"Whoever believes in me, as the scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'"
“Whoever believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
John 7:38, The Holy Bible, English Standard Version
This is a unique love story. What makes it so special is that it encompasses the passions of four individuals who vary in ages and experiences and have traveled long and winding roads in arriving jointly – and seemingly by chance – at their present destination. They have forged a deep bond in only a few months, but each agrees that the connection has already enriched their lives and will endure. And their relationship has already blossomed in touching others, including their families.
“All anyone needs is love,” declares 56-year-old Cakneller Brown of Pine Bluff. “Love changes your mind by changing the way that you think. It changes your heart by changing the way that you feel. It changes your voice by changing the things that you say. And it changes your eyes by changing the way that you see others. All my life, I’ve loved God, and He’s loved me.”
Brown’s conviction hasn’t faltered, despite her having suffered a devastating stroke in December 2004. Brown was left paralyzed on her left side, and the once vibrant, energetic homemaker, co-worker and student became a shadow of her former self. For a time, she couldn’t walk. But she never gave up. She never stopped believing in God, herself and others.
Primarily confined to a wheelchair, she has since struggled to not only improve her health, but at times to simply maintain it. Last year, a therapist advised her that she might benefit from exercising in the pool at the Kenneth L. Johnson Sr. Health, Physical Education and Recreation Complex at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. She figured the effort couldn’t hurt her, so she enlisted the aid of her husband, Rev. Willie James Brown, and grandson, LaTerious Brown, and slowly initiated the new fitness regiment.
Her awkward intensity captured the appreciation of UAPB senior and onlooker Tyrell “T.J.” Meadows, a 29-year-old senior from Atlanta. Meadows recently returned to complete his education after exiting the classroom almost a decade ago in favor of a federal job in Washington, D.C.
“The Lord brings people together at a given time and place for a reason,” Meadows said. “I might not have been here if I had graduated before and taken the path that I did, but I was here and I could see that Mrs. Brown is a strong-willed woman. I was impressed by her personality and how dedicated she was and how her family was devoted to her. Something inside me made me feel that I needed to try to help her, to help them.”
Meadows believes the influences of his late mother prompted his interest in the Browns.
“My mother died of a heart attack when I was 12,” Meadows related. “She taught me a lot of good lessons, one of which was that one of the biggest reasons we’re here is to help others. She taught me to do unto others as I would have them do unto me, and if I see a need, I should try to meet it.”
Meadows instantly gained the trust of the Browns and soon assumed command of Mrs. Brown’s almost-daily workouts. Meadows wheels her into the water and then prods her into standing and walking on her own. Meadows rates Brown’s improvement as “remarkable” and adds, “I’m just there to support her. She’s doing all the work herself.”
Brown and her “coach” have wound up forming a mutual admiration society.
“Mrs. Brown is my new mother,” said Meadows. “She makes me appreciate every day. Her smile always lifts me. The glow in her eyes puts a light in my heart. I just can’t tell you how good it makes me feel to think of myself as making a positive difference for her.”
“Jesus used Tyrell in parting that water for me in the pool,” said Brown. “I love that young man. He’s my new son and he’s my hero, too. Whenever I have doubts and I’m not sure that I can do all the water exercises like I’m supposed to, he encourages me and tells me that he knows I can and I ought to know I can, too. And he’s right.”
Meanwhile, two of Meadows’ friends and fellow students – juniors Jacqueline Noble of Gillett and Sydney Skipper, who has lived around the world as part of a military family but was born in Searcy – have made a full “dive” into Brown’s aquatic revival.
“Mrs. Brown was depressed at first but now she’s getting back to being her old self,” Skipper said. “I love Miss K (her nickname for Brown). She’s a character. She’s funny, and she’s a wonderful example to others. I truly enjoy working with T.J. and Jacqueline to help her.”
“I watched her and figured I should help her, too,” Noble said of Brown. “I’ve noticed she’s always trying to help others, and that makes me glad to be able to help her. I’ve learned from her that you never know what’s going to happen in our lives, and you should always give help to others because at some point you’re going to need that help returned to you.”
Noble and Skipper also spoke of their admiration for Meadows.
As Brown’s life is improving, so is Meadows’.
“She’s got me going back to church, at Barnes Temple Church of God in Christ, where her husband is the pastor,” Meadows said of Brown. “And other doors are opening for me, too, because of her. It’s great. I started out trying to help her and now she’s keeping me focused and also helping to keep my life going in the right direction. Let me tell you something she did for me – on Mother’s Day, she and her husband and family had me out to their house for the day. Mother’s Day can be hard when your mother is gone, but I felt much better this past Mother’s Day. Mrs. Brown made the day special and easier for me.”
He was welcomed.
“Tyrell has helped my whole family as much as he’s helped me,” Brown said. “He’s helped to get me stronger. Look at what I’m doing. I’m going back to school on-line to get a degree. I mowed my yard on Thursday, I surely did. I want people to know that I’m not sick, I just had a stroke. I’m getting better and God’s doing great things for me, like bringing Tyrell and Sydney and Jacqueline into my life. God put them in my path, and the water brought us together.”