Life Along the Levee

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It was the summer of 1965. It was very hot down in the bayous of south Louisiana. I was a college student summer worker with a missionary in Creole country, sixty miles south of New Orleans, about a thousand from my home in north Georgia. The missionary, Miss Edrie Hatton, was all of four feet eleven, wore extenders on her shoes so she could reach the accelerator and, hopefully, the brakes. She was little but she ruled her realm, the Triumph Baptist Mission, firmly and steadily. I wrote Mama about the Louisiana gumbo feasts, blue crabs some youth brought to the mission, about how mosquitoes lined up on my knuckles as I played the piano. But I didn’t tell her about Miss Edrie’s driving, how she made up for her size with her speed. As it turned out, I was to experience a faster, scarier ride than Miss Edrie would have imagined.

My main responsibilities that summer, divided between Triumph Mission the Buras Mission a few miles away, were to teach children in Vacation Bible School, play the piano for Sunday meetings and visit folks. Visiting was by car (with Miss Edrie driving), by foot, or sometimes by boat, inviting folks to church and building relationships. Building relationships can take some odd turns. Trying to be friends with young people and children in the neighborhood, I became involved in an unexpected activity on the levee that stretched between us and the Mississippi River.

When I told children the story of the five thousand Jesus fed with one little boy’s lunch, I learned that these children had no concept of what a mountain is. I wanted them to picture the crowd of people on a grassy slope but I couldn’t feel they grasped the vision. Having grown up in the foothills, I couldn’t imagine not knowing what a mountain is. Finally, I pointed to the ever present levee. “Like the levee,” I explained, “except much, much higher.”

The levee hid the mighty Mississippi from our view. I would like to have been able to see the water from the mission, the expanse of rolling river about to dump into the Gulf of Mexico. But of course I knew why the levee was there. I’d seen the water level left by hurricanes in homes I visited, a dirty mark just shy of the ceiling. The levee was there to protect the residents, though sometimes even that barricade wasn’t enough. And then there was another use for the levee that even the sharp-eyed Miss Edrie didn’t realize. 

One Saturday afternoon while Miss Edrie was fully focused on studying for a Sunday Bible lesson, some children and young people came to the door to see if I’d like to come “do some things” with them. I wanted desperately to be their friend, not only just to be friends but to be able to point them to Jesus. And, besides, I was ready to go outside and “do some things.”

We followed the sandy shoulder of the road down the street several houses, then around one small house with its two banana trees and its clothesline hung with a week’s wash of bright skirts and heavy fishermen’s jump suits. Chickens scratched in the bare yard. I had no idea what we were about to do and, I think, the young people didn’t know either. We stood about awkwardly talking about fishing on the Gulf, catching blue crabs and such. One guy told with enthusiasm how he might be going to New Orleans with his father the next month. He’d never been so was very excited. We played a couple of games like “Rover Red Rover.”

About then a boy from farther along the levee appeared, pushing himself along on an old rusty dismantled motor bike. Before I knew what was happening a new game had developed, one I knew nothing about. A kid would laboriously push the bike to the summit of the levee, turn around and position himself, then push off allowing the bike to rush pell-mell down the slope while all the children screamed with glee. As the bike leveled out, the rider would turn slightly and use his feet as brakes.

My heart raced as I watched them. What if one of them broke a leg right here in front of me? At the same time, I was impressed with their inventiveness. I clapped and laughed with the others, glad to be sharing in their fun even if it was a little wild.

Suddenly my twelve-year-old friend Jocelyn climbed on the thing. Everyone cheered her on as she pushed her way up the slope. At the top she waved, adjusted her skirt, and climbed on. She plummeted down the embankment giggling and squealing in delight.

To my horror, Jocelyn then said, “Sister Brenda, it’s your turn. Try it, it’s fun!” (This was largely a Catholic oriented community, though few actually practiced Catholicism. Still, the children connected me with the terminology they were familiar with so I was “Sister Brenda.”)

I turned down the offer. One by one each youth and child, even the youngest ones, took a turn never having any trouble and obviously getting a swishing thrill out of their ride. As they continued to plead with me to try it, I admitted I’d never even learned to ride a bike. That wouldn’t matter, they insisted. The bike would go so fast I couldn’t fall off. What about my skirt, I asked. The girls, all dressed in skirts as well, laughed at me. That was no excuse.

As I pushed that surprisingly heavy bike to the top of the levee my heart began to pound. Lord, I don’t know what I’m doing here. Please help! But they had all done this so easily and I’d watched each one. Surely I, too, could safely arrive at the bottom. At the summit I looked out at the muddy Mississippi. I wished I could just sit up there for a while and watch the water go by. But the children were beginning to chant “Sis-ter Bren-da, Sis-ter Bren-da.” I positioned the bike as I’d seen them do, promising myself it would all be over in a minute. Then I pushed off.

The ride down was a terrible thrill. Indeed, I was going too fast to turn over. The trick came when I hit the flat. I forgot how they’d swerved and put their feet out. I can still remember the thud as I crashed into that house. My knees  throbbed and burned from the collision. As I lay in a heap of skirts (mine and some from the clothesline) and wheels, it was my pride that suffered the most. With all those children standing over me in great distress, adults from inside the house rushing out to see what had happened, all I could think was “What in the world is Miss Edrie going to say?”

I managed to keep my skirt down over my knees so Miss Edrie never knew how badly I’d skinned them. But there was no keeping her from knowing about my foolish ride. She admonished me severely, telling me I was supposed to be a leader of the children, not a follower. How could she trust me after such a stunt?

That summer was full of so many experiences–riding the ferry across to a charming island where several of us helped with a Bible class, making visits by boat to a French-speaking village named Venice, approached only by canals, drinking coffee that marched it was so strong. It was the summer before I would marry my sweetheart so I volunteered every single day to go to the mailbox. The baptistry at the Baptist mission was used that summer after many months of being quiet. My friend Jocelyn prayed to receive Christ and she, along with several others in her family, was baptized. Every morning Miss Edrie prayed beginning with the words, “We come boldly to the throne of grace.” Yes, she did forgive me for my foolishness.

I learned that summer that God protects the foolish and uses our weaknesses for His glory. And never do I hear of a hurricane headed for the Gulf that I don’t think about and pray for my friends along the levee.

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Courting in the 1930’s

My father-in-law was a great man, though he was known only to a lucky few. His name was J.B. Graham, simply that, not John Bryson or Joshua Brandon, just “J.B.” He was one of the oldest of thirteen children. For most of his adult life he lived in Thomas County, Georgia in a small community called Merrillville where church was the center of everything. It was a place where everyone watched out for the best interests of everyone else. Papa made sure all the widows got their screen doors repaired, their wasps’ nest killed, and that they had plenty of vegetables from his bounteous garden. He could be seen in his overalls and, for most months of the year, long-sleeved shirt, riding his tractor working long rows of tobacco or corn or soybeans.

His appearance on Sunday was quite different, however. He’d be spiffy as they come with pretty shirt, tie, and creased trousers. The ladies at church liked to comment on how nice his clothes looked and he’d say in his cute, humorous way, “But what about the hanger?” And he’d wink at his wife of fifty-plus years knowing he’d be lost choosing his own wardrobe.

Papa wasn’t originally from Thomas County. He came of dating age living in Danielsville, Georgia north of Athens. I was from north Georgia also, farther up in the hills near Clarkesville. Papa liked to tease me about “my” mountains which, he said, he’d seen once and that was enough. He said I had one leg longer than the other from growing up in the hills. He didn’t talk much about “his” north Georgia and I knew it was because he was so in love with the wide sunny fields of south Georgia where he met his bride. But one rainy day as we all sat on the porch he launched into telling about what it was like “courting” in the old days. I was intrigued and jotted down a few notes as soon as I got home. Here’s some of what he told us.

As he talked about his teen years in the 1930’s, I felt I was looking in to glimpse him on a Saturday evening or a Sunday afternoon, riding a mule to see his girlfriend.

“It was an easy quick mile or so over the creek, along little woods trails, and through a field or two from our house to where–oh, I can’t remember her name now–but to her house. But if darkness caught me, I couldn’t find those trails and had to ride three miles, going around on the road.”

The darkness always came too quickly, he said, before all the sweet things had been said, before all the pound cake had been eaten, or the fresh churned ice cream. He would begin to take his leave with the sun setting red fires up the trunks of pine trees. But by the time he finally really left the friendliness of the swept yard and the gentle maiden, he could hardly see her wave to him from her porch. Only a stone’s throw down the road, darkness engulfed him as if a thick blanket had been thrown over his head.

Papa looked around at the porch light with insects buzzing around it, at the nice floodlight in the yard, and he said, “You don’t know what darkness is until you get in that total country dark with no moon or stars out.”

He said one time he arrived at his own little road, still on his mule, and decided to light a match. The sudden flare spooked the mule who went one way while Papa landed somewhere in the other direction in a bramble.

Sometimes, many times, in fact, he didn’t have the luxury of riding the mule. Remember, there were thirteen children many of whom were boys. I guess they drew straws or something to see who got the only mule, and he didn’t always win. Once when he was on foot, he left in time to get home before dark. He thought. He was depending on a short cut, but he ended up in the middle of a woods with not a peep of light anywhere. He would have welcomed even a firefly.

“I stumbled along, tried to miss the briars and the logs, and got so turned around I didn’t know where in kingdom come I was. All I could see in any direction was the blackest dark you ever saw. Ain’t any darker down in a deep well.”

As accident would have it, he fell eventually into the road, plummeting several feet down an embankment. Standing and shaking off his humiliation, glad no one could see him, he realized he didn’t know which stretch of the road he’d fallen into. Should he go right or left? Feeling about for some landmark, he suddenly spied the flare of a tiny light far down the lane and somehow he knew that was home, that his mother had lit a lamp for him.

Flashlights were hard to come by, he said, and batteries weakened quickly in those days. In a big family like his, you might get the use of a flash about every six months, the mule maybe once a month if you were really lucky.

“And, you know,” said Papa as he rocked on the porch watching rain drip off the eaves,  “the darkness was blacker in those days. But don’t think I was giving up on my Saturday night freedom. The girls were mighty sweet!”

At that point my mother-in-law, Elizabeth, punched him in the arm and said, “All right now, that’s enough of that old stuff. Are you ready for a cup of coffee?”

And he always was.

On August 29 my husband’s parents would have been married for 78 years.


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Sprig of Rosemary

I don’t know just when I fell in love with the herb rosemary but it was a long time ago. I do remember the occasion when we first were given a pot of rosemary. By the way, the symbolism for rosemary is remembrance. Supposedly, eaten as seasoning on meats and vegetables, it can sharpen your memory skills. I need all the help in that department that I can get!

My first introduction to rosemary may have been at Roddenbery Memorial Library in Cairo, Georgia while herding a classroom of children on a “Miss Wessie” tour. Miss Wessie, longtime librarian, knew the value of letting children experience their surroundings with eyes, ears, fingers, and nose. As we walked through the garden she instructed the children to pinch a leaf or run hands gently down a branch of this plant, that herb or bush and then smell their hand. I think that was when I first found the calming, yet invigorating scent of rosemary.

That first pot of rosemary was given us by a veterinarian friend in Gray, Georgia. We went through Gray every few months on our way to Clarkesville and often passed right by Dr. Barry Moore’s clinic. Sometimes we’d stop for a minute and Charles would run in to say hi. Dr. Moore’s wife, Sarah Jane, was also a veterinarian but she worked in Macon so we didn’t see her except occasionally at a Georgia veterinarians’ meeting. We didn’t know them very well but they were very interesting people and we missed them after they retired.

One day as we traveled north we made the sudden decision to go by Barry and Sarah Jane’s house. Charles knew it was on the back side of the property where the practice was. We found them at home enjoying retirement, both of them very pleased to see us. We had iced tea and chatted a few minutes, then stood to leave. Sarah Jane insisted we look around their yard and garden before we left. That’s when I saw a rosemary bush that was thick and beautiful. It reigned like a queen close to a walkway, its slender-leaved branches brushing against a rock. I ran my hand along one branch and took in the restorative scent. As we continued around the yard I kept looking back at that beautiful rosemary bush. Finally I worked up the nerve to ask this lady whom I knew so slightly if I might have a cutting from her rosemary bush. She laughed and said, “Oh, I can do better than that. I’ll give you a rosemary bush already rooted and potted.”

We planted that rosemary where we could see it from our garden room. It grew to be as grand as Sarah Jane’s. But after years it began to be somewhat sprangly and we cut it back severely. It never recovered. But I had rooted some branches from it so when it died we still had rosemary. When we moved from that house we took cuttings with us and started a new tub of rosemary which became as bushy and full of that tantalizing aroma as the first had been. One day while I was playing with my great grandchildren I missed my footing somehow and landed right in that tub of rosemary. The children worried I’d hurt myself but I was cushioned nicely in the fragrant branches. The problem was I didn’t know how to get up. It took a lot of effort and squeals of laughter from all of us to haul me out of there. Then I realized what I’d done. I had sat smack down in the middle of my beautiful rosemary bush and it was flattened and broken. It never quite recovered. But, again, I had rooted some branches so we planted another one which grew nicely.

Presently, our rosemary bush is less than healthy having missed a few waterings, I’m afraid. It looks a little like a chicken that’s lost most of its feathers. But not to worry. I have another cutting rooted and ready to plant. Not only do I want to keep a rosemary near the back door. I also look for opportunities to give a newly rooted rosemary away, to pass forward the generosity of Sarah Jane.

I use dried or fresh rosemary on beef and pork roasts, on baked or stewed chicken. I even made a loaf of rosemary wheat bread and I really liked it by my family didn’t seem too turned on about it. Use a teaspoon of dried rosemary in a pot of vegetable beef soup. Use the pretty little branches as a garnish on a plate of stuffed eggs or a platter of sliced ham. If you want a quick decoration for your table, stick some rosemary branches in a pitcher of water. If you replenish the water every few days the leaves will stay fresh and green for weeks. And if you keep it long enough, about a month or six weeks, you can pull those stems out and–voila!–Roots!

It’s easy to dry rosemary for future use. Harvest about a dozen little branches, tie them together with a string, leaving a loop on stem end of bunch. Hang it over any hook and enjoy the down home feeling of its scent for a couple of weeks. When it’s dry, place the bunch on a cookie sheet or a piece of wax paper and strip every one of those twigs.  You can place dried rosemary leaves in a ziplock bag and keep them for at least six months. When you use dried rosemary, rub the now brittle little leaves between your hands and turn the into tiny flavorful bits to add to your cooking.

Aside from its savory scent, its delightful flavor and its Christmasy boughs, I love the tenacity of the rosemary. If you have the misfortune to prune it to death, flatten it, starve it you can plant new rootings so you’ll always have a rosemary.  For this non-green-thumb girl it is a pleasure to be able to root anything! And maybe, as a side effect, my memory will improve also.


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Jelly for Jesus



Charli ladling jelly into jars

Charli and I were making grape jelly. She helped me wash jars, measure sugar, collect utensils and stir, stir, stir. I felt a generational bonding as I remembered fondly making jelly with my mother, my daughter and my granddaughter. Now here was my great granddaughter working along with me.

As we worked I not only explained the process, but also threw in bits of my jelly devotional believing that, even at nine years old, she may remember some of it.

Making jelly has always been fun for me. I’m fascinated by the amazing changes that occur as crude juice is turned into sweet jiggly clear jelly. One time as I stirred the juice heating to a boil, God planted the idea for this devotional in my head. Maybe some of you would like to use this simple visual devotional as well. It is symbolic but not allegorical, meaning each point has a spiritual significance, but the whole process cannot be compared to our Lord or to our relationship to Him.

First, I introduce the jelly pot, aka roast pot, soup pot, etc. It is about forty-five years old, a stainless steel six-quart pot by Saladmaster. I point out that it is marred, one handle completely missing. There are scratches and stains on the shiny pot. It’s solid and good. But it’s marred. In spite of its faults, though, it is a very useful pot. We, too, are marred sinful vessels but God can use us in His purposes even with broken handles, multiple scratches and stains.

Next, I set out all the utensils I will need to make jelly–tongs for handling hot jars and lids, a long handled stirring spoon, a ladle for pouring jelly in jars, a funnel, cotton gloves I use for handling the filled hot jars, and a fresh clean dish cloth for making sure the rim of each jar is perfectly clean. I even drape a nice clean dish towel over my shoulder in case I need it during the process. All these are very minor characters in the jelly making but any one of them becomes major when I need them. I have to stir the jelly, ladle it into jars, tighten rings. And I’d make a scalding mess if I didn’t use that nifty little yellow funnel. Each is part of a team and, though seemingly insignificant, is of great importance for making a sweet delightful product. Just as each of us in God’s church, no matter how small our role, is very important.

It’s time to wash the jars. When doing this devotional, I hold up one clean sparkling pint jar for my audience to see. Cleanliness is totally necessary to insure safe and secure canning. God needs clean jars (us!) for the assignments He fills us with. But we can’t scrub ourselves clean in soapy water. He has to clean us with His blood and His power.

After washing the jars I place them right side up on a cookie sheet and place them in the oven to heat at 220. Heat is to sterilize the jars even more than washing can do and to promote the process of sealing. All jars have to be heated either this way or in a pan of simmering water as my mother used to do, or in a canner. Jellies are safe to can “from the stovetop” as opposed to most other products. Heating jars in the oven, lids and rings in hot water, make them pure for the job they’re to do. At this point I ask what the heat represents and someone will say it is our trials which God uses to prepare us for future assignments.

I measure the sugar into a bowl, each cup leveled exactly evenly. I usually just take some sugar in a ziplock bag for this part of the demonstration. Being so precise with measurements reminds me that God has given us commandments to obey and they are extremely important.

We talk about the process of obtaining the juice from fruits, varying according to the fruit. Mayhaws and grapes, for instance, have to be boiled slowly in a generous amount of water, then strained through cheesecloth. (The juice can be canned or frozen for future use.) One thing is obvious.  Whatever the fruit, it has to be mangled, squished, changed in form to become juice. We as Christians must be submissive to the Lord’s “molding and making,” or squishing, in order to do His work.

We take a deep breath. After all this preparation, we are finally ready to start making jelly. Preparation is necessary and often takes more time than the job itself. Sometimes the Lord takes years preparing us for one single assignment.

I like to have a quart jar of what I call crude juice ready to pour into that nice waiting pot, though in the interest of cleanup, I don’t actually pour it in. The Sure Jell will be at hand also but not opened. We talk about adding the Sure Jell and stirring it in. The juice isn’t pretty to start with, not clear and bright. After the Sure Jell goes in it becomes positively ugly. Experiences, situations, enter our lives, for good or for bad. Without Jesus we have no help in facing grim problems.

At last, after constant stirring, the juice and Sure Jell are thoroughly mixed and boiling. Time to pour in the sugar! This is really a fun stage. As we mix the sugar in, the juice suddenly turns a beautiful color and is so clear we can see the bottom of the shiny pot. I say this is like when Jesus comes into our lives. The ugliness disappears (well, at least part of the time!) and others can actually see Jesus in us.

When the jelly has boiled one minute at high heat, white foam forms on top. As I told Charli, the foam isn’t very good so we skim it off. Sometimes we call it sludge. My audience quickly recognizes that this is like the daily sins that Jesus “skims” off our lives.

We ladle hot jelly into hot jars and seal with hot lids and rings. This, too, is a really good part. Once we commit to following Jesus and become His child, nothing can separate us from Him, not tribulation, not distress, not persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, or sword (Romans 8:35) Just as the jars are sealed for safe keeping, so are we. The recommended shelf life for most canning is one to three years. For the Christian it is for eternity!

As the jelly cools it will become jiggly and spreadable. Christians become firm in their faith as they mature through studying God’s word, praying, and interacting with other believers.

One more thing. Now that we’ve made jelly, let’s taste it! I always have with me a jar of jelly, some crackers, and some napkins. One time I presented this devotional at an assisted living residence. Several little girls helped me serve the jelly on crackers. Everyone gets a taste of the jelly as I remind us all that when He puts sweetness in our lives, He expects us to share His goodness with others.

Whether you’re making marmalade, jelly, jam, or preserves from oranges, grapes, strawberries, or figs, I hope you enjoy the process. It’s always fun to hear that celebratory pop in the kitchen as each jar cools and seals. And there is a sense of completeness in stowing them away in the pantry. It’s so much fun to share gifts of jelly at Christmas and anytime.

I didn’t give Charli much of this devotional, too much for her at nine, but I hope she remembers that Jesus sweetens our lives.


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Watermelon Time

two slices of watermelons on grass

Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on

There’s nothing better on a hot summer’s afternoon than a slice of cool pink watermelon. We had a concrete picnic table at the house where we lived raising our children. It was perfect for watermelon cuttings. Many a Saturday afternoon we with perhaps an extended family group as well as friends would gather around while Charles “cracked” a watermelon wide open, then cut it into generous smile shaped pieces. Finicky ones would use a fork, others dive their very faces into the juicy melon spitting out the seeds with eager delight.

Some watermelon eaters opt to have just a portion of a slice, the “heart,” that beautiful, almost frosty-looking upper side of the smile. Others will eat right down to the rind and will have competitions over who might spit a seed the farthest. You can quickly tell the difference between the “heart” eaters with a fork and the “whole melon” eaters who have tell-tale juice running off their chins.

Most of the time right now there are only two of us here. We cut a watermelon into manageable small pieces and keep them in an airtight container so we can dip into them whenever we like. When I taste the juicy sweetness I remember many of those good old watermelon cuttings. One, in particular, was very different from the rest.

In my book Stone Gables I’ve written about the time when a watermelon vine grew in the corner of Mamma’s garden. She hadn’t planted it but we were so excited when it came up. One watermelon developed very nicely getting bigger and plumper as the summer went by.  Mamma “thumped” it almost every day and kept saying it wasn’t quite ready yet. But one day she agreed we could pluck it from the vine and carry it to the spring to cool.

We could hardly wait for that watermelon to be cool enough according to Mamma’s standards. Finally we all hovered around a big table-like rock near the spring while Stan did the cutting. We were holding our breath in eagerness as the knife cut lengthwise of that beautiful green melon. As it cracked open to reveal the inside we  we groaned in unison and even stepped back, I think. The watermelon wasn’t a watermelon; it was perfectly green inside. “It’s a citron,” Mamma said in disappointment. “I knew it didn’t thump right.”

Mamma was loathe to throw anything away so she had us haul the non-watermelon back to the house where she pared the rind into cubes and began boiling them down with sugar to make preserves. We still talk about the disappointment of that day.

Many another time we had wonderful watermelon cuttings on the patio at Stone Gables. People sat on the patio wall, in folding chairs, or just stood around with juice dripping between their fingers as they ate. Stan and Tom were both especially thoughtful about bringing watermelons to the big family gatherings. And never again, in my memory, did we have a citron instead of a watermelon.

A really good thing about watermelon, for those who are watching their calories, is that this “fruit” is ninety percent water. One can eat a lot of watermelon without worrying about blowing a diet. Also, the sugar is a kind sugar that doesn’t harm a diabetic, within reason.

A phrase from an old Tom T. Hall ballad comes to mind: “…old dogs and children and watermelon wine.” It’s a fetching tune and an intriguing thought but when I think of watermelon turned into wine I have to make a face. I’ve had the misfortune to let a watermelon spoil. Cutting into one of those is worse than opening a citron! What would watermelon wine taste like? I wouldn’t be able to get past the smell to find out.

This time of year there are watermelons in huge crates in almost any grocery store–round ones, oval ones, those claiming to be seedless, red meat watermelons, yellow meat watermelons, tiny watermelons and huge ones. You can see large trucks on the highway piled high with watermelons. There are wide open fields of watermelons still on their vines and then sometimes, sadly, I guess because the market becomes flooded, there are fields of watermelons gone to waste lying exposed with their vines turned yellow and shriveled and some of the melons popped open for the flies and bees.

Pick a watermelon from a crate at the store. Run your hands over its sleek dark hide, striped almost like a huge lizard of some kind. Take it home and cool it in the refrigerator, or if you’re in a hurry, cool it in the freezer but don’t leave it too long. Then crack into it. Open the halves and reveal the beautiful blends of slightest pink and rich red, the frosty heart, the rows of black seeds. Slice into smiles or handy wedges or fork-fun chunks and enjoy!

O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him. Psalm 34:8






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Porch Prayers


man touching book

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There were seven of us sitting almost six feet apart on our porch. One of the seven was Don Cole, Republican candidate for representative to U. S. Congress in the November election. With him were Don’s assistant Wiley Kimbrough and Jeff Jolley, Chairman of Grady County’s Republicans. Don had asked to meet with as many small groups as possible that day prior to the 6:00 grand opening of the Grady County Republican headquarters in downtown Cairo.

Don had requested we meet in small groups, not just so we could ask him questions but that we would pray for him. So after we’d had time to get acquainted and talk some about the issues tearing our country apart, that is exactly what we did. We stood in a spaced-out circle and prayed.

Our prayers ranged from asking the Lord’s blessing on this passionate good-hearted man, to pleading for restoration of our country, to thanking Him for freedom to vote and to meet like this on a porch to pray.

That night Don was the featured speaker at the Open House for the Republican Party. A number of folks had worked hard to make this newly acquired rental storefront a pleasing and functional place. It was clean and bright and decorated in the spirit of patriotism, flags, bunting, and all.

There were around fifty of us who listened in rapt attention to Don’s reasons for running and what he stands for. He briefly told about his life till now, an interesting mix of military service, ministerial service, and diplomatic service. The job he resigned in order to run for representative was as a speechwriter for Sonny Purdue, now U.S. Agricultural Commissioner, formerly Governor of Georgia. He related how he felt a compelling urge to take on this campaign, that God would not release him from following this path.

I can’t list all Don’s concerns he hopes to be able to address in Washington. But here are a few. He wants to give his constituents a voice again in the House. “Right now you don’t have a voice,” he declared, “and that needs to change.” He particularly feels the black community has been cheated and wants to give them much better representation. He is extremely concerned, for instance, that the black community has been targeted by the contenders for abortion. There are those with radical ideas becoming stronger all the time who truly want to wipe out a large portion of our population. And a final reason for running that rings in my head is his desire to stand up for the rights of everyone to worship in freedom, to be a strong voice for upholding the constitution.

My father was  a pioneer of conservatism in Georgia when few near us agreed. He literally preached to us about the need for government to protect us but not meddle in our private business. That’s partly why he and Mamma taught all their ten children at home. I guess I thought I’d heard enough about politics in my growing up years to last the rest of my life. Then I married a man who is just as adamant for standing up for our freedoms. I’m sorry those two, my husband and my father, couldn’t have met. As presidents and congressman have come and gone, we both now see a very sobering trend towards the government’s removing the freedom of the people. It has been amazing to see what President Trump has accomplished even while under siege the whole time. But now troubled times such as we’ve never known are plaguing our nation and so many of our politicians seem more interested in beating Donald Trump than in saving our country. I tremble for the future of our children and grandchildren.

Every election has been important. But this one is more important than any yet. Don Cole emphasizes that we all need to vote and that we need to vote our convictions. Our vote is ours, he says. But he asks humbly that we send “D.C. to D.C.”

My husband, Charles, wrote the following resolution which our church, First Baptist Cairo, is adopting. He says the Lord pressed him to write it one sleepless night. He is happy for anyone to use it in their churches as they see fit.

Be it resolved that we, the congregation of ___________________ (or any organization), in view of the turmoil and troubled times that are engulfing the United States of America and the world, urge the following:

As election time is November 3, 2020, we urge our members to make preparation for participating in this election by studying the issues and candidates thoroughly. We should note their achievements and policies rather than their personalities. Our guiding principle should be a biblical worldview with Christian goals and outcomes.

This is a very critical election as it seems to be a dividing point in what our country becomes and how it functions. Issues of both sides of the perspective are more in contrast than ever before. It is imperative that Christians take a strong stand by studying the issues, the candidates and what they stand for, and giving support to ones who most nearly meet our biblical perspective. This could be done by supporting the best candidates by monetary means, by use of energy and time, and with much prayer.

May God be honored by our action and may God bless the United States of America!

We were thankful we were able to host a small praying group on our porch that day and thankful for each who came. Blessings on Don Cole as he seeks that ominously responsible job in Washington. “D.C. to D.C.”






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Robert the Ghost


Robert is not your normal ghost. A normal ghost scares the willies out of you, is a filmy wraith on a moonlit night, makes steps creak on a vacant stairway, and breathes on your face while you sleep. Robert has never really frightened anyone. He seems to be a mischievous ghost delighting in making people scratch their heads and wonder what happened. Robert makes things disappear. He has, even, on one or two occasions made items show up in very odd places.

My sister, Suzanne, her husband Bill and their four children, son Oaky, twin daughters Fairlight and Rebecca, and youngest son Neil have all been nonplussed by the antics of Robert the Ghost. When Suzanne and Bill first got married they lived in a cozy little cabin up the hollow from their present large log house. During the time they lived in the cabin by the stream and until the birth of the twins there were no strange disappearances. When they moved to their new log house, however, they began experiencing some very puzzling situations, not every day, just on occasion.

The first thing that happened was the disappearance of a watermelon that was cooling in the enclosed spring. There were no signs of juicy watermelon hunks or shreds of peeling when Bill went to get it. He stood looking at the undisturbed water, then looking around under the trees, behind rocks, but there was nothing. The family decided that surely the cow must have eaten the watermelon, though it seemed impossible. It was after the cookie dough disappearance that they began to think they must have a ghost. After research, they concluded that the ghost had to be Robert.

Robert lived in the house on Gobbler’s Knob where Bill later grew up. The story is that as a young man he was diagnosed with an incurable condition and the family knew he wouldn’t live to be very old. When Robert was nineteen he went out to go for a bike ride and simply fell over dead beside his bike. Could he be the culprit who flits about amongst the trees and by the streams and even in that new house down the cove? Is he the one who just takes a notion every now and then to do something funny?

Oaky was four years old and the twins were two when the cookie dough disappeared. All settled into their new house, Suzanne one day was preparing a special dinner in their open kitchen/living area. Bill sat in his chair entertaining the children as Suzanne cooked. She made some cookie dough, covered it in an airtight container and put it in the refrigerator. When the biscuits were almost done, Suzanne went to the refrigerator to get the cookie dough. The bowl was strangely light as she picked it up. In this case, the bowl didn’t disappear, just every smidgen of cookie dough from the inside. All that was left were spoon scrapings. No one else was in the house, the small children were with Bill the whole time. Suzanne was left with a cookie sheet ready for baking but no dough.

The family was at dinner one afternoon, sunshine still lighting the valley below. All at once water poured out of the ceiling making a distinct puddle in the middle of the table. The children thought it was funny; Suzanne was bound to skin whatever cat had broken the rules. She tore up the stairs only to find nothing, no sign of water, no cats. In fact, the cats were accounted for outdoors. There are no plumbing connections above the table.

On another occasion Suzanne was looking forward to preparing bacon for her family, a special treat. The children were still asleep and Bill was in his chair having just stoked the fire in the wood cookstove. Suzanne set the unopened package of bacon beside the sink and turned to grab her favorite iron skillet. When she turned back around the bacon in its package was gone. Did she just think she pulled it out of the refrigerator? But the bacon wasn’t in the refrigerator. It wasn’t anywhere. There were no signs at all of bits and pieces of bacon or of the wrapper, not in the kitchen, not anywhere.

The next instance is one the family can’t even talk about without becoming amused. Suzanne went on a casual walk up through their woods about 11:00 one morning. Morning work was over and lunch was simmering. She wanted to see if a certain wildflower, a lady slipper or a trillium, were in bloom yet. She was passing the garbage barrel when something caught her eye. There, propped invitingly against the barrel, was a hefty unopened package of sausage and biscuits. She picked it up and examined it. It was dated the day before. Everyone has tried to explain how those biscuits got there but no one’s theory has stuck. Did Suzanne use the biscuits? They smelled so good. But, after all, they were there beside the garbage so after showing them to all the curious family members, she gave them to the pig.

Bill and Suzanne have a milk cow. The poor cow has been blamed several times, as have the dogs and the children, for strange disappearances. But in every instance the possibility of any of them being the culprit is totally as unbelievable as that Robert the Ghost strikes again. Remember that watermelon I mentioned floating in an enclosed spring? They blamed the cow until much later when, considering how in the world a cow would get hold of a watermelon floating free and then eat it without leaving one pink bite of evidence is bizarre. And what about the time Bill set an empty glass half gallon milk jug in a tub of water to soak? The milk had soured too badly for Suzanne to use it in her churning and so Bill had taken it to give the pig, then set the jar to soak while he milked the cow. The jug was gone when he came back. What animal, cow or dog or racoon could have grabbed that milk jug in its mouth? As to the children, they were all accounted for.

For the most part, Robert only strikes on Bill and Suzanne’s place, Timbrook. But he has been known to follow them elsewhere. Rebecca and her husband lived in St. Mary’s for a spell and there, too, unexplainable disappearances began to occur. During that period of time, there were no strange happenings at Timbrook.

Maybe you don’t believe in ghosts. I’m not saying I do. But there are some mighty quirky things that happen. When we see Bill and Suzanne, especially at their place, one of the catch-up questions we ask is what has Robert done lately? It’s a good thing he’s just mischievous and funny. And he’s even helpful sometimes. Suzanne was hoeing corn one morning with no one to help her. Usually, if two are hoeing, one starts at each end of a row and the two meet in the middle. That morning she was hoeing along, knowing she’d have the whole row to herself, when suddenly she came upon very fresh hoeing, nicely done all the way to the other end and there were no tracks. I can just picture her there staring down the row, leaning over to check the soil, then taking a deep breath and scratching her head.

Robert the Ghost strikes again! You can almost hear him laughing up the hill somewhere.












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Cats–Contented, Cruel, Compassionate


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Sassy and Cramer meditating

There’s something about just seeing cats in utter contentment that pulls one back from the hectic trauma of the world situation. We are inundated with alarming news of riots, mob violence, of senseless attempts to wipe out our nation’s history. As responsible citizens we can’t just ignore the news. Every one of us needs to watch for opportunities to take a stand for our highly threatened freedoms. But it is such a relief to take a deep breath sometimes and simply enjoy pure contentment personified by our gentle cats.

It’s not that our gentle cats have no worries. They have to make the hard decisions like what is the most favorite place to curl into, like who grabs it first and whether or not it’s worth a skirmish. Or there’s the decision whether to drink at the bird bath, their own water dish, or even from the tiny rain puddle in a curled magnolia leaf. They have to be on the alert at all times that humans in their big machines don’t run over them when they’re taking a sunny snooze in their very own property, that nice asphalt driveway built just for them. They even have to worry about that fellow feline’s bite in the night that’s beginning to abscess. Will the veterinarian take them to the nice animal clinic so they can catch up on the gossip, or will he just take care of it on the back of his truck? They have to decide when to ignore and when to follow their instinct to chase down a skittering lizard or to snag a bird that flies a split second too close.

Last week two of my grandchildren came dashing in the house with the terrible news that Sassy had injured a baby bird and left it lying beside the garbage cart. “He’s having trouble breathing,” reported Charli. When I arrived at the “crime” scene the fledgling cardinal was not having trouble breathing. He wasn’t breathing at all. We decided all we could do was bury him. Charli wrapped the body in a paper towel and I picked up a grave digger, a trusty trowel, before we all three trooped to a nice secluded spot near a nandina bush. There we had to decide how deep the grave should be and then place the baby in the hole. As Kaison covered him up we talked about that God cares about every sparrow (or cardinal) that falls, and cares so much more for His children. We sang “Jesus Loves Me.” The children stuck a twig in the ground marking the grave. On the way back to the house Kaison admitted he had already given Sassy a spanking. That brought up a frank discussion of the food chain and the fact that Sassy has a built-in urge to hunt for her dinner even though now, in the lap of luxury, she doesn’t need to. In other words, we decided the criminal should be pardoned.

Cats are independent, non-submissive, and seemingly cruel, playing with their prey before killing it or leaving it to die. But they are not nearly all without compassion. Have you ever snuggled a cat when you were sad and been comforted by its purr? Have you slept with a cat warming your feet? Have you had a nice conversation with a cat lately? Or stroked one’s fur from ears to expressive curling tail?

Our friend, Juanita, and her daughter, Angela, who lives next door to her, call themselves cat rescuers. They don’t go out looking for them but just take them in when they arrive thin and fearful. Some are feral cats who become amazingly tame under their tender care, some come as kittens, others as mature castaways. “They seem to know we’ll have food and water and a kind word for them,” says Juanita.

Juanita’s husband, Billy, never “took to the cats.” He tolerated them for his wife’s and daughter’s sakes, but didn’t care to have one in his lap, certainly not on his bed, took no pains to befriend them. Until Carl came along. For some reason he bonded with Carl. The cat jumped boldly into his lap and welcomed a good stroking. In fact, Carl really preferred Billy over anyone else.

When we visited Juanita just after Billy died, she told us this touching story. Billy had been hospitalized for many weeks but finally was home with hospice care. Carl took up residence beside his bed. He knew his boundaries and was careful not to get in Billy’s face, just stayed close as hours crept by. As Billy was drawing his last breaths, though, Carl jumped up on the bed and nuzzled Billy’s neck. He was right there as Billy went to heaven. The minute Billy drew his last breath, Carl leapt off the bed and went under a chair where he stayed for a long time, mourning his friend. The hospice attendant commented that she believed Carl had caught a glimpse of heaven, he was so close to Billy as he left.

There is a little bit more to that last story. Angela decided she might be able to wear a pair of her Daddy’s jeans. As she was trying them on Carl, who hadn’t been paying her any mind, came over and started sniffing and rubbing on her legs. “I know he must wonder what happened to the man who belonged in these jeans,” she said.

Carl, the compassionate cat, has also taken on a certain responsibility. He seems now to consider himself the “ruler” of the cats, inspecting and giving an okay or a growl to any who enter the house. Last night Juanita said he was playing with a kitten in the kitchen “as if he remembered being young like that and wanted to give a nudge of encouragement to the little thing.”

There are many facets to the character of cats, aside from contentment, cruelty and compassion. What is your cat story?

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Carl, a compassionate cat


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Mozart’s Sister

Mozart's Sister

There are times when one reads the last words of a book and knows he has to tell someone about it. That’s how I felt when I finished reading Mozart’s Sister by Nancy Moser (Bethany House, 2006). I realized as never before the sacrifices made, not only by a composer, but by a whole family in order for the music that stirs our souls to be available to us two hundred plus years later.

In the prelude of the book I found Baroness Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia Mozart Berchtold wandering through a cemetery on a cold rainy morning in Vienna, Austria. She was looking for the grave of her famous brother whom she had not seen for many years, though they had been so close as children. She had just heard of his death. Talking to the cemetery caretaker, she learned that, due to a law issued by the emperor, people were buried in common graves with no markings unless they were nobility. “We been ordered to dig ’em up after seven years to make room for more,” the unfeeling caretaker told her.

Nancy Moser was first drawn to this story while visiting the Mozart family home in Salzburg. The guide relayed to that tired tourist’s mind and heart how “Nannerl,” the family’s nickname for Mozart’s older sister, had as much talent as he did, had huge dreams just as he did, but he was the favored one and she was forced to fade into the background. The Mozarts, all except Wolfgang Amadeus (1756-1791) himself, loved to write letters and even he wrote dutifully from time to time. So Nancy had a treasure trove of, not just facts, but feelings, dashed hopes, heartache, illnesses and deaths. The author has skillfully added fictional accounts to fill in where the letters left blanks.

Wolfie, as his family called him, was a child prodigy as was his sister. Their father was Vice Kappelmeister in Salzburg, Austria, which meant he was director of an orchestra for Archbishop Schrattenbach. This was a place of great honor but also a highly political position. His position was threatened every time he took his children on tour, which was sometimes for months and even years as he was obsessed with introducing his son to important audiences. The children were ages six and eleven when they started their first tour. Nannerl, known affectionately by her brother as Horseface, tells of the thrill of playing for kings and queens, but also the disappointment as again and again her Papa brags on her little brother, hardly mentioning her brilliant accompaniment on the clavier. Mama is the one who kindly and gently reminds Nannerl from time to time that things are different for women, that she can’t expect to go very far with her music but must take up her supportive role.

After playing with Wolfie his Sonata in G minor for the king and queen of England in the Buckingham House when they were much older, Nannerl described the experience: Then suddenly my hands were still. The combined notes of violin and clavier hung a moment as if wistful at leaving the here and now, unwilling to travel to that place of waiting in the future where they might be set free once more…I opened my eyes, and for an instant was surprised to see we were not alone. I put a hand to my cheek and found tears there…We were a trio: Wolfie, me, and the music.

This loyal sister who loved her brother passionately also struggled with covetousness. However, over and again she helped Wolfie through times of illness and despair, even helped him at times composing music, tirelessly making copies and then playing with him. In her mid-twenties she began to realize she would never be the musician she’d dreamed of. While Wolfie traveled without her she began giving music lessons, keeping the Mozart home, and wondering what else God might have in store for her. If it was to marry, then where was a suitor for her, a spinster of no great beauty?

This is Nannerl’s story, not Wolfgang’s, though he and the Mozart family are so much a part of it. It is not a history book, as author Nancy declares herself. It is a story of feelings, disappointments, and victories. At the end of her life Nannerl’s thoughts, as stated by the author, give a clear picture of this woman’s victories:

I had not become famous like my brother. No, I had not pursued my music as much as I would have liked. And no, I had not married the love of my life. Yet by marrying as I did, I had changed five children’s lives for the better. If I accomplished nothing more than that, I could be proud. How comforting to realize God knows what He’s doing.

Mozart’s music has always “sung” to me. Music from “Marriage of Figaro” and “The Magic Flute” are favorites. Now, as I listen, I have a new appreciation for the sacrifices and struggles that went into the composing of these pieces. There were the sacrifices of a father who poured his whole energy into pushing his boy forward, of a mother who died far from home on one of Wolfie’s tours, and also the sacrifices of a sister who adored him in spite of his unkindness.


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The Fiftieth Fourth

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Photo by Brett Sayles on

The story of our second and third presidents dying on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence has intrigued me for years. In case you haven’t pondered it lately, let me remind you of that account. I have to wonder what these and others who risked everything to earn our freedom would think about what is happening right now in their beloved United States of America.

David McCullough in his scholarly and thoroughly interesting book John Adams describes the relationship between these two Founding Fathers. McCullough used letters from Adams and to Adams as well as letter and diary entries from Abigail Adams, John Quincy Adams, and others to glean the details of their lives.

John Adams, second president, was known by many as the “voice” for pushing the long and sometimes heated discussions that led to the writing of that marvelous document. Jefferson, third president, was known as the “pen” being responsible for the actual writing of the Declaration with the other four on the committee giving strong input. Through those terrible times leading up to the Revolution they were friends, not agreeing by any means on everything but working together and enjoying each other. You might say they were like the proverbial “iron sharpening iron” as they forged through danger and conflict molding a nation.

The two men had grown up in vastly different surroundings. Adams’ family owned a farm in Quincy, Massachusetts where he grew up working the land and never lost his love for it. He became a lawyer, was a respected leader in his community, but always lived simply. On his frequent trips to Washington, he rode his horse, often alone.

Jefferson’s father was a plantation owner in Virginia. Jefferson naturally inherited the plantation, the slaves, and the lifestyle of a southern aristocrat. He, being an architect as well as lawyer, built himself a mansion and named it Monticello.

Both men were scholars, each acquiring in their lifetime a huge library. Jefferson is quoted as saying he could not live without books. Adams read constantly even during his last years when he was becoming blind. Jefferson had more than six thousand volumes in his library and Adams more than three thousand. Both were dedicated to serving their fellow man. Neither would sit by and let injustice rule.

It was at the end of Washington’s two terms as president that John Adams became the nominee and Jefferson ran against him. Adams was a federalist pushing for more centralized government whereas Jefferson was striving for far more government by representation of the people. Adams won by a narrow margin and Jefferson became his vice president. As Adams began to campaign for his second term Jefferson turned on him. It was the first and last time in history that a vice president has run against a president. The smears and lies that Jefferson circulated pained Adams to the core, as well as his dear first lady, Abigail, who often had hosted Jefferson in their home. One would presume they could never be friends again after all the hate Jefferson slung towards Adams in his fervor to win the presidency.

But in their later years these two past presidents became close friends again, corresponding regularly. Adams wrote more than Jefferson, almost twice as many letters during their last year. It was a happy correspondence, each dwelling on things he knew the other would understand. They generally avoided subjects that would raise conflict. It was time to enjoy their friendship.

Asked on one occasion how he, Adams, could be on such good terms with Jefferson after the abuse he had suffered, Adams answered that he didn’t believe Jefferson ever hated him, just his whole administration. Jefferson wished to be President of the United States and Adams stood in his way. Adams is quoted as saying, “I forgive all my enemies and hope they may find mercy in Heaven.”

Jefferson sent warm congratulations to his old friend on the occasion of his son, John Quincy, being elected president in 1825: “It must excite ineffable feelings in the breast of a father to have lived to see a son…so eminently distinguished by the voice of his country.”

The year of 1826 was to be a big one with wonderful celebrations. Ninety-year-old Adams, eighty-three-year-old Jefferson and eighty-eight-year-old Charles Carroll, the third living Declaration signer, were invited to a variety of commemorable celebrations. Though Adams and Jefferson in their years as negotiators and diplomats had both traveled to France, England, and the Netherlands, now they were too feeble to plan on being in Washington, Philadelphia, Boston, or New York for the Fourth. But they each voiced to those around them that they would live to see the Fourth.

Dr. Holbrook, Adams’ doctor, was with him early on Tuesday, July 4 as was the Reverend George Whitney. Cannons were already booming in the distance. It was obvious that the old president could not last much longer. Adams woke and on being told it was the Fourth, he answered in a clear voice, “It is a great day. It is a good day.”

“At Monticello,” David McCullough writes, “Thomas Jefferson had been unconscious since the night of July 2…At about seven o’clock the evening of July 3, Jefferson awakened and uttered a declaration, ‘This is the Fourth’ or ‘This is the Fourth of July.’ Told it would be soon, he slept again.” Jefferson died at approximately 1:00 the afternoon of July 4. Bells in Charlottesville were ringing in the distance celebrating the Fourth.

At Quincy, Adams lay peacefully resting as cannons grew louder. A loud thunderstorm showed off the “artillery of Heaven” as some would describe it. Adams stirred and whispered, “Thomas Jefferson survives.” He died at about six-twenty in the evening of the Fourth, unaware that Jefferson was already gone.

Two great statesmen, flawed men used by God to build a nation where everyone could worship freely, two strong leaders who deserve our honor and respect–both died on the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

As you hear fireworks in the distance, or even see them light the sky, and as you furl your flag, say a prayer of thanksgiving for these presidents of the past. And pray for our current president, Donald Trump who also, though flawed, I believe, is the man God chose “for just such a time as this.”





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