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Hands Up


No, I’m not mixed up. I know it’s Easter, not Christmas. But this is my treasured hands poster, anytime of year!

The Lord God used such infinite skill in making human hands. Images of hands help us identify with the God Who made us. We picture God forming man in His own image, or spinning the stars into space with His fingers, or hiding Elijah in the cleft of a rock with His own hand.

Charles had a weird accident involving one hand years ago. He was inoculating a cow for brucellosis. The cow jerked and sent the syringe flying. Charles instinctively reached out to catch the syringe and received the cow’s shot in his own hand.

Whether from the syringe contents or its contaminants, Charles’ hand swelled, turned purple and black. His doctor put him on antibiotics but it got no better. He went to an orthopedic surgeon who told him the hand is so delicate and complex, so easily injured beyond repair, he would only do a lancing when all else failed. Three weeks after the accident, Charles’ hand swollen to grim proportions, the surgeon finally lanced the wound and it began to heal.

Our bodies are, according to the psalmist, “fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalms 139:14). But hands are especially “fearful and wonderful.” Think of all the actions of a hand: holding five cups at a time, grasping, clenching, petting, smoothing, tapping, banging, pulling, pushing, fisting, waving, prying, scrubbing, painting, writing, and the list goes on. Brush your hair, grate a carrot, clean a stovetop, knit, sew, twist a lid on or off, all thanks to the wonderful craftsmanship of your hands. Build houses, connect wires, create computers, open a door–yes, your hand at work!

Hands, specifically fingers, are part of our uniqueness. Your fingerprint establishes who you are. No one in the whole world has the very same fingerprint. I  discovered in working through some files a small card saved from many years ago. One of my children had made it in Sunday school, camp, or maybe Vacation Bible School. On red card stock a smaller white paper is glued. A child’s thumbprints placed carefully form the shape of a cross. Underneath on the white are the words: “When Jesus was on the cross, I was on His mind.”

Sign language is spoken with hands. The deaf can “read” shapes and signals of hands. A music director uses his hands to give clues to the choir. A guitarist, a violinist, or a harpist uses his fingers in very fine moves as does a surgeon, a dentist, and a jeweler.

An important vote can be taken by show of hands. Praise and adoration of God can be shown by lifting hands and clapping hands. Deals can be finalized with the shaking of hands and friends can meet, greet, and depart using handshakes.

A baby early on discovers his hands. It’s such a cute development in little ones. You see their little hand heading toward their mouth and their eyes curiously focused on this thing that actually belongs to them. One of the early activities for preschoolers is to make handprints and to create wonderful works of finger paint art. They learn to mold shapes out of modeling clay, to balance blocks higher and higher, and to help in the kitchen making cookies and mixing anything. Climbing trees and playground equipment, jumping rope, holding to bicycle handlebars, dong somersaults–using hands, hands, hands!

My great grandchildren made me a hand poster for Christmas on year. I treasure it, a unique reminder of their individuality.

So many positive phrases use the hand as a symbol. “Give a hand up,” “helping hand,” “work of his hands,” “right hand of fellowship,” “many hands make quick work,” “lend a hand,” “hold my hand,” so many “hands on deck,” a hand-size bream, or a horse that is fifteen “hands high.”

I just visited a friend who is 102 years old. She was curled under a bright pretty quilt, only her tiny face showing. Her smile lit her eyes and she thanked me for coming. Then she worked one hand out from under the quilt and gripped mine. We shared a moment of affection before her mind blinked off.

Where am I going with all this handy talking? Nowhere except to say let’s be very thankful for our hands–young supple hands, old gnarled hands, scarred hands, graceful hands, even quivering hands.

Reba McIntyre used to sing a song about her Daddy’s hands, disciplining when needed, but always loving. It reminded me of our Father in heaven Who made the universe, made the very tree to which His Son was nailed to take away our sins, a Father Who disciplines but Who forever loves us.

In heaven, we will recognize Jesus by the nail scars in His hands.


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Indian Spring

It was my idea to clean Indian Spring. For years I’d wanted to see the flagstones on the “floor” of the spring but it was clogged with mud and leaves except just where the clear, cool water issued from the earth. Even when we raked it as kids and shoveled silt out we never saw the flagstones. When I questioned them, my siblings didn’t remember there ever being flagstones. But somehow I knew they were there.

The perfect time to dig out the spring had arrived. Charles and I and our two children, William and Julie, were vacationing at Pinedale. I wanted the children to have some of the woodsy experiences I had enjoyed growing up there. Charles greatly enjoyed pruning shrubbery to my Mom’s specifications. So here we were–and Indian Spring was calling!

One July day four of us set out for the South Woods, armed with a couple of shovels, to dig out the spring. It was our children, William and Julie, their cousin Tami, and Charles and I. How I persuaded them to do this, I can’t remember!

Indian Spring, so named by my father because the Cherokee had dug out the pool in the distant past, was at the foot of a high steep bluff. It was surrounded by tall Lombardy poplar trees, oaks and wonderful laurels big enough we could set up housekeeping under them. Three poplars clustered around another smaller spring just below Indian Spring. The poplars we called “The Three Sisters” and the spring was the “Indian Children’s Spring.”

The spring itself is consistent and faithful. The clevity the Indians dug around the spring is about fifteen feet wide and amazingly neatly circular. Stone steps, flanked by a couple of wild azaleas, descended to where the water entered. There a nice wide mossy stone made it possible to kneel to drink or to dip water. The small area where the water bubbled out was clean and clear, made so by the spring itself.

My Dad had always told us that the trail along nearby Indian Brook had first been used by the Indians and possibly, too, the cart road that wound along the base of the Bluff. There were a few arrowheads still to be found when I was growing up, though most had been discovered and collected by Dad and my older siblings. As I told the children this Indian lore, I could tell they didn’t really believe it. They weren’t sure we’d find flagstones either, especially since none of their aunts and uncles remembered seeing them. But they had gotten into the mystery of this adventure and they weren’t backing out yet.

I showed the children how we had made cups with large tulip leaves folded into a cone shape and fastened with a small needle-like stick. I showed them the twin oaks between the spring and the brook with a gnarled seat between. My Dad had wedged a board in between the trees to make my Mom a seat and the trees had grown together meeting in the middle of the board. All three of the children giggled and squealed as they walked the footlog across Indian Brook and chased crawdads in the clear bubbling brook.

Charles and I started digging and the children took turns too. There were years of leaves, mud and small twigs in the lower side of the pool away from the actual spring. We thought to clear that all out first and work our way back to other side. It wasn’t easy. The water was ice cold which felt good for a few minutes, then became numbing. One by one we climbed out to warm our feet.

The job seemed insurmountable. Whose idea was this anyway? Of course they all looked at me with hopes I’d give up. But I wouldn’t give up. Charles, still humoring me though he was very doubtful, suggested we dig deeper in a smaller area, concentrate our efforts. I loved him for sticking with me!

But was it all to be in vain? Well, at least the spring would be clearer than before. And we’d all had a good time working together and exploring the woods.

After another long hour I was about to cave. Where had I gotten that strong picture in my mind of flagstones on the bottom of this pool?

Suddenly there was a clink of metal on stone. Everyone got excited then as if we’d struck gold. After much labor we could feel wide flagstones beneath our feet. We worked with renewed zeal until we could feel flagstones over almost half the whole spring. We all sat on the bank waiting for the water to clear so we could see. Finally, in amazement, we gazed at a floor of wide flat brown and gray brook stones.

By this time the sun had sunk behind the Bluff, we were exhausted;  it was time to head back.

We trudged back to Stone Gables, a tired, muddy, straggly but happy bunch. On our way we passed the schoolhouse cabin where my siblings and I had studied English kings and U.S. states and capitals. We crossed Ramble Brook where we had built dams and caught water lizards. We trekked around Tulip Hill, across Sand Flat and up Sunny Lawn toward the house.

The children ran ahead, suddenly alive with new energy at the thought of the delicious supper Grandmother would be cooking, maybe even a blackberry cobbler with berries we’d picked earlier. I knew my Mom would be excited about our find. She herself hadn’t seemed to know they were there. But she was always very interested in Indian lore and showed great sadness over the fact that the Indians had been driven long ago from this land we loved.

It would have been good and right to return to our digging job the next day, to finish what we started. But we had many other things to do, like going to Lake Russell to swim and picnic. We never uncovered the rest of the flagstones. But I’m sure they are there, just as the Indians laid them 150 years ago or more, and just as we discovered them that hot July day about 1977.

How did I know those flagstones were there? I’m still not sure. I think, though, that my Dad told me about them in such a vivid description that it was if I had actually seen them. He was capable of that.


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A Lamp To My Feet


Today’s child may not have an image of a lamp that might guide one’s feet, at least not as clear a one as a child of the 1950’s would have. The verse from Psalm 119:105 reads, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” What does that mean? That we hold God’s Word, the Bible, against our feet as we walk? Or that God’s Word is like a light for our feet. And what would a portable lamp really look like?

Electricity, known as “lights”, were installed in our house when I was about fifteen. Prior to that our light was from the fires, the one or two flashlights, candles, and kerosene lamps. Lamps were very, very important. Someone had to light each one in the house before dusk turned to night. Someone had to wash the chimneys each week to keep them bright and clear so light from the wick would be strong. Someone had to trim the cotton wicks so the flames would be even and give out a good steady light. Someone had to replace wicks trimmed so many times they no longer reached the kerosene in the bowls below. Someone regularly had to refill the bases with kerosene from a large spouted can.

There was one lamp to light the stairs, one for each bedroom, one for the kitchen, and two for Daddy’s study where Mamma read to us each night. If one was needed elsewhere it would be borrowed and then returned to its usual place. Normally, a lamp was never taken outside. So maybe I wouldn’t have such a clear image of a lamp lighting one’s feet if I didn’t remember that night in 1953.

It was a borrowed lamp on a summer night that lit the feet of two of my sisters as they left our house trailing down the hill. We could see a halo around the girls’ feet as they walked. It was a dark night with no moon to show the path so the lamplight guided them around obstacles in their way. That light jiggled with every step Jackie took and became smaller and smaller in the distance. My little sister and I watched from an upstairs window, sorry that we weren’t allowed to go on this strange adventure. Not that Ginger and Jackie were “allowed.” They were just going anyway.

Usually Ginger instigated adventures but this time it was Jackie’s idea. We knew someone had joined Stan and Charlie who were spending the night in the little guest house at the bottom of our hill. We heard a car, saw its lights turn off, heard loud laughter, occasional shouts, and even some music. Mamma and Daddy, at the back of our house, were apparently oblivious to the party at the foot of the hill.

“I just know John has come and we need to go get in on the fun,” said Jackie, trying to convince Ginger who was already dressed for bed with curlers in her hair.

“I don’t know,” said Ginger. “It doesn’t sound like only brothers to me. They’re loud but never that loud.”

“Oh, please, let’s go. John’s come all the way from Atlanta. He’ll be hungry. We’ll take them some bread and butter and surprise them.”

Jackie finally won, they took the lamp and slipped down the stairs and out the door.

There was something prophetic about Jackie’s taking the lead that night. Because the fellow visiting our brothers was not John. It was the Virginian who would become Jackie’s husband. He told us later that when he saw Jackie that night her face was spotlighted by the dim glow of the lamp whose chimney was woefully smoked from the jiggly walk down the hill. Jackie’s look of total amazement when she saw Fred triggered something in his chest.

Somehow the image of that small pool of light around our sisters’ feet as they walked that night comes to mind as I read this verse. The lamp lit their way right then guiding them around sharp stones, sticks and pine burrs. Probably Jackie was barefoot.

But, jumping ahead, The Word, God’s lamp, lit Jackie’s path into following His commands on much greater decisions, such as whom she should marry. Just so His Word can give us immediate help as well as long range guidance.

There are only two prerequisites for one’s receiving this wonderful guidance: 1)read the Word, the Lamp, to hear His voice, and 2)submit to His leading as you follow His path.

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. Psalm 119:105


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Collecting Waterfalls


Dry Falls, North Carolina

Some interesting person in the past told me she and her husband collect waterfalls. How do they do that? By taking pictures and making a list of waterfall names. I thought it was a delightful idea. I haven’t made a collection but I have always enjoyed waterfalls. Like ocean waves forever rolling in, the mighty white water speaks of God’s eternal strength and creativity.

The most incredible falls I’ve experienced was Niagara. Another one never to forget is Multnomah Falls in Oregon. The nearest falls to my home in North Georgia and the highest east of the Mississippi (yes, higher than Niagara, just nothing like as big) is Toccoa Falls. But waterfalls of the Blue Ridge Mountains are so captivating and lovely, so special to visit with family.

On a recent Saturday my brother Charlie drove several of us on a short trip from Clayton, Georgia into North Carolina. We particularly wanted to see the little town of Highlands and to renew acquaintance with the beauty of several falls, including spectacular Dry Falls. We all had special memories of walking safely and almost drily behind Dry Falls. The falls has a drop of eighty feet, forty of which are free fall. Because of its falling away from a rock outcropping, the Falls has plenty of room for a walkway behind the rushing water.

Dry Falls, also known as Upper Cullasaja Falls, is in the Nantahala Forest. My father, an artist, found great joy in being close to, listening to, experiencing waterfalls. His passion for waterfalls is reflected in many of his pastel works of art. He and Mamma enjoyed taking as many of us as would fit in the 1934 Packard on day trips to this waterfall and others.

On this recent Saturday three of Dad’s children and their chosen ones, all senior citizens now, started down the sturdy steps from the Dry Falls parking lot, all filled with great anticipation. Some of us turned back to wave to our sister-in-law Reggie who, with her own special memories, sat contentedly on a safe viewing platform while we navigated the steep damp steps.

The water crashing onto rocks below was so loud we could hardly communicate with each other. We used sign language, shouted some, and each remembered other visits to these falls. It was a time of connecting with the past and exulting in the present.

For Suzanne it was a reminder of hers and Bill’s honeymoon fifty-one years ago. Also, Suzanne was elated that, because of God’s goodness and miracles of modern medicine, both her knees worked just fine going down and back up. Her most recent knee replacement was done only a few months ago.

Charlie and Elaine enjoyed thinking about their first time to see the falls together on a date long ago. Both of them are plagued with back problems but made the hike without any problems.

My own experience began with our trips when I was little. As I grew up, I had this picture in my mind of this wonderful place where we walked behind a waterfall. But I had no idea where it was. As an adult, while sightseeing in the mountains with my husband, I told him about Dry Falls. Being the discoverer that he is, he relentlessly hunted until he found this magical place. I was as excited as a little kid again! Now with my new pacemaker I was thrilled to be able to walk down like the rest and reconnect once more with this mighty spectacle.

But we were all disappointed when we arrived at the bottom. A sign on a locked gate informed us that, due to falling rock, the trail behind the Falls is closed. We looked wistfully along the walkway where we once had traipsed gleefully back and forth.

Still, the view was marvelous, yes, awesome. How many gallons of water thunder over that precipice every hour, we wondered. The cool spray misted our faces. The smell of damp moss sweetened the air. Spring had not yet come to the laurels and rhododendrons crowding close, but the promise was there.

We ate lunch in quaint little Highlands at a cozy restaurant named Wild Thyme. Fortified with soup and sandwiches, we were ready to enjoy more waterfalls including Bridal Veil which, as the name implies, is a filmy white cascade. The unusual feature of it is that, for many years, cars could drive behind the Falls located right beside highway 64. Now, for safety purposes, viewers have to park to take pictures.

We saw several other waterfalls that day, some splashes and trickles down mossy rock faces, some distant ones, shining white water spilling from a greening mountainside, some so far away we couldn’t hear the water at all, like Estcoa Falls.

It was a beautiful cool day for “collecting” waterfalls and enjoying family time, a good day for remembering other times and for storing new experiences to pull out and reflect on later. I can still hear the thunderous roar of Dry Falls and the musical splash of Bridal Veil.

A roadside falls                                    Bridal Veil

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Colorful Skein Considerations


One colorful skein

It’s been a while since I wrote about knitting, the needles part of my “Pens and Needles” blog. I’ve been making a lot of scarves lately, partly because I needed them for gifts, partly because I can happily knit the simple patterns while joining in conversation, watching television, or overseeing grandchildren. My present pattern is one of the simplest: K3, P3 for 36 stitches using one whole 5 1/2 oz. skein, or for as long as one desires. One skein makes a length that can be looped around your neck with plenty of “tail.” This is a narrow scarf. To make it wider, simply cast on more stitches in numbers divisible by three. I’m using size 6 needles.

Using a skein, purchased at WalMart, of varying colors and shades keeps the project from ever becoming a bore. The colors spin out, blending themselves naturally. My present work began with an ocean blue blending into two greens that then gave way to dusty purple, then bright purple, then wine red. I become addicted to knitting until the next color appears. My impatience for the next color reminds me of how, living with children, we always are striving for the next stage. Instead of being satisfied with crawling, we practice and practice little legs to get ready to walk. Instead of being satisfied with a third grader’s skills, we urge them forward. It’s the way the Lord built us, isn’t it, always to be pressing forward?

Three of my grandchildren are going to London with their parents on spring break, a huge spring break trip. I knitted red scarves for each, partly to keep their necks warm in London’s March fog, partly to make the kids easy for parents to herd in a crowd. Truth be told, they may not want red scarves or any scarves, no matter how cold or windy the weather. They may not need herding, may even keep their parents from straying. At fifteen, twelve and ten they are quite capable.

So why did I knit red scarves for them? Because I wanted each to have a physical object to remind them that Nana loves them. I prayed for each one as I knitted, not just for safety and enjoyment on this trip, but for their futures. I prayed for them to be blessed and to be a blessing. I prayed for them to walk closely with God. I prayed for their mates, whoever they are.

The scarves, though all red, are each a different pattern. William’s is rib knit. Thomas’s is in five inch blocks of seed stitch separated by three rows of garter stitch. Mattie’s includes a straight stitch with cable down the middle. On either side of the cable are eight rows of seed stitch and the border is garter stitch. I hope they will recognize that they are unique, each scarf knitted for a child of unique gifts from God.

As the colors spin out on the present project, I relish the beautiful shades of green, yellow, blue and red. There are colors of the ocean, of the sun, of leaves, of lobsters, of peaches and of a dusky evening. Choosing a skein for each scarf is an exciting event. Do I want more vivid colors, or subtle shades? Do I want more greens and blues, or more reds and yellows?

Whatever one’s choice, knitting a skein of yarn into a beautiful and useful object can be a pleasure, a joyful journey.

I wish for you happy hours with a colorful skein!

By the way, for you non-knitters, skein is pronounced like seine, as in seining for fish, or like the River Seine in France, or like a saint without a tee on the end.


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Grave Stories


I admit I’ve always been fascinated by gravestones, even before I knew so many folks six feet under. Headstone engravings tell so little about the persons they represent but often bring to mind stories, true or imagined. There’s a full name, in itself very interesting as you compare it to names of other family members. Then there are birth and death dates with one dash in between. For some, that dash only represents two years or less, to others ninety plus years. A knowledge of history helps as you study the stones to determine possible case of deaths. If you notice, for instance, people of various ages having died in 1918, you know they likely died in the great flu epidemic. After the dates, or sometimes in between name and dateline are words of memorial, some profound and wise, others oft-used lines like “Gone but not forgotten.” On many stones are Bible verses and I always wonder if the verse is favorite of the deceased or was chosen by a family member.

In Clarkesville, Georgia, there is a beautiful cemetery with death dates as old as the Revolution. As a teenager working summers at Brewer Drug Co., I often ate my lunch while sitting on a bench in that cemetery. I loved the shade of huge old white pines and I enjoyed studying the gravestones once I’d finished my sandwich.

One of my favorite novels is Bess Streeter Aldrich’s Song of Years. The opening chapter takes us down an old trail on the prairie for a peek into a cemetery, particularly a look at one gravestone. It reads “Suzanne Beloved wife of…” and then a blank because a thick growth of old clinging woodbine hides the rest of the inscription. The reader doesn’t know until the end of the story whose wife Suzanne was.

Eugenia Price, author of many Georgia historical novels about real people, found ideas for many of her stories in the Christ Episcopal Church cemetery on St. Simons Island. Now she’s buried there herself near one of her earliest characters, Anson Phelps Dodge. Hailing from West Virginia, she had become “The Beloved Invader,” and used that as the title for her novel about the young rector whose life was fraught with tragedy.

There is a cemetery at Midway, on the way to St. Simons Island, which has huge trees growing up from very old graves, the roots toppling grave stones and or slabs this way and that. In a museum nearby you can read about how Union soldiers used concrete grave slabs on which to slaughter and butcher livestock to cook and eat.

We used to enjoy, in a former neighborhood, walking to the end of our street and reading old lichen-covered gravestones in a little virtually forgotten cemetery. There were old cedars there and overgrown trash trees laced with all kinds of vines. We had to push foliage back from several of those graves in order to decipher them. On some the lettering was almost obliterated by time and tempests. As we read military inscriptions from both world wars, as well as children, wives and all, we speculated about those people who at one time were lively and quick, knew grief and pain and joy. The most surprising encounter we had in that cemetery was meeting a pretty little red fox who stared at us briefly before dashing off.

In Alaska, on a hill overlooking the sea, we found a collection of graves under fir trees through which the wind moaned. Many of those graves were very short, those of children who seemed to have died of some wicked plague. In Hawaii we came upon a “haunted” forest where graves and strange implements of worship gave us the creeps. Walking among rows and rows of crosses at Normandy Beach or amongst the headstones at Arlington National Cemetery makes us so grateful to those who bought our freedom.

I sometimes grab a cup of coffee or tea at a favorite coffee shop and head to Cairo’s oldest cemetery. I park in the shade of cedar trees, put the car window down, and enjoy absorbing a quiet afternoon as I study or write. (I do always make sure no funeral is in process.) I knew some of these people, members of our church and community. As I wander among the graves I think of Norman and Minnie Pipkin, stalwart examples of faithfulness. Even when he could no longer hear, Mr. Pipkin sat in his usual place at church responding as best he could. Lois and Everett Burroughs–what a dear sweet couple. She played piano so beautifully. I pause by the Mauldins’ graves, Mr. Ben and Miss Ada. Mr. Ben was a charter member at First Baptist Church, 1874. He remembered cleaning goat droppings off the steps when he was a boy. Over in the Roddenbery plot I particularly stop to remember Miss Virginia. She was a great pray-er and a dear friend. I had to stop at the Nicholson plot and thank God for our friend Wilkes Nicholson whose dash was way too short. With his wry humor and firm dedication to helping any in need, his life made a difference to so many. Harrells, Kemps, Hesters, Gaineys, Peacocks, Wights–I remember many faces, expressions, passions, and accomplishments. I feel blessed to have known them.

At my family’s home there is a tiny cemetery close to the original house my grandfather built in 1888. There are only four graves including my dad’s mother, grandmother, and aunt De, then my sister Carol, who died at the age of four before I was born. That cemetery was too small, surrounded as it was by tall pine trees, for our burgeoning family. So when my dad died in 1959 he was buried on Tulip Hill so named because of the beautiful straight tulip poplars on its slope. For years his was the only grave there. Then things began to happen, not only to the aged, but to young folks as well–disease, accidents, unexplainable difficulties. So now when I visit there I speak, as if they could hear me, to Mamma and Daddy, to Orman, Pat, John, Ginger, Stan, and to John Mark, Julie, Jonathon, Paul, Bob, and all the rest of this “cloud of witnesses.”

And that’s what they are, a cloud of witnesses, some with longer spans on earth, some with more significant contributions, some who felt more pain, and even some who caused more pain. What they did with their “dash,” the time between birth and death was quite different from one to another. But each one, from youngest to oldest, has a dash. Each one was loved. Each one made choices, whether good, bad, or best. And if they trusted Jesus for salvation, they are all in heaven right now!

Speaking of heaven leads me to mention a grave in Cairo’s newest cemetery. One of the first headstones placed there is that of Glenn Byrd, a former Director of Missions for Grady County Baptist Association. Brother Glenn developed an illness that drained him to skin and bones. After months of tests and futile attempts to make him better, doctors finally diagnosed him with cancer. Within a few short weeks he died. Charles and I went to see him on what turned out to be his last Sunday afternoon. He was so excited about meeting Jesus face to face, his emaciated face literally glowed.

When we visit Brother Glenn’s grave, Charles and I chuckle over a conversation that last Sunday. Brother Glenn, always thinking of others, said “For my service we’ll just greet everyone at church so they won’t have to stand out in the hot sun or rain.” Miss Melba stepped back in the room just then and said, “What’s this we stuff?”

Some might think it irreverent to laugh in a cemetery. To me, it seems quite natural. The occupants of the graves, whether I knew them or not, were real people and I like to remember or imagine their personalities, humor and all.

For instance, there’s Daddy JB over in Big Creek cemetery who loved a good joke better than anybody. He’d start on one of his tales and Mama Graham, who now lies beside him, would say, “JB, I’ve heard that joke a thousand times.” As I look at their super neat slabs surrounded with gravel, I can hear them lovingly bickering together.

P.S. I wrote this a week before the tornado tore up much of the southern part of Cairo. As I saw that even the old cemetery was trashed with fallen trees and limbs I had to remind myself that the inhabitants there were undisturbed by that awful storm.




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Five Minutes

It was a quiet Sunday afternoon. There was a tornado watch in effect the entire afternoon until 8:00 that night. But we didn’t even consider not going to church where we joined Amanda and her five. Members of the Daraja Children’s Choir from Uganda had been in our home that week and we were excited to hear them sing, recite scripture, and dance. As we left church about 7:20 it was raining, but not hard.

Having had pacemaker surgery earlier in the week, I was very tired and headed to the bedroom to put on my pajamas. When I returned to the den, Charles had turned on the television. What had been a tornado watch was now a warning. Both our cell phones began buzzing alarms to seek shelter. Then we heard the Cairo siren screaming. We bumbled down into our basement where we keep two chairs and a few jugs of water. I began to worry about Amanda who had left church minutes ago taking two girls home near Whigham. And what about Candi and the little ones alone at their house? We both began calling and leaving messages. Until we realized phones weren’t going to help. We began praying instead.

Suddenly a mighty roar passed over our house. Light from a bare bulb flickered but didn’t go out. “What was that?” we asked each other. We sat there in the damp basement another short time before we realized the siren was no longer screaming and all was quiet.

Back upstairs, we peered outside. There was one top of a pine tree twisted off and lying beside the beheaded tree. Otherwise, all seemed normal. We had a call from Amanda that she was safely home, though having fought the wind to stay on the road.

But all was far from normal in our little town of Cairo.

In the same five minutes that left us with one treetop on the grass, the tornado ripped through homes and property, turning over vehicles, lifting roofs–as if a buzz saw had gone flying.

Folks were clinging to whatever they could. The mighty roar covered to some degree the sound of glass shattering, furniture flying like missiles, sheds being turned upside down, and metal roofs flying at horrific speed.

We learned about our own little town on the 11:00 news. There was longtime friend Becky Teasley being interviewed in front of her crashed home. Business facades were slashed into, calm sedate old homes turned in five minutes into what appeared to be mountains of junk. But as bad as it all looked on television, it was far worse when I saw the devastation with my own eyes.

Charles came home giving me grizzly reports of the destruction. But it was two days later when he took me to see the wake of that five minute tornado. I was utterly astounded.

How could all this happen in so short a time?

Crews had been working day and night to restore power, clear roads, and offer assistance to traumatized citizens. Still, we saw a huge oak crashed into a roof splitting that house in two; we saw huge portions of metal roof spun crazily here and there; we saw one entire street of small houses hacked beyond restoration. Everywhere the chainsaw crews worked, utility trucks growled, cranes were set up to lift huge fallen trees off houses.

Although today, almost a week later, most of the emergency work may be over, the real damage will never be completely repaired. But it will be overcome by the hardy resilient citizens who are not going to be put down. In front of one house so beautiful a week ago, A large handmade sign reads: “Historic home for sale–Minor roof repairs.”

Five minutes (my own estimation) can make a lifetime of difference. For some things we can prepare, for others there is no preparation. It is imperative that we make the preparations we can make, namely, talk to the God of power and love and seek shelter with Him through the storms–and forever.

In Cairo no lives were lost. In Salem, Alabama where another tornado hit the same day, twenty-three folks of different ages were killed–ten, I’m told, from one family.

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