Monthly Archives: March 2022

Orange Blossom Special

You may think this piece is about trains, particularly the train from New York to Florida in the 1930’s called the Orange Blossom Special. It was a deluxe passenger train, part of the Seaboard Air Line Railroad. Some of you have tapped your toes to the song by that name written in 1938 by Ervin T. Rouse and made famous by Johnny Cash in 1965. Johnny Cash could make a harmonica sound just like a train whistling and clickety-clacking its way south to where the orange groves bloomed.

But today I’m not writing about trains. I’m writing about orange trees themselves and other amazing springtime growth. Everything is coming alive with wonders of color and vitality. I’m so glad that God chose to make useful plants–like orange trees, blueberry bushes, cabbage and carrots–beautiful as well as tasty. A world of grays and blacks would be pretty dreary. You may have noticed that one commercial on television advertises a product that makes it possible for folks to take in capsule form the colorful fruits and vegetables our bodies need. But to have them right from the bush and garden is the very best!

We have a tiny citrus “orchard.” Two orange trees and three Satsumas are in bloom. Kumquats bloom a little later and even re-bloom later in the summer. I spent a happy few minutes yesterday beside an orange tree just breathing in the delicate, sweet scent and watching bumblebees gorge themselves on nectar. Examining one blossom, I was amazed at the Master’s touch. Each flower displayed five white petals and a center of minute detail: a little crown of golden spikes and a pillar in the middle (known as stamen and pistil), the very beginning of a sweet juicy orange. Some blooms had already dropped off leaving a perfect miniscule orange ready to develop.

Our granddaughter, Candi, was here last night showing me pictures of her very neat and well tended garden. Collards, cabbage, and potatoes stood in perfect rows of green between clean middles. They reminded me of brisk little soldiers in the sunshine prepared for whatever might come. Candi has learned what soil is best for each vegetable and has made good use of garden tools and fertilizer. Her strawberry plants have already bloomed but she, having studied the ways of strawberry plants, has plucked off those early blooms believing that the later ones will produce plumper, more abundant fruit.

My sister, Suzanne, and her husband, Bill, have always depended on their fertile garden on rich creekside acreage. Right now they have many healthy vegetables in the making, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and potatoes. By the end of the summer they will have canned hundreds of quarts of squash, beans, tomatoes, and cucumber pickles.

Our young blueberry trees are blooming and so beautiful in their simple subdued way, pinkish sprays of blooms promising wonderful fruit. We love to add them to our cereal, make muffins and pies and just eat them right from the branches.

I remember my mother’s joyous gardening. She was never happier than when hoeing, planting and, of course, harvesting her vegetables. The progress of squash vines and tomato plants was often a subject in her newsy letters, how big the yellow squash had grown, how bright red the tomatoes. She was more thrilled over reaping a bucket full of squash, beans, and cucumbers than anyone is over winning the lottery.

Charles’s parents, too, were dedicated gardeners. Papa Graham always planted more peas than they could possibly eat or freeze so they could share with their neighbors. He was a welcome sight in his overalls and billed hat delivering vegetables in the neighborhood and selling them to local businesses. His okra was greatly prized at Holiday Inn and the Farmer’s Market. Growing the best canteloupes, silver queen corn, and zipper peas made him happy. I can just picture him now coming in our back door with a five gallon bucket of green, gold, and red vegetables and another one of freshly pulled corn.

And I must mention our dear brother, Ronnie, and his wife, Diane, in southern Michigan. They moved there from Florida where they grew some of everything. We were afraid their gardening days were over when they moved to the cold north. But no! Their garden could be pictured in “Better Homes and Gardens,” so bright and beautiful, though a little later in the season, of course. And Ronnie is following in Papa Graham’s footsteps sharing buckets of vegetables to family and neighbors.

Not only does God provide us with delicious food–oranges, blueberries, broccoli, cabbage, squash–but the plants and trees at every stage hold their fascination. And He gives us the opportunity of being partners with the sun and rain. We’re enjoying our own tiny citrus orchard and look forward this year to a basket full of oranges (we had only two last year!), eating and sharing Satsumas, and making kumquats into marmalade. Right now we’re delighted with the sight and scent of the sweet white blossoms. Oh, what bliss! How SPECIAL are the orange blossoms!


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Miss Velma’s Hands

Sometimes a person makes a lasting impact without ever even knowing about it. Some of the seemingly insignificant actions or bits of conversation become vastly important in passing on spiritual blessings from one generation to another. Though I did thank her for her wonderful care of my little boy, I’m sure Miss Velma never realized how important her influence was.

She wasn’t the president of anything as far as I know. She wasn’t chairman of any committee, didn’t stand and speak before groups. She was never voted Woman of the Year. She seldom ever attended worship services at our church. But it wasn’t because she wasn’t worshipful. It was because she was always in the nursery. At least that’s how I remember Miss Velma. She and her sister Miss Tessie and their good friend Cammie Peacock visited prospects for our church every Sunday afternoon. That’s how I first met this cute little simply dressed lady with bright eyes and thinning hair. But I was to know her much better as the teacher of my son when he was two years old.

Cuy Broome was Director of Preschoolers at that time and for many, many years afterward. He and his wife, Evelyn, were so kind to us as we started taking our little son to the nursery when he was only six weeks old. They visited in our home and made us feel our little boy was the dearest and sweetest in the whole world. William was always happy to go to church. In fact, some of his first words were “Mister Cuy.” The nursery area at that time had a half door over which parents could pass their precious cargo to a smiling, eager nursery worker. One of those was Miss Velma.

Miss Velma was unassuming, always cheerful, and utterly faithful. But I knew more about her from listening to my son’s growing vocabulary than from talking that much to her. For instance, the following little episode sticks in my memory as so precious.

We lived in an old log house that had been covered with brick so was now more a mid-nineteen-fifties home than an eighteen-forty house. When the Stricklands had modernized the house they chose to leave just a couple of places where the hand hewn logs were exposed. One was in an upstairs closet, not readily observed. The other was very visible. In the front foyer they had built a nice window so one could look, not outdoors, but directly into the beautiful logs with their ancient ax marks. The window had a nice wide sill, a charming place to set a favorite wedding present: a bronze statue of life size praying hands.

One day I was dusting the praying hands when William left his little cars and came to my side. He reached up and ran a small finger along the wrinkled hands tented together in supplication. In his developing southern accent William said with quiet awe, “Mish Vemma’s haaands.” I looked down at his little blonde head and swallowed hard. Obviously, Miss Velma had not been just keeping the nursery. She had prayed with her little folks. She had folded her own wrinkled workworn hands as she prayed. By now, William was on his knees again driving little cars along the floor boards. But I had learned a lesson.

Never discount the influence of the simplest actions. Never forget the power of the Holy Spirit at work on even the very young.

Miss Velma wasn’t in church years later when William made an open profession of faith and then was baptized on Easter Sunday. No, Miss Velma was still in the nursery, probably folding her hands in a simple prayer with tiny boys and girls. They might not later remember the good times they had playing with the toys or how they loved to hear Miss Velma in her deep soothing voice reading a story. But they would tuck somewhere in their beings the memory of Miss Velma’s praying hands.

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How Can I Help?

We enjoy the beauties of spring–azaleas in mounds of color, trees leafing out. We go to the store to buy groceries. We pick up kids from school and listen to their tales of winning a recitation competition or the woes of taking a big test. The smell of freshly cut grass gives us a feeling of rightness and well being as do the sounds of birds singing, a garbage truck growling on its rounds, and the hum of traffic as usual. As I wash potatoes to bake for supper I hear the blast of explosions from the television, the screams of small children, the reports of more missiles, more heartache.

In the Ukraine a war wages. Only weeks ago families in Lviv, Mariupol, and Kyiv were living peacefully day by day. Parents went to work, children studied history and played games at recess. Nurses and doctors treated illnesses, not shrapnel wounds. Firemen responded to the occasional house fire, not to tall apartment buildings ablaze from enemy attack. A picture from one news bulletin haunts me, that of a little boy’s tearful face in a train window, both hands stretched toward his father who waves back. He must stay to fight for freedoms so recently enjoyed. When will these two see each other again?

All my life I have read and listened to the accounts of the horrors in Europe as Hitler went about annihilating Jews and anyone who helped them. Now Putin seems bent on destroying the country of Ukraine. He has no respect for laws of war as his men fire on people in a bread line or bomb a maternity hospital or apartment buildings.

The Ukrainians are brave and courageous and very clever. Weeks have gone by and Russia has yet to defeat these people whose loyalty and tenacity make up some for their lack of planes and other war equipment. We are reminded of our own Revolutionary War in which our soldiers fought for their freedom and their land, overcoming the British with sheer passion, perseverance, and–prayer.

We are a people who depend on our own skills and strategies to meet the enemy. What can we do for these people a world away who are under siege for no provocation of their own? Millions are fleeing, children are hungry and thirsty, mothers terrified. A theater housing civilians–women and children–has been bombed. Ukraine is being attacked from south and north, east and west.

What can we do? “All we can do is pray” is an oft repeated line but we need to realize “The most important thing we can do is pray.”

God who stopped the lions’ mouths for Daniel and defeated an overwhelming army with 300 men under an untrained general named Gideon, that God is still as powerful as ever. We need to pray for President Zelenskyy, for the Ukrainian people, for our leaders in the free world to make wise decisions, and even for Putin that his plans would be thwarted. We need to pray for the Christians in Ukraine that they will have courage and boldness to do the right thing. We need to pray for the medical and humanitarian staff in two or more Samaritan’s Purse field hospitals, as well as for tireless Red Cross workers and many, many others.

As we pray, we may recognize other things we can do. We may answer the call to give. There are reliable avenues for getting money to the very people who need it. Both the Red Cross and Samaritan’s Purse will use effectively all the funds they receive.

We need not sit helplessly in front of our television screens and do nothing. We can pray and we can give and we can thank the Lord for our own freedom and hug our family members harder than ever. And we can appreciate the normalcy of going to work and school, of planting crops and shopping for shoes.


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Song of the Birds

We wake these March days to a cacophany of bird songs and sounds. Melodies by the mockingbirds, cheerful greetings from the cardinals, an occasional high whistle from a hawk above, the gossipy chirping of wrens and sparrows, and the repetitive four or five note call of a titmouse make up the choir and the orchestra.

It took me a long time to identify what bird was making that particular call minute by minute almost all day long. It’s almost the sound of someone knocking on the door, or maybe an electronic bee-beep alarm. It’s a very insistent call demanding of attention. I finally saw my little gray titmouse friend perched on the side of a feeder making that very sound. Aha, I thought, so you’re the one!

After limited research, I learned that the titmouse makes this repeated sound only in the spring. It is a mating call. Other times of the year these little gray birds, decorated with a wonderful line of rustic brown under their wings, chip and chirp merrily around the feeder and hop from branch to branch or fly to a high bough of the maple tree. Only in spring have I noticed their persistent “knock-knock-knockity-knock.”

I began to pay more attention to what the birds are saying. What is music to my ears is sometimes an expression of deliberation as a bird fulfills its purpose: to find a mate, to raise and protect their young, to find food and build a safe nest. There are so many different songs and sounds. The wren makes a happy melodic sound usually, but can sound very frantic and positively angry if she feels her young are threatened. A mockingbird, who repeats a long repertoire of songs he learns from all around him (I have timed a mockingbird’s concert lasting thirty minutes or more), suddenly becomes a dynamo of fierce protectiveness when someone gets too close to its nest. Some of the bird songs are so sweet like the cardinal’s merry “What cheer!” But some are raucous and brash like the bluejay’s squawk or a crow’s high-in-the-pines announcements. Some don’t seem to say very much like the robins diligently harvesting worms on the lawn or brown thrashers who only become fiercely vocal when their territory is invaded.

Listening to the choir of bird songs and sounds, even the percussion section of woodpeckers, I absorb a sense of peace and happiness emanating from our feathered friends. Whether they are busy at serious duties or sitting on a branch singing their hearts out, they help me focus on the Maker of us all. He gives us all a purpose to fulfill. We may be unaware of that purpose and not realize we have an audience, like the wood thrush in a far woods singing his liquid song.

I realize a bird’s life is not as easy and carefree as it appears to me. Sitting on the feeder, a purple finch is constantly looking from one side to the other, never able to feed in perfect peace. But in fulfilling their daily activities the birds’ various songs, calls for help, and choruses of victory stir my heart with their overall good cheer.

Listen to them and find joy: a titmouse trying to find its mate, a little wren protecting her humble abode (maybe on your porch or in an old shoe), a bright cardinal singing that all is well, or a modest gray and white mockingbird practicing all his many songs as he sits on a utility wire.

The Song of the Birds

Color me orange,

Color me blue,

Color me every imaginable hue.

Give me a voice,

Give me a song,

I’ll sing of God’s greatness

All the day long


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The Blind Chick

When Candi called to say she had a blind baby chick I was astonished. She went on to tell me that she and other workers at the feed and supply store had noticed this little chick walking around differently from the others so she took a closer look. This baby chick had no eyes! She was hatched with no eyes. Candi with a rush of enthusiasm then told me she had taken the chick home with her.

The chick now lives in a fancy chick pen with feeding station and watering bowl. The whole pen is safely inside the children’s playhouse, out of sight of greedy hawks. Candi’s three young siblings are overjoyed at welcoming a new little critter to their menagerie of cats, dogs, goats, donkeys, and the occasional visit of a beaver who patrols through their yard. The chick will feel the loving touch of eager hands, hear the children’s enthusiasm, and enjoy fresh food and water as she grows to be a hen. But she will never see the faces of her new family members. She will be ever in the dark.

Candi told me one morning she had named the baby Helen Keller. What a perfect name! Helen circles her round pen cheeping happily. Candi makes sure her water and feed stay in the same place so Helen has no problem finding them. But just in case she doesn’t get enough water, Candi gives her water through a syringe every so often. Helen has learned that when she feels a drop of water on her head, she can lift her beak and have a nice drink.

Something in the total compassion in Candi’s voice and her devoted care for Helen set me to thinking. Aren’t we like the baby chick? We’ve been rescued, given safety, food and water. But we have not seen the face of our Redeemer. We live in comfort and ease with everything we need and we’re happy–like the baby chick. But we cannot see the face of the One who has saved us. We, too, are really in the dark from that magnificent realm beyond our comprehension.

However, unlike the little chick, we will someday see our Redeemer face to face in all His glory and grace. Though we now can see the sunshine, leaves shifting in a breeze, gorgeous colors everywhere, we can’t see the wonders He has prepared for us, wonders that don’t even compare to the most wonderful sunset or the intricate wings of a butterfly, or the adorable softness of a cheeping baby chick. But we have a sure and steady hope that we will one day see everything He has planned for us.

Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face. I Corinthians 13:12

P.S. Candi called again with tears in her voice. The baby chick died. She had a happy life because of Candi’s compassion.


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