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.

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The One In Whom

At 18-years-old, I stepped onto the sandy, Arizona soil in the driveway of an inpatient treatment center for the second time. Even after numerous counselors and previous inpatient treatment for anorexia, I still struggled with an addiction to exercise and food restriction. “Shipped off” to get well, I felt completely alone, unloved and abandoned by God and my family. My life didn’t appear to be “working out for good”. Circumstances seemed to belie the promises of a good God.

Many years later, my husband walked the sandy soil of Afghanistan, leading a company of infantry soldiers. Back home, I received one of the calls that every family member of a solider dreads. “We lost some.”

Patrick was the commander of Bravo Company 4/23. They had only been in theater a little over two months, when one of their strykers hit an IED (improvised explosive device) killing three men and maiming another. Hell broke loose on earth.

I watched my husband grapple with the agony and guilt of knowing he had been responsible for the men’s lives as their leader in combat. I felt like a mindless mist, moving through the motions of coordinating phone calls to the families, assisting to arrange the memorials and comforting the widows. Nothing looked like what I would expect from a good God. A few people voiced this.

“How can a good God let this happen? If God is in charge and powerful and loves us, why would He let these children lose their fathers?”

I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now. I don’t know how all this “works together for good”. I don’t know how this matches up with God’s Word, “I am the God who heals you.” I don’t know how lingering illness and addiction connects with, “It is for freedom that Christ set you free,” and “I have given you the power to tread upon snakes and scorpions and nothing shall by any means hurt you.”

God, how does this work?

If anyone ever had a right to pray that prayer, it was the apostle Paul. He spent almost six years of his ministry in a jail cell, he was whipped, shamed, ship wrecked and abandoned
(2 Corinthians 11:23-27). Finally, near the end of his life, he sat again on the cold damp concrete of a cell and wrote to the man dearest to his heart—Timothy. How desperately he wanted Timothy to be able to hang on to what Paul had taught him. He agonized over how to impress upon this young pastor:

Do not give up! Do not be dismayed by what appears to be. It may look like God has lost control, that perhaps He isn’t all that good—but Timothy—don’t give up. I haven’t. (paraphrase)

This kind of tenacious faith is exemplified in an Old Testament story:

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stared into the fire as flames leaped higher and higher.

“You have one more chance,” the Babylonian King told them. “You must bow down and worship my statue, or I will have you thrown into the fire.”

I wonder what raced through their minds. They had been faithful to God; they had not worshipped the idol. Surely God would rescue them! Surely, God wouldn’t allow them to be killed!

Their words in Daniel 3:16-18, teach us something amazing about faith, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.’”

The three men believed that God could save them! But even if He didn’t…

How do we have faith when the things we believe for aren’t happening? How do we have faith that God is good when bad things happen?

Hebrews 11 is often called the Faith Chapter. It lists many heroes of the faith, men and women who believed God against all odds, who had faith in God even when it looked like God wasn’t faithful.

Verse 39 says this, “All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised.”

Have you ever felt like that—like God hasn’t fulfilled His promises?
Have you had faith that God would do something, and then He didn’t?
Maybe you prayed that a loved one would survive cancer, but they didn’t.
Maybe you were sure it was God’s will that you find a job, or keep your job—but you didn’t.
Maybe you don’t understand what’s going on, or why God allows some things to happen.

When I feel this way, I am comforted by 2 Timothy 1:12, “That is why I am suffering here in prison. But I am not ashamed of it, for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return.” (emphasis added)

One weekend, my husband and I were driving through downtown Washington D.C. We were supposed to meet some friends for a baseball game, but as we wound through construction and down one-way streets, we got hopelessly lost—at least I did. I had no idea where we were going and I could see the lights of the stadium behind us. But I know my husband. He’s an incredible navigator. I knew he would get us there safely even if it looked for all the world like he was going the wrong direction. And sure enough, he got us to the baseball game on time!

You see, the secret is not what we believe. The power of our faith is not that we simply have faith, or even that we have hope. There will always be things we don’t understand and things that don’t seem to match up with what we believe about God. We may not understand what God is doing, but we have faith in who God is. We, like Paul, know who we believe, and that He is faithful.

Most world religions require faith. Most world religions have morality as their hallmark and eternal life as their goal. But, as Christians we do not merely have faith—faith in a reward for good behavior or faith in life after death. It is not mere faith that gets us through our troubles, sustains us in prison, or allows us to stand in the flames. The good news is not that you and I have faith, but that the One in whom we believe is faithful.

Intoxicating

barbed-wire-on-a-stormy-day-1117143-mHow good of you Lord, to wrap another day
In pre-storm quiet and low-hung gray.
Sweet, tingly scent of fresh-cut grass
Hangs lazy, expectant in the air.
Silence pierced as with tiny holes,
By bird-song here and there.

The air is due for washing,
Pollen latent, clings to walls and walks where,
In minutes or hours, pure rain
Will leave them clean and bare.

How Good is God–Creator God!
To mold the world for me!
And add the redbud highlights as far as I can see.
Intoxicating beauty, I try to hold my breath,
And wish, as Joshua, “Sun stand still”,
Let worship resound in me!

In kind deference, God gifted me this world
While cold and undeserving my fists still clenched and curled.
But in this gift so undeserved,
He radiates Himself,
In quiet, sweetness, and cleansing rain.

Right here I’ve come to know Him,
Right here to understand,
The vastness of His love for me,
The perfection of His plan.

My soul awakes, revives to sing,
My fists loosen and relax.
For here within His goodness
Drunken by His beauty,
Mesmerized by love…

I give with abandon all I have
So frail compared to this.
But in all He has, He only wants–what I alone can give:
My trust, my faith, surrender,
My life to largest hands,
The ones who sculpted all this world,
This intoxicating land.

Conviction at Christmas

Wishing You a Grinch-less Christmas!
Wishing You a Grinch-less Christmas!

Just before Thanksgiving, I signed on board with my SheLoves sisters to participate in Advent Acts of Kindness. We are each taking a day of this Advent season to share how God led us to practice kindness specifically and intentionally.

And as I told you yesterday, no one needs to tell us that it is more blessed to give than to receive. I think I figured that out the first time I spent my own allowance on Christmas gifts for my sisters. The anticipation of giving is the best part. Once I’ve selected the perfect gift, it’s all I can think about until finally, I cave beneath the mounting pressure of a secret and unveil the spectacular surprise, long before I’ve wrapped it and sometimes even before the tree is decorated. So when Julie Fisk wrote the post encouraging us to, “Celebrate Advent in a way that serves Christ and others in a tangible, physical way,” true to form, I couldn’t wait until the designated time.

What follows is a slight expansion of what I shared with you yesterday; continued musings on the proper order of thanks and giving:

Believe it or not, fun as it may appear from one side of the counter, barista is often a thankless job. This year, I discovered that my go-to Starbucks, my home away from home, my third place, my pick-me-up, my happy spot, my daily dive, was going to be open on Thanksgiving Day and all…night…long. So my puppy, Brave, (who benefits from most every visit there, as well) packed an oversized, red and green gift bag.

We loaded it down with hand lotion, peppermint gum, granola bars and odds and ends and dropped it off Thanksgiving evening just as the Black Friday crowds encroached upon the covered portico.

Giving is contagious, in a better way than the stomach flu. Recipients are often supernaturally compelled to bestow blessings on the next person they meet, or to turn and heap graciousness right back on the lap of the giver. 

And so it happened here. I haven’t been allowed to pay for my coffee once since Thanksgiving. So, the war is on. Last week, as I pulled up into the parking lot after a brisk dog trot along the river walk, I noticed, for what seemed like the first time, Chick-fil-a, only a stone’s throw from the Starbuck’s drive thru.

I’ve worked in food service before. In spite of being surrounded by sticky buns, soft pretzels, yummy wraps and cake pops, I’m pretty sure that my barista-friends seek any other option for their lunch break. I hustled into Chick-fil-a, postponing my coffee fix. Moments later, I stood at the coffee counter ordering my decaf-quad-grade-no-room Americano. When Ryan smiled at me and waved me past the register at no charge, I placed a Chick-fil-a gift card in his hand.

But there are other things I’m learning this season, things beyond thankful smiles and the warm-fuzzies of knowing I lifted another’s spirit. My mind keeps blinking like a crazed strand of Christmas lights. That’s because this giving thing feels so good – energizing in fact. But it’s got me thinking too, why don’t I do this more often?

Where does intentionality go most months of the year?

Why am I missing out on this feeling of explosive joy so much of the time?

Another thought that keeps sputtering in my subconscious: I am so painfully selfish.
If you could shine a flash light into the corners and cobwebs of my mind, I’d be squeamish. It’s the little things.

Things like only being intentional about kindness during Advent.

The amount of mental energy wasted on deciding if I should buy a new pair of pants, and then if I need new boots to go with them.
Then returning them because I feel guilty and feeling self-conscious next to the woman wearing super cute boots at church.

Searching for the least expensive version of the toys I promised for the toy drive at my church. Not wanting to send out Christmas cards because of the time and energy it requires.

The fact that it’s so easy to buy something tiny for myself when I’m out shopping for gifts for others.

These thoughts are blinking off and on. They’re real, they are conviction, concern and curiosity. And I’m not completely sure what to do with them yet. But I know the crux of this is my obsession with myself. Oh how I want to be so other-minded, so Christ-consumed that I see myself only as the shadow cast by the reflection of my Father’s joy and His children’s blessing.

Thankfulness

BIRTHDAYS – and the grace of God for one more year of rising sunshines, setting stars, longer hours – that He does it over and over, again and again. When nothing else is predictable – God is!

A job to go to – even if it’s early

Tough workouts and the satisfied feeling

Arguments – and the other side… someone to argue with (:

Iron sharpening iron

Thankfulness

Muscles rippling un-manned beneath brindled boxer’s shoulder

The truth of words printed millennia ago, the stunning veracity with which they predict my behavior and comfort my soul

That consternation and figuring is useless

New recipes (that flop) (:

Beth Moore LPL Devotional

The Beth Moore Live simulcast that I am helping to promote at Burke Community Church in Burke, VA is exactly 1 month away!  Recently, Lifeway began publishing a weekly devotional on their website.  Just to encourage you and if you’re in the area, encourage you to attend, I am including a link here . God bless you!

Devotional