Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, Military memories, prayer, priorities, Scripture, thankful, wisdom

I Was Moved, I Was Grateful

For God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

I made a random turn…into the cemetery.  The other evening Judy and I were out on a mission.  One of our ladies had given us some homemade ice cream and we were returning the container.  Oh, in case you are wondering, it was way beyond delicious.  It was peach and it was peachy.  I’ve already put in a request for strawberry next.  So we returned the container and just kinda started driving randomly.  As we went down the street the entrance to the cemetery came up on the right—and I turned right in.

Slowly we started driving down the lanes and just as slowly I started reading some of the headstones there.  First, though, on the left was the newly rededicated “Little Arlington.”  It was dusk and the lights were on and I was so impressed with the great work the crew had done.  One of those was our own Jacob Palmer.  Great job, Jacob.  But I was also impressed with what it represented.  Sacrifice.  Ultimate sacrifice.  The kind of sacrifice that means you don’t get to come home from the war.  I love what is often said, “All gave some but some gave all.” For that, I was moved and I was grateful.

Just down the lane was a grave that caught my attention.  It was a young soldier who went to Korea to fight for his country in what has been called “the forgotten war.”  He was 27 years old when he died on some battlefield, some hill in a country for away.  He was fighting and ultimately died for the cause of freedom.  I was moved and I was grateful.

In several places, Judy and I would stop as we saw a headstone that was personal because we knew, we loved, the ones buried there.  Sometimes both of the names were etched there in the stone and it symbolized two lives joined into one with one story.  And for both the story was concluded.  Sometimes though only one name had the start and finish dates. The other story was still being written and there was a heart longing for heaven and a long awaited reunion.  One stone declared and celebrated 72 years of marriage.  So many of those story writers had touched our lives.  I was moved and I was grateful.

There were also stones of tragedy.  There stood the stone marking the grave of two brothers tragically killed one night by a drunk driver.  Several of stones showed lives cut short by a tragic accident.  Over there was the headstone of one of the victims from the 2012 tornado.  Everywhere were stories of people who touched the lives of others. One stone showed an American flag engraved in full color—the grave of a proud veteran.  One grave was that of a pastor and a veteran of World War II.  So many stories, so many lives, so many contributions.  I was moved and I was grateful.

As we continued around the lanes inside the hallowed grounds we noticed there were places where whole families were buried together.  Generations of fathers and mothers, sons and daughters lay in eternal rest together.  The stones often bore nicknames and tag lines of the one who lay there.  On one grave was a tattered flag that said, “#1 Dad.” Some graves though were barely marked.  The only indication that someone lay there was a rock or a stone.  In another part of the cemetery were the pauper graves.  I have stood at some of those graves as we laid to rest someone that almost no one knew.  Once it was the funeral director and me.  No one else came. I was moved and I was grateful.

“Wait,” you say.  “How can you be grateful?”  Well the reason is simple.  Whether it was a family plot of many generations or a solitary grave of a person when no one came—Jesus was still there.  He is the unseen attendee of every funeral.  For many He is there as Savior and Lord. For others He is there as the Sovereign Lord Who wishes all to believe but knows not all will.  But He is there.  He is always there.  When we need Him, when we want Him and yes, even when we ignore Him.  I am moved and I am grateful.

When you get some time, take a slow drive through the cemetery.  It is anything but morbid…it is in fact one of the most meaningful things we can do.  You will be touched, you will be moved, and yes, somewhere along the way you will be grateful.  Let each headstone with a start and finish date be a reminder that for you there is still time.  Still time to make a difference, still time to mend a relationship, still time to finish well.  But most importantly…there is still time to believe and trust in Him.  The Book says that if anyone will call on His name…they will be saved—forgiven—rescued. No story is so bad that He can’t change the end.  Once again I am moved and I am grateful.

Many see the cemetery and think death.  For those who truly understand grace and Jesus they know the cemetery isn’t about death it is about life.  You learned it in Sunday School but now hear it again…like the first time.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever (that is you and me) calls on His name will not perish but have everlasting life.  So trust in Him and rest in Him.  For He has all of this. 

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, July 4, life, Military memories, Scripture, thankful

John Ellis Believed

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He has chosen as His own inheritance.” Psalm 33:12

I couldn’t believe it.  Last night Judy and I decided to go out to eat.  We do that a lot on Thursday nights.  We went to one of our favorite restaurants (dining inside, thank-you) and then visited Sam’s Club to see if we needed to buy something that we didn’t need.  Then we headed for 217 back in Harrisburg.  As we were driving down the highway, Willie started singing in my head again, “On the road again, that’s where I long to be, on the road again.” So it was time for a spur of the moment adventure.

As we approached an intersection we had passed a hundred times before, I asked Judy, “Where does this road go?”  It said Creal Springs so we just turned and decided to take a little side trip.  We were driving along just enjoying the lush greenness of the warm summer evening and I thought I saw one of those “brown signs.”  These signs usually indicate a place of special interest.  As I went by I thought I saw the words cemetery and Revolutionary War. I went down the road just a ways and then told Judy I saw a sign for a cemetery…perhaps an old one.  I turned around.

Back down the road, there was indeed a sign. We pulled off the road and it said, “Ellis Family Cemetery and Revolutionary War gravesite.  What?  Can’t be!  The crazy part was there was no road just a driveway.  Well, after a bit of hesitation, we decided to give it a try.  Sure enough, the driveway went between two houses which led to a pasture.  Way at the back of the pasture we could see a small cemetery.  There wasn’t a road but I could see where a car had gone before.  Off we went.

When we got there, we found the gravesite of John Ellis.  He was born in 1754 and died in 1850.  He lived for 96 years and he fought in the American Revolutionary War.  He had two monuments.  One was much newer, one much older.  The older one simply said, “For Military Merit” and someone had painted his name on it.  I was overwhelmed.  Here in Southern Illinois was the grave of a man, a hero, who fought for the birth of our country. Amazing.

This man was there; this man was on the battlefield when a group of men and women declared our freedom from England.  This.man.was.there.  He put it all on the line for a cause greater than himself.  And for the last 244 years that is what freedom loving American heroes have done.  Through conflicts great and small they have served, they have bled and many have died.  I value the saying, “All gave some, some gave all.” I value the sacrifice of all these freedom fighters through the centuries and decades.  I also love what they fought for.

Right now is a difficult time for our nation but we have seen difficult times before. At his first inauguration on March 4, 1933, Franklin Roosevelt said this. “This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Don’t rush past those words.  They are powerful and they are worth believing.

I believe in this country.  I believe even with all its warts and imperfections it is still the best country in the world.  Having visited well over twenty other countries I’ve seen the competition and America wins hands down.  I spent an Independence Day in basic training for the Air Force in 1972. Lights-out was about 8:00 pm and I was lying in my bunk when the fireworks starting going off.  I crept out of bed and went to the window and watched as the fireworks exploded in the Texas sky.  Two emotions came over me.  One, I missed family.  Somewhere in Florida they were celebrating freedom. The other though was more personal.  I was becoming an American airman serving my country.  I was one of her defenders and I was proud…proud to serve and proud to be an American.

So, please, don’t blow past Independence Day tomorrow and certainly don’t give up on America.  We have weathered many storms and we can weather this one…if we do what we have done in the past and that is trust God.  It is no accident that we have fought and won, it is no accident that we have survived and even thrived for the past 244 years.  It was more than American determination…it was and is the grace of God.

The Book says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He has chosen as His own inheritance.”  That is so true.  As a nation when we choose God, when we choose to make Him ours, we do better.  When we don’t, we don’t.  It is just that simple.  It isn’t politically correct these days but the bottom line is…its true.  The second part of that verse is equally important. God is still inviting, calling people to be His.  Skin color doesn’t matter, economic status doesn’t matter, creed doesn’t matter.  He simply invites every man, woman, and child to be His.  The decision is individual. So, God bless America.  If you are a God follower, a God believer, start the day tomorrow with a whispered prayer of thanks for this great country.  And then, pause, be still and listen for surely the Whisperer will whisper.  He may speak through His Word, He may speak through another person or a beautiful sunrise or sunset.  Regardless, He will whisper, “You can rest in Me.  I’ve got this.” 

Posted in life, Scripture

War of 1812

“Dear friends, don’t overlook this one fact: With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.” (2 Peter 3:8)

Warning. Thought provoking story ahead. It was the strangest library you could imagine.  A friend told me about a cemetery that had some very old graves. Now I know you are wondering, “What does a cemetery have to do with a library?”  And the answer is volumes and volumes.  First, lest you think me strange, I love history and especially American and local history.  Second, I love stories. This particular cemetery had some of both.

So over the river and through the woods Judy and I went till we came to Lavender Cemetery Lane.  A quick right off of Highway 34 and about half a mile down the lane and there it was—Lavender Cemetery.  There were two sections.  The first section was much older than the second but both were filled with stories.  And, like I said, I love stories.

First was my friend’s grandfather.  I had already learned that he was quite the character.  He actually ran with the infamous Charlie Berger gang.  He did some time in the big house and died when he was only 48—though not from a bank heist or anything like that. I was fascinated.  Then we started looking around and it was amazing.  We found the grave of a veteran from the War of 1812.  Can you believe that?  Then we found families who had lost not one, not two but three children.  It was in the days before there were antibiotics.  Can you imagine how difficult that was?

There were many other veterans buried there.  There was a Vietnam veteran who had obtained the highest enlisted rank in the Air Force, Chief Master Sergeant and had earned a Bronze Star for Valor in the war.  Next to him was a veteran of the Korean War.  He had died aboard the USS Saris.  During a typhoon in Korean waters a naval mine broke loose and hit the ship and it sank in 20 minutes.  Four men died and one of them found his way back home to Lavender cemetery.  But wait, there is more.  World War II veterans were scattered throughout as well as World War I. There were even civil war veterans buried there.  Almost side by side, a young soldier from Mississippi was laid to rest by a soldier from the north.  On and on, old, barely readable stones told stories of valor and courage.

There were headstones with beautiful etchings of home places and poems about life and death.  Scratched into a large rock, one read, “My friends, here lies my body beneath the sod but my soul has gone home to God.”  In this obscure country cemetery I saw a headstone for two people I know.  The dates of the death yet to be filled in—their stories still being written. Many of the headstones have been worn smooth by time.  Like their headstones, so many of their stories have faded into obscurity. But each one…each one…wrote a story that touched people and perhaps changed lives.

Yesterday afternoon at about 5:30 pm I found myself face to face with my own mortality.  My time, your time is limited.  The story will come to an end one day for each of us.  The question is this, “What kind of story are we writing?”  What story will be told at the service given to remember us? What story will be told when we stand before our creator either as His child or one who said no?  What kind of story?

Well, the good news is, there is still time to write.  There is still time to make sure your story is a story worth celebrating.  Peter tells us in the Bible that a thousand years is like a day and a day is like a thousand years.  That is a big truth.  We get the first part easily but don’t miss the second. A day is like a thousand years. That seems to say that even if we are in the second half of our life, or later, there is time. If there’s more in the rearview mirror than the windshield, it’s not too late. God can take those limited days and make it like a thousand years—plenty of time to start writing a new story.  So why not start now.  Right now.

Forget the regrets.  Forget the unwise choices. Forgive the broken promises just like God forgave you.  It’s in the Book.  Learn from each one but then leave the past in the past.  Paul did…check out Philippians 4:13…forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to the future in Christ, I press on.  Good, good advice. I don’t know how this virus thing is going to finish playing out.  I know I am not afraid.  I know my Father is in control.  I know that the foreseeable future is going to be different. But I also know I want the story about  how I handled it all… to be that I trusted Him to handle it.  I want the story to say I trusted Him during the pandemic.  We can do that you know.  He’s trustworthy.  I can lay my head on my pillow tonight and rest in Him.  So, pleasant dreams. He’s got this.