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Blessings in the Fall

When you look out our living room windows now or stand on the deck and look beyond the country road and beyond the green meadows, the woods on the horizon present a colorful array of orange, green, yellow, and red leaves.  I came down to write about them yesterday afternoon; but before I started, I heard Mary Ellen enter the house on the first floor above me.  Instead of writing, I joined her and Gerald in the downstairs family room, and the first remark she made was on the beauty of the trees as she had looked out coming down the stairs.

It had been too long since we had visited with her, so it was a welcome alternative to writing.  She and Brian had taken their high school senior Brianna down to Murray State in Kentucky for a football weekend at the school Bri has chosen to become  her alma mater.  They were back at their house over on Route 13 and Mary Ellen came over to visit before she and Bri had to return to Waggoner for school and work today.

Although I never taught my kids to kick their shoes off when they entered our house, they all do. (When the whole crowd is here, the rows of shoes amuse me and I had Gerald photograph that sight as one of our holiday memories.)  Mary Ellen was already wearing sox with a Murray emblem on them as we relaxed with our feet on the coffee table in front of us.

Yesterday was a special day at our church because we were honoring Dr. Ed Handkins, who was just a college student when we joined the church in our village in the early 1960s. I remember his going to Alaska that summer as a student missionary and showing slides when he returned.

A close knit family now grown large and spread in many directions, the  Handkins clan who could came to celebrate Ed’s 50 years of ministry and sat in the front left pews where Ed’s parents, Lorene and Alva, sat for so many years even after Lorene spent the last decade of her life suffering multiple sclerosis.  Ed’s sister Joan has suffered decades of multiple sclerosis but still reared four children. She recently suffered two life-threatening infections in ICU and then weeks of rehab under the watchful eye of her daughter Kim.  She is now back at her apartment and was there in a wheel chair smiling and looking great with three of four children in attendance. Ed’s brother Darrell, who was a high school teen when we came to this community, was there, and his daughters Carol and Tanya from Peoria and Chicago area  joined us in the choir. Ed’s older brother Carl Ray died several years ago, but Carl Ray’s daughters Cindy and Carla were both there to represent him.   Other relatives and their many spouses were also there so some family members would not fit into the three front rows. 

         His cousin Alan Ozment sang and reminded us that God is good, and Ed’s remininces of good and difficult times during his ministry re-enforced that message of confidence in God’s watch care over us.  Ed had us laughing often because his mother Lorene’s sense of humor was obviously passed down to him. Still a college student, he said he filled the pulpit one day at Fairview Church, one of our nearby rural churches. He was amazed to get a letter a couple days later telling him he had been voted in as their new pastor—he had no idea they were considering that and he had no confidence that he knew how to be a pastor.  As fearful and unprepared as he felt, he accepted the pastoral call and continued there while in college. He expressed relief that the church survived.

Alva and Lorene continued serving their children and grandchildren during holiday and summer vacation times for the next few decades, and the rest of us whenever they could as long as their health allowed. One of my early interactions with Alva was in a small group when we were studying vocations and the desirability of choosing a vocation one enjoyed. Most men in our church and community in those days worked in the coal mines.  I remember Alva saying that he really did not like being a miner, but that was what life allowed him to do to support his family, and he sounded content anyhow. One of the earliest events in our lives here was a wonderful man being killed and his body trapped by a mine collapse.  (Someone said his cashed pay check was in his pocket although I don’t know that.)  Alva and other men risked their lives over and over going down in hopes of bringing his body out to his family before they finally had to give us and allow the collapsed mine to be his burial site.

Some were surprised yesterday to learn Ed had been one of the original members of the Glorylanders Quartet that he and his cousin Dee Ozment started with Don Richey and Lyndell King. I remembered it because Lorene—she and Alva were always hospitable to newcomers—had me visiting their home and Lorene played a record of her son’s quartet.  After graduation and marriage, Ed taught science for three years at my high school at Anna-Jonesboro and was  pastor of a rural church there at the same time.  Then he and his family took off for seminary and eventually after pastoring in Cairo during troubling times, most of his career was in northern Illinois.  In retirement he and Donna are in North Carolina, where he continues writing and now is even pastor of a church again.

Down through the years, Ed and Donna have come back home to Center to visit loved ones, and he has occasionally preached for us, and he became one of my favorite preachers.  His compassion is as obvious as his humor, and I have never doubted that he believes everything he preaches.  His intellectualism is only revealed by the creativity and the simplicity of his messages.  I have stored some nuggets of spiritual wisdom that go directly back to his sermons.

Our church hosted an fantastic buffet of potluck foods for a dinner after Ed’s morning sermon, and we enjoyed the food and the fellowship.  There was another gathering afterwards back in the sanctuary to allow people to express appreciation for Ed and to let this extremely talented musical family sing.  Gerald was needing a nap by now, so we missed out on that in order to go to the opening four-night revival starting last night at Creal Springs Baptist Church,  hosted by our neighboring rural churches.  I was so glad we heard that sermon, and I felt both refreshed and strengthened as I drove into Katherine’s after the service to make sure she had her evening meds since one aide had left and there was a gap before the next would arrive hours later.  Thank you, Ed and Donna, for your many years of service.