Sunday mornings in Elizabeth City, I walk about 10 minutes
from the administrative offices to the corps (church) building. It gives me a
few minutes to enjoy the morning and pray about the Sunday meetings.
One of the houses along the walk is a gray two-story house that
has a flag pole in the front. The American flag and a disabled veterans flag
fly from its mast. During a walk last fall, I began to notice a slight fraying
on the edges of the American flag and saw a tear along the bottom two
I thought to myself that someone ought to do
something about that. I discovered that the owner of the house was a widow
whose husband, a retired Coast Guard chief petty officer, had died the previous
year. Each Sunday as I walked by, I thought that the flag was getting worse and
that someone should do something about it. One Sunday in October 2005 I saw the
flag as it fluttered in absolute rags, and I had an idea - maybe I should be
the one to do something! I could buy a flag and retire the tattered and torn
Astonished by my own brilliant idea, I shared my plan
with Richard Stone, our teen Sunday school teacher. "Captain, there are
dozens of flags like that in Elizabeth City," Richard said. "What
difference will one make?"
I responded, "I
don't walk past dozens of houses with the flag shot to pieces, but I do
walk past that one every Sunday."
Filled with good
intentions, I put off buying the flag until the weekend. But first, there was a
slight hitch. A phone call came from Mike Patterson, divisional disaster
director, on Friday. I had been assigned to do a two-week stint in St. Bernard
Parrish, La., for Katrina relief work.
Three Sundays later,
I was walking past the house and noted that the tattered flag was still flying.
I thought, "Tomorrow, I will go get a flag for that woman." But there
was a slight hitch. Christmas season was upon us and I never could quite work
out a time to get a new flag. Sure, if you want to be critical, you could
suggest that with Christmas work I was at Wal-Mart three or four times a day. I
have heard that Wal-Mart actually sells stuff. If you still want to be
critical, you might note that I drove by other stores every day as I was out
and about. If you want to be critical, you could note that as I walked by the
still-tattered flag the following March that Christmas season was three months
In April, after Richard Stone asked how the flag
business was going, I went down to the store and bought an American flag. This
was done with the clear intention and desire to replace the flag. Now, being
critical people, you might suggest that just buying a flag with good intentions
is not enough - you actually have to take the old flag down and put the new one
up. Do you really think I would buy a new flag and not put it up?
Four weeks later, I asked Billy Scaff and Richard Stone if they
would go by the house and put the flag up for me.
many things from day to day that need to be done and figure that someone will
take care of it. Someone will replace that flag. Someone will pick up children
in the van and bring them to church, someone will feed the hungry, someone will
share the gospel and someone will ring the kettle bells this season. Someone
Maybe next time, I will be that someone. Or maybe you
Planting and plucking
On Easter weekend, I bought my annual tomato plant sapling. It was
just a puny thing, its young leaves barely above the potting soil in my small
garden. In anticipation of a high yield, I even placed the circular trellis
A few weeks later, I made it back to my garden. I
cleared the weeds, sprayed for bugs and added more plant food. I watered both
the plant and surrounding ground.
Still more weeks later, I
pulled more weeds (where do they come from?) and tenderly threaded the growing
stems through the trellis's wire supports. Blossoms had appeared, promising
that tomatoes would follow.
On Independence Day, sure
enough, there were a few tomatoes. Mostly green, but mature enough for me to
show them off to visitors. The thick branches are almost too much for the
trellis to contain.
While at Bible conference, we finally
enjoyed tomatoes from our little garden. They were red, plump and delicious. We
took some to the office to share with others. I picked a few more on Labor
Last weekend, I stood in the crisp autumn air and gazed
at my plant. It had withered as a signal that winter is surely coming. I heard
myself sigh as I forced myself to reach down with my shears and prune away that
which I had babied for six months.
The verse from
Ecclesiastes 3:2 came to me: a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which
is planted. I also thought of when Jesus said that a seed must be planted and
die before new life can begin. With that promise, this year's tomato plant
is no more.
But I cannot wait until Easter!