Plates A-Spinnin’

“You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog,
Cryin’ all the time.
You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog,
Cryin’ all the time.
Well, you ain’t never caught a rabbit,
and you ain’t no friend of mine.”
(1956) “Hound Dog” Recorded By: Elvis Presley Composers: Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller (Originally Recorded By: Big Mama Thorton in 1952.)

What’s not to love about a hound?

Photo by cheptu00e9 cormani on Pexels.com

Well, maybe a little less drool, and a pair of shorts would be nice. But for a country raised kid, who loves raccoon or rabbit hunting, you just can’t get any better than the amazingly instinctive radar nose of a good hound dog.

It happened around 1905, Young County, Texas. William “WR” Brown, my Grandpa Brown (From my dad’s side.) was a hunting lad with a rifle and a couple of excellent hunting hounds. Later in life, he also had champion wolf hunting hounds. If you’ve ever read the book, or saw the movie, “Where The Red Fern Grows”, then you already have the picture of kids living out in the boonies, raising pups for wild game hunting. Dinner on their mother’s table depended on it. (Sorry PETA, that’s how it was…is.) It’s difficult for me to imagine him as a young teenager. This is how I knew my Grandpa Brown during the 60’s and 70’s…

Before I move on, I must explain a bit of what life was like in west Texas in those times. My family was a pioneering clan which aided in establishing the county, about 2.5 driving hours west of Dallas, Texas. I have written about my Grandma Brown’s father who rode a mule from Georgia right after the Civil war settling in Young County, Texas. My Grandpa Brown’s folks moved to the same area not long after. Life was rugged. You lived off the land, or you starved. You carried a firearm wherever you went as the land was not tame on several levels.

A view from our family homestead in Young County, Texas close to the Brazos River.

They lived along the red waters of the Brazos River. In those days, a hunter had to watch his back at all times. They shared the land with bears, wolves, cougars, panthers, rattlesnakes, razorback wild hogs, etc. A boy grew up by his father’s side when roughing it through the brush hunting for the next meal. By the time a kid was 12 years old or so, he went out solo with a rifle strapped to his back. Often it would be an overnight hunt, especially when it came to chasing down raccoons. I remember well my one and only time raccoon hunting overnight with my cousins. Watching the hounds tree a raccoon was like watching a choreographer at work. It was such a learning experience.

At the age of 15, or so, my Grandpa Brown and a friend, gathered their hounds for an overnight raccoon and possum hunt starting along the banks of the Brazos on foot. The night would prove to be frustrating as the critters outsmarted the hounds a few times. The boys were trained to be persistent, never letting the word “quit” come up in their minds. Following the sounds of their barking hounds, they ate-up the clock and the miles deep into the west Texas wilderness. In fact, youth’s enthusiasm drove their steps much further than they had anticipated. To this day, the family still can’t say how far they traveled through the relentless terrain. Some estimate they must have crossed county lines, but no one can be sure.

The miles were unforgiving through the mounting hours. Calling back the hounds in a state of total irritation, the two boys realized they had gone way beyond their intentions while chasing the ever eluding varmints. Exhausted, the boys huddled with the dogs, made a campfire, and nodded on and off in the pre-dawn hours.

Just before sunrise, the two hungry hunters put their heads together to calculate how long it would take to get back to the Brazos. With a quick step, they retraced their journey among the cactus and mesquite trees.

After dawn, they caught the rich aroma of smoked venison floating through the dewy brush. Being so tired and hungry, they let the hounds guide them to the area where the meat was being prepared. Without a traveled road anywhere nearby, they came upon an old one-room shack with prairie hens pecking the ground. They could see the glow of an oil lamp through a window near the front door. Unaware of who lived there, sheer faith and boldness kicked-in as the boys decided to approach in hopes of a bite to eat. Knowing the times of that day, along with the pioneering spirit of new Texans putting down roots, I imagine the place looked something like this…

An actual photo of a home built by one of my relatives sometime in the 1880’s.

The rickety plank door opened as they approached. An old ragged man, holding a rifle, greeted the two teens and their dogs. He asked who they were. As the duo told him their names, along with their failed adventure, the old man sized them up, realizing their obvious circumstance, and generously invited them in. He told them he was just rustling up some breakfast with plenty to spare. Putting my imagination together, I can say he probably looked much like my relatives in that time, like the two gentlemen from family records show…minus the Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes.

An actual photo of two of my Timmons clan from Young County. Unsure of the date of this shot.

The old man invited the hounds to enter as the boys hit a fine wall of cooking eggs and smoked venison. Inside, by the roaring fire, sat his two hunting hounds eagerly waiting for a plate of food. The small cabin was dusty, with a scent of musk competing with the pan on the iron-cast stove.

As the old man directed, the boys took a seat on a wooden bench at a table near the fireplace. As he asked them about where they were from, as well as, information about their folks, he added a few more eggs to a pan after pouring some hot coffee into a tin cup they were to share. It was clear that the old man and his two hounds lived alone with nothing but sage as a neighbor. As the food was about done, the old timer reached up to an opened shelf where he grabbed three tin plates.

The trio had a fine time sharing stories of the country, hunting and fishing spots, and the wildlife. The cabin was warm, the food was hot, and the bellies were filled.

When the plates were emptied, and the conversation began to slow, the teens wiped their hands on their pants, mentioned how terrific the food was, adding how they needed to get back to retracing their original trek. The old man nodded his head stating he sure enjoyed the unexpected company. He admitted, “Ya know, I never see a soul in these parts. Not hide, nor hair.” Just then, the old man picked up the tin plates, and the iron pan off the stove, and placed them on the creaking floor right by the table leg. Stating as a matter of fact, with a slight chuckle, “Come on hounds, have at it! They always lick the pans and plates.” As if waiting for a cue, the old timer’s hounds raced toward the pan and plates, mouths first. As the tongue-lashing began, the plates started to spin with the force of eager tongues, until the dogs instinctively put their paws on the plates to stop the circular motion. The teens laughed as they watched the licking fracas at hand, partially from the sight of it, but also because back home their mothers would’ve never allowed it. As every drop and morsel had been lapped-up, the aged hermit picked up the pan, along with the plates, and placed them back on the shelf where he retrieved them. My Grandpa Brown and his hunting buddy, never went back there again.

True story.

Are you appalled? Of course, we must put ourselves in the position of this old hermit. No doubt, this man’s habits were out of the norm, but not from his perspective. Obviously, for years, maybe decades, he allowed his dogs to clean his plate and pan. After all, a hounds tongue is long and wide, covering a lot of surface in very little time. For him, it sure saved him a lot of well water. From his viewpoint, those plates ended up looking very spotless. And I’m sure they were after the hounds had their way with it all. However, for my grandpa and his pal, they saw the opposite. They saw hunting hounds, who fetched animals in their mouths, dead or alive. These are the same country hounds who would looked forward to finding a leftover stiff carcass in the woods just for the satisfaction of something to chew on. Yes, as cute as they are, they’re the same animals who clean themselves, every part of themselves, with their tongues. Certainly, these canine tongues should not be a poor man’s dish washing machine.

How hungry are you now?

I align it to taking a black felt-tip pen and finely dotting a white poster from corner to corner. Tape it to a wall in a dark room. Go to the other end of the room, hold a flashlight, turning it on with the bulb facing away from the poster. What do you see? In the darker part of the room, you see, through the ambient glow, a blank white poster on the wall. Even taking a step or two closer to the poster, you still can observe a white poster. Yet, if you shine the flashlight on the poster, you suddenly see the speckles you made with your pen. If you dare to bring the flashlight closer, the dots become very present to the eye. What appears to be a clean white poster, is indeed flawed with black dots.

Al Capone, the notorious gangster, murderer, and bootlegger, would perform an action of goodness right after finishing up a most hideous crime. He gave mega funds, over and above to the Catholic Church. He gave away free gifts to the poor. He began soup kitchens for the homeless. Some say it was for laundering money. Yet, all of that was good, but the hound drool was all over it.

Too often, in our measly efforts, the norm to remedy sin’s guilt and shame, we work something we, and others, would see as a good deed. You might say, some see it as an attempt to build a tower to climb the levels of eternal self-insurance. In doing so, it cleans our dirty plate, or so it would seem from our fallen perspective. King David wrote something astonishing. Those who read it were dismayed. Frankly, it is still baffling to most. He wrote, “…There is no one good. Not even one…” (Psalm 53:3 – my translation) He wasn’t saying people don’t do good things, or people neglect displaying explosions of loveliness. Instead, he was showing us the misnomer of a sparkling tin plate, licked by one of the filthiest tongues created. He was pointing out that what we consider good can never rise to God’s holiness, His spotlessness, His sinlessness, His standard.

We see it all the time, even in high places. We now call evil “good”, and good is now “evil”.

I am sure the old hermit died in that shack, believing with all his heart that his plate was cleansed every night. However, two teenagers knew the truth of it.

To leave this earth spotless can only happen with a free offer of washing in fuel for the race.

“All of us have become like something unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a polluted garment; all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities carry us away like the wind.” Isaiah 64:6 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

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)

Elf In Myself

“Every breath you take and every move you make
Every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be watching you
Every single day and every word you say
Every game you play, every night you stay, I’ll be watching you.” – (1983) – “Every Breath You Take” –  Recorded by:  The Police (Sting)  Composer:  Gordon Sumner

Creepy, isn’t it?  I always thought so.  I felt that way about the lyrics of “Private Eyes” (They’re watching you…) by Hall & Oats.  Who would’ve ever thought there would be something so spooky connected with Christmas?

December for me was the anticipation of my mom breaking out my old Christmas pal, Elfie.  He was an elf doll dressed in a red velvet body suit with a Santa hat on top of a soft plastic head, along with a face garnished with rosy cheeks.  In fact, I believe there was a little jingle bell on the point of his hat.  He was skinny and maybe 8″ tall.  The mittens on his hands were sown together, creating a loop with his arms for slipping over a doorknob, or a thin bedpost.  For this little boy, he not only was a celebratory pal, but he was also the visual symbol that Santa was soon to arrive.  He spent many Decembers with me until one Christmas Eve my dog, Tickey, found Elfie’s plastic head to be a chew toy not to be resisted.  I cried, but forgave Tickey…eventually.

Tickey - 5-18-68 He was 11 months and 22 days old. Lived to be 15. Died Aug 7th 1982. My dearest childhood pal.

Many years ago, when producing radio theater plays for a radio network, I had an idea which came to me like a sled on an icy roof.  While producing my second Christmas radio theater production, I decorated the recording studio in all things Christmas.  When coming into the recording session from a 100 degree July day in Texas, you needed something to help transport the theater of the mind to December.  As I recall, I even had the air conditioner set to a frosty level.  Some of us even had to wear jackets or sweaters in the session.  In honor of my old buddy, Elfie, it seemed appropriate to have a few of his descendants brighten the studio.  Some actors found it intimidating while delivering lines from my script.

Elf On Mic

Of course, all of the above was way before the Christmas craze we now know, and affectionately call, “Elf On The Shelf”.  My granddaughter, Skylar has one.  If you don’t have children, or grandchildren going headlong into the American Christmas traditions, you may not know who Elf On The Shelf is, or what he is rumored to do.  Well, let me enlighten you before December 25th settles upon us.  This elf doll sits on the shelf, the bed, the table, the mantle, ect with eyes wide opened.  At Skylar’s house he surprisingly appears in the most unexpected places every day.  He’s not gazing in amazement at the traditional holiday decor, or the Christmas gifts under the tree, or even the wintry changes in weather.  Nope, not at all.  Just like the lyrics from The Police, his one and only job is to watch…okay, I’ll use the word “spy”, on the children of the house as he reports back to Santa for his big global flight.  The little snitch is all about deduction of potential gifts on Christmas morning.  OUCH!  I guess Santa is too old to be seeing when you’re sleeping, and knowing when you’re awake.  Age has gotten in Kringle’s way when it comes to knowing if you’ve been bad or good.  Oh, for goodness sake.  Now it seems Claus has a built-in security camera in the form of a sneaky elf, who sits on a shelf, keeping a sharp eye on the do’s and don’ts.  Now if that isn’t creepy, I don’t know what is.  At least the fat old man in the red suit wasn’t peeking through the closet door of my bedroom each night of the year.  I guess that’s of nightmare status, like movies called, “Santa’s Claws” or “Santa’s Slay”  Yikes!  Okay, I’ve gone amok.  I apologize.

Elf On The Shelf

Back to sanity now.  I will say Skylar isn’t bothered by her Elf On The Shelf at all.  She’s had about 3-4 years of having his judging eyes on her for a few Decembers.  Frankly, I’m not sure if she is better behaved because of it.  So, in the end, I will say he might not cause lasting psychological scars.  Maybe we will know more in the next 20 years.

Certainly, if you read my last post you might surmise I am one of those Christians who shuns anything in the fluffy & puffy from the Christmas tradition arena.  Well, no, I am not in that category whatsoever.  Like a foreclosure sign in the lawn of a palm reader’s house, you didn’t see that coming.

Putting child psychology aside, the Elf On The Shelf, and St. Nick’s omnipresent, omniscient eyes are truly the opposite of the authentic act of the first Christmas.  Can you guess what the difference is?

Contrary to a popular belief in our culture, I am not eternally rewarded by superior behavior walking in my shoes today.  Let it be known:  I AM SOOOOOO IMPERFECT!  While I’m at it, don’t take Elf On The Shelf as a picture of what a good Christian does.  The Babe in the manger grew up and said we should not judge anyone, or we will be judged.  It’s not the Christian’s job to sit on a shelf and search for others to flub, fall, and falter.  If you’re under a spiritual teacher which pounds that misnomer into your ears, I say run and never look back.  In fact, a better suggestion is to take a pair of your well-worn shoes, nail them to his/her office door with a note which reads, “Walk in these for awhile.”

Sorry for my rabbit trail on thought.  I’m no Scrooge.  Really, I’m not.

As cute as Elf On The Shelf is, he is theologically off.  The child in Bethlehem’s manger Christmas night was a free gift wrapped in swaddling clothes.  You don’t get a free gift because you necessarily deserved it, but because someone loved you enough, thought of you enough, cared for you enough to go before you arrived and purchased it with a tag which reads your name, in whatever language you speak.  Moreover, this free gift, the Baby in the manger, was given BECAUSE of misbehavior, BECAUSE of abuses, BECAUSE of flubs, falling, and falters, without condition.  Let me write that again…WITHOUT CONDITION!  Try that on some stranger.  No, I mean it.  Find a criminal who abused, or injured, or killed your family member, withdraw all you have in the bank, purchase a gift of great price and present it to the guilty law-breaker.  Do I see any hands for a volunteer?  No, I didn’t think so.  Yet, that’s what God, the Author Of The Law did for us all.  Today, we call it…Christmas.   His unconditional free gift is truly the opposite of Elf On The Shelf.

Nativity

For anyone who accepts this gift, who believes the adult Jesus when He said, “For God so loved the world that He GAVE…” – John 3:16a (KJV), will have the Spirit of His very essence within.  He reminds me inwardly what is best for my life as He writes His law on my heart.  It’s a good thing because I could never have a perfect behavioral stat concerning the Mosaic Law from the Torah found in the Old Testament.

So maybe if you see an elf hanging out on a shelf, it might bring to mind the idea of an elf inside yourself (In the flavor of Christmas trinkets.) whispering wisdom, guidance, and unconditional love.  However, when diving deeply for a close-up excursion, you find the lacking of an elf, but rather, “RUACH” in Hebrew, the “Breath” of God’s nature.

Christmas can always be merry with a cup of good cheer, spiked with Fuel for the race.

“For the eyes of Yahweh roam throughout the earth to show Himself strong for those whose hearts are completely His.”  – 2 Chronicles 16:9 – (Holman Christian Standard Version)

 

 

Sunshine Blogger Award

Sunshine Blogger Award

by alimw2013

First of all, a big Texas-Sized thank you to Alicia from For His Purpose for the nominee nod.  You are truly gracious.  Although I feel I don’t deserve the nomination for the Sunshine Blogger Award, I am humbled and grateful.  I would nominate you if not for the fact you are already a nominee, and so well deserving.

If you’ve not read Alicia’s posts, expect blue-jean, everyday life experiences wrapped in a personal application for spiritual growth.  So well worth it.

DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THIS?  IT’S NEW TO ME.

About the Sunshine award:

This award is given to creative, positive and cheerful bloggers by other bloggers as a token of appreciation and admiration.

Here are the rules:

• Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link back to him/her.

• Answer the 11 questions provided by the blogger who nominated you.

• Nominate 11 other bloggers and ask them 11 new questions.

• Notify the nominees by commenting on one of their blog posts.

• List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo on your post.

Okay, Alicia…you asked.  Here are her questions for me:

1) Why do you write?

Really, I believe it’s a threefold reason.  A:  I love, absolutely love the outlet of sharing my thoughts.  B:  For whatever reason there might be, I adore the friends I have made in the blogging community.  I have learned so much through their writings and photos.  Getting to know them has simply been an uplifting pleasure in my life.  C:  Lastly, I love to teach.  My heart wants to touch the soul of another for the better.  There’s something special about teaching biblical concepts through personal and social proof experiences others can relate to.  Life’s race to the finish is long and uphill at times.  We need Divine fuel. 

2) Who do you admire and why? (sorry I know I’m sneaking two questions)

Wow, Alicia.  That’s an umbrella of folks.  If you’ve read my blog you might already know I greatly admire my deceased grandparents.  Salt of the earth people with extraordinary servanthood hearts of tremendous love.  Also, Chuck Norris, who holds up his socks with thumbtacks.  LOL  For much of the 1970’s, during my karate/kickboxing life, he was always so kind to me whenever I was around him.  Of course, he was/is a wiz at business, the Babe Ruth of Karate champions, and a successful instructor and actor.  Beyond that, he has gone through much heartache in life and rediscovered God in his journey back to a peaceful place.  He is also a champ in helping kids stay away from gangs and drugs.  I want to add, CS Lewis for his writings concerning the introductions into a life with God, and the proof thereof.  His book, Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters changed my life.

3) What has been your best vacation?

I have to choose just one?  Arg!  My #1 would have to be when I treated my family (wife at the time and three daughters) on a road trip from Dallas, Texas through Santa Fe, New Mexico and up through Colorado Springs to Denver, Colorado.  The family and I had gone through some devastating personal trauma and in need of some immediate healing.  It was the week after Christmas in 2001 through the first week of 2002.  Plunging straight into the snow and ice we took in the splendor of that beautiful land.  No regrets.  I would do it again.

4) Where would you love to visit one day?

Scotland, Ireland, and Israel.

5) Why is your best friend, your best friend?

On earth, my wife.  I remarried in 2017 to an old high school acquaintance.  In 2013, way before we met-up again, I had a major health crash, a near death experience.  I wasn’t supposed to survive.  It left me in the hospital for six weeks. The hospital staff called me “Miracle Man”.  Since then I have struggled physically.  She has seen much of the underside of this.  Nevertheless, she has been a warrior through it all.  We have no secrets between us.  We speak truth in love to one another, during the good, bad, and ugly.  It makes for a lasting marriage.  However, she’s not the one I pray to.  She would agree with me that Jesus has been my lifelong best friend.

6) What is your biggest concern (about anything)?

Honestly, above all else, the world my three girls are experiencing as adults, as well as my 8 year old granddaughter.  Moral decay, hatred, and violence are causing the earth to groan.  Jesus said the times would grow to be like this.  Still, it concerns me.

7) When did you last owe someone an apology?

Today!  Got to do it before the sun goes down on me.

8) What’s the best movie you’ve ever watched?

Now this isn’t fair.  Way too many.  If I had to choose one…It’s A Wonderful Life.

9) What’s your most favorite childhood memory?

Mid 1960’s.  Waiting until my grandparents, and my mom, went to bed so I could hustle to sit in front of their aluminum Christmas tree to watch the color wheel change the branches to different holiday hues.  For me, it was mesmerizing.

10) What do you love most about yourself?

Eek!  Is this a trick question, Alicia?  Really?  Oh, man.  Okay, uh….well….uh….I can tell you there’s much I hate about myself.  Frankly, I love the Spirit God placed in me to be kind and caring for others.  If not for His influence and direction, I would be the opposite.  I know this because I know myself without God.

11) If you could ask Jesus a question what would it be?

Why and how did He create music to enrich the brain of humanity, to the point of it being medication?  Also, the TRUE story of why and how He did not save the dinosaurs from extinction.  To have a Brontosaurus on a leash in the park would be grand.  The poop bag would be trouble.

Drum roll please!  Now for my nominee choices in alphabetical order:

(If you choose not to participate, you will not hurt my heart.  As an admirer, I just want to shine a light on you and your blog for others who may not know of you.  No pressure.  Nada, zilch, zero.  And if you are already a nominee, I am unaware.)

Dominique at 3C Style combines her posts with highly creative photos of her personal showcasing of beautiful stylings from her own closet.  She has a talent for matching subjects in nature with her outfits while highlighting eco-friendly ideas.  This French scientific journalist from Quebec is a terrific writer who introduces you to possibilities in fashion you might have never imagined before, wrapped in her passion for life.  Her zest for life, fashion, and imagination is simply radiant and thought provoking.  Most of all, I like the fact that Dominique is a caring, loving person toward others.  I’ve learned a lot from my friend from Quebec. 

Anel at Barefoot Diary has a highly unique blog.  I’ve known and loved her for 41 years and I can tell you of her multiple talents.  After the devastating hurricane which leveled so much of Puerto Rico, where she and her husband had been living, they moved on to experience an adventure most would never do.  Since they left the island, they have been travelling from one Central or south American country to another, reveling in each culture with gusto.  Anel’s blog is all about their adventures.  You never know where they will be blogging from next.

Mandy at Blue Collar Theologian is a seminarian and writer.  I love to go deep in biblical studies and so does Mandy.  She has my admiration for her exclusive casual way of serving up the depths of scripture without going over the head of the reader, especially the seeker.  You’ll find she writes about various camera angles of life with a good dose of awareness of biblical thought, shaken together for a personal application anyone can chew on.

Anita at For The Love Of has a smooth way of sharing her love for dogs, which I share, along with God’s love for us.  On any given post she will somehow bring to mind the truth of how we crave love, shelter, belonging, and care.  Be ready for some brilliant photos that touch the eyes and heart.

Jon at His Grace Is Sufficient is an old childhood friend of mine.  He pastors a small church near Green Bay, WI.  Recently Jon was diagnosed with ALS.  The disruption is already taking its toll on his breathing, his speech, and some mobility.  Thus far, he is standing by his word that he plans on delivering sermons until he physically cannot.  He asked me about starting a blog to record his journey with ALS.  So, I encouraged him to go headlong into it.  I love him dearly.  Clicking on you will hear his heart of love and his faith through this hard, rocky road he is travelling.    

Julien at Julien’s Thoughts can be defined as…his thoughts.  He literally takes subjects that press on his mind and heart, considers them against the backdrop of a biblical world view, and woodsheds what he learns.  Whenever he writes you can feel his intellect.  I am grateful he shares the thoughts as most of us identify with the topics he showcases.  A simple devotional thought process which is encouraging, yet challenging at times.

Lisa at Lismore Paper is a master at eyeing antique art forms.  She then cleans them up for a visual experience to die for.  One terrific graphic design artist, as well as a gardener extraordinaire.  I’ve not seen artwork exactly like her talent.  Lisa simply is a craft magician.  She loves photography, as I do, and often highlights her shutter work in nature.  You never know when she will be hiking through the woods taking beautiful shots of plants, birds and trees.  One of the items of wizardry from her hands consists of antique prints lifted from pages of old shipping logs, documents, or ledgers and turn them into a background for layering other art subjects.  Just amazing.  Visit her blog and find options to download her items for your personal use.  Sometimes you will find her art on t-shirts, along with other items, which are available.  As you explore her visuals she writes of them with the love of an artist at work. 

Ann at Muddling Through My Middle Age I believe is my first blogging friend after I launched my blog two years ago.  She is so admired.  I liken Ann to the wisdom and wit of the late syndicated columnist, Erma Bombeck.  She is a volunteer for her local shelter who loves and cares for the four-legged friends behind bars.  She adopts, and so do I.  She is a loving grandmother who often shares with us of her times with her grandchild.  But most of all, Ann writes about the everyday scenarios of life, as well as life’s phases, which can be cantankerous or just plain humorous.  She muddles through what life tosses at her while always searching for the rainbow at the end of the day’s conveyor belt.

Ann (another Ann) at Seeking Divine Perspective is an author and truth-teller.  I discovered her about the time I was going through some doubts in my spiritual journey.  My reading of her posts came just at the right time.  Ann is retired and loves CS Lewis, as I do.  She is not afraid to share the hard knocks in life, or the current social issues of our times, and what she has learned from them.  She is bold with direct conviction, willing to teach with the written word in posts.  Don’t be surprised if she types in a prayer on her heart as it often reverberates what the human heart is thirsty for.  We are all seekers, some just don’t realize it.  Ann spotlights her perspectives.

Stefan at The Fourth Dimension of Life is a young studious thinker.  His love for writing truly hits you in the face…softly.  Stefan is a bright, multi-talented Indian lad attending one of the best universities in India.  Don’t expect his posts to be the norm, or even similar in scope from one to another.  Some days you will get a thought in a statement.  At other times you will read one of his poems.  Inside his random thoughts he often speaks of his life from God’s balcony view.  He also can show you his devotional blog link.  

Junaisha (June) at The Godly Chic Diaries will lead you to think twice, or three times about the topic she writes about.  Unlike some, she is bold about the fact that the spiritual walk is not a perfect stride.  She speaks of the fact that there will be failures in the God-driven journey.  In her quick devotional posts the spotlight on grace, forgiveness, and mercy are illuminated.  Through her telescopic lens concerning life, she will test the mind of the reader with questions not often dissected in one’s own thoughts.

I want to publicly thank all of the above for the influence you have on my life.

And here are my 11 questions for those I’ve nominated:

1 – Who encouraged you to launch a blog?

 

2 – Who was your first blogger-friend & what drew you to that writer?

 

3 – What country, or state are you writing from?

 

4 – Has your writing evolved over time & why?

 

5 – Be honest with me on this one.  How often do you consider the unseen spiritual aspect beyond the tangible?  If “never” is the answer, let me know.  It’s okay.  No tricks.

 

6 – Do you have a pet?

 

7 – When you wake up in the morning, what is your first thought?

 

8 – Do you eat breakfast?  If so, what does it consist of?

 

9 – If you’re still friends with a childhood pal, tell me what has kept you together?

 

10 – What keeps you returning to the same blogger?

 

11 – Does your own family read your posts?

 

Again, if you are on my nomination list of favorites and would rather not participate, just know I understand totally.  I appreciate what you do and how you make my life sweeter.  Love and hugs from Dallas, Texas. – Alan

You Are Not Alone

Photo:  Guilherme

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

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

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

Tree from Greenville storm June 2019

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

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

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

Sammie Gimme-Gimme-Gimme

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

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

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

Sammie Shorty Relaxing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Our Irene

“Farewell, Irene, where your dreams abound…You dream of the north, Irene.  Well then that’s where you oughta be…”  (2016)  Irene.  Recorded and composed by:  Courtney Marie Andrews

WARNING:

As I introduce you to my fabulous cousin, Irene, allow me to lay down a teaser right here.  In a few lines I will deliver a shocker, a twist in my spotlighting of this precious and beloved lady.

When I think of cousins, my memory projects mental Super 8 footage of summer days chasing each other with water guns.  I have snapshots in my childhood haze riding double on horses, bareback through the pastures.  Notably, there’s always visions of playground swings, chasing the ice cream truck down the street, family reunions in the park, and visiting our grandparents together.  Cousins were, and are, so much fun.

Entering stage left, my cousin, Irene.

When I was little, I had trouble calling her, “Irene”.  My understanding the word, “Ring” came out of my mouth.  I was able to overcome that problem.

Over the Easter weekend, the old band got together for a bit of a reunion performance for a Messianic Passover event way north of our home in Dallas.  For a Texan, Oklahoma is north-enough.  I drove myself up to Enid, Oklahoma, in the northwestern part of the state, for our musical adventure.  The long drive gave me lots of time to freshen up my vocals before arriving at the venue in the late afternoon.  We had played there two years ago.  At that time, after a Facebook posting about the gig in Enid, my cousin, Irene, replied with a tad of chastisement for not informing her.  It was my mistake in that I was under the impression she and her husband resided in southwestern Oklahoma, closer to Altus where her mom lived.  Turns out, she lives closer to the Kansas/Oklahoma border, in Tonkawa, OK, just another thirty miles or so north of my turn-off for Enid.  So, I promised her then I would contact her ahead of time if I’m in that area again.  As you can see, we finally got together.  Here’s the beauty with two of her pals and my ugly mug.

Irene (77) Me (58)

(We have Cherokee in our family tree.  The features show up so much more through her branch of the family.  Her mother, my Aunt Evelyn, was very much the same way.)

Although we had kept in touch over the decades, it was always through emails, texts, and Facebook.  Rarely were we hanging out for family picnics.  Literally, the last time we physically sat together was at our uncle’s memorial service in 1977.  It’s such a shame to only see the ones you love at times of sorrow.  Do you know what I mean?

What a terrific visit.  It’s amazing what you can learn about others when you actually sit and talk face to face.  I knew she was an artist, photographer, and an avid activist, a gifted musician, but there’s so much more to my cousin, Irene than I once knew.  Part of her artwork is landscaping.  Her property is a testament to the fact.

Irene Backyard

Irene Front Yard

I must say, it’s vastly different from the natural brush country in that part of the state.  She’s turned it into a showplace.  It reminded me so much of the Dallas Arboretum Park.  (Google for photos.)  Truly a professional would be amazed.

Part of her array of gifts surrounds being active in charity work and fundraisers.  She has donated many items for local charity auctions.  One of the things she is known for is her artwork on chairs.  You saw the cover photo at the top, by the title, of her in action.  Here’s another example of her artsy eye on old unwanted furnishings.

Irene & Gene Doughtery Artwork

(Collaboration Art by:  Irene Ackerson & Gene Doughtery)

Irene Art

These chairs go for a few hundred dollars at various auctions.  You can see why.

Irene stays very busy.  She is well traveled and well educated.  She and her husband were teachers, loving the craft of education.  She is a talented canvas painter.  An active animal lover, Irene rescues dogs, as well as, dog-sitting for others in the community.  Somehow she walks multiple dogs at the same time.  I struggle walking two of them.  My dear cousin collects items of interest, much in the realm of artwork, from all over the world, decorating her home with such.  She’s a volunteer for civic and church events.  She can be found in the throws of various social and charitable occasions.  She probably makes animal balloons, too.  These are just some of the things I have missed out on in not getting to know her better.

We both have a good sense of humor, which has been handed down through our family tree.  One day, back in the 90’s, she got a real kick when I called her the “Kate Jackson (Charlie’s Angels) of our family.”  The resemblance was authentic.  There was a lot of truth to my title for her when we were younger.

Irene & son,

(Irene with her oldest son, Jeff.)

Now for the twister of this story about my cousin, Irene.  We never played in the playground swings together.  We never rode bareback horses through the Texas pastures.  We never chased down the ice cream truck.  Irene and I never once shot each other with water guns.  It’s certainly not because she lived so far north from my stomping grounds.  So what’s the mystery?

If you have seen my Facebook page, (Connect with me anytime – Alan Brown, Carrollton, Texas.)  then you know she’s not shy about her age.  In a recent public post on my Facebook page, Irene mentioned the occasion where we first met.  In fact, there is a photo of the moment, which currently I cannot locate in my stacks of family photos.  It was 1964.  I was four years old, shaking hands with Irene, the beautiful bride!!!  (YES, scroll back up for another look at us from Easter weekend.)  Irene is actually my mom’s cousin, my 2nd cousin.  Not willing to publish her actual age, I will reveal that I will turn 59 in a few days, and Irene is two years older than my mom!  Maybe I should add, she’s never had work done. (Haha)

Let it be known, she can run circles around me.  We had a very sharp aunt who lived to be 103 who walked faster than I did.

Truly, there’s lots to be said about staying active.  There’s lots to be said about keeping the mind youthful and open.  There’s lots to be said about nurturing the body, and keeping it moving.  Irene has done all of that, and more.

I also think love has much to do with the “youthening” process.  Do you agree?  Have you noticed?  Irene pours out love for others as a way of life, including the animal kingdom.  I believe those who chew on hate have bitter, shortened lives.  Frankly, that is a biblical concept.

Jesus taught to love one another as we love ourselves.  He also went further.  He taught we should love the ones we perceive as outcasts, or socially despised.  He said so because that is how God loves.  In following suit, we find life to be more palatable altogether.  Life is sweeter when my mind chooses to love those I normally might not even notice.

Maybe Irene’s teaching days aren’t over.  Turns out, I’ve learned a few things observing our Irene.

Love and youthful endurance are grand products of fuel for the race.

“Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles.  They will run and not get tired.  They will walk and not become weary.” – Isaiah 40:31 (NASB)

 

LOST DOG! – Not so much

“… For whatever reason there might be, 
Oh, you’ll be there between each line of pain and glory 
Cause you’re the best thing that ever happened to me.” – “Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me” (1973) Recorded by: Gladys Knight.  Composer: James D. Weatherly

In some post, not that long ago, or far away, I stated something about how dogs teach us so much.  They may not have a pointer (lol), or a marker (lol) board, but they teach nonetheless.

Meet Pippin! (Cover photo above)

Recently, I posted about a young family next door who are moving away.  Steven and Amy are expecting twins, which means four little ones as a total, with only a small two bedroom house.  Yet, they do have three little-bits in the backyard, as well.  I affectionately nicknamed their very territorial duo Chihuahuas, Yipper & Yapper.  (It’s actually, Molly & Pippin.)  The third four-legged pal is a sweet, beautiful dingo.  Her name is Freya, and she believes her main job in life is to try to hush the other two.  They are fun to watch.

I have a new respect for Pippin.  Here’s the scoop.  In the turmoil and business of the family throwing things away, loading trucks, and cleaning the place, the canine trio have shown signs of nervousness.  With all the dust flying in the air from the upheaval, the dogs have been like bacon-on-skillet.  Freya, who doesn’t seem to be as bothered by the activity, tends to bark at the other high-strung Chihuahuas in efforts to calm their nerves.  (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)  While the turnstile rotates back and forth from the old house, to the newly purchased house, the dogs are often left alone.  No doubt they are puzzled, rattled, and bewildered as to why, what, and where.  Transitions are never easy.

Getting to know them over the last 3 years, I’ve noticed Molly, the female Chihuahua, is more of a fighter, in lieu of a flyer.  Pippin is the flyer.  When their uneven gate has been jiggled to a position where the aligning posts don’t mesh very well, leaving about a 4 inch gap, Pippin takes the opportunity.  Yep, three times in two days, Pippin has pushed the gate as hard as he can to gain more wiggle room in order to squeeze through the misaligned fence and gate posts.  When he does, it’s off like a racehorse.  Just as they are pulling out of the drive with the moving truck, they’ll see the little escape artist in the rear-view mirror.  When that occurs, it’s all hands on deck to nab him.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Freya, the dingo, and Molly, the less adventurous Chihuahua, began a barking marathon in the early evening hours on Saturday.  Our dogs, Shorty and Sammie, exploded in stereo.  As we checked out the cause of the canine chorus, there stood Pippin at our front door.  His human parents had been gone for a couple of days, leaving the dogs extra food and water.  My wife carefully placed him over their fence, only to find him at our front door less than ten minutes later.  Looking in his eyes, coupled with his constant trembling, it was clear what was happening.  He was experiencing separation anxiety.  He was craving love and attention from his frequently missing family.  In fact, I surmise he was out to find them, which meant road hazards for the little squirt.  We sent a text to the couple letting them know what had happened, along with how we would dog-sit until they came home.  Our pal Shorty wasn’t pleased at first.

Shorty SulkingHe had this look on his face, which spoke volumes.  The dialogue bubble would read, “Hey, what the heck?  Why is this little yapper in MY house?”  As for Sammie, our Schnauzer/Chihuahua mix, it was different.  Sammie seemed to ask if there would be enough food left in her bowl.  She checked on it just before she hid from all of the clamber.  She wanted no part of it.  Sammie is an old lady.  I don’t blame her.

Sammie Gimme-Gimme-GimmeAfter Shorty’s territorial greeting, he and Pippin began to play reindeer games around the house.  Of course, they know each other between the fence, but now there was nothing to keep them from being fellow pack members.  Although Shorty is a bit taller than Pippin, it didn’t stop the visitor from standing on his hind feet, placing his front paws on Shorty’s head, as a hard statement of dominance.  That thought bubble was so evident, “Okay, I’m the boss here!  YOU are NOT the boss of me!”  Immediately, the horseplay…or rather, the dog-play, ensued.

The overnight went okay.  Pippin was restless, even growled at times, but he liked getting under a blanket in a snuggle cave mode.  No doubt, if you can’t see unfamiliar surroundings, it must not be there.  Can you relate?

The following morning, all three dogs had some time in the backyard.  The two next door, Freya and Molly, watched, whined, and howled as if left out, like there was more going on at our place.  After awhile, Steven and Amy came home for another load of furniture.  Ecstatic to see him, Freya and Molly were jumping up and down, getting in Steven’s way as he walked toward the fence-line.  As soon as Pippin spotted his human dad, he raced to the fence, wagging his entire body, barking up a concerto.  After Steven held him in his arms, Pippin was all about squirming with excitement, licking every inch of Steven’s face that he could possibly reach.  Pippin never looked back.  He never stopped licking to say thanks.  It was as if we didn’t exist.  Frankly, in his noggin, we probably didn’t, at that heartwarming moment.  After all, we weren’t who he belonged to.

After Steven thanked us, I watched him walk away with our rough-n-tumble amigo, happy as a kid on Santa’s lap.  Clearly, Christmas came early for the little yapper.

Later, I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be wonderful for Pippin if Steven and Amy were with him all the time?  Wouldn’t it be magical, if his parents cuddled him every minute of every day?  Wouldn’t it be simply a miracle if Pippin felt the loving arms of his owner 24/7, feeling the surety that abandonment isn’t a word at all?  In fact, wouldn’t it be miraculous if Pippin could always hear a loving response from his adopted owner on any, and all, barking episodes?  If it were possible, wouldn’t it be terrific if Pippin had a tiny amount of faith in knowing his family would always come back?  If so, dog-life would be more tolerable.  Moreover, safety and security would never be in question, even while looking at the back of an increasingly vacant house.

Sometimes, I can be much like Pippin.  In fact, maybe lots of times.  I can identify.  How much do I squirm in life, for the silliest of reasons?  How often do I perceive, or imagine vacancy, with the first thought being, “It will never be full again?”  Too many times I howl at the proverbial moon in sadness, as if there is no relief on the way, or that times will never change.  Why do I forget about Christmas, the original?

“BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL (Emmanuel),” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.”  (Angelic messenger to Joseph, Mary’s betrothed.) – Matthew 1:23 (NAS)

Our commercialized Christmas won’t get anyone to the answers.  It’s only stuff.  A watered-down Christmas only gets us wet and cold.  It’s only seasonal foo-foo.  Celebrating winter only throws curved-snowballs at shopping frenzies.  It all is so unsteady, passing so quickly, leaving many in post holiday blues.

As a Jesus-follower, I revel in His arms daily.  (Only if I choose not to get distracted by the movements around me.)  My heart listens for His still small voice.  Sure, I see vacancy at times, but all the while deeply knowing, with certainty, with intentional expectations, I will see Him soon.  When I do, I rest in the promise that my obnoxious yapping, escaping techniques, and infractions, are all forgiven through grace alone.  I’m always welcomed home.  Now, THAT’S merry!

Dogs teach us so much about what is in the bowl of fuel for the race.

“…God has said:  ‘Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you…’  So we say with confidence:  ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’…”   – Hebrews 13:5b-6a  (Berean Study Bible)   

How Grand They Were!

Photo:  Martin & Opal Atherton and their firstborn, Bob.

“I didn’t know it would be so strong, waiting and wondering about you.  I didn’t know it would last so long.  Nights are forever without you.”  Nights Are Forever Without You – Recorded by:  England Dan & John Ford Coley.  Released: July 1976.  Composer:  Parker McGee.

He walked into Wolf City, Texas junior high classroom for the first time, straight from his Oklahoma stomping grounds.  Being the new kid in town, he had yet to make friends.  She looked up, locking her kind and smiling blue eyes on this ruddy, wavy, auburn-haired boy.  He had a swagger, which was alien to the other boys, and a subtle, lopsided grin from one corner of his mouth, as if he were holding secrets nobody else knew.  His dark brown eyes shifted toward the brunette beauty sitting at her desk, trying to look busy.  They were studious in that they studied one another from minute one.  Later, “Lucky” –my granddaughter’s middle name — was the nickname placed on him because of his special catch.  The name stayed with him for the next seven decades.  But that was somewhere around 1933-1934.

Fast forward to 1938.  It was a different world, another place and time.  I will say, I can’t imagine getting into a tux, or suit and tie, or wedding dress to brave the Texas July heat.  Air conditioning wasn’t around at the time.  Yet, that’s what my maternal grandparents did, 80 years ago this month, July 13th, to be exact.  They were just country kids from family stock that the salt of the earth is made.

How about a few photos?

OMA-B MRA Wedding

When I say Martin and Opal Atherton were true diamonds in the rough, I am understating the truth of this incredibly fine couple.  Anyone who knew them could write novels of their character — a character of one, not two.

11 OMA MRA Lovers

Frankly, my novel, painting their portrait, would be as thick as War and Peace, or The Tale of Two Cities.  What I will give you today is a smidgen of a peek into my favorite human beings of the past century.

19 OMA MRA Booth

One of my favorite stories concerns a common practice when they were teens dating out in the east Texas woods.  My granddad had a horse he would ride to my grandmother’s house down the dirt road in Hunt County, Texas.  When he arrived at her house, he would tell the horse to go home, I imagine with a little slap on the behind (the horse’s behind, not my grandmother’s), and the horse would go all the way home without any distractions.  The old playwright comes out in me as I envision the empty-saddled horse passing by an old gas station/general country store.  My mind’s eye sees three old men in overalls leaning back in rickety wooden chairs out front saying, “Yep, there goes Martin’s horse.  He must be at that Opal girl’s house.”

30 OMA Trigger Horse

6 OMA MRA Bonnie&Clyde

A little boy’s memories of his grandparents surround small things. Small, but powerful.  Little memories that brought wisps of joy don’t have to be much.  Something like: a cold bottle of Coke, a peanut butter cracker sandwich or a well-stocked pantry filled with Oreos and variety packs of chips.  Also, things like the toys stashed behind a french door in the corner of the living room reserved just for me.  In the far back of the living room, away from the audio of the Philco television, my grandmother would sit next to me, reading softly from the dialogue bubbles of old comic books she had saved.  I can still feel the bristles of his late-night beard stubble while he hugged and kissed me good-night.  One of my favorite times was watching, and learning, as my granddad would cook out on his grill on a Saturday afternoon.  Before that, he would have detailed my mom’s car, changing the oil and spark plugs, usually before the crack of dawn.  It all goes to small efforts of great love.

Granddad at the grill. early 1980s.

Back In 1962, when my 18 year old mom needed to divorce my biological father (I was two years old), it was for reasons of security and safety for both of us.  The abusive situation was horrid, without any hope of changing for the better.  So much so, my granddad, with his well-known John Wayne attitude and a tad of Robert Mitchum looks, forged a deal.  He made a deal where he would pay all court costs if my bio-father agreed to cut ties, never to attempt to contact us again.  Part of the deal was my bio-father would be released from child-support (yes, it was that bad). An agreement was made rather quickly.  He told the judge he would help to raise me, to take me as his own.  Indeed, he and my grandmother were young enough to be my parents.  When I was born, he was only 41, she had just turned 39.  If I could remember, that would’ve been a major benchmark of one of my first memories of them.

32 OMA Me Easter

In retrospect, I cannot recall a time when they did not support me and my endeavors.  They dropped everything to attend most all of my events, concerts, graduation, musicals, and plays.  I could always count on seeing them in the audience, cheering me on.

My young mom was a highly independent woman, doing all she could to “make it” as a single mom in the ’60s & ’70s.  She was my Mary Richards from the Mary Tyler-Moore Show.  She can still turn the world on with a smile and turn a nothing day into one that seems worthwhile.  She would not take funds from my grandparents, even when we lived in poverty.  So, it was a norm for my granddad, without saying a word, to covertly slip me a few bills whenever he shook my hand, while she was looking the other way.  Later, especially at his funeral 10 years ago, I found out he made that under-the-table-hand-off to multiple people, from the needy next door, co-workers, to their pastor’s kids.  He truly gave of himself.

41 OMA MRA Curly Porch

Giving wasn’t always monetary for the Athertons.  Texas thunderstorms are notorious for rolling in like a bulldozer, with 60 mph straight winds up front, followed by torrential rains.  Flash flooding is not uncommon.  If you live along a lake, creek or river, stay on guard.  Sometime in the early 1950s, laying in bed late one night, out in their country ranch home, a forceful squall came busting through the clouds.  Unforeseen night-time storms are the best times to snuggle up, close the shutters and hope for the best.  While doing just that, they heard cries of panic and whimpering in the distance outside.  The sound was painful to hear.  My grandparents couldn’t help themselves.  They jumped out of bed, with a flashlight in hand, and followed the bellowing into the pitch black night, with the driving wind and rain pushing them back.  They ran to a gully, a dry creek bed.  The flashlight spotlighted the reality of what the stormy dark night was hiding.  A flash flood was raging, carrying whatever was not tied down into its swift current.  Along the bank was a frightened litter of puppies and their mom.  The mom was doing all she could to get each pup in her mouth in efforts to move to higher ground.  There was no time to hesitate.  She would surely lose the majority of her children if someone didn’t intervene.  That’s exactly what my grandparents did.  Still in their night clothes, they fought through the raging, rising flood, reached the mom and her pups, rescuing them all from certain death.  Not one was lost.  THAT was the heart of Martin and Opal Atherton.

47 OMA Tulo dog

18 OMA Wolfgang 1999

During WWII, my granddad struggled with the fact that his wounded older brother was in the thick of fighting the Nazis in France in a tank division, while he remained here raising his three kids and making a living.  At some point, regardless of his responsibilities at home, and with a newborn baby daughter (my mom), grit and patriotism kicked in.  He joined the navy and off he went to the newly liberated Philippines to keep the Japanese from returning.  It was the toughest separation for Martin and Opal.  They were so much in love.  Anyone who knew them could tell they were of one heart.  After the war was won, he came home on a Greyhound bus with his duffel bag on his shoulder.  As the bus arrived in the old square of downtown Greenville, Texas, my grandmother was anxiously waiting for him to step out of the folding doors.  I would give anything to have been a fly on the wall, just for a minute or two, to witness their loving reunion.  It has been said, right then and there, they promised one another they would never go anywhere apart from each other ever again.  They held to that promise, unless it was for a short men’s or women’s Bible class at their church, or a day of mechanical upgrade classes from General Motors.  God’s music score has its own arrangements.  He passed away about five weeks shy of their 70th anniversary.  She joined him eight years later after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s.  I would’ve loved to have been a fly on Heaven’s gate to witness their second loving reunion.

Grands at NF mid 90s

My mom still lives in their house.  It was a house always remembered as a refuge from the harsh world.  My memories of that house are caressed with warm feelings of safety, security and love.  The home inside that house was without harsh judgments, cursing and violence.  A few months after his death in 2008, a Google search of the address was quite the surprise to us all.  To this day, I think of this as a sweet gift from above.  Even after he had left us, the Google photo of the house showed my granddad looking away while standing on the front porch.  Although rare he would be on the front porch, it was oh, so natural.

Granddad on porch in Google map pic. He had been dead for a long time.

Whether it was stranded puppies, a toddler doomed for harm and hopelessness, countless missionaries around the globe doing righteous work, to an elderly poor African-American man down the street, they were there for whomever needed a friendly helping hand and a kind smile.  I dare say, without any reservations whatsoever, this writer would have been dead long ago, or in prison somewhere, if not for my grandparents who unconditionally loved me as if I were their son.

This was the last photo together and last kiss.  He passed away about a week later.

Grands last pic. May 25, 2008. He died the following week.

There’s so much more to share of the life of Martin and Opal Atherton.  Let it be known, they preached their funerals every day of their lives, always filling themselves with fuel for the race.

“Blessings are on the head of the righteous…” – Solomon – Proverbs 10:6a (KJV)

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”  Hebrews 12:1 (NASB)

 

 

Dooley’s Unexpected Adventure

“I know what it means to hide your heart, from a long time ago.  Oh, darlin’.  It keeps you runnin’, yeah it keeps you runnin’…” Recorded by: Doobie Brothers (1976).  Composed by:  Michael McDonald.

You’ve heard it said, “Fight or flight.”  My step-grand-dog, Dooley, knows all too well.  His owner is my step-son.

Dooley, is a black German Shepherd/Border Collie mix.  He is about two years old, all 79 pounds of him.  The boy is always “ON”.  Never still, always full of energy, and often calamity ensues.  Certainly lovable, but be careful, he can injure you with his rocket-pup enthusiasm.

Fireworks in Lone Oak

July 4th was an experience for us all.  My wife and I headed out to east Texas, just outside of a tiny place called Lone Oak.  My brother-in-law, and his large family, invited the extended family, including Dooley, out to their wooded country home for food, frolic and fireworks.  The fun, family and fellowship was at its height from the very start.  The roasted Texas brisket was tender, the kids were loud and the hot evening air had a welcoming relieving breeze.  Dooley was loving the spacious property with his signature exuberance along with the expected drool.

Dooley at boneyard

Those close to Dooley know very well if he decides to run over you, you will bite the dust.  If he makes the decision to get to a certain spot on the ground, the leash will drag you.

As dusk crept upon us, the anticipation of family firework launching was almost tangible.  Dooley looked inquisitive, to say the least.  Wherever the kids were gathered, he pushed his way into the middle of it all.  So, when the box and sacks of various fireworks were presented out by the driveway to the side of the front yard, the kids were foaming at the mouth, so was Dooley.

A series of popping Black Cats were lit.  Dooley was about six feet from the string of explosives.  As soon as they began to ignite with an echoing slap-back of ear-popping bangs, Dooley shot off in the opposite direction like a race-pony.  It was dark, with only Tiki-torches to give some holiday glow.  Someone said he ran to the back of the house.  My step-son was able to wrangle him like an Abilene cowboy in a rodeo.  The fireworks continued.  My brother-in-law escalated the flames of fun with some good sized bottle rockets.  I worried about our thunder-dog of the night as the spectacle lit up the sky above.  Dooley had been tethered to a cork-screw stake in the dry Texas sod after his first speedy escape, but it didn’t take long until super-dog yanked himself free.  One of the kids yelled out that Dooley ran out into the woods and vanished.

The fireworks gathering turned into a search party.  I feared for him, knowing that local ranchers and farmers might see him in the darkness and mistake him for a black wolf.  I don’t have to tell you how that would end.

Thankfully, after a 20 minute search, Dooley was found up against a barbed-wire fence at the far back border of the property.  Once they brought the poor guy back to the house, it was clear he had tried to negotiate with the fence to get to the other side.  He is a city dog, uneducated in the ways of country-living.  That type of fence was alien to him.  He had a deep gash on his head, scratches along his lengthy legs as well as his side.  Since there are deadly wild razorback boars roaming free in the woods, he could have easily been attacked if he had stayed on the lam too long with the his smell of blood in the air.  He was tended to with peroxide and cleaned up nicely.  I doubt Dooley will be back next year for the family Ka-Boom fest.  I’m sure he couldn’t wait to get back to his quiet apartment with his comfy-couch in suburban north Dallas.

Dooley at rest

On the way home, I recognized myself in the adventure chapter of Dooley’s July 4th.  How many times have we been blindsided by something dangerous or harmful and ran away as quickly as we came?  Maybe I should’ve written “seemingly dangerous or harmful”.

One of my dearest friends from my high school years has been through some fireworks in life which ignited a prairie fire.  He has had to walk through some flames with family, his kids, wife, divorce and property losses.  A little over a year ago, his best friend (a cousin) passed away from a fast moving cancer.  A few months later, his honored uncle, (the father of the one who had died) also passed away.  He grieves heavily like I have never seen before.  This past December, he was there when his beloved father died after three horrific heart surgeries.  I recall him saying he didn’t want to be there and yet he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.  This week, his widowed mother, who lives alone some 200 miles away in east Texas, began to show terrible signs of dementia.  She is having hallucinations, unwarranted fears and warnings of a nervous breakdown.  He needs to move out there with her, but he is about two years away from retirement with full benefits, including pension.  He text me saying, “I don’t know how much more of this I can take.”  It worries me.  He’s at the barbed-wire fence.

Have you been to the bared-wire before?  Are you there now?   Have you run so hard, so fast that you run into more potent danger, a more severe flame?  Did a fear or circumstance cause you to flee out of sheer reflex?  I know I have.  I call it, as Dooley would if he could speak English, a defensive mechanism.  Frankly, it’s human nature to run away from pain and fear.

Running of the bulls.

tripsavvy.com

Personally, I think of my past martial arts training.  Chuck Norris, the Babe Ruth of Karate Championships, once wrote (paraphrased) “When entering the ring to face my opponent, I never once considered not winning.”  To put fear aside, to stand and rely on your conditioning in training, and face the giant across from you is the goal.

Greek 1980ish

My beloved trainer, Demetrius “Greek” Havanas (1950-1981) 

I think of first responders and the military who train themselves to run into the inflamed building, or run toward the piercing bullets.

Fight or flight can be solved within us.  It all depends upon the firm foundation beneath the feet.  It all depends upon the condition of the mind and heart.  It all depends upon the shield you select to carry.  Otherwise, the next unexpected “it” will keep you runnin’.

Yet, there’s something to say about being grounded in times of struggle with fuel for the race.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9 (NKJV)