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Living on Purpose: Grace that is greater than all our sin

Dr. William Holland

Posted 2/5/24

By Dr. William Holland

Since you were conceived God has wanted your attention. He has never neglected or ignored you. If you were to write down all the blessings and victories He has given over the years, they would prove He has been guiding and helping you all along. How could any of us even consider we were created by chance? The truth is that God specifically called you and has many wonderful things planned for your future. You are His masterpiece.

I’ve noticed in my life, that even though I know these things are a reality, it does not prevent the enemy from picking a fight with me. We know there will be battles when our faith will falter, we feel lonely, empty, exhausted, or just plain sad. Emotions are feelings that contain powerful persuasions, however, they cannot force us to be depressed. There will be moments where discouragement wraps its tentacles around you and attempts to pull you further into the darkness, but this is where you have a choice to submit and wave the white flag for another pity party, or to stand strong in your faith and embrace God’s truth that can set you free.

God’s love is the best news in the history of mankind! In trials of fear and anxiety, we can find redemption and power in His name to help give us a true perspective of reality. If we choose to trust in God’s written word and obey His still small voice, He will either guide us away from the valley of the shadow, or He will walk with us through it. There is no one greater to hold hands with than the Almighty. Will we follow the voices that mock and entice us to give up, or will we humbly give God our heavy burdens and boldly expect Him to demonstrate His amazing grace in our lives? “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save, nor His ear so deaf that He cannot hear” Isaiah 59:1.

Our God is bigger than any misery or embarrassment we may experience, any rejection we may face, or hardship that tries to break us. The Lord is bigger than any doubt, fear, or failure, and when you feel like your world is spinning out of control when you’re unsure whether you have the strength to continue, remember Isaiah 49:16 as it promises that God never takes His eyes or ears from you. “Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; the condition of your situation is continually before me.” You might believe that you’re going through this alone, but this is just another example of evil voices that try to confuse and deceive. God knows your thoughts and the warfare you are dealing with and is ready to make you more than a conqueror!

The greatest message that anyone could proclaim is that God loves you so much that He gave His Son to be tortured on the cross for you. Jesus died and shed His blood for those who will accept Him as their Lord and Savior.  There is no greater love. Some days you may feel undeserving, blemished, and bruised, but God does not want His precious child to be controlled by negativity. He knows exactly what you’ve done and what others have done to you, but more importantly, for those who call on His name, He sees you forgiven. He wants the best for you, just like you want the best for your children. He sees you as a holy vessel that can be used for His glory and is trying to get you to see it. God has more faith in you than you have in Him, and there is nothing you can do to remove His hope in you to be victorious.

Romans chapter five talks about how God’s followers are justified and redeemed by faith through His grace and the blood of Jesus which is the foundation of our eternal salvation. No sin, failure, or mistake is more powerful than His desire to forgive and forget. Once sins are sincerely repented they are erased, and the only one that will ever remind you is the accuser of the brethren. When you have a moment, listen to the encouraging hymn, “Grace that is greater than all our sin.” May we place our complete trust in God’s grace to wash away our shame and guilt and be filled with His righteousness and peace today.

Read more about the Christian life at billyhollandministries.com

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Bonham House—Last Of Its Kind

Tom Poland

Posted 1/31/24

By Tom Poland
A Southern Writer
www.tompoland.net
tompol@earthlink.net

In Saluda County an old homeplace sits on brick piers. It’s as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar, but that wasn’t always the case. Some refer to the old homeplace as Flat Grove. Some the Bonham House. If I told you it’s the last surviving birthplace of an Alamo hero, would you believe me?

On a warm afternoon I made my way down a back road to the Bonham House. I can’t speak for you, but I have a love-hate affair with GPS. It’s rendered me helpless. I just listen to a recorded voice and drive. After a good many twists and turns I found the place. Thank you, all-knowing traffic director.

A singular landmark, restored by the Saluda County Historical Society. (Photo by Tom Poland)

Right off I saw the old split rail fence. “This place is the real deal.” Ignore the lighting and historical marker and you’re in the 1770s. That homeplace. It’s as close as I’ll ever get to the Alamo, a memory from boyhood. Through dust piled high by years gone by, the boy in me recalls an old Disney show about Davey Crockett and the Alamo. I idolized Crockett, so much so that my grandmother made me a coonskin hat. I don’t think she put a real coon tail on it but it’s possible. Granddad had a penchant for possum. He probably killed a few raccoons too.

Coon or possum, little did I know I grew up one hour from a real hero of the Alamo. Twice James Butler Bonham made it through Mexican’s line to get help for his beleaguered comrades. Twice he slipped back through the lines to the Alamo, knowing he was returning to his death.

For near fifty years I’ve driven down Highway 378 minutes from Bonham’s birthplace. Jacob Smith built Flat Grove in the 1770s, a dogtrot cabin of hand-hewn, heart-pine logs covered by clapboards. In 1807 James Butler Bonham, Jacob Smith’s grandson, came into this world in that cabin. He would die at the Alamo March 6, 1836, while manning a cannon in the Alamo chapel. No other birthplace of an Alamo exists save this sturdy cabin.

In Saluda a saying goes, “Texas Starts Here.” Saluda County is the birthplace and childhood home of another Alamo hero, William Barret Travis. The letter Travis wrote from the Alamo February 24, 1836, “Victory or Death!,” is one of the most famous documents in Texas history. In 2016 Historians Jack Meyer and Bettis Rainsford on public radio said the prospect of land and a natural inclination to fight led Bonham and Travis to Texas and the Alamo. 

At one time Bonham’s birthplace was in dire straits. Thank the Saluda County Historical Society for restoring this historic home. Visit this historic home, and remember the Alamo and James Butler Bonham (an attorney) and William Barret Travis. They and 180 men in a Spanish mission held an army of 5,000 at bay for thirteen days. Imagine far away San Antonio and cannon fire, smoke, and the cries of men as guns fire and swords clash in this pivotal battle of the Texas Revolution.

Two footnotes: According to the Texas State Historical Association, Bonham was born in what was Edgefield District at that time.

Bonham, Texas, honors Saluda County’s hero. In 1936 the Texas Centennial Commission erected a statue of Bonham on Bonham’s courthouse square. Not bad for a lawyer found in contempt of court in 1830 after caning an opposing attorney. When the judge ordered Bonham to apologize he refused and threatened to tweak the judge’s nose—a strange retort that earned him ninety days in jail.


Tom Poland’s website at www.tompoland.net

Email Tom about most anything at at tompol@earthlink.net 

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Mystery Plant! #760

John Nelson

Posted 1/31/24

By John Nelson
johnbnelson@sc.rr.com

One of my favorite trees here at the University grows right behind the herbarium. It’s been there for years (the building was constructed about 1974), and is now about 25’ tall. (I’m terrible at estimating heights of trees…but let’s just say that it’s tall enough for you to cause serious damage if you fell out of it, while climbing around. But why would you want to climb around in this tree?

(Photo by John Nelson.)

It’s simple: this is an honest-to-goodness fruit tree, producing prolifically. The fruits are amazingly tasty, and the funny thing is, not many people around here seem to know what they are missing when the ripe fruits are ready. Here’s how it works:

The tree itself is native to eastern Asia, and is a good, solid member of the rose family. Its leaves are alternate, and relatively large. The blades are thick and leathery, dark, shiny green above, and prominently reddish-brown fuzzy all over the bottom. The margins are prominently and sharply serrated, with strong lateral veins visible branching from the midvein. The flowers are produced in clusters terminating branches, so we call them “terminal panicles”.) The branches of the panicles are thick, and covered with that same reddish-brown fuzz that’s on the lower surface of the leaf. Each flower will have 5 fuzzy sepals, and 5 perfectly white (fuzz-free) petals. The petals themselves look a lot like what you might find in the flower of an apple tree. (Apple trees are also in the rose family, after all.) There will be about 20 separate stamens in each flower. Now, the ovary of the flower is made up much like you find in an apple, with the ovules covered over by a thick hypanthium…which is the tasty part of a ripe apple that we eat. And, like an apple, our Mystery Plant’s ovary will be below all those other flower parts…an “inferior” ovary.

(Photo by John Nelson.)

The funny thing about this plant is that it is blooming RIGHT NOW…and its fragrance is almost overwhelming! It’s got a delightfully sweet fragrance. So, this is one of those trees that blooms very late in the year. A blooming bough is great to being in for a holiday arrangement, as the flowers will fill up a room with fragrance. (Watch out for the fuzzy hairs, though.)

But the most interesting thing, perhaps, is the fruits that slowly develop for the rest of the winter, and through the spring. Fruits begin to ripen in the early summer. When fully mature, each fruit will be smooth-skinned and bright yellow…and they are fragrant, too. The fruits are quite edible, and as I was saying, most people don’t seem to be clued into this fact. To me, the fruits have a sort of tart sweetness, tasting something like a cross between apple and pineapple. If you are lucky enough to have one of these plants with ripe fruits, you don’t need clippers to remove them, and you probably won’t have to climb into it, either. The fruits can be eaten right off the tree, raw. Don’t bother peeling them. In the kitchen, there’s all sorts of things you can do with them, too. Full of fiber, vitamins, and other happy things.

 

[Answer: “Loquat,” “Japan plum,” Eriobotrya japonica]

John Nelson is the retired curator of the Herbarium at the University of South Carolina, in the Department of Biological Sciences. As a public service, the Herbarium offers free plant identifications. For more information, visit www.herbarium.org or email johnbnelson@sc.rr.com.

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Long Lost Lisbon

Tom Poland

Posted 1/31/24

By Tom Poland
A Southern Writer
www.tompoland.net
tompol@earthlink.net

“The oak was so big, five men could link hands and not reach around it.” On a clear December day I walked where about eight feet of water had retreated. Perhaps I walked where that oak’s roots reached deep into red clay. Wherever that huge oak stood, a plain of blue water had long covered it and everything else.

Lisbon looking towards Petersburg site, right, and Vienna, left. (Photo by Tom Poland)

Around 1954 a dam drowned Lisbon, Georgia. Then last December, Lisbon, like that mythical golden bird associated with renewal, rose from its grave of bricks.

My mother grew up a few minutes from Lisbon and she told me about the oak. Situated as it was, Lisbon had a view of Petersburg, Georgia, and Vienna, South Carolina, drowned towns along the Georgia-South Carolina border in what amounts to a miniscule red-clay Atlantis.

Perhaps I walked where the oak shaded men who drank grog and watched Petersburg boats laden with cotton and tobacco head to Augusta. For sure I walked where its vanquished buildings had stood. Old bricks warmed beneath sunlight once again. All the years of swirling currents had strewn them about haphazardly—a drifting wrought by time. I found a few places where brick foundations remained intact.

I hope to walk among those bricks again but it won’t be anytime soon. Lisbon has once again slipped beneath Clarks Hill Lake, but Lisbon shouldn’t feel picked on. The list of flooded towns in the United States runs long, 165 sites, though it misses Lisbon and Vienna. Make it 167.

Relics from a tobacco-based community. (Photo by Tom Poland)

That December day I scanned the ground hoping to find something extraordinary from long-lost Lisbon. I found bricks aplenty, some with grooves in them. During a drought twenty years ago I had found an antique seal for a Mason jar, a “Genuine Boyd Cap For Mason Jars.” In its prime, the opalescent milk glass fit inside a zinc seal. What did some hardworking family can? What did they eat from the jar on a cold winter day?

Others have long picked over the relics of Lisbon, Petersburg, and Vienna. Seems nothing but bricks remain. As I’ve written before, when all traces of civilization surrender to time and catastrophes only bricks will remain as evidence they existed. Nothing destroys bricks.

Before I left I looked across the water at the point where Petersburg stood and over to my left on a rise among trees where Fort James stood. A bit to the right and far across the mingling waters of the Broad and Savannah Rivers stood Vienna.

Zachariah Lamar founded Lisbon in 1786 near the Broad River in Lincoln County. Change would doom Lamar’s community. Lisbon never had much going for it, at most two stores, a groggery, and a few dwellings. A gradual vanishing act set in as cotton supplanted tobacco as a cash crop. By the early 1820s a decline in prosperity sent folks westward seeking the proverbial better place.

Times being the way they are my guess is many folks don’t care about old forts, Lisbon, Petersburg, or Vienna. They were just places that went away. No, today’s techno types love apps and shopping online. They might do well to contemplate what future civilizations will do to their home. Do you think residents of these three drowned towns thought water would cover them one day? Change changes everything. Someday an interstate might pave where you once lived. Nothing lasts forever.

I have long known about these vanquished towns, massive oaks, and a tiny post office because my mother talked often about them. How dark and moody—how romantic—to know that drowned towns slept nearby. She planted visions in my mind that grew into a desire to explore. To somehow, someday, walk those towns’ remnants. Now I have.


Tom Poland’s website at www.tompoland.net

Email Tom about most anything at at tompol@earthlink.net 

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The Million Dollar Quartet

Tom Poland

Posted 1/29/24

By Tom Poland
A Southern Writer
www.tompoland.net
tompol@earthlink.net

I go back now, back to August 1, 2012. That’s the day the University of South Carolina Press published Save The Last Dance For Me. Strange circumstances united me with the Society of Stranders, those dedicated shaggers. Together, we wrote the history of the shag. For me it meant an education and a discovery.

Photo by George Pierce. L-R, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash.

I began the work. In researching the blues and music in general I stumbled across a photograph of four musicians that haunted me. I intended to get it but never did. It wasn’t the Beatles. It was a quartet that preceded them—Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash. George Pierce took it on December 4, 1956. Something about that Sun Studios photo haunts me still.

My niece, Benton Cunningham, heard me talking about that photo. She gave it to me for Christmas. Some title it “Legends,” others “The Million-Dollar Quartet.” When I look at Pierce’s photo and I do so often, memories rise like ascending notes in some sad ballad. There they are, three unknowns on the brink of stardom and all the good and bad things it brings. And Elvis. Yes, Elvis who already had a taste of stardom.

An impromptu jam session took place and Pierce and his camera were there. His photo is subject to interpretation. Elvis sits at the piano, a puzzled Jerry Lee Lewis looks on, and a calm, sleepy-eyed Carl Perkins holds his guitar. Dreamy-eyed Elvis, seeking approval it seems, looks up at Perkins. Johnny Cash looks down at the keyboard. Make of it what you will.

That session has been described as “a convergence of genius, of talent at the time of unimaginable potential.” It was unplanned. Perkins was there for a recording session. Cash had stopped by to get an advance for Christmas shopping. Lewis was there as a studio musician for Perkins’s session. Elvis, a star on the RCA label, dropped in to visit with Sam Phillips.

The four men each had a Southern Christian heritage. They sang gospel songs … “Just A Little Talk With Jesus,” “Jesus Walked That Lonesome Valley,” “I Will Not be Moved,” and “On The Jericho Road.”

Lewis of Louisiana went on to be rock ‘n’ roll’s first wild man. His nickname? “Killer.” Perhaps you remember “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” Erratic behavior, alcohol and drugs, tax debts, wild escapades, and six marriages made for a rocky road for Lewis.

Perkins of Tennessee went on to be a rockabilly star. The Beatles covered his songs “Honey Don’t” and “Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby.” “Blue Suede Shoes” was a huge hit, but bad breaks and personal problems plagued Perkins. In his biography, Perkins, a quiet, self-effacing man, said, “I felt out of place when ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ was number one. I stood on the Steel Pier in 1956 in Atlantic City and the Goodyear blimp flew over with my name in big lights. And I stood there and shook and actually cried. That should have been something that would elevate a guy to say, ‘Well, I’ve made it.’ But it put fear in me.”

Perkins was prophetic. Be careful what you want; you just may get it. We know how things went for Elvis, and the Man in Black from Arkansas had his demons too. Drugs and alcohol amounted to a ring of fire.

In writing the shag history I reflected on something that’s quite obvious: most young people think their era is everything. Well, it isn’t. I had the same problem. You probably did too. Never forget, those you worship put their pants on one leg at a time too. Sooner or later trouble comes calling. I can’t name one song of Taylor Swift’s. I’m a tad proud of that. It proves I overcame Beatlemania, but if I were Swift, I’d study the bios of recording stars. Behind the stage demons gather. And wait. And wait for a chance to pounce.


Tom Poland’s website at www.tompoland.net

Email Tom about most anything at at tompol@earthlink.net 

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Living on Purpose: Negativity is not cheering for us to succeed

Dr. William Holland

Posted 1/29/24

By Dr. William Holland

I want to begin today by saying how much I appreciate you for being a faithful reader of this newspaper and this column. Newspapers are still considered valuable to the older generations as they remember their grandparents and parents who embraced the daily news as part of their regular routines. As technology is constantly advancing, we see younger readers choosing to receive their information through various forms of modern media rather than holding the printed page. I’m personally grateful for all the great publications that agree to carry columns like “Living On Purpose” as they believe sharing positive and thought-provoking content is a blessing to their audience.

Since the beginning of the year, I admit the messages have been rather sobering. Focusing on self-examination and searching deep into our soul about what we believe is usually not a top priority. We talked about the carnal desires of our flesh, compromising, justifying our rebellion, and how we have the free will ability to ignore intentional sin without the concern to repent. By the way, repentance is more than saying we’re sorry. We used the example of Achan and asked if intentional sin is hindering the churches and the demonstration of God’s glory today. We agreed that sin offends His holiness and obstructs the advancement of His kingdom.

Is something making you sad or anxious today? Have you spent time with God about it? Facing hardships and trials is a part of life, but holding on to the one that does not falter and is never caught by surprise is our greatest hope for being content and enjoying the abundant life we will ever have. There is no such thing as God being confused and pacing the floor unsure of what to do? The mountain plateaus feel good and we love these seasons of victory, but when we enter into a dark valley, though it’s not pleasant, it can give us peace and security to understand that Christ is always teaching and ready to carry us through suffering in His perfect time.

We decide which view of life we will embrace. If our mind is set on being negative, there is little anyone can say or do to cheer us up. However, for those who choose the higher road of embracing optimism, no dead-end or dire situation can prevent faith and hope from declaring that anything is impossible with God.

To think or say there is no answer to a certain circumstance is revealing to ourselves and the world we no longer believe that God is who He says He is. Ephesians 3:20 promises, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” If the devil or anything in this life is more powerful than God, then either He is not the Almighty or our view of Him is in error. Which do you believe? God’s word reassures us in Jeremiah 32:17, “O sovereign Lord! You made the heavens and earth with your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too difficult for you!”

We know the dark side is not trying to help us be a light for God or a spiritual overcomer, which should inspire our faith to become stronger in our quest to please Christ. We become good and faithful soldiers through extensive training and developing a passion to be a living sacrifice for His glory. We cannot succeed for the Lord if we are ready to give up every time we are challenged. Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs but also struck out 1,333 times. Cy Young is famous for winning 511 games, but did you know he lost 316 times? The point is that defeat does not mean failure and no one that is known for great accomplishments has ever avoided disappointments.

It’s easy to stay enthused when times are good, but our perseverance goes on trial when we face discouragement from difficulty. Our thoughts can come from God or the devil and both have a plan. If God is saying to stand and press through the pain, then He has a vision that will eventually bring victory and joy. However, if we choose to agree with the enemy, he will forever keep us offended and tangled up in a depressing victim mentality. God can help us succeed when we have an unrelenting determination to become like Him.

Read more about the Christian life at billyhollandministries.com

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Everything and Nothing: A novel for now

Aïda Rogers

Posted 1/26/24

By Aïda Rogers

It’s December 1916, and along the coast of South Carolina, things aren’t right. In the swamps and rivers around Georgetown, turtles and alligators sun themselves. Snakes and fish cavort in open waters. Weirdly warm, rain is long overdue.

In town, people are fidgety. Christmas is coming, but it feels more like the Fourth of July. Beneath its peaceable veneer, problems fester.

(Photo by Aida Rogers)

This is the setting for December Light 1916, Kirk Neely’s novel about discrimination and acceptance, cruelty and kindness, God and the natural world. Written over the course of 14 years and published in 2020, its relevance for 2024 is inescapable, even uncanny.

Eli Solomon, a Jewish immigrant from Ukraine, prays regularly in his solitary life as the lighthouse keeper on North Island. He endures nightmares about losing his wife and baby daughter when their house was set afire during the 1896 anti-Jewish pogroms in Odessa. Thirteen miles across the water lives his friend Samuel Pringle, a former slave maimed in a lumber yard accident. Like Eli, he’s a widower, living alone. Both are insulted by the angry Richard Meade, who runs the general store where Samuel works and where Eli must buy supplies according to government contract. With his bulging eyes and fast profanities for Jews and Blacks, Meade panders to wealthy customers – Jewish and otherwise – then curses them when they leave. Samuel and Eli, who understand suffering, recognize Meade is suffering too.

Charging around these three is lighthouse inspector Roy Holden, who doesn’t seem to respect anyone or anything but the government’s rules for lighthouses. Even he, with his dangerous secret, is suffering.

Despite trauma and abuse, Samuel and Eli have found a sort of interior peace through the natural beauty around them. Eli tends his garden, his goats, his guineas, his dog. There’s also respite in the daily rituals of tending a lighthouse, where he offers his prayers in Hebrew and Yiddish. An osprey on a tall pine has become a neighbor, with hunting and fishing habits to observe. The shells he’s collected for his windowsill remind him that – like his wife and daughter – all life ends.

“What will be left behind when my life ends?” he wonders. “Will I leave anything to be remembered, to be cherished by anyone? That will be for others to decide.”

Meanwhile, Samuel, with his broken lower body and brawny upper body, limps on land but glides through water in his rowboat. Like Eli, he fishes often and prays every day. He knows about his people’s beliefs, some brought from Africa and others mixed with the Bible stories he and enslaved others were taught. Plat-eyes and hags might or might not exist in this low country landscape, but Samuel “didn’t need to believe in dark forces he couldn’t see. There was plenty enough evil in the hearts of the folks you could see.”  

That evil plays out in December Light 1916. Spurts of violence interrupt the lives of Eli and Samuel, who try to forgive those who harm them. It’s also a story of miracles, as a dangerous storm threatens a steamer coming ashore when the kerosene for the lighthouse lamp runs out.

Kirk Neely is a retired pastor, storyteller, and religion professor in Spartanburg who has written 10 books. With this, his first novel, he’s combined research about Jewish religion and history with Georgetown’s multifaceted history and lore. Well-known Georgetown citizens of the era appear: Patience Pringle, who kept her Chicora Wood rice plantation going as long as she could; Heiman Kaminski, a leading Jewish citizen; and the energetic William Doyle Morgan, the mayor who brought electricity and other needed changes to town. Samuel muses on their generosity to him, and concludes people are both good and evil.

With such a specific place and time – the novel begins Dec. 9 and ends Dec. 26, the last full day of Hanukkah – December Light 1916 might seem like the kind of book best read during the holidays. Then again, with the world so unreasonable and unseasonable now, this book suits any time. And place. As long as people are people.       

Aïda Rogers writes from an old house in Columbia and a new porch in McClellanville. Her three-volume anthology series, State of the Heart: South Carolina Writers on the Places They Love, includes stories by 108 Palmetto State writers.

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The joy of the handwritten letter

Reba Campbell

Posted 1/24/24

By Reba Campbell

When I was growing up, the family mailbox was a magic chamber that delivered cards with good wishes, postcards from interesting places and an occasional gift from a far-off relative. Today’s mailboxes, however, often are more of a torture chamber spewing out political postcards, overdue bills and unwanted solicitations. What used to be a daily treat of checking the mail has now become just another chore in a busy world.

Think about how you react to what you find in your mail cubby at work or in your mailbox at home. What’s the first thing you automatically throw out? But more importantly, what’s the first thing you put aside to read?

Human nature will likely take us to the piece of mail that looks to be the most personal and least threatening…the handwritten, individually stamped envelope. How many of those do you receive a week? Not many, I’d guess.


When I pull a hand-addressed envelope out of the mailbox, I get a thrill…is it an invitation, a note from a friend, a thank-you for a nice gesture? Hand-addressed envelopes say to me that someone has taken time to send me something personal. I always save them to open after I’ve gotten in the house, dumped my work-out bag, and let myself sit down and savor the reading experience.

Handwritten notes delivered to my work mail cubby demand the same reverence. I don’t tear them open in the mail room. I take them back to my desk and delight in the reading experience.

Memories in handwritten letters

When my parents moved from my childhood home, I found a file box of letters that had been in their attic for well over 30 years. When I opened the box, I found dozens of letters neatly stacked in near-perfect chronological order from my late college years through early adulthood. The letters smelled musty and were a bit faded, but what a gift to open that box and get a glimpse of my younger self.

The emotion and connection in the handwritten words floating out of those letters could never be duplicated today by preserving email chains, Facebook posts or text messages, even if someone was so inclined to file them somehow. 

In reading these letters, I marveled at which friends were the most prolific writers. I wondered what questions I had posed that prompted a long epistle back to me. I laughed at the things we knew were critical in our lives at the time. I was awed by the insight my friends offered to life challenges we were facing. I loved watching my husband’s notes change in content and tone as we moved from our early dating days through our engagement.

A year-long challenge

A number of years ago, a friend’s young adult daughter took on a year-long personal challenge to hand-write a letter a day during her first year in the work world. She said she did this when she first moved to Washington DC after college because she was frustrated that she couldn’t keep in touch with her best friends nearly as well as she could when they all lived in the same city.

Over the course of that year, I received several of her “one-a-day” notes, not knowing I was part of her personal challenge process. Later when I found out what she had done, I cherished those notes even more because I knew that she knew how I love to get cards and letters in the mail. Ultimately she ended up writing 472 notes in a year!

This same young woman has traveled a good bit internationally. I love sharing in her experiences through her texts, Instagram photos and Facebook posts in “real time.” However, I really feel connected to her travel experiences through the charming handwritten post cards that have arrived in my mailbox…sometimes days after she has returned from the trip. I keep the postcards and re-read them living vicariously through her travels.

Granted, I don’t practice what I preach as much as I would like to in handwriting notes. I have all the best excuses for not shooting off a handwritten note – can’t find a stamp, I messed up and can’t backspace to fix a word I don’t like, I’m missing the right sized envelope…

And while I can’t say I’m willing to take on my young friend’s “letter a day” challenge, surely I can be more attentive to my aspiration of staying connected through handwritten notes. Writing by hand makes me think in a different way than shooting out words through my fingers on a keyboard. I must be more deliberate. I must allow myself to think through what I want to say and how I want to say it.

As my young friend so wisely told me…handwriting these 472 letters taught her to be “deliberate with your words and intentional with your time.”

Not just good rules for writing letters…but good rules for daily living.

Reba Hull Campbell is president of The Medway Group. She spends her time working with clients on writing, PR/advocacy planning, media training and staff development. She spends her down time on her bikes, playing in a band, travelling, writing and reading. Reach Reba at reba@themedwaygroup.com or catch all of her posts at Random Connect Points.

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Mystery Plant! #759

John Nelson

Posted 1/24/24

By John Nelson
johnbnelson@sc.rr.com

Not many flowers to see about this time of year, and certainly not those of woody plants. There are a few: you may know of Cornelian cherry with its very early yellow flowers, and then there a few varieties of “winter cherry” which are showing their delicate pink petals right now. It won’t be long (I hope) before the early magnolias are showing color, and that will mean spring can’t be far off. I can’t wait.

(Photo by John Nelson.)

Our Mystery Plant is a large tree…and like all flowering plants, it does produce flowers, although not until May and June. What you see in this picture is what is hanging on throughout the winter, long, long after the flowers themselves are gone.

When you do see the flowers of this species, they are commonly on the ground, after they have been blown out of the tree from which it comes. It is an odd flower, sure enough. There will be 3 greenish sepals at its “stem” end. When the bud opens, these 3 sepals will stick straight down. Then you will see 6 petals which are very showy, usually bright yellow and each with a prominent orange blotch down at the base of the petal, on its upper surface. The flowers don’t seem to have much of a scent, at least not to me… although others say that the flowers are lightly fragrant. They must be, because a variety of insects will visit them: flies, bees, and beetles. Then there will be a row, or a ring, of stamens, maybe 40-50. The stamens don’t look too much like the ones you’d see in a tulip or rose flower. In our Mystery Plant, the whole length of the individual stamen is devoted to producing pollen, whereas in a tulip or rose, the pollen is formed in a little container at the tip of the stamen. (Of course, this little “container” is the called the anther.) Above the stamens will be a tight little sort of pointed cone-like affair, which consists of a number of pistils (the “female” parts of the flower), each destined to form a dry slender fruit which contains one seed. When fully open, the flower is generally facing straight upward… which is another reason that it’s not too easy to see them in bloom while on the tree.

Flash forward to late January: all the sepals, petals, and stamens will have fallen away months ago, spent and useless…but the little cone of pistils, now stiff and rather woody, are sticking straight up toward the sky, the embryo of a new plant developing in each humble little seed. When ripe, in the autumn, the cluster of dried pistils will all disintegrate, each pistil fluttering away with new life inside.

This species grows naturally from New England to Lake Michigan, south to northern Florida and Louisiana. It makes a terrific street tree and grows rapidly, providing excellent summer shade, and seems to have few insect enemies. If you want to grow one, give it lots of room!

[Answer: “Yellow poplar,” Liriodendron tulipifera]

John Nelson is the retired curator of the Herbarium at the University of South Carolina, in the Department of Biological Sciences. As a public service, the Herbarium offers free plant identifications. For more information, visit www.herbarium.org or email johnbnelson@sc.rr.com.

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Living on Purpose: Do we love sin more than God?

Dr. William Holland

Posted 1/22/24

By Dr. William Holland

A few weeks ago, we talked about a man named Achan and how his secret sin was not a secret to God. The book of Joshua in chapters 6 and 7 reveals this was not a situation where a person steals something and they alone are punished for it. Since he and his family were a part of the community of Israel, they were associated as a group and when one member did something bad; it affected not only the family but the nation. Everything this man loved, his life, children, all of his livestock, his dwelling, and personal possessions, were stoned and burned. Does this sound like the punishment was too harsh? Was this fair to those who were not even aware of what he had done? Some might say this specific story should not be taken out of context and applied to today’s church, but let us consider if Bible stories can be taken from scripture as a relevant analogy for us today.

Jesus taught parables, but can His lessons pertain to our modern society and culture? Do the hidden sin of Achan be associated with why some families suffer and certain churches are cold and lifeless? I realize when it’s discovered that people have secret lives of sin they are not killed under the law of Moses, but what about God punishing individuals who are wolves in sheep’s clothing? Is the dry and discouraged atmospheres of many assemblies a representation of rebellious and powerless Christians who say they love God while privately serving their carnality? Does the spiritual condition of the human heart have anything to do with being aware of God’s presence? Absolutely. Does this bleed into the environment of the local assembly? I believe so.

So what about those who attend church and hold tightly to their unrepentant sins such as pornography? Does their undisclosed defiant attitude have a negative effect on the sermon and worship? Does it affect family members that live with them? Does it infect the atmosphere where they work? Is this why some people say they feel bad vibes or pessimistic energy around certain people? Can this be blamed as the reason why many churches are void of any demonstration of God’s glory? If Christians are serving intentional sin, they have no expectation or excitement that God will make Himself known in their midst. In fact, they would hope that He would not appear for fear of them being exposed and convicted. This is where religious deception makes deals and promotes false securities to individuals who would rather play games than abide with God in holiness and sanctification.

Worshiping in Spirit and Truth means a pure heart is required and all transgressions and temptations must be cast down. The carnal mind must be taken out to the graveyard and buried as we must be dead to sin to the place where sin makes us nauseous. When our mind is renewed and transformed, Christ is invited to convict and rule on the throne of our conscience as Lord. If the body of Christ would allow a personal revival of the Holy Spirit to transform their thinking, it would turn the church and the world upside down. The sheer release of faith and joy would activate sermons, testimonies, and songs of God’s endless love and mercy. It is the lack of purity that holds back revival fires and victorious manifestations and declarations of His glory, and yet very few seem to be concerned. Let us awaken from the slumber of carnality.

The condition of the heart, reveals the state of an assembly. We’ve heard how the responsibility is with the pastor, but a leader can only do so much with a group of parishioners who will not accept what God wants them to be. The Holy Spirit can bring conviction when God’s word is spoken, but repentance and obedience are a constant choice of the listener. Everyone is given the chance to surrender their will to God or run as fast as they can in the opposite direction. Which do you choose? Luke 11:2 says to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done” but God is saying that our will is also being done. We choose who we serve and it’s probable our private sins could be bringing curses on ourselves and our family. Which do we love more; God or sin? Jesus died for the lost and will rescue those who realize they are.

Read more about the Christian life at billyhollandministries.com

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