Happy 6th Birthday Harper

Dear Harper,

Today (9/6/22) is your 6th birthday! YAY!!! You’ve been waiting for this one for quite some time. Being 6 has been a big deal for you because it means you FINALLY get to go to school. I hope you are as excited about being in school when you are in the 9th grade as you are in kindergarten.

This has been an exciting year for you. Of course the BIGGEST change in your life is that you aren’t the baby in your family any more. The twins have taken that role and you are FINALLY a big sister. You have accepted that role in the fashion which I expected. You are a “little momma” to Hadlee and Holland and you are a big help to momma and daddy. The twins are just going to love you so much.

You’ve started learning how to ride a bike this year and Poppo and Nanna got you a new bike for your birthday and when you come to our house, you want to immediately go outdoors and ride. Your favorite thing continues to be playing with all your baby dolls and stuffed animals. When you are at my house, you bring three or four to me and want to know if I will “keep the kids” for you to go to work. As a good Poppo, I always agree. Sometimes you have to take one of “the kids” over to Nanna for some medical advice or to be sewn up. Nanna is our resident Doc McStuffins. You love Disney songs and you and I love to watch “Olaf Presents.” That’s where Olaf tells all the Disney stories in his own “special way.” I’ve never heard anybody laugh as hard as you do when Olaf gives us “the smolder.” (Adults, you will just have to look this one up on YouTube. It actually is pretty funny.)

One of the things I have always loved about you is that you are an encourager. This past Sunday, you and me and Hudson went over to Sevierville to play putt putt. You made a hole-in-one on the very first hole. We all celebrated. You spent the next few holes pulling for me and Hudson to make a hole-in-one. It took us a while but every shot we hit, you were begging for it to go in the hole. If it didn’t, you would say, “Poppo, that was a good try. You’ll get it next time.” When I FINALLY did make one, you jumped up and down excited for my accomplishment. You did the same with Hudson. That’s your personality.

There is something inside every one of us that wants to be noticed. We all want to know that somebody cares about us. I think some of the saddest words in the Bible are in Psalm 142:4 where David says, “No one cares for my soul.” All around us there are people who are looking for just a little encouragement. Unfortunately, most of us are so focused on ourselves and “our needs” that we fail to see and recognize the needs of others.

The dictionary defines encouragement as “the act of inspiring othes with renewed courage, renewed spirit, or renewed hope.” In the Bible, the word most often translated as “encouragement” is a word that is a combination of two Greek words: para which means “alongside of,” and kaleo which means “to call.” When somebody comes alongside us during difficult times to give us renewed courage or renewed hope — that’s encouragement.

I think that is a picture of you, Little Bit. No matter who it is and no mater what the situation, you are right there to come alongside and call us to renewed courage and hope. God has blessed you with that gift and God has blessed us with YOU! I pray that as you continue to grow and mature, you will continue to exercise the gift God has given you.

I already see it in kindergarten. We are already hearing stories of how you encourage other students who may be a little scared of all the new things around them. You are already encouraging your little sisters when you kiss their head and when you tell them how much you love them. You have been an encouragement to me in what has been a pretty difficult year in life and ministry.

Every day I wake up to a world that seems to be more confused than it was the day before. Every time I think I’ve found a way out of a “crisis,” something blindsides me from another direction. You are a bright spot in the midst of a confusing world because you are an encourager!

Remember, Little Bit — Poppo loves you and I always will. There is absolutely nothing you can do to change that. I won’t always agree with everything you do, but there is nothing you will ever do to make me stop loving you. All your family feels the same way.

I hope year 6 is all you expect it to be. Continue to love God and love others. You are most definitely still #myFavoriteRedHead!

I love you.

Love,

Poppo

Welcome to the Club!

Dear Hadlee and Holland,

My name is POPPO and I would like to officially welcome you to my little club. This is a very exclusive club and up until now we have only had 4 official members. Our club was established in June 2014 when your brother Hudson became the first member. Since then, by decree of the Grand Potentate (that’s me by the way), Harper, Ellie and Benjamin have been added to our ranks. On Wednesday, August 24, the two of you were initiated into our ranks as full member with all the privileges that come with membership.

We have all been anxiously awaiting your arrival. Ever since we found out we would gain TWO new members at once, we have been SO EXCITED. We’ve never had twins in our family before so we get TWICE the blessing with the two of you.

One of the “benefits” of being a part of our little club is that you have to have your own nickname. There’s Scooter, Little Bit, PunkinDoodle and Bizzy. I must tell you, coming up with nicknames for you two has been quite the ordeal. I thought about rhyming nicknames since you are twins — Frick and Frack –that surely wouldn’t work. I remembered my favorite cartoon when I was a child. There were two little mice named Pixie and Dixie. No… that just wouldn’t do. So I have thought and thought but I have finally decided on what Poppo is going to call you.

Hadlee, your nickname is going to be SweetPea. I just think that fits what I have seen of your little personality so far. Holland, your nickname is going to be ButterCup. That’s my favorite flower so I decided to use that for you.

In addition to getting a nickname, I will write you a letter on your birthday reminding you of the fun things that have happened in your life over the last year, fun things you have done with Poppo and Nanna, and maybe sharing some life advice that I think might be helpful as you grow up.

Right now, here’s all you need to know. Your momma and daddy, Nanna and Poppo, Nonnie and Poppie, and your aunts and uncles all love you very, very much. We are all here to protect you and help you grow into the young ladies God has created you to be. We will all be your loudest cheerleaders.

The moment you were born, I stopped and prayed for you. I asked God to bless you with health and grace throughout your life. As much as I love you, God loves you even more. As you grow and are able to understand, we will always share with you just how much God loves you. No matter where you go or what you do, God’s love never changes. The Bible tells us that He never leaves us and He never forsakes us. Always remember that.

Now, one last thing I want to tell you. Poppo will always love you. I may not always agree with the choices you make in your life, but I want you to always remember that there is NOTHING you can ever do that would cause me to stop loving you. Nanna and I are always here for you to help you and encourage you and love you. You can always count on us!

With all that being said, this concludes your welcome into my little club. I know we are going to have so much fun. I can’t wait to see how you grow and mature over your life. You will always be my little SweetPea and ButterCup! I love you so much.

Love,

Poppo

Happy Birthday PunkinDoodle: Put On a Happy Face

Dear PunkinDoodle,

Happy 5th birthday today (8/21/22). I’m beginning to feel like I’m writing these letters every other day. Just like your brother and cousins, you are growing up way to fast for me! In fact, in just a few days, you are going to start school! You are going to LOVE kindergarten. I know you are a little nervous right now, but within a few hours of being there, I’m sure you will be having a ball and loving every minute. You will meet new friends and learn new things. It’s going to be a great year.

This past year has been full of fun. We went to the beach in May to celebrate Benny’s birthday and Nanna & Poppo’s wedding anniversary. We had so much fun. My favorite part was the day you decided you just wanted to take a little “rest” with Poppo and we sat under the umbrella — just me and you. We also took a trip to the North Carolina Zoo. I think we walked 1,000 miles that day but we saw our favorite animals and just had a fun time.

You are riding your bicycle WITHOUT any training wheels and you are the perfect model for your momma’s photography business. When you become famous, don’t forget ME! Every time I look at you, I see your momma when she was your age. For a few minutes, I’m not an old Poppo, but a young daddy just learning what it means to love his little girl.

When I was a little boy, Granny used to sing a song to me. It’s called “Put On a Happy Face” and was sung by Dick Van Dyke in a movie called “Bye Bye Birdie.” Here are the words…

Gray skies are gonna clear up,
Put on a happy face;
Brush off the clouds and cheer up,
Put on a happy face.
Take off the gloomy mask of tragedy,
It’s not your style
You’ll look so good that you’ll be glad
Ya’ decide to smile!

Pick out a pleasant outlook,
Stick out that noble chin;
Wipe off that “full of doubt” look,
Slap on a happy grin!
And spread sunshine all over the place,
Just put on a happy face!

And if you’re feeling cross and bitterish
Don’t sit and whine
Think of banana split and licorice
And you’ll feel fine
I knew a girl so glooming
She’d never laugh or sing
She wouldn’t listen to me
Now she’s a mean old thing

So spread sunshine all over the place
Just put on a happy face
So, put on a happy face.

I’ve been thinking about this song a lot lately. 2022 has not been all fun and games for us. Like so many other families, we’ve had our share of trials and difficulty. That’s just a part of life. EVERYBODY has trouble. The important lesson is how we RESPOND to those troubles. Life is sometimes scary. We don’t know what’s going to happen next and we often don’t understand why things happen the way they do. I just want to remind you that when things like that happen in our lives, we need to TRUST GOD and PUT ON A HAPPY FACE!

I love the line in that song that says, “So spread sunshine all over the place.” That’s exactly what you do for me. Whenever I see you or talk to you on the phone, I feel like sunshine just fills the room. God has given you the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen — just like your Nanna and your momma. When I look into those eyes, I see unconditional trust and love. I see a beautiful young girl who is going to grow up to do remarkable things.

So as we celebrate this 5th birthday, let’s make a pact — you and me. Whenever we have a bad day or when we have to do something new (like start school), we will TRUST GOD and then “stick out that noble chin” and “spread sunshine all over the place.” This old world we live in needs A LOT more of that and I believe you have the gift of doing just that.

Remember, Nanna and Poppo love you no matter what. Nothing you will ever do can change that. No matter what happens in our lives, God loves us and will never leave us. He will always take care of us. TRUST HIM. I’ve got a feeling year 5 is going to be an eventful year — so Put On a Happy Face! I love you PunkinDoodle.

Love,
Poppo

Revealing secrets or keeping confidence

“A gossip goes around revealing a secret, but a trustworthy person keeps a confidence.” (Proverbs 11:13)

I just read an article by an “expert” in philosophy that says gossip is a good and helpful thing! It has value in the culture. This quack — I mean learned philosopher — said that gossip is entertaining and it releases people from the tedium of everyday life. He also postulates that gossip helps to define socially accepted behavior. Gossip makes the person who starts the story feel important. His ego is built up by pulling down someone else to his own level.

So…there you have it. Gossip is good for you! I know some people who have believed that all their life. In our culture, scandal is big business. Take a look at the listings in your TV Guide. We call it “reality TV.” We live in a day and age when everybody wants to know all the dirt they can about everybody else.

Don’t let the devil fool you. Gossip is still a sin. It is a sin against God for us to spread stories about others. It seems to me that the problem in the world today is not that people tell all they know. The problem is that people tell MORE than they know. Will Rogers said, “The only time people dislike gossip is when you gossip about them.”

In I Corinthians 13, the Bible says that love doesn’t rejoice in iniquity — therefore spreading and listening to gossip shouldn’t bring pleasure. The very thought of dragging someone else down just so we can feel better about ourselves should be repugnant to a Christian.

Dr. Herschel Hobbs said, “A gossiper usually knows where to take his garbage. Avoid making your ears someone else’s garbage can!”

Beginning right now, let’s covenant together to check every impulse we may have to spread a rumor. When someone tries to tell you the latest juicy gossip — tell them that you’ve decided to make James 4:11 your life verse — “Don’t criticize one another, brothers. He who criticizes a brother or judges his brother criticizes the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.”

If we will start standing up to those who feed on telling the latest tales, they will stop telling all that stuff they really don’t know! Charles H. Spurgeon said, “I never like people to tell me secrets, for I cannot keep them.”

Happy Birthday Scooter — Eight is GREAT!

Dear Scooter,

Eight years ago today I started writing a letter to you (and later to your sister and cousins) on your birthday. In those letters I have tried to share a few of the things that have happened over the year and then a life lesson that I want you to remember. It hardly seems possible that you are eight years old!

This has been an eventful year for you – from losing teeth to finding out that you are going to have TWO MORE SISTERS and moving into a new house! When you found out about the twins, you said, “Poppo…us boys are going to have to stick together cause we are outnumbered!” Indeed we are, but I’m sure you will be a great big brother.

The BEST THING that happened this past year is that you came to my house one night and told me that you prayed with momma and daddy and asked Jesus to save you! That is an answer to a prayer that I have for every one of my grandchildren. There is no greater decision you will ever make than to surrender your life to Jesus. We are all so proud of you for that.

Your baseball season cost me a lot of money this year! At the beginning of the year, you were having a little problem hitting the ball. I made a deal with you that for every hit you got into the outfield, I’d give you money. I remember the first hit. You got to first base — pointed out to left field where I was sitting — and you screamed — “POPPO — YOU OWE ME MONEY!” I soon learned not to make deals like that anymore cause I would go broke! I was so proud of you this season. You hit well and you became quite the left fielder. By the way, Nanna played left field back in the day and she was a VERY GOOD outfielder. I think you will be the same way.

You finished second grade this year. You are very good at math! You take after your daddy in that way. You are also very popular at your school. I came to eat lunch with you several times during the year. All throughout our lunch, people would stop and talk to you and call out to you. I asked on one occasion who all these people were and you said, “Poppo, I’m just popular around here.”

You have a wonderful sense of humor. You are always making me laugh about something. You love big and we all love you. I’m enjoying watching you grow up.

The last two years have been stressful for Poppo both personally and professionally. In spite of that, you, Harper, Ellie and Benjamin have been a great big dose of sanity in an otherwise insane world. I get up every day and thank God for allowing me to be your Poppo.

I think when I look at the world we live in today, the word that seems to come to my mind is FEAR. Fear is False Evidence Appearing Real. It seems that no matter where we look, bad things are happening. If we aren’t careful, the old devil will try and use fear to keep us from doing what God wants us to do. At your age, you are fearful about things most 8 year olds are fearful about. As you grow older, our fears may change, but the result of those fears is always the same. Fear diminishes our faith in God if we are not careful. When we are fearful, we start running from something that is not even there.

This past year, I’ve tried to teach you and my other grandchildren a verse that my momma (Granny) taught me as a child. It is Psalm 56:3. It says, “Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You.” I can’t tell you how many times I have quoted that verse in my head over my 59 years of life. This verse reminds me that whenever we see obstacles in life, we need to refocus so that we see GOD. God did not create you and me to be dominated by fear. We were created to live by FAITH! When fear dominates our lives, we end up with a distorted view of the situation which then causes panic.

Here’s another verse to remember. It is II Timothy 1:7. It says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” The answer to our fear is not running away but running to God. God has given to us His Spirit and His Spirit is all-powerful — so why be afraid! God is in control, He loves us and He will always take care of us. We have to trust Him.

The people who love us will always try and protect us from the things that cause us fear, but ultimately, we have to TRUST GOD! Remember, God loves you even more than I do — and that’s A LOT! Nanna and I love you and there is absolutely nothing you can do to change that. We don’t always approve of the choices you make, BUT we never stop loving you. That will be true as long as you live.

Enjoy your birthday. Have fun. And remember we all love you more than you will ever realize.

Love,

Poppo

Happy Birthday Benny – You are MY Hero

Dear BIZZY…

Happy 3rd Birthday! Your birthday is always a special day because it is also the day that Nanna and I got married. May 29 is now doubly special. It hardly seems possible that you are 3 years old and Nanna and I have been married 39 years. Time marches on and you are quickly growing into a wonderful young man. Nanna and I are so proud of you and we love you very much.

Over this past year, we have watched you hit a growth spurt and you are getting tall like your daddy. You have worked hard and are potty trained and we are ALL happy about that. Every day we see more and more of your developing personality and you are a little clown! You may be the happiest kid I’ve ever met. You love imitating your big sister — she is not always as happy about that. For a three-year-old, you are a bundle of happiness and action 24 hours a day living up to you nickname — BIZZY! It fits you perfectly.

I just LOVE this picture of you dressed as your favorite “super hero.” Right now you are obsessed with “Spidey and His Amazing Friends” (old folks google it — it’s a pretty fun little show). Spidey, Spin and Ghost-Spider spend their time fighting the bad guys — Green Goblin, Doc Ock, and Rhino. The best part is the good guys always win!

How I wish life was like that — the good guys always win. But Bizzy, we live in a world that is marred by evil and for that reason, bad things happen on a daily basis. Just this week a terrible tragedy occurred in Texas and parents there are experiencing grief that no parent should ever have to experience. And even for those of us who were not directly involved, this terrible incident put a sense of fear into our lives for our own children and grandchildren. So as I watch you, your sister and your cousins grow up, I have to wonder what the world is going to be like as you get older.

Thankfully, not all the problems we face are as terrible and severe as the thing those Texas parents are experiencing. And yet, all of us are dealing with something in our lives that causes us stress, grief and concern. There are no “easy” answers for any of those things. Even for Poppo, after almost 40 years of ministry, I’m going through a time right now that is more difficult than anything I’ve ever experienced. Again, thankfully, most of the things we endure in this life are temporary and don’t last forever, but from time to time, we all need a SUPER HERO to sweep in and save the day.

For me, that’s YOU, Ellie, Hudson and Harper. No matter what is happening in my world, a call from you, hearing your little voice scream out “POPPO!” seems to make life much more bearable. When your mom sent me the picture at the beginning of your letter, I knew I had to use it. I don’t know what she saw when she took the photo, but when I look at it, all I can hear is your voice telling me that you are here to save my day! It has immediately become my very favorite picture of you — and believe me I have many favorites!

Let me remind you also of another HERO who is even greater than Spidey! His name is Jesus and He loves you and me very much. He came to this earth knowing that there would be evil people who would hate Him and ultimately kill Him — and yet He came anyway because He loves us and wants to have a relationship with us. In life, things don’t always turn out the way we want or hope, but with Jesus…everything will ultimately turn out for our good and His glory. In Romans 8:28, the Bible says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” That’s a great comfort to me, not only today, but every day. I don’t always understand it and I can’t always explain it, but I trust in the purpose of God through Jesus Christ that ultimately whatever happens in my life will be for my best and His glory!

As your celebrate your third birthday today, I’m going to do everything in my power to make you feel like that all is right with the world. I want to protect your innocence as long as I possibly can. We will play “Spidey and His Amazing Friends” and you can rescue me from the bad guys. In my heart, I will cherish every second and I will do everything I can to make the world safe for little boys and girls so they can enjoy being Super Heroes and I will trust God to ultimately take care of us now and in eternity.

Remember this Bizzy. Nanna and I love you more than you will ever be able to imagine. There is nothing that you can do to change that. We won’t always agree with the choices you make, but it will not stop us from loving you. When your super powers seem to run out, just know that I will always be there to love and help you in any way I can. For now…let’s enjoy our pretend time and you can be MY super hero.

I love you.

Love,

Poppo

I Really Do Love Sweet Potatoes…Mostly

My very first church was in rural Johnston County North Carolina. It was in an agricultural community where everybody was related to everybody. In other words, it was just like where I had grown up in the northeastern part of the state. The only difference was these were tobacco farmers and we grew peanuts. Other than that, it was the same.

When I was called to be the pastor at Pauline Baptist Church in the Strickland’s Crossroads Community, I went there having had only 3 people vote against me. Two of those who voted against me were Granny Batten and her son. I’ve never figured out who the third one was. The reason Granny Batten voted against me was because she said her pastor should not be older than her. She was well into her 80s and I was 20 when she made that statement. I visited with her after I arrived on the church field to try and convince her that it wasn’t as bad as she imagined. She told me that I was too young to be the pastor and again reiterated that “my pastor should not be younger than me.”

Back then (1986), I didn’t have the tact that I have today. No need for emails telling me I don’t have any now. Just take my word for it, I had less back then. I looked at Granny Batten and said, “Well, Mrs. Batten…it is almost impossible for your pastor to be older than you. He’d have to be 100 years old.”

There was a deafening quiet that filled the room. I knew as it was coming out of my mouth, I should not have said it, but it was too late. By the way…that has happened to me A LOT over the last 39 years. All of a sudden, the silence was broken by hysterical laughter. Granny Batten I suppose began to think about what she had said and what I had said and it tickled her to death. She looked at me and said, “You are exactly right!” From that day forward, I had no greater supporter or friend than Granny Batten.

I visited with her often. I’d randomly stop by her house and we would talk about farming and preaching. At that point in my life, I knew very little about either one of those subjects.

I remember one day stopping by Granny Batten’s house about 11 AM in the morning. She had begun to fix lunch for her sons who often would come have lunch at her house. I sat at the kitchen table while Granny Batten made her way around the kitchen putting together the meal. On this day, she said, “Preacher, do you like sweet potatoes?” I said, “Yes ma’am I sure do.”

Granny Batten turned around with a small plate and on that plate was the BIGGEST sweet potato I have ever seen in my whole life. She put that thing down in front of me and said, “Well, here. Have one.” She gave me no butter, no sugar or cinnamon — just that 10 pound baked sweet potato.

I surveyed the situation before me and I began to eat. It quickly became evident that this was no ordinary sweet potato. It was still growing! The more I ate, the bigger it got. I ate and ate and the more I ate, the more that was left to eat. By now, every bite was a chore for me. I’d take a bite of that 20 pound sweet potato and it grew in my mouth. The more I chewed, the bigger it got and the sicker I was getting.

All my life I have been taught that it is impolite to leave anything on your plate when somebody gives you something to eat. I knew if I “wasted” half of that 30 pound sweet potato, I would hurt Granny Batten’s feelings. I wouldn’t do that for anything in this world. We had finally become friends and I sure didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize that. But at the same time I knew if I kept eating that thing, there would be “clean up on aisle 3!”

I had a decision to make and I had to make it FAST! So I did. When Granny Batten turned her back to me to continue her work at the stove, I took what was left of that 100 pound sweet potato and stuffed it in the pocket of my sports coat. I hated to do it, but I could not eat another bite.

Granny Batten turned around to now see an empty plate where that monstrous spud had been. Just minutes before there had been half a potato and now a clean plate. I was smiling as best I could as her eyes widened. She said, “Preacher, you sure told the truth. You DO love sweet potatoes. Would you like ANOTHER ONE?”

I said, “No thank you. One’s my limit.” I got up and politely excused myself telling her I would stop by on another day.

I drove the short distance back to the parsonage and walked in the back door and said, “EDNA! You ain’t ever gonna believe what I got in my pocket.”

Granny Batten died never knowing that her preacher hid a sweet potato in his coat pocket. So when you sit down to your Thanksgiving table this week, please take a moment to remember that 20 year old preacher who found out he didn’t love sweet potatoes as much as he thought he did.

No Good Deed or The Birdman of Hertford

I have just begun my 39th year of full-time Christian ministry. As you might imagine, I have accumulated my fair share of “stories” along the way. Some of them I can’t share until some deaths occur (LOL). Occasionally I tell one of these stories and somebody will say — “You’ve got to write a book.” As time passes and my rememberer functions less and less, I’m afraid if I don’t start writing them down, they will be lost forever. After reading some of them, you may decide it would have been better if they had of been lost.

I was talking to my sister, Brenda yesterday and I told her this story. She said she had never heard it before and it served as another reminder that I need to write these down. So here is the first installment. I’ve tried to see the lessons that God was trying to teach me in each of these instances. Even in the humorous ones — there is something to learn.

In 1994, I moved to Hertford, North Carolina to become the pastor of The Hertford Baptist Church. In so many ways, this was the most formative time in ministry for Edna and me. We developed strong friendships in Hertford that are still strong today. Many of the stories I will tell come from that time in my life. It truly was a FUN TIME to be a pastor! In many way, Hertford is Mayberry and so much of what happened to me there reminds me of episodes of the greatest TV show ever — The Andy Griffith Show!

One day, I was sitting in my office and I heard a screeching noise like that of a bird BUT it was somewhere INSIDE the building! My secretary and I began an investigation that would eventually lead to a 90-minute ordeal and result in time we would never recover in our lives.We made our way from the office to the sanctuary where we found the source of that unholy noice. It was a starling who was caught in the small hole at the bottom of the organ pipes!

The pipe organ in The Hertford Baptist Church has been in place since the late 1800s and has ben meticulously been cared for. How that bird got where he was, we still don’t know to this day. He had managed to enter one of the longer pipes from the top, made his way to the bottom where he proceeded to stick his head through the tiny hole in the pipe. Since he was too big to get out of the hole where he was and too stupid to go back where he came from, it was left to me and Cindy to find a way to remove this pest from his predicament. We considered just grabbing his head and pulling what we could through the hole, but quickly decided against that since we were sure we would dismember him to the point that we’d never get the piece that didn’t make it through the hole, and the smell would be unbearable during Sunday’s service. Plus SOMEBODY would have called PETA and Lord only knows what they would have said or required us to do.

We talked to him — tried to communicate that there was a much bigger hole at the top which would allow him to escape. Apparently, neither of us speak starling and he just continued to poke his head through the tiny hole and screech like a…well like an annoying starling. It was probably worse because it echoed through those 150 year old pipes!

Fortunately for us, Cindy’s husband Edward worked for the telephone company and was close by, so we called in reinforcements. Edward was also serving as Chairman of Deacons at the time and he understand the gravity of us having to call a business meeting to get a starling out of the organ pipes. He rushed over and Moe, Larry and Curley stood in that grand sanctuary with hands on hips surveying our dilemma.

Finally, Edward came up with what we believed would be an ingenious idea. We would take stiff phone wire, make a lasso of sorts, and stick it in the tiny hole. The starling would get on the “elevator” and we would push him up the pipe to the hole he had entered and save the day! BRILLIANT!!!!!

Edward, Cindy and I understood this plan but unfortunately Edward didn’t speak starling any better than Cindy or I so we had a problem. The bird refused to get on the wire. We poked and prodded. Every time we would take that wire out of the hole, the bird would stick his head through the hole and holler! I must admit there were several occasions during this time when all three of us decided the best course of action was to pull his head off and take our chances! But we persevered.

FINALLY…somehow….by the very grace of God…the starling got on the wire, Edward eased him up the organ pipe and he made it out of the hole he had entered! SUCCESS!!! He immediately flew to the balcony of the church. This would be no problem because getting him out of the sanctuary would be much easier than getting him out of that pipe. I got a broom, went to the balcony and “swept” him down the steps and to the front door where Cindy was standing to give him a final sendoff.

He sat on the porch for few minutes and Edward, Cindy and I stood and patted ourselves on the back for a job well done. It took 90 minutes to do it but we had saved the organ and we had saved the starling. As we congratulated each other with high fives and pats on the back, the starling decided to take to the air. We stood proudly to watch our “baby” return to the wild to live out his days with his own story to share with his starling friends.

And then it happened.

He flew off the porch and headed across the street where he was immediately hit in mid-flight by a car. DEAD AS A DOORNAIL. We couldn’t believe our eyes. We had struggled and struggled to save that sorry bird — there are millions of them and one less would have been a blessing, but we had saved him only to watch him fly right into the path of that car and die.

The lesson? I should have just pulled his head off. No good deed ever goes unpunished. But to this day, I still call Edward, The Birdman of Hertford!

Dear Harper…The BIG 5!

Dear Harper,

Here we are again! You are having ANOTHER birthday. I’ll tell you this…the older you get the faster birthdays seem to appear. But today (9/6) is your fifth birthday. It hardly seems possible that 5 years ago we were waiting for your arrival. From the minute I saw you, I Ioved you. You immediately became #myfavoriteredhead!

We have had some fun times this past year. You love to spend the night with Nanna and Poppo, BUT you also don’t want to stay too long because you love to be at home with your family. When your daddy was about your age, he always wanted all the family to be at our home when it got dark. You are like your daddy in that way.

Nanna has been teaching you to sew and you are doing such a great job. You like to do crafts with Nanna too. She LOVES that. You and Ellie are going to be her crafting buddies. So far, you have made a pillow and blanket for your baby dolls and a small purse.

You enjoy going to the aquarium in Gatlingburg and we took you to Santa Land this summer with Hudson, Ellie and Benny. That was a lot of fun for all of us. My daddy (Popple) took me to Santa Land 50 years ago. I took your daddy when he was a kid and now I’ve taken you. Nanna and I look forward to our adventures with you and you always bring such joy to us.

Turning 5 is a BIG DEAL and you have been looking forward to it for most of this past year. We had a big party yesterday (9/5) with your family and friends to celebrate. We had princess cake and a princess castle bounce house. It was a fun day and you were so happy to turn 5!

Let me tell you something about 5. Five is a very important number in the Bible. The number 5 symbolizes God’s grace and goodness toward us. Five, multiplied by itself is 25 which is “grace upon grace” (John 1:16). The Ten Commandments contains two sets of 5 commandments. The first five commandments teach us about our relationship with God. The second five teach us about our relationship with others.

In the Old Testament, there are 5 primary types offerings God commanded Israel to bring to Him. The Book of Psalms is divided into 5 major sections. There are 5 books of God’s Law and the 4 Gospels plus the book of Acts is called the “New Testament Pentateuch.” Pentateuch means 5. Those 5 books teach us about all the things that Jesus did and how He wants us to live.

So turning 5 really is a special thing. When I think about you, I see the grace of God in your personality. You love everybody and you are extremely caring about people. Recently, there was a little girl in your preschool who was upset because she missed her mommy. She was crying and having a really bad day. You went over to her, put your arm around her and consoled her and told her everything would be ok. She calmed down and you played with her until she started to feel better. You demonstrated the grace of God to that little girl.

I’ve seen you do that to all of us. You seem to always think of others before yourself. That is a characteristic of God’s grace toward us. God loved us so much that He sent Jesus to die on the cross so that we could have a relationship with Him. God shows us His grace every single day. My prayer for you is that you continue to grow in His grace and that you continue to show that grace to all the people you meet.

I think year 5 is going to be a big year for you. I can’t wait to see all the ways God will help you grow. You are growing physically — it’s hard to call you #LittleBit now because you are getting bigger and bigger. But you will always be Poppo’s Little Bit. No matter what you do or where you go, Poppo and Nanna will always love you. You can always count on us to be there to love and support you — even when I don’t agree with the choices you might make.

God’s grace reminds me that God can’t not love me. That’s not good grammar, but it is really good theology! It reminds me that God’s love for me is not based on my performance. It is based on His character. That’s the kind of love I want to have for you, Hudson, Ellie and Benny. No matter what…Poppo will always love you.

Enjoy your day and let’s enjoy year number 5!

Love,

Poppo

Dear PunkinDoodle: Can we make time slow down?

Dear PunkinDoodle,

Today (August 21) is your 4th birthday. Can we make time slow down a little PLEASE? I know you think time moves pretty slowly, but I can assure you that for me…it is flying by at supersonic speed. Every time I look at you, I see you momma and remember her growing up way too fast also.

This has been a fun year for us. From spending Christmas 2020 at my house and it snowing on Christmas Eve to our family beach trip in May and then a visit to Santa Land in the summer, we have had some great adventures and Nanna and I cherish every minute we get to spend with you, your brother and cousins. Throughout this year, I’ve continued to watch your personality begin to shine brighter and brighter. I chose three little pictures of you just to remind me how much fun you are. There is never a time when we talk that I don’t have a good belly laugh because of you.

Technology is not always a good thing, but I can tell you this…I LOVE FACETIME! It enables Nanna and me to see you as your grow and to celebrate achievements with you that we might not otherwise get to do. Every time we talk, you either make funny faces at me (see picture above) or you have a joke to tell me. Your favorite joke so far has been…”Poppo, knock-knock.” “Who’s there?” “Interrupting cow. (giggle)” “Interrupting c…” “MOOOOOOO!!!!!!” (Hysterical laughter) “Get it, Poppo? Isn’t that funny?” And guess what? It is just as funny the 500th time as it was the very first time because of how funny YOU think it is.

Another favorite thing you like to do is read to me. You often call and read me a princess story but your favorite thing to do is read from the Bible to me. You don’t quite know the words just yet — BUT you know the message of the Bible. Every time you read from the Bible, you quickly get to the part where “Jesus died on the cross and rose again the third day.” And that’s the very best part! I’m so glad you enjoy reading the Bible and telling Bible stories. The Bible tells us parents and grandparents that if we will raise up our children in the ways of God that you won’t wander away from it as you grow older. I know that doesn’t always happen, but I sure do believe that when parents do that, there is a much higher likelihood that their children will follow Jesus later in life. I pray that you ALWAYS love the Bible and Jesus. I have spent almost 40 years now trying to teach people to love God and His Word.

As usual, there are some not so good things happening in the world around us as we celebrate your birthday. There are many people around the world today who are going to die for no other reason than they love and serve Jesus. Those people are true heroes to me. They are willing to give their lives because they love Jesus so much. I pray that you and I never have to do that — but I pray that if we do, we will stand as strong and tall as those around the world who are doing that now.

As I think about you and your cousin Harper, I’m thankful that you girls are growing up in America. I realize that we are not perfect, but I still believe this is the greatest country in the world and living here gives you the best chance to grow up to be WHATEVER you want to be. In many places around the world, girls and women are abused and treated badly simply because they are women. They can’t go to school and they are not allowed to choose the profession they would like. That makes me very sad.

You started pre-school this past week. Along with other little boys and girls, you are going to learn about all kinds of things that you could do in this world. Maybe you will be a doctor or a scientist. Maybe God will call you to be a missionary to a far-away place. Maybe you will be a wife and mommy and take care of your family. Whatever you choose to do, I pray that you will follow God’s leadership and that you will not allow others to try and keep you from your dreams. Always know that Poppo and Nanna as well as your mom and dad are ALWAYS in your corner cheering you on to become whatever God calls you to be.

I look forward to this year as I watch you grow and mature. I know God has great things in store for you and I know you are going to rise to the challenge. Whatever happens in this world there are two things you can ALWAYS be sure of. First…GOD LOVES YOU — He always has and He always will. He loves you more than anybody here could ever love you. Run to Him with everything — He will never leave you. Second…POPPO loves you. I started loving you before you ever even knew who I was. From the minute your momma told me she was going to have a baby, I fell head-over-heels in love with you (and with your brother and cousins too). That’s what a Poppo does. There is NOTHING you could ever do to make me not love you. I won’t always agree with everything you do…but I will ALWAYS be in your corner cheering you on and loving you with all my heart.

Happy birthday PunkinDoodle! I hope year 4 is as special as the others have been. I can’t wait to see what adventures we can get into this year.

Love,

Poppo