Saturday, May 28, 2016

I Wonder What Happened

I will never know what it is like to be in a war. Not a physical one anyway.  I am too old to be drafted now. My ‘number’ didn’t come up in the 1970’s before the Vietnam War ended and the draft ended.  The “draft.” Now isn’t that a term that has taken on a whole new meaning for the last couple of generations.  The only draft our children know is the NFL Draft, or maybe, the NBA Draft.  I remember the usual fantasy games as a boy (okay, into my early adulthood) where I would imagine graduating from West Point and starting the long climb to “Yes sir,  General Te Winkle.”

Knowing what I know now I see that I have reason to be thankful that my ‘number’ never came up. But, as I talk to widows of veterans and veterans from  the past wars of the U.S.; and as I talk to our brave men and women who serve our nation now,  I have questions.  I wonder what it would have been like.  But, then I don’t want to know. I can see enough in the movies to know that this was not a life to be desired. And yet, this life, this life of serving in the military, remains the life for which the world’s freedom makes such overwhelming demands.

I remember talking to a veteran one night. “What did you do in the war? Did you have a gun? Did you have to shoot it?”  Since I asked those questions I have learned that these are very inappropriate questions to ask of any combat veteran. There are some things you do not bring to mind, and this topic is one of them.  Of course, I was just a young boy  when I asked those questions, the days when I did not know that these questions were off limits in polite society, and especially among families.

But they, these men and women who went places I do not want to go; these men and women who are required to do things I would not, could not, do; they, these heroes, are the very reason I can write something like this and send it over the world wide web without fear of someone knocking on my door to arrest me.  Still, I wonder what happened to that man, the secrets which he took to his grave.  I wonder what happened in those buildings in Italy you walked through, wondering if you would get shot in a moment or if you would come back to become a man, to become my Dad.  Will our little Memorial Day salute do you justice? Or is resting with God justice enough?

Footnote: I wrote this on Memorial Day weekend in 2013. I repeat it today in honor of all those who served our nation, and especially in memory of my Dad who passed into life eternal five years ago this week.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

"Found Girl"

Imagine a 17-year old girl studying for final exams. She is kidnapped and taken away by her captors. She is taken into the deeps woods, so deep and so dense that she cannot be found.  The captors “marry” her in a forced marriage, resulting in a baby being born. Now imagine this girl and her baby 2 years later.  She is near a road with her “husband”, seated and breastfeeding her baby daughter.  Suddenly, out of the covering of the woods, hunters spring out, and they are able to free the now 19-year old girl and her baby. They bring her home. There is great joy in her hometown, and they hold an impromptu celebration. Their rejoicing resounds throughout the night, for the lost has been found.

What emotions does this story stir up inside of you toward the girl you were just imagining, or for the baby girl who is someone’s granddaughter, or toward the captors?

This is a true story. Amina Ali Nkeki is the girl, the mother, the survivor.  She is one of the Chibok girls, one of the 276 school-girls kidnapped in from the Nigerian town.  She is the first of the girls to be found. She reports that six of her schoolmates died, but that all the others remain. Imagine that: 269 girls held captive, having babies, “serving” soldiers, in the worst sense of the word.  But, as Oby Ezekwesili, a former government official puts it, “We are going to use Amina as a symbol.” A symbol of what?

Well, of hope, of course. Hope that the strategy of using hunters who know the land; hunters who insisted that the government’s army let them help in the search, will be successful in locating all of the other girls. Hope that Amina is really just the first, and that the grandparents of 269 other babies will be reunited with their daughters and grandchildren. Hope that people around the world will remember and help the #BringBackOurGirls activists find success.  One found girl inspires the mission with new hope.

Hope is universal, crossing oceans and impenetrable borders. Hope stirs hunters to actions. Hope keeps the lost alive.  And when the lost are found, there is rejoicing in heaven.  This hope, that one found girl is the symbol of finding all the lost, is the hope that stirs hunters into action and parents into prayers.  This hope is the church’s “why.”

(Source: WSJ, May 19, 2016,Drew Hinshaw and Gbenja Akingbule)

Saturday, May 14, 2016

To Go A Far Way

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” African Proverb

“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” Romans 8:14

When the Lost Boys and Girls of the Sudan were threatened with death by the soldiers who killed their families and destroyed their villages they walked, up to a thousand miles, to reach the safety of refugee camps.  Many were lost along the way, but many survived. They were able to go a far way because they stayed together, and because they followed some child who became a leader.  They resisted the temptation to go alone,  which would have been faster, but much more likely to end in death. Going fast was not going to accomplish the goal of the trip. To complete this trip it was necessary that they travel together, following the leader all the way to their new homes.

What is the destination of your life’s journey? What community do you want to dwell with among in the end? Do you even know?  Who are you following to get “there”? 

The point of life’s journey is not to get somewhere quickly.  Being “young, rich and famous” sounds so alluring, and if that was the goal of life, all those who find that would be the truly joy-filled souls in life. But, instead the lives of those who choose to “go alone” so they can get “there” fast, often end in despair because once they are “there”, they understand they have not planned a long enough trip.  There is still so much further to go but they have no travel companions and no one to follow.

The point of life’s journey is to go a far way.  The best way to survive the inevitable dangers of this wild journey through the wilderness is to travel with a community, to travel behind someone who knows the way. The only way to go a far way is to travel together as lost children desperately trying to find refuge. We are all lost boys and girls on a journey to a new home, and if we are complete the far way journey we need to stay together, a community of children following the Leader.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Myra's Abiding Loves

On the evening of the day that Myra died I needed time to reflect. Time to reflect on what the life of this woman I loved meant to me. Time to ponder how it came that she defied every stereotype of “mother-in-law”, as we developed a unique relationship defined by our shared love of God, Jill and our families.  I turned to my usual companions on such a retreat: hymns and my Bible.  Well, if you know Myra, that sentence says it all.  We were soulmates. I turned on my Pandora music service and first up was a piano rendition of Amazing Grace, followed by When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.  Now who do you suppose selected that song sequence? Thanks for the confirmation, Myra.

I turned to my Bible, in which I keep a card from Myra sent for my birthday in 2006.  It bears the signature of “Space & Mare”, nicknames for Myra and her deceased husband, Roy.  Beneath her signature she wrote this:  Romans 5:1-2. This is the only Bible verse she ever quoted to me in writing. She read her Bible through, cover to cover, many times. I believe she chose to bequeath me this one verse, ten years before her death, as her message to her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, whom she loves so dearly, about the source of her abiding faith: Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  We are rejoicing with you, Myra.

Is it true that Myra and Roy and her loved ones, Mike, Helen, Carl, Nancy and all the rest are united again? It is a fair question.  I am as sure of it as I am of the fact that I am typing this sentence.  Experiences like the night Myra died, as I recalled her love of hymns, her love of absorbing God’s Word, confirm my faith.  These messages from above are God’s mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won, a line from a hymn Myra and I would sing with gusto every chance we had.  Today I feel it, Myra.

As Myra lay dying I am confident that her brain was replaying from memory one last time the words to her favorite hymn: Abide with me: fast falls the eventide; The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide! When other helpers fail, and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, O abide with me./Hold thou Thy cross before my closing eyes; Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies: Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee; in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.  He heard you, Myra.

Thank you for the love, Myra. I love you too. I’ll be there soon. Say hello to everyone for me.  Billy