Tag Archives: message

Giving is for the Birds

I read the simple message while driving to work that morning. It was quite a few years ago but I remember the church’s sign: “Give To Others – Sacrifice” was its straightforward directive. As I pondered those words, I noticed another sign at a fast-food place across the street.

“Try Our Blueberry Biscuits”

Those words required no pondering.

I would indeed try them. Having ample time before work, I would even go inside to sit as I enjoyed their flaky goodness. I could smell the biscuits when I walked in to place my order. On a large rack behind the cashier, someone from the kitchen drizzled icing generously over a dozen or so freshly baked blueberry delights. I ordered two.

After all, the sign had clearly indicated plural.

My mouth watered as I sat at a table between a window and a row of potted palms. I spread my blueberry biscuits before me, smelled their warm icing, and heard their plump blueberries call to me. I noticed movement on the other side of the potted palms but excitement over my biscuits kept me from looking up. Just as I was about to pick up the first biscuit, the movement stopped and I heard a woman’s voice.

“Are you Jesus?” she asked.

Not sure I had correctly heard such a question, I wiped the anticipatory biscuit drool from my mouth and waited for a second.

“Are you Jesus?” she asked again.

I turned to see a frowning elderly woman staring through the potted palms. I assumed she might be homeless when I saw her. Her clothes were frayed and wrinkled, and although her hair was pulled neatly back and held in place by a clean red ribbon, she was otherwise very disheveled and dirty. She carried a soiled tote bag on her arm.

“Are you Jesus?” she asked me for the third time. She frowned a bit harder.

I admit that I slid my blueberry biscuits away from her and towards the window on the far side of the table before I responded.

“No Ma’am”. I said. “Definitely not.” I spread an extra concealing napkin over my biscuits.

I thought she might leave once I cleared up that little misidentification, but she lingered quietly by the potted palms. I kept the biscuits covered and willed my salivary glands to cease working. She edged closer to my table. I pushed the biscuits closer to the window.

She sat down across from me.

My biscuits cooled, my mouth watered, and guilt crept over me as I remembered the first message I had read that morning. “Give to Others – Sacrifice”.

Well, great. Why did I have to see the church’s sign just before being shown the door to blueberry deliciousness! Oh well. I removed one biscuit from its hiding place and slid it towards the elderly woman.

“You can have this.” I said.

She said absolutely nothing but took the biscuit, wrapped it tightly in the napkin, and slipped it into her tote bag. She still frowned. Not even the slightest smile.

There. I had “given to others”. I felt better, she had eagerly taken the biscuit, and as soon as she got up I could still enjoy the one I had left. I could smell it there under the napkin.

She didn’t get up.

“You have a good day, Ma’am.” I said, thinking she might move along.

She still didn’t get up. She frowned at the lump under my napkin.

I had already checked my watch several times and knew I had to get to work soon. I just wanted to eat my blueberry biscuit! I had done what the church sign said. I had “given to others”!

Well, the sign had said a little more than that, I thought as the elderly woman frowned persistently.

I uncovered my second biscuit and handed it to her, saying nothing. She took the second as eagerly as the first. She wrapped it quickly, slipped it into her tote bag, and walked to the door to go outside. She frowned all the while.

No matter, I thought. I could simply pick up another biscuit, or two, on my way out.

“We stopped making blueberry biscuits twenty minutes ago.” the cashier said. “No more back there.”

My stomach growled. So did I. One of my biscuits handed to the elderly woman was “giving”. Both of my biscuits handed to her, now that was “sacrifice”! But, she would enjoy them I kept telling myself, as I imagined her biting into the icing covered blueberry treats.

As I headed to my car, I heard their wings flapping before I saw them. Pigeons. So many pigeons flying in that they blocked my view of what attracted them. Then, through an opening in the flock, I saw what they were after.

An elderly woman with a tote bag. She crumbled and tossed piece after piece of blueberry biscuit into the air as pigeons scrambled to eat them.

She was finally smiling.

Stuart M. Perkins

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You’re an Abelia

“I believe you’re an abelia.” Nannie said to me as she slipped her well-used hand pruners into the large, practical front pocket of her hand-made cotton dress.

Had she called me an abelia a few hours earlier the label would have seemed meaningless, even nonsensical. Nothing my grandmother said to me had ever been meaningless or nonsensical and neither was her labeling me an abelia. In fact, after the conversation we’d just had, it made me feel hopeful.

Nannie had asked me one evening if I could come over the next day to help her trim some bushes that grew along the side of her old farmhouse. I always agreed to help her do anything she asked and not just because she was the perfect grandmother. She was also fun, funny, cheerful, and the most encouraging person I’ve ever known. Being around her was uplifting and helping her do anything meant a good time in the process. We especially enjoyed our times working in the yard together.

We carried on lively conversations as we trimmed the dead wood from a few of her ancient azaleas. I soon mentioned that I had applied for a different job but had recently learned it was given to another candidate. I often felt that whenever I had a chance to get ahead something always knocked me back. It seemed to happen every time. Earlier that summer I had earned an extra hundred dollars one Saturday. On Monday I found out my car needed a small part replaced. The part cost ninety-nine dollars. When I grumbled about my uncanny bad luck, Nannie disagreed.

“To me it seems like He provided for your need.” she said casually as she lopped a dead azalea branch. “Plus, you got an extra dollar.”

I knew the attitude of hers I was up against – an unwaveringly positive one – but I continued complaining about my station in life and how it seemed my setbacks happened far too often. As I tossed some dead azalea branches to the side, Nannie reminded me not to cut off any of the live ones.

“Azaleas bloom on the old wood, so if you cut them too far back it means no blooms next year.” she explained. However, as she spoke she chopped large amounts of live branches from the next shrub she had begun pruning. She noticed my puzzled expression as she hacked the massive bush back another foot or two.

“It’s an abelia and they bloom on the new growth. This won’t hurt next year’s flowers.” she clarified.

I started raking the clippings and branches we’d cut so far. As Nannie kept cutting huge amounts from the shrub in front of her I said, “Well, I must be an azalea!”

“How do you reckon?” she asked, grinning as she fought to remove a tiny twig lodged in her hair net.

“Because I feel like every time I get ready to bloom something comes along and chops me back too far.” I answered. “I keep trying to bloom on my old growth and things keep hacking me back!”

Nannie plucked the little twig from her hair net and looked at me for a minute.

“Look over yonder.” she said, pointing to a little shrub no more than a foot tall but completely covered in tiny blooms and fresh green growth.

“Yeah?” I said. I didn’t get it.

“That’s an abelia, same as this big one I’ve been cutting back.” Nannie explained as we walked over to stare down at the short but bloom covered shrub. “Last year a branch from the tree fell on it and broke most of it back, then I came and cut the rest of it almost to the ground.”

“Yeah?” I repeated. I was going to need a little more to go on here.

She continued. “That abelia tried to bloom and a tree fell on it. It tried to bloom again and I cut it to the ground. When it was finally able, it bloomed better than any of these others that were never cut back.”

All of those setbacks had actually made it bloom more. I finally got what she meant.

“Don’t worry about any old setbacks. Your time will come.” Nannie said.

I understood. Although I felt setbacks were stopping me, they really weren’t. Setbacks can make us tougher, more determined, and better prepared for the time when we really are ready to bloom. I just needed to be patient, work through my setbacks when they came, and my time to bloom would certainly come.

“I’m not an azalea.” I said out loud, almost relieved.

“Not at all.” Nannie said as she smiled and slipped her hand pruners into her pocket. “I believe you’re an abelia.”

Stuart M. Perkins

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That’s Noody

I was in ninth grade when my English teacher asked us to write a three page paper on someone we respected. We were to choose someone who had influenced our thinking and whose character we admired. After groans from the class that the paper must go on for three long pages, we each set about choosing our person. Once we had decided, we were each to walk to the front of the class and write our choice on the blackboard. Since the person could be someone from any point in time, many chose religious, historical, or political figures. After we each wrote our person’s name on the blackboard, the teacher read them aloud.

I remember she went slowly down the list as she read names like George Washington, Mahatma Gandhi, and Neil Armstrong. Soon, she reached my chalk written choice.

“Margaret P. Lankey?” she asked, as she frowned and turned to the class, puzzled.

I raised my hand. “That’s Noody” I said. “She’s my aunt.”

I was never sure why we called her Noody. I probably asked but don’t recall an answer. It didn’t matter really. I come from a large family and almost everyone had a nickname. That’s just how it was done at home. Extended family lived all around me but I was lucky that Noody lived right next door. She and my uncle were as much a part of my everyday life as my parents and sisters.

Noody had an old redwood picnic table in her yard under the trees where she did everything from shelling butter beans to cleaning fish to cutting a watermelon for whoever happened to be in the yard that evening. When I saw her at the picnic table I’d walk over to visit. She was a great conversationalist and always seemed interested to hear what I had been up to. If she said “Let’s go sit in the swing.” I knew I was in for a treat. I loved to hear old family stories and she loved to tell them. She taught me the importance of remembering where you came from while not forgetting where you wanted to go. That’s Noody.

She could do things like drive a pickup truck, haul firewood, feed hogs and chickens, work hard in her garden, and slap on a baseball cap to cut grass, all while holding a handful of cookies to snack on now and then. She and Nannie, her mother and my grandmother, once cornered a snake near the barn. Noody, thinking she was lined up just right for a good decapitation, raised a hoe over her head and came down with all due force towards the snake. She missed, leaving a hole in the ground so deep that Nannie asked me to bring a shovel full of dirt to fill it. Noody belly laughed. Do your best to get the job done and if it doesn’t work as you’d hoped, so what, have a good laugh. That’s Noody.

Many winters if there was enough snow, we cousins took our sleds to a nearby hill. Noody would come along to be part of the fun. On other occasions we all went roller skating. Noody came along for that too, strapping on her skates to head into the rink like a pro. She even joined in the Hokey Pokey dance in the center of the rink a few times. At the family place on the Chesapeake Bay, while other adults sat on the beach or in the shade, Noody put on her bathing suit and plunged into the water with us kids. She taught me how to float on my back, and also taught me that hard work may be necessary, but playing hard is just as beneficial.

One time I stayed with out of town relatives for a few days. When I returned home I met Noody at the picnic table to tell her about it. When I finished relating my adventures she asked if I had yet sent them a “bread and butter note”. I told her not yet, but didn’t tell her that I had no idea what one was. She went inside and brought back some of her own stationery. There at the picnic table she helped me write a proper thank you note to the relatives I had visited. She taught me many lessons over the years. That’s Noody.

She was not just a mentor, but also an ally. Just before my thirteenth birthday I saw an ad in the back of Southern Living magazine for a tiny incubator and six quail eggs. Mama, not thrilled by my idea to add more animals to the ones I already had, gave me an instant “No”. I took the next logical step and met Noody at the picnic table. I showed her the ad and told her I really wanted to try hatching some eggs but Mama said “No”. Noody read the ad, put her hand on her hip and said, “Run bring me my checkbook.” With help from her, my uncle built a huge enclosure and the quail I hatched were part of my life for the next few years. If you want something that badly, why not go ahead and try. That’s Noody.

Many of my relatives are buried at the church near home that most of my extended family attended, and many still do. A couple years ago I took my kids for a walk around the cemetery there. As they read names from each of the family tombstones I would say, “That’s your great grandfather.” or “That’s your great great grandmother.” or “That’s your great uncle.” From a spot just a little further down than some of the older tombstones I heard one of the kids read a name. “Margaret P. Lankey” they called out.

“That’s Noody.” I said.

As soon as I heard her name I thought of the many good times with my fine aunt.

I also thought about the note my ninth grade teacher wrote in the upper right hand corner of my paper once she read it. “Please show this writing to Noody.” it said.

I still wish I had.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Come in Anyway

This evening I searched for my old photo albums in cardboard boxes under the bed. I found them along with other things I’d saved like pictures my children had drawn for me, random tiny toys I played with as a kid, and in one box I found an old spiral notebook I used to write things in, years and years ago.

It’s not a diary, not even a journal, just notes. For example, on one page I’d recorded how long it took quail eggs to hatch the time I’d gotten them and a tiny incubator from an ad in Southern Living. On another page was a training schedule from when I thought I’d try running a marathon. I laughed when I saw that on my ninth (and final) day of training I had simply written “too hot to run”. On yet another page I had jotted down “Come in anyway – Nannie said” and sketched a little church.

Nannie really was a praying grandmother who wanted us to go to church and who wanted us to know why she wanted us to go to church. She was happy with her relationship with God and she hoped the same for everyone else, especially family. She never preached. Instead she showed by pure example what it meant to be a great Christian. I never pretended to be a great Christian, or even a very good one for that matter, and I thought back to the many impromptu conversations Nannie and I had about God while sitting on her back porch. No one could imagine such deep conversations would pop up after picking a row of tomatoes or pulling a few ears of corn, but they did, and often.

One such conversation began as we shelled butter beans and I started questioning God. Nannie always said we should open our hearts to Him. I said to her that God allows diseases, but I should ask Him to come into my heart anyway? God allows people to drown, burn, and starve, but I should tell Him come in anyway? God allows one person to kill another, but still I should tell Him come in anyway? My examples went on for quite a while but she said nothing, just listened as she continued to shell butter beans. Surely now she realized how I couldn’t ignore all the bad God allows and still say my heart is open, “Come in anyway.” I said nothing else, but I had made my point.

When I was done, Nannie shifted in her chair a little but never looked up as she continued shelling the butter beans in her lap. She said we all do wrong things in life and do them even though we know they’re wrong. We sometimes doubt God or lack faith and we lie and sin in many ways. She said all of us have fallen short and none of us are perfect. Then she said when the time comes for those who believe to enter Heaven, God will stop us and look us in the face, aware of every single one of our past mistakes, errors, and sins, but you know what He will say?

“Come in anyway.”

Nannie threw the last of her butter bean hulls in the old bucket at her feet and stood to go to the kitchen. She said nothing else, but she had made her point.

Stuart M. Perkins

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A Pew for You

I had dinner over in D.C. tonight and the agreeable weather made it a great night to sit outside. The restaurant’s patio area was delineated from the hectic sidewalk by a rustic cast iron fence topped with weathered planters full of store-fresh geraniums. Behind this barricade, my table and five others were neatly arranged. Six full tables enjoyed dinner and got in some good people-watching. It seemed we all finished our meals around the same time and reluctant to leave such a cozy place on such a pleasant evening, we six full tables of strangers began to talk amongst ourselves as if we were old friends at a reunion.

At one point, the woman at the table beside me told her husband that she wanted to get some things done around the house Saturday, but on Sunday they were going to church. The look on his face proved church had not factored into his plans. His wife knew that look better than I and she cut him off before he could say anything with  “Ohhh yes. We’re going to church. There’s a pew for you this Sunday!” Then she turned to me to say she asks him every Saturday night if he’s going to church with her on Sunday.

I told her that rang a bell. Growing up “across the field” from Nannie, my grandmother, meant I spent many hours as a teenager at her farmhouse working in the garden, helping in the yard, or sitting on her huge two-story screened porch out back. Nannie was more than a Sunday church-goer. She was involved in everything at church regardless of the day of the week. The fact that the church was less that a quarter mile away and visible from the very porch she sat on every evening underscored its relevance in her life. She didn’t miss a Sunday and she gave her best effort to ensure others followed suit. Unfortunately, as a teenager who preferred to do almost anything else on Sunday mornings, I probably often made the same face that the man at the next table tonight gave his wife. Nannie, just like this man’s wife, would ask every Saturday evening that she saw me whether I would be at church the next day.

One of those Saturday evenings I had been helping Nannie with yardwork. We rested on the porch and as I stood up to leave I winced when she asked, with her always sweet and calm tone, “See you at church tomorrow?” I could never lie and say “yes”, but to say “no” made me feel such guilt that I was always trying to come up with unique responses to divert her attention until I could disappear behind the boxwoods by the porch and head home. Somehow, if I could just make it to the boxwoods I felt I’d dodged the bullet. I froze. “See you in church tomorrow?” she sweetly asked again. I remembered a line I’d heard so I looked her squarely in the face, not even using boxwoods as cover, and said “Sitting in church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than sitting in a garage makes you a car.” She simply said “Maybe not, but cars don’t need to be saved.” When I responded with “All of them I ever drove did.” She started a good Nannie chuckle and before she finished I was behind the boxwoods heading home. I hadn’t gotten far when I heard her say again “See you in church tomorrow.” This time not presented as a question…

The woman at the table beside me seemed to enjoyed my recollection of Nannie’s weekly attempts to get me to church. She turned to her husband and said again, sternly, “We’re going to church.” He leaned up to look around her at me and said “I guess I’ll have to. Know any way I can get out of church Sunday?”

“Plant boxwoods on Saturday.” I suggested.

Stuart M. Perkins

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