Notes from Susie

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

A Day of Birth

In recent years March 7 has become a day to remember for me. It is a day of birth:

March 7, 2008 – grandson Andrew was born. Andrew is daughter Weslee’s middle son and has the healthiest head of red hair and corresponding freckles you ever saw. He is one cute kid! Andrew is the biggest of her three and the most tender-hearted. He’s the one that will get up off the floor from watching TV or playing a video game to give me a hug and say “I love you, Papa” or in the middle of something else blurt out of nowhere, “I miss Honey!” Papa loves that not-so-little football lineman boy. Andrew’s special two-year-old friend Anna Kate’s funeral was last March 7, 2016.

March 7, 2010 – the day Celebrating Grace Hymnal was born. After four years of intense, rewarding, joy-filled work, we rolled out that book two consecutive nights at Atlanta’s Second Ponce de Leon Baptist Church to a house full of church musicians. We sang the stars down, I’m telling you! I’ll never forget the sight of Tom and Julie McAfee trying to sing through the tears as we all belted out “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.” That book was his dream and it had come to life before our eyes. In his remarks that opening night, Terry York reminded us that the main test of a hymnal is “Does it sing?” and that night did it ever. And it still does! I have had more than my fair share of high moments in music ministry through the years, but none higher than that those two nights.   


March 7, 2013 marks the birth of “Notes from Susie.” Honey’s first surgery just completed, standing in a hospital hall, I noticed my phone flooded with emails, texts, and voice messages. Overwhelmed trying to figure out how I could respond to it all, Weslee calmly said, “we start a Facebook page.” We did, she hosted, and what a blessing it was to Honey and me, both in the writing of messages and receiving responses from people we knew and some we didn’t know. By the grace and goodness of God, that informational vehicle morphed into an almost daily “relief valve” for Honey and me to vent our fears and gratitude, our faith and grief – frequently expressed and nurtured through words of timeless and time-honored hymns. And then came the book!

Here is a hymn in the Celebrating Grace Hymnal written to be sung at the beginning of a calendar new year. But March 7 seems to begin a sort of new year for me, so let’s sing it today. The tune is the one to which we sing “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” (itself not a bad choice for an occasion as this.)

Great God, we sing your guiding hand
     by which supported still we stand;
     the opening year Your mercy shows;
     that mercy crowns it till its close.

By day, by night, at home, abroad,
     still we are guarded by our God;
     by His incessant bounty fed,
     by His unerring counsel led.

With grateful hearts the past we own;
     the future, all to us unknown,
     we to Your guardian care commit,
     and peaceful leave before Your feet.

In scenes exalted or depressed,
     You are our joy, You are our rest;
     Your goodness all our hopes shall raise,
     adored through all our changing days.

Words – Phillip Doddridge (based on Acts 26:22)

I doubt that hymn has made any list of Top 10. But it certainly is good fodder for straddling a pivotal occasion, seeing/celebrating what lies behind and striking out on yet another lap led by God’s guiding hand. 

Thanks be to God for March 7. Onward!

- Mark