The Colors of Blessings

As the display of Fall color bursts upon the mountains and valleys of God’s Country it is always a sight to behold.

As I wrote in my October column in “Georgia Mountain Laurel” magazine I didn’t really appreciate the beauty of the season until I had moved away and become an adult.

For much of my life, the leaves changing color was just something that happened.  However as I have grown older, the changing colors represent more of a feeling, a feeling of blessing, reflection and joy.

This year, the weather leading up to peak season has been iffy.  We have had warm weather, cold snaps and everything in between, it seemed like the colors of Fall may skip us this year….. but oh, what a surprise the landscape had in store.

Earlier this week it happened, as if overnight, the leaves all changed and what a magnificent change it is.

Today the weather is damp with fog and mist making the colors explode on the landscape, the oranges, yellows and reds glisten in the moisture like a Monet or Picasso.

As I drove home from Church this morning, I stopped my car and just looked.  I soaked in those colors and let the beauty of the scenery in front of me wash over my soul.

It occurs to me that the colors of leaf season are a perfect prelude to Thanksgiving and Christmas.  A time to be thankful for the blessings in our lives and remembrances of those who paved the pathways that we now walk.

Those colors, like the blessings we all enjoy, explode in goodness and are tucked away in our memories through the seasons of life.  At times of darkness we can draw upon those memories to keep us moving forward and to rejoice in the blessings of life.

Like the seasons of our life, the season and colors of Fall renew the spirit and provide a joyous point leading up to celebrations yet to come.

I appreciate the colors of this season and the promise of what is to come.  During dark days it is good to know the colors will return and provide hope for our next blessings that lie ahead.

 

** Thanks to Kevin Croom for the Photo Reminder.  KCCPIX

Stepping Out On Faith

The Church I attend is in the early days of a building campaign.  Today was commitment Sunday where the membership made our pledges for the next two years towards the build.

This in not the first building campaign I have been through, they are never easy and sometimes tear churches apart.  I do not believe this Church will have that problem, we are standing together in a place of undeserved privilege towards not just a new building, but a place where lives will be changed and the Kingdom of God will be honored.

Since leaving my job this summer, and dedicating all my efforts to my retail store, my finances have been unpredictable, after all some weeks are better than others, however I have made a commitment to my tithes and continue to see income that allows me to meet my giving.

A commitment for a building campaign is above and beyond tithes, it requires faith that God with honor the commitment and make it happen.

For weeks we have been building towards today’s Commitment Sunday.  I have had conversations with friends, my Pastor and have prayed about what my pledge should be.

Yesterday I settled on my number.  It was a number I felt comfortable with and knew I could make happen.

I filled in my card and took it with me to Church.

As I settled into my pew, I felt content with the number I had come up with and as I looked around the room, I could feel the anticipation of my fellow congregants, eager for the moment we would walk to the front of the sanctuary and place our pledge cards in a basket.

During Pastor Adam’s sermon, I started to get an uneasy feeling about my pledge.  Could I do more?  Should I do more?  Do I have the faith to do more?

I have acted on faith my entire life.  Faith in my abilities, faith in making things work out and faith that God would provide.

Was my pledge what it should be or was I acting on what I knew I could do and not on faith in what I should do?

Just before it was time to walk forward, one of the elderly women of our Church spoke up and asked the Pastor if she could speak.

Being gracious, our Pastor walked towards her as she stood to take the floor.

In the minutes that followed the lady told us about her childhood of poverty, how many days she didn’t have the ten cents to buy a school lunch.

She went on to regale us with a story of her prowess at horseshoes, he childhood passion.  She told us the story of a friend who showed up at her house one day and bet her that he could beat her in horseshoes.

Her father wagered ten cents on her behalf.

She won the match and now had two shiny dimes for lunch in the coming days.

The next morning, as she attended Church, she had those two dimes in her pocket and as the offering plate was passed she placed both in as her offering.

Her lunch money was now gone, she would do without lunch because of her offering.

As she continued her story she spoke about running for the bus the next morning to take her to school and as she ran past the same Church she had made her offering to, she found a dime on the ground.

And then another.

And then another.

She ate that week and her gift was multiplied.  Her faith made this true.

As the lady told her story, my heart swelled, I knew I could do better, I could step out in faith and become uncomfortable with my commitment.

Before walking up to the altar, I changed my card, I doubled my pledge knowing that God would provide and faith would make it happen.

If God would provide a few cents for a little girl of faith, certainly he will honor our commitments to growing the Kingdom.

Family Reunion – We’re Going to the Elk’s Lodge

Next weekend my extended family on my mother’s side will gather together for a long planned reunion.

Cousins that I haven’t seen in many years will gather from around the country.

Unfortunately due to other commitments many of us will not be able to attend, but when I think about these events, my mind is taken back to the “Elks Lodge” in Elberton, GA where we gathered many times in the past.

Today, I hope you will enjoy a remembrance of those days that I wrote back in 2009.

For my family that will gather and those of us who can’t, I love you all and send prayers and blessings your way.

We’re Going to the Elk’s Lodge

My family is big on tradition. We follow the same routine for Christmas, birthdays were always a big deal, Thanksgiving dinner has been the same since I was a child and today I cook the same meal in my own home. I love the traditions that were set forth by my parents and in many cases their parents before them.

One such tradition was the Clark Family Reunion in Elberton each summer. Elberton is about an hour from God’s Country, but it is where ma-ma and her brothers and sisters grew up. Known for its granite businesses, Elberton is a big producer of tomb stones. (Somebody has to do it!)

Ma-ma came from a big family and each year the descendants would descend on Elberton, The Elk’s Lodge to be exact and reunion.

Going into reunions I was never excited. As the youngest of the grand-children I didn’t have a lot in common with my cousins. More precisely I was closer in age to many of the second cousins, which kept me in limbo. I was too young to hang with my peers and the younger kids were too young to do much, which left me clinging to ma-ma and mama most of the day.

Reunion would begin early in the morning. These gatherings were pot luck, so mama would get up early and start putting together her contribution for the meal. With mama’s penchant for extreme cooking, she would usually prepare enough for a small army, when it comes to cooking for groups she has never understood the concept of everyone bringing something, she always wants to make sure there is enough just in case someone isn’t able to bring their share.

Daddy wasn’t much into these family reunions, but he would always go and put on a happy face. By the end of the day, daddy would be in full spirit and entertaining the masses with his stories.

By the time mama was finished preparing her dishes the four of us would load up the car and start our trek to ma-ma and gramps house, about 30 miles away. Like mama, ma-ma would over indulge in the cooking department as well. There was always homemade chocolate cake, usually fried chicken, okra, corn from the garden and peas. Ma-ma would prepare for days for the reunions, these events were what she lived for. Getting together with her brothers and sisters and showing off their families.

Sam and I would always get a lecture in the car. No fighting and be on your best behavior, we were NOT to embarrass ma-ma in front of her family.

Off we would go, gramps, daddy and me in the front seat, ma-ma, mama and Sam in the back. Dressed in our new reunion clothes, a Bonneville filled with enough food for a third world nation and two kids threatened within an inch of our lives to behave.

Elberton is about 30 minutes from ma-ma and gramps house, not a far journey, but when it is made in a car that is over packed and over stuffed by six people in dress clothes on a summer day with the sun beating through the glass it isn’t always a pleasant trip. By the time we reached Elberton, we were all ready to get out of the car and stretch our legs.

Family reunions were held at the Elk’s Lodge, a rustic old building just off the main road. Without fail, the first person we would always see standing out waiting for the family would be Uncle Chester. If gramps would have had a twin it would have been Uncle Chester, although they were only related by marriage the two men were the mirror image of each other. Tall, lanky, distinguished southern gentlemen of few words, impeccably dressed with a sly smile and twinkle in their eyes. Gramps and Uncle Chester were the kind of men people gravitated to, not to be entertained but to learn from.

After the parking lot greeting, Uncle Chester would help us unload and move into the Elk’s Lodge. The interior of the lodge was exactly what you would imagine, one big open room with a kitchen in the back, a large rock fireplace, linoleum floors and dark stained panelling.

Aunt Laura Bea would be busily working when we came in. Setting up the buffet with her load of food big enough to feed an army, she would stop the pace of activity just long enough to greet us all with a hug and kiss, always stating what fine young boys Sam and I were.

Like ma-ma, Aunt Laura Bea was short in stature but big in personality. Like ma-ma, immaculately dressed and with a quick catch up story of where all her family was, what time they would arrive and who was bring what. Between ma-ma, Aunt Laura Bea and mama, the buffet was arranged and in place before anyone else could arrive to help.

Throughout the late morning and early afternoon, the other families would arrive. Our glamorous Aunt Frances and her family from South Carolina, the Virginia Clark’s and the Maxwell’s.

As the families arrived and the buffet grew to embarrassing proportions the sounds of laughter would echo through the Elk’s Lodge. Cheeks were pinched, kisses exchanged, hugs enveloped us all and the Clark Family Reunion would be in full swing.

Like other traditions passed down from generation to generation, Uncle Chester would round everyone up when it was time for the feast. Families would encircle the room, all holding hands and Uncle Chester would bless the meal.

Mealtime would find one big family, all mixed together around long tables in fold up chairs, enjoying the foods of our ancestors and recipes from the current Southern Living magazine. Laughing, joking, catching up and reminiscing about the years past and ancestors lost.

After grazing for what seemed like hours, the families would then move to the front lawn, games were played, conversations took place and pictures were taken. Instamatic cameras would be pulled from every purse in the crowd and every configuration of family was photographed. First cousins, second cousins, immediate family, family with grand parents, grandparents with children, grandparents with grandchildren…. pictures, pictures and more pictures. Creating memories that would carry us through to the next year’s reunion.

After a long day, after the last picture was taken, the lodge was cleaned and the last hug exchanged we would once again pile into the Bonneville. Stuffed bellies and empty dishes but most importantly complete, filled with shared moments, family traditions and the love of extended family.

Generosity

This morning I had the pleasure of hearing a Bishop from Africa speak at our Church.  Once the dialect differences were overcome, I settled in to a sermon that in its simple message stuck a cord.

This man, from one of the poorest places on Earth, talked about generosity and the truth that you cannot claim to be a person of God if your heart is not filled with a generous spirit.

Isn’t that simple message powerfully true?

Like you, I am good at giving a financial contribution when someone is in need.  I contribute to Go Fund Me accounts, I donate to people when they are facing difficult times, I contribute to Hurricane and Earthquake relief, I’m good at all that.

Where I think I fall short is in the area of having a generous heart.

If we truly follow the example of Christ isn’t a generous heart as important as being generous with our wallets?

I think that generosity includes acceptance and honor of our differences, our weaknesses and the strengths of anyone who contributes to the betterment of society.

On the outside we may be vastly different, however I suspect those differences melt away in our hearts, when we all just want what is best for our families, our friends and our communities.

While our beliefs may be different, doesn’t it make sense that if we simply listen to the feelings of others, where their convictions lie and engage in conversation this allows us all to have a generosity of heart that is in line with God’s teachings?

I know I have a long way to go before I fully align my heart with the teachings of Christ in this area, it’s an area to work on, maybe it is an area for you to work on as well.

Generosity goes far beyond the dollars that we share with those who are in need, that’s the easy part.  A generous heart that is open to our differences is as important, if not more so.

THIS Is America

Over the past few weeks I have written posts about our Divided America.  Posts that were difficult to write, posts that sadden me and make me fear for our future.

These posts have highlighted the divide in our country that has persisted for generations, a divide that seems insurmountable.

While these issues boil beneath us, this week we saw the TRUE America at work.  The America that makes us great, the America we all long for.  This week we saw the best of America, an America that takes care of our neighbors in a time of need and an America that proves once again why we are the greatest human experiment ever created.

As hurricane winds and unfathomable rains fell on the State of Texas, we once again stepped up to lend a hand.

Rainfall levels hit heights that we could have never imagined and the unstoppable American spirit rose to the challenge.

We as Americans don’t always get it right, but in times of need we do it better than anyone else.

I have been in situations where the help of our American community was needed.  I have been through numerous hurricanes and each time as we picked up the pieces, our fellow-man has helped pick us up and place our feet on stable ground again.

Workers, volunteers, financial support all came flooding into neighborhoods where I lived and helped.

Last summer when the mountains and forests around my home were ravaged by wildfires, Americans from every corner of the country supported us.  As the fires subsided, our love for those who came to support burned like an inferno and still burns today with deep gratitude and appreciation.

We see it time and again, when America hurts we come together to support our neighbors and help them move to an even brighter future.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could carry this same level of care and compassion into the day-to-day issues that divide us?

We can, when WE THE PEOPLE take control of the narrative we stand strong and overcome the obstacles before us.  We don’t need politicians, or media to unite us, we just need the great American Spirit that we display on a daily basis.

Houston and its surrounding communities are ravaged by flood waters, but we WILL bring them back and because of the support of a nation united we will make them stronger than ever.

We have seen it time and again and we will see it again, isn’t it great knowing that the American Spirit is alive and well and together we can overcome any issue that harms or divides us……. as a UNITED citizenry who sees a challenge and get’s the job done.

American Heroes, they are not the people we elect of tune into for our news, they are the neighbors who stand with us in our times of greatest need and triumph.