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 Grace, Memorial Day, Military memories, Scripture, travel

Heroes

Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” John 15:13

I’m not sure how I found my way there, but I was grateful.  During my assignment in Sembach, Germany we had the opportunity to see so much.  From Hitler’s hideaway called “The Eagle’s Nest” in Berchtesgaden to the windmills of Holland to the Alps of Switzerland we were constantly amazed at what was all around us.  But nothing prepared me for Luxembourg.

We had some friends that we had known in our days at Moody Air Force Base in South Georgia.  They received orders to Germany several months before we did.  They were only a couple of hours from us so we saw each other pretty frequently.  It must have been during one of our forays that we came to it—Luxembourg American Cemetery.  It was one of the most hollowed sights I have ever seen.

There, in the cemetery, are 5,075 white Lasa marble crosses and stars of David.  Row after row of headstones that mark the final resting place of American heroes.  Each one made the ultimate sacrifice for us, for you and me, that we can live in freedom.  General George Patton is buried there. Two Medal of Honor recipients are also buried there: David G. Turner and William D. McGee. Twenty-two sets of brothers lay buried side by side throughout the cemetery. Some, 371 in fact, were never found.  They are simply listed as missing in action.  102 are just unknown.

This place of honor was established on December 29, 1944.  Many of the soldiers died during the Battle of the Bulge…Hitler’s last push to turn the tide of the war in Germany’s favor.  It failed but it came at great cost to the Allied forces. It was a harsh winter and because of the urgency of the times many were sent to fight with little or no winter gear. The desperate Germans showed little mercy to those taken prisoner.  And, all this occurred just nine months, nine months, before the war ended.  So many had survived D-Day and countless days of combat only to make the ultimate sacrifice months before the grand reunion with family.

Heroes.  It is a word we throw around lightly these days.  In a world where everyone gets a trophy we are in danger of losing the value of this incredible word.  Hero. Dictionary.com defines it as “a person noted for courageous acts.” Oxford says it is a person who is admired or idealized for courage. Webster defines it as an illustrious warrior or one who shows great courage.  Another place said it is a person who at great danger to themselves puts others first.

I went to Toys-R-Us one time and there they had several aisles of super hero stuff.  As I turned the corner a sign caught my eye.  It simply said, “Real Heroes.”  Along that aisle were the soldiers and sailor figures as well as police, firemen, and other emergency responders.  If I went to that aisle today it would have to include doctors, nurses and other medical professionals.  Real heroes…real people putting others first at peril to themselves.

But there would be one missing.  Jesus Christ, the Hero of Heaven, who willingly, who bravely, gave Himself to a Roman cross that men, women and children could be free. The cross was so horrible it was called the death of deaths.  It was so horrible it was illegal to crucify a Roman citizen.  And yet…He went.  Why?  He loved me. He loved you.

Amazingly it was not for some of us but all of us. Skin color, economic station, language, nationality, capacity to be bad or good doesn’t matter.  The Bible simply says, “He came to seek and save that which was lost.”  It simply says, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  It simply says He is not willing for any to perish but all to come home. Anyone—I like anyone. Anyone who acknowledges their need for a rescue will find one in Jesus. And this Hero not only does a meet and greet, He invites you to join His family.  How about that! So when you hear the national anthem, place your hand over your heart as a salute to those who paid the price for our freedom.  When you see a veteran, thank them for his or her service and sacrifice.  When you walk through a cemetery with your kids, point out the graves of the men and women who served and tell them why they are so special.  And when you talk to the Hero of Heaven next time, thank Him for forgiving your sin.  Thank Him for always being there.  Thank Him for giving you a place to rest.  And, thank Him for having this….because He does.

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.