Queen Esther. . .

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One of my favorite Bible stories is found in the Old Testament, book of Esther. Esther was a young Jewish girl whose Hebrew name was Hadassah. Her Persian name was Ester, the Persian word for “star.” (Esther is the Greek spelling.) She was in captivity in Persia during one of the times of Jewish punishment for rebellion. Her uncle, Mordecai, was her protector and adviser.

The Persian king had ordered Queen Vashti to appear before him and his guests after a seven-day feast during which wine had been flowing freely. His reasoning was to exhibit her beauty and brag about his conquest. Queen Vashti, who was entertaining the women of the palace, did not feel like getting dressed up and donning her crown to parade in front of a possibly drunken group of men just upon the king’s command, and refused to comply.

The king was furious, but his advisers were appalled. What if all the wives in the kingdom followed the queen’s example and began to disobey their husbands? Horrors! Therefore, the king, upon his advisers strong insistence, essentially divorced Vashti and stripped her of her royal title. Ah, but he soon began missing the benefit of having a beautiful wife at his beck and call. His advisers had the answer. Beautiful young virgins would be sought and brought before the king so that he could choose a new, and, hopefully more compliant, queen.

In a classic “Me, Too” episode, Esther, because of her beauty, was taken into the haram of King Ahasuerus to become a candidate for what would be either a forced one night stand or ultimate wife/queenship. Needless to say, upon the advice of her uncle, she had not revealed that she was one of the Jewish captives. This would have automatically disqualified her from consideration. After months of grooming and training and purification rituals, it was her turn to be taken to the king. Instead of requesting extra jewels and more enticing robes to entrap the king, she wisely accepted only what the king’s eunuch in charge of the haram advised.

Well, Esther won the love and grace and favor of the king, and he made her the queen instead of Vashti. But trouble was brewing. Insurrectionists sought to overthrow the king, and Mordecai, hearing their plot, shared it with Esther who then shared it with the king. The king’s life was spared and the plotters were executed. But more trouble was coming. An evil character named Haman came into power as one of their replacements. He became angry with Mordecai, who failed to offer appropriate respect and fear when Haman passed by.

Haman could not be satisfied with just destroying Mordecai. It was because of Mordecai’s Jewish faith that he was disrespectful, the evil man theorized. Therefore, all the Jews in the kingdome must be killed without the opportunity to defend themselves. Alas, what could be done? Not only must Esther appear at the king’s request, she must not appear uninvited, upon penalty of death, unless the king extended his sceptre toward her. Well, he loved her “more than any other,” and he did accept her visit(s) and intervention on behalf of Mordecai and her people as she reminded him of her uncle’s role in previously saving the king from assasination.

To make a long story short, because of Esther’s intervention, Haman’s plot was thwarted, he was hanged, and God provided protection for his people in captivity. The most telling verse in the whole book is this (Mordecai speaking to Esther):

For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?

Esther 4: 14 (NKJV)

Some of you think you know where I’m going with this. I bet I surprise you. Joe Biden made two bids for the nomination for the presidency in the past. This time he won the Democratic nomination and, ultimately, the popular and electoral vote, not by fraud or theft, but because a lot of us (81,283,098 Americans) voted for him. That was 51.3 % of the popular vote, translating into 306 electoral votes. He won.

And I believe, at this point in the history of our nation, that it was God’s will. He has groomed Joe Biden for 78 years to act in wisdom and maturity and love for democracy. He is not senile. He has a mild stutter that causes some of you to claim this. He does not love China–look at his history in the Obama presidency when he was definitely not friendly with the Chinese leadership when sent on diplomatic missions. He is not a socialist. He loves this country and its people. He is devoutly Catholic and hates the loss of infant life as much as all of us conservatives do. Please give him a chance.

I’m sorry many of you are disappointed in the election results. Many of us were disappointed four years ago. Winners and losers. That’s the way democratic elections work.

And to you, President-elect Biden, and to you, Vice-President-elect Harris, it was for “such a time as this” that you were born. Take the opportunity to heal America seriously, for we are wounded. Follow God and love people and make the most of your time. I will be praying for you.

Reflecting………

World War II ration books

My beautiful 93-year-old mother came to live with us this past October. She is getting frailer and has some problems with memory. She fills her days with putting photographs in albums and collecting items to donate to the Cleburne County historical society. When I asked about her apparent compulsion to get this done now if not sooner, she said she wanted to do these things before she couldn’t remember. Therefore, these remnants of WWII ration books have come to light. They made me keenly aware of the advantages I have had in this lifetime as contrasted with her life through the Great Depression and WWII.

Her books have several full pages of these blue stamps. She says she thinks they must have been fuel rations because her family did not have a vehicle and didn’t need to buy gasoline. I have Googled as much as I care to and can’t locate a clear description of exactly what the various “stamps” represented.

I think these are food ration stamps.

I have learned that there were stamps for various food items and stamps for various rationing periods. The ration week ran Saturday to Saturday. Mom couldn’t remember what the numbers and letters represented because “Daddy and Momma took care of all that since I was just a teenager.” From reading novels set in WWII I have learned that meat, cheese, butter, and sugar were rationed. Can we even comprehend what it was like to have these items not available any time we want them?

Mom’s family on the “home front”: dad Woodie, mom Eliza, my mother Jessie, her sister Georgia

The oldest sibling, J. B. “Jake” Harmon, was serving with a tank battalion in Europe at this time. I’ll have more about his service later.

All of this made me wonder how the people of our nation would deal with rationing now. It seems that many of us have the perspective that life, this nation, and the government owe us something. Disasters strike and the response is never quick enough or complete enough. We view the privilege of being free and prosperous as ours alone, something we definitely don’t want to share with people from other countries who come here seeking a better life for themselves and their children. The sense of patriotism that was part of day to day life in the 1940s seems to be a thing of the past. Hats off and standing for the national anthem are frequently omitted in various settings.

I have the feeling that today’s population would complain with bitter insistence that we are entitled to better things if faced with the same realities that my mother’s generation accepted as their lot in life. I fear I might be one of those people. Tom Brokaw (in his book The Greatest Generation) said that the men and women of my mother’s generation had values of “personal responsibility, duty, honor, and faith” that made them able to defeat Hitler and leave us with the economic affluence, scientific progress, and vision that has made America great. Have we lost touch with those values? Have we lost a sense of appreciation for how far this nation has come? Have we lost the ability to value simple things like truth, right and wrong, and living for some higher calling than our own pleasure?

So, my set of New Year’s resolutions: To start each day with a prayer of gratitude that I have it so good, to live each day trying to be a better person than the day before, and to end each day thanking God that His grace has seen me through the day, no matter the challenges.

What about you? I’d love to read your responses.

Remembering. . .

How do you honor Memorial Day? It is, of course,  the day set aside to acknowledge those who lost their lives in the service of this country. I like to also give thanks for those who survived their encounter with war and all those who serve well and bravely now. They deserve our thoughts, prayers, and thanks.

I am a baby-boomer generation child. My father served on Guam in World War II. He lost his first wife and the growing up years of two sons as a result of his absence before the war ended. Later in life he was reunited with one son, and that was one of the great joys of his life. At least he lived a long and full life after his service.

My mother’s brother landed on Utah Beach at H-Hour, D-Day June 6, 1944. He served with the 70th Tank Battalion along with the 4th Infantry. He was wounded as they traveled across France and then into Belgium and Germany. His wound caused him to be separated from his unit, but as soon as he recovered enough, he found his way back to them. The war changed my uncle. He returned a drifter and became an alcoholic and ultimately died by suicide in 1976.

Now PTSD is well recognized. I wonder if a simple country boy like my uncle would be recognized and supported and treated. I hope so. He left behind small children, and his wife and daughters became no longer a part of our family when they returned to her parents for support.

The cardiology practice where I work has been blessed to care for several World War II, Korean Conflict, and Vietnam era veterans. I try to ask about their military service if it is mentioned, and I always thank them for their service.

I came across a young man’s project in the print shop I frequent a few months ago. I’m not sure if he was asked to write about a snowman or if he was to write in honor of veterans. Below are some excerpts: (His grandmother gave me permission to use.)

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The author obviously has a keen sense of the reality of freedom’s price and the heroes who preserve it for us in this uncertain world and has certainly set at the feet of veterans and listened carefully to their stories. His heart is sensitive to both the dangers and the merit of military service. My understanding is that this little graphic novel began as a school project and is now used as a fundraiser to support local veterans’ needs.  The author wanted to remind us to remember those who have gone before and to never forget the price they paid.

That’s what Memorial Day is for.

Who are the heroes in your family? Do you know their stories? Why not ask?

 

(I purchased The Snowman for $10 at Caroles’ Copy and Print in Searcy, AR, 109 North Spring Street, Searcy, AR 72143, phone 501-279-1117. All proceeds go to a local veterans’ support group.)

Lovely things…….

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I admit that people think I am little bit crazy because I like cut flowers in the bathroom, typically a rose in a bud vase. One week I was having an especially difficult time at my job as a nurse practitioner–stressful, exhausting, consuming–and my dear sweet daughter surprised me with the above. Because she knows I like having lovely things to greet me in the morning as I prepare for work and in the evening as I prepare for sleep. And some weeks that’s about the only times I have at home!

In the context of all we’ve been through as a nation the past several months and,  as brought to my attention during my “quiet time” devotional this morning, it struck me that maybe more of us need to be noticing “lovely things” throughout the day, whether working, resting, playing, meditating, praying, worshipping–whatever our minds and bodies and hearts are engaged in. Paul said in his letter to the church at Philippi:

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things. Philippians 4:8 NKJV

Our world is so focused on not only the disasters and wars and tragedies that happen everyday, but also on the ugly and evil and negative things that might happen. We often have such an “it’s all about me” attitude about election results or the economy or the way our elected officials govern. Isn’t it time that we paid more attention to the lovely things that God has blessed us with? Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom to pursue happiness and prosperity, freedom to work hard and play hard, freedom to think “outside the box”–freedoms for every one of every race, creed, faith, and political perspective.

If we are meditating on true, noble, just, pure, lovely, things–things of good report and virtue and praiseworthiness, might our attitudes and perspective change? We might dwell more on the beauty of God’s creation and less on the ugliness of man’s actions. We might pray for all of our elected leaders, that they would be agents of God’s plan for this country, putting our personal preferences (and votes–whether winning or losing) aside. We might pray for our nation, that we would turn once again to the founding fathers’ vision for it, as well as the belief that “In God We Trust”. We might be kinder, more civil, more courteous people. At least that’s what I believe.

So, if I want flowers in the bathroom, yes, I guess that makes me a little weird. But, if it helps me remember “lovely things”, what’s the harm? And, if it reminds me of the beauty of this world that God has blessed us with, what’s the harm? And, if it reminds me that not everyone is as fortunate as I am and makes me want to serve and help others in any way that I can–is that not a good thing?

The rose isn’t there everyday–that would make it not so special, you see. But, when it is, I am reminded of “lovely things”. And, that helps me be a better me for a better day. Wishing all of you “lovely” thoughts and better days……..

 

 

What’s in a flag?

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Let me preface this by saying that I am not a racist, white supremacist zealot who believes the confederate flag should be widely flown over state capitals in the south. I am a woman who grew up in the 60’s, a woman with vivid memories of what segregation was and the suffering of those who struggled to end that tragic era in American history. I cry when I watch the movie The Help. I celebrate when I “Remember the Titans”. I have a painful memory of my dad, in his ignorance, telling Mother that he was reluctant for me to ride to school with “those boys” in the 1950s in Indiana (a state so much more progressive than his home in the south). I didn’t understand that he was talking about the color of their skin.

But, a flag is just a piece of cloth, a part of this country’s history. It has no power to think, to plot, to obtain a weapon, or to pull a trigger. Destroying every confederate flag, every likeness of one, will do nothing to end the violence that marks our culture The confederacy existed. The Civil War happened. Changing school mascots and fight songs (Fort Smith’s the Rebels and “Dixie”) will not heal the wounds caused by bombs and bullets and words.  Changing the name of a street named “Confederate Boulevard” will not cause one extremist, one terrorist, one mentally deranged, one hate-filled and evil individual to forget their desire to injure innocent people. Destroying all reminders of that tragic chapter in America’s history puts us at risk of forgetting the reality–that American blood was shed on this soil because of man’s desire to control and use others for monetary gain, because of political forces desiring more power for the states and less for the federal government, and because of the ill-conceived and non-Biblical notion that all men are NOT created equal and that the color of one’s skin or the home of one’s ancestors is a formula to measure that individual’s worth.

Maybe we do need to see this flag occasionally, to remind us of just how bad things were. To remind us of the horrors of an America disunited. To inspire us to be more tolerant, more loving, more kind, and more prayerful. History exists so that we can learn from our mistakes. Have we really learned the lessons of the Civil War? The flag is not the problem. People are the problem. Evil exists in this world. Sin exists. Human nature is not perfect. We need more than just our humanity to keep us in line. We need God.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14 (NIV)

Our land needs to be healed. Not just to be healed of those who cause mass murders and terrorist attacks, although, of course,  we all desire that those events should cease to exist. But to be healed of thinking that we can handle it all by ourselves. Our American tendency to a belief that independent individualism is the answer to all things is inherently flawed. This country was founded by men of faith. Our money reads “In God We Trust”. I’m afraid that we are trying to blame these tragic events on flags and guns and other inanimate objects that have no power to think or act on their own. It is human nature, which is by definition sinful nature and subject to evil influence, that attacks our land and the peoples of this world. Let us remember in whom we trust and remember his promise as quoted above. Let us each search our hearts for any errant ways and ask God to heal this land, beginning with “me”.

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