By: Ali Eliazbeth Turner
Notice that the title of this piece is “Nursing A Nudge,” and not a grudge, and this is a story about what I have come to believe happens when we “get out of the sour and into the power.” Anyone in business knows that there are times when things just go south—deadlines don’t get met; clients cancel; team members are MIA; Charter/Spectrum gets attacked either by a solar flare, the Russians, the Norks, the Chinese, or all of them; and the “comms” are dead in the water for the day, as was the case on Tuesday. No question, Athens Now was officially behind the 8 ball. Sometimes these kinds of circumstances converge into a perfect storm, and this publication cycle was threatening to do just that.

Now for the disclaimer: If you are a client who had to cancel this week, you have already talked to me, and I know that these were circumstances beyond your control. I am not here to “guilt” you, I am simply using this to illustrate my most recent adventure with the Lord in the Land of Athens Now.

Tuesday the 14th was one of my favorite events of the month, the Chamber of Commerce Coffee. Various businesses sponsor breakfasts, we meet all over town, and it is a great way to network. The energy is always good, and 99% of the time it serves to give me that nudge that inspires me to cross the finish line of a publication cycle. However, I’ll be honest, I was just feeling sour and sorry for myself, and I seriously thought of slippin’ out the back, Jack, and trying to figure out what I was going to do to pull together what seemed like a total tangle of loose ends before we went to print.

The time came in the order of Tuesday morning’s events when Chamber Director Jennifer Williamson invited people who were attending for the first time to introduce themselves, and Dana Hill, Executive Director of Traditions Senior Living, did so. She was delightful, and I decided to take a chance and ask if she would be interested in doing an article. I thought to myself, “The worst she can say is, No.” Still feeling a bit cynical, I pushed through my fears, and went over and introduced myself. The result is what you see on the front cover, and I am forever glad I didn’t buy a first class one-way ticket to “Self Pity City via Whiney Airlines.”

What was waiting for me in the course of our interview later Tuesday afternoon was a tour of a brand new facility with the chance to play a beautiful piano and the invitation to come play that same piano anytime I wanted to, meet lovely people old and young, pray with a woman whose sons had been in Iraq, meet a nurse whom I would trust caring for my own mother, make a new friend, see amazing photos of Athens, and leave with a profound sense of gratitude.

What if I had “nursed the grudge, and not the nudge?” What would I have missed out on? As we enjoy our Thanksgiving holiday in 2017, let’s choose to get better at “the nudges,” and 86 (get rid of, be out of) the grudges. God bless you all abundantly!

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
Around seven years ago, I attended a prayer breakfast at a Juice Plus+ International Conference, and I heard two completely different men speak. One was white, a man by the name of Ron Hall, a high end art dealer from the Ft. Worth area, and his best friend, Denver Moore, a formerly homeless man, also from Ft. Worth. The person who was not there was Ron’s wife, Debbie, who had passed away from cancer. The three of them had become inseparable since Debbie talked her husband into volunteering at the homeless shelter that was near where Denver “lived,” and the result was a NY Times Bestseller called Same Kind Of Different As Me.

After Debbie was gone, the men spent a total of 9 ½ years travelling and telling their story. The book stayed on the NYT list for over three years, and I consider my copy that is autographed by both of them to be one of my dear treasures. This is because until Denver met Ron, he was illiterate. And, if Denver had never invaded Ron’s life, he would have remained relationally illiterate. They were able to raise millions for homeless shelters all over America, and to stir people to do more than write checks.

I longed for this most unusual story to be made into a film, and was ambivalent about my desire for a couple of reasons. The first was that many faith-based movies are cheesy, poorly filmed, poorly acted, lack continuity, and I didn’t want to see it ruined. The other was that the story was so unusual I couldn’t imagine that they could find anyone who could even come close to what it was like to hear Ron and Denver tell their story.

I am glad I was wrong about my misgivings, and I got my wish. Same Kind Of Different As Me is playing in Madison, Huntsville, and Decatur, and it delivers. Several of the people in it are Academy Award winners or nominees, and it is anything but cheesy.

Greg Kinnear, who was nominated for an Academy Award, plays the part of Ron Hall and he nails it. Academy Award Winner Renée Zellweger plays the part of Debbie, and I have rarely seen someone speak at times more clearly without saying a word. Djimon Hounsou, one of those actors that you have seen a zillion times but perhaps didn’t know his name, is compelling as Denver. Academy Award Winner John Voight is superb as Ron’s alcoholic father, whose redemption is nearly as touching as Denver’s. The chemistry between all of them works, and the bottom line is a movie that preaches powerfully about the power of love without being preachy.

One last production note: a businessman in Mississippi had sold his flagship company for more than 100 million dollars, and was planning on investing the proceeds. Instead, he felt God would not leave him alone until the proceeds from the sale went toward the production of the film. A true step of faith, and a good lesson that reminds us all that ultimately we own nothing, whether we are rich or poor. The gospel mission that was transformed for the movie has remained transformed, and the community around it has been, as well. All of this was Debbie Hall’s dream, and Denver was the man she saw in a dream before they ever met. Go see it. It will be worth your time and your money.

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
History has been made in our town once again, due to the fact that a statue has been erected in honor of a timelessly courageous man, Judge James Edwin Horton, Jr. For me personally, the irony is great that in an era when it has become politically fashionable to move controversial stone and/or metal historical figures out of sight so as not to “offend,” under the inspiration of Judge Jimmy Woodruff and others, we in Limestone County have put in plain and permanent view a life-sized reminder of a man who in his day was the embodiment of controversy as well as courage.

I began to learn about the Scottsboro Boys case in my seventh-grade social studies class in the mid-‘60s in Seattle, but I knew nothing about the man who fought for the falsely accused defendants from the bench despite great physical and personal peril. I just knew from my textbook that justice had prevailed, and as a 12-year-old, I was glad. I didn’t know for nearly 15 years after we moved here in 2000, that it was in our courthouse that “justice rolled down like waters,” as the book of Amos enjoins. This was because the historical narrative implied that everything was settled in Scottsboro, and there was no mention of the fact that this battle was fought all over North Alabama in the circuit court system, it just mentioned that it had gone on up to the Supreme Court of the United States of America.

I have told the story often that it wasn’t until I was attending a political victory reception upstairs in the courtroom where it all occurred, that I happened to notice a small brass historical plaque memorializing the decision, and was happily stunned to consider that just a few feet away from me, history had been altered. Judge Horton proved for generations that the pen was clearly mightier than the sword. When he stood outside atop the courthouse stairs to deliver his decision to the citizens of Athens and Limestone County, one of the most important legal decisions in American history powerfully rolled down the staircase and out around the world.

Horton’s family was on hand for the dedication of the statue, as they were in June of 2016 when we celebrated Judge Horton Day, and the fundraising project was kicked off. The kids and grandkids told happy tales about His Honor, a consummate gentleman and storyteller who effectively reinvented himself. It is said that Judge Horton never had to struggle for a moment with his decision; it was a clear case of right and wrong. He had the integrity to do right and suffer the consequences, when lynching would have been considered just.

Overturning the wrongful conviction of Haywood Patterson was the end of Horton’s judicial career, and undeterred, he literally picked up his antebellum house which was then located on what is the current site of the Athens City Hall, dismantled it, moved it to Greenbrier, put the house back together, and raised cattle. The house is still standing, the effect of his life is still being felt, and now when visitors to Athens point to the statue and ask, “Who was this guy?” we can all, young and old, black, white, brown, red, yellow, male and female proudly say, “Well, once upon a time there was a man named Judge James Horton…”

My deep thanks to Judge Jimmy Woodruff, Archivist Rebecca Davis, and all who gave in any way to bring us this day. I will never forget it.

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
As we were staring down the deadline for this edition of Athens Now, I was in a quandary about what to do for Publisher’s Point. The news crawlers were running non-stop with regard to the Las Vegas massacre, as well they should. The expected gun-control arguments were being trotted out once again by those who appeared to have never handled a weapon, the President and the First Lady had just landed in Las Vegas, and while I had much to say about all of it, none of it worked. Then I found the following story, and I knew that in this time of appropriate national mourning and hopefully, repentance, we needed a tale of pure and powerful David-and-Jonathan type love, and here it is.

The United States Air Force became its own separate branch of service in 1947, and in 1948 President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981, which was the official death knell of racial discrimination in the armed services. Just nine years later, two poor kids, one white and one black, became Airmen as well as best friends. They met at Tachikawa Airfield in Tokyo. They and their families did everything together, including going to the movies, and they didn’t care whether anyone approved. Many didn’t, and were peevish in their prejudice. Ray and Roy didn’t care because they were best buds.

Then, through a fluke, the two whose full names are Ray Cahoon and Roy Salmon, lost track of each other; Cahoon being transferred out while Salmon was in the States at a USAF track meet. They didn’t speak for decades, but they carried each other in their hearts. Salmon had tried to find Cahoon through the Air Force, and finally succeeded in tracking him down through the help of the editor of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Salmon had been diagnosed with cancer, knew he was running out of time, and wanted to be re-united with his friend before he passed.

Last week the reunion finally happened, and I have no more need to say a word, due to the power of the picture. Ray and Roy are honored warriors-of-the-sky in failing bodies, with tears of joy and the hugs that come from what we have come to call the band of brothers, an inexplicable bond of which I have had the deepest honor to taste; all of it was a feast for the onlookers. To be accurate, they had already exchanged letters and phone calls, but it was the face-to-face that said it all.
They were not only service members who deserved honor from all of us, they were pioneers. They proved that in all ways that are holy as well as whole, “Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it. It is the flashing fire of Yah…” Rotherham translation

When Ray Cahoon finally saw his friend Roy Salmon, he laughed and said, “But Roy, you never told me you were black!” Through tears, Roy managed to choke out his appreciation for his friend and his friend’s family:
“These folks, I was a human being, and they treated me like I was…”
“Family,” said Roy. And this, dear readers is the true tale of Ray and Roy’s Excellent Adventure. Let’s write our own.

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
Four years ago, at the National Religious Broadcasters’ Convention in Nashville, I had the great privilege of interviewing Joseph Farah, who, with his wife Elizabeth, founded World Net Daily in 1997. WND is one of the largest Internet-based news and commentary sources on the planet, and has gone on to become a force to be reckoned with as the culture wars in our nation heat up.

Three years ago, I went to Israel on a tour that was headed up by Joseph and Elizabeth, who also happened to be on our particular bus. It was there that I got to know the man and his familyas can only happen while travelling under unusual circumstances; and on several occasions, I felt I was given a glimpse of his heart. Like me, once upon a time he had been a radical socialist, and like me, he had become a Christian. Unlike me, he was an Arab by blood. As followers of Messiah, he and I had come to love the people and land of Israel. Over a hotel supper table in the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,our conversations about the grace of God and overcoming our wacky pasts are treasured memories I consider to be one of the highlights of my life-changing trip.

Joseph and his crew have produced best-selling books and movies, and one film was nominated for an Academy Award. And now, they are bringing to the screen the story of a young half-Jewish girl who survived the Holocaust, and for reasons that defy logical explanation, she experienced Messiah’s love in the middle of it all.

The woman’s name is Anita Dittman, and she is a spry 90 years old. The name of the film that tells the story of her life is entitled, Trapped In Hitler’s Hell; and if you want to, you can help it get made and distributed to theatres. More on that in a minute.
WND film producer George Escobar, whom I also met while in Israel, had this to say about Anita:

“Anita Dittman is the only person I’ve ever met who survived the Holocaust. She was barely 18 when she escaped her second Nazi prison camp in 1945.

Abandoned as a child by her Aryan father eight years earlier, Anita was determined to reunite with her Jewish mother held at a death camp 200 miles away in Theresienstadt, Czechoslovakia.

By the time I came to know Anita in 2014, she had just turned 87. I was interviewing her for a documentary about her life, based on the book Trapped in Hitler’s Hell: A Young Jewish Girl Discovers the Messiah’s Faithfulness in the Midst of the Holocaust,which she had co-written with Jan Markell nearly 20 years earlier.

I didn’t expect to become a close friend of Anita’s following that meeting. Or fall in love with her story.

By the conclusion of World War II, Anita had nearly exhausted her reserve of courage and compassion. In our journey with Anita, shewill have successfully drawn us personally through an age of darkness. Nonetheless, her resilience and liberating faith will shine like a beam of light through which we can find God’s glory, forgiveness and love.”

Now this leads to my question: Do yawanna help make a movie? Through the wonders of technology it is now possible for average people to help be a part of redemptive media, and WND has set up a GoFundMe account in case you want to get in on it. There are people, and not just a few, who try to convince the masses that the Holocaust never happened, let alone that a Jewish girl could come to a transformational relationship with Yeshua the Messiah. In an era when “snowflakes” are melting down over someone wearing a T-shirt that says, “Make America Great Again,” it is refreshing to hear the taleof someone who triumphed in every regard over the hideous hate of Nazi Germany.

George is hoping that WND readers will consider donating $5 to $10, the price of a designer coffee or lunch in order to help get the tale told. If you are interested in being a part of such a worthy endeavor, please go to https://www.gofundme.com/make-a-hit-movie-with-wnd.

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
In 1994, a man named Jerome who was a member of our church in Seattle, was in Rwanda during the horrific genocide of Tutsis by the Hutus. He had been in many dangerous situations before, but nothing like this. Jerome was one of the last Westerners to get out safely, but not before he captured photos of the carnage. I will never forget looking in numbed disbelief at the stacks of skulls, skeletons and bodies, trying to get my head around the evil that had occurred there. Then when I was in Iraq, I had to face it again as young members of the Iraqi Special Forces were betrayed and beheaded through an inside job that originated on our base; the head of one young husband having been sent in a box to his widow. Later, when only a few miles away from us Al-Qaeda literally roasted a nine year old child in an oven and then invited the child’s parents “over for dinner,” the commandment to “love your enemies” was tested in a whole new way in my heart. I came back to the States not long after.

It was then, in 2007 that I became aware once again of the power of forgiveness as the media launch of the book, Left To Tell: Discovering God Amidst The Rwandan Holocaust occurred, and for me, the timing was perfect. Left To Tell is the story of a young Catholic Tutsi woman by the name of Immaculée Ilibagiza, who was hidden by a Hutu minister in the tiny, rarely used 3’x4’ bathroom in their basement. That would have been enough of a tale if she were by herself, but Immaculée was crammed in the bathroom with seven other women for 91 days. A lithe 5’9”, she went into hiding weighing 115 pounds, and came out weighing 65 pounds. The Hutu pastor who hid her and the rest of the women even hid them from his own family by moving an armoire over the door so the marauding Hutus couldn’t find them. He would sneak whatever food he could to them when he could, they flushed the toilet only when a toilet upstairs was being flushed, and they did not bathe for the entire time. Once a refugee camp was set up by the French, he snuck them out in the middle of the night to freedom.

Immaculée’s courage in forgiving the Hutu who killed her family, in tapping into a love that can only be explained as divine, and overcoming the most hideous, debilitating terror imagineable has given her a platform that is global, and just this past weekend touched the life of my trusty copy editor, Yvonne Dempsey. Yvonne came home from a conference where Immaculée was the keynote speaker, and to say that she was inspired is an understatement. I will let her tell it in her own words:

I felt a new awakening during my retreat. There were several prayerful moments during which I felt a release of bitterness, anger, resentment that I did not know resided in me. I realized that I needed to dig deep into my soul and cultivate my small seed of faith so that it would grow beyond me and spread its love to everyone. I knew I could be a better, more loving and forgiving person. After all, I am a child of God and I want to please Him in all my thoughts, words, and actions.

Listening to Immaculée tell her story, I couldn’t help but see the parallels between what happened there and some of the recent events in our country. In her book Led By Faith, Immaculée says, “The story of Rwanda is one that belongs to us all … Hatred, anger, mistrust, and fear enter our lives every day in a thousand different ways. We’re all wounded by these evils, but we can all be healed through the power of love and forgiveness – a power readily available to us when we have faith.” Today Immaculée visits Rwanda frequently. She says, “The power of God’s forgiveness has taken root in my country: faith is flourishing where once there was only hatred and death. God’s love is truly working a miracle in Rwanda.” Immaculée’s words give us hope – hope for our lives and hope for our country. And if God can work miracles in Rwanda, we must have faith that He can work miracles in our lives and in our country.”

Since 2007, Immaculée has gone on to publish another excellent book entitled Led By Faith: Rising From The Ashes Of The Rwandan Genocide, and several others geared more specifically toward Catholics. She has been featured on numerous Christian as well as other TV stations including Al-Jazeera. A major movie about her life is in production and is slated to be released in 2018. Also, her house in Rwanda has been re-built by the donations of people whose life she has impacted; she has become a naturalized citizen of the US, and is now the mother of two children.

In an era when people are getting a lot of traction out of being “offended” over statues, monuments, flags, old drinking fountains, and things that happened centuries ago, it is refreshing to know that the age-old promise of healing to the broken-hearted, recovery of sight to the blind, and setting at liberty them that are bruised still works without hindrance or hesitation if you let it. Just ask Immaculée.

By: Ali ElizabethTurner
Studying people trends and history has always been something I have enjoyed, and it is an odd sensation indeed to have become old enough to have a long look back and understand in a whole new way that Solomon was right when he said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” My specific reference is to the lethal unrest in places like Charlottesville, and their accompanying ability to keep us riveted to the screen in passive helplessness.

I endured the ‘60s as a young, idealistic socialist radical, and things like Charlottesville were, for a period of about seven years, nearly an everyday occurrence. And trust me, we would have laughed “snowflakes” to scorn for expressing the need for “safe places” if someone dared to disagreed with us. In my day, the Occupy Wall Street types of events of just a few years back were not accompanied by catered organic chicken dinners and time planned in to the digital protest planner to check to see if you were trending on Facebook. There was no bottled water, and you were on your own for food. We bounced along on hard wooden floors in the back of Ryder trucks, and once there was one twin mattress to sit on with which my keister never made contact. If I say much more I am going to sound like a Monty Python movie clip that starts with “We had it tough,” and that is not my point. In spite of Charlottesville and the president daring to say that there was wrong on both sides, I actually am full of hope because of what I know about history in this country.

Before I get to that, I do need to talk about what happened during the ‘60s for a minute in order to give some perspective. Beginning in August of 1965, major riots like what we saw in Ferguson began to occur seemingly back to back, and they were with regard to all manner of subjects. They centered around race relations, the Vietnam War, feminism, generalized rebellion; we were against anything and everything we called “Establishment.” We rejected our parents’ morals, work ethic, hygiene, and faith. Some of us became violent lunatics when the prevailing slogan was “Make love, not war.” It was utter madness.

The Watts riot was in August of 1965, 34 people died, $40 million dollars of damage. Newark, New Jersey was in July of 1967, and 26 people died. Also in July of 1967 was the Detroit riot; 43 dead, over 2,000 buildings destroyed. The 1968 Democratic Party National Convention had violent demonstrations. 1970 was Kent State, 4 died, 1970 and ’71 were the D.C. demonstrations, and I have two friends who were there, one of whom at that point was a friend of Bill Ayers of the SDS, and is now a Christian and a conservative publisher of books, films, and a global internet news service.

Then, something happened. Parents began to pray, and God began to hear. There was something called the Jesus People Movement, and it began in the midst of the utter emptiness of hippie hedonism. On the beach, people were having genuine encounters with their Savior, sometimes even while they were still stoned. Just like in the book of Acts, there were visions and dreams, and by the droves brand new baby believers began to tell others. Was it messy? Sure. I don’t think many preachers here in Athens would be comfortable with someone’s witnessing technique starting off with “Dude, Jesus can get you higher than whatever it is you are smokin’ right now,” and I get that.

But it grew, and it was powerful. Billy Graham knew it was God, David Wilkerson and Chuck Smith did, too, and by 1973 there were over 40,000 kids in Texas Stadium praising God at an event called Explo ’73, and it didn’t stop there. I believe that the prayers of desperate parents rescued a generation, and I believe it is going to happen again, and soon. If you look at the history of revival in America, the darkest times of unrest are what cause it to be birthed. I wish it were not so, but typically people only look upward when everything is falling apart, or seems to be. So, you have a choice. You can wring your hands, or you can hit your knees. Whatever your choice, get ready, because we are ripe for revival, and revival can be downright restive.

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
There is a bit of history that has long been used to illustrate being totally committed to either a cause or a crew, and it centers around the tale of the explorer Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro Altamirano, Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca. You might know him by some version of the name Hernando Cortez. When he and the ships he commanded landed in Mexico in 1519, Cortez had all of the ships destroyed except one. Ostensibly, that ship would have been saved only for the one in command if he decided to return to Spain, and the scenario had the potential for being one of the biggest games of “Lifeboat” ever played. The uncertainty of their fate would have loomed before the crew, and cause certain unrest. Who would have been worthy to go back and face the sting of failure before the king of Spain, and who would have been chosen to stay and hopefully survive? Thankfully that is something no one had to face.

It is thought that the confusion over whether or not Cortez actually commanded the ships to be burned, as opposed to being dismantled, interestingly comes from the Spanish language itself, as well as the legibility of his handwriting as he recorded the incident in his letters. The word for “burn” is quemando, and the word for “break” or “dismantle” is quebrando. It is easy to see how the legend took on a life of its own with respect to how one interpreted Cortez’s cursive.

Well, now that history has been corrected, we can get back to what has been a powerful phrase used in sermons, songs, motivational speeches and pep talks. Burn the ships! Can you feel the angst surrounding destroying your very source of safety, or in current vernacular, your Plan B? Can you feel the virtual heat as the flames consumed their security? Conversely, can you imagine the sense of adventure that was available in those challenging circumstances?

There was a time in our lives, only a few years after we moved to Alabama from Mexico, when we were potentially facing homelessness. We had to burn some things in preparation for the possibility of living in the 15-passenger van we had purchased to haul around the kids from the Arbol de Vida orphanage where we worked in Ciudad Juarez. One of the things that had to go was my grandmother’s antique tea table, and as I watched it go up in flames, I had to remind myself, as a person of faith, that at some point everything is going to burn up. Not at all one of my most pleasant memories, but I have to ask myself, “What would have happened if in that moment the tea table had been more important than trusting my Maker with my whole life?” That hot, testing fire came to a quick end, and thankfully we did not have to call our van (which we nicknamed “Chester”) our home.

I was reminded the other day of Steven Curtis Chapman’s song Burn The Ships. I put it on, cranked it up, and danced around my living room in worship. While I danced, I thought about some places in my life where I had felt “stuck,” and I realized that in subtle ways I hadn’t been willing to burn the ship in order to get the results I desired and needed. I also became aware of the fact that I was wasting a great deal of precious energy by being in a place of indecision, and blaming my exhaustion on the arduousness of the task rather than the fact that I was at best stalled out, and at worst sabotaging my own efforts. So, dear readers, I leave you with the chorus of Mr. Chapman’s ballad Burn The Ships.


“Burn the ships, we’re here to stay
There’s no way we could go back
Now that we’ve come this far by faith
Burn the ships, we’ve passed the point of no return
Our life is here, so let the ships burn”

My life is here in Athens, Alabama, and if the cost of the blessing of being here was Mimi’s tea wagon, it was a bargain, and I made out like a bandit.

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
It was ten years ago this month that Wayne and Deborah Huff started Athens Now: information & inspiration, and I have had the adventure of a lifetime being a part of it since 2010. It is actually Jerry Barksdale’s fault that I got started with the paper, and I will cheerfully and forever always hold that over his head. Wayne and Deborah had contacted him about doing some front cover advertorial writing, and his reply was, “I can’t, but I think I know someone who would be good at it.” That led to my having a lively breakfast meeting with Wayne at Cracker Barrel that lasted for hours, and an observer of our meeting, who is also a friend, said with a laugh, “You guys were clearly discussing something important, so I thought it best not to interrupt.” That “something important” would eventually serve to radically alter the course of my whole life and career.

For a year I wrote for Wayne and Deborah, enjoying their family, being treated like family, and then in 2011 they decided to sell the paper. My adventuresome husband Steve felt that it would be a good idea for us to buy it, and I did too, but boy, was I scared. Besides writing A Ballad For Baghdad, which certainly was a challenge in its own right, the sum total of my experience with anything remotely resembling producing a publication was when I was on yearbook staff during my junior year in high school, and that was during the Ice Age.

The day “the deal” went down, we met at Jack’s on Highway 31 in Athens, and on the hood of the car Steve counted out the many bills it took to make Athens Now ours, which Wayne then put in his pocket. Wayne and Steve laughed over the fact that it looked like a drug deal. Steve has always been way more comfortable with carrying cash than have I, and most of the time I am glad that he is that kind of guy. However, if I had been a police officer watching this transaction, I would have had cause to think that perhaps something nefarious was occurring, and probably at the very least would have flashed some lights and asked to see some ID.

So, the deal was done, the handshakes were made, the copies of the contracts were signed and dispensed, and I was essentially tossed in the pool of production and told to swim. I don’t think I was as scared to go to Iraq as I was to entering the world of community newspapers!

Thankfully, I had my Heavenly Father; the Huffs; Steve; and my uber-talented, kind, patience-of-Job production guy Jonathan Hamilton to give me ballast. Ever so slowly I got to the place where I didn’t feel like I was going to throw up on Publication Day, which is the first and third Wednesday of every month. They believed in me when I had little reason to believe in myself, and just thinking about it as I write this puts a knot in my throat. I also have had an amazing crew that has worked hard to provide articles, do the editing, the website, help with delivery, and more. You know who you are, and that is why I thank you from the bottom of my heart every time we publish a new edition.

Clients have become comrades-at-arms, and have cheered me on. They have also stretched and challenged me to grow on the inside in any number of ways, and I am deeply grateful. Because of their investment in Athens Now, in an era when newspapers are dying, we are not. Our plucky little paper is defying the odds, and I remain stunned. We are now read all over the US and even the world, and no one could have anticipated that the antics of folks in Athens, AL would go global.
Speaking of “throat knots,” the “repeat offenders” who create that chronic condition in my upper alimentary canal, are the many people, oftentimes complete strangers, who come up to me on the street or in the grocery store and say things like, “You’re the Athens Now lady! I read your paper from cover to cover every time it comes out!” It never fails to floor me, especially when I get mail that accuses me of denying the Holocaust or producing trash. You have no idea what your support has meant to me, to us, especially during the times I have hit the wall and wondered, “Why was it we decided to do this, again?”

And so, my dear, dear readers, please know that my heart is full, my eyes are moist, and it’s all your fault. Thank you again, and here’s to another ten years!

A few years ago, I was attending an international Juice Plus convention in Phoenix, Arizona and I heard a presentation by an award-winning teacher from the Bronx who had revolutionized the lives of the kids in his classroom as well as their families by teaching them how to garden. Many had never seen live produce, let alone had had the chance to eat it. What became known as the Green Bronx Machine started a ripple effect which has now been felt around the world. The teacher’s name is Stephen Ritz, and hands down he is the most passionate educational presenter I have ever heard. His energy is boundless, he refuses to accept that things cannot be changed, and he has even lost close to 50 pounds since he started urban gardening in the New York City public schools. His battle cry is “Si, se puede,” which in Spanish literally means, “Yes, it can be done.” He had all 7,000 of us on our feet and hollering his battle cry.

What is it that he claims can be done? The areas known as “food deserts,” which are a component of urban blight in large cities can in fact be overturned. The result is healthier kids, better grades, healthier families, educational opportunities, business opportunities, and the chance to get a literal tiny taste of the pleasure Adam must have felt in the Garden.

Stephen makes indoor wall gardens, tears up streets in the Bronx to make raised bed gardens, and makes extensive use of the Tower Garden to power his Green Bronx Machine. He has even gotten Tower Gardens into the White House, has been commended by the Pope, has been the subject of several TV shows and interviews, and gives one of the best Ted Talks ever.

On the other coast of America in Los Angeles, Ron Finley heads up the Ron Finley Project. He shares the same passion as Stephen, with a slightly more artistic and philosophical approach. He says he has started what he calls a “horti-cultural revolution,” and has had particularly good success with gang members. He calls his kids “gangsta gardeners,” and they are bringing the revolution in a way that is providing food and building community.

Ron “envisions a world where gardening is gangsta, where cool kids know their nutrition, and where communities embrace the act of growing, knowing, and sharing the best of the earth’s fresh-grown food.” He plans to turn “food deserts into food forests,” garnering a number of positive spin offs in the process. Communities are built and healed when they come together to grow produce and work with the land and each other. Finley also sees gardening as an art form. He is not interested in telling people what they should plant. Instead, he recently said in an interview conducted by Dr. Caroline Leaf that he tells prospective gangsta gardeners “That plant is going to be purple and 12 feet tall. You are going to see it every day, so make sure it is something that you are going to enjoy.” He is a firm believer that you can have beauty and bounty in the same space.

Gardening is what we were made to do, and we have allowed ourselves to get disconnected from our original assignment: “to tend and keep” gardens. There’s a whole lot of healing in horticulture, and good stuff in gardens. Recently it was discovered that soil has substances in it that function as anti-depressants without all the side effects. It builds bodies, minds, and communities, and it’s an idea whose time has indeed come again.