The Shoebox Chronicles: Remembering Well – Edition 4

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By Mark Lehman, Riverbend wRiters

Last weekend an airline flight delay leaving Washington D.C. gave me a couple of rare free hours. I could choose to see new monuments, a museum, or just visit favorite landmarks in this wonderful and uniquely American city. I opted for Arlington National Cemetery.

I have been to this historic landmark numerous times and I have always been emotionally impacted by the scene of 624 acres of rolling hills marked with over 400,000 white grave markers of American soldiers. This trip was especially impacting as preparations were underway for Memorial Day remembrances. Volunteers were already positioning crates of small American Flags around the property so that other volunteers can place them on each grave as a Memorial Day tradition.

Memorial Day is a time we as a nation honor Americans who died in military service. Unfortunately, the real purpose of this day seems to get lost among announcements of super blowout sales at the local mall and the bedlam associated with the start of summer vacations.

In my shoebox files is a large envelope of letters titled “Norvin Davis letters”. Previously, I only knew that I had a second cousin named Norvin who died in World War II at the age of 22. But from these letters I learned about his dreams, his philosophy about his own death, how he died, and why he was honored to make the ultimate sacrifice if necessary.

At West Point his classmates nicknamed him “Smiley” and he was considered the ultimate optimist and team leader. He loved to fish, was an avid horseman, and signed up for every volunteer military competition with his fellow cadets. He and his roommate, “Saint”, took early graduation to enter the war effort where Saint went to the European theatre and Norvin to the Pacific. The letters passed between them as fast as time and distance would permit.

Lt. Norvin Davis

I learned my cousin dreamed of getting married and starting a family. But he did have his priorities and the first thing he was going to do when the war was over was get his “very own big yellow dog.” In one of the last letters to Saint, he wrote of dying: “I am not afraid of dying, but the hard part is knowing the ones I love will suffer.” He would have been comforted knowing his academy classmates and the entire squadron he commanded devoted much of their post-war lives to comforting my aunt and uncle with calls, personal visits and all those letters.

 

 

Lieutenant Norvin Davis – 1921 -1945

In one condolence letter, Lt. Gen. O.W. Griswold, Commander of the XIV Corps, wrote fondly of Norvin, concluding the letter by saying: “I have no doubt we will win this war. What concerns us all after that is whether the people themselves can win and keep the peace. If this can be done I feel that our American boys who fell in battle will have as their memorial the greatest monument ever built by the human race.”

I am grateful these letters were preserved as an important part of my family and our nation’s history. Philosopher George Santayana once wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Therefore, it is vital to the future of our nation that we take time on Memorial Day to remember all soldiers who died in military service. They shaped our national history. Most importantly – we cannot just honor our dead – we must learn from them. The future of this great nation depends on it.

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On the Fringes…

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By Devon Robinson, Riverbend wRiters

In my opinion, it’s daunting to be vulnerable with Christian women. In a room full of seemingly Ruths, I feel more like an Eve (or a Jezebel on a really bad day. Eek!). The stress involved: Am I enough? Do I talk about God’s perfect love enough even in the midst of moments when I still wander “are you there, God”? Am I hiding my insecurities, faults, mistakes, and imperfections enough? Do I look wholesome enough? Am I smiling enough or is my RBF out? Even writing this blog post has me stricken with anxiety because strangers are getting a glimpse into my psyche.

Feeling like this, how do I make connections with women within the church?

I know vulnerability is a two way street. I’ve had experiences with Christian females in the past that have left me with a sour taste preventing me from going back to the table for seconds. Unfortunately, I do not think I stand alone here.

But….

The fact of the matter is these thoughts are all about me and my comfort, and that’s not Christ-like. Christ-like is finding the woman alone in the back pew and making sure she feels welcome. It’s reaching for the hand of the woman next to you because you know by observing her restlessness that she’s grappling with something painful. It’s revealing your need for grace so another can rest assured grace is there for her, too. It’s putting yourself out there again and again in the hope and faith that you will make a positive difference in someone’s life who’s in desperate need of love.

Because, at our cores, aren’t we all basically like the Woman at the Well, thirsting for the truth and acceptance of Jesus Christ?

Atticus Finch is Dead…

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By John Harrel, Riverbend wRiters

Human rights activist Desmond Tutu once said, “You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.”

Atticus Finch is a fictional character from the book, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” brought to life by Gregory Peck in the movie of the same name. Atticus was a single (widowed) father to two young children in rural Alabama in the 1930’s. Based upon the author’s father, Finch was a man of unshakeable character who did the right thing, even when the right thing was unpopular and potentially life-threatening.

Where have men like Finch gone? The malady of generational poverty and future criminal activity can be directly attributed to fathers who abandon their children.

According to a study authorized by the U.S. Department of Justice, children from fatherless homes account for 63 percent of youth suicides, 90 percent of all homeless and runaways, 71 percent of high school dropouts, and…75 percent of rapists driven by displaced anger. Another study funded by the Charles F. Kettering Foundation found that children in low-income, two-parent homes outperform students from high-income, single-parent homes! Fathers matter!

But what about those of us whose fathers didn’t leave our families, but we wished they would? My father was an emotionally unavailable, angry, physically abusive, cruel person. My mother played the  victim to his incapacity to be kind and decent. Where was God’s gift in my family? Every day I felt hopeless as I put on a façade that everything was fine in my life, hoping no one saw through to the truth. It is nothing short of a miracle I didn’t remain angry and bitter, considering the hate, rage and pain I felt in my youth.

Before I had children, I consciously decided the generational malady of abuse would not continue. When I became a father, I was like a carpenter without tools. The only examples of good parenting I

had observed were from television, and I knew life wasn’t scripted like that. I sought advice from people I believed were solid parents, read books and articles, and I took what made sense from those sources and developed my own style of parenting.

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My life experiences have given me a heart for people, especially kids. We hear the term “at-risk” youth which in schools is associated with children from lower income families, yet every child is at risk. We don’t know what type of life kids go home to. Alcoholism, drug abuse, physical and emotional abuse, are alive and prevalent in society. Children in dysfunctional homes feel alone, helpless and hopeless. When you feel hopeless you are at risk of losing it all.

Atticus Finch was my first, true role model. I find it odd that I look up to a fictional character, yet I am grateful I found Atticus when I did. Only through thoughtful reflection have I been able to see God’s gift to me in the family I was born into. I certainly didn’t see it when I was in the middle of the storm. Without having the background I did, I would not have developed into the person I am today, and for that I am forever grateful.

Never quit, never lose hope. Find an Atticus…

Divide… and be Conquered

By John Harrell, Riverbend wRiters

In November 1956, Nikita Khrushchev,leader of the (then) Soviet Union, said of the United States, “We will take you over without ever firing a shot; we will bury you.” Was Khrushchev right? Our divisiveness is destroying us from within, and the only weapons used are Words of Mass Destruction. It does not have to be this way.

Entropy is the state of going from order to disorder. There are some things we cannot stop, such as aging, but we can stop polluting our minds with wrongful thoughts about people. I believe we can prevent the destruction of our society and show kindness and compassion to each other. It begins with willingness: We must be willing to connect with each other.

We have a heart problem in our country. We see it manifested through unthinkable acts of violence and hateful prejudice. People cry out for unity and diversity. Novel, nice ideas, but unity and diversity do not resolve the underlying problem. Here is why: unity makes us cautious to be ourselves and stand out from the unified group, while diversity just divides us further. We should strive for connectedness. Connection means we see through to the heart of others, see their true selves and not a prejudiced belief we have or the façade they want us to believe about them. Truly connecting with others resolves societal divisions political correctness feebly tries to address. Issues like racism, bigotry, hatred, persecution of others, even bullying dissolves when we connect.

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My circle of friends covers the spectrum of race, religion and beliefs. I even have a friend who is a pagan worshipper (seriously, although I don’t believe she has performed a sacrificial offering. Yet.)! I learn so much from my friends. We recognize and embrace our divergent backgrounds and opinions, have healthy, spirited conversations about our beliefs, yet our friendship withstands the test of conflict. Our values haven’t been attacked, nor have we compromised them for the sake of peaceful reconciliation. And we receive a gift in this: we see the world through different eyes which can only make us better and more open-minded. We connect!

Can we stop the entropy of humanity and decency? Yes, we can! And we must! Admittedly, I am eternally optimistic. Optimism is in my DNA, so this is the prism I view the world through. Being an optimist, I hold no one in judgment, so others feel free to be themselves and open up to me. My challenge to you is this: rid yourself of prejudgment of others, open your mind and your heart to alternative ways of thinking and see our beautiful world through different eyes. Who knows? You might make a connection!

A Servant’s Heart…

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By John Harrell seeking-grace.com, and Riverbend wRiters

In December, I was having a conversation with my friend Nina. I was finishing a piece I had written on leadership and was sharing the “Top Ten Characteristics of Leaders” with her. Nina said something that stuck with me. In fact, I still think about her words every day. She said, “Leaders have a servant’s heart.”

As I have thought on this since our conversation, recently it hit me that these wise words were describing the life of Jesus. Jesus came to earth in human form to show us the character of God. And, in his own words…he came to serve.

In our world today where “it’s all about me,” we have to look far and wide to find a person with the heart of a servant. We have become pathologically self-absorbed and obsessed with wealth, fame and power. People are bored with themselves and, rather than stretching and growing they focus on “The Bachelor/Bachelorette”and celebrities lives. Please don’t misunderstand me here. There is nothing wrong with accumulating wealth and influence. It’s only a problem when we deify them.

In the business world, we are deficient of leadership, too. I often wonder why intelligent, well-meaning people shy away from doing things differently than “how it’s always been done.” We are born with a creative spirit, so create! Perhaps fear and worry get in the way of exercising our creative minds. Fear and worry are learned behaviors. Anything we learned, we can unlearn.

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The final act of servitude Jesus performed was washing the disciples feet. For three years his disciples had been witness to countless miracles: healing the sick, controlling the weather, casting out demons, restoring eyesight to the blind and making the lame walk again. Less than a week prior they watched Jesus restore life to a man, Lazarus, who had been dead for four days! Now, he is doing a task usually assigned to a lowly servant. What confusion the disciples must have felt.

Every miracle Jesus performed was to serve and restore others. He never did anything to benefit himself. Truly, Jesus had a servant’s heart.

In our daily lives, our interactions with others present us with opportunities to make it all about us, or to benefit others. Don’t be a Kanye or a Kardashian, lead with a servant’s heart…

If We are the Body…?

By Devon Robinson, Riverbend wRiters

bodyof christ 1Recently, I was posed this question in Sunday School: What expectations do I have of the church? My answers could apply to the physical and the theoretical so the list was extensive. The question was then flipped around: What do I think the church expects from me? Crickets. Not really, but the list was far shorter. Ouch.

The questions create a paradigm shift from being a consumer of church to a producer for the church.

I Corinthians 12:14 (NKJV) says “For in fact the body is not one member but many.” The church, as the body of Christ is not just me or just you, it’s all of us. When we move beyond consuming as individuals, we begin to produce for many. As consumers, we find flaws and choose to take our business elsewhere. As producers, we identify problems and come up with solutions.

Just as our spiritual and physical well-being require a holistic perspective, let’s be diligent in the physical and spiritual care of the church. Physical care: volunteering, hospitality, maintenance. Spiritual care: ministry and service to each other as well as to the world. For example, mothers are notorious for putting their health care last. But if a mom let’s her own health deteriorate to the point of no return, what good is she to her children? Likewise, if we put all our focus into outreach while our brothers and sisters in Him are withering, how can we expect to draw in outsiders?

There’s a place for everyone to serve and minister, in both the physical and spiritual realms: children collect the hymnals from the pews after chapel service; early birds arrive at 6AM to brew coffee for the entire congregation every Sunday morning; members lead Bible studies throughout the week and host fellowship in their homes. Haven’t seen someone in Sunday School for a while? Check on them. Say “thanks” to your ministers and spiritual leaders; offer support to them.

We are the church, responsible as much for its failure as striving for its success. The church isn’t perfect because it’s made up of a bunch of imperfect, but necessary, parts. Thus, we won’t always get it right but we aim for good anyway. Let’s take care not to be apathetic about her fragility. It’s work. It’s worth it. It’s glory to Him.

The Shoebox Chronicles: Living our History – Edition 3

shoebox lehmanBy Mark Lehman, Riverbend wRiters

As I was growing up, it didn’t occur to me I was actually living my own history. I was simply part of the ideal post-war era of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s with loving parents seeking their own part of the American Dream in a brand new tree-filled subdivision in the hills west of Austin. Our personal safety, exposure to drugs or alcohol, or the infiltration of any non G-rated programing into our lives, was never an issue. Any negative intrusion into my life usually centered around an occasional bee sting, flat tire on my bicycle, or questionable report card from school.

During my formative years, I never thought of my parents as having any type of existence that did not revolve around the functional needs of their young family. They were fun-loving and very happy people who seemed completely content spending their days in a simple routine of putting food on the table, keeping the lawn mowed, and getting their well-groomed children to school and church on time. (Well most of the time, anyway.)

On occasions like Valentine’s Day or their respective birthdays, they appreciatively exchanged practical and mundane gifts like vacuum cleaners, harvest gold blenders, electric drills and socks. The thought they might share any type of interest in each other outside our daily life was foreign to me. However, I was enlightened by two letters I recently discovered in the shoebox dated February of 1952.

Evidently my parents were separated for a few months after their marriage while my dad finished his military obligation. During this time he wrote a heartfelt letter to his “darling angle” [sic] pledging they would never be separated again.   This beautifully worded letter talked about the home he wanted to build, the children he wanted to have, and the dreams they would share together. He also apologized for not being with her on their first Valentine’s Day as a married couple, and for the fact that she had to settle for a letter instead of her favorite: red roses.

The letter must have made some impact on my mom because she saved it forever. My father also saved the letter she wrote back to him saying, his “sweet words” were all she would ever want from him, and she would be really mad if he ever wasted his hard earned money on something as frivolous as roses.

This long ago letter exchange is more validation that: flowers wilt, pre-printed messages on cards are quickly discarded, and even toasters and blenders don’t come with a lifetime warranty. Written words saved and passed down through generations are our only links to our own family histories, legacies and dreams for future generations to build upon.

My mother often commented on a Bible verse about Jesus’ mother realizing her young son had very special gifts. Luke 2:43 reads: “And his mother stored all these things in her heart.”

By saving these letters and leaving them behind where I would easily find them, my mom left a guidepost about the dreams she was storing in her own heart as a young woman. These dreams later became my reality – and my own history.