My dad recently wrote an eclectic devotional called Trying to See. I read it on Saturday in one sitting. The beautiful thing about this book is that you can read it fast, but then you can read it again slowly, savoring each story. It's a book about seeing God in everyday life through short stories, prayers, and commentary. It's charming, heart-felt, and thought-provoking. Enjoy the first chapter printed below and then hop over to Amazon to read the rest.
On a summer day when the sun is on high beam and the breezes
are welcome caresses, Lake Superior is a visual and sensory force.
The water is so rare a blue that a proper adjective cannot be found
to describe it. If you are standing along Duluth’s high ridge you can
see the sweeping curve of the earth and watch the thousand-foot
ore carriers fall off the edge. From Park Point looking back toward
the city, black hulled, high mast sailboats skim the surface and large
cruisers manned by happy faces come and go at the marina. You’d
swear you were looking at a village planted on a steep hillside along
the Mediterranean. Wading in forty-degree water however, quickly
cools off that illusion. If you’re in a boat a few miles off shore, a
penetrating, primordial awareness overwhelms a person. It is an
awareness of the unbelievable enormity of the earth and its largest
fresh water ocean.
When my children were still living at home we’d try to get up
there as many summers as we could. Duluth meant fun places to
eat and hanging out at the lift bridge. There, we could watch giant
ships from all over the world squeeze through the narrow canal,
their rotating radar scanners barely slipping under the raised deck of
the iconic bridge. Many of the crew would be out on deck waving a
happy hello to the crowds pressing on the rail.
We also enjoyed the train ride. The city runs an open-air train
made of passenger cars with no walls or windows. You sit on
simple wood benches situated perpendicular to the sides of the car
so you can face each other and still look out in both directions. The
train creeps its way from the waterfront up to the high ridge of the
city and on through to the northeastern outskirts of town.
On one such excursion two elderly ladies sat down across from
the four of us. They were both short and slight. They moved
slowly but were not frail. They boarded arm and arm and remained
that way. Their silver hair was professionally done and their make-up was
just so. They wore stylish clothing and each one was adorned with earrings,
bracelets, and wedding rings with diamonds that were not bought at the mall.
One couldn’t help but assume they were sisters.
As the train crawled along, they started commenting to one
another about what they were seeing. Occasionally, they would slip
into an unfamiliar language and almost whisper to each other. Their
enjoyment of the vistas of the crystal blue sea was obvious.
After ten minutes or so, one of the ladies turned her attention to
us and asked, “Are you locals?”
“Yes we are.”
“We’ve heard about a place called Palisades Head and wondered
if it was worth the trip further up the north shore?”
“It is spectacular and worth the drive.” I assured them.
Their query opened the door for some informal introductions.
Their names were Hattie and Lillian. An easy comfortableness
settled in on the six of us, and we carried on with a light friendly
conversation. For the first time since we met them they unclasped
their arms and created a slight space between themselves on the bench.
Hattie’s sleeves were three quarters length. As she and Lillian
adjusted their seating and unlocked arms her inner forearm became
visible exposing something that looked like a tattoo scar. It was old
and small. Hattie noticed that we noticed. She wasn’t offended. She
actually leaned forward, held out her arm and gave us a closer look.
It was a number: 243897.
It happened that at this time, my daughter was going through a
period in her early middle school education where she was studying
all things Nazi, Jewish, and WWII. She had read Ann Frank,
Number the Stars, and anything about Corrie ten Boom. She knew
before the rest of us what the numbers on Hattie’s arm meant. She
immediately crossed the aisle and sat next to her. Hattie gently
clasped my daughter’s hand and gave her a little squeeze and allowed
her to slowly graze her index finger over the numbers. She then
wrapped her arm around my daughter’s so now they were ones who
were arm and arm.
“We were about your age.” Hattie said, breaking the silence.
“We met at Majdanek.”
She motioned to Lillian. Lillian slid up her sleeve just enough to
reveal her scar also. The numbers were not as clear as Hattie’s, but
there was no mistaking them for anything else.
The ladies went on to tell a heart-wrenching story of terror,
brutality, loss…and survival.
“Majdanek started out as a factory camp and eventually morphed
into an extermination camp,” she explained. “It was a place where
nostril violating stench and chimneys blackened by unholy fires
provided unrelenting daily torment. By some miracle we both
remained sane. We first noticed each other in a food line. Our
mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters were all gone. We became
“That is why we survived.” Lillian added.
“One night we heard gunfire and shouting, followed by big
explosions in the distance. The Germans fled the camp. By morning
the gates were unguarded, yet none of us left. We were emaciated
and pale. We didn’t have enough strength to walk anywhere anyway.
We all stood silently at the edge of the fences, staring into the
distance, waiting for we knew not what. The Allies came the next
afternoon. We didn’t know who they were, or why they were there.
But we knew they weren’t the Nazis.”
Then Lillian recounted an unshakable memory.
“There was a tall man in a brown uniform. He broke off a piece
of bread and held it out for me. When I reached through the fence
to take it I looked up. I still remember the officer’s eyes, vividly.
They were as exhausted as mine and he was crying.”
Hattie knew of an uncle who had immigrated to America before
the hostilities broke out in Europe. The uncle took both girls in
and raised them as sisters until adulthood. They grew, married,
had families, and lived full lives. They never lost contact with each
other. Now in their twilight years they were both widows. Hattie
lived in California and Lillian in Manitoba. For the last twelve or so
summers they would pick a city in the U.S. to vacation together. The
city had to have a university and be close to natural wonders. Had
to have a university because they would audit a class during their
visit. As Hattie put it, “We need to keep learning new things to stay
sharp.” Natural wonders because, “Who wants to sit in a classroom
All too soon the train was pulling back into the station. My
family’s little ten-mile tourist ride had become much more than
merely taking in the views. We’d been transported back in time to
Eastern Europe with two young, Jewish orphan girls.
My daughter and Hattie were still arm and arm. She told Hattie
about the books she had been reading and a movie she’d seen.
“When I think about all that stuff I have trouble believing there
is a God.”
Hattie squeezed her arm a little tighter and leaned in. “There has
to be a God my dear.”
“Because we can still love.”
“We love because He first loved us.”
1 John 4:19