The Tie that Binds

Walking this morning I happened onto a new person -- actually he happened onto me. I sensed someone approaching me from the backside so I turned around to greet him. We exchanged walkers’ predictable pleasantries as we passed a few storefronts when I introduced myself:

“My name is Mark.”

“Hi, I’m Don.”

“Are you a native Nashvillian?

“No, originally from Texas.”

“Where in Texas, I’m from Texas.”


“Oh, I have a cousin who lives on the Arkansas side of Texarkana who is a Presbyterian pastor.”

“What’s your last name?”


“Oh, I know you. In fact, I’m in the choir you used to direct. Downtown at First Baptist Church? We’re new members of the church and you led rehearsal one night a few weeks ago. I just didn’t recognize you out here.”

From there we had a wonderful conversation for about three laps. We know many of the same Baptist pastors and ministers of music.

Yesterday, Betty was almost finished with her lap as I arrived so I did a U-turn and joined her for her last 50 yards or so. She was rolling along at a pretty good clip pushing her basket/cart with weights in the bottom. She looked great -- white-white pants, bright coral-colored top, a bit of eye-shadow and, of course, lipstick and earrings to match.  Amazing for age 95 at 6:45 AM!

“Good morning, Betty! How are you?”

“Where have you been?” she lovingly barked back.

“I was here yesterday, had a doctor’s appointment Monday, and last week I was doing some manual labor at our office. We did some moving around so I got plenty of exercise doing that.”

“Are you doing okay?”

“I must be -- I’m still here!”

“Well, you look like the fresh breath of spring!”

“…or the last rose of summer,“ she quipped.

“Do you try to walk every day?”

“Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I ride the bike on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Oh that we all could be that active physically, mentally, and in spirit at 95! Thanks, Betty, for being a wonderful model and inspiration.

Bill (Gina’s dad) and I have run into one another more often recently and that’s always enjoyable. We seem to have a lot to talk about and we pick up where we left off last time. He’s helping with security again at Brentwood Baptist’s VBS next week and always looks forward to that -- a wonderful ministry for guys his and my age. I may give that a shot the first summer I’m retired.

Betty is active at Franklin’s Downtown Presbyterian Church, Carolyn is doing all manner of ministry through her Church of Christ, and Robert (the Boompa look-alike) goes to Revival Church near Nolensville.

I’ve been walking three mornings of most weeks in Cool Springs Mall for seven months and have met a lot of new and interesting people. I’ve told you about many of them. Looking forward to seeing any/all of them is part of what helps me maintain that early morning regimen. But I’ve noticed this -- people of Christian faith are easier for me to connect with those who don’t seem to be practicing theirs. Duh! I am able to carry on an interesting conversation with nearly any of them, but the flow seems more seamless among the faithful.  Though not at all ashamed of my faith, I’ve never been a loud-mouth button-holing pusher of it. In these walking encounters it’s pretty easy to gently “test the waters” and see who continues the train of thought. When someone does pick it up, fellowship among near strangers is almost immediate. Very cool!

I doubt Nicolaus L. von Zinzendorf had ever walked a mall three hundred years ago when he wrote these words, but he, too, sensed the fellowship among believers:


Christian hearts in love united, seek alone in Jesus rest;
     has He not your love excited?  Then let love inspire each breast.
Members on the Head depending, lights reflecting Him, our Sun,
     Christians, His commands attending, we in Him, our Lord, are one.

Come, then, come, O flock of Jesus, covenant with Him anew;
     unto Him who conquered for us, pledge we love and service true;
     and should our love’s union holy firmly like no more remain,
     wait ye at His footstool lowly, till He draw it close again.

Grant, Lord, that with Thy direction, “Love each other,” we comply,
     aiming with unfeigned affection Thy love to exemplify;
     let our mutual love be glowing, so that all will plainly see
     that we, as on one stem growing, living branches are in Thee.

O that such may be our union as Thine with the Father is,
     and not one of our communion e’er forsake the path of bliss;
     may our light shine forth with brightness, from Thy light reflected, shine;
     thus the world will bear us witness, that we, Lord, are truly Thine.

Words – Nicolaus L. von Zinzendorf, 1725

Indeed, blest is the tie that binds Christian hearts in His love.

- Mark



Recently in this spot we talked a little about one’s outlook on life. Yesterday, I met Exhibit A of the “glass half-full” sort.

Only a few days into my two-month-old morning mall walk routine, Diane, who seems to know all the walkers by name and history, introduced me to Betty, an older woman strolling along at a slower pace pushing a basket cart. That day Diane stopped to visit with Betty and I barely broke stride not wanting to impose on their lady-talk. Since that day I’ve seen Betty off and on, waved and greeted across the other side, and moved on.

Last Monday midway around the “block’ I pulled up beside her and her cart –

“Good morning, Betty. I have a burning question I’ve wanted to ask.”

“Really?” she said looking a little startled and puzzled, but with a smile.

“Are you pushing that thing or is it pulling you?”

Her face relaxed and she snickered, “Probably a little of both.”

“How long have you been walking this mall?”

“I moved here about fifteen years ago and been walking it since.”

“Where did move from?”


“Did you see Atlanta lose the Super Bowl the other night?”

“Yes I did. That was awful, wasn’t it!”

We walked on carrying on a conversation about this and that.  It turns out that Betty’s niece was a member of FBC, Nashville, some fifty years ago and married Robert Denny who, at one time, was General Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance. I knew Dr. Denny only by reputation. Small world.

Betty and I have both lost our spouses. Her husband ended his long battle with depression twenty-nine years ago by taking his own life. 

“Depression is tough battle and losing him was hard for me. I did all I could trying to help him for a lot of years, but there’s only so much you can do.”

Nearing the mall south entrance, she grabbed her coat in the bottom of the basket.

“Are you done?” I asked.

“Yeah, one lap is enough for a person my age.” 

“Oh, you’re not old.”

“Yes I am and I’m not as healthy as I used to be.”

“Aw, how old are you?”


“You’re not 95!”

“Oh yes I am, every day of it.”

“You are remarkable at 95! You have a bright spirit, you’re friendly, you’re out here staying in shape and visiting with people. Good for you!”

“I’m doing what I can and I enjoy it.”

I helped her finish putting on her coat and resumed my walk as she and her trusted cart headed out the door toward the parking lot. My last lap was consumed thinking about this dear soul with enough zest for life even at age 95 to get up before the break of every morning, drive to the mall to get in a healthy walk. I don’t know if she is a person of faith although her countenance makes me think she is; I’ll find out in a few mornings and let you know.

We probably all hope to have a zest for life as long as we live. If the recent NPR life-outlook guest/guru was correct and the scientific research she referenced is accurate, a glass half-full outlook is something we must practice along the way, ahead of the fourth quarter. For some it will come easier than for others.

People like Betty are an inspiration to me. Perseverance is a word that comes to mind; grit is another. With all she’s been through for as long as she’s lived, I can’t help admire her and marvel at the sparkle still in her eyes. 

Here’s an old hymn in the Perseverance section of the Celebrating Grace Hymnal.

What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
     leaning on the everlasting arms;
     what a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
     leaning on the everlasting arms.

Oh, how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way,
     leaning on the everlasting arms;
     oh, how bright the path grows from day to day,
     leaning on the everlasting arms;

What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
     leaning on the everlasting arms?
I have blessed peach with my Lord so near,
     leaning on the everlasting arms;

[Ok, sing the refrain with me…with parts and echoes]

Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
    leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.

            Words – Elisha Hoffman, 1887

Sunday, the Brentwood United Methodists sang a bit of that hymn like a bunch of rowdy Baptists. Gregg, their Baptist-trained organist turned that instrument inside out sounding like a single-stanza revival meetin’. It was great! Upon completion and en route to the kneeling rails for the morning prayer, the Liturgist (also former Baptist) remarked “something tells me that’s not the first time y’all have sung that hymn!” He was right and we all laughed in assent.

It appears Betty is sweetly walking in this pilgrim way; observing her encourages me to do the same. 95? Holy smoke!

- Mark