The skies had been darkening. The dark gray clouds had accumulated and their appearance was ominous. The wind was picking up momentum causing the trees to bow with each gusting force. A storm was brewing. Every visual indicator was in place. We were in for an evening of Midwest thunder storms.
Then, the lighting flashed and the thunder resounded with such a roar that the window panes reverberated. I have to admit that I jumped just a little because of the suddenness of the cracking boom. The thunder came so swiftly that it startled me, even if the awareness that thunder would follow a lightning flash was completely expected. After all, Midwest and thunder storms are familiar to those of us who are native to the region.
My son, his wife and their children lived in Southern California for twelve years. Dallas and Meg were born and raised in Illinois. Lex and Artie were born in the LA area. Since returning home, baby number three, Arrow, has joined the family. Although the parents grew up familiar with how the thunder rolls, the two California-born boys never experienced the phenomena on the West Coast. But now – these boys are Midwesterners.
During their first summer of storms, the kids were fear-filled. The magnitude of the forces of nature, the lightning-strikes bolting across the skies, the rumbling sounds of rolling thunder, the pounding rains assailing the house: these were threatening to little guys’ ears. However, after several summers and numerous storms, their little souls have been acclimated. During this last storm, the boys and their parents were at my house and together we enjoyed the thunder as its portentous sound rolled across the skies.
Arrow has celebrated his first birthday, learned to walk, and is mastering the art of owning his world. He only uses a few real words but his babbling, finger-pointing, and numerous other forms of baby body language have well-trained all of the adults in his life to move when he summons. The night of the storm, Arrow wanted to see what was happening outside of the house. As obedient grandparents, we opened the front door. Three generations of us stood together under the shelter of our home while the thunder rolled.
An onlooker would have thought that we were watching fireworks. We would “ooh” and “ahh” at the lightening, count between the flash and the clap, and then thrill at the thunder. The little guys squealed and giggled and the older of us enjoyed the joyful exuberance of the children as they faced the threatening storm with the confidence that they were secure.
I remember being very young – only 3 to 4 years old – when my father was in a very serious automobile accident, which unleashed a terrible storm in our lives. Ominous reports of his injuries, darkening skies of the threat to his life, torrential rains of problems plummeted every spot in our worlds. But our home gave us shelter. When I say home, I mean grandparents, aunts, cousins, church family, friends, or persons who could give us a roof over our heads and a word of peace to our hearts. These were present to show us what true shelter means and to give us a proper perspective of the thunder storms of lives.
Our family weathered the storm. Dad recovered; the sound of the thunder roll was silenced; and the sunny days of life returned. Oh – life has brought other storms. From childhood to adulthood, from mom’s house to my house, from being a child to having a child – the storms of life continue to assail; but my shelter holds. As a young child, I learned that I could have peace in a storm. My grandchildren have learned that same lesson. My prayer is that you can also trust in a shelter that will provide peace when the thunder rolls. “O God; let your ears be open to my prayer. From the end of the earth will I send up my cry to you, when my heart is overcome: take me to the rock which is over-high for me. For you have been my secret place, and my high tower from those who made war on me. I will make your tent my resting-place forever: I will keep myself under the cover of your wings.” Psalms 61:1-4 (BBE)
Her soul bore scars from relationships gone bad. Who she had become was a result of what she had endured. There seemed to be no escape from her past. There appeared to be no happier moments in the present. There promised to be no better days in the future. Her existence was what it was. She had spent too much of her life ingesting acrid waters until her own wellsprings had become bitter.
That day was like so many others. She had filled her morning tending to the bare necessities. There were no children around who needed her nurturing. No spouse was there who extracted covenantal love. The man who was present had self-serving motives and a distant heart. So, her tasks were mere motions of a passionless life.
She needed to walk to the center of town to draw water from the well, but she waited until most of the other women had finished that job. She did not want to again be the object of either scorn or insincere pleasantries. “If one is going to be alone in the midst of a crowd;” she surmised, “one might just as well be alone.” She gathered her pitcher and walked to Jacob’s Well.
As she drew up the water, she heard the voice of a stranger ask her for a drink. Startled out of her introversion, she noted that a Jewish man was addressing her, a Samaritan woman. Barely would her own people speak to her. She could scarcely comprehend that a Jew, known to be prejudice against her people, would be requesting a drink from her. She asked him how this could be.
He responded, “If you knew me, you would ask me for water.” She had long ago stopped trying to know anyone. Who was this stranger? How could he give her anything?
“You have no pitcher, no way to draw water,” she replied.
“Then I will give you life-giving waters to quench the deepest longings of your heart,” he cryptically responded. “My water will satisfy you now and forevermore.”
Something about the way he spoke to her, the words he used, the manner of his person struck her deepest thirst, which she had long ago tried to squelch. She thought she would never again drink in the promises of another. Yet, before she could stop herself, she cried, “Sir, give me this water!”
Stepping outside of her own self-imposed isolationism, she began a discourse that drew from his reservoir. He had knowledge of her past, understanding of her beliefs, and wisdom of God’s purposes. She drank in his words. She swallowed a rhetoric that was not toxic or poison, but sweet to the taste and satisfying to the soul.
His waters not only satisfied, they refreshed, they healed, they restored. She had come to the well to draw and surely she had drawn. She left her pitcher and ran into the town to pour out the waters she had received.
“Come meet this man,” she gushed to her neighbors. “He told me all he knew of my personal past yet promised me a future free of yesterday’s bitter taste,” she spouted. She wetted their appetite and they followed her to the well where they also drew living water from the Christ, the Son of the Living God. (This story is taken from the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John.)
An up and coming family event has required me to collect photographs from days gone by. I have been hunting. My digital files only contained pictures from the last decade or so. I had to go back in time and back in technology. I had to find the photos from the days when negatives had to be developed into the pictures. Photography the way it used to be.
I’ve spent hours reviewing pictures that I had displayed in albums, images stored away in the cedar chest, and snapshots stowed in boxes in the basement. My responses have swept the spectrum of emotions. Tears have fallen as I gazed on the faces of loved ones who are no longer alive, while laughter has erupted at the sight of the children caught on film in the midst of an unexpected moment. What a joy this search has been.
As I sat in the floor of my closet and pulled a film-processing jacket from the custody of Grandma’s cedar chest, my eyes fell on the words “handle with care” printed on the envelope. These words struck my attention. I know the manufacturer was alerting the buyer to attentiveness for the prints themselves, but my contemplation proceeded to the watchfulness that must be applied to the lives of those whose images are inscribed upon the paper.
A picture is a testimony that life has occurred. It is a memorial to a real-time, real-people, real-happening, real-life event. It is a freeze frame, a millisecond captured from the past, an instant encapsulated for reflection. Life happens before, in the midst of, and after the camera flashes. Looking at the still photos caused many moving moments to flood across the screen of my memory. I replayed vacations, birthdays, holidays. I tracked each child’s growth by the school photos – kindergarten through graduation. I rekindled the warmth of friendships from former days. I rejoiced at the birth of the grandbabies. I thrilled again at milestones achieved by those I love. While each picture might have been a moment frozen in time, the memories attached were living and active.
Between the Kodak moments, life happens. And, I think that the best of life occurs when loved ones and friends are handled with care. Loyalty, faithfulness, and devotion have to be demonstrated. Effort, attentiveness, dedication, and commitment must be exerted. Plans and dreams, hopes and prayers, faith and fidelity need to be constantly reaffirmed. These are the things of which great photos are made. The quality of the shot is probably not as significant as the memory being captured. The perfection of the camera angle and lighting may not be as consequential as the personal story being commemorated. Especially for family pictures, the merit lies in shared lives more than great technical achievements.
In order to insure good photos in the days ahead, I would do well to heed the Manufacture’s admonition and view the subjects of my pictures as precious images that I must continue to “handle with care.”
Some days are busier than others. Last Saturday was one of those days when my schedule was full; and the longer the day lasted, the more requirements that day’s events demanded of my time. I jumped into the car to run a quick errand to the other side of town. My mind was working like the hard drive on my computer – processing. Side tracked by the line up of tasks and calculating the most efficient way to organize the duties, I hardly noticed anything as I drove. I was lost in my own thoughts.
Having completed the job at hand, I jumped into the car and headed down Main Street to return home. “One more duty done; dozens left to do,” I was thinking to myself as I continued my internal monologue and strategy session. All of a sudden, my attention was refocused as my eyes caught an inspiring sight. Lining Main Street, on both sides of the road, were American flags posted about every ten feet or so. The wind was blowing and catching the fabric, creating what looked like a waving sea of red, white, and blue. Instantly I was transported out of my world of self-absorption by the sight of this icon of patriotism.
Some songs trigger nostalgia; some smells evoke feelings; and some sights activate memories. The sight of the flags that day set off a plethora of thoughts and emotions within me. Tears instantly filled my eyes. My heart swelled with pride over this great land of liberty. A gentle, grateful smile emerged on my face as my contemplation focused upon my country.
These are difficult days for freedom. But then, freedom has never been free of difficulty nor has freedom ever been free. From the inception of our nation, freedom emerged from sacrifice. Liberty was purchased as lives were lost, blood was shed, and heroes were born. Our history records the names of those heroes and our holidays memorialize their deeds. Yesterday’s soldiers bought today’s freedom, while today’s troops wage war to guarantee tomorrow’s independence.
Seeing the flag of our great nation displayed in tribute to our land and in honor of our soldiers currently engaged in combat reminded me to be grateful – grateful for America. Driving past the ensigns of our sovereign land, I found a soft prayer flowing from my lips. I prayed for the men and women in our armed forces that have placed their lives in harm’s way. I prayed for our President and his advisors, as the weight of their decisions will shape the course of nations and history. I prayed for protection and ultimately peace. I asked that other nations might also be graced as we have been with liberty and prosperity. Tears fell from my eyes in tandem with words of thanksgiving that fell from my lips.
My busy day continued but my meditations and considerations were refocused by my trip down Main Street, USA. From the heart of its cities and the heart of its citizens, may this nation continue to herald a visible and vocal tribute to liberty and justice for all. Thank you, city managers and leaders, for displaying our great flag.
Happy Fourth of July!