French Creek Pioneers

I had the pleasure of attending the French Creek Pioneers gathering this past weekend with my dad and brother. This is a meeting of folks descended from the original settlers of French Creek, Va., back in the early 1800s (before West Virginia became a state). There were Goulds, Youngs, Smallridges, Sextons, and Phillips among others.

I’m descended from the Phillips line. The first ancestor to come to America was Nicholas who came to Dedham, Mass., in 1630. Six generations later, in 1815, David Phillips moved his family to French Creek. Seven generations later, in 1971, I came along.

These are the Phillips for whom I named the characters in my Appalachian Blessings series. They aren’t based on any specific ancestors, but are rather a collection of bits and pieces I’ve read or seen or heard along the way. And it was SO special to set up a book table and share those stories with folks who are . . . well . . . my family!

I love sharing my Appalachian stories with just about anyone, but it’s extra special to share them with family members who share the same heritage. Here are some photos from the weekend–click on the images for captions.

 

Who ARE the Poor?

bouquetSunday’s sermon was about helping the poor. Our scripture was from James 2 which cautions us not to show partiality for those who appear to be better off.

Which set me to thinking about what, exactly, it means to be poor. There’s the obvious answer–people who don’t have enough to meet their basic needs of food, shelter, clothing . . . The homeless. The hungry. The family struggling to make ends meet. The senior choosing between food and medicine.

But it occurred to me that there are plenty of other kinds of poverty in this world:

  • People who are poor in friendships/relationships. Basically, the lonely.
  • People who are poor in joy/peace. Those who struggle with depression or maybe they’re just overwhelmed by life at the moment.
  • People who are poor in safety/security. Those who live in places with high crime or who are fearful of how people might treat them.
  • People who are poor in faith/spirituality. Unbelievers of all kinds–folks who believe this life is all there is.
  • People who are poor in health/wellness. Terminally ill people or even those who are chronically ill.

I suspect this list could go on and on. The point is, while I may not be poor financially, I’m poor in other ways. And so is everyone else.

Our pastor talked about how the poor are often people we don’t see or notice. They’re on the margins of society, tucked away, hidden, unrecognized–which can make them hard to help. We have to LOOK for the poor. But I think that extends to the people we DO see on a regular basis as well. Probably they’re poor in one way or another. And either we fail to notice it or they do a good job of hiding it.

What if we all started paying attention? What if I take the time to notice when a co-worker is poor in time and offer to help with a task? Or that a neighbor is poor in visitors and stop by for a chat? Or that a friend is poor in peace and take time to pray with her?

Sometimes we do nothing because it feels like there’s too much need to even make a dent. And yet . . . I know how wonderful it is when someone notices I have a need and meets it. Maybe if we all did just a little, it would add up.

 

Laying Up Treasure

treasuresThis past weekend a good friend and her family hosted a yard sale to empty out her grandparents’ house. Health issues and advancing years have forced the couple into a facility and it’s time to think about selling the little house they’ve lived in for so long.

Thistle and I stopped by for moral support AND to shop for a memento or two. I’ve known this sweet couple since we moved to our current house and she’s the one who first invited me to the church my husband and I now attend. I knew she collected teapots and thought it would be nice to have one.

I came away with a deviled egg plate just like the one my mom used when I was a kid along with a cast iron corn stick pan and a sweet little Brown Betty teapot. Which set me to thinking about what I consider my “treasure.”

I started walking through the house to pick out my favorite things. There’s the salt box and cast iron, elephant-shaped bottle opener from Dad’s childhood. Five or six wee pitchers from my grandmother’s collection. My mother-in-laws 40th anniversary salt and pepper shakers. The embroidered picture Aunt Bess stitched. A Christmas figurine from Mom’s childhood along with the butter mold she used when I was a kid (made by my great uncle).

And then there are the items that belonged to the senior ladies of the church. An amber glass cake plate and hand-painted dessert plates from Billy. A toll painting of a basket of eggs from Ann. And now Betty’s brown Betty teapot and egg plate.

These are my treasures.

But it’s not the THING so much as it is the person each one brings to mind. As I tallied my treasures I realized the value isn’t in the tangible item, but rather in the intangible memories and emotions and . . . love.

Matthew 6:19-20 says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Betty’s teapot has a chip in it. I might break that egg plate while doing the dishes one day. Every last item could be lost or destroyed but that’s okay because they aren’t really my treasures. And ultimately, it’s not even the people they represent that’s the treasure–love is. And love never fails.

 

Appalachian Thursday – Outhouses

Outhouse posterTomorrow is my wedding anniversary–twenty-two years! So what does that have to do with outhouses? Well, if you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that the church where we married was lacking indoor plumbing.

It still is twenty-two years later.

So, in honor of the outhouse at my wedding, I thought I’d share some interesting outhouse facts.

And no, I did NOT attempt to use the facilities in my wedding gown.

  1. Crescent moons. The crescent moon you often see cut in the door serves a couple of purposes. First, it lets in a bit of light. Second, it was a way to differentiate between ladies and gents. Women got the crescent moon while men had a star. Allegedly, the moon is more common because the ladies took better care of their facilities and so they lasted longer.
  2. Two-seaters. You may have seen an outhouse with two holes and wondered just how chummy folks were back in the day. Typically, the second hole wasn’t for simultaneous pottying. Often there was an adult-sized hole and then a smaller, child-sized hole.
  3. Garbage disposal. There are actually folks who go around digging where they think outhouses might once have been. This is because owners used to toss all kinds of stuff into the opening. And yesterday’s trash is sometimes today’s collectible.
  4. Toilet paper. Often, there wasn’t any. This is where the Sears catalog came in with its nice, soft pages. And if you’ve ever heard the phrase, “rough as a cob,” it originated in an outhouse where shucked corn cobs were sometimes re-purposed.
  5. WPA Outhouses – In the 1930s part of Roosevelt’s Work Projects Administration (WPA) was improving rural sanitation through the construction of Red Cross designed outhouses (see image above). These were luxury models with cement floors, smooth seats, and vents. They were also meant to be fly and vermin proof, although I have my doubts.

All in all, having used an old-time outhouse and a modern port-o-john, I have to say the Appalachian outhouse is the nicer of the two experiences.

Holy Week–The best story EVER

Easter gardenJust picture it.

Jesus comes riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. People act like he’s a rock star–waving palm branches, throwing their cloaks down in the street.

The king is here.

But wait. This isn’t the king they expected. He doesn’t overthrow Roman rule. He doesn’t claim a throne, wear a crown, or live in a palace.

Instead, he makes fools of the religious leaders. He sets the temple straight. He tells stories and gives them the greatest commandment all wrapped up in love.

He is NOT what anyone expected.

And then they arrest him and kill him.

But Holy Week doesn’t end there. Easter morning is yet to come. And it’s the greatest day the world has ever known.

This is my FAVORITE time of year. It’s better than Christmas. Better than my birthday. Better than my wedding day.

This coming Sunday, as the sun tips over the horizon, I’ll remember what God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit conspired to do . . . for me. Every year I recognize that I don’t deserve it. And every year I recognize that, nonetheless, salvation is mine.

I hope and pray salvation is yours as well. Because he didn’t do it JUST for me (although he would have). He did it for YOU as well.

 

Fruit of the Spirit – Gentleness

stars2That’s what our pastor talked about yesterday. I always thought it meant something like kindness–a sort of being careful with whatever is fragile in life. But here’s a definition from a Bible dictionary:

“Sensitivity of disposition and kindness of behavior, founded on strength and prompted by love.”

Which makes gentleness a whole lot more complicated than I thought. It’s certainly not weak. It doesn’t mean to be a pushover. It’s not just being nice. The first part of the definition is pretty much what I expected, but that second part, that’s complex.

Gentleness is founded on strength. Picture a man’s large, strong hand cradling a newly hatched chick. Gentleness has the power to destroy . . . and yet it doesn’t. Which is where that last bit of the definition comes in.

Gentleness is prompted by love. Gentleness has power and strength, yet chooses sensitivity and kindness out of love. It doesn’t lash out. Doesn’t knock anyone down or push them around just because it can.

As a matter of fact, it seems like it might be impossible to be gentle unless you are strong and loving. So the question then is–what is my strong foundation? What prompts me to love?

All I can say is that all too often I feel weak and . . . well . . . not loving. That would be ME operating under my own power. So if I want to be gentle (and I do) then I’d better find my source elsewhere.

I Peter 3:14-17 – But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

I guess being gentle is tougher than I thought. But isn’t that the way with most worthwhile endeavors?

Ashes to Ashes – A Lenten Reflection

Church

There were fewer than twenty of us gathered in the little white church on the hill for the Ash Wednesday service last week. The evening was mild and the service was brief with some music, scripture and words from the pastor, and then the ashes.

Lent is my favorite season and Easter is my favorite holiday. I like it better even than Christmas. I look forward to getting up early on Easter morning for the sunrise service and when we come to the place where the pastor says, “He is risen!” and we all answer, “He is risen, indeed!” my heart never fails to soar.

But before the resurrection, there’s this deep, lovely time of reflection. And it starts with ashes.

My pastor dipped his finger in the bowl of oil mixed with ashes from last year’s palm branches. He placed a gentle finger on my forehead, making a cross and saying, “Sarah, from ashes you have come and from ashes you shall return.”

And my heart soared with something like Resurrection Sunday joy. Because this is good news indeed.

In Genesis 3:19 after the fall, God said to Adam, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Dust. Ashes. I suppose that might sound sad to some folks, but what I hear is that the pain, sorrows, difficulties, and challenges of this world are temporary. And this frail, human body of mine is just a temporary vessel molded from dust and ashes. It’s not meant to last forever.

So when I see all the ways my body is failing, declining, heeding the call of the dust from which it came, I can find peace in knowing that’s what’s supposed to happen. When my dreams, goals, and ambitions don’t quite work out the way I hoped, I can find peace in knowing this toil–this sometimes futile sweat of my brow–is only temporary.

Because I know there’s more to the story. We begin Lent with ashes–a reminder that we will die. But we end it by celebrating Christ’s resurrection–a reminder that in him, our earthly deaths are just the beginning of a new, perfect life eternal.

John 3:35-36 – The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.