Mamma’s Own Leprechaun

It was March of 1990 and my mother had been in the hospital already that year more than she’d been in all her eighty-six years. We her children who lived hours away were taking turns to help the near siblings out in caring for Mamma. Our usually jubilant happy “Mamma” was discouraged after weeks of pain following a fall and we all wanted to see her return to doing the things she so loved to do: crocheting afghans, reading, cooking big Saturday breakfasts for all her sons, attending church and, of course, playing Scrabble.

It was my turn. I’d been sitting with Mamma only a day or two that Saturday morning when I realized her excruciating pain had hit a new high. A call to her doctor brought the command for her to go to the hospital. “I need to put her on IV therapy,” he said. Mamma refused. She’d had all her babies at home and had toughed it through many an illness without a hospital and she wasn’t going now. I called my sister Pat in North Carolina who talked Mamma into letting the ambulance come for her. The ride down her long winding driveway was pretty awesome, but I was just praying for Mamma to be helped.

Now it was many days later and still Mamma was hurting so much. She said the pain was more terrific than birthing any of her eleven babies. It was early in the morning after a long restless night. I was leaning over her bed fluffing her pillow one more time when I heard the door open. There was a shuffling of feet but no one appeared around the intervening wall. As I watched, though, I saw first a long pointy green finger creep around the corner, then just the top of a pointed hat followed by a round grinning face. Dr. Hamilton! Mamma’s doctor.

Dr. Hamilton was making his bedside calls that March 17 dressed from head to toe as an Irish something–leprechaun, elf?

He popped one foot up on Mamma’s bed the better to show off his green slipper and shamrock decorated tall sock.

Mamma let out a spluttering giggle, the first that had passed her lips in many a day. She looked at Dr. Hamilton and exclaimed, “You–you–monkey!” Then her pale face flushed at her own indiscretion.

Dr. Hamilton proceeded to play his very Irish tie, pressing something so that “Irish Eyes are Smiling” filled the room. Then he skipped on around her bed, lifted his green hat to reveal dark curls, and said so brightly, “Top o’ the mornin’ to you!” With that he popped himself up onto Mamma’s bed making himself comfortable.

Mamma’s blue eyes were open so wide by that time and I was choked with laughter. Who would have imagined Mamma’s Irish doctor would make such an elaborate act even on St. Paddy’s Day! Did he do this for all his patients? Maybe not. After all, this was Mamma.

Dr. Hamilton greatly admired my mother, according to my local siblings, because she was such a matriarch and reigned so gracefully as such. He had been quoted as saying he and his wife wanted to have as many children “as Mrs. Knight,” and Dr. Hamilton wanted lots of girls because he thought they would take better care of him than boys would. When he told Mamma that she said softly that boys did a very good job also. She would always defend her boys if she thought they were being slighted in the least.

Some years after that I heard Dr. Hamilton had seven boys–and a Rose! We hoped maybe he would be blessed with more girls after Rose came but it wasn’t to be that way. He now has eleven boys–and a Rose!

But back to Mamma’s recovery…From that St. Patrick’s Day it seemed to me Mamma had some spark back and gradually got better and better. After she went home from the hospital Dr. Hamilton made several home visits. Mamma improved so much that she was able to go with Charles and me on a wonderful autumn trip to New England. Charles’ mom went also. My mother was able to walk but only with a walker. Mama Graham needed only a cane. We visited Mama Graham’s dream place, Niagara Falls, and Mamma’s favorite, the Rocky Coast of Maine, and many other fantastic sights we all four enjoyed, a trip full of fabulous memories!

Mamma lived seven more years after that fall of hers. During all those years she never missed a time of inviting Dr. and Mrs. Hamilton and all their children to her house, Stone Gables, for tea and cookies during the Christmas holidays.

May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, the rain fall soft upon your fields, and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.” –An Irish Blessing

 

 

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War On Stumps

It was sprinkling rain. But when I pointed that out to Charles (as if perhaps he hadn’t noticed the dampness on his back) he said it was keeping him cool! The big goal of the day was to succeed in digging at least one of the two huge dogwood stumps out of the ground and carry it away. Ulysses was here to help and the two men were taking turns chopping, digging, pounding away on roots that were so hard the mattock bounced back from every lick.

Charles and I had made the decision to cut the trees down last summer realizing that they were more dead than alive. It was really hot then. Charles said he’d wait until winter to dig the stumps out. Here it is nearly the end of February and he hasn’t found a truly winter day to work on those stumps. So this rainy dark morning would have to suffice!

After digging for a while and exposing several roots, Charles positioned the truck for pulling them out with a chain fastened to his trailer hitch. Ulysses attached the chain to a muddy stubborn root, Charles pulled forward slowly and out came the root to be thrown into the waiting wheelbarrow.

When I took my knitting (which seemed a nice job for a rainy morning) to the living room, I could hear the men calling to each other: “Whoa, Doc! OK, move up a little” or “Whoopee, there she comes!” or “Snub your chain tighter, Ulysses, we’ll try her again.” (Have you noticed that when men are working, any hard and stubborn thing is called a “she”?)

The wheelbarrow was getting full and there was a deep, wide hole now where the stump still presided.

Of course we’d rather by far have the two beautiful dogwoods on either side of our front yard blooming like white angels in March and April. But the dogwoods have been struck by Dogwood Anthracose (caused by Discula destructive), a disease first identified, I believe, in New York in the 1970’s and creeping since then steadily south through the Appalachian mountains and down the eastern seaboard. We were so hoping maybe the disease wouldn’t get this far, but here it is. Dogwoods until recently brightened our yards and woodlands with white blossoms in the spring and brilliant red berries and leaves in the fall. But now more and more of them have turned to stark leafless silhouettes.

So here we were making a war on dogwood stumps that were wide enough on which to serve a small teaparty. But, Charles declared, these stumps only have lateral roots, no taproot. “We will whip one at least by noon,” he said.

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Sure enough, well before noon, I heard a shout and hurried to the door. The stump was out! I went down to take pictures, wiping raindrops from my iPad. The great spidery lump of a stump rolled and bounced behind the truck as Charles pulled it to the debris pile.

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Stump #1 was out and where it came from was a gaping hole. After they filled the canyon in, only a bare spot remained. Charles will tease the grass back over that with his patient sprigging. I closed my eyes and tried to picture the lawn as it had been when those two beautiful dogwoods offered their gracious shade in the summer, their color in fall and winter, and their display of white in the spring.

Somehow, the following verses from Psalm 103:15-17 come to mind:

The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children.

 

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Fanny Crosby, Child of Tragedy?

 

God creates awesome good out of horrendous tragedy. Joni Eareckson’s diving accident left her with no feeling below her shoulders, yet she inspires millions with her testimony, art, and songs. And then there was Fanny Crosby…

Frances Jane Crosby was born March 24, 1820 in the village of Southeast, New York, the only child of John and Mercy Crosby. While their doctor was away, little Fanny, only six weeks old, developed a bad infection. A young quack treated the baby by applying hot mustard poultices to her eyes. The baby survived, but soon her parents realized she could no longer see. Within the year, a second tragedy hit this family. Fanny’s young father took a chill and died.

Fanny’s 21-year-old mother had to go to work as a maid leaving her baby for long hours with her mother Eunice.

Fanny’s grandmother took her job very seriously. She did not just keep this blind baby comfortable and safe. She stimulated her senses with awareness of her surroundings. As the child grew, she and her grandmother walked and explored. She played with other children. The grandmother spent long hours describing details of leaves and sunsets, rocks and rills. She read to her. She taught her to memorize. By the time Fanny was fifteen she had memorized the first five books of the Bible, the book of Psalms, Song of Solomon, and the four gospels.

Fanny was, by her own testimony, a happy child. She refused to be pitied. At the age of eight she wrote these words:

“Oh, what a happy soul I am, Although I cannot see! I am resolved that in this world Contented I will be! How many blessings I enjoy That other people don’t! To weep and sigh because I’m blind, I cannot and I won’t.”

Because of her mother’s and grandmother’s diligence, Fanny Crosby was enrolled in the prestigious New York Institution for the Blind when she was only fifteen. One can only imagine the wonders this imaginative young woman explored as she learned braille, interacted with teachers and students and continued to grow as a poet. She was a student for ten years, then stayed on at the Institute as a teacher for ten more years during which time she fell in love with fellow teacher Alexander Van Alstyne who also was blind. He and Fanny both loved music. She learned to play piano, organ, harp and guitar.

Fanny and her husband had only one child who died in infancy, another tragedy in Fanny’s life.

Though she was always religious, Fanny actually became a Christian secure in trusting Jesus for eternity when she was thirty-one. Her poetry became markedly more spiritual after that.

Very likely the most prolific hymn writer ever, Fanny didn’t seriously begin writing hymns until she was in her forties. She met Robert Lowry who teamed with her, writing music for her lyrics. Bigelow and Main Publishing Company published much of her works. By many reports, she received a dollar or two for each hymn. She became so well known for writing hymns that sometimes a musician would bring music to her and ask for lyrics. In one such case, Doane played a tune for her explaining that he needed the song completed in thirty-five minutes. She wrote the words right then to the hymn, “Safe In the Arms of Jesus.”

Fanny wrote 8,000 hymns. Hymn books of many Protestant denominations are full of her them. Here are only a few: “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross,” “To God Be The Glory,” “Pass Me Not, Oh Gentle Savior,” “Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine,” and “All the Way My Saviour Leads Me.”

Yes, Fanny was blind. But she couldn’t praise her Saviour enough! At one point she is quoted as saying that perhaps if she hadn’t been blind she would have been too distracted by everything around her to have written all those hymns.

Her hymns of praise have lifted the hearts of millions. Remember the chorus to “Blessed Assurance…”? “This is my story, this is my song, Praising my Saviour all the day long; This is my story, this is my song, Praising my Saviour all the day long.” Even as I type these lines, my heart beats faster at the joy resounding in those words.

Remember revivals when we’d sing so jubilantly, “Praise Him! Praise Him! Jesus our blessed Redeemer! Sing, O earth, His wonderful love proclaim!”

But Fanny expressed her dependence on God too. She would have agreed with Joni Eareckson’s quote: “There is nothing that moves a loving father’s soul quite like his child’s cry.” So in “All the Way My Saviour Leads Me” we sing her words, “For I know whate’er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well; For I know whate’er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well.”

She writes of her devotion in “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross”: “Jesus, keep me near the cross, There a precious fountain, Free to all a healing stream, Flows from Calv’ry’s mountain. In the cross, in the cross, Be my glory ever, Till my raptur’d soul shall find Rest beyond the river.”

In “Rescue the Perishing” Fanny shows her compassion for the lost and, more importantly, His compassion: “Rescue the perishing, Care for the dying; Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave…Rescue the perishing, Care for the dying; Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.”

When Fanny was asked about how her blindness had affected her life, she said that even if she could have chosen as an adult to have sight she would have turned it down. She didn’t want to miss the close walk with Jesus. “His will be the first face I will see!” she said. She used that thought in “My Saviour First of All”: “I shall know my Redeemer when I reach the other side, And His smile will be the first to welcome me.”

Fanny saw her Saviour’s smile face to face when she died February 12, 1915, just short of her 95th birthday.

Both Joni Eareckson and Fanny Crosby have been heard to say they were blessed beyond measure as tools of the Master because of their handicaps. Tragedy hit them–but it could not win!

NOTE: My interest in Fanny Crosby was renewed by a recent article in Mature Living by Greg Asimakoupoulos. You might want to check out the February issue! Also, for further reading there are several books by Fanny Crosby and about her. One is titled, “This Is My Story, This Is My Song.”

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Wild Hog and Mountain Oysters

Survivors eat some pretty strange things–slugs, scrambled worms, and such–but I had not aimed to be that kind of survivor when these less than delightful meals were thrust upon me. I did dream of adventure, just not quite like this.

We had nothing in our furnished student apartment big enough to hold a wild hog. We owned two pressure cookers, one small and one smaller, wedding gifts. My mother had given us a cute little sauce pan, too, just big enough for boiling four eggs, not too big, she noted, for our tiny kitchen cabinet. Then there were one or two odd little pots and an adorable Corning ware teapot of which I was particularly proud. There was nothing big enough in which to cook a wild hog.

But Charles and two of his UGA Vet School buddies had acquired a wild hog, whether one shot it, or what, I don’t remember. They butchered it somewhere at the vet school. But where to cook it? Charles proposed we would cook it and the others would come help eat it.

We measured the tiny oven and went to Krogers to buy an aluminum foil roasting pan. With all pots and the roaster, the hog might be squeezed in. I insisted on our getting some potatoes and carrots, too, which wiped out our grocery budget. But we had to have something to go with that hog. This was our first dinner party, after all. Charles said it was just the guys, not to worry. I said we had to have potatoes.

As the upstairs apartment filled with the smell of that hog cooking, I was very glad we’d have vegetables, too, though it would take some ingenuity to work them into the cooking agenda on that tiny stove. The smell became more and more intensely offensive as the Saturday rolled into the afternoon.

We opened all the windows. I went for a walk but never seemed to shake that smell. This was not a nice smoked ham, mind you. It was a wild hog, specifically a wild boar. If you’ve never smelled one cooking, you have no concept of how bad it was. No words can describe it.

About 5:00 we began testing portions with a fork. The meat was tough and unyielding. Charles called the guys and told them to give us a couple more hours. We had to shift pots back and forth to give each a chance at heat on the three available eyes. I cooked potatoes in the teapot.

We finally sat down at our little table. Our two guests were big fellows. Either one could have used that table for a plate. They grinned like Hoss on Bonanza and tried to figure out what to do with their hands.

Charles always has said very good blessings and that was no exception. He thanked God graciously for the free meat and for good friends with whom to enjoy it.

Carter took one bite. Seaborn took one bite. They each drank a big swig of tea. Next thing we knew they were heading for the door.

“You mean they’re gone?” I asked in horror. “What will we do with all this meat?”

Charles was quite cheerful. “We’ll eat it. Can’t waste free groceries.”

We learned to eat slices of “the meat” cold. It didn’t smell nearly as bad that way.

All through the years, whenever we saw those guys at veterinary conventions (one became State Veterinarian Carter Black, the other a practitioner and farmer Seaborn Harden), we remembered that night when they wouldn’t stay and eat that tough odorous meat. In a way, I never forgave them, although I did laugh with them. They both admitted they thought they could eat anything, but not that.

One more time Charles landed me in a cooking situation that was less than pleasant.

We’d just moved to Cairo, Georgia where Charles was practicing veterinary medicine with Eugene T. Maddox. Charles announced at lunch one Friday that we were going to cook mountain oysters for Gene and a few of their clients. I think the phone rang before he got around to explaining what mountain oysters are. Anyway, mountain anything sounded good to me, I was so homesick for the hills.

I knew by then that in South Georgia you serve grits, baked beans, and cole slaw with any kind of seafood. So I prepared happily for this occasion. Charles said he and the guys would fry the oysters which seemed real nice.

It was while they were frying the little things and making a horrible mess of flour and grease when I overheard one client say something jovial about his hogs making such a noble contribution. Danger signals went off in my head. What had Charles gotten me into this time?

I trapped him behind the kitchen door and made him explain. Then I excused myself to other parts of the house for the duration.

That Friday Charles had “cut” several young boars, meaning they would never be daddies. That resulted in a small pan of mountain oysters. I never told my mother this story.

The worst part of the oyster story is that I was very hungry, and the “oysters” smelled good! I almost gag at the thought that I almost ate one!

My Daddy used to quote St. Paul as saying (I Corinthians 10:27): “…eat whatever is set before you, asking no questions for conscience sake.”

Okay, I guess if I were starving……..!

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Our Storm Story

Our storm story doesn’t compare to those of the tornado victims in our area. But, puny as it may be, this is our story.

We knew thunderstorms were expected. I was actually looking forward to the stormy weather. Nothing is cozier than lying in bed listening to the rain on the roof. However, this storm was a real character! The lightning and thunder weren’t just playing. They were very serious. When you see lightning, then count till the thunder booms and the number of seconds in between is number of miles away to the storm. Right?

But this storm was present with us in force, present and accounted for, no doubt about it. Lightning and thunder were flashing and booming at the same time, over and over again. And then the rain! It was horrendous. Often when I say “Hear the rain?” Charles says “What rain? That’s the air conditioner.” But he heard it this time! We talked about how many inches we might be getting in the rain guage. We were glad our cats had such nice warm dry shelters and I pictured them raising their heads in what should have been the dark of 3:45 a.m. to wonder at the repeated sparking flashes of strong lightning. They’d be flicking their ears, too, at the claps of thunder.

I said something like “Glad our poor old dog Blake doesn’t have to endure this storm. Gone to his rewards. He’d be gone crazy before now.” Blake had a storm endurance disorder that made him go extraordinarily wild before we could even hear thunder. He’d huddle behind the toilet or squeeze behind the freezer trembling from his Irish setter nose to his sad fluffy red tail.

Charles crawled out of bed to go to the bathroom. I lay watching the amazing show.

All of a sudden there was a living, crackling presence right in our room. A huge chandelier-sized ball of lightning sparked and sizzled in a suspended state only six feet from me. At the same time a stroke of thunder boomed and crashed. It happened in a millisecond, I guess, but I will never forget the sight of that electrical ball beside my bed.

“Something very near has been hit,” I told Charles as he came out of the bathroom. Charles Douglas came in from his room. He, too, had seen an electrical ball. Charles told us both reasonably that what we had seen was just strong flashes of lightning, but we contend that this was quite different. That crackling ball of fire in my room is vivid in my mind.

I went to a front window to see if I could tell whether or not one of our pines had been hit. Charles D padded back to his room and came out reporting his television and play station were both dead, completely gone.

That was Sunday, January 23, the day of the deadly tornadoes in South Georgia. Though we did spend time in the basement due to tornado warning, we were not hit. We are so grateful, feel so blessed, we’d be ashamed to say very much about our tiny problems. But, though comparatively tiny, the storm’s hit wreaked havoc on our household.

All week repairmen have frequented our house. As one wire/component/fixture is repaired, another problem is discovered. One repairman who kept running into more electronic wires, devices, etc. “fried,” shook his head with a patient smile as he remarked, “Chasing down ghosts here.”

The inventory right now, I think, is: two televisions, one play station, one computer router, several smoke alarms, numerous wires, landline telephone wire, an entire security system (now restored and updated!) and more.

I asked one repairman for his thinking concerning the randomness of the lightning damage. He said the strike came in on the telephone wire (entrance right beside our bed) and “wandered” around the house striking here and there. “That’s the way it works,” he said. “There’s no rhyme or reason to it. It goes where it wants to go all in a second’s time. Like a tornado,” he added,” touching down here, skipping that house, demolishing the next one.”

I described to one repairman my visit by the sizzling electrical ball. He said, “Oh, yes, I’ve seen one too. It is awesome!”

When I described the electrical ball to my brother Charlie he said, “Remember Mamma’s story about Uncle Hugh?”

Our mother’s brother Hugh was walking through a storm one day when he glanced over his shoulder and saw an electrical ball sparking down the hill toward him. There was no time to do anything about it. Miraculously, the ball shot past him. As it disappeared in the rain and thunder, Hugh felt something hot on his side. A dime had melted in his left pocket.

Today is so sunny and bright with spring azaleas and Japanese magnolias blooming gloriously. A large umbrella propped near the door on the porch is one of the few visible signs a storm came through.

But for thousands across the Southeast the signs of storm damage are horrific. My mind cannot even grasp the sorrow and pain of those who lost loved ones in tornadoes. The most heartbreaking stories are of those whose children’s bodies have not even been found.

Why are some hit and some not?

It is a helpless question.

But I know this. The Most High God who allows the storms and the unbelievable (such as our daughter’s dying in her sleep at age 42) is the only one who can comfort and give us hope.

 

 

 

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Inventory

While hunting for the electrical aisle at Home Depot (where my husband Charles and my grandson Charles were making serious decisions and waiting on me to bring a buggy), I caught a glimpse of a man down on his knees counting what looked like boxes of screws. Taking inventory maybe? No, they do that by computer now, don’t they? That’s why every single item you buy has to be scanned, sometimes even if they’re all just alike. But that’s not the way it was done in 1960.

I was working at Brewer Drug Company in Clarkesville, Georgia, as a soda jerk/clerk/general flunky. It was January, time for taking inventory. We didn’t have to count every pill, but we had to count every bottle, every tube, every syringe, glove and bandaid box, every everything. Cabinets and display cases on both side walls reached from the floor to counter top and on up and up. We’d been counting about a week, I think, the day I was elected to count tiny bottles on a top shelf by standing on a counter.

I wasn’t bothered by heights. After all, only a few years before that I’d spent most of my time in trees, the higher the better. I looked out over the store intrigued by my bird’s eye view. Then I blinked my eyes and grabbed hold of the cabinet door to steady myself. The magazine display, tables and chairs, candy rack and even the lovely big mirror that reflected it all were tumbling together and a very odd feeling stirred in my stomach.

My first thought was of the horror and embarrassment if I were to fall. My next thought was to ignore the feeling and it would go away. I was very proud of my job (a job I’d earned simply because my mother was very good friends with the store’s owner, Mrs. Vertilee Brewer), and I was intent on doing everything right.

I reached high and began counting rows and rows of bottles.

Suddenly I felt myself being watched. I looked up at the open mezzanine but Mrs. Brewer wasn’t looking down on us as she sometimes did. Her little head was bent over the accounting books. Then I looked down. Not far away leaning on a glass-topped case stood Dr. Hardin, head pharmacist. He was obviously studying me. A flush heated my face. Was I not counting fast enough? Had I not returned bottles to the right places? And how could he see from way down there?

Dr. Hardin spoke more sharply than I’d ever heard him do before. It’s a wonder I didn’t fall right then and there. “Girl, you have mumps. I have no idea why you even came to work this morning. Get down from there this instant and go home. I’ll call you a taxi from the back. I’ve never had mumps and I don’t intend to have it now.” He was already dis-appearing into his pharmacists’ haven while I considered how to get down with any grace at all.

Everyone stood back as I grabbed my coat and slunk out to get in the taxi.

It was indeed mumps, an illness endured also by my younger sister and my older brother as my poor mother waited on all three of us. My neck swelled to alarming proportions. Eating was an awful chore. Even as sick as I was, though, I was worrying about whether or not I’d lost my job. Mamma knew I was really dreading bad news. She sat on the side of the bed as I opened a card from Mrs. Brewer. She and I both smiled when we saw it was a Get Well card. Mrs. Brewer had penned below the card’s message, “Come back to work when you’re all well. By the way, the inventory is finished.”

I really didn’t mind not counting any more bottles that year!

Now it’s the beginning of 2017 and, as I said, heartless computers are doing the counting day by day, sale by sale.  But there are personal inventories we need to take. For instance, I ask myself, have I grown in any way this year except my waistline? Have I been kinder or smarter or quicker at anything? Have I listened to God more intently and obeyed what I heard him say with more alacrity? Have I counted my blessings lately? Now there’s an inventory in which to revel.

I’m jotting down a few of my blessings:

What a blessing my family is to me–for instance, my husband with whom I delight in sharing a golden sunset, a newborn goat kid, and a laugh from the comics.

The gorgeous, intricately created camellia blossoms blooming in the “bleak midwinter” take my breath away.

Nippy cold weather and a crackly fire to warm by are some favorites.

Christmas cards from friends far and near are so sweet and treasured.

Having someone for whom to make a big pot of stew is a luxury.

Quilting parties, little girl tea parties, sudden after-school snack parties in my kitchen, gatherings with dear, sweet friends whom we trust with our humor and even our secrets–these are precious.

I’m fond of blank paper ready to be used, playing Words With Friends with my grandson (13) and being beaten, the feeling of completion after knitting a hat or scarf or setting jars of jelly on the shelf, the joy of a new book, the sound of children’s laughter, and finding some object that’s been lost a long time or just all day.

The Lord’s compassion as we travel a rough road is always a blessing too.

As I look back over what I listed, I’m struck by the number of blessings I mentioned that are not tangible. Aren’t those the best?

Time for you to start your list.

Have fun!

 

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