Wednesday, June 17, 2015

I Lift My Lamp

Today’s Google doodle was a celebration of 130 years since France dropped Miss Liberty off on our shores. I’ve never yet seen her, but that day will come, Lord willing. She is truly the perfect welcoming committee for those who wanted everything America represented – freedom, a fresh start, a safe land. Years before I joined, my choir sang the poem that Emma Lazarus wrote, adapted by Irving Berlin:

Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore...
Send these the homeless tempest-tost to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!


I love that song and the truth it holds about the land I love – and our welcoming committee herself. 130 years – we see that part of her history and automatically think, “Wow. That has been around a long time!” And then you realize, no, 130 years is a drop in the bucket compared to England, China, and Germany. Not to mention, the good old USA is only 239 years old. We are still a young land when you hold our age next to many on the list.

Put 130 years in context by setting your family history up against that number. 130 years ago, my paternal great-great grandparents were a few years away from having a son, Henry. This man would go on to marry Sarah and raise 4 girls, one of whom is my phenomenal grandma. When Henry was born, the Statue had been there for only a few years. New Yorkers had just gotten used to seeing her when they looked harborwards through their windows. She probably had not gotten her distinctive color from all the elements that beat her day in, day out.

Fast forward maybe fifteen years to my maternal great-grandfather, a young child from Ukraine, landing on the shores of America with his father and older sister. His mother had died before and now the little family was heading to the States. I wonder, where did they land? Did they see the Lady of New York? What did they think? Maybe it reminded them of their grief – how their wife and mother would have loved that sight. They could have thought about what Liberty meant to them and their plans. Or, maybe they just thought about getting off that boat. At any rate, they did get off that boat and begin as Americans. My great-grandfather got separated from his family – a second marriage for his father resulted in ill will towards him, courtesy of his stepmother. He was adopted by a French family and took their last name. He then met and married Lorene, and proceeded to make himself the only male in the family by having 5 girls. The oldest is my lovely, loving grandmother.

Two different families from entirely different countries – Scotch Irish (and, thanks to my Grandad, a good old stock of German), and Ukrainian (eventually mixed with Irish) but both raised in a country founded on a law that never changes. This was, and still mostly is, a country that offered true liberty to its residents. You could worship as you pleased, say what you wanted to, and write what you believed. It is a country that has been sanctified by blood, the blood of those who knew that this would not keep itself. They would have to keep it, and maybe lose their own keeping in the process. It is a country that has been through dreadful blows – times of shock, sorrow, and wondering if it would be over. Is it a perfect country? No. But that’s not the point, now, is it? It never is. Perfection and this world do not get along, for a very good reason. In a perfect world, liberty would not be the joy it is to us, even now, because we would not know what oppression was. Think about those families I already mentioned. As far as I know, there is no dramatic story to their journey to America. But you don’t have to go far to find those stories. The people who appreciate the land they live in beyond words, because they have been where their homeland does not appreciate them. And they see what not nearly enough of us born-and-raised Americans don’t – this unprecedented freedom is a gift.

So these two families became united when two patriotic people, a boy and a girl, decided that they would glorify God together as a new family. Surprise, surprise – their daughter is the one writing this, writing about the country that has given her chance after chance already. And she prays that those chances will continue, not only for herself and all she loves but also for the ones she hopes will call her Mommy in the future.

That, right there, is what America is. Where you raise your children, thanking God every night that you can teach them about Him from the day they come to you without whispering, hiding your Bible under a stool, or worshiping in secret – or worrying about preaching the Word of God. Where you support your children, working hard and honestly so you can give them a decent life, and where you have the right to turn down those contracts and connections that go against your conscience. Where you hop in the car and drive to your local school to vote for the candidate who will, by the grace of God, keep on making all of this possible – and all the while remembering those who cannot vote in safety or, even worse, cannot vote at all. This is what a group of men, two hundred some years ago, wanted. They had been through hell trying to secure these rights and they put their best into the document that they prayed would keep their baby land safe and free for the ones to come. That responsibility – that baton – has continued down for 239 short years. It was still being handed down 130 years ago when Miss Liberty was installed in New York. Can you imagine the patriotism and pride that those watching felt as they saw all this happen? Then, of course, they passed that down to Henry, to Sarah, to their children and children’s children and their children. They passed that to the young motherless Ukrainian boy and his daughters and their sons and daughters. (Interestingly enough, one of those grandchildren has been elected multiple times to state office by similar, freedom-loving people who have accepted the baton from their parents and waved it well.)

Now, I have it. You have it. We have it.

What are we doing with it?

Happy 130th anniversary of your safe journey, Lady! In the providence of God, may you have another 130 years to watch us inherit this responsibility, take it seriously and thankfully, and pass it on again.