Our Star Spangled History

Are you ready for fireworks? What will you be thinking about while you twirl your sparklers or cover your eyes against the deafening “boom!”? What will you talk about while you sit in lawn chairs on the evening of the Fourth of July and taste homemade ice cream and watch the city’s fireworks display?

I made wonderful memories on those summer nights, many sticky-hot Fourth of Julys. Sometimes, when my sisters and I went to bed, we could still hear the neighbors setting of their fireworks and occasionally a really big one would light up our windows and keep us awake.

Now, think of the loudest, brightest firework you’ve ever seen and multiply it by millions. Then, you might begin to be able to imagine what Francis Scott Key saw the night he wrote our nation’s national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner.

It was during The War of 1812, when many brave men were fighting for America’s freedom from Great Britain. On the night of September 3, 1814, Mr. Key and another gentleman named, John Skinner, courageously boarded an enemy ship to try and convince the British to release another friend of theirs, a doctor by the name of William Beanes. While they were on board the enemy ship, Mr. Key and Mr. Skinner overheard the British’s battle plans to attack Baltimore. To keep them from warning the Americans, the British forced Key and Skinner to stay onboard until after the battle.

That night, Francis Scott Key stood on the deck of the enemy’s ship and watched as they bombed Fort McHenry which protected Baltimore’s harbor. As darkness fell, he could just barely make out the outline of the flag still flying proudly over Fort McHenry. As long as the flag flew, he knew that the Americans had not surrendered.

For 12 hours, the battle raged and the small American fort held its ground. In the middle of the night, bombs lit up the sky and rockets flashed through the air. Finally, before daylight, the bombing stopped. It was strangely quiet, and Mr. Key couldn’t see if Fort McHenry had been captured or survived.

Suddenly, very early in the morning, the mist cleared away and Mr. Key caught a glimpse of the red, white and blue flag still flying proudly over Fort McHenry. He was so excited, he felt like singing! Quickly, Mr. Key dug a piece of paper from his pocket; it was an unfinished letter. He began to scribble down a poem on the back of his paper.

Several days later, on September 16, Mr. Key, Mr. Skinner and their doctor friend were released. Safe in a hotel that night, Francis Scott Key finished writing the words to The Star Spangled Banner.

The poem was a hit and quickly put the tune of a familiar song. It was sung in many places and gained popularity, but it wasn’t until March 3, 1931, 117 years later, that President Herbert Hoover declared The Star Spangled Banner to be the official national anthem.

Most people know the words to the first verse of The Star Spangled Banner. And most people also know that our country was founded on biblical principles and the desire for every person to have the freedom to worship God as they wanted to. But very few people have heard, or remember the words to Francis Scott Key’s fourth verse. It is a beautiful poem that reminds us that God is the giver of freedom, our protector and the one in whom we place our trust.
“O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”

To read all four verses of The Star Spangled Banner and read some more history, click here.

Amazing Grace

I was privileged to publish this article in a  wonderful Christian publication for young girls called, ‘Tween Girls and God. It is a weekly publication available in electronic format on Amazon for only .99 cents, or sometimes FREE!

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Amazing Grace

You know how a song can get stuck in your head, playing over and over and over?

The folk hymn, “Amazing Grace”, widely considered the most popular hymn of all time, must be stuck in thousands of heads! In fact, one expert estimates that “Amazing Grace” is performed about a million times annually. Published in 1779, it could possibly have been performed as many as 2,350,000,000!

The author of the lyrics, John Newton, knew something about amazing grace. Although he was an English poet and preacher by the time he wrote the hymn, John Newton had been a pretty bad man.

When John was only six years old, his mother died. After that, he spent many years in a boarding school and with an uncaring stepmother while his father was away at sea. When he grew up, Newton became a ship merchant just like his father.

Sailors had a reputation of being wild and sinful, but John Newton was one of the very worst. Not only did he not believe in God, he made fun of those who did and insisted that God did not even exist.

Then one night, when John was 23, he was working aboard a ship when a violent storm rose up. Wind lashed at the ship and powerful waves threatened to tear it apart. Newton and one other man tied themselves to the ship’s pump so they would not be washed overboard and worked for hours trying to keep the ship afloat. Terrified, John Newton turned to his captain and said, “If this will not do, then Lord have mercy upon us!”

Two weeks later, the ship finally landed in Ireland; the crew was half-starved and the ship nearly destroyed, but John Newton knew that God had saved his life. He began to wonder if God had saved him for a purpose.

John Newton didn’t change his ways immediately. He fell in love with a Christian woman named Polly. In order to win her love and to please her parents, he tried to live a little better. Then, Newton’s health began to fail. Finally, at the age of 30 years old, he collapsed and never sailed again.

John began to study God’s Word. He even told others about how Jesus had saved him. At that time, he also met a new friend, a writer named, William Cowper. Together, they began to write songs for worship at their prayer meetings. They composed the song “Amazing Grace” and it was sung for the first time on January 1, 1773.

Originally, “Amazing Grace” had 13 stanzas with four lines each. Today we don’t sing all of them, but they are beautiful. They express the heart of a man who fully understood how amazing God’s grace is—it can save the worst of sinners.

Read all the words to “Amazing Grace” here!