By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer
Barry Roberson drove his golf cart up to the lonely pine tree in a field behind his house. Grief from the passing of his father was still fresh, and after a visit to the doctor’s, Barry was facing his own mortality. It was time for a serious talk with God.
Barry’s father had been a faithful man, going on church visitations every week even when his voice was taken by ALS. It wasn’t until after his passing that people told Barry they went to church because his dad visited them.
But Barry was aggravated with God that day under the lonely pine. His doctor diagnosed him with Parkinson’s disease and progressive supranuclear palsy. The doctor said Barry was terminal, with no more than ten years left. Likely less than four in his advanced condition.
“God, I don’t understand,” Barry recalled his prayer. “You made the most faithful man I knew die a terrible death. Now I’ve lost my job and my ability to drive. I wish You’d tell me what You think I’m going to do for the next four years.”
Barry sat under that pine tree, waiting for an answer. He got one.
“I said something like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’” Barry recalled.
Halfway home on the golf cart, Barry stopped. If that was God speaking to him, maybe it was a mistake to leave. He went back and continued the conversation.
“God, You know where my heart is, and You know what’s going to happen to me. I don’t, so I’m going to do whatever You tell me.”
“I thought that was the stupidest thing,” Barry says. “But I said, ‘Okay.’”
As it turned out, building dollhouses was indeed God’s answer for Barry’s life. His doctor encouraged him to start immediately, that it would be excellent mental and physical therapy.
Barry’s wife, Dawn, was instantly on board. Though Barry had built his daughter a dollhouse years before, he didn’t know what to do with new ones. Dawn gave him clear direction.
“My wife is my partner in everything,” Barry says. “She’s my driver and my biggest cheerleader. She takes care of me. But one day I told Dawn, ‘I can’t imagine doing this for four years.’”
Dawn told him he needed a cause, and suggested he build a dollhouse for a little girl at their church who had cancer.
“I built her a house and the feeling was totally different,” Barry says. “It felt like I had purpose.”
Barry never accepts money for his dollhouses, even from wealthy patrons. He’s partnered with several non-profits, including the Ronald McDonald house. Though he lives in Monroe, North Carolina, his dollhouses are now in ten states.
Still, the past nine years haven’t been easy. In the first years, Barry’s health conditions caused him to fall every day. He broke 37 bones. But he kept building dollhouses.
And Barry had Reba McEntire to keep him company.
For years, Barry had the TV on while he built dollhouses. He switched the channel when it stopped airing Reba to the next station that featured her.
One day, a friend recommended Barry reach out to Reba’s Ranch House. He did, and that led to his 150th dollhouse, a red barn with Reba’s concerts featured inside.
“I just do what God tells me,” Barry said. “Just when you think you feel bad for yourself, you take a dollhouse somewhere, and out comes a little girl who has no hair. You think, ‘What do I have to complain about?’”
You can see more of Barry’s work on his website here.
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