her tender voice said “Dennis, I just got out of the hospital. I’m alright right now. But I don’t think I’m going to be here much longer.” Nena moved beyond my protests with a startling word aimed at my heart “I’ve thought about it and I want you to have the sculpture. I want you to come up here and get it.” Welling tears seemed to amplify my need to see her.

So Dr. Alonza Lawrence, my best friend and Pastor of Richmond’s Moore Street Baptist Church, rode with me. We drove six hours one way to Nena’s Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania studio where her daughter, Beth, all but handed the sculpture to me.

We made our way to Nena’s hospital room to find her recovering from flu and high blood pressure. My soul melted at first sight. There was no denying the presence of God this day. She’d been waiting, and I couldn’t wait to sit with her.

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Don’t you think people should know when the Lord uses them to confirm change in our lives? How they are part of the transition from a time of having things painfully taken away to a season of restoration?
They must know how the Lord uses the labor of their aging hands to show us He was there all along, that the pain of our circumstances is never our truth. That He controls life’s winds and waves, not the other way around.

Sometimes, at the same moment, He affirms it all with the gift of a lifetime. A creation from the heart, sent from a friend we didn’t know was there. Tangible evidence created to show us how impostor-like circumstances only threaten destruction, how they are really the winds and waves He uses to guide us safely to the other side of trouble.

Dennis Edwards is an Emmy Award winning Television Investigative Journalist. He is a graduate of Suffolk High School, Virginia Union University and it’s Samuel Proctor School of Theology. Email him at

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