Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Rain on Gettysburg

Fred needed a little break from the demands of work, so we headed out to Gettysburg for a couple of days. This will be the third trip for the girls, so they already have ideas on what we must see and do. A meal at Ping's and another at Friendly's. Devil's Den and Little Round Top. For Liana, to see the Pennsylvania Monument (her favorite). Swimming in the hotel pool.

We enjoy our family time together but the slow and steady rain made visiting the battlefield sad and eerie. No matter how many times I hear the auto-tour CD, the horror of those three days of the Civil War doesn't diminish. Rain pours down in rivulets on the windows of the car as we peer out at the flickering flame of the Eternal Light Peace Memorial. 148 years cannot erase the tragedies suffered here. We come to remember, to learn and understand, but because of the weather, we can't balance the war stories with a lovely tramp through the woods like we did last time. We get out of the car at Devil's Den and still the rain comes down, soaking us. Fred walks on ahead and the girls take pictures. Gettysburg in cold November is different from our first trip when the redbuds bloomed a hazy purple throughout the woods.

Ping's is cozy and warm, the soft lighting welcoming us on this dark and dreary day. We all agree; it's the best Chinese food ever. Afterwards we watch the big Christmas tree being assembled in the center of the town square and once again get pictures with Abe.

Home again to get ready for Thanksgiving. So much to be thankful for this year.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Prayer for All

I really fall short when it comes to praying for others. My own life and the needs of my family crowd out concern for other people. It should not be that way. "I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people." (I Timothy 2:1) But how can we pray for everyone in the world? We pray for our family, of course. When my daughter-in-law was burned badly... when Jon and his family were lost on the mountain. We pray for friends--my friend Joan and now her husband. Those are obvious and easy. But for strangers? We are blessed when we do so.

I remember praying fervently for Elizabeth Smart, the girl in Utah who was kidnapped. When she was found and returned to her family, a whole nation rejoiced. And those who had prayed had a certain joy in knowing somehow we had participated in bringing her home.

Early in the year someone asked me to pray for a friend of hers who was going through a hard time. This young woman lived in another state and I did not know her. But I prayed. Months later I actually met her and felt such love for this stranger, a tender place in my heart for her. In prayer, somehow, we enter into people's lives and see them as God sees them. I'll never forget when I read that Said Musa had been freed. I shouted to the girls that God had delivered him! We care about him, even though we will never meet him.

What can my fumbling, puny prayer do? Does God need my help? But we pray because we are told to pray. It is a mystery we can't explain. We can't pray for every hurting person in the world, but when the sadness and grief tears at your soul, pray. Pray for strangers. How about this boy Jonathan whose parents abandoned him to live alone in the Amazon jungle? He is only 15. You can read about him here. "When Compassion Becomes a Gold Rush."

Or Chen Guangcheng. He is a blind human rights activist who was imprisoned for five years in China for exposing forced abortions used to enforce the one-child policy. He was released from prison but during his time of house arrest he endured a brutal four hour beating in front of his young daughter. He was denied any medical care. This man and his wife are now missing and no one has been able to find them. His picture has replaced Said Musa's on my refrigerator, my reminder to pray.

Often times we need to DO something to ease the suffering in the world. Sometimes we are told to GO. Sometimes all we can do is pray. But don't discount its importance.


Previously I wrote about Said Musa, a man imprisoned in Afghanistan for converting from Islam to Christianity. I recently read an update on what has happened to him since then and it reminded me that we need to continue to pray for people, known and unknown. Often the grief of the world is just too much and I try to shut it out. But sometimes we are just compelled to pray. There is joy in entering into another person's life with love and concern and weeping with those who weep.

Musa is now living with his wife and six children in an undisclosed place. Their safety is still questionable. In an interview with a reporter, Musa told about his conversion. A bomb had shattered a house in his neighborhood and many people died. Musa was working with others to find survivors and two Western women were also helping dig through the rubble. Musa asked someone who they were. "Christians, followers of Jesus Christ." It was the first time Musa ever heard the name of Jesus. He thought he needed to find out who this man was. Finally he asked, "What is a Christian? Do you have a book?" Reading the Bible on his own, he found out. Weeks later he and his wife were baptized. Musa was bold in his faith and opened his home for Bible study and gatherings. He could recite the whole book of Matthew from memory. Of course, he was eventually reported and sent to prison where he was beaten and tortured.

Musa was asked how he endured his time in prison. He said at one point he was deep in despair and cried out to God. That night he had a dream and saw Jesus. Jesus spoke to him saying, "I am always with you" and Jesus gave him his hand. He woke with a new attitude. He said he saw that "his Lord was alive." His execution was imminent and Musa only asked that it be public.

He was finally released and secreted away to a new country. He says it is difficult for his family to learn a new culture and language. He still fears persecution from other Muslims. He still needs our prayers.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Last Day?

We heard the weather forecast and thought that maybe this was the last day of beautiful sunny autumn. It was supposed to be 70 degrees! So we headed off to our favorite park and were blessed with showers of colorful leaves raining on our heads and crackling beneath our feet.

#97 of my 1,000 gifts: enchantment beneath the towering trees with my husband and daughters.

Why keep a list of blessings? Ann Voskamp, who turned my attitude to gratitude rather than complaint, is in the mountains of Ecuador providing food and labor to the poor. She says, "A life contemplating the blessings of Christ becomes a life acting out the love of Christ." We are filled so we can pour out. My blessings are overflowing. What do I do with this? I haven't a clue right now. So I continue to make my list, not to glory in what I've been given, but to acknowledge the Giver and be open to whatever plans he might have.

This might not be the last day. Maybe many more warm days will follow before winter winds keep us indoors. But we really don't know how many days we have left. I don't want to miss a thing.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Panic and Prayer

It had been a beautiful Saturday, sunny with the trees in full autumn glory. Darkness falls and Fred starts a fire in the wood stove and we are getting ready to watch The Santa Clause. Every year the girls look forward to watching the old Christmas movies as they count down to the big day.

A phone call. It's Damien. I immediately know something is wrong by his voice. In a rush he explains that Jon, Chrissy and Lana went on a hike on the Appalachian Trail and have lost their way. They hadn't seen any people for hours and it is dark and cold. Jon had called Damien to let him know the name of the campground where they began their hike up the mountain, "in case something bad happens." The signal for the phone goes in and out and Damien loses contact. All he knows is the name of the area and that his brother and his family are on a trail coming down from the summit. My granddaughter is only 8 years old. Damien says he has been calling Jon every few minutes since the call broke, but he can't get through.

Damien hangs up quickly so he can try to call Jon again. I just kept saying, "What?? What??" Now a million questions fill my mind. When did they realize they were not on the trail? Do they have a flashlight or are they stumbling in the dark? What kind of trail is it? How far away are they? What should we do?" My heart is pounding. Is this the way people's lives change in an instant? An ordinary day turns to a nightmare.

Fred is in the shower. I grab the girls' hands and we pray. God sees Jon and Chrissy and Lana. We pray for their safety. We pray they find their way. We pray to know what to do. Damien calls back. Jon had called him again, but they were immediately cut off. Damien is very upset, angry even, but anger is easier to manage than fear. We are struck with fear, deep and penetrating. Do we call the police? Damien says he will go look for Jon. Fred says he will join him. I go to the computer and look up this campground that I never heard of before. When I see the name of the nearby town, my fear closes in tighter. Years ago the boys and I hiked there. It is extremely steep, rugged and rocky. The campground website has a weather forecast. For that night--25 degrees. I am trying to get a grip on my rising panic so I can think straight. Damien said Jon told him they had no camping gear with them, and they were not wearing winter coats. They had begun their hike in the warm midday sun with plenty of time to return to camp.

I look up the local and state police phone numbers and write them down. This is serious. We must get help. Then Damien calls back. Jon made contact! He is back at his campsite! He has quite a story, but we have to wait for the next day for that.

Jon said Saturday morning they had driven out to the campsite, as they often enjoy spending time together as a family camping. They had decided to take a hike before settling in for the night. Jon had a lighter, a knife, and a flashlight--just in case. They hiked to the pinnacle for a spectacular view, noticing that the blue trail markers of the campground had merged into the white markings the Appalachian Trail. Many people were at the top and they did not feel any danger. They left in plenty of time to return before dark. But coming down, they did not find the blue campground markers. They continued on the Appalachian Trail, lost, not seeing a single person. Jon said as darkness fell, fear rose in him. He alone was responsible for his little family. He knew it would be dangerous to continue hiking at this high elevation among the boulders. They could fall. Lana was crying, frightened. Jon carried her but he said he could not do it for much longer. And it was very cold. They cried out to God to deliver them. Finally he realized he had to make a shelter. The lighter he thought was in his pocket was gone! There would be no fire to warm them. Then, in the distance, they saw the light of a campfire. You never leave the trail when you are lost, but they knew they must. They walked toward the light and found a group of men, startling them, because these men probably were not supposed to be camping out there in the middle of nowhere. They offered food and water and warmth. Two of these men walked them to a main road and waited with them until someone from the campground came in a truck to return them to camp.

The conclusion of this story is obvious: PRAISE GOD! He answered all of our fervent prayers.