Ignoring His Eyes Upon Us

My freedom, my rights, my choices!”  My, my, my, how many times have we heard those expressions!   “You can’t make me do something I don’t want to do!”  Well, folks, we have a bunch of people saying such words to excuse some inexcusable actions.

We have read some mighty nasty headlines lately about personal freedom. “FLIGHT ATTENDANT PUNCHED IN THE FACE!”  “MOM’S PUSH AND YELL WHILE CHILDREN WATCH” “CROWD APPLAUDS WHEN TOLD AMERICA WOULD NOT MEET VACCINATION GOALS!”

Most of the behavior making the news involves COVID vaccinations and mask-wearing.  “I ain’t wearin’ no mask!”  “That pandemic is a hoax! No shot for me!”

The problem we have right now is with the word “I.”  Those who think only in terms of “me” consider they are the rightful keepers of the universe.  They believe their political agenda comes before all rules of decorum, kindness, understanding, and empathy. 

“Me only” never works

Fires are consuming forests, homes, and towns in the West.  Floods are rushing through villages and taking lives with them.  Heat is scorching the earth while a virus continues to run rampant and mutate.   

“Well, MY home isn’t burning.  MY children didn’t perish in the floods, and MY garden is blooming, so what am I to do about other’s sorrows? Miss Delta Variant can’t get me because I am not old or have an underlying condition.”  ME, ME, MY, MY, I, I. 

The problem with the “Me Only” attitude is it will never work.  It’s not meant to because God will not allow it.   Sometimes I imagine if God sees one more act of violence or selfish behavior in the name of personal freedom, He might set us all free, move away or let the fires and floods consume the earth.

We are supposed to follow and adhere to God’s laws to understand freedom is a beautiful, bountiful gift.  Or do His rules take a back seat to how we individually perceive the laws of our land? 

The Bible is full of words regarding love, compassion, and peace.  It’s all there in black, white, and red.  How easy it is to forget those declarations when our earthly intellects get engaged.

Yes, often, that “Love one another as I love you” commandment just flies away on the unnoticed peace dove.

Hundreds of Bible verses

 How many folks spew hate on social media, spread lies, punch someone in the gut, and then go to church on Sunday and pray for the world.  What a shining example of Godliness we become with hypocrisy as a philosophy. 

The truth is we cannot heal anything until we take away self-centered, self-righteous, unkind ways. 

“For dear brothers, you have been given freedom: not freedom to do wrong, but freedom to love and serve each other.”  Galatians 5: 13

That Bible verse is just one of a few hundred or more that speak of loving and serving one another as children of God.  Yet, we often replace God with our version of “Me.”

We are the land of the free.  OUR land belongs to all, not just one person or one organization.  What we do as a majority provides freedom for all.  If you do not wish to get a life-saving vaccine because you have an underlying condition, are not well informed, or waiting on full FDA approval, I understand.  However, if you are not being vaccinated because of political reasons or feel your personal freedom is being violated, you just crossed the line.

Life, liberty, and happiness is ours

When this country asks all to continue wearing masks,  our hospitals become overburdened once again, businesses shutter, and children cannot return to school, then your personal freedom just stomped on my right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The amount of unkind, and harmful language spread from social and news media is disheartening and infuriating at the same time.  I am sure God feels his messages seem lost or misused. When he watches those who pull their guns to kill, those who use hate to gain fame,  those who incite discord and spread untruths, I am sure He cries. 

He granted us a land where freedom reigns.  God sent His son to tell us to love one another, be each other’s keepers, and watch for evil.  He provides us instructions, and give us free will to make choices.  Not just decisions for you, but for the good of all. 

God is watching how many times we use the word “Me.”   When we think only of ourselves and not others, we are ignoring His eyes upon us.  As the floods rise, the fires rage, and His people die, I believe we might want to turn and gaze upon the face of God and dry His tears with our actions.

Our Children are America’s Tomorrow

“Grandma, why do your hands look like that?”  She asked as she held my hand and pointed to all the freckles and visible veins.  “Well, honey, unlike you, I have light, fair skin, which often comes with freckles and veins.”

I decided that was the best answer to give a five-year-old, but she kept the conversation going.  “Grandma, why do I not have freckles?”

“Well, your Italian skin is like your grandfather’s and mothers.  It is a bit darker and prettier than my old spotted mess. There are all different types of skin, just like there are all different colors of eyes.  Right?” 

Carter nodded her head in agreement and declared, “ I have two really good friends in my class, and their skin is brown.  Very dark, but pretty, and they don’t have freckles.”

“Oh, and they are just like you, aren’t they?”  I questioned.

“Yeah, Grandma, but one is taller!”

I decided at that point that precious five-year-old babes should rule the world.

We are born innocent

We are all born innocent, and each year that passes, we begin a descent into guilt and blame.  Our parents’ philosophies become established in our minds because, as a child, we believed our moms and dads were always “right.” 

And, in the living rooms of homes everywhere, right there is where we learn to not only love but hate. 

As parents, we pass down our disdain for others in our speech and our interactions with those around us. Our young one’s watch, listen, and learn from us. They sense every emotion and study each act of judgmental behavior.  Our character is built on the values parents hold dear.  If I was taught to hate, judge, never apologize and believe I was better than others, then I would become a wretched person making others miserable.

Also, if I was a child of a parent who did not teach me self-discipline, education was essential, and that crime was wrong…. I would probably be lost, dead, or in prison somewhere.

Lessons we teach our children

Most all good parents strive and work to provide for their children.  We teach them to win, but we often don’t offer lessons on how to lose.  We constantly tell our children they are special, but do we teach them that others are as well?  Are we showing our children that people come in all sizes, shapes, and colors, but the heart of a person is what lies inside?

Sometimes adults are just dumb. We worry and spew anger regarding America’s future, but without virtuous, honorable citizens of our future country, what good is the nation?  

Our children are our country’s tomorrow.  We must convince them that “character” is more important than power.  That a person’s soul is what colors them beautiful.  It is our responsibility to inform our children about faith and belief in a power higher than ourselves.  We must teach them that succeeding here is not as important as winning the favor of God.  And that we steadfastly believe bigotry, bullying, and disrespect for others should never be applauded by anyone.   

Ok, I know I am on a soapbox, but some folks need to clean up their act with a bit of integrity soap.  Let us try to show that goodness counts and not allow those who love to hate to be in the spotlight.  

Character absolutely matters

That little five-year-old who thinks that all colors and varieties of folks are beautiful and unique deserves a world that believes it too.  Our children require a place to grow with less violence so they may live to the potential God planned for them.  They should value their freedom, respect others, and cherish life.  All children should have the opportunity to flourish and spread the seeds of peace and hope, not wrath and fear.   And, it all begins in their homes where their parents teach them the meaning of values.

We cannot tell our children not to bully and then applaud a bully.  We cannot teach our little ones not to lie while we spread untruths.  How can we say to our children all men are created equal if we are bigots?  Perhaps, our character should become more like the wise, innocent five-year-olds.  If so, we can rise above our lower selves, diminish the sounds of discord, and give hope to children everywhere.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”   Martin Luther King.

  My skin is fair with a mess of freckles, but my dream for our children is the same.  Character is what matters.

Into the Wild Blue Yonder

There are times in our lives when we need to reorganize our priorities to rediscover the fundamentals of happiness.  Often, we don’t understand what causes our sadness or lack of enthusiasm. 

The pandemic threw most of us off track.  We were not able to freely visit those friends and family we usually see.   We resided in a bubble and accepted our fate.  Most of us wrapped ourselves in our own little cacoons and quietly coped with our fear and loneliness.  It was almost selfish to complain because, for many others, their worlds were utterly shattered.  So, I strived to keep smiling, praying, and writing words of encouragement.

Even when the sorrow would be overwhelming, I busied myself with a project and buried all my emotions deep within.   

However, there was a constant longing to fly from my cocoon to see the world and those I love.   Especially the desire to reunite with my children. 

Finally uniting

Recently, on a sunny July afternoon in Colorado, I finally laid eyes on my son, whom I had not seen in nineteen months.  When he walked toward me, the grief that I had embedded within my heart rose to the surface.  I don’t think I will ever forget such an embrace.   I spent a few precious times in those long months with my two girls and grandchild, which was indeed incredible, but when I was finally able to see all my children together, the delight was overwhelming.

My family then traveled to the wild blue yonder of Wyoming for a weeklong vacation on a ranch in the middle of nowhere.  And in the middle of nowhere is where I uncovered pure joy.  There was no glitz or glamour to obscure wide-open spaces with clear azure skies and where one acknowledges, with certainty, Mother Nature is in charge.  A vast land where sounds of the city are replaced with singing birds and chirping crickets.  The breeze rustles through the trees, fish jump in the ponds, and laughter becomes the only music needed.

Open ranges, endless expanses of uncluttered earth, and the grand canopy of the sky seemed to expand the happiness in my soul.  It was as if there was no limit to how much love I could feel for this group of folks.  

Family is the root of happiness.  

The wild west

When we traveled for a day to the Black Hills of South Dakota and to the iconic Mount Rushmore, I stood in awe as I gazed up at the faces so expertly carved into the mountain.  George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln viewing the vastness surrounding them.  It was as if they were still in charge and keeping watchful eyes on America.   All 50 state flags blew in the warm wind below them.  The whole scene reminded us that we are one nation driven by liberty and the sacrifices of those who served us well.

Freedom is the heart of peace.

A 120-year-old General Store is the centerpiece of Aladdin, Wyoming.  It houses the post office, a bar, a substantial black safe, animal skins, and everything from clothes to candy bars.  You step back in time when you walk through the screen doors off the front porch.  The cowgirl in me immediately looked for my horse to see if she was safely tied to the hitching post.

 We strolled through this preserved operational store and couldn’t possibly have seen all the offerings.  However, my children beckoned me to examine the candy and bars they found displayed neatly on an old wooden shelf.  In yellow boxes were stacks of Kimble’s Bars made of peanuts, oats, and peanut butter; hand-made daily in LaGrange, Georgia.  What?!  My adopted hometown was represented in far out yonder, Aladdin, Wyoming!  I took a picture and told my children, “My pals from LaGrange will love this!”

Friends and warm reminders of home are the icings on the cake of life.

The return to importance

While watching the clouds move in the sky, the deer jump through the grass, the sun climb to warm the earth, and the wild turkeys gather in their flock, I was mesmerized by the beauty of God’s world.   None of us look at the blue sky, or trees, or the moon and stars enough.  When we do, we realize just how small we really are and how precious our planet is.  If we study the land God gave us to live on, we will recognize quickly just how thankful we should be for it all.

The family, the friends, the freedom, the connections, and the beauty are ours because God willed it so.   It is through God that we find the fundamentals of happiness.  

My priorities are back, and my sadness is gone.

My Grand July Tradition

It is July!!!!!  The month we light up the sky with fireworks, hold family reunions, watch the kids squeal at the pool, or catch an ocean wave. I am not sure this summer is entirely typical,  but somehow it all feels better. This July, perhaps, we relish those simple summer rituals more because we are hopefully heading to something akin to “normal.” 

One of my favorite July traditions, however, is not related to summer.  When the temperature rises to scorching heat each year, this old gal heads to Hobby Lobby to watch the staff begin displaying Christmas decorations.   As I view the fun ornaments, I start to cool off and realize I am just five months away from my holiday craziness. Plus, in July, The Hallmark Channel celebrates “Christmas in July!”  So, I must not be the only one who has a holiday addiction.

When my son returned to his home in Colorado after the holidays in 2019, I never dreamed I would not see him again until this summer. But, this winter, I could be over the top loony by December because Christmas 2020 was not one for the record book of happiness. So, I pray our home will be filled with the same ole’ family shenanigans and hysterics this year without any fear of a pandemic.

Return to Christmas craziness

The little ones can throw their Cheerios in the air, wipe their noses on the Christmas napkins, or break a plate or two.  I don’t care.  The adults can overeat, be boisterous, and argue over the politics they can’t fix, but do I care? No.  I will, instead, savor the fact that we are simply together.

My husband shakes his head every fall and gives me an insane Christmas budget and rules.  I try my best to reign in my over-the-top, too much holiday cheer, but he might as well forget it this year. So, I plan to bake even more cookies, buy a few new ornaments, and keep those Hallmark Christmas movies on 24/7. 

If we are all still here by December 2021, we should be over the top with utter joy.   Crowded stores? Yippee!  If there are empty hospital beds, double yippee! When the children step off the school bus for the holiday break, a triple yippee!

It seems Christmas has been gone far too long.  We have endured tragedies, pain, and daily fear. In America, more people died of COVID last December than any other month since the pandemic began. And for many, the loss was nothing short of shattering. There was little to celebrate for most, and many asked for nothing but God’s comfort and strength.

Time to prepare

I believe what will make this Christmas soar with celebration would be recalling the sadness of last year.  We then will become more thankful, dispense empathy, and extend a helping hand to those who need us. By doing so, we will honor Christ.  We should be so grateful for living; we probably need to put out the Nativity now. 

We also should become so full of compassion that we fill God’s heart with joy.  If we lend aid and give to others, then we will understand the spirit of Christmas.

So why am I writing about this in July?  Well, you need time to prepare. First, you must get to Hobby Lobby or your favorite craft store.  Send soldiers presents you make or take little treasures to a senior care facility.  Buy school supplies for children or find a child who needs a smile and play a jolly Santa.  Give food, give time, give your talents away.   That is what Christmas is and what it was intended to be. 

Give back to Christ

This is the year to let kindness shine like the star on top of the tree.  This is the time to teach our children the true meaning of giving.  Let Christmas 2021 be filled with less grief and more understanding to show the world that goodwill can reign over hatred if we work together.   Rudeness, uncivil behavior, and selfishness should be tossed into the trash with those broken Christmas lights and Cousin Eddie’s ugly sweater.  

May we all be willing to give this Christmas back to Christ. 

Umm, what kind of birthday cake should I bake for Baby Jesus this year?  Should I build another dollhouse for a child or paint my ‘not so perfect’ art?  Should I sew aprons, should I collect can goods or toys or both?  What should I do?  Maybe I will come up with a new idea. 

I think it is time to travel to the Hobby Lobby, where Christmas begins now.  I hope to see you there because you, my friends, need to prepare.

My Name is “Old Glory”

As my cousin drove his ATV over the Tennessee hills and green pastures to show me his farm on a recent visit, I could see from afar our American flag flying high above the main house.  It was as if the banner owned the sprawling land below and she waved her stripes declaring so. 

 God’s lush acres encased by an azure sky dotted proudly with the red, white, and blue depicted a picture-perfect Americana post-card.

Once we arrived back at the house, I looked toward the banner high atop the flagpole.  Old Glory’s ends were frayed and worn, her stripes a bit faded, but she continued to valiantly wave. 

“Yes, I need to purchase a new flag. This one is about worn out.”  My cousin stated as he, too, noticed her. 

The perfect flag

Old Glory appeared oddly perfect to me because she reflected America today.  A bit worn, faded, frazzled, and dazed from turmoil.  Her nation has suffered from disease, violence, political unrest, and loss for months.  But she has seen it all before during her lifetime of being America’s symbol of liberty.  And even though she is tired, she continues to remind us just where we are and who she is.

Her blood-stained stars and stripes were hoisted by soldiers to proclaim victory against her enemies throughout her history.  She proudly stood when all her people were freed from slavery.  Old Glory marched with women when they demanded their right to vote.  She lowered her colors when Presidents were assassinated, and heroes perished.  She sadly laid across coffins that held the remains of those who died for her to remain standing.

Our flag flies high above our government buildings, reminding those inside to continually work to maintain her glorious land.   Some people treated her with disrespect and even burned her, but she rose again from the ashes.

Old Glory never gives up, she never gives in, and she, who represents all that is good about America, waves her tattered cloth to remind us that we must battle to save her.

We must not self-destruct

Abraham Lincoln proclaimed, “America will never be destroyed from the outside.  If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

If we self-destruct, there will be no more freedom nor honor, and the red, white, and blue will fall to the earth in shreds.   

Selfishness, apathy, lack of respect, and extremism will end America.  They have battered us these last few years.  Recently, personal ideologies often replaced cohesive, healing behavior, thus costing us lives and livelihoods.

When we no longer care about the whole of our nation, we will no longer have the right to voice our personal ideologies.

Bullying and lack of respect for others should and will rip Old Glory to threads.  America was based on a belief in God.  God might believe we no longer deserve our abundant country if hurting one another with foul words and violent conduct becomes a norm.

The extreme far-right and left of our government and the radical behavior of self-interest groups are splitting our country apart.  The flag represents over 330 million Americans. And most understand a productive government is in the ‘middle’ where we find compromise and solutions.  We cannot stand on divided land, or we fall into the abyss it creates.

Be what Old Glory represents

Unfortunately, some believe America is finished. Well, I am not one of them.  I love this country, its people, and the God who gave her to us.  We must pull together and not lose our nation.  Those who attempt to divide us should remember that our heritage was built on courage.  They, who precariously traveled across the seas to an unknown world, did so to escape persecution, famine, and lack of hope. 

It is here where they fought to keep dreams alive and have the freedom to see them come true. They toiled the earth, built communities, braved the elements, and cherished America.  They sent their children to war, begged for innovative medicines to keep their families from succumbing to smallpox, polio, and countless unforgiving diseases.  Their courage and sacrifice gave us all that we enjoy today.  That alone should force us to stop our oft-inane behavior.

We cannot destroy ourselves.  We are a priceless free nation.  Old Glory represents a battered and bruised land, but we will become the healers to repair her.  With our help, she will continue to proudly wave over our hills and homes so that her stripes and stars can always be seen from afar.

We must endeavor to be what our flag represents; a will to never give up and bravely stand tall even though the winds from storms may fray us.

Avoiding the Final Exam

Often, I find hidden gems regarding life in cartoons. For example, Garfield is hiding under the covers in the Sunday newspaper because it is his 43rd birthday.  He is uncomfortably aware that growing older does not exude the same celebratory excitement as when he turned five. 

Snoopy is determined to win a tennis match.  But instead winds up sprawling and dazed on the court in defeat with a tennis ball stuffed in his mouth from his opponent’s first serve.  And, in Blonde, young Elmo announced to a stunned Dagwood that he is raising the price of his lawn cutting service for the summer.  

How many times have we tried to avoid those birthdays?  Haven’t we all dreamed of winning a game but tumbled in defeat?  And, of course, we know about the rising cost of services. So, these cartoons cause us to often laugh at ourselves and provide a bit of respite from the more pressing news of the day.

Meet Ruthie

Ruthie is the precocious, industrious little girl in Rick Detorie’s comic strip, “One Big Happy.”  Her brother, Joe, constantly bugs her, and her thoughtful parents and grandparents offer her words of wisdom. Yet, six-year-old Ruthie can spin a story and twist a profound declaration into a fun statement with a different meaning that always elicits a laugh.

She walks toward Grandpa, who is sitting on the sofa reading.  “Whatcha doing, Grandpa?” Ruthie asked.   He responds, “I’m reading the Bible, Ruthie.  It’s been a while since I’ve done it.”

“Why are you doing it now?”  Ruthie questions.  Grandpa replies, “Well, I’m getting up in years and…..”

Ruthie runs to her Mama in the kitchen, “Guess what, Mom! Grandpa’s studying for his FINAL exams!”

 I believe I heard God laughing after He read the same thing!

Cramming for the final day

As we face those older birthdays, many begin to ponder eternity.  I have always found it fascinating that we often do seem to cram for that ambiguous final day.  It is usual for many who are aging to try to make amends and visit folks they haven’t seen in a while before it is too late.  We aspire to travel the world and squeeze as much out of life as possible before it leaves us.

I wonder as God watches us studying for the final day what He must think. Then, perhaps, our Heavenly Father would like to question us, “Why did you wait to seek forgiveness or delay seeing those you wished to visit?   Why did you not contemplate eternity throughout your life instead of only near the end?  And, kids, how did you know, with assurance, you would reach the age of ‘old’?”

When I was small, I watched my Grandmother read her Bible at the same time daily. “Why do you study the Bible every night?” I asked. 

“To learn, to honor the Lord, and be ready.”  She replied.

I, like Ruthie, did not quite understand what “be ready” meant, but as I aged, I certainly did.  I witnessed young friends and family members who were taken from life before ever entering adulthood.  We all know or loved folks whose lives abruptly ended without warning.  They weren’t given a chance to study for a final.  Their test was over.

My Grandmother was 97 when she was called to Heavenly glory.  She never needed a final exam because she stayed prepared and ready to meet her teacher whenever he called her.

Living life to please God

God is watching, listening, and loving us when we take our first breath until the day the last bit of air escapes us.  He sees our errors, tears, and laughs with us in our joy.  He understands who we are and why.   If we are blessed to know Him earlier in life, then we build our faith daily.  Each step we take with trust in God allows us to withstand the difficult moments and treasure the happier ones. The more we talk to God as our Father, friend, and advisor, the less we fail, the more we achieve, and fear of death soon dies.

The only thing we need to cram for is living our life to please God every day we live.  And boy, if we all tried such a thing, the world would turn around in a nanosecond! So, perhaps, the answer to most of our problems is not found only by reading the Bible’s words but by living them.   Just like my Grandmother, who daily sat on the sofa holding her worn Holy Book.

Ruthie is only six, but if she is blessed, those who love her will teach her that there are no exams at the end of God’s book.  Instead, just solid instructions, so you learn there is no final.

A Letter to My Father

Dear Dad,

I am not sure if you can view this from Heaven, but since you flew there in 1999, I often feel you are beside me. But, of course, you know us earth-bound folks can’t see for looking sometimes, so I might have missed you.

A few things happened since you left.  I married again in 2005, and I believe you would like this guy.  He, just like you, reminds me to turn off the lights, close the doors, and keep the car clean.  You must have hand-picked him to keep me straight!  I know your dying wish was that I would not be alone, and I assume God heard your plea.  Thank you, Daddy, for praying.

The kids are all grown now and scattered.  We endured some tragedies that I hope you didn’t see or sense, but with God’s help, we mustered through and are fine.  I sure am glad folks do not suffer from cancer, broken bones, or shattered hearts where you are, but we still grapple most days with earthly tragedies occurring somewhere.  You taught me to stand tall and be strong, and even though I stumbled a few times, I picked myself up and courageously stood.  Thank you, Dad.

Updating Dad

I retired from design a few years ago and heard the Lord yelling for me to keep my promise that I would begin writing one day. And you know how He is; He doesn’t let you get away with not following through!  Many of my stories involve those you shared about life, family, and home.   You were the master storyteller, and I am so grateful I listened and learned.  Thanks, Dad, for being such a great teacher.

You are not going to believe what else happened! After you, Mom, and brother John left, I felt orphaned.  It was a strange feeling as if everyone flew to a glorious place and left me on the tarmac.  Soon after, I realized most of the Walker family you adored was gone.  I missed the roaring laughter, the twinkling eyes, and the family trait of never meeting a stranger.

However, my writing often took me back to the Tennessee mountain town where we were all born as I told the tales of our heritage.  I found cousins, friends, and folks who never meet a stranger.  And, Daddy, now I am an orphan no more. 

Teaching one to care

You taught me a valuable lesson, whether you realized it or not.  You never thought yourself old or useless.  Your sunny attitude was to keep doing and giving till you couldn’t.  You thought laziness and apathy were components of the Devil’s workshop, and you were right. 

Near the end of your life, I recall watching you slowly meander through the resident’s parked cars at your independent living facility.  You were armed with your Windex bottle and washing their car windows.  You worked to make folks’ days brighter until your light was extinguished.  Living is doing for others until you are done.  Thank you, Daddy, for always caring.

Our country is torn now, Dad.  People think what they believe is the only way. Compromise and conversation seem lost.  Thus, we witnessed people storming the Capitol, politicians behaving in the worst possible way, and racism raising its grotesque head.  All this happened in the middle of a pandemic that claimed over half-million of our citizens.  Fear gripped our country, and as the climate grew hotter, so did the vitriol.

His sensitive spirit

I wrote a column about how horribly you suffered because of the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918/20 that quickly killed your dad, your sister, and your aunt.  You cried when you would recall those days of grief and misery.  However, today, some folk’s hearts have hardened so, they cannot feel other’s pain.  I learned that empathy and understanding are necessary to survive because you wept.   Thank you, Dad, for your sensitive spirit.

I loved you when you were alive, Daddy, but I love you far more today.  Your wisdom, common sense, friendly nature, kindness, and wit resonate with me now more than ever.  People adored you and respected your ability to enjoy life and love people.  You were intelligent, dependable, and carried your feelings on your sleeve without any fear of doing so.

It was and is an honor to be your daughter, and I pray I have somehow pleased you with my words.  I hope I have shown enough gratitude to our family and to those who forged a path for us all.  Please continue to send me a story or two, and I look forward to the day in Heaven when you remind me to turn off the lights and close the doors.

 Happy Father’s Day, Daddy; I sure miss you,

Lynn

Where our History is Written in Stone

On the first Sunday in June in Monterey, Tennessee, where I was born, citizens celebrate Decoration Day.  There are two main cemeteries in this small town, and most of us whose heritage dates to the pioneer days honor the remains of those we love by decorating their graves with flowers.

When my parents and brother were still living, we tried our best to visit on Decoration Day no matter where we resided.  Every June, as we walked among the headstones, Dad would tell us stories regarding uncles, aunts, friends, or grandparents as tears fell from their memory. 

When many relatives were still living, we held large reunions complete with picnics after placing flowers atop graves in both cemeteries.  More old tales were recounted as laughter filled the air.

Before we left to travel to our various homes, we would drive by the old graveyards and view them alive with color as flowers adorned nearly every grave.  It was a sight to behold.

When silence replaced joy

After years passed, Daddy’s stories were silenced, reunions ended, and grief replaced joy because most of my family was gone. As a result, a sense of loneliness and longing began to creep into my soul.

 You know how God has a way of always working things out? Unfortunately, we often don’t recognize his plan, but sometimes it is as clear as the raindrop that fell Decoration Sunday on my Great Grandmother’s grave in Monterey.

After I began writing six years ago, it was a delight when I heard from relatives and friends in places I once lived as a child.  They were from Tennessee’s hills, valleys, and cities to Georgia, where I moved when I was 15.    I love communicating with these precious folks and sharing our memories of times together.

 Since a few of my columns evolved around my heritage, I reconnected with some long-lost cousins and an entire town.  I was only four when we moved away from our Monterey family. However, in the past year, a deep affection developed with this mountain town, where it doesn’t matter how old you were when you left;  they still welcome you home.

Long-lost kinfolk

One of those cousins is Bobby.  When I hear him talk or watch his blue eyes twinkle while he tells many a story, I am reminded of Dad.  Bobby says I talk a lot, and I do, but then so does he, and I thankfully realize the old silence is now broken.

On a prior visit to Monterey earlier this year, I met Patsy.  She is another of those long-lost relatives.  Our great grandparents buried two children and a grandchild due to the Spanish flu epidemic between 1918 to 1920. Patsy’s grandmother, Sallie Belle, and my grandfather, Sallie’s brother, succumbed to the flu, as well as my Dad’s little sister, Bertha Nell.

“Lynn, I have never been able to find my grandmother’s grave,” Patsy announced soon after I met her. 

“Well, I am sure it is in the older Whittaker cemetery.  Maybe her headstone is lost but I feel positive she is there.” I replied after she told me the story.  However, it bothered me that my great aunt Sallie Belle’s gravesite was missing.

Raindrops started to fall as I walked with cousin Bobby among the headstones on Decoration Day morning.  We put flowers on family graves in the old cemetery and looked for little Bertha Nell’s lamb topped stone.  I finally found it and laid dainty yellow flowers beside her.  Bobby and I were puzzled about why she was buried in a different location than her parents. 

The lost are found

I noticed there was a worn monument beside her that one could barely read.   When I touched the stone, I ran my fingers across the words which spelled ‘Sallie Belle,’ who died in 1918.   I called Patsy immediately, and joy began to replace a haunting sadness.

Near where they are buried, Sue takes donations to maintain the cemetery grounds under a green awning.  As I wrote my check, Sue asked, “Are you Lynn, the one who writes?” Then, after responding affirmatively, she began to tell me about another sweet uncle of mine, and the stories started to whirl just as my father’s tales once did in the mountains on a June Sunday. 

“I have a renewed interest in cemeteries!” Bobby texted after I returned to Georgia.  I responded, “Cemeteries are where our histories are written in stone.” But, as I typed those words, I also thought, it is where the lost are found, where stories spin around flowers as families gather, and where joyous memories replace sorrow.

God always has a way of working things out.  Have you noticed?

Welcome Summer with a Sunny Spirit

The pool is open, kids are squealing, gardenias are blooming, and the fish are hungry.  Summer is back!!!!  I believe it has been gone a very long time.  I wasn’t really sure we would see it again.  However, now, I want to yell like a preschooler coming down a slide, jump off the diving board, and cover myself in gardenia perfume! Yessir, summer has decided not to quit on us! Hallelujah!

I plan to relish every single day of heat, each flower that blooms, and every bite of ice-cold watermelon. I vow to thank the good Lord daily that my family survived to embrace each other and the joy of another summer.  We all should know by now that seasons can disappear, that people and life can change, and we are never assured of what new evil killer may lie ahead.

Some people are still arguing over elections, vaccines, science, masks, or anything they can create to yell about or make political.  However, they better not mess with my summer!  If they want to complain and fire fury, may their air conditioning break.  Should they choose to rain more violence and chaos on our country may their thunderstorms be frequent and only in their backyard.  If folks want to spread untruths and lies, may the locusts enter their houses in swarms and leave the rest of us alone.

Exhausted from woes

I am exhausted from all the woes and conflicts of the last eighteen months. But, unfortunately, some folks love to be embroiled in discord. Sadly, some media outlets know that to be true, and some politicians encourage such behavior to receive a vote.  So, why not let the sounds of summer and our children’s laughter squelch their nasty noise that permeates the air?  Isn’t our little one’s happiness and a healthy summer more critical than conflict?  So, may I suggest, turn the rhetoric off.  You will feel better, I promise. 

Every summer, my Grandmother toiled in her garden, fished in her pond, and loved picnics better than most anyone I knew.  She didn’t own a fancy grill, nor did she care about cruises or far away destinations. Instead, she enjoyed pushing the park’s merry-go-round for her grandchildren, catching the big bass, or eating fresh corn from her garden. 

She taught us all that we reap what we sow.  If we spread sorrow, we will reap anguish for years.  So don’t go planting any sorrow or sorry behavior in my garden if that is how you plan to spend your blessed summer.  Plant them instead in your garden of weeds.

Don’t interrupt happiness

If you do not like to follow the rules for travel this summer, walk to where you need to go.  Don’t interrupt my glorious happiness as I travel to see my children.  Walking to the North Pole to cool off for a while seems a good idea since summer may be too hot for your uncontrolled rage.

Seriously, however, I do not wish for locusts to swarm anyone’s home or that someone needs to go to the north pole, but selfishly unruly, untamed, unfiltered, and unkind actions must find a way to end.  This is the only way to enjoy the gifts God has given us all.

It is past time for us to be filled with gratitude for the sun, for the stars, for the air we breathe, and for the land we cherish.  If I had one wish today, it would be for everyone to just enjoy each day filled with appreciation. 

I know we don’t live in a perfect world with all good people.   Evil flies around us like a mosquito trying to bite for a sip of blood.   However, the only thing I know that kills a mosquito is a good repellent, and the only repellent I know for evil is goodness.

Appreciation is the key

Goodness is based on thankfulness and caring for others.  I believe if we are appreciative of a day, we might not ruin it.  If we are grateful for our freedom in America, we should strive for unity, understanding, and respect for each other.   Let us be thankful for the blessing of our children and grandchildren by giving them a future of peace.   If we believe in God, we must do what He asks of us.

Yes, I am grateful for summer in more ways than one.  This summer, I am well, and I will finally see a child I have not seen in 18 long months.  I will watch my grandchild turn sweet 16, take walks near the river, and look to the heavens above, and thank God for simply living.

Embrace your summer and be filled with gratitude that you can still watch a flower bloom and enjoy an ice-cold watermelon. 

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.