Pray in the Name of Your Need


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But Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand where you are and watch, and you will see the wonderful way the Lord will rescue you today.”  –Exodus 14:13 (TLB)

God is sensitive to our every need. We can count on that.

He meets us as Provider when financial needs are desperate. He meets us as Healer when we are physically ill and emotionally battered. He meets us as our Comforter, our Shelter, our Peace. In every way we can imagine, God is with us and we can pray to Him in all those ways. Our part is to know His promises and trust that He will honor them.


Isaiah 54:5 (ESV)

My husband died in 2011. Suddenly, I had no one to turn to for those immediate, right-there-with-me helps like a husband supplies. I remembered a scripture that said the Lord would be a husband to the widow and I began right then to claim Isaiah 54:5. “For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts in his name” (ESV). The Good News Translation says it this way: “Your Creator will be like a husband to you—the LORD Almighty is his name.”

Many times over the past seven years, I have reminded the Lord that He is my husband and that I look to Him for answers based on that promise. Sometimes it has been when I’m anxious about handling a matter alone, sometimes when I’ve lost something I really need, and sometimes when I know I’ve made a mistake and I need help fixing it. It’s not that I can’t just pray to Father God about these same things, but I have found something sweetly different about calling the Lord my husband when I feel that’s the way He wants me to trust Him. God has shown me that His grace is always sufficient and His power truly is made strong in my weakness (2 Corinthians:9) and that includes my widowhood.

The Lord is Truth. He doesn’t tell us He will do something unless He means to do it. I find some things in scripture are harder to drink in and hold on to than others, but I know that is my weak faith and not the failure of a promise. What I have found, though, is that promises I’ve not practiced are my opportunities to grow in faith.

However you need the Lord, pray to Him in that way. Find scriptures that line up with your need. Memorize them, pray them back to Him. Believe what God’s word says. You will grow spiritually as you discover new levels of dependency.

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” –2 Timothy 3:15 (NLT) 


For the Beauty of the Skies


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Several springs ago, I spent a lot of early mornings on my patio. I didn’t keep a journal, but I did occasionally make notes in a spiral bound notebook that held a variety of musings. I came across some of my “patio notes” yesterday and thought how often we miss the simple beauties all around us. It takes sitting still and emptying ourselves of all else—something very hard to do in our fast moving age.   


pink sky - CopyI’m enjoying this new morning on the back patio with coffee and a granola bar. The sky is especially beautiful today and I find myself grasping for words worthy of describing the clouds, but I just can’t find them. The clouds are changing in design and color, reminding me of a child’s kaleidoscope being turned to form different shapes and color. The Master Artist had something very special going on and I have a front row seat as the Lord’s hand stirs the skies right over my head.

I look upward at the unconfined space and think how the openness gives a sense of freedom to my heart just as Jesus gives freedom to my soul.  My head rests on a garden chair and I continue to drink it in. What an awesome sight it is! There are pink cotton candy-like swirls. There are smears of white over blue canvas. There are wisps of clouds that look like sheered cotton plucked fresh from their bolls in the field. The sun is beginning to peep through my neighbor’s trees, hailing the new day.  Surely, this must be a bit of heaven’s glory coming down this morning right in my very own backyard.

I begin to think what it would be like if a large billowy cloud suddenly appeared and with it came Jesus. What if the Lord stepped out on such a cloud and brought with Him brightness greater than the sun? God’s word says we will need no more sun in heaven because the glory of God will give light and the Lamb will be heaven’s lamp (Revelation 21:2). What would it feel like to be caught up in the air with Him and move through the sky’s beauty? To pass by the wispy clouds and then the thicker clouds and continue on while holding His hand until we reach the heaven of heavens? What a glorious journey–and someday I will make it.

I know as I sit on the patio watching these clouds move across the sky and hear the birds make their morning calls, I am seeing something far greater than nature. I am seeing Jesus. For this is His creation. This is His beauty on loan to me this morning. This is His marvelous gift of a new day trimmed in wonder and awe and presented to me right outside my back door.

I have received an unexpected, priceless gift of God’s love and somehow I have to hold on to this morning vision of God’s beauty and grace. So I close my eyes and let it all settle deep into my heart.  I need nothing more, Lord. I’ve had a visit from you.


For in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him. –Colossians 1:16 (NIV)

Sgt. Stubby, an American War Hero


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Sgt. Stubby and his medals

There is a delightful animated movie released this month about a war dog of World War I. Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero  is a true story of a stray dog who became the official mascot of the 102nd Infantry Regiment, 26th Division.

It isn’t clear whether the soldier, Corporal Robert Conroy, adopted Stubby or Stubby adopted Conroy. (That’s the way with most animals and their people, isn’t it?) But it was Conroy’s training Stubby to stand and salute Conroy’s commanding officer that marked the beginning of Stubby’s military career. This little terrier mix, served in the trenches of France for 18 months. He is credited with saving the lives of our soldiers by alerting them to surprise mustard attacks, finding our wounded, and capturing all by himself a German soldier. Stubby participated in 17 battles, receiving both medals and rank.

Much is written about the heavy infiltration of rats in WWI and it is with rats that Stubby first proves his worth. The movie shows Stubby chasing rats out of the trenches where our soldiers were positioned. These rodents did more than boldly go for soldiers’ food, they bit, even chewed, on the wounded and dead. When I saw Stubby going after the rats, my mind wandered to my soldier dad and his own experience.

Mother said Daddy came home with odd scars around his waist. It took many months of questioning before he told her they were from rat bites sustained while in foxholes. You couldn’t shoot them. That would reveal yourself to the enemy. Some soldiers bayoneted them. I don’t know how Daddy tried to deal with them while in his foxhole because he would never talk about the war at all. He was a shrapnel-wounded soldier of WWII with pieces of metal in five different parts of his body. He had Trench feet, more commonly known as Jungle Rot, an advanced infection that often required amputation of the feet. Daddy kept his feet and toes, but they bothered him all of his life. The memories of wartime gave him nightmares and he walked in his sleep. I was a teenager when he waked us once while trying to climb a wall. He thought he was crawling out of a foxhole. Maybe those bad dreams had rats in them.


My soldier dad, home for WWII.

I was two years old when he came home from the war so you can see that the after effects lingered on—though he never talked about the war other than to say he was proud to have served his country.  If questioned, Daddy would simply shake his head and look off into the distance. That silence and response was typical of WWII veterans.

Edward Tick said in his book War and the Soul the hell our soldiers have been through doesn’t end when they return home. They replay their experiences abroad again and again. General Douglas MacArthur said “The soldier above all prays for peace. For it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds of war.”

Sgt. Stubby suffered his own battle wounds. Twice he was injured with grenades. He was given the care due him as a soldier and after recovering went back to the trenches to continue serving. When he came home, Sgt. Stubby was a celebrity, marching in parades, and leading most of them. He met three presidents and was awarded a gold medal by General John J. Pershing. Stubby entered the service in 1918 and died in his sleep in 1926.

In the book of Genesis, we see that God made animals first, and then man. God gave dominion over the animals. I love the Message Bible translation of Genesis 1:26-28 where it says man is to be responsible for every animal that move on the earth. Yet there are times animals have taken care of us and Sgt. Stubby was a prime example.

I hope you will take time to see the movie and appreciate the dedicated service of war dog, Sgt. Stubby. It might bring some tears, but they will be glad tears, not sad tears. I believe the movie will leave you grateful for a little dog that went off to war, served bravely, and came back a hero.

Sgt. Stubby, WWI war dog, led many parades after his service.

A Prayer of Yesterday, Still for Today


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Yesterday, while cleaning out files, I came across some writings from years past. I had held onto a variety of musings long forgotten, but this one–a prayer–still speaks my heart so I decided to keep it a while longer. May I share it with you? It may speak your heart, too.

Astound me, Lord,
with the realness of You.
Cause my breath to catch
with new understanding.
Strike the nerve
that will pain me to soberness
and turn me to the greatness
of my God.

Shape me, Father,
in Christ’s likeness.
Mould me that I may
reflect Him truly–
on bended knee
or in running stride,
alone with one,
or in a crowd with many.

Lift me, blessed Jesus,
to the miracle of Your Love.
Teach me, like a child,
to be eager and to anticipate,
to live in all that you are
while standing on tiptoe,
expecting a miracle
with each new day.

12/87 plm

My Grandmother’s Simple Heart


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Pastor David Cross’ lesson for our Sunday school class yesterday was from Proverbs 4:23: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (NIV). He explained how God wants us to walk with integrity and uprightness, to have a heart undivided—a simple heart. That is, a heart that is honest and full of devotion to God.

My grandmother, Dulcie Pauline Cotton Spencer 1900-1991

My grandmother had that kind of heart—a heart that was simple and honest and fully devoted to her Lord.  I could never say enough good things about Dulcie Pauline Cotton Spencer, for everything that is good will find itself back to her eventually, describing her in some way.

I was reminded of Mama Dulcie’s simple heart recently when a cousin and I were reminiscing about our grandmother. Cindy Barnes Wilson’s mother and my aunt, Evelyn Spencer Barnes, the sixth of Jim and Dulcie Spencer’s seven children, helped Mama manage her money in her later years of life. Cindy said Mama Dulcie would frequently ask Evelyn “Did you send the children their money?” The children were the children of St. Jude Children’s Hospital and the money was Mama’s monthly check to those children sick with cancer. And don’t overlook that she categorized the money as belonging to the children; it wasn’t hers.

Some things hang on in our minds and linger for further pondering. Such was this small piece of information Cindy passed on while we were remembering our grandmother and her simple and upright heart. In my seventy plus years, I’ve never known anyone godlier than Dulcie Spencer.  One thing I know for sure, giving to a charity would never have been about some way to receive a tax deduction. For Mama, it would have simply been for sick children who needed help. It would be what Jesus would want her to do.

Dulcie Spencer was never a woman of means and her monthly check to St. Jude Children’s Hospital was most likely of a small amount, yet I put Mama in the category of the poor widow of Mark 12:44 where Jesus said “They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything–all she had to live on” (NIV). Mama didn’t give all she had but she did give with that same kind of abandoned devotion to God. And if she had thought for one minute Jesus was asking her to give all she had, she would have and without a second thought.  She was 100% the Lord’s. Her trust in Him was complete.

This past Saturday we had a Spencer cousin reunion with nine of the sixteen grandchildren there. Each grandchild’s life has been touched and formed by Dulcie Spencer in some way. We each have our own treasure box of Mama Dulcie Memories. And though we didn’t think to talk about this on Saturday, I believe it safe to say we would all agree on this descriptor of our grandmother:  She loved God and she loved us—in abundance on both counts.

spencer cousin reunion

Spencer cousin reunion 12/30/17. Brad Replogle (Betty), Paul Spencer (Tera), Lori Owrey (Evelyn), Bruce Replogle (Betty), Cindy Wilson (Evelyn), Tommy Cagle (Cornelia), Steve Spencer (J.B.), Walter Luffman (Louise), Pat Rowland (Louise)

Mama died when she was 91. Her life here was doing just what Proverbs 4:23 said, for she guarded her heart and the flow from that good and simple heart benefitted us all.

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My grandmother and me, 1982. Mama walked and talked with Jesus every day. She was the best person I’ve ever known.

Can I Be a Joseph? Can You?


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In his book, All In, Mark Batterson explains that spiritual maturity is when the theoretical becomes experiential.  That led me to think about Joseph, the son of Jacob, and how his life unfolded.

We get to know Joseph at the age of 17 and assuredly, he could never have imagined that he would someday be second in command to the Pharaoh of Egypt. His dream of his father and brother bowing down to him left out the details.

There was jealousy in the family ranks. Joseph’s brothers took opportunity and cast him into a pit. He was sold into slavery. The brothers thought they were done with him—their father’s favorite.

In years to come Joseph had mercy on his brothers and he took them out of a pit of their own, the pit of famine. He could have denied them help. He could have given help but with smugness and haughtiness. He could have charged them in some way for his rescue. Yet, Joseph with the blessing of Pharoah gave them the best land in Egypt. And with the material blessing came spiritual blessing: his forgiveness and his love, neither of which was deserved. God gives to us that same way.

Joseph suffered other pits after that one the brothers put him in. There was the pit of lies that cast him out of Pharaoh’s presence and put him in prison. And there was the pit of being forgotten after interpreting the cupbearer’s dream and remaining in prison for another two years.

Joseph moved from theoretical maturity of spirit to experiential. He grew in the dark jail as a seed grows in the dark earth. He didn’t give up his God. He kept depending, trusting. He was all in and he saw it through.

The brothers’ unkindness was rewarded with Joseph’s kindness. God had a plan for Joseph’s life and nothing that happened to him could do away with that plan.

Think of the prayers Joseph must have prayed. Think of the hopelessness he had to fight off.  Think of how God surely spoke to Joseph during the years in prison. Joseph took a stand for God and God took a stand for Joseph.

Joseph made choices along the way. He could have chosen bitterness. He could have chosen revenge. But Joseph wasn’t committed to feelings; he was committed to God. He lined up with the One who had his life in hand. In those first 17 years, Joseph learned of his father’s Father. He came to know and believe in the God of Jacob. He was establishing then the foundation on which he would live, grow, and trust. God is always at work in us.

We think about those who have hurt us, deceived us, gone extra steps to destroy us. But after that must come the question: How do we respond? Do we take higher ground with God or revenge like the world would tell us to? Can we forgive like God forgives us? Can we reap the peace of a Joseph by simply forgiving and desiring good for the individuals? Can we sincerely invite God to wash us clean of all resentment, all memories of mistreatment? Do we even want that? It is a sobering question! A question that begs truth, not pious words. Do we earnestly want to cast off the heavy robes that drag us down and hold us back? Do we want to shed garments stained by bruised feelings, bitterness, anger, and deep hurt? Can we leave these things behind and be dressed in the garments of Jesus? Can we accept his robes of forgiveness, love, and kindness and desire to bless and not condemn our enemies? It’s easy to say yes, but doing it begs for action.

Can I be a Joseph today? Can you? It’s our decision.

You can find the story of Joseph and his family in Genesis 37-47:12. 

Keeping Fit, Physically and Spiritually


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I had been lackadaisical with physical exercise for a while. My workouts at home were decreasing while my sense of guilt was increasing. I knew I would need some kind of disciplined approach to get back on track and decided to do what had proven helpful before. I joined a fitness center.

As a new (actually, returning) member I was required to take a strength assessment. Though it had been a few years since my last one, I wasn’t concerned. I was well in my weight range and fairly active for senior years—or so I thought. I worked through various exercises, being assessed on the number of repetitions I could do and also at what level. Right away, I was shocked at how much strength I had lost in my years of complacency. My neglect had cost me and the old adage “use it or lose it” immediately came to mind.

Just as we lose physical strength through neglect, our spiritual strength can suffer by neglect, as well. If we are lazy about spending regular time with God in Bible reading and prayer, our spiritual underpinning will suffer. We won’t have quick recall of scriptures that encourage and comfort us. We won’t immediately think on God’s steadfast love and constant faithfulness because we aren’t reading about it regularly. Then when trouble knocks at our door, our spiritual muscle—our faith—may not give us the support we need.

To build body strength, we repeat an exercise over and over, usually in reps of 12 or 15 to a set. We are training our muscles, teaching them how to react. Now if we applied that to building spiritual strength, we might take a Bible verse and repeat it 12 to 15 times before we left it. Then we would come back and do it every few days, repeating it until it became a ready part of our memory.

For instance, if we had 2 Timothy 1:7 in our memory bank, the next time we felt fear approaching, we would probably find ourselves saying “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” That is a personal favorite and I call it forward every time I find myself tempted to worry. A verse I’m currently quoting to myself several times a day is 2 Chronicles 20:17: “Stand firm. Hold your position and see my deliverance on your behalf. Do not be afraid or dismayed.” And, as I claim this for myself, I am claiming it for two friends with a need similar to mine. There is nothing like trusting God’s promises in time of need and saying His words back to Him.

If we discipline ourselves in building physical muscle and faith muscle we won’t be disappointed when we need them. Body strength can keep us from falling. And spiritual strength can keep our faith from failing.

“You have been bought, and at what a price! Therefore bring glory to God both in your body and your spirit, for they both belong to him.” 1 Corinthians 6:20 (J. B. Phillips Translation)

Meet Maddie and Wilda


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Say hello to a very special little girl named Maddie. maddie 2013Isn’t she beautiful? Shortly after birth, Maddie had a stroke, developed E. coli meningitis, and spent three weeks in a coma. She survived it all somehow, and went home. Her parents were not prepared or maybe of the mind to take care of her and for eight years, Maddie lived a life of neglect. Shortly before she was nine, the family relinquished Maddie to the Department of Human Services (DHS).
wilda good picNow meet my friend, Wilda, an instrument of God’s love. She and her husband Randy have fostered over 100 children. Of that 100 plus children, they adopted six of them. They had two biological children, one killed at the age of seven by a drunk driver. Jeremy was crossing the street in a pedestrian right-of-way when the car hit him. Yet in the midst of their grieving, they held to their decision to be foster parents, bringing home a little girl who became the very first of their adopted children. Some hearts simply have more capacity to forgive and move on toward the purpose God calls them to.
Maddie had been with DHS just one month when they approached Wilda about taking her. They were upfront, explaining she had suffered severe brain damage, costing her 80% of brain function on one side and 30% on the other. She would not be able to walk or talk. She would not be able to tell Wilda if she hurt or show any emotion, DHS said. She had frequent seizures. She was bottle fed and it was so hard for her, she used up calories trying to eat. She weighed just 33 pounds. Yet with all this, Wilda said yes to Maddie and took her home in September of 2013.

Wilda’s goal with every child has been to give them as much quality of life as possible. First on her list for Maddie was a feeding tube so that she could receive proper nutrition and gain needed weight. The surgery happened in the spring of 2014, just months after Wilda became Maddie’s foster mom. But with that surgery came complications and Maddie spent 58 days in the hospital, a week of that time in Pediatric ICU on a ventilator. Wilda never left her side.
wilda n maddie adoption

It’s official. Maddie has a new mom.

In a very short time, Maddie won Wilda’s heart and she knew she would adopt Maddie if ever there was opportunity. That time did come and in March of 2016, Maddie became Maddie Lahmann.

Maddie, will soon be 13, a teenager. In the four years Wilda has had her, she has been afforded as normal a life as possible. She is dressed beautifully each day, talked to, sung to, taken out in the sunshine, and helped to interact with household pets just like any little girl would want to do.
wilda maddie dogHas Wilda made a difference in Maddie’s life that Maddie can comprehend? Wilda certainly believes she has seen change and she carries videos with her to doctors’ visits to show evidence of Maddie seemingly exhibiting emotion. All of us who follow along with these two would quickly agree that Maddie is a different child. We believe she knows she is loved and secure with Wilda and in some ways may know some pleasure. There are certain songs and videos she seems to particularly enjoy.  I’ve seen videos where Maddie sounds as if she is trying hard to talk. And though she can’t tell her mother when she is hurting, Wilda has learned to read Maddie’s expressions, however subtle, and knows when to get her medical attention. That has led to the discovery of a broken bone and a urinary tract infection that went septic. Who really knows just what Maddie is able to understand? Regardless, Maddie will continue to receive the love and attention of a doting mother. Wilda says “I am so happy God put us together. He knew just what each of us needed.”
wilda's k with twisted spine

Kaliyha enjoyed some time in the pool with another of Wilda’s daughters and her granddaughter. Notice how very twisted her spine was.

You might think raising one child with severe disabilities would be enough for my friend, but after Maddie, she took in a little girl with severe scoliosis and a progressive neuromuscular disorder similar to muscular dystrophy. Wilda had her for fifteen months, seeing her through surgery to correct the scoliosis and kept Kaliyha until she could be returned to her family.

wilda and k christmas 2016

Christmas 2016, after Kaliyha had surgery to correct scoliosis and shortly before K went home.

Wilda’s most recent foster child is a little boy who will be five in November. He entered East Tennessee’s Children’s Home in July weighing just 19 pounds and now weighs 32.5.  Ty is micro cephalic (small head/brain) and has cerebral palsy. He can see and hear, but not speak or walk. Like Maddie, Ty has seizures, poor head control, and receives food through a feeding tube.
wilda and ty

Wilda’s latest little foster love, Ty.

The child of parents with drug and abuse issues, any quality of life had probably been non-existent. It is undetermined how long this little boy will live with Wilda and Maddie but we can be sure he will experience many of life’s good things while there.

I asked Wilda to let me share her story because there is so much wrong in our world today and we need to see there are still some very good people doing very good things. Stories like Maddie’s warm my heart and the pictures and videos Wilda shares through social media of all her kids make me smile. Wilda’s philosophy is that God has a bigger plan for each of us and He always knows best, even when we don’t understand at the moment. “I know I am doing what God wants me to do,” she says.

wilda kissing maddie

Maddie and her mom. What do you think about Maddie showing emotion?

Outside My Comfort Zone


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Go camping? Me? This was way out of my comfort zone and my Leisure and Recreation professor had just announced a part of our course work would be an overnight camping trip. If we absolutely, positively felt we could not make the camping trip, there was an alternative.  I leaned in to hear his every word. The alternative would be a lengthy and very detailed paper on a subject of his choosing. He promised it wouldn’t be easy, even for those who enjoyed writing.

Camping had never called my name and I knew I had not called out to it. I didn’t like the possibility of snakes that I imagined hanging from every tree. How was I going to get out of this? I wasn’t into roughing it in the woods and especially with people I barely knew.

Right after class, I meandered through the rows of empty chairs to my teacher and jumped right into making my case for why I should be excused. My reasons sounded lame, even to me.

Memphis State University (now Univ of Memphis) Rec and Leisure Professor. Corky was what he went by, can’t recall his last name.

He was a young guy with a PhD behind his name and I was a mid-forties adult just now finishing up what I should have completed long ago–my undergraduate degree. Friendly and polite he was—and unyielding. It looked like I had better start rounding up a tent and bedroll.

We would be camping at Fort Pillow. Though Fort Pillow is a state park, all that came to mind was the state prison bearing that name. This wasn’t getting better. I would be hanging out with snakes and prisoners.

A friend, quite amused at my plight, loaned me his tent. I found my daughter’s old sleeping bag and tossed it in the trunk of the car, alongside the tent. Next went my cooler, and, as instructed, “a minimum of personal needs.”

Setting up our tents

When I made the second turnoff to Fort Pillow Camp Grounds, I caught a view of the prison looming strong and fierce.  I told myself should anyone escape, they would not be looking to share our camping experience but getting far away from the prison. That gave me some comfort.

When I got to the spot our professor had chosen for us, I was wide-eyed with unexpected glee; there were bathroom and shower facilities in easy walking distance! Things were looking up.

That night, as we sat around a campfire and listened to a student strum his guitar, I felt myself beginning to relax. This camping thing wasn’t so bad. Nothing like I had expected, in fact. Neither a snake nor prisoner had appeared so far.

Much to my amazement, I slept well on the hard ground and the occasional night sounds didn’t spook me. I awoke to chirping birds and the smell of coffee and feeling more relaxed than I had in a while. A peek outside my tent showed a fellow student cooking breakfast. I set off toward the restroom facilities for a nice hot shower and the offer of fresh coffee on return. I felt my every resistance to camping beating a hasty retreat. I had stepped outside my comfort zone and lo and behold, look what happened! I discovered I could really get used to this. (As long as bathroom facilities were close by, of course.)

Enjoying the good life

Our Fort Pillow camping trip turned out to be a great adventure for the experienced (there were some) and the greenhorns (fewer of these). It was so successful, in fact, that someone suggested we do it once more before the end of semester. The teacher agreed and off we went into the woods one more time. Camping had turned strangers in a classroom to friends around a campfire sharing stories, songs, and food. And the one who suggested we return for another night of camping? You guessed it. It was me.

Helen Keller said “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” And I especially love what writer Rachel Cohn said: “The reward is in the risk.”  What about you? Are you staying safe in your comfort zone or “daring adventure”?  If I were doing life over, I would definitely take more risks.

Korkey’s Krew ’87. We posted notes for Corky. Mine said “I’m a believer now!” (I am front row, center.)

My note bottom, left


Those Cotton Fields Back Home!


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A while back, I mentioned to a friend that I picked cotton in my “growing up” years. My friend was surprised and her reaction was like others I have experienced through the years. I understand that thinking, as you rarely see pictures of white people laboring in cotton fields, though I’m at a loss as to why that is since it was common for northerners to stop alongside the road to get pictures of this southern curiosity. At my friend’s encouragement to tell the story, this blog is about the many fall days I spent in dry and dusty cotton fields. My thanks go to lifetime friend and fellow cotton picker Larry Darby for keeping me honest in the telling of the story.

2cotton field

A field ripe for picking. Courtesy of Morguefile.

Let me take you back to the 1950s and early ’60s to a rural community, my hometown of Medina, Tennessee. Every year in mid-September our school closed for four to six weeks (depending on the need) to help the farmers get their cotton crops in. Mechanical cotton pickers were yet to be had by our farmers–too expensive. I don’t recall the age I began picking cotton, but young enough that my first sack was homemade since the bought ones were too big for me. Some went to the fields at eight years, maybe younger. We were of a practical era and did what needed to be done.

Cousins Judy Gardner (Petty), 10, and Wanda Coleman (King), 8, on the Gardner farm in Medina. My thanks to Judy for the pictures and Wanda for confessing they were posing more than picking that day–thus the big smiles. I knew I could not remember ever looking that happy in a cotton field.

There were a lot of fields, so we didn’t necessarily see many of our friends during the cotton picking season. If you could get with friends, it definitely made the long days go faster. Farmers would come in to get us town people around 6:30-7 AM and bring us home about 5 PM. We rode in the back of the farmer’s truck, equipped with sideboards for taking the picked cotton to the gin.

There was nothing about picking cotton that I liked, and I especially disliked picking the tall, leafy bottom cotton. I think we all hated it. If bottom cotton was the first field of the day, we despised it even more for its heavy dew that had us wetted down in no time. The wet cotton was sticky and harder to gather, and if it was a frosty morning, the dew would make our hands icy cold and less nimble. The only upside to wet cotton was the extra weight it gave (we were paid by weight). And then there were the creatures that could hide better in the tall, leafy cotton: huge black and yellow garden spiders, stinging worms, and the occasional spread adder snake. I learned to pay attention to where I put my hands.

cotton field

A field heavy with cotton and the dry, low kind we preferred picking. Courtesy of Morguefile.

Our pay was $2.50-$3.00 per one hundred pounds. The higher amount was end of season for the second picking. It seemed like everyone was better than I at picking cotton. Up until my senior year, I picked about 150 pounds a day. That last year I determined to do better and finished most days with a little over 200 pounds. The boys tended to out pick the girls and there were women in the fields who could brag of 300-350 pounds a day. Now that was moving!

Girls wore jeans, long sleeve shirts, and something on our heads if our mothers could talk us into it. To protect our hands, we wore brown jersey gloves with the fingertips cut out. You had to be able to feel the cotton to pluck it cleanly from the boll. The women wore bonnets and some wore a dress over their jeans. It wasn’t common then for older women to wear pants.

Those first days in the field were brutal with cuts and scratches around the unprotected part of our fingers and also our ankles if rigid limbs crawled under the legs of our jeans. A hot soapy bath at end of day was bittersweet. It felt so good to the aching body but stung scratched fingers and ankles with a fury.

I eventually graduated to a standard cotton sack. They had brown plastic beads of rubber on the bottom to help prevent the bottom of the sack from wearing through. In one bottom inside corner of the sack a green cotton boll would be secured with wire on the outside. The wire included a loop for help in hanging sacks on the scale.

Everyone’s cotton was weighed at the same time for efficiency.  While at the scale getting our sacks weighed, we took long drinks of ice water in gallon jugs kept in the cab of the farmer’s truck. Cold water never tasted better.

The highlight of the day (other than quittin’ time!) was lunch. We sat on our cotton sacks in the shade, if we could find any, and ate sandwiches out of brown paper bags. Sometimes we spread the sandwiches and homemade pickles in a sharing manner. Larry says that was the first “country buffet.” Most of us had iced tea to drink that we brought to the field in quart jars wrapped in newspaper to keep the ice from melting. Lunch was about a 30 minute break and back to the fields we went.

Medina Senior Royalty 001

Representing Medina in the Humboldt, TN Strawberry Festival in early May. Just six months before, all four of us were in cotton fields. L-R: Larry Darby, Dorothy Jones, me, Linda Piercey

I complained a lot to my parents about picking cotton. Mother never understood my distaste for it because she grew up working in the fields and loved it. But, then, anything outside and to do with the earth, Mother loved. Daddy’s reply was “You don’t have to pick cotton, but you don’t have to have any new clothes either.” What I earned picking cotton bought my winter clothes. I remember well my last day in a cotton field and singing the Hallelujah Chorus all the way home.

There seemed to be a kind of unspoken fraternity with those of us who picked cotton. We understood the language of hard work and respected one another for being part of it. We might moan about those days, but even then we knew they were good for us. We bent our backs and crawled on our knees as we picked. We threw sacks packed with cotton over our shoulders and carried them to the scale. If I couldn’t toss the sack over my shoulder, I dropped the strap to my waist and dragged it in.

Those days played a huge part of establishing my work ethic for life, and for that, I am grateful. Let me say, however, I’m not interested in any of the cotton décor so often found in gift shops. Clearly, those who find it “charming” know nothing of its original setting. Stick some branches in a vase or hang a wreath on the front door? You’ve got to be kidding me!

My thanks to the Davenport and Maddox families of Medina for this priceless photo from 1915. Notice the gloves on the two girls at right and how the fingertips are cut away.