Monday, November 29, 2010

Candle Light for Three Brothers

The clear single notes of the piano had me whispering the words to, " Silent Night." The candles on the altar table represented Jesus and our missing boys. A blue candle for each of the birthdays the boys celebrated. Five candles for Tanner, seven candles for Alexander and nine candles for their big brother, Andrew. In the darkened sanctuary the soft glow of the candles was a gentle yet gradually overpowering image of the love held in the hearts of every parent gathered to pray.

I read a Psalm that spoke of stillness and waiting on God. Words of hope that we know and acknowledge that He is the giver of peace and comfort. So many questions fill my mind and trouble my spirit. It has been almost four days, how could the boys survive the elements if they are out in the cold? Why would any parent leave their children with a person who is almost unknown? And unthinkable is the question of suicide; leave your boys with a stranger because you don't want them to witness you hang yourself. I had to get the questions and haunting thoughts out of my mind.

As I led the gathering in prayer it was a time of acknowledging the plan of God. His plan, to bring us together as family, the wonder of love and children. In times of pain and loss how we come together as community. We unite together to bring encouragement, love, support and that as community the bond goes deeper than words. And we were united in one purpose; to pray, find a sense of comfort, and demonstrate to the family support.

One by one every person came to the altar table and held their candle into the life-candle of one of our boys. The process took almost twenty minutes and I watched as members of the media and law enforcement held a candle of hope. At the conclusion of the service silence kept us in our seats and looking at the altar. It was as if leaving the service was leaving Tanner, Alexander and Andrew.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Aboard the Mayflower- Determined Faith

By the spring and summer of the first year about half of the Pilgrims had died. Many parents had buried their children and death had claimed a life from almost every family. The food supplies had barely lasted through the winter. As I think about the Pilgrims, what was it that enabled those people to endure such harsh conditions? There are a lot of things to think about when I consider the entire time of preparation and the voyage.

Consider the sister ship, the Speedwell. Twice she was delayed due to taking on water. This put the schedule weeks behind. Next, the cargo and some of the passengers from the Speedwell were put aboard the Mayflower, back in England. Some of the passengers did not continue on. What would inspire some to continue on when others quit? What factor did faith play in the individual decisions.

If the Mayflower had sailed on her original schedule she would have reached the colonial coast long before the Atlantic storms and bitter cold. Reaching the coast a storm forced the Mayflower to abandon the Hudson River landing and return to the safety of Cape Cod. The crew and leaders of the Pilgrims spent almost a month exploring the area for a place to begin building.

After a devastating winter, spring brought hope and their first real contact with the native peoples. What are the chances that the first real contact would be with an English speaking native? There are so many things that happened it would be hard to believe that all the circumstances were coincidental.

The personal and group theology of the Pilgrims was in fact a very pragmatic and strict Calvinist view. They were convinced that God in His sovereign design had all things planned and ordained. This faith gave them great resolve and a determination that would enable them to endure great hardship and heartache.

The time of Thanksgiving had more to do with spiritual certainties than with temporal blessings such as food and shelter. Moms and dads knew they would be reunited with children, children knew they would be reunited with a mom or dad. That inner knowledge was the real reason for the season.

Happenstance or the Divine Hand of God. I know who and what I believe.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Aboard the Mayflower- A Safe Harbor

After sixty six days at sea the battered ship and the weary and cold travelers were looking at their new world. Due to the weather the Mayflower was off her course and instead of dropping anchor near the mouth of the Hudson River, she was north near the entrance to the bay of Cape Cod. The crew and passengers decided to sail south to the mouth of the Hudson.

Sailing south the ship encountered such a violent storm that both crew and passengers feared shipwreck and almost certain death in the cold Atlantic. In desperation the Mayflower came about and headed back north the the relative safety of the harbor of Cape Cod. Still damaged the ship made to the bay and dropped anchor. The bay, almost an enclosed refuge, would become home to the Mayflower and the staging point of the Pilgrims exploration of the area.

For the next weeks the crew and a small number of the Pilgrims made numerous landings along the shore. The search for water was rewarded with the, "sweetest pools of water ever imagined." Juniper wood was gathered and taken aboard the Mayflower. The aroma from the burning conifer was a sweet relief from the stench of five months under sail. The crew also was able to re-supply the wood for cooking and cleaning.

After a time of exploring a site was chosen for the beginning of the settlement. It was defensible against any attack and within an easy distance of good water. On December 23, the majority of the Pilgrims left the ship and began building their new lives. As Sunday was the 24th the Pilgrims didn't work but spent their first Sunday in worship and praise. Work began in earnest the following day. As Separatist, Pilgrims they did not celebrate Christmas day as they thought it to be a "pagan tradition."

During the construction of the meeting house and various homes many of the Pilgrims continued to sleep aboard the Mayflower. The frigid wind off of the Atlantic forced the settlers to build as fast as possible. This meant that the days were long and the blowing winds and snow would begin to take a very deadly toll.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Aboard the Mayflower-Providence or Happenstance

The ship's manifest listed one hundred and three passengers, one hundred and two by family name. The one hundred and third passenger was listed as, Dorothy, maidservant. In July of 1620 the Mayflower was being fitted and loaded with provisions for its journey to the New World. She was to wait in South Hampton for the ship Speedwell. The Speedwell had sailed to the Netherlands to pick up the passengers, who had been living in Leiden. Once the Speedwell met the Mayflower they would begin the long and dangerous voyage across the Atlantic. It was still nice sailing weather and the monstrous Atlantic should still be sleeping.

By the time the Speedwell did reach her rendezvous with the Mayflower they were already a week behind schedule. The Speedwell was taking on water and in need of repairs that lasted a week. On August the 5th both ships left the safety of the harbor and headed across the Atlantic. Both crews were hoping that even leaving in early August they would not face the horror of North Atlantic storms.

As both ships headed West the Speedwell began taking on water again. The Mayflower and the Speedwell were now three hundred miles out in the ocean. Both ships headed back for England and the port at Plymouth. Upon arriving in Plymouth it was determined that the repairs on the Speedwell would take to long and her cargo was added to the Mayflower. As disappointment and anger grew, many of the passengers on board the Speedwell abandoned their plans for a new life.

With the remaining passengers joining those on the Mayflower, she set sail on September 6th. By this the weather and the seas were not to be trusted, but the decision was made to sail on. For the first half of the voyage the wind and weather blessed the Mayflower and her crew and passengers. That was to end as the Lady passed the half way mark on the Captain's chart.

As the weather changed one Godless crewman told the Pilgrims that he couldn't wait for some of them to die, so he could throw them overboard and steal their provisions. For the next thirty days the Mayflower was at the mercy of the Monster of the deep. On more than one occasion the ship had to bring down her sail and ride out the storms. During an especially fearsome attack by the watery monster a mast cracked and the crew feared the ship to be lost. The ship's carpenter secured the mast till proper repairs could be done.

Some days before the sighting of land the "Godless crewman" became suddenly ill and died. The ship's log recorded his death as "The Hand of God." During the voyage a child was born and three days short of landfall a young lad died.

On November 9th in the Year of Our Lord, Sixteen Hundred and Twenty, land was sighted. The sixty six day journey across the Atlantic was done.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Living in the North and the Northern Light

The move to our cabin was a time of extremes. The first winter was one of amazing beauty, giant pines hanging heavy with snow, ice piled high on the shore of Lake Huron, sights that were new and exciting. Contrast the beauty with the harsh conditions of 20-30 below temperatures, frozen water lines, snow blown higher than windows. It was both an exciting time for me and a challenge. And, this is no lie, me and my brother and sister, we had to walk more than a mile to and from the bus stop.

Living in the north was therapeutic for me. I had time and space to sort things out in my mind. My relationship with my parents, especially my dad, improved a great deal. I was beginning to understand that bad things happen to everybody. Just as my mom didn't deserve to deal with epilepsy and Tag with leukemia, millions of innocent children starve and families all over the world suffer the pains that simply come from living.

The summer following our move we built an addition on the cabin. Well, it was more like building an entire house over a part of the cabin. Friends of my mom and dad came north and helped us build the house. My older brother and I worked with my dad hauling logs out of the woods and taking them to an old saw mill. The Old Swede, a name given in respect, milled all of our lumber at a cost of about a tenth of retail. My dad told his friends that he was thankful that his boys were as big and strong as elephants.

During this time we had a few traumatic and scary times. My mom had two seizures that could have been fatal. Once, she fell into a fire we had outside and on another occasion she fell in the house and knocked out some of her teeth. The fall into fire left her dealing with a type of palsy that lasted for a few months. I wasn't blaming God any longer as I had come to accept her condition as a bad thing that happened to a good person.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Beginning of Understanding

The relationship with my dad seemed broken. I told him and my mom that I needed to get away for a while and that I planned on hitching a ride to our cabin near Alpena. So, I filled a military duffle bag with a minimum amount of clothes and a maximum amout of canned food. I was lucky to get a ride to just about 10 miles from the cabin. The last miles I walked down a dirt road at three in the morning and not a street light for miles. Tag's old green duffle bag seemed to weigh a thousand pounds.

I spent the next weeks thinking about my family. The life handed out to my parents was unfair. My mother didn't deserve epilepsy and her children shouldn't have had to live under the tremendous pressure that came with worry. There were so many questions going on in my mind, and I could not find any answers. I blamed my dad for almost everything, except Tags death, I blamed that on God.

Time away did me a lot of good. The fresh Pine air was great to wake up to. Our family had so many wonderful memories of camping in these woods. Campfires, roaming racoons, swimming in Lake Huron, all those experiences were hidden treasures that we all had in common. I would never forget the last time Tag was able to go north with us.

After almost three months away I had settled some issues and was ready to get back to the family. Back at home I was able to talk with my dad and deal with my feelings. My mom and dad had discussions with us kids about selling the house and moving north. The house was the first one that I remember my parents owning. Now, because of circumstances, my mom would give up her house.

With the decision made; five of us moved north. Moved north to a cabin with one bedroom, a kitchen, small bathroom, and a screened in porch that would become a living room. It must have seemed crazy to a lot of people in Riverview. I was leaving the schools I knew and the friends that I been with for years. I put that behind me because I was absolutely thrilled with moving north, to the middle of no-where, and starting over.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Abandoned by God - 6

By the time I was a young adult my concept of God was pretty well cemented in place. My perception was that God did not really concern himself with all peoples. He had a favored group of people and bad things didn't happen to them. The illness of my mother and the fear that we lived with everyday was like standing on ground that you knew would be swallowed up in an earthquake. The illness and death of Tag was part of series of catastrophic events that severed my relationship with my father.

Now, as I understanding the religious influences early in my childhood, the basis and foundation of faith did not influence or give guidance in the day to day living. My parents lived in a state of faith incongruity. What they said they believed in and their living did not match up. I don't believe that they made a conscious decision to abandon their faith. I believe that the importance of an active and growing faith-life simply did not out weigh the power of apathy or disillusionment that they faced. It must have been more convenient to see hypocrisy in others than to acknowledge the need for active faith.

Once the pursuit of a faith-life was stalled or stopped it was soon forgotten. This time in my life constructed the framework that believing in a body of truth did not mean that the body of truth had any influence in the way you lived each day. A period of more than six years would be devoid of any Christian impress upon my life.

So. I entered a difficult time of life-transition with a view of God that was formed by parental influence and catastrophic events. My perception will continue until the real truth begins to bring light to my mind and chip away at the wall of false understanding that surrounded me.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Abandoned by God-5

By the time I was 16 I was running the gas station that we purchased and doing the maintenance work on my dad's truck. The gas station, Galloway and Son's Leonard Service, was in the middle of a gas war. I sold gas for 19.9 cents per gallon for almost a week. Things seemed to be going well, the truck was running and hauling a lot of sand and gravel. Work on the freeway by Ypsilanti was busy and would be good for a few months work. In the midst of that I was always waiting for the phone to ring about my mom or something else to happen.

Well, the something else happened. During the middle of the day my dad drove into the parking lot of the station, looking like he was slumped over the steering wheel and almost taking out the gas pumps. We thought he was having a heart attack. After a lot of tests and waiting the doctor told us that he had suffered a major stress attack. He needed to take some time off from driving.

After some time off my dad was back at the wheel. I got on the work program at the high school so I could work at the gas station pretty much full time. I used to kid my dad about my pay. I figured I made about 13 cents per hour plus all of the pop I could drink, as I had the only key to the pop machine. So, all in all, I didn't do to bad. I could drink a lot of pop.

About one month later the truck broke down. We towed it to the station and realized the motor was shot. As cash was always tight we didn't have the money to rebuild it. We decided to sell the station and the inventory and invest the money into a new tractor with two aluminum trailers. We found the equipment and began the business work to discover that the inventory was sold to us illegally, as it was on consignment. The seller never disclosed this and we were out. The inventory was worth about five thousand dollars and an attorney wanted close to half of that as a retainer to bring suit against the seller.

My relationship with my dad fell apart. I blamed him for not having enough business sense. I blamed him for not having the guts to sue the jerk that screwed us out of our business. I was really mad for the loss of Tag's insurance money. Within weeks I left the house and headed north, convinced my dad was a jerk and didn't know a damn thing.

REMEMBER PLEASE. My perception of right and wrong, just and unjust, good and evil, is at best stressed and at worse warped and very distorted.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Abandoned by God 4

I knew that the body in the casket had to be my brother. He didn't look like my brother, but it had to be him. The people in the funeral home wouldn't have led us into the wrong room. My mother, in tears, certainly had to recognize her own son. But, it didn't look like my brother. During his last days in the Veterans Hospital in Allen Park my brother's liver failed and jaundice quickly transformed the brother I knew into a body that was my brother in name only.

That event, interwoven with the past stress and tragedies brought me to a crisis of who I wanted to be, and what I seriously would believe in. In the following months my parents tried to recover a sense of balance and meet the needs of the family. My parents decided to buy a house with some of the insurance money from Tag's death. Beside the home, my dad bought the truck that he had been using, driving for Mario Trucking.

Thoughts of God and His purposes and plans were now distant memories and in fact, pushed to the back closet in my mind. Now, for most teenage boys, thinking of life's purposes is not high on their priority list. I certainly was no different, yet I knew in my conscious mind I didn't care what God thought about me or what I wanted to do. I had been drinking since I was twelve years old and continued whenever I had the money or the opportunity.

For a period of time my dad worked hard with the trucking business and things went well for a while. I am sure that my mom and dad tried their hardest to bring normalcy and good days to their children and to their own hearts. We went on our usual vacation to Northern Michigan. Camping out, we spent time swimming in Lake Huron and fishing in the Thunder Bay River. When the summer came to a close life seemed normal.

The Veterans Day that followed my brothers death was very hard. The Veterans Day Ceremony was held at Tag's graveside. The military grave marker was the center-piece of the ceremony. I am sure that none of us, the family, were ready or anticipating what was to happen. On command the rifles fired, again in perfect unison, the melancholy and subdued notes of Taps brought tears to mom and dad.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Abandoned by God-3

The illness my mother dealt with had a big impact on my concept of God. During my formative years there were many seizure episodes with my mother. Along with her illness there were times when the relationship between my mom and dad was turbulent. The image of my dad leaving for a week or two was pretty vivid.

Growing up we were not insulated nor isolated from Christian faith. In fact, I remember going to a one-room clap board Methodist Church as a child. We, the family, attended that little church on a fairly regular basis. After church we would drive to see Grandma Galloway in her little second story apartment in Flatrock. Grandma was a petite lady with snow white hair and a very strong faith. She prayed five of her sons through combat zones in World War Two.

To me, there was a disconnect with what my parents said they believed and how they lived and treated each other. This became even more evident on one occasion when my mom and dad had a fight and my dad put his fist through the wall; breaking his fingers and knuckles, requiring having his hand wired together. For weeks he had to deal with two wires extending out from his knuckles, covered with cork.

With quite a few areas of stress and the constant wondering and worrying about my mother I was becoming a confused and burdened young man. Now, I do not want to paint an entirely dark picture. There were great times of fun and escape. All summer was given over to fishing under the toll bridge and playing ball in the field at Memorial Elementary School. Yet, even in the fun times I was always ready to run home.

In the desire to be forthcoming and still respect privacy I have detailed only a portion of the trauma and experiences that formed my early concept of God.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Abandoned by God?

I believe that there were very powerful experiences that contributed to my concept of God. Probably the single most powerful influence was the illness that my mother suffered from. From a very early age my mother suffered from epilepsy. From my earliest memories it was always a stressor that impacted our family. One incident in particular is always with me, to this very day. My mother was driving our old station wagon with three or four of us kids in it. We were traveling north on West Jefferson and before we got to the King Road sign she began having a grand-mall seizure. My brother Tim was in the front seat and I remember him reaching over and turning the ignition key off. The station wagon rolled to a stop on the shoulder of the road.

With us kids out of the car my mother seizured for a few minutes. When she regained full consciousness she rested on the side of the road. In a few minutes my father arrived with my uncle Bob. This event and the potential tragedy that was escaped by the actions of my brother made an impact in my mind far beyond calculation. Over a period of time the emotional weight of constant worry and the anticipation of the worse took it's toll.

Trying to understand the difficulty that my mother lived with was hard for me. I only knew that most days she was a strong mother who had overcome a lot of challenges in her life. But, at a time and place that we never knew, a seizure would strike. With all of the friends that I had, none of them had to deal with a parent that suffered like my mother.

I believe that living with the knowledge of my mother's illness was one of the major contributing factors in my concept of God, of fairness, of love, of security and peace. Her illness was not the only influence, but again, it was very powerful. I make no pretense to understand if my early concept could have been different. It really doesn't matter, my perception was my reality.

Please continue with me and I would hope you will begin to gain an understanding into the mind and heart of a young boy who will eventually embrace God in all of His Love and Understanding.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Abandoned by God?

Across the span of time and within every land there are people who have given up on believing in God. I believe that the decision to abandon faith is not made in haste, nor in a vacuum. I think that people have an idea of how God is supposed to be, how God is supposed to treat mankind in general and their own life in particular. Many of our thoughts and views of God come very early in childhood. I am not speaking about some type of formal religious teaching exclusively; such as Sunday School or Catechism. Everyday events in a child's life can enforce the teaching or mitigate it.

Life experiences are very powerful forces in our concept of God. Children that are encouraged and embraced as the gift they are to be the norm and not the exception. When that happens they can be guided through the turmoils of living that come to every person. They are nurtured and guided into a world that is at times filled with beauty and at the same time filled with unspeakable evil.

Due to circumstances in my formative and very impressionable times I began to believe that God had favorites upon the earth. If you or your family were lucky enough to be on the good list, you could expect good things. If you were not fortunate to be on the, good list, life was filled with unrest and turmoil. The turmoil in my life will be written about in later pieces. So, I began to imagine God as a being that had favorites and carried a big club.

As the turmoil and unrest continued to grow it also continued to feed my warped concept of God. There were certain reoccurring traumas that seemed to reinforce my concept even greater than the less stressful turmoils and sources of unrest. This, my concept of God, I carried on into adolescence and teen years.

The death of my brother and my perceived fragmentation of my parents following his death was the season of my deepest conviction of abandonment by God.

I will continue this for a while and try to fill in the blanks and make clear the time of my encounter with God Himself.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Taps for a Fallen Soldier and Brother

Even distance and the sound of the wind didn't diminish the crack of the rifle fire as the military honor guard fired their weapons. With ever volley my mother flinched and my father kept gathering his soldier strength to honor his fallen son. In exact crisp unison the salute was given, the flag folded in perfect form, handed to the soldiers mother and then; the sound of taps was carried across those gathered in that cemetery on Sibley Road. The melancholy notes and cadence of the piece was more than most could bear up under.

Eighteen years later I conducted the funeral for my father and laid him to rest next to Tag and my mom. Later I was to receive his flag and have it to this day. I recall visiting my grandmother in her little apartment in Flatrock. Hidden inside the tiny frame of Gramma Galloway was a giant character. My dad and four of his brothers served in combat zones during World War Two. Gramma Galloway was a woman who prayed and she prayed everyday for her sons. Every son came back home and were proud patriots.

Her sons who fought for freedom have been laid to rest, a flag was folded in perfect form and taps brought men to stand erect and swallow the lump in their throat. This story can be told by a million different people. A million different names would reflect the same story, pride in their country, a willingness to sacrifice, people praying, flags folded and taps played.

I love my freedom and I know how valuable it is. When we lived in Zambia the country was run by a single party socialist government. A government that was supposed to take care of all and all would be equal. Well, it wasn't so. The people in government were rich and the common people lived in squalor and died of horrendous disease. Have you ever witnessed an outbreak of cholera? Our oldest daughter, Marily, was in hiding for three days during an attempted coup.

I enjoy two freedoms; the first is that of being an American and the second, more important than the first, I am a Christian who has been set free by the Love of God as given to all of us through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. I will not give up either freedom. As an American my freedom depends on the voice of Americans. If we are silent than a government assumes to have the people content, apathetic, or ignorant. Silence is the surest way for a people to lose their freedom. Your vote is your voice, be heard, be vigilant, look for honesty, keep your freedom.