Memorial Day. In memory of those soldiers who died in the service of their country. There is a boulevard in my small town called Memorial Boulevard. Along this boulevard are several memorial statues dedicated to city soldiers who lost their lives in various American wars. There are also oak trees planted along this boulevard and next to each oak there is a marker with the name of a city soldier lost in World War I. There are about thirty such markers, a huge toll for such a small town at the time. It has been nearly a hundred years since they died on foreign soil fighting for freedom.
So, what freedom did they fight for? One hundred years ago, the average citizen had less freedom than modern young people in regards to his or her family. It seems as if young people had certain obligations towards their families that young people today don’t have. To a large degree, today’s youth can choose the career of their dreams, move to the location they desire and marry whom they choose. They can make a life for themselves, but is that freedom? At the same time, we have lost other kinds of freedom that people one hundred years ago took for granted. Today, we owe much to our government. More and more, our government decides what is appropriate. We have lost the right to pray in our schools, to put the Ten Commandments in public places and even to display a creche at Christmas time on the town green. The people of one hundred years ago would be surprised at what we can no longer do. Are we now “free?”
What makes a person free? We would all agree that a person who is addicted to alcohol, smoking or to internet porn is not free. He/she is a prisoner to that habit. Just as an addict is not free from his addiction, I am not free if I freeze in fear each time I face a large crowd in a public speaking situation. I am a prisoner of that fear. Or perhaps each time I open a package of cookies, I eat the entire thing. I am a prisoner to that craving. Both situations create a negative result for me.
So, on this Memorial Day, as we honor those who died to preserve our freedom, what makes us free? Freedom in regards to our family or our government increases or decreases and yet still we find ourselves not one hundred percent free. The only real freedom we can enjoy is freedom inside of ourselves, in our souls. Only the truth can make us truly free. If we live that truth and free ourselves from those things that hold us prisoner, then we are free indeed with a freedom that no one can take away.
We are truly grateful for those soldiers who nobly fought and died to preserve our natural freedom. It gave us the opportunity to find and live our spiritual freedom. Thank you to those thirty young men who died one hundred years ago. Thank you to the men and women who have died before then and since that time. The most deeply felt thank you must be reserved for Jesus who most nobly fought and most lovingly died that we each might find our true freedom. Thank you Jesus. We remember you this Memorial Day weekend.
At the botanical gardens – quietness enters my soul. Without the external hustle of this world, God’s Word comes more easily. Listening.
This morning I was reading a passage from the Psalms. I like to read a different translation from time to time. Sometimes it gives me a new perspective on a topic. The passage was Psalms 81:8 – 16 in the Smith and Goodspeed translation.
“Listen, O my people, while I warn you; if you would but listen to me, O Israel! There would be no strange god among you; nor would you bow down to a foreign god. I, the LORD, am your God; he who brought you up from the land of Egypt. Open wide your mouth that I may fill it. But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would have none of me. So I gave them over to their own self-will, that they might follow their own devices. If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would only walk in my ways, I would quickly humble their foes, and turn my hand against their enemies. Those who hate the LORD would fawn upon him, and terror would be upon them forever; but he would be fed with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock would I satisfy you.”
Self will or God’s will? It’s either one or the other. They both cannot exist in the same space. These two wills are constantly at odds.
It has to be a deliberate choice to stop the self plans and let God lay out his plans. To get God’s view for this moment or this day or this life, I have to lay aside my self-will. Forget about it. Let it go. See what God has in mind. Let’s make a deal. Self will is only going to get us in trouble anyway. Let’s really listen.
Listening naturally to the world around us, we surrender our own thoughts to hear the sound of birds chirping, little bees buzzing and light breezes passing through. Such wonderful music for our ears! Listening spiritually to our Father, we surrender our own will to hear what he has to say. A reverential symphony for our soul!
Yesterday, on the way to work, the finale of Les Miserable came on the radio. This song always puts me in a mood of contemplation and profound reverie. It touches us all on a deep level of the simple love that we have for our Father. That love resides somewhere in all of us, though it may be covered up and rusty in quite a few. We all desire in our hearts for a world where we can live in peace, where all men will put away the sword. We long for such a place for our children and for their children as well.
Our present world bears no resemblance to that apparently far off desire. Today’s world is more a world of the barricade than a world beyond the barricade. We struggle with news reports of far off wars, local crimes and sad stories of corrupted officials that make us lose hope that such a world of peace could ever exist.
It does exist. We can achieve it. I, as an individual, cannot force anyone else to want or create such a world. I can only look inside of myself and eliminate the hate inside of me. I may proclaim, “but I am not a hateful person. I’m a nice person!” Wait a minute! What about that annoying person in the next cubicle? Do I hate him? What about the person that always rubs me the wrong way? How about the guy that cut me off on the highway this morning? Do I hate him? Or did I pray for him as he was speeding off?
There is a solution to hatred. Instead of avoiding that person, hoping that he or she will go away, think about his/her life for a while. What would be something that he/she would really like? Not a big flashy gift, but something small and simple, that shows you’re thinking of him or her. Maybe a cup of coffee or just a kind gesture. Something that would touch his/her heart. He might end up hating you for doing that, but you will have taken one further step toward eliminating the hate from your heart.
People don’t respond well these days to words and doctrines, but love, they can’t resist that. The song ends with the words, “to love another person is to see the face of God.” Love grows. Love is contagious.
What a great quote from today’s edition (10/29/14) of the blog “Morning Story and Dilbert!”
“I don’t have to attend every argument I’m invited to.”
There’s so much involved in that short sentence! Reading this quote is one thing. Actually DOING it is quite another. What does it mean in my life? Let’s say that a former boyfriend knows exactly how and when to push my buttons. Isn’t that always the way? He knows everything about me and has ample practice in pushing my buttons. He knows just where they are and what will ignite them. So, one day as we find ourselves conversing about something important, he lets go of one of his favorite zingers. The “invitation” is instantaneous, highly emotional and it catches me completely off guard. I react. I try to tell myself that next time I’ll be ready and will control myself. However, there never is a “next time” that’s the same as the previous time. He’s never going to push the same button in the same way. It’s always going to be a new situation, a new way of catching me off guard. In other words, the “invitation” is always brand new. The instigator could be anyone: a boss, a colleague, a friend or a family member.
There is no way to answer a zinger naturally without jumping into the ring in full boxing attire. No matter how many possible situations/answers I catalog in my brain, there is always the distinct possibility that it will be a different scenario. The only way to prepare oneself is to prepare spiritually. If I’m connected to God in prayer, I will be more than capable of seeing the “invitation” from a higher perspective. I will then be more than capable of turning down the invitation to rumble because I’m in the presence of a higher invitation. Jesus never answered the zingers. He knew who he was and didn’t need to defend himself. So, imagine this: the next time invitations are flying through the air, as you look towards the Lord to see what He would have you do, you realize that your cheek has turned ever so slightly away from your tormentor. He stares at you in disbelief and storms off. “You’re impossible. I don’t even know how I could have put up with you for as long as I did.” Bingo. You have just clicked the little box labeled “unfollow”. He won’t be back for a new invitation.
Charity suffereth long.
Suffereth means to have patience, to patiently endure. We humans don’t always patiently endure each other. The way God patiently endures with us, his children, is absolutely amazing. Just as it has taken many years for this waterfall to soften the rocks in its path, he is willing to take his time softening our hard edges. How does he do it? He doesn’t shout at us or push us around. He watches while we make life altering mistakes, knowing that he can turn it around to help us in the end. He allows our stupidity, knowing that through it we’ll learn a valuable lesson and that once we learn it we won’t go back to that particular idiotic behavior. He coaxes and inspires and, once in a great while, allows others to shout at us if we’re really blockheads.
I think back through the ages at some of the most colossal mistakes and how God suffered through our ignorance and hatefulness. What about the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery and subsequent prejudice against those who had once been enslaved? How about more recent ones like the atom bomb, overuse of antibiotics and GMO’s? He suffers through our idiocy as we destroy each other and sometimes the planet on so many levels and then plants a seed in someone’s brain to help us turn around from such things. He gives us at the same time Hitler and Einstein, Roman oppression and Jesus. He always makes a way out of our troubles.
Most of our history is built on mistakes, hatefulness and oppression. God’s enduring patience has turned our negativity into the Renaissance, discoveries, and growth in compassion and renewed hope. Personal growth is often measured in the same way. We learn the most from our biggest blunders. Learning to practice patiently enduring while our friends, family members and neighbors are in the midst of their latest flub would go a long way in helping us to both see and right our wrongs.
God lives what he preaches. What an awesome guy to emulate!
It’s always exciting to see how long the hazelnuts on our bushes can last before the squirrels take a shine to them. It has become a bit of a competition, a kind of them or me sort of mind battle. This year, they won a little, but I had the last hurrah. I discovered last night to my horror that they had stripped one of the bushes almost completely of every last nut. However, that gave me the heads up and so my husband and I got out there and saved the rest. How sad for them to discover the empty bushes later last night when they were hoping for a nice hazelnut feast overnight!
Sometimes life is like that, a kind of competition. God graciously gives us truth and there are those who would like to strip it from us. We absolutely must keep watch to make sure that the truth is not stealthily taken from us during the night. These are dark days even though the sun shines so brightly that it burns our skin. It’s so easy to be lured away from what is real and good. While we’re checking our smart phones for the latest updates, the truth could be stripped from us and we wouldn’t even know it.
Let’s watch. Let’s fall head over heals in love with the truth. Let’s make it our life. No one and nothing can take away something that has been intricately woven into the very fabric of our lives.
This is one of my favorite poems by Langston Hughes, Mother to Son. When one of my daughters was young, she changed it to Daughter to Mother and recited it to me at a time when my life seemed really as if it had been no crystal stair. Quite a few years and experiences have passed under the bridge since then. The poem is perfect as is, but as life’s struggles add layers of richness to one’s wisdom, I think that I would add onto this poem some kind of little postscript to thank God for every one of those difficulties: the bare places, the splinters and the places where the boards had been torn up. Each one of them was leading me on to the next landing, the next summit where there would be a new panorama view on life and truth. Thank you, Lord. Life did not seem like a crystal stair to me at times, but although it was in disguise, it truly was a crystal stair leading to you. That’s what life is all about! Something to remember when you’re going through tough times.
Mother to Son
BY LANGSTON HUGHES
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
Langston Hughes, “Mother to Son” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1994 by The Estate of Langston Hughes.
I’ve changed the picture at the top of my page. There is a little story behind the photo. Recently, my husband and i went camping for a week in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We love hiking but at the outset of our vacation our hiking legs usually need an upgrade. On the first day, we went on a lovely and not too demanding hike to the top of Mount Willard. The view from the top is outstanding and I recommend it highly. The second day we went to Arethusa Falls. It was about as demanding as the first day’s hike and the beauty of the falls was incredible. On the third day, we just began hiking without really knowing our destination, but God knew where we were going. After about an hour and a half of hiking we had to choose: continue upwards to the summit of Mount Jackson or head downwards to see another falls? Well, we prefer to do our hard work of upward climbing first, so we headed up.
The description of the “moderately difficult” climb did not prepare us for the rest of the hike up the mountain. It was NOT moderate, at least not in my definition of the word. Very near the end, we met a man with a young boy coming down and the man encouraged us to go on because, as he said, “It’s only a few minutes to the top.” I thought, “If a kid can do it, I can too.” Hehe. Those few minutes necessitated scrambling over enormous boulders with only a few small branches on the sides to hang onto. But then … we reached the top. John went first and told me to try to make it. He said it would be worth it. At the top was a panorama perhaps a hundred times more beautiful than the picture you see at the top of my page. There were no trees, so you could see 360 degrees around. Mount Washington rose in the distance and the valley that we had come from meandered much further below us than I had imagined. We took a lot of pictures and gaped in awe of God’s creation that remains so beautiful in spite of what man has done to it. The wind began to whistle and the clouds foretold a possible change in the weather and so we had to tear ourselves away from that gorgeous spot. I think that it will always remain in my mind as the most amazing and beautiful view I have ever seen, the view of a lifetime.
A simple hike on a normal day. We started out, not knowing where we were going. Life is like that. We start out not knowing our path or where it will lead us, but we keep on climbing. I would like to encourage everyone out there to keep on climbing. Choose the way up. It may be difficult, even more difficult than you had anticipated, but when you get to the top, the view will be more beautiful than anything you could have imagined. God can show you things in this life that will stay with you forever. Those views will encourage you through the hard times and lead you onward. Take the risk. God is so worth it. He is the summit of all summits, the panorama of all panoramas.