Peace That Passes Understanding
A Thanksgiving for it...
Travel puts us into the lives of different people. We get to observe how they interact with one another--their opinions and fears, their goals (if any), and their struggles with life itself. A recent visit to several places taught me a lot.
Being an elderly lady, my life has spanned across many successive generations. My eyes and mind have been privileged to live this book from cover to cover, and I can see why most of this latest generation alive today find it difficult to relate to my first chapters. And I am sad that it so. It seems as if this generation has been robbed of a knowledge we acquired long ago, even in a time we didn't realize it was happening. For as time goes by, I look back to the simpler times of my early childhood as perhaps one of my greatest blessings. It taught me how to weather the storms....
People seemed so burdened--yet they sometimes find it hard to express just what that burden is, as if they never had the time to sort it out. Life seems a blur--zipping by so fast. The TV remote comes close to describing what I saw: the fast-forward would obliterate unwanted involvement; a search of channels scanned all until the mind locked onto some new interest. But the escape from reality only had the same effect as some drug to dull the senses from having to return to face the unsolved and unresolved...however temporarily.
I wanted so much to sit and tell them about life as we lived it "back when", but there never seemed to be the time to do so.
Growing up in wartime America, life generally revolved around a repetition of daily chores to be done. Despite the lack of certain things, it was never once considered a sacrifice to do without sugar and canned goods. We worked the "victory gardens" every day during the growing season, gathered scrap iron and wrapped bandages at the Red Cross center and took note of every window with a little flag reminder that someone was praying for a loved one overseas in lands we never knew existed. Yet there was a kind of gentle peace that seemed to govern our lives, despite the sadness of war. For we had a way of dealing with life that did not send us running to the psychiatrist nor cause us any concern that we might be considered "odd". We didn't talk about problems as much, but talk focused more on the good we saw all around us: watching each season bring its peculiar joy--the first tulip bulb to poke through frozen ground, an emerging green leaf in the springtime, the falling of a gold one in the fall; the arrival of the first cardinal and the familiar V as flocks of ducks paid their visits, procreated, and then left when the snow fell.
The lives of people around me were also interesting for their unique and diverse ways:
Lady Crutchfield Though her native England was being pounded by Nazi bombs, an old and aged neighbor, Lady Crutchfield, had let joy in her English garden kept her alive long after she should have expired. The smell from her lavender bushes would always treat me as I walked along her sidewalk on my way to school. And I can still see the larkspur towering over her pansies...
Ollie Clarke The office of the local county newspaper was a fascinating place. My curiosity had one day led me to be invited inside by a rather heavy-set woman named Ollie. There she showed me how type was set by hand-- the words had to be put in backward and I learned how tedious it was for someone to do it. But I could see that the pride of that first copy had made it all worthwhile, as smiles came across every face in that creaky old office. Soon people would be reading the local news, then using the same paper to start the fire in the fireplace or for cat litter. Yet these same people knew that there were some who would never destroy their copy. A son, a husband's picture, was in the obituary section.
But next week there would be another edition, and joy and pride would repeat itself once again in a tiny corner of that old, musty office. For they had managed to mingle good things along with the sad and place their hearts of compassion in every letter of lead type. A silent mourning "with them that mourn" and a rejoicing "with them that rejoice" over some new birth.
William Dyess Judge Dyess and his wife lived down the street. Their only son, William, returned from the Bataan Death March, alive and a hero whose story broke in the New York Times. I can remember his handsome young face and the big welcoming we had at the high school stadium. Hundreds came to hear him speak, as he had been the first officer to escape Bataan and bring back the horrid news of atrocities. Yet only a few months later he would ride his disabled airplane into a vacant lot to avoid a schoolyard of children, somewhere in California.
Death was such a cruel monster, but the struggle to understand it was placed in the what we had learned over and over again about the greatest act of love of all...the sacrifice of one life for another. So we just held and honored his memory in that special place--along with many, many others.
Lynette Moore Things were never easy for my aunt Lynette. As an infant, she had fallen from a highchair and become a cripple. Her back broken, she was left less than four feet in height; every dress she wore had to be handmade to fit over her hunchback. If she ever endured pain, you would never have known it--Lynette always wore a smile.
So Lynette never married, never had a home of her own, but moved among her sibling families--staying for a few months, then moving on. Her sole possessions were so few, they could be put inside a suitcase for a small child. Yet, remarkably, Lynette became a fixture in my memory that when I think of her, I only see a small woman sitting in a chair, silently reading a Bible in her lap. When she died suddenly at an early age, no one seemed interested in that Bible, so I asked if I might have it. Later, opening its pages, I saw where she had studied it well--for it was full of notes she had taken. But there were also prayers scribbled on the flyleaves and empty spaces--prayers for every family member, including me.
Perhaps she had also prayed for cripples such as herself; for many years later on an island in Indonesia, one such afflicted man dragged himself along the sandy beach to where I sat waiting to share the Gospel with a group of young people. Tears were streaming down his cheeks. Through my interpreter, he told me that he felt conviction for his sins and wanted to know what to do about it. So I led him to Christ and prayed with him. Then I reached down and placed a Bahasa Bible in his trembling hands and watched him drag himself back to where he sat leaning against a tree--devouring the precious words. Then I thought of Lynette...her tragic, brief life had touched more than mine, and the Lord had allowed me to see the fruit of her unselfish prayers.
So it is getting easier to distinguish people who seem to have found that "peace which passeth understanding" the Bible talks about. Though rare in an age of unprecedented problems, whenever I do find such people, they shine like the glimmer of a golden nugget in a gold pan. There is a calmness and sense of trust in God which truly transcends understanding. For those who would demand that it be explained, it cannot, for it is not the peace that comes when problems go away or pain is extinguished. Rather, it is the peace that can be found only in knowing Him: the Prince of Peace.
Knowing this allows us to live this life and measure its success, not in the big "splash" we might have made by our own accomplishments, but in how much good of it remains in the memories of those lives we might touch while we live it.
And far beyond.
MARY E. ADAMS
Thanksgiving, November 2006