Monthly Archives: May 2020

Annie’s Chapel

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You never know when you’re going to round a corner and plunge right into a refreshing surprise. It happened to us last week. Our plan to “drive by” Annie Parks’ yard to see her multiple lily beds became an introduction to a very unusual Covid-19 ministry.

Charles and I had delivered a book to a friend near Old Egg Road. Driving on from there, I realized we were very near Annie’s house and proposed we go by just to see her pretty flowers. When we turned the corner onto Elkins Road I spied Annie down on the ground under an azalea pulling weeds. We stopped to wave but Annie jumped up and called out, “Come on, let me show you my chapel. You can drive right to it. You’ll be safe.”

In amazement we followed this spry little woman who called out and pointed to this flower and that bush, even adding bits of history as we crept along. Annie was born in the big frame house she now lives in and has fond memories of growing up there. She stopped along the way to tell us about a tree now gone under which she kept the babies and children of the cotton pickers. “Some of the mothers wanted me to make frocks (dresses) for their little girls so Mama let me have the pedal sewing machine out here under that tree.”

But it’s another tree past that spot, a wide spreading oak tree, that is the setting for Annie’s present ministry. It’s what she calls her chapel. Under the tree spaced at least six feet apart are five wire “baskets” turned upside down to serve as seats. These baskets, Annie explained, were covers for tobacco barn heaters. Annie discovered a neighbor about to throw these old things away and claimed them, not knowing what she would do with them. But then the Lord gave her the idea of having an outdoor prayer chapel during the pandemic and very soon she knew what she could do with those old wire baskets. Next to the trunk of the tree is a large tight cooler holding towels to make the seats more comfortable and a stack of paper plates. The plates are not for serving food. Annie laughed and said, “I don’t feed the people who come. We just read scripture I’ve printed on the plates and then we pray. That’s all.”

Annie, who is “going on 88,” is the only family member left in her generation. But she has no spare time for being lonely or taking her rest. Under normal times she is organist at her church, teaches Sunday school as well as an ESL class, crochets, grows and preserves vegetables, and keeps a colorful yard year round. If mayhaws are ripe, Annie will be harvesting. If the lemon tree is bearing, Annie will be picking every one to share with friends and to freeze for making her own lemonade.

The Lord is Annie’s constant and “ever present” help when things are good and when they are bad. When the “home shelter” started she suddenly couldn’t go out to work at her ministries in town. She explains that she didn’t really beg the Lord to show her what she should do. “He took the initiative,” she says. “I just felt this warmth in my chest and I thought about those tobacco covers and my tree and I knew what to do. I don’t advertise it. Folks find out by word of mouth.”

Folks pull up to Annie’s house and blow their horn. Annie leads them to her chapel just as she did us that day. “I never know who’s coming,” she says, “but friend or stranger they are all welcome. We just talk to the Lord and then they’re on their way.”

Speaking of the tree, the home of her chapel, she says her grandfather, Christopher Columbus Miller, told her it was as old as the historic Big Oak in Thomasville. It has been through many storms including last year’s hurricane but, having lost only one limb, is sturdy as ever and makes a wonderful canopy of shade for the pray-ers.

We didn’t sit on Annie’s wire seats but she gave us each Bible verse plates which we read out loud. Then, standing safely back from our car window, she prayed for us that we would be blessed and be a blessing, that we would stay healthy and strong. Charles prayed for her too, thanking God for this special praying lady. There were three of us there under the oak tree, no four. Jesus was there!

We left feeling refreshed and ready for the next thing. I think Annie returned to pulling weeds. I’m sure she was talking to the Lord while she worked. She told us she had even asked God one day for a dog she wouldn’t have to take to the vet. And right soon Rufus, a sweet black mutt, showed up. He stays at Annie’s during the day, then goes home to his “other family” at night.

When I called to ask Annie if I could write about her and her chapel this week, she readily agreed. “But it isn’t my chapel; it’s the Lord’s. Be sure you give Him the honor and the glory. He’s the one who sends me folks needing prayers, like the couple down the road who left a few minutes ago.”

As I said, you never know when you’re going to turn a corner and find a wonderful surprise. Maybe you’ll turn Annie’s corner one day.

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1

 

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Christmas Shepherds in May

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While cutting out and painting two shepherds and two sheep during “home shelter,” we’ve had a lot of time to think about what life might have been like for these men. We may often think about shepherds during December when we hear the dear account of Jesus coming to earth as a tiny baby. But what about the rest of the year? Could we catch a glimpse of a shepherd’s life, what he might have endured, how he may have thought?

The first day we worked on painting the shepherds we only did their cloaks, sashes, and headdresses. As we left them that evening they were still just cut out boards with paint on them. But the next day we painted their faces. Suddenly they became real, no longer just plyboard, but people.  One tall shepherd in gold caftan and green sash is holding a staff (that staff with its crook took some fine sawing on Charles’ part!) and has a look of awe on his face. The other shepherd is kneeling with eyes closed in worship. Even our feeble attempts at painting eyes, noses, hands and feet brought forth in us a feeling that these men could (almost) talk.

What might they say?

Shepherds are often cast as the lowliest of the low because of their grimy smelly job. As former sheep owners ourselves we can vouch for how messy and oily sheep shearing is. But shepherds were due a great deal of respect. They were the ones who raised those perfect lambs for temple sacrifices. One online source, Father Dwight Longenecker, declares the shepherds were not mere “country bumpkins” who would have only the vaguest idea of what the Angel’s announcement meant. After all, these shepherds and others in the fields raised up to 265,000 lambs for the Passover sacrifices each year.

Did you know that a Passover lamb was actually called “The Lamb of God”? Shepherds had to raise lambs that met very strict legal-religious regulations. Lambs could be no more than a year old when sacrificed. They had to be male with no spot or blemish. They had to be born within five miles of Jerusalem, Bethlehem being exactly that. When a lamb was born, if it were male and appeared to be perfect, the shepherd wrapped it in strips of cloth and laid it in a stone feeding trough until the priest could pronounce it worthy to be raised for sacrificing.

The shepherds would have understood better than most what the Angel meant when he said, “You will find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

Shepherds lived in the fields with their sheep all year, 365 days and nights, with no tent, no roof over their heads. They would have been so familiar with the seasons, with the sky at different times of year, as well as where the best grazing might be, and what predators might attack. A shepherd was veterinarian, shearer, husbandman, and trainer of bellwethers (lead sheep). He also tied the ewes onto lengths of rope for milking, usually done by women.

I have always treasured Luke’s account of the shepherds on Bethlehem’s hillside who were the first to hear the wonderful Good News. I’m grateful for the Sunday school teacher who prodded me to learn the passage that begins “There were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night.” But working with these figures has made me want to know more about these common men who were chosen above the elite to receive God’s message that night. They had to be men of great wisdom, God’s wisdom, who believed and followed the Angel’s directions, who worshiped in awe, and returned to the fields rejoicing, telling everyone they met what had happened.

What might these weathered men of the field have thought and said? I can imagine such broken sentences as: “Oh, God…” “Can this be?” “This–what just happened?” “Oh, dear Lord, the sounds, the lights…” “Praise be!”

As they walked to that stable or cave they may have been silent in stunned wonder. As they knelt before the King of Kings, I cannot think what they might say except “Oh, God!”

Our wooden, silent shepherds stand now under the eave of our green barn ready to be stored with other Nativity figures until December. It is raining but I can see them from my sewing machine window. It seems appropriate that they experience a good rain before they go into hiding. Shepherds of long ago would have rejoiced at receiving such a rain that would bring forth tender herbage for their sheep, as would present day shepherds in the same area.

A couple more morsels I gleaned from reading about shepherds and their sheep:

Skeptics say lambs were born in spring, not winter. In northern Europe and North America that is true. But in the Mideast, the Awassi sheep most common to the area, lambed in December.

The Awassi sheep have fat tails from whence they receive sustenance during the meagre grazing times.

As pointed out by Father Longenecker, Jesus was born in the same time, place, and with the same treatment (swaddling clothes, lying in a manger) as lambs that would be sacrificed.

I look forward to Christmas when we can add these figures to our Nativity scene. But–right now–I thank God for sending Jesus as a Babe and then as our sacrificial Lamb so that we can have abundance of life now and the prospect of eternal life in the glorious place He has reserved for us called Heaven. Maybe I’ll be able to talk to one of those rugged shepherds and find out more about how it was that starry night on a hill near Bethlehem.

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Family Picture

20200507_125431Last week we stood on the boardwalk at Cherokee Lake and watched two families of Canada geese gliding across the water, feeding on tender at the edges, all the time in perfect formation. I couldn’t help noticing a few similarities to human families. Could it be they get their pointers from the same Creator?

About once a week Charles and I go to Thomasville to deliver two hundred completed masks and pick up more for our team to sew. We make a fun excursion out of the errand, usually taking the opportunity to walk the mile around Cherokee Lake. We have always enjoyed watching Canada geese–flying in formation over our house from one lake to another, grouping in their black and white on the shores, flying in for such dramatic entries onto the water. But this time of the year is the best when the goslings are newly hatched. On that recent visit to Cherokee Lake we saw goslings out with their parents learning how to forage, how to follow directions, how to swim away across the lake staying together as a family.

The first family of geese was made up of the gander, the goose, and six downy teenage goslings. The second family had only five goslings and they were very young. I wished I could pick one up and feel its soft golden feathers but I knew that if I were so stupid as even to try such a thing I would be attacked viciously by both parents.

As we watched, the first family glided smooth as silk under the bridge where we were standing and went straight to the grassy shore. One goose was in front and one behind, consistently the same ones. We decided the one in front with the longer neck was the gander. He seemed always to be in charge, the goslings in a row behind him, then the goose swimming at the end of the line. On the shore, the goslings went greedily to work feeding on tender water grass while the parents stood guard, one on either side of their gaggle. Those parents were so alert.

The second family came quietly along crossing the water so effortlessly. They, too, swam under the bridge and the gander chose a different shore landing where they wouldn’t invade the first family in their feeding place. As the others had done, these parents stood watch over their young, necks stretched in alertness, one on either side of the foraging goslings. When it was time to move on, the gander gave a command in goose language that was quickly obeyed and all the family took to the water again.

Canada geese are some of the fowl that mate for life, or so I’ve read. (By the way, I always thought they were Canadian geese until some authoritative source made it clear they are Canada geese, a common name for Branta canadensis, not necessarily from Canada.) We were blessed to have a pair nest at our Pinedale pond years ago. As different ones of us went to stay with my mother who was in declining health we focused a lot of attention on the pair of geese and their nest. Someone, somehow, looked in the nest before the gander could attack and said there were three eggs.

Mamma enjoyed more than any of us the prospect of the eggs hatching, though she couldn’t go to the pond and see them. She loved to hear reports of how faithfully and zealously the goose parents watched their nest. Finally the eggs hatched and phone lines buzzed with the news as if a new heir to a kingdom had been born. Unfortunately, there were some mighty hungry and aggressive turtles in that pond so only one of the three downy goslings survived and he only lasted a couple of months. We were all so disappointed but still the goose and gander had each other, at least for a time.

We don’t know what happened to the gander but one day he was swimming with his mate making rippled reflections in the water. The next day she alone was there. We saw her swim around and around the small pond, then walk the shore, as if she were hunting for her sweetheart. After a few weeks she disappeared too. We found no pile of feathers so the hope was that she flew to another pond where other geese congregated. Did she really never mate again, never have more cute little goslings?

Watching those geese with their young at Cherokee Lake, I shuddered at the thought of the dangers they face. The predators of geese listed in a National Geographic article are such as eagles, coyotes, man, even skunks. But at this lake, as at our Pinedale pond, they also include turtles. There are a lot of turtles and they can sneak up from below and grab unsuspecting goslings by the legs. No wonder those geese are so protective of their young.

The next time we went to the lake I looked for those two families. I saw the family of five goslings. This time they were obviously a week older. Still, the young swam in a row with the gander in front and the goose behind. But this time one gosling dropped back and was swimming behind the mama, as if beginning to want his freedom. Watch out for turtles, little gosling! The family of older goslings seemed to be separated so we could hardly pick them out. The teenage goslings were experimenting life on their own.

As geese watch so carefully over their young, so do humans. The natural leader of the family is the father who may bark orders to the “gaggle” behind him, or more likely in their rooms, down the street, or trying out the refrigerator. The mother is like a bookend making sure the flock minds their manners and keeps their feathers preened (and their teeth brushed). There is an orderliness in the family when each knows his or her place. But sometimes, with the best of instructions from parents, one young one may creep out of safety, lag behind, try its freedom before it is quite ready to face danger. The little ones follow along observing every move their parents make. The older ones begin to try their own choices.

That family picture I took was a moment in time. Next time I see them those teenagers may be handsome beautiful geese with long sleek necks, strong legs, and sleekly perfect wings, all dressed up in black and white. Next year they may be the ones shepherding their young.

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Consider the Lilies

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Lilies of numerous varieties are blooming all around town. Friends have sent me gorgeous and amazing pictures. Lilies in our own yard are smiling and reminding us that, no matter how horrible the national news may be, God’s still on His throne. The day lilies right now are making a show. Several observations come to mind concerning these lilies.

Day lilies, as their descriptive name indicates, bloom only for a day. I brought some blossoms in the house, purposely picking stalks that had nice buds as well as blooms so there would be new ones the next day. I made the mistake years ago of using day lilies for a centerpiece at an evening supper party. They drooped way before the guests went home. But, I learned, this is not always the case. The ones I cut this week were still beautiful at 10:00. Then, the next morning, I walked into the kitchen and there were the spent yesterday’s blooms but, at 6:00 a.m., the new ones had already opened up bright and perky. Think about it. From 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. is a pretty long work day.

Still–it was only a day. I’m amazed at the intricate detail in each blossom, each petal, the vivid colors, and the designs that outshine any dressmaker’s creations. Our Master spent that much attention on flowers that would only bloom for one day? How much more attention he spends on the “apple of his eye,” humans!

Another observation on the short-lived lily. It does exactly what it was made to do during that one day. It blooms even on cloudy days. It puts forth knock-out perfection. It doesn’t talk or walk, worry or whine. It just blooms.

Did I say it doesn’t worry? That’s what Jesus said about the lily: “Consider the lilies; they toil not, neither do they spin. Yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

The lily, you say, has nothing to worry about. It has rain and sunshine and soil, it has daylight and dark, winter and spring. We, on the other hand, have many things to worry about–food, shelter, health, jobs, children, the state of the world, the future. But Jesus told his disciples not to worry, but to make their requests known to the Father, to forget trying to solve everything on their own and lean instead on the all-wise, all-powerful King of all Kings. Planning is good. Striving to do our best is good. Caring for one another is good. But worry? Worry causes deep wrinkles in our faces and in our health. I Peter 5:7 says: “Casting all your care upon him, for he careth for you.”

The casting of our cares on Him is a daily exercise; it doesn’t come naturally. Case in point, yesterday while I was writing this, I became drawn into a troubling situation and, yes, I worried! Then I looked at what I’d written in this blog and had to laugh. Leaning on Him is a daily and even hourly discipline.

Which leads me back to the day lilies. We plant the bulbs in beds, or rows, or just scattered about beside trees or bird baths. We put them where we want them. We divide the bulbs some years which makes them thrive. We share them with others or replant them to increase the number of gorgeous blooms. I remember my mother and her sister giggling in delight as they exchanged bulbs and other plants and vegetables. We brought some of our favorite lilies to our new home when we moved. If a friend, or relative, gives you a bulb, you remember that friend when your lily blooms.

As God, our Master Gardener, cultivates us we, too, can bloom where He plants us or be moved to other places. We can be used to spread the message of His goodness abroad. Sometimes the cultivation can be painful. But in God’s hands it can always bring forth beautiful blossoms.

Even in a pandemic, whether caused by Heaven or Hell, God is in the business of cultivating His human “lilies” to produce more beauty, to spread His mercy.

There is one other consideration of the lilies I want to mention. Charles is very good at discovering lilies forgotten in a thick growth of shrubs or hiding in a scramble of vines and rattlesnake weed. He so tenderly rescues the poor forgotten lilies and brings them to a safe garden with the others or plants them in a spot where a dash of color is needed. He has had a lot more time lately to clear overgrown corners and discover forgotten lilies.

God cares for the “forgotten” humans, too, more than they will ever know, especially if no one tells them.

I have always been enthralled with the majesty and mystery of day lilies. Years ago when I was “into” writing haikus, I penned this poem: If anything awes me more/Than a towering snow peak/It’s the golden heart of a lily.

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