Monthly Archives: January 2014

Briar Patch Rewards

“And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” Ezekiel 36:27 (NIV)

The book of Ezekiel reminds me of our largest, thickest briar patch at my Pinedale home in north Georgia. The briars were mean and cutting to our skin, yet there were beautiful big juicy blackberries hanging amongst the bristles. How to get to them? We wore thick clothing and heavy shoes and formed trails or “tunnels” into the briar patch, meandering this way and that so that we could reach the beautiful fruit. Some of the best berries glistened on thorny branches in the middle of the sunny hillside berry patch sparsely shaded by an occasional pine tree. The scratches we sustained burned and itched. But, in the end, rounded buckets of berries were worth the pain, especially when Mamma made a huge blackberry cobbler.

I read lines and lines of ominous passages in Ezekiel, many of which I do not understand. Then, suddenly, a verse stands out as if in bold print and I hear God’s voice speaking to me from the pages. I have tunneled through the briars and the fruit is wonderful!

The verse today is one of those treasures. God will put His Spirit in you, in me, and move, or urge, or prod me to follow His ways and to keep His commandments. Really? He will take such careful notice of me? Of course I’m putting my name, as you can do yours, in the place of Israel, His Chosen People, because, according to Paul’s writing, we have been adopted into His family when we come to Him and ask to become His sheep. Through the blood of His Son Jesus we become, too, His Chosen Ones. And He puts His Spirit within us!

What exactly does that mean? It means that, in addition to being created in the “image of God,” we become actual children of God and He breathes His own self into our spirits. He becomes one with us. He puts in us the “mind of Christ,” (Philippians 2:5); He gives us spiritual gifts of love, longsuffering, kindness, etc. (Galatians 5:22); and He makes us able to do “all things through Him Who strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13).

He has put His Spirit within you! What a shining piece of “fruit” in the middle of Ezekiel! I will treasure this realization, this revelation of truth. It is yours, too, for the picking! But it means so much more if you read all of Ezekiel and hear the rumble of God’s authority and might all the way through. When you feel the deep scratches of those briars, the fruit is so sweet a reward!

 

My Prayer: Lord, I know that every word in the Bible is very important, but in my weakness and ignorance I find a lot of trouble understanding many passages. But I am so happy to hear your voice today and I want to have your Spirit within me and to obey your decrees and commands.

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Alabama Snow

Alabama Snow

This photo was taken by my son another time, another place. It seems appropriate right now as C-O-L-D is gripping much of our nation. Even the sunny south is shivering in single digit temps part of the time, though most of us have yet to see snow! My son travels over central Alabama selling pharmaceutical supplies to veterinarians. He took this in a park one day, I believe, where he’s stopped for some exercise. He sends me both digital pictures and gives me vocal descriptions of the places he sees. A “cool” way to keep in touch!

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January 22, 2014 · 9:08 pm

Doing the Next Thing

The house is suddenly quiet. I can hear the refrigerator, the washer, the dryer, the ashes settling in the fire, the hum of the computer. All weekend we were surrounded with dear, wonderful family members coming in, going out, eating together, singing together, crying together and laughing a lot. Now they’re all gone back to their homes, their jobs, and their schools.

My mother-in-law died Friday morning and her funeral was yesterday afternoon. Her daughter’s house, where she had been living, was the gathering place for a host of Mama’s family–children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces, nephews, close friends, everyone. Cousins became much better acquainted with each other as they played ball, hide and seek, etc. Hidden talents were on display at the jam sessions on Friday and Saturday nights when people who are usually quiet and don’t say much were suddenly center stage with guitars in hand. We learned more and more about the dear lady we were celebrating as more and more yarns spun out.

We laughed and shed tears almost at the same time as we prepared for that funeral, a funeral which Elizabeth Morris Graham herself had planned so well that we had nothing to do but celebrate her wonderful life. My husband, her oldest son, did ask to be on the program as he wanted to eulogize his mother. “My speaking was not part of her plan,” he said in his opening, “but I want you to know a little bit about my mother that she wouldn’t tell you.”

He told us about how she grew up in depression years moving frequently from one share cropping farm to another, seldom able to finish one school year at the same place she started. She got involved in a church called New Shiloh as a young person and at the age of sixteen became a Christian. She married JB when she was nineteen and they had three children. She worked hard in the field, in the home, and in the community. But come
Saturday she’d be getting her family ready for church, even JB who early on was not a believer. My husband said she’d iron and cook and cream bushels of corn but she’d also read her Bible and make sure each child got ready for his/her Sunday school lesson. She taught them to tithe and help pay for their own clothes with money they earned from picking cotton.

She was a member of a little country church called Merrillville Baptist for 63 years before, as a widow, she moved in with Charles’ sister Revonda and joined First Baptist Thomasville. There she became a familiar figure rolling her walker in to Sunday school, no matter how much her humped-over back hurt, going to church, greeting every person she met with that eager smile of hers.

Her birthday was December 29 and on December 28 we gave her a big birthday party out at her old church in Merrillville. She had a lovely big cake and was greeted by 145 family members and friends from her two churches. Just recovering from a bad back fracture, she reigned like a queen that day in her favorite chair as we all buzzed around her.

Two weeks later she had a massive stroke and now she’s gone to heaven.

Mama was a detailed planner, had never been able to go to bed until her house was in perfect order. So it should have been no surprise to us that as she approached ninety she planned and replanned her funeral. She’d think of one more song she wanted at her service or one more detail for her obituary and Revonda would run it up to the funeral home. I told her she was going to plan it all so well, we’d have nothing to do. She’d just smile and shake her head–and keep on planning.

But we did have something to do. We celebrated her and had such a wonderful time looking at the pictures she’d given to the funeral home for her dvd showing (in her order, of course, with instructions not to change that order at all!) and enjoying her tons of friends of all ages. The music she’d selected was comforting and sweet and so very appropriate and performed with such passion and poise by her granddaughter-in-law Leigh Barwick and two friends.

And now today, as I adjust to a quiet house with no grandchildren running, tossing balls, hiding behind curtains, dashing out to feed the goats, I’m thinking of Mama Graham. I’m missing her already, missing that call she’d usually make to find out when our children got on the road. And I’m wondering what she’d do on a day like this when all the hoopla is over and there’s nothing left but the cleanup. We need to start this new chapter, a chapter without her, but just how do we do that? Well, of course, she’d tell me quickly what to do. Just do the next thing. Get busy and keep on going.

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The Day the Goats Went AWOL

This is a slice of life story. It is not intended to make any particular point, but if you find one, please let me know!

It started out as an ordinary day but ordinary days were a bit unusual for us right then. Following the death of my daughter, my granddaughter and her toddler daughter moved in with us. Allie was also in her third trimester awaiting another baby. So we had clicked into a different norm, a very expectant chapter.

That day a young mother who cleans for me had just arrived and was getting her mop water ready. I was starting to make a big kettle of soup to go with bread I’d just slid into the oven to bake. Allie and Cece were having cereal and watching the birds. The phone rang. A frantic voice relayed to me that all my goats were out in the park. The park is on the other side of the fence from our main pasture.

I quickly called Charles as Lily and I headed to the barn for a bucket of feed. Even as I touched his name on my phone, I groaned remembering he was twenty-five miles away at our Camilla office. “Do you have any other tips for getting the goats in other than calling them to eat?” I asked trying not to sound sarcastic. He wisely did not laugh as he said he’d send someone from the Cairo office to help me.

At that point I was still hoping it wasn’t really the whole herd. Neighbors are prone to get very excited about these things. If they see one or two goats they multiply the number to twenty immediately. But as Lily and I trod through soggy grass closer to the park my heart plummeted into my nice new sandals, already turning soupy. The whole herd really was out! A tree had fallen across our fence and those malicious goats had seen it as a super highway to freedom. They were greedily grazing near a quiet carousel. The good thing was they were sticking together, not spread out all over the park.

 I wished I’d taken time to change into good shoes as I climbed up on that fallen tree. Sandals were not good for crossing that slickery bridge. As I started across, Lily was almost in tears. “Miss Brenda, you’ll break something! Don’t do that!” I told her to keep beating on the feed bucket and stay where she was.

Two girls from the office arrived, cheerfully ready to round up goats. I scrambled through grapevines to retrieve the bucket over the fence from Lily and send her back to the house. “We’ve got this now,” I said confidently. “Once we get one goat to lead the way, they’ll follow her right back through here.” 

After some bucket-beating and maneuvering we had two girls behind them and me at the fence with the feed. They were within a breath of walking back across that log. And, in case you don’t know it, goats really love to climb and walk on things like bridges. Remember “The Three Billy Goats Gruff”?

But at that particular moment a big dog barked not far away and a neighbor yelled from another direction. The goats scattered, running as if a wolf were after them, some toward the street, some toward the closed-in basketball court, some heading towards town. It took us thirty minutes to gather them up again. This time we had the brilliant idea of penning them up in the basketball court. It’s really an old tennis court and has high fence all around. But–one of the two gates was broken and of course the goats figured that out right quick. They were now in high gear. There was no stopping them. They were running and leaping and cavorting, not one herd anymore but fifteen wildly excited goats gone AWOL.

We had to split up, one to follow goats heading down a street to the cemetery, another to try to head the northbound ones back towards home, and a third to direct traffic. By now cars were stopping along First Street and lots of advice was being yelled from open windows but no one was getting out to help. Finally one dear man did help us. Violet begged him for a ride from three blocks away after she’d run goats until she had no breath left! She said he thought she was having a heart attack.

When we finally got them in and fastened gates around the small pasture so goats could not get to their wonderful bridge again, I counted and thought we were missing one little goat. The girls were sure, too, that they’d seen one going under a house in the next block. But after prodding and peering around that house we found nothing and heard no bleating.

“Let’s go home,” I said. “And if anyone asks, yes, I’d love to sell every last one of these goats. In fact, I’d sell them real cheap, as in for nothing!”

Those two girls, their faces bright red from running so much, were the best of sports. We all ended up in my kitchen gulping cool water and enjoying the smell of fresh-baked bread.

I took off my sandals. My pretty new sandals were now hideous, mud-smeared things. I dumped them in the trash. At that moment Allie informed me that the friend I was to meet for lunch had called and wondered where I was. I looked down at my torn, muddy bedraggled self and found the grace to start laughing.

 

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How Do You Worry?

While giving a devotional at a nearby assisted living home I asked the residents in my small group how they worry. They looked at me with very puzzled expressions. One shrugged, and then said she doesn’t worry. Others were quiet. I prodded a little. How about when someone didn’t do their task just as they’d like it done? How about when a friend spoke sharply to them? How about when they learned family members were sick or having some other trouble? How about world news?

Slowly their faces showed they were somewhat involved in worry. But one insisted she doesn’t worry, that she just trusts in God. I told her that’s exactly what she needs to do. But then I added, “What if you did worry, how would you do it?”

Silence. A shrug or two. Eyes facing their laps. (“What is this crazy woman trying to do, make us start worrying?”)

Yes, I began to tell them how to worry. By thinking about the problem, whatever it is. Thinking and thinking and thinking. All day long, maybe all night long.

Understanding appeared in their sweet wrinkled faces. Slowly they began to express some worries they had. One had been very irritated by an attendant at the home who wouldn’t make her bed the way she wanted it. Another has a friend who isn’t well.

Having established how we worry–by holding onto some thought as stubbornly as a bulldog gnaws his favorite bone–then I could tell them that prayer works the same way, only it’s positive and good and brings peace. When those worrisome thoughts try to take over we need to replace them with prayers.

Paul in Philippians 4:8 tells us some things to think on, prayer thoughts to send the worries away: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

We spent a few minutes thinking about what is true, honest, just, pure, lovely and of good report. The Bible is true, they said. They named folks who are honest. We decided God is just, the weather is just, time is just, same for every one of us. Babies are pure, God is pure, newfallen snow is pure. Our grandchildren are lovely (most of the time!) as well as camellia blossoms, birds perched on a branch, smiles of friends. And we talked about the report that so many folks have come to know the Lord through Billy Graham’s recent video, that the Lord is still using Billy Graham in his nineties to bring thousands to become children of God.

We are worrisome creatures. We worry about almost everything, our fingernails, our credit cards, our doctor’s appointments, our dinner menu, our children, our church, whether it will rain or whether it won’t rain, etc. etc. Deciding not to worry doesn’t work nearly as well as deciding to replace worry with prayer. Next time the train is taking forever to pass and you’re drumming your fingers on the steering wheel in impatience, begin to pray for the conductor and other employees on the train, pray for the people behind you, and thank the Lord the signal stopped you so you’re safe watching the train and not in front of it!

 

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Knitting for World Vision

Several years ago I started knitting one sweater a year for the Guideposts program of supplying sweaters to cold children all around the world. It was always fun to think and pray for whoever the child might be who wore my sweater. Two years ago I had breast cancer and that year I couldn’t make a sweater. I started knitting hats for bald heads instead! This year I thought along about July that maybe I’d knit another sweater before Christmas. But I also felt compelled to make little knitted slippers for my three young grandchildren and my five great grandchildren. Along about December 15 I realized there was no way I would make the Guideposts sweater. I did finish the little shoes.

Two days ago I received a piece of mail from World Vision saying they are now in charge of the sweater project, though still in cooperation with Guideposts. And they said we knitters are welcome to send sweaters any time of the year, not just at Christmas! After all, there are parts of the world that are very cold while we’re having summer!

So I have begun my “Guideposts” sweater and am thrilled to be a part of this project again! If you would like to be a part also of Knit for Kids, go online at www.worldvision.org/knitforkids and you’ll find instructions and encouragement! The sweaters are not hard at all to make and you may choose bright fun colors with which to knit! And you can pray for the child while you knit! You will most certainly be blessed!

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Kumquat Harvest!

It was a wintry 42 degrees yesterday afternoon, windy and sunny. The temp was to drop to low 20’s, it was predicted. Time to harvest the kumquats from our one four-foot productive little tree. My grandson and I clipped and picked two grocery bags full and brought them to the kitchen sink. I washed them, halved them, and seeded them, then pureed them in a blender. We had given many away during the Christmas season, but still froze enough for two batches of kumquat marmalade (about 16 half-pints) and have enough left to cook some interesting recipes, like kumquat cake and refrigerator kumquat pie. We left enough on the tree that we may still eat as we go by if they’re not frozen.

The little kumquat tree has been so merry and bright all fall as the round, tart yet almost sweet, globes ripened. Now it is stripped (almost!) but in just a few weeks, couple of months, it will be blooming again! Such a busy little tree!

I feel refreshed and blessed by the growth, productivity, and beauty of this little kumquat tree! And I will so enjoy making the marmalade and other citrus delights!

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