Archive for the ‘Essays’ Category

Two brothers, two nations, and what divides them

She was hated by one, yet loved by another; the God of the father of her illegitimate child. The Egyptian maidservant approached his tent with trepidation.

Abraham didn’t want to do it, but he had no choice if he wanted to keep Sarah happy. Hagar and Ishmael would be cast out, homeless and destitute, they set out alone in the barren wilderness with no promise of a future, and certainly none of the ‘promised inheritance.’ That was reserved for Isaac, Abraham’s legitimate son and rightful heir to the Jewish nation of God’s chosen to inherit His coveted blessings.

Hagar could not bear to watch Ishmael die, the first-born son of a Jewish father. There was not enough food to sustain them both, so she chose to die, so he could live.

Was it an omen of things to come, a future not yet prophesied? She gave him what was left of the rationed bread, then walked away alone to die. But, the God of Abraham did not walk away from her. He heard her cry, and saw her tears. He spared them both, and the Palestinian nation was born. But, their God was not the God of Abraham.

This story is not fiction, but true. The bible does not give the date and time of this historical event which separated two brothers, and divided a family. Yet, each of these two boys would lead their own to the creation of two cultures and two nations living side by side. It was hate then that sent her away, and it is hate today that divides them still.  

But, although Abraham and Sarah made mistakes then there were other decisive moments later that proved and tested the faith and strength of a man obedient to God who was willing to sacrifice his beloved legitimate son, Isaac on an altar to God. But, God stayed his hand in time before Isaac was slain. A transition and period of time in between events shows Abraham’s strong character and maturity changing forever the direction of his life, his descendants’ lives and ultimately the destiny of Israel’s.

Today, centuries later we see still the turmoil and unrest in the Middle East as reports come almost daily of terrorist’s acts, missiles and rockets fired at Israel, and new threats of war as tensions rise and Iran promising the destruction of Israel, a country blessed by God since its creation. There is no ‘deal’ or treaty that will work to stay the hand of a country like Iran that seeks to destroy another.  

It is not just the prophetic events that unfold before our eyes, but the same hatred and animosity that has prevailed since Abraham’s time. We can pray for the peace of Jerusalem, the Middle East, even the world, but unless the tide of hate turns, and evil is eradicated completely there will always be those who bear the kind of hate and evilness that wishes only to destroy life, not preserve it.    

You can find the stories of Abraham in Genesis, chapters 21: 1-20, and 22:1-14. of the Old Testament, NIV

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Joyce E. Johnson (2015)

 

 

 


Roads taken

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A scenic route in Vermont, New England, U.S.
photo by:  Joyce E. Johnson

The roads that take us places, whether literally or metaphorically are ones that fill our mind and life with indelible memories to visit from time to time, hopefully happy ones. That was the case with this trip we took years ago to the New England states, where American history was charted and documented.  We have taken two trips like this to the New England states, and both were memorable with a lot of great pictures of all the places we visited like the farmland and beautiful trees in Vermont changing color as shown in the above photo. We took walks along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean of New Hampshire, visited Plymouth Rock and the restored Mayflower in Massachusetts, the waterfront of Boston Harbor, the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall of Philadelphia, Niagara Falls, the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island in New York,  a lighthouse in Portland Maine, Arlington Nat’l Cemetery in Virginia, and the White House, Capitol, and Supreme Court buildings in Washington DC.  Our second trip included some travel up into Nova Scotia (via ferry) visiting Halifax and cities up and down the northern and southern coastline.

Both of these trips were like a whirlwind, blurring the hours and days in too short a time to ponder the things seen. But, still it was a wonderful way to see the different culture, lifestyle, and meet the people along the way, and learn about their region’s history, or even a bit of their own. Sometimes significant things, big or small leave indelible  impressions that make that trip an unforgettable one. One of those things the trips back east did for me was to make me more aware, knowledgeable and thankful for the foundation laid by our country’s founding fathers in the USA. Those founding principles of,  ‘truth and freedom, justice, and the pursuit of happiness’ that are found written in our constitution were not just paths chartered for that time, but also ones to pave a foundation for a more unified nation today. It is a lasting legacy we can or should be reminded of.  Metaphorically there may be some roads we may not want to return to if unhappy ones, but some we need to re-visit, if for no other reason than to just be reminded of what we once had in this country, and from where we’ve come, if we still have it, or still want what we once had, and the sacrifices of those who pioneered and charted the roads we take today. I count my blessings for what I have, and for what I’ve gained by right as a U.S. citizen. But, I do not curse my country for what it cannot provide me. We may travel different roads, take different paths, believe differently, but at some time or other we intersect or meet along the way like the pilgrims and Indians when they celebrated their first Thanksgiving together. It was their coming together, the unity and sharing for that time that they celebrated, and what we should still cherish and celebrate today. It gave our ‘founding fathers’ hope back then that whatever comes, whatever befalls this country there is still a reason to hope, to hold fast to things cherished, and celebrate what we have. It is why I love the approaching time and holiday of Thanksgiving, and feel blessed that we have much to give thanks for.

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Joyce E. Johnson (2013)

Remembering our veterans who fought for our freedom

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Three Vietnam Veterans who fought and served during the war

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Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall, Fort Collins, Colorado, May 24, 2013

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Huey helicopter used during Vietnam War for combat missions and for transporting troops to and from battle zones

Last Friday my husband and I viewed the traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall with the 58, 261 names on it of soldiers who died in one of the longest and least understood wars of our country. The traveling wall is 80 %  the original size of the one in Washington, DC and the largest one made for the sole purpose of being transported and set up at cities around the country so it can be viewed on Memorial Day.  Fort Collins, a city seven miles north of mine in Northern Colorado was happy to  host the traveling wall for this particular Memorial Day. It is provided and set up by the American Veterans Tribute organization based in Flint, Tx. With this display came some other things not often seen by the public, yet just as impressive. One was the Huey helicopter used in combat missions and for transporting troops to and from the battle zones during the war between 1965-1975.  My husband, Wayne and I were eighteen in 1965 when the draft was implemented and men were called up to serve. Unless one was enrolled in a four-year college, physically disabled, or married with children there was little chance of being exempt from serving. My husband was placed in the exempt status because he was enrolled in a seminary in 1966-1970 and was required to achieve and retain a 3.5 GPA while in school. We were married in 1966 and he remained in the exempt status throughout school and after. Other friends and classmates were not as fortunate and were drafted and sent into the war. The U.S. was pulled into the war to help the South Vietnamese retain their democratic hold over the fight with the North Vietnamese Communist regime and the Viet Cong. But, the war was lost for the South Vietnamese with the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) conquering all, moving in and gaining control on April 30, 1975. It was a war that was unpopular to begin with and caused such political conflict within congress and the current presidential administrations that when the war was over and our surviving soldiers and nurses came home, many were treated with disdain and left destitute while trying to find a job and start over and many more left with disabling injuries for the rest of their lives.

In 1998 when Wayne and I vacationed on the east coast and visited the war memorial sites in Washington, DC, we saw the original beautiful granite wall memorial there. It is one of the most moving ones I have ever seen. Once again, this time while viewing the traveling wall it was a very solemn and emotional time as names were read, taps played, one playing the bagpipes while marching slowly before the wall, and the 21 gun salute heard, the service ending with a prayer from a chaplain. This Memorial Day tribute with included photos here is to honor those vets who served and fought, and for those who died in this war.

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Joyce E. Johnson

ABOARD THE TRANS-SIBERIAN IN COMMUNIST RUSSIA, MAY, 1989

ABOARD THE TRANS-SIBERIAN IN COMMUNIST RUSSIA

A true story

By: Joyce E. Johnson

It was May, 1989 when I made the journey alone, flying from the U.S. into Helsinki, Finland where I changed planes and airlines, finally arriving in Moscow, Russia, and the (now former) Soviet Union. I was commemorating the 100th year anniversary of my paternal grandfather’s immigration into the U.S., through Castle Gardens, New York City, New York in 1889. Known as the Germans from Russia his family were part of the original settlers in South Russia in the late 1700 period who first settled in villages of Bessarabia (now known as Moldova) founded and farmed by the early Germans.

I grew excited, and anxious to visit the city of Odessa and Ukraine, the city and region of his birth and family history. Other cities on my itinerary included Moscow, Kiev, Kharkov, and Leningrad, a city then named for the Bolshevik, Vladimir Lenin who birthed and led the revolution for the socialists’ regime of old Motherland, Communist Russia.

During the many years of genealogy research I learned about a country steeped in mystery with a dark past, one with a multitude of hidden secrets covered under layers of propaganda, lies and classified files. Democracy was but a word spoken in anxious moments of feverish excitement among Russians gathering on street corners, expectant, yet still afraid to speak out against the Kremlin and politburo’s party members.

Now, one hundred years later I was living my dream to travel abroad into this massive country. Due to job commitments my husband could not take this trip with me so I traveled alone until meeting up with another group of tourists from the U.S. in Moscow.

Most of the traveling we did between cities in the Ukraine was by the Russian airline Aeroflot, but due to a change of plans on our itinerary we took a Trans-Siberian train from Kharkov to Kiev.

My roommate Betty said. “Oh. That trip will take all night. We’ll lose time, and have to sleep on a crowded car.”

I tried to be optimistic and adventurous, and said, “That’s great! This will be exciting. I love trains. We can see the country side and enjoy the ride.”

Betty and I were assigned to share a compartment of four beds with an older, married, Jewish couple.

I noticed the Russian people staring as we waited to board the train. I smiled at them wishing we were allowed to speak to them or communicate in some way. I knew no Russian except for a few words I had learned in haste while studying my guidebook. Only our Russian guide Sasha and escorts knew English, so communication was difficult. It was also forbidden between Russians and American, except through a host.

I trudged with baggage to the train, an icon to their past. I anticipated with excitement the adventure ahead. The large, steel, black monster sat hissing, ready. The smells of live chickens in crates, stale produce, coal and the thick, hot layers of old fuel oil permeated through the rank rail yard as we longed for fresh air.

I tried to imagine who the train might have carried, famed or regal inside its cars. Transfixed with the thought of what it represented to Russia’s past, I climbed aboard with the rest of our group and we were ushered down the aisle of its cold, dark interior. While being shown to our sleeper compartment, I heard the slow chug of engines as it moved slowly out of the railway station.

It was past midnight when I later awoke. Looking out through the dirty glass window, I saw the dark silhouette and shapes of sleeping villages as we sped by. A faint glow of light peered through windows of small houses near the tracks.

I climbed out of my bottom bunk bed to use the restroom at the end of our passenger car. I quietly went to open our compartment door to step out into the aisle trying not to disturb the others.

The door would not open. I tried without success to unlock it, fiddling with the handle and lock. My attempts to unlatch it woke the others. They got up and tried also, but it would not open. Their eyes and faces showed fear, anger. I hoped mine did not.

As our train sped through the Russian Steppes, I sat down and prayed while my traveling companions yelled and screamed for help.

“Help. We’re locked in. Open the door! Somebody!” They each frantically pulled and yanked on the door latch. They were terrified we’d been deliberately locked in.

I chose to remain calm, encouraging them. “They will come. Stay calm.” I said.

We learned while on the trip a lot of things malfunctioned in this country, as their hotel facilities, equipment and transportation modes still operated as if in pre-world war II times. The Soviet Union was decades behind the West in every conceivable way.

We knew that the KGB and uniformed guards were our constant shadow everywhere we went from city to city. A man stood watch just outside our compartment when we boarded, so I knew he heard all our distress and took note of all that went on. Had he been the one to lock us in, or was the door latch only broken and jammed, making it difficult to open? We did not know, but our mind was spent with the possibilities of how this happened, and why.

Our tour guide held all our visas and passports. They were not allowed back until the time of our departure from Russia. Every place, location, hotel and transportation mode provided for us was arranged by their own In-tourist KGB travel bureau and all under the watchful eyes of discrete escorts that carefully blended into the background.

Soon, we heard those on the other side of our compartment working the latch and lock to get it opened. There was much confusion and chatter that followed about why or who might be responsible, if indeed someone was.

When we were finally freed from our compartment, and coming into the Kiev Trans-Siberian station I saw the sun rising, declaring a new day. I hoped it would be better than the night just spent in a compartment we could not be freed from.

When I arrived back home to the U.S. there was a little American flag flying outside the front door of our house. My husband had placed it there to welcome me home, never knowing anything about what went on while I traveled in Communist Russia thousands of miles apart. Mailed postcards I sent home to my family from Ukraine did not arrive home in my mailbox until ten days after my return. Three weeks after I returned home I wrote my story, submitted it to the Times Call Longmont, CO. newspaper, and it was given a full-page with my submitted photos. The picture above is one of the newspaper copies I still keep.

The trip was one I will never forget, one I will always remember, and one I have never regretted taking.

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Joyce E. Johnson

‘Singing’ to a mixed audience

Singing, or writing to a mixed audience is sometimes a complex thing. We writers are vain. I am, I will admit. We want recognition for what we write, praise for the piece, and honest feedback if we value others’ input. But, humility? Yes, that is important to me too. As writers we thrive on inspiration, and enjoy writing in the process. A writer cannot write to please all. So, how to choose what is most important to them. An old rule some people live by: don’t discuss religion or politics, so those are subjects some writers will maybe skirt around. If one is a politician how can they not write about politics? It would be as natural to them as delivering speeches. Understood! And when one is a Christian, or has another kind of faith, or belief? Well, again they will want to share and write on what they believe or feel strongly about. Understood! But, I also care about how my writing voice is received, whether I write fiction, or just prose or poem of another genre. Since I have written both fiction and non-fiction I cannot say which area or genre is where my most potential lies, but fiction is what I love writing most. Yet, it is often the non-fiction works that carries more impact. It is what influences one into remembering what they read if it hit a chord or note somewhere. And so that is where I stand now; at a sort of intersection in my writing. Do I write only to entertain? Or write to deliver a message? And what message? Sometimes it is just best to change direction for a while, and travel down a another path to test the potential there. What to do. What to write. Needing new inspiration and direction. As a Christian, and a writer I strive for wisdom in whatever I do, whatever I write. But, hopefully there are those out there in the blogging/writing audience that enjoy, or do not mind the variety in the venue found here on my blog whatever tune I choose to sing to (speaking metaphorically). And, I hope there will be those who enjoy my ‘voice’ and the music (genre) I use to sing to, and will stay tuned to my channel, and I will try to not disappoint.  

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Joyce E. Johnson            

Posted February 10, 2013 by Joyce in Essays, Faith, Writing

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Having a ‘Mary’ Kind of Christmas

HAVING A MARY KIND OF CHRISTMAS

Mary had no home or dwelling to decorate a tree with ornaments, tinsel, or lights. They had no hearth with a fire to warm them, yet, the sky was lit up with the brightest and biggest star ever created for the most honored king ever born. God led them to a stable when they were refused a room at the inn to rest and await their child’s birth. It had no provisions or comforts for expected guests. But, there were many visitors who came, seeking the Savior, the prophesied Messiah. Among those visiting were three kings from far off countries to honor him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. It is written that the ‘Son of God’ was wrapped in “swaddling clothes” and placed in a manger, a feeding trough used for the livestock.

There was no media standing by with cameras and microphones to announce his birth. Yet, the news was broadcast abroad by shepherds leaving their flocks and fields to see the one whom the angels foretold had come. They had no visible means of protection from the murderous king searching for the child, ordering his death. But, the little family was protected by a  host of heavenly angels.

Scripture says Mary pondered all that happened in her heart. I interpret that to mean she was a quiet, young woman who did not question why she was chosen to be the mother of the Savior of the world. She did not complain over her status in life, lack of material possessions or fret over how to be a good mother. She did not question God’s choice to choose her, or fear she would make mistakes. She did not advertise her celebrity status to the world. But, she was human. After all, she could have protested, or refused to marry Joseph, the man she was betrothed to. But, she did not. She just trusted God in all these matters because He was the most important one in her life.

Mary, a teenage young mother, was chosen to help carry out God’s master plan. She was not particularly from a select family, or clan, or a member of the hierarchy of royalty. But, she found ‘favor with God’ to birth the Savior, a virgin birth. God knew she would never boast to be the Savior’s mother, or wail in front of all at his death on the cross, or attempt to bring pity or compassion upon herself. She just continued to ‘ponder’ things in her heart long after her son’s birth, his childhood, his adult life and ultimately his death on the cross.

I have wondered too, over the things Mary dealt with as Jesus’s mother, and the strengths she had as a woman. I wonder how she coped, stayed humble, and merely ‘pondered’ things. She no doubt had a strong faith, questioning God only once as to how she could give birth to the Savior when she had never known a man, intimately. Because of her faith and trust in God she never doubted him.

I wonder if we can have such a faith at times when horrible times come, and life deals us frightening blows. God knows our pain. He weeps with us through our sorrow when chaos or crisis come. Whether it is from the loss of a child or loved one through a violent act, or loosing our home from a devastating storm, or fire, these things cannot be explained. We cannot understand them. But, it is in Him where we draw our strength. Then, maybe we can move on, beyond a crisis so that there is healing. It does not move one forward to keep asking questions like, “Why did this happen?” or “How could it have happened?” It takes the kind of faith Mary had to trust God to know what He was doing, and just ‘ponder’ his ways and will.

There have been numerous tragic events that have taken place this last year in 2012 with the most recent in Newtown, Conn.The news reports are full of sad stories with a list that just goes on. We live in perilous times. My prayers and thoughts are with all those who have suffered through these difficult times in their lives. But, there are many out there too who suffer in other ways we know nothing about because they suffer alone, privately without someone to share their pain, or seek help and support for their needs. God knows our need.  We can trust Him in all things. He is all we need when we  have nothing, or no one else.

The story of Mary and the birth of Jesus can be found in the New Testament. Matthew l:18-25, 2:1-12, and in Luke 2:1-20.

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I want to thank all of my blog ‘followers’, bloggers, writers, Friday Fictioneers and readers out there for visiting my blog site this past year. I wish all a very Merry Christmas, and a safe, healthy, and happy new year in 2013.

Joyce E. Johnson (2012)


Posted December 23, 2012 by Joyce in Devotional, Essays, Faith, Illustrated story, Writing

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The power of our words, and the might of our tongue.

Words have power. They can lift one’s spirit, encourage, offer hope, praise, and acclaim. They can inspire, stir emotions, sooth, feed the soul, bolster confidence, heal and forgive. Like the color and hues of a rainbow awash over a sky after the storm, they can comfort, replenish the soul.

But, they can also hurt, and be as cutting and sharp as a knife, more damaging to one emotionally than a sword, physically.

Once said, they are not easily forgotten. Once written, or posted they are not retractable, and can only be deleted. Like a picture, words and the image they create are out there, and its effects, good or bad remain with those it hurt or helped.  Intentional or not, they will be remembered, often destroying friendships, relationships, causing confusion or misunderstanding. And to hit or miss with words as they are spoken or written is risky if one values their reputation or respect.

None of us are perfect, so therefore neither is our tongue tamed, or trained to prevent words fired off in anger, frustration, or sarcasm and will always find a projected target somewhere. They will get the brunt of what is said or written. If honest enough, everyone can admit to showing anger, firing hurtful words or admonition to those in our past. It can  leave one with regret, having said them. I am guilty of this. Is anyone else? God is always forgiving of what we have said, or done. But, people are sometimes not. The memory of things said runs deep. The offense is taken, and the wound can still fester. It may be their problem if they do not forgive, but it is ours if we do not learn from it.

Whether it be a politician using slander and criticism, or spinning or twisting the truth to gain votes or points, all and everyone can have a motive for spitting fire from their tongue, or writing or posting with the intent of hurting another. I have seen plenty of this on social networks. The anger, words, disdain is there for whomever it was, or was not directed.

A passage in Isaiah 55:10 (NIV) says; “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

With this in mind, I hope the words from my mouth and the words written by my hand will be used to bless those, not curse them, encourage them, not depress them, lift them up, not tear them down. In that sense, I think we all can agree we are either a work in progress, or just choose to ignore what is written by God, himself.

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Posted September 15, 2012 by Joyce in Devotional, Essays, Faith, Writing

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