“Freedom Is Not Free”

“Freedom Is Not Free”—Korean War Memorial                                                        (Nor is service in the interest of freedom lost on others.)

Sometime events in our lives are so intense and overwhelming that, at the time, in the actual living, they seem almost normal, something to move through, experience and process at another time.  Then later, maybe the very next day, or maybe longer, you consider what has happened.  Perhaps, you think about how that event happened, and all those who freely gave to make that event the overwhelmingly positive experience that it was in your life, and is now a special and important memory for you.

Such was my experience recently when I was privileged to be part of a Veterans Honor Flight to Washington DC. It was a rigorous day, beginning at 4 a.m. in preparation for our travel to the Air Force Reserve base where our experience and flight would begin. Accompanying me was my daughter, my “Guardian”, as required by Honor Flight.  On this flight, there were 85 veterans and an equal number of guardians, along with Honor Flight volunteers to ensure our experience. Our day would end at 11:30 p.m., when we returned home, exhausted, and yet, energized.

I could share my impressions of the city of Washington DC, the beautiful memorials that we have to war.  I understand that these memorials do not memorialize war but honor the blood of this nation sacrificed to assure our freedom.  The sickening loss of lives in each of those conflicts or “Police Actions”.  I have been to Washington several times. I had seen most of the memorials, except for those to Vietnam and Korea. The city and its memorials are impressive by any measure.

On our flight, we had veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and other police actions taken as a nation. I listened to the conversations.  I watched the seriousness which many of us displayed as we walked around these memorials. It was clear that many of us were recalling experiences we had in those far-off places. An emotion based on experiences of one person can trigger similar emotions in others.  Remembrances of tragedy, of heroism, of times too crazy, too bazaar even for MASH.   Beneath the surface, all of the experiences, all the remembrances, all of the conversations, was a personal reaction that could not be shared. How do you describe with words the indescribable? How do you describe an emotion or a scene that defies the description?  So, those memories remain buried, but then, sometimes, called up by circumstance.

For me, the overwhelmingly emotional experience occurred when we return that night to the Air National Guard base.  There, at 10:30 p.m., we were greeted by upwards of 3,000 friends, relatives, children and friends I had yet to meet, all clapping, cheering, holding up flags and signs, reaching out to shake hands, being saluted, everyone saying “thank you for your service”.  The crowd filled two rooms, a hallway and spilled out to line the street to the parking lot.  As I made my way in the path through the crowd I was stunned by the enormity of what I was seeing and experiencing.  There was my pastor and many of my congregation.  Other dear friends and members of my community, some of whom had travelled over 100 miles to be there, just to say thank you to some vets and friends, just to cheer us on.  There was the military band playing music, but that was lost in the cheers and the emotion of the moment.

But, there was more. While still on the plane, we had “mail call”!  Every vet received a large fat envelope filled with cards, letters another types of greetings, each conveying the same message, “we are proud of you and we thank you for your service”. For most of us going through all those letters and cards and soaking up all of the greetings was an emotional act the next day. A card with a fighter biplane from Debbie in Findlay, OH. A heart-felt thank you from Norm and Kim. A hand colored flag from Cooper in Mrs. Kreider’s preschool class of South Whitley, IN. A hand-made card from Arahya. A Psalm 149:4 blessing. Unidentified elementary classes who all signed the “God Bless”. A wonderful card of a saluting vet from Drake. Thank you from Kate of Angola.  A handmade card from Dawson.  On and on through over 100 greetings and well-wishings, all opened, all read, all appreciated, all brought some tears, and, in my mind, giving thanks that I was able to serve and earn the title “Vet”.

A special thank you to Stef, my daughter and my guardian, for exemplary service beyond the call.  You finally got to push me around!

There is one more point that needs to be made. The Northeast Indiana Honor Flight organization is amazing! I have no idea how many individuals volunteered their time to make this flight possible. I cannot imagine the logistics that are involved in putting on one of these flights, and this was the 25th staged by this organization. One of the cards I received asked:  How do you thank a Vet? The answer is you salute.  The Honor Flight Organization deserves all of our salutes and thank you’s.

God bless America.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

I NEED A BRAIN OVERHAUL!

Have you ever felt like you needed a major overhaul of your brain?  Maybe your memory cells have bitten the dust!  I’ve come to believe that my brain has gaping holes of nothingness, and I can prove it but I don’t know how to fix it!  Here’s my evidence:

Exhibit 1––I make an appointment.  Enter it into my iPhone calendar, along with an alert 15 minutes before the appointment and at that time of the appointment.  The alerts go off.  I ignore them!  Then I get a call saying “are you coming?  We are all waiting for you!”  All? Who is all?

Exhibit 2—I live, maybe 3 miles from my grocery store and other shopping areas. I decide to go to town to pick up something important that I need, and while I am there run two errands.   I go to town, run the two errands, then have a conversation with a friend for a few minutes.   I drive home. As I pull into my drive it occurs to me that the one item, the important item, the one I needed, the reason I was driving into town, was still in town!

Exhibit 3––Here is one that I wager you can relate to. Ever call someone, and while your call is ringing, you get a little distracted so that when your party answers you haven’t a clue who you called!  Oh, sure, I am a senior citizen, so what!? I need that brain overhaul.

Exhibit 4 – A couple of friends and I decide to take a golf road trip, visiting golf courses off the beaten path.  I’m heading west out of Illinois on I80, counting on my GPS to lead us to a little country course somewhere north of Boone, IA, a place called Honey Creek, I think.  I’m following my GPS instructions to the letter — turn here, there, etc., it is complicated and it seems it is taking up a long time.  Finally, my GPS tells me we have “Arrived at your destination”. We look around and we are in a forest of grain elevators!  No golf course.  There is a sign: Honey Creek Grain, Inc.  I look at my GPS.  It says the same thing!  How did that happen?  My friend takes my GPS, turns it off.  Takes his out and then tells us we are still 75 miles from our destination! Help!

Exhibit 5 – I am fixing dinner.  I have a nice casserole in the oven. Set two timers, just to make sure.  Timers go off and I think, “What’s that noise?”  By the time it occurs to me, no casserole, no dinner.  I need a brain overhaul!

Exhibit 6 – My doctor is a nice young lady.  She tells me that it is not unusual for a man of my certain age to have trouble remembering few things.  I say that is not good enough.  Something else has got to be going on here.  Do I have a brain tumor?  Do I have early on-set  Alzheimer’s?  Will I die tomorrow?  She calmly says no, no and no.  Then she adds “I don’t know if you will die tomorrow, but it wouldn’t be a health issue and anything else would be out of my pay grade!

Exhibit 7 — I do firmly believe that growing old is not for sissies.  True story.  I have a friend who is 104 and has an older sister!  He is sharp as a tack.  I ask him, “do you have any trouble with memory?”   He tells me, no, I’ve never been to the Mediterranean. He is sharp as a tack, but his hearing is shot!

I hear people in our neighborhood talking about some grouchy old men. I’m not sure who they’re talking about but certainly not in my group. Sure, we have our aches and pains, we have differing political views, if we could only remember what they are. Being bossed around by younger kids makes no sense at all. There’s no respect for us. What happened to wisdom comes with age? I have a good mind to…what was I saying?

I suspect that my kids are thinking I need a keeper. Bah!  (But, I am leaning that way.) Let me see, a keeper, attractive, 20 years younger than me, hmmm.  Oh, forget it!  One thing I know, I need a brain overhaul!

For What It’s Worth (not much!).

-30-

Regrets?  No!

“Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again too few to mention…” Can’t you just hear old Blue Eyes crooning that hit song so many years ago. Even now, the words of that song touch my tender spots.  Then you hear: ”I did it my way”, then you wonder. Do any of us live our lives solo? I mean, do any of us live our lives strictly Your Way or My Way?

Doesn’t it give you pause to think back over your life, and if the regrets seem to pop up with greater frequency, then maybe you need to take a closer look. Maybe you’re concentrating on the big ugly things, and obscuring in those little precious moments the truly make up the quality of your life.

I rather like this toast: “Here’s to the few things we missed and, oh, so many we didn’t”. I like that because as I consider the things that we didn’t miss, I end up with a hat full of blessings.

Dwelling on regrets is like sticking your head in the sand and ignoring life as it passes you by. There are times when I’ve had my head in the sand, following bad experiences or the loss of a loved one. Looking back, I think I played the “poor me” game too much, too long, often while letting some of the important things in my life go right by unnoticed and now unremembered. That is a sad testimony.

Not that very long ago my niece, a trained grief coach, asked me, ”Uncle Stan, when are you going to stop running?”  She made this comment following a lengthy conversation in which I told her that solo driving was a form of grief therapy for me. Over a span of six months after my wife died, I managed to put 16,000 miles on my car in the interest of “grief therapy”. Her comment was made lovingly, even though, in my mind, it had sharp corners. It did open my eyes and I began to look more closely at the fact that my “driving therapy” was actually a form of escape. It occurred to me that in all those miles, I never left my grief behind, it was always there, right with me, in the car.

I enjoy writing. I concentrate on essays of various points of interest that come my way. Some are faith-based, some are observations on the human condition. Some are just plain ridiculous, offered in humor. Some are simply glimpses, or remembrances of my growing up years. I don’t know if writing is my therapy, but I do know that I get lost in my subject, and often, I find myself, talking to the one who is there only in spirit.

Four or five months after my wife died, I was trying to formulate an idea for an essay. I got to thinking about the rich and full life we had together. In the midst of that walk down memory lane, a little voice of “regret” stuck its ugly head in and seemed to say “all that’s great, but, what did you miss?”  I refused to take that turn toward the negative and, as they say I “accentuated the positive”, and sat down and began to write an essay that now carries the title “Taking Inventory.”

That essay begins with, ”I never got around to making a bucket list. I guess I was too busy living to take the time. What I do have are those people, events, accomplishments, and large quantities of time with loved ones.”

I think we could all say, that if we look with honesty and clear eyes at the path of our life, we may not have a bucket list but I would wager what you end up with is a blessings list. Events, special happenings that produced fond memories not to mention all the characters that filled up your life, each day, close and from a distance.

So, I went on to make my blessings list. In my essay, I list only 14 items, not in any order of importance or meaningfulness just snippets of my life that came to mind at the time. Family gatherings, travel with friends, holding a newborn grandkid and then six more, and watching them grow up and become successful in their lives. I was privileged to hold three newborn great grandkids and I hope to watch them grow There were adventures to England and Italy, Canada and the Caribbean cruise we enjoyed. Oh, there’s a lot there on that blessings list, of mine. And, no, I cannot find room for regrets.

So, how about you?   On the scale of your life, what is the balance between blessings and regrets. Take a look at the path your life has taken, look back and what draws your attention? Things you did, the people you love, the places you’ve gone, the graduations and weddings, the birth of kids and grandkids, Disney world in the rain, service to your country, and all those other celebrations. Or, is your vision so clouded by imagined regrets, that you miss the best?

In that other essay I wrote this: “Blessings in all shapes and sizes, vivid colors of life, made all the more precious by how they were all shared with those we love. Gifts from God, that too often we tuck away in the back of our minds, in the attic, in the album, those old tapes or memory sticks, rarely to be reviewed. But, you know what? Each is worth the review and a revisit because each represents an essential part of a complete mosaic about just how good life really is.

So, my friends, “Count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.”

For what it’s worth.

Barabbas, In His Own Words

It was late when they finally arrested me.  At my trial I was charged with treason against Rome and a murder that was committed during the insurrection.  I was found guilty on both charges and was sentenced to death by crucifixion, a sentence that would be carried out in just a few days!

Now it is Friday.  My Execution Day. Here I sit in prison.  My wrists and ankles are chaffed by these chains.  I’m scared!   I always boasted that I feared nothing! But now, my mouth is dry, my heart is beating wildly and there are times when I can hardly breath.  Over the years I thought many times about this day, the day of my death, and I just dismissed it.  But this is different, and I’m not ready for any of this.

Matthew 27:15-16,20-22 – The governor’s custom was to release one Jewish prisoner each year during the Passover celebration – anyone they wanted. This year there was a particularly notorious criminal in jail named Barabbas.  Meanwhile the chief priests and Jewish officials persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas’s release, and for Jesus’ death.  So when the governor asked “which of these two shall I release to you?” the crowd shouted back their reply: “Barabbas!”  “Then what shall I do with Jesus, your Messiah?” Pilate asked.  And they shouted, “Crucify him!”

I sit here on the dusty floor of this cell, waiting.  I tremble with fear and remain silent, my head between my knees.  I hear the footsteps of my executioner.  I hear the cell door opening, and feel the removal of my chains.  I did not look up, nor did I speak. I know what I am about to hear; “it is time for you to pay for your crimes!”  Instead, I hear “they took Jesus instead of you. You’re free to go.” I didn’t understand. I look up, just one guard stood there, motioning me to leave.  I ask him “What did you say?” The guard repeats:  “They took Jesus instead of you, Barabbas, now you must leave”. The cell door stands open. I’m free?  Is this a trick?  No.

I was free! How could that be? I had done all those things that they said I did, I was convicted, I’m a murderer, I’m a thief.  They were right, I am guilty. Now I’m a free man?  How can that possibly be!

I walked away from the prison and began to wander the streets.  I was in a daze. A convicted criminal, out of prison, that made no sense.  Those who recognized me, avoided me. They wouldn’t even look my way.  I felt that I had nowhere to go. The judge took me from prison and set me free, but was I free?  My past followed me like a dark shadow.  I have nothing to look forward to, only a past that convicts me wherever I go.  I have no friends, but then I never had real friends, just fellow criminals.  I am a man without a future.

I continued to wander the streets thinking about a future without options. Where could I go?  What could I do?  My thinking keeps returning to what had happened to me back in prison.  What strange set of circumstances led the jailers to release me from certain execution? They chose someone else?  Who?  Why?  I was a free man, yet still in a prison, a prison of my own making.

I was aware of a crowd gathering near me. Then, simply out of curiosity I stood back but followed them up the hill called Calvary where there were three crosses, a crucifixion was taking place.  I hesitated.  I really didn’t want to go there, but found myself at a place where, just a short time before, I feared that I would be on one of those crosses.  I looked up at the three Criminals being put to death. I couldn’t watch, yet I had to! I should have been one of those dying there.

What had the guard said? “They took Jesus instead.” Jesus, that was the name. Who was this Jesus?  Was he one of those three up there?  Had one of these men taken his place on a cross?  Why would he do that?  I heard the name “Jesus” spoken among the crowd.  I asked someone near me, “was one of those three Jesus?”  He pointed to the middle cross.  And, once again, I recalled the words of the guard: “They have taken Jesus instead of you”.  I studied hard the man, the one in the middle, the one who was called Jesus.  Who was this man, this man who was there on the cross dying for me! Why?

I stood on the far edge of the crowd, just watching and thinking. It was then that I became aware that this man, Jesus, who was there on the cross, was looking at me and, for just a moment, he held my gaze! He looked at me as if I was a friend!  No, not a friend, more than a friend.  Who was he? This person I had never met. A person I had never seen before.  Oh, yes, I remembered stories about a man called Jesus, stories about miracles and teaching.  If this is that Jesus, why was he there on the cross, dying in my place?

I stood there for a long time. It was hard watching these men slowly die in such a terrible way, but I felt compelled to find meaning. I heard Jesus call out in a language I did not understand, then he was gone!  Dead.  I watched a soldier stab him with his spear…no reaction.

Sometime later, people came and took the body of the man Jesus from the cross and carried him away.  The crowd, most of whom were weeping, followed.  I leaned against a wall, and was surprised to realize that my own tears had streaked my face.  Yes, I wept! I wept the tears of regret, of guilt, of the life I had led and the people I had hurt. I had this strange sense of being cleansed.  Does that make sense?  I became aware of a growing realization that all my, my terrible, terrible sins had been scrubbed clean and for the first time ever, I felt…forgiven! I had so many questions, and yet, at that moment, I had no need for answers.

I hurried to catch up with the grieving crowd, and followed them all the way to the place of burial.  I watched from a distance as the burial rites were performed on Jesus. I saw him being placed in the tomb. I watched the tomb being sealed, and Pilate’s guard being posted.  I stayed through the night, thinking about all the events of the day and I struggled to understand.

The next day, I walked the Kidron Valley alone with my thoughts.  It never occurred to me that I should return home, but then again where was my home?  Well before dawn, the next day, I found himself, again, a short distance from the tomb. The elation of being released from prison, and then the sadness that had gripped me on Calvary the previous day were gone, and in their place a sense, of what?  Of peace, of grace.

For the hundredth time I asked myself why?  And that look that Jesus had given me there on Calvary, why did it still move me so?  But, Jesus was dead, right? I didn’t know. I wasn’t sure.  I wasn’t sure why I was still here, by this tomb of a man I did not know.  I wasn’t sure about anything, even who I had become.

Matthew 28:1-8:  Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to the tomb. Suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and rolled aside the stone and sat on it. His face shone like lightning and his clothing was a brilliant white. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and fell into a dead faint. Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be frightened!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified, but he isn’t here! For he has come back to life again, just as he said he would. Come in and see where his body was lying. . . . And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and that he is going to Galilee to meet them there. That is my message to them.” The women ran from the tomb, badly frightened, but also filled with joy, and rushed to find the disciples to give them the angel’s message.

And now, it was getting light. It would soon be the Sabbath.  The great stone that had sealed the tomb had somehow been rolled away and I wondered how that happened.  As I watched, some women arrived and entered the tomb. A short time later the women rushed out weeping, filled with fear, and yet, joyful.  They talked excitedly to each other as they hurried on toward Jerusalem.

I wandered down to the open tomb and glanced inside.  I saw nothing!  The tomb was empty!  I saw the body of Jesus placed right there. Again, I struggled to understand what had happened.  I did not know what to do or where I should go. I thought about following the women or even going to Galilee, but something told me that I should stay there at the tomb, for a little while, and do nothing. It seemed my task for the moment was simply to wait. I was certain that something very special and important was happening.

So the new Barabbas thought about all that had happened, his peace of mind, this strange feeling of gratitude, or grace, or even love. Before, he never believed in forgiveness or redemption, but now he felt both. Now he knew where he should go, what he should do, and, more importantly, he knew whose he was.  Barabbas, this Child of God, filled with joy and wonder, set out with a new spirit and purpose…and Easter dawned.

Barabbas, Child of God.

Barabbas, Child of God.

It was late when they finally arrested Barabbas.  At his trial he was charged with treason against Rome and murder during the insurrection.  He was found guilty of both charges and was sentenced to death by crucifixion.  The sentence is to be carried out by the end of the week.

Friday.  Execution Day. Barabbas sat in prison. His wrists and ankles chaffed by his chains.  He was scared!   He had always boasted that he feared nothing! But now, he trembled, his mouth was dry and his heart beat wildly.  He had thought many times about this day, the day of his death, and dismissed it.  But this was different, and he was not ready for any of this.  He cursed the guards and the other prisoners.

Matthew 27:15-16,20-22 – The governor’s custom was to release one Jewish prisoner each year during the Passover celebration – anyone they wanted. This year there was a particularly notorious criminal in jail named Barabbas.  Meanwhile the chief priests and Jewish officials persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas’s release, and for Jesus’ death.  So when the governor asked “which of these two shall I release to you?” the crowd shouted back their reply: “Barabbas!”  “Then what shall I do with Jesus, your Messiah?” Pilate asked.  And they shouted, “Crucify him!”

Barabbas sat on the dusty floor of his cell, waiting.  He was silent, his head between his knees.  He heard the foot fall of the executioner.  He heard his cell door opening, and felt the removal of his chains.  He did not look up, nor did he speak.  He hears “they took Jesus instead of you. You’re free to go.” He did not understand. He looks up.  Just one guard stood there, motioning him to leave. “What did you say?” he asks.  The guard repeats:  “They took Jesus instead of you”.  I’m free?  Is this a trick?  No.  The cell door stands open.

He was free! How could that be? He had done all those things that they claimed he had done, he was convicted, he was a murderer, he was a thief and he was guilty. Now he was a free man! Or was he?

Barabbas walked away from the prison and began to wander the streets as if in a daze.  He was aware of a gathering crowd and, out of curiosity, he followed them at a distance up a hill called Calvary where there was a crucifixion. He hesitated.  Why had he dared come to this place? Three Criminals were being put to death. As he watched, it occurred to him that he should have been one of those dying there.  So, what had happened?

What had the guard said? “They took Jesus instead.” Why had that happened? Who was this Jesus?  Was he one of those three?  Had one of these men taken his place on a cross?  Why would he do that?  He heard the name “Jesus” spoken among the crowd.  Jesus. Jesus.  And he recalled again the words of the guard: “They have taken Jesus instead of you.”  He studied hard the man, the one in the middle, the one who was called Jesus.  Who was this man, this man who was there on the cross dying for him! Why?

Barabbas stood on the edge of the crowd watching. He became aware that this man, this Jesus, who had taken his place on the cross, was looking at him and held his gaze, for just a moment! Who was he? A person he had never met. A person he had never seen before.  Oh, yes, he had heard many stories about a man called Jesus, stories about miracles and teaching.  If this is that Jesus, why was he there on the cross, dying in his place, and why had he looked at him as if he were a friend?  No.  More than a friend.  What did this all mean?

Barabbas stood there for a long time. People came and took the body of the man Jesus from the cross and carried him away.  The crowd, most of whom were weeping, followed.  Barabbas leaned against a wall. To his surprise, his own tears had begun to streak his face, as he, too, wept.  He wept the tears of regret, of guilt, of the life he had led and the people he had hurt. As he wept, he had a sense of being cleansed. He became aware of a growing realization that all his sins had been scrubbed clean and he felt forgiven! He had so many questions, and yet, at that moment, he had no need for answers.

Barabbas hurried to catch up with the grieving crowd, and followed them all the way to the place of burial.  He watched from a distance as the burial rites were performed on Jesus. He watched while they place his body in the tomb. He watched the tomb being sealed. He remained there when Pilate’s guard was posted and he stayed through the night, thinking about all the events of the day and struggling to understand.

At dawn he walked the Kidron Valley alone with his thoughts.  It never occurred to him that he should return home.  At dusk he found himself, again, a short distance from the tomb. He began to realize that the elation of being released from prison, and then the sadness that had gripped him on Calvary the previous day were gone, and in their place a sense of peace, of calmness.

Barabbas asked himself, once again, why?  And that look that Jesus had given him there on Calvary, why had it moved him so?  But, Jesus was dead, right?  He didn’t know. He wasn’t sure.  He wasn’t sure why he was still here, by this tomb of a man he did not know.  He wasn’t sure about anything, even who he had become.

Matthew 28:1-8:  Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to the tomb.Suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and rolled aside the stone and sat on it. His face shone like lightning and his clothing was a brilliant white. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and fell into a dead faint. Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be frightened!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified, but he isn’t here! For he has come back to life again, just as he said he would. Come in and see where his body was lying. . . . And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and that he is going to Galilee to meet them there. That is my message to them.” The women ran from the tomb, badly frightened, but also filled with joy, and rushed to find the disciples to give the angel’s message.

And now, it was getting light. It was the Sabbath.  The great stone that had sealed the tomb had been rolled away.  As Barabbas watched, some women arrived and entered the tomb. A short time later the women rushed out weeping, filled with fear, and yet, joyful.  They talked to each other excitedly, and hurried on toward Jerusalem.

Barabbas wandered down to the open tomb and glanced inside.  He saw nothing!  The tomb was empty!  He struggled to understand what had happened.  He did not know what to do next, where he should go, what he should do. He thought about following the women or even going to Galilee, but decided he should stay there at the tomb, and do nothing. His task for the moment was to wait. Just wait.  Something very special and important was happening.

So the new Barabbas thought about all that had happened, his peace of mind, this strange feeling of gratitude, or grace and even love.  He never believed in redemption, but what else could this be?  So Barabbas waited and Easter dawned.

Barabbas, Child of God.

We The People!

Cautionary Fact #1:  The French Revolution was a period of far-reaching social and political upheaval in France that lasted from 1789 until 1799. During which time history recorded the overthrow of a monarchy and the institution of a dictatorship under Napoleon.

Cautionary Fact #2:  Joseph de Maistre, the most visionary of France’s early counterrevolutionary philosophers, in a letter written in August 1811, commented about Russia’s new constitution and in light of the French Revolution, stated “Every country has the government it deserves.”

Cautionary Fact #3:  Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) was a French political thinker and historian, In 1835 he wrote his most famous work Democracy in America. In that first volume he quotes another translation from Maistre: “In a democracy people get the leaders they deserve.”

 

“Every country has the government it deserves”, “In a democracy people get the leaders they deserve”.  “We deserve”.  In a recent weekend, four million citizens gathered in locations throughout this great country to clearly and emphatically state that we deserve better.  The very next weekend, thousands of our citizens gathered in airport terminals throughout the country to protest action by our government to discriminate on the basis of race and/or religion, to over-reach, in violation of the Constitution of the United States.  They, too, know that we deserve better…and we do.

Do we need to fight again for human rights?  Do we need to fight again for woman’s rights?  Do we need to fight again for voters rights?  Do we need to fight again for the right to marry whom we love?  These are battles that we fought and bled for and won.  These are victories that may be reversed by those who are being placed in high positions.  Yes, we do need to fight to protect our rights.

Do we deserve partisan politics that overrides our sense of justice?  No! Do we deserve incompetence that overrides our sense of morality, honesty and common sense? No! Do we deserve arrogance that denies facts? No! Do we deserve for the United States of America to fall from respected and loved around the world, to putting our own troops at risk, to be seen as a thief stealing oil from poor countries and to be seen as aiding and abetting terrorists throughout the world.  We do not deserve any of these.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident…”  We have rights that our creator has given us and we have enumerated those rights in our Constitution.  We are all created equal.  All of us, not a select few, all of us.  This is worth fighting for.

The French Revolution taught us the importance of people’s rights, that the voices of people have power, power to change. Unfortunately, the people of France took their eye off the ball and ceded power to a select few, laying the groundwork for the dictatorship of Napoleon.

These past few days we have demonstrated that we can rally in the face of threats to change this country we love.  We have shown a fire, a spirit to gather and make our voices heard, our position known.  But fire can be fragile, it can fail in the face of apathy or threat.  This fire of ours needs support, needs to be protected and nurtured, and, most of all, it needs to be sustained through the coming weeks, months, even  years. We need to be in the midst of this over the long haul, to take our stand, to be strong, encouraged by the courage shown by Sally Yates.  Is this the new, peaceful American strong, Revolution?  Time will tell.

Maistre and Tocqueville have both underscored the truth that we have the government we deserve.  The question is do we accept that state of affairs or do we use the power of our presence and voices to bring about change, peaceful change?  It is not up to others. It is up to us!

We are on solid ground.  Just to remind you, here are a couple of gifts from our founders:

Second paragraph, United States Declaration of Independence.  July 4, 1776:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.  Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the Right of the People to…(protest, alter, change?)

The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States:  Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

What can you do?  Here are a few ideas:

  1. Express your thoughts and feelings to your elected representatives. Use post cards, rather than e-mail, text or tweeter, to make a greater impact.  Go online to get their addresses at:  gov/representatives/find/    senate.gov/senators/contact/
  2. Be active, be involved. Support those initiatives or organizations that are working to protect your rights.
  3. Peaceful protest gatherings are visible and emphatically get across the message. Join with them, encourage them, and support them.  These are our “grass roots”.
  4. Speak out. Share your concerns with family, friends.  Spell it out, we are talking about the loss of our “unalienable rights”!
  5. Insist on facts and truth in your conversations, in your local newspaper, wherever you encounter those “alternative facts”.

There is so much more to be said and done.  Watch this space.

For What It’s Worth.

-30-

How Did She Do That?

One year ago, January 23, 2016, Joanne, the love of my life, the loving mom to our four kids and extended family, and friend to all, died.  Nearly five years earlier, she had been diagnosed with interstitial lung disease, most likely caused by an allergic reaction to the drug amiodorone. This disease causes scarring of the lungs and has a progressive effect on lung function, leading to death.  There is no known cure. Her prognosis was three to five years.

How does one react to the realization of such a prognosis?  How does one live each day with that in your life, just down the road a piece?  How does that effect how you interact with family and a wide circle of friends?  For her, it was her grace, love and calmness that were on display.  A close friend once observed that Joanne was the “personification of grace”, and she was!  As time passed I had cause to ask: “How does she do that?”

For myself, I bottled up anger, hid away my emotions, after all, just ordinary days, right?  How often did I drive away from one hospital or another, angry, heart-sick, pounding on my steering wheel?  Prayers on my mind, but “why God?” on my lips!  But, I was just an observer, she, the main event!

Joyce Landorf in her book Mourning Song relates a comment made by her mother at the time her mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness:  Her mother told her “Honey, for thirty-four years I’ve taught you how a Christian should live.  Now, I’m going to show you how one dies!”

That statement applies directly to Joanne.  But, it is one thing to consider how a Christian dies with dignity; it is another to live it day, by day, by day.  What strength within translated to her daily sense of peace and welcoming attitude?  What was that spark that everyone could sense in her, but few could fully understand?  How did she do that?

Each day was new, always with a smile, a “good morning” and a kiss.  My role was to get her coffee, while her role was transforming the day with spirit, love and a calmness that touched everyone.  Honey, how did you do that?

I don’t believe she ever knew a stranger, just dear friends she had yet to meet!  In no time at all there was no stranger in the room, just two friends talking and laughing and being at ease. It wasn’t magical, it was just Joanne.  How did she do that?

She loved our trips to England and Italy with our dear friends, Dick and Martha.  Evensong in some of the most beautiful cathedrals was always a draw for us and our ridiculous time at Winchester Cathedral where the four of us walked around singing that song.  We got some interesting stares from those around us.  There was that time on July 4 when we drove past the American Embassy and Joanne leaned out the window, waving an American flag and shouted USA to a group of protesters, who cheered!  Everything about Italy was great, but she really loved our time in Rome, so much to see, her time at the Vatican Museum was “awesome”.  And then there was Florence (seeing the art Masters in person, including David) and in Venus (the food and gondolas).  Her energy and spirit were something to see.  How did she do that?

So many things she loved. Rummikub for dimes and quarters with Bob and Robin, volunteering at Heifer Ranch and here at Timbercrest, book clubs and knitting, and her circle of friends at Zion.  She loved the great fun we had with the family in wild games of Tripoli and bingo and those crazy skits!  And sometimes the best way to end the day was with a glass of wine and watching an episode of “Midsomer Murders”, which she referred to as “cozy murders”. How did she do that?

Most of all, she loved our family, as it grew and added members, especially those grand-babies. She loved family reunions, and camping, and biking, although she did not like to ride her bike across bridges, and her adventure down 86 steps to the beach at South Haven was something to see!  She was the “crafty gramma”, always with good ideas of things kids could make.  She was a teacher at heart. She loved dogs and it was not unusual to see her sitting with a 100 pound golden retriever curled up on her lap! And amazingly, she loved me! She loved, she loved, she loved so much in life. She just plain loved life.   How did she do that?

During the five years of her illness, oxygen and her cannula were her constant companions, and that long green hose that always followed.  Five years of doctor visits and hospital stays, and those frequent reports that her lung function was on the decline, never seemed to bring her down. During her final weeks, she welcomed the Hospice staff just as she welcomed any visitor.  Never, during all that time did Joanne complain or show signs of feeling sorry for herself.  Her focus was always on the other, the family, the visitor, and was I doing too much?  To the very end, her grace and gentle touch never wavered.  How was she able to do that?

A large part of the answer to how she did all that rests in her personal faith.  She found confidence and peace in Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength”.  She believed that everything in her life was a gift from God, even her illness! She believed with all of her heart that God was in charge and that God loved us and that God has a purpose for our lives.  She had an abiding faith that God would give her what she needed to carry out His work in her, to its final completion. And so she lived her life with love, confidence and peace.  That is how she did it.

She gave us all something very special and very practical as we live our own lives. For me she is more than a guardian angel, she is the model of a life well lived and we are all blessed by having known her.

For What It’s Worth.

 

 

 

 

Batteries Not Included

Christmas morning.  Your children are all excited.  The presents, clustered around the Christmas tree, are so inviting.  But they will wait.  The time comes and the melee begins with squeals of laughter.  Your oldest daughter has just discovered the gift that was always at the top of her wish list, and now she is holding it!  Her happiness palpable.  You help here overcome plastic shrink-wrap and then your eyes see that terrible phrase: Batteries Not Included.  Oh, no.  You hadn’t expected that and now you are faced with your daughter’s impatient disappointment.  A quick trip to the store and peace is restored.

Batteries not included.  It occurs to me that there may be a life lesson here.  God has gifted us royally.  We have everything we need to act on that gift and carry out God’s plan.  Everything has come to us freely, no strings attached, just a wonderful grace-filled gift.  Now it is up to us.  The commitment comes from us.  The energy comes from us.  It’s God’s plan, but it is our hands.

It really does come down to us and how we walk our Christian walk.  We attend church on Sunday, and maybe other days of the week.  We are active in our congregation, maybe teaching Sunday School, ushering, organizing activities within the church, preparing meals to be taken to shut-ins. We are active in our Bible study group or groups. We are Prayer Warriors and maintain prayer lists which are faithfully part of our prayer time.  We study scripture passages and try to discern how God’s word applies to our everyday life.  Is that the sum total of our Christian walk?

In my church, above the door where we exit the worship center, is a sign that reads: “You Are Now Entering the Mission Field.”  Maybe we see it each Sunday, maybe not.  But the sentiment is important.  We are not called to be only active within our church. Our mission is also on the other side of the church door, on the street, in our town, in the local hospital, wherever God’s love and grace is needed.

God gave us our marching orders when He gifted us.  25:35-40: “For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in; naked, and you clothed me: I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me…I say to you, as you have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it to me.”  Jesus says to us today, “go and do likewise.”

So, you are in a supermarket line, in front of you is a young mother with three small kids and a cart full of food.  She is struggling to make up the different between her food stamps and her supply of cash. Do you have any doubt what Jesus would have you do at that moment?

A friend is grieving the loss of his wife of many years.  He is sad and seems depressed.  What would “I was sick and you visited me” mean to you?  How would you act that out?

The economy in your area has not been good, due to a factory closing.  You learn that the local food pantry is running out of food.  You worry about that and wonder about the families that are impacted.  But, what do you do? What would “for I was hungry and you gave me something to eat” mean to you?

The opportunities to use our God-given gifts are all around us.  We need eyes that really see, and ears that really hear, and a heart that moves us into action.

I started this essay with a poor analogy.  “Batteries not included” does not apply, not really.  The gifts of God are all complete, and while the energy does come from us, the heart of a Christian is driven by love, love is that energy. In any given circumstance, it is helpful to consider: What would Jesus want us to do! Remember “as you have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it to me.”  That is pretty personal, isn’t it?

For What It’s Worth.

-30-

 

 

Sisters, Who Needs Them!

A small tribute to my sisters.

I was the baby of the family, the youngest of three.  Two older sisters!  So you know it was a hard “knock life” for me!  Yes, it was. I lived it, so I know.  My sisters, on the other hand, thought I was “spoiled”!  Spoiled!!!!  Can you imagine?  If they only knew!

My oldest sister was the brains of the outfit.  Always bringing home good grades, always so quiet with her nose in a book. The ladies in the Church loved her, thought she was mature beyond her years! Even though she was only 6 years older than me, there were times when  she seemed to be a substitute mother.  I recall there were times when we two would just sit and talk!  Can you imagine?  She seemed to know everything a small boy needed to know.  I can still hear her voice!

Now, my other sister, 3 years older than me, looking for all the world like Shirley Temple, was the instigator, the trouble maker! Neighborhood kids would seem to gravitate to our house and she was the organizer and knew of a zillions games that they could play.  Sometimes, I would be invited to be part of the game. But, she was the one who chased me around the house and made my life miserable (some of the time). She was sneaky, too.  Making faces at me behind mother’s back and then acting all innocent.

Dad was a minister, so you know what that meant for us.  We were PKs, branded through out our growing up years. Church every Sunday, Sunday School classes, Lawn Fetes, ice cream socials, dinners in Fellowship Hall, and always on good behavior….well, most of the time.  There was that sister who knew how to pinch and not get caught! Whereas, I always did!  Get caught, that is. There was one time when it caught up with her…

We were sitting in church, I was trying to listen to dad’s sermon (I always did, of course!), and that sister pestered me with her elbows and her pinches!  It was awful!  Then, suddenly, dad was calling both of us down…from the pulpit!  Both of us! SHIRLEY!  STANLEY!  See what I mean?  Causing all kinds of trouble and getting ME in involved!  ME! Quiet, cooperative, friendly me.  Why, I was flabbergasted!

That sister, acted like she was embarrassed, but I knew better. After church she went on a walk, crying fake tears, and all.  What an act she put on! Didn’t fool me, a very wise 6-year-old!

Both of them seemed to be pretty nuts about Frank Sinatra.  My room was next to theirs and that was all I seemed to hear through the walls, other than swooning, and all their friends giggling!  Old blue eyes, but to me he seemed to be just a very skinny guy and I was forced to listen to his songs.

In fairness, I might have been just a tiny bit of a handful.  I don’t know that for sure, but that was my sister’s story, for whatever that is worth.  Also, in all fairness, both of my sisters were always there for me (hate to admit that). I knew that if I was scared, or sad or lonely they would there with open arms. There were times when that was the very best place to be, on their lap, in their arms…safe, loved!

Sisters, who needs them?  I did and still do.

For what it’s worth.

-30-

Taste and See

Have you ever been invited to a real feast? I mean an incredible feast where you walk into the dining room and there before you a beautiful buffet. You are overwhelmed by the wonderful smells that surround you as you walk by the table.  The au deurves! The aroma is so humm. Even The vegetables makes your mouth water. And then you walk by the main course and you again are overwhelmed by a perfect aroma that is hard to describe.

And then…you leave!  You walk out of the banquet hall!  What?! You leave after that incredible preview?  You didn’t sample any of the buffet? What did you miss? The aromas were out of this world but what was the taste like? Why did you not taste it? How could you have had this incredible opportunity to sample perfection and do nothing?

In Psalm 34:8 we read “taste and see that the Lord is good”. Or rephrased, see and taste that the Lord is good.

Quiz: What was Jesus first miracle?  In the second chapter of John we are told that Jesus was in attendance at a wedding reception when the wine had run out. At His mother’s urging, Jesus turns 150 gallons of water into superb wine in order to keep the party going.  Why would he do that?  Did he want to get everyone inebriated?  No! The answer is that this “miracle” symbolized why Jesus came — to bring joy to our lives.

So we have this incredible buffet, and now we have superb wine and we are now ready…for what?  Jonathan Edwards, in his famous sermon, “ a divine and supernatural light” makes this statement: “there is a difference between believing that God is holy and gracious, and having a new sense in the heart of the loveliness and beauty of that holiness and grace. The difference between believing that God is gracious and experiencing that graciousness is as different as having a belief that honey is sweet and having the actual experience of tasting the sweetness.”

Can you think of a time when you actually “tasted” God’s grace? I can recall a time several years ago, loaded down with guilt because of something that had happened the day before, sitting in a church in Chicago, early for the Sunday service, listening to Paul Winter, the famous alto saxophone player, playing an introduction to the worship service.  That beautiful music surrounding me and then I sensed God’s grace washing over me.  At that moment, my depression and guilt were gone and I knew that this was God’s grace.  In a real and tangible way I could taste (experience) that the Lord is good.

Timothy Keller, in his excellent book, The Prodigal God, makes this statement:  “Jesus’ salvation is a feast, and therefore when we believe in and rest in his work for us, through the Holy Spirit he becomes real to our hearts. His love is like honey, or like wine. Rather than only believing that he is loving, to sense the reality, the beauty, and the power of his love. His love can become more real to you than the love of anyone else.”

Ah, that is hard to get our mind around.  God’s love is more than the love of our closest loved one!  I believe that if we knew the depth, the breath, and the height of God’s love we might be terrified! That love goes far beyond our ability to understand it. That love goes far beyond where our imagination can take us. That love encompasses us even when we, by our own judgment, have been totally and completely unlovable!  God’s love, like God’s grace, is never-ending, is all-encompassing and is there for us regardless.

So don’t leave the banquet hall without sampling the wonderful buffet that God has laid out for us. Inhale the wonderous aromas and sample the delicacies of grace. And don’t miss the entrée, the prize, that God loves us, truly and completely, and that God is in charge of all that would touch our lives. Don’t miss that.

May God’s grace and His blessings flow over you through out the new year, 2017!

For What It’s Worth.

-30-