Updated: Mar 4, 2020
Sunday, we had the privilege to participate in an early birthday surprise and celebration for my great-Mamaw Atlas. This wasn’t just any birthday celebration, but this was her ninetieth birthday. All her life, there have been four things that Mamaw has held on a pedestal and honored with her whole life, those things are home, family, church and most importantly our Lord. So, what better way to honor and celebrate her than to have her children and family surprise her and go to church with her? Her children and spouses, my brother and I piled into those old church pews of the little white church house that sits on the hill. When Mamaw saw us, she was shocked. We told her for her birthday, we wanted to come worship Jesus with her. She cried. She took a tissue and wiped her tears. I looked at her and I winked, and I smiled. She smiled back. She gazed at her sons and daughters. They’re all married with children and grandchildren. They’re all very successful in their careers and trades. They’re all happy. They all love Momma and each other. They all love Jesus, just like Mamaw. Sunday morning, I studied Mamaw. I saw her eyes beaming with joy, but I also noticed her humbleness. I saw her happy and it made me happy. I heard her prayers and her amens during the sermon. I saw Mamaw worship Jesus.
When the sermon had ended the preacher asked if anyone had something on their heart that they would like to share. Of course, Mamaw was one of those who spoke up, “This has been my worst winter yet. I’ve had every sickness out there; I’ve been down in my back and I know it’s been that devil trying to keep from coming and worshipping God in here. But my God is mightier than the devil and I prayed this week that He would give me the strength to be here and He answered my prayers. And my children came and surprised me for my ninetieth birthday. But it’s a good thing that not all my family came or it we wouldn’t have enough room in this church.’’ She laughed and then through her tears she said, “What a God I serve.” Her voice began to crack, “He is so, so good to me. Thank you, Jesus.” Everybody said “amen”.
Other people spoke up and talked about how much they admired Mamaw.
“She’s a good mother”
“She’s raised beautiful children.”
“O what a wonderful woman is Atlas”
“She’s been a wonderful example to me.”
“She loves her Lord.”
When service was over, all the family and church gathered for a big party to celebrate this terrific woman. The party was spectacular, I must say. Family, friends and food always makes for a good time.
There was Mamaw Atlas’ brother Gene and sisters, Alice and Etta and their Aunt Pansy and Uncle Park. There were church friends and friends from the Poplar community. Most of Mamaw’s 15 grandchildren and 32 great grandchildren were there. All her seven children and spouses were there. There were cousins, nieces and nephews. There was laughter, joy and much, much love.
When thinking about Sunday, I’ve come to realize that I have so many wonderful memories of Mamaw, but what will always stick in my mind more than anything, is seeing Mamaw’s love for Jesus. I noticed it Sunday and I thought about all the other times I’ve noticed it. For instance, one late summer day. I was at Mamaw Sharrol’s, to help around the house and to help cook our Friday evening meal, and Mamaw Sharrol asked me...
“Hannah, could you go over and help Mama with some beans that she’s trying to can? She’s got a pinched nerve in her leg and she is laid up.''
“Sure thing.” I said
I made my way to the Mamaw’s little house. When I arrived, I walked up the steps and took notice of the sign nailed by the door and I read aloud to myself…
“As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.”
I had seen that sign many times. After all it had been there for as long as I could remember, and I was 19 at the time. But it still comforted me to read it every time I passed it.
I entered the house and found Mamaw lying on the couch, propped up on pillows. She was watching the birds out her window. On the floor was a large bag full of green beans, waiting to be strung, broke, washed and canned.
“Hello there Hannah.” She said as she rose from the couch.
“How are you Mamaw?”
“Not too good, but I’ve been worse. Here’s the beans. I’ll get us some knives and bowls and then we’ll start stringing them.” She said with a sigh
“You lie down. I’ll get ‘em Mamaw.”
“No, no I’m just fine. You want some diet soda or some diet tea? I don’t know where they came from, I guess one of them kids brought them for me. Want something to eat? I’ll cook you something. Or I have some oatmeal crème pies or peanut butter crackers.”
“No, Mamaw I’m good. Mamaw Sharrol just fed me lunch.”
She came back to the living room with the bowls and knives. I scooted my chair next to her rocker. Then we began to string and break the beans together. We had almost a bushel to prepare, so we turned the TV on trying to help the time to pass. We watched the news, but just long enough to become to disgusted with it and then we turned it off. We turned on the radio and listen to a sermon, but then there was something said that evoked conversation, so off went the radio and the talking began. We talked about family and friends, her childhood, Papaw Charlie and we talked about the old overgrown tobacco field in front of the house. After what seemed like forever, we had finished the bag full of beans.
I carried the bowls to the kitchen, and we dropped the beans in the sink to wash them and to pick out any bad spots. Mamaw got the water bath started and washed the rings and lids. After, I had washed the beans, she brought a clean jar over and held it, while I filled it full of beans and a little salt. I wiped the top of the jar clean, placed the lid on and screwed on the ring. Mamaw placed it in the water bath.
“Are you still hurting Mamaw? Why don’t you go lie down? I can do this.”
“I’m hurting some, but I’ll help you. I’ll be fine.” She said and gave me little pat.
We continued with our canning and then Mamaw began singing softly to herself…
What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
And what a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer
Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged
Take it to the Lord in prayer
Can we find a friend so faithful?
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer
(Song by Joseph M. Scriven)
Mamaw finished her song. “Now watch those bad spots”, she told me.
I nodded, because I couldn’t speak. I was realizing what had just happened. I realized what an amazing moment, I had just experienced. I had just heard Mamaw Atlas sing. It's not that my Mamaw hasn't ever sung before or that her voice is that spectacular. She hasn't ever lost her speech due to a stroke or illness and then rediscovered it. Nor was this the first time I had ever heard her sing. But, I looked at Mamaw beside me, filling the jars with beans, I saw her doing a bit of a hobble to stove due to the discomfort of the pinched nerve, I saw her walls covered in pictures of her children and grandchildren, I remembered the tin sign by the door, and it was then it dawned on me, just how much Mamaw loves Jesus. In that moment and all through her life, Mamaw has chosen to find her in Joy in Jesus. Mamaw has chosen to be joyful, even through her pain and suffering, no matter how mild or severe. And just like any chosen child of God should do, she proclaims her love for Him.
I snapped out of my thoughts, when Mamaw said “That does it. We are done! Wheww! I’m glad those beans didn’t go to waste.”
I carried the newly filled jars to the basement and put them on the shelf. I washed the dishes and helped Mamaw put away the canning things. As I wiped the counters, she came carrying two of the jars we just canned and handed them to me.
“Now I know you’re tired and your Mamaw Sharrol probably has your supper ready. So, hurry on over and see that you all get these beans with supper.”
“Thank you, Mamaw. But, come with me or let me cook your supper.”
“Naw, I’m a goin to stay home and eat beans for supper. I really appreciated your help. I never could have done it without you. I love you, Hannah. You mean so much to me. You really do.”
“I love you Mamaw. You’ll never know how much you mean to me.”
“Now run along, but you come back see me sometime. I promise not to put you to work.” She laughed. “We’ll sit and talk next time. Hopefully, I feel better and I’ll cook ya’ something to eat.”
“Oh! I’ll be back Mamaw, don’t you worry.” I said and then off I went, down that gravel road.
That day happened a few years back, but the memory of the day I heard my Mamaw sing, the day I really read the sign by the door and the day I canned green beans with Mamaw still lives on and makes for a story that I will tell all my life.
Mamaw, I hope you know that one day, when I’m old and have a home and a family of my own. There will be a little tin sign that’s nailed by my door and the sign will read “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” People will notice my little sign and they will notice my love for Jesus. And if they should ask about my sign, I will say “It’s true, in my house we love Jesus. I hung that little sign so whoever enters my home, they will know how much I love Him and how much I love my Mamaw.” Then I will tell them the story. The story of a little woman and the story will go… In a North Carolina community, down in a holler, in a little house, lived a woman. A woman of great courage, immeasurable love, and a great desire to live for her Lord. Time had always given her age a number, but her youthfulness seemed eternal. Her wisdom was much wiser than any man or women on Capitol Hill. Her understanding of life was unbelievable. Her hands rough and worn from a life full of farming and labor. She worked hard to care for her family, to love her husband and to raise her beautiful children. Her smile was warm and tender. Her laughter was contagious and jolly. Her prayers were felt by everyone. Her honesty, welcomed. Her hospitality, a blessing. Her cooking, craved. Her conversations, desired. But the best thing I can say about her, is that she loved Jesus. I know, because I saw it. I know, because I felt it. I know, because she proclaimed. Yes, oh, yes. My Mamaw Atlas loved Jesus.''