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A Love-Your-Neighbor Story for Valentine's Day

When Kay Dekalb Smith reached out to her new neighbors in the early 1990s, she never imagined that thirty years later her gestures would be portrayed by actress Candace Cameron Bure in a movie to be released on April 26, 2024. Mark your calendar, watch for announcements about "Unsung Hero," and plan to enjoy watching a remarkable story unfold.

I first met Kay during years when we were both living in Hartselle, AL. Her parents, Richard and Jan, went to our church. Kay was known for her red hair, her singing talent, and her hilarious sense of humor. I had fun accompanying her on the piano on several occasions. Hartselle was happy to claim her when she was crowned Miss Alabama Teenager in 1972 and Miss Birmingham in 1973. Many of us also made our way to watch her perform at Opryland in 1974 and 1975. Playing for her wedding when she married Ed Smith in 1982 was my pleasure. Hartselle now has an annual Depot Days festival, but in the early days it was known as "Mule Day," and Kay and Ed's wedding fell on that particular Saturday. :)

Kay's mother Jan set a beautiful example of demonstrating love to strangers when Kay was young by offering to take kids from the housing project to Vacation Bible School. She paid particular attention to those with extra needs and would often return later with bags of groceries and clothes. I must say that Jan makes some of the best potato salad in the whole wide world. She helped prepare our Wednesday night suppers at church, and I always looked forward to that salad.

Fast forward a few years and Kay and Ed were living in Brentwood, TN with their two daughters, Evin and Allie. One of the girls brought a flyer home from school that had been distributed by a family in crisis. The family had recently moved to Brentwood from Australia with six children, and the job promised to the father had fallen through. The flyer offered the services of the parents and children for leaf raking, ironing, babysitting, mowing grass, and pulling weeds, and it included the family's address. Kay showed up a couple of days later with two bags of groceries at the door of the Smallbone family. Helen, the mom, answered and invited Kay inside. It was immediately evident that she was pregnant with her 7th child. Kay tried not to stare at the odd assortment of furniture in the house, but Helen must have noticed. Her remark to Kay was "Isn't God good? Everything He gave us matches!" Kay learned later that the furniture had all been donated by a local church, but she knew in that moment they would be friends for life.

Photo credit: Evin Photography

(Kay's daughter Evin is now a professional photographer. This photo was taken last week when Kay and Helen Smallbone had a chance to spend some time together).

Kay started going back often to visit with Helen. She'd fold clothes while Helen ironed for people who were paying her, and they'd talk about the importance of faith in God in their lives. Other times Kay would just leave a bag on the back steps with soap, toilet paper, and cereal inside. It became her trademark gift. In fact, when the Smallbones had a party celebrating becoming American citizens, Kay brought those items to the party.

The Smallbones, you must know, are extraordinarily talented people. The oldest daughter is renowned Christian contemporary singer Rebecca St. James. Two sons Joel and Luke make up the duo known as For King + Country. Other members of the family create videos and movies, are actors and actresses, and write books. When Rebecca first started touring, the whole family traveled with her and learned in a hands-on way how to create a successful performance.

Now a movie has been made spotlighting Helen's faith during her family's journey. As the story was being written, they remembered their neighbor, whom they called "Auntie Kay" and included her contributions to their lives in the script.

It is unlikely that any of us will ever have a movie made about our good deeds, but isn't it gratifying to know that acts of service and love can have long-lasting effects?

Is there someone we can extend love to today who is least expecting it?


Mark 12:30-31 -- "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

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