Spotlighted on our street is the manger scene that Sue and Sam Gressett display each December.

It’s still my favorite expression of Christmas. On Friday morning, the trees surrounding it were covered in snow, which made it even more beautiful.

I recently saw the lights of the big city, the glitz and glamor of Manhattan where every tree is wrapped in tiny white lights. I saw the flashing lights of Times Square and the huge live tree at Rockefeller Center–it is all spectacular.  With my granddaughters and daughter-in-law, I road the elevator 67 floors up to the Top of the Rock to look out at the city–a mass of lights all around.

I loved seeing New York at Christmas time, but as we wove our way through the crowded streets, I began to wonder, “Does anyone here know what Christmas is really about?”

And then, we went to Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes. I’ve never seen anything like that show; it embodies the very best of talent in the music, the lights, the spectacular sets, the gifted musicians and dancers—it is magical. I found Baby Jesus there, where the real Christmas story was portrayed with Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the Wise Men, and live camels and sheep. Yes, some people in that big city know the reason for the season.

We also found Jesus in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In the Medieval art section, there are scores of sculptures and paintings depicting the life of the Savior. 

     We took the subway to Ground Zero, where we saw the Little Chapel that survived Nine Eleven. Just steps away from where the Towers collapsed is the historic Saint Paul’s Chapel. It is said that George Washington once prayed there. The little church served as a refuge, a soulful abode for rescue workers during the aftermath of the tragedy.

Guideposts Magazine reported that: “Saint Paul’s Church survived without a scratch when the world around it crumbled.”

Just steps away from death and destruction, there were no broken windows, and even the steeple remained intact. Among the trees in the church-yard, only one fell—a nearly 100-year-old sycamore. This tree served as a protection for the church. According to the Associated Press, it was this tree that prevented a huge steel beam from smashing the 235-year-old church. The Daily News reported that Saint Paul’s Chapel had also survived the Great Fire of 1776.

When I researched the story of the Little Chapel,

tears stung my eyes as I realized that Jesus had been there all along. He is wherever His Name is honored. We read in the Bible that “Jesus wept,” and I’m sure He was weeping on that horrible day. Prior to the Nine-Eleven attack, in the midst of all our unearned freedom, in the hub of our power to choose, we Americans had taken our freedom for granted and had almost forgotten about the Creator. His “still, small voice” speaks to us now from that little church.

In Central Park, the carriage driver wrapped us with red furry blankets and drove us through the park while telling us stories of New York and its famous people. Every day, we looked up and stood gawking at the tall buildings that towered over us. We were jostled by crowds of people as we headed toward Broadway to see the shows, smelling the food-smells of the restaurants, and hearing the beeping of taxis.

Christmas in New York was an unforgettable gift,

and now I am home, looking out my bedroom window at the manger scene across the street. That’s the real thing—the reason for the season.

by Virginia Dawkins

The Best of Times; the Worst of Times

From our high school English classes we remember:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”  

These words, written in 1859, describing Charles Dickens’ Victorian England could well describe modern-day America.

Charles Dickens, considered by many to be the grand master of Victorian English literature, walked the streets of London at night observing and listening and gathering scenes for his novels. His stories contained themes of social injustice and moral decline. He was an advocate for the poor and oppressed because he himself had experienced poverty and oppression.

When his father was sent to debtors’ prison,

young Charles was forced to work ten hours a day in a factory. Remembering this period of his life, he wrote: “I had the sense of being utterly neglected and hopeless. No counsel, no encouragement, no consolation, no support from anyone that I can call to mind, so help me God.” This experience was perhaps the motivation for a prevailing theme of child abuse in Dickens’ novels.

The Victorian England of Dickens’ day had little sympathy for its needy children.

It was a society where wide spread ignorance and passive indifference flourished. The community’s actions were motivated by the belief that the child of a pauper was a thing to be used in the working economy. If the little chimney sweeper was starved properly, he would be small enough to fit into a chimney. In “Oliver Twist” Dickens describes the attitude of the day through the voice of a wise trader who expresses his requirements for a useful child worker: “I want a boy and he musn’t be a big un. If I’d got that young boy of Ned, the chimbley-sweeper. He kept him small on purpose, and let him out by the job.”

Another gentleman remarks, “Young boys have been smothered in chimneys before now. Boys is very obstinint, and lazy, and there’s nothing like a good hot blaze to make um come down with a run.”

In his introduction to “Great Expectations,” John Irving wrote:

“The intention of a novel by Charles Dickens is to move you emotionally, not intellectually; and it is by emotional means that Dickens intends to influence you socially… You cannot encounter the prisons in Dickens’ novels and ever again feel completely self-righteous about prisoners being where they belong.”

The influence of Dickens’ faith on his work is evident in his writings and there are numerous religious images and biblical references. Toward the end of his life he said,

“I have always striven in my writings to express veneration for the life and lessons of our Savior—because I feel it.”

In “Dombey and Son,

”Dickens describes a scene after the shock of a great earthquake: “Houses were knocked down, streets were broken through and stopped… Everywhere were bridges that led nowhere… There were a hundred thousand shapes and substances of incompleteness..” In these words, we see an image of chaos without even a hint of order.

From “A Charles Dickens Devotional,” I take these words:

“From the foundation of time, we find God creating order from chaos. Look at the world today, and, like Dickens, you might see chaos. But keep in mind that Our Heavenly Father specializes in chaotic situations. He can bring harmony where disorder reigns. He always has a plan, and He works that plan into being.”  


By: Virginia Dawkins

The “People” Problem with Pets

The Hub City Humane Society began as an idea on a laptop in the back office

of a Veterinarian’s clinic in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Now, it provides compassionate care to the thousands of homeless, neglected and abused animals in the area. Hub City Director Virginia Cheatham began volunteering at a local shelter over 17 years ago and has saved many animals from shelters and fostered animals needing a temporary place to call home.

“We don’t have a pet problem,” said Virginia. “We have a people problem. Until everybody gets it and spays and neuters their pets in this country, millions of animals are going to die in shelters across this country every year.”

The Human Society of the United States chose Hub City to be a part of the “End the Puppy Mill” campaign. In 2015, Hub City took in over 3,000 animals. In the spring and summer, Hub can get up to 100 pets a week, said Virginia.

“We are an open admission animal shelter servicing Lamar County and the City of Petal. We engage the public awareness of animal welfare issues, as well as work to prevent cruelty and promote kindness towards animals.”

Hub City collaborates with rescues and animal welfare organizations both locally and nationally

and maintains the highest level of performance through continued training and education for management and staff. Areas Hub City would like to add to the shelter are an equestrian area and after-school programs. Its mission is to provide the best care for the magnitude of homeless and unwanted pets in the community and to transport them to northeast areas with a 100% percent adoption rate.

“The majority of the dogs we move here go to transport in the Northeast,” said Virginia.

Transports go to the state of Philadelphia where a chain of Pets Plus stores adopt the dogs out of those locations.

“We have a 100% adoption rate,” said Virginia. “We also send [the dogs] to Avon, Connecticut, which takes the older and larger dogs that are extremely hard to move, and they are placed in the most perfect homes.”

All animals going to transport have to be current on everything, explained Virginia. “They have to have health exams and their microchip numbers have to correlate with paperwork.” Hub City usually does two transports in one day, which can amount to 40 or more dogs.

“We have two other places that want to contract with us, one in Atlanta and the other in New York.”

Being a non-profit, funding is crucial to the Shelter, which currently receives money from Lamar County and holds a contract for the city limits of Petal.

“We take in their animal control animals and the citizens in Petal are able to bring their animals to this facility.”

Animal overpopulation is so rampant in the Hattiesburg area, there is no way for every animal entering a shelter to leave it. Hub City is open admission, which means it takes in everything, no matter the age, health, temperament, and condition of the dog.

“We are the little shelter that could. Everything we have here has been donated, except for the transport van and computer,” said Virginia. “Community support has been fantastic. We are very close to starting fundraising for a building out here.”

Volunteers are always needed at Hub City in every area,

including the thrift store and bringing in fresh, new fundraising ideas. Still, Virginia says the best thing the community can do for Hub City Humane Society is to be responsible for their pets, microchip them, ID them, and if their pet becomes lost, to look for it. More importantly, spay and neuter your pets.


Hub City Humane Society
95 Jackson Rd
Hattiesburg, MS 39402
Phone: 601-596-2206
Fax: 601-255-5391

By Richelle Putnam

Feature first published in Parents & Kids Magazine – Pine Belt


There was only a sprinkling of snow, but icy streets kept us inside for a couple of days.

Those cozy, snow days brought back memories of all-day card games with our grandchildren while chili simmered on the stove, and each of us always had a good book waiting to be read.

Pete, our grandson, sent a text on Friday morning:

“Gmom, I hope you and Grandad have a fire going today and a good book to read!” He knew that we did, because at Christmas every member of our family had at least one book on the wish list, and in the gift exchange, we accumulated some good books.

Just prior to the snow days, I ran across a bookmark quote: “Woke up this morning with a terrific urge to lie in bed all day and read.” As I read it, I said to myself, “Now that’s what I want to do one day, just forget everything else and read all day long.”

I love the stories that Eudora Welty told about her mother’s love of books.

When the Welty home was on fire, one of the first things Mrs. Welty rescued from the flames was her prized set of Charles Dickens novels. And Miss Eudora said about herself: “I cannot remember a time when I was not in love with them—with books themselves, cover and binding and the paper they were printed on, with their smell and their weight, and with their possession within my arms, captured and carried off to myself.”

Good books encourage, teach, educate, inspire, and help shape our values. C.S. Lewis said,

“We read to know we are not alone.”

Studies show that reading actually does nourish the brain. According to researchers who did a study with students at Emory University, the act of reading a novel stimulates the brain for days. Reading seems to activate the mind in the same way that we activate muscles when lifting weights. The more active our minds are, the more agile they become. Mark Batterson, author of “The Circle Maker,” wrote, “The simple act of reading involves millions of impulses firing across billions of synopses.”

I do hope that all these wonderful things are taking place in my brain when I sit in front of the fire with my favorite books–although I do have a tendency to fall asleep when I get too cozy.

 The Wall Street Journal published an article titled “The Need to Read.”

The writer, Will Schwalbe, says, “Reading is the best way I know to examine your life. By comparing what you’ve done to what others have done, and your thoughts and theories and feelings to those of others, you learn about yourself and the world around you. I’m on a search to find books to help me make sense of the world, to help me become a better person, to help me get my head around the big questions that I have and answer some of the small ones while I’m at it.”

I too have been on a search to find books that enhance my life. Along with my love for many kinds of books, I have found that the Bible helps me examine my life and inspires me to be a better person. A consistent reading of the Bible does help me to get my head around the big questions about life. 

James McCash said:

“The book to read is not the one which thinks for you, but the one which makes you think. No book in the world equals the Bible for that.”


“Sad Woman” photo courtesy of holohololand at Free Digital Photos


For a Joyful New Year


Most of us have times when things are not pretty, when times are tough,

when it seems like the world we know is crumbling around us; we may become frustrated and it’s hard to find a reason to be joyful.

As the new year begins, many of us may be thinking that no new year’s resolution (even if followed) has the power to help us to survive the year ahead. It’s true that life is going to be difficult in new and complex ways. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the uncertainty for the coming year, it may be helpful to consider a new perspective for coping. Coping requires clarifying your thinking, adjusting your expectations, finding the good that is present in the world and growing from our misfortunes.

First, it’s important to distinguish Joy from Happiness.

Happiness suggests that you are free of trouble, worry and care.  However, that feeling is temporary. You’re happy when things go as you think they should but when things change toward the negative, your happiness is gone. Joy is about shifting your focus to what is good and right in the world. So, happiness is fleeting, but joy sticks around. Joy is there if you look and think hard enough. When you do, you’ll find something for which to be thankful that will help you to keep on keeping on.

Start with the basics.

Be thankful for something, no matter how small: for another day, for the beauty of nature; for the smile of a stranger; for the love of those who care. Then, this is harder to accept for most people but you can be thankful situation that’s causing you pain. Tough times help us to grow our character and preseverence. People grow very little when they are happy. However, when we have hard times, when we’re in the midst of struggles, when we’re at the end of our rope, our survival instinct kicks in, we get tough, creative and ready to tackle the situation head on. Trials are no fun, but they make us stronger. Happiness won’t get us through hard times in the long run but Joy will.

We have entered a period of profound changes for ourselves and our nation, both the goodness and the difficulty need to be acknowledged.

So, how does a person go about being joyful during these difficult times?

Psychologists draw on an ever-expanding body of scientific knowledge about how we think, act and feel and they apply the information to help make things better for us all. Here are some tips for having a more joyful new year.

What’s A Person To Do?

  1. Decide how you want to be a part of the solution rather than using your time complaining about the things that are causing pain.

  2. Select the things you can change and set realistic, attainable goals for changing them. Let go of the rest.

  3. Embrace change. Things will not always be as you want them to be. Keep a journal and evaluate your progress this time next year.

  4. No matter what happens find good in it. And find the good in each person you meet.


© Rachell N. Anderson, Psy. D. December 21, 2016


Dr. Rachell Anderson is a native of Tunica, a licensed Clinical Psychologist, a Professor Emeritus and author. She taught at the University of Illinois and ran a Private Clinical Practice in Springfield, Illinois for many years. She now lives in Tunica and writes with the Tunica Chapter of the Mississippi Writers Guild in Tunica, Mississippi. Check out her website at for more articles and books.


Photo: “Primary Students Visit The Zoo, In The Jul 27, 2016. Bangkok Thailand” courtesy of tiniroma and freedigitalphotos

‘Tis The Season

My cue to begin celebrating Christmas is the day when Sue and Sam Gressett set up their Nativity scene. That little nook with Baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds is my “true north” throughout the month of December. When I get too caught up in shopping and all the busyness of the season, and on days when I feel like Scrooge, I can look across the street and be reminded of what it’s all about.

I do love this time of year when lighted trees are peeping from windows all through my neighborhood.

I like making lists and searching for gifts. I anticipate the Christmas Eve candlelight service when our whole family will be together. I hope it’s cold on Christmas Eve so we can smell the logs and hear the crackling and popping of the fire as we open gifts. I can almost taste the shrimp and grits and home-made rolls my daughter-in-law makes. For every Christmas we’ve been able to spend like this, I am so very grateful.

However, our pastor reminded us that Christmas is not a joyful time for some people because of dysfunctional family situations or the knowledge that a son or daughter will be spending Christmas in jail because of addiction. Some families may still be mourning the loss of a loved-one or remembering a life-shattering event.

But the saddest of all is the person who believes that the whole world is celebrating, partying, and enjoying life—everyone except him. He believes there’s no hope for his miserable life to change, for hopelessness has taken control of his mind. He wants the emotional pain to stop and thinks that if he ends his life he won’t have to feel it anymore.

The threat of suicide affects people from all walks of life and economic backgrounds.

We live in a destitute world filled with needy people of all descriptions. In fact, most of us are needy and vulnerable at some time in our lives. Reverend T.D. Jakes says, “Most people live their lives between two voices—the angelic and the demonic. It’s like there’s an angel on one shoulder and a demon on the other.”

A survey reports that one out of six college students has contemplated suicide; often this is a result of academic demands, peer pressure, lack of sleep, and alcohol and drug abuse. Through ministering to women in jail, I find that the death of a loved-one or any bad news from home often sets an inmate on a course of hopeless, suicidal thoughts. Even famous, gifted people who seem to be equipped with everything necessary for living happy lives have been known to entertain thoughts of ending their lives.

The story is told of the famous musician, Ludwig Beethoven,

who wanted to commit suicide because of the lack of reception for his work. Before it was too late, Beethoven reached out to God and then vowed to live and write music for God alone to appreciate. I wonder who it was who spoke an encouraging word to Beethoven or prayed prayers for him. Who was it who reminded him of God and told him to look up?

What Christmas is about is that God cares about broken, hurting people. Looking out my bedroom window at the manger scene, I know that this is true:

 “The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity, hope for pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory, because at the Father’s will Jesus Christ became poor and was born in a stable so that 33 years later He might hang on a cross.” -J.I. Packer

by Virginia Dawkins


“If you really think about it,” wrote Mark Batterson, “it’s the bad days that help us appreciate the good days. Without them, we’d have no comparison point.”

In Mark Batterson’s book, If, he urges us to count our blessings and to remind everyone else how blessed we all are! He suggests that we consider these things:

  • If you woke this morning with more health than illness—you are more blessed than the million who will not survive this week.
  • If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation—you are better off than five hundred million people in the world.
  • If you can attend a church meeting, or not attend one, without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death—you are more blessed than three billion people in the world.
  • If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep—you are richer than 75 percent of the world’s wealthy.

If you can read a book, you are more blessed than over two billion people in the world who cannot read at all.

In her book, Choosing Gratitude, Nancy DeMoss described a scene taking place in India: A three-year-old boy is leaning against the cot of his dying mother. The boy’s eyes are hollow, his stomach is distended, and his face is fly-infested. An American pastor observing the child and his mother made this statement: “Standing there in that slum, I felt all complaints I had ever spoken as if they were a weight on my shoulders.”

After returning to America, the pastor asked a church leader from India who had come to the states to study, “What do you think of Americans?” The man from India answered, “You have no idea how much you have, and yet you always complain.”

In our journaling class at church, we include in our journals a prayer list, a section in which we write letters to God, and pages for recording scriptures. Sometimes our “God letters” become a little whiney and self-centered as we describe our problems. Lest discouragement creep in, we turn to our Thanksgiving page, where we have listed daily blessings as well as great big miracles which God has performed in our behalf. When we reread each blessing and give thanks once more, our faith becomes brighter and our problems grow dimmer.

When Jesus told the disciples to provide food for five thousand hungry people, the situation looked hopeless; all they found was a little boy’s small lunch. Jesus took it, looked to heaven and gave thanks. His thanksgiving brought a miracle blessing that day—all the people were fed, and there was food left over.

When we take inventory of what we already have and give thanks for it, we realize that we are very rich indeed.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” –Melody Beattie

As Americans, we are very rich indeed! Let us give thanks for what we have and cry out to our Creator for His mercy and grace to reign over our nation.

By Virginia Dawkins


For  Mark Batterson’s book, If 

For Nancy DeMoss’s book, Choosing Gratitude