Monday, June 30, 2014

Spiritual Battlefare

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes."Ephesians 6:10-11

If the old saying "lose the battle but win the war" applies to today, we're one for one.

I was saddened to hear this story this morning:  another American has been detained in North Korea, this time for leaving a Bible behind in his hotel room. This opens a veritable Pandora's Box of questions:  what was he doing there? Was he a missionary? Was it accidental, like how you leave a swim suit or jammies behind the bathroom door in a hotel? Under what charges was he detained/arrested? A bigger question in my mind is "for religious purposes or pure entertainment, who is going to North Korea? Let's just all stay away from them. Do you know there'a a tour company based out of Connecticut (yes, right here in the U.S of A) who arranges tour groups for North Korea. What?! With more questions than answers, I still think it's safe to say North Korea is in the grasp of a spiritual battle and the good guys aren't winning at this exact moment. A place with zero tolerance for free will and freedom of religion? That battle is going to wage on, I'm afraid.

But, in other news, here's a battle won today:  

Score one for the team wearing white hats. Yay, Hobby Lobby.

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace."

Friday, June 27, 2014

You Never Can Tell With Bees

In The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: The Honey Tree, Winnie covers himself in mud, gets a balloon, and floats up to a beehive in hopes of snatching some honey under the radar. When Christopher Robin spots him and asks him what he is, Pooh replies, “well, I’m a little black rain cloud, of course.”

Has someone – or something – either disappointed or surprised you by not turning out to be what you thought they were?

I have no deeper pondering than this. No one has wronged me or proven to be an imposter.  I simply looked out the window at what has become a familiar sight – little black rain clouds, and thought of my friend, Pooh.

Winnie the Pooh:    Christopher Robin, I think the bees S-U-S-P-E-C-T something.
Christopher Robin:  Perhaps they think you’re after their honey.
Winnie the Pooh:    Well, it may be that. You never can tell with bees. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

My Friends Change with the Seasons

I enjoy all of the seasons. I really do. They each bring something different to the party, which I appreciate. I picture the seasons, humanizing them, and imagine they are friends.

Winter is that friend who wears white year ‘round and totally pulls it off.  She just got back from New Zealand and is talking about an upcoming trip to New York. She drops names and seems to have an exponentially more exciting life than mine, yet there’s no envy. As much as I enjoy her when she’s around, I’m just as happy when she leaves.

Spring is an ingénue.  What she lacks in experience, she makes up for in ideas and dreams. I’ve the feeling she’s on the brink of something big. There’s more to come. She lights up a room and people seem happy to be around her.

Then Summer strolls in. She’s a fast fade artist. You don’t notice when she enters or exits, but while she’s there, you can’t miss her. She laughs too loud. She makes people mad with her opinions. She doesn’t clean up after herself. But just when you think “I need some space from Summer,” she announces she must go and you find yourself wishing she’d stay. You wake up the next morning with a sunburn and a headache and mumble, “I can’t play with Summer anymore.”

Oh, but Fall. Fall is my favorite. She’s lots of people’s favorite. She’s a chameleon. If you need a shoulder to cry on, she’s there. Need a dirty joke? Cover your ears. Want to go shoe shopping? She’s ready and she has a great coupon that’s about to expire. She always looks pulled together but not so over the top that you find yourself resenting her.

As I sit here having a cup of coffee with Summer, I find myself wondering when Fall will be back in town. I miss her.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

My Bad

Think about human error and what comes to mind?

Something bad?

Exxon Valdez


2003, Largest fire in California history

Three Mile Island

Something funny?

Perhaps something good?
Ivory Soap
Legend has it that a line worker left a mixer on while he went to lunch. When he returned, he found a batch of soap which was frothier and fluffier than the prescribed process and, later, Proctor and Gamble realized the bars of soap made with this lighter concoction would float. There are arguments as to the veracity of this legend and whether P&G intended to create a floating soap. It is, however, fact that this event happened. Human error, 99.44% worth.

Sir Alexander Fleming, a scientist, was searching for a wonder drug that could cure diseases. However, it wasn't until he abandoned his experiment and threw his research aside that he found what he was looking for. Luckily for all of us, Fleming noticed that mold growing in a discarded Petri dish was killing all of the surrounding bacteria. 

John Hopps, an electrical engineer, was conducting research on hypothermia and was experimenting with radio frequency heating to restore body temperature. During his experiment, he noticed a stopped heart could be restarted with artificial stimulation. Beware of microwaves!

And who could imagine a childhood without these mistakes:
Richard Jones, a naval engineer, was trying to create a meter to monitor power on naval battleships. He dropped a tension spring, which continued bouncing after hitting the ground. Hello, Slinky.

James Wright, an engineer at GE, was trying to make a rubber substitute during WWII. His invention (boric acid added to silicon) was not able to make boots and tires, but it did create quite a distraction for generations of children. 

I’m amazed at fully-grown and vetted adults who cannot own up to a mistake. Someone jams the copier at work and walks away. Someone backs into your car in a parking lot and doesn’t leave a note.  People will – and have – gone to extremes to deny and even lie about their involvement in a mistake. Those three little words elude even the most conscientious and moral among us – I did it.

Mea culpa. The whole concept is frightening and can weigh on you like 20 albatross hanging around your neck. But there’s something in the fragility, the candor, of ‘fessing up. Catholics understand the exercise and ultimate forgiveness that comes with confession.

Perhaps we, as a society, need less of this:

And a little more this:

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Good to See You

I almost didn’t write this one, for fear of offending someone, but then I remembered that, at best, like three people are reading this. I take comfort, not in my circulation, but in the safety of low numbers. If I offend one of you, however, I sincerely apologize.

Our family made a funeral home visitation last night, which got me thinking to the afterlife. The deceased was beloved and someone made the comment, as Christians are want to do, “I can’t wait to see him again one day.” He was a son, a brother, an uncle, a husband, and a father. Since my husband and sweet Daddy are alive and I never had a son or brother, I started thinking about my uncles, two of whom I knew, and both having been gone for some time.

I wasn’t particularly close to either. They didn’t take me fishing or teach me to spit. They weren’t known for their sense of humor or wisdom. In fact, at least to me, they weren’t known much at all. I believe they both knew Jesus and I believe Heaven is where their souls reside. Will they be among those at the Pearly Gates, awaiting my arrival?

When I picture this scene, I picture beloved pets, my Mama, my grandparents, and, according to some rather bizarre dreams, Abraham Lincoln. I don’t picture my uncles and, truth be told, I’m not sure what I’d say to them if/when I see them again. I picture it going something like this:

Uncle:  Welcome! We’ve been waiting for you!
Me:  Really??

Or maybe:

Uncle: Hi, there. How are you?
Me:  Umm, hi. I’m good. You?
Uncle:  Well, I’m in Heaven.

Or possibly:

Uncle:  Oh, what’s this? [Grabs my nose and shows his thumb stuck between his fingers.]
Me: Yep, I never did like when you did that.

So, although I don’t have all the answers (or any really), I’ll leave you pondering this one. I did a quick bit of research to see if there was any theological text about the subject. I didn’t find any but I did come acrossthis article, written by a hospice nurse, telling of her experience with andlack of any doubt concerning angels. Enjoy.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Listen Up

“What camp am I at this week again?” my daughter asked this morning, followed by “is anyone I know going?” This was probably the fifth time she’s asked me these questions since Friday night, so I deduce she’s experiencing some anxiety. She’s been to this camp before, but this year is different and she knows it. Unlike years past, she doesn’t have a buddy, a school friend going. Someone with whom we signed up for the same camp intentionally so they’d have a pal. And, she’s in the next age group up so she’s back to being the youngest camper in her group. The older level affords more responsibility and options for fun, but there’s the burden of the unknown. After giving her one final round of encouraging words, I grabbed my keys and coffee and darted out the door for work.

As I drove and sat in traffic, my heart was heavy thinking about her uncertainty and picturing her reluctantly putting her shoes and sunscreen on and my husband having to push her out the door to get to the rendezvous point where a bus will pick her up each morning. So I prayed. I prayed that her worries would be lifted, that she’d either find someone she knew or she would quickly make a new, good friend whom she could enjoy for the week. And then I heard a voice.

Turn around and go back and you take her to camp.

I scoffed and dismissed it and sent up silent responses of refusal. “I’ll be late for work.” “Just look at this traffic.” “We had a plan…her Dad’s taking her.”

Go back and take her to camp.

OK, I heard that one. I turned at the next road, backtracked back home, walked in the house, and announced that I was taking her to camp. Did her face light up or did I imagine it? Would my husband have gotten her there safe and sound and well on her way? Of course. Would she have been fine had I not given in? Probably.

I don’t know what the purpose of my exercise this morning was. What I do know is that voice and I’ve learned when I hear it, it’s better all around to listen and do what it says. Not once have I regretted its advice and instruction. Did my husband get something done at work in the extra 30 minutes he was afforded? I don’t know. Were her worries calmed and her confidence bolstered by my taking her and standing on the sidewalk, smiling and waving as the bus loaded and drove off? I don’t know. Did I make miraculous time getting to work and was only a few minutes late? Yep. Would I do it again? You betcha.

John 10:27 says, “My sheep listen to my voice. I know them; and they follow me.”

Friday, June 20, 2014

Hodge Podge

It's been a long week, I'm tired, and I don't have anything compelling to say or share. Just speaking the truth. So, please enjoy this compilation of news tidbits and have a wonderful weekend.

1.  11-year-old Lucy Li wows crowd at U.S. Women's Open.  Eleven, I say.

2.  Apparently, you're not supposed to put ice cubes in your dog's water.  There are mixed reviews as to why, how, and if it's actually dangerous. This article says your dog will become bloated and die.  And this one says there's no proof that it is harmful.

3.  The U.S. is still in the World Cup and I think they play again tomorrow.

4.  A trick when making a boxed cake mix cake taste better is to replace whatever water the recipe calls for with Sprite. It adds a little extra sweetness and the carbon dioxide makes the batter lighter and fluffier. You can also "doctor" store-bought icing by dumping in a bowl and mixing with a hand mixer for a minute to whip in some air and/or mix in a little powdered sugar. 

5.  An empty Tic Tac box is great for storing small items such as needles, bobby pins, safety pins, or buttons.

OK, folks, that's all I have today. Go and prosper!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Scar Tissue

Working for a Christian company has certain benefits. We get time off around Easter. You can openly pray and even say something like “I’m praying for you” out loud. And there’s no “girl o’ the month” calendar thumb tacked over the copier. 

Another benefit is that we have a twice-monthly Chapel program. We sing hymns and there’s a speaker. Oftentimes, the speaker is a visiting pastor. Yesterday at chapel, the speaker was former pastor Mark Croston. He was at a church in Virginia until he came to LifeWay as our national director of black church partnerships. 

His message was one that struck a chord with me as it referenced some Scripture that I’ve always found intriguing. Reading from John 20, following Jesus’ resurrection when he presents himself to Mary and the Disicples, Mr. Croston described how Jesus proved to those few there with him his identity by showing them his scars. To doubtful Thomas, He said, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 

The rest of his message was it’s OK if we lowly humans have scars as Jesus did, too. I always found it curious that Jesus still had these marks because everything we hear and know of the promise of Heaven is that we’re restored, we’re whole, we’re well again. But Mr. Croston filled in a gap for me. He pointed out the difference between a wound (a place not healed) and a scar (one that is). Naturally, this got me thinking about my own scars, each a souvenir of a life well-lived.

"Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."  --John 20:29

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

It's a Wonderful Life

One of my favorite movies (and definitely my favorite Christmas movie) is Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. When IAWL was released in theatres on Christmas Day in 1946, it was met with a lukewarm, at best, response by critics and audiences alike. It’s too bad because it has a little bit of everything – a boy and man whose dreams are bigger than his life? Check. Great musical score? I don’t hear Auld Lang Syne and not tear up thinking of the ending with Zuzu and that stinking bell ringing and George declaring “attaboy, Clarence!” I’m sniffling now. Romance? Oh, yeah. You have adult Violet trolloping around town, but my favorite vixen is young Violet who makes every play in the book to get young George’s attention but, alas, her charms cannot compete with the boy’s dreams of adventure. Speaking of adventure, there’s a couple of car chase scenes which had to be ahead of their time in the mid-1940s. Then there’s George and Clarence jumping off the bridge. Did they have stuntmen back then? You have the character you love to hate in Mr. Potter; the affable underdog in George; and the steadfast believer in Mary. Uncle Billy provides comedic relief in the form of the requisite alcoholic relative who throws a kink in the storyline.

The movie offers so much. My absolute favorite piece of the story, though, is George’s battle with himself. All his life, he’s dreamed of something bigger, better, different. He wanted adventure and to do something important that would make a difference in other’s lives. He thought he had to sail halfway around the world to accomplish this and, eventually, discovers he has been living his dream all along…just not how he’d imagined it. 

The apex of the film occurs on Christmas Eve when George reaches his limit and cannot imagine an alternative to taking his life. He drives through town, contemplates jumping off a bridge, and his failed attempt is disrupted by a guardian angel sent to him in the form of Clarence, a dim-witted yet loving 292-year-old watchmaker.

The last part of the film is dedicated to Clarence giving George a glimpse into how the town and all its inhabitants would have turned out had George’s wish of “I wish I’d never been born” been granted. George sees firsthand the impact and effect his life (and words and actions) had on everyone else.

Why am I thinking of a Christmas movie today? Because today is my parents’ anniversary. If my mother was alive, they would have been married 48 years today. So, today seemed a good day to take account and be thankful.

If this hadn’t happened:

Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Eagan, June 18, 1966

Then this wouldn’t have happened:

Valerie, April 16, 1974

Or this:

Mr. and Mrs. Jason Mangrum, September 20, 1997

And certainly not this, which I simply cannot imagine:

Calleigh, August 27, 2004

Life is good. In fact, it's wonderful.

"Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives, and when he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"  --Clarence Oddbody

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Size Matters

I got to go shopping last week. And it was the best kind of shopping as I didn’t have to pay. 

I’ve moved offices within my building and moved from a group, work station setting to a shared space where two of us are in one office and each have our own desk. So I was charged with visiting our basement where surplus furniture goes to die and select a new desk. Well, new for me. I saw one that I’m positive Lincoln penned the Gettysburg Address while sitting at it. There were some modern, sleek, modular pieces. Of course there were your rock bottom, 1970’s, standard issue desks. Some were highly functional but not very aesthetically pleasing. Others were solid wood, hand carved, with beautiful detail in the design and wonderfully-crafted, dove-tailed joints. 

It was a bit overwhelming and they all blurred together. Methodically, I walked through the aisles and in between the desks, examining each and quickly assessing their strengths and virtues. Too big. Too small. Not enough drawers. What is this one…a card catalog? This one’s nice but it has a big scratch on top. This is the right size but it has a bum leg and will be forever wobbly. I eventually found one that would work. They wrote my name on a sticky note, slapped it on the front, and explained that it would be brought up to my new office in a couple of days.

As I walked back towards the elevators and my office, I passed this little line up in a hallway:

I chuckled to myself, imagining trash cans taking a smoke break. But then, on the way home, I saw this while stopped at a light:

And I started thinking about choices and diversity and how much I like choices. And how glad I am that people – like things – come in all shapes and sizes. Variety is the spice of life, right? Well, that’s a flavor I can embrace.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Give 'til it Hurts

I pride myself on being an OK gift giver. I put a lot of thought into the gifts I give, and sometimes, I really hit a home run. It’s hard, though, unless you spend a lot of time with someone, to be able to pick up on and remember small clues about something they may want. In our first world, Gen-i, me! me! me! culture, if we see something we’d like, within reason, we just buy it right then and there.

When I think about a thoughtful gift scenario, I picture a couple walking down a sidewalk along a row of quaint shops. The woman stops to admire a locket in the window of a store. They continue on their way. Then, months later with that afternoon a mere distant memory, she opens a small box. “The locket!” she gasps, “You remembered.” And scene.

It’s not like that in real life. Real life might have you seeing the locket while on that walk but then you find one you like better on Etsy that night.

Here are some tips I use when trying to find the perfect, or at least a pretty good, gift:

1. Know the recipient’s hobbies, style, and color preferences.
Picture the intended recipient actually using the item. Can’t picture it? Then it’s probably not a grand slam.

2. Look for items you might not buy for yourself or that you would deem extravagant or luxurious. Some of my favorite gifts I’ve received over the years weren’t wildly expensive, but they would have fallen in a category of something I could live without and I wouldn’t have indulged in myself.

 3. Ask yourself “would I like this?” Now there will be occasions when that doesn’t make sense. If you’re buying a new fishing pole for your uncle and you’ve never held one, well, it will be hard to take a walk in their shoes. This would be a good time to ask for help. Solicit the feedback of online reviews or a salesperson. But if you do share similarities with the recipient, stop and picture you yourself unwrapping the potential gift. Rarely does the “not for me, but fine for them” game work out well.

4. All gift cards are not created equal. Some will tell you a gift card is lazy and they can be. But I’ll tell you this…ask a poor-as-church mice newly married couple or someone who’s just had a baby how great a gift a restaurant gift card is. I once bought a teacher a shoe store gift card on  a whim, rushing in and out of a drugstore one day. The deadline was quickly approaching, I was there, they sold gift cards, and I thought a gift card to a shoe store would make a fine gift. Later, when I received a thank you note from this teacher, she eloquently explained that she didn’t drink coffee and wound up regifting the thousands of Starbucks cards she received. And that she wound up spending Target cards on practical, everyday items. But that she was excited because she could go get a new pair of shoes, 100% guilt free, and not be tempted to be practical. That one was a home run.

5. Always ask for and include a gift receipt. Make it easy for the person to return or exchange your gift. They can’t all be winners.

6. Asking “do you like it?” is the gift equivalent of “does this make my butt look big?” Don’t ask questions you don’t want to hear the answer to. It smacks of desperation. What are they going to say? Maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but asking isn’t going to give you a sincere answer regardless.
My last piece of advice is give sincerely. Don’t just give someone a gift for the sake of giving a gift. They will sniff out your insincerity like a drug dog at the airport. Don’t make excuses (“If I’d had more time…”) and don’t make apologies and undercut your gift (“This is just a little token of my appreciation…” “It’s nothing, really.”)

Candidate for "Worst Father's Day Gift." Ever.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Dream Bigger

Albeit a bit premature, I was giving a brief eulogy of Casey Kasem to someone this morning, pointing out two of his career highlights that made an indelible mark on me. One, he was the voice of Shaggy in all of the old Scooby Doo cartoons. I'll forever see his face and hear Shaggy saying, "Like, groovy, Scooby Doo. Sandwiches!" 

But then there's another quote of his, firmly implanted in my memory from years of listening to pre-XM and -Sirius radio. Remember him saying at the end of the American Top Forty Countdown, "Keep your feet on the ground but keep reaching for the stars?"

As I shared these two memories of Casey, it occurred to me that I have been heeding only part of his advice. My feet are firmly planted on the ground. But in the act of staying steady on terra firma, have I inadvertently stopped reaching for the stars?

Jim Carrey's commencement address made its way around social media outlets earlier this week. Click here to see the whole address. Here's a snippet that I found particularly profound:

"My father could have been a great comedian, but he didn't believe that that was possible for him, and so he made a conservative choice. Instead, he got a safe job as an accountant, and when I was 12 years old, he was let go from that safe job and our family had to do everything we could to survive.  I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which is 'you can fail at what you don't want, so why not take a chance at doing what you love?'"

I know. Pretty profound coming from this guy:  

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Oh, Bother

"A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly."
                                                                                                     Proverbs 14:29

How can I turn my irritations into pearls today?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Over, Rover

During my morning commute, I growled the words “get over” on three separate occasions. 

First, I suggested it to someone in front of me, traveling not just more slowly than me, but more slowly than the posted speed limit. 

Next, I found myself behind someone with their turn signal on, trying to change lanes, who appeared to be stymied by the daunting task of working their way into congested morning traffic, despite a couple of drivers slowing down and providing the opportunity for a merger.

Finally, as I waited to make my last turn, I heard the distant wail of a siren. A moment later, an ambulance materialized at the top of a hill ahead of me. Despite the aging green light, I waited. Then I noticed a car on the other side, in front of the ambulance, reluctantly slowing down and pulling to the side. “Get over!” I muttered in quiet disbelief.

I’m always saddened and dismayed to see drivers reluctantly and distractedly pull to the side of the road and
stop for a funeral procession. You should do this out of respect and reverence. But if you can’t be bothered to get out of the way of an emergency vehicle, well, that is a different story entirely.

"In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven."
                                                                                  Matthew 5:16

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Save Up

When I got in my car, the radio was tuned to a news channel I listen to, and a financial expert was on, dispensing advice. Late to the game, I missed the majority of his tips and only got to hear this one, but it struck me as quite profound.

Spend more less often.

He elaborated that in this age of Amazon and Wal-Mart and big box stores, that thriftiness is heralded, but that there’s a difference in being lavishly thrifty and frugal. His suggestion was that you buy better quality, often-times more expensive, items less frequently.

It’s your classic quality over quantity debate. Remember the Stanford Marshmallow Test from the 1960s? Researchers tested the concept of delayed gratification on a test batch of kids, offering them one treat – a marshmallow or Oreo – immediately, or two if they waited approximately 15 minutes.  One-third gobbled their one treat up as the instructor was still stating the offer. A second third said they’d wait but, ultimately, caved in and didn’t make it to the second treat milestone. And the final third waited and enjoyed their cookie. According to ongoing analyzation, that last third went on to enjoy higher SAT scores, land better jobs, and enjoy happier lives all around.

So, I wonder what this would look like in my own life:

I'm sorry to say, but I'm more of a Merona girl than Manolo. 

What about you?

Monday, June 9, 2014

Melon Head

There are lots – countless – but one of my favorite things about being a mother is the continuous education. They say one of the beautiful things about having a child is seeing the world with a fresh perspective, from their eyes. One of my favorite situations is when I’m asked a question I don’t have an answer to at the ready. It’s then that we research it together and, in turn, both learn something.

The most recent question:  where do cantaloupes come from?

I paused and realized I had no idea. Do they grow on plants on the ground or in trees? What country did they originate from? I had nothing. (They grow on vines on the ground, similar to watermelon.)

Cantaloupes originated in an Italian city named Cantalupo. The French then swooped in and, as the French are want to do, renamed it to make it sound better. Thus, cantaloupe.

The ones we eat:

Are actually a variety known as mushmelons throughout the world. An actual cantaloupe looks like this:

They pretty much taste the same. And people must like the taste as, according to recent statistics, cantaloupe is the most popular variety of melon in the U.S.

Sorry, cantaloupe, this guy is still tops with me:

"...let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance..."
                                                                                                  Proverbs 1:5

Friday, June 6, 2014

D(ennis) Day

With today marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the Allied Force’s invasion of Normandy (a.k.a., “Operation Neptune”), I thought I’d give a slightly different perspective. You know the photos. You know the basic story. But there’s another story, which doesn’t get as much coverage, and I think that’s a shame as it’s a good one.

This is the story of The Magnificent Eleven. No, actually, I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll back up. “Operation Overlord” was the Allied invasion planned for Normandy. It was to be the largest seaborne invasion in history and began the Allied invasion of German-occupied western Europe. The success of “Operation Neptune,” the actual Normandy landings, led to the restoration of the French Republic and, ultimately, contributed to the Allied victory in the war. This victory had a steep price – Allied forces reported approximately 12,000 casualties with 4,414 confirmed dead.

I’ve seen Saving Private Ryan only once. The opening scene depicting the landing on the beach was chilling. To imagine what those young men encountered as they engaged in this battle is inconceivable. The shock of the water, the weight of their gear, bullets whizzing by their heads, the blur of the cacophony of sounds of war, seeing their fellow soldiers – their brothers in arms, their friends, their comrades – fall. 

It’s overwhelming to think about. Imagine how it was to live it. For them, the survivors and those who gave their all, I’m forever grateful and in awe and indebted. There’s a reason they’re called the Greatest Generation. They paved the way for generations to come, they made a better life, not just for themselves, but for all of us. And it’s why I want to punch punk-bottomed kids these days who don’t know their history and who walk around, entitled, and not knowing a real problem if it came up and shook their hand.

Robert Capa

I digress. Among the second wave of troops to land on Omaha Beach was celebrated war photographer Robert Capa. Over the course of two hours (imagine how long it really felt), Bob captured two reels of film, totaling 106 pictures, from the front lines. Miraculously, he made it off the beaches of Normandy, along with his film. Back in the London offices of Life magazine, fate stepped in. People assume when fate steps in, something good happens, but that’s not always the case. Yes, sometimes you miss your bus, meet a handsome stranger on the next bus, get married, and live happily ever after. But fate is just as likely to have you miss your bus, then have the next bus run over your foot as it pulls up. This more spiteful fate was working for Life at the time. Someone else working at the magazine? Fifteen-year-old lab assistant Dennis Banks. A mistake occurred in the dark room while these photos of Capa’s were being developed. A dryer was set too high and the negatives were basically emulsified. Of the 106 photos, 11 survived. They are known today as the Magnificent Eleven.

No one, including me, knows the rest of the story. Sure, I have questions. “Why was a fifteen-year-old working in a photo lab and on this super important task?” “Did they know it was super important at the time?” “What happened to Dennis? Was he fired on the spot? Did he try to cover it up? Were others involved?” We’ll probably never know the answers to these and other questions. Here’s what we do know:  Bob never said a word to the London bureau chief about the loss of his film (Greatest Generation).  And Dennis wasn’t crucified over this blunder. Otherwise, his moniker would be a well-known catchphrase. “Well, Sue, you really Dennised up that fourth quarter report.” No, I like to think Dennis went on to a happy and successful career at the magazine. Maybe they said, “Dennis, there’s an opening in the mailroom” and he went on to a storied career in the shipping and receiving area, increasing efficiency and implementing a new and improved way of shipping magazines. That’s the Dennis I want to imagine. Those from the Greatest Generation would have given Dennis a second chance, too. Not a pass and not a hand out, but an emphathetic hand up.

"Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes."
                                                                                                 Ephesians 6:11 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Colors of the Wind

I hadn't planned to have another tribute today, however, this memorial shout out can be classified under "history," as well. As much as I hate to bid farewell to anyone, I have a deep love for history and the stories from our past and this is a great one.

Yesterday, the spirits took Chester Nez from the earth. If the name doesn't ring a bell, that's OK. Chester was the last of the Navajo Code Talkers from World War II. There was a 2002 movie, "Windtalkers," which told the story of these brave warriors on the big screen. You have to suffer through two hours of Nicolas Cage doing his thing, but the story is perfect for Hollywood.

It was early 1942 and the war had been underway for close to a year and a half. A civil engineer for the city of Los Angeles, Philip Johnston, pitched a pretty wild idea to the United States Marine Corps - use a secret code in transmitting battlefield messages that will not be easily deciphered by the enemy. Now, this wasn't a new concept. But what Johnston was specifically proposing was -- use native Americans from the Navajo tribe to encrypt messages using their native language. And the Marines listened to and believed him because Mr. Johnston was two things:  a veteran and a former resident, fluent in Navajo himself, of a Navajo reservation.

The Marines thought it just might work and in May 1942, 29 Navajo recruits attended boot camp. Throughout the war, the Navajo were commended for their speed, skill, and accuracy. 

Following the war, those involved in this highly covert operation were forbidden to speak of their endeavors to anyone -- family, friends, and even fellow Marines. In 1968, the Marines declassified the operation, and in 1982, President Reagan presented the code talkers with a Certificate of Recognition for their service. In 2001, President Bush presented four living code talkers with Silver Medals.

Chester published a book recounting this era in American history in his memoir is Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir by One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII. He said he decided to tell his story because he wanted to share the contributions and sacrifices of the Navajo during World War II.

To Mr. Nez and all of these brave warriors, I say Ahéhee' (thank you).