My Tribute To Larry Bierl

“I will remember you.  Will you remember me?  Don’t let life pass you by.  Weep not for the memories…”   I Will Remember You, (1995).  Recorded by:  Sarah McLachlan.  Composers:  Sarah McLachlan, Seamus Egan, Dave Merenda

Cover photo:  Anne Neville/Buffalo News

Life sure has its ways of reminding us how we should have corrected ourselves at some point and time.  The rear-view mirror can be a teaching tool.

I lived in Williamsville/Amherst, NY, a Buffalo suburb, from 2003-2008.  It’s approximately 5,300 in population.  I chose Williamsville because it was a beautiful, quaint little area, away from the city where I did a radio show.  The property taxes were higher, with the safe neighborhood, as well as the school district.  It was a superb place for my three girls.

Often times, while driving into the quiet, older downtown village of Williamsville for a dinner run, or a nice walk down to the Ellicott Creek waterfall in Glen Park, we would see a mysterious man walking the sidewalks.  He was quite the oddity for the setting of Williamsville’s more upper-crust reputation.  He was a homeless man, or so we assumed.  The majority of the homeless were seen in the city, not the norm for the Williamsville/Amherst section of Buffalo.  More than likely you would see him clad in camouflage coat & pants, or a pair of cargo khakis, hunting lace-up boots, and long heavy yarn scarves wrapped around his neck that hung down to his thighs.

One evening, while sitting in the car in a parking lot, waiting to pick-up my daughter from a musical rehearsal, I saw the man was nearby, digging through a trash bin outside a Wendy’s fast food location.  At closer glance, I observed the scarves with a better perspective.  The scarves were not scarves at all.  They were extremely long strands of thick, matted hair, appearing to be mufflers of wool.  These strands were not dreadlocks, with crafty braids of hair art, although many attempted a good spin by calling them dreadlocks.  They were as thick as a dock rope.  It was an amazing sight, and certainly highly unique.  It told part of this man’s narrative.

My oldest daughter, Tabitha, 16 at the time, worked part-time for Spot Coffee, a popular coffee and pastry bar.  He made a semi-daily stop there for a tall cup of straight java.  He was offered free coffees and food from most of the businesses in the village. or wherever he showed up, but he always paid when he could.  Empty bottles and cans were his prey.  It was a familiar scene, a plastic trash bag full of the soon-to-be recycled items, draped over his shoulder.  He had a zip-lock plastic bag of coins and dollar bills stashed in the thigh pocket of his pants.  Nobody ever saw him begging on the street corners.  However, the community members, not allowing judgement to overrule them, donated money to him coming and going.  One might wonder how the business owners and the police dealt with him.  I am proud to say, very kindly.  Everyone understood, this man was part of our community, living a life of his choosing.

More days than not, if you drove by Spot Coffee, you would see him sitting at one of the patio tables with coffee in hand, gazing off toward the horizon.  He seemed to live in his own world.  He was gentle, never causing trouble.  Although he was not one to enjoy talking much.  He would respond if spoken to.  My daughter has a big heart.  She made sure she spoke to him while serving him coffee, or whenever she was close enough on other occasions.

Larry Bierl AT Spot Coffee Photo:  Carole Taylor & Buffalo News

Sometimes you could see him sitting outside a Burger King on a sidewalk bench, eating a burger.  Other times, he would be stuffing one into an old worn backpack.  It was not unusual for him to decline someone offering him fries to go with it.  My opportunity was one August afternoon as I jogged by the bench.  You guessed it.  I looked straight ahead listening to Fleetwood Mac on my headset, pretending I didn’t notice him.

Many have seen him walking the campus of the University of Buffalo, watching the pigeons.  There is a subway station there, on the south campus, where he often took shelter.  With that said, I think he simply enjoyed the peaceful surroundings of the campus, even under hostile weather.

After a year of living there, this man just became a fixture to me.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not that I no longer acknowledged his presence, but rather I expected to see him…somewhere.  What’s truly nagging at me is the fact he had a story and I didn’t know it.

Although he was an icon, even a staple in the area, most only heard rumors concerning who he really was.  Not many ever knew his name, including your’s truly.  One rumor painted the man on the street as an alcohol and drug addict.  Another rumor dubbed him as a military vet from the Vietnam conflict.  Because he often paid for his coffee and food, many believed he was covertly wealthy, wanting to experience the street life of the poor.  It’s funny how we can extract scenarios about someone when they are shrouded in mysteries.

One thing is for sure, he was a tough soul.  During the decades of street life, he braved some of the worst winter blasts Buffalo/Niagara had to offer, and they are many.

My middle daughter, Megan, still lives in Buffalo.  Recently I asked if she has spotted the roving man after all these years.  She said he stays pretty much in the Amherst/Williamsville suburbs, but nothing had seemed to change for him.

Last week, Megan posted an article from the Buffalo News newspaper.  During the horrid polar vortex weather system, which blew in sub-zero temps, and all that goes with it, Buffalo was hit extremely hard.

At the height of the storm, he had gone to one of his coffee hang-outs, a Tim Horton’s location, but it was closed due to the travel ban with the deep freeze encasing the region.  (It’s highly rare to see a Tim Horton’s closed due to weather.)  He then entered, for the very first time, the lobby at a nearby luxury hotel.  The manager of the restaurant and bar, offered him coffee and a chair, which he accepted.  Seeing that he was suffering from the penetrating polar winds, he was generously offered a room for the night.  He declined.  (Even if he had accepted, he would’ve abandoned the accommodations soon after.)  The manager then offered hot food, a warm hat, as well as another coat.  As it was his usual form, he declined.  After a small time of warmth,  the poor man began to make his way to the lobby door.  The staff begged him to stay longer, only to watch him nod as he made his frigid exit.

Lawrence “Larry” Bierl, age 67-69, was found the following morning, January 31st, just two blocks down from the hotel, on a bench at a three-sided plexiglass bus stop on Main Street.  Somewhere in the overnight, he had passed away from the wrath of the polar vortex.

Main St Bus Shelter Buffalo

Photo:  Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News

The Buffalo News article had published a beautiful letter from Larry’s extended family.  Nobody was aware he had family at all.  His sister was the writer.  As the family revealed Larry’s story, I could hardly hold my mouth closed.  Larry held a master’s degree.  He was once in management of a well-known airline corporation.  He never was a vet.  He never was a drug addict, or alcohol abuser.  One day, in the mid 70’s, for no apparent reason, he walked away from his life as he knew it to be.  He traveled the country, often hitching rides with truckers and hopping trains, only to return to Buffalo to live as a homeless man.  The family did all they could to help him.  They tried for years to convince him to get help.  He declined.  After many years of tracking him, pushing him to get the much needed assistance he deserved, the family surrendered to his wishes.  Nobody in his family ever knew exactly what happened to his mind, or what derailed his life, but he lived with a mental illness.

After reading of his terrible death, along with his story, I must admit, I cried.  As I write this blog, my mind still hasn’t come to grips with how I feel, or how to process this.  Why?  Because I never spoke to Larry, although many I love had done so.  Not once did I ever offer him a meal, a bottle of water, or a new pair of shoes.  It came to mind to grab a gift card at a hair salon, or a clothing outlet, but I never did.  Clearly, God gave me opportunities, but apparently “I” was more important.

“…Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Jesus –  Mark 12:31a (NIV)

Sure, there were internal excuses.  They went something like this,  “The Buffalo City Mission downtown will take care of him.”  Here’s another,  “My neighbors will do it.”  Of course the most common,  “I don’t have the time on my schedule today.”  Ironically, I’ve volunteered at missions and shelters since I was a teenager.  You could’ve found me feeding the homeless at various soup kitchens, from time to time in my life.  But Larry….not one thing, not once.  Mentioning him on my radio show would’ve been acceptable.  I could’ve brought more awareness to Larry’s plight.  No, I didn’t open up at all.  I had the chance to make a difference in his day.  I did nothing of the sort.  Part of me never wants to hear rejection, even if it’s offering a pair of socks to a homeless one who may decline.  Well, that’s my lame excuse.  Frankly, my tears weren’t just for Larry, but they were also for my seemingly growing jaded outlook.  God forbid that my heart grows cold and hard with age.

Someone very wise once said, “Never cry for a life lost.  Rejoice because it happened.” (Paraphrased)  One sour soul might say Larry’s life was a wasted life, a waste of time, and a waste of space.  However, the hundreds that helped Larry, who gave of themselves through the decades, were enriched by the man.  Think about it.

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” – Jesus (Quoted in Acts 20:35 – NAS)

It might be wise to deice, or defog the rear-view mirror first, before going the extra mile.

The ice melts.  The sub-zero temps vanish.  But life…life makes its stamp.  Somewhere in Williamsville/Amherst, NY, if you go to a quiet place, you just might hear the whisper of Lawrence Bierl, “I was here.”

Remembering and serving, floods from the river of fuel for the race.

“Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh (and blood)?”  Isaiah 58:7 (NAS)

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The Ragged Bride – An Allegory

Artwork:  My wife, Michelle Niles-Brown

“I’ve got an everlasting love, so tall, so wide, so high above the rumble of thunder down below.  It’s your love I need.  It’s the only show.  And it’s you on an everlasting dream can take us anywhere…(where) are the tears of yesterday?  We killed the pain.  We blew away the memories of the tears we cried.  And an everlasting love will never die.”  – An Everlasting Love, (1978).  Recorded by:  Andy Gibb.  Composer:  Barry Gibb

Author:  Alan Scott-Brown

The pain in the heart of this prince couldn’t be matched, especially when he witnessed his betrothed in strife and struggle.  He whispered to himself, “It is not yet our time.”

****

Long ago, a radiant prince discarded his crown, his robe, and his royal ring for a brief journey to his father’s subjects in the village below.  The time had come to fulfill his duty as a suitor.  As his father’s custom, as well as the tradition of the community, there had been an arranged marriage for the regal son.  The prince was to be betrothed to a commoner.  First, he agreed to shed his garments of nobility, exchanging them for the humble attire of the land.  After all, this betrothal ceremony was to be unassuming, intimate, and somewhat mysterious to the fellow-villagers.  The footmen and trumpeters made ready, but there was to be no fanfare.

For him, it was strange to walk freely among his father’s subjects, without his accompanying courtiers.  He found tremendous pleasure visiting with the peasant farmers,  the laborers at the village well, and the boisterous shepherds by the lone stable.  Conversations among them all were telling of village life.  On the walkway, one by one, citizens passed him, not recognizing his joyful face, or his distinct speech.  It saddened him to see a grave disillusionment on each face as they carried out their daily routines.  The burden of life wore heavily on the countenance of the people.

Nearby, a poor young maiden’s father and mother were expecting the prince to arrive.  Not calculating the time the prince’s father decreed, they left an oil lamp burning in their window, ready and waiting.

It was the midnight hour on a full moon when the soft knock at their door came.  Scurrying about, the parents awakened her.  In haste, the mother set out the best goblets and rugs just before the third and fourth rap on the lintel.  When her father opened the door, he saw a single man, dressed as a lowly workman, with a small bag hanging off his shoulder.  The maiden’s mother spied through the lit window, expecting to see white horses bridled to chariots of gold, accompanied by a host of noblemen.  She leaned closer to the pane, blinked once, twice, a third time, but there was no royal entourage to be seen.  With expectation’s unfulfilled, the prince was invited into the house and offered a seat at their table.

As the young maiden remained in her chamber, the prince, withholding nothing, openly shared his true identity with her parents.  He spoke of things only royalty could.  He presented a scroll, marked with the sovereign’s seal.  He broke the seal himself before presenting it to the father of the maiden.  Enclosed were the fine details of a costly dowry to come, a dowry with a high price, generously offered by the father of the prince.   For the moment, the parents were amazed, even silenced.  Although he wasn’t arrayed like a prince, or traveled as a prince, there was understanding that he had been sent from the royal castle on the hill.  Nonetheless, a mystery lingered in their minds.

The maiden was called to enter for a presentation by her father.  Her entrance displayed a beautiful young maiden, adorned in a pristine, but common, white linen gown, weaved for the occasion.  Just below her striking hazel eyes, a thin light blue veil was fastened.  The prince arose from his chair in respect, coupled with great delight.  At once, her brows raised as she was inquisitive concerning the appearance of the prince.

With suspicion in her speech,  “Uh, father, this man is a commoner.  I thought he…”

The father sharply interrupted her, “Young one, the time has come for you to sit at the table of decision.”

Sheepishly, she took her designated place at the table, across from the prince.  In a softer tone, her mother explained that she, and her husband, would retreat to the back courtyard for a time.  The kindly prince, who admired their traditions, remained standing until they made their exit.

As the parents took their leave, they couldn’t help recalling the last time a suitor appeared with the promise of a dowry.  There was an older daughter at that time, the firstborn, who was of age for marriage.  The charming suitor claimed knighthood from the sovereign’s court, complete with squires and armor-bearers.  One hour after the betrothal ceremony, he returned, stealing her away, leaving the family in ruin.  The daughter was never to be seen again.  Rumors hovered for years that the damsel was enslaved, bound to serve in the chambers of a ruthless king in a far country.  The infliction left them with undeserved fears echoing in their minds.

Time seemed to stand still as the prince, and the maiden, spoke privately of family, faith, and freedom.  An immediate connection was being fashioned.  There was laughter for a time, only to meld into soft tears as he spoke of the hopelessness he witnessed among the villagers.  For her, she had grown accustomed to it, never anticipating a change.  As prince, he vowed to her, he would present the entire community with a free gift of insight to a life well beyond the boundaries they had set for themselves.

He reflected on his father in great reverence and love.  She was all agog concerning the enigma of the castle, and life within it.  The more the prince unveiled about the state of royalty behind the great wall, the more she wanted to cast aside speculations.  The maiden wanted to know more of his majesty’s likeness, his persona, and his plans for them both.

“My father embraces all manner of loveliness and is rich in laughter,” he explained in boldness.  “Not one thing has he ever withheld from me, as well as those he holds in his heart.  The land is unaware of his immense compassion for his people.  Soon, he will prove it to them.  In time, as he greets you, you will find we are alike.”

The sheer enthusiasm in his voice moved her to a place she had never been.  Although his speech was authoritative in nature, there was a soft grace about him.  The maiden acknowledged how his simple joy invaded the distrust nesting in the caverns deep in her soul.  In her very core, she wanted to escape the cloud surrounding her people.  Her dreams cascaded with the memory of her sister who had vanished at the hands of the evil knight.  Yet, for this moment, the maiden found she was wooed by this lamb of a prince, as well as the words of his promises.

Despite the night seemingly frozen in place, the time had come for them to separate.  The prince reached into his bag, pulling out a small loaf of bread, just enough for the two of them.  He explained the loaf was baked by him alone, and not the royal chef.  She was eager to taste of it.  Just before her hand reached for the bread, he then presented a small jar of clay filled with red wine.  He told her it was just enough for one goblet.  The color was brilliant against the table’s candlelight.  She asked him in which vineyard was it harvested.  With a sparkle in his smiling eyes he answered, “This is from my father’s vineyard.  The vine comes out of the earth with ease by his nurturing hand.”

Pinching off a piece of the loaf, he offered it to her.

Just before the maiden bit into the bread, he said, “No doubt, even though I must go, you will always remember this bread when you think of us, here tonight.”

As her eyes gleamed from the flavor of the loaf, he fetched the holiday goblet her mother had set out.  As he poured the wine in the cup, he reminded her of the tradition of the act of betrothal.

In humble sincerity he spoke directly, “Recall that you have a choice remaining.  You can decide now to refuse to drink of my wine, decline the dowry, and the arrangement will be dissolved.  Or, you can drink from this goblet, sealing the covenant that our wedding will take place.  By this, you will forsake all other suitors who come after I depart.”

As he explained the tradition of their culture, he placed the cup in front of her while watching intently with overwhelming eagerness.  She slowly wrapped her fingers around the goblet, holding it in her hand while sniffing the aroma.  Her mind raced with what her future might be as a princess of a great land.  With that, the maiden closed her eyes, placed the the cup carefully beneath the veil, and drank all of it.  Without hesitation, the two of them cheered, clapped their hands, and shouted in the excitement of love’s contract.  They hugged, they danced around the table, leaving them longing to catch their breath.

The table of decision was over.  It was time for him to journey back up the hill.  A sense of melancholy fell over the room.  He held her hand tightly as he reached into his sleeve, retrieving a beautiful scarlet scarf of silk which had been concealed from view.

As he carefully wrapped it around her left wrist, he gently explained, “This silk scarf is to always remain fixed onto your wrist.  Wherever you go, it will be a sign for others you have sipped the royal wine of the prince.  For you, it will always be a reminder of our bonding as one mind, one heart.”

“I will, sweet prince.  I will,” she gladly proclaimed.

The prince continued, “Meanwhile, there is preparation to be done for the coronation.”

With a gasp the maiden shouted, “A CORONATION?”

Delivered with a chuckle, “Yes, you are to be queen of the kingdom.  The wedding itself will be like nothing this village has ever seen, or put to ink.”

“Tell me!  Paint my mind with the image,” the maiden replied as she closed her eyes.

“Of course,” he remarked, “There will be multitudes of guests who will be at the pinnacle of awe.  You will be given the brightest snow-white gown, with a train that will fill the castle.  You will be clad in the finest of jewels, mined from the ends of the earth.  Kings and queens will ask to kiss your white gloved hand adorned with rings.  I am certain even the animals will bow down to you.  (They both reveled in laughter.)  With each step you make, my father’s servants will dip in affirmation of your right as queen.  All of the kingdom’s knights will bend the knee.  They all will be at your disposal.  This is how you will be welcomed.”

The maiden’s exuberance seemed to glow about the room.  Yet, her eyes looked puzzled.

Seeing her bewilderment, he added, “Yes, now you do not realize, but YOU are to rule over the company of the noble knights.”

At this statement, she saw an odd transformation melt over his face.  His countenance turned to concern.

“You look troubled, my prince.  Is there more I should know?” asked the maiden.

He sat her down, leaned toward her in solemness, “There is a caution to disclose.  To this point you have trusted in my words.  So trust this, as well.  Long ago, before you were born, there was a revolt among a remnant of the knights of the kingdom.  Profane words were spoken in the very courts of my father.  A coup was attempted to overthrow the throne.  A war ensued.  Many a knight joined in revolt against his majesty.  Yet he, being greater than them all, cast the insurgents from the highest walls of the castle.  To this day, the rebels do all in their power to spread myths about my father.  They are strategically crafty with fallacies concerning me, and this very kingdom.  With stealth, they charm, deceive, and even slaughter citizens here and foreign lands.”

His shoulders slumped, as great sadness washed over his eyes like a wave.

After a slight pause, “I know the dark knight who swindled your family, the one who robbed you of your sister,” he explained.  “This one is a mighty adversary.  He, and his brood’s code, is to do whatever it takes to end life as you know it, take possession of your treasures, and desolate all innocence.  You, my precious, will be a trophy for their league.  You will be marked by those who hate my father and our sovereignty.  In fact, they will despise the sign of the scarlet gracing your wrist.  There will be those who will even attempt to seduce you.  Efforts will be made to dye your scarf of scarlet into a faded gray.

“How can this be?” asked the young maiden.

“They hate me, so they will hate you, as well,” he replied.  “So, be on guard.  Even some of your own friends and family will despise you.  It is no secret that many of your neighbors do not favor my father.  It all leads back to the uprising.  So listen, and rest on my words of hope and triumph.  There are multitudes of my warriors clothed as I am today, covertly living in this village.  They keep watch.  They are faithful to report.  They will protect.”

The maiden responded to his curious, but comforting words, “Yes, I believe you.  If I find myself enclosed by the enemy, I will look up to the castle for rescue.  I will call out for you.”

The prince, speaking in a different manner, “I will listen for your voice…always.  Know that I will attend to you.  When you begin to doubt, just look at the scarlet of your scarf to remember this night’s cup.  For now, I must return to my father with this joyful news of our betrothal.”

He turned toward the door to start his journey home.

The young maiden jumped from her chair with a quick response, “When will I see you again?  Will we revisit with your bread and wine?”

Stopping as he heard her words, he turned slowly to face her.  Gazing gently into her eyes he said, “Take comfort, precious one.  Know that I will not be back for another filled goblet.  But, I will drink a more superb vintage with you when you enter the castle for all time.  For now, I must go.  The time is short.”

The maiden spoke out with some sense of exasperation, “You didn’t say when I will see you again?  When will we wed?  When should I make ready?”  Clasping her hands together and holding them to her chest,  “Oh, I have a thousand questions to ask!”

“I understand, more than you know,” he replied.  “The traditions of the land are clear.  Betrothal, legal betrothal, can be short, or lengthy.  It is not for the groomsman to dictate.  My father created his calendar.  He has his seasons.  He alone designates the year, the day, the time concerning us.  However, you will feel the time nearing, when others will not.”

The maiden challenged, “Since you and his majesty are alike, why can’t you tell me of his seasons?  Why must the days pass so slowly?”

The prince answered, “They will pass as they should.  No more, no less.  While I am gone, I will be busy tailoring a whole new wing of the castle just for you.  It will be more evidence that I will retrieve you for myself.  Before the coronation and the wedding feast, his majesty expects the construction to be complete.  It must be accomplished prior to your arrival.  Don’t fret, I am known to do well at the process of building.  Until then, you are to remain here, live here, and thrive here.  All the more reason to hold to what happened in your father’s house tonight.  Hold to my promises.  Hold to your goblet.”

At this, he opened the door.  At the threshold he stopped, turning to her one final time.

“Light your lamp in the window for me,” he said with a sparkling grin.  “I will not be adorned like this again, but you will recognize me from the glow of your lamp.  Meanwhile, you will hear from me often.  Take heart, my love.”

With a better understanding, she accepted his words, “I will.  My oil keg will be full.”

As the prince walked out the door, she leaned against the lintel, struck in a swelling impression of amazement and awe.  The young maiden kept her eyes trained on him in the light of the full moon, as he traveled back up the hill toward the castle in the distance.  Just then, a peasant stranger carrying a clay pot of water was passing by the house.  At first thought, she felt it odd, for the hour was late.  She only acknowledged his presence by moving her head slightly, as the man obstructed her view for a wisp of a moment.

The stranger nodded, and spoke with certainty as he walked by, “No need to worry, dear one.  If he promised to come for you, he will.  If you watch, you will see him arrive from that very gate.”

She was stunned at the peasant’s knowledge.  She wondered if he had overheard from the window.  In her daze, she looked up to the hill once again.  After he disappeared from view, she was enraptured by the hours they had spent.  Later, the maiden was taken aback to learn from her parents the length of his visit was only thirty-three minutes.

The hours turned to days.  The days turned to months.  The months added years to the longing of unification.  Daily the prince stood watch at his window from the castle tower.  Day and night, his eyes were roving over the entire village below, keeping watch over his beloved.

Forces from the enemy of the kingdom covertly eroded the lives of each citizen of the community, even the following generations.  There were evil times of plunder and pillage throughout the land.  Knights of the court reported each detail back to the prince.  The wicked hordes raided deep in the night, destroying and abducting for their own sadistic possession.  Although the royal knights, loyal to his majesty, who stayed among the commoners were far more superior in strength than the adversaries’ agents, the battles delivered burdensome tolls.

The prince, wanting to encourage his young princess, wrote love letters to be sent directly by his heralds.  Knowing the times of turmoil, he wrote words on his scrolls like, “Endure,” “Love the villagers and their enemies, just as I have loved you,” “Tend to the wounded,” and “Watch and wait until I come for you.”  Such writings were a treasure chest of his heart and mind.  The maiden read them often.  His words assured his love was not only intact, but active.  So powerful were the words, the maiden began to emulate his heart as she lived out her days without him.  Her quill copied the letters word for word in efforts to share them with her village neighbors to guide and incite a defense against the rebels.  Couriers were dispatched for public readings in village squares elsewhere.  Over the years, multitudes heard the words of the prince because of the copies.  During that season of the kingdom, there were twenty-seven letters in all.

Soon after the scrolls of the prince were known, suitors from across the land came with false dowries, scheming to woo the young maiden away from the prince.  A number of them arrived wearing the regal robes.  Their armored steeds were fed by envy, mixed with a hunger for power.  Yet, she held to his promises from that first moonlit night long ago.  In the midst of it all, the villagers were being persuaded to proclaim allegiance through the art of mimics, misdirection, and misleading tactics.  Like trained blind animals, many turned from the reign of his majesty and his gifts.

As the years moved through the realities of that time, with her view washed in clarity, her soul surged within her, developing an everlasting, faithful love for her groomsman.

Standing at his tower window, the pain in the heart of this prince couldn’t be matched, especially when he witnessed his betrothed in strife and struggle.  He whispered to himself, “It is not yet our time.”

It was a night of the new moon, when the maiden’s house was burned to the ground by enemy torches.  Her parents were placed on a wagon and taken outside the village.  They, as well as many others, vanished in a far country.

Although the maiden survived, her eyes shifted to the hill crying, “How long, oh, prince?  How much longer?”

During the changing of the seasons, after counseling with his father in his chamber, concerning the plight of his people, he returned to the tower window.  The prince observed the streets once again.  The maiden appeared at the far end, drawing water from the community well.  His heart was sore as he witnessed her draped in old soiled raiment, stained and tattered from the doings of trials, coupled with trauma.  She had grown older while still in her youth.  Her skin was weathered from a battered life among the continuing struggle.  Although seemingly weak outwardly, he beheld her as strong.  Although ragged and stained, he counted her as clean as virgin snow.

Moved again with compassion for her, he sent spoken words to be delivered aloud.  Special selections were made for the messengers to dispatch.  The words were consistent with his love letters of the past.  As she listened to the messages, her aged, scarred hand clutched her scarlet silk scarf of promise.  In a still, unassuming voice within her, she heard the words, “It is not yet our time.”

For some groomsmen of those times, a blemished, soiled bride in ragged garments was often denied promises established during more fetching days.  However, this groomsman beheld the truth of her ragged, stained, peasant garment, yet loved her still.

“Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him the glory.  For the marriage of the lamb (prince) has come, and His bride has made herself ready.  It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.  Then he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the lamb (prince).'”  And he said to me, “These are true words of God.”” – (The writings of John.)  Revelation 19:7-9 (NAS)

 

 

 

Slippery Slopes

“…She was going way too fast.  Before she knew it she was spinning on a thin black sheet of glass.  She saw both their lives flash before her eyes.  She didn’t have time to cry.  She was so scared.  She threw her hands up in the air.  Jesus, take the wheel.  Take it from my hands. ‘Cause I can’t do this on my own.  I’m letting go…”  – Jesus, Take The Wheel, (2005)  Recorded by:  Carrie Underwood.  Composers:  Brett James, Gordon Sampson, Hillary Lindsey.

14 years ago, an old friend of mine, Jaylene Johnson, miraculously survived a severe crash.  (See her car above.)

She is a successful singer/songwriter/recording artist, Juno Award nominee and Covenant Award winner from Winnipeg, Canada.  To say she was exhausted at the end of a cross-Canada solo tour, would be an understatement.  With her heater blowing full throttle, as she was driving home after a heavy snowfall in North Western Ontario, she was eager to see her hometown.  Jaylene was negotiating the roads as well as could be expected.  There was a moment in time she thought maybe it was best to grab a hotel before they closed the highways, but that had yet to happen.  Her car was packed to the roof with her guitars, keyboard, sound equipment, promotional products, and luggage.  The only thing on her mind was the weather conditions bearing down on the route.  She is a cautious driver, well versed in winter driving, but the semis nipping at her bumper were not so careful.  The rear-view mirror became her friend.

jaylene johnson performing

Jaylene on-tour.  Photo:  Tim Hellsten

The last thing she recalls is the map.  She had made it just outside of Upsala, Ontario, in the Thunder Bay District, when all went dark.  (Some of the following details came from eyewitnesses, EMT’s & police reports, along with her own post-accident inquiry.)

Travelling westbound, she had reached the top of a ridge overlooking a valley below.  As she began to descend into the valley, she slipped on some unexpected black ice covering the highway, and lost control.  As her little vehicle slid across the highway, she hit a transport coming eastbound head-on.  When she came to in the wreckage, a stranger on the scene, named “Willie”, pulled her through a shattered window, held her hand, and covered her with his coat before the EMT’s arrived.  As she sobbed, he comforted her while stroking her hair as she laid there in shock.  Fast-forward, she spent the rest of the day on a back brace in a Thunder Bay hospital.  Her body was riddled with pieces of broken glass.

Back in 2004, I was doing a radio show in Buffalo, NY while she had just released her first major album.  At the time, it was rare for Canadian artists to get radio airplay on the USA side of the border, especially independent bands.  I wanted to change that trend in the corner where I was.  The station I worked for was operating with 110,000 watts, reaching well north of Toronto, generally all of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).  The signal stretched over the entire Western New York area, northwestern Pennsylvania, and some portions of Ohio.  There was too many stellar Canadian artists putting out top-shelf cuts, not being heard on the U.S. side.  My number one focus was quality writing, production, along with terrific vocals to debut south of the Canadian border.  However, it was under a global relief, development and advocacy banner where our roads converged.

World Vision International had approached the two of us to join their work in El Salvador, as part of an ad campaign for support.  We worked together there, alongside other Canadian artists, for a week or so.  I was doing live reports back to the radio station as I interviewed World Vision workers, as well as benefactors.  It was there Jaylene and I became friends in a much warmer climate.

me in el salvador with world vision 2004

Jaylene took this photo of an interview I was doing with a World Vision recipient through a World Vision interpreter.

After our trip, we kept in touch.  Jaylene graced my show, in studio, a couple of times when she was performing in the GTA or WNY.  Through the years I kept track of her tours and television appearances.

After hearing from her on the details of the accident, I grew concerned about her health in the wake of such trauma.  In the end, there was no need for concern on my part.  God took the wheel, indeed.

I’ve had my own experiences with icy paths.  When you believe you can negotiate the roads in that condition, caution and prep would be top priority.

Come to think of it, no matter what climate you travel through, icy roads can derail your life.  Do you know what I mean?  We can be living life as a smooth operator, no issues in sight.  Then suddenly, without warning, our feet come right out from under us.  Zero traction takes us by surprise.  We’re never really prepared for it.  Just when we think we are, “BOOM”, on our tailbone we go.  (And it’s always the tailbone, right?)  For some, it might be losing traction on funds and finances.  We might experience losing traction on world peace.  Maybe a loss in traction with our child, our health, our marriage, or our nation.  It happens.  Before you know it, we slide hard into a nearby ditch, off the trek we were to be on. Just like Jaylene’s shellacked pavement, the ice doesn’t have to be thick to cause a head-on collision.  We can find slippage on the invisible, and/or what we deem as non-threatening.  It’s a tragic mistake.  Some find slippery slopes that lead to life-ending results.  There are non-negotiables out there which can transport you to where you don’t want to be.

“…stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand….and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace…” – St. Paul, Ephesians 6. 

In Paul’s time, Roman soldiers were fitted into special sandals with studs on the soles, like cleats.  For me, my preference are my insulated snow-boots with cleats on the rubber soles.  Better yet, Paul indicates a true gripping.  It’s more like the spikes on a mountain climber’s boot.  Anyone who has ever fallen hard on the ice, or slid down a slippery slope in the winter, or did so in a social, political, or economic climate, would recommend cleats in decision making.  Just ask the citizens of Venezuela.  Unlike Jaylene, when driving in the ice on bald tires, your future is certain.

Prep all you want.  There’s always the God-factor outside of your own abilities and strength.  Have you been there?  Maybe you have and you didn’t truly take the time to consider it.

As for Jaylene’s ordeal, a couple of mysteries still hover.  One unsolved oddity surrounds “Willie”.  As she was being placed in the ambulance, she looked back for him.  He, and his coat, were gone.  No person at the scene could tell her who he was, where he came from , or where he went.  Plus, according to the reports, the shear impact from the head-on collision with the transport, and her small vehicle, was of tremendous force.  Yet, she walked out of the hospital, on her own power later the SAME DAY!  Just shocking.

Also, one of the EMT’s was familiar with her music from Canadian radio.  He went the extra mile after taking her to the hospital.  He went back to the scene and helped to retrieve her property from the wreckage, all on his own time.

Lasting effects remain with her, mostly psychological in nature.  To this day, Jaylene will tell you, she can’t seem to fully relax anymore.  Yet, she does see God’s hand in the incident on several levels.  So do I.

jaylene johnson promo Jaylenejohnson.COM

I’m proud to say she continues to write, record, and perform.  She’s now married and raising a family.

When in slippery, tight places, it goes better when fitted with the cleats of fuel for the race.

“For He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways.  They will bear you up in their hands, that you do not strike your foot against a stone.”  -Psalm 91:11-12 (NAS)