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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.

 

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(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.

 

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(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.

 

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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:

 

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(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)

 

“Elena wins the prize for quote-of-the-day,” her teacher, Miss Allison, quietly told my husband as he picked up our three-year old granddaughter from preschool.

Miss Allison continued with a twinkle in her eye. “She informed everyone today that she’s Princess of the Preschool.”

 

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(Not Elena, but she would love this princess-style dress!)

 

In reality, Elena knows little about being a princess. She hasn’t seen any of the Disney fairy tale films and she owns no ball gowns. Even so, Elena has somehow decided that princess status is something to be desired.

Chances are, however, Prince Charming will not ride up her street on his white steed and whisk her away to a castle of fabulous riches.

What Elena doesn’t fully realize yet is this: her Heavenly Father does offer her a glorious life of royalty, because He is the King of all the earth (Psalm 47:7) and those of us who receive his Son Jesus into our lives become his children (John 1:12).

 

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As Elena continues to learn about him, she’ll discover marvelous truths about the royal standing God’s children enjoy. See if your heart doesn’t begin to beat a bit faster as you consider the following:

 

  1. We each have great value in the kingdom of God (Luke 15:3-7).

Think about a museum of artifacts that once belonged to a famous person. Ordinary objects like a worn tailcoat, a battered desk, and yellowed correspondence take on great worth because of who owned them.

We belong to the most illustrious Being of the universe. Each of us might be as ordinary and common as a library chair, yet we are extremely valuable because we belong to God.

 

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  1. God provides fitting apparel in keeping with our royal status.

The figurative robes of our spirits (our insufficient efforts at good deeds) are nothing more than filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), given our foibles and misconduct. But God provides us with the pure white robe of Christ’s righteousness to replace those rags (61:10).

 

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That robe of righteousness includes sleeves of compassion and kindness, a yoke of humility, and long, flowing folds of gentleness and patience (Colossians 3:12). For my own puny stature, that robe is much too big; I can’t live out such goodness on my own. It’s only as I allow Jesus to work in me and through me that I begin to grow into his robe. It’s a process that will take a lifetime and beyond (Philippians 1:6).

Another piece of apparel is a necessity for every royal personage: a crown. And God has not omitted this adornment. Just what might a crown represent? Wise King Solomon made this observation: “Blessings crown the head of the righteous” (Proverbs 10:6).

 

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I can say amen to that. God has frequently adorned my life with gifts far exceeding what I need—not because I’ve earned them but because of his loving nature.

You too?

 

  1. We have access to the throne room of the King.

Any time of day or night, we can enter into God’s presence, knowing we’ll receive his immediate welcome. Because he exists independent of time and space, our Father King can turn his full, individual attention to each of us, even if we all approached him at once.

And we do need his attention. We are not perfectly wise and capable and strong like he is. Instead, we tend to be selfish and proud. We mess up. In addition, life is full of challenges—challenges we don’t know how to handle.

But at God’s throne of grace—where he dispenses his favor on us who do not deserve it–we receive his help in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

 

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In fact, there is no one like God the King.

“He rides across the heavens to help you, across the skies in majestic splendor” (Deuteronomy 33:26 NLT).

Isn’t that a glorious image?

And look–he’s even riding a white horse (Revelation 19:11)!

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.pauldingcountyareafoundation.net; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.quotefancy.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.jesuscalls.com; http://www.pinterest.com.)

 

Prayer for a Newborn

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(Granddaughter #3, Maarit Anne*, was born on Sunday, January 15.)

 

Creator of Maarit Anne and Heavenly Father of us all,

We praise you for this precious gift of new life—

A delightful reward from your gracious hand of love.

Already she is a blessing as we cuddle her tiny form,

Caress her downy head, and kiss her soft cheeks.

 

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We marvel how you wove together so many disparate parts

To create this unique little person,

Evident in her distinctive collection of family traits:

Mommy’s dark hair and Daddy’s brow line,

Auntie Heather’s long, slender fingers, and

Grandpa Terry’s narrow feet.

In more ways yet to be revealed Maarit is an exemplification

Of your exquisite workmanship—

a heavenly piece of poetry—

in mind, body, soul, and spirit.

 

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We praise you for the perfect life-course

You’ve already planned for Maarit—

A future gleaming with hope because

You’ve set her apart and equipped her

For special purpose to accomplish your good works.

 

May her eyes be drawn to you and your Word,

The wondrous splendors of your creation,

And the signs of your love all around her.

May Maarit’s mouth be filled with praise,

Declaring your glory all day long.

May her ears be quick to hear your voice,

And her heart be delighted to respond.

 

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May Maarit’s spirit grow strong

In the loving care and nurture of Jesus.

May she wear your instruction

As a garland of praise.

 

Give to all who love and care for Maarit

The wisdom and grace to guide her in all your ways.

Protect and provide for her all the days

You’ve ordained for her.

 

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These things we ask for our Maarit Anne

In the Name of Jesus.

Amen.

 

(Psalm 127:3, 139:15; Ephesians 2:10; Psalm 119:18; Jeremiah 1:5, 29:11;

Psalm 71:8; Proverbs 23:12; Psalm 119:35; Proverbs 1:9; Psalm 139:16, Psalm 23:6.)

 

*Maar (rhymes with bar)-it is a Finnish name, meaning “pearl,” in honor of our daughter-in-law’s Finnish heritage on her mother’s side. Maarit’s middle name was given in honor of Hilja’s grandmother–and me, a delightful, humbling surprise.

 

Art & photo credits:  Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pinterest (3), http://www.ourdailyblossom.com.

 

When I was a young girl, my family lived near Chicago in a three-bedroom, one bath home. One car parked in the driveway; there was no garage. My brother and I dreamed of owning an in-ground swimming pool but had to settle for the crowded, over-chlorinated conditions of the community pool.

 

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If someone had told me, “Nancy, when you grow up you will get married, have three children, and live in Florida for forty years. Every home will have two bathrooms and a garage. You’ll eventually own two cars, too. But, best of all, three of your homes will have a swimming pool in the backyard.”

 

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(Sometimes we enjoyed a bigger pool — the Gulf or Atlantic.)

 

I would have thought, Unbelievable! When all those heavenly things happen, then I’ll be happy and content.

Ah, but during those forty years in Florida I remember thinking on more than one occasion: If only this heat and humidity would let up. It’s like a furnace out there. Or, Why can’t these kids just get along with each other and give me some peace? Or, Houseguests are coming; gotta clean those bathrooms today. Ugh.

Contentment can be an elusive quality. No sooner do we possess one long-desired item, we discover another acquisition to wish for. No sooner have we achieved one level of success, we’re already reaching for the next—with a sideways glance at our neighbor who’s acquired or accomplished more than we have.

We know what scripture tells us: “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6).

 

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Our spirits sense the truth of it and recognize the gain to be had when craving, grasping, and unrest give way to peace of mind and tranquility of spirit.

But how?

Contentment is a choice of perspective. I can choose to affirm and celebrate my:

  • Possessions.  I have more than enough.
  • Position.  I have experienced more than enough.
  • Personhood.  I am more than enough the way God made me, with my particular personality traits, gifts, and abilities.

Like Paul, I can learn to be content by choosing again and again the proper perspective (Philippians 4:11).

 

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However.

There is one area where contentment is not desirable: in the spiritual realm. I never want to become content with what I already know about God or be satisfied with the current level of intimacy between my Heavenly Father and me.

I want to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus (2 Peter 3:18).

 

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That’s an opportunity for a lifetime. Think of it: we never reach the end of his magnificence and influence. There is always greater knowledge to understand, more wonder to explore, more splendor and growth to experience.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Lord, God, may I not look right or left at what others have, or what others have accomplished, or what gifts and talents they display. Keep me mindful of my utmost desire: to know you more intimately, follow you more closely, and live in the contentment of your sufficiency for everything.

 

Art & photo credits:  www.ancestory.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.youtube.com; http://www.pinterest (2).

 

 

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My eyes scanned the short list of course-possibilities.  I needed three more science hours for my college degree. The one that best fit my schedule? Ornithology. I was not enthused.  Birds simply did not hold my interest.

I expected to just endure that class; instead I became enthralled, mainly because the professor was so enthusiastic. With humor and energy he shared his passion, and slowly his students became fascinated too. The more we learned, the more appreciative we became of the avian world.

To this day, I’m quick to grab my binoculars and study a pecking flicker or an upside down nuthatch dangling at the end of a branch. At least once a week my curiosity sends me to the bird guide so I can refresh my memory about habits (Should the robins still be here?) or exact names (Is that a downy woodpecker or a hairy?).

 

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(It’s a hairy!)

 

Delight has determined my direction toward bird enthusiast.

No doubt you’ve discovered delights that determined direction also–into hobbies, book genres, even careers.

Eons ago, an anonymous psalmist recommended a supreme delight that determines a positive, satisfying life-direction: taking pleasure in God’s Word (Psalm 1:2).

 

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“I don’t know about that,” someone might say. “I’ve tried reading the Bible. It simply does not hold my interest.”

After my transformation from bird-ignorer to bird enthusiast, I’d suggest that not only is interest possible, it is guaranteed if we:

  1. Attend class.

My professor, Dr. Burkholder, could not have changed my attitude if I had not been present. Neither can God perform his miracle of life-transformation if we don’t attend his class, in his Word. And our teacher is none other than the passionate Holy Spirit, who will guide us into all truth (John 16:13). How glorious is that?

 

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  1. Stay focused.

Mindless listening to a lecture or distracted reading of a textbook results in little learning. That’s why we were taught to take notes in school. The same strategy works well while listening to Bible teaching or reading scripture for ourselves. I’ve been amazed by the discoveries and questions that come to mind when pen and paper are handy, compared to when they aren’t.

  1. Seek treasure.

Dr. Burkholder shared with us astounding trivia from the bird world. For example, did you know young hummingbirds that have never migrated before know when to leave their northern homes, how far to travel south, and when to stop—without benefit of other hummers? They fly solo too, even the first time.  (Yet another proof of the genius of Creator God.)

 

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God’s Word includes treasure far more valuable than intriguing trivia—such gems as: faith-building promises, wise guidance, worthy examples to follow (and some examples of what to avoid!), and uplifting encouragement–all ready to be discovered by those who seek.

  1. Pray 

Here’s where the analogy to my ornithology class breaks down. I can’t imagine one of us going to Dr. Burkholder and saying:    “Open my eyes so that I will observe amazing things from your instruction.”

Yet those words make perfect sense when addressed to God. In fact, an anonymous psalmist said exactly that (119:18, ISV).

 

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To read the whole Bible may seem overwhelming—it’s long and some parts are difficult to understand. But who says we have to start from the beginning and read straight through?

The internet offers numerous plans. One site that intrigued me:

http://journeynyc.com/spiritual-growth/bible-reading-plans/

They offer a number of different options, sure to meet the needs of just about anyone—from biblical novice to scholar.

When questions arise, help is available at any number of websites. Two that I like include: www.bible.org and www.gotquestions.org.

Perhaps growing in our delight of God’s Word this year would be more impactful than any other resolution.  After all, he made us.  Developing delight in his Instruction Manual can’t help but lead us in a positive direction.

 

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What delights in the Bible have helped determine positive direction in your life?  Share an example in the Comments section below.

 

* “Delight determines direction”— a quote from Ray Pritchard, author and president of Keep Believing Ministries.

 

P.S.  For 2017 I’ll be posting just once a week in order to allow time for other projects and for assisting our son and daughter-in-law when Baby Girl #2 arrives (sometime mid-January).  I do hope you’ll still return each Thursday for a new post.

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.pixabay.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pinterest.com (2); http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.pixabay.com.)

 

As We Leave Christmas

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Christmas 2016 is now only a set of memories.

Mine include:

  • The first preschool performance of our granddaughter, Elena. Picture a stageful of two-to-four-year olds singing off-key with cherubic enthusiasm. Delightful.
  • Christmas Eve dinner with family in a lovely restaurant, and then an outstanding church concert afterwards.
  • A gathering of eight around the Christmas tree to open presents—seven family members and one adopted uncle (a friend of our son’s who could not get home for the weekend).

Now it’s time to finish up or freeze all the leftovers from holiday meals. Soon we’ll have to bring up the boxes from the basement and undecorate (the most deplorable of chores) while listening to Christmas carols one last time.

 

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And as folks around the world put away the ornaments, wreaths, and fairy lights, many will put away their cheerfulness and good will. There will be fewer smiles and happy greetings, fewer kindnesses and generous gestures.

I don’t want to be one of those folks, melancholy as my spirit might be. I need a new attitude, as described by Charles Allen and Charles Wallis:

 

“Christmas need not be limited to only a day.

Christmas can become, as it was meant to be,

an attitude toward life that will continue

during all of the days that follow.”

–from Christmas, p. 51.

 

My new attitude could take inspiration from the shepherds who, after visiting the stable, returned to their flock glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen (Luke 2:20).

 

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Surely their glorifying and praising was not just a temporary state. Of course, the intense euphoria lessened with time. It would be impossible to live with that level of excitement long-term. Who could eat or sleep?

But I can picture them, sitting around their campfire year after year, frequently reminiscing about that night. I can see their soft smiles, recalling how terrible fright had turned to gleeful joy. And I see the shaking of their heads in wonder, remembering that they were among the first to look into the face of the long-awaited Messiah.  What an incredulous privilege. That kind of elation never grows old.

I have a feeling those shepherds were never the same after that night. Their families—even the village of Bethlehem—were impacted by the effervescent joy that overflowed from their lives.

After all, they had seen the Lord.

 

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(Gerard von Honthorst painting, 1622)

 

I, too, have encountered him in my spirit. But when post-Christmas melancholy comes calling, my thoughts gravitate toward disappointment that the beauty, excitement, and wonder of the season is over.

I need to renew my mind by following the shepherds’ example:

  • Glorify God—for all his marvelous attributes
  • Praise God—for all I have heard from him and seen him do
  • Spread the word about Jesus—my merciful Savior and gracious Lord

As I pack up all the decorations, may my thoughts center on the joy Jesus provides—not just for the Christmas season but always. May I look forward with anticipation to the experiences God has planned for me and the growth he’ll achieve in me during the new year—even as I fondly look backward on the sweet memories of Christmas past.

May I begin to develop a Christmas attitude that will last the whole year through.

To that end, I’ve chosen several Christmas cards to tuck here and there around the house—as reminders to keep glorifying, praising, and spreading the word:

 

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No need to wait until next year for Christmas joy after all.

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.youtube.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.wikipedia.org; Nancy Ruegg (4).

 

P.S.  For 2017, beginning next Thursday, January 5, I’ll be posting just once a week in order to allow time for other projects and for assisting our son and daughter-in-law when Baby Girl #2 arrives (sometime mid-January).  I do hope you’ll still return each Thursday for a new post.

 

Enduring Peace and Joy

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Praise God that, because of our Savior, Jesus Christ,

the joy and peace of Christmas endures forever.

HALLELUJAH!

 

(Our family is enjoying some precious together-time for a few days.  I’ll be back on Thursday with a new post.  Merry Day-after-Christmas, my friends!)

 

(Photo credit:  www.pinterest.com)

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