I listened to their early morning bustling as they prepared to head out to New York City for the day. Hats, gloves, and warm coats were pulled out as they gathered everything they would need for a long day in the cold city. The weatherman said it should get up to a whopping, wonderful, warm temperature of 43 degrees today, but we know how the weatherman can lie. Besides, the ride on the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty will be mighty cold, especially in the brisk winds of December. So, they left with all their gear, nervous about what the day held, excited to explore a place that is gigantic and unlike our little town of Wallingford. We know crowds and traffic here in town, but Alaina will get the experience of her lifetime today, seeing the buildings, yellow taxi cabs, people, World Trade Center Memorial, people, the Statue of Liberty, and more people. It has been over eight years since Alaina went to New York. I was pregnant with Benny at the time, VERY pregnant, and it was quite the challenge walking those streets with my huge belly, the size of Minnesota as I often called it. Susy and Auntie Mickey also came along on the trip and we went to visit the American Girl store, where they got their Itty Bitty Babies. It was a fun day, but Alaina does not remember any part of it except the train ride and sitting at the table with the dolls in high chairs as we ate lunch. So this will be a completely new experience for my almost fourteen year old daughter.
So, I said goodbye, heard the truck drive away, and then the tears came pouring out of my eyes. Tears of joy mixed with tears of sorrow. Joy for the fact that Alaina and her daddy can go out and spend the day together, laughing and building memories that I hope she will hold close to her heart and treasure forever. Things will happen today that only they will be able to laugh about, to connect with, to carry as an inside joke that only the two of them will understand. Tears of joy also flowed for the memories that I hold near and dear about my own Dad taking me out on day trips like this that are forever etched in my mind. The early morning preparations were always hard for me, seeing that I was not a morning person and always felt quite ill for a while after getting up. That feeling always evaporated away along with the dewy mist after the sun came out to dry up the grass.
Tears of sorrow came also, because I knew that what I once had is gone and I will never have another day with Dad. Tears of being on the other side of the spectrum - growing up, leaving home, being the responsible one and not the child, of being the mom, the spectator, the one who has to say goodbye and watch them go and make those memories....it is all another side to the story. A story my mom must have read so many times during my lifetime. Yet, she never complained. She knew what it meant to my dad to tie those heartstrings with his six children, so she smiled, waved goodbye, and watched time and time again as the children took day trips (and sometimes overnight camping trips) just to spend special time with Dad every year. It was something he took pride in. He started it when I was about five years old, when we went to the IBM park to swing, and then watched the planes land at the airport, and finished with a meal at Lums restuarant. It was our yearly custom, to pick a place or two that we wanted to go, and he would plan and save for it until finally it was time and off we went. We called it our day with dad. I found it heart touching that each one of my siblings who spoke at his memorial service recounted those special times like they were highlighted with a big, yellow marker on their hearts.
I think this one particular trip hits a chord with me because of the fact that Joe and Alaina are taking the train down to the city. The train...I remember it all so clearly, like it was only yesterday. Standing on the platform next to my dad, waiting for the conductor to tell us to get on. We were on our way up to La Ronde in Canada, to spend a day at the aquarium and amusement park. It was early, and I had had one of those mornings where I thought I would not make it because my stomach felt so queasy and yucky. I should have known by then that it was early morning blahs and that it would fade away, but stuck in the moment of feeling ill sometimes can feel like forever. So, I waited, excited for my first train ride, nervous about what the day held, butterflies fluttering around in my stomach making me still feel a bit queasy.
"When can we get on, Dad?" I asked.
"The conductor will tell us when to board," he answered.
We waited some more. The man never said anything. "Why isn't he saying, "All aboard!" Isn't it time to get on?" I was scared it would pull out of the station without us.
"He'll tell us soon," my dad said.
Well, we waited some more and nothing happened. Then the air brakes popped, the whistle blew, and the train pulled away out of the station leaving us standing there on the platform. Never once did the man call for us to board. He must have thought we were waiting for someone, or maybe just observing the train pull in and out so early in the morning. My mouth must have fallen to the floor in shock. I think my dad's did too. I looked at him and saw his brow furrowed as he watched the train disappear down the tracks. He took my hand and led me back inside to the office where the gentleman in a hat worked behind the counter. He looked up quite surprised.
"What are you doing back here?" he asked, perplexed.
"The train left without us," my dad replied.
As he went about getting his money back for our tickets, I stood off to the side and felt the tears burning my eyes. My day was ruined. We weren't going to get to go to Canada and spend a fun time watching penguins swim around and around behind the glass, nor would we get to bounce around on the high roller coaster together and eat lots of junk food. But, sometimes God has a different plan for our lives and we need to learn to be flexible and go with it anyway. My dad gave me the option of waiting for another day to take the train, or still go that day in our own car. I chose to drive up in our car and so we did. I still do not know why we missed that train that day, but feel God had a good reason, even if it was to teach me a lesson I needed to learn. To this day I still call that particular day, "The Train Ride I Never Took."
My mom and sister were cleaning out the house, getting it ready to sell someday in the future, and one of them found a little cross stitched piece of work that I had made for my dad many years ago. It is two people standing side by side, with a train in the background, symbolizing that day that I will never forget. I really hope that does not happen to Joe and Alaina today. I hope the conductor hollers loud and clear, "All aboard!" and they get to climb on and take the ride of the year. I hope they treasure every moment together so that one day in the future, Alaina will be able to share with her children the wonderful memories she made today during her day with her dad.
Update: Good news! They got on the train! :) Now to wait and hear more about their adventures in the big city.
At the end of the school year last June, I was asked if I could write a Thanksgiving play for the students of Heritage Baptist Academy. I have written Christmas plays before, and there is lots of material out there to work around; tons of stories about miracles, of God coming through at the last moment, of enemy soldiers coming together for a brief time of peace. There is one story in particular that I especially love, and one of these years I am going to write a story based on the idea, but that is for later.
I thought it would be the same for Thanksgiving. The very word expresses God's blessings and gratefulness for His provision. I figured there were tons of stories that went along with that particular subject. I went online to search for Thanksgiving miracles and all I kept finding were stories of the Pilgrims, their trip on the Mayflower, their hard winter, their first Thanksgiving, and how it became a national holiday. I really wanted to find a war story centered around Thanksgiving, but it did not seem like there were any out there.
Except for one. I found the brief write up intriguing and read it over and over again. Even though it was short, it was a sweet testimony of God answering a mother's prayer for her son. It was the very idea I needed for my play. Now came the hard part. To get my thoughts down onto paper that would make sense and would be easily presentable.
I began to fiddle with an idea of acting out the actual war scene, with General Patton and Sergeant Mac as the main characters, but I had a huge problem. I only had four guys to work with and we needed more young men for soldiers...a lot more. Not only that, but two of those young men were my own sons and I knew they would never forgive me if I placed them in main roles in a play. So, I had to find a new idea. I worked on and off all summer, throwing away ideas and constantly starting over. It seemed like it a good story would not present itself to me.
The new school year started and the principal asked me again if i would consider writing something for the Thanksgiving program. I agreed and began to seriously work on a new idea that came to me. I had to keep the play short, under a half an hour or so, and I found that to be a new challenge. How could I present my thoughts and portray the message of my story in thirty short minutes? With lots of prayers asking the Lord to give me a clear way of thinking, of course. And He did. He gave me a title based on the verse that the mother quotes in the article: Stand Still. It spoke volumes to me in this busy world of ours, and I wanted to get the message out that God is still working today. We just need to stand still and let Him move and do what He needs to do while we wait on His perfect timing.
I needed a way of getting lots of children up on the stage too, so their parents could see all their cute little faces up front looking back at them in the audience. I needed a way to keep them organized and under control, but I did not want to do another school or church scene because that has been done recently in the past. I came up with the plan to have an orphanage, run by two sisters, with lots of children around. Then the thought came to use the Mary and Martha models from the Bible...one was always busy and constantly running around looking for something to do, while the other one was content to let God move on their behalf as she spent time in His Word every day. Suddenly it all began to come together as the words flowed onto the page and the story came alive. Now all I needed to do was fit the scene of the war into the story somehow, so the original thought could be honored.
This was not as easy as it looked. I originally wanted to have the few guys in the high school come in during one particular part of the play and act out the scene from the article, without having to say any lines. The story would be told by one of the sisters, and the men, dressed as soldiers, would come in, act it out, and then march out again. Easy as pie. We talked about video taping it outside for a more realistic approach and play it on the screen overhead while the story was told, but when it came time to search for authentic uniforms, it became an impossible task. Not only were the uniforms rare to find, but the cost of renting or buying them was going to be way past budget. I began to feel overwhelmed and very disappointed that the very message of my story was going to be lost. It was not what I wanted to happen for my play. My baby was taking on a different form and I did not like it. I was determined to somehow bring in a soldier to represent what I was trying to portray.
The week of the play arrived and I was frantically setting up things on the stage to get the look I wanted. It was while I was setting up the attic scene that I found I could make a shadow on the wall using some of the props I brought up, including my uncle's original World War II helmet I had found while cleaning out my mother's shed. Using that, along with a wooden rifle from the prop closet, a tall coat rack, a canvas backpack, and a jacket, I was able to construct what looked like a strange looking person in the corner of the attic. But the effect came when I shone a flashlight on the tree, casting a shadow on the wall behind it. It actually looked like the shadow of a soldier. It had to do. If I could not have a real soldier, I was still going to get the point across as best as I could.
The story begins with a scene of children looking around in an attic for something...in this case they are looking for Thanksgiving decorations. I have had this idea in my mind for a couple years now, and have been itching for a reason to use this scene. I was excited to finally see it become a reality.
While the children are in the attic they stumble upon some letters tied up with a ribbon. Jacob comments on how it is so much faster to text these days rather then write a letter. This is something that is near and dear to my heart. Writing is a lost art these days, something that Mary comments about later on in the play. Some of the letters that Molly found (ones that I used in the play) were actually ones that I had received when I was a teenager, as well as lots of cards that have been given to me over the last few years. Not only was this idea of writing based on my own past, it was also based on the main point in the story of the Thanksgiving miracle that I found online. In the article it mentions a letter that Mac's mother had written to him while he was stationed in France in 1944.
The sisters are going through their own struggle of trying to make ends meet, and not have the children's home foreclosed upon. The children take it upon themselves to try and help by giving Mary their hard earned savings. They also come up with ways to earn money like putting on a concert and a bake sale. This is how I was able to present all the other children from the school. There is nothing like having little preschoolers sing, cough, yawn, and fidget on the stairs in front of you, but they were so cute! Very memorable...
I wrote a few of the songs for the play, including the one entitled "Take Time To Pray." I had written part of it this summer, but could not find the words to fit the second verse. It came to me once I finished the play, and put the idea of Mary and Martha into the song, which fit the theme. Mary knew what it meant to stop and spend time at Jesus' feet, but Martha was always so busy she never knew how to stop and listen to what He had to say. I still remember how the chorus popped into my head one morning as I was getting ready for the day. The birds were singing loudly outside and I stopped what I was doing and listened to their melodious songs. It occurred to me that if the birds can take the time to sing thanks for their new day, then why can't I stop and give thanks to the Lord too? It was a very convicting moment and now I always try to thank the Lord and begin my day with thoughts of Him as soon as I open my eyes.
During the scene before the concert, Mary has the children gathered around her for Bible time. The children are restless because they are giving their money to Noah to present to the sisters, and Mary tells them to be still. (Seeing that this is the title of the play, the words 'stand still' come up a lot to reinforce the message.) Molly shows her a letter she had found in the pile from the attic, and Mary happily tells the story of her brother, who happened to be the young man in the war story, (creative license). During the story, I have the soldier's mother sit in a rocking chair, acting out the part where she writes a letter, and she reads the words from the article. "Can you remember where you were on Thanksgiving Day? I had a strong feeling you were in great danger..." This is when I shone the flashlight on the tree and had the soldier appear behind his mother. I do not know if it made the impact I wanted, but it was all I had for the moment.
The concert did not make all the money they needed to keep the children's home open, but in the last scene Molly comes running in and announces that she found some money hidden inside a card from Mary's letters, as well as selling some of the antiques from the attic. God comes through at the last minute and teaches the sisters, as well as the children, to stand still and let God move, just like II Chronicles 20:17 says to do. It finally sinks into Martha's busy mind what God has done for them and she thanks the Lord for their own Thanksgiving miracle.
I hope the message was clearly presented to the audience. It was not the original thought I had set out to do. The focus ended up being on the present, not what happened in the past for that soldier, but the message is the same: God is still moving today, doing miracles, and answering prayers. I pray that it was used by the Lord and that the people watching got out of it what He wanted them to. When all is said and done all the glory goes to Him in the end .
If you are interested in reading the originally article, here is the link to the site.