Shine: A Story for Veteran’s Day

Do you remember the gummed foil stars teachers used to stick to schoolwork?

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I don’t think teachers give those out much anymore, but when I was in grade school every teacher had a box of star stickers in her desk drawer. The old kind you used to have to lick in order to stick.

I loved those star stickers. I really liked getting gold ones. You had to do something really good to get a gold star: make a perfect score, have the neatest handwriting, not have a single spelling mistake on your entire essay.

However, if I am honest, it wasn’t just the gold stickers I loved. Any color star stuck to the top of my paper made my type-A heart happy.

Confession: Whenever I see packages of star stickers in an office supply store or the school supply aisle in Walmart, I have a strong urge to buy a some.

They aren’t gummed anymore. No lickin’ and stickin’ these days. You just plop ’em down like any old ordinary sticker. Honestly, I don’t think that would be nearly as much fun as the using the old gummed ones.

Furthermore, even if I bought myself some star stickers, I don’t know what I would do with them.

Stick them on top of the bills I paid each month?

Mark my favorite recipes in every cookbook I own?

Print out copies of my blog posts and give myself a star rating?

I’m not sure star stickers have a place in my life anymore … but I sorta wish they did.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Of all the gummed foil stickers, the green stars were my least favorite.

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However, green stars meant something very special to my parents. Over the years, they handed out green stars to each other, but as to why I never did exactly understand.

“Thanks for taking care of the dishes tonight! You deserve a green star,” my mother might say to my father.

Or perhaps there might be a green star stuck to a note that said, “Don’t forget to pick up some dog food at the store!”

Once, my mother colored several small wooden stars with a green marker and put them on my father’s dresser. I asked her why she was doing it. She smiled and said simply, “Your father will understand.”

I guess he did, for several years later, I came across one in a box of my father’s old things … tie tacks with missing backs, lapel pins, random keys that had nothing to open, and that old wooded star now a rather faded shade of green.

As random as seeing a shooting star in the sky, those mysterious green stars wove in and out of my parents’ relationship. It was the perhaps the biggest mystery of my childhood … well, except for the mystery of what exactly happened to Virginia Dare, which has kept historians bumfuzzled for nearly half a millennium. I read a book about Virginia when I was about 10 years old. Nearly 40 years later, there are still nights I can’t sleep due to wondering about Virginia Dare!

In case you aren’t familiar with colonial mysteries, Virginia Dare (who was the first English child born in New World, as the English called America at that time) and the rest of those brave colonists from the Roanoke Island all disappeared into thin air sometime after August 1587, leaving behind only questions without any answers.

Those curious green stars left me with a lot of unanswered questions too.

Why were my parents always giving each other green stars?

Why green stars and not red or blue or gold?

How come I never got a green star?

All I really knew about the green star mystery is that it meant something extra good.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Last weekend, my mom handed me my father’s Bronze Star.

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I had gone up to help her for the day. We spent most of our time together,  unpacking boxes in the dining room of her new house, placing her wedding china into the new china cabinet she purchased and organizing some serving dishes into the matching hutch.

In the middle of all that unpacking, my father’s army medals came to light.

How the Bronze Star came to be packed with the wedding china, I don’t know. Yet there it was, along with a few other army medals and a tin box filled with 4-H pins and a few other random items.

In her nonchalant sort of way, my mother asked if I would like to take Dad’s old army medals for my boys. Naturally, I did. The truth is that I wanted them more for myself than I did for my boys.

Somehow, standing in that room where my father never stood, touching those old army medals and 4-H pins … well, in that moment, it gave some sort of significance to my father’s life. Three years after his death, I still struggle with feeling as if he will fade away from me. I am often aware that I am grasping for the bits and pieces of what he left behind, as if it can bring him back or make him more real. Grief is strange like that.

Anyway, it wasn’t until I got back to my home that I realized I didn’t know why my father received a Bronze Star. I knew enough from my days as a military wife to recall that Bronze Stars are a significant award not given to every soldier.

What had my father done to earn it?

All I could do was ask my mother. Maybe she would remember. So I sent her a text message, asking for any information she could share with me about my father’s Bronze Star.

Within minutes, my mom replied:

Yes, I know why your father got the Bronze Star. He distinguished himself during the war. He was never in trouble. He always did his job, going beyond the call of duty. He was diligent in doing his part to win the war. He got it for his meritous service in a foreign conflict.

I read her words slowly.

Two times. Three times. Over and over and over. So many times I actually lost count.

As I stood there that night, thinking about my dad, I remembered how proud he was of his military service. But I couldn’t remember ever actually seeing his Bronze Star medal.

Slowly I opened the worn black box containing the medal. And there it was, pinned to a piece of yellowed velvet.

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The star had tarnished green.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

My dad got a Bronze Star because he was a good soldier who strove for excellence. His hard work and diligent efforts were noticed. He stood out from the rest of the troops.  And because of his good work, he was rewarded with a star.

Just like I got those foil stickers pasted to the tops of my best schoolwork … the ones I worked the hardest on and gave my best efforts. Lots of gold stars added up to being on the Honor Roll.

Even as a young child, I knew stars were a very good reward. Stars, whether the gummed sort given out by teachers or the bronze ones handed out by military generals, are reserved for those who excel.

Nobody gets a star for mediocre work.

In the Bible, the Apostle Paul encourages us to strive to do our best. He writes: “I urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received.” (Ephesians 4:1)

When our time on earth is done, God will welcome us home with, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  (Matthew 25:21)  These are the words every Christ-follower longs to hear.

More than that, we are promised a crown. “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:4)  Crowns we will cast at the Savior’s feet.

Some days I think of my father in heaven… glorified body, worshipping the Savior, bowing before the throne.

Maybe it’s silly, but I almost hope his crown was embellished with a big green star.

It doesn’t matter though. My dad’s not wearing it.

He’s already laid it at the Savior’s feet.

The 2020 Election Shivers

photo credit: en.wikipedia.org

This is Allan Shivers.

If you’ve never heard of Mr. Shivers, don’t worry. It’s probably just proof you aren’t from Texas.

Now, you might be thinking, “Paige, I’m pretty sure you aren’t from Texas either. How did you come to know Allan Shivers?”

You are correct. I am not from Texas. I’m a Louisiana girl through and through.

My mother, however, is from Texas. She is the one who told me about Allan Shivers, just yesterday during our phone conversation. Until then, I’d never heard of him either.

As a born and bred Texan, my sweet mama knows all things Texas:

  • important facts about the great and marvelous people of that grand state, like Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin, Allan Shivers and so forth
  • the tiniest of details about exciting Texas historical events, such as the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto
  • all the words to the Texas, Our Texas, which is the official state song of Texas (aka the Texas National Anthem).

Fun fact: One summer, my mother and my aunts, along with my grandmother, made me and all of my cousins learn the lyrics to the Texas state song. True story. Unfortunately, I didn’t have to sing those words as I stood at attention and saluted the Texas flag every morning at school. Therefore I didn’t retain the lyrics and can no longer prove I am half-Texan.

Enough digressing. Let’s get back to my mom and Allan Shivers.

Yesterday I called my mom.

Typically, I talk to my mom on the phone several times a week. She’s not nearly as chatty as my dad used to be, but I enjoy hearing her voice. Usually we talk about her dog Zayda’s antics or my kids’ college adventures, or what our pastors preached about on Sunday. (This actually takes quite a while because my mother tunes into about 3 or 4 preachers every Sunday morning.) And because we both love to read, every so often we discuss books.

Yesterday my mother told me about a book she is currently reading: Stories from Texas: Some of Them are True by W. F. Strong. My mom said, “It’s fascinating really … at least in some parts.”

Apparently, one of the stories in this book mentioned former Texas Governor Allan Shivers, which reminded my mother that once upon a time she actually met Gov. Shivers in person at a church service back when she was a relatively young girl. She recalled that he had some connections to her hometown of Woodville, TX, the main one being that the library there was the Allan Shivers Public Library but also something about his grandparents being buried in the big cemetery in Woodville as well.

Ever the curious person, my mom decided to poke around on the internet to see if she could discover more about this former prominent Texas politician. This is what she learned:

Allan Shivers served as the 37th Governor of Texas, a position he ascended to upon the death of Gov. Beauford Jester on July 11, 1949. (At that time, Shivers was serving as Texas Lt. Governor, and therefore was next in line as Governor.) Shivers went on to be elected Texas Governor three times in his own right in 1950, 1952 and 1954. He chose not to run as a candidate in 1956 gubernatorial race , and ended his last term on January 15, 1957.

Even though a four-term governorship is fairly impressive, it’s still pretty boring stuff if you aren’t into Texas history. I figured there must be more to this story, or otherwise it would not be worthy of my mother discussing it with me over the phone. As I said, she isn’t the most chatty person around.

I was right. That wasn’t all there was to this story.

You see, Allan Shivers was quite the popular governor. In fact, he was so well loved, that on the 1952 Texas gubernatorial ballot, both the Democrats and the Republicans named him as their nominee.

Yes, you read that correctly.

In the 1952 Texas governor’s race, voters went to the poll and found that they could vote for Democrat Allan Shivers or Republican Allan Shivers. They also had an option to vote No Preference.

My mother doesn’t usually tell tall tales. That award goes to my father. But I fact checked her anyway.

Here’s what I learned: Allan Shivers won the election.

You probably expected that. However, what you might not have expected is that the votes were actually counted. The Democrats even claimed victory, not that it really effected the outcome of the election.

While the Democratic Allan Shivers handily defeated the Republican Allan Shivers, when you totaled up all the votes cast for Governor Shivers in that election, he received a whopping 98.05 % of the votes. Just under 2% of the voters selected the No Preference option.

It doesn’t matter how you look at that 1952 Texas Governor’s race, I think it is safe to say that this is probably one of the few times in all of American history that Democrats and the Republicans agreed upon who would be the best man for the job.

It’s certainly not the case for the 2020 Presidential Election.

Can we possibly be any farther away from the 1952 Texas Gubernatorial Election?

I think not.

The Republicans have their candidate. The Democrats have theirs. Not to mention Third Party candidates and extra characters vying for their place in the election.

Everyone has an opinion. No one seems to agree. And I think if most of us were to be totally honest, we are just disappointed that these are the best candidates America has to offer us.

If you are like me, some aspects of this election leaves you with the shivers. (Pun intended!)

How then should we live out these next 3 weeks?

  1. Pray

Prayer is where Christians should always start.

Begin by praying about who to cast your vote for (Not just for President but for all the offices you are voting for, and not just for this election but for every election.) Even if you think you have already chosen your candidate, go ahead and pray about it. Look intently to see if their platform and campaign promises line up with the Bible.

Pray for each candidate.

Pray for honest, peaceful voting and for clear results.

Pray for our attitudes toward others who may not vote like us.

Let’s all cover this election (and every election going forward) in prayer, and truly seek God’s will for our communities, our state and our nation.

2. Respect

It’s great to be excited about your candidate and there’s nothing wrong with spreading their campaign messages. Actually, let me clarify that statement. It’s fine to promote your candidate unless your methods don’t respect others.

Does your social media post shame or belittle someone who feels differently than you? Are you pointing fingers, making angry comments, or using guilt tactics on people who make it clear they plan to vote for another person? Are you making assumptions that other people haven’t thought about their vote just because they support a different candidate?

The Golden Rule is very simple: Treat others how you want to be treated. I think it’s safe to say that all of us want to be treated with respect.

Respect that others have a right to choose for themselves who to vote for. That respect begins with the assumption that the people in my life probably do not need my help in deciding how to vote.

Remember. You are only responsible for one vote. Your own.

3. Agree

I’m not just talking about agreeing to disagree. I’m talking about actually agreeing.

We may not all agree on who will make the best president. After all, it’s not Texas 1952 anymore.

Even so, I would venture to say that 95% of us regular Americans can agree on many things, such as the following:

  • We are for peace in the land and living in safe communities.
  • We are for seeing our nation thrive and our economy do well.
  • We are for our children and grandchildren growing up in a nation where opportunities abound.
  • We are for America, the land of the free and the home of the brave.

So, instead of bickering over candidates and letting the media’s talking heads further divide this nation, let’s refocus on how we do agree with each other.

4. Vote

The biggest travesty of most elections is the lack of voter participation.

You have a voice. It matters. Get yourself to the polls and cast your vote.

Better yet, be the kind of voter who stays informed. Our elected officials work for us. Speak up. Write letters. Send emails. Sign petitions. Go to your town hall meetings or show up at the state capitol.

If you want to see our country doing better, then it’s time to resolve to be involved.

5. Trust

Finally, let’s remember the Bible says this about our elected leaders:

“For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”

Romans 13:1

No matter who walks away from this election with the right to be President of the United States for the next four years, that person will only have that authority because it was granted to him by God. That’s why we can trust this election to our Heavenly Father. He already knows how it all turns out. He’s got everything under control.

We may not have an easy ballot like those Texans had way back in 1952, but we don’t have to shiver about this election and its results anymore either.

Why?

Because God’s got this. And we can trust this election and its results to Him.

With prayers for peace among us all,

Dumb Way to Die: Thoughts on Living with Fear

Several summers ago, when all five of my kids were pre-teens or young teens, they found this YouTube video of a song called “Dumb Ways to Die” (lyrics by Tangerine Kitty).

You can click the link to watch for yourself. Alternatively, you can just trust me … it’s a dumb video. (Jon disagrees. He liked it as much as the kids. Sometimes I question his taste in entertainment, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.)

Just imagine five kids (and their crazy dad) trying to out-sing each other:

Set fire to your hair; Poke a stick at a grizzly bear …

Keep a rattle snake as a pet; Sell both your kidneys on the internet …

Dumb ways to die-ie-ie, So many dumb ways to die

No one sang in tune or in the same key. Heck, they didn’t even all keep the same tempo! This truly was caterwauling at its finest … and it went on every single day, all summer long. They thought it was hilarious and spent hours laughing uproariously as they watched the video on repeat, until I thought all of their brain cells were going to rot from the continual inaneness and stupidity of the song.

For my children (who at the time were ages 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13), the summer of 2012 was The Summer of Great Silliness.

(Personally, I called it “the summer from you know where” … however, in light of the Summer of 2020, with its pandemic and riots and swarms of locusts, I admit in hindsight that I may have judged 2012 a bit harshly.)

The truth is, back in 2012, I wasn’t totally sure my kids would all live to see the end of the summer. I worried one of them might get the idea to try out one of the dumb things from the song just to make their siblings laugh and end up … well, you know … dead. Furthermore, based on their insane senses of humor, I had very little hope for their futures to be bright or successful should they survive after all.

Thankfully, that summer didn’t last forever.

I’m glad to report that not only did we all live to see the summer through, but no one actually tried out one of the dumb ways to die. (Don’t laugh … success is sometimes found in the small things.)

I’m even prouder to say that currently those same five children (now ranging in age from 17 up to 22) are doing quite well at managing their mostly adult-ish lives: holding down jobs, making great grades, washing their own clothes, returning library books. The list goes on and on.

That thing I was missing during the long summer of 2012 … well, I have it now. In fact, I have lots of hope for their futures.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The world is currently a rather scary place.

Apparently, 2020 is determined to be the year from you know where. We cannot escape bad news. As if pandemics aren’t enough, people are rioting in the streets and killing each other and arguing over who should or shouldn’t have to wear a mask, all while children are being trafficked as objects of sexual gratification.

I don’t know about you but I have a lot of fear. Here’s a short list of things I’ve feared in the last six months:

  • getting sick and/or dying with COVID
  • not getting the correct medical treatment if I do get sick
  • wearing a mask / not wearing a mask
  • riots and shootings
  • police being defunded
  • going to church / being banned from going to church
  • schools re-opening / schools not re-opening
  • mail-in ballots
  • outcome of the presidential election
  • truthfulness of the media
  • truthfulness of the government
  • sending my kids out into this world
  • my kids never leaving home (cause frankly this college break has been going on since mid-March and some of these people need to go back to their prior living situations — just sayin’)

The list is endless. I could add probably 50 more things to it right off the top of my head. But the point isn’t the list or any one of those items on it.

The point is that I don’t think I am the only one who is feeling fearful. In fact, mostly what I hear these days is fear … and it doesn’t matter which side I’m listening to.

We have become a fearful nation. And we are fearful because we have lost our hope.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I’ve lived a lot of my life in fear. This is not a lie. You saw my partial list of fears from this summer! The struggle is real for me, y’all. Anxiety likes to snuggle up with me at night and be my bed buddy.

And that’s so not cool because as a Christian, there are three things I know about fear:

  1. Fear is a liar.
Fear is a liar image: VectorStock.com/20532337

I live in the State of Louisiana, where the number of COVID cases since March is about 84,131.

That number is pretty scary. Eighty-four thousand people. That’s equivalent to a fair-sized city! And the more I think about exactly how many people that is, the more I start to freak out.

It’s not just that big number either because if you keep up with the headlines, the media announces each day the number of new COVID cases.

Are you like me, wondering will this ever end?!

Last week, I decided to take a good look at the COVID numbers on the Louisiana Department of Health website. These numbers, which are presented as straight facts, are updated every week on Wednesday. The numbers below were posted on Wednesday, July 15, 2020.

Total Tests completed by both state & commercial labs — 1,001,200

Total positive tests — 84,131

Total Deaths — 3,351

Normally, when I view the map with the numbers, I feel my anxiety start to ramp up. My throat tightens, my heart rate increases, and I feel the familiar panic start to set in. But this time I pushed through that initial anxiety. I didn’t stop to question whether or not these numbers are real or fake or inflated or whatever. Instead I did a little math.

(By the way, this isn’t rocket science math. It’s just basic percentages, exactly what my math teacher showed me how to do in Jr. High school. Your math teacher probably taught you how to do it too. If not, google has pretty simple explanations on how to figure up percentages. I know because I doubled check, just to be sure I remembered how to do it correctly.)

Louisiana has a total population of around 4.6 million people.

84,131 cases / 4.6 million people = .07% of the total population positive for COVID-19

84,131 cases / 1,001,200 completed tests = 8.4% positive test rate for those tested

3,351 deaths/ 84,131 cases = 3% death rate for those with COVID-19

The numbers haven’t changed. They are still big and scary. But, when looked at from a big picture perspective, I can also see the situation isn’t totally without hope. And while I still hate to think so many people have suffered and died from COVID, I can now view it in a more realistic manner.

COVID-19 is certainly a terrible thing to experience. But this world is full of many terrible things.

How about cancer or pneumonia or car wrecks or snake bites, just to name a few? I would hate for anyone to go through terrible things like this, but the truth is I don’t exactly live my life in fear of it happening either.

(Except for maybe the snake bites … I am currently pretty anxious about getting bitten by a snake. You see, several weeks ago I joined a FB group on snake bites and suddenly I am more worried about coming across a snake while weeding my flower beds or putting the trash can out at night. See, I told you I have a problem with anxiety.)

Anyway, here is my point:

Just because something is terrible doesn’t mean it has to be terrifying.

You see, fear is a liar. Fear is never from God. Furthermore, Jesus Himself said, “The truth will set you free.” (~John 8:32)

Truth will set you free image: VectorStock.com/15478485

If fear is a liar and the truth can set us free, then …

2. Fear is a dumb way to live.

It shouldn’t surprise us that terrible things happen because the Bible tells us that in this world we will experience troubles. (John 16:33) Bad things are going to happen to us.

Even so, a Christian has no reason to fear.

In fact, you will see the words “Fear not” or “Do not fear” more than 100 times in the Bible. (This number does not include all of the other 500+ verses that address fear but do not use that phrase.) Obviously, God does not want us to fear.

But about when we do fear? Like right now … when the world seems to spin out of control and all hope feels lost. I’m human and I get scared. As a Christ-follower, how do I deal with my fear?

Here are a few things I’ve found to help me deal with my own fears in this life:

Remember who God is.

God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble. Therefore, we will not be afraid though the earth trembles and the mountains topple into the depths of the seas, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with its turmoil. ~ Psalm 46: 1-3

Over and over God tells us that He will not leave us. He promises no matter how dark or how long the night, He is with us. Sometimes, when the fears hit me hard, I have to say it over and over and over again, like a spiritual mantra. Breath it in. Breathe it out. God will never leave me or forsake me. He is my strong tower.

Spend time in the Bible and in prayer.

I sought the Lord and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. ~ Psalm 34: 4

How do we seek God?

Well, one thing is for certain: keeping track of the ever-changing numbers or tuning your TV to the 24-hour news cycle or spending hours keeping up with the social media frenzy about whether or not to wear a mask will not bring you peace or comfort! (I know because following that FB snake bite group has made me more afraid of snakes than ever before!)

There is such a thing as too much information.

Instead, spend time reading the Bible and talking to God in prayer. Call up another Christian friend for encouragement. Tune into online worship services or attend in person if you can. God wants to be close to you, and when we make God a priority in our life, then we will ultimately find more of the things He has promised us … mainly His peace and joy and love.

Troubles may find us, but Jesus said, “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly!” (John 10:10) I am grateful I can experience God’s abundance here on earth, even in the midst of bad things.

Living a life of abundance is good, but eventually we are all going to die. And if we are going to experience death, then …

3. Fear is a dumb way to die.

What’s the worst thing that can happen?

My husband Jon likes to ask me this a lot … especially when I am particularly anxious about something really random, like being bitten by a snake as I push the trash can to the end of the driveway.

Generally, my response is, “Well, I could die!”

Is that really such a bad thing? (Snake bites, yes. Dying, no.)

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’” ~John 11: 25-26

We know that this earthly life will end. What happens then?

Some people say those who have died go on to sleep in the arms of Jesus or rest in eternal peace or become an angel. According to the Bible, none of that’s true.

Lots of people talk about Heaven being our final destination. It’s a perfect place: a beautiful place with streets of gold and a crystal sea, where the inhabitants experience endless joy without tears or pain or sorrow.

The great news is all of that IS true! In fact, the Bible indicates that Heaven is a place where we will eat and work and laugh and worship. We certainly aren’t going there to sleep in heavenly peace; we are going there to live with abundance!

However, there is only one condition. In order to go to heaven, you must submit your life to Jesus Christ. He is the only way. Only He can forgive us of our sins and reconcile us to God. There is no other option.

Have you thought about eternity? Have you asked God to forgive you of your sins and given your life to Him?

If not, I urge you to do that today because dying without Jesus wouldn’t just be dumb. It would be tragic.

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is save. ~ Romans 10: 9-10

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The summer of 2012 was a hard summer for me as a mom. I felt like my tweens and young teens were never going to be responsible adults. I was parenting without hope.

A lot of people today are living in fear: COVID, unstable economy, cashless society, race relations, lack of respect for police, upcoming elections, etc. It feels like a hopeless situation.

It’s not.

But in order to get that hope, you have to know where to find it.

In Christ alone image: VectorStock.com/30495253

Jesus is our great hope. Trust in Him and see what a difference He can make in your life.

Without Christ there is no hope. ~Charles Spurgeon.

Ripples

Today I am missing my grandmother. It’s been a year since she passed away … but grief really doesn’t know a time table. When my maternal grandmother died, I wrote this essay about her and posted on my Tales from the Laundry Room blog. Today, I decided to repost it here in her honor as part of my 52 Ancestors posts (which I am terribly behind on writing … but it is 2020, so no extra excuse is needed, right?!).

~ ~ ~

My maternal grandmother died yesterday.

The old adage goes, “There’s no place like home.” That’s probably true, though I might make one small change:

There’s no place like home … except Grandma’s house.

I remember driving up to my grandparents’ home at 407 Kelly Street in Woodville, Texas. My brother and sister and I could hardly wait for my mom to park the car before we jumped out and raced through the kitchen door, each of us trying to be first!

My grandmother would look up, and say in a delighted voice, “Look here … it’s those Terry children! I was just telling Daddy Red that you would be getting here just about any minute now, and here you are! I am so glad to see you!”

Baby Paige with Red and Thelma
Photo: My first visit to my grandmother’s home in Woodville, TX.

I spent many summer days at my grandmother’s home. She loved to host a “cousins’ week” for all her grandkids. No parents allowed. Just our grandparents and our great-grandmother and all seven of us grandchildren.

Boy, did we have some fun adventures!

We went set up tents and camped out in the backyard … at least until humidity melted us and the mosquitos got us and the night noises spooked us. Then one-by-one we snuck back inside to the comfort of the a/c and real beds and less chance of meeting up with the boogie man.

We swam in the backyard pool until we were too tired to enjoy our popsicles. We walked around the block and down the street to the old cemetery. We picked berries, played loud games of dominos (Chicken Foot was our favorite, but we liked Mexican Train too), and watched old Jimmy Stewart movies in the heat of the afternoon.

Breakfast never arrived without watching cartoons in bed with my grandmother and large mugs of coffee milk served by my grandfather. Lunch was never served without a big plate of sliced tomatoes, and (thanks to my brother Reid) there was always rice with brown gravy for dinner. Bedtime never came without big bowls of Blue Bell ice cream. (If we picked enough berries, rather than eating them all straight off the bushes until our bellies ached, our great-grandmother would bring over a big berry cobbler for us to eat with that ice cream.)

Galveston trip 1982
Photo: Riding the ferry to Galveston Island, circa 1981

Those summers with our grandparents weren’t complete without a short trip.  Sometimes they took us to Galveston Island, where the best part of the whole day was crossing over to the island on the ferry and feeding the seagulls bread that we tossed into the air. Other times we went fishing at nearby Dam B (later renamed Martin Dies, Jr. State Park) near Jasper, TX.  On other occasions they would take us to visit my grandfather’s family in Lufkin.

My grandmother was a talented seamstress. She always had multiple sewing projects going on at the same time, as evidenced by the pile of bright fabrics by the sewing machine and the perpetually set-up ironing board next to it.

My cousins and I often wore matching holiday dresses. I was the oldest so I wore my dress only one season. My poor baby sister had to wear her dress, then my cousin Steffi’s dress, and later on my dress. If you look at old family photos, it seems that my sister Brooke only ever owned about 2 dresses for her entire childhood.

Thelma Paige Steffi
Photo: My cousin Steffi and I wear our matching dresses, circa 1975.

My grandmother loved to host “hot water tea parties” with her granddaughters.

She would cover a large cardboard box or coffee table with an old sheet. Next, my grandmother had us set the table. We would pick a small bouquet of flowers from around the yard and set it in a vase on the center. Then we took the tiny tea set from her china cabinet and set out the cups and saucers, the sugar bowl with tiny sugar cubes, the milk in the pitcher. Meanwhile, my grandmother added some hot water (or rarely a weak tea) to the teapot. She put a plate of pink sugar wafer cookies on a pretty plate and set that on the table too.

Now we were all ready to enjoy our tea party.  My grandmother acted as hostess. You had to wait for the hostess to serve the food before you could eat, and no one could slurp their tea. Sometimes we brought our baby dolls, and practiced introducing our “children” to our friends.

Later on, when I was about 10 years old, my grandmother gave me about five old teacups. I kept them on a shelf in my room, and in high school I decided I liked them so much that I started collecting teacups. Each time I look at my teacups, I am reminded of my grandmother and her hot water tea parties.

My grandmother also introduced me to England’s royal family.

Okay, she didn’t actually introduced me … but she is the one who turned me into an Anglophile, or lover of all things English.

During my teen years, my grandmother and I often discusses Princess Diana and Fergie. Years later, when I watched the movie The King’s Speech, I recall how my grandmother had shared this story with me during my childhood.  If I ever get to travel to England, which I hope I actually get to do, I know I’ll wish I could return home to share all about my English adventures with my grandmother.

There is so much more that I could tell about my grandmother …  for example, she was an avid traveler who visited 49 of the 50 states in this great nation, but loved Texas best of all. And while all of those things are special to me and the rest of us who loved her, there is truly only one important thing about her life.

Thelma Kay Easter 1948
Photo: With my mother, her oldest daughter, on Easter Sunday 1948, perhaps a year after her salvation . 

Early in their marriage, my grandparents weren’t big church attenders. However, shortly after the birth of their first child (my mom, Kay), another couple began to invite them to come to church. My grandparents decided to go. One church service lead to another and another. Listening to all the preaching had gotten my grandmother to contemplating life and whether or not there was a place for God in her’s.

One a stormy night in 1947, as she rocked my infant mother in her arms, all those thoughts about God and trusting Him just overwhelmed her. In the middle of that thunderstorm, my grandmother decided that she was going to follow God. The next morning, she told my grandfather that she intended to join the church and be baptized the following Sunday. According to her, he didn’t say a word and the subject never came up again during the next few days. She assumed that he wasn’t going to try to dissuade her from joining the church, but he wasn’t going to join her either.

On Sunday morning, as the music for the invitation began, my grandmother moved to step out into the aisle. My grandfather stepped out of the pew, too … but she thought it was simply to allow her to get out. Then, to her surprise, my grandfather took her hand in his. Together they walked forward to join the church. They were both baptized and spent the rest of their lives dedicated to their faith in Jesus Christ and in Christian service.

From leading GA’s (Girls in Action missions) when her daughters were young to traveling the nation building churches with the Volunteer Christian Builders during retirement to knitting prayer blankets when she was homebound, my grandmother loved sharing her faith in her Savior and using it to bless others.

Her one decision, made as a young mother,  has rippled through my family through the generations, paving the way for the salvation of her husband, her daughters, her seven grandchildren and her 29 great-grandchildren.

Her’s is a legacy worth leaving. Her’s is a life well-lived.

Thelma Kay Wedding Corsage
Photo: My grandmother pins a corsage on my mother’s dress the night my parents got married.

All grandmothers are made of gold … but mine sparkles! ~Unknown

And sparkle, she did!

My grandmother was a beautiful, vibrant woman with a bright mind, big heart, and a bold personality.

Yesterday, she left this earthly home for her heavenly one.

I sort of imagine her walking through the pearly gates, stepping onto the streets of gold, and hearing her Savior, “Look here … It’s Thelma McGee! I was just telling the Father that you would be arriving any minute now, and here you are! I am so glad to see you!”

I will miss her.

young Thelma
Photo: Thelma Stinson McGee, November 12, 1926 – July 8, 2019

Spending the Night with Ma

I was 7 years old the first time I stayed overnight with my great-grandmother, Ma.

Ma didn’t live alone, but that night it was just the two of us in the big, rambling house that she shared with my grandparents. Mammie and Papaw were away on an overnight trip. I suppose they were concerned about leaving my great-grandmother alone while they were away, although I am still unclear on what exactly they thought I could do should something unforeseen happen.

Yet there I was … Ma’s protector.

It turned out that from that night right up until the fall I left for college, whenever my grandparents left town, it was my job to stay overnight with Ma.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ 

Typically, one of my parents would drive me up to the big house on the hill, where they would drop me off.

I always tried to arrange things so that I would arrive sometime relatively in the early evening, yet late enough to have already eaten supper. Otherwise, all I might expect Ma to offer me would be a piece of dry toast or maybe some cornbread crumbled up in a small glass of milk.  I knew that whatever my mother might be cooking that night would be immensely more appetizing than either of those choices.

Still, I didn’t like walking in and going straight to bed. I needed time to get settled and maybe watch something on TV … hopefully, while my father visited with Ma for a bit.  Ma was a worrier, and I liked for her to get all her worrying out with my dad so that I didn’t have to worry with her after he left.

Besides, Ma firmly believed in that “early to bed, early to rise” business. I knew she was going to start turning off lights and shutting down the house about 8:30 pm. Bedtime in the big house came quickly.  Being something of a night owl, I needed time to prepare myself for an early night.

Most nights with Ma went pretty much the same way.  My dad would visit with her for half an hour or so. Then he would get up and say, “Well, ladies … I guess I will leave y’all to it.”  (Exactly what he thought he was leaving us to, I still don’t know. Your guess is probably as good as mine.)

My father would go and there we would sit.

Just the two of us, together in an oversized living room …alone in that big, dark house, sitting high on a hill.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

Those first few moments with my great-grandmother were always slightly awkward. We would look at each other and exchange small smiles, unsure of what to do next.

Usually, at this point, Ma would ask me if I would like to eat an orange or an apple before bed. Most of the time, I did.

She would heave herself up from the chair, and march off to the kitchen to fetch me a piece of fruit. A few minutes later, she would return with the fruit, a knife and napkins. Once she had settled back into her chair, Ma would carefully peel my fruit for me.

Now, I could have certainly gone to get my own piece of fruit, and I could have even peeled it for myself. Nevertheless, I always allowed her to do these things for me … perhaps because whether she got me an apple or an orange, Ma’s method for peeling fruit fascinated me.

With oranges, she peel off the thick skin so exactly that not a single speck of the white pith remained stuck to the juicy fruit. Oh, but watching her peel an apple was my favorite! Somehow she could cut one long, unbroken strand of peel away from the apple’s flesh, until it finally fell into a heap on the napkin in her lap. Many a night I sat transfixed, holding my breath, until she had made the final cut and the peel came away in a giant curl.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

As I ate my snack, Ma would talk.

She had only two topics of conversation:

  1. anything related to God or the Bible
  2. anything related to sickness or death, particularly her own sickness or death

I personally preferred topic #1, which is why I learned very quickly that I could steer the conversation this direction if I asked her about that week’s Sunday school lesson.

Ma loved to study her Sunday school lesson each week, and diligently read the scriptures to prepare for the class discussion. My favorite nights were when she would direct me to read the week’s passage to her from her large-print Bible because generally she would allow me to read aloud for as long as I wanted. In this way, I found I could easily keep the conversation from drifting to more unsettling topics … like death and hell.

Death was probably Ma’s favorite topic, and she talked about it a lot. She talked about people who had died recently, or people she thought might be about to die. She talked about tragic deaths, not-so-tragic deaths, and her own death.

The last one was her most favorite topic. However, as you probably imagine, I did not share her opinion.

I’m sad to report that this distressing topic of conversation seemed to arise with regularity, generally right about the time we began to prepare to go to bed.  It was nearly always a one-sided conversation, which went something like this:

Now, Paige, you know there’s a good chance I could die in the night. It happens to people my age all the time. They go to bed and do not wake up in the morning. You should know that I am not afraid to die, but I worry you might be afraid to wake up and find me dead. So, if that happens, I want you to know there is no need to worry. Just call Malcolm. He will know exactly what to do.

Malcolm, of course, was my father. I can assure you that if I had ever woken up to find Ma lying in her bed dead, I would have screamed so loudly there would have been no need to pick up the phone and call anyone, Malcolm or otherwise.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

Every time I every stayed overnight, Ma wanted me to share the bed with her.

I always felt rather conflicted about this arrangement.

There were quite a number of reasons I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in the same bed as her, the main one being the very concerning issue of her dying in the night. I wasn’t too keen on sleeping next to a dead person for any length of time.

Secondly, my great-grandmother was definitely NOT used to sharing a bed. She hogged the covers, and made all sorts of strange noises.

Finally, when Ma took out her dentures just before bed, it gave her face a strange sunken look  … which, I hate to say, reminded me of what I thought a dead person might look like. Truthfully, I hadn’t seen many dead people at that time in my life, so I didn’t really know what to expect a corpse to look like. Sunken cheeks definitely could be something one might see on a dead body, so therefore it was another good reason to find another place to sleep besides my great-grandmother’s bed.

However, the thought of sleeping in a bed all alone wasn’t exactly a comforting thought either. My grandparent’s house was rambling old home, with floors that creaked and doors that squeaked. Who knew what was lurking behind all those shadows or what creatures might be making those strange nighttime noises?

Then there were large paintings of my aunts and uncles which hung on some of the walls. I had seen enough Scooby Doo episodes to know that large portraits sometimes have shifty eyes that actually hid some sort of terrible swamp monster.

scoobydoo
Scooby-Doo and Shaggy

Yes, the more I thought about it, if something bad were to actually happen (like monsters appearing from behind portraits or burglars sneaking in to steal the stale cornbread from the kitchen counter), then it might be comforting to have another person in close proximity … even if that person made strange noises and had sunken cheeks and claimed she might die before the sun rose in the morning.

Clearly, I had an overactive imagination. The truth is that the decision of whether or not I should sleep next to Ma was probably the hardest part of staying overnight with her.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

For the first few years, I generally slept next to her. After all, it seemed the safest choice. But by the time I was 10 or 11, I felt embarrassed about this sleeping arrangement. Yet deep inside, I was still very much a scaredy cat. I really didn’t want to sleep alone in a bedroom all by myself. I often resolved this problem by inviting  a friend over to stay the night with me.

But sometimes, I couldn’t find a friend to stay … and then I was left to work out whether or not I was brave enough to sleep alone.

Once, when I was about 12 years old, I thought it would be nice to bring my younger sister Brooke along.  Brooke is 4 years younger than me, and at that time we didn’t have a lot in common. But I knew she would stay up to watch TV as long as I wanted and I figured she wouldn’t complain about sleeping next to me in a bed.

It seemed like the perfect solution to my sleeping dilemma!

My father was the one to drop the two of us off that night. I recall him sitting next to Ma for a short visit.

On this particular night, Ma immediately started complaining about every ailment she had or thought she might have. At one point, she started telling my father about how she was likely to die soon, perhaps even that very night. My father simply patted her hand and told her not to worry.

Now Malcolm, you know I am not worried one bit about dying.  I just want to be sure you know what to do in case these girls here wake up in the morning and find me gone. Now, I expect pretty quickly they will call you, so you will be the first to know.  Then you should go ahead and call Ken and Greg. It doesn’t matter which of them you call first, but let them both know before you tell anyone else. Then one of you boys can call Herbert … but tell him not to rush home. I don’t want to ruin his trip, and besides there is nothing he can do here anyway. I guess you might want to call the preacher after that.

My dad laughed. “Ma, I don’t think you are going to die tonight. You still have too much fight in you. But I promise that if you do, I’ll take care of everything.” 

And then, he quickly changed the subject. Probably to the topic of her Sunday school lesson.

Half an hour later, my dad got up to leave. He kissed my cheek and called for my sister to come give him a hug. But Brooke didn’t respond.

We both called. After several minutes, I finally got up to go look, but in that big rambling house, I couldn’t find her. Eventually, my father said he must go on home, and for me to tell her he said goodnight.

I waved as he stepped through the kitchen door.

But just half a minute later, Dad walked back in … grinning from ear to ear.

I have found your sister. She’s sitting in the car with her overnight bag on her lap. She says that if Ma is dying tonight, she will not stay here for it. I’m afraid you are on your own.

Ditched by my sister. Too late to invite a friend. I really was stuck in the big house alone with my great-grandmother … who seemed bound and determined to die on my watch.

As I recall, I hardly slept a wink that night.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

Ma didn’t die that night… or for a good many years to come. In fact, she didn’t die at all on “my watch.”

The last time I saw Ma, she was lying in a hospital bed. Even though she was 91 years old, I didn’t think she was really going to die. After all, she was mentally sharp as a tack and every bit as feisty as I had ever seen her.

Later that evening, she drifted into a coma. The next day, May 25, 1994, she passed away. No drama. Nothing traumatic or tragic. Just a peaceful and quiet transition from earth over into heaven.

What she longed for most of all, finally had come to pass. She got to meet Jesus face-to-face.

Image-2

Today is this 26th anniversary of the day Ma died, yet not a day goes by when I don’t think of her in some way or another.

I miss the way she would pat my hand when she talked to me, or shake her finger in my face whenever she imparted some important truth. I can still see her face clearly: the big smile, the sly grin, that fiery-eyed look that made me want to hide.

She gave the best hugs, and the worst baths! (If she ever caught hold of you in a bathtub, look out! That woman knew how to use a wash rag, and chances were excellent that you were going to emerge from that bath missing an entire layer of skin! Every Terry child old enough to remember Ma knows the truth about this.)

Oh … and her chicken pie! How I miss her chicken pie!

When I finally get to heaven, I hope there’s an empty seat next to her at that great banquet table … because if there is, then the first thing I am going to do is walk straight over, sit down next to her, hold her hand, and tell her how grateful I am for all those nights the two of us got to spend alone together up in the big house on the hill.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believe Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be judged, but has crossed over from death to life.  ~John 5:24

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. ~John 14: 2-3

The Trouble with Judas

I wish Judas hadn’t killed himself.

Judas Iscariot
 Image from: http://ubdavid.org/bible/characters3/characters3-11.html

You know the Judas I am talking about. Judas Iscariot. The disciple who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

The Bible tells us he killed himself. Every time I read through the accounts of Jesus’ betrayal, crucifixion, and resurrection,  I always find myself wishing that Judas hadn’t made the choice to end his own life.

But he did … and it bothers me.

~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~

Recently I read through Matthew 26 during my morning devotional.  This portion of Scripture gives quite a bit of insight into Judas.

For many years, I thought of Judas as some bumbling sort of soul, the kind of person who could easily be duped. In regards to his betrayal of Jesus, I assumed perhaps he was manipulated by the Jewish leaders for purposes much greater than anything he could aspire to do on his own.

Maybe he was a loser looking for friends in high places.

Perhaps he was a people-pleaser who couldn’t figure out a way to say no.

I wondered if he might be a young guy just looking for validation. 

Whatever his personality type, I always figured Judas sort of just “fell” into an unintended role as part of the Pharisee’s plan to get rid of Jesus.

According to Matthew 26, nothing could be further from the truth.

 Image found at Image Gallery: Miercoles Santo

Turns out, it was Judas who went to the chief priests.

Then one of the Twelve – the one called Judas Iscariot – went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you.”

~Matthew 26:14-15

It wasn’t the priests who were actively looking for an insider willing to betray Jesus. Rather, Judas was the one who took the first step. He set the betrayal in motion himself.

For the love of Christ, why did Judas do that?

Some people might use that phrase flippantly, but I’m serious.

Judas had just spent three years of his life walking all over Judea with Jesus. He had seen all of those miracles. He was there when the lame man walked, when Lazarus was raised from the dead, and when Jesus walked on the water. He had seen the miraculous healings. From the Sermon on the Mount to the feeding of the 5000, Judas heard and saw it all.

Didn’t he grow to love Jesus during that time? If so, then why would Judas betray Him?

Maybe it was …

For the love of money.

There’s no other reason that makes sense. Especially when you consider everything the Bible has to say about Judas and money.

You don’t have to dig around in the Gospels very far to figure out that money must have been extremely important to Judas. He was, after all, the treasurer for Jesus and the disciples, which meant he was in charge of the money bag.

We also know from Scripture that Judas was prone to helping himself to the money that was in that treasury. (John 12: 6) I can’t imagine that Jesus and his disciples had a lot of money to begin with, but Judas was sneaking out small amounts of it here and there for his own use. I’m sure he thought what he took would never be missed, but it appears that the others were aware of his tendency to take that which wasn’t rightfully his.

It seems that Judas had a problem money.

So money-loving Judas decided to go see the chief priests to barter for Jesus. The chief priests offered Judas 30 pieces of silver in exchange for Jesus’ betrayal. I have always assumed those coins must have been worth quite a large sum. But (as we have already seen), my assumptions aren’t always correct.

I did some research because I was curious just how much money Judas earned as Jesus’ betrayer.  And what I learned is that Judas was most likely paid with Tyrian shekels, which was the type of currency used to pay the Temple taxes. In those days, every Jewish male over the age of 20 paid a Temple tax, which was the equivalent of two days wages or 1/2 shekel.

So if 1/2 shekel was worth two days wages, then 1 shekel would be worth four days wages. Do the math and 30 shekels of silver would be worth 120 days wages. Therefore the coins Judas received in exchange for the betrayal of Christ would be worth approximately one third of a year’s salary.

Not too shabby.

Unless you read the previous passage in Matthew 26 … .

Start reading in Matthew 26:6 and you’ll come across the story of the woman who anointed Jesus with the fragrant oil. It’s another very familiar passage. According to the Gospels, Mary (sister of Lazarus and Martha) came into a dinner party and poured out an entire alabaster jar of oil on Jesus’ head.

This oil was very costly. In fact, in another Gospel’s version of this same event, Judas himself tells us exactly how much this oil was worth:

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarius, and given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”

~John 12:4-5

Later in the passage, we learn that Judas wasn’t known for being a man who cared about the poor and needy. His life of sneaking and stealing that which didn’t belong to him was known by those in Jesus’ inner circle. They recognized in this situation that Judas wasn’t concerned about money being used to help others.

So what was Judas concerned about? Why did he protest?

To Judas, anointing Jesus with an entire alabaster jar of fragrant oil was a nothing more than pointless extravagance. He didn’t see the oil being used in a sacrificial act of worship from a loving heart. When the precious oil was poured over Jesus, Judas could only see a frivolous waste of money. Money that could have lined the bag in which he freely dipped his hand.

It’s interesting to me that these two passages can be found side-by-side in the same chapter of Matthew. One tells of worship and sacrifice. The other is filled with betrayal and greed.

Mary anointed Jesus with oil. As she broke the bottle, out flowed the precious oil which could have been sold for an entire year’s salary. Yet, she knew the worth of the oil couldn’t begin to compare to the worth of Jesus Christ.

But to Judas, Jesus Himself was worth only about one third of a year’s salary.

Perhaps more accurately … a third of a year’s salary and his own soul.

Most Christians are familiar with how Jesus sent Judas away from the Passover table. Later, Judas led the Roman soldiers to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he betrayed Jesus with a kiss.  Jesus was bound by Roman guards and led away like a criminal.

I wonder what Judas was expecting as he stood in the garden and watched Jesus being led away. Did he have any idea that Jesus would be condemned to die?

The gospel of Matthew (chapter 27, verses 3-5) tells us the once Jesus was sentenced to crucify, Judas was “seized with remorse.” He actually went to the chief priests to return the money.

“I’ve have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

~Matthew 27:4

The priests didn’t care about Judas’ admission of guilt or confession of Jesus’ innocence.

Matthew’s gospel says that Judas threw the money into the temple and went away to hang himself.

This is what boggles my mind … if Judas knew he had done something terribly wrong, why didn’t he confess it to Jesus? Why didn’t he seek forgiveness from the one he wronged? After three years, didn’t he know the heart of Jesus? Didn’t he know he could pray to God and receive mercy?

So what kept him from seeking out forgiveness?

Pride?

Probably. It’s what keeps most of us from going to God and seeking forgiveness. At least, pride is what most often keeps me from admitting my sin.

This is why I wish Judas didn’t hang himself: Feeling remorse for our sins doesn’t do us any good.

It never has. Go all the way back to the book of Genesis and there in the Garden of Eden we read about Adam and Eve and the very first sin. What was the immediate reaction of Adam and Eve? Remorse. They experienced was remorse for their actions, and then they tried to hide their sin from God by sewing clothes from fig leaves.

Those first remorseful actions didn’t work for Adam and Eve. 

Remorse didn’t work for Judas either. 

Remorse still will not work for us.

So the lesson from Judas is to recognize that remorse for our wrongs doesn’t solve the problem. There needs to be more than just regret and remorse over our sins.

We need forgiveness. How do we get that forgiveness? It comes through the confession of our sins to God.

We also need repentance, which is simply the act of turning away from the wrongs we have done as we commit to live our life according to God’s way. (It doesn’t mean we never sin again. Far from it! It just means we look to Jesus as our example as we strive to live our life according to God’s way.)

I believe if Judas had confessed to Jesus and asked for it, he would have been forgiven. There would have been no need to hang himself in shame.  He would have received grace and mercy. He would have the promise of everlasting life.

Because that’s what the cross is all about.

For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. ~Romans 6:7-11

So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. ~John 8:36

The Strange Romance of William Batchelor Denmark

It’s Valentine’s Week, and I wanted a romance story to share for my weekly 52 Ancestors posts. Several weeks ago, I began digging around in my family tree, hoping to come across a sweet romantic story to share.

Sometimes, when you go rummaging around in your family tree, you come up with a family skeleton … a story you wish could remain buried and hidden away. That’s what happened when I went hunting for a family romance story among my ancestors.

You see, instead of finding an inspiring or thrilling romance, what I found was a rather bawdy story sordid enough to make you blush!

Lest you fear, trust me … I’m not about to get X-rated or share any raunchy details. However, this strange tale is sure to make you scratch your head at the indecorous behavior of my 7th great-grandfather.

William Batchelor Denmark was born in 1740 in North Carolina to William Denmark and his wife Mourning Moye Denmark. Records indicate that during his adult life, he was known as WB and fought during the American Revolution. He died in 1821 at the age of 81 in Georgia. During his life, he married three times and had 17 children.

So far, nothing seems to be out of the ordinary. But hang on … William Batchelor Denmark was anything but ordinary.

In 1765, WB married his first wife, a lady by the name of Mary Moye (1745-1793).

Wait? Wasn’t WB’s mother a Moye?

She was, but it wasn’t unusual for families to intermarry during colonial times. This probably wasn’t a shocking situation, even at the time.

What might be shocking, however, is that census records show WB and Mary’s first child, Eleanor, was born in 1759, a full six years prior to their marriage. Mary was just 14 years old at the time of the birth.

Having a child out of wedlock isn’t exactly unheard of, even back in the mid-18th century. I mean, it could be a source of gossip, but this sort of thing does happen quite often. And while I do think that in 18th century American society most respectable men would have married their lover prior to the child’s birth, I’m sure WB wasn’t the only man who waited six years to do so either.

A quick look at WB and Mary’s remaining children shows that they were all born after their 1765 marriage. So far, WB and Mary seem to be on the up and up.

Keep reading. I promise you, this tale grows more salacious the further you dig around.

You see, two years after Mary’s death, WB married for a second time. This wife was a woman named Anna Moye (1742-1806).

Wait a minute. Wasn’t Mary’s last name Moye, too?

Yes, it was. In fact, Mary Moye was the younger sister of Anna Moye. (I’m still not sure how these two sisters tie into William’s mother, Mourning Moye. Obviously, there is bound to be a connection.)

Perhaps now you are thinking this situation certainly is a bit odd … yet, marrying sisters (even if they were your relatives) probably wasn’t totally unheard of back in pre-Revolutionary America. History is filled with stories of families that intermarried.

If you are looking for the shocking stuff, just stay with me … because the tale of WB and the Moye sisters is far stranger than just a story about man who happened to marry two sisters who were probably already related to him in some way or another.

The first odd thing I noticed was that Anna had two children with WB prior to his marriage to Mary.

That’s right. WB fathered two children with Anna BEFORE he married Mary. In fact, Anna was the mother of WB’s first-born child, a daughter named Sarah Margaret born in 1757 when Anna was only 15 years old. Anna also gave birth to Stephen in 1763, which was a full two years before WB and Mary said their wedding vows.

All told, WB and Anna had nine children, all of whom were born either before or during WB’s marriage to Mary. By the time WB actually marries Anna, their youngest child is approximately 6 years old!

According to several other researchers on the Denmark-Moye marriages, it seems that there were some discrepancies about which children belonged to which mother. Even the kids, later in their lives, couldn’t sort themselves out consistently.

I know that I saw several different versions of which children went with which mother. However, I attempted to piece together a list of William Batchelor Denmark’s 17 children, along with the years of their births and their assumed mothers based on the most reliable sources I could find on the internet. (Again, this is my best guess and I’m sure if you google William Batchelor Denmark, you will find plenty of genealogical researchers who match the children and the mothers up differently. Researchers even disagree on the names of some of these kids. It’s not easy to figure out who is who in this mixed-up family tree!)

  • Sarah Margaret born in 1757 to Anna
  • Eleanor born in 1759 to Mary
  • Stephen born in 1763 to Anna
  • Seaborn born in 1765 to Mary
  • Susannah born in 1765 to Anna
  • Jemima born in 1767 to Mary
  • Louisa (AKA Lavina) born in 1768 to Anna
  • Elizabeth born in 1771 to Mary
  • Redden born in 1773 to Anna
  • James born in 1774 to Anna
  • Margaret born in 1775 to Mary
  • Clarissa born in 1775 to Anna
  • Martha born in 1777 to Anna
  • John James born in 1780 to Mary
  • James Thomas born in 1782 to Mary
  • William Batchelor Jr. born in 1884 to Mary
  • Malachi born in 1787 to Anna

After Anna and WB married, they moved to Georgia, apparently following their children who were headed westward. It is said that while traveling through Georgia, Governor Mitchell gave W.B. and his party “passports” which attested to their “character and honor.” These passports then convinced the Indian Chiefs to allow WB and Anna to travel through the newly-acquired Creek Indian lands, in order that they could visit W.B.’s sister Abigail and their daughter Susannah.

After Anna’s death is 1806, WB married for a third time in 1813. This wife’s name was Mary Cochram, and it appears that she is not connected in any way to the Moye family. No children came from this marriage.

For the record, I am descended from William and Anna’s daughter, Susannah. She married a man by the name of Reverend Adam Jones. From all appearances, Susannah and her preacher husband seemed to live a much more honorable lifestyle. Thank goodness!

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

Last week I missed my weekly 52 Ancestors post. But that’s okay … it gives me the chance to write two posts this week. On Thursday, I’ll be sharing about my great-grandmother on what would be her 117th birthday. Can’t wait to share more about this amazing lady and her influence on my life and faith.

The Day Before the Day I Became a Writer

Challenger_Launch

January 28, 1986.

Millions of Americans, including thousands of school children, watched the Space Shuttle Challenger lift-off, carrying with it America’s first civilian teach into space.

Seventy-three seconds later, the shuttle exploded.

Those who watched, whether in Florida or elsewhere via TV screens, stared, transfixed by the plumes of white smoke mixed with traces of red against the backdrop of beautiful blue sky.

Seconds passed by. News announcers stuttered. Disbelief and shock slowly turned to horror.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

Where were you when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded?

In January 1986, I was an 8th grade student at Harrisonburg Elementary School in rural Harrisonburg, Louisiana. My life revolved totally around the things happening at school, such as which girl liked which boy or if the school’s basketball team won the most recent game or when the next math test might be given. Outside of school, I enjoyed episodes of The Cosby Show or listening to the latest Whitney Houston ballad. I definitely wasn’t interested in the evening news.

This doesn’t mean that I was totally oblivious. I was aware enough to recognize the names of important world leaders: President Ronald Reagan, the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher or Russia’s Mikhail Gorbachev. But I didn’t really see how what they did affected me or why I should be concerned with events that happened anywhere outside the tiny brick school building where I spent the majority of my time.

But on January 28, 1986, all of that changed …

Many of the details of my personal experiences from that day have long faded over the 34 years that have passed since the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded.

I do recall after school feeling mildly annoyed that there was nothing on TV except breaking news reports having something to do with a space shuttle, but I snapped it off without ever sitting down to listen.

Just minutes later, the phone rang. I answered and heard my friend’s voice on the other end:

Paige, have you heard? The space shuttle exploded! All of the astronauts were killed!

challenger

The news hit me as if a bombshell had detonated right there in my bedroom. Surely not! I couldn’t believe her words … and yet, as I slowly switched the TV back on, I could see for myself that my friend was right. As the images replayed again and again, I stared at the TV screen, trying to make sense of what I was seeing.

Seven astronauts smiling and waving to the small group of family and friends as they walked toward their waiting spacecraft. The giant white shuttle, pointed heavenward. The gradual lifting of the shuttle. The white trail of smoke against the brilliant blue winter sky. The explosion. One trail of smoke turned into two, before fading completely into the atmosphere.

I felt sick to my stomach, yet I was unable to turn my face away from the TV. All I wanted was for the story to be false, for it all to be a big mistake, for the newscasters to announce that somehow all the  astronauts survived.

I was 13 years old …  and it was the first time I can ever recall being emotionally affected by a national tragedy. It was the first time I can remember being part of a national mourning.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

January 29, 1986

Class, today’s writing assignment is to write about yesterday’s tragedy with the Space Shuttle Challenger. You can choose whether to write a factual record of the event or you can write down your emotional reaction to what happened.

My 8th grade English teacher, Mrs. Swayze, frequently gave out writing assignments. Normally our class offered up complaints and spent more time searching for paper and pencils than we didn’t writing.

This day was different. No one complained. No one wasted time searching for a pencil. Instead we wrote. And for what seemed like an eternity, the only sound to be heard in that classroom was that of pencils scratching across pages of loose leaf paper.

I don’t recall whether or not these essays were turned in that day, or if we spent several days editing those first drafts. Perhaps this was a bigger graded assignment, or maybe it was just counted as a daily activity and checked for completion. I’ve forgotten these insignificant details.

But what I do remember is the time I spent writing and how it felt to put all of my emotions down on that white sheet of paper. I remember how while I wrote I thought about being able to see a glimpse of every American on board that shuttle. The astronauts included whites, blacks, Asians, men and women, and a teacher. There was even a man with the last name Smith. It was as if we all were on that space shuttle together.

As I wrote about the sorrow of the tragedy, I came to realize something I never really knew before: writing can be cathartic to the soul. As I wrote, I owned my grief and began to come to terms with it. I didn’t know it that morning, but I would never again experience a sorrow in my life without writing my way through it.

A week or so later, my English teacher, Mrs. Swayze, announced that a small number of the essays written about the Challenger tragedy would be published in our tiny school’s newspaper. Mine was one of those essays chosen.

When my little essay was published, I learned something I never knew before: writers have a power to effect others. My friends read the essay and told me that my words helped them feel better. Teachers at the school came by and told me how they read my essay aloud to their classes. Some of them hugged me and thanked me for sharing my comforting thoughts. Writing, I realized, was a way to connect with other people.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

Somewhere, among all the boxes where I’ve packed up the bits and pieces of my childhood, there remains a tattered copy of that old school newspaper.

Every five or six years, I will happen across it as I search for something else I know must be tossed in those boxes of school yearbooks and 4-H ribbons and other items that tell the story of who I was before I grew into an adult.

Whenever I see that school newspaper, I take a moment to pick it up. As I reread that essay written by a 13-year-old girl, tears well up in my eyes. I am transported back to that January so long ago, remembering the hours I sat watching the tragedy replayed on the TV screen. In my mind, I can hear the scribbling of my pencil as I tried to write about that deep, sorrowful pain, trying to make sense of something that simply didn’t make sense.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

January 28, 1986 was a day of national tragedy.

It also happened to be the day before the day when I became a writer.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

And He who sits on the Throne said … “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”     ~Revelation 21:5

A Yankee Drummer for Dinner

I don’t know exactly when my mother started researching our family tree, but I must have been rather young. My childhood memories include walking around old, abandoned cemeteries, hours upon hours spent in the library while my mother scanned unreadable censuses taken long ago, and stacks of papers lying around with strange names and dates scribbled on them.

Early on, I was fascinated by the names I heard my mother repeating as she told my father about the ancestors she discovered … and this was especially true about the name of my great-great-great-grandfather, George Washington Allbritton.

Back when I was about 8 or 9 years old and first heard that name, I felt absolutely certain it meant we were somehow related to the real George Washington. After all, why else would his mother have named him that?

Sadly, George Washington isn’t even remotely anywhere along my family tree … but George Washington Allbritton and his wife Sarah are still worth talking about. In fact, there’s a great little story about this family.

Photo of George Washington Allbritton and his wife Sarah during their later years of life.
 Photo of George Washington Allbritton and his wife Sarah during their later years of life.

My son Joel wrote this version of the story for a narrative speech he gave way back in the 9th grade. He’s a college sophomore today, but I still feel pretty proud that he chose to retell this family tale all those years ago.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

BANG! BANG! BANG! 

BANG! BANG! BANG!

The steady beating rang out across the rural countryside.

The year was 1863. My great-great-great-great grandparents lived deep in the heart of the Confederacy, somewhere in the piney hills of Catahoula Parish in northern Louisiana. They were dirt poor, just simple farmers trying to work hard just to get by, certainly not wealthy land and slave owners.

The man of the house, George Washington Allbritton, had gone off to fight in the Civil War. He left his wife, Sarah, behind to care for their 12 children.

Early on this cold December morning, Sarah awoke to a steady drumming noise.

BANG! BANG! BANG!

Over and over, the sound continued, steady as a heartbeat. And the one thought racing in Sarah’s mind was that this must surely be the sound of Yankee drums.

Sarah quickly woke the children.

Hurry with your chores! Milk the cow and gather the eggs, and come right back inside!

Sarah tried not to panic, but the drumming continued as she cooked their biscuits and bacon for breakfast. As they bowed their heads over the meal, Sarah silently added an additional prayer that the Yankees wouldn’t come by their house today.

By mid-morning the drumming sounded louder. Sarah instructed her children to hide their meager possessions.

Wrap the family Bible in the quilt made by my mother, Maggie. Then you take it and bury it in the garden, Tom. Take all our corn meal, flour and dried salt pork, and hide it in the barn underneath the wagon and cover it with some hay, Ben. Hurry children! We don’t want the Yankees to take our things!

BANG! BANG! BANG!

Shortly after noon, Sarah was feeling frazzled from the constant pounding of the drums. Hardly a minute passed without hearing the beat reverberating throughout the hills surrounding their home. She sent the older boys to turn the old milk cow and the chickens loose.

We will not give the Yankees any of our hens for their supper tonight!

Later in the afternoon the sounds of a wagon could be heard, coming over the road. Swiftly, Sarah rushed all the children, from the youngest to the oldest indoors. She stood just inside the doorway of their small log home. Finally, after an eternity, a horse and wagon came into view.

What a relief! It was just her brother Martin. Perhaps he was on his way over to warn her or maybe he wanted to ensure that she and the children were safe from a Yankee raid. Sarah ran outside and flagged him down.

“Martin! Do you have any news of the Yankees?”

But to Sarah’s astonishment, Martin was unaware of any Yankees marching in the area. In fact, he hadn’t heard any drumming noises all day, though he could certainly hear the steady beat now!

BANG! BANG! BANG!

Martin listened closely for several long minutes. Finally he said, “Sarah, has that drumming sounded just like this all day?”

“Why, yes, it has. There might be an occasional small pause, but mostly it’s been steady since early this morning.”

“Well, it’s not getting any closer. I don’t think you need to worry about Yankees, but we do need to find the source.”

So Sarah and Martin took a walk around the farm, and there behind the barn they found an overturned barrel. Trapped underneath was Sarah’s Yankee drummer a old chicken trying to peck its way out.

As the sun sank low, Sarah sighed a sigh of relief as she stood in front of the stove to cook their supper. She sent the girls up to the garden to retrieve the family Bible, wrapped in her mother’s quilt, and the boys went out to find the old milk cow.

And later that evening, they bowed their heads and with thankful hearts said grace … before they ate their Yankee drummer for dinner!

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

Joel’s rendition of this story mostly accurate, however he did use some writer’s liberties and changed or added a few details in order to make the story easier to tell for his speech class.

For example, when George Washington Allbritton left his wife Sarah to go fight in the war, only 2 of their children had been born. The remaining 10 were born after the Civil War had ended.

George Washington Allbritton and his wife Sarah with 11 of their 12 children.
George Washington Allbritton and his wife Sarah with 11 of their 12 children. We descend from their daughter Minnie, who is the last woman on the right on the back row.

Additionally, we don’t know if Sarah’s brother Martin came by to help her figure out it was a chicken under a barrel instead of a regiment of Yankee soldiers … but we do know that she did have a brother named Martin Van Buren Cassells. (Sidenote: I was pretty fascinated to discover a second presidential name in the family tree, even if I am not directly descended from him. There also happens to be a man by the name of Benjamin Franklin McGuffee in my family tree, who is a direct ancestor. Obviously, my ancestors were extremely impressed by certain historical figures.)

Other than those two details, the story is a true: Sarah did hear a steady beating and hid much of the family’s treasured items thinking that the Yankees were marching through the area. Later, she discovered the sound she heard was just a chicken trying to peck its way out from beneath an overturned wooden barrel.

Urilla Xerena Lampton

When I was about 11 years old, I decided I no longer liked the name Paige.

I had a whole list of reasons why this was a terrible name for my parents to have chosen:

  1. No one else had the name Paige … at least, no one I knew.
  2. All of my friends had nicknames. There was no nickname for Paige.
  3. Someone (maybe a teacher or another adult) once told me that the name Paige used to be a boy name spelled and was more commonly spelled PAGE. I asked my mother and this unfortunately turned out to be true.
  4. My mother said she decided to name me Paige because it was one syllable and sounded like a last name. She did this because my last name, Terry, was two syllables and sounded like a first name. People outside of my normal circle of acquaintances often switched around my names. It was annoying.
  5. And maybe the final nail in the coffin … my mom said she first saw the name Paige on the sign at a vet clinic. The vet was named Dr. Paige. It was absolutely mortifying to my 11- year-old ego.

Thus began an earnest attempt to get my mother to agree to legally change my name.

Now you must understand … my mother was not at all sympathetic. Apparently, as difficult as it was for me to understand, my parents both happened to like the name Paige quite a bit and were very fond of having a daughter named Paige.

However, I can be very persistent. I pled my case often. After several long months of asking, my mother finally agreed to allow me to change my name.

I was elated! After a short moment of celebration, I moved on to part two of my plan and gave my mother a short list of new names that were more suitable. At the top of the list was Diana. After all, I was a HUGE Princess Diana fan and followed the British Royal Family with enthusiasm. I thought Diana Elizabeth (after the beautiful princess and the reigning queen) would be a perfect and lovely name for me. It was certainly much better than plain old Paige.

My mother, however, told me (using her most no-nonsense, elementary school teacher voice), “I don’t need a list. I’ve already picked out your new name. I’m going to name you after your great-great-grandmother.”

Oh?” I tried to act like I wasn’t too disappointed I wouldn’t be named Diana after all. “What was her name?

“Urilla Xerena,” my mother said. She didn’t make eye contact with me. She just kept chopping vegetables for our salad.

Urilla Xerena? What an awful name! Surely my mom was joking!

Turns out, she was not joking. She was completely serious.

In fact, my mother said that since I needed my parents to to pay the fees to make my name change all legal, then they would be choosing my next name too. Furthermore, my parents were in total agreement about my new name. She ended the conversation saying that if I didn’t like this arrangement, then I would need to wait until such a time as I could afford to legally change my own name.

That night, three things suddenly became crystal clear to my 11-year-old brain:

  1. My mother wasn’t very good at naming people.
  2. She was getting worse, instead of better, at this skill as time went by.
  3. On second thought, Angela Paige really wasn’t such a bad name after all.

Naturally, by the time I was old enough and rich enough to legally change my name, I no longer felt nearly as strongly about the name Paige as I had during middle school.

I suppose that being threatened with a name like Urilla Xerena had an affect on me because all these years later and I still think of my poor great-great-grandmother, who was stuck for her entire life with an awful name. As soon as I started this project, I knew old Urilla would have to be one of my 52 ancestor stories.

Recently my mother and I talked about information she had on Urilla, and as it turns out, she happens to have an interesting life story.

Urilla Xerena Lampton Joyce with her husband Marion J. H. Joyce

Urilla was born March 2, 1857 to Edmund and Mary Jane (Neafus) Lampton. They lived in Hardin, Kentucky.

Interestingly, Urilla’s Lampton family was connected to the same Lamptons that Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) descended from. Not only is Urilla’s family and Twain’s family from the same area of Kentucky, but they share a lot of the same unusual names. As a side note, Mark Twain is known for stating that the L in his given name stood for Langhorne. However, Twain’s sister Permelia once quoted her mother (Jane Lampton Clemens) saying, “My son Sam was named Samuel Lampton Clemens after my uncle in Kentucky, one of the best men I ever knew.”

Back to Urilla and her life’s story …

Urilla married Marion J. H. Joyce, a doctor, in 1877. The two of them relocated to southern Arkansas. They were the parents of ten children, the first five of which were boys. Their fourth son, John Jefferson Joyce, was my great-grandfather. I never knew him as he died about three or four years before I was born. However, my dad loved his grandfather and told me some great stories about him. I’ll write a blog post about him soon.

While I still don’t find the name Urilla Xerena to be attractive, I am partial to the name Rilla. Of course, I became enchanted with this name after reading Anne from Green Gables when I was in high school. My beloved Anne, who does marry Gilbert, names one of her daughters Rilla in honor of Marilla Cuthbert, who adopted her from the orphanage. Ever since, I’ve thought the name Rilla would be a really sweet name.

I’ve never gotten to name a daughter Rilla, though I tried really hard to get it on a short list every time I was expecting a baby. At this point, I’m hoping one of my kids will fall in love with the name Rilla so that someday old Urilla Xerena will be a namesake yet!