Teeth Of The Enemy

“You lying so low in the weeds,

I bet you gonna ambush me.

You’d have me down, down, down on my knees.

Now wouldn’t you, Barracuda?” (1977) “Barracuda” Recorded By: Heart Composers: Ann Wilson, Roger Fisher, Nancy Wilson, Michael Derosier

He was slithering along the grassy trail he had etched through his life without struggle. He was on his way to his favorite place, his home in the hollow log sitting by the riverbank. It was not much to look at, and that’s why he chose it. It was an inconspicuous place to rest and sleep. Inside, danger couldn’t touch him.

It was a sunny day, with no particular unanticipated activity among the neighboring wildlife. All was as it tended to be on this certain afternoon of fate, with the exception of one thing.

Earlier that morning, he was captured by a curious sight. He found himself staring at a team of men close by, studying one looming oak tree along his path. The men had since left after his excursion into the taller grass during his stalking of prey. They left something odd behind that he didn’t quite understand. It was a bright pink thing tied around the trunk of the tree. He had never seen anything like it before, but with humans, anything was possible. At least, that’s what was reasoned in the tiny brain he had. With snakes, any animal, or human with hands and arms had an advantage in life. Nothing seemed to be out of reach for them. This made him feel disadvantaged, even cursed somehow.

Once he fully contemplated the pink thing wrapped around the tree, he went on with his belly pushing the turf behind him as he made his way closer to where he wanted to be. Until he was stopped cold in his tracks.

His scales bristled as he focused his eyes ahead. Just inches away, blocking his trail through the grassy meadow, was a new enemy, a likeness he had never confronted before. At first glance, he thought it was another alligator from the river. But, no. The coloring wasn’t right. It didn’t have hair like those dreaded possums, but like the alligator and the possum, its jaw was lined with formidable sharp teeth. It was two-toned, like he was, with tan and silver skin and piercing, steely, gazing eyes. Immediately, he drew back into a defensive coil as he perceived the animal to be a dangerous predator.

There was the birth of a standoff. The new enemy didn’t make an aggressive move toward him, nor did it hiss, bark, or growl. Just like the possum, it was playing dead. Obviously, it was a crafty, calculating beast. He wondered if it crawled out of the river, or maybe it was a new kind of fish discarded by a fisherman. A closer look made him aware it was similar to his kind. It had a sleek long body, without fins, arms or claws. After a time of visual analysis, he decided to approach the beast with all caution, inch by inch. His nose didn’t indicate any scent rising from the beast. Closer, and closer he crawled toward the jaws of this new enemy. Still, no advancement did the animal make, not fearing his slivering approach.

As he reached within striking distance, he thought it safe to first circle the mysterious carnivore. With most battles won, his strategy was to flank the enemy in order to strike at its hind quarters. As he began to navigate around the mouth of the animal, he felt the sting of a vicious bite as he was dragging his body toward the back of the threatening creature. Although injured, with lightning speed, he lunged toward the enemy, striking the beast near the jawline. Immediately, he drew back with the astonishment of what he had experienced. This new enemy had skin as tough as a tortoise shell. He lunged once again with his fangs leading the way. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t penetrate the hide. Before the beast could strike back in retaliation, he initiated the only other weapon available to him.

With the power of his tail, and the strength in his belly, he attacked the beast with his entire body, quickly wrapping himself around the enemy’s frame. Strategically, he maneuvered himself around its jaw to inflict his well-known death squeeze until the beast submitted with every ounce of dying breath. The grip he had was tight around the jaw, giving him access to even a better opportunity to strike with his fangs over and over again. Yet, the skin of the animal never broke, regardless of the strength in his jaw. Afterward, he tightened himself around the enemy even more so.

He said to himself, “It must die! It must be squeezed until it can no longer strike at me!”

As he continued to squeeze his victim, he detected no heartbeat, no lung activity, no movement at all from the enemy. No doubt, he had a successful kill.

It was at this point he raised his triangular head to detect if any other beast like him was also in the grass, or approaching him for a rescue operation. But in his 360 turn, he spied nothing unusual around him. But, he did see a sure, unmistakable sign of success. Blood.

In a sense of victory he congratulated himself, “YES! I am bleeding my enemy to death. Soon, I will render this enemy lifeless, and no longer a threat.”

The blood began to run alongside the body of the beast, seeping out from underneath the lifeless enemy in his ever tightening grasp.

Soon, he became tired. He felt his strength waning as he began to ease his grip from around the beast. As he did, he found his chin resting on the body of his now conquered enemy. His vision began to fade as he watched the blood flow down the beaten pathway.

Suddenly, in his exhaustion, he discovered another mystery. The scent of the beast’s blood caught his attention. He recognized the scent. It wasn’t the scent from the blood of a rabbit, a chicken, or a possum. With another slow inhale, he realized it wasn’t the scent of his new enemy. With his long, thin forked tongue, he tasted the fluid of life with a new realization.

With a final breath, he acknowledged to himself, “This…this is my own blood.”

Photo; Facebook

Doctors tell us the medical field discovered long ago that what we harbor in our minds can be even more dangerous than what we put into our bodies. Anger, anxiety, fear, worry, guilt, thoughts feeding on past failures, can literally eat away at our physical bodies. We tend to gnaw away at what we can’t control around us. Emotionally we strike out at those who have hurt us, often over and over again. We beat ourselves up over failures, missed opportunities, and the, “what might have beens”. Sometimes we have been called, “worry wart” for good reason. The list can be long. Am I right?

The danger is, we squeeze these dangerous thoughts as we inwardly attempt to solve them, or find resolution and peace. Somehow we get the idea we can squeeze them to death in search for release. Yet, like the snake squeezing the saw blade, it slowly changes our make-up, or mentality, even our physical organs. Such haunts can even deliver cancer cells. I know, I am guilty of squeezing my own saw.

In the end, dwelling on painful, or harmful thoughts, will have teeth. Beware of the real enemy.

Letting go is a concept taught in fuel for the race.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? Why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.” Matthew 6:25-28 (NIV)


What’s Tomorrow?

“Why not think about times to come?
And not about the things that you’ve done?
If your life was bad to you,
Just think what tomorrow will do.”
(1977) “Don’t Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow)” Recorded By: Fleetwood Mac Composer: Christine McVie

Looking back, I guess I have always been a newshound. Since I was a kid, I always enjoyed watching the news. I’m not sure what that says about me, but it’s an honest statement.

Here in the Dallas/Ft Worth Metroplex, WFAA has seemingly always been around since the early days of radio. In fact, radio is where WFAA started, only to naturally branch out when television became a new medium. It became an ABC affiliate. Although WFAA kept their radio station buzzing, they eventually opened up a huge three-studio television station in their broadcast building at Record St and Young St in downtown Dallas. The radio station moved to the second floor while the television station, Channel 8, took the first floor. To say it is an historic TV station is to put it lightly. The application for the television station was filed in October of 1944, during WWII. It first signed on the air in September of 1949.

WFAA Ch8, set the bar high when it came to production and talent. If the other three major TV stations in town were to be honest, WFAA Ch8 was/is hard to match. They just always seemed to be a step above the competition. Growing up, we rarely watched any other local TV station.

Photo: WFAA.com

In 1961, radio guy, Bob Gooding was just climbing off the air at WFAA radio. As he tipped his hat goodbye to his coworkers, he made his way down the stairs to the parking lot where his car was waiting for the end of his radio shift. Outside, on the way to the car, Bob saw a line of men stretching around the corner of the building. When he inquired as to what was taking place, he discovered WFAA-TV was in the process of screening open auditions for a news anchor. Right away, he took the script of news copy they were handing out and got in line. Bob auditioned and was hired the same day. I must say, that just hardly ever happens in any competitive talent industry.

Bob Gooding was a natural. He was a no-nonsense newsman, polished, and distinguished. His delivery was a midwestern sound, no Texas accent, with a smooth baritone voice, along with a handsome business-like face. He was super articulate, as well as, authoritative. He was the type that could have accepted a job in New York with one of the big three networks. Walter Cronkite had nothing on Bob Gooding. Bob Gooding could have easily worked alongside people like ABC’s Frank Reynolds, or Peter Jennings.

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As a kid, when Bob Gooding was delivering the 6 o’clock, or 10 o’clock news, it was drawing to me. He was trusted with the facts, the way news anchors used to be in those days. Back in the 1970’s, the WFAA newscast was called, “The Scene Tonight”. With Bob Gooding at the news desk, those words had an element of realism without filter or slant. Indeed, that was the flavor of news in that time.

I never met Mr. Gooding, but I have worked with a few people who did. Everyone who knew him says the same thing about his integrity. In my radio days, my main jobs had to do with hosting music shifts, and voicing/producing commercials. From time to time, I also did fill-in work to help cover when others were sick, or on vacation. Anytime I worked as a news anchor, although I never considered myself a news guy, I would always think of Bob Gooding’s integrity when the mic was on, or in front of the camera. He set a high standard.

Photo: Bob Gooding WFAA CH8

As top-shelf as he was on the air, as trusted as he was to deliver the facts without commentary or bias, as gifted as he was with integrity of true journalism, it was his nightly sign-off which is the most memorable. After each news hour, or half hour, as he was given the floor director’s countdown to end of broadcast, he had a unique sign off for the viewer. With his final ten seconds, he would look sincerely into the camera, smile with authenticity, and say:

“And that’s the Scene Tonight here at WFAA Ch8. From all of us here, goodnight, and better tomorrows.” – Bob Gooding

Of course, today, if a news anchor signed-off with that phrase, it would sound a bit corny. Yet, back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, with a man like Bob Gooding delivering those words with a warm genuine smile, the viewer was left with a sense of, ‘a better day is coming’. One couldn’t help but be left with the idea that even though bad news is hard to digest, there’s always a hope for betterment, a future with a brighter viewpoint, a statement a viewer could lean into as they set the alarm clock, or tuck their children to bed. Looking back, I can see where Mr. Gooding did what he could to leave the TV audience with an uplift in the face of a darkened world each night.

Isn’t that what we all long for as we lay our heads on the pillow? Don’t we all want to look forward to new beginnings, new attitudes, new sunrises? Too often we head off to bed right after turning off the tube, or the internet, which landed a few downers around our hopes and dreams. Isn’t it true, that we turn off our bedside lamp with echoes of searing sarcasm, bad news without a sense of rising from despair, delivered by some news anchor, talk show host, or some talking head opinion broadcast? Far from, “Goodnight, and better tomorrows.”

I am guilty of not allowing God’s voice in my last thoughts just before drifting off. Way too often, I allow the dogma of scary times in our world to dominate in my last waking minutes. How can I expect to rise the following morning with a bounce in my house shoes? When our shirt gets dirty from the elements outside, we take it off and wash it, right? Why not do the same with our thought-life. In the last 5 years, or so, my wife and I read scripture just before nodding off. Sometimes we read a devotional, or a bio of an uplifting life. It’s what makes for better days, better dreams, better outlooks.

I think Bob Gooding’s message to us each night was not to rest on the foulness of what comes over the airwaves, but rather, resist being pushed down by the heavy weight of the vile, the awareness of bad news, or the evil that permeates the world in which we live. In other words, to digest what we have been made aware of, whether good or bad, with the truth that tomorrow holds a hope. For those of faith, it’s about seeing the happenings around us with eyes wide opened concerning Who holds the future.

Bob Gooding was on the air at WFAA CH8 from, 1961-1979. He passed away from a lengthy battle with cancer in 2009.

Thank you, Mr. Gooding.

So, what’s tomorrow? Another day. Another opportunity. Another benchmark. Another chance. Another answer. Another hope. Another blessing unseen today.

Reaching out for tomorrow’s promise can be discovered in fuel for the race.

“‘I the Lord God have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will strengthen thee…'” Isaiah 42:6a (Brenton Septuagint Translation)

Woke To Great Awakenings

“Won’t you look down upon me Jesus? You’ve got to help me make a stand…” (1970) “Fire And Rain” Written and Recorded By: James Taylor

Christian history is simply fascinating, to put it mildly. In fact, from Jesus, all the way down through the ions, the historical timeline of the Christian faith is like no other. You don’t have to look behind us too far to find extraordinary happenings of Jesus movements that can raise your hair.

Just since the birth of the American Colonies, the amazing milestones of the church, and its outreach, are well documented, but often tinkered with in a Google search or Wikipedia. For the authentic history, it’s best to rise above the “wokeness” of those with large erasers. Instead, do the research by hitting the old history books before the slanted rewrites began to manipulate factual, documented occurrences concerning Christianity in America.

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Trust me, there is way too much of church history to layout on this post. But I would be remise if I didn’t mention, “The Great Awakening”, and the “Second Great Awakening”. The facts of the faithful in the U.S., Canada, and Europe are astonishing. There are a few names that stick out to me who were used greatly to ignite a faith movement during their times.

George Whitefield (Often spelled, “Whitfield”) He lit a spiritual fire for decades all across Great Britain, and the American Colonies from the 1740’s-1770’s. Benjamin Franklin wrote of Whitfield’s magnetism by use of his voice delivery and the pulpit.

Charles G. Finney. From the 1820’s to the 1870’s, he was the match God used to start a flame known as the “Second Great Awakening”. His works and documents are outstanding. He set out to revive a spiritually sluggish nation, earning the title of “Father of Modern Revivalism”. Not unlike Whitfield, Finney travelled mainly by horseback, drawing crowds ready to stay a few days. Many of the throng would travel far and wide to be under his sermons.

Dwight L. Moody was a shoe salesman in Chicago. He was inspired by the evangelical giants before him like, Charles Finney and George Whitefield. He began small by starting a kid’s ministry and a street ministry that would later be called, “Sunday School”. His sermons of note, some printed and published, are still quoted by many pastors today…if they dare. From the 1850’s to the 1890’s, this salesman turned fiery preacher, aided in evangelizing both America and Great Britain. He also founded the highly successful Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, which continues to send out quality trained graduates into the world today.

Billy Sunday was a famous baseball player, turned evangelist. From the 1880’s to 1935, Billy Sunday became widely known as a camp-meeting revivalist, who would spend weeks at a time, preaching in communities all across America. The mother of an old friend of mine came to faith under the preaching of this incredible man.

And of course, Billy Graham who took the torch into our generation until his recent death, reaching more ears across the world than anyone in Christian history.

There are more I could list here, but the trail these evangelists blazed are like wagon train wheel tracks cut into stone. You can follow their tracks, their ripples to this day. If you should look up the Great Awakening movements, you will discover how after a community was lit ablaze by the daily preaching of some of these fire-starters, saloons would close down. Prostitution vanished. Gambling halls were boarded up. Gangsters were converted, or run out of town. Countless people came to realize their need for God’s forgiveness through the saving gift of Jesus. Homeless were fed and housed. Love expanded. Enemies became friends. Churches were built. Schools, orphanages and hospitals were funded and built. Imagine the change in a city like that. Imagine your community altered like that.

Just like in the book of Judges, where the spiritual life among Israel resembled a roller coaster. Up/down, up/down. The anti-God sentiment would rise to the point where everyone’s deeds were always right in their own evaluations. What was once known as “evil” became acceptable, even commonplace. What was once known as righteous was either suppressed, abandoned, or ignored all-together. God’s reply to the spiritually weak nation was to bring calamity, hardships, weather changes, droughts, war, violence, etc. The Israeli’s response was to repent, turn from their ways and acknowledge God, followed by the lifting of the curse with blessings and safety taking its place. Then, the nation would backslide into their wild ways again. This cycle continued for decades. It seemed like they would never learn the consequences of turning their national back to their God.

I am not a prophet. I do not claim to know the future, with the exception of what the scripture tells us. But, I can read the barometer of the nation in which I live. We are spiritually ill, at best. We watch the news and our jaws hit the floor on the outlandish signs of our days. If not for God’s amazing grace toward this culture, we would be finished already. At this point in our history, Sodom and Gomorrah are not too far from here.

Our nation, our world, has endured so much in recent years. So much in the way of manifestations of pure evil are abundant. I know, we don’t like to call it for what it is, but that’s because we belong in the book of Judges. The list is way too long to write here, but nevertheless, the list of our sins grow daily. Our nation is decaying as we play our violin from the balcony.

We call evil things something good and upright. We celebrate wickedness and glamorize it all. We cheer those who attack our children with sexual sins, that is if we don’t slaughter them in the womb first. Forgive me, but we parade and applaud the physical mutilation of our children in the name of choosing gender. We mourn for those who are saddened because certain pronouns are not used to describe an individual due to their gender alterations, gender wishful thinking, and normalizing the ideology. We invite our children to drag queen shows, as well as other drag queen events as tools for indoctrination. Pedophilia, bestiality, and goddess worship are becoming tolerable for many in our country, even in our courts. We have normalized self-worship as we gaze at ourselves on little screens and self-publish our images to the world on social media.

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What are we doing? Where are we going?

We are accepting cultural sewage on our dinner plates everyday because the Woke minority demands we do it, like shepherds prodding sheep. At the same time, we run from the righteousness the Almighty defined for us long ago.

According to Roman and Greek history, not to mention many other geo-political lands, we are way past due for a collapse of our house of cards. God’s nature is HOLY. He has, and will not perpetually endure a rebellious nation which was founded by Him, and held up His banner for well over 200 years.

Yet…there is a modern remnant.

We saw “The Chosen”, a highly successful TV drama series surrounding Jesus and His followers, continue to spike in viewership worldwide. Promos began to run on the movie, “Jesus Revolution” (out now in theaters) depicting the Jesus People movement of the late 60’s and early 70’s, when a conservative pastor, Chuck Smith, (Played by Kelsey Grammer) dared to minister to the hippies of his day. He was trashed by many in the church at that time as sin-on-wheels, and discredited as a nothing burger. Chuck Smith was unjustly ridiculed by his own spiritual sisters and brothers, including some of the churches I grew up in. It was a God-breathed ground zero movement which still rings through our culture today. Coincidence? Take a step back and get the wide-angle lens out.

Suddenly, this nation pulled together a bit in praying for Damar Hamlin, the seriously injured NFL player who died during a tackle on national television. The very public prayers began on the field of play, spreading all across the stadium, and the country. Not long after, rattling of WWIII got louder, mysterious, unexplained UFO’s were shot down, China’s spy balloon allowed to cross our country, signs of the U.S. in sharp decline in so many areas, new COVID resurgence, record breaking drug overdose deaths, etc, Meanwhile, the Grammy Awards highlights Satanic scenes live on stage, vis Sam Smith, to rousing standing ovations and screams of adoration from the audience, all sponsored by Pfizer, your friendly COVID vaccine conglomerate. Again, ask…a coincidence?

Now we see another heavy public movement of faith. It seems spiritual blooms are bursting open.

Asbury University in Kentucky. An average, regularly scheduled service at the campus chapel, ignites into a 24/7 organic praise, prayer, and worship center where individuals came to grips concerning their need for God’s grace, their need for repentance, their need for prayer. The doors had to stay open due to the masses coming to the extraordinary spiritual awakening at ground zero. Before you could keep up, days and nights, nights and days went by. As the word grew, others began to flock to the chapel from outside the campus, the town, the state, and even the nation. Globally, people took flights from other countries to gather at the Asbury University Chapel. So organic, not organized or pre-sold, no event planner involved, the phenomenon lacked famous, well-known preachers or evangelistic experts. No multi-platinum recording artists were invited to boost crowds. Ticketmaster wasn’t needed, or called on. At last count, before the chapel marathon service was ended, over 50,000 people had attended. Just shocking!

Although the chapel location was closed after several non-stop days, the revival continues off-campus. Now many other revival events are popping up all over the nation at various college campuses.

Thousands and thousands from Generation Z are giving their hearts to God, praying, getting on their knees in humility, making decisions for this life and the next. What is more newsworthy, none of this movement is contained inside one denomination. This fresh spiritual breeze blows across denominational lines. That is an occurrence outside of human hands, manmade design. No need to ask who is playing at any of these gatherings. Currently, there is no rock star drawing crowds, no Billy Sunday, no TBN, only The Bright Morning Star, Jesus. The Event Planner is indeed, the Holy Spirit!

Truthfully, this nation is more than ripe for a Great Awakening.

If you are reading this as an unchurched person, one who isn’t into Jesus, or the Bible in general, try not to analyze this moment in history too much. In your position, the word, “Revival” may be foreign to you, or you may know it only as a description concerning a resurgence of retro music, entertainment, fashion, or structural design. Spiritual revival didn’t start at Asbury Chapel, it starts in the single, individual heart. I hope and pray the revival ignites this writer’s heart.

God said it in scripture, so we would know the formula. He promised if we move closer to Him, He would move closer to us. Our land needs to be healed.

Find out the difference between Woke and Awake, in fuel for the race.

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “Return to Me with all your heart, And with fasting, weeping, and mourning; And tear your heart and not merely your garments.” Now return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in mercy And relenting of catastrophe. ” Joel 2:12-13 (NAS)

Who Has The Key?

“The keys to the vaults of Heaven
May be buried somewhere in a prayer.
The keys to the vaults of Heaven
May be heavy or lighter than air.”
(1999) “Vaults Of Heaven”, From the musical, “Whistle Down The Wind” Composers: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jim Steinman. Also recorded by: Tom Jones

It was June, 2021. I was in Buffalo, NY for my middle daughter’s wedding. Staying with me, for a couple of days in an Airbnb in the city, were four other loved ones. My oldest daughter, Tabitha, her daughter, Skylar, my youngest daughter, D’Anna, along with her fiancé, Nik.

It was in an older neighborhood, laced with quaint frame houses. We were treated to a nice understated two story home. The second floor housed regular leasing tenants, while the first floor was a nice Airbnb layout with a beautiful front sunroom deck in a cedar interior. Built like a rowhouse, it had three bedrooms, but just one bathroom in the hallway. (That was a bit of a squeeze for the five of us.) Nevertheless, it was a very charming place, and so suited to our needs for a wedding weekend. The only complaint I would have registered, if I were going to, would’ve been the fact that the owner gave us only one key. Yes, one key between the five of us. To make matters worse, we only had one rent-a-car at first. After the first few hours, Nik decided he would rent a car to ease the schedule. Smart kid.

As you can imagine, we all didn’t go to the same places, at the same time. Nik and D’Anna wanted to visit Niagara Falls just outside of Buffalo, while Tabitha and Skylar wanted to shop, and I, the old man, just wanted to relax in order to push away the jetlag. Also, I was going to sing at the reception and needed to find a time to rehearse with the band.

And if that wasn’t enough ingredients for a collective headache, the three girls were in the wedding party and needed to pick up their gowns, go to a bachelorette party, get dolled up for a rehearsal dinner, etc… There was a lot to cram into 2.5 days. In other words, we all had our schedules. Of course, this meant some of us were coming back to the house at different times for different reasons. Still, we only had one key. You can see the frustrating issue.

Wedding day had arrived. We were all so very busy with shower schedules, ironing of clothing, breakfast plans. Every inch of the large dinning table was made into a hair and make-up salon. Curling irons, as well as, blow-dryers were all over the place. It’s a wonder we didn’t blow a fuse.

The wedding was at noon, down on the banks of the Niagara, very close to the famous U.S./Canadian Peace Bridge. The drive there is about 15 minutes, or less. As you can expect, it was a very busy morning for us all. My daughter, and bride, Megan, had someone from the wedding party pick the girls up as they needed to be there early to assist in the bride’s prep. Nik took his rental not long after, leaving me with…the ONLY KEY. Yes, I was the last one out the door, as planned, and nervous as all get-out (as we say in Texas). Being the Father of the bride, I assumed the role would come with rattled nerves, and it certainly does.

About an hour before vow-time, I was carrying all that I needed for the event, including…the ONLY KEY. The front door was the type which had to be locked from the outside as you leave. So, after you shut the door, you locked it up tight with…the ONLY KEY. That’s what I did. Juggling a briefcase full of music, while carrying my jacket in the other arm, as well as, the rent-a-car keys in my right pants pocket, I quickly shoved…the ONLY KEY into my left pants pocket.

Over twelve hours later, after a wild music filled reception with dancing, food, toasts, and the greatest rock musicians in western NY, we five left in separately all with dreams of getting out of the wedding clothes and crashing hard at the Airbnb.

I arrived first with a full bladder while dragging my feet. Exhaustion doesn’t come close to the state I was in. It was very dark. I have Glaucoma. For me, darkness has a velvet blackness to it without a good light. Only a dim overhead porch lamp gave some glow on the door. That was just the beginning of trouble.

As I shuffled up to the steps, I reached into my left pants pocket and found nothing. The right pocket only had the rent-a-car keys. I checked my shirt pocket, my jacket pockets, my shoes, my briefcase, and did not find…the ONLY KEY! I literally sat down on the steps of the porch scratching my noggin in the dark. My brain had to work hard to do a rewind to the morning exit out of the house. Firstly, I reassured myself that I was indeed the last one out of the house that morning. I also reassured myself that no one asked me for the key after I arrived at the venue. Methodically, I went through the film in my head where I locked up, stuck the key in my left pants pocket while taking out the car keys from the right pocket and got in the car, which was parked across the street. Nothing made any sense. Why did I not have…the ONLY KEY?

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Nik showed up with Skylar. After telling them of my embarrassing situation, he suggested that we search the walkway, sidewalk, street, the curb, etc. Nik and Skylar began to scan the area after I mentioned how my vision can’t make out objects in darkened places. As we looked like fools on a scavenger hunt after midnight, I called the girls to warn them of the problem. They were on their way as someone was dropping them off. Tabitha asked Nik to go over the interior of my car with a fine tooth comb, with zero results. I don’t think the kids were too happy with me. We were all so tired.

As the girls arrived, I was on the phone with the owner, who lived some 30 miles away. Bless her heart, she was gracious, even at 12:40am on a Sunday morning. About an hour later, she rescued us with another key…the other key we should’ve had to start with, but I’ll move on.

After we were collapsing inside the house, Nik walked up to me holding…the ONLY KEY!

I blurted out in astonishment, “Where on earth did you find it?”

There was a mail slot next to the front door where mail was dropped into a mudroom where you take off your shoes before entering the front room. Just beneath the mail slot, as Nik was taking off his boots, he moved a pair of shoes already placed there and found…the ONLY KEY on the floor under the shoes.

Not only do I have Glaucoma, I also suffer from neuropathy, mainly targeting the shins and feet, but a bit in my fingers. I can only surmise, in my hastiness, my fingers didn’t feel the…ONLY KEY slip out of my grasp as I made the attempt to pocket the…ONLY KEY. Some very good Samaritan tenant, from the second floor, must have spotted it on the walkway, or the porch steps, and tossed it in the mail slot. I cannot tell you how relieved I was. It also saved us from a hefty fee for a lost key.

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Have you ever been there? You thought you had a key to such and such, or so in so, but when the keyhole was there, you lacked what it took to get on the other side of that door. I’m not thinking so much about a car door, a gate, or a storage unit, but rather moments of love, life, or longings. One might feel the lacking of the key of acceptance. Some of those airtight doors can be a frustration. If you’re like me, you can recall a few.

Maybe there have been times when a loved one passed away, and you sat in the memorial service watching the slide presentation of the once lively person enjoying their days from the past, and you wondered. It’s natural to wonder about, “what’s next”. The wisest question surrounds the time spelled out in the dashes on the obit with the dates of birth and death. How short is the dash between, let’s say, 1960 and 2023. “Joe Blow, 1971-2023”. The dash is most important. It’s there where we decide our eternity. There’s a reason why the dash is so short. Scripture states that life is just a vapor, a puff of smoke, a wispy cloud.

Why wonder? Why not “KNOW”? There is only one key, and you do not possess it. In fact, you never possessed it. Be a thinking person, not one who is blown around by the most popular thought of the day in a very darkened culture with severe spiritual Glaucoma.

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There is only One Who holds the key to your eternal door. “Knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door” is a start. Look into it. Your dash is very short.

Spoiler alert: Jesus, the One Who holds the ONLY KEY, is also the only doorway. In fact, He has the master key to gain entrance to eternal life.

Know more about hearing the key lift the latch by diving headlong into fuel for the race.

“When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “’Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.'” – Revelation 1:17-18 (NAS)

Shake Me To Wake Me

‘…A-whole lot of shakin’ goin’ on.
Well we ain’t fakin’.
A-whole lot of shakin’ goin’ on.”
(1957) “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” Recorded by: Jerry Lee Lewis Composer: Dave “Curlee” Williams. Also credited: James Faye “Roy” Hall

I am no seismologist, just a casual observer of earthquakes. When, where, why, etc. A true student of this study must work diligently to keep up with all the tremors and quakes around the globe. Technology in seismology and geological surveying has come a long way in the last few decades. Even future epicenters can be calculated and located from pole to pole, as well as, projected severity. Unfortunately, we cannot prevent tectonic plates from shifting.

Tragedy struck Turkey and Syria recently with a 7.8 and 7.6 quake leaving widespread death, destruction, and devastated citizens from those nations. I dare not mention the body count here because of the rising numbers growing by each hour as rescue and recovery efforts continue. There is an estimate of dozens of thousands. As I write this line, the number has risen above 20,000 thus far. So heartbreaking. The hospitals, still standing, continue to see the massive number of injured being carried through their doors. Responders must work quickly with the freezing weather, not to mention the clock is the enemy. With each passing minute, the lives of trapped survivors throughout the region are fading away as I write this post. Needless to say, by the time you read this sentence, a throng of individuals, from infants to the elderly, have been added to the perished.

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This morning, I was watching the news update from Turkey at the site of a high-rise apartment building where rescue efforts are frantically toiling 24/7. In this case, where there was a multi-floor residency, there is only a heaping mound of concrete and steel. One volunteer was quickly interviewed. Through his tears, he described the scene. People, many of them children, are alive under tons of debris, texting and vocally crying out for recue. He went on to say, after catching his breath while sobbing, the responders are pleading for assistance due to not enough workers for the gargantuan job at hand.

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In the same news report, there came a moment when recue workers were able to reach a small boy, and unearthed a very young girl who were still alive under the debris. I was struck by the ignition of jubilation, the excitement, the sheer cheering from the hundreds who were witnessing the sight of the two babies being pulled from the mountain of rubble. The kids were being passed around as so many were hugging, kissing and holding the toddlers while screaming in celebration. Although now orphaned, the two children were brought out of the brink of a sad, slow death, into the light of life by selfless relief workers risking their own lives in the struggle. Honestly, the sound of roaring celebrations just exploded as if it were a hail Mary touchdown pass in a super bowl game. There were workers dancing, praying aloud, and falling on their knees as if all restraint had been vacuumed out of them.

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Quakes reaching 7.8 and 7.6 are considered enormous, and they are. Not many structures are able to stand intact. Only the richest nations, the most technological savvy countries, have the ability to construct earthquake ready structures designed by talented engineers. The truth is, so many third world nations sit on volatile fault lines as the clock ticks.

A few hours after the news broke from Turkey and Syria, my daughter, Megan, text me saying she and her husband were having breakfast when shaking, rattling and rolling interrupted their morning around 6:15. They are far from the epicenter in Turkey and Syria. They are in Buffalo, NY. The latest info I read gave it a 4.4, up from the first report of 3.8. It is being called the most severe earthquake in western NY in 40 years. Can we say the Buffalo quake is related to the Turkey and Syrian quakes? Only the seismologists will be able to tell us. One thing is for sure, for the layperson, earthquakes come usually without warning. They are sudden, impactful, and has the ability to kill, displace, or even leave lifelong psychological scars.

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At this time a multitude of international relief organizations are on site, or on their way with much needed aid. Samaritan’s Purse is one of the most reliable outreach ministries on the planet. I would highly recommend them if you are urged to donate to the efforts in Turkey and Syria.

I have never been in an earthquake…yet. The ground under my feet has never moved. The buildings around me have never swayed, crumbled to the ground, or cracked from the foundation. However, life has done that to me several times. How about you? You are minding your own business, soberly walking along your daily grind, when suddenly that phone call comes. There may even be a warning tremor letting you know you are on dangerous territory. At first you think pulling away from the epicenter of the trouble is wise, then with the shrugging of shoulders you forget about it and take that next step. Maybe your quake came in a conference room, with steaming coffee in hand and a bright outlook for the day, when suddenly, the floor comes out from beneath you as the pink slip comes. Many personal quakes come with a doctor’s diagnosis. You felt fine, not realizing there is an epicenter inside your body erupting, knocking you to a gurney, or even a funeral home. These epicenters can and will shake the sturdiest of people.

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Whether it’s a geological shifting of tectonic plates, or a personal unanticipated devastation , there is a Rock to grip that is higher than your strength, your emotions, your efforts, or your pet med of choice. After all, isn’t that what we need when a whole lot of shakin’ is goin’ on? Isn’t that what we want in life, to live on solid ground? Do we not want a sturdy, strong, steadfast stone to hold to in times of shifting sand?

Personal quakes often have served me well to wake me up with a good shake. Usually when the dust settles, a learning process has had its way.

Jesus told a parable (So we would get it.) surrounding a house built on sand and another built on stone. Just like the three little pigs, the house built on sand collapsed during unexpected unforgiving storms. The house built on stone survived well the battering winds. He is that Rock. Once dead, then raised to life by His own power. That is a Rock higher than I. Unlike the nearest epicenter, there is no fault in Him.

Locate your everlasting shelter in fuel for the race.

“From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For You have been a refuge for me, A tower of strength against the enemy. Let me dwell in Your tent forever; Let me take refuge in the shelter of Your wings.” – Psalm 61: 2-4 (NAS)


“And when one of us is gone, And one of us is left to carry on, Then remembering will have to do, Our memories alone will get us through. Think about the days of me and you. You and me against the world.” ( 1974) “You And Me Against The World” Recorded By: Helen Reddy Composers: Kenny Ascher and Paul Williams

Happy birthday to my mom, Carolyn Atherton-Brown!

The two of us in 1962.

February 1st turned her page to 79 years of age. I have written about her story in the past, about how she was only 15 when she was date raped. She was barely 16 when she chose to have me. Yes, I interrupted her life, her growth, her education. In spite of me, she forged ahead like a freight train.

Carolyn Atherton (Mom) at 13!!!

That event did so much harm, which for her entire life, continues to exhibit the ripples from that personal ground zero. Even after two suicide attempts, somehow, someway, God pulled her through it all to my day of birth.

The two of us in 1962

In her small town culture in that day and time, she was urged to marry my bio father, which only lasted two years. Two years of vile abuse, violence, and adultery with countless women was simply torture for her. She remarried again when I was five years of age, but that marriage only lasted four years. Beyond those short years, she raised me on her own as a single, hardworking mom during the 60’s and 70’s. Those days were brutal for both of us.

The two of us 1965 (Scratched photo)

The two of us 1975 (I was 15)

In October of 2021, I went into rescue mode. At that time I realized she could no longer take care of herself. Living alone was to be no more. My wife and I made the decision to be her caregivers in our home. It has not been easy, even though my family has a long line of caregiving over the decades. I have seen it up close since I was old enough to understand it.

Yes, February 1st is her birthday, but she was unaware. I had to tell her of her special day. A few months ago, she was diagnosed with Lewy Bodies Disease. It’s under the dementia umbrella. It resembles both a bit of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Since she has been living with us, her condition has noticeably declined mentally and physically.

Knowing our time is growing short, I wanted to once again treat her to something I promised her when I was just a little kid. I wanted to do a cookout for her on my grill from our backyard patio. Hamburgers have always been her favorite, and so easy to do on the grill over mesquite wood. However, wintry weather kicked in with sleet and ice, freezing my chef’s hat. But, we will just delay the Texas BBQ feast. On that day, I will fire up the grill in tears, knowing it will probably be the last time I grill for her birthday due to the gravity of her condition. We know we will be forced to move her to a care center where she can be more properly cared for.

My memories of her, to be frank, are not always pleasant. The happy days were certainly a part of our story. Multiple times in my life she has had my back. Although strictly legalistic in her faith, she made sure I knew God from a very early age, but a stranger to grace. Many good memories can be, and must be, unearthed as I get older. Yet, there were very difficult times in our lives, including poverty along with hard disruptions in her career. In most of the churches we attended, this 20something divorced girl was called by, “Mrs”, not by her first name. It was always hurtful for her. So much for true fellowship and love.

My grandmother, Opal Atherton and my mom – 1965.

As a kid I was also unaware of her injured mental, emotional condition which can be traced way back to that horrible rape event in August of 1959. The irony of the crime of that night, when I was conceived, reached through the years to injure me as a young boy. Although she loved me, she also was incredibly harsh in various ways. In fact, looking back, I can testify solidly that she abused me at times in violent ways, as well as, psychological renderings. Yet, as a man of Jesus, I had to understand how an injured, hurting person can, and will, inflict their pain on others they love. Choosing to recall the sweet times doesn’t always have to be a struggle.

Many years ago, I had to confront my own deep-seated anger, leading me to ask God to help me rise above the painful memories and forgive my mother. I had forgiven my bio father long ago after we met, but delayed offering forgiveness to my mom out of pure resentment. Often, even today, I find myself revisiting that snare over the past. Still, I must always overcome the trap within, and ask God to repaint my soul of soreness with a coat of His special brand of varnish. This is what I must cling to for the remainder of my days.

She no longer remembers, but the Helen Reddy song, “You And Me Against The World” was a hit on our radio when I was just about to turn 14. During that time I never would have fathomed the bitterness, and the sweetness, of an ironic line in the very last chorus…

“And when one of us is gone, and one of us is left to carry on, then remembering will have to do…

Today, I am the only one who remembers.

Carolyn Atherton-Brown 2023

Choosing a better way has instructions in fuel for the race.

“Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you…” – Deuteronomy 5:16a

Where The Road Leads

“So goodbye yellow brick road,
Where the dogs of society howl…
Oh, I’ve finally decided my future lies,
Beyond the yellow brick road.”
(1973) “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” Recorded By: Elton John Composed By: Elton John and Bernard Taupin

Isn’t it funny, how we don’t exactly know where the road we are on ends, or what detours may be in store, until we get over the next hill for a good visual?

Such was the case, some 22 years ago, one hot west Texas day for me, the weary traveler. Grab your popcorn.

I was planning on a 2.5 hour drive (one way), west of Dallas, Texas, to be with family for a relative’s memorial service. The drive out there displays a change in landscapes, cactus, hills, and red sandy soil.

I was doing an afternoon drive-time radio show at 90.9 KCBI at the time, in Arlington, Texas, halfway between Dallas and Ft Worth. It was to be a busy day. The funeral was planned as a morning service, and my show in the Arlington studio started at 3pm. What was even more complicated was the fact that my producer had scheduled the multi award-winning recording artist, Natalie Grant to be live in studio with me that day.

Photo By: Dean Dixon Natalie Grant

Although this was early in her solo career, she had several hits out by that time, and I was looking forward to chatting with her about her life and what was around the next bend. But, I almost didn’t make it.

I needed to be at the service in west Texas. It had been a long while since visiting with my dad’s side of the family there, not to mention I wanted to pay my respects to a very dear uncle who fought through many speed bumps in his life and yet, was a champion to the very end. So, I looked at the map (This was before Google Maps and GPS was offered to for the everyday person.), and carefully back-timed the journey, along with figuring the average length of a small town memorial service. After putting numbers together, considering I couldn’t stay for the family luncheon, or the graveside service, I put away the calculator with confidence I could accomplish such a journey, and still keep my commitment to my producer and Natalie, and her record label.

The trip there from my north Dallas home was uneventful. It was a familiar journey. All went well.

The state highway and interstate system is just like most states when driving across rural areas. There would be lots of winding curves, hills and valleys, and small towns where if you blink you would miss them. Then, from time to time, there would be getting behind a farmer’s tractor slowly on his way to the next pasture. Nevertheless, the clock and I remained friends. I arrived in plenty of time prior to the service and met up with many family members.

With about three hours prior to my radio show, I said my goodbyes, and headed east for the lengthy drive to the studio. However, because my destination was the radio station in Arlington, I was unfamiliar with the trek from point A to point B. It seemed uncomplicated enough, I just never travelled this particular route.

Because I left the service without eating lunch with the family, I became a bit hungry on the way. Thinking I could hold out until I reached the studio, my stomach started to complain. Looking at the fuel gauge, I would soon need to stop to top off the tank.

Over the river and through the woods, I spotted a small mom & pop gas station with a convenient store attached. Well, I was hungry, and it was indeed, convenient. After filling up the gas tank, monitoring my watch every few minutes, I decided to grab some food items I could nibble on while driving. It’s been many years ago, but if memory serves me right, I grabbed a stick of beef jerky, a Hostess cupcake, and a diet Coke. (Nutrition was out the window with my need for speed.)

Have you ever tried starting your car, along with putting on your seatbelt, while opening a soft-drink bottle and a stick of jerky all at the same time? It’s not easy, at least not that day.

As soon as I could open up the food items for easy access on the center console, I got my wheels quickly pushing the white rock gravel out from beneath the tread and off I went from the gas pump toward the driveway out to the highway…or so I thought.

About 20-30 yards of a white gravel lot separated the fuel pump and the highway pavement. I sped-up toward the exit of the gas station property, anxious to get back on the road toward Arlington. When I think back on the 20-30 yard jaunt across the lot, I most likely was focused more on wrestling with a difficult wrapper keeping me from a thick slice of smoked beef jerky. I quickly approached the pavement of the shoulder of the highway when to my surprise, I ran out of both white gravel and anticipated pavement. When my destination came into full view, like a NASCAR driver, I worked the brake as quickly as I could, even pumping the brake as I slid over the loose gravel. Why? Because I made the mistake of not paying attention to exactly how the gas station was orientated to the highway. In my shock, I was driving rather quickly toward an edge of the gravel lot to a steep embankment down into a fork of the Brazos River, which was some 20-30 feet down to a shallow rocky bottom stream. When I came to a timely full stop, I threw it in park and just sat there reminding myself to inhale and exhale. There was no guardrail, no fence, no warning sign, or directive indicator whatsoever. Other than an air pump for tires, there was no warning of a drop-off at the edge of the gravel lot. If it had been a nighttime visit to this location, they would’ve had MY memorial service the following week. As I slowly got my bearings and put it in reverse, I could see my front tires were probably 6 feet from the edge. As you can imagine, I was sweating bullets.

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Over the winding paths of my life, I can honestly say, life can be very much like that experience. Isn’t it true? There will be times when you are rolling along just fine when suddenly you find yourself headed smack into a brick wall, a curb you didn’t see, or a cliff’s edge. Don’t fool yourself, they all don’t always come with warning signs, or road reflectors, or rails to guard you from gravity taking over. And isn’t it true that often times situations like this are delivered by way of being distracted somehow? Something else that entices, something else outside of yourself which tickles one or more of your five senses. Then, without much warning at all, another unnoticed reality is on an intercept course where you can’t put the brakes on quickly enough. Exercising caution at all times is wise, on the road, in a parking garage, as well as, the road of life.

Only you know what that is in your life. Only you know when this has shocked your steps forward. Only you know what to guard against. You and God, the One Who sees all things before you and after you. He knows each of our roads are different.

In case you were wondering, I got to the studio on time, with about 30 minutes to spare, even before Natalie showed up. It was our first time to work together, but would have the pleasure of working with her again a few times later in our careers. When I told her what had happened on my way to the radio station, her jaw hit the floor. She said the Lord had His hand on me, even when we’re unaware. She was right.

When needing to know where the pitfalls are in your road, locate the map in fuel for the race.

“For I know the plans and thoughts that I have for you,’ says the LORD, ‘plans for peace and well-being and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call on Me and you will come and pray to Me, and I will hear [your voice] and I will listen to you.” Jeremiah 29: 11-12 (Amplified Bible)

Lessons From Damar Hamlin

“There’s a love that’s divine,
And it’s yours and it’s mine,
Like the sun.
And at the end of the day,
We should give thanks and pray,
To the One, to the One.”
(1989) “Have I Told You Lately” Recorded and Written By: Van Morrison

On Monday night, January 2nd, several million eyes were on the screen watching Monday Night Football. It was the Buffalo Bills visiting the Cincinnati Bengals for a tough bout. Not far into the game, the Bill’s safety, 24 year old Damar Hamiln, wearing #3, made a picture perfect, clean tackle, stopping a Bengals advance for yardage. After the play, Damar stood to his feet, took a step back and collapsed. At first, most thought he just had the wind knocked out of him. As the medical team tended to him, it became apparent he no long was breathing. His heart had stopped. For nine minutes CPR was performed. As they feverishly worked his lifeless body, they were able to jump start his heart. He was taken to the hospital where he went into cardiac arrest once again. His mom was in the attendance and went with him to the hospital.

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Thousands in the stands were in shock. You could hear a pin drop as the fans were waiting and watching what was being played out before them. As the cameras panned over the crowd, many were in prayer for the young player. On the field, players and coaches knelt and prayed together. Some players humbly got on all fours with their faces to the turf as they cried out to God for their NFL brother. Many held hands, embraced one another, and on both teams many tears were openly shed. Across the nation, as the broadcast continued, prayers began to go up from living rooms, sports bars, and at places of employment. Later, it was reported that globally people stopped to pray during the tragedy over the airwaves.

It was decided, and rightly so, that the game was to be cancelled. Slowly the stands were emptied in a very eerie silence as the fans poured out into the parking lots. Some in shock, some emotionally distraught, some in silent prayer.

As Damar Hamlin was in a coma, while the medical staff urgently fought for his life in the hospital, the NFL, the coaches, along with the Bills and Bengals, urged the public to continue to pray as his life hung in the balance. Indeed, the prayers continued on through the week, even on the fields across the country the following NFL weekend forged by various team members openly praying together for healing for #3, Damar Hamlin. Prayer requests came from players and coaches combined in the press conferences.

As the days rolled forward, so did the prayers across the nation. On the third day, Hamlin opened his eyes. Each day, the doctors gave encouraging news about his recovery. He is expected to make a full recovery…from DEATH! As I write this, on January 10th, Damar has done so well that he was released from the Cincinnati hospital and flown to Buffalo General Hospital in Buffalo, NY for ongoing treatment. He is overwhelmed by the love and support he has received from all over the world. He is especially grateful for the outpouring of prayer, as he shared how he is a person of faith. He honored his mom for raising him to believe in God, and His ways.

Photo by Ric Rodrigues on Pexels.com

So what have we learned from Damar Hamlin in the aftermath of such a wonderous event in his life, one which was played out before the world?

The lesson didn’t really come from Damar himself. After all, the healthy 24 year old man literally died on the field of play before a global audience. Under the circumstances, he not only shouldn’t be alive today, but he seemingly has not suffered brain damage, significant heart damage, nerve damage, etc. According to the medical professionals tending to him, he is projected to someday soon, run out of the hospital doors. It leaves the thinking person to ask a simple question, which many will ignore.

Millions and millions should be asking, “What just happened here?”

It’s not the first time something miraculous happened. I can think of one very sick man who also had loving friends who cared for him. They cared so much that they tore open a hole in the roof of a house and lowered him down on a stretcher because the house was so full of people. Why go to such trouble? Because the Master of The Universe was just beneath that roof. Jesus had been healing the sick, raising the dead, giving sight to the blind right and left. The ill man’s friends had faith in the One under the roof. So, they went into action out of love for their friend, KNOWING Jesus had the power to heal his infirmities. In scripture it states that not only did Jesus remove the illness, but told him to take up his bed and walk away. In full strength, he did just that.

An executive, a vice president, of the NFL, remarked at the week of prayer for Hamlin in an interview, affirming that there is “power in prayer.” In tears he acknowledged that there is a God who hears our pleas, our cries, our hearts.

There is power in prayer, but moreover, there is power in the One receiving the petitions. If we had prayed to the Buffalo Bill’s medical doctor, he would have lacked the power beyond his medical training. If we had prayed to the sun, the wind, the referees, there would have been a funeral for the Hamlin family. If we had prayed to Hamlin himself, stretched out on the turf without life, the petitions would have bounced off his helmet. Prayer, sincere prayer, is an act of faith toward the One prayed to, the One Who has the power.

Photo by Paulo Mu00e1rcio Dos Santos on Pexels.com

In the earliest manuscripts of scripture, from Genesis onward, God commands us to pray. He even goes so far as to promise He not only will hear faith-filled prayer, but that he also will respond to the prayers offered in humility. Sure, some responses to prayer is the word, “No”. Some responses to prayer comes as, “I will. In My timing.” Sometimes, answers in the affirmative have happened before the prayer is finished. I can testify to that in my own life.

In the scope of God’s purposes, we need to look deeper at what just happened. Ask why this event was so public. Ask why this episode was broadcast around the earth on that designated Monday night. Ask why Hamlin’s miraculous progress has been front page news almost every day since it occurred. Yes, there is a deeper purpose here. I am not one to say what that purpose is, but I do know God promised He would make Himself known throughout the world in the ending of days.

Look around. The mouth of the naysayer was shut. No one is suing the television network, or the NFL, or the Bengals or Bills because prayer was so abundant and public, on a very visual broadcast. The very same people who have sued coaches and school districts over public prayer at sports events were nowhere to be found. I find that very odd.

Another lesson learned over Damar Hamlin’s death-to-life story is the love shown. The general public displayed its humanity. His charity, for impoverished children in his hometown, had only raised $2500.00 at the time of Hamlin’s health event. The last time I checked, it has reach almost 10 million dollars in donations in a matter of a few days. The well wishes continue to stream in. His teammates, as well as other NFL players and coaches, continue to show their love and support while he is in his hospital bed. The general public, whether football fans or not, have poured out concern and love toward this 24 year old who most never heard of before that Monday night game. This personal event for Damar Hamlin has turned many hearts. In fact, it displays a true heart in our culture, a heart we often do not see.

Most of all, we have witnessed something, not only remarkable, but downright awakening for many. There is a multitude of souls who have acknowledged their faith openly during this episode, and many for the first time. In the core of this nation, many are rediscovering their faith in God.

In a down-sliding culture where we are pushing our children to drag queen shows, we must stand up in the field in which we play and acknowledge God. While we see children killing children, and adults as well, we must grip our faith, hold it up and beg for God’s ear. As the love of many cools to a coldness, the people of faith must struggle through what is easy to do and love anyway.

I predict that Damar Hamlin will forever be changed in his spirit. He will grow in life to understand true love and brotherhood even more than what he once understood. I am hoping the rest of us can do the same.

Incorporating prayer in life can be had when being filled with fuel for the race.

“Come close to God and He will come close to you.” James 4:8a (NAS)

What Child Is This?

“I know there’s a place you walked
Where love falls from the trees.
My heart is like a broken cup
I only feel right on my knees.
I spit out like a sewer hole
Yet still receive your kiss
How can I measure up to anyone now
After such a love as this?
…Tell me who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Because I really want to know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)” (1978) “Who Are You?” Recorded By: The Who Composed By: Pete Townsend

If you are new to this blog, you probably don’t know about past posts describing the fact that I never really knew my bio-dad until he walked into my life when I turned eighteen. It’s a really long story for another post.

My story isn’t that unusual at all. Many have the same sad set of affairs in early life concerning mysterious parentage of some sort. For me, he was there for the first couple of years of my life prior to a divorce. From that point on, my mom did all she could to erase him from my young memory.

By the time I was fifteen or so, I begged to find out more about my bio-dad, his name, his looks, his family. She had made some type of inward commitment to withhold all details about him. Little did I know a deal was struck during the divorce proceedings in 1962 where he would not pay child support as long as he stayed away from me. That deal was brokered by my granddad. He told the judge he would take responsibility.

All I had to go on was a vague memory of a tall, dark-curly headed man. For the first eighteen years of my life, I would see a man who fit that description and wondered if that could be him, or not. I must say, I found out his first and last name, but back in the 70’s, there wasn’t the advantages of the internet, or social media to do a search.

Photo: 1978. Jim Alford (my bio-dad) and me.

Little items concerning his flaws, came out over the years, just enough to try to keep my curiosity down to a low rumble. The low rumble could never be ignored due to the evidence that my bio-dad left behind. I vowed to find him after I turned 18.

No doubt, the itch of such unanswered questions concerning where you come from is very difficult to scratch.

The world over, from one end of the globe to the other, the same can be said about the inquiry of knowing God. Religions are based on it. Curriculum is developed in places of higher learning to discover and dissect the “God code”. Agnostics have chosen such a position mainly due to giving up on the attempt to find the Universal Designer. The Creator has left plenty of traces, along with hard cold evidence behind, of Who He is, and what He is about. Atheists just choose to ignore the search. Still, the search goes on for billions.

“Who are You? I really wanna know.”

Then comes Christmas, a holiday which refuses to be ignored. It’s a holiday that screams out the answer of finding God. There are factions in cultures to do what they can to divert the attention away from why there is a Christmas, but it remains, taking weeks at the end of each year to shine out the answer like a star atop the nearest Christmas tree.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

Christmas was a sharp turn in God’s historic timeline. For thousands of years, He left His evidences for the world to take note of. He even showed Himself in various manifestations and a standard to live by. Yet, when the “fulness in time” had arrived, He showed up…in flesh and bone. It would only be for a span of 33 years, but it was a life which shook the planet, and still does to this very day. The Christmas event was truly remarkable (Luke 2), but baby Jesus didn’t stay a baby.

One of His students, in John chapter 14, confronted Jesus about showing God The Father to them.

John 14: 7-9 (Berean Standard Bible)

7If you had known Me, you would know My Father as well. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.” 8 Philip said to Him,“Lord,show us the Father, and that will be enoughfor us.”9Jesus replied, “Philip, I have been with you all this time, and still you do not know Me? Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?…

Wow! How strong is that? MERRY CHRISTMAS!

So, whenever wondering about WHO God is, or what He is about, or what He is like, look no further than Christmas as a beginning.

When Frosty melts away, and Rudolph’s nose fades away for another year, Christmas lives on day after day in fuel for the race.

“You have said that I am a King. For this I was born and for this I have come into the world: to testify of the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” – John 18:37 (Aramaic Bible Translation)

Tracking Christmas

“Sometimes I feel so low-down and disgusted.
Can’t help but wonder what’s happening to my companions.
Are they lost or are they found, have they counted the cost it’ll take to bring down?
All their earthly principles they’re gonna have to abandon ?
There’s slow, slow train coming up around the bend.”
(1979) “Slow Train” Recorded and Composed By: Bob Dylan

Since 1965, Northpark Center, (Northpark Mall) in Dallas, Texas, has been the zenith of the shopping experience. It’s located near the very posh, highbrow part of Dallas called, University Park, and Highland Park. Frankly, much of the the clientele frequenting the polished floors of Northpark Center tend to be decked out in Armani and Versace. Yet, there are many shoppers there dressed in casual jeans or khakis. After all, it’s a shopping haven for the students at nearby SMU. I know Northpark well as I once worked there for Florsheim and Wolfe Brother’s Clothing Department Store not long after high school. I met, and waited on, many celebrities while working in sales in that day, like Rita Moreno, Jimmy Dean, Tony Dorsett, Linda Gray, D.D. Lewis, local TV news anchors, and B.J. Thomas to name a few. You never know just who stroll the walkways of Northpark Center. As a side note, Rita Moreno was my favorite celebrity I had the honor of waiting on. She walked in alone, dressed in Capri pants with a pullover shirt, topped with a lite sweater tied around her shoulders, and enclosed flats on her feet. We spent about 20 minutes together as I placed the latest fashion in shoes on her dancing feet. She was very unassuming, humble, and very kind. Those were fun times for me.

On your way to Nordstrom’s, Neiman Marcus, or Abercrombie & Fitch, you might like to stop at the many artsy fountains and pools, art exhibits, or at this time of year, the singing Santa.

Photo: Northparkcenter.com

Northpark is not on my beaten path, so I don’t visit there very often. However, I did take my daughters there a few times when they were young just for the experience. During the holidays, it’s great to take the kids to see all that glitters inside the mall, complete with strolling carolers, giant Christmas trees, Gingerbread Christmas Town, or The Trains at Northpark. A terrific place for the best of Christmasing pleasure.

Photo: Northparkcenter.com

Season after season, sprawling out on the 2nd floor, just outside Neiman Marcus, the enchanted seasonal feature, The Trains at Northpark is a must see. A better title might be, Tracks Through Christmas Town is on display there, featuring miniature toy trains.

Photo: Northparkcenter.com

This display is so popular, one must purchase reserved tickets to get in for the wow factor adding to the holiday experience. (Proceeds go to The Ronald McDonald House.) It is the most elaborate miniature toy train exhibit in Texas.

It features over 600 trains rolling the tracks on a journey across the American landscape. Honestly, you walk in realizing how easily it is to be stunned by the size and detail of such a sight. Expect the tracks to run through mountains, city tunnels, bridges, around lakes and cutting through forests. There’s nothing like the aroma of fresh electric train oil wafting through the air, mixed with a touch of cinnamon and spices among the garlands and pinecones. Along the 1300 feet of miniature tracks, (yes, 1300 feet), are the the sights of small town Americana in full Christmas bloom with its miniature streets, buildings, cars, horse-drawn carriages, and people. Some of the figurines are dragging their freshly cut Christmas trees home through the snow. Others are wrapped up in their winter coats and hats as they carry shopping bags in front of display windows of the miniature shops. Someone is seen walking their dog on a leash in a snowy park. One of my favorites is a scene where families are gathered in a town square, decorating the community Christmas tree with lights and tinsel. If you look closely, you can spot patrons sitting at tables just inside the snowflake dusted windows of a small café with hot cider in their cups. It simply is marvelous to go in and get lost in a picturesque middle America. Just a perfect vision of joy and life in anticipation of the most celebrated holiday in the western world. Well, almost perfect.

Photo: Northparkcenter.com The Trains at Northpark, where eveyone becomes a child.

It’s funny how such an exhibit of this nature attracts the eyes, ears, and nose. After a few minutes you realize you have focused so much on the intricate art details of this miniature Christmas world that you forget the demographics around you doing the very same thing. Suddenly, the wealthy elegant Highland Park woman next to you isn’t noticing she is in the company of someone in a Texas Ranger’s jersey, sweatpants with tennis shoes from Walmart. (That was me.) Suddenly, I haven’t noticed the man in front of me who looks like a high profile upscale attorney, clothed in a Bill Blass suit and tie. Commonality does its magic, doesn’t it? However, one man stuck out at me the last time I was there so many years ago.

Gazing at the miniature exhibit of small town America, with electric trains running alongside the depots, was someone who didn’t fit the average Northpark visitor. This individual stuck out as someone who didn’t belong in such an exclusive location. He was a bit disheveled, maybe in his 60’s, in need of a shave, wearing a worn thin denim shirt and ragged jeans with the knees blown-out. His face was weathered like a man who was acquainted with the outdoors, and a rather faded cloth baseball cap, in need of washing, pushed back away from his wrinkled forehead. To be blunt, he looked as if he might have been a homeless man who wondered in from the street. He seemed fixated on a certain scene in the Christmas train display. Awkwardly, with a grin on his face, leaning over a bit, with his hands on his knees to brace himself, he was seemingly in awe. As other visitors at the exhibit continued to walk around him, he stayed put with a sense of fascination radiating from his body language.

As he caught my attention, I began to visually search for the item that seemed to intrigue him so much. As I got closer to him, I could see where he was focusing his eyes. It was a well-dressed family of four, complete with a little boy and girl, their mom, and a dad with a Christmas wreath hanging from the crook of his elbow. They were standing beside the tracks, just on the backside of the depot, watching for the incoming train. The little boy had a paper bag full of roasted chestnuts. The little girl had a doll in her arms and a cup of hot chocolate in her hand. Mom had four tickets in her gloved hand. Frozen in time, waiting for a train which very well might have transported them to another small town where their grandparents resided. Just like the rest of the town around them, everything looked happy, joyful, lit up, and…well, perfect.

I had my daughters with me, and wasn’t feeling really secure about meeting the man, not knowing his condition. I have always been very protective over my girls, maybe too much at times. Thoughts of drunken speech coming from him, or profanity, or who knows what echoed in my head. He didn’t look like he was in the right place, and I can only imagine where he went after he left Northpark. Life experience has taught me to be aware of your surroundings, even when you believe you are in a safe place. Nonetheless, I avoided communication. We, as did everyone else, walked around the man. My girls never noticed him. Part of me felt like a snooty snob, just the kind I often laughed at while observing Northpark’s finest clientele parading along in their latest outfits from Lord & Taylor. There was some shame I felt, especially after we left the mall that day. Whether right, or wrong, I did what I thought best for my children at the moment. Still, I wanted to speak with the mysterious man.

The odd man had a story, an untold story I would never know. The tale of his life may not have been encouraging to hear, or for him to speak. From what I could see from his outward appearance, poverty was familiar. Yet, whatever struck him, as he was fixed on the miniature scenes from the display, he saw something of value, something of note, somehow, someway.

When I think back to that moment of learning, I wondered if it was the difference he was attached to while accessing the scenes of small-town Christmas. Difference, as in what was projected in the exhibit, and the reality of his existence on the streets of the real world. What he seemed to enjoy, leaning over the miniature Christmas scenes with toy trains clicking down their tracks, was a true picture of…perfection. The world the art exhibitors created lacked carjackers, homeless people, shoplifters, the lonely, the rioting in the streets, property damage, violet outbursts, and road rage. Lacking were the sour joy-suckers carrying signs spewing profanity concerning Christmas revelers, and how racist Christmas is…somehow. The citizens represented in the miniature towns were employed, well-dressed, and very happy. Festivities were in the air, and seemingly common in each little town. Absent was the one or two nativity scene protesters in the town square.

Could it be, just maybe, that in his visit there, he experienced something joyful from his past? Maybe, before a devastating layoff, he had been a happy railroad conductor punching holes in the tickets of his passengers. Possibly there was a recognizable scene involving his childhood days before an angry world had its way with him? Could it be so, that just for a few minutes, he was able to escape the harshness of his life as he entered a make-believe world where all was well, all was festive, all was promising?

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

If I had been alone, I would like to think I would’ve spoken with him, maybe even invite him to Northpark’s Churchill’s Pub for gourmet coffee. In my heart, I would imagine he would tell me his story, and somehow I would find a way within his telling where I could mention how the world was broken on that first Christmas Day. Suppose my response to his reveal spotlighted the fact that Bethlehem was not pristine, joyful, and festive, without trouble and care. Reality details how it was a dusty, madhouse of a tiny village of shepherds, homelessness, and scores of the family of the line of King David who had been forced to be there to be counted for a trying census. There was political decent, detachment and debate. No doubt, there were those spewing curses about Rome, Herod, taxes, and tax collectors. There were trampling filthy sheep all over the place. It was a stinky little village to visit. Violence and robbery were common in the surrounding areas. It was not what you see on the average Christmas card.

In my imagination, I can see where he might have been a bit surprised to hear the truth about the first day Jesus had to endure. Because what the man saw in the Northpark exhibit was scenery of a Bedford Falls existence all the way down the tracks. Perfection came to our imperfect world where the ripple effect continues to this very day, even when life can take you down the wrong track.

But what’s the harm, as he soaked-in the image of miniature figurines without cares, loving their perfect surroundings in their tiny unflawed towns by the tracks? Maybe, just for a few minutes, he felt safe and warm, somehow joining the lives and loves of those joyful plastic citizens.

It is my hope that I would have told him that the baby in Bethlehem’s manger would be trained as a carpenter, one who had the talent to build things, maybe even playthings like, miniature buildings, horses, and people. Christ’s true nature is to perform demolition on the stoney heart, rebuilding a heart that is pliable, a heart that He can call completely His. No need to fantasize over a fake Christmas town where you will never fit in.

A slow train is coming to a depot near you, indeed. It’s showcased in fuel for the race.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” – Jesus – Matthew 5:14-15 (NIV)