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Do Southern women know a little something extra about faith?
Well, Gainesville-based author and columnist Ronda Rich says, maybe so.
“In the South, I say that it is very open, embraced, very shared, very vocal faith and we talk about it a lot,” Rich said. “It’s in the center of our lives, and we’re in the core of the Bible Belt.
"Outside of the South or outside of being a Southern woman, women tend to be more private, more reserved, more quiet about their faith.”
These little differences in Southern character and personalities are highlighted in Rich’s new book, “What Southern Women Know About Faith,” which was released Wednesday.
The book itself wasn’t Rich’s idea, mostly because of its timing. When the publisher asked her to write the book, her mother and brother had recently died and she was struggling.
But Rich said she was so thankful that her publisher asked her to do it.
“They had the idea because I write about the South and its women, that there was a book that looked at the faith of the women of the South because it’s the heart of the Bible Belt,” she said. “My brother had just died four or five days before. I said yes and I loved the idea the moment I heard it.”
Rich said writing the book, which she dedicated to her mother, was part of her healing process.
“First of all, I think the book is a divine gift to me because I had to write it during a heartbreaking time in my life," she said. "I had just lost my mama and my brother.
“You know I was in shock from that, so I just think the good Lord gave me this book, and it just poured through me. I was really in no capacity to truly write myself."
The book is a collection of stories of Rich’s childhood, her family and acts of kindness by friends, along with scripture that relates to the stories and experiences of living in the South.
“I was just very blessed to have, over the course of my life, witnessed these great acts of faith by these women who surrounded me," she said. "So it was a pure gift.”
One of the first acts of faith detailed in “What Southern Women Know About Faith” is the foreword by Stevie Waltrip, the wife of former NASCAR driver Darrell Waltrip. She tells the story of having her second daughter and how God spoke through Rich when it came time to name her baby girl.
“That was a moment of crystallization,” Rich said. “The Lord can speak to the ordinary man or woman just like he spoke to Paul on the road to Damascus or to the prophets, that he really can reveal himself.”
Other stories of faith include a gripping story about Rich’s niece, Nicole, and Rich’s mother.
“I love the story of my niece Nicole whose child ... almost drowned,” said Rich, of the story from the Bless My Soul chapter of the book.
“She was holding this unconscious child ... in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. And like any mother or any woman of faith, she is praying over him. She prays not that the Lord spare his life and give her her child back, she prays that the Lord’s will be done, whatever that is.”
Rich said she thinks asking God for his will to be done is the key to prayer.
“There have been many times in my life that I’ve prayed specifically for things, but as I’ve grown older and wiser I realized that it’s better to pray that the Lord’s will be done,” Rich said. “And sometimes we get a greater gift than what we asked for.”
Rich said she prays a lot with Karen Peck, her best friend mentioned many times in the book.
Peck, a gospel singer with New River, and Rich were roommates as they started their careers after college.
Rich said they pray about simple things, like finding the right dress for an appearance, or something more meaningful.
“It can be something as powerful as praying over Mama ... as she lingered before she died that day,” Rich said. “Karen came into the hospital and we held hands.”
Another story in the book that Rich said is special is the story of her Mama helping a crippled calf to walk. Rich said it is a story of God’s hand at work.
“I love the story of very simple faith about my Mama and a crippled calf that we had in our herd one time,” Rich said. “The vet wanted to put the calf down and she (Mama) refused, and so she (splinted) its little legs and held it over its mother to nourish.
"The vet said the calf’s legs would never straighten out and it would never stand, but she had the faith and she put power behind that faith, her work. And the calf’s legs straightened out, and she grew up to be one of the strongest cows in our herd.”
Rich's father was a pastor while she was growing up in the red-clay hills of Georgia. She didn’t know it at the time, but she said now she knows her upbringing was instrumental to her success.
“It’s in later reflection that you realize how important that education was to you,” she said. “Because he (her father) was such a man of great faith, there have been many times that I have fallen in my life and I haven’t made the right decisions but ... as you get older you do go back to what you’ve been taught and I’m very grateful for that.”
Through Rich’s years of learning and living Southern heritage, she gathered many uplifting stories that are shared in “What Southern Women Know About Faith,” which she says is fitting now.
“I think the timing of the book is perfect in that this is an uplifting book,” Rich said. “This is an emotional journey of tears of laughs. But I think the book is perfect for the time that we are in right now, where people are just discouraged, when they are worried.
“It really isn’t my story. It’s the story of many admirable women, and their faith will encourage and uplift people.”