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Archive for the ‘Excellence’ Category

 

(Wilfred Grenfell, 1865-1940)

 

Dr. Wilfred Grenfell listened to the ill fisherman’s labored breathing. He took note of the patient’s fever-flushed cheeks and chill-induced tremors. The diagnosis: severe pneumonia, and possibly tuberculosis as well.

With little equipment and scant supplies at hand, Grenfell was unable to save the man. Left behind were the man’s wife and six children, subsisting in a tiny sod house.

 

 

Who would care for the destitute family? Everyone in the fishing village of Battle Harbor, Labrador was barely surviving. In fact, up and down the coast similar tragedies occurred frequently because of the primitive living conditions.

The year was 1892. Dr. Grenfell had just recently arrived on the northeastern coast of Canada.

 

 

Over the next three months of summer, he treated about nine hundred people for a variety of medical conditions. And God used those experiences to stir him into action—action for which he had been preparing Grenfell for his entire life.

During his childhood, Wilfred’s parents, Reverend Algernon and Jane Grenfell, provided a strong Christian upbringing for their four sons. Grenfell then studied medicine at London Hospital and London University under the mentorship of the highly respected Christian surgeon, Sir Frederick Treves.

 

(Sir Frederick Treves)

 

But a life-changing moment occurred for Grenfell in 1885 when he attended a tent-revival meeting held by D. L. Moody. Grenfell accepted Moody’s spirited challenge to serve Christ with passion and courage.

Not long after, he heard the Cambridge Seven speak—famous student athletes at the time, serving as missionaries in China. Wilfred felt further inspired to follow God’s leading toward Christian service.

 

(The Cambridge Seven in Mandarin garb, 1885)

 

Upon graduation from medical school, Wilfred joined the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen, on recommendation of his mentor and board member of the mission, Sir Frederick Treves.

The RNMDSF already provided floating libraries, clothing stores, and chapels. Now Grenfell could add medical services to the other benefits.

 

(The Royal National Mission to Deep-Sea Fishermen,

still in operation since its founding in 1881.)

 

His travels with the mission brought Grenfell to Labrador where the living conditions were so dire he felt compelled to do what he could to improve them.

In addition to offering medical care, Grenfell held simple church services, preaching what he remembered from his father’s sermons. Numerous people chose to follow Jesus; others were strengthened in their faith.

Over the course of the next four decades Grenfell built six hospitals and opened seven nursing stations. He established fourteen industrial centers, a number of churches, and  four boarding schools.

 

 

At first, the Royal National Mission to Deep-Sea Fishermen financed his work. But it soon became necessary for Grenfell to raise monies himself. God equipped him for this aspect of the work also, and very quickly he became a successful fundraiser and charismatic speaker.

One close-call adventure Grenfell relayed often on his speaking tours, and it finally became a book. (He wrote more than thirty books—all for the support of his mission work.)

 

 

In April of 1908 he found himself drifting out to sea on a chunk of ice with no hope of survival. He’d been dog sledding across the frozen Hope Bay, headed for a remote community in Newfoundland where a young boy needed surgery.

But conditions on the bay changed overnight while he rested. The ice began to break up. Though Grenfell tried to jump from one ice chunk to another in order to return to shore, he soon realized it was wasted effort. The floe was moving too fast.

 

(Drift ice off the coast of Labrador)

 

For a day and a night, Grenfell continued to drift. He was sure the rough seas would make rescue impossible. But a small group of fishermen in a boat did spot him and came to his aid.

Later, he described his rescuers as five men “with Newfoundland muscles in their backs and five as brave hearts as ever beat in the bodies of human beings” (Adrift on an Ice Pan, 1909).

Two days later, Grenfell was able to perform surgery on the young boy, who was brought to the local hospital by boat—a much more satisfactory solution.

In addition to his accomplishments and great adventures, Grenfell’s full life also included disappointment and doubt, trouble and sorrow, even failure. But he knew where to find strength and encouragement:

 

“The word of God is the Christian soul’s best weapon,

and it is essential to have it with him always.

In doubt it decides; in consultation it directs;

in anxiety it reassures, in sorrow it comforts;

in failure it encourages; in defense it protects;

in offense it is mightier than the mighty.”

–Wilfred Grenfell

 

Thus empowered, the great doctor accomplished his divinely appointed mission–year after year, day by day—with passion and courage.

 

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

That is what we desire as well, Father, to accomplish the mission you’ve divinely-appointed for each of us. May we embrace with faith, courage, and passion the possibilities you present before us, in honor of you, and because your pleasure always becomes ours as well.

 

(P.S. The winter after the ice floe rescue, Grenfell met Anna MacClanahan of Lake Forest, Illinois. They were married in November of 1909, and she quickly became Grenfell’s private secretary, editor, and adviser. They had two sons and one daughter.)

 

 

 

Sources:

  1. http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/grenfell_wilfred_thomason_16E.html
  2. http://www.canadianchristianleaders.org/leader/wilfred-grenfell/
  3. http://www.cdnmedhall.org/inductees/sir-wilfred-grenfell
  4. http://www.greatthoughtstreasury.com/author/wilfred-grenfell-fully-sir-wilfred-thomason-grenfell
  5. http://www.grenfellhistory.co.uk/biographies/wilfred_thomason_grenfell.php
  6. https://www.heritage.nf.ca/articles/society/grenfell-mission.php
  7. https://ottawacitizen.com/news/national/fifteen-canadian-stories-wilfred-grenfell-the-daring-doctor-who-brought-hospitals-to-newfoundland

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.flickr.com;www.wikimedia.org; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.wikimedia.org (2); http://www.geograph.org.uk; http://www.flickr.com (2); http://www.picryl.com; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.picryl.com.

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We’re all familiar with the extraordinary accomplishments of:

 

 

  • Beethoven—composing masterful concertos, symphonies and more while deaf
  • Michelangelo—creating over-sized artworks with awe-inspiring realism
  • Shakespeare—writing dozens of plays and hundreds of sonnets with words that flowed “like a miraculous Celestial Light-ship, woven all of sheet-lightning and sunbeams” (Thomas Carlisle)

Geniuses indeed. But even more important than brilliance was their willingness to exert great effort.

 

 

Beethoven rewrote nearly every bar of his compositions at least a dozen times.

Michelangelo produced more than 2,000 preparatory sketches for “Last Judgment” alone, a painting considered by many as one of the best artworks of all time. It took eight years to complete.

Even Shakespeare must have revised again and again before his words approached the sublime eloquence he is known for.

 

 

The more we know of such masters, the more we realize: their works required enduring patience, tenacious persistence, and sharp focus.

It just so happens that God values those three attributes also. And since he’s working in us to foster all positive traits, we each have the potential to create masterpieces.

Of course, works of genius include much more than symphonies, paintings, and plays.  Are you part of a ministry, community project, or volunteer organization? Are you a parent, grandparent, mentor, or friend? These are just a few ways you and I contribute to the most valuable masterpieces of all—the people around us.

 

 

But there is effort involved. God chooses not to do it alone; he invites us to join with him in the work.  So what might be our part in developing those important qualities of patience, persistence, and focus, necessary for developing our genius?

The following steps may provide a good start.

 

Step #1: Practice waiting.

 

 

It is a fact: most worthwhile endeavors take time. Usually lots of it.

In addition, patience requires stamina to endure delay.

Consider Dr. Albert Sabin, who researched polio and developed the oral vaccine.  His mission required thirty-one years of painstaking effort.

 

 

Step #2: Expect to be stretched by struggle.

Oswald Chambers, in My Utmost for His Highest, likens the believer in the hands of God to the bow in the hands of an archer. God stretches us beyond what we think we can bear. And when his purpose is in sight, then he lets fly.

Consider Dr. Jason Fader, son of medical missionaries who now serves as a medical missionary himself in Berundi, Africa–after grueling medical training, intense language school, and challenging fund-raising.  But in 2017 he was chosen as the first recipient of the Gerson L’Chaim Prize for Outstanding Christian Medical Missionary Service ( Jason’s story).

 

Step #3: Persist—with the application of faith, prayer, and hope.

We must be willing to tolerate discomfort, perhaps for an extended period of time.

However, the genius-in-the-making under God’s tutelage does not plod along as he perseveres; he plots. He sets his coordinates for the course ahead by faith, prayer, and hopetrusting in God’s promises, asking for God’s guidance, and embracing the possibilities of tomorrow as well as the challenges of today—because in all of it there is good.

Consider George Muller of Bristol, England, whose five orphanages housed over 2,000 children at any one time.  Muller not only wanted to care for these children but demonstrate that God would meet “all their needs as a result of prayer and faith, without any one being asked or approached” (www.mullers.org).  His story includes miracle after miracle.

 

 

Step #4: Remain focused on the task at hand.

A genius does not allow distraction or discouragement to sidetrack him. He takes delight in the present moment while: composing one bar of sublime, symphonic fusion, getting the light just right in one small area of the canvas, or choosing specific, rhythmic words for one line of imagery.

But even more important for the believer, she is inspired and directed by God himself. His plan may include an exceptional piece of music, art, or writing. Or, perhaps even more importantly, it may include exceptional input into the lives of others–through kindness, encouragement, and integrity.

 

 

It is God who is the Supreme Genius, masterfully weaving a tapestry of circumstances and relationships among his people. The full beauty of this masterpiece will not be revealed until we all arrive in heaven.

Then we’ll see the results of the God-given genius in each of us, our patience, perseverance, and focus, woven into God’s perfect design.

And what a celebration will ensue.

 

(Art & photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.wikipedia.com (2); http://www.ramstein.af.mil; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.vi.wikipedia.com; http://www.georgemuller.org; http://www.flickr.com.)

 

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(In honor of Black History Month)

 

(Mary McLeod Bethune)

 

Mary turned over in her bed for the umpteenth time seeking a restful position, even though she knew discomfort was not the cause of her sleeplessness–excitement was. Tomorrow morning, October 4, 1904, she would stand in front of her first class of children in her own school: The Daytona Literary and Industrial School for Negro Girls.

Mary smiled, remembering the miracle of learning to read for herself when she was a girl of ten—miraculous because: 1) the provision of education for African-American children was rare in 1885, and 2) out of the seventeen children in her family, she was the one chosen to attend.

 

(Cabin where Mary was born, the fifteenth child out of seventeen)

 

The school was five miles from home, and she had to endure harassment and assault from white children on her daily treks. But Mary knew: this opportunity meant God had purpose for her life.

In 1886 a Quaker missionary financed the continuation of her education at Scotia Seminary in North Carolina.

Seven years later she entered Moody Bible Institute in Chicago as the only African-American among hundreds of white students. Instead of harassment and assault, however, Mary encountered acceptance, proving that “blacks and whites could live and work together with equality” (1).

While at Moody, Mary sensed God leading her to Africa as a missionary. But when it came time to apply, her denomination’s mission board denied her request because she was black.

The disappointment was deeply painful, but Mary soon turned her attention to those of African descent in America, and became a teacher—first in Augusta, Georgia and then in Sumter, South Carolina. She worked tirelessly, not only for her students but also for the surrounding black communities.

Thank you, Lord, for those nine years of teaching experience, Mary prayed. You prepared me well to found this new school.

Granted, there would only be five little girls greeting her in the morning, but it was a beginning. And Mary was confident God would make her school grow.

She chucked to herself. Of course, Lord, you left an awful lot of work for ME to do!

First she found a community in need of a school: Daytona Beach, Florida. Numerous African-American families were moving there, in order to be employed by the newly formed Florida East Coast Railroad.

 

(Workers on the East Coast Railway Extension, 1906)

 

Next Mary found a run-down cottage to rent for eleven dollars per month.  She convinced the owner to accept $1.50 as a down payment.

To supply her school with furniture and other necessities, Mary foraged at the city dump and behind hotels for anything useful. Old peach crates became student desks and chairs, an old barrel became her teacher’s desk.

She retrieved discarded linens, kitchen ware, and cracked dishes for the homemaking and skilled trades she would teach. Everything was scoured, mended and repurposed. Even charred wood had value as substitute pencils.

To cover expenses, Mary sold sweet potato pies and fried fish to wealthy tourists. She canvassed neighborhoods, spoke to church groups and clubs, and distributed leaflets.

Now, opening day was hours away.  And as she finally drifted off to sleep Mary wondered, What might the future hold?

If God had told her, even Mary’s strong faith would have been stretched.

That tiny handful of students in 1904 would grow to almost 250 by 1906, requiring more teachers, an advisory board, and a bigger facility. Among the influential men (black and white) on the board was James M. Gamble of the Proctor and Gamble Company.

 

(Mary and her students, ca. 1905)

 

In 1923 her school would merge with the Cookman Institute, a co-educational school for African-American students in Jacksonville, Florida. Mary was chosen as the first president. Later the Bethune-Cookman Institute became a college and then a university. (Today, nearly 4,000 students attend the school.)

 

(Faith Hall, built in 1907 to accommodate Mary’s growing school;

now part of Bethune-Cookman University)

 

In 1935 Mary helped organize the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) “to connect African-American women across the country and establish a national voice for them” (2).   Mary served as the first president.

A White House Conference of the NCNW met in Washington, DC in 1938. Then president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, offered her the position of Director of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration.

Mary met one-on-one with President Roosevelt several times a year and became good friends with Eleanor.

 

(Eleanor in the middle; Mary to her right)

 

Her participation on various government committees actually spanned the terms of four presidents, from Calvin Coolidge to Harry S. Truman.

 

(Mary’s home in Washington, DC)

 

Mary often said:

 

 

The impossible events of Mary’s life offer ample proof.

 

(Mary McLeod Bethune, 1875-1955)

 

Notes:

(1) http://www.talbot.edu/ce20/educators/protestant/mary_bethune

(2) https://savingplaces.org/stories/mary-mcleod-bethune-bethune-cookman-university-hbcu-history#.WnzP3pM-e8U

 

Sources:

http://www.talbot.edu/ce20/educators/protestant/mary_bethune

https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ969859.pdf

https://savingplaces.org/stories/mary-mcleod-bethune-bethune-cookman-university-hbcu-history#.WnzP3pM-e8U

http://www.wciujournal.org/journal/article/mary-mcleod-bethune-an-agent-of-change-and-leadership

 

Photo credits:  http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimedia.org (2); http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimedia.org (2); http://www.nationalparkservice.org; http://www.wikimedia.org, http://www.canva.com

 

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My first teaching job was in a small community southwest of Lexington, Kentucky. Although the school included first through sixth grades, there were only five teachers. Second grade was divided, some students included in first, the rest with third. I was assigned the first/second split.

The first morning of school went by quickly as we read stories, played a few learning games, and completed a class chart of favorite summer activities. Soon it was time to march to the cafeteria for lunch.

The children lined up to receive their plates of food, and then were instructed to pick up napkins, utensils, cartons of milk, and straws – all without benefit of trays. Little hands struggled to hold so many items–much less carry them all without accident.

 

lunch

 

So began my habit of standing at the end of the counter, wrapping utensils and a straw in a napkin, then perching a milk carton on an empty corner of the plate as the students passed by.

One second grader, Ricky, was much too manly to use a straw. Each day he would proclaim, “I don’t need no straw.”

Each day I would patiently correct him: “I don’t need a straw.” Ricky would repeat it again after me.  It almost became a joke between us, as the exchange occurred day after day, month after month.

One noontime in March, while focused on wrapping the next set of flatware, I heard Ricky’s voice proudly proclaim, “I DON’T NEED A STRAW!”

My eyes popped, Ricky’s twinkled, and his broad smile indicated his pleasure in remembering–all by himself–how to correctly form his request.

A quick hug, a few pats on the back, and an “I-am-so-PROUD-of-you!” let him know how I felt.

It never occurred to me to say, “Well, it’s about time, Bud! You DO realize we’ve repeated this little ceremony over one hundred times, don’t you?”

No. This was a moment to celebrate! Our perseverance had paid off. And perhaps this one little grammatical victory would prompt Ricky to conquer the next. I was thrilled.

Do you suppose that’s how God feels when our “practice makes perfect?”

When:

 

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  • Our quiet time with him finally becomes a near-daily habit?
  • We remember to express gratitude and praise to him throughout the day?
  • We’re able to think before we speak more consistently?
  • We forgo some purchase for pleasure in order to supply someone else with necessities?
  • We put aside our agenda to do a favor for someone else?

Yes, I believe God is thrilled with our steps of progress, just as I was with Ricky’s effort. If God withheld his pleasure until we reached perfection, we’d never experience even one good thing (Psalm 84:11). He’d always be in discipline-mode.

But Isaiah tells us: “The Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion” (30:18).

David reminds us that out of his grace and compassion he guides our steps and takes delight when we follow his way (Psalm 37:23).

Another psalmist proclaimed that the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love (147:11).   No mention of delight reserved only for those who are perfect.

Ah, but what about Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5:48:   “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect?”

Yes, that is the standard, but God does not disapprove of us because we haven’t achieved that goal.   He knows perfection this side of heaven is impossible. What he does approve of is effort—to press on like Paul to “receive the heavenly prize for which God through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:12-14).

When we stumble, we keep going. When we fall, we get up and try again.

But listen closely.  You’ll hear God celebrating our progress (Zephaniah 3:17).

 

Zephaniah-317-

 

*    *     *     *     *   *     *     *     *     *

 

We praise you, Heavenly Father, for being a gracious, compassionate God,

who is slow to become angry and always abounding in loving-kindness.

Even as we strive to be more like you,

we can rest in the knowledge that you will not condemn us

when we stumble and fall.

Thank you for your readiness to forgive and your everlasting love.  

Thank you for continually drawing us closer to you and your perfection. 

 

(Psalm 103:1-2, Romans 8:1; 1 John 1:9; Jeremiah 31:3).

 

Photo credits:  www.pinterest.com; http://www.grist.org; http://www.neabscobaptist.org; http://www.untilsheflies.com.)

Reblogged from June 15, 2015.

 

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Hurricane Frances, 2004, provided Steve’s and my first experience with that level of storm, even though we’d lived in Florida nearly thirty years. For twelve hours we listened to the roar of the wind and the banging of storm shutters, because Frances did not whoosh through the state, she shuffled.

 

(Note the eye.  That’s just slightly north of where we lived.)

 

Challenges continued after the storm, with a steam bath of heat and humidity compounded by the absence of electrical power for five or six days.

Even so, we celebrated:

  • Minimal damage–a mangled pool enclosure, many missing shingles, and a debris-filled yard. That was it.
  • A neighbor who shared his generator power with us, preserving the food in our refrigerator.
  • Time to rest after the ordeal of preparation; time to read and just be together.

The most memorable moment, perhaps, was the night we lathered up with Off, stood in the backyard, and stared into the cloudless heavens. (Plodding Frances had made a clean sweep of the sky on her way through.)

With the power out all along the coast of South Florida, more stars were visible than I thought possible to see without a telescope. Thousands upon thousands pierced every square inch of sky. Even one arm of the Milky Way spiral was discernible to the west.

 

 

Such an image is a worthy accompaniment to Philippians 2:15, where Paul urges us to be blameless and pure in a crooked and perverted generation, “among whom you shine like stars in the world” (emphasis added).

 

 

Paul surely had plenty of opportunity during his travels to contemplate the night skies. His view of the stars would always have been unencumbered by manmade light. And with all the ancients, he would have known that stars always shine brightest on the darkest nights.

So perhaps one inference we can make from Paul’s shine-like-stars encouragement: The brighter we shimmer with love, joy, and a positive outlook, the more we’ll stand out from those who focus on self, criticism, and negativity.

My thoughts turn toward those of you reading this right now who face dark circumstances in your lives. Every day you endure physical and/or emotional pain, yet you glow! You’re lit up by the Spirit within! And you scatter beams of grace to everyone around you–your family and friends, coworkers and neighbors. We bask in the light of your example and praise God for you.

 

 

Another inference we might make from Philippians 2:15: If only one pin-point star gleamed in the sky, we’d hardly notice. It’s the sheer number of stars that grabs our attention.

 

 

I wonder if Paul wanted us to contemplate the power of numbers. By the time he wrote to the Philippians, Christian churches had been established throughout much of the Roman empire. Today, thirty-seven million Christian churches spread across the globe*, and 2.3 billion people identify themselves as Christians**. That’s nearly one-third of all people on Planet Earth.

God has invited us to be part of a cosmos of believers—as grand as the night sky and awe-inspiring as the stars.

Just as the stars cannot be destroyed, nothing can destroy his church. Members may be persecuted, oppressed, and even murdered for their faith, but the church will not be extinguished (Matthew 16:18).

 

 

For 2000 years, kings, emperors, and dictators have tried. No one has succeeded. There are more believers in Jesus than ever.

True, people may scoff at or even refuse to listen to our words.  But a shining example of star quality is difficult to refute—especially against a dark sky.

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

Lord God, on any given day I fail to shine like the star you’ve created me to be. I want my words and actions to manifest YOU, to be a glimmer of hope, encouragement, and joy to others. Just as the stars continually gleam in the heavens, I pray for consistency in my life—consistency to rely upon you, my Source of delightful Light.

 

  

* http://www.christianpost.org

**http://www.pewresearch.org

 

Photo credits:  www.wikimedia.com; http://www.Forestwander.com on wikimedia.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.jpl.nasa.gov; http://www.goodfreephotos.com; http://www.dailybiblememe.com; http://www.flickr.com.)

 

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Years ago I created a memory booklet to celebrate my dad on his birthday. Good thing I did. Over the intervening decades, some of those recollections would surely have been forgotten. And now the memories are more precious than ever.

 

(Dad and me 1964)

 

Their meaning, however, goes deeper than mere sentiment. Throughout my life, Dad has modeled the loving ways of my Heavenly Father.

For example:

Dad often took my brother and me to the community pool or on bike rides through the back streets near our home.  We also accompanied Dad to the hardware store, the lumberyard—even the dump! When he asked us to tag along, we always said yes. It meant quality time with our hero.

How incredible to realize God Almighty desires our intimate company, too (2 Corinthians 6:16).

 

 

    *     *     *

 

John and I had our own personal shoe fitter—Dad. He’d gently press on toes, instep, and heel, to ensure proper fit. Such attention to detail was his modus operandi. As a result, we could trust him. He always had our best interests at heart.

God also carefully attends to the details of our lives (Isaiah 40:11).   For a number of months in 2013 we searched realty websites for a new house. Two weeks before the actual walk-throughs, a perfect brick ranch just happened to become available. Though we looked at other homes, this became his obvious choice for us—a true gift.

 

 

 *     *     *

 

Dad started taking me to the library as a toddler. It was on his lap and my mother’s I learned to appreciate books.

My Heavenly Father guided me to appreciate his Book.  Nowhere else have I found such wisdom, consolation, inspiration, and direction. David was right: The scriptures are more valuable than gold (Psalm 19:10).

 

 *     *     *

 

One time I ran out of reading material while sick with a virus. Dad went to the library to remedy the situation. Because he knew me well, Dad could choose books he was reasonably confident I’d like. And sure enough, I read all four.

 

 

My Heavenly Father knows me more intimately yet and cares about my interests (Psalm 139:1-3). After I had taken up writing again, a woman at church just happened to invite me to her writers’ group. Not only did the members offer encouragement and challenge, they became delightful friends as well.

 

  *     *     *

 

Dad and I were on an errand at Sears when we passed the bicycle display. Suddenly he asked, “If you’re willing to pay half out of your savings, what do you say we get you a new bike today?”   My heart pounded so loudly at such a glorious surprise, I found it difficult to focus on the decision of red or blue. (Blue won.)

God in heaven blesses us in delightful, surprising ways as well (Matthew 7:7-11). One afternoon a member of our church (where my husband, Steve, was pastor) called to seek a recommendation on a car. Why me? he wondered.  Steve thought perhaps she planned to purchase one for her grandson’s graduation. But no, it was for us.

 

 

    *     *     *

 

When I was seven or eight, Dad taught me the card game, “21,” so I could practice addition and subtraction. (Math never was my friend.) Not only did he sacrifice his time to help me, he aimed to make the exercise pleasurable too.

My Heavenly Father has gently taught me life skills too (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Recently I came across Ephesians 5:4 about what should be coming out of my mouth instead of foolish talk. Paul encourages thanksgiving, because it is life changing.   Positive thoughts become positive words that foster positive action. In addition, God knows a grateful heart is a joy-filled heart (Psalm 92:1-2, 4).

 

 

  *     *     *

 

My father is ninety-three, and still a remarkable man of strength, wisdom, and faith. His godly influence greatly helped shape my life.

I wonder how different the world would be if all fathers followed the model of our Heavenly Father (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)?  He lavishes such attentive, everlasting love on his children.  My heart fills with awe and adoration at the wonder that I am his and he is mine.

 

(Art & photo credits:  Nancy Ruegg (2), http://www.pinterest.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.slideshare.net; http://www.pinterest (2).

 

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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 dark night. 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 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 Onward sailors began to fire 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

 

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:  Black Self-Genocide by Bishop Wellington Boone, APPTE Publishing, 2016; http://www.biography.com/people/robert-smalls; http://www.cbn.com/CBNnews/138685.aspx; http://www.historynet.com/robertsmalls; http://www.robertsmalls.com; www.

 

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

 

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