Lost & Found

“…Okay, so no one’s answering.  Well, can’t you just let it ring a little longer, longer, longer?  Oh, I’ll just sit tight through shadows of the night.  Let it ring forevermore…Yeah, yeah, yeah…”  (1976)  Telephone Line.  Recorded by:  Electric Light Orchestra (ELO).  Composer:  Jeff Lynne

Frantically, in the chill of the frozen air, he yell out, “Kids, help me find it!  Tabitha, you look over there where we were throwing snowballs.  Megan, you look over by the Suburban.  D’Anna, you stay here with me.  Help me push the snow away.  We’ve got to find it before we lose daylight.”

It was this week in August of 2001 when my family and I had experienced an unanticipated devastating blow in our lives.  Today, it still hurts.  Frankly, it lingers in my heart and mind all these years later.  Truly, the person, which caused the groans in my spirit, to this very day, has accomplished that individual’s purpose.  To dive into what occurred would just add to my painful memories, which I try to keep beneath my feet.  Forgive me for keeping it from you just now.  I will not bathe you here in the memory of it.  However, I’ll describe a tad of the domino impact from the personal trauma.

The vicious personal event was quickly followed by America’s incredibly disturbing attack on September 11th.  I must admit, the depths of my depression was a vast, velvet black abyss.  I spent my days in bed, sleeping as if on a sedative.  My marriage had ended years prior, but still living together for the kid’s sake.  My filing for divorce was already being planned through much heartache.  Thoughts of suicide knocked on my door a few times in stages of complete emptiness.  (How honest is that?)  The only thing God used to keep me living was my three precious daughters.

As the months rolled on, my depression continued to eat my lunch, but I was an experienced actor with the ability to hide the pain when needed.  I noticed I had a tremendous urge to wrap myself up in my kids.

By December, I felt a new bravery to take the family on a vacation.  We would wait for Christmas to come and go, and then pull out all the stops to begin a 12-day road trip starting the day after Christmas.  My intention was to use it like a balm for our hurting hearts.  It was money we didn’t have right after Santa’s visit, but it was so needed.  Stupidity or not, I cashed in my 401K.  (I know, it’s not a wise thing.)  We rented a huge Chevy Suburban, packed it up, and off we went.  We left Dallas for a day spent in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Then north to Colorado Springs, Colorado we drove.  It would be our jumping point for all surrounding areas of note, and then up to Denver.  What a blast!

Pike's Peak Dec 2001

R-L:  Tabitha, Megan, D’Anna in front.  Pike’s Peak in the faded background.

One by one we visited the normal sites of awe.  We were holiday tourists and it showed.  We even rode horses during a lite snowfall through the Garden of The Gods National Park.  The red rocks were brilliant up against the white snow.  The photos I rediscovered do not do it justice.  While in the area the snow became heavy through the days.  Yet, that didn’t slow us down.

New Year’s Eve came rather quickly.  We decided to hit the great Seven Falls tourist attraction in the Pike’s Peak area.  (Google Seven Falls to wet yourself down with its picturesque majesty.)  Alas, they were officially closed on New Year’s Eve, but we still were able to drive to the overlook scenic platform, just across the canyon from the high, frozen long falls.  As you can imagine, we had the place all to ourselves.  Along with the frozen famous falls, I adored the silence in the air, also created by the audio-absorbing snow.  The temperature was about 4 above zero that afternoon.  That’s tough for any Texan to endure for very long.  So we took pictures, looked at the frozen falls trough binoculars, until the girls started to beg for the warmth of the SUV.  The fog of my long sigh rolled out of my mouth and up over my head.  Oh, how I wanted to stay and soak it all in.

Seven Falls Frozen Dec 31, 2001

Megan & D’Anna, and your’s truly.  (Tabitha was taking the picture.)

It was almost dusk, so we drove out of the opened gates of Seven Falls. (See cover pic over the title above.) With the tires crushing the hardening snow, we passed a little picnic area with a trickling brook close to the drive leading out toward the main road.  We decided to stop and have ourselves a snowball fight, which the girls had been pleading for ever since we arrived in snow country.  That’s exactly what we did.  My camcorder was in full-swing as I climbed out of the vehicle.  The snow was up to my shins in some places as we dropped to make snow angels with our arms and legs.  Three year old D’Anna was getting too cold during our snowball fight, and didn’t want to stay out any longer.  She wanted back in the warm SUV where her mom remained during our adventure.  Her timing was just about right.

Seven Falls Park Dec 31, 2001

Tabitha and Megan in the park ready to launch snowballs at the man holding the camera.

It was beginning to get dark.  The moonlight was spectacular bouncing off the sparkling snow.  We took the time to climb a small 25foot-30foot hill in the park where we could see the trained colored spotlights skimming off the frozen falls off in the distance.  It was just a magical moment for us.  But all good things must come to an end.  Whoever came up with that phrase must’ve been a recluse.

As I reached the vehicle, I began to search my coat pockets for my cell phone.  Back in 2001/2002 cell phone casings were thicker, with antennas which rose above the scalp when pressed against the ear.  I figured if it fell out I would feel it.  There were only three pockets large enough for placement.  I searched all of them.  My hunt in the Suburban came up empty as well.  I ordered everybody out of the vehicle to form a search party.  It was dark, but the moonlit snow would be a big help in locating a hole in the drifts in the shape of a flip cell phone…or so I thought.  We must’ve spent half an hour walking square foot by square foot of the area where we had been playing, even the roadside hill we climbed.  We came up with nothing.  Obviously, in our wintry frolicking it escaped quietly out of my coat pocket.  We returned to the SUV wondering all the while how we would communicate with the outside world.  In those days, it was the only cell phone we had.

Cell Phone old

After we fell into bed, back at the hotel, I called our family members in Texas to tell them of our adventures, along with the misfortune of the cell phone loss.  We continued our snowy trip throughout the following days, thoroughly enjoying a life-long memorable vacation which was good for our souls.  It was the right thing to do.  No regrets, even now.

One afternoon in late April of 2001, our landline phone rang.  It had a Colorado Springs area code.  I picked up the phone to hear a man’s voice asking if I had been in Colorado Springs recently.  Curiously, I mentioned our Christmas/New Year’s trip.  He then asked me if we had visited Seven Falls.  The bell wasn’t ringing in my head just yet when I heard his question.  With a confusing sound in my voice I said, “Yes, we were at Seven Falls.  They were closed on New Year’s Eve, but we had a fun time hopping around in the deep snow just outside of the falls in a park.  Who is this?  Why are you asking?”  He introduced himself, then explained he was a Colorado Springs police officer who jogged the same road alongside the park outside Seven Falls.  He went on to reveal how he found a frozen mobile phone next to his jogging route and retrieved it.  He had me describe the phone and when he was satisfied that I was the owner, we both had a good laugh about it.  He said after the snow melted in April, it was sitting there in plain sight by the brook.  He went on to tell me he took it to the police lab to charge it up, not knowing it would even take a charge after thawing.  In his surprise, as he looked through the contact index, he found a number that was entitled, “Home”.  He jotted down the number and called us from his cell.  He then graciously asked if I wanted it back.  By that time I had already replaced my mobile phone and really didn’t need it any longer.  He offered to mail it to me at his expense, but I discouraged it.  I thanked him, then gave my permission to use it as a trade-in for another phone for himself.  He said he might just do that.  I hope he did.

To this very day, I pray for guidance in various corners of my daily life.  One subject I pray for are teachable moments in my own life.  Later it hit me concerning an ancient truth written so long ago.

Have you heard about the old woman from Israel, some 2,000 years ago?  She wasn’t a poor woman.  She actually had ten silver coins stored up.  In that day, it signified wealth.  By deduction, she probably didn’t earn the silver coins, as most women of that time wouldn’t have had income reaching such a total.  There’s no mention of a husband, so some surmise she might have been a widow.  If so, in the Middle East during the first century, it would have been the inheritance from her dearly departed husband.  The silver coins must have been precious to her heart, more than the marketplace.

On a cloudy day, the woman reached into a space in her hearth where she had hidden the small drawstring pouch of coins.  Carefully, she poured the collection of silver pieces onto her small dining table for polishing.  As she counted them she stopped at nine.  She counted again, but stopped at nine.  There were ten in the pouch, but only nine rested in the pouch.  One had been stolen, or simply misplaced.  Frantically, she lit a lamp and placed it just a hair’s width from the floor.  With a roving sharp eye she explored every inch of the cold floor on her hands and knees.  She then hastily grabbed her broom to slowly swept each corner, under every chair, bed and table.  She was determined not to give up her search.  With one swipe of her broom in a darkened place, she heard the sound of a coin slide against her stone floor.  The neighbors and friends down the street were unaware she was in great distress, as she hunted for this one lost coin.  She was so elated, she ran outside in almost hysterical laughter and yelled out to her clueless friends and neighbors,  “Celebrate with me!  I had lost this one silver coin and now I have finally found it!”

The parable of the Lost Coin is a story Jesus told.  (I paraphrased and expanded it for a modern dramatic rendition.)  He taught a few things concerning items lost from God’s arms.  A sheep, a prodigal son, a priceless peril, etc.  It must mean a lot to Him.  It speaks of His heart toward those of us who are not close, or in tune with God’s love, along with the righteous rescue He offers.  When He taught about “lost things” He describes them as out of sight, or in a hidden, darker place from clear view.  Even now, I have a beautiful red sock somewhere in a darker, out of clear viewing locale.  Every time I see the mate, I remind myself to turn my house upside down.  Even though it’s here somewhere, I still cannot see it, touch it, or consider wearing it.  In other words, my lost sock is useless to me.  However, I love those red socks!

Unlike my choice, concerning the future of my lost phone, God treasures the soul who He sees as lost.  He never “trades in” for another more fetching, or more accepting.  Many who recognize the vacuum in their world to be a life without spiritual reconciliation, find peace and comfort in His arms.  In God’s view, there are no lost causes.  THIS, is the true purpose for the humble birth in Bethlehem.  God’s way of searching out the lost precious ones.

“For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His…”  2 Chronicles 16:9a  (NAS)

After many months under the Colorado snow, the frozen phone was without juice for communication.  Yet, when plugged into the source of power by a rescuer, it gained life, a resurrected life, so to speak.

My old mobile phone and I have something in common.  After the well-intended butchery of our lives that August, I froze-up.  One might even say I was useless.  For months I crawled into an emotional fetal position with the mental coil of wanting the bury myself in a snow cave somewhere, never to be seen or heard from again.  In a way, I did just that.  I even stopped doing chores, trips to the grocery store, and hid from friends and family outside my walls.  Trust me when I say, it was difficult as I had a very public career as a radio personality.  Climbing on the air became a dreaded thing to me.  I had to “put on” a character, a character I once was.  You might say I was frozen without a charge.  Psychologically I was damaged, altered, and empty.  It went on for years.  I fought to stay alive.

Some relief began to diminish the bubble (somewhat) by 2004.  You can align it to a snow-melt causing me to reappear.  Thank God for the power of resurrection.

You might discover the falls may be frozen, but there’s always a scenic platform available.  It comes with a free viewfinder prepared with the essence of fuel for the race.

“What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the pasture and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders, comes home, and calls together his friends and neighbors to tell them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my lost sheep!’ In the same way, I tell you that there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous ones…” – Jesus –  Luke 15: 3-7a  (Berean Study Bible)

 

Rewinds

“…Daylight
I must wait for the sunrise
I must think of a new life
And I mustn’t give in
When the dawn comes, tonight will be a memory too
And a new day will begin…”  (1981) “Memory” from Cats by Andrew Lloyd Webber

The young Dr. Frankenstein meets Igor, for the first time, at a foggy depot railway platform.  As they introduce themselves, the great Marty Feldman, who played Igor, presents himself as “I-gor”.  Dr. Frankenstein, played by the fabulous Gene Wildman, thought the pronunciation was a bit odd.  He remarks that he was told it was pronounced, “EE-gor”.  Without a slip of a beat, Igor cocks his head, leans in and says sharply (in his very British accent), “Well, they were wrong then, weren’t they?”  Young Frankenstein, from 1974 from the brilliant Mel Brooks, is not only considered a classic, but it’s also one of my all-time favorite comedies, if not my #1 favorite.  So much so, I have it on both VHS and DVD.  I just cackle at the late Marty Feldman’s comic timing in the unforgettable scene.  He was a comedic genius.  To this day, my finger gets busy on the rewind button, just to treat myself a couple of times before the movie moves on.

As I date myself by the following line, I will be straightforward.  As a teenager, when graduating from vinyl albums, I had to replace most of them with cassettes for my car and tape player in my apartment.  That was a chore.  However, the ease of the rewind button allowed me to quickly scan for my favorite cut from the artist I was listening to.  After all, you couldn’t do that with the vinyl LP.  You had to be steady-handed as you carefully picked up the needle, while locating the correct grove, when hunting for Elton’s “Crocodile Rock”.

Turntable Needle by Pixabay

Photo:  Pixabay

Admittedly so, when on my DVR, or On Demand selection, the rewind button is one of my best friends.

Have you ever noticed, the rewinds are usually not for searching that gruesome scene where the stabbing took place?  My guess is that you rarely push the rewind button to “re-watch” the tragic scene where the little boy, along with his dog, can’t escape the burning house.  No doubt you never raced for the rewind button to capture again the flogging scenes in the movie Amistad.  If so, there’s counselling available for that itch.  Yet, I’m afraid we do it all the time…mentally.  Think about it.

My last post on this format was about too many windows in old hotels.  Well, I’m about to pull back the drapes on one of them for you.

Over 40 years ago, I had a troublesome relationship that went on much too long.  This individual was my friend through much of the 1970’s.  As time went by, we grew close with a very tight bond, which seemingly was permanent.  Fast-forward to December of 1979, things abruptly ended hard with a resounding thud.  Most all of my old friendships are still intact and loving.  I don’t lose friends, for the most part, and I am grateful.  Still, this one was substantially significant in my life…or so I thought.  The relationship needed some healing, which never took place, and fighting became our norm toward the bitter end.  Truly, it was a downhill slope into quicksand.  We were teenagers with mounds of maturity which had yet to settle-in.  Regrets?  Sure, at least for me.  I went back to my friend a few times, during the following days, in attempts to mend, soothe, and restore.  But I learned quickly that it takes two to do so.  Believe me when I say, it was a nasty split.  My friend was wrong, and I was wrong.  Nobody was innocent.  I have been mourning over it ever since.  How sick is that?  There have been 40 years of rehashing the “what if’s”, “why this”, or “why that”.  The questions roll along, wondering what I could have done differently, as it pertained to me and my chosen actions.  If the other person is not able to do the same, it makes it almost impossible to make peace in the heart.  But I know you can’t go back and change anything.  If you pull out a nail in the fence post, you still have a hole.  There’s not been a resolve in my own heart.  Thoughts of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin comes to mind.  Like Jerry and Dean, in retrospect, I believe our lives have been better without each other.

You don’t have to tell me how unhealthy this species of mourning and regret can be.  I know all too well.  If you’re like me, then you know you can beat yourself up over and over again.  Of course, just as you think you have conquered the pain and trauma, you drag out the old dusty remote, hunting for a decades old mental movie from your life, and hit the rewind button. <<

Remote Dusty Buttons

How sad, that we keep an old dusty remote in our minds just to relive heartbreaks which don’t have to be replayed.  We lie in our beds, refusing sleep, as we replay infractions from the days of yore.  Other times we scan back to a fork in the road, where we turned left instead of right, wondering what might have been.  Am I accurate?  The scene WILL NOT CHANGE!  Oh, sure, you want to see a different outcome, but it is what it is.  Yet, in acknowledging that truth, it is also history, where it belongs.

Recently, to my surprise, I discovered my old friend may be struggling emotionally more than I have.  While on Facebook, the morbid side of me decided to look for my old friend’s Facebook page.  Shockingly, this social butterfly wasn’t anywhere to be found.  Later, I sadly learned my old friend blocked my name so that I would vanish when on our mutual friend’s pages.  I guess it shouldn’t bother me when thinking someone wants to scrub me from the earth, as if I never existed.  There’s not been one word of any communication since January 1980.  I was blocked as if I were a troller, stalker, or a monster to be shunned from the town square.  “Sanctuary”, cried the hunchback in his chains.  I thought it interesting that after 40 years, my name was a curse in the eyes of this person.  Wow, maybe I unknowingly inflicted more harm than I received.  Somehow, it added salt to my wounds.

Why do we do this to ourselves?  What betterment does it apply to our mental and emotional state?  Better yet, why do we crave it?  We do, you know.  We pick up the mental remote, push rewind to find the old scabs in life way too often.  What’s more, we push the pause button to gaze for a bit, which makes matters worse.  It’s a choice, isn’t it?

I don’t have a psychology degree, but I do know a bit about human nature.  Under my belt, there is a ton of biblical advice in which I have marinated.  In God’s camera angle, guilt, self-damning, and judgement is what we are to ween ourselves off of.  Sure, biblically speaking, when we recognize our own wrongs, we are to loosen our grip, while placing them at the feet of the Righteous Judge.  It is written, so we would understand, when wrapped in His forgiveness, there is no divine condemnation staining the humble who apply His forgiveness in a true, heartfelt confession.  In doing so, we are to learn to forgive others…and ourselves.  The old dusty rewind button should only be for scenes of joy, love, and laughter.  Otherwise, take out the batteries.

Thank you Marty, Gene, and Mel.

When in play >, or fast forward >>, always expect fuel for the race.

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.  As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.”  – Psalm 103:11-12  (NAS)

“I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins.”  – Isaiah 43:25  (NAS)

“Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back.” – A prayer by King Hezekiah found in Isaiah 38:17  (NIV)

Heart Hotels

“Well there’s too many windows in this old hotel.  And some rooms filled with reckless pride.  And the walls have grown sturdy, and the halls have worn well,  but there is nobody living inside.  Nobody living inside…”  Heart Hotels (1979)  Recorded and composed by:  Dan Fogelberg

You know how it is.  You grow up in a place, or visit a place as a kid, while often driving by stunning landmarks, oblivious to their existence.  Honestly, I still do it.

I didn’t grow up in Greebville, Tx, about an hour’s drive east of Dallas, but I feel like I did.  I was born there, but we didn’t stay.  My mom’s family lived there, and still do.  To describe it, I would say there are certain parts of town that still remind me of the old southern neighborhood scenes in the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird.  My brain is sprinkled with fond memories of looking out the car window at the park I played in, the old gothic-style church on the corner near the downtown square, and the narrow street where I would grin from ear-to-ear as we drove toward my grandparent’s house.  Those are the simple snapshots a little lonely kid recalls about a place.  However, there are so many things this young one missed, probably because it was the loved ones in his focus.

One thing which escaped my interest was an old hotel on Washington Street, across from the old church.

Greenville Cadillac otel Old pic

The Washington Hotel – Greenville, Texas.  Photo:  Texas Historical Commission.

In its youth, it was called The Washington Hotel.  Later in years it was changed to The Cadillac Hotel.  In 2010, it was awarded a designation in the National Register of Historic Places.  Built in 1926, about two blocks down from the train depot, it stood as a gem, a glimmering star in the downtown Greenville landscape.  She has six floors ascending up to what was a garden roof, with plenty of space for romantic evening dances.  A monumental marble staircase rises from the lobby with iron railings.  Celebrities, tycoons, and diplomats were served by the old place through the decades, including Frank Sinatra, President Lyndon B. Johnson, and many more.  My mom and her parents attended a campaign speech delivered by President Harry S. Truman from the back of his train caboose at the depot near the hotel.  (Apparently, it was customary to build a hotel within a short walking distance to the train depot.  It makes sense, considering the times.)

Greenville Train Depot

The old Greenville train depot.

However, a gem no more.  The Washington/Cadillac Hotel, in all of her history and glory, was closed long ago as the town grew.  Time and neglect were her new caretakers.  In fact, it was abandoned in the worst possible way through the years.  Before you could say, “Texas tumbleweeds”, looters and vandals had their way with it.  In the early 1990’s a fire was set, destroying much of the interior of the old royal lady.  A couple of times in recent years, developers drew promising plans to refurbish her amidst intentions of a rebirth with condominium lofts, studios, and flats on the blueprints.  Still, plans fell through for one reason or the other.  And now it sits in an almost ruined state.  Much of it boarded up, and if not, windows cracked or broken out.  I have interior photos, but to be frank, it hurts my heart to look at them.  I would rather dream of her glory days.  My fear is, the city will give up on it, setting a date for a heartbreaking demolition.  My hope is, some wealthy decision-maker will grab a new vision of what this queen could be with some funds and lots of loving care.

Greenville Cadillac Hotel Photo:  The Herald Banner

Realistically, it’s a long-shot.  She sits at the threshold of a section of town in need of a gigantic face-lift.  And I mean more than a simple Botox injection.

Recently I heard Dan Fogelberg’s very familiar “Heart Hotels” over a classic soft-rock radio station.  You should google it to refresh your ear’s memory.  Immediately the old Cadillac Hotel came to my mind.  I began to listen to the lyric with larger lobes while realizing I sing-along to it all the time without allowing the lyric to penetrate.  The late Fogelberg was an incredible, thoughtful lyricist.  “Longer (Then)” was one I did for many weddings since 1979.  It’s considered a classic now.  He has so many greats in his music catalog.  Many bring tears to my eyes.  This is one of them.

He aligned his heart in the fashion of an old hotel with way too many windows for outside viewers.  Of course, he chose a hotel because he spent his life on the road from city to city.  Many artists are introverts.  I know I am, to a degree.  His lyrics speak of closing the shutters, pushing everyone out, leaving offers of synthetic love, hoping for true love to arrive.  In the third verse, his lyric pressed him to include an admittance that the soul needed to be repaired.  He wrote of craving the vacancy, while hearing distant echoing voices from the stairwells which brought memories of unanswered prayers.  OUCH!

Man, the song hurts!  It’s just like the interior photos of the Cadillac Hotel, which I refuse to add here.  At the same time, I love heart-breaker songs.  Performing them multiple times in my day, I know the powerful movements they deliver.  (I trust that doesn’t make me a twisted, bad person in your eyes.)

Truly, he wrote what most of us won’t.  I think Fogelberg was a very straightforward composer.  His songs spotlight his honesty.  If we were forthright with each other, as Dan was, we could relate to the lyric of “Heart Hotels”.  Just like too many windows in this old hotel (heart), there are also too many jumping off the roof surrounded by a garden, dancing, and romance.  Have you noticed?

The heart is a strong machine.  We call the pumping muscle in our chest the strongest organ, but the heart of the spirit is even stronger.  The rooms are full of reckless pride and the halls are worn well, but there’s nobody living inside…  When empty we are left to our chosen devices.

Like Fogelberg, if there is an honest recognition of “soul repair“, I think Fogelberg would be the first to say, you can’t do this on your own.  Sure, try all you want, but the carpet wears out in the pacing years of frustration, loneliness, and heartbreak.  Soon there after, the present reality hits like a brass doorknocker where the echoing voices in the stairwell repeat the failures of the past.  They do remind us, don’t they?  What do we have to show for it?  A worn-out carpet, wishing it were a magic carpet for flying.  A quick trip to the fire escape proves to be a faulty idea, as the decades have rusted the old scaffolding.  Thoughts of the roof flow in again, or medicate with the devices at hand for the numbing of our pain.  Honestly, this song should be longer than Stairway To Heaven or Alice’s Restaurant, because it should be a theme and variation which is in loop.

Should I mention something worse than our own heart-sickness?  Dare I?

How often do we drive by a dis-connected, seemingly empty person, who for whatever reason, has pulled down the shutters and rolled up the carpet inside?  How many of us are shocked when someone we know, or someone we love, takes to the roof for a final inhale of the garden?  The shock usually coats our minds because we thought they were doing just fine, as we occasionally peered through their many windows.  Still, we drive by them, distracted by the gothic-style church building across the street, not noticing there’s a soul is in trouble and needs repair.  Don’t kick yourself too badly.  I am the first to say, I am sooooo guilty.  My hull has been breached a few times by deliberate final exits of people I love.

Often in my life I have heard others speak of unanswered prayers, as the late Fogelberg penned.  Like me, I bet you have, too.  You didn’t ask for this, but allow me to quickly shed a laser light on this familiar topic.  Prayer-life is a mystery.  Make no mistake about it.  Scripturally speaking, the problem is solved through three different camera angles.

#1 – Know God first.  Read and study Him before you climb up His sleeve.  The passage states:

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who approaches Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” – Hebrews 11:6  (Berean Study Bible)

#2 – We frequently petition God in a misdirected way.  We envy, we crave, we itch for this and for that.  In the old King James language, we “covet” in general.  We also want a rabbit’s foot to stroke, or a genie in a bottle to grant us three wishes, or an item hanging from our rear-view mirror in which we trust to have some sort of empowerment.  As often the case, what we ask for could bring us to an intersection which may be unhealthy for our future…the future we are hidden from.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV)

Unfortunately, when we pray, asking for our “coveting” heart to be satisfied, it goes against God’s target for our lives.  (IE: ” Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?  My friends all drive porches, I must make amends…” (1971)  Composers:  Bob neuwirth, Janis Jolin, Michael McClure.)   Fun song, yet the humor of it stresses a fundamental truth.  One can be wealthy, socially honored, and in need of nothing, yet in reality, naked, poor in heart, and without spiritual sight.  Jesus mentioned this many times.  After all, God wrote it down so we would know, “Do not covet”.  Asking for peace, safety, protection, insight, direction, needs, and most of all, His plans to rule over what we cannot see, is always well applied.  Another way of putting it, sometimes our motives are off rhythm, as in an engine which lacks oil on its timing chain.

#3 – Unanswered prayer…at least that’s what we call it.  We perceive a prayer hits the ceiling, bouncing back like a rubber ball.  In reality, God promises to hear our prayers.  If you don’t get what you want, like an angry kid on December 25th, it could be the answer is “No”, or “Not yet”THIS has occurred in my life many times following premature prayers, where the answer came clearly months or years later.  Retrospect is a supreme teacher.  I could write a list of times this has happened in my life.  Keep in mind, there’s a solid case for follow-up prayers, asking God why He didn’t answer, as you personally weigh answers.  Other times, an immediate answer arrived during my prayer-life.  In fact, I have had prayers granted before I even finished the prayer.  The acknowledgement is always astounding to me, reminding me of my lack of 100% trust in God.  There’s a bold statement from Jesus which speaks loudly…

And when you pray, do not babble on like pagans, for they think that by their many words they will be heard.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.    Matthew 6:7-8  (Berean Study Bible)

A sweet friend of mine, a vocal harmonizer for Joan Baez, recently said she believed the “Universe” wants her to move to Texas.  I should have explained the following, but I didn’t.  Unfortunately, the universe doesn’t love her.  The universe never reached out to counsel her.  The universe never cared for her.  The universe never burdens itself with restoration of life. The universe doesn’t oppose evil.  The universe never offered a free gift of redemption.  The universe never bothers itself to tend to her when naked, poor, and blind.  The universe doesn’t have a count of every hair on her head.  The universe never wanted to remove her transgressions and faults.  The universe never protects her, defends her, or gives grace to her.  The universe is faulty and proves to be imperfect, as we are.

Bottom line…the soul/heart, never has to be empty and alone.  There is One who loves closer than a brother.  Search the world’s religious history.  After exhausting yourself, you will find religious systems demanding your “works”, your “efforts”, your climbing up Mt. Olympus to earn the favor of deities.  It’s easy to accept because it’s based on our human nature to work, to earn what we want.  Then there’s “touch this”, “burn this”, “kiss this”, or my favorite…”buy this”, etc.  Do the research.  If you know me, you already know I say this out of love, not hatred.  I hurt for religious beachcombers.  We’ve all been there.  Some doctrines even demand starvation, suicide, murder, and self mutilation to achieve a cozy suite in an afterlife hotel.  Have you noticed?  Only God, through Jesus, who, as a baby, couldn’t find room in the inn, proves to be of this magnificent heart of love, without condition,  and grace toward us imperfect people.

(Most recommend reading the book of John, in the Bible, to learn Who Jesus is, and why He is so different.)

Heart hotels don’t have to be vacant.  Room service is available with fuel for the race.

“What can I give Him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;

If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;

Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.” 

      Excerpt from:  In The Bleak Midwinter (1872)  

      By: Christina Rossetti

 

 

If I were…

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

With age, I have learned that…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mom &amp; Me Granddad's Coin Box

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mom &amp; Megan 1992ish

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

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

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

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

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

Mom salon

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

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

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

 

 

In The Waiting

“And all this time I’ve been staring at the minute hand.  Oh, what a crime that I can’t seem to understand that life is in the waiting.  Life is in the waiting…”  (2000)  In The Waiting, originally Recorded by:  Greg Long.  Composer:  Kina Grannis

It was early in 1998.  There I was, with two copies of my new script in a saddle-leather briefcase with the strap over my shoulder.  A friend of mine (I will call him Jon, because that’s his name LOL.) agreed to meet me at the Cracker Barrel restaurant in Arlington, Texas (Between Dallas and Ft Worth.) for a pre-production lunch meeting.  As a producer, director, writer, actor, I was acquainted with wearing all the hats way too often for my productions.  In this case, circumstances required an executive producer to help me launch my next three-act stage play.  Frankly, I was relieved.  But I needed someone I could trust.  Jon was always pitching the idea to bring a production to his suburban community.  We had been in musicals together, as well as, duos on stage, and choral work.  Off the stage, together we produced an original song for a scene in one of my radio theater plays.  So, it seemed right to ask him to be my executive producer while I agreed to take care of everything else.

After scheduling arrangements through phone calls, complete with email confirmation, we were to meet for lunch at 11:00.  Double checking our emails, I knew the exact time to leave my house, which was some 35 minutes away from Arlington.  My radio drive-time show began at 2:30, but the radio station was only a quick 10-15 minutes from the restaurant.  If the meeting went long, the clock gave me a buffer.

I am always early for everything.  That’s just who I am.  I’ve always hated rushing around in the attempt to arrive on time.  If I don’t, I can get scatter-brained.  Plus, being a radio guy, I was living and dying by the broadcast clock.  Literally, half-seconds are counted on-air when back-timing for hard commercial breaks, or news drops.  It’s something you tend to take home with you.

11:00 rolled around as I checked my watch.  No Jon.  Cracker Barrel has a gift shop inside their front door.  You have to wade through all the candies, gadgets, and silk-screened t-shirts to arrive at the front counter, as well as, the host/hostess station for seating.  So, I browsed away at the pecan logs, moccasin style coin purses, and plastic bobble-head dashboard figurines way beyond my actual curiosity.

I checked my watch…11:27.  No Jon.  Hummmm.  So, I remembered that the restaurant had a selection of wooden rocking chairs outside on the porch area.  After exhausting myself among the peanut brittle and beef jerky, off I went to explore the various rustic patio furniture.  It was a cool morning, but tolerable.  I walked among the presentation of rocking chairs, looking at the price tags while talking to myself.  Suddenly, realizing they were all just about identical styles and colors, I chuckled at myself for doing all I could to kill time as I rocked in one of the chairs.

Rocking Chairs

Photo:  decorpad.com

By that time the watch said 11:45.  No Jon.  I checked my cell phone only to find I hadn’t received any texts or missed phone calls.  Hummmm.  I didn’t want to call him, knowing he was probably driving like a mad hatter to get there.  After counting all the cars and pick-up trucks in the parking lot, I began counting all the green cars and trucks, vs the blue cars and trucks.  Yep, it was getting a tad stupid.  Thinking I should spend my time more productively, I pulled out a copy of my script and began reviewing like a script editor.  (Any actor that has worked with me knows that’s dangerous.  I tend to find words I want to add, or rearrange scenes, or dump a character.  I also tend to remove myself from my surroundings when this occurs as the clock gets devoured.)  Halfway through the script, about where I placed the intermission, my watch read 12:52!  NO JON!  I must admit, miffed is a kind way of interpreting how I felt.  My 2:30 radio show obviously was to happen without show-prep, or a fresh pot of coffee at that point in the waiting.  The next thing on the docket would be my frantic producer/co-host calling me in a panic wondering where I was.  Arg!

By now you must be wondering why I didn’t give up and leave the place.  I’m quirky that way, I guess.  Nobody can accuse me of one who gives up easily.  However, there was a thought to give him until 1:10 for the drop-dead time.

About 1:00, two hours after our scheduled lunch appointment, Jon pulled leisurely into the parking lot.  As I waved away the steam coming out of my ears, I could see him walking up toward me, totally relaxed and unhurried with every hair in place.  Go figure.

Jon said with a smile, “Hey, Alan.  The food smells great out here.  I’m starved.”

I grinned, as I bit my tongue, “Boy, me too.  I’m short on time, but I can woof down a burger quicker than anyone I know.”  And with that greeting, in we went.  With the two hour gap, I wondered if he had made a trip to L.A. forgetting to change his watch back to central time.  Who knows?

The funny thing is, he never said why he was late.  He never apologized for keeping me waiting.  The scripture passage says, “Wait on the Lord…”, but not Jon.  I avoid confrontation whenever I can.  Never did I mention the late hour at all.  It seemed okay just to play off his mindset of the moment in the attempt to hide my angst.  After all, there was much to discuss with few tick-tocks to do it in.

Have you been there…in the waiting?  For you, maybe it was that time when you were in a hospital waiting room, counting the rectangular panels on the ceiling, hoping all would go well in the O.R.

Waiting Room POV

It could be something as benign as sitting in traffic everyday, or that long traffic light at your most hated intersection.  How about when you’re in a jury pool, with scads of other citizens, waiting all day for your name to be called?  How many outdated magazines can one read in a day?  Maybe you’re thinking of the time you waited up for a very late, non-communicative teenager on a Saturday night.  (Oh, don’t get me started on that one.)  Maybe it was after a first diagnosis, while in the waiting for test results to confirm, or a second opinion.  The cruel clock can just be a mocker sometimes.

However, it’s up to the individual to caress the realities of this journey between beginning and ending.  It’s the duty of each to embrace the joy in the journey, even during times of hardship, pain, and frustration.  It’s what we make of our speed-bumps and the cliffs ahead.  We can stroll among the identical rocking chairs, comparing the price tags, or burn them all in anger because they’re not different.

One thing is for certain.  Above all else, time marches on.  The famous Rolling Stones lyric is wrong.  Time is NOT on our side.  Mick Jagger just discovered this in his own life.  As much as we want it to be, time is not a respecter of persons.  Ask any plastic surgeon.

There is a beginning, and it assures us there will be an ending.  Everything in the middle proves to be just the space between the certainties of beginnings and endings.  With the exception of a sphere, or circle, all has a beginning and ending.  In jazz you will discover chords can be created with dissonance.  Often the time signature has these chords sustained for the ear to grasp the clash of pitches.  Oftentimes, the ending of a score in jazz does not resolve, leaving the ear hunting for a major key chord of solution.  Not so much in life.  Endings are not always pleasant, or wanted, but they push through the maze of waiting.  Expect a resolution to all things in this physical world.  In the middle of our stage entrance and exit, we find ourselves in the waiting…sometimes listening to jazz.

How often have you heard an elderly person say they inwardly feel like they did as a teen, spry, energetic, with youthful thoughts?  There’s a purpose for that testimony of the aged.  It’s all about the soul, or the spirit.  I’ve written about this before, and for good reason.  Often interchangeable in print or speech, the soul/spirit, is eternal.  (I often think of the spirit as the emotion, or intellect.  This disappears when the brain is dead, diseased, or damaged.  Yet, the soul is far deeper.)  In fact, some medical researchers have put a weight to the soul as it leaves the body.  It’s been documented at 21 grams.  No matter how the wrinkles and lines redraw the face and hands, the soul remains timeless.

In a lengthy post, found in my archives, I shared my near death experience.  (See “Confronted By Death…” dated Feb 11, 2018.)  Actually, I should say, “death” experience, as I was found dead and brought into the E.R. dead.  Let me just say, they call it “Passing Away” for a reason.  Literally meaning, “Moving Out (in motion)”.  That event changed my outlook and daily life.  Since I have written about it exhaustively, I won’t do so here, but I will repeat something I KNOW to be true.  This body we live in is an EARTHSUIT.  It is a shell created for this planet’s temps and atmosphere, exclusively.  The more we discover other planets, the more certain this becomes.  We rent this thing we call “the body.”  It begins to degrade the moment we are born.  When “it” dies, “YOU”, the person in whom you are, the soul of yourself, moves out.  You leave your remains behind like an old apartment you once knew and took care of.  When the old ’72 Chevy gives up the ghost, it’s time to get out from behind its steering wheel.  Later, in a salvage yard, someone might be able to use its hubcaps, or dipstick if not too corroded.  But the realization is, “YOU” are no longer in that rusted-out car.  It’s like the discarded empty cocoon, left to degenerate on the branch.  Look at it this way; the body that dies has come to the end of the waiting.  Not unlike Elvis, the being has left the building.

Meanwhile, soul/spirit/body wrestles in the waiting, before shedding what corrodes, to be who we are inwardly, discarding the waiting.  You can visit my grave after my body fails to revive, but don’t ever say, “Buried here is Alan.”  Say hello.  I won’t answer.

Meanwhile, the waiting may be long, or short.  My personal Act I, Act II, and Act III have their moments, their twists and turns, leaving me to wonder how much longer to curtain call.  The Executive Producer, the Ancient Of Days, of my life may seem late, but He’s always on time.

Jon and I worked together very well, selling out each show later that year.  Moreover, we went on to sing together in various venues, as well as, stage musicals.  It was worth being in the waiting.

When discovering and accepting the Author of Easter, one never waits for fuel for the race.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.  He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”  – Jesus –  In John 3:16-18. (NAS)

My Tribute To Larry Bierl

“I will remember you.  Will you remember me?  Don’t let life pass you by.  Weep not for the memories…”   I Will Remember You, (1995).  Recorded by:  Sarah McLachlan.  Composers:  Sarah McLachlan, Seamus Egan, Dave Merenda

Cover photo:  Anne Neville/Buffalo News

Life sure has its ways of reminding us how we should have corrected ourselves at some point and time.  The rear-view mirror can be a teaching tool.

I lived in Williamsville/Amherst, NY, a Buffalo suburb, from 2003-2008.  It’s approximately 5,300 in population.  I chose Williamsville because it was a beautiful, quaint little area, away from the city where I did a radio show.  The property taxes were higher, with the safe neighborhood, as well as the school district.  It was a superb place for my three girls.

Often times, while driving into the quiet, older downtown village of Williamsville for a dinner run, or a nice walk down to the Ellicott Creek waterfall in Glen Park, we would see a mysterious man walking the sidewalks.  He was quite the oddity for the setting of Williamsville’s more upper-crust reputation.  He was a homeless man, or so we assumed.  The majority of the homeless were seen in the city, not the norm for the Williamsville/Amherst section of Buffalo.  More than likely you would see him clad in camouflage coat & pants, or a pair of cargo khakis, hunting lace-up boots, and long heavy yarn scarves wrapped around his neck that hung down to his thighs.

One evening, while sitting in the car in a parking lot, waiting to pick-up my daughter from a musical rehearsal, I saw the man was nearby, digging through a trash bin outside a Wendy’s fast food location.  At closer glance, I observed the scarves with a better perspective.  The scarves were not scarves at all.  They were extremely long strands of thick, matted hair, appearing to be mufflers of wool.  These strands were not dreadlocks, with crafty braids of hair art, although many attempted a good spin by calling them dreadlocks.  They were as thick as a dock rope.  It was an amazing sight, and certainly highly unique.  It told part of this man’s narrative.

My oldest daughter, Tabitha, 16 at the time, worked part-time for Spot Coffee, a popular coffee and pastry bar.  He made a semi-daily stop there for a tall cup of straight java.  He was offered free coffees and food from most of the businesses in the village. or wherever he showed up, but he always paid when he could.  Empty bottles and cans were his prey.  It was a familiar scene, a plastic trash bag full of the soon-to-be recycled items, draped over his shoulder.  He had a zip-lock plastic bag of coins and dollar bills stashed in the thigh pocket of his pants.  Nobody ever saw him begging on the street corners.  However, the community members, not allowing judgement to overrule them, donated money to him coming and going.  One might wonder how the business owners and the police dealt with him.  I am proud to say, very kindly.  Everyone understood, this man was part of our community, living a life of his choosing.

More days than not, if you drove by Spot Coffee, you would see him sitting at one of the patio tables with coffee in hand, gazing off toward the horizon.  He seemed to live in his own world.  He was gentle, never causing trouble.  Although he was not one to enjoy talking much.  He would respond if spoken to.  My daughter has a big heart.  She made sure she spoke to him while serving him coffee, or whenever she was close enough on other occasions.

Larry Bierl AT Spot Coffee Photo:  Carole Taylor & Buffalo News

Sometimes you could see him sitting outside a Burger King on a sidewalk bench, eating a burger.  Other times, he would be stuffing one into an old worn backpack.  It was not unusual for him to decline someone offering him fries to go with it.  My opportunity was one August afternoon as I jogged by the bench.  You guessed it.  I looked straight ahead listening to Fleetwood Mac on my headset, pretending I didn’t notice him.

Many have seen him walking the campus of the University of Buffalo, watching the pigeons.  There is a subway station there, on the south campus, where he often took shelter.  With that said, I think he simply enjoyed the peaceful surroundings of the campus, even under hostile weather.

After a year of living there, this man just became a fixture to me.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not that I no longer acknowledged his presence, but rather I expected to see him…somewhere.  What’s truly nagging at me is the fact he had a story and I didn’t know it.

Although he was an icon, even a staple in the area, most only heard rumors concerning who he really was.  Not many ever knew his name, including your’s truly.  One rumor painted the man on the street as an alcohol and drug addict.  Another rumor dubbed him as a military vet from the Vietnam conflict.  Because he often paid for his coffee and food, many believed he was covertly wealthy, wanting to experience the street life of the poor.  It’s funny how we can extract scenarios about someone when they are shrouded in mysteries.

One thing is for sure, he was a tough soul.  During the decades of street life, he braved some of the worst winter blasts Buffalo/Niagara had to offer, and they are many.

My middle daughter, Megan, still lives in Buffalo.  Recently I asked if she has spotted the roving man after all these years.  She said he stays pretty much in the Amherst/Williamsville suburbs, but nothing had seemed to change for him.

Last week, Megan posted an article from the Buffalo News newspaper.  During the horrid polar vortex weather system, which blew in sub-zero temps, and all that goes with it, Buffalo was hit extremely hard.

At the height of the storm, he had gone to one of his coffee hang-outs, a Tim Horton’s location, but it was closed due to the travel ban with the deep freeze encasing the region.  (It’s highly rare to see a Tim Horton’s closed due to weather.)  He then entered, for the very first time, the lobby at a nearby luxury hotel.  The manager of the restaurant and bar, offered him coffee and a chair, which he accepted.  Seeing that he was suffering from the penetrating polar winds, he was generously offered a room for the night.  He declined.  (Even if he had accepted, he would’ve abandoned the accommodations soon after.)  The manager then offered hot food, a warm hat, as well as another coat.  As it was his usual form, he declined.  After a small time of warmth,  the poor man began to make his way to the lobby door.  The staff begged him to stay longer, only to watch him nod as he made his frigid exit.

Lawrence “Larry” Bierl, age 67-69, was found the following morning, January 31st, just two blocks down from the hotel, on a bench at a three-sided plexiglass bus stop on Main Street.  Somewhere in the overnight, he had passed away from the wrath of the polar vortex.

Main St Bus Shelter Buffalo

Photo:  Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News

The Buffalo News article had published a beautiful letter from Larry’s extended family.  Nobody was aware he had family at all.  His sister was the writer.  As the family revealed Larry’s story, I could hardly hold my mouth closed.  Larry held a master’s degree.  He was once in management of a well-known airline corporation.  He never was a vet.  He never was a drug addict, or alcohol abuser.  One day, in the mid 70’s, for no apparent reason, he walked away from his life as he knew it to be.  He traveled the country, often hitching rides with truckers and hopping trains, only to return to Buffalo to live as a homeless man.  The family did all they could to help him.  They tried for years to convince him to get help.  He declined.  After many years of tracking him, pushing him to get the much needed assistance he deserved, the family surrendered to his wishes.  Nobody in his family ever knew exactly what happened to his mind, or what derailed his life, but he lived with a mental illness.

After reading of his terrible death, along with his story, I must admit, I cried.  As I write this blog, my mind still hasn’t come to grips with how I feel, or how to process this.  Why?  Because I never spoke to Larry, although many I love had done so.  Not once did I ever offer him a meal, a bottle of water, or a new pair of shoes.  It came to mind to grab a gift card at a hair salon, or a clothing outlet, but I never did.  Clearly, God gave me opportunities, but apparently “I” was more important.

“…Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Jesus –  Mark 12:31a (NIV)

Sure, there were internal excuses.  They went something like this,  “The Buffalo City Mission downtown will take care of him.”  Here’s another,  “My neighbors will do it.”  Of course the most common,  “I don’t have the time on my schedule today.”  Ironically, I’ve volunteered at missions and shelters since I was a teenager.  You could’ve found me feeding the homeless at various soup kitchens, from time to time in my life.  But Larry….not one thing, not once.  Mentioning him on my radio show would’ve been acceptable.  I could’ve brought more awareness to Larry’s plight.  No, I didn’t open up at all.  I had the chance to make a difference in his day.  I did nothing of the sort.  Part of me never wants to hear rejection, even if it’s offering a pair of socks to a homeless one who may decline.  Well, that’s my lame excuse.  Frankly, my tears weren’t just for Larry, but they were also for my seemingly growing jaded outlook.  God forbid that my heart grows cold and hard with age.

Someone very wise once said, “Never cry for a life lost.  Rejoice because it happened.” (Paraphrased)  One sour soul might say Larry’s life was a wasted life, a waste of time, and a waste of space.  However, the hundreds that helped Larry, who gave of themselves through the decades, were enriched by the man.  Think about it.

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” – Jesus (Quoted in Acts 20:35 – NAS)

It might be wise to deice, or defog the rear-view mirror first, before going the extra mile.

The ice melts.  The sub-zero temps vanish.  But life…life makes its stamp.  Somewhere in Williamsville/Amherst, NY, if you go to a quiet place, you just might hear the whisper of Lawrence Bierl, “I was here.”

Remembering and serving, floods from the river of fuel for the race.

“Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh (and blood)?”  Isaiah 58:7 (NAS)

Slippery Slopes

“…She was going way too fast.  Before she knew it she was spinning on a thin black sheet of glass.  She saw both their lives flash before her eyes.  She didn’t have time to cry.  She was so scared.  She threw her hands up in the air.  Jesus, take the wheel.  Take it from my hands. ‘Cause I can’t do this on my own.  I’m letting go…”  – Jesus, Take The Wheel, (2005)  Recorded by:  Carrie Underwood.  Composers:  Brett James, Gordon Sampson, Hillary Lindsey.

14 years ago, an old friend of mine, Jaylene Johnson, miraculously survived a severe crash.  (See her car above.)

She is a successful singer/songwriter/recording artist, Juno Award nominee and Covenant Award winner from Winnipeg, Canada.  To say she was exhausted at the end of a cross-Canada solo tour, would be an understatement.  With her heater blowing full throttle, as she was driving home after a heavy snowfall in North Western Ontario, she was eager to see her hometown.  Jaylene was negotiating the roads as well as could be expected.  There was a moment in time she thought maybe it was best to grab a hotel before they closed the highways, but that had yet to happen.  Her car was packed to the roof with her guitars, keyboard, sound equipment, promotional products, and luggage.  The only thing on her mind was the weather conditions bearing down on the route.  She is a cautious driver, well versed in winter driving, but the semis nipping at her bumper were not so careful.  The rear-view mirror became her friend.

jaylene johnson performing

Jaylene on-tour.  Photo:  Tim Hellsten

The last thing she recalls is the map.  She had made it just outside of Upsala, Ontario, in the Thunder Bay District, when all went dark.  (Some of the following details came from eyewitnesses, EMT’s & police reports, along with her own post-accident inquiry.)

Travelling westbound, she had reached the top of a ridge overlooking a valley below.  As she began to descend into the valley, she slipped on some unexpected black ice covering the highway, and lost control.  As her little vehicle slid across the highway, she hit a transport coming eastbound head-on.  When she came to in the wreckage, a stranger on the scene, named “Willie”, pulled her through a shattered window, held her hand, and covered her with his coat before the EMT’s arrived.  As she sobbed, he comforted her while stroking her hair as she laid there in shock.  Fast-forward, she spent the rest of the day on a back brace in a Thunder Bay hospital.  Her body was riddled with pieces of broken glass.

Back in 2004, I was doing a radio show in Buffalo, NY while she had just released her first major album.  At the time, it was rare for Canadian artists to get radio airplay on the USA side of the border, especially independent bands.  I wanted to change that trend in the corner where I was.  The station I worked for was operating with 110,000 watts, reaching well north of Toronto, generally all of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).  The signal stretched over the entire Western New York area, northwestern Pennsylvania, and some portions of Ohio.  There was too many stellar Canadian artists putting out top-shelf cuts, not being heard on the U.S. side.  My number one focus was quality writing, production, along with terrific vocals to debut south of the Canadian border.  However, it was under a global relief, development and advocacy banner where our roads converged.

World Vision International had approached the two of us to join their work in El Salvador, as part of an ad campaign for support.  We worked together there, alongside other Canadian artists, for a week or so.  I was doing live reports back to the radio station as I interviewed World Vision workers, as well as benefactors.  It was there Jaylene and I became friends in a much warmer climate.

me in el salvador with world vision 2004

Jaylene took this photo of an interview I was doing with a World Vision recipient through a World Vision interpreter.

After our trip, we kept in touch.  Jaylene graced my show, in studio, a couple of times when she was performing in the GTA or WNY.  Through the years I kept track of her tours and television appearances.

After hearing from her on the details of the accident, I grew concerned about her health in the wake of such trauma.  In the end, there was no need for concern on my part.  God took the wheel, indeed.

I’ve had my own experiences with icy paths.  When you believe you can negotiate the roads in that condition, caution and prep would be top priority.

Come to think of it, no matter what climate you travel through, icy roads can derail your life.  Do you know what I mean?  We can be living life as a smooth operator, no issues in sight.  Then suddenly, without warning, our feet come right out from under us.  Zero traction takes us by surprise.  We’re never really prepared for it.  Just when we think we are, “BOOM”, on our tailbone we go.  (And it’s always the tailbone, right?)  For some, it might be losing traction on funds and finances.  We might experience losing traction on world peace.  Maybe a loss in traction with our child, our health, our marriage, or our nation.  It happens.  Before you know it, we slide hard into a nearby ditch, off the trek we were to be on. Just like Jaylene’s shellacked pavement, the ice doesn’t have to be thick to cause a head-on collision.  We can find slippage on the invisible, and/or what we deem as non-threatening.  It’s a tragic mistake.  Some find slippery slopes that lead to life-ending results.  There are non-negotiables out there which can transport you to where you don’t want to be.

“…stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand….and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace…” – St. Paul, Ephesians 6. 

In Paul’s time, Roman soldiers were fitted into special sandals with studs on the soles, like cleats.  For me, my preference are my insulated snow-boots with cleats on the rubber soles.  Better yet, Paul indicates a true gripping.  It’s more like the spikes on a mountain climber’s boot.  Anyone who has ever fallen hard on the ice, or slid down a slippery slope in the winter, or did so in a social, political, or economic climate, would recommend cleats in decision making.  Just ask the citizens of Venezuela.  Unlike Jaylene, when driving in the ice on bald tires, your future is certain.

Prep all you want.  There’s always the God-factor outside of your own abilities and strength.  Have you been there?  Maybe you have and you didn’t truly take the time to consider it.

As for Jaylene’s ordeal, a couple of mysteries still hover.  One unsolved oddity surrounds “Willie”.  As she was being placed in the ambulance, she looked back for him.  He, and his coat, were gone.  No person at the scene could tell her who he was, where he came from , or where he went.  Plus, according to the reports, the shear impact from the head-on collision with the transport, and her small vehicle, was of tremendous force.  Yet, she walked out of the hospital, on her own power later the SAME DAY!  Just shocking.

Also, one of the EMT’s was familiar with her music from Canadian radio.  He went the extra mile after taking her to the hospital.  He went back to the scene and helped to retrieve her property from the wreckage, all on his own time.

Lasting effects remain with her, mostly psychological in nature.  To this day, Jaylene will tell you, she can’t seem to fully relax anymore.  Yet, she does see God’s hand in the incident on several levels.  So do I.

jaylene johnson promo Jaylenejohnson.COM

I’m proud to say she continues to write, record, and perform.  She’s now married and raising a family.

When in slippery, tight places, it goes better when fitted with the cleats of fuel for the race.

“For He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways.  They will bear you up in their hands, that you do not strike your foot against a stone.”  -Psalm 91:11-12 (NAS)

 

Tripped Triggers

Photo:  Skepchick

“…Inconsequential things occur.  Alarms are triggered.  Memories stir.  It’s not the way it has to be…”  Darkness (2002)  Written & recorded by:  Peter Gabriel

The following is really for my own therapy.  Do you type away to find some relief somewhere deep inside?  It’s probably more common than I imagine.  Really, I’m not sure if any inspiration can be gleaned from the below.  Maybe I’m wrong.

Humanity dictates that we must be surprised by certain sudden events, words, and actions.  There’s no mistake when we, sometimes out of the blue, look back and discover we have tripwires that have developed from our own personal history.  I am so grateful for the benign tripwires from innocent, wonderful, and good benchmarks from my past.  When those triggers are tripped, and I am flooded with memories delivered, it brightens my day.  In fact, I find myself smiling a lot more often in its aftermath.  Then, there are the inevitable triggers I would rather avoid altogether.  Those are of a unique brand, hidden like armed mines in the underbrush of my rocky, scarred past.  When the trigger is tripped, I can be swallowed up in its snare.

snare - prepperology.net

Photo:  Prepperology.net

You know the kind I speak of.  You never see it coming.  Am I right?  You’re walking along the path of your day when suddenly…SNAP & BOOM!

As Elvis sang, “I’m caught in a trap.  I can’t walk out…”

I’m sure if you are a psychologist, you could tell me how this happens.  You very well might be able to tell me how to disarm these triggers, these mines.  You might even explain to me why I become trapped for many days in that same uncomfortable position, unable to shake it off.  Nevertheless, I soak in it.  Are you that way, too?

See if this rings a bell of familiarity.  The trigger can be a word said, a certain look on someone’s face, a song, a movie, a photo, or a specific action.  Whether it flickers in a deja vu method, or it hits like a sweeping tsunami, it has the strength to wash you back to a past event you’ve been running from.  Pain happens.  Emotional injury takes place in an instant.  An injury for some, unfortunately even fatal for others.

'Cut the blue wire!'

Sure, there’s counseling for this.  I’m sure I need it.

I must be extremely careful with the following.  Names and details will be omitted because of the very personal nature.

A few days ago, one of my triggers was tripped.  Honesty suggests to me there is no way to blame the actor who walked into my scene and leveled a sincere, hurtful, and harmful line.  In fact, if there’s blame to be placed, I am the guilty one for not speaking up first concerning the very sensitive ground about to be tread.  Yep, that’s right.  I had some warning it was coming, but I thought I was strong enough to stand.  So in an indirect way, I opened the gate myself.  The act occurred, words were spoken, and I was slain.  To the onlooker, if there had been one, the event would’ve seemed rather innocent.  However, for me, the act, the words, the laughter rushed me back to a traumatic event in my life from March 4, 2014.  I could even give you the time of day when the personal earthquake shattered my world.  True trauma can cause time stamps in the noggin.  The event this week didn’t take much, as I was already broken.  It’s a brokenness Humpty Dumpty could identify with.  The act didn’t take even a day, an afternoon, or the length of a production of Les Miserables.  Yet, it was 90 minutes of hell for me.  The burns remain as I type this sentence.

I hate triggers.  Maybe I should say, I hate the bad memories, the old wounds that can be ripped opened by them.  Triggers are usually small, but the mechanism attached above the trigger, forces movements of gears and springs.  Not unlike the chime of a vintage clock.  Keep in mind, for a trigger to be tripped at all, it takes outside force against it.  This is important to note.  When these components are in motion, it releases the hammer, or striker, colliding with the firing pin, causing a detonation of a waiting ballistic shell in the chamber.  The result is an explosion of energy.  Such an ignition, moves, or pierces, anything in its projected path.  In my case, I was greatly displaced emotionally, heart pierced.

gun trigger unisci24.com

Photo:  unisci24.com

Okay, enough said.  Frankly, I am still reeling from the recent occurrence.

Please understand, I am all for healing.  Healing happens.  I just wish it would happen quicker than the norm.  Simply put, I like relief.  How about you?  I like resolution.  I like calm seas.  More importantly, my faith must remain strong in order to add the balm needed for this injury.  I’m not saying it’s easy to do.  In fact, if it were easy, we would all be living in a utopia where all things are new and pain-free.  Although I know it to be my future, I am not there yet.  If a true, lasting faith were without struggle, then what use is it?

The faith I exercise is based on Jesus, the Redeemer, the promised Messiah.  Scripture says he was familiar with sorrow and grief.  Literally speaking, it means he experienced sorrow and grief, like you and I do.  Understanding sorrow and grief is NOT enough.  Experiencing sorrow and grief allows one to have compassion for another who is stricken by the same.  There, in the mystery of faith, the darkened stained glass of faith, the fogginess of faith, is my resting place when crap happens.

So, for now, I TEMPORARILY wrestle in the wake of springs sprung.

Remembering the shackles have been unlocked is part of fuel for the race.

“Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come; ‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”  Amazing Grace (1779)  Written by: John Newton

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)