Friday, May 29, 2020

God Loves Freedom

What ever possesses a man to leave everything behind and head into the darkness of the unknown? It might be the spirit of adventure. It might be the spirit of  escape. And, it might be the spirit of freedom. That is alright if you are single. But, what if you are part of a family, that changes the consequences. The cost rises with every person you include in the venture.

The stories of people escaping from East Berlin, remember that time, always gripped my heart. Some fantastic escapes took place by men and women and entire families. Ideas from hot air balloons, zip lines, to extensive tunnels, were used by very brave men and women. The images of those who died trying to escape must have been ever before them. Yet, they kept trying to escape.

Oppression is an evil power that has given millions of people the inner desire and drive to be free. There is some God-given inner voice that whispers to the soul of mankind, "I want to be free, I need to be free, I must be the one who decides my destiny." That voice, the desire to be free, has indeed brought that very freedom to millions across the earth.

I believe it was that voice that filled the hearts of the earliest settlers in this land. Many left their homeland yearning for religious freedom. Their conscious could never give in to the dictates of a government trying to regulate the voice of God within their heart. In their desire to worship God according to their own spirit they were willing to pay a very high price. Weeks and months on the high seas is taxing to the very hardiest of men. The families that took such voyages were brave to the extreme. Yet, they would never confess to bravery.

The dream of a land of freedom brought thousands upon thousand to our shores. Almost every person in this great land would find their roots in the family tree of those brave souls. I am aware of the countless who were brought here, not of their own accord. Indentured servants and slaves by the thousands were brought here, to the land of freedom. With free men and women all around them their hearts must have yearned all the more to taste the sweetness of broken chains and writs of servitude torn in half.

Our forefathers used a couple of phrases that I want to mention. The first being this land was the, Second Israel. A land of men and women who were seeking the heart of God and desiring to build a land that would honor him. The second phrase being, A Great Experiment in Self Government. They knew that it was indeed an experiment and that many things could go wrong and some things would go wrong.

The long journey across the treacherous and deadly Atlantic did not allow for the spirit of ease, nor complacency. Our journey today, I'm afraid, is filled with both evils.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Painful Lessons

The old man is lying on a dirty old metal bed, the sheets unchanged for weeks.
He lies on his side with his knees drawn up, like he did 80 years ago.
The gray on his head is matched by the gray of his life.
He has been alone now for years, abandoned by all, left to his bed and bitterness.
Life is hard and that is exactly what he taught everybody around him.
His wife, stoop shouldered by the burdens and his words, crumbled under his care.
For years she tried to please him, her efforts only gained more scorn and weight on her shoulders.
Children now gone, haven't seen the old man in years.

His son, his namesake, pledged to never see or speak to him, never to enter the house until it was funeral time.
A daughter, broken by suspicion and cursing, still lives broken, trying to make her daddy happy, five or six times since she saw him last.
He knew they needed to know that the world is cruel and the best a man could do was to work all of his waking hours.
Home, he expected all to understand his life and be content that he put food on the table and a roof over their heads.
His words, never from a warm spirit, only the ones that needed to be said, the food is cold, the chores are undone, the wood needs carrin-in.
He expects respect and obedience, cares not to know what troubles live in his home.
All homes have trouble, life is hard and you just put up with it.

On his bed his hands are shriveling and gnarled, evidence of years of toil, toil he thought so unappreciated, work ignored, sweat unnoticed.
Unaware of the words of a mother to her children, words of work by their father, toil to provide food and shelter, long hard days spent on the end of a shovel.
He looks down at his hands and realizes his heart and soul is just as bent and gnarled as they are.
He mumbles in a voice no one can understand, words that seem garbled, "God what did I do wrong? Life is hard and they had to learn, the world is cruel and unloving. I did what was best."
A message begins to move deep in his soul, he feels uncomfortable, struggles on the hard rusted metal frame bed.

His stomach churns and his legs move to curb the pain.
A voice very clearly and quietly speaks it's message of unwelcome truth.
Today you are alone, alone on your bed, waiting to die, where are your children?
You are choking on the weeds you planted most of your life.
It is now time for you to realize what you have done, and live and die with it.
Even though you lie here abandoned and scared, yes I will be with you.
I will try and help them understand your life and keep them from your pain.
If only you would have tried to reach me, tried a small amount of kindness.
Soon all your pain and ugliness will end.

Monday, May 11, 2020

The Folded Flag

There wasn't much that could stop the cold blast from the wind. There were only a few trees and an old clap board building in the cemetery and their flimsy resistance to the blast of cold was some distance from us. December in Riverview Michigan can be a mixed bag of weather conditions. Ice hockey on the local pond can be in full swing or the rain and mud can reign. That December day the ground was frozen and the wind spit balls of snow and ice.

My mother and father were seated on metal folding chairs close to the grave and the artificial turf that was trying in vain to disguise the hole. The honor guard stood at the rear of the hearse and the shinning black and chrome door swung open. The men from the funeral home were quiet, yet direct in their instructions to the honor guard. As the casket rolled from the hearse the men took their position, bearing their burden to the tent and the waiting grief stricken family members and the multitude of friends.

The flag seemed to wrap the casket like a cocoon, her colors were vivid and brilliant. I had never noticed the sharp contrast between red stripe and white stripe as I did that day. Each white star seemed to shine against the deep blue background. My family, and the others, were gathered in the presence of something sacred, dare I say, almost holy.

More words were said about the young Marine, my brother. Words about selflessness and willingness to serve were offered. The chaplain spoke words of ashes to ashes and dust to dust and then he prayed. As soon as he finished his prayer he stepped back from the casket and the honor guard stepped forward.

The flag seemed to float from the casket as expert hands moved in perfect unison and harmony and the rectangle was transformed into triangle with her stars shinning again. With fluid motions and grace the man in the dress blues bent low and placed the flag into the hands of my mother. He moved back to his position and plain and clear orders were given. The rifles cracked their salute to the Marine.

Before the wind could be heard again the mournful sound of the bugle announced, "Day is done". Most eyes were stinging as Taps brought tears to cold cheeks. The mournful sound from the bugle and the crack of the rifles is a combination seared into the soul of those who must experience it.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Risk Taking- During this Time

As a kid I used to jump at the chance to do something dangerous. I remember climbing to the top of the backstop in a park and jumping off with a parachute made from a smuggled sheet. It didn't work, but that did not stop my enthusiastic pursuit of the crazy. A Flintstone type push cart zoomed down a hill off of Valade street, only to be run into the grass and roll over. The two or three sticks designed to hold up the roof didn't work very well. The plunge into danger that almost cost me my life, according to my dad, involved stealing a rather large motor from an abandoned riding mower. The mower was in an abandoned barn on the outskirts of town. A Riverview policeman noticed two bikes in the tall grass, not well hidden, upon finding me and my accomplice in the act of removing the awesome go cart engine, he asked us a simple question. The question, "Boys what are you doing with that engine?" My reply revealed my stupidity, "We're looking to see what makes it work".

I escaped death that day, because I had an early morning paper route and every cop in Riverview knew my dad and all of my uncles. My zest for risk taking took a small vacation and I walked the boring and dreary path of complacency. Gladly the days of boredom didn't last long. Soon my brother and I were in the fields across Pennsylvania Road playing in the pond and catching frogs and germs. That is, until Todd almost cut his foot off from an old can that on the bottom of the pond and not seen. To this day he credits me with saving his life, I carried him on my back for a while. I used to remind him of how much of a favor I did for him.

Moving from my hometown to a small one bedroom cabin for my senior year was a risk the entire family took. The impact was greatest on the five of us who made the move. I left Riverview with one year of high school to go. At the time I didn't think much about it. We loved Northern Michigan and had talked often about living in the woods. So, a small one bedroom cabin with a kitchen and screen porch became home. That time of risk taking was done in ignorance and desperation.

The move to Zambia was a great risk, yet it was in a way, no risk. We were following the path that had been opened to us after ten years of waiting. A young American family moving to the bush of Zambia, facing the unknown with zeal and an adventurous spirit. Yes, there was a lot of risk. Every time you drove down the roads you were placing your life in peril. I witnessed cars driving down the roads with no windshields, doors and even rubber on their wheels. Mammoth trucks would drive at night with no tail lights. Road accidents claimed hundreds of victims each month.

Taking a risk can be costly. Insecurity lives within every risk decision. The fear of the unknown, or the known, awaits all risk takers. After our time in Zambia my desire to take risks was pretty well gone. The Zambian risk almost cost a daughter and wife to be swept away. Four years after returning to the states I took another risk, resigning from officership. The doors opened for us to buy a small apple orchard near Hubbard Lake, Michigan.

Donna and I both found jobs and I thought, "Genesis Farm" would indeed be a place of new beginnings. The fact of the matter is quite simple. I decided to resign from ministry based on a flawed institution. Isn't everything run by man flawed? My resignation did not mitigate God's call and impress upon my life, nor Donna's life. Some years after our move I stepped out of my secluded acreage and pastored a small church. That risk was richly rewarded by the blossoming and determined life of Ana. For five years that little girl caused quite a stir in Lily white Alcona County. Her basketball and track prowess brought love from her friends and families and vile statements from bigots and haters.

The time in Alcona came to a close when I was rushed into the hospital for emergency spinal cord surgery. The surgery went as well as could be expected, the recovery, well, it did not go so well. My spinal cord suffered permanent damage and left me with partial paraplegia. Seems like my risk taking days would be over. I fought that idea and want to continue fighting it. I began writing a book as part of my own personal therapy. The book, "A Mother's Heart Moved the Hand of God", chronicles the life struggle of Ana and the events that surrounds her miraculous journey.

I have sat, not really, on that manuscript for a few years. As I hate rejection I have just given lip-service to publication. I know that there is a powerful message of inspiration and challenge to individuals and the church within the pages. A number of people have told me so. I know that a major publishing house is not the route for this book. I have tons of information on self-publishing and also tons of information on how much it costs. Any and all routes will demand taking a risk. I know and understand that the risk will be worth it as the rewards will be the accomplishment of completion and the unknown blessings that would come to those who would read the pages and understand the message.

Please pray for me that I would take the risk and get off my rear, which I can't feel anyway.