Guess What I Want to Be
I must admit that one of my favorite things to do is to listen to my grandson. I’ve known him since his first breath and watching him grow up has been a true blessing. I’m not sure if it’s only the watching him grow up that gets me excited, though. Maybe just a little bit of it is the memories of helping my own son grow up. Maybe it just reminds me of some of the things from my own childhood.
One of the memories of my grandson’s early years was his fascination with tractors. He would bounce around saying, “Noah, tractor man.” One might have thought, at that time, that he was going to be a farmer. Today, Noah probably doesn’t even remember his tractor longing days.
Since those tractor days, Noah has changed interests many times. If one were to pin down what they thought he was going to do or be when he got older, they would be spinning their heads just about now, because it keeps changing. But I think it is great that he has taken an interest in so many different things. He still has a long time before he has to decide which professional direction he wants to take.
I remember one of my earliest career choices. I wanted to own a trucking company. When I was little, my brother and I had many little cars we would play with. Before we started playing, we would take turns dividing up the cars and blocks. He would always choose the expensive and sports cars. I would pick the trucks. He would build nice houses with his blocks. I would build terminals for my trucks.
My next young career idea was to sell bread to grocery stores. You might ask, “Why in the world would a young kid want to sell bread to grocery stores?” The plain and simple reason was that was exactly what my father did. Yes, my father was my hero even back then and I wanted to be just like him.
By the time I was in high school I had taken a real interest in history and I was pretty good in math. I believe in my senior yearbook I answered the question: “What do you want to do professionally?” with a response of something dealing with history or becoming a teacher. If someone would have told me I would become a plumber or I would be selling plumbing fittings, I would have told them that they were crazy.
Life takes nutty, strange turns. Because I cruised through high school, I thought college was going to be a breeze. It wasn’t and I was too stubborn to change my engineering major. So my summer, plumber’s helper jobs, grew into becoming a plumber. When I got tired of that, I went to work at a plumbing supply house. It isn’t where I expected my life to be a long time ago.
Having a child is always a special occasion, but there is just something really special about that first one. Maybe it’s the nervousness of not knowing what to expect. Maybe it’s the belief that you are going to be a different, one-of-a-kind parent who will know no problems. Maybe it’s just the fact of knowing that a small piece of you will be traveling into the next generation.
Whatever the reason was, John Payne was very excited that his wife Mary Coles Payne was on the verge of delivering their first child. She would have a girl and I’m sure, in her parent’s eyes, she was the most beautiful child ever born.
The young Payne girl was born in the Quaker settlement of New Garden, North Carolina. Her parents were both from Virginia. John was a non-Quaker, but three years after they married, John applied, and was admitted to the Hanover County, Virginia Quaker Monthly Meeting. They raised their young daughter in the Quaker faith.
The Paynes moved to North Carolina and their daughter was born there. A few years later the Paynes would move back to Virginia where their young daughter enjoyed a comfortable life on their plantation. John, as a Quaker, felt that slavery was wrong and he eventually emancipated his slaves.
John would move his family to Philadelphia where he would try his luck in a starch business. The business failed and three years later he died. Mary tried to make ends meet by opening a boardinghouse, but she didn’t have any luck with that either.
While in Philadelphia, the young Payne girl would marry John Todd, three years before her father’s death. The marriage of his daughter to John Todd must have made the father real proud. John was a Quaker lawyer, so this new little family would remain part of the proper Quaker faith and John Todd had more than enough means to support his new family.
The young family quickly had two children, John Payne, who was called “Payne,” and William Temple. It looked like they were destined to become the model of a happy Quaker family. Then Mrs. John Todd lost her father. A year later, a yellow fever epidemic swept through Philadelphia. Over 5000 people would die as the epidemic spread. Two of its victims were John Payne, her husband, and their three month old son, William Temple. They both died on the same day.
Mrs. Payne was now a widow with her oldest son, Payne, to take care of. Her brother-in-law was very difficult during this time and he would claim most of the estate of his deceased brother. This made it very difficult for her and her young son to get back on their feet.
It’s a Bible story of a family and a journey. It starts out with Terah. Terah actually means wild goat. Terah had three sons: Haran, Nahor and an older one. Before Terah started his journey, his son, Haran died in Ur. The Bible doesn’t really say what happened to Nahor. Terah would stop a little short of his ultimate destination and he, and his family would settle in Haran instead. Terah would die in Haran.
Terah’s oldest son would leave Haran and head on to the land where his father dreamed of going. The Bible says the Lord spoke to him and told him to continue to the land his father dreamed of. I’m not sure, but I think a little part of this was the oldest son wanting to see his father’s dream fulfilled. He would not travel alone. In addition to his immediate family, the oldest son would take along his nephew, a son of his brother Haran.
The Bible doesn’t say anything about the nephew being married, at least at this point in the story. But when they arrived at their destination, arguing broke out between the uncle’s herders and the nephew’s herders. The wise uncle calmly resolved the issue by advising the nephew that they should probably just divide up the property, since there was so much of it.
The uncle was even the “bigger man.” He told the nephew to just pick which half he wanted. The nephew, probably sensing a much better opportunity, picked the better half. And off each went into their separate directions.
There is a very famous portrait called the Lansdowne Portrait. The huge painting was eight feet tall by five feet wide. It was commissioned by Pennsylvania Senator William Bingham. It was a gift to British Prime Minister William Petty FritzMaurice. He was the second Earl of Shelburne and subsequently the first Marquess of Lansdowne. Bingham wanted to show his appreciation, to the former Prime Minister, for his efforts in securing peace at the end of the American Revolution.
Little did the poor widow, Mrs. Todd, know that her path would one day cross that of the huge painting. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Mrs. Todd has a few more steps before we get there.
One of our nation’s most controversial figures is actually a little bit of a hero in our story. He had a bachelor friend he thought would be a great fit for the widow Mrs. Todd. Sure his friend was seventeen years older than her, but they lived in an age when security was much more important than age difference. Besides, his friend was making quite a name for himself.
Mrs. Todd and her new bachelor friend were star struck with each other. They would fall in love and get married. This union caused many feathers to fly in her Quaker religion. He was not a Quaker and their marriage resulted in her expulsion from that religion. This would transform her life.
Mrs. Todd’s new husband would move her to his plantation in Virginia where he had many slaves. The plain clothes would be gone, too. She would become known for her fashion statements. It would be an image she took much pride in.
Like most Bible stories, our story didn’t end with the departure of the uncle and his nephew. Neither traveled into the land of “happily ever after.” Somehow the nephew decided the plains were not the place to stay in the land he picked. The land he picked also had some cities and he decided to reside there.
Different kings also had their eyes on these cities. And so they went to war. In their entanglements they took the nephew, and his neighbors, captive and made them citizens of their kingdom. The land was now a land of evil. Word reached the uncle and he set out to rescue his nephew.
An angel came to the nephew and told him to flee the city for God had seen its great evil and was going to destroy it. The angel also explained that this was a new opportunity for the nephew and he should not look back but look forward.
I’m sure the nephew only saw the world that was around him, but he did gather his wife and they headed out of town. Sometimes we have a hard time understanding the paths God has set behind and in front of us. Sometimes we really have a hard time understanding where we are right now and we are consumed by the troubles that surround us. The nephew surely felt that way at this moment.
Aaron Burr would introduce Dolley Payne Todd to James Madison. They would get married even though he was seventeen years older than she was. At the time, Madison was a Virginia member of the first Congress. Dolley would really transform her image when her husband became Thomas Jefferson’s Secretary of State in 1801.
When Madison became our fourth President, things were heating up with the British once again. In fact, the British pretty much just walked into Washington burning many federal buildings, including the White House. Before they arrived at the White House, Dolley or one of her servants in her presence, made sure the famous Gilbert Stuart portrait, the Lansdowne portrait, of George Washington, was taken down and safely carried away.
Dolley Madison was perhaps the most glamorous of the Presidents’ wives. In her day they were not called First Ladies. Before Madison became President, she helped the widowed Thomas Jefferson with some of the hosting chores of his presidency. When she stepped into the First Lady role herself, she was completely ready for it. Most would agree, she was far more popular than her presidential husband, James Madison.
When James Madison died, his estate was in severe financial stress. Her son, Payne, was a constant financial drain. She would have to sell their home, Montpelier, and most of the papers he worked on, including some of his work on the Constitution. Even in poverty, Dolley never lost her flair and she was always a social queen in Washington.
When Dolley died in 1849, she was one of the most popular figures in Washington. President Zachary Taylor, his cabinet, the diplomatic corps, and members of Congress lined up to pay their respects. It was here that many believe that President Taylor called her the First Lady of the land. It has been a term that has stuck with the President’s wife ever since.
Abraham went out to meet Lot, Haran’s son as he fled the evil city of Sodom. The angel told Lot and his family not to look back, but to have faith in God and only to look forward. With His wrath, God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in the background as they fled. Like most of our problems, it very tempting to look at the troubles around us. It’s much harder to look forward and have faith that God knows what he has in store for us.
The Bible never says whether Lot looked back or not, but it does say his wife did. When his wife turned back to look at the destruction, she turned to salt. Most believe he didn’t look back or he would have turned into salt, too.
Sometimes troubles seem to be all around us. We pray and we pray to God but He just doesn’t listen to our prayers. Maybe we are spending so much time talking to Him that we forget that part of conversation involves listening, too. Sometimes getting out of all the trouble that surrounds us involves uncomfortable moves on our part.
I’m sure Dolley Payne could have sat around wondering why her Dad, her husband and her youngest son were taken from her in such a short period of time. Why did her brother-in-law take everything from her and why in the world did her church abandon her when she found love outside her faith?
Lot probably thought he made a very good choice with his pick of the better land, but why did some other king have to conquer his land and take away his dream? Why was his wife, who was fleeing with him, taken from him and turned into salt?
Often our troubles prepare us for something else. Maybe we will help someone else with our experiences. Maybe God has something better for us. Maybe God is trying to make us stronger. Maybe God just wants us to have faith that He has it all under control. Maybe He has a painting He wants us to save.
Prayer: Dear Mighty Father, When troubles cloud my world, please let me see the rays of Your Son through the clouds. Let my hopes not be in You making my troubles go away, but, instead, build in me a contentment that those troubles are serving some kind of purpose. Help me just to hold on to Your hand even tighter to get through them. Amen.