Archive for the ‘Essays’ Category

America, endangered   1 comment

I remember beautiful cities I once visited; Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Washington D.C., New York city… the list goes on. It was not about the monuments or museums visited, infrastructure erected, landscape or location that made them great cities, but its history and sense of community that made it ‘home’ to those living there. Whether driving through affluent neighborhoods with manicured, landscaped yards, little clapboard or cottage cape cod houses, or the boroughs of crowded brick tenement apartment buildings there was a culture all its own. Is that now gone forever? It is certainly all changed. Is it in danger of ever being once what it was? Where/when did this country, or its leaders fail its people, to change all that we loved, took pride in, and vowed to protect and preserve ? Are we still in America, the Beautiful, or America, endangered? Where are the people that took pride in their cities, preserving, protecting what they had created? Are they all now in the streets of these cities looting, protesting, destroying and knocking down monuments erected of historical events and leaders that once fought for the people’s rights and freedoms? Are they the ones vandalizing public and private properties, victimizing the innocent that stand by and watch their homes or their businesses burned, their monuments destroyed? Why do they refuse the help, want to defund or abolish  the police and federal agents that took an oath to guard and protect all the people, black and white, red and Asian, poor and rich, homeless and sheltered, Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Atheist? What started as a “black lives matter” movement for racial injustice has now become more a revolution to oppose humane justice for all. These mobs are driven by the powers of socialists and anarchists to destroy all that we fought to preserve; our democracy, our freedoms, our free will, our voice, our culture, our livelihood our future, our faith, our very existence. Whatever name they choose to call themselves they are now killing, injuring and wreaking havoc on the innocent. They are not just common folks with a sign and a cry for change, but leaders, officials and politicians in office. Though we are not forced to take sides, to commit to, or support one group or party, we have a choice and we have a voice. Where do we draw the line at what is allowed or acceptable when the blood of the innocent pools at the feet of protestors aligned with anarchists? Who will speak for the victims of a revolution gone bad? Who will we stand with, not fight against? Are we still even one nation? We are for certain not, “one nation under God,” But, one so divided, so broken that there is no longer an America the Beautiful, but one endangered. And it is the latter one I fear is soon to be extinct if it cannot stand as one and come together for the sake of democracy and justice for all.

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Joyce E. Mannhalter © July 2020

 

Posted July 29, 2020 by Joyce in Essays, My Writings, Politics

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Toppled by forces beyond our control

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We get Chinook winds here in northern Colorado that can get up to 100+ mph. The strength and force can blow over even the strongest trees. That happened recently to some trees we had up on our mountain property northwest of Fort Collins. We don’t live up there full time, but when we went up there recently we found some of our largest, even healthy looking trees toppled over, uprooted completely from the ground around the rocks and boulders with the roots exposed.

It reminds me of how vulnerable our country and government administration is right now. The media running amok with ‘leaks’, compromising influences, immigration bans, repeals, etc. further adds to the already weakened, wobbly foundation. Add to that all the protest marches of people taking their gripes, complaints, personal vendettas and agendas to the streets with chants, signs and slogans like ‘a day without immigrants’ to change what they can’t, or won’t abide by, and we have a volatile situation that can only get worse, not better. If things continue as they’re going ‘We the People’ will destroy and topple what was set up to protect all when our country was founded.

Everyone has an immigrant story to tell. My grandfather and his family were immigrants from Odessa, Russia who set down roots, and established a life based on the values our country set forth in the constitution. He went through legal channels, became a U.S. citizen, was naturalized, and valued every right and freedom in this country. He voted his candidate choice, but he did not put down others who voted differently, or disagreed with him. If he disagreed on something, whether one in political office or another who wronged him he did not pick up a sign and take his offense to the street, but chose to pray over it instead of protesting over it. He carried a bible instead, and lived by the principles in it, with respect for others, regardless their political perspective, faith or life choices. If only we could return to the things that really did ‘make America great,’ what a wonderful country we would have. Like him or not, disagree if you want, but we now have a man who is trying to do that, for the good of all people.

In the New Testament bible (Matthew 13: 3-9) it tells about Jesus’s parable of the seed sown. He talks about the seed sown by the sower planting a crop. Good seed goes down deep in the soil where there are no rocks or boulders obstructing its growth. It takes root and nothing but the forces beyond our control will topple it or blow it over upon itself. Seed scattered and tossed among the rocks and weeds will be easily uprooted, blown over, and not grow. We are known by the fruit of our tree. Good seed was planted in this country when founded, and the constitution enacted. It rooted, grew, flourished and prospered. But, today much of that root system is in jeopardy of toppling a great tree.

There will never be harmony or unity here in our country when thousands choose to defy all that our president is trying to do for the whole of this country. Wisdom comes in knowing how best to reflect our voice, disapproval or disenchantment of things we don’t like. Marching in the streets, shouting chants, carrying signs, does little to affect real change. It is just a lot of noise, and fodder for CNN News.

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Joyce E. Johnson, 2017

 

A man who walked the talk

 

 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Jan. 15,1929-April 4, 1968

 

Our nation honors today a man who reflected the values he lived by. His life represented all the things this country fought for, men and women died for, people marched, demonstrated and stood for. Our country knows well the violence, death, destruction, prejudice and bigotry that marred its history. This man took up the fight for civil rights and liberties so all can enjoy the rights and freedom that comes with walking the streets without fear or retaliation, prejudice, injury or death because of their color. Eating in a public restaurant at any table, attending the school or college of their choice without being bussed across town, riding in the front of the bus instead of walking to the back, serving in the military, all of the things this man hoped to realize in his lifetime, but did not. He marched not to the beat of a drum, but with chants and voices raised, and thousands followed.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a man who did not cower to those who mocked him, distrusted him, despised what he stood for and tried to change. He was a man of honor, of faith, one who loved God, and relied on Him in everything he did. He was a pastor, but he was also a rising political leader with a dream, and a vision. He stood before 250,000 thousand people who came to hear him deliver his, ‘I Have a Dream’ speech in Washington, D.C. He won the Nobel Peace Prize, yet gave it up for the cause of peace to further the work he started.

It was not just for the people of color that he stood up to protect. Preaching about the love for all men and women, tolerance, acceptance and forgiveness from a pulpit was his platform for the message he hoped to deliver, the dream he wished to share. Marching down the streets in Birmingham, Alabama was his way of demonstrating it with those of the same color and standing with those who had the same dream, that one day we all could get along, no matter our color, faith or lifestyle, and no matter our political differences and perspective.  But, Martin Luther King’s dream was shattered. Down through the years we’ve become more a nation of distrust, division and disruption. There are those who choose to act out their prejudices and disfavor with violence and acts of terror. Hate is demonstrated in many forms. Evil will find a way to rear its ugly head. Martin Luther King Jr. did not live to reach the finish line of his march. He was shot down, by the bullet of an assassin on April 4th, 1968 in Memphis, Tenn.

Can we work together, unite for the cause of peace, live together in harmony? We have nothing more to lose that we have not already lost. But, we have everything to gain, what we hope to achieve, yet have not realized, if we have a dream.

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Joyce E. Johnson (2017)

Is this our America?

 

On July 4th, 1776, a group of men from thirteen colonies came together to sign and date two important documents of the newly established United States of America. We were united as, “One nation under God, indivisible with life, liberty and justice for all.” Today, we are a country with laws looking more muddled, manipulated and misinterpreted.

Will God forsake a country founded on the principles of a democracy created to serve and protect all, regardless their color, faith, background or lifestyle? No. But, can he bless one that has so drastically moved away from the founding principles by which it was created? The pendulum swings in a different direction today, the country so divided, the parties so diverse. We can affect change from lessons learned in our history, but not if people don’t want to learn from its mistakes. There seems little likeness anymore to the original constitution created when our first congress came together, unified in spirit, like-minded.

Our laws today allow us to live however we choose, marry the same sex, change our sex, and silence the voice of the unborn, with little conscience of what we’re doing. The Muslims can meet, pray and attend their mosques, but a Christian’s rights are scrutinized, questioned, defended in court, and not allowed in our schools. That is not ‘equality’.

People want laws to keep guns out of the hands of killers. But, guns are only a means to a killer who will gain access to a weapon regardless of the kind, or how it is defined. If the intent is there to kill, he/she will find a way, and a weapon because there is evil intent in his, or her heart to begin with. Guns can still be found on the black market if gun laws are instituted, and those needing the protection with one have none.

People want to secure our borders, keep terrorists from coming in, but our country is already hosting and harboring thousands of refugees allowed into the country. Many more have gained access across our borders via Mexico with lax measures in place by illegal immigration. Terrorists can be recruited on the internet, even build their bombs from instructions found there.

Yet, how can this country pass judgment on those who enter our country illegally when thousands of unborn babies die every day in this country? Can we still expect God to bless this country? Are we living in grace, or disgrace when that kind of murder goes on? Where is the ‘justice’ for the unborn when our supreme court justices are appointed by a president who supports and allows such a law?

Is this the America we created when our U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence was signed? No! It is a new America. One that is in trouble, one only God can fix. Can we, “Make America great again?” (Trump). That depends on whether we are willing to get on our knees and pray, seek and acknowledge God, and trust him to heal our land. “Come together, work together?” (Clinton). Only if we are united under God,  will we stand together, but divided without him, we fall.

“We the people… to form a more perfect union…” With reported scandals, dishonesty, and accusations seen in both of our presidential candidates we are wondering who we can trust to lead us. We are a country torn asunder, not one striving to form a ‘more perfect union’. We are states in despair, struggling to get along, agreeing on little and it keeps us in a pervasive civil unrest.

II Chronicles 7:14 (Old Testament Bible) says, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” This was God’s covenant to Solomon after he built the temple for his people. Who will we choose to reside in our temple (White House), and sit in our congress?

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Joyce E. Johnson (2016)

Securing my own ‘nest’

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Spring brings everyone outdoors once warm weather hits like a brilliant sun on a clear blue sky. Everything seems new again; blooms with delicate petals opening like arms raised to the sky in praise. Grass and trees with new buds so small it is hard to see with the naked eye, but slowly we begin to see new growth and even the birds and small game come out to celebrate the new season.

This squirrel nest is in our neighbor’s tree which hangs its low branches over the fence and into our yard, so from our back yard swing I am able to see the trees as they turn green in the spring, or yellow gold in autumn.

I have watched and wondered about whether the nest might get knocked out by a strong chinook wind, or blowing snow storm. When I saw no activity near it I even wondered if it was abandoned. But, one recent morning I noticed a squirrel climbing out of it as it hopped down onto the branches below.

Our dog, Maggie loves to go after the squirrels in our yard who are plentiful anymore, often hurrying along on the top of the fence racing to the end before she can lunge at them, but they know she is not fast enough or large enough to gain advantage over them so they tease her, screeching, twitching and snapping their tails as if slapping at her. They seem carefree, unafraid of anything happening around them. I watch them, and think, what if we could have that same feeling of unconcern in our world and take each day without anxiety, or stress.

Life can be unpredictable, never certain. We face the realities of our times, and the circumstances in which we find ourselves in, and our world can seem in jeopardy of falling apart. It can be our home, our comfort zone, or our very life that can hang in the balance because there is no monopoly on our tomorrows, only a down payment on our todays. What we put into our ‘todays’ can affect what we leave behind. A legacy that defines us, like a footprint left in this world where we’ve walked can make a difference. Recent events, terrorist attacks, political upheaval, the election woes with its unpredictable outcome, whatever it is, catastrophic storms or events can bring down our nest, our world. A strong wind can shake us, upset our nest, but a storm we have no control over can destroy us.

There is much said about securing our borders, our transportation systems, our investments, economy.” but, it is my own ‘nest,’ my own foundation that I am more focused on building and securing. Sure, I will make my mark, vote my choice, express my voice, but all else I leave in God’s hands where I can trust His judgement, His control, not that of a campaigning candidate, or world leader.

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Joyce E. Johnson (2016) 

 

 

“The Greatest of These…”

The news last Friday of the passing of Harper Lee, author and winner of the Pulitzer Prize award for her bestselling novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, and her more recent, Go Set a Watchman was perhaps the spark that ignited the controversial civil rights movement. Her characters, Atticus Finch, his daughter, Scout and son, Jem became embroiled in the lives and events of their friends and neighbors. The fact that they lived in a town in Alabama’s south where their neighbors included both white and black people put them in difficult positions, while taking sides to defend that which they felt the need to preserve and protect; tolerance, equality and fairness, whatever one’s race or color, leaving an imprint on their lives from that day forward.

The subject matter she wrote about in her novels dealing with issues of race discrimination became nothing less than a volatile time bomb erupting during the civil rights era with the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., cutting short his realization of the ‘dream’ of equality for all, and his own fight to protect and preserve the same.

Today again, we see the rise of conflict, and a feverish animosity of hatred and intolerance whatever one’s color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or lifestyle. It is like the beginnings to a crescendo pitch of the civil rights era all over again with demonstrations, shootings and mistrust in a country that was founded on the principles of equality for all.

I was a teenager during the civil rights era and remember well the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and found myself on both sides of the conflict. I had friends who were black, but I also felt the fear of rape and victimization of those of color whom I felt I could not trust with good reason as I was stalked and followed home from work one night fearing I could not get home in time. We also lived close to black neighborhoods. Later, the aftermath and rape of one I knew, and having been a witness to the crime left me bitter, and fearful, living across the street from where it was committed.

But, it is the hate instilled in one’s heart, whether or not they inflict harm, or worse, death on one they stalk, or target that becomes an even worse crime.

February is designated as a month when Love is encouraged, emphasized and sold by the millions in advertised products and displays. But, need it be just one month, or one day only that we show kindness, love, fairness, equality, tolerance to those who are not only different from us in color or style? Can we truly choose to love one, regardless of who they are? Does it need be only the ‘dream’ of one man of color who lived his life in peace, and demonstrated it, so that love and equality could be realized in this world, not merely dreamed?

1 Corinthians, chapter 13 is known as the ‘Love chapter.’ It says in chapter 13:4-8 (NIV), “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude; it is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered; it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” And, finally, in verse, 13, it says, “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

I choose to love.

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Joyce E. Johnson © 2016


Posted February 22, 2016 by Joyce in Essays, My Writings

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A glance at the former with a hopeful look to the coming

An old ketch of mine from many years ago of Theodore Roosevelt (upper left), Woodrow Wilson (center) and George Washington (right)

An old ketch of mine from many years ago of Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and George Washington

 

The above sketch I did so many years ago that I cannot remember when it was. At the time I had been watching the campaigns of candidates running for president and read up on some of our former presidents, and found an old photo of these three from which I could practice my sketching. I was not an American history buff, but have always followed the presidential candidates, their platform, ideologies and campaigns so I could make an informed decision on who I wanted to vote for on election day.

But, this year will be what I think one of the most decisive election years I have ever seen as the American people watch with feverish anticipation, their attention riveted to the debates, repetitive news media coverage, interviews and promises made by the White House hopefuls.

What should we expect? Who can deliver what they claim they will do for the American people? Will they even be able to when we witness continued civil unrest and conflict on our streets?  Opposing sides differ and argue on issues that range on everything from immigration reforms and securing our country’s borders, to the justice, or lack of concerning the guilty of crimes against one group, race or another. The refugees and illegals that push across our borders and the terrorists that merge undetected inside them with no forthcoming answer or solution raises our alert status to unprecedented levels. The list of issues goes on with no end to those that exist as new ones arise. For a newly elected president he, or she has the insurmountable task to lead our country into a safer, more secure place where people can live in peace and harmony with prosperity and equal rights for all. Will we ever see a time when everyone believes their voice matters, that they can live their life without intrusion, obstruction, compromise or fear?

But, whomever that one is the people choose next November it is ultimately God who remains in control, regardless what they can or hope to do, and that is where I place my greater faith and trust. I pray that God will grant us grace and wisdom, that it is His plan put into effect, and that He is invited to reside in the White House, and in our Congress, because His presence has all but been eliminated, and we see what happens when He is pushed away.

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Joyce E. Johnson (2016)

Posted January 4, 2016 by Joyce in blogging, Essays, My Photos, My Writings

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Remembering 9-11

Photo credit: Joyce E. Johnson, 1998

World Trade Center Twin Towers, New York City, April 1998

It was April 1998, when my husband, Wayne and I took this vacation, and these pictures.  We flew into New York City to Laguardia airport on a weekday, picked up a rental car and traveled north up to Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, across upper New York to Niagara Falls, down through Pennsylvania, in to Maryland, Washington D.C.,  Delaware and back into New York City and Staten Island before leaving for home from Laguardia. It was a whirlwind trip in nine days as we covered all of the upper northeast and New England from the east side to the west and back again in a loop.

While in New York City those final three days we took a ferry-boat over to the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Battery Park. As we toured scenic sights of Manhattan taking pictures we stood in front of a memorial at Battery Park dedicated to the early immigrants who came ashore to the U.S., processed through Castle Gardens there before Ellis Island opened up in 1892.  It was a very emotional time for me as I walked about that park, looking up at the Statue of Liberty and wondering what the immigrants thought, what they saw when arriving through the portals of our country’s immigration processing centers.

My grandfather and his family were Germans who came over from Odessa, Russia, and were processed through Castle Gardens like thousands of others. Enduring hardships, making sacrifices to come over to America immigrants by the thousands came over on ships, hopeful to begin a new life here. They were as diverse in color of skin, religion, faith, occupation, and status in life as those in our country today. But, the one thing that bound them all together was their desire to begin a new life in a better place  than the one they had come from, and live it in freedom away from tyranny, and anarchy. Poor, destitute, seeking a new life in a country offering so much, to those having so little, they came, hopeful, committed, and excited to become an American.

New York was at that time the primary gateway into America. The hope of prosperity, the right to choose their own destiny, occupation and the promise of an education gave them a sense of purpose without rules and regulations enforced upon them by a dictator.

My grandfather was only three years old when they immigrated. His greatest dream was to become a naturalized citizen and vote in a real election for his country’s president. He worked hard, got an education and cherished every day and moment he had in life to be all he could be with God’s help.

As I stood in front of Battery Park taking pictures I was amazed at how tall and large the Twin Towers of the WTC were, as  they towered above all other skyscrapers in Manhattan. Such a stark contrast to all the rest of those in the skyline they were like beacons to our country’s business district,  icons of the American dream of success.

Who would have believed that just a few short years later we would see the annihilation and obliteration of the World Trade Centers’ Twin Towers, and attempts made to destroy our country’s capitol, and the pentagon as well?  The horrific event on September 11, 2001 killing almost 3,000 people will live forever in our memory and hearts.

As Americans we owe a debt we can never repay to our military servicemen and women  for what they did so we can have this freedom. Having fought, or died in wars protecting it we can only support them, honor them, pray for them, and thank them for their sacrifice, and service. This is my way of paying tribute to them, to our firefighters, and police officers for what they did then, and do now to protect our lives and freedom here in the U.S.

May we never forget.

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I am re-posting this blog post today, in commemoration of the fourteenth anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attack on the twin towers in New York city.

Joyce E. Johnson (2015)

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.

___________________________

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.

_____________________

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.  

_________________________

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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A Family History

… there is hope for a tree: if it is cut down,

it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail. Its roots

may grow old in the ground and its stump die in the soil,

 Yet at the scent of water, it will bud and put forth shoots like a plant.

Job 14: 7-9 (NIV)

Family photos of my paternal grandfather’s family and his German Bible

 

            I started researching our genealogy in 1983, one year after my father’s death. After he passed away, I had a strong desire to know about our heritage, our family history, and the countries of Germany and Russia, where they came from. My father often talked about Russia and how his father and family “came over” from Odessa, Russia. I was always mystified by that country, its history, past, culture, and people. He told about there being no freedom to worship in a church, read a Bible, or pray aloud. To do so meant arrest, imprisonment, being exiled to Siberia and labor camps. Little did I know until later with my research that all of that, and worse things, actually did happen in Russia. I learned that thousands of Germans in Russia went to their death, or to labor camps. What was their crime? They wanted to congregate with other believers, attend a worship service, construct a church, or keep alive their German roots, their culture.

            In the mid and late 1700 ‘s the Germans were invited to immigrate to Russia and settle on the steppes of South Russia in territories now belonging to Ukraine and Moldova. Catherine the Great, a German princess, and Czarina of Russia promised them their freedom to live as they had in Germany. They trusted her manifesto, declaring such promises, and protection. But, she did not keep her word. The Germans did not want to follow a Marxist,  or Bolshevik regime, or serve in the Red Army, under the ruthless, murderous dictator, Joseph Stalin. They did not believe in the Socialists’ ideology, or want to conform to Communism. German Jews who were part of this group were coerced into converting to the Russian Orthodox religion. Hundreds more chose to convert to the Lutheran faith before or after their immigration into Russia, like the Mannhalter family. Pogroms and persecution followed, directed at the Germans and Jews. They were rounded up and placed in cattle cars, taken away to labor camps, or put in prison cells, many of them tortured, many dying while incarcerated.  Hundreds more died from the famines in the 1930 ‘s.      When the Berlin Wall was built it was not only to confine the East Germans, but all the ethnic Russians, Jews, and everyone within the communist countries of Eastern Europe. When the revolution rose up against the Communist regime in 1991, and a democratic government was formed it freed everyone of restrictions. It allowed them to travel where they wanted to go, live the way they wanted, worship God, or practice their religion. The Germans in Russia left en masse, pouring into the unified Germany, the United States, and other countries. Many of the Jews immigrated to Israel.          

            My father’s interest in his family’s background inspired me, and a strong desire to begin the quest for our ‘story’ began. It inspired me on to learn all I could about their past. It has been thirty years of research, an emotional journey.

            When I took a trip to the former Soviet Union in 1989, it marked the 100th year of my great grandfather, Adam’s (and his family) immigration in 1889.                   

            I took along my father’s Living Bible given to me when he died. I declared it on my declaration document as I entered the Soviet Union. I read it in my hotel room the first day of the tour, as I prayed for protection, that God would make His presence known to me while traveling in this Communist country. He did. In a way my father too, took the journey with me, in spirit at least. When I returned home, a small American flag hung above our front door to welcome me back home after the ten-day trip. My husband, Wayne had put it there.

            In 1998, Wayne and I went to New York, the New England states, and Washington, D.C. for a vacation. We were able to spend a day in New York City touring the historic Ellis Island (now a museum), the Statue of Liberty and Battery Park (the former Castle Gardens).

            It was at Castle Gardens where our family disembarked and proceeded through the lines of immigration. On the day that we went there, I sat on the ferryboat staring up in awe at the beautiful Statue of Liberty. I was overcome with emotion, wiping the tears from my face. The statue had been set in place just a few years before great grandfather, Adam and his family disembarked from their passage ship. They must have seen it too. Did they maybe also wipe tears from wide-eyed faces? It was crowded the day we were there. There were long lines of tourists waiting to get inside. We were unable to get in to see the rest of the monument. We could only walk the grounds outside it due to the late hour. We had spent considerable time at Ellis Island and Battery Park the same day. We had to use the ferryboats to cross to each site.

            When we walked around Battery Park, the very place of their immigration processing, a park ranger gave us a personal tour. I told him about my family genealogy research. He took us to the place where the early immigrants came ashore to go through immigration processing, just as thousands of others did a few years later at Ellis Island when it opened in 1892. Then they closed Castle Gardens.

            Ironically, there remains buried underneath Battery Park an old landfill that was covered, filled in and beautifully landscaped with a memorial to honor the immigrants. Trees, grass, flowers, and plants are everywhere, thriving and maintained. What a beautiful way to honor that spot by planting the trees, flowers, and plants. I thought about that as a wonderful illustration of our family’s historic past. Our ancestors who went before us were like a tree, transplanted upon American soil, watered, nurtured, and cared for by those honoring them, wanting to keep alive their legacy. They came ashore, walking from the portals of their past through the gates into their future, into freedom. They came with hope and purpose, and believed it would be easier for those coming after them. It is my hope that my children and grandchildren will walk through the portals of their ancestors’ past with this book to get a glimpse of the life our ancestors left, to come to a blessed land, America.

 

Joyce E. Johnson

© 2012

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