Travels With Me

Devotional thoughts

March 7, 2013

Easter: What’s the reason for the season?

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NOTE: The following is an article I wrote and is featured in the March 2013 issue of Nashville Christian Family Magazine. It is copyright protected by NCF Publications and Chris Turner. 

 

Something weird is going on with Christmas.

Every year it seems there is an increasing tug of war between the use of “Merry Christmas” and the deemed more politically correct “Happy Holidays” that many secularists advocate.

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English country church adorned during Easter.

Christians seem to make an extra effort to cast a Christ-centered Christmas greeting at the local coffee barista while also making sure any tailgater can plainly see the “Jesus is the reason for the season” bumper sticker affixed to the rear windows of our cars (next to our little fish symbols).  We want the “Christ” in Christmas!

And think about it, how ludicrous is it for our culture to celebrate a holiday void of the very person for whom the holiday is named? Without Jesus it might be a holiday, but it certainly isn’t Christmas.

Easter is the other Christian “holiday” central to our faith. We say, “Happy Easter,” but we really don’t have a catchy slogan like, “Jesus is the reason for the season” to go with Easter. Here’s a suggestion: “Sin is the reason for the season.”

Huh? Um, yeah, probably won’t see that bumper sticker any time soon.

But sin is the reason for the season. An individual’s sin – all seven billion of us globally – is the only reason Easter is necessary. Seriously, there was no other reason for God the Son to set aside His heavenly position to take the form of a man and die an a cross. Reconciliation to God, as the Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, isn’t necessary if our sin didn’t separate us from Him to begin with.

Why such a fuss over sin?

Christianity in America is migrating away from the a biblical definition of sin. It is increasingly viewed as acts that cause us to feel poorly about ourselves, or anything that keeps us from reaching our full potential. The word obviously needs clarification when there are 1.2 billion Google returns to the question, “What is sin?” Ironically it isn’t that complicated. Sin is any act that breaks God’s law. Neither of the previous ideas equate breaking God’s standard and God’s punitive judgement as detailed in the Bible. Making the word more palatable may seem a slight adjustment, but it is heretical theology that cuts out the heart of the Good News of Easter.

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Street sign in Old Jerusalem marking the traditional avenue along which Jesus carried His cross on the way to His crucifixion.

If we do not see ourselves as sinners in need of saving, then our Christianity becomes a “moralistic, therapeutic deism,” as sociologist Christian Smith calls it. We seek religion to sooth our guilt and make us feel better about who we are. Jesus is reduced to becoming “the key to fulfilling our narcissistic preoccupation,” as theologian Michael Horton says.

To truly understand the meaning of Easter means to truly understand our desperate spiritual situation. Understanding Easter means recognizing that the answer to our problem is not found within ourselves, but rather, recognizing the situation is hopeless and our only hope is foundbeyond ourselves in the Person and work of Jesus Christ and His righteousness. As an ancient theologian said, “We contribute the sin; He contributes the righteousness.”

So why do we need Easter anyway?

The answer to that question is best found in the context of the story of human history; past, present and future. Here it goes:

  • God created
  • Man Sinned
  • God redeems
  • God completes

That’s it, history and the Bible in four statements. A holy God created a perfect world that included humanity. There was perfect unity between the Creator and the created (Genesis 1-2). However, it wasn’t good enough for man to worship God. Man wanted to be worshipped, and he succumbed to the prideful desire to “be like God” (Genesis 3).

The violation against God’s command introduced sin into the world and with it, the penalty of spiritual death. Consider, how righteous and just would God have been to overlook law breaking? Even the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations states as part of its vision statement, “That guilt shall not escape.” Guilt before God does not escape – it cannot. How would we otherwise know God’s expectation in relation to an unchanging standard? God would have been justified in annihilating man at the point of that first sin. The tragedy is that God created us to have a relationship with us, but our sin ruined that relationship. Fortunately, motivated by His love for us, He immediately took the initiative to reconcile humanity through Jesus.

Even though He is gracious to restore, God’s justice still demands punishment. Reconciliation comes with a price. The Bible tells us that, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). Animal sacrifices vicariously played that role in the Old Testament, giving way for all time to the singular death of Jesus on the cross as the object of God’s justice as well as the acceptable offering that allows acquittal.

So into our mess stepped Jesus. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 1:15, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” God himself both provides and is the perfect sacrifice for our desperate condition. That’s the Good News! That’s the real story of Easter and our sin made it necessary.

His death on the cross paid the penalty due us. His resurrection is proof of its sufficiency. By turning away from our sin, asking forgiveness of sinning against God and asking Jesus to save us, His righteousness is transferred to us, acquitting us of guilt and making Easter ( and every other day) a day of celebration. Salvation comes from beyond us and not dependent upon our ability to become better people.

What’s at stake?

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The Eastern wall of Old Jerusalem, and the gate through which it is said that Christ will enter upon His second coming.

The recognition of sin being the reason for the season is critically important for two groups of people: Christians and non-Christians.

First, Christians. There is great danger in wandering too far from the remembrance of who we were before Christ. When we lose sight of the sin that humbly drove us to seek forgiveness, we quickly slip into the dangerous waters of prideful self-sufficiency. We must never get beyond the cross, but rather, grow deeper in our understanding of all the goodness bought for us by Jesus’ sacrifice. One of the richest is growing in the understanding of what it means when the Bible says, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

Secondly, non-Christians. Christians, how can we call it love of others if we are not willing to help people understand the utter spiritual peril in which they stand before God? And how can they understand if we don’t help them realize that their sin in the context of Easter? They must know that Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection alone offers them their only hope. This does not mean berating them with high-handed moralism and expecting sinners to act redeemed. It means love and compassion and service and a verbal testimony to the fact that sin separates but Jesus saves. Anything less than the truth about their sin renders Jesus’ death pointless. Think about it, why would Jesus have to die on a cross if there were another way to peace with God?

Jesus is the reason for worship

Sin actually made both Christmas and Easter necessary. We were lost, but Jesus came into this world to save that which was lost. “For God loved the world so much that he gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Our sin only reveals how desperate our situation is, but Jesus’ coming reveals how gracious, and merciful and loving and glorious He is.

This Easter, pause to remember that your sin may be the reason for the season, but then lift your soul in praise because Jesus is the reason for your salvation. Even greater, Jesus is the reason for your worship.

Devotional thoughts

July 24, 2012

5 things I’ve learned about God in 365 days

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I’m a destination guy.

You know, the kind of guy who makes everybody go to the bathroom twice before getting in the car to drive eight hours to the beach. No stopping unless you can provide sufficient evidence that you are slipping into “imminent emergency.” Even then, I’m certain you can hold it just a little longer. No pain, no gain, right? The objective, you see, is to be someplace, not journey.

Or so I thought.

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’m kind of in Destination Detox. “Hello, I’m Chris and I’m a destination guy.” It pains me to say it, but I’m learning life is actually about the journey. How you travel is as important as arriving. In fact, you can’t arrive unless you’ve journeyed. Those last two sentences roll out as if I’ve become comfortable with the idea. Really, it is more like I’m reading them from a script. They are the hard-earned statements my mind has learned over the past 365 days but my heart seems more cautious to embrace. However, I believe God has determined He’s been patient long enough, and He intends to resolve this journey issue with me.

It was one year ago today that my family returned to the United States after living in England for two years. It was an unexpected return and one we knew would present many challenges. This isn’t the best economy for casting one’s lot in a job market loaded with talented former employees, but I didn’t think I’d still be looking for a job 12 months later. Meanwhile I’ve become self-employed. Some days I’m not a fan of the boss.

Through it all I’m learning at least five things about God. (more…)

Life in UK,Sports

July 21, 2011

A Yank’s view of THE Open

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My only purchased souvenir from The Open: the program, which you needed to buy to get a course map.

Brits often have a reputation for being a bit condescending toward their Colonist cousins. Since we Yanks don’t use quite the amount of starch in our shorts as do the Brits, we can come across as being rather unrefined about things Brits believe ought to have some higher level of refinement. We, on the other hand, would call Brits posh, if we knew what that word meant, but since we don’t we call Brits “snobs,” a very unposh-like word, thereby confirming our “scruffy” use of the Queen’s English. And Brits can be a determined lot when it comes to the English language.

But it is more than linguistic determination that drives the word “British” from the name of the oldest organized golf tournament in the world. Here in the Motherland, The British Open is matter-of-factly called “The Open.” (A  random conversation overheard between American spectators patrons discussing The British Open was interrupted with a gentle – but poshish – reminder that it is The Open). Most Yanks will argue that the word British simply distinguishes this open from say the U.S. Open, Australian Open, Scottish Open and a number of other national tournaments open to qualifying players. However, after walking the hills of The Royal St. George’s Golf Club Sunday during the final round of the 140th Open Championship, this is one Yank who concedes the point. At the risk of migrating toward poshness, I willingly strike the British and embrace it as…..The Open. (After all, The Brits – really the Scots – have the oldest course at St. Andrews (600 years old), and played the first “The Open” before the first American course was ever built (the first hole at Oakhurst Golf Club is the oldest remaining hole in the US being a part of the original 1884 construction. Heck, the “New Course” at St. Andrews opened in 1895.)

It’s now been four days since seeing Darren Clarke cut his ball through 30-plus mile per hour winds and horizontal rains to take a three-shot win over Americans Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson. I’m still chasing  my thoughts on The Open like I chase my drives into the thick grass and tall trees. Fortunately I’m having more luck finding thoughts than balls and here are a few random observations that comprise a Yank’s view of The Open.

My ticket. One of the great things about The Open was the cost. 55 GBP (about $75) is not a bad price to pay for one of the world's premiere sporting events.

1. Links golf. The Brits are brilliant. They’ve taken desolate coastal fields, buzzed weeds to the ground and called them fairways and mowed hilltops  even shorter and called them greens. Throw in gusting winds and driving rains, charge a small fortune to play then convince we golfing Yanks there is something magical about links golf. In reality, there is. Just watching other (really good) guys play it was a lifetime experience. I’d happily lose – and probably would – four dozen balls playing a round at a course like Royal St. George’s.

2. The weather. If you want to play golf in the UK you have two choices: Get a sturdy umbrella, an expensive rain suit, a bag cover and several all weather gloves or….play when the sun is out every year sometime between 10 am and 2 pm. on April 8th. I was hoping for a cruddy weather day and got it. Four times the rain was chucking it down (as a Brit would say) with gusts of 35-40 mph. You learn quickly how to manage an umbrella or you make like Mary Poppins. The course and the weather combined easily made for a great challenge requiring great shots, and often the greatest shots were the most unexceptional – but most sensible (another good British word usage).

3. British fans. One thing I appreciate about Brits is how they willingly acknowledge effort and class. I waited near the 18th green for the last few groups to finish, wedged in with the gallery like the 13th ball in a pack of 12.  The quite proper gent next to me couldn’t manage a proper clap holding his pint so he stuffed his cup between his feet and politely clapped for Phil Mickelson, despite the fact that Lefty had just minutes before skipped his second shot off the cranium of a patron about eight rows up in the green-side grandstands. “Well, done Phil,” speaking of Mickelson’s overall round that had him challenging for the lead through 11 holes. “Sporting round, that.” (Brits end a lot of sentences with “that,” as in, “clever shot, that;” or “Massive drive, that.” The proper gent later re-wedged the beverage to properly acknowledge Ricky Fowler’s effort. “Steady week, that,” he said to no one in particular of Fowler’s four rounds.

4. The Open merchandise. I’m sure it was awesome and I would love to have contributed to the bottom line but, c’mon! How do you run out of merch by 10:30 am Sunday morning? I wanted a pin flag but my options were between a few picked through hats, some overpriced polo shirts, teddy bears, balls and tees. I wound up with a program and a few thick plastic beer glasses I picked up along the trail that had “The Open” stenciled on the side.

If I'd only had a camera i could have gotten a closeup of Mickelson chipping to 18 after chunking one into the stands. That's me in the Titleist hat appearing with Phil live on the BBC.

5. Cell phones and cameras. Not allowed. I know, I know. They can be a nuisance to players and could get you beat up if caddie Stevie Williams so much as catches you pointing your point and shoot in the direction of his guy, but how I would have loved to have gotten anything (and the lack of images is why there are scans of my ticket and program in this post). I did later Tweet that I am now globally recognized as the guy in the Titleist hat who shared with Mickelson the BBC’s Open coverage (and the picture at the right is proof).

6. Tom Watson. He makes me proud to be an American. He proves that class transcends national rivalries. The Brits love him. He reciprocates. I truly believe the reason he plays so well in The Open is because he rides the wave of support created by British fans. They are elated with every birdie and “gutted” with every bogey.

7. Ricky Barnes. So why would I include in my Open reflection a guy ranked 68th on the 2011 money list and who flew to The Open on the off chance he’d be included as an alternate (as was)? Well, because he acknowledged me and I’m now a huge fan (a friend says I’m his only fan but that’s probably not true as I’m sure his mother also cheers for him). He teed off at 8:50 am, beginning the day at 12 over par, playing to a small gallery and paired with an obscure Swede named Frederik-Andersson Hed. “C’mon, Ricky,” I encouraged as he walked within feet of me between the first green and second tee box. “Hit ‘em straight today.” He turned his head slightly toward me and said (well kind of muttered), “Thanks, man.” There was no eye contact, but there doesn’t have to be for there to be acknowledgment. I felt acknowledged.

Maybe Brits seem posh to we Americans about The Open precisely because they see it as an exceptional sporting event that is uniquely British and one that can be imitated by the rest of the world but not replicated. Their view is this is the unattainable standard. After 11 hours walking The Royal St. George’s Golf Club last Sunday, that’s now this Yanks view of The Open as well.

Life in UK

July 6, 2011

Top 10 UK Moments (Part 2)

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Here is a truism: Not all fish and chips are created equal.

I know,  I know. Seems like if you take cod, cover it in batter and drop it in a basket of  hot oil for a couple of minutes it would all come out the same. Not so. I’ve had some fish and chips that had a higher grease content than Andrew “Squiggy” Squiggmann’s hair. Didn’t take me but about three servings of fish and chips to determine: A) you will drop dead from a heart attack within a month if you have no more than one servings a week and B) once you’ve had Shepherd’s Pie you’ve pretty much exhausted the available indigenous British food options. (But fortunately England is home to some of the best Indian, Turkish, Chinese, Thai, Greek, Italian, Argentine, Belgian, Lebanese, Afghan and Nepalese food I’ve ever eaten – and I’ve been to several of those countries).

Okay, that statement about British food is unfair. There are more than two options (there are actually three), and fish and chips is part of my Top 10 UK moments (I wrote about the first five earlier). Here are the second five, again in no particular order of importance.

A statue of Roman Emperor Claudius stands in front of a Roman wall that was built in 43 AD as part of the original settlement of Londinium. The wall was for a time part of the Tower of London fortification.

6. London. London is just a cool city. We’ve made several trips to London and it is impossible to take it all in even then. Pick an age in history over the past 2,000 years and London has a story to tell. That story begins en force in 43 AD with Londinium, the Roman settlement established after Claudius’ army conquered tribal groups. The stone walls they built are still evident across the country, but most notably near the Tower of London (built by William the Conqueror who used the remains of the giant Roman wall as part of the original castle wall). Everywhere you turn in London there is significant history: Tower Bridge, Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater and on it goes. Throw in all the personalities (Henry VIII, Ann Boleyn, Winston Churchill, William Wilberforce, John Newton, Charles Spurgeon, more) and the place is truly a history lover’s delight.

The White Cliffs of Dover that drop into the English Channel

7. The Southern Coast. We’ve made the trip south several times since we live only an hour from the coastal city of Worthing. The water there is technically The English Channel, with France on the other side. It was along the southern coast where in 1066 William of Normandy landed, defeated the Saxons at the Battle of Hastings and became known as William the Conqueror (and crowned king of England). The white chalk cliffs that make up the famous White Cliffs of Dover and The Seven Sisters are spectacular (I’ve crawled  toward the edge to get a better perspective of the drop. Yeah, it’s a long way down). It was in Worthing that we ate the best fish and chips we’ve had to date. Crunchy, not greasy, and steak fries (uh, chips) as big as Texas.

My Brownie designing her own merit badge at the Docklands Museum for the 100th Anniversary Girl Guiding exhibit.

8. Brownies. Girl Guiding is (CAUTION: English hyperbole ahead) massive in the UK, because well, it started here, just like Boy Scouting and in fact by the same person: Robert Baden-Powell. I loved Boy Scouts (earned Eagle Scout when I was 14) because of the opportunities it gave me to grow personally.  I love Brownies too, mostly because my daughter loves Brownies. She has absolutely excelled at it and that has created a thrilling UK moment for me. In the 16 months she’s been a part of her pack she has earned 13 merit badges and five other special badges. Last year was the centennial for Girl Guiding so there were a number of unique opportunities for her to be involved in-once-in-a-lifetime events. The thing that has made Brownies so great, though, is a great leader. “Barn Owl” as she is called has a scouts heart and has been involved in scouting all her life. Her love for Brownies feeds my daughter’s love of Brownies…and I love that too.

9. English use of English. One of the things I LOVE about Brits is their use of language. Many have a broad vocabulary and put combinations of words together that make this English speaker feel like the language gods have rolled in a buffet of fresh catch and invited this mortal to a word feast. It’s this linguistic gymnastic ability that makes British humor so funny. Mention this and most people’s minds quickly drift to their favorite Monty Python, Benny Hill or Mr. Bean scenes. Frankly, Americans, for the most part, don’t get the extremely quick and dry wit of Brits or their ability to poke fun at what they see as absurdities in their own culture. (Here is an example. Side splitting stuff…if you get it). A deft use of the language makes it possible and it has been a highlight for me.

Leeds Castle. Built in 1119 by Robert de Crèvecœur to replace the earlier Saxon manor of Esledes, the castle became a royal palace in 1278 for King Edward I of England and his queen, Eleanor of Castile.

10. Castles. It would be impossible to list Top 10 UK moments without listing castles. They are everywhere and it is hard to believe that some are nearly 1,000 years old, like the Tower of London or Leeds Castle. Windsor Castle is no shack, and neither was Bodiam Castle. And this doesn’t even include the amazing castles in Wales or Scotland, none of which we’ve been to. The interesting thing is that most of the castles never saw action. They were built mostly by the Normans after they conquered the Saxons to show power and to quell rebellion if there were uprisings. There were some attempts during the English Civil War, but for the most part the castles were a show of force that worked.

There have been several other high points to our nearly two years here and we certainly didn’t come close to seeing all that England has to offer. But the best thing about England is the people. If you come, be sure to take time to get to know a Brit, maybe over a plate of fish and chips. After all, it is a national food.

Life in UK

June 29, 2011

Top 10 UK moments (part 1)

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I love The Steve Miller Band. My favorite song is Serenade,  but I’m going to steal a line from one of his other songs: Time keeps on ticking into the future and in just a few short weeks our family will begin the future back in Nashville, Tenn. But before charging toward the days ahead I wanted to take two blog posts and reflect on the days behind.

My second journey to the sea and the end of another 48-mile ride along an old rail bed. Mountain biking is the best way to see England.

We arrived in the United Kingdom nearly two years ago and although it hasn’t been without its challenges, it has also had its highlights. Bunches of them. Here are five now and five to come. These are in no particular order, just 10 moments I enjoyed during our short time living under the monarchy.

1. Mountain biking. Let’s face it, I never intended to be the hardcore mountain biker I’ve turned into. In fact, I got the bike to cruise around on the trails behind my house, but when two weeks after buying the bike I didn’t pass the UK driving test – and still haven’t 10 months later – the bike became my primary mode of transportation and my daily driver to work. I ride to the train station, take the train eight miles and ride to the office. I reverse it in the afternoon, only in the afternoons I often take off through the countryside. I’ve loved launching out across the hills – and there are a lot of hills to the point that England seems like an uphill country regardless of direction taken. I’ve now made two 48-mile rides to the southern coast of England along National Bike Route 222, an old rail bed that meanders from Guildford to Shoreham by the Sea. England is a beautiful country and the best way to see it is by bike. Just make sure you recognize there is a culture clash among various people groups!

My kiddo on our first family hike up Ranmore Hill along the North Downs Way.

2. Family rambles. Rambles are walks and rambling on is incessant talking, which I’m prone to do but when we first arrived I was an incessant walker. Occasionally our family strikes out on the trails together and the first time was a gorgeous October day when we made our first trek up Ranmore Hill, the hill about a mile behind our house that is part of the North Downs Way.

I love Ranmore and the Downs not just for its beauty but also for its history. Once, while up on the Downs, I met an extremely old “chap” who told me the Downs was the last line of defense against a German army that everyone was sure would advance across the English Channel after devastating the British army at the Battle of Dunkirk (France). The Downs is a ridge that runs for 132 miles from the Southeastern coast near Dover to Farnham in the west. The Germans would have had to cross over that ridge if they were to take London. Gun emplacements (pill boxes) rest strategically along the ridge trail as testimony to a battle that fortunately was never fought.

A small village but a globally great story.

3. Pooh Corner. I’m a lifelong fan. My kiddo is too…which makes me really happy. Going to Hartfield, home of author A.A. Milne, was our first journey and it is about 90 minutes from our house. Hartfield is a quaint little village located near Ashdown Forest which Milne used as the basis for the 100-acre woods and the site for Poohsticks Bridge. Honestly, there isn’t really that much to see. The big thrill is having read Pooh stories since I was my daughter’s age, and then reading those same stories to her, and actually being in the place where Milne created a great world for his son was certainly a favorite moment.

4. Formula 1. Driving is not utilitarian for Europeans. Americans get in cars to get places. Cars are transportation. Europeans get in cars to be in cars. If driving cars is the experiential path to automotive Nirvana, then Formula 1 racing is Paradise. And I’m a junkie. I buy the magazine. I watch the qualifying. I have live timing open on my computer to track telemetry. I watch the races. I cheer for McLaren. I love Jenson Button. F1 is a collision between science, technology, precision and elite athletes. I stumbled into F1 because I was looking for a really cool car game for my Wii, and F1 was highly rated. I bought it and it took me two weeks before I could get a car around the track. If the game was that difficult I wondered how hard the real thing is. I started watching and realized that going from 200 mph to 60 mph into a corner and pulling 5 Gs under breaking is more strain than fighter pilots experience in combat conditions. Some of the racing teams have information sharing agreements with the aerospace industry where they are feeding data to companies like Boeing to be used in airplane construction. First race, I was hooked and it was a moment that opened up a new world of sport to me. It was either racing or soccer (or cricket), and I’ve already communicated not once but twice why neither of those were going to do it for me.

The Imperial War Museum, London, England.

5. The Imperial War Museum. I don’t know how many times we’ve watched the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I’d have to guess somewhere in the neighborhood of 697,458 times. Okay, that is an exaggeration but my daughter loves the movie. And she’s been mesmerized by the scene where the children are evacuated from London. That’s become very real for her since we’ve come to England. Our next door neighbor’s mother was sent from London to Wales. My daughter’s class studied the war and spent a couple of days on the evacuations. Teachers told the kids there was an exhibit titled, A Children’s War, at the museum. She immediately asked to go. It was an amazing exhibit in an amazing museum (most museums in London are extremely well done and most are free). I would have loved to have known what was going through her mind as she vicariously lived the experience of a child in London during the Blitz. A few months before we’d walked the streets near St. Paul’s Cathedral which were littered with the rubble of destroyed buildings. Looking at the pictures she realized she’d been there. What made it a top moment for me is that I really believe she connected with history and in some way was transported back to WWII and empathized with those children.