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A Mamma Memory

Eggs were very important in our large household. We needed every single one the hens could produce. Every evening someone collected the eggs laid that day by various yard hens (we always had at least a dozen hens) in several different nests. I remember well one of my experiences as the egg collector.

One late afternoon when Mamma called me to go bring the eggs in, I put her off. I was deep into a book (“Little Women” or “To Have and to Hold”) and I just had to read one more page. I lay on a bench by a western window unmindful of the fading light as Mamma called me again and again.

When I finally started out to do my job I realized it was almost dark. One hen laid her eggs in a cozy nest far back in the stable. I’d better go there first before it turned pitch black. But it was already dark when I entered the stable. The rhythmic munching of a cow finishing her hay comforted me only a little. I crept toward the back of the stable hoping not to step in anything slippery. As I reached down to pick up the egg I knew would be there my neck prickled. Something wasn’t right. Yes, it was dark. But, still, I should be able to see the egg’s white shape in the dark straw.

I drew in my breath and pulled my hand back. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness I could see that the nest was especially dark. It was black. There was a movement, a slithering movement. There was no doubt about it. A snake was coiled in the nest.

As I ran for the door I didn’t worry about stepping in a cow pile. I screamed as I dashed through the gate heading pell-mell for the house. I hadn’t even reached the top of the hill when I saw her coming. Mamma was armed with a hoe which she clicked against the rocky path like a shepherd’s staff. She had to have been on her way before she heard me screaming.

Mamma hated to kill anything. She even went to great pains to rescue spiders that rode in on a log and found themselves in the fire. But she picked that snake up on the crook of her hoe, hauled him out where there was still a little light, and chopped his head off.

Mamma was a lady of deep resolve. She expected her children to do the right thing but if we were disobedient she was always there for us anyway. And she didn’t hesitate to kill a snake who dared to swallow one of her precious eggs.

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Safe Dwellings

Birds’ nests fascinate me. They are so skillfully made, custom fit for each bird, large or small, so carefully situated. Whether a house wren who feels safe cozying near humans or an osprey constructing its penthouse dwelling above all the bustle, birds make their homes to suit their very different needs and preferences.

As children, we were elated when any of us found a Carolina wren’s nest, a neat little cave hidden amongst leaf mulch under low huckleberry bushes. At our dear old place we called “Lane of Palms” I’ve observed with wonder a mourning dove pair build a house of sticks on a palm tree branch. From a north window I could see them walk nimbly up and down that palm frond “ramp” and then teach their offspring to do the same.

A major concern for a bird’s choice of nesting place has to be security. But sometimes, in the interest of beauty, convenience, or romantic location, they choose to build in highly insecure places. Like the wren who built her nest in our door wreath one year.

It was a very pretty wreath for ushering in Spring. A few yellow forsythia sprays were wound into a coil of grapevine. There were three bird house fronts, each a different size and style, with a bright angle of roof and a perfect round hole for a bird to fly in and take possession. But they were false houses, just decorated cut-outs fastened on the wreath.

One day when I went out to sweep cobwebs out of the corners of the front porch, a little brown wren swished past my face. At first I thought she was building a nest in a nearby shrub. But it didn’t take long to realize she had chosen one of those false birdhouses for her home! While she was out choosing fine twigs and grasses for her nest I peered behind the wreath. There was no room for a nest, yet she was building it anyway. I was amazed it was clinging in place, so precarious it was. One vigorous swing of the door and it would fall. I warned everyone in the family about our new “renter” and we agreed not to use the front door until the babies hatched and flew. We did slip up the front steps a few times just to peer in at the eggs and then the babies.

My daughter-in-law, Christi Graham, gave me frequent enthusiastic reports on a cardinal pair who constructed their nest on a limb right outside her kitchen window. The human family could enjoy the development of the cardinal family in full view.

Sadly, some of the nests in the safest places are the ones ravaged by an enemy. One spring a house wren built her nest on a high shelf in our barn. We thought it was a pretty smart location for her until one day we found the nest demolished, nothing left but a few eggshells. We deducted that one of our cats had leaped to that high shelf and made a meal.

I am reminded, thinking about those feathered parents, of how hard we try to keep our young safe. Yet we and they make unwise choices sometimes. The world is full of unkindness as aggressive as a leaping cat, and horrible things do happen. Snakes take advantage of secluded nests, hawks attack fledglings, storms throw nest, babies, and all out of their safe place. There is no total safety this side of heaven for any of us. But–we can look back and recognize many, many times when God protected us in our foolishness, as we did the wren on our door. We can trust that, just as He knows where each mourning dove and every cardinal makes its home, He also knows exactly where we are, what dangers we face, and what are the longings of our hearts.

I love Sidney Lanier’s poem “Marshes of Glynn.” He writes: “As the marsh-hen secretly builds on the watery sod, Behold I will build me a nest on the greatness of God: I will fly in the greatness of God as the marsh-hen flies In the freedom that fills all the space ‘twixt the marsh and the skies.”

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One Fearful Day

God answers prayers before we know to ask of Him. That’s what happened to us one fearful day.

It didn’t start out fearfully. It was a normal day for Charles at Cairo Animal Hospital and for me finishing a chapter in the book I was writing. It was a regular school day for our two boys. Our grandson, Charles Douglas (I call him Charles D), lived with us then and his friend, Jesse, was spending a couple of weeks with us while his parents were out of town. Charles D’s room was upstairs, a room we’d restored to reveal hand hewn logs of our pre-Civil War house. Jesse’s was across the hall adjacent to attic space above our dining room.

I looked out at our beautiful sunny back yard as I considered the story I was writing. Then I glanced at the time, 11:30. Where had the morning gone? But Charles wouldn’t be home for almost an hour. I could finish this chapter, I thought, and be done in time to prepare him a nice lunch. I dived back into my story, lost to everything else.

The sound of Charles’s truck pulling into the carport startled me. He was never home before 12:15, most often 12:30 or after. And here it was only 11:55.

I scurried to the kitchen to slap sandwiches together thinking he must have an after-lunch appointment so I’d better be quick. But he shrugged when I asked why he was home so early. He didn’t know. It just worked out that way, he said.

We were about to sit down at the dining table when I said something smelled peculiar. Charles, humoring my sensitivity to smells, said he’d go check outside. He was sure neighbors must be burning trash.

Charles rushed back in and headed for the stairs. Smoke was billowing from every vent in our roof, he said. I called 911.

By the time firemen arrived, there was a glowing ceiling tile above where I would have been sitting, and as they sawed into the ceiling (this was a solid old house with thick boards above the celo-tex) to get to the fire, flames licked out. Outside, standing with neighbors, family, even our pastor, who had come to see about us, we watched fearfully as our house was invaded by flames, smoke, and lots of water from the firemen’s hose.

But our house was saved!

Though our recent renovation of the downstairs–new carpet, drapes and painted walls–was all ruined, our house was intact. The firemen said the fire started because of faulty wiring. It had probably been a hazard for several weeks, could have started anytime–while we were asleep, while Jesse was asleep in that room only feet away from the flames. One fireman told us that within thirty more minutes the fire would have engulfed our old house and been impossible to squelch. That’s when I understood why Charles had come home early. God knew we needed to come to our table at that exact time.

As the four of us huddled in a motel room that night we were very thankful we were all safe and our house could be cleaned and repaired. The only complaint the boys had was that they’d been at school and missed all the excitement.

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Of Iris, Herbs, and a Broken Shovel

The white iris, fondly called by my mother “flags,” are blooming like a little group of angels beside our largest maple tree. Under its shade also are the purple iris which have opened their sweet faces for their once-a-year show. There are violets peering over grass blades and tiny pink oxalis blooming stubbornly amongst border grass along the driveway.

The mulberry tree is in full leaf with berries barely showing, pale droops amongst the leaves. Soon the tree will be alive with squirrels and birds feasting greedily even before the fruit is fully ripe. The crepe myrtles Charles trimmed back in February are sprouting nicely and jasmine vine on the mailbox pine tree, trimmed to the ground, is more vigorous than ever. I look forward to seeing little yellow blooms smiling at us when we go for the mail.

Pruning is a good thing. A fresh start is good for everything (and everyone) if done under the Master’s care.

The knockout roses in front of the house were beautiful when they were beautiful but they didn’t like their place very much. One by one they died or at least became scraggly. At one end of the row they were shaded by a magnolia tree and those bushes were never happy. So we took them up and planted Florida Sunshine shrubs. The guys at the nursery assured us they would thrive in sun or shade.

Plants (and people) are so different in the way they adapt to sunshine and shadow.

Day lilies are starting to bloom. It’s always so exciting to see the various colors and patterns unfold as the buds open. I wish they bloomed for more than one day, but the good thing is there are several buds on each stalk so for the blooming season there are always beauties, new every morning.

Another thing new every morning–His faithfulness!

Thomas Obadiah Chisholm wrote a hymn about God’s faithfulness:

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father There is no shadow of turning with Thee. Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not. As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be. Great is Thy faithfulness, Great is Thy faithfulness, Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed Thy hand hath provided. Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

Wisteria keeps trying to take us over, though Charles has been brutally honest with it: no, it is not welcome. Friends we visited in Bromley, England longed for some beautiful purple wisteria. We told them it is terribly invasive, takes over, wraps everything in vines. They still wanted it though I don’t know whether they did plant it or not. I can see why they wanted it. The purple blooms are ravishingly beautiful when drifting high amongst tree branches or low in shrubbery, even controlled with constant care into a “shrub” itself. It is lovely when it’s blooming, looking like Caleb and Joshua’s great clusters of grapes from the Promised Land. But wisteria is so monopolizing.

Things of beauty aren’t always as good as they seem.

We bought herbs at Lowe’s which I was able to plant from my walker, placing them in tubs along the back porch. Already, English thyme, basil, and a cherry tomato plant (couldn’t resist that one!) are thriving. The mint and rosemary at each end of the line are hearty and healthy and interspersed between the herbs are some of Charles’s carefully coaxed amaryllis with buds about to pop open, also a couple of tubs of impatiens lending cheerful color. I can’t wait for the basil and thyme to be big enough we can pluck some for adding flavor to meats and soups.

When Charles went to Stone’s on his day off to purchase some screws he came back with a tray of plants for his own small garden: five sweet potato plants, a beef steak tomato plant, and one eggplant to grow in its own tub. His garden is beside the marten house where, until recently, lemon bushes grew. He dug up the lemon bushes because they were totally fruitless.

It was as he was digging up the lemon tree roots that he bragged on his broken shovel. It had been his dad’s, he said, one of several he has acquired over the years. This one, he said, is particularly good for digging out stubborn roots because the broken blade is jagged like so many sharp teeth and it is excellent for a job like this.

Brokenness does not mean a thing or person cannot be used; maybe it can be used in a different and even better way than before.

I was walking around our circular driveway the day before Easter enjoying a gentle breeze swaying the reeds when it dawned on me. Spring was everywhere but Red, the turtle, had not shown up. Could it really be spring if Red hadn’t shown up? That box turtle has been at this place almost as long as we have, probably longer. We “tagged” him with a red spot on his hard back soon after he showed up at our back door about six years ago. Since then, every month or so during the warm months, Red comes visiting. He loves to eat cat food, doesn’t care much for the green stuff. The children always enjoy his visits, sometimes putting him on the porch where they can play without losing him.

Funny that I thought about Red the day before Easter. Because he came visiting on Easter Sunday heralded with great excitement by Kaison and Charli. They had just found a hiding of a dozen eggs for the second time and were ready for a new diversion. Red stayed on the porch for about an hour, scratching across the floor with his leathery legs and sharp toes, hiding under chairs, eating cat food and even getting in the middle of our family Easter picture.

Iris, daylilies, new gardens, discarded roses and lemon trees, a broken shovel and an old box turtle–and then a picture from our Michigan folk of their fresh new snowfall. Spring is here–in some places!

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Happy Easter!

We say the first Easter was over 2,000 years ago. But the need for a Savior goes back 6,000 years.

Almighty God, full of power, formed the earth, set apart the waters, hung the sun, moon, and stars, and made trees and plants–giant sequoias, small fig trees and even onions. When all was ready for him,
God created man, and then woman. He made them in His own image. He gave them creative spirits, the ability to make choices, the faculties for compassion and wisdom, and a drive to survive. Did I mention He gave this wonderful creation the choice to love his Creator or not?

Man and woman messed up early on. They yielded to the temptation of Satan and the whole beautiful, wonderful world went whacky. But God had a plan even as far back as that first huge sin of Adam and Eve to make it possible for humankind again to be in close relationship with Him. He would send His only Son to be our Redeemer, to give us a chance again to make a choice to love Him–because He first loved us.

The Savior came but most did not recognize Him. Even the religious people, priests and scribes, didn’t believe He was the Son of God, though they had the prophecies handed down through the centuries proclaiming God would send a Messiah. Jesus lived a perfect life, was tempted and did not sin, healed the sick, gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. He raised Lazarus and a young girl from the dead. He called disciples, twelve of them, and gently and forcefully led them and taught them for three years. He spoke to crowds who followed Him wherever He went. But when he finally was arrested because the priests said He was blasphemous claiming to be God, the crowds deserted Him as did most of His followers and friends.

When Jesus was on trial Pilate asked Him where He was from. Jesus didn’t answer. Pilate urged Him, telling Him that he, Pilate, had the power to free Him or condemn Him. Then Jesus replied that Pilate had no power except what was given him by the Father. Jesus had already told His followers, “…I lay down my life that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down myself. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it again.” (John 10:17-18)

To me, one of the most stunning events of that dark crucifixion day is when the huge, massively heavy curtain in the temple, the one that separated the people from the “Holy of Holies,” was split down the middle from top to bottom. God split that curtain at the time Jesus drew His last breath. Because of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice man could be forgiven of their sins and could talk directly to Him without a priest–as Adam and Eve had done before they sinned.

But the very most stunning event was when the disciples and several women first found the tomb empty and then saw Jesus, nail scarred hands and all, alive and later eating fish with them. Those forty days Jesus spent with His followers (disciples and 500 or more others) after the resurrection until His ascension back to the Father–those days must have been powerful and sweet. Jesus was alive! The timid could be brave. The hopeless could have great hope. The sorrowful could now be filled with joy.

Jesus is alive! And because He lives, so can we!

A favorite hymn by Bill Gaither says: “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future, And life is worth a living just because He lives.”

A very happy Easter to each of you!

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Palm Branches

I love to see little children waving palm branches as they enter the sanctuary on Palm Sunday. They are so happy, so innocent, so believing. As they walk in joyous abandon to the front of the church and lay their branches on the altar I’m reminded of that day so long ago when Jesus entered Jerusalem.

The week before Passover when Jesus entered Jerusalem the street was lined with people of a myriad of emotions. Some were jubilant because they thought this man riding on a donkey was finally going to take his place as King of the Jews and bring freedom from the oppressive Roman government. Some were simply jubilant just to be with Jesus, like the children, the disciples, hundreds who had heard this rabbi teach and seen him heal and restore life. There were the radicals looking for a chance to stir up trouble. There were the Pharisees and Sadducees who could not see the Truth and ignored the fact that their hatred of Jesus was anything but godly. Controlled by Satan, they had nothing but conniving and evil intentions in their hearts. The emotions of Jesus are overwhelming to contemplate. At the same time the crowd was shouting “Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord” (John 12:13) He was weeping over Jerusalem whom He would have gathered as chickens under her wings, “and ye would not.” (Matthew 23:37) Jesus knew what kind of a week was ahead of Him. Yet He was not wholly sorrowful that day. He took time to rejoice.

Sometimes the children sing “Hosanna” as they flock into our church on Palm Sunday. Good teachers have told them about the day Jesus rode the donkey into Jerusalem, about how the people shouted and waved their palm branches, then laid them in the road for Jesus to ride over. Some even laid down their coats for the donkey to cross. A few times during the years we lived at “The Lane of Palms” we contributed palm branches for this festivity. It was a very happy thing to do, to be part of the celebration in that way and to see our own children waving branches.

Such a happy day Palm Sunday is! Yet it has a shadow over it. It is only a few days until Good Friday when we will remember sadly the torture and darkness and sorrow Jesus and His followers went through. Though the people on that day before Passover didn’t know what would happen that week, we do know what happened. We know that Jesus became sin for our sakes, that He fulfilled every prophesy of the Old Testament for the redeeming Messiah. We know He became a Man of Sorrows, not just for the disciples who loved Him, not just for the women who learned of Him, not just the little children singing His praises, but for us, for each and every one of us. He died for the soldiers who drove the nails in His hands and feet. He died for the priests who condemned Him. He died for Judas and Peter who betrayed and denied Him.

Our young Kaison viewing the film “The Son of God” (his choice to watch) asked sorrowfully, “Why were the people so mean? Why didn’t they understand who He was?”

We could only explain, “As so many people today, they simply did not believe.”

We love to celebrate. Palm Sunday is a happy, joyful day. The palm branches speak of life and joy and good things. But there is a shadow over the day. In a few short days we will be remembering Good Friday and the wrenching pain and sorrow of the cross. And then–on the third day–the most joyful, sacred celebration of all–Easter Sunday! We can pull out all the stops in praising Him on that day! The shadow of the cross will be overcome by the open, empty tomb!

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Orange Blossom Special

You may think this piece is about trains, particularly the train from New York to Florida in the 1930’s called the Orange Blossom Special. It was a deluxe passenger train, part of the Seaboard Air Line Railroad. Some of you have tapped your toes to the song by that name written in 1938 by Ervin T. Rouse and made famous by Johnny Cash in 1965. Johnny Cash could make a harmonica sound just like a train whistling and clickety-clacking its way south to where the orange groves bloomed.

But today I’m not writing about trains. I’m writing about orange trees themselves and other amazing springtime growth. Everything is coming alive with wonders of color and vitality. I’m so glad that God chose to make useful plants–like orange trees, blueberry bushes, cabbage and carrots–beautiful as well as tasty. A world of grays and blacks would be pretty dreary. You may have noticed that one commercial on television advertises a product that makes it possible for folks to take in capsule form the colorful fruits and vegetables our bodies need. But to have them right from the bush and garden is the very best!

We have a tiny citrus “orchard.” Two orange trees and three Satsumas are in bloom. Kumquats bloom a little later and even re-bloom later in the summer. I spent a happy few minutes yesterday beside an orange tree just breathing in the delicate, sweet scent and watching bumblebees gorge themselves on nectar. Examining one blossom, I was amazed at the Master’s touch. Each flower displayed five white petals and a center of minute detail: a little crown of golden spikes and a pillar in the middle (known as stamen and pistil), the very beginning of a sweet juicy orange. Some blooms had already dropped off leaving a perfect miniscule orange ready to develop.

Our granddaughter, Candi, was here last night showing me pictures of her very neat and well tended garden. Collards, cabbage, and potatoes stood in perfect rows of green between clean middles. They reminded me of brisk little soldiers in the sunshine prepared for whatever might come. Candi has learned what soil is best for each vegetable and has made good use of garden tools and fertilizer. Her strawberry plants have already bloomed but she, having studied the ways of strawberry plants, has plucked off those early blooms believing that the later ones will produce plumper, more abundant fruit.

My sister, Suzanne, and her husband, Bill, have always depended on their fertile garden on rich creekside acreage. Right now they have many healthy vegetables in the making, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and potatoes. By the end of the summer they will have canned hundreds of quarts of squash, beans, tomatoes, and cucumber pickles.

Our young blueberry trees are blooming and so beautiful in their simple subdued way, pinkish sprays of blooms promising wonderful fruit. We love to add them to our cereal, make muffins and pies and just eat them right from the branches.

I remember my mother’s joyous gardening. She was never happier than when hoeing, planting and, of course, harvesting her vegetables. The progress of squash vines and tomato plants was often a subject in her newsy letters, how big the yellow squash had grown, how bright red the tomatoes. She was more thrilled over reaping a bucket full of squash, beans, and cucumbers than anyone is over winning the lottery.

Charles’s parents, too, were dedicated gardeners. Papa Graham always planted more peas than they could possibly eat or freeze so they could share with their neighbors. He was a welcome sight in his overalls and billed hat delivering vegetables in the neighborhood and selling them to local businesses. His okra was greatly prized at Holiday Inn and the Farmer’s Market. Growing the best canteloupes, silver queen corn, and zipper peas made him happy. I can just picture him now coming in our back door with a five gallon bucket of green, gold, and red vegetables and another one of freshly pulled corn.

And I must mention our dear brother, Ronnie, and his wife, Diane, in southern Michigan. They moved there from Florida where they grew some of everything. We were afraid their gardening days were over when they moved to the cold north. But no! Their garden could be pictured in “Better Homes and Gardens,” so bright and beautiful, though a little later in the season, of course. And Ronnie is following in Papa Graham’s footsteps sharing buckets of vegetables to family and neighbors.

Not only does God provide us with delicious food–oranges, blueberries, broccoli, cabbage, squash–but the plants and trees at every stage hold their fascination. And He gives us the opportunity of being partners with the sun and rain. We’re enjoying our own tiny citrus orchard and look forward this year to a basket full of oranges (we had only two last year!), eating and sharing Satsumas, and making kumquats into marmalade. Right now we’re delighted with the sight and scent of the sweet white blossoms. Oh, what bliss! How SPECIAL are the orange blossoms!

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Miss Velma’s Hands

Sometimes a person makes a lasting impact without ever even knowing about it. Some of the seemingly insignificant actions or bits of conversation become vastly important in passing on spiritual blessings from one generation to another. Though I did thank her for her wonderful care of my little boy, I’m sure Miss Velma never realized how important her influence was.

She wasn’t the president of anything as far as I know. She wasn’t chairman of any committee, didn’t stand and speak before groups. She was never voted Woman of the Year. She seldom ever attended worship services at our church. But it wasn’t because she wasn’t worshipful. It was because she was always in the nursery. At least that’s how I remember Miss Velma. She and her sister Miss Tessie and their good friend Cammie Peacock visited prospects for our church every Sunday afternoon. That’s how I first met this cute little simply dressed lady with bright eyes and thinning hair. But I was to know her much better as the teacher of my son when he was two years old.

Cuy Broome was Director of Preschoolers at that time and for many, many years afterward. He and his wife, Evelyn, were so kind to us as we started taking our little son to the nursery when he was only six weeks old. They visited in our home and made us feel our little boy was the dearest and sweetest in the whole world. William was always happy to go to church. In fact, some of his first words were “Mister Cuy.” The nursery area at that time had a half door over which parents could pass their precious cargo to a smiling, eager nursery worker. One of those was Miss Velma.

Miss Velma was unassuming, always cheerful, and utterly faithful. But I knew more about her from listening to my son’s growing vocabulary than from talking that much to her. For instance, the following little episode sticks in my memory as so precious.

We lived in an old log house that had been covered with brick so was now more a mid-nineteen-fifties home than an eighteen-forty house. When the Stricklands had modernized the house they chose to leave just a couple of places where the hand hewn logs were exposed. One was in an upstairs closet, not readily observed. The other was very visible. In the front foyer they had built a nice window so one could look, not outdoors, but directly into the beautiful logs with their ancient ax marks. The window had a nice wide sill, a charming place to set a favorite wedding present: a bronze statue of life size praying hands.

One day I was dusting the praying hands when William left his little cars and came to my side. He reached up and ran a small finger along the wrinkled hands tented together in supplication. In his developing southern accent William said with quiet awe, “Mish Vemma’s haaands.” I looked down at his little blonde head and swallowed hard. Obviously, Miss Velma had not been just keeping the nursery. She had prayed with her little folks. She had folded her own wrinkled workworn hands as she prayed. By now, William was on his knees again driving little cars along the floor boards. But I had learned a lesson.

Never discount the influence of the simplest actions. Never forget the power of the Holy Spirit at work on even the very young.

Miss Velma wasn’t in church years later when William made an open profession of faith and then was baptized on Easter Sunday. No, Miss Velma was still in the nursery, probably folding her hands in a simple prayer with tiny boys and girls. They might not later remember the good times they had playing with the toys or how they loved to hear Miss Velma in her deep soothing voice reading a story. But they would tuck somewhere in their beings the memory of Miss Velma’s praying hands.

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How Can I Help?

We enjoy the beauties of spring–azaleas in mounds of color, trees leafing out. We go to the store to buy groceries. We pick up kids from school and listen to their tales of winning a recitation competition or the woes of taking a big test. The smell of freshly cut grass gives us a feeling of rightness and well being as do the sounds of birds singing, a garbage truck growling on its rounds, and the hum of traffic as usual. As I wash potatoes to bake for supper I hear the blast of explosions from the television, the screams of small children, the reports of more missiles, more heartache.

In the Ukraine a war wages. Only weeks ago families in Lviv, Mariupol, and Kyiv were living peacefully day by day. Parents went to work, children studied history and played games at recess. Nurses and doctors treated illnesses, not shrapnel wounds. Firemen responded to the occasional house fire, not to tall apartment buildings ablaze from enemy attack. A picture from one news bulletin haunts me, that of a little boy’s tearful face in a train window, both hands stretched toward his father who waves back. He must stay to fight for freedoms so recently enjoyed. When will these two see each other again?

All my life I have read and listened to the accounts of the horrors in Europe as Hitler went about annihilating Jews and anyone who helped them. Now Putin seems bent on destroying the country of Ukraine. He has no respect for laws of war as his men fire on people in a bread line or bomb a maternity hospital or apartment buildings.

The Ukrainians are brave and courageous and very clever. Weeks have gone by and Russia has yet to defeat these people whose loyalty and tenacity make up some for their lack of planes and other war equipment. We are reminded of our own Revolutionary War in which our soldiers fought for their freedom and their land, overcoming the British with sheer passion, perseverance, and–prayer.

We are a people who depend on our own skills and strategies to meet the enemy. What can we do for these people a world away who are under siege for no provocation of their own? Millions are fleeing, children are hungry and thirsty, mothers terrified. A theater housing civilians–women and children–has been bombed. Ukraine is being attacked from south and north, east and west.

What can we do? “All we can do is pray” is an oft repeated line but we need to realize “The most important thing we can do is pray.”

God who stopped the lions’ mouths for Daniel and defeated an overwhelming army with 300 men under an untrained general named Gideon, that God is still as powerful as ever. We need to pray for President Zelenskyy, for the Ukrainian people, for our leaders in the free world to make wise decisions, and even for Putin that his plans would be thwarted. We need to pray for the Christians in Ukraine that they will have courage and boldness to do the right thing. We need to pray for the medical and humanitarian staff in two or more Samaritan’s Purse field hospitals, as well as for tireless Red Cross workers and many, many others.

As we pray, we may recognize other things we can do. We may answer the call to give. There are reliable avenues for getting money to the very people who need it. Both the Red Cross and Samaritan’s Purse will use effectively all the funds they receive.

We need not sit helplessly in front of our television screens and do nothing. We can pray and we can give and we can thank the Lord for our own freedom and hug our family members harder than ever. And we can appreciate the normalcy of going to work and school, of planting crops and shopping for shoes.

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Song of the Birds

We wake these March days to a cacophany of bird songs and sounds. Melodies by the mockingbirds, cheerful greetings from the cardinals, an occasional high whistle from a hawk above, the gossipy chirping of wrens and sparrows, and the repetitive four or five note call of a titmouse make up the choir and the orchestra.

It took me a long time to identify what bird was making that particular call minute by minute almost all day long. It’s almost the sound of someone knocking on the door, or maybe an electronic bee-beep alarm. It’s a very insistent call demanding of attention. I finally saw my little gray titmouse friend perched on the side of a feeder making that very sound. Aha, I thought, so you’re the one!

After limited research, I learned that the titmouse makes this repeated sound only in the spring. It is a mating call. Other times of the year these little gray birds, decorated with a wonderful line of rustic brown under their wings, chip and chirp merrily around the feeder and hop from branch to branch or fly to a high bough of the maple tree. Only in spring have I noticed their persistent “knock-knock-knockity-knock.”

I began to pay more attention to what the birds are saying. What is music to my ears is sometimes an expression of deliberation as a bird fulfills its purpose: to find a mate, to raise and protect their young, to find food and build a safe nest. There are so many different songs and sounds. The wren makes a happy melodic sound usually, but can sound very frantic and positively angry if she feels her young are threatened. A mockingbird, who repeats a long repertoire of songs he learns from all around him (I have timed a mockingbird’s concert lasting thirty minutes or more), suddenly becomes a dynamo of fierce protectiveness when someone gets too close to its nest. Some of the bird songs are so sweet like the cardinal’s merry “What cheer!” But some are raucous and brash like the bluejay’s squawk or a crow’s high-in-the-pines announcements. Some don’t seem to say very much like the robins diligently harvesting worms on the lawn or brown thrashers who only become fiercely vocal when their territory is invaded.

Listening to the choir of bird songs and sounds, even the percussion section of woodpeckers, I absorb a sense of peace and happiness emanating from our feathered friends. Whether they are busy at serious duties or sitting on a branch singing their hearts out, they help me focus on the Maker of us all. He gives us all a purpose to fulfill. We may be unaware of that purpose and not realize we have an audience, like the wood thrush in a far woods singing his liquid song.

I realize a bird’s life is not as easy and carefree as it appears to me. Sitting on the feeder, a purple finch is constantly looking from one side to the other, never able to feed in perfect peace. But in fulfilling their daily activities the birds’ various songs, calls for help, and choruses of victory stir my heart with their overall good cheer.

Listen to them and find joy: a titmouse trying to find its mate, a little wren protecting her humble abode (maybe on your porch or in an old shoe), a bright cardinal singing that all is well, or a modest gray and white mockingbird practicing all his many songs as he sits on a utility wire.

The Song of the Birds

Color me orange,

Color me blue,

Color me every imaginable hue.

Give me a voice,

Give me a song,

I’ll sing of God’s greatness

All the day long

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