Category Archives: Biographies

Memorial Day: Remembering Hacksaw Ridge

Memorial Day began back in 1868 at the end of the Civil War as a special day to remember everyone in the U.S. military who had lost their life in the service of our country. At that time, it was called “Decoration Day,” and grave sites were decorated with flags and flowers. Memorial Day is celebrated as a national holiday on the last Monday in May now, and it also serves as the unofficial beginning of our summer. What I didn’t know before yesterday is that there are only 4 cemeteries in America and one on foreign soil where the flag can always be flown at half mast, and one of them is here in Michigan. Last May Alan and I had the privilege of exploring the Normandy Coast with our two youngest sons, and during that time, we saw many deeply moving (and distressing) museums and memorials to the devastation of World War 2.

The American Cemetery at Omaha Beach is the one foreign cemetery
where the flag may be flown continuously at half mast. Can you guess where the others might be?
*Arlington Cemetery in Washington D.C.  *The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii *The Gettysburg National Cemetery near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania And last, but not least (because I believe it was the first),
U.S. Post Cemetery on Mackinac Island, Michigan.  On this special day to commemorate those who’ve lost their lives
in the service of our country, I would also like to express my deep gratitude
to those who have served or are serving presently. And, for any of you who have the stomach for a terrifying story of heroism
in war, I’d like to recommend Hacksaw Ridge. Hacksaw Ridge is based on the incredible true story of a young Christian kid named Desmond T.  Doss who joined the army during World War 2. Doss joined as a conscientious objector and became a medic. In one night of amazing heroism during the Battle of Okinawa, Desmond Doss single-handedly saved 75 people  from being butchered by the enemies at the top of Hacksaw Ridge. Later he was honored as the first man in American history
to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a shot!

Oh, for a world full of men like Desmond T. Doss, who have a heart to protect the freedoms of their country while preserving life rather than destroying it. I know of no one other than Jesus who can inspire such courage and nobility! Jesus gave his life so that everyone in the entire world can have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This Memorial Day, would you like to be like Jesus and like Doss?

Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:27-28).

(*These 3 photos are from Wiki. The seven illustrating Hacksaw Ridge are from the 2016 movie by that name [directed by Mel Gibson], and the rest are mine, one from Fort Mackinac yesterday but the others from the Normandy Coast in France last May.)

Would You Like to be Like the Men Who Built America?

After our visit to the Biltmore Estate, I wanted to learn more about the Vanderbilt family, and I discovered a really fascinating (but gut-wrenching) 5-hour historical documentary mini series from 2012 called The Men Who Built America. The series has an 8.7 rating on IMDb, won a lot of awards, and is really worth watching, if for no other reason than to inspire you to avoid oppressing those who are under you, in the work space…or anywhere else, for that matter!The Men Who Built America traces the transformation of America from the post Civil War Era to World War 1, focusing in particular on the lives of four incredibly driven, innovative, and wealthy men: Cornelius Vanderbilt (who connected America via ships and railroads),  Andrew Carnegie (who developed the steel industry, opening the way for bridges, skyscrapers and city scapes not only in America but throughout the world, making him one of the richest men on earth),  John D. Rockerfeller (who founded Standard Oil and holds the record for  being the richest man who’s ever lived, with a net worth of 392 billion [adjusted for inflation], and  John P. Morgan (wizard of corporate finance and industrial consolidation in America).  At the end, the series also touched on the life of Henry Ford (founder of Ford Motor Company who developed the assembly line technique for mass production). I was mesmerized and horrified at the same time. The first four men were innovative geniuses who worked ceaselessly to build industrial empires. Their work did profit America as a whole, but they were also ruthless cut throats who became incomprehensible rich by oppressing the poor laborers who worked for them.  Although they became amazing philanthropists near the end of their lives, I found myself feeling frustrated and outraged by their abuse of power. Why didn’t they share their wealth with the thousands (millions?) who worked for them?  In stark contrast, Henry Ford paid his employees about 2.5 times the going wage, provided safe working conditions, and established the 5-day, 40-hour work week. Ford still became plenty rich, but he was so much better as an employer! As the stories unfolded, it occurred to me that the richest men were so busy competing with each other and oppressing everyone that it didn’t even seem like they were enjoying their lives. Today is no different! If every business owner paid their employees a living wage and shared profits more equitably, they could still be wealthy enough to enjoy an abundant life while providing abundant lives for their employees too. How is it that as a nation we’re so consumed by greed?  Can we change the men who are building America now? Can we do better, one employer at a time??? As a nation, can we vote in legislation that provides a living wage for every employee who works a 40-hour week?

Surely men of low degree are vanity, and men of high degree are a lie: to be laid in the balance, they are altogether lighter than vanity. Trust not in oppression, and become not vain in robbery: if riches increase, set not your heart upon them” (Psalm 62:9-10).

Ever Looking for a Quiet Place for a Retreat? Consider “The Cove!”

Have you ever had a twinge of envy that monks can live in solitude and enjoy a lifetime immersed in prayer and meditation? Twenty years ago, Alan and I had a friend who spent one week every year at a monastery down in Kentucky, and that seemed wonderfully appealing, although it never seemed practical with a brood of children to tend. However, a quiet retreat space struck us as almost utopian in appeal, so you can imagine our amazement and joy when we discovered just such a retreat opportunity in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina. We were on our way “home” (to our conference site) after visiting the Biltmore Estate, when we just happened to notice a sign for Billy Graham’s “The Cove.” Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew there was a Billy Graham Library
and thought there might be some sort of museum related named The Cove, so I asked Alan if we could at least see how far it would be from the main road. As a matter of fact, if you get off I-40 at Exit 55 and turn right, it’s right there! Wow! We were totally enthralled! Tickets to the Biltmore are $65. At The Cove, we just drove in and were treated to a royal tour of their chapel… for free! Kindly volunteers explained the mission and work of Billy Graham, and introduced us to a small but impressive collection of photos concerning his lifetime ministry. Alan and I both became Christians (along with millions of others) through the ministry of Billy Graham, so it was especially meaningful to see photos from his first and last crusades. (Our son Jonathan attended his last ministry in NYC back in 2005.)A collage of photos also gave us a small, sweet window into Billy’s family life. Afterward, we were offered time to enjoy the Chatlos Memorial Chapel,
where people are welcome to play the piano or organ, sit on the chairs, or worship God standing at their 400-year-0ld English pulpit!Everyone who comes is also free to visit their prayer room, or pray while wandering through Ruth Graham’s Prayer Garden. And, people are invited to stay as long as they please. Before leaving, volunteers share the gospel (John 3:16) via a gorgeous painting
and give visitors the opportunity to write out prayer requests, which are gathered and will be prayed over at least 5 times. Our guide also prayed for us before we left. Praise God!

I don’t know if unbelievers might find this uncomfortable, but we absolutely loved the way everything was presented and didn’t find anyone intrusive or the atmosphere pressured at all.

The whole experience was one of kindness, openness,
and a warm invitation for visitors to stop and rest awhile, enjoying the presence of God, which is almost palpable there.

Before we left, we also learned that there are on-going opportunities throughout the year for personal retreats, spiritual enrichment sessions with some of America’s finest theologians, and concerts by Christian musicians. Their 1,200 acre campus also includes a youth camp and other opportunities as well as their lovely Bible conference center. Did you know? I didn’t! Would you like to go sometime? I would love to! Maybe we’ll see you there.  🙂(For more information, visit TheCove.org or call 1-800-950-2092. You might accuse me of advertising, and I guess I am, but it’s because I’d never even heard of The Cove and feel like it’s the kind of place where your soul and spirit will be truly nurtured at a charitable price! If you’re really broke, they even offer applications for scholarships.)

(I took all the photos at The Cove on May 4, 2017.)

Have You Considered The Case for Christ?

The Case for Christ is based on the true story of Chicago Tribune journalist,Lee Strobel, and his search for the truth about Christianity. Back in 1980, Lee (played by Mike Vogel) and his wife Leslie (played by Erika Christensen) were livin’ the dream…self-proclaimed atheists, in love, and enjoying life together with their daughter. However, their world started to unravel after their daughter nearly choked to death and Lee’s wife became a Christian while attending Willow Creek Church.  Intent on restoring their marriage to its former simplicity and peace, Lee began a two-year investigative journey to debunk the Christian myth: the death and resurrection of Christ.His research took him around the country, where he interviewed leading experts in various fields:  archeology, theology,  psychology, and medicine. The Case for Christ traces Lee and Leslie Strobels’ journey from atheism into faith. If you’ve ever wished you could believe in Christ but haven’t been persuaded
of the veracity of the resurrection, please consider watching this movie (or read the book Lee wrote). It’s also really encouraging for those of you who might be believers
but have spouses who do not believe. PG, 84% (audience score) on Rotten Tomatoes, great acting, excellent script. Nothing embarrassing or unprofessional,
so you won’t need to hold your breath if you invite someone to see it. And, it’s probably showing in a theater near you right now!  In truth, I’ve only been to a theater for anything besides a private showing
twice in the last 55 years: once to see The Passion of Christ,
and yesterday to see The Case for Christ. So, you can tell what means the most to me! Believing in Christ,
who loved us and gave himself for us, is right at the top! 

Declare and present your case;
    let them take counsel together!
Who told this long ago?
    Who declared it of old?
Was it not I, the Lord?
    And there is no other god besides me,
a righteous God and a Savior;
    there is none besides me.

“Turn to me and be saved,
    all the ends of the earth!
    For I am God, and there is no other.”
(Isaiah 45:21-22, ESV)

 

Someone To Remember

pretty-elderly-ladyI walked into her home. It was dark. A small light in the kitchen was the token illumination for her humble home, which was sparsely furnished with tattered cast offs. Among the few old pictures decorating the walls, there was one of a beautiful woman with dreams in her eyes…the elderly woman standing in front of me. She was still pretty and neat, her white hair neatly pulled back in a traditional European bun, garbed in a coat – in the house.

James 1 admonishes us to visit the widow and the orphan. This evening’s visit was my attempt at reaching out of my comfort zone to be an obedient Christian.

She invited me to sit down. She was very talkative in her Eastern European accent, which I found comforting (being introverted). She told me how much she loved the preaching of the pastor of our church. As she could no longer attend church, the deacons faithfully brought her the tapes of the Sunday sermons.

I thought: Why does she like this pastor so much? He says nothing. I listen and listen, but all I hear every week is, “You can make a difference!”  I could feel my critical heart becoming even more cynical, fueled by my awareness that this poor woman was living in a ghetto with no resources and shattered dreams.

“Why is that?” I asked.

She answered in her lyrical voice,  “ He talks about my Lord, Jesus Christ! He is all I have now!”

Throughout the evening I heard her story. She grew up in Latvia, not far across the river from the Tsar’s palace. Her father was the Tsar’s personal doctor. But sadly, the royal family was murdered one fateful evening in 1917, and even her father could not bring the dead back to life. In spite of the unrest and instability of Russia, Latvia continued as a peaceful state. Lilijan grew up privileged. She was beautiful. She sang. She married a congressman of Latvia. They started their family.

Life did not stay beautiful. Dreams were shattered as Hitler did his thing and eventually Stalin did his thing. Latvia was nothing but a pawn in the world revolution. One night, political madmen came in and killed her husband.

Somehow, pregnant Lilijan escaped with her young daughter. They made their way through Eastern Germany.  People were starving.  Soldiers were everywhere. She talked about how Christianity became much more than an ethnic tradition, how Jesus became much more than a name, and how God became much more than an impersonal deity as He met their basic needs.

Lilijan came to the United States as a refugee and started life over. She was no longer a Latvian princess. No one seemed even to remember Latvia after the Soviet Union swallowed it up. She became a line worker at a GM plant and eventually married, only to be discarded later in the American way.

Liljan had two children. Her daughter, Rose grew up, got married and moved away She would visit but not often. Lilijan’s son suffered from schizophrenia, making her life extremely difficult when he wasn’t hospitalized. She continued to love him and have hope for him. She longed for the day when she would be in that country that her Savior had prepared for her. She longed for her Prince of Peace.

As I listened to her that night, I did not understand. It all seemed so hopeless. What  a sad ending. Certainly not the stuff of a Jane Austin novel!

Even though I was a mother of two at the time, I was still a child in my soul. I thought as a child. I wanted to dream. I did not know God shatters dreams to reveal to us the desires of His heart that will make us whole.

But now, many years later, after disappointments and quiet tragedies that broke my heart to heal my soul, I am a woman. I no longer think like a child. I can see more clearly. The name of Jesus now lifts my soul. Whether I am in a ghetto home or a palace,  and whether I’m in a traditional church with the facade of ancient stability that echos the songs of ages past or I’m in a postmodern warehouse that markets itself with popular Christian rhythms, I can now say with Lilijan: I rejoice when I  hear the name of Jesus! I am thankful to be with those who worship God. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

(This post was written by Connie Sikma, from my writers’ group. Connie didn’t have any pictures of Liljan, who is now with her Prince of Peace. However, a sweet friend from my Sunday school class kindly allowed me to take her photo for an illustration. Thank you so much, Connie and Shirley!)

 

Before Black History Month Ends: Take Time to be Charmed by the Queen of Katwe

queen-of-katwe Have you seen Disney’s Queen of Katwe?
It’s a perfect movie for celebrating Black History Month! queen-of-katwe-enjoying-her-first-snowQueen of Katwe is a glowing tribute to the brilliance and beauty
of African people, as well as their capacity for integrity and perseverance.

queen-of-katwe-accepting-recognitionWhen I first started preparing for this post, I was tempted to complain that the shortest, darkest month has become Black History Month, and that if I were running the country I’d choose March or May—long beautiful months…until I read the reason why. carter_g_woodson_portraitDr. Carter G. Woodson (African American with a PhD from Harvard who is known as the Father of Black History) chose the second week of February as “Negro History Week” because two men who were very influential in elevating African Americans, Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, were born then.

lupita-nyongo-as-nakku-harriet-in-queen-of-katwe Do you get frustrated by my rabbit trails? I hope not. phiona-mutesi-in-queen-of-katweAt any rate, Queen of Katwe tells the true story
of a young girl named Phiona Mutesi, kampala-uganda-in-queen-of-katwewho grew up in “Katwe,” a slum of Kampala, Uganda. harriet-in-queen-of-katweHer father had died, and Phiona’s mother, Harriet,
fiercely defended the children, vegetable-market-in-queen-of-katweworking constantly in a street market selling vegetables so they could survive. phiona-at-mission-school-in-queen-of-katwePhiona and her little brother, hungry,
wandered into a mission school, where they were fed. missionary-with-child-in-queen-of-katweWhile there, they also met Robert Katende, a young missionary  robert-katende-praying-with-children-in-queen-of-katwewho coached soccer  chess-game-in-queen-of-katweand taught the children chess with the hope of helping them learn skills benjamin-in-queen-of-katwethat would enable them succeed in life generally. phiona-mutesi-and-madina-nalwanga-in-queen-of-katweThe rest is history
(current history:Phiona is only 21 today and still going strong!), returning-to-school-on-mission-bus-in-queen-of-katwebut I don’t want to say too much so you can fully enjoy the movie. receiving-prize-in-queen-of-katweAnd, if you have any school-aged children in your life, it would make a wonderfully inspirational movie to share with them too. Disney does it so well!

slum-of-katwe-in-kampala-uganda-in-queen-of-katweBear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden. Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith. Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:2-10)

(I took all the photos while watching the movie, except for the first [publicity poster] and the B&W of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, which is public domain, from Wiki.)

Loving: More than a Just a Name

loving-movie-posterMuch more than just a name, Loving is “an absorbing, beautiful piece of American cinema” (Paul Heath, The Hollywood News) based on the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving. marriage-of-richard-and-mildred-loving-from-loving-movieLoving is a PG-13, 2016 movie recently released to video that has been highly rated. It’s already won 19 awards and has been nominated for 82 more, including an Academy Award nomination for Ruth Negga in her leading role as Mildred Loving. February is Black History Month. If you haven’t watched this moving film yet, February would be a great time to see Loving and start putting love into action by understanding and loving our dark-skinned citizens more.   🙂  ruth-negga-as-mildred-in-the-movie-lovingAlthough I sat through the entire movie feeling petrified that something terrible would happen to this young couple—and they did suffer many hardships for their interracial marriage (which was still against the law in Virginia back in 1958), I was able to sigh happily at the end. Their case, trying to legitimize interracial marriages throughout America, went to the Supreme Court in 1967.   richard-loving-in-the-movie-lovingIf you’re a white supremacist, I beg you to look deep into your heart and try to figure out why. What makes you think white is superior to any other skin color?  I promise you that, apart from skin tissue, we’re all the same colors underneath.  richard-and-mildred-loving-with-lawyer-from-loving-movieCaucasians, Mongoloids, and Negroids are all similar in what’s inside our bodies, brains, and hearts. When I look into my heart, I find that I’m a sinner, just like everybody else. I find that I’m imperfect. I find that very, very little of what makes me “good” has anything to do with me. Some of it has to do with how I was created in the womb, who my parents were, and all the advantages I had as a child growing up. The rest is attributable to God’s redemption through Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit in my life. The only thing I can claim is believing and surrendering my life to Christ, and even that I know is a gift of God for which I can only thank Him.   mildred-and-their-first-child-in-the-movie-lovingIf you think whites are in any way superior to any other race, on what do you base that? Certainly not the Scriptures, which teach that God created all of us in His image, that we are all marred by sin and in need of a Savior, and that the death of Christ occurred to break down the walls between us and unify us into one glorious body, the Church of Jesus Christ, the bride of Christ. mildred-loving-in-the-movie-lovingIf you separate yourself from your brothers and sisters based on race, you’re separating yourself from the body of Christ and the love of Christ. God calls us to love and humility. Will you answer that call?the-lawyer-who-helped-in-the-movie-lovingBut now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
(Ephesians 1:13-22, ESV)the-movie-loving-mildred-feeding-their-baby