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Blog posts October 2016

October 31, 2016 “For All the Saints”

Grandma Holland—my Mom’s mom—could pour the warm water over my hair with a cup in a magical way so as not to get a drop of shampoo in my eyes!  I always wanted her to be the one to perform the shampoo job after a long day of play.  Grandpa Holland could take his pocket knife and use it to form a perfect spiral of peelings as he prepared apples for my brother, me, and our cousins as we waited patiently in line.  I vowed that one day I’d be just like him!  I would be able to keep the spiral going from the apple’s top to the apple’s bottom with never a gap in the continuous peeling.  Grandma Biggerstaff—my Dad’s mom—could always manage to have the best pies and baked goods ready to serve us even though we most times showed up unannounced for visits.  She made “stickies” when my brother and I went over to spend the night.  They were delights of rolled up dough stuffed with brown sugar and butter, cut into rolls, and baked in the oven.  I vowed I would make them for my own grandchildren one day.  So far I haven’t!  Grandpa Biggerstaff was an amazingly quiet man who had the kindest, gentlest spirit you would ever want to find in a man.  I remember him for taking the daily shopping list in hand as my grandmother produced it and dutifully driving to the nearby country store to get the things needed for her to cook.  I rarely saw my mother without fabric in hand working at the sewing machine or without scissors and thread and thimble for doing hand-sewing as she sat in her rocker watching “Love of Life.”   Her life had held much tragedy, including the early death of my father; yet, she never lost her love for life.  I will always remember my step-father who came along to fill the loneliness, the void, left in my mother’s life, but more than that I will cherish the man who so readily took on two of another man’s preschool children to raise all the way to adulthood.  I will remember aunts and uncles and church members from our tiny country church, all of whom had a part in helping to encourage my brother and me and to help us become the adults we ultimately became.

We can all tell such stories—stories about people who were important to us, people who nurtured us and brought us up in the life of faith.  The Christian faith takes seriously the lived heritage in faith.  It celebrates the lives of people who have gone before us in faith, who now are residents in heaven.  And although we need to give thanks for these folks every day of our lives and celebrate their contributions to our lives and to the lives of people around us EVERY day, the church established November1 as All Saints Day.  Most churches observe the day on the first Sunday in November.  May we all spend time this week as we approach All Saints Sunday to recall specific stories of saints who have been important to us.  May we thank God for how these stories—the witness of these folks—have woven themselves into our lives much like the seamstress takes the individual pieces of fabric to form a beautiful garment!  The song, “For All the Saints” expresses well our praise and thanksgiving, “For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed. Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.  Alleluia! Alleluia!”

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October 24, 2016 “Not for the Faint of Heart”

On the church lawn for the day was a herd of goats, the petting zoo attraction for the children.  As it turns out, there was more interest in the goats from the adults in attendance than from the children.  Why—because part of the reputation of the herd was that it had a few “fainting goats” among its members!

            I had heard about the phenomenon of fainting goats, but I was never quite sure if they really existed or if they were simply an urban legend, and, if actually in existence, I was curious under what conditions a goat “faints.”

            Wikipedia has an apparent answer.  Some goats experience “fainting” when startled or alarmed.  (Apparently the adults who participated in loud noises, cap flapping, and stamping at the goats in the desire to see firsthand a fainting episode were on the right track!)  The goats do not actually faint in the sense of losing consciousness.  Rather their muscles stiffen and tighten to the point that they do sometimes fall down.  It is a condition labeled myotonia congenita.  As goats get older they learn to deal with the situation by managing to lean against something—another goat or a fence—so that the stiffening does not result in falling down—an excellent coping mechanism in my opinion!

            In our world we hear the adage, “Aging is not for the faint of heart!”  We could apply that to all of us, for we day-by-day are all aging.  And day by day we have experiences in our lives that challenge us, that cause us to wonder how we will cope or make it through the difficult time. Our fear is that we will “fall” and never be able to recover from the difficulty.

            Our God is there for us—the faint of heart!  And as we learn to call upon and to lean upon him we may struggle and we may lament our difficulties, but we will never fall, unable to rise again!       

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October 17, 2017 “What I Need to Know I Can Learn from a Giraffe”

Folks who visit my office catch on fairly quickly to the fact that I love giraffes.  I have a giraffe batik for the wall.  I have a giraffe from Haiti, a gift from a church member’s mission trip.  I have a cloisonné giraffe from China, a gift from my daughter’s college trip abroad.  Many are carved out of wood and come from Africa; another is made from compressed pecan shells.  I have picture frames that feature giraffes and plates with artists’ renderings of giraffes.  Perhaps my most unusual giraffe object is a drawing of a church I served.  It was their parting gift to me—a beautiful realistic view of the church featuring an inset of a rock wall that surrounded the property with actual children from the church of that day sitting on the wall.  But surprisingly, guess what shows up on the church lawn—well, giraffes, of course!

So why so many giraffes?  Why the interest in giraffes?

I love their beautiful coat.  They look as though a thoughtful, creative painter gave each his/her one-of-a-kind coat!  (Yes, that thoughtful, creative painter would be God!)  I love how their long necks enable them to reach for food all other animals might miss.  (Yes, they see the world of possibility many others might miss!)  But most of all I like the graceful way that they move about on their long, lanky legs with heads in the clouds.

               It’s not always easy to move about in graceful—or grace-filled—lives with heads in the clouds!  As human beings we are far more apt to get bogged down.  We get caught up in what someone says about us, and we allow those comments to destroy our day!  We allow criticism to determine how we feel about ourselves!  We are likely to take negative words and to wallow in the feelings they create for days—even months on end.

            By having one’s head in the clouds I don’t mean to suggest that we live our lives removed from reality and certainly not removed from the world of relationships.  Relationships give our lives meaning and purpose!  Neither do we need to be totally removed from criticism offered by others, for CONSTRUCTIVE criticism—criticism that is honest, fair, and offered in the right spirit—provides tremendous potential for us to learn and to grow.  But when we leave the world of CONSTRUCTIVE criticism and move into comments designed to hurt, to demoralize, and to destruct then we need to allow the giraffe to be our model.

            Our starting point can be the picture of the giraffe moving gracefully above the fray, its head stuck in the clouds seeing parts of life that others might miss.  Our starting point can be in prayer asking God for an experience of the grace-filled life that surely he intends for each one of us!

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October 10, 2016 “Through the Eyes of a Child”

As I write I am preparing for a time of celebration with our youngest granddaughter, Lily Mae.  She recently turned two, and her mom and dad have invited her granddaddy and me, as well as her grandmother on her dad’s side, to a time at Disney in Orlando.

Lily Mae has a tiny face with giant eyes of wonder and delight.  She has a sunny disposition and a smile that will light up any room. 

No doubt we can expect to capture many pictures of her eyes of wonder and her bright smiles as she has a chance to enter the Magic Kingdom and to become friends with Mickey and Minnie and Donald and all the characters she has come to know and love! 

William Wordsworth wrote a poem entitled, “Ode: Immitations of Immortality.”  The long poem is something of a lament as heard in the words, “The things which I have seen I now can see no more.” 

Wordsworth, of course, does not mean to imply a literal inability to “see.”  Instead he wants to convey that sense of the “magical,” the mystical, the ethereal that so easily are a part of a child’s everyday experience somehow becomes lost in the world of the adult.  He decries the sense in which rainbows and roses and the light of the moon become common, everyday objects that no longer produce magical delight as adults behold them.

Wordsworth understands this phenomenon to stem from the fact that children have an undeniable connection to heaven and heavenly things.  In the aging process, however, Wordsworth understands human beings to experience a “forgetting” of things heavenly.  There is a loss of the “magic,” a waning of wonder and delight, a lessening of the joy conjured up from simple things and simple experiences in life.

I am thankful for grandchildren.  Perhaps they are a part of God’s way of reminding us of the wonder and delight we knew at a different stage of our lives.  Perhaps, just as we receive literal invitations to the Magic Kingdom, we also gain opportunities to see the world once again through the eyes of a child.  And if we pause long enough—if we don’t hurry on to the next thing and the next thing and the next thing—maybe we will remember the things heavenly. Maybe we will re-connect to the wonder and the joy of life that God intends.



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October 4, 2016 “Exercise Your Mind”

As I lay down to sleep I thought of each person and where each had sat on the bus on our trip to and from the North Georgia mountains.  I called each by name and prayed a prayer for each one.

When I awoke this morning I made coffee, sat down at the kitchen table, prepared to drink a cup, and in my hands were two books—my Bible and a book by an author that I know well.  It’s called, Mindful Morning, by David Dillard Wright.

David, my second son, is a Professor of Religion and Philosophy at University of South Carolina, Aiken.  He is concerned about “mindful” approaches to life, about our escaping from the stressors of everyday life even if only a few minutes a day.  He wants us to value and live into the full joy that God intends for each one of us. 

And so I read today a segment called “Exercise Your Mind.”  Exercise is not what you might think—not stretching and straining, not trying to solve a deep-rooted problem in the world or in personal life.  Instead “exercising the mind” insofar as this segment is concerned is about savoring moments, about recalling the beauty in nature experienced at another point in time and about allowing those moments—now past—to refresh and prepare for the day with a different sort of attitude and outlook than might otherwise be possible.

I recalled patches of sunflowers that stretched on in the fields for what seemed FOREVER!  I recalled blue mountains that popped up out of nowhere at the edge of the sky.  I felt the cool breeze as I gazed out at mountain peaks now at my fingertips.  I experienced the rush of the water off the mountain’s edge and marveled at its power and grandeur.  I reveled in the sounds of conversation and of laughter as friends enjoyed each other’s company.

I read Proverbs 3, verses 13-18:

            Happy are those who find wisdom, and those who get understanding,

           for her income is better than silver, and her revenue better than gold. 

           She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.

          Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.

          Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.

         She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;

         those who hold her fast are called happy.


I had wrestled with myself about making the trip, gave myself those messages all of us give ourselves from time to time—“Too busy!  Too much to do!  Got to stay in the office and do agenda items!”  But sometimes wisdom teaches us to slow our paths, to feel the breeze, to hear the waterfall, to smell the flowers, to enjoy each other’s company, and at bedtime to pray for those with whom we’ve shared life during the day! 

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