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Grandma Minnie

Mother’s Day is a time for honoring our living mothers. As girls, my sisters and I always clipped red roses from a vine near our house to wear to church on Mother’s Day. Those roses smelled so sweet! In blessed years that followed, until my mother died at 93, I proudly wore a red rose every Mother’s Day. But Mother’s Day isn’t just for honoring the living. It’s also a time we can remember and be thankful for mothers and grandmothers who are long gone. I’d like, this week, to feature my Grandma Minnie, my mother’s mother.

I only remember Grandma in a hospital bed at Aunt Emma’s. She had a warm smile for me when my mother held me up so she could kiss me on the cheek. It is such a short memory, yet I’ve always had a good feeling of being loved as I jumped down to run out and play with cousins under the privet bushes.

When Grandma died in 1947, I was four years old. I couldn’t understand why my sisters and especially my mother were so sad. But I was sad because they were sad.

I’ve learned so much about Grandma from my own mother. She used to say that she knew there must be some dirt in heaven because Grandma wouldn’t be happy if she couldn’t wash little children’s faces. She’d come to stay with Mamma and help her as she had eleven babies and, I guess, as Aunt Emma had her seven. Grandma had raised six of her own. Washing children’s faces was a delight to her.

She was also a wonderful cook, Mamma said. Aside from sewing for the family, gardening, knitting and crocheting, she made lace. Her tatting was fine and wonderful, gracefully decorating pillow cases, blouse collars, and curtains. But Grandma wasn’t just a good homemaker. She was a very good neighbor. She regularly helped others deliver their babies, nursed them when they were sick and even, during the 1918 flu epidemic, prepared those who perished for burial. My mother was her helper at the age of fourteen.

When Mamma told me how Grandma and Papa Gibbs met I was totally intrigued.

Grandma lived in Commerce with her father, three siblings and her stepmother Janie. For several years she had mothered her younger siblings after their mother died. It wasn’t all bad when her father married again. Janie gave her some relief from household responsibilities. Still, at twenty years old, she hadn’t married, though she did have a few admirers.

In those days, the 1880’s, a highlight of the social life was a church picnic. Mamma said that her mother always looked forward to those picnics splashed between two long church services. It was at one of those when Leonard Gibbs rode up. Papa Burns introduced him to the family and Mama Janie invited him to eat with them. Leonard had come all the way from Cornelia on horseback, a trip of twenty-five or thirty miles. He must have had some relatives in Commerce. Minnie and Leonard were immediately attracted to each other. Though Leonard only conversed with Minnie’s father, he spent a lot of time looking at Minnie. When he rode away Minnie heard her father tell Mama Janie, “That young man is looking for a bride.”

Minnie dreamed that Leonard would come see her but weeks went by and even months. One Saturday Minnie was sweeping the yard (it was customary then to have swept yards, not lawns). It was cold and she sent her siblings all inside to warm up. To her surprise and horror she saw a man on horseback far down the red clay road. Could it be, yes, it was, Leonard Gibbs. He absolutely must not see her dressed in her oldest calico with a rag around her hair instead of a pretty bonnet. She scuttled into the stable and peered out through a crack, then realized that Leonard would certainly come to the stable to put his horse up. She scurried into the harness room and hid there until she thought that, of course, he’d take the saddle off his horse and put it in the harness room. Quickly she climbed a ladder into the hayloft and hid herself amongst the hay.

Of course, Leonard had ridden a long way and would certainly take care of all the needs of his horse and that included hay. Next thing Minnie knew he was coming up the ladder. She prayed she was hidden enough, that none of her skirt was peering out. She was sure he could hear her heart beating. But he took some hay, paused only a moment, and climbed back down the ladder.

When she thought it was safe she clambered down the ladder herself, probably went by to pat the nose of the visiting horse, and then took a circuitous path around to the back door of the square two-story house, hoping not to be observed from the parlor window. She didn’t think about that it was Saturday and Papa never lit the fire in the parlor on Saturday. So when she opened the kitchen door to sneak in and change clothes, there was Leonard Gibbs grinning at her. He is said to have commented, when he told the story, that Minnie was charmingly beautiful with curls haphazardly falling about her flushed face, one hand clutching the rag she’d jerked from her head. But at the time, the story goes, he took her free hand, exclaimed at how how cold it was and, with a twinkle in his blue eyes, suggested she warm by the stove.

Leonard and Minnie were married September 6, 1888, lived in Commerce, Georgia for a while, then in Cornelia, Mt. Airy, and finally on a farm named Clover Hill near Cornelia where Papa Gibbs, a very progressive farmer, became known for growing winter pasture grass. He died in October, 1918, of a very difficult intestinal problem, not from the flu. Grandma, brave woman that she was, continued raising the youngest ones of her six and became a loving resourceful grandmother.

Her bravery in the face of illness and death was also evident one dusky evening when she was returning home alone in a buggy. She was suddenly, the story goes, surrounded by white-hooded men on horseback. Instead of fainting away in fear, she simply sat erect in her seat and, in a very stern voice, told the KKK’s something like, “You men just go on home where you belong.”

Grandma passed on her sense of compassion, her bravery, her resourcefulness to my mother. But what I’m most grateful for is Grandma’s shining faith in God which caused her to make sure, along with Papa, that all their children memorized long portions of scripture, knew right from wrong, were honest in all their dealings, and were well aware of the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Her oldest son, my Uncle Charles, became a Presbyterian minister as well as her youngest son, Burns. Uncle Hugh stayed with the farm and was well respected in Habersham County for his honesty and productivity. Uncle Robert was a very successful business man in Atlanta. Aunt Emma was a school teacher before she had her family. And my mother–well, she had eleven children! One sister died as a four-year-old, but ten of us grew up under Mamma’s and Dad’s homeschooling. And, yes, they taught us early about Jesus.

What a rich heritage we have! Thank you, Lord, for our mothers and grandmothers. May we, too, leave footprints of faith in the lives of those who follow us.

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!

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Suppertime

Suppertime–that’s an inviting word, isn’t it?

The word supper, to me, brings up all kinds of warm and wonderful memories. Maybe having good memories of suppers helps me absorb so poignantly the account of the Lord’s Supper as written by Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

In a recent Bible study lesson we revisited the very special and amazing account of Jesus and His disciples at the last supper. Michael Best, our Bible study leader, painted word pictures for us of Jesus at that Passover meal–the low tables, the disciples reclining on left elbows. We even know the placement at the table of Jesus and some of His disciples. Judas, who would betray Him, was invited by Jesus to recline on His left, a place of great honor. John, the beloved disciple, reclined at His right. This supper, according to Luke 22, is described as the last Passover. But it was also the first Lord’s Supper which Christians for two thousand years have commemorated in different ways. Instead of celebrating the rescue of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt we celebrate the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus who saves those who believe, not just temporarily, but for eternity. The disciples didn’t understand the significance of the wine and the bread that night. But after the resurrection they would grasp the symbolism of the wine representing His blood and the bread His body.

What they did understand that night was that this was a very special supper, that Jesus had desired fervently to eat it with them, that things were happening they couldn’t explain, but right now Jesus was with them. They had followed Jesus’s detailed instructions for the preparation and now they were gathered in an upper room to “break bread” with Him. Though such a wonderful time for them, as I read it I always am shrouded with sadness too. Because I know what was about to happen. But–there would be another feast in His new kingdom, He told them! He told these very dear friends to remember Him each time they partook of the wine and bread, to celebrate, and to anticipate that time when, again, they would share supper with Him.

When Mamma called us to supper we responded quickly. Whether we came from chores, from play, from reading or milking the cows, the supper call was reason for celebration. We wouldn’t have a great feast. That would be reserved for Sunday dinner. At noontime dinner every day we had hearty staples like mashed potatoes, dried lima beans, mackerel patties or beef stew and, in the summertime, a table loaded with wonderful fresh vegetables–squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, snap beans and, always, Mamma’s fresh bread. Supper, then, was leftovers sometimes but often our large family would have eaten everything at dinner so supper was milk and bread. In the wintertime Mamma sometimes cooked a huge skillet of fried homemade hominy for supper. In case you don’t know, hominy is dried kernel corn soaked for hours, cooked for hours until tender, an all day operation. But the bread and milk was often our fare and it was so very good.

I can picture us now, a whole long bench full of youngsters, hungrily waiting for Mamma’s pan bread to brown and for older sisters to pour our mugs of milk. That bread was whole wheat flat bread cooked on an iron pan on top of the wood burning stove. When we started singing “Here we sit like birds in the wilderness waiting for something to eat,” Mamma slid the bread pan over, removed the griddle, then replaced the bread pan next to the flame so the bread would cook faster. There couldn’t be any bread more delicious–hot, slathered with butter, or crumbled in that mug of milk.

Supper for Charles and me and our family was different. Charles didn’t like a lot to eat in the middle of the day because he would be “bending over it” all afternoon working with cows, pigs, and horses. He preferred sandwiches at noon and a big supper at night. So supper consisted of things like fried pork chops, baked potatoes, and plenty of south Georgia vegetables. I liked to make bread too–cornbread, fresh loaves of wheat bread, but never those delicious flat griddle breads like Mamma’s.

To me it was very important to have all of us sit down to eat together. This meant long waits sometimes since Charles would often be working late finishing a herd or delivering a calf or something. I guess I tortured my children making them wait until Daddy got home. When they were little and the waiting got long, I’d tell them to go outside and call Daddy real loud, maybe he would hear. Miraculously, at that point, we often heard his pickup turning in off South Broad. It was so good when we were all around the table sharing what the day had brought, both bad and good.

Suppers at church have always been so joyful whether at midweek or some special occasion. Then there were the community fundraiser suppers, the south Georgia fish fry suppers, the spontaneous “ya’ll come over” suppers, the cook-outs and the spaghetti suppers.

The best thing about all of them was the people gathered around the tables.

A few weeks ago my siblings and I and our spouses (only seven of us this time!) spent a weekend in a mountain cottage. During that weekend Suzanne played an old cassette which included my brother Charlie singing the Jim Reeves song “Come Home, Come Home, It’s Suppertime.” Charlie, accompanied by his guitar, used to sing that song whenever he and my brother Stan “jammed” on Saturday night. Now, on the mountain, we all, including Charlie, listened and hummed along, remembering Mamma’s call to supper as well as the fun jamming sessions.

The first part of the song is spoken to the gentle strumming of the guitar. Charlie’s words were clear, filled with pathos, as he told how, when a child, he’d play till shadows came, then he’d hear his mother’s call to supper. The refrain goes like this:

Come home, come home, it’s suppertime,

The shadows lengthen fast.

Come home, come home, it’s suppertime.

We’re going home at last.

The last stanza of the song takes us back to my opening concerning the Lord’s Supper. In spoken words Jim Reeves, or our Charlie, talks about when all Christians will gather for the greatest supper of all, in Glory with Jesus at the head of the table.

We’ve had to say goodby to so many dear ones the last year. We’re saddened at their leaving and there are huge holes that will not be filled. But it’s so good to remember that they’re enjoying supper with Jesus. And whatever the food is, it’s even better than Mamma’s hot griddle bread!

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Epoch Times

My husband is a newspaper reader. For many years we’ve been subscribers to the Thomasville Times-Enterprise. Part of every morning’s routine for Charles was to pull that paper from the box and read the headlines while walking back to the house. He’d then read every bit of it that night, sharing news, cartoons, and obituaries with me while I knitted. It was really a shock when, during the Covid year, the Times announced it would no longer be a daily and, in addition, would no longer be delivered to our box. We would receive the paper in our mail three times a week. We still enjoy it and depend on it but now our news is always a day or two old.

About the same time the Thomasville paper made such a drastic change we received a sample of a paper called Epoch Times. It is only a weekly paper but is rich in editorials, feature stories, historical essays, national news, and much more. It is a conservative paper giving readers much opportunity to see both sides of political views.

We subscribed and have both enjoyed and been enlightened by this refreshing newspaper. Let me tell you a little of what you will find in its pages.

If you’re basically a front page and headline reader, as I am, you’ll notice articles such as “UNACCOPANIED MINOR CRISIS SPARKS FEAR OF MS-13 RESURGENCE,” “BIDEN’S GUN LEGISLATION AGENDA RAISES RED FLAGS FOR RIGHTS GROUPS,” “ATTACK ON HONG KONG EPOCH TIMES’ PRINTING PRESS DRAWS INTERNATIONAL CONDEMNATION,” and “GOP SENATE CANDIDATE IN PENNSYLVANIA SAYS SHE WILL BACK CONGRESSIONAL TERM LIMITS.” A chilling between-columns plug says “Collecting Americans’ Data a Priority for China’s Communist Party.” The main headline on the March 31-April 6 edition reads: “CCP Adviser Revealed Detailed Plan to Defeat United States.”

But there’s much, much more to this paper that sparked my interest. One week in the “Life and Traditions” section, there was a lengthy feature story on American inventors. Though Ben Franklin and Thomas Edison were big names on the list, this writer also pointed out the marvelous input of unnamed inventors of chewing gum, drawers, mirrors, cell phones, dishes, magnifying glasses and on and on. “…I do know,” the writer, Jeff Minick, says, “that all of these spring from one source: human ingenuity.”

In that same section is the astonishing account of how a baby girl left to die in a garbage bin was rescued, nursed to health, and later adopted into a loving family. Morgan Hill now says “If my story saves at least one life, it was worth telling and I believe it has saved many.” She is now working to save the lives of infants by making people aware of the “safe haven law.” Instead of abortion or leaving a baby in a trash dumpster, mothers can place their newborn in a “haven” attached to the outside of fire stations in many communities. An alarm, after a few minutes, goes off inside so firemen know to rescue the baby. Morgan Hill is now 26, a beautiful young woman, pictured with her adoptive mother, the man who heard her cry and rescued her, and the nurse who cared for her.

Sections on “Mind and Body,” “Opinion and Business,” and even a comic page are very captivating even for this “only the front page” girl. In the April 14-20 edition the “Life and Tradition” section had a fascinating article on what it means to be a “Vessel” for music. In that same section was an article revealing prophecies and very studied warnings by Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville. Even two centuries after he wrote them his words are stirring and apropos: “Freedom is such a normal concept in American thought and rhetoric that the idea that our system could become tyrannical ‘with unusual ease’ makes us incredulous.”

I really liked the article about Tom Cornish, U.S. Navy volunteer during World War II and now 96 years old. He is a knitter! During the pandemic he has knitted more than 500 woolen hats for the Salvation Army. He says he intends to make hats “until I take my last breath.”

In almost every issue there is an article by an artist analyst along with painting or paintings he/she is writing about. Near Easter the painting was “Christ in the Wilderness” by Russian painter Ivan Nikolaevisch Kramsky. A more recent issue included an analysis of several paintings depicting the story of St. Peter’s supernatural release from prison.

At the bottom of the first page Epoch Times gives its history and purpose: “Founded in 2000 as an independent newspaper with the goal to restore accuracy and integrity in media. We have received numerous rewards for reporting, including from the Society of Professional Journalists, The Society for News Design, and the New York Press Association.”

Though we, of course, value highly our local papers The Thomasville Times-Enterprise and The Cairo Messenger, Charles and I recommend this paper, Epoch Times, to all who are seeking “Truth and Tradition.” As much as I might like to hide from all the frightening news these days, I know the Lord expects us to be wise, not ignore the rumblings of tyranny and socialism but to stand up for individualism and for constitutional rights. We believe this paper is dedicated to giving us the truth no matter how grim, but at the same time lightening our lives with good news too.

Quoting Tocqueville again: Freedom is such a normal concept in American thought and rhetoric that the idea that our system could become tyrannical ‘with unusual ease’ makes us incredulous.

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Popcorn Picnic

Children help us step outside the box of traditions and take on a new perspective. They give us a new outlook on the ordinary. They give us laughter and make our hearts light.

One blustery March day when hot chocolate seemed like a good snack, my two great grandchildren said, “Let’s have a picnic!” Now, I’m up for a picnic almost anytime, but that day really didn’t seem like a picnic day. But I asked what they wanted for their picnic. The answer was popcorn.

A popcorn picnic on a cool breezy day?

A picnic is a pleasant, fun, event more often associated with summer. You may think of a picnic by the sea or a picnic in the mountains, or a picnic in the park. But of course a picnic can be anywhere you spread out a blanket, or settle around a table for that matter. Just call it a picnic and it’s a picnic! You may think of PBJ sandwiches or pimiento cheese. You think of stuffed eggs and fried chicken. You think of crisp cookies and potato chips, maybe apples or bananas. But I think this was the first time we’ve had a popcorn picnic.

When I think of popcorn I think of the exciting sound of the popping, the buttery smell, the fluffy mounds of snowy kernels magically made from those hard little seeds. The warm friendly smell reminds me of the theater, a good movie with family members. It reminds me of going to a country fair, fun at a fall festival, and football games. I remember my parents popping corn in a corn popper held over an open fire. It was a rare occasion when we had popcorn and thus a very special one. The popper was a contraption with a pan that was closed and could swivel on long handles, turning upside down and right again as the corn began to pop. Daddy joked that the popping corn was the sound of soldiers firing away inside the pan.

Charli found the bright beach towel I sent her for, Kaison hauled a packet of popcorn out of the pantry. With some bickering they popped the corn, poured it in bowls, and headed out to a nice grassy place near the mulberry tree. Munching on popcorn and sipping sodas, they were happier than clams on the seashore. They tossed kernels in the air and tried to catch them in their mouths. It was nice no one would have to sweep popcorn from the den floor! I huddled, shivering, on a bench nearby, joining in their chatter and a guessing game or two, then watched them play badminton. They didn’t worry about the wind blowing the birdie in all directions, just thought it was funny.

On another day when summer had invaded spring Kaison disappeared for much too long and I went hunting for him. I finally realized that the odd pile of pillows on the couch was his fort and he was inside it. That fort, as it turned out, was a hiding place for Kaison to play his cell phone games, free from shadowy glares and free from Nana’s prompting to “go outside and play.” When he emerged from his seclusion he was drenched with sweat.

We’ve learned never to throw away a big box if there are children who can enjoy it for a day. That box becomes a fort, a theater, a playhouse, and even a monster’s mansion. Though sturdy treehouses can be very nice, don’t discount the fun two lively children can have in a cattle trailer. An old fashioned lawnmower, relic of quieter days with no motor, becomes a source of great entertainment even for kids who have dirt bikes and four-wheelers at home. And oh, the fun they can have with a box of chalk and an asphalt driveway.

Some of their ideas don’t work, such as trying to catch butterflies in January or climbing a tree in flip flops. Some attempts have to be thwarted by stuffy adults for being too risky, like chasing each other with six foot bamboo swords.

It’s a good thing, though, to listen to the children’s proposals, such as a popcorn picnic. You can learn a lot. And just maybe you’ll have a chance to share one of your own bits of wisdom or even fit their energy to accomplishing a chore, like picking up pine cones or pulling weeds.

Considering the inventiveness and freshness of children’s play, I’m reminded of the cartoon Charles shared the other day. A little boy says to his father, “When I grow up my shoes will be bigger. I’ll have longer laces so you won’t have so much trouble tying them for me, Dad.”

Robert Louis Stevenson was one of those fortunate people who never did grow up, at least not in attitude. He wrote this poem for his book “A Child’s Garden of Verses”:

“When I am grown to man’s estate

I shall be very proud and great,

And tell the other girls and boys

Not to meddle with my toys.”

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The Lonely Heron

The lonely heron (or egret) stood at the edge of the water, long spindly legs supporting his perfectly white feathered body, his ess curved neck turning occasionally with calm deliberation. His long sharp beak must have ignited fear in every little mud scrambler or water creature, although they didn’t have to fear for long. He was so quick at snatching a morsel of dinner you would hardly notice.

There were a few ducks nearby, such different fowl from the heron. They swam and feasted, sometimes simultaneously, moving effortlessly from one area to another. The ducks were playful, pestering each other, diving head first into the cloudy water and coming up a distance away. The tall heron was silent and stood for long minutes as still as one of the sweetgum trees or oaks nearby, only his alert eyes seeming to move at all.

On the other side of a wide boardwalk, gliding towards the deep water, were black and gray Canada geese. Perhaps less playful than the ducks, they still were noisy and opinionated, asserting their claim to the lake. They were sociable, communicating with each other. Three more geese flew in from the other side of the lake, slicing smoothly into the water’s surface and instantly becoming part of the party.

Still, the heron kept watch, only moving a few feet occasionally along the edge of the water, sometimes in the water, yellow legs making squiggly reflections, sometimes on the shore. He seemed preoccupied as if he were studying to make a long speech. Then, like a snake striking, he would bend his long neck and spear a fish or frog pulling them neatly out of the lake, barely disturbing the surface.

There were several kinds of ducks, some dark brown, some almost golden, some male Mallards with unbelievably colorful markings–glistening green heads, a brown bib, as well as black and gray feathers along their backs. The mama Mallards are just as pretty in a much more subtle way. There weren’t many white ducks but two or three pair. They swam and foraged for water weeds and rested together not mixing with other ducks, or with the geese, or trying to converse with the silent heron.

Why was that heron all alone? Every time we went to Lake Cherokee (about once a week during the long Covid year) we could depend on seeing him there in the same location, all alone, no other heron to keep him company. I use the male pronoun, though I have no idea what sex the heron is. Maybe it was a she all alone with no one to tell her whether or not her feathers were smooth or to tell her troubles to. Whichever sex, why were there no other herons? When we had Covid we were absent from the lake for several weeks. When we went back, there was that heron, the only one of his kind, still fishing the same corner of the lake.

With my penchant for romance, I rushed to assume that herons mate for life, that the mate of this one had died, and that this lonely widow or widower stalked the shores or took flight across the tiny inlet, day by day, year by year, sad and grief stricken.

Then I decided to learn more about this lovely, sad, amazing bird.

I haven’t by any means done an exhaustive study but here are a few facts I have gleaned.

The great heron, great egret, snowy egret, and blue heron all have a wingspan of 4.3 to 5.6 feet and stand three to four feet tall. It is very hard for an amateur to distinguish between some of these herons and egrets so I’m not sure my lonely bird is a great heron or a great egret but I know it is great! Some have long thick yellow beaks and yellow legs, some have dark beaks and legs. Some grow beautiful plumes during mating season. The majestic great blue heron is colorful, but most of the egrets and herons are white, some snowier than others.

During mating season herons pair off though there’s no proof they mate for life. The male builds the nest in the top of a very sturdy tree, usually near water. Sometimes he lets his mate help him finish the job. Maybe she does the decorating! The nest is about four feet wide and a foot deep, quite a structure. And they reportedly do not use their nest again. What a waste! Heron eggs are about as big around as a chicken egg but longer. Egret eggs are a bit smaller.

Only a few of the young ones survive, not so much because of predators like hawks or foxes, but because the herons and egrets are very bad at siblicide. Yes, they are very agressive chicks, and very jealous too, and they eat each other.

Those plumes that herons grow during mating season? They are stunningly beautiful, I guess. My heron (or egret) only has a few dark plumes at the back of his neck. But the showy ones grow on the bird’s back. These plumes became cause for near distinction of the bird in the 19th and 20th centuries. Ladies loved to have those plumes in their hats and would pay a good price for them. But, happily for the herons, by 1910 it became illegal to hunt them. The Audubon Society was founded to protect birds from feather hunters.

Herons and egrets do migrate, always in flocks, but in the southeast U.S. they stay year round.

Almost everything I’ve read indicates that the heron belongs to a very sociable species, one whose members nest often in colonies, who fly together to migrate, and who, though silent unless very disturbed, seem to communicate with each other.

So why is this Cherokee Lake heron/egret always alone? I observed him week by week for months and always he was a loner. Yesterday Charles and I had the opportunity to drive over to Cherokee Lake, the first time in several weeks. I eagerly looked along the edges of the little inlet but he wasn’t there. We studied the shores for the tall white graceful bird but there was no sign of him. Geese and ducks were everywhere but no heron.

Was he in grieving and finally found another mate? Was he ostracized but finally welcomed back? Had he gotten lost somehow?

One thing is clear: he was a beautiful creation. He will never know how much pleasure he gave people just by being there in his little corner of the world, doing what he knew how to do, fishing and being beautiful. Wherever he is now, I hope he’s doing the same–except maybe now he has a mate, maybe a friend or two.

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Lost in the Wilderness

I had never before experienced such a dense forest. At midafternoon it was dark with only rare glimpses of sunshine glinting on the ferny forest floor. There was no trail. We (I had about five children in my care for this hike) were not far from the Willis’s house. But which way was it? The great firs and spruces I’d been so excited to see now seemed like towering monsters, every one of them looking so similar to others they weren’t good landmarks. The children were still in picnic spirits. They had no idea we were lost. I wanted to keep it that way.

Living for two weeks at the foot of snow-capped Mt. Rainier in 1964 was an experience never to be forgotten. Even now I can feel the ever cool, moist air, smell the lush ferns and other foliage, and hear the sound of children’s laughter. And I can so well picture that awe-inspiring mountain, iced with snow even in June. As a summer student missionary in Washington state under the then Baptist Home Mission Board, I was moved from assignment to assignment every two weeks. The two weeks in Packwood was a watermark time in maturing (a little bit!) this naiive girl who thought she had things under control.

Usually assigned to a church or mission, in Packwood I was assigned to help one woman put on a Vacation Bible School in a small church building no longer occupied by a church. I was told the church had disbanded because of an argument over whether or not to purchase a new pulpit, or something minor like that.

Nova Willis, a new Christian herself, felt compassion on the children growing up with no Bible teaching and responded to a Southern Baptist offer of summer help. I arrived on a Sunday evening to learn that she needed me to start the next day directing the school of all ages children, teaching the youth, leading the music, and whatever else was needed. She would teach the younger children and provide cookies and Koolade.

Quickly I learned that Nova’s husband, a nonbeliever, was only grudgingly tolerant of her zeal for teaching the children. My bed was a couch in their small living room. If I didn’t turn the light out by 9:00 I could hear Mr. Willis on the other side of a thin wall complaining to Nova about that he couldn’t sleep with a light on and what did I think I was doing up so late. He was a logger and left the house at 4:00 every morning.

In addition to Nova and her husband a lively occupant of the house was their four-year-old daughter who loved to play with me as long as she was awake. I was glad I hadn’t taken her with us on this hike. No one was under eight years old and could walk on their own quite well. But, apparently, none of these children, though they lived nearby, knew the forest very well. My subtle attempts to get a sense of direction from them proved totally ineffective.

I directed the children to sit down amongst the tall sweet smelling ferns. We’d learn a Bible verse, sing a song, and just talk about things they liked to do. And maybe I would figure out which way was home!

Two or three of the children told me their fathers “broke brush” for a living. I had already become familiar with this term that meant picking ferns like these to ship to florists all over the nation. I learned other things as well. It turned out that the troublemaker boy who was prone to pick on whomever sat near him and had a filthy mouth lived with his grandma and hadn’t seen his parents in months. A quiet little girl confided in a whisper that she was planning to write a book.

Even the little bit of sunlight that had filtered down on us now disappeared. Was a storm coming or was it getting that late? Lord, please help me get these children safely home.

I had actually written my mother soon after my arrival in Packwood that I thought it would be fascinating to be lost in the beautiful forest. She, knowing I didn’t always exercise good judgement, wrote me by return mail: DO NOT GET LOST IN THE FOREST!

Now, here I was and the description of “fascinating” did not exactly fit my plight.

We all stood up and I led the way seeking light, seeking the edge of this vast thick woods, breathing another prayer as I walked. To keep our spirits light, I started singing “I love to go a-wandering along the mountain track…” and then, abruptly, I held up a hand for everyone to get very quiet. Ahead of us I saw a deer walking very purposefully. That was not just any deer. I had seen it evening after evening come to the Willis’s little barn to eat sweet feed with their cow. My heart thumped. We’d follow that deer and hope he was going to the Willis’s now.

I’ve never been any more thankful to the Lord than when we stepped into the light, the clearing, with the Willis house in plain sight.

There were many other experiences that two weeks to remember the rest of my life. But being lost in the wilderness taught me to understand better the pressing sense of lostness which an unbeliever experiences. Having made a commitment to Jesus when I was six years old, I had no concept of what it would be like to grow up without Him in my life. It would be worse by far than simply to be lost in the forest.

A happy ending to my two weeks in Packwood was that three little girls came to know Jesus. I pray for them even today as I do for Nova Willis and her husband. I remember his incredible kindness as he insisted I call home. He couldn’t imagine why I had gone so far away on what he considered a whimsical idea. That three-minute long-distance call to Georgia took a bite out of their budget, I know, but I was very grateful to hear my mother’s voice. I did not tell her I’d gotten lost in the forest.

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The Light Lives

This is an Easter poem I wrote as a student at Young Harris College about 1962. Sunsets and sunrises in the mountains were always breathtaking as were the season changes. One of my fondest memories is that of half our student body climbing Brasstown Bald to have a special vespers service at sunset one day. But sunsets and sunrises, wherever we enjoy them, are a testimony to the eternal hope God freely gives.

The sun is setting red flames in the sky;

A minute more they will fade, then die.

Clouds blackwinging scatter the glow;

Separate embers light a river’s dark flow.

Wind rises fatefully stirring the trees

Like dry-boned skeletons hung in the breeze.

Mountains are clad in quiet mourning;

A night owl screeches as if in scorning.

Time shows in the east a soft red lining.

See its splendour climbing, shining!

The sky is filled with glad new light

Like the old that died last night.

As dawn after dark, hope survives pain,

For a time buried, then rising again.

Bird songs explode from forest to bay,

And I must sing, too, this Easter Day.

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Is It Painful?

The little girls were playing in our backyard. Each was trying to teach the other a new trick. As I listened from the porch, I heard one say to the other anxiously, “Is it painful?”

I wasn’t sure the answer was honest. “No, it’s not painful. Come on. Just try it.” (If I had been doing the demonstrated trick it would undoubtedly have been quite painful!)

Thinking back on that little scenario, I smile to myself. If only you could face some of life’s tricks with that question: Is it painful? Realistically, we seldom have a chance to choose our path with that simple bit of knowledge. If I could have known on March 13 that I was going into a new trick and if I could have turned down the opportunity because it would be painful, then I guess I’d be a robot, a safe and whole robot, but a robot all the same. And that would not be my choice. But–I could wish I’d have been a tad more careful and “together” that morning.

Seven family members, all senior citizens, were staying in a cottage on Black Rock Mountain that weekend. We’d arrived in Clayton on Friday night, eaten at Ingles, and done our grocery shopping. The evening was spent telling tales, some old some new, taking in the view from the porch of Clayton laid out like a sparkly blanket among dark recesses of mountains, and falling into bed.

We always have such fun cooking together and this was no exception. We burst into giggles over the smallest thing, like someone’s shirt being backwards or some hungry person serving themselves two helpings of grits, one on each side of the plate. Breakfast over, we were bragging on grandchildren pictures, gazing at Clayton waking up in the valley below, asking Charlie one more time which mountain peak was which, and drinking a second cup of coffee.

I chose this time to pull out a knitting project I wanted Suzanne to help me with. I didn’t ask anyone, before I made the slight twist turning from a chair to the couch, if it would be painful. I lost my balance and landed hard on my right hip. Yes, it was very painful! But I thought it was simply a very bad bruise and, with help, hobbled around all weekend using a borrowed walker. On Sunday we made the seven hour trip home to Cairo. For some blessed reason, I slept most of the way.

I was shocked Monday morning at Grady General’s ER to learn that I had broken my hip just below the ball and would have to have surgery. Surgery was at TMH, Tallahassee, Tuesday afternoon thrusting me into pain that seared my brain, destroyed any prideful thoughts of self-sufficiency and made me cling in the middle of the nights to the words, “For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.” Psalm 103:14

Friends and family have been so supportive but none more so than Charles who has had to shorten his stride to hang back with my turtle steps.

Is it painful? Yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s all bad. Pain is a very rigorous teacher. Would we want to give up the experience of new jobs, new relationships, new challenges because they are painful? Of course there are challenges, and there are greater challenges. I’m not about to sky dive as my nephew Eric loved to do or hike Pike’s Peak with Phillip. I will, with His great help, harness in to the challenges the Lord has given me.

Having crossed the river of pain (maybe the worst of it anyway!), I now can flex stronger muscles for the PT trainer, and ask for more ice packs. Instead of pain reliever induced panic attacks I can enjoy the sunshine outside glancing off mounds of colorful azaleas and chuckle at the cute get well cards sent by precious well wishers. I can even think about asking for my knitting. Maybe tomorrow.

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A Patriotic Moment

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

We’ve been inundated with injustices by the Left. We fear our constitutional rights are being taken away as, in fact, they are. One of the scariest movement is that of infiltrating our schools with unpatriotic ideas and rewriting our country’s history. It reminds me too much of the way Austrians peacefully let themselves be taken over by Hitler March 12, 1938 because they simply didn’t realize, until it was too late, what was happening.

But last week Charles and I were refreshed and touched by a little scene that played out in our kitchen.

Kaison, eight years old, had to go to the dentist that day. Amanda, his mom, asked us to be responsible for him that day including the dental visit. He arrived about 6:45 that morning talking constantly. He was really excited about going to the dentist, about taking the medicine to make him sleepy, but his main topics of conversation concerned characters of his imagination including fantastic monsters. He only paused long enough to say he was hungry. I checked with Amanda to be sure he could have some breakfast. He ate cereal talking full stream ahead between bites.

Charles read our Bible selection for the morning. Kaison, with great difficulty and a few reminders, was able to listen. He has a habit of pounding a spoon, knife or fork into the table as if he were driving pilings for a river bridge. That morning, since he couldn’t talk, he began pounding. I kept giving him less and less damaging utensils until he was trying to drive his pilings with a napkin. During our prayer I could hear his constant wiggle but, between Grandaddy’s praying very briefly that morning and Kaison’s using every bit of his tiny self-control, he didn’t talk until the n of “amen” sounded.

Immediately he announced we were to do the pledge of allegiance “because that’s what we do at school.” (Yay! for Grady County schools!). He thumbed right to a flag on his cell phone and we all stood facing it as solemn as soldiers with hands on our hearts. Kaison’s voice was loud and clear reciting the words: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Thinking the ceremony was over, I began to stack cereal bowls. But Kaison wasn’t through. “No, now we have to sing the anthem,” he said. So, again with hands on our hearts and standing in a solemn straight row, we sang along with music from his cell phone the dear inspiring words: “Oh, say, can you see by the dawn’s early light…” His voice was so clear and sweet and his pronunciation perfectly accurate.

It takes home and school to train a child to be patriotic and loyal. I’m thankful Kaison is receiving training from both sources. I pray for teachers across our land to be diligent in teaching patriotism and I pray our country never gives up its right to salute the flag and to defend her freedoms of religion, speech, and the pursuit of happiness.

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His Mighty Power

Cancel Culture gets worse and worse (whoever heard of taking out Dr. Seuss?). Brave first responders are treated as the enemy. Politicians put themselves first rather than those who elected them. It is imperative that we remember that the One who created the earth and all that is therein is still in power. He who knows when a sparrow suffers will ultimately make everything right.

I wrote the following little essay several years ago for a still unpublished book, Holy Sandpaper, a collection of sixty-six devotions, one for each book of the Bible. I’m pulling it out today to remind myself of His mighty power and hope it means something to you.

His Mighty Power

“…for he commandeth even the winds and water, and they obey him.” Luke 8:25d

The disciples had been with Jesus when he cleansed a man of demons (Luke 4:35), healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever (Luke 4:39), brought Simon a huge draught of fish when he’d been unable to catch anything (Luke 5:6) healed a man of palsy and forgave his sins (Luke 5:24-25), healed a man’s withered hand (Luke 6:10), healed the dying servant of a centurion long-distance (Luke 7:10), and raised up the dead son of a widow (Luke 7:13-15). But when the disciples witnessed Jesus calming a raging storm, it “blew them away.” “even the winds and water…obey him.”

I can hear the breathless reverence in the voices of the disciples. I don’t know how big that boat was, but I can imagine each one of those rough and tough men feeling the need to prostrate themselves before the Lord if there were room. They were breathless first with fear of the storm, then breathless over the miracle they saw with their own eyes.

Highly trained weather forecasters warn us when there’s danger of tornados and hurricanes, hail storm, and severe thunderstorms. Warnings save hundreds of lives as citizens hear and heed the warnings. But no one can change the weather, only predict it. And the predictions aren’t always accurate because wind currents can suddenly change direction, strength, and speed. Rise and fall of temperatures also affect an oncoming storm.

I’m a survivor of a tornado that hit my home in north Georgia when I was a child and of a hurricane that bombarded my south Georgia home when I myself was a parent. The strength of those storms was incomprehensible. One minute hundred-year-old stately pines were standing tall, the next they were splintered and felled, plowing up the earth where they hit. We were fortunate in the hurricane that our house was only damaged and a few trees blown down. Others lost their houses and barns. It always amazes me to see how a tornado can dip down, take half a house and shred it, yet leave the other half standing with a coconut cake sitting on the kitchen counter or a piano fully intact with a hymnbook on its rack.

We can see the power of the Lord displayed in a spectacular lightning storm. Charles has been called as a veterinarian to pronounce reason for death of cows, sometimes six or eight, struck by lightning while huddling together under a tree.

The power you see in a storm may also be seen in changed lives, healed bodies, circumstances miraculously adjusted or overcome. Have you seen His power lately? Look for Him to be at work in you and around you! Watch diligently for the works of the One whom “even the winds…obey.”

Almighty Master of the winds and the waves, I put my trust in You, and eagerly expect great things to happen. Amen.

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