Friday, September 30, 2011

Seasons of Loss and John Wesley

It’s a message God has been speaking into my heart for weeks now, most recently through a dream.

“Focus on what you have, not on what you’ve lost.” 

It’s easy to lock in on collapsed dreams, financial attrition, health crises, or the never met expectation. It takes so little effort to tally all the difficult experiences and forget what God is continuing to do that blesses. 

I suppose that’s why Ann Voskamp’s message to count our blessings resonates with me in such a big way. Purposing to count our blessings forces us to focus on God's beauty. How he is still present, no matter our losses. 

His presence is our biggest blessing.

Evangelist and founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley lived this truth even to the end. Here a few words describing his last moments on earth

He begged the friends who had gathered round him to "pray and praise," responding with a fervent "Amen" to their petitions. He grasped their hands and said, "Farewell, farewell." As others entered the room he tried to speak, but finding they could not understand him, he summoned all his remaining strength and cried out, "The best of all is, God is with us." Then lifting up his dying arms in token of victory, and raising his feeble voice with a holy triumph not to be expressed, he again repeated the heart-reviving words, "The best of all is, God is with us." 

He died a short time later.

Yes, the powerful truth is, no matter what our losses now or in the future, God is present. Jesus said, “And surely I am with you always, to very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

“The best of all is, God is with us."

Enduring words for any season of loss.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Jewel Baby

She sat slightly obscured from view, waiting to surprise each person who entered the room. No one expected to see her at the women’s gathering last Tuesday since she’d been battling serious health issues for some time. But there she was, adorned with her sweet smile, laughing at her ability to catch so many off guard with her presence.

The eldest member of our congregation, the last here of the generation called Great, Jewel DeLay was given some time ago the nickname, “Jewel Baby” by a beloved friend. And, boy, did it stick. 

We learned last year that Jewel Baby joined the church the year her pastor, my husband Jerry, was born. Over the decades, she earned the distinction of being so many congregants’ stand-in Mom. She loved well and long.

Her culinary delights tickled the palates of generations of family and friends, which led to her ability to obtain multiple advance orders for any forthcoming church bake sale. What I never understood is how she was able to sell cakes she never baked. I’m sure, given other circumstances, she would have made a great Fortune 500 CEO, or at the very least a Vice President of Sales. I don’t think anyone could resist her sweet sales techniques. That’s why her orders for church cookbooks were unparalled. Jewel Baby’s efforts in part led to the almost unheard of accomplishment in this economy of her beloved church building a much-needed addition with no debt. I’ve often wondered how much of the concrete, wood, and metal might have had Jewel Baby’s name stamped on it. 

Unlike others, I’ve only had the privilege of knowing her for a short time. I wish it had been longer. But in that small span, I’ve learned much from her.

First, I noticed her ability to put a positive spin on any negative comment. In other words, she never embraced a spirit of offense. Wow, if we could just bottle and sell that in our churches, how much stronger the bonds in the body of Christ could grow. It’s the spirit of offense, always looking for a reason to have one’s feelings hurt, that brings much disharmony to the church. Jewel Baby simply overlooked the offense.

Next, her lifelong faithfulness to the church she loved serves as a legacy to those who follow. Faithfulness matters. And it doesn’t just make a difference now; it makes a difference in the future. In a few months, when we open the doors to the addition and begin a new era, we’ll be reaping the harvest of unbaked cake sales and cases of cookbooks sold by a widow who gave her all for Jesus.

Jewel Baby lived out the words, “…the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). When I think about her, I think of a woman bright with God’s joy—a gladness which seemed contagious for all who knew her. Just as she delighted in surprising everyone last Tuesday, the twinkle never left her eyes.

Today, we gathered by her bedside and Jerry read again from Psalm 121. Just moments after he read, “…the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore,” she stepped into forevermore. Forevermore with Him, in joy and peace and wonder.

We’ll lay her to rest under spreading oaks on an autumn day. We’ll hold each other close, remember Jewel Baby stories, and maybe read Psalm 121 one more time.

Yes sir, she was our baby, all right. 

But much more importantly, she is God’s.

“You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God” (Isaiah 62:3).

"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints"(Psalm 116:15).

Saturday, September 24, 2011

One Ringing Bell News Update: Mischief

Just because the staff at Headquarters hasn’t issued an update in two months doesn’t mean the antics haven’t kept on rolling. 

Case in point: A few days ago, a senior staff member who goes by the moniker, The Big Guy, purchased a new set of leg weights to use in an exercise regimen. To bring the weight down to the desired level, he removed a couple of the sand packets and left them on a headquarters window seat.

Next morning, another staff member found this scene:

 “Who shredded The Big Guy’s weight packets and spread sand everywhere?” she asked Wilbur and Carl.

“I didn’t do it,” Carl said. “I’ve been here all morning supervising birds.”

“Let me see your paws,” the crewmember asked Wilbur. Just as she suspected, she found traces of black sand between Wilbur’s toes. “And what’s that dark streak in your fur?”

Wilbur hung his head. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but I haven’t been on the planet that long. I didn’t know what those black blobs were, and by the time I opened them, it was too late.” He cleared his throat. “That sand was not tasty.”

The staff member sighed. The Big Guy was not going to like this. 

In other news, Aunt Lucy recently challenged Wilbur to a game of tug-of war with pipe cleaners.

Not surprisingly, Lucy won.

But Wilbur took in stride. He never holds a grudge.

It may be a different story about holding grudges for the staff here at HQ, though, especially because of their tough challenge trying to keep Wilbur corralled. Somehow, he’s learned to open the back door with his nose and escape headquarters, which has kept everyone on high alert and more than a little annoyed. His breakouts average about two a day. A senior staff member was recently spotted just before midnight one evening running through neighbor’s yards sporting pajamas and hair curlers. “Wilbur, Wilbur, you come back here,” she was heard to cry. Thankfully, we have no picture of this episode. 

“I told you he was going to be trouble,” the grey tabby Misty declared.

“What she said,” Isabelle the ragdoll chimed in.

Aunt Lucy just smiled and said, “That’s my boy.”

More from the gang at One Ringing Bell later. Right now, it’s all staff on board for another five alarm Wilbur escape.

“A twinkle in the eye means joy in the heart, and good news makes you feel fit as a fiddle” (Proverbs 15:30) The Message.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Precious Fruit

Maybe it’s the homeschool mom still left in me which causes the longing for my home to reflect the changing season, a wave to the falling leaves to come. Maybe I just like moving things around. In any event, one of the changes is removing the seashells from my mother’s old bread bowl and filling it with fake fruit. But not just any fake fruit. The vintage wax banana, ceramic pear and apple also belonged to my mother, but the rest are gifts from my daughter, Bethany, across the span of several Christmases.

When she was younger, she’d always attend a local art festival with me at Christmas. One Christmas when she was about ten, I noticed a booth with hand painted gourds made to look like various kinds of fruit. We stopped and admired the lovely pieces, and then moved on our way. A while later, my daughter asked if she could do a little shopping…without me. Thinking it safe enough, I gave her a few minutes on her own.

At Christmas, when I opened the brightly colored box from Bethany and found the apple painted gourd, I found it just perfect and immediately put it on display, touched by her thoughtfulness.

It wasn’t until years later, that I learned how thoughtful she really was. My daughter went back to purchase the gourd with money she’d saved. She painstakingly counted it out for Beth Radtke, the artist, but found she didn’t have quite enough. Moved by a child spending her last penny for her mother’s gift, Beth forgave the money she lacked, and gave the apple to her. Not only did Beth win a place in my daughter’s heart, but Bethany won a place in Beth’s heart, as well. Each year, Bethany would return to buy another piece of fruit for me until she was no longer able to do so because of activities which conflicted with the show.

Now, when I attend the festival alone, I always stop and talk to Beth, and we both just about cry over the little girl and her last pennies spent for her mama. Last Christmas, Beth sent a piece of fruit to Bethany which I believe she took with her to the freshmen dorm a few weeks back.

When I put the fruit out in the bowl each fall, I pick up one special gourd apple and remember the sacrifice.

Sacrifice and fruit--a pairing which has implications in our spiritual lives, as well.

As we walk with God, we realize that sacrifice always precedes fruitfulness. The more surrendered, the more committed we become, the more fruit evidences itself in our lives. The more beauty we exude to others.

Like my daughter, I pray I could sacrifice all I have for the excellent fruit.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23)

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Sign

This morning, my scheduled Bible reading took me to Psalm 86.  I did a little study and turned to the Wycliffe Bible Commentary: “With the humility of a slave or a handmaid’s son, he (David) asks for God’s merciful protection and requests some sign of divine favor toward him.” The verse the commentator refers to is highlighted in my Bible: “Give me a sign of your goodness, that my enemies may see it and be put to shame, for you, O lord, have helped me and comforted me”(Psalm 86:17).

Eugene Peterson moves these words closer to our vernacular by translating this way, “Make a show of how much you love me so the bullies who hate me will stand there slack-jawed, as you, God, gently and powerfully put me back on my feet.”

I’ve often been moved to pray this verse for those dealing with a serious illness or problem. I’ve seen God use it in prison so many times for women who not only felt locked away from humans, but locked away from God. God’s “sign” isn’t often accompanied by thunder and flashing lights, but usually appears in a gentle way. 

His touch, though, is unmistakable. 

For me, it can be something as small as new birds at the feeder, but they can be enough to bouy my spirit. It could be hearing from someone I haven’t seen in a long while, and yet the cries of each of our hearts echo in the others and we encourage each other in the Lord.

In doing further study, I came to these words on Psalm 86 written by Donald Williams in The Communicator’s Commentary:

“Life is not to be lived in hope of God’s occasional intervention. Life is to be lived in the presence of the living God, where every day holds the promise of His surprise.”

Don’t you love that—“…the promise of His surprise”?

So the challenge here is that we may be cloaked in humility like David, and live in the company of God always watching for his marvels.

No matter how alone you feel or how desperate your circumstances may seem, I pray a sign of his goodness may be yours today.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

When You Can't Get it All Right

Tea Olives fill our home with grace and fragrance--the plant a gift from a friend years ago.
These first few weeks of September have presented a special challenge. Like everyone else in this country, I feel the pain of the 911 anniversary. Additionally, my mother was dying at this time ten years ago. In 2001, I was also just getting over Post Traumatic Stress, which had been at its worse in a previous fall. Add to that, a husband just recovering from cancer and knee replacement this year, a first time empty nest because of two college age children moving out a few weeks back and the tedious work of final edits on a book.

When I felt my legs and hands shaking a few days ago, for a moment I wondered what was going on. Then, as I thought about it, I really shouldn’t be surprised. Twelve years ago, when the PTS started and I felt myself shaking, I’d say, “I have to stop this.” But I learned to extend grace to me, and as I recovered I could say, “It’s no surprise I’m shaking a little. I’ve been through a lot.”

Well, I’m cutting myself some slack now, too. As the dust settles from this very hard year in anybody’s book, it’s no wonder I’m a little shaky. But I’ll get better in time. It doesn’t mean my faith is faltering. It means I’m human.

It’s a funny thing about grace. So many of us stand ready to extend it to others, but hold back from ourselves. What I learned in recovering from PTS, is that the stringent demands I put on myself exacerbated the PTS. When I learned to release those self-demands for perfection to the Lord, I started to improve.

This isn’t the post I intended to write today. I originally wanted to share one about the book headed to production. I’ll do that later. But today, if you’re one of those folks beating yourself up, because you can’t get it all right. Take a deep breath, and  release those self-demands to God. Imagine what you’d say to someone else going through what you’re experiencing, and say those same loving, gracious things to yourself. Be kind to yourself.

If you listen closely, you’ll hear Jesus’ grace filled words, too.

“Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come…he will come to save you’” (Isaiah 35:4).

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Packing Operation Christmas Child Boxes

It’s the time of the year to start thinking about packing your Operation Christmas Child box for Samaritan’s Purse. Last year, Samaritan’s Purse distributed shoeboxes to eight million children around the world. Our family has prepared boxes since our kids were little. Every year, each of them would pack one for a child their age and gender. Now, that the last two are both in college, my grandchildren jumped in to help me.

I spoke with Brittany this morning at Samaritan’s Purse and asked about the three most important items they’d like to see in a shoebox. She said hygiene materials are number one. Toothbrush, toothpaste, washcloth, soap and a comb or brush are essential elements in every box. Following these would be school supplies: notebooks, pencils, erasers, etc. Third on her list was a toy: a stuffed animal, a yo-yo, etc.

I’ve been working on my boxes for a year. I got the idea from my friend Dolly, who inspired me to shop for bargains, so that I could increase my number of boxes. 

Here’s how:

After holidays (Christmas, Valentine’s Day, etc.) retailers mark down their seasonal merchandise to clear it. I look for items at 75% off—socks, coloring books, toys. Many go for as little as a quarter. When school supplies are reduced, I pick up crayons, markers, notebooks, and pencils. Just this week, I bought balls for each box, which were reduced from summer stock. 

One thing I don’t scrimp on, and that’s toothpaste and a toothbrush that won’t make gums bleed. Children in the third world may not have brushed regularly, so it’s important to buy a good soft toothbrush. Also, if it’s in your budget, a light up toy or flashlight is great. Always include extra batteries. If a child lives without electricity, these things are a wonder. Also, give thought to the toy you include. Easily broken plastic is not a good idea. Look for things with more longevity—a slinky, a toy car. Remember what Brittany said about stuffed animals. I remember hearing a story which emerged from a war-torn country about a fourteen-year-old boy drafted into the army. He took his Operation Christmas Child stuffed animal with him to war. 

If you start now, you can increase your number of boxes, too. You may download “How to Pack a Shoebox” and labels for the boxes HERE. Pay special attention to the items that shouldn’t be included. A toll-free number for drop off locations is provided or you can mail your shoeboxes to Operation Christmas Child headquarters in North Carolina.

Here’s what especially motivated me. I heard a testimony this year from a missionary in Eastern Europe who spoke about how important the shoebox ministry was in bringing children to his church. He had opportunity to share the Good News with so many who’d never heard it before because of Operation Christmas Child.

That’s all I needed to hear. This year, instead of two boxes, I’m working on twelve.

I still have some items to collect, but I’m closing in on it, and have had some great help.

"Great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities! "(Luke 12:48 The Message)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

September 11 Remembered

It was a trip of a lifetime, a dream of a summer.

We returned from our travels in late August to resume care of my mother at the rehab center and to relieve so many who had visited her during our absence. Still not progressing in any way, we asked that she once more be taken to a local hospital for evaluation. 

After still more tests, she was diagnosed with inoperable ovarian cancer on September 3, 200l. She’d been hospitalized more times than I can remember during her eight-month stay in the center and visited doctors on a regular basis before her fall. Still, no one caught this until it was too late. Had I known her condition I would have not left her those weeks of the summer, but I didn’t know and I think somehow God, for reasons I don’t fully understand for me and my mother, shielded us from this knowledge.

The sadness was so great. She suffered a stroke as well just a couple of days after her diagnosis so her condition rapidly deteriorated.

On September 11, I was feeding her breakfast when I noticed the clock...8:45. I had to go home so my husband could go to work, and I could start homeschool. In the few minutes it took me to drive home, our world changed forever. In our schoolroom, I took the apple with the eleven stamped on it and placed it on our calendar. A few minutes later, the phone rang. The caller identification indicated it was another homeschooling mom. Homeschool Moms don’t call each other during instruction time, so I knew it was important. I answered.

She told me the news of two jets hitting the twin towers of the World Trade Center. It was so unbelievable, I said nothing, and when my children were working alone, I excused myself to go upstairs and turn on the radio. I heard the news on the radio but wanting to think it might be an Orson Wells “War of the Worlds” type scenario I then went to the television in the den. There I saw shocking pictures and wondered how it could be true. As I watched, the Pentagon disaster also unfolded.

 For many weeks in the summer, we had devoted ourselves to seeing America. What we learned in our travel studies is that what we have today has come at a great cost. As I learned the news of that September morning, I realized the very freedom so many had given their lives for was under attack. I began to have flashbacks of Mt. Rushmore, Gettysburg, Old North Church, The Freedom Trail, Concord, the lights of the Capitol building. Some of the places we’d visited were closed for a time. Freedom was under attack and all that represented freedom was being protected.

A travel memory from another time came to mind. On a November night in l983, some business associates and I found ourselves at the top of the World Trade Center at a restaurant called, “Windows on the World.” It seemed as we ate our overpriced chicken that we could see forever and as we ate, it began to snow. A magic moment. That memory stood in stark contrast to the images of the grizzly events on September 11.

In the days to come, it would be hard to separate the grief I had over my mother from the pain I felt for those who lost loved ones in New York or Washington. I spoke with a Hospice chaplain who was losing a parent and who of course worked with many others experiencing loss. He said everyone was having the same problem. All the sadness just got mixed up in the same pot. 

In the summer of 2001, I think our family gained some understanding of what it means to be an American citizen and how many have laid down their lives so that we night have ours. For the heroes, who include the man who helped begin our freedom trail one dark night in April 1775 to 21st century firefighters in a cataclysmic disaster, to those serving in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in these intervening years, we give thanks. Special prayers for the families who have lost loved ones in these conflicts. For it is these courageous ones that have made our “Dream Summer” and the telling of it possible. For the heroes that are yet to be, we pray a firm resolve and that scripture from Ecclesiastes 9 that God would grant them a “wisdom which is better than weapons of war.”

And from the mountains of Montana,

To the prairies of South Dakota,

To the lovely shoreline of Massachusetts, 

To our own sweet home in the South,

We pray indeed that God would bless America.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Dream Summer: Our Last Stop at Where it Began--Williamsburg

We navigated around Washington D.C. on I-95 late Sunday evening, and as we crossed the Potomac, the lights of the capitol building sparkled in the distance. It made me wistful for the week we spent in Washington only two years prior. I wanted to drive around Washington awhile, but my crowd was exhausted, and we still had a good bit of ground to cover before we reached Williamsburg, our final destination for this summer in 2001. I turned around in my seat and looked back until the lights of our statehouse faded from view. I shiver when I remember those moments in late August and the unfolding plan to drive a jet through our nation’s capitol a few days later on September 11—a plan, thankfully foiled by brave men and women willing to sacrifice their lives.

It’s odd that Williamsburg was our last stop, considering that in so many ways this is where we began. In 1607, Williamsburg became the first permanent English settlement established in America, and in 1699 was designated the capital of Virginia.

Today, it’s perennially l775 in Colonial Williamsburg, and the talk is about revolution for Virginia is still a British colony. Always in character, the employees speak from their vantage point over 200 years ago. It seemed to me an extra degree of accomplishment on their part considering the temperatures were in the 90's and they were dressed in several layers of l8th century garb. On every street corner, in every house, or public building, there’s always something to learn.

The Governor's Palace
Williamsburg’s most famous citizen was, of course, Thomas Jefferson. He arrived in l760 to attend the College of William and Mary and was later elected to the House of Burgesses in l769. It was in the House of Burgesses, he had the opportunity to hear Patrick Henry deliver his impassioned speech against the stamp act, a crushing tax on printed-paper. Here on May l5, 1776, Virginia’s legislators signed a resolution for American independence. Later on June 7, a motion based on this resolution would be introduced on the floor of the Continental Congress. This would lead to the drafting by Thomas Jefferson of a document called the Declaration of Independence.

One can hardly thumb through the pages of history and put a finger in a spot where, though there may be great good, there’s also evil. It’s just as true in Williamsburg. Here, as in the rest of Virginia, there was a social structure based on race. The same criteria, which established Williamsburg as the capitol of Virginia, were also important in making it a place of disbursement for many of the 600,000 slaves, which were brought to British North America from Africa from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. While the streets of Williamsburg resounded with the word “freedom” in l775, this freedom was elusive for those who had been tragically torn from home and families against their will and forced into subjection. 

As we toured the homes of Williamsburg, our nine-year-old Bethany started to melt. Whether the heat, a nagging ear infection, or the history, the next morning it was clear she wasn’t going anywhere, so Jerry (bless his heart) stayed with Bethany, while Aaron and I finished the tour.

Mysteriously, Bethany improved enough on her day at the hotel that she convinced her Dad to take her to the swimming pool. Hmm. History has had this same effect on her before. I remember after four days in Washington D.C., her comment had been, “I’m about tired of this Washington place.” That’s when we decided to go to the National Zoo instead of the White House the last day. I suppose if there were an American History barometer in my children, about this time in the summer there’s would have read one hundred percent saturation.

I suppose saturated is a good way to describe our feelings. We had the privilege of traveling all these miles and seeing these wonderful places and learning so much this summer. We were overflowing and needed some processing time.   

But it was not to be anytime soon.

"Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord... "(Psalm 33:12).

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Dream Summer: Walking the Freedom Trail

After our week of meetings at Asbury Grove, a camp north of Boston, we drove in to the Boston Common, parked, and found the starting point for the Freedom Trail. An easy to follow red brick line, it took us past many places of historical interest, including the Old State House, the location of the Boston Massacre where British troops opened fire on a rowdy group of freedom minded Bostonians. Five of them died thus fueling the fires for revolution. The Declaration of Independence was first read to the people of Boston from the east balcony of the Old State House.

Faneuil Hall, built as the first central marketplace in Boston, also provided a large meeting room, which would be used as Boston’s official town hall. Noted speakers like Frederick Douglass, Daniel Webster, Jefferson Davis, and Susan B. Anthony spoke here in this place often called “The Cradle of Liberty.”

We took in the Paul Revere House, the oldest house in Boston, where Paul Revere lived from 1770-1800. Just days earlier, we’d visited the Minuteman National Park in Concord and stood on the very spot where British soldiers captured Paul Revere on his midnight ride to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that the British were coming.

Our last stop for the day was Old North Church in the North End. The Church, built in l723, made it Boston’s oldest house of worship, but its notoriety comes from the night sexton Robert Newman hung two lanterns in the belfry to signal the advance of British troops to Paul Revere waiting on the distant shore.  

Reaching our expiration dates, we never made it to the USS Constitution, but instead found a wonderful outdoor café in the North End and had a nice dinner, and then later left Boston filled to the brim with not only food but also enough history to talk about for weeks.

What we didn’t know, is that as we visited and pondered the significance of these historical markers in our country's history, a diabolical scheme to attack this nation was unfolding at that very hour. I recently read a National Park Service document, which noted National Parks shuttered in the aftermath of September 11 and included Minuteman National Park among the many we’d visited that summer of 2001.

My children would memorize much of Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride” in homeschool the following year and together we’d remember these landmarks of freedom made even more precious to us because of the events of 911.

For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

"Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain"(Psalm 127:1).

Monday, September 5, 2011

Dream Summer: At Gettysburg and "...the last full measure of devotion..."

This is a post in an occasional series entitled Dream Summer of our family's cross country trip in the summer of 2001. We will conclude on September 11 as we observe the ten year anniversary of 911. For more in this series, just click on the Dream Summer label.

On our way to Boston, just north of Roanoke, Virginia on Interstate 81, I noticed  an exit that would have taken us to Appomattox where Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant. Many historic battles took place in this area, so I looked north along our route to see what might be of interest. We only had time for one stop. Jerry and I both agreed our sole detour had to be Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

The depot where Lincoln arrived on the train.
Every schoolchild in America has probably at one time or another had to memorize in either part or whole the Gettysburg Address. I’ve always had a mental picture of President Abraham Lincoln, worn and tired from the demands of war, standing in Gettysburg for that brief address having no idea that generations later we in this country would still be reciting those same words in schools and institutions of higher learning.

We walked the battlefield, the cemetery and listened to a park ranger lecture. However, later, when I filled out the field trip sheet at the beginning of home school, the experience that most impressed my children was the cyclorama. A giant circular painting, along with dramatic sound affects and lighting told the story of the Battle of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. The loss of life and the sorrow that accompanied the battle was almost more than my heart could bear.

On three July days in l863, Confederate troops under General Robert E. Lee, and Union troops under the command of General George Meade clashed in the little town of Gettysburg. This culminated on July third, when 12,000 Confederates moved across open fields in an attack labeled “Pickett’s Charge.” The attack, put down by Union troops, cost more than 5,000 lives in a single hour. This ended the battle and is known as one of the most decisive battles of the war. When it was over, there was more loss of life on these fields than in any other battle fought in North America at any time--more than 51,000 were killed, wounded or missing. Many just boys.

I’ll never forget the last line of the Cyclorama presentation--a quote from one of the Confederate officers, Col. Eppa Hutton. He said, “We gained nothing but glory but lost our bravest men.” The dead and dying covered the fields of Gettysburg. The town’s people took care of all, whether north or south. Later, it was decided to create a National Cemetery in Gettysburg for the Union Dead. It was for this cemetery dedication that Lincoln came.
Me and my history weary children  in front of the Gettysburg Memorial
One of the great orators of the time, Edward Everett, was asked to give the principal address. He delivered a well-received two-hour speech. Lincoln was next and only spoke for about two minutes. Everett later said to Lincoln, “I should be glad if I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”  
This was a grim period in our nation’s history, but for those living under the shackles of oppression, this war bought freedom.

Freedom is always costly.

That’s a lesson I hope my children carried away that warm August day when we left Gettysburg. Psalm l05 says, “...they fell heir to what others had toiled for...” That’s where we are. We have fallen heir to the benefits of what so many gave their lives for, not only at Gettysburg, but also in every war in which we have fought.

Even with this country’s flaws, it is still great, because of so many who have given and are still giving as President Lincoln said that day, “...the last full measure of devotion...”

See Jeff Daniels' rendition of the Gettysburg address here.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A God Arranged Rendezvous

Yesterday morning, my husband, Jerry, and I took a little out-of-town excursion and wound up eating breakfast at a Cracker Barrel along an interstate highway. As the host seated us, I wondered why she took us past so many empty tables to the back of the restaurant. Just as we were about to take our seats, though, I caught a glimpse of a woman seated next to us, who seemed very familiar.

As I sat there, trying to place her, Jerry leaned back in his chair, and when he did, he saw the woman’s husband.

“I think that’s Mark Rutland,” he said his eyes showing surprise.

“And that’s Allison,” I said as the light finally dawned. “What are they doing HERE?”

Dr. Mark Rutland and his lovely wife, Alison, now live in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Mark is the President of Oral Roberts University. These precious people played a significant part in our early walk with the Lord. Through couples conferences, revival meetings, and what often turned out to be just the word we needed—the tape of the week, we grew under their ministry. We hadn’t seen them in years, but followed their ministry through mailings and Christmas cards.

Now, hundreds of miles from home, what WERE they doing in this Cracker Barrel?

Jerry smiled at Mark, and it took a few moments for our decades to peel away.

“Oh,” Mark said, “I didn’t recognize you at first, Jerry.” But, yes, he remembered the lawyer who would become a pastor, who showed up at the altar at almost every revival Mark preached in his early years as an evangelist.

After we greeted each other, we had to ask. “Why are you here?”

Turns out their son, Travis, has just taken a position as pastor of a church not many miles away in…get ready…my hometown. In fact, not just the town I grew up in, but if his son were to walk out in his parking lot, he could see the back yard of the house where I was born. All of this stirred my heart, and what came so strongly to mind is something God showed me just months ago.

I don’t often get to visit my birthplace, just a few times a year, but on the last visit, I noticed a dramatic increase in the number of churches there. Within a half-mile distance, I counted maybe nine churches, most begun in recent times. And that didn’t even take into account others scattered throughout the little community. The town has such a Godly history through the work of many including R.A. Forrest and R. G. Letourneau, that I’ve often wondered if God might do something extraordinary there, but when I saw all these new churches, the sense of that became even stronger.

Now, he was sending the son of this wonderful couple to pastor there. Again, I sensed God powerfully at work. 

We didn’t have much time to visit, as they were on their way to visit their son, but it was just enough time for me to feel God’s smile. Jerry and I marveled at what it took to orchestrate that meeting. We were at a place, to my memory, that we have never been on a Friday morning, and I’m pretty sure the Rutlands have never been either. They were just leaving, so five minutes later, we would have missed them, and of course, there’s that host who determined to plant us deep inside the restaurant. Then, to find out their son is serving in my hometown. Well, I just don’t even know what to say, except God is up to something.

It's definitely a matter for prayer, and my heart bursts with joy this morning at the prospects.

Please check out the Global Servants website which the Rutlands still oversee. Their ministry spans around the globe. 

"There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope when you were called--one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:4).

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