A Wonderful Distraction

“When you feel down and out, Sing a song (it’ll make your day).

For you, here’s the time to shout Sing a song (It’ll make a way).

Sometimes it’s hard to care, Sing a song (It’ll make your day).

A smile is so hard to bear, Sing a song (It’ll make a way)…”

(1975) Recorded By: Earth, Wind & Fire Composers: Maurice White/Al McKay

Can I be real frank with you, yet remaining to be Alan at the same time? Okay, I take it that’s a “Yes”.

Over the summer, death has taken a few friends and acquaintances, including one family member, and almost lost another. The losses have been almost on a weekly basis. I have been fighting depression concerning my dementia patient mom who is declining much faster than expected. She still lives alone some 60 miles from me. I am facing mountains of decisions in this arena. My health is slowly headed further south. My wife has been faced with health issues herself, and heavy emotional family issues on her side. I feel like I am going under with my hand stretched out above the surface of a deep, dark ocean. I have needed a distraction…big-time.

It seems I have some new readers which may not know about one of my favorite topics, my middle daughter, Megan. Although I recently posted about her wedding over the summer, here I am again with something new and exciting.

Megan with her band, Grosh
Megan shooting a music video

Megan is a bit of a verified rock star in Western New York. Articles and reviews list her as part of Buffalo, New York’s “rock royalty”, and she’s only 31.

Recently, she was asked to audition to perform the National Anthem at the home opener at the Buffalo Sabres game. She, and her band mate, Grace Lougen from their band, Grosh, (Grace is a superb guitar player.), she recently played for me at Megan’s wedding reception, took the plunge with an audition. BOOM! Before you could say, Ice Capades, she got the call. As it turned out, she needed to learn the Canadian Anthem as well, due to the fact the opposing team was the Montreal Canadiens, (Yeah, that’s how they spell it.)

Although, me being in Dallas Stars’ territory, no outlet was carrying the game, with the exception of ESPN+, which my oldest daughter, Tabitha subscribes to. Thankfully, she shot a cell phone video of the performance, which I posted on my Facebook page. (You can see it there. Search for, Alan Brown Carrollton, Texas. That should do it.)

What’s that? You say you wish you could see some pictures? Really? Well, allow me. Let me grab my slide projector.

Megan (R) with Grace (L) prior to the game.

Megan & Grace at work on the Sabres’ ice.

Megan & Grace remembering the lyrics to “Oh, Canada”
.
Singing without a COVID mask is refreshing for a New Yorker!

It does a dad’s heart some good to find several camera angles for different perspectives from fans in attendance, as well as, those viewing from Canadian networks. (The version on my Facebook page is from the ESPN+ broadcast.) I needed to be ushered away from heavy sorrows and raking worries. It served as an inward reboot button. Thank you, Megan.

Although, with live gigs averaging several times a week, with 19,000+ in the arena that night, plus who knows how many in the television and radio audience, I would say it was her largest audience to date. Yeppers, I was one proud dad. Moreover, I was one distracted dad.

Recently I became aware that the Puritans often used a quote I have used before as a performer through the decades. I had always thought the origin of the quote came from Soren Kierkegaard. Nevertheless, it’s a dandy.

“AN AUDIENCE OF ONE”

Sometime in my mid 20’s, when I became a serious Bible student, anytime I performed a song, a theatrical script, or while on radio and audio commercials, I trained myself to imagine performing to He Who sits on the eternal throne, God Himself. It was a process. Prior to that time, I just focused on the audience of humanity in the seats. That’s all well and good, but it can feel shallow. Laser-focusing on the One Who created talents can bring the performance from the head to the heart rapidly, as if He is the only set of eyes and ears in the room. This is what I taught Megan while she was a child actress back in the day. My hope is that every now and then, she might recall the idea.

When needing a good distraction, find it easily in fuel for the race.

“Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.” – Psalm 96:1-2 (NAS)

Up On The Roof

“When this old world starts getting me down
And people are just too much for me to face
I climb way up to the top of the stars
And all my cares just drift right into space
On the roof it’s peaceful as can be
And there the world below can’t bother me…”                                                                   
(1962)  “Up On The Roof” – Originally recorded by:  The Drifters  (Multiple artists have covered this song.)  Composers:  Gerry Goffin & Carole King
In “Your Song” (1970) from Elton John, we get a hint of where his songwriting lyricist partner, Bernie Taupin liked to construct his lyrics.
“I sat on the roof and kicked off the moss.  Well, a few of the verses got me quite cross…”
Lots of creativity can happen up on the roof.
It was July 4th, 2003 when I moved from Dallas, Tx to Buffalo, NY.  It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done.  I left my wife and three daughters to take an afternoon-drive radio show at a long-standing Buffalo radio station.  It was a promising, career-healthy move which was almost impossible to refuse.  I had a lengthy radio resume in Dallas and I was at a place in life where a next step was essential.  The idea was to live a lean solo life while hunting for a house to purchase.  After the papers for the mortgage were to be signed, then I would move the family of five to our new home, along with our Yorkie, Great Dane, a hamster, a mouse, and a gerbil, all in an Isuzu Trooper.
Roof Elmwood
Photo:  Google
After my feet hit Buffalo pavement, the first couple of weeks were spent in a motel room while searching for an apartment near the radio station in the downtown area.  All I had with me was a stuffed suitcase, duffel bag, and a briefcase.  Within walking distance of the radio station, I landed a tiny little furnished efficiency in an old brownstone right in the artsy district.  It was near perfect for my needs at the time.
Never living in a city-life efficiency before, there was a learning curve to it.  No elevators.  I was on the top floor, the 4th floor.  The basement (five flights down) housed the laundry area for the building.  I was in good physical shape at that time, but it still challenged me each trip to wash my clothes.  There was no air conditioning, of course, being Western New York.  For this Texas lad, I wasn’t sure I could do without an air conditioner.  However, the only silver lining, to the warm humid days, was the welcomed cool constant winds coming off Lake Erie.
As you can see in the photo, my two windows gave me a view of the apartment windows of the next building just a narrow driveway’s width away.  Nobody kept their blinds shut when the windows needed to be open on warm summer days.  You guessed it, very little privacy.  Jimmy Stewart, in “Rear Window”, never would’ve needed binoculars in my apartment.  In clear view of my neighbors, from the next building, was my bed.  It was vertical inside a wall of my living room, just an arm’s-length away from my kitchen mini-fridge.  When bedtime hit the clock, I just opened the door, pulled down the bed to the living room floor.  The springs squeaked as my body stretched out on the thin musky mattress.  Yep, there was a lot of adjusting for this suburbanite boy.
It took over three months to buy a house for my family, and moved in toward mid November.  So, I had plenty of time to adjust to my new temporary home in the city.  The streets were loud and busy.  With the windows opened throughout the summer, the sounds of yelling, sirens, and the occasional car crash bounced off the walls of our buildings on the block.  It always sounded as if everything was happening right outside my window.  It proved to be a struggle keeping my focus when writing letters to my family, or trying to get some shuteye.  Sometimes the noise was so overbearing, it pushed me out the door for a jog down by the Niagara break wall.  At dusk it was a sight to watch the Canadian side of the river light up their street lamps.
Peace Bridge Break Wall
On my trips up and down the hallways, I would pass a stairwell just off the 4th floor.  Knowing there wasn’t a 5th floor, I would shrug my shoulders and move on.  One day, after curiosity got the best of me, I followed the stairs to a set of old partially rusted Bilco doors.

staircase with black metal handrail
Photo by Octoptimist on Pexels.com

As I reached the top of the stairs I saw the double doors were latched by a bolt from the inside.  When I slid the bolt back it made a loud metallic clang that echoed down the stairwell.  When I pushed open the heavy metal doors, the cool Erie winds hit my face.  I had just discovered a large tar-sheeted flat roof of the building.  I was pleasantly surprised.  Whoever the property owners were they evidently didn’t see the value of constructing a patio-style wet-bar area with outdoor furniture, complete with table umbrellas.  Instead, a large wasted space.  But not for me.  Immediately I found the sounds of the city were faded while displaying a view filled with the downtown slope which met the harbor and the mouth of Lake Erie.  I personally enjoyed seeing the rooftops of the neighborhood showcasing old world architecture from the day when horse-drawn carriages, top-hats, and bonnets were the norm.

Throughout my time there, I visited the old quietened rooftop many times.  I remember signing off the air at the studio, looking forward to climbing up the stairs to my new favorite place.  It’s was a get-away where I would meet with the Creator, watch the sunset over the horizon, and sit on the half-wall at the edge of the roof thinking of how our new lives would be in Western New York.  One weekend, in the fall, I remember seeing The Northern Lights for the very first time.   God truly knows how to put on a light show.  It was a place of comfort from the days of hardship, the rowdy sounds of the streets, and the worries of relocating across the country.  When I see the photo from Google, my eyes first look up toward the rooftop.
Peace, enlightenment, and healing found on rooftops shouldn’t surprise anyone.  In scripture, I am reminded of how a handicapped man was carried by four of his friends to the flat rooftop of a home where Jesus was meeting with a crowd who packed a house.  The entryway was not negotiable.  The Miracle Worker was healing gobs of people in need all throughout the region.  In a desperate move by these men, they reached the roof above where Jesus was teaching, punched a hole in the roof to lower their lame friend to Him on a mat.  Up on the roof love and faith was accessed that day.  In Acts 10, the Apostle Peter was praying up on the roof of a friend’s house when God got his attention concerning the issue of grace vs law, love vs religious racism.  Peter found access to the truth up on the roof that day.  In the book of Joshua, a woman hid two spies of Israel in Jericho from their enemies up on her housetop.  For them, there was access to security up on the roof.  After Solomon felt weary of domestic feuds in the home, twice in Proverbs he mentions it’s better to live in the corner of a roof than with a person (woman) of contention.  (I’m trying to be kind on this one. Apparently he must’ve lost a few battles with some of his wives. LOL)
Roof French
Maybe your place of solitude isn’t up on the roof.  It could be your roof isn’t easily accessible, or physically safe.  For you it might be in your car with the radio turned off.  Possibly it’s on your bike on an open road.  Maybe it’s a place in your garage, or your barn.  I have an old friend who found his access under the roof of his lawn shed.  For many, it’s out on a lake in a boat, a coastline of a lake, a boulder sitting by a creek.  I have a cousin who finds her place of solitude up in the saddle of her horse.  Scripture reads the closet is a good place.
One thing is certain, there is a way of escape.  There is a stairwell to a place to be solo.  You might need to “kick off the moss” first.  In these times of violence, disturbance, pandemic, and masked faces, meeting with the Spirit of God can happen anywhere.  When you find it, that is a place you will always be fond of.
Getting away from the news, social media, and the crashing noise of profanity, there’s always room for two up on the roof with a ample supply of fuel for the race.
“What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops.” – Jesus –  Matthew 10:27 (NAS)

Why All The Bells?

With the growing disturbances in our world this Christmas, I thought of re-publishing the below from my December 2017 post.

“Silver bells.  Silver Bells.  It’s Christmas time in the city. Ring-a-ling. Hear them ring. Soon it will be Christmas Day.” – Composers: Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. (1950)

Not long ago I heard of a certain residential neighborhood that took a nearby church to court.  Their complaint surrounded the bells joyfully ringing from the church steeple on Sunday mornings.  I will assume these would be the same neighbors who clamored about Sunday morning traffic around the church, before and after services.  I didn’t attend the trial, but I just know that if I read the transcript of the proceedings, certainly someone said something like, “What’s with all the bells?”

Bells too

It’s a valid question.  So, what’s up with all the bells?

Imagine you’ve had a wonderful 18 year marriage with an incredibly loving and supportive spouse.  Whatever the world dishes out, you had shade and shelter at home with your understanding mate.  Growing a family together has been a true gift.  Now imagine, that the love of your life tragically perished in a devastating accident when her clothes caught fire.

Imagine, by way of this nightmare in life, you are left with children to raise on your own.  Your first born son is a stunning, strong 17 year old who is proud to carry on the family legacy.

Imagine war breaking out just down the road from where you buried your soulmate.  Your young son’s enthusiasm for the war’s cause, coupled with his school lads running off to take up arms to fight for their country, pulls your son’s interest to join up.  He fights with you about being a new recruit, as you sternly stand your parental ground.  You debate with him.  You state that he is too young to fight a man’s battle where the blood shed has no respecter of age.  Imagine he shows honor for your wishes, agrees to continue his high school education, along with sharing the household duties.  Imagine for the next two years, each time you looked into his eyes, you saw his smile, or the way he visited his mother’s grave, and how he soothed your grieving heart every day by just being there.

Now imagine, one morning your 19 year old son vanishes overnight without a word or a note.  Your heart is pierced.  Your fears serve up the worst scenarios to the point of being unable to function and unable to eat or sleep.  Suddenly, after several weeks, a letter appears in your mailbox.  The envelope is marked with your missing son’s handwriting.  You can’t help but notice how his phrasing, even his handwriting, reminds you of his mother.  As you read through your tears, he explains his disappearance.  He details how he had joined the military to fight on the front lines for his country.  He goes on to describe how he had resisted the temptation to join up, as long as he could, and is now in the army fighting alongside his schoolmates.  He acknowledges how it must hurt you by his abrupt decision, but also making it clear that he is where he needs to be.

Imagine the worry, the fear, the sadness you would go through for the next several months without word of his health or his location.  Imagine a few months later, you receive word that this first born son was gravely injured in a major battle and could no longer be of service.  Now imagine it’s nearing the Christmas season, with the familiar sound of bombs and the gunfire of war echoing dangerously through the county.  The terror of your first born son offering his life each and every day, facing the blasts of the enemy drowns out all Christmas cheer and celebrations.

You can imagine going through such grief, such turmoil and fear, while fighting the clanging sound of Christmas bells all around you, as if everything was truly right in the world with all of its pretend joy, jolly-hollies and Santa’s jinglings.

This is what happened to American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, from 1861 to 1863 during the Civil War.  In his deep depression, coming out of a writer’s block, dating back to his wife’s violent death, he pens an honest reflection of where his hopes and dreams were last seen.  One of the verses written in his poem, “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day,” reads like this:

“And in my despair I bowed my head.  There is no peace on earth, I said.  For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth good will to men.

But the bells are ringing, like a choir singing.  Does anybody hear them?  Peace on earth good will to men….”

After the poem was published some years later, a songwriter put music to it in 1872.  Today we sing this song of Christmas blues with gusto.  I seem to sing it through tears each time. and even louder when I arrive at the next verse.

“Then rang the bells more loud and deep.  God is not dead, nor doth He sleep.  The wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth good will to men.”

“So why all the bells?” one might ask.  It’s because ancient bells were an announcement, an attention-getter.  Heralds would ring their bells while shouting, “Here ye, hear ye!”  Bells were meant to be loud.  The bell’s vibration was to pierce the air with a message to be readied to be received.  The bell-ringer assigned to pull the bell-clapper rope had the fervor to bring attention to a message of news.  A newsflash of importance or urgency, so urgent it mustn’t be ignored.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, through his familiar immense pain, wrote of the interruption of the bells of GOOD NEWS.  The bells speak of evil destined to be crushed by a Savior, a Redeemer, a Rescuer being born to us who live in the bondage of a spiritual war.  The bells proved the validity and certainty of an Almighty God Whose death is all about pulling back the curtain on the original fake news of no hope, no future, no God in ultimate control.

Maybe this Christmas will not be your best Christmas.  Maybe this Christmas might even be your worst on record.  This Christmas is not the best our nation has known.  Allow it to come, says Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and let it pierce through the wall that seems so solid, so thick, and so unscalable.  Because death, sin and the grave has been defeated and utterly destroyed already.  Sure, we have the effects of them now, but with that baby from the manger, there is a victory party that has already started that will usher in a nuking of the father of lies in a very short while.

low angle photo of steeple
Photo by Mark Neal on Pexels.com

COME ON, RING THOSE BELLS!  When you do, hear them proclaim, “There’s fuel for the race.”

“And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ The Lord.'” – Luke 2:10-11 (KJV)

Time In A Bottle

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

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

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

Bottle Ship Etsy.com

Photo:  Etsy.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottle with lamp

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

Scroll Isaiah

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

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

Bottle Biblical

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

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

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

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

 

Lost & Found

“…Okay, so no one’s answering.  Well, can’t you just let it ring a little longer, longer, longer?  Oh, I’ll just sit tight through shadows of the night.  Let it ring forevermore…Yeah, yeah, yeah…”  (1976)  Telephone Line.  Recorded by:  Electric Light Orchestra (ELO).  Composer:  Jeff Lynne

Frantically, in the chill of the frozen air, he yell out, “Kids, help me find it!  Tabitha, you look over there where we were throwing snowballs.  Megan, you look over by the Suburban.  D’Anna, you stay here with me.  Help me push the snow away.  We’ve got to find it before we lose daylight.”

It was this week in August of 2001 when my family and I had experienced an unanticipated devastating blow in our lives.  Today, it still hurts.  Frankly, it lingers in my heart and mind all these years later.  Truly, the person, which caused the groans in my spirit, to this very day, has accomplished that individual’s purpose.  To dive into what occurred would just add to my painful memories, which I try to keep beneath my feet.  Forgive me for keeping it from you just now.  I will not bathe you here in the memory of it.  However, I’ll describe a tad of the domino impact from the personal trauma.

The vicious personal event was quickly followed by America’s incredibly disturbing attack on September 11th.  I must admit, the depths of my depression was a vast, velvet black abyss.  I spent my days in bed, sleeping as if on a sedative.  My marriage had ended years prior, but still living together for the kid’s sake.  My filing for divorce was already being planned through much heartache.  Thoughts of suicide knocked on my door a few times in stages of complete emptiness.  (How honest is that?)  The only thing God used to keep me living was my three precious daughters.

As the months rolled on, my depression continued to eat my lunch, but I was an experienced actor with the ability to hide the pain when needed.  I noticed I had a tremendous urge to wrap myself up in my kids.

By December, I felt a new bravery to take the family on a vacation.  We would wait for Christmas to come and go, and then pull out all the stops to begin a 12-day road trip starting the day after Christmas.  My intention was to use it like a balm for our hurting hearts.  It was money we didn’t have right after Santa’s visit, but it was so needed.  Stupidity or not, I cashed in my 401K.  (I know, it’s not a wise thing.)  We rented a huge Chevy Suburban, packed it up, and off we went.  We left Dallas for a day spent in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Then north to Colorado Springs, Colorado we drove.  It would be our jumping point for all surrounding areas of note, and then up to Denver.  What a blast!

Pike's Peak Dec 2001

R-L:  Tabitha, Megan, D’Anna in front.  Pike’s Peak in the faded background.

One by one we visited the normal sites of awe.  We were holiday tourists and it showed.  We even rode horses during a lite snowfall through the Garden of The Gods National Park.  The red rocks were brilliant up against the white snow.  The photos I rediscovered do not do it justice.  While in the area the snow became heavy through the days.  Yet, that didn’t slow us down.

New Year’s Eve came rather quickly.  We decided to hit the great Seven Falls tourist attraction in the Pike’s Peak area.  (Google Seven Falls to wet yourself down with its picturesque majesty.)  Alas, they were officially closed on New Year’s Eve, but we still were able to drive to the overlook scenic platform, just across the canyon from the high, frozen long falls.  As you can imagine, we had the place all to ourselves.  Along with the frozen famous falls, I adored the silence in the air, also created by the audio-absorbing snow.  The temperature was about 4 above zero that afternoon.  That’s tough for any Texan to endure for very long.  So we took pictures, looked at the frozen falls trough binoculars, until the girls started to beg for the warmth of the SUV.  The fog of my long sigh rolled out of my mouth and up over my head.  Oh, how I wanted to stay and soak it all in.

Seven Falls Frozen Dec 31, 2001

Megan & D’Anna, and your’s truly.  (Tabitha was taking the picture.)

It was almost dusk, so we drove out of the opened gates of Seven Falls. (See cover pic over the title above.) With the tires crushing the hardening snow, we passed a little picnic area with a trickling brook close to the drive leading out toward the main road.  We decided to stop and have ourselves a snowball fight, which the girls had been pleading for ever since we arrived in snow country.  That’s exactly what we did.  My camcorder was in full-swing as I climbed out of the vehicle.  The snow was up to my shins in some places as we dropped to make snow angels with our arms and legs.  Three year old D’Anna was getting too cold during our snowball fight, and didn’t want to stay out any longer.  She wanted back in the warm SUV where her mom remained during our adventure.  Her timing was just about right.

Seven Falls Park Dec 31, 2001

Tabitha and Megan in the park ready to launch snowballs at the man holding the camera.

It was beginning to get dark.  The moonlight was spectacular bouncing off the sparkling snow.  We took the time to climb a small 25foot-30foot hill in the park where we could see the trained colored spotlights skimming off the frozen falls off in the distance.  It was just a magical moment for us.  But all good things must come to an end.  Whoever came up with that phrase must’ve been a recluse.

As I reached the vehicle, I began to search my coat pockets for my cell phone.  Back in 2001/2002 cell phone casings were thicker, with antennas which rose above the scalp when pressed against the ear.  I figured if it fell out I would feel it.  There were only three pockets large enough for placement.  I searched all of them.  My hunt in the Suburban came up empty as well.  I ordered everybody out of the vehicle to form a search party.  It was dark, but the moonlit snow would be a big help in locating a hole in the drifts in the shape of a flip cell phone…or so I thought.  We must’ve spent half an hour walking square foot by square foot of the area where we had been playing, even the roadside hill we climbed.  We came up with nothing.  Obviously, in our wintry frolicking it escaped quietly out of my coat pocket.  We returned to the SUV wondering all the while how we would communicate with the outside world.  In those days, it was the only cell phone we had.

Cell Phone old

After we fell into bed, back at the hotel, I called our family members in Texas to tell them of our adventures, along with the misfortune of the cell phone loss.  We continued our snowy trip throughout the following days, thoroughly enjoying a life-long memorable vacation which was good for our souls.  It was the right thing to do.  No regrets, even now.

One afternoon in late April of 2001, our landline phone rang.  It had a Colorado Springs area code.  I picked up the phone to hear a man’s voice asking if I had been in Colorado Springs recently.  Curiously, I mentioned our Christmas/New Year’s trip.  He then asked me if we had visited Seven Falls.  The bell wasn’t ringing in my head just yet when I heard his question.  With a confusing sound in my voice I said, “Yes, we were at Seven Falls.  They were closed on New Year’s Eve, but we had a fun time hopping around in the deep snow just outside of the falls in a park.  Who is this?  Why are you asking?”  He introduced himself, then explained he was a Colorado Springs police officer who jogged the same road alongside the park outside Seven Falls.  He went on to reveal how he found a frozen mobile phone next to his jogging route and retrieved it.  He had me describe the phone and when he was satisfied that I was the owner, we both had a good laugh about it.  He said after the snow melted in April, it was sitting there in plain sight by the brook.  He went on to tell me he took it to the police lab to charge it up, not knowing it would even take a charge after thawing.  In his surprise, as he looked through the contact index, he found a number that was entitled, “Home”.  He jotted down the number and called us from his cell.  He then graciously asked if I wanted it back.  By that time I had already replaced my mobile phone and really didn’t need it any longer.  He offered to mail it to me at his expense, but I discouraged it.  I thanked him, then gave my permission to use it as a trade-in for another phone for himself.  He said he might just do that.  I hope he did.

To this very day, I pray for guidance in various corners of my daily life.  One subject I pray for are teachable moments in my own life.  Later it hit me concerning an ancient truth written so long ago.

Have you heard about the old woman from Israel, some 2,000 years ago?  She wasn’t a poor woman.  She actually had ten silver coins stored up.  In that day, it signified wealth.  By deduction, she probably didn’t earn the silver coins, as most women of that time wouldn’t have had income reaching such a total.  There’s no mention of a husband, so some surmise she might have been a widow.  If so, in the Middle East during the first century, it would have been the inheritance from her dearly departed husband.  The silver coins must have been precious to her heart, more than the marketplace.

On a cloudy day, the woman reached into a space in her hearth where she had hidden the small drawstring pouch of coins.  Carefully, she poured the collection of silver pieces onto her small dining table for polishing.  As she counted them she stopped at nine.  She counted again, but stopped at nine.  There were ten in the pouch, but only nine rested in the pouch.  One had been stolen, or simply misplaced.  Frantically, she lit a lamp and placed it just a hair’s width from the floor.  With a roving sharp eye she explored every inch of the cold floor on her hands and knees.  She then hastily grabbed her broom to slowly swept each corner, under every chair, bed and table.  She was determined not to give up her search.  With one swipe of her broom in a darkened place, she heard the sound of a coin slide against her stone floor.  The neighbors and friends down the street were unaware she was in great distress, as she hunted for this one lost coin.  She was so elated, she ran outside in almost hysterical laughter and yelled out to her clueless friends and neighbors,  “Celebrate with me!  I had lost this one silver coin and now I have finally found it!”

The parable of the Lost Coin is a story Jesus told.  (I paraphrased and expanded it for a modern dramatic rendition.)  He taught a few things concerning items lost from God’s arms.  A sheep, a prodigal son, a priceless peril, etc.  It must mean a lot to Him.  It speaks of His heart toward those of us who are not close, or in tune with God’s love, along with the righteous rescue He offers.  When He taught about “lost things” He describes them as out of sight, or in a hidden, darker place from clear view.  Even now, I have a beautiful red sock somewhere in a darker, out of clear viewing locale.  Every time I see the mate, I remind myself to turn my house upside down.  Even though it’s here somewhere, I still cannot see it, touch it, or consider wearing it.  In other words, my lost sock is useless to me.  However, I love those red socks!

Unlike my choice, concerning the future of my lost phone, God treasures the soul who He sees as lost.  He never “trades in” for another more fetching, or more accepting.  Many who recognize the vacuum in their world to be a life without spiritual reconciliation, find peace and comfort in His arms.  In God’s view, there are no lost causes.  THIS, is the true purpose for the humble birth in Bethlehem.  God’s way of searching out the lost precious ones.

“For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His…”  2 Chronicles 16:9a  (NAS)

After many months under the Colorado snow, the frozen phone was without juice for communication.  Yet, when plugged into the source of power by a rescuer, it gained life, a resurrected life, so to speak.

My old mobile phone and I have something in common.  After the well-intended butchery of our lives that August, I froze-up.  One might even say I was useless.  For months I crawled into an emotional fetal position with the mental coil of wanting the bury myself in a snow cave somewhere, never to be seen or heard from again.  In a way, I did just that.  I even stopped doing chores, trips to the grocery store, and hid from friends and family outside my walls.  Trust me when I say, it was difficult as I had a very public career as a radio personality.  Climbing on the air became a dreaded thing to me.  I had to “put on” a character, a character I once was.  You might say I was frozen without a charge.  Psychologically I was damaged, altered, and empty.  It went on for years.  I fought to stay alive.

Some relief began to diminish the bubble (somewhat) by 2004.  You can align it to a snow-melt causing me to reappear.  Thank God for the power of resurrection.

You might discover the falls may be frozen, but there’s always a scenic platform available.  It comes with a free viewfinder prepared with the essence of fuel for the race.

“What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the pasture and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders, comes home, and calls together his friends and neighbors to tell them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my lost sheep!’ In the same way, I tell you that there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous ones…” – Jesus –  Luke 15: 3-7a  (Berean Study Bible)

 

Heart Hotels

“Well there’s too many windows in this old hotel.  And some rooms filled with reckless pride.  And the walls have grown sturdy, and the halls have worn well,  but there is nobody living inside.  Nobody living inside…”  Heart Hotels (1979)  Recorded and composed by:  Dan Fogelberg

You know how it is.  You grow up in a place, or visit a place as a kid, while often driving by stunning landmarks, oblivious to their existence.  Honestly, I still do it.

I didn’t grow up in Greebville, Tx, about an hour’s drive east of Dallas, but I feel like I did.  I was born there, but we didn’t stay.  My mom’s family lived there, and still do.  To describe it, I would say there are certain parts of town that still remind me of the old southern neighborhood scenes in the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird.  My brain is sprinkled with fond memories of looking out the car window at the park I played in, the old gothic-style church on the corner near the downtown square, and the narrow street where I would grin from ear-to-ear as we drove toward my grandparent’s house.  Those are the simple snapshots a little lonely kid recalls about a place.  However, there are so many things this young one missed, probably because it was the loved ones in his focus.

One thing which escaped my interest was an old hotel on Washington Street, across from the old church.

Greenville Cadillac otel Old pic

The Washington Hotel – Greenville, Texas.  Photo:  Texas Historical Commission.

In its youth, it was called The Washington Hotel.  Later in years it was changed to The Cadillac Hotel.  In 2010, it was awarded a designation in the National Register of Historic Places.  Built in 1926, about two blocks down from the train depot, it stood as a gem, a glimmering star in the downtown Greenville landscape.  She has six floors ascending up to what was a garden roof, with plenty of space for romantic evening dances.  A monumental marble staircase rises from the lobby with iron railings.  Celebrities, tycoons, and diplomats were served by the old place through the decades, including Frank Sinatra, President Lyndon B. Johnson, and many more.  My mom and her parents attended a campaign speech delivered by President Harry S. Truman from the back of his train caboose at the depot near the hotel.  (Apparently, it was customary to build a hotel within a short walking distance to the train depot.  It makes sense, considering the times.)

Greenville Train Depot

The old Greenville train depot.

However, a gem no more.  The Washington/Cadillac Hotel, in all of her history and glory, was closed long ago as the town grew.  Time and neglect were her new caretakers.  In fact, it was abandoned in the worst possible way through the years.  Before you could say, “Texas tumbleweeds”, looters and vandals had their way with it.  In the early 1990’s a fire was set, destroying much of the interior of the old royal lady.  A couple of times in recent years, developers drew promising plans to refurbish her amidst intentions of a rebirth with condominium lofts, studios, and flats on the blueprints.  Still, plans fell through for one reason or the other.  And now it sits in an almost ruined state.  Much of it boarded up, and if not, windows cracked or broken out.  I have interior photos, but to be frank, it hurts my heart to look at them.  I would rather dream of her glory days.  My fear is, the city will give up on it, setting a date for a heartbreaking demolition.  My hope is, some wealthy decision-maker will grab a new vision of what this queen could be with some funds and lots of loving care.

Greenville Cadillac Hotel Photo:  The Herald Banner

Realistically, it’s a long-shot.  She sits at the threshold of a section of town in need of a gigantic face-lift.  And I mean more than a simple Botox injection.

Recently I heard Dan Fogelberg’s very familiar “Heart Hotels” over a classic soft-rock radio station.  You should google it to refresh your ear’s memory.  Immediately the old Cadillac Hotel came to my mind.  I began to listen to the lyric with larger lobes while realizing I sing-along to it all the time without allowing the lyric to penetrate.  The late Fogelberg was an incredible, thoughtful lyricist.  “Longer (Then)” was one I did for many weddings since 1979.  It’s considered a classic now.  He has so many greats in his music catalog.  Many bring tears to my eyes.  This is one of them.

He aligned his heart in the fashion of an old hotel with way too many windows for outside viewers.  Of course, he chose a hotel because he spent his life on the road from city to city.  Many artists are introverts.  I know I am, to a degree.  His lyrics speak of closing the shutters, pushing everyone out, leaving offers of synthetic love, hoping for true love to arrive.  In the third verse, his lyric pressed him to include an admittance that the soul needed to be repaired.  He wrote of craving the vacancy, while hearing distant echoing voices from the stairwells which brought memories of unanswered prayers.  OUCH!

Man, the song hurts!  It’s just like the interior photos of the Cadillac Hotel, which I refuse to add here.  At the same time, I love heart-breaker songs.  Performing them multiple times in my day, I know the powerful movements they deliver.  (I trust that doesn’t make me a twisted, bad person in your eyes.)

Truly, he wrote what most of us won’t.  I think Fogelberg was a very straightforward composer.  His songs spotlight his honesty.  If we were forthright with each other, as Dan was, we could relate to the lyric of “Heart Hotels”.  Just like too many windows in this old hotel (heart), there are also too many jumping off the roof surrounded by a garden, dancing, and romance.  Have you noticed?

The heart is a strong machine.  We call the pumping muscle in our chest the strongest organ, but the heart of the spirit is even stronger.  The rooms are full of reckless pride and the halls are worn well, but there’s nobody living inside…  When empty we are left to our chosen devices.

Like Fogelberg, if there is an honest recognition of “soul repair“, I think Fogelberg would be the first to say, you can’t do this on your own.  Sure, try all you want, but the carpet wears out in the pacing years of frustration, loneliness, and heartbreak.  Soon there after, the present reality hits like a brass doorknocker where the echoing voices in the stairwell repeat the failures of the past.  They do remind us, don’t they?  What do we have to show for it?  A worn-out carpet, wishing it were a magic carpet for flying.  A quick trip to the fire escape proves to be a faulty idea, as the decades have rusted the old scaffolding.  Thoughts of the roof flow in again, or medicate with the devices at hand for the numbing of our pain.  Honestly, this song should be longer than Stairway To Heaven or Alice’s Restaurant, because it should be a theme and variation which is in loop.

Should I mention something worse than our own heart-sickness?  Dare I?

How often do we drive by a dis-connected, seemingly empty person, who for whatever reason, has pulled down the shutters and rolled up the carpet inside?  How many of us are shocked when someone we know, or someone we love, takes to the roof for a final inhale of the garden?  The shock usually coats our minds because we thought they were doing just fine, as we occasionally peered through their many windows.  Still, we drive by them, distracted by the gothic-style church building across the street, not noticing there’s a soul is in trouble and needs repair.  Don’t kick yourself too badly.  I am the first to say, I am sooooo guilty.  My hull has been breached a few times by deliberate final exits of people I love.

Often in my life I have heard others speak of unanswered prayers, as the late Fogelberg penned.  Like me, I bet you have, too.  You didn’t ask for this, but allow me to quickly shed a laser light on this familiar topic.  Prayer-life is a mystery.  Make no mistake about it.  Scripturally speaking, the problem is solved through three different camera angles.

#1 – Know God first.  Read and study Him before you climb up His sleeve.  The passage states:

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who approaches Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” – Hebrews 11:6  (Berean Study Bible)

#2 – We frequently petition God in a misdirected way.  We envy, we crave, we itch for this and for that.  In the old King James language, we “covet” in general.  We also want a rabbit’s foot to stroke, or a genie in a bottle to grant us three wishes, or an item hanging from our rear-view mirror in which we trust to have some sort of empowerment.  As often the case, what we ask for could bring us to an intersection which may be unhealthy for our future…the future we are hidden from.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV)

Unfortunately, when we pray, asking for our “coveting” heart to be satisfied, it goes against God’s target for our lives.  (IE: ” Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?  My friends all drive porches, I must make amends…” (1971)  Composers:  Bob neuwirth, Janis Jolin, Michael McClure.)   Fun song, yet the humor of it stresses a fundamental truth.  One can be wealthy, socially honored, and in need of nothing, yet in reality, naked, poor in heart, and without spiritual sight.  Jesus mentioned this many times.  After all, God wrote it down so we would know, “Do not covet”.  Asking for peace, safety, protection, insight, direction, needs, and most of all, His plans to rule over what we cannot see, is always well applied.  Another way of putting it, sometimes our motives are off rhythm, as in an engine which lacks oil on its timing chain.

#3 – Unanswered prayer…at least that’s what we call it.  We perceive a prayer hits the ceiling, bouncing back like a rubber ball.  In reality, God promises to hear our prayers.  If you don’t get what you want, like an angry kid on December 25th, it could be the answer is “No”, or “Not yet”THIS has occurred in my life many times following premature prayers, where the answer came clearly months or years later.  Retrospect is a supreme teacher.  I could write a list of times this has happened in my life.  Keep in mind, there’s a solid case for follow-up prayers, asking God why He didn’t answer, as you personally weigh answers.  Other times, an immediate answer arrived during my prayer-life.  In fact, I have had prayers granted before I even finished the prayer.  The acknowledgement is always astounding to me, reminding me of my lack of 100% trust in God.  There’s a bold statement from Jesus which speaks loudly…

And when you pray, do not babble on like pagans, for they think that by their many words they will be heard.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.    Matthew 6:7-8  (Berean Study Bible)

A sweet friend of mine, a vocal harmonizer for Joan Baez, recently said she believed the “Universe” wants her to move to Texas.  I should have explained the following, but I didn’t.  Unfortunately, the universe doesn’t love her.  The universe never reached out to counsel her.  The universe never cared for her.  The universe never burdens itself with restoration of life. The universe doesn’t oppose evil.  The universe never offered a free gift of redemption.  The universe never bothers itself to tend to her when naked, poor, and blind.  The universe doesn’t have a count of every hair on her head.  The universe never wanted to remove her transgressions and faults.  The universe never protects her, defends her, or gives grace to her.  The universe is faulty and proves to be imperfect, as we are.

Bottom line…the soul/heart, never has to be empty and alone.  There is One who loves closer than a brother.  Search the world’s religious history.  After exhausting yourself, you will find religious systems demanding your “works”, your “efforts”, your climbing up Mt. Olympus to earn the favor of deities.  It’s easy to accept because it’s based on our human nature to work, to earn what we want.  Then there’s “touch this”, “burn this”, “kiss this”, or my favorite…”buy this”, etc.  Do the research.  If you know me, you already know I say this out of love, not hatred.  I hurt for religious beachcombers.  We’ve all been there.  Some doctrines even demand starvation, suicide, murder, and self mutilation to achieve a cozy suite in an afterlife hotel.  Have you noticed?  Only God, through Jesus, who, as a baby, couldn’t find room in the inn, proves to be of this magnificent heart of love, without condition,  and grace toward us imperfect people.

(Most recommend reading the book of John, in the Bible, to learn Who Jesus is, and why He is so different.)

Heart hotels don’t have to be vacant.  Room service is available with fuel for the race.

“What can I give Him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;

If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;

Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.” 

      Excerpt from:  In The Bleak Midwinter (1872)  

      By: Christina Rossetti

 

 

Those Wild & Wacky Weeds

“Down the road I look and there runs Mary, Hair of gold and lips like cherries.  It’s good to touch the green, green grass of home.”  –  Green, Green Grass of Home.  Composer:  Claude “Curly” Putman, Jr.  Recorded by:  Porter Wagoner (1965).

We’ve only been married for two years.  Michelle is a green thumber with big landscaping ideas.  She not only talks the talk, but she walks it, too.  Over the last two years I’ve seen her magical touch on our property.  As for me, not a chance.  That’s a talent I don’t have.

Springtime in Texas is sweet and sour.  The sour part would be the pollen, outrageous storms, and the fresh crop of weeds common in mostly central and east Texas.  She has been hiring a lawn care service to do the mowing and edging for some time now, but there’s drawbacks to their work.  They tend to bring unwanted seeds of weeds with them under their well-used mowers, planting our lawn like ants to an ant pile.  Arg!  Again I say, Arg!  So, with a bit of angst from my side of things, we politely discontinued the service.

In Texas we must have hundreds of species of weeds.  The most hated, the most dreaded, prickly thick-stalked dandelions.  They can grow a good four to five feet high if untouched.  Then there are some less visible.  Some are actually kind to the eyes, as some of them have handsome blooms…at first.

Weeds

The trouble goes beyond mowers that just worked over a field of various weeds.  There’s also the neighbors.  Across the street from us, is a lawn doubling as a “weed nursery”.  Sure, they mow them down, but of course they grow back in about six days.  Moreover, the wind blows the seeds across the street to our lawn.  (Have I written “Arg” yet?)

Michelle seems to have some reservoir of energy I was not gifted with.  Her mapped out solution for our growing weed crop is to pull them out by the roots…each and every one of them.  Yes, you read me right…EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THEM!  “No weed-wacking or chemical spraying at our place,” says the lady of the house.  That would be my way of doing things, right or wrong.  Believe it or not, she finds pleasure in doing it.  I applaud, bring her glasses of chilled water and remind her of sunscreen.  (Michelle is a ginger.)  She sees those pesky weeds as an enemy to be pulled out and bagged before they choke-out our mix of St. Augustine and Bermuda grass.  If weeds had brains, they would be slick and wise world conquerors.  Bless their little hearts.

Currently, she is hand-tilling the ground, foot-by-foot, and replanting more St. Augustine, while fighting the onslaught of our unwelcomed weeds.  It’s lots of hard work.

St. Augustine Grass

As I was carrying bags of the adversary out to the curb for trash pick-up day, I was hit with a life application.

Weeds are spoken of in the Bible.  And yes, scripture spotlights the fact they were the target of angry farmers.  Jesus mentioned horticulture many times.  When it comes to weeds, or weed-wanna-be’s, He made various teachable moments out of them.

One of my favorites is a vivid, picturesque scene of a farmer planting good seed for the season.  Jesus gave a parable about a farmer tossing good seeds where some found good, unhindered soil for sprouting and growing  Then He told another side concerning a failed crop.  Some seeds were burned out by the hot sun, withering before they were watered.  Other seeds landed on shallow ground dotted with rocks where they never took root.  Some landed well, but the birds, circling above, quickly swooped down and picked the ground clean.  Then there was the batch of seed that landed among thorny bush plants.  (Easily translated into prickly weeds.)  Wouldn’t you know it, the thorny bushes choked-out the growth of the intended crop.

There’s a huge amount of application to the parable, which He spelled out when His hearers asked to explain the meaning.  The seed represented words from God delivered to humanity.  In fact, He stated that people are also like the seeds spread on the ground who are within earshot of the words.  Some will grab hold of God’s love letter, the Bible, and apply the contents to their lives.  Others will not, as the words fail to take root in the heart, the core, where faith resides.  Ouch!  That’s skin off my nose.

When He gets to the seeds which landed in the weed patch, he describes the weeds, or thorny bushes, as the worries of life.  Wow!  The writers and researchers who authored journals on mental health must have read the parable.  As it turns out, after two thousand years of medical studies, they discovered anxiety stunts growth.  Growth in the emotion department, mental stability, and even our physical health can be uprooted by these weeds of life.

There’s a better life meant for us.  A life unhindered.  Sure, we often see the dandelions sprawling in our path, so we strike up the mental mower.  We try everything, don’t we?  A dose of this drug, or a glass of this or that will shake it off.  A date night with someone who promised us the world will be a good weed-wacker…until the morning alarm goes off.  For clarity, we can sit in the lotus position and empty our minds with some suggested introspection for a few minutes.  (I used to do that.)  However, in six days, or six hours, or six minutes, or less, the weeds grow back.  Ask yourself, after you succeeded in wiping away the cares of this world, if they ever came back to haunt you.  Yeah, that’s the same with me, too.  Like little wild and wacky weeds, they sprout up in the tundra of our days.

Frankly, most try to fertilize and water their lives for better days, but the peers, across the street from us, always share their seeds of weeds.  Often they unknowingly share…sometimes strategically sent.  Before you know it, influence occurs and BOOM…weeds are choking us out like an MMA fighter on a Friday night.

Worries are just like that.  As to Jesus’ point, if not careful, they can be contagious.  Hang around a group feasting on anxiety with their social diet and CHOMP….you find you’re being hindered as a person, an individual looking for a better patch of ground to root.  Then again, some worry-warts can be surrounded by an uplifting crowd and still find ways to sour-sack the days.  GUILTY AS CHARGED!  I can be a worry-wart.  It can and will mold my mental, emotional, and physical health.  The medical field has proven anxiety can cause all kinds of physical ailments, including cancer.  If you plant St. Augustine, you’ll get St. Augustine.  If you plant dandelions, you’ll get dandelions.

With all that said, Jesus indicated the weeds in life can stunt, or choke-off my spiritual outlook.  How true.  Have you ever tried to pray during sucky episodes in life?  Honestly, during those times, it feels like I’m fighting to get my prayers to pierce the ceiling, as if I’m talking to the wall.  Other times I wring my hands over a fog of uncertainties, that I have no control over, and find I neglected reading or studying scripture.  Before you can say, “Scott’s Lawn Services”, the dandelions of doubt appear in the turf.  It’s not a surprise that I dwindle in my spiritual mindset as I fight off the weeds interfering with my stride.  The good news is, in scripture, God promised to hear my concerns, even when I only hear the echo of my voice in an empty room.  My ever-growing weeds don’t hinder Him.  He defeated death on Easter.  Weeds can wilt at His voice.  Literally, that happened once when Jesus cursed a fig tree on the roadside.  He was hungry as He scouted out a fig tree which didn’t yield any figs.  He cursed it and the entire tree wilted overnight.  As usual, the witnesses around Him who saw it happen, had to pick up their jaws off the dusty sandals.  Now, THAT’S the One I pray to.

Whatever underlying issues, which feed the roots of worry, they must be yanked out at their source.  You can identify them.  I figure you know yourself pretty good.  Mowing, spraying, and masking only delays the takeover.

Ironically, the worry-weeds surrounding you today didn’t block-out God’s words if you read this post.  Mark, chapter 4 is where you can read His entire parable, along with the applications.  He never intends His words to be a mystery, or indifferent to understanding.  In fact, after He delivered the parable, He showed His intention for you with the following line…

“…He who has an ear let him hear.” (Mark 4:9)

After pulling the worries of life out by the root, it leaves room for a crop of fuel for the race.

“…And other(s) (seeds) fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit…” – Jesus – Mark 4:7 (ERV)  ‘…And others are they that are sown among the thorns; these are they that have heard the word (of God), and the cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful…” – Jesus – Mark 4:18-19 (ERV)

 

Spring In Texas

“…Now that your rose is in bloom, a light hits the gloom on the grey.”  – Kiss From a Rose (1994)  Recorded & composed by:  Seal.

Spring is springing in Texas.  As we knock on the door of April, there’s visible signs breaking through.  The cover shot above is the celebrated Bradford Pear just across the street from my place.  I always watch from the blooms from this tree as I equate its awakening to Easter season.

A Texas spring is kicked off by an explosion of a rainbow of colors along the highways, side streets, and pastures.

Indian paintbrush

Just hit the nearest entrance ramp to an interstate, or more rural state highway, and soon your eyes will be filled with Indian Blankets, Black Eyed Susans, Pink Primroses, and Indian Paintbrushes.  No need to plant them, although many do for strategic landscaping displays, just expect these little scenic treasures.

However, the most beloved, the most watched-for, the most valued would the the Texas State Flower…the Bluebonnets.

Blue Bonnets with Barn

It’s guaranteed that if a blue-eyed person sits among the Bluebonnet patches, the shade in the eyes radiate.  In fact, as you drive along the freeway, it’s not unusual to see families taking pictures of their kids among the Bluebonnets.  I’ve personally witnessed a bride, fully decked out in her gown, posing in the Bluebonnets for the professional photographer.  Our next door neighbors followed suit.  Before they were married, he came from Oregon, and she was raised in Florida.  After they settled here in Texas they couldn’t wait to have their family photo  taken among the Bluebonnet blooms.  They knew just what to drag out of their closet, too.  Sweet family.

Blue Bonnets w-Rigalls

Earlier I said you can find them mainly in patches.  It’s true.  Rarely will you find a large crop of them, like a cornfield.  But frankly, I like it that way.  When driving along plots of the Texas State Flower, it just seems to push the unanticipated joy button.  Blue Bonnets with Cows

Texas wildflowers are brilliant, especially when nature is used to cluster them like a painter’s palette mix.  It’s fairly normal to witness Bluebonnets intermingling with the yellows of Sunflowers, the ambers and mauves of Indian Paintbrushes, and the golden winks you catch from the Buttercups.  Mowers are careful to mow around them.  However, I hate to throw a wet blanket on it all.  There is a down-side.

Here in Texas, most wildflowers don’t last long at all.  If you are a Texan, you know to take those pictures while you can.  Our prized Bluebonnets wave howdy only for about five or six weeks.  The perennials usually peak in mid April.  By May most wilt away, not to be seen again until mid March, or so.  For those who diligently watch for them in March, it’s a somewhat sad time when the Bluebonnets begin to fade and say goodbye.

My great-grandmother, on my mom’s side, was well known for her green thumb.  Everything she touched turned green.  She lived in Cash, Texas, a small farming community about sixty-five miles east of Dallas.  Her little frame house, some would say cottage, was built on the edge of one of her brother’s pastures.  Sometime in the mid 1960’s, she planted daffodils along the exterior of the foundation.  I remember playing in the barn next to her little house watching her carefully tend to them about this time of year.  Some would eventually wind-up in a vase on her farmhouse dining table .

Daffodils

Photo:  gardeningknowhow.com

In 1971, she passed away while sleeping peacefully in her bed at the young age of 61.  The house, long since removed, can be easily imagined as you drive up to the spot.  There, along the outline of the old forgotten house, are daffodils blooming each and every spring.  I don’t drive out there often, but when I do, it’s this time of year.  You can count on me to stop the car, gaze at the piece of land, and smile.  The perennials line up, just as they did in 1966, testifying that Ella Swindell once lived on that spot.

“…you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” – James 4:14 (NIV)

Our Bluebonnets, and other Texas wild flowers, are a welcomed sight.  But the sweet and sour is reality.  We all admire the beauty, knowing all the while they are short-lived, as the dry Texas sun dictates.

As I get older, I learn so much more than I ever thought I would.  If you’re over fifty years old, you know what I’m talking about.  Not only do we gain knowledge and wisdom (hopefully) we also experience the fragility of life.  Pick a topic.  What fades away after its prime?  What weakens with wear or age?  Could it be the cushy job?  Can it be a bank account?  Dare I mention relationships?  Like a patch of Sunflowers and Bluebonnets, stellar health, often taken for granted, in a single moment collapses.  What about that mid-life crisis red Corvette, once driven with pride, grows old, chipped, and rusty?  Then there’s someone’s model home, the floor-plan of which is the envy of every neighbor to the right and left, sags with age while the pipes and foundation cracks.  Everything depreciates.  Everything thins and erodes.  Everything we touch, feel, see, and taste is temporal.

So James would write, “What is your life?”  It’s a hard question when not distracted elsewhere.  Right?

I think the Bluebonnets, if they were able to verbally communicate, would urge us onward.  I can almost hear them say, “It’s okay.  Bloom where you’re planted, no matter how short the time may be.”  Jesus said we should not take the light, the Spirit of God planted within each who He calls His own, and hide it under a bowl.  The light within is there to share in a darkened world for others to see, and be drawn to the glow of what is done in love for others.  Can the scorching sun beat us down to wither for a time?

Dead Garden

Sure.  Yet, the Creator speaks truths in nature to show we can, and will be, perennials.

So, I say, Bluebonnets don’t bloom for the short span only to take selfies.  They bloom to shine out God’s artistry for our eyes and hearts.  And so are we.

Arise from the dirt.  It can be done when nourished with fuel for the race.

“The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.” -Isaiah 40:8 (NAS)

 

 

 

Tripped Triggers

Photo:  Skepchick

“…Inconsequential things occur.  Alarms are triggered.  Memories stir.  It’s not the way it has to be…”  Darkness (2002)  Written & recorded by:  Peter Gabriel

The following is really for my own therapy.  Do you type away to find some relief somewhere deep inside?  It’s probably more common than I imagine.  Really, I’m not sure if any inspiration can be gleaned from the below.  Maybe I’m wrong.

Humanity dictates that we must be surprised by certain sudden events, words, and actions.  There’s no mistake when we, sometimes out of the blue, look back and discover we have tripwires that have developed from our own personal history.  I am so grateful for the benign tripwires from innocent, wonderful, and good benchmarks from my past.  When those triggers are tripped, and I am flooded with memories delivered, it brightens my day.  In fact, I find myself smiling a lot more often in its aftermath.  Then, there are the inevitable triggers I would rather avoid altogether.  Those are of a unique brand, hidden like armed mines in the underbrush of my rocky, scarred past.  When the trigger is tripped, I can be swallowed up in its snare.

snare - prepperology.net

Photo:  Prepperology.net

You know the kind I speak of.  You never see it coming.  Am I right?  You’re walking along the path of your day when suddenly…SNAP & BOOM!

As Elvis sang, “I’m caught in a trap.  I can’t walk out…”

I’m sure if you are a psychologist, you could tell me how this happens.  You very well might be able to tell me how to disarm these triggers, these mines.  You might even explain to me why I become trapped for many days in that same uncomfortable position, unable to shake it off.  Nevertheless, I soak in it.  Are you that way, too?

See if this rings a bell of familiarity.  The trigger can be a word said, a certain look on someone’s face, a song, a movie, a photo, or a specific action.  Whether it flickers in a deja vu method, or it hits like a sweeping tsunami, it has the strength to wash you back to a past event you’ve been running from.  Pain happens.  Emotional injury takes place in an instant.  An injury for some, unfortunately even fatal for others.

'Cut the blue wire!'

Sure, there’s counseling for this.  I’m sure I need it.

I must be extremely careful with the following.  Names and details will be omitted because of the very personal nature.

A few days ago, one of my triggers was tripped.  Honesty suggests to me there is no way to blame the actor who walked into my scene and leveled a sincere, hurtful, and harmful line.  In fact, if there’s blame to be placed, I am the guilty one for not speaking up first concerning the very sensitive ground about to be tread.  Yep, that’s right.  I had some warning it was coming, but I thought I was strong enough to stand.  So in an indirect way, I opened the gate myself.  The act occurred, words were spoken, and I was slain.  To the onlooker, if there had been one, the event would’ve seemed rather innocent.  However, for me, the act, the words, the laughter rushed me back to a traumatic event in my life from March 4, 2014.  I could even give you the time of day when the personal earthquake shattered my world.  True trauma can cause time stamps in the noggin.  The event this week didn’t take much, as I was already broken.  It’s a brokenness Humpty Dumpty could identify with.  The act didn’t take even a day, an afternoon, or the length of a production of Les Miserables.  Yet, it was 90 minutes of hell for me.  The burns remain as I type this sentence.

I hate triggers.  Maybe I should say, I hate the bad memories, the old wounds that can be ripped opened by them.  Triggers are usually small, but the mechanism attached above the trigger, forces movements of gears and springs.  Not unlike the chime of a vintage clock.  Keep in mind, for a trigger to be tripped at all, it takes outside force against it.  This is important to note.  When these components are in motion, it releases the hammer, or striker, colliding with the firing pin, causing a detonation of a waiting ballistic shell in the chamber.  The result is an explosion of energy.  Such an ignition, moves, or pierces, anything in its projected path.  In my case, I was greatly displaced emotionally, heart pierced.

gun trigger unisci24.com

Photo:  unisci24.com

Okay, enough said.  Frankly, I am still reeling from the recent occurrence.

Please understand, I am all for healing.  Healing happens.  I just wish it would happen quicker than the norm.  Simply put, I like relief.  How about you?  I like resolution.  I like calm seas.  More importantly, my faith must remain strong in order to add the balm needed for this injury.  I’m not saying it’s easy to do.  In fact, if it were easy, we would all be living in a utopia where all things are new and pain-free.  Although I know it to be my future, I am not there yet.  If a true, lasting faith were without struggle, then what use is it?

The faith I exercise is based on Jesus, the Redeemer, the promised Messiah.  Scripture says he was familiar with sorrow and grief.  Literally speaking, it means he experienced sorrow and grief, like you and I do.  Understanding sorrow and grief is NOT enough.  Experiencing sorrow and grief allows one to have compassion for another who is stricken by the same.  There, in the mystery of faith, the darkened stained glass of faith, the fogginess of faith, is my resting place when crap happens.

So, for now, I TEMPORARILY wrestle in the wake of springs sprung.

Remembering the shackles have been unlocked is part of fuel for the race.

“Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come; ‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”  Amazing Grace (1779)  Written by: John Newton

Lessons From Fluorescents

“It’s not just another dream, another play, another scene.  Shifting sand beneath my feet, ever moving, oh-so deep.  Walking in the light.  No fear of the night.  Walking in the light…” – (1984) Walking In The Light.  Written & recorded by:  Cliff Richard

Let me know if this happens to you.  Knowing myself, as I do, it wouldn’t surprise me if I’m alone on this.  I will give it to you exactly the way it occurred without embellishments.  Here goes.

A little over a year ago, I’m getting ready to slice up some onions and peppers at the cutting board in our kitchen.  The sun was fading fast, so I turned on the overhead double fluorescent from the switch on the wall.  Lo and behold, one bulb was out and the other was half-light, as it flickered at me like a winking eye saying, “Yep, it’s almost time to grab the ladder.”  Do light bulbs mock us when we aren’t looking?  Most pro-active residents might have grabbed the new fluorescent bulbs, waiting in storage, right then and there, but no…not me.  I hate this about myself.  My decision led to a couple of months of brown-out flickering from our kitchen ceiling.  It nagged at me each and every time I flipped the switch while nursing absent-mindedness.

I came to realize, after a great while, fluorescent bulbs are not just full of gas, but also full of grace (unearned favor).  If the struggling half-lit bulb were a person, that soul would be a very understanding, generous, most enduring individual.  Each time I flipped the switch it gently reminded me I needed to replace it, unlike the regular light bulb, or flashlight, that loves to surprise you in the middle of the night.  Not too long afterward, the struggling bulb gave up the ghost.  At first it was tough to adjust to the darker kitchen.  Nevertheless, we learned to rely on a sun-filled window and three lamps in the kitchen instead.  How silly of me to ignore the changing of the fluorescent guards hovering over us.  One of our lamps is in the hood-vent over the stove.  Another sits in our window overlooking the sink.

Lamp Kitchen Window

The other sits in the corner of our coffee bar.  When all three are on, it may be dim, but it’s enough…temporarily.

Lamp Coffee Bar

Last December, my step-son was over to help ready some holiday food for a family Christmas gathering at our house.  The funniest thing happened.  I walked around the corner to enter the kitchen, as he is working like a chef at a bistro, only to see the fluorescent bulbs above were on at full strength.  Not even a flicker.  It was shocking.  I asked how he got them to work.  My mind assumed he had hopped up on the counter and did some good old-fashioned bulb jiggling.  He just said he turned them on, then inquired why I asked.  Go figure.  As you can imagine, the next morning, they were dead again.  He must have the magic touch.

Fast forward to this month.  My get-up-and-get-it-done-button was pushed.  I took the cover off, took the bulbs out, bought replacements and attempted to change them out.  Alas, I had trouble with installment.  (A longer story there.)  Ironically, the same step-son was over at our house recently while I was busy writing to you from my computer in the studio/study.  The next time I walked into the kitchen, LIGHT EVERYWHERE!  He figured out the issues, popped them in without a hitch.  Honestly, I had forgotten how wonderful it was to have our fluorescent bulbs illuminating the kitchen once again.  The first thing noticed was how badly things needed to be cleaned.  That’s the problem with light, it shows the dirt around you, even in the tiniest corners.

I guess I’m getting old.  In April, I took my wife to my favorite restaurant for our wedding anniversary.  Honestly, the dining room lighting was so dimly lit, I had to use the little light on my phone to read the menu.  With silverware you get flashlight?  How long does it take for the eyes to adjust?  Any chef is disabled without excellent lighting.  Any artists with brush, pencil or ink knows the urgency of the spectrum of light.  Any photographer always checks the shutter speed when light is given.  Any farmer survives off the rays needed to grow crops.  Any long-distance trucker depends upon the multiple of lights coming off the truck, especially fog lights when necessary.  Light is not a throw-away item, although it seems so at times.  It all depends on who you speak to or how slowly the anti-light seduction goes.  You might find you ordered a salad but you got Bananas Foster instead.

Allow me to be blatantly honest.  It’s been about three weeks since we got our lights back up in the kitchen.  More than a couple of times per day, I continue to walk-in forgetting I have the fluorescents above available to me.  There’s nothing like a sharp blade, an onion and unprotected fingers in a darkened room.  It’s amazing what you can get accustomed to when you allow your eyes to squint.

Woods at night

Can you spot a time in your life when this has played out?  You’re going along with your core beliefs, your faith, your center, that part of yourself which can indicate a dark place in life, when suddenly you are awakened to how much darker things have become.  Sure, it could be a geographical location, but mainly a shady area in thought-life, actions, language, or input where the dwindling flame only flickers.  The flickering continues as it warns of darkness creeping into a lifestyle.  At first, the fade away from light isn’t usually noticeable.  Do you recall when you felt you were slugging through a shadowy haze while in only a brown-out, a partial light around your steps where once brilliance resided?

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” – Psalms 119:105  (Aramaic Bible In English)

If you’re like me, the less illumination there is, the more your eyes adjust away from the full wash of light.  During those days, years, or decades, we can walk in darkness and not even realize it anymore.  It reminds me of captain’s logs from lost ships documenting the joyous release which poured over the crew when the piercing glow of a distant lighthouse, or a lit harbor was spotted.  “Land-Ho!”  (It’s fascinating to learn the old English word “Ho” was a representation, or imitation of laughter.)  Many times historical sailors were so used to the darkened deep and black velvet skies, seeing sudden light hurt their eyes.

Lighthouse Final Take

Painting:  Michelle, my wife.

Sometimes, all it takes is getting rid of the old, the moldy-old, that our nature has adjusted to, and plug-in a fully illuminated replacement.  When you do, be warned, the dirt will show up.  Contrary to popular thought, there’s only One who permanently cleanses.

Often when the flickering light alerts me, I have found to be running low on fuel for the race.

“The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them.” – Isaiah 9:2 (NAS)   “In Him was the life, and the life was the light of men (humankind).  And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” – John 1:4-5 (NKJV)