Category Archives: Biographies

A Lion of a Little Boy

Have you seen Lion? It’s a heart-rending biographical drama adapted from the non-fiction book, A Long Way Home.  Lion premiered last fall at the Toronto Film Festival, is PG-13, and has an 8.1 IMDb rating.  If you’ve been adopted or have adopted…if you’re a foster parent or have grown up in an orphanage, Lion will break your heart, but it might also help heal some of the pain that haunts most people who’ve grown up without knowing their biological parents.  The story begins back in 1986, where little five-year-old “Saroo,” lives in Khandwa, India with his mother, older brother, and younger sister.  Saroo and his brother steal coal from trains to trade for food, but one night Saroo is so tired that he falls asleep at the train station rather than helping his brother.  Through a series of misadventures, Saroo ends up lost on the streets of Calcutta, many hundreds of miles from home.  In fact, he doesn’t know the name of his hometown…or even his full name!  He survives many frightening episodes before a kindly man helps him get to an orphanage, where he learns some English and is later adopted by a couple in Hobart, Tasmania.  The story picks up again nearly 25 years later, when Saroo, as a young adult, sets out in search of his lost family.  Although I wouldn’t recommend the movie for children (at least until you’ve viewed it first), it is a very moving account that brought out a visceral response in me…I felt the horror of lostness, the fear of strange adults, the hunger, the loneliness, the pain…the relief…the deep, lasting grief. I came away feeling like I’d experienced a tiny taste of what it might be like for the millions of children abroad—and at home—who’ve grown up without the loving support of their parents.  I’ll never meet someone who has been orphaned now without feeling more compassionate toward them. It’s one of those movies that has a lasting impact.

Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy
(Psalm 82:3).Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this,
To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction,
and to keep himself unspotted from the world
” (James 1:27).

(The photos are a combination of two real pictures of Saroo as shown at the end of the film, plus images from the movie, Lion.)

What about Bob? Creativity and Kindness

Bob isn’t a psychiatric patient, he’s a psychiatrist, and a great one…or, at least he was. Bob and Beth are about our age, although they’ve recently retired while Alan and I are still in the “shall I? shan’t I?” stage. I’m quite sure Alan will retire in the next few years, but one of the things that holds us back is the question all retired people inevitably ask and have to answer: What will we do after we retire?I got a forward a few days ago about an elderly man who took a position at a retail store but arrived late for work more than once. After a couple of offenses, he was hauled into the boss’s office for a lecture. At the end of his severe reprimand, the boss asked, “What did they do at your previous job when you were late?”

“Well, I guess they just said, ‘Good morning, Admiral! Can I bring you a cup of coffee?'”

I think it’s easy to forget that “old folks” had active lives. Most retirees held down respectable jobs, reared families, and have children and grandchildren. One of the hardest things about retiring is the loss of feeling respected and valued. Both of my brothers continued working/consulting until they were 70. My oldest tried to retire at 65 but missed feeling needed and respected.

If you know retirees, would you please take a little time to find out more about them? They often have mental storehouses filled of memories and wisdom that they’re more than happy to share. If you’re thinking about retiring yourself, please consider reading the inspiring book Billy Graham wrote a few years ago called Nearing Home…about “life, faith, and finishing well.”

And, what about Bob? Well, Bob is an avid photographer and a deeply spiritual Christian, so he’s been adding scripture verses to some of his favorite photos, which he’s been sharing lately with me!  Here are a few for your enjoyment, and you’ll most likely see more of them on later blogs! Thank you, Bob! You’re an inspiration to me!                    Cute, huh? Beth posed for this rather humorous one…(All photos are used by permission of Robert Hardee, who owns the copy rights.)

(I wrote a post with more information about Nearing Home last year:  https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2016/03/23/reflections-on-nearing-home-by-billy-graham/  )

Nat the Knitter

Have you ever seen someone in a casket who was buried with knitting needles in her hands? Me neither, until the other day! This morning I want to share a short story about this wonderful person. Nathalie was Rex’s mom. She was a night nursing supervisor professionally, but somehow she found time to do about a zillion other things too, like volunteering to help with blood drives. She was a Service Unit Director for Girl Scouts, ran day camps, summer adventure camps, volunteered as camp nurse, and oversaw many cookie sales. (Apparently there were sometimes large stacks of Girl Scout cookies neatly lined up in their barn!) She was also active in their church: She helped make quilts for missionaries, played the piano, and sang in the choir for many years. (The two photos below are of Nat’s granddaughters at the service; all of Rex’s kids are very musical!) Nathalie’s daughter-in-law (who’s been my prayer partner for nearing 20 years), told me that she was always busy doing something productive…and just never stopped! Nat knitted well over a thousand hats for preemies at their hospital over the years. In fact, Cindi said the last time they sat together at the hospital before her father-in-law died (just five months to the day before Nathalie joined him in heaven), Nat was still knitting while she sat at her beloved husband’s bedside. During that visit, Nat fell asleep in the chair, but while she was asleep, her hands kept knitting! Cindi said she could hardly believe it, but Nat was really asleep. It was sweet and amazing to watch!  So, Rex’s mom spent her entire adult life working hard and helping others. What a legacy!!  Now she’s in heaven with her beloved Savior and dear husband of 65 years. Rex says he knows it might not be theologically correct, but he likes to picture them together at a little cottage in the woods, where his dad can go out duck hunting and fishing. And, I wonder if his mom might still be knitting…   🙂

A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth. It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart. Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.” (Ecclesiastes 7:1-3)

Hidden Figures Made Public

               If you haven’t seen Hidden Figures yet, I hope you’ll see it soon.  It’s an uplifting and appropriate tribute to the African-American female mathematicians who were an integral (but not fairly integrated) part of NASA’s   (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) “Space Race” back in 1961.  Hidden Figures is a family-friendly, PG-rated biographical docudrama with an IMDb rating of 7.8. It received over 75 nominations and 31 wins, and I thought it was superb!  The movie follows three of the women in particular: Katherine Johnson, a physicist who works as a “computer” (analyzing data before modern computers were available) in the Langley Research Center,  Mary Jackson, a very gifted mathematician who aspires to be an engineer in a day when both women and African-Americans were considered “unfit” to be engineers,  and Dorothy Vaughan, who works hard to be given her fair title as “supervisor,” which is the role she’s successfully fulfilling. Although the movie has received some criticism for time-line issues and credibility in details (the ladies used the restrooms that were available on site even though it was an issue), the movie did an excellent job of highlighting these three remarkable women, who deserve to have their lives brought out of the shadows.  In the movie, the charming romance of Katherine and her future husband, Jim Johnson, is depicted.                  As it turns out, they married and enjoyed 56 years together! In fact, Katherine Johnson won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. In 2016, a new 40,000-square-foot facility at the Langley Research Center was renamed the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility in her honor, and she was included in BBC series 100 Women. This lady was not only a brilliant physicist, she sang in her church choir for 50 years!  It was also true that Dorothy Vaughan became the acting supervisor of the West Area Computers in 1949. She was the first African-American woman to supervise a group of staff at the center. Over the course of her career, she taught herself and her staff FORTRAN (computer programming language) so they would be prepared to use the new machine computers that became available in the 1960’s.  Reflecting on her work, she said she felt as if she was on “the cutting edge of something very exciting.” Concerning the prejudice she encountered both for being African-American and for being a woman, she said, “I changed what I could, and what I couldn’t, I endured.”  Thankfully, she was eventually rewarded for being steadfast in good deeds and did receive the title she so richly deserved. An active Christian, Dorothy participated in music and missionary ministries at her church for many years. Mary Jackson did, in fact, became NASA’s first African-American female engineer! Beyond her work and family life, Mary spent many years tirelessly working to help gifted women and other minority peoples advance in their fields. Today, these three fantastic “hidden figures” have passed out of the shadows and into the lime light…here on earth. I suspect they were already stars in heaven before the movie was made. 🙂Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1  Corinthians 15:58).

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.)