Thank You, God

Thank You, God, for this beautiful fall season. Thank you for wind in the trees, for geese flying in a vee, for cotton white in the fields, for pumpkins piled up, for scuppernongs on the vine. Thank you for chilly mornings, longer nights. Thank You for healing from Covid, for miracles in so many forms. God, I just can’t stop thanking You!

Thank You for the waxing and waning moon and how its cycles affect crops, the tides, and even the birth of babies. You are amazing! Thank You for the millions of stars that remind us of your promises to Abraham that he would be the “father of many nations”–and how You have kept every one of those promises.

Thank you for my walker. I’d like to be able to walk without it but in the meantime, it’s a good companion. Its wheels swivel quite handily; I can walk almost anywhere with it except up and down steps and through thick grass. When I get tired I can sit down on the seat that I also use to haul things around. Thank You for the ability to walk without a walker for 77 years.

Thank You for all our senses–sight, hearing, taste, smell, and feeling–and for all the beautiful things You share with us through these senses. We enjoy the drama the sun puts on every night and every morning. We try to discern all the colors in a rainbow and remember your promise to Noah that we have inherited. We listen to Beethoven who, though deaf at the time, wrote the Ninth Symphony, so beautiful. We can hear the birds singing and children laughing, the honk of a horn, an airplane flying over. We can taste Thanksgiving pies, tender turkey and wonderful dressing. We can taste our salty tears of joy and sadness. We can smell fresh linens, yeast bread baking, roses in bloom, and rain. We can feel a warm hug, a cat’s tail circling our legs, a hot bath, and the textures of yarn and fabric.

Thank You, God, for our family and for a time to gather around the table. Thank You for my energetic veterinarian husband of 55 years, for his patience, wisdom, and tenderness. Thank You for a tall handsome son, Will, who is so good to us, so thoughtful and cheerful and for his wife and children. Thank You for all our five grandchildren and five great grandchildren and for our dear daughter, Julie, who has gone to be with You.

Thank You for bluebirds and cardinals, for squirrels and rabbits and deer. Thank You for butterflies flitting over the lantana as the season wanes. Thank You for trees whose leaves turn bright and then fall right on schedule. Thank You for rain, sleet, and snow, all under Your control. Thank You for a warm toasty fire.

Thank You for the sky, for the vastness of it like an ocean, for billowing clouds and wispy feathery ones. Thank You for bright sunny skies and for grey hovering ones. Thank You for waking me this morning with the tune of an old hymn in my head: “Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the sky of parchment made, were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade, To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry. Nor could the scroll contain the whole though stretched from sky to sky.” (Some of the original words of this hymn were written about the year 1100. Other writers include Lari Goss, Mike Speck, and Danny Zaloudik.)

Thank You for our church and for freedom to worship there. Thank You for friends, old and new. Thank You for the encouragement You give us through these sweet instruments of Your mercy and grace. Thank You for the Bible, our guidebook, our love letter from You, for the promises kept, Your forgiveness and patience.

My youngest great grandson, Kaison, eight years old, came bouncing in while I was typing and leaned over my shoulder to see what I was writing about. He promptly asked if he, too, could write a thank you to God. What he typed on my iPad screen sums up my prayer of thanksgiving. Here it is:

“Thank you, GOD, for sending Jesus to die on the cross for our sins and for making our beautiful world.”

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

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A Red Leaf

We were walking around our driveway, each in our own thoughts, when Charles spied a red leaf ahead of us, picked it up, and handed it to me with a knowing smile. We both knew what the red leaf meant so no words were needed. I treasured the red leaf for several hours until it started to turn brown.

We’ve been enjoying this little gifting of a red leaf for almost 56 years. One or the other of us finds a red leaf and gives it to the other. More often, red leaves are found in the fall, but some shrubs put forth stray red leaves other times of the year, like nandina. It only needs to be a red leaf, regardless of size.

This is how it started. When we were newlyweds, Charles in vet school and I working at University housing, we were asked to help chaperone a Baptist college retreat. It was very odd, being chaperones for our classmates. We forgot most of the time that we were responsible for making sure everyone was safe and reasonably proper. Most of the time we just enjoyed the opportunity to be away from campus a day or two, studying God’s word and having hilarious good times with our friends. One of the speakers talked about ways to build good relationships, even very small, silent ways. He’s the one who told us about the meaning of a red leaf.

We were in the north Georgia mountains in the autumn, and there was beautiful color all around us. It wasn’t hard to find a red leaf. On a rare quiet walk, just the two of us, we each found a red leaf to give to the other. We have found delight in continuing this little ceremony ever since.

Of course the exchange is more romantic when it’s between sweethearts or spouses (who are still sweethearts!), even grey headed ones. But this tiny gesture can mean a lot when practiced by good friends, cousins, parents and children.

The red leaf simply means “I love you.”

When I think about the One who provides the beautiful red leaves of sweetgum, maple, sourwood, dogwood, and red oaks, I’m so blessed with the realization that God is saying “I love you.” It’s just one of His many imaginative ways of communicating with us. To receive the message, though, we have to see the red leaf and accept it. Just as we may walk past a red leaf without noticing it, we can often miss a word from the Lord as significant as that of the still small voice He used to talk to Elijah.

Remember, when you see a red leaf it means “I love you.” Maybe there’s someone you’d like to gift with a bright red leaf today!

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16

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Baseball Lessons

We don’t always watch the World Series. But the Braves were playing for the championship so we watched every night, mourning the nights they lost and cheering vigorously when they won. We agreed that we had the best seats “in the house,” not having to elbow through crowds and not having to pay a monstrous amount. We just settled back in our comfy chairs until someone made a big hit when we almost danced.

Watching the games, I began considering some things I’ve learned about baseball. Though my knowledge is meager, I’m going to share a few of those baseball lessons. Hope not to embarrass my son and grandsons!

You might say my experience with baseball began when I was eleven. I was visiting my oldest sister Pat and her husband David in Charleston, West Virginia. Ostensibly, I was to care for their baby girl, Lorna, while they moved to their new house. However, all my older siblings (eight of them) were ever watchful for giving us younger ones a new experience and this was no exception. Hence, one hot summer evening I accompanied David to my first baseball game. Only now do I realize what a drag it must have been for poor David to have the responsibility for an ignorant little girl instead of sharing the game with Pat. On the other hand, David, who loved baseball better than his favorite chocolate pie, was engrossed in the game and didn’t notice I was so bored I went to sleep and all but fell out of the bleachers. Why did everyone yell and clap when the score didn’t change? What in the world was there to get excited about when, time and again, a batter tried to hit the ball and couldn’t?

Baseball Lesson #1:

If you don’t know the rules, there’s no joy in the game.

Forward a few years: One afternoon at a college church retreat I found myself “forced” into playing softball. I still didn’t know the rules and had no skill. But I did know the point was to hit the ball and then run as if a monster were after you. So I did that. Problem was, I didn’t have a clue when to stop. I collided so hard with the third baseman, an elderly deacon, that we both hit the dust. I was hurt very little and I think he got up laughing, but I was humiliated beyond words.

Baseball Lesson #2:

Knowing when to stop is as important as knowing when to go.

I learned enough about football to enjoy yelling for the Georgia Bulldogs but still was baseball ignorant. Then, in 1973, when our son was five years old, we signed him up for tee-ball. He has been an avid lover of baseball and other sports ever since. I took him to every game and practice and watched as he progressed through Little League. I didn’t want to miss a single game. This was my child so I was very interested. I began to learn the rules, at least in rudimentary fashion. I watched every move my young catcher made springing from a crouch to chase a wild ball or trying to put a player out at home plate. Listening to other excited parents nd coaches, I learned some of the baseball phrases: “Good eye, good eye!” “Shake it off, shake it off,” “Heads up in the outfield!” “Run, run, run!” and “Touch the base!” I clapped wildly when my star hit a grounder and made it to first base, or when, wonder of wonders, he hit a homerun. I cringed when he struck out and retired to the dugout looking hot and unhappy. Good moves or bad, I clapped as did the other supportive parents. I tried to listen as Charles, much better versed in baseball than I, explained what was happening so I wouldn’t clap at the wrong time.

Baseball Lesson #3:

When you love someone, you become deeply interested in what means a lot to them.

For a few years in the 1980’s several family members met each fall for a few days at St. Simons Island. My mother was always a part of the group. In fact, it was John’s “trip for Mamma” to which others of us joined if we could. One year our vacation collided with the World Series. One night we were seated at a seafood restaurant waiting for our entrees when, on television, a World Series game began with a soloist singing the National Anthem. Mamma, who knew even less than I did about baseball, very elegantly stood at our table with her hand to her heart. The rest of us at our table, rose with one accord, while other diners stared. We might not all be smart baseball fans, but we were fans of our country. And we knew, even as adults, we’d better do what Mamma did.

Baseball Lesson #4:

Loyalty to our country and our team (whichever team that is) is very important. Loyalty is a characteristic of our parents and grandparents that we must pass on to the next generation.

Now here we are pulling for the Braves in the last game of the series against Astros. It’s the first time Braves have made it to the World Series since 1999. The score for the series is Braves 3-2 and Astros 2-3. Braves need only one more win to become champions. Midnight approaches and here we are with sleepy eyes glued to the television as our team plays a spectacular game, shutting out the Astros 7-0. We text back and forth with our son in Birmingham: “Way to go, Braves!” “Monumental homerun!” “Can you believe that double play?” I enjoy details that the little ignorant girl of eleven knew nothing of: the pitchers’ strategy in striking a player out, the timing and accuracy on the part of those batting, those pitching, and certainly the outfielders, and I enjoy observing the characteristics of each player and getting to know Rosario, Freddie Freeman, Soler, and others as if they were friends.

When the Braves win the World Series for the first time since 1995 we celebrate with them as well as with crowds of fans in Houston and Atlanta. Somehow, their win makes us feel like winners too! The players, their manager, and certainly the fans are ecstatic. Players and officials are almost tongue tied when they are interviewed. I think every one of them makes mention of how they won only because they played as a team. Several give glory to God for their success and for pulling them through great difficulties in the past year.

Baseball Lesson #5:

Keep your eyes on the ball, never give up, and be prepared at all times. Don’t go to sleep when, inning after inning, nothing happens. You will surely miss something! When wonderful things happen, be sure to recognize all who contributed to the success and, especially, remember to thank God. And celebrate!

Go Braves!

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Apple Harvest

There’s nothing quite like a crisp sweet apple, whether gala, golden delicious, winesap, honeycrisp or McIntosh. Granny Smiths and Romes are so good for cooking–pies, cobblers, applesauce, Apple Betty and other favorite recipes. My sister Suzanne, who cans hundreds of quarts of vegetables yearly from the Dovers’ small farm, as well as fruits from northeast Georgia, only canned twenty quarts of apples this year. Because of Covid restrictions her big family couldn’t have many gatherings so she had fruit left over from last year. If you stepped up on their porch during apple time you would find her and Bill paring apples while the warm aroma of a kettle of applesauce wafts its way from the kitchen.

Suzanne’s love for preserving the “fruit of the land” goes way back. Our dad bought bushels of peaches and apples in season and put all us kids to work paring and processing. Mamma canned shelves full of fruit, including blackberries from our abundant brier patches. As the weather turned frosty cool in October, Mamma sometimes sent us to our homeschool cabin classroom with newspaper-wrapped fried apple pies warming our mittened hands. It took sheer willpower not to eat your pie on the way, but if you did, you’d have to watch the others eat theirs while all that was left of yours was the smell. Years later, my husband’s grandmother endeared herself to us all making delicious fried apple pies for the family gatherings. You didn’t want to be at the back of the line for fear the apple pie tray would be empty!

An apple is such a friendly, wholesome fruit. Years ago I determined that, no matter what, I would always have apples in a bowl on our kitchen island. What a ready and delicious snack! Our grandchildren love them. They’ve learned to eat them to the core instead of throwing half-eaten ones away, although recently I’ve been mystified by someone who takes one bite from an apple and leaves it in the bowl. I have my suspicions about who it is but haven’t been able to catch the biter “apple handed.” Apples serve the double purpose of being delicious and looking beautiful and inviting in the bowl. Today I have a variety of fresh, wonderful apples brought to me by friends Billy and Louise from their annual trek to north Georgia and North Carolina. Knowing how I miss the mountains, they brought me this treat.

Other apple memories come to mind. Two of my brothers as teenagers picked apples at a nearby orchard. One of the sweetest birthday presents they ever gave me was apples hauled home in their pockets. When we adopted our daughter at five years old she had a kidney condition which prohibited her from having sugar or salt. Kindergarten moms took turns making delicious snacks for the children–cookies, brownies, cupcakes. What could I take that would be okay for Julie and interesting to all the children? I didn’t want her to feel odd. One of my solutions to the problem was–you guessed it–apples! Cutting apples in crosswise slices so the star was in the middle, I carefully removed the seeds, then spread each slice with salt free peanut butter. They were a big hit!

Back to Suzanne–every autumn she and Bill put on what they call their “Harvest Meal” for their family of four children and their families. It is the culmination of hours upon hours, days upon days of hard work from March through September. Bill and his horse plow and cultivate the creek bottomland, then he and Suzanne harvest, process and can using a wood burning stove. Though they find much merriment during the months of heavy work, that culminating feast is the essence of merriment.

At that feast you would enjoy all the rewards of the bountiful garden–squash, peas, green beans, corn, cucumber pickles, sweet potato souffle, stuffed eggs, as well as figs from a tree on the hill–and, of course, applesauce and Suzanne’s signature Apple Cake. That recipe is in the back of my book, Christmas Carols in my Heart, along with a few other family recipes and craft instructions. I talked to Suzanne the day before the feast. She put me on speaker phone so she could continue chopping onions for a big pot of chili, part of this year’s Harvest Meal. She was also planning to make cornbread and a peach berry cobbler. The only thing on the table, other than the fruit, not raised on the farm would be a roasted hen. Their chickens, Suzanne said, were only for laying eggs.

Though I’ve never been present for the big Harvest Meal, I have enjoyed many times around the Dovers’ large table weighed down with the abundance of the crops. I can hear now Bill’s deep voice giving thanks to God for the crops and many other blessings.

Writing this I’m “forced” by nostalgia and yearning to make a pot of applesauce. Apple slices in the pot I add water very sparingly, turn the heat on low and check often to be sure the apples aren’t sticking and to breathe in a strong lung full of the hearty aroma. A variety of Granny Smiths, galas, and honeycrisps, whatever is available, make a good mix. When apples are soft, mash to a desirable consistency. Some apples don’t “cook up” as smoothly as others. Lumps are fine and some peeling is good for you! Sometimes, depending on how sweet the apples are, you may want to add some brown sugar. Serve it warm or store for up to a week in the refrigerator and serve cold, a scrumptious side dish, especially good with homemade bread and butter.

Is anything better than sweet, crisp apples? Maybe a word fitly spoken? Proverbs 25:11 says: A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.

Special to my readers

I still have copies of Christmas Carols in my Heart. If you would like autographed copies at $12 each including shipping, contact me at topdawgs@syrupcity.net. Stories of twelve old familiar carols like Silent Night are accompanied by a few of my own special Christmas memories. Each chapter includes space for the reader’s own journaling notes making it a treasure to pass on to one’s children and grandchildren. Illustrated with charming chapter heading pen and ink drawings by Christina A. Graham, this little book makes an excellent small Christmas gift.

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Joyful Christmas Boxes

Some big Operation Christmas Child news is breaking: Alex Nsengimana of Rwanda, a shoebox recipient who is now grown, is coming to Cairo First Baptist Church October 19, tomorrow, to speak to those who are packing boxes, those who are curious about this huge project, and anyone who wants to see what God can do with a simple shoebox.

We’re packing Christmas boxes for children we’ll never know living in places of which we may know nothing. Individuals, churches, Sunday school classes, mission groups, all over the world are involved in this far-reaching cause. We’re packing toys, hygiene items, notebooks, socks, tee shirts, Bibles, knowing that the Lord will bless the child who opens each box. We pray for these children but we very seldom see their faces and then, as in the case of Alex, only years afterward.

If you’ve been packing boxes every year, you may have heard some of the marvelous accounts of how these boxes affected the children who received them. It is particularly meaningful to hear from one of those recipients themselves. Alex Nsengimana is one of those. He is from Rwanda and experienced firsthand the travesties of tribal unrest where genocide claimed the lives of his caregivers. He received a Christmas box from Operation Christmas Child one year after arriving at the orphanage which was his home for several years. That shoebox gift sowed seeds of hope and love that he desperately needed. Now he lives in the U.S. and he will be coming to Cairo First Baptist Church to share what that gift meant to him and how it changed his life. I’m so excited about this opportunity and want to pass along the invitation to you to come tomorrow, Tuesday, October 19 at 12:00 noon. First Baptist is located at 505 N. Broad Street. Bring your own lunch and spend an hour with Alex and many who love to pack those boxes!

How did we gain this wonderful privilege of sharing with children around the world who may have nothing for Christmas other than this colorful box?

In our church, in the 1990’s, one dear mission-minded lady named Helen King introduced us to this opportunity. She came back from a women’s meeting ecstatic about this ministry. It was a new cause at the time and our church took on Helen’s enthusiasm and went to work. On a designated Sunday we trooped down the aisle carrying our shoeboxes of varying designs and sizes to lay at the altar for the prayer of blessing. It was such fun involving our children and youth in this wonderful project and seeing them proudly present their boxes at the altar. We’ve “done” shoeboxes ever since, though now our church purchases the number of uniform boxes we think we can fill instead of our using “real” shoeboxes. These are a lot prettier and made to stand the rigors of shipping. This year our church will be the receiving place for all the boxes from surrounding churches, a job faithfully filled by Eastside for many years. Gary and Rhonda Keve will receive the boxes from all churches and then pack them in large boxes of fifteen each to carry to Valdosta. Rhonda said one church is planning to bring 300 boxes so she and Gary would really like some help on those days. Call First Baptist at 229-377-2233 for more information.

But how did the shoebox story really begin? In 1990 David Cooke and his wife Gill started a move to give gifts to children in Romania. In the summer of 1993 Franklin Graham of Samaritans Purse, received a call from an Englishman who asked if Franklin could provide gifts for children in war-torn Bosnia who would otherwise have no Christmas. He had learned of the idea that volunteers could fill shoeboxes with simple gifts and wanted Franklin to implement the endeavor. Franklin responded positively to the request but was so busy with other concerns connected with Samaritans Purse (rescue missions, feeding the hungry, etc.) he forgot about the Englishman’s plea. At Thanksgiving the man called back to see what Franklin had done about his idea. Franklin was chagrined at having forgotten but instead of throwing up his hands at the impossibility of collecting hundreds of shoebox gifts on such short notice he called a pastor friend and asked him to see what he could do. The response was overwhelming. The pastor called a few weeks later asking when Franklin could come get the shoeboxes that stacked high in the hallways of his church. That was the beginning of the worldwide distribution of gifts through Operation Christmas Child. This year, with participation of local churches around the world, 188 million boxes have been delivered in 170 countries. Thousands of children have become Christ followers as a direct result of those boxes and the following discipleship course they’re invited to.

I remember well some of the Operation Christmas Child stories I’ve read (“Operation Christmas Child: A Story of Simple Gifts” by Donna Lee Toney is available online) and a very few I’ve heard in person. Each one is so precious and brings ready tears to my eyes. Once, in First Baptist Church, Atlanta, we heard a young woman give her account. She said her box had changed her life forever in that through it she had come to know Christ. The one item that she treasured the most, other than the Good News, was a toothbrush. She had grown up in an orphanage where she and maybe twelve other girls shared one toothbrush. It was a marvelous thing to have her own toothbrush.

Go to your church, almost any church, I think, and pick up a Christmas box with instructions. Then put on your shopping shoes and head to the store. Dollar General, Dollar Tree, Wal Mart, wherever you like to go. Depending on what store you shop, you can generously fill a Christmas box for about $20. I learned that once Operation Christmas Child delivers boxes through the help of their local churches, that village or area will not receive boxes again. There are so many villages, so many children! Because of that, I have paid more careful attention to packing a box that contains good long lasting toys and other items.

Start “packing” for Christmas!

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Celebrating Columbus

I can hear our young voices now and those of generations of other voices chanting “In fourteen hundred and ninety two Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” words of the poet Jean Marzollo. I was not aware, as a young student, of the poet’s name, but I was very aware of Christopher Columbus. To me, he was a shining hero who left safety and home to seek a path to the east by going west. He was brave, adventurous, and determined. In my family we honored Columbus on October 12 as we did George Washington on his birthday, February 22, and Lincoln on February 12. We knew he was an Italian who relocated to Portugal and then Spain, that he believed the world was round when so many still thought it was flat, that he obtained sponsorship from Queen Isabella to explore the possibility of a newer, safer trade route to the Orient. We knew that, even though Eric the Red of the Vikings, really discovered North America first, Columbus was in the forefront of explorers first setting foot on our continent.

As an adult I learned some more interesting things about my hero, Columbus. For instance, he was a praying man. He kept a journal (I guess he called it a log) and in it are indications of his spiritual journey as he, still a young man, set out in the ships Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria for unknown territory. A couple of his quotes from his journal: “No one should be afraid to take on any enterprise in the name of our Savior if it is right and if the purpose is purely for His holy service” and “He has bestowed the marine arts upon me in abundance.”

Six or seven years ago a replica of one of the three Columbus ships docked at St. Marks in Florida and some of us were able to go down and see it, even go on it and explore its very confined deck. The replica ship, so authentic in every detail (the galley, the captain’s quarters, the deck, sails and ropes) had been on tour for months, even years, docking in many ports in South and Central America as well as the shores of North America. Charles and I enjoyed so much investigating the ship, reading plaques, sharing the time with our granddaughter Amanda and two of her children.

When the “Cancel Culture” wave began I simply could not believe it. It’s bad enough for the critics to dredge up lies about living officials, but to tell lies about Columbus whom many American countries have honored for 500 years? Maybe you, too, have been shocked at the massive move to cancel our history, our culture, including the demolishing of statues of founding fathers, other historical heroes–and even Christopher Columbus. Why? What have “they” found for which to blame my hero Christopher Columbus?

A recent article by Matthew White in American Family Association Journal lists some of the myths (used information from WallBuilders with permission) that have spread and developed on Christopher along with established truths to counteract those myths. For instance, one myth or lie is that Columbus “greedily sought gold so he could get rich.” The historical fact that refutes that is that “Columbus primarily sought gold in order to provide for the needs of the church, both for evangelism and to fund a crusade to retake Jerusalem from Muslim invaders.” Columbus is accused of selling native women into sex slavery when, in fact, he fought against both the native practice of sexual exploitation as well as sex trafficking by Spanish rebels. He actually liberated women of several villages who had been forced into servitude. Critics have even accused Columbus of being “a senile fool who had more luck than brains” as an explorer of the New World. Matthew White states “In addition to being largely self-taught, Columbus was one of the best navigators the world has ever seen. For nearly 400 years scientists and seamen both acknowledged this fact.”

My feelings of pride in my hero Christopher Columbus were reignited as I read that he, even as a teenager, began taking many trading and expeditionary voyages (even as far north as Iceland) learning the Atlantic wind systems and currents. He had a dream early on to set sail to a new land. Here’s what he wrote: “Our Lord opened to my understanding (I could sense His hand upon me) so it became clear to me that it (the voyage) was feasible…All those who heard about my enterprise rejected it with laughter, scoffing at me…Who doubts that this illumination was from the Holy Spirit? I attest that He with marvelous rays of light, consoled me through the holy and sacred Scriptures…they inflame me with a sense of great urgency…”

When I went to get the mail yesterday I realized it was a holiday, Columbus Day, so no mail. I spoke out loud to the cats and the birds as I ambled back to the house, celebrating the fact that my hero is still honored on this day. In some states the holiday has been renamed “Indigenous Peoples Day,” but millions still celebrate Columbus with school holidays. It is, in fact, still a national holiday. Columbus landed on a Bahamian island October 12, 1492. He made three more voyages across the Atlantic and, though he went home in chains once because of accusations by an enemy, he was fully exonerated. He certainly was not perfect. None of our past heroes nor the present ones are. But look at the impact he made on his world as well as our world in his few short years. He died at age 55.

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More Paws, More Smiles, Some Tears

Scrappy

Just after I published last week’s blog another paw smile arrived in the form of a two-week-old baby squirrel. When my two young grands and I piled out of the car after school there was a scrap of gray fur huddled against a wall of our carport. I thought he was dead, that one of the cats had wounded him and them left him for us as a gift. They have been known to do that. But when Charli picked him up, he went from lethargy to full speed climbing in her hair, around her neck and dipping into her shirt for a warm cozy spot. Of course giggles and squeals erupted from all three of us.

Granddaddy brought home a syringe from the office for feeding the little guy warm milk. The children squabbled over who would feed him but Charli won because, as she put it, she had picked him up first. She named him Cuddles because he loved to nestle against her neck. But later, after he was installed as the newest baby in the Evans household, Daddy Jared renamed him Scrappy. His claws were too sharp for a Cuddles, he said.

Scrappy gave hours of pleasure to the Evans family, especially Charli who faithfully fed her little charge. Sunday afternoon, after the Wednesday adoption, I asked how Scrappy was doing. Charli reported that he wasn’t eating that day. Within a couple of hours Scrappy died while Charli held him and talked to him. With crocodile tears tracing down her cheeks Charli assisted big sister Candi in burying the baby. Today, three days later, Charli and brother Kaison said mournfully they miss Scrappy so much. I asked Charli if she would rather not have had Scrappy and she quickly replied that she wouldn’t trade the time with Scrappy for a million dollars. “I gave him a good life,” she said sagely.

One Very Blessed Hen

When I told my sister, Suzanne, about this latest wildlife adventure, she remembered some of her times helping little orphaned wild babies, like the possum that grew up in their house, and others. But one of the most memorable, she told me, was the chicken. The chicken! I didn’t remember that story. She said she was on her way from her to house to our mother’s when she came upon a chicken flapping and writhing on the pavement. She stopped and picked it up and took it to Mamma’s yard where she placed it under a shady tree to die in peace. But it didn’t die. She eventually took it home and nurtured it back to health. It was crippled but it hopped around her yard for months, even years, happy as a prisoner set free, which it was. She’s sure the hen had fallen from a loaded chicken truck to what seemed certain death but was rescued to a new life.

One Not So Golden Goose

Suzanne’s story reminded me of our goose refugee. Many years ago Charles came home from the animal hospital with a one-legged goose. Owners didn’t want her but he thought maybe we could give her a good life. Which we did. Charles sank an empty paint can into the ground making a ground-level watering trough for the poor thing and we all rallied around the odd goose in our already interesting menagerie. Then, one day, we came home to find the goose upside down in her watering trough, cold and dead. She’s fallen in and, with only one leg, couldn’t get herself out. A sad ending to our not so golden goose!

One Special Cow

Some of our little animal friends are with us such a short time but they add much joy to our lives and we hope we’ve given them a good life, even if brief. But some pets stay around for a very long time. Such was the case with my friend Cheryl Gravenstein’s mother’s cow. A cow is not usually considered a pet but this one was. Cheryl said when her mother was born someone gave her a heifer as a birth gift. She grew up taking care of that heifer. When she married she took her cow with her and added more cows to keep that one company. Cheryl remembers milking, feeding the cows, and herding them back in when they broke out of their fence. I asked her how old the “birth cow” was when she died, but I don’t remember what Cheryl said.

However long we have them, let’s treasure our creatures large and small.

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Paws for a Smile

My son sent me the above picture last week. It made me smile, so I thought it might also give you a welcome reprieve from all the heavy seriousness of our national and international problems. A smile relaxes your face. You can feel yourself getting younger! It is healthy and it is free. God’s creatures large and small are really good at bringing out a smile even when we’re feeling dismal.

Will was at Blue Ridge Animal Clinic in Montgomery troubleshooting dental equipment. As a sales rep for Covetrus Veterinary Supply, Will calls on veterinarians in central and southern Alabama. He was deep into solving a problem when this cat casually climbed up on his shoulder as if to help him find a solution. One of the techs snapped the picture. Miss Kitty, the tech told Will, owns that particular area in the clinic and anyone who lights there is subject to her climbing all over them. This hairless Siamese with her long tail, dressed in a tu-tu, is at home in her surroundings and expects everyone else to be also. Will took time to play with her and said her hairless skin really felt odd.

Calf on the Loose

This week’s news from the Cairo Animal Hospital includes the escape of a 150-pound calf. Apparently dead set on avoiding his impending surgery, the calf suddenly rebelled and squeezed through an incredibly narrow opening to run with the speed of an antelope across Highway 84, over to Tired Creek Country Club, through parking lots and well kept yards. Numerous people called in to report seeing him before he was finally caught several days later. Can you imagine glancing out your kitchen window and seeing a cow eating your lilies?

Sam and the Turtle

This tale is about our Irish setter named Sam. Unlike the Irish setter Blake who later took his place in our household, Sam was quite reliable, knew his boundaries, and was an excellent companion for me on my three-mile walks. He did investigate a lot of territory along the way, probably running six miles for my three. He liked to swim across every pond and he liked to give turtles a scenic ride. The first time he picked up a box turtle in a neighbor’s yard I tried to take it from him but he was very possessive and loped on ahead of me. I thought he would lay the turtle down somewhere but he carried it the whole way. The amazing thing was that he deposited that turtle in exactly the same place he had found him. That was only the first turtle who received a free Sam trip!

Persimmons and Possums

This time of year I think about wild persimmons and possums. Ripe persimmons are a beautiful orangey peach color, or maybe the color of a flamingo. When they drop from high limbs they plunk into the grass and look like tiny pumpkins with black fringed hats. Ripe persimmons (don’t by any circumstances pluck one from the tree before it’s ripe!) are squishy, full of seeds, sweet and wonderful. Possums like them too.

Fall was a good time to catch a possum to fatten under an overturned tub for what some thought made a delicious dinner. My brothers went to the meadow one night hunting for a possum. We heard the dogs barking and knew they had one treed but the wait was long. We all got sleepy and went to bed before the boys returned.

Next morning Mamma was mystified by an empty burlap sack with an odd hole hanging on the milk pail hook above the flour bin. When the boys came down for breakfast they were eager to check on their possum. But there was no possum, much to their dismay. Their dismay hardly compared to Mamma’s consternation. We looked everywhere for that possum to no avail. Mamma herself found him a couple of days later when a hissing growl arrested her hand as she reached into the dark interior of a potato barrel.

Recently when I picked up the kids from school, Charli was anything but her usual merry self. She said though her sniffles that she had had a very bad day. I asked what had made it so bad and she said that a friend had thoroughly annoyed her and that her teacher had “yelled at us all day.” I suggested that maybe she could turn a bad day into a good day. Her reply: “I can’t change my friend or my teacher.” To which I said, “You can change you.” Then as I heard more sniffles from the back, I said, “Let’s go home and see if we can turn this bad day into a good day.”

I had no idea what we might do until I remembered seeing so many butterflies in our yard hovering over lantana and impatiens, flitting everywhere. “You could probably catch a butterfly,” I said, knowing that, even with our butterfly nets, it’s quite tricky to do that.

As we drove into our driveway there, right in front of us, was a beautiful monarch. Charli, inspired, quickly grabbed a net and immediately caught, not the monarch, but another black and blue beauty. We put it in a fruit jar with holes in the lid and admired it, even taking its picture. We identified it as a spicebush swallowtail. When Charli let it fly all her dismal feelings went with it. I was so thankful the Lord sent that swallowtail our way!

I hope we brought a smile to your face with these snippets about a cat, a calf, a dog and turtle, a possum, and a butterfly. I always contend that God must surely have a sense of humor because He made such amazing creatures. And He gave us a sense of humor too to buoy us over the turbulent waves.

Genesis 1:21, 24, 25: And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth…and every winged fowl after his kind…cattle and creeping thing, and beast of the earth…and God saw that it was good.

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The Woman at the Wake

When my father died in 1959 it was the custom in our neck of the woods to hold a wake for the deceased. Somebody was designated to sit up all night, never to leave the coffin unattended. As was often the case back then, my father’s coffin was in our living room from the time the mortician finished his job until the funeral two days later. All that time someone, usually family members, would be expected to stay close by, taking turns, two or three at a time talking quietly, maybe making coffee in the middle of the night.

As a sixteen-year-old I didn’t really question why we did this. It was simply the way things were done. It was no problem for us since our family was so big and, in fact, it was an honor to be part of a group who “sat up” with my Dad. It was a way of showing him respect even though he was gone from his body.

As I said, our family was large, not only Mom and Dad’s own ten children but the extended family of relatives some of whom we young ones didn’t even know. Neighbors were in and out of the house bringing gorgeous casseroles, cakes, stuffed eggs and salads. We never seemed to be alone which was sometimes frustrating to me. I hungered for the intimacy of our very own family. It didn’t seem right to cry in front of people I hardly knew.

With so many people coming and going, no one at first noticed this one little wiry woman who simply sat quietly with her hands in her lap except for occasions when food was set on the table. Though others came and went she stayed in the corner she’d chosen from the beginning. We began to question each other about which relative this might be. She was very solemn, speaking only when spoken to. All day and night she kept her vigil, always partaking of cake or anything that was available, otherwise just sitting there.

Mamma realized we were puzzling about the identity of this woman. She, who was wise from many years of wakes and funerals, already knew who the stranger was. It seemed she had been talking to her when none of us noticed.

Mamma told us this woman was a mourner, no relation to any of us, not a member of our church, not a neighbor, just a self-appointed mourner. In fact, she lived ten or fifteen miles away in an abandoned cabin. Mamma didn’t know how she’d gotten to our house.

“Be kind to her,” Mamma told us. “She has little to eat at home and she goes to wakes to help people mourn and to get food.”

As I remember it, the little woman left before the funeral. I was too caught up in my grief to notice her slip away and start her long walk back to her cabin.

We have sometimes laughed about the interesting little woman at the wake. Did she have her ear to the ground to learn whenever there was a death and head towards the wake? Was this all she did, help people mourn so she could enjoy the abundance of food?

I’ve always remembered, along with the curiosity about the little woman, Mamma’s words about her. “Be kind to her,” she said. Even in her grief, it was of paramount importance to Mamma that we practice hospitality.

Use hospitality one to another without grudging. I Peter 4:9

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Water Angel

The sun shone brightly, a beautiful afternoon in Fort Meade, Maryland. A perfect afternoon for a swim. I couldn’t wait. I was visiting my older sister, Jackie, and her husband, Fred, a second lieutenant in the army. At thirteen, I was all long legs, a bundle of shyness but eager to take in everything. This visit had been full of adventure already–a tour of Washington, a boat ride on the Potomac River to enjoy a concert at Watergate (before it was famous), a trip to Fred’s home in Virginia. And now this. Swimming in the officers’ pool.

“A little different from our old muddy pond at home in Georgia, isn’t it?” my sister stated rather than asked. We were standing at the deep end of the Olympic size pool considering our next move.

“It’s so full of people,” I said, a little anxious.

“We’ll just be two more,” said Jackie. “Come on, let’s swim to the other end!”

She jumped in and I was right behind her.

It definitely wasn’t like our muddy Georgia pond. Almost immediately I was in trouble. Someone splashed water right in my face and I strangled. Instinctively, I tried to touch the bottom, to stand up, but of course I couldn’t. I tried to swim faster to get out of the crowd but the crowd was everywhere. I panicked. My flailing arms and legs turned to pudding. I gave a gasping call for help as I went under.

Rather than the beautiful bright afternoon, it was dark to me down in the water. I was desperate to breathe but couldn’t find my way up. I heard someone yelling “Help!” It seemed as if it was my voice but of course I couldn’t yell. I couldn’t even breathe. It was Jackie.

I surfaced but only for one panicky moment. It was when I went under the third time that Jackie took hold of me. I gripped arms and legs around her until she couldn’t move. We were both drowning surrounded by happy splashing swimmers who didn’t notice these two girls locked in each others’ arms.

It was so dark. And so deep. For months, it seemed, we were fighting to surface, our lungs ready to burst. Then, we felt it. The bottom of the pool, the grainy hard concrete floor of the pool. There were voices in the distance, happy voices, everyone still splashing and playing tricks on each other.

In a stupor we found ourselves with feet still on the bottom but with heads above water. We couldn’t even speak as we staggered and stumbled to the edge of the pool, then stood there so weak we couldn’t pull ourselves up the steps.

What had just happened? We had been drowning somewhere in the middle of the deep end of an Olympic size pool. Jackie, with absolutely no training in lifesaving measures, had allowed me to take a death grip on her so she, too, was immobilized.

Yet here we were. Neither of us had felt an extra hand on us but both of us knew there was no way we had walked out of that pool without help. The lifeguard was sitting beside his chair playing cards with some giggling girls. God had sent a water angel to save us that day and we have never forgotten.

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