Losing Faith?

“I will be here for you,
Somewhere in the night.
Somewhere in the night.
I’ll shine a light for you,
Somewhere in the night.
I’ll be standing by,
I will be here for you”
(1992) “I Will Be Here For You” Recorded By: Michael W. Smith Composer: Michael W. Smith

It was late. I had been up since 3am. I traveled for 70 miles in a heavy downpour from a Texas autumn storm to reach a hospital in Greenville, Texas. I spent all day in a plastic chair in a small recovery room with three walls and a curtain. My plan was to drive back home that night, but Glaucoma has wrecked my night vision. Although I didn’t want to, I reserved a nearby hotel room. It was cheap, and on many levels, it should stay cheap.

The night didn’t go well at all. My mind and heart remained in that tiny recovery room at the hospital down the interstate. The last thing I heard, as my head hit the pillow, was a vacuum cleaner at work in the hallway at 10:21pm! I’ll spare you from the profanity which echoed off the concrete walls.

Drained of energy, I checked out around 8:30 the following morning. The rain had stopped, but the parking lot was littered with puddles to avoid. My heart was heavy, and my soul was dry. Somehow I felt I was on an internal cruise control as I opened the door to my parked SUV. My head hit the steering wheel as I placed the key in the ignition. There was no ignoring the craving for answers, the thirst for wisdom, and the starvation for comfort.

Not long ago, I wrote you a brutally honest post concerning my 77 year old mom who recently had been handed a diagnosis of dementia. Since I live in the Dallas area, and she lives in Greenville, we speak on the phone every day, sometime’s more than once. Over the past year or so, I have seen her begin to stumble on word processing during sentences over the phone. Just a few months ago she clearly began to experience hallucinations. When she began to forget the names of her granddaughters, I knew it was getting serious. She holds her cards close to her chest, so I am rarely aware of any specific assistance she needs. Slowly I have learned she can no longer do math, count money, or write well at all, etc. Stubborn and independent as the day is long, she slugs it out with life’s battles alone in her childhood home, the one she inherited from her deceased parents. Tough like a Texas oak tree, a woman made of steel, she raised me as a single mom through poverty, pain, and perseverance during the 60’s and 70’s. Not one CEO of any top 100 corporation could compare to her work ethic and drive to make a living.

The two of us in 1962.

And now…now, she is fading quickly. I’ve heard it said that it is like a great thriving tree losing its leaves in the fall, one by one. So true.

It’s not like my wife and I haven’t spoken to her about the need to sell the house and consider assisted living. She poops it right out of her noggin when the subject is presented. She’ll say, “No, I’m not near ready for that. I’m feeling much better today.”

Many hours have been spent wrestling just how I might be able to convince her to turn this page in her life, without her being forced. I walk a balancing wire because I do all I can to keep from upsetting her, or have her turn angry with me personally for pushing her too hard. My belief is she dreams to live long enough in that special house until she dies in her sleep in bed.

A little over a week ago, when I asked how her day was going, she was hesitant and sheepish. Her voice sounded tired and foggy. It took a few minutes to get her to confess that she had been sick at her stomach for a few days. There were a coup[e of phone conversations interrupted because she had to rush to the bathroom to throw-up. But then the next day she would tell me how well she felt, and how it must have just been a flu bug. Pressing her I could tell she wasn’t back to norms. On the 5th morning from the day she told me of her sickness, she confessed that she wasn’t better after all. My bootstraps were pulled up as I spoke to her like a parent, telling her she must go to a clinic, or ER. She barked at me saying some over-the-counter meds would do the trick, etc. I knew better. No bait was taken. I called her doctor, but she couldn’t see her for several days. I called my cousin, who lives just 5 minutes from her, and told him he needs to take her to get checked out. In the end, it was necessary.

A couple of hours rolled by when I received a call from my cousin who handed me over to a nurse in the ER. Tests were being run. Later in the afternoon, a surgeon called me. He informed me she had a concerning hernia near her navel. He mentioned there was trapped bowel material in the hernia, as well as, a traffic back-up in her GI track. Emergency surgery needed to be done within that very hour. I approved it over the phone. She would be in the hospital for at least 5 days as they attack the blocked GI track. All went well with the surgery. I arrived to be with her the next morning.

That was 8 days ago, as I write this post. Although the procedure went well, and the draining of her bowels was completed yesterday, she remains very weak and in need of rehab. My “Iron Lady” has quickly become frail and needy.

In recovery

I wondered why she wouldn’t let me in the house when I would come for a visit throughout the last few years. I am her only child, just 16 years younger than she, and our relationship has been good. While she was in the hosp[ital, I was able to get into her house as I needed to retrieve her ID and documentations. The word “gasp” would fall short of what I walked into. Without getting into the horrific scenes I saw and walked through, I will just say, she has been living in filth and squalor, seemingly for a long time. My heart broke seeing and smelling the realities of how far my dear mom had spiraled. A dumpster will need to be delivered in order for us to clear and clean. That’s how bad it really is.

Life has been very tough. Without my life-long Christian-based faith, I know where I would be by now, and it wouldn’t be a place where you would want to be. In fact, I know of a few times suicidal thoughts were at play during some personal tragedies in my past. With that said, more than a plethora of times, God Himself reassured me of who I am in Him, and without Him I would be on skid-row, or worse several times over. Honestly, and you know this if you are a long-time reader of my blog, there have been near miraculous moments in my life, where in the darkened corners I found myself in, I was brought to my feet. It grieves me to type the next two words…AND YET, I still have faltered in my faith, even though God showed me His hand through the wind and waves. “AND YET”…don’t you just hate those words?

With my head on the steering wheel, along with waning droplets on the windshield from the night before, I felt spiritually empty. My “worry wart” was getting bigger as I sat there pondering what needed to be done. My mom is ill, and can never live alone again without assistance. Where will she go? My wife and I don’t have room for her, not to mention, she will need more care than what we will be able to do. Even now, she thinks she is going back home to live as she was living. I fear looking into her aged eyes to tell her she can no longer be alone. Frankly, I don’t know how to break it to her without crushing her spirit. I’ve already been taking over her finances. A Power Of Attorney will need to established on her behalf. The herculean job of tackling the house, cleaning, moving her out, selling furniture, then selling the house….arg! Sitting there in my vehicle, I only had less than a quarter of a tank left in my spiritual reserve. The tears began to flow with the current of loneliness taking me downstream to where I shouldn’t be.

My prayer-life has been eaten away, practically. Ashamed to say it, but it’s true. The realization of my forehead hitting the the steering wheel brought me to a place where I needed to scream-out to God. That’s exactly what I did. No dogma involved, no Christianese spoken, no pretense whatsoever was present. With a good old fashioned yelling, in concert with my belly-crying, I called out to God in despair.

Before I go any further, let me caution you on something. If you have not accepted God’s grace and mercy through what His son, Jesus did on the cross for our redemption, you may not get what I am about to write. Please, forgive me if I am describing you. Nevertheless, what I am about to proclaim is factual, even biblical. If you are a Jesus follower, and think of prayer as quietly spoken, laced with a “thee & thou” because it is your habit, or because you believe your prayer would not make it out of the room if not practiced in this way, you might find what I am about to advise somewhat sacrilegious. If you use ritualistic phrases in your prayers, often repeating them several times for punctuation, you may not like what I am about to suggest whatsoever. When in the cave, the belly of the great fish, or at hell’s gate itself, God wants to hear YOU, YOUR HEART, YOUR GUT-WRENCHING SOUL! Scream out to Him in your suffering, in your neediness, in your emptiness. He’s a BIG GOD, He can and will handle what you need to say. Maybe the words might not be so pretty, or elegant, that’s okay. In fact, that’s what He wants from you. In a personal relationship, that’s what you do in tense times. Reveal your passion of the moment to Him. My experience has been, when I do that, I hear from Him, strongly, directly, and timely.

During my prayer, through pouring tears, I reminded God of how much of a servant my mom has been in her faith-walk all of her life. My verbal slideshow to Him consisted of how faithful she has been to Him and His words. The pulse of her deep faith was so evident in her song, her servanthood, her sacrifices. Brutal honesty rolled out of my mouth as I fessed-up to God that I am helpless in facing this giant of an issue. He heard how I felt alone in this task, weak and feckless. In my yelling out to Him, I ended it by confessing how I needed Him to show-up. I admitted that I am clueless on just how to begin all that needs to be done, all that needs to be said, all that needs strength that I don’t seem to have anymore. My sincerity was brutal and blunt when I screamed out, “Lord God, I need to know you are with me! Not tomorrow, or even the next day, but today!”

At that moment, I cleared the drops from my eyes, reach out to turn the key in the ignition, and the radio was on my favorite classic hits station.

The very first sound coming out of my speakers as the engine turned over was…

“When you’re weary,
Feeling small,
When tears are in your eyes,
I’ll dry them all.
I’m on your side…”

In that very moment of my darkened frame, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Like A Bridge Over Troubled Water” began to air. Slotted at that precised juncture in time, not 5 mins before, or 10 minutes after, but right then and there, out of their 600+ songs in rotation, sprinkled in with news, weather, and traffic, the lyrics met me like a subway at the station. I spent about 30 years in radio and radio programming, and I can tell you, this just doesn’t happen at the whim of a programming clock with its categories of rotating songs, separation slots involving artists, titles, and production types. There is a true science to what you hear on the air. I recognized it as a, “God Thing”.

Recently, my wife and I read through a book on odds, the law of averages, chances, and frequencies of events. This would be a good study on the odds of this happening as a coincidence, happenstance, etc. Based upon the book we recently read, I can tell you that the odds are against me hearing the first verse of that song, programmed at the right hour, at the right minute, at the right second after my prayer.

Suddenly, I wept again, but for a different reason. My faith was bolstered as in times past. Because I was shouting out my guts to God in faith that He would hear my pleas, He responded using a medium so very precious to me and my life…music. He arranged all roads to converge at that moment to prove to me that indeed, He is there, and will be there.

When reaching out for God’s grip, look no further than fuel for the race.

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

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)

Good Grief!

“In the words of a broken heart,
It’s just emotion that’s taken me over,
Tied up in sorrow, lost in my soul…”
(1977) “Emotion” Recorded By: Samantha Sang Composed By: Robin Hugh Gibb / Barry Alan Gibb

It’s been a longer span of time since I wrote a post on this blog. A number of reasons come to mind as I write this, but for now I will say it’s because of grief. Really, grief is just a pinch inside a mix of ingredients. Grief, with a good dose of anger, stirred with a mix of anxiousness makes for a good bunt cake to the belly. Throw that in a pre-heated oven deep down inside, and see what comes out as the temperature rises. Have you felt it yourself? This cake is bitter.

Grief can be born out of many things. Frankly, it could be manifested out of an ongoing flash flood of issues, washing everything down stream, taking out foundations which were once thought as solid and sturdy.

Photo by Ian Turnell on Pexels.com

Take note of the drastic rise in crime across the U.S. Notice the overwhelming splash of drug abuse nationwide. Research the scoreless population of homelessness in our streets and under bridges. Violence is becoming the norm in the streets, against everyone, including Asians, elderly, and children. Much of which were committed by ex-cons who were set free from behind bars. Others act out due to mental illness, peer pressure, or pure hatred. Where is the righteous rage?

Try not to ignore the vast numbers of “illegal” immigrants crossing our southern border at will. Throngs have entered illegally from all over the world. The White House continues to sit in silence about this problem. Many of these are sexually abused on the journey, victims of human trafficking. A few days ago, two little girls under 10 years old, walking solo across the border, had been sexually assaulted. Our border officers have had to get wet while retrieving bodies floating in the Rio Grande, including the bodies of children. Not a peep from the White House, as if it’s not happening. When out of the confines of much of the media, you will find out that thousands of these untested, unmasked, unvaccinated illegal immigrants are ill with COVID as they are freely placed by our government all over the U.S. by plane and bus, possibly in your town unknowingly. It’s not a racial statement to point out the facts of what is going on. That’s a foolish default narrative accusation set-up by those who don’t want to face the problem, but are willing to attack those who do. Pouring in without resistance includes drug mules, various criminals, and well-known gang members, including the murderous, MS-13. Very few are being vetted. There are those close to the the border crisis warning of terrorists taking advantage of an reckless open border. Yet, the White House looks the other way. Yep, nothing to see here. That’s the same people who planned the exit from Afghanistan. Trust?

Unwise massive spending bills, much of which are politically charged from the far left, are being passed that will cripple our economy, leaving generations to come under water. Trillions of dollars we Americans do not have. We are no longer energy self-sufficient. Fossil fuel production here has been dramatically clipped in the last 8 months, and now we are dependent on OPEC, and OPEC’s whims once again. Sure, some nations pay $9.00/gallon and call it, “normal”. Some pay more than that. Is that what we want? My wallet isn’t big enough. How about yours? Maybe we will find a way to grind up all those statues of the founding fathers we have torn down and pour the dust into our gas tanks. Do you think that will work? At the same time, businesses are shutting down, while some can’t stay open due to the lack of employees. Why? Because the White House continues to spoon feed people with unemployment checks, along with stimulus checks, which add up to much more than their salaries.

Critical Race Theory is quickly becoming a norm for school districts all across the nation. Why do we approve of our children being soaked in the false narrative that one race is better than the other, adding that one race is a perpetual victim at birth? CRT teaches against Martin Luther King, Jr. He believed a nation should not judge by the color of skin, but by one’s character. CRT aims to divide the population into tribes, no longer with the goal of ONE NATION, ONE PEOPLE. The White House approves. Why is that?

We have a Godless generation being raised. Marxism is celebrated now. That sound isn’t wooden pews creaking as someone shifts their weight, it’s crickets. Ebbing away are moral directives and disciplines, unless it’s from the gang-banger on the corner, or the leftest professor with a communistic agenda. In fact, I have seen more Christian-haters, and Jew-haters, online now than ever before who rage openly, about how people of faith should be removed, or shut down in the proverbial public square. Just today, I read a post from an old friend who blamed the resistance to mask mandates on…(wait for it)…”religious people.” Have we forgotten how Nero blamed the ills of the Roman Empire, and even the burning of Rome on…(wait for it)…Christians? Oh, yeah. If CRT is replacing true history, than maybe no one will know about that.

Photo by Jonas Ferlin on Pexels.com

I have seen people I know die from COVID. At this very moment, one of my dearest cousins is struggling for her life from this virus, and her husband is in ICU on a ventilator who may not recover from it. At the same time, there are multitudes who will read this and respond with, “If they are part of the unvaccinated, they deserve to suffer and die.” The White House is now using a carefully crafted title, “The Pandemic of The Unvaccinated”. This is dangerous! It sets the idea, for minds of mush, that the pandemic is only here due to individuals who have chosen not to get vaccinated. Thus, the blame-game. This is where we are in our society now. The love of many will indeed wax cold, so says scripture.

Unfortunately, much of our current politicians in Washington DC, care more about applauding themselves on passing a multi-trillion dollar spending bill into law, or the number of vaccines pierced this week, or how many masks are smothered over the faces of Americans than the sloppy mess of how it was decided to exit our people from Afghanistan. Because of this failure, many American soldiers have been killed in the process of helping to evacuate helpless civilians in harms way. Scores of civilian losses. Women who remain will be beaten, raped, murdered, and refused access to education. Why? Because there, they are seen as pack mules and baby factories by extremist pigs like the Taliban and ISIS-K. In THIS crisis, the White House can’t look the other way, only due to the outrage of the majority of Americans, as the White House watches the polls in hopes it will be just another news cycle scenario. Experts now fear another 9/11 will take place. I certainly expect it.

So, yes, my grief is good! It needs to happen. Too many today are NOT grieving over the dragging down of our nation, our culture, our society, our laws. Too many haven’t felt grief at all because of the option to medicate oneself. Drink this. Swallow this. Shoot-up this. Snort this. So many of what’s running through our veins is coming across…(wait for it)…our southern border. Soon, grief is drowned in the pool of a blank mind, a blank spirit, a blank soul. America is in trouble. And if America is in trouble, the free world is in trouble.

Believe me when I say, I am not wallowing in grief, but I do find it difficult to shampoo it all away. How do YOU rinse it out?

Grief itself is not wrong. It is not a sin. In fact, Jesus said it’s even rewarded.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” – Jesus – Matthew 5:3-4 (NAS)

Even Jesus was a man of sorrows. He wasn’t shielded from hurting and pain.

After His friend, Lazarus died, he was hit with grief. Before raising him from the dead…

“Jesus wept.” – John 11:35 (KJV)

He mourned for His nation in peril and disarray.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that murdered The Prophets and stoned those who were sent to it! How many times have I desired to gather your children, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is left to you desolate!” – Jesus – Matthew 23:37-38 (Aramaic Bible In Plain English)

He sees. He knows. He weeps. The Author and Finisher of The Faith wrote of all of the above in prophecies, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament.

He also comforts in the most difficult of times. That means I can react to our state of affairs and grieve. In doing so, I know I am in good company.

Grieving is expected. Righteous action is plainly printed in fuel for the race.

“I heard the LORD of Hosts declare: “‘Surely many houses will become desolate, great mansions left unoccupied. ‘” Isaiah 5:9 (Berean Study Bible)

The Winters Of Our Lives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Among The Ruins

“If the sky that we look upon
Should tumble and fall
Or the mountain should crumble to the sea
I won’t cry, I won’t cry
No, I won’t shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me”
(1961) “Stand By Me” Recorded By: Ben E. King Composes: Ben E. King, Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller

Did I catch you singing? Yeah, me too. WARNING: You’ll be singing it all day now.

The song, “Stand By Me” was inspired by, and derived from, a Christian song from the great, Sam Cooke & J.W. Alexander. The original was entitled, “Stand By Me Father”, and was written based upon Psalm 46:2-3. Sometimes a music hit is more than meets the ear.

Imagine for a moment that your world, and everything you built your life upon, crashes down all around your head and shoulders, where all things, seemingly solid, tumble and fall. Deep depression settles in like a thick black velvet blanket, with the exception of the fact it’s cold, not warm. Have you ever been there? I have, a few times.

During 2020’s COVID-19 crisis, many across the world have lost everything. Many are now without health, family, loved ones, houses, property, businesses, churches, neighbors, and so much more. It could be one of your trusted neighbors called 911 on you due to how many cars showed up at your house on Thanksgiving. (Truly joyful, grateful people, aren’t they?) If you are one of these smitten by the virus, you know the dull ache of loss due to something you could not control, nor could you escape.

An old friend of mine was bamboozled, broadsided, and bombarded by a tsunami of forces he didn’t see coming, nor could he escape the swinging demolition balls, nor could he control their power and pain. Steamrollers have a way of flattening you…not the curve.

I call this old friend, “old” because his story comes from the oldest biblical manuscript known. The poetic Book of Job is lengthy, and full of sorrow until the end of his ordeal. In a nutshell, Job was a wealthy, honorable man, full of righteous ways, and a full house of children, 10 in all. His marriage was solid, and had a list of many friends. Everyone looked up to Job. God was very pleased with Job and his life.

It’s important to understand, Lucifer, the adversary, was restricted from wrecking Job’s world. I love that! Obviously, the man was guarded from satanic schemes of destruction. It’s an odd scene for us, on this side of the stained glass, but this fallen angel challenged God, using Job as the subject. He wanted the Creator to allow him to tinker with Job’s life. God’s enemy swore that when he was finished with Job, he would no longer worship Him because of bitterness, rage, and a broken faith. I’ve always found it a mystery why God agreed to the experiment concerning Job. He did lay down a line that was not to be crossed. Job’s divine Shepherd gave a stipulation that Satan could not take Job’s physical life. The agreement was inked and off went the unshackled fallen one to do what he wished. Did he send his minions of shadow people to haunt and scare Job and family? If only. Nope. No Halloween tricks for Job, but rather authentic exploits of fright and terror.

If you know the record of Job’s onslaught of destruction, then you know well the hell-on-earth the poor man took on the chin. I won’t list all of the arrows which pierced Job’s existence, but I would say most of humanity never saw what Job experienced.

Photo by Matthias Groeneveld on Pexels.com

His vast property was shredded and burned. All of his offspring met a violent tornado, perishing under a collapsed house. Job was robbed of his numerous and varied livestock, way up in the thousands of all kinds, was gone by fire or sword, leaving him in poverty. His hired hands were slaughtered by thieves and marauders. He became very ill, close to death himself. Racked in pain from huge boils which covered his body, his friends urged him to confess his hidden sins for relief from the devilish curses, even though Job was not guilty of gross sins. Their narrative went so far as to accuse him of being godless. (With friends like that…) His wife’s eroding spirit broke, causing her to demand that he curse God and die. He refused her shameful advice. Although Job questioned God in his torment and grief, the poor man held to his love for his Creator.

“Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him…” Job 13:15a (KJV)

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

If Job’s story ended there, I would hang up my shield of faith forever, but there’s more.

God’s amazing personal encouragement to the battered Job reads like nothing else penned by mankind. Although God’s response covers many chapters, it is so worth the gleaning. It serves a 2020 generation well. Truly, there is nothing else like it.

Eventually, the demonic realm could not prove their projected case. God put a stop to the waves of anguish. He rewarded the faithful Job with all he had lost, and then some, by multiplying over and above what he once held dear to an abundance none had ever witnessed. He was the wealthiest man alive in his times. For Job’s day and culture, he was a billionaire…without all the corruption.

Being the earliest manuscript in the Bible, Job gave us the first human view of Christmas while sitting among the ruins. It came in Job 19, after a couple of so-called friends berated him in chapter 18. As Job responded to their emotional word-salad, Job spoke the following words which are now rich in the writings of scholars and composers across time and space to this very day…

“For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God…” Job 19:25-26 (KJV)

Did you catch it?

This man of antiquity speaks of a faith in the hereafter through a resurrection which includes his own physical body. Most astonishingly, he mentions something his friends must have been floored by. “…and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth…” WOW, says anyone who once read where God walked in the Garden of Eden in Genesis. Job knew of the event of Adam and Eve, and God physically walking in the garden at will, but THIS was an advent to come. Job had the audacity to speak of God’s feet standing, once again, on the planet in Job’s “someday”. Job, in his day, was envisioning the future, but for us, it’s already occurred.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Thousands of years later, about 3 BC, Job’s prophecy came true. Most date the birth of Jesus around 4 BC. Certainly, by 3 BC, a baby Jesus was learning to use his feet and legs to stand and walk. We know this because after the account of His birth, the scripture states…

 And as Jesus grew older He gained in both wisdom and
stature, and in favour with God and man. ” Luke 2:52 (Weymouth New Testament)
(Biblically, outside of His infancy, we only have one scene of His childhood written down for us.)
Photo by Bess Hamiti on Pexels.com

I wonder if Jesus ever visited Job’s graveside. If so, I can imagine Jesus “standing” at the tombstone and saying something like, “Job, blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Because Job’s twofold prophecy was unveiled at the first Christmas, we also wait for the promised second unveiling as His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, just across the valley opposite the Jerusalem gates. In fact, circumstances will be different. When Jesus’ little feet toddled about the house, in His meekness, it was more of a silent event. Zechariah’s prophecy details how His feet will touch the Mount of Olives in the future before walking into Jerusalem. The very act will create an earthquake, splitting the ground beneath His step. Incredible to picture it without a good dose of CGI. (In biblical times they had no way of knowing about the fault line running straight through the Mount of Olives, just east of Jerusalem.) It’s then, the ruins of life will be made new. My ruins, your ruins.

Christmas was wrapped first by fuel for the race.

“As it has been written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those proclaiming good news of good things!'” Romans 10:15b (Berean Literal Bible)

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)

 

You Are Not Alone

Photo:  Guilherme

“Oh, Stormy…Oh, Stormy.  Bring back that sunny day…”  Stormy (1968) Recorded by:  Classics IV.  Composers:  Dennis Yost, James Cobb, Buddy Buie

As I write this, it’s a sunny day in Dallas, Texas with temperature hovering about 102/f degrees.  The heat index, or what it feels like with humidity mixed into the works, is 118/f degrees.  Great day to mow the lawn. LOL  It’s July in Texas, and you can always count on the weather being oppressive.  What I wouldn’t give for a bit of rain right now, but not HOT DROPS.

Our springtime was horribly rough.  May and June alone were pelting us with several tropical storm-type winds, tornadoes galore, and thunderstorms ushering in hail.  We had straight-line winds clocking at 71mph in one of our storms in June.  The trees on our property lost several branches, large limbs, as well as, nerves.  Around here, when the civil sirens go off, you run for shelter, never walk, during tornado warnings.  We’ve had many this year thus far.

Tree from Greenville storm June 2019

Photo:  My cousin sits with a partial of a massive 100+ year old Sycamore, which was uprooted from my mom’s front yard, and landed on her roof.  She was home at the time, but uninjured during the tornado.  The house is about 164 years old.  It took the brunt, with only roof and porch damage.  Texas storms come as quickly as a fake news story cycle.

Meanwhile, at our house, our oldest dog, Sammie, is like bacon on a hot skillet during storms.  I’ve written about this before.

Sammie In Storm Sammie goes bonkers at the smell of rain, not yet fallen.  You can always tell by her attentive look with immediate cravings to cuddle.

Sammie Gimme-Gimme-Gimme

The slightest sound of distant rumbling thunder will set her off with the quivers, shakes and shivers, like a 7.1 California earthquake.  All the while, nestled safely in my arms for shelter.  I’ve been told she runs to me because I’m the biggest one in the room.  When it’s peaceful outside, she rarely notices me, unless I have a treat in my hand.  Of course, I do what I can to calm her vocally, and sometimes it works, but often not.  The storms just seem to override any audible efforts of comfort.

Frankly, I can understand her pretty well.  I mean, growing up in Texas, I have seen what tornadoes, flash floods and hurricanes can do.  Because of past experience, my heartbeat rises a bit during these storms.  On the other hand, I have family and friends who are storm chasers.  They absolutely adore the thrill of getting as close to a tornado as possible, without catching up with Dorothy and Toto.  In my opinion, they are all mad as hares in a cabbage patch.  Yet, I still love them.

Oh, how I wish I could link telepathically, with Sammie’s little brain.  I wish she could know I will cover her with my own body if a tornado hit our house.  I just don’t speak “dogness” as well as I should.  If only my communication skills were on her level, maybe she would understand the kind of protector she has in me.  But, Shorty, our other pal, knows what to say.

Sammie Shorty Relaxing

My communication skills might be lacking during Sammie’s times of trouble, but sometimes lyrics will hit me out of the blue…or the darkness.

Recently, my daughter’s band, Grosh, released their new album.  The last song on the project is my favorite.  The cut is entitled, “Piece of Mind”.  Besides hearing my daughter deliver some terrific vocals once again, the original lyric touched me deeply.  It speaks.  Here’s a section for you:

“…Whether or not you know, whether or not you don’t.  Whether or not you care, whether or not you won’t, you are not alone.  Give me a piece of your mind.  Because whether or not you know, whether or not you don’t.  Whether or not you care, whether or not you won’t, you are not alone.” (2019) Piece of Mind.  Recorded by Grosh.  Composers:  Lougen/English (Her band-mates)

(Sample the cut at:  groshband.com.  Go to “Store”, click on the title of the song and turn up the volume.  (Also available for downloads.)  Tell me how it grabs you.)

There have been unexpected storms in my life when I desperately needed to be reminded I am not solo here in this life.  Most of he time, I didn’t get a siren of warning before I was flattened by a down-burst.  Car crash – no warning.  Job loss – no warning.  Health crisis – no warning.  Death in the family – no warning.  Can you identify?

How honest is this?  At times, I have felt alone.  At times, I felt alone in a crushing crowd of revelers.  At times, I looked around for someone to find peace with and found a vacant place.  At times, I searched for synthetics to numb my loneliness.

Life is so much like the weather.  Lightning WILL clap just when you least expect it, and you WILL leap off the mattress about a meter or so.  Sheets of hail, wrapped in a torrent of rain, WILL beat on the roof, and all you can do is wait to analyse the aftermath.  You might sit at a table, with a fine wine accompanied by broiled brisket, when suddenly, an EF-4 tornado WILL rip the house apart with its 166+mph winds.  (It’ll take about 3 seconds.)  In those moments of oppression, in those moments of turmoil, in those moments of trying to grip the rug beneath your feet, like Sammie, it’s normal to feel a bit shaken.  A bit at a loss.  A bit bewildered.  This is the stuff of life, and life’s surprises.

Because I am a Jesus “accepter”, I do what I can to keep from nursing on other means for quick fixes to sooth my nerves, my fears, my “what next”.  Many times I fail.  In those times I must remember all things I touch, taste, and see, are only temporary at their best.  Synthetics are just that…synthetic.  Who would depend upon a wedding ring fabricated out of a cigar-band?

Sammie runs to me for comfort, but I don’t mention to her that I can be blown away, just like she can.  The comfort from my body is, well…uh…temporary.  In the same way, I can run to my wife, a counselor, a friend, a chemical pacifier, but in the end, they are faulty, too.  We all fall down physically, emotionally, spiritually.  My proven rest relies on the One Who holds me up today, yesterday, and tomorrow.  Why?

Where else could I go?  He simply is the biggest person in the room.  The storm may not be removed each time the radar turns red, yellow, and purple, but I do have the promise He will be with me through what comes my way.  He alone called Himself, “The Rock”.  In Exodus, when Moses was afraid to be God’s spoke-person to the enslaved Jewish community in Egypt, and Pharaoh, he challenged God.

He inquired, “Who shall I say sent me?”  Wouldn’t you ask?

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” (Exodus 3:14 NAS)

Someday I will write on the significance of the title, “I AM”.  It’s a great study of the words in Hebrew.  For now, my point is, scripture details Him as being all-in-all.  Not only that, He goes so far as to invite us to PROVE Himself to be.  Wow!  That’s brave and bold, regardless of who sends the invitation.  Outside of creation, and all things in it, before we began to put names on each other, our animals and plants, He “was” and always will be.  A great reliable comfort in times of unsettled traumatic turmoil inside this sphere of existence.

Jesus was sent to our everyday, bluejeans and work-boots level.  He came to speak our language for understanding of God’s mind, heart and love.  He claimed that He and God were one.  Yes, a heavy thing to say.  And then He proved it several times.  Some 700+ years before Jesus was born, it was foretold He would be referred to as, “Immanuel”.  It wouldn’t be a surname, or a first name, but rather a description.  It literally means, “God with us”, “With us is God”, or “God housing with us”. (Isaiah 7:14)  That’s amazing in itself, but it also means I don’t have to shiver while cowering in the fetal position, stuck in a corner with my chosen toy for distraction.

Learning to lean on the Rock that is higher than I is the beginning of fuel for the race.

“Take My yoke (Guiding, instructive brace.  IE:  A cast on a broken bone.) upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  Come to Me, all those toiling and being burdened, and I will give you rest.”  – Jesus – Matthew 11:28-29 (BLB)