Sunday, September 27, 2015

In His Hands

Thanks to Bob and Oleta Barrow and their hard-working reunion committee, once again former college roommates, old friends, and new friends met up for the annual gathering of Baptist Student Union alumni from Southern Illinois University. And when I say “old friends,” those words are even more descriptive than in years past. After climbing the stairs to the fellowship room at Murdale Baptist Church in Carbondale, we were surrounded with huge bulletin boards illustrating the reunion theme “He’s God the Whole World in His Hands.” Globes centered each attractive table.

We had been invited to bring items to tell where we had been and what we had done in God’s world. A long row of tables against the wall showed the many places where members had served and their diverse activities. Cal and Sharon Reynold’s display truly took us around the world with their international mementoes. One favorite display for me was A.B. and Rosalea Plunkett’s with one of her beautiful paintings and with photo cubes of the many churches in Southern Illinois where they had served. There were beautiful quilts made by Beverly Walker and Jane Walker Sims, lovely art work by Betty Morgan Molen, Carol Smith’s music and her service related items, needle work by Oleta and wood work including a neck tie of wood by Richard Stewart. I’ve yet to read the handouts on the Global Day of Prayer that Alan and Evelyn Jones displayed, but I will. I did not know Dr. Bill Fulkerson, and I did not get to meet him and introduce myself. But I learned from his display that he cared about immigrants and their children, so I know I would like him. There were other displays I have forgotten, but not knowing Oleta would ask me to blog about the reunion, I failed to take notes.

It was so good to meet up with Johnson Hall friends--Nan Stephenson Stogsdill, Irma Richardson, Verona Withrow Highsmith, and Alice Ann Yewell Weeks. All are widows now, and I was inspired by how well they handle their loss and continue to serve. Nan gave me an update on her twin Ann and on her older sister Jo Pippa, whom I looked up to as a role model. Becky Ferris Searle was special to me also at Johnson Hall, and Gerald and I always enjoy visiting with her husband, Dr. Howard Searle, who has worked bringing hope and health in so many places in the world. Becky is still training a new generation of teachers in northern Illinois.

After the greetings and hugs, we quieted at the tables for Ken Cannon to welcome us. Cal Reynolds read John 10:27-29 in recognition of our theme. Pastor Paul Hicks also welcomed us and blessed our evening meal, and the men’s ensemble from Murdale blessed our ears with their singing. After dinner, Charlene Purnell reminded us again of our theme when she played a favorite of mine: “This Is My Father’s World.” Roger Deppe led us as we sang together, and then we were entertained by Jim Cox dressed in his cowboy boots and jeans. Jim has a great voice and great sense of humor, but the lovely music that came out of his guitar made me wish he’d also played a solo with it. Maybe next year!

Then we became serious and fought tears when Bob and Harlan Highsmith gave a patriotic salute for our wounded warriors.

Sharon Reynolds led us in table games and an opportunity to share memories of our BSU days. People like to recall the fun things and the pranks. This is the first time that I’ve attended that no one told the story of why there was a tiny window added to the prayer room. But A.B. and Rosa can tell you if you don’t know. Bill Hollada told the story of the Doyle Dorm guys who blasted Carbondale with lively music one night—not a hymn. I loved Carol Stickey’s story of how she met her husband who had climbed up into a tree and eerily called her name as she passed below. And loved hearing how someone ate in the cafeteria with girl friends but went for coffee afterwards to sit alone—knowing full well that the fellow interested in her would join her to get acquainted. They have been drinking coffee together ever since.

As we left for our local homes or hotels, some stayed behind to practice in the sanctuary under the direction of Murdale’s music director Steve Shirk.

On Friday morning we came together again for more visiting over coffee and yummy rolls and coffee cake before the first session started in the sanctuary at l0. Once more we sang together and then listened to Carol Smith’s powerful piano solo”To God Be the Glory.” Before Darrell Molen spoke remembering those who have died the past year, Ray and Charlene Purnell reminded us of Horatio Spafford’s response to loss and grief as they played “It is Well with My Soul.” Next we were rewarded with the beautiful medley of hymns that the choir prepared for us the night before.

Jim Cox gave a tribute to Helen Green Galloway, who was our reunion leader for so many years. He had been passing around his phone showing the flowers we had sent to her hospice room. It was appropriate that he again used humor because humor was something Helen was famous for. I have never known anyone as facile at repartee as Helen, and we are grateful for all the laughter she gave us. Her hospice room is constantly filled with family and friends enjoying her last days with her when she is not sleeping. There is a Facebook page devoted to messages if you want to have current news. Students at Johnston City High School called “her kids” are raising funds for a scholarship to be given in her name in appreciation for her many years of service as guidance counselor. If you should want to contribute, I would suggest you contact Holly Kee on Facebook. Never retiring from service to others even as she approached 90, she continued her many volunteer activities including flirting with the old men as she delivered Meals on Wheels, teaching her Sunday School class, and leaving laughter wherever she went.

Ginger Wells challenged us with her devotional “God Is Not Finished with Us Yet.” I find myself repeating this to myself. To challenge us further, Becky Searle led in a “Presentation of Nations” replete with facts and many nations’ flags. Nada Fuqua led us in the song all of us former G.A. members cherish: “We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations.” The love and the teachings of Jesus are too important not to be shared.

We recessed and returned to the fellowship hall for the catered lunch that featured a lavish potato bar and a salad/fruit bar and even a table with more pie from the night before! After lunch, we were called to order a final time with Bob leading us in the joyful “Go Tell It on the Mountain” with Carol at the piano. Next was a wonderful treat by special guests, the Korean Musical Group.

Our final challenge was a message by Jerry Day, retired Illinois Baptist State Association regional mission strategist. Once more we heard the comforting knowledge that God has the whole world—all nations—in his hands. We were reminded that He has taught us to love and serve all people wherever we are in His world.

The hard working committee members who helped Bob and Oleta were Ken and Jo Nell Cannon, Roger and Audrey Deppe, Earl and Delores Dungey, Calvin and Sharon Reynolds, Carol Smith, Marc McCoy, and Gene and Ginger Wells. They began their planning the day after the last year’s reunion and prepared a program meant to encourage us to experience joyful service, inclusiveness, international concern, and especially loving one another as Jesus commanded.

They could not have known that the Pope, the leader of America’s largest Christian group, would be gathering great crowds as he also emphasized joyful service, inclusiveness, international concern, and loving one another.

I thank God that our American forefathers had the wisdom to give us religious liberty with a separation of church and state, which of course has allowed our churches to flourish. The teachings of Jesus shine through our culture when we work together to help the poor, the sick, the marginalized, long-time neighbors and new immigrants in our midst, We sometimes see the fearful and evil things and do not recognize the enormous good being accomplished in the world by God’s followers. People are longing for God’s warmth and wisdom, and we have the opportunity to shed God’s love knowing that in as much we have done good to one another, we have done it unto God.

Near the end of the reunion, I bumped into Lora Blackwell-Kern and she is still volunteering with the Fellowship of Baptist Educators, which she has promoted at previous reunions. Although I’d early seen Verona Highsmith, I had not really visited much with her. At the reunion’s close as Gerald was looking at the notebook with letters from those unable to attend, I saw Verona and hastened over. There I was surprised to meet her younger sister Valerie Withrow Cole. Someone else came up to visit with Verona, and I had the opportunity to hear about Valerie’s post SIU life when she and her husband lived in the Washington, D.C., area until their retirement near Branson in Missouri. She had worked on the staff of the First Baptist Church where Presidents Truman, Clinton, and Carter attended, where she was privileged to participate in many exciting things and to have Jimmy Carter as her Sunday School teacher. There is never enough time to see everyone or get acquainted with the ones we don’t know, but our lives are richer from the visits we made these two days.

Thus, we are grateful that although Bob and Oleta cannot continue leadership for another year, Ken and Jo Nell Cannon and Calvin and Sharon Reynolds are willing to coordinate a perhaps simpler version of the reunion possibly at Giant City State Park. I am sure they would welcome any help and suggestions you might give them.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Harvest Is Here. Ready or Not!

Our son-in-law Brian started harvest today. Gerald happened to be working on clearing a drainage ditch near this field, and he even got in on a bit of the excitement. In the weeks and months ahead, the thick tall brown corn in area fields will gradually be replaced by stubble.
Mary Ellen, who has been much too busy lately, dropped by this morning for a visit before taking a client an offer for her home and then helping her husband with harvest. She bragged on my timely seasonal decorating, and I did not know what she was talking about since I looked around and saw nothing new. Oh, yes, a couple days ago I had found in storage the little hanging harvest doll and put her up by our front door, a door that I rarely use. I’d forgotten about it, but Mary Ellen had enjoyed it as she came in. I had meant to check to see if it was still up because it blows off easily, so I was glad to hear the doll was still in place. (As she left, sure enough the doll had blown onto the porch floor, so Mary Ellen put it back up for me-- probably a little better than I hung it since I am a couple inches shorter and do not like standing on stools as I did when I was more steady on my feet.)

Our family members in Texas were at various football games today. Even Geri Ann had arrived back in Texas after her last short summer course finished Thursday in Oregon, which uses terms rather than the semester system. She has a week’s vacation at home before their fall term starts. Sam was playing trombone with the band for his first game at Baylor today. The other night, Katherine enjoyed sharing with me Sam’s telephone report to her on his new life away from home down at Waco. I loved all of that report except that he had sometimes studied until 3 a.m.

Gerald and I tried last night to use up some of our Christmas gift cards. We went to another movie on the movie gift card from Jeannie and Rick, but we still have some left on their restaurant card. We had gone to the late afternoon showing of War Room. The timing was perfect for a late dinner at the nearby steak house to use the card from Gerry and Vickie. We had to be impressed with the exceptional service there. (There was an apology for the kitchen being behind, and they kept trying to make it up for us. But we did not think it was that slow,) Our young waitress not only kept the coffee cups and basket of rolls filled, but then brought us a container of rolls and yummy butter to take home with us! Mary Ellen got enjoy one of those with us today at lunch to go with sliced tomatoes and a sausage/veggie casserole I’d fixed in a skillet on top of the stove instead of the oven.

The post Labor Day political commentary is constant, but we’ve had a summer full of it already. I was delighted today that finally I heard more than a sound bite or the size of the crowd for Bernie Sanders. It was a relief to hear someone talk the issues and not waste our time insulting someone’s looks or calling someone stupid.

We’ve had plenty of hot summer weather this week, but the most telling thing to let us know that autumn is almost here was today’s cool weather. Gerald relished it and came in tired this evening from cutting fragmite from that ditch. He said he bet he would sleep good tonight. I had not been in the garden all summer except to stop there and admire his spring-planted strawberry and asparagus plants. But when Gerald said at supper he was going out to pick the okra and tomatoes, I grabbed a plastic bag and followed him out and started at the other end of the row. I was chilly when I came back in the house!

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

September Starts with a Visit from Gerry

Together Gerald and I stood at the garage door and watched our son depart down our long driveway in his rented white van with a trailer full of dogs behind. He had called Gerald that he was coming on bird dog business and invited Gerald to ride up north with him, but Gerald could not accept because of a dental appointment. So Gerry only came by Woodsong on his way back from northern Illinois.

Sometime after 2 this morning, he arrived after long journeys to Louisiana and then up north with little sleep, and he fell into bed where I had left the lamp on for him. (I was in bed but still awake at 2, so that is how I know it was after 2.) Gerald had gone to bed early as usual but then woke up and was up when Gerry arrived. I slept until after 9 as usual, but Gerald and Gerry had already been up early taking care of the dogs and visiting a sick friend of Gerry in another town and back to the farm before lunch. Gerald had already brought in tomatoes from the garden to send with Gerry to Texas. Tomato recipients keep telling us they are the best tomatoes they’ve ever eaten. (I am inclined to think that enjoying delicious garden ripened tomatoes is sort of like every year believing your Christmas tree is the most beautiful one yet.)

Sliced tomatoes were on the lunch table with spaghetti that I’d planned before I knew Gerry was coming. But in his honor, I did slice up okra, dip it in cornmeal, and fry it in oil the way my mother-in-law taught me and the way our kids and grandkids like it. Gerry’s response was gratifying. And we had Gerald’s watermelon for dessert.

Then Gerald and Gerry picked the okra to send home with him and loaded in the tomatoes, watermelons, and cantaloupes. Knowing our three great grandsons would be eating the melons was very pleasing to Gerald since he had heard how much they liked the ones in sent home with them after their visit at the first of August.

Gerry told us at lunch that those three little guys were surprised at the seeds since their store-purchased ones had been seedless. I have smiled all afternoon guessing what three little boys were going to be doing with stray watermelon seeds in their mouths. Fortunately, their parents handle three boys beautifully and understand mischief like that. And fortunately, these three have good manners and kind hearts as well as all-boy energy and normal brotherly aggression.

Our social life this summer has included a trip to see friends in Ziegler and being invited to enjoy an area-famous loose beef sandwich at Maid-Rite in Christopher, visiting new friends and touring their antique-filled home including their bedroom with her wedding gown from over 50 years ago displayed on a manikin, and then seeing lots of friends from near and far at Katie and Alan Ozment’s 50th wedding celebration. Of course, Gerald regularly goes down home to Jonesboro to join brothers and nephews and others for breakfast at JR’s. (He takes any house guest willing to get up at 5 a.m. to make this gathering.) And a dear friend from down there phoned when their classmate and wife came down from Peoria for the McClure reunion; so once again we joined this group for supper in the back room at Anna’s Mexican restaurant.

Another summer highlight came last Friday when Gerald was caught up with all his projects and invited me to take off for a late lunch at the restaurant at top of Pirate’s Bluff looking out over the Ohio River at Cave-in-Rock State Park. The thick greenery beside the road and the deep summer green of the trees on the hills and in the hollows of Shawnee National Forest made the trip there especially lovely. I had never before seen hummingbird feeders held by rubber suction cups, but those feeders on the windowed view of the river and the large potted flowers on the deck outside brought hummingbirds and butterflies to enliven our lunch with their beauty. We spent the rest of the day driving along the river and enjoying the river towns we both find charming. Soon we may be returning as we often do to enjoy the fall coloration so abundant there, but I was grateful to be able to see this season’s green glory.