Let’s Bring it Home, Folks

Should we throw in the towel?  Wave a white flag in surrender?  Tell all the bullies in the world, “You win, I give!”  I never in my wildest dreams thought that after the jarring events of early 2021 when violence, death, and COVID vowed to reign supreme, some appear to still savor spreading discord, disease, and staring death in the face.

Polarizing beliefs are whirling into a tornado of destruction and loss.  From the seats of Congress to the chairs in our living rooms, division dominates. 

 We are blessed to live in this country.  We are a free people, and most of us believe in God.  Religious persecution led folks to leave their homelands, sail across oceans, and begin a new life long ago.   We fought, and many died in countless wars to maintain our freedom because we were unified. 

What is “it?”

During our times of war, strife, and vicious attacks, Americans joined together to save our homes and our independence.  If we were attacked or threatened today, my fear is that many would swear it was a hoax.  They would blame the Democrats or Republicans, or CNN or FOX or the guy down the street, and then wonder why a bomb landed in their neighborhood.  Skepticism, distrust, and bogus conspiracies fueled by social media and running mouths create carnage.

Come on, folks, could we possibly try to bring it home?  I am not sure what the “it” is, but it’s something.  Perhaps we have lost a crucial piece of our humanity puzzle.  Could it be we have forgotten to fear God?

“Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him!”  Psalms 33:8 

I don’t believe God is sitting on his throne with a paddle, ready to punish us for misbehaving.   However, perhaps He means that if we are not in awe of his majesty, words, and teachings, first and foremost… we fail.

Whose children are we?

We all tend to be awestruck with power, talent, money, and intelligence.  None of those things impress the Lord as much as putting our trust and hope in Him.   He asks us to love one another, be unified as brothers and sisters, be kind, be good, and live by the word.  How are we doing with that?  If we fear God and are in awe of Him, we need to bring those things back home in multitudes. 

Hatred, distrust, and division caused the rise of dictators and crosses to be placed on hills.   We have seen what civil war can do and what lack of civility causes. 

We are not children of a political party who idolize our leaders above all others.  Are we not more than our colors, more than our political affiliation, and more than what we see with our eyes?  We are God’s creation.  And we need to remember who we should revere in all circumstances.

If one person asks me one more time if I am this or that politically, I may have a sure-fire Southern hissy fit.  Their views and mine are nothing compared to God’s views of them or me.  God reads our words when we send judgmental emails and hears our divisive voices.  He watches as groups gather to cause ill-will.  He notices our hands when we clench our fists in rage.  Are we in awe of Him when we do such things or are our opinions more important than His words?

How we choose to live

We will not honor God if we continue to push division.  Not a single person in our government, nor one human being, will be able to unify this nation unless we look to God to strengthen our resolve to follow his teachings.  We cannot build trust with each other unless we trust our supreme leader.

 If we want to lose America, it is not how we vote; it is how we choose to live.

We will always have political discord, but it is entirely out of hand today.  We judge each other by who we politically stand with.  I think God just wants us to stand behind Him, and when we do, we might see our flags flying high in our yards, and our pride and priorities return home. 

Well, as you can tell, I am not throwing in the towel without a fight.  I am not waving a white flag or giving in to the bullies.  Nope.  I will not succumb to greed,  to the power-hungry, the racists, and the hate mongers.  If my ancestors risked all they knew to cross an ocean to an unknown, unchartered land to love God freely, then I can be brave enough to spread God’s love and remain in awe of Him.

Let’s bring it home, folks, bring it home.  

Grandpa’s Diary: A guide to living

It was Christmas 1969 in the Tennessee mountains when my grandmother (aka Grandpa*) opened her gift from a friend.  The present was a handsome, small green leather diary with a gold lock and key.  Grandpa had never written in a journal before, but she felt she must use her friend’s generous gift.   My humorous grandmother wrote on the inside cover, “I’ll try to remember to write as the days pass, but guess I’ll forget to write half the time!” 

Grandpa never missed a day until the end of 1970, when grief left the pages void of words. 

Last year, while searching for an old photo in a box Mom left me, I  found the diary.  Reading this beloved woman’s words as she lives through the year is an indescribable blessing.  I feel Grandpa left a bit of her soul for me to find.  And ironically, in 1970, she was the same age I am now.

The first days of a new year

Thursday, January 1, 1970:   “Mother fell and hurt her arm.  Ice and snow accumulated on Monterey’s roads, causing treacherous driving conditions.  I stayed with her all night.  It was slick out there, but I made it!” 

The next day, she wrote, in part, “ I finished crocheting an afghan, but I didn’t like it!” Why did she diligently work to complete it if she didn’t like it?  But knowing her,  I am confident she gave it to someone who indeed loved or needed it.  

On the following Sunday, she bathed her mother, washed her clothes, attended all church services, and relished the beautiful winter day when the sun glistened on the new-fallen snow.   

January 11, 1970:  “The weather dropped to 8 degrees below zero today.  I couldn’t go to Sunday school because I needed to stay with my mother, who is in the hospital, and also help my very sick brother.”

This was how Grandpa spent her first days of a new year.  As I read each page, I realized there was not one day that she didn’t explain the weather conditions, care for someone, check on someone else,  prepare a meal, and go to church on Sundays.  She was able to “get her hair done” on some Saturdays, listed the folks who had passed away, and prayed for folks who were still living. 

The rest of 1970

By early June that year, while caring for all the others, Grandpa was hospitalized.   She took her little diary with her, and even though ill, she still described the weather as she looked out her hospital room window.

Later in June, my first child was born, and she visited us in Georgia.  How joyful we were, but her mother and brother were not well when she returned to the mountains.  And she again drove the roads each day to care for them.

On December 2, 1970, Grandpa’s mother, Mollie Randolph Sparks, died with her daughter by her side.   On December 5, she wrote, “It’s mother’s birthday.  She would have been 94.  I miss her so much today, but she is asleep in a better place.  No more suffering and pain.  “

Nine days later, on December 11, Grandpa’s beloved brother died and was laid to rest beside his mother.  After the funeral, the words ended in the little green diary except for one sentence the following day, “It’s pretty today.”

A year in the life of a woman that cared for others more than herself.  She found beauty and wonder in the sun shining, the garden blooming, sewing aprons, laughing with her grandchildren, attending church every Sunday, and catching fish.   Even in pain, Grandpa was happy.  Unlike any heart I have ever known,  her  life reflected a soul filled with love for her friends, family, and God.

Enriching our lives

Not once on her pages did she speak of politics, philosophy, or discord.  She was the salt of the earth,  a beacon for faith, and adored by countless folks.   Her unselfish acts of kindness and giving taught me courage, determination, and to relish even the coldest, darkest days.

Grandpa lived God’s words and principles all her days without one ounce of hypocrisy, complaint, or self-importance.  She could be willful but never mean-spirited, and unkind words were never spoken or written.

What story will your diary tell this year?  Will your days record your unselfish love for others?  Will kindness reign in your life?  And will you notice how beautiful a day is even when life is challenging?

If you do, someone in the future possibly will write your name and spread your life journey to inspire others.  It is how we live each day that gives our earthly time value.  

How do we enrich our lives, heal our souls, and enjoy our world?  The answer is simply, ” with love and kindness.”

*if you would like to know why Grandpa was called by that name, go to www.lynngendusa.com and read the blog: “Her Name was Grandpa” Note: “Her Name was Grandpa” was one of my first columns and it spread throughout the country from Seattle to New Hampshire and throughout the south. What is in a name? Everything.

And just like that, it was over

And just like that, it was over.   Christmas came in with a fury, many furry friends, and left in a flash.   Why do such joyous times pass too quickly after so much planning and preparing for celebrations?

My Christmas began in October.  This was the year the entire family would be gathering at our house.  All our children, stepchildren, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, all in-laws, and a few out-laws as well.  Oh, and let’s not forget the furry pets that would come with them.   Now that I think about it, I probably should have begun in September!

The tree was decorated two weeks before Thanksgiving, menus were planned for multiple days, and there were so many shopping lists, I kept a file.  The grocery store down the street thought I was an employee and offered me an apron.  Amazon sends me notes questioning why I haven’t ordered something if I miss a day.  Now, I may apply for that job at the local grocery store to pay Amazon!

Dream began to crumble

My dreams of a sugar plum Christmas filled with extensive gaiety began to crumble a few days before the much-planned holiday.   Omicron visited my husband’s daughter’s family with a bang even though the parents had two vaccinations each. Mother, father, and two precious small children fell ill when this uninvited intruder walked into Christmas.  Because they were quarantined, they would not be able to join us.  We were heartbroken. 

The house began to fill with guests and those furry critters as Santa was loading his sleigh.  Preparing all the meals and listening to laughter fill the house eased our worry, especially since the sick family was on the mend by Christmas Eve.

 David’s other daughter with her little boy was to drive over early Christmas morning.  One of the presents for our 6-year-old grandson, Jax, was so large, I would require help to bring it downstairs and place it under the tree before he arrived. However,  when my husband answered the phone in the wee hours of Christmas morning, I saw his face fall into shock.

Presents remain unopened

An ambulance had taken Jax to the hospital.  The flu invaded his little body and wreaked enough havoc on a vibrant soul to ruin his Christmas day.  Luckily, he was released after a few hours but would spend much of the next few days in bed.  His big present remains upstairs.

Since we are usually a blended happy family, David could not see any of his children this Christmas, and he tried to smile as we gathered with the others and all the furry critters.  He did an excellent job of masking his sadness, and we still argued about how to cook this or that, which put some normalcy back into the festive day.

The day after Christmas, folks began to return to their homes.  My son and his love were the first to leave as they needed to catch a flight back to Denver.  After I waved goodbye as their car drove away, I turned back toward the house.  I could see the crowd gathered in the foyer through the beveled glass in the front door. 

Tears brimmed my eyes as I paused and watched the faces of those I love.  My husband was still smiling, dogs were jumping,  and children laughed as their parents hugged each other to bid goodnight.   I couldn’t help but wonder what changes would occur in the days ahead.  What heartache lies ahead of us, or what surprises are in store for us to enjoy?

Watching life through the glass

 As we watch a moment in time, one never knows what time will do.

We walk a tight rope daily, taking each cautious step for granted.  I have learned no matter how much planning and preparing we do, life happens.   It can upend us, make us cry, and fill us with unbridled joy, especially when we love others.  Lives change, children grow up, we grow old and take our memories of it all with us.

The Christmas tree ornaments will be packed away, and the house will fall into an eerie silence as I begin to sweep up crumbs and dog hair.   I will continue to worry about the children as they grow and the others as they age, and I pray we will all be together next December.

God reminds me to watch life as if I am looking through a glass door and realizing that all I see is a gift from Him to me.  He tells me to trust Him through the pain and illnesses and praise Him for the joy.  Because he knows life begins in a great fury, and just like that, it is over.

May you take these words into 2022, appreciating each day and those gifts God bestows upon you.

The Magical Ferris Wheel

My brother, John, was destined to become an engineer.  Since the boy was tiny, Mama said he always tried to figure out how things worked.  He took toys apart and put them back together simply to see if they would work the same.

There is a story my grandmother told that still makes me laugh today.  John was three and staying at her house during the day.  She put him in the crib to take a nap.  Thinking he was sleeping, she went out on the front porch to string a batch of green beans from her garden.

After a long while, she heard her sweet grandchild triumphantly yell from the bedroom, “Now I fix it! Now I fix it!!  She ran to his room and into shock!  The sweet little devil had fixed it all right. 

The crib was against the wall where little John noticed a small tear in the wallpaper.  He certainly didn’t think that was right, so he began to peel the wallpaper off the wall in tiny strips that were scattered across the crib.  According to John, as far as his little arms could reach, a section of the wall was indeed ‘fixed’!

A Christmas to remember

 One memorable Christmas, when my older brother was twelve, and I was six, he created magic for his sister.  His bedroom was upstairs in our small home, but his room was quite large because it was a dormer area.  Dad built a work table with a large plywood sheet sitting atop two sawhorses for his son’s room. John used the table to create a village where his electric train wound through the little trees and stopped at the depot.  Nothing I loved more than watching the locomotive pull its cars and imagining myself a passenger traveling to far-away places.  My brother wouldn’t let me touch anything on the plywood board, but I still could dream.

When Christmas arrived that year, it brought an extraordinary gift.  It was one of those holidays that I still recall with clarity.   Santa brought John a Ferris Wheel Erector set on Christmas morning.  It wasn’t his first Erector set because he had built many contraptions from the boxes of metal components, but they held no interest for me. 

After we opened our presents and Christmas morning turned into afternoon, the young engineer went to his room and began assembling the Ferris wheel.  I played with my new doll and pretended my way through the wonderous day. 

“This one is for you!”

“Lynn, come upstairs and see what I did!”  John shouted that evening.  We all ran up to his room.  The train was winding its way through the village, and John had only a bedside lamp illuminated so that we could see the lighted Ferris wheel in the center of the town magically going round and round.  He even found a tiny little doll of mine to sit on the ride. 

“This one is for you, sis!”  John knew I loved the county fairs with all the rides and fun.  “You can touch this one, Lynn, and even ride your little dolls on it!” I was beyond astounded.

The years passed, and John indeed left home to attend Georgia Tech, become an Industrial Engineer, and until his life ended in 1998, he always tried to figure out how things worked.

How things work

My friend’s grandson, Whit, was nine months old on Christmas nine years ago.  He was sitting on the floor when he realized music was coming from a box near him.  I watched him as he crawled toward the music.  He quietly and methodically tried his best to figure out how the sounds came from the mysterious box, even looking underneath it.

 “Well, we have another engineer in the making!” I said immediately.  Honestly, I think I was right.  Today, the child can build anything and take it apart. 

Every Christmas, I try to buy him a gift of Lego blocks or anything an intelligent, gifted nine-year-old can build.  However, as I was searching online for a proper present this year, a picture of a toy popped up on my computer.  It was a Ferris Wheel Erector set complete with lights and magic.  Of course, I bought it, and just before I wrapped it, I sat for a while in my rocker, holding the box in my lap.

I closed my eyes to clear my mind so that I could once again return to the house where a six-year-old sat in wonder, watching her older brother build beauty from metal parts for his baby sister.

John sent a message from heaven this Christmas.  How life works is when we figure out that creating beautiful magic for someone other than ourselves is how our world goes round and round and becomes fixed.

God bless you all.

The Heart of Christmas

The fog settled in for the evening and a steady drizzle chilled my bones.  While driving a short way home after visiting a friend, I noticed the Christmas lights on neighbors’ houses were blurred, and their decorations were barely visible through the dense air.   In poor visibility, I navigated down the hills, past the lake, and toward my house. 

 Christmas will be difficult for many this year, especially if they are trying to weave their way through the blur of loss, grief, sadness, or troubles.  Those suffering desire to break through the darkness and clearly see the light of happiness once again.  However, sadly, many believe they never will.  It is as if the fog and foul weather will continue to dampen their lives and chill them to the bones.

Since Christmas Eve two years ago, the world has lost 5 million people to COVID alone.  And countless others have suffered the loss of a loved one through another illness or tragedy.  Death’s stings and hardships are part of our earthly journey, and they, unfortunately, will never go away.  However, sometimes even in our darkest hours, we can find a spark of light to help us heal and regain our hope.

When Christmas joy seems forever lost

Several of my friends have lost the loves of their lives this year.  We can sit and hold their hands, offering comfort and encouragement, but Christmas can be the most challenging time for those in the middle of grief.  They recall the past and the delight of sharing their special day with their partners, children, and friends.  Then, with stark realization, they understand their usual traditional holidays are over. The thought of Christmas being joyful again for them seems unfathomable. 

Yet, it is actually Christmas that brings the light, the healing, and the aide.  A baby lay in a manger on a clear evening long ago, who brought joy to the world and redeemed hope.  Even when we are in the middle of a struggle, it is this day to celebrate and be thankful.   

Jesus came into the world to save us.  He taught us about a merciful God who understands our suffering, heartaches, and doubt.  Christ showed us life goes beyond our days here. If we just believe in Him, we will again be reunited with those we lost.  When the Lord’s earthly 33-year tenure was over, He again explained to us through the Resurrection that He is with us through all our days, including those shrouded in haze and sorrow.

The true definition of Joy

I love Christmas, as you probably know by now.  I love all the hoopla, the Hallmark Channel, the decorations, and those sinful cookies.  But none of those things are the heart of Christmas.  The holiday festivities are not only about being with family, friends, or opening presents. In reality, Christmas is celebrating our Savior who gave those gifts to us in the first place.

For Heaven’s sake, it is His Birthday!  Even when we don’t feel quite up to life, he is entirely up to help us through it if we just ask.   That is why Christ is the heart of Christmas. He is the true definition of joy. There is nothing he would want more than to hand us the lamp to guide us through our dreadful and dreary days.

We travel to our churches, light candles on Christmas Eve, and wish each other a Merry Christmas.  Our personal traditions of these holidays are stamped in our memory forever.  We make sure our children visit Santa, hang their stockings, and be good so they will receive the toys they desire.

Heart of Christmas

During our busy, bustling Christmas holidays, Christ quietly remains in the wings. He waits for all children to come to Him to seek refuge from pain, hope for tomorrow, and be filled with love.  He watches and waits for us, yet we can overlook the very one who is the reason for our celebrations.

I have lost much in my life, struggled with depression, divorce, broken relationships, traumatic events, and dumb decisions.  I have sinned, and I have failed numerous times.  However, I have been blessed with enough faith in the little baby born on the first Christmas to sustain me always.  I know I can survive because He lives.  With clarity, I know that when the fog sets in, I will eventually find the light to navigate my way home.  

The heart of Christmas is the gift of joy God gave us all when his only child was born into our world and became our miracle.   

And the angel said, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”  Luke 2:10. 

I wish you all a blessed and beautiful, hope-filled, safe, and joyful Christmas.

Mrs. Shirley Claus and her Elves

She is just under five feet tall with rosy cheeks that illuminate a pixie face.  Her smile can light up not only a room but a heart.   This Mrs. Claus does not reside in the North Pole because she dislikes, rather abhors, the cold.  No, this merry soul prefers palm trees, ocean breezes, and sand, not snow, between her little pink toes.

Mrs. Shirley traded Rudolph for a Cadillac years ago and prefers listening to Elvis on her radio rather than Christmas music.  At home, pink flamingos hang on her Christmas tree along with an array of mermaids, shells, plus tiny beach umbrellas and chairs.

If you gaze toward the sky when summer fades to fall, you might see Mrs. Shirley flying south with the birds.  You will recognize her by the sleigh, or rather the grocery cart trailing behind her.  You better wave, holler and wish her well because Mrs. Claus is always watching out for the ‘good’ in all of us.

All children belong to Mrs. Claus

I had the great fortune of meeting Mrs. Shirley years ago, and we became close friends.  I knew her to be a generous soul but didn’t recognize her lineage from the North Pole Santa Claus family until recently.   I guess kinfolks of Santa, or his wife, are not recognizable when they prefer to wear pink T-shirts instead of red coats or aqua flip flops instead of black boots.

Mrs. Shirley has children who refer to her as Grandma, but they may not be related by blood.  Like her kin, Mrs. Claus, Shirley views all children as hers.   I would become so confused speaking with Shirley about “her family” that I finally gave up and decided the whole world was related to her.

For over 20 years,  Grandma Shirley has gathered her brood during the Christmas season, loading them in the Caddy with its reindeer antlers adorning the roof.  They listen to Elvis singing “Blue Christmas” while driving to a local department store, yet they know there will be nothing blue about the day.

Stay away from the naughty list

Before pulling into the parking lot, Mrs. Claus discusses the rules of the day.  The smallest and newest member of the grandkid group, eyes widen as his Grandma Shirley explains what they will do once they are inside.

“Each of you will take your own sleigh, rather grocery cart, and we travel together toward the toy aisles.  No one is to ask for anything for themselves, and if you do, you will go on my naughty list very soon.” 

The small boy’s eyes now appear troubled.  “Son, you will have so much fun; you will not think about yourself, especially when I sprinkle you with my pixie dust!” 

He relaxes a bit yet remains focused as his Grandma Shirley continues, “You are to fill each cart with toys for both girls and boys of all ages.  If you have questions, ask me, for I know all about what my children love.”

The children form a line trailing one another with their carts and scan each shelf in every row.  Dropping toys in the carts with precision care as they begin to feel the effects of warmth and wonder from Grandma Claus’s pixie dust. 

“To know the joy of giving is a fundamental rule all children must learn.” She tells them each year to encourage them to “load more.”   “You will find this is the day you will remember as the years fly by.  You will not recall what you received every Christmas, but you will remember what you gave to others, and it will always warm your soul.”

The wide-eyed little boy looks up to her, “Grandma, can we do this next week?” Her rosy cheeks turn red as she giggles down the aisles, watching the pixie dust as it settles on the floor.

Teach the wonder of giving early

If we are blessed to be grandparents or just grand people who adore children, and we can share or spare a bit of money or time, let’s teach our little ones early the true meaning of giving and the immense joy it brings for all. 

At the end of Grandma Shirley’s big day, they all piled the toys in the back of the big Caddy and dropped them off at the Claus Family Bank, which was collecting Toys for Tots. 

The bank employees were accustomed to the scene unfolding before them.  As the children placed the gifts around the lobby, smiles began to illuminate faces throughout the bank as if magic had spread and the glow of Christmas shone brightly.

We all can become a Mrs. Claus if we take the time to teach our children and grandchildren the wonder of giving from the depth of our hearts to those who need to believe in the splendor of kindness.

Become a Child at Christmastime

For the next month, hopefully, most of us will be in Christmas mode.  You know, the days we scurry about trying to find deals on everything from bicycles to bathrobes.  It is when glitter is fashionable, children squeal, and decorated trees take over our living rooms.

This is my favorite time of year.  I have a picture of myself at age 5, sitting on Santa’s knee, grinning like a Cheshire cat.  My little coat is trimmed in black velvet, and Mama pin curled my straight hair for such a special occasion.  I recall that day and know for sure, the visiting Santa at a department store in Tennessee flew his sleigh down from the North Pole just to see me.  He must have magically thrown elfin dust over me because I haven’t been the same since. 

I try my best to act like an adult during Christmas, but that just never works.  Why do others not become age five every year? Surely, I am not the only one!  I never told my children the supposedly “truth” about St. Nick because I never believed that hogwash about him not existing.  He sure does, and I have a picture to prove it! 

Watching over the herds

Another time when I was around seven years old, my parents rented a house on a farm.  In the back of our white house was a rolling pasture surrounded by a matching white fence.  I loved climbing the fencing and watching the cows slowly meander about and gather.   I couldn’t sleep on Christmas Eve because I was so full of excitement, so I went to the window and looked toward the pasture.    The moon illuminated the frost on the ground, and when I gazed up toward heaven, a brilliant star cast more light on the sleeping herd. 

I rubbed my eyes, not fully believing the vision, but as clear as a bell, I knew that star was announcing that Jesus was born just on the other side of the fence. 

When I told my parents about it the next day, they simply nodded their heads and said, “That’s nice, Lynn.”   But as for me, to this day, let me assure you, I saw that star!  

When a child becomes an adult and throws away all childish things, they give away too much.  Some things we all should hold on to.  We need to retain some wild-eyed wonderment, the belief in miracles, and the spirit of Christmas in our hearts every day.  Why would any of us want to grow up and not welcome such a blessing?

Christmastime is meant for all

When we give up the notion that Christmas is just for children and remember that Christmas is for all of us; then, we might begin to see the miracles it brings.  If we were to wrap up our cynicism, doubt, and complaining and throw it away, would we see the brilliant star that shines above us?  Perhaps we just might if we are willing to try.

 You should see me when I encounter a “Bah Humbug” person who would preferably not go to the trouble to celebrate the holidays.  They may say, “I dread all the work and the shopping!”  Oh my, are they in for “Lynn’s famous Christmas lecture!”  You don’t want me to come to your house with that speech!   It goes something like this:

“There is one time of year that emphasizes giving is more important than trouble.  December 25 is the day in our lives to celebrate all that is good because God sent His only child to remind us that He loves us.  And this is the season for all of us to thank Him for doing so.  Christmas reminds us  to put aside our desires and bless others with our faith.”   Yep, I preach that sermon praying it takes the Scrooge syndrome away.

Behold good tidings

If there ever was a Christmas season to behold good tidings, this one is it.  We are so inundated with bad news we need to press our noses to the window and look for the good news found in the star above us.   It just begins with a sprinkle of elfin dust, a seed of faith, and a determination to return to the innocent child within.

Oh, the inner child is still in your heart!  The child of long ago who sat on Santa’s lap and believed in wonder.   And, above all else, the baby born in the stable years ago still lives with us today.   His star forever shines if only we look upward and believe.

“Truly, I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 18:3.  

I sure am glad I am still just a child.

My Name is “Old Glory”

As my cousin drove his ATV over the Tennessee hills and green pastures to show me his farm on a recent visit, I could see from afar our American flag flying high above the main house.  It was as if the banner owned the sprawling land below and she waved her stripes declaring so. 

 God’s lush acres encased by an azure sky dotted proudly with the red, white, and blue depicted a picture-perfect Americana post-card.

Once we arrived back at the house, I looked toward the banner high atop the flagpole.  Old Glory’s ends were frayed and worn, her stripes a bit faded, but she continued to valiantly wave. 

“Yes, I need to purchase a new flag. This one is about worn out.”  My cousin stated as he, too, noticed her. 

The perfect flag

Old Glory appeared oddly perfect to me because she reflected America today.  A bit worn, faded, frazzled, and dazed from turmoil.  Her nation has suffered from disease, violence, political unrest, and loss for months.  But she has seen it all before during her lifetime of being America’s symbol of liberty.  And even though she is tired, she continues to remind us just where we are and who she is.

Her blood-stained stars and stripes were hoisted by soldiers to proclaim victory against her enemies throughout her history.  She proudly stood when all her people were freed from slavery.  Old Glory marched with women when they demanded their right to vote.  She lowered her colors when Presidents were assassinated, and heroes perished.  She sadly laid across coffins that held the remains of those who died for her to remain standing.

Our flag flies high above our government buildings, reminding those inside to continually work to maintain her glorious land.   Some people treated her with disrespect and even burned her, but she rose again from the ashes.

Old Glory never gives up, she never gives in, and she, who represents all that is good about America, waves her tattered cloth to remind us that we must battle to save her.

We must not self-destruct

Abraham Lincoln proclaimed, “America will never be destroyed from the outside.  If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

If we self-destruct, there will be no more freedom nor honor, and the red, white, and blue will fall to the earth in shreds.   

Selfishness, apathy, lack of respect, and extremism will end America.  They have battered us these last few years.  Recently, personal ideologies often replaced cohesive, healing behavior, thus costing us lives and livelihoods.

When we no longer care about the whole of our nation, we will no longer have the right to voice our personal ideologies.

Bullying and lack of respect for others should and will rip Old Glory to threads.  America was based on a belief in God.  God might believe we no longer deserve our abundant country if hurting one another with foul words and violent conduct becomes a norm.

The extreme far-right and left of our government and the radical behavior of self-interest groups are splitting our country apart.  The flag represents over 330 million Americans. And most understand a productive government is in the ‘middle’ where we find compromise and solutions.  We cannot stand on divided land, or we fall into the abyss it creates.

Be what Old Glory represents

Unfortunately, some believe America is finished. Well, I am not one of them.  I love this country, its people, and the God who gave her to us.  We must pull together and not lose our nation.  Those who attempt to divide us should remember that our heritage was built on courage.  They, who precariously traveled across the seas to an unknown world, did so to escape persecution, famine, and lack of hope. 

It is here where they fought to keep dreams alive and have the freedom to see them come true. They toiled the earth, built communities, braved the elements, and cherished America.  They sent their children to war, begged for innovative medicines to keep their families from succumbing to smallpox, polio, and countless unforgiving diseases.  Their courage and sacrifice gave us all that we enjoy today.  That alone should force us to stop our oft-inane behavior.

We cannot destroy ourselves.  We are a priceless free nation.  Old Glory represents a battered and bruised land, but we will become the healers to repair her.  With our help, she will continue to proudly wave over our hills and homes so that her stripes and stars can always be seen from afar.

We must endeavor to be what our flag represents; a will to never give up and bravely stand tall even though the winds from storms may fray us.

Salute the Vietnam Warriors

While recently thumbing through my old Tennessee and Georgia high school yearbooks, tears pooled in my eyes.  Yes, they were all there, young men with hope in their eyes and their youth on the edge of disappearing. I wonder what they would have accomplished in their lives if they had the promise of a future.

 Would they laugh as I do at the silly antics of a grandchild?  Would they still possess the impish grin the camera caught in the 60s? Maybe Howard would have made it onto the big screen with his good looks.  Perhaps Bobby would be a renowned physician today, and Larry would have climbed up the ranks in his beloved army before retiring to Florida. 

However, the maybe’s left when they all boarded a military bus to serve our nation while a war escalated in Vietnam.  They, like so many, returned only to be laid to rest in their hometown cemeteries before they had a chance to see what could have been.

Bearing a scar

These young men joined the service as so many do to become soldiers of war.  They are the elite among us who, I believe, God anoints with an extra dose or more of courage.  These soldiers go blindly into battle to defend the land they love.  They steadfastly look out for each other and often give their lives to save their comrades.

The Vietnam warriors were no different in character and honor as those who bravely fought for our Independence.  They held the same gritty spirit as those who battled before them in the Revolutionary War or World War I and II, as well as all other conflicts.  Thousands of soldiers have responded to the call to serve, but the warriors of Vietnam bear a scar.

By the time our troops were pulled from Vietnam in 1973, over 52,000 young soldiers had perished.  Between 1964 and 1975, 2,709,918 men and women wore an American military uniform in Nam.  240 of them were awarded the Medal of Honor as Bobby Ray was for saving many lives, except his own. Of those killed in combat, 61% were younger than 21. Just out of school, just beginning to dream, just starting a future.   

Also, in 1973, America’s electorate was deeply divided, and some say the military was demoralized.  So, for those who returned from the rice paddies and trenches, ships, the skies, and prisons of Vietnam, there were no homecoming parades or bands of screaming, happy folks in Times Square to greet them. Instead, Vietnam was simply over for America.

Never blame the warrior

Today, those fallen Vietnam soldiers are immortalized on a wall in Washington, D.C.  For those who lost friends or loved ones whose names are etched in this wall, the war is not forgotten, nor is the sacrifice.   We are the older generation now, and our young faces are alongside those in the yearbooks who remain ageless. 

Today, 610,000 courageous Vietnam Veterans are still walking among us.  Of those who risked their lives in Southeast Asia, 97% were honorable discharged even though many were drafted for service.

Even after hearing countless stories of the heroism and bravery shown by our American troops during the second-longest war in our history, they returned home to be treated harshly by many for just doing what they were asked to do. Unfortunately, this response created a loss of self-esteem and grief for many young soldiers, leading to future deep-seated problems.  

Our worst divisive behavior is the scar of Vietnam.  The wound was not caused by the soldiers.  The injury was inflicted by the free citizens who remained on American soil that turned their anger toward those sent to battle.  

We can fairly charge those in government or politics for most anything but not the bravest, best, and the most elite among us. So we should never blame the warrior, nor the ones who suffer and give the most.  Nor the over 150,000 who were wounded in Vietnam, or the prisoners of war, or those missing in action.

Take the time to notice the brave soldiers

I look into the eyes of my framed Vietnamese doll my brother sent me in 1965.  She has my POW/MIA bracelet around her waist to remember another pilot whose remains were finally located a few years ago.   My brother lived until 1998, but his time spent in Vietnam was always fresh in his heart.  I, too, vow to honor those who gave so much to receive so little.  

Memorial Days will come and go, but this year stop for a moment, look around, and notice the brave soldiers of long ago and celebrate them.

Maybe it will help heal the scar a divided nation caused and remind us never to produce such a wound again.  

“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died.  Rather, we should thank God that such men lived.”  General George S. Patton, Jr.

The Music Just Beyond the Doors

Years ago, shortly before my mother passed away, she described a vivid dream she experienced one night that prepared us both for what was to come.   

In the Tennessee mountain town where she and I were born, the vacant old Imperial Hotel stands frozen in time as if passing years dare to touch it.  The brick three-story building next to the train depot was built in 1909.  Weary rail passengers would spend the night, enjoy a good meal, and feel the cool air as it whirled around the mountain.  The Imperial boasted 30 rooms and indoor plumbing, which in 1909 was quite extraordinary in the hills of Tennessee.    

When I was a small child, the old hotel was a magical place where I could imagine myself as a traveler on the Tennessee railway or attending a gala in the main ballroom.  However, in the late 50s, the passenger trains discontinued their service to stop at the depot just below the hotel. As a result, the Imperial closed its doors to guests, and silence filled the halls.   

The once-thriving resort town and tourist destination withered.  All other inns and hotels succumbed to the ravages of time.  But the Imperial still stands today determined not to be forgotten.  It is as if she is still waiting to greet her visitors when they walk through her doors once again.

The dream

“Lynn, I dreamed I was at the Imperial last night.  I stood in the foyer hall alone, and the doors to the ballroom were locked.  A band was playing and people were laughing as if they were attending a fine party.  I wanted to join them, so I knocked and then banged on the old wooden doors.  The noise inside grew louder, and my attempts to be heard were useless.  I begin to weep with frustration because I desperately desired to see everyone, but I could not.  I woke up this morning with the dream still fresh and to find my pillowcase was damp with tears.  So strange.”  Mom declared after detailing her dream.

When Mother passed away a few months later, we took her home to the little mountain town to rest beside Dad.  A day after the service, I drove toward the Imperial and wondered if I could somehow get inside.  After parking my car, I found, to my surprise, the front door was unlocked, and I discovered I was alone in the foyer. 

Wooden doors were open to reveal a large room perfect for hosting a huge celebration complete with a band. But, unfortunately, the hotel was void of sound. Yet, I could feel the beat of the music as I envisioned my parents dancing as they always loved to do.

The unwritten messages

While standing among the spirits still alive in the Imperial, I understood how Mom’s dream prepared us for her departure from this world.  In the end, Mother was ready to join the others who await her just beyond the doors to eternity.  Her frustration was over.

We receive images and messages of eternal life all the time.  Either we decide to pay attention to them or ignore them completely.  Usually, when we don’t trust what we hear or see, we deem ourselves more intelligent than the Divine, causing us to not be very intelligent.  

People call such events everything from God-Winks to bizarre coincidences to hogwash, but I call them gifts.  Precious connections to unite us with God and those we have lost from this life.  They remind me of a small present tied with a satin ribbon.  Once you untie the bow, the box reveals glimpses of forever.

Listen with your soul

Today, the depot near the hotel is now a museum run by its cultural administrator, a young man new to the area.  Mr. Cleary fell in love with the town’s history and the under 3000 people who call Monterey, Tennessee, home.   I met him for the first time when I visited a few weeks ago. 

He had just purchased his first house.  “Where is your new home?” I asked.  After a brief conversation, I knew exactly where it was. It was the house where I was born.

 I looked up to the hill just beyond the depot to the old brick Imperial and smiled.  There is no music flowing from the rooms, nor sounds of laughter, nor trains that stop to deboard weary travelers seeking rest.  Yet somehow, the magic that makes life whirl like the wind in the mountains reminds me that we all remain connected to the past, to those we love, and not even death can stop the dance.

Sometimes, when we are caught up in the noise of life, it is vitally important to become quiet and listen to the music just beyond the doors.