Category Archives: Power of History

Rebuilding

nightstand

I shared a little here, here and here about trying to change, stay changed, rebuild, dream, discover and rediscover myself.  I guess it’s a central theme in my life right now.  With the school year over and summer in our laps, it’s been good to examine things a little more closely.

I’ve always dreamed of cutting fresh flowers for my bedroom, so this year I took some peonies to the large vase on my nightstand.  A bit of beauty, a reminder to me that dreams come true, that dreams can be small as well as big, and that there is much to admire and be grateful for.

quote

I love this simple piece of artwork (purchased here).  It’s an integral part of having faith – not just faith that you’ll live through something, but that really awesome things are ahead.  Some days I struggle with this, and it’s not uncommon for a very deep breath to accompany my whispered reading of this quote.  I was reminded recently of an old favorite quote from Boyd K. Packer, “Find happiness in ordinary things, and keep your sense of humor.”  The peony, the vase, the quote, they are evidence of happiness in ordinary things.  So healthy for me.

books

I quit reading a while ago.  Aside from my scriptures and an occasional self-help style book, I’ve totally quit reading because I didn’t feel like I had the emotional reserves for it.  I couldn’t handle experiencing the highs or lows of another life in addition to my own.  Sounds dumb, but it’s true.  I have always loved reading biographies, found great solace and inspiration in them.  A few weeks ago I picked up a copy of John Quincy Adams and began reading it.  So far I’m enjoying it and it feels good to be reading again.

I must have needed some encouragement, because I also picked up my copy of Never Give In, a selection of Winston Churchill’s speeches, and have been reading them as well.  There’s so much to glean!  He wrote all of his own speeches.  One of his private secretaries during the wartime years said “In the case of his great wartime speeches, delivered in the House of Commons or broadcast to the nation, [Churchill] would invest approximately one hour of preparation for every minute of delivery.”  His grandson wrote of this, “Thus he would devote thirty hours of dictation, rehearsal and polishing to a half-hour speech.  Therein, no doubt, lies the explanation as to how they came to move the hearts of millions in the greatest war of history and why, even to this day, they have such emotive power.” (Never Give In, xxv)

What a reminder.  There is work to be done in all of our lives, work that isn’t glamorous or fun or easy, but doing it prepares us to face what lies ahead.  In his “Finest Hour” speech to the House of Commons on June 18, 1940 (just over 76 years ago now) he said, “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say ‘this was their finest hour!'”

This speech reminded me of a quote from Billy Graham:  “Courage is contaigous.  When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are stiffened.”

Reading biographies, for me, is witnessing brave men and women taking a stand.  It stiffens my own spine, reminds me that difficult times are a part of mortality, and helps me “brace myself to my duties.”  I feel like I’m gaining a friend and being empowered to become a better me.

Rebuilding.  I’m glad to be engaged in it.

 

Two Great Men…

celebrate their birthdays this month.

One carried the weight of the world on his shoulders, making up new rules to the “game” of war as he went along.  Spending years away from home and hearth, little time with his wife and step-children, he managed miraculous escapes and some brilliant attacks.  Out-generaled in many tactical situations, he in turn out-generaled his opponents for the hearts of his people.  At the end of the war, victory accomplished and the greatest military in the world at his feet, he did something no man had ever done before.  He stepped down, relinquished power and title, and went home, confirming what another George on the other side of the ocean had said of him, “If he does that, he will be the Greatest Man in the World.”

A short break and he was needed again.  First to oversee the Constitutional Convention, and soon after sworn in as the first President of the United States of America, George Washington once again left home to become the father of the greatest nation in modern history.

He chose, for the inscription on his tomb, not the titles we assign to him, but this simple testimony:

“I am the Resurrection and the Life; sayeth the Lord. He that believeth in Me, though he were dead yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.”

John 11. 25.26

washington bust with flags

Then, years later, another great man entered the world stage.  Tall, awkward, keenly intelligent and perceptive.  Hungry for knowledge, well-read, witty and perhaps one of the best story tellers ever to live.  Abraham Lincoln also carried the weight of the world on his shoulders.  George Washington was one of his heroes.  Of Washington he said “On that name no eulogy is expected.  It cannot be.  To add brightness to the sun, or glory to the name of Washington, is alike impossible.  Let none attempt it.”

And yet Lincoln would become equally great, becoming the second most written about man who has lived, surpassed only by the carpenter from Galilee, Jesus Christ.

Many have concluded that Lincoln suffered from debilitating depression.  I disagree. He had a melancholy temperament, but I have never known a severely depressed individual who was capable of running daily life, let alone a nation at war with itself.  Aware of his temperament, he learned to tell stories that brought laughter and life both to himself and all around him.  He taught himself to treat sadness with humor and laughter.  He had the gift of empathy; he could understand how others felt and what they would think,  allowing him to anticipate behavior and actions and know in advance how to counter these events so they would work to his (and the nation’s) benefit.

He lost a son while living in the White House.  His wife lost two brothers, who fought for the Confederacy, in the war.  No stranger to heartache, loneliness and loss, Lincoln carried more of these difficult memories throughout his life than most of us will ever experience.

But he trusted God.  After the Battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln visited General Sickles in a Washington hospital.  Sickles had been wounded and was recovering from a leg amputation.  During the visit Sickles asked Washington if he had been anxious about the outcome of Gettysburg, to which Lincoln replied that he had not been anxious.  When pressed for an explanation, Lincoln said this:

“In the pinch of the campaign up there, when everybody seemed panic-stricken, and nobody could tell what was going to happen, oppressed by the gravity of our affairs, I went to my room one day, and I locked the door, and got down on my knees before Almighty God, and prayed to Him mightily for victory at Gettysburg.  I told Him that this was His war, and our cause His cause, but we couldn’t stand another Fredericksburg or Chancellorsville.  And I then and there made a solemn vow to Almighty God, that if He would stand by our boys at Gettysburg, I would stand by Him.  And He did stand by your boys, and I will stand by Him.  And after that (I don’t know how it was, and I can’t explain it), soon a sweet comfort crept into my soul that God Almighty had taken the whole business into his own hands and that things would go all right at Gettysburg.  And that is why I had no fears about you.”   (quoted in The Almost Chosen People, by William J. Wolf, p. 124-125)

Is it any wonder that the greatest speech of his career was given after this battle, after this personal experience with God?

stovepipe hat with stars

For me, President’s Day is both somber and festive.  We celebrate with simple meals like this, and talk about the great men we’re celebrating today.  My personal reading each February features a historical work about one of these men.  This morning, just for fun, I tried my hand at painting their silhouettes (seen above).  I’ve always wanted to try this but have never taken a deep breath and tried it.  I painted them in acrylic paint, and after they dried I pinned them to a ribbon which I hung in our kitchen.  This little project was a lot of fun; I’ll be trying it again soon!

My little experiment spurred both discussion and a paint-fest in the kitchen, with six children creating colorful art of their own.

I am grateful that our country still has a day set aside to honor these great men, men who I love reading about, men who inspire me to be a better person.

Edwin Stanton said of Lincoln, “Now he belongs to the ages.”

They both do.  But they are remembered.
Happy Birthday to two great men.

Gratefully,
Jennifer

A Christmas of Thanksgiving

In many ways this is a Thanksgiving post, but I intentionally chose to save it for now.

I’ve been thinking about how we pause on Thanksgiving day to take note of the Pilgrims who first settled in what would become the United States of America.   We pause and consider the difficulties of their lives and their dedication to vision.  We pause to give thanks for blessings we regularly number and to acknowledge blessings which we may not recognize but enjoy daily.  We remember that daily bread is a gift, and daily breath is  complete mercy.  We pause to put simple gifts on our lists of things worth treasuring.  We pause to pray for grateful hearts.

And then we get up the next morning and it’s full speed ahead, stressing about money and things, trying to do more and be more.  All of the things that were sufficient for Thanksgiving somehow aren’t sufficient in the face of the looming Christmas holiday.

I know I’m generalizing here, but I think we all feel a little bit of these feelings.  We go from celebrating abundance to living in scarcity; if not a scarcity of resources then a scarcity of time, at least.  What was, a week ago, great wealth on so many levels becomes insufficient solely because the calendar changed.  I want to learn how to carry Thanksgiving forward and let it set the tone for our Christmas observance.

Each November I am drawn to a particular book on my shelf.  It’s William Bradford’s History of the Plymouth Settlement from 1608 to 1650.  If I don’t have time to re-read it every year, I at least skim it and read some of my favorite passages.  I am always struck by how similar their lives were to mine.   Undoubtedly technology and many other things have changed, but this history reminds me that God has set up mortality to test us in similar ways no matter what age we live in.   I recognize in Bradford’s account many of the same things we deal with today:  trying to stretch our resources to meet our needs, dealing with varying levels of commitment to principles on the part of people who belong to the same organization, frustration over money, dealing with creditors, facing personal opposition in the form of illness and loss.  They may seem old and so very different to us, but I believe we have a great deal in common.

One golden thread that weaves itself through this book is Bradford’s conviction that their settlement was preserved by God, that they were recipients of his mercies and blessings just as the children of Israel were in Old Testament times.  They believed that their experience in coming to the new world testified of God’s goodness and providence.  They further believed that the difficulties through which they passed, the times when they were stretched to their extremities and needed a miracle would only serve to make God’s handwriting more plainly visible to future generations.  Bradford wrote,

“God, it seems, would have all men behold and observe such mercies and works of His providence as towards His people, that they in like cases might be encouraged to depend upon God in their trials, and also bless His name when they see His goodness towards others.  Man lives not by bread alone. It is not by good and dainty fare, by peace and rest and heart’s ease, in enjoying the contentment and good tings of this world only, that health is preserved and life prolonged.  God in such examples would have the world see and behold that he can do it without them; and if the world will shut its eyes and take no notice of it, yet He would have his people see and consider it.”   (Of Plymouth Plantation, 320, emphasis added)

I hope you’ll take the time to read that quote a few times and really digest its message.  I’ve been reading it for years and still find new meaning and motivation in it.  In fact, this year I decided that if I can memorize the page number that it’s on, I should probably just memorize the entire quote.  And so I have, and I’ve been repeating to to myself often in the past few weeks.  The words, “He can do it without them” have echoed in my mind in recent weeks.

Honestly, anyone who has the technology to read this post has likely been blessed so richly that we really know nothing of the physical suffering that Bradford and his community suffered.  I feel like I am part of a generation that hasn’t really been stretched by severe trials, wars, or widespread suffering.  That said,  I also believe that God has a way of stretching us individually until the fibers of what was previously comfortable grow thin and begin to show gaping holes.  Many of us are learning to do more with less for the first time in our lives.   But regardless of our challenges, it is true that if we have the sense to look back at history and consider the countless times when people have endured and ultimately triumphed, we find greater strength to continue our own journey.  I worry that the great stories of the past are slipping from our collective memory, leaving us bereft of their power to propel us through current trials and on to greatness.

These are the thoughts that have followed me through Thanksgiving and into the Christmas season.  I have found myself  pondering how our Christmas celebration influences our ability to recognize, as Bradford did, just how much God can accomplish without the earthly tools and lifestyles we depend so much upon.  This holiday, a celebration of the miraculous circumstances of His birth, testifies of the greatness that can come from the lowliest of beginnings.

I’ve been asking myself a lot of questions.  Without intending to, am I communicating to my children that we need “good and dainty fare, peace and rest and heart’s ease, [and enjoyment] of the contentment and good things of this world” in order to have health preserved and life prolonged?  Am I finding ways to teach them that man lives not by bread alone, and that God can fill our lives with abundance without the latest and greatest?  I’m listening closely for the answers, for small ideas that might help me tip the scale in the direction I desire.

I want our celebration of Christmas to be something that my children could re-create in their hearts even without modern possessions or conveniences.  I want them to be able to call up not things but feelings, powerful stories, testimonies, and memories of times when we warmed ourselves by the fire of God’s grace and tender mercies.   I am placing more emphasis on what we’re reading, what we’re talking about, what we’re listening to, and less emphasis on what we’re giving or receiving.

I want my children to know, absolutely know, that God can accomplish anything in our lives regardless of what we have. I want them to be well-equipped with the ability to live a rich and happy inner life no matter what befalls them.

Today I attended the funeral for a man I know who slipped from this life on Thanksgiving Day.  I watched his wife, now a widow, and their three young children.  As we stood at the side of his casket I watched his three year old daughter run to us, squeeze through the line and stand there hanging on the side of the casket.  As she stood on tiptoe trying to peek at her daddy my heart ached for the journey this family will now walk without husband or father to guide and protect them.  I wondered, as they face this tremendous loss, what shapes and forms of abundance will enter their lives, gifts from a loving God to bless and help compensate.  I thought to myself, “I guess that God can do what he needs to do in their lives without a husband or father physically with them.”

As I said, the words “he can do it without them” have echoed in my mind for the past month.  I keep coming back to all that they imply.  I keep thinking that I’ve got to learn how to see daily life in those terms.  I’ve got to see, not the scarcities, but the opportunities to discover what God can do.   He invites us to turn away from the arm of flesh and instead lean on his ample arm because when we say that “he can do it without them” we’re really saying this:  HE CAN DO IT.

This Christmas season my heart has paused in this place, wanting to really “see what God hath done” and from that vision draw greater faith in all that He has yet to do, in all the promises that will yet be kept.  I want a Christmas of Thanksgiving.

Care to join me?

Jennifer

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