Where The Road Leads

“So goodbye yellow brick road,
Where the dogs of society howl…
Oh, I’ve finally decided my future lies,
Beyond the yellow brick road.”
(1973) “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” Recorded By: Elton John Composed By: Elton John and Bernard Taupin

Isn’t it funny, how we don’t exactly know where the road we are on ends, or what detours may be in store, until we get over the next hill for a good visual?

Such was the case, some 22 years ago, one hot west Texas day for me, the weary traveler. Grab your popcorn.

I was planning on a 2.5 hour drive (one way), west of Dallas, Texas, to be with family for a relative’s memorial service. The drive out there displays a change in landscapes, cactus, hills, and red sandy soil.

I was doing an afternoon drive-time radio show at 90.9 KCBI at the time, in Arlington, Texas, halfway between Dallas and Ft Worth. It was to be a busy day. The funeral was planned as a morning service, and my show in the Arlington studio started at 3pm. What was even more complicated was the fact that my producer had scheduled the multi award-winning recording artist, Natalie Grant to be live in studio with me that day.

Photo By: Dean Dixon Natalie Grant

Although this was early in her solo career, she had several hits out by that time, and I was looking forward to chatting with her about her life and what was around the next bend. But, I almost didn’t make it.

I needed to be at the service in west Texas. It had been a long while since visiting with my dad’s side of the family there, not to mention I wanted to pay my respects to a very dear uncle who fought through many speed bumps in his life and yet, was a champion to the very end. So, I looked at the map (This was before Google Maps and GPS was offered to for the everyday person.), and carefully back-timed the journey, along with figuring the average length of a small town memorial service. After putting numbers together, considering I couldn’t stay for the family luncheon, or the graveside service, I put away the calculator with confidence I could accomplish such a journey, and still keep my commitment to my producer and Natalie, and her record label.

The trip there from my north Dallas home was uneventful. It was a familiar journey. All went well.

The state highway and interstate system is just like most states when driving across rural areas. There would be lots of winding curves, hills and valleys, and small towns where if you blink you would miss them. Then, from time to time, there would be getting behind a farmer’s tractor slowly on his way to the next pasture. Nevertheless, the clock and I remained friends. I arrived in plenty of time prior to the service and met up with many family members.

With about three hours prior to my radio show, I said my goodbyes, and headed east for the lengthy drive to the studio. However, because my destination was the radio station in Arlington, I was unfamiliar with the trek from point A to point B. It seemed uncomplicated enough, I just never travelled this particular route.

Because I left the service without eating lunch with the family, I became a bit hungry on the way. Thinking I could hold out until I reached the studio, my stomach started to complain. Looking at the fuel gauge, I would soon need to stop to top off the tank.

Over the river and through the woods, I spotted a small mom & pop gas station with a convenient store attached. Well, I was hungry, and it was indeed, convenient. After filling up the gas tank, monitoring my watch every few minutes, I decided to grab some food items I could nibble on while driving. It’s been many years ago, but if memory serves me right, I grabbed a stick of beef jerky, a Hostess cupcake, and a diet Coke. (Nutrition was out the window with my need for speed.)

Have you ever tried starting your car, along with putting on your seatbelt, while opening a soft-drink bottle and a stick of jerky all at the same time? It’s not easy, at least not that day.

As soon as I could open up the food items for easy access on the center console, I got my wheels quickly pushing the white rock gravel out from beneath the tread and off I went from the gas pump toward the driveway out to the highway…or so I thought.

About 20-30 yards of a white gravel lot separated the fuel pump and the highway pavement. I sped-up toward the exit of the gas station property, anxious to get back on the road toward Arlington. When I think back on the 20-30 yard jaunt across the lot, I most likely was focused more on wrestling with a difficult wrapper keeping me from a thick slice of smoked beef jerky. I quickly approached the pavement of the shoulder of the highway when to my surprise, I ran out of both white gravel and anticipated pavement. When my destination came into full view, like a NASCAR driver, I worked the brake as quickly as I could, even pumping the brake as I slid over the loose gravel. Why? Because I made the mistake of not paying attention to exactly how the gas station was orientated to the highway. In my shock, I was driving rather quickly toward an edge of the gravel lot to a steep embankment down into a fork of the Brazos River, which was some 20-30 feet down to a shallow rocky bottom stream. When I came to a timely full stop, I threw it in park and just sat there reminding myself to inhale and exhale. There was no guardrail, no fence, no warning sign, or directive indicator whatsoever. Other than an air pump for tires, there was no warning of a drop-off at the edge of the gravel lot. If it had been a nighttime visit to this location, they would’ve had MY memorial service the following week. As I slowly got my bearings and put it in reverse, I could see my front tires were probably 6 feet from the edge. As you can imagine, I was sweating bullets.

Photo by Frank K on Pexels.com

Over the winding paths of my life, I can honestly say, life can be very much like that experience. Isn’t it true? There will be times when you are rolling along just fine when suddenly you find yourself headed smack into a brick wall, a curb you didn’t see, or a cliff’s edge. Don’t fool yourself, they all don’t always come with warning signs, or road reflectors, or rails to guard you from gravity taking over. And isn’t it true that often times situations like this are delivered by way of being distracted somehow? Something else that entices, something else outside of yourself which tickles one or more of your five senses. Then, without much warning at all, another unnoticed reality is on an intercept course where you can’t put the brakes on quickly enough. Exercising caution at all times is wise, on the road, in a parking garage, as well as, the road of life.

Only you know what that is in your life. Only you know when this has shocked your steps forward. Only you know what to guard against. You and God, the One Who sees all things before you and after you. He knows each of our roads are different.

In case you were wondering, I got to the studio on time, with about 30 minutes to spare, even before Natalie showed up. It was our first time to work together, but would have the pleasure of working with her again a few times later in our careers. When I told her what had happened on my way to the radio station, her jaw hit the floor. She said the Lord had His hand on me, even when we’re unaware. She was right.

When needing to know where the pitfalls are in your road, locate the map in fuel for the race.

“For I know the plans and thoughts that I have for you,’ says the LORD, ‘plans for peace and well-being and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call on Me and you will come and pray to Me, and I will hear [your voice] and I will listen to you.” Jeremiah 29: 11-12 (Amplified Bible)

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Lessons From Damar Hamlin

“There’s a love that’s divine,
And it’s yours and it’s mine,
Like the sun.
And at the end of the day,
We should give thanks and pray,
To the One, to the One.”
(1989) “Have I Told You Lately” Recorded and Written By: Van Morrison

On Monday night, January 2nd, several million eyes were on the screen watching Monday Night Football. It was the Buffalo Bills visiting the Cincinnati Bengals for a tough bout. Not far into the game, the Bill’s safety, 24 year old Damar Hamiln, wearing #3, made a picture perfect, clean tackle, stopping a Bengals advance for yardage. After the play, Damar stood to his feet, took a step back and collapsed. At first, most thought he just had the wind knocked out of him. As the medical team tended to him, it became apparent he no long was breathing. His heart had stopped. For nine minutes CPR was performed. As they feverishly worked his lifeless body, they were able to jump start his heart. He was taken to the hospital where he went into cardiac arrest once again. His mom was in the attendance and went with him to the hospital.

Photo by Jean-Daniel Francoeur on Pexels.com

Thousands in the stands were in shock. You could hear a pin drop as the fans were waiting and watching what was being played out before them. As the cameras panned over the crowd, many were in prayer for the young player. On the field, players and coaches knelt and prayed together. Some players humbly got on all fours with their faces to the turf as they cried out to God for their NFL brother. Many held hands, embraced one another, and on both teams many tears were openly shed. Across the nation, as the broadcast continued, prayers began to go up from living rooms, sports bars, and at places of employment. Later, it was reported that globally people stopped to pray during the tragedy over the airwaves.

It was decided, and rightly so, that the game was to be cancelled. Slowly the stands were emptied in a very eerie silence as the fans poured out into the parking lots. Some in shock, some emotionally distraught, some in silent prayer.

As Damar Hamlin was in a coma, while the medical staff urgently fought for his life in the hospital, the NFL, the coaches, along with the Bills and Bengals, urged the public to continue to pray as his life hung in the balance. Indeed, the prayers continued on through the week, even on the fields across the country the following NFL weekend forged by various team members openly praying together for healing for #3, Damar Hamlin. Prayer requests came from players and coaches combined in the press conferences.

As the days rolled forward, so did the prayers across the nation. On the third day, Hamlin opened his eyes. Each day, the doctors gave encouraging news about his recovery. He is expected to make a full recovery…from DEATH! As I write this, on January 10th, Damar has done so well that he was released from the Cincinnati hospital and flown to Buffalo General Hospital in Buffalo, NY for ongoing treatment. He is overwhelmed by the love and support he has received from all over the world. He is especially grateful for the outpouring of prayer, as he shared how he is a person of faith. He honored his mom for raising him to believe in God, and His ways.

Photo by Ric Rodrigues on Pexels.com

So what have we learned from Damar Hamlin in the aftermath of such a wonderous event in his life, one which was played out before the world?

The lesson didn’t really come from Damar himself. After all, the healthy 24 year old man literally died on the field of play before a global audience. Under the circumstances, he not only shouldn’t be alive today, but he seemingly has not suffered brain damage, significant heart damage, nerve damage, etc. According to the medical professionals tending to him, he is projected to someday soon, run out of the hospital doors. It leaves the thinking person to ask a simple question, which many will ignore.

Millions and millions should be asking, “What just happened here?”

It’s not the first time something miraculous happened. I can think of one very sick man who also had loving friends who cared for him. They cared so much that they tore open a hole in the roof of a house and lowered him down on a stretcher because the house was so full of people. Why go to such trouble? Because the Master of The Universe was just beneath that roof. Jesus had been healing the sick, raising the dead, giving sight to the blind right and left. The ill man’s friends had faith in the One under the roof. So, they went into action out of love for their friend, KNOWING Jesus had the power to heal his infirmities. In scripture it states that not only did Jesus remove the illness, but told him to take up his bed and walk away. In full strength, he did just that.

An executive, a vice president, of the NFL, remarked at the week of prayer for Hamlin in an interview, affirming that there is “power in prayer.” In tears he acknowledged that there is a God who hears our pleas, our cries, our hearts.

There is power in prayer, but moreover, there is power in the One receiving the petitions. If we had prayed to the Buffalo Bill’s medical doctor, he would have lacked the power beyond his medical training. If we had prayed to the sun, the wind, the referees, there would have been a funeral for the Hamlin family. If we had prayed to Hamlin himself, stretched out on the turf without life, the petitions would have bounced off his helmet. Prayer, sincere prayer, is an act of faith toward the One prayed to, the One Who has the power.

Photo by Paulo Mu00e1rcio Dos Santos on Pexels.com

In the earliest manuscripts of scripture, from Genesis onward, God commands us to pray. He even goes so far as to promise He not only will hear faith-filled prayer, but that he also will respond to the prayers offered in humility. Sure, some responses to prayer is the word, “No”. Some responses to prayer comes as, “I will. In My timing.” Sometimes, answers in the affirmative have happened before the prayer is finished. I can testify to that in my own life.

In the scope of God’s purposes, we need to look deeper at what just happened. Ask why this event was so public. Ask why this episode was broadcast around the earth on that designated Monday night. Ask why Hamlin’s miraculous progress has been front page news almost every day since it occurred. Yes, there is a deeper purpose here. I am not one to say what that purpose is, but I do know God promised He would make Himself known throughout the world in the ending of days.

Look around. The mouth of the naysayer was shut. No one is suing the television network, or the NFL, or the Bengals or Bills because prayer was so abundant and public, on a very visual broadcast. The very same people who have sued coaches and school districts over public prayer at sports events were nowhere to be found. I find that very odd.

Another lesson learned over Damar Hamlin’s death-to-life story is the love shown. The general public displayed its humanity. His charity, for impoverished children in his hometown, had only raised $2500.00 at the time of Hamlin’s health event. The last time I checked, it has reach almost 10 million dollars in donations in a matter of a few days. The well wishes continue to stream in. His teammates, as well as other NFL players and coaches, continue to show their love and support while he is in his hospital bed. The general public, whether football fans or not, have poured out concern and love toward this 24 year old who most never heard of before that Monday night game. This personal event for Damar Hamlin has turned many hearts. In fact, it displays a true heart in our culture, a heart we often do not see.

Most of all, we have witnessed something, not only remarkable, but downright awakening for many. There is a multitude of souls who have acknowledged their faith openly during this episode, and many for the first time. In the core of this nation, many are rediscovering their faith in God.

In a down-sliding culture where we are pushing our children to drag queen shows, we must stand up in the field in which we play and acknowledge God. While we see children killing children, and adults as well, we must grip our faith, hold it up and beg for God’s ear. As the love of many cools to a coldness, the people of faith must struggle through what is easy to do and love anyway.

I predict that Damar Hamlin will forever be changed in his spirit. He will grow in life to understand true love and brotherhood even more than what he once understood. I am hoping the rest of us can do the same.

Incorporating prayer in life can be had when being filled with fuel for the race.

“Come close to God and He will come close to you.” James 4:8a (NAS)

What Child Is This?

“I know there’s a place you walked
Where love falls from the trees.
My heart is like a broken cup
I only feel right on my knees.
I spit out like a sewer hole
Yet still receive your kiss
How can I measure up to anyone now
After such a love as this?
…Tell me who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Because I really want to know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)” (1978) “Who Are You?” Recorded By: The Who Composed By: Pete Townsend

If you are new to this blog, you probably don’t know about past posts describing the fact that I never really knew my bio-dad until he walked into my life when I turned eighteen. It’s a really long story for another post.

My story isn’t that unusual at all. Many have the same sad set of affairs in early life concerning mysterious parentage of some sort. For me, he was there for the first couple of years of my life prior to a divorce. From that point on, my mom did all she could to erase him from my young memory.

By the time I was fifteen or so, I begged to find out more about my bio-dad, his name, his looks, his family. She had made some type of inward commitment to withhold all details about him. Little did I know a deal was struck during the divorce proceedings in 1962 where he would not pay child support as long as he stayed away from me. That deal was brokered by my granddad. He told the judge he would take responsibility.

All I had to go on was a vague memory of a tall, dark-curly headed man. For the first eighteen years of my life, I would see a man who fit that description and wondered if that could be him, or not. I must say, I found out his first and last name, but back in the 70’s, there wasn’t the advantages of the internet, or social media to do a search.

Photo: 1978. Jim Alford (my bio-dad) and me.

Little items concerning his flaws, came out over the years, just enough to try to keep my curiosity down to a low rumble. The low rumble could never be ignored due to the evidence that my bio-dad left behind. I vowed to find him after I turned 18.

No doubt, the itch of such unanswered questions concerning where you come from is very difficult to scratch.

The world over, from one end of the globe to the other, the same can be said about the inquiry of knowing God. Religions are based on it. Curriculum is developed in places of higher learning to discover and dissect the “God code”. Agnostics have chosen such a position mainly due to giving up on the attempt to find the Universal Designer. The Creator has left plenty of traces, along with hard cold evidence behind, of Who He is, and what He is about. Atheists just choose to ignore the search. Still, the search goes on for billions.

“Who are You? I really wanna know.”

Then comes Christmas, a holiday which refuses to be ignored. It’s a holiday that screams out the answer of finding God. There are factions in cultures to do what they can to divert the attention away from why there is a Christmas, but it remains, taking weeks at the end of each year to shine out the answer like a star atop the nearest Christmas tree.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

Christmas was a sharp turn in God’s historic timeline. For thousands of years, He left His evidences for the world to take note of. He even showed Himself in various manifestations and a standard to live by. Yet, when the “fulness in time” had arrived, He showed up…in flesh and bone. It would only be for a span of 33 years, but it was a life which shook the planet, and still does to this very day. The Christmas event was truly remarkable (Luke 2), but baby Jesus didn’t stay a baby.

One of His students, in John chapter 14, confronted Jesus about showing God The Father to them.

John 14: 7-9 (Berean Standard Bible)

7If you had known Me, you would know My Father as well. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.” 8 Philip said to Him,“Lord,show us the Father, and that will be enoughfor us.”9Jesus replied, “Philip, I have been with you all this time, and still you do not know Me? Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?…

Wow! How strong is that? MERRY CHRISTMAS!

So, whenever wondering about WHO God is, or what He is about, or what He is like, look no further than Christmas as a beginning.

When Frosty melts away, and Rudolph’s nose fades away for another year, Christmas lives on day after day in fuel for the race.

“You have said that I am a King. For this I was born and for this I have come into the world: to testify of the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” – John 18:37 (Aramaic Bible Translation)

Tracking Christmas

“Sometimes I feel so low-down and disgusted.
Can’t help but wonder what’s happening to my companions.
Are they lost or are they found, have they counted the cost it’ll take to bring down?
All their earthly principles they’re gonna have to abandon ?
There’s slow, slow train coming up around the bend.”
(1979) “Slow Train” Recorded and Composed By: Bob Dylan

Since 1965, Northpark Center, (Northpark Mall) in Dallas, Texas, has been the zenith of the shopping experience. It’s located near the very posh, highbrow part of Dallas called, University Park, and Highland Park. Frankly, much of the the clientele frequenting the polished floors of Northpark Center tend to be decked out in Armani and Versace. Yet, there are many shoppers there dressed in casual jeans or khakis. After all, it’s a shopping haven for the students at nearby SMU. I know Northpark well as I once worked there for Florsheim and Wolfe Brother’s Clothing Department Store not long after high school. I met, and waited on, many celebrities while working in sales in that day, like Rita Moreno, Jimmy Dean, Tony Dorsett, Linda Gray, D.D. Lewis, local TV news anchors, and B.J. Thomas to name a few. You never know just who stroll the walkways of Northpark Center. As a side note, Rita Moreno was my favorite celebrity I had the honor of waiting on. She walked in alone, dressed in Capri pants with a pullover shirt, topped with a lite sweater tied around her shoulders, and enclosed flats on her feet. We spent about 20 minutes together as I placed the latest fashion in shoes on her dancing feet. She was very unassuming, humble, and very kind. Those were fun times for me.

On your way to Nordstrom’s, Neiman Marcus, or Abercrombie & Fitch, you might like to stop at the many artsy fountains and pools, art exhibits, or at this time of year, the singing Santa.

Photo: Northparkcenter.com

Northpark is not on my beaten path, so I don’t visit there very often. However, I did take my daughters there a few times when they were young just for the experience. During the holidays, it’s great to take the kids to see all that glitters inside the mall, complete with strolling carolers, giant Christmas trees, Gingerbread Christmas Town, or The Trains at Northpark. A terrific place for the best of Christmasing pleasure.

Photo: Northparkcenter.com

Season after season, sprawling out on the 2nd floor, just outside Neiman Marcus, the enchanted seasonal feature, The Trains at Northpark is a must see. A better title might be, Tracks Through Christmas Town is on display there, featuring miniature toy trains.

Photo: Northparkcenter.com

This display is so popular, one must purchase reserved tickets to get in for the wow factor adding to the holiday experience. (Proceeds go to The Ronald McDonald House.) It is the most elaborate miniature toy train exhibit in Texas.

It features over 600 trains rolling the tracks on a journey across the American landscape. Honestly, you walk in realizing how easily it is to be stunned by the size and detail of such a sight. Expect the tracks to run through mountains, city tunnels, bridges, around lakes and cutting through forests. There’s nothing like the aroma of fresh electric train oil wafting through the air, mixed with a touch of cinnamon and spices among the garlands and pinecones. Along the 1300 feet of miniature tracks, (yes, 1300 feet), are the the sights of small town Americana in full Christmas bloom with its miniature streets, buildings, cars, horse-drawn carriages, and people. Some of the figurines are dragging their freshly cut Christmas trees home through the snow. Others are wrapped up in their winter coats and hats as they carry shopping bags in front of display windows of the miniature shops. Someone is seen walking their dog on a leash in a snowy park. One of my favorites is a scene where families are gathered in a town square, decorating the community Christmas tree with lights and tinsel. If you look closely, you can spot patrons sitting at tables just inside the snowflake dusted windows of a small café with hot cider in their cups. It simply is marvelous to go in and get lost in a picturesque middle America. Just a perfect vision of joy and life in anticipation of the most celebrated holiday in the western world. Well, almost perfect.

Photo: Northparkcenter.com The Trains at Northpark, where eveyone becomes a child.

It’s funny how such an exhibit of this nature attracts the eyes, ears, and nose. After a few minutes you realize you have focused so much on the intricate art details of this miniature Christmas world that you forget the demographics around you doing the very same thing. Suddenly, the wealthy elegant Highland Park woman next to you isn’t noticing she is in the company of someone in a Texas Ranger’s jersey, sweatpants with tennis shoes from Walmart. (That was me.) Suddenly, I haven’t noticed the man in front of me who looks like a high profile upscale attorney, clothed in a Bill Blass suit and tie. Commonality does its magic, doesn’t it? However, one man stuck out at me the last time I was there so many years ago.

Gazing at the miniature exhibit of small town America, with electric trains running alongside the depots, was someone who didn’t fit the average Northpark visitor. This individual stuck out as someone who didn’t belong in such an exclusive location. He was a bit disheveled, maybe in his 60’s, in need of a shave, wearing a worn thin denim shirt and ragged jeans with the knees blown-out. His face was weathered like a man who was acquainted with the outdoors, and a rather faded cloth baseball cap, in need of washing, pushed back away from his wrinkled forehead. To be blunt, he looked as if he might have been a homeless man who wondered in from the street. He seemed fixated on a certain scene in the Christmas train display. Awkwardly, with a grin on his face, leaning over a bit, with his hands on his knees to brace himself, he was seemingly in awe. As other visitors at the exhibit continued to walk around him, he stayed put with a sense of fascination radiating from his body language.

As he caught my attention, I began to visually search for the item that seemed to intrigue him so much. As I got closer to him, I could see where he was focusing his eyes. It was a well-dressed family of four, complete with a little boy and girl, their mom, and a dad with a Christmas wreath hanging from the crook of his elbow. They were standing beside the tracks, just on the backside of the depot, watching for the incoming train. The little boy had a paper bag full of roasted chestnuts. The little girl had a doll in her arms and a cup of hot chocolate in her hand. Mom had four tickets in her gloved hand. Frozen in time, waiting for a train which very well might have transported them to another small town where their grandparents resided. Just like the rest of the town around them, everything looked happy, joyful, lit up, and…well, perfect.

I had my daughters with me, and wasn’t feeling really secure about meeting the man, not knowing his condition. I have always been very protective over my girls, maybe too much at times. Thoughts of drunken speech coming from him, or profanity, or who knows what echoed in my head. He didn’t look like he was in the right place, and I can only imagine where he went after he left Northpark. Life experience has taught me to be aware of your surroundings, even when you believe you are in a safe place. Nonetheless, I avoided communication. We, as did everyone else, walked around the man. My girls never noticed him. Part of me felt like a snooty snob, just the kind I often laughed at while observing Northpark’s finest clientele parading along in their latest outfits from Lord & Taylor. There was some shame I felt, especially after we left the mall that day. Whether right, or wrong, I did what I thought best for my children at the moment. Still, I wanted to speak with the mysterious man.

The odd man had a story, an untold story I would never know. The tale of his life may not have been encouraging to hear, or for him to speak. From what I could see from his outward appearance, poverty was familiar. Yet, whatever struck him, as he was fixed on the miniature scenes from the display, he saw something of value, something of note, somehow, someway.

When I think back to that moment of learning, I wondered if it was the difference he was attached to while accessing the scenes of small-town Christmas. Difference, as in what was projected in the exhibit, and the reality of his existence on the streets of the real world. What he seemed to enjoy, leaning over the miniature Christmas scenes with toy trains clicking down their tracks, was a true picture of…perfection. The world the art exhibitors created lacked carjackers, homeless people, shoplifters, the lonely, the rioting in the streets, property damage, violet outbursts, and road rage. Lacking were the sour joy-suckers carrying signs spewing profanity concerning Christmas revelers, and how racist Christmas is…somehow. The citizens represented in the miniature towns were employed, well-dressed, and very happy. Festivities were in the air, and seemingly common in each little town. Absent was the one or two nativity scene protesters in the town square.

Could it be, just maybe, that in his visit there, he experienced something joyful from his past? Maybe, before a devastating layoff, he had been a happy railroad conductor punching holes in the tickets of his passengers. Possibly there was a recognizable scene involving his childhood days before an angry world had its way with him? Could it be so, that just for a few minutes, he was able to escape the harshness of his life as he entered a make-believe world where all was well, all was festive, all was promising?

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

If I had been alone, I would like to think I would’ve spoken with him, maybe even invite him to Northpark’s Churchill’s Pub for gourmet coffee. In my heart, I would imagine he would tell me his story, and somehow I would find a way within his telling where I could mention how the world was broken on that first Christmas Day. Suppose my response to his reveal spotlighted the fact that Bethlehem was not pristine, joyful, and festive, without trouble and care. Reality details how it was a dusty, madhouse of a tiny village of shepherds, homelessness, and scores of the family of the line of King David who had been forced to be there to be counted for a trying census. There was political decent, detachment and debate. No doubt, there were those spewing curses about Rome, Herod, taxes, and tax collectors. There were trampling filthy sheep all over the place. It was a stinky little village to visit. Violence and robbery were common in the surrounding areas. It was not what you see on the average Christmas card.

In my imagination, I can see where he might have been a bit surprised to hear the truth about the first day Jesus had to endure. Because what the man saw in the Northpark exhibit was scenery of a Bedford Falls existence all the way down the tracks. Perfection came to our imperfect world where the ripple effect continues to this very day, even when life can take you down the wrong track.

But what’s the harm, as he soaked-in the image of miniature figurines without cares, loving their perfect surroundings in their tiny unflawed towns by the tracks? Maybe, just for a few minutes, he felt safe and warm, somehow joining the lives and loves of those joyful plastic citizens.

It is my hope that I would have told him that the baby in Bethlehem’s manger would be trained as a carpenter, one who had the talent to build things, maybe even playthings like, miniature buildings, horses, and people. Christ’s true nature is to perform demolition on the stoney heart, rebuilding a heart that is pliable, a heart that He can call completely His. No need to fantasize over a fake Christmas town where you will never fit in.

A slow train is coming to a depot near you, indeed. It’s showcased in fuel for the race.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” – Jesus – Matthew 5:14-15 (NIV)

Over The River And Through The Woods

“But I would walk 500 miles,
And I would walk 500 more,
Just to be the man walks a thousand miles,
To fall down at your door”
(1988) “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” Recorded By: The Proclaimers Composers: Craig and Charlie Reid

Ella: No! We are staying here for Thanksgiving!

Orville: But, Mama! I miss her!

Ella: Not another word about it, young man! They’ll have their Thanksgiving, and we’ll have ours, right here! Now, go wash up before I blister your bottom!.

That’s how I project the row between my Great-Uncle Orville, and his mom, Ella, my Great Grandmother Swindell. I knew them both as older people, and I figured if I were to write a script based on the bout they had, that would be about the size of it. One thing is for sure…it was loud.

Because no one is living who was there, and the next generation can no longer recall, I have to piece together what took place. Hang in here with me. I will tell you the facts as I know them.

It would’ve been Thanksgiving week of 1938. My grandmother, Opal and her little brother, Orville, were best friends. Although he was about five years her junior, they were tight all through their growing up years, and beyond.

Photo: 1930 Opal and Orville

The Swindell’s had been living in and around the Wolfe City, and Greenville, Texas area. Opal and Orville were the only children born to Ella and Claude. Claude was a true Jack-Of-All-Trades, but the family spent much of their days as sharecroppers. Because of the nature of a sharecropper life, there were times the family lived on the road, out of the back of a truck, unless the crops just happen to be situated near their actual house. At some point, an opportunity arose in the Ft Worth area and off they went to live where the work was.

Back in the Wolfe City, Texas area, the move didn’t sit well with my granddad, Martin Atherton, who was Opal’s one and only boyfriend in school. The distance was too far for the young lovers, and there was only one telephone located in a general store, and THAT was what we once referred to as long distance. ($$$) The young couple made the decision to get married as a solution to the heartbreaking problem. So, they hitched-up, July of 1938.

Photos: (Top) 1938. My grandmother in her wedding dress. (Bottom) My grandparents in a photo booth, around 1937.

But, poor Orville was feeling lost in a new town without his big sister. Yet, Greenville, Texas, where the newlyweds resided, was about 80 miles away as the crow flies.

Fast forward to November of ’38, when 12 year old Orville petitioned his folks to travel to Greenville to have Thanksgiving with Opal and her husband. After all, he missed his sis terribly, and never had a holiday without her. Here I must say that I don’t know just what the issue was. It very well could’ve been the Swindell’s wallet was still thin from the recent move, or Orville’s dad couldn’t take off from whatever job he landed at the time. Either way, the answer was, “No”.

Before I move on to the meat of this event, let me warn you that Orville was a real pistol. They called him, “Whistle” due to the thick fabric of his overalls making a chaffing sound between his legs because he was always running from here to there. He was a bit on the hyperactive side, although that’s not what they called it back then. He was also a tough kid. He loved sneaking upon unsuspecting cows and horses in order to jump on their backs for a ride. It didn’t always go so well. He enjoyed leaping off the roofs of houses and barns which often didn’t go so well. One day, while hunting, he tackled a very unhappy dog out in the woods, brought him home to keep him as a pet, fighting him all the way. When he arrived to show his parents, Orville was scratched and bitten all over, still holding the growling, restless ornery dog in an armlock. “Look Mama! He’s my new pal!” Ella was beside herself, and furious. Standing there in her kitchen was her bloody son holding a very disgruntled…coyote! That too, didn’t go so well.

Later in the night, after the disappointing news concerning Thanksgiving in Ft Worth, he couldn’t sleep much as his mind was going in circles on how he could relieve his rebellious itch. After a while, he figured out a plan.

Early the next morning, still steaming from the argument with his mom, he slowly, covertly got out of bed, quietly leaving the house, then grabbed his bicycle and headed east for Greenville in the predawn hours.

Keep in mind, this was before the interstates and tollways. Which part of Ft Worth is unknown, but it was much smaller in the 1930’s than the metropolis it is today. I am unclear the route he took, but I assume it was the same route he was familiar with from the move earlier in the year. I imagine this would be small state highways, farm-to-market roads, etc. Much of the county roads back in those days were not paved. Today, directions from Greenville to Ft Worth takes you on interstates and the George Bush Tollway, about a 90 mile jaunt. Google tells me an athletic cyclist could figure an 8 hour ride. However, Orville’s bike would not have had the luxury of multiple gears. The 12 year old boy would have travelled through some small towns, on dirt roads, and one lane state highways. Looking at the old routes, cutting across what is now the northern suburbs of Dallas, I believe his trip would have been around 80+ miles, taking approximately 9-10 hours, given the journey and the old bicycle.

Imagine the shock on Opal’s face when her worn out little brother comes coasting up to her front door. From what I was told as a kid, he was hungry, exhausted, and cold.

According to my Uncle Orville’s story, he made the trip without stopping. However, knowing what a card he was, that could be a stretch of his actual experience. In fact, I have wondered if some poor trucker saw him and offered him a lift, saving him a few miles. But, only God really knows. I do know my granddad and grandmother drove him back to Ft Worth themselves.

My mind also wonders about the thrashing he might have received when he finally made it back to Ft Worth. I am sure Ella and Claude were fit to be tied.

Later, Orville’s bent pulled him into the cowboy world. He lived his life breaking horses for a living, and keeping up a ranch of his own. The rodeo circuit was also part of his life for many years. He broke dozens of bones in the process. It didn’t always go so well. I don’t believe I ever saw him not wearing cowboy boots. His perpetual youth always amazed me, even in his elderly years. He was funny, witty, always smiling and laughing. . One Thanksgiving at my grandparents house back in the early 70’s, while watching the Dallas cowboys play a nail-biter of a game, just as they squeaked out a win, he jumped off the couch, dove head-first over the coffee table, ending in a standing position after somersaulting across the living room floor yelling a cheer all the way. He was in his upper 40’s at the time. Yep, that was my Uncle Orville.

If someone were to ask me what I loved most about the man, it would be how much he adored his big sister, Opal, my grandmother. Everyone did.

Photo: (2006) Orville “Whistle” Swindell and his sis, Opal Atherton.

Uncle “Whistle” Orville Swindell went on another lengthy journey just about five years ago for his heavenly home. With all certainty, I know my grandmother was waiting for him at the gates. I can only imagine the reunion.

With the Christmas season coming up, I couldn’t help but think of someone else who left his secure home to travel a great distance to be with the ones He loved. A king, leaving a throne where He was praised, worshipped, and adored continually. He left it all for a tough, rugged, humble existence here on our turf. Jesus so loved us that much to make the trip so that we might make the choice to be with him where He is today.

Most believe the final journey isn’t all that far. Check out the map in fuel for the race.

“In My Father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, I would have told you, because I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and I will take you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also.” – John 14:3-4 (Amplified Bible)

The Sound Was Happenin’

Like a lazy flowing river,
Surrounding castles in the sky.
And the crowd is growing bigger,
Listening for the happy sounds,
And I got to let them fly.”
(1972) “Listen To The Music” Recorded By: Doobie Brothers Composer: Tom Johnston

Remarkable, isn’t it? Music has the ability to awaken memory banks which have been on pause for decades. Just a riff from a guitar, a tinkling of the keyboard, or a certain downbeat of percussion, and ZAP…you remember all sorts of scenes from when that song pierced your young ears. Test yourself sometime. Suddenly places, people, jobs, schools, loves, all come flooding back. Music truly is a computer file wrapped up in rhythm, rhyme and harmonies.

I must say, many tunes bring back such a place…and such a man.

Carrollton, Texas, my hometown, a northern suburb of Dallas, was much smaller in the 1970’s when I was a teenager. (I have written about our town in others posts.) In 1972, when indoor malls were new, and in vogue, or just being built, we shopped the various shopping center strips of the area. Before I discovered the gigantic record stores like, Sound Warehouse, Peaches, Tower Records, Rhino Records, or even the record section at Sears, here in our community we had, The Happening Sound Shop.

Nestled in the Carrollton Park Shopping Center strip, was a fairly small storefront, an authentic mom & pop retailer of everything in sound (music). Times have changed things a bit with tenants, retailers and renovations, but this is what a section of it looks like today.

Photo: The Happening Sound Shop was located in this small section of the shopping center strip, right around where the blue sign is.

Bill Allen was the owner. Not much is known about his earlier days, with the exception of being a manager of a production facility. For reasons that are unknown, in 1972, he left watching over assembly-line workers and opened up a record store. His vision grew with the addition of stereos, headphones, amps, guitars, CB’s (popular in the early to mid 1970’s), and other accessories. To further the customer’s opportunities, he opened up little semi-soundproof rehearsal booths in the back of the store, as well as guitar lessons from private music teachers.

Photo: NS yearbook ad. Bill Allen made sure there was a wide selection for every wallet, long before The Guitar Center.

With all his inventory of various products for the ear, the little shop became a bit crowded. But that was okay for those of us who lived just around the corner. In fact, our high school in the 1970’s was only about 200 yards away. It was perfect for a quick dash to Happening Sound at the lunch hour. THAT was terrific marketing from Bill Allen himself. Then in August of 1978, a second high school opened in north Carrollton, and Bill Allen made sure his shop was well known on the new campus.

Photo: Carrollton Chronical. 1977, Bill Allen at the counter taking orders for Elvis’ new project after his death at Graceland. The line was lengthy.

Growing up in our expanding community I doubt there would be one person in the 1970’s who didn’t frequent The Happing Sound Shop at one time or another. Many of us were there often. Bill Allen introduced us to the music we were hearing on the radio with his assorted stacks of wax.

Photo: RLT Yearbook. Two friends from my high school days in one of the many ads for Happening Sound Shop.

Bill knew where to put his advertising dollars. He had ads in the school papers, the playbills of many theatrical productions from the various schools, sporting evets and programs, and local newspapers published in Carrollton, and the neighboring suburb of Farmer’s Branch. He invested in the ISD of our community, as well as the young lives coming up. He had Happening Sound Shop, with the phone number, etched on all the guitar picks he sold. Many still have them to this very day. It’s been said he would mark down a price if a kid was short on cash. It was noticed. In 1983, even Billboard Magazine wrote an article on Bill Allen and his Happening Sound Shop. The title of the article, “How One Texas Store Survives”.

As technology grew, so did Happening Sound Shop. Bill Allen stacked up the vinyl albums to the walls, always displaying the latest singles available on the old 45’s. Then came the 8-track tape cartages and players, then the cassette decks segued in the mix in the late 70’s and early 80’s, leading up to building shelves for something called, CD’s. He saw it all.

Photo: From Facebook Happening Sound Shop fan page. There are some mementos us older folks still carry in our wallets.

Bill Allen was an unusual retailer in several ways. He was witty, very quick with words, and humorous chatter. He had a gift of gab that could’ve landed him a radio talk show. The man understood how relationships, and filling needs, kept the clientele coming back.

One odd manifestation of such tools was his incredible ability, or the knack, to come up with nicknames for whoever walked through the door of his shop. With the forever cigarette hanging loosely from his lips, he would see me open the door and would greet me with, “Well, hello Curly!” Others, like my wife, had other nicknames. When he would see her he would shout out, “There’s little Red!” (She’s a ginger.) Other nicknames of note, “How’s it goin’ there, Sugga Booga?” “Come on in, Gold Dust!” “There’s old, Silver Queen!” “I do believe it’s John Wayne comin’ through the door!” “Hey, it’s the Golden Knight himself” “How’s it runnin’, Daisy Jane?” Then you could always expect some creative statement at the cash register. “That’ll be, $239.00 today, Cactus Eater.” (The price was $2.39.) Or, “Here’s ‘er change back, Raggedy Ann. Just like McDonald’s”. “Well, Humdinger, your bail sits at $4.99 even.” One of my favorites was when he sold me Barry Manilow’s latest LP, the comment at the counter was, “Well, Curly, how ’bout fries with that?” He had an amazing memory to be able to keep up with the names used for the customers, especially with the changes as we were growing up and hitting puberty. What a guy!

One final comment on the nickname subject. Our fine arts departments in the ISD were well known for our annual musical productions. In February of ’78, I took on the role of Johnny Brown (Molly’s husband) in, “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” production at our high school.

Photo: Carrollton Chronicle, Feb 1978. Me as Johnny (JJ) Brown.

Someone had asked Bill Allen if he would place our promo ad poster in his store window a month before opening night. He did, as he did each year for major high school productions. After the run of shows, from that point on, he called me, “Mr. Uptown Brown”. What’s funny is that’s also my real last name. I don’t think he ever knew it.

You may be wondering why I would write about a small record shop and its owner’s quirky ways from 1972 and onward. My answer would simply be, ask us locals, now with whiter hair with pictures of our grandkids on the fridge and arthritic knuckles. Today there is a Happening Sound Shop fan page on Facebook. No surprise. Tons of people write of their solid memories of Bill Allen and his Happening Sound Shop. People, who were touched in a personal way from childhood by a place, a man, and his love for community.

If you should scroll through the fan page, the string of admiration is clear. The comments go on and on about the man, and the place we all knew to be a shop where no matter what was up in our lives, we felt loved. Bill Allen really cared, without judgements, without slanted favor. When available, many post old photos of the place, Bill, and the old storefront. And for those of us who have moved away from the area, who had touchpoints with Bill Allen and his shop, have carried the precious memories with them. Moreover, they, we, have carried Bill Allen and his kindness in our hearts. In a way, one might say he taught us a bit how to love, be civil, and serve with a joy not often found in modern times.

After diving into theology in my 20’s, I discovered some of Bill Allen’s attributes found in Jesus and His teachings. To serve, not be served. To love, even if you know you may not be loved back. To reach out to the lowly, the poor, the young. To lift up, not to pull down. To invest in lives around yourself, and not store up for self. Call me quirky if you want, but I also see another trait. I see personal recognition, regardless of one’s status in society. Jesus spoke of it often. Scripture says He even named the stars, each and every one. He said His flock knows his voice. He knows each of us, individually, by a special name.

Bill Allen wasn’t wealthy. His mark-ups were never unreasonable, even during the inflation years of the 70’s. Bill Allen set up sales racks, marked down to where any of us could afford what was there. When he saw a customer who was needy, he would point out his depreciated items with a helping hand. He lived a life which left behind a great legacy.

Photo: One of the last pictures known of Bill Allen from around 1993.

Bill Allen’s cigarette habit closed in on him. He was diagnosed with cancer, and it took him quickly. His daughter made the attempt to keep Happening Sound Shop going after her father’s death, but in the end she felt it was truly his baby and could not survive without him. Several months after his death, Happening Sound Shop closed its doors for good in 1994. It was a sad day when the sound ceased to happen.

For a 22 year span, Happening Sound Shop was a bright star, not only for our community of music lovers in general, but to the masses of impressionable young people from the 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s.

Who knows you by name? Find out in fuel for the race, Sugarfoot.

“‘…To the one who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows except the one who receives it.’” – Rev 2:17b (NAS)

Choosing…A Powerful Act

“Let freedom ring.
May the love of freedom always ring.
It has brought us this far.
It proclaims who we are.
And together we sing, let freedom ring
.” – “Let Freedom Ring” Recorded By: Barry Manilow

We, the American public, stand on rather solid, large shoulders. On America’s Election Day, we remember.

“We do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate” – Thomas Jefferson

“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” – Plato

“Someone struggled for your right to vote. Use it.” – Susan B. Anthony

“The ballot is stronger than the bullet.” – Abraham Lincoln

“The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.” – JFK

“The future of this republic is in the hands of the American voter.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

“Our political leaders will know our priorities only if we tell them, again and again, and if those priorities begin to show up in the polls.” – Peggy Noonan

 “We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord.” – Theodore Roosevelt

“(It is) indispensably necessary to save our country from ruin.… I give my assent to the Constitution in full confidence .” – John Handcock

“There are elections in which everyone knows that ‘the people have spoken’ but they don’t always know exactly what the people have said. This November’s election was different. Not only did the people speak, they spoke clearly.” – Kay Baily Hutchison

I write this on the Saturday prior to America’s midterm Election Day, 2022. Obviously, not knowing the election results at this time, I am confident that the citizens of this nation will rise up and speak their will at the polls. No doubt, there will be some run-offs, and ballot counting controversies, as well as, some states (those who allow such struggles and drama) unable to tally all the returns in a 24 hour block of time. In the end, we can pray all projections will be fair, without fraud, and timely.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

No matter the party affiliation, or whims of political debate, most Americans want what they feel is the best for the country during the days at the ballot box. If I were to mention a hue of caution, it would be my hope in relying on this great nation to vote from the heart, and not the talking heads. With the swirl of lies spewed out from various political players (starting at the very top), the media, and the candidates themselves, one can certainly drown in misinformation, or tunnel vision. Misinformation was the original trap in Eden, and tunnel vision is very much what snaps the trap over the neck of the mouse.

We have seen the polls showing the list of concerns the nation faces in this election cycle. Topping the list tends to be, economics, crime, public school curriculum, immigration (border control). It’s shocking to me to find some other residual topics ranking top of mind for some before personal financial, or physical survival. A great example would be to choose homelessness, or whether or not one can afford sufficient food and fuel for themselves, or their families, over late term abortion rights from Washington vs the voting decision of each individual state. To me, this reeks of not having a clear view of national neglect, allowing America to sink into a weak, needy nation.

The founding fathers were very clear on this point. In order for a people to have rights, the people must have a majority electoral system where the people choose for themselves collectively. Election Day is for the will of the people, not the few, or the selected, the elite, or the loudest. The puppet masters, holding their strings, who sit in their ivory towers can only watch and weep. WE THE PEOPLE rule here!

Election is not a new thing. In a mysterious fashion, God Himself elects His own. Volumes have been written about this unexplainable phenomenon in which only The Great I AM fully understands, but for now, we can only acknowledge that it is true, alongside freewill. The billions who have come to faith in Jesus can only be humbled by the thought that they were chosen before the foundation of the world. Again, it’s a complex truth coming directly from God’s infinite mind and heart. We know this because it was placed in scripture so we would get a taste of His love for fallen humanity. Still, “Whosoever will may come” is written in red.

Choosing is a very powerful act, indeed.

It is a bold statement of truth to say if one does not vote, that one has surrendered. And that’s not America.

Come and find your name on God’s ballot in fuel for the race.

“You did not chose Me, but I chose you and appointed you, that you should go and you should bear fruit, and your fruit should remain, so that whatever you might ask the Father in My name, He may give you. “ – Jesus – John 15:16 (Berean Literal Bible)

Missing

“…I’m lost without your love.
Life without you isn’t worth the trouble of.
And I’m as helpless as a ship without a wheel.
A touch without a feel.
I can’t believe it’s real.
But someday soon I’ll wake,
And find my heart won’t have to break.”
(1976) “Lost Without Your Love” Recorded By: Bread Composer: David Gates

“LOST”…Webster’s Dictionary breaks the definition down in all its various forms. One of which is, “Not made use of.” Another usage, “No longer possessed.” Yet another description, “Taken away, or beyond reach, or unattainable.”

Have you ever felt that way? Let’s present it in another camera angle. Have you ever known a loss?

It was excruciating. The year was 1982, when Tickey, the beloved dog I grew up with, escaped my mom’s apartment while she was at work. He was almost 15 years old at the time. I was married, living across town from where my mom lived. Unfortunately, a neglectful maintenance man entered the apartment unannounced, and Tickey saw his opportunity to dash out the door for a great adventure. He had no idea the dangers he would face while outside of my mom’s protection and shelter.

Photo: Tickey at a year old, may of 1968. Part dachshund/corgi.

Hours and hours passed before my mom came home from work to discover our little pal was gone. I was working during the day as well, chained to the office. I felt so hopeless and helpless to search for him. He was gone for several days. I spent the early mornings and evenings combing the streets and alleys calling out his name in hopes he would hear me and come running. Lots of fear, and loads of falling tears. Of course, I admit to watching for a little lifeless body along our busy streets.

My mom and I both had contacted the local pound with Tickey’s description on a daily basis. Their answer was always the same. “Sorry, you can always call us tomorrow to see if we’ve caught him.” An old friend, who lived in another section of the apartments, told us she had seen a little dog resembling Tickey, dodging cars as he crossed one of the busy streets nearby. Even that episode was a couple of days prior.

A friend of mine at work told me I should spend my lunch hour driving to the city pound and look at the dogs behind bars. After I had mentioned how we call each day, she told me to ignore it and go look for myself. Feeling depressed and a bit defeated, I didn’t go to the pound until after work that day. I drove up to a parking space in the parking lot of the pound and noticed their fenced-in communal dog-run was just about 15 feet from the parking space. The pound was closed already, and the sun was rapidly going down in the west. But there, among 7-10 dogs looking in my direction, was a little brown dog with his pointy ears standing straight up like a rabbit. I could hardly believe my eyes. Getting out of the car, I ran toward the fence thinking it would be too good to be true, only to find Tickey standing on his hind legs, stretching out his little front legs as high as he could get them, as if wanting me to reach through the chain-link fence and pick him up. He licked my fingers through the steel mesh and cried with a sad whine. My words of comfort didn’t seem to sooth his little heart, but I told him I would be back first thing in the morning right after the pound opened its doors. Walking away in a sense of victory, he barked at me over and over again. If I had a set of major wire cutters, I might have done the deed. It broke my heart. Crying gobs of tears, I left to find the nearest phone booth.

The next morning I was overjoyed, yet furious. As it turned out, the pound had him in doggy jail for several days, and would have put him down within a couple of days later. Someone either lied to us on the phone all those days, or they honestly didn’t care enough to do some dog inventory. When I had to bail him out, I realized the longer they had him, the more money they deposited. I was outraged. But, wow. The reunion was fabulous. We hugged, licked and drooled, hugged, licked and and drooled some more. (He licked and drooled, not me.) What a joy to have my old pal back in my arms of safety and love. I will never forget it.

Photo: Tickey, safe back home. I had a hard time letting go of him.

I was reminded of that chapter in my life when a friend of mine posted the picture below on her Facebook page.

Photo: Facebook. Her dog was stolen. After quitting her job, and following several leads, she recovered him. This was the moment they reunited.

Look at her face. She is overcome in a swell of joy and inexpressible relief. The dog also seems beside himself to be back in his mom’s arms again after being away in the unknown. Amazing, isn’t it? She loved him so much that she quit her job to free up the clock and personal energy to search for him. Risking her own provisions, future, and income to find her dearly beloved pal, it paid off. Unsure if she was able to get her job back or not, I know she was rewarded by her diligent work in searching for her stolen buddy. Another happy ending.

This isn’t the first time a story like this has been told. Someone who greatly understood this kindred love described a shepherd who loved so expressly, that he left his job to seek out a single lost sheep. He left a flock of 99 sheep, went out into the unknown, the dark unfamiliar areas, in hopes of finding his lost one. No doubt he called out to the little lamb many times, maybe through the night, through storms, and through rugged terrain. When he did find him, he rejoiced bigtime, held him, and carried him back to the flock where he belonged, where the food, water, and safety resided.

Jesus understood the life of a good, responsible shepherd of his day. He gave this parable in order for us to identify with God’s longing to protect, serve, and nurture, not just a flock of 100, but a single one who strayed from the care of the shepherd.

About 30 years ago, during my radio days, a kind, loyal listener sketched this precious scene, from an original piece of art, depicting the moment the good shepherd found his lost little lamb. If you compare this sketch with the photo of the lady who found her dog, you can see they are very similar in response of the heart.

Photo: Artist, Carmen Appleby

I know what it is to be lost. Full transparency here. I have felt the anxiety, the emptiness of not having a clue of where I was during a horrible blinding lake effect Western New York blizzard while driving through an Indian reservation deep in the night. A night without street lights or signs, encased in frozen fog, along with zero visibility by horizontal blowing sheets of snow, is a desperate place to find yourself. With that said, it is much like times in my life when I was morally lost, spiritually lost, and emotionally lost. When the compass is invisible, it is a very lonely place. The only remedy is guidance by someone who seeks the lost who can direct the way back to where one needs to be.

Today, our world is very, very lost. It doesn’t take long for a generation to lose its way, running after self inflicted ideologies, diving deeper into depravity, and false promises. Utopia is always promised, but it never delivers. Self-serving stab wounds will eventually cause death, along with scars which will never be erased. Gone are the thoughts of returning to a righteous way, a lit path, a road of stability and safety, not to mention true love. Instead, today we call evil good, and good evil. We see bitterness and call it sweet, and sweet whatever is bitter. Our society, our culture is so far removed from where we were just a few years ago.

Still, no matter how far off the narrow road of righteousness, there is a shepherd who seeks to save, one who searches for the lost among the ledges of the thicket. This is one who leaves his comfort zone, his familiar surroundings, his job, to locate the small one who has no clue they are lost, or even stolen, and what most would believe is, beyond unattainability.

The long, loving arms of a rescuer is found only in fuel for the race.

“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” – Jesus – Found in Matthew 18:12-14 (ESV)

Life Is…

“In the circle of life,
It’s the wheel of fortune.
It’s the leap of faith.
It’s the band of hope,
‘Til we find our place.
On the path unwinding, yeah.
In the circle, the circle of life.”
(1994) “Circle Of Life” From Disney’s, The Lion King. Recorded By: Elton John Written By: Elton John & Tim Rice

Look around. We see the results everywhere. Our culture tends to scream it out. Childhood abuse, in various forms, can cause even the brightest souls to spin off course, or knocked into another orbit than intended. Early trauma in a child’s life can deliver a lens through which the injured views the future by way of a fogged scrim. Often this skewed vision can last until death, or to the doorstep of an intervention of some kind giving opportunity for an adjustment.

A brilliant young man, Reginald Kenneth Dwight was such an injured person. His childhood experiences drove him headlong into a life of debauchery, self-destruction, horrific tantrums, and hopelessness. Reginald became a severe addict. His addictive behavior was manifested in numerous ways. He became addicted to all things material, shopping, sexual addictions, sour relationships, abusive actions toward lovers, alcohol consumption, drug abuse (cocaine being the pet), out-of-control financial spending, gross hording of collectibles, eating disorders, and so much more. When it came to substance abuse, he became so addicted that he was in the all-you-can-consume-buffet-line. If there was more cocaine in the building, his nose found found it until it was all gone. Once he started, he couldn’t stop.

Relationships, good relationships, were seemingly avoided as a young man. Although he found himself engaged to a young lady, a woman who was abusive in word, in deed, and violent at times, he was presented with a solution to his troubled relationship. He listened to a close friend who was gay, and decided that he himself might be gay. Although it went against all he was raised with, he made the decision to try the gay lifestyle as he continued to run away from his past. The next morning they came with a truck to take him home, while she went her own way. His decisive choice threw him into a never ending line of gay lovers, some of which he never knew their names.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Many years later, he fell in love with…a woman. Nobody close to him believed it could happen, but it did. For reasons a bit unclear, they married. However, his lifestyle, and all that goes with it, had become so amalgamized with his daily life, and the destructive choices he made, ended the marriage some four years later. He, and his wife, both truly loved one another. They both still honor one another to this very day. They vowed to never discuss publicly the intimate details of their marriage, however the fly in the ointment was fairly evident.

As hard as it is to wrap your head around the following, it still must be mentioned here. Always looking for love, and always looking to satisfy his sexual addictions, he would pick up men like some pick up stray dogs. He would use them sexually for a few days, weeks, or possibly up to six months, then drop them by way of a friend slipping the rejected man an airplane ticket home. In the end, he admits to having hundreds of these types of relationships.

He never contracted AIDS, but many of his lovers and friends did. In fact, Reginald lost numerous friends to AIDS, drugs, accidents and suicide. In fact, he attempted to end his life at least three times with intension. Other times, he almost lost his life without any attempts due to cancer and rare infections. Still, his non-stop raving appetite for drugs and alcohol could’ve been his demise at any time throughout the fuzzy decades of abuse.

In 1978, on a rainy, dreary Sunday morning in one of his homes in England, he rose from his bed in deep depression. Actually, he had been in depression for many years as he tried, but failed to self-medicate. But on this day, it seemed much darker to him. Once again, he morbidly felt he was on the edge of death, even visualizing floating away from his body toward space itself, burning up the fuse up there alone. His steps from the bed to the doorway competed heavily with a massive hangover from the night before. As he made his way through the spacious home, he left Reginald Kenneth Dwight behind like a cold bathrobe and , as he did each day, slipped into his Elton John character as he made his stumbling way to the piano bench.

Photo: From – Me: Elton John from, Macmillan Publishing. Photographed By: Terry O’Neill/Iconic Images.

It was a rare occasion when he would write a song without his co-writing partner, Bernie Taupin. Bernie was the lyricist, and Elton was the music composer. However, something often came over him to write a song on his own, without the lyrical assistance of Bernie. This particular, dark morning, was one of them. Still in a cloudy haze from what lingered in his bloodstream, a haunting melody reverberated in his mind. He began to plink it out note by note, chord by chord. As usual, it was beautiful to the ear. At first, he had no thought as to a lyric as he was only playing the instrumental bubbling up from within. The song itself came rather quickly to the keyboard, as was the norm for Elton’s gargantuan talent, but soon a line wormed its way through the notes and the fog of the morning. Like a tape loop, it rotated in his mind over and over again. Being in such a depressive, hungover state, with a sense of great loss, he wasn’t expecting a lyric to make its presence known. Yet, there it was, out of nowhere, loud and clear. Elton began to match it with the chord structure, repeating it verbally like a thick continual scroll. Unlike past lyrical adventures in the composition of songs, this line was the only line that displayed itself to him that morning. It was a short lyric, but a massive, hard-hitting domino of a line not to be lost or forgotten. It read like this…

“Life…isn’t everything.”

Now, say what you will about the validity, or the absurdity of such a line, but there are times when one can be inspired by something in the air? Something outside of one’s self? A spiritual connection? A spirit tested? A spirit not tested? Which ever way you believe it to be, this did happen while the melody was being formed in his music room that day. It’s a sad state of affairs when an individual, who is worth north of $500 million dollars, held such a lack of darkness and hope.

He loved the song so much that he wanted to release it. His intension was to title it, “Life isn’t Everything”. In studio, he simply sings the line very softly, repeating the line several times, toward the end of the instrumental. If you should bring it up on YouTube, you will find it to be a stirring, daunting piece, mixed with an edge of a feeling of floating away without care. Businesswise, the song did well on the UK charts, but poorly in the US. Still, if you heard it you might recognize the recording.

Guy Burchett was a 17 year old who ran messages and errands for Elton’s production company. He was a local lad who was always available, hard working, and dependable. Guy was a year younger than I. Knowing how I loved EJ’s music, I can see how eager he was to work for the musician. Elton was notified the following day of Guy’s unfortunate sudden death due to a motorcycle accident. As the information came down, as it turned out, the young man’s life had been snuffed out at the same time Elton was constructing the song on that Sunday morning. Grieved, he made the choice to honor his young friend by entitling the new song, “Song For Guy”.

I am not here to be Elton’s judge. I am not here to bash Elton’s lifestyle. I am not here to denounce Elton’s decisions in life. Because I view things through a biblical point of view, I know that for the grace of God go I. I know I have a tendency to feed on addictive trappings. God granted us freewill. I cannot blame my DNA heritage, or any particular generation in my bloodline, although it would seem easy to do so. Scripture makes it clear that I am responsible for my own decisions, whether to try for the bait in the traps, or not. In Elton’s autobiography, Me: Elton John, he admits falling hook, line, and sinker for cocaine at the very first snort. It can happen.

Still, the single line whispered into his brain on that drizzly Sunday morning in 1978 is so profound…and yet, so wrong. “Life isn’t everything”.

I will assume here that there was a Mr. and Mrs. Burchett who grieved painstakingly at the news of their son’s tragic death on the road. Although we don’t know them, I will assume they might have said, in their grief, “Oh, no!” Or maybe, “No, not my precious son!” Or possibly, “Our boy meant the world to us.” Grief is indeed the penalty of loving. More than likely, Guy’s life meant everything to his parents, in fact, to anyone who loved Guy.

Allowing for Sir Elton’s possible meaning, as he wrote the lyric which pounded into his head, the expression may have been a statement of eternal hope after this life is over. In that respect, it’s true. Life, in the here and now, isn’t everything. Life here is only temporary. Scripture aligns it like a puff of a vapor in the air, or a blade of grass that comes and goes with the seasons. Of course, in Elton’s state of loss, depression, while reeling from the aftermath of a night of debauchery, he might have been thinking death is more valuable. After all, it must be the relief of all that stains us, all that pains us, all that shakes us.

Here, I am pushed to disagree with one of my favorite musicians.

How valuable and distinctive is life?

Life isn’t just a four letter word on a board game by Hasbro. Life isn’t just a name on a Quaker Oats cereal box. Life is a gift, issued to each living thing. However, life for the human was issued in the most intimate way. Unlike the cow, the tree, the worm, humanity first took a breath when The great I Am, The Creator ordained the inhale by placing His own mouth over the nostrils and blew the breath of life into the first human. In other words, God Himself crouched down to the lifeless body of His creation and performed mouth-to-mouth, and that action caused life to occur in the new man. Life is issued. It is a gift. Just ask anyone who has had a near-death experience and lived to tell about it. Moreover, ask anyone who was lifeless due to an illness, or accident, and was reignited. I am one of those people. Life is a gift. Life is a stone thrown into a motionless pond, activating ripples upon impact. If you are alive, you have an impact on others around you. Yet, the One who gave life, also removes the breath.

Let us resolve to mention another truth concerning Elton’s lyric. As stated before, life isn’t everything, in that it is temporary. Just ask Guy Burchett. Oh, that’s right, you can’t ask him. Guy left his body at the age of 17 in 1978 during a tragic motorcycle crash. Guy, the person of Guy, left his body to enter eternity. Holy scripture is clear, there is more to this life. It may seem like a candle in the wind, but when the wick burns away, our flame carries on. Jesus spoke about the afterlife often, and the place(s) of the afterlife. God controls the final exits, and the doors entered. In scope, this life is only a blink of an eye compared to eternity. There is a second life, and a second death for some. I didn’t make that up, it’s spelled out in the ancient scrolls.

Although Elton is weird and wonderful, his book is brutally honest, so much so, it can be a very difficult read. Trust me, there were times at the end of a chapter I wanted to take a shower.

The man, the soul, Reginald, found himself removing his electric boots and entered a 12 step program. He learned much about his mistakes, his substance abuse, and even his old ruthless ways with those around him. He has gone back to many he has wronged to apologize for past behaviors. Sobriety has been his norm for many years now, and helps others who need to enter treatment. His view toward life softened much through the following years, even to the point of pouring himself into charities, and forming the Elton John AIDS Foundation, which has raised over $450 million in AIDS research and medical treatment around the world. Through his circumstances in life, he has been forced to a more pliable heart. Even at this elder stage of his life, who knows where it might direct him.

As for Elton’s 1978 view of a throw-away life, he has changed his camera angle. In his book, on the very last page, he writes something so vastly opposite of his 1978 lyric. After suffering from cancer, and a devastating infection he contracted while on tour in South America which almost took his life, he writes:

“In the hospital, alone at the dead of night, I’d prayed: ‘please don’t let me die, please let me see my kids again, please give me a little longer.’ In a strange way, it felt like the time I spent recuperating was the answer to my prayers…It was like being shown a different life.” – Elton John, Excerpt taken from, Me: Elton John, Macmillan Publishing

He knows you wouldn’t mind if he put it down into words, how wonderful life is.

The true circle of life, and life’s destination, is in black and white in fuel for the race.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him.” – Jesus From John 3:16-17 (NAS)

Borders

“Now in my place.
There are so many others.
Standin’ in the line;
How long will they stand between us?”
(1975) “Nights On Broadway” Recorded By: Bee Gees. Composers: Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb

My left turn took me down Pine St. which intersected Jones St. At that vantage point, you can clearly see the old house, the second lot to the right.

Photo: Google Earth shot, from many years ago, of my granddad on his front porch in Greenville, Texas.

My maternal grandparents, Martin and Opal Atherton of Greenville, Texas, bought the old house in 1955. Prior to their moving, they lived in the country on a farm south of Greenville. Because the new I-30 was being built straight through the property, they chose to move into town. My mom was only 11 years old when they settled into the house on Jones St. It was an old neighborhood, in fact the original house itself goes back to the late 1840’s. Driving down the street just a few years ago would remind you of the neighborhood in the movie, “To Kill A Mockingbird”. High ceilings, large porches and floor-to-ceiling windows. We still have the old skeleton keys which go to the three bedroom doors with crystal-like glass doorknobs. It’s the house I knew first as a newborn.

Photo: A rare snow on the lawn of my grandparents house taken from the west side of the property.

The couple who owned the place before my grandparents were excellent landscapers, and true green-thumbers. My mom described it as a garden showplace on the block, filled with fruit trees, a small orchard along the west side of the house, various flowers, holly hedges, and various items of produce in the backyard. I remember as a small child some of the lush cool Saint Augustine grass, and the trees and grapevines climbing the western kitchen window. However, my grandparents were not of the same fabric as the former owners. Over the years they didn’t nurture much of the plant life on the property. As it turned out, my granddad didn’t want to spend much money on the the water bill. Still, much of the trees, hedges, and perennials remain to this day.

Next door to them, on the west side lot, lived a wonderful middle aged couple. They lived on the corner lot in a simple white frame house. They became dear friends of my folks right away. They had children of their own, although I am unclear of how many. The neighbors shared meals, special dishes, after school snacks for my mom and her two brothers. The man there was a wiz at making homemade candies. He was well-known for bringing a plate of them over to the house for holidays, or special birthdays.

At the time, there was no backyard fence, or border fence. In fact, the former owners of the house had shared a small orchard with their neighbors next door as their gardens ran along the back border of the properties. A line of Bradford Pear Trees grew along the adjoining side yards beside the neighbor’s driveway. When I was a toddler, I actually recall running through the garden and into the neighbor’s backyard without realizing it was their property.

The year the couple moved out of their house, to a newer neighborhood across town, is uncertain. I believe it was around 1967-1968. From that time on, the house next door must have had a revolving door. More than likely, it became a rent house. Over the years, several tenants moved in and out. It seemed like each time I came to visit my grandparents, some new family lived next door. Sometime around 1969, or 1970, my granddad had a backyard fence put in. By that time, most all of the shared garden and orchard were no more. Sad but true. There was nothing to stand in the way of constructing a privacy fence for the backyard.

Photo: (1999) My grandmother with my Great Dane, Wolfgang with the privacy fence behind her.

Years later, maybe by 1977, the old house next door was torn down. If memory serves me right, there was a fire that destroyed a room in the house. After the house was demolished, only the unpaved driveway and front steps to where the porch once stood was left.

After my grandparents passed away, my mom inherited the family house. She lived alone there for several years until she developed mild dementia last year. It became necessary to move her out of the old place where she was no longer able to take care of the house, or herself very well. She has been living with my wife and I ever since November of last year (2021). As for the house, we plan to sell it soon. There’s so much work that must be done before I can even begin the process. The place is an old friend, filled with a lifetime of precious memories for my mom, and for me. Nobody ever said it would be easy to let go of an established family home.

About a month ago, I had made the hour long trip to Greenville to check on the house. I took that left turn onto Pine street, a left turn I have made a million times in my life, and drove to the stop sign where Jones St. intersects. I looked to the right to glance at the tired house from across the empty corner lot, and was absolutely stunned. So stunned, it took my breath away. There, in the vacant lot, construction work had been done to prep for the pouring of concrete for a new home. Even more surprising, our fence on the adjacent west side was missing, showing our backyard open and bare.

Photo: This WAS part of the backyard. Showing where the side fence was, about where the baseboards are fixed for the foundation. Also, missing, next to the white storage shed, was a brown storage shed. The stakes next to the white shed are the property stakes placed.

Furthermore, my granddad’s storage shed, which sat next to a second storage shed, filled with well-worn garden tools, old auto parts, and storage boxes, was also missing. As I pulled up in front of the house, I could see where property stakes were hammered into the ground marking what the contractor believed to be the property line from the curb to the back border fence.

Photo: From the curb to the back fence line. All the Bradford Pear Trees were uprooted and removed.

Albeit an astonishing view, as it was, what was more disturbing was the stakes were driven into the turf just about 5 feet from the wall of the house. There is also a garden water faucet which protrudes from the ground some 12″ or so, that has always been used to water the lawn. Now, it is on the property next door, and it’s from our water pipes.

Photo: Our wrapped water faucet just on the other side of the property stake. It’s our water bill.

The backyard fence once extended some 10-12 feet beyond where they staked out the borderline. Gone were the line of Bradford Pear Trees where the perceived property line was, just east of the neighbor’s driveway. The grounds look so naked without them.

A thousand emotions ran through my mind and heart. Honestly, I couldn’t think straight. My first recognizable emotion was outrage. I was angry! In fact, I was steaming. I am grateful there were no construction workers there at the time. I couldn’t believe my eyes. My granddad’s fence and his storage shed had vanished, as well as about 10 feet of the side yard. There was no mail in the mailbox. No note on the door. No phone calls from the contractor involved. Zero communication.

After I caught my breath, a deep, sickening sadness invaded my spirit. There was a mammoth gratitude overwhelming me as I thought what my grandparents would’ve done if they saw what had been done. They were long gone to their new eternal home, not to be bothered by earth’s troubles. Thank you, God for the delay of the purchase of this vacant lot until after my folks left.

Looking at the stakes in place I couldn’t help but tear-up as I thought of 62 years of my life knowing and playing on the encroached ground which suddenly was no longer owned by my family. My earliest memories of running through the trees, the strawberry bushes, and the clusters of red berries on the Holly shrubs were vivid in my mind. The dozens of times I mowed the thick Saint Augustine from the time I was in Jr. High raced through my mind. Mental videos of the mounds of enormous Sycamore leaves just waiting for my cousins and me to dive into the crunch were racing through my brain. And now, some unknown stranger took that strip of land for their own. At least that’s how I saw it.

I just knew there had been a mistake. Somehow, someway, this contractor got bad information, an incorrect survey, or maybe a zealous real estate agent decided to take advantage of an old vacant house. There had to be a solution to this issue before they started pouring the foundation. Immediately I took a snapshot of the contractor’s sign sticking up by the curb. I emailed them about my displeasure over the removal of the fence and the storage shed. I mentioned how we would get our own survey done without delay. I called the local county tax office about the matter. The clerk on the other end of the line was very helpful. They sent me the measurements of our lot, as well as a bird’s eye photo of our house. To my shock, the picture from above, looked as if the marker stakes were accurate, according to the deed of the property. I quickly called a cousin of mine who lives just 10 minutes away. He came out with a measuring tape and marked it off to the exact footage listed for the width of the property. You guessed it right, didn’t you? My cousin’s survey put it as exactly the footage published in the original deed. It came out right at the border stakes in the ground.

Photo: Hunt County tax Office: Skyview of our house. To the left is the troubled west side of the property. The turquois line shows the valid borders of our lot.

Don’t get me wrong. My anxiety hasn’t vanished from this stark revealing. Moreover, I am unable to discover just how this happened, and when it happened. Questions popped up right away. Was my granddad a land grabber? NO WAY! He was a righteous man from head to toe. He was a straight shooter with God, family and neighbor. Never would he ever take land that wasn’t his…knowingly. Of course, I wondered how far back this mistake goes. Was this property line blurred over 100 years ago for some reason? Could it have been a friendly agreement between neighbors who shared the lush gardenwork of the couple who lived in our house 70+ years ago? I keep thinking of that “over-the-border” garden facet. How old is it? Could the contractor, who built my granddad’s fence back in 1969, have made an eyeball judgement without a surveyor? Who knows? One thing is sure, everyone that would have the answers are long since dead. There’s no one alive to ask.

Even though the way our fence and storage shed, along with its contents, was uprooted and taken away was harsh, and frankly, rude and inconsiderate, I have been humbled by the experience of finding out the unfortunate truth. I have to be settled in my core about the facts, beyond the sweet lifelong memories I have of the grounds.

Here’s a truth that is marked out by the stakes in my heart. I will not sell to the broker who was involved with the lot next door. Someone else will get our property when the time arrives. Right or wrong, that’s how I feel.

Spiritually, there are deep reminders as I see the new borderline on the west side of our property. In scripture, God set out some stakes for healthy boundaries to be observed. From the Garden of Eden and onward, God set up boundaries we were not to cross. In doing so, peril was a surety. Very much like buoys marking the drop at the edge of the shallows. Stakes were firmly placed in the ground by ten commandments. Today we see them more as suggestions. Borders, boundaries, property lines mean something. It’s supposed to show the thief to be aware of trespassed ground. It’s turf to be honored. However, in today’s crime-gone-bonkers, boundaries are ignored. Borders, boundaries, stakes, property lines are there for a reason. It matters. Just ask the tax office.

You can see the deed of eternity with the Pro-Border Maker in fuel for the race.

“And I placed boundaries on it (the sea) and set a bolt and doors, and I said, ‘As far as this point you shall come, but no farther; And here your proud waves shall stop’?” Job 38:10-11 (NAS)