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This Is a Test

GUEST BLOGGER Joyce K. Ellis puts a delightful contemporary spin on the ancient biblical story of Queen Esther . . .

THIS IS A TEST… By Joyce K. Ellis 

A Hebrew beauty queen in ancient Persia models how to ace the tests we’re facing in today’s world. 

Tests in school used to set my stomach on fire. And when I began college at age 39, my synapses weren’t firing as quickly as they once had. So I feared exams even more. But in time I came to view tests as gauges of whether I had learned what I was supposed to know or not, rather than as sadistic inventions of deranged educators. 

In our personal lives we may sometimes view tests and trials as ordeals to be endured by gritting our teeth and calling the prayer chain, rather than as opportunities to measure our spiritual growth and our understanding of who God is. 

Reality: Tests are painful! We don’t like pain.

Preparation, Not Cramming

Esther, that Old-Testament paragon of beauty, on the other hand, seems to have sailed through her tests like a Bermuda sloop, designed for upwind sailing. But did this young woman in fifth-century-B.C. Persia score an A+ easily?  

Orphaned at an early age, Esther grew up under the tutelage of her uncle* Mordecai—no indication of any Mrs. Mordecai nor any other female influence. Esther and her uncle lived in captivity—first to Babylon, then Persia (present-day Iran). 

Apparently, by God’s grace, Mordecai taught Esther well, and she developed a beautiful spirit, enhancing her pretty face and great figure. But Esther’s looming tests would measure what she had learned about how far she could trust God and what she was willing to risk in order to stand up for what’s right.  (Though God’s name is never mentioned, Esther’s faith in Him shines through.) 

King of Showoffs

Here’s the setup: In the lush palace gardens in Susa, Persia’s King Xerxes throws lavish “marathon banquets” to show off his incredible opulence and power. Queen Vashti invites all area women to a girls-night-out-with-the-queen banquet of their own inside the elegant palace.                     

Xerxes—more than a little tipsy—decides to show off his trophy-wife queen and demands that she leave her banquet to “walk a catwalk” before the guests at his.   

Fast forward: Vashti refuses. He’s furious. Advisors say, “You can’t let Vashti get away with this! We’ll all lose control of our women.” Vashti loses her crown. Xerxes gets depressed without his queen. His young male attendants’ solution? Let’s get some girls in here. Have a beauty pageant. Get a new queen. 

So the call goes out for the most beautiful virgins in the land to participate in a beauty contest. And Esther gets carted off to the king’s winter palace in Susa.

SPAcation?

Most of us would gladly suffer through this test of Esther’s: a one-year all-expense-paid SPAcation, complete with fragrant oil massages and makeup makeover. But imagine her apprehension as time ticked down to her queen audition—sleeping with the wine-loving, anger-prone, demanding, superpowerful, King Xerxes! What kind of faith in God did it take for Esther to cross the threshold of his bedchamber that night? 

Most of us would also gladly endure another test of Esther’s: watching Xerxes place the queen’s crown on her head because she pleased him the most. But had she recognized God’s hand in the preferential treatment she received in the harem and in the king’s losing his heart to her?  

And most of us would gladly tolerate this other test of Esther’s: the luxurious palace lifestyle with a plethora of servants to peel our grapes and polish our toenails. But then she learned that Xerxes’ right-hand man, Haman, planned to kill her people, all the Jews, because Uncle Mordecai refused to bow before him (a la Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego). Would God give her the strength to give up all this lavish treatment to do what was right? Remember, she had seen what happened when Vashti defied the king!

Esther knew that initiating an audience with the king could mean death. She knew that admitting her heritage—in the light of Haman’s planned holocaust—would certainly invite her own assassination. But Mordecai told her, “If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family [including her beloved Mordecai] will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (4:14 NIV, bracketed addition mine). 

She may have thought of that, too.

Esther needed wisdom and courage beyond herself. So she asked Mordecai to gather together all her people in Susa for a three-day fast before she approached the king. 

Final Exam

Since the Persians loved banquets so much, with fear and trembling, she takes that tack: Feed the king—and his sidekick, Haman—and when they’re happily full, plead for the lives of her people. 

Fear is a natural emotion, and we either fight or run when we face fear-inducing tests: Relationships fall apart. We get frightening lab results. Our financial situation gets scary. Depression grips us in its vice. Or we find ourselves squirming under tests of character—challenges to stand up for what’s right and confront what’s wrong—in our families, jobs, churches, government, and world. “Speak up…,” God says, “defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Prov. 31:9).

So we can relate to Esther— her passion to do what’s right, her fears, her need for God’s wisdom, and her cry for others to stand with her. After much wrestling within herself and God, she could say, essentially, “I will do what needs to be done—stand up for what’s right—regardless of the consequences.”

Esther courageously risked her life and saved her people. She had learned what she needed to know. And Haman hung from the gallows he’d built for Mordecai—an irony bearing the fingerprints of our Invisible God. 

Esther passed her tests. Will we?

First appeared in Kyria.com

Joyce K. Ellis, award-winning author of more than a dozen books, including The 500 Hats of a Modern-Day Woman and the picture book, The Fabulous World That God Made, writes from her home in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and speaks for women’s groups across the country and internationally. Contact her through her website: www.joycekellis.com.

THIS IS A TEST

GUEST BLOGGER Joyce K. Ellis puts a delightful contemporary spin on the ancient biblical story of Queen Esther . . .

THIS IS A TEST… By Joyce K. Ellis

A Hebrew beauty queen in ancient Persia models how to ace the tests we’re facing in today’s world.

Tests in school used to set my stomach on fire. And when I began college at age 39, my synapses weren’t firing as quickly as they once had. So I feared exams even more. But in time I came to view tests as gauges of whether I had learned what I was supposed to know or not, rather than as sadistic inventions of deranged educators.

In our personal lives we may sometimes view tests and trials as ordeals to be endured by gritting our teeth and calling the prayer chain, rather than as opportunities to measure our spiritual growth and our understanding of who God is.

Reality: Tests are painful! We don’t like pain.

Preparation, Not Cramming

Esther, that Old-Testament paragon of beauty, on the other hand, seems to have sailed through her tests like a Bermuda sloop, designed for upwind sailing. But did this young woman in fifth-century-B.C. Persia score an A+ easily?

Orphaned at an early age, Esther grew up under the tutelage of her uncle* Mordecai—no indication of any Mrs. Mordecai nor any other female influence. Esther and her uncle lived in captivity—first to Babylon, then Persia (present-day Iran).

Apparently, by God’s grace, Mordecai taught Esther well, and she developed a beautiful spirit, enhancing her pretty face and great figure. But Esther’s looming tests would measure what she had learned about how far she could trust God and what she was willing to risk in order to stand up for what’s right.  (Though God’s name is never mentioned, Esther’s faith in Him shines through.)

King of Showoffs

Here’s the setup: In the lush palace gardens in Susa, Persia’s King Xerxes throws lavish “marathon banquets” to show off his incredible opulence and power. Queen Vashti invites all area women to a girls-night-out-with-the-queen banquet of their own inside the elegant palace.                     

Xerxes—more than a little tipsy—decides to show off his trophy-wife queen and demands that she leave her banquet to “walk a catwalk” before the guests at his.   

Fast forward: Vashti refuses. He’s furious. Advisors say, “You can’t let Vashti get away with this! We’ll all lose control of our women.” Vashti loses her crown. Xerxes gets depressed without his queen. His young male attendants’ solution? Let’s get some girls in here. Have a beauty pageant. Get a new queen.

So the call goes out for the most beautiful virgins in the land to participate in a beauty contest. And Esther gets carted off to the king’s winter palace in Susa.

SPAcation?

Most of us would gladly suffer through this test of Esther’s: a one-year all-expense-paid SPAcation, complete with fragrant oil massages and makeup makeover. But imagine her apprehension as time ticked down to her queen audition—sleeping with the wine-loving, anger-prone, demanding, superpowerful, King Xerxes! What kind of faith in God did it take for Esther to cross the threshold of his bedchamber that night?

Most of us would also gladly endure another test of Esther’s: watching Xerxes place the queen’s crown on her head because she pleased him the most. But had she recognized God’s hand in the preferential treatment she received in the harem and in the king’s losing his heart to her?  

And most of us would gladly tolerate this other test of Esther’s: the luxurious palace lifestyle with a plethora of servants to peel our grapes and polish our toenails. But then she learned that Xerxes’ right-hand man, Haman, planned to kill her people, all the Jews, because Uncle Mordecai refused to bow before him (a la Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego). Would God give her the strength to give up all this lavish treatment to do what was right? Remember, she had seen what happened when Vashti defied the king!

Esther knew that initiating an audience with the king could mean death. She knew that admitting her heritage—in the light of Haman’s planned holocaust—would certainly invite her own assassination. But Mordecai told her, “If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family [including her beloved Mordecai] will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (4:14 NIV, bracketed addition mine).

She may have thought of that, too.

Esther needed wisdom and courage beyond herself. So she asked Mordecai to gather together all her people in Susa for a three-day fast before she approached the king.

Final Exam

Since the Persians loved banquets so much, with fear and trembling, she takes that tack: Feed the king—and his sidekick, Haman—and when they’re happily full, plead for the lives of her people.

Fear is a natural emotion, and we either fight or run when we face fear-inducing tests: Relationships fall apart. We get frightening lab results. Our financial situation gets scary. Depression grips us in its vice. Or we find ourselves squirming under tests of character—challenges to stand up for what’s right and confront what’s wrong—in our families, jobs, churches, government, and world. “Speak up…,” God says, “defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Prov. 31:9).

So we can relate to Esther— her passion to do what’s right, her fears, her need for God’s wisdom, and her cry for others to stand with her. After much wrestling within herself and God, she could say, essentially, “I will do what needs to be done—stand up for what’s right—regardless of the consequences.”

Esther courageously risked her life and saved her people. She had learned what she needed to know. And Haman hung from the gallows he’d built for Mordecai—an irony bearing the fingerprints of our Invisible God.

Esther passed her tests. Will we?

First appeared in Kyria.com

Joyce K. Ellis, award-winning author of more than a dozen books, including The 500 Hats of a Modern-Day Woman and the picture book, The Fabulous World That God Made, writes from her home in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and speaks for women’s groups across the country and internationally. Contact her through her website: www.joycekellis.com.

Remembering the Sacrifices of Our Military

GUEST BLOGGER: Remembering the Sacrifices of Our Military, by the late Duane Sheppard, award-winning OpEd writer. (This article first appeared in The St. Cloud Times, St. Cloud, MN.)

Last Memorial Day weekend, as I saw media images of grieving parents at grave sites holding military photos of sons and daughters lost, I was reminded anew of the high cost of war.

I can only try to imagine what it must have been like for my Grandma Sheppard to receive a telegram from the War Department back in June of 1944. As she opened with trembling fingers the small yellow paper bearing a tersely worded message, her first reaction must have been to wonder which of her three military sons she’d lost.

Sergeant Morris W. Sheppard, a 28-year-old paratrooper from Madison Lake, Minnesota, Grandma was informed, was “missing in action,” a euphemism that generally meant a soldier had been killed in battle but they hadn’t yet found his body.

Several months later, my grandmother received the exhilarating news that he was alive, but unfortunately, he was being held as a prisoner of the Nazis.

How she must have rejoiced that at least he was still alive! Yet the anxiety over what sort of treatment he might be enduring in a German prison camp had to have tempered the celebration. Five months later she received yet another telegram from the Provost Marshal in Washington, D.C., telling her that her son had escaped and was now in Moscow.

For years after my uncle returned, he refused to speak of his seven combat jumps or his multiple escapes from Prisoner of War camps. He brushed off questions about his service with the words, “Those things are best forgotten.”

Wednesday’s St. Cloud Times bore the headline: “Military Stress Cases Rise.” Citing the epidemic of an estimated 40,000 cases of war-related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder since 2003, the report called to mind poet John Milton’s line, “They also serve who only stand and wait.” The stress borne by loved ones at home should never be underestimated.

I was 10 years old when my father was drafted into the Army during World War II to serve under Dwight Eisenhower at the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Forces, in France.  Among my vivid wartime memories are red-bordered flags that hung in the windows of families of men and women in the service—a blue star for each living service member, a gold star for those who had died.

During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln sent the following letter to Lydia Bixby, a mother grieving incalculable losses:

“I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts, that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours, to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom.”

While the wartime loss of sons, daughters, siblings, spouses, and parents is no less tragic in our time, we who are the modern-day beneficiaries of the freedom from terrorism on our own soil owe a huge debt of gratitude to those men and women who serve in the military or who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Let’s not make expressions of thanks and support for military personnel and their families just a once-a-year event.

Last weekend I stood at the grave of my father and reread the bronze military foot plaque. Though he was not killed in service, he came home from the war gravely ill with undulant fever, a disease he had contracted in France. Too sick and demoralized to go through the red tape necessary to get medical care through military channels, my father spent months in the hospital at his own expense after his return to civilian life. He carried the effects of this disease for the rest of his life—a different sort of sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom.

Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of his death.

My Best Teacher: My Mother

GUEST BLOGGER, Alice Bostrom, a Minneapolis freelance writer, shares this wonderful memory in honor of Mother’s Day – My Best Teacher: My Mother

Over the years the enjoyment of history and literature was woven into the fabric of my life, Mother taught me in a unique way to love history. Each trip to her home town of Philadelphia to visit my grandfather included a visit to Independence Hall, Betsy Ross’s home and Christ Church. Mother had brought her students to these paces when she taught school in Philadelphia. She brought them to the historic church to see the pew rented by President
George Washington. Of course she brought her daughter there. She let me crawl under the ropes to sit in his pew, as she had done with her students.

We lived in Belmont, Massachusetts during my early years.  Mother took Dad and me (and every visiting relative) to the battlefields in Lexington and Concord twenty miles from our home.  I often crossed the “Rude Bridge” to listen for the shot “heard ’round the world.” As a child I did not need a textbook to understand the American Revolution. Mother had taught me how the patriots fought, and she showed me the rock fences where they ducked own to reload their muskets.

From early childhood, Mother loved books and American literature.  Each summer we drove the short distance to visit Orchard House where Louisa May Alcott lived from 1858 to 1877 to see how the author of Little Women lived.  We owned copies of Little Women, Little Men, and most of her other stories.  I believed this was the home where her characters Jo and Beth grew up.

Nearby in Concord, she also enjoyed the Old Manse where Ralph Waldo Emerson resided at various times.  I have never forgotten seeing the bedroom window where Nathaniel Hawthorne’s wife carved her name in the glass with her diamond engagement ring.  I thought she was a rude houseguest.

In Cambridge, near Harvard Yard, we liked to go to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s home.  Mother would quote his poetry there. “Listen my children and you shall hear/ of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.”  For the rest of my life I, too, have loved to visit authors’ homes and the homes and libraries of U.S. Presidents.

Dad took a sabbatical year at MIT the summer I was sixteen. Mother enjoyed perusing antique shops in Boston.  One day we found a shop selling a real Paul Revere silver bowl. We didn’t inspect the price, knowing we couldn’t afford it.

Before I could learn to read my parents taught me through reading. Oh, sure, I heard daily children’s stories and Bible stories.  But I learned first by listening. My parents read to each other. My exposure to Perry Mason came when Mother or Dad read the weekly installment of Earle Stanley Gardner’s fiction from magazines.  As an adult I asked mother, “Why do I know things about the Baptist missionary, Adoniram Judson?”

She smiled.  “Your father and I studied every book we could find about him in the Boston Public Library the summer you were seven.  You must have listened as we read them.”

Mother’s love of reading and of books became my passion, too.  However it did not happen easily. My first-grade teacher used a sight reading program, and a way Mother didn’t approve of.  She took the train to Philadelphia and bought copies of the books she had used as a teacher and spent the summer teaching me.  She said to me, “When you understand phonics, you will have the tools to read anything.”

Reading was one of many skills Mother patiently taught me.  In elementary school, I learned to knit and to crochet. But unfortunately, my crocheting skills remain very elementary.

I broke my elbow at age ten.  I could not write in school, but Mother whipped out yarn and needles so that I could knit ten-inch squares.  She and our neighbor sewed the squares together with squares they and my friends knitted. These squares became afghans for the Army hospital during the war.  Before that time, she had knitted sweaters to match Uncle Donald’s Naval uniform, Uncle Bob’s Merchant Marine uniform, and one for her cousin Sandy to match his Canadian Royal Air Force uniform.  Knitting for the “war effort” was something Mother believed in.

She also loved to teach.  During World War II, working mothers needed a safe place for their children.  She taught Daily Vacation Bible School. Not for a week. Not for two weeks. She taught all summer long.

Mother enjoyed teaching Sunday school.  I believe she must be named, “the best Sunday School teacher I ever had.”  In my sixteenth year, Mother became my teacher. You can believe I was never unprepared.  If she said, “Memorize this scripture during the week,” I did. I might have been the only class member who did, but I learned the scripture and required hymn lyrics.

In her thirties, Mother began to develop her love of painting.  She once painted a mural of sailboats on the plaster wall of our game room.  I also recall her painting place cards for parties and writing an appropriate poem for each guest.

Gradually she studied oil painting and later china painting.  She, of course, taught many others to paint on porcelain. I never had the opportunity to develop this skill, but my life has been completely changed because she taught me to love the Lord Jesus.

From the beginning childish prayers, the early Bible stories, her teaching in VBS and Sunday school, Mother helped me to understand the love of Jesus.  Watching her quiet acceptance of the death of her daughter, her father, and in later years, her husband, I learned how a true Christian should live.

Easter Meditation

GUEST BLOG: The following is an Easter column originally published in the St. Cloud Times by the late Duane Sheppard, an award-winning op-ed writer from St. Cloud, Minnesota

An Easter Meditation: Why Did Jesus Christ Suffer? And Why Does He Allow Us to Suffer?

It was one of those magic nights when the moon was so bright it was like daylight as I watched the landscape of the former Soviet Union rush past the window of an overnight train. I was joined by a Russian journalist on his way home from a London assignment who, like no one else I had met that day, spoke perfect English.

“Isn’t it beautiful!” he exclaimed.

We chatted for a bit, and when he learned that I was a Christian, he said, “I’m an atheist. Give me your best argument for Christianity.”

“Okay,” I replied, “I will if you’ll give me your best argument for atheism.”

With that bargain in place, I explained that I started with two premises: that there is a creator God and the Bible is his Word. It seemed logical that, if there is a creation of this spectacular magnitude, there must be a designer, a creator. Otherwise, we’re faced with putting our faith in a non-god explanation that everything in this complex, well-ordained universe came about by chance.

My belief that the Bible is God’s Word is based, in part, on the fact that it predicts future events, scores of which have happened precisely as they were prophesied. I told him of an atheist from the University of Chicago a number of years ago who said that if it could be proven that the Old Testament book of Daniel was written before the fall of the Roman Empire—which it predicted—he would become a believer. Subsequently, the Dead Sea Scrolls, which pre-dated the fall of Rome, were discovered, dramatically validating that the prediction had long preceded the fulfillment.

Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, it was predicted that he would be born of a virgin in Bethlehem; that he would be a descendant of King David; that he would heal the lame, the sick, and the blind; that he would be betrayed by a friend for 30 pieces of silver; that he would be mocked and beaten; that his hands and feet would be pierced but that none of his bones would be broken; that his garments would be gambled for; that his death would be voluntary, like the sacrificial lamb of the Passover observance that was to atone for the sins of others.

In the New Testament, I pointed out to my atheist friend, Jesus predicted his own ignominious death and his resurrection three days later. From Genesis through Revelation, God’s plan for restoring fellowship with humankind has challenged the minds of the most intelligent, and yet it is so simple a child can understand it. God loved…gave his Son…and whoever believes has life everlasting. This priceless gift is not dependent on intelligence, wealth, political power, physical attributes, age, national heritage, or bargaining chips.

Because the Bible’s predictions, including the coming of the Messiah, have come true, I argued, it is not illogical to believer that it is divinely inspired and provides a credible account of God’s plan for our redemption through Jesus Christ.

My new friend countered with his best argument. As a Russian raised under Communism, he’d been provided with a university education. Because this same privilege had been denied to Christians under this regime, all of his teachers had been atheists. His science training had instilled in him naturalistic (non-god) explanations for the evolution of plants, animals, and humankind, and, other than questions of first causes, he had no problems with science.

He was a formidable debater, and his atheistic argument went like this: If there is a creator God who is all-powerful, who is fair, loving, and in charge, then why is there pain, disease, suffering, and inequality here on Earth? Why are innocent babies born deformed and consigned to pain and early death? If he is a God of equal opportunity, why do some die, never having heard his message?

Quite frankly, I was caught off-guard. I started to relate an idea I’d heard espoused by Dr. Paul Brand, a visiting lecturer on the campus of St. Cloud State University, who had talked about the benefits of pain. My friend stopped me short and said he was not talking about the discomfort of sitting on a tack or the minor aches and pains that send us to the doctor.

I had to admit that I had no really good answer for why God would allow terrible suffering, except to refer him to C.S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain. Lewis said that pain “is a training ground. A time for great struggle and growth. God is slowly, but with great care and intention, changing you into the person God has created you to be. The process will hurt at times, and hurt deeply. But the person it is changing you into in the end—strong, wise, and able to face more than you ever imagined—THAT is exactly the person God wants for you to be.”

While recently watching Mel Gibson’s extraordinary film, The Passion of Christ, I was struck with the magnitude of God’s sacrificial suffering. It’s stunning to realize that the creator of the universe chose to come and live among us humbly—in diapers. That he lived a sinless life, was betrayed and denied, and took upon himself the punishment for our sins, was pronounced innocent, then humiliated, beaten beyond recognition and nailed to a cross to die a slow, agonizing death as a condemned criminal. He became a sacrifice to atone for our sins so that “Whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

During this holiest week of the year for Christians, the most significant questions any of us can ask ourselves are these: Is this story true? And if so, then what?

C.T. Studd, a missionary to China, India, and Africa in the 1800s said this: “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.”

Love is Bursting Out All Over

Love is bursting out all over… Mary Zigan introduces our theme for February and our two guest bloggers:

            Is there a more complex word than love? I don’t think so. We talk about a loving God, loving football, loving pizza, giving love, making love. No wonder we take the word love so for granted. Love is the oxygen for our souls and we all need it. Every one of us needs and longs for acceptance, affection, reassurance and fellowship, all forms of love, not just in February on Valentine’s Day, but all year. Forthcoming are a couple of true love stories:

The first is young, tender love just budding, as expressed by my granddaughter, Sydney Johnson:

Take the Detour

            Have you ever been driving down a familiar road and all of a sudden a detour sign appears? You think, “No! Not now!” Everything was going so smooth up until the detour sign appeared and now you have to reroute. You may be frustrated or upset by this new unfamiliar path, maybe even scared or nervous. Let me also ask you this… have you ever faced a detour that actually ended up being a blessing in disguise?

            My fiancé and I started dating last March and he continues to be the greatest blessing in disguise? I had an agenda (path) for my life. I’m a planner so you can imagine the type of life I had pictured in my head. First comes a steady job, then maybe some traveling, then paying off loans, more traveling, getting married, more traveling, settling down, the list goes on. My agenda (path) seemed so right and true to who I was and what I wanted. And then one day, bam! A detour arose. My best friend (and now fiancé) from college was standing right in front of me waiting for me to commit to something more than just being friends.

            The reasons why we love people are hard to put into words sometimes. As I love Jacoby more and more each day, it gets harder to explain why I have chosen him to be my life long partner simply because there are so many reasons that continue to accumulate. One reason that stands out to me is the way I feel when I am with him. I’m not talking just being happy or excited but really how my heart and body feels when I am with him. I am at peace about life. My deep concerns or issues that weigh down my heart seem to fizzle and be put in perspective. I laugh more. I talk more about good and bad things. I listen more. Simply put, I am more. I can be more when I am with Jacoby because I feel that I can be all that I am with him. I can be ugly, sad, happy, uptight, angry, excited, hyper, goofy, sick, stressed. You name it, I can be it because he accepts me and actually loves me for everything that I am. And get this, he loves me even harder on the days that seem like my worst!

Trusting THIS detour never ends!

Now here is the “long-haul love” of forty-plus years as expressed by friend, Julie DeMuth:

Sweethearts still….

            My husband and I have been married for over 34 years and still happily married. We are high-school sweethearts who went on our first official date for my 16th birthday. I am turning 58 on February 11th so you do the math.  Our marriage and relationship has been a blessing in so many ways. Even though there have been ups and downs, we always protect our marriage and the love that it has always provided for one another.

             To me, my marriage is everything that gives balance in our life. We put each other first and foremost no matter if we might not like the outcome personally. Our relationship has been based on a “partnership.” It is a constant give and take and making sure we don’t hurt each other along the way. Love is the best thing in the world when both partners are engaged. Making time for one another and truly enjoying what we share together is the key to a successful and loving marriage. If you put energy towards your love for one another, you will reap many rewards. It sounds so simple, but many marriages and relationships collapse when the spark is extinguished. We don’t attempt to clone one another but try to find freshness in our daily journey of life. It is best not to take each other too serious and make sure to PLAY whenever possible. Trying new adventures (travel, biking) and experiencing Life together is the best gift of love we can give one another. Our marriage is sacred and a blessing and we never take it for granted for one single day.

Grateful

Then there is agape love which is the highest form of love, the love we knew nothing of until Christ came to earth as a love-gift to the world. Agape love is unconditional, divine love, the kind of love God exercises toward mankind. This love is practical not just a spiritual sensation. This love wears work gloves and handles the everyday nuts and bolts of life. It hugs the lonely, feeds the hungry, it tends to the sick and comforts the sorrowful. This love is pure, positive and practical. We are made unlovely by our sin, yet God’s love sees beneath our sin to the person he created, and when we open ourselves to His love, no matter who we are and where we have been, each and every day is Valentine’s Day!

Blessed is the influence of one true loving human soul on another. ~ George Eliot

~ Mary Z

Blake Anderson, Veteran’s Day

GUEST BLOG:  In honor of Veteran’s Day, history buff Blake Anderson pays tribute to some extraordinary people.

It’s unusual in this day and age to find personal accounts from World War II, but from the time I was quite young, I’ve always had an interest in that era. It was common when I was growing up to be able to talk with veterans of World War II or the Korean War and to hear first-hand stories of personal heroism. If a newscaster or teacher made errors in their accounts, all you had to do to find out what it was really like was to find a veteran who had actually been there.

My grandpa was one of these. He was assigned to a destroyer escort in the South Pacific in WWII, and he helped in the Lingayen Gulf Philippines Liberation.

More recently, I have had the privilege to hear first-hand accounts from Claude Kowalski, a Vietnam veteran from Kimball, Minnesota, and a friend I’ve known for 13 years. He is a man of honor and he lives out his Christian values. I’ve been intrigued with his stories, and occasionally I pump him for more details.

Nineteen-year-old Claude volunteered to go to Vietnam as a member of the 1st Marine Division, with some of the earliest American ground force presences in Vietnam. He was assigned to the I Corps sector in a village called Chu Lai in 1967. His job most days was to lift and carry howitzer shells and load the big gun. These shells weighed over 100 pounds each, once the four-pound wick was installed, and he hefted these heavy shells, one after another, for what must have seemed like an eternity, day in and day out. It’s no wonder that Claude suffers from PTSD and a significant hearing loss today.

“I was young and fit in those days,” Claude says, “and I had a job to do.”

Veterans often modestly refer to themselves in this way, I’ve noticed, downplaying the hardships they endured. I’m more inclined to refer to them as patriots or heroes.

But Claude is not the only hero in his family. Over a period of many hours in his presence, I have gradually learned more about his background. Claude’s parents grew up in Poland, and during that time in history this was an unbelievably dangerous place to live. The Nazis invaded Poland in September of 1939, and a few years later, the Soviets came from the other direction.

Claude’s father was captured by the Nazis and forced at gunpoint to work as a mechanic for them. He escaped three times and was recaptured twice, finally escaping for good after the third time.

Claude’s mother has stories of her own. As a teenager, one of her classmates, who was something of a story teller and a braggart, boasted about wanting to become a Nazi someday. He would come back to haunt her and their other classmates, he threatened.

She was no shrinking violet, and she retorted, “If you go down that path, someday I’m going to point at your dead body and say, “You’re dead, but I am free.”

Claude says, “My mom was Polish, and she was spunky and brash.”

(A side note: my wife Laurie is mostly Polish, and I get that.)

When the Nazis came through she hid in a haystack, and they searched for her by repeatedly poking the stack with their pitchforks in an attempt to find her, missing her by inches.

Sometime later, she opened her door one day to find her cocky former classmate standing on her doorstep, dressed in the full regalia of his Nazi officer uniform, with its long black coat and high boots. He was not a boy anymore, but a man.

Instead of cowering, as many in Occupied Poland would surely have done, this gutsy young woman mouthed off to him with the worst insults she could think of. The Nazi raised his gun, pointed it at her, and shot. Fortunately, a friend had seen this unwelcome visitor, and as the soldier was raising his gun, she quickly shoved her friend into a potato cart just in the nick of time. The bullet shaved past her shoulder, missing her by a fraction of an inch. She yelled at the man until he finally left the property.

A short time later, word reached them that the young man who had shot at her had just been killed by the Soviets. Upon hearing this, she took off on foot, running toward town. When she reached the site of the skirmish, she pointed at his dead body and yelled, “I told you that someday you’d be dead and I’d be free!”

A couple of short years later, Claude’s parents escaped to the Western side of Berlin’s divide, and Claude was born in the American sector of West Berlin.

In recent years, KSTP TV covered the story of Claude’s relatives in Minnesota, not realizing that they still had immediate family in Poland who had survived the occupation, and they recently reunited with them in Minnesota.

My thanks to all the men and women who stared tyranny in the face and said: “Not anymore!

You are dead, and we are free!”

 

 

Hunting and Gathering

GUEST BLOG: In keeping with our theme for October: Hunting and Gathering, here’s a memory from Blake Anderson, who grew up in a tiny northern Minnesota town where hunting was a major part of the autumn culture. Whether the weapon is gun or bow and the prey is deer, bear, pheasant, duck, goose, or grouse, Minnesotans remain passionate about hunting. And some families still depend on hunting for part of their winter’s meat supply.

Learning to Hunt from the Pros – by Blake Anderson

I suppose I was about twenty, and this wasn’t my first hunting experience, but it was one of the most memorable. My Uncle Shep (aka Duane Sheppard) called and asked if I wanted to hunt with him and Cork (aka Arvid Anderson).

Cork liked the area called the “Bull Moose Trail,” about 10 miles west of Backus. I had hunted there on occasion and was familiar with the location. During deer season this long trail attracts a lot of people, so the woods were concentrated pretty heavily with hunters.

The three of us rode out together, and when we arrived at the point of the hunt, we all decided to walk in different directions, agreeing to meet up for a break a few hours into the stand time. It was colder than usual for November, but having grown up in northern Minnesota, I was accustomed to brutal temperatures.

After separating—each of us to our own standing position—I heard other hunters shooting and carrying on. Soon one bullet from another hunting party whizzed literally right past my ear, so I now know what a super close shot sounds like. This might sound weird, but because it makes such a good story, I almost didn’t mind. Though I am not crazy about it ever happening again.

Standing stationary in the same spot in these temperatures began to chill me to the bone, and I was counting the minutes before Shep had told us to meet up. By the time of the pre-determined meeting, the wind was rough and conditions were rugged, even for Minnesota at that time of year. During the hike back, I fantasized about the warmth of the vehicle, hot coffee, and maybe calling it a day.

As I stumbled into the clearing, there stood Cork and Shep with the thermos of coffee on the hood of the car. Their jackets unzipped, laces of their boots loosened, both of them acted like it was 80 degrees. The engine of the car wasn’t even running.

Cork and Shep didn’t complain or act in the least bit cold, and though I couldn’t feel my feet, it was becoming clear that we were not even going to get into the vehicle to warm up. Strangely, after ten minutes of coffee outdoors, laughter, and lively conversation, I felt a little warmer. But all day I kept asking myself “What kind of grit or mettle is this? Where does this kind of fortitude come from?”

I pondered the expression, Standing among Giants. And that day I felt that I had.

Christmas in July?

Rev. Edwin Hollen, one of our favorite guest bloggers, returns with commentary on this month’s theme: Christmas in July? Whoever heard of such? How can that be?

It just won’t seem right without snow! It is interesting how we come to associate certain situations with different events. We had a surprise this last spring. It was time for tulips, lilies, and daffodils, because it was the celebration of Easter – new life. Instead we had snow!

That did not take away from the real meaning of what Easter reminds us of. Do we realize in our own region of the world, when we celebrate the event of God sending his son into the world as a gift to bring eternal life to us, that much of the world has never seen snow? Sand is more common to large portions of our world. I confess to you with the bleakness and bareness of December, a little snow adds a beauty all of its own.

These are associations that we humans get used to. There is no harm done with making associations unless we miss the reality of the occasion. It is quite true that the time of our celebration on the calendar would not coincide with the actual time of year the birth took place. The event that is recognized and celebrated is really so much more than any tradition or cultural customs that come to be carried out among us. Our celebration of the event is one we can and should enjoy the year round.

The established fact is that the “Ancient of Days” (God) planned to give mankind a gift—a gift needed by every past, present and future human. What we know and we learned from the Scriptures was “when the fullness of time had come” God sent us that gift! That gift had nothing to do with when or where as to the value. There are those who would certainly question why there, of all places?

What we know and have come to recognize, an event, a birth did happen that even secular history must acknowledge put this planet on a different course in a multitude of ways.

The great truth that lives on and on is that God gave mankind, at a particular time in history, at a particular place, through a young, virgin woman, a gift in the form of a child—divinely conceived and brought forth—who is to be celebrated, received and enjoyed for time now and eternity.

What about Christmas in July? Why not?

It is the celebration of the Christ Child being born to live among us, to give us his life, so we can receive from him the gift of eternal life. The gift would have the same value, a God gift, whatever time or season it would have happened, so let’s celebrate him continually. Yes, in July also.

I’m not waiting until a white Christmas!

 

In Honor of Flag Day

In honor of FLAG DAY, June 14: And to the Republic for Which It Stands . . . is an editorial condensed from a column written by my late husband, Duane Sheppard, for the St. Cloud Times. (Submitted by Sharon Sheppard)

We live in a democracy, right?  Wrong!  Well, kind of wrong.  We pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States “and to the republic for which it stands…”

The Latin root of the word republic means “a thing of the people.” The modern definition of this form of government indicates it is a system in which citizens have the right and responsibility to choose agents to act on their behalf.

On Sept. 18, 1787, the morning after the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia had finished their now-famous document, The United States Constitution, a Mrs. Powell approached Benjamin Franklin and inquired, “Well, Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?”

“A republic,” replied Franklin, “if you can keep it.”

The word democracy comes from the Greek and could be translated “people-government.”

Some have proposed that, with the advent of modern technology, our whole country could be online and vote directly on all issues decided by legislators.  This would be a “pure democracy,” and would avoid much of the political trickery, deception, bribery, vote trading, and smoke-filled room decisions that, some believe, now characterize much of our lawmaking.

Of course, it is unreasonable to expect that any person could digest all the information necessary to make intelligent decisions on all the issues at the local, state, and national levels.  And it is unthinkable that all citizens could, would, or should be directly involved in all decision making.

So our constitutional fathers drew a marked distinction between a republic and a democracy.  They stated repeatedly and emphatically that they had created a republic with an elected president and representative form of government.

This system was predicated on a Creator-given endowment of life, liberty, and the right to pursue our dreams.  With this heritage, “We, the people,” formed a union where the political power rests not with a king, president, Congress, Supreme Court, political party, military, clergy, the rich or the educated, but with the people.

So on Flag Day and at other special events in our country, we reiterate our allegiance “to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Happy Flag Day!