Thanksgiving 2022

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It’s been a trying year because there have been too many loved ones leave us. Some stunningly unexpected.

With each, I’ve found that the way to survive is to search for the good and cling to that.

Years ago, we had the privilege of meeting a new couple who joined our church. Kay and Stanley were fixated on the good they could do for the Lord, their community, and the employees in their business. Though unusual for our kind of country folks, they were devoted to good health.

They hiked, exercised, and ate healthy — including a regime of juicing, regularly. Both were slim with youthful looks and amazing complexions. I have never seen a man with a more beautiful complexion than Stanley’s. It was exceptional and, often, when I was talking with him, I couldn’t concentrate on what he was saying for marveling at his skin’s crystal perfection.

It happened in the spring. Stanley and Kay had entered a Chamber of Commerce 5K as a fundraiser. They were about halfway through when a photographer approached and asked for a photo. They obliged. Photo taken, they returned to the walk. Kay said that in a few seconds, she realized that Stanley wasn’t beside her. She looked back and saw him tumbling into the grass. A long-respected Sunday School teacher, he, in seconds, had met the Jesus of Whom he had taught for so long.

Our hearts were broken over the grievous, unexpected loss of such a fine Christian man. But what continues to marvel for me is that Kay possesses a photo of the two of them — smiling and happy — in the last two minutes of their time together on earth. What a rare gift.

Later, she told me that Stanley had taken a photo of her with a camera phone a few minutes earlier. When, some time after, she looked at the picture, she was astounded to see that her husband’s shadow was cast over her.

“God is good,” she said with a smile. “God left this to remind me that Stanley will always be looking over me.”

For the funeral, Tink and I joined the church choir since it can be hard to get a lot of people together for a choir on an afternoon. One of the songs chosen was “Victory in Jesus.” It has never been one of my favorite hymns because it is normally sung slow and mournful. Not that day. My brother-in-law, Rodney, led the full choir in a robust, hopeful version. It was uplifting.

For me, there have been other heartbreaking losses — the former First Lady of Georgia, Sandra Deal, whose father had been my high school counselor. And she was one of the kindest, humblest people I’ve ever known.

My forever memory of her will be a Los Angeles night when the state of Georgia hosted an event to encourage television and movie filming in our Deep South, and she, shy among the Hollywood crowd, came over to sit with Tink and me.

Like every country woman I’ve ever known, she had her purse — we refer to it as a “pocket book” — on her lap, with her arms wrapped tightly around it. God bless people like Sandra Deal who stay true to their roots. Hollywood, be darned.

It will be a long time before I recover from the homegoing of my precious friend and mentor, Vince Dooley, a legendary football coach. He was a football hero, historian, humanitarian, and he spotted potential in me when I was in college.

However, behind on earth, he left his wife, Barbara, who is one of my best friends. Dooley used to say, “You two are quite the pair.”

I’ll be honest — this Thanksgiving, it is hard to be grateful for too many mournful journeys to the cemeteries though I am immensely thankful for the blessing of their lives.

But I still have Barbara Dooley and that’s a huge Thanksgiving blessing.

[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “What Southern Women Know About Faith.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.]