What Cost Freedom?

 

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Today in the United States we pause to celebrate Memorial Day.

 

Most will celebrate it with picnics, boating, ball games, swimming, family, and friends. A few will pause for those remaining public celebrations to commemorate the day. Fewer still will visit the graves of those fallen for the sake of freedom or know when this commemoration began or the cost for those who gave us the freedom to celebrate it.

 

Originally it was called Decoration Day and that is the name I recall when I was a young child. It’s purpose? To provide a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America.

 

It was born out of the Civil War and a desire to honor our dead. General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, proclaimed the day officially on May 5, 1868, and asked that the 30th of May 1868 be designated for the purpose of strewing the graves of those who had died in the defense of their country with flowers and flags.

 

Most of us would not recall that Memorial Day began with that bloodiest of all United States wars. The country would be torn in two with the Union of the North raising an army of 2,128,948 and the Confederacy of the South mustering a total of 1,082,119 troops. It was a war that would be fought in thousands of places from southern Pennsylvania to Texas, from New Mexico to Florida with the majority of the battles fought in Virginia and Tennessee.

 

Between April 12, 1861, when Fort Sumter, South Carolina, was fired upon until April 9, 1865, when General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at the McLean House in Appomattox Court House, Virginia, 620,000 would die for the cause they believed in. They would die from combat, accident, starvation, and disease. Of that number, the three-day battle on the fields around Gettysburg, PA, in 1863, would see the largest number fall. A total of 51,000 would be dead by the end of the battle.

 

It can be easy to forget how significant the losses were during the Civil War. Yet, our love for freedom would stir the hearts of others to serve in battles far from our own coastline. In World War II 405,399 would give their lives following the brutal conditions faced during World War I when 116,516 would fall in battle.

 

Of course these would not be the only battles where men and women would give their lives for the cause of freedom. In Vietnam we would sacrifice 58,209 and in Korea we would lose 36, 516.

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To establish this nation, 25,000 would die in the Revolutionary War. Another 20,000 would die in the War of 1812 and 13,283 in the Mexican War. The Spanish-American War would result in a loss of 2,446.

 

More recently 6,626 would be lost in battle in Iraq and Afghanistan with another 258 falling during the Gulf War.

 

How much do we value this freedom? How much do we take it for granted or use it to serve our own ends rather than for the good of our brothers and sisters?

 

When we speak of a fight for freedom, men and women, despite their fear or condition, held the value for liberty and the release of tyranny so foremost among their beliefs that they were willing to leave those they loved most to serve those they had never met.

 

IMG_1762As I took time to visit a small country cemetery in Ohio near where I live, I was struck as I always am by the number of American flags that had been placed on the graves of our veterans. This cemetery is adjacent to a church founded in the 1840’s.

 

In the oldest part of the cemetery where the gravestones are often not readable, I found flags adorning the graves of two Civil War veterans. One had died in 1865 and another in 1866. I read their names: James Turner and James Shaw. I wondered what they had seen in their time on the battlefield and if their deaths shortly after the war came as a result of wounds that never healed.

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We can never repay the debt we owe to so many.

 

We can also never repay the debt we owe to the One who came to give us grace and freedom from sin, the One who suffered for us at great expense to purchase what we could not gain without His payment.

 

In the midst of all the fun and celebrating we may do this day, let us not forget to be thankful, to sober our hearts, to give thanks for so many who gave all they had for our sakes. Let us also thank God for His love beyond measure in what He sacrificed for us.

 

Freedom is never free.

 

Others will always want to take it from us, to enslave us. Let us remember to cherish it, not abuse it for our own selfish ends, or fail to recognize the responsibility we have to uphold and guard it as a result of the great cost paid to grant it.

 

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When A Season Is In Full Bloom

 

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Irises in Full Bloom

 

I think when I was younger that it was easy to spend a lot of time looking forward to the “next” season. I looked forward to spring when it was winter, fall when it was summer, the holidays, vacation, and more. I looked forward to the seasons of my children’s childhood as well.

 

In some ways, I looked at each “next” season as the unfolding of a book that I couldn’t wait to read. That was not a bad thing, but I discovered that it was much like a great novel that you read so quickly page by page that it ends all too soon, only to cause you to wish you had savored each page a little longer.

 

It was that way with other seasons as well. I felt my heart yearning to slow down how quickly my children were growing up. It seemed impossible to believe in what seemed like the blink of an eye that they were grown and gone starting families of their own.

 

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Azaleas at their peak

Of course there were some seasons I was eager to be rid of because they were difficult or painful. Separation from my husband due to military deployments was never fun. Unemployment seasons were never easy either. Seasons of loss of persons I held dear weighed heavily on my heart. I wondered if some of these hard seasons would ever end.

 

Little by little I began to discover that each season had value and held things for me to discover about the Lord, the world around me, and also me.

 

 

I also began to recognize that “a season” was its own journey of ups and downs within it. I didn’t need to wait until “the next season” to have variety. I responded differently at the outset and the end than I did in the middle. I think that I was less patient in the middle.

 

 

In the course of life and a great variety of seasons, I have learned to be more content about each one. I feel no need to rush or push the one I am in the midst of. Even though I may anticipate the next one, I have learned to be more content in the one I find myself.

 

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Lilacs Soon to Say Goodbye

 

As I was choosing annuals to plant around our home this week, I paused to enjoy the varying colors and types from which to choose. These would require my attention to water and weed to flourish.

 

I also took time to notice the last glories of the spring flowers. These require little from me except my enjoyment. They start with such small things like crocuses and then march forward with more showy and colorful delights for my eyes to savor.

 

Spring is in full bloom at last in Ohio on a recent walk…

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Rhododendron at Their Fullest

 

I have begun to identify with Paul when he writes these verses in Phil. 4 (The Message):

 

“Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.”

 

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Wildflowers Along the Path

 

What Have You Hidden in Your Heart?

 

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Our minds and hard drives can be cluttered with many things. Our hearts also can hold a myriad of emotions, beliefs, commitments, and convictions.

 

I think most of us have experienced the challenge of having our computers slow down as the memory gets overloaded. It happens with the cell phones we carry in our hands as well as every other electronic device. If we have done much work with electronics, we soon decide that when we need to purchase something new we want to purchase something with more memory (the most we can afford).

 

We marvel at all that can be stored in these devices that seem to get smaller every year, but we forget the most incredible storage of data and memory created or designed is the human brain.

 

I know you are likely thinking about how much you cannot recall no matter what your age, but the human brain is actually so complex that the exact amount of what can be contained is not measurable even though it must certainly be limited. What does science say about this most complex brain that our Creator designed and that exceeds any device created by man?

 

Some research now suggests that the human mind can hold as much as the entire Internet! One study found that each synapse in the brain could store an average of 4.7 bits; spread throughout the brain, that would be about 1 petabyte, the equivalent of 1,000 terabytes or 1,000,000,000,000,000 bytes. Other scientists suggest we have as much as 2.5 petabytes of memory storage.

 

So why do we forget things? It’s because it is not really about capacity. The reality is our storage process is slower than our experience of the world. Here’s an example. If we pretend we have an iPod with infinite storage, even if we could store every song ever written we would still need to buy and upload all that music and then pull up individual songs when we wanted to play them. But what if we wanted to have all that music and could load it? It would take us 2,000 years to play it all.

 

Think about this truth. It is impossible to quantify the amount of information in our brain because it consists of more information than we are consciously aware of.

 

We sometimes get a glimpse of that when someone we know has a stroke.

 

IMG_1748Our brains consist of more than facts and faces and measurable skills. They also contain functions like how to speak and move, how to feel and express emotions. We do all that with great efficiency. It only takes about the amount of energy needed to create a dim light from a light bulb. And we do all that while the average brain cell is inactive about 80 percent of the time.

 

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”  Psa. 139:14 ESV

 

 I have been mulling over this information as a result of reading Virginia Prodan’s newly released book, Saving My Assassin, which I reviewed recently. (http://pamecrement.com/2016/05/23/saving-my-assassin).

 

What stood out over and over again was how many verses of scripture were memorized by the persecuted Christians of Romania under the repressive regime of Nicolae Ceausescu that ended in 1989. Bibles were forbidden. The time period preceded our easy access to a Bible in unlimited numbers of translations via apps on our electronic devices. The body of Christ was under persecution and the Word was essential to sustain them. So they hid the Word of God in their hearts where no one could steal it from them.

 

“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”  Psa. 119:11 ESV

 

David wrote those words. He “hid” the Word of God in his heart is how some translations read. David knew the value of scripture. He stored it, hid it, in his heart so that it would be available to him whenever he needed it. He valued it so highly that he was aware he might be robbed of it or lose it if it were something in a hard copy form, so he treasured it and placed it where no one could take it from him.

 

The Word doesn’t say David stored it in his memory. I think he knew what we know. Our memories can fail us.

 

Perhaps it said he placed it in his heart because he had so often read the Word that his heart had been molded by it so the impression remained embedded on his soul.

 

I confess that I do not have vast amounts of scripture memorized, but I have many verses that have been woven into the fabric of my heart and soul much as words of love letters from my husband have been carried there.

 

Many of us are blessed with great freedom to own as many Bibles as we wish and read them wherever we desire, but if that was lost to us for some reason, what has been hidden in our hearts?

 

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Saving My Assassin

 

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“As a member of this church, how would you respond if you were asked to make that choice? Would you remain with Christ or become a Communist? Would you judge or forgive your brothers and sisters if they betrayed Christ, Virginia? How would you prepare yourself for a day like that?”

 

Such were the questions posed to Virginia Prodan after she made the critical decision to accept Christ. These were asked of her by Constantin, pastor of a Christian church, under persecution during the brutal Communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania.

 

Her account is the heartbreaking and courageous true story of her life and the lives of many Christians during the evil empire of Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania that lasted nearly 20 years until his execution in 1989. It unfolds in one suspenseful page after another of her newly released book, Saving My Assassin.

 

 Virginia’s life was never easy. Born out of wedlock, a source of great shame in Romania, an agreement was made between her mother and her mother’s sister. As a result of that shame, she would be given to her mother’s sister to raise as if she were her sister’s child since her sister was married. Her mother agreed to move away and not see her again despite the pain this decision caused for her.

 

This home she would grow up in with two other children born to her aunt and uncle would never provide her love. She would be treated often as the unwanted child. She looked nothing like her “parents” or siblings with her red hair and fair skin. Her duties and clothing would be different and her opportunities would be few.

 

Much of her life was restricted and when her “mother” and “father” went to Bucharest to visit her real biological mother, Virginia was never allowed to accompany them. It wasn’t until she went to take exams to enter law school in Bucharest that Virginia meets her birth mother. She is given the chance to live with her “aunt” who dotes on her, gives her lovely dresses to wear, and good food to eat, but even then does not tell her she is her mother.

 

The repressive government’s representatives, the Securitate are everywhere, spying, following, and recording details of the lives of the citizens of Romania.

 

Early in her life Virginia had known that to speak of God or the Bible or any faith or belief was extremely dangerous. There was a state approved church, but in her country Nicolae Ceausescu was god, one to be revered and worshipped. To own a Bible could result in arrest, prison, torture, or your disappearance.

 

Virginia proved herself academically in law school and met the man, Radu, who would be her husband. After she passed the exams to be able to practice as an attorney in her country, it took some time to find work since most attorneys worked for and as an arm of the repressive regime. That regime violated many of the laws still on the books in Romania. She believed the truth was essential to honor in all ways and she was unwilling to be used by the government as a pawn.

 

As a result, she began to have some of those oppressed come to her to represent them in court. In each case, she applied the law skillfully and began to become known for her honesty, hard work and ethics, but as she uncovered more and more of the insidious ways the government oppressed its people she decided she did not want to be an attorney any longer.

 

Virginia began to get clients who were being charged with incredible, untrue claims related to church activities. One of them, Nestor, invited her to come to his church. She was captivated by the peace she saw that was so evident in him despite all he faced.

 

When Virginia and her daughters visit that church the next Sunday, the pastor’s message talked about Jesus being “the truth”. She felt the pastor was speaking directly to her. When the pastor asked if anyone wanted to accept Christ as Lord and Savior, there was no doubt in Virginia’s mind this answer was the culmination of a lifelong search.

 

As the chapters of the book unfold in one suspenseful page after another, you have a front row seat to what it is like to live in a country where you have no freedom, one where you cannot express your faith, own a Bible, watch a film about Jesus, or even gather in a group to worship Him.

 

You also watch, as Virginia becomes the voice for these oppressed people as they are repeatedly dragged into court. Her reputation grows among the Christians in her country and so does the danger and risk to her own life.

 

Because of this and her strong belief in the truth of the Gospel, Virginia is considered a treasonous traitor. She is kidnapped, beaten, tortured, and placed under house arrest. Within seconds of her execution, God speaks to her heart and gives her His courage to speak to her executioner about Jesus.

 

Saving My Assassin is not only a compelling, riveting story, but also awakens anyone who reads it to the reality of what it means to lose freedom and especially to have no freedom to worship the Lord. It puts a challenge in the heart of the reader about how they might answer the questions noted at the beginning of this article to Virginia if the reader faced those same questions today.

 

In exchange for my review, Tyndale through the Blog Network, provided this book, published by Tyndale House.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

What Kind of Soil Are You?

 

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I grew up on a farm and never developed a desire to be a farmer myself, but as the daughter of a life-long farmer I had a deep appreciation for the hard work, wisdom, and knowledge it took to do this very important job. I listened to much of what my father would share about what he was doing from season to season trying to assure he would yield a good crop.

 

Certainly, there was a great deal that my father did not have control of related to the farming process. Chief among these was the weather. One of the areas greatly impacted by the weather was the condition of the soil and the soil was key to the harvest. Tending to the soil was an ongoing process throughout all the seasons of a year.

 

From time to time my father would do a soil test to determine what the soil on our farm needed. Under applying nutrients would retard plant growth and reduce the yield of the field. Over application of nutrients would be expensive and potentially create an environmental hazard.

 

Weather could influence what nutrients were added. If it was too wet, one choice might be made. If it were too dry, another combination would be chosen. I recall my father would also rotate crops from field to field since different crops take different levels of nutrients of the soil. Rotating helped keep the soil healthier.

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A farmer knows that good soil is dark-colored and crumbly when you feel it with your fingers. He wants to keep the soil well drained, avoid erosion, not let the soil be too dry, and add nutrients to improve the soil and maintain its health and productivity. What a task! It is one never to be devalued as “less than” by those with title, position, or degree.

 

So, why am I talking about soil? Because we are the soil where the Lord plants the seed. You can read about it in Matthew 13:3-9 where Jesus tells the parable of the different kinds of soil and results when seed is sown there.

 

I think we often tend to think of that in regard to salvation and I would not disagree, but the condition of real soil does not remain constant. How the soil is used or depleted impacts whether the soil remains healthy and able to produce a rich harvest. Weather is also a major factor regarding that.

 

We have a choice about what kind of soil we are. We too are impacted by “weather”. The “storms of life” assail us from nearly every direction and batter us. The soil of our heart can be eroded. The heat of spiritual battle can also impact the soil of our heart.

 

All of these things that come against our heart can tempt us to harden and protect our heart, to cease to risk loving or giving. We can also lose track of how exhausted our heart (the soil) is from giving, loving, and serving for a great length of time and we fail to notice we are depleted.

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To keep our heart (our soil) in the best condition, it must be fed and nourished regularly. Yes, time in the Word does that as well as prayer, but we can become locked into a pattern of those things without adding other nutrients we need. We can gain nourishment from rich fellowship with a few others who care for our hearts. Such nourishment can also come from time in the midst of His creation, listening to great music, viewing meaningful art in all its forms, and most certainly rest.

 

A good farmer knows the soil in his field needs to be able to rest in order to continue to produce. Rest comes in many forms beyond sleep. It can include solitude, changing our routine or areas of service for a period of time, or simply laying down the endless requests that come our way to do one more thing, be one more thing.

 

I have experienced many seasons and known periods of severe weather as well as drought. I have experienced rich harvest as well as depletion. I do not see myself as “old”, but I am no longer young.

 

I desire in this season above all others to be the soil of Matthew 13:8:

 

“Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some ‘a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”

 

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