Tell me the truth: were you thankful on Thanksgiving Day? Be honest! Did you make an effort to be deeply and sincerely thankful?
This year, I know I was deeply thankful. For the first time in three years, my family had a home of our own. Both of our children and our daughter’s boyfriend were able to be with my husband and me. And so were our neighbors, David and Jamie.
Thankfulness swirled through our house during the days leading up to Thanksgiving Thursday. So after our feast, when I asked David how he came to live in America, my family and I realized that we, like most Americans, have virtually no idea how truly thankful we should be.
David’s parents were from China originally. Christians, they fled to Saigon in southern Vietnam after the Communists took over China. There they settled and made a living and had David. In South Vietnam, David and his parents were free to come and go as they pleased, they were free to practice their Christian faith and they were free to work hard and prosper. They had a good life.
Then war broke out. The Tet Offensive rained military terror on Saigon. David remembers staying inside and keeping low to the ground as bullets whizzed through the walls and roof of his family’s home. After the Saigon offensive ended, he remembers that things got better with the presence of American soldiers. When the Americans rode through his neighborhood in trucks, the soldiers threw candy on the ground for the children. David and the other children loved when the American troops appeared because they were so friendly and kind.
In 1975, the war ended with the North Vietnamese Army as the victor. David remembers many people in Saigon trying to leave the country before the last of the Americans left.
“Why?” I asked him, wanting to hear the answer from someone who had actually been there and lived through this.
David explained that because the North Vietnamese were Communists, the people in South Vietnam knew that all of their freedoms were coming to a complete and abrupt end once power was firmly in the victor’s hand. They knew the new rulers would be ruthless in establishing their power.
Vietnamese who had worked closely with the Americans were quickly executed by the new rulers. David saw their brutalized bodies. They were tied to poles in towns and villages and along the roads for everyone to see the fate of traitors. After all, fear is a powerful weapon.
Others who had been friendly with the Americans received a knock on their doors in the middle of the night, Nazi-style. They were loaded into trucks, their abductions so quick and unsuspected that their money, jewelry, clothing were left behind.
Rather than being executed, these people were “relocated” to remote areas of Vietnam where they were forced to start their lives completely over. They were dropped off in the middle of nowhere with no housing, no tools, no nothing. In a desolate area, they were no threat to the new government.
What happened to their houses? Confiscated and given to people who were sympathetic to the Communists. A reward, a pay-off one might say.
Trucks filled with dead bodies drove through towns and villages. People who saw this were sickened and afraid but completely helpless. Anyone caught trying to leave Vietnam was arrested and put into Communist jail cells that gave new meaning to the word “barbaric.”
David is very bright and wanted to attend a university, but only those whose families were part of the Communist government were allowed to attend. The Communists obliterated the middle class. Suddenly, there were only two classes: the rulers and the others.
David explained that in communism, everyone is equal except for the ruling class. Everyone has the same income and possessions except for those in power and they have more. A lot more.
I think of our national news and I know I need to get on my knees and pray. What do you think?
Please pray daily for our country.
“The Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord raises up those who are brought down. The Lord loves those who are right and good.” Psalm 146:8.
TO GOD BE THE GLORY
Cynthia Howerter © 2011Read More
Have you ever read a story that never leaves you? For me, it’s the monk story.
More than 10 years ago, I sat in a waiting room where, rather than waste time, I flipped through the pages of a magazine until an article captured my attention.*
The author had long dreamed of being a monk, but because a 9-5 paying job seemed more practical, he chose that route instead. Although successful, he never forgot his heart’s desire.
One day, the author saw a newspaper article about a local monastery. For men who wanted to consider monastic life, the monastery was holding a four-week retreat. Qualified applicants would live at the monastery and participate in its activities. At the program’s conclusion, participants could decide whether or not they wanted to enter the Order.
The author’s application was accepted and after checking in on the first day, he was shown to his quarters. His small doorless room contained a single bed, dresser, desk and chair.
After unpacking, he and the other would-be monks attended an orientation. Each participant was given his schedule for the next month. The author was stunned to learn that morning prayers and vespers began at 3:30 a.m. with mandatory attendance. After breakfast, the monks worked in silence until lunch, then studied throughout the afternoon. After evening vespers, the monks returned to their rooms where they remained silent.
Assigned to wash the monastery’s floors, the author thought his chore not so bad until he learned that he would scrub the floors on his hands and knees. In silence. The work was painful, exhausting. Hours of silence magnified the harshness of this life. This was not what the author imagined when he dreamed of monastic life.
After lunch on the fourth day, the author returned to his room and began packing. When the head monk walked past the open doorway and saw him preparing to leave, he asked the author why he was leaving.
The author explained that life in the monastery was nothing like he had imagined. The hours were long and the work was difficult. And then there was the silence. The painful, lonely silence. It was all too much, too difficult for the author to bear. He couldn’t see himself serving God this way for the next 15 or 20 years.
To the author’s surprise, the head monk didn’t try to persuade the author to stay, but rather agreed with everything he said. Life at the monastery was unbearably difficult. Why, during the head monk’s many years there, life had never once gotten easier for him. If anything, it sometimes became harder.
Shocked, the author asked the head monk how he was able to stay.
“As much as I love God and want to serve Him, if I viewed my life as though I had twenty or thirty years left here at the monastery, I couldn’t handle it. I’d pack my bags and leave.
“But God has used the difficulty, the austerity, the silence to teach me perspective. I’ve learned to look at my life one day at a time. When I do that, I can get through the hardships that day brings. There are some days so difficult that I need to look at my life in one hour - or even one minute - increments or I would be overwhelmed and give up.
“God has taught me to view my life in manageable amounts. That’s how I get through the unbearable. That’s how I stay. That’s how I’m able to serve the Lord.”
The author let the head monk’s words sink in for several minutes before he began removing his clothing from his suitcase.
“What are you doing?” the head monk asked.
“I know I can make it till dinner.”
Life is difficult. It can be downright brutal. But I know I can make it through today. What about you? How do you get through the toughest of days? Let me hear from you!
TO GOD BE THE GLORY
For my sisters in Christ, The Light Brigade:
Bethany Reconnu Kaczmarek, Cathy Baker, Colleen Scott, Deb Traverso, Edie Mahoney Melson, Felicia Bowen Bridges, Jacquelyn Marushka, Julie Webb Kelley, Keiki Hendrix, Kyriaki Marushka, Lesley Eischen, Lori Roeleveld, Lynn Huggins Blackburn, Marcia Moston, Mary Beth Dahl, Mary Freeman Denman, Sheri Deloach, Tammie Fickas and Terri Herndon Schumpert.
* I regret that I cannot recall the name of the author or the magazine this story appeared in so that I can give both their due credit and my appreciation. If anyone should recognize this story, please contact me. It is not my wish to take credit for this story.
Cynthia Howerter © 2011Read More
While I watch the wind blow the last of the colored leaves to the ground, my thoughts follow the dirt lane to the old farmhouse where my maternal grandparents raised their children during the Great Depression. It is a house I visited many times while I listened to my mother’s childhood stories. I toured it once recently when the present owner invited me inside.
Although my mother and father moved hundreds of miles away after their marriage, my mother’s thoughts frequently traveled to her childhood home. She loved nothing better than to scoop up my siblings and me and take us with her as she recalled her childhood on a farm near Muncy, Pennsylvania – stories I treasured and passed on to my own little ones.
Mother spoke of a life filled with an abundance of indoor and outdoor chores and of nearby relatives who frequently stopped by on Sunday afternoons for visits. On stifling summer days, the adults visited in the shade of the large front porch while the children took turns cranking the handle of an ice cream freezer on the grass under a shade tree.
When the harsh winter wind rattled the shuttered windows and forced snow to swirl across the bare fields, it was the kitchen that was the center of Mother’s family’s life, mostly because it was the only room in the house that was heated. Family and guests gathered there, the single-paned windows steamed from the conversations.
The old farmhouse, which originally belonged to Mother’s grandparents, had no electricity, indoor plumbing or central heat. Bathtubs, toilets and even a kitchen sink were non-existent. Things weren’t any better outside. There was no tractor or modern farm equipment. Keeping the farm going depended on horses and one’s own strength and determination. Parents and children worked hard from early morning to evening, but my mother’s stories were never ones of complaining.
The day before Thanksgiving, Grandma Alice killed and dressed turkeys for customers from town who gave their orders in advance. Once the poultry orders were filled, Alice killed the turkey she would cook for her own family. Grandpa Ed finished the outdoor chores, then got out his hunting clothes and sharpened his knife and cleaned his gun. The days immediately after Thanksgiving were hunting days and Ed needed to hunt game to help supplement his family’s food supply.
The Great Depression was in full force and money was scarce for my mother’s family. Mother often said that while she and her siblings were growing up, they never realized how primitively they lived on the farm. But a person can’t miss what they don’t know, she would explain.
Something inside my heart was soothed when Mother spoke of the contentment that was felt at the end of each day as the family gathered at the dinner table and her father thanked the Lord for His generous provisions. Grandpa Ed and Grandma Alice made it clear to their children that, but for the Lord’s benevolence, their harvests would be small and their needs large.
My grandparents have long since gone to be with the Lord, and their farm has changed hands several times since they sold it. But my mother’s stories taught me that when a family realizes that they are dependant upon the Lord to provide for all of their needs - as well as their blessings - every day is Thanksgiving Day.
May your Thanksgiving Day be joyous, may you be surrounded by your loved ones, and may you give thanks and praise to the One who provides for your every need.
“When you have all you want to eat, then praise the Lord your God for giving you a good land.” Deuteronomy 8:10.
TO GOD BE THE GLORY
Cynthia Howerter © 2011Read More
Our long weekend on Long Island was a treasure to be savored for a long while. One had only to use the senses of sight and sound to detect the presence and magnificence of God.
During my talk at Middle Island Presbyterian Church, I could see and hear that the congregation was paying close attention to my words – always a good thing when one is speaking to a group - and that many were visibly moved. But it was not my story that touched the congregation. Rather it was the story that God gave to my family and me. Relentless experiences that removed our dross and then built us into people whom God can use. How like God to use one person’s misery to touch and move the heart of another.
After the church service, my husband and I drove out to Montauk, the very tip of Long Island. I have to say that although the quaint towns that we drove through on the way to Montauk are a vision of architectural loveliness, there is nothing like the deafening and furiously pounding surf along the coast to catch one’s attention.
It’s there in the greenish-gray waves that ceaselessly slam into the small beaches that I see God. Large, powerful waves that have pounded packed sand for millenniums in a carefully orchestrated rhythm. Who but God could create such a wonder. This is a statement, not a question.
The surf is a reminder that God also created me. No matter how small and insignificant I may feel at times, I was created by the same God who made the vast oceans. And just as he carefully oversees the uncountable, never-ending waves, he constantly watches over me, guiding my path and showing me His magnificent glory.
TO GOD BE THE GLORY
Cynthia Howerter © 2011Read More
It’s done. Gut-wrenching decisions have been made and implemented.
No matter how we feel - and man, do we feel – the indisputable facts remain. And those facts are what have altered the lives of the Penn State community.
After reading the 23-page Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report on the evidence against Jerry Sandusky, it is clear to me that Penn State’s Board of Trustees were backed into a corner this week. The Trustees needed to act, to make decisions.
The Trustees had the presence of mind to realize that they are charged with making decisions that are for the benefit of the entire Pennsylvania State University.
Sometimes decisions like these wreak emotional havoc. But if we put our emotions aside, thoroughly review the Grand Jury’s evidence and look at public statements made this past week by Penn State employees, we will see that Penn State’s Board of Trustees made the only decisions they could.
For over 30 years, a vicious wolf disguised in sheep’s clothing roamed and ravaged Happy Valley. He was cunning, setting up an organization in 1977 that ultimately delivered the food his perverted appetite required; innocent little boys. His selfish desires set the stage for the ruin of a beloved man and the tarnishing of an upstanding university that had never known scandal.
In many people’s minds, Joe Paterno should have pursued the issue when it became clear that Sandusky’s rape of the young boy in the PSU locker room shower was not turned over to the police. By all accounts, Paterno did nothing more than tell his superiors – which is all he was legally required to do.
Therein lies the heart of the issue. Legally, Joe did the proper thing. Morally, he did not. It was looking the other way when a crime was committed and the lack of concern for those who could not protect themselves that caused the downfall of Joe and others at Penn State.
As painful as it is for me to say this, the bottom line is that no one at Penn State showed any concern for the victim. No one. And that speaks loudly.
Joe Paterno, the man who was Penn State, the man who set the exemplary moral standard for every living Penn State student and alumnus, made an incredibly bad judgement that caused suffering and grief for many people including, ultimately, himself, the school to which he devoted his entire adult life, and the victims and their families.
I believe that there is always good that comes from bad. And we simply must find the good in this. Without it, our grief will be endless. In this case, the good must come from the lessons learned.
We need to understand that what we don’t do is as important as what we do. When we see something that is illegal, immoral, improper, we need to take the appropriate action. Silence means approval. Let me say that again: silence means approval.
The issue of silence was ultimately what determined the fate of Joe Paterno, President Graham Spanier, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz. Silence is what allowed Jerry Sandusky to brutalize innocent young boys who will be deeply scarred until the day they die. Let us not forget that because of silence, these little boys received a gruesome life sentence.
We need to remember the power of silence and its cost to those involved. We need to set aside our deep and powerful emotions at the firing of our beloved Joepa, and remember that silence has the ability to ruin legends.
For the Glory of Old State, For her founders strong and great, For the future that we wait, Raise the song, Raise the song.
When we stood at childhood’s gate, Shapeless in the hands of fate, Thou didst mold us, dear old State, dear Old State, dear Old State.
May no act of ours bring shame, To one heart that loves thy name, May our lives but swell thy fame, dear Old State, dear Old State.
- Penn State Alma Mater
TO GOD BE THE GLORY
Cynthia Howerter © 2011