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Archive for December, 2012

Tsunami Warning

2004-tsunami

Recently, I watched a compilation of home-videos taken during the massive tsunami of 2004 which claimed the lives of 250,000 people in Indonesia, Thailand, and Sri Lanka.

The tsunami resulted from an underwater earthquake, displacing a huge volume of water that  rushed onto land, ripping into the ocean everything in its path.

If you’ve been to the shore and watched the action of the waves, you know that a wave rolls onto the beach, and then slides back into the sea. That sliding backward, the recession, feeds the next wave. The bigger the recession, the bigger the next wave.

In the videos shot at the various beaches around the epicenter of the earthquake, every one of them captures the consternation of onlookers as the waters of beach and bay suddenly slide far back into the sea, as if sucked in by a mammoth marine vacuum, stranding boats on rock and sand in a dramatic and unplanned ‘low-tide.’  Locals in the background chatter about how they’ve never seen this before. People run to frolic where moments before, waves had been.

A lot of water suddenly sliding backward into the sea.

Feeding a deadly force.

Inexorably, the water returned,  roaring back with unstoppable strength, destroying everything in its path, beginning with those caught on the newly-exposed mud flats.

The ferocity, strength, and incomprehensibility of what fell on the coast that day made after-the-fact resistance impossible. Those who survived could only cling to life and watch others die.

Island nations have experienced tsunamis time-out-of-mind. Why then, in each of the videos did no one know what a suddenly empty bay means? Did parents and grandparents fail to transmit this information to their children? Was there no one who took seriously the ancient skill of reading the signs of the sea?

In 2011, an earthquake off the coast of Japan triggered another tsunami.  A story emerged from the wreckage about the tradition of the ‘Tsunami Stones.’  Previous generations placed stone markers at the high-water mark of tsunamis they witnessed.  Wisdom insisted no village, home, or business ever be built at a lower elevation than these stones.

Wisdom was forgotten.

Why? For economic reasons? Was it bad for tourism?  Did they simply forget the nature of their fickle neighbor, the mighty Pacific?

Christians in the United States are experiencing a similar phenomenon. Water is rushing back from the beach as our consciences are exploited and our religious freedom eroded. Something is just over the horizon, fed by this massive slide backward, and it will rush in on us with a fury that will leave death and destruction in its wake.

Unlike the beaches of Indonesia, however, there are voices on the American seawall, reading the signs of the times, yelling for the happy-go-lucky to run for higher ground. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, Joel Rosenberg, John Eldredge, to name a few, prophets not so much in their skill at foretelling the future, but in their ability to read the signs of the times.

Already, the water is licking at our heels as wanton crimes against human life pour in upon us without pause.  Soon, it will be a flood in whose merciless grip we will be swept away.

How will we respond, knowing as we do, that our actions in this crucial moment-before-the-wave may mean the difference between death and life?

Run for higher moral ground.
Reinforce your spiritual house.
Pray and fast for our nation, our communities, our families and friends.
Hold fast to the Rock of Our Salvation.
Read the signs of the times.

Heed Wisdom.

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The Battle of Rich Mountain

We were in the middle of a cloud up on Rich  Mountain.  The mist had a softening, dreamy quality.  Taken with my cell phone camera.

We were in the middle of a cloud up on Rich Mountain. The mist had a softening, dreamy quality. Taken with my cell phone camera.

A series of battles took place in what is now West Virginia during the summer of 1861. Most of them were decisive victories for the Federals, including the encounter which took place at Rich Mountain.

We were out “far afield-ing,” as my kids like to call our wandering drives to see new sights and cover unfamiliar terrain. It was a rainy, cloudy Friday, perfect weather for a long drive.

I popped “The Story of the World” into the CD-player, and we set out, meandering through Northern Virginia until we found scenic, old route 55 and crossed the border into West Virginia.

This monstrosity is a great example of why we like to take the 'old' road down below rather than the 'new' one up there.

This monstrosity is a great example of why we like to take the ‘old’ road down below rather than the ‘new’ one up there.

A potty break turned into a spontaneous caving expedition, giving the kids a chance to get muddy and wet exploring crags and crannies in the limestone cliffs.

When it was almost time to start home, I spied a little brown sign advertising the battlefield at Rich Mountain, just outside Beverly, WV. Who knew? We turned off the main road and went to investigate.

Soon, the road turned from asphalt to the sticky, muddy dirt of a mountain road on a wet day. The road twisted for miles, and I began to wonder how the armies could have possibly dragged artillery way up there. And on period roads! We wound our way up into the hills, passing hunters, dogs, and a quarry before we rounded a corner and pulled up in a pass.

Thick, heavy clouds laid their tired weight around us as I gingerly turned the van around in the little used and very soft dirt parking area. “The last thing we need is to be stuck in the mud way up here,” I thought. It seemed a remote place for a farm, let alone a battle.

Imagine dragging artillery up here!

Imagine dragging artillery up here!

Some investigation revealed a wooded battlefield in the coll between two peaks at the site of what was, in 1851, a farm belonging to the grandson of a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Hart, was the family name. Apparently, the Confederates had about 200 men and a single piece of artillery (ah-hah! It WAS too much trouble to get any more up there!) stationed in what must have seemed like an unconquerable location.

The farmhouse and stable around which the battle raged on July 11, 1861, are gone now, but the huge boulders and foundation stones are still there, and -amazingly- you can still see the bullet holes and gouges from various forms of weaponry on the rocks! (plus plenty of impact craters in the signs from more modern ammunition…)

You can still see the 150-year-old bullet hole in the rock, just above and right of the grey lichen on the rock.

You can still see the 150-year-old bullet hole in the rock, just above and right of the grey lichen on the rock.

The Confederates took shelter behind the rocks and the stable when the Federals surprised them from behind, having surreptitiously marched uphill in the pouring rain under the guidance of a young man from the farm.

Today, with the heavy, damp, clinging fog, and soaked ground, it was easy to imagine how uncomfortable it must have been to make a surprise, uphill assault in bad weather!

It had been a Federal victory, the swarming onslaught overcoming the cannon and sending the Confederates fleeing over the mountaintop pastures among the cows. It’s all forest, now.

All those trees the settlers labored to clear have grown back again, including this one that looks like it's sitting down on the rock to rest.

All those trees the settlers labored to clear have grown back again, including this one that looks like it’s sitting down on the rock to rest.

Every once in a while, a pick up truck would swish by us, its tires kicking up a plume of tacky mud, hunters in bright colors in the cab. One shuddered to a halt, and I heard a rich, southern accent calling out to us.

“Y’all got to look over there on ta-other side of the road, there’s a path thetcha folla, an’ if ya look atta rocks, you kin see some carvings. Some a th’soldiers carved their names intada rocks.”

Cool!

And sure enough, under the moss and lichen in every shade of green (in December!), we saw several carvings. A sign posted by the private organization which maintains the site said alumni from the battle had returned after the war and engraved their names on the rocks which had sheltered them that day.

See the carving?  They ask you not to touch it so it won't fade any faster.  It says: "Clay Jackson was killed here in 1861."  According to the signs, he was a Confederate soldier taking shelter behind this rock who died in the very first volley.  His friend carved this on a visit after The War.

See the carving? They ask you not to touch it so it won’t fade any faster. It says: “Clay Jackson was killed here in 1861.” According to the signs, he was a Confederate soldier taking shelter behind this rock who died in the very first volley. His friend carved this on a visit after The War.

We make a point to say the St. Gertrude prayer at every battlefield we visit. And a prayer for the healing of our Land.

The mist must provide all the moisture this healthy growth of moss and lichen need.  I love the textures in this photo.  Taken with my cell phone camera.

The mist must provide all the moisture this healthy growth of moss and lichen need. I love the textures in this photo. Taken with my cell phone camera.

The Three Sacrifices of Giving

giftThe Three Sacrifices of Giving

“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers,” drawls Stella in Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

And it’s particularly true if you have a large family. Strangers as well as friends often provide our large family with their extras – a wonderful, win-win re-distribution which helps level our budget shortfalls.

But true giving – it’s hard. Not everyone can do it. Those who can have earned the skill by practice.

Maybe you’ve had this conversation with a gift-or:

“What a beautiful __________!” you say with pleasure. “Of course I’m not offended. We’re happy to make use of the ___________ you don’t need anymore. It doesn’t matter that it’s not brand-new.”

“I’m just so glad not to be donating it to Salvation Army or Goodwill,” they confide to you. “You never know if the person who buys it will treat it properly.”

Which is your first clue.

They’re not really giving you the item.

Oh, it’s now in your possession, but they are still fully attached to it and will need regular status reports about its well-being.

“How’s that __________ working out?” They might interject casually some days later. “Did it work/fit/match okay?” Here, you will likely hear a story about how the item was used while it was in their care.

If all is well, you thank them again, re-iterating your pleasure to receive such a gift.

If the item is not functional and you tell them, a cloud passes over their features. Once, a lady who had kindly gifted us with toys was incensed to learn that one of them had broken under the admittedly harsh hands of one of my children.

“When I was a child, we were taught to take care of our toys,” she snapped.

And I understood why she was angry. My child had broken her toy. It was still hers. In her heart, she had never let go.

True giving requires three sacrifices.

An Intellectual Sacrifice, or agreement to part with the item.

In the case of old Tupperware, this one is easy. In the case of a item you’ve had since childhood, or an item belonging to a now deceased friend or relative, anything from mild sadness to major guilt accompanies the thought of releasing it. Especially if you are releasing it to the trash.

A Physical Sacrifice.

Sometimes painful because you must actually place the item in another person’s hand or car, or drop-off location and walk away. Adding insult to your struggle, the recipient may not thank you, or even fully appreciate what you have given them. In creeps the temptation to bitterness, resentment, anger.

A Sacrifice of the Will – Detachment

This last one’s the clincher – you have to mentally release the item. It’s not yours anymore. Letting go of the intangible strings that attach you via nostalgia, greed, or selfishness is – oh, it’s hard. And it may take a few bouts of letting go before the mental release is complete. When you release your hand, you must also release your heart. It feels good when you do.

True detachment from an item means you no longer have a say in how it’s used, cared-for, or stored.
If you are releasing an item, you may not make regular inquiries into its whereabouts or well-being.
A real gift doesn’t complicate a relationship with feelings about their inadequacy to care for your – I mean ‘their’ – item.

In Tolkien’s “Fellowship of the Ring,” Bilbo Baggins must give up the Ring which has become his obsession. He makes and breaks his intellectual assent several times before, with the help of Gandalf, the wizard, he decides to leave it to his nephew, Frodo.

Even after his decision, though, Gandalf must remind him that he has not physically released the Ring. Bilbo does so with trepidation and anguish.

For him, detachment from ownership seems easy. He squares his shoulders and marches away, singing, relieved. But months and years later, he is still dwelling on the Ring, asking the new caretaker about its well-being and whereabouts, disappointed to hear it has gone missing.

This detachment is needed not only for items, but also for projects, positions, and adult children.

It hurts, requires constant effort, and humor. “I can’t believe I’m still thinking about that old _______,” you can laugh. “I don’t need to worry about that anymore,” you might reassure yourself. “I’m not in charge of it any longer.” “It’s not sitting in a box anymore. God will take care of it,” you can say.

Occasionally, I will accept gifts as a work of charity.

An elderly friend cleaning her craft room was having a terrible time releasing her fabric remnants. “Can you use them?” she pleaded.
“Oh, yes!” I assured her, packing all seven boxes of fraying psychedelic left-overs from the 1960s and 70s into my van before she could re-open them. I knew if she stopped to finger and consider each remnant, most of them would never leave her house. My next stop was Goodwill, where the still serviceable pieces found a home. Afterward, the dump.

“Twelve huge bags of clothes? Thank you!” I gushed to a beaming lady who offered clothing which had been stored in a mouse-infested attic for thirty years. Friends donned gloves and armed with plastic bags we sorted, tossed, washed, and redistributed via Freecycle what little could be saved.

True gifts are of good intention, given with a smile, and never mentioned again.

Giving the gift of receiving allows people an easier way to let go.

One final thought – as you perhaps fret and fume over the lack of gratitude for and mistreatment of ‘your’ gifts, please consider your new understanding of our Heavenly Father’s daily experience. He daily gives his best – his SON – and really, very few even care.

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