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

Still Much Work to Do!

Today, our friends sent a picture of themselves relaxing on a boat in the Mediterranean.  Their feet propped on a railing, resting in the sun while gazing at the azure blue sea.  It is a fantastic picture, and once I saw it, I texted back, “It is all lovely, but what does “relaxation” mean?”

I was born without the ability to unwind.  Today, my friends and family shake their heads in dismay, and when my mother was still here, she often exclaimed, “Sit down and be quiet!” Something within my soul searches for things to do even when they don’t need doing. 

Honestly, if it weren’t for a few shows I enjoy and the nightly news on television, I probably would never use a sofa.  However, it is not all my fault since I have discerned it is perhaps an inherited trait. 

Dad would watch a western on tv and eat ice cream to relax, but that’s all.  He couldn’t sit still during the day if you paid him to do so.  He was always trying to fix something or someone.  My grandmother, aka Grandpa, believed idle hands were the devil’s workshop.  She could accomplish more in a day than most of us can in a year.

Less idle hands

Even though I sincerely know I should learn to relax, I doubt it will ever happen because there is so much to do!  I certainly don’t want to entertain the devil with idle hands.  I get a little nutty with folks who waste hours doing nothing when one can do something to create delight.

Perhaps, rampant crime in the world could be lessened by fewer idle hands.  Work that could be done to aid others instead of harming folks.  Replacing guns with pens, paintbrushes, pots, pans, and plans could bring peace.  Of course, one must desire to work, but isn’t it better than jail or death?

Many fall through the cracks in life because they give up on hope.  Working to improve one’s life returns dreams and aspirations.  And when we are busy concentrating on something other than personal circumstances, we ease depression.   Isn’t hope for a happier life better than giving up on it?

Retired folks who wish they could fill their days with usefulness should find something useful to do other than grumble.  Ease those ailments with a determination to make a difference for struggling others.  Talk is cheap, but action is priceless.  If we become active movers of kindness instead of bemoaning the country’s condition, we might just heal our condition.  Of course, one must desire to be happier, but aren’t helpful hands better than useless, old ones?

Working for God

Whenever I see a beautiful garden, I appreciate those who toiled in the dirt to provide food for others or splendor for us to enjoy.  My grandmother’s hands were always covered with flour or dirt as she walked through her day in an old house dress protected by her apron.   I will never forget the aroma of her pies in the oven or her delicious green beans from her garden.  Grandpa toiled for us and many others because she believed God’s words, “She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.  Her children arise up and call her blessed.”  Proverbs 31: 27-28

I believe that God intends for us always to use our hands for His work.  We show love when we take the time to create something special from our hearts.  There is magic in giving from our soul that money cannot buy.  When making donations to our places of worship or favorite charity, many of us feel that is enough.  And Lord knows, generosity is sorely needed and wonderful.  However, could each of us do a bit more?

We should ask ourselves, “What can I do today to make a difference in my world?”  How can I use my hands to build peace, create happiness, or provide care for another?  Our world will be immeasurably blessed when we answer these questions with actions.

We are concerned today with casting our votes for those who will lead us.  Those who will put money back into our bank accounts, stop crime, and keep our democracy safe.  I doubt anyone can until we use our hands to deliver hope for others, allow God to lead us, and ultimately be the one who saves us.  

So, relax, enjoy a vacation, retire, and prop your feet up.  But only for a while because there is still much work to do until our days are done, and God hands us a hammock.   

Too Late to Say Goodbye

How often have I written these words of advice in my writing career, “Don’t put off life?” Yet, I did.   Sometimes we find that our hearts are filled with good intentions, but our brains are not cooperating.  Does being too busy get us off the hook of guilt?  No, when we fail to do what we should have done, we simply, fail.

Such was the case with Peggy and me.  Our friendship began over thirty years ago when she became a client who needed my help with interior design.  As my career in design grew, her career in real estate soared.  

I doubt Peggy ever met an obstacle she couldn’t tackle, tame, or triumph over.  She hailed from Boston with a thick accent that caused me to say often, “Huh!?” When God decided to create a friendship between a Tennessee-born mountain girl and a Harvard-educated Beantown gal, he must have needed a good old belly laugh.

Peggy sent many customers my way throughout my career and believed in my skills more than I did.  She applauded and celebrated the day I remarried after being a single mom for 20 years and was thrilled that she might worry less about my future.

A job well done

I never worried about Peggy.  Her intellectual brilliance was secondary to her ability to work with all types of folks and care about each one.  She nor I ever allowed money or trophy’s to be the end game; it was always about doing a job well.       

When I retired from design several years ago, I could never say no if she needed my aid with a remodeling job or an idea about where to place this or that.  Then COVID came into our world and shut us all in and out of life.

Last year, I wrote a note on her Christmas card, “Peggy, let’s not let this year go by without a catch-up lunch!” When she tried to book the event, I was too busy and couldn’t go.  Did I call her back to set up another date?  No, I would do it …. later. 

Without warning, a radiant, funny, beautiful light dimmed suddenly on October 7, 2022.  Peggy was gone.  When I was told by a mutual friend, my response was immediate, “No!  She did not!” It was as if my brain could not accept or understand the words of death.  I wanted to shout, “Wait, Wait!” But I knew the only person that waited too long was me. 

Redemption awaits

There is something about all of us that cannot accept finality.  We do not grasp the knowledge that life can end suddenly, without notice, and that there are no “do-overs.” We cherish our friends and family, but how many do we fail because we didn’t take the time when we had the time?

There is always a guilty feeling when someone we love dies before we have the opportunity to say goodbye, thank you, or express our affection.  It can and will haunt us when we wait too late or too long to do what we should have done. 

However, there is redemption.  There is no doubt that Peggy will stand at the gate with her finger raised, shaking it toward me when I, hopefully, go to heaven.  Yep, she will recount the whole lunch situation, the putting off, the lagging behind, and I will shamefully shake my head.  I already have rehearsed my response, “Peggy, they didn’t get rid of that accent up here, so I can’t understand a word you are saying!” And she will mockingly yell, “Bless your heart!”

Moments lost

I will hug that Beantown girl with all my soul, telling her how much she meant to me in my Southern drawl and how grateful I was for her life.  And then we will sit down for lunch with all the others I didn’t take the time for, ask forgiveness of, or forget to do what I should not have forgotten.

With faith, there is redemption in all things.  When we believe, there is a certainty that life is just paused, not gone.  With our understanding of a God who shows mercy, we know that through his grace, we will see those we grieve for again.  When we reach where they are, our guilt is over.

Peggy lived by her faith.  Her priorities were always in order, and I admired that.  I just failed to tell her so.  Peggy lived with value and honesty, and I never doubted anything she said.  Yet, I didn’t take a moment to share how much I respected her remarkable life, wonderful friendship, and immeasurable love.

Now those moments are gone because I was too late.

A Six-Year-Old’s Journey

“Grandma, will you look at my college application essay to see if I need to tweak or correct any sentences?  My granddaughter asked when she called from Florida a few weeks ago.

“Of course, honey, I am happy to.” 

I use the word ‘happy’ because it becomes a surprisingly joyous moment when a seventeen-year-old requests advice or help.

Once I received her emailed copy, I slowly read the draft.  Her words took my breath away and transported me back to an October when Avery began first grade.  

Her first essay sentence, “It is hard to imagine at the age of six how an event will change your entire life.”

It changed us all, but it must be horrifying for a child who does not understand why her mother is sick, why her hair falls on the floor, and what is causing tears.

The “Fog”

None of us want our children to suffer; they need to worry only about their friends, play, and learning.  At the time, the only hurt I could manage to handle for my granddaughter was a skinned knee. 

But this little girl grew beyond her years when she had to learn prematurely about breast cancer and watch the illness her mother endured with despair.  To see a piece of her childhood disappear so quickly only added to our sorrow. 

She tells the story in her essay of how she understood early the world wasn’t all about her and the importance of faith, friends, and family.  “It seems like I was in a fog for an entire year.” Avery writes.  

The ‘fog’ is a perfect way to describe those months.  One just moves through suffering and heartache, putting one foot in front of the other to make your way through the storm clouds.  If you can get to the next day, you might make it to the sun where others live and where children laugh.

We all made it to the sun.

October Memories

 My daughter basks in delight today on a beach in Florida, where she still resides.  My granddaughter is finishing her senior year, cheering for her football team, and is only concerned about what school she will attend next fall.

However, October 2011 is never far away.  When I see a woman wearing a scarf or wig, I return to that year and travel to a time when a little girl was six and afraid.  We all return to October twelve years ago with each yearly exam and pray for the doctors to again tell my daughter, “You’re still just fine!”

The friends who aided and prayed for us will always have our hearts.  My granddaughter still remembers the countless gifts her family received and mentions them in the essay, along with details I don’t recall.   

In the future, this college-bound teen will one day tell her six-year-old child about the first-grade teacher who watched over her and encouraged her throughout a painful year.  But more importantly, she will explain with pride how her mother had the courage of a lion, fought a battle, and won.

Some folks take a long time to grow up; others never do.  They may not appreciate victory, their health, or their children’s innocent joy.  How many of us really learn that the world isn’t all about us? 

Avery will go to college somewhere, but higher education doesn’t teach what she already knows.  She laughs a little louder, appreciates more, and loves deeply because she understands how quickly life can change and how prayers work.

Honor Graduate

Please pause and give when you pass by the pink ribbons this month.  There are children whose mother’s health is in danger today and will face a brutal year.  October is a reminder to help not only those who are battling breast cancer but the innocent child who cries.

Without your donations for research, Avery’s mom would not be here to watch her beautiful daughter graduate from high school this spring.

“Grandma, why do you always use pink golf balls when you play?” she questioned recently.

My answer was, “They remind me to be thankful.”  And without a word, she smiled. 

Colleges today rely on test scores and GPAs to decide whether they want an applicant to attend their school.  But test scores don’t tell anyone the story of one’s wisdom.  They don’t reveal the journey of a child who bravely walked through the fog.

Few will ever read my granddaughter’s essay, but I know she has already graduated with honors to maturity.

Her last sentence, “As I head to college, I look back and know who I am today and what I will become in the future, are partly due to the lessons I learned when I was only six years old.”

Hearing the Whispers that Save Us

Like most of us, we become distracted by all the goings-on in our lives.  Money, politics, work, and obligations pull us in different directions every moment of each day.  We are exhausted by the constant barrage of bad news and meanness floating around us, intent on dragging us further into a downward, chaotic spiral.  Where do we find shelter and relief?

First, we must believe in our higher selves that answer a calling deep within our souls.  A faint inner voice tells us to live responsibly and search for the whisperer. 

We fight tooth and nail over politics and policies.  Many judge folks by race, class, or religion and cause harm because they do.  Criminals and gangs emerge from discontent, poverty, greed, and sin, creating danger.  Conspiracies rise to a fever pitch from our inability to see the truth, causing confusion and distrust.  And all are used as an attempt to silence the whispers.

Good will flow

As I walked yesterday, I noticed a tall oak tree’s branches swaying in the breeze.  Its leaves gently rocking against a bright blue October sky created a peaceful, reflective moment.  I immediately thought about those in Florida whose lives hang in the balance, and peace seems unattainable.  Under the same blue sky, they see nothing but devastation, chaos, and despair.    

 We all viewed Florida neighbors helping neighbors and leaders of different political parties leading as they should.  Because in the end, it is not our anger that saves us from harm; it is our kindness.  In times of great need and peril, evil is defeated with goodness because somewhere deep within our souls, we hear a voice.  And immediately, we rise above our conflicts and prejudices.

Money will flow from our collective generosity to help rebuild Florida communities and restore hope.  Prayers will light up heaven from countless compassionate hearts.  For a while, during these dark days, we will concentrate on others who are less fortunate, and our complaining will subside for a moment.  Our selfishness will abate, and our ire will be subdued because we rose to our higher selves until the distractions return.

A powerful noise

Evil is a powerful pull, and it resides in us all.  Our earthly battle between the devil on one of our shoulders and the angel on the other will continue.  It is the devil that distracts and divides us.  Evil fuels anger and energizes our self-importance, influencing our bad decisions.   But the worst malicious act is the noise it creates to deafen the faint voice of The Almighty, The Whisperer, The Redeemer, and The Divine.

Do we only hear and obey God when horrific events occur?  Or do we only listen to his voice when death is at our door?   His voice isn’t loud or boastful but soft and gentle.  He doesn’t yell or demean; instead, he uses His whispers to try to save us from those who do.

God is not for emergency use only.

One of the most significant issues in our country today is our inability to hear God’s voice in our daily lives.   His instructions for living a peaceful life are written page after page, not just to read but to employ.  Through every word, he is urging us to give, not take.  He tells us to love one another and not hate.  He teaches us how to destroy evil with faith, love, and compassion and to put on His armor to shield us from the enemy.

Our relief

We are begged to rise to our higher selves and become followers of His, not a hate-filled group touting anything else.  And if we can’t hear and see God in the rhetoric we hear, in our own voices and actions, it is wrong, and we know it.   

Where do we find shelter and relief?  It has always been in the arms of our creator.  Our sanctuary is our faith when we are lost and afraid.  Comfort and healing reside in the whispers within us if we only listen.  When we instinctively rise to our awakened spirit to aid those in need, the raging tide in our souls begins to calm.  

Wars battle on, injustice will continue, Mother Nature will have her way, and evil will forever be among us.   However, if we are still for a moment and hear the whispers of God, we will discover hope, relief, and tranquility.

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble.  Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth gives way and mountains fall into the heart of the sea.”  Psalms 46: 1-2

Only White Gladiolas for Grandpa

I stood in front of the kitchen sink gazing out my grandmother’s (aka Grandpa’s) window. The garden was splendid in its full summer glory. Dew settled on the corn stalks, green beans, and plump red tomatoes while two rows of gladiolas reached toward heaven.

“Grandpa, why do you only grow white gladiolas each year? You know they come in different colors, right?” I teasingly questioned and continued, “Your favorite color is pink, so why not grow pink flowers?

“Well, I don’t like any other color for my gladiolas. White is majestic, spiritual, and holy. I take them to the church to be used in the sanctuary during the summer. Also, have you noticed how they seem to be reaching toward heaven?”

As we both viewed the garden, the tall stalks did seem as if they wanted to reach the pearly gates. 

“Honey, all things, including people, grow upward toward God. Everything is meant to rise from seeds, to create beauty and joy for Him.”

Fleeting pleasures

Today, I look out my window and see the tree limbs swaying in the summer breeze, the flowers still in bloom, and I recall the days when Grandpa taught me the simple meaning of life. We are here to rise, reach for God, and create joy for all, just like the white gladiolas of summer.

Like most mountain folks I knew, Grandpa lived life simply. Today we create many complicated days. We wear ourselves thin by overreaching for success in all things. Our kids need to be successful winners, and our homes should be mansions. Often, we strive for happiness by obtaining treasures and being entertained, but such pleasure is fleeting. We all know the more we accumulate, the more we want. Not all of which is necessarily bad, but too much sparkle can obscure the everlasting light we are meant to view.

Indeed, Grandpa’s garden brought our family tremendous delight. From the dinner table filled with fresh produce to laughter-filled watermelon feasts after church on Sundays. But it was not only the patch of Grandpa’s earth that reaped a harvest but also the love that grew within her soul.

Real Value

  Love today seems a bit underrated and undervalued.   In truth, love causes us to evolve and become what we are to be. If we put love first, miracles happen. When we value others as much as we possibly can, we blossom.

By teaching our children and grandchildren about love, we honor God. We produce barren earth if we promote hatred, bigotry, and anger. How many stories and opinions do we read about making America greater? In truth, our country will not reach its full potential if we do not plant seeds of respect and kindness in our gardens.  

We rise when we realize love is the key to our growth as human beings. A baby can’t survive without tender care, nor will our world.   By displaying acts of love rather than vengeance, we rise together and produce a harvest for all. 

From violence in our streets to the deep fissures in America’s hearts, we see what a lack of love and sanctity for life can cause. If we want such evil to end, we should all attempt to put love back on the front burner and let it rise to reach great heights.

Look beyond the weeds

It is not easy to put away our swords and our self-righteousness, but for the sake of others, including our young children, we need to clear our gardens of the thistles and thorns that attempt to harm us.

Some of you think, “That Lynn, she is just simple-minded and sentimental!”  Occasionally reality is blinded by complicated ‘stuff,’ and a garden can be choked and obscured by weeds. Often, we must pull the weeds, push the stuff aside, and see that deep beneath the earth is a tiny simple seed. And with love and care, it will rise to produce stunning beauty.

It was a cold February day when Grandpa left us. No garden was blooming, but my brother and I were determined to find her white gladiolas. The local florist located them and rushed them to Tennessee. We laid the basket of white flowers beside Grandpa’s grave. I looked through tears as the flowers seemed to reach heaven, where Grandpa rose to meet God finally.

  It was love that flew her there, and it is what remains with me today.

Salute the Vietnam Warriors

While recently thumbing through my old Tennessee and Georgia high school yearbooks, tears pooled in my eyes.  Yes, they were all there, young men with hope in their eyes and their youth on the edge of disappearing. I wonder what they would have accomplished in their lives if they had the promise of a future.

 Would they laugh as I do at the silly antics of a grandchild?  Would they still possess the impish grin the camera caught in the 60s? Maybe Howard would have made it onto the big screen with his good looks.  Perhaps Bobby would be a renowned physician today, and Larry would have climbed up the ranks in his beloved army before retiring to Florida. 

However, the maybe’s left when they all boarded a military bus to serve our nation while a war escalated in Vietnam.  They, like so many, returned only to be laid to rest in their hometown cemeteries before they had a chance to see what could have been.

Bearing a scar

These young men joined the service as so many do to become soldiers of war.  They are the elite among us who, I believe, God anoints with an extra dose or more of courage.  These soldiers go blindly into battle to defend the land they love.  They steadfastly look out for each other and often give their lives to save their comrades.

The Vietnam warriors were no different in character and honor as those who bravely fought for our Independence.  They held the same gritty spirit as those who battled before them in the Revolutionary War or World War I and II, as well as all other conflicts.  Thousands of soldiers have responded to the call to serve, but the warriors of Vietnam bear a scar.

By the time our troops were pulled from Vietnam in 1973, over 52,000 young soldiers had perished.  Between 1964 and 1975, 2,709,918 men and women wore an American military uniform in Nam.  240 of them were awarded the Medal of Honor as Bobby Ray was for saving many lives, except his own. Of those killed in combat, 61% were younger than 21. Just out of school, just beginning to dream, just starting a future.   

Also, in 1973, America’s electorate was deeply divided, and some say the military was demoralized.  So, for those who returned from the rice paddies and trenches, ships, the skies, and prisons of Vietnam, there were no homecoming parades or bands of screaming, happy folks in Times Square to greet them. Instead, Vietnam was simply over for America.

Never blame the warrior

Today, those fallen Vietnam soldiers are immortalized on a wall in Washington, D.C.  For those who lost friends or loved ones whose names are etched in this wall, the war is not forgotten, nor is the sacrifice.   We are the older generation now, and our young faces are alongside those in the yearbooks who remain ageless. 

Today, 610,000 courageous Vietnam Veterans are still walking among us.  Of those who risked their lives in Southeast Asia, 97% were honorable discharged even though many were drafted for service.

Even after hearing countless stories of the heroism and bravery shown by our American troops during the second-longest war in our history, they returned home to be treated harshly by many for just doing what they were asked to do. Unfortunately, this response created a loss of self-esteem and grief for many young soldiers, leading to future deep-seated problems.  

Our worst divisive behavior is the scar of Vietnam.  The wound was not caused by the soldiers.  The injury was inflicted by the free citizens who remained on American soil that turned their anger toward those sent to battle.  

We can fairly charge those in government or politics for most anything but not the bravest, best, and the most elite among us. So we should never blame the warrior, nor the ones who suffer and give the most.  Nor the over 150,000 who were wounded in Vietnam, or the prisoners of war, or those missing in action.

Take the time to notice the brave soldiers

I look into the eyes of my framed Vietnamese doll my brother sent me in 1965.  She has my POW/MIA bracelet around her waist to remember another pilot whose remains were finally located a few years ago.   My brother lived until 1998, but his time spent in Vietnam was always fresh in his heart.  I, too, vow to honor those who gave so much to receive so little.  

Memorial Days will come and go, but this year stop for a moment, look around, and notice the brave soldiers of long ago and celebrate them.

Maybe it will help heal the scar a divided nation caused and remind us never to produce such a wound again.  

“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died.  Rather, we should thank God that such men lived.”  General George S. Patton, Jr.