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Eight Habits

Habits of the Heart, by Clifton Taulbert

It seems so hard to raise children in today's culture, a culture that seems so contrary to the values I knew as I grew up, which were rooted, in large measure, in biblical principles. As I raise my son, I try to remember my heritage and pass it on to him, so he will pass it on to his children.

I grew up in the early 1950s in the town of Glen Allan, Miss. It was a segregated community, and many people were poor and struggling, but I learned timeless values from the "porch people." They were the adults of the community, and they were called that because they had few places to gather in those days except for church or their front porches. They became the extended family of aunts, uncles, grandparents and neighbors who populated my childhood world and passed on lessons I try to live today, lessons I call the Eight Habits of the Heart—timeless values that build strong communities.

Community was so important in those days.The sick never suffered alone, and the dying were always attended.

I was introduced to these habits by my great-grandparents, the Rev. Joe Young and Ma Pearl, who raised me. (My mother was young and unmarried when I was born. She lived just down the street as I was growing up, which made it easy for me to visit.) I still remember my Poppa, as I called him. He was a robust man, balding with a dark, shiny face and sparkling eyes that always welcomed me.

On Saturday mornings we often traveled to nearby Greenville, the Queen City of the Delta, and Poppa would always take the opportunity to teach me about the Bible and how to live out biblical principles. He was always in a hurry to get to town, but that didn't stop him from taking shopping orders from the older people or stopping to pick up someone who needed a ride. Community was so important in those days. I remember how, when I was a small child, the whole town became the "eyes" of Blind Birda. The sick never suffered alone, and the dying were always attended.

There was discipline. Rules and regulations were introduced to the children at an early age so that there wasn't time to think about not adhering to them. But rules were usually served up with a piping hot meal or your grandmother dressing you so you didn't catch a cold; all these were demonstrations of love alongside loving discipline.

If you broke a rule, you knew about it—quickly. I once stole plums from Miss Mary Ann's tree, which brought down the wrath of Poppa. He spanked me, but he also talked to me for a long time about right and wrong.

The Eight Habits

So what were these habits that I learned as a child?

First, the community fostered a nurturing attitude, demonstrated by unselfishness and support for one another, as my Poppa and Ma Pearl did for me and so many others.

The "porch people" (the extended family of aunts, uncles, grandparents and neighbors) shared in instilling values in the neighborhood children.

Responsibility grew out of relationships formed when young people and adults worked together. I worked with Uncle Cleave, the iceman, who showed great patience as I struggled with 300-pound blocks of ice. He stuck with me until I learned the job.

I learned dependability from my great aunt, Ma Ponk. She made sure I went to school every day, a round trip of nearly 100 miles by bus because of the segregated schools. She turned on the porch light every morning to alert the bus driver that, yes, young Cliff would be riding the bus that day.

Friendship was found in the laughter of good fellowship, which built bridges for a lifetime. True friendship was being available to help others, which bound us together. Poppa demonstrated this as often he went out of his way to visit my cousin Sarah, who lived in another town.

Brotherhood was a "stretched" table where there was room for everyone. The South was legally segregated in those days, and racism was very real. I worked for a white woman, Mrs. J.P. Knight, but she defied social convention and shared a meal with me every day.

The community had high expectations for its children. Going to school and staying in school were high priorities. Individual report cards were the concern of all the porch people.

Speaking out for others showed courage, especially in those days when we were by law relegated to inferior status. And that courage came from their hope in God. Hope was believing in tomorrow as you learned to see with your heart a day not yet seen with the eyes. The porch people talked about a better tomorrow like it was just around the corner, much the way the apostle Paul spoke of our Lord's returning.

Ma Ponk would pray every day in such a way that I actually thought another person was in the room. When she finished praying she would look at me and say, "Everything is going to be just fine." Such faith was marked on my mind forever.

These transcending habits remind me that when I have faith, no place is remote. The principles behind these habit are universal. They are not bound by time, race or geography. But they are not just principles, they are people—the people we need to be for our children.

This article appeared in Focus on the Family magazine. Copyright © 2000 Clifton Taulbert. All rights reserved.

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