I write to you after visiting White Haven, the historic estate of our 18th President, Ulysses S. Grant. It is situated outside St. Louis on beautiful forested land, now a National Historic Site.
As my wife Gail and I today walked through the 200 year old estate’s main home, the floorboards slightly creaked beneath us. Wavy leaded-glass windows streamed in the welcome warmth and light of the sun as our uniformed park guide, Nick, told his stories.
White Haven originally was the childhood home of Julia Dent. It is where Ulysses met and courted his future wife, and where they raised their young family.
While the estate is called White Haven, the exterior color of the home changed over time to a dark Paris green. The archive still holds the receipt for the paint, made out to U.S. Grant. The main house today, as before, is surrounded by a handsome white wooden fence.
Over his 63 year lifetime, Grant tried his hand at numerous things. He was unsuccessful at farming and real estate, as it turns out. Near poverty, pressed down by bad farming weather, enduing a national economic recession, Grant even sold fire logs in the street corners of St. Louis to bring in income.
But he excelled in the Army, serving in two separate periods. He rose in rank and was chosen by our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, to serve as Commanding General of the Union Army during the War between the States.
With the ink of the Emancipation Proclamation barely dry, General Grant shared President Lincoln’s vision for racial integration and equality, and took steps to lead in that direction. Grant’s uniformed forces consisted of both white soldiers and freed slaves.
The war took many twists and turns, but his union forces were ultimately successful, leading to an unconditional confederate surrender by General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox.
Back at White Haven, the Dent family owned slaves, slaves who didn’t want to wait for war’s end to find their freedom. All thirty of them ran away.
Grant’s memoirs begin, “Man proposes, but God disposes.” Consider that God has a say in your life’s direction.
Life takes twists and turns. So does health. Grant suffered from the unwelcome malady of malaria for much of his adult life. He ultimately contracted throat cancer, which took his life.
As far as high office goes, Grant had little political ambition. He wrote, “I did not want the Presidency … but it could not be helped.” He won the race for the White House twice, and some urged him to run for an unprecedented third term, but he had had enough. He retired.
Our tour of White Haven has led me to wonder: what will each of us propose for our lives in the coming year, and what will God dispose and ordain? What are the possible twists and turns for which each of us should be prepared. How can we be able leaders of, and advocates for our families, our chapters, our communities, our nation and our world? How do we best prepare for 2019? How should we pray and proceed?
May you have divine guidance for the twists and turns ahead.
Faithfully yours,Chaplain Paul Soderquist