Celebrating Grace

Mine the Riches Therein

This week we had our semi-annual “corporate” meetings -- a day and a half during which our staff from TX and GA meet midway in our TN office to commiserate, strategize, eat, fellowship face-to-face for the next leg of our journey together. One special feature this time was a retirement dinner for Dora Ann who has played an important role in helping us develop and launch Growing in Grace, our children’s music curriculum now in its sixth year. To say she served well is an understatement as is “we will miss her.”

Tuesday morning I was up to bat leading the devotional. Rather than saying all the words myself, the day before I had asked the staff to be prepared to share a favorite hymn and in a few sentences say why it was a favorite. Here are some takeaways from that experience:

  • The Celebrating Grace staff is comprised of deeply spiritual and Christian people.
  • All of us are people of the book – the hymnbook. Hymns touch us deeply and give voice to that which otherwise can be difficult to express.
  • Sometimes a hymn in poetic form rather than interlined with music seems to take on new meaning.
  • Hymns stick with us and have extended shelf life.
  • There’s a whole lot of Bible in the hymnal.
  • Hymns seem to be and some surely are God’s more recent revelation.
  • Many of our staff “favorites” dealt with quiet, intimate, and tender places in their beings. Several included thoughts about resting, being at ease and at home in the presence of God.
  • Good hymns, like good literature and scripture are sturdy enough and rich enough to be studied -- the closer they are examined and pondered, the greater the riches revealed.

I had a delightful lunch today with forty-year friends Ray and Barbara who follow this column.  He commented that I usually conclude with a hymn lesson. If so, so be it. Today’s admonition is to visit a hymnal and mine the riches therein. “There’s gold in them there songs.”

Weslee and her boys (ages 12, 9, and 7) were here over the weekend and attended the early service at BUMC with me. It was Communion day and their first time to participate. (The older two had been baptized in their west TN Baptist church just last Sunday.) Conversation had en route home.

Papa: “You boys were really good in church this morning.”

A (age 9): “That’s because we were playing a lot of Hangman.”

J (age 12): “Yeah, that was great!”

Assuming they had been engaged in the service, their response was somewhat deflating -- dang, they missed the whole thing! Their conversation continued in the back seats when A or T (age 7) apparently made a disparaging remark about someone back in the west TN.

J: “Didn’t you hear the sermon? (Love your neighbor as yourself.) If you don’t, we’re going to have a problem.”

Evidently kids can multi-task -- play Hangman AND get the hang of a well-crafted sermon.

A: “That bread was good.”

T:  “Yeah.”

J:  “When you eat it right after you dip it in the juice, it’s great.

A: “Yeah, but then the bread is good after that, too. Two good things – awesome!”

One final hymnological take-away from Tuesday favorite hymnfest is that in many four-stanza hymns, stanza three often has a “pastoral care” theme. I discovered another such at BUMC Sunday following Communion. I’ve sung and led “More Love to Thee” all my life but had never seen stanza three.

Let sorrow do its work,
Send grief and pain;
Sweet are Thy messengers,
Sweet their refrain,
When they can sing with me,
More love, O Christ, to Thee.

Words – Elizabeth Prentiss, 1869

Sunday morning early service was a tender time for me -- Weslee and boys with me, worship had been meaningful, the boys taking Communion for the first time, and thinking how blessed and proud Honey would be. Since her death more than two years ago, sorrow has done its work on me and I have made it thus far, but in that moment I needed some “sweet messengers” to sing that “sweet refrain” with me…and they did.

- Mark

ROMEO, Ron, and Russell

Even though the weather has moderated considerably, I’m still early-morning walking in Cool Springs Mall before going to the Celebrating Grace office nearby. A few of my buds there apparently walk in their respective neighborhoods now that the mornings are wonderful and spring is in full bloom. This morning I walked a spell with Wayne and Naif who bring to mind Laurel and Hardy. (That pretty well dates me.) Walking alone I tend to compete with myself and end up walking too fast; falling in step with L&H slows my pace some and that’s usually a good thing. Naif is the steady, easy going one of the duo whereas Wayne is always picking at someone about something along the way. (Wayne reminds me of my Uncle John -- likable, good-hearted and fun-loving, but -- as we would say in south Texas -- full of baloney.)

If I want to pick up my pace I walk with Ron who is long-legged so I have to work hard to keep up with him. He’s an interesting guy as are most of the others walkers. He is retired and his hobby is airplanes. He and a couple of others own a two-seater hangered at an airport in Lewisburg some forty miles south. He goes down there three or four times a week to mess with the plane, hang out with other flying friends, but primarily to get out of the house. He belongs to a group of guys unofficially called ROMEO. That name sort of conjures up images of dirty old men on the prowl for available Juliets. But he quickly explained that ROMEO is an acronym for


Apparently, ROMEO is a regional “club” whereby guys within a hundred or so- mile radius fly their planes over to some agreed-upon spot on the banks of the Tennessee River for catfish lunch, somewhere in Alabama for meat ‘n three, or Kentucky for a bait of hot brown, derby pie or some such. They set a time for lunch and everyone leaves their respective airports in time to make the lunch bell. Rural airports run a shuttle to and from the restaurant where the guys eat, tell lies, visit awhile, “see ya next week” and fly back home. “It’s not inexpensive, but we enjoy it and it gives us something fun to do.”

Arriving at the office this morning as usual and ahead of nearly everyone else at our complex, I noticed a gentleman taking his morning walk in our parking lot. I parked the car and walked toward our suite. By then, he was approaching me on the sidewalk and seeing me stick the key in our door he said:

“You’re just the person I’ve been looking for.”


Pointing to our wall sign, he said “I’ve walked by here a dozens of times wondering what ‘Celebrating Grace’ is. I even stepped inside one day and didn’t see anyone so I turned around and left. Grace is such an important word.”

I gave him the short version of our business then asked, “Is grace important because it is someone’s name or for some other reason?”

“It’s because of my faith. My name is Russell.”

We talked on a bit, swapping faith stories, etc.

“So you walk by here frequently?”

“Yeah, I live over here in the Alara Apartments. I’m from Covington (TN) but my wife died of cancer two years ago and I’ve married my high school sweetheart who lives down here.”

“Really! My wife died of cancer two years ago, but I haven’t remarried…nor is it on my radar.”

“We were married 47 years.”

“Honey and I were married nearly 45.”

We compared cancer stories and somehow the Notes From Susie book came up.

“That’s great!  I’ll go buy a copy next time I’m out.”

“Well, why don’t you just come in and I’ll give you one of my author copies.”

“Okay, maybe I can make a donation to Celebrating Grace.”

Russell followed me into my office and we continued to get acquainted. He told me about the Methodist church in Covington where his membership remains and about Epworth UMC they now attend. He mentioned the death of the female associate pastor at their Covington church and how that church and senior pastor are still grieving this well-loved associate’s death. It turns out that associate had been one of my friend Rusty’s favorite students at Lambuth College in the late 70’s and he had attended her memorial service earlier this year. Her name was Grace.

“I don’t believe in coincidences” he said. “I believe you and I were supposed to meet today.” 

I showed and gave him a copy of Notes From Susie and he handed me a check for $100 for Celebrating Grace.

“Russell, this is so nice of you.”

“I’m just glad to be able to. I better be on my way. She’ll be wondering where I am.”

“I hope our paths cross again. Maybe we can walk together some morning.”

Borrowing a phrase Honey used and a way of life she practiced and pretty much perfected -- “Today I am thankful for” -- opportunities I have, for new people I am meeting, for health to walk, for strength to do pretty much what I want, for wonderful churches of many stripes, for good friends nearby since family is afar, for the beauty and freshness of springtime…all of which calls to mind this bright and joyful hymn:

All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small,
     all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.

Each little flower that opens, each little bird that sings,
     He made their glowing colors, He made their tiny wings.

The purple-headed mountain, the river running by,
     the sunset and the morning that brightens up the sky.

The cold wind in the winter, the pleasant summer sun,
     the ripe fruit in the garden: He made them every one.

He gave us eyes to see them and lips that we might tell
     how great is God Almighty, who has made all things well.

All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small,
     all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.

Words – Cecil F. Alexander, 1848

- Mark

Excerpt: Faith Runs Deep

In this week's post on the Notes From Susie blog, Mark Edwards features an excerpt from the book followed by a new postscript reflection on the passage. 

Someone characterized people's Christian faith as either simple or complex. Honey was the former, and I say the lucky one. I'm the latter and have to think through it all, try to modify it, massage it, and work at it. Not Honey. She was a "what He says we will do and where He sends we will go, never fear, only trust and obey" person. She didn't consider herself a good Christian witness, mostly due to a narrow view of "witness" pretty much limited to buttonholing nonbelievers and converting them. Honey wasn't going to buttonhole anyone for any reason, but she certainly was an effective witness.

Honey was a pray-er although she didn't like to pray aloud, much less in public. She used the time writing notes to people as an opportunity to pray for them. I often saw prayer lists around the house tucked away in safe places. I know she prayed for me, our kids, grandkids, and a host of others all the time. It was private but very personal and regular.

Her faith ran deep, borne out of her spirit of profound gratitude that produced joy. She always remembered provisions made for her -- a birth mother who chose life over death, a family who adopted her, Jesus who died for her, a husband who loved her, good job, friends, family, our house and home, and the list goes on. Getting sick was a downer for her, but it provided whole new group of friends and professionals. And the interesting thing was that she didn't have to work at interacting with people or being grateful, that's just they way she was.

The last two years of her life when I would put her to bed, she would always say, "Thank you for everything you did for me today," and she meant it. Often she would continue, "We are so blessed," then rattle off a list of things that came to mind. All our married life, she would adapt to whatever the circumstance and be okay about it. She could honestly sing with the hymn writer, "Whatever my lot, Thous hast taught me to say, 'It is well with my soul." It really was in life and it certainly is now.  

Beginning to develop the Notes From Susie book, I wrote that piece only a few weeks after Honey died. Two years and one week later, I see the truth of it even more clearly. The first part of this week, I tended the Celebrating Grace booth at a union meeting -- actually a church music conference -- during which several people made it a point to speak to me reporting how much they were blessed having read the book (and even following this blog.) All of it only confirms the point I was trying to make in the first paragraph -- Honey was, indeed, a powerful witness to her Christian faith that ran deeply even though it spoke quietly. It also reminds me of one definition of a saint -- “someone who never stops doing good.”

This old hymn certainly carries the freight of Honey’s quiet witness to her deep faith. 

When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word
     what a glory He sheds on our way!
Let us do His good will; He abides with us still,
     and with all who will trust and obey.

Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share,
     but our toil He does richly repay;
     not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross,
     but is blest if we trust and obey.

But we never can prove the delights of His love
     until all on the altar we lay;
     for the favor He shows and the joys He bestows
     are for those who will trust and obey.

Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet
     or we’ll walk by His side in the way;
     what He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
     never fear, only trust and obey.

[All together now…]

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
     to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Words – John H. Sammis, 1887

Thanks, Honey, for witnessing to us all.

- Mark