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Someone will

Sunday mornings in Elizabeth City, I walk about 10 minutes from the administrative offices to the corps (church) building. It gives me a few minutes to enjoy the morning and pray about the Sunday meetings.

One of the houses along the walk is a gray two-story house that has a flag pole in the front. The American flag and a disabled veterans flag fly from its mast. During a walk last fall, I began to notice a slight fraying on the edges of the American flag and saw a tear along the bottom two stripes.

I thought to myself that someone ought to do something about that. I discovered that the owner of the house was a widow whose husband, a retired Coast Guard chief petty officer, had died the previous year. Each Sunday as I walked by, I thought that the flag was getting worse and that someone should do something about it. One Sunday in October 2005 I saw the flag as it fluttered in absolute rags, and I had an idea - maybe I should be the one to do something! I could buy a flag and retire the tattered and torn one.

Astonished by my own brilliant idea, I shared my plan with Richard Stone, our teen Sunday school teacher. "Captain, there are dozens of flags like that in Elizabeth City," Richard said. "What difference will one make?"

I responded, "I don't walk past dozens of houses with the flag shot to pieces, but I do walk past that one every Sunday."

Filled with good intentions, I put off buying the flag until the weekend. But first, there was a slight hitch. A phone call came from Mike Patterson, divisional disaster director, on Friday. I had been assigned to do a two-week stint in St. Bernard Parrish, La., for Katrina relief work.

Three Sundays later, I was walking past the house and noted that the tattered flag was still flying. I thought, "Tomorrow, I will go get a flag for that woman." But there was a slight hitch. Christmas season was upon us and I never could quite work out a time to get a new flag. Sure, if you want to be critical, you could suggest that with Christmas work I was at Wal-Mart three or four times a day. I have heard that Wal-Mart actually sells stuff. If you still want to be critical, you might note that I drove by other stores every day as I was out and about. If you want to be critical, you could note that as I walked by the still-tattered flag the following March that Christmas season was three months past.

In April, after Richard Stone asked how the flag business was going, I went down to the store and bought an American flag. This was done with the clear intention and desire to replace the flag. Now, being critical people, you might suggest that just buying a flag with good intentions is not enough - you actually have to take the old flag down and put the new one up. Do you really think I would buy a new flag and not put it up?

Four weeks later, I asked Billy Scaff and Richard Stone if they would go by the house and put the flag up for me.

We see many things from day to day that need to be done and figure that someone will take care of it. Someone will replace that flag. Someone will pick up children in the van and bring them to church, someone will feed the hungry, someone will share the gospel and someone will ring the kettle bells this season. Someone else.

Maybe next time, I will be that someone. Or maybe you will.


Planting and plucking

On Easter weekend, I bought my annual tomato plant sapling. It was just a puny thing, its young leaves barely above the potting soil in my small garden. In anticipation of a high yield, I even placed the circular trellis over it.

A few weeks later, I made it back to my garden. I cleared the weeds, sprayed for bugs and added more plant food. I watered both the plant and surrounding ground.

Still more weeks later, I pulled more weeds (where do they come from?) and tenderly threaded the growing stems through the trellis's wire supports. Blossoms had appeared, promising that tomatoes would follow.

On Independence Day, sure enough, there were a few tomatoes. Mostly green, but mature enough for me to show them off to visitors. The thick branches are almost too much for the trellis to contain.

While at Bible conference, we finally enjoyed tomatoes from our little garden. They were red, plump and delicious. We took some to the office to share with others. I picked a few more on Labor Day.

Last weekend, I stood in the crisp autumn air and gazed at my plant. It had withered as a signal that winter is surely coming. I heard myself sigh as I forced myself to reach down with my shears and prune away that which I had babied for six months.

The verse from Ecclesiastes 3:2 came to me: a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted. I also thought of when Jesus said that a seed must be planted and die before new life can begin. With that promise, this year's tomato plant is no more.

But I cannot wait until Easter!



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