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Archive for February, 2020

 

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(In honor of Black History Month)

 

In the predawn hours of May 13, 1862, Robert Smalls’ experienced hands gripped the ship’s wheel of the Planter, though his heart was pounding. Ahead were five checkpoints along the Charleston River, and then the open sea. Within a few hours he and the fifteen others onboard would be free from slavery.

Or, failing to succeed, they would be sinking the ship, jumping overboard and perishing together. They had already decided: being captured was not an option.

Smalls prayed aloud, for the benefit of his crew and passengers: “Lord, we entrust ourselves into thy hands. Like thou didst for the Israelites in Egypt, please stand over us to our promised land of freedom” (1).

The first checkpoint came into view, its lanterns gleaming gold against the darkness. Even though the sentries would not be able to see him clearly, Smalls had taken the precaution of wearing the captain’s coat and straw hat. He even assumed his captain’s posture. And when Smalls gave the correct whistle signal, they allowed him to pass without question.

Robert whispered another prayer, this time of gratitude and praise. He marveled how God had engineered events–starting in his youth–to bring him to this moment:

  • At age twelve, Smalls’ master, Mr. McKee of Beaufort, South Carolina, had rented him to an employer in Charleston. Smalls had worked in the city ever since, as waiter, lamplighter, and then wharf hand.
  • Currently he was employed as wheel hand aboard the Confederate supply ship, Planter, under command of Captain Ripley. His circumstances had allowed him to learn how to sail and how to make the correct whistle signals at checkpoints.
  • The captain and white crew members frequently spent their nights in Charleston, not on the ship. This night was one of them.

 

charleston_s-c-_-_street_scene_-_nara_-_525179

(Charleston street scene by Matthew Brady)

 

  • Smalls enjoyed good rapport with the other ship-hand slaves of the Planter. Without them, this daring getaway would have been impossible.
  • The opportunity for escape presented itself when a pre-dawn mission was scheduled for May 13. Smalls’ 3:30 a.m. departure, although earlier than actually scheduled, did not alert the harbor guards.
  • Smalls had time to notify his wife and children that he would pick them up at a prearranged wharf nearby, prior to the first checkpoint.

A small pinpoint of pale light appeared ahead. Checkpoint Two. Again, the Planter slid by without incident as Smalls signaled to those on shore. Three, four, and five also allowed them to pass.

By sunrise they were sailing into safe Union waters. Upon sighting the first vessel of the Union blockade, Smalls took down the Confederate flag and hoisted a white sheet—just in time before sailors aboard the Onward began firing at the Confederate vessel.

His plan had worked; the little band onboard had escaped to freedom. No doubt their shouts of celebration included, “Thank you, Jesus!”

Smalls surprised the captain of Onward with his knowledge of Rebel fortifications and their locations. Also of value: a book of secret flag signals used by the Confederates, and a full cargo of armaments.

It wasn’t long before Smalls had joined the war effort for the Union, helping to enlist Black men to fight. Nearly 5,000 former slaves fought courageously for the North.

For his part, Smalls became the Union Navy captain for the CSS Planter, the ship he had sailed to freedom. He also captained the ironclad, USS Keokuk.

 

uss_keokuk_h59546

(The USS Keokuk)

 

Smalls led Union ships into waters the Confederacy had protected with mines—mines that Small had helped to plant while enslaved in Charleston. Soldiers deactivated the mines, opening those passageways to Union vessels.

Smalls courageously conducted seventeen missions in and around Charleston, which included assisting in the destruction of railroad bridges in the harbor area.

After the war, Smalls and his family returned to Beaufort, South Carolina. He was awarded the rank of Major General of the South Carolina Militia during Reconstruction, and turned his attention to business, education, and finally, politics.  He opened a general store and started a newspaper. He helped establish the first school built for African-American children in Beaufort County.

 

robert_smalls_-_brady-handy

(Robert Smalls)

 

From 1869 to 1889 Smalls served in both houses of the South Carolina Legislature, and five terms in the U.S. Congress. Referring to his political service, one commentator said, “His record was brilliant, consistent, and indeed he led in all the most prominent measures” (2).

One story in particular highlights Smalls’ Christ-like attitude that impacted his entire life:

 

robert_smalls_house_beaufort_south_carolina

(The McKee/Smalls House in Beaufort, SC)

 

He eventually acquired enough wealth to purchase the house in Beaufort where he and his mother had been slaves of the McKee family. Sometime after Smalls and his family moved in, Mrs. McKee came to the door. By this time she was elderly and perhaps suffering from dementia. She thought the house still belonged to her.

The natural inclination would have been to send her away or have her delivered to her current home. But that was not Robert Smalls’ way. He invited Mrs. McKee inside, gave back to the woman her old bedroom, and then served her.

Robert Smalls died in 1915 at age 76, and was buried with great honors.

In 2001 a Logistics Support Vessel was launched with his name, the Major General Robert Smalls. It was the first ship named for an African-American.

A worthy honoree, indeed.

 

Notes:

(1) Boone, Bishop Wellington, Black Self-Genocide, p. 165.

(2) http://www.docsouth.umc.edu/neh/simmon/simmons.html

 

Sources:

 

Art & photo credits:  www.ibiblio.org; http://www.wikimedia.org (4)

 

(Reblogged from February 2, 2017.  Jury duty has interfered with writing time this week.)

 

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Ask a group of young adults to name three of their life goals, and many of them will mention: success in their careers, loving families, and good friends.

Few if any will say, “to lead a quiet life.”

Yet God inspired Paul to write:

 

“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.”

–1 Thessalonians 4:11a

(emphasis added)

 

First, I suppose we ought to establish what a quiet life might include—qualities such as:

  • Composure
  • Humility
  • Kindness
  • Gentleness
  • Peacefulness

 

 

Equally valuable?   An understanding of what the quiet life would not include:

  • Boasting
  • Being easily-ruffled or offended
  • Whining and Complaining
  • Bossiness
  • Being argumentative

 

 

It’s easy to see: those who lead calm, kind, gentle lives are the ones we like to be around.  The second group of boasters, whiners, and arguers–not so much.

But there are many more benefits to the quiet life than offering pleasant company for others, honorable as that is. Consider the following:

 

A quiet life produces inner strength.

 

“Strength is found not in busyness and noise but in quietness.

For a lake to reflect the heavens on its surface, it must be calm.”

–L. B. Cowman (1)

 

Have you noticed that those with great inner strength and tranquility are most often grounded in faith?

 

(Grandma Rachel, circa 1910)

 

My grandmother(2) was just such a person.  Her strength through tragedy and challenge came from calm confidence in God and complete dependence upon him (Isaiah 30:15).  As a result, serenity and peace radiated from her life.

She was a 1 Corinthians 13 sort of woman—quietly patient, loving, and kind–not boastful, proud, or easily-angered.  I never heard her raise her voice, gossip, or complain. And she consistently thought of others before herself.

Those qualities of the quiet life Grandma exhibited, still radiate in my heart today.

And that leads us to the next benefit:

 

A quiet life provides resounding impact.

 

 

Sunbeams silently rest on plant and tree, generating photosynthesis and growth. Dewdrops silently form in the night, refreshing the ground. Gravity silently presses all matter to the earth.

Similarly, a life of tranquility provides a quiet, positive influence on others through calm demeanor and gentle speech.

Limited speech is also impactful. We’d never think to apply the adjective quiet to a nonstop talker, would we? Thinking-before-speaking includes this advice:

 

“Don’t speak unless you can improve on the silence.”

–Spanish Proverb

 

Columnist Robert Brault seeks to accomplish that feat this way:

 

“I like to think of myself as a finely aged wine,

and one thing that keeps a wine finely aged

is to put a cork in it” (3).

 

A quiet life wins respect (1 Thessalonians 4:11a, 12a).

 

 

Tirades and obnoxious behavior may garner rapt attention, but composure and self-restraint earn high regard.

We’d do well to remember:

 

“The only way to demonstrate

that Christianity is the best of all faiths

is to prove that it produces

the best of all men [and women].”

–William Barclay (4).

 

A quiet life is blessing.

 

1) Composure and contentment result as we grow in tranquility—highly desirable qualities in this world of unrest, discontent, and anger.

 

2)  A quiet life also steers us toward the blessing of maturity, where trivial annoyances no longer infuriate, giving is more fun than receiving, and building up someone else is more satisfying then bragging about ourselves.

 

https://quotefancy.com/quote/1557578/

 

3) The best blessing of all for humble, gentle, and peaceable individuals? The commendation of God himself (Matthew 5:3-9).

 

“How slow many are to learn

that quietness is a blessing,

that quietness is strength,

that quietness is the source

of the highest activity—

the secret of all true abiding in Christ!

Let us try to learn it

and watch for whatever interferes with it.

The dangers that threaten the soul’s rest are many.”

–Andrew Murray (1828-1917)

 

“Abide in me and I will abide in you” (John 15:4 ISV).

 

Notes:

  1. Streams in the Desert, p. 450
  2. I’ve written about her before: https://nancyaruegg.com/2013/02/18/1106/
  3. http://www.quotegarden.com/speaking.html
  4. The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, p. 234.

 

Photo credits:  http://www.pxfuel.com; http://www.pexels.com; http://www.pxfuel.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.quotefancy.com; http://www.pixabay.com.

 

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Science teacher Mike Burns emerged from his house and headed to his car for the short commute to his middle school. ‘Wish it were Friday instead of Wednesday, he thought. How can two days feel like five?

Mike’s next door neighbor was already puttering among his prize rosebushes, even though the sun was just rising.

He called out a quiet “Hey, Bill,” so as not to waken any neighbors, then opened the door to the back seat and set his briefcase and lunch on the floor.

“Howdy yourself, Mike!” Bill responded cheerily, raising his clippers in a salute. “’You have a great day now. And just remember: The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese (1).”

 

 

Mike chuckled. Bill always had a quick joke or silly quote to share.

“I’ll try to be that second mouse!” Mike quipped, taking his seat behind the wheel, and waving good-bye to his retired neighbor.

As he waited at the first stoplight, Mike found himself sniggering again. Gotta love that Bill—always so positive.

On his way from parking lot to faculty lounge, Mike thought of several colleagues who’d also appreciate Bill’s advice, and smiled again. Yup, they’re gonna love it, he thought.

Early bird that he was, Mike decided to make the coffee. And while it brewed, he straightened up the papers, pens, and other office supplies littering the worktable. With a satisfied grin he surveyed the surprise for his coworkers, then grabbed his mug, poured the first cup out of the pot, and headed to the second floor.

 

 

English teacher Angie Thompson arrived next, the teacher who made coffee more often than anyone. But the lounge was already filled with the aroma of a fresh brew.

And look at the table! I’ve never seen it look so neat—and inviting! Angie smiled, already forming a mental list of teachers who might have been so thoughtful. Then with her own cup of joe in hand, Angie walked briskly down the hall to her classroom, invigorated for the day.

Half an hour later, as students strolled in, she found herself engaging with them in good-natured banter. And when the bell rang, Angie greeted her class with an extra dose of cheerfulness and enthusiasm.

The positivity proved highly contagious and as discussion groups got under way, the students responded to each other with more courtesy than usual.

 

 

The same phenomenon was occurring in Mike’s classroom too, as partners companionably constructed barometers.

In fact, the atmosphere of good will continued to spread throughout the day, impacting the entire school community by the time the last car left the parking lot.

And when everyone went home, each was surprised how energized they felt—even happier. Hundreds of households benefited from the positivity.

 And all because Bill offered a bit of friendly conversation and humor.

_________________________

 

Now some will say this sequence of events highly exaggerates the results from one small act of kindness. But research has proved:

“Kindness is contagious. It can cascade across people, taking on new forms along the way…One good deed in a crowded area can create a domino effect and improve the day of dozens of people” (2).

No wonder God inspired Paul to write:

 

 

Mother Teresa gently expanded on Paul’s instruction this way:

 

“Be kind and merciful.

Let no one ever come to you

without leaving better and happier.

Be the living expression of God’s kindness:

kindness in your face, kindness in your smile,

kindness in your warm greeting…

Give them not only your care, but also your heart.”

 

Imagine the over-lapping ripple effect if each of us became the living expression of God’s kindness.

It can start with just a brief, neighborly conversation.

 

 

What recent kindness made a difference in your life?  Tell us about it in the comment section below!

 

Notes:

  1. One of comedian Steven Wright’s famous one-liners.
  2. Jamil Zaki, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Standford University for Scientific American, July 26, 2016, https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/the-science-of-kindness).

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.goodfreephotos.com; http://www.flickr.com (3); http://www.canva.com; http://www.flickr.com.)

 

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(www.thecove.org)

 

Have you visited the Billy Graham Training Center outside Asheville, North Carolina? You’d be hard-pressed to find a better place for retreat, relaxation, and renewal.

Ruth and Billy chose the location well, tucked as it is onto a peaceful Appalachian mountainside.

My husband and I visited years ago and reveled in five days of morning-and-evening teaching sessions under Warren Wiersbe. The afternoons were unscheduled—for the relaxation part.

One day we decided to tackle a long trail-hike and walk off some of the scrumptious food (and nightly, all-you-can-eat soft-serve ice cream!) we’d been consuming.

A staff member promised the mountain view from the lookout point at the end would be well worth the effort.

But in no time the hike became rough going. The miles we were accustomed to walking back home in the flatland of Florida hadn’t prepared us for the unrelenting incline of this trail.

 

 

I started to grunt and groan. My leg muscles begged for mercy until we had to stop and rest—several times.

For the entire distance trees surrounded us—lovely to be sure, but not once did we catch even a glimpse of the vista to come.

Finally we approached the rail of the platform lookout, and my grunts and groans turned to oohing and wowing.

 

 

Row upon row of gentle peaks stood sentry before us, stretching immeasurable miles to the horizon. Cumulous clouds above produced large patches of shade below—a jigsaw of light and shadow.

The staffer had been right. To see such a grand panorama of God’s handiwork was indeed worth the struggle.

 

 

“God has made everything beautiful in his time,” King Solomon wrote (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

“Everything beautiful” certainly includes the splendorous moments on that platform, especially in contrast to the arduous process to get there.

But equally wondrous, God knows how to create beauty out of difficult life-circumstances—circumstances like:

  • A disturbing diagnosis
  • Ongoing frustration at work
  • A hurtful relationship
  • Financial struggles

How can that be? Because those are the times that push us toward maturity (James 1:2-4)—and maturity is indeed a beautiful thing.

 

 

Our problem is, we crave a smooth pathway through life—level, broad, and full of pleasure. But God knows what spoiled, useless creatures we’d become on such a course.

So he allows uphill climbs as the training ground for developing patience, perseverance, persistence, and self-discipline—important facets of maturity.

All the while we can rest assured the day will come when we finally understand how our ugly struggles fit into God’s great and beautiful plan—“a plan so overwhelming, magnificent, and joyful, we will laugh with wonder and delight”—Arthur Christopher Bacon (1).

And how do we know that’s true?

Consider God’s attributes, including his

  • Love and faithfulness (Psalm 117:2)
  • Wisdom (Romans 11:33)
  • Rghteousness (Psalm 145:17)
  • Justice and fairness (Deuteronomy 32:4)

 

 

Such a God does not allow useless distress; there is always purpose.

And note the verse says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time.”

 

Every detail of your life

is fitting together to create

a tapestry of praise.

–Jane L. Fryar (2)

 

Sometimes we do see the details of our lives fitting together in beautiful, praise-evoking ways.

Our stories of struggle-turned-into-beauty can:

  • Inspire someone to start their own journey with Jesus
  • Offer comfort to another who’s struggling on the same stretch of pathway
  • Provide guidance for a wanderer
  • Encourage a hiker-believer to keep climbing to the heights

 

 

But I have a feeling God is saving the best and most beautiful revelations until we’ve reached the lookout of heaven.

For now we can cling to this:

All things are from him—for a purpose (Romans 11:33-36), and we will behold the beauty—when the time is right.

 

Notes:

  1. From Streams in the Desert, edited by Jim Reimann, Zondervan, 1997, p. 72.
  2. Be Blessed, CTA, Inc., 2009, p. 60.

 

Photo credits:  http://www.thecove.org; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.bible.com; http://www.canva.com;  http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.maxpixel.net.

 

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