It started like every other Friday. I went over to Sam's house for our weekly shopping trip. He'd just finished the last of the peach cobbler Vivian Boatner had brought him.
He was still congratulating himself for eating a good breakfast when I said, "Sam, you need to eat something that's not just a sweet before we go."
"It had peaches in it. And whipped cream on top," said my 87-year-old dessert lover.
Sam should've had a nutrition class a few decades before, but he didn't. His pure-sugar-diet had been a source of great distress to me for a while. We went back and forth for a few minutes about eating something else. He refused.
Sam loved sweets, but about thirty minutes after he ate them, he got a sugar rush and felt dizzy and terrible. About an hour after that, the sugar burned off and he had a blood sugar drop. Then he felt weak. Sometimes he fell. I had to pick him up after he'd sunk to the floor more times than I want to recount.
My knee still hurt from picking him up the week before, so I put cheese and crackers on the table and sat down. "I'm not going a step until you eat this." I chuckled and smiled, but I wasn't kidding.
Sam really wanted to get some new tennis shoes, so he sat down and ate.
The food struggle made us late leaving, but it was worth it because he was less likely to collapse. I loaded Sam and the walker into the car and we headed to the big box store in New Albany.
At the turn, the light was out and a policeman was directing traffic. Up ahead, I could see that a light pole was on the ground. Multiple emergency vehicles were parked around it. None of the businesses on the corner had electricity.
It was a bad sign.
We got to the box store. Only a handful of cars were parked in the lot.
Another bad sign.
A woman pulled into a parking space a few rows over, got out, and hollered at us. "You coming or going?"
"What?" I hollered back.
She walked over. "You coming or going?"
I'm coming to the box store and going inside, I thought. For a moment, I was tempted to say, "Both," but I didn't. No one likes a smart aleck.
"We're just getting here," I told her.
All three of us looked at the store. One door stood open. The inside was dark as night.
About that time, a man walked out and gave us the bad news. The downed pole knocked out a major transformer. It was likely to take 5-7 hours to restore power. All the customers had been sent home.
Sam was for going home, too, but I was determined to get him some shoes and some food. Sam didn't care a bit for food, but the thought of his new shoes spurred him on. We headed to Tupelo.
At the next box store, we wandered all over. Sam tried on every shoe in his size that met his criteria. He found a pair that were really comfortable, but they were $17. He didn't want to pay that much for a pair of shoes, but, after a long wrangle, he decided to go for it.
We headed to the front to pay for our purchases when I remembered I was supposed to buy a t-shirt so my sister could put vinyl on it. Sam was worn out and needed to sit down. We were near the dressing rooms, so I got the lady to let Sam rest in a dressing room for a few minutes.
I was still searching for the t-shirts when the intercom came on. "Code black. Code black. All customers and employees go to the back of the store."
I didn't know what code black meant, so I stayed where I was until an employee came up and said, "There's a code black. It's a tornado warning. Come on."
I raced to Sam and we headed to the back. There's no speed with an 87-year old man and a walker, so we were one of the last to the arrive at the shelter. It was completely full. We took a place in the rug/carpet aisle just before another employee came by.
"This isn't a good place. You're under a skylight."
Sam and I looked up. There wasn't an aisle that wasn't near a skylight. We waited until the all clear and headed back to the front to check out.
We had planned to get ice cream after shopping, but Sam was too tired, so we started toward home. We made it to Coley Road, when the rain worsened. It was pummeling us so hard, I couldn't see, so we pulled over to the Orchard parking lot to wait until it slowed.
"Let's go home," Sam said.
"We will, but I can't see the road."
"Well, I'm tired and I want to go home and rest."
We'd just gotten stopped when the torrent turned to dead silence. No rain. No wind. Only a terrible quiet.
"Look how quiet it is now. Let's go home," Sam said again.
I well remember the 2014 tornado and the dead silence when we were in the eye of the storm. That's what I thought had happened again. As you might imagine, I prayed hard for protection.
No tornado came, so we left. Finally, we made it home and I unloaded Sam's groceries. We had planned to pack up Jamie's clothes to take to Salvation Army, but Sam wanted to rest. He sent me home and said the weather was too bad for him to get out again, and I shouldn't either. (Meaning, "don't come back.")
I went home and, with my good plans disrupted, decided to move furniture around and clean. I dumped all the books out of a bookshelf I wanted to move, and started sorting them. There was a mission text in the stack. I flipped through it, and a paper fell out.
I unfolded it and saw a few notes in my mother's handwriting. I flipped it over and found what I never expected to see.
My father's handwriting.
It was dated 5/8/1962 and was a quote from William Carey. "Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God."
They were the words I most needed to hear that day, and they'd been in the book, waiting for me, for more than fifty-five years. I found them right on time.
My dad felt called to ministry when I was just a girl, but, by that time, he had a prescription drug addiction. It had started during a prolonged post-op recovery after a gunshot wound in WWII. He never completely recovered.
He eventually went to seminary but dropped out when his addiction relapsed. My parents divorced when I was in 4th grade. I rarely saw him again. I have one photo of me with my dad. I have no letters, cards, or notes from him now, but I knew the handwriting.
For a moment, I thought my dad had written that as a message to me. In a way, that's exactly what it was.
Taking care of Sam was a huge effort, but I gave my word back in 1989 that he could live on the farm until he died and that I'd take care of him. I intended to keep my word. I wanted those who were watching to understand what living a life of honor looks like, and that it's worth the effort.
It had been a hard, frustrating, exhausting day, but it was all swept away by the words on that sheet of notebook paper.
Seated on the floor in the middle of a stack of old books, I had church. I'd expected great things from God that day, and, though it didn't turn out like I'd anticipated, I'd also attempted great things for God. That little scrap of paper reminded me that our Lord sees all, is in all, and never leaves me nor forsakes me, no matter how hard or frustrating the day may be.
I was encouraged and strengthened by the words my Dad had penned. We can all take hope from that little paper written more than a half-century ago. "Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God." It's not just a catchy quote. It's the way we're supposed to live.
"So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you. Deuteronomy 31:6 nlt
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