Strong As An Oak!
By Lucinda Secrest McDowell
In many ways she is as strong as the Big Oak tree under which she was born.
Because, despite the increasingly frailty of her octogenarian body, my mother — Sarah Hasty Secrest — stands strong in her faith and fortitude. She doesn’t complain of constant pain. She doesn’t try to live in the past. Even now, widowed after 62 years of marriage, she is willing to find her own new place without the love of her life.
We have long called such strong southern ladies “steel magnolias.” But I’d rather refer to her as an “Oak of Righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.” (Isaiah 61.3)
Recently I spent a week with Mama in my hometown of Thomasville, Georgia. We enjoyed reminiscing, going through old photographs and letters; doing the seemingly endless task of sorting memorabilia and catching up on family members. Drinking coffee in our pajamas. Running errands around town. Telling stories. Listening to Daddy’s CDs of piano playing and storytelling.
I come from a rich heritage and I am grateful for those who paved the way for me. My mother has documented her legacy all the way back to the Magna Carta. She is a proud member of Colonial Dames and Daughters of the American Revolution.
My maternal grandmother, “Mamalu” whom I knew quite well and who lived to be 97 and knew all my children, was one of five Chastain girls who grew up on the site of The Big Oak, a 350+ year old Live Oak tree in my hometown. My great-grandparents, John Albert and Netta Chastain, believed strongly in education for women as the new century began. And thus Minlu Chastain (Hasty) born in 1900, was a college graduate in the days of the Great War!
When we visited the Big Oak last week, Mama reminded me of her mother playing in the center of that huge tree which was already at least 200-years-old at the time. Mama also played dolls in the Big Oak whenever she visited her grandparents’ home.
We also talked about my maternal grandfather, “Daddydee,” who was offered a full college scholarship (more than 100 years ago) but who turned it down in order to stay on his Tennessee mountain farm and help the family. Gordon Lee Hasty later managed many plantations, including ‘Chinquapin’ where Mama spent her childhood. He encountered guests as varied as Howard Hughes (who landed his own plane coming to a party on the plantation) and President Dwight D. Eisenhower (who played golf with him).
My own mother was one of three girls, also strong southern women. I am one of three daughters, equally strong in our unique ways. And my own two daughters? Well, they are definitely growing into their own as strong ‘oaks of righteousness.’
It’s important to look back and remember. To find courage to face the future even as we reflect on the courage of all those who came before us and paved the way. I’ve enjoyed doing that lately. Remembering the stories….
My talented and musical friend/author Bonnie Keen states it best in her original song “These Are the Women We Come From” —
They are women with backbone, Keepers of the flame.
With a spirit even hard times couldn’t tame.
And I know this same blood is in me,
And I meet their gaze one by one,
Eyes strong and clear, I still feel them near…
These are the women I come from.
The faith that sustained them is bred in my bones.
I know what I’m made of and where I belong;
‘Cause these are the women I come from
Stories the pictures didn’t show.
They were lovers of babies and lovers of God
With lessons and laughter in their songs
Did they dream better dreams for their children
As they prayed silent prayers in the night
“Lord, make their way clear and always be near”
‘Cause these are the women we come from.
Now I have own my child beside me
As we gaze at them all, one by one,
Her eyes strong and clear, I draw her near and say
The faith that sustained them is bred in your bones.
You know what you’re made of and where you belong
‘Cause these are the women, survivors each one
They aren’t always easy, but loving and strong.
God’s life force inside them is still going on
‘Cause these are the women we come from.”
– Bonnie Keen & Tori Taff (1994)
The Big Oak in Thomasville, Georgia, centuries old, has a limb span of 165 feet. If you stand in front of it, dial a number on your cell phone and look up across the street, a hidden camera will take your portrait for posterity!
Mama says it breaks her heart to see the tree looking so old and worn out.
When I hear her say that, I sigh…
As we leave, she walks along the branches pointing out the lush Resurrection Fern, explaining this phenomenon. “Most of the time, Cindy, these leaves are brown and brittle. But when it rains they become green and vibrant and full of life. That’s why this is called Resurrection Fern – it comes back to life if given nourishment and attention.”
Hmmmm…. How true for people as well as leaves on an ancient Oak. We may (we will) experience those dry times of pain, disappointment and weariness. We may often feel that life is over and we have nothing left to give. I suppose an elderly widow might be tempted to think that at times, don’t you?
But the Truth is that God is always our Sustenance, our Source. When He looks at us, he sees “a planting of the Lord as a display of His splendor”
That’s when the rain comes and we drink it in. And we, too, are resurrected.
Do you want to display His splendor? Then concentrate on growing deep roots into the rich soil of God’s love. Grow strong and stand firm, even when the storms come. Learn from those who came before you. Pass along the stories to those who come behind you.
Look up. And smile for the camera….
under the mercy, Cindy
“They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” Isaiah 61.3
©2013 Lucinda Secrest McDowell