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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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The Blind Chick

When Candi called to say she had a blind baby chick I was astonished. She went on to tell me that she and other workers at the feed and supply store had noticed this little chick walking around differently from the others so she took a closer look. This baby chick had no eyes! She was hatched with no eyes. Candi with a rush of enthusiasm then told me she had taken the chick home with her.

The chick now lives in a fancy chick pen with feeding station and watering bowl. The whole pen is safely inside the children’s playhouse, out of sight of greedy hawks. Candi’s three young siblings are overjoyed at welcoming a new little critter to their menagerie of cats, dogs, goats, donkeys, and the occasional visit of a beaver who patrols through their yard. The chick will feel the loving touch of eager hands, hear the children’s enthusiasm, and enjoy fresh food and water as she grows to be a hen. But she will never see the faces of her new family members. She will be ever in the dark.

Candi told me one morning she had named the baby Helen Keller. What a perfect name! Helen circles her round pen cheeping happily. Candi makes sure her water and feed stay in the same place so Helen has no problem finding them. But just in case she doesn’t get enough water, Candi gives her water through a syringe every so often. Helen has learned that when she feels a drop of water on her head, she can lift her beak and have a nice drink.

Something in the total compassion in Candi’s voice and her devoted care for Helen set me to thinking. Aren’t we like the baby chick? We’ve been rescued, given safety, food and water. But we have not seen the face of our Redeemer. We live in comfort and ease with everything we need and we’re happy–like the baby chick. But we cannot see the face of the One who has saved us. We, too, are really in the dark from that magnificent realm beyond our comprehension.

However, unlike the little chick, we will someday see our Redeemer face to face in all His glory and grace. Though we now can see the sunshine, leaves shifting in a breeze, gorgeous colors everywhere, we can’t see the wonders He has prepared for us, wonders that don’t even compare to the most wonderful sunset or the intricate wings of a butterfly, or the adorable softness of a cheeping baby chick. But we have a sure and steady hope that we will one day see everything He has planned for us.

Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face. I Corinthians 13:12

P.S. Candi called again with tears in her voice. The baby chick died. She had a happy life because of Candi’s compassion.

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Knitting Lessons

My first knitting project when I was about ten years old was a hat for my older sister’s baby. Mamma had helped me learn to knit and purl and follow simple directions. I had knitted little patches for practice but that hat was my first real piece. Even with Mamma’s careful help I kept acquiring too many stitches by splitting them or I purled when I was supposed to knit or dropped stitches. Mamma patiently helped me redeem each mistake as much as possible. Bu that hat was crooked, uneven, and really ugly. Mamma praised my work, though, and made me feel good about it. We mailed the hat along with Mamma’s beautifully knitted baby blanket to Pat in West Virginia. By the time we saw her and the baby months later, the hat was way too small. I don’t know whether baby Lorna ever wore it! But that was the beginning for me of a lifelong love of knitting.

You may not be a knitter. You may grow orchids or bake cakes or take beautiful pictures. You may be a quilter. But to me, knitting is great therapy, a joy, a fulfillment. I say if you’re anxious, start knitting. If you’re disappointed, out of sorts, start knitting. I have particularly found it helpful to pick up a knitting project when I got stalled in writing a chapter, an article, or a poem. The rhythm of stitching untangles the frustration in my brain. This diversion helps for thinking through other problems as well. But knitting, like other hobbies, skills, and sports, can teach us valuable life lessons too. Here are a few knitting lessons I’ve recognized.

Every single stitch is so important. The number you cast on your needles, along with the size of your needles, weight of your yarn, and number of rows knitted, establishes the size of your finished project. Just one or two less or more stitches does make a difference. If you purl one stitch when you should have knitted it or make a cable twist one stitch off the pattern or–heaven help us!–drop a stitch or split a stitch, your piece will be greatly affected. The effects can range from a pattern looking ugly, like my infant hat, to a hole in your piece or an unraveling that is nonredeemable.

Lesson to learn: As every stitch counts, so does every conversation, every day, every smile, every choice.

When teaching someone to knit, something I stress is a willingness to make mistakes. Be ready to take a few rows out and knit them over correctly. Don’t give up because you realize you have more or less stitches than you’re supposed to have. Depending on the pattern, you may be able to knit two stitches together, pick up a stitch, or turn a purl into a knit stitch. Sometimes you simply need to start over. My sister, Jackie, has always amazed me with her fortitude in starting over on a blanket half finished because her pattern had gone whacky. She will unravel hundreds of rows in order to start over and make them perfect.

Lesson to learn: Don’t give up when you make a life mistake. Like a baseball player who misses a strategic ground ball, shake it off and try again. Mother Theresa said something like “Those who make no mistakes do nothing.”

As in all skills, it is imperative that you follow directions. As in following a recipe, you need to look though the directions so you’ll know what to expect. There are some very complicated patterns which require strict concentration; others you can almost knit in the dark if you know the directions. How do you know what to do? Most knitting pattern books have a table of knitting terms, abbreviations, and how-to’s in the front of the book. There are online instructions for knitting procedures, such as making cable stitches, how to knit seed stitch, how to increase or decrease and many more.

Lesson to learn: We have a Book, the Bible, to show us how to deal with life day by day. When we don’t follow it, our patterns become all askew.

I become quite frustrated when my yarn is miserably snarled. I’ve learned I must tease the yarn out of knots gently and patiently. If I jerk and try to force the threads to spin smoothly out of the skein or off the ball, I can damage it until the only solution is to cut the bad tangles out.

Lesson to learn: When a problem shows up in family life or on the job, or you’re stalled in traffic, or bombarded with multiple tasks, take a deep breath and tease the tangle out. Do not despair! Stay calm, say a prayer, and count to fifty or a hundred before you panic.

Whatever your skill, knitting or not, you can enjoy giving a gift that may be treasured and bring much pleasure while at the same time you keep the lessons learned! Sometimes your gift may be returned for repairs. Like one of the dolls I made as Christmas gifts. Charli’s doll she named Mildred looked very appealing to the family dog. Luna was proceeding to tear one arm off when Charli rescued her. So today we performed surgical repairs on Mildred. It was my pleasure to instruct Charli in the mending.

My four sisters and I are all knitters. We have knitted for each others’ babies as well as our own children and grandchildren. Now we’re knitting for great grandchildren, nephews and nieces. Suzanne is in a knitting club. All those ladies make prayer shawls for cancer patients and others. Pat could knit very fast without even looking, even knitted in class as a college student! She loved to knit sweaters for needy children in cold places. Ginger strove for perfection in creating beautiful sweaters. Jackie is talented in making sweaters with intricate colorful designs, like birds in flight. To all of us, visiting a yarn shop is almost as fun as Christmas morning. When one of us is having health issues or some other hard patch, the question from sisters is “Are you able to knit?” If the answer is affirmative, we know all is well.

The Great Creator planted within us a desire to create. Let us enjoy what we can do with our hands–and learn our lessons too!

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Your Very Own Name

Of all the fun days the year I taught nursery school, Valentine’s Day was the very best. The children were as excited over exchanging little cheap valentine cards as lovely ladies are over a dozen red roses. Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration but they really went into spasms over those tiny cards with their names on them. We decorated shoeboxes, as I remember, so each child had their own mailbox with their name on it. Each one dropped a card in every one of the boxes so they all got wonderful sweet mail. It was an exercise in recognizing each others’ names. But, mainly, it was fun!

Of course we had special cookies that day too. But the mail was the best. My own son was one of my students so I had the pleasure of seeing him open his cards at home and giggle at the cartoon characters all asking in some way or other “Will you be my valentine?” Naturally, there were a few he treasured more than others, not because of the funny messages but because of who they were from. The names were very important.

Some of the first words we teach ESL students are “What is your name?” followed by the answer “My name is ______.” Everyone likes to hear their own name pronounced correctly unless, of course, they’re being reprimanded. One’s name is a valuable possession. In the movie “Redeeming Love” (playing now at Georgia’s oldest theater, The Zebulon in Cairo) the heroine, a victim of sex abuse, keeps her real name a secret always using her alias, Angel. When she reveals her name finally to her redeeming husband she explains “My name was all I could keep as my very own.”

These days our mailboxes are full of pieces from political candidates, crazy catalogs, and windowed envelopes disclosing bills. Our names are on them but what jumps out at us in the stack of mail is any personal letters or cards, our names written in the handwriting of a friend or family member. There aren’t many of those now. We communicate by e-mail, by text, or by phone. But there was a time when letters in the box were our main link to those far away.

At Young Harris College in early sixties many of us walked after dinner to the tiny post office, located just inside the campus, the very edge of where we were allowed to go without signing out. There was excitement and some confusion as we jostled to see in our very own post office box. What a joy it was to me to see the slant of a letter in my box! I could hardly wait to fumble through my code and pull out my letter with my name written in my mother’s beautiful handwriting. I was only sixty miles from home but she wrote to me regularly.

The summer before my husband and I married in 1965 I spent ten weeks as a summer worker at a mission in Louisiana’s bayous. Charles worked two jobs in Atlanta, one for the CDC, the other as kennel help for a veterinarian on weekends. When we parted in June Charles said he might write me a line or two. How exciting it was when, twice a week, I discovered an envelope with my name amongst my supervising missionary’s mail. She greatly enjoyed seeing my pleasure in receiving those letters.

It still is a treat to find personal mail. Valentine’s Day is a good time to send mail to some who might not otherwise see their name on an envelope. It’s a good time to let dear ones know you’re thinking about them, maybe drop a little humor into their mailbox. And it’s a good time to remind folks that, above all, God loves them.

God knows everybody’s name! He knows your name!

For God so loved the world (say your name in place of world) that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever (say your name in place of whoever) believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (NIV)

Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name and you are mine. Isaiah 43:1 (ESV)

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Comic Strip Comfort

Charles is an excellent comic strip reader. He makes sound effects and gesticulates, pulls faces and mimics voices as he reads to me while I knit. Now that Thomasville Times comes by mail, often there are two papers on the same day, then a dearth of comics for several days. So it’s feast or famine when it comes to comics. We have our favorites. Family Circus, Zits, and Born Loser are at the top of the list, although who couldn’t pick Beetle Bailey or Blondie? Sometimes a line he reads is so profound I tuck it in my brain to mull over. Like this one from Family Circus.

Two children are at the bottom of a snowy hill where the little girl has taken a spill off the sled. She’s bawling crocodile tears. Her brother says “No need to cry. Mama can’t hear you this far away.”

It struck me at the time Charles read and described this scenario that often we, too, suffer a downfall of some kind when there’s no one near to hear our cries. We might as well listen to the voice of reason and just hush because no one is listening.

But this was my next thought. We are never so far away that God can’t hear us. In the middle of the night when worries take over, on a bleak forsaken trail, at “the end of our rope,” God is there. When we face a “horrible, no good, very bad day,” God is there. When life throws us a curve and the skies are all gray, God is only a prayer away.

As the psalmist wrote in Psalm 139:9-10, If I take the wings of morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.

In the words of Corrie ten Boom, “There is no pit so deep that God is not there.”

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January Jack-O-Lantern

An out-of-season smile for you! Pumpkins are for Halloween and Thanksgiving. But this pumpkin carving was deep in the month of January.

Our tradition is to buy two or three pumpkins as soon as they’re available in October to set out on our front steps as decorations for the autumn season. Rather than bring in the pumpkins to carve for Thanksgiving pies we use pumpkin frozen in measured amounts the year before. Then, after Thanksgiving, we carve the pumpkins, cook, and freeze them for the next year. This year the pumpkin process was delayed by various circumstances. So last week, past the middle of January, Charles cup up a pumpkin–with lots of help!

I heard squeals of laughter and commotion in the kitchen. Leaving my desk, I found Charles, our two great grands, and a pumpkin having a hilarious time.

Charles had carved a jack-o-lantern with a smooth smile. The kids insisted he (the Jack) should have teeth. So Grandaddy accommodated. By the time I came on the scene, the assistants were replacing teeth they’d knocked out in their enthusiasm and sticking them back in place. They declared themselves dentists right then and there. But that wasn’t all. As the activity developed, Charli, first to start digging out the insides, discovered she could shoot seeds out of old Jack’s mouth. Then, of course, Kaison made it even more fun by shooting seeds as far as they would go. Both kids’ hands were covered with seeds and pumpkin innards. They even pretended to eat the slime! All in all, the pumpkin carving was more fun than a trip to Chuck E Cheese. Grandaddy and I sat down to enjoy the show. We had to dodge flying seeds and, finally, call for a washing up and sweeping.

Charles finished the job of cutting up the pumpkin for stewing. Now it’s mashed to a nice puree and packed in ziplocks for next Thanksgiving. Or, who knows? We might have an out-of-season pumpkin pie just any old time.

I’m thankful for beautiful orange pumpkins with perfect seams down their fat sides, pumpkins who waited patiently in a dark corner until carving time. I’m thankful for a Grandaddy who will apply his strength to carving and turning a chore into a frolic. I’m thankful for grandchildren who find such joy in simple things. Yes, way past the “official” time to be thankful, I’m so glad.

God never tires of hearing our praises!

Oh Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches. Psalm 104:24

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