“I have to help out”

“By helping others, you are a hero.”
Dale Gifford, Minister, speaking at Harding University, January 24, 2007, at his son’s memorial service.

“Heaven holds All to me.”
Marsha Gifford, in a letter after the death of her son, Micah.

Micah Stephen Gifford (1979 – 2006)

Late in 2006, two men in army uniforms (a sergeant and chaplain) rang a doorbell in Redding, California.  Without words, Dale and Marsha Gifford knew why they came.  An improvised explosive device (IED) had taken the life of their 27-year-old son Micah while supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Before Micah was born, I met his dad Dale at a Bible camp.  He was what I wanted to be; a minister.  Years later, I toured Europe with a group that included Dale’s irrepressible wife Marsha.  Micah was the youngest of their three boys.

In college, Micah was a defensive lineman and linebacker for the Harding University Bisons.  He graduated in 2002 with a degree in business administration but his goal after school was to become a firefighter.  After learning of some gruesome beheadings in Iraq, he enlisted in the US Army.  People run in different ways at the sight and sound of horrific danger.  You already know which way Micah ran.  He said, “I have to do something, I have to help out.”  Micah made the supreme sacrifice for his country.

At Micah’s memorial service at Harding on January 24, 2007, his father Dale told his fellow mourners,

Losing his life to a terrorist bomber did not make Micah a hero.  He had been a hero his whole life.  He had a heart for others — from the church camps, youth groups, mission trips to Honduras and Mexico — to talking to his fellow soldiers in Iraq about Christ.

Dale defined heroism for his son’s grieving friends; “By helping others, you are a hero.”

Micah’s mom, Marsha, found some solace expressing herself on e-mail to her friends and reading responses filled with comfort and gratitude.  In one letter, Marsha reported, “He loved this country and he loved serving it . . .  We did not lose our son. We know where he is.”  She signed her letter.  “Heaven holds ALL to me.”

Citizenship in heaven can carry a believer through the worst earthly nightmares conceivable.  Heaven, in the end, is everything.  We rent here on earth with a mission from God, but we own a home in heaven, by God’s grace.

Marsha also remembers taking a bouquet of flowers to Micah’s grave at the Fort Rosecrans National Military Cemetery in San Diego, California, on Point Loma overlooking the ocean.  She rested at his headstone for hours.  Inscribed on it are the initials “BSM” and “PH” ( “Bronze Star Medal” and “Purple Heart”).  While absorbing her pride, Marsha tells of a “delicious,  temperate breeze which playfully tangled my hair, ruffled the folds of my dress,  and whispered a constant low pitched hum, like a mother’s song as she rocks her baby.” She continued, “God was holding me.”

Later, in a personal letter, Marsha got practical with a here and now challenge that I carry with me always: 
]Make a difference, even if it’s only one person at a time . . .  Take an EXTRA STEP and stand up and SAY what is RIGHT… oppose what is WRONG!” (
all caps are Marsha’s).
Her son was unafraid to stand in the gap.  Marsha was challenging me and others to do the same.  What else could a mother do with her pride?

I consider it a Christian virtue to be deeply grateful for my American heritage and for those who sacrificed to pass that heritage on to me.  To accept Marsha’s challenge, I posted a picture of Micah Stephen Gifford on the inside of my office door so that his face will remind me of the gratitude and courage I must carry in my heart whenever I leave my office.


The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.

In Honor of Memorial Day

All gave some

Some gave all

By Joel Solliday

I began to take Memorial Day seriously in the ‘1990s when I lived in New Haven, Connecticut, where the Grove Street Cemetery featured the graves of many Revolutionary War veterans along with the following great Americans:

One notable gravestone marks the resting place of a lesser known casualty of our War for Independence, which reads; “Shot in the back while sitting in his own house by a British soldier.”

Monument to the 1st Minnesota Infantry Regiment at the Gettysburg Battlefield in Pennsylvania, located on Cemetery Ridge.

Later, when I lived in Minnesota, I made a memorable Memorial Day visit to Lakewood Cemetery where many Civil War veterans are laid to rest.  Minnesota is rightfully proud of The First Minnesota (the 1st Regiment, Minnesota Volunteer Infantry) which is well known for its gallantry and sacrifices at Gettysburg.  On July 2, 1863, The First Minnesota prevented the Confederates from pushing Union forces off of Cemetery Ridge, contributing to the turning point in a battle that became the turning point in the war.  Their casualty rate (83 percent) represented the largest loss by any surviving military unit in American history during a single engagement.  The few surviving Minnesotans stepped up to fight again the next day helping to repel Picket’s Charge.  The flag of the First Minnesota fell and rose again five times on July 2 and is now on honorable display in the rotunda of the Capital building in St. Paul.



Arlington graves on Memorial Day

Memorial Day (formerly known as “Decoration Day”) was officially proclaimed five years later.  On May 30, 1868, flowers were formally placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.  Since then, the last Monday in May has been dedicated to honoring the men and women of our Armed Services who made “the supreme sacrifice.”  Since 1775, over 1,343,812 Americans have died in combat.  Nearly twice as many have been wounded.  Not counted are those who perished off the battlefield from disease or in training or in transit.  We also must not forget the spouses, parents, children, siblings, extended family and friends whose losses were immeasurable.

Gratitude is impossible without a memory and memories often fade without memorials.  I hope your plan for Memorial Day includes more than just a cookout or block party.  I recommend a respectful trip to a cemetery to pay your respects to a fallen soldier.  Below are a few more recommendations that will help move your heart toward a deeper celebration of Memorial Day:



  • Mrs. Miniver (1942 – Dir. William Wyler) with Greer Garson, Walter Pigeon and Teresa Wright. Depicts the war’s effects on family and life in London.
  • Since You Went Away (1944 – Dir. John Cromwell), with Claudette Colbert, Shirley Temple, Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotton. The opening frame reads: “This is a story of the unconquerable fortress: the American home, 1943 (war time portrayal of the home front).
  • The White Cliffs of Dover (1944 – Dir. Clarence Brown). Irene Dunne stars as an American who marries a British soldier and faces both world wars, first as a wife, then as a mother
  • Saving Private Ryan (1998 – Dir. Steven Spielberg) with Tom Hanks


The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.

An Answered Prayer

Some of the most gnarly, weather-beaten trees I’ve seen are in Palisades Park, Santa Monica, California . Like some people, the Australian Tea trees found in that park get more twisted, and yet somehow more beautiful, with age. Their tree trunks crawl along the ground, ebb up and down (sometimes high enough for a homeless person to sleep under), and wind their way through fences before finally looking up to the sun.

This mirrors the life of Saint Augustine of Hippo (354 –430), who did his share of crawling and twisting before finally looking up.

These gnarly, wandering trees are dispersed among smooth, sleek palm trees, towering to the sky along the walking path above the red clay bluffs overlooking the Santa Monica beach. Along this peaceful strip at the city’s edge, on one side a pedestrian can see tall buildings and on the other, the wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean. On a summer day, one also overlooks a human sea of sand-dwelling sun-worshippers on the beach below blending into this coastline composition.

Santa Monica is not just a beautiful city. It is also the name of the faithful Christian mother of Saint Augustine. A sculpture of Saint Monica, standing in a heart-shaped bed of grass, has been part of the visual composition in Palisades Park since 1934. It was sculpted by Eugene Morahan (1869 – 1949) who studied under the great American sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and lived in Santa Monica for the final 19 years of his life. To portray her legacy of persistent prayer for her wayward son, Monica’s eyes are closed and her hands are crossed together over her heart. It is no coincidence that a work of grateful public art with such heartfelt sentiment (almost inconceivable today) was sculpted during the Great Depression.

God answers prayer in boundless ways, beyond our wildest dreams. As Monica endured many years of inglorious disappointment without ceasing to pray for her son, she could never have imagined that the conversion she prayed for would so profoundly influence Western civilization.

Praying for unbelieving children is common throughout Christian history. But it’s not something done on center stage. Without prayer, however, there is no stage. Many a mother can identify with Monica. All she could do was pray. Her prayers increased as Augustine spent his unsaintly youth in debauchery, laziness and resistance to Christianity. Nevertheless (I love that word), she kept on wrestling with God, year in and year out, regarding her son’s soul.

Finally, Augustine embraced the struggle himself. In his Confessions, he tells of the time he gave full vent to his tears under a fig tree over former iniquities. Intense contrition filled his heart when he heard a child’s voice nearby utter the words, “Take up and read; Take up and read.” Accepting this subtle challenge, he turned to Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans (chapter 13) and read words that further challenged him to turn away from orgies, drunkenness, debauchery, eroticism, indecency, lust, strife and rivalry (all things he had reveled in) and turn instead to Jesus Christ. As Augustine tells it, “…a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away.” (The Confessions of Saint Augustine, Book VIII).

This was his turning point, described by Augustine in specific and sudden terms. However, it may be better explained by the ceaseless intentional prayers of his mother in the years preceding that powerful moment.

Turning points mean little apart from the changed life that follows. Augustine went on to become a giant of Christian theology. Some see this priest, bishop and author from Roman North Africa as third in line behind Jesus and Paul in his influence on Christendom. His teachings on sin and grace rose from extensive personal experience and had a massive impact on great reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin over a millennium later. The impact of his insights on morality, the church, and the trinity remain to this day. He drew some vital distinctions between state and church that presented healthy challenges to Constantine’s earlier influence. One might say that as a great theologian and philosopher, Augustine re-planted the church in deeper better soil. He has long been called the great “Doctor of the Church.”

They say that behind every great man is a surprised woman. Behind Saint Augustine of Hippo, however, was a praying woman who lived just long enough to enjoy the sweet surprise of answered prayer.

Happy Mother’s Day.


The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.

Movie Review: October Baby

Great Story

A college freshman dealing with physical and emotional struggles is not unique. Where those struggles take Hannah (Rachel Hendrix) in her search for answers is captivating as the plot in October Baby unfolds. Her medical history is a puzzle with missing pieces. Her emotional fabric is torn and she doesn’t know why. After a collapse on stage, Hannah is finally told she was adopted after a premature birth. She survived a botched abortion.

Feeling like her whole life was a lie, Hannah sets out in search of answers to questions not yet fully formed, unaware of how much pain this would invite into her heart. Coincidences reveal clues that lead Hannah to her birth mother. For the rest of the story, I recommend this movie.

Great Themes

The vital importance of family, friendship, freedom, faith and forgiveness, as well as the rich value of human life, are all featured in vivid emotional colors in October Baby. The eyes of your heart will open wide for the hues of hope and love in this story. Forgiveness is portrayed not as an abstract idea but as an uphill journey toward reconciliation in real life terms.

Great Mentoring

October Baby deserves high praise for its powerful portrayal of moral courage in pursuit of truth; or is it the pursuit of truth that leads to moral courage? Either way, it was a journey Hannah could not travel alone. A childhood friend (Jason) was there for her each step of the way. But older adults (a policeman, ex-nurse and priest) also stepped up to offer pivotal mentoring moments along her journey. Age and culture gaps were bridged at crucial moments and life-changing lessons were learned on both sides of the so-called generation gap.

Hannah’s Parents (John Schneider and Jennifer Price): Withholding the truth from their daughter caused it to come out in hurtful ways. Hannah’s father is too controlling and protective to be open with her. His mentoring mistakes become clear as consequences unfold. Still, great love can endure major mistakes.

A Policeman (Tracy Miller): When Hannah and her friend get into trouble with the law, a police officer takes the time to listen and is able to change gears and sow some seeds of mercy in her heart before Hannah fully knew what had been done to her. He uses police lingo to convey a profound principle that he hopes will help her to “hate the crime, not the criminal.” Under that badge was a heart of grace.

An Ex-Nurse (Jasmine Guy): Following the policeman’s lead, Hannah finds the nurse who signed her birth certificate. Hannah’s unexpected arrival once changed this nurse’s life and two decades later, a second encounter changes Hannah’s life. They share an incredible mentoring moment as the truth Hannah craved comes from a woman who long ago found the strength to turn from deadly excuse-making to life-saving compassion. This ex-abortion clinic nurse told Hannah:

When you hear something enough times, somehow you start to believe it. It was just tissue. That’s what they told us… not viable tissue… I saw the pain and I didn’t see no tissue. I just saw the face of a child.

Hannah was viable proof that human beings are more than tissue.

A Priest (Rodney Clark): Hannah seeks refuge in a cathedral and encounters a kind priest who listens to her vent anger and hatred for her birth mother, her adoptive parents and herself. He sees the love behind her hate and gently encourages her to let go of the wounds others have inflicted. Taking his cue from the Apostle Paul, he mentored:

In Christ, you’re forgiven. Because you’re forgiven, you have the power to forgive, to choose to forgive… Hatred is a burden you no longer need to carry.

The priest tore through a lifetime of cover-ups and confusion with a simple truth: “Only in forgiveness can you be free, Hannah.” A stranger was there to help put her on a track of faith, hope and love. Hannah needed (and got) well-placed mentors in public positions of influence and authority.

A Challenge

If you have walked ahead of others in life’s journey with some experience under your belt, ask God to guide you to a child, niece, nephew, student, youth group misfit, neighbor, scout, or anyone born later than you so mentoring connections can happen. Listen first, then love.

October Baby also features a powerful example wherein life-changing mentoring flows from young to old. Good mentoring makes wisdom flow on a two-way street. God’s desire for inter-generational intersection is brilliantly built into the institution of the family. It overflows into other relationships as well . In an era of family breakdown like ours, good mentoring across age gaps is more needed than ever. October Baby challenges me to defy the alleged “generation gap.”

October Baby: Official Trailer.


The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.