Book Review: “Your Road to Damascus” by William Y. Higgins

February 1, 2013 at 10:11 pm | Posted in Books | Leave a comment
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William Y. Higgins in his new book, “Your Road to Damascus book coverYour Road to Damascus”  published by Mindware Publishing gives us 6 Biblical Secrets for an Effective Job Search.

From the back cover: The crisis of a job loss is the story of struggling souls hidden behind the walls of the Christian faith. They valiantly forge forward with little in the way of biblical or faith-based instruction. No one talks much about it. No pastor dedicates a sermon to it. Good luck finding a book about it written from the Christian perspective. For most it’s a difficult time, for many it’s a crisis of faith and life. With nearly 20 million people out of work that claim a Christian affiliation, this is a national crisis of faith.

Your Road to Damascus addresses this issue by presenting biblical strategies and principles, and practical guidelines, on how to conduct an effective job search. It examines in detail biblical strategies and provide pragmatic guidelines for all aspects of a job search. The message of Your Road to Damascus is one of hope, encouragement, renewal, and revival in the midst of the job loss. It boldly proclaims that God is at work and isn’t finished yet, and He wants to have a new encounter with the believer through their job search.

Your Road to Damascus will capture your imagination and transform the way you view a job loss. From identifying your GPS (God’s Positioning System), to weaving your resume, to seeing God’s hand in job opportunities and offers, it will revolutionize the way you see God’s involvement in this aspect of your life, as well as how He touches many other crisis points.

Some of us may think that God does not care about the job we have.  And if we lose our job then, certainly, God must be mad at us.  It is time for really new thinking in this area and William Y. Higgins is here to help us.  Mr. Higgins feels that God wants to use the crisis of a job search to renew, revive and bring hope and encouragement to our spiritual lives. Considering that on the road to Damascus Saul, the persecutor of the Christians, became Paul the Apostle it is time for our own personal Damascus road.  Six secrets:  1) God’s Vocational GPS Provides Discretion, 2) God’s Vocational Threads Weave Your Story, 3) God’s Vocational Roadmap Plots Your Path, 4) God’s Vocational Signposts Point The Way, 5) God’s Vocational Gold Nuggets Narrow Your Destination, 6) God’s Vocational Vision Paints Your Future.   “Your Road to Damascus” is a great book.  It will transform the way you look at your work and how you look at how God looks at your work.  This is also a great book to give as gifts to family and friends.  They will think of you every time they put it to use.  I recommend it highly.

If you would like to listen to interviews with other authors and professionals please go to www.kingdomhighlights.org where they are available On Demand.

To listen to 24 hours non-stop, commercial free Christian music please visit our internet radio station www.kingdomairwaves.org

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Pump Up Your Book.   I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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The Heroic Path: Charting Your Course Out of Failure and into Purposeful Living by David Kortje

November 12, 2012 at 6:25 am | Posted in Books | Leave a comment
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It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:
David Kortje
and the book:
The Heroic Path: Charting Your Course Out of Failure and into Purposeful Living
Heart & Life Publishers (June 19, 2012)
***Special thanks to Susan Otis, Creative Resources for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

David K. Kortje is the founder and director of Knight Vision Ministries. Becoming a Christian while in medical school, David has spent the last twenty-five years in Christian ministry, leading small groups, preaching and teaching, leading retreats, and conference speaking, while practicing medicine full time. He received a bachelor’s of science degree, summa cum laude, from the University of Nebraska Omaha, and his M.D. from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. He is the author of the Unseen War: Wining the Fight for Life, Your Personal Battle Plan, as well as numerous journal and newsletter articles. The husband of twenty-eight years to Sandra, father of four, and a grandfather, David loves backpacking, rock climbing and racing motocross.
Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

A physician uses truths he learned the hard way after his own moral failure to help other men into purposeful living. Dr. Kortje labels the lusts that trip men up as—“girls, gold and glory” and shows how to move past devastating mistakes. Using biblical accounts of men who experienced failure and life stories of other men, he points the way the heroic path to which men are called. His roadmap for moving beyond failure can set men free as they deal with wounding and experiencing healing in the presence of Jesus. Insightful questions at the end of each chapter will facilitate discussion.

Product Details:

List Price: $15.99

Paperback: 276 pages

Publisher: Heart & Life Publishers (June 19, 2012)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0983992444

ISBN-13: 978-0983992448

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

IntroductionThe Man on the Side of the Mountain

It was one of the strangest sights I had ever seen: a man, unshaven, sitting on a rock at 10,000 feet in Colorado in the early morning, wearing a garbage bag.

I was heading up Mount Yale with a couple of good friends. It’s an imposing trek. At 14,200 feet, the round trip from the trailhead can take a good twelve hours. Most hikers, like us, begin well before sunup in order to avoid the frequent afternoon thunderstorms or evening snow. This man apparently hadn’t. He told us he had started out the afternoon before, made the peak about sunset, and then gotten disoriented and lost on the way down. Weather began moving in, so he bivouacked, or set up a temporary encampment, using his trash bag as a shelter and spent the night on the mountain. He looked cold, exhausted, and dehydrated but refused any of our food, water, or assistance. Continuing on, we looked back, and our visitor was gone.

We talked about that man for much of the hike. Was he a local? Perhaps a real-life mountain man? Or maybe a flatlander like us, who had narrowly escaped with his life? Perhaps he was an angel or some other majestic being sent to meet us on our journey. Whatever he was, he was definitely a metaphor: a metaphor for our lives, a metaphor for my life.

I may have planned better than he did for this peak, but if I were honest, much of the journey of my life has happened quite by surprise with equally dangerous consequences. Often I have found myself on an unknown trek, unsure of the dangers and even unaware of any risk, just meandering along, enjoying the view. That’s usually when it happens.

A thundercloud forms overhead. Perhaps it’s a business deal gone bad or the searing words of a loved one I’ve wounded. It may be the face of the man I feared I would become, staring back at me from the mirror. Or it may be some event that reminds me of dreams I will never attain. Whatever it is, instantly, like my mountain traveler, I too am forced to deal with the reality that I am somehow on a trail I can’t get off and for which I am ill- prepared.

What happened? How did I get here? And why do I feel like such an idiot for not recognizing the danger earlier? A trash bag? Really? That’s the best I can do? I feel like I’m an adolescent at Boy Scout camp, enduring the sneers of all of the others as my tent blows down for the third night in a row.

I doubt I’m the only one. I’ve spoken to many men throughout the years. I’ve climbed fourteeners with them, sat with them by campfires, enjoyed good meals with them, and met with them face-to-face during altar calls. I’ve heard their stories. Universally, it seems, most of us guys find ourselves at one point or another sitting in our trash bags. And we usually think it’s our fault.

Regardless of who’s to blame, it can be a very humbling place to be. I hate to fail. And when I do, like the man on the rock, I usually deny it, assure everyone that I’m okay and had actually planned it that way, and then try to disappear into the dawn. There’s a problem, however: that damned mirror keeps reflecting back what I know of me.

But what if it’s not damned? What if the mirror is in fact redeeming? Is it possible that my failings could actually teach me something about the life I was meant to live?

That is the premise of this book. Unless you have spent your entire life living in some kind of protective, aristocratic bubble, never risking anything, I think it’s safe to say that at some point you, too, have failed. (And honestly, if you have lived in such a bubble, you have failed far more than you realize.) Your failure— or more likely, failures—has shaped you, for better or for worse.

Having accepted this, you have two choices. You can either go on with your life, ignoring the wound and hoping it won’t come back to haunt you; or you can deal with it, learn from it, and grow from it. And that second option, my friend, is the great news I have discovered: failure not only doesn’t have to define you, but it can actually serve as the catalyst that propels you to the next level of God’s purpose for your life.

What Is Really Going On Here?

Denial and mere existence? Or truth and growth? The choice is yours. But before you make it, you must understand something. That collapse in judgment, that misstep—it was not your fault. At least, not completely. Sure, you made the call, took the risk, drank the Kool-Aid, opened your big mouth, and so yes, in that respect you bear responsibility. But other forces were also involved: evil forces bent on your destruction. This may not be the most popular or politically correct thing to say, but I would be remiss not to tell you.

The truth of the matter is that you are in a battle. You may not recognize it, you may refuse to believe it, but that does not negate the fact. Think about it. How else can you explain the opposition you have felt for so long? I certainly believe in good old-fashioned bad luck, but when it becomes orchestrated to hit repeatedly at the heart of my dreams and desires, it is no longer just “luck.”

Jesus sketches a similar portrait in John, chapter ten. Identifying us as sheep that He, the Good Shepherd, loves and longs to protect, Jesus explains that there is a reason He desires to protect us: because there is also one who is determined to destroy us. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy,” He states. This thief is identified in the Bible as a fallen angel named Satan, who along with his many followers has been waging war on mankind since our creation. Far from a little red man in leotards, this Satan is a master terrorist whose primary purpose is to keep you from the life that Jesus has for you.

That’s right: Jesus has a life specifically for you. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10, emphasis mine).

But before you can go on to face your failures and become all that you were meant to be, you must come to terms with this truth: You were placed here at this time in this place for a very specific purpose. Your life is not an accident, and neither are your wounds. Your life is opposed. That is why it feels like warfare out there—because it is!

If you’re raising your eyebrows right about now, that’s okay. I did too the first time I heard this message. But consider: If we really do have an enemy who is trying to destroy our lives, wouldn’t his work would be much easier if he kept us in the dark about it? I mean, think about it. The world was abdicated to Satan in the garden, and he certainly isn’t going to make his actions obvious. That doesn’t mean it’s not true; rather, it points to the fact that Satan is very good at camouflaging what he does.

If you already understand the stakes and the risks that are involved, then all the better, because I have some very good news to help you fight this great battle

Either way, I invite you to join me on this journey as we examine some of our personal disappointments and failings. As we do, we will build on this battle theme and on your place in God’s grand story. We will take an honest look at what the Bible says on the subject.

Then we will learn how men, much like you and me, have overcome their wounds. From their examples you will discover how you too can step back into the heart of the life you were meant to live—the life you have always dreamed of living.

Of course, stepping back up to the plate only to be thrown out again is futile. The final chapters of this book will equip you with tools to help you successfully face all that the Devil, the world, or just plain life may throw at you.

I, for one, am tired of being that man on the side of the mountain in a garbage bag. I no longer want to be content with merely surviving the night; I want to flourish. I hope you feel the same way, because honestly, all of us are engaged in an epic battle, and we desperately need what you have to offer. You may feel as if any contribution you could make has been violated and diminished; you may have seriously questioned whether you are even qualified to fight on any longer. I know how it is because I’ve had those same questions. Please trust me on this: That self-doubt is not God your Father speaking. The One who created you in His image and for His purpose hasn’t changed His mind about you. You are still His son created in His image, and He still has the same purpose for you as when He created you.

So come, journey with me beyond the bitter wounds of failure. Together we can discover that heroic path that you were created for.

C h a p t e r O n e

Our Greatest Fear

When a man arrives at great prosperity God did it; when he falls into disaster, he did it himself. Benjamin Franklin
For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity.

Proverbs 24:16

As I hung up the phone, my heart sank. “How could I have missed that?” The world had come suddenly to a standstill,

but my pulse was racing. Anxiety, fear, and despair circled my desk like a pride of hungry lions surrounding a wounded wildebeest as I tried desperately to reorient my thinking.

The call had been from a radiologist colleague. As a family physician, I had been treating a very sweet elderly lady for a condition that seemed rather routine. I thought she was responding, so we had continued our course of therapy over a number of months. But as time marched on, she still exhibited symptoms. Finally, I had decided to do a CAT scan to take a closer look, and that was the reason for this mid-afternoon phone call. The radiologist informed me that my patient had a number of masses inside her body, and they were spreading, the result of a malignant tumor.

She had cancer. She very likely would die.

As a young physician just a few years into my practice, I understood the role of a primary care physician. I knew the great trust that our patients put in us. Failure is not an option. Our patients come to us and pay us well to differentiate the serious from the benign, and they expect us to be right. They place their lives in our hands and are dependent on us to make the correct diagnosis—and I had not.

Calling this wonderfully sweet Christian woman into my office, I sat down and informed her of my failed diagnosis and of her very critical condition. I asked for her forgiveness and sent her on to an oncologist for further evaluation and treatment.

Programmed to Succeed

Few things affect a man like failure. We men are programmed to succeed. So whether it’s in a business venture, a relationship, a job, as a father, or in ministry, when failure rears its ugly head, questions flood our minds. For me, the questions involved whether I should ever have been a doctor in the first place; why I always tried to take the easier, simpler route; and what my family and colleagues would think of me now, not to mention this woman who had just received the worse news of her life. At a much deeper level, my question was, “Do I really have anything to offer, or will I always be just a screw-up?”

And failure always gets the better press. Just open your newspaper or watch the evening news. Our favorite stories are of the professional athlete who got caught cheating on his wife, or the stockbroker found guilty of embezzling millions of dollars from his clients’ retirement funds. Bring up a story of a man’s failings and you are sure to get a lively discussion.

It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering either. Recently at a religious gathering, I found myself caught up in a conversation concerning a man who had started a small Bible study only to have it fall apart. For some reason, his failure made the rest of us feel strangely better about ourselves. What’s up with that?

Novels, television, and the big screen certainly don’t help the matter much. Stories of our heroes typically paint the picture of a man who can do no wrong. He may be wrongly accused, but in the end he is almost always proved right. Add to that the expectations to be a perfect husband, a successful businessman, a devout churchgoer, and a self-sacrificing father, and it’s no wonder that we expect perfection of ourselves and those around us.

To compound our frustration even more, we have Jesus himself telling us to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

As we real-world men watch, listen to, and read all these standards for manly perfection, one thing becomes glaringly obvious: that ain’t us. Something must be wrong with us. Evidently we really are screw-ups with nothing to offer. That conclusion can lead us to true failure. As the Chinese proverb states, “Failure is not falling down, but refusing to get up.”

Since men can’t live for long in a world of failure, we begin searching for other areas where we can succeed. My study at home, my “man-cave,” is lined with over fifty trophies and plaques that I have won through the years racing motocross and Jet Skis. Mind you, most of these were not real wins. In fact, I have only one first- place trophy. Most of the others came from competing against other “old guys” like me (sometimes just a handful), during which time, by luck or fate or maybe just the planets aligning properly, I managed to cross the finish line ahead of the rest. In the grand scheme of motocross, I am a mediocre rider, but still the trophies do something for me. They stroke a part of my ego that feels inadequate.

Most men have a “trophy room.” It may be their list of all of the corporate deals they’ve made, the girls they’ve had, or the awards they’ve received. Maybe it is a garage full of toys or a photo album filled with pictures. It may even be altruistic: ministries they have supported, Sunday school classes they’ve taught, or even children they have raised. Many of these trophies are good things in themselves. Good or bad, however, they arise from a common need. Men require successes they can point to because in the deepest part of their heart they are looking for something. They are looking for significance.

And almost universally, if you ask a man—and if he is brave enough to be honest with you—he will admit that he hasn’t found that significance. At least, not completely. A surprising number of men will tell you that they have failed far more often than they have succeeded. And it is this sense of failure that largely directs a man’s life.

Since it is significance that we seek, and since failure prevents that significance, most of us will find ourselves adjusting our lives to ensure our success—and hence, our significance. Moreover, we will avoid at all costs the people, places, or things that we have not done well with.

Tucking Tail

Choosing your battles isn’t always a bad thing. At just under five feet, ten inches tall, with a vertical leap of about six inches, I have never excelled at basketball. I tried it a few times in middle school and in the driveway, but I quickly surmised that it was not my sport, so I don’t play basketball. I don’t think that is a critical mistake; in fact, you could make an excellent argument that I would be wasting valuable time if I spent every waking hour out on the hardwood working on my lay-ups. Some failures point us away from things we were never designed to do.

We must be careful, though. Basketball and your place in God’s grand adventure are not the same thing (unless, of course, your name is Michael Jordan). I have spoken to many men who concluded, after years of arguments and disappointments, that they were not cut out for marriage (at least, not the one they were in at the time). If you have experienced the pain of a divorce, I recognize that every situation is unique, and some marriages are not salvageable. I am not trying to point a finger at anyone, particularly since my own marriage has been on the precipice of divorce more than once. That said, there is a vast difference between walking away from a God-ordained institution and walking away from a weekend pastime. The former is by far the one that wounds the deepest.

The truth is, we have all tucked tail and run at various times in our lives, and those times have affected us in profound ways. I once knew a brilliant businessman who had provided quite nicely for his family. He and his wife had a beautiful home, traveled to exquisite places, and sent their children to the finest schools. The man was also more than generous with both his finances and his time, offering them sacrificially in a multitude of ways.

Then it all fell apart. Job losses, poor choices, and just plain bad luck eroded the man’s fortunes until, broke and feeling the full weight of his failure, he found himself alone on the roadside with a revolver in his hand, pointed at his head.

This man would tell you that he was rescued by God. But many aren’t so fortunate, or they are so enveloped by their pain that they can’t see God. Despair devastates the lives of far too many men before cancer and heart disease ever get a chance to destroy their bodies.

What is it about failure that has such a powerful effect on us? Why is it that a moment of indiscretion or an unsuccessful ministry—or a missed field goal, for that matter—can take us out, sometimes forever? What is it about these wounds that seem so defining?

Falling or taking a hit is one thing, but it’s really what follows that is so destructive. We begin to make vows: “I will never try that again,” or, “I must not be called to this,” or, “I am disqualified; God could never use me now.”

Joseph

The Bible is so filled with stories of failures that one begins to wonder whether failure isn’t a prerequisite for being used by God. Joseph is a prime example. The second youngest in a family of twelve brothers, he begins early in his life to sense that there is something unique about him and his place in God’s story.

Joseph has a couple of dreams, and in them he sees images, first of twelve sheaves of grain and next of the sun, the moon, and eleven stars, all honoring him (Genesis 37:5–10). He interprets these dreams—correctly, I might add—as his brothers bowing down to him. Unfortunately, in his youth and immaturity, he makes the mistake of telling his family about the dreams (most likely with an air of “see what God told me”). His brothers, as brothers can be, dismiss him as a fool. To make matters worse, his father has a special jacket hand made for him (the coat of many colors) as a personal gift to his favorite son. Instead of receiving it humbly, Joseph shows it off to his brothers, wearing it everywhere and letting the whole family know that there is something extraordinary about him. It backfires. Instead, the brothers plot to kill him, but at the last minute they change their minds and choose instead to sell him as a slave to passing merchants on their way to Egypt.

Once in Egypt, he is purchased by a good man, Potiphar. Joseph, now with some of the maturity that comes with years and hard knocks, works hard for his new master, and soon he is put in charge of Potiphar’s entire household.

You know the rest of the story: Potiphar (likely a workaholic) is never home, and his wife gets lonely. When our hero refuses her advances, she accuses him of trying to rape her. Joseph finds himself locked in a cold prison cell, and this time it’s not his fault. He was trying to do the right thing, but the result is still the same.

If I were Joseph, right about now I’d be thinking that maybe there really is nothing to my life. I can understand God’s discipline for the arrogance of my youth, but how do I make sense of these latest events?

Most of us would likely die in that prison. Not Joseph. He continues to pursue the life that is ahead of him. Again he finds himself in a position of leadership, albeit as a prisoner, and eventually he interprets two more dreams—other men’s dreams instead of his own this time. And what do you know! Three years later (no one ever said things happen rapidly in God’s perfect timing), the pharaoh is told of Joseph’s gift, and this small-town boy goes from leading the laundry crew to leading a nation.

Not until years later do we begin to understand what motivates Joseph. He has brought his entire family to Egypt to save them from a great famine. Eventually Joseph’s father, Jacob, dies. Joseph’s brothers fear that their younger brother—who now has absolute power and before whom they are indeed kneeling as Joseph’s dreams had foretold—may finally take vengeance on them for that whole slave-trading thing of years gone by.

“But Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives’” (Genesis 50:19–20).

Fear or Sonship

Paul says it this way: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed … And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:18–19, 28).

That’s you whom Paul is speaking to: those “sons of God” that the entire creation is waiting for. Just a few verses earlier he establishes that “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship” (vv. 14–15).

That is our crux, isn’t it: the spirit of fear. We fear there is no significance to our lives, no greater plan. We miss the big picture. As men, we tend to interpret our lives in the context of the moment, and it is in that moment when the floor has fallen out from under us—when the bill collectors are knocking, the attorney is calling, the chaos is raging—that the spirit of fear can engulf us like a tsunami, threatening to destroy all that we have built.

But “you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear … you received a Spirit of sonship.” How we need to allow that truth to root itself firmly into our hearts! We have been changed, miraculously and permanently transformed. This is more than a mere feel-good, positive mental image; it is a powerful truth of our faith.

Understanding your position as a son of our King changes everything. The battle becomes a training ground, the fear becomes a lie from our enemy, and the failures become gifts. That’s right, gifts. The American author Napoleon Hill said that “failure is nature’s plan to prepare you for greatness.” I would modify that a bit and say it is God’s plan to prepare you for the greatness He has intended for you all along. Not that God has caused all of your failures or indiscretions; rather, He is waiting to use them to bring you into the fullness of the life He has always planned for you.

The apostle Paul’s life offers a fascinating case study on how God uses failure. Paul’s birth name was Saul, and Saul was one of those men who had likely plotted out the course of his life from a young age. Born of Hebrew parents, he was as devout in his faith as any man of his time—in his own words, a “Hebrew of Hebrews.” He was also a Roman citizen, a status that afforded him opportunities and privileges unavailable to non-citizens.

Furthermore, Saul was educated by the great rabbi Gamaliel. Not your everyday Sunday school teacher, this guy was kind of the Rick Warren or James Dobson of his day, highly respected and a man of considerable influence. Saul took full advantage of his heritage and his training. His heart was to follow God to the far reaches of the universe. But he made one critical mistake: he missed the Promised One. Jesus was walking the earth, literally, while Saul was being trained, and Saul missed Him. In fact, he didn’t just miss Jesus; he decided that Jesus was the enemy.

Most scholars believe that Saul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus occurred within a year of the crucifixion, which makes it very possible that Saul was present during the trial and execution of the Son of God. You just can’t let Jesus down much more than that.

Talk about failure! And it gets even worse. Saul headed off on a mission to hunt down and kill or imprison those who were following Jesus. No wonder the disciple Ananias argued when the Lord asked him to find Saul and restore his sight.

“‘Lord,’ Ananias answered, ‘I have heard many reports about this man and the harm he has done to the saints in Jerusalem’” (Acts 9:13).

But you see, Saul’s failure was really a gift. What a testimony! A highly educated, devoutly religious Jew became a follower of Jesus. Paul—the new name he received with his new life—took full advantage of his miraculous story, using it on numerous occasions as he proclaimed how Jesus had changed his life.

What if he had not? What if Paul had embraced his failure and chosen to live with the guilt and embarrassment of it all? How did he move on? The answer, I believe, lies in Paul’s understanding of what Jesus accomplished in him.

Teleios

To the church in Corinth, Paul wrote: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). And to the Philippian church he boldly stated, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13–14). Paul understood that something in him had changed when he accepted the sacrifice of Jesus as his own. He understood that he was no longer the man he had been.

Sure, he had failed, and sure, he struggled with his failure. But in Christ he was now a new creation, and as a new creation he identified himself by what Jesus knew of him, not what his past “proved” of him.

As men, we have all experienced similar failures and found ourselves outside of God’s plan for our lives. For some of us, our failures are glaringly obvious and painful. You may be facing, or have experienced, jail time, foreclosure, or a divorce. Maybe you have been caught red-handed at something that has left your reputation forever marred.

Or you may just sense that something is missing in your walk with Christ. You began your life of faith with passion, but somehow the years and the busy-ness of life have left you just trying to hang on. Christianity has become less of a relationship and more of a ritual.

Perhaps you have found a way to move on from your failings, but still the battles rage and the drive for perfection continues to haunt you.

Which brings us back to the words of Jesus: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The Greek word used here for perfect is teleios (pronounced tel’-i- os). It implies completeness, as in maturity. Some have suggested that Jesus was simply trying to point out the obvious here, that apart from Him we have no hope of hitting the standard, which is a perfectly sinless life. That interpretation has some truth to it; certainly it is only in Christ that we are changed and made perfect. But I also believe that Jesus was pointing us to something—toward a realistic goal He intends us to reach for.

Jesus’s brother James wrote years later that we should consider it joy whenever we face trials, “because [we] know that the testing of [our] faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that [we] may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2–4). The word translated as “complete” is that same Greek word, teleios. The implication is not that we will never fail—otherwise, all of the great heroes of our faith would be disqualified. No, the implication is that we will fail, that we will be wounded (what else would you expect in a war?), but that our very failings become opportunities for us to mature (teleios) in our understanding of what Christ has accomplished in us.

I love this quote by a gentleman named Walter Brunell: “Failure is the tuition that we pay for success.” That’s true not only in business and personal endeavors; it is also true of our spiritual lives. Our enemy wants to convince us that failure disqualifies us, but our King desires to use our failures to train us. For how long? Until we are complete, not lacking anything. In other words, for the rest of our lives.

If we have any hope of walking this life in Christ, this grand adventure that He has invited us to, we must learn not only to survive our missed diagnoses, our growing apathy, our defunct businesses and relationships, but also to embrace them as opportunities to be trained and fathered by our King. It is only by doing so that we can change our failures from death blows to stepping stones toward a greatness we would never know if we had never failed. Unfortunately, we can’t plan for failure. It almost always comes unannounced. Seldom are we prepared, and so we must be ready to act in an instant. We must develop a mindset to survive the ambush.
1. What were your emotions and thoughts in the wake of a personal failure?

2. Does hearing of another man’s failings sometimes make you feel better about yourself? Why do you think this is?

3. What does your “trophy room” look like? How much would you say you value your trophies?

4. What vows have you made in response to a failure?
5. Read Romans 8:15 again. Do you believe that this verse applies to you?

6. In your own words, define teleios. In what parts of your life might God currently be developing teleios in you? How might those areas be gifts?

Way Back in the Gardenia Rows: Everyday God-Moments and the Recipes that Accompany Them by Kay Wheeler Moore

June 24, 2013 at 10:18 am | Posted in Books | Leave a comment
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It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:
Kay Wheeler Moore
and the book:
Way Back in the Gardenia Rows:
Everyday God-Moments
and the Recipes that Accompany Them
Hannibal Books (April 29, 2013)
***Special thanks to Jennifer Nelson, PR Specialist, Hannibal Books for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kay Wheeler Moore is a Pulitzer-Prize nominee who stirred up her heirloom cornbread from “Way Back in the Country” and her tangy orange/pecan salad from “Way Back in the Country Garden” on live TV while she promoted preserving family history through recipes. Her other previous books are “When the Heart Soars Free”, a book of Christian fiction, and “Gathering the Missing Pieces in an Adopted Life”, based on her newspaper series when she was a Houston Chronicle reporter. She and husband, Louis, are parents of two adult children and their spouses and grandparents of three.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

What are the tangible moments in life when God has been so real to you, you can almost hear His heart beating? When has He provided such an unlikely solution to a dilemma, the answer had to be His doing and a result of no other source?

Pulitzer Prize nominee Kay Moore, author of “Way Back in the Country” and “Way Back in the Country Garden”, collections of family recipes and the stories behind them, now inspires readers to preserve God-moments in their own lives and to capture recipes of the foods that were served accompanying those life-changing times. Using illustrations from her own experiences, she contends that God shows up in quiet, everydaylife lessons as well as in miracles that may not be of the Damascus Road scale but nonetheless make a permanent imprint on the human heart.

As with her other “Way Back” books, Kay’s newest is packed with recipes for tantalizing foods, all of which are accompanied by small vignettes describing the context in which they were served and which illustrate the bond of food, family, and faith.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.95

Paperback: 272 pages

Publisher: Hannibal Books (April 29, 2013)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1613150253

ISBN-13: 978-1613150252

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

IntroductionFood and Faith:

Holy Ground

Early June mornings, while the dew still shimmered on the summer grass, I wordlessly followed my mother out back to her prized spot by the hedge.

In my shirtwaist of starched organdy with its prodigious bow I stood expectantly while she took her shears and lopped off the most showy bloom from a bush in her gardenia rows.

Fragrance from the creamy white petals invaded my nostrils as she pulled a silver safety pin from her apron pocket and fastened the flower to my dress.

Down the street, bells from the tile-roofed steeple called neighboring children to line up for Vacation Bible School. Mother wanted to be sure I wore (and smelled) my church-going best even though the morning would find me wrist-deep in finger paints.

At noon, after my class of kindergarteners had memorized our Scripture verses and heard flannelgraph Bible stories and pledged allegiance to the Christian flag, I walked the short block back home to my house.

By that point my gardenia was limp and brown-tipped; its scent was diluted by my sweatdrops from the playground.

But none of that mattered, because my mother was waiting with her welcoming lunch of tuna-salad sandwiches and chocolate-chip cookies formed into bars.

When I think about the days in which the concept of God’s love first was introduced in my life, I can’t help associating those happenings with the gardenia blossoms and tuna fish and bars of chewy chocolate.

Those summer-sweet days at Bible School helped teach me Who God was, how He created the world, how He moved in history, and how He was a personal Father Who knew and loved me.

Interlaced with all those memories, something yummy to eat always was around the corner. Food and faith—they were an everpresent duo in my life—just as I know they are in the lives of others, as well.

* * * * * * * *

This book, simply put, tells stories of ways I’ve experienced God—and the food that accompanied some of those God-moments.

Some think Christian testimonies must be linked to a pat, memorized format of Scriptures or must cover a set of key points that spring from a proper acronym.

In God’s Word, however, Bible figures simply share their testimonies by relating what God has done for them. The blind man Jesus heals proclaims through the simple statement, “I was blind but now I see!” (John 9:25). The forgiven woman at the well merely narrates, “He told me everything I ever did” (John 4:39). Before Agrippa, the apostle Paul quietly recalls the Damascus Road (Acts 26).

Old Testament writers repeatedly recount God’s hand in history (for example, Ps. 18). All are simple stories, earnestly told, of golden God-moments in each of their lives.

Way Back in the Gardenia Rows represents a collection of my faith stories—certainly not every one of them, since they happen every day and every hour. Oceans of ink could not possibly describe them all.

Part of them recount my “faith genealogy”—religious influences from past generations that trickled down to merge into the river of faith that flows into my heart. They show how God was at work in my life for generations before I ever was born.

Others delineate times in which God’s hand was so apparent that I could only stop and acknowledge, as Moses did, that I stood on holy ground. Some occur during a tsunami of tragedy and challenge; others happen on spiritual mountaintops; still others take place during unremarkable, quiet moments with nothing afoot except the stirring of the Spirit.

These are family stories; God works in families in every generation. From the first biblical grouping of Adam and Eve and their offspring He picks the family as the milieu in which He accomplishes His work. He places Jesus into a family. This is what He does with me as well.

Although our paltry lives may seem inconsequential, they actually are no different from those of the Old Testament patriarchs or the New Testament martyrs. All of us, as our pastor once instructed us, are involved in an epic that surpasses the great epic films such as Braveheart or Last of the Mohicans or Gladiator. We are involved in an epic tale that is the redemption of humankind. Every single day “we get to play a part in that huge story,” he told us.1

This is simply my version of my particular bit-part in that epic. One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts, says Psalm 145:4. I want to make sure that the next generations are reminded of His mighty acts in my life and theirs, too.

As with my previous two cookbooks, which featured the antics of The Three Red-Haired Miller Girls (my mother and two aunts) and the generations that surrounded them, these family stories are linked to recipes—a food that was served at the dinner after a baptism, cookies that were prepared as we celebrated the miracle of our daughter’s graduation. I consider these foods to be integral to that particular memory from my faith journey. The story of that event wouldn’t be complete without remembering what we ate, who originated the recipes, and other lore that surrounded the cooking and consuming.

Many of these cooks have left this earth and today are dining in the banquet hall of the King. Telling about their special dishes almost seems to bring these dear ones back to life again.

* * * * * * * *

These happen to be my stories, but they are undistinguished. Every reader can spin similar yarns—only the names and circumstances differ from those of mine. Again, as with my two previous recipe books, I repeat the urging: tell your own tales, preserve your own happenings. Commend God’s works in your life to the generation that follows yours. While you’re at it, throw in a good recipe or two. Lock all this in for those that live after you.

Make sure they know that throughout your life, humble and ordinary as it may seem in the scope of human history, you—as I—have been standing on holy ground.

Today’s tuna-salad versions are so soigné with upscale additions, our forebears wouldn’t recognize this basic staple that was on the table at least three or four times a week (served on white bread with crusts removed) when I was a pup. All these years later I still think my mother’s cloth-coat variety is best.

Mable’s Tuna-Fish Sandwich Spread

1 (5-ounce) can tuna, packed in water

1 hard-boiled egg, diced

1 medium apple, chopped

2 ribs celery, chopped

1/2 cup mayonnaise

In a medium bowl flake tuna that has been drained. Stir in egg, apple, and celery. Fold in mayonnaise. Spread on bread slices.

Chapter 1

Tippy-Toeing By

“Keep your eyes straight ahead, and whatever you do, don’t look out at the audience.”

No set of instructions could have been more of a siren song to a 5 1/2-year-old—even one about to follow Christ in baptism as she stood in slightly chilly waters on a spring morning.

After all, I had to know whether my daddy was out there among the onlookers. Daddy typically worshiped at his own church—Austin Street Church of Christ—on Sundays, while Mother and I filled the pews at First Baptist, Garland.

But on this red-letter day Daddy made a special exception and joined the Baptists in worship. All the more reason why I simply must careen my head ever so slightly toward the crowd to see whether I could nab a glimpse of him.

Then, just as the service was about to start, I heard him clear his throat. Nobody made this trademark, gutteral throat-

clearing sound like my Daddy. Suddenly I had the answer I needed. He’s here! I could assure myself.

I righted myself on the platform with its few bricks added so my shrimpy little head could be seen above the baptistery rail. Bro. Cockrell then baptized me as a symbol of my pledge to live for Jesus from that time on.

How did it happen that one so young—barely a first-grader—was making the most important decision of her life?

Long before my birth, did certain foundation stones that would help me one day decide I wanted to become a Christian get cemented in place?

Granted, God has no grandchildren. We do not inherit salvation just because we had righteous forebears. Every person must make his or her own decision about trusting Christ as Savior.

Yet the milieu in which I was reared most certainly created a fertile ground for being open to the gospel. Who had plowed that ground before me?

* * * * * * * *

To answer that question, I started by looking at the faith-lives of some of the Christians on my family tree. For example, if anyone ever found God’s grace dumped smack-dab in the center of her lap, it would be my maternal great-grandmother, Frances Mitchell Harris.

I let my imagination wander back to 1873 and tried to envision 20-year-old Frances as she and her family of eight jostled along in their ox-wagon on the rutted roads between their home near Jackson, MS, and their new location in northeast Texas.

Did Frances hear, No going back. No going back, every time a loose side board on their wagon made a clomp-clomp-clack, clomp-clomp-clack sound? As the prairie road snaked by her, Frances doubtless knew she might never return to her birthplace in the Deep South. Frances was the oldest offspring of her parents, Littleton and Annie Eliza Mitchell. What would Texas be like for the Mitchells in this new state to the west? she may have pondered.

In Frances’ mind, just about any place would have been good for putting the past behind her. Like many others, her family had lost everything in the Civil War. Littleton’s plantation near Jackson was burned out in the “late conflict”, as many called it. A friend of “Lit” already had relocated to Kaufman County, TX, and had a large farm there. He asked Lit to join him in Texas and help work the blackland prairie in that area.

Frances also had another reason for needing a new locale. She had ended a brief marriage to her young husband, James Miller. They had married in Mississippi a few days before Frances’ 15th birthday but parted only about a year later when things didn’t work out. James had been 21.

Twin babies lay buried under the soil back home in the Magnolia State.1 A wedded life that began with high hopes had gone afoul. Perhaps Texas would bring happier times.

* * * * * * * *

Another Texas newcomer—Joseph Francis Harris, who farmed land nearby—already made his home in Kaufman County, where the Mitchells soon would build their log cabin with its dirt floor. Though only 23 Joe Harris already had his share of rip-snorting life experiences.

Hailing from Washington County, IL, Joe at age 18 enlisted in the War Between the States, where he fought opposite Frances Mitchell’s South. Although he is not thought to have seen much combat, Joe was injured in a fall from a bucking horse while he was on Army duty in May 1865.2 After his discharge he was badly hurt while he worked on a dredge boat on the Mississippi River. Once in Texas he became a stagecoach driver; while doing this he almost froze to death in a snow-and-sleet storm.

But by the time the Mitchell family arrived in Kaufman County in 1872 or 1873, Joe had settled into farming. Sometime soon after the Mitchells landed in Texas, Joe and Frances met and fell in love. Frances never had obtained a divorce from James Miller, although they had been separated for several years. But a few days after that divorce was granted, a JP married Frances and Joe. The newlyweds lived on a farm about 12 miles from Terrell, TX.3

Before 11 months of marriage went by, a baby boy was born to the couple. Indeed, if Frances were grieving an empty cradle from an earlier time, the arrival of Charles Cornelius Harris on December 31, 1873, helped fill the hole in her heart. Before young Charlie reached age 2, a second boy, Eddie, joined the family; another brother, Thomas, was born before Charlie was 3. Twins Jesse and Albert would appear on the scene before Charlie celebrated his 5th birthday.

God truly had granted Frances a second chance from the life she left behind in Mississippi. At the end of the clomp-clomp-clack, no-going-back of the ox-wagon, God had made sure the man who would become her life’s companion and by whom she would have 14 children was already in place, waiting for her.

* * * * * * * *

How Frances Harris’ faith shaped her life in those days is not precisely defined in the record left behind her. Her obituary states that she had been a member of the Baptist church all her life. I feel fortunate to possess her family Bible and know she must have opened it for guidance, especially during times of heartache that were to lie ahead for her and Joe.

Their second and third boys, Eddie and Thomas, each died in young childhood. Their first daughter, Mollie May, did not live to see her 2nd birthday. A later son, John Delbert, died as a teen. Jesse, one of the twins born to Joe and Frances, ultimately left his wife and their five young children and didn’t return to the family. How I wish we knew the verses Frances claimed as anchors during those hours of trial.

But Frances had to realize that God was the source of all her blessings and was the One who turned her life around from those dark days in Mississippi. A total of 57 grandchildren, including my mother, Mable Miller, and her sisters Frances and Bonnie, emerged from the 49-year union of Frances and Joe. Among Frances’ offspring are many committed Christians. My maternal grandmother, Mattie (ninth child of Joe and Frances), no doubt was put on that pathway by a godly mother.

A loving family surrounded Grandma Harris with affection and care until her life ended at 92. As I wrote in my first cookbook, Way Back in the Country, Grandma’s photographs in later years always showed her with a contented smile, even though a broken hip left her wheelchair-confined during many of those latter years.

I’m convinced that Frances Harris was a woman with peace in her heart because she knew that God was the Source of all she had received in this life and would provide for her in the next.

Frances Mitchell Harris—the first plank in the platform of faith that would shape my years.

* * * * * * * *

The second plank—the Miller clan on the paternal side—also demonstrated faith in times of severe hardship—faith that would trickle down to my mother and ultimately to me. (This Miller family was no relation to Grandma Harris’ first husband, James.)

My great-great-grandmother, Rebecca Compton Miller, remained devoted to God even after her husband, Peter White Miller Sr., was butchered4 up and died from complications of his war injuries. He had served in the Confederate Army from Tennessee.

Rebecca, like many other Civil War widows, no doubt experienced cruelties in the years just after the war. Likely her land and other property eventually were seized. At the time, she was 46. Her children included a 2-year-old son.

Ultimately she moved from Tennessee to Delta County, TX, to join several of her kin. One of them was son Alfred Compton Miller, eventually grandfather to the Miller Girls.

Family historian Garland Button conjectures that a life of Christian dignity even in the face of suffering and separation characterized stalwart Rebecca. “The life of Rebecca Compton Miller must have undoubtedly been deeply rooted in the Christian faith,” Button writes. He says this was reflected in the lives of the 15 Miller children, all of whom lived to adulthood.

“This family is one that throughout its history has been made up of people dedicated to the Christian ethic in its fullest sense,” Button continued.

Like his father, Alfred C. Miller was not given the gift of years. At age 40 in 1892 he passed from this life and left his wife, Margaret, as a young widow with six children—a seventh one died just three weeks before Alf did.

At this point my mother and her sisters became direct eyewitnesses to the Miller family faith legacy.

Their grandmother, Margaret, as had her mother-in-law, Rebecca, lived with the families of various children after she was widowed. My mother, Mable, remembers Grandma Miller kneeling every night by her bedside while she stayed in the home of the Miller Girls’ parents, Mark and Mattie.

“We would see her praying and would tippy-toe by the door so we wouldn’t disturb her,” my mother recalled.

The bowed countenance of Margaret Miller, a grandmother who had suffered much, impressed Mable, Frances, and Bonnie Miller. In their adult lives all three sisters were Christian women devoted to prayer.

As they grew up, the Miller Girls were always in church—singing their red-haired father’s favorite hymn, “Wonderful Words of Life”, as well as other classics. As I wrote in the chapter, “Roll, Jordan, Roll”, in my first cookbook, Way Back in the Country, the three sisters never had a question about whether the family would attend services on Sunday; the question of where depended on the weather. Their own church was the New Hope Baptist Church, where Papa was ordained a deacon. But if rains had fallen on Saturday night and the roads weren’t dry, the Methodist church in Brushy Mound was closer to them and would do just fine.

All three girls trusted Christ as Savior and were baptized in the pool adjacent to the cotton gin in their community. Way Back in the Country describes frequent two-week tent revivals. At one of them Mable made her profession of faith.

History repeated itself into a third generation when the Miller Girls’ mother, Mattie, was left a widow while in the prime of her life—age 49. Three successive Miller men—Peter Miller; Peter’s son, Alfred, and Alf’s son, Marcus—all died in middle age, leaving wives and families that depended on them.

Once again a grieving Miller woman turned to—and found—help in the Heavenly Father. Mattie easily could have given God a real flaying and demanded to know why her beloved was abruptly taken from her. Instead she leaned on Him in her needy hour. Just as the Miller Girls had observed their grandmother in prayer, I often saw my Nanny with bowed head as she sat in her rocker with her Bible open. I always felt confident that some of those prayers were for me. Almost until she died, she gave enthusiastically to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Her means were few, but out of them she contributed to spread the gospel.

Christian role-modeling from this second plank of my faith legacy—the Millers. In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them (Ps. 22:4).

* * * * * * * *

Matters of faith in the Wheeler family—the third plank in my platform—are detailed in chapter 2, “The Runaway”. But a visual that I observed when I once visited my grandfather Wheeler’s place of origin—Borden Springs, AL—summed up the story for me.

There, in a graveyard adjacent to the Church of Christ, were Wheeler markers as far as the eye could see. Towering over them was the headstone for the grave of Calvin Marshall Wheeler, my granddad’s grandfather—the progenitor.

Churches of Christ had a heavy concentration in Alabama as the movement grew in the middle of the 19th century. It traces its origins to the Restoration Movement (also called the Stone-Campbell movement) of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, as Barton Stone-Alexander Campbell followers from Kentucky and Tennessee migrated into northern Alabama.

Cathryn Killian, my late cousin on the Wheeler side, told me that the Wheeler family had been aligned with Churches of Christ for many generations, which probably explains why my dad never quite was willing to sprint over and join my Baptist mom in her church membership. My granddad, James Devastus Wheeler (I nicknamed him “Bandad”), became a lay Church of Christ preacher, as the next chapter explains. His spiritual impact on my life was immeasurable.

My grandfather was a boy of 3 when his father, James Washington Wheeler (more on him in the next chapter) pulled up stakes from this idyllic setting in the Blue Ridge foothills and began his Texas migration. Whether my grandfather’s branch ever made return trips to Alabama to see those left behind is a matter of mystery.

But in their new state they decidedly brought their Church of Christ heritage. Once settled into Antioch, TX, in Delta County, they joined the Church of Christ. James Devastus grew up in that setting and at age 13 was baptized at nearby Rattan.6 As an adult, when he and Zella moved to Cooper in 1910, he found no Church of Christ congregation existed and drew together a few disciples to begin a local body.7 My Bandad, in my estimation, was one of the truest Christians that ever walked on the earth.

* * * * * * * *

The spiritual roots of the W.H. Wright family–my dad’s maternal side—are obtuse because of the situation that makes most Wright information cloudy. Chapter 10, “In Search of Mollie V.”, describes the early passing of my grandmother’s mother, Mollie V. Wright, when Mammaw was 6. Mammaw—Zella Mae Wright—then died when I was 10, so I was physically around her less and “caught” less information from her (except one rare jewel of a fact described later) than I did from any of my other living grandparents.

I do know that her family also evacuated from northern Mississippi in the wake of the Civil War aftermath—no doubt for some of the same atrocities that caused the Mitchells and Millers to flee the Deep South.

Regardless of the W.H. Wrights’ faith tradition, soon after Zella married my Bandad, J.D. Wheeler, she joined the Church of Christ and became a part of his family faith practices. She was baptized by C.E. Holt at Rattan, TX.

Here is what my grandfather, her life’s companion of 57 years, wrote on the one-year anniversary of Zella’s passing: “She spent much time in the study of the Bible and was a good Bible student. She spent much time in prayer. Zella was a devoted Christian and a true helper in life, in joy and in sorrow. I believe she is safe in the arms of Jesus.”

Little else needs to be said from this one who knew her best. As with my Nanny, the prayers of my devoted Mammaw, Zella Wright, may just have been some of her greatest spiritual contributions to my life.

* * * * * * * *

What were those prayers by my Nanny and Mammaw? I have no doubt that in part, they pled with God to send a child to their infertile children—Mable and J.D. (Doyce).

And does God answer prayers retroactively? Since prayer transcends time and space, did He know of the urgent petitions my Nanny and my Mammaw one day would utter and start answering them . . . before either of those godly women was even born?

Consider the following story, which concludes my first chapter. The name in this amazing tale—W.F. Kimmell—won’t appear on any of the family trees at the end of the book. But this Civil War narrative about W.F. is as vital to my family faith heritage as are any of these already told.

* * * * * * * *

Eager to do his part for his country, Albion, IN, native William Francis Kimmell enlisted in the 8th Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry in April 1861. Enthusiastically he wrote regular and highly detailed letters home to his lady friend, Leah Crispell, back in Albion.8

Initially W.F.’s letters are cheery and buoyant. “I am here a United States soldier enlisted for three years and hoping to do something for my country before I come home again,” he wrote in June 1861.

As days wore on, the realities of the War Between the States set in for this Union frontline infantryman—who fought in some of the bloodiest battles of the American Civil War. Many times the enemy troops that faced the 8th Ohio were led by none other than the brilliant strategist, Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson, who knew nothing if not how to annihilate troops. “I helped bury fifteen rebels today,” William’s letter in October 1861 said. “A person never thinks of the dead and wounded during a battle. But it is a horrible sight after it’s all over.”

After the Battle of Blue’s Gap (WV), Kimmell wrote Leah on January 15, 1862, “There was a bullet went through my coat.” After the battle of Winchester, VA, in April 1862, he penned, “I had four bullet ho(l)e in my overcoat, one of them give me a little scratch on the arm.”

At the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day of the war, Kimmell wrote of his group, “Four killed and sixteen wounded out of the thirty-two engaged. How I ever escaped unharmed is a mystery to me . . ..”

After the Battle of Gettysburg, Kimmell wrote Leah, “There is but eleven of us left out of the ninety-eight that came into Virginia two years ago. My chances are growing smaller all the time.”

In December 1863 Kimmell described continued carnage: “I am now the last one of the six men left in the company (six men who shared a tent as they first came into Virginia two years beforehand). . .. Why should they all go before me? I was always considered the smallest and the weakest one of the lot.”

But W.F. continued to survive fray after fray and returned safely home to Albion in late July 1864. William and Leah, to whom he mailed the letters considered to be a unique, firsthand glimpse of frontline Civil War military life, married shortly afterward.

* * * * * * * *

A pensive W.F. once posed the question, “Why should they all go before me?” Earlier he had written, “How I ever escaped unharmed is a mystery to me.” W.F. pondered how he was allowed to live when bullets whirred all around him and death claimed comrade after comrade.

To God, however, the answer to W.F.’s questions was anything but a mystery. God saw beyond those bloody fields of battle and down through the generations to those Delta County prayers that one day Mattie and Zella would pray. The two women’s children—Mable and J.D.—were so, so, so meant to be parents but could not produce them genetically. Mattie and Zella surely begged heaven for a child to occupy this deserving home.

I believe God preserved W.F. because He knew that through his bloodline would spring the child God—from before the foundation of the world—already had picked out to fill those empty arms. He knew that in W.F.’s bloodline one day would be an infant who would need an adoptive mom and dad.

On a November day in 1948, a husband and wife from the combined merger of the Millers, the Harrises, the Mitchells, the Wrights, the Wheelers—all the families mentioned previously in this chapter—would show up at Florence Nightingale Maternity Hospital in Dallas and would present themselves to be just the adoptive parents that this child would need.

On the Civil War’s bloodiest days, God took me into account. It was an example of God’s prevenient grace—the grace that works ahead of time for a specific event in the future. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,” Jeremiah 1:5 tells us.

I believe He kept W.F. alive so that His perfect will might be enacted.

My mother’s Golden Fried Okra was an after-church staple we could count on. Although I can’t guarantee it was on the table the Sunday after I was raised out of the baptismal waters, I know my mother missed very few Sundays preparing this dish, which has been called the “pâté of the South”.

Golden Fried Okra

20 okra pods, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup cornmeal

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1-inch cooking oil

Stir cut-up okra into beaten eggs; then dredge in mixture of flour, cornmeal, salt, and paprika. In large skillet fry in hot oil until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Makes 4 servings.

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