Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Counting the Cost

Counting the Cost
By Brenda Black

Memorial Day originally honored the Civil War dead that numbered more than 620,000 men. Each May since 1868, America's freedom-grateful acknowledge their fallen protectors with quiet prayer, vivid floral wreaths and ceremonious events. Try as we may to humble ourselves as a nation and observe the solemn and selfless acts of brave soldiers, the gestures pale in comparison to their greatness. And sadly, there will remain an ignorant disregard among the masses for such noble sacrifice.

Though teenage men faced bloody battles more than a hundred years ago, and writhed with guilt and weariness and hunger, little thought will be given them at 21st Century beach-side BBQs where youth feast and party. The latest generations vaguely recall their ancestors' names who fought for what they believed or those who languished to liberate others. They'll not be able to account for a great grandparent who died among the 33,741 fallen in North and South Korea or the 47,424 who lost life and limb in Vietnam unless they've been told of such feats.

You see, the indifference didn't begin with the youngest, it began when former generations stopped talking about real heroes and decided current cultural icons deserved more respect than officers and gentlemen who gave their lives in battle. We run the risk of blinding our selves to valuable lessons and worthy examples when all we do is talk about the future and brag about the present. Our station in life is blessed because of those who faced persecution in the past. Our freedoms are enjoyed thanks to those who relinquished their own. This nation is strong as a result of the strength of character and fortitude of the fearless who stood for liberty and truth.

Though Patrick Henry did not die in battle, I believe his powerful words spoken Mar. 23, 1775 at St John's Henrico Parish Church in Richmond, VA, express the reason for such heroics.

“...The questing before the House is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.

“Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.

“I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past...

“...Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. The millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! ...

“...Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

Henry embodied the passion that pushes soldiers to prevail in dire circumstances. He represented the heart of freedom-loving Americans like the hundreds of thousands who faced danger bravely and succumbed to honorable deaths. There is never a generation that should ever forget! Our privileges come at a cost!

In addition to the 701,165 soldiers already mentioned who died in combat, let's remember the 5,067 modern-day casualties of war from the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq; the 8,428 who gave their lives in battle in the American Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Mexican war; and the 344,959 in WW I and WW II. They fought for liberty and accepted death as the exchange for such a luxury. These valiant patriots deserve our grateful acknowledgment this Memorial holiday. Stop and count your blessings – 1,059,619 of them.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

When the Rope Won't Hold

When the Rope Won't Hold
By Brenda Black

There is a story about a monastery in Europe perched high on a cliff several hundred feet in the air. The only way to reach the monastery is to be suspended in a basket which is pulled to the top by several monks who heave and tug with all their strength.

Obviously the ride up the steep cliff in that basket is terrifying. A daring tourist braved the trip one time and got exceedingly nervous about half-way up when he noticed that the rope by which he was suspended was quite old and frayed.

With a trembling voice he asked the monk who was riding with him in the basket how often they changed the rope. The monk answered, "Whenever it breaks."

Are you at the end of your rope! Does it look like it won't hold much longer. Can you see the sharp, jagged rocks slicing away each thread of your trusty, once-solid cord. While you fret and grow increasingly hopeless, others seem serenely indifferent, like the monk in the basket. You're each experiencing risk, so what's the difference?

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

“By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible...

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

“By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:1-3, 6-10)

A monastery on a cliff is not the destination. Beyond the highest apex, on the other side of lofty clouds, heaven waits for the faithful. It's a city not built by human hands and the in-road is not a bouncing, precarious basket ride dangling by a frayed rope. The way to heaven is certainly not easy and there are mountains and valleys and dangers. But the journey's route is well marked by the blood of a Savior who goes ahead and levels the path.

Our trials here drive us onward if we believe such a place exists. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” The rope looks strong even if tattered because “what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”

When times are filled with strife and sorrow, remember, we are beckoned to a reward -- the promised land -- a “city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Our permanent dwelling is not in this world, but in the one to come.

When Noah saw rain, he built an ark and saved his family rather than sit on the bank sulking. Abraham had a home, but left it to live in a tent. He could have dug in his heels and ignored God's leading, but he would have sacrificed a great inheritance. In their trials, they tested righteous for their obedience and endurance. And most importantly, they were counted as heirs to the throne of heaven for their faith.

Don't lose faith. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything...Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”

Hang on! Heaven's coming!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Perfect Baby

The Perfect Baby
By Brenda Black

“The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus no crying he makes...” Oh the bliss. Mary was indeed highly esteemed. For the rest of us, baby days are full of wonder in different ways. We are favored with little bundles of tears and tummy aches, yet still count ourselves blessed for the privilege of motherhood.

No child is the same. One baby builds confidence, the next brings challenges. If one tries your nerves, another will be your stabilizer. No matter their temperaments, each child delivers his or her own delightful presence in this world.

My first was colicky and cranky for about twelve months! I did not sleep and was irritable myself. I cried nearly as much as the baby and rocked both of us for comfort. At about a year, that little stinker turned into the most peaceful, loving, easy-going little boy I've ever known. To this day, he is dependable and kind. He is loving and friendly. And he can sleep without any trouble!

My second seemed like a breeze when it came to sleep. For all the times I rocked the first, the second insisted I leave him be. However, baby number two capitalized on being well rested. He moved continuously in his waking hours! Running, leaping, rolling and twisting didn't begin after walking – he started before he was born!

Somehow the second seemed easier in spite of his boundless energy, mostly because I had my little helper. Big brother was my second set of hands, eyes and ears. One year of colic was worth every proud moment our first-born has since brought to our lives. And every minute of exhaustion brought us a high-energy, talented, delightful second child.

With the honor of motherhood comes happiness as well as heartache. The moaning of a herd of cows just outside my window illustrates some of the anguish. They loudly announce weaning season with their desperate bellows. In the guttural chorus are songs of separation anxiety that all mothers experience when calves or kids begin to grow and go their own way.

The instinct to protect never ends. A desire to catch them before they fall or kiss all hurt away is protocol for Moms as vividly depicted in “The Passion” during a scene where Mary labors between helping her child and avoiding the horror. As the Christ falls under the burden of a bloodied cross, Mary recalls running to her son when he tumbled as a child on a similar dusty road. She goes to her Son and lifts him once again.

That's what Moms do. We carry the burdens like they were our own. We live through every pain as if afflicted ourselves. We rejoice in their victories, soaking up the success.

It would be nice if babies came with a guarantee of no colic, no tears, no toddler crashes, no teenage tragedies. It would be comforting to not have to worry over mean bosses or deceitful friends. We'd like to think our child's life a bed of roses. But in the end, such a child is spoiled and weak. For all of life's experiences shape them into men and women we'll respect and upon which we may even depend.

Jesus may have begun life with no tears, but he grew to become “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” (Isaiah 53:3) Though any mother would have wished for anything but the steps he took, had he not walked them, we would be without hope. As his own mother depended on her son's redemption, we likewise need a Savior.

Whether your child is easy or challenging is a minor point. That his mother is forgiven and godly will chart the course for that child's life. Ask King Lemuel:

“The sayings of King Lemuel – an oracle his mother taught him: 'O my son, O son of my womb, O son of my vows, do not spend your strength on women, your vigor on those who ruin kings.

“'It is not for kings, O Lemuel – not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer, lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights...

“'Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.'” (Proverbs 31:1-5, 8-9)

Wise counsel from a mom who knew it's not how they start out in life. It's where they end up in eternity. Show them true peace by the way of the cross this Mother's Day and always.