Five Things on Friday

It’s Friday. And it’s frighteningly hot today. September has brought snow to Colorado and fires to California but here in the deep South, summer heat continues unabated. No change since May. It’s just hot everyday. It’s too hot to concentrate on long posts, so i am going to write short snippets, five in number, for your reading pleasure. I took a drive around town, and I snapped a few pictures of things around Abita Springs, Louisiana, that I thought may interest you.

1. One of my favorite town landmarks is the gorilla that sits in front of a dentist’s office. For some unexplained reason, he wears a shirt advertising the local chiropractor, although he clearly is standing in front of the dentists’s office. Maybe tangling with a gorilla is more likely to cause back problems rather than dental work? I don’t know.

2. Many towns and neighborhoods sport tiny libraries. The idea is for patrons to enjoy books with the rule of take one, leave one. This box stands outside of the Abita Springs hotel. It’s a bit more decorative than most tiny libraries, I think.

3. On the outskirts of town there’s a highway heading toward the Mississippi state line. Along the way, there are several large estates, some of which come with signage. I have never seen the house called Beauregard, as the wooded driveway completely obscures the house. It might be fancy, or not. Who knows?

4. Next door to Beauregard, as you head back into town, there is Neau Regard. Again, one cannot see anything but a sign and a wooded drive leading to a home. Is the home worth no regard? I don’t know. Is the signage indicative that the estate is for a relative of Beauregard? Probably Neau Regard is the home of the black sheep of the family. There’ s no regard for such people, usually.

5. I know that I live amongst authentic and intelligent folk. What else could be the explanation for this excellently decorated home in Abita Springs. This home makes me happy every time I pass by.

That’s Friday five. Enjoy your weekend.

A Body of Faithful People

During the early days of Covid-19 when we were sheltering in place, I yearned for human connection. Rather than in-person visits, I had to be content with Facebook live stream or Zoom meetings with friends. I live alone so there wasn’t someone to share the space with me during the first days of the pandemic.

One thing I changed while sheltering in place was I decided to not return to the megachurch I was attending before Covid. I am back at my small, ragamuffin, frayed a bit on the edges church where I had been attending for several years prior to my megachurch experience. It just feels right. A smaller place has been good for me. On a good day, before Covid-19, the church averaged about 80 to 100 folks. Due to the whole pandemic thing, with state restrictions on sizes of gatherings and required face masks, we are lucky to have 20 or 30 souls on a given Sunday.

One good thing about a small church is that I can look into the eyes of my pastor when he speaks. At the megachurch, it was easier to stare at the big screens on each side of the stage. Conversely, the pastor can see me from his perch at the front of the building. Am I fading out? Am I reading stuff on my smartphone rather than listening intently. (Yeah, not a good habit, but occasionally I do this.)

Another good thing about a small church is that I know the names of the people in the room. All of them, or close to all of them, anyway. And they know my name. Like the old refrain from the TV show, Cheers, it’s good to be where everyone knows your name. If I miss a Sunday, somebody is bound to run into me during the week. That somebody is likely to ask why I wasn’t there. I don’t mind. I don’t feel like they are being nosy or judgmental. They just care about me.

That brings me to the meaning of the word, church. It derives from the Greek word, ekklesia, which means an assembly of called out ones. It can be also described as a body of faithful people. That’s what each one of us needs, a body of faithful people. A friend pointed out to me the meaning of ekklesia as a body of faithful people this weekend.

Your body of faithful people may or may not be a group that you see on Sunday in a church building. It may be a group of devoted friends and family that make up your particular “tribe.” They might be Catholic (big C), as in Roman Catholic or catholic (little c) meaning the church universal. Maybe your tribe doesn’t have a particular creed that you share in common. You may just be committed to each other, not necessarily to faith in God.

I often read that loneliness is one of the most common problems in our nation today. I think that finding an ekklesia, a body of faithful people, is something that can alleviate that sense of being alone. Loneliness is not just a problem for single people. For married or single people, or divorced or in a committed relationship, loneliness can be a scourge.

Personally, I believe that being part of a church is good for me. The God element is important to me as part of my community. I want to always stay in fellowship with other Christians. However way you do it, find your ekklesia, your group of faithful people.

On the Edge of the Storm

As I write, Hurricane Laura is wreaking devastation across southwestern Louisiana. The category 4 storm made landfall last night with winds higher than any storm in Louisiana in 164 years. I am far removed from the storm, living in southeast Louisiana, very near the Mississippi state line. Our weather has been limited to a rain shower or two, as we have seen just the extreme outer bands of the storm come through our area.

I am familiar with storms and hurricanes, living most of my life in southeast Louisiana. In particular, my life has been forever influenced by Hurricane Katrina. I was living in New Orleans, Louisiana, during that storm 15 years ago. I will always live my life, as do countless others, as before Katrina/after Katrina. It was a seminal event.

Now, Hurricane Laura will punctuate the lives of residents of Cameron, Lake Charles, and other towns near the border of Louisiana and Texas. A storm of this size and intensity will forever change the topography and the shape of the communities. I recall a friend who had a large beachside vacation home in coastal Mississippi. The entire building disappeared after Katrina, leaving only posts standing tall and alone along the coastline.

Hurricane Laura will change and take lives. I recall after Katrina speaking to a man who was left homeless after the storm. He had stayed in the city for the storm. He had tried to leave his home to join a neighbor across the street after the storm had done its worst, or so he thought. As he tried to walk in knee-deep water, he reached the end of his driveway to discover the water had risen to waist deep and higher, so he clung to his mailbox, hoping to not be dragged away in the waters. Luckily, a neighbor saw him, and eventually, he was reached by someone in a boat who rescued him. His house was completely ruined by the high waters.

I hope that residents of western Louisiana remembered to take pictures or videos of their homes and neighborhoods before they evacuated. For many residents, their homes, place of businesses and other landmarks will be gone or radically altered by Hurricane Laura. I hope they find community and hope in the goodwill of their neighbors, family and volunteers as they return. I know I was encouraged by the outpouring of support from people in my neighborhood, my church, and from volunteers across the nation who helped us after Hurricane Katrina had decimated the city and the surrounding communities.

Friday Shorts

Back when blogs were popular, back when I lived in Honduras, back when I published lots of posts, I used to have a regular Friday post called Friday Fragments which were short items about various topics. I linked to a now extinct blog by a friend who hosted a link for other bloggers to publish their Friday Fragments. Today’s items are just short items I felt like writing about.

Do you want to buy a church? There’s one for sale in Abita Springs. I don’t know the whole story, but I read that the pastor AND the congregation of 80 or so persons have moved, so this building is for sale. Sounds a bit cult-like to me, doesn’t it? The entire congregation is moving. Who does that? This church was originally located in eastern Canada, and the pastor had it shipped in pieces down to Louisiana, then reconstructed on the outskirts of Abita Springs. Anyway, the church and the adjacent day-care center are up for grabs if anyone wants it. I like the idea of making it into a restaurant, as happens every now and then with old churches.

Weather is strange at times isn’t it? Well, the weather around here is REALLY strange this time. Early next week there most likely will be 2 named storms in the Gulf of Mexico at the same time. That would be a first. Of course, it’s 2020, so what’s so strange about two hurricanes blasting away at the same time? What area is right in between the cones? Well, none other than New Orleans, Louisiana.

Have you heard of Noom? I’m using this weight loss program to lose weight. It’s a psychology based approach to losing weight. All of the stuff is on the app. I like it. The food diary is easy to use and automatically subtracts calories from your daily allowance. There are behavioral lessons of about 10 minutes each day. Each week there’s a personal coach who interacts with me via the app to guide me. Thus far, I’ve lost 15 lbs. since starting to use the app 60 days ago. Go Noom! Go me!

Did I mention that I have been married before? I found my wedding picture while scanning old photographs from my mother’s collection. I don’t remember marrying my older sister, but the evidence shows it to be true. I don’t remember who was the officiant, perhaps my other sister? My sister remarried as an adult, to a man. I haven’t remarried.

Well, that’s enough short items for today. Enjoy your weekend. Next post may be about the convergence of two hurricanes along the Louisiana coast. I hope not, but who knows. Now I’m on my way to Walmart to stock up on hurricane provisions. At the very least, it’s going to be wet next week.

Winebibber or Teetotaler?

I came across this photo while scanning family pictures for my mother. She’s planning to move to a smaller place in a retirement center. I agreed to scan or store some of her photo boxes and albums in order to help minimize her belongings.

I recall the circumstances surrounding this photograph. I was maybe 11 years old. My sisters and I were confined to the kitchen while my parents were entertaining in the dining room. We each were allowed a glass of wine. Unbeknownst to me, my sisters were adding more wine to my one allowed glass every time I put the glass down to attend to a pile of mounting dishes. I got a bit tipsy, or as the saying goes now, I was lit. I never finished the glass as I recall as my sisters finally let me in on the gag before I got fully intoxicated.

I have never been a winebibber, or one who drinks to excess. Not in my childhood, nor teen years, nor adult years. Nor have I gone long periods with being a teetotaler. I did abstain during a brief time of fervent fundamentalism, but that was just a phase. I think a major reason that I avoided the extremes is because of the healthy attitude toward drink that was displayed by my parents. They didn’t drink to excess. Mostly, a drink or two was enjoyed at social occasions. It wasn’t a daily habit.

That’s my attitude towards alcohol today. I rarely drink, partaking maybe once or twice a month. I have had the same four pack of single-serve wines in the refrigerator for a couple of months. The same goes for the Abita Springs Strawberry Ale sitting next to the carton of milk. I haven’t felt the need to assuage any feelings of stress during the pandemic with copious or even moderate levels of alcohol. It’s just not part of my psyche, I guess.

I can look back with a grateful heart that I had parents who were rational in their attitude towards drink. We were permitted to drink at celebrations as youngsters. No one overindulged. It was often just a celebratory drink now and then in our house.

The time pictured in the above image is one of the few times in my life when I have been guilty of overindulgence. Of course, it wasn’t my fault. I was being challenged to finish off a glass of wine that I didn’t know was, essentially, bottomless. Only when the gag reached a point where it could have been excessive was the gag revealed. I hope to stay the course the rest of my life as neither a winebibber or a teetotaler.

They Will Know We Are Christians

This weekend I attended church via Facebook Live. Our church will start in person services next week. One of the songs played was a folk song created in the 1960s by Father Peter Sholtes. The song is called, “They Will Know We are Christians By Our Love.”

While humming this tune this morning, I reflected on that song and what it means. What does the word, Christian, conjure up in people’s minds today, especially in the United States? Does it mean I am a Republican? Or does it mean I am pro-life? Does it mean that I oppose gay marriage?

None of these sentiments express love. They are cultural issues, not necessarily spiritual ones. I am a Christian because I love God and I love others. That’s it. No other requirements.

The ideal to love is all I need. I can mess up because love covers a multitude of sins. I fall short so often of what I think a Christ follower should be. But to be labeled as a Christian by Jesus I have to love, not fret about my shortcomings.

I can love Democrats and Republicans, because love isn’t about political parties. I can love someone who supports abortion because, again, it’s about love, not the hot-button topic of the day.

I can love gays.

Jesus didn’t ask me to choose sides. He doesn’t require that I support Donald Trump. Or support Joe Biden. It’s not about that.

It’s about love.

Jesus said in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Shake Off That Snake

This morning I woke up very early. It was nearly dawn, right before six. The sky was grey. And then, while drinking my second cup of coffee, it became apparent that the sun was breaking through. For the first time in days, we had a clear morning. We’ve had daily, nearly constant rain for five days as the outer bands from Hurricane Hanna plagued us.

I knew what I needed to do. I needed to jump on my bike and get in an early morning ride. It would be the first morning in days I could get outside for exercise.

I didn’t want to do it. I was sorely tempted to fritter another hour reading the news online. Or, maybe even catch a few more winks. Then I watched a short video clip online from Christine Caine, an evangelist.

She had a plastic snake on her wrist. She threw it off behind her, just as the Apostle Paul did in the book of Acts. He was shipwrecked on the island of Malta in the Mediterranean when a viper attached himself to Paul’s arm. The Bible says that Paul shook off the snake, and he didn’t suffer any ill effects from the poisonous viper.

Paul then went on to the governor’s house, prayed for the governor’s sick father, who was then healed. While on the island of Malta, Paul healed many who were sick. There was revival in Malta. All because Paul shook off that snake.

So I got up and threw off the snake of lethargy. I threw off cynicism. The pounds aren’t melting off as fast as I want but it’s not time to throw in the towel. Not quite yet.

I biked about 40 minutes for 6 miles. Not a record. Not the best I’ve done. But it was enough to get my body moving and sweating. Because I live in Louisiana, and it was nearly 100% humidity this morning, I was soaking with sweat when I stepped off the bike. It was worth it.

I have a long way to go to get back to a normal weight again. But I’m not giving up, yet. I will throw off a snake or two if I have to, but I will keep reaching for the goal.

By the way, I hate snakes. I don’t know if I would have done the same as Paul. I probably would have jumped around, screaming, and shaking a bit too. I probably would have listened to the natives in the book of Acts who thought the snake bite was divine punishment. I am not St. Paul who did many miracles in Jesus’ name. But I can get out of bed and cycle off a few pounds.

Stories of my Ancestors

I had some fun in the past few months as I researched my family’s roots. I began by asking myself a few questions that I detailed in another post, Tracing My Roots. Fortunately, I have answered the questions about my family’s past satisfactorily.

I can substantiate that my family did, indeed, own slaves. I discovered a bill of sale on Ancestry.com for a 12 year old boy named Theo who was bought by my ancestor, Jacques Matherne, in 1783. Before Jacques, census records show that Jacques’ grandfather, Johanne, owned five slaves in the early 1700s, shortly after arriving in Louisiana from Germany.

I couldn’t find records of any other ancestor owning slaves. However, slave ownership was quite common in the South. About 1/3 of white families owned slaves in the pre-Civil War days. On average, a slaveowner owned 3-5 slaves. So it’s quite possible that others in the family tree had slaves, too. I just don’t see a record of any others owning slaves.

Did my family participate in the Civil War? Yes, I found a record that my great-great grandfather, Joseph T. Martin, was drafted in 1862, then captured by Union forces the same year near Thibodaux, Louisiana. According to what I have found, he was released on his own recognizance and returned home shortly thereafter. He never traveled more than 30 miles from home during the Civil War.

Again, there probably were others in my family who took up arms for the Confederacy. Starting in 1862, there was a draft, so most families had a family member who served the Confederacy. However, most records only list surnames and a capital letter. Therefore, it’s impossible for me to ascertain if the A. Matherne that I found on a Lafourche Regimental Roll was my ancestor, Anatole Matherne. Could be but who’s to say that were other men named Matherne with an A for a first name in the region.

I uncovered other interesting stories, too. Ursin Napolean Matherne was a philanderer, and in the spirit of his middle name, made many conquests. My great-grandfather fathered at least 16 children, from 3 different women. Those are the children that one can verify. Where there more? Probably, considering he had a marked propensity for leaving his wife and children for periods of time, with little or no explanation for his whereabouts upon his return. I have relatives I know little or nothing about up and down the bayous of Louisiana.

One of the women that I am descended from was Clinda Picou Matherne, my great-grandmother, married to the above-mentioned Ursin Matherne. She was renowned in her community as a traiteur, a Cajun term for a faith healer. She prayed for the sick, laying hands on the ill, then she offered a remedy, usually a homeopathic cure. Payments were traditionally received, though not required for her services. She lived to an old age, just a few months shy of 100 years old. To the end of her days, she was known for praying and offering cures for the sick.

There were other details, too such as when and how my ancestors came to America. I detailed a bit about the long journeys of the Cajuns, who left France for Canada, were forcibly evicted from that land, and eventually made their way to Louisiana. My family was part of that journey, too.

I made a Shutterfly book of pictures and stories about my ancestors. I plan on gifting copies of the book to my nieces and nephews. I didn’t write down all the stories I have heard or read about my ancestors. However, I hope the stories that I managed to wrote down will be handed down for more generations to discover.

Christmas in July

The following article was submitted to Guideposts Magazine. This is the edited version that will appear in a special December 2020 issue. The original was published earlier in December 2019 as Christmas Eve in Jail. This is a true story.

I stood in front of a metal detector at the parish jail. A guard patted me down and handed me a visitor’s badge. This wasn’t where I wanted to be on Christmas Eve.

Tina, my church jail ministry partner, had called earlier to say she couldn’t make it to the women’s Bible study at the prison like she’d promised. But the group was expecting someone. I pictured them sitting around a metal table in the communal cell, waiting to be uplifted by Tina’s lesson. She always led the meetings; she knew what to say. What did I have to offer these women spending Christmas in this lonely, dismal place? 

The guard took my purse and waved me through the metal detector. Another guard accompanied me to the women’s wing with my Bible.

A door buzzed and I heard a clamor of voices before I walked into the cell. Roughly 30 women in orange jumpsuits and jail-issued sandals stood with expectant looks.

“You’re here!” one of them shouted. A few began pulling sheets off their bunks and wrapping them around themselves like tunics or cloaks. A semicircle of chairs seemed to be arranged for some kind of performance. 

“Everyone in the audience, sit down!” shouted an imposing inmate of Native American heritage. The woman strode toward me and introduced herself as Jenny.

“We don’t want a Bible study today,” she announced. “We’re putting on a play. All we need is a real audience and here you are.”

With that, Jenny stepped back and opened a Bible. The women in sheets took their places. When they were ready, Jenny read: “Now, the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way.”

Two of the inmates walked to the middle of the semicircle, and I realized they were Mary and Joseph. This was a Nativity play. Jenny read from the gospel while the women played their parts, stopping at various points to sing.

The baby Jesus was a pillow, carried lovingly by Mary and placed on a chair—the manger. The shepherds came in led by angels. The three wise men followed with their gifts of ramen noodles and toiletries.

Jenny moved everyone through their roles with jailhouse bluntness: “Get in there!” “Pay attention!” “Next!”

I joined in singing “Silent Night.” The women had surprisingly lovely voices. After the song, Jenny ordered everyone to kneel before the baby Jesus. The actors kneeled.

“You too!” Jenny shouted to the audience. “Now!” One by one the inmates kneeled. I knelt too.

The room was silent.

I did not know these women particularly well, but in my visits with Tina I’d gotten a general idea why most of them had ended up in jail. Domestic disputes. Drugs. Bad checks. Prostitution, maybe to support an addiction. Crimes of poverty, with jail time inevitable because no one could afford bail.

Tonight, all of that seemed to vanish. These women were full of joy and purpose. Jenny read from the prophet Isaiah:

For unto us a child is born,

Unto us a son is given;

And the government will be upon his shoulder.

And his name will be called

Wonderful, counselor, mighty God,

Everlasting father, prince of peace.

A moment more of transportive silence. Then Jenny barked, “Okay, play’s over!”

I applauded, genuinely moved, and the group rushed toward me from the makeshift stage. “Did you like it?” “Was our singing in tune?” “Could you imagine the real story?” 

I was surrounded. No one expressed bitterness over missing Christmas at home, or worry about kids and elderly parents left behind. No one sounded lonely or depressed or fearful. The women needed no more from me than my appreciation for their effort. In the story of Jesus’ birth, they had clearly found the love and forgiveness they yearned for. Tonight, all that mattered were God’s forgiveness and promise of new life, as real as that pillow placed lovingly on a chair.

When the visit was over, we all wished each other a merry Christmas and the door buzzed. I was escorted back to the exit and handed my purse.

Night had fallen and I walked to my car under the glare of security lights. I remembered how apprehensive I’d felt going in. It occurred to me that the first Christmas was probably a lot like this. Two poor refugees with nowhere to call home, sleeping in a stable. The baby Jesus, born as a nobody with a mission to rescue the lost. This wasn’t where I’d wanted to be on Christmas Eve—until I saw that Jesus himself was inside, bearing the priceless gift of God’s loving grace. I was honored to have witnessed it.

Adventures with Shaggy

Shaggy and me around 1968.

For a four year old, there’s not much that can compare with the excitement of sitting atop a horse. In the picture above, I am posed with my older sister’s horse, Shaggy. A year or two later, I got my own horse. I can’t find a picture handy of my horse, Trixie.

Growing up in the country afforded lots of opportunity to enjoy animals. We had a menagerie of animals: cats, dogs, a bird, and two horses. I enjoyed all of them, but for me, riding a horse was an extra special event.

Even though I had a horse of my own, Trixie, I didn’t ride her very much. Trixie was a temperamental pony. She was the right size for a little girl, but she was obstinate. She had a fondness for biting her riders, too.

My memories of horses lay more with Shaggy, my sister’s horse. When I was younger, as in the picture, I was ridiculously happy to be led around the pasture as my dad held the rope to the horse. Later, I learned to take the reins on my own as I rode Shaggy at my grandfather’s place near our house. We didn’t have a fenced pasture to hold the horses, so they were housed at my grandfather’s farm. One time, I fell off the horse as Shaggy began to gallop too fast for me. I still recall the shock of being flat on my back as I looked up at a horse’s belly and hooves above me. Thankfully, I wasn’t hurt.

I remember when Shaggy spared my sister from harm. She was riding him in our yard, and she carelessly led the horse straight into the clothesline. My sister’s hair got tangled in the line. Shaggy reacted calmly, stopping patiently until my parents dislodged her head and hair. That’s when I learned that horses can be wise and gentle.

Somehow, I don’t remember the downside of having horses. My grandfather and my uncles brushed them, fed them, and housed them. My father supervised our adventures. All I did was ride when the opportunity was afforded to me.

I loved Roy Rogers and Dale Evans as a child. I think I was singing Happy Trails for this picture.

Despite the lack of care I gave to our horses, I did have other chores. Every summer, I shelled peas, snapped beans, and shucked corn.