God Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise

My mom, who was raised in the Appalachian hills, often used the phrase, “God willing and the creek don’t rise.” As a young girl, I assumed that the idiom was part of her childhood culture and understood it to mean that if all goes well then something good is headed my way.

However, while doing some research recently, I came across a different meaning for what I viewed as a  whimsical saying. While president, George Washington summoned Benjamin Hawkins for an important meeting. Mr. Hawkins responded by saying, “God willing and the Creek don’t rise.”

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Talk:Lord_willing_and_the_creek_don%27t_rise

Hawkins was not referring to a body of water but instead the Muscogee (Creek) Indians. The Creek were fighting to maintain their tribal lands. Skirmishes were commonplace. History presents Benjamin Hawkins in a favorable and unfavorable light. Some consider him an enemy of the Creek. Yet he had a common-law Creek wife whom he insisted on marrying. History sometimes gives us a clouded perspective.

Like Benjamin Hawkins and the Creek people from long ago, we are living in a world of change. Things look and feel different than they did a few months ago. Wearing masks, social distancing, and isolating at home would have been novel worthy and not real life sixteen plus weeks ago.

My husband and I arrived in the U.S. at the end of February with return tickets to South Africa on April 1st. Currently, the South African borders are closed to international travel, making it difficult to plan what happens next week or even next month.

Whether the saying is “God willing and the creek don’t rise” or “God willing and the Creek don’t rise” I do not know what tomorrow looks like. In this new norm, which hopefully is not our future normal, I am learning to express that since I do not know my plans that I cannot commit to things that I have no control over.

As a thinker, planner, organizer, scheduled person, it is frustrating for me to write things on my calendar in pencil with a question mark beside the notation.  I remind myself daily that God holds my future. I am not in control.

 “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:24)

 

http://www.tonyajewelblessing.com                      christonyablessing@gmail.com

Needed Questions

I recently read an internet article written by an American expat living in Germany. https://www.caliglobetrotter.com/15-questions-im-asked-as-an-american-living-abroad/  “No matter where I go and who I meet, there are always the standard questions everyone wants to know about America because I’m an American. Sometimes I feel like a monkey behind a cage, everyone looking inside wanting to look at it and ask questions about why it’s doing what it’s doing. But I remind myself, everyone is just curious about the American culture and people, and they want to hear it straight from the source.”
Some of the common questions Lady Lola receives as are follows: Did you vote for President Trump? Is there really so much gun violence in America? Is racism still a problem? Do you really drive everywhere? Why are Americans so loud? Have you actually met a famous person? Why do Americans smile all the time? And, Why do Americans put bacon on everything?
Questions often present an opportunity for growth. Recently, I feel plagued by questions where the answers are not readily available.  In some cases, I have kept concerns to myself. I am worried about being judged or even misunderstood.
There is an interesting question filled story in the Bible in the Book of Judges chapter 13. A woman, who is unable to have children, experiences an angelic visitation. The messenger tells her that she is going to have a son and gives instructions about how to parent this unusual boy. The woman then tells her husband, Manoah. The Bible says in verse 8 that Manoah prays to the Lord asking for answers to specific questions. God is not offended by Manoah’s inquiry and, in fact, responds with the needed information.
Have you been asking heartfelt questions lately? Maybe you have voiced some of those questions, or maybe you have felt intimidated to make inquiries. Rest assured that God wants to hear your concerns. He wants to help you and to bring clarification to your queries.

Problems with Passion

I just read an article by Peter Mead called 4 Problems with Passionate Preaching. The material was written for pastors, but the timeless communication truths apply to all of us.  Mead reminds his readers that it is important to be aware of how we come across in our communication. For listeners to hear us our presentation needs to be palatable. 
Passion that becomes aggressive can offend.

What might feel like a passion for the truth on our part can easily become unnecessarily offensive to the listeners. 

Passion that becomes “shouty” can be bothersome. 

It’s so tempting for some personalities to convey their enthusiasm by shouting. It feels powerful and full of conviction at the time, but in the end, listeners will not take the message to heart.

Passion that becomes distracted can be hard to follow.

Sometimes passion for something leads us off on a wild goose chase of anecdotes and illustrations or a wild safari ride…Let passion drive the main idea home, not drive the listeners to distraction…

Passion that becomes too intense can drain.

A certain level of intensity, if maintained consistently, will drain an audience of energy and focus. Give them a break, a chance to breathe, a chance to recalibrate. Intensity turned up a notch or two and left there can become simply too much to take.

I found Peter Mead’s article very timely. There are a lot of passionate opinions about a lot of things these days. Opinions are voiced in multiple arenas and can be readily heard or viewed. Presentation is the key to expressing our passionate opinions. 

christonyablessing@gmail.com

Ready to Woo

I found the picture above when I Googled Appalachian love stories. Because there was no story included, I decided to write my own.

He was desperate. Clem knew he wouldn’t last the winter without a woman. Oh, he was interested in loving alright, if his health permitted, but, more importantly, he was interested in good food, lively conversation, and someone to help with the chores. If the gal played checkers and smoked a pipe, it was all the better. It’d been awhile since clean overalls hung on his tall lean frame. His shirts and socks also needed mending.
            In his younger days, some had called him handsome. Now, old age had set in. He bones were brittle from lack of nutrition and hard work; his feet misshapen from wearing boots too small; and most of his teeth were missing. The last one he had pulled himself with worn rusted pliers he had borrowed from a friend. He had washed the pliers in moonshine, and, after the painful extraction, had rinsed his mouth repeatedly with the brew. He knew the art of gnawing food but was praying for a new pair in case his new wife was good at making vitals. 
            He had just the gal in mind. Ruby Mae lived across the creek. Her husband had passed in the spring. It was rumored that Ruby’s mama had done him in with hemlock. He thought it might be so. Any woman, old or young, who wore a pan on her head must be crazy.
            It had been awhile since he went calling on a girl but had worked out his mind just what was needed. He had shot and killed three squirrels. The varmints were cleaned and hanging on stick. He kept the pelts just in case the lady was of a mind to make him slippers. He also picked fall witch hazel flowers and tied them with twine. He knew that the flower helped with skin ailments of all types. When used topically it was fine but if ingested it could cause a person’s body to back up for several of days. He wanted the pan hatted lady to be aware of his knowledge about poison plants – just in case, she had any mischief in mind.
            The creek water was running low. The fall rain showers had been brief and far between. Thunder and lightning aside, he enjoyed a good rain. His tin bathtub had a small hole, so he had taken to dancing in the rain with a small piece of soap made from lard. 
            The worn looking cabin was straight ahead. He could see the ladies sitting on the front porch hulling beans of some sort. He hoped it was black eye peas. They tasted mighty fine when seasoned with hog jowls. 
            “Gals, it’s Clem from across the creek,” he called out a greeting. It wouldn’t do any good to frighten a lady, especially since he was calling with wife finding in mind.
            The younger woman, Ruby Mae, stood to greet him. Martha, the older woman stayed seated in her rocker and scowled at him.
            “Clem, it’s nice to be seein’ you.”
            “Ruby Mae,” he nodded and awkwardly handed her the squirrel meat.
            “Well, I’m thankful. Why don’t you join me and Mama for dinner? I’ll make us a fine supper.”
            True to her word, the meal was delicious. The witch hazel flowers placed in a mason jar were centered on the table. Two candles made from bee comb sat on either side of the centerpiece.
            “Ruby Mae, the meal was mighty fine.” Clem hemmed and hawed. “I’m needin’ me a woman, and I’m thinkin’ you’re the gal.”
            Sweet Ruby Mae blushed, and Martha made a sound similar to a growl.
            “Clem, I’m honored. My Homer done passed, and I’m gettin’ scared about the snow. I’m worried that Mama and me can’t manage the farm,” she looked down at the worn floorboards. “Is you thinkin’ of movin’ here or is me and Mama coming to your place.”
            It hadn’t occurred to Clem to relocate across the creek, but the idea sat well with him. Ruby Mae’s  home was pleasant, clean, and well kept. He spied jars of canned fruit, vegetables, and meat in the small room off the kitchen. 
            “It’ll be fine to be moving here,” Clem answered. “But we’re needed to talk about Mama. I done heard that she killed Homer. If it’s true, I best be knowing before the preacher man is called.”
            Ruby Mae looked toward her mother. “Mama…”
            The older woman smiled a toothless grin. “I ain’t kilt nobody. There was a time or two that I was wantin’ to send Homer to his Maker, but I done feared for my eternal wellbein’. I won’t kill ya. I’m promisin’. I’ll be helping Martha to tend you. I’m knowing how to make food that you can gnaw and feed you gullet. I’ll even warsh your clothes.” 
            “That’s mighty fine.” Clem replied.
            The wedding took place the following week. Ruby Mae looked lovely in pale blue dress with a small pocket placed over her heart. The pocket was trimmed in lace. Her message was subtle, but Clem knew that his bride’s heart now belonged to him, and his heart belonged to her. Martha stood next to her daughter wearing the old pot for a hat. 
            When the preacher told the newlyweds to kiss, Clem leaned in for a smooch. Before his lips touched Ruby Mae’s, he noticed a sprig of dried hemlock peeking from the lacey pocket. Ruby Mae winked and whispered in his ear, “And you thought it was Mama…”

The End

Black Eyed Peas

It is an Appalachian tradition to eat black eyed peas on New Year’s Day. A mountain folk belief claims that the beans resemble a coin and to partake of what is also known as goat peas brings good luck and wealth for the new year.

“The idea that black eyed peas are lucky dates back to the Civil War. Northern troops considered the peas to be suitable only for animals, so they were one of the few edible things left behind by raiding soldiers. The “lucky” peas made their way to Southern tables, especially those of Southern slaves who celebrated emancipation as ordered by President Abraham Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863.” (Leada Gore)
Some homestyle cooks even include a coin while preparing the beans. Whoever gets the coin in his or her heavily seasoned bowl of black-eyed peas and hearty broth will receive extra money in the months to come.
When the peas are first shelled, they are green in color. With exposure to light, the beans turn white or ivory. Their eyes can be a variety of colors: black, brown, red, or pink. 
God created such amazing and unique things for people to eat. He also gave wisdom to mankind on how to plant, harvest, and cook His bounty. Because black eyed peas are legumes, they add nitrogen to the soil and have high nutritional value.
Black-eyed peas are ready to harvest when they rattle in their shells. They are then dried for storage. Before cooking the peas are soaked in water to soften the shells. Spices, spinach, and pork fat are often used in just the right measure to produce something wonderful.
Life can be complicated for people and peas. I get rattled from time to time. There are seasons where I feel like I’ve sat on shelf gathering dust. I’ve also felt, on a few occasions, like I’ve been plunged into water, and I definitely need others to add spice and flavor to my life.

Happy New Year!  I hope that 2020 is amazing!

Celebrate Lit

I recently completed a virtual book tour with Celebrate Lit. Although I was a little intimidated by the process, the experience was amazing. As part of the tour, I was also interviewed. My first time in seeing a personal interview in written print. Life can be daunting but also exhilarating.
Author interview
1.Will you tell us a little about yourself?
I grew up in a small community in Ohio. My parents were both West Virginia born, so I spent a great deal of time in the Appalachians. When I met my husband, he was finishing college in Colorado, so, after getting married, I relocated to Cowboy Country. Most of my career has been spent in various ministry positions. I also taught school for a brief time in Colorado, which I loved. Sometimes I still have dreams about teaching school, and, in those dreams, I am almost always laughing. Before moving to South Africa, nine years ago, my husband and I operated a retreat facility for missionaries. Living in South Africa is amazing. Each day is an adventure. We mostly work in rural areas partnering with local pastors and facilitating feeding and educational programs.
2. What is your latest book about?
The Melody of the Mulberries is the second book in The Big Creek Series. The books are connected, but they are also standalone reads. They are set in the West Virginia mountains during the late 1920s. The Melody of the Mulberries centers around two siblings: Ernest and Coral Ashby. Ernest is a schoolteacher in a rural area. He has fallen in love with his brother’s widow, but complications come into play when a previous love interest enters the picture. Coral is sixteen years old. She feels like God is directing her to visit the family nemesis who is currently stewing in prison in Charleston. Charlie has committed several grievous crimes against family members, so her desire to extend forgiveness to him causes her siblings grief and consternation.
3. Did you have to do a lot of research for the book?
If so, what was the most interesting thing you learned?Research is an important part of my writing. I want the historical facts to be correct, and I also want to incorporate intriguing information especially about nature. One of the most interesting things I learned is that male snakes have two penises. I also learned that a mother bear will use flatulence to direct her cubs. It was amazing to learn about the rich ginger root farms and the once dense population of parrots in the area. The Appalachian folk sayings placed at the beginning of each chapter come from research and from personally hearing some of them. I also enjoy using hymn passages in my writing which also takes research.
4. Where do you like to write?
I mostly like to write late in the evenings in bed. I prop myself up with two or three pillows, sip on slightly sweetened Rooibos tea, and create characters and their stories to entertain myself.
5. What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
Okay, I don’t pre-plan my writing. When I taught school, I stressed repeatedly to the students that a planning piece was essential to good writing, yet I create as I go. Another quirk may be that I mention nature, body parts, and functions in the course of spiritual decisions and humor as they may be appropriate to the story. And I may have another quirk, just one, if you’ll indulge me – writing the Appalachian accents .
6. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I am passionate about reading. I also like horseback riding. My husband I take weekly riding lessons. I enjoy cooking, entertaining, and sharing ideas with other women. I speak at events during the year where I encourage and, hopefully, equip women for healthy living.
7. Is there a place you’d like to visit but haven’t yet?
I’d like to go to Madagascar and see the lemurs.
8. Do you have a favorite Bible verse?
My favorite verses change all the time. Currently I’m studying an unusual verse, “And seven women shall take hold of one man.” (Isaiah 4:1) A number of rural pastors in South Africa believe that it’s okay for one man to have seven wives. The Bible is full of surprises, and I love the interplay of God’s Word with seasons of life and culture wherever I go.
9. Do you have a favorite song and/or movie?
My favorite song is It’s a Wonderful World. I have two favorite movies: Simon Birch and Secondhand Lions. I also like Slum Dog Millionaire.
10. What are some nonfiction books you found impactful?I
am constantly reading books on Christian leadership and biblical commentaries. I am also very moved by books on the Viet Nam conflict.
11. What is your favorite holiday?
My favorite holiday is South African Women’s Day. Women and young girls are often oppressed in the South African culture. Women’s Day is the perfect time to teach women about God’s great love for them.
12. What is your favorite season and why is it your fav?
Fall in America. The mid-west foliage is breathtaking. Pumpkin patches bring out the child in me, and roadside stands selling the last of the season vegetables remind me of my mom harvesting her final garden crop of the year and tilling the soil under in preparation for spring.
13. Are you currently working on any new novels?
If so, could you give us a hint?There might be a third book in The Big Creek Series, featuring one of the older Ashby siblings.
14. Thank you so much for being here! Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers and where can we find you on the web?
I believe that the foundation of life is a spiritual one, and I have built my foundation on the Lord of the Bible. On that foundation, big dreams and giant adventures should be launched and enjoyed. My web page is http://www.tonyajewelblessing.com.

Disgustingly Disgusted

On a recent lovely fall day, I decided to visit a Denver area Barnes & Nobel bookstore. The idea was to browse through the shelves, to enjoy a cup of lightly sweetened herbal tea and a bakery treat, and to catch-up on answering overdue e-mails.  Before making my way to the coffee shop nature called. I also wanted to change my shirt.  The tank top I was wearing kept stretching, and I was worried about exposing my belly button.
Since I was changing clothes, I decided to use the handicapped stall. I pushed the middle front of the tan door open with my elbow. When I looked down there was feces smeared by the door latch. I quickly washed my hands and changed my shirt in the bathroom’s common area. I then found a store assistance and gave a report. “The bathroom needs attention right away. This is gross, really gross….,” I quietly said to the young man categorizing books in the gardening section. “I am sorry that you or one of the other staff members have to clean this up.” The conversation deteriorated from there about disgusting things that people do or don’t do.
I made my way to the coffee shop and ordered ONLY a beverage. My appetited had waned. As I sat down, opened my laptop, and found my way to the store’s unsecured WIFI, I noticed a group of physically and mentally challenged individuals sitting in a corner section. Wheelchairs, walkers, and canes were abundant. Kind-hearted caregivers surrounded the group assisting with food placement, napkin and straw gathering, and even feeding those who struggled with using utensils.
It hit me like a bolt of lightning. My husband was once struck by lightning, so I feel like I can use the term with some authority. The unpleasant mess in the store’s bathroom wasn’t created out of viciousness but out of lack of ability. My disgust turned to compassion. The thought of someone not being able to cleanse himself or herself brought tears to my eyes. I was also disgustingly disgusted with myself. Why does my mind generally go to places of indignation? I often assume the worst without thinking through other options.
Sometimes the first step in growing, is recognizing the need to change.
How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving 
and tolerant of the weak and strong…
– George Washington Carver

The Arms of an Aunt

One of my favorite things in life is being an aunt. I have four nephews and four nieces. I also consider myself an aunt to their spouses and a great aunt to their children.
I was recently reading the Gospel of John and learned that Jesus’ aunt stood with his mother at the foot of the cross.
In both of my novels, The Whispering of the Willows and The Melody of the Mulberries, Aunt Ada is featured. The books are set in the late 1920’s when families often lived in tight knit communities. Aunts were second mothers and took part in caring for and raising nieces and nephews. Aunt Ada is not an aunt by blood but an aunt by love. In numerous ways, she helps the Ashby siblings. Her protectiveness and generosity help launch Ernest, Emie, and Coral into adulthood. Her words of wisdom guide their path, and her compassion makes room for them to live in her home and in her heart.
Only an aunt can give hugs like a mother, keep secrets like a sister and share love like a friend.
Picture1
(unknown)
NOW AVAILABLE AT AMAZON.COM

Big Purse or Little Purse?

I like big purses. I always have. I somehow feel a need to carry diverse articles with me: random receipts, a collection of pens and mechanical pencils, a notebook, nail clippers, lipsticks, business cards, a small mirror, dental floss…I recently attended a ladies’ event and based on the number of semi-obscure objects in my purse, I won a game. The prize was an oversized deliciously smooth milk-chocolate bar.

In South Africa, as a gesture of chivalry, men carry their wives or girlfriends’ purses. On occasion, Chris will carry my over-sized bag, but generally it is mine to bear. 

A few weeks ago, a friend told me about an interesting picture she viewed of a purse with roots coming out of the bottom. Her description started me thinking about what I should and shouldn’t carry with me. If my big purse had roots, what would be growing inside, and what would eventually blossom from the top?

I’m not just writing about my compulsive need to be prepared for whatever comes my way, but, also, about things that I carry in my heart that weigh me down. Matters of the heart can’t be carried by someone else even if the person is gallant and brave.

Things like fear, disappointment, resentment, insecurity, self-doubt and others need to go. But since I like big bags, those items will need replaced. It doesn’t seem appropriate to carry an empty purse. I would like to re-fill my bag with courage, excitement, forgiveness, confidence, and, most importantly, the love of God.

“Handbags speak louder than words.” (anonymous) The love of God is loud, very loud, and speaks louder than a handbag.

Hosting a Literary Luncheon

To intentionally kill a honey bee brings bad luck. (Appalachian Folk Belief)
Wouldn’t it be fun to host or attend a literary event? If I was going to sponsor such a unique festivity, I would theme the event around my Appalachian historical novel, The Whispering of the Willows, set in the late 1920’s. The invitations would feature a spectacular mountain view including a creek in the forefront, whose banks are lined with numerous willow trees of varying sizes. The dress would be flapper attire, and the music would include old favorites like, Someone to Watch Over Me (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E07b0SbWWFc). The table decorations would be mason jar vases filled with tender willow branch shoots and wildflowers.  For good measure, it would be lovely to include sprigs of fragrant purple lilacs. I would enjoy featuring a combination of mountain flair breakfast and lunch dishes: milk tea, chicory coffee, berry cobbler, farm fresh eggs topped with goat cheese, drop biscuits with honey (including bits of the comb), back bacon, fried potatoes flavored with onion and red pepper, and greens of some sort. I might even prepare fried chicken. Each place setting would include a name card with an Appalachian folk belief such as the importance of calling a fishing hook after someone you love. The table cloths would be vintage quilts either stitched or knotted, designed and crafted using cast off clothing. The event would open in prayer and include a brief hymn sing. I would also enjoy sharing an encouraging excerpt from my book. Guests would be invited to share a recent spiritually encouraging encounter. Hopefully friends in attendance would enjoy a taste of days gone by and be reminded of the treasures of friendship and simple living. 
Does hosting a literary brunch appeal to you? If so, what would be your theme and dream for the special event?