From Tiny to Tremendous

On a cold January day in 1946, their fourth child, a girl, was born in a one-room cabin in the hills of Tennessee.  More babies arrived in the following years, and the parents had little to offer their twelve children except for music, love, and faith. 

When the spirited girl with dimpled cheeks walked to school in her hand-sewn clothes and dusty shoes, she would often be teased and mocked because she was poor.  But even though she was tiny, she stood proudly tall.  Perhaps, her mama read the Bible to her youngsters each day, and her child recalled the words, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.  “Those bullying kids were like the camels and would have trouble getting into heaven while she would fly right on in!  “That’ll teach ’em!” Little Dolly thought.

God must have looked down on the mountain child that day and given her a spirit of courage and love that would eventually change countless lives.  The Lord continued walking with Dolly, blessing her with a song in her heart and gratitude in her soul.

I was questioned years ago, “Who would you invite to dinner if you could ask anyone living in the world today?” 

“Well, I guess if Jesus isn’t available, it would be Dolly Parton.”  

Shocked at my response, they simply replied, “Why?!”

Something about her

I had left Tennessee when Dolly began singing with Porter Wagner, but I remember catching a glimpse of her on television.  At the time, I didn’t love country music even though I came from the land where the Ole Opry is revered.  It wasn’t the music that sparked my interest in her; it was something more.  There was something that I understood without understanding why.

Could it be because I sound like Dolly with the same Tennessee mountain twang that must form in the blood?  One cannot change it, and I have often said it would be an insult to my ancestors if I did.  Because we are nearly the same age, I have watched Dolly from afar grow from a little mountain girl to owning the mountain!

So, Robert and Avie Lee Parton’s girl became an icon, a movie star, a bigger-than-life presence, a builder of dreams, a singer/songwriter, an aunt, a sister, a wife, and a faithful steward of God.

Dolly Parton is one of those rare folks who doesn’t let fame inflate her ego nor allow money to empower her unless it is through philanthropy.  She understands that her gifts are blessings and knows how to use them to bless others.

 These types of people don’t spread gossip, shout, belittle, or shame anyone because they understand they are living only for a while.  They know they will go home where Mom and Dad are waiting, and the light shines eternal.  People like Dolly are brilliant enough to know it is not what you make of yourself on earth; it is what you give of yourself to all.

The benefits of being kind

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos recently awarded Dolly Parton his “Courage and Civility Award,” presenting her with $100 million.  Why would he give so much to someone who has so much?   He understands that a big heart will use gifts wisely, and a humble spirit will fly miles spreading compassion, kindness, and hope.  She has proven her worth by the value of her soul. 

If we want to learn about leadership and charity, don’t look much further than a tiny Tennessee woman who sends books to the children of Appalachia.  She aims to whip illiteracy and open doors for impoverished children to become rich with knowledge.   When fires flame, tornados or floods ravage, or diseases need cures, she is there with a pen and checkbook, a song, and a loud voice. 

Dolly laughs at herself and never at others.  She treats everyone with respect and knows the heartache and scars that folks carry when others are made to feel less.

No, we need to look no further than the Parton’s fourth child, who thankfully listened to her parents and believed God was the only way to greatness.  

Politics, policies, and trends change like the wind, but goodness and benevolence never will because God never changes.  

With her infectious smile, Humorous Dolly said, “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap!”  

Dolly Rebecca Parton also proclaimed, “If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, then you are an excellent leader.”

And the Lord still leads her down the mountain path toward home.

Thankful for the Author

This time of year, people often ask one another, “What are you most thankful for?” Depending on their current circumstances, the response is likely family, friends, wellness, or numerous other answers.   My brother was always grateful for ‘mashed potatoes’ when asked such a question at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Nevertheless, at least he was honest because he had no fondness for turkey, dressing, and cranberry sauce.  

This year, I know who and what I am most thankful for.

Today, my brother is in heaven, and I hope they have an abundance of butter-filled mashed taters in a bowl for him on Thanksgiving. I also hope Daddy gets two pecan pies and a dozen deviled eggs and Mama finally perfects her cornbread stuffing.

Boy, am I thankful they are in a paradise where pounds, health, and worries are gone.

Our high school class recently held a reunion. What a treat! We have always been close and supportive of one another and collectively mourn when one of us leaves to reunite with God. We return to being teens, full of laughter and frivolity when we gather. How grateful I am for those who knew me young and are still with me old.  

I am thankful God blessed me with folks whose hearts will always remain lovingly youthful.

The awesome wonder

My granddaughter is finishing high school and applying to colleges. I often wonder what her future will hold, but there is no doubt it will be filled with wonderment. I have taught her a few things about what is important in life and what is not. On a recent trip, she was going through a bit of difficulty and asked to speak to me. After much discussion, she said softly, “Grandma will you pray with me?”

 I thank God she knows where to turn to find the awesome wonder. It is the same place I went to ask for her.

My babies are grown now,  but they are still my babies. Motherhood never changes. I will most likely be spouting instructions on my deathbed, and they will roll their eyes as they usually do. They have made me laugh, cry, and experience abundant living. I cannot imagine what my life would be if they had never arrived. 

 The Lord delivered them into my care, and I have no idea why I was chosen but how thankful I am for these precious babies of mine.

It took a long time for me to remarry. And when I did, it took much getting used to. Miss Independent, Miss I Can Do it All, and Miss Stubborn rolled up into a mess. Then Mr. came into my world, and now I know I can’t do it all and may not be as independent as I thought. However, I am still stubborn and doubt that I will change. My Mr. Iron Man, who has never had as much as a cavity, got a bit of unexpected rust in his heart. Yes, the heart is going into the shop to be repaired, and hopefully, the Iron Man will be back playing tennis, golf and driving me crazy as usual. 

 Except, I doubt I will ever see him the same again. I will relish his crazy ways, savor his yelling at me for being stubborn, and be thankful God decided I needed an Iron Man in my world.

The dedication

My precious friends who have listened to my stories for years, reread them in print and applaud any victory I have, are just plain priceless. How could any of us handle living without friends? Every stage in life brings more pals, and none are ever forgotten. 

When the Lord thought to add friends to accompany us, He knew we would need laughter, support, and love until He called us home.

So, what I am most thankful for is God. I see him clearly at the table with my family in paradise. I glimpse Him walking among my classmates to remind us of our youth. His reflection is in my granddaughter’s eyes as He accompanies her toward the future. He alone decided to bless me with two girls and one little boy, and through them, I saw His abundant love. I noticed God again at the doctor’s office when His hand touched my shoulder and reminded me to trust Him.  

When writing my first book, I pondered to whom I might dedicate it. Would it be my husband, children, granddaughter, departed family, or who? Like a bolt of lightning, I knew.   It was the one who created my life and all those who made it amazing. The first page proclaims, “This book is dedicated to God, the author of my soul. “

Thankful for the Path Forged

Visiting the town where I was born in Tennessee is always a treat. However, the older I become, the more I savor each moment.  It may be because I now understand the value of heritage and legacy.  I appreciate the family who paved the way for our future and traveled the arduous journey to today.  When we take the time to research our ancestors, they live again and are brimming with stories and triumphs.

My husband and I decided to tour the Museum of Appalachia on our way through the Tennessee hills.  I had never visited the acres where one returns to a pioneer village consisting of log cabins, a grist mill, a school, a church, and a farm where peacocks roam and chickens chatter. 

When we entered the main museum, I immediately recognized the Appalachian family photograph taken in the mid-1800s.  It was a picture of my family.   A. J. Walker, his wife Henrietta Clementine, and their 14 grown children posed stoically for the camera. 

 On the second floor, I located a large display telling the narrative of Aunt Hennie, one of A.J.’s and Henrietta’s girls.   Hennie became famous among early settlers because she rode her horse side-saddle to anyone who needed care.  She was said to have delivered more than 1000 babies in her lifetime and administered aid to countless others.  How would I have met Hennie if I had not traveled back to find her?  The advances in medicine since Aunt Hennie raced through the mountains are humbling and astonishing. 

Return to Yesterday

When we search for our ancestors, we learn much about ourselves.  In the one-room log cabin school with its wooden pews, no heating and air, and a lectern, I realized how, in those days, few had the luxury to attend and learn.  We can only appreciate the opportunity of education until we understand what a privilege it was for our ancestors to earn one.

Once we left the museum, we traveled west toward the small Presbyterian church, established in 1782, that rests on a hill in a rural part of Tennessee.  Behind the church are the graves of those I never knew until I began researching my family.  The revolutionary soldier, John, who died in 1837 at the age of 90, and his descendants rest below the lush green grasses. 

John was one of six brothers who fought for our independence and ensured we would have the freedom to worship in churches like his that remain open for all to attend.  I love my country, but when I am reminded of the battle to obtain our liberty to pray, I am more thankful for being an American. 

In Monterey, where I was born, the old train depot is now a museum.  Artifacts and facts whirl with tales about pioneers and later days when the train whistle could be heard for miles.  Old quilts, tools, art, and memorabilia are brought to life by Dale Welch, who is the town historian and can spin a knowledgeable yarn about anyone’s roots because he understands how important our history is. 

Thankful for our stories

Each of us has a story about how we arrived to now, but we often need to take the time to travel back to where we began.  Turning toward the past would safeguard our future because we would appreciate and value the present.  Thankfulness calms our rage, mends our fences, and humbles our souls.  Educating ourselves about our ancestors informs us why we are as we are and how we can change our path to honor them.

My home is full of old hand-me-downs.  My worn spinning wheel, a kerosine lamp, and a family Bible are just a few valuables passed to me, yet they are of little monetary worth.  Today when one’s status is applauded, money is praised, and harshness is accepted, my treasures remind me of yesterday.  A time when folks worked together not for power or fame but for each other, using kindness and bravery every step of the way. 

Knowing our family’s history is paramount in keeping us on the road they forged.  They lived in one-room houses, rode horses, grew crops to feed their broods, and survived countless wars to ensure their children had an unrestrained future.

Their brilliance was found in their priorities.  God first, family second, and when they arranged their lives around that rule, they became wise and successful.  If we can learn one thing from those before us, it is that nothing works well unless we do the same.

My great-grandmother earned a 2nd-grade education in a one-room cabin on top of a Tennessee mountain.   She once said, “I reckon I found my education right there in the Good Book that tells us how to live.”

How honored I am that she forged the path for me.

The Magnificent Armor of Courage

Stuck in the middle of this busy month is a day of great significance. Millions of folks are heading to the polls to vote on November 8th, ordering turkeys before the 24th, and watching football and Hallmark Christmas movies throughout the month’s 30 days. We also are inundated with news of conflict, violence, and challenging economic times. Yet, look at the calendar again because, on Friday, November 11th, you will find a sense of thankfulness and peace amid our shared chaos because it is Veterans Day.

I am blessed in my life to know many veterans. Most of these fantastic folks remain extraordinarily committed to defending our democracy and constitution.   They are our priceless saviors who deserve to be honored with more than a day stuck in the middle of a chaotic month on a calendar.

Veterans’ hospitals should be lined with gold instead of many needing repairs or better staffing. Homes for wounded warriors should be mansions, and their physical and mental care be met indefinitely. After all, wasn’t it the soldier who allowed us to remain in our homes and keep us safe from war’s wounds?

Thankfulness & courage

One of the problems we have in our country is a lack of thankfulness for the fearless and selfless men and women who serve to protect us from harm. They guard not only the misguiding politician, the thief, the self-righteous, and the bully but the exceptional leader, the kind, the meek, and the generous among us. Once they don a military uniform, they collectively join an elite group of warriors willing to give their lives to maintain America’s precious liberties.

Perhaps, every person elected to sit in the White House Oval Office as President of the United States should also hold the honorable title of “Veteran.” To date, only 15 of our elected leaders were not veterans. Of course, our first hero was General George Washington, but what about Colonel Teddy Roosevelt? President Roosevelt was awarded the Medal of Honor, and when WWI erupted, his desire was to return to service as an ex-president. However, President Wilson would not allow him to do so.  

Lieutenant John Kennedy won the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for courage and a Purple Heart, while 19-year-old Lieutenant JG George H.W. Bush received the Distinguished Flying Cross. These are just a few of the brave and distinguished alumni of America’s highest office who served our country in more ways than one.

One common denominator defines the 31 Presidents who once wore a military uniform… courage.

Developing heroes

When we elect brave, honorable leaders, who exemplify the basis of our country’s existence, we help ensure our fate.

Today, we are a divided and torn nation. But when our soldiers are in a ditch fighting an enemy, they become one.   Politics, religion, and race are set aside, and all that remains is the shared determination to ensure their homeland’s survival.

When I view young people carrying guns and shooting folks without a thought or care. I see kids who have lost hope in America and possess no ambition or dreams. If they are caught, they go to jail, where they live imprisoned for years. What if they joined the military after high school and learned discipline, respect, and honor? Would not our lives and theirs be spared of violence?   All many youths need is hope to become of worth to themselves and society.

An oft-repeated Bible verse epitomizes a soldier’s badge of honor. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13.   Heroes are born from a warrior’s soul. 

For me

After giving a speech to a Vietnam Veterans group two years ago, these magnificent men and women applauded my words, and tears welled in my eyes.   They are the ones who should be honored with a standing ovation because they maintained my freedom to speak. I knew I was among veteran warriors with more honor and courage than I could ever muster or imagine.

At the end of the evening, I received a golden coin in appreciation. The medallion from these proud patriots depicts a soldier carrying a shield emblazoned with a red cross. Around the edge of this beauty are the words, “Put on the whole armor of God.” Ephesians: 6:13.

The veterans who served to preserve our democracy should never be lost in the middle of a busy calendar but remain in our hearts each day. I thank them for their ability, love of country, and for obeying God by wearing their magnificent armor of courage for me.

“Never was so much owed by so many to so few.” Winston Churchill