From whom all blessings flow...


Yesterday was Veteran's Day--when we honor all the men and women who fought in all the wars since American became a nation.  I wanted to go to a special service at a church nearby, but was too tired.  So I just called a couple of elderly men in our church and thanked them for what they did back in WWII.  Both seemed quite shocked that I called, but there was a special reason I did it.

Growing up in rural America, I had never known what it was like to not be free.  We never felt that there was any restrictions on us...we could pack up and move to the next county or state anytime we chose.  We could select our career and choice of jobs, whatever church we chose to worship in.  The thought that it could be otherwise never entered our minds.  I knew nothing of oppression.  Thanksgiving day was the gathering of family members nine miles out of town at Grandma's house and an entire day of feasting on the traditional favorites.
We lived on an unpaved road two blocks from the main highway and the town business district.  I could walk to my father's drug store in about ten minutes if I cut across the vacant lot in front of the Presbyterian church.  Next door was the fire station, then you were on main street, where there was a bank, two grocery stores, a furniture place,  the local theatre, a variety store, and a hardware business.  We had a courthouse square, and I remember a sign that told how the famous Chisolm cattle trail came through at that spot.  Just a small-town where the local farmers, cowboys, and oil workers traded and sat around on car hoods and whiled away Saturday nights.  Up the road was the railroad station.  Once a week, a train called the "doodle-bug" came through on its way west, and as you followed the highway you saw the local school,  the Baptist church, and a couple of gas stations.   Then you were out of town.  Not much in that little place of 2,000 inhabitants. 
But then came the war...
Down my little street were ten houses.  The Burlesons lived in a large house on the corner across the street.  They lost a family member.  On our right lived my Sunday School teacher.  Her husband survived the navy sea battles and came home after the war.  But her sister's husband was a pilot and went down over Europe.  She was a nurse, and served out her widowhood in the Red Cross.  Two doors down on our left lived my best friend, Winky.  Her older brother was killed in a plane crash.  And next door  to them lived a judge. His son went through the Bataan death march and escaped, only to come back and lose his life when the plane he was ferrying to California lost power, and he rode it down to avoid a school. 
Four men lost who belonged on a street with just ten houses...
I was only eight at the time and I would be eleven--almost twelve when WWII ended.   But events during those early adolescent years have stayed vivid in my mind--even today it all seems a swirl of events that are impossible to forget. 
While in Australia last year, I purchased a book from a man who was on the streets  selling his story of life under Nazi occupation in Poland.  He and I were the same age, yet after all of these years both of us could recount those times as if they had happened only yesterday.  
Whether in Europe, in the Philippines, or in West Texas, children are children--and all of us went to war, for we found ourselves surrounded by a pall of sadness and hard times.  I can still remember the screams of mothers as they heard the news of Pearl Harbor and for a long time I kept the shreds of a zipper and a charred watch in a cigar box.  It had belonged to an airman who was killed during flight training about ten miles from my hometown.  My father had taken us to the crash site and as we wandered around, I saw those two items and picked them up.   I felt so sorry for that young airman, and the only way I could express that sorrow was to think of him from time to time, hold that twisted watch and frayed zipper in my hand and cry.  They both smelled of burnt fuel.
I was fortunate to have benefited from all that sacrifice.   Because of it, I got to live the rest of my life in freedom, most of it enjoying the liberty to pursue all my dreams and aspirations, to worship or not worship whatever God I chose, to live wherever I wanted to.  No one told me I could only have one child, or that I had to hide myself behind a veil.  I could vote for my choice of candidates, speak and write my opinions without going to prison for it. 
I chose my pathway--some of it to my own determent, because I forgot that the freedom to do so was not something that came about just because I happened to live  in America--but because of the kind of America I lived in.  It was part of the spiritual DNA we had inherited from our forefathers, who knew that the freedom I  took for granted was priceless and worth the sacrifice. 
That price of freedom was not always paid on Normandy beaches or in the tiny hamlets of hopeful Pilgrims.   Throughout history, we see the  tumultuous struggle
in every generation, in every nation and place on earth.
 In a Muslim country I once visited, I stayed in a house with some Christian friends.  They had not told me in advance of what would happen that night--it was all in secrecy.  But as darkness fell, there were knocks on the door as several young girls came inside to hear me speak to them about Jesus and pray for them.  Laying their headscarves aside, they sat attentively as I told them about the Lord.  They had no bible and could not attend a Christian church openly.   Then they wanted more--"please teach us some songs" they pleaded.  Far into the night they listened, cried, and prayed, and rejoiced.  They had risked their very lives to come hear me tell of Jesus...and they did not want to leave.  But the time came when they knew they had to go. So they left--and I never saw any of them again.  The pastor who had witnessed to them and brought them to that house  told me that he was a fugitive now...simply because of he dared to share his faith in God with Muslims. 
In the Maldives Islands, in China, in and women, boys and girls, long for the tiniest morsel of freedom.  In the refugee camps, the squalor of large cities, there is the human bondage that is created by those who oppress and suppress; dictate and rule by the sword, the prisonhouse.    It has always been this way since time began. 
We here in America celebrate Thanksgiving as a time of feasting and coming together of family.  But the very first Thanksgiving was much more--it recognized the Lord God as the giver of every good and perfect gift--that it was from the Eternal One that all blessings flowed. They thanked the Lord that He had taken them through disease and sicknesses, near-starvation and the cold winters. (Out of the original colonists, less than 1/2 had survived at that point).  A costly price had been paid on the altar of freedom. 
Thanksgiving would not become a recognized national event until George Washington made it so in 1789.   Then Abraham Lincoln officially proclaimed it as a national celebration  in 1863, as a way of uniting the north and south. 
But the question we must always answer about Thanksgiving is this: To whom do we give thanks for all our blessings?  The soldiers who fought for it?  The Pilgrims who struggled for it? The countless martyrs who suffered to proclaim it?  Yes, for each one of them we give praise and rightful honor.   Yet far beyond that, to the Eternal One "from whom all blessings flow".  For until we become thankful for that, we may live in a free society, eat turkey and pumpkin pie,  but never know and experience freedom from the bondages of sin that will always enslave us no matter what place we call home.   
It was Jesus Christ whose mouth quoted these words:
"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the oppressed, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound." (Isa 61;1)
I once had a vision of myself inside a prison. It had a small barred window, and then the familar bars on the doorway. As I sat on the floor, I noticed a small ant scurrying in and out.  "Must be nice" I thought.  "You can go in and out so easily." Then the Holy Spirit reminded me: "Only because it is small enough, Mary."  I saw then that my freedom was not bound by bars, but by how much of myself was standing in the way. 
The irony of it all is this:  Even in the darkest and most oppressed places on earth, men and women can know freedom and with thankful hearts worship Him in Spirit and in Truth---an eternal, never-ending celebration with no set date or time.   For only "he whom the Son sets free, is free indeed." 
November, 2004