Fields of Grief and Joy

Years ago I stood in a quiet Pennsylvania field.  It was as beautiful that day as it was today, and as it was fourteen years ago.  I had my oldest son with me there.  He was just 3 years old and didn’t know why just being there was terribly difficult.  He didn’t understand the long granite path into a field that seemingly held nothing.  I didn’t tell him that day that free men and women died in that field not that long ago in the most recent shots of a clash of civilizations because he didn’t yet have the maturity to understand.  Funny thing is that the joy of taking a walk with his dad was infectious.

There was sadness and grief there, but there was also joy.  Joy in the bright sunshine and perfectly cloudless blue sky.  Joy in the quiet solitude of the field and the trees beyond.  Joy in the eyes of a child and the new place.

I have said before that I have learned so much more about God after becoming a father.  That day God used my son to teach me a lesson that I knew intellectually, but had never really thought through.

I knew the moment that I first saw the towers burning that Americans were dying at the hands of a mortal enemy.  I knew that moment that my life and everyone’s lives would change forever.  I was sad for my country and grieved the loss of life.  That grief turned to anger, as it did for many.

What I didn’t know was that God was setting me up for that day years later in that field – so that I might finally understand this:

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
    you have loosed my sackcloth
    and clothed me with gladness,
that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
    O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!

Psalm 30:11-12

Wisdom of Others

I’ll be the first to admit that ultimately, I know and understand very little in this world.  Despite all of the negative news coming from Washington and other supposedly patriotic politicians, let this serve as reminder of what really matters.

When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself.

Tecumseh

Who will tell whether one happy moment of love or the joy of breathing or walking on a bright morning and smelling the fresh air, is not worth all the suffering and effort which life implies.

Erich Fromm
May we be strengthened with the understanding that being blessed does not mean that we shall always be spared all the disappointments and difficulties of life.
Heber Grant
Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it, you must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it. If you don’t, you will leak away your innate contentment. It’s easy enough to pray when you’re in distress but continuing to pray even when your crisis has passed is like a sealing process, helping your soul hold tight to its good attainments.
Elizabeth Gilbert
An infinite God can give all of Himself to each of His children. He does not distribute Himself that each may have a part, but to each one He gives all of Himself as fully as if there were no others.

Aiden Wilson Tozer

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8

The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

Declaration – Part Three (Pursuit of Happiness)

What did the Founders intend when they included the pursuit of happiness as one of the three named rights endowed by God on mankind?

The phrase itself has been perverted over time to mean something akin to the American Dream, which has been perverted itself to mean everything from achievements in life, family, wealth, home-ownership, and anything else a politician can dream up that sounds good in a sound byte or a newspaper byline.  It has been used to justify social programs that alleviate personal responsibility from the individual.  It has been used to justify progressive taxation where wealthier individuals are taxed more intensely than less wealthy ones.  I imagine the Founders would be incensed were they still alive to find out how this phrase had been bent, twisted, and misused over time.

What is happiness?

the quality or state of being happy.
good fortune; pleasure; contentment; joy.
Happiness and joy differ from person to person.  I might find great happiness in watching my sons grow up and watching my wife catching up with an old friend, while someone else might find great happiness in reading a new book, or taking a hike through the wilderness, but is that joy?  Joy is the source of happiness.  What is your joy?
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
Why did the Founders specify the pursuit though?  Were they acknowledging that they sought to establish an earthly government, not a heavenly one? Were they acknowledging that true joy on earth is only found in Christ?
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Joy transcends happiness.  Happiness is temporary and can be blotted out when times get tough.  Time and time again, Americans have proven to have extremely thick skin.  We suffered through a terrible civil war that decimated the country, we fought two world wars were millions perished, suffered economic recessions and depressions that had the potential to be just as deadly, and we persevered against totalitarian socialism when we stared down the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Were any of those happy times?  No.
Can we look back and find moments of joy sprinkled throughout? Yes.
Happiness is externally dependent.  It relies on pleasure from the fulfillment of desires and wants.  Joy is internally dependent.  It is found in the love in your heart.  It is found through the Spirit of God and the hope we have in Christ alone.
The Founders may have even intended for these rights to be recognizable as follows:  life (in Christ), liberty (from sin through Christ), and the pursuit of happiness (or joy, which is found in Christ).
Tell me again that we are not a Christian nation, all I have to do is point to the Declaration and show you that it is divinely inspired.  Thomas Jefferson may have been a deist and believed that it was impossible to know God, but it seems to me that God greatly influenced Jefferson’s text and blessed this country through and because of it.

Refuge

Today you will hear many people recount personal stories about 9-11-01, the day that Islamic terror filled the skies with malice, hatred, and evil manifested itself in a few dozen hijackers that killed thousands. 

You will hear about the stories of heroism where men and women alike rushed back into burning buildings to save those that needed help.  Those that stayed behind to ensure that everyone got out.

My story is not like that.

I learned of the first crash while sitting in my AFROTC class that morning.  We learned of it quickly, but the teacher, an Air Force Captain, seemed to believe it had been a small plane.  I left class and remember that day being so amazing.  It was a cerulean blue sky with not a single cloud in the air.

The grass was still green and it was a perfect day in Northwest Indiana.  I walked across campus to a career fair that was being held that day.  I remember the various booths – everything from companies that built machines for the medical industry, to car companies, to the military and other governmental agencies.

“The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.” Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV)

Being in ROTC, I was just perusing at the time and hoping to score a few free t-shirts or plastic cups for my dorm room when I remember hearing something odd coming from one of the car companies’ display cars.  I reached in and turned the radio all the way up and heard the broadcaster panicking as the first tower collapsed.  I don’t remember running, but within minutes I was inside a building that was about a mile away and was rushing toward a television.  Someone had already turned on the news, although by then, the news was being broadcast everywhere you could look.  I watched in horror as the country I love, and my fellow Americans, stood helpless as the face of evil manifested itself that day in New York City, Arlington, Virginia, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Every single man and woman in the room came together.  Many cried.  Others couldn’t watch.  No one wanted to leave though because together we were stronger than we were by ourselves.  Color, sex, politics, philosophy, religion… none of it mattered at that moment.  I imagine everyone in that room wouldn’t have thought to identify as anything other than an American.  No hyphens, no exceptions, no additions.  An American.

Much has happened since that beautiful crystalline-skied day, but we still remember.

Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me,
    for in you I take refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
    until the disaster has passed.

Psalm 57:1

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10 (NIV)

 

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