Sunday, May 27, 2012

Flag Of My Fathers

My Grandpa (R) receiving the purple heart. I treasure this photograph!

Yesterday evening I ambled over to my Grandpa's side of the house.
He lives in his own home, connected to ours, and most afternoons or evenings I sit a while with him and we talk or watch an old movie on TCM, and sometimes crunch chips or cookies together (as he scolds me and I scold him with sheepish grins that we shouldn't be eating things like that!) Last night the movie "Flags of Our Fathers" was on. I sat for a while and watched it with him. It's the story of the six men who raised the flag on Iwo Jima. Grandpa has told me about the battles on Iwo Jima many--literally, countless times. He was a tanker in the South Pacific and spent time on Guam, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima. His tank was part of the first wave of tanks to make it on the beach of Iwo. He describes the black, steaming sand of that place and the fact that the island looked to them exactly what he pictured hell to look like; bleak, rocky, black, smoking. He describes the fact that the 22,060 Japanese were so intrenched on the island that they had it gridded; they could literally "drop a mortar in your back pocket if you held it out for them." So there was a bloodbath when our 70,000 troops landed on the island and 6,812 of our men were killed or missing. 19,217 were wounded, and my Grandpa was one of them. (21,844 Japanese were killed on Iwo Jima.) Two of his buddies in the tank with him were killed instantly when the tank was hit. The shell sliced off part of one's head and ripped through the other's chest. Grandpa lay on the beach on a stretcher alongside hundreds of other wounded men. With shrapnel in his leg he couldn't move much and they were terrified when more mortars began dropping not too far away. They lay helpless, waiting for evacuation. The medics had to drop everything and leave the vicinity for their own safety, and Grandpa reached over and held up the IV of the wounded man next to him.

Grandpa with  3 of his 10 great-grands.
All 10 of them love him so much!
I could write about my Gramps for hours. I would like to write a book and include all the stories he's told me.... (in fact when I was about 16, I started to!) I don't suppose I ever will, though. I've recorded some of the stories and want to record more, but Gramps loses his desire to talk when a video is running so I have to unobtrusively sneak a recorder in when he's not looking and ask him some trigger questions to get the war stories flowing! He will talk endlessly about the natives he met on the island, the men he served with, the commanders, the living conditions, the fun times and adventure of living on remote pacific islands, the food, the chaplains, the Japanese and the near death experiences (like the time he was pinned to the ground while a sniper shot at him! By the mercy of God he was near a ditch and rolled into it so the sniper could only hit the pack on Grandpa's back. Grandpa lay as flat as he could next to a rotting corps and felt ping after ping as the bullets penetrated his backpack!) He mentions sometimes, though not as much, about what it was like to be a kid sitting on a ship the night before going to war and knowing you could die the next day--the different responses of the men around him to the fact that they were face-to-face with eternity, and his own response.

To me, my Grandpa is the biggest hero I know. I am so proud to be his granddaughter. I am amazed by what he did and who he is today because of it.  I understand, though--and he'd be the first to remind me-- that Grandpa's sacrifice was small compared to the thousands who never made it back, never got the chance to fall in love with a beautiful blonde like my Gramps did and have two boys and 4 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. He honors his fallen brothers by standing for hours at attention in the heat, like he did today in a cemetery after taking part in a parade (he's almost 89!). When Memorial Day comes around I have a profound feeling of gratefulness for the troops who have given their lives for me, and yet it feels vague. I didn't know any of them. War and death is a world away, to me. Grandpa, though, sees the individual faces of the men he called his friends. No doubt he can't help but remember some of the gruesome deaths he saw and I wonder sometimes if he still hears the screams and the explosions and the other sounds of war. These men whose lives we honored were his brothers at arms.  They were men he endured bootcamp with, bunked with, traveled halfway around the world with, laughed with, drank and pulled pranks and goofed off as only a 19 year old kid can. And then the horrors of war hit and the boys were thrust into manhood. Some of their lives were forfeit according to our sovereigh God's plan (oh, HOW He must grieve during war!!!), and some of their lives were saved but would never be the same.

As I watched "Flag Of Our Fathers" yesterday I was profoundly moved. The gore and violence of that movie is incredible and I had to look away at so many parts. Tears came as I realized that the carnage I was watching on screen was just a tiny taste of what Grandpa had survived. I went to him and hugged him and thanked him for his sacrifice. I told him he was my hero. I told him I am incredibly grateful that he made it through. And I cried for the boys who never made it home.

According to the Veteran's Administration statistics, our WWII veterans are dying at a rate of 740 a day. I remember this constantly and count each day with my Grandpa as a blessing. May I cherish his stories, his legacy and his presence. And I trust that we'll ALL make an effort to reach out to the WWII veterans (and ANY veterans!) in  our lives and thank them--profusely-- for the service they gave God and their country. I don't think we could ever really comprehend the horror those who saw combat experienced.

I love you and I honor you this weekend, 
Grandpa! You're my hero! 

Gramps and I in Alaska last year

Friday, May 25, 2012


Friends, I know that many people are stopping by solely for the purpose of checking up on Lars, and so I wanted to (with his permission) post this letter which he dictated to me a few days ago. It's long but it's in his own words so you'll appreciate it! I also wanted to note that I wrongly said that he had "broken" his neck and ribs and in fact, they were fractured. But here it is from his own mouth:

Dear family and friends (or perhaps I should just say “recipients”),
         The plan from June 13 when we were going to drive Joy on her way home to Big Sandy, TX did not go exactly as we had hoped for. The outcome now has become quite different. It was providential (one would say “miraculous”) changes on our drive. You might think it was a wild thing to drive to Texas but it was a plan laid out so we could have ten days on the road visiting old friends. Our first day was a long drive but it only took us down to South Delaware and we expected to spend two nights in each spot, giving Elisabeth plenty of rest and to keep up with her food situation (which takes a bit of doing with her). When we enjoyed the day with friends there, we took off at about 9:30 in the morning and we were going to Raleigh, North Carolina. We were about 40 miles from Raleigh when Joy said something to be about the fact that I was drifting in the road. It sort of took my by surprise and I over corrected, and of course then you’re supposed to take your foot off the gas and slowly get it back in line… but in over correcting I turned sharply to the right and then I overdid it to the left, winding up with a spin and then the car turned over and rolled off the embankment. I have not seen Joy’s photograph of the car, but our friend Bill Adair did and said it was pretty well bashed up. One of the providential graces that were given is that when we had left Delaware Joy was in the front seat. When we stopped for a rest break—especially since getting food and drink into Elisabeth on a trip is a constant thing to remember—I told Joy, “Why not sit in the back seat with Elisabeth and you can give her some drink and food while I’m driving,” which is what she did putting only me in the front seat. All of us were wearing seat belts, and had it not been for her moving into the back seat I don’t know what sort of injuries she would have sustained but she surely would have been sorely hurt. I lost consciousness for a little bit and I heard the emergency personnel say, “Cut the door open” (which I think was the front passenger door.) Then I heard them say “Cut his pants off and get him out.” Then they told me to lie still and that a helicopter was on the way. It came very quickly to the scene. One fellow told me that they were taking me to Richmond trauma center. I asked him about going to Raleigh, and he said that Richmond was one of the two best trauma centers in the State. He told me that my “Wife and daughter” would go to Hampton, Virginia. I knew Joy was okay because I heard her talking to the rescuers (since she is trained and has a desire to be in the rescue business it was almost as if she was a part of the team and she assured them that she was fine.) Nothing much was said about Elisabeth but I did understand that both of them were going to go to the hospital there. Fortunately, Joy traveled with a lot of clothing and different things when she came to stay with us, and of course we had our baggage in the car. Before we’d left, when we packed the car, I told Joy that I’d take the luggage in a second car because she wouldn’t be able to fit it all in. She was confident and said that she had already figured out where to put things. When I got out, sure enough she had mapped out places for things in the trunk and in the back seat of the car including a place for the wheelchair behind my front seat. So there was little extra space in the back seat, which I’m sure helped then to prevent the two of them from getting hurt. If it had been an empty back seat they would have been tossed back and forth between the two sides of the car. Anyway, it wasn’t long before the helicopter took off and we had about a half hour getting to the hospital. I settled into the ICU. As far as what I got out of it, was a concussion, three ribs fractured, the sternum cracked (or something like that), and the one that I would least like to have chosen is that the second vertebra in the neck was fractured. So I was operated on that evening and they put in a metal screw. Very interestingly, before the operation our friend Steve Price had called me from Wales. He told me the two choices I’d have; either I’d wear a “halo” or they’d put the screw in. I asked him which he’d choose, and he said, “Well I’d go for the screw; it’s an awful thing to wear that halo.” So that’s what I opted for, and next thing I knew I was in the ICU bed with a collar around my neck to begin the process of recovery. I was in the ICU for a couple days, then went into another room. My friends Bill and Jackie had come down from North Carolina and the end of that is that I’m now in North Carolina with them for a couple of weeks and we’ll see what the next step is.
         The day following the accident Joy and Elisabeth were brought down to Richmond and they were staying with friends, I believe, because they hadn’t needed a hospital stay. On the 21st we drove a rather long night into about 1:00 am getting back to North Carolina where Bill and Jackie live. I’ve received a lot of calls, and I appreciate that. I can’t answer them all but I feel okay. It’s difficult to get food down because with this screw in the vertebra; it changes the route of the esophagus a little bit and you have to sort of learn again how to swallow. I can pretty much only eat food that’s not “rough” and of course I don’t have an appetite. My main concern is trying to get water and liquids down without them going into the wrong passage. The “elimination” process is always something I have to watch along with the pills that I’m taking. I’m walking okay; I’ve graduated to using a cane and I can hold Bill’s arm. (The last thing that one would want to have now would be a fall!) I’m sleeping downstairs and have no problem with the stairs. I just feel a little like Elisabeth must feel when we make her use the stairs for exercise! She, by the way, is staying with Valerie and there is another helper there also to assist with her care.
         On the 18th, there is another helper coming in to replace Joy. She is the senior in age of all the lovely lady helpers we’ve been blessed by, and she was recently relieved from her job of caring for an elderly wife and husband who both died. (Trust that won’t be an omen that is carried with her in her next ministry to us.)
         I don’t have any aches or pains to speak of. I did not take pain tablets every day as a routine; I may have had one day with some kind of narcotic. Of course I ache when I move my arms or with any sudden movement. The thing I wish would get better right quick is the wearing of the collar, but I’ll be wearing it for three months since any sideward or up-and-down movement of the head is limited. If you have a screw placed in and it is not healed there is the danger of moving the head and harming the spinal cord. So it’s just a little something to get adjusted to.
         I won’t give you any weather reports… there’s no need for that and this letter is overly long and discombobulated. But I have to go back and say I’m thankful to the Lord for the way the car was flipped, which was on the driver’s side so it didn’t go on the rear section and harm the others. (Of course out of that came the concussion, which I’m not sure if I mentioned, as well as a few bruises.) They thought my left arm was broken in three places but that turned out not to be so… it was just a little banged up. I did have hallucinations a few nights and I think it was from some drugs that they gave me. The first one could have had drastic consequences in that I thought I was at home and water was coming in under the floor and down the walls, and I had all this equipment around! Of course I had all sorts of lines and cables hooked into me and I managed to get my feet out and get them on the floor, and before the fellow came in answering the alarm bells I had already taken three or four steps and started to do something when he got a hold of me. Of course he was one of the ones I’d not want to see again…he started yelling, “What do you think you’re doing, don’t you know where you are?” I gave him the correct answer on that and they managed to get me back to bed and settled down but it was an awful night. The other hallucination—I didn’t get out of bed—but I might want to write this one down because it was a terrifying dream yet with a message of light. I was in a room that seemed to be below level and there were stick figures in the shape of “L’s” and “T’s” and “H’s”. They were black and twirling around. I couldn’t get out from there, but I was looking up and I could see up high it was lighter and the stick figures weren’t there. I said to myself, “I’m in hell! This is hell!” I banged back and forth trying to get out and couldn’t do it, so I told myself, “Only God can get me out.” I can’t remember the song but I started singing. I heard myself singing. It may have been two lines from two different songs but one of them was the old Baptist favorite, “All my life was wrecked by sin and strife, Discord filled my heart with pain, Jesus swept across the broken strings, Stirred the slumbering chords again.” The other thing I said in my dream was “The cross. The cross.” I kept repeating that to get out. I just wish I could write it all down and keep it so I don’t lose it from my memory. I might try to do that. 
         Well you’ve heard more than enough now, and I appreciate your prayers and the phone calls which I’ve not been able to answer. 
         Anyways we’re doing well and I’m thanking God that this was not a disaster for Joy and Elisabeth both. I’m trusting God that we will get full strength back in his timing.
                  Lars for Elisabeth (and I’m sure Joy also)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Update on L&E

Thanks for your comments, praying friends! I know Lars and Elisabeth both would be blessed to know that people they've never even met are praying for them.

Right now, Elisabeth is with her daughter Val in South Carolina. Lars is still recovering in a Virginia hospital. When I spoke with him yesterday he sounded groggy and confused because of the medications he's on, but was complaining about the bad food (a sure sign that he's still Lars!). He's looking forward to discharge but doesn't know when that will be yet. He underwent surgery to put pins in his fractured neck, and it was successful. He won't be able to live without care for quite a while so please pray as he and Elisabeth are separate that the Lord will continue to bless and give grace to them and their caregivers. There is a very long road of recovery ahead and L&E will need grace for each step in the difficult journey.

I probably won't be putting many further updates on my blog... but thank you for your prayers and concern!


Friday, May 18, 2012

Requesting Prayer For A Friend

"Doc" and I last summer 

Please pray for Lars Gren. Those of you who have followed my blog for a while have heard about my year with the Grens and how dear they are to me. Lars and Elisabeth spent Christmas with us and I haven't seen them since then, but had tickets to visit them at the beginning of next month. Last Tuesday, they were in a very serious car accident while driving to Texas. Since they were in the back seat, Elisabeth and her caregiver Joy were miraculously unharmed--PRAISE GOD!--But he's in the intensive care surgical unit with a fractured neck and several fractured ribs, among other injuries. I spoke with him a few minutes ago and he came through surgery ok but is in VERY rough condition and it's hard to even understand his speech. Thanks be to God, there's no paralyses. But there's a long road of recovery ahead with a lot of questions for the future.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Of dogs and birds

There is a joy in the journey...
There's a light we can love on the way. 
There is a wonder and wildness to life
And freedom for those who obey.
-Michael Card

NOTE: Some of the thoughts from this post have been birthed by reading John Piper's book,  "Desiring God." It's awesome.

My grandparent's dog, Chappy, is staying with us for a while. He's the cutest little fella. A miniature black Schnauzer. Usually tend to love the big manly dogs, but Chappy's just so stinkin' cute that we love having him around when Grandma and Grandpa are on vacation! 

A few minutes ago as I sat here in front of the computer, Chappy plodded into the room and stood near my leg for a moment. Then he licked it. It was so cute and random (because Chappy doesn't lick a lot) that it got my attention and I bent over to love on him a little. He amazes me--in fact, dogs in general amaze me--with their ability to adore humans! The ability to freak out with excitement every time we walk in the door, even if we've only been gone 10 minutes! When Chap hears the word "walk" his perky ears stick up and he gets wild with anticipation. He follows us around barking and practically bouncing with excitement. Same with the word "ride" or "treat" or the phrase"Where's your toy?" :) In short, Chap just kinda' loves life. So, we love being around him. 

I love searching for life lessons in unlikely places and animals never cease to provide fodder for that habit. God's been using Chap's antics to remind me He, too, loves joy. And He loves it when I am filled with joy. In His very presence is fullness of joy! (Psalm 16:11) 

I want to be one of the most joyful people in the world. I want to retain a childlike wonder and excitement in life, for the REST of my life. I've been striving to keep the wonder and joy in my life alive and this Spring it's been awesome! Standing on a dark night and gazing up at the moon,  just thrilling at the thought that God placed a beautiful, perfectly spherical, glowing ball above my head. Picking a single blade of grass and inspecting it; (really looking at it!) and smiling because of the perfect lines, symmetry, and smoothness, color and yes--beauty of a blade of grass. Rolling down the windows on a warm day and turning up the music and agreeing with Louie Armstrong (though not being quite so guttural about it) that yes, indeed it is a "Wonderful World!" Telling people that the dandelions on their lawn are beautiful (they're almost without exception horrified that I think so. Why are dandelions such villains anyhow? I guess maybe some day when I have my own yard I'll understand.) Kissing a resident in the nursing home where I work on the cheek and watching their face brighten...when's the last time someone kissed them, I often wonder? Laughing with my Gramps over a story he's telling me for the gazillionth time... just because it's HIM telling it and I cherish every second with him. Driving a little more slowly on my way home from work so I can take in the beauty of a green meadow, a blue sky with puffy clouds, or someone's carefully tended flower bed. Complementing God on His artistry in creation. It thrills me. 

Stuff like that. 
I could go on and on. And ON! 

I am purposely looking for ways to enjoy life; slapping my own face to wake me up from the stupor of just existing that I fall prey to like every other human. That stupor where the moon goes unnoticed. Dandelions become inconvenient. Grass becomes boring. Grandpa's repetitive stories become annoying. 

Why am I doing it? Not because I'm a Pollyanna wannabe. Not because it's good for my mental health and emotional wellbeing. Not because it makes people like me better. Pretty much just because I think it  makes God happy when I'm happy. I think that when He sees me enjoying life it thrills His heart and He in turn enjoys ME. I think that, much like I delight in the playful enthusiasm and quirky ways of Chappy, God delights in seeing those who He's created find joy in the world around Him and--most importantly--in HIM through it. 

I've been really making this a prayer of mine. "GOD, Give me JOY!" And He's doing it. He's seriously been filling my heart with joy and wonder and excitement about life at the most random moments. I'm grateful. Once again, I am reminded that when you ask the Father for a good gift, He'll give it. 

I know... I'm getting so wordy! You can stick with me or abandon the ship (and I wouldn't blame you!), for alas, for I'm about to get even wordier and post an excerpt from a piece I wrote a long time ago about my bird Uluru. Had to sell him two yrs. ago and I miss him! Here's why:

When I first bought Uluru, he was a young handfed baby. He was terrified of being taken out of his familiar cage, and when I brought him home all he would do was huddle in a corner. He didn't want to eat, drink, or do anything other than get away from me. He wouldn't make a sound other than an occasional miserable chirp. 

It was pitiful!

I'd been searching for a long time for the bird I would buy, and when I heard that he was "hand fed" and supposedly "tame" I had pictures in my mind of this darling little juvenile cockatiel who would snuggle on my shoulder and whistle me love songs. I kept on expecting him to come around once he was used to his new home, and in time he didn't fear me anymore. But he still didn't like me. He'd crouch in the furthest corner of his cage when I came near. He started to chirp and whistle after a while, but he didn't want ANYTHING to do with me. He simply tolerated me when I tried to hold him. He was quite happy to live life in his cage without my companionship.
What he didn't know is that I had bought him for just that reason! The whole reason I had searched for the perfect bird, purchased him, and traveled a long ways to get him was so that he could be my little buddy. :) 

One day I was sitting in my Bible study class, and my mind wasn't on the lecture. It wandered to Uluru at home in his cage... and I thought absently, "Goodness, I just wish he enjoyed me as his owner. I wish he WANTED to be with me. What good is it to have a pet who doesn't enjoy you?" Suddenly a thought hit me so hard. God said to me "Dani, that's exactly how I feel about you. I don't just want to 'own' you. I don't just want you to be My possession. I want you to enjoy Me so that I can enjoy you to the fullest! I created you to delight in Me and bring Me joy in your delight." 

Something clicked in my relationship with God when I finally understood that. I was sad over a little bird who didn't enjoy me, yet the God of the Universe, the High King of Heaven  had purchased me with his life's blood, and so often my attitude towards him was one of duty and obligation rather than adoration and delight.

Uluru finally came around, with time. Now my family and I laugh at the little "Dani Dance" he does when I walk in the room. He wants me to hold him so badly that he prances around on his perch, crouching and quivering with hope that I'll just look at him. When I place a treat in his cage, he doesn't even look twice at it. All he wants is to hop on my hand and have me scratch his head or give me kisses. He'd much rather have me than what I can give him. He's perfectly content to sit on my shoulder or my head for hours while I go throughout my day. Sometimes I'll be reading or working, and hear a plaintive little chirp. I'll look up and find that Uluru has been staring at me for who-knows-how-long, waiting for me to notice him and pick him up. (Awww! Who could resist the little guy!?) :) He wants to be with me at all times and his plaintive little chirp for attention reminds me of the constant cry in my heart, "my soul thirsts for the living God as the deer pants for water!" I want to be the kind of Christian who is constantly seeking God's eye... His presence... His blessing.
Goofing with Uluru a few yrs ago :)

And now that I've typed my fingers to the bone I will end abruptly. Because I'm getting really sleepy, and because I can't think of anything else to say other than this: I hope this post will encourage somebody who might read it to seek after joy.

The starting place is, of course, Jesus.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Heart Searching

Two questions:
1.) Do you struggle with a consistent feeling of condemnation when you come before God?
2.)Are you obeying God? 

Romans 8:1 says this: "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." 

The devil will come to us constantly, trying to make us feel condemned and separated by God. It's a feeling I've so often battled with. And yet, we have the ability to fight his evil scheme against our heart by the power of the Sword of God's Word. Does this verse bring freedom to you? If not, perhaps it's because there is an area of your life where you HAVE chosen deliberately to serve your flesh rather than the Spirit of God speaking to you. 

I know, because I have been there. 

Yesterday I did something that God has been patiently prompting me to do for years—yes, years. I don't know why He has been so kind and forbearing with me on this issue. I don't know how He's continued to love me and teach me and bless me in the midst of my weakness and fear and--let's face it, DISOBEDIENCE. I told myself this was a "struggle" in my life. Oh, how freely we use that term to pacify our conscience. "struggle" usually means "iniquity." 

God brought me to a point of desperation yesterday and I surrendered. What He asked me to do was perhaps the hardest thing I have EVER done. Hard, humiliating, beating to a bloody pulp my coddled flesh.
It hurt something like crucifixion must hurt. 

 But then there was freedom! Freedom...delight... tears in my eyes...and the longing, even, to do it all over again so I could experience the joy that was birthed by those few moments of painful surrender. How often, in the past ten years, did He want to gather me like a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings-- but I would not (Luke 10:34)? I grieve that. I'm ashamed of it. But oh, the freedom that His forgiveness brings, the joy His pardon washes over me...! 

I can read this verse without a nagging doubt in my mind, now. When that vague feeling settles on my mind that perhaps God is displeased with me, perhaps I'm not worthy to come before Him, perhaps I've sinned in some undefinable way, I can open to this verse, search my heart, and with a clear and authoritative confidence tell the devil to flee. 
I am NOT a slave to the flesh, by the grace of God!
I am a slave to the God Who loves me and gave His life for me! 
Therefore, no condemnation can touch me; it's like water dripping off a duck's back. :) 

Glorious truth!!

Jesus Christ, You are a loving, merciful God-- I am in awe of You. I love You so much. 
I'm Yours.