16001 Crosses

by Andy Wood on August 14, 2008

in Enlarging Your Capacity, LV Cycle, LV Stories

Neville Davidson

Neville Davidson

Somewhere, sometime, somebody left a simple, small, cedar cross as an anonymous gift for someone they’d never meet.

Sometime later, on a spiritual retreat, a broken, blind, and deeply depressed man received that cross, and his life was changed.  Now mine has been, too, because of how that man chose to rise from the depths of his pain.  I’d like to share his story; Neville Davidson is a LifeVestor.

If you see the glass as half-empty, Neville has gotten a raw deal.  Born in Warrenton, a small town between Liverpool and Manchester in the UK, his childhood memories are dotted with the sound of German bombs, forced relocation of himself and his siblings for their safety, and unceasing danger during World War II.  Later, at age 26, Neville was told his wife had terminal bronchial pneumonia, and would have to move to a warm, dry climate.  He considered an offer to move to Australia.  But his sister had married an American GI, and moved to Lubbock, Texas.  Neville chose family, and literally had to uproot his own household and start his life over in a place where he knew virtually no one.  A few years later, his marriage dissolved.

Neville married Jenny, his wife today, in 1971.  Just five years later, he developed a disease in one of his eyes, and lost his sight in that eye.  In 1984, he completely lost the sight in his other eye.  Neville’s world literally and figuratively became completely dark.

I can’t comprehend what it must have been like to have lost so much.  Neville lost his identity gained through his work.  He lost his ability to earn a living in the manner he’d been trained and accustomed to.  He lost his ability to drive, and to do a host of other things we take for granted.  And that’s to say nothing of the physical pain, the financial loss, the repeated treatments, doctor visits, and surgeries.  For Neville to say that he went into a deep depression feels like one for the “duh” file.

Somewhere around 1990, Neville attended a Cursillo weekend – a spiritual retreat sponsored by the Episcopal church.  One of the features of the weekend involved leaving small surprise gifts on the participants’ bunks while they were in various sessions.  Neville was delighted to find a small cedar cross, along with a poem, on his bunk.

Neville was fascinated with the idea, and wondered if he could make crosses himself.  With the help of a neighbor, he developed a process for making small two-piece crosses.  At first, this was a survival technique – something to get his mind off his blindness.  Neville felt like his world had come to an end.  But as he worked on his idea and perfected his craft, a new day – and a new ministry – began to dawn.

One day Neville was at a funeral and had a few of the crosses he had made.  A lady from Second Baptist Church in Lubbock noticed them, and asked if he could make 500 for her.  So he went to work.  A friend gave him some wood, and he supplied some of his own. He made 1,000 crosses in all. The woman who had first asked for the crosses had moved to another church, but he eventually gave her 500 crosses, plus an additional 200 to supplement the swelling congregation.

Keep in mind that he had never done woodworking of any kind.  He started with a band saw.  His children went together to purchase a drill press for him.  Later, he was able to acquire a table saw and a router.  There is nothing special or different about these tools that makes them more usable to a blind person.  Neville is just extra careful to keep his fingers out of the way.

Over the years, Neville has learned other things.  He has learned to type with a talking computer, and to read in Braille.  He reads about three books a week, either in Braille or via audio.  He has read through the Bible – an eight-month journey – in Braille.  He and Jenny are learning Spanish and French together.  He plays Scrabble with a special board, mows and edges the lawn, and helps with housework.

He’s also learned to laugh again.  A friend of mine told me that one day Neville decided to go outside and do some edging in his front yard.  It wasn’t until the newspaper delivery man hurled a paper in his yard and nearly wrecked at the sight of an eightysomething man edging his lawn that Neville realized his landscaping was happening in the wee hours of the morning.

Three of Neville's Creations

Three of Neville's Creations

Neville and Jenny love to travel.  Once they were on a cruise, and he decided to participate in a putting contest.  He came in second.  Some of the others were not amused.

Neville’s advice to those who have to cope with blindness (or any other adversity, I’m sure):  “Get off it and do something.”

I asked Neville about the crosses the other day.  “Do you keep up with how many you’ve made?” I wanted to know.

“Oh yes,” he said, matter-of-factly.  “So far, I’ve made sixteen thousand.”

Incredible.  16,001 crosses.

One he bears.

The rest, he’s built, and given away.

Yet he’s never seen one of them.

What’s your excuse?

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Daddy August 14, 2008 at 8:07 am

Wow! What a great story of Faith and ingenuity. Really a true gifted person that just won’t take hardship as an excuse for quitting!

Phil in Los Angeles August 20, 2008 at 9:51 pm

Neville Davidson is my grandpa and an amazing person! Thank you for writing this piece about him.

God bless!


Andy Wood August 20, 2008 at 11:07 pm

You’re sure welcome, Phil. Some people, like your grandpa, have a way of writing their own legacy.

Robert McCollum August 21, 2008 at 3:42 am

Thanks for sharing this Andy. Neville has been an example of manhood and integrity to me for years. He is a “hard act to follow”.

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