Sleeping Out for Sukkot

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img_20161020_183012703_hdr1This past week has been unseasonably warm—so warm that we were able to sleep outside in our “sukkah” (i.e., a tent). The nights were mild and beautiful, and we enjoyed a restful night of sleep in the fresh night air.

Friday, the temperature dropped, and the wind increased. I figured my children would sleep inside where it was warm. But no, they wanted to camp out, and they convinced me to join them.

We dressed warmly and took extra blankets outside. Like butterflies in cocoons, we snuggled inside sleeping bags with blankets piled on top.

I was enjoying the coziness when I sensed wetness. (It had poured that morning, and my sleeping mat and bag was beside the tent window.)

For a moment, I contemplated returning to my soft, warm bed but decided that since we had made the effort to drag extra blankets out to the tent, we would make the best of it.

I abandoned the damp sleeping bag for the other side of the tent and again wrapped myself in blankets.

Unlike the previous night’s calm air and relaxing sleep, the extreme windy conditions seemed to mock my attempts at sleeping as it whipped the protective tarp we had secured over the tent.

My mind imagined the howling wind yanking the tent pegs and transporting us into another “world,” like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.

Fortunately, our tent stayed intact and the kids got more sleep than I did.

The kids are planning to sleep outside again tonight (even though it’s a little colder).

And I might just join them. After all, it is Sukkot!

Job 37:9 “From the chamber of the south comes the whirlwind, and cold from the scattering winds of the north.”

John 3:8 “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Tears of Sorrow

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Lloyd Guessford, died June 7, 1944 on the shores of Normandy, France

Lloyd Guessford, died June 7, 1944 on the shores of Normandy, France

Lloyd carefully pulled the tattered letter from his wallet. Faded, smudged, and creased, the letter was difficult to read, but that mattered not to the young man for he had already memorized the loving words. He treasured each letter he received from his wife, especially since the arrival of his daughter, Barbara Ann, on January 21–over 16 months ago. His lips curled slightly upward as he reread the message:

Dear Lloyd,

Your daughter is growing so fast. How I wish you could see her! She is learning new words every day. She loves to look at pictures, and she now says “Da!” when I show her your picture. She keeps me busy as she likes to climb and gets into everything.

I had this picture taken especially for you! Barbara is wearing her new dress she got for her first birthday. Fella Studio did an excellent job capturing her blue eyes. They do so remind me of you.

Both of us are fine, but we miss you dearly. I tell little Barbara Ann all about you, and she can’t wait to meet her daddy.

I know this letter is short, but I wanted you to get this picture as soon as possible. I will write more later.

With my deepest love,

Connie

Lloyd smiled as he once again gazed at his only daughter. His wife was right. Barbara had his blue eyes, but she had his wife’s brunette hair. Oh, how Lloyd loved his beautiful brown‑eyed wife, and oh how he missed her!

Would Barbara recognize him from his picture? How would she react when she saw her daddy for the first time? Would she reach out for him, or would she turn shyly away?

Lloyd sighed as he carefully folded the letter and placed the picture back into his wallet. How he hated this war! He wanted to be back with his lovely wife and daughter.He wanted to be back with his lovely wife and daughter—a daughter who was growing up without him, a daughter he hadn’t even met.  Hopefully, the war would soon be over, and then he would enjoy getting to know his daughter.


But Lloyd never got that opportunity. Lloyd Theodore Guessford died on June 7, 1944, during D‑Day operations in Normandy, France. He left behind a young wife and a daughter, not quite 17 months old.


Connie tried to muffle her sobs as she rocked her young daughter who had finally fallen asleep. The young wife and mother struggled to be brave for her daughter’s sake. Yet, Barbara was perceptive beyond her young years. She knew something was wrong and she clung desperately to her mother while awake and resisted going to sleep.

Gently, Connie laid her young daughter in her crib. “Oh, my little Barbara Ann! How sorry I am that you will never meet your daddy. He was such a wonderful man!”

Tears flowed down her face as she tenderly placed a kiss on the sleeping child’s soft brown hair. “Whatever will we do without our dear Lloyd?”

She did not leave her daughter’s room but collapsed back into the rocking chair, as she had nearly every night since the awful tragedy. “Oh, Lloyd, why did you have to die? Why? I need you so much! Barbara needs you!”

Connie let her mind wander back to the last time she had seen her beloved. She vividly remembered those final precious moments before Lloyd boarded the train that took him away forever. She had clung desperately to her husband as though she could prevent his leaving. Somehow, she had feared the war would take him away for more than just a couple years, despite his reassuring promises.

“Connie, I’ll be back before you know it. Be brave for me‑‑and that little baby,” he said winking as he patted her slightly swollen abdomen.

As much as she tried, Connie could not hold back the tears as she watched the train pull away. She was a brave young woman after that, and no one saw her cry. Only her damp pillowcase at night betrayed her emotions.

Time passed, but that lingering fear that somehow the war would separate her from her beloved, never departed. Even before the confirmed report of her husband’s death, Connie knew that something dreadful had happened.

Suddenly, her life was empty, except for little Barbara who gave Connie hope that life would go on. Barbara was her last living link to Lloyd, and somehow, she and Barbara would make it.


 

Author’s note

This fictionalized true story was written in November 2000. I never had the privilege of meeting Lloyd Guessford, although I’ve seen pictures of him and Connie and have read the newspaper account of his death. Yet this man has become an important part of my life since I married his oldest grandson in 1991.

Though dead, Lloyd lives on in his daughter Barbara, his two grandsons, and his three great‑grandsons and four great‑granddaughters. Without this man, whom I never met, I would not have a wonderful set of in‑laws, a terrific husband, two nieces, nor five precious children.

I am thankful for the many Lloyd Guessfords who fought to maintain this country’s freedom and for the many who willingly sacrificed their lives for that cause.

My husband Maynard Keller also wrote about his grandfather in Lest We Forget

You can read about my oldest son in the Army in Happy Birthday in Afghanistan..

 

Lest We Forget

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In memory of those who have sacrificed so much for the freedoms we enjoy, I share this tribute my husband Maynard Keller wrote about his grandfather who made the ultimate sacrifice during WWII.

 

The United States of America designates the last Monday of May as Memorial Day‑‑a day to remember those who so valiantly fought to preserve the freedoms we have.

 

Thousands lost their lives on the shores of Normandy, France, on the day we call D‑day. My grandfather, Lloyd Theodore Guessford, Pfc., 29th Infantry Division, 115th Regiment, gave his life for his country on June 6, 1944. He left behind a wife and an infant daughter whom he had never met.

 

Many historians view D‑Day as the turning point in World War II. Yet some prominent leaders in Washington who have never served in the military, much less fought in a war, criticize a strong national defense.

 

The families of veterans gave up so much: My mother, Barbara Ann Guessford, never sat on her father’s lap. Her father never tucked her in bed or gave her a good night kiss. She sacrificed more than I will ever know.

 

I know very little about this man I would have called “Pop Pop” or my mother would have called “Daddy.” Where was he educated? Did he have any brothers and sisters? Are any of them alive today? Did he have special talents in music or other areas? Where is he buried?

 

I owe so much to my grandfather‑‑without him, I would not be here. Although he no longer physically lives on earth, part of him lives on in my mother, me, and my five children. I dedicate this article to all the “Lloyd Guessfords” who sacrificed so that we might have freedom in America.

 

O valiant hearts, who to your glory came

Through dust of conflict and through battle flame;

Tranquil you lie, your knightly virtue proved,

Your memory hallowed in the land you loved.

 

Proudly you gathered, rank on rank, to war,

As who had heard God’s message from afar;

All you had hope for, all you had, you gave

To save mankind‑‑yourself you scorned to save

 

John Stanhope Arkwright

Empty Arms on Mother’s Day

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Each year on the second Sunday in May, we honor mothers on Mother’s Day. While this day is special for many women, others dread that day.

For the childless woman who wants children, Mother’s Day can be frustrating and a painful reminder of what is lacking in her life. No special flowers or Mother’s Day gift, just another uncomfortable service proclaiming God’s blessing of children.

Parents nod and smile in agreement and wonder when she is going to start a family. “Don’t worry. Next year, you’ll be standing up with all the other mothers,” someone says.

But she may not be. She leaves the service feeling worse than when she came. All she wants is a baby, and no one sees her pain. She is reminded again of her infertility and may even feel incomplete as a woman. Each month she faces disappointment. An unknown poet expressed well the pain she feels:

I am in pain. Someone just died. Who you say? Someone who never was.

I am infertile. My period just came. I hurt so much.

My body keeps reminding me I am incomplete, I don’t function properly.

Why? Why? Why? Oh, my baby, why can’t you be?

 

Some women, after years of infertility treatment, may conceive only to miscarry a baby. Life does not seem fair. While she desperately wants a baby, others intentionally abort their children. She would gladly adopt one of those babies as her own. Doesn’t anyone care for her pain?

Although I have not struggled with infertility, I have experienced the hurt of miscarriage. I do not understand how you feel, but I know you hurt deeply. I care and wish I could alleviate your pain. I wish I could fill your empty arms.

 

Empty Arms

Another month has passed.
God, I don’t understand.
I just want a baby.
Please fill these empty hands.
Lord, give me a child,
And I’ll raise him for you
like Hannah of old–
that’s what I’ll do.

Oh, for a little one
to fill my life with joy!
One or two-I don’t care.
A little girl or boy.
Give me peace within my heart
to rest in You each day.
that no matter what comes my way
I’ll trust You and obey.

Heaven’s Treasure

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He was just a little boy
with a heart full of love,
yet God the Father called him
to his heavenly home above.

He was just a little boy
with so much in store,
yet on that fateful day
his life became no more.

He left behind a family
with mourning in their hearts
who sorrow at his passing.
His soul from earth departs.

Forever in God’s presence
his soul with God resides.
In heav’nly mansions yonder
forever to abide.

We know you cannot come back.
We miss you tenderly;
but one day soon in heaven,
united we will be.

1 Corinthians 15:54b-55
Death is swallowed up in victory.
O Death, where is your victory?
O Death, where is your sting?

In memory of Cody James Creech (January 24, 1995 – January 1, 2005)

When Death Hits Home describes the terrible tragedy that ended Cody’s life on this earth.

When Death Hits Home

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 Cody Creech

I’ll never forget that phone call nine years ago.

“Rachel, this is Mom.”

From the tone in her voice, I sensed something was desperately wrong.

She quivered as she told me the news. “There’s been an accident. Cody was hit by a tractor trailer while on his four wheeler. He’s on life support at the hospital.” She barely sobbed out the next words, “They—they don’t think…he’ll make it.”

I was stunned, not knowing what to say. I had just seen my sister a few days earlier. Although miles separated my family from the rest of my extended family, and my sister lived even further away, I had seen my sister for a brief time before she and her family spent a few days skiing over their Christmas vacation.

That mild December night as I walked under the stars in my neighborhood cul-de-sac, I cried out to God to save Cody’s life, but most of all to give my sister and her family His all sufficient grace to bear the grief ahead and the painful decisions that had to be made.

I kept hoping that this was just a bad dream, and that I would wake up to find everything all right. Why would Cody, a bright young boy just shy of his 10th birthday, have to face the grim reaper? Cody was a delightful boy so full of promise. It seemed unfair that my sister would lose one of her two biological children, while I was expecting my 5th child.

I looked up at the stars and imagined Cody’s soul already in heaven. Even as I thought of death, the baby within my womb kicked reminding me of the life growing within me.

Nothing could be done to save Cody’s life. His soul had already left his body; only the life support was keeping his body alive for possible organ donation. On New Year’s Day when everyone else was celebrating, my sister made the painful decision to remove the life support.

Only those who have lost a child understand the deep pain a person experiences at the death of a child. I know the loss of miscarriage, but I still have my five children.

Yes, it hurts to know that you will never see your child on earth again, but we have the assurance that we will one day be reunited with him. The previous summer Cody had accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior and he is waiting in heaven for us.

Even in his death, Cody made a difference: his organs helped others live. While the pain of death never goes away, you learn to cope and become a stronger person in the process. My sister has helped so many others in so many ways. And after being out of school for so many years, she decided to go back to earn her teaching degree (with highest honors). She is now making a difference in the lives of precious boys and girls as a 3rd grade teacher.

Yes, we miss Cody, but we know that one day death will be swallowed up in victory.

O Death, where is your victory?

O Death, where is your sting?

1 Corinthians 15:55

Cody Creech Memorial Site

Happy Birthday in Afghanistan

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Specialist John Keller

Specialist John Keller

Twenty years ago today was a very cold, snowy morning. My husband and I had carefully traveled the icy roads late the evening before in anticipation of our oldest son’s arrival.

He wasn’t due for another two and a half weeks and I wasn’t in labor, but my water bags had broken and my doctor suggested I come to the hospital. We didn’t relish the idea of rushing through more snow in the early hours of the morning so we left late that night.

Although I had taken childbirth classes, I really didn’t know what to expect since every woman is different. (And I can tell you after having five children that each pregnancy and childbirth varies even with the same woman.)

I tried everything I could think of to get my labor started, but it was past midnight and nothing was happening. I reluctantly agreed to pitocin. I assumed that my labor would be long, so when the pains became intense very quickly, I decided to try an epidural.

The anesthesiologist was with another patient and by the time he began giving me the epidural, I felt a strong urge to push. I was fully dilated and ready to give birth.

I don’t think the nurse realized how quickly I would progress, and if I had known, I would have chosen all-natural. (I chose all natural with the next four. Yes, I had an emergency, C-section with my fifth child, but it was only after going through the whole labor sans drugs, and I began pushing that the doctors realized I wouldn’t be able to deliver a double footling breech baby. Only then, did I agree to an epidural and the C-section.)

Shortly after 5 in the morning, I gave birth to my first-born son. He was one ounce over six pounds, and the most beautiful baby I had ever seen! My heart filled with love as I held him close and nursed him for the first time.

With the thoughts of joy, however, came thoughts of fear and inadequacy. How could I ever possibly teach this baby all he needed to know for life? Would he learn to love God and treat his fellow man with kindness and respect?

As the years passed, I tried to imagine what my son would look like as a grown man, and what he would become. Despite my mistakes—and I made plenty of them—my son John grew up into a fine young man.

My only regret is that this is the first birthday that I can’t give him a birthday hug and kiss. I can’t make him a special birthday meal or a birthday cake.

You see, my son is part of the United States Army, and his unit is currently serving in Afghanistan. It hasn’t been easy, but he is fulfilling his duty to his country, and I couldn’t be more proud of him. He also received his E-4 promotion today on his birthday, which makes him a specialist.

Congratulations, Specialist John Maynard Keller, and happy 20th birthday!

How does a mother feel about letting her son go out of her protective arms and across the world to a dangerous situation? Carried in His Arms. describes the emotional struggled I encountered as the day of my son’s departure drew near and how God sustained me during that time.