Sunday, December 10, 2017

Advent Devotional


My recent reflections on Advent for the service at First Baptist Church of Chattanooga.




Delicious Christmas Memories

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The word Christmas conjures up many images that send me hurling back in time to when my husband Claude Mason was pastor of First Baptist Church, Rossville, Georgia.  Here are some of my favorite Christmas foods and the ladies behind the recipes.


As Christmas approached, the Mason family began salivating for the arrival of our tin of Christmas candies prepared by the Herods. There were five selections: fudge, fruitcake cookies, divinity, sugar cookies and peanut butter fudge.  The peanut butter fudge, hands down, was our favorite, and we were prone to make sure no one got more than his or her portion.



Audrey Herod and her sister Mary Lois, both unclaimed blessings, delivered our tin of goodies to us.  Audrey was the Personnel Secretary of our Walker County School system.  She ran a tight ship including never issuing us teachers our first paycheck of the new year until we’d submitted to her the results of our annual physical.  With the passage of time and the coming of personal health problems, it gave me joy to stay in touch with Audrey via phone calls, cards, and occasional visits.



An all-time favorite of our family was also the all-time favorite of our entire church family, namely the WMU (Women’s Missionary Union) rolls of May Ferguson and Lucy Stonecypher.  There are some perks to belonging to the pastor’s household.  Any leftover rolls after the monthly WMU meeting automatically came home with me.  Both Lucy and May were known to make up additional batches for us on every holiday.  My family never tired of these melt-in-your-mouth rolls, nor the love and attention Lucy and May showered upon us.  Stretched across the sofa where I’m working on this blog is a beautiful hand crocheted bedcovering May gave us when my husband retired from First Baptist.

From the WMU cookbook


Whether it was pecan pie or a holiday fruit salad you could count on Frances Jackson to deliver the goods.  Frances was a natural with young children both in Sunday school and choir.  She was also a vital part of our adult mission projects.  Having one of the most beautiful homes among our congregation, she made it available for meetings where those invited dined on mouthwatering delicacies.  To his day when I’m called upon for a casserole I always prepare Frances’s holiday fruit salad because it’s easy to prepare, pleasant to the eye, and readily consumed.



When you enter a new pastorate it’s wise to learn the family connections.  Sometimes the people involved may seem to be exact opposites.



THE original recipe
Coconut Cream Pie made by Janelle Harp, sister of Frances Jackson, was a favorite of my husband’s—not that any of my family ever saw a desert we didn’t like.  I never would have thought Frances and Janelle to be sisters. They didn’t look alike nor act alike.  The two things they had in common was being good cooks and participating in mission projects.



All my church friends, as well as my husband, are now deceased.  This memory slice of pie, like the books I write, sends me traveling down yesterday roads.

~Merry Christmas!

Thursday, November 16, 2017


Thanks Living 2017

2017 has been full of disturbing tweets and a host of catastrophic events.  We’ve run the gamut from natural disasters to senseless mass killings.  To keep my hope strong, I’d like to offer these five things that make me thankful even in difficult times.

1) POETRY

The following lines from Wendell Berry’s poem Manifesto: The Mad FarmerLiberation Front resonate with me this year.  Berry says:

So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute.  Love the Lord.  Love the world.  Work for nothing.  Take all that you have and be poor.  Love someone who does not deserve it.
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Give your approval to all you cannot understand.  Praise ignorance, for what man has not encountered he has not destroyed.
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Laughter is immeasurable.  Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.

 

2) MY SISTER

Thanksgiving week I’ll see my sister who is 97 and lives in Jacksonville, Florida. Much of our visit will be spent traveling down the roads of yesteryears, and the visit will leave me with fortified pride in my roots.

 

3) COMMUNITY OF FRIENDS

Thanksgiving is best translated as “thanks living.”  The community of residents at my retirement village offers me endless opportunities to share smiles, hugs, and to perform simple acts for some of my resident friends that they can no longer perform themselves.  I also make lots of new friends by writing biographical notes about new residents.

 

4) THE COMMUNITY OF FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH CHATTANOOGA

I’m grateful to be part of the First Family at First Baptist, Chattanooga, Tennessee where thanks living calls me to gather up my good used clothes, books for children and teens, food items and personal toiletries into large plastic bags to be delivered to my church as we prepare for our Christmas brunch for the homeless. 

 

5) MY WRITING SUPPORT NETWORK

I’m grateful for all those who are a part of my life as an author.  I’m particularly grateful to Janet Haney, Timothy Rodrigues, and Alan Mason who have taken on the herculean task of publicizing my Trailblazer trilogy; my editor Laura Backes of Children’s Book Insider who hangs in with me until I get new stories and language right; and John Pierce, Jackie Riley and Julie Steel, my friends and publishers at Nurturing Faith.

 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Splash of fall


One of the many things I enjoy about living in Georgia is the changing of the seasons. Each season is distinct and has its own special flavor.

In summer I find a big splash in the swimming pool at my apartment complex invigorating.  At other times I enjoy summer gatherings that include slices of watermelon, fried chicken or homemade ice cream.  When the blistering heat becomes more than I can tolerate, I remind myself autumn is around the corner.

Fall in the mountains of North Georgia is my favorite time of the year. That’s when Mother Nature paints our landscape with a riot of colors.  We swap our shorts for jeans and our walking pace accelerates.  During the cool evenings we welcome the need for a light jacket and begin dreaming of falling snow.

The central character of Trailblazer, Noble Wimberly Jones, living in South Georgia, wasn’t privy to North Georgia’s autumn burst of colors.  Jones did, however, believe there was a close connection between weather and disease.  As a result, he kept a daily diary of the temperature, and sunrise and sunset patterns in sultry Savannah and linked this to patterns of disease he also tracked.

Read more about Jones’s interest in the relationship of climate to disease in Trailblazer!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Summer Visits to Georgia Parks -- Learn about Our History

As a parent and Georgia teacher, I enjoyed introducing history to children through on-site visits to our wonderful state parks. I would like to encourage you to explore two of my favorites this summer--both of these parks have personal connections to my historical writing.
The oak-lined drive at Wormsloe Historic Site. (c) Georgia State Parks
WORMSLOE HISTORICAL PARK
Metropolitan Savannah was a mecca for field trips when I taught elementary school there early in my career. Unfortunately, I overlooked one of its crown jewel parks, named Wormsloe, and did not discover it until many years later. Following America’s Bicentennial celebration my desire to become a writer led me to learn about one of Georgia’s first settlers, Noble Wimberly Jones. Jones became the focus of a three-part historical novel which I am currently completing called Trailblazer. Wormsloe was the Jones family home and is now is an exciting place to learn about Georgia history, particularly our colonial beginnings.

Historic reenactments at Wormsloe Historic Site. (c) Georgia State Parks

In the first volume of Trailblazer, which is available now, I describe the origin of the name for the house and how the property grew from a simple guardhouse to the impressive estate it became later. Here is brief description of the property from the park’s website: “A breathtaking avenue sheltered by live oaks and Spanish moss leads to the tabby ruins of Wormsloe, the colonial estate of Noble Jones (1702-1775). You can interact with costumed interpreters, and view a museum with artifacts unearthed at Wormsloe. The interpretive nature trail leads past the tabby ruins along the marsh to the Colonial Life Area where, during programs and special events, demonstrators in period dress exhibit the tools and skills of colonial Georgia.”
Tabby Ruins at Wormsloe, (c) Georgia State Parks
 NEW ECHOTA HISTORIC SITE
Calhoun, Georgia also has a very special place in my heart since I now live in North Georgia and have been fascinated with Cherokee history for many years. I never tire of visiting New Echota, the capital of the Cherokee nation from 1825 until their forced removal in the 1830s. I wrote a children’s book called Where the Rabbits Dance about a young Cherokee girl whose family was swept up in the history of this conflict. New Echota is where my protagonist Lightfoot first hears the terrifying news about the plans to remove the Cherokees from Georgia.

New Echota features excellent documentaries, an informative museum of artifacts, and a numbered trail that helps the visitor reconstruct what New Echota looked like in 1825. They have erected the buildings owned by the Cherokees. If you thought the Cherokees lived in teepees, you’re in for a culture shock at their achievements.

Cherokee Council House at New Echota Historic Site. (c) Georgia State Parks.
Go see Wormsloe or New Echota this summer with your family. (Use the links to check out all the details online.)

Sunday, May 21, 2017

First Baptist Church Rossville has closed—Some reflections on keeping its history alive



As a writer, I love history. I have reflected on my own life and also traveled in time to describe people and situations from other eras in my home state of Georgia. Friends and neighbors tell me that the doors of First Baptist Church Rossville have closed permanently. I was a member, minister's wife and teacher there for almost twenty years, starting with my husband’s calling in 1961. So the history of this church is personal to me. The memories of the people I loved there will live on for me—whether the doors of the current building remain open or shut.

I particularly remember some of the young people I met at during my time here. For example, we had barely finished moving into the pastor’s house in 1961 when a little girl with ringlets arrived at the door with a cake for us. Mary Ann Michaels was the youngest child of our next-door neighbors, Harriett and Glen. She became my son Alan's best childhood friend and part of our family.

I also remember the first young women’s group I taught which consisted of Marlene, Sandy, Gail, Lynda, and Brenda. Within one year of working together, we had a first-class youth program that included banquets galore, Youth Week, Youth Council and weekend retreats. I loved helping these young women develop as leaders.

I also loved transforming moments in children’s lives. A few years after we arrived at the church, I was leading a children’s church training when it dawned on a young woman, Beth Murdock, that she could become a Christian at any time. She skipped her way out of my class and talked over her big decision with her family. She made her profession of faith either that same night or the following Sunday morning. Such enthusiasm from Beth and a special memory for me.

I could go on with memories of children and youth, but the story would be incomplete without mentioning some of the strong women leaders of Rossville First Baptist. I found most of these women in a group called the Women’s Missionary Union (WMU)—a very active and faithful group that was near and dear as a former missionary and religious education major. Ms. Eddie Johnson, who had been my husband Claude’s schoolteacher many years before, was a spiritual leader of the WMU. My heart skips a beat when I recall the faces of those dear ladies, many of whom can be seen in the picture posted above. I especially enjoyed teaching mission study books to them and engaging in mission action projects. Once a month each of four groups (called WMU “circles”) met in someone’s home.  The laughter, the hospitality, and the food (yes, these ladies knew how to cook!) will always stay with me and bring a smile to my face.

So much of who I am today was forged in this loving community known as First Baptist Church Rossville. My memory bank is chock full of incidents I hold dear. This is a brief note to call a few children, young women and senior women to mind. There are so many stories that I am not mentioning here. Of course, I have already written about my husband, Claude and my sons, Alan and Max, and our involvement in the church, in my autobiography, Tarnished Haloes.

The closing of the doors of Rossville First Baptist is not the end. History is kept alive by those of us who actively remember the people of a place and treasure and relive their stories in our minds and hearts!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

COMBINING FACT WITH FICTION

They say to write what you know…and love.  As a longtime resident of Georgia, I became fascinated with its history when I taught the subject to seventh-graders while living in Savannah. Through preparing these lessons, I learned a lot about the history of this lovely state and developed a great appreciation for it.

My life-long passion for history, along with my deeply held social justice and faith-based views, help fuel my zest for writing. There is nothing quite like fleshing out a story, and I enjoy doing so for middle-grade to adult audiences alike. I delve into the personalities of my historical fiction characters as they examine their motivations, hopes, and fears under a variety of circumstances.

My process draws on a strong understands of the historical record, gathered through my own focused research and consultation with historians and historical organizations. To this I add informed fictionalized elements that help me build a compelling narrative.

Trailblazer Trilogy chronicles the personal and civic struggles and successes of Noble Wimberly Jones, colonial Georgia’s premiere doctor and statesman for American independence. The prose also gives the reader a front row seat inside Georgia’s growth from infancy to statehood.

As an example, some of the many factual elements that anchor the story include:

• Georgia was founded to aid the unfortunate, to advance British merchandise, and to secure Britain’s defense “debatable lands.

• Concerns for those in prison for their debts had much to do with advertising for the new colony.  However, quickly debtors were expanded to include unfortunate Englishmen or non-English Protestants.  Many poor people were among the colony’s first 114 settlers.

• Georgia was supported by a group of 21 men called the Trustees. James Oglethorpe was one of the Trustees.  The Trustees knew little about setting up a structure of government and were lacking when it came to selecting colonist with farming and survival skills.  The Trustees insisted on three restrictions: no rum, no Jewish or Catholic people, and no slaves.

• The story, of course, is based on the true historical figures of James Oglethorpe, Noble Jones and his family, as well as others:  John Milledge, Chief Tomochich and his sonToonahowie, Mary Musgrove, Queen of the Creeks and Doctor NunisJohn Milledge accompanied his family to begin the new colony. Noble Jones came with his wife Sarah and two children Noble W. (10) and Mary (3)

• Twelve-year-old John had to return to England to secure his father’s land title.  While he was in London his mother and a younger brother also died.

• Doctor Nunis, a renowned doctor of infectious diseases and Jewish, arrives in the new colony and James Oglethorpe breaks the ban on excluding Jewish people. Prior to the coming of Doctor Nunis over one-third of the colonist had died.  Soon after a raging epidemic was manageable.

Medical knowledge was in its infancy stage.

I also find that factual recounting of historical events within the context of the narrative provides authenticity and compelling accuracy. For example, the Anne was delayed from leaving Gravesend, England by about two months because of inclement weather.  And, my recounting of living and eating features on the Anne are backed up by historical data.

After having established the historical outline, when writing, to help the narrative shape of the story, I add fictional elements that are informed by my research (and respect the history) and my specific approach to storytelling.

For example, my understanding of the historical person of Noble Wimberly Jones allows me to build him as a character in the story by imagining how he may have related to his sister in specific situations on the Anne, my sense of his willingness to learn about herbal cures from the Native Americans, and how the friendships he likely formed as a child would inform his participation in the colony (and state) as an adult.

All of this leads to a finish book that I hope you will find compelling and informative.  You can find out more about my books at my website.

~Lynelle