A Wonderful Distraction

“When you feel down and out, Sing a song (it’ll make your day).

For you, here’s the time to shout Sing a song (It’ll make a way).

Sometimes it’s hard to care, Sing a song (It’ll make your day).

A smile is so hard to bear, Sing a song (It’ll make a way)…”

(1975) Recorded By: Earth, Wind & Fire Composers: Maurice White/Al McKay

Can I be real frank with you, yet remaining to be Alan at the same time? Okay, I take it that’s a “Yes”.

Over the summer, death has taken a few friends and acquaintances, including one family member, and almost lost another. The losses have been almost on a weekly basis. I have been fighting depression concerning my dementia patient mom who is declining much faster than expected. She still lives alone some 60 miles from me. I am facing mountains of decisions in this arena. My health is slowly headed further south. My wife has been faced with health issues herself, and heavy emotional family issues on her side. I feel like I am going under with my hand stretched out above the surface of a deep, dark ocean. I have needed a distraction…big-time.

It seems I have some new readers which may not know about one of my favorite topics, my middle daughter, Megan. Although I recently posted about her wedding over the summer, here I am again with something new and exciting.

Megan with her band, Grosh
Megan shooting a music video

Megan is a bit of a verified rock star in Western New York. Articles and reviews list her as part of Buffalo, New York’s “rock royalty”, and she’s only 31.

Recently, she was asked to audition to perform the National Anthem at the home opener at the Buffalo Sabres game. She, and her band mate, Grace Lougen from their band, Grosh, (Grace is a superb guitar player.), she recently played for me at Megan’s wedding reception, took the plunge with an audition. BOOM! Before you could say, Ice Capades, she got the call. As it turned out, she needed to learn the Canadian Anthem as well, due to the fact the opposing team was the Montreal Canadiens, (Yeah, that’s how they spell it.)

Although, me being in Dallas Stars’ territory, no outlet was carrying the game, with the exception of ESPN+, which my oldest daughter, Tabitha subscribes to. Thankfully, she shot a cell phone video of the performance, which I posted on my Facebook page. (You can see it there. Search for, Alan Brown Carrollton, Texas. That should do it.)

What’s that? You say you wish you could see some pictures? Really? Well, allow me. Let me grab my slide projector.

Megan (R) with Grace (L) prior to the game.

Megan & Grace at work on the Sabres’ ice.

Megan & Grace remembering the lyrics to “Oh, Canada”
.
Singing without a COVID mask is refreshing for a New Yorker!

It does a dad’s heart some good to find several camera angles for different perspectives from fans in attendance, as well as, those viewing from Canadian networks. (The version on my Facebook page is from the ESPN+ broadcast.) I needed to be ushered away from heavy sorrows and raking worries. It served as an inward reboot button. Thank you, Megan.

Although, with live gigs averaging several times a week, with 19,000+ in the arena that night, plus who knows how many in the television and radio audience, I would say it was her largest audience to date. Yeppers, I was one proud dad. Moreover, I was one distracted dad.

Recently I became aware that the Puritans often used a quote I have used before as a performer through the decades. I had always thought the origin of the quote came from Soren Kierkegaard. Nevertheless, it’s a dandy.

“AN AUDIENCE OF ONE”

Sometime in my mid 20’s, when I became a serious Bible student, anytime I performed a song, a theatrical script, or while on radio and audio commercials, I trained myself to imagine performing to He Who sits on the eternal throne, God Himself. It was a process. Prior to that time, I just focused on the audience of humanity in the seats. That’s all well and good, but it can feel shallow. Laser-focusing on the One Who created talents can bring the performance from the head to the heart rapidly, as if He is the only set of eyes and ears in the room. This is what I taught Megan while she was a child actress back in the day. My hope is that every now and then, she might recall the idea.

When needing a good distraction, find it easily in fuel for the race.

“Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.” – Psalm 96:1-2 (NAS)

Good Grief!

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

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

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

Photo by Ian Turnell on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jonas Ferlin on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Jesus wept.” – John 11:35 (KJV)

He mourned for His nation in peril and disarray.

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

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

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

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

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

When Giving Away

“She’ll change her name today.
She’ll make a promise and I’ll give her away.
Standing in the bride-room just staring at her. She asked me what I’m thinking and I said,
“I’m not sure-I just feel like I’m losing my baby girl.”
– (Album Release 1995) “Butterfly
Kisses” Recorded By: Bob Carlisle Composers: Thomas Randy Keith & Robert Mason Carlisle

I thought long and hard about just how to put the following in writing. Let’s start from August of 2008.

While living in Buffalo, NY for five years, I found myself sharing life with my middle daughter, Megan. Single parenting isn’t for the weak. My oldest daughter had already flown the coop to spread her wings a couple of years prior. My youngest daughter, a 2nd grader, left for Texas with her mom after I filed for divorce. I’ve written extensively and openly about this horrible chapter in my life before, so I won’t dive fully into all the sandpaper of history which brought my family so much pain. I will say the divorce occurred after 26 years of domestic violence, white collar crime, as well as, verbal, psychological, and physical abuse from a mentally disturbed wife and mother. Although it costs me almost everything I had, I needed to protect my girls. The history left deep scars upon all of us.

Megan was in the middle of her high school career at the time, and needed as much stability as possible in her life. So, I dedicated myself to staying in the area with my focus on getting her through high school in the school she loved.

After she graduated in May of 2008, I had the opportunity to relocate back to our original home, Dallas, Texas. I sat Megan down and revealed the options. She was welcome to come with me back to Texas, or decide to stay in Buffalo and make it on her own. With bitter-sweetness, she chose to stay. She had lots of friends where we were, and didn’t want to be geographically near her mother in Texas. It broke my heart, but I also knew I needed to support her decision, and respect it. She was 18, strong and independent. I am proud to say, she had a good head on her shoulders, smart, and talented on many levels. We hugged, cried, hugged, and cried some more. Fast forward, she not only made it very well on her own, but in spades. She became a well-known western NY vocalist and recording artist. She was the lead singer in an internationally award-winning band, and voted twice as best female vocalist in western NY. Her current band, Grosh, is considered Buffalo’s rock royalty. She has been on several albums with her bands, and many as a guest artist with other recording projects. To say I am proud of her, isn’t scratching the surface.

It hasn’t always been an easy walk in the park for Megan alone in Buffalo. A few years back she was involved with a guy who was an abusive so-in-so. I won’t go into details, but even after their break-up, he stalked her, threatened her, started brawls to get to her, kidnapped her, and tried a murder/suicide plot. She survived by THE GRACE OF GOD ALMIGHTY. Oh, I could tell you some hair-raising stories. All my prayers for her protection were answered.

About three years ago, she met a really nice guy from another band. The musician circle is a tightly knit group in the area. Most are all friends, and collaborators. The first night of connection with this young man, Kevin, they were able to just sit alone and talk. It lasted hours on end. She began to pray about that spark on her way home, asking God to make this clear to her concerning this new lad. Before you can say, “Tune my guitar”, they were a hot item. They moved-in together a couple of years ago, (not what I wanted for her) and not long after, he asked me for her hand in marriage. They do so well together.

So this happened on Saturday, June 5th, on the banks of the Niagara River where Lake Erie feeds into it.

Yes, I gave her away at the Frank Lloyd Wright Boathouse.

At the mouth of the Niagara, the winds coming off Lake Erie are constant and never just a breeze. Hair and fabric were everywhere.

Waiting to take post-ceremony pictures on the dock.

Just like the lyrics in “Butterfly Kisses”, I arrived at the venue early, found myself gazing at her in the bride-room. She asked me what I was thinking. I admitted to just being in a state of cruise control. There was a tendency to feel I was losing my little girl, but really, I went through that uncomfortable feeling in August of 2008 when I moved back to Dallas without her.

Megan was so nervous.

Her mother was not there, and to be perfectly honest, it was for the best. My wife, Megan’s stepmother, was unable to make the trip. So I gave her away, hugged and kissed them both, then sat down on the front row alone.

The reception was under a classy tent. Being from Texas, she wanted feed everyone tacos instead of wedding cake.

The wedding party, plus the wedding guests, were primarily made up of the who’s who of western New York rock musicians. The band for the reception were well deserved members of the Buffalo Musician’s Hall Of Fame. As the night progressed, it turned into a jam session with other musicians attending the event. To say the least, it was fabulous. I was able to surprise the couple by singing, “Wildflower” from Skylark with the band. I had to change a couple of the lyrics to fit the father singing to the couple, but it was the perfect song about a wounded bride with old scars. I didn’t cry, but I worked very hard at choking back the waterworks.

Singing “Wildflower” from Sklylark

The band performed “Butterfly Kisses” for the daddy/daughter dance. Tears were overpowering at that point. We chose this song because I used to sing it to them at home and at church on Father’s Day while they were growing up.

The last time we danced, she was standing on my feet as I was teaching her steps as a kid. Megan and I shared a beautiful moment during the dance. I will always hold it close to my heart.

One of the unexpected circumstances was initiated by my oldest daughter, Tabitha. My girls were raised on various music icons like, The Beatles, Elton John, and Fleetwood Mac. The band began to play “Dreams” from Fleetwood Mac when Tabitha grabbed my hand and said, “Come on dad!” Before you could say, “Stevie Nicks”, I was dancing with all three of my girls at the same time. Again, that hasn’t happened in about 17 years.

From L-R: Tabitha, D’Anna, and Megan

My 10 year old granddaughter was there, but she was off chasing seagulls most of the time.

Skylar, Tabitha’s daughter.

The reception/concert lasted about 5 hours. As the golden dusk spread over the Canadian shore across the Niagara, a soreness began to settle in my heart. The night was coming to a close. It meant she would drive away a married woman, this little girl I nurtured and protected the best way I could. Now, it would be Kevin’s responsibility to watch over her, comfort her, and allow her to dream on. At the same time, I had to put on a stage face for the scores of strangers congratulating me on gaining a son-in-law. I do feel blessed in that he seems to be a true, honorable guy who is loyal and loving. And yes, I gave her away into his arms.

When Jesus spoke of how important it is to give your very life away, it is for deep purposes beyond ourselves. When we were taught to give of ourselves, it was for the betterment of the recipient. When Jesus urged us to give to strangers, it was to offer our very best, not the crumbs of life. Before my feet left Buffalo, Kevin received my best. As the song, “Wildflower” says, I had cultivated her, attended to her, and raised her in my garden for such a moment as she took another name other than mine. I gave him my best.

Photo: Megan at 4 & 17

Tabitha, Skylar, and D’Anna flew on different flights, different days. I flew solo. The soreness I had felt toward the end of the celebration under the tent didn’t go away. In fact, I felt it not only linger, it grew. Trying to decipher deeply seeded burning stones in the soul can be difficult when negotiating an emotional event. While waiting to board my flight at the Buffalo/Niagara airport, I began to recognize the source. Megan’s mother wasn’t there at the wedding because she didn’t want her there. In other words, Megan knew she would be happier at her own wedding with her mother absent. Although I understand it, knowing the dynamics of the first 15 years of her life, my heart was sagging knowing it shouldn’t be this way. Megan deserved to have a loving mother by her side on her wedding day. Yet, that wasn’t to be.

My flight had a layover in Baltimore where I was to switch planes for Dallas. Sitting in the Baltimore airport, the guilt invaded. Guilt of “what might have been’s”. Torture paints the gut when gnawing on a good chunk of the “what did I not do’s?”. At the same time, I have wonderful, sweet memories with my girls as they were growing up. I miss those days, BEFORE MIDDLE SCHOOL. LOL However, I can’t deny the hardships my girls were faced with. There, right there, at the entrance ramp to board the plane, tears began to escape.

It was a night flight. The sunset was beautiful looking west at 10,000 feet. Looking down at the darkness there were pinpoints of light which could be detected as we flew over small towns and lit highways. Then at on point the pilot spoke to us over the intercom.

“Folks, we are entering Arkansas where there are a couple of severe storm cells of note. We will attempt to fly around them. Please remain in your seats and buckle up.”

Not long after that, I saw the storms out my window to the west. We were flying high above them. The massive storm clouds were ominous. Then, as I kept my eyes on the cell system, various sections of the clouds below lit up with brilliant flashes of lightning. Like popcorn under a glass lid, the illuminations popped up continually as I tried to count them while gazing from above the fray. Only when the lightning ripped through the thunderclouds could I spy the enormous structure of the cell. It was a sight to behold. There was a special beauty about the fantastic light show beneath us, although a danger to those beneath the storm.

So many times in my life, God has spoken to me through unanticipated visuals. Life has taught me to watch for these particular teachable moments as the Master speaks in illustration. Later, after landing in Dallas, I thought back on seeing the turmoil below in the Arkansas sky. An impression gently settled in my mind. The storms we faced as a family was indeed brutal, and harmful. Yet, now, it is in the past, and far away. I can now, I should now, not relive the torments of the life we had, but rather see it from afar, from above it. This is how I know Megan sees the threatening past. So should I. It is in that state I was able to let go, giving her hand to his.

Celebrations can be for a bright future, but also for leaving the past. It’s been done with fuel for the race.

“Now when the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the groom, and said to him, ‘Every man serves the good wine first, and when the guests are drunk, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.'” – John 2:9-10 (NAS) – Wedding at Cana.

A Great Fall

“Don’t go jumping waterfalls.
Please, keep to the lake.
People who jump waterfalls,
sometimes can make mistakes.”
(1980) “Waterfalls” Written & Recorded By: Paul McCartney

The cover photo above was taken by my daughter, Megan, last month on the American side of Niagara Falls. Not fully frozen this year, but capturing the late night beauty of the falls is always worth it. At that time of night/overnight, they shut off the colored lights washing over the falls. In this cover photo you can see how it looks naturally at night.

We lived in that region for five years, Megan was the only one of the five of us who stayed. Never did I tire of standing by the majestic Niagara Falls. Only once did we venture out in zero degree air to see the falls in its almost frozen form. Not only does the beauty, and the piercing frozen mist of the frozen falls, take the breath out of you, but the muzzled roar is deafening. Also, in April, you often can watch the breakaway icebergs as big as houses go over the brink and crash in the lower Niagara.

Niagara Falls in winter. The hurricane viewing deck is encased in ice.

My personal favorite location to view the falls is on the Canadian side where the Horseshoe Falls is the most photographed. Below, my daughter, and my future son-in-law, are perfectly happy in the late night hours on the American side.

Megan Brown and Kevin Sampson on the American side of Niagara Falls.

The thundering roar of the falls can amaze you. The fact you can hardly hear your own voice the closer you are to the crashing waters can astound. The rumble beneath your feet from the vibration of the shear weight of the falling waters of the Niagara will raise your eyebrows. While approaching the bottom of the falls in a tour boat, decked out in your plastic raincoat and hood, you can feel the hull shiver and quake from the power of the collision of the millions of gallons from the mighty Niagara.

My late half-sister, Renea & I on the Maid Of The Mist near the bottom of the falls in 2007.

The tremendous wonderment of such a creation has caused presidents, kings and queens, the elite, the ultra famous, the most powerful and wealthy humans on the planet to stand in awe at the might of God’s artwork of Niagara Falls. Yet, its beauty comes with a dark cloud, a stigma.

It’s difficult to shade anything dark upon the majesty of such a place of history and enchantment. The truth is, this wonder of the world is also scarred by many deaths. Niagara Falls is known for being one of the most sought after locations by those who commit suicide. It’s a sad footnote to such a marvel, but true. Multiple deaths recorded there were accidental, as well. Take a look at the picture below taken from the Skylon Tower on the Canadian side from an old friend.

Niagara Falls, Horseshoe Falls.

The upper Niagara, feeding the falls, is several miles in length, reaching the Buffalo Harbor where the mouth of the Niagara begins as it meets the northern end of Lake Erie. This lengthy stretch of the Niagara River is often missed by tourists. It rushes through Buffalo, then splits around Grand Island, NY, and intersects again on the other side of Grand Island, heading with force toward the great falls.

The straightaway from Grand Island to the brink of the falls caught my attention as a kid while watching the 1953 movie, “Niagara” with Joseph Cotten and Marilyn Monroe. They were the two headlining actors, but the star of the movie was the Niagara itself.

I still have the VHS video. The story is of a crime drama with a couple of twists. Sure, the script wasn’t the best, nor some of the acting, but the scenery surrounding the falls is stunning. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I need to get close to the brink of it for this post. There is a horrific, nail-biting scene featuring a couple in a stalled motor boat adrift on the upper Niagara, headed straight for the fringe of the falls. The authorities do all they can to rescue those in certain peril, and the drama causes you to grit your teeth. There, I didn’t give you all the details. If you see the movie, you’ll thank me later.

I thought of that scene the very first time I visited the falls in April of 2003. My future boss took me on a quick tour of the falls that day as we negotiated a contract for me to move to Buffalo to take over a radio show. He drove me down the street, which parallels the banks of the upper Niagara, before reaching the falls. He pointed out a section of the river, just about a mile or so before the falls. There, as the river raged more and more as it rushed toward the falls, were ominous warning signs and bright colored buoys. The closer we drove, the easier they were to read. All the way across the half mile wide river, alarming signs alerting boaters to halt and reverse course immediately. There was no way anyone with eyes could miss the warnings. They detailed that if any vessel went passed that point, it would be the point of no return, literally. Other signs also signaled the fact that the waters were non-negotiable for first responders, including the Coast Guard. It was clear, due to the force of the river, and the rapids scattered about, the force would take its victims to the brink of the falls without remedy. Reading the warnings sent chills up my spine.

Robert Long might have visited the falls, but I can’t say. Maybe he should’ve seen what I witnessed along the road leading to the brink. Have you heard of him?

Robert Long, a kid in his 20’s, made horrific news recently. In a red light district of Atlanta, he shot and killed several female sex workers at three message parlors, and also a male bystander walking past one of the establishments. He then drove toward Florida to unleash another shooting rampage at similar businesses of sex trafficking. He didn’t resist arrest when he was apprehended. Without incident, he was cuffed and questioned. When asked why he did what he did, he gave an interesting answer nobody could guess. He admitted to a driving sex addiction which had overtaken his life and this was how he wanted to take out the people who fed his addiction.

Those who worship the politics of the day, will tell you he was hunting people of Asian decent, blaming it all on white supremacy. Keep reading.

The investigation into the shooting spree continues, but from what has been reported as of now, this kid in his mid 20’s has been a sex addict since he was at least 14 years old. At that time, his Christian parents placed him in a facility for people with addictions. Apparently, the boy was too overtaken to succeed in a clinical treatment of that nature. Even his roommate at the facility reportedly told the authorities how Robert Long was crazed by this sexual addiction.

Scripture says God has a love for His creation. So much so, He calls the stars by name. I imagine a place of His handiwork, like Niagara Falls, holds a great love in God’s heart. Even so, He loves you and I so much more. In fact, he loves the sex worker on a 12 hour shift at a place of red neon. He loves the traffickers who sit on piles of dirty cash while arranging transportation for pre-sex workers. And, he loves Robert Long, who was tricked by the Adversary, into choosing to look at online porn at 14 years old. We know this because He came to earth to offer Himself as a sacrifice to free us from our sins that wrangles and dominates us.

From what I have heard about his parents, a former youth pastor, and church worker and volunteer, no doubt they twisted in their sleep for years over this addiction created for their son. There is so much pain involved for everyone.

Sin comes with a tripwire. It’s like a snare set up to trap a rabbit in a cage. One pull of the string, and “snap“, the rabbit is imprisoned. Along with a tripwire, sin comes with a warning sign. Dire words are given, given again, repeated again, and again, and again.

They are words like, “GO BACK”, “REVERSE COURSE NOW”, “HERE, AND NO FURTHER”, “BEYOND THIS LINE, THE POINT OF NO RETURN”. These words flash in bright, reflecting colors, day and night, night and day for all who travel too close to what will wash boaters down stream to the brink.

Someone once wrote:

“Sin will take you farther than you wanna go,
Slowly but wholly taking control.
Sin will leave you longer than you wanna stay.
Sin will cost you far more than you wanna pay.”

The fall is a long way down.

Warnings of affliction, and a way of escape, are blinking in fuel for the race.

“Do not long for the night, When people vanish in their places. Be careful, do not turn to evil, For you preferred this to misery. Behold, God is exalted in His power; Who is a teacher like Him?” Job 36:20-22 (NAS)

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)

Masquerade

“Are we really happy here
With this lonely game we play?
Looking for words to say
Searching but not finding understanding anywhere
We’re lost in a masquerade”

(1976) “This Masquerade” Recorded By: George Benson Composer: Leon Russell

As I write this, it’s 104 degrees here in Dallas, Texas, with a heat index (What it feels like with the humidity factor.) of 118 degrees. The last thing I want to do is put on a mask.

If you read my blog posts you already know I don’t write about politics, or political favor, or rhetoric. (At least not directly.) Trust me, I won’t start today.

COVID-19 sure has delivered its punch in various ways. At first we were told masks were not necessary. Soon after, we were told to wear masks if ailing in health in order to protect others. Soon after, we were told to wear them in order to protect our own health from others who may be carriers. Before you know it, we were told to wear them in public regardless. Later we were told it might even be best to wear one in all indoor locations, outdoor locations, and when alone. ALONE? REALLY? So, if you’re hiking alone in the forest, you better have a mask over your big trap. Jeepers, I give up.

Let me start off by saying I want to do the right thing. I’m not one of the rebels you hear about who gets into fights at Walmart because of the lack of a mask on the mug. Beyond all of that nonsense, I have chronic health conditions which COVID-19 targets. To be frank, (and Alan, too) I must wear one when around other people until we have a vaccine. If I contract COVID-19 in my health state, I will most likely die. I know that sounds dark and gloomy, but it’s the truth. So, I do put the stupid thing on.

Me in my non-surgical mask.

Yep, that’s what I look like driving up to the bank teller. Times have changed. In case I forget it, I also have a fresh surgical-style mask in my car with the string around the ears.

Before you ask me, I do take off my sunglasses while in the grocery store. Which brings me to a very honest confession. Over the last few months of this pandemic, I slowly began to stop smiling at people I come in contact with. In fact, I find I no longer speak pleasantries to others as I push my buggy around. The only thing I can figure is that I feel hidden, as if no other shopper can see me. Isn’t that the dumbest statement you’ve ever read?

I sing in my church band, but that’s been nixed since the virus shut our normal church services down. For some odd reason I have grown, or shrunk, to feel I am a non-person in public. Therefore, since no one can see my mouth, cheeks, and chin, why bother to smile? Why speak since all is muffled. Mostly, when you feel hidden, what purpose is there to utter a word? Oooh, this sounds harsh. Am I making any sense?

Others must have the same syndrome because I see it in their eyes as they quickly look away from mine. What’s more, I don’t seem to mind the change I am seeing and feeling. Now, THAT’S sad.

If you saw the cover photo above the title, it might have given you smothering memories of Halloween-past. Remember how those loud, crackly plastic masks made your face sweat big-time? By the end of the night’s outing your face looked like it had ventured into a car wash. Then there’s the old saying, “You can throw me in jail but you can’t keep my face from breaking out.” How true of those days.

Speaking of retrospect, this reminds me of a familiar personal mode, which is far too common.

Mask, or not, sometimes we create our own masks. Don’t we? Not shields of cloth or plastic, but inner shields we default to. Like the ancient Greek actors holding up masks on sticks, we tend to hide our true selves in times of emotional turmoil, anger, and fear. As an artistic so-in-so, I buried myself in stage acting, or for various media. As a singer, I would dive into the lyrics, which drove my stage presence to another level different than who I really was. When I began to settle in my radio and voice-over career, I felt more at ease behind a mic in a control room all by myself, even though there were 200,000+ listeners on the other end of the speakers. In short, I allowed these areas in my life to become masks on sticks to hold up in front of my face…which in translation means: Emotions. If thin in some section of the persona, or physical appearance department, we tend to mask it with other tools from abilities, or our personal strengths. This is why most comics, actors, singers, writers are very often shy in their everyday-jeans.

At the same time, if we could only recall that there is Someone Who knows us, every line and wrinkle. There was a purpose for the scripture which states, God has counted every hair on our heads. There was a purpose for the scripture which states, God knitted our tendons inside our mother’s womb. There was a purpose for the scripture which states, God not only knew us in our mother’s womb, but also made plans for our lives, good plans to oversee.

Pay very close attention to the passage below for emphasis. Please don’t miss this. Notice how Jesus uses His words when meeting a man named, Nathanael for the very first time. Check it out.

***

Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the One Moses wrote about in the Law, the One the prophets foretold—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, He said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is no deceit.”

“How do You know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus replied, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”

“Rabbi,” Nathanael answered, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

Jesus said to him, “Do you believe just because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” – John 1:45-50 (Berean Study Bible)

***

No doubt, Nathanael ran back home and shouted, “Look Ma, no mask!”

Although your Creator sees straight through the mask you hold up, others cannot. I will work harder in communicating to others through my eyes. (I’ll act my way through it. LOL)

Knowing, and being known is discovered in fuel for the race.

“And when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was unaware that his face had become radiant from speaking with the LORD. Aaron and all the Israelites looked at Moses, and behold, his face was radiant. And they were afraid to approach him….When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. But whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with Him, he would remove the veil until he came out. And when he came out, he would tell the Israelites what he had been commanded, and the Israelites would see that the face of Moses was radiant. So Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the LORD. – Exodus 34:29-30 & 34-35 (Berean Study Bible)

 

The Journey On Highway COVID-19

Cover Photo: t0.gstatic.com

“Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free.
Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me…”  (1968)  “The Weight”  Recorded By:  The Band.  Composer:  Robbie Robertson

The Anvil

By:  Alan Scott Brown

There’s nothing like heat in the desert rising off a paved road.  They’ll say, “Oh, but it’s a dry heat.”  Just tell that to the sweltering backpacker, Levon “Fanny” Gates.  He shockingly found himself in the middle of a wilderness, on the road to a place called, Nazareth, just on the other side of the state line.  I say, “shockingly” because before his boots felt the searing concrete of this wasteland, he had been dreaming of the village with its rolling hills, orchards, and well-established vineyards.  His freshly cut front lawn was the launching point for a pleasurable outdoor hike through the pines, the cool brooks, and lavish meadows.

As if he had awakened from a dream of the plush land of plenty, he now absorbs the dangerous sunrays, feeling every drop of sweat rolling down his torso.  His canvas hat certainly covered his head, but the scorching heat invaded his scalp as if he wasn’t wearing anything at all.  Even his denim backpack was soaked in sweat.  If it wasn’t 112 degrees Fahrenheit, it would be soon, when the afternoon sun comes piercing through.

gray concrete road
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

Not much vegetation thrives out here, with the exception of sage, cactus, and the occasional Yucca plant.  Refreshing rains are welcomed, but scarce and quick.  Fanny prayed for, what they called back home, a “gully-washer.”

With each step, he seriously worried about the soles of his old hiking boots.  The baking surface of the road is far from friendly, and he felt the waves all the way up to his sunburned face.  At first, he wrestled with the thought of his soles melting in the staggering temperature.  Then, as he caught up with his fast-forward mind, he envisioned a potential hole in the rubber sole.  None of the options were comforting to imagine in this desolate landscape.

Prior to walking into this wilderness, he knew how many miles he had traveled, but now all had changed.  His harsh surroundings overwhelmed his calculations, thrusting him into a mystery without a map.  A solitary roadside sign mentioned a couple of towns being 200 miles ahead, but they were unfamiliar to him.  The miles seemed unending, without a mile marker.  Disorientation was setting in as a menacing reality.

Rather than stopping for rest, he made the decision to push himself forward in hopes the next curve, the next hill, or the next valley in the road, would reveal a much needed oasis.  Hooked to his belt, he had one full canteen of water, which needed to last longer than anticipated.  Fanny was self-rationing his meager provisions with intent.

“I can do this,” he whispered with uneasiness.

landscape photography of rock formation near highway
Photo by Quintin Gellar on Pexels.com

Keeping his eyes on the road ahead seemed to help him psychologically.  Yet, wild stallions in search for water, a lone service station, or another traveler with a tent would be a sight for soar eyes.  But each time he glanced to the left or the right, it proved to be discouraging.  In fact, most of the view reminded Fanny of NASA’s photos of the surface of Mars.

The feeling of abandonment was authentic, bleeding from his inspirational thought bubbles of solitude.  He tried to be hopeful by telling himself Nazareth must be within 3 miles, 5 miles, or maybe 10 miles.  The attempt to distract himself from the tide of broiling air failed at every turn of the road.  Before the desert sun could bake his mind completely, he scanned through multiple thoughts, thoughts which could fill a library, only to fool himself with wisps of self-constructed hope.

While pushing his legs to walk an incline in the road, he noticed something he had felt once before on this journey.  A pain, a specific pain in his back.  Of all the body aches he had endured, this backache was king of them all.  Hiking slowly up the side of a hill introduced him again to the racking misery coming from his lower back muscles, mainly from the right of the spine.  It was a bit of a mystery in that he hadn’t injured himself, and never had an old trauma from his athletic history.  He suddenly was reminded of the adage, “No pain, no gain” from his high school baseball coach.  He said it aloud, thinking it would be a magic charm the universe would accept.  It wasn’t.  Still, his inward need to persevere pushed his weary bones onward.

As he reached the plateau, he celebrated his efforts shouting into the hot breeze,

“BY GOD, I WILL DO THIS!”

As the late afternoon sun played havoc with his vision, Fanny cocked his head to one side as he caught a distant rumble of an engine.  Since he had begun to adjust to the mirage of water puddles on the pavement, he tossed it up to “hearing things” due to a bit of dehydration.  After a chuckle, he took a couple of strides when he stopped in his tracks.  The sound was getting louder.  He looked up in the blue sky to see which direction the plane was coming from.  It sounded like a single engine airplane from the 1920’s.  As he was hunting for the aircraft, he recognized the distinct sound wasn’t a plane at all, but rather a vehicle approaching from behind.  He quickly turned to scope out where it originated.  Wiping, then squinting his tired eyes, he saw an old blue pickup truck bouncing down the road toward him with its radio blaring a 1940’s big band tune with heavy brass.  He wondered where it came from since the area was void of ranches or farms.  As it approached, he could see only one occupant in the cab.  There was nothing impressive about the old truck, with the exception of the fact it was an older model one might see in a vintage car show, and overly worn, to boot.

 

blue single cab farm truck on brown grassland
Photo by Renato Abati on Pexels.com

As the truck began to downshift, coasting slowly as it pulled alongside him, he could see more clearly the one behind the wheel.  The driver looked as if he had just fallen off a hay trailer.  He was donning faded grey pinstriped overalls, like the old train engineers used to wear.  His misshaped straw hat went well with the old beat-up truck as it, too, had seen better days.  With a metallic squeak, the truck came to a halt.  It was clearly in much need of a muffler replacement.  The ragged driver turned down the radio and leaned over to roll down the passenger side window.  It was then Fanny could take-in what the man looked like.  He was an old-timer with a weather-beaten face.  His bushy eyebrows were salt & pepper mix.  His chest-length beard was white and wiry.  He had piercing ice-blue eyes which displayed a kindness, all by themselves.  Before Fanny could speak, the old man greeted him.

Spoken with a healthy snicker, “Howdy there, young man.  Nice day for a stroll in the badlands, wouldn’t ya say?”

The backpacker detected an accent, which reminded him of the deep south of the United States.  He wasn’t sure if he was being mocked by the question, or if it was an attempt at levity.

“Yes, sir.  It would seem so,” said Fanny, as he took his hat off and wiped his wet forehead.

Without hesitation the elderly man asked with a nod, “What’s your name, kiddo?”

“I’m Levon.  Most everyone calls me, Fanny,”  revealed the traveler.

The old man broke out in a belly laugh, “Well, who on earth pinned that nickname on ya?”

Fanny grinned, uncomfortably so, looked away and explained, “Yeah, that’s a long story, I’m afraid.”

“I bet so,” replied the old man.  “The name’s, Christopher.  Through the years, lots of folks have called me by a slew of other names.  But, Christopher will do.  So glad to meet ya…Fanny.”

“Happy to meet you, Christopher,” the young man said.  “Hey, where did you come from?  I’ve been on this road all day and I’ve not seen one house, truck stop, or vehicle coming or going in either direction.”

“Oh, don’t ya know?” asked Christopher.

“Know what?” inquired the trekker.

Pushing his hat back to the crown of his head, the old man responded, “Well, it’s very possible you were never informed.  This is a one way road you’re on in this dust.  Always been that way.  It’s true, only one-way traffic on this stretch.  That’s the reason why I drove up behind ya.  I’ll tell ya, that afternoon sun is brutal through the windshield.”

“Tell me about it,” agreed the young hiker.  “You know, maybe you can tell me something.  Would you know how far Nazareth is from here?  I really thought I would have spied it by now on the horizon, but nothin’ doin’.”

“Nazareth?” inquired the old one with one raised eyebrow.  “Is that where you’re off to?”

“Yes, sir,” replied Fanny.

While pointing his finger, the old man said, “Well, kiddo.  I can tell ya this, ya won’t get there carryin’ that anvil.”

Puzzled, the young man froze.  He looked behind him, turned back again and asked,  “Anvil?  What anvil?”

The elderly one broke out in laughter once again at Fanny’s answer.  “Boy, it’s that 95 pound chunk of solid iron at the end of the rope, the rope draped across your right shoulder there,” Christopher pointed out.

“Ah, yes.  THAT anvil,” Fanny stated with pride.  “Frankly, I forget it’s there.”

The elder wrinkled up his nose in an inquisitive expression, “You mean to tell me you’ve not felt every muscle in your body burning from the weight you’re towin’?”

“Come to think of it…yes.  Yes, I have,” Fanny admitted.

“Well, if that don’t beat all,” Christopher said in response.  “I’ve got the perfect solution for ya, Fanny.  Take a look inside the bed of my truck.”  Seeing the young man’s hesitation, he continued sharply, “Go ahead, son.  The Loch Ness Monster ain’t gonna jump out and bite ya.  Feel free, take a look.”

Fanny took a cautious small step toward the side of the pickup.  As he leaned closer to get a peek, his mouth fell open with a hushed gasp.

The old man said, “Tell me what ya see, boy.”

Fanny took a big swallow to say, “It’s a truck bed full of…well…full of anvils!”

“A whole stack of ’em, I’d say,” described the old driver.

In amazement, the young man questioned, “But, why are they there?  I mean…what are you doing with all of those anvils?  Are you selling them?  Do you work for a salvage yard or something?  I’m shocked this old antique can carry the load.”

“Fanny, I guess you could say I collect ’em,” answered the old rugged driver.  “In fact, I’ve been addin’ to my collection for many moons now.  I could tell ya how many travelers have allowed me to take the load off their backs, but you’ve been sun-baked enough today to appraise anything.”

The young traveler concurred, “You’re right.  I’m a bit fried.  However, these travelers you’re talking about, are they on this road?  I’ve not seen a soul until you drove up.”

“Yes, but everyone has their own journey, and most have similar burdens,” replied the old man.  “At the same time, some heavier than others.  As you can see, there’s various sizes of anvils here.”  After a brief pause of silence, Christopher added,  “Here’s my offer, kiddo.  If you trust me with your anvil, every pound of it, I’ll help ya toss it behind us, addin’ to the pile.  You can unload, and load-up in the cab with me for a straight shot to where you’re meant to be.  I just love playin’ the Uber out here.  But…keep in mind, the anvil stays in the back.  Alligators aren’t allowed in the cab with me neither, ha-ha-ha…”

Fanny looked down at the scorching concrete between his hiking boots and bit his chapped lips in thought.

Christopher, seeing the struggle to find words, added, “There’s rockslides out here, ya know.  As ya get close to a hillside, or an upcomin’ canyon, ya might stumble over a stone in your path.  When your strength is wrenched, you’ll find it difficult to keep your stance.  It’s even worse to find footing after a heavy fall with nobody around to shoulder the load.”

Shaking his head with a look of uncertainty he replied, “No, sir.  I have made this trip on my own strength, and I intend finishing it on my own.  Besides that, you’re a stranger to me in a beat-up old clunker.  No offense, but who’s to say you could get me to Nazareth?  I’m sorry, sir, but your offer doesn’t look promising from where I stand.  I will do this on my own fuel, and navigation!”

The old man smiled, put his right hand on the stick-shift, looked deeply into Fanny’s eyes and said, “Boy, ask yourself why.  Why don’t ya wanna take your load off?”

After a quick mental search, Fanny answered with a tone of resolve, “Christopher, the only honest answer I can come up with is, I’ve grown accustomed to my anvil.”

With a serious timbre in a lower register, Christopher asked, “And the weight of it?”

“I deal with it, just like this unexpected desert,” explained the young one.  “Do you understand, old man?”

“Oh, I do, son.  I really do understand,” replied Christopher.  “Listen, dusk is knockin’.  No need for walkin’ in the darkness.  I’d say, grab some winks for a fresh start in the mornin’.”

As the elderly man began to roll up his window, he grinned through his long mustache and said, “Well, I know you’ll give it your all.  Still, keep in mind, it’s needless for ya to take this desolation, with all its loneliness, and the weight you’re carryin’ solo.”  With that, he put the truck in gear, turned up the radio, and off toward sundown he drove.

silhoutte of a man
Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Pexels.com

Fanny continued his trek with a bit of angst in his steps.  Christopher somehow offended him with the offer of a free lift, as if the old man thought him weaker, frail, and without survival skills.

He began grumbling to himself, “How dare that ancient dinosaur-of-a-coot say I needed help through this parched piece of earth.”  Still, in the attempt to bolster his decision, he raised his voice a notch, “Who does he think he is?  He’ll see me in Nazareth, sitting under the shade of an apple tree, sipping on a glass of their best vintage.  He’ll be shocked to see me resting on my anvil, without any aid from his sorry rack of rust.”

With all his energy depleted by his rant, Fanny began to look for a safe spot to sleep for the night.  Darkness had fallen, but the moonlight helped in the hunt for a place to bed-down.  Soon, he located a soft sandy mound with his name on it.  He found sun-dried chaparral fit nicely for kindling.

Overnight hours passed and the silence was deafening.  As usual, he used the anvil as a pillow, even though the shape was not friendly for his head.  He found the surface of the iron was still warm from the sun, which was welcomed as desert nights tend to issue a chill.  Unfortunately for the camper, as the nature of anvils, its surface turned cold.

From time to time he heard a small rock roll off the side of a rise just feet from where he was laying.  Another time, he was awakened by what he thought was the flapping of large wings.  He imagined buzzards mistaking him for a dead man.  He then tried to keep one eye opened, but exhaustion won the moment.  Another awakening caused him to jump when he heard an insect scratching on his ear.  He began to inwardly acknowledge his sleep would be thin at best.

Without knowing why, he opened his eyes from a sound sleep.  It was just before dawn.  Across the road from where he camped, he swore he caught a shadow figure racing from the road into a ravine on the other side.  Startled, he bounced up to a sitting position while fixed on the area where it vanished.  What he wouldn’t do for a pair of night-vision goggles.  After a minute or so, and a few hyper heartbeats, he shook his head and took a helping from his canteen.

Unable to go back to sleep, Fanny stretched his legs, and his sore back, in preparation for the day ahead.

“The sun is winking at me from over the hills, ” he said as he reached for his anvil.  “There’s no time like the present.”

He peeled back the wrapper of an energy bar from his cargo pants thigh pocket, finishing it in record time.

With the young morning sun at his back, and the anvil dangling once again from the rope hoisted over his right shoulder, Fanny felt new aches making themselves known in his calves, ankles, and feet.  He thought to himself that if he just put one foot in front of the other, the pain would work itself out.

As he made his way, his mind was flooded with the movements and sounds he heard overnight.  He convinced himself that he was in no real danger…or was he?  Like a video clip running through his mind, he couldn’t erase the glimpse of the unknown shadow figure dashing away from his makeshift pallet.  As hard as he tried, he remained at a loss concerning its identity.  In the end, he boldly rationalized the thought.  He determined the quiet swiftness indicated a cougar, or a coyote.  The “what might have beens” gave him a sense of authentic fear he had not felt before.

Hill after hill, ridge after ridge, no sight of his goal.  With every turn, curve and valley, he had hopes of seeing the ornate village painted in his mind as the heated hours wore on.

During the mid-morning, the searing winds kicked up with a devastating blow of a wall of dust and sand from the west.  Immediately, it became a battle for each inhale.  Fanny pulled his hat over his nose and mouth for protection.  Vision became sparse.  Tiny grains of sand stung his skin like miniature darts speeding from a horizontal projection.  Through the torrent of hot dust and sand, he spotted a boulder nearby and ran to the east side of it, blocking the onslaught of the turbulent blast.  After what seemed like an hour or so, the sandstorm passed.  With tremendous relief, Fanny came out from behind the boulder, grateful he had discovered it when he did.

With a couple of clearing coughs, he thought to himself, “What else can happen on this journey?”

bird s eye view photography of road in the middle of desert
Photo by The Lazy Artist Gallery on Pexels.com

By early afternoon, he was running low on water.  His fear rose each time he shook the canteen to hear the lessening of the swish.  His quads were beginning to burn in his thighs.  His shoulder was bruised from the rope slung over it, cradling the anvil.  A growing headache, once only a nuisance, now pounded from the top of his head.  Realizing he was experiencing a deeper dehydration, he guarded against panic.  He was beginning to despise the constant mirages of heatwaves appearing as glimmering bodies of water.  Suddenly, he heard Christopher’s words from the day before, challenging him with the question of why.  “Why don’t ya wanna take your load off?”  He found himself flirting with the question.

Mid afternoon descended.  After following a sharp curve in the blistering road, Fanny peered into the shadow of a small canyon wall just ahead.  The shade spread all the way across the road, and then some.  There, on the shoulder of the roadway, about 40 yards away, was a figure of some kind.  Cautiously advancing toward it, there, in the shadow of the rock wall, he saw Christopher casually leaning against the tailgate of his blue pickup.

“It seems we meet again, kiddo,” shouted Christopher with a wave.  “The shield of a nice-sized rock in a desolate place is mighty fine, wouldn’t ya say?  It’s nice and comfortable to me.  Come on over, I’ve been waitin’ for ya.”

Fanny found he was somewhat relieved to see the old man, and a convenient shade.  He smiled, shook his head in amazement, entering the cooling shadow of the canyon.

As Fanny got closer to the truck, he scratched his head and asked, “How did you know I would be here at this time of day?  Are you stalking me, old man?”

Christopher laughed at the question and replied, “Who knows?  Maybe the old truck is equipped with radar for weary travelers.”

Wiping his hands on the front of his well-worn overalls,  the elder turned to the pile of anvils in the bed of the truck where he pulled out ice cold bottles of water from a Styrofoam ice chest.

“Here ya go!  Fanny, take a load off.  You deserve it.” ordered Christopher.

Right away, before breaking the cap seal, Fanny first put the cold bottle against his neck, and then his forehead.  With a deep heavy sigh, an expression of relief fell over his face.

“Ahhhhhh, that feels so good,” said the hiker.

“No doubt,” answered Christopher.  “Tell me, how did ya sleep last night?”

After opening the bottle for his first couple of gulps, the backpacker responded, “I hate to say it, but it wasn’t that great.”

“Oh, really?” replied the old man.

Delaying his answer with another long swig of water, “Let me tell you, the desert may not be my kind of surroundings.  I heard noises I couldn’t examine.  There were sounds coming from everywhere, including what I think were buzzard wings.  That’s way too close for comfort.”

“Is that right?” Christopher said slowly.  “What else?”

“You may think I’m nuts, but I spotted a quick shadow I couldn’t identify just on the other side of the road,” described Fanny.  “It’s not something I look forward to seeing ever again.  By the way, just how many miles is it to Nazareth from this canyon?  As far as I can tell….”

“Ya know, owls are night hunters,” Christopher interrupted.  “They keep rabbits and rats on the run for sure.  Wingspans can be impressive.  Such a wonderful creature.  As for nocturnal critters in general, I could write volumes on the kinds and species out here.  They’re everywhere in the cool of the night.  Some folks just let their imaginations run away with them like a train on grease.  Truth is, they all were created with excellent night vision.  In that respect, they’ve got a leg up on ya.”

The young traveler admitted, “It sure made for an uneasy night.”

While checking the lose left side of his back bumper, the elderly man stated, “Ya know, fear is an enemy.  Fact is, it comes in many forms.  You might even compare it to a parade coordinator-sending one flatbed float rollin’ by after another, all designed to frighten every person from every walk of life.  Your walk of life happens to be on this very road, in this very desert.  But always remember, fear is a liar.  It promises the worse case scenario in most all situations under heaven, and yet rarely delivers.  Son, it’s always best to think of all things as fleeting.”

Fanny laughed and belted out, “FLEETING?  Ha, this desert isn’t fleeting  Did you see that sandstorm?”

“Hang on now.  A liar’s performance is to convince his audience,” stated the old one.  “The sudden desert you approach will be full of woes.  Hard things happen.  Expect it.  It’s part of the learnin’ curve.  Oppression bubbles up.  Depression develops.  Illness lurks here and over there.  Pain arrives, creeping into your skin, your muscles, your mind, and even your very soul.  Soon, a lacking drains your strength, your joy, and eventually, your reasonin’.  Yes, the desert is all of that and more.  It’s a beautiful place, too…in its own way.  The colors and scattered shades are brilliant.  Yet, there’s danger out here.  There’s isolation expected, married to obscurity.  It’s all about who ya face it with.  But the sweet truth is, when journeying through the desert, like ya are, you’ll find it’s only temporary.  All parades must end, even sandstorms.”

The young man paused for a moment before speaking, “But if there is a learning curve to suffering, what and where is it?  I mean, where’s the final exam in this hellish classroom?”

Christopher stroked his wiry beard for a moment.  He turned toward a scenic view of the desert and explained, “The better question would be…Why experience it alone?  Look out at this barren ground.  Each step is a test.  You are gettin’ an education, albeit in a lesser degree without an instructor.  My offer still stands, kiddo.  Let’s take this anvil off your back and put it where it belongs…behind ya, without a rope attached.”

Fanny bent down to tighten his boot laces during an uncomfortable silence.  He then stood up, adjusted his canvas hat, looked at Christopher and responded, “No, sir.  I will finish this challenge I’ve walked into.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate your free offer, but, there’s something to be said about knowing my own conditioning will push me to my destination.”

The elderly man’s ice-blue eyes twinkled as he challenged the young traveler, “And when your anvil of comfort breaks your fleeting, temporary strength, with no one there who is stronger to save ya…what then?”

“Thus far, I’ve adjusted to its weight.  It’s okay, really it is,” said Fanny in a softer, kinder delivery.  “It may take me a while, but I will get through this desert.  But, I can’t wait to feel the soft, cool blades of grass in Nazareth under my bare feet  The universe will give me strength.”

“Don’t count on the universe.  She’s unforgivin’, and unable to love, ” said the old one.  “You, my young man, will find you’re bein’ schooled in the land of waitin’.”

With that said, Christopher watched Fanny strap on his anvil for the journey out of the shadow of the rock wall.  Just then, the old man pulled out a brown paper bag and two more bottles of water from the bed of his truck.

“Okay, kiddo,” holding out the items.  “Here, ya take these.  You’re gonna need it.”

Fanny displayed a large grin at the kindness Christopher displayed.  “What’s all this?”

“Well, there’s various items of protein in the bag, some nuts, dried figs, jerky, and some cold sliced pineapple you’ll wanna eat pretty soon,” explained the elder.

Laughing, the hiker inquired, “Pineapple????  Where did you get pineapple out here?”

Christopher just giggled with a lovely childlike delivery as he opened the door to the truck, got in, and started the rattling engine with a backfire.

“Here’s to hopin’ we will see one another again, ” said the old man.  “Ya know, hope is a healin’ thing.  Even in a deserted place.”

Fanny replied quickly, “I could use that for sure.”

“I know ya do, son.  I know ya do,” stated Christopher as he put on his sunglasses.  “Be aware of the shadow figures, Fanny.  It’ll serve ya well.  But, with that said, I’ve never read an obituary where a shadow killed anybody.”

With a whistle on his lips, and his hands on the wide steering-wheel, Christopher began to slowly drive back into the punishing sun.  The young trekker raised his hand slowly to wave the old man off.  Just then, Fanny realized he never thanked Christopher for the provisions.

Two days and nights passed.  It was about noon when Fanny found himself dragging his feet, literally, across the baked concrete in near total exhaustion.   With each painstaking stride, he began scanning the horizon for the old man’s pickup.  His energy was virtually depleted, and he knew it.  The morning delivered some scattered clouds, which aided the weakened young rambler, but now, nothing but abusive piercing sun shutdown all effort.  He felt himself wanting, even craving, a visit with the caring driver.

Just as Fanny journeyed down a slope, from a crest in the roadway, he tripped on something.  As if in slow motion, he fell forward, hard onto the hot pavement, in unison with a loud ringing thud as the anvil met the road.  He screamed in pain from the impact and fierceness of the raging temperature of the road.  He quickly turned over on his backpack as a buffer from the concrete.  It took him a minute to collect his mind.  He looked for wounds, finding a few scrapes and cuts to his elbows, cheek, and the palms of both hands.  He noticed his pants were ripped at the left knee as blood began to find its way through the khaki fabric.  Troubled at what caused him to lose his traction, Fanny looked around to find the object which caused the fall.  There was nothing there.  Unable to bend his left knee, he struggled to push himself up on his right leg.  With the rope still in his hand, he tested his body for limping to the side of the road.  The pain in his knee was crippling.  It was a mammoth project as he slowly hopped his way to the sandy shoulder, dragging the anvil against the hot pavement.

Assessing his ability to trek ahead, he noticed something protruding from the bottom of the toe of his right boot.  A closer look revealed a piece of the sole of the boot had come loose, and had partially folded back while dragging his feet during the endeavor to keep walking.  Whether it was heat exhaustion, the brutal conditions, or a pure wake-up call from injuries, the young hiker admitted being trapped, for the remainder of the day, right where he sat.

As the sun slowly descended into the western sky, Fanny tried to lift his spirits.  Finding a small bit of shade under some brush, he began to sing every hit song he could recall from his teen years-songs that made him smile.  He busied himself mentally listing his family tree as far back as the war of 1812.  With each mental exercise he was surprised at the slowness to fire-off a thought, or memory.  He wondered about heat stroke.

“It would seem the elements are doing a number on you, Mr. Gates,” he sarcastically mumbled to himself.  In pain, the hiker laid under the tiny shade of the brush for any relief he could manage.

Sounds seem louder when sleeping.  Fanny jumped with a start from a nap he didn’t intend on taking.  After a few seconds of clarity, he realized he was hearing the tail of a rattlesnake.  By sheer instinct, Fanny turned over from his position, discovering in the sand to his left a five foot rattler, curled up maybe 12 feet away.  Fear raced through his senses.

close up photo of a brown sidewinder snake on sand
Photo by Miri on Pexels.com

Somehow the young man pulled himself together and looked around for a rock.  There, by his left boot, were five golf ball-sized sandstones.  His eyes once again shifted back to the poised snake.  Visions of film footage of how quickly snakes can crawl and strike ran through his head.  Unable to bend his left knee without shooting pain, he grabbed the anvil rope, tossed it at the rocks, maneuvering one within reach.  He thought to himself, “I have one shot at this and it better be right, or I’m toast.”  He methodically, but slowly, reached the rock, grabbed it, then threw it at the rattler with a shout, all in one motion like a professional shortstop.  Speedily, the snake reacted, slithering out to the middle of the road and stopped.  Fanny trained his eyes on the reptile as it turned its head toward him again.  The hiker pitched another rock toward the snake, but this time unmoved.

“Oh, no you don’t, you little beast!  Don’t even think about it!” threatened Fanny.

Keeping his eye on the snake, he examined his precarious position.  Unable to move quickly, due to his knee, and without a weapon at his disposal, he knew he was a sitting duck.  The unexpected desert miles had been cruel, but he covered much ground.  Just as he began to question his endurance to reach the other side of the wilderness, he now might see it end-thanks to a new enemy-and a damaged sole.

Surveying every item within reach for a defense, the young traveler’s anvil caught his eye.  His mind landed on the reality of the weight of it.  Mentally, he began to blame it for his current dilemma.  Ninety five pounds of iron needlessly held him down from where he wanted to be.  In the assumption he could’ve run from the snake just minutes prior, the anvil would’ve proven to be the end, holding him back for the snake’s lunge.  However, in a sick, twisted thought process, his admiration for the useless anvil melted the angst.

Late afternoon approached, and Fanny’s nemesis remained vigilant in a curl, with its expressionless cold stare from the road.  The scene was looking darker for the injured young man.  He imagined the worst.

Feeling a bit delirious, the trapped hiker’s anger boiled, “So, do you have a nest around here?  Maybe you have a brood nearby you’re protecting.  Is that why you’re gawking at me?  They’ll all make terrific belts, you pile of scales!  How does that make you feel?  Tell me, is your crawl really quicker than my hop?  Look, I know what you’re waiting for.  You can’t fool me,” he said, taunting the rattler.  “When darkness comes, you’ll slither your measly self over here and take chunks out of me, as I slowly kill over from your venom.  I know your kind.  I was married to someone like you!”

Fanny was massaging his emotions to accept his coming death.  Dreams were dashed, hope only a dream, and his efforts toward his goal had been wasted energy.  In a moment of clarity, he looked over at his companion: the anvil.  In the light of his circumstances, he knew it suddenly didn’t seem to hold much value.  True, Fanny had grown accustomed to the weight on his back, but in the reevaluation, it seemed foolish to have imagined it to be part of himself in daily life.  In an odd, and maybe an ironic way, it took a trauma in a desolate place to see the fulfillment of the truth.

Another hour slipped by, closer to the coming dusk.  Fanny suddenly had gained a fever.  He could feel chills and cold sweat rolling down his chest.  His time waned in the growing darkness.  His new enemy seemed to detect Fanny’s weakened state, raising its head off the pavement.  Desperation danced through the stranded hiker as he grabbed the empty canteen, the only defense against the waiting venomous reptile.

During a somewhat morbid consideration, Fanny pictured where the fangs might sink in first.  Like a strategist, he began to maneuver his body so that the strike of the rattler would target closer to his hands and arms for a better shot at defense.  About that time, his ears detected a familiar remote sound.  He cocked his head as he zoomed-in on the distant echo of what appeared to be a big brass band, combined with the hum of an engine.  The young man smiled as he identified the modulation of old pistons, pushing an antique pickup in his direction.  Fanny caught a glimpse of the old blue truck rounding a curve, where it began to slow down with its radio blaring away, until coming to a complete stop.  As it did, the right front tire crowned the head of the cunning rattler with a defining crunch.  The driver’s side door opened and out stepped Christopher.

“Well, if it ain’t young Fanny restin’ on his laurels,” he said with warm grin as he walked toward the young man.

Fanny had gasped when the truck’s tire parked on the snake.

Christopher sarcastically asked, “Son, are ya hungry?  Your mouth is wide open like a newborn sparrow in the nest.”

“You…uh, I guess you know, you rolled right on top of that rattlesnake.  How did you manage to do that?” quizzed the injured traveler.

“Oh, practice, I suppose.  It happens,” answered the lighthearted elder.  “I see ya got yourself all banged-up there.”

Sheepishly, Fanny began to explain,  “Yes, sir.  Earlier today I was so spent.  Not realizing my toes were dragging, my sole separated a bit from my left boot, causing me to trip and…well, here I am.”

While scoping out the young man’s injuries, Christopher mentioned the obvious,  “Ya fell on your face, I see.”

“In a manner of speaking, I sure did.” admitted Fanny.

The old man knelt down to get a closer look at Fanny’s damaged boot.

“Hmmm, yep, I’m no cobbler, but I see what happened,”  speaking slower and in a softer tone, “Ya know, where the ‘soul’ separates is a lonely place to be.  What have ya learned, kiddo?”

One side of Fanny’s bruised lip raised as he said, “Seeking shelter is a wise thing.”

“Is it now?” stated Christopher.

“No doubt, ” admitted the young trekker.  “I have come to realize that I’m not ‘all that’.”

“Now, give yourself some credit in this journey of yours,” the old one said.

“What?” asked Fanny.

Christopher explained, “Ya didn’t think about how ya said it.  In all your boldness and anger, ya once shouted, ‘BY GOD, I WILL DO THIS!‘”

Beside himself, Fanny raised his voice in astonishment, “Hey!  How did you know about…I mean…that was a few days ago now…and on top of that, I was in…”

“In the desert, all by yourself.  I know,” interrupted Christopher.  “You might as well have had on a wireless microphone.  That was actually the beginning of your learnin’ while on this path.  With all the wreckage in your life, you were searchin’ for solitude.  Most people do.  Ya see, there’s a big difference between solitude, and isolation.  It’s ironic, isn’t it?  In your isolation, ya never really were alone.”

The young man being perplexed raised his voice, “Excuse me, but I still don’t understand how you…”

Christopher interrupted again, “Not many do understand, kiddo.  Even the ones who are most scholarly, with all those initials after their names, can’t get their arms around it all.  Some, the honest and most humble, will even admit it.  I’d say you’re in good company.”

Fanny still reclined there, looked down at his skinned hands and torn pants in a sense of surrender.

Breaking the uneasy moment, the old one spoke up, “Now son, here’s the deal for this time, for this place of desolation; will ya accept my offer?  You’re in the middle of this trip, but near the end of your journey.  I won’t return to these parts for some time, and here, in the waitin’, is the opportunity for decisions.  Trust me on this.  Take my hand and I’ll give ya a lift to where ya wanna be.  As a brash up-and-comer, a lad once told me, ‘It doesn’t look promisin’ from where I stand.'”

The young man accepted without delay, “Yes, sir.  I’m ready to move out of this God forsaken place.”

“Uh, not really… ‘forsaken’,” Christopher said with a familiar snicker.  “You have much to learn, young Fanny Gates.  Come on, I’ll help carry ya to the truck.  Ya ain’t heavy.”

With Fanny’s left arm around Christopher’s neck, and the anvil hanging from his sore right shoulder, the duo methodically made their way to the old truck.

After a couple of steps, Fanny asked Christopher a simple question, “I take it you know where Nazareth is, right?”

The old man opened the passenger side door, helped the younger into the truck and informed him, “Well, of course I know where Nazareth is.  As far as the eye can see from this spot, it’s nothin’ but desert.  Still, Nazareth is not too far from here.”

Just before Christopher closed the passenger door, he asked,  “Uh, son, aren’t ya forgettin’ somethin’?”

Fanny looked bewildered until he saw Christopher gazing at the anvil sitting in his lap.

He responded, “Christopher, do I really need to give it up?  It’s been with me for as long as I can remember.  Over my lifetime I’ve adjusted to its weight.”

“This is the very crux of my offer, Fanny,” Christopher uttered with a straight tone.  “Somewhere down the line, you were lied to.  You only ASSUMED ya needed this weight.  Ya must unload what has weighed ya down in order to come with me.  Now, tell me straight up.  Are ya willin’ to allow me to toss it behind us, to put it to bed?”

Seeing the sincerity in the old one’s ice-blue eyes, understanding it meant everything to him, Fanny agreed to let go.

(CLANG!)

With the anvil among the others discarded in the bed of the old truck, the aged one cranked-up the engine, took control of the steering wheel, and began to make a u-turn.

“Hey, Christopher, you’re going in the wrong direction!”, the traveler said with alert.

“You were hopin’ to go to Nazareth,” stated Christopher.  “Number one, ya wouldn’t have been able to get there by your own power.  Number two, I’m your only Uber out this way.  Number three, you were headed west on a one-way road.  Nazareth is east of here.  Always east.”

“Oh, yeah?  Well, I’ll just have to trust you on that.” said Fanny.

With that, the old man replied, “Yep, yep ya must.”

“Christopher, there’s just one thing of concern here,” Fanny said.  “I don’t have any cash on me for your fuel.”

After a satisfying smile on his old weathered face, along with a slight shaking of the head, Christopher replied, “That’s another thing, kiddo.  Ya never could’ve purchased your way to Nazareth.  It’s all been paid for ahead of your arrival.  Burden-free, son.  Burden-free.”

When loaded down, crushed with the stuff of life’s curses, unload with fuel for the race.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.’   For He will deliver you                                                from the snare of the fowlera and from the deadly pestilence.

He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.”  – Psalm 91:1-6 (ESV)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why All The Bells?

With the growing disturbances in our world this Christmas, I thought of re-publishing the below from my December 2017 post.

“Silver bells.  Silver Bells.  It’s Christmas time in the city. Ring-a-ling. Hear them ring. Soon it will be Christmas Day.” – Composers: Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. (1950)

Not long ago I heard of a certain residential neighborhood that took a nearby church to court.  Their complaint surrounded the bells joyfully ringing from the church steeple on Sunday mornings.  I will assume these would be the same neighbors who clamored about Sunday morning traffic around the church, before and after services.  I didn’t attend the trial, but I just know that if I read the transcript of the proceedings, certainly someone said something like, “What’s with all the bells?”

Bells too

It’s a valid question.  So, what’s up with all the bells?

Imagine you’ve had a wonderful 18 year marriage with an incredibly loving and supportive spouse.  Whatever the world dishes out, you had shade and shelter at home with your understanding mate.  Growing a family together has been a true gift.  Now imagine, that the love of your life tragically perished in a devastating accident when her clothes caught fire.

Imagine, by way of this nightmare in life, you are left with children to raise on your own.  Your first born son is a stunning, strong 17 year old who is proud to carry on the family legacy.

Imagine war breaking out just down the road from where you buried your soulmate.  Your young son’s enthusiasm for the war’s cause, coupled with his school lads running off to take up arms to fight for their country, pulls your son’s interest to join up.  He fights with you about being a new recruit, as you sternly stand your parental ground.  You debate with him.  You state that he is too young to fight a man’s battle where the blood shed has no respecter of age.  Imagine he shows honor for your wishes, agrees to continue his high school education, along with sharing the household duties.  Imagine for the next two years, each time you looked into his eyes, you saw his smile, or the way he visited his mother’s grave, and how he soothed your grieving heart every day by just being there.

Now imagine, one morning your 19 year old son vanishes overnight without a word or a note.  Your heart is pierced.  Your fears serve up the worst scenarios to the point of being unable to function and unable to eat or sleep.  Suddenly, after several weeks, a letter appears in your mailbox.  The envelope is marked with your missing son’s handwriting.  You can’t help but notice how his phrasing, even his handwriting, reminds you of his mother.  As you read through your tears, he explains his disappearance.  He details how he had joined the military to fight on the front lines for his country.  He goes on to describe how he had resisted the temptation to join up, as long as he could, and is now in the army fighting alongside his schoolmates.  He acknowledges how it must hurt you by his abrupt decision, but also making it clear that he is where he needs to be.

Imagine the worry, the fear, the sadness you would go through for the next several months without word of his health or his location.  Imagine a few months later, you receive word that this first born son was gravely injured in a major battle and could no longer be of service.  Now imagine it’s nearing the Christmas season, with the familiar sound of bombs and the gunfire of war echoing dangerously through the county.  The terror of your first born son offering his life each and every day, facing the blasts of the enemy drowns out all Christmas cheer and celebrations.

You can imagine going through such grief, such turmoil and fear, while fighting the clanging sound of Christmas bells all around you, as if everything was truly right in the world with all of its pretend joy, jolly-hollies and Santa’s jinglings.

This is what happened to American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, from 1861 to 1863 during the Civil War.  In his deep depression, coming out of a writer’s block, dating back to his wife’s violent death, he pens an honest reflection of where his hopes and dreams were last seen.  One of the verses written in his poem, “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day,” reads like this:

“And in my despair I bowed my head.  There is no peace on earth, I said.  For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth good will to men.

But the bells are ringing, like a choir singing.  Does anybody hear them?  Peace on earth good will to men….”

After the poem was published some years later, a songwriter put music to it in 1872.  Today we sing this song of Christmas blues with gusto.  I seem to sing it through tears each time. and even louder when I arrive at the next verse.

“Then rang the bells more loud and deep.  God is not dead, nor doth He sleep.  The wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth good will to men.”

“So why all the bells?” one might ask.  It’s because ancient bells were an announcement, an attention-getter.  Heralds would ring their bells while shouting, “Here ye, hear ye!”  Bells were meant to be loud.  The bell’s vibration was to pierce the air with a message to be readied to be received.  The bell-ringer assigned to pull the bell-clapper rope had the fervor to bring attention to a message of news.  A newsflash of importance or urgency, so urgent it mustn’t be ignored.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, through his familiar immense pain, wrote of the interruption of the bells of GOOD NEWS.  The bells speak of evil destined to be crushed by a Savior, a Redeemer, a Rescuer being born to us who live in the bondage of a spiritual war.  The bells proved the validity and certainty of an Almighty God Whose death is all about pulling back the curtain on the original fake news of no hope, no future, no God in ultimate control.

Maybe this Christmas will not be your best Christmas.  Maybe this Christmas might even be your worst on record.  This Christmas is not the best our nation has known.  Allow it to come, says Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and let it pierce through the wall that seems so solid, so thick, and so unscalable.  Because death, sin and the grave has been defeated and utterly destroyed already.  Sure, we have the effects of them now, but with that baby from the manger, there is a victory party that has already started that will usher in a nuking of the father of lies in a very short while.

low angle photo of steeple
Photo by Mark Neal on Pexels.com

COME ON, RING THOSE BELLS!  When you do, hear them proclaim, “There’s fuel for the race.”

“And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ The Lord.'” – Luke 2:10-11 (KJV)

Time In A Bottle

“If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I’d like to do
Is to save every day
‘Til eternity passes away
Just to spend them with you”   Recorded: 1972  Released: 1973  “Time In A Bottle”  Written and Recorded by:  Jim Croce

Have you ever spent time in a bottle?  (Maybe that’s for another post someday.)

I have fond memories of performing this stirring song in the late 1970’s as a duo with a fellow musician.  It’s really a wonderful premise, don’t ya think?  Maybe here is a way to save time in a bottle.  How about this?

Bottle Ship Etsy.com

Photo:  Etsy.com

Jim Croce has left us with somewhat of a mystery here.  The lyric itself was written at a happy time in the life of Croce.  In 1970 he and his wife had just discovered they were going to have a baby when he put pen to paper, but didn’t produce the song for two more years.  Simultaneously there is a blueness about the lyric, accompanied by a smattering of minor chords.  In fact, if you read all the verses you will hover in a hazy fog of wanting, lacking, with a tint of cost.  In Crose’s case, my theory is he was on the road with gig dates, away from his pregnant wife.  Not too vastly different from the overtones of the idea KISS brought us with the rock ballad, “Beth” from 1976.  The composers of both songs seem to be relationally available to their loved ones, and yet not — leaving a sense of sadness, of loss, with a shadow of emptiness.

There is a powerful scene in the 1998 WWII movie, Saving Private Ryan.  It’s a haunting scene, shot without audible dialogue.  Spielberg’s masterful direction begins with Mrs. Ryan, Private James Ryan’s mother,  busy in her farmhouse kitchen, donning her well-worn apron.  Out the kitchen window a telegram messenger drives up the dusty country road, stopping in front of her house.  Spielberg’s frame follows her to the front screen door which she opens.  The camera angle is positioned from behind her, as if the viewer is a member of the household.  (A brilliant choice by Spielberg.)  She steps out the threshold to greet the messanger.  The telegram is handed to her.  An unanticipated intense moment passes as she stands frozen in time.  Suddenly, her knees buckle as she falls faint to the porch floor as she’s informed of the deaths of three of her sons, all killed in combat.  Only one son remained alive, serving on the battlefield somewhere in France, her son James.

No other film moves me so like Saving Private Ryan.  Much of it is hard to watch as it was produced to place the viewer there in the thick of battle alongside the U.S. warriors in efforts to stop Hitler.  I recommend a showing for Veteran’s Day Week.  (Not for younger kids.)

The one and only scene with Mrs. Ryan is etched in my head.  It’s easy to imagine how just seconds prior to the telegram, she was happy, focused on the task at hand, proud and comfortable with a quiver full of valiant sons serving overseas in difficult times.  In those moments, I can understand why she would want to save that time in a bottle, to be poured out in measure at will, to once again revel in her family.  As I watch, knowing what’s coming, I too hold her sense of quiet joy all the way up until the tragic news breaks.  When she collapses, I shed tears of grief for her every single time.

“Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.” ~ C. S. Lewis

The news alert popped up on my television screen a couple of days ago.  I sat in my chair stunned as it was reported how three American mothers, along with six of their children, were mercilessly gunned down and burned on a road in northern Mexico, just south of the Arizona border.  Reports from surviving children, who escaped the scene, revealed mothers shielding their young, begging the attackers not to shoot.  Members of the Mexican cartel unloaded their weapons of war on the innocent, along with burning the bodies, some children still alive in the flames.  In an instant, I was enraged, followed by heartbreaking pain, followed by immense grief.  All within a minute.  “If words could make wishes come true…” – I believe the three moms would’ve wanted back the time of peace they had just prior to the attack.

Isn’t that the way grief goes?  One moment in time there is happiness, joy, or even the mundane, the ordinary.  Suddenly, it can be remembered no more when tragedy strikes rolling over heart and mind like a steamroller over hot tar.  We reach back for it all if possible.  If we had time in a bottle, in our onslaught of misery and mourning, we could uncork the reserve just to sample out some of what was once there before disruption, before loss, before pain.  The word “before” is massive.

Bottle with lamp

When you come across some unwise lecturer spouting out how the enlightened person of faith is care-free, without tears, only living the successful, prosperous life, I urgently suggest you keep searching for the authentic, the truthful.  Jesus Himself made this perfectly clear concerning the above.   “I have spoken these things to you so that you shall have peace in me. You shall have suffering in the world, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33  (Aramaic Bible in Plain English)  Several times, Jesus displayed His own hardships, struggles, sorrow, pain, and even tears.  It was written down on scrolls so we would know He understands what it’s like to live in a painful, sunken, fallen world.  Isaiah’s prophecy was clear.  We would recognize Messiah by certain red flags He would exhibit in His life, in His character.   –  “…a Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief…” – – Isaiah 53:3 (KJV)

Scroll Isaiah

Capturing the good times, the beautiful moments in life, is a terrific thing, even a healthy thing to do.  When they come, store them away in a special place only accessible to you, maybe in the bottle of the heart.  Fill it up, cork it as the days of memorable peace arrive.

As for Mrs. Ryan, along with an American family, with duel citizenship in Mexico can attest, times of quaking will come to a fault-line near you.  Whether it be financial, physical, mental, or relational, shatterings will come in life.  When they do, you might have a bottle of tremendous days reserved for reflection.  And as the tears fall, retrieve this passage from your bottle of times:

Bottle Biblical

“You have kept record of my days of wandering. You have stored my tears in your bottle and counted each of them.” – Psalm 56:8  (Contemporary English Version)  * Many versions add:  “…Are they not in your book?”

Grief, grief held to, can overwhelm the vibrant mind, poison the hopeful spirit, destroy physical health, divert from a career, and breakdown the life of the body.  We MUST grieve, for there IS a time for it.  Wisdom says to embrace it as it comes, bidding it farewell before it spoils like moldy bread.  You’re reading from one who suffers the failure of letting go.

When holding to the biblical promise with the invitation to “…toss ALL cares, ALL anxiety, loading-up on Him because He cares for you” – 1 Peter 5:7 (My paraphrase), one’s bottle will be filled with fuel for the race.

“For thus said the high and exalted One, Inhabiting eternity, and holy is His name: ‘In the high and holy place I dwell, And with the bruised and humble of spirit, To revive the spirit of the humble, And to revive the heart of bruised ones.‘” – Isaiah 57:15  (Young’s Literal Translation)

 

Me…Mingle?

Photo:  Pexels
“I Went to a garden party to reminisce with my old friends,
a chance to share old memories and play our songs again.
When I got to the garden party, they all knew my name.
No one recognized me, I didn’t look the same.
But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well.
You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself.”   Garden Party (1972)  Written and Recorded by:  Ricky Nelson

Did I catch you singing?  I know.  It’s got a terrific hook on the chorus.  Truly, it’s the iconic song Ricky Nelson was known for at that stage of his short life.  The lyrics sound as if it was a pleasurable garden party with old famous pals, but it was birthed out of rejection and sourness.

It was October of 1971, the Richard Nader’s Rock ‘n Roll Revival Concert was a huge gathering at Madison Square Garden in New York.  It was billed to showcase older American Rock ‘n Roll giants, prior to the British invasion, from the 1950’s and early 1960’s, with acts like Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Bo Diddley, and Bobby Rydell.  They were among many kickin’ it on stage that night.  Back stage, and in the audience, the ultra-famous were in attendance from various corners of the entertainment and sports realm.  The lyrics in the song, “Garden Party” point that out.

It was his turn at the mic.  Ricky Nelson came out on stage in the fashion of the times, bell bottoms, velvet shirt, complete with bell sleeves, and long hair down to his shoulders.  Keep in mind, the order of the concert event was to reminisce with early American Rock ‘n Rollers, so the look was expected, too.  Well, unfortunately for Nelson, he didn’t take it to heart who the nostalgic demographics were holding tickets.  He performed some of his early songs from the late 50’s and early 60’s.  But then he played a peculiar country rendition of The Rolling Stones’, “Honky Tonk Woman”.  At that, the crowd began to boo, and boo, and booed some more.  He wrapped up his set and left the venue, not even waiting to show up for the all-star finale at the end of the night.  However, it worked out because he wrote a song about the experience in, “Garden Party”.  And I must admit, “…ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself.”
Me in session working on The Tree 2006 WDCX
In the late 1990’s I created an award-winning radio theater department for Criswell Communications Network.  I absolutely adored those years writing, acting and building those audio movies.  Later, I did the same in Buffalo, NY for the Crawford Broadcasting Network.  From time to time I am asked to voice a character for special commercials, promos, or projects.  But back then, life got in the way and now it’s been a few years since I was a regular working voice actor.
Mic
About a year ago, I was asked to voice a character for a dramatic read of a new novel and CD due to be released simultaneously.  Although it was a small walk-on role, I was thrilled to do it.  It was like going home again for me, even though I wasn’t the author or director.  What was very different, and a bit nerve-racking, was the author himself was in studio with me.  Being a hands-on kind of guy, he directed me while I fashioned the vocals needed for this particular character.  Don’t get me wrong, the author was/is a terrific guy.  I’m sure we will be working together in the future for more projects.
Me as Skunk Baxter of Dooby Bros 2016
This morning, before I could pour my first cup of java, I got a voicemail.  It was the author.  He made me aware of the recently released book and audio version.  He then invited me to a cast party he was hosting at his very lovely home.  I responded before lunch, letting him know how much I enjoyed the recording session, developing the character, and his invitation.  Then I politely declined to attend the party.  Why, you might ask?

people sitting beside table
Photo by Lee Hnetinka on Pexels.com

For as long as I can recall, I have never been good at cocktail parties, social dinners, or dances were strangers want me to do the Macarena.  Sure, I can act my way through it, which is what I’ve always done, but that’s work, not pleasure, and certainly not comfortable.  Being an old stage actor and radio personality, you would think I would be a hoot at a gathering of pre-friends.  Trust me, I’ll be the quiet guy in the corner with a china saucer full of chilled shrimp in one hand and a cup of punch in the other.  Yes, there’ll be clusters of revelers in a circle laughing, kissing cheeks, along with lines like, “What do you do when you’re not acting?”, or “What a lovely tie.  Who are you wearing, sweetie?”, or “So what project are you working on now?”  I just don’t mingle well.  It’s as simple as that.  There, I’ve said it.  Arg!  I would likely run off stage left like Ricky Nelson.

Cast parties are fine, in fact I have attended lots of them through my acting days, even hosted many myself.  Most all cast parties I’ve been a part of were packed with fellow cast-members I had the pleasure of working with face-to-face.  Those were actors and crew in which I developed relationships with, or at least decent acquaintances.  Those were parties where we could let our hair down and enjoy reminiscing about lines being dropped, favorite scenes, and wardrobe malfunctions.  (In 1978, while playing Johnny Brown in The “Unsinkable Molly Brown”, I walked out on stage singing with my fly opened.  Thank the Lord it was only a dress rehearsal.  Orchestra members noticed it first down in the pit.)  Cast parties are always a grand time laced in lots of laughter.  Here, the difference is, I never played against another actor in last year’s session.  My recorded lines were like a looping studio session where the dialogue was digitally dropped into scenes in post production.  There was no actor but me, myself, and I.  I played to a mic and a music stand.  I never met any of the actors on the bill.  To be clear, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that kind of session, it happens more often than not.  At the upcoming get-together I would know the author, his wife, and the recording engineer/producer.  It’s not that I am really anti-social…or am I?  Ouch!  What am I admitting?

If you’re a psychologist, you probably know why I am bent this way.  The ugly truth is, I am probably afraid of rejection, even eyes of rejection.  I’ve been at award shows, green rooms, and backstage at concert venues where you’re chatting with someone who won’t look you in the eye because they’re way too busy scouting out the next celebrity to be cornered.  You find yourself answering their question about family, career, or which hotel you’re staying at when suddenly they quickly interrupt with, “Oh, there’s Amy Grant with Vince Gill right behind you.  Gotta go.”  Is it just me, or is that not rude?  I’m guilty of that behavior as well.  So awkward.  Again, I say, Arg!  In the end, I dislike “…players who only love you when they’re playin'” (Fleetwood Mac)

Has it occurred to me that maybe I’m wrong about all this?  Maybe by now you’re saying silently, “Hey, this is weird.  He needs to loosen up.”  Okay, I’ll accept that.  But as I’m being super honest with you, hear me out.

To truly engage with another is to be associated with, connected with, to be in tune with the other, even if in a small way.  This is me.  If you and I are having coffee at a local spot, I will fully hear you, see you, and meld with you.  In fact, I like to make people feel that they are the only person in the room, complete with eye-contact and real chuckles, not out of nervous laughter for the sake of sound to fill up dead air.  This is how I was raised to believe.
Ricky Nelson
Photo:  Wikipedia
Poor Ricky Nelson.  Every time I hear “Garden Party” I listen for the rub, the angst, the sore spots between the words.  Bottom line, he didn’t “know” his audience.  Moreover, he didn’t take in serious consideration of the theme of the event.  Of course, the audience lacked true love for Mr. Nelson.  They only loved him when he played what he was known for ten years prior.  In those quick tunes he scratched their itch until he ventured onto something new from a British band.  It was a mismatch moment, a sting he took with him to his grave.  He died in a tragic plane crash on New Year’s Eve 14 years later.

In the end, I believe it’s all about “knowing” someone, or at least making faithful efforts in doing so.  Because inside that other person is a story which comes from their hearts.  A story worth the fidgeting, even if booed.  If we “play” at socializing, we do not do justice in the connection.  How else will we learn to love others, as God would have us to love?

Still, I remain shy with strangers in close settings.  I shared an elevator today where my total sum of verbiage was, “Third floor.  Thanks.”

Engaging another may start out with “How are you?”, but if they begin to tell you about their gout, making you’ll want to slip away with, “Ya know, I need a refill.”  If so, then where is the honest interest?

More and more I understand why Jesus told us to love others as we love ourselves, and to treat others as we want to be treated.

You know, maybe I should go to the cast party after all.  If I do, the boldness won’t come from my clipped persona, but from a deep well of fuel for the race.

 

“If you love only those people who love you, will God reward you for this? Even tax collectors love their friends. If you greet only your friends, what’s so great about this? Don’t even unbelievers do that?”  – Jesus –   Matthew 5:46-47  (Contemporary English Version)