Monday, July 30, 2007

Ode to An Angel

You came for a while, but you couldn't stay
We never imagined it would be that way

We had plans, we had dreams
But they will have to wait, it seems

We felt grief, and loss, and utter devastation
But in that upper room we had a Holy Ghost visitation

We were in a daze, confused, we didn't know what to do
But that was before the Wonderful Counselor came through

The Great Physician signed your medical release
Bringing clarity, victory, and perfect peace

So gently you came, like a breath of fresh air
We cherished our time together, so precious, so rare

You were perfectly formed, the answer to our prayer
We hope you sensed nothing but tender loving care

Tiny fingers, tiny feet
Touches so tender, sugar so sweet

We held you in our hands, and sang a love song
The one that says, Little ones to Jesus belong

You gave us sugar, just like your brother
It was sweet as could be, like no other

Your family and friends kissed your little head
Then we gave you to Mommy, so she could put you to bed

You were ours to hold, only for a while
We will always remember your face with a smile

Your stay was so short, we were tempted to ask why
But all of that vanished when the Comforter stopped by

Your mommy has courage, she gave you her name
Your daddy has strength, he did the same

You have a big brother, named Nathan you see
And you're his little sister, the newest bud on our family tree

Our daughter, our sister, granddaughter, and niece
Our memories won't fade, our love will not cease

The time that we shared didn't last very long
But you are flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone

It's hard to say goodbye, we weep, we cry
But we'll soon be together in the sweet by and by

Though we never got to see you tumble and twirl
We still thank Heaven for our little girl

We love you and miss you, little Angel Ruth Hood
But still we can say, God is great, God is good

How could we give God our baby, yet trust?
Had we forgotten He gave His Baby to us?

He chose not to answer the way that we prayed
But our dreams have not died, they've just been delayed

For a while we're apart, but our hearts will always be
Intricately woven together . . . forever . . . for eternity

—For My Baby Girl, Angel
Love, Uncle Howie
August 1, 2002

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Always My Angel

Five years ago today was the saddest, yet sweetest day of my life. On that day Nathan's sister Angel Ruth was born, and then went back to Heaven like a wisp of smoke.

Although we think of her frequently, each year our family visits Angel's gravesite on her birthday. I always take a pink rose. This will be the first year Todd, Carla, and Nathan won't be there because they are in Jamaica, but DeeDee, Grandaddy, and I will go and remember our little girl.

We often wonder what might have been had Angel lived. DeeDee always wonders if she would have had red hair like Nathan. She would be five this year and getting ready to start kindergarten.

Shortly before Angel was born I was traveling out West doing a loop of the national parks and got a premonition of sorts. I believe we were somewhere in Utah on one of the nights where we camped out under the stars. I was arranging my sleeping bag and mattress, getting ready to bed down for the night, when these words ran through my head, "What might have been was never meant to be . . . ." At the time I didn't know how they would apply to my life, but I would need those words just a few weeks later, and I have remembered them often over the years.

I love you, my Angel . . .

Uncle Howie

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Happy Anniversary, Todd & Carla!

Seven years ago today my only sister married my best friend. It was a Holy Ghost wedding not to be missed. It came close to being the first time a whole wedding party was collectively slain in the Spirit. Of all days for me to be sick . . . . I can honestly say it was the ugliest singing I have ever done. If I wasn't admitting it here, the videotape would easily be blackmail material.

So here's the short version of Todd & Carla's story from my perspective . . . .

Once upon a time Howie was a worship leader at a country church. His sister, Carla, sang on the worship team. Then one day a young man named Todd walked into the church because he was desperately searching for God. Todd was under conviction and actually got saved later at a great-uncle's funeral. Howie and Carla were related to Uncle Lovic on the Blount side of the family, and Todd was related to Uncle Lovic on the Porter side of the family. Although they shared the same cousins, Todd and Carla and Howie were not related to each other and did not know each other. As Howie was leaving the funeral, he passed Todd's truck. Todd said, "Hi," and Howie said, "Hi," back.

Todd started attending church regularly. He and Howie and Carla ultimately became close friends. Their lives revolved around the church. They attended lots of revivals and camp meetings together, sang together in the choir, and went out to eat a LOT! They were basically the Three Musketeers and did everything together.

Then, Carla got a secret crush on Todd, but Todd had no interest in Carla. This continued for a few years. Carla would go to the altar after church and squall a lot. Todd was oblivious. But one day it all changed. God opened Todd's eyes and his feelings changed and he ended up proposing to Carla at the end of church one Sunday morning in front of God and everybody. Everyone was so happy for them, except Howie. Howie wasn't so sure how he felt about it. Eventually, Howie grew to accept the situation and everything was cool. At the time Howie did not know how Todd and Carla getting married would bring him the best gift of his life.

Todd and Carla got married on July 28, 2000. Things were good, but they were about to get a whole lot better, because a year later on July 18, 2001, Todd and Carla made Howie . . . NATHAN'S UNCLE!

Nathan's entry into the world completely reconfigured Uncle Howie's focus. Nathan became the center of the universe, and Uncle Howie's world basically revolved around him. Everything was going just fine until Todd decided to throw a monkey wrench into the mix. One late evening, after a night of fun at the Strawberry Festival, the Three Musketeers got into the truck to head home. It was then that Todd broke the news to Uncle Howie that God had called him to be a missionary to Jamaica. Uncle Howie thought his world was going to fall apart and accused Todd of taking his precious nephew away from him.

It would be a few years before the Jamaica calling would be fulfilled, and although it was hard, Uncle Howie finally accepted that Nathan would be going away. Uncle Howie entrusted Nathan to God's care and Todd and Carla's very capable hands. Todd, Carla, and Nathan left for Jamaica on July 2, 2007, and although it has been an adjustment for everyone, they are getting used to it and looking forward to what God has in store for the next chapter of their lives.

One major event not included in the story will be told in tomorrow's post.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

God Bless America, and Israel Too!

I arrived home from Israel last Sunday after a loooooong journey home. Our last day in Israel and flight home lasted almost 36 hours for me, and even longer for others. I don't know if I have ever been so glad to be home. I've often been critical of Plant City and Florida in general, but I think I've decided there is no place better than home. God Bless America!

This summer has been a busy one. I left for three weeks at my cabin in the North Georgia Mountains the day after school let out. I returned home for a week before I went to Wyoming for a week. Then, I was home for a week spent primarily with Nathan before the Hoods left for Jamaica. After another week I left for two weeks in Israel. Now, I hope to spend the last three weeks before school starts at HOME. Enough of the word "week!"

Now on to Israel . . . .

Let me begin by saying how blessed I am to have been able to visit Israel in the first place. Last year we were all disappointed when we didn't get to complete our Holocaust journey, but now I believe it worked out for the best. We got to travel overseas for two summers instead of one; we were able to reunite with our colleagues without having to spend extra time getting to know each other; two shorter trips are less stressful than one long trip; we got to meet new people from the 2007 group (although 2006 still rules!); and we actually stayed in Nahariya where the the Lebanese rockets were falling last year and traveled through the part of Northern Israel that was hit the hardest in the conflict.

I will not give a day-by-day, play-by-play travelogue of our activities in Israel in this posting, but rather comment on my observations during our journey. Fellow traveler, Liz Moreno, shares a more detailed account of our trip in her blog for the Victoria Advocate. Thanks, Liz!

Israel is a nation of contrasts: the historical Holy Land and the new nation of Israel on one small plot of earth along the eastern Mediterranean. The day we arrived in Israel, the tour bus dropped us off at the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem to "find lunch." Thanks so much, Moshe! I was hoping to discover a nice Jewish deli for a stacked pastrami sandwich, but instead I found shouting vendors, hanging carcasses, buzzing flies, piles of garbage, and assorted unrecognizable smells to assault the senses. Talk about major flashbacks to childhood visits to the Abastos Market in Guadalajara, Mexico, and Pettirossi Market in Asuncion, Paraguay! When I realized I was not in New York and that there was no deli to be found, I settled for a safe lunch of Diet Coke and a pre-packaged round of soft cheese triangles.

The modern nation of Israel was not what I expected. I have heard so often about the strength, discipline, and no-nonsense zero-tolerance approach of the Israeli military. And after passing through the many stages of airport security, including a personal interview with an airline representative, I understood why EL AL has the reputation of being the safest airline in the world. I guess when I arrived I expected to find a sharp, clean, well-organized, 60-year old baby country with the national pride and strength of immigrants from around the world, but instead I discovered that Israel is still very much a developing nation. Newer buildings in Jerusalem legally must be constructed with Jerusalem limestone to match the historical city, but older buildings have fallen into disrepair, many newer buildings seem to have been abandoned half-finished, and litterbugs abound. I learned that 50% of Israel's annual budget is earmarked for defense, as well it should be, and that leaves little for urban development. It would be nice, however, to see a bit more funding for sanitation and beautification.

The history in Israel is unsurpassed. Walking in the steps of Jesus and the patriarchs of the Old Testament and visiting the places I learned about in Sunday School was moving and memorable indeed. Many of the historical sites we visited such as towns, mountains, rivers, valleys, gates, and structures were the undisputed actual locations mentioned in scripture. Other sites were more dubious. We often heard statements from our tour guide such as, "This is traditionally believed to be the Upper Room and location of the Last Supper," which meant it probably wasn't the actual location at all. The Catholic Church of the Holy Sepulchre is supposedly situated over the sites of Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified, the Stone of the Unction, where his body was prepared for burial, and the Tomb, where Jesus was buried and resurrected. These sites are only steps away from each other and all located inside the same church. Authentic? I don't think so. Protestants don't fare much better by favoring Gordon's Calvary and the Garden Tomb as the actual locations. There remains little or no proof of the actual sites of the Passion.

My biggest problem with Christianity in Israel is that they have built churches on top of virtually every historical site connected to Jesus. The first such church we visited was The Church of All Nations located in the Garden of Gethsemane and built directly over the supposed rock where Jesus prayed while his disciples slept. Although this was the first of many such churches we would visit, and I had not yet drawn my current conclusion, I must say that this was the site where I and many others were moved to tears. I was reminded of Tim Sheppard's "Could You Not Tarry With Me?"

The worst example of religious construction we visited was at Capernaeum where a Franciscan church that looks like a huge flying saucer has been built directly on top of the "traditional site" of Simon Peter's house. You can't even get a clear view of the archaeological ruins because this massive modern structure seems to be coming in for a landing! Give me a break, people! Wouldn't it be nice to actually SEE a natural historical site without having to imagine how it would look without a modern edifice swallowing it whole? Reflecting back, I am convinced that what matters most is not that we know the exact locations where Jesus died and rose again, nor that we build massive monuments at the site, but rather knowing that he did what he said. I know my Redeemer lives!

It would have been nice to write this blog on location while in Israel, but it was not to be. Online computer access was too expensive for my wallet in the hotels where we stayed, and there were virtually no internet cafes to be found. This from the country that supposedly invented or developed so much computer technology. So who really invented the internet? Israel or Al Gore? I remember having computer access everywhere for free when my family visited Paraguay (in my opinion the most underrated yet best of the Latin American countries) back in 2001. There were several free computer stations at the mall in AsunciĆ³n and even three free computers at McDonalds in EncarnaciĆ³n, way down in Southern Paraguay. I don't know. It's a mystery to me. Go figure.

Our first Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath and true Seventh Day, in Israel was an adjustment. When we arrived back at the Renaissance Hotel in Jerusalem the first Friday evening, we found it packed with orthodox Jewish families who had come to the hotel to escape work for 24-hours. I wondered why the hotel employees were working. I guess they didn't celebrate Shabbat. Several of the elevators were set on automatic because it is unlawful to press a button during Shabbat. The way it works is you hop on the elevator and hope it stops at your floor either on the way up or on the way down. The reason, as I understood it, was to not expend unnecessary energy. I wish someone had notified the children who were running everywhere on the stairs, up the elevators, and in the halls. Later I learned that it is also unlawful to tear toilet paper or flush toilets during Shabbat. Let's take a moment and focus on that lovely picture.

Now I was raised in an ultra-conservative, white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, Pentecostal, Holiness (you get the picture) home and church. That is until God changed his mind somewhere in the 70s when most of the these man-made rules and regulations faded away. Many of the rules I remember were clothesline religion and focused primarily on the women. No haircutting, no makeup, no jewelry, no pants, and such. Some women didn't shave their legs either. Nothing assaults the eyes quite like the sight of matted hairy legs in stockings. The rules that affected me the most were no TV, no movies, no dancing, no mixed bathing (which meant swimming, not actual bathing), and no swimming on Sundays, to mention a few. At the time and even now looking back I know how ridiculous those rules were. But even then, as strict as it was, I was never, I repeat never, told not to tear toilet paper or flush a toilet. I know Shabbat is a sacred time of rest for Jewish families, and I truly respect cultural diversity, but in Israel I learned that there was more to the observance than eating and lighting Sabbath candles.

I don't want to leave the impression that the Israel experience was an overwhelming challenge. It was not. The benefits far outweighed the inconveniences. Even now as I write, I envision the warm waters of the Mediterranean lapping the sandy shore as we strolled along the Nahariya boardwalk in the evening breeze. While driving through the many verdant fields and vineyards in the irrigated valleys I saw the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy that the desert would bloom like a rose. I feel the upper waterfall crashing over my shoulders at the Ein Gedi oasis. And, too, I see the setting sun reflected on the glowing walls of the ancient city of Jerusalem.

This trip was not a church-sponsored Christian tour of the Holy Land. It was a summer seminar for teachers in Holocaust education. The visits to the historical sites were merely an added benefit. Our goal was to see how the modern nation of Israel became a home for the Jews of the Diaspora after the horrors of the Holocaust. Our studies at Yad Vashem and the Ghetto Fighters' House were invaluable experiences for all of us as teachers. We heard informative lectures, toured museums, listened to first-hand testimonies of survivors of the Shoah, and shared with each other from our collective wealth of knowledge. Thanks to the vision of Vladka Meed, the leadership of Elaine Culbertson, the generosity of the Jewish Labor Committee, as well as many additional donors and agencies, we were given the gift of a once-in-a-lifetime educational experience to share with our students.

I, for one, am grateful and blessed.

I mentioned in my last post that I wanted to find the Corrie Ten Boom tree in the Avenue of the Righteous of the Nations at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. I did find it, and here's the proof.

In closing, I leave you these scriptures . . .

Therefore hear, O Israel, and be careful to observe it, that it may be well with you, and that you may multiply greatly as the LORD God of your fathers has promised you—‘a land flowing with milk and honey.’ Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
Deuteronomy 6: 3-5 (NKJV)

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! May they prosper who love you [the Holy City]! May peace be within your walls and prosperity within your palaces! For my brethren and companions' sake, I will now say, Peace be within you! For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek, inquire for, and require your good.

Psalm 122: 6-9 (AMP)

But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry . . . . But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.
Romans 11: 13, 17, 18 (NASB)

Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.
Zechariah 4: 6 (KJV)

Monday, July 9, 2007


Tomorrow morning I leave for two weeks in Israel. This is a continuation of the Holocaust & Jewish Resistance Teachers Summer Seminar, an educational program sponsored by the Jewish Labor Committee, that was aborted last year when the conflict broke out between Lebanon and Israel. Some of you may remember that I went to Poland for one week last summer, but did not get to complete the two weeks in Israel. JLC has worked it out so that the 2006 group of teachers can meet the 2007 group in Israel to complete the second section of our journey. I look forward to seeing some of the wonderful people I met last year once again. In retrospect, the disappointment I felt last summer has actually turned to joy this year. I am also excited about visiting the Holy Land, walking where Jesus walked, and visiting the Ten Boom family tree planted when they were named Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem for their roles as rescuers of Dutch Jews during the Holocaust.

I got to talk to Nathan today. He is adjusting very well to his new home. He enjoyed his first day of summer school and really loves the beach. The move has been a major adjustment for Todd & Carla, but things seem to be falling into place little by little.

Well, I just wanted to make a post before I leave. I need to get to sleep because 3:30 AM will be here before I know it. Shalom!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


The LORD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another . . . .

Genesis 31:49 (KJV)

The last three day
s since I returned from Wyoming have been a whirlwind, all-encompassing and passing all too quickly. I made it a priority to spend as much time as possible with Nathan, so I let the unopened mail lay on the table and my dirty laundry from Wyoming remain unwashed and piled on the floor.

Friday morning, after she took Nathan for a haircut at Uncle Tripp's salon, DeeDee (my mother and Nathan's maternal grandmother) called me and asked if I wanted to meet them for lunch at Long John Silver's. Of course I did. I gave Nathan his newest bling, a turquoise and leather bracelet and tomahawk necklace from Wyoming. While I was away, the elusive Power Rangers: Ninja Storm DVD I had ordered for Nathan came in, so he got that too. Lunch together was a fun time, except for the less than joyful LJS employees and the part where DeeDee dropped her keys in the garbage can, but we got some great pictures together.

After lu
nch I went by DeeDee and Grandaddy's to help Mama organize some things on her computer so that it will be easier for her to accomplish her most frequent tasks. Friday evening we went out with the Hoods to Red Lobster. Love those Cheddar Bay biscuits! Later, Nathan and I stopped by Best Buy to check out the Nintendo DS and Gameboy Advance games. He spent some of his birthday money on Spiderman 3, and I got a free 3-episode Showtime sampler DVD.

Saturday morning everybody met at Fred's Market Restaurant for the breakfast buffet. I would be remiss if I didn't put in a word here for Fred's. It is the restaurant I miss the most when I am
away. There have been days I have eaten all three meals at Fred's. They have the best country cooking this side of Mama's table, and it would suit me fine if they opened a Fred's Market satellite location in North Georgia.

After breakfast, Nathan and I went to the movies at Lakeside Village in Lakeland. We arrived early, so we puttered around Books-a-Million for a while, checking out some of Nathan's favorite books such as The Boxcar Children. (I remember reading it to him at bedtime in the mountains two summers ago. We finished it the night before his 4th birthday.) We also played a bit at the Thomas the Tank Engine table. Precious memories! How many train cars have I bought over the years? Thomas must be a very rich train by now. Lady, or "Wady" as Nathan used to say, was always my favorite engine.

In spite of it's high ratings, neither Nathan nor
I cared much for Ratatouille, Disney's latest animated feature. We had difficulty understanding the accents of the French rats. At one point Nathan even asked me if it was almost over, a rarity for a movie-head like him. Sorry Remy! You just can't compete with Cars, Nathan's favorite! We drove on down to Mulberry after the movie to shop for more video games at Wal-Mart, but he ended up buying Power Rangers DinoThunder and Kim Possible 3 at Game Stop.

Lest I fail to mention it, let me say that while driving around in the car this weekend we have listened to the unseasonable Newsong rendition of You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch over and over and over and over (you get the picture) with Nathan hitting all the burps at the
appropriate times. Sorry DeeDee! Grinch and the Rascal Flatts recording Life is "On" Highway from the Cars soundtrack seem to be Nathan's current favs. Personally, I prefer the James Taylor tune Our Town.

We drove from Mulberry to John & April's for their Hoods goodbye party. John and April put on a spread of crab legs, steak, fried turkey, red beans and rice, crab dip, Paula Deen cheese ball, and more. Lisa brought her bacon & mashed potato salad, and Tonya brought her famous oatmeal cookies and other desserts. In spite of the sadness of the occasion (check out April's face), it was great to be together with everyone again. Nathan spent the whole time in the pool with his cousins Hailey Blount, Jacob & Heather Ross, and other friends. Thanks for everything, John & April!

There was also a sadness that day for our friend and fellow-singer Shellie Massie who lost her mother earlier in the day. After the party a group of us loaded up and drove over to her house to lend Shellie our love and support. Shellie, you are in our prayers. We LOVE you!

Sunday the gang all met for lunch at China Palace in Valrico where Carla gave me her car salt shaker to remember her by. She knew I really wanted it, and that's the truth. We went to DeeDee & Grandaddy's later that evening for Spanish bean soup, sopa Paraguaya, Mama's salad, and pound cake. When everyone had left for the evening, I took the opportunity to give Nathan a mizpah to remember me by. A mizpah is a medallion inscribed with the verse located at the top of this post. It is cut in two and each half is on a separate chain, one for the person who is leaving and one for the person who stays. Nathan listened carefully while I explained what it was all about and read the verse to him. Then he put his head on my shoulder. I could tell that he totally got it. But, hey, he loves anything to do with bling!

Monday morning, April picked up Mama, Daddy, Carla and Nathan, then came by and picked me up. We met Todd and his parents at Denny's parking lot, then headed for Orlando International Airport. (Tampa has no direct flight to Montego Bay). Several family members met us there including Uncle Olan & Aunt Mary Lou, Andrea, Kendra, Kelsey, and Emily. The experience was not without incident, but then again it rarely is. We missed the airport exit for starters. When Todd & Carla finally made it to the front of the Air Jamaica line, the agent told them as of July 1, there was a baggage embargo and each passenger would only be allowed two pieces of luggage. They had been hoping to carry their maximum overweight allowance. Todd & Carla were both in tears. The agent left to see if they could make an exception because the flight was not full. When she returned she notified them that they would be able to carry along all of their things.

Nathan was getting wound up. At first we found a secluded location, and I let him run, then we decided to ride the moving sidewalks. We visited the Universal Studios store and the Sea World store and ended up, you guessed it, buying another necklace. This one had a shark's tooth medallion inscribed with Nathan's name.

We left the store and met up with the rest of the group. Then it was time for the inevitable goodbyes, and they were tearful to say the least. I instructed Todd & Carla to take care of my baby, because he's mine, too. They promised they would. Then, I kissed my sweet boy and asked God to protect him. They walked through passenger screening, and then they were gone.