Muddy Water

January 30th brought heavy rain to our area. I went to my favorite woods the following day and was surprised how quickly the branches had filled. The beginning of the spring-fed stream was barely affected, but two seasonal tributaries were brimming full.

At its deepest point the streambed is about four feet below the bank. Most of the time a few inches of water slowly meanders toward the Ocmulgee River. That day, however, a rushing flow was testing the upper boundaries. 

Water from the spring squeezes through cracked limestone and is crystal clear. But runoff from the tributaries was a caramel tone, tainted by clay in nearby fields. The discoloration caused me to think about a Stonewall Jackson song that Jolly Charlie Hill played on WCEH Radio during my childhood.

The chorus comes to mind every now and then, usually for no particular reason. This time, however, the lyrics fit the setting. “I washed my hands in muddy water, washed my hands but they didn’t come clean. Tried to do like Daddy told me, but I must have washed my hands in a muddy stream.”

Jackson’s lyrics tell of a young fellow whose wayward father encourages him to stay out of trouble. The boy doesn’t listen. He robs a man, goes to jail, then escapes. While running from the law, he laments not following his father’s advice.

Out of my dozen or so regular readers, I can’t think of anyone who would commit a crime that would land them in jail. But most of us at some point have washed our hands in muddy water.

Maybe it didn’t seem all that muddy, more of a caramel like the stream, somewhat appealing in a peculiar way. Deception can be intriguing. At other times we aren’t concerned that the water is tinted because good company is all around us. If it’s clean enough for others, we figure it’s okay for us. 

As we grow accustomed to washing our hands in muddy water, it becomes tempting to wade in. The shallow edge seems safe enough. We plan to avoid deep holes and currents that might sweep us to unintended places. But as we get used to stained water, it seductively beckons us farther from shore.

Even muddy water, though, can be used by God. 2 Kings 5 tells how Elisha facilitated a miracle in an unexpected manner. Naaman, army commander for the King of Aram, was a powerful man but plagued by leprosy. Elisha sent him a message to dip himself seven times in the Jordan River and he would be healed.

Naaman was insulted, saying the rivers in his own country were better than those of Israel. His servants, however, convinced him to do as Elisha had instructed. He did and instantly his health was restored.

Our intentions should never be to wash in muddy water on a spiritual level. Yet even with the darkest of stains, God can still use us. 

Washing our hands in muddy water is not just about what we do. It’s also what’s left undone. In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus says that when we minister to the least of these we minister to him, and when we fail to help others, we fail to help him. 

It’s hard sometimes to know how much to give or do, but God makes it clear he expects us to assist those in need. If the situation is uncertain and prayer doesn’t bring clarity, there’s no doubt it’s best to err on the side of compassion and generosity. There’s no record of God ever complaining that someone did too much.   

Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” So we’ve all washed our hands in muddy water at some point. It’s just different streams and blends of mud, some more obvious than others. God, however, can wash away all stains. And he wants to. The refrain of an ancient hymn says it well: “Whiter than snow, yes whiter than snow, now wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” 

While walking along the branch an old song came to mind, and I dwelled for a while on these failings of mine. But then a hymn from long ago, reminded me how to be whiter than snow.

I never should have washed my hands in a muddy stream, but my faith is in The One who makes me clean.   

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Sayings – Part 2

Instead of “Old Sayings” I shortened the title. Some of these are well seasoned, but others are relatively new. Shannon Akin, a longtime friend, coined one I often reflect on: “Every day is a holiday and every meal is a banquet.”

Challenges may cause us to question that notion, but viewing life in a positive light reminds me to count my blessings. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Paul said, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” That’s a parallel thought to finding holidays and banquets each day. 

Shannon also introduced me to a saying he attributes to Dr. L. C. Cutts, pastor of Vienna First Baptist from 1949-1964. I didn’t know Dr. Cutts, but those who did regarded him highly. He had an interesting description of eternity.

“If a woodpecker took one peck out of Stone Mountain every ten thousand years, when the mountain was completely gone only a second would have elapsed in eternity.” The concept of time boggles my mind. Something without beginning or end is too much to comprehend, but Dr. Cutts’ comment helps put it in perspective.      

“Save the meat that hangs closest to the door,” was mentioned in a recent column. Mr. Rufus Collins shared that jewel with me decades ago and I’ve treasured it ever since. With our federal government spending money it doesn’t have, it’s wise to live conservatively. If our economy improves instead of falters, we’ll still be better off.  

My mother has often quoted her father saying, “A man’s word is his bond.” That’s been around as far back as I remember, but maybe needs revisiting and emphasizing. Laws are essential, but an honest man keeps his word regardless of technicalities.

“Sleep with dogs and you’ll wake up with fleas.” No offense is intended to friends and loved ones whose precious canines live indoors, take warm baths, and eat at the dinner table. That saying probably goes back to the days when all dogs lived outside, well before poodles and flea collars came along. If you should get fleas from your dog, however, the guilty party can be found with a mirror.       

“Don’t ever date a girl you’d be ashamed to marry,” was passed on to me by my father who heard it from his father. He had no pressing reason to share that advice, just relayed it to me early on hoping I’d remember it later. Substitute guy for girl and it’s equally apt for ladies.

John Short Williams, Jr. told me something during my father’s funeral visitation which I continue to appreciate. A lot of people walked through the line, but John is the only one I can still quote. “I know it hurts,” he said, “but can you imagine how bad it would be if it didn’t hurt?”

That was in 2007. I told John afterward how much I valued that comment. He gave credit to Mr. Allen Fulford, who worked with the University of Georgia Extension Service for many years. Mr. Allen had shared that consoling thought with John after his father died.

Ken Randall offered what I consider an excellent approach to prayer. “Prayer can move mountains,” he said, “but God likes for us to bring a shovel.” Too often my pleas are for God to solve a problem rather than use me in the solution, or perhaps even accept the situation. For all sorts of prayers there’s a place and a time, but the answers I seek should be His and not mine.  

“Do right,” was a well known saying of Mr. W. F. Stone, Dooly County educator, principal, and school superintendent. He was a fine Christian gentleman of impeccable character. Countless students were advised if they would just do right, the rest would take care of itself. Mr. Stone’s short quote reminds me of Jesus’ teaching style. It’s not complicated.

We’re out of room again, so perhaps we’ll add to the list another time, an opportunity I no longer take for granted. Lately I’ve been thinking more about the hereafter than I used to. I guess that comes with age and the increasing awareness that the years behind me far outnumber those ahead. Maybe that’s why Dr. Cutts’ description of eternity seems more relevant now than when I first heard it.

The concept of time remains a puzzle to me, and I can’t really fathom eternity. But I’m confident in knowing that in the place where I’m going, every day is a holiday and every meal is a banquet.    

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Old Sayings

Old sayings are disappearing from everyday conversation. The trend began slowly but now they’re vanishing “faster than a Seville second.” 

I’ve only been to Seville once and didn’t think to compare their second to the standard. Marian Bowen has mentioned them for ages so they must be considerably shorter. I’m not sure how that phrase originated. She’s the only person I’ve heard use it.   

Marian was in the three-woman rotation who helped Jane and me survive the early days of triplets. When our children were born I was working for her husband, Rooney, a first cousin of mine. Marian became the best fringe benefit of any job I’ve ever held.

 “Once an adult, twice a child” is another of her expressions. That one was funnier when I was younger. Each year my laughter is more subdued.   

Marian has an old saying for every occasion, but I’ve mostly lost track of which ones I learned from her. Here are a few from various sources that come to mind. 

“A stitch in time saves nine.” It took me a while to understand that applies to more than sewing. There aren’t many problems that improve by being ignored. If a garment has a tear, it gets worse without repair. The same is true in matters of life and faith.

“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” is sage advice. As 2007 began, the real estate market was soaring and banks were making record profits. But when the downhill tumble began, eggs were splattered from end to end.

Before the financial storm pounded Georgia, its 334 banks appeared healthy. After it subsided about a third of them had failed, taking some good people with them. Causes varied and mandated solutions were often misguided, but a common weakness was having too many eggs in one basket.        

Several old sayings have been covered in previous columns, so I’ll be brief and not elaborate again. There are, however, some favorites I’d like to help preserve.

Mr. Edgar Andrews gets credit for one I heard as a child. During a dry spell of summer he stopped by Joiner’s Store for a cold drink. Uncle Emmett asked if he thought it would ever rain again. “Emmett,” he said, “I’ve noticed it always rains right after a dry spell.” His comment didn’t change the weather, but I’ve found it can help my attitude.    

A friend and former coworker, Ronnie Kitchens, introduced me to a couple of old sayings I’ve enjoyed. My marriage validates one of them: “Even a blind hog will find an acorn sometimes.” For the sake of clarity, I’m not the acorn.

Ronnie shared another saying he heard long ago from his brother-in-law, Bill Athon. Mr. Athon was the farm manager for Charles Crisp, who also owned and operated a bank in Americus. Mr. Crisp told Bill about an elderly lady who came to the bank seeking a loan for a new Cadillac. The woman said, “I know I don’t need one, but I sort of want it anyway.”

He suggested she think it over and come back in a few days. Two weeks later she stopped by to show her surprised banker the glistening vehicle. She gave him a smile along with a pearl of wisdom: “Mr. Charles,” she said, “it’s a poor rat that ain’t got but one hole to go in.”

That’s enough musings for today. If you have a saying you’d like to share, I’d love to hear from you. It doesn’t matter if it’s old or new, someone else’s or belongs to you. You can post it on my blog at, email me at, or write a letter to 64 Coley Crossing, Vienna, GA 31092.

I can’t guarantee what you send will ever be in a column, but I’ll try. And please remember that ancient advice: “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” I’m often guilty of putting things off, at times even delaying procrastination.   

Life went by slowly during my childhood and youth, then the pace hastened a bit as I headed through the middle ages. Now time is flying and still gaining speed.

The ride from seventy to heavenly is much swifter than I expected. Each day I’m gaining a better appreciation of an old saying I heard when I was much younger. Life is now passing faster than a Seville second. And they are by far too fast to measure.      

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Finding a Good Wife

After last week’s column on assessing prospective husbands, I felt the men of Single City deserved equal help. I confess, however, my personal success didn’t stem from a noteworthy plan. As my friend Ronnie Kitchens often says, “Even a blind hog will find an acorn sometimes.”

It would make a great story to claim I prayed for a good wife then saw Jane’s halo. The truth is I was first smitten because she was pretty and laughed at my humor. Plus we shared a deep affection for Shoney’s strawberry pie.  

Prayer did help, I believe, but that credit mostly goes to our parents. Mine prayed for me as far back as I remember, even when I didn’t realize the ongoing need. Jane’s parents apparently pleaded for a skinny boy with long hair who didn’t know what he wanted to be.

That reminds me of a long-ago conversation with Jean Taff and her husband Ellis, a former pastor of Vienna First Baptist. When I inquired how they met, Jean said, “Ellis was an answer to prayer. I asked for a short, round, preacher-man and God gave me one.”     

So, my initial suggestion for finding a good wife is to pray, not by telling God who you want perhaps, but by seeking his guidance and the wisdom to follow it. Then begin asking questions, mostly of yourself. We’ll get to some examples, but first a word of caution. 

Marry her for who she is, not what she has. A farmer of an earlier era reportedly placed an ad in The Market Bulletin: “Looking for a wife with tractor. Please send picture of tractor.” Don’t say, “I do,” for a tractor or two. Now to the questions.

Does she know how to cook? With two-income couples being the norm, traditional roles have changed and cooking is seldom a priority. But if the husband is helpless in the kitchen, as some of us are, that topic needs to be covered. Man cannot live by bread alone.

Is she sweet or sour? A story was told about two fellows out for an early morning fishing trip. One was complaining about multiple things as he often did. The other man asked, “Do you always wake up grouchy?” He said, “No. Sometimes I let her sleep.”

If she’s cantankerous while you’re dating, imagine how she’ll be when honeymoon memories fade. Attitude is rarely improved by rings and things. Proverbs 21:9 says, “Better to live on a corner of a roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.” King Solomon, with 700 wives and 300 concubines, should know.

Some considerations extend beyond the quest for marital bliss. For instance, would you trust her to be the mother of your children? 

Family additions may not be in your plans, but it’s still worth exploring. Fathers play an integral role in parenting, but a mother’s love is beyond our reach. If you’re confident she’d make a wonderful mother, there’s a good chance she could be a splendid wife.

Once again I’ve written a column that’s worth exactly what it costs, so use my tips with discretion. Learn by listening and watching, taking long walks and talking. And be certain you’re committed to being the loving husband she deserves.  

Proverbs 31:10 poses a question which is followed by commentary, ”Who can find a virtuous woman?” Rather than taking advice from a columnist with a short resume, read scriptures on marriage. And put your trust in The Author. 

There are countless other areas worth pondering, but you can discover those on your own and decide what’s important. Here are a couple of questions I didn’t know to ask decades ago, but fortunately have been tenderly affirmed: Will she love me when I’m no longer skinny and my hairs are not very many? If I never figure out what I want to be, will she patiently continue encouraging me?

By following these recommendations, there are three outcomes I consider most likely. First, you might have spectacular success in finding a wonderful soulmate. Second, you may find a wife but regret ever reading this column. Or third, you could be single for the rest of your life. 

Regardless of how slim your prospects may be, don’t ever give up on possibility. I am living proof that Ronnie Kitchens knows what he is talking about. “Even a blind hog will find an acorn sometimes.”  

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Finding a Good Husband

Two of our granddaughters came for an overnight visit on December 28th, which happened to be our 48th wedding anniversary. Jane lightheartedly asked if I had any advice for the girls on finding a good husband. I often speak without thinking, but decided this warranted contemplation.

My first suggestion is to have your grandfather interview any prospects. Parents may be reluctant to ask tough questions, knowing the rascal might attain son-in-law status regardless of their input. Grandfathers are less concerned about decorum. 

Secondly, spend time with the young man’s parents. The late Craddock Durham taught a men’s Sunday School class at Vienna First Baptist. He said, “If you want to see what your wife will be like when she gets older, look at her mother.” The same principle applies to men. It’s often true that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. 

The third recommendation is to consider some don’ts. Like don’t rely on Hollywood’s twisted portrayals of finding true love. Fantasy works better at the box office than in real life. There are, however, a couple of movies which feature romances worth examining. 

“It’s a Wonderful Life” offers a good perspective on marriage, compassion, and integrity. “A Walk to Remember’’ portrays a solid lesson in decision making during the dating process. A few other films are worth watching, but those two are a good start.

Don’t get married thinking he’ll change to suit you. Slight enhancements may be possible, but if there’s something you see as a dealbreaker, address it early.

Paul offers solid advice for the don’t list in 2 Corinthians: 6:14, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” Faith needs to be nourished. That’s not easily done if your husband lacks interest, and your children will get mixed signals of what’s important.  

Suggestion number four is to ask a lot of questions. Watching the TV series “Columbo” can help you develop that technique, but here are some to ask yourself. Does he insist on having his way? Is he kind-hearted and compassionate? Is he prone to pouting or angry outbursts? Is his biggest priority himself? Does he make you laugh or cause you to cry, dismiss your ideas or help you thrive? 

Does he do things that annoy you? If you’re bothered by them before marriage, it will be worse after the honeymoon. Does he like dogs? I generally don’t trust people who dislike dogs, especially those who treat them unkindly. Does he open the door for others or push his way to the front of the line? Does he want you to change who you are to suit him? 

 Those are random thoughts, not meant to be comprehensive. My point is it’s best to take a critical look at anything that might be a concern. If you have reservations about character issues or personality traits, there may be a reason. Instincts aren’t failproof, but deserve exploration. If something doesn’t seem quite right, it may not be.  

Several decades ago, Jane and I attended a wedding that included some unusual vows. The hip-looking minister read what I assume the couple asked him to. “Until death do us part” wasn’t followed by a period. Instead he added, “or love dies.”

They were together a long time but apparently love died. I’m not saying that line affected their marriage, because I don’t know. I believe, however, that if you need to begin with an option to end, maybe you should think again. 

My final thought is that if doubts of marital bliss keep popping into your mind, perhaps you should move on down the line. But I’m writing about finding a good husband, a process I have no experience in.  

Rather than relying on my advice, a preferable approach might be to ask a happily-married woman who has shown impeccable judgment in that undertaking. I’m referring to your grandmother of course. 

I realize “impeccable” may be a slight exaggeration. Some say evidence of her success is sketchy and I tend to agree. But she could provide names of friends whose selections were exceptional. And she could equip you with a plethora of questions she should have asked. 

If all this advice has little appeal, at least consider my first point about involving your grandfather. He might steer you in the wrong direction, but not if he can help it. He loves his grandchildren way too much for that.   

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The Nice List

President Zelenskyy of Ukraine gets my vote for the top spot on the 2022 nice list. I don’t know how nice he is, but he’s a tremendous example of courage. Rather than accepting safe passage out of the invaded country, he reportedly said, “I don’t need transportation. I need ammunition.”

Stetson Bennett, IV is on my list. Everyone loves to cheer for an underdog. It gets even sweeter when the underdog becomes the top dog. He didn’t fit the profile for a college quarterback in a powerhouse program like the University of Georgia. But he believed in himself and his coach gave him a chance.

For handing Stetson the ball, Kirby Smart is on my nice list. It wasn’t too long ago the Bulldogs’ head coach was regularly peppered with questions about his decision to stay with Bennett as the starter. Two national championships later, the scoreboards have boldly answered.

Bennett’s story reminds me that each of us has opportunities to help others reach their potential. Maybe they need a leg up in their career, trusted with more responsibility. Or it could be something as simple as a word of encouragement.

My mother was in Bleckley Memorial Hospital for rehab in August of 2022 due to a fractured sacrum. As I was visiting one day, a young lady came in to reintroduce herself. She thanked Mama for encouraging her during an earlier stay in 2017 when she was studying to become a physical therapist . “You told me I could do it,” she said with elation, “and I did!” 

Encouragement is something we can share daily. Maybe it’s a tired server waiting tables and living off tips that are never enough. Or it could be a frazzled store employee who doesn’t give us the service we expect. Instead of complaining, perhaps a kind word is what’s needed.

Sometimes there are situations in which I’m unsure what to say. That’s when I should borrow a line from John David Law. He’s a sturdy 89 year old who is still laying bricks because he enjoys his work. I don’t believe we’ve ever ended a conversation that he didn’t add, “You have a blessed day.” When a man with big calloused hands, an untamed beard, and a gentle smile tells you that, it’s impossible not to feel blessed.

Mr. Charles Speight, my oldest friend at 100, is another wonderful example of an encourager. I’ve not embraced turning 70 as well as I should, yet at 30 years my senior Mr. Charles brings cheerfulness to every conversation. A number of times he’s told me something that no doubt has been shared with others. “Thank you for being my friend.” It warms my heart coming from a man who is loved and admired by many.  

Allison Bowen and the volunteers at Open Hearts Thrift Store are all on my nice list for helping those in need. They accept donated clothing and household items, make them affordable to purchase, then use the profits for benevolent causes.

All the folks at The Lord’s Pantry made my list for their many years of service and generosity. A lot of families have better meals on their tables because of them. “Give us this day our daily bread,” is prayed in earnest more often than is obvious.   

Tony Turner gets a spot for organizing multiple handicap-ramp projects. He leads the Saturday efforts of a few skilled volunteers and patiently supervises others whose primary attribute is availability.

The volunteers of Daybreak Pregnancy Care Center easily qualified for inclusion. I don’t recall where I heard the slogan, but years ago a plea from some charity was, “Give so others may live.” That describes the work which Daybreak does.     

There’s no way to name everyone who deserves to be on the 2022 nice list, not even the ones within walking distance of my home. My hope is that those who read today’s column might be prompted to thank people who are consistently on the giving end of life. If you want to do something more, there are ongoing needs for funds, volunteers, and prayers. 

As I close today’s nice list I’m aware of its incompleteness. My hope is that it may prompt some expressions of gratitude and perhaps lead to personal involvement. None of us can do everything, but all of us can do something..

I’ll end these rambling musings with two borrowed expressions that aren’t mine but come from my heart. “Have a blessed day. Thank you for being my friend.”   

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The Naughty List

Christmas is long gone, but here’s my naughty list for 2022. Without access to Santa’s files, this small sampling is no more accurate than my opinion. 

These aren’t ranked by severity, although Vladimir Putin is a strong contender for first place. He is unlikely to attain Hitleresque numbers, but it’s not for a lack of desire. Those two fellows may someday get to compare notes at a fireside chat.     

Naughty doesn’t convey the savagery imposed on innocent Ukrainians. Casualties include lives, limbs, health, homes, jobs, and property. Some have lost everything, perhaps even hope.  

When Ukraine’s soldiers and citizens proved more resilient than expected, Putin changed his strategy. The bombing of utilities has given new meaning to the term cold war. Residential complexes are targeted, even hospitals. A man can wreak havoc when unrestrained by conscience. 

Iran’s rulers are always on my naughty list, but earned extra points in 2022 when the morality police arrested a young lady for not wearing a hijab. Her suspicious death led to thousands of women, and a few brave men, protesting in the streets. Sham trials led to predictable verdicts and public hangings. Iranian justice is a sobering oxymoron.

Afghanistan’s Taliban shares a similar view of females. When America’s small contingent of 2500 troops left, so did womens’ rights. A December news item said females are now forbidden to go to college. Armed guards make sure no one sneaks in. The Taliban apparently fears educated women might let their hair down or try to vote.

It’s unnecessary, however, to go overseas to find horrific humanitarian conditions. Our southern border is overwhelmed with people crossing over or trying to. It’s a tragic situation with no easy solution, but I’m putting President Biden on the naughty list for making it worse instead of better.  

Before you applaud or take offense though, Donald Trump is on my list too. If there was any doubt of qualification, his suggestion that election fraud in 2020 “allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution” put him over the top.

 Lia Thomas is on my naughty list for competing against ladies in NCAA swimming competitions. Will Thomas was ranked #462 among collegiate male swimmers, but Lia captured the top spot by swimming with women. His dreams were kept afloat by sinking others’ hopes. 

Rules which allowed Thomas to compete as a female have since been changed. Now the gender transition must have occurred before age twelve. Assuming a two year process to switch, I don’t believe a ten year old child can grasp the implications of such decisions. Parents who take a slice of their offspring’s future are on my naughty list and possibly warrant prosecution.          

Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of FTX, earned a spot. He’s accused of stealing funds from investors in a now defunct cryptocurrency business. He converted real money to crypto then back to real money which disappeared. The business failed, he went to jail, now SBF is out on bail.     

Chase Cominsky and Jake Runyon, a professional fishing team, demonstrated naughtiness by putting weights in the bellies of their bass. They were winning another tournament until a judge noticed something smelled fishy. With a sharp fillet knife he gutted their prize.  

A 19-year old chess grandmaster was accused of cheating by using a computer. The accusation seems credible but it wasn’t proven, so he’s not on my list. I have a suggestion, however, if he’s later found guilty. Those he beat could confront him with, “You need to write me a check, mate.” 

I’ll end this report with the unknown party who removed baby Jesus from a nativity scene at Sundance Square in Ft. Worth, Texas. My first guess is the culprits were kids playing a prank. If it had happened in Unadilla during my youth the suspects would have been friends.      

Taking baby Jesus out of the manger was a naughty thing to do. But it’s inconsequential compared to what’s happening with the grownup version. Leaving Jesus out of our lives is becoming the norm. Even believers are increasingly quiet, trying to avoid ridicule, hostility, or lawsuits.

Jesus said not to hide our lights, to let them shine for the world to see. My lamp is pitifully dim at times, obscured by a cone of silence. But I’m trying to do better and stay off the naughty list, not Santa’s or mine, but the one list that really matters.            

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The Power of Suggestion

“White Socks – Part 2” mentioned cracks between the floorboards of Mr. Rufus Collins’ childhood home. That description reminded Dooly County businessman Lee Harris of a story told by the late James Peavy. It struck me as an amusing illustration of the power of suggestion.

Facts and fiction were often blended in the days when farmers swapped tales at country stores. This account involves two friends from that era. Both had a knack for helping people laugh.     

During James Peavy’s childhood, his pal Ray Howard came to visit and stayed overnight. As the sun went down, afternoon’s warmth gave way to freezing temperatures. The Peavy’s old house had big cracks between its floorboards and a tin top speckled with holes. It was sometimes colder indoors than out.

Bedtime came and the boys crawled under a dozen hand-stitched quilts. The blankets were so heavy James’ mother had to help them when they wanted to turn over. Despite the thick layering, Ray complained he was too cold to sleep.

 “I think a window is open,” said James. “Why don’t you get up and close it?” Ray felt his way around the dark room and let it down. He warmed up so much he soon threw the covers back, unaware the window had no panes. 

James Peavy was a masterful storyteller and Ray Howard’s wit was so dry it left you thirsting for more. He spoke slowly, kept a cigar perched in his mouth, and found humor in everyday events. A memorable example is when he went to buy a heater for his home.

The business owner asked Mr. Ray how many BTUs he needed. British Thermal Unit,   BTU, is the amount of heat needed to raise one gallon of water by one degree Fahrenheit. In case anyone is wondering, I had to look that up.

Mr. Ray shifted his cigar slightly and paused for a moment before responding. “I don’t know anything about BTUs,” he said in his South Georgia drawl. “What I need is a heater with enough BTUs to warm my wife’s B-U-T-T, which is about the size of a T-U-B.” 

Another example of the power of suggestion is something my father told me in childhood that his father told him. Papa Joiner’s advice was, “Never date a girl you’d be ashamed to marry.” 

That’s good counsel for boys, and just as solid for girls if you flip it around. It’s even appropriate for grownups, knowing we sometimes behave like children.

Speaking of boys and girls, one of the most rewarding suggestions I ever received came from a college friend, Paul White. He and Jane were taking a class together and went on a date, but friendship interfered with romance.

Paul thought Jane and I would be a good match and said I should ask her out. She was elated of course and here we are 51 years later. Paul grew up in Americus, but it’s been decades since we’ve had any contact. If anyone knows how to reach him, I’d like to thank Paul. Jane wants to have a word with him too. 

Some suggestions come indirectly in conversation or by example. Years ago a married couple was in my bank office trying to figure out a budget. It surprised me to find that despite substantial financial challenges they faithfully tithed.  

When I mentioned their giving, the husband said something that made a lasting impression. “We write our check to the church first thing every month,” he said. “If we wait until later the money might not be there.” 

I was supposed to be helping that couple, but maybe God brought them in for my benefit. Perhaps it was God’s way of suggesting I learn from their example. Giving the first and best part of our offerings isn’t just about money. It’s about time, talents, and commitment. And most importantly, it’s about attitude. As Paul said, “God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

James Peavy’s humorous tale is a delightful reminder of the power of suggestion. Closing that paneless window warmed Ray Howard so much he forgot about the cold. And sharing that story among friends surely warmed the hearts of both those fine gentlemen.

The warmth of a close friendship is probably impossible to measure, but I can’t say that with any degree of certainty. I don’t know anything about BTUs.             

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The Heavenly Choirs

Part 3 of “Praying the Alphabet” identified music as one of life’s blessings. That led me to do some thinking about the heavenly choirs. Whether there’s one or umpteen I have no idea, but their music is undoubtedly soaring. 

My hometown of Unadilla is well represented by too many singers and musicians to name. I’ll just mention a few high-school friends today, guys who were instrumental in tuning my limited talents.         

During my freshman year, four juniors invited me to join the F.F.A String Band to play piano. My skills were basic, but Charles Jones and Jerry Pickard taught me the essentials. I was taking lessons from Mrs. Mary Frances Beddingfied, a wonderful instructor, but students back then were taught to play what was written. Improvisation was not on the menu.   

At our first band session I was introduced to forming chords and playing by ear. Charlie and Jerry, both gifted on multiple instruments, patiently offered advice and encouragement over the next two years.   

Michael Sullivan was our first bandmate to join the heavenly choirs. He played lead guitar and had a smooth voice similar to country star Jim Reeves. When Mike sang “The Green Green Grass of Home” it was easy to visualize people gathering for a final goodbye. 

Mike would come by my house on Monday nights and give me a ride to our practices in the school’s auditorium. He’d play old instrumentals like “Wildwood Flower” and sing a few as well.   

Harmony Baptist Church is where I still picture him singing “It Is No Secret What God Can Do.” Mike embraced God’s love at an early age and was a stellar example of faithful living.   

Another Jerry, last name McIntyre, played drums and was the second bandmate to climb Jacob’s ladder. Jerry kept better time than a metronome, and his high-speed solo on “Wipeout” was always a crowd pleaser. He was an exceptional athlete whose coordination was evident when he hammered those sticks. 

Jerry also had a splendid voice, something I first learned when hearing him sing “There Goes My Everything.” Jerry performed with confidence, the same way he approached sports and life. That’s why I was brave enough to walk the streets of Atlanta with him late one night.

The band was there for the statewide F. F. A. competition. The two of us somehow ended up navigating among dozens of hippies sprawled on the floor of an abandoned building on Peachtree Street. I don’t think I’d ever seen a hippie up close. I hoped this was a peaceful tribe. 

They were asleep or either had a no-talking rule after midnight. With Jerry in the lead we high-stepped over motionless bodies on blankets, careful not to trip over anyone. That strikes me as a bit foolish now, but seemed like a good idea at the time.

Charles Jones was the third bandmate to leave for a loftier venue. Like his father, Horace Jones, Charlie could tame anything with strings. He played bass guitar and occasionally plucked a bluegrass tune on his mandolin, or joined Jerry Pickard on piano for “Down Yonder.” 

When Charles sang “Johnny B. Goode” the audience couldn’t help but grin and pat their feet. He loved making music and helping folks laugh.  

Jerry Pickard is the only one left of those four, which is a bit sobering. I wrote a column about him titled “Running Toward God.” That’s what he’s been doing ever since I’ve known him.

He moved from piano to rhythm guitar when I joined the group, plus sang some memorable numbers. “On the Wings of a Dove” is one I fondly recall. 

At Charles Jones’ funeral service Jerry played “Last Date” on piano. Then I joined him for a duet of “Down Yonder,” a light-hearted tribute to a fun-loving friend we knew had reached higher ground.

The heavenly choirs don’t need my modest talent, but I’m hoping the F.F.A String Band can get together again. A small stage in the corner of gloryland will be fine. That’s a big step up from a flatbed trailer at a Purina Store opening.

We probably won’t have a full reunion anytime soon, but there’s no way to know. That’s why I made reservations. I’d rather stay below a while longer, but my faith is in what’s above.

I’m confident the green, green grass of home will someday lead me to the streets of pure gold. Music there is undoubtedly soaring. The heavenly choirs can hit the high notes.             

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Praying the Alphabet – Part 3

My restful approach to healing while writing was abruptly halted due to carelessness. Jane caught me walking without a limp. We’ll go from H to Z today. 

Hope gets the nod for H. An old hymn, “The Solid Rock,” says it well. “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” 

Imagination is a blessing easily overlooked. Justice, though often flawed, will one day be received by all. Kindness is essential and Love providential. 1 John 4:16 says, “God is love.” That defining quality sets our Creator apart from gods made in man’s image.

Music warrants inclusion, with lessons of faith expressed beautifully through lyrics and melodies. N brings New to mind – Lamentations 3:22-23 says his mercies are new every morning. If they weren’t, we’d all be in trouble.

Opportunity is our O word. Our nation, despite massive problems, is still a land of immense opportunity. Scores of people would love to make America their home. The list of those trying to leave is short.

Patience has its own prayer. “God give me patience and give it to me right now!” A challenge of the Christian faith is being patient for long-term rewards. Temporary pleasures compete with eternal treasures.

Q presented a quandary, but I settled on Quiet. I’m increasingly appreciative of the blessing of clear sounds as my hearing becomes less reliable. But I’m also thankful for quiet times, for porch swings on a sunny winter day or walks by a stream which tenderly polishes ancient rocks.

Radicals need to be in our prayers, some for a change of heart and others to be emboldened. Paul was a radical as was Peter, a quality inspired by the one they served. The world has not seen anyone as radical as Jesus, a King who chose a cross over a crown. 

Songs might be repetitive since Music has been mentioned, but there aren’t any rules for this exercise. Songs can lift our spirits or lead toward silent introspection. They can motivate us to action or soothe our souls, cause us to shed a tear or make us laugh out loud.              

Tenacity isn’t often requested in prayers but probably should be. Jesus made it clear in Revelations 3:15 how he feels about lukewarm faith. Perhaps we need to ask for tenacity to be faithful when it’s not easy, to witness when it’s uncomfortable, to take a stand when it’s unpopular. Tenacity, however, is of little value unless paired with love. 

Ukraine needs prayers and much more due to Russia’s brutal invasion. After the country didn’t crumble as expected, President Putin began bombing utilities and infrastructure, even hospitals and maternity wards, trying to make life intolerable. 

In addition to prayers, there are tangible ways to assist. Samaritan’s Purse is an organization I have confidence in. Donations can be sent to P. O. Box 3000, Boone, NC 28607 and designated for Ukraine Response.    

Variety is said to be the spice of life. God may have had that in mind when he created seasons, colors, sounds, and such. He even gave us unique fingerprints, something far beyond my comprehension.    

Wisdom seems a good use of W, a letter I overlooked until the charming Vice President of Proof noticed. I keep asking God for more wisdom. He keeps hinting I should make better use of what I already have.  

Xylophone players have never been mentioned in my prayers. I hope a xylophonist somewhere will read this and smile. Please don’t run with the sticks. Searching for an X word reminded me there are countless areas I neglect. Blessings, needs, and praises all get shortchanged.          

Youth need our prayers. My father’s generation left the world better than they found it, but I’m not sure my group can make that claim. Regardless of your view, prayers for divine guidance for young people are in order. Youth I define as no more than 49. 

Zion will complete my haphazard attempt at praying the alphabet. Whether the whole world seems a hopeless mess or it’s just our part that keeps us from rest, I am reminded by Isaac Watts this is only my temporary home. But as I’m “Marching to Zion” sometimes I’m limping.

Thank goodness there’s a remedy for spiritual thorns. The Great Physician offers the way with no copay for Jesus paid it all. On that note this prayer will end. You’re welcome to join me as we say, “Amen.”   

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