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The Song: A film for the restless man



“There is nothing new under the sun.”

As we men strive to find meaning and purpose and to make meaningful connections in our fast-paced, consumer-driven, anything-goes culture, the words of Solomon ring truer now than ever.

“I have seen everything done under the sun. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after wind.”

Three years ago Richard Ramsey and City On a Hill Studio set out to make a film that would speak to modern-day audiences through Solomon’s lifelong quest for real love and true meaning. The writer and director wanted a theater-worthy film that believers and the unchurched alike would want to see and talk about.  As Ramsey says, it is a film for the restless man.

The script and directing are remarkably intentional, making use of biblical allusion, symbolism, parallels and imagery to bring the life and teachings of Solomon into today’s realities. The story line follows Solomon’s relentless search for meaning through wisdom, pleasure, and power, only to find that the elusive answers are not distant, but as close to home as the heart.

The Song, which debuts on September 26 in theaters across the country, uses narratives from the Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes and Proverbs, masterfully woven into the tapestry of a modern-day story of love, marriage, and meaning. The movie follows the career of Jed King (played by relative newcomer Alan Powell), a struggling musician who’s blessed and cursed to be the son of beloved country music star, David King (yes, the symbolism starts early in the film and poignantly shadows the plot throughout).

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The first five minutes show the rise and fall, redemption and untimely death of his father in a gritty sequence that is foreign to many faith-based films.  While not graphic, the sequence (which parallels the failures of King David) lays the legacy for Jed King and offers a foreshadowing of difficulties to come as he follows in his father’s footsteps.

Jed believes he’s meant to be a singer, not just because of his father’s legacy but also because it’s a gift and mission given to him by God. Struggling to find a breakthrough after being cut from his record label, Jed takes a gig at a local hometown festival where he meets Rose (Ali Faulkner, another relative newcomer).

The two fall in love and marry (no, that’s not a spoiler, because you know the Song of Solomon) and begin their George-and-Mary-Bailey wonderful life. But as with all marriages, the infatuation gives way to distance as the two are pushed away by the busyness of parenthood, extended family, career, and the ever-present search for self-fulfillment. As their emotional and physical distance grows, Jed becomes frustrated and begins searching for fulfillment outside the home in the most obvious place—his music career.

Solomon’s woman of Proverbs 7-9 makes her appearance in the form of Jed’s opening act, fiddle player Shelby Bale (played by Caitlin Nichol-Thomas in her movie debut). Shelby is there when Rose is not, and his heart is further pulled away from home.

Throughout the movie, the dialogue is punctuated by Jed’s narration, directly from Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and Proverbs. We follow the story through the bliss of Solomon and his love, and through the search for meaning and pleasure. Each promise of fulfillment ends up empty and takes Jed on his journey further and further from home and his first love.

The Song contains the most extensive use of Scripture of any film I’ve seen except for Jesus, which uses only Scripture. Yet it is far from preachy because it’s Jed own words, narrating his own story of love, loss and futility, a story that ultimately finds redemption and purpose.

This movie will not be the “feel good” movie of the fall season. Ramsey, in his writing and directing, intentionally leads the viewer through the messiness of life and the soul-searching of Solomon. It is heavy and frequently dark, but it needs to be. The man watching this movie needs to feel the weight of foolish, short-sighted decisions.

As a film centered on music, the songs are significant elements in revealing the characters, their struggles, and values. Powell and Nichol-Thomas perform their own songs quite capably. In fact, Powell is a member of the Christian vocal group, Anthem Lights, and Nichol-Thomas is a professional fiddler. One song that won’t be new to moviegoers is The Byrds’ 1965 classic, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” This musical rendering of Ecclesiastes 3 is a favorite of Rose, and plays a prominent part later in the movie.

Although the film ends on a happier note, the heaviness remains with you through the final credits, which is appropriate. Choices have consequences, and foolish choices leave a heart-wrenching aftermath, particularly when it comes to the closest human relationship—marriage. The Song is a cautionary tale for couples. Between the pace of life, the lures of our culture, and the deceitfulness of the human heart, marriage relationships naturally grow apart unless you’re intentionally moving toward oneness.

A selfish act, an unkind word, a bitterness unresolved have caustic results. But authentic love also carries the power of forgiveness and redemption. It is the very thing that has the power to draw someone from the depths of despair to a life that’s truly meaningful.

In an unplanned, deeply personal message to a concert audience, Jed voices this realization:

“You know, when you’re always under bright lights, you can’t see the stars. You forget things. You forget that somebody put the stars there, and that they love you enough to die for you. And it’s that kind of love that makes songs worth singing and life worth living. I had that kind of love and I threw it away. Because I am a fool. I’m sorry.”

Jed was referring to Rose, but what he says applies equally to our relationship to a loving Father, who gave His Son on our behalf. The Apostle Paul (who may be Solomon’s wise New Testament counterpart) reminds us that in the midst of our rebellion, it’s God’s kindness and patience that bring us to repentance (Romans 2:4). He also reminds us that when we’re most unlovable, God’s love reaches out to us (Romans 5:8), whether it’s for salvation or forgiveness.

The marriage relationship is the optimal environment where we can show the undeserved, unconditional love of Christ. It’s probably the hardest place as well. Who knows us better than our spouses? Who can put together the longest laundry list of offenses? On the other hand, who have we let closer to our hearts to see the beautiful and honorable, the vulnerable and needy? Besides God, who better knows the depth of our need for grace and companionship?

And that is the dual message of The Song. As Solomon draws his conclusions in Ecclesiastes:

Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 9:9)

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

That’s a message everyone needs to hear.

© 2014 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading “The Song: A film for the restless man,” by Scott Williams in the Stepping Up men’s blog. 

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Men are prone to sexual temptation when things aren’t great at home. Read “When men are tempted to cheat.”

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistLearn the “3 Weeds You Need to Pull from Your Marriage Garden” to keep your marriage from drifting toward isolation.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistFind a theater near you showing “The Song” and bring your wife, your friends, or the restless man.

Truett Cathy: Patriarch of more than the chicken sandwich



Truett Cathy is the father of the chicken sandwich and a man who set the bar for other fast food empires. On Monday, September 8, he left this world, and the restaurant kingdom he built, to go home to a better kingdom and be with his Heavenly Father.

Cathy invested his life in others. Nowhere is that more evident than through the testimony of his sons, Dan and Bubba, who carried on his values at home and in the corporation they manage.

Watch this segment from the Stepping Up video series. It was created to be a representation of what it means to be a patriarch. With Truett Cathy’s passing, it is a testimony to a life well-lived.

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Truett Cathy was a patriarch. Not just of the chicken sandwich or Chick-fil-A, but in the more traditional sense of the wordin the best sense. He was married to Jeanette for 65 years. He passed on his business and family legacy to his two sons and one daughter. He taught adolescent boys’ Sunday School for 50 years because he knew the importance of older men investing in the lives of younger men.

Listen to a special broadcast of FamilyLife Today, “Truett Cathy: A Life Well-Lived,” which features an interview that Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine did several years ago with this patriarch.

© 2014 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just read the post, “Truett Cathy: Patriarch of more than the chicken sandwich” on the Stepping Up blog.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistWhat kind of legacy was left to you? What kind of legacy will you pass on to your children and to this world?

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistDennis Rainey wrote an article “Remembering Truett Cathy” which includes his personal reflections.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistIf you appreciate the legacy of Truett Cathy, share the blog post, video, or broadcast with a friend.

What breed of man are you?



A motto I once heard goes like this: Winners concentrate on winning, while losers concentrate on just getting by.

If that statement were carved into the granite at the front of a Fortune 500 company, you would nod your head in agreement. Inwardly you might say, Now that’s the way to run a business. I would imagine that company is really a company of excellence. They know how to do things right!

Yet when it comes to the family, it’s interesting that most homes today would have to be characterized as losers. Too many marriages have become marred by mediocrity. Children are seen, at best, as a status symbol — a way to achieve something through them that we, ourselves, weren’t able to achieve when we were their age.

Too many marriages today are concentrating on “just getting by.” With “squeaking by” as the goal, it is no wonder so many marriages don’t amount to much.

In his best-seller, The Seeds of Greatness, Denis Waitley tells the story of his grandmother whom he idolized. She crossed an apricot and a plum tree. Grandmother Waitley called it a plumcot. This delicious fruit was perfected by the gentle, wise old lady after careful and tedious pruning and grafting of the two fruit-bearing trees.

As a boy, Denis learned a valuable lesson from his grandmother. She harvested a plumcot because that was what she planted.

What you plant is what you get

Marriage is a lot like that — we never get out of a marriage what we do not put into it.

One man confessed, “At work I concentrate on winning, and as a result, I am a winner. At home, however, I concentrate on just getting by.”

It’s no wonder he is losing.

As Americans, we think of ourselves as winners … we are used to winning, but too many times in the wrong places. As a result, we end up losing in the important places … at home.

Vance Havner has said, “Americans know the price of everything, but the value of nothing.”

If a business goes bankrupt, it is the president or the chairman of the board who is to blame. Similarly, if the home fails, the man is to blame. You and I, as husbands and fathers of our family, must master the ageless art of leadership and apply it to our families. If we ever hope to win at home, then we must focus on winning.

Spinning plates

Too many of us, as the leaders of our families, are like the man who used to come on the Ed Sullivan Show years ago and spin the plates. This man would start at one end of a long table by placing a stick perpendicular to the table and spinning a plate on the stick. In consecutive order the plates would be placed … two, three, four, five, six plates. As the first plate slowed down, it would begin to wobble. I can remember denying the urge to want to jump through the TV and run to help the man by grabbing the plate before it fell off the stick and shattered into tiny slivers of porcelain pieces.

Now with the first plate wobbling in a near-fatal orbit, the man would rush back and expertly spin that plate again as the audience breathed a sigh of relief. On he would go … seven, eight, nine. By that time, plates two, three, and four were now beginning to wobble. And just before you knew the man could not keep a dozen or so plates spinning, he would quickly scoop them up in his professional hands like he was carrying them to the cupboard and bow to the smiling applause of the audience.

Similarly, the roles we assume in life — husband, a father, a businessman, a civic leader, a church leader, a golfer, a fisherman — all represent different plates in our lives. We begin spinning them early in our married life with plate number one being our marriage. Giving focused attention to that one place, the plate spins along merrily and does well. With the addition of plates number two (business) and three (children), efforts to focus become more difficult. Carefully we keep adding our plates until we finally step back from the table to see two or three of the first plates beginning to wobble badly. We have to make choices. Decisions. Decisions based upon priorities. Our family has needs, but we mistakenly choose to meet those “material” needs by applying our efforts primarily to our business. The result: Focus is lost.

However, most businessmen are not worried about starving. Most of us are concerned about status, significance, accumulation of more, and how we can feed the materialistic monster that lives within us. A good friend recently said, “Materialism is not what you have, it is what has you.”

Too many husbands and fathers have become dizzy from the many spinning plates we have set up. We give our family an occasional spin just to keep things at status quo. We focus on just getting by. The results? More plates begin to fall off the table. Children become strangers — children who are crying out for attention. Mothers plead for help. Meanwhile, being the visionary leaders that we are, we ignore fallen plates and add additional plates. Yet the Psalmist warns, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.”

There is no question why so many marriages and families are functioning poorly. Nothing — a business, a school, a basketball team, or a family — can function without leadership, energy, time, and most importantly, focused attention. Without these, the plates will begin to fall.

Being somewhat of a selfish man myself, I struggled to keep my family plates spinning over the dozen ego-stroking plates I could have focused on, spending energy to keep them spinning, when our kids were growing up. However, I was constantly forced by the person of Jesus Christ to come to grips with my limits. I have been wrestled to the ground by Him on more than one occasion to be forced to answer the question, “How many plates can you keep spinning and still win?”

Another question which redirects me is, “Where do I want to win so badly that I am unequivocally unwilling to lose?”

“Which of those plates would I be willing to lose for the sake of my family, if need be?”

A new breed of man

Today some tough questions face Christian businessmen and leaders. We have become a cult of Christian celebrities. We worship successful businessmen and pro athletes who can perform in the office or on the field. We pay little regard to whether they are a success in their personal and private lives. The time has come for a new breed of Christian husbands and fathers.

We need a new breed of man who will say “no” to more bucks when it means sacrificing our families. A new breed of man who will place family between us and every decision we make. A new breed of man who will ask the question, “How will this affect my family?” A new breed of man who will determine how much is enough. We need a breed of man who will seek to establish relationships with our families before seeking fame in our culture. A new breed of man who will recognize that we need to leave something to posterity that will outlive us: proven character in our children. A new breed of leader who realizes that to succeed in the eyes of men, but fail in the eyes of God, is the ultimate waste.

Renowned Senate chaplain Peter Marshall once said, “It is better to fail in a cause that will ultimately succeed than to succeed in a cause that will ultimately fail.”

One last question — will you take upon yourself the challenge that Albert Einstein gave a group of young scientists? While addressing this highly motivated group of young men, he pointed to them and said, “Gentlemen, try not to become men of success. But rather, try to become men of value.”

Copyright © 2014 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklist

You just read a post by Dennis Rainey, What breed of man are you? on the Stepping Up blog for men.

STEPThink - 10-point checklist
So, what breed of man are you? Could you do a better job of defining success at home? Write a definition to guide you.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistListen to the FamilyLife Today broadcast series on how to implement strategic planning in your home life.

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Think of one thing that you can do this week to lead your wife and children. Make that your measure for success.

Five generations of fathering



This post first appeared in the NoahGetsANailgun blog.

Five generations of fatheringThis is a picture of five generations of Nagels that I keep in my office. Moving left to right is my great-great grandfather, great grandfather, grandfather, father and on the far right is the one guy not in a coat and tie — me. The verse on the framed picture is from Proverbs 17:6b.

“The glory of a son is his father.”

I’ve been blessed with a strong Christian heritage and am at a point where I’m understanding how valuable this is and have become more and more grateful for it.

Deuteronomy 7:9 says

“Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.”

The generations before me have kept His commandments and have passed them on to the next generation. Now it’s my turn.

Maybe you have a similar spiritual lineage. Or it could be you’re a first generation Christian. Either way, as a dad, you now have the responsibility to teach your kids about God. Deuteronomy 6 tells us to

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.” (5-9)

Five generations of examples

Instead of giving you a list of church answers of things to do with your kids like have family devotions, pray before bed, love your wife, go to church, etc. I want to give you three things: one thing that impacted me as a young boy watching my dad and two things that go hand in hand that I’ve picked up along the way.

  1. One of my earliest childhood memories is coming into the living room and seeing my dad either reading his Bible or on his knees praying. He didn’t start his day reading the paper or figuring out what was on his work to do list, he started it by connecting with God. There’s something powerful and contagious about seeing your dad in God’s Word. I want to pass this along to my kids too.
  2. I’ve got an impressive list of things I’ve done wrong as a dad. My kids know I’m not perfect, but they also know I’ll ask forgiveness when I need to. They were driving me absolutely crazy earlier today while I was in the midst of unsuccessfully trying to fix a minor issue on an appliance and in my frustration I said some things to one of my kids that were not called for. Once the dust settled I took the child off to the side, told them what I did was wrong, didn’t make excuses, and asked them for forgiveness. Your kids know it when you mess up and they know it when you blame others, make excuses, or just flat our refuse to admit you were wrong and say you were sorry. I know people like that and honestly I want nothing to do with them. You don’t want your kids feeling that way about you. Admit when you made a mistake. Your kids will forgive you and they’ll love you even more for doing it.
  3. On the other side of that coin, I always want to be quick to forgive my kids when they ask me for forgiveness. Their view of God as Father is going to be most impacted by me, their earthly father. I don’t ever want them to think their heavenly Father won’t forgive them and that means I need to immediately accept their apology and not bring up their past infractions time and again. I have a child who continues to do the same things over and over and when they ask for forgiveness my flesh wants to respond in anger by saying something like, “I know you aren’t really sorry because you keep doing this. Until I actually see you make an effort to stop acting this way I’m not interested in hearing your apology.” Obviously this type of response will have serious affects on how they view God’s forgiveness. In that moment I have to say a quick prayer telling God how I’m feeling and ask Him to enable me to respond in a way that reflects His nature and not my flesh.

I realize this is just scratching the surface of things we can do as dads to help pass on a godly legacy to our kids. What are some things you learned from your dad, or have done as a dad yourself, to pass on the faith to your kids?

If you had an hour to live



It seems like yesterday, but it was 12 long years ago that my Pappa, James Melvin “Bucky” Waters, passed away.

JoelWatersPappa

“Bucky” Waters and son Joel with their World Series tickets

Pappa was from a very large and athletic family, raised on a working farm in rural Yazoo County, Mississippi. Growing up, my two other brothers, Jim and Wyatt, and I watched Momma and Pappa model for us how a loving couple should act. In the early 1960s we lived in the small town of Florence, where Pappa was the coach and principal of the school and my Momma, Lucy, worked also.

It was a beautiful spring day. Pappa was outside raking up the leaves from the recent winter into the ditch to burn. He was also trying to get rid of the fire ant beds that had popped up from a hard rain overnight. The way we did it in those days was to pour gasoline on the fire ant bed, toss a match on it and run out of the way of the flames.

On this particular day, I was supposed to be inside with my Momma. But being the rambunctious two-year-old that I was, I had slipped out and was standing mesmerized, watching my Pappa burn those fire ants without him knowing I was there.  I got too close and caught fire myself. Without thinking of himself, Pappa instantly went into the fire and rescued me, but in the process of  getting me out of the fire he was badly burned. It’s one thing to say you love someone.  It’s a powerful lesson to have someone show their love in such a way!

Our house was on a short, dead-end road, so not many people drove down there unless they were visiting someone. I honestly believe that Harold Lusk was an “angel” sent directly from God as he drove down and saw the commotion. He immediately went into action, taking my Pappa and me to O.E. Perry’s Rexall Drug Store for some immediate help, then on to the Baptist hospital in Jackson another 20 minutes away. It would be the beginning of several painful months of multiple surgeries for the both of us. My Pappa’s hands were badly burned. In addition to my internal burns, I had third degree burns mostly from my waist up, requiring many surgeries and skin grafts over the next 14 years.

As a boy I remember it as a very hard and trying time of adversity for me and my family. As a father now, I can only imagine the pain and grief my Pappa felt. It was also a lonely time for my brothers who went to live with my grandmother way down in Hattiesburg while my Momma stayed to care for us in the hospital. But through the pain came an awesome blessing as I was raised to believe that God had saved me, and that He had saved me for a reason – something I believed with all my heart!

Fast forward to a single moment in 1999. I was at home reading a message in the church bulletin by John Case, my pastor at Christ United Methodist Church in Jackson. The message was short, simple, to the point. It said:

IF YOU HAD AN HOUR TO LIVE …
Who would you call?
What would you say? and,
WHY HAVEN’T YOU SAID IT?

That simple message touched me as I thought back to that life-altering moment decades earlier. So I sat down and wrote my Pappa a two-page letter telling him how much I loved him, how much I respected him and how I appreciated the way he and my Momma had raised us. I told him that I hoped to be as good a husband and father to my family as he had been to us. Pappa was a man of few words – putting that love into words was not something that was required in those days. But I knew he loved me by the way he treated me. His actions spoke.

For some reason I felt the urgency to get the letter in the mail that day. The carrier had already come, so I drove to the main post office downtown and put the letter in the drop box. My father got that letter in the mail the next day and read it. I know this because my Momma called me and said that was a nice letter that I had written, subtly pointing out that it was addressed just to Pappa. I told her I felt the need to write Pappa and share with him these things, and that seemed to satisfy her curiosity as to why I hadn’t included her.

The next morning Pappa had a massive stroke that left him unable to talk for the rest of his life.  But I felt that I had been blessed by God by acting on His message and writing that letter to Pappa. It gave me the strength to go on during those final two long and trying years of his life. Often I wish I could talk with Pappa just one more time, but I feel so blessed to know that I shared with him how much he meant to me, how much he has molded me and how much I loved him. I can’t imagine what I would have been feeling if I hadn’t.

I have a favorite saying that guides my life and actions: “What’s it all about? LOVE!” Share and show your love for others! Please, take the time right now to let those special people in your life know how you feel. You never, ever know if  you will have that opportunity to do it again. ForgottenCommandment

Carpe diem … seize the day!

 

If you’d like to know how to do a tribute to a parent like Joel did, check out The Forgotten Commandment by Dennis Rainey. This FamilyLife resource will walk you through the process of honoring dad or mom in a special way.

Joel Waters has carried on the athletic and parenting legacy of his father. He played baseball at the University of Southern Mississippi and lives in Jackson where he attends Christ United Methodist Church. He has been married to Susan Steel Waters for 32 years and their children are Sam, Swayze (kicker-punter for the Toronto Argonauts) and his wife Kendal, and Shelby Waters.

Remembering and honoring a D-Day dad



“In all of the far-flung operations of our Armed Forces, the toughest job has been performed by the average, easy-going, hard-fighting young American who carries the weight of battle on his own young shoulders. It is to him that we and all future generations must pay grateful tribute.” –Franklin Delano Roosevelt

June was Dad’s month. If James Lepine were still alive this month, we would be celebrating his 95th birthday. He was 25 years old in June of 1944 when he boarded the transport for the Normandy invasion. And it was in June of 1988, just a few weeks before what would have been his 69th birthday, that a different battle ended his life — a battle with malignant melanoma. Three days after he died — just 14 hours following his memorial service — we welcomed the first son into our family. We named him Jimmy.

BobMedals2aI am reminded of my father daily. A picture of him hangs on the wall in my office, and underneath it are these dates: June 16, 1941-January 25, 1946. Just to the right are various medals and ribbons, including a Purple Heart for his war injuries. I wish I knew more about the stories behind the awards. But when my father died 16 years ago this month, most of the stories died with him.

Dad arrived at Normandy roughly 24 hours after the battle had been engaged. Did he wade onto a blood-soaked beach, populated by the freshly dead bodies of his fellow soldiers, the way it appears in Saving Private Ryan? I’ve asked my mom, and she says Dad didn’t talk much about the battlefield. He was fighting to protect his country, and even after the war was finished, he may have continued to protect his wife by not telling her all that he had seen.

So, I’ve had to learn about Dad’s service in World War II from what Mom remembers, from the collection of letters he sent home to his parents which have been passed down to me, and from what history records about F Company of the 359th Regiment, 90th Division. Here’s what I know:

Second Lieutenant James R. Lepine received his commission and his orders in June 1941, the same day he graduated from what was then Michigan State College. He completed his basic training in Fort Benning, GA, and was sent across the country to Camp Roberts, Calif., for an additional 17 weeks of infantry training.

Driving to town on a sunny California Sunday afternoon, he would always remember approaching the roadblock where he was told to turn around and report back to camp immediately. It was December 7, 1941 — the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. He was a soldier whose nation had just gone to war.

He had just become First Lieutenant Lepine. His next duty station was Camp Barkeley in Abilene, TX, where he joined the “Tough ‘Ombres,” the men of the 90th Infantry Division. He continued his correspondence with his college sweetheart, Eileen Cross from Flint, MI, and in September, she rode the train from Michigan to Texas to become Eileen Lepine … in Abilene.

Dad stayed in the States for training until early 1944, when it became clear that the men of the 359th Infantry were going to be sent overseas. At Fort Dix, NJ, they received their final physical checkups, new clothing and supplies, and waited for deployment. And on March 22, they headed across the Atlantic for Operation Overlord — the code name for the Normandy invasion.

Letters home

My father was a faithful letter writer, and my grandmother kept a scrapbook of her son’s letters from Europe, along with the “V-mail” — the microfilmed version of full-sized letters that the government created in an effort to speed the delivery time and allow for more room in overseas shipping.

The scrapbook is my link to the events my father lived through 60 years ago. The first letter is dated March 20, 1944 — a couple of days before he shipped out. “I’m so tired I can hardly stay awake,” he wrote. “That, coupled with the fact that there isn’t much that we’re allowed to say will make this a short letter. … This may be the last chance I’ll have to write for a while, but don’t worry.”

It was almost three weeks later before the next letter from “Somewhere in England” which was as specific as he was allowed to be:

“I’m fine and, while I can’t tell you much, I can say that I think I will like England on the whole and that the food is good so far. If you think that you are suffering from rationing I can tell you that you can’t imagine what rationing is until you’ve seen British rationing restrictions. The civilian population really realizes what it means to be at war.”

Dad’s next letter was sent by V-Mail: “I have just finished writing Criss [my mom’s nickname] and can’t find anything that they’ll allow us to tell you people. She’ll be disappointed and I know you are too. But the shroud of military secrecy overhangs everything.”

His letters throughout the spring of 1944 talked mostly about food and weather, along with regular assurances that he was fine. There wasn’t much he could say about the ongoing training to prepare for D-Day. There were occasional insights into army life before the invasion:

“Cigarettes are plentiful but Cokes could be sold for about $5 apiece. There’ll always be two classes: the “haves” and the “have nots.” I’m just in the wrong class” (April 15).

“Just a time tonight to let you know I am well and safe. We’re all getting pretty accustomed now to British scenery, British ways, and British money. You have no conception of the old-fashioned facilities that the British are in possession of. Plumbing and electricity and all are about 20 years behind our standards” (April 25).

“Don’t worry about my birthday because there isn’t anything I need or can carry with me. I changed the war bond allotment from a $25 bond a month to a $100 bond a month and they will be sent to Criss. As long as she’s at home she may as well keep them. … I feel fine and the food is still good. Have a ¼ inch haircut that I know you’d get a big laugh out of. But it’s very practical” (May 30).

Dad’s last letter home before the invasion was sent May 31. My family heard nothing for more than three weeks — only the news reports back in the States about the allied invasion. They could only hope and pray that if in fact he had been part of the attack on Normandy, he had survived.

D-Day

The 90th Division arrived on the beaches of Normandy in waves, beginning on the morning of June 6 and continuing for three days. In any conversation I ever had with my dad about D-Day, he would sum up the events of the day this way: “The ship I was on hit a mine as we landed. I made it ashore, passed out, and when I woke up, I was in a hospital bed back in England.”

The army sent the news of Dad’s injury in a telegram to my grandparents on June 21, 1944:

Regret to inform you Capt. James R. Lepine was on 7 June slightly injured in action in the European area. You will be advised as reports of condition are received.

There’s no way of knowing whether that telegram arrived before or after the letter my dad wrote home five days after being injured:

“In case the war dept. should send you or Criss some alarming telegram, I’m writing to let you know I’m OK. I’m back in England after a short tour of the coast of France. We went in early in the invasion. Our ship hit a mine and promptly sunk, leaving us to hitch hike the rest of the way. After riding in a couple of destroyers and landing craft we managed to land. My knee and back got kinda strained when the mine hit and I guess I must have passed out after walking 4 or 5 miles. I was probably a little punchy too. Next thing I can remember I was on a ship headed back here. Hope to get out and play war again if they’ll let me. My knee is still a little weak but I think it’ll be OK. Lot of people shooting guns over there and someone’s bound to get hurt. … Hope you’re all fine. Will write again” (June 12).

It was almost two weeks before Dad wrote home again. From his hospital bed in England, he reported he was being reassigned. In another, he wrote, “I feel good and, as all soldiers do, I’m living for the day when the Statue of Liberty again comes into view and we can start life over.”

He sensed victory in Europe was at hand. “I hope you aren’t becoming too optimistic about this war at home because I’m afraid everyone else is. Germany is whipped, I’m convinced, but intends to continue fighting a while longer. Sure will be glad when Hitler says quit, as will everyone else.”

In mid-August, the 90th Division fought the battle of Falaise Gap, where they destroyed the German 7th Army. By the time the smoke had cleared, more than 10,000 German soldiers had surrendered and been taken prisoner. Three days after the battle was over, Dad wrote home, saying, “If a man stays alive and in one piece for a couple of more months he should be able to make it ok.”

Dad was able to stay alive and in one piece, although a few weeks later he made a return trip to an Army hospital, this time with a concussion and with hearing loss in his left ear as a result of a nearby artillery blast. He wrote to tell his parents not to worry, but in a subsequent letter that he sent to his father at his office, Dad cracked the door open just a bit on the realities of war. “You have no conception of what hell the boys on the front lines go through,” he wrote. “I don’t think any of us will want to talk much about it afterwards, but rather will want to forget. There were some good days, but they didn’t make up for the bad ones.” On another occasion, he wrote, “The war for the most part is pretty awful and when these boys finally get back home they’re due every consideration that can be given them.”

From September 1944 until March 1945, Dad remained in England. And then the letters in the scrapbook come to an end. I have no idea how much longer Dad was overseas, or when he arrived back in the States. I do have the papers processing the end of his time in active duty, dated January 26, 1946 —almost nine months after Hitler had committed suicide and Germany surrendered.

The sacrifices of our fathers

Dad never initiated much conversation about the war, and I didn’t know enough to ask or care until he was gone. I grew up knowing that my Dad had been at Normandy, but without knowing much about the significance of that battle.

He died before Saving Private Ryan, before Band of Brothers, before Tom Brokaw proclaimed his The Greatest Generation, before we stopped as a nation and thought about the sacrifices of our fathers and honored them for their service. I’m sure if Dad were alive today, I would have lots of questions for him about the landing at Utah Beach, his injuries, whether he was scared, whether he ever had to watch a friend and fellow soldier die, or whether he ever watched an enemy soldier die from a wound he had inflicted. And I’m sure he would have done what many of his fellow soldiers have done — shrugged his shoulders and said, “We just did what we were supposed to do. It was just something we did.” Simple as that.

Thanks, Dad. I don’t know that I ever said it while you were alive, but I should have. Thanks to you and to all who stormed Omaha and Utah beaches 70 years ago. Thanks to those who fought the Battle of the Bulge. To those who waded ashore at Iwo Jima. To the prisoners of war who died in the Bataan Death March. To the men on board the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor. To our fathers and grandfathers.

Many of us realize now that we should have expressed our gratitude years ago. We didn’t know. We didn’t understand. I’m not sure we do now, but maybe we’re beginning to, and we’re grateful.

Thank you.

Copyright © 2014 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

 

Thank you for choosing to be my dad



Bill Eyster has been executive vice-president of FamilyLife since 2006. That Thanksgiving, he wrote this tribute to his stepfather, Dr. Alvin L. Morris, but felt it would be better to deliver it the following June to honor him on his 80th birthday.

Al Morris passed away October 10, 2013. Since then, Bill has felt led to move his family back to Kentucky so he can care for his mother, Beverly.

choosing to be my dad

Beverly and Al Morris

I know you don’t want a big deal made of your birthday and that speaks to the kind of man that you are, but this is as much for the rest of the family as it is for you. I want them to know …what I have come to know, understand, and appreciate about you.

I think it’s important that the grandchildren recognize the legacy that their grandfather passes on. They need to know the impact you have made on my life. So, Al, please humor me and allow me to tell you how much you mean to me.

Al, you are intentional about everything and when you married my mother you knew what you were stepping into.

At age 13, I had been filling the self-imposed role of “man of the house” for close to four years. When you came on the scene and began to date my mother you were able to see first hand how broken I was.

You saw my anger, my rebelliousness, and my bad choices.  You witnessed crushed tables, all night outings, and other such challenges. But, because of your love for my mother, you chose to marry her and intentionally accepted the responsibility of raising an independent 6-foot-tall, 13 year old boy that was full of anger.

The challenges with me didn’t stop there. I was running hard and a living example of a rebellious “red headed stepchild.” You experienced late nights, bad grades, disrespect, ill gotten speakers, a trashed brand-new RV, “borrowed” cars, unauthorized parties, and a continually bad attitude. It’s not lost to me that you had already raised three great children and yet you accepted the responsibility for raising me.

In the 32 years I have had the privilege of being your son …

  • I have seen what it means to be a man of integrity,
  • I have seen what it means for a man to love his wife,
  • I have seen the importance of family,
  • I have seen hard work and dedication,
  • I have seen a man who loves the Lord,
  • I have felt acceptance … I have felt loved.

As I have gotten older and closer to the age at which you made this choice, I marvel. Through it all you never treated me or made me feel like a stepchild. You set high standards and challenged me to meet them. You selflessly and intentionally accepted me, loved me, and cared for me. You were always there.

As I have grown in my faith, I realize how God put you in my life to play a major part in making me the man, the husband, and the father that I am today. I thank God each day for you and want you to know I am deeply grateful for your love, for your acceptance, and for choosing to be my dad.

— I love you.

Your Son — Bill

_____

If you haven’t written a tribute to your parents, we’d encourage you to do it while you still can. If you need help, check out our free resource The Best Gift You Can Give Your Parents, or get Dennis Rainey’s bookThe Forgotten Commandment.  

If you’ve given your parents a tribute that you’d like to share with the readers of Stepping Up, we’d love to hear about it. Whether it’s something you’ve written or recorded on audio or video, just Contact Us here.

Thanks for commitment and love



In his book, The Forgotten Commandment, Dennis Rainey encourages readers to write a formal tribute to their parents and present it to them during a special occasion (birthday, anniversary, holiday, etc.).  If you want some guidance to do one yourself, check out “The Best Gift You Can Give Your Parents,” or the link above to purchase the book. In the meantime, here’s the tribute one man wrote for his mom.

Tribute to Eileen Butler from her son, Dempsey:

In 1955 providence was giving you an unexpected addition to your ideal sized family of four. You left Florida for your hometown of Boston, so at least one of your kids could be a damn Yankee like you. After nine long months I was born, in the sweltering July heat. You did all that with Dad on deployment. Thanks for commitment and love.

For me, our kitchen was the most secure place in our house … the busiest place in the house, and always the neatest. I remember coming downstairs on Taylor Avenue to the smell of “beggs and acon” in the frying pan. You always tried to send Trudy, Gayle, and me on our way with a hot breakfast and a brown bag lunch (I always hoped for Fritos). It’s the place where you and I frequently reviewed the days events with Chips Ahoy and milk. When you worked the 3-11 shift at Circle Terrace, you made sure I still had snacks! In the summertime there was always a pitcher of presweetened and lemoned iced tea in the fridge … a welcome sight when I’d come home on a hot August day in Alexandria.

You were so generous with your hospitality and love … always having a spare bed and enough food for the lost Midshipman or Naval Aviator who showed up, even at dinnertime. You’d smile and serve them, but we knew the lesson … if we ever showed up at someone else’s home at meal time you’d give us what for.

Between graduate school and the Vietnam War, Dad was gone a lot, from the mid-60s until we moved to Annapolis in 1972. I didn’t know the difficulties you faced raising us while Dad was deployed. Nor did I imagine the stress you were under with all that responsibility and having to deal with the possibility that Dad might not come home. But I was never worried that you didn’t love us or that you wouldn’t be able to find a way to take care of us.

You loved us too much to use Dad’s absence as an excuse for us not being good kids and growing up to be responsible adults. While I really missed Dad too, I also liked being your snuggle buddy under the electric blanket on those quiet nights on Kobe Drive. Remember when all of us would sit down to listen to the 2-inch reel to reel tapes Dad sent us from WESTPAC? I recall the emotion in your voice when you told us how, while on a stopover on your way to Hong Kong to see Dad during a break from Yankee Station, you heard that a D. Butler had been shot down over North Vietnam. It was some time before you knew it wasn’t Dad. It was your faith and trust in God that got you through that time.

I never doubted your strong faith in God. Without it, I don’t know how my life would have turned out. You made sure I attended all those catechism classes and became an altar boy with Father O’Connor when the mass was still said in Latin. (Thanks!) God works in strange ways though. My faith today is much stronger because of what I begrudgingly learned about the basics of a Christian’s faith in classes at St. Edward’s and St. Rita’s.

I always knew you were proud of me, sometimes to the point of embarrassment. That pride you exuded and the love that you showed to me then, has given me the confidence and encouragement to strive for success. I remember visiting you once in Carmel when you took me to lunch at the Beach and Tennis Club. You must have known everyone in the place … and you made sure you introduced your son, the Navy Lieutenant, to each of them … including the busboy. I’m not sure we got around to eating that day.

You taught me responsibility, the value of hard work, compassion, loyalty to friends and family, and the value of saving for the future. I’ve also learned what a great MOM you were. The advice, books, seminars, and tapes on parenting we have today weren’t around in the 1950s. You did what your folks did, the best you could. Dads worked, moms stayed home to raise and train the kids. Now there’s some eternal wisdom. Thanks for placing your nursing career on the back burner when we were young. You knew your skills would slip, but you made it clear your priority was at home with us.

Being a parent for the last seven years has given me a keen appreciation for the task you faced with Dad gone so much, meeting his responsibilities. You did a great job. I’m proud to be Eileen Butler’s son.

Thanks, Mom. I LOVE YOU.

Dempsey

I am who I am because of you



In his book, The Forgotten Commandment, Dennis Rainey encourages readers to write a formal tribute to their parents and present it to them during a special occasion (birthday, anniversary, holiday, etc.).  If you want some guidance to do one yourself, check out “The Best Gift You Can Give Your Parents,” or the link above to purchase the book. In the meantime, here’s what one man did.

Tribute to Alan Nagel from his son, Todd: 

Dad,

Not a day goes by that I don’t thank the Lord for blessing me with a dad like you. There are so many memories that flood my mind and so many godly qualities that I see in you that I desire for my own life, but there are two things that have impacted me the most:

The first one I remember is how I would come downstairs in the morning before school and see you in your chair having your quiet time or on your knees praying. How many boys get to see that? Not many. That is one of my earliest childhood memories and you continue it to this day. I know that has been used in my life to help shape my walk with the Lord.

The second is this: Always hearing how proud you are of me and how much you love me. Those words have enabled me to expand my borders because I always knew there was someone who believed in me.

There are so many other memories with you … fishing, catching passes from you in the backyard as I wore out the grass from running back and forth, throwing the baseball, kicking the soccer ball around, playing basketball, tennis, and golf. Some of my favorite memories are from the golf course.

Although you traveled a lot, I still knew we were a priority and I won’t forget how we would run down the ramp at the terminal gate and jump on you. And then we would get our “present” that consisted of the candy you had bought during your last layover!

When you were in town, which was the majority of the time, you did always make it a point to be at my sporting events. Thank you for being there to watch me play Little League baseball, basketball, and flag football. Then you were there to watch me run cross-country, play soccer, and tennis in high school. And then you made a few trips to watch me play tennis in college. A lot of guys never had their dad there to watch them play, but I did and it meant a lot. Thank you for taking the time to do that.

I also remember our family trips snow skiing, the farm, trips to the beach, Colorado, and the countless other places we’ve been. One trip that stands out in my mind is when we went snow skiing in Switzerland. That’s one of my favorites! Thank you for the sacrifices you made to make those trips happen.

It’s because of you that I am where I am today. You have ingrained many character qualities in me by your patient, insightful, and wise instruction. You taught me how to control my emotions in sports (which has definitely carried over into the real world!), the importance of quality work, to do my best at whatever I’m doing, and how to persevere.

I have had the privilege of being around many incredible Christian leaders, but I have not found one that I think more highly of, respect more as a person or leader, or would rather have as a father, mentor, and friend than you. I am so proud to call you my dad!

There are so many character qualities that I admire about you. Your wisdom, consistency, endurance, patience, sound judgment, inner strength, integrity, knowledge, understanding, self-control, your “get the job done” attitude, doing what is right no matter what the cost, and how you see everything in light of eternity. It is neat to see your natural leadership come through in every situation. You are one of the rare people who live out their Christian faith in every aspect of their life. You always have an encouraging word and a motivating spirit. You have laid a foundation in my life that will take me to heights I never would have been able to reach otherwise.

I am truly blessed beyond what I could ever have hoped for or imagined when it comes to having a dad. Thanks, Dad, for everything!

Your Son,

Todd

Copyright © 2004 by Todd Nagel. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

The Forgotten Commandment



The Forgotten CommandmentHow do you, as an adult, express honor to your parents? Even if it has been a difficult relationship — even if you’ve been estranged — what’s your responsibility to obey and to keep the fifth commandment?

“Honor your father and your mother that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God has given you.”

FamilyLife has released a revised 20th anniversary edition of a book created to help you honor your parents by writing a living tribute to them. The Forgotten Commandment (previously titled The Tribute and the Promise, and The Best Gift You Can Ever Give Your Parents) will be in the warehouse this week.

Last week, FamilyLife Today® devoted two radio broadcasts to tributes guests have made to their parents. You can hear the broadcasts in their entirety by clicking on the links below, but we have included some excerpts.

Medley of Tributes, Part 1 – Featuring Bill McCartney,  Crawford Loritts, Alex Kendrick, Andrew (son of Luis) Palau, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Jani (daughter of Ray and Anne) Ortlund, and Vicky Case.

Medley of Tributes, Part 2 – Robert Lewis, Max Lucado, R.V. Brown, and Sharon Jaynes.

Filmmaker Alex Kendrick to his father, Larry:

“I don’t ever and have never wanted to be anybody else’s son. I’m proud of my dad, Larry Kendrick. You are a gift to me — for teaching me to love God— for demonstrating that yourself … I learned that from you. So, every book that we have written and every movie that we have made would not have been made had you not taught us to walk with the Lord. Thank you, Dad. I’m proud of you, and I love you.”

Former prodigal Andrew Palau, to his world evangelist father, Luis and his mother, Pat:

“Dad and Mom, I love you. I am so grateful that you never gave up on me. I just thank you for persevering through the difficult days — for having the boldness and the love for me to take me for the walk, and to plant that seed, and help me to know the truth that God did love me, and that He had a plan for me, and that He had made a sacrifice on my behalf. I thank you for writing the letters that you wrote to keep that at my attention.”

Evangelist R.V. Brown to his father, Daddy Fish:

“I want to just tell you what an awesome leader you were.  With no education, Dad, you taught me. You educated me on how to love — Dad, thank you for teaching me to farm, to take care of the people, and share whatever I have with all the people. Dad, I’m the kind of man I am today because of who you are, Dad. Thank you for loving Mama. Thank you for the leadership and authority in which you raised us. Thank you for the discipline. Most of all, Father, I want to thank you for that hug, and that kiss, and that rub on my little round head, and saying, ‘You’re going to be okay, son.’ Dad, I love you.”

Men’s Fraternity creator Robert Lewis, to his parents, Thomas and Billie:

“Thanks, Daddy, for saying, “I’m sorry,” when you wrongfully hit me in anger one day. You don’t remember the incident, I know; but I do. It’s deep inside me now, and it comes back to me every time I need to say those words to my children and my wife. Seeing that day in my mind makes that humbling process easier.

I owe you both a thousand ‘Thank Yous.’ 

I guess, if I were offered one wish, it would be for one crisp fall evening, with the smell of burning leaves, and the Bearcat game in the air. I would be outside enjoying the bliss of youthful innocence. Mom, you would be frying those oysters; and Daddy, you would be calling out for my pet dog, Toddy. So here’s to my imperfect family — one that fell short in many respects, but one whose love makes the shortcomings easy to forget. Here’s to the family that never had it all together — but one just perfect enough for me.”

If you haven’t written a tribute to your parents, we’d encourage you to do it while you still can.

If you’ve given your parents a tribute that you’d like to share with the readers of Stepping Up, we’d love to hear about it. Whether it’s something you’ve written or recorded on audio or video, just Contact Us here.

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