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Linda Roorda

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  1. I’ve had Tourette’s since age 10-11, starting within a year after my family moved from farms in upstate New York to city life in Clifton, New Jersey… the city where I was born and my dad grew up. It was an extremely emotional, disruptive time in my life to leave behind my close friends and the country life I loved and preferred. I’ve shared my story before, but it bears repeating because I am not alone and I wish to encourage others. And actually, I have been contacted privately by a few with Tourette's, sharing their story. Tourette Syndrome Awareness Month is from May 15 to June 15, with the annual Tourette Syndrome Awareness Day on June 7, 2023. Tourette Syndrome was named for a French neurologist, Dr. Georges Gilles de la Tourette. He was the first to describe children and adults with specific tic movements in 1884, publishing his study about this syndrome in 1885. I’d always believed it was the stress from moving to city life which precipitated my tics. I now understand there is often a genetic component, though I have no idea who may have had it in any older generation. Most of my life I’ve been embarrassed and ashamed to admit I had Tourette’s. Nor did my parents know what to do about it. I was initially mocked, and quickly learned to hide or camouflage the tics with movements that wouldn’t be as readily obvious. I am constantly “on alert”. Though I can generally successfully “hide” the tics (or so I think), they have to have an out and are worse when I’m away from the public eye or under stress. I’ve called the tics “my habit”, but never had a diagnosis until reading a letter in a Dear Abby column in my early 20s. Self-diagnosing from the apt description in that letter and response by the columnist, I felt such a relief to know my affliction had a name! Still, I only shared this information with my husband and closest family. Though embarrassed and ashamed to see myself with tic movements in a family video, I have not let Tourette’s control my life or employment. I was also afraid of passing it on to my children, but I wanted and was blessed with a family. I’m aware of the tics, and am able to control them… but only somewhat. And I’m also thankful they are considered “simple” tics. Just as I’ve been ashamed of my movements, so my late husband was ashamed of being legally blind growing up. (He read and approved this when I initially wrote it.) He couldn’t see the school blackboard with his limited vision, even sitting in the front row, and would not ask for the help he needed. Kids don’t want to be different from their peers. When they have a noticeable difference, they are too often teased or mocked like my husband was, and become ashamed of who they are… sometimes with devastating effects, like suicide. It’s up to us as adults, and even children, to be aware of the issues that others around us are dealing with. If we provide support, acceptance, and encouragement, we will see ourselves for who we truly are - uniquely created in the image of God, and very loved. While subbing one day, I was surprised by a young student who kindly asked, “Do you have Tourette’s?” Seeing no point in denying the obvious to those sweet innocent eyes, I replied, “Yes, I do. But how do you know about Tourette’s?” She’d watched a show. As kids do, they talked amongst themselves and others began asking me questions. This led to their teacher setting aside time so I could share what I knew about living with Tourette’s. I answered their many questions as several added they knew someone with Tourette’s, too! It was an informative session, endearing these students to me for their kindness and understanding. They simply accepted me for who I am, just as I accept each of them. Tourette Syndrome is one type of tic disorder, meeting certain medical criteria of involuntary, repetitive movements and vocalizations, lasting for specific lengths of time. My “simple” tics include, but are not limited to, sudden brief, repetitive movements of certain muscle groups like hard eye blinking or scrunching (the first symptom for most, including myself), facial, mouth, and head movements, shoulder shrugging, arm, hand and finger movements, head and shoulder jerking, leg and foot movements, throat clearing, repeating words or phrases verbally (or in my mind), and more. I have an arthritic bony prominence of my collarbone from decades-long shoulder shrugs, and thoracic spine pain/arthritis from prior movements. Tics wax and wane, change muscle groups at whim, and become worse under stress. Though the tics have never gone away, they often subside, albeit briefly, when I’m fully absorbed in hobbies like singing, sleeping or painting. Totally absorbed while playing intently with my toddler son years ago, my step-mother commented that my tics had totally stopped during that brief window of time. That was the first time I realized there really were times when “my habit” stopped! Tourette Syndrome is a neurodevelopmental disorder with typical onset in childhood or adolescence. Chemical imbalances in the brain, environmental factors, or genetics are considered causative factors. There is no cure, but there are some treatment options. About 35 years ago, I was officially diagnosed by a neurologist and prescribed medication. Unfortunately, taking just half a pill of the smallest dose, the dopey side effect for me was much worse than dealing with the tics, so I declined further medication. I do not have “complex” tics which include distinct patterns with multiple muscles and movements, hopping and twirling, head banging, and more. Vocal tics can include sniffing, throat clearing, shouting, saying words or phrases, and repeating what was heard. Though swearing and unacceptable language are found in a small percentage of Tourette cases, the media often describes coprolalia as a more common symptom. My heart goes out to those with this more severe and disruptive range of tics, some of whom may qualify for disability benefits. Many with Tourette’s also have other diagnoses including obsessive-compulsive disorder, hyperactivity (possibly me), attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and learning disabilities. Guidepost magazine once featured contemporary Christian music singer, Jamie Grace, sharing her diagnosis of Tourette’s. Reading the article about her, I burst into tears just to know that someone else has it but has not let it stop her from living a full life either. I always felt so alone, never knowing anyone else with Tourette’s until I opened up about it a few years ago here on Facebook. Looking at this from God’s perspective, I find it comforting to know He sees me for who I am, Tourette’s and all. He has a greater purpose for our lives as we bring honor and glory to Him in all that we do, even with our limitations. Often, as we go through the trials of life, that’s when we learn how to trust and rely on the Lord the best. In overcoming our own problems, God uses us and our difficult circumstances to reach others who may be dealing with similar issues, bringing love and comfort to them in a way that is as unique as we are each gifted individually. Sharing my brief story on the Tourette Association’s website to encourage others, you can check it out here, and read about the road others have traveled and learn more information at the Tourette Syndrome website tourette.org.
  2. Thanks Chris! Seldom do I pick up a fiction novel... just not wired that way I guess!
  3. My library's shelves are filled with many genres, including but not limited to ... several of my Dad's old Zane Grey books that I devoured in my teens along with other antique Westerns and books of the westward pioneer trains, an original 1930s book of The Donner Party from my teens, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich purchased as a teen, several other old books of my Dad's from his youth like one on Daniel Boone, cookbooks I can no longer use (some were given to family), excellent historical documentary books of our nation's great leaders from America's founding, Christian biblical study books on biblical themes including my church catechism books from my teens, several Bibles and others on the salvation of Johnny Cash, Steve McQueen, Alice Cooper, etc. by Greg Laurie, books by my favorite Dutch evangelist Corrie ten Boom who survived WWII prison camps, documented books purchased on my ancestral groups with my families listed, county historical documentaries purchased during my research years, James Herriot's books, Several Chicken Soup for the Soul books, backyard birding and gardening books, dictionaries and Roget's Thesaurus, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record booklets and CDs with my published articles and my own 600+ page 3-ring binder of all my mom's ancestral lines per my research... and many others... and so much more... and that doesn't include the typical documentary/historical books from the library read over many years!
  4. “You never think of your parents as much more than parents. It isn’t until you are older yourself that you begin to realize they had their hopes, dreams, ambitions, and secret thoughts. You sort of take them for granted and sometimes you are startled to know they were in love a time or two…. You never stop to think about what they were like until it is too late…” (Louis L’Amour in “Tucker”) Oh how true!! The tomboy that I was while growing up in my teens, working and learning beside my Dad, prepared me for later becoming a farmer’s wife. After all, the love of farming is in the blood of both my parents! I was not fond of housework, much preferring to be outside or in the barn. Yet we women fill so many different roles. Not all of us are wives and mothers. Some of us remain single. Some of us are meant to pursue life-time careers. Some of us work to support our family, when we would prefer to be at home raising our children. Often, our likes and dislikes, and even careers, change throughout our lifetime. Typically, we women are great multi-taskers, but I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad! We come from different walks in life, and we’re very different from each other in feelings, perspectives, and opinions. I’ve had several “big sisters” or “surrogate mothers” in my lifetime who added a special dimension to my maturing and learning - my Dad’s mother, Grammy, with whom I wrote letters every other week for decades from my teens on, who helped raise me as an infant and toddler, and was there with an ear and advice as I raised my own children; my cousin Howard’s wife, Carol, like a big sister to me and whose four children my sister and I babysat during their weekend auctions in our teens, and with whom I continue to keep in touch; and his brother Robert’s wife, Virginia, briefly my hunting partner in my teens, also taught me how to cook certain meals when I lived with their family while working in Ithaca several months before my marriage to Ed, learning to make delicious homemade spaghetti sauce and a down-home scrumptious simple goulash, both a favorite in my own family’s supper menu. But I remember my Mom for many things… as I grew up, she was a traditional housewife, taking care of the home and growing a large garden. She continued her mother’s example by canning and freezing the produce every summer except the years we lived in Clifton, NJ. When we butchered chickens, Dad put them on the chopping block, we two sisters were the “dunk-and-pluck” crew, while Mom knew how to properly dress them for the freezer, showing us one hen’s set of graduated eggs sans shells from large to very small! She was quiet and reserved, did not share much, if anything, about herself or her family as I grew up, but she had a strong faith in God. Her mother died when I was 9 so I have limited memories of her, though eventually my mother shared stories of growing up and of her mother’s busy life raising 12 children, helping on their large chicken and dairy farm. My mom loved the country/farm life, as I do. And she knew how to deliciously cook up the squirrel I shot, or all game and fish my Dad brought home! A few things she shared included making true homemade ice cream (no pre-made mix) as we kids clamored for a turn at hand cranking, bottling homemade root beer, and heating up the best hot cocoa with real cocoa powder, sugar and milk on the stove – all things from her childhood. She also made a Dutch barley soup with buttermilk and brown sugar that I loved, as well as the most delicious cream puffs in the world using our duck eggs. She could sew, but it was not her favorite. She taught me to iron clothes and Dad’s handkerchiefs before permanent press fabrics hit the market. I loved her homemade bread and made some a few times after I was married, but it was not my favorite venture. As a kid, I savored her delicious toasted-cheese sandwiches with her homemade dill pickle slices tucked between slices of her homemade bread – long before Vlasic ever thought of selling bottled dill pickle slices for that very purpose! My sister and I did a lot of the bean and pea picking, snapping and shelling. Though we tossed some of those veggies as youngsters when we were tired of our chore, freshly picked and cooked peas remain my favorite. I loved visiting the farm my Mom grew up on, and later in life enjoyed hearing stories of her younger days. She shared some of her wisdom, but typical of teens, I wasn’t always listening or accepting. I did not hear much of her childhood until I began researching and documenting her family’s genealogy decades after I got married. And treasure the time I drove her around her hometown of Carlisle, NY, sharing and pointing out places connected to her life, as I wrote down her childhood stories. My only desire had been to be a stay-at-home mother like my Mom, but circumstances beyond our control put me back into the workforce when my children were very young. Each of my secretarial jobs (beginning part time as a high school senior in an Owego law office), built the foundation and skills for the next job, preparing me for my final medical transcription career before retiring and changing direction once more - subbing for teachers and their TAs, jobs I love, “being there” for “my” students. But whether it’s being a mother or having a career, that’s not where all our satisfaction is found. ewing many clothes for myself, husband and children, and canning and freezing a year’s worth of garden produce and fruit while raising my little ones were all reminiscent of the “good ol’ days.” It does our heart good to “be there” for someone else, whether to provide emotional support, bring a meal to a shut-in, or lend aid in other ways to someone in need… sometimes even if only to give an ear and a shoulder for their hurts. And that doesn’t begin to describe the love felt by the recipients of our gifts of love and time. But doing good for others is not where we derive all our satisfaction either. For several years, a popular women’s Bible study has been the “Proverbs 31 Woman.” I like this passage of Scripture in Proverbs 31:10-31 (NIV), written by Israel’s King Solomon who had achieved fame as the wisest man in the world. It speaks about a wife of noble character, and what she does to bring blessing to her husband and children, her family. She works to care and provide for the needs of her household. She buys and sells property and goods for a profit. She respects her husband and brings him good in all she does, whether at home, among her friends, or in the city at large. She speaks with a wise heart. She does not sit around in idleness; instead, she demonstrates strength and dignity in all situations. For "a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." (Proverbs 31:30b) As I ponder this passage, I feel like it shows that I clearly don’t measure up. For I know all too well my own failings. Yet, there’s no reason why I cannot pursue change within. So, I seek that quiet time to study, meditate, pray, and listen to what the Lord has to say within my heart. It’s the Lord’s approval I long for… to guide my steps, to change my course, to cover me with forgiveness, peace and contentment, and to find satisfaction in doing what He expects of me even when it’s not the easiest path, nor the one I would choose. May you be blessed - whether or not you are called Mom - for all the love you share, and for all the time and effort you put into being there for those around you… Happy Mother’s Day! I Am A Woman Linda A. Roorda ~ I am a woman. I am a mother. I’m a little girl, deep in my heart. I am emotions, raw and revealing. I am deep strength when life overwhelms. ~ I’ve carried love within my heart For family dear, and friends held close, For husband wise, light of my world And children young, growing their dreams. ~ I see the needs to be fulfilled. I reach to you, a life to touch. I shed a tear, and hold your hand To ease your pain, and bring a smile. ~ In quiet time, I seek Your will, Lord. A time to renew, to calm my fears, To savor sweet dreams, my hopes and plans As You care for me, and meet all my needs. ~ I fail at times to walk the path Yet You, oh Lord, are at my side. You pick me up each time I fall To gently remind, Your child I am. ~ I’ve harbored pain of losses that wound. I’ve weathered storms, battered and scarred. But my weary soul with peace You fill, That I may praise and bless Your name. ~ I hear Your voice and will in Your Word, For wisdom I’ve gained upon this road Will lead me on to comfort and love Others in need with You at my side. ~~
  5. There’s a friend who holds your heart over many years, and over many long and weary paths. The friend who freely forgives when you admit your words or actions were wrong. The friend who’s there when life gets tough and you think you’ll never get back up to face another day. The friend who shares your joy as if it were their own. The friend whose loving heart picks right up where you both left off when distance, time, and commitments take their toll. The friend who shares your dreams and helps you reach them. The friend who… You know! You can finish that sentence from how your friends have endeared themselves to your heart! For there’s nothing better than the love of a true friend. You both encourage to help the other achieve their best. But there’s another friend who always walks beside us, eager to welcome the wanderer with arms open wide, ready to share the depth of His love with us… our Lord. And, in a way that is most meaningful to each of us, He longs to share that love… in the beauty of the world on display all around us, in the joy of unexpected treasures, in life’s simple but profound moments, in “coincidences” that astound our finite minds… in other words, in unique and special moments of every-day life. Still, there’s another kind of friend who readily gives his life for ours. As we read in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Could, or would, we do that for one of our friends? Many have done so in war, in the ultimate sacrifice of their life to protect and save others. But ordinarily, we wouldn’t think of taking such a step. Yet, “God demonstrated his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23) It’s only through Jesus, that precious little baby whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, who grew to manhood with a rich ministry, and who lay down His life to die for each of us, and who arose that we might gain eternal salvation: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) That, indeed, is quite the friend! And I, for one, can’t help but think that I don’t deserve such profound love. Yet, even in that thought is the wonder of just how precious His love truly is... knowing He loved me first and drew me to Himself despite who I am or what I might have ever done. For me He came to earth. For my life He lived. For my soul He died… and not just for me, but for each one of us. And with our acceptance of His gracious gift of salvation, we long to bring glory and honor and praise back to Him in all that we do… In accepting His most gracious gift, we can spend eternity with Him in His glorious heavenly home. For that, we will humbly bow our head and thank Him, and give Him all our praise and worship… for He’s the closest of friends, the one and only… You’re The Friend Linda A. Roorda My Lord, You’re the friend I don’t deserve Who’s cared enough to die for my soul Whose love envelopes my heart with peace Whose joyful song lifts my load of cares. ~ You’re the friend I choose when others desert When the path is long with no end in sight When the trials come and the way grows drear You hold my heart in nail-scarred hands. ~ You’re the friend who stays and never abandons Who whispers wisdom to gently strengthen Whose loving words guide wandering feet Who draws me away from sin and its harm. ~ You’re the friend who calls and tenderly seeks Who opens my eyes to wisdom’s beauty That my heart would yearn, Your knowledge to gain As truth I pursue with heart, soul and mind. ~ You’re the friend who holds faith’s mercy and grace For nothing I do can ever repay Salvation’s gift as exposed I stand And all is revealed in depths of my soul. ~ You’re the friend whose love softly covers As humbly I come with contrition deep Trusting your grip, I reach for your hands Hands that were pierced to carry my soul. ~ For you’re the friend who will never leave You’re the friend who seeks the depths of my soul You’re the friend in whom faith finds sweet mercy For you’re the friend whose praises I sing. ~~ Linda Roorda writes from her home in Spencer.
  6. Whether or not we had ancestors or extended relatives who served in the American Civil War, it’s only fitting that we commemorate the 159th anniversary of its conclusion this past April. This was the war that gave freedom to all slaves, despite that issue not being the war’s original intent. It all began when seven states from the south seceded from the bonds of the United States of America upon Abraham Lincoln’s election as president in November 1860. By February 1861, the Confederate States of America had formed, whereupon the United States government declared its existence was illegal. Four more states seceded from the Union with the April 12, 1861 firing by Confederates on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, a Union-held fort. Only later did the slavery issue become the leading bone of contention between the north and south. Not until September 22, 1862 did President Lincoln declare that as of January 1, 1863 “all slaves in states in rebellion against the Union ‘shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.’” Lincoln was also astute enough to know this would be "the central act of my administration, and the greatest event of the 19th century." And so, one hundred and fifty-nine years ago, men on both sides of our nation’s civil war lay down their arms after four long years. But, few knew when dawn broke on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865, that it was the beginning of the end. General Robert E. Lee of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was backed into a corner on the battlefield with nothing left to do but accept the offer of surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant of the Union (i.e. Northern) Army. Grant had pursued Lee’s army relentlessly. In fact, Grant’s troops were entrenched around Petersburg and Richmond, Virginia. Grant thus kept Lee under a loose siege in an attempt to sever the supply lines which enabled the Confederate armies to remain viable. As the Union Army drew Lee’s forces into battle on April 1, 1865 and cut their supply lines, Lee had no choice but to abandon ground he had held for virtually ten months. In retreat, he expected to meet up with other Confederate units in order to regroup as designated supply trains arrived with fresh provisions. Unfortunately, the Union cavalry found and attacked remnants of Lee’s army enroute, forcing several thousand Confederates to surrender. Supplies were also captured by the Northern Army, preventing the Southern troops from getting their designated supplies in order to continue fighting. On April 7, and after several small skirmishes, Grant sent a message to Lee suggesting that he surrender. Though Lee refused, he did ask Grant to spell out the terms being offered, hoping to buy sufficient time to meet up with additional Southern troops. The next day, however, three Confederate supply trains were captured and burned at Appomattox Station by Brevet Maj. Gen. George Armstrong Custer. This left two more Southern armies which were arriving to support Lee without their desperately-needed supplies of food and more. Knowing there was just one more supply train available a little farther west at Lynchburg, Lee decided to fight on and push his army through the Northern Army’s lines of defense. On Sunday morning, April 9, the Southern Army forced back a section of the Northern Army’s line of defense. As they pushed forward, however, the next line of the Union Army slowed the Confederates down. Desperately continuing their charge forward, they finally broke through the Union defense… only to find that, as their cavalry reached the summit of a hill, the Union Army lay spread out before them fully prepared to repel the Southern Army. Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon sent a message to Gen. Lee stating, “…I have fought my corps to a frazzle, and I fear I can do nothing unless I am heavily supported by Longstreet’s corps.” Knowing that Lt. Gen. James Longstreet was fully engaged by the Northern Army and unable to come to Gordon’s aid, Lee knew he had no other choice but to surrender. “Then there is nothing left for me to do but to go and see General Grant and I would rather die a thousand deaths,” Lee replied to Gordon. [The Appomattox Campaign: March 29-April 9, 1865, by Joe Williams, National Park Service. Per Wikipedia] General Robert E. Lee went to meet Grant that Palm Sunday, April 9, dressed impeccably in full uniform. General Ulysses S. Grant (having allowed Lee to select their meeting site) arrived as is from the battlefield in an unkempt uniform spattered by mud with his pants tucked into well-worn muddy boots. Lee’s men had been hounded as they tried to gain the upper hand over his fellow graduate of West Point. Even supply trains seemed to contrive against him as they were prevented from meeting his Southern troops at designated stops. The great Confederate effort had begun to unravel… rapidly. Though his soldiers were bone weary, starving hungry, emaciated, emotionally and physically drained, they were ready to follow their beloved commander wherever he led them. And this was where Lee brought them… to Appomattox Court House, Virginia, to the country home of Wilmer and Virginia McLean… to surrender. The meeting between Grant and Lee was initially emotional as they discussed their only other meeting about 20 years earlier in the Mexican-American War. Sitting down to business, the terms of surrender given by Grant were more generous than expected. See Robert E. Lee's Surrender at Appomattox from the pages of Harper's Weekly. Written documentation was provided by Grant’s adjutant, Ely Parker, a Native American of the Seneca tribe. When Lee learned of Parker’s heritage, he commented, “It is good to have one real American here.” Parker replied simply, “Sir, we are all Americans.” Grant allowed that each man could keep his own horse or mule, so vital for the spring field work ahead. The officers could keep their small sidearms, but all men were to leave their larger shotguns, rifles, artillery field pieces, and public property. They were to refrain from taking up arms in the future against the United States of America, and to respectfully embrace all laws within the state they lived. After the formalities were concluded inside the house, they stepped quietly outside. As Grant’s men began cheering in a celebratory manner, he ordered them to stop immediately. “The Confederates are now our countrymen, and we [do] not want to exult over their downfall.” Respect was paramount in Grant’s eyes. He even provided food rations to Lee’s starving army. [quotes above from April 1865: The Month That Saved America, Jay Winik; New York: HarperCollins, 2006, p.191.] On April 12, 1865, Gen. Robert E. Lee’s soldiers lined up to stack their guns under the Union Army’s watchful eye. Brig. Gen. Joshua L. Chamberlain, the Union officer chosen to lead the formal ceremony of surrender, wrote a moving tribute: “The momentous meaning of this occasion impressed me deeply. I resolved to mark it by some token of recognition, which could be no other than a salute of arms… Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils nor sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond – was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured? …when the head of each division column comes opposite our group, our bugle sounds the signal and instantly our whole line from right to left, regiment by regiment in succession, gives the soldier’s salutation, from the ‘order arms’ to the old ‘carry’, the marching salute... honor answering honor. On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!” [Passing of the Armies, Joshua Chamberlain, pp. 260-261; per Wikipedia] When the roughly 28,000 soldiers of Gen. Lee’s former Confederate Army of Northern Virginia stacked their arms, they must have done so with tremendous mixed emotions. It’s not easy to lose. It’s not easy to have fought so hard and so long for what you believed in with all your heart only to have it come to this... surrender. But, Grant allowed them to retain their dignity. As they walked past their former enemies, each man was saluted with respect. With this solemn ceremony, both sides must have felt a great sense of relief that the long and bitter war was finally over. The Surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, April 12, 1865. Painting by Ken Riley. Courtesy West Point Museum, U. S. Military Academy, West Point, New York. The respect that Gen. Grant and his men paid to the Southern soldiers was intended to be taken back home to their countrymen as each man turned and walked away... back to the family each had left behind so long ago… back to a family that might no longer be intact… back to a home or farm left tattered and ruined by the men they were surrendering to. It would be a long road home for men on both sides. They faced physical and emotional difficulties as they recovered. But, the road for men traveling south may have been fraught with a depth of anxiety the northerners likely never knew. What remained of the family and home left behind? Too often, very little. It would be a long road ahead to rebuild the devastation of a countryside laid waste by war… crops to plant, homes and farms to rebuild, and cities and business to re-establish. It would take a lot of determination to move forward, but move forward our nation would. Yet, thousands of men and boys did not have the opportunity to go home. Many, if not all, of those walking home had family members and/or friends who had given the ultimate sacrifice. By April 1865, the nation had been at war for four long weary years. Additional Confederate armies surrendered over the ensuing days and weeks. Everyone was tired. The nation at large was utterly drained. The war had exacted its final toll from about 630,000 men while over one million were formally listed as casualties of war, i.e. wounded - some with loss of limbs, some in emotional turmoil, some carrying disease that began on the battlefield or in prison. The after-effects lasted far beyond the cessation of actual physical combat. And then, just as the end of war was beginning to register in their weary minds, the nation’s much beloved and equally hated president, Abraham Lincoln, was assassinated. What next? What was this world coming to? How would the nation continue to move forward? Among my ancestors and extended relatives who fought in the Civil War are two McNeill half-brothers, each of whom spent time in Confederate prisons. They were sons of Robert McNeill who served in the War of 1812, removing to Michigan with his family; Robert is an older brother of my ancestor, Jesse. 1) Chauncey McNeill, b. about 1819, Carlisle, Schoharie Co., NY, son of Robert and 1st wife Matilda (Crego) McNeill. “Chancy” enlisted in 8th Michigan Cavalry Sep 2, 1864, went missing in action at Henryville, Tennessee Nov 23, 1864. Imprisoned at Camp Sumter/Andersonville, admitted to hospital Feb 21, 1865, died March 5, 1865 of “Cronick Diarheah and exposure in said Rebel Prison,” buried grave No. 12733 at Andersonville, Georgia, leaving a widow and two young children. [Above per NARA military service records purchased by Roorda.] “12733, McNiell, C, 8 cav, Co M, died March 5, '65, diarrhea c.” A List of the Union Soldiers Buried at Andersonville, by Dorence Atwater. As a prisoner he kept a daily log of all Union soldiers who died in the prison for the commander, given to the U.S. government after the Civil War. [Gourley, pp.8, 172] 2) DeWitt C. McNeill, b. about Dec 18, 1845, Savannah, Wayne Co., NY, son of Robert and 2nd wife Catharine (Vosburgh, Coe) McNeill. DeWitt enlisted Sep 26, 1862 at Copake, NY, promoted from private to corporal to sergeant Co. E, 159th N. Y. Infantry. Captured Sep 19, 1864, Winchester, Virginia, released March 2, 1865 at Goldsborough, North Carolina, returned to camp May 4th, mustered out August 4, 1865 at Savannah, Georgia. He died March 16, 1868 at age 22 of illness from time spent in prison, leaving a young widow. Closer to my direct lineage, John and Henry Leonardson went off to war from Montgomery County, New York. They were brothers of Mary Eliza Leonardson (b. ca. 1832) who married William Ottman (my great-great-grandparents) of Carlisle, Schoharie County, NY. One brother came home after several years of war, while the younger sibling was killed only six months into his enlistment. 3) John D. Leonardson, b. Jan 10, 1830 in Montgomery Co., NY, son of Arent/Aaron and Lana (Gross) Leendertse/Leonardson. John enlisted Dec 14, 1861 at Lyons, NY as a musician into F Co., NY 98th Infantry, re-enlisted Jan 4, 1864, serving in siege against Petersburg and Richmond VA, mustered out Aug 31, 1865 at Richmond, VA. He died August 10, 1899, Sharon, Schoharie Co., NY. 4) Henry Leonardson, b. about 1840, Montgomery Co., NY, son of Arent/Aaron and Lana (Gross) Leendertse/Leonardson. Henry enlisted as private Jan 4, 1864 into unassigned NY 16th Heavy Artillery, transferred May 10, 1864 to D Co. NY 6th Heavy Artillery. Killed Jun 22, 1864 at Petersburg, VA. NEXT: Read Civil War, April 1865, Elmira Prison vs. Andersonville
  7. When the Civil War came to an end with Gen. Lee’s surrender to Gen. Grant on April 9 1865, the prisoner of war camps in both the North and the South began to empty. Unfortunately, many prisoners never saw their home and loved ones again after giving the ultimate sacrifice. Though a multitude of men did make it back to their families, they took with them the emotional and physical scars of prison camp – from starvation to disease, along with the after effects of war’s emotional turmoil for all soldiers. This was a very difficult chapter to write regarding the suffering of America’s men in prison camps on both sides of the American Civil War. But I believe it is necessary to understand the depths of such tragedies as we honor and respect those of our collective ancestors who were held captive behind those gates. If only the untold suffering of humanity in war were reason enough to end all wars. As noted in my previous Homestead article, April 1865, the involvement and losses of extended ancestral relatives brings this war and its prison camps just a little closer to home. Four young men went off to war, but only one survived to live a full life. John D. Leonardson (survived all 4 years, lived to old age) and his brother Henry Leonardson (died after 6 months on the battlefield), brothers of my gr-gr-grandmother, Mary Eliza (Leonardsona) Ottman. Chauncey McNeill (died at Andersonville March 1865) and his brother DeWitt C. McNeill (died age 22 in 1868 from effects of Confederate prison camp), sons of Robert McNeill, an older brother of my ancestor, Jesse McNeill. Just the thought of Civil War prisons strikes fear into us as we pause to think about the inhumane conditions inflicted upon those confined behind the four walls. For over a century, the deplorable and deadly conditions of two major prison camps left a bitter memory for all too many - one was local Camp Chemung in Elmira, NY, a situation where truth was denied and kept from the public, with the other prison being Camp Sumter, aka Andersonville, in Georgia… equally as nefarious as its northern counterpart, each with similarities to the other, yet fraught with many differences. Elmira (aka Hellmira) was chosen for southern prisoners by Col. William Hoffman, the commissary general of prisoners in Washington, D.C. The first captured Confederate soldiers arrived at Elmira’s Barracks No.3 on July 6, 1864, with the last prisoners walking out of camp July 11, 1865. Some prisoners, dishonorably called “oathies” or “oathtakers” by fellow Confederate prisoners, were released early if they took the “oath of allegiance.” Though very few were actually released early from Elmira, those taking the oath at any prison were required to remain in the North for the duration of the war; in fact, several who took the oath were hired for jobs within the Elmira prison camp at 5 cents a day and given better rations. [Horigan, p. 32] Before their release at the end of the war, each prisoner was also required to take an oath of loyalty to the Union before being given a train ticket back home. “I, ______, do solemnly swear, in presence of Almighty God, that I will henceforth faithfully support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the union of the States thereunder; and that I will, in like manner, abide by and faithfully support all acts of Congress passed during the existing rebellion with reference to slaves, so long and so far as not repealed, modified or held void by Congress, or by decision of the Supreme Court; and that I will, in like manner, abide by and faithfully support all proclamations of the President made during the existing rebellion having reference to slaves, so long and so far as not modified or declared void by decision of the Supreme Court. So help me God.” Excerpted from Abraham Lincoln’s “Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction” dated December 8, 1863, wording varying in different locales. [Janowski, p. 190] Today, there are many within the Elmira community who are totally unaware of what once transpired on the ground upon which they live and walk. There are monuments, stones and plaques scattered on land which once held a Civil War prison camp, and granite markers have been placed at both the northeast and southeast corners of the prison camp. The original flagpole, on private property, was donated in 1992 to the city of Elmira. It was placed next to a stone monument on Elmira Water Board’s property near the Chemung River. The monument memorializes “the soldiers who trained at Camp Rathbun May 1861-1864 and the Confederate Prisoners of War incarcerated at Camp Chemung July 1864-July 1865.” [Horigan, pp.196-197] Those who died as prisoners are interred at Woodlawn National Cemetery in Elmira; the white gravestones of Union soldiers are rounded on top while the Confederate gravestones are pointed. One of 35 buildings (each about 100 feet long) from the prison compound, stored in pieces, will be reconstructed during 2014-2015 and set up on part of the original prison site along the river. It will serve as a museum to honor the memory of those Confederate prisoners who once struggled to survive and those who lost their lives. [WETM-TV Evening News, April 29, 2014] But monuments alone do not a story tell. The lives of our collective ancestors were forever affected by this war fought for the preservation of a united nation, and for the freedom gained by thousands of slaves. This is but one chapter in our nation’s fallible history as we face the stark realities of life 150-plus years ago. Elmira is a beautiful community established along the Chemung River on land once home to the Iroquois Nation prior to the American Revolution. Canal boats up to 60 feet long and 18 feet wide plied the local waters of Chemung Canal and the finger lakes to connect with the Erie Canal, a route of great importance in transporting both agricultural and manufactured goods throughout the state. The productivity of Elmira’s several small factories and the agricultural goods produced locally offered a quality of life that was enviable elsewhere. Yet, at times, Elmira was “referred to derisively as a ‘canal town’” because of the influx of canal workers and their unsavory character. [Elmira: Death Camp of the North, by Michael Horigan, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA, 2002, p. 4.] Elmira’s flat land along the Chemung River was considered optimal for training volunteer soldiers. The same ground had twice held the New York State Fair during the 1850s. Foster Barracks, known as Camp Rathbun by 1862, later renamed Camp Chemung or Barracks No.3, was situated west of the village line. This area adjacent to the river, including Foster’s Pond and race track, was established as a training and embarkation center in 1861 for New York’s soldiers. It was ideal with the Erie Railway and Northern Central Railway traversing Elmira, providing transportation of men both into the city and southward to battle. Elmira’s Camp Rathbun then became an assembly ground for federal draftees in 1863. With barracks already built to house those thousands of Union soldiers, it seemed the perfect location to confine Confederate prisoners of war in 1864. “[Ausburn] Towner's history of 1892 and maps from the period indicate the camp occupied an area running about 1,000 feet (300 m) west and approximately the same distance south of a location a couple of hundred feet west of Hoffman Street and about 35 feet south of Water Street, bordered on the south by Foster's Pond, on the north bank of the Chemung River.” Lt. Col. Seth Eastman, commander of Elmira’s Camp Chemung, was informed by Col. Hoffman in Washington that he should prepare to receive Confederate prisoners. Despite Eastman’s reply that Barracks No. 3 could hold, at most, 6000 prisoners (later lowered to efficiently house 4000), Hoffman insisted that Elmira be prepared for more prisoners. Camp Chemung (Barracks No.3) was selected to house prisoners not only for its convenient location, but for the fact it already held a mess hall which could seat about 1200 to 1500 at a time. The building also housed a kitchen equipped to cook for 5000, and a bakery that could supply up to 6000 meals. Twenty new barracks were built while repairs were made on older existing buildings. A double-walled fence was also built to encompass the camp’s thirty-two acres. Guardhouses were built along these fence walls with a walkway for sentries set 4 feet below the top of the fence. The camp’s main gate was located on Water Street in Elmira while an additional gate on the south side provided access for prisoners to bathe in the Chemung River during good weather. Confusing communications were continually sent from Hoffman in Washington, with Eastman being told several times to prepare for upwards of 8-10,000 prisoners of war. Repeatedly informing Hoffman that Elmira could not handle more than 4000 to 6000 prisoners total, Camp Chemung’s numbers ultimately swelled to 12,122 prisoners. By war’s end, a total of 2950 men had died of disease and exposure, many with a lack of appropriate rations and medical care. [Horigan, p.180] Although Elmira’s death rate was 24%, it was still below that of Andersonville’s 29% where just over 45,000 prisoners were held on even less acreage. With a lack of proper buildings to house the men, A-shaped tents were used despite the coming bitter cold of northern winters. The sheer volume of prisoners, a lack of proper living quarters, poor quality of food and water, the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables, limited rations, the lack of blankets, and flooding from the river all resulted in scurvy, dysentery, typhoid, pneumonia and smallpox. As these issues served to overwhelm the limited medical staff and what little medication they could procure, death was inevitable for too many men. Those who survived Elmira’s prison often did so through their own ingenuity and the largesse of townsfolk. Rats were killed and eaten. Unfortunately, clothing for the southern prisoners was restricted to the color gray, that of their uniforms. When families sent clothing to their loved ones, if it wasn’t gray it was burned – despite the weather conditions and the need for warmer clothing. Early on, prisoners were able to purchase items from the camp sutler including foods, tobacco, writing paper and implements, clothing, etc. but even this beneficial transaction was eventually limited. Letters written home were also censored both coming and going. Yet, for decades the deplorable and deadly condition of this prison camp were denied and kept from the public. "The horrors of a camp where prisoners of war are crowded into a confined space, poorly clad, uncomfortably housed, insufficiently fed, and scantily provided with medical attendance, hospital accommodations, and other provisions for the sick, form one of the most deplorable features of any war, but none of these can apply with truth to the camp at Elmira, nor can they be attached for a moment to the reputation or become a portion of the history of the fair valley of the Chemung." [The History of Chemung County, Ausburn Towner, 1892.] In reality, it took over 130 years for researchers to begin unearthing the hidden truth about Elmira’s prison camp. These researchers have now documented the full story and stark realities of Elmira’s prison camp which have been long been silenced. Personal stories are being told of some of the thousands of Confederate men who were imprisoned, who died, and who survived. A unique tribute is In Their Honor: Soldiers of the Confederacy, The Elmira Prison Camp written by Diane Janowski, a resident of Elmira, New York. Janowski states, “This book is not about war strategy, nor conditions inside the camp - it is about how the men and boys ended up in Elmira. Where other books about the Elmira camp are very clinical, this one is very personal. Families' words and feelings show just how strong Civil War sentiments still are in 2009. That’s why I’ve written this book. You can hold this book and point to a name and say, ‘That's my great-great-great grandfather.’” The first 400 prisoners behind Elmira’s gates began their journey on July 2, 1864 from Point Lookout, Maryland. With one dying enroute, 399 entered the grounds of Elmira’s Civil War Prison Camp on July 6th at 6 a.m. They had been part of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, having seen the worst the war had to offer at Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and Spotsylvania. Their experiences clearly echoed what Union Army’s William Tecumseh Sherman (considered the best field commander of the Civil War) had said more than a decade after the war: “I have seen war in all of its horrible aspects. I have seen fields devastated, homes ruined, and cities laid waste; I have seen the carnage of battle, the blood of the wounded and the cold faces of the dead looking up at the stars. That is war. War is hell.” [Horigan, p. 34] But, these prisoners of war had just entered another hell. A few men who arrived in the ensuing months were recognized by locals as former residents of Elmira or surrounding towns. Peering through the camp’s fence, townsfolk got a glimpse of the Southern rebels in their midst. The editor of Elmira’s Advertiser, Charles Fairman, noted that local townsfolk could hardly bypass the camp “…without a peep at the varmints…” [Horigan, p. 35] This curiosity even evolved into a venture where, for 10 cents, folks could observe the hated Confederate prisoners from an observatory set up opposite the camp. As much as “forty dollars per day” was made by “an enterprising Yankee at Elmira.” [Horigan, p.59] “Neighbors along the camp sold lemonade, cake, peanuts, crackers, and beer to spectators.” [Janowski, p.9] On the ninth day of prisoner occupation, an inspection was made of the premises with a mixed review. Warnings were tendered on Foster’s Pond, a stagnant liability within the compound, in need of immediate attention. The low-lying sinks/latrines near the pond were considered to be another source of disease, not to mention the permeating stench. The inspector indicated that drinking water was of good quality. Further correspondence again indicated Foster’s Pond was in desperate need of being drained to prevent disease. Shallow wells were drilled, but they were ultimately contaminated by the latrines draining into Foster’s Pond with deadly consequences. With hundreds of prisoners sent by rail to Elmira, the inevitable happened on July 16, 1864 near Shohola, PA. A major train wreck was caused by a drunken telegraph operator who signaled the prisoner-of-war train that all was clear ahead when, in fact, a coal train was actually heading their way. Messages of the coal train’s proximity had been missed by the stuporous man. The crash killed both Union and Confederate soldiers, wounding many others, while five prisoners managed to escape over the mountains, a fortuitous opportunity for them. The lack of a prison hospital equipped with competent surgeons was now sorely felt as over 80 injured men arrived at Elmira. Apparently, it took almost five weeks more before a chief surgeon was present on the premises. [Horigan, pp.43, 44] The shortage of clothing and blankets was another situation still not rectified as 3000 more prisoners were slated to arrive soon and join the 1900 already there. By the first of August 1864, the camp had officially acquired 4424 Confederate prisoners, 11 of whom had died, while two had escaped. And still they kept coming. On August 6th, Maj. Eugene Sanger of the state of Maine reported for duty as chief surgeon… that is, after the military authorities finally recognized the need of such services at Elmira. Proving the commanders had a magnanimous side, the Rev. Thomas K. Beecher of Elmira’s Park Church was granted permission to hold the first religious service inside the camp in late July. He was half-brother to Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Her novel, published in 1852, is considered by many to be the book which set the foundation for the burgeoning anti-slavery sentiment which eventually permeated the Civil War ideology. Skilled artists have left behind their sketches which depict camp life. Rings and trinkets were made and sold by prisoners. Union officers bought many of these items, reselling them for greater profit. Those handy at carpentry skills made furniture with which the Union officers filled their homes. And the prisoners even began making the pine coffins in which to bury their own. John W. Alexander of South Carolina, writing his memoirs for family in about 1896, noted that “the guards [at Elmira] seemed to be a part of the climate: cold, calculating, and merciless. The only avenue to his soul was the greenback route, and this we were too poor to travel. …everyone able to walk was supposed to go to the cookhouse twice a day.” [Janowski, pp.35, 36] Living in tents, he and the others received their wood for the day; one stick to a tent. “As our fireplaces were only one foot wide and the wood four feet long, we had no axe – it seemed a problem, but it was soon solved.” Putting their minds to work, several men created a homemade saw out of a sheet iron band and a small file. And, with some wooden wedges, they were able to saw and split their wood to burn. [Janowski, p. 37] Taken ill with smallpox, Alexander was sent to what was considered the camp hospital. Though he recovered and was treated well by a Dr. Williams, he remained weak and wrote, “…I did know that we were starving in a land of plenty.” [p.43] After release from prison on June 23, 1865, Alexander arrived in Columbia, SC to find that “Sherman had destroyed everything along the way. All the best houses were burnt, and people gone, and those remaining were starving. Lone chimneys and dead shade trees told the tale. ...I was restored to family…on the 12th of July, 1865.” [Janowski, pp.45, 46] As of September 1, 1864, a total of 9,480 prisoners were on the rolls. Including the 115 who had died in August, a total of 126 men had died so far. Scurvy was now rampant among the prisoners for want of fresh fruits and vegetables. They were in abundant supply in the outside community, but Col. Hoffman, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and Union military officials in Washington were not buying. Instead, they determined that retaliation was the answer to the South’s mistreatment of Northern prisoners. With this in mind, Hoffman had already signed orders that rations for prisoners of war would be cut by 20% as of June 1, 1864. “Chronic diarrhea” was most often the term used in diagnosing prisoners who “suffered from dehydration, ulcerative colitis (a fatal infection of the lower intestinal tract), dysentery, and electrolyte imbalance.” [Horigan, p.75] With their immune systems weakened by being half-starved on an inappropriate and insufficient diet, and drinking contaminated water, the men began succumbing rapidly to the ravages of disease. As summer progressed, Elmira’s prisoners were no longer allowed to buy additional foodstuffs from the camp sutler. The men’s living conditions continued to deteriorate as the heat of summer turned into the chill of autumn. Then, winds blew in the bitter cold of a northern winter unfamiliar to the Southern men as thousands remained in tents without sufficient heat, also lacking warm clothing and blankets. And still, official approval had not been granted for Foster’s Pond to be drained, nor had additional barracks been constructed to house the prisoners, forcing them to remain in tents through the bitter winter weather. From all of this, Camp Commandant Lt. Col. Seth Eastman retired in poor health. His successor, Col. Benjamin Tracy (born in Apalachin and educated in Owego where he had practiced law), arrived to take charge of Camp Chemung on September 19, 1864. And it was an overcrowded camp to which Tracy came with its climbing death rate due to the “…lack of sanitation, prevalence of disease, a shortage of proper housing, margined rations, a paucity of clothing, and inadequate hospital facilities… all the result of inaction on the part of those in command in Elmira and (to a much greater extent) Washington.” [Horigan, p.89] With starvation and disease now rampant among the prisoners, substantial quantities of beef designated for the camp to improve rations were unconscionably rejected as unfit by inspectors and, instead, sold to community meat markets. Those who survived imprisonment, like Walter D. Addison, later recalled: “No coffee, no tea, no vegetables, but a few beans to make tasteless watery soup consisting of the liquid in which the pork had been boiled.” James Marion Howard also recalled that “our soup would usually be made of onions, rotten hulls, roots and dirt… but of all the soups, this rotten onion soup has the worst odor… This, with a piece of bread, was our ration at 3 p.m. And this was our ration every day.” Prisoner James B. Stamp remembered that in the winter months the “insufficiency of food increased, and in many instances, prisoners were reduced to absolute suffering. All the rats that could be captured were eaten, and on one occasion a small dog that had followed a wood hauler into the camp was caught and prepared as food.” Another prisoner, G. T. Taylor from Alabama stated, “Elmira was nearer Hades than I thought any place could be made by human cruelty.” [Horigan, pp. 100, 101] Survivor, R. B. Ewan, recalled 43 years later the “sport of running… [rats] out of their holes. Our Mart of Trade was in the center of the ground, and at 10 o’clock every day dressed rats on boards and tin plates…were offered for five cents and sometimes more.” [Horigan, p.140] Sooner or later every prisoner contemplates escaping his confines, and those in Elmira were no exception. However, designated spies infiltrated the Confederates, learning of and reporting on escape plans to the camp officials. Digging the tunnels was no easy task without proper equipment, not to mention the weakened and malnourished condition of the diggers, but it was accomplished. Unfortunately for the men involved, 28 tunnels were discovered before escape, but one remained concealed. Thus, on October 6, 1864, ten men escaped before this tunnel was also discovered. Several swam across the south side of the Chemung River to Mount Zoar. From this vantage point, six men (in three paired groups, each group not aware of the others) looked down on their former confines as they watched the frantic search for them take place. Then they turned their backs on Elmira and simply made their way back home. One man, Berry Benson, related years later that he found corn and apples on a nearby farm before walking west to Big Flats and then to Corning from whence he headed south to his home. Two other men walked to Ithaca, Varna, and then to Auburn where they obtained jobs. Saving their money, they eventually took a train to New York City and on to Baltimore before walking the rest of the way home. Nine men made it safely back home, but the tenth was never heard from again. Their escape is considered “the most spectacular…in the annals of prison camps administered by the Union during the Civil War.” [Horigan, p.113] Others made it out of camp at various times under the watchful eyes of Union guards. One prisoner stole a Union sergeant’s ankle-length winter overcoat and simply walked away from all the wretchedness through the main gate. Another prisoner managed to leave with a forged pass. Yet another man, known only as Buttons, [supposedly] hid himself in a coffin with the lid secured only lightly. When the wagon of coffins reached the cemetery, he popped the lid, jumped off the wagon and ran full speed into the woods. The driver was speechless and too shocked to stop the escape of someone presumed to be ready for burial! The identity of “Buttons” has been determined to be Thomas A. Botts through the memoirs of fellow prisoner, John W. Alexander. [Janowski, pp.26-29, 40, 212] Supposedly, Buttons escaped to rejoin the Confederate army. However, in tracking his military records, Janowski notes that, after capture in battle, Botts was moved from Virginia to Elmira on August 17, 1864. Botts died at Elmira May 14, 1865, two weeks before President Johnson issued orders to release all prisoners. Janowski considers the story of Buttons’ escape a total fabrication as published in the “Confederate Veteran” magazine in 1926. [Janowski, p.27] October, the month of escapes, held death for 276 more Confederates, men who were not so fortunate. This was the highest monthly total of any Northern prison, now bringing the total deceased to 857. A war of words had been taking place between prison officials, inspectors, the media, and the powers that be in Washington regarding the conditions at the camp and how to rectify them, and whether problems even existed. In November, Dorothea Dix, superintendant of Women Nurses for the Union, praised the Elmira prison for adequately providing all provisions and necessities to prisoners. November’s deaths numbered 207, second only to Chicago’s prison death rate that month. Denials were made by military personnel on learning of leaks to the media about the horrible conditions within the prison. In fact, the Elmira Advertiser’s editorials informed its readership that “The Confederates confined at Elmira were treated with all the care and consideration that such persons are entitled to receive by Christian nations in any part of the world. …[the] rations are of a good quality and abundant in quantity..” When this was published on December 2, 1864, 994 prisoners had died since July; the total figure at the end of December climbing to 1263 dead. [Horigan, pp. 102-103] So much went wrong at Elmira’s Civil War prison, and this brief column hardly provides adequate space to enumerate all that which transpired. Documentation also discloses that the surgeon-in-chief, Major Sanger of Maine, used his position in a chilling manner. Prisoners later recalled his cold and calloused demeanor, and inappropriate treatment of patients with opium, causing the demise of many who were ill, yet no charges were filed against him. His own writing indicates his attitude: “I now have charge of 10,000 Rebels a very worthy occupation for a patriot…but I think I have done my duty having relieved 386 of them of all earthly sorrow in one month.” [Horigan, p.129] yet, on the other hand, Maj. Sanger wrote no less than nine reports with complaints about the life-threatening problems facing prisoners in the camp at Elmira. Action was eventually taken to correct some of the issues, while at the same time Sanger took blame for many failings - some deserved, some not. At the time of his formal complaints, there were 9,063 prisoners in camp that October. Of these, 3,873 were in barracks while the balance of 5,190 men were still assigned to 1,038 tents. Thirty-five barracks were planned to be built; but, with a late start on construction, appropriate housing for the prisoners left too many in tents to endure winter’s bitter cold. [Horigan, p.132] The construction on better housing facilities finally began in October. However, with a lack of lumber supplies, construction was delayed. When barracks were built, it became apparent before winter’s end that hasty construction with green lumber contributed to cracks between the boards, and boards that warped, etc. To complicate matters further, the existing barracks also began to fall into disrepair. Late November and early December of 1864 saw over 2000 men still in tents. By Christmas, 900 some men were still living in tents in the frigid winter weather, without adequate heat or sustenance, let alone warm clothing or enough blankets to keep warm. Drainage of Foster’s Pond began after a notice issued October 23, 1864 by the secretary of war, Col. Hoffman. However, work on the drainage sluice, done by prisoners, was slow in progress due to their own poor health, multiple delays from severe winter weather, quicksand, extremely coarse gravel, and occasional flooding. The work was completed by January 1, 1865, but 1263 Confederate prisoners had already died, many from drinking contaminated water from the sinks/latrines which leached into the pond and seeped into the shallow wells. Heavy rains contributed to flooding of the low land, while bitter ice-cold sleet and snow also took their toll on the men. With many still in tents, the untold human suffering of these prisoners is appalling to contemplate as they had to deal not only with the frigid elements but malnutrition from lack of a proper diet. In fact, “the winter of 1864-65 was one of the harshest on record.” [Janowsky, p. 25] As prisoner Marcus Toney recalled 40 years later, they only had two blankets per bunk for the bitter winter weather. Each bunk was “wide enough to sleep two medium-sized men…[but four men slept in each bunk while] two of [the prisoners] slept with their heads toward the east, and two with their heads toward the west… and when ready to change positions, one would call out, ‘All turn to the right’; and the next call would be, ‘All turn to the left.’” [Horigan, p.133] Another sad chapter in Elmira’s prison history is the fact that several businesses and citizens’ relief committees attempted to send clothing and outer coats to prisoners for the winter. But, due to Secretary of War Stanton’s initial call for retaliation in April 1864, and his initiation of extended and complicated bureaucratic red tape, efforts to aid the prisoners were given up in despair. With frustrating military regulations established by his commanders, Eastman, as head of the camp, denied clearance to local citizens who also tried to bring aid to the prisoners. It was clear to many that their efforts were being thwarted by those wishing to exact vengeance against the Southern captives as retaliation for the Confederacy’s harsh treatment of Union prisoners. “Deprived of sufficient rations…and of clothing and blankets that remained in warehouses in Washington, the prison camp’s January 1865 death rate reached 285,” for a total of 1548. [Horigan, p.158] Even as smallpox compounded the prisoners’ suffering throughout January and February, the city of Elmira held its festive Grand Military Ball in late February. Six days later, the prisoners’ death toll for February was noted to be 426, an average of 15 per day, bringing the total to 1874. [Horigan, p.166] Yet, Fairman’s editorial in his Advertiser noted that “the sick are being taken care of… [and] they have nothing to complain of.” [Horigan, p.166] Many of the sick were still actually in tents, ignored by medical staff, though conditions for those in the “hospital” were actually not much better. Finally, an order from the War Department on February 4, 1865 directed the camp to prepare 3000 prisoners of war to be transferred south for a prisoner exchange. Up until that time, this was not a viable option for President Lincoln and Gen. Grant as they felt it would simply recycle more men back into the Confederate armies to prolong the war. Col. Tracy sent 500 prisoners south on February 13, with 500 more leaving on February 20. By the end of March, 3042 Confederates had been sent south for exchange. By April 1st, the camp housed only 5054 prisoners with the total death toll now having reached 2465. Then came news in early April that Gen. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was losing strength and there might possibly be surrender ahead. Since Gen. Grant’s siege had isolated Petersburg and Richmond, many believed the war couldn’t last much longer. Sure enough, further word came north that Robert E. Lee had had no other option but to surrender on April 9, 1865 to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox. And 5054 men in Elmira sighed in relief to think that their last days of prison life were in sight. At the end of April, the death toll for the month was 267 as the overall total reached 2732. The balance of men remaining in camp was now down to 4754. The month of May saw 1,037 more Southerners released while 131 men died in May, for a total of 2863 dead. On May 31st, only 3610 prisoners remained behind the gates. The final group of 256 Confederates left Hellmira’s confines on July 11, 1865. Some, too ill to travel, were transferred to Elmira’s Union Hospital where 16 more died. The final count of deceased prisoners reached 2950. Barracks No. 3 was next used to muster out Union soldiers, and in February 1866 the saga of Elmira’s Union camp ended when the camp’s buildings were auctioned off and removed. Janowski, however, notes inconsistencies in various sources which report “the death toll anywhere from 2950 to 2998. I use the 2963 figure…as it is the last grave marker number at Woodlawn National Cemetery.” [Janowski, p.11] Earlier in June 1865 following his release, prisoner James Hoffman returned home to Virginia only “to find destruction, waste and poverty… There was no money; the start must be made from the bottom. I went to work with a will.” [Horigan, p.178] The South as they had known it was not the same and never would be. And the legacy of Elmira’s prison was summed up in one word by the prisoners themselves, “Hellmira.” Author Michael Horigan presents a long list of well-documented facts that place blame on the federal government and military officials beginning with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton’s retaliatory efforts backed by the war department’s highest officials. The list also includes the 20% reduction in rations as of June 1864, the determination to house up to 10,000-plus prisoners at Elmira when the facilities could only reasonably hold 4,000, the lack of any medical staff for the first five weeks, the long delay in rectifying drainage of Foster’s Pond, much needed additional hospital barracks and improved camp facilities, no medical staff to treat the prisoners injured in the Shohola train wreck, Col. Tracy’s beef inspection order which resulted in a substantial reduction of meat available for prisoners, delayed construction of additional barracks with prisoners remaining in tents throughout the winter, deliberate denial of winter clothing to the prisoners, the multi-level clashes between military leadership, and much more. [Horigan, pp. 191-192] PART B: Andersonville As noted above, Elmira is often compared to the death camp of Andersonville in Georgia. “Yet the most striking contrast between Andersonville and Elmira should be apparent even to the most casual observer,” wrote historian Michael Horigan, author of Elmira: Death Camp of the North. “Elmira, a city with excellent railroad connections, was located in a region where food, medicine, clothing, building materials, and fuel were in abundant supply. None of this could be said of Andersonville. Hence, Elmira became a symbol of death for different reasons.” [Horigan, p.193] The Dix-Hill Cartel of prisoner exchanges broke down in 1862 when Jefferson Davis’s Confederacy refused to exchange captured black soldiers. Indicating that they would send the black soldiers back into slavery and kill their white officers, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton put a halt to prisoner exchanges. This, in turn, vastly increased the numbers of prisoners on both sides with permanent prisoner-of-war camps established. The search for southern land upon which to build a camp to hold Union prisoners led to a very small village in Georgia – Anderson Station. It was considered ideal for its proximity to the Central of Georgia Railroad, yet isolated enough to prevent Union troops from raiding the camp to free their countrymen. Nor would it be easy for those who might successfully escape to find their way back north across the Mason-Dixon line. The land was also chosen for Sweetwater Creek at the base of the hill. Thus, a 16-1/2 acre rectangular compound to hold prisoners was built, albeit without barracks to house them. Located a quarter of a mile from Anderson Station, Camp Sumter was 11 miles northwest of Americus and 60 miles from Macon in Macon County, Georgia. Renamed Andersonville by guards, it has been considered the absolute worst of Confederate prisons. After only two weeks of construction, its doors opened on February 27, 1864. Andersonville became a living hell for the blue-coats (Yankees) who had the misfortune of entering the gates of its double-palisade fence. Pine trees cut by slaves were planted upright, 5 feet below the surface with the remaining 15-17 feet above ground for the fences. For good measure, a third “fence” was set up about 15 or so feet in from the inner palisade. Called the deadline, it was an “open” fence about 3-4 feet high with posts upon which thin board railings were attached. Touch it or cross under it with any part of your body invited a deadly accurate shot by a sentry. Lumber and nails were in short supply in the Confederacy, and thus not available to build barracks to house prisoners. But, men were sent from other over-crowded prisons anyway and left to their own devices for making shelters with many sleeping on the open ground with no protection from the weather or insects. Many early prisoners came from Belle Isle, an island on the James River near Richmond, Virginia. They had been in tents while other prisoners removed from Richmond had been housed in warehouses - the lucky ones with a roof over their heads. Sent by rail, the men were squeezed into railroad boxcars or open cars without much room to move about. When they arrived at Andersonville, they spread out in search of an area they could call “home” – not an easy task as the number of prisoners increased. Friends and men from the same units tended to stay together to set up their home on the open ground. As of April 1, 1864, there were 7160 prisoners which, by May 8, had increased by 5,787 men. Also, by May 8, 728 had died, 13 had escaped with 7 recaptured for a total occupancy of 12,213 on a little less than 17 acres. [Burnett, p. 5] Eventually, the camp was enlarged to 27 acres, still an insufficient amount of land to house the volume of prisoners confined between its walls. With no buildings or protective shelters on the premises, the men built “shebangs” (from the Irish word shebeen “which refers to an illegal place to serve alcohol”). [Gourley, p. 48] Huts or lean-tos were made from whatever logs, branches, or brush had been left inside the compound when the palisade walls were built. Those who had blankets used them along with their greatcoats and anything else available to make a shelter from the southern sun and its heat. Some used their ingenuity to take make bricks out of the clay. Others dug small shelters, i.e. burrows, into the slope of the upper hill. And everywhere they went fleas, lice, ticks, flies and mosquitoes pestered their bodies. In fact, prisoner Bjorn Alakson said, “Killing lice became a game and would help pass the tedious time.” [Burnett, p. 16] At least once a day, sometimes more often, the men worked at debugging themselves. If they didn’t, the innumerable pests attacked every inch of their hosts, eating into their weakened bodies, causing illness and death. [Glennan, p. 46] As the unrelenting sun beat down on them, with vermin a constant pest, and the lack of proper nourishing rations and the drinking of contaminated water all led to the spread of disease, particularly scurvy, dysentery, diarrhea, smallpox, yellow fever, infections and gangrene with resultant high death rates. The sinks/latrines were set parallel to the creek with the inevitable runoff rapidly contaminating the creek, all too quickly creating an unhealthy lagoon, not to mention all-encompassing stench. One can only imagine the filth and deplorable conditions the men were forced to live in. As Irishman Ed Glennan, author of “Surviving Andersonville,” wrote (original spelling retained), “Our treatment was well Known in the North but Thousands & thousands did not believe it Possibly in a Christian Country that men, no matter how Brutal, Could or would treat their Fellow man as we were treated…& next My Friends I Blamed our own Government for leaving us there. They well Knew at Washington what we were Suffering, what we were Enduring & the Mortality amongst us. Yes, I Blamed them. We had left Home & the comforts of Home Life to take our Chances of war, to Bare our Breasts between the Bulletts of Rebels & the Bosom of the nation willing to take our changes of Death on the Battle Feild or Come Back maimed for Life & as we Had stepped Forward to save our Country in Her Hour of Need & Danger so also did we Expect our Country to Extend Her Hand to us in our Hour of need. Danger, no, we thought not of Danger, give us our Liberty, give us our Freedom from the Rebell Hell Horde & Place us in the Face of Danger & we ask no Hand but the Hand of God & our Hands with Gallant Comrades to Back & we will Face Danger & take the Consequences. Like men in Danger then we ask no Help but we are in need, yes, Deathly need, Daily, Hourly & where is the strong Hand of our Government in Her need.” [Glennan, p. 78] Not knowing that the prisoner exchanges had been stopped, nor why, the men maintained an eager, albeit futile, hope of being exchanged. [Glennan, p.80] Food and containers to hold the limited rations the men received were also in short supply, or often non-existent. Rations, given out once a day, included rough-ground cornmeal with the cobs and husks ground in (damaging to the human digestive system if they were not picked out), beans or peas, and occasionally 1-2 oz. of meat which often was rancid and covered in ashes. It was up to the men to find water. Some prisoners were able to dig small wells up on the hill for fresh, albeit muddy, water compared to the stinking and filthy creek water. Rations were put into men’s hats or shirt sleeves if they had no containers, which most did not. How it was fixed to be eaten was up to each prisoner. Sometimes, a little water, albeit contaminated, was added to create a cornmeal mush to fry – that is, if one could scrabble up a bit of wood to burn and had a container in which to cook. Some prisoners rented out their cooking utensils to those in need. Even these limited rations were reduced as the population increased. At times, prisoners did not report a deceased man from their unit for as long as possible in order to obtain his rations to split amongst the balance of the group. Trading of rations for wood, or other items for food, became a necessity. Many fell back on trades in which they had been employed prior to their military service, or learned new skills to help pass the time. Those who could carve objects from wood scraps had something to sell or barter for food. They could send and receive mail, or receive packages from the outside world, but it was all subject to inspection and/or confiscation by guards. New prisoners who arrived were called “fresh fish.” They entered with a stunned look as they faced a sea of ghost-like men staring back at them. The starving inmates were gaunt, skeletal thin and sickly, with shabby rags for clothing, though many were reduced to wearing very little if anything. Finding a place to set up your own “home” was not easy. Neighborhoods meandered along winding “streets” where housing and “businesses” were established. If you “owned” a site with a well you had dug, you could sell the water. Obviously, higher ground was more valuable than the low-lying areas near the contaminated bog and creek. Those prisoners who were able to “make the best of it” with a resilient attitude survived fared better than those who succumbed to depression and resignation over their deplorable surroundings. Stealing by gang members of the Raiders was rampant until one new prisoner was robbed and severely beaten. As he cried out while being viciously attacked for his watch, other men came to his aid, an effort which saved his life. A seasoned soldier who had spent two years on the battlefield, he was unafraid of retaliation as he appealed to the guards. The commander, Maj. Henry Wirz, was furious at the men who had attacked their own, a violation of unspoken prison camp mores, and would not send in rations until the situation was cleared up. Prison justice was carried out by the Regulators, a gang which tried to protect the weaker and helpless. They sought out the Raiders and engaged them in an intense physical fight, all men being in an already weakened physical state from poor health. As the Regulators captured each Raider member, they were brought to the guards to be held while the remaining prisoners cheered. Put on trial, over 100 Raiders were found guilty by a jury of peers with the six leaders sentenced to be hung. The others had to run the gauntlet when they were put back into the “pen” - beatings by their fellow prisoners as they tried to run through the tight double line. Many Raiders were injured from running the gauntlet, and several died from their wounds. But, the looting and violence within the camp promptly ceased. Plans for escape were always on the prisoners’ minds, but with the two palisade fences set so deep, tunneling was not always the best option. Even when prisoners did escape, the guards sent dogs into the forest after them where they typically treed the prisoners, or tore into those who were not so fortunate as to be capable of climbing trees. Escape simply wasn’t worth the effort. During a fierce storm in August 1864, lightning struck a spot on the hill and caused a spring to bubble up. Men were able to drink from what they felt was a heaven-sent fresh flow of water. Unfortunately, the heavy rains of that storm also washed much of the filth on the slopes down into the bog and creek, making the contamination there even worse. In 1902 a former prisoner, James Madison Page, returned to Camp Sumter to pay tribute to his former fellow prisoners. With a young boy as his guide, he was taken to Providence Springs, as the men had named it in 1864, and saw that it was still flowing nearly 40 years later. [Gourley, p.168-169] By early June 1864, the number of prisoners had reached 20,000, double the capacity the camp was originally intended to hold. Maj. Wirz expanded the prison with a 10-acre addition which opened July 1st, though the prison continued to be severely overcrowded as the number of prisoners reached a nadir of 33,114 that August. In September 1864, several thousand men were taken from the prison to other locations in preliminary steps between the United States and the Confederacy for a prisoner exchange. Any man able to walk was transferred out, but about 5000 men who were too ill remained behind. More continued to be added to Andersonville, remaining through the end of the Civil War in April 1865. Unfortunately, the elements, lack of sanitation, and insufficient nourishing rations continued to wreak havoc on the remaining prisoners. [American Civil War: Andersonville Prison, by Kennedy Hickman at As noted above, my extended relative, Chauncey McNeill, arrived soon after his capture in November 1864 and died March 5, 1865 – just a month before the war’s end, one more sad statistic of war. Ultimately, a total of 45,615 men had been confined at Andersonville. August 23, 1864 had the highest recorded number of deaths in one day at 127 men. With a total of 12,913 having died as prisoners, about 29%, this figure represents about 40% of all Union POW deaths. [Glennan, p.179] Commandant of Camp Sumter, Maj. Henry Wirz, was put on trial by the United States government after the war ended. With his attorneys not allowed to present much in the way of a defense to prove that he was essentially following orders of his military superiors, he was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. Many of his orders had come down from above by those who were not brought to justice, though injustices were definitely meted out by his own decisions. To his credit, Wirz had sent letters requesting aid, additional supplies and rations for the prisoners, to no avail. What many at the time also failed to understand, and did not want to hear, was that the South was in dire straits during Andersonville’s existence. With plantations, cropland and railroad lines destroyed by the Union armies, what crops did get harvested were often unable to be shipped out to be processed for consumption. The result was that many crops rotted in the fields or in storehouses. The war had made its own path of destruction, thus creating a lack of grains and food available to feed either the Confederate armies or their Northern prisoners. Without regular exchanges, the prisoner population continued to grow. Whereas the starvation and disease rampant in the Elmira prison has been shown to be the result of military orders from the Secretary of War Edwin Stanton on down, the dire situation at Andersonville was caused more by the effects of war on the land - a grim situation any way you look at it. To their credit, those who survived the war and any of the numerous prison camps went on to rejoin their families, to regain much of their health, and to lead productive lives within their respective communities. Some of the men, however, never fully recovered their health and died from disease or afflictions suffered from wounds or imprisonment as evidenced by my extended relative, DeWitt C. McNeill, who died about three years after the war ended from disease contracted in war. Even Ed Glennan who wrote “Surviving Andersonville,” continued to suffer the effects of ill health due to his knee injury from a minie` ball on the battlefield and scurvy from imprisonment for the rest of his life. We are forever indebted to the brave men and women who have fought in all of our nation’s wars, and to those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice with their lives. May we ever know that, though “war is hell” as Gen. Sherman once said, there are freedoms we have enjoyed in our United States of America which are unknown to those in many other nations around the world. To all of our servicemen and women, we give a heartfelt “Thank you!” BOOK SOURCES (which I read): *April 1865: The Month That Saved America, Jay Winik; New York: HarperCollins, 2006. *Elmira: Death Camp of the North, by Michael Horigan, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA, 2002. *In Their Honor: Soldiers of the Confederacy, The Elmira Prison Camp by Diane Janowski, New York History Review Press, 2009. *Surviving Andersonville: One Prisoner’s Recollections of the Civil War’s Most Notorious Camp, by Ed Glennan, edited by David A. Ranzan, McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, Jefferson, NC, 2013. *The Horrors of Andersonville: Life and Death inside a Civil War Prison, Catherine Gourley, Twenty-First Century Books (division of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.), Minneapolis, MN, 2010. *The Prison Camp at Andersonville, National Park Civil War Series, Text by William G. Burnett, pub. by Eastern National, 1995.
  8. It’s common knowledge that spring is my favorite season! I love earth’s awakening from those long and dreary winter days… though this past winter seemed like it just didn’t want to release its hold on the cold and snow. But now, the sun shines brighter, the sky is bluer, and there’s an obvious warmth that’s beginning to penetrate every fiber of every living thing. There may be a good deal of rain mixed in now ‘n then; but, with that rain, slowly and surely new growth takes shape as tiny leaves, flower buds, and new blades of grass begin to emerge. The cold blanket of snow has been thrown off, the creeks and rivers flow abundantly along their way, and sparkling gems of color begin to explode. It’s a seasonal dance featuring the debutant of spring dressed in her finest! Drink in the pleasure of every facet of spring… from the sylvan palette of leaves in multitudinous shades of green, yellow and purple… to blossoms of white, pink, yellow, red, blue and every shade in between… to birds with their various colors and lilting tunes… to skies wrapped in shades of azure with clouds from white to deep gray… to shades of pink, purple, orange and red at sunrise and sunset… to the velvet black night skies of sparkling diamonds… to spring showers bearing fresh aromas as they saturate and nourish the plants and soil… to the tantalizing and aromatic blossoms from lilacs, roses, sweet peas, irises, daffodils, lilies of the valley… and so much more. “See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth, the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land. The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance…” (Song of Solomon 2:11-13a) Enjoy creation’s blessing in every sense of sight and sound, taste and smell, for “[God] has made everything beautiful in its time!” (Ecclesiastes 3:11a) Spring’s Debut Linda A. Roorda At the dawning of spring’s debut The earth awakens from wintry slumber She yawns and stretches, throwing off covers Changing her gown from white to sylvan green. ~ She welcomes showers of refreshing dew As fragrant aromas drift on gentle breeze While life’s renewal and emerging growth Bring bright adornment for the bleak and barren. ~ Slowly she dons her delicate gown Until she’s covered in brilliant hues With sunlight’s rays streaming their warmth She lifts her face to absorb their glow. ~ Regaled in finery like delicate silk She extends a brush to paint her palette With every shade of the rainbow bright Her crowning glory like entwining tresses. ~ As we gaze in awe at the transformation From sleeping beauty to splendor arrayed Like multi-hued gems that sparkle and shine Is spring’s debut, prepared for the dance. ~~
  9. I gotta admit... these posts are hilarious! I'll make a stab at my ideas of yum since I can't eat any of these items anymore - mustard only on hotdogs, no chili, no relish, no onions, definitely NO ketchup!! And NO mayo, gravy or anything else on french fries - just salt for the purist LOL! Syrup on breakfast sausage - absolutely not! But a big yes to homemade Dutch Balkenbrij covered with syrup like my mom-in-law used to make after a cow was butchered!! (It's like scrapple from the PA Dutch who are Deutsch, aka great German peoples, but NOT Dutch from Netherlands like me and my late hubby.) And yes, dark chocolate is the best! How I wish I could have some!! Grated carrots in salads, not small chunks. Miracle Whip? Nah! And how could I forget a favorite I long for - Vita pickled herring!! There's the Dutch in me - miss that sweet/sour raw pickled herring with onions! LOL!
  10. Something bad happens to you… and you can’t shake it off. It’s overwhelming… it’s unfair… it’s painful to think about… and you don’t deserve this. But down the road, you look back and see all the good that came out of such a bad situation. How can that be? While working on her master's degree in school psychology, our daughter, Jenn, was treated rudely by peers. What did she do to cause this disrespect from her peers? She declined to go to bars with them after classes, but would simply go home to her husband… while classmates complained to their professors that Jenn would not socialize with them. Confronted by peers and profs, Jenn remained true to herself and gently explained that she had never been to a bar in her life and was not about to start going just to please them. She further explained she was married, and that her husband came first. Professors agreed with Jenn and dismissed the complaints. In turn, Jenn kindly invited her classmates to her home for study groups and team projects, sharing those scrumptious desserts that she was famous for. Over time, the hearts of her friends softened under Jenn’s kindness and love. In fact, they began to respect her even more for standing up for her faith in God and began asking questions. A month after earning her school psychologist degree, Jenn passed away at age 25 on June 30, 2003. Alfred University held a memorial service that October, sharing they had created the Jennifer Hale Literacy Lending Library as a lasting legacy in honor of her dedication to helping children. During the memorial service, two young women stood up and shared how they had initially been rude to Jenn. Instead of retaliation, they saw God's love shine through our daughter’s life such that they both said they had accepted Christ as their Savior because of her. In memory of Jenn’s gentle loving spirit, they read the Beatitudes and other Scripture as their part in Alfred University’s memorial tribute to Jenn. They couldn’t understand Jenn’s lack of interest in going to the bars with them and brought complaints against her. Instead, God used it for His purposes and brought good out of the situation. Which reminds me of ancient Israel’s Joseph who was sold into slavery by jealous brothers. From the School of Hard Knocks, Joseph had graduated from a lowly but respected slave to prison and on to being next in command under Pharoah. It was his reliance on God, and ability to interpret dreams, which led his success. Meeting his brothers during the great famine, he reassured them he held no animosity, saying “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20 NIV) Similarly, centuries later, the Apostle Paul wrote “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NIV) With hindsight’s rearview mirror, we can often see the good that comes out of our bad situations. Yet, it’s so difficult to understand sometimes how anything positive can come from life’s most painful tragedies. Instead, when we allow God to work on our behalf, no matter how long it might take, His hand will weave the shattered pieces back together. And not just to bring about a new beginning, but to bring about something more wonderful than we could ever imagine… as He uses each trial for our betterment, our good. God Meant It For Good Linda A. Roorda You meant it for ill, God meant it for good For all of life has meaning within, But it’s how we deal with what comes our way When all seems grim or brightly shines clear. ~ You only ask that I would obey And heed Your voice when doubts ensnare, When storms arrive and the way seems dark That to You I turn, Your guidance to seek. ~ When thoughts arise to do life my way Let me yet seek Your wisdom as guide. Open my ears to the sound of Your voice Let me not heed the call of disgrace. ~ May I ever know the path that I take Is framed by Your word, a hedge to protect. And when my thoughts are prone to wander Call me back, Lord, with voice loud and clear. ~ For You meant for good this difficult path To test my heart and to try my soul, That after all the seeking I’ve done Your hand I would see with its purpose good ~~
  11. There was a time we longed to know more about our loved one, wasn’t there? When we were dating, we wanted to know everything there was to know about our beloved’s life… from childhood to adulthood… who they were in the depth of their heart, and what made them who they are today. We often come to know each other so thoroughly that we can finish their sentences! We know how they think, and why they do what they do. And we eagerly follow their leading. How well I remember following Ed in the barn, learning from him… following so close he called me his little shadow! I hope we never lose sight of that longing to know our loved one on a deeper level because life continually changes, and so do we. And that got me to thinking… and wondering… how well do I know my Lord? Oh, I know Him… I love Him… and I know His word. But, do I know Him deeply, as well as I knew my husband? I know I fall short and cannot live up to His expectations. But I also sense a need in my heart to continually study the depth of who God is; and, in that way, learn more about Him and His will, His path, His leading in my life. In Deuteronomy 6:5, we read, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” That’s not always easy. It’s a challenge. There is so much in life that clamors for our time and attention. Yet, as the psalmist David expressed his heart in Psalm 25:4, I find it echoes my heart-felt longings: “Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths.” While he also wrote in Psalm 63:1-2, “O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you…” Many years later, the prophet Jeremiah heard Yahweh/Jehovah God speak to him with a message for the people of Israel on returning to their homeland from captivity in Babylon. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, “‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart.’” Jeremiah 29:11-13 NIV) And that’s the heart I want while seeking Him in my life. The day I was writing this blog in 2015, my stepmother, Virginia, and I spoke on the phone. As we reminisced about my father, Ralph, who had died that April 17th, she shared a story about my brother Charlie’s daughter. At age 3, Nina tagged along behind her grandfather on his way out to the garden. “What are you doing Pop-Pop?” she asked. “Picking the Japanese beetles off the tomato plants and putting them in this bucket,” was his reply. Since she wanted to go in the garden with her beloved grandfather, he told Nina to follow where he put his feet so she wouldn’t get her sneakers dirty from the mud. Out of love and understanding for his little granddaughter, Pop-Pop then took a shorter stride. As Nina followed, she stretched her little 3-year-old legs just far enough for her feet to land in Pop-Pop’s big footsteps as he led the way down the path. Under Pop-Pop’s guidance, Nina picked beetles off the leaves and dropped them into the bucket. As she exclaimed to Granny, “I pick Napanese beetles like Pop-Pop!” Nina was literally following in her grandfather’s footsteps, and proud of it! And isn’t that what the Lord asks us to do as we seek Him? That we would love Him enough to follow in His steps, on His path, as He guides our way! To Walk In Your Steps Linda A. Roorda My soul is thirsting for truth from Your word, My daily strength on this path of life. A joy with grace and merciful peace When in Your will my soul finds its rest. ~ Teach me Your ways, to walk in Your steps Let Your light shine as it guides my path, May I be used to reach seeking souls Others who need the touch of Your hand. ~ May all my words echo Your wisdom And may the thoughts within my heart's depth Reveal the treasures I’ve kept and pondered That all I do will glorify You. ~ So I’ll rise above the fray of this world To place my trust in Jesus my Lord And even though some days overwhelm I rejoice within His absolute love. ~ For gracious is He who pursues my heart Just as I am, He embraces me. To know His truth with mercy sets free Blessed assurance and peace in His will. ~~
  12. I know change doesn’t come easy to me. But, change, like pruning of bushes and trees, is necessary. Inevitable change without and within, As time marches forth on its forever path. But what of our heart when the depth is exposed? Are we bitter in change or more gentle and kind? Pruning is vital. It cleans out dead branches on a bush or tree. It clears out heavy overgrowth. Pruning is a necessary step for fruit trees and grapevines, enabling them to produce a bountiful crop of top-quality fruit. Pruning also helps plants put more energy into growing and showing off their abundance of gorgeous flowers. For those unfamiliar with the process, pruning helps a plant maintain optimum health. While dead branches, or an excessive amount, choke out the sun from reaching the inner depths, pruning opens up the heart of a plant. Removing or trimming back branches allows the sun’s rays to reach into the heart of the plant in order to revitalize the entire plant. It may seem harsh when beginning drastic cuts; but, when the task is done, we have a much healthier plant. Without pruning, any flowering or fruiting plant, vine or tree can revert to a more wild state, putting its energy into unnecessary overgrowth. With pruning, the focus is on nutrition, feeding and nurturing the plant so it produces the best flowers and fruit. Admittedly, I have failed to prune many plants over the years and have ended up with a messy overgrowth that is now a challenge of where to begin. And so it is with us. We need pruning… of our thoughts, words and deeds… a pruning of our heart and soul. With the trimming away of unhealthy vices, we are more open and receptive to change… change which brings out the best in us. As Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:1-2) We need pruning to let the Son’s light enter the depths of our heart in order to revitalize us as we begin producing our fruit of the Spirit – “…love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22) We’re all branches in the tree of humanity, bearing fruit of various kinds. We each have something special to contribute to this world around us. Created unique, we’re endowed with individual gifts and talents. But, we often need pruning to clear away the destructive debris in our lives. We need pruning to allow the Son’s rays a chance to enter the depths of our heart… to cleanse and renew… to revitalize us… so that we can shine our fruit, our blessings, out into the world. And since God made each of us a unique one-of-a-kind creation, it brings joy to share our special gifts with our family, friends, and others beyond our close circle. In so doing, we bless them in ways we can’t imagine, so that they in turn are encouraged to use their gifts to bless someone else. The Pruning Linda A. Roorda He takes out his shears and sharpens the blades Ready to trim overgrown chaos. He eyes the tree, knows which branch must go, Which limb needs space as he trims and shapes. ~ Decisions are made to remove dead growth Prune overcrowding and bring in the sun. Yet not unlike my life’s debris trimmed When clutter is cleared, opened for the Son. ~ Bearing bad fruit shows a branch gone wild And bearing none how stagnant we are, What benefit then to remain untrimmed For lack of growth cannot show God’s love. ~ But if we abide as a branch alive Bearing our fruit for the world to see The evidence speaks our soul’s depth of love That we will prove the Father’s commands. ~ Abiding in love just as He loves us No greater gift has one for another For You, Lord, above have chosen us That we may bear fruit in lasting tribute. ~ Inevitable change without and within As time marches forth on its forever path But what of our heart when the depth is exposed Are we bitter in change or more gentle and kind? ~~
  13. There is a way that often seems best to us. It’s characterized by a life of fun as we grab all the gusto this world has to offer. We deserve it! After all, we only go ‘round once! Right? Except… there’s another way. It follows our Lord’s path, different from a worldly perspective. And how often don’t we see the two worlds on a collision course between absolute values and whatever goes… whatever feels right… at any given time. Just a thief on a cross, one of two who hung on either side of Jesus. It’s possible that the thief speaking among us from the cross had spent a lifetime of going his own way, doing his own thing, robbing others, and, with hate and anger, killing those in his way. His life was spent doing what he wanted, when he wanted… to see what he could get away with… to take his schemes as far as possible… just because he could… for he had lived the darker side of life. Until… our thief was apprehended and sentenced for his crimes because there are consequences to all of our actions - for haven’t we read or heard “…be sure your sin will find you out.” (Numbers 32:42, NIV) and “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” (Gal.6:7, NIV) One way or another, God will deal with us. If we go against His word, our wrongs will either own us and harden our heart, causing us to blame others for our own sins, or will fester and eat away at us until we acknowledge what we have done, repent, ask for forgiveness, and share the peace of God… with a renewed purpose in life. Even as Jesus was being crucified between two criminals, He humbly expressed what we so often have trouble doing: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34 NIV) And, with these simple words, the Son of God forgave those whose intent it was to destroy Him. Out of a heart of love for every one of us, He simply forgave. Instead, with mocking hearts, our thief and his companion hanging on crosses to each side of Jesus, along with others, railed at Jesus and taunted Him by shouting: “Save yourself…if you are the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:39 NIV) But it wasn’t long before our criminal on one of the crosses began to contemplate who the man was that hung next to him. He had heard about him, after all. He was amazed that this man didn’t fight back… he’d been mocked and spat upon, had a crown of thorns painfully pushed down upon his head, had been brutally whipped until the flesh tore open across his ribs and back, and had been forced to carry his own cross when he could barely put one foot in front of the other... until the soldiers commanded another man to carry it after he fell. This beaten man simply accepted what was happening to him even though He had committed no crime. And it was then our thief truly understood that the man next to him really was the Son of God, just as He had claimed. He also realized that there was nothing he could hide from God… the One who knows the thoughts and depths of our heart, even before we say a word or commit an act. This he recalled from the Holy Word he had heard in his youth: “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar… Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord… Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens [or] if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.” (Psalm 139:1-8, NIV) And his heart and soul were pierced for all he had done with nary a thought as to how his actions would affect others. He had never understood the pain and anguish he had caused in the lives of those he had taken advantage of for his own pleasure. And he hung there overwhelmed with guilt for his lies and deception… for a selfish attitude… for arrogant pride… for flattering words used to get his way… for having lied and violated the trust of friends and loved ones … for even using Scripture to get his way… and for blaming others when his schemes failed… After all, he couldn’t let anyone know how wounded, vulnerable, insecure and ashamed he really felt deep inside his heart. Our thief also recalled hearing how this man had amazed the Pharisees in the temple by saying, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NIV) He never understood what others saw in this man, but now it all became clear… and there was nothing left for him to do but to bow his head, confess his sins, and humbly ask for forgiveness… from God and from others… as Jesus accepted him into His heavenly kingdom that very moment. Oh the joy this former thief must have known!! Though I have taken a few liberties in writing up the criminal’s portrayal, this story has features which sound all too familiar to us. I know I stand guilty of sins. We each have a choice to make. We can either remain unrepentant… or bow our head in sorrow and seek forgiveness. For there is nothing, absolutely nothing, we can ever do that would be too horrible to be forgiven by our loving God. And, if we confess and seek forgiveness from our heavenly Father, and those we have offended, we can be assured of forgiveness with open arms that welcome. We can then move forward in life with a renewed sense of purpose as we serve our Lord and those around us with joy. Isn’t this what Easter is all about - the death of Jesus on that horrible cross, followed by His resurrection from the dead. He paid the ultimate sacrifice for my sin and yours… the completion of old Jewish prophecies, proving He is, indeed, the Son of God, our Savior! A Happy and Blessed Easter to all! Ode To A Thief Linda A. Roorda ~ There is a way that seems best to me A wider path of pleasant facades, A feast for the eyes, the senses to soothe, That seems to fill deep needs in my soul. ~ To my own eyes I do what is right No disciplined hand can correct my ways. Life is for pleasure, the best I can find Whatever suits me and gives me a thrill. ~ To take what is yours just because I can Excitement and dares are games to be played. What do I care if objections are made Pushing the limits I will not be stopped. ~ It gives me pleasure to watch your unease My life is my own, don’t think I will change. Fear in your eyes gives challenge to me Warnings I heed not, temptation’s too great. ~ But then I listened one day to a man They called him Teacher, the great Son of God. Perfect was He, no sin harbored there With words of wisdom my soul He did pierce. ~ He understood fears, the depth of my heart And tears that I cried in lonely deep pain. He reached out to me, and held me so tight I felt his love envelope my soul. ~ He gazed intently to depths of my heart I felt deep shame for all I had done. I bowed in anguish, repenting of sins As mercy’s grace washed over my soul. ~ Beaten and hung with no fault in Him, We thieves nearby, sentences deserved, But with His great love accepted within Came the gift of life, an eternal reward. ~ It’s never too late to cry out to God Unburden your soul and forgiveness receive. Accept His grace, salvation’s free gift And live a new life to glorify Him. ~ For there’s a way that seems best to me As His Word now guides the path that I walk. Not the wide lane, but narrow and straight As daily I choose to honor my Lord. ~ And, oh! what a peace he’s blessed me with now As His light shines forth from depths of my soul. His words I’ll share for others to know His saving grace so freely given. ~~
  14. Easter is always a special time of year. It reminds us that warmer weather is arriving after the long winter’s cold, and spring is beginning to show its colors! It’s a time of renewal as new plant life exemplifies rebirth by poking through the covering of a late snow, leaf buds begin to swell and emerge from their long winter’s sleep, and early flowers showcase their gorgeous array of colorful blooms. It’s a special time for children as they have fun decorating eggs, enjoy the search for hidden eggs to fill their baskets, and savor scrumptious chocolate treats and marshmallow peeps. I also remember a time, way too many years ago, when it was fashionable to buy a new spring dress and white bonnet for Easter service at church. When the Covid pandemic kept many of us from attending church, I drew Easter chalk art on our sidewalk to celebrate the joy of Resurrection Day. And I also admire the Polish/Ukrainian Pysanky a friend makes – gorgeous delicate painted artwork on eggs. But there’s so much more to the meaning of Easter. Each year we are reminded again of all that took place about 2000 years ago. That precious little baby whose birth we celebrated just a few short months ago grew up with a purpose. As my husband’s niece, Rebecca, once said, “That God would become a man and understand our struggles on earth just blows my mind. [That’s] true humble love.” Yet, in contemplating God’s love, I sometimes find it hard to think of such unconditional love for me... After all, what about that little thing I did? Was it really wrong? Maybe I can just excuse it away. Will my family, my friends, or even God, forgive me for certain errors I’ve made? I know He has, as have friends to whom I’ve apologized over the years. How could God still love me when my temper flares… again…? What does He see in me? I can never measure up… Well, actually, none of us can. We “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) … “for the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) So, why would God care so much for me… for each of us? Because of one man, Jesus… That one man, perfect in all he did or said, willingly took my unworthiness, my shame, my heavy load of sin, and endured the penalty of death on the cross, just for my soul, is overwhelming. I cannot repay such a debt! Wait… I don’t have to? My debt is paid in full? Because Jesus gave His life that I might live, all I have to do is believe and accept His free gift? Jesus really loves me and you that much? Yes! That’s the grace and mercy of God’s love… it does not define and cancel us for our failures, but rather shows that we are each created unique by God, worthy of His love and forgiveness, redeemed through Christ from a life of sin. (Colossians 2:13-14) Now that’s unconditional love… as He blesses us with His wisdom, courage, compassion, and peace. I am reminded of Johnny Hart’s “B.C.” cartoon column. He was a good friend of my husband’s Uncle Mart and Aunt Tilly and their family in Ninevah, NY, members of the same Presbyterian Church where Hart also taught Sunday School. How succinctly Hart put the thoughts of this holy week into perspective in his comic strip: [Johnny Hart in B.C., 04/09/03] Which brings to mind a similar thought-provoking cartoon from “The Wizard of ID”, a joint venture written by Johnny Hart and Brant Parker, illustrated by Parker: Friar: “Happy Good Friday Sire!” To which the king grumbles: “What’s so good about it?” The friar replies: “It took an act of God, but they finally found somebody willing to die for you.” ...with the king left standing there speechless. [Copyright Creators Syndicate Inc.] But, after the brutality and agony of Jesus’ crucifixion and death, His friends are devastated. All their hopes and expectations for Jesus as the earthly king of the Jewish nation appear to be dashed. Yet, envision with me the beauty of an early morning sunrise. Birds are beginning to sing as the sun’s first rays appear. The dew has settled gently on the flowers in the garden as they open their buds to the sun’s warmth. According to Mark 16:1-5, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome quietly arrive at the tomb just after sunrise on the first day of the week. They carry spices with them to anoint their beloved friend and teacher, Jesus, who had died a horribly painful death on a cross… only to see in astonishment that the great stone has been rolled away from the entrance. Upon entering, they see the tomb is empty. Already sad, now they are also afraid. Suddenly, two men stand before them in brilliant light. Knowing their fear, an angel speaks gently to reassure them. “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples…” (Matthew 28:5-6) Trembling and bewildered, the women run from the tomb. Despite their confusion and fear they run to tell the disciples. Peter and John arrive after hearing Mary Magdalene’s report, look into the empty tomb, and also see only the burial cloths which lay neatly in place. (John 20:3-8) And they wondered and believed. As the others return to their homes, Mary Magdalene stays at the empty tomb, crying, missing her Lord. As a man she presumed to be the gardener speaks to her, she asks where he put him. On hearing the man speak her name, “Mary,” she recognizes him as her dear friend, Jesus, and calls out, “Rabboni!” (Teacher). After their conversation, Mary hurries to share the good news with the disciples that she “has seen the Lord!” (John 20:10-18) Jesus truly is alive! And to think that with a simple child-like faith in Jesus who willingly gave His life for me… for each of us… He will live in our hearts now and for eternity. As John 3:16 reminds us, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish but have everlasting life.” What pain there is to realize that I fall short of His tender love every day. But what joy in humbling myself to recognize and confess my sins, and to ask for forgiveness for the errors of my ways from those around me and from my Lord, and then to feel the forgiveness… as the Lord’s love and peace with mercy and grace surround my soul. That’s what Easter is all about… God’s great love! Hallelujah!! Christ is risen!! What a Savior!! Besides… I love you! Linda A. Roorda Who am I? My soul doth ask. What am I worth? And to whom? I see only failure as I take the reins And do not give my Lord the lead. ~ How can you love the me who I am When all I see are my struggles? Yet, Lord, You do love even me In ways that I cannot comprehend. ~ To sight unseen You guide my path Ever at my side, gently calling. And as you wrap loving arms around You cover my soul with tender mercies. ~ For You opened wide Your arms on a cross Giving Your life that I might live, And in return You ask for my love With all my heart, my soul and my mind. ~ But you didn’t stay within that tomb For on day three You rose from the dead. Seen by many, in the hearts of more, Eternity waits Your Gift of Love. ~ Linda Roorda writes from her home in Spencer.
  15. Reading several pages of a book by Laura Hillenbrand to my students, I knew I needed to read the full story. “Unbroken - A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption” is a bio of Louis Zamperini. Holding records for running the fastest mile, he remains the youngest Olympics qualifier at age 19, placing 8th at the 1936 Berlin Olympics in the 5,000 meter race. Though he didn’t medal, he put on a burst of speed to run the fastest final lap among the competitors in an amazing 56 seconds! On asking, the teacher lent me an unabridged version and I’ve been reading every minute I can this weekend, unable to set the book down for long. In a Pacific battle with the Japanese during WW II, Zamperini and his pilot friend survived their B-24 plane crash of May 27, 1943. Stranded at sea for 47 days, they were picked up by the Japanese. Surviving more than 2 years of hellish prison camps and disease, they were tortured, starved, and severely beaten, enduring the brutality with humor, hope and determination. Freed after the atomic bombs were dropped in August 1945, Zamperini faced torments at home with PTSD nightmares of his experience under one especially sadistic guard. Drinking excessive alcohol to control the nightmares, his life began to unravel. Finally acquiescing to his wife’s entreaties, he attended a Billy Graham crusade. She had accepted Christ a few days earlier, and hoped Louie could find solace in Christ for the torments he lived with… and he did! His drinking and tormenting nightmares stopped that very night. Zamperini heard Graham preach on the adulteress that night, Graham’s words reminding him of forgotten prayerful pleas for God to save him while in the lifeboat at sea – “If you save me, I will serve you forever.” After accepting Christ as his Savior, Zamperini returned to Japan, meeting his former prison guards, themselves in prison. They were puzzled to see him reach out to embrace them with his infectious joy of forgiveness. He also began the Victory Boys Camp for troubled youth, sharing his life’s path, including his salvation journey. As I read, I knew I had to change my plans and post this blog instead of my first choice. Forgiven! Can you imagine how she must have felt? So close to being condemned to death, now free to go… forgiven a heavy burden of sin… free to overcome her past… and free to share the love of her Savior with everyone she met! “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery… ‘In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Again, he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away, one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there…” (John 8:3-9) We’ve all done something in our past we’d just as soon forget. We may still feel the sting of shame. I can think of many public figures who disgraced themselves including President Nixon, Pete Rose, Lance Armstrong, Bill Cosby, Ravi Zacharias… while many others seem to be enabled in walking away from accountability for their words or actions. But, how much better that we all face our wrongs… our sins… head on. Admit them and repent, ask for forgiveness, stop blaming others, walk away from wrongful behaviors, and feel the loving grace of our Lord as we make a full corrective change. So, what about the men who brought the adulteress woman to court? Well… they simply walked away and left her standing alone with Jesus. I’ve always wondered if Jesus was writing a list of their sins in the sand. If so, that would have made them more than a little uneasy. They would have stood in amazement, and perhaps felt shame as their secret thoughts and sins were written in the sand, available for all to read. How did this man know so much about them? They had brought this woman to condemn her for adultery, a sin punishable by stoning to death. And yet, where was the man from the tryst? Didn’t his sin matter to them, too? Or, was he among her accusers, blaming her? Rather than face the depth of hypocrisy in their own heart, each man turned and simply walked away. They didn’t want others to learn the weight of their own brokenness. But, as they silently walked away, no contrite heart or apology was expressed. Did they not realize that God sees and knows the truth? What a mockery they made of justice… fingers pointing at another while being guilty themselves. So typical of abusers who hide behind their mask of piety. They were so focused on trying to get Jesus to incriminate himself with a response, they didn’t understand the depth of their own sin. They walked away from seeing who Jesus truly was, and their own need of grace. Both civic and religious leaders fail us then as now. Leaders who call themselves gifted exude an arrogant pride. (Proverbs 16:18) Leaders who fail to hold themselves and others around them accountable lack integrity and humility. Often, they can be classified narcissistic, being more than simply self-centered. They feel entitled to praise or special treatment. They lack empathy, are abusive, liars who do not take responsibility for their own behavior, take advantage of others, lash out at criticism or perceive they’re not getting the attention they deserve with a behind-the-scenes retaliation and perpetual blame shifting. Underneath the egotistic façade, they are often deeply insecure and use a faux cover to present themselves as more worthy than they really are. Yet, what a powerful picture of mercy and grace Jesus gave us all as He forgave the woman. All she had to do was repent from her old ways, and become a changed woman. In leaving her old life behind to follow the Teacher, our Lord, she gladly started sharing with others what He had done for her. Because she now had a future! A life to look forward to! She’d lived her past under whispered labels. She’d heard the mocking voices deep in her soul… stupid, worthless, trash, adulteress, prostitute. Yes, she’d lived a life of ill repute. But, the Teacher… He respected her! So, what did He see in her? He saw someone who’d been taken advantage of to benefit others… someone weighed down by a heart of sorrow and shame… someone willing to openly shoulder responsibility for all of her own wrongs… someone longing for change. This Teacher, the man named Jesus… He saw what she could be when cleansed of her past. He saw her broken heart longing to be made whole. He stood her up tall so she could start anew. Just like our Lord does for us. He forgives the heart that repents, no matter the charge… that longs to make amends… that longs for a closeness with God. He holds out His hands to draw us near… setting us back up on our feet as He guides our path with flawless wisdom… Forgiven! The Adulteress By Linda A. Roorda I met him today, the greatest Teacher! My life was a mess, but He picked me up. He gave me hope... He gave me vision. He freed my soul from sin’s dark snare. Dragging to court they brought me up front, My accusers smug turning to the crowd. With taunting words they scoffed and accused Revealing my life, my sin and my shame. How could I have reached such fallen depths? He told me he cared. I believed his lies. His words were glib with flattery smooth But now I was caught, ensnared in a trap. Stating that stoning was punishment fit They asked the Teacher his thoughts on the law. Instead He stooped and commenced to write Words hid from others, known only to them. Yet, as they questioned, He continued to write. On standing tall, He peered in their soul. “If any one of you lives without sin, Let him be the one who casts the first stone.” Slowly the elders and then the younger Quietly fled until only two, The Teacher and I, we alone stood still. From silence He spoke, my soul deeply touched… “Woman, where are they? Have any condemned?” Glancing around, “No one,” said I. “Then neither do I. I condemn you not. Go, and leave your sin. Forgiven are you.”
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