The Winters Of Our Lives

“I see trees so green, red roses too,
I see them bloom for me and you.
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.”
(1968) “What A Wonderful World” Recorded By: Louis Armstrong Composers: Robert Thiele & George David Weiss

Me, being more of a landmark hunter while driving, never even noticed. It was my very observant wife who rang out the news as we pulled into the driveway toward the garage earlier this month. It was a sad moment.

It had been an average sleepy weekday for the most part, when we decided we would treat ourselves to one of our favorite Tex-Mex restaurants for dinner. (For those who may not recognize the word, I will define. Tex-Mex is more of a Texas altered fare of Mexican food. Real Mexican food is not so desirable to the average American palate. Still, if you like tripe, cow tongue, goat, mole sauce, or cactus on your plate, then you may enjoy some authentic Mexican dishes. We enjoy whatever we grow up eating.) We had a pleasant dinner. The clock told us it was time to go home and catch the new episode of, “This Is Us”.

It was about dusk, but light enough to see details. Arriving back at the house we turned onto the driveway. The headlights brightened up the garage doors a bit more than the setting sun. That’s when she said, “It looks like that corner tree didn’t survive the February freeze.” I had not noticed this smaller tree wasn’t blooming like all the others.

(Don’t be fooled by the splash of green on the right side of the photo. That is a branch from our neighbor’s tree leaning over for a photo bomb.)

Our place isn’t a large strip of land, but we do have 12 trees. We have 4 large, older trees in the backyard, some mid-sized, and some even smaller. By the way, the further you drive west in Texas, the less trees you will find. Then there are all of the various plants and flowers decorating the property. My wife is a green-thumbed lady. She should have been a landscaper. It’s a bit astonishing, most everything survived the freak wintry zero degree blast we received in Texas, which shutdown our state for a couple of weeks in February. Many Texans are still recovering from all the frozen calamity.

Photo: A freak ice tornado over the frozen Lake Lewisville, about six miles north of us.

Much of the plant life here has been delayed a tad due to the winter storm from two months ago. Even the grass on our lawns hesitated to wake up. Even so, I find myself cocking my head while gazing at the brown leaves still clinging to the branches of our dead tree. Why THIS tree? We have another one just like it, although bigger, on the opposite corner at the front of the house and it thrives. The tree from our neighbor’s front lawn is only about ten feet away, and doing fine. Why was this tree unable to survive? It’s a mystery to me.

I should mention, as I silently mourned the death of our little corner tree, my wife surprisingly said, “Oh well. I never liked that tree anyway. We need to dig it up and get it to the curb.” I didn’t know she felt that way about the tree. In hopes of a resurrection of sorts, I told her we should at least give it the month of May and see if it’s just in shock. Well, here it is, knocking on May’s door, and still no signs of life.

If you’ve not read the details, I wrote about our winter surprise when it occurred back in February. It may help to explain why there’s a corpse in our yard.

Photo: So many lost power, gas, and water. Some for several days.

Life is like that. One day you are experiencing the average comfortable days of life, with all its subject matters and routines, then WHAM!!! Just like that, an unexpected fierce winter hits you blindsided without warning. You know what I mean. My step-daughter, my brother-in-law, and my mother-in-law, all were diagnosed with cancer within a period of four years. Each one of them can tell you how winter blasts can take your breath away just as you are enjoying the warmth of a Texas sun. Yesterday, my kidney doctor gave me some disturbing news concerning a recent lab test result. I shed tears on my way home. Maybe your wintry blast came by way of a disrupting phone call which cracked the windshield of your life. Some might have faced the frozen chill as they held the hand of a dying love in a cold ICU room. Maybe it’s the memory of a sudden loss of a job, a steady income, or fire, or theft. I will tell you, the sudden loss of a marriage, home, and all that goes with it, can be a piercing sharp icicle to the heart and mind. The management of such frozen squalls is the true test. When you can’t trust others, or the fluctuating elements, or even yourself, where do YOU turn?

As for me, I can tell you, I do tend to “freeze-up” when life dishes out a gust of February. This is a trend I’ve discovered about myself. Too many times, I can testify to hitting the bed shortly after the icy hand of trauma grabs me. Please understand, I mean hitting the bed and staying there for days. Call me nuts but it’s happened. Professionals from the medical field tell us depression, depending on the degree, can lead to a shortened lifespan, or even sudden death. It is vital to shake off the icy particles, get out of bed, and begin the journey to healing. If not, we will not produce the way God intended. We become stagnant, bitter, angry, and yes…icy. The leaves on my tree speak volumes about life’s unexpected oppressive winters.

As we dig up the roots, break off the brittle branches, and put the saw to the limbs, I will remember the blooms it once delivered. I will visualize the Robins singing in its branches. I will recall the small shade it cast around the corner in which it lived. In doing so, I will keep in mind my perspective on the harshness of life, and the winters of life still to come. It will be a true test of Who I trust to guide me through such days. For on my own strength, I will shrivel, I will dwindle, I will wither.

Discover His branch, your vine, your bloom of fruit in fuel for the race.

“Because in joy you shall go out and in peace you shall go on, and the mountains and the hills shall break out before you in song, and all the trees of the field shall clap hands!” – Isaiah 55:12 (Aramaic Bible In Plain English)

Reduced?

“Can’t buy me love, oh,
Everybody tells me so.
Can’t buy me love, oh,
No, no, no, no.”
(1964) “Can’t Buy Me Love” Recorded By: The Beatles Composers: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Here we go again. Or, maybe I should say, here “I” go again.

The memory of Easter weekend is still fresh as a chocolate bunny in the fridge for most minds of the faithful. And so it’s no wonder someone on my friends list on Facebook was so excited that she posted the below.

Ah, yes. You might say, “Alan, calm down. Don’t get so over-the-top over a statement about a candy sale.” You would probably be right in admonishing me during my little fit I’m having. After all, I understand the heart of what this friend was trying to say. At a local supermarket, there is a sale on all things Easter, ie: eggs, bunnies, and jelly beans. No biggie.

Still…it’s the way she worded it. “Easter…reduced to less than…”

You know the word “reduced”. Pull out the thesaurus. You’ll find, decreased, diminished, shortened, liquidated, compressed, subtracted, and so on.

As I write this, I had just finished watching the very respectful funeral for England’s Prince Philip at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor. The service was more than God-honoring. I was struck and uplifted by the many hymns, prayers, and scripture passages. It was a grand send-off to a historic man in the royal family. Most notably, the words that rose up often in song and in reading was, “resurrection”, and “eternal life”.

Photo: St. George’s Chapel of Windsor during the funeral for Prince Philip from Fox News.

Easter itself, the core of it’s meaning, can never be reduced. Sure, it can be a faded holiday memory, as the calendar flips to other pages, but the substance of Easter is for every day. It cannot be lessened, devalued, or compressed to a lower definition. Cancel culture can’t touch it. Slanderers can try, but the resurrection of Jesus is like the Rock of Gibraltar. You and I could never chop down its value.

Resurrection is a word you can never label over the tombs of Buddha, Zoroaster, Muhammad, or Chairman Mao. Every one of those men remain in their graves. It is only unique in the hearts of a Jesus follower.

What is the true value of the resurrection of Jesus? It is multilayered. For me, I want to mention just one of the greatest treasures of the empty tomb of Jesus.

Dare to seriously consider the following. His body was almost emptied of blood. Water poured from His heart due to His horrific injuries on the cross. Six hours on the cross, only after hours of beatings and floggings. Pathologists who have studied what the body of Jesus went through are amazed He lasted as long as He did, much less to stay conscious. His dead body was sealed in a small dugout tomb on a hillside. On the earliest part of the third day, an earthquake, the millstone sized stone, hewed from a boulder, was rolled away, revealing His body wrappings laying in place as if His body vanished from inside the strips while Roman guards froze in fright.

He immediately visited all of His closest followers, and continued to do so over several weeks to hundreds of people. Suddenly, the cowardice Jesus followers, who were hiding in fear they were next to be executed, became brave, outspoken in the public square, testifying how they were witnesses of His resurrection. Some were killed right away, while others testified for the following 4-6 decades. They were ridiculed, jailed, tortured, beaten, stoned, and killed for not stopping their testimony of the resurrection. Easter morning changed them all.

Would you be willing to go through all that for a hoax, a prank, a lie? Sure, many will die for a lie when they believe it is the truth, but no one will die for a lie they set-up themselves for no personal gain.

The impact for most is the fact that Jesus proved He was Who He said He was. He displayed the power over His own death, just like He did when commanding other dead bodies to come back to life. This is something only God Himself can perform. For thousands of years it was foretold the Messiah, the One true Messiah, would have this power over the finality of life leaving the body. And because this is evident, it also means I can trust His words about my own eternal life. My coffin will not be my ending.

Photo: Prince Philip’s Coffin in St. George’s Chapel from Fox News.

So, no. Easter cannot be reduced. So, toss your dollar up on the counter for a couple of chocolate bunnies. Christ’s tomb remains empty. Eternal life remains the highest of values.

Eternal death is also available when lacking a decision offered in fuel for the race.

(The below was recited at the service for Prince Philip.)

“‘Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.'” – John 11:21-27 (NIV)

Show Me The Door

“…That cold black cloud is comin’ down.
Feels like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door.”
(1973) “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” Composed & Recorded By: Bob Dylan

Be honest. Give it a moment of thought. What do you first think of when you see a shut door? Like a photo of the sun kissing the horizon. Is it dawn, or dusk? Is the door an exit, or an entrance?

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

July 4, 1987 was the official date when I had the honor to join the air staff at a brand new Christian music radio station in the Dallas/Ft Worth area. That July 4th was our debut. I had just turned 27. It was my very first radio job. We were building a 100,000 watt blowtorch of a pop/rock Christian station like no other. It was called, KOJO (Ko-Jo). people laughed as it reminded some of Stephen King’s novel and movie, “Cujo” from earlier in the decade. Ironically, although the name stuck very well to the ear, the call letters were changed in 1989 to KLTY, which it remains today. It didn’t take long before we were named the most listened to Christian station in the world. In just a few months we had accumulated over 400,000 listeners in the Metroplex, and that was just the beginning.

We were in full-court press with promotions, contests, and live remote broadcasts constantly. For several weekends in a row we poured the audience a huge opportunity for various winnings of some kind. After the announcement, the 9th caller would be the one who had their name added for a Monday morning drawing for the prize. We had a knack for making it fun and even silly. A good example was our “KOJO-94fm, Win A Wonderful Waco Weekend While You Can!” contest. We had to mention it every other time we spoke on mic. You can imagine how the tongue had to do gymnastics on the phrase. I had to practice at home. Yet, it was lots of fun for everybody. But now, back from my rabbit trail.

About two weeks prior to “Turning on the light”, which was our handle, we had our very first on-air staff meeting. We went around the table introducing ourselves, stuffing our faces with donuts and coffee. About 98% of us were hired from outside the area. I felt proud that I was one of the home-grown lads. The talent was amazing as each one gave a snapshot of a verbal resume. In fact, since I was the rookie among those radio vets, I felt extremely intimidated. However, the blessing of knowing how much I could learn from such a team was endless in my mind. One guy I hit it off with that summer was a transplant from Seattle, Washington. Meet the incredibly talented, J.J. Hemingway.

(Unfortunately for us, J.J. passed away in 2019. His voice has indeed been silenced, but his memory lives on for all who knew him, or listened to him over the airwaves.)

J.J. and I became friends right away. he was so easy to befriend. His humor, his fast-draw wit was quick as lightning, like a stand-up comic. His gruff, yet smooth voice, was highly unique, and very difficult to describe, to the point of exclusivity. His love for God was open and exceptional. He loved the treasure of God’s grace. He was so imperfect, like all of us, and he knew himself well. He knew where he would be if not for the grace of the Grace-Giver. Throughout his career, his sign-off line was, “And remember, no matter what the weather is like, you can always let the Son shine in your life.” He always meant it. J.J. had many a cloud hanging over him. We worked different parts of the day, so we didn’t see each other on a daily basis. However, on Saturdays, our schedules were deviated. So, I followed his show on Saturday evenings and that’s usually when we were able to catch up.

Every month we had a standing on-air staff meeting at a large well-known pizza place. Alongside business topics from our program director, we had a blast. It was always a casual time with lots of laughter and chit-chat. On one occasion, we decided to share personal funny stories of unforeseen happenings while on the air. Most chose hilarious stories from other stations from the past. One co-worker, Ernie Brown, originally from Houston, gave a whopper of a situation he experienced. In Houston, the station he worked for had a 1950’s converted (No pun intended.) gasoline service station as their broadcast studio. If you’re old enough you remember the type, usually they were small box-shaped buildings. As so many of them were back in the day, the restroom was only accessible from the outside toward the back of the building. He was on the air late one night when he chose to take a trip to the potty. He started Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven” (8;02 in length) on his turntable. The outside door was a thick, heavy soundproof Teak wood door. Teak is very costly, but solid. For some odd reason, he left the key hanging on a hook in the control room. He propped it open slightly with a reel of recording tape. That was a bad mistake. Just as he was outside, walking toward the back of the building, he heard the door close behind him. The door was way too heavy for the reel of tape. His story went on about doing all he could to break down the door. Eventually, he rammed it with his car. Yep, he didn’t last long at that radio station.

After we collected ourselves from that tale of adventure, J.J. felt the urge to unload his story about what happened a couple of hours before I showed up to relieve him on a Saturday.

Photo: The late J.J. Hemingway.

We (KOJO) were sharing a two story broadcast building which housed KOJO, along with, a longstanding Spanish radio station. Their studio was on the second floor with us, with the sales department’s couple of dozen cubicles between us. We shared the lounge, the kitchen, conference rooms, and restrooms. Downstairs was a state of the art recording studio owned by another entity. Because of the hourly booking nature of a recording studio, it often was empty. The owner of the building was having the downstairs remodeled for more production studios, as well as, office space for commercial copy writers.

J.J. told the story of this particular Saturday night calamity. With the quick wit of a Robin Williams, he began to blurt out his experience.

J.J. was on the air when nature began to call. The 2nd floor restrooms were just a few feet down the hall from the studio, so we all had it timed in our heads how long the walk took from the control board to the facilities. (In those days, nothing was automated on-air.) J.J. put on a longer song from the artist, Carman, known for his lengthy tunes. J.J. gets to the restroom to find it full of people waiting in line. Apparently, the Spanish station was having some kind of on-air party with selected listeners. J.J. couldn’t wait. So, he runs downstairs to a small restroom not far from the recording studio. He slammed the door and proceeded with his business. After he was ready to go back to the studio upstairs, he couldn’t get the door opened. Apparently, it was a new door that had not yet been leveled with the door jam. When J.J. forced it shut, it was as if it had been locked from the outside. No matter what he did, he couldn’t open it. He was trapped while the Carman song played on toward its ending. He started to panic as he looked at his watch while fearing dead air upstairs. (Dead air is a no-no.) It being a Saturday night downstairs in a construction zone, he was haunted by the ominous echos of a U-Haul truck engine invading his thoughts. His only hope was to scream at the top of his lungs while kicking and beating on the jammed door until someone upstairs could hear him…maybe. After about five minutes or so, a lone sound engineer, working late in the recording studio, heard the clamor down the hallway. He followed his ears to J.J.’s temporary jail cell. The engineer tried desperately to open the restroom door from the hallway side, but it wouldn’t budge. J.J. asked the guy to go to the KOJO control room and start another song. The poor guy had never been upstairs, much less inside the KOJO studios. But, sensing J.J.’s distress, he went to do just that. Listeners hearing dead air suddenly heard an mysterious unfamiliar voice say, “And now, one of my favorite songs.” before another cut was played. After he returned, he realized the only escape plan at that point was to remove the hinges. After finding some tools, he was able to remove the hinges and free J.J. from his solitary confinement. And yes, there was dead air. Needless to say, we all were just rolling on the floor at the pizza place laughing our lungs out. However, the program director didn’t look amused. Still, J.J. kept his job.

Doors. We can’t live with them and we can’t live without them. So what do you see? Is it an entrance, or exit?

Most people see a blockage from whatever lies on the other side. It seems no matter how the door looks, it still holds us back from the other side, maybe from where we want to be. In many cases, we might not want to know what’s on the other side. Yet, if you arrive at a loved one’s home, you step on the porch, and you are faced with a door keeping you from your loved one. What a great thing when your loved one opens the door to reveal their wonderful, inviting smile.

You’ve seen this famous painting before.

Photo: Jesus At The Door – zazzle.com

It comes from a passage, in Revelation Ch3, where Jesus Himself is offering an opportunity to a handful of first century churches. He mentions that He is outside, rapping his knuckles against their tightly closed door. Apparently, at some point, the reel of recording tape they used to prop the door open had slipped out shutting tight the door. It clashes with the irony of how the door of the ark of Noah was shut and sealed as the rains began. At the same time, it’s wise to notice how the door Jesus knocks on has no outside door latch. It indicates He will not force His way in, but rather He must be invited.

Yet there’s another tightly shut door of note.

Prior to His death and resurrection, Jesus mentions an imagery to remember. He paints His self-portrait as being door for entrance. He had said before how He was the WAY, the ONLY WAY to the Father. By saying such, He literally is feeding us highly valuable information so many ignore. He was saying, “If you rely on some other one to give you access to the other side, the door will remain shut.” By teaching He was a door for access to the the other side, this door is unlocked, unjammed, and unlimited for those who accept the invitation. For anyone who feels trapped in life, trapped in abuses, trapped in sins, He opens Himself up for us to escape the solitary into His fellowship, His home, His freedom.

Photo by Skylar Kang on Pexels.com

No need to pound on a jammed door when drinking from fuel for the race.

“I am now standing at the door and am knocking. If any one listens to My voice and opens the door, I will go in to be with him and will feast with him, and he shall feast with Me.” – Revelation 3:20 – (Weymouth New Testament)