The Hiding Place

I’m an unlikely source for book recommendations. My list of perused titles is pitifully short. At Christmas, however, Jane gave me one I had mentioned earlier and forgotten about. It’s an old story which I should have read years ago.

The Hiding Place was originally published in 1971. Corrie ten Boom, with assistance from John and Elizabeth Sherrill, gave a personal account of Nazi Germany’s invasion of her Dutch homeland. Holland was neutral in World War II, hoping such politics would provide them a degree of protection. Neutrality, however, is often lacking in reward.

It only took five days for Hitler’s forces to take control of the peace-seeking country. Holland’s substantial Jewish population suffered tremendously. They were crammed into trucks and trains then taken to prisons and labor camps. Some were killed without delay while others died slowly from sadistic brutality and inhumane conditions.

Corrie ten Boom’s family wasn’t Jewish by birth or religion. They were Christians who led an unassuming life guided by their steadfast faith. Days were spent running their small shop where they sold and repaired clocks and watches. On Sundays they worshiped the One whose guidance they trusted.

The ten Boom family could have maintained a tolerable lifestyle under German occupation. The only thing required was to look the other way, to ignore the atrocities being committed against Holland’s Jews. Instead they took a risky path, knowing it would likely cost them dearly. They helped their suffering countrymen in multiple ways, most famously by providing a hiding place in their home for people who had no other options.

Their refusal to ignore the plight of others led to unspeakable tragedies in the ten Boom family. Corrie miraculously survived confinement, but her elderly father and sister Betsy did not. Yet despite the cruelties she endured and witnessed, Corrie thanked God for using her to minister to others.

That’s all I’ll share about The Hiding Place. If you’ve read it you already know the story. If you haven’t, please don’t settle for my brief overview. Details of her experience are not what I want to elaborate on today. It’s Corrie ten Boom’s decision, along with other family members, to remain faithful during times of relentless persecution. 

Sometimes I wonder how moral people, especially Christians, could have allowed such horrific abuses. But what I find most troubling is thinking I might have been among them. When safety is assured by doing nothing, the easy path is tempting. Fear of repercussions can take us further down that road. Concern for loved ones adds another dimension.

Most of us probably won’t face anything akin to the dire circumstances of the ten Boom family. Yet each of us makes regular decisions of who to put first, Christ and those in need, or ourselves. Such choices begin in childhood and never end.

There’s always a kid who doesn’t fit in, one who sits alone in the cafeteria or waits awkwardly on the playground, hoping for an invitation that never comes. Some are bullied while others are made unwelcome. Decisions on taking a stand or staying quiet begin early and are no less challenging when we become adults.

The Christian response to injustice has often been silence. Examples are abundant, but I don’t know if it’s productive to recount our imperfect past. Instead I’ll close by suggesting that each of us consider more intentionally how God can use us today.

Mr. Heard George, son of U.S. Senator Walter F George, was an elderly gentleman when I first met him in 1975. He was a member of Vienna First Baptist and belonged to the men’s Sunday School class taught by Mr. John Bonner.

I’ve been told that in Mr. Heard’s prayers he often said, “Help me do something for someone who can’t do anything for me.” That strikes me as a perfect request, one God would appreciate hearing and likely answer without delay. 

So, I’ll end today’s musiings with that borrowed prayer and a recommendation of a good book. The Hiding Place has many lessons, all of them best learned by reading Corrie ten Boom’s account. 

Perhaps the most important lesson is to focus on love instead of hate. But as I reflect on my tendency to linger in the safety of the sidelines, another point comes to mind. Neutrality is often lacking in reward. 

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In Sickness and in Health

Traditional wedding vows include pledges of love and support for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. The optimism of young love keeps us from dwelling on unthinkable challenges, but sometimes youthful dreams clash with harsh realities.  

I went to Carrollton in April to visit two friends I met in 1970, my first quarter at Valdosta State College. Ronnie Williams had graduated in the spring and was teaching in Albany. He made frequent trips to Valdosta that fall, however, to see his fiancee, Claire Culpepper. They both grew up in Crisp County, which adjoins Dooly, so we had instant conversation material. 

Ronnie was a charter member and former president of Delta Chi fraternity, an organization I soon joined. His mischievous cheerfulness was contagious. He could light up a room with good-natured joviality. I was especially impressed that his sweetheart was the chapter’s sweetheart too.

Claire, a senior, was gorgeous with a warm gracefulness that endeared her to all of us young pledges. We were further enamored when she offered to help us find dates. 

Ronnie retired as Superintendent of Carrollton City Schools in 2001. Claire had stopped teaching in 1997 to care for her mother, who moved to Carrollton after her husband’s death. An unfinished basement was converted to a small apartment for Mrs. Culpepper. 

Next to occupy that space was their son, who stayed until a grease fire got out of hand. In the renovation that followed, several walls were removed and the kitchen, eating area, and small den became one room. The back door had always been at ground level, something that would become increasingly important.   

Fires are not usually considered a blessing, but perhaps this one was. An aggressive form of Parkinson’s Disease has taken a heavy toll on Claire. In September of 2022 she and Ronnie moved from their spacious upstairs to the compact lower quarters.   

From late afternoon to midmorning Ronnie takes care of his wife. Helpers come during the day. That’s when he buys groceries, runs errands, and takes three-mile walks.  

At lunchtime he gently lifted Claire from her recliner and placed her into a wheelchair. He rolled her to the table, cut her food into bite-sized pieces, and patiently fed her, saying he’d eat later. When a panic attack came without warning, he consoled her with soft words and warm touches. “Sometimes they only last a few minutes,” he said. “At other times it goes on for a couple of hours.”

Dealing with Claire’s illness has taken them on a journey Ronnie sees as parallel to the five stages of grief. The late psychiatrist Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross suggested that after the loss of a loved one we transition through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. I don’t know many details of Ronnie and Claire’s situation, but it’s easy to envision that progression.

Acceptance, however, comes in many flavors. It can be tinged with resentment or pity, repeatedly asking, “Why me Lord?”  Or it can be seasoned with gratitude as Ronnie and Claire have done, thankful for wonderful years together and an abiding faith in God.

My brief time with them only offered a glimpse of their challenges. It seems inadequate to say I love you and I’ll pray for you, and it probably is. Ronnie mentioned a friend who joins him for morning walks, coffee, and short drives. A change of pace helps. 

Putting feet to our prayers is perhaps where the focus of friends should be for Ronnie and Claire and many others. He took several pictures during our visit, saying Claire would enjoy them multiple times while reminiscing. It struck me that too often I neglect to make small efforts, waiting instead for perfect opportunities which rarely materialize.  

Wedding vows usually come with stellar expectations, which is no doubt a blessing. But when a storybook tale veers onto a rocky path, our fortitude can be severely tested. 

In the fall of 1970 I was smitten with Claire’s loveliness. Now I realize she has a beautiful husband too. Ronnie probably won’t get any modeling offers, but the tender care with which he meets his wife’s every need gives perfect evidence of a beautiful heart.   

My wishes won’t improve Claire’s health nor lighten Ronnie’s load, but if admiration could bring healing, all would be well. Ronnie made a promise to his sweetheart 52 years ago and he’s lovingly kept it, both in sickness and in health.  

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Letters from Vietnam

James Robert Taylor was killed in Vietnam on January 28, 1966. In 2020 his niece, Kim Taylor Farris, found 33 handwritten letters he had sent home. Here are a few excerpts.  

9/25/65 – “Last week I was promoted to PFC. That’s $20.00 a month more. If something happens and I am killed, I’ve got $30,000.00 insurance on myself. The government gave me $10,000 for nothing. Or rather for coming over here.”

“The first couple days here we just pulled little details like guard and building bunkers. Then they put us Pathfinders as door gunners for helicopters. The first mission I was on was to pick up the 101st Division. About 3 companies had let the Viet Cong slaughter them. The 117th Airborne Company had put them in and had 4 downed helicopters and all the others hit at least once. We picked them up the day after they were put in and only got 3 helicopters hit, none downed. It’s getting dark so I’ll close for today.” 

10/5/65 – “Sometimes I wish I was back so bad, just to be with Martha, but I know things will be better if I wait.”

10/11/65 – “I’ve just about put the Army out of my mind. I’m going to get my high school and some other training then get out.”

10/16/65 – “What you heard on T.V. was right and members of my team were there. A couple were shot at but weren’t hit. The Army better get on the stick with my money. I told Martha she could buy a set of rings if she saw what she wanted.”

10/28/65 – “I guess things are getting pretty bad over here. I dunno. The people get all the news. We get all the noise.”

11/1/65 – “The other day some Vietnamese girl tried to get me to marry her sister while we were operating in a drop zone. The little girl’s sister was 18 years old but looked like she might have been older.”

11/9/65 – “Got in about 16 hours door gunning in the last three days. Tell people not to send me anything for Christmas. I won’t be able to send them anything.”

11/12/65 – “I’m starting to have my doubts about Martha. She is going out with some other guy. I like being free and just don’t want to get married. Maybe I’m just afraid of it. I dunno.”

11/27/65 – “They’re starting to let people go on R&R to Hong Kong. Maybe I’ll go soon. I hope. I dropped Martha. I’m tired of war. Maybe I’ll buy a Harley when I get back.”

12/4/65 – “I won’t be home for Christmas or New Years for the first time in twenty years. Please tell everyone that I miss everybody back home, and no matter where I am Christmas I’ll be thinking of you all, as always.”

12/7/65 – “Two guys got Malaria in Pathfinders. One of them slept next to me. He sure was a good guy.”

12/10/65 – “I gave the Bible to a fellow named Bill Scholl. He’s from Jacksonville.”

12/17/65 – “Just got back off a mission today. It was the first time I spent the night on the top of a mountain. It was both cold and wet. Tomorrow starts another 30 day mission.”

12/21/65 – “My team Sergeant was seriously wounded and another Pathfinder killed that went out with myself and another man. I’ve got a little artifact for Kim if they ever give me enough time to mail it. By that time it will be too small for her if it isn’t already.”

12/24/65 – ”I’m thinking of you and love you very much. I’ve got a thousand things to be thankful for.”

12/31/65 – “Darwin is sitting in here writing letters too. I think he just wrote you all one. Right now all I’m doing is waiting for next year. It’s about 10:30 p.m. Hope you all had a Happy New Year.”

1/2/66 – “I’m going to the memorial services for Louis today.”

1/4/66 – “Most everyone else has gone to Pleiku, but I got to stay back. They think I’ve done too much lately. At times it feels that way. I’m sending a couple of pictures so you can remember what I look like.”

“You all be good. Love, Bobby.”

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Clete – Part 3

On March 23rd I attended a Pathfinders’ reunion at Fort Benning as a guest of Clete Sinyard. I had no idea the base is home to a 240 foot replica of the Vietnam Wall. It was a traveling memorial for 23 years until its 2014 dedication.

Five of us paused to pay respects to James Robert Taylor. The group included Clete and Deborah Sinyard, plus Kim Taylor Farris and her husband Greg. Kim was only four when her Uncle Bobby was killed in action, but tender memories remain.   

Darwin, Clete’s middle name, is how he was known growing up. That’s what his best friend Bobby Taylor called him in letters he wrote home. December 31, 1965, was one of the last. “Darwin is sitting in here writing letters too. I think he just wrote you all one. If you get a chance please answer it. He would really like to hear from you all.”

Clete and Bobby met at the Army’s reception station in Fort Jackson during processing. Both had quit school to partner with Uncle Sam. Clete was 17 and looking for adventure. Bobby was bored and wanted a change. 

As they stood in line for shots, dog tags, and uniforms, the alphabetized system placed them near each other. Two kids sporting flattops were amused as long-haired boys lost their locks to enthusiastic barbers. 

They rode a bus to Fort Gordon for basic training where they began hanging out together. One of Clete’s brothers, Jimmy, lived in Augusta with his wife JoAnne, so Clete and Bobby used weekend passes to visit them.  

Bill Taylor, Kim’s father, took his wife and two daughters to Augusta to see Bobby. They rented an extra hotel room for Bobby and Clete. The friendship of two young soldiers kept expanding to other family members. Cookies in care packages were gladly shared.  

Parallel paths took Clete and Bobby through Advanced Infantry Training, Jump School, and Pathfinders School. Then they boarded a ship bound for Vietnam. Rappel ropes were used to tie cooking oil cans to the back of the U.S.S. Darby. Bouncing targets were ideal for M16 rifle practice.

A typhoon offered unplanned excitement. The bow and stern were like a giant seesaw in the storm. Soldiers were instructed to stay put, but Clete couldn’t resist opening a door to sneak a look. 

The spot where he’d been standing while shooting cans was pointing upward at an angry sky. Clete slammed the door, locked it, got in his cot, and stayed there.

Clete’s onboard assignment was to guard the food cooler. He was stationed beside it with keys. Bobby was a runner, fetching whatever the cooks requested. That providential pairing is how they managed to reallocate two cafeteria-size cherry pies. Sharing sweet bounty with fellow Pathfinders made the risk of getting caught acceptable.

Bobby Taylor seemed okay for a while in Vietnam, until he came back from one of the missions with a somber assessment. “I’m not going to survive this,” he said to his friend. Clete told him to stop that crazy talk, then showed him a picture of a Volkswagen Beetle he planned to buy when he returned home. They stayed up all night talking.    

On January 28, 1966, the helicopter Bobby was aboard unknowingly landed on a Viet Cong bunker. A bullet grazed his forehead and knocked his helmet off. He was airlifted out by another chopper. Bobby reached up to touch the wound, saw blood on his hand and died. Clete believes shock, not the bullet, killed him. 

Bill Taylor died November 15, 2020. Kim discovered a stash of letters from Bobby which her father had quietly kept. Most were to his parents with some to siblings. The mention of his friend Darwin led to a search. She found Clete and asked if he would tell her more.

Kim and Clete knelt by the Vietnam Wall at Fort Benning, each pointing to a name that’s important in much different ways. To Kim he was the gregarious uncle she loved as a toddler and wishes she could have known longer. To Clete he’s the best friend who thought he wouldn’t survive and was tragically proven right. But to most of us, he’s one of 58,000 casualties we only know through the reflections of others.  

James Robert Taylor was 20 years old when he died in Vietnam. To those who knew him best and loved him the most, I suppose he always will be.  

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Chinaberry Trees

The battle against Chinaberry trees in my favorite woods began several months ago. I felt a tad guilty cutting big ones which were perfect for climbing, but I had little choice. Chinaberries are exceptionally prolific. They are the rabbits of the tree world. 

I’ve probably cut 50 or more. Many were small enough that my minimal chainsaw skills didn’t matter. Some, however, tested the limits of my ability.

“Cut and run” best describes my technique. Some people can point precisely to where they will lay a tree. My pointing would just be downward, so I rely on escape routes.

There were a couple of incidents that made me nervous. One stubborn Chinaberry sent me scampering for safety. I had no problem getting out of the way, but in my haste the rotating chain caught my pants leg and ripped an L-shaped cut about ten inches long. Carelessness can be brutally rewarded.

That near mishap reminded me of a conversation years ago with a former neighbor, Ronald Everett. Jane and I built a house in 1977 just down the street from the Everett family. Our lot was filled with pine trees which we heartily embraced. A million pine cones later, however, we decided to heavily thin the stand.

Ronald cut trees as a sideline business and took out a hundred or so from our yard. One day when I mentioned his adeptness with a saw, he pulled up his pants leg to reveal a jagged scar from a wound that required 40 stitches.  

Ronald’s scar occasionally comes to mind and helps keep me from biting off more than I can chew. He knew what he was doing, yet still had some accidents which could have ended tragically. One deep cut narrowly missed his spleen.

After my little scare, I revised my safety plan to be especially careful if working alone. Jane’s presence might not prevent an injury, but she could call 911.

The tallest Chinaberries on the property are about 40 years old. I know that because my brother and I cleared a small area for a pond back then. There weren’t any when we finished but now there are plenty.

While trying to get rid of them, I recalled a story that Mike Joiner, a distant relative, shared with me. Mike had some unwanted pines in his yard, so he sought advice from someone with extensive knowledge in such matters.

Mr. Fred Moore spent decades in the woods with his logging crews and had a sawmill operation in Vienna at one point. He knew every aspect of the timber business.

“Mr. Fred,” inquired Mike, “when is the best time to cut pine trees in my yard?” Mr. Fred always chose his words carefully. He paused for a moment and said, “Mike, the best time to cut a pine tree in your yard is when you can hold it down with your foot and chop it with an ax.”

When that first Chinaberry tree appeared decades ago, it would have only taken a minute to chop it down. Left alone, however, it kept growing and producing berries. Then some of those berries became trees and had children of their own.

Besides reproducing in mass, Chinaberry trees are extremely resilient. Cutting them down doesn’t kill them. New branches will sprout from what’s left. To get rid of them the stump has to be killed or dug up.

Barney Fife’s law enforcement approach is the best way to deal with them – “Nip it in the bud.” If we ignore them they’ll keep growing and multiplying, becoming increasingly harder to get rid of.

Sin works in a similar fashion. King David is a good example. He saw Bathsheba bathing on her rooftop and sent for her. He slept with Bathesheba, knowing her husband was away from home, fighting with the king’s troops. After learning she was pregnant, David hid their secret by having Uriah killed. David could have stopped looking and longing, instead one sin led to another.  

Barring something unforeseen, I’ll win the battle against the Chinaberry trees. It may take two or three years, but eventually they’ll all be gone. 

Other seeds, though, will surely sprout. If ignored, they’ll grow until perfect for climbing then beg to be spared. When something takes root in a place it shouldn’t be, it’s best to deal with it promptly. Invasive trees and sin share a common trait. When one finds a spot of fertile ground, it always invites company.    

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Clete – Part 2

Clete and Deborah Sinyard invited me to a Pathfinders’ Reunion held in late March. I joined them for a day at Fort Benning and wished I could have stayed for that night’s barbeque. Informal reflections are often the most compelling.

Arriving a half hour early for our 9 a.m. rendezvous, I was surprised by a rapidly expanding line of visitors near The National Infantry Museum. More than a thousand people were headed to graduation ceremonies for the 197th Infantry Brigade.

We took The Heritage Walk to the viewing stands at Inouye Field. Lined with flags from every state and territory, each side features inscribed pavers and upright granite markers.

One marker I noticed referenced the 9th Infantry Division – “Old Reliables” Vietnam 1967-1970. Two soldiers were listed along with a tender note for one: “We are so proud of you. Love, Your Family.” His family’s small gesture was no doubt greatly appreciated. Affirmation was  sparse for the soldiers of Vietnam.  

Fifteen Pathfinders, plus wives and guests, sat in a reserved section. Their introduction evoked hearty applause, perhaps inspiring new graduates to follow their example of doing more than required.  

Several attendees wore caps bearing the group’s motto: “First In – Last Out.” For most of us that would be hard to embrace, yet these men volunteered to find the safest paths for our troops. Their own welfare was a secondary concern.

Stadium-type seating overlooked a grass field with historic Harmony Church in the background. As 450 graduates marched past, Deborah said what I was thinking: “They look so young.” The reality of teenage soldiers was a bit unsettling.

Some didn’t look old enough or big enough to become warriors, but the same could have been said of Clete in 1965. Courage is perhaps more easily summoned during youth, before experience dilutes bullet-proof mindsets.

After graduation came The Memorial Walk of Honor. The serene setting is ideal for its multiple monuments, including one uniquely special to the reunion group: “Dedicated to the Pathfinders of the 11th Air Assault Division 1963-1965 and the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) 1965-1972. First In – Last Out.”

Colonel Richard Gillem reminded us we were there to honor those who are gone. A prayer of gratitude was offered then the names of the deceased were called. Someday they may be forgotten, but not yet.  

The men assembled for pictures on the Colonel’s command. He was Captain Gillem in 1965 and Commander of the 11th Pathfinder Company when it formed. After leading them through training at Ft. Benning, he deployed with the Company to Vietnam. They still follow his orders but salutes now partner with joviality. Retirement has diminished his authority but not their respect.

After lunch we paused by the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall to find the name of Robert Taylor. He was a close friend of Clete’s, one of 58,000 plus casualties listed. The wall is eight feet high and 240 feet long, a poignant reminder of war’s heavy toll.      

Our next stop was to see the world’s largest collection of tanks. The oldest, from 1916, is small and simple, nothing like the sophisticated equipment of today. A few had side panels cut out for interior viewing. The space is painfully confining, hardly allowing room for a deep breath.    

Most of the Pathfinders have good mobility, and all seem to have a sense of humor. As we were leaving the tank display, one of them opened the door and held it for the rest of us. “I’m sorry you got stuck with door duty,” I said lightheartedly. “First in, last out,” he replied with a big smile. 

I don’t really know those men, and I’ve only spent a few hours with Clete. My impression, though, is that their motto is inscribed in their hearts. It seems to have outlasted war and helped define their lives.

Someday I hope to visit with them again and stay for the barbeque, not for the fare but to listen and learn. Those who served our country with a “First In – Last Out” approach deserve to be heard if they choose to speak. 

“They look so young,” said Deborah, saying what I was thinking. Her comment became more sobering as I recalled a picture of the 18-year-old Pathfinder now sitting beside her. And when we paused by a long wall filled with names, the cost of war seemed more tragic than before. For I realized those 58,000 soldiers were young once too.          

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Cletis “Babysan” Sinyard married a longtime friend of mine, Deborah Fullington. She was one grade behind me in school, plus we were neighbors. Our paths seldom crossed in recent years. When they did, it was usually at Harmony-Smyrna Cemetery. 

That’s where Deborah introduced me to Clete. It only took a handshake and a smile to decide he’s a nice guy. Modest stature and quiet manner offered no hint of a valorous past. I learned more of his story on an afternoon visit by my favorite stream. 

Clete’s father was a Baptist preacher, an evangelist who also farmed in north Alabama. At 75, Clete is the youngest person I know with mule expertise. “I’ve done everything that can be done with a mule,” he said,” mentioning Kate and Aida by name.   

Maybe that’s why he partnered with Uncle Sam at age 17. His father wouldn’t sign but his mother agreed. When I asked why he enlisted, he said, “I was talking with a buddy and decided I wanted to join the Army and jump out of planes.”

Patriotism was probably an influence. That gene runs strong in the Sinyard family. Clete and his three brothers served a combined 48 years in the military.

Fort Gordon is where he underwent Basic Training then Advanced Infantry Training. He was five feet six inches and weighed 120 pounds when he went into the Army, certainly not an imposing figure. An incident in the barracks, however, shows there’s more to Clete than meets the eye.    

A fellow in the bunk above him was playing a radio after mandatory lights out, unconcerned about an early-morning five-mile run. Clete asked him three times to turn the music off but was ignored, so he grabbed the radio and slammed it onto the floor.

The barracks shook when the big guy’s feet landed, but the Platoon Sergeant intervened. I don’t know who would have won that fight. What impresses me is Clete didn’t know either.

Jump school at Ft. Benning is where the 11th Pathfinders Company interviewed volunteers. About 40 were chosen for special training for an elite group with a sobering motto: “First In – Last Out.” 

On Clete’s 18th birthday, July 28, 1965, Lyndon Baines Johnson announced the 11th Pathfinders Company would be going to Vietnam. The USS Darby left Charleston in August for a 30-day cruise with ocean views. Helicopters transported the Pathfinders to a jungle site. Their assignment was to secure the landing zone, mark obstacles, and guide helicopters safely by radio communications as infantry troops were inserted and extracted on combat operations.  

When Major Bruce Crandall, a decorated helicopter pilot in Vietnam, came under fire he requested someone sit in the open door to shoot back. Clete preferred adventure to digging stumps, so he volunteered. An M60 machine gun was tied to the chopper’s roof with parachute cord, a temporary innovation for a developing style of warfare.

Clete, a Green Beret, was in the Special Operations Group and did two tours in Vietnam. He has enough honors and awards to fill a column, but one he especially values is unofficial. 

The Montagnard, indigenous mountain people of Vietnam, partnered with our soldiers. A group of them walked into Clete’s camp to make a request. “Babysan,” said one, “we want you to lead our team.” Babysan means young one. The Montagnard had been quietly watching before making their choice. They saw through the camouflage of a youthful appearance.  

At a Special Operations Group reunion a few years ago, an older Vietnamese gentleman saw Clete in a hotel hallway. “Babysan!” exclaimed the man, “You saved my life!”

“Who was he?” I asked. “I have no idea,” Clete wistfully replied. As the two men embraced, Deborah said she burst into tears. Soldiers rarely meet the people they save.   

I don’t know much about Vietnam, but I’ve been reminded that we are surrounded by humble heroes. Their sacrifices are mostly unknown or forgotten. 

When Clete smashed that radio, he no doubt earned the respect of every man in the barracks, even the boisterous fellow on the top bunk. During 20 years of service he kept earning respect. Courage and honor make a good pairing.

It only took a handshake and a smile to decide he’s a nice guy, but there’s more to Clete Sinyard than first meets the eye. I learned that on an afternoon visit by my favorite stream.

May God bless our men and women in uniform, both past and present. Thank you for your service and your sacrifice.     

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We have a small John Deere tractor, a 3038E, that was bought a few years ago. It’s similar to the cute ones on display at nearly every dealership of all brands. When dressed up with a front-end loader they are highly irresistible.   

Jimmy, my late brother, kept our little tractor busy. Since his death last July, however, it had been largely neglected. Lately, though, the green machine and I have been spending quality time together. 

The tractor has been great for moving freshly-sawed chinaberry limbs and sections of their trunks. Plus it has helped in pulling up old fence wire and hauling scrap metal out of the woods. Everything was copasetic until the warning lights came on.

“Parked DPF Regen Required” was the instrument panel’s message. There was also a lighted symbol I didn’t understand, plus an exclamation point indicating something needed urgent attention.

Unsure what to do, I switched the tractor off. That night I looked through the manual and did some online research. I learned DPF stands for diesel particulate filter and regen is short for regeneration.

My mechanical skills are nil, a shortened version of my name, so I read the operating instructions and watched several YouTube videos. One fellow explained the regen feature ensures that tractors comply with government emission regulations. 

He said regeneration burns up particulates which are 700 times smaller than a human hair. That may be right, but I’d love to send a personal sample for testing.  

Engine heat cleans soot from the filter during the parked regen process. A clogged filter would diminish the tractor’s performance, so regeneration keeps it up to par.

A couple of things about this procedure seem counterproductive. One video said tractors need the parked regen process more often if operated at a low rpm, revolutions per minute. Run it faster and load it down, the man said, and the cleansings are done automatically.

I was trying to do the motor a favor by not using more rpm than the work required, which was about idle speed. In human terms it would be like walking at three miles per hour compared to running at 15. Most of us would rather walk unless something was chasing us. 

When a tractor idles, however, the engine doesn’t get hot enough to burn the particulates, so a parked regen is required. Apparently the best way to keep the filter clean is to run the engine faster than the work may sometimes require.

The other aspect that’s a bit disconcerting is the fuel required for a parked regen. It takes 30 to 40 minutes, during which time the tractor can’t be used for anything else. So cleaning the filter requires a half hour’s worth of fuel while not accomplishing anything. 

Once again I’m explaining something I don’t really understand, so accuracy is not guaranteed. It just strikes me as odd that air quality standards are being met by burning extra fuel. But that’s not why I’m telling more than you wanted to know about regeneration.

It occurred to me that a similar warning system could be helpful in the area of faith to alert us if we’re getting clogged up with pollutants. We can’t operate our spiritual engines at maximum capacity all the time, but it’s tempting to idle them for extended periods. When we do that, particulates tend to accumulate rather than being cleaned on the go.

Spiritual regeneration comes in many ways. Three of the most common are corporate worship, personal Bible study, and prayer. But showing up is not enough. Attitude and effort are essential. 

Malachi, a prophet who lived about 400 years before Christ, told how God would refine his people just as fire refines silver and gold. I don’t know what all that might entail, but what I do know is that my sometimes sluggish approach toward faith needs improvement.

I probably can’t run 15 miles per hour, not even for an embarrassingly short distance. But I can do better than three. It’s the same with faith. Without flashing lights and exclamation points, God’s warning system is easily overlooked or ignored. But there’s no doubt what my internal sensors are telling me. It’s past time for regeneration.   

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The Stones in My Pocket

Pharisees, a Jewish religious sect, held themselves in high regard. They meticulously followed God’s commandments, plus countless Levitical laws and customs. Yet Jesus, in Matthew 23, scolded them severely for hypocrisy. They put law above love, tradition above compassion. 

On February 5th our men’s Sunday School lesson was taken from John 8:3-11. Those verses tell of a woman caught in adultery and brought to Jesus by the Pharisees. They asked if she should be stoned under Mosaic Law. Justice, though, was not really their concern. They saw the woman’s indiscretion as an opportunity to entrap Jesus.

If Jesus said the woman should not be punished, they could accuse him of violating God’s commands. But if he condoned stoning her, they could report him to the Roman authorities as advocating disobedience. The government had sole power to carry out executions.    

Our lesson, “I Am The Light,” emphasized the grace Jesus showed toward the lady. He gave the Pharisees an answer that offered little room for rebuttal. Jesus said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” That disqualified all of her accusers. One by one they quietly drifted away.

When class ended, Mike Roper mentioned another slant our study could have taken. The title he suggested was “The Stones In My Pocket.” I wish Mike hadn’t made that observation. I’ve been checking my pockets ever since.   

I’ve never thrown a rock at anyone and have no plans to start now. But there’s no doubt I’ve cast some verbal stones, more intentionally at times than others. It usually happens when I speak before thinking.

Sometimes it’s tempting to respond sharply rather than patiently, to let anger and irritation preempt grace and kindness. Today’s divisive politics is one area that provides frequent opportunities for throwing hurtful words around.      

Respectful dialogue is increasingly rare. Vitriolic attacks and character assassinations have become commonplace. People of faith should strongly advocate for biblically sound positions, but Jesus gave us a perfect example of how to present our views. He didn’t shout to make his points, just calmly spoke the truth.

Jesus could have blasted the Pharisees and exposed their ploy to discredit him. Or he could have dazzled them with a lecture and explained more about The Ten Commandments than their hearts were prepared to receive. Instead he answered softly and led them to consider their own shortcomings. 

That was the same approach he took in addressing the woman after her accusers left. Rather than chastise her for past behavior, he simply told her to, “go and sin no more.” Jesus didn’t carry stones in his pockets. 

Jimmy Collins, another class member, commented that stones could be seen from a positive angle. He mentioned the account of David, a young shepherd boy who slew Goliath, the Philistine giant. 1 Samuel 17 tells that story in which David chose five smooth stones from the stream for his sling.

The renowned warrior Goliath seemed a mismatch for a boy who tended sheep. Yet David was confident God would give him victory. His rock slinging was ordained by the One who created the rocks.

Perhaps there are times God directs us toward stones. It’s more likely, however, he’ll lead us away from them. Christ’s teachings are better reflected in the forgiving spirit of Stephen, the first Christian martyr.

Acts 7:54-60 tells of Stephen’s persecution. The Sanhedrin, a religious group, drug him out of the city and began stoning him. Rather than rebuking them in anger, he prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”    

Saul was in the crowd and condoned the slaying. He would later become known as Paul, the leading spokesman for early Christianity. It’s been said, “If Stephen had not prayed, Paul might not have preached.”

There are multiple lessons we can discern from scriptures about stones. One is to be careful about casting them. Another is to be forgiving when they are thrown at us.

Self-evaluation can be troubling if done with honesty. I wish Mike Roper had not suggested that lesson title. The stones in my pocket are heavier than I thought.             

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The 90’s Club

Crisp County resident Gayla Gay sent a nice email in February saying she and her mother enjoy my weekly musings. In a later exchange I learned her mother occasionally gets together with two cousins for food and fellowship. Always in search of a story that comes with a free meal, I slyly wrangled an invitation to The 90’s Club.

Gayla’s mom, Tommie Jean Beacham, hosted the March 2nd luncheon in her country home near Cordele. Three days earlier she had celebrated her 94th birthday, so this was her second party of the week with another in the making.   

Eula Faye Culverhouse was already there when Jane and I arrived. At 93 she’s the youngest club member. Her 96 year-old sister, Marjorie Claire Dowdy, soon pulled into the driveway. Margie pumps her own gas, enjoys yardwork, and sings in the choir at Penia Baptist Church. 

Music is a big part of this family’s heritage. Years ago Major Ellis started The Ellis Quartet, a popular gospel group which had a long-running radio program on WMJM. Most of the talent was supplied by the Dorough family, the lineage shared by these three ladies.

Margie sang with the group and Tommie played piano. Tommie was also church organist at Third Street Baptist in Cordele for over 50 years. In addition to their quartet involvement, those two helped marry and bury countless folks over multiple decades.

 When Tommie invited me to play her piano before lunch, I pounded out “Down Yonder” with a verse of “Bill Bailey” in the middle. She followed with “Amazing Grace” and “Oh What a Savior.” How sweet was the sound. I was glad I’d gone first. 

I forgot to ask if Faye inherited the musical talent common to their gene pool. She left home at 16 to study nursing in Macon and stayed in that area. Hospital work and distance would have likely prevented her from making their Saturday night practices. 

It’s probably been a while since any of the trio has warranted a spanking, but a childhood memory still brings laughter. Instead of going to Sunday School, they stayed outside and played in the car one morning. After church Tommie’s aunt, Mrs. Eula Dorough, invited her to go home with Margie and Faye. She gladly went, unaware Aunt Eula would dispense a licking before passing the chicken.

Kermit and Bill Dorough, brothers of Margie and Faye, also sang with The Ellis Quartet plus Bill served as spokesman. Kermit’s daughter, Karen, was at the recent luncheon. She and her husband were on a road trip which began at their Indiana home. 

When someone commented on the small servings on her plate, Karen quoted her father. “If you don’t watch your figure, nobody else will.” I was told she inherited Kermit’s sense of humor. She was probably saving space for Gayla’s pound cake, fresh strawberries, and real whipped cream.    

Karen and her three siblings own the old Dorough homestead. Located across the road from Tommie’s property, it’s been completely renovated. After lunch we walked through and gleaned bits of family history. 

The house was built by Karen’s great-great-grandfather in the 1890s. Like many dwellings of that era, the ceilings had been lowered and floors covered with carpet. The ceilings are now back to their original heights and carpets removed. Wide cedar floorboards, some as long as 25 feet, are beautifully refinished.  

Furnishings include cherished heirlooms plus other period appropriate pieces. It’s a lovely place, but the most compelling feature is its purpose. Family gatherings have long been a priority, so it’s arranged to seat over forty people.

As Jane and I were about to leave, we learned a broken wrist had prevented Margie from doing push-ups for a short time. After it healed she adopted a modified version on her knees, but is about ready to resume the extended form.

My rambling thoughts can’t fully capture the loving bonds of kinship and friendship those ladies have shared since childhood. Nor can I adequately convey how charmingly they embrace life at such a challenging stage. I’m just thankful to have had a closeup glimpse.  

I was searching for a story and found one that’s still being written. Spending time with The 90’s Club was a blessing and inspiration. After some much-needed piano practice I may attempt a push-up or two, for I’ve been given a timely lesson. The life we live when our hair turns gray, quite often depends how we live today. 

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