There’s a guy I know in Dallas who is a well-spoken business strategist. Kent Billingsley coaches CEO’s. He’s an international speaker who is always calm and in control.
But the other day, I heard him give a speech he’s never given before. During the speech, he cried several times. His audience was spellbound. Most likely, it was one of the best speeches Kent has ever given.
He shared with about 40 students from grades 3-12, and their parents, the story of how his daughter had died in childbirth. He told how afterward he had written a letter in the voice of his lost daughter from heaven. And he explained that he had read the letter as the eulogy at her funeral.
When he was done, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Normally skeptical students crowded around him. Their parents looked at him in awe.
I stood there with my tape recorder. I had recorded it for posterity.
Let me tell you how this came about.
As a volunteer job, I am adviser for the school newspaper at my son’s school, Westlake Academy. It’s not like any student newspaper you ever knew.
In our first five years, our little paper, The Black Cow, won more than 100 individual state and national awards. We mail it at our own expense (advertising dollars) to every household in the small town of Westlake, where the school is situated. We printed a paperback of our best stories, and the book won a national book award for education.
High level stuff. My city hall columnist is in the 3rd grade. Two high school students have won state championships for art and movie reviews. The paper is filled with passion and kids. What could be better?
Each year, as a special treat, I try to bring in one professional speaker friend of mine to speak to them at a special event.
The first year, I brought in marketing wizard Ed Peters. He shared his unique ideas on marketing with the kids, gearing them up for the ad sales campaign we were running. They still remember how Ed brought in a size 14 shoe once worn by Magic Johnson to prove a point.
Another year, I brought in Sally “Ida Mae Fuddpucker” Baskey to tease the students and their parents at the annual banquet. She memorized a 40-page script that listed every child in the paper and lovingly poked fun at their foibles. Everyone loved her.
When I heard about Kent and the letter he wrote, and how his reading of the letter at the funeral sent such a shockwave through the community that the Dallas Morning News ended up writing a feature story, I knew this could be special.
When Kent stood to speak, no one except me knew what he was going to talk about. I purposely didn’t tell the kids the subject matter so they would have no preconceived ideas about his topic.
Kent is a masterful storyteller. He brilliantly weaved the story together with all the tragic twists and turns that the loss of a child can bring. His wife Terri sat in the front row with their young son, Turner.
At the climax, he read the letter from Fallon.
It ends: “God and I are playing in a special meadow today where there are beautiful butterflies to chase. It is just like the place where you promised to take me on a picnic once I could walk.
“That’s right, Dad. Even though I was inside Mommy I could still hear the promises you were making me. I really wish you were here….”
I’ll stop here. Even though I’ve read the letter countless times and heard Kent read it, my tears are telling me this little story should end. The point of bringing Kent in for the students was to share the power of writing and speaking. I’m sure it was his greatest talk ever.
# # #
Here’s the complete letter. This letter is from Fallon Billingsley April 4 2008 – the day she was born and went to heaven. Her father, Kent Billingsley read this at her funeral on April 11, 2008:
Dear mommy and daddy,
I am in heaven now. I am in God’s arms and I am very safe. I am sorry that I didn’t get to spend time with you on earth. I know you had prepared a special nursery for me and it’s filled with lots of toys and new clothes. I am also sad that I didn’t get to meet all the people that you had told me were my aunts and uncles and grandparents – I think a lot of those people are really just your friends but you wanted me to feel special. I love you for wanting to make me feel special. I will miss meeting grandpa Mack, too.
Thank you for not being angry or mad at God. He said he brought me up here now because he had something special for me to do. He also said that the love my parents had for me would help them be better people and help make the world a better place. I am not sure what he meant by that but he told me that my parents would.
I know it may be a while before I get to see you. Will you promise something? Will you promise me you won’t forget me? Will you promise to remember me on my birthday? And most important will you tell my brother and sister – whoops, I wasn’t supposed to tell you that you would have more kids – but since I did, will you let them know that I am the “big” sister and I will be watching over them? And they better not skip doing their chores or their homework because I will know that and I will tell mommy and daddy on them.
Well I have to go now. God and I are playing in a special meadow today where there are beautiful butterflies to chase. It is just like the place where you promised to take me on a picnic once I could walk. That’s right dad, even though I was inside mommy I could still hear the promises you were making me. I really wish you were here, but I also want you to have a wonderful life on earth and then we can spend a lot of time together playing up here.
I love you so much and I miss you. And by the way God really loves you too.
Love, your daughter, Fallon
# # #
Kent Billingsley is President of The Revenue Growth Company, Inc.
# # #