Christmas Among The Ruins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Matthias Groeneveld on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you catch it?

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

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

Christmas was wrapped first by fuel for the race.

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

Rikki, Don’t Lose That Number

“Rikki don’t lose that number
You don’t want to call nobody else
Send it off in a letter to yourself
Rikki don’t lose that number
It’s the only one you own
You might use it if you feel better
When you get home”
– (1974) “Rikki, Don’t Lose That Number” Recorded By: Steely Dan Composers: Walter Becker and Donald Fagen

On my Facebook page I decided to have a little fun with an age old question for old rock consumers. The question was: “Did Rikki ever lose that number?” Considering the song was recorded in 1973, along with the reveal that Rikki was an old college girlfriend of Donald Fagen from Steely Dan, it could be Rikki is in her early 70’s now. If Rikki has already experienced cognitive issues, maybe Rikki no longer has knowledge of where that number may be.

Rikki Don't Lose That Number - Steely Dan.jpg
Photo: Wikipedia

While counting down the hours to Thanksgiving this year, I watched a news feature on the growth of Dementia and Alzheimer’s in our country. Because Alzheimer’s runs through the maternal side of my family, I was glued to the report. Contrary to popular belief, Dementia and Alzheimer’s are not one and the same. The “plaque” which appears in the brain seems to be the main monkey wrench in the gears of the mind. Also, there can be shrinkage of the brain matter itself. Dementia is a general term for a slip in mental abilities which gets in the way of everyday life. Dementia is NOT a disease, but considered a brain disorder. There are various kinds of Dementia, as well. Trust me, it’s complicated and a bit over my lay-person’s head. However, if one has Dementia, the symptoms can mean troubles in connecting names of loved ones, or others. One can find it more difficult to follow driving directions, communication skills and focus, the spelling of words, and losing items like…(wait for it)…phone numbers. In the days of yesteryear, it often was referred to as “senior moments.”

Not long ago I mentioned on this platform the fact that my 76 year old mom is now wrestling with a minor form of Dementia. It does appear to be a fading of figuring out how to use her cell phone, remembering names and places on the fly, and losing train of thought in conversation. It’s difficult for me in that she has always been a sharp person with an incredible skill of trouble-shooting and memory. Before spellcheck software, she was my spellcheck. Now, she’s almost given up on texting words. And yes, she’s very much aware of the cognitive decline. It is very concerning.

Photo: My mom, Carolyn Atherton-Brown

It was a bittersweet privilege to watch her be a selfless 24/7 caregiver for my grandparents. My granddad had Dementia issues, and my grandmother had full-blown Alzheimer’s Disease. There was a great deal I learned from her just observing how she handled the frustration of seeing her parents traveling downhill with this issue. The main lesson i gleaned from her was how to speak to an Alzheimer’s victim. I learned to never correct the victim when they speak inaccuracies. Gently agree, or placate on a subject. Never show anger if the victim made a mess in the kitchen, or bathroom, or soiled their clothing. It’s best to approach them as you would a toddler. (In many cases, the victim almost “youthens” in their reasoning.) Most of all, we must treat them with compassion, and deliver the highest respect, even when at wits end. Remember, your Dementia or Alzheimer’s victim once was a doctor, a pastor, a teacher, a cop, or a quality control inspector, etc. Most of all, they were once loving parents in the majority of cases.

Remember, someday, it could be you needing the comfort of a champion caregiver.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

It would be a crime to suddenly think less of a loved one, suffering from this disorder or disease, who once knew how to care and love you without compromise. Certainly there are exceptions in every relationship. It could be you were a child of an abusive parent who now needs your love and care in the dark years of cognitive failure. It would be a treasure to know Jesus spoke about you…

“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” – Jesus (Matthew 5:7) KJV

An accurate Greek translation from the original text reads like this…

“Happy are the kind – – because they shall find kindness.” – Jesus (Matthew 5:7) YLT

So, Rikki, if you did lose that number, it’s okay. Maybe you ‘sent it off in a letter to yourself’. Come on, I’ll help you find it.

I am full, due to the fact God remembers the count of the hairs on my head. I found out while topping my tank with fuel for the race.

Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.” – GOD From Isaiah 49:15 (NAS)

Thanks, TR 7…Wherever You Are

“I told a girl I can start right away
And she said, “listen, babe, I got something to say
I got no car and it’s breaking my heart
But I’ve found a driver and that’s a start…”
(1965) “Drive My Car” Recorded By: the Beatles Composers: Lennon-McCartney (Primarily Paul McCartney was the composer with lyrical contributions by John Lennon.)

“Remember, when the back wheels hit the street, the car is yours without a warranty.” Right then and there, I knew I should back out of the deal, but my eyes and fantasies guided my wallet.

When I was just a wee lad, my mom’s two brothers had hot rods. One had a little French sports car by Renault. The other brother had a nice Chevy Super Sport convertible sports car, which would be called a “muscle car” in today’s terms. I loved sitting in the back seat with my head resting against the radio speaker installed in the middle of the backrest. He is 79 now, and it remains in his garage to this very day. Before I could count, I fell in love with both of these roadsters.

Miss Cain was my first grade teacher in 1966. She was right out of college, and beautiful. But what caught my little eyes was her brand new Chevy Corvair. I lived across the street from the school, and walked and gawked right by her parked road-eater. Like the Volkswagen of that day, the engine was in the back. I fell in love with that set of wheels.

My best friend in high school had a super 1968 royal blue Chevy Camaro. When he slammed the accelerator to the floor, the G-force almost kept me from touching the dashboard. I fell in love with that one, too. (Okay, I’ll admit it. I was jealous.)

A high school girlfriend owned a hot 1976 Ford Mustang Mach 1. When she floored it, your hairstyle changed in under two seconds. A couple of times, when picking her up for a date in my mom’s car, I asked if we could take her car. I fell in love with that babe…not her. (Okay, I’ll admit it. I was jealous.)

In 1983, a co-worker of mine bought an old Triumph TR 6 convertible. It was a forest green color, walnut dashboard, 2-seat little jobber. We took the curves as if we were stunt drivers in a 007 movie. It was tiny, much like the old MG, but an eye-catcher. I was nuts over that foreign road monster. (Okay, I’ll admit it. I was jealous.) It looked something like this…

Photo: TR 6 from Classic Auto Trader

My beloved car, my first car, from 1978-1983ish, was a mint condition, 2-door, tan 1976 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. My grandparents surprised me with it for high school graduation. My granddad was against sports cars simply because of the safety issue. The bigger the body, the better, in case of a crash. Ironically, my first wife totaled it on a busy Dallas freeway a few years later. It was a sad time, but a time of occasion.

With insurance cash in hand, I searched for a sports car to replace my Cutlass. This was MY time, I wasn’t going to miss it. There was a used car dealer advertising a mint condition, 1977 Triumph TR 7. Like the TR 6, it was manufactured by the well-known British Leyland Corp!!! The TR 7 had a nickname, “The Wedge” (See cover photo above title for a better profile view.) All the TR 7 car ads had a slogan, “The shape of things to come.” My TR 6 buddy and I went to check it out for a good solid look and test drive. Below is a picture of her.

When we arrived, there it sat, sticking out like a neon sign that read, “BUY ME NOW!” It was a sharp race-car mustard yellow with black pinstripe trim. Oh, my. I think my mouth was hanging open when we spotted it from the street. It was absolutely beautiful. The interior was perfect and the body didn’t have a scratch on it. The flip-up headlights dazzled me. It took all I had, but I smiled while signing the papers. The only thing that bothered me was when I heard the salesman ask one of the mechanics if it had started that morning. Then he brushed it off by saying a recent water puddle caused the ignition to fail the day before. My eyes were dreamy, interfering with my ears. The test drive went smoothly. It felt like a super-go-kart from one of those public racetracks. During the signing, he repeated the fact that the car came without a warranty. He went on to let me know, once I drove off the lot, I would be the proud owner, with no returns possible. It was cash on the barrel head. The two of us wanted to celebrate somewhere before we drove it to my house.

Did alarm bells go off in my young, 24 year old noggin? Yes, but I quickly dimmed the bells with self-made imaginary cotton balls.

If I were behind you at a signal light, this is what you would see in your rear-view mirror…

My friend followed me in his nice little TR 6 for the joy ride home. About 20 minutes into the drive, at a rainy busy intersection, it died on me without warning. The two of us couldn’t get it started. In fact, I had to have it towed to a local auto repair shop. There, I was told the staff didn’t work on European vehicles. After getting a tip from the garage owner, I had it pulled to a foreign auto repair shop. There, I was told they didn’t have a mechanic who was familiar with British Leyland engines. Once again, I had it towed to a specialty European auto garage who had “a guy” who could look into it. His pant cuffs were too high up and he scratched his belly a lot.

Keep in mind, I worked an inside sales marketing job at the time for an electronic manufacturer. I didn’t have lots to spend on Euro specialty mechanics. After about a week, “the guy” got it running and handed me a huge bill. My gut began to rumble and tumble at the prospect of what I might have gotten into.

Over the following weeks, I paid for a few towings, two or three Euro-garages, and lots of rapid loud words coming from my wife at the time. By then, I knew I had made an enormous mistake.

Yet, it drove like a dream. It hugged the corners like a motorcycle. The gas millage was wonderful, too. That four-banger could get to 60mph in about 9 seconds. It drove beautifully…for very short periods of time. Holding your breath at an intersection, while praying the engine would stay in idle, is never a peaceful ride. I held on to that TR 7 for about a year.

When I was conceived, God left out mechanics in my cellular makeup. I couldn’t work on my TR 7, nor could a majority of professional mechanics in my area. When I found one who could, some 70 minutes away from my house, he explained the issue with my TR 7. It had two carburetors, not just one. (I’ll pretend you know nothing.) A carburetor is in charge of meshing air flow and fuel together before sending the fuel/air to the pistons. Apparently, the two carburetors had to be in perfect sync with each other to perform their duty. In the case of my TR 7, the two carburetors squabbled like a set of twins on a bad double date. My TR 7 carburetors were way too sensitive during their duet of air/fuel volumes. It was a never-ending battle. My mechanic offered to put a new engine in it. (Ching-Ching) As it turns out, my TR 7 wasn’t racing mustard yellow, it had shades of lemon.

Thanks, TR 7, for teaching me a life-long lesson. Never get caught up in the beauty of something which is sour on the inside. Solomon could’ve taught me that, but I wasn’t reading the Bible deeply enough in those times.

2020 has been an awful year for most of us. I won’t spell out a list, I’m sure you have your own. But, yes, it’s been a lemon of a year in about a dozen ways. One has to wonder how to approach the American Thanksgiving on a good, grateful foot. In fact, because of COVID-19, many of us won’t have the traditional Thanksgiving plans with family and friends. If you do, you feel like you should go wrapped in cellophane with a little tube for eating.

It’s funny how the mind and heart work off each other. Scripture indicates they should sync well together. The spirit and the soul shape and move one another. Like my TR 7, if we jam too much of the world into our eyes and ears, without balancing, even filtering it all out with what the Author Of Peace plans for us, we will slow to a shutdown. How about too much news intake? How about sheltering with holy scriptures while living in a cave like a monk, unaware of how our world is doing down in the valley? I had a well intentioned, good hearted pastor once, who did just that. He shut himself off, cocooned himself in his office so much, surrounding himself with biblical commentaries, that he didn’t notice the hurting people in need who rang the church office doorbell. In fact, come Sunday, this man was almost oblivious to the outside world his parishioners contended with on a day-to-day basis. It didn’t take too many years until his personal ministry dwindled at the intersection of life. Soon after, the church closed its doors. The mix of “teach and reach” was out of sync.

Only you know the mix you inject into your system. Would our outlook be better if we evaluated our blend of “grace and truth”? What about the mixing balance of “strength and wisdom”, “awareness and contentment”, “courage and compassion”? Might our corner of the world light up if a synced mix of “prayer and action” were pumped into our cylinders? I can see where our traction on slippery curves might have a more reliable grip.

For Thanksgiving 2020, I will do my part in taking in a better balance of the stuff of life. We all need the richness of the mix which feeds our spirits, as well as, our souls. If not, we can grind to a lifelessness. Simple things like, a healthy intake of bad news and good news will keep those pistons pumping. In the end, we can find gratitude during tough, hard, and harsh times when our back tires hit the streets.

Come to think of it, maybe my twin carburetors were not the most important accessory. Maybe, just maybe, it was that little mirror on the backside of my sun visor.

As for my beautiful TR 7, another co-worker bought it from me. She had a brother who wanted to put a Volkswagen engine under the hood. From what I can recall, it worked out well.

Today, the auto experts say the old TR 7 is considered one of the worst sports cars ever made. It had problems.

When driving toward eternity, it’s always best to inject the carburetors with fuel for the race.

“And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” – Deuteronomy 6:5 (KJV)

Table Or Booth?

“…We’ll get a table near the street
In our old familiar place
You and I, face to face.”
(1977) “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” Composer and Recorded By: Billy Joel

When Tabitha, my oldest daughter, landed her very first job, it was at a Perkins Restaurant in Williamsville, New York. All of 16, she was ready to make some part-time cash. I was so proud of her. Holding menus each night in her arms, her first words were, “How many in your party? Table or booth?”

If life’s decisions were just that simple, wouldn’t that be nice?

Table or booth for you? Which way do you go? Better yet, what’s more interesting might be why you choose a table or booth.

From the time I was a toddler, I always preferred a booth. It never changed. One of my favorite places in Dallas, Texas was an Italian eatery called, “Caruso’s”. It was a cozy little place, filled with candlelight. Although it closed down long ago, it was well known for their singing waiters. I auditioned there myself back in those times. Caruso’s was a great place for a day job for opera performers and club singers. There was another thing I loved about the place, their booths with privacy doors. Not every booth was equipped with the saloon-style swinging doors, some were simple stall-style doors, but I always asked for it. My dates considered them wow factors. And if someone wanted to pop the question at Caruso’s over a plate of Chicken Alfredo with a glass of Blue Nun, the booth doors were the romantic choice.

For me, the booth was indeed more private. After all, you had a wall on one side, not another table of onlooker diners. Also, the back of the booth conceals who you are with, what you’re eating, and how you hold your fork and knife. As early as I can remember, I loved sitting next to the wall with another person sitting next to me by the isle. What’s worse, sitting on the stool at the counter. Thinking back, I know why I leaned this way.

One of my favorite diners, Rainbow Cafe, Carrollton, Texas.

If I count the first nine months prior to birth, I spent almost three years experiencing evil. My early days were laced with hearing, seeing, and feeling emotional, verbal, and physical abuse. My teenage father was a rapist, an adulterer, and a violent, mentally ill raging alcoholic. The violence not only targeted my mom, but also toward me in my infancy. His parents warned my mom’s parents that he might try to end my life in the crib. I could tell you much more, but I will leave it at that. By the time the divorce was finalized, I was a three year old, living with my mom’s parents in a peaceful, sheltering home. They always were a haven for this lad.

My beloved grandparents in the 1980’s, Martin and Opal Atherton.

So, whenever we went out for a meal, I felt so secure next to my mom, or my granddad with a wall next to me. My guess is, violence must have erupted a lot around the dinner table in our home. It’s funny how even to this day, deep inside, I want to be next to the wall in a booth.

So, yes, “A booth for two, please.”

My middle daughter’s old band, Dirty Smile.

Earlier in the autumn, September/October, the Jewish community celebrates, “Sukkot”, commonly called, “The Feast of (Huts) Booths”. It is also entitled, “The Feast of Tabernacles”. The festival commemorates the days of protection God gave the Jews in the desert after the historical escape from Egyptian slavery. You might say it’s a bit like a Thanksgiving holiday. It was God’s idea. You can find more about it in Leviticus 23, and a few other passages. One might see it today as camping out. They were to set aside a week to live in small makeshift, temporary three-sided shelters where the family lived, ate, and slept guarded from the brutal desert sun, cold nights, and scorching winds. In modern times, depending on what’s available, many build them in backyards, or apartment patios, or balconies, out of plywood, and/or lattice work, vine branches and/or palm leaves. It became known as a time when God sheltered intimately with the family, as He would “Tabernacle, or hut with them”.

It seems to me, after a long scathing, often times brutal election year, I need God to hut with me. I want to be soothed in my booth, with my body touching the wall while the Ancient Of Days, the One Who is always at the helm, sits next to me. On the other side is the isle of tabled onlookers. Until I’ve left this place to sit at His table, it’s what I need.

So let me say again, “Booth for two, please.”

When searching for a strong, and very permanent shelter, fill-up with fuel for the race.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with me.” – Revelation 3:20 (World English Bible)

Why? Here’s Why…

Upon exiting the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was approached by a group of citizens asking what sort of government the delegates had created. His answer was: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

My precious niece, Rachael.

Rachael is a 7 year old doll of a little girl, who also happens to be my niece. We are the best of pals. She is always so kind, along with an all-round simple precious disposition. Her eyes have window dressing laced in wonderment. A few days ago, her parents came home from early voting in the small town in which they live in east Texas. When she asked where they had been, they briefly explained the voting process. Looking puzzled she told her parents she thought voting was where Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden stood at the front of a room while everybody got a good look at them. Then at some point the voter walks up to their chosen candidate, takes their hand and promptly takes him home with them. Oh, sweet Rachael, if it were just that easy.

For my friends outside the U.S.A., this is election week. The word “week” isn’t a mistake. Because millions have cast their votes via mail-in ballots, many votes will be counted as they arrive in the mail after Election day, November 3rd. The splashdown of the results will be drawn-out, and earth-shattering in many ways.

If you know me well, you must know I do not get into politics on this platform, and I won’t start now. However, many do ask why a person votes for he, or she. In this nation, many do not vote at all because they have the freedom to make that choice. It is sad, but true. This year, I find it serves to say just why I vote.

Let me first spew this out. Many false things, hateful things, have been flung on various candidates and the supporters of candidates. Many truths have come out about various candidates which have come into the light. An election year in the modern world obviously is not for the faint of heart. One such splatter comes in the title of “voter suppression” here and there. Does it exist? Sure, in rare cases, suppressing a voter’s right to vote happens, and has happened. Thank God it’s rare, and not widespread. There are terrific checks and balances by election officials to keep this fraud from American citizens. Yet, some make excuses to cause fear and panic. Recently I heard it said, of selective communities, where voter suppression was evident because of lengthy lines at the voting booths. That’s horse slobber! Most voting lines in hotly contested elections are lengthy. When you stand in line at the post office with a package to be mailed two weeks before Christmas, do you call that, “Christmas Suppression”? When you stand in line at Six Flags, or Disneyland for two hours to ride a two minute roller coaster, do you call it, “Rider Suppression”? When you stand in a lengthy line at the DMV or DPS, do you call it, “Driver’s Licences Suppression”? Better yet, While spending the night in a long line to purchase tickets to the next Rolling Stones concert, do you call that, “Stones Suppression”? Sometimes in a heated election year, the whiners squeal like toddlers after a pacifier. It appears there is a suppression of peace and emotional stability.

The fact remains, mail-in ballots, whether we prefer them or not, have forged a noticeable impact this year. Why? They say it’s the fear of COVID-19. Then, there were many days available for early voting at the physical polls. Most of us found an off-hour and day to stand in a shorter line, or sometimes, walk in and out over a 10-15 minute stay. In this country, voting has been made easier than ever before.

So why do I vote?

When I think back to the days, after the Desert Storm War, of the videos of Iraqis standing in huge lines at voting locations, after years of oppression in that country, over threat of suicide bombs, drive-by shooters, and mob violence, I find voting a privilege and sacred honor.

When I think of my granddad standing in a long line to enlist during WWII, leaving his three babies and wife to help to crush the threat against liberty, I find voting lines a welcome sight.

When I think of the oppressed pilgrims who risked their lives fleeing monarchs who made themselves the heads of the church, forcing worshipers to worship as dictated by a king or queen, I find the voting booth a blessed place.

When I think of our forefathers who toiled and fought, were severely injured and died in a war so that slavery might be banished from this nation, I want to run to get in a voting line.

When I think of the father of a friend of mine who fled the poverty and tyrannical oppression in Venezuela, I gladly put on my standing-in-line shoes.

When I think of some of the families of some of my closest friends who crossed the Atlantic due to ethnic cleansing of the Jewish community, I see the voting booth as a horn of an ancient alter, giving legal sanctuary.

When looking at the lootings, the rioters, the mob violence in our streets, where cops stand to shield innocent citizens, the voting booth looks like a place of peace and protection.

When I hear the shallowness of not voting for someone because they don’t like his walk, her make-up, his accent, her hair, without mentioning policies or service records which may, or may not change, or damage our lives, I see the voting lines worthwhile.

When I see flag-draped caskets of the long-forgotten remains of our MIA’s and POW’s from the 1950’s Korean War being unloaded on a tarmac, I know I can, and always will stand in any lengthy line to exercise my God-given right to vote. Those men, and other heroes like them, counted on it.

Photo by Sharefaith on Pexels.com

Yes, our sweet Rachael, you are pretty close to what voting is all about. We DO own our vote. We, in essence, take our candidate home with us in our hearts and prayers. And when events occur where good, or bad decisions are made in Washington, we can say, “I own that decision”.

But most of all, dear Rachael, I vote for your future. I vote for your blessing from God to have the liberty handed down to you, so that long after I am gone, you can vote freely for the next leader of your choice. Mr. Franklin was right. It takes effort, strain, and even pain to keep it.

Whether or not your candidate holds office in this election cycle, knowing how God Himself made a way for this unique gift to be placed in your lap, it is worth it all.

The question remains…”If you can keep it”. The answer is written well in fuel for the race.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” – 2 Corinthians 3:17

 

My Scary Experience

“…He did the mash, it caught on in a flash.
He did the mash, he did the monster mash.”
(1962) “Monster Mash” Composers: Bobby Pickett and Leonard L. Capizzi

At this time of the year in America, you might experience some not-so-paranormal sights. During the Halloween season you just might turn a corner and see something like this…

Super frightening things can pop up from out of nowhere, like this…

Who knows, you may bump into a pumpkin on any given front porch. Or possibly, the most horrid, beastly thing which may be in your path…a political sign.

However, my personal spooky occurrence didn’t happen on a nearby neighborhood street, or a fund raising haunted house, or even a pumpkin patch with a maze. My personal ghastly experience appeared in my own living room a few days ago. Keep reading…if you dare.

It happened earlier this month of October, on a misty autumn evening. We had a family gathering, a reunion of sorts, complete with three generations of family in attendance, a potluck meal, three dogs, and eight people total. (Not to be confused with “ate people”.)

There was an abundance of laughter, snacks, and attempts at social distancing. After dinner, as expected, some games were unpacked and played around the dining table. Before you knew it, someone mentioned the game of charades. The partying group of eight formed a circle in our living room with cards suggesting characters and items to be acted out. It was tough when attempting to guess an apple bobbing in water, or a steam engine train, or Cleopatra. Then a family member read his card, got up on his feet and began to portray a raging, violent lunatic of an individual. This was acted out very well. There was rage plastered on his face with nostrils widening with gnashing teeth, looking down toward the floor while violently throwing invisible items toward invisible characters at his feet. Then ending with the clue of his arms folded and an evil grin of satisfaction on his face. Everyone was shouting out their ideas, “A criminal”, “A rioter”, “An angry sibling trashing his brother”, etc. Then suddenly, to my surprise, someone shouted out…”It’s GOD!” The presenter relaxed his disposition as he let go of the character, admitting that God was the right answer. To be perfectly honest, God was the most distant idea in my mind…but not for some in the room. If someone had shouted, “Zeus”, that would’ve been more of an accurate depiction. For me, it was frightening knowing there were those in the family viewing God in such a way.

You might think me too serious of a so-in-so with my thoughts of the clues given. And, frankly, maybe I should’ve lightened up. But, the One I know in my heart, the One dear to me since my childhood, can not be accurately characterized in such a way. Can one read scripture, especially in the Old Testament, and find God brutal, violent, and scathing? Yes, without a doubt. There have been times when God judged a people, a nation, in fact the entire world in Noah’s time. In context, it is easy to find His actions justified. Here’s a couple of examples: There was a people who offered their living newborn babies as a burnt offering to satisfy their false god. They didn’t have this practice for very long because they were removed from history. You will find entire nations wiped out by God’s hand who assaulted Israel, the people of His promise. Early in human history, you will find two incredibly vile evil cities “nuked” (for a better word) by a duo of angels sent by God. Sure, those actions were accomplished by the Almighty. Yet, what most readers miss is the fact that in each instance, God gave opportunities to stand down, to repent, to live by the truth of His righteousness for blessing instead of curses. Each of His actions teach those left behind. And we still remember. So much so, we make movies about these events.

It is interesting to note that most of God’s enemies knew about Him, knew His works, knew His deeds. At the same time, it’s one thing to know about God, even recognize His existence and authority, and yet another thing to KNOW Him. We may know ABOUT Queen Elizabeth, her likes, dislikes, her family, her homes, her deeds, but we may not KNOW her.

Four hundred years after the Old Testament events were history, Jesus was born. In that miraculous act, divine love, a love that cannot be imitated, was displayed. He came in spirit and in truth. Jesus, in all of His loving kindness, generosity, and unconditional love, told us that if we see Him, we also see the Father. In our finite minds it is hard to wrap our arms around the fact that Jesus, and the Heavenly Father, are One. It is the truth of the scriptures. If I go further on this subject I will write a book here.

Photo: Art.com (Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam”)

Unlike the character portrayed by a family member, God always reaches out in love, not willing to destroy or harm. In fact, the opposite is the case. He sent Himself, in the form of Jesus, to be scourged, beaten, humiliated, and crucified in our place for sin sake. Grace with forgiveness is freely offered by the One who is not willing we all perish…not one.

It’s the reason why you don’t see God as a Halloween character for the front lawn.

True fact-checking is available in fuel for the race.

“…but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. – Jeremiah 9:24 (NAS)

Fact Checkers

“You can’t hide your lyin’ eyes
And your smile is a thin disguise
I thought by now you’d realize
There ain’t no way to hide your lyin’ eyes”
(1975) “Lyin’ Eyes” Recorded by: Eagles Composers: Don Henley & Glenn Frey

POLITICS! Don’t you hate it? Who can you trust? My advice? Research the records and achievements yourself, not by the words spewed like a fire hydrant in the midst of a political campaign.

Actually, some thrive on politics as if it were a favorite summer salad, favorite sports team, or favorite holiday. Not me. And yet, I have friends in politics who have run for office. Better them than me.

Currently, in the USA, we are all swimming the the sewage of heated political races, soon to wrap up in November. At the same time, we also know, in our hearts, the political games, lies, and rhetoric will not stop. When a news hound, one must learn to switch to a comedy when the time is right for sanity sake. Trump, Biden, or Mel Brooks?

One semi-new player in the political arena, which has strengthened in time with technology, are the fact checkers. It seems lying politicians can’t get-away with much anymore, or so it seems. It can get soupy at times in a candidate’s journey.

Mr. X: I’ve never raised taxes on the public in all of my political career (some may say ‘service).

News Anchor: Uh, excuse me, Mr. X, but our fact checkers just reported that you did raise taxes back in 1921. Would you like to rephrase your last statement?

Mr. X: In retrospect, I believe I must have been hacked.

Right at our fingertips, we can check a statement made to discover if it is indeed a statement is factual or not. After all, the fine folks at Wikipedia are omniscient, and without flaws. Right? Let’s not leave out the fact checkers under the roof of the giant tech companies, Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc. In the end, if a subject matter is not black and white, but rather grey and foggy, the 24 year old employee, who may or may not have an agenda, at one of the big tech companies must choose what to report, and often in asap time.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Let’s say one employee personally leans left. That one might take the opportunity to report their research fact checking as a slant for a liberal taste. If the high tech company employee gets the same foggy bottom-line in the research, that one may slant the answer to the right to fit a conservative narrative. We know this is true because these people, sitting in front of a computer screen, are humans, humans with flaws, beliefs, and sin. This is where bias in media sharpen the fangs. It breeds deflections, misdirection, and (Should I dare type it?)….LIES. And THAT is where “fact checkers” resemble more of the play on words, crisscrossing the checker board, hopping over pieces of truths to get to a landing square in order to remove the enemy on the other side. Who can you trust?

Photo by Roman Kaiuk on Pexels.com

Then, of course, there is the lie by omission…as in, not answering a question to avoid lying, or revealing truth. That’s the horse of a dark color hitched to the wagon of downfall.

No wonder a growing number of citizens in the world today hold very little trust in politicians and their games. Maybe it reminds the voters a bit too much of when their lives were trashed, shredded, or destroyed due to a lying tongue.

Face it, in your past, hasn’t their been a time(s) when a lie(s) targeted your integrity, your value in the eyes of others, or love and family? Many have lost jobs, or entire careers because of the lack of truth-telling. The divorce rate continues to grow, and most of those unions were ripped apart thanks to dishonesty. There’s a reason why the court clerk uses the words, “…the whole truth and nothing but the truth” when swearing-in a witness. It means something. Lies will sink ships, destroy nations, cause the world to be set ablaze. The “lie” is birthed out of the selfish premise that if one is destroyed, the liar will profit. There is freedom, liberty in spades if deceit is absent.

“…You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” – Jesus (John 8:32)

So, if the nearest political campaign seems a bit like a stoning, this may be the root of it.

Before you change the news to a mindless comedy, which I dearly love, consider the One Who said it is impossible for Him to lie. (Hebrews 6:18)

No matter your education, no matter your upbringing, no matter the religion you follow, in the end of all things, which will burn away, the Author of Truth will be standing, waiting for you. Ethics, wealth, mature/immature choices, and in fact some of these will be shown to have been falsities held to, will all fail you in the end. Leaning on deceit, dollars, and divination will deliver nothing when your account comes due. None will give a profit in the scope of eternal existence. He is the ultimate Fact Checker of our personal standing.

So, is honesty really the best policy? (Outside of Washington DC.)

For sure…To be honest…The truth is, vote for fuel for the race.

“And I saw Heaven opened and behold, a white horse, and he who sat upon it is called Trustworthy And True, and in righteousness he judges and he makes war.” – Revelation 19:11 (Aramaic Bible Into English)

Remember Who You Belong To

“Where you lead, I will follow
Anywhere that you tell me to
If you need, you need me to be with you
I will follow where you lead”
(1970) “Where You Lead” Recorded hit for: Barbra Streisand Composers: Carole King and Toni Stern

—-

“His message was very different. ‘You boys, don’t bring home somethin’ home ya can’t keep.'”

The cover photo above the title is a painting from my study/studio wall, just above my desk. It was painted by an in-law many years ago. It’s very dear to me. Here is my attempt to explain why.

Early July of 1967, I believe it to be, my mom, and my seven year old self, drove across the north Dallas suburbs to a house of an old family friend. My granddad and the husband/father of the home had been best friends for decades. The purpose for our visit was clear.

From the day I was born, I always had a dog. We were animal lovers, especially in the canine arena, and had been without a dog for a couple of years. Through word of mouth our old friends felt impressed to pick up the phone and dial our number. Their female mix recently had a litter of pups. Apparently, she had a secret rendezvous in the backyard with a rather handsome neighborhood escapee who was searching for love in all the wrong places. They told us there were “9” of these little babies, about six weeks old, and asked if we wanted to come over for a free selection. No doubt my mom responded with, “WOULD WE EVER? WE’LL BE RIGHT THERE!” Of course, she had to talk my then stepdad into the acceptance camp first. (He wasn’t thrilled.)

After we arrived, we stepped out onto their back porch. We were met by an onslaught of highly energized pups, jumping, yipping, and peeing. It was a dog zoo. Honestly, they were climbing up on my tennis shoes doing all they could to get our attention. We held, we petted, we were slobbered on. After I had counted the gang, I realized there were only “8” bombarding us. We inquired. Someone pointed out the runt who was always left out of the constant reindeer games. I looked around the yard when suddenly, there in the corner of the backyard, all by himself, looking rather shy and sad, the runt of the litter. Now, at this point all the advice I can offer is that you must just trust me on the following. I…fell…in…love…that…very…instant.

He was medium chocolate brown, with white paws and a white patch on his chest. His ears were partially floppy halfway up, and looked up at me with a pair of blue eyes. (Later the blue eyes turned to a beautiful copper color.) Without hesitation, I told my mom this was the one. She pointed out the fact that he was smaller, quiet, and didn’t want to play with his siblings, nor did he look like any of his siblings or mother. In other words, he was a loaner, a reject from his own family. My heart just bled for this little one.

The deal was sealed. We took him home in a shoe box. It was roomy for him because he could sit in the palm of an adult’s hand. I spoke with him all the way home doing all I could to make him feel comforted and settled. He never uttered a sound. He looked down most of the way back home, but from time to time he would hit me with those baby blues.

My mom has the mind of a persuader. She could’ve run for office. She made it clear we would let my stepdad name the puppy, thinking that would aid in starting a relationship as a dog owner. (With that said, my advice is to never manipulate your spouse. It can be habitual and marriage-ending.) She eased the little pup into my stepdad’s space. It didn’t take him long to find affection for the four-legged pal. He named him, Tickey, after a childhood farm dog from his past, who apparently had trouble with ticks.

Tickey at 11 months old, 1968.

As he grew, we could see signs of a dachshund mix, with his long body, lengthy snout, and short legs. We also saw a bit of what we thought might be Corgi with the long donkey-ears and the Corgi trait of the turned-out ankle of one front paw. His chocolate brown nose blended right in with the hair on his snout. However, his tail was like a Brontosaurus tail, long and dangerous when wagged. He was a funny looking creature, but he was mine.

We were best buddies. We ate, slept, and when mom wasn’t looking, bathed together. He was smart as the day is long. He could also perform magic with his powerful snout. While sitting in a chair, with a glass or coffee cup in hand, he would rear-up, place his nose under the elbow and push upward with a hard jerk. Any beverage would then levitate…for a second or two. Then my mom would perform magic by making Tickey disappear from the room.

Unfortunately, Tickey would chew on my GI Joes, Creepy Crawler bugs, and little plastic army men to the point of disfigurement. So, being a lad of imagination, I pretended he was a dinosaur set loose in the city where the military had to engage. Of course, he agreed to that.

At that time we lived in a house directly across the street from the school I attended. After the school bell at the end of the day, I ran as fast as I could to reunite with my pal.

During those days, both my mom and stepdad had daytime jobs. Through most of my first and second grade years, I came home to an empty house. For awhile I entered the house through the garage using a key to the garage door. Because Tickey proved himself to be a great digger, it was foreseeable he might use his skills to crawl under the backyard fence for greener pastures, we decided to place him in the garage until I came home from school. This became a huge struggle.

Tickey absolutely had the adventurous heart of Marco Polo. My little dog wanted to sniff the world, not to mention we never had him fixed. He was a runner. Any opportunity, he was off to the races like a lightning bolt. I never understood how short legs could run so fast. I mean, you never could open the front door without first seeing where he was. If he saw you walking to the door, he would stalk quietly behind you like a ninja in a Chuck Norris film, just gazing at the first crack of the opening. So as my seven year old arms strained to lift the garage door each day, I had to also play shortstop as I had to nab Tickey shooting out of the garage. Too many times I would try to chase him down in tears, afraid he would get hit by a car. Frantically, I would yell at him, “Tickey, come here, boy! Follow me home. It’s easy, just follow me. It’s safe back at the house. Please, come home! That’s where you belong!” He was way too fast. If only he would’ve taken the initiative to follow me when I called, he would’ve been a lot safer. It didn’t take me long to find out I needed to bribe him with packets of dog food. Only then would he obey. Let me tell you, that got real old, real fast.

In that same year, we were to go out of town for an outdoor family reunion in west Texas. There was no way Tickey could go. After carefully sealing the base of the backyard chain-link fence with bricks, and logs, my stepdad thought it safe to leave Tickey in the backyard for the weekend. A neighbor was to come over each day to give him food and water. The gates were never locked.

It was Sunday night when we arrived back home from the weekend trip. It was dark, and I had just awakened from the backseat of the car, ready for bed. I remember my mom seeing some stains on the dark front porch, wondering what it was and how it got there. In my daze, I didn’t care and went straight to bed. There, on the front door, was a hand written note. What we didn’t know was, Tickey had slipped through a space between the fence post and the gate post for a weekend adventure like no other. That little sneak.

As it turned out, Tickey had his vacation day running around the neighborhood, checking out the sights, sounds, and smells. No doubt he did his part to populate after his own kind while out cruisin’ around, like father like son. Later we heard he outran anyone who tried to catch him. In the driveway of a house a few blocks away, was a tire of a parked car that just must be sniffed. While sniffing the edge of the tire, the car owner got in his car, put it in reverse to leave. As he began to drive out of his parking spot, he heard a dog crying out in pain. The man jumped out to find Tickey rubbing his noes with his paws. Apparently, he ran over the tip of his nose as he had his nose stuck under the tire when he put it in reverse. Right away the man tried to console Tickey. He made the attempt to pick him up to get a better look at the notable nostril nip. However, in classic Tickey-style, like a flash he jolted down the street like a racehorse in Kentucky just as fast as his little legs would carry him. Being a dog lover, the man hopped in the car and followed him all the way to our front porch. Tickey was hurt, bleeding, and frightened. He found him cowering in the corner, right by the front door while crying and bleeding all over the porch. When finding no one was home, he wrote a note asking if we had a small brown puppy with a chain collar. He left his phone number. Tickey was so traumatized and tired, he allowed the man to pick him up and he took him home.

We had a wonderful reunion. No serious damage was done to his nose. We all learned a great lesson from the event, especially Tickey. He got schooled in keeping the nose from where it doesn’t belong. He became more of a homebody afterwards.

Growing up together. The two of us in 1969.

Often in my teen years, just before heading out the door, my mom would say, “Remember Who you belong to”. More than a few times I would look down at Tickey and reply, “You mean, like Tickey?” At one of my best friend’s house, before going out on the town, his gruff dad would deliver his redneck crass wisdom. His message was very different. “You boys, don’t bring somethin’ home ya can’t keep.” The two of us would chuckle as we walked out the door. He meant well, deep down. We knew what he was telling us in code, as his wife replied in disgust, “Leroy, don’t say that!” Two very different directives in two very different households. One message was, to take stalk in all that you do when integrity is at stake, knowing God Himself sees all things. And remember who you follow. The other directive was, what ever you do tonight, sow the wild oats, but don’t bring me trouble because of it. At least that’s the PG version of Leroy’s meaning.

Getting white around the nose. Teen years, 1978.

Full disclosure here. There were many times I did NOT remember Who I belonged to. There were times, being away from home, away from my mom’s teachings, I forgot HOW I needed to come home, and in the same shape I left her front door. Then again, there were moments, and they usually are “moments”, when I made real-time decisions to stop before crossing a dangerous, or unethical line that was before me. Maybe in those moments, I mentally heard my mom’s voice, or maybe the inner voice of God’s Spirit saying “Here, and no further.” If only I could’ve recalled that late Sunday night when blood stains appeared on our front porch, my course might have hit the wiser trek more often. Ironically, my mom’s phrase would be used by me each time my three daughters left the house for a night out. How does that happen?

As for Tickey, he was with me throughout my childhood and teen years. We went through so much together. He stayed healthy, along with some white which grew along his long snout in later years. He was there at my wedding rehearsal dinner in 1981…really.

Our last snapshot together, 1982.

On August 7th, 1982, he was to say goodbye to us. I had been married for over a year, living across town from my mom and Tickey, but visiting often. Old age had taken its toll. That week he showed signs of a mini-stroke. This particular morning, he was taking a dive. Knowing he would probably not survive the day, my mom brought him to my place, on her way to her job, so we could spend some final hours. It was just the two of us all day. He was slowly going down throughout the day. I stretched out on the floor next to him, petting him, scratching his belly like old times. I leaned over speaking softly about our childhood days and his misadventure with the tire. There was a video of him humorously hopping through snow like a bunny in 1977. I showed it to him. I thanked him for his years of loyalty, laughs, and love. Most of all, I thanked him for making my childhood special. I made him as comfortable as I could, although he wasn’t showing signs of pain. Mid afternoon I called my mom to let her know he was slipping away. She came over immediately. Just like that summer day in 1967, it was just the three of us together as we both did all we could to keep him from seeing us shedding tears. He drifted away that afternoon quietly at 15 years of age.

God taught me so much through the gift of Tickey. Lessons of love, belonging, grace, care, and how to remember to turn the heart toward home in darker days.

I am 60 years old now and still miss my runt buddy. Yet my memory is blessed as I recall how he found love and value at our house, enough to remember who he belonged to.

The road map to belonging is printed inside fuel for the race.

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.  But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” – Genesis 3:8-10 (ESV)

Chronologically Gifted

“…But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m gettin’ older, too….”
(1975) “Landslide” Recorded by: Fleetwood Mac  Composer: Stevie Nicks

Way before I was chronologically gifted, at 15 years old, Fleetwood Mac came out with the song “Landslide”. Being swept off my feet then, I find myself still mesmerized by it. In fact, about seven years ago, while on what we all thought was my deathbed, my rock star daughter flew in from New York to be by my side.

Feb 2013 while still in a coma.

There in ICU, I indicated (I couldn’t speak with all the tubes down my throat.) I wanted her to sing the Fleetwood Mac song while holding my hand. She did. Nurses and doctors stopped out in the hallway, gathered at the door of my ICU room. I cried, she cried, they cried. You could’ve heard a pin drop. Afterwards, I asked her to sing it for my memorial service. Although I came back to life, after six weeks in the hospital, my request still remains.

My friend Ann from the blog entitled, “Muddling Through My Middle Age”, often speaks so well about getting older, complete with everyday events in her life, humor, while all laced in wisdom. I’m not sure I can do so well about this topic.

While doing so, allow me to age six decades right in front of your eyes.

Recently, a friend on social media asked what was the first television image you remember in childhood. Quickly I realized I was a tad older than her readers when answers tended to be, “The space shuttle explosion”, “When JR got shot on Dallas”, or “The Bill Clinton impeachment hearing.” Mine was easy. My first TV recollection (Black & white) was watching King Kong climb the Empire State Building when suddenly the old movie from the 1930’s was interrupted by Pres. Kennedy’s funeral march. It stuck out to me visually because there was a horse hitched to a wagon, with a coffin on the bed, wrapped in the American flag. No doubt, a sight very different from the norm. I was three years old.

 

1963 – My first dog, Tippy. (How about that haircut?)

I don’t say “chronologically challenged”, but rather I am “chronologically gifted”, so to speak. Have there been challenges in my winding road of life thus far? Sure, way too many. But I wish to lean into what has been good in my life, along with what taught me. Although I must remind myself to do so. Follow me on this. Perhaps you can identify with me.

You may be chronologically gifted if you recall the sound of the old rotary dial telephone.

You may be chronologically gifted if you rode a stingray bike with a banana seat.

You may be chronologically gifted if you ate candy cigarettes.

You may be chronologically gifted if you remember the theme song to the old television show, “Family Affair” with Buffy and Jody.

See what I mean? If none of the above makes sense, it could be you are not yet chronologically gifted.

They are all just little delights from an era gone by.

Thank you, Kodak for the film for special cherished moments in life. I bumped into rock legend, Roger Daltrey of The Who in north Dallas. He was cheery and didn’t mind me taking a picture. It was 1975, right after a run of the cinematic version of the rock opera, “Tommy”, as well as a new solo album, “Ride A Rock Horse”. Although 16 years my senior, he looked very…youthful at 31.

1975 – Roger Daltrey at Valley View Mall, Dallas.

Another gift to recall, how it feels to hold your first born.

Nov 1987. My Tabitha.

It’s a gift to recall holding HER firstborn, my first grandchild, 27 years later.

June 2014. Holding my Skylar. (I was looking really gaunt. I was still in recovery and physical therapy.)

You’re pretty gifted if you have fond memories of your first full-time job.

1978 on my first full-time job. (I can laugh at the tie now.)

You can be gifted if you can look back on loves, life, and lacerations and still smile.

1976ish in overalls

You might be chronologically gifted if you are close to wrapping up mortgage payments.

2003, first Christmas in my newly purchased home at 43 years old. (Better late than never.)

You can be gifted even if you were known for playing elderly characters, and now you save money on the old-age stage make-up.

Dec 2002 playing an older role in a Broadway-style musical.

My old stage make-up bag is not that heavy anymore. It’s okay. Counting the worry lines isn’t what I do anymore.

2020 Facebook profile pic.

There was a time, a few years back, while at the check-out counter in the grocery store, the attendant bagged-up four plastic grocery bags worth of essentials for me. Then the young lady at the scanner looked at me a couple of times and asked, “Sir, would you like help getting these bags out to your car?” Bless her little pointed head. There was a second or two of collecting my cobwebbed gray matter and replied, “Awe, no thanks. I think I can handle it.” I grumbled to myself like an old man all the way to the car.

But then, there are terrific gifts that come along when chronologically gifted. Like the very first time I approached the cinema box office window at a time I found it unnecessary to “act” like a senior citizen.

Thank you, Cinemark! It helps when the box office attendant is all of 19 years old..

Of course, the unwanted gift of being a chronological surfer are the funerals added to the schedule. Too many come my way. Friends, family, and familiar ones on your street gone before me. A childhood pal, one of my very best friends, just spent his last day of suffering with ALS. His battle was only two years in length. That’s nothing but God’s grace and mercy..

Because I am a person of faith, a Jesus follower, getting older can be seen as a gift. I am just that much closer to entering His eternal promises than when I watched JFK’s funeral procession. He said He came to offer a life that was more abundant than what it would’ve been like without His provisions, His nurtures, His guiding hand. I have noticed His road signs. Too often, I ignored them, leading me down darker rocky roads. Signs like…

Photo by Ivan Bertolazzi on Pexels.com

When you find yourself chronologically gifted, maybe a landslide in life will be more survivable. And when you find you are indeed chronologically gifted, and you look back and see your younger reflection in the snowy hills just before a landslide brings it down, there’s the Almighty’s Voice within stating the truth, “See, I brought you through that one, and that one, and this one.”

The finish line has promise when the tank is topped with fuel for the race.

” I will be the same until your old age, and I will bear you up when you turn gray. I have made you, and I will carry you; I will bear and save you.” Isaiah 46:4 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

It’s Greek To Me

“In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade, and he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down, or cut him, ’till he cried out in his anger and his shame, ‘I am leaving, I am leaving, I am leaving’, but the fighter still remains.” (1969) “The Boxer” Recorded by: Simon & Garfunkel Composed by: Paul Simon

No worries if you are not a fan of the martial arts. This memory, I hold dear to my heart, is really not about the martial arts, per se, but rather about the essence of the spirit of an individual.

The cover photo above the title is a promotional shot of an old friend, Demetrius “Greek” Havanas. His friends simply called him, “Greek”. I believe I have written about him before a couple of years ago. Greek was a third degree black belt and kickboxer. He won 90 consecutive tournaments, and in 1971 he racked up 13 grand championships at the age of 21.

Greek at 21 in 1971.

He was ranked in the top ten of American Karate fighters between 1971-1975. He was Texas State Karate champ for 6 years straight, and Louisiana State Champ 4 years straight. In 1975, Greek went full blown full-contact fighting in 1975.

Greek in 1976/1977

He earned the PKA U.S. Welterweight Championship title. Turning his focus as a world contender in full-contact kickboxing. Greek amassed a record of 39 wins, 4 losses, with 24 wins as knockouts. The Star System ranked Greek #1 in the world in the welterweight division in 1980-1981. His garage was packed with trophies, wall-to-wall. In fact, he sold some to collectors when money ran short to pay for airfare when fighting in other countries.

Greek in 1975ish

Prior to moving to the Dallas, Texas area, I had spent three years in Sherman, Texas, about an hour north on Dallas. In those days, 7th grade was the first year of what they once called, Jr. High School. I entered Dillingham Jr. High School where they were still working out the issues of integration. Many African American kids and white kids mixed for the very first time, and it didn’t always go so well. This was 1972/1973, when race riots still popped up in the streets, gyms, and little league baseball fields. 7th grade was hard for me. I saw the ugly side of racial distrust and rage as civil rights issues were still fresh. There was gang warfare, mob brutality, and ambush violence in my school. I received the bitter end many times. There was so much a young guy shouldn’t have seen and heard.

During that same year, a church friend of mine taught me some basics in the art form of Japanese Aikido. Meanwhile, my army vet uncle, and former Golden Gloves boxer, did the same for me every so often. Before you could say jump, I became a fairly good street fighter at 12 years old…because I had to.

My single mom and I moved to the Dallas area the following summer (1973). Trust me, it was a much needed move. Although the north Dallas suburb we moved to was quiet and calm, with very little violence, I was not going to be surprised. I searched for a karate school, but found nothing in our new neighborhood. I talked my mom into letting me take the Korean form, Tae-Kwon-Do at a gym once a week at the campus where she worked, (Texas Instruments). It was free for employees and their families. Even though it was only once a week, I started and was hooked immediately!

Not long after, a top-notch Tae-Kwon-Do school opened up just five blocks from our apartment. BINGO! Great place. My instructor was once a Marine hand-to-hand combat instructor and a world karate champ from the early-mid 1960’s. Once again, I talked her into joining the school. About a year later, the school had to shut down. I was broken-hearted. I was alone with my instructor as he was packing up his belongings in the rented space. He told me of some karate champs he had trained and asked if I was sincere about continuing on with training. After he got my exuberant answer, he introduced me to this young, 5′-5″ stout sweaty guy in a shag haircut. It was Greek. He invited me to his small training center in the downtown Dallas area. Yes, I talked my mom into it. My karate buddy, Steve & I, caught a ride for workouts at Greek’s school. As soon as we walked in, we could see we were entering into the realm of some serious competitive fighters. We were sparing with national & world contenders. You might say we had landed in the cream of the crop in the karate/kickboxing world.

I took this shot of Steve and Greek in 1976.

Through most of my high school years, we ate, slept, and breathed Karate/kickboxing. Chuck Norris would come to visit from time to time as we trained, or fought in tournaments.

Greek and Chuck Norris 1979(?)

Greek was highly respected around the world, and we were grateful to be trained by the very best. I was even more grateful to hear his voice from my corner cheering me on, and giving vocal cues as I fought my opponents in the ring. Being trained by, and placed around talent like that, caused an attitude of never thinking about the possibility of losing bouts. And of course, it was good training for the stuff of life’s struggles.

One summer, when I was 14 or so, I got into a fight while away at summer camp. I lost that one. I was very ashamed. When I was brave enough to tell Greek about it, he said, “You didn’t tell him who trained you, I hope.” Although it was a tongue-in-cheek remark, it was a tad hurtful. But in his own way, he was teaching me something with those words. I had to remember who I was representing with my skills. Greek didn’t train losers. It was understood I was to be an ambassador, a representative of the House Of Greek wherever I went. It was birthed out of the idea of belonging, yet sharing the quality of Greek’s training with those around me who didn’t have a clue. It was a hard lesson. I never forgot it.

During my senior year, I began to be overwhelmed with the music and acting side of my life. For the first time I began to drift a bit from the regular routine of working out at Greek’s place. After graduation in May of 1978, I began to train with him again for about a year.

The only photo of us together. I believe this was in 1976/1977.

Through the years, he became more and more of a friend than a martial arts trainer.

Greek in a surprise shot in 1978.

A phenomenon became apparent as the years wore on. I started to notice how my peers almost mimicked Greek’s style while sparing, or fighting in the ring. When seeing video of some of my fights, I took notice of it about my own style. Noticeable to some, a certain way of blocking punches and kicks, arm positions, stances, weaving and bobbing, etc. I don’t think it was intentional. Greek always taught us to take what we learned and develop our own style. Even today, when I look at his bouts on YouTube, or any of my peer’s fights, I can see it. Following a master closely can do that.

Once again, I broke away from regular training in 1980 as singing, life, love, and thoughts of marriage began to take more of my time.

In late 1980, or early 1981, I was engaged. One night we were seated at one of our favorite eateries in the north Dallas area. Out of the blue, in walks Greek with a few friends. There he was, looking as he always did after a workout, sweaty cut-off t-shirt and Gi pants in much need of a washing. Our eyes connected, he came over to quickly say hello. I introduced him to my bride-to-be. He made a quick joke to her about questioning my gender. I laughed, he laughed, but she was appalled by the colorful language and topic. She wasn’t impressed. Yet, I knew him and his manners, or the lack thereof. He truly was being friendly in his own way. She was a bit of a stuff-shirt from the other side of the tracks from Greek and his crowd. It was awkward, but grateful it happened. God’s timing is always best.

A few months later, on July 23, 1981, Greek, and four friends, were flying in a single engine plane from Dallas to Atlantic City, New Jersey to work the corner of one of his students who was defending his world title. While over the hills of Tennessee, the plane flew into a horrific storm and broke apart in mid-air. There were no survivors. Just like that, Demetrius “Greek” Havanas was gone at 31 years of age. I wept for days, weeks, even years.

His funeral was packed with the highly notables in the world of the martial arts at the time. Chuck Norris was a pallbearer. With tears, I thanked him for making the trip. He didn’t hide the pain in his eyes. The chapel at the funeral home couldn’t hold the crowd, as many stood in the lobby and outside. A half brother of Greek’s, who was in the Eric Clapton band, sang Joe Cocker’s, “You Are So Beautiful”. There wasn’t a dry eye among us. A minister friend of mine, who was also in Karate, was chosen to officiate the service. In his sermon, he said something like this:

“If you had the misfortune not to have known Demetrius Havanas, just look around you. Look at all of his students, competitors, and close friends. There, you will find Greek.”

He was right. Following a master closely can do that.

Greek was inducted into the World Tae-Kwon-Do Hall of Fame, American Black Belt Hall of Fame, and the Texas Martial Arts Hall of Fame. All of the martial arts publications ran a tribute to Greek, as well as sports broadcasters of that day. And I still grieve.

I honestly don’t recall much of the sermon my old friend delivered, with that one exception. But I still carry a little bit of Greek with me every day. Most who know me wouldn’t know the difference as Greek meshed with me so long ago in so many ways.

Greek’s headstone. Also, the last picture I took of Greek as he sat on the edge of the ring with his trophy after winning a bout in 1980.

The same is true for a person of the Christian faith. If you are not of Jesus, you will not fully understand what I am about to say.

When the heart of Jesus enters, by Spirit, into the believer’s heart and spirit, a “Little Christ” begins to grow within that follower. In fact, that’s what the word, “Christian” means, “Little Christ”. Of course, sometimes the fleshly side of self doesn’t allow His Spirit to fully inject into the daily free-will of a follower. The result is the disciplines suffer. We are not robots, or programmed computers. Each believer must wear the helmet of salvation, the breastplate righteousness provides, and the spiritual cleats for traction up the steep climb of fault-hood. Each one must choose to suit-up each morning, just like the protective gear we wore in our sport.

A part of my grief remains entrenched in my lack of living-out my regenerated heart in those times. I doubt Greek ever knew I was a Christian in all the years he knew me. I was a young believer with only “lite bread” spiritual training.

I’m a big CS Lewis fan. In his book, “Mere Christianity”, he describes this process in a terrific way of imagery.

(Jesus would state:) “No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here, or a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.” – CS Lewis “Mere Christianity”

Following a master closely can do that. It will always breed fuel for the race.