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August 29, 2010

Urban Forest

There is something wonderful about being able to find silence, serenity and simplicity in a city park. Kofu Park in Lodi is a jewel in the city's park system. Huge grass expanses that drape the sides of sunken fields; multiple species of trees lining the crater's rim; a plethora of greens to enjoy --- all add to the pleasure of sitting on a bench under a spacious oak tree where you can breathe deeply and find a retreat from the weekly mayhem.

You won't be alone, most likely. The park is dog and people friendly as well. You will be entertained by canine antics and children rolling down the hills. And if you like baseball or soccer, you will be treated to these at certain seasons.

The city of Lodi will be adding an even bigger park next year. Tree planting will start in March, 2011. It will be a beautiful place in the years to come as those trees mature.

"God has given to us all things richly to enjoy." His creative genius has included a world of trees.

August 22, 2010

Hanoi Hilton Glory

The following was written by Air Force Captain, Eugene "Red" McDaniel, whose plane was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967. His experience in the Hanoi Hilton proves both the depravity of man and the grace of God.

"Between the pressure and pain were monotonous gray gaps --- tedious hours of boredom, endless hours of doing nothing but think and wonder and sometimes worry. To combat the mind-numbing dullness, we invented elaborate mental exercises to while away the time. We taxed our ingenuity and mental resourcefulness with mind games, calculations, remembering, construction projects, planning vacations, thinking through adventures and fantasies, reliving history, composing poems --- anything to keep our minds alert and alive.

"On Sunday mornings, we worshiped the Lord together, tapping our clandestine worship through the walls. We found bits and pieces of scripture buried deep inside our minds and shared them with one another --- missing words, missing lines, passages paraphrased. We prayed together, through the walls, then we closed our primitive worship service facing the east, each man in his own cell, toward the Gulf of Tonkin where we knew U.S. Navy ships were waiting offshore, as we pledged our allegiance to our unseen flag.

"We learned to pray for our guards, Spot and Rabbit, Jawbone and Sweetpea, Slug and the others who inflicted such ruthless torture on us. We learned to share our sparse food, to tend another man's wounds, to find and share the courage and strength we needed to meet each day.

"We put together, as best we could, a makeshift copy of the Bible. It could never be called the Living Bible or the King James Bible. We called it the Revised Prison Version. We wrote down all the scripture we could recall on pieces of toilet paper stuck together with glutinous rice. Ink was a problem We tried brick dust and water. We tried blood and water. Finally, we tried cigarette ashes and water, and that worked. The V.C. gave us three cigarettes a day in the good times when they were feeling generous, and we found all kinds of uses for the tobacco . . .

[A few years later in 1969]

"At some point during the seventh night [of torture], I became dimly aware that I wasn't going to make it after all. All the positive thinking, optimism, and hope I had so carefully nurtured from two long years was exhausted. I was going to die. And death would be welcomed.

"As I knelt crumpled on the floor in my own blood and wastes, I found myself yielding control to God. I found myself surrendering my fate to Him unconditionally. There was no more human resolve or pride or tenacity of spirit --- just surrender to Him: 'Lord . . . it's all Yours . . . whatever this means, whatever You have in mind now with all of this, it's all Yours . . . .' God knew my breaking point. He knew exactly when the torture had to stop. And it did stop, at the threshold of death. He had a larger purpose for me. He had spared me at my shootdown. He had graciously allowed me the privilege of serving beside men of great courage --- to help them find strength, and to receive strength from them in turn. He had preserved me through two long years of torture and deprivation. He delivered me that seventh night, as well. Kneeling there, empty before God, I was overwhelmed by the sheer awesomeness of His presence and profound awareness that He was forging a deeper dimension of faith and commitment in my life to glorify Him in the years ahead.

"He was not ready for me to die. He would bring me through four more years of imprisonment, back to my home and family, back from the brink of the grave. He would give me back my health, and I would testify of His power to heal. He would help me to see His divine purpose in allowing me to suffer, and He would use me as an example that others might know of His power and turn to Him for life.

"To my amazement, I was put in a cell with Windy Rivers and Ron Bliss, two outstanding Christians. They didn't recognize me at first because I looked like a specter out of hell. My eyes wee sunken, my skin turning jaundiced, legs pitifully swollen, body caked with scabs and sores, and my hands dangling limply at my sides. But they rallied on my behalf, and lovingly nursed me back to health. They fed me, shaved me, washed my wounded body, and even helped me to relieve myself. Jack Van Loan, another prisoner, massaged my hands for hours on end over several months, slowly bringing back the circulation. During that time, my broken arm finally began to heal.

[After being set free]

"For me, the Vietnam War is not over. It won't end until we bring home those men who were left behind in 1973. The ordeal won't end until my questions about my country's honor are answered. America has forsaken some of her highest ideals: liberty, justice, loyalty, righteousness. It was these ideals that kept me going from day to day in my captivity. They are the ideals that keep me going from day to day now in my search for answers to some deeply disturbing questions about my country.

"I know that God will give unmeasured grace and mercy to those men still held in bondage, just as He ministered to me in the Hanoi Hilton. He has not forsaken those forgotten heroes in their quiet suffering. He shares in their sufferings as He shared in mine. God is in Hanoi, in the jungle camps of Laos, and in the boxcars of the trains that move our men from one location to another so they can never be found. Nothing can separate them from the love of God. He will hold them in the hollow of His hand."

Today, Captain McDaniel is the founder and president of the American Defense Institute and the American Defense Foundation in Washington D.C. Both are committed to preserving a strong national defense of America.

August 14, 2010

Long Live the Maestro

My work routine can be extremely boring, which is why most of my team mates listen to personal radios. Since I operate a number of pieces of equipment, there are four of them posited in four different places. All cheap, flea market purchases, if I remember right.

Wearing earplugs all day forces some of us to crank up the volume. Thus, old hard rock blares at the folder and soft rock stirs the soul at the envelope press, while shipping may listen to Christian or sports broadcasts and I listen to Christian, news, talk, smooth jazz, or classical. Hector, one of the pressmen, plugs in his earbuds, so we don't hear his sports news. It must be shocking for a visitor to walk into the finishing department and hear Edvard Grieg's Piano Concerto in A Minor blaring in their right ear and Jimi Hendrix's Purple Haze blasting in their left ear.

I ask myself, "Why am I the only one who grooves on Classical music?" Now that's an interesting term, "groovy." It sits on the shelf gathering dust, just like the records that gave it birth. Its current replacement? How about "Oooh, that bytes!" Slang changes --- classical music is here to stay.

There are still classical music radio stations! There are still aisles and aisles of classical CD's in the music stores. People still play orchestral instruments in real life orchestras. Even Stockton, CA, has a symphony orchestra! Composers still compose. Audiences still pay to hear them. They just don't utilize Mosh Pits, jump up and down and scream during the performances. It's not that they aren't emotional. Many movements bring tears and smiles. They save their yelling for the end. Kind of like many of us will do when we die and are freed from the sin and pain of this life as we enter the presence of our Creator and Redeemer.

God is the great composer of history as He "works all things according to the counsel of His own will." His encore will open with the theme, "a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away . . . and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away."

Eternal bravos for ever and ever!

Note: Our three composers above are Edvard Grieg, Ludwig van Beethoven and Henry Purcell.

August 10, 2010

A Certain Sphinx

There are a number of Sphinx moths in California, all with different 'first names.' They range in size, shape and color, interestingly, or strangely, as your opinion divines.

I found this guy (or girl) on an iris leaf in the front yard after work. It looked like a dead leaf from 6' away while I was watering. But leaves don't flutter when they get sprinkled, so I took a closer look. It's markings were striking on it's 3" wingspan, and I hurried to get my camera. There was no need: this wasn't a butterfly! This was a half-asleep moth. But it was in the shade and the shots were pretty bad.

After dinner I went out and put it in a jar to identify it using the Internet. It's called an Achemon Sphinx, looking almost identical to the east coast version, the Pandora, which is greenish. The California version is brown, with black (dark brown) spots and pink secondary wings.

After it, I put it on the grape leaves in the back yard to get some better shots. I had to force the main wing out to get the lower wing to show it's pink color. In about 5 minutes, the little guy started fluttering his wings for about a minute, then launched into the air, flying slowly over the grapes on the fence and into (and beyond) the front yard again.

Just then, a small white butterfly scurried around the tomato plants and finally settled on a green tomato. You have to sneak up on butterflies, just like birds and dragonflies. I was only able to get one picture before it skedaddled.

Life is full of unseen beauty, ready to show it off before your very eyes.

August 7, 2010

Swings and Rainbows

The mornings are beautiful-
The breeze is cool.
Sprinkler spray drifts across the lawn,
Painting rainbows in the sunlight.

The empty swing is swaying-
I can almost hear the laughter.
I think you can, too.

Maybe there will be swings
And rainbows in heaven.
I think so. Do you?

August 1, 2010

Providential Mercies

Our hour at the Micke Grove Zoo south of Lodi was just ending. Angel and Barbara were in the outdoor gift shop looking for that one item that Angel couldn't leave without. I was waiting for them by the pond next to the entrance, watching gall wasps bouncing by the thousands at my feet.

Suddenly a popping that sounded like firecrackers increased to an explosive crack, and a 2 1/2 foot branch from an oak tree came crashing down 15 feet in front of me. It stretched from the park across the street onto the sidewalk, grazing the zoo entrance. One boy was hit from behind while his sister was scratched on her arm. Thankfully, no one was directly under it, or they would have been crushed. The boy was able to walk to the ambulance and seemed to be okay.

The crowd came running immediately after it happened, wanting to help and make sure no one was trapped. The park employees were especially organized and able to keep people away from the precariously hanging branch, care for the young boy and get help directed to the location.

We thank God that no one was killed in this accident. You can see the pictures HERE.