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

 

 

If I were…

“She was just sixteen and all alone when I came to be.  So we grew up together…mama-child and me.  Now things were bad and she was scared, but whenever I would cry, she’d calm my fear and dry my tears with a rock and toll lullaby…” (1972) Rock And Roll Lullaby.  Recorded by:  B.J. Thomas.  Composers:  Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil.

With age, I have learned that…

If I were the teen who fought through a sexual assault, then carried an unwanted pregnancy, debating the heart’s choices, then allowing life to grow, I would be a spectacular teenager wise beyond my years.

If I were a parent who protected my newborn from assault and murder at the hands of the father, with a sacrificial unselfish front, I would be a medal of honor recipient.

If I were to end an abusive marriage, to defend and shield my innocent toddler, knowing there would be no child support, I would be a heroine authors would write about.

If I were a single parent constantly contending with the voices of psychological demons, chanting accusations of worthlessness, depreciation, and shame, all the while rising above it all to raise my child, I would be the dragon-slayer described in countless novels.

If I were to defeat my fear by moving into an uncharted world, away from family, to make a life for my young child, I would be a courageous warrior with monuments anointing the landscape.

If I were one who taught my toddler the true value of the gift of grandparents, I would be a brilliant educator with my name on the walls of universities.

If I were to faithfully read scripture to my young child each night, combined with the simplicity of personal prayer and church attendance, I would be a righteousness seeker with my statue erected by the world’s cathedrals.

If I were to seek out the finest pre-schools and kindergartens, in the attempt to assure my only child got a leg up, I would be a proactive parent to be noticed.

If I were to be rejected for loans and credit, due to being a single parent in the 1960’s, only to exercise faith while tackling a life of poverty with my head held high, I would be a fearless champion in my child’s eyes.

If I were to knock on every door to find a job waiting tables, or struggle with an overnight shift on an assembly line, I would be a humble workhorse of a provider for others to impersonate.

If I were to give away the opportunity to have a brilliant singing & recording career, just to be home with my child at the end of a hard night’s work, I would be self-sacrificing, worthy of a screenwriter’s time.

If I were to provide for my child after several lay-offs, by way of two or three jobs, I would be Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman combined, never being poor in spirit.

If I were to train my child well enough to leave him alone overnight, in order to work the graveyard shifts, I would be an example of a strong tower of faith.

If I were to work overtime to aid in the development of my elementary age child with raw musical abilities, by paying for piano, violin, guitar, and voice lessons, my portrait would hang in Carnegie Hall.

If I were to be a staunch, independent single parent, refusing financial aid from my parents, I would be wealthy of heart.

Mom & Me Granddad's Coin Box

From my granddad’s cedar coin box.  The two of us from 1969.

If I were to resist the temptation of suicide, while being beaten down by company lay-offs, Green Stamp submissions, and accepting government blocks of cheese, I would be a brave ferocious fighter for my child’s future.

If I were to support my teen’s sports and musical interests, which differ from mine, I would be a liberally devoted parent of love and understanding.

If I were to tirelessly stand up to my rebellious teenager, with the possibility of damaging our relationship, I would have attributes resembling the God of the Bible.

If I were to sit all alone in a church pew watching my child wed, I would have earned the vision of a soldier adorned in glistening armor after a long battle.

If I were to bless my grandchildren with my physical presence, my mind, as well as my heart, I would be worth my weight in gold.

Mom & Megan 1992ish

My mom with my middle daughter, Megan. (1992)

If I were to deny myself, for the betterment of my child, to the point of self-injury, while killing my own pursuits, and avoiding life’s trinkets that shine in the night, I would be Joan of Arc, Boudicca, Anne Sullivan, and Rosa Parks rolled into one.

If I were to be an example for my adult child, by being the caretaker of my aging parents, suffering from Alzheimer’s and Dementia, along with other elderly ones in my community, I would reflect what I have always been…a mountain of love, compassion, and selflessness.

If I were to describe a fictitious character from my own dreams, they could not come close to the one I have held in my heart for my entire life.

I don’t have to write the words “If I WERE…”  The reason being, I simply could never measure up.  The one described above is my mom, Carolyn Atherton-Brown.

Mom salon

I am her portrait.  I am her monument.  I am her novel.  I am her screenplay.  I am her statue.  I am her champion.  I am her armored soldier.  I am the medal of honor.

To be gracefully broken, brilliantly strengthened, and beautifully poised is to be one who drinks deeply from the well of fuel for the race.

“…As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord.  I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him.  So now I give him to the Lord.  For his whole life he will be given to the Lord…” – The words of Hannah –   I Samuel 1:26b-28a (NIV)

 

 

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

For Something You Love More – A Short Story

By: Alan Scott Brown

The holiday season of 2009 was a lean one for many.  Doug Benford was eager to see the year fade off into the realms of history.

He didn’t hear the alarm this particular Friday morning.  Sparks, his beloved tan and white Jack Russell Terrier and Dachshund mix, jumped on his chest with an ample supply of tongue lashings to the face, warnings for outdoor bladder relief.

“Okay okay, pal, I’m up!” Doug said with a bite to his groggy voice.  “Hop off the bed.  I’ll meet you at the back door.”

On his way to the closet he asked himself common a question, “My better-half brought him home, saying he was part rooster.  Why can’t he just wait for the alarm?”

Doug laid-out his clothes for the day – jeans, flannel shirt, and leather jacket.  As he was changing, he heard a familiar scratching coming from the back kitchen door.

“Hey, Sausage!”  (His wife’s nickname for Sparks.)  “So help me, if I wind up painting that door I’ll have your hide on the garage wall!” said Doug as he threw on his shirt on his way to the back door.  As Doug opened the door, Sparks let out his high pitched terrier yelp.  Just then, like a flash, the short-haired companion headed for his favorite backyard spot.

The Tennessee morning had a light dusting of snow on the ground which gleamed with intermittent rays of sunshine, coming through the high clouds.  As his routine of late, Doug walked slowly across the frosty lawn, taking in each step, each sight, as if organizing a mental photo album.

A streak of unfortunate circumstances had disabled his income.  He had adjusted surviving on what little savings was left, as well as weekly unemployment checks.  He had one more CD he’d not cashed-in, but the clock was ticking.  After almost fifteen years at the Spring Hill GM plant, the layoffs cast him into a devastating position.  He had to put his SUV up for sale just to make it through a few months.  Now, an antique Ford pick-up took up the driveway space.  The truck was a project he once enjoyed, making efforts to refurbish it.  For now, its bed served to hold branches, twigs and scrap lumber.  Doug had resigned to warming part of the house with wood he had chopped-up from selective trees on the property.  He feared cutting electricity altogether, as he considered resigning to a log cabin with a potbelly stove.

With foreclosure looming in the near future, he turned to gaze slowly over the home he and his wife moved into some years ago.  In those times it was sheer dreams of Americana, complete with a house full of visiting kids from the block and friendly next-door neighbors.  Standing in the cold morning air, while facing the back of the house, he caught a quick glimpse of an apparition.  Through the frozen fog of his exhales, he saw a little girl peering out an upstairs bedroom window, wearing an innocent grin only adoring parents could memorize.  For a moment, just before her image melted away, she held out her hand with a slow wave.  After a pregnant pause, he came to himself, shaking his head after a few seconds in the midst of waving back.

Grieving families know all too well how quickly an automatic smile can be transformed into the frown of loss.  Dreams of the tragic car crash on a wet highway that took his wife, Cheryl, and his four year old, Emily, haunted his days and nights.  The years seemed like weeks, since that deadly sword of fate carved a trench in his heart.  What was intended to be a wonderful July 4th get-a-way to the Smokies, had plunged his world into an abyss, so dark and so deep, that only a day’s work at the plant could distract his focus from the torture.  Now, he could no longer use full-time work as the medication of choice.  Jack Daniels was his new covert friend.

The house was filled with echoing vacancy.  Doug’s depression pained his physical body as he stepped up to a young Loblolly Pine tree, the “King Pine” of the South, planted firmly along the back line of the lawn.  It was now the lone tree, carefully nourished and treasured with love.  It was a tree of so much pride, wrapped in a father’s heart.  He got the idea from a neighbor to plant a seedling in the yard on the day Emily was born, a symbol marking the start of a precious God-given life.  As she and the tree grew, he nailed a pink ribbon to the trunk each year on her birthday, gauging her height.  On the day of high school graduation, Emily was to stand next to the tree, in full cap and gown with cameras flashing, as he was to nail the last pink ribbon to the trunk.  Now, the tree grows as a stark reminder of the missing pink ribbons, which would never be added.

A tear slowly rolled down into his salt-n-pepper stubble thinking of what might have been.  He and the family dog were now struggling in the wake of this unexpected cosmic eraser of hopes and imaginings.  As he blinked to see his wristwatch, Sparks broke the heaviness by taking wild, full-beans laps around Emily’s tree.  With a half chuckle he hollered, “Yep, let’s get it together, boy.  The kids will be waiting.”  As much as he wanted to reminisce, the day’s schedule wouldn’t allow it.

The old rusty Ford sat in the driveway nearly every day as Doug took the economically-forced bus ride to his annual part-time gig.  He gave it a pat on the hood as he walked by on the way to the bus stop, some two miles from his house.  After boarding, the sprinkling of a late November snow was already beginning to say its good-byes to the morning sun.  As he traveled from intersection to intersection, watching the angry holiday traffic, he was reminded of the dreary miles to a job he had learned to despise.  His circumstances had soured his very bones, which caused a dismal filter on everyday life.  It was only short-term; a job to keep the water bill afloat with soup cans on the shelf for another month.  Sitting next to another city traveler he whispered to himself, “Homelessness is for February.”

The local mall was overwhelming the day after Thanksgiving.  The insanity of consumerism was in fast forward mode, with shoppers only taking time out for a dash at any empty table in the food court.  Black Friday stress was evident on every face, full of hustle and bustle, and way beyond the expected annual rat race.  A year of recession had taken its toll, especially for low and middle income households.  Customers needed good deals.  Coming down the escalator were platoons of humanity with shopping bags in both arms, trying to recall where they had parked.

At the bottom of the moving stairs, where the steps vanished into the first floor, families were lined-up.  In a roped maze line, displaying a parade of holiday weariness, children were decked out in their festive best.  There were little girls sporting satin gowns, coupled with silk ribbons in their hair.  The boys were squirming, pulling at their neck ties of Christmas colors.  Mothers were busy working on uncooperative strands of hair, along with fathers staring absently into space, eating steaming hot pretzels, in efforts to tune out the mayhem.  And there in the distance, in the center of the activity, was a throne, laced in gold metallic paint and red velveteen, fit for a…Santa.  Cameras were locked and loaded for personal documentary, at a fat cost.

Each morning on the way to the outside employee entrance, Doug passed an elderly Salvation Army kettle volunteer ringing his little tin bell, greeting potential donors loaded down with holiday cares.

“Hello, young fella!” the old man belted, with a sincere warmth that could melt frost.  Doug never wanted to appear as a Scrooge, so he always responded like an award-winning actor on the red carpet, “Good morning!”  The old guy always seemed to pick up on Doug’s tossed spirit.  Wishing to cheer, the jolly man responded, “Yessir, it’s always a good morning when one can serve where you’re doing the most good.”

Doug stepped up his pace, thinking to himself, “Do the most good by staying home, that is.”

Every day – weekdays and weeknights throughout the month – the routine was the same.  And, every day he thought of alternative ways to get to the employee entrance without passing the old man at the red kettle stand.  In his sleep he heard, “It’s always a good morning when one can serve where you’re doing the most good.”  At times he wondered if he said it aloud after Sparks would wake him, jumping up in the high antique bed, landing on his chest, whining and sniffing his face.

The door of the break room flew open as Doug came stumbling in, murmuring under his breath.  Startled with the sudden sound, a cleaning lady, who was pouring a cup of coffee, responded lightheartedly to his clumsy entrance.

“Hey Doug, did Mr. Grinch bring you to work today?”

He closed the door with a bit of frustrated force.  With a large exhale he replied, “Oh, Maggie, that old bell ringer out there has two volume levels, loud and very loud.”

Maggie again responded with a joyful chuckle, “Last year, you complained about that old man just about every day.  Let me ask you, now did it ever get you what you prefer?”

Doug grunted as he took off his jacket.

“Come on,” Maggie said, “I’ve already got you a cup of cheer this morning.  I just made the first pot.  Donuts are in the box.”

Maggie was a poor single mom who worked at the mall, sweeping up debris shoppers left behind, emptying trash cans and mopping floors.  For such a hard working woman, with just above a minimum hourly wage, she never let her state in life rule over her disposition.  It was noticed, and certainly Doug had a front row view of her jovial way of getting through daily life.  Maggie was the type who had Christmas spirit during the storms of the spring, in the heat of July, and while the leaves of every hue let go of their branches in autumn.

Doug had a tendency to hide stored-up layers of envy, wishing he could rise above his strata of fog to shine like Maggie. Through the year he would walk the mall for exercise and visit with Maggie on her breaks where the two would debate about the recession, religion, and geopolitical news.  Yet, the one thing he wouldn’t discuss with his friend was his loneliness, due to his cascading losses in life.  Although they were like a wave he had to surf, he remained embarrassed by his state.  Sadly, he felt the pain was for him to own, not to share.  Maybe it was his pride, or just the way he was raised by somewhat stoic folk, but he kept his troubles to himself.

After taking another sip of the fresh java, Maggie shared more than he expected.  “Ya know, Doug, you’ll have to bring that little mutt of yours up here before Christmas comes and goes.  My little guy, Aiden, has a DVD of “101 Dalmatians” and just cackles at the antics, along with all those cute faces.  He’s in first grade now and has yet to even pet a dog.  Can you believe it?  Honestly, one of these days I’ll have enough saved up for a dog from the pound.”

Doug found himself listening closely to her, dreading all the while the next twelve hours at the job.  With a click, the time clock struck 9:30am.  Downing the last swig of coffee, he pulled the words out of his mouth, “I guess I can’t stop the clock, Maggie.  I’ll see you later.”

“I hear that.  Have a good day!” said Maggie.  She slowly shook her head as she watched him walk away with shoulders slumped, heading to a section of metal lockers.

Chin to his chest, Doug opened the locker door.  He let out a big sigh at the sight of what was hanging on a hook.  The fluorescent lights above him landed on a bright red Santa suit, complete with black boots, a white wooly strap-on beard, and a hat only the best Claus could wear.  With a weak groan, he collected the heavy fur wardrobe and turned to the men’s room to change.

Doug was a man of integrity at heart.  Playing the role of the jolly old elf to the throng of kids and parents was done well; after all, this is what he was hired to do.  Through the weeks he sat in that chair posing for pictures and videos with children from all slices of life.  Overbearing mothers, some with their diamonds and silk purses, bothered him the most as they pushed and prodded their little brats with the will of a perfection-driven, Hollywood director.

He was amazed at the variety of Claus worshippers.  No matter the race, religion or status – whether rich or poor, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, or atheists – the farce continued with plastic smiles and a “HO-HO-HO”.  For weeks on end he fought with the beard-pulling kids and petrified youngsters, forced into this scene by their pseudo stage-moms.  Then came the dreaded college students, who insisted on posing with him for the fun of it.  Oh, and then there was the occasional Calvin Klein-clad seven year old, who must have come from a long line of mobsters, threatening him with Christmas Eve cookie and eggnog withholdings.  Frankly, the shock wore off after hearing a set of twin girls demanding that they get whatever the little girl before them inquired about.  It was that caliber of child that pierced his heart the most, as he thought of the sweetness of his little Emily and her selfless personality.

What kind of young woman could she have been, if life had been granted?  He fought the gravity of the emotional vortex which took him to that awful place of deep inexplicable loss.

With each day he felt a growing anger toward children.  So much so, he counted down the remaining shopping days when he could hang up the suit and candy canes for the very last time.

*****

It was the night of December 23rd, when Doug shuffled his way up the driveway after another marathon day in Santa’s court.  In the darkness he spied an envelope taped to his front door.  It was a notice for interruption of electrical service from non-payment.  He looked down, shook his head, letting the document slip out of his hands.  No amount of cinnamon sticks, sugar cookies, nor magical reindeer dust could keep the feelings of resentment and dejection away.

He found himself shouting into the chilled air, “God, what are you trying to do to me?  Don’t you think I’ve been through enough?”  Exhausted, coupled with anger and sorrow, Doug sat on the front steps, pulled his knees up to his chest and released his tears.

After dragging himself inside, he reached for the liquor cabinet in the kitchen for a shot of synthetic comfort.  Being pragmatic, he immediately began to plan just how he could survive another two months without electricity, until the bank took the house.

Later, that same night, he stoked up the fire in the fireplace, warmed up a can of soup on the hearth and sorted through his mail.  Sparks just looked at him with an expression of, what seemed to be, canine telepathy, ‘Whatever it is, it’s okay.’  Doug, appreciated the cute facial expression.  While scratching the dog lovingly behind the ears, he replied with a whisper, “You’re right, boy.  You’re right.”

As he and Sparks snuggled, with the oak logs ablaze, warming his cold feet, thoughts of his childhood rolled through his memory like an old movie.

Doug’s dad always left the nativity set for him to assemble under the tree.  He recalled taking a great deal of satisfaction placing all the characters where he pleased.  In particular, there was one figurine of a lamb, just tall enough to peer over into the manger, as if curious to why there was a baby where his dinner should be.  Doug broke out with unanticipated laughter just revisiting the thought.  Soon, he would be like the baby Jesus: in a crowded town, without a home, hanging out with an animal.  That was the last thought ushering him into a broken night’s sleep.

Christmas Eve morning was uneventful: same walk to the bus stop, same bus route with the same street scenery.  For the last time he would stroll by the old Salvation Army soldier ringing that hideous bell.  With Doug’s head turned the opposite direction, the familiar daily gruff voice addressed him once again.

“Hello young man!  It’s a good morning, ain’t it?”

In a huffy tone Doug nodded, “Yeah, I guess. I’m sure you’re serving where you can do the most good.”

Without a trace of offence, the old man laughed, “That’s right, son.  Loving others before loving ourselves.  God willin’, next Christmas I’ll be waitin’ for ya, right here.”

With a brisk step, he moved away with the gate of a New York jaywalker.

For the third day in a row Doug entered the break room to find his friend Maggie wasn’t in her usual place.  The coffee pot was empty and the counters hadn’t yet been wiped down.  He felt a sagging inside, knowing this was his last morning to pretend to be someone he’s not.  But, without Maggie’s bright morning face, along with her joy-filled attitude, the boost to make Santa what he could be, would be lacking.

After he suited up, he visited the mall manager’s office to ask about her.  She had left a message that her son had the flu and, actually, asked for Doug to call her when he got a break later in the morning.  He found himself feeling sorry for the little guy as the hours dragged on.  At his noon break, only after a final “HO-HO-HO”, he went back to the office to ring Maggie up.  Her voice shook as she told him of her overwhelming fear of Swine Flu.  She had seen the symptoms before, during a recent outbreak.  Struck by the unsettled sound in her voice, Doug’s heart sank.  Surprisingly so, he experienced a deep emotion for a little boy he had never met.

Maggie’s voice cracked a bit, “Doug, he wanted to come see you…I mean, Santa…before you shut down.  As you can see, that’s not gonna happen.  He simply won’t see Christmas this year at all.  I’m wondering if you would think about doing me a favor.  Why not come here, to the apartment as Mr. Claus, after you get off tonight?  If you can’t, I’ll understand.  No pressure.”

Doug paused only for a moment.  Without thinking it through, his response came so naturally, “Sure, sure I will.  We close down early tonight so Kris Kringle can get back to the North Pole for dinner with the Mrs.”

With a great deal of relief, she gave him her address in hopes for a holiday shocker that would be one of Aiden’s greatest childhood memories.

Around 5:30 that afternoon, Doug got off the bus near the apartment complex.  Right away he realized where he was.  Way back when, he and his co-workers would laugh and mock the “trash” that lived in this ghetto.  If there were second class citizens in town, they lived here, according to his way of thinking.  He looked up into the cloudy sky with a quick and silent thought, “God, why me?”  The neighborhood was known for gang violence year-round.  He began cautiously walking toward the rundown complex.  Looking over his shoulder a few times, he asked himself why he wasn’t carrying a weapon for protection.  He shook off the mental images, as he mustered up some holiday cheer for a sick little boy.  Maggie soon heard a “HO-HO-HO” at the door.

Maggie’s chin quivered as she fumbled a bit disengaging the locks.  She opened the door to find Doug standing there, decked out in his Santa suit, exhausted from the gauntlet of last minute shoppers.  On the verge of collapse herself, Maggie responded, “Oh, Doug, thank you for coming.  You have no idea what this will do for his spirit.  Come in, take a load off.”

He sat nervously on the couch, with his knee bouncing up and down.  After pouring him a mug of hot cocoa, she prepared Doug for the visit to come.  She softly spoke of their financial frailty, admitting Aiden was unaware of the struggles they faced.  Doug was touched by her candor.  He understood and opened up to her the facts of his similar circumstances.  Clearly they shared a harboring of unearned, unnecessary guilt and shame.  He knew their kindred spirit hit a benchmark as the conversation led them both.  With hard truths shared, Maggie squeezed his hand as they both looked down at the floor recognizing their somber moment.

Almost as an afterthought, Maggie reached for a sealed plastic bag, pulling out a surgical mask.  She stepped up closer to him, ready to place it over his strap-on white beard.  Doug quickly grabbed her by the wrists, took it in his hands, and placed it back in the bag.

“But, Doug, he has a 103 temp right now.” she explained with deep concern.

With a half smile he replied, “He doesn’t need to remember a St. Nick who took precautions to be with him in a time of need.  I’ll take my chances.”

She nodded in agreement while holding back the sob rising from her belly once again.  With a deliberate hush in tone, she said, “Okay, Follow me.”

Aiden was in bed, half asleep from the meds prescribed.  He was pale.  His eyelids were swollen and his little face was gaunt.  Being roused by the opening of the bedroom door, he heard his mom’s forced cheerful voice, “Honey, look who dropped by to see you.”

When Doug walked through the door, Aiden gasped, “SANTA!!”

With the best delivery he could put out, Doug moved into Santa-mode, “HO-HO-HO!  Merry Christmas, young man!”  The little guy threw his head back with an exuberant belly laugh of his own, followed by an aggressive, lingering chest cough.

Maggie knew what needed to happen.

“I’ll leave you two alone.  Honey, Santa can’t stay long. Okay?”  She then exited, closed the door softly behind her, bracing herself against the hallway wall.

Right away, Doug’s heart was lifted as he saw a very ill little boy whose bloodshot eyes lit-up with wonderment.  Doug had witnessed hundreds of red-cheeked faces, with a look of awe only a child could express, but this face was vastly different.  The smile Aiden displayed at his unexpected visitor could have ignited Doug’s house with every Christmas light string possible.

Surrendering to being authentically moved, in his best Santa-voice he belted, “Well, son, what do you want under your tree in the morning?  It’ll be here in a flash and I don’t have much time.”

In response, Aiden struggled to sit up in bed, “Santa, can I tell you a secret?”

Doug tried hard not to laugh but managed to say, “The fact is, Santa is well-known for keeping secrets.  Let me have it.”

The boy motioned him to bend down closer so he could speak softly, “Um, we don’t have a Christmas tree this year.  Mom said we couldn’t afford a tree.  So, I know there won’t be anything waiting for me, ’cause without a Christmas tree, you can’t put any gifts under it, right? Everybody knows that.”

As Doug felt a lump growing in his throat, he turned his head away, and looked out the bedroom window for a moment for distraction.  He dared not allow the boy to see Santa breakdown.  Aiden continued sharing his thoughts.

“Santa, there’s just one thing I want, if you can do it.”

Doug quickly responded, holding tightly to his Kringle character, if only by the fingernails, “Of course I can do it!  I’m the king of the elves!  No limitations here!  What will it be?”

Aiden whispered slowly, “Give mom a new face in the morning.”

For the boy’s sake, Doug wanted to look like Father Christmas understood the request.  Concerned he was not going to pull it off, he spoke quickly, “Well, what kind of face should she have tomorrow?”

With a sore throat, the boy swallowed hard, “Uh, Santa, ever since I got sick she no longer smiles.  She wears a strange frown, one I’ve never seen before.”

Doug paused and stroked his fake beard.  A sense of bona fide fatherhood rolled through his veins, a sensation he hadn’t possessed since the loss of his little Emily.  He cocked his head slightly to one side.  It seemed to be an automatic gesture, as he brushed a strand of hair from the boy’s forehead with his white-gloved hand, and with the other, presented a candy cane.

Leaning closer to the lad, he said tenderly, “Boy, just love your mother every minute of every day, and you’ll see that smile.  Now, close your eyes and get to that ‘long winter’s nap’ you hear about.  Merry Christmas, Aiden.”

The boy was weak but had enough strength to squeeze Doug’s finger.  As he broke out with a grin he replied, “Merry Christmas to you, too.  And be careful on the roof.”

With that, Doug left the apartment, as if in a rush, without saying more than Merry Christmas to Maggie on the way out.

Standing in the open doorway, watching him quick-step toward the bus stop, she yelled, “But Doug, what happened in there?”  As he climbed onto the nearly vacant bus, he felt crushed with the perplexing crossroads of what to do for the two of them.  All the way home one phrase from an old man bubbled up in his mind.

‘It’s a good morning when one can serve where you’re doing the most good.’ 

 Once again, he considered his poverty, his rapidly depleted savings, and his last payroll check from the mall.  It was a stark certainty for him, unemployment launched once again on Christmas Day.  The means were slim to none, and for him, humbling.  Taking off his white gloves, he rung his hands, bowed his head, and for the first time in a long time, prayed for wisdom, strength, and clarity

*****.

Christmas morning came early for Maggie.  She had attempted sleeping in a chair in Aiden’s room, which didn’t deliver.  After taking his temperature, she shuffled her way to the kitchen to make her best Christmas breakfast to celebrate the most special, the most meaningful holiday of the year.  It wasn’t long until a weak little boy awoke to the smell of buttermilk flap-jacks and French toast, crowned with cinnamon.  The boy noticed the candy cane still clinched in his hand.  He thought to himself, ‘This can be Mom’s Christmas present.’

Slowly lifting himself out of bed, he stumbled down the hallway to hang the peppermint cane on his mom’s bedroom doorknob.  Walking passed the sliding glass door to the patio, he could see the sunlight peeking through the slats of the vertical blinds, wishing he had snow and health to play in it.  Rounding the corner, he could see his mom working diligently in the kitchen with her hair a mess, along with swollen, sleepy eyes.  Maggie’s tired face brightened as she saw him standing there in his footed pajamas, with some long-awaited color in his cheeks, looking as if he had a little more energy than the day before.

“Merry Christmas, honey!” she said without hesitation.  Hugging his frame, she could feel his weight loss, “Have a seat. Breakfast is almost ready.”

He made his way to the table where a rare sight was waiting.  By a stack of pancakes, dripping in warm maple syrup, was a tall glass of freshly squeezed orange juice blended with milk.  He knew then that this was no ordinary morning.  Maggie had saved up enough to splurge on a holiday breakfast that was beyond their norm of a simple cup of oatmeal.  Aiden felt an appetite for the first time in three days, and it was good timing for them both.  After a quick prayer, which included, a “Happy birthday, Jesus”, he began to dig in.

After a bite or two, Aiden got up the courage to ask a hard question. “Mom, after breakfast can I go outside to play?  Lots of my friends will be playing with their new toys.  I feel good enough.  Really I do.”

Barely drawing a breath, Maggie almost cut him off, “Absolutely not, young man.  You won’t be playing for a few days yet.  You are not out of the woods by far.  Besides silly, the sun isn’t up yet.”   With a puzzled look on his face he charged back, “No, Mom.  I saw the sun coming through the sliding glass door.”

Puzzled, Maggie looked at her watch, put down her fork before heading to the patio door.  As she walked away, he sprinkled more cinnamon on his delectable stack.

From the other room he heard her inquisitive tone, “What in the world?  Aiden, come to the patio, quick!!!”

The boy leapt up, with strength he didn’t think he had, and hurried to the sliding glass door to find his mom pulling back the blinds.  As she did, it revealed a brightly lit patio with a string of white lights up and down the posts, lacing around the patio door frame.  His eyes followed the string of lights along every inch in disbelief, until he spotted a magically lit, gloriously decorated large Christmas tree standing in the corner of the patio.  He couldn’t catch his breath out of pure shock.  All the branches donned silver bells and blue balls that ricocheted gleaming lights, carefully arranged up and down the depth of the branches.  At the very top perched a golden star with tinsel streaming down from its tail like a frozen waterfall.

The two found themselves speechless.  Both mom and son realized their mouths were opened in awe as they spied a large Virginia smoked ham under the tree, with all the trimmings for a traditional family feast.  Next to it, a tin of old fashioned frosted sugar cookies was propped up against the large tree trunk.  But, the biggest surprise of all was something they could not have imagined.  Next to the tree, an animal crate sat with a metal plate over its door.  Etched on the plate was the name, “Sparks”.  Gazing through the mesh door was a curious look from a short-haired dog with big brown eyes.

Aiden dropped to his knees, “MOM!!  It’s  a…it’s a…uh..uh…a…”

Maggie forced herself to speak through her astonishment, “…A DOG!!!”

As the boy opened the crate, the Jack Russell Terrier-mix jumped into his arms, licking his face like flaps from a flag, as Aiden giggled uncontrollably.  The boy looked up at his mom to see a face of laughter, a face shining with joyous, youthful wonder, exuberance, and hope.

“He did come, he did!!” yelled Aiden.

Maggie responded quietly, deeply moved, “Yes, well yes.  I guess he did, indeed.”

She noticed a Christmas stocking hanging down from one of the branches.  She carefully retrieved it while asking her son to reach in for whatever it contained.  With eyebrows raised in anticipation, an enormous grin he pulled out several gift cards from food stores, clothing retailers, and a local toy outlet.  Both began laughing in a sense of bliss that had not been heard in the apartment for quite a long time.

Suddenly, the boy noticed a mysterious color along the trunk, previously covered up by the stocking.

Fixated, he asked, “Huh…What’s that?”

Maggie took a closer look.  In the glow of the festive lights, four weathered pink ribbons were nailed to the trunk, almost evenly spaced apart.

“Whaddya think that’s for, mom?” he asked.

Maggie slowly tilted her head as she stared at the hanging pink ribbons running up the tree’s trunk.

Speaking with a sense of bewilderment, “I’m not sure, honey, but I do know this, it makes this Christmas tree even more unique and magical than ever.”

*****

The Christmas dawn found Doug sitting in his lawn chair, with a mug of coffee warming his hands, looking at his treeless back yard.  There, braced against a freshly cut stump, stood a well-worn axe.

He still didn’t know what his future held.  The anxiety remained.  But, what he didn’t expect was a volley of truths flashing in his heart from outside of himself.  For the first time, he accepted the fact that his pain and depression had morphed him into a modern-day Scrooge, with a twisted complex concerning children.  It was the giving of himself that revealed this tumor growing in his heart.

He sat there in the still crisp air, with a thankful heart for the old bell-ringer’s message each morning.  Doug had found a God-given moment to do the most good where he was.

He smiled at the thought of his childhood nativity set.  He remembered placing the ceramic baby Jesus in the manger next to the one curious lamb, taking in the divine event.  For Doug, he rested in the fact of sacrifice being a choice, rendering joy to the most disturbed souls in his own backyard.  The ancient truth, that giving one’s “self” away, is what the baby in the manger would later say is the best of blessings.

With a silent nod, he smiled thinking that millions of cups of spiked egg nog, millions of angry shoppers, and millions of wrecked lives could never diminish his newly discovered mission.

                                        Sacrifice is giving up something you love

                                                for something you love more.

                                                              – Cindy Beall

Children of The Mask

“Well, who are you? (Who are you? who, who, who, who?).  I really wanna know (Who are you?  who, who, who, who?).  Tell me, who are you?  (Who are you?  who, who, who, who?).  ‘Cause I really wanna know.  (Who are you?  who, who, who, who?).   – Who Are You? (1978)  The Who.  Composer:  Pete Townshend.

WARNING:  The following is a story based on actual events.

The breeze was slight, but balmy on that October evening of 1963.  The horizon was painted in orange stirred in hints of pink and mauve hues as a velvet black slowly crawled across the sky.  Holding a basket full of Tootsie Rolls, Juicy Fruit gum and candy corn, she eagerly waited in her living room for the next goblin to come knocking.  The festive excitement showed on her face in the glow of the lit Jack-o-lantern on the end-table.  Expecting guests, she wore her finest pearls, kid-leather pumps, complete with a gold charm bracelet.  Yet, this was no ordinary Halloween night in her Greenville, Texas neighborhood.  Little did she know the sinister duo approaching her home from out of the darkened street.  With Buddy Holly softly playing on her cabinet stereo, she heard the frightening voices anew at her door.

“Trick-or-Treat!”  An unanticipated chuckle came out of her mouth as she jumped up off the couch with the candy basket in hand.  As she innocently approached the front door, she could not have imagined the monstrosity awaiting just outside.  As she gleefully opened the creaking door, there, standing perfectly still and silent under the porch-light, were two 3-year old boys staring deeply into her eyes.  With a gasp, she held her hand over her heart while absorbing the sight.  She squinted to see two young mothers standing near the curb watching carefully over the lads.  Her head cocked slightly to one side as she noticed something odd about the boy’s appearance.  There was a lack of costumes.  They both were wearing button up shirts, cuffed bluejeans with Buster Brown lace-up shoes.  They both held simple lunch-sized paper bags in their hands with the top edges folded down.  The two had cheap plastic masks strapped over their faces.  One youngster had a mask of a Teddy Bear, while the other depicted Mickey Mouse.  A couple of seconds passed until she found the breath to speak.

Lady:  Well, hello, you two.  Happy Halloween!  Before I give you some treats, I think I might know who you are.  So, why don’t you tell me your names?  Go ahead, don’t be shy.

Boy A:  I’m Teddy Bear.

Boy B:  And I’m Mickey Mouse.

Lady:  (Giggling)  Yes, I can see that.  But, what are YOUR names?  Let’s start with you, young man.  And you are…?

Boy A:  I’m Teddy Bear.

Boy B:  And I’m Mickey Mouse.

Lady:  (Belly laughter)  I know.  But who are YOU?  I really wanna know.  Come on, tell me, who are you, really?

Boy A:  I’m Teddy Bear.

Boy B:  And I’m Mickey Mouse.

(I wonder if Pete Townshend heard this story and based his lyrics on the two kids of the mask.)

OMA-B W&Me 4yrs old

(L-R:  Woody, our grandmother Opal and me, one year later – 1964).

I will assume the poor lady surrendered and gave my cousin, Woody and I, our candy.  Woody was Mickey and I was Teddy.  My mom remembers it as if it were yesterday.  She, along with my Aunt Ellen (Woody’s mom), just split their sides laughing the entire time.  One thing is for certain, we were obviously not, under any circumstances, going to give up the characters played.  After all, it was Halloween when nobody was supposed to know who was under the mask.  Right?

My granddaughter is very much into masks and make-up.  It must be in the genes.  Each year I am always surprised at what she and her mom creatively put together.  It’s a shame, she’s got such a sweet face.

Mask - Skylar

Masks are nothing new.  Historical records tells the tale.

During the times of the ancient Greeks, the dramatic arts were the pastime of society.  Unlike today, each actor held up a mask on a stick to cover the face as a role was played on stage.  In fact, even today, the classic masks of comedy and tragedy represent drama and the theater in general.

Mask - Drama

Unfortunately, so many of us tend to do the same each day, as if we are playing characters in an amphitheater.  Have you noticed?

Recently, I was at an event where many of my old high school friends were in attendance.  It was a glorious night of hugs, laughter and recollections.  99% of my old friends were more mature, but somehow extremely timeless, some even ageless.  Many of us picked up conversation as if four decades hadn’t gone by.  Then, one of my high school acquaintances was spotted across the room.  This person was born into a family of great wealth.  If this person skinned a knee on the gym floor, the blood would’ve been blue.  We were never close.  There was always an air about this individual.  You know the type.  The kid was from the realm of community royalty and it was played out for all it was worth. (Excuse the pun.)  As a teenager, I didn’t understand it, totally.  It’s not that I didn’t have friends from wealthy families, but this schoolmate was of a different fabric.  My impression was that this person just didn’t have interest in the commoners.  Honestly, I’m not trying to be rude.  It’s the way the air hung over us all when this student walked into the classroom.  The nose was always pointed upward, which could be harmful in the rain.  After 40 years, I truly thought there would be a maturing — a different chemistry –coming from this old acquaintance.  How can you spend four years with a person, yet graduate as strangers?  So, two weeks ago, taking a deep breath, I spoke to this person.  I asked a couple of questions about mutual friends and mentioned how good it was to see this individual once again.  I am sorry to say, there was no change.  This person had plastered the old familiar mask to the skin.  It had become a lifestyle, a mindset.  How tragic.  Frankly, it saddened me.

Have you ever been there?  I mean, knowing someone, yet NOT knowing THEM, the person as they are at home.

During my career in radio, once a week I worked with a particular part-time air personality.  During my time at this one radio station, at midnight I signed off the air Monday through Friday nights.  He worked overnight on Friday nights/Saturday mornings.  We would banter a bit during the shift change just before I left the control room.  Over a two year period, I never felt like I knew the man.  He always “put-on” his air-time persona before he walked into the building.  As frustrating as it was, I always wished that I could’ve gotten to know HIM, the real HIM.  In the end, I only was allowed to meet the mask.

The masks we choose can be the mask of concrete, without smiles, frowns or expressions of any kind.  We use masks to masquerade, as a shelter, an easement or comfort to the one behind it.  The theory is, if they don’t get to know you, you will be safe from whatever they may throw your way.  In this way, the mysterious veil stays in place.  It can be a very lonely place.  Some masks have an etched smile, common in beauty pageants.  If someone wears a constant smile, we may believe life is always perfect for them, without flaw.  If the mask is overcooked in a joyful, party-all-the-time-mold, we may not understand the deeply seeded depression beneath the plastic.  Robin Williams could testify to that concoction.  Maybe it’s a mask of stoicism.  This shield on the face appears as if nothing touches the heart, whether sadness, happiness or enlightenment.  The idea speaks of hardness, emboldened strength or skin made of iron.  In reality, the opposite may be true.  You may be married to a mask, gave birth to a mask, have a cleric who is a mask, or have a boss who is a mask.  It’s not always so easily detectable.

Mask - Me

There’s a biblical instruction on the authenticity displayed in all things, as God sees it.  “But let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ mean ‘no.’ Anything more than this is from the evil one.” – Jesus, Matthew 5:37 (CSBV)

It’s not so much how life-like your self-placed mask may be, or how faulty it may be. The crux is to be a synthetic person, or not.  It’s not just about how others see you, or the portrayal you select toward a path of protectionism, but rather how YOU see them.  Ironically, the viewers see your entire mask as you hold it up, but there’s a problem looking back at them.  Most physical masks I’ve ever worn, tended to have slits or tiny holes for the eyes.  Lots of kids trip and fall on Halloween night.  Nothing much in life is ever gained by tunnel vision.

YOU are gifted.  YOU are stunning.  YOU are worth it.  YOU have lots to give.  No need to hide it from us.

If the truth were revealed, we all hide behind something, even if for short periods of time.  If you feel you don’t, it may be proof that you are Teddy Bear or Mickey Mouse.

When transparency directs the day, it might be conducted by fuel for the race.

“You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” – Jesus – Matthew 5:14-16 (NAS)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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)

 

 

 

 

Upheaval

“Come on over.  Whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on…Really got the bull by the horn.  We ain’t fakin’.  There’s a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on.”  – Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.  Composer:  Dave “Curlie” Williams.  Many artists recorded this song, but it was Jerry Lee Lewis who put it on the map in 1964.

Somewhere, in the yellowed crusty pages of my memory files, are flashbacks of rearrangement of furniture in my childhood.  As a kid I thought it was exciting.  After all, it seemed like a new house, or apartment, once the dust of the upheaval settled.  Even the following day, waking up to a newly reset living room was shocking.

Yesterday, my wife made good on a plan to turn the house upside down to reboot the interior of our place.  Almost every room in the house was affected.  As you can see, in the photo above, it is a work in progress.  To say I was looking forward to this mountain of a hurdle would be a lie.  Yet, the excitement in her face, and the plans seen in her eyes, reminded me of how I felt as a kid helping my mom rearrange our rooms.  My wife was filled with energy that came out of nowhere.  We are both so grateful for her two adult sons volunteering their time and muscle to begin the first phase.

Sam

Sammie, our Schnauhuahua (half Schnauzer and half Chihuahua), showed signs of displacement when the piano had been transported back to a study/studio.  She loves getting under the piano bench as if it were a shelter.  We call it her piano cave.  She often keeps her stash of nibbles under there.  I told her I knew how she felt.

Often, you will see on the news (usually in the no-traffic-Sunday morning), crowds gathering to watch a demolition crew implode an old, large building.  Everyone is agog as the dynamite strategically takes out support columns and rafters until it all lies in a pile of sky-high dust.  There is an attraction for upheaval, for the old coming down and the new popping up (Unless you’re a Schnauhuahua).

Upheaval, of other kinds, has recently griped my life once again.  They are private matters, but take it from me, it is devastating on several layers.  One has to do with health, the other my dignity and worth.  It’s not my first time to be bucked off a horse.  Truth is, I have had the proverbial horse stomp all over me after the great and mighty toss.  I’ve been there and done that.  Yet, even at my age, somewhat seasoned and well worn, it hurts all the same.  Upheaval is, at times, hurtful.  I miss the shelter of my personal piano cave.  (My kingdom for a bag of Cheetos!)  I’ll move on. (Heavy sigh is heard as he pushes away thoughtfully from his computer screen.)  You too, huh?

Den

Yesterday’s dust is now settling, even though there’s lots to be completed.  Certainly there’s more shakin’ goin’ on.  However, I rose from my bed this morning to a new den and living room.  Rearranging, demolition, aching backs can equal up to a fresh start.  A new start only God has designed in the scope of eternity.  Just another reminder, there is joy in the morning.

Living Room Table

In this life, someone will remove the familiar.  As they do, it’s best to be full of fuel for the race.

“…Giving them a garland instead of ashes.  The oil of gladness instead of mourning.  The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting.  So they will be called oaks of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.” – Isaiah 61:3 (NAS) 

Nothing To Get Hung About

“Let me take you down, ’cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields, nothing is real.  And nothing to get hung about…”  – Beatles, 1967.  Composers:  Lennon/McCartney

As he rose above the bubble he found himself in, clarity rebooted his mind.  He shouted, with enormous struggle, compacted by a broken heart, “You just stay away, Molly!  Just stay away!  (singing the next line)  For I could never say goodbye to you again.”  This ended his soliloquy.  Yet, some things aren’t always what they seem.

Molly - Me & money cropped

Allow me to revel in the cover photo at the top of this post, just for a moment.  It represents mounds of wonderful memories and life-long friendships I hold dear to this very day.  It was February of 1978.  Certainly a launching pad for the beginning of many things for me, including my very first leading man role that ushered in decades of various roles acting, directing, producing and lots of make-up jobs on the face.  It was a highly celebrated performance of “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”  I was honored to be awarded the role of Johnny Brown, Molly’s hubby.  (The actress who played Molly, on the left, hasn’t aged a bit in 40 years.  I, on the other hand…well… I’ll move on.)  If you’ve ever seen the show, or movie, then you already know he goes through a living hell in trying to be the husband she wanted, but failing to “live-up” to her bar of approval.  They had separate visions of what marriage would be like, while in the throws of passion, goals, new life and new money.  All of the latter perspectives were very different for each person.  In the end, a divorce occurs.  Here, in this promo shot, Molly and Johnny are meeting Mrs. Gladys McGraw, a socialite who lived next door to the Brown mansion.  Mrs. McGraw, being the stuck-up, highbrow, blue-blood that she was, couldn’t be more displeased to have these, now wealthy, country bumpkins residing in her royal flush neighborhood.  Her priest had urged her to do the Christian thing and welcome them into her home to break the self-applied ice.  Johnny Brown is doing his best to greet her in the newly polished way he assumed would meet expectations, although alien to him.  As you can see, Mrs. McGraw barely tolerates the meet-n-greet.  Her face and body language say it all.  She can hardly stand his touch, even through two formal tux and gown gloves.  A bit of irony here.  As well as the scene was played, and as talented as the actress who took the role of Mrs. McGraw was and is, we were actually a dating couple at the time, spending lots of time with each other.  Some things aren’t always what they seem.

22 OMA Lorne Greene Aug 1962

A few years before the Molly Brown production, my grandparents had a unique theater experience themselves.  Martin and Opal Atherton were western fans.  Most of the television shows and movies they watched were “saddle-up and drive-’em out” westerns.  From John Wayne to Clint Eastwood, their minds (mostly my granddad) lived in the 1800s, set in the western United States, which had yet to be tamed and settled.  One of their must-see TV shows was the long running “Bonanza” series with Lorne Greene, seen with my grandmother above.  (She looks like a movie star there, as well.)  One year the Athertons planned a vacation road trip that would take them to the Ponderosa ranch house from the TV show.  It was built with huge timbers in a scenic mountainous region. It’s a sight to behold.

Ponderosa House Ext

Photo: Pinterest.com

In those days, as is true today no doubt, they gave tours of the exterior and interior of the famous ranch house.  My grandparents were in hog-heaven.  When they walked through the interior with its wide wooden floorboards and enormous fireplace, they asked to see the second floor where the bedrooms were.  They were told that the door at the top of the staircase was fake, as well as the second floor.  All the second floor scenes were shot on ground level sets.  They were beside themselves.  So much for theater-of-the-mind.  I can still hear my granddad’s soft voice saying in astonishment, “Gooood-night.”

Ponderosa House Int

Photo: azcentral.com

Some things aren’t always what they seem.

While watching the original “Star Trek” TV series from the late 1960s, often when a character leans on a boulder, or a wall of a cave in a scene, you can see a slight give in the sponge-like foam that’s been painted to look like stone.  William Shatner could tell you all about it.  It’s fun to catch these gaffs in scenes, but it also displaces you from the theater-of-the-mind the writer intended for the viewer.

“Alan,” you might be saying, “There’s a point to this tour of mothballs, right?  Where are you going with this?”

I think I’ll let the first line of the second verse of Strawberry Fields help to answer the question.

“Living is easy with your eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see…”

It’s been 40 years since I played Johnny Brown.  Lots of water has gone under the bridge, much of it troubled.  How often, in retrospect, do we say to ourselves, “I can’t believe I fell for that.”  Or, “Why did I believe him/her?”  Or, “How could I not see the truth behind the wizard’s curtain?”  Or, “I will never trust again, now.”  Ouch!  Face it, in a world where fake news is not only the norm, but well accepted, along with general misdirection and sleight-of-hand, it’s no wonder trust is dashed all the time.  Trust matters.  Often we rest in what someone tells us, wanting to believe them, only to be dropped by the sledge hammer of truth after the fact.  It’s so difficult to get back up.  Frankly, the ugliness of it all leads to soaring divorce rates, surging court cases and the handshake no longer being the norm for deal-making.  Some things aren’t always what they seem.

From Hollywood to the stage, frontage framed walls without interiors are created to be misleading.  False breakaway tables, chairs and banisters help the writer seduce us into a scene to make us feel like we’re there.  CGI animals and extras, fake doorways, fake windows, fake food and painted backdrops are visual vacuums assisting to suck us into a world of pretend.  We say it often, but rarely do we see it spelled out with an emphasis on the word “MAKE-believe”.  You don’t have to search long to find someone who understands these props, to manipulate the viewer, when the name of one of Hollywood’s favorite sons, Harvey Weinstein pops up.  Better yet, Washington D.C.

When a victim of illusion, where does one start to snap out of it?

Rise above the Ponderosa of your personal existence.  Lift off the shifting sand with the drone of your eternal goggles firmly strapped on, and orbit with a satellite.  When you fly over the minefield, you will see it is only a tiny bubble you are living in, with an entire unexplored universe all around.  Ultimately, this is the view the Creator of your next breath desires for you: see past the façade. Our responsibility is remembering to do it, day in and day out.

Wait a minute!  Hold on!  I think I smell freshly cut hay.  Are those cows I’m hearing in my backyard — dun, duddle-un, duddle-un duddle-un duddle-un dun — in your best Bonanza theme!!   Nah.  Some things aren’t always what they seem.

In the scope of eternity, there’s nothing to get hung about when hooked to fuel for the race.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You believe in God; believe also in me.” – Jesus – John 14:1 (NIV)