Crevices

“…You can’t always get what you want.
But if you try sometimes well you might find,
You get what you need.”
(1969) “You Can’t Always get What You Want” – Recorded By: The Rolling Stones Composers: Mick Jagger & Keith Richard.

I will preface the below by stating, I have no idea if this has anything to do with the new year ahead.

Watching her, in her mountain climbing gear, scaling up the side of this incredibly steep, rocky red cliffside, I wondered why this stranger felt she had to climb it. The mountain’s top half to the peak was narrow, without sand or soil, just a shear rock, three-sided pinnacle in what you might find in the Arizona desert. I was hot, thirsty, and my mouth felt full of the desert sands. It was uncomfortable. I wasn’t where I wanted to be, or needed to be. Or was I? No doubt, she felt the same.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Her struggle against the giant rock was fierce, steaming, and without signs of submission. The athletic abilities were impressive, but what may have been more impressive was her inner strength to conquer. A moment of jealousy kicked in. One would believe the cliff would be impossible to negotiate, yet there she was, fully dependent upon her spikes, rope, and footholds.

Frankly, while I gazed at the climber’s grit, as she scaled the flat mountainside in her cleats and gloves, I must admit to fearing the moment ahead when I would transition from a casual observer, to a witness of the death of a stranger.

As she approached the last fifty feet to the pencil-like summit, she intentionally unloaded her backpack, allowing it to fall to the base of her rocky challenge. It was clear, all of her tools for survival were bundled in her backpack, spilling out on impact splattered on the desert floor below. Curiosity took over even more as concern for her welfare grew deep inside of me. How would she survive the ongoing battle against this natural skyscraper? Exhaustion or gravity, or both, would be her enemy.

With half the afternoon gone, the peak became reachable as she scaled her way to the last twenty-five feet. The pitch of the rockface was brutal, with only small crevices along the red stone precipice as a saving grace.

Photo by Roussety Gregory on Pexels.com

Her legs were stretched, reaching the precious footholds to her left and right. Her hands were gripping the various sized crevices above her. Like a wise chess player, with every ounce of strength in her body, she carefully studied her next footholds, her next crevice to gain the the rock’s summit. Then, like a spider on a wall, the athlete pulled herself up to a small ledge just below the peak. There, she rested, sitting on a welcomed stone shelf awaiting her.

With a sigh of relief, I began to turn to go on my own way, when suddenly I captured a satisfying smile on her face. She appeared to be looking inside two crevices just above the surface of the ledge itself. My head cocked a bit as I attempted to guess at what she seemed to be happy to discover. Reaching her hand inside what appeared to be a deep crevice, she pulled out a tin cup in her sweating hand. Reaching into the other crevice, she discovered a metal ruler, a meter in length. Revisiting the crevice, she removed a liter of bottled water, a packed nylon lunchbox, a blanket, several crampons, a chisel, a harness, and a bundle of rope. To my amazement, she suddenly had all she needed for the rest of her challenging journey.

To this very day, I do not know who left the goods in the last crevices of the summit. Part of me wondered if she had climbed this rockface before and left herself a survival kit for future climbs. Another part of me came to another conclusion. Could it be, other climbers deposited the goods in the crevices, as an act of goodwill for the next adventurer? Either way, she got what she so desperately needed.

After I was awakened by this dream, I immediately heard an old hymn running through my mind.

” He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock,
That shadows a dry, thirsty land;
He hideth my life in the depths of His love,
And covers me there with His hand,

And covers me there with His hand.”
(1890) “He Hideth My Soul” – Composer: Fanny Crosby

Sometimes, and I truly mean the word, a dream can be a message to the dreamer. If I were a wiseman, surely I could roll out its interpretation to you here and now. But, alas, I cannot. Maybe, just maybe, the interpretation is relative to the reader.

If there’s one thing I have learned in my life, it’s the fact that when in expectation, God is willing, ready, and able to answer my questions.

When exhausted, thirsty, and struggling, there are crevices awaiting you in fuel for the race.

“Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain and a way for the thunderbolt, to bring rain on a land where no man is, on the desert in which there is no man, to satisfy the waste and desolate land, and to make the ground sprout with grass?” – Job 38:25-27 (ESV)

Texas On Ice

“I really can’t stay.
But baby it’s cold outside.
Got to go away.
But baby it’s cold outside.
This evening has been…
Been hoping you’d drop in.
So very nice.
I’ll hold your hands they’re just like ice…”
(1949 release) “Baby It’s Cold Outside” Composer: Frank Loesser

My posts are written from my desktop computer in our study/studio in the north Dallas suburb of Carrollton, Texas. Today, Saturday, Feb 20th, is the first day this week I felt comfortable enough to plug the computer back into the wall socket. We have been practicing electrical limits, among other outages here.

Linemen have been busy in Texas this past week.

In case you haven’t seen the news this week, Alaska got mad at Texas and threw-up all over us. For my friends up north, and around the globe in winter-friendly areas, allow me to apologize on this printed line before I continue. I spent five years in Buffalo, NY and know how piercing winter can be north of Oklahoma. However, this week in Texas was historical.

It’s a very rare thing, almost unheard of, if we see zero degrees on the thermometer in Texas. It’s also rare to see single digit temps in the winter. We see the teens, but only once or twice a winter, if that. Yet, in the last few days we saw zero and the single digits. To accompany the drastic frigid blasts, we were dipped in snow and ice for much of Texas.

My backyard.

Oh, sure, one might ask what the fuss is about. We love snow here in Texas. We rarely see it. When we do, it may be an inch or two once a year for a day, or even an overnight and morning before it vanishes. However, with the record breaking lows on the temperature scales, the snow and ice didn’t melt all week. Only today we crawled over the freezing mark with snow melting slowly. Swimming pools, ponds, rivers, lakes, and creeks froze. Kids took up ice hockey. Pile-up crashes occurred on the freeways, due to dangerous black ice on the pavement. One event involved a multi-vehicle pile-up in Ft Worth where over 130 vehicles were involved, several fatalities, and dozens injured.

A drone shot of a neighborhood just north of our street.

All of Texas was hit.

Our driveway on the first day. By now we should be in the 50’s & 60’s.

Apparently, Texas can handle a day of the extreme single digit temps, with minus wind chill factors to boot, but if it continues…real problems arise.

The investigations are ongoing, but Texans were struck hard this week. It began with enforced rolling blackout power outages. Then for many, in fact over 4 million, were without power in weather only Canadians could love. The wind turbines, which partially fuels power transfers, froze. The oil and gas pipelines were frozen or interrupted. The cascading rolled along as so many had to go without water, too. At one point, over 13 million, nearly half of Texas, experienced water boiling orders due to water treatment facilities grinding to a halt. I know several in my own circle who went without gas, water, and electric for 3-4 days. A friend posted this shot of how she got her meals together as if it were the 1800’s.

Texans living as if the calendar read Feb, 1885.

Organizations amassed efforts to help in Texas-sized fashion. Water and food lines became the norm. Here’s one at a local church parking lot waiting for cases of water.

Millstone Church parking lot waterline.

For some, desperation took over as grocery stores were raided, leaving empty shelves.

Sadly, various ranchers began cutting off the ears of their cattle due to frostbite. Many farmers with hogs and goats had to do the same. Without gas, electric and water, many poultry plants stopped production as chickens and eggs froze in the hatcheries. Even feed and seed couldn’t be shipped to the ranchers and farmers. Hundreds of sea turtles were rescued on Texas beaches as they could no longer move. The Texas citrus crops are done for in the Rio Grande Valley. It was reported today by Sid Miller, Secretary of Texas Agriculture, that volunteers are harvesting frozen wildlife, deer, wild hogs, antelope, rabbit, etc, for massive BBQ’s and wood smoking to aid in feeding the public. He went on to say that even dairy plants need natural gas to pasteurize milk products. No doubt, Texans are in for a food shortage. Who knows how long it will last?

Unfortunately dozens of Texans have been found dead, and I’m sure many more will be found as the thawing has just begun.

Mistakes were made around the desks of decision in preparing for the unthinkable this past week. Lessons have been harshly learned. Preparedness will be reviewed and replaced for any future natural disasters, even those which Texas doesn’t normally see.

As pipes are being repaired, and shortages hover over us, I know One who is never short on power, and everlasting water.

This classical Greek word, ἐνδυναμοῦντί, changes everything about running on empty while facing outages. The Darby Bible Translation states it very closely to the original Greek text:

“I have strength for all things in him that gives me power.” – Philippians 4;13

The Greek directly places the emphasis on tasks, or circumstances being wooden horses which can be hurdled.

“(For) all things I have strength in the One (endynamounti) strengthening me.” -Direct Greek translation as Paul wrote it. FOREVER CHURNING! No frozen wind turbines here!

Often this verse is taken out of context. Remembering, that text without context is pretext. You really should read the complete chapter in Philippians. Many times Paul admitted he suffered when stuff happened that he could not control. Way too often God allowed Paul to experience the fan being hit. Early Christians were getting hit hard in their own type of cancel culture, not to mention the local government restraints, as well as, Rome itself. But Paul is so encouraging by saying, when the trials come, I know I can, and do, get through them by the One who continually pumps in, like a rushing fountain of water, the ability to overcome by a power which is outside of myself.

Texans are tough, but God is tougher. If we break chains, if we move mountains, it’s because He infuses the strength into us for the purpose. If even hell freezes over, because of his ongoing distribution of His all-powerful grip, we will skate over it. If He should send snow to our rooftops, in a state that takes on 110 degrees in the summer, then He will give us a transfusion of His ability to walk through it.

He will never lose His distributed power. There are no outages in fuel for the race.

“I am the vine, you are the branches; the one who remains in Me, and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” – (Jesus) John 15:5 (NAS)

I Almost Couldn’t Bear The News

“When I know you know baby, everything I say
Meet me in the country for a day
We’ll be happy and we’ll dance
Oh, we’re gonna dance our blues away…”  (1972)  “Listen To The Music”  Recorded By:  the Doobie Brothers  Composer:  Tom Johnston

Someone very wise once told me that you never are really sure what you’re praying for when praying for your children.  Usually it becomes more clear in retrospect of a life event.

Megan is my middle daughter, now 30 years old.  I have written of her before, so forgive me if part of this post sounds redundant.

Out of three daughters, Megan is the one most like me, in various ways.  My girls are precious to me, and Megan is the one who aligns more closely to who I am.  It could be because when she was a toddler and pre-schooler, I was Mr. Mom for a few years.  When Tabitha, her older sister (2 years older), went on to kindergarten, Megan and I spent lots of solo time together.  In fact, the solo time lasted two of her young years.  Although she lives in Buffalo, NY now, and I live in Dallas, Tx where she was born, we do still have a special bond.  It’s always apparent when she comes home for a visit.

Megan hug April 1st 2017

Megan was a child actress before she turned singer & recording artist.  Megan has racked up a mound of accolades in upstate NY for the last 12 years.  The bands she fronts have been news worthy and award-winning.  (Currently you can see some of her videos when you look-up Grosh, or Grosh Band.)  She’s on stage about as much as she sleeps each week.

Meganfest

MEGAN-BROWN in Artvoice June 23rd 2016

Photo:  Megan in Artvoice Magazine, June 2016.

Exhaustion and burnout can be an issue if not careful in that business.

So, enter kayaking and camping.  We didn’t do either of these things for outdoor activities when she was a kid, but she always wanted to.  She and a small group of close friends often rough-it out in the beautiful countryside of the southern tier of New York State, or northern Pennsylvania.  With kayaks and tents loaded up, they always manage to find these areas of serene landscapes to unplug and get the fingernails dirty.  Last weekend, they chose the gorgeous hills of the Allegheny National Forest.  Megan always takes pictures for us.  (Why am I hearing the whistle of the old Andy Griffith Show theme song?)

Kayaks PA The lakes and streams are crystal clear, and cold.  With an oar in one hand, and a camera in the other, I love getting to see her kayak perspective.

Kayak 2 PA

Honestly, can’t you just smell the pines and feel the cool breeze rising off the calm waters?  Yeah, me too.

At night they circle the campfire, laughing at each other’s stories, and roasting s’mores over the open fire.  Usually, it’s the wee hours before everyone hits the tents and rolled out sleeping bags.  Ah, youth.

Early last Sunday morning, Aug 2nd around 5 o’clock, while nicely wrapped in their sleeping bags, the piercing quietness of the forest suddenly was shattered by the canvas-shaking roar and snorts of a loud animal in the camp.  Everyone jumped a couple of inches off the ground by the unexpected wildlife just a few feet from the tent stakes.  Peeking out from the flaps of the tent opening, Megan saw something huge and hairy hovering over the food supplies by the now quenched campfire.  Someone turned a flashlight on the enormous growling mass of a creature to find a extra large black bear.

Black Bear Wiki

Photo:  American Black Bear (Wikipedia)

The flashlight in his face didn’t disturb him one iota.  Then someone began to yell and scream at the hefty bear with hopes of frightening him away.  The vocals fell deaf on his slightly rounded ears.  About that time, someone, probably the drummer, had the idea to grab a couple of metal chairs, and beer bottles, and proceeding to clang them together in a sharp ruckus sound for the bear’s fear factors.  No doubt the sound echoed throughout the hills with an ear-shaking frequency.  Still, the bear did not flinch.  Not one eyelash was batted.  It seemed an 18-wheeler could hit the big wall of black hair and he would’ve only be slightly annoyed.  Fright began to turn in the minds of Megan and friends as their bear-banishing choices came to an end.  In cases like this, experts say to flap your arms way up in the air while growling and yelling as you jump up and down to make yourself look bigger than you are.  For some reason that is the best way to scare-off a bear, and other wildlife.  However, no one was brave enough to try it as close as they were to the massive beast.

Nothing they did worked to spook the animal away because he was laser-beam focused on a nylon backpack full of all the ingredients for s’mores.  That’s right.  Inside were graham crackers, marshmallows, honey, and chocolate bars.  He tore into the tough nylon exterior of the pack, as if it were rice paper, and began to chow down, cardboard boxes, plastic wrappers and all.  Nothing that they could do, percussion, scream, or shine on him mattered.  His mind was in tune with one thing…his sweet-tooth.  Interestingly enough, right next to him was a cooler full of hot-dogs, deli turkey meat, and cheese.  I am sure his nose picked up on the scent of the meat and cheese, but even so, the sugar in the backpack was his priority.  THANK GOD!  Finally, the brute of a beast knocked over a cooking kettle next to him and with a dart, he ran off with the makings of s’mores.  The key was…he frightened himself.  His own, “fear itself” shook his core.

I told Megan if that had been a mama with her cubs looking for food, they all would be dead in the woods, far from civilization.  (It was just the dad in me adding that tidbit.)

alone calm faith light
Photo by Garon Piceli on Pexels.com

Yep, sometimes when you pray for your kids, you often don’t know just what you are praying for until after a life & death event occurs.  The Everlasting Arms searches the prayerful heart while holding the future in His hands.

In this strange and spooky election year, full of rage, riots, fires, loud voices, along with a frightening pandemic, we can choose to be the bear, or we can choose to be the kids with noise-making talents.  Personally, call me Yogi.  With all the distractions of our uneasy, restless times, I shall not be moved.  My choice is to stay focused of the life, liberty, and the sweet pursuit of happiness our founding fathers placed in a bag just for me and my descendants.  I will NOT be distracted from it by all the noise-making.  My choice is to stand on what I know to be true in my heart, that core which turns me to the east or west, north, or south.  I will keep my nose in that bag of treats from 1776 and disregard all else that attempts to woo my attention.

Thank you, bear.  Thank you for the personal application at this time in my life.  Most of all, thank you for obeying your Creator by not caring if my daughter was five feet from you while stuffing your cute face.

Speaking frankly, the bear necessities can be rediscovered in fuel for the race.

 “Let a man meet a bear robbed of her cubs, rather than a fool in his folly.”                – Proverbs 17:12 (NAS)

 

Train Up

“There is no power on earth
like your fathers’ love
So big and so strong as your father’s love
A promise that’s sacred,
a promise from heaven above
No matter where you go…
always know You can depend on
your father’s love.”  (1998)  “Father’s Love”  Recorded by:  BOB CARLISLE   Composer’s: RANDY THOMAS, ROBERT MASON CARLISLE

I have a secret I want to reveal to you.  But first…

The cover photo above is our young Japanese Maple in our backyard.  One of the many talents packed inside my father-in-law was landscaping.  In his backyard, he raised a tree to grow sideways.  As you view it, the trunk comes off the ground vertically for a couple of feet, then with an extreme bend grew some five, or six feet horizontally to the ground.  As your eyes would follow the great trunk, you then would see an extreme bend to rise upward toward the sky once again.  The house was sold after he passed away a few years ago, so I do not have a photo of this large zig-zag tree trunk.  It is highly unusual, but stunning.  His daughter, my wife, has his genes coming out of her pores.  As you can see in the cover photo, she is training a young tree to do the same as the tree she grew up with.  If you can expand it, or zoom-in, you can see the stake in the ground, as well as a string pulling the lower trunk outward.  It’s all outer space to me.  She knows what she’s doing in this arena.  One thing I do know, training takes time.  Training takes endurance.  Training takes the touch of love.

I was raised by a single mom.  With the dynamics of my biological father, and a distant step-father who adopted me when I was six years old, I don’t have any good stories of great love from a father.  Even my adopted father ended in divorce only four years after the remarriage.  However, I can point to a plumb-line in my life who vowed earl-on to help raise me.  He was old enough to have been my dad.  He was only 42 when I came into the world.

Granddad at the grill. early 1980s. Photo:  My granddad, Martin Atherton  (1918-2008)

My mom’s dad was a giant of a man.  In stature he was only about 5′-9″ tall.  Yet, his deeds, his love, his ethics, his words were from a heart of gold which only could belong to a herculean man of 6′-9″.

Martin Atherton helped to shape my thinking, even though I never lived under his roof, with the exception of a few short months in my toddler days.  He was a blue-collar worker, master auto mechanic, who never wanted his kids to become a mechanic, as he thought the money wasn’t enough for the hard labor involved.  His hard work was displayed in his rough, strong hands.  Although soft spoken, he was a John Wayne type character.  He would’ve done well in the wild west times.  Oh, the novel I could write about this gent.

I will include the fact that he never once sat me down to lecture me on the Ten Commandments, the birds and the bees, or the “career talk”.  He trained me gently by the sheer act of witnessing his life.  He was a leader in his church, a respected man in his community, his workplace, and a man well-known for honesty, sealed with a handshake and a nod.  His word was his bond.

Most of all, he trained me by my willingness to listen to what others would testify about him.  Scores and scores of men and women spoke highly of him, as the countenance on their faces gleamed while the Martin Atherton soundtrack of the mind rolled out of their mouths.  He was someone God would write about.

He trained me by seeing how he loved my grandmother, and how she responded.

6 OMA MRA Bonnie&Clyde Photo:  Martin & Opal Atherton (1941ish)

He trained me by his love for America’s freedom, fighting in WWII while serving in the navy in the Philippines.  He had two young sons, both under five years old, and one on the way, when he could no longer keep himself tied to the title of “citizen” only.  He heard the urgent alarms of military service needed in the Pacific and answered the call at great risk.

He trained me to do all I could to respect and honor the president of the United States, even if policies and personalities were not personally agreeable.

He trained me to search to find the good in the individual, even if looking the other way at times seemed appropriate.

He trained me to love family, nucleus or extended family, even when greatly tempted to hate.

Example:  Back in the late 1940’s he had a brother-in-law, my Great-Uncle Buster, who was physically abusive to his wife, my Great-Aunt Pauline.  She once lost a baby when he punched her in the belly while pregnant with their first child.  She never could have children afterward.  This man was a severe hyper-alcoholic, to the point of drunken violent rages landing him in jail many times.  He often caused havoc in their small farming community.  At one family gathering in east Texas, this man showed up baked to the very bone with bottle in hand.  It’s unclear just how it started, but the man caused a violent, profane stir in front of the family, including the children attending.  As was the “bent” of my granddad, he tried to calm his brother-in-law down, but the sloshed man wouldn’t abide.  Being a WWII sailor, my granddad knew how this would go.  My granddad began to strongly encourage him to leave and sleep it off.  During the altercation, my Great-Uncle Buster pulled out a knife with one hand and broke off the top of his whiskey bottle with the other.  He charged at my granddad to stab and cut him open in front of the entire clan.  Thank God he disarmed him and knocked Buster cold.  He didn’t hold a grudge against his brother-in-law.  In fact, years later, he trusted Jesus as he put away the bottle, sobered up and lived a peaceful, calm life on his farm until the day he died.  In my growing up years, I never knew the “other” Uncle Buster, and I’m grateful.  Throughout, my granddad showed love and respect for him, even though many did not.

He trained me to valiantly defend the home, family, and loved ones.  It was his way to aid any and all, even if it meant personal loss.  He was always looking out for the needy underdog.

He trained me to think and act with an abundance of generosity and benevolence.

He trained me to troubleshoot difficult circumstances, even if it was a painful road.

He trained me to walk closest to the curb when walking with a lady on the sidewalk.

Many pages could be filled about my granddad.  Again, he was a soft spoken man with very little words, but with great deeds of a legacy to ponder.  Truly, a salt of the earth gentleman.

There is a passage that’s always caused me pause.  It comes from Solomon.

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6 (KJV)

There have been many a commentary on just how to interpret this scripture.  Some believe it simply means, instruct a child in the way he is bent while still pliable.  Some say it speaks of training the child in the tenor of his way.  A few will say this only applies to academia, in which Solomon was a champ.  Another will say, instruct a youth about his way(s), common or uncommon.  Some will say it’s concerning training in a specific trade inside a youthful life.  (You might be a piano player, yet the child shows gifting in construction.)  Some will teach it’s all about moral training from childhood.  Sermons are built on the idea this passage speaks of training in the things of God, and His Law.  While others will preach the meaning surrounds the training of the ways of the culture, the civility of the community one grows up in.

Personally, I think it’s possible all of the above options are accurate.  Whatever the subject matter, not one child will be schooled if there is a lack of an instructor.

At the same time, we all can attest to the well-known fact that all kids do NOT grow up clinging to what they have been taught.  Just ask most ministers with older kids.  How can one say a young rioter deems it righteous to loot and burn down a place of business, if he was trained to honor and respect his/her neighbor?  The other evidence can been found in generations of weeping parents.  It very well could be Solomon was not “promising” a life of roses for all who were trained to observe righteousness and love.  Much of Solomon’s own children were lawbreakers.  For me, I believe the scripture pertains to a generality of the averages.  Certainly the principle is there.  I know my daughters were trained up to observe righteousness, civility, and ways of career and education.  However, as adults, they don’t always abide by what I trained them to do.  Regardless, they have my love and respect even so.

Girls & Me-March 2015

Photo:  L-R:  Tabitha, Megan, me, D’Anna  (2015)

For me, the explosive word in Solomon’s text just might be…”Train UP…”  The idea is, onward and upward for a better future, not the opposite.  It’s always an advantage to have a grandson write about how great you are sixty years from now.  Wouldn’t that be commendable?

The Japanese Maple in our backyard is being trained up with a bend in its trunk.  Although we have plenty of winding, bends in our road of life, if trained well, we trend upward.  My hope is that it will survive gravity and the Texas weather in the years to come.  It takes a stick and a string for now.

Oh, yes.  I mentioned I would share a secret with you.  Here it is.  My secret is, I have failed way too many times to even measure closely to my early training.  When I get it right, I just consider it a special moment from above.

Training UP has a manual within the heart of fuel for the race.

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as reminders on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Teach them to your children, speaking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates,…”  – Deutoronmy 11:18-19  (Berean Study Bible)

 

Lessons From The Backyard

“…Climbed a mountain and I turned around
And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills
‘Til the landslide brought me down.”  (1975)   “Landslide”  Recorded by:  Fleetwood Mac  Composer:  Stevie Nicks

The cover picture above tells the tale fairly well, before I get to the tail of this post.

Bonnie Piano

Photo:  Bonnie taking her naps on my printer.

I’ve never been a cat person.  I was born and raised with a dog which started a long life of canine palship ever since.  For a short stint, when I was five years old, we had a couple of cats named, “Pete & Repeat”.  They didn’t have much to do with me, with the exception of giving me cat scratch fever.  So, my heart has been wrapped around, what one of my daughters once called, “Dogness”. 

Then in 2017 I remarried.  Inheriting a step-cat was part of the wedding vows.

Bonnie-Bon, as we call her, stole my heart right away.  This little brindle feline loves to cuddle with me when she comes inside for some family time.  She curls up in my lap next to the arm of the recliner, along with a light blanket under her.  She enjoys cocking her head in focus as she paws at my goatee.  If I’m writing at my desk she will often make her place on my printer, only after she walks across my keyboard, jotting down statements only she can decipher.  She will scare the stuffings out of me as I sit in the living room when I suddenly hearing someone playing the piano in the study/studio two rooms over.  Frankly, it sounds like a kid banging away on the keys in efforts to mimic a maestro once seen on Great Performances on PBS.  I’ll jerk my head over to see the doorway of the study/studio just in time to see little Bonnie prancing out of the room as if she had accomplished something of high esteem.  The shocking part is, she is not sporting tux & tails.  (Well, maybe the tail part.)  The best part of Bonnie’s personality, she enjoys our two dogs, even to the point of running about with them as if she’s part of a pack.  Believe it or not, she has learned to mimic a dog’s bark.  She needs to be a guest on a late night talk show.  Yes, I’ve grown very fond of our Bonnie.

Bonnie & Me

Bonnie enjoys selfies.

If you’re a pet-person than you know how it is.  There’s a tendency to be massaged into thinking of your pal-of-another-kind as almost human.  Thus, we begin to speak to them as if they have human minds, wants, and needs.  So true, until they bring in a dead rodent to present as a trophy right in the middle of the kitchen floor.  Not long ago, not once, but twice, Bonnie brought in a live lizard, about 4″-5″ in length.  Not realizing she had it jailed inside her mouth, there was no urge to run her outside.  Instead, she plopped herself down, looked up at us and dropped her prize on the floor, accompanied by a gigantic meow.  Of course, once free from its cell, it ran across the room making a mad dash under the range oven for shelter.  Arg!  Suddenly, I came to the realization that Bonnie was not a human little girl after all.  In both events we caught the reptilians in another room of the house the following day.

Backyard MirrorBonnie spends most of her time in the small sun-room adjacent to the back-steps leading to the backyard.  You might say, the backyard is her jungle, her domain, her personal wildlife preserve, where I’ve witnessed her sitting like a statue in the bushes, as if to say, “Nothing to see here.  Move on.”

Backyard BenchA few days ago, my wife, Michelle, was in the backyard watering the plants.  Our two dogs and Bonnie were out with her enjoying a warm morning in Texas.  Michelle heard a loud, frantic call from a nearby bird.  She spotted an agitated mockingbird yelling her obvious profanities from a lower limb from one of our trees.  She quickly flew from that perch to the top rail of the fence, to another tree, and so on.  Michelle tried to calm the feathered frantic female as she walked around with the garden hose.

The following morning, Michelle walked out into the sun-room and spied the body of a juvenile mockingbird laying at the back door threshold.  The body wasn’t mangled, half-eaten, or torn.  Of course, immediately she put the backyard events from the day before together with the current crime scene.  With a huge sigh, she shouted, “Bonnie-Bon!  You baby bird murderer!”  As expected, Bonnie just sat there on her fanny looking very proud.

Then, morning #2 came.  Michelle walked out into the sun-room to put cat food in Bonnie’s bowl when she saw it.  Another crime scene, in the very same location.  This time, two baby mockingbirds side-by-side, lined up ready for the crime scene photo for the crime lab.  She heard a bird chirp a few feet away.  There, on the back-step handrail, the mama mockingbird.  She was just looking at her deceased babies and Michelle.  She chirped again as if to utter, “Can you fix them?”  Michelle told me later she almost cried at the sight of the saddened mama.  She spoke to her in shared grief, “I’m so sorry, little mama.  I’m so sorry.”

(Excuse me while I grab a tissue.  Wait right here.  I’ll be back.)

A couple of days later, I was watering the plants in the backyard.  I heard several sirens going by in the distance.  The city had warned the residents of a local protest event just a few blocks from our street.  With the riotous mayhem of late, leaving cars and businesses burned or looted, all I could think of was protecting my home.  Then the mockingbird and Bonnie came to mind.

America, and the entire world, have suffered great loss at the jaws and claws of COVID-19.  Then, just as America began to show signs of improvements in the struggle to defeat the virus, the tragic murder of a black man at the hands of a white police officer took place in Minneapolis, launching a barrage of protests across the nation.  Inside the various groups of protesters were anarchists stalking, waiting and ready to use the peaceful protesters as a front to scorch us…we, the people.

It has been said many times in the media that many will not come out the other side of the pandemic intact, some, not at all.  Suicides jumped to record highs.  Drug use has skyrocketed.  Domestic violence has forged its way into the record books.  Vast unemployment landed on most of the population.  Many small and medium sized businesses went belly-up, unable to glide through the torrent of the shutdown’s gravitational pull.  Untold amounts of students have fallen behind due to the closure.  A multitude of deaths have been recorded due to the pandemic.  The punch has been painful.  No one, being honest, would say we are not in a weakened condition.

The leadership of anarchist groups sat still in the shrubbery of the COVID calamity, injecting a dose of national turmoil, just planning a time when a tripwire would be sprung for the pouncing of evil deeds to be lashed upon a battered society.  Yes, that’s right.  I called it “evil”.  If you’re offended, just know I was offended first.  Since the planning and stalking of these murderous groups, countless people have been displaced, injured, and murdered.  The enforcement of public safety for our neighborhoods has been violently assaulted, abused, and dishonored.  In the wake of this pouncing on our nation’s remains are ruined lives, torched dreams, hell-lit hopes.  In the clearing fog of the crippling pandemic, were those perched to destroy America from the inside out, having attempted to breakdown whatever else remains intact.  Meanwhile, those left alive who helped to build this commonwealth of people at liberty, sit helplessly on the handrails to weep at the carnage and wreckage the emptied-souls have waged.

Solomon wrote that there is a time for mourning.  It indicates the mourning is momentary.  When mourning is over, there is the courageous fight, the strength, the victorious raising of the torch for those who come after us.

On a hopeful note, THIS is AMERICA!  Our liberty was fought for several times over.  Our roots are buried here in blood-soaked soil.  The majority of citizenry, the loving, hard-working public of all shades of skin in this nation will stand for justice, law and order, as well as flushing out injustice.  Beyond this truth, there is a God of Righteousness Who birthed this country.  He gave us the right to vote in free elections to remove and place our local and federal representatives, along with various public servants at will.  He still sits on His throne.  Nothing, has not been filtered through His Almighty hand.

As for Bonnie…I’m so grateful she is not 500 pounds.

Bonnie Face 1

Gravity is a harsh reality when out of the nest.  Nestle safely in fuel for the race.

“Be alert, be reflective, because your enemy Satan roars like a lion and is walking and seeking whom he may devour.”  1 Peter 5:8   (Aramaic Bible In Plain English)

The Lost Ones

Cover Photo:  “Saving Private Ryan” – Dreamworks/Paramount/Amblin/Mutual Pictures

“Sister Suzie, brother John
Martin Luther, Phil and Don
Brother Michael, auntie Gin.
Open the door and let ’em in…”  (1976)  “Let ‘Em In” – Recorded by: Wings.  Composer:  Paul McCartney

Only God knows what dangers they faced, or what turmoil and unbearable strife they endured.  Nonetheless, they made their mark.

Back in the 1970’s, on a lonely hill, on what we knew were the outskirts of our Dallas suburb, where there were still pastures in the area, was a new church building where I was active in my youth group as a teenager.  Just on the other side of the west-side driveway, which leads from the main road to the parking lot in the back of the building, was our makeshift baseball diamond.  I don’t even think we had a backstop fence behind home-plate.  It was more of a sandlot style field to play ball, and practice for the local softball church league.  We spent some hot summer days out there, as we wiped our sweaty faces with the leather of our baseball gloves.  Just west of home-plate, maybe twenty yards or so, was the edge of a wooded area.  Actually, it was more like a dark thicket, dense in brush, Mesquite trees, along with assorted older kinds of trees.  The unkempt tangled mass was so thick, nobody dared walk through it without a machete.  Therefore, none of us paid any attention to the small wooded clump of pastureland.  In fact, if an overthrown ball made it into the thicket, you couldn’t retrieve it without getting scratched by all the branches, briers, and twigs.  Little did we know at that time the historical significance submerged beneath.

However, communities grow, realtors have their blueprints for a bustling expanse of a commonwealth.  Planning and zoning took their grip as contractors began to clear pastureland for new streets, neighborhoods, and shopping centers.

And so it was, the northern sector of our suburb developed with NASCAR speed in the 1980’s.  I lived here during this wave of development and still held my mouth open in awe of all the changes.

One of those changes was my former church selling a sector of their land just west of the building, where our baseball diamond was.  It wasn’t long afterward, the bulldozers began to roll, making way for a new subdivision of upscale homes.  As they did, they proceeded to clear the wooded area next to our old sandlot.  All the machinery came to a halt when a foreman yelled out, “Hey, wait!  Hold up there!”  As it turned out, there in the midst of all the overgrown thicket, a small cemetery, long forgotten by generations past.

When first discovered, rumors flew around the community.  One such rumor was an old graveyard of black slaves with unmarked graves had been discovered.  My heart sank just thinking about it.  Although it turned out not to be the case, it was the only story I heard about the forgotten patch of a cemetery.  It’s what I handed down to my kids, as well.  Not once did I visit the place throughout the years.  Don’t ask me why.  If you did, I guess I would tell you it was because it’s not a very convenient spot to get to.  And that is still true today.  Nevertheless, I put an end to my procrastination a couple of weeks ago.  The historical cemetery sits less than a mile from my street.

It took several years, and some civic struggle, but after the research was done, and the zoning commission had their hearings concerning the old cemetery, it was agreed to preserve the plot.  So, in a way, they did just that.  They built the new neighborhood around it.  Literally, between two of the new homes built at the edge of the new subdivision.  There is a marker out by the curb of a very busy street.  However, if you blink, while doing 45 MPH, you would never know it’s there.  And yet, it is.  Nestled between a couple of fabulous homes, on a street of the same, lies a small patch of ground about the size of a small frame house, about the length and width of the average front yard of homes from the 1930’s-1940’s.  You might be able to park four or five large SUV’s on the strip of land.

Kennedy Sign

To sum it up, in 1858, a pioneer in a covered wagon, brought his wife and four children across the Midwest reaching the plains, from Illinois to the prairies north of Dallas, Texas.  His name was Snyder Kennedy.  He was one of the first founders of our town, close to, what was then called, the Elm Fork of the Trinity River, approximately three miles west of my house.  On this small spot of land, where his family cemetery is now preserved, over thirty people are possibly buried there, including several infants.  (I say, “possibly” because there are over thirty names listed, but it has been said, only twenty-three are confirmed in the plot.)  There are no longer any individual markers due to the work of vandals during the 1950’s.  There are no outlines designating grave plots, or any other markings highlighting where a final resting place can be located.  It left me in a saddened state.

Snyder Kennedy’s headstone was later moved to a local community cemetery a couple of miles away, but no graves were exhumed or transferred.  The first person buried there is his wife.  In 1859, she was laid to rest under an oak, only one year after they arrived to homestead.

A large stone marker chronicles at least thirty names, with birth/death years.  One of the family members who rests there is the grandson of a man who helped to finance a great deal of the United States Revolutionary War.  At the bottom of the list of family members spanning over five decades, a lone sentence reads, “And others only known to God.”

Kennedy Family Marker

There is so much story missing here.  I wish I knew more about this family, their lives, loves, and adventures.  I’m sure a novel could’ve been written of the life and times of these Texas pioneers.  But, isn’t this the nature of abandonment?

So, what’s my point?

It’s disturbing to me in knowing this hallowed ground was literally just a baseball’s toss away from me as a teenager, and I wasn’t aware.  Moreover, it’s disturbing to me how I drove by this place of honor a thousand times through the decades, never making the attempt to educate myself, and my three daughters, about this courageous Texas homesteading family.  Lost ones, forgotten by the community they helped to launch before the Civil War.

It’s disturbing to me knowing the simple truth that generations of my fellow citizens didn’t care enough to keep this ground of grief as a special historic place of honor.  For whatever reason, Carrollton’s apathy directed inaction which fertilized the thicket encasing these 30+ interned so long ago.

Likewise, It’s disturbing to me when it’s reported that refrigerated 18-wheelers sit outside many American hospitals storing COVID-19 victims in body bags.

It’s disturbing to me when I hear of our WWII vets falling to COVID-19 while in nursing homes, due to poor management, poor care, or simply unattended.  The gravity of the fact that many Coronavirus patients were sent to nursing home communities, infecting others who were sitting ducks, is a hefty weight to digest.

It’s disturbing to me when reports hit the news of funeral homes stacking the bodies of virus victims against storage room walls, due to poorly directed funeral companies.

This is not a political posting, railing against certain politicians, or public health admins, or even a particular nation.  I fear we daily count the departed, and toss them aside as a number for the tote board.  However, if a famous person falls prey to COVID-19, we acknowledge and mourn that person in every news outlet from here to there.  But what about the mom, the dad, those grandparents, that co-worker, and a few 98 year old war heroes?  They had sweet memories, loving families, hopes, and dreams.  NEVER should one of these be “stacked” on top of another in a body bag.

Unfortunately, I feel the overcooked politicization of COVID-19 has become the dark thicket overshadowing the lives cut short during this pandemic.  Beyond that, this Memorial Day in the United States will be less than what it should be due to the restrictions laying upon us.

Yes, it’s disturbing.  What may be even more disturbing, is none of this may be disturbing to many in our society.

God help us if memorializing the lost ones becomes blase while in the jaws of this crisis.  A memorial will be needed.  As on September 11th, names should be recited.  Never should it be said, “And others only known to God”.  We are created in His image.  Humanity deserves more than this.

Is it not true, looking for that silver lining sometimes takes a telescope?

Remembering our lost ones is a dignity taught in fuel for the race.

“Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’  When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to Him, ‘Lord, come and see.’  Jesus wept.  So the Jews were saying, ‘See how He loved him!’” – John 11:32-36  (NAS)

 

 

 

When Mom Fades

This was not the post I was planning for upload today.  Literally, I sat down at my desk to construct a post I’ve mulled over for three weeks now, when suddenly I remembered to try again to reach my mom on the phone.  It would be the fourth attempt today.  This time it worked.  She answered.  We spoke.  Afterward I felt the sliding of my emotions which tends to be the norm of late.

In the past, on Mother’s Day weekend, I have told her story.  Each year I gained morsels of bravery to shed more light on our tapestry.  It’s a unique, heroic recounting of a strong, courageous single mom.

Mom 1962 Grandmother's Kitchen

At 15, she found herself fighting off, or attempted to fight off, her rapist.  I was the product of that violent attack.  Being out of her crushed mind, heart, and spirit, she attempted suicide twice while pregnant with me, but survived.  She was unaware God had His plans of destiny beyond the messy road she was on.  I told this story with a great amount of reveals a year ago.  I invite you to look at May’s archives from last year to get a sharper camera angle of her torn life. (“If I Were…” From May 10, 2019)

Mom & Me Granddad's Coin Box

In the last 20 years she took-on the role of caregiver for her parents, who suffered from Alzheimer’s.  Nancy Reagan called this disease, “The Long Good-bye”.  She was right.  My mom retired as early as she could to move-in with her ailing parents, giving up her life to hold them up, as best as she could, as they faced the monster of this disease.  My granddad passed away first with complications of dementia in 2008.  My grandmother had full-blown Alzheimer’s, struggling with it for about 14 years before she passed.

My mom aged quickly while being a soldier for her folks.  It was difficult to see her own physical health decline during those years of tremendous servanthood.  I was never more proud of her battling away in those times.

Around 2014, her oldest brother, 4 years older than her, began to show signs of the same disease.  Today, he is deep in the jaws of the struggle, rendering him to a shell of a man, vacant in many ways.  A couple of years ago, my mom’s other brother, 2 years her senior, began to mentally deteriorate with the same invader of the body.  Trust me, it is no respecter of persons, or brilliance.

My mom is only 16 years older than I.  (I’m turning 60 in a few short days.)  Over the last 2 years, I became aware my mom was changing, and not for the better.  She lives alone about 70 minutes from me in the house she grew-up in.  At first, I felt the changes I observed were simple gaffs of the aging process.  Our communication often left me scratching my head.  There were occasions where she got lost while traveling to our part of the Dallas Metroplex, a way she knows like the back of her hand.  About 2 years ago we were to meet at a halfway point, as we have done many times before.  Her sense of direction was totally absent.  She had to call me for help to walk her through which way to turn at each intersection.  When I instructed her to turn left, she would turn right, not understanding the mistake.  It was on that day I realized she…we had a problem.  It would be a problem that would grow.

Recently, almost overnight, she found herself unable to spell the simplest words.  Her cell phone texts became more difficult to read as the days rolled on.  She began having issues with sentence construction and word retrieval during our conversations.  Items would come up missing in her house.  She blames it on her dog.  Asking if I can help is a loss.  She no longer allows me in the house.  Her excuse is it’s too messy for company.  In the last few months, she has had losing battles in operating her cell phone, including prompts, icons, and modes.  Today, in our telephone exchange, she expressed an urge to give it up and order a simple landline phone.  I hope it helps because she has trouble answering the phone these days.

There are also other health issues of concern I recognize as side symptoms of dementia.  She is a proud, independent woman, and holds these cards close to her chest as I attempt to decipher how her daily life is changing.

Frankly, I know where this is going.  As she shrugs it off as amusing, even humorous, I am accepting the fact that my mom is fading before my eyes.

Somewhere in the thicket of my mind, I knew this day was coming.  Although there was a 20 year span as my grandparents experienced massive declining health, there were also wonderful times of mysterious joy in the midst of it all.  I must remember this as I tend to my mom’s needs today and tomorrow.  Currently, I just don’t know how, or where to begin.

Mom salon

So, what’s the purpose of this particular post?  Unaware of the true answer, all I can do is display brutal honesty of how I feel on this Mother’s Day weekend.  Because I didn’t have a dad around, most of the time in my life, I saw her as my touchstone.  I liken it to a small child in a swimming pool, with an inflatable tube around his/her torso.  He/she feels much safer holding on to the side of the pool with his/her waterlogged wrinkled hand grasping tightly to the concrete edge.

I’m turning 60 years old now.  It’s time to let go of the concrete edge.  Scripture tells us not to hold too tightly to this world, especially what we deem as “concrete”.  Even concrete crumbles.

As the concrete crumbles in my grasp, I am reminded once again, God is the life-saving tube around my torso.

My days are filled with the reminder that I need to top off my tank every day with fuel for the race.

“So I said: ‘Do not take me away, my God, in the midst of my days; your years go on through all generations.  In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded.  But you remain the same, and your years will never end.'”  – Psalm 102: 24-27 (NIV)

 

 

 

The Essentials

Cover Photo:  Pexels

“I need you like water
Like breath, like rain
I need you like mercy
From heaven’s gate
There’s a freedom in your arms
That carries me through
I need you”  (2000) “I Need You”  Recorded by:  LeAnn Rimes                                        Composers:  Dennis Matkosky & Ty Lacy

This is embarrassing, but I need to share one of the craziest knuckleheaded things I’m guilty of.  Keep in mind, I was only 15 years old, full of adventure and vigor, with constant daredevil brainstorms.  And of course, I was indestructible in the summer of 1975.  Weren’t you at 15?

I was at a summer camp, with church friends, from my youth group on the banks of the sprawling, Lake Texoma, on the Texas side.  Lake Texoma is huge, as it spans parts of southern Oklahoma, as well as, north-central Texas.  In fact, it’s one of the largest reservoirs in the United States.  It’s a fisherman’s haven, about 74 miles north of Dallas, Texas.  You should Google it to get a better picture of what I’m about to reveal to you.  Sightings of alligators are rare there, but they are there.

Lake Texoma Map Pinterest

Tied-up along the banks, were a few blocks of Styrofoam, the largest about 5’x5′ square, and approximately 2-feet in thickness.  I think they used them for some sort of “King of The Hill” games in shallow waters.  Difficult to keep one’s balance if standing on top.

Three of my extremely bright friends, and I, came up with a brilliant plan.  Like calculating convicts, planning an elaborate overnight escape from prison, we carefully planned out a scheme to barrow some brooms, make our way down to the Styrofoam blocks under the cover of night, board it, and paddle our way to Oklahoma and back before sunup.  Three of us were athletes.  I was a trained tournament fighter in karate/kickboxing.  One was a state award-winning gymnast, headed for the Olympic trials.  One was a football player.  The other was…well…a guitar player.  What could possibly go wrong?

About midnight, we quietly freed ourselves from our barracks.  We made our way to the maintenance worker’s shed.  There we discovered only two brooms, one mop, and a fan rake.  We figured it’s all we had, so we borrowed what God gave us.  What could possibly go wrong?

Brooms etc

Like four teenage ninjas, we quietly made our way down to the shore, untied the biggest block of Styrofoam available, and with each one sitting on each of the four corners, with our legs hanging over the sides, we began to row like madmen on a quest.  Of course, the brooms worked better than the mop and rake, but we strategically placed the two guys with brooms (I was one of them.) on the opposite diagonal corners for better rowing balance.  So, off we went, in our dark clothes into the dark waters, lacking life jackets, flashlights, reflectors, or flares.  What could possibly go wrong?

lighted building near body of water at nighttime
Photo by Lum3n on Pexels.com

We had a blast, rowing 90-to-nothin’, talking about girls, our camp counselors, the mess hall’s food, our youth pastor, and…alligators.  What could possibly go wrong?

Believe it or not, we made good nautical mileage in short order.  To this day I have no true sense of how far out we went, but I will guess two miles, or so.  What we didn’t realize is how far across the Oklahoma shore was from our campsite.  I will say, it looked a lot closer than reality.

I don’t believe we made it even halfway across when we all decided to take a break.  We laid back, with our empty pointed heads meeting in the middle, looking up at the stars with the sound of water licking the sides of our…yacht.

At that time, we all knew we had bit-off more than we could chew, but didn’t speak it into the overnight air.  After a time, in our exhaustion, we debated the idea of defeat.  Someone brought up the thought that if we got caught we would all be sent back home in a shame wagon.  On the other hand, someone brought up the fact that if we didn’t start paddling back, the sunrise would beat us, revealing our naval escapade.  We would be exposed to those headed for breakfast.  The skinniest guy said he didn’t have the strength to paddle with his mop any longer.  Silently, each of us began to consider the danger we were in, sitting on a piece of Styrofoam in the middle of Lake Texoma, without safety flotation devices, not to mention…alligators.  Personally, I was more worried about the lake legend of the wild goat-man who lurks about the shores looking for young campers, no doubt since the days of Moses.

Bravely, one by one, we agreed to make a 180 to paddle back before dawn.  With arms feeling like rubber, half dead on our feet, we made it to shore while it was still dark.  We swore we would never tell anyone.  The four of us made a pact.  What could possibly go wrong?  You guessed it, the week wasn’t over until one of us (Not me.) bragged about it to a girlfriend.  Before you could say, “Gator-bait” everyone on the campgrounds heard about it.  We narrowly escaped an early trip home.  And some, didn’t believe we did it.  I’m grateful I am still here to write about it.  God’s mercy and grace are real, in real-time.

Me and Tommy

Photo:  I’m on the right, with another fearless one acting like fools.

The 1975-Forging Foursome came to mind recently during our current COVID-19 crisis.  That still night out on Lake Texoma involved four teenagers who relied on each other to stay afloat, to stay alive.  Whether one had a broom, a mop, or a rake, we depended on each other, even though we were pooped in the dark on top of 100 feet of water.  For us, we were a team to be reckoned with.  We were essential to one another.

Don’t misunderstand what I’m about to say.  In this pandemic crisis, only essential businesses, essential workers, essential volunteers were called upon to keep America afloat.  The non-essentials were/are under “Shelter-In-Place” orders.  Truly, there was/is a good reason for it.  The virus we battle is like a team of alligators in darkened waters.  I, for one, am extremely grateful for first responders, medical staffers, fast-food services, grocery stores, truckers, farmers and ranchers, gas station managers, sanitation workers, postal workers, etc….  They are all rowing in unison as fast as they can to protect the rest of us.  They were all placed on their jobs for, “such a time as this”.

However, in the end, WE are ALL “Essential”.  Much like pieces of a puzzle, we are all essential to one another.  Where would we be if not for the shoe salesman, the record producer, the librarian, the barber, the DMV clerk, the house painter, and the carpet layer?  Sure, in the crunch-time of paddling through the dark waters of the COVID-19 battle, some jobs are needed to be on the front lines of the viral war.  I get that.  I agree with that.  However, in the end, after life is done, there will be a ditch-digger, a candle-maker, a school janitor, a tool & die maker, who will realize they were part of God’s assorted massive toolbox.  There are no non-essentials here.

God Himself will say to some, “Well done, good and faithful servant”.

Each one is precious, and needed.  Each one has an essential place with fuel for the race.

“…Whatever you might do, work from the soul, as to the Lord and not to men…” – Colossians 3:23 (excerpt) – (Berean Literal Version)

The Journey On Highway COVID-19

Cover Photo: t0.gstatic.com

“Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free.
Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me…”  (1968)  “The Weight”  Recorded By:  The Band.  Composer:  Robbie Robertson

The Anvil

By:  Alan Scott Brown

There’s nothing like heat in the desert rising off a paved road.  They’ll say, “Oh, but it’s a dry heat.”  Just tell that to the sweltering backpacker, Levon “Fanny” Gates.  He shockingly found himself in the middle of a wilderness, on the road to a place called, Nazareth, just on the other side of the state line.  I say, “shockingly” because before his boots felt the searing concrete of this wasteland, he had been dreaming of the village with its rolling hills, orchards, and well-established vineyards.  His freshly cut front lawn was the launching point for a pleasurable outdoor hike through the pines, the cool brooks, and lavish meadows.

As if he had awakened from a dream of the plush land of plenty, he now absorbs the dangerous sunrays, feeling every drop of sweat rolling down his torso.  His canvas hat certainly covered his head, but the scorching heat invaded his scalp as if he wasn’t wearing anything at all.  Even his denim backpack was soaked in sweat.  If it wasn’t 112 degrees Fahrenheit, it would be soon, when the afternoon sun comes piercing through.

gray concrete road
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

Not much vegetation thrives out here, with the exception of sage, cactus, and the occasional Yucca plant.  Refreshing rains are welcomed, but scarce and quick.  Fanny prayed for, what they called back home, a “gully-washer.”

With each step, he seriously worried about the soles of his old hiking boots.  The baking surface of the road is far from friendly, and he felt the waves all the way up to his sunburned face.  At first, he wrestled with the thought of his soles melting in the staggering temperature.  Then, as he caught up with his fast-forward mind, he envisioned a potential hole in the rubber sole.  None of the options were comforting to imagine in this desolate landscape.

Prior to walking into this wilderness, he knew how many miles he had traveled, but now all had changed.  His harsh surroundings overwhelmed his calculations, thrusting him into a mystery without a map.  A solitary roadside sign mentioned a couple of towns being 200 miles ahead, but they were unfamiliar to him.  The miles seemed unending, without a mile marker.  Disorientation was setting in as a menacing reality.

Rather than stopping for rest, he made the decision to push himself forward in hopes the next curve, the next hill, or the next valley in the road, would reveal a much needed oasis.  Hooked to his belt, he had one full canteen of water, which needed to last longer than anticipated.  Fanny was self-rationing his meager provisions with intent.

“I can do this,” he whispered with uneasiness.

landscape photography of rock formation near highway
Photo by Quintin Gellar on Pexels.com

Keeping his eyes on the road ahead seemed to help him psychologically.  Yet, wild stallions in search for water, a lone service station, or another traveler with a tent would be a sight for soar eyes.  But each time he glanced to the left or the right, it proved to be discouraging.  In fact, most of the view reminded Fanny of NASA’s photos of the surface of Mars.

The feeling of abandonment was authentic, bleeding from his inspirational thought bubbles of solitude.  He tried to be hopeful by telling himself Nazareth must be within 3 miles, 5 miles, or maybe 10 miles.  The attempt to distract himself from the tide of broiling air failed at every turn of the road.  Before the desert sun could bake his mind completely, he scanned through multiple thoughts, thoughts which could fill a library, only to fool himself with wisps of self-constructed hope.

While pushing his legs to walk an incline in the road, he noticed something he had felt once before on this journey.  A pain, a specific pain in his back.  Of all the body aches he had endured, this backache was king of them all.  Hiking slowly up the side of a hill introduced him again to the racking misery coming from his lower back muscles, mainly from the right of the spine.  It was a bit of a mystery in that he hadn’t injured himself, and never had an old trauma from his athletic history.  He suddenly was reminded of the adage, “No pain, no gain” from his high school baseball coach.  He said it aloud, thinking it would be a magic charm the universe would accept.  It wasn’t.  Still, his inward need to persevere pushed his weary bones onward.

As he reached the plateau, he celebrated his efforts shouting into the hot breeze,

“BY GOD, I WILL DO THIS!”

As the late afternoon sun played havoc with his vision, Fanny cocked his head to one side as he caught a distant rumble of an engine.  Since he had begun to adjust to the mirage of water puddles on the pavement, he tossed it up to “hearing things” due to a bit of dehydration.  After a chuckle, he took a couple of strides when he stopped in his tracks.  The sound was getting louder.  He looked up in the blue sky to see which direction the plane was coming from.  It sounded like a single engine airplane from the 1920’s.  As he was hunting for the aircraft, he recognized the distinct sound wasn’t a plane at all, but rather a vehicle approaching from behind.  He quickly turned to scope out where it originated.  Wiping, then squinting his tired eyes, he saw an old blue pickup truck bouncing down the road toward him with its radio blaring a 1940’s big band tune with heavy brass.  He wondered where it came from since the area was void of ranches or farms.  As it approached, he could see only one occupant in the cab.  There was nothing impressive about the old truck, with the exception of the fact it was an older model one might see in a vintage car show, and overly worn, to boot.

 

blue single cab farm truck on brown grassland
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As the truck began to downshift, coasting slowly as it pulled alongside him, he could see more clearly the one behind the wheel.  The driver looked as if he had just fallen off a hay trailer.  He was donning faded grey pinstriped overalls, like the old train engineers used to wear.  His misshaped straw hat went well with the old beat-up truck as it, too, had seen better days.  With a metallic squeak, the truck came to a halt.  It was clearly in much need of a muffler replacement.  The ragged driver turned down the radio and leaned over to roll down the passenger side window.  It was then Fanny could take-in what the man looked like.  He was an old-timer with a weather-beaten face.  His bushy eyebrows were salt & pepper mix.  His chest-length beard was white and wiry.  He had piercing ice-blue eyes which displayed a kindness, all by themselves.  Before Fanny could speak, the old man greeted him.

Spoken with a healthy snicker, “Howdy there, young man.  Nice day for a stroll in the badlands, wouldn’t ya say?”

The backpacker detected an accent, which reminded him of the deep south of the United States.  He wasn’t sure if he was being mocked by the question, or if it was an attempt at levity.

“Yes, sir.  It would seem so,” said Fanny, as he took his hat off and wiped his wet forehead.

Without hesitation the elderly man asked with a nod, “What’s your name, kiddo?”

“I’m Levon.  Most everyone calls me, Fanny,”  revealed the traveler.

The old man broke out in a belly laugh, “Well, who on earth pinned that nickname on ya?”

Fanny grinned, uncomfortably so, looked away and explained, “Yeah, that’s a long story, I’m afraid.”

“I bet so,” replied the old man.  “The name’s, Christopher.  Through the years, lots of folks have called me by a slew of other names.  But, Christopher will do.  So glad to meet ya…Fanny.”

“Happy to meet you, Christopher,” the young man said.  “Hey, where did you come from?  I’ve been on this road all day and I’ve not seen one house, truck stop, or vehicle coming or going in either direction.”

“Oh, don’t ya know?” asked Christopher.

“Know what?” inquired the trekker.

Pushing his hat back to the crown of his head, the old man responded, “Well, it’s very possible you were never informed.  This is a one way road you’re on in this dust.  Always been that way.  It’s true, only one-way traffic on this stretch.  That’s the reason why I drove up behind ya.  I’ll tell ya, that afternoon sun is brutal through the windshield.”

“Tell me about it,” agreed the young hiker.  “You know, maybe you can tell me something.  Would you know how far Nazareth is from here?  I really thought I would have spied it by now on the horizon, but nothin’ doin’.”

“Nazareth?” inquired the old one with one raised eyebrow.  “Is that where you’re off to?”

“Yes, sir,” replied Fanny.

While pointing his finger, the old man said, “Well, kiddo.  I can tell ya this, ya won’t get there carryin’ that anvil.”

Puzzled, the young man froze.  He looked behind him, turned back again and asked,  “Anvil?  What anvil?”

The elderly one broke out in laughter once again at Fanny’s answer.  “Boy, it’s that 95 pound chunk of solid iron at the end of the rope, the rope draped across your right shoulder there,” Christopher pointed out.

“Ah, yes.  THAT anvil,” Fanny stated with pride.  “Frankly, I forget it’s there.”

The elder wrinkled up his nose in an inquisitive expression, “You mean to tell me you’ve not felt every muscle in your body burning from the weight you’re towin’?”

“Come to think of it…yes.  Yes, I have,” Fanny admitted.

“Well, if that don’t beat all,” Christopher said in response.  “I’ve got the perfect solution for ya, Fanny.  Take a look inside the bed of my truck.”  Seeing the young man’s hesitation, he continued sharply, “Go ahead, son.  The Loch Ness Monster ain’t gonna jump out and bite ya.  Feel free, take a look.”

Fanny took a cautious small step toward the side of the pickup.  As he leaned closer to get a peek, his mouth fell open with a hushed gasp.

The old man said, “Tell me what ya see, boy.”

Fanny took a big swallow to say, “It’s a truck bed full of…well…full of anvils!”

“A whole stack of ’em, I’d say,” described the old driver.

In amazement, the young man questioned, “But, why are they there?  I mean…what are you doing with all of those anvils?  Are you selling them?  Do you work for a salvage yard or something?  I’m shocked this old antique can carry the load.”

“Fanny, I guess you could say I collect ’em,” answered the old rugged driver.  “In fact, I’ve been addin’ to my collection for many moons now.  I could tell ya how many travelers have allowed me to take the load off their backs, but you’ve been sun-baked enough today to appraise anything.”

The young traveler concurred, “You’re right.  I’m a bit fried.  However, these travelers you’re talking about, are they on this road?  I’ve not seen a soul until you drove up.”

“Yes, but everyone has their own journey, and most have similar burdens,” replied the old man.  “At the same time, some heavier than others.  As you can see, there’s various sizes of anvils here.”  After a brief pause of silence, Christopher added,  “Here’s my offer, kiddo.  If you trust me with your anvil, every pound of it, I’ll help ya toss it behind us, addin’ to the pile.  You can unload, and load-up in the cab with me for a straight shot to where you’re meant to be.  I just love playin’ the Uber out here.  But…keep in mind, the anvil stays in the back.  Alligators aren’t allowed in the cab with me neither, ha-ha-ha…”

Fanny looked down at the scorching concrete between his hiking boots and bit his chapped lips in thought.

Christopher, seeing the struggle to find words, added, “There’s rockslides out here, ya know.  As ya get close to a hillside, or an upcomin’ canyon, ya might stumble over a stone in your path.  When your strength is wrenched, you’ll find it difficult to keep your stance.  It’s even worse to find footing after a heavy fall with nobody around to shoulder the load.”

Shaking his head with a look of uncertainty he replied, “No, sir.  I have made this trip on my own strength, and I intend finishing it on my own.  Besides that, you’re a stranger to me in a beat-up old clunker.  No offense, but who’s to say you could get me to Nazareth?  I’m sorry, sir, but your offer doesn’t look promising from where I stand.  I will do this on my own fuel, and navigation!”

The old man smiled, put his right hand on the stick-shift, looked deeply into Fanny’s eyes and said, “Boy, ask yourself why.  Why don’t ya wanna take your load off?”

After a quick mental search, Fanny answered with a tone of resolve, “Christopher, the only honest answer I can come up with is, I’ve grown accustomed to my anvil.”

With a serious timbre in a lower register, Christopher asked, “And the weight of it?”

“I deal with it, just like this unexpected desert,” explained the young one.  “Do you understand, old man?”

“Oh, I do, son.  I really do understand,” replied Christopher.  “Listen, dusk is knockin’.  No need for walkin’ in the darkness.  I’d say, grab some winks for a fresh start in the mornin’.”

As the elderly man began to roll up his window, he grinned through his long mustache and said, “Well, I know you’ll give it your all.  Still, keep in mind, it’s needless for ya to take this desolation, with all its loneliness, and the weight you’re carryin’ solo.”  With that, he put the truck in gear, turned up the radio, and off toward sundown he drove.

silhoutte of a man
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Fanny continued his trek with a bit of angst in his steps.  Christopher somehow offended him with the offer of a free lift, as if the old man thought him weaker, frail, and without survival skills.

He began grumbling to himself, “How dare that ancient dinosaur-of-a-coot say I needed help through this parched piece of earth.”  Still, in the attempt to bolster his decision, he raised his voice a notch, “Who does he think he is?  He’ll see me in Nazareth, sitting under the shade of an apple tree, sipping on a glass of their best vintage.  He’ll be shocked to see me resting on my anvil, without any aid from his sorry rack of rust.”

With all his energy depleted by his rant, Fanny began to look for a safe spot to sleep for the night.  Darkness had fallen, but the moonlight helped in the hunt for a place to bed-down.  Soon, he located a soft sandy mound with his name on it.  He found sun-dried chaparral fit nicely for kindling.

Overnight hours passed and the silence was deafening.  As usual, he used the anvil as a pillow, even though the shape was not friendly for his head.  He found the surface of the iron was still warm from the sun, which was welcomed as desert nights tend to issue a chill.  Unfortunately for the camper, as the nature of anvils, its surface turned cold.

From time to time he heard a small rock roll off the side of a rise just feet from where he was laying.  Another time, he was awakened by what he thought was the flapping of large wings.  He imagined buzzards mistaking him for a dead man.  He then tried to keep one eye opened, but exhaustion won the moment.  Another awakening caused him to jump when he heard an insect scratching on his ear.  He began to inwardly acknowledge his sleep would be thin at best.

Without knowing why, he opened his eyes from a sound sleep.  It was just before dawn.  Across the road from where he camped, he swore he caught a shadow figure racing from the road into a ravine on the other side.  Startled, he bounced up to a sitting position while fixed on the area where it vanished.  What he wouldn’t do for a pair of night-vision goggles.  After a minute or so, and a few hyper heartbeats, he shook his head and took a helping from his canteen.

Unable to go back to sleep, Fanny stretched his legs, and his sore back, in preparation for the day ahead.

“The sun is winking at me from over the hills, ” he said as he reached for his anvil.  “There’s no time like the present.”

He peeled back the wrapper of an energy bar from his cargo pants thigh pocket, finishing it in record time.

With the young morning sun at his back, and the anvil dangling once again from the rope hoisted over his right shoulder, Fanny felt new aches making themselves known in his calves, ankles, and feet.  He thought to himself that if he just put one foot in front of the other, the pain would work itself out.

As he made his way, his mind was flooded with the movements and sounds he heard overnight.  He convinced himself that he was in no real danger…or was he?  Like a video clip running through his mind, he couldn’t erase the glimpse of the unknown shadow figure dashing away from his makeshift pallet.  As hard as he tried, he remained at a loss concerning its identity.  In the end, he boldly rationalized the thought.  He determined the quiet swiftness indicated a cougar, or a coyote.  The “what might have beens” gave him a sense of authentic fear he had not felt before.

Hill after hill, ridge after ridge, no sight of his goal.  With every turn, curve and valley, he had hopes of seeing the ornate village painted in his mind as the heated hours wore on.

During the mid-morning, the searing winds kicked up with a devastating blow of a wall of dust and sand from the west.  Immediately, it became a battle for each inhale.  Fanny pulled his hat over his nose and mouth for protection.  Vision became sparse.  Tiny grains of sand stung his skin like miniature darts speeding from a horizontal projection.  Through the torrent of hot dust and sand, he spotted a boulder nearby and ran to the east side of it, blocking the onslaught of the turbulent blast.  After what seemed like an hour or so, the sandstorm passed.  With tremendous relief, Fanny came out from behind the boulder, grateful he had discovered it when he did.

With a couple of clearing coughs, he thought to himself, “What else can happen on this journey?”

bird s eye view photography of road in the middle of desert
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By early afternoon, he was running low on water.  His fear rose each time he shook the canteen to hear the lessening of the swish.  His quads were beginning to burn in his thighs.  His shoulder was bruised from the rope slung over it, cradling the anvil.  A growing headache, once only a nuisance, now pounded from the top of his head.  Realizing he was experiencing a deeper dehydration, he guarded against panic.  He was beginning to despise the constant mirages of heatwaves appearing as glimmering bodies of water.  Suddenly, he heard Christopher’s words from the day before, challenging him with the question of why.  “Why don’t ya wanna take your load off?”  He found himself flirting with the question.

Mid afternoon descended.  After following a sharp curve in the blistering road, Fanny peered into the shadow of a small canyon wall just ahead.  The shade spread all the way across the road, and then some.  There, on the shoulder of the roadway, about 40 yards away, was a figure of some kind.  Cautiously advancing toward it, there, in the shadow of the rock wall, he saw Christopher casually leaning against the tailgate of his blue pickup.

“It seems we meet again, kiddo,” shouted Christopher with a wave.  “The shield of a nice-sized rock in a desolate place is mighty fine, wouldn’t ya say?  It’s nice and comfortable to me.  Come on over, I’ve been waitin’ for ya.”

Fanny found he was somewhat relieved to see the old man, and a convenient shade.  He smiled, shook his head in amazement, entering the cooling shadow of the canyon.

As Fanny got closer to the truck, he scratched his head and asked, “How did you know I would be here at this time of day?  Are you stalking me, old man?”

Christopher laughed at the question and replied, “Who knows?  Maybe the old truck is equipped with radar for weary travelers.”

Wiping his hands on the front of his well-worn overalls,  the elder turned to the pile of anvils in the bed of the truck where he pulled out ice cold bottles of water from a Styrofoam ice chest.

“Here ya go!  Fanny, take a load off.  You deserve it.” ordered Christopher.

Right away, before breaking the cap seal, Fanny first put the cold bottle against his neck, and then his forehead.  With a deep heavy sigh, an expression of relief fell over his face.

“Ahhhhhh, that feels so good,” said the hiker.

“No doubt,” answered Christopher.  “Tell me, how did ya sleep last night?”

After opening the bottle for his first couple of gulps, the backpacker responded, “I hate to say it, but it wasn’t that great.”

“Oh, really?” replied the old man.

Delaying his answer with another long swig of water, “Let me tell you, the desert may not be my kind of surroundings.  I heard noises I couldn’t examine.  There were sounds coming from everywhere, including what I think were buzzard wings.  That’s way too close for comfort.”

“Is that right?” Christopher said slowly.  “What else?”

“You may think I’m nuts, but I spotted a quick shadow I couldn’t identify just on the other side of the road,” described Fanny.  “It’s not something I look forward to seeing ever again.  By the way, just how many miles is it to Nazareth from this canyon?  As far as I can tell….”

“Ya know, owls are night hunters,” Christopher interrupted.  “They keep rabbits and rats on the run for sure.  Wingspans can be impressive.  Such a wonderful creature.  As for nocturnal critters in general, I could write volumes on the kinds and species out here.  They’re everywhere in the cool of the night.  Some folks just let their imaginations run away with them like a train on grease.  Truth is, they all were created with excellent night vision.  In that respect, they’ve got a leg up on ya.”

The young traveler admitted, “It sure made for an uneasy night.”

While checking the lose left side of his back bumper, the elderly man stated, “Ya know, fear is an enemy.  Fact is, it comes in many forms.  You might even compare it to a parade coordinator-sending one flatbed float rollin’ by after another, all designed to frighten every person from every walk of life.  Your walk of life happens to be on this very road, in this very desert.  But always remember, fear is a liar.  It promises the worse case scenario in most all situations under heaven, and yet rarely delivers.  Son, it’s always best to think of all things as fleeting.”

Fanny laughed and belted out, “FLEETING?  Ha, this desert isn’t fleeting  Did you see that sandstorm?”

“Hang on now.  A liar’s performance is to convince his audience,” stated the old one.  “The sudden desert you approach will be full of woes.  Hard things happen.  Expect it.  It’s part of the learnin’ curve.  Oppression bubbles up.  Depression develops.  Illness lurks here and over there.  Pain arrives, creeping into your skin, your muscles, your mind, and even your very soul.  Soon, a lacking drains your strength, your joy, and eventually, your reasonin’.  Yes, the desert is all of that and more.  It’s a beautiful place, too…in its own way.  The colors and scattered shades are brilliant.  Yet, there’s danger out here.  There’s isolation expected, married to obscurity.  It’s all about who ya face it with.  But the sweet truth is, when journeying through the desert, like ya are, you’ll find it’s only temporary.  All parades must end, even sandstorms.”

The young man paused for a moment before speaking, “But if there is a learning curve to suffering, what and where is it?  I mean, where’s the final exam in this hellish classroom?”

Christopher stroked his wiry beard for a moment.  He turned toward a scenic view of the desert and explained, “The better question would be…Why experience it alone?  Look out at this barren ground.  Each step is a test.  You are gettin’ an education, albeit in a lesser degree without an instructor.  My offer still stands, kiddo.  Let’s take this anvil off your back and put it where it belongs…behind ya, without a rope attached.”

Fanny bent down to tighten his boot laces during an uncomfortable silence.  He then stood up, adjusted his canvas hat, looked at Christopher and responded, “No, sir.  I will finish this challenge I’ve walked into.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate your free offer, but, there’s something to be said about knowing my own conditioning will push me to my destination.”

The elderly man’s ice-blue eyes twinkled as he challenged the young traveler, “And when your anvil of comfort breaks your fleeting, temporary strength, with no one there who is stronger to save ya…what then?”

“Thus far, I’ve adjusted to its weight.  It’s okay, really it is,” said Fanny in a softer, kinder delivery.  “It may take me a while, but I will get through this desert.  But, I can’t wait to feel the soft, cool blades of grass in Nazareth under my bare feet  The universe will give me strength.”

“Don’t count on the universe.  She’s unforgivin’, and unable to love, ” said the old one.  “You, my young man, will find you’re bein’ schooled in the land of waitin’.”

With that said, Christopher watched Fanny strap on his anvil for the journey out of the shadow of the rock wall.  Just then, the old man pulled out a brown paper bag and two more bottles of water from the bed of his truck.

“Okay, kiddo,” holding out the items.  “Here, ya take these.  You’re gonna need it.”

Fanny displayed a large grin at the kindness Christopher displayed.  “What’s all this?”

“Well, there’s various items of protein in the bag, some nuts, dried figs, jerky, and some cold sliced pineapple you’ll wanna eat pretty soon,” explained the elder.

Laughing, the hiker inquired, “Pineapple????  Where did you get pineapple out here?”

Christopher just giggled with a lovely childlike delivery as he opened the door to the truck, got in, and started the rattling engine with a backfire.

“Here’s to hopin’ we will see one another again, ” said the old man.  “Ya know, hope is a healin’ thing.  Even in a deserted place.”

Fanny replied quickly, “I could use that for sure.”

“I know ya do, son.  I know ya do,” stated Christopher as he put on his sunglasses.  “Be aware of the shadow figures, Fanny.  It’ll serve ya well.  But, with that said, I’ve never read an obituary where a shadow killed anybody.”

With a whistle on his lips, and his hands on the wide steering-wheel, Christopher began to slowly drive back into the punishing sun.  The young trekker raised his hand slowly to wave the old man off.  Just then, Fanny realized he never thanked Christopher for the provisions.

Two days and nights passed.  It was about noon when Fanny found himself dragging his feet, literally, across the baked concrete in near total exhaustion.   With each painstaking stride, he began scanning the horizon for the old man’s pickup.  His energy was virtually depleted, and he knew it.  The morning delivered some scattered clouds, which aided the weakened young rambler, but now, nothing but abusive piercing sun shutdown all effort.  He felt himself wanting, even craving, a visit with the caring driver.

Just as Fanny journeyed down a slope, from a crest in the roadway, he tripped on something.  As if in slow motion, he fell forward, hard onto the hot pavement, in unison with a loud ringing thud as the anvil met the road.  He screamed in pain from the impact and fierceness of the raging temperature of the road.  He quickly turned over on his backpack as a buffer from the concrete.  It took him a minute to collect his mind.  He looked for wounds, finding a few scrapes and cuts to his elbows, cheek, and the palms of both hands.  He noticed his pants were ripped at the left knee as blood began to find its way through the khaki fabric.  Troubled at what caused him to lose his traction, Fanny looked around to find the object which caused the fall.  There was nothing there.  Unable to bend his left knee, he struggled to push himself up on his right leg.  With the rope still in his hand, he tested his body for limping to the side of the road.  The pain in his knee was crippling.  It was a mammoth project as he slowly hopped his way to the sandy shoulder, dragging the anvil against the hot pavement.

Assessing his ability to trek ahead, he noticed something protruding from the bottom of the toe of his right boot.  A closer look revealed a piece of the sole of the boot had come loose, and had partially folded back while dragging his feet during the endeavor to keep walking.  Whether it was heat exhaustion, the brutal conditions, or a pure wake-up call from injuries, the young hiker admitted being trapped, for the remainder of the day, right where he sat.

As the sun slowly descended into the western sky, Fanny tried to lift his spirits.  Finding a small bit of shade under some brush, he began to sing every hit song he could recall from his teen years-songs that made him smile.  He busied himself mentally listing his family tree as far back as the war of 1812.  With each mental exercise he was surprised at the slowness to fire-off a thought, or memory.  He wondered about heat stroke.

“It would seem the elements are doing a number on you, Mr. Gates,” he sarcastically mumbled to himself.  In pain, the hiker laid under the tiny shade of the brush for any relief he could manage.

Sounds seem louder when sleeping.  Fanny jumped with a start from a nap he didn’t intend on taking.  After a few seconds of clarity, he realized he was hearing the tail of a rattlesnake.  By sheer instinct, Fanny turned over from his position, discovering in the sand to his left a five foot rattler, curled up maybe 12 feet away.  Fear raced through his senses.

close up photo of a brown sidewinder snake on sand
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Somehow the young man pulled himself together and looked around for a rock.  There, by his left boot, were five golf ball-sized sandstones.  His eyes once again shifted back to the poised snake.  Visions of film footage of how quickly snakes can crawl and strike ran through his head.  Unable to bend his left knee without shooting pain, he grabbed the anvil rope, tossed it at the rocks, maneuvering one within reach.  He thought to himself, “I have one shot at this and it better be right, or I’m toast.”  He methodically, but slowly, reached the rock, grabbed it, then threw it at the rattler with a shout, all in one motion like a professional shortstop.  Speedily, the snake reacted, slithering out to the middle of the road and stopped.  Fanny trained his eyes on the reptile as it turned its head toward him again.  The hiker pitched another rock toward the snake, but this time unmoved.

“Oh, no you don’t, you little beast!  Don’t even think about it!” threatened Fanny.

Keeping his eye on the snake, he examined his precarious position.  Unable to move quickly, due to his knee, and without a weapon at his disposal, he knew he was a sitting duck.  The unexpected desert miles had been cruel, but he covered much ground.  Just as he began to question his endurance to reach the other side of the wilderness, he now might see it end-thanks to a new enemy-and a damaged sole.

Surveying every item within reach for a defense, the young traveler’s anvil caught his eye.  His mind landed on the reality of the weight of it.  Mentally, he began to blame it for his current dilemma.  Ninety five pounds of iron needlessly held him down from where he wanted to be.  In the assumption he could’ve run from the snake just minutes prior, the anvil would’ve proven to be the end, holding him back for the snake’s lunge.  However, in a sick, twisted thought process, his admiration for the useless anvil melted the angst.

Late afternoon approached, and Fanny’s nemesis remained vigilant in a curl, with its expressionless cold stare from the road.  The scene was looking darker for the injured young man.  He imagined the worst.

Feeling a bit delirious, the trapped hiker’s anger boiled, “So, do you have a nest around here?  Maybe you have a brood nearby you’re protecting.  Is that why you’re gawking at me?  They’ll all make terrific belts, you pile of scales!  How does that make you feel?  Tell me, is your crawl really quicker than my hop?  Look, I know what you’re waiting for.  You can’t fool me,” he said, taunting the rattler.  “When darkness comes, you’ll slither your measly self over here and take chunks out of me, as I slowly kill over from your venom.  I know your kind.  I was married to someone like you!”

Fanny was massaging his emotions to accept his coming death.  Dreams were dashed, hope only a dream, and his efforts toward his goal had been wasted energy.  In a moment of clarity, he looked over at his companion: the anvil.  In the light of his circumstances, he knew it suddenly didn’t seem to hold much value.  True, Fanny had grown accustomed to the weight on his back, but in the reevaluation, it seemed foolish to have imagined it to be part of himself in daily life.  In an odd, and maybe an ironic way, it took a trauma in a desolate place to see the fulfillment of the truth.

Another hour slipped by, closer to the coming dusk.  Fanny suddenly had gained a fever.  He could feel chills and cold sweat rolling down his chest.  His time waned in the growing darkness.  His new enemy seemed to detect Fanny’s weakened state, raising its head off the pavement.  Desperation danced through the stranded hiker as he grabbed the empty canteen, the only defense against the waiting venomous reptile.

During a somewhat morbid consideration, Fanny pictured where the fangs might sink in first.  Like a strategist, he began to maneuver his body so that the strike of the rattler would target closer to his hands and arms for a better shot at defense.  About that time, his ears detected a familiar remote sound.  He cocked his head as he zoomed-in on the distant echo of what appeared to be a big brass band, combined with the hum of an engine.  The young man smiled as he identified the modulation of old pistons, pushing an antique pickup in his direction.  Fanny caught a glimpse of the old blue truck rounding a curve, where it began to slow down with its radio blaring away, until coming to a complete stop.  As it did, the right front tire crowned the head of the cunning rattler with a defining crunch.  The driver’s side door opened and out stepped Christopher.

“Well, if it ain’t young Fanny restin’ on his laurels,” he said with warm grin as he walked toward the young man.

Fanny had gasped when the truck’s tire parked on the snake.

Christopher sarcastically asked, “Son, are ya hungry?  Your mouth is wide open like a newborn sparrow in the nest.”

“You…uh, I guess you know, you rolled right on top of that rattlesnake.  How did you manage to do that?” quizzed the injured traveler.

“Oh, practice, I suppose.  It happens,” answered the lighthearted elder.  “I see ya got yourself all banged-up there.”

Sheepishly, Fanny began to explain,  “Yes, sir.  Earlier today I was so spent.  Not realizing my toes were dragging, my sole separated a bit from my left boot, causing me to trip and…well, here I am.”

While scoping out the young man’s injuries, Christopher mentioned the obvious,  “Ya fell on your face, I see.”

“In a manner of speaking, I sure did.” admitted Fanny.

The old man knelt down to get a closer look at Fanny’s damaged boot.

“Hmmm, yep, I’m no cobbler, but I see what happened,”  speaking slower and in a softer tone, “Ya know, where the ‘soul’ separates is a lonely place to be.  What have ya learned, kiddo?”

One side of Fanny’s bruised lip raised as he said, “Seeking shelter is a wise thing.”

“Is it now?” stated Christopher.

“No doubt, ” admitted the young trekker.  “I have come to realize that I’m not ‘all that’.”

“Now, give yourself some credit in this journey of yours,” the old one said.

“What?” asked Fanny.

Christopher explained, “Ya didn’t think about how ya said it.  In all your boldness and anger, ya once shouted, ‘BY GOD, I WILL DO THIS!‘”

Beside himself, Fanny raised his voice in astonishment, “Hey!  How did you know about…I mean…that was a few days ago now…and on top of that, I was in…”

“In the desert, all by yourself.  I know,” interrupted Christopher.  “You might as well have had on a wireless microphone.  That was actually the beginning of your learnin’ while on this path.  With all the wreckage in your life, you were searchin’ for solitude.  Most people do.  Ya see, there’s a big difference between solitude, and isolation.  It’s ironic, isn’t it?  In your isolation, ya never really were alone.”

The young man being perplexed raised his voice, “Excuse me, but I still don’t understand how you…”

Christopher interrupted again, “Not many do understand, kiddo.  Even the ones who are most scholarly, with all those initials after their names, can’t get their arms around it all.  Some, the honest and most humble, will even admit it.  I’d say you’re in good company.”

Fanny still reclined there, looked down at his skinned hands and torn pants in a sense of surrender.

Breaking the uneasy moment, the old one spoke up, “Now son, here’s the deal for this time, for this place of desolation; will ya accept my offer?  You’re in the middle of this trip, but near the end of your journey.  I won’t return to these parts for some time, and here, in the waitin’, is the opportunity for decisions.  Trust me on this.  Take my hand and I’ll give ya a lift to where ya wanna be.  As a brash up-and-comer, a lad once told me, ‘It doesn’t look promisin’ from where I stand.'”

The young man accepted without delay, “Yes, sir.  I’m ready to move out of this God forsaken place.”

“Uh, not really… ‘forsaken’,” Christopher said with a familiar snicker.  “You have much to learn, young Fanny Gates.  Come on, I’ll help carry ya to the truck.  Ya ain’t heavy.”

With Fanny’s left arm around Christopher’s neck, and the anvil hanging from his sore right shoulder, the duo methodically made their way to the old truck.

After a couple of steps, Fanny asked Christopher a simple question, “I take it you know where Nazareth is, right?”

The old man opened the passenger side door, helped the younger into the truck and informed him, “Well, of course I know where Nazareth is.  As far as the eye can see from this spot, it’s nothin’ but desert.  Still, Nazareth is not too far from here.”

Just before Christopher closed the passenger door, he asked,  “Uh, son, aren’t ya forgettin’ somethin’?”

Fanny looked bewildered until he saw Christopher gazing at the anvil sitting in his lap.

He responded, “Christopher, do I really need to give it up?  It’s been with me for as long as I can remember.  Over my lifetime I’ve adjusted to its weight.”

“This is the very crux of my offer, Fanny,” Christopher uttered with a straight tone.  “Somewhere down the line, you were lied to.  You only ASSUMED ya needed this weight.  Ya must unload what has weighed ya down in order to come with me.  Now, tell me straight up.  Are ya willin’ to allow me to toss it behind us, to put it to bed?”

Seeing the sincerity in the old one’s ice-blue eyes, understanding it meant everything to him, Fanny agreed to let go.

(CLANG!)

With the anvil among the others discarded in the bed of the old truck, the aged one cranked-up the engine, took control of the steering wheel, and began to make a u-turn.

“Hey, Christopher, you’re going in the wrong direction!”, the traveler said with alert.

“You were hopin’ to go to Nazareth,” stated Christopher.  “Number one, ya wouldn’t have been able to get there by your own power.  Number two, I’m your only Uber out this way.  Number three, you were headed west on a one-way road.  Nazareth is east of here.  Always east.”

“Oh, yeah?  Well, I’ll just have to trust you on that.” said Fanny.

With that, the old man replied, “Yep, yep ya must.”

“Christopher, there’s just one thing of concern here,” Fanny said.  “I don’t have any cash on me for your fuel.”

After a satisfying smile on his old weathered face, along with a slight shaking of the head, Christopher replied, “That’s another thing, kiddo.  Ya never could’ve purchased your way to Nazareth.  It’s all been paid for ahead of your arrival.  Burden-free, son.  Burden-free.”

When loaded down, crushed with the stuff of life’s curses, unload with fuel for the race.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.’   For He will deliver you                                                from the snare of the fowlera and from the deadly pestilence.

He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.”  – Psalm 91:1-6 (ESV)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fear Itself

Cover Photo:  South Bend Tribune

“…So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”  –  Franklin D. Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933

Due to retinopathy and glaucoma, I have experienced many an eye surgery over the last five years.  No fun whatsoever.  As part of the give & take, my natural night vision has been damaged, bit by bit.  I still drive at night, but I don’t unless it’s necessary.  Craving light is what I do.  If the road I’m on is dimly lit, or without reflectors along the stripes or curbs, my vision struggles to pierce the velvet blackness just on the other side of the headlight’s reach.  At home, I am so grateful for the little nightlights plugged into the wall sockets for an easier overnight walk to the bathroom, or kitchen.  With a portion of my night vision missing, the difference is truly noticeable.

Let’s say you blindfold yourself, just for a personal experiment.  Once your eyes are covered you begin the attempt to navigate through your house.  Better yet, try this in a home you are unfamiliar with.  Each step is carefully placed as you bump into the baseboards and steps.  Your hands search the walls for maneuvering safely, or the hope of it.  Slowly your feet pioneer themselves across an unknown room, when suddenly they trip over the edge of a rug.  You fall as if it were in slow motion.  On the way down you think to yourself, “It would be helpful if the owner of the house, who knew this floor-plan, were in front of me, guiding me with their vocal directions.”  As you get back up on your feet, you find within yourself a growing emotion…fear.  The fear of falling again.  The fear of breaking your nose on a door.  The fear of knocking out a tooth on the staircase.  The fear of…the unknown ahead.

black metal window frame
Photo by Octopus soul on Pexels.com

We have been dreading the essential drive to the grocery store ever since the Coronavirus began its crawl across the USA.  Droves of unreasonable citizens have been raiding the store shelves as if there was a run on dwindling inventory, buying more than average cupboards could hold without thinking of their neighbor’s needs.  The day came.  My wife fought through the mob to buy staples for the week.  She found a severe lack of eggs, milk, meat, rice, pasta, to name a few.  Just amazing for the average grocery store in America.  The funny part of it is…there’s no real shortage of anything.  She witnessed frantic shoppers racing about with wrinkled foreheads and frowns.  The store was filled with consumers tied up in knots on the inside.  We’ve seen this type of hysteria with gasoline in the past, haven’t we?

There must be a study somewhere within the bowels of a sociology think-tank which can tell us how mass hysteria occurs.  Unfortunately, part of the reason for empty market shelves is greed.  There are those who are so full of themselves that they purchase in large quantities of a targeted item for the purpose of private resale with an enormous price hike for others to pay.  Trust me, this type of individual will receive their reward.  However, the majority of consumers overstock in a crisis for another reason.

What fuels the tanks of the one who fills two or three basket-fulls of toilet paper during a pandemic is…fear itself.

There is a healthy fear each of us possess.  It’s evaluated when you pull away from the edge of a cliff.  We jerk our hand back when a fire ignites.  A healthy fear reminds us to drive under 90 MPH.  Then there are wonderful moments where healthy fear is suppressed by the weight of love.  You see it when a parent runs into a burning house in efforts to save their child.  Fear is quenched when assisting an elderly parent when they are down with the flu.  Fear is pushed aside when a dog owner runs out on the a frozen lake to rescue their four-legged pal who fell through a patch of a thin layer.  Stories like this are inspiring, along with soul searching.

Those prone to unreasonable, unjustified fright are minds that have conjured up scenarios which most likely are not realistic.  Sure, COVID-19 is real.  It is upon us all.  The remedy is on its way, but not yet available.  Citizens are to take precautions.  It is a healthy fear to do so.  Yet, we should guard against being tied up in knots during the panic.

An unhealthy fear is to fill a home up to the crown molding with a few thousand rolls of toilet paper while not have any produce in the fridge.  A person who does this is one who feeds on the extreme as they envision it to be.  Even though retailers, the retail workers, the CEO’s, the government itself, implores consumers to think reasonably with the news that there is no shortage of goods, they dive into a darkened place where they believe they will be in want for all things.  The lack of “items” is the constructed fear.

Shelves - Star News Online

Photo:  Star News Online

FDR wisely raised the issue of unhealthy fear in his inaugural address in 1933.  Yes, people where going through an economic depression.  Americans were going hungry, losing jobs, standing in line at soup kitchens.  The fear was real.  Yet, he sensibly pointed out the deadliest fear facing the nation at the time.  The most costly was, “fear itself”.  He knew, all too well, unhealthy fear can bring someone to harmful illnesses, anxiety, even insanity.  In fact, it was a contagious anxiety.  He was aware unhealthy fear grows hurtful selfishness.  FDR saw the men and women of his nation were not standing strong in the stiff winds of a fierce depression which carried many to suicide, murder, and hatred of neighbors.  Truly costly.  Even the children of those who tied themselves in knots began to lose hope.  In essence, FDR was saying…“FEAR KNOT!”

Knot Pinterest

Photo:  Pinterest

Fear itself is like being blindfolded in a house not your own.  It’s like driving a dark road at 4am while wearing thick sunglasses.  When blind to the unknown, it can cause delusions.  Fear itself develops a mental picture of what might occur, what could happen, what possibly would be in store, all without remedy.  So many who have studied fear say about 90% of what we fear never happens.  In that perspective it gives something to wake-up to tomorrow.

If only we had the owner of the house, who built the floor plan, to give us strong directions just ahead of each step we dare take in the darkest of moments.

I know Who that is.  He is the Author of light, direction, and hope.  He is the One who promised there were new mercies on the shelf every morning.

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’…your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”      – Jesus – (Matthew 6)  (ESV)

Certainty can be defined as this:  Filling a tank with fear is contrary to fuel for the race.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of instruction.”   – Apostle Paul –   2 Timothy 1:7  (Aramaic Bible in Plain English)