Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

The Living Influence of a Great-Great Grandmother (and of some in-between)

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Last weekend, we celebrated Colleyanna’s birthday. It was a fun time at Serenity and, although there were just a half-dozen of us gathered in the dining room, Colleyanna could not have loved it more if we’d been in the presence of royalty at Buckingham. She and her siblings were excited from the moment they woke up in the morning till the moment the last game was played before bedtime. 

The last game before bedtime was a game of “house”.  Max (Ezra) was my husband and I was Lilly.  Our “house” was the master bedroom.  I worked at a restaurant (my kitchen…that work was real) and Max raced a motorcycle. Our next-door neighbor, Snowdrop (Colleyanna..she’s always picking a name with flair), was always dropping by, uninvited, and bringing her cat, Oreo. (It’s funny how there was more than one  new board game and more than one toy received at the birthday party, but their favorite game, by far, was still the one that just involved people and pretending (and not those toys). 

As I was thinking about the half dozen years that Colleyanna has been on the planet, it was not lost on me that last weekend also marked the birth of someone else who, not so long ago in the grand scheme of things, was left alone with three children between ages one and seven. She was left to have to find childcare for her children while she worked hard to make ends meet in a tiny little house. She was, though under great duress, a woman of great faith and prayer. She was resourceful. And her children were blessed.  

That woman was my grandmother (Colleyanna’s great, great grandmother) and her birthday was last weekend, too. Born on September 10th, 1898, she was, when she left this life in 1980, Mattie Lee Louise Abernathy Smith Duncan. That’s a lot of name for such a humble and meek woman of God.  She taught me how to play house, and rock school and hop-scotch and she could make a doll out of a handkerchief and a chalice out of gum wrapper.  She took me to beautiful springs that bubbled out of a rocky hillside near the graves of some of our ancestors.  She was the one in that lineage who came to know and obey the gospel first. Converting her second husband to the Lord, all told, she (they) raised two faithful gospel preachers, an elder in the Lord’s church, another son and my mother, who was one of the greatest examples of Christianity I’ve ever known. All of those five children, to my knowledge, died as faithful Christians. 

Two of those children were profound influences on my spiritual development. How does one ever overestimate the power of motherhood in the molding of a soul for heaven? My mother’s power in my life is, even now, strong and vast. But one of the preachers my grandmother raised, Bobby Duncan, was the local preacher in the church in which I grew up. He baptized me and I am quite sure I do not even fully know the extent to which he shaped my love of the Word and my desire to serve God. That shaping is palpable every time I take out the Word to study. 

I often remember specific things Bobby Duncan said when I am studying a particular topic or text. I love the fact that my husband was blessed to “inherit” the preaching files of my uncle Bob. In my basement there is a file cabinet that is more valuable to both of us than any material treasure he could have ever left behind. He wrote almost every sermon in very complete outline form, though he never read his sermons. He had them so very well-learned by the time of delivery that  no one would have known that much of what he said rested on the pulpit in front of him. Here are a few samples of quotations I’ve recently read from his files in that cabinet: 

On the faith: “The faith is constantly under attack. It is under attack by the forces of atheism, agnosticism, existentialism, liberalism, anti-ism, radicalism, and every other “ism”. The gospel cannot defend itself against these attacks. It has no voice of its own. It must utilize our voices for its defense. I have about as much respect for one who would stand idly by and watch a defenseless old lady get mugged, and not lift a hand to defend her, as I have for a gospel preacher who will stand idly by while the faith is being attacked , and not say a word in its defense (Phil. 1:17). We must contend for the faith.”

On marriage, divorce and remarriage: “Brethren, let’s not be stricter than the Lord was in these areas. When a man puts away his wife for fornication, and marries another woman, he only has one wife. We ought not to penalize that man for doing what the Lord said he could do (Matthew 19: 9; 5:31-32)  When a man puts away his wife for a reason other than fornication, then he is living in adultery and should not be utilized in the services of the church, but should be forewarned and disciplined.’

On adultery:  “Well, what is to be done about the sin of fornication? What is to be done to obtain forgiveness? If one is guilty of the sin of fornication, then what is he supposed to do? Of course, if a person is not a Christian, in order to be forgiven of any sin, he has to obey the gospel of Christ. He has to hear the gospel and believe it, repent, confess, and be baptized. But now notice, repentance means getting out of sin. It means giving up the sinning business. If a man is a thief, he has to quit thieving. If he is a bootlegger, he has to quit bootlegging. That is what repentance involves. If he is committing fornication, then he has to quit committing fornication. And that would involve that adultery that Jesus mentioned in Matthew 19:9 where it says ‘Whosoever shall put away his wife except it be for fornication and shall marry another committeth adultery.’ If a man is in an adulterous relationship, when he repents, that means he has to get out of that relationship. He can’t just keep on committing sin and get God’s forgiveness.”

On taking the name of God in vain: “Technically, what does it mean to take the Lord’s name in Vain? 

  1. It means to use God’s name to back up a lie.
  2. In Isaiah 59:4 “They trust in vanity and speak lies….”
  3. The word “lies” is the same Hebrew word “shav” translated “vain” in Exodus 20:7.
  4. (Hosea 10:4  “They speak vain words, swearing falsely in making covenants…”
  5. (Exodus 23:1) “Thou shalt not take up a false report; put not thy hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness.” 
  6. To take the Lord’s name in vain means, therefore, to use the Lord’s name to back up a falsehood or a lie.”

What I love about studying these files is that there’s no mincing of words. I love that he was bold and compassionate, powerful and plain, rich and relevant. (What he wrote 40 years ago still helps me make practical decisions.)

What I also love is that I know it was the power of the gospel that touched the heart of a young woman, married at 15 in 1913 and deserted by an adulterous husband by the time she was in her early twenties—It was the power of the gospel in a broken heart that indirectly gave me sound teaching through this great man of God. Taking in washing and ironing, working at the cotton mill just to survive with three small children, my grandmother put something in three  hearts that led them all to respond favorably to the gospel when presented with it. She then met and married my grandfather and she (and others who helped her), led him to the Lord eventually, too, along with the two children they had together. They led some of my grandfather’s family members to the Lord. In the end, there have been about 20 faithful ministers (in various capacities) and elders, who are descendants of or who married descendants of this praying woman.  I could have quoted from several of them, who have written various works. I chose the one who has impacted my life most deeply (except for Glenn, of course.)

Just marvel with me at this simple woman’s legacy. She’s still speaking through her children’s children. If you find yourself in a place of challenge—even brokenness; if you find yourself feeling hopeless or alone, remember 20 elders and preachers/ministers in the kingdom from a destitute mother of three. Don’t be ashamed of the gospel. Be empowered by it, for it is the “power of God to salvation”(Romans 1:16).  It’s the power of God to salvation to the single mother who is doing all she can to put heaven in the hearts of her children. It’s the power of God to salvation to the child who is growing up in a world in which the devil is fighting hard for his soul. It’s the power of God to eventual salvation for the little girl who is turning six and pretending to be “Snowdrop” just as it was for her great-great grandmother who was “pretending” with three young children in a shotgun house in the mill village in Jacksonville, Alabama in the early twentieth century. 

If you are doing hard things for Him, you may be doing more for His glory than you can imagine! Pray for the little souls in your charge and keep your eye on the goal! I’m keeping the faith!

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