For the first time in my life, I watched a season of the television program “Survivor”. In case you don’t know, it is a game show in which all the competitors live on an island. It is up to them to survive in nature with few resources for 39 days. Every few days they compete with each other in a variety of ways that challenge them intellectually, emotionally, and physically. The winners of those competitions win what is called “immunity” which protects them from being voted off the island by the rest of the group. Competitors work hard to strategize, plan for, and survive the competitions, forces of nature, and elimination votes. In order to do this, they must build alliances with each other and choose who will be voted out. The alliances change frequently, and people are constantly deceived into relationships which can turn on a dime. The ultimate goal is to be one of the final two survivors who then must win the votes of a jury comprised of the competitors who were eliminated - which nets him or her a million dollars.
Basically, my take-away from the game is a question of - what would you do to get a million dollars? How much integrity would you compromise? On the last show of the season, the jurors have the opportunity to grill and question the remaining two competitors. During the finale of the season I watched, they were clearly angered and deeply hurt by the deceit they experienced at the hands of the man who ended up the winner of the game. As opponent after opponent confronted him about his methods, he tried to defend the variety of lies and betrayals which he had perpetrated in order to win, but it became apparent that even though he felt bad about doing it - he had been willing to do whatever it took to win the million dollars. In doing so, he lost his credibility and compromised his integrity. But he won the money.
I know. I know. It’s just a game show. But it really is a question of what people are willing to do to win a million dollars. And actually, it causes me to consider what people would do not just for a million dollars, but for any money, period. Have you ever thought about how many reality television programs are built around money and how to get the most possible - no matter what the cost is? Much of life is directed that way, as well. Paul knew what he was talking about when he wrote, For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1Timothy 6:10).
I have a pet peeve with Memorial Day.
It annoys me that as a society, we don’t seem to grasp the point. For many people, Memorial Day is treated as nothing more than a three-day weekend which kicks off the summer. It provides a perfect chance to have a picnic or embark on the first camping trip of the season.
For others - it is seen as a great marketing opportunity - have you noticed how Memorial Day sales abound? Even churches, unfortunately get into the act of self-promotion on Memorial Day weekend. I am harder on churches because I think they should be held to a higher standard. If we truly believe God is taking care of us, then we don't need to usurp Memorial Day to promote ourselves. It just looks bad. All-too-often I see churches treat Memorial Day celebrations as a chance to market themselves and get their names into the community. I think it is fine for churches to lead prayer for the families of fallen soldiers - or decorate grave sites in honor of the fallen, those are appropriate activities. But piggybacking other events onto Memorial Day is sad - unless, of course, the church is willing to participate without putting its name on everything and just truly wants to be there to honor those who died fighting for freedom, because the purpose of Memorial Day is not to put the focus on us - it is to remember them.
We really do tend to take our freedom for granted. When the concept of Memorial Day began, the pain of losing soldiers in the wars which gave and protected this nation's freedom and unity was still raw. The graves were respected; the families of the fallen honored. The reality of the price of freedom stared everyone in the face.
Think about it - how much is a life worth? How many lives were sacrificed in the fight to give the citizens of the United States the freedom we enjoy?
Nobody likes to talk about or dwell on the subject of death, but just because we push it out of our minds and don’t think about it doesn't change the reality that we are free because people fiercely believed freedom was so important they would die trying to make sure it was firmly established in the United States of America. We give it a passing nod and "like" freedom posts on Facebook and feel patriotic. Once again, we are making the day about ourselves. In this culture, it is hard not to, I suppose.
But when Memorial Day originated - there were no picnics, parades, or camping trips. There were no Memorial Day sales or self-promoting organizations. It was all about the brave individuals who contributed to the freedom of what was to become one of the greatest nations in the history of the world. In May of 1868, an organization of union veterans decorated the graves of fallen soldiers and their leader, Major General John A. Logan, declared that every May the graves of fallen war heroes should be decorated with flowers. It actually wasn't just intended to honor the dead, it was a reminder for the living.
General Logan declared: “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. ... Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”
I repeat: "Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic." Therein lies my pet peeve - I think we have forgotten. We wouldn't have the freedoms we do if it was not for the brave individuals who believed it was important enough to die for. It's not about us.
It is not about us.
It kindof stinks to know the best lessons I have learned in life came through my times of struggle. One thing I have become very grateful for is that I do not know the future. If I had known in advance how long I was going to suffer through some of the trials I have faced, I would have been convinced there was no way I could do it. It took me three full years to come out of the fog of grief I entered when I lost my sister. Three years is a long time to endure heartache. I am glad I didn't know that was coming.
I have learned I am far stronger than I ever would have imagined. My faith held fast every single time I had to pick myself up - and I did it. God did it. Some of the problems I have had to deal with were my own fault. I have learned I can admit that, do my best to fix them, and go on. God’s mercy has taught me so much. It is easy to beat myself up again and again for things I have done wrong, but He forgives me and lets them go - and that assurance has allowed me to forgive myself and move forward. Yes, I have made mistakes and sometimes my mistakes, or bad decisions, made things worse for me. But no, I do not wallow in those things - or continue to blame myself for my failures. I am human - therefore I am not perfect. I am free to admit that and move forward with my life.
I have learned that difficult times pass. Pain eases. Jobs become available. Life gets better. I learned the importance of letting people go. I can’t be defined by an image I want someone else to have or held back by what another person might think. I can’t let the fear of the unknown stop me from following the path I must take. I learned my courage, my hopes, my dreams, my life and everything I am are deeply molded and formed by my consistency in prayer and faith in God. I learned He never disappoints, even when life does.
I learned people can let me down and hurt me, but I only hurt myself further when I dwell in that pain and nurse it to bitterness. I cannot let their ill intentions define who I am. Everyone, and I do mean EVERYONE deserves to be forgiven. I learned that doesn't mean I have to be best friends with people who make me uncomfortable or who have hurt me in the past, but I do have to free my heart from carrying grudges against them. And often, if I am honest with myself, the people who have hated and hurt me the most have also launched me into becoming a better person, closer to God, and stronger overall. Sometimes their actions have even put me on a different path entirely that I didn't expect or want to travel, but in the end has actually been better than anything I could have imagined before.
I have learned to face obstacles without becoming discouraged (at least not for long) and losing hope. I have learned the importance of being open to change - in my life situation, in my self, in the people around me. I have learned to embrace the impossible, because when I try to do what people tell me cannot be done it becomes an exercise of my faith, intellect, gifts and abilities and suddenly I become aware of what it is to be fully alive.
I have learned to savor the good things in my life. I cherish times with my children and my family, and I treasure those times in my heart. I held my new nephew for the first time last week. I laid him out on my lap for the longest time and we just stared into each other’s eyes for several blessed minutes. I absorbed that moment - it was precious and beautiful and will be with me always. I slept in my sister’s guest house at night with my two youngest daughters. I would just lay and listen to them talk and laugh together and my heart swelled with love and joy for having those moments.
I learned in the deepest, darkest times when it seemed there was no way I could ever get relief from my debts, my heartaches, my troubles, or my fears - there was always a spark of hope to be found somewhere around me. I have learned sometimes I have to actively seek it out - and dig deep to find it, but it is always there. My hope has been renewed by watching the sun rise and set. It has blossomed through laughter with a friend. I have found hope in a walk or exercise or in helping someone else. I found hope in learning new things, like fishing with Sarah and how to operate a mobile kitchen. There is hope in giving and hope in receiving. There is hope in knowing troubled times pass. There is hope when I love, and hope when I dream. There is hope in letting go of the material and experiencing the supernatural. There is hope because sometimes the impossible happens when I least expect it.
I have learned a lot.
Patriotism during World War II was at a high in the United States. Veterans of that era just seem to stand a little taller and hold their heads up higher. A song was written at that time, called “Coming in on a WIng and a Prayer”. The song was about a fighter plane going out to battle and then disappearing. Everyone ends up waiting and listening and hoping for the best - when all of a sudden they hear the hum of an engine and learn the plane is coming home with only one engine, “on a wing and a prayer”. Even though all hope should have been lost - they made it. I was thinking about that phrase today, on the National Day of Prayer.
Much of what we have done at the Torch has been done on a wing and a prayer. And I emphasize the word prayer, because prayer is at the heart of our accomplishments. Every single time we have encountered an obstacle - we might have had a moment of discouragement, but it was always, always, ALWAYS followed it with prayer and asking God for His help and encouragement. There are things about the Torch that don’t look at all like I thought they would when we first developed the idea, but often they are better than what I expected. I thought we would have the truck out cooking all this past Winter. I was wrong about that; we had so much to learn. But we did start tutoring and with the truck being down Sarah and I could focus on that. It is good that we did, because we have a much better picture of how that part of the Torch will work in the future.
I was talking to a friend the other day about some of the things we have coming up. She asked about the summer, but every time I began to explain a different thing we are planning to do and hoping to accomplish, she interrupted me to tell me how they wouldn't work or why we couldn't do it or why we shouldn't do thngs. I don’t think she was intentionally trying to be negative. I think she was having a hard time wrapping her brain around attempting to do things that haven’t been done before. She didn’t discourage me, however, she energized me - because when I thought about the conversation later, I realized how different I am now than I used to be. I used to think of all the reasons why NOT to do something and that prevented me from trying new things and taking leaps of faith. But in that conversation - every time she threw a reason out there as to why we shouldn't or couldn't try to do what we are doing, my mind immediately went to why we should and could and how we would overcome the obstacles. She was still shaking her head when we ended the conversation, but I was more excited than ever for the upcoming summer adventures.
I don’t think calling this day the National Day of Prayer begins to scratch the surface of what it really is. If people really, truly, pray for the nation, the people, the world huge, gigantic amazing things could happen. It should be called the National Day of Power and Amazement! That’s how I feel about The Torch. We won't be shaken, we won't be deterred, we won't be discouraged, and we won't give up.
We started on a wing and a PRAYER, that is our source and our energy, and we will continue to be fueled by prayer.