Lizard Inspection

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William Jr, Mattie and Grandaddy studying a lizard

This tiny innocent lizard was climbing our porch screen on the inside. I like the little guys but greatly prefer they stay in their natural habitat–outside. I’ve been startled enough times by close encounters with the baby monsters. So I asked one of the boys to take him out for me. The above picture shows a bit of the ensuing scientific conversation featuring a seasoned granddaddy, a grandson with curiosity and readiness for a hands-on experience, and a granddaughter who, like me, would rather see than touch.

I have two or three lizard stories, as I’m sure you do also.

One day when I was a kid I was indisposed in the outdoor privy when, horror of horrors, I felt a live thing drop from the ceiling straight down my back on the inside of my shirt. It didn’t take long for me to shake the little green lizard out and my screams accompanied my action.

As a young mother I caught a movement one day in my peripheral vision. Upon investigation I discovered a four inch lizard scooting around on the floor in my baby’s nursery. I tried unsuccessfully to trap him in a corner with a broom. Then I resorted to what seemed to me a logical alternative. I called my husband at the Animal Hospital. He came and quickly caught and released the lizard to the outdoors. But he let me know without doubt that I should have been able to take care of that problem on my own. In time, my baby boy became my willing lizard catcher.

Our interesting century-old house in which we lived for forty-two years had less then snug windows so little lizards often squeezed their way in, then couldn’t, or wouldn’t, depart. One day my mother, who was visiting from north Georgia, sat with me having a cup of afternoon tea in our living room. We were deep in conversation when I saw Mamma’s face change expression. She was looking above my head as she asked very calmly, “What is that on the wall?” My mother had single handedly killed snakes with a hoe so she wasn’t afraid, just startled. William wasn’t around so I had to catch the little fellow in a towel and throw him out the front door, hoping I appeared brave to my mother.

When our daughter, Julie, was sixteen she had mononucleosis which turned into bronchitis which turned into pneumonia. Her illnesses were never short! This one went on for about six weeks. Her nice upstairs room with white wicker furniture, wallpaper featuring climbing roses, and pink dimity curtains became a prison. We’d worn out every quiet game, studied “Romeo and Juliet” trying to keep up with school work, and I’d prepared dozens of smoothies until they weren’t exciting anymore. We went to the doctor one day thinking that, since she seemed better, the doctor would say she could start getting out. Instead, the doctor said one more week of bed rest.

Leaving her in her room crying into her pillow, I went downstairs to conjure up something consoling. Standing at the kitchen window, I prayed for some comforting idea. My thoughts were interrupted by high squeals and giggles from Julie’s room. Dashing back upstairs, I found my daughter standing on her bed trying to capture a green lizard who scooted upside down across the white ceiling, his ET head swiveling when he paused to consider his next move. Julie found the greatest entertainment in watching me scramble to catch that little fellow and, afterwards, we both collapsed into giggles, our depression broken by one green lizard, a very quick answer to my prayer.

One of my favorite books to read with the great grands is “All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir” by Bill Staines. The recurring lines are “All God’s critters got a place in the choir; some sing low, some sing higher. Some sing out loud on the telephone wire. And some just clap their hands, or paws, or anything they got.”

I’m not sure just how the little green lizards, even the ones with a red bubble under their chins, fit in the choir. Maybe it’s just the rhythm of their tails, or the amazing flexibility of their ET heads that places them. But I’m sure they do “got a place in the choir.”

 

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Christmas Carols in my Heart

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My little book is finally in my hands. I’m solicitous of her as if she were a child. I want her (or him!) to be a blessing wherever she goes, into whatever bookstore, into whatever home, into whosever hands. I want her, through the Lord’s power, to bring glory and honor to Him. I want him to make people happy. I want him to make people sing. I want her to inspire readers to write their own Christmas memories.

The blurb on the back cover reads:

“Carols line Silent Night, Joy to the World, and O Little Town of Bethlehem sing the truth of Christmas, that Jesus did come! But those carols can also remind us of the very taste, smell, and feel of Christmases past.

Brenda Knight Graham tells some of her stories of Christmas as a child, as a mother, grandmother and great grandmother, and invites you to write your own Christmas stories in this interactive Christmas journal. You will find yourself sometimes choked with emotion, other times erupting in laughter. But always the joy will shine through.

Christmas Carols in my Heart will help you find the Christmas carols in your heart.”

This little book has been twenty-one years in the making. It started as a grieving therapy after my mother died right before Christmas in 1997. Other projects and big chunks of Life have gone on since then too. Two other books were published, I had breast cancer and our family suffered the death of our daughter when she was only 42. But, no matter what else was going on, every January as I put away Christmas treasures, I’d sit down and write about another carol. After a few years my notebook was getting full and the thought occurred to me that just maybe these meandering stories might be a help to someone else, particularly if readers might be inspired to write some carol contemplations themselves.

It takes a lot of willpower and downright work to turn stories written in the passion of the moment into a readable manuscript. This book has been shelved in discouragement, brought back out of compulsion, cried over, bled over, and prayed over. At one time there were thirty carols in the book but after painful crafting it is now only a dozen. After a few near acceptances and several rejections, I did give up.

Last year on our annual Black Friday shopping jaunt Christi, my daughter-in-law, asked when my Christmas book would be published. “Oh, Honey, it’s not,” I answered. She looked at me with an expression near to shock. “But it has to be published!” Our conversation picked back up on the way to another store. “I’ll help you,” she said. “Okay,” I finally agreed, “but only if you illustrate it.”

Christi is a very busy attorney, not only at the law firm where she works, but also in  leadership positions in Birmingham legal circles. She is a wife and mother of three. I knew she didn’t have time for this project. I also knew her passion for art and had enjoyed several of her paintings. Christi said yes, and we were on another stretch of the journey with Christmas Carols in my Heart.

Seven of my books were published by traditional publishers who paid me royalties, rather than my paying them, who took all the risks, who made all the decisions. Should I do this? Self publish? I looked at a company or two and felt uneasy as if God were saying hold back. More prayers went up!

Harley Rollins, close family friend, got into the picture. He has spent his whole career providing Bibles and Christian books by the huge container load for third world country booksellers. He knows dozens of publishers on a first name basis. He recommended Dave Sheets and Danny Wright with Fitting Words.

In April Christmas Carols in my Heart was accepted. The excitement and frustrations of birthing a book kicked into high gear. All of a sudden those illustrations and final decisions about cover, format, everything, had to be done by the middle of June. Booksellers choose their Christmas books in June and July. The cover, at least, had to be ready for the distributor by June. Christi’s son, Thomas, was chosen to  play basketball with an international team in Spain. She burned midnight oil to finish her twelve chapter heading illustrations before leaving as his chaperone.

It was a crazy time leading to many funny little situations. There was the time when, on vacation (planned months in advance), we had to send some timely signed documents by Fed Ex to Danny. Our GPS took us right to the address in Petoskey, Michigan, only there was no Fed Ex there. We became acquainted with many more people in that strange town because of our quest for a Fed Ex. We finally found it tucked in the back of a huge office supply store.

I started to work responding to a copy editor’s critique only to learn that my “new” computer (six years old) was a dinosaur and my software was incompatible with Whitney Bak’s. The upshot of that was that not only did I have to purchase a new computer, painful to the pocketbook, but also I had to learn how to use it! Thanks to Amanda, my granddaughter, who answered so many of my dumb questions, I didn’t lose my hair! I longed for the times when an editor would return typewritten portions to me with red pencil critiquing for me to adjust and then stick back in the mailbox.

One of the very fun developments connected to this adventure was that we had a reunion with the Hughes family. Harry and his son Daniel were so generous in allowing me to tell briefly their amazing story.

At last, one day in late August, five boxes of books arrived at my back door. When I first picked up a copy of Christmas Carols in my Heart I hugged it to my chest. Then I really looked at it. It was beautiful, a truly lovely book. But it was so little. All those years of work for this slim little book? My husband, who’d endured much pain in the book’s development as he walked by my side, held me as I cried.

Then I realized again a very big truth. God can use small things. He can make much of our little. I don’t know all the ways He may use this slim volume of twelve Christmas carols, their stories and my contemplations. But I trust Him to follow the flight of this bright Christmas book and use it as a blessing.

You can order Christmas Carols in my Heart from Amazon or find it in your favorite bookstore, whether a small hometown store, or Barnes and Noble and Books’a’Million. Ask for it if you don’t see it. It should be in stores by the end of September. Please give it a review on Amazon.

I’d love to see you at one of my signings. Christi and I will both be at Rayann’s in Thomasville, Georgia, October 12, 11:00-1:00. I’ll be signing books at Books With Appeal in Cornelia, Georgia, November 1, 1:00-3:00, and at Center Drugs, Cairo, Georgia, November 8, 2:00-4:00.

If you’re aware of a venue where you think folks would enjoy a signing, please let me know at brendaknightgraham@gmail.com.

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A Basket of Eggs

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Not the same basket!

My oatmeal box basket, though seeming so sturdy, tipped over and spilled three very large brown yard eggs as I approached the house. To my horror, each one broke on contact. What to do? My five-year-old mind went right to work figuring a way to hide the problem. It wasn’t easy but with the help of a shovel that was far bigger than I, I managed to bury the broken eggs.

My hope that Mamma would forget to ask how many eggs I’d found was quickly crushed. I stuttered only slightly as I answered that there were no eggs that day. She cupped my chin in a work-worn hand, looked straight into my eyes, and shook her head. I’d been discovered. She knew! Her lecture was against my untruth, not the silly accident caused by my desire to use my handmade basket.

If Mamma knew, then God much more! He knows when I nurture feelings of self-pity rather than looking at the positives. He knows when I tell half-truths to save my face; He knows when I put off doing things I know I should or when I’m less compassionate or too busy to notice another’s fear, disappointment, or distress. He knows when I’m jealous, or irritable, or rude, or too shy to speak boldly in His name to a neighbor or friend or stranger. He knows my thoughts afar, whether resentful or simply not constructive. He knows me!

It’s a fearful thing. It’s a marvelous thing. He knows me! He knows you. Don’t try to hide like Adam and Eve in the garden. Make your confessions to Him. He is ready and eager to forgive!

And Mamma did forgive me for breaking those eggs!

Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Psalm 139:2

Lord, I cannot hide from your knowledge and I find I don’t really want to. It is a comfort to me to realize that you know me and yet you never give up on me!

 

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Skipping Stones

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Another time, another place, another river

It was an unplanned walk down by the Cahaba River in Birmingham on Sunday afternoon the day before Labor Day. It was a gorgeous afternoon with cool breezes blowing. The walkway along the river was easy to stroll or, as in the case of the youth, great for making competitive dashes. The clouds drifted overhead like giant sail ships in the blue, blue sky belying the tormenting hurricane Dorian buzz sawing across the Bahamas.

We had watched our favorite teams on Saturday, yelled and groaned, bitten our nails, and, old to young, enjoyed wins for Alabama, Georgia and Auburn. It’s a wonder we didn’t tear up the television and wreck the couch in our enthusiasm. Then Sunday morning we worshipped the Lord together at Canterbury United Methodist Church and feasted on home grilled hamburger and hotdogs for lunch. Some of us even played a game of Scrabble. Now when Will mentioned a walk by the river, most of us piled in the car for the short drive to a riverside park.

It was a historic family moment in that William Jr. drove us, his first time to drive our car, our first time to be chauffeured by this grandson who has grown so tall and responsible. He’s tall and responsible but he was just as eager to get down to the rocky river as his two younger siblings. And that’s when the fun really began.

As we watched the three kids choosing their stones and then trying to make them skip across the water, I remembered the exhilaration I felt when, as a youngster, my stone skipped even once when I threw it. It takes a certain skill to skip a stone. A lot depends on the shape of the stone. But a flat stone by no means spells automatic success. There’s the twist of the wrist, there’s holding the tongue just right, and there’s that mysterious unexplainable adeptness for making stones skip in wonderful little hops over the water’s surface.

William repeatedly threw stones that skipped once, twice, even nine times across the water. They made beautiful little sprays as they shimmered down the river in magical leaps. Thomas mastered the art of skipping but not to the degree William did. Mattie’s throws were like mine. Her stones usually chunked into the water like a frog but she did make two or three stones skip more than once. She greatly dislikes being beaten by her brothers.

Other features of the river scene included children swimming in deep pools above the rocky shoals; ropes in trees for people who were brave enough to swing out over the water; a closed-in dog park where our canine friends could safely socialize and exercise. The engineers of this fairly new park utilized “wasted” space around an intersection, a bridge, and the back side of a grocery store. Instead of being a place to ignore, to rush past quickly, this park offers lots of healthy activity along with beautiful old trees, a gazebo for picnics, and the rocky river.

We woke on Labor Day to another bright day teased by cool breezes. Several of us sipped coffee as we sat on the patio. Christi and her dad entertained us with descriptions of the five deer who had ambled across the “back forty” before the rest of us came out. Before long it was time to lace Belgian waffles with maple syrup, thanks to Mattie the waffle baker.

Before we started our six hour trip home, we watched the children perform various calisthenics and took some videos to remind us of time with all of them. Will blessed us with a nice cooler of venison to take with us (not hunted in the “back forty”!)

What a wonderful end-of-the summer weekend, so much packed into it, all so good, but none better than seeing the children skip stones on the Cahaba River.

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Why Meet the Train?

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My Dad loved to tell about the time he and his mother were rescued by his grandmother even though she didn’t know what she was doing.

My Dad and his parents had come over Unicoi Gap by wagon in 1888 when he was only two and had settled in Habersham County, Georgia, on a few acres named Pinedale by his mother. He loved it there and wanted to stay forever but because of his mother’s tuberculosis, they moved on even farther south below Augusta on the South Carolina border. They left Dad’s aunt, Delia, and his grandmother at Pinedale.

Dad was very homesick for the hills of Habersham. When he became sick with typhoid, he cried in a feverish state to go back home. His mother, though herself so far from well, insisted on taking her son to Pinedale. Her husband, my grandfather, reluctantly agreed to her trip since he was teaching school and couldn’t leave.

The train trip was very hard for her but her number one goal was to make her son comfortable and get him safely home. The closer the train chugged toward Cornelia the more she began to wonder: what would she do when she got there? Cornelia was still ten miles from home. It was a very hot day and her sick child could not even hold his head up and he was a big boy, almost as big at eight years old as she was.

At this point in his story my Dad would rub his hands together in anticipation of the best part and begin pacing as he finished.

Aunt De and Grandmother were at Pinedale taking care of things. One afternoon as they sat calmly tatting lace in their small cottage, Grandmother suddenly put her work down, stood and walked to the window, sat back down, then cleared her throat. “De, we have to go to the train station in Cornelia.”

“But, Mother, whatever for?”

“I don’t know. But we have to go.”

They had to borrow a horse and buggy from a neighbor and Aunt De fussed pretty severely, sure that her mother had eaten too many mushrooms or read too many penny novels.

When they arrived at the station, there was their Gracie and her feverish eight-year-old and both ladies understood why Grandmother had felt such a strong “hunch.”

Dad would always end his story by saying “And you can believe that ‘hunch’ of Grandmother’s was just a coincidence if you want to.”

I think Grandmother’s ‘hunch’ was, in today’s language, a “God thing.”

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Ark Encounter

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It’s called an encounter instead of a museum for a reason. Entering the Kentucky ark made to God’s specifications for Noah of ancient days is an experience.
Whether or not you are a believer in the one true God, you couldn’t leave that ship the very same person who entered.

We went to this wonderful attraction several months ago but I’m just now writing about it. The Encounter was too rich, the information too overwhelming, to begin immediately to recount it. Friends had been there and told us about it; we had read about it; but until we experienced it ourselves we could not imagine its magnitude.

The original Noah’s ark was huge. Noah built it in a dry land midst jeers and taunts of neighbors who’d never experienced rain and thought he was crazy. He built it because God told him to. The floods came, as God had said they would, and covered the whole earth. The only people to survive were Noah’s family, eight people. The only animals to survive were those brought to Noah by God and given space in the ark, two of every kind.

You can read about the original ark and the flood that God sent in Genesis chapters six, seven, and eight. The present ark in Williamstown, Kentucky is built to the exact same specifications. God chose Noah, the only faithful man He could find, to build that first ark for the purpose of saving whoever would choose to enter the ark. God chose Ken Ham to build the life-size ark in Kentucky for the purpose of answering the many questions people have concerning this phenomenal ship.

Some of those questions are: What does two of a kind mean? How did Noah fit so many animals on that boat? What happened to all the waste? How did they have enough food? Where did the people stay?

As we entered the ark, our first reaction was one of total awe at its sheer size: in present day measurements, instead of cubits, the ark is 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 51 feet high. It took 3.5 million board feet of timber to build it. By the way, it is the largest timber-frame structure in the world.

As we continued to explore the three decks we saw living quarters for the four couples (Noah and his wife, their three sons and their wives), some live animals in nice roomy compartments, in other enclosures life-size animal “dummies.” We saw means of cooking, gardening, weaving, and carpentering. After all, Noah’s family lived there for 150 days! There were life-size figures, some animated and speaking, of the family members going about their daily tasks. I’d never before pictured the women cooking on the ark. I had not imagined they might have a loom for weaving, certainly not that they might grow vegetables in tubs and boxes.

All along the way there were excellent signs and charts explaining what we were seeing. Ken Ham, whose passion is to reveal God’s word to the masses, has exerted an extraordinary amount of energy, time, and funds making this knowledge available in a fun and believable setting. Every detail has been researched and explained as facts or as speculations in keeping with history.

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The engineering and workmanship of the structure is mind boggling. This ark, built to show what Noah’s was like, is also comfortable and accessible to thousands of visitors a day. The builders managed to make it where we could “peer into history” at the same time have restrooms, good lighting, long easy ramps, and even a restaurant. Noah spent 75 to 100 years building the original ark. The Ark Encounter was constructed in six years. The original ark God built with Noah’s hands was to save Noah and his family. The Kentucky ark was built with the hope of saving masses for eternity as they encounter the Creator and Redeemer God.

The story of Noah and the flood, according to Ken Ham, has been turned by many well meaning folks into a cutsie pie fairytale. Children have grown up viewing this part of the Bible as unbelievable. And if they couldn’t believe the account of the flood, then why should they believe in Jesus’ virgin birth, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection?

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Outside the ark we wandered around in the Ararat Zoo enjoying some unusual small and large animals–such as a water buffalo with a shaggy coat, a bearded dragon climbing his keeper’s shirt, and a huddle of ostriches. We ate in the huge buffet style restaurant before we left. The food was delicious, fresh and delightful, not left over from the flood!

Just twenty miles from the Ark Encounter is the Creation Museum. We spent a day at each attraction. It is hard to say which I would recommend you do if you could only do one. I’m leaning toward the Ark. We did the Creation Museum, then the Ark, but some started with the Ark. Whichever way you do it, allow for plenty of time. Allow one day for each one.

We were so blessed to be able to hear Ken Ham speak in person in a large auditorium. His Australian accent, his humor, and his passion for reaching crowds for Christ kept us spellbound. He addresses the age old question of where Cain got his wife and gives a wonderful lesson in genetics.

Don’t go to eastern Kentucky or to Cincinnati, Ohio without visiting one or both of these wild and wonderful attractions. Hey, they’re both kid geared too. You can even spin through space on a zip line at the Creation Museum. I wonder what Noah would think about that!

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Cotton Lady

 

IMG_1608.JPGI think the reason I feel urged to write about the one I’m calling, just for today, “Cotton Lady” is that she came to see me in a dream the other night. Her hand was warm as I drew her into my kitchen where she, another friend, and I talked about ordinary stuff, like preparations for a baby shower, or how many cups of juice it takes to make a batch of grape jelly. This might not seem like a strange dream except that the Cotton Lady has been dead for two years.

She was a caretaker. She was a baker extraordinare. She was a fun photographer, taking pictures of snakes, birds, flowers and people. She was a droll humorist finding a way to make us laugh right in the face of our problems. She enjoyed seashells, history, good movies, and mainly her family.

Those of you who knew her know by now whom I’m describing. You have your own descriptions and recollections of this ordinary and wonderful lady named Sue Hinson. The following are only my own perceptions.

I first got to know Sue when we both were part of a mission action group. Our group “adopted” two sisters at a local nursing home. We all took turns visiting them each week. After one sister died, we began taking the other one out to lunch sometimes and even having occasional little “parties.” Lottie loved the attention. Sue was right in the middle of this ministry.

When my daughter Julie became seriously affected by a neurological disease, Sue was a lifesaver. Julie was in severe pain day after day for two years while we searched for a diagnosis. Her knee “lockups” could only be relieved by sheer strength, sometimes more than I could manage alone. Her husband, Doug, took care of her at night and I took the days with Charles helping whenever he could. Sue was always ready to come and could zip over in five minutes.

Julie’s children loved Sue, especially Charles Douglas who was about five then. “Miss Sue” was really gifted at teaching and caring for little boys. One day Julie’s knees were both locked up and Charles and I together could not make them release with heat packs, therapy, and strength. We finally called 911 and promptly the ambulance arrived. When it came to going to the hospital in Tallahassee, little Charles Douglas began to cry. “I want to stay with Miss Sue. Let me stay with Miss Sue. I don’t like hospitals.” So Miss Sue had a little boy that night and Charles Douglas was happy.

Sue and her husband Cecil were members of our Sunday school class. Cecil was an excellent devil’s advocate. Whoever was teaching had to deal, from time to time, with his interesting, sometimes distracting, questions. Sue groaned aloud when Cecil began a line of questions such as whether or not Osama bin Laden could be forgiven. She would elbow Cecil and give him an evil eye, all of which spurred him on.

She pitched in to help us when folks from several churches went together in 1995 to start Grady County Baptist ESL classes. “I won’t teach,” she said, “but I’ll do just about anything else.” And she did. She rocked babies, took many pictures year after year, made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, transported students, registered and placed students, and traveled every year to training conferences in Toccoa and Norman Park. All the students, even beginners who couldn’t understand English, loved Miss Sue. I looked forward to her coming to my house every year to clip baskets full of holly for decorating tables at the annual ESL Christmas fest.

Sue was the caretaker for several of her and Cecil’s family members but was ready any time to take others as well to the doctor, the hospital, or to the hairdresser. Once when I called her house Cecil answered. When I asked for Sue he said, “She’s out somewhere doing her thing. I have to make an appointment to talk to her. You know Sue.”

I did know Sue. If she wasn’t helping Cecil with their trout lily project or driving a pilot car for a special friend’s biking across Georgia, she’d be helping with a bridal shower or taking a cake to a shut-in. She made thirteen-layer cakes for youth fundraisers at our church and baked cookies by the dozens, even hundreds, always giving them away.

The “Cotton Lady” loved her family dearly. But a stranger might be puzzled by the disparagements she used when talking about her sons, Lofley and Dan. “I could have strangled him” or “Just wait till I get hold of him” or “knothead” were words and phrases that might spill out of her mouth at the same time she was baking a birthday cake for one of them or pulling out bragging pictures. She took great pride in being a part of the lives of her grandchildren, following one to far away swim meets and always practicing her photography on all of them. She watched her Cairo grandchildren grow up, then she and Cecil moved “back home” to Cotton where their son Dan and his family lived. “It’s time to concentrate on these children now,” she said.

When Cecil died, Sue went into high activity mode. “It’s the only way I can survive,” she said, hardening her chin to stop the tears.

In less than a year Sue herself was dying of cancer. One day when Barbara Payne, Jeani Pridgen and I went to see her, she didn’t feel like getting up but invited us all to pile up on the king size bed with her. We looked at old pictures laughing like college girls at a sleepover. We talked about how to preserve her trout lily photos. We talked about all her family–sons, grandchildren, sisters and all. One sister was with her that day ready to give her pain medication, plump her pillows, answer the phone. It was Sue’s turn to be cared for. A delightful young man Sue had mentored came by to see her. We all rallied around her. As I sat beside Sue that day I felt her gently rubbing my back. We were there to share this hard time with her but she was still ministering to us!

Though they’re gone from us for now, Sue and Cecil are still influencing us, still making a difference. Lofley reminds us often of Cecil, not just because of his red hair but his humor, although Lofley has his own unique way of telling tricky jokes. Every Sunday when I see him at church Lofley gives me a warm hug. When I told him I’d dreamed his mother came to visit me he said he dreams about her often.

Tennyson said, “I am a part of all that I have met.” Thank you, Lord, for friendships that bless us so richly!

By the way, readers outside southwest Georgia, Cotton is an unincorporated country crossing village near Pelham, Georgia.

 

 

 

 

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