Triplets – Special Delivery

A nurse informed us that the triplets would soon be arriving.  As our family hastened down the hallway toward the double doors marked “DELIVERY” out came our firstborn.

“Boy or girl?” I blurted out.

“Boy, but not your boy,” said the smiling nurse.  “We’ll keep you posted.”

This continued for several babies.  We even saw a couple that Mama said looked just like Jane.  At last two nurses walked out together each holding a baby.  “Finally!” I exclaimed.

“Not yet,” one of the ladies in white sympathetically replied.  These are twins.”

In a few moments word reached us that we had two girls and a boy.  We waited for them to be brought out, but they didn’t come.  It was two doctors who came, Dr. English and Dr. Harvey.

“Your firstborn is a girl,” said Dr. English.  “She’s doing fine.  She weighs four pounds and seven ounces.”  He pointed to some scribbling on the back of a paper towel.  “The second one, a boy, is doing fair.  He’s small and his lungs aren’t fully developed.”  From his notes I saw that our son was only four pounds and two ounces.

“The last girl is largest at four eleven, but she’s been through a lot.  The umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck.  We think she’ll be alright, but she still hasn’t regained her color.”

My mother and I accompanied the doctors into the intensive care unit.  All three babies were beyond our touch in their glass domed isolettes.  They were naked except for the monitors which were attached to their chests.  Umbilical catheters were soon attached to the severed remains of what had been their lifelines.

The first girl looked red-faced and promising.  Although small, she appeared healthy considering she had surprised us over a month too soon.

But looking at our son I wondered how the doctors could say he was doing fair.  I supposed it must be for our encouragement because he looked hopeless.  His chest had a deep cavity which the doctors explained was due to his undeveloped lungs.  Even under the oxygen hood he gasped for each breath with a frantic rapidity I judged impossible to maintain.

The last girl was at the opposite end of the spectrum from our son’s frenzied struggle.  Her breaths came slowly and almost undetectably.  She looked lifeless and uncaring.  Her color was still slightly bluish.  I could not help but wonder about possible brain damage.  I chastised myself for even silently worrying about such when her life was so uncertain.

For the first time in my life, I began to understand the indescribable love of a parent.  I understood what it means to say, “This hurts me more than it does you.”  And I understood that more than anything else I had ever wanted, I wanted our children to live.

The doctors were cautiously reassuring.  Dr. English said that babies are a lot tougher than they look.  I wanted to believe him, but I wasn’t sure that I should.

After a brief visit with Jane in delivery, I went to the room where she would be staying.  A lady from the hospital’s public relations department asked if I would mind talking to a reporter from The Sun, Warner Robin’s local newspaper.  The trio’s arrival was perfectly timed for their Christmas edition.

The pleasant young reporter was new at her work.  She had a tablet filled with questions, each of them written on a separate page.  Her tone was serious and reflected obvious preparation.

“What did you think when you first found out you were the father of triplets?” she asked.

“Well,” I said with hesitation, “I promised that girl if she had three at one time, I would marry her.  I reckon I’ll have to now.”  She dropped her number two lead pencil on the floor but was otherwise undeterred by my nonsense.  “Who do you think they look like?” she asked.

“My parents and I were just discussing that,” I replied.  “We think they favor our milkman.”  She stopped writing and began erasing, then asked about their names.  Mama was shaking her head in dismay.  I figured it was time to stop kidding around and help that nice lady write her story.

Posted in 2019 | 4 Comments

Triplets – An Unspoken Question

As days passed, we grew more accustomed to our news.  I remained genuinely delighted that we were having triplets.  There was, however, something that concerned me, something that I did not feel I could or should discuss with Jane.  She was worried enough already.

Early in her pregnancy she had come close to losing what we thought then was a single baby.  To prevent this her doctor gave her some medication and confined her to bed.

What worried me now was a discussion that had taken place months earlier between my mother and an acquaintance of hers.  The lady had told Mama that her doctor would not prescribe medication to stop hemorrhaging during pregnancy.  His opinion was that nature works things out for the best, that such treatment might save a child who would be better off unborn.

Had we done wrong by trying to save our baby?  I was ashamed to even entertain such a thought.  It seemed selfish to worry, for I wasn’t sure if the worry was more for our children or for us.  With the pending arrival of three babies, however, I could not avoid contemplating our future.

Jane had earned a master’s degree in special education.  She had used it to teach students with both mental and physical handicaps.  Their every accomplishment was exciting to her.  She would often come home proudly telling about things such as someone who had written his name for the first time.  Sometimes she would bring home a paper where one of her children had scribbled, “I love you Mrs. Joiner.”  Her teaching was generously seasoned by a very loving heart.

Now I wondered if her training was God’s way of preparing her to cope with the three children He was giving us.  Had we circumvented nature?  Had we made a mistake?  I asked those questions only of myself, and I wondered.  Each night I wondered.

Mama called me at work at Rooney Bowen Chevrolet on December 22, 1978.  “You better come quickly.  Jane’s about to have the babies.”  Mama had taken Jane to Warner Robins for a regular checkup, but she was calling from the hospital.  The trio wasn’t due until late January.  Her words assured me that everything was alright, but her voice said that it wasn’t.

I suppose the news of an early delivery should not have surprised us.  Jane’s stomach had expanded beyond what seemed its capacity.  My cousin-employer, Rooney Bowen, drove me to Warner Robins in his blue Caprice, ignoring the speed limit signs along I-75.

During the early complications of her pregnancy I had somewhat resolved myself to the possibility of a miscarriage.  On the quick trip with Rooney, however, I was rapidly losing that resolve.  I had seen them kicking their way around their secluded home.  My hands had almost touched them as they pressed against the confines of tight quarters.  I already loved them.  Now I wanted to know them.

I raced into the hospital, hoping that my arrival had preceded that of the trio.  A nurse assured me that I had made it in time.  To my surprise she escorted me toward the delivery room.

“I’m not one of the Lamaze husbands,” I said.  “I might upset her.”  She kept walking and made no reply.

“I don’t want to get in the way,” I continued.  “Just tell her I’m here.”

“You tell her,” said the nurse as she pointed to my wife.  Jane was walking around in a quiet hallway, just as pregnant as ever.

“Why aren’t you in bed?” I demanded.

“It’s alright,” she said.  “It wasn’t as urgent as we thought.  You better get something to eat.  It will probably be awhile.”

It was 1:30 p.m., well past our usual lunch time.  My brother, Jimmy, left and came back with four hamburgers.  I guess the excitement was too much for our family as only one burger was eaten.  I could have eaten the other three, but a nurse informed us that the main event was only minutes away.

Posted in 2019 | 4 Comments

Triplets – The Beginning

I’m not very good at keeping up with birthdays, but it’s easy to remember when our children were born.  A struggling stork landed in Warner Robins with Erin, Seth, and Carrie on December 22, 1978.  That was forty years ago, so now seems like a logical time to reminisce.

If you’ll indulge me for the next four columns, I’ll return to the usual themes after that.  The triplets’ arrival changed our lives and it changed us.  I hope you’ll enjoy some glimpses from our family’s past.  And I hope my children will forgive me for letting the world know that they just turned forty.

Jane taught school in Cordele back then and sometimes stopped by Piggly Wiggly on her way home.  One such afternoon in October of 1978 she was in line at the grocery checkout.  That was before the days of the almost silent electronic scanners.  The efficient clerk was rapidly keying in prices and quantities of various items.  The rhythmic rat-a-tat-tat of her register abruptly halted.  “You’re kidding!”  exclaimed the startled young woman standing behind it.

“No, really,” my wife assured her.  “I’m only six months pregnant.”

The disbelieving clerk searched Jane’s face for a telling wink or laugh but found none.  She turned back toward the register and said with a sigh, “Honey, you must be having twins!”

About a month later Dr. Manning, Jane’s obstetrician, ordered x-rays.  An x-ray on a mother-to-be sounds archaic now, but that was the pre-sonogram era, a time when imaginations were relied on as much as imagery.  Jane had already lost her driving privileges, so my mother took her to Warner Robins.

I was working for my cousin, Rooney Bowen, at his Chevy dealership in Vienna.  I left after work that day and drove the 12 miles to my parent’s home on our family farm.  I was going there for supper and to pick up Jane.  I assumed that I would hear an official report that twins were on the way.

I expected to find a table overflowing with food and a house bursting at the seams with excitement.  I found instead an eerily quiet family gathering.

“Well, Neil,” said my mother while struggling to keep her composure, “how many children do you think y’all are having?”  Through watery eyes Jane blankly gazed toward me, her lips noticeably quivering.  Daddy sat close to her and was gently patting her on the back.

“We must be having three!” I gleefully exclaimed.  At first no one believed I had said it, then they thought I was kidding.  My mother suspected that I had called Dr. Manning’s office.

But there was no mystery in my confident answer.  For several months we had felt there was a strong possibility of twins.  Jane had not gained any weight in her slender limbs or face, but her abdomen obviously sheltered more than one baby.  I knew that a confirmation of twins could not be responsible for the sober atmosphere encompassing Mama’s kitchen.  When I said that we were having triplets, I had no doubt about it.

“What are we going to do?” asked Jane.  Her question was punctuated by tears that were rolling down her beautiful cheeks.

“Triplets!” I said with genuine enthusiasm.  “This is fantastic!”  Even though I had seldom been around small babies, I instinctively knew they would be a lot of fun and very little trouble.  I found out later there is a significant degree of unreliability in fatherly intuition.

Jane was as perplexed by my laughter as I was by her tears.  That didn’t change much in the coming weeks.  Her friends were tender and caring and spoke in hushed tones.  My pals slapped me on the back and wanted to know what kind of diet I was on.

Overall, I would say that I handled Jane’s pregnancy with remarkable ease.  She was, of course, quite miserable in the latter stages.  For me it was a breeze, but the winds of change began blowing noticeably stronger.

Posted in 2018 | 5 Comments

My Christmas Story

Author:  John Bonner, 1915-2004

When I was a child I heard many Christmas stories and watched varied kinds of Christmas programs.  Every year our church presented a pageant and the offering taken at that service was used for local benevolences.

I recall there was always a manger at the front of the church and Mary sat behind it with a large white shawl draped around her shoulders.  Joseph stood at the end of the manger and wore a beard that was often hard to keep in place.  As the choir sang “While shepherds watched their flocks by night,” three men clad in gunny sacks marched up the aisle and knelt near the manger.  Then the choir sang “We Three Kings of Orient Are” and three men in bathrobes marched up the aisle and presented their gifts to the Christ Child and knelt at the manger.  Usually verses of prophecy from Isaiah were read and several carols sung.

As I grew older I kept having the thought that all these things we were doing are a beautiful part of the Christmas story, but there must be something else that brings it all together in one complete picture.  It seemed as if these segments were like the pieces of a jig-saw puzzle that fitted into the center and joined all the other pieces together to complete the picture.

When I became a teenager and was in what was called the Intermediate Department of the Sunday School then, I found our Christmas lesson was different from any I had ever read before.  The scripture was not from Isaiah or Matthew or Luke, but from the Gospel of John.

I read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God.  All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made.  In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:1-3) Verse 14 says, “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”  Verse 11 says, “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.”  Verse 12 continues, “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.”

I learned “The Word” meant Jesus Christ and I put His name everywhere “The Word” occurred in the scripture.  I realized I had found what I had been looking for to bring the whole Christmas story together.  Jesus Christ had been with God from the “beginning,” the creation of the world.  He was with God and He was God and all things were made by Him.  Jesus Christ became human flesh and dwelt among men.  His own did not receive Him, but many did.  To those who did receive Him, He gave power to become the “Sons of God.”  This is the key to the whole story!

I decided the story really begins with Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”  When God had finished His many works of creation, He looked upon what He had done and saw that it was good.  He then said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.  So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him.  Male and female created He them.”  Man was the crown of His creation.  He was to have dominion over all the wonderful things God had brought into being.  Man, created in the image of God, alone, of all God’s creatures, was given the power of choice.  Man could do good or evil.  He could obey God or disobey.  He could love or hate.  He could be generous or selfish.  And man alone was given the gift of eternal life.

After six days of creation, God looked upon His work and saw that it was good.  It was perfect.  But soon God’s perfect work was marred because of man’s power of choice.  Man chose to rebel against God and to disobey Him.  Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden for disobedience.  The first child born on earth, Cain, murdered his brother, Abel.  As his numbers increased on earth, man became more and more sinful, more rebellious, more disobedient.  God created man in His own image to be a noble creature and to live a beautiful and righteous life.  Man marred God’s image by sinning against his Creator in disobedience and rebellion.

Genesis 6:6 says that God saw the wickedness of man was great in the earth and, “It repented the Lord that He had man on the earth.”  He sent a great flood to destroy His creation.  But there was one man He found righteous.  He spared Noah and his family for a new beginning on the earth.  Sadly, man again fell into his old ways of disobedience and rebellion against God.

God is a holy God and cannot abide sin in His presence.  Man’s sin separates him from God.  The story of the Bible is a record of God’s work to bridge the gap between Him and man caused by man’s sin.  God never ceased to try to restore man to the fellowship with Him which was intended in the beginning.  He now put into action another plan of a different nature.  He had promised He would not destroy the earth by flood again.  He began this plan with another man He found righteous.  Abraham lived in Ur of the Chaldees and his wife was named Sarah.  God made a covenant with Abraham.  He promised Abraham that He would make of him the beginning of a great nation that God would especially bless and He would also give to Abraham and his descendants a very good land in which to live.  As Abraham’s part of the covenant, he and his descendants were to be to God as a nation of priests or missionaries to other people.  Abraham was the first Hebrew.  His descendants were not called Jews for many centuries after this.  The Hebrews were to so live and teach and witness that they would bring other people to know and accept and worship the one true God, the God who made the Covenant with Abraham.  We know that God kept His part of the Covenant but the Hebrews did not keep their part.  They wanted to keep God’s favor and His blessings only for themselves.

Abraham and Sarah had only one child, a son, Isaac, a child of promise, born in their old age.  Abraham had other sons, Ishmael, son of Hagar, and sons of Keturah, wife of Abraham after the death of Sarah, but it was through Isaac that the Hebrew line was to continue.  Isaac and Rebekah had twin sons, Esau and Jacob, but it was through Jacob, the younger, that the line was to continue.  Jacob had twelve sons by his wives, Leah and Rachel, and their handmaids.  It was from these sons that the tribes of Israel received their names many years later.

Jacob’s favorite son was Joseph and his jealous brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt where he eventually rose to a position second only to the Pharaoh as God especially blessed him.  A famine brought Joseph’s brothers into Egypt to buy grain.  Joseph recognized them and eventually revealed himself to them.  He showed his noble character in forgiving them and using his position to bring them, their families, and Jacob to live in one of the richest sections of Egypt.  They prospered and multiplied until there arose a Pharaoh who had no regard for the memory of Joseph and was alarmed at the rapid increase in numbers and in wealth of the Hebrews.  He enslaved them and sought to stop their growth in numbers and influence.  The lot of the Hebrews became so miserable under their taskmasters that they cried out to God for deliverance.  They had now been in Egypt for possibly 400 years and may have reached 400,000 in numbers.  God heard their cries and raised up Moses to lead in delivering them from Egypt and back into the land of Canaan which He had promised would be theirs as a part of His Covenant with Abraham.

God enabled the Hebrews to escape from Egypt and to cross the Red Sea and to come to Mount Sinai where they encamped for some time.  Here God gave them the Ten Commandments and the Laws of Moses which were to make up the heart of the Hebrew religion and life.  The journey from Sinai to Canaan should have taken only a few days but because of rebellion and disobedience, it took forty years.  Finally, Moses led the Hebrews to the border of the Promised Land.  Moses died and Joshua succeeded to the place of leadership.  He led the Hebrews in the conquest of the land from the pagan inhabitants of Palestine.  God had directed the complete destruction of these idolatrous people but this was never accomplished and brought much trouble to the Hebrews.  Joshua divided the land among the twelve tribes of Israel.

After the death of Joshua there came a period of probably over 300 years called the Period of Judges, or the “dark Ages of Israel.”  There was little unity of the tribes of Israel and no leaders strong enough to mold a national spirit.  The Israelites constantly were at war with the pagan people about them and frequently fought within themselves.  Worst of all, they intermarried with the Canaanite people and adopted many of their pagan religious practices.  This was an abomination to God.  Again, God used a righteous man, Samuel, to bring some measure of order to His troubled people.  But again, the rebellious nature of the people led them to demand of Samuel that he find them a king to rule over them and lead them in battle like the other nations about them.  This outraged Samuel and displeased God who had planned that the government of Israel would always be a theocracy, or God rule, through His selected leaders.  However, God directed Samuel to do as the people demanded and to crown Saul as the first king of Israel.  He reigned 40 years and made a good beginning.  He unified all the tribes and Israel really became a nation of strength.  But Saul developed a haughty and rebellious nature that brought about failure as king and death in battle.

Saul was succeeded as king by David who also reigned for 40 years and was the greatest king Israel ever had.  He unified the nation, drove out most of its enemies, extended its boundaries, and brought respect and prosperity to his people.  Best of all, David brought the people back to the worship of the true God, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.  David was not perfect and was guilty of some very bad sins, but he was truly repentant and he did not rebel against God and loved God with all his heart.  God called him a man after His own heart.  David wanted to build God a magnificent temple where the people would come to worship Him, but God denied him this because he was a man of war.  He promised David’s son would build the temple.

Solomon, David’s son, succeeded him as king and also reigned 40 years.  The beginning of his rule was a golden age for the nation of Israel.  There was comparatively little warfare and Solomon negotiated treaties with other countries that were favorable to Israel.  Borders were extended and trade flourished and prosperity was everywhere.  The great temple was built and dedicated and beautiful buildings sprang up everywhere.  But Solomon became obsessed with luxury and a lavish style of living which imposed a tremendous tax burden on the people.  Solomon married many foreign wives and catered to their different religions which was very displeasing to God.  Before Solomon died there was rising a strong tide of resentment and rebellion among his people.

Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, succeeded him and would not consent to lift any of the burdens of the people.  Ten tribes revolted and chose Jeroboam for their king, leaving only Benjamin and Judah loyal to Rehoboam.  The ten tribes became known as the Northern Kingdom, or Israel.  Judah was known as the Southern Kingdom, or simply Judah.  The Northern Kingdom had 19 kings, none good, and lasted 216 years.  It was taken captive by Assyria in 721 B.C. and never emerged as an organized unit again.  Judah also had 19 kings, some good, and lasted 135 years longer, falling to Babylon in 586 B.C.

Babylon was overthrown by Persia and Cyrus, king of Persia, allowed the captives who wished to do so, to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.  This was, in fact, the beginning of Judaism and the people became known as Jews.  They were still subject to Persia but enjoyed many privileges when Old Testament history ended.  We have no Bible history of the next 400 years and must depend upon the apocrypha and secular history for information about the Jewish people.

Alexander the Great conquered most of the known world and Palestine was taken over by the Greeks.  This had great long-lasting influence upon the Jewish people.  Alexander died in 323 B.C. at the young age of 32.  After his death the Jews had a turbulent history for many years.  They suffered very badly under Syrian rule and led by the great Maccabees family revolted and won their independence for over 100 years.  But the Maccabees became weak and the Jewish Nation came under Roman rule.

We are told in many places in the Old Testament that God sent prophets to be His spokesmen and to warn them when they were disobedient to His statues He had given them to live by.  These prophets warned the people when they rebelled against God and especially when they fell into idolatry and into the immoral practices of pagan people about them.  The worship of Jehovah God and the Christian faith demand a high standard of morality.  The Jewish people continually alienated themselves from God by their sins and were punished in many ways and lost fellowship with God often.

Some of the prophets told of one that God would send who would deliver the people from their sins and restore their fellowship with Him.  The Jews interpreted this to mean God would send a Messiah who would be a great king like David and a warrior who would lead them to greatness such as they had enjoyed under David and Solomon.  Some of the prophets tried to dispel this idea and pictured the Messiah as a gentle man of lowly birth who would teach and heal and minister and eventually die for the sins of mankind that people might be reconciled to God by the shedding of His blood.

The prophet Isaiah said it this way in the 53rd Chapter of his prophecy, often called the “Suffering Servant” chapter.  “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief:  and we hid as it were our faces from Him; He was despised and we esteemed Him not.  Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows:  Yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities.  The chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

Galatians 4:4 says that when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth His Son to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.  The “fulness of time” included the Roman Peace which lasted for centuries, the universal use of the Greek language, the system of roads the Romans had built for easy travel for the spread of the Gospel, and the great need of the world for the coming of Christ into the world.

Caesar Augustus was emperor of Rome and that nation was at its height in its dominance of the world.  The Gospel of Luke Chapter 2 gives us our best known and best loved account of Jesus birth.  “And in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.  (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)  And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.  And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the City of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the City of David, which is called Bethlehem (because he was of the house and lineage of David) to be taxed with Mary, his espoused wife, being great with child.  And so it was, that, while they were there the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.  And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.  And, there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night.  And lo the angel of the Lord came upon them and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were sore afraid and the angel said unto them, Fear not for I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

One of my favorite Christmas stories concerns an old black man named Charlie.  He was illiterate and, I thought, incapable of a profound thought.  One Christmas Eve Charlie came into my office to get his Christmas money and sat down for a talk.  After a while he said, “Mr. John, let me tell you why we celebrate Christmas.  One day God and His Son Jesus were looking down from heaven at the people down on the earth and the people were living so bad and treating each other so bad that God was very sad because they were sinning so much against Him.  Then Jesus said, ‘Father, if you will give me a body like those folks down on the earth have, I will go down and live with them and teach them and show them how you meant for them to live when you made them to be your children.’  That sounded like a good idea to God and so He sent Jesus as a little baby who was born in a manger and grew up to be our Savior.  This is why we have Christmas.”  I thought, “Charlie, you have a better understanding of Incarnation than many college graduates I have talked to.”

Another of my favorite stories is about a man who had several young children and his wife died.  He could not work at his job and also care for young children.  The children went to live with different relatives, all except the eldest daughter who remained with her father.  Her name was Mary and she grew up to be such a beautiful, gentle, kind, and winsome young girl that she was a joy to her father and to all who knew her.  One day her father said, “Mary you have never known my family.  They live in the mountains of another state.  They are good people and I want you to know them and I know they would love you.  We will go and visit them for a few days.  During the visit all the relatives came to love her and when the time came for Mary and her father to return home they gathered to bid them good bye.  They said, “Mary, you have been so sweet and lovable that we will never forget your visit with us.  We will always be better people for your having been here.”  And so it is with Jesus.  Once one has met Him and come to know Him, that person will always be a better person for having come to know the kind, gentle, and loving Savior whose visit to earth we celebrate at Christmas.

When God created Adam and breathed the breath of life into him and he became a living soul, Adam was a perfect man.  He had committed no sinful act that separated him from God.  They were in perfect fellowship.  It was not long before this could no longer be said.  Adam could not stand before God, innocent, and in perfect fellowship with God.  God’s ultimate answer for the problem of man’s sin is Jesus Christ who died on Calvary’s Cross to pay the penalty for man’s sin.  Sin must be paid for.  Jesus Christ died for our sins.

Because of Jesus’ vicarious death, one can again stand before God with his sins forgiven and wiped away.  By faith in Jesus Christ and acceptance of Him as Lord and Savior, one can have his fellowship completely restored with God, and he can be as was Adam in the very beginning.

May this be the most joyful and meaningful Christmas ever for all!

Posted in 2018 | 3 Comments

John Bonner’s Christmas Story

Mr. John Bonner was born May 10, 1915.  He died May 12, 2004, two days after his 89th birthday.  He was 60 and silver haired when I first met him in 1975.  For almost thirty years I saw him on Sundays at Vienna First Baptist Church.

He faithfully served in many capacities including Deacon, Treasurer, and Sunday School Superintendent.  His most notable role was perhaps that of teaching the men in the Caleb Sunday School Class for 70 years.  Mr. John’s influence, however, went far beyond titles and designated responsibilities.  His impact was profound through his consistent example of godly living.

Mr. John had good company at home to help him in that area.  Miss Vivian, his wife of 64 years, exhibited the same solid faith and humble disposition that he was known for.  As husband and wife, they each were the perfect complement to the other.

J. W. Wallis was the pastor at First Baptist when Jane and I first joined. I asked him recently if there were any particular memories of Mr. John that stood out during his ministry here in the 1970’s.

J. W. mentioned several things, including Mr. John’s dry sense of humor.  But the essence of his recollections was Mr. John’s simple tastes.  His home was simple in style and decor.  His favorite dessert was simple, being the sugar cookies that Miss Vivian called teacakes.  Even his hobbies were simple.  He found great satisfaction in tending his garden.  He loved sharing tomatoes and other vegetables with his friends.

I visited with him in his back yard one day and asked how he was so successful growing tomatoes.  He explained that he dug his holes deep when he planted, and that he laid the young plants on their sides.  He left only the tops above ground, saying that helped them develop a good root system.

His simple approach to living was evident in his teaching.  I wasn’t in the Caleb Class, but the comments from those who were have common threads.  He explained scriptures in laymen’s terms.  He helped those listening to understand how verses penned long ago still apply to us today.

One Sunday morning our pastor at the time, Ellis Taff, spoke about the importance of personal Bible study.  He told the congregation about going to visit Mr. John on the previous Monday.  Ellis had found Mr. John studying his Sunday School lesson.  He was already preparing for the next Sunday.  Ellis then smiled mischievously and said something that has stayed with me these many years.  He said, “If Mr. John Bonner feels the need to begin studying his lesson on Monday, that’s probably a good idea for a lot of other folks.”  Like his approach to growing tomatoes, he nurtured the roots of a deep faith.

Mr. John delivered his personal version of the Christmas story to our congregation on a couple of occasions that I recall.  If he had any notes he used them sparingly.  His remarkable memory and years of faithful Bible study were evident as he spoke with deep reflection.

He stood respectfully behind the pulpit, but he seemed more like a grandfather sitting by a warm fire addressing young charges with attentive ears.  Mr. John shared with us what he called “My Christmas Story.”  He gently led us from Genesis to John and somewhere beyond.  I’ve never heard a more complete or meaningful message about Christmas.  He explained in simple terms how the Christmas story began much earlier than the babe in a Bethlehem manger.

Mr. John’s daughter, Marti Bloodworth, said that her father told this same story as their family gathered each Christmas Eve.  He shared it from memory with only slight variations.  Marti learned just a few years ago that he had written it down.  “My Christmas Story” is a treasured part of the Bonner family tradition.  On behalf of Mr. John’s family, we invite you to make it a part of yours.

I plan to post “My Christmas Story” at  I hope you’ll pause for an unhurried reading.  Perhaps, like me, you’ll be reminded that Christmas doesn’t have to be complicated.  Mr. John left us a simple story that can quietly help us savor the Savior.  Merry Christmas to each of you.

(To request an email version contact me at  For a printed copy send a self-addressed stamped envelope to Neil Joiner 64 Coley Crossing, Vienna, GA  31092.)

Posted in 2018 | 3 Comments

Willie’s Nimble Fingers

Jane and I went to Macon in November of 2018 to see country music legend Willie Nelson.  Attending concerts of big-name musicians are a bit out of our regular routine.  I had not been to one since college days in the early 1970s.  Jane, however, had gone with her brother in 1991 to see Jimmy Buffett.  That put her one concert ahead of me, a position I expect she’ll maintain.

Not everyone is a fan of Willie or his music.  Like many of us he’s had some noticeable flaws in his personal life.  I read a book he wrote a few years back titled “It’s A Long Story – My Life.”  After almost 400 pages I’m still not sure what he believes about eternity.  He grew up going with his grandmother to a small-town Methodist church in Abbott, Texas.  At times he seems to embrace a traditional Christian view of God and faith.  At other times he sounds like he’s ventured way off the trodden path.

He started his concert with “Whiskey River” and closed it with “I’ll Fly Away.”  That seems an odd pairing of songs in some ways, but not so much for Willie.  His music and his faith both seem challenging to define.

He played for an hour with hardly a pause between songs.  Early in his career he was the opening act for a singer named Bob Wills.  Mr. Wills’ song-packed performance inspired Willie to leave off the chatter, jokes, and clever remarks.  His focus is always on the music.

But I didn’t go to the concert as much for the music as for Willie.  It amazes me that at 85 years old he’s still touring the country in a bus.  “On The Road Again” is about as authentically biographical as a song can be.  I don’t know how many thousands of times he has sung that tune, but he sang it with the enthusiasm of a debut album.  I guess he really “can’t wait to get on the road again.”

The man sitting next to me was 78 and having some health issues.  He said he had bought his tickets earlier when he was feeling better.  As we visited before the show, I learned that he’d had four back surgeries.  His grandson said that he had worn his back out driving a truck.  “I don’t need my truck anymore,” the fellow said.  “I gave it to him.”  I asked if he had seen Willie on stage before.  He said that he had but added this would probably be his last time.

Seated next to Jane was a lady with her daughter and son-in-law, a couple who looked to be in their twenties.  The daughter had one of those haircuts that’s almost shaved on the sides but plentiful on top.  Willie’s admirers transcend age, gender, and even politics, I think.

Willie probably performed 30 or so songs, some in their entirety with others just a phrase blended into a seamless medley.  When he sang “You Were Always On My Mind” I swallowed to hide the uninvited lump in my throat.  The aging trucker sitting next to me spoke softly to his grandson, “That’s the best one he’s sung all night.”  I guess we all have some little things we should have said and done but never took the time.  Willie’s music from that Macon stage was a poignant reminder.

Willie’s voice is strong but not quite like it was in his younger years.  He doesn’t hold the notes as long but covers it well with his unique off-beat delivery.  What I consider remarkable, however, is his masterful guitar playing.  He didn’t just strum a few chords, he played lead on every song.  He deftly navigated the frets from one end of the neck to the other.

I don’t play my guitar very often.  My index finger has begun to hurt a little when I do, and my little finger is trying to join that same party.  Yet Willie, almost 20 years my senior, looks at ease as he plucks his faithful guitar that he calls Trigger.  He tenderly plays soulful melodies, then smoothly transitions to numbers that are almost too fast to pat your foot to.

Jesus told a parable about talents that’s recorded in Matthew 25:14-30.  I’m not sure Willie always paid attention in that little church in Abbott, Texas, but he must have been listening carefully when the preacher delivered that sermon.  Willie’s nimble fingers have always been extraordinary, but they stay that way because he never stopped using them.  Willie just keeps on picking.

I think I know why my fingers may be growing stiff.  Maybe I’ll get my guitar out of the closet this afternoon, dust it off and play it for a while.  I may even christen it with a good name.  If you see Willie, tell him Nelson and I said thanks for the inspiration.

Posted in 2018 | 5 Comments

Whatcha Callit,

A July 2018 fire in Unadilla gutted what many remember as Hamrick Furniture and Appliance.  As a young man Mr. Harry Hamrick joined his father in the family business on Front Street.  Mr. Harry owned and ran it for 68 years.  In the early days they sold groceries plus all sorts of other items.

I knew that a good place to reminisce about Mr. Harry would be with the Coffee Club.  That’s a small group of men who gather for hot coffee and lively conversation five mornings a week.  Mr. Charles Speight, the most energetic 96-year-old I know, worked for Mr. Harry in 1937.  Mr. Charles was only 15 at the time.  Mr. Harry was less than ten years ahead of him.

A 12-hour Saturday shift from noon to midnight earned Mr. Charles 75 cents.  His mother, Ruth, called the store a little after 12 that first night of work to see if he was on his way home.  “I was about to leave,” said Mr. Charles.  “I was putting ice on the mullet and croakers.  The last thing we did before locking up was to put plenty of ice on the fish.”

James Ray Irwin mentioned home delivery of groceries.  “Those were the days when you left your list at the store,” he said.  “They would get your order ready and deliver it later.”  It was an early version of a shopping option that is again being offered today.  Maybe King Solomon was right when he said, “There is no new thing under the sun.”  (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

Bobby Lemon is a youngster compared to most of the Coffee Club regulars, but he’s spent all 62 years of his life in Unadilla.  When someone mentioned that Mr. Harry sold Zenith televisions and Hotpoint appliances, Bobby added, “He sold paint too.  There was a big sign that read, ‘Sherwin Williams Covers the World.’”

Mr. Charles said, “A lot of the televisions that Harry sold had to be ordered, so Harry would provide the customer a loaner.  One fellow ordered a new TV that took about six months to come in.  By the time the new television arrived Harry had forgotten about the loaner.  That fellow traded it in.”  That’s typical of the charming kind of stories Mr. Harry loved to share.

He studied journalism at the University of Georgia.  For many years he was the editor of The Unadilla Observer, a weekly paper that was at one time sponsored by the Unadilla Lions Club.  Many of us fondly remember “Whatcha Callit,” the column he penned for over sixty years.  Each week he fed his loyal band of readers small delicious bites of entertainment.

My parents subscribed to The Unadilla Observer, so I was introduced to Mr. Harry’s column as a child.  He had a remarkable gift for finding glimmering little jewels among the common stones of life.

Bobby Lemon said, “I don’t know why I remember this, but Mr. Harry once mentioned a hammer that had been in Abner Hansard’s store since 1947.”  Mr. Harry noticed things that seemed insignificant by most standards.  They were important only because they brought pleasure to his readers.

Rodney Brannen was kind enough to look up Mr. Harry’s obituary in the funeral home records.  He told me that he had been mentioned in “Whatcha Callit” one time.  He and Jimmy Sellers were visiting with Max Conner and Judge Harold Hill at Max’s service station.  Flies were unusually bad for some unknown reason, so Rodney and Jimmy started swatting them.  Rodney was surprised to find their individual fly counts heralded in Mr. Harry’s next column.

I saw Harold Bridges on the Vienna-Pitts I-75 overpass back in the 1970’s.  He was positioned on his knees as he faced north.  His arms were resting on top of the concrete side rail.  The next week Mr. Harry told how many vehicles Harold had counted going in each direction.  Without Mr. Harry I would still be wondering what Harold was doing.

Mr. Charles said, “Harry loved his church and his Sunday School class.”  He pointed to him in a group picture that hangs on the wall.  Then he quoted one of Mr. Harry’s favorite sayings, “Don’t overwork the Lord with small stuff.  Don’t ask Him what time it is when you’re wearing a watch.”

Mr. Harry took good care of the small stuff.  He added flavor to the bland tidbits of everyday life by lightly sprinkling them with subtle humor.  There may be a journalistic name for his unique style of writing, but I have no idea whatcha callit.  I’ll just call it a blessing.

William Harry Hamrick – November 24, 1912 – January 6, 2001

Posted in 2018 | 7 Comments