Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Starting 6th Grade!

Morning everyone!  Today is the first day of school!  We're starting 6th grade.  And, yes, I'm one of the teachers!  In case you've forgotten, we home school -- my colleague, Lori Smith and her son, Ramzy, along with me and my son, Christian.  Our other ministry companion, Susan Seal, also helps by teaching math.  She and the boys have a terrific first-day-of-school tradition -- she takes them to breakfast at Waffle House, where they appropriately have steak and eggs. ???  Boys.  These boys in particular, do not like heavy, sweet stuff for breakfast, so no waffles for them!  And I imagine Dr. Seal had oatmeal, or something equally as healthy. 

I remember my first first day of Sixth grade, some 42 years ago.  We had moved from Itta Bena to Starkville, Mississippi, and I was excited and terrified.  My teachers included Mrs. Leota Cardwell for math and Mrs. Hoyt for English.  I believe there was also a Mr. Washington for history, but I honestly can't remember.  Our school was an old, 3-story brick building, which is now used for administrative offices.  I haven't darkened the door of it for the last 40 years, but I pass it regularly as I drive through town.

That was quite a year -- our family moved, my dad left the local pastorate and started traveling fulltime in evangelism, my maternal grandfather died, my folks bought their first house, and my mother was overwhelmed with becoming a "clergy widow."  Four children between the ages of 2 and 15 were a lot for anyone to handle alone, especially the four of us!  Dad traveled from Saturday night to Friday morning, most weeks, and when he came home, we all scrambled to adjust the schedule to meet his needs.  Those were wild days, with puberty bursting forth. 

I'm grateful that for these boys, the biggest change is a big longer school day and brand new laptop computers.  Actually, maybe I'm grateful for me that these are the biggest changes!  This is our fifth year of home schooling and all of us continue to insist that this is the way that works best for us. 

Anyway, their first assignment in my language arts class is starting a new blog, so I thought I'd update my own.  I'm distracted -- heaving sighs and rolling eyes do not inspire much creativity!!!  Hoping this gets better for all of us! Meanwhile, sixth grade has begun.  Maybe I'll learn something new this year...

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Neat and Tidy

I like for life to be neat and tidy, don't you?  I enjoy a spontaneous trip (to the grocery, to a restaurant, to a luxurious vacation spot, or a friend's house), and I even enjoy unexpected company - when their expectations are equally low.  But, for the most part, for the smooth-running of the day-to-day routine, I like to know what's coming, what my part in it is, and have plenty of time to prepare for it.

My life, after all, is not really made up of day-to-day routines.  I sort of hop and skip from one event to another, barely able to catch my breath from this 10-concert tour in order to prepare music and teachings for the next conference, even while I am arranging airfare and entry visas for a team of 13 to go to Africa, while we are hosting local events and investigating opportunities for partnerships in another country or three.  Not very routine, at all.  And maybe that's why I like for things to be as neat and tidy as possible.

So, we have a fairly orderly schedule:  At 7 am, I have devotions with my son, and by 7:30 am, he begins home school with my colleague and her son, studying Bible, history, and science.  Meanwhile, I am off to work.  At 8:30, another colleague arrives to teach math to the boys, and the first colleague takes off for work.  At 9:30, colleague #2 brings the boys to the office, where I spend about 90 minutes teaching language arts (spelling, Latin, grammar, etc.), and she begins her work-work.

From there, we go about a fairly routine work day, except that it's rarely routine.  The boys participate in the home school band, sports, Scouts, and church activities, so we take turns shuttling them here and there.  And because our work is consumed with ministry to people, our "regular" routine is regularly interrupted with phone calls, luncheons, and other meetings to encourage, counsel, and work out the details of upcoming ministry encounters.

In all earnestness, I might tell someone that I will get a packet of music to them by such-and-such a day, but find that nearly impossible when I am called to sing for the funeral of a friend, or make changes to the application so the entry Visas can be approved on time, or need to stop to talk for a couple of hours with a friend who is hurting.  My neat and tidy little world just keeps spilling through the cracks!

For instance, we had a lovely 2-week vacation this year that encompassed Christmas and the New Year.  Our home is the go-to gathering place for holidays, so we expected 17 one day, and 27 the next.  Influenza gripped several family members, and we had only 11 the first day and 16 the next, and our family photo reflected this season of sickness.  I took advantage of the opportunity to rest and did very little that could be called work.

And what happened?  The day before we were to go back to work, my throat and ears started hurting, and sure enough, I had an ear infection.  I've missed only one day of work this week, but already, I feel behind.  That wasn't helped by the call I received from Africa this morning at 4 a.m., necessitating a very early morning departure for the office.  It is now 6:20 a.m., and I have already completed 2 projects.  I have my fingers crossed that I can slip out of the office before  5 p.m. today.  (That's our daily target; it's often more like 6:30 or later; last night, it was 6:45.)

Okay, I sound like I'm complaining, and I'm really not.  I like this quirky, difficult-to-predict, always-something-new way of living.  I get very tired on days like this, when I'm not feeling quite up-to-par, and my sleep is interrupted, and I can get grumpy and short-tempered when I feel that I am disappointing others or about to miss an important deadline.  But this is the reality of my life and I wouldn't trade it for a more predictable routine for anything in the world.

When I first answered God's call to ministry, one of the verses that He seemed to illuminate was Hebrews 11:8 - "By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going." Those words first ping-ponged around in my heart and mind in about 1983, and I've been "going out" ever since, often with only the very next step clearly in sight.  No, let me phrase that differently -- sometimes I know only that I need to pick up my foot but I still don't have any idea where I am to set it down!

What amazes me is that when I arrive at a resting spot along the way -- say, a concert tour, or a mission trip, or a women's retreat or revival here in the U.S. -- I am delighted to find that all of the pieces have come together beautifully and God pours out His Spirit in sweet abundance.  And, no, you didn't read that wrong -- the resting places come for me when I arrive to do ministry. In fact, we laugh that when we get in the van or on an airplane to leave for a ministry event, we heave a huge sigh of relief and begin to relax.

2013 promises to be no different than the last 32 years of fulltime itinerant ministry.  I will travel to the other side of the world at least twice, possibly 3 times, visiting as many as 7 other countries, maybe more.  We will continue to build up the local outreach we have begun, attempting to reach those who shy-away from church but want and need to know that God loves them.  And we are seeking God for a clear definition of what our ministry should look like between home and the other side of the globe -- those women's retreats and revivals and conferences that have been our bread and butter for 30 years. 

The moss doesn't grow on us or around us - we move too fast and often for that.  And sometimes I despair that I will ever be able to get and keep things neat and tidy, on my desk, in my home, in my inbox, or in my mind.  But then I remember this other verse that has bounced around in my heart for 30-plus years:  "He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me."  (Psalm 18:19)  Things may not be all neat and tidy, but my goodness, there's plenty of room here.  And He is here.  That will do.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Too lazy to stop...

Abraham Lincoln: I could write shorter sermons but when I get started I'm too lazy to stop.

I watched the new "Lincoln" movie last week and left the theater inspired -- not about American politics, you understand.  Can anyone truly be inspired about that anymore?  Sorry, didn't mean to let my cynicism show so quickly.  I love this nation and I am completely addicted to the political process and the intrigue that surrounds it.  I believe that America still holds enormous hope to influence the world in a great way -- but only if the church influences America in an even greater way.

But, I digress.  No, I didn't leave the theater that evening inspired about American politics.  I left the theater inspired about the work I do, the phenomenal, utterly life-changing, life-giving, nothing-more-important-than-this labor of love that I rise to undertake every single day. Nothing is more important that what I do.

No, I don't rise with excitement or even eager anticipation about it every day.  In fact, some days I grow really weary of what can seem like a never-ending marathon to reach a goal that stretches out into infinity.  I am wearied of the mundane tasks that eat up enormous chunks of my time, frustrated by the malaise I find in others and myself, and overwhelmed by this work of ultimate importance that so many seem to completely disregard.  No, I am not always inspired - and certainly not inspiring - but when you believe in your gut that what you do is the most important thing anywhere, anytime, then you don't quit. 

What is that work?  I tell others about the love of God, expressed through His Son, Jesus Christ, when He died on a cross to pay the penalty for our sins and give us the opportunity to be in relationship with God, once again.  Simply put, there is nothing more important in all the world than helping others understand this simple Truth.  Some days I want to throw up my hands and go get a job in which I could work for someone else, let the buck stop on their desk, and simply add the bling to someone else's dream.  But I'm just too lazy to stop!

I got started a long time ago, and I just can't stop!  When I first started, I really didn't know just how important this work is, and the reality is that I'm pretty sure I'm still just beginning to understand the ultimacy of it.  As I write this, I can feel the proverbial pat on the head from some of my friends, and the eye-roll from others.  "There she goes again...she has to believe that everything in life is for a purpose and that her purpose is the most important in the world." 

Yep.  That's about it. I'm all absorbed in my life, and there's no way around that.  I admit it.  But you see, it's not really my life, at all.  Years ago, I prayed a little prayer, giving up my rights to myself, and since then, I have taken that little prayer much deeper -- my life is no longer my own, it is Christ's.  The life I live in this body I live by faith in Him -- the One Who loved me and gave Himself up for me. 

I love Him!  Oh, He doesn't always do things the way I would like -- sometimes I think He's too slow, or indifferent, or preoccupied, or even callous and cold.  But when you love Someone like this, you begin to realize pretty quickly that all of those feelings you have come from a very limited understanding of the One you love. 

Just when you think He's too slow, you realize that He was just trying to hold you off long enough to show you that He had something much better in mind.  And just when you thought He was indifferent, you feel the tremble of His passion in your heart.  And when you think He is preoccupied, you see that He is trying to redirect your gaze to something higher.  Or when you think that He is callous or cold or unkind or distant - well, then you realize that He is agonized by the restrictions He has put on Himself so that we could be free to choose Him or not.   You realize that He is the mother throwing herself in front of the train to save her child; He is the soldier facing the foulest enemy to secure our freedom; He is the general, calling His army to be all they can be; He is the Savior Whose heart beats for us everywhere, at all times, in every circumstance.

I love Him!  I've been at this a long time - telling others about Him - and sometimes my "sermon" gets a little too long.  I'm just too lazy to stop! 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Turning 50 -- plus 46 days, and this is the last time I'm going to count

Almost two months into the new half-century, I still enjoy getting older.  While it took a little mental adjusting to hear everyone in Africa calling me "Mommy," and everyone in Mississippi saying, "Yes, Ma'am," I think I can adjust to being the world's grandma.  I kind of like it -- after all, I'm kind of fluffy, like a sweet, old grandma with a wide lap, ample bosom, and broad shoulders to lean on.  I can do this!  It did sting when the AARP sent me my invitation to join, three months before my fiftieth birthday, but I got my card in the mail this week, and I think I'm going to enjoy the new status.  I hope they're as good as their hype!  (Yes, I hid the card in my wallet where no one will accidentally see it.  But I'll use it when I need to.  I promise.  Maybe.)

One of the things I've realized these last few months is my new embrace of my single status.  When I was a little girl, I always thought I would be married.  Most of the games I played with my best friend, Penny, had to do with baby dolls, Barbie and Ken, and playing house.  We day-dreamed about becoming mommies and having the most handsome husband in the world. 

When I was a teenager, I was almost never without a boyfriend.  Some lasted longer than others, but it reinforced my belief that marriage was inevitable and would occur early in my young adulthood.  In college, I continued to date some, but by the time I started my first job as a youth minister, I began to realize that one could be truly passionate about other things -- particularly about sharing the love of God.  I also had the biggest heartbreak of my young life, ending a relationship with the only boy I had ever really loved.  On that sad occasion, I asked God to guard my heart and help me be content until He showed me His man, in His time.  He has honored that prayer.

When I graduated from college and began a fulltime career in ministry, I mentally put romance on the back burner, and I believe I even remember telling myself that 35 would be soon enough to marry.  I had a brief relationship with a businessman from Nebraska, but knew that he was not "the man."  And that was that.  Since that time, I have not dated, found a man to pine over, or felt that my life suffered from the lack of a husband.  Somehow, God has kept me contented.  I am thoroughly amazed by that.

What I have realized in the last few months is that as a young woman, the ache of my heart was to be married, at any cost.  Marriage was the issue, sharing my life, finding a mate, having children.  It wasn't about any particular person, it was all about the idea of marriage.  Now, in my fifties (are you laughing, neophyte that I am to the 2nd half crowd?), I realize that I have grown so far beyond that longing to be married.  The truth is, I would only marry now if I found someone I couldn't live without!  It's not the institution that matters, it's the relationship, and that takes a person.

A couple of weeks ago, one of our ministry partners in India announced that he had arranged his daughter's marriage and that she would meet her husband soon.  That was in March.  Their engagement is to be announced in early May, and they will be married on May 21.  For all persons who pooh-pooh internet dating and e-match-making, take note:  our techno-driven romance system has NOTHING on the ancient practice of marriage arrangement!  Can you imagine?  I told my dad not to get any ideas!

I have no doubt that this young girl's marriage will thrive.  They will be surrounded by godly families and friends who will make sure that they receive the nurture and support that they need.  And, after all, she has been instructed throughout her life that this was the way it would happen -- her daddy would choose her husband, and she would make the match, whether or not she was ready.  She is a Godly girl...I'm sure she's handling it all with grace and joy.  Her father is a Godly man...I'm sure he has chosen well.

As for me, I continue my prayer -- Keep me content; guard my heart -- until and IF You have a man for me.  And thank You for the rich store of friends and family who make my life complete.  Shoot, Lord, You are the One who makes my life complete.  You told Hosea, "Someday you will no longer call Me 'Master,' you will call me 'husband.'  Yes, You have completed me.  Thank you.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Turning 50 -- 26 Days to Go -- Home from Africa

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."  That could define my recent trip to Africa.  The best was the return to daily proclamation of the Word of God.  I loved it, felt alive and free.  I love to worship, preach, and sing, and working with an interpreter only makes it that much more precious.  We saw over 3000 people come to Christ; 2500 were treated in medical clinics; about 1000 declared they will be Methodists, and 20 new Methodist churches were established in Ghana and Nigeria.  It was the best.

And for mission trips into 3rd world countries, well, it was the best in other ways, too.  The best transportation I've ever had, much better roads than on my trip to Africa in '93, much better hotels.  It was the best.

And it was the worst.  I was away from Christian (my seven year old son) for three weeks, the longest separation we have had since I adopted him six years ago -- incidentally, our "Gotcha Day" occurred during this trip, the anniversary of our adoption.  So, we postponed the celebration and are going to Disney World with good friends and fellow-adoptees, Ramzy and Lori Smith, in just 2 more weeks.  We are all pumped!

But it was the worst.  I was so homesick...I had taken a computer, hoping I could Skype them regularly, but we were able to connect via Skype only once, and otherwise, had to put up with cell phone and facebook communication.  Thankfully, international communication is much more affordable now than 20 years ago, so I was able to talk with them fairly frequently.  Next time I go to Africa, I will buy my own cell phone and be able to communicate daily...multiple times per day, if I choose.  That's a long time to be away from home...it was the worst.

And it was the best of times.  In 1993, my experience in Africa was a daily challenge to exercise grace and forgiveness.  We were in a very abrasive, pushy, greedy, grabby culture back then.  But this time around, people were gracious, generous, patient, open-hearted, and oh, so friendly.  I wondered more than once if the change was in them, or if it was mostly in me.  Either way, it was a refreshing difference from that last experience.

And it was the worst of times.  I am nearly 20 years older and quite a bit heavier than the last trip.  Everywhere I went, people called me "Mommy," which is a wonderful term of respect in their cultures.  But it reinforced to me that I am officially middle-aged, in our culture, and downright elderly in some others!  Truthfully, I loved the term of endearment, and I think that in time I will be able to fully embrace the role of mother/grandmother to people around the world.  I have always enjoyed getting older, adding another year to my age, and I'm finally getting a bit of respect for it!  Might as well embrace it fully.

I'm back home now and mother to my 2nd grader.  He calls me "Mom," and it isn't always said with affection or respect.  But I'm back where I belong, the older mother to a precious boy.  I'm listening to his funny, hiccuppy laugh right now, and oh so grateful that on this journey, God saw fit to share this bit of His creation with me.

Good to be home.  Hope to post a bit more regularly now.  Blessings to you all!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Turning 50 -- 55 Days to Go

Well, the blog is going to have to wait for a while.  I'm sick.  I'm leaving for Africa on Tuesday.  And I'm turning 50 in 55 days, and just have to admit my limitations!  Besides that, my little brother told me he tried to read it and found it "too religious, too sentimental" for him.  So I've got to get a little edgier.  Ha!

Anyway, thanks faithful friends.  I'll try to post some more in coming days, but it will be spotty, since I don't know when I'll have web access.  I have the cutest new Mini-Notebook, with Skype capabilities, so I'm hoping to keep up with the boys while I'm gone.  We'll see how that goes.  And I'll have time to do some writing on the plane, and probably on the ground in Africa, since we often have quite a bit of free time between meetings. 

I'll be back!  Thanks for reading.  See you soon.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Turning 50 -- 56 Days to Go -- My Towns

My dad became a pastor back in the days when tenure was short in each church and moves were typically made every three to four years.  Thus, by the time I was eleven years old and Dad was going into fulltime evangelism, we had lived in three different communities.  Lambert was the first, and then came Columbus, MS, and Broadacres United Methodist Church.  I was barely three years old when we moved there and so many of my memories are sketchy, but I can certainly say that a number of experiences there remain etched in my memory.

There was the day my brother and his friend, Jerry, were shooting fireworks in Jerry's backyard.  One of them failed to let go of the cherry bomb soon enough and nearly got his fingers blown off.  Then there was the day we were visiting parishioners and their German Shepherd bit my on the collar bone -- 44 years later, I still have a scar to show for it...and a healthy respect for guard dogs.  And again, my mother had to be admitted to the hospital for an ectopic pregnancy and I was left with another church family.  By then, I think I was five and their son about the same age when he pulled a butcher knife out of the kitchen drawer, said "En Guarde!" and sliced my left ring finger.  Got my first stitches with that one, and still have a scar to show for it, too.  And there was the night that we were walking in the neighborhood (yep, the same one of the thunderstorm on my daddy's shoulders) and I felt down, cracking my head on the edge of a pot-hole -- more stitches.

I never shall forget the day Mama took me with her to a very fancy lady's house -- at least that's the way I remember it.  We were poor as church mice and lived at the end of a dead-end street in a very nondescript frame house, among a neighborhood of nondescript plain houses, none of which could have been more than 1000 square feet in size.  This family lived in a lovely hillside mansion, with landscaped gardens terraced behind the picture window off their kitchen and den.  While the ladies were talking, I went out back and picked several lovely flowers for my mother, which I did often from our abundant crop of dandelions.  When I came back in with a fistful of beautiful tulips for my mother, I received a severe tongue-lashing for my indiscretion.  I'm sure my mother felt badly for that, as I have when I scolded my son for doing the "wrong thing" but with the best of intentions.  Why can't we parents see the heart, first, as Jesus does?  How many times must he praise us for our efforts at love, even when the action falls far short of perfection?

It was in Columbus that I first was introduced to the notion that Santa Claus might not be real.  We were in church, the night before Christmas, and some little boy -- maybe the same one with the butcher knife; sounds like him, doesn't it? -- asked me if I knew there really wasn't a Santa Claus.  What I remember most is my mother's outrage that he had burst her baby's bubble.  And then I turned right around and asked some other child the same thing, and another mother came to her, just as incensed that I had stolen this last bastion of childhood innocence from her little one.  Oh my, the tangled web we weave.  I'm sure my own seven year old must have pondered the reality of the fat dude who comes down the chimney, especially now that we have a chimney-less fireplace, but he refuses to face that reality, and this mother is grateful that he is truly innocent and trusting.

In Columbus, our church had a fair sprinkling of military families, since the Air Force base was only a few miles down the road from the church.  My mother befriended several military "widows" and at least one of them, another Norma, stayed in our home with some frequency while her husband was deployed.  She was working on a degree at Mississippi University for Women, and while she stayed with us, she was doing a project with baby chicks.  I begged for a chick, and sure enough, I had one delivered to me.  I was so proud of that tiny bundle of yellow feathers, and begged for permission to take it to the skating rink on Saturday morning.  Mama finally relented, and it must have been the cacophony of rubber wheels on wooden floors, and shouting chicken, and The Baby Elephant Walk that did him in.  That night, I sat on a quit on the floor furnace and tried to nurse that tiny creature back to life, but it was no good.  The next morning, he lay cold and dead.  And the quilt was burned, too, with the criss-cross pattern of the furnace forever marking the death of my beloved pet.

My dad became the possessor of a German Shepherd dog while we lived there, presented to me and my big brother, Sam, on Christmas morning.  The neighbor boys tormented him ruthlessly and precious, gentle Little Ruff became a mean, uncontrollable bully.  There was no fence around the yard, so Dad was forced to chain him to the clothes-line.  The chain was loose, so he could run back and forth, but he couldn't run away.  It just left him defenseless to the neighbor boys.  One day, my mother and I were near him, perhaps to pet him or feed him, and he wrapped our legs completely in his chain, bruising both of us from ankle to thigh.  We were both terrified and helpless. 

One day, Dad came out to find one of those mean neighbor boys on the ground, with Ruff standing over him, still chained to the clothes line, growling and drooling.  Another moment and that child might have met his end.  The next day, Ruff was sold to my dad's cousin, who needed a guard dog for protection during a particularly tough season of race relations.  Years later, their son returned home from college and when he entered the house, with no one else at home, Ruff attacked him and tore his flesh down to the bone.  When his wife insisted that they have him put down, he said, "No, that's exactly what we need him for.  We'll just teach him to love Junior." 

Those boys truly were mean.  Treats, special gifts, were a truly rare occasion in our house.  There just was nothing extra to go around.  And so, when my daddy bought me a pom-pom on a stick (you know, the kind they hand out to the cheering crowds at football games; not the real ones the cheer leaders use), I thought I was the toast of the town.  Less than 30 minutes later, one of those mean boys took a match, while I was still holding the stick, and burned my prize possession in one blaze of glory.  My daddy took that stick and tanned that little boy's hide with it.  I was afraid to go anywhere near him for the remainder of our time in that town, but I was so grateful my daddy stood up for me against that bully.  And I don't remember that he ever taunted us again.

Not everything in Columbus was terrifying and tragic.  I also had two of the best school teachers I have ever known.  It began with Miss Lola and the Peter Pan Kindergarten.  I loved going to school, and had actually attended preschool at the lab school at Delta State University when we lived in Lambert and Mama did a couple of years toward her degree there.  I remember little of that experience, excepting watching huge earth-moving equipment work just on the other side of the school fence.

But Miss Lola's place was where imagination was born.  I remember the shelves loaded with wooden blocks, those old brick-painted cardboard building blocks, shelf after shelf of books, wooden furniture, paints, crayons, construction paper.   It was a child's dream world.  At the close of every day, we spent a few minutes in show and tell.  Parents were gathering by then, and waiting, in clement weather, outside the sliding glass doors, peering in to admire their perfect children.

One week, and I vaguely remember the experience, my daddy took me with him to a funeral.  What I remember is standing on the steps of an old house, peering into the parlour, where the dead guy was laid out for observation, and family and friends trooped by to pay their respects.  I remember a song, a sermon, and a few words of appreciation. 

So, for show and tell that week, I asked Miss Lola if I could arrange a funeral.  She told me that I could, but that I would have to put it all together by myself.  Ever one for a good show, I did just that.  I had 3 little girls sing a trio, one appropriately serious little boy give the sermon and eulogy, and I was the dead guy, all laid out in a casket made of brick-painted cardboard boxes. 

I saw Miss Lola 30 years later while I was leading a revival in Columbus and she still remembered that day, too.  But what she remembered was how nervous she was getting as the funeral wore on and on and parents were arriving and she wondered what they would think of letting her let 5 and 6  year old children conduct a funeral.  Long after the service had ended and the benediction was said, I still didn't move from my pretend casket.  After several impassioned appeals from Miss Lola, ending with, "Lee Ann Williamson, get up and return to your seat now!" I finally raised up from the dead and said, "Whew!  It's harder to be dead that I thought it was!"

And that is ever the case.  Until it is really so, I suppose.

My second wonderful teacher was Miss Fannie George, the world's best first grade teacher, at Franklin Academy, just two blocks off Main.  The school was close enough to our house that a big gang of us kids walked to and from school every day.  I think the journey took 30 minutes or more, but we loved the time and freedom.

I was Miss George's teacher's pet.  There.  It's been said.  And as I write it, I realize that she is just the sort of teacher who would have had the genius to make every child in the room feel the same way.  I remember that I was asked to read to the entire class, that I was told to supervise when she had to step out of the room, that I was given special privileges.  But I suppose the rest were equally treasured.  She moved to Starkville years later and joined the church our family attended.  What a joy to reconnect with her.

AT the end of one grade period, we were each given our report cards.  Mine usually recorded straight A's, but this week, when I opened the envelope outside the building, I saw one long list of the blackest, roundest zeroes that have ever been recorded.  I wept all the way that long walk home, and dreaded what I would find when I got there -- surely a fate worse than Ruff's chains. 

When the long walk finally ended, Mama greeted us at the door and saw my grief.  I thrust the horrible grade card into her hands and burst into a fresh round of crying.  She took one look at it, picked up the phone, and spoke immediately to Miss George.  The story was...Miss George had recorded my grades in the 3rd quarter column instead of the 2nd quarter column, so she had very carefully covered each A with a dark, round circle, and then backed up to the proper position to record my usual straight A's.  I think those grades were the sweetest I ever received.  And the good laugh it gave Mama and Miss George, for years to come, was almost worth the angst I suffered on that long walk home.

My dad endured the most difficult pastorate he ever had in that town, though with some of the sweetest rewards of forgivness and reconciliation, and a completely new understanding of the power and person of the Holy Spirit.  My parents survived the rockiest season of their marriage in that town and came to know that with God, they could keep the vows they had made before Him, and move on to renewed trust and affection.  My mother lost two babies while we lived in that town,but did manage to finally finish her college education, after five or six schools in as many communities.  Columbus was an eventful three years in our family's life.  We will certainly not ever forget the precious people who helped us to survive the tough times, and who poured into our lives the goodness and gentleness of God's grace.