Monthly Archives: December 2017

Gift From “Miss Annie”

Whether growing lemons, crocheting angels, teaching English in the ESL program, or playing the piano at her church, “Miss Annie,” as she’s often called, is the personification of kindness mixed with creativity. She would quickly add that she’s simply responding to the love of Jesus and her main aim is to glorify Him.

I’d like to tell you about the Christmas gift Miss Annie gave me. But, first, let me tell you a little about Miss Annie.

I first met Anne Parks in 1968 when my husband and I visited the church where her husband was pastor and she was pianist. We chose to join a different church but have always been friends since then and, a little later, became co-workers in literacy missions. Anne and I first took a literacy course in about 1972, learning how to “each one teach one” in the Frank Laubach adult reading ministry. Then, about twenty-three years later, we both took a weekend course to be eligible for teaching English to folks of other languages. All along, she has inspired me with her enthusiasm and love for the Lord. She never fails to have some new neat idea for teaching. She and I can have an exultant conversation in the middle of Walgreen’s or wherever we meet as we talk about “our children” of all ages.

Anne and her husband Lester were very, very close. When he died suddenly of a heart attack her life changed drastically. But she held her head high and constantly looked for ways to help other people, thus assuaging her grief. The Lord comforted her, she said, in so many different ways, some kind of odd. She tells of a time when she felt very lonely. Her brother also had just died and she was tending his garden and wondering just how she would endure the long rows of peas and corn without even a dog to keep her company. She prayed, she says, that something, or someone, would fill the terrible holes in her life. In less than five minutes she heard a hassling sound, a dog coming down the row. That dog she viewed as an instant answer to prayer. She stayed at her side all day every day, then went home at night. “Miss Annie” laughed and said she had a dog and didn’t even have to pay his bills.

So—that Christmas gift I mentioned. Annie left it at the animal hospital for me, so Charles came in with it one night when he came home from work. It was a generous box of fruit from hers and her neighbor’s yards: grapefruit, lemons, satsumas, and nuts. I laughed when I saw what she had wrapped each globe of citrus in. She used old patterns, the perfect weight of paper for wrapping lemons! Her note indicated she was recycling and if I wanted an outfit made with the pattern I could keep the pieces. This was a reminder of another characteristic of my special friend. She is a very good steward of whatever the Lord has given her and considers waste a sin.

But the best part of the gift was right on top. It was a photocopied poem she’d written. I knew she must have put copies in other gift boxes she prepared. Around the edges of the paper she’d written in bold black marker “Thank you–For Your Gift of Jesus….Blessed Christmas”

Here’s the poem:

Thank You Lord

Just this once, Lord, I want to come to You with no problems, but to simply say: THANK YOU…

For your forgiveness when I fail.

For the sheer joy of sleep when I’m terribly tired.

For the silent strength of humility when pride overtakes me.

For the justice of your laws when men are cruel.

For the remedies for sickness when I am ill.

For the simplicity of orderliness when I face confusion.

For the assurance that you have made a place especially for me when I feel inadequate among my peers.

For the joy of helping others when I see people in need.

For the earthly evidences of your will when I’m trying to find out what life is all about.

For the reality of your world when I stray too far into fantasy.

For the rightness of reason when I panic too quickly.

For the fun and laughter that refreshes when everything gets too serious.

For the renewal in moments of silence when I’m dizzy being so busy in a hectic world.

Thank you, my Lord, for all these things. But most of all, thank You for your abiding presence, and your Book of Directions I can read daily. Your WORD–for directions and how to live a fulfilled life… THANK YOU MY LORD!  —A.T.P.

May we, like Miss Annie, write our thank you letter to Jesus.





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A White Christmas

We nearly always had a nice snow during North Georgia winters. But seldom right at Christmas. One year it happened.

When you waken on a snowy morning the first thing you notice is the quietness, a peaceful amazing quietness. Not that I minded the sounds of birds singing, someone chopping wood, pans banging in the kitchen. But the silence was very special. The next thing you might notice is the strange snow light on the ceiling, a soft almost eerie light. Waking to a white Christmas is like no other.

As was traditional in our family, we’d had our gift giving on Christmas Eve night. So Christmas morning was all about a big breakfast, performing chores quickly, and then playing with our gifts. But with snow whitening the whole world, our very first thought was to dash outside and make tracks in the soft crunch of accumulation.

There’s nothing more exciting, I think, than to follow a trail of rabbit tracks and then look back on your own trail of deeper footprints. The snow was still falling and we squealed in delight as we caught cool flakes on our tongues. Before long we were engaged in a brisk snowball fight, ambushing each other from behind bushes, feeling cold wetness down our necks, laughing at the sight of our wonderful snowman, complete with a windblown scarf and someone’s stocking hat flopped down over one pinecone eye.

Our hands, though covered with brand new mittens, were frozen to a numb ache. Mamma called us inside for biscuit bread and cocoa. Mamma’s cocoa was like none other. She made a big pot of it with cocoa powder, sugar, and milk and, at Christmas, even a big marshmallow floating in each cup like a melting snowy mountain. We giggled and jabbered over our breakfast before running out to enjoy the snow some more.

Cardboard boxes made sleds for us to plummet down hillsides, barely missing big pine trees. Some time before the snow stopped falling Mamma provided us with a large kettle to fill with perfectly clean snow found in a drift. She added sugar and cream and we all happily ate our snow cream, more delicious than any “store bought” ice cream.

The white Christmas I’m remembering Stan had received a plastic flute. Being extremely versatile with any instrument, he began playing a range of tunes from “Jingle Bells” to “Silent Night,” from “Comin’ Round the Mountain” to “Old McDonald,” and even snatches of the “Battle Hymn.” The sound of his flute seemed to echo extra brightly from the snow laden forest hills.

Speaking of snow laden, some of the delights of a nice soft snow are discovering tiny drifts on holly leaves and hearing the muffled shifting sound as trees seem to shrug off their added shawls. I particularly enjoyed the hemlocks laced with snow on their branches. It seemed magical the way every old brown stump or tacky winter bush became a thing of beauty.

I enjoyed vicariously my Birmingham grandchildren’s recent 7″ snowfall. It wasn’t at Christmas but it was an extra holiday and who wouldn’t be happy with that? They had such a wonderful snow day, just as we used to. Their dad was faithful to keep me posted on their Snow Day joys, knowing how much I love a snowy day–and the children!photo (6)

We have had a few nice snows in Grady County in our fifty years here. But even flurries are rare, and certainly not to be expected at Christmas.

But I am a hopeful creature so I will listen for that unusual quietness of white stuff on Christmas morning. And I will peer out the blinds to see if just maybe the yard is turned into a winter wonderland.

But whether sleet, snow, or dreary rain, or maybe even bright sunshine are ours, Christmas will happen.

And God’s powerful and imaginative love is just as sure.

Merry Christmas to All!


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Consider the Silence

Consider the SilenceHave you ever thought about the radical changes that occur in silence? When you plant a hard little brown jonquil bulb in cold November soil it makes no sound as it sits there for weeks. As it breaks through the ground in February there’s no big shout of freedom. It pops up and, miraculously, turns into a lovely flower. A butterfly in its cocoon is perfectly quiet and makes no fireworks when it explodes into colorful motion. There’s an awesome silence sometimes before a great storm.

There was a silence of four hundred years between the time that God’s last prophet spoke and the time when Jesus, Savior and Redeemer, broke through as a helpless baby one night in Bethlehem.

On Christmas Eve–after every stocking is hung, after every gift is wrapped, after the pies are baked and everyone is asleep–if you’re still awake you can hear the silence. It’s the silence of memory, the silence of reality, of things that have happened and events still to come. It may just be you, the Christmas tree, and a blanket to huddle in as you consider the silence that turned into a joyful song.

Put yourself out on a Judean hillside on a cold starry night watching your sheep. Other shepherds are there, too, caring for their ewes, rams, and lambs. You take turns sleeping perhaps, leaving one on watch. It’s your turn to be that one. You stir the low fire and huddle around it. You grip your shepherd’s staff and pound it into the hard ground just keeping yourself awake. You look up at the millions of stars and think how very quiet it is out there–only the tiniest little sound of shifting coals in the fire and then a whimper of a little lamb nuzzling its mama.

Suddenly–the sky explodes with light so bright you shield your eyes. All the other shepherds are awake now cringing from the light, trembling with the shock of this sudden change. And then the angel–talking to all of you (you’ve never before seen an angel, but somehow you know this unbelievably bright figure is an angel). The angel says: “Don’t be afraid. I’m bringing you good tidings of great joy for you and everyone.” What is he talking about? Who is this?

Today in the city of David is born a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. You will find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.”

What? Can this possibly be…? Is this about the promised Messiah we’ve heard about all our lives?

And then–out there where it’s been so quiet all your whole life–the sky is filled with many angels, a host of angels, singing (or saying), “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill to men.”

You stare up at them overwhelmed by the light, the brilliant colors, the sounds, particularly the sounds. The sounds of the voices and the rustle of angels’ wings and then music, indescribable music, simply overcome you. You cannot breathe but it doesn’t matter. You don’t need breath. You want to listen from now on and on forever.

And then they leave. It’s quiet again. Except now it’s not so quiet because your sheep are all awake nudging and milling around from the great excitement. And the shepherds begin to come out of their shock and babble at each other unable at first to comprehend what has happened.

Shall we go? We must go! Yes! Let’s not delay.

You don’t want to waste a single minute. Hurriedly, one shepherd is chosen to stay with the sheep and you’re so relieved you weren’t picked. You suddenly become aware that you’re still gripping your staff and you move forward heading into Bethlehem, your heart pounding with unexplainable fear and ecstasy.

The silence now is broken by the quick footsteps of you and all the shepherds.

The angel’s directions seemed kind of vague: “wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger…”  How? Where? But somehow you all know exactly where to go and there, sure enough, in a stable, is a young mother hovering over a newborn babe lying in a manger.

You fall to your knees without even thinking. This is not just a baby. You know in your fast beating heart this is the Messiah. What do you say? You feel light pouring around you. It’s as if the darkness of all the ages is dispelled. Mary and Joseph are smiling down on you as you look up. They understand, at least they seem to. You know you’re mumbling something and you’re not sure it makes sense but as you gaze into the Babe’s tiny face His eyes actually open and you feel a gentle power emanating from that tiny form.

You and all the shepherds leave the stable in the greatest excitement. You know you will never be the same again. Everything is different now, the stars, the dark hills, the humble dwellings that you pass.

The silence is broken and you know you will be telling everyone you meet for the rest of your life about that night in Bethlehem. You will hurry back now to your sheep and tell that shepherd who had to stay behind.

Consider the silence–consider the song!

And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they had heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”

–Luke 2:17-19


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Yes, Joy!

IMG_1802In 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. That was the year I learned the deep difference between happiness and joy.

All ten of Mamma’s children and nine chosen ones, as well as thirty-three grandchildren and thirty 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, a place where 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, a place to 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!).

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. We gathered each night around Mamma’s bed 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 Mamma wouldn’t be with us at the big Christmas tree at her house this year. In fact, some of her last words had been that she wouldn’t be seen 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 Mamma’s silent form and to the accompaniment of her struggled breathing. But I was determined to do it. When one of us dropped out of the singing, others took up the slack. Nurses, who had ignored hospital rules to let us overcrowd Mamma’s room, told us, their eyes moist, how much our faith and–yes, joy!–meant to them as we sang Mamma to heaven, her flight to perfect peace finally 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 Mamma’s handkerchiefs. But I knew how much she 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 might still make it through. I knew how she loved to see the incredible awe in the children’s faces when a real live Santa Claus came walking 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–joy, not happiness.

And 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 small family cemetery, all of them wanting her place of rest to be personally and perfectly right. My daughter 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 for us.”

So, yes, joy does spring up in the midst of sorrow. I know that is true. The words to the wonderful carol Joy to the World remind us that Jesus is the source of all true joy.

Joy to the world! the Lord is come;

                                                   Let earth receive her King;

                                                    Let every heart prepare Him room,

                                                    And heav’n and nature sing,

                                                    And heav’n and nature sing,

                                                    And heav’n, and heav’n and nature sing.

–Words adapted from Psalm 98 in 1719 by Isaac Watts




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Just Around the Corner…


My dad’s paintings are characterized by slight paths, hints of trails, or even dim traces of roads once traveled through stands of trees. The trails always curve out of sight. In the distance are the mountains, his beloved Blue Ridge Mountains.

Dad said life is like that–curves, mountains in the distance, and surprises just around the corner.

In nature the surprises may be: a waterfall, a doe in the trail, a hawk winging suddenly across the path. Or, on the dark side, a rattler coiled defensively, or a chasm with no way across. In everyday life surprises may be from an unusual encounter with an old friend, a flood in the basement, or a phone call from someone in dire need. It might be the spotting of a bird you haven’t seen lately. We have a lovely wood thrush visiting our feeder this week. I hadn’t seen one in a long time, his coloring similar to a brown thrasher yet with a beautifully speckled breast, a plumper bird without as lengthy a tail, and one with an unforgettably beautiful song.

For you, a surprise might be an exciting announcement concerning life–a baby expected, a job secured, a move into a new house, a visit from the Tooth Fairy, a good grade achieved. We in our church are thrilled over two of our families increasing their numbers by adopting special needs children, one little Chinese boy to each family. It will be an especially blessed Christmas for them and us–and a big corner turned!

Maybe you’re “down on your luck.” Maybe you’ve seen far more of a hospital this year than you’d ever want to see. Maybe you dread Christmas because it reminds you too much of someone you sorely miss. You’d really like to do like John Grisham and just skip Christmas. Maybe you’re even “between a rock and a hard spot,” a very distressing place to be.

But…just around the corner…

There’s a full horizon-to-horizon rainbow–or a child’s portrait of you in full magic marker color–or you weigh and realize you’ve finally lost those ten pounds.

Just around the corner…God has a new truth to show you, there are hugs for you, there is a “way out,” there is a panoramic view you would have missed if you hadn’t plodded along the rough and discouraging path.

Remember O’Henry’s story, “The Gift of the Magi”? A young couple facing very hard times determines, each on their own, to give an extravagant Christmas gift that will say “I love you” to the other. She sells her hair to buy him a watch fob. He sells his watch to buy her a beautiful comb to hold her hair. When they exchange gifts it’s an “around the corner” thing. They are even poorer than before–but their love outshines the drabness of their humble flat, and they are filled with courage for the future.

God has planned really good things for you. Some are wrapped in shiny tinsel. But many are wrapped in rough burlap. Some are even on the other side of some tough mountain. Be alert. Be aware of every opportunity. Because just around the corner is someone who needs you or just around the next curve is a surprise you will not want to miss!

Bless him, Charles just “came around the corner” with a five gallon bucket of beautiful orange satsumas picked for us by Candace, the new owner of our beloved old house. A taste of “home.”

So–time now to bake a pie, decorate the tree, get out your Christmas card list–and get ready for what is just around the corner!

“Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”

Psalms 103:5

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