Yes, Joy!

image000000

Joy To The World, The Lord Is Come!

I used to think joy was a synonym fo happiness. Oh, I would have used it for extreme happiness, not just everyday cheerfulness. But it would be lined up somewhere in degrees of happiness. But joy is far more than happiness. Experience in God’s kingdom teaches us this more than His Word, though it is confirmed there.

In December of 1997 my 93-year-old mother lay dying in the hospital. I might have been guilty in prior years of thinking that the passing of someone over 90 would not bring forth strong grief as, after all, she/he would have lived a good long life. I was totally wrong.

All ten of Mamma’s children and nine chosen ones, as well as 33 grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren expressed ourselves differently, but each was heart-broken at the thought of losing Mamma, Momsey, Mother, Grandmother, Great-Grandmother, “Miss Eula,” or whoever she might be to us. We couldn’t imagine ever finding full happiness again without this dear lady whose cozy bedroom had become a sanctuary for all of us. There we knew we’d find loving support, challenge to keep our chin up, boosts to our faith, spurs to fulfilling our dreams, or simply a refreshing catching of the breath. It was the place where we could lean over a game of Scrabble and lose our other concerns in whether or not we could brilliantly use our “Q”, or use it at all for that matter!

It seemed natural to sing around Mamma’s hospital bed. Gradually she slipped too far away for us to communicate in any other way. She’d always enjoyed her children being around her and so we sang, some of the boys strumming guitars. Those who had other obligations during the day would join us each night to sing even though for days there had been no response from the still figure in the bed. We sang all her favorite hymns, and, with Christmas approaching, felt compelled to sing carols too. It was apparent that Mamma wouldn’t be with us at the big Christmas tree this year. In fact, some of her last words had been that she wouldn’t be sitting in her big blue chair. “But,” she’d whispered, “I’ll see you.”

It was a struggle, even a battle, for me to sing Joy To The World beside Momsey’s silent form and to the accompaniment of her struggled breathing. But I was determined, we all were, to do it for Momsey. When one of us dropped out of the singing, others took up the slack. Nurses, who had ignored hospital rules to let us overcrowd Momsey’s room, told us with moist eyes how much our faith and–yes, joy–meant to them as we sang Momsey to heaven, her flight to perfect peace occurring in the wee hours of December 12, 1997.

For over a year I could not sing any of the Christmas carols without needing one of Momsey’s handkerchiefs. But I knew how much Momsey loved Jesus and loved Christmas, how she loved seeing the little ones sitting around the tree singing Away in a Manger. I knew how she’d always beamed as her youngest sons Stan and Charlie took turns emceeing, throwing in a line about how Santa had been delayed by a heavy snow but maybe he could still come. I knew how she enjoyed the incredible awe in the children’s faces when a real live Santa Claus actually came in our big front door, a pack on his back. It would have been a tremendous sorrow to her if she knew she’d laid a shadow forever over our Christmas spirit. So I kept singing. We all did.

And the joy of the Lord came to us even in the midst of grief. In the valley of the shadow He was always there.

Now years later I can sing more joyfully than ever. For there are even more memories–memories of Mamma’s sweet concern for us to the very last, of her dreams for each little great-grandchild, of her love of life. I remember vividly my husband’s tenderness throughout that dreadful-sweet time and my children’s thoughtfulness. William pulled on his dad’s boots and went out in a cold dawn to help his cousins dig Mamma’s grave in our family cemetery. They all wanted her place of rest to be personally and perfectly right. Julie reminded me: “Grandmother’s happy now and not hurting anymore. She’s singing with the angels. And you’re just going to have to learn how to make those good green beans she always cooked.”

So, yes, joy does spring up in the midst of sorrow. I know that is true.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Grandmother Grace’s Little Red Book

 

IMG_1067

One double page of Grandmother’s book, approx. 2 1/2″X4″

I never knew my Grandmother Grace in the flesh, only through the stories my Dad told about her. He often mentioned how she painted beautiful pictures of flowers and ferns, very small pictures. He, being her only son and very interested in art, had been given a tiny red velvet book full of her little pictures along with quotations from the Bible and other books. He also had numerous scrapbooks his mother and Aunt De had made. In her day (late 1800’s), scrapbooking was a very favorite entertainment. It was fun for us, Dad’s children, to look at the many newspaper clippings they saved.

Grandmother Grace died when my Dad was thirteen. She had tuberculosis and, though Grandfather diligently tried to find a climate that would be conducive to her healing, traveling all the way from Michigan to South Carolina by covered wagon or train, she couldn’t get well.

I remember studying the little pages of delicate artwork and wishing I could have known that special lady whose photograph was so faded. I was very pleased when my Dad said I looked like his mother. The book was kept in Mamma’s desk, the safest place in the house, along with deeds to various portions of Pinedale, our Northeast Georgia home.

When my niece, Emily Grace, born on Grandmother’s birthday, was a little girl, Mamma and Dad gave her the little red book. Emily treasured it for many years. Then another Grace was born into the family. Emily, being the big hearted lady she is, gave the little book to her Aunt Pat to be saved for when little Grace, her grandchild, was old enough to appreciate it.

Over the years, we all lost track of where Grandmother’s little red book was.

Recently, Emily was having lunch with my sister Suzanne. Suzanne began describing tiny pictures she had found of flowers and ferns painted by our grandmother. “You are so good about preserving things,” she told Emily, “maybe you’d like to see them.”

Her descriptions made Emily remember the little red book and she told Suzanne about how she’d given it to Aunt Pat for Grace. (Grace is grown now, a doctor, living in California with her husband and tiny son.) Emily said wistfully she’d love to see that little book again.

Suzanne suddenly realized they were talking about the same thing–pictures in a little red book. “Since Pat died,” she said, “I’ve helped David go through her things and that’s where I found it. I didn’t know it was yours, or little Grace’s. That’s where the tiny pictures are!”

Emily and Suzanne were so excited over their discovery, everyone in the restaurant turned to see what the ruckus was about.

Emily hunts for good ways to preserve and restore family heirlooms and documents. She didn’t receive the little book and just keep it to herself. She proceeded to “publish” it with her computer so we would all have blown up copies of Grandmother Grace’s loving work, her meticulous little pictures. Emily, with use of a magnifying glass, deciphered the faded printing in Grandmother’s hand of Bible verses and poems and typed them into a form we could read.

So now the legacy of my grandmother, who went to heaven in 1899, lives on. She probably never thought of being “published.” And she probably had no idea that her son would become a renowned Georgia artist during the 1920’s and 1930’s. And she might have been surprised to know that her son had eleven children and that there is a “Grace” in more than one generation!

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Pie On The Floor

It’s almost Thanksgiving and never have we had more to be thankful for than we do this year–big things like hope, bravery, safety, love, family, joy, food, water….. But one of the top items on my gratitude list is that of simple kindnesses, some of which have happened in the last few hours. Like the matter of the pie on the floor.

But before I open up that humiliating story, I’d like to mention a few others.

This morning a sweet little lady hugged me. Now we’ve hugged before but always I initiated the embrace. Mrs. Z is almost deaf and hears very little of what I say when I lead devotions at her assisted living home. But she tries to stay engaged, smiling and nodding from time to time. She tells us every week that she’s going to get hearing aids but it never happens. Her family is gone and she’s very lonely. Sometimes she won’t come to the activities room where we meet because, she says, she’s too sad. But today she was there participating as much as possible. After the program she approached me and, letting go of her walker, she beckoned me to come give her a hug. She’ll never know how much that meant to me.

 

Yesterday my two youngest great-grands spent the afternoon with me. It was a beautiful afternoon and, after making and enjoying banana splits, we decided I would time their bike trips around our circular driveway. Charli, seven years old, consistently beat Kaison who is five. At first he didn’t mind because he didn’t understand that the one with the lower number was the winner. As he caught on to the meaning of thirty seconds versus forty or forty-five, he began to get very discouraged. Finally, he sat on the side of the driveway silently weeping. Charli came and whispered to me that she would purposely go slower the next round so Kaison would win. We persuaded him to try one more time and when he won he pumped the air with the greatest delight. Charli looked at me and grinned.

image000000

Nothing better than a banana split–unless it’s winning a bike race!

Sometimes it’s what someone doesn’t say that is the kindest of all. My eternal teaser of a brother made no jabs at me and my incompetent driving a few months ago when he saw my crippled car.

We saw amazing acts of kindness again and again following Hurricane Michael. Generators were shared. Chain saws buzzed as neighbors and friends cleared driveways. There were calls of concern, shared soup, tremendous displays of energy as the massive cleanup continued. Roofers and tree service folks reached out to meet needs, working tirelessly for long hours. City workers, electricians, FEMA, electricians, volunteers, everyone bent over backward to help.

Kindness surprises us in the most delicious ways! Our grandson, Charles D, came in recently lugging two big boxes of lovely citrus–grapefruit, satsumas, kumquats, and lemons.

But about that pie…

I was baking for the holidays, potato pies among other goodies. It was 9:00 last night and I was very tired after the bike timing, the banana splits, etc. Only two pies were left and the buzzer had alerted me that they were ready. I was pleased with the way they’d set so nicely and had that glisten of really good potato pies. I pulled one out and set it on a rack to cool, then turned back to get the other one. Getting a grip on the edge of the hot pie with my bulky oven mitt, I prepared to set it on a rack to cool. But something happened about then. I lost my grip and the pie hit the floor–upside down, splattering hot potato up on the cabinet and all around. Not only had I lost the pie, but how would I ever clean up all that mess!

Charles suddenly appeared, leaving his favorite political show behind. He calmly began to scoop up the mess with a dustpan. “All that hard work,” he said sympathetically as he shoveled the gooey mess into the trash can.

Yes, kindness is priceless!

As you enjoy your Thanksgiving, remember this verse, Galatians 5:22: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, KINDNESS (my caps), goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Omaha Beach: Remembering our Veterans

image000000

A few months ago we crossed the English Channel by way of the Chunnel, a very smooth train ride in our auto. Only twenty-two minutes and we were there. We spent a lovely evening and night in comfortable rooms at a small motel in the village of Honfleur, France. The next morning we packed snugly into our friend Dave’s little red car ready to visit Normandy Beaches, particularly Omaha Beach.

None of us, four Americans and one Brit, had been there before. We were eager to learn what we could about this historic site where so many of our soldiers fought and died for us to enjoy freedom. We wanted, not just to learn facts, but somehow to honor those men and women who gave their all.

Our excursion took us through a beautiful countryside where cows grazed quietly, where high three-bladed windmills spun lazily on rounded hills, and quaint bungalows looked out from behind neat hedges or stone walls.

Dave had a good GPS telling him the turns to make, go right down this road, or left on that one. So we arrived at the Normandy Beaches on schedule about 10:30 in the morning and began to take in the views.

It was cold and gloomy, the sky gray and lowering, appropriate weather, we thought, for remembering D-Day. We pulled our jackets close and put up our hoods as we read historic markers, walked almost to the sea, looked down on Gold and Sword Beaches trying to imagine the terror, the bravery, the fortitude, the faith of those soldiers coming in to shore on that cold, cold morning in 1944.

We stood in a 360 degree theatre and watched a black and white film of the drama, gasping and cringing at what we saw. As we left with the crowd from that theatre, there was an eerie silence as if there were no words for how we felt.

There were flower offerings at the memorials, left there perhaps on the recent Memorial Day, or perhaps by family members who may go at any time to find their father, grandfather, uncle or cousin. Flags flicked and snapped in the wind.

It was growing late. We had not yet seen either of the beaches where thousands of Americans swarmed in that day to beaches, code names Omaha and Utah. Our map and Dave’s GPS were deficient in showing the way to specific beaches along the ragged coast.

The roads were narrow and winding, sometimes taking us close to a cottage porch, other times dividing fields and pastures. We stopped at crossroads several times for our navigator and driver to study the map or look at signs, in French of course, and try to find Omaha Beach. In our twisting and turning and backtracking we met a large touring bus several times and considered that the driver, also, must be lost, until we finally realized there were several buses!

I’m grateful that Harley and Dave didn’t give up and we finally arrived where the beautiful memorial and the crosses, row on row, honor our brave Americans who gave their all for our freedom. We spent a long time there reading names, considering their sacrifice and that of the survivors and all veterans right to the present. We took pictures and considered the history since that day and how horribly different it could be now if Hitler’s army had won. We walked through the large, beautifully constructed Memorial talking quietly about statues, flags, and brave veterans we know.

omaha

We were all in awe of the historical event and of the way it is commemorated.

By now the sky had brightened for us, even late in the afternoon. But on that day, June 6, 1944, I think it was brutal all day. As we walked towards the parking lot we were still trying to take it all in. Charles commented that bad weather was not at all good for our soldiers that day, but it was good for our cause in creating a surprise invasion since the enemy thought we wouldn’t go in under such horrible conditions. It was amazing, Harley added, that so many men with equipment made it to shore that day and fought and won that very crucial battle, though so many perished.

As we drove away, I noticed a nearby pasture where cows calmly grazed. The scene was so peaceful. All the horror of those days of the Normandy Invasion could be forgotten.

But the crosses are there as a witness.

My mother memorized and recited many times the poem by John McCrae who died in World War I after penning the lines that would resonate through the years. The first few lines read like this: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place, and in the sky, The larks, still bravely singing, fly, Scarce heard amid the guns below.”

P.S. At Wal Mart today veterans are giving red poppies as they have done for as long as I can remember. It’s a good time to tell them how much we appreciate them and make a donation. Tomorrow at our church veterans from each branch of service will be recognized.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Button Party

IMG_1069

Busy buttoners: Annette Harrell, Angela Jordan, Gloria Hobby and Juanita Jordan

Juanita, our leader, presented the idea at our women’s mission meeting. She had made thirty little girls’ dresses to go in Operation Child Christmas boxes. Would we like to get together and sew on the buttons? We were all excited about the opportunity.

I woke the day of our gathering with great anticipation for the day ahead. A button party at my house! I put ingredients for corn chowder in my big soup pot, and baked a loaf of pumpkin/banana bread. The aroma from the kitchen, I hoped, would be inviting as everyone arrived. Because of schedule conflicts, only four ladies came but we had a wonderful time.

We sat around a card table chatting and sewing. Juanita had attached a set of buttons on a safety pin to each little dress, and even marked the button sites with a pen. She had brought a box full of various colors of thread. All I could add were a couple pair of scissors and some bottles of water.

As we worked, Juanita gave us some more background as to how she got started making these dresses. “I’ve been given stack after bin full of material,” she said, “and I had to figure out how to use all this cloth wisely.”  She said that as her seamstress aunts gave up sewing they would give her all their material. Word got around that Juanita makes quilts, and friends began bringing their fabric. She laughed at herself as she told how overwhelmed she felt sometimes, yet would not turn down such nice gifts.

“I think God gave me the idea of making little girls’ dresses. I’d made plenty for my little girls as they were growing up but now I have no little ones. I called Samaritan’s Purse to see if they could use so many dresses. I couldn’t take on filling thirty Christmas boxes.”

The Samaritan’s Purse representative was thrilled over the prospect of colorful girls’ dresses in varying sizes. She told Juanita to send them in a separate container when our church sends Christmas boxes to Atlanta for processing. As volunteers go through the boxes, sometimes they need one more item to make a box complete. That’s when they select one from additional donations, like Juanita’s bin of dresses.

The dresses are adorable, each one different from any other.

IMG_1070

Ready for Operation Christmas Child!

They are sizes two to ten, each one colorful and variously decorated with rick-rack, ribbons, ruffles, and pockets. One little dress I sewed buttons on had three pockets across the front. I could imagine a little girl picking up pebbles to put in her pockets! Some have sleeves, others are like jumpers.

We talked about the little girls, somewhere around the world, who might wear these practical, yet festive garments. I could almost hear the giggles of the children as they play in their new frocks. Someone reminded us of when we used to wear flour sack dresses and how pretty they could be. Annette remembered that once, when she was small, another child sang out for all to hear, “Annette’s wearing a flour sack dress.” Annette answered something like, “Don’t you wish your Mama made you one too?”

Angela showed us the head bands she has crocheted, one to go with each of the little dresses.

IMG_1074

What beautiful work, Angela!

It was a wonderful morning of sharing stories about grandchildren, the old days, and new tips for our aches and pains. But our chatter always came back around to the joy of being involved in a worldwide endeavor.

After lunch, our little group began to disperse. There were five dresses still buttonless. I will take three to Mary Alice who couldn’t come and really wanted to help. The other two I finished myself. It was my treat–like relishing the last bite of pie!

Do you have your Christmas boxes ready? There’s still time! Our church’s deadline is November 11, others may be later. Get a box at your church or the Grady County Baptist Association office and head to the store!

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Return of the Song–a book review

IMG_1044

I am so happy to recommend to all my readers the book Return of the Song by Phyllis Clark Nichols. Every now and then we find a book that we can simply enjoy and feel uplifted at the end. This is one of those. Featuring Caroline, a young woman who has lost her love and her music, the story also involves an autistic musical genius in the body of a little girl. I am excited that this is only the first of The Rockwater Series and that I will meet these and many other interesting characters of Phyllis’ creation again.

The tragic death of her fiancé only weeks before their wedding throws Caroline into sorrow and despair. An accomplished musician, she had written a song for her bridegroom, his wedding gift. Only, she hadn’t finished it before his death. She continues to play the piano at a small town church, to teach piano, and to respond to the needs around her. But all the time her heart feels empty of the music she loved so much. She can no longer compose. She plays more like a robot and, though her music is beautiful, those close to her like Sam and Angela in whose cottage she lives, recognize the depth of her sorrow.

Caroline remembers the joy she once had playing the piano her father gave her when a child.  When hard times came he had to sell the piano, not just any piano, a 1902 Hazelton Brothers piano, worth more money by now than Caroline could possibly afford. She has a dear baby grand, but she wonders where her old piano is. She wants to know who owns it now and maybe, just maybe, be able to play it one more time.

As if trying to track down a rare piano is not enough mystery for Caroline, she has a midnight visitor who plays perfectly her own unfinished song which no one else has ever even heard, then dashes away before Caroline can see who it is.

Following the trail of her old piano brings surprising and life changing results. Not only does the search take her from her small Georgia town of Moss Point to a dream mansion in Kentucky, but it takes her to a friendship with wealthy businessman and music enthusiast Roderick Adair who has his own deep longings.

Mystery and pathos, laughter and tears, all are part of this lovely story. Phyllis Clark Nichols has woven a wonderful tale. Your faith will be refreshed when you lay it down. Read it soon so you’ll be ready for Suite #2 of the Rockwater stories.

Phyllis is herself an accomplished pianist. She “enjoys art, books, nature, cooking, travel, and stories about ordinary people who live extraordinary lives.” She lives with her husband in the Texas Hill Country. Her other books include Christmas at Grey Sage and Silent Days, Holy Night (October 2018). I’m going out to look for that last one!

 

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Apple Doings

T

IMG_1045

Children so enjoy a fresh apple!

he joys of the apple season bring my taste buds and sense of smell alive. Invariably, tastes and scents bring back thoughts of other times, in this case wonderful times. My brothers, for several years as teenagers, picked apples in the fall. Hardeman Orchard was a big one in Habersham County then in the early 1950’s. They grew Arkansas Blacks, Red and Golden Delicious, Winesaps, Rome Beauties, Jonathans, and McIntosh, as well as more I can’t remember. You could ride anywhere in the county and see orchards on hillsides, trees hanging heavy with red, gold, and wine colored apples.

Stan and Charlie often brought apples home with them at the end of a backbreaking day. I was envious of them because their stories of their days’ work sounded so exciting. But I was too young to carry a bag on my shoulder, climb a ladder, and fill the bag with pecks of apples. I helped make their sack lunches and waited expectantly in the late afternoon to see what kind of apples they brought home.

When the boys passed out the apples, it was like Christmas. Sometimes I couldn’t wait to bite right into my apple; other times I might hoard it until later. We had contests to see who could eat an apple closest to the core (I could eat the whole core excepting the seeds!) and who could peel an apple with no break in the peeling. Daddy bought bushels of apples which Mamma canned after we all helped with peeling, paring, slicing. She also made applesauce, cobblers, and fried apple pies. One year we even dried sliced apples but I think Mamma decided that was more trouble than it was worth.

There aren’t that many apples in Habersham County anymore. The growers became discouraged when spring after spring, their crops were ruined by a late freeze. The hills are planted in pines now, or verdant with green pastures where cattle graze.

But in Ellijay, Georgia, apples are still in abundance. Our son’s family recently went to Ellijay for an Ashley family gathering. Included in their weekend were chances to pick apples, eat fried apple pies, and drink that wonderful apple cider. I’d forgotten the beautiful red-gold cider until William Jr’s text about their weekend. Then I was reminded of some fun family times enhanced by tall glasses of the sweet/tart drink.

We stopped on the way home from North Georgia to buy apples at a fruit stand. I asked where they were from and was glad to know they were from Georgia, though Ellijay instead of Habersham County as of yore. I gleefully picked two or three of several varieties: Galas, Golden and Red Delicious, Arkansas Black, and Rome Beauties. The woman running the stand told us, in reply to our question as to how long she’d been “doing this,” that she had been working with apples since she was twelve years old, working first with her father, now for herself.

The apples are so crisp, sweet, and tasty! I cooked some yesterday and the aroma filled the house. Just the scent was worth it all. But the applesauce, mostly smooth but with tasty little chunks from apples that didn’t cook down as well–oh, it is delicious!

The rest of our apples will be in a bowl ready for the grandchildren when they come. When we moved here to “1010” where we have plenty of counter space, I determined I would always have a bowl of apples and/or bananas, in or out of season, for the children to enjoy. If they don’t like anything I cook they can always eat an apple. We slice them sometimes. Sometimes we cut them crosswise so we can see the star God placed in the middle. The children love applesauce and cobbler. But the very best is simply to eat a whole juicy apple, hear the snap as the first bite comes off, go sit in the swing eating, or wander around looking at butterflies and finally throw the core in the bushes.

All this talk about apples makes me think of that Bible verse that has to do with the language we choose to use. I think Solomon must have liked apples too.

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.  Proverbs 25:11

Enjoy your apples!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized