Wiseguys On Tour

“We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts, we traverse far
Field and fountain
Moor and mountain
Following yonder star…”  (1857)  Composer:  John Henry Hopkins Jr.

Yeah, the cover photo above is backstage when I played a wise man in a Broadway style Christmas musical in Buffalo, NY in 2003.  That’s me in the red and yellow.  Lucy was the camel.  She was terrific.  Somehow, I often found myself positioned right behind her…behind.  She didn’t care about blocking scenes, apparently.  Her owner/handler told us although Lucy was mild-mannered, camels have been known to lock their jaws over a human’s head and bite them right off the necks.  In this shot, I had no idea she had her face turned toward me.  I do wonder what she was thinking.  However, she seems to be smiling.  My hope is she just liked my peppermint colored hat.  Nevertheless, I’m telling you right now, riding a camel while singing at the same time is not a great combination.  Zero comfort.  And, poor baby, she stunk!  There’s no way I would, or could, ride Lucy over field and fountain, moor and mountain.

Speaking of mountains…take a look at this.

Wagon Ruts Chicago Tribune

Photo:  Chicago Tribune

One of my fondest memories with my single mom were rare times when we shared a summer vacation.  When we did, it meant a road trip.  One of the joys was to learn the history under our feet.  When we saw signs about approaching historical markers, we would faithfully stop and read the history of that particular place.  It was a great way to close your eyes while imagining placing yourself back in time on the landmark where we stood.

When I was 13 years old, or so, we headed west for an adventure through far west Texas, New Mexico, and Carlsbad Caverns in southern New Mexico.  While driving closer to one of the first mountain ranges, along the Texas/New Mexico border, we stopped at a roadside historical marker.  It directed the reader to look up at one of the mountains off in the distance.  It went on to mention a well-traveled pioneer wagon route which went through the area and over the mountains.  It was complete with dates, names, and pioneer stories.  With the info, it pointed out a place carved out of the incline of a mountain where the covered wagon wheel ruts were still visible.  Lo and behold, there they were some five miles away going up and over the top of a particular mountain, not too unlike the photo above.

I loved the old wild west history, and still do.  Yet, seeing where the brave, tough families made their way from east to west in nothing but covered wooden wagons, was vastly different than reading about them.

There are multitudes of old wagon and stagecoach trails, where pioneers made a way across the terrain, which remain visible to this very day.  There are some more visible than others.  We can literally track their treks.

Wagon Ruts Guernsey

Photo:  Guernsey

I feel the same exuberance when I read about the wise men from the east who made their way to Bethlehem, Israel in efforts to visit a single small house of a poor young family.

They have a mysterious story.  Most feel they were from Persia, modern-day Iran.  (The study on why is remarkable and in depth.  Too much of it to write here.)  Also, at this time of year we sing about three of them.  There are three names given for each traveler which are from tradition, not historically accurate.  Because three very expensive gifts are listed among their inventory, the centuries have placed “three” wise men in the biblical story.  Yep, you guessed it.  The stretchers and benders of history assigned one gift to one wise man.  However, the Bible doesn’t number the wise men, or those in the caravan.  There could have been two, or two hundred.  The account doesn’t tell us.  No matter how many wise men, or Magi, as they are also called, we do know they are described in many ancient middle-eastern and Asian documents, some of which are literally carved in stone.

Magi (wise men) were of a nobility, or an aristocratic clan.  They were widely known for being highly educated with collections of vast libraries.  Magi were scholars, well-versed in multiples of subjects like, astronomy, astrology, science, mathematics, literature, religions, even medicine, and magical arts.  You could point to Camelot’s Merlin as one like the ancient Magi.  In fact, it was a bit of a luxurious priesthood, a fraternity of royal order, living their lives alongside kings and queens in palaces.  One thing is certain, history places them with royals and heads of state, serving the crown for the duration of a lifetime.

The Old Testament prophesied of these kingly types, along with their gifts of high value, hundreds of years prior to the birth of Jesus.  The star they had studied from Persia was also prophesied in the Hebrew text.  In fact, they arrived at King Herod’s palace in Jerusalem to ask where this newborn King of Israel was because they saw His prophetic star from their country in the east.  Apparently, they told Herod about how old the baby would be by that time. (Close to toddler range.)  Herod commanded his scribes to find the prophetic passage of the location where the new king would be born.  They looked up the text.  They read from, what was then, a 700+ year old scroll found within the minor prophets.  It was Micah 5:1 – But you, Bethlehem Ephrath, who are little to be among the thousands of Judah, out of you shall come forth to Me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth are from of old, from ancient days.”

Nativity sets, as well as artsy Christmas cards, have the wise men in the cave-like stable bowing before the manger.  Actually, they weren’t there.  Again, they studied the new heavenly body in the sky, the old Hebrew prophetic texts, and apparently put forth a travel plan after the birth occurred.  Scripture tends to lean in such a timeline.  When they arrived to worship the baby boy and present their gifts, the scripture says they didn’t approach a stable, but rather arrived at “the house”.  In the original text it indicates they saw a “boy”, not a newborn.  So, the famous painting of the visitation has it about half right.

We Three Kings - Bartolomé_Esteban_Murillo_-_Adoration_of_the_Magi_-_

“The Adoration of The Magi”,  By:  Bartolome Esteban Murillo

For as long as I can recall, I was always fascinated by the journey of the wise men.  Most all scholars have their origin as Iran, and for good reason.  Some have them residing in modern-day Iraq.  Both Persia and Babylon have long historical records concerning Magi.  There are many scholars placing them south in the regions of modern-day Qatar or Oman because of an ancient trade route there which trailed northwest.  It is interesting that there are Old Testament prophecies stating origins like, Arabia, Sheba, Median, Tarshish, etc.  In the book of Song of Solomon there is a description of nobility approaching in a long caravan resembling a smokestack.  This is why many artist renditions show various ethnic groups represented in the wise men.  In fact, because of the fraternal order of the Magi, I can imagine many from other nations might have joined the caravan.  I could go on about this incredible event, but it is not the point of my post.

I wish there were wagon wheel ruts we could study and map-out detailing their yellow brick road journey.  For such a long journey on camel, and/or horseback, or donkey, lots of prep had to be made.  I guess in a way, we can at least trace their actions.  If so, we could identify with them even more.  Come on, consider the evidence with me.

Think of it.  This team of Magi, first had the ancient Hebrew scrolls full of directives on how to find the baby Messiah.  More than likely left by the Jews when in captivity in the region hundreds of years prior.  In other words, they had in their possession, and researched, the known Hebrew Bible of that day, among others.

Scroll Isaiah

Their testimony was clear.  They told all of Jerusalem they studied the scrolls for direction, for awareness, for identification and verification.  When they saw the mysterious, newly illuminated “lower atmosphere” body, which moved ahead of them, leading them to where they should go, they loaded up.  It was no small thing.  Prep consisted of saddling their camels, assembling their attending slaves, possibly communicating their find to neighboring wise men among surrounding kingdoms, and mapped the course.  Before you think it odd, there’s something to keep in mind.  From the ancient Torah, specifically the book of Numbers, Balaam, the only gentile prophet in scripture, wrote a two-fold prophetic delivery,  “I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not near. A STAR SHALL RISE out of Jacob and a sceptre shall spring up from Israel…” Numbers 24:17a (Douay-Rheims Version)

These doctors of astronomy knew the difference between a celestial conversion, a comet, a meteor, and all other natural universal laws of astronomy.  They understood what they discovered was unnatural, planted for their eyes only.  Keep in mind, it moved as they traveled, like a laser or a drone, vanishing when they arrived in Jerusalem, reappearing only after they left King Herod.  At that point, the illumination directed them south to Bethlehem where it rested over a designated house.  Of course, you realize this was a floating body of light hovering in the lower-atmosphere with actions of intelligence.  So many lose the details of this mystery by not matching up the physical attributes of the object.  Otherwise we are left with a comet, meteor, or a star from millions of miles away hovering over a house among hundreds.  It doesn’t pass the smell test to reasonable readers.  Personally, I believe it was an illuminated angelic being.  But, that’s just my take on it.

They read, they researched, they believed, they saw, they followed.

Do you want to identify with them even more so?  Dare we?  Should we?

Wise men Facts:

They left their comfort zone to make their way to be by His side…on faith!  For those who believe Christianity is a cakewalk, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.  No, it’s not always rosy complete with a comfort bubble in today’s world.  Jesus told us it wouldn’t be a walk in the park to follow Him.

How dangerous was it?  They proclaimed a new King of Israel to the face of the murderous, and insane King Herod, a puppet king for Caesar in Rome.  That fact right there can give us some wagon ruts to view.  He could’ve tied them to wagon wheels for a good flogging.  But, he wanted them to report back to him after they located the boy so he could destroy Him.  Killing babies was nothing for Herod.  He was famous for killing his own family members that he wanted out of the way.  (He did make an attempt to murder the boy-Messiah , but it didn’t work out that way.)  All that to say, the faith of the foreigners was incredibly stout.  They didn’t have to see to believe.  They were already in expectation based on the Old Testament prophet’s writings of the timing Jesus when He would be born found in the book of Daniel, the eternal kingship, the place, the moving star, etc.

So there they were, in a house of a couple with a young toddling boy…THE Boy, THE Spiritual Redeemer of The World, THE Ancient Of Days in an earthsuit.

It’s important to note they just didn’t high-five the Boy, dump their Santa gifts, eat ham & gingerbread cookies, and head back to their countries.  Instead, they bowed their knees in their royal robes, face-to-floor worshiping Him, even with what they prepared…the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  In other words, it cost them something.  They unloaded what they attributed as value.

In hindsight, the Magi found Jesus very similarly as many do today.  They read, they researched, they believed, they saw, they followed.

Frankly, I think I see more clearly their wagon wheel ruts, and I’m right behind them. Somehow I always seem to be looking at a camel’s behind.

Whenever the wheels of the spirit turn, it’s powered by pistons of fuel for the race.

“…What can I give HimPoor as I am? If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb, If I were a Wise Man I would do my part,— Yet what I can I give HimGive my heart.”

From:  In The Bleak Midwinter (1872) – Christina Rossetti

 

 

 

 

 

Elf In Myself

“Every breath you take and every move you make
Every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be watching you
Every single day and every word you say
Every game you play, every night you stay, I’ll be watching you.” – (1983) – “Every Breath You Take” –  Recorded by:  The Police (Sting)  Composer:  Gordon Sumner

Creepy, isn’t it?  I always thought so.  I felt that way about the lyrics of “Private Eyes” (They’re watching you…) by Hall & Oats.  Who would’ve ever thought there would be something so spooky connected with Christmas?

December for me was the anticipation of my mom breaking out my old Christmas pal, Elfie.  He was an elf doll dressed in a red velvet body suit with a Santa hat on top of a soft plastic head, along with a face garnished with rosy cheeks.  In fact, I believe there was a little jingle bell on the point of his hat.  He was skinny and maybe 8″ tall.  The mittens on his hands were sown together, creating a loop with his arms for slipping over a doorknob, or a thin bedpost.  For this little boy, he not only was a celebratory pal, but he was also the visual symbol that Santa was soon to arrive.  He spent many Decembers with me until one Christmas Eve my dog, Tickey, found Elfie’s plastic head to be a chew toy not to be resisted.  I cried, but forgave Tickey…eventually.

Tickey - 5-18-68 He was 11 months and 22 days old. Lived to be 15. Died Aug 7th 1982. My dearest childhood pal.

Many years ago, when producing radio theater plays for a radio network, I had an idea which came to me like a sled on an icy roof.  While producing my second Christmas radio theater production, I decorated the recording studio in all things Christmas.  When coming into the recording session from a 100 degree July day in Texas, you needed something to help transport the theater of the mind to December.  As I recall, I even had the air conditioner set to a frosty level.  Some of us even had to wear jackets or sweaters in the session.  In honor of my old buddy, Elfie, it seemed appropriate to have a few of his descendants brighten the studio.  Some actors found it intimidating while delivering lines from my script.

Elf On Mic

Of course, all of the above was way before the Christmas craze we now know, and affectionately call, “Elf On The Shelf”.  My granddaughter, Skylar has one.  If you don’t have children, or grandchildren going headlong into the American Christmas traditions, you may not know who Elf On The Shelf is, or what he is rumored to do.  Well, let me enlighten you before December 25th settles upon us.  This elf doll sits on the shelf, the bed, the table, the mantle, ect with eyes wide opened.  At Skylar’s house he surprisingly appears in the most unexpected places every day.  He’s not gazing in amazement at the traditional holiday decor, or the Christmas gifts under the tree, or even the wintry changes in weather.  Nope, not at all.  Just like the lyrics from The Police, his one and only job is to watch…okay, I’ll use the word “spy”, on the children of the house as he reports back to Santa for his big global flight.  The little snitch is all about deduction of potential gifts on Christmas morning.  OUCH!  I guess Santa is too old to be seeing when you’re sleeping, and knowing when you’re awake.  Age has gotten in Kringle’s way when it comes to knowing if you’ve been bad or good.  Oh, for goodness sake.  Now it seems Claus has a built-in security camera in the form of a sneaky elf, who sits on a shelf, keeping a sharp eye on the do’s and don’ts.  Now if that isn’t creepy, I don’t know what is.  At least the fat old man in the red suit wasn’t peeking through the closet door of my bedroom each night of the year.  I guess that’s of nightmare status, like movies called, “Santa’s Claws” or “Santa’s Slay”  Yikes!  Okay, I’ve gone amok.  I apologize.

Elf On The Shelf

Back to sanity now.  I will say Skylar isn’t bothered by her Elf On The Shelf at all.  She’s had about 3-4 years of having his judging eyes on her for a few Decembers.  Frankly, I’m not sure if she is better behaved because of it.  So, in the end, I will say he might not cause lasting psychological scars.  Maybe we will know more in the next 20 years.

Certainly, if you read my last post you might surmise I am one of those Christians who shuns anything in the fluffy & puffy from the Christmas tradition arena.  Well, no, I am not in that category whatsoever.  Like a foreclosure sign in the lawn of a palm reader’s house, you didn’t see that coming.

Putting child psychology aside, the Elf On The Shelf, and St. Nick’s omnipresent, omniscient eyes are truly the opposite of the authentic act of the first Christmas.  Can you guess what the difference is?

Contrary to a popular belief in our culture, I am not eternally rewarded by superior behavior walking in my shoes today.  Let it be known:  I AM SOOOOOO IMPERFECT!  While I’m at it, don’t take Elf On The Shelf as a picture of what a good Christian does.  The Babe in the manger grew up and said we should not judge anyone, or we will be judged.  It’s not the Christian’s job to sit on a shelf and search for others to flub, fall, and falter.  If you’re under a spiritual teacher which pounds that misnomer into your ears, I say run and never look back.  In fact, a better suggestion is to take a pair of your well-worn shoes, nail them to his/her office door with a note which reads, “Walk in these for awhile.”

Sorry for my rabbit trail on thought.  I’m no Scrooge.  Really, I’m not.

As cute as Elf On The Shelf is, he is theologically off.  The child in Bethlehem’s manger Christmas night was a free gift wrapped in swaddling clothes.  You don’t get a free gift because you necessarily deserved it, but because someone loved you enough, thought of you enough, cared for you enough to go before you arrived and purchased it with a tag which reads your name, in whatever language you speak.  Moreover, this free gift, the Baby in the manger, was given BECAUSE of misbehavior, BECAUSE of abuses, BECAUSE of flubs, falling, and falters, without condition.  Let me write that again…WITHOUT CONDITION!  Try that on some stranger.  No, I mean it.  Find a criminal who abused, or injured, or killed your family member, withdraw all you have in the bank, purchase a gift of great price and present it to the guilty law-breaker.  Do I see any hands for a volunteer?  No, I didn’t think so.  Yet, that’s what God, the Author Of The Law did for us all.  Today, we call it…Christmas.   His unconditional free gift is truly the opposite of Elf On The Shelf.

Nativity

For anyone who accepts this gift, who believes the adult Jesus when He said, “For God so loved the world that He GAVE…” – John 3:16a (KJV), will have the Spirit of His very essence within.  He reminds me inwardly what is best for my life as He writes His law on my heart.  It’s a good thing because I could never have a perfect behavioral stat concerning the Mosaic Law from the Torah found in the Old Testament.

So maybe if you see an elf hanging out on a shelf, it might bring to mind the idea of an elf inside yourself (In the flavor of Christmas trinkets.) whispering wisdom, guidance, and unconditional love.  However, when diving deeply for a close-up excursion, you find the lacking of an elf, but rather, “RUACH” in Hebrew, the “Breath” of God’s nature.

Christmas can always be merry with a cup of good cheer, spiked with Fuel for the race.

“For the eyes of Yahweh roam throughout the earth to show Himself strong for those whose hearts are completely His.”  – 2 Chronicles 16:9 – (Holman Christian Standard Version)

 

 

I’ve Been Here Waiting Before

A Christmas Prayer

By:  Alan Brown

I’ve been here waiting before
The plastic holly now unpacked
The same red stocking in fact
My wreath hangs once more

Shoppers agog for a Friday of black
Retailer sales are all the fashion
Passing the Kettle without compassion
Days in traffic we will never get back

Bulbs need renewal on the string
As the tree lots show their pines
I miss the magic once easy to find
Yesterday’s wonder no longer rings

Verse of sugar plums sing out in the frost
Tickets sold for a cracker of nuts
A deer on an odyssey quest and such
And through this fog Your plum-line is lost

Silenced eves when my children prayed
Now vacant rooms echo as omens
Each missing their manger moments
Yet, decor yearns for a garland spray

Tinseled wrappings reflect how You came
Hay and straw, Your newborn scent
Eastern Magi drawn with knees bent
All this plastic never measures Your fame

Gifts come, gifts go, gifts of cloth and steel
They say a man of age checks his list
Somehow I find no strength to resist
There’s stirrings of honesty craving to be real

All these things You already know
All these things weigh as gravity
All these things dismantle sadly
Without You, holiday spirit would lack its glow

Yes, I’ve been here waiting before
Wading through season’s greetings
Fixed in the trappings and feastings
Shine unto me as in the days of yore

“Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.  And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”  – Jeremiah 29:12-13  (NKJV)

What Do You See?

“Oh woe unto me I’m in a desperate state.
Looking for love that will fulfill me.
Maybe engraved from deep within
is that I should be loved, loved to the brim.                                                                              Coz it feels like, I’ve been waiting for a long time, to fill this emptiness…”       Written & Recorded By Indi Artist:  Jennifer Kamikazi

Technology continues to amaze me.  After all, we now have smart cars, smart doorbells, smart houses, flying drones delivering goods, computers in our pockets, Siri and Alexa, all of which have capabilities involving voice command.  I’m in what they used to call, future shock.

If you’re a Star Trek: The Next Generation fan, you might remember the often spoken words directed to the food replicator, via Capt. Picard, “Earl Grey. Hot.”  Immediately, Capt. Picard’s hot cup of English tea appears.  WE ARE THERE!

 

Faucet Skitterphoto via Pexels Photo:  Skitterphoto via Pexels

Just in time for Thanksgiving in the USA, we now have available to us, the Alexa Faucet.  Yes, you guessed it.  You simply tell your kitchen faucet how much water you want, and “poof”, you get it.  If you want a cup, a glass, or thimble of H2O, just say so.  No touch necessary.  What you say is what you get.  Just phenomenal.

Someone with a curious mind might ask how much water they should to ask for.  One might ask the Alexa Faucet to just deliver half a glass.  Another might ask for a full glass.  One might ask for cold water while someone else may say (Using their best Patrick Stewart accent.), “Water. Hot.”  I would venture to say that nobody asks Alexa for a half “empty” glass.  Either way, Alexa will provide on demand.

When hiking in the mountains of New Mexico, you might prefer a full water bottle.  If the bottle is only half full, I will assume your trip up the slopes could very well be a short one on a hot day.  Soak in the idea for a moment.

The way Thanksgiving goes in America, most will over-indulge in the delights on the table spread out for the taking.  Some will pour soft drinks (pop), some milk, some wine, some beer, some coffee, and some water or tea.  But you can bet, most will choose a “full” glass.  Why not?  We’re celebratory.  Here’s to ya!

Glass Half Full

In life, our attitudes drive our gratefulness.  Have you noticed?

The late, great Jerry Lewis had an issue he couldn’t shake.  Doing stand-up, or performing in a comical production, he rested in the laughter of acceptance from the audience.  Unfortunately, Jerry Lewis admitted to scanning the audience through the stage lights in order to find anyone who wasn’t laughing.  Of course, there’s always going to be someone out there not having a good time.  When spotted, it would drive Mr. Lewis to inner-anger.  He would spend the duration of his stage-time doing all he could to bring a laugh to that one individual who refused the comical lines and gestures.  Deep inside he fiercely loved his audience, but that one person not moved by his performance disturbed him so to the point where he was no longer focused on the majority of the fans sitting before him.  Afterwards, he felt let-down by not being able to bring levity to that one person out of a house of 200 or 2,000.  It was hard for him because he would carry that empty feeling home.  I was on the first row when I saw him in “Damn Yankees” some thirsty-five years ago at the Dallas Music Hall.  Knowing he had this problem, I watched him carefully.  There were several times his eyes roamed up and down my row where the lights allowed him to see better the details of audience members.  When eye contact happened, I made sure he saw this fan react favorably to his generous performance.  You could say, Jerry Lewis drank from a glass half empty.

Although you and I may not admit it, we can be the same way.  Right?  Oh, come on.  Be honest.  One thing, just one tripwire, can cause all the blessed things around us to fade in the fog of expectations.  Isn’t that just like the holidays?  We tend to think all things must “measure-up” to carry on the joy of a holiday tradition.

Glass Measuring half Full

The glass can be evaluated as half full if the gratitude is there.  For most, when it is seen as half full, the heart is filled to the brim.  No Alexa needed.

In October of 1621, while celebrating the first harvest, off the shores of Plymouth Rock, the surviving Pilgrims saw the glass as full.  Even though so many perished during the trip over the Atlantic, and many fell ill thereafter on land in the New World, they gave thanks for a perceived half full glass.  Yet their observing mindset was a full glass.  We have their recorded documents, and written prayers riddled with a full glass view.

Imagine not having the solid ground beneath you.  Imagine being unable to inhale the air.  Imagine buying bread with your last dollar.  Imagine being suddenly emptied of loved ones.  All of these things are given to us.  Scripture reveals where gifts come from.   “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” – James 1;17 (ESV)

Maybe you don’t know where the next loaf of bread will come from.  (The same may go for misplaced love, health, job, or home.)  A full glass viewpoint takes today’s bread, love, health, job, home, with thanksgiving.  Understanding and accepting where all things come from reflects very much the ancient Hebrew prayer recited to this very day around the globe.

Blessing Bread

Photo:  Adat Shalom (Messianic Congregation), Dallas, Tx

“Alexa, I’ll take a full glass, please!”

So, what do you see?  Taking inventory of 2019, some may find the glass half empty.  For many, the cup runneth over when the brim finds fuel for the race.

“You have prepared tables in front of me opposite my enemies; you have anointed my head with oil and my cup overflows as if it were alive.” – Psalm 23:5   (Aramaic Bible In Plain English Version)

 

What’s Under The Hat?

“Dream on, dream on, dream on.  Dream until your dream comes true.”  (1973)  “Dream On”  Recorded by:  Aerosmith  Composer:  Steven Tyler

It’s not mystic.  It’s not magic.  It’s a mystery.

This is really a very different subject matter for my blog.  Rarely do I ever share deep secrets about myself, at least subjects most of my family or friends would know.  Actually, only my wife and my mom are aware of what I am about to disclose for the first time.  Simply, the time has come to do so.

“They often say, ‘the man under the hat’.  I always say, the Man behind the man under the hat.” – Dallas Cowboys first head coach Tom Landry

One thing people close to me know is I tend to wear a lot of hats.

Hat Tree

There was a time I could say I wear a lot of hats in regard to juggling of projects, time, or activities.  Now days, it’s more about the physical hats.

At the same time, it’s not so interesting which hat I toss on my noggin, as what’s going on underneath the hat.

Too often I wake up from a strange dream where I could ask myself, “What’s under the hat?”

Hat Duo

In the last year or so, my dream-life has been more vivid, colorful, memorable, and completely in HD than ever before.  I blame much of it on medications.  Most dreams tend to be quick video clips of places, people, or pets.  From time to time there will be a nightmare, but seldom do they show up in my dream festivals.  Maybe this happens to you.  Dreams surrounding my past reoccur in what seems to be a rotation.  That is to say, these would be scenes from decades ago which may, or may not be, of any real significance.  When they splash on my dream-screen, I almost chuckle aloud in my sleep.  Actually, I probably do.

Now for the secret.  Please, don’t think me to be insane, or given to stories of the spectacular.  If you read my posts often then you know the subject is way off of my norm.

I will preface it with this:  What I am about to share with you is accurate without any embellishment.  The confession will be between the two of us, if that’s okay with you.  Just keep it under your…well, you know.

Hat Closet

Several times throughout my life I will dream about a subject, a person, or a geographical place to be followed by the exact item in my dream showing up in my real-life waking hours.  With that said, you might label me as a candidate for some serious meds, combined with therapy sessions.  Yet, I’m not kidding.  Really.  It happens.  How often?  Maybe seven times over a period of a year or so.  Allow me to reveal a couple of examples.  The first one is a doozy.

Last week, I had a dream where I woke up hearing water running through the plumping.  Jumping out of bed (In the dream.) I went on the hunt to find if there was a flooding issue from an overflowing bathtub, sink, or dishwasher.  Nothing found.  No water running amok.  From there I went to the living room window to take a peek at the outside water hose.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw movement coming from the driveway where the cars are parked.  There, in living color, a man dressed in a nice suit and dress hat from the early 60’s, or late 50’s was washing our two vehicles with the garden hose.  Strange, right?  True, but it got even more bizarre.  As the man turned to an angle where I could see his face, I recognized him immediately.  The dressed-up man, busy washing our cars, was none other than the late actor, Raymond Burr of “Perry Mason” and “Ironside” fame.  No rhyme nor reason to it whatsoever.  It woke me up.  Of course my sleepy question was, why am I dreaming about Raymond Burr?  At that point, I get out of bed to start my day.  Fast forward two hours later, I’m watching the news on a national network.  The very professional, well-spoken, near perfect news anchor mentions an upcoming interview with Raymond Burr!!!  Instantly, he smiled, corrected himself and restated.  He meant to say, U.S. Senator from North Carolina, Richard Burr.  He chuckled as he highlighted his mistake by mentioning Raymond Burr played the characters, Perry Mason and Ironside, not a U.S. Senator.  It’s nuts!  I know.

Another example of the peculiarity of one of my dreams came in the form of a color.  Several months ago, in a dream, I was driving.  My line of sight had knocked out every color with the exception of seeing pink everywhere.  It was as if someone gave me Pepto Bismol sunglasses.  No mater where I turned, PINK EVERYTHING!  On the same day, during my waking hours, I was driving down the frontage road of a major interstate for a lunch date with my youngest daughter.  On my way, I saw a new billboard advertisement for an out-of-state casino where a big musical artist was booked for a few performances.  Her name was, Pink!  Yes, the well-known recording artist, Pink.

One night I had a dream where I was with an old high school friend during a musical rehearsal in the school theater after school.  In the dream we were in our teens.  A day later, in my waking hours, this same friend, a classmate from 41 years ago, which I rarely communicate with, sends me a message via text on Facebook.  He was going to be in town and wanted to see if we could get together for dinner.  Go figure.

It’s a baffling anomaly to say the least.  I will say, as a kid I had many, many instances of deja vu.  Were you plagued with those?  Maybe it’s connected to this oddity.  It didn’t scare me at all, but it did cause me to wonder how and why it happened.  Well, nevertheless it faded after I became an adult.  It seems the dreams of connection took its place in my brain.

photo of head bust print artwork
Photo by meo on Pexels.com

Frankly, when this happens to me each and every time it is of no real consequence, or urgency.  There are never any dreams of a flight number where a hijacking takes place that day, or an earthquake to pop up in an unusual location, etc.  The subject matter always tends to be benign, or totally uninteresting.  To be blunt, there’s a nagging within to understand what this is, or why, how, and what for.  I’m sure there is a word for the phenomenon, but I don’t know exactly what it is.

There, that’s my secret.  If this happens to you I would like to hear about it.  Maybe Aerosmith has something under their hat on this topic after all.

One more thing I acknowledge, without wonder or mystery, I know the One Who put me together in the womb.  The computer in the brain is an amazing instrument which is certainly unmatched.

“You know my sitting down and my rising up. You perceive my thoughts from afar.” – Psalm 139:2  (NHEB)

He is the Architect, the Designer, the Thought Provoker.  Most of all, and more importantly, He services my mind with fuel for the race.

“I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.” – Psalm 139:14 (NAS) 

Time In A Bottle

“If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I’d like to do
Is to save every day
‘Til eternity passes away
Just to spend them with you”   Recorded: 1972  Released: 1973  “Time In A Bottle”  Written and Recorded by:  Jim Croce

Have you ever spent time in a bottle?  (Maybe that’s for another post someday.)

I have fond memories of performing this stirring song in the late 1970’s as a duo with a fellow musician.  It’s really a wonderful premise, don’t ya think?  Maybe here is a way to save time in a bottle.  How about this?

Bottle Ship Etsy.com

Photo:  Etsy.com

Jim Croce has left us with somewhat of a mystery here.  The lyric itself was written at a happy time in the life of Croce.  In 1970 he and his wife had just discovered they were going to have a baby when he put pen to paper, but didn’t produce the song for two more years.  Simultaneously there is a blueness about the lyric, accompanied by a smattering of minor chords.  In fact, if you read all the verses you will hover in a hazy fog of wanting, lacking, with a tint of cost.  In Crose’s case, my theory is he was on the road with gig dates, away from his pregnant wife.  Not too vastly different from the overtones of the idea KISS brought us with the rock ballad, “Beth” from 1976.  The composers of both songs seem to be relationally available to their loved ones, and yet not — leaving a sense of sadness, of loss, with a shadow of emptiness.

There is a powerful scene in the 1998 WWII movie, Saving Private Ryan.  It’s a haunting scene, shot without audible dialogue.  Spielberg’s masterful direction begins with Mrs. Ryan, Private James Ryan’s mother,  busy in her farmhouse kitchen, donning her well-worn apron.  Out the kitchen window a telegram messenger drives up the dusty country road, stopping in front of her house.  Spielberg’s frame follows her to the front screen door which she opens.  The camera angle is positioned from behind her, as if the viewer is a member of the household.  (A brilliant choice by Spielberg.)  She steps out the threshold to greet the messanger.  The telegram is handed to her.  An unanticipated intense moment passes as she stands frozen in time.  Suddenly, her knees buckle as she falls faint to the porch floor as she’s informed of the deaths of three of her sons, all killed in combat.  Only one son remained alive, serving on the battlefield somewhere in France, her son James.

No other film moves me so like Saving Private Ryan.  Much of it is hard to watch as it was produced to place the viewer there in the thick of battle alongside the U.S. warriors in efforts to stop Hitler.  I recommend a showing for Veteran’s Day Week.  (Not for younger kids.)

The one and only scene with Mrs. Ryan is etched in my head.  It’s easy to imagine how just seconds prior to the telegram, she was happy, focused on the task at hand, proud and comfortable with a quiver full of valiant sons serving overseas in difficult times.  In those moments, I can understand why she would want to save that time in a bottle, to be poured out in measure at will, to once again revel in her family.  As I watch, knowing what’s coming, I too hold her sense of quiet joy all the way up until the tragic news breaks.  When she collapses, I shed tears of grief for her every single time.

“Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.” ~ C. S. Lewis

The news alert popped up on my television screen a couple of days ago.  I sat in my chair stunned as it was reported how three American mothers, along with six of their children, were mercilessly gunned down and burned on a road in northern Mexico, just south of the Arizona border.  Reports from surviving children, who escaped the scene, revealed mothers shielding their young, begging the attackers not to shoot.  Members of the Mexican cartel unloaded their weapons of war on the innocent, along with burning the bodies, some children still alive in the flames.  In an instant, I was enraged, followed by heartbreaking pain, followed by immense grief.  All within a minute.  “If words could make wishes come true…” – I believe the three moms would’ve wanted back the time of peace they had just prior to the attack.

Isn’t that the way grief goes?  One moment in time there is happiness, joy, or even the mundane, the ordinary.  Suddenly, it can be remembered no more when tragedy strikes rolling over heart and mind like a steamroller over hot tar.  We reach back for it all if possible.  If we had time in a bottle, in our onslaught of misery and mourning, we could uncork the reserve just to sample out some of what was once there before disruption, before loss, before pain.  The word “before” is massive.

Bottle with lamp

When you come across some unwise lecturer spouting out how the enlightened person of faith is care-free, without tears, only living the successful, prosperous life, I urgently suggest you keep searching for the authentic, the truthful.  Jesus Himself made this perfectly clear concerning the above.   “I have spoken these things to you so that you shall have peace in me. You shall have suffering in the world, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33  (Aramaic Bible in Plain English)  Several times, Jesus displayed His own hardships, struggles, sorrow, pain, and even tears.  It was written down on scrolls so we would know He understands what it’s like to live in a painful, sunken, fallen world.  Isaiah’s prophecy was clear.  We would recognize Messiah by certain red flags He would exhibit in His life, in His character.   –  “…a Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief…” – – Isaiah 53:3 (KJV)

Scroll Isaiah

Capturing the good times, the beautiful moments in life, is a terrific thing, even a healthy thing to do.  When they come, store them away in a special place only accessible to you, maybe in the bottle of the heart.  Fill it up, cork it as the days of memorable peace arrive.

As for Mrs. Ryan, along with an American family, with duel citizenship in Mexico can attest, times of quaking will come to a fault-line near you.  Whether it be financial, physical, mental, or relational, shatterings will come in life.  When they do, you might have a bottle of tremendous days reserved for reflection.  And as the tears fall, retrieve this passage from your bottle of times:

Bottle Biblical

“You have kept record of my days of wandering. You have stored my tears in your bottle and counted each of them.” – Psalm 56:8  (Contemporary English Version)  * Many versions add:  “…Are they not in your book?”

Grief, grief held to, can overwhelm the vibrant mind, poison the hopeful spirit, destroy physical health, divert from a career, and breakdown the life of the body.  We MUST grieve, for there IS a time for it.  Wisdom says to embrace it as it comes, bidding it farewell before it spoils like moldy bread.  You’re reading from one who suffers the failure of letting go.

When holding to the biblical promise with the invitation to “…toss ALL cares, ALL anxiety, loading-up on Him because He cares for you” – 1 Peter 5:7 (My paraphrase), one’s bottle will be filled with fuel for the race.

“For thus said the high and exalted One, Inhabiting eternity, and holy is His name: ‘In the high and holy place I dwell, And with the bruised and humble of spirit, To revive the spirit of the humble, And to revive the heart of bruised ones.‘” – Isaiah 57:15  (Young’s Literal Translation)

 

Like A Bridge

“Like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down…Like a bridge over troubled water I will ease your mind.” (1970)  Bridge Over Troubled Water   Recorded by:  Simon & Garfunkel   Composer:  Paul Simon

As I gladly munch down on the left-over Halloween candy, I am looking out my studio window spying the very first turning leaves on my street.  Although faint, they are there.  They lack the brilliance of the stop-sign red maple leaves I loved in my Buffalo, NY days, but they do testify of the season in Texas.

Up north foliage-hunters are taking in the unmistakable aroma in the autumn air, as well as taking to the roads gazing at the mix of hues splashing across the wooded landscape.  Depending upon where you are you just might be on an old country road, with all its twists and turns, where after a few curves in the stretch you might just roll the tires up close and personal to something like this.

Covered bridge from Joan

My fiance, at the time, took this shot as we were overjoyed at the find deep in the woods of Western New York.

If you discover one of these in my home state of Texas it would not only be rare, but an oddity at that.  In fact, in the U.S. where covered bridges are not long gone, they will be unless a local proactive community protects them.  Such a lovely view of a time way beyond the scope of our rear-view mirror.

Most were built like this one, humble and narrow, as the horse & buggies and early automobiles were constructed.  Most were designed to accommodate only one buggy, or car of its day going one way.  And finally, most all were covered with roofs, some shingled while others were tar layers or tin.  The majority of old covered bridges in the U.S. were built between 1825-1875.  The traveler of yesteryear would tell you the reason they were covered was to shelter the rider, along with the horse yoked to the wagon, buggy, or stagecoach.  After all, it was welcomed during storms when pounding country roads.  In the heat of summer, it was a natural bull-run and shade.  The breeze would blow from one end to the other while the roof made for a cooling rest stop.  However, even though the functionality existed, the builders of that time would explain the purpose for roof and walls in another way.  The bridges were covered to protect the wooden floor of the bridge from rain, snow and ice, keeping it from water logging and weather-rot.  And THAT’S why you don’t see them much in the dry state of Texas.

If you ever approach an old covered bridge, I suggest parking off to the side to take a leisurely walk through the old rustic structure.  Much like an antique barn, it has that old weathered lumber smell floating through it.  Look up.  Often birds have their nests in its low hanging rafters.  You can hear your footsteps greeting the wooden planks with all its creaks, pops, and knocks.  Examine the railings, the boarded walls, and beams as you run your hand over the aged grain of the timber.  Peek through the occasional knotholes at the water beneath.  Listen for the wind as it communes with the long-standing structure.  Its breezes have been whistling through the old woody frame for over one hundred years or more, sharing tales of older times.  Close your eyes and hear the echoed wooden wagon wheels against the floor of thick lumber.  Listen for the hooves prancing on the planks from one end to the other.  Feel the vibration from a 1918 milk truck slowly making its way through the antique wooden housing.  It’s a very unique experience.

When we were there, I couldn’t help but think about the various travelers who graced the old covered bridge throughout the last century.  Surely there was a doctor in a Model-T on his way to deliver a baby at the next farm beyond the creek.  Then there’s the rancher’s wagon with a new plow horse in tow rumbling the timber slabs.  Back in the day, a circuit preacher on horseback clopping through for services at the Methodist Church, after closing services at the Baptist congregation earlier the same Sunday.  I can imagine, a farmer on an iron-wheeled tractor pulling a flatbed wagon of freshly harvested hay popping the timber floor.  There had to be someone’s great-great-grandparents who raced to the covered bridge during a stormy honeymoon night on the way to the threshold of a new house.  Many, many lives.  Many, many stories.  Many, many who have gone before us to their resting place.

One caution here.  Today’s vehicles are much heavier, much bulkier than what the old bridge was built to accommodate.  Some may have warning signs at the entrance displaying a weight and height limit for those who wish to drive across.  Some SUV’s may be too wide.  Some trucks, too tall for the rafters.  Also, be aware, the buggy wheel of the times never had to worry about flat tires.  Our trek across may find loosened carpenter’s nails.  Due to weathering and age, many pegs and nails find their way back to which they were driven.  There’s much for a driver to consider.

My picture was taken around 2007.  Although a few years have gone by, I often run across the digital shot in my computer files.  When I do, without fail, a warm flush runs through my veins.  A smile visits my face each time my eyes land on it.  I can’t help but wonder if it’s still there.  A simple brush fire can consume its aged lumber within minutes.

At the time I didn’t think of it, but life tends to point to teachable moments at the most simplest of objects.  The old covered bridge is very much a photo of my personal life, my personal faith.

As life would have it, my faith in Jesus is a narrow path.  The objector might point out the age of the object of my faith.  To that person, Jesus only lived to be a 33 year old man, some 2,000 years ago, in a far away sliver of a weakened country ruled by a dominating Emperor in Rome.  At first glance through the knothole of history, it would seem old, ancient, and rickety.  That one without faith may see Jesus as unable to hold up the weight faith requires, much like the old bridge.  My agnostic friends and family would say having faith in a 2,000 year old Jesus doesn’t yield much.  After all, to trust an old, seemingly fragile bridge, accompanied by all the poundage of the day, might very well deliver a carpenter’s nail in your tire, slowing the progress to the other side.  The Apostle Peter might come up out of the water to warn of the winds which shake and rattle the structure on the journey across.  All are true, fair considerations.  Still, it’s not a bridge too far.  Besides, isn’t that what faith is?  Believing on something without hard evidence, or even unseen would be a biblical description.

Yet, the coin flips to another view etched in metal.  The ancient, rickety, weathered, narrow covered bridge is the perfect picture of faith.  (If you need to scroll up to take a closer look at the photo, now’s the time.  It’s okay, I’ll meet you back here.  I’ll be waiting for you.)

My atheist and agnostic friends, who I dearly love, should consider why I stopped to absorb the framed structure.  The detail, the craftsmanship, the engineering from someone who went before me, prepared it for me, knowing I would arrive at the entrance in due time is a fascinating thought.  That mirrors nicely the One known as The Great I Am.

Consider this:

Jesus makes a way over trouble waters on multi-layered scales.

Jesus makes a way, bridging, connecting my unholy state to His righteousness.

Jesus made His way narrow.  In order to tread through it, you will need to unload.

Jesus made the way to be solo, only one-way.  Nobody goes through as a duet, trio or quartet.  Owning humility is the entrance toll.  Pride must be shed.  All must leave behind their wide vehicle.

Jesus made a way with low hanging rafters.  To be in Him, bow the head, the knee.

Jesus made a way with shelter.  He shields from conjured destructive elements.

Jesus made a way with hardships expected.  Life in faith will have its rusty nails.

Jesus made a way to new birth, new teachings, new crops to harvest, new flock, new home with an everlasting spiritual marriage partner, and a new promised resting place.

Jesus made a way with old creaking planks, supported by The Rock Of Ages beneath.

As for me, I drive across this faith bridge daily.  Challenging at times?  Yes, but He said it would be so long ago.  The victory trophy comes at my last stride.

Non-believers will claim my faith is a crutch.  I say it’s a bridge, weatherproofed with fuel for the race.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;  not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”  – Ephesians 2:8-10 (NAS)

Got Fear?

Photo:  Pixabay

“…Just like a ghost
You’ve been a-hauntin’ my dreams
So I’ll propose on Halloween
Love is kinda crazy with a spooky little girl like you, Spooky!”  (1967/1968)  Spooky.  Recorded by:  Classics IV (Later, The Atlanta Rhythm Section.)   Composers:  Instrumentals – Mike Shapiro & Harry Middlebrooks Jr.  Lyrics – J.R. Cobb & Buddy Buie

What spooks you?  According to the song, love can cause fear.  I’ve been there.  How about you?  Nevertheless, love was meant to be the opposite of spooky.

Me, KDB & Mom Wedding

After a few years as a single mother, my mom had remarried my adopted dad.  They were only married for four years, but I had zero fear in my heart concerning our new lives.  We have a good relationship to this very day and I love him.

Homestead Windmill

Fear wasn’t in my mind at all on one hot summer day in 1966.  One of my favorite things was our trips to Graham, Texas where his family resided.  It was in west Texas, rich in cowboy legends and Texas pioneer history.  Thick in Mesquite, cactus, and brush, the land is rugged.

Being a city boy at six years old, I loved visiting my new grandparents out in the rough and rustic hills.  The new adventures filled my imagination while I ran through the back pastures with their cows and horses in my canvas PF Flyers.  Usually in a cowboy hat with a toy pistol in hand, the hours would pass hiding from Comanches and Tonkawas on the warpath, while protecting the herd.  (Little did I know my great-grandfather did exactly that when he settled there in the late 1860’s.)

There was a sandy creek, mostly dry, running through the pastures where I spent lots of time playing in the sandy bottoms.  In my exuberance, during my brave stance fighting for the homestead, I found myself in an embarrassing, but spooky predicament.  Somehow, and I do mean “somehow”, I galloped my stick-horse to the very edge of a deeper bend of the creek.  By God’s grace I was able to stop my forward momentum before going over a vertical 8 foot drop down to the hard sandstone boulders in the creek bed.  After catching my breath, I could see the rubber tips of my sneakers were roughly two inches from the edge.  Between hard inhales, I said, “Wow!  That was close, Trigger.  Let’s get back to the herd where we belong.”  When I turned right, I found myself trapped by a wide sprawling cactus which couldn’t be negotiated.  Turning to my left, I found myself caged-in by a large amount of…well, I guess I’ll be honest here…cow poop.  Yep, a good pile blocking my only escape, spreading all the way to the prickly-pears.  So, there I was.  I couldn’t jump over the cactus.  I dared not try jumping over the pyramid of cow patties.  With things looking rather dim, I turned to analyze the depth of my chances to the bottom of the creek.  My fear began to build up inside.  A couple of times I considered the risk of breaking an ankle with a leap over the side.  Visions of starvation and coyotes filled my head as I went through a scenario where nobody would ever find me until this is all they would recover, minus the lamps.

Halloween Skeleton

Allow me to put some meat on the bones of my circumstance.

Of course, I know what you’re thinking.  There is the thought of, “This is easy.  He should’ve just walked out the way he romped in.”  True, but honestly, I couldn’t figure it out at the time.  You have to get in the mindset of a boy barely six years old.  To this little kid, there was no way out of the patch of ground I stood on.  But…someone had a different perspective.

Grandpa Brown

Photo:  W.R. Brown in his Sunday-go-to-meetin’-attire.  (He lived in his denim overalls and straw hat.)

After about four minutes, although it felt like four hours, I began to panic in fear.  Through my tears I started to scream out for help.  Unfortunately I was about half a mile from the farmhouse.  If someone was to hear me, it would be carried by a bird.  As I launched into yelling mode, the nearby cattle just stood there gazing at me as if I just arrived from Mars.  A lesson was learned.  They don’t take to commands like Lassie.  Not one bovine left for the farmhouse to alert the folks.  I don’t recall how much time ticked by when I heard a friendly chuckle on the other side of the cactus.

While trying his best not to let out too much cackling, in a very thick Texas accent the voice asked, “Well, what’s wrong, boy?”

Quickly I turned my head toward the voice to see my Grandpa Brown standing there with a farmer’s hoe in his hands.  He was a small, but rugged and weathered, kind, leprechaun-of-a-man with crystal clear light blue eyes.  The long hairs growing out of his ears always impressed me.  In my relief to see him, I explained my simple, but desperate situation.

He chuckled again, “Well I’ll be switched.  How did you get in such a fix?  Can’t you get out?”

After explaining how I boxed myself in, he began to slowly direct me through an escape route, which no doubt was the thin trail I used to get there.  As it turned out, he was working his garden not too far from that spot when he heard me cry out.  Poor guy.  He probably came running thinking I had been bitten by a Rattlesnake.  He was probably more relieved than I was.

Yes, I was embarrassed.  Yes, I should’ve figured a way of escape.  And yes, I worked myself up into a lather which wasn’t necessary.  But that’s what needless fear can do.

Of course, there are healthy fears.  You put some fear into a young child about the dangers of fire.  We have a healthy fear of walking out into oncoming traffic.  What?  You say you have a house for sale at the base of an active volcano?  My healthy fear says, no way.

Please don’t judge my six year old self too harshly.  What about that time you had needless anxiety over a job interview?  You may recall when you felt fear over a final exam.  How about the moments just before you walked down the isle with a wedding bouquet in your trembling hands?  It’s all so spooky.

Do you know how many phobias there are?  I googled the titles.  I was beside myself seeing the lengthy list.  They are real.  There’s the fear of leaving your house.  There’s a fear of lettuce.  There’s even a phobia involving bathtubs and shower stalls.  We all would strongly appreciate you obtain counselling for that one.  Spooky for some, but excessive and pointless.

‘Tis the season, says Halloween.  When you think about how we lather ourselves up in fear, every day of the year, it is all about anticipation.  Right?  We see a darkened line of trees at night, the vanguard of a wooded area, as the mind begins to imagine what “might be” waiting for us there.  Anticipation takes time, a moment or two on the clock to settle.  It all surrounds what we do in those moments before our imagination cooks up the horrid.  Naturally, there are those who orchestrate fright like a band of tubas.

While watching an interview with a so-called “expert” on Sasquatch, I was amazed at the push for fear in the following statement.  The authoritative man set the stage like this:

“Through the years we have learned that Bigfoot is attracted to campsites, and tents specifically.”

The vomit of laughter coming out of me continued for another minute or so.  Think about it.  He claims to be an expert on a beast that has never been found dead, never been captured, never been scientifically verified.  Zero DNA discoveries, or bone fragments.  It’s an animal that’s never been in a clear, sharp video production that wasn’t shaky, or solid focused photograph, all in order to keep the enhancements from detecting a zipper on the costume.  Moreover, any footage (excuse the pun) presented, the elusive Sasquatch always runs away from the photographer.  Very camera-shy.  Certainly, I’m no expert, but it seems to me, with all the footage thus far of a seemingly frightened beast, a human campsite is the last place it would want to invade.  However, it’s fun to be afraid.  Right?  Unless it’s true fright from actual danger.

Here’s my view.  I didn’t have to be afraid of the cactus.  I didn’t need to fear the edge of the creek.  I shouldn’t have been scared of the large pile of poop.  (Then again, I still shy away from poop piles.)  My viewpoint at the time was skewed at best.  My six year old self allowed panic to overtake the true scenario.  What saved me from it all was a gentle old man who saw me from a different perspective.  Love popped the fear-bubble and eased my troubled mind due to my Grandpa Brown.  And THAT made the difference.

When you belong to One who sees all, knows all, and dispatches guardians, the spirits of fear quake and shake.

Sometimes fear is very much like a Jack-o-lantern.  Fearful exterior, but all hollow on the inside.  Fearfulness isn’t heavy to push aside when lubricated nicely with fuel for the race.

‘Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’ – God –  Isaiah 41:10 (NAS) 

 

 

Not Seeing Eye To Eye

Photo:  Thiago Matos via Pexels

“Oh, crumpled bits of paper
Filled with imperfect thought
Stilted conversations
I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got…So we open up a quarrel
Between the present and the past
We only sacrifice the future
It’s the bitterness that lasts.  So don’t yield to the fortunes
You sometimes see as fate
It may have a new perspective
On a different date…Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It’s too late when we die
To admit we don’t see eye to eye.” – (1988)  The Living Years,  Recorded by:  Mike and the Mechanics.  Written by Mike Rutherford and B. A. Robertson

The hallway was busy between classes that day.  The platform shoes were loud on the polished hard floor like horses on a brick street.  Everyone was running to their next classroom before the final bell rang.  I, in my bell-bottoms and bell sleeves, was coming out of the choral department rehearsal hall after an a cappella session.  My steps were already inside the broad hallway, but had yet to fully walk through the threshold as my hand remained on the thick heavy wooden door.  That’s when I looked up and saw her.  It was Lori Kennedy high stepping it toward the choir-room door from B-Hall.  She was running a tad late to get to her place on the rehearsal risers just inside the entrance for Women’s Select Choir.  It was a Friday, game-day at our north Dallas suburban high school of 3,500 students.  I recall it was a Friday because Lori was decked-out in her Lionette drill team outfit from a pep-rally earlier the same morning.  As she approached the doorway, I quickly made my way through the entrance while holding the door open for her.  By the time she was within two, or three steps from me, her dark brown eyes pierced mine as she sternly stated, “I can open my own door!” as she swiftly rushed by me.  OUCH!  That was unexpected.  It wasn’t like me to freeze, but I did due to shock.  It was best because it also kept my mouth shut.

Lori Kennedy 1978 RLT

Lori Kennedy, 1978 R.L. Turner High School Yearbook.

Lori and I were 16 at the time, in 1976.  She was about five weeks older than your’s truly.  Our social circles overlapped, so we had mutual friends, but the two of us were mere acquaintances.  In fact, I don’t think we ever had a conversation before that uncomfortable moment.  It’s not that we avoided one another, or even ignored the other purposefully while within earshot.  We both certainly knew about the other, but distantly.  From time to time, over four years, we even dated our close shared friends, but never one another.  There were multiple occasions where we hitched a ride with other friends while stuffed in a 1973 Chevy Camaro.  We were on the same bus during our music concert tours with the choral department’s Spring trip each year.  We also found ourselves sharing a bus for choral UIL contests performed in other cities.  Then there were gatherings at picnics, parties, and popular hangouts, etc.  I should stop here because as I write this I’m remembering many more circumstances where Lori and I shared space through high school.  We, for what ever reason, never made the effort to get to know each other.  One might say, we knew each other through our fellow classmates.

With all that said, it makes her stark, rude remark, (the first words she ever spoke to me), that much more odd.  Maybe she was having a bad day.  Maybe her boyfriend just broke up with her.  Possibly life at home had hit a wall.  Could she had slipped on a banana peel in the cafeteria line?  Maybe there was a social undertow of knowing we didn’t see eye-to-eye on life itself.

full frame shot of eye
Photo by Vladislav Reshetnyak on Pexels.com

One thing is for concrete sure, she didn’t know my mom and granddad taught me how to treat the opposite sex going back to my toddler years.  Chivalry was the order of the day in my family.  I must have been three years old, when walking down the sidewalk with my mom and grandparents, my granddad gently instructed me to always walk closest to the curb when walking next to a lady.  When I asked why, in his rural Texas fashion and verbiage, he explained that if a tire splashes a muddy puddle onto the walkway, she will be spared from the splatter.  He followed it up with, “That’s what men do.”  He taught me to remove my hat if a lady enters the room.  If a lady walks by, you tip the brim of the hat.  If a lady is about to sit at a table, you pull the chair out for her, followed by the adjustment to table-side.  If the lady is ready to remove her coat or sweater, you help remove it from her shoulders.  When she is ready to wear the same, you hold it open for her as she slips her arms through.  You always allow the lady to walk in front, choosing second place.  You always open the car door for a lady before placing yourself in the car.  And yes, you always open the door for a lady as she approaches it.  In fact, I do that for men, as well as women.  To be honest, I still practice all of the above to this day.  It’s an act of courtesy, kindness, respect, and honor.  I’m branded with it.  So, what was up with Lori?

At the time, the women’s liberation movement was well above surging, at least in the U.S.  It would be foolish to believe that 100% of women living-out the movement appreciated chivalry with its old Victorian manners.  Because I neglected to get to know Lori, the real Lori, I may have missed my cue.  It very well may have been Lori was exercising her newly discovered rules of engagement as dictated by the women’s liberation movement of the times.  I would have been clueless.  Nevertheless, she may have very well been offended by my gesture of holding the door open for her entrance into the choir room.  Sure, I meant well, but she may have seen my action in another angle, unbeknownst to me.  Just like one can peek through a glass of water while another may see a different distorted view.  And here is where I went wrong.

My mind washed my hands of her as I walked away from the moment of friction.  Lori Kennedy and I never had a potential conversation throughout the balance of our school years together.  Never once.  In fact, I totally avoided her.  My misdirected thoughts went something like, “Well, if she’s going to treat me like a doormat, than I don’t have any use for her.”  This is what unchecked anger can do.  And so, in my bitterness over the incident, I made sure I ignored her each time our paths crossed, wherever it was.  And what’s worse, I allowed our very quick moment in 1976 to stain my view of her from that time forth.  Afterwards, the name Lori Kennedy was held in my grudge-peppered heart.  My new title for her was, Little Miss Rudeness.  Yes, it was wrong.  Very wrong.

One would think in adulthood, with all its twists, turns, and teachings, I would’ve eventually understood better, loved more, and forgave even if I never saw her again in life.  However, we did.  God had other plans.

Lori Kennedy 2018 RLT Reunion

Lori Kennedy at a 2018 casual reunion with old friends.

A year ago, I attended two reunions with old friends and classmates.  One was a casual gathering of about 200 as we paid tribute to a friend who had passed away the year prior.  Two months later, it was our 40th high school reunion.  Lori Kennedy and I bumped into each other at both events.  During the first reunion, I saw her before see saw me.  My first thought was to stay away from her, using my old searing angst as justification.  With so many people attending, it would’ve been easy to just remain on the other side of the large club.  Two months later, the 40th high school reunion gala would be upon us where most likely we would find ourselves in close proximity with mutual friends.  Deep inside, I hated the tensity felt over seeing her again.  Getting lost in the crowd was my first thought.

Miles White Reunion Shot

August 2018 at the casual reunion at the Fox & Hound Pub in Dallas.

Someone called out to her through the noisy event.  With a turn, my eyes caught her.  There she was, laughing, drinking, eating and enjoying a cluster of old friends.  My reaction was to look away to protect the sore spot in my psyche.  After looking down at my shoes for way too long, I filled my lungs with lots of air, slapped on my big boy pants, and made my way across the room of revelers.

She had changed so much since our teen years.  Age hadn’t been particularly polite to her.  Lori always lived fast and hard, so I just assumed it all caught up with her.  She was a bit pale and thin, and the spark in her dark eyes had faded.  Name tags are a gift from God in these cases, but not at this casual gathering.  Often, at our age, it’s guesswork.  I acted as if I wasn’t sure it was her.  “Lori?  Is that you?”  She turned toward me, cocked her head and smiled.  “Alan!  Well, as I live and breathe!  How are you?”  I initiated a quick shoulder-hug. (Still showing signs of my grudge in a tiny gesture.  I know, it’s all so stupid.)  We spoke very kindly for another couple of minutes.  After all, there’s not much to “catch-up on” when you didn’t really have a relationship to start with.  I found out she lived alone with her two beloved Chihuahuas.  Still, it was somewhat a relief to see her genuine greeting.  Surprisingly cordial with a true smile, we shared good words between us.  Simultaneously, there was this voice coming from deep inside me delivering a statement I never would’ve believed.  It was so clear.  Despite our differences, we could have been friends.  Part of me began to feel ashamed what I had secretly held against her over the decades.  Of course, I never brought up our one and only verbal encounter from the days of yore.  Actually, she may not even recall the day she was snarky to me, the “doorman” from early in our junior year.  Frankly, the thought had never occurred to me.  Just because I always remembered it, shelving her as a tyrant and a princess prude forever, doesn’t necessarily mean she remembered our game-day intersect whatsoever.

Monday morning, October 7th, I got in my car, turned on the radio to my favorite classic rock station, and there it was, Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young”.  It was the tripwire to heavy tears as I left my driveway for an hour’s drive to Lori Kennedy’s funeral.

After doing some digging, I discovered Lori was told by her doctor how early tests indicated she had Multiple Myeloma.  This form of blood cancer wasn’t new to me.  A church friend has been battling it for two years, as well as my brother-in-law, who is in the final stages of this life-sucking illness.  An MRI had found a mysterious spot on her pelvic bone a couple of years prior.  At that time tests were inconclusive.  Apparently, Lori shrugged it off.  She had been told most Multiple Myeloma patients have 3-5 years after diagnosis, maybe less.  She was looking forward to her first oncologist appointment to confirm, plus discuss various treatments.  That was during the last week of September.  She passed away in her sleep at home less than a week later.  After the very touching service I spoke with her parents.  They told me she had been suffering from symptoms for at least 2-3 years, but had no idea she had been stricken with cancer until a few days ago.

Before the minister spoke, they played Eric Clapton’s Tears In Heaven.  As it washed over the the ones gathered, I bowed my head and listened intently for the first time.

“…Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
If I saw you in heaven?

Would you hold my hand
If I saw you in heaven?
Would you help me stand
If I saw you in heaven?

Time can bring you down
Time can bend your knees
Time can break your heart
Have you begging please, begging please…”

My hands trembled as I realized my judging heart.  Deeply convicted, I acknowledged my stupidity in not letting go of one moment in time of offense.  At my age, how could I have remained so immature?  When we engaged last year, I was unaware she was in severe pain throughout her skeletal structure.  As we stood there and chatted at the reunion, I was unaware Lori was constantly dehydrated, with bouts of deadly low blood pressure and visits to the ER.  Little did I know she was choking down powerful pain killers just to stand, walk, and sit.  As it turns out, she rarely left her house to socialize due to her struggle.  The reunions were a goal she wouldn’t deny herself.  And there I was, trying to be tempered, holding back my old resentment as she smiled at me, even though she should’ve been in the hospital.  What a moron I was.  So much time wasted.  So much life experience gone.  So many chances crumbled away in the living years.

After the service was complete, I approached the opened white coffin where an unrecognizable body was displayed.  The remains of this person looked as if she was some 25 years my elder, resting among the satin lace.  Even though it was way too late, I looked at the face, which once belonged to Lori, and whispered, “Forgive me, Lori.  Forgive me.”

As I drove back home, I asked the Redeemer to forgive my unsettled anger.

True lessons in life come at the most heartbreaking times.  Lessons of humility learned easier when filled with fuel for the race.

“And whenever you stand to pray, forgive whatever you have against anyone, so that your Father who is in Heaven may also forgive you your faults.  But if you are not forgiving, neither will your Father in Heaven forgive you your faults.”  – Jesus –  Mark 11:25-26  (Aramaic Bible In Plain English)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Branching Out

“…In my thoughts I have seen
Rings of smoke through the trees
And the voices of those who standing looking…”  (1971)  Stairway To Heaven.  Recorded By:  Led Zeppelin.  Composed by:  Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.

Have you ever found yourself on your back, underneath a tree, just looking through the branches as a breeze sways them from side to side?  Have you ever walked through a wooded area and heard the unique creaking of timber as the branches and limbs wave to the rhythm of the wind?  For me they are mesmerizing moments.

Then there are the wrecking storms which reverse the pleasantries of our trees.  Snap, crackle, and pop!  Suddenly those precious branches that speak in their unique language are left broken, split, and hanging from violent winds.  Afterwards, the clean-up is launched…if procrastination doesn’t have its way.

They say October is a good month for pruning select trees, depending upon where you live, although I know very little about it.  However, we had to swing into it recently.

Over the last several months we have had at least four damaging storms rush through our immediate neck of North Texas.  This blog tells of some of those trying times.  We have a few trees on our property, and they always suffer after major wind events.  If you came over for a backyard BBQ you would observe limbs and branches, some dead and dried up, left dangling, or loosely swinging from larger branches.  One rather large branch, maybe 20 feet in length, has been hanging vertically way above the back steps of our sun-room leading to the backyard.  Literally it has been clinging and swinging by a few strands of the broken timber up top.  Something had to be done.  When September proved to be a rather hot, but calm weather month for us, we felt like the gettin’ was finally good.

Tree - Pecan

A family owned lawn care service was recommended to us by a good friend who lives not even a mile away.  We called for an estimate.  They came out, took a look at the job, which involved a total of four large trees, and gave us an outstanding price.  I just love the sound of chainsaws in the morning.

Little did we know, the tree-trimming team wasn’t insured.  What’s worse, they only do lower hanging limbs and branches.  YIKES!  Okay, so they didn’t tell us that when they presented the estimate, but onward and upward they went.  I sat in a lawn chair under the pecan tree to observe.  After all, if there was going to be a Texas chainsaw massacre, I at least wanted to be an eye-witness for the litigation to come.  All-in-all, without too much trouble, (although there were some vertigo moments), they did a fine job.  I’ll give them a B+, considering the tree climber wore cowboy boots to scale the trunks.  There were some high limbs they felt were too risky, but we let it slide.  In less than two hours they cut on the troublesome trees, sawed up smaller lengths of the branches, placed it all in a pile by the curb, raked and swept-up residual twigs and leaves, and off in their truck they went.  Quicker than you can say sawdust, they eagerly took my $50.00 tip.

Tree Bench

Those in the know call it an “Umbrella Cut”, which sounds like something I might hear in a barber shop.  After the job was complete, I could see why they give it the name.  Of course, not only do the trees have a better appearance, but they will be healthier, not to mention safer.

As I looked at the pile of dead, or dying limbs and branches by the street, I couldn’t help but think about my own tree of life.  Inventory, a true, honest inventory of life, can suck.  Look, there is a dangerous branch up top from my past which still dangles when the slightest gust comes my way.  Duck!  If unaware that 45 year old lower limb, once badly-placed from wilder days, can knock you flat, and its got plenty of bark left.  Ah, on the other side, observe the crooked hanging limb in my years, ready to extract all the sap intended for the healthier, sturdier branches above it.  Careful, don’t walk under that long branch hanging vertically.  To this day it keeps the young branches stunted in growth.  Do I miss them all?  They were important in my life at one time, or so I imagined, but God broke them from the trunk because there was a danger to my house.  Except for that one right over there.  Do you see it?   Unfortunately, day and night, it nourishes my messed-up thought-life, spreading its twigs and seeds.  It shouldn’t remain. No doubt the great Arborist will remove it from my trunk when He decrees.  When He does, I will be a healthier person with rock solid roots.

Can you identify?  It’s true, we all need pruning sometimes.  A life pruned tends to hurt.  Why should the living be among the dead?  Right?  The dangerous, menacing dead wood needs to be taken down and shown to the curb.

Tree Branches Curbside

I’ve learned when it comes to a choice of life or limb…life is better.  After His chipper does its work, the mulch can be added to my fuel for the race.

“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.”  -Jesus-  John 15:1-2 (NLT)