Losing Faith?

“I will be here for you,
Somewhere in the night.
Somewhere in the night.
I’ll shine a light for you,
Somewhere in the night.
I’ll be standing by,
I will be here for you”
(1992) “I Will Be Here For You” Recorded By: Michael W. Smith Composer: Michael W. Smith

It was late. I had been up since 3am. I traveled for 70 miles in a heavy downpour from a Texas autumn storm to reach a hospital in Greenville, Texas. I spent all day in a plastic chair in a small recovery room with three walls and a curtain. My plan was to drive back home that night, but Glaucoma has wrecked my night vision. Although I didn’t want to, I reserved a nearby hotel room. It was cheap, and on many levels, it should stay cheap.

The night didn’t go well at all. My mind and heart remained in that tiny recovery room at the hospital down the interstate. The last thing I heard, as my head hit the pillow, was a vacuum cleaner at work in the hallway at 10:21pm! I’ll spare you from the profanity which echoed off the concrete walls.

Drained of energy, I checked out around 8:30 the following morning. The rain had stopped, but the parking lot was littered with puddles to avoid. My heart was heavy, and my soul was dry. Somehow I felt I was on an internal cruise control as I opened the door to my parked SUV. My head hit the steering wheel as I placed the key in the ignition. There was no ignoring the craving for answers, the thirst for wisdom, and the starvation for comfort.

Not long ago, I wrote you a brutally honest post concerning my 77 year old mom who recently had been handed a diagnosis of dementia. Since I live in the Dallas area, and she lives in Greenville, we speak on the phone every day, sometime’s more than once. Over the past year or so, I have seen her begin to stumble on word processing during sentences over the phone. Just a few months ago she clearly began to experience hallucinations. When she began to forget the names of her granddaughters, I knew it was getting serious. She holds her cards close to her chest, so I am rarely aware of any specific assistance she needs. Slowly I have learned she can no longer do math, count money, or write well at all, etc. Stubborn and independent as the day is long, she slugs it out with life’s battles alone in her childhood home, the one she inherited from her deceased parents. Tough like a Texas oak tree, a woman made of steel, she raised me as a single mom through poverty, pain, and perseverance during the 60’s and 70’s. Not one CEO of any top 100 corporation could compare to her work ethic and drive to make a living.

The two of us in 1962.

And now…now, she is fading quickly. I’ve heard it said that it is like a great thriving tree losing its leaves in the fall, one by one. So true.

It’s not like my wife and I haven’t spoken to her about the need to sell the house and consider assisted living. She poops it right out of her noggin when the subject is presented. She’ll say, “No, I’m not near ready for that. I’m feeling much better today.”

Many hours have been spent wrestling just how I might be able to convince her to turn this page in her life, without her being forced. I walk a balancing wire because I do all I can to keep from upsetting her, or have her turn angry with me personally for pushing her too hard. My belief is she dreams to live long enough in that special house until she dies in her sleep in bed.

A little over a week ago, when I asked how her day was going, she was hesitant and sheepish. Her voice sounded tired and foggy. It took a few minutes to get her to confess that she had been sick at her stomach for a few days. There were a coup[e of phone conversations interrupted because she had to rush to the bathroom to throw-up. But then the next day she would tell me how well she felt, and how it must have just been a flu bug. Pressing her I could tell she wasn’t back to norms. On the 5th morning from the day she told me of her sickness, she confessed that she wasn’t better after all. My bootstraps were pulled up as I spoke to her like a parent, telling her she must go to a clinic, or ER. She barked at me saying some over-the-counter meds would do the trick, etc. I knew better. No bait was taken. I called her doctor, but she couldn’t see her for several days. I called my cousin, who lives just 5 minutes from her, and told him he needs to take her to get checked out. In the end, it was necessary.

A couple of hours rolled by when I received a call from my cousin who handed me over to a nurse in the ER. Tests were being run. Later in the afternoon, a surgeon called me. He informed me she had a concerning hernia near her navel. He mentioned there was trapped bowel material in the hernia, as well as, a traffic back-up in her GI track. Emergency surgery needed to be done within that very hour. I approved it over the phone. She would be in the hospital for at least 5 days as they attack the blocked GI track. All went well with the surgery. I arrived to be with her the next morning.

That was 8 days ago, as I write this post. Although the procedure went well, and the draining of her bowels was completed yesterday, she remains very weak and in need of rehab. My “Iron Lady” has quickly become frail and needy.

In recovery

I wondered why she wouldn’t let me in the house when I would come for a visit throughout the last few years. I am her only child, just 16 years younger than she, and our relationship has been good. While she was in the hosp[ital, I was able to get into her house as I needed to retrieve her ID and documentations. The word “gasp” would fall short of what I walked into. Without getting into the horrific scenes I saw and walked through, I will just say, she has been living in filth and squalor, seemingly for a long time. My heart broke seeing and smelling the realities of how far my dear mom had spiraled. A dumpster will need to be delivered in order for us to clear and clean. That’s how bad it really is.

Life has been very tough. Without my life-long Christian-based faith, I know where I would be by now, and it wouldn’t be a place where you would want to be. In fact, I know of a few times suicidal thoughts were at play during some personal tragedies in my past. With that said, more than a plethora of times, God Himself reassured me of who I am in Him, and without Him I would be on skid-row, or worse several times over. Honestly, and you know this if you are a long-time reader of my blog, there have been near miraculous moments in my life, where in the darkened corners I found myself in, I was brought to my feet. It grieves me to type the next two words…AND YET, I still have faltered in my faith, even though God showed me His hand through the wind and waves. “AND YET”…don’t you just hate those words?

With my head on the steering wheel, along with waning droplets on the windshield from the night before, I felt spiritually empty. My “worry wart” was getting bigger as I sat there pondering what needed to be done. My mom is ill, and can never live alone again without assistance. Where will she go? My wife and I don’t have room for her, not to mention, she will need more care than what we will be able to do. Even now, she thinks she is going back home to live as she was living. I fear looking into her aged eyes to tell her she can no longer be alone. Frankly, I don’t know how to break it to her without crushing her spirit. I’ve already been taking over her finances. A Power Of Attorney will need to established on her behalf. The herculean job of tackling the house, cleaning, moving her out, selling furniture, then selling the house….arg! Sitting there in my vehicle, I only had less than a quarter of a tank left in my spiritual reserve. The tears began to flow with the current of loneliness taking me downstream to where I shouldn’t be.

My prayer-life has been eaten away, practically. Ashamed to say it, but it’s true. The realization of my forehead hitting the the steering wheel brought me to a place where I needed to scream-out to God. That’s exactly what I did. No dogma involved, no Christianese spoken, no pretense whatsoever was present. With a good old fashioned yelling, in concert with my belly-crying, I called out to God in despair.

Before I go any further, let me caution you on something. If you have not accepted God’s grace and mercy through what His son, Jesus did on the cross for our redemption, you may not get what I am about to write. Please, forgive me if I am describing you. Nevertheless, what I am about to proclaim is factual, even biblical. If you are a Jesus follower, and think of prayer as quietly spoken, laced with a “thee & thou” because it is your habit, or because you believe your prayer would not make it out of the room if not practiced in this way, you might find what I am about to advise somewhat sacrilegious. If you use ritualistic phrases in your prayers, often repeating them several times for punctuation, you may not like what I am about to suggest whatsoever. When in the cave, the belly of the great fish, or at hell’s gate itself, God wants to hear YOU, YOUR HEART, YOUR GUT-WRENCHING SOUL! Scream out to Him in your suffering, in your neediness, in your emptiness. He’s a BIG GOD, He can and will handle what you need to say. Maybe the words might not be so pretty, or elegant, that’s okay. In fact, that’s what He wants from you. In a personal relationship, that’s what you do in tense times. Reveal your passion of the moment to Him. My experience has been, when I do that, I hear from Him, strongly, directly, and timely.

During my prayer, through pouring tears, I reminded God of how much of a servant my mom has been in her faith-walk all of her life. My verbal slideshow to Him consisted of how faithful she has been to Him and His words. The pulse of her deep faith was so evident in her song, her servanthood, her sacrifices. Brutal honesty rolled out of my mouth as I fessed-up to God that I am helpless in facing this giant of an issue. He heard how I felt alone in this task, weak and feckless. In my yelling out to Him, I ended it by confessing how I needed Him to show-up. I admitted that I am clueless on just how to begin all that needs to be done, all that needs to be said, all that needs strength that I don’t seem to have anymore. My sincerity was brutal and blunt when I screamed out, “Lord God, I need to know you are with me! Not tomorrow, or even the next day, but today!”

At that moment, I cleared the drops from my eyes, reach out to turn the key in the ignition, and the radio was on my favorite classic hits station.

The very first sound coming out of my speakers as the engine turned over was…

“When you’re weary,
Feeling small,
When tears are in your eyes,
I’ll dry them all.
I’m on your side…”

In that very moment of my darkened frame, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Like A Bridge Over Troubled Water” began to air. Slotted at that precised juncture in time, not 5 mins before, or 10 minutes after, but right then and there, out of their 600+ songs in rotation, sprinkled in with news, weather, and traffic, the lyrics met me like a subway at the station. I spent about 30 years in radio and radio programming, and I can tell you, this just doesn’t happen at the whim of a programming clock with its categories of rotating songs, separation slots involving artists, titles, and production types. There is a true science to what you hear on the air. I recognized it as a, “God Thing”.

Recently, my wife and I read through a book on odds, the law of averages, chances, and frequencies of events. This would be a good study on the odds of this happening as a coincidence, happenstance, etc. Based upon the book we recently read, I can tell you that the odds are against me hearing the first verse of that song, programmed at the right hour, at the right minute, at the right second after my prayer.

Suddenly, I wept again, but for a different reason. My faith was bolstered as in times past. Because I was shouting out my guts to God in faith that He would hear my pleas, He responded using a medium so very precious to me and my life…music. He arranged all roads to converge at that moment to prove to me that indeed, He is there, and will be there.

When reaching out for God’s grip, look no further than fuel for the race.

“Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:12-13 (NAS)

That Which Entangles

“And if they stare
Just let them burn their eyes on you moving.
And if they shout
Don’t let it change a thing that you’re doing…

Hold your head up, oh
Hold your head up, oh

Hold your head high.”
(1972) “Hold Your Head Up” Recorded By: Argent Composers: C. White/R. Argent

I admit it. I am an Olympic junkie. I sat on the couch for two weeks, glued to the Tokyo events. I found myself cheering while taking-in certain sports I normally would pass on, like wall climbing. After a few days, I realized I hadn’t even taken a shower. Yeah, sad, I know.

The human spirit in these games was so evident, even in a pandemic. For the most part, no crowds where allowed to cheer the athletes onward toward the goal. Unless a relative was a coach, no parents, wives, husbands, children, significant others were on the grounds. So, in a way, the competitors found the struggle a bit more challenging without the love felt and heard around them.

The human interest stories attached to some Olympians were in abundance. I would list the notables, but the list is way too long. If you weren’t able to watch, trust me, there were plenty of tear-jerking side stories shared.

These games were a bit different for me personally. The daughter of an old friend of mine made the Olympics this year. Melissa Gonzalez is a 27 year old world track contender in the women’s 400 meter hurdles. She has dual citizenship and was able to represent her dad’s country of Colombia. (Her mom, my old friend, was raised in my area.)

Melissa Gonzalez

Melissa grew-up here in my neck of the woods and attended University of Texas in Austin, Tx. She was a track star there, but her speed times were shy of Olympian competition requirements. She work every day for years on end to better her times. She prayed about the decision to tryout for the Tokyo games, made the choice, and qualified. She threw-off the personal disappointment, in her less than luster times at UT, and grew wings on her shoes for Tokyo. Melissa had broken her own Colombian record for the 400 meter hurdles, and in the qualifying heat in Tokyo surpassed her national record for a personal best. A few days later, in the semi-finals, she had to run in the rain against a world record holder, and the up-coming gold medalist.

Although Melissa fell short of winning a medal, coming in the 6th place slot, she remains in the top 24 for women’s 400 meter hurdles in the world. Because of the joy she possesses from her deep faith, she held her head up and displayed God’s love wherever she went. She vows to go to Paris for the next Olympics in 2024. You go, girl!

Scores of friends and family met her at the airport when she came home. There were lots of tears shed as they cheered for a job well done. Really, a life well-lived. I’m very proud of her.

Melissa at DFW Airport

Although I was distracted, as my focus was on Melissa’s efforts and stats in Tokyo, I was literally shaken by another amazing, stunning occurrence in the women’s 1,500 meter qualifying heat. Did you see it?

Ethiopian-born Dutch distance runner, Sifan Hassan, 28 years old, would be unheard-of for the casual sports fan. If you are a fan of world track competitions, than you may recognize her as a two-time gold medalist in both the 1,500 meter, and the 10,000 meter events from the 2019 World Championships.

Sifan was flying out of her shoes as she was entering the final lap in the 1,500, when all went wrong. A runner from Kenya was in front of her, tripped and hit the track on her belly, tripping Sifan in the process, hitting the pavement as well.

Photo: Matthias Hangst – Sifan Hassa in orange top.

Seemingly out of the race, Sifan looked up, watching the world contenders quickly leaving her behind. There were eleven of them, the fastest runners in the world, were now between her and the finish-line.

Photo: Reuters/Dylan Martinez – Sifan Hassan

To everyone’s shock, Sifan looked down in defeat and then looked up again with another expression on her face. The track star then stood up, and turned on the fuel from behind the running crowd. With nothing short of astonishing inward fortitude, Sifan poured on the speed. At this point, I thought, “Wow. Nice second effort, but she’s done.”

The lady from the Netherlands swept passed each and every contender in high gear. I couldn’t help but stand to my feet in my living-room as I watched the focus in her eyes burning like the Olympic torch itself.

As she was gradually making up lost ground, on the final straightaway, she pushed herself passed the front pack of five finalists to outrun them all as she crossed the finish-line in first place.

Photo: NBC Sports – Sifan Hassa 1st place

Later in the week, Sifan Hassan made it through the semifinals. On the day of the final heat for the medals in the 1,500 meters, she won the bronze for the Netherlands.

If you’re not familiar with the Bible, the Apostle Paul was a sports fan, from what he wrote. In his writings he uses some Olympic events to help us understand how spiritual faith works, and how it works itself out into action. It’s as if he saw the women’s 1,500 meter with Sifan, and the 400 meter hurdles with Melissa, and wrote the following…

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” – I Corinthians 9:24 (NIV)

Whenever the winners were given a screen to see their family and friends cheering them on back home, it made most athletes smile, laugh, and cry. When Melissa exited the gate from the baggage claim back in Dallas, when she saw the cheering, weeping crowds with their signs and balloons welcoming her home from an effort well-done, there was joy in her eyes. And so this encouragement was written for us…

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)

Since the days have passed by, I think a lot about Melissa and Sifan. Mostly, I try to get inside their heads when that moment of decision was made. For Melissa, it was holding her head up above the clouds of self-pity as she felt “less-than” from her college track times. She very well could have simmered in the frying pan of loss, holding her away from world competition. For Sifan, there must have been an instant of overwhelming defeat as she tripped over the Kenyan watching the surface of the track come closer and closer to her face. She was faced with walking off the track while calling it a day. But, somehow, someway, she stood to her feet, endured the pain, and found a gear she probably didn’t know she had at the moment.

How about when you have fallen? Do you recall? Do you remember the scrape to the knees as you hit the concrete of life? The losses, the failures, the defeat can be life altering, or even ending for some. I know this all too well. All things CAN BE endured.

Spiritually speaking, we all have fallen short of the target. The goal in our relationship with our Creator is too far away for our arrows to reach. It’s like an attempt at the long jump over the Grand Canyon. You just can’t achieve it. At the same time, God made a way to bridge the great gap we cannot negotiate. Jesus came here to run the perfect race for us, to carry us across the finish-line Himself, for Himself. Otherwise, because of sin in life, which we all are owners, we would be left on the track without a chance to crossover to where we need to be at the end of our heat.

We are born with our backsides on the surface of the track. But we don’t have to stay there.

A race well-done can only be had by grace, through faith, and easily found in fuel for the race.

“Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. So they do it to obtain a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way as not to run aimlessly; I box in such a way, as to avoid hitting air; but I strictly discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” – Paul – I Corinthians 9:25-27 (NAS)

Texas On Ice

“I really can’t stay.
But baby it’s cold outside.
Got to go away.
But baby it’s cold outside.
This evening has been…
Been hoping you’d drop in.
So very nice.
I’ll hold your hands they’re just like ice…”
(1949 release) “Baby It’s Cold Outside” Composer: Frank Loesser

My posts are written from my desktop computer in our study/studio in the north Dallas suburb of Carrollton, Texas. Today, Saturday, Feb 20th, is the first day this week I felt comfortable enough to plug the computer back into the wall socket. We have been practicing electrical limits, among other outages here.

Linemen have been busy in Texas this past week.

In case you haven’t seen the news this week, Alaska got mad at Texas and threw-up all over us. For my friends up north, and around the globe in winter-friendly areas, allow me to apologize on this printed line before I continue. I spent five years in Buffalo, NY and know how piercing winter can be north of Oklahoma. However, this week in Texas was historical.

It’s a very rare thing, almost unheard of, if we see zero degrees on the thermometer in Texas. It’s also rare to see single digit temps in the winter. We see the teens, but only once or twice a winter, if that. Yet, in the last few days we saw zero and the single digits. To accompany the drastic frigid blasts, we were dipped in snow and ice for much of Texas.

My backyard.

Oh, sure, one might ask what the fuss is about. We love snow here in Texas. We rarely see it. When we do, it may be an inch or two once a year for a day, or even an overnight and morning before it vanishes. However, with the record breaking lows on the temperature scales, the snow and ice didn’t melt all week. Only today we crawled over the freezing mark with snow melting slowly. Swimming pools, ponds, rivers, lakes, and creeks froze. Kids took up ice hockey. Pile-up crashes occurred on the freeways, due to dangerous black ice on the pavement. One event involved a multi-vehicle pile-up in Ft Worth where over 130 vehicles were involved, several fatalities, and dozens injured.

A drone shot of a neighborhood just north of our street.

All of Texas was hit.

Our driveway on the first day. By now we should be in the 50’s & 60’s.

Apparently, Texas can handle a day of the extreme single digit temps, with minus wind chill factors to boot, but if it continues…real problems arise.

The investigations are ongoing, but Texans were struck hard this week. It began with enforced rolling blackout power outages. Then for many, in fact over 4 million, were without power in weather only Canadians could love. The wind turbines, which partially fuels power transfers, froze. The oil and gas pipelines were frozen or interrupted. The cascading rolled along as so many had to go without water, too. At one point, over 13 million, nearly half of Texas, experienced water boiling orders due to water treatment facilities grinding to a halt. I know several in my own circle who went without gas, water, and electric for 3-4 days. A friend posted this shot of how she got her meals together as if it were the 1800’s.

Texans living as if the calendar read Feb, 1885.

Organizations amassed efforts to help in Texas-sized fashion. Water and food lines became the norm. Here’s one at a local church parking lot waiting for cases of water.

Millstone Church parking lot waterline.

For some, desperation took over as grocery stores were raided, leaving empty shelves.

Sadly, various ranchers began cutting off the ears of their cattle due to frostbite. Many farmers with hogs and goats had to do the same. Without gas, electric and water, many poultry plants stopped production as chickens and eggs froze in the hatcheries. Even feed and seed couldn’t be shipped to the ranchers and farmers. Hundreds of sea turtles were rescued on Texas beaches as they could no longer move. The Texas citrus crops are done for in the Rio Grande Valley. It was reported today by Sid Miller, Secretary of Texas Agriculture, that volunteers are harvesting frozen wildlife, deer, wild hogs, antelope, rabbit, etc, for massive BBQ’s and wood smoking to aid in feeding the public. He went on to say that even dairy plants need natural gas to pasteurize milk products. No doubt, Texans are in for a food shortage. Who knows how long it will last?

Unfortunately dozens of Texans have been found dead, and I’m sure many more will be found as the thawing has just begun.

Mistakes were made around the desks of decision in preparing for the unthinkable this past week. Lessons have been harshly learned. Preparedness will be reviewed and replaced for any future natural disasters, even those which Texas doesn’t normally see.

As pipes are being repaired, and shortages hover over us, I know One who is never short on power, and everlasting water.

This classical Greek word, ἐνδυναμοῦντί, changes everything about running on empty while facing outages. The Darby Bible Translation states it very closely to the original Greek text:

“I have strength for all things in him that gives me power.” – Philippians 4;13

The Greek directly places the emphasis on tasks, or circumstances being wooden horses which can be hurdled.

“(For) all things I have strength in the One (endynamounti) strengthening me.” -Direct Greek translation as Paul wrote it. FOREVER CHURNING! No frozen wind turbines here!

Often this verse is taken out of context. Remembering, that text without context is pretext. You really should read the complete chapter in Philippians. Many times Paul admitted he suffered when stuff happened that he could not control. Way too often God allowed Paul to experience the fan being hit. Early Christians were getting hit hard in their own type of cancel culture, not to mention the local government restraints, as well as, Rome itself. But Paul is so encouraging by saying, when the trials come, I know I can, and do, get through them by the One who continually pumps in, like a rushing fountain of water, the ability to overcome by a power which is outside of myself.

Texans are tough, but God is tougher. If we break chains, if we move mountains, it’s because He infuses the strength into us for the purpose. If even hell freezes over, because of his ongoing distribution of His all-powerful grip, we will skate over it. If He should send snow to our rooftops, in a state that takes on 110 degrees in the summer, then He will give us a transfusion of His ability to walk through it.

He will never lose His distributed power. There are no outages in fuel for the race.

“I am the vine, you are the branches; the one who remains in Me, and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” – (Jesus) John 15:5 (NAS)

Christmas Among The Ruins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Matthias Groeneveld on Pexels.com

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

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

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

Did you catch it?

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

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

Christmas was wrapped first by fuel for the race.

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

Chronologically Gifted

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

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

Feb 2013 while still in a coma.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

You may be chronologically gifted if you ate candy cigarettes.

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

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

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

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

1975 – Roger Daltrey at Valley View Mall, Dallas.

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

Nov 1987. My Tabitha.

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

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

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

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

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

1976ish in overalls

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

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

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

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

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

2020 Facebook profile pic.

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Ivan Bertolazzi on Pexels.com

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

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

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

Muleskinner

Cover Photo:  Wikipedia (Pack Mule)

“Well I’m a lady mule skinner
From down old Tennessee way
Hey hey, I come from Tennessee
I can make any mule listen
Or I won’t accept your pay
Hey hey I won’t take your pay…”  (Composed: 1930)  “Blue Yodel No. 8” (Mule Skinner Blues) Recorded by:  Dolly Parton (1971)  Composer:  Jimmie Rodgers
Odd title, isn’t it?
There’s two solid favorites in my life, animals and the American old west.  An old western movie, or television show, has both.  Of course, before the industrial revolution,  back in the 1800’s, animals were a vital part of life.  Without a horse, donkey, or mule, you had to walk.
Mule Spotted
Photo:  Wikipedia  (Spotted Mule)
Often in an old western novel, or up on the screen, you might come across a person who is called a “Muleskinner”.  The first few times I heard of it I thought it was just a derogatory term for some back-woods liquored-up buffoon without a lick of horse sense.  (You can tell I’m well versed in old-western jargon.)  Usually in description, either in print or film, the “Muleskinner” seems to always wear buckskin coats or pants with the fringes hanging loosely from the edges.  Right away, with a title like, “Muleskinner”, you wonder if the hide adorning such a character is from a mule he skinned out on the prairie somewhere.  To me, that’s a person I wouldn’t want to belly-up to a saloon while jawin’ in a dusty, God-forsaken wet-whistle of a town.  (Ah, there I go again.)
The mule is a beautiful creation.  Actually, the mule is a hybrid of a horse and donkey.  Brilliant minds bred them, for the first time, in what is now known as Turkey prior to 3,000 BC.  Ancient Egyptian history chronicles the mule as a working animal.  King David and King Solomon owned and bred mules in biblical texts.  And it’s no wonder.
Mule Packing
Photo:  Wikipedia  (Mule as beast of burden.)
By definition, the mule is a “beast of burden”.  It can be packed with a household of goods that a horse couldn’t come close to carrying.  The mule doesn’t eat as much as a horse.  A mule is stronger than a horse, yet slower than a horse.  The mule has much stronger  hooves for rocky trails.  And a mule’s skin is not as sensitive as horse hide.  Its hide can take weather elements better, as well as, desert sun, and yokes.  Many farmers traded in plow horses for mules.  It’s been recorded that long-haul stage coaches, which traveled over harsh terrain, often utilized mules because of their outstanding physical endurance.  Their life-span is also greater than a horse.  They can live up to 50 years.  Yoked teams of some 20 mules were used to haul heavy loads, or train-wagons across rugged country.  In the early days of the locks of the Erie Canal, mules were used on the banks to tow boats.
Mule Team
Photo:  Wikipedia  (Mule teams for multiple hitched wagons.)
What an animal.  By the way, the driver of the mule-team in the photo above is…a muleskinner.  No, he doesn’t take a large hunting knife and skin the hide off a mule.
The truth of the origin of the nickname, “Muleskinner” is not pleasant.  Because the skin of a mule is not as sensitive as a horse, many drivers of the mules, with reigns in hand, often whipped the reigns on the mule’s back too harshly.  Many times the end result was the leather reigns, or whips, would cut the mule’s skin in the process of lengthy hauls.  Thus, the nickname, “Muleskinner” was birthed.  It’s sad, and brutal, but true.  I will assume here there were also animal-loving drivers who cared well for the mules they drove and left them unmarked after the yokes and harnesses came off.
No doubt we have all had times in life when we felt whipped, bloodied, and beaten during our path forward.  For whatever reason, being burdened-down with the heaviness of life and life’s masters.
Maybe I’m not describing you, but maybe you know of someone fitting this description.  Maybe it’s someone you’ve not seen for many years, then suddenly your roads cross and you find yourself astonished, or almost speechless.  Your old friend, co-worker, or loved one looked weather-beaten, appearing to be 20, or 30 years older than they are.  You immediately want to ask them what happened in life’s journey which lorded over them.  Maybe you got up this morning, gazed at the stranger in the bathroom mirror while asking yourself, “Why do I look so worn-out lately?”  You’re reading someone like that.
There were wealthier people in the times of Jesus who would’ve owned a mule, or a few.  As Jesus was speaking at one time, I picture a perfectly equaled team of mules going by, yoked up pulling a large wagon piled with a full load of items, including a millstone for grinding grain.  I imagine the well-dressed man of means whipping the backs of his beasts of burden to the point of splitting the hides with each lash of leather.  And just then, Jesus would say…
“Come to Me, all those toiling and being burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  – Jesus – Matthew 11:28-30  (Berean Literal Bible)
So many of the world’s religions are wrapped in “Do this”, “Do that”, “Recite this”, Recite that”, Walk on your knees here and there”, “Pay this, or pay that”, “Suffer for heaven’s reservation”, “Earn your glory”, “Kiss this stone”, “Pray this many times or lose favor”, etc, etc.  Jesus knew about these legalistic demands to GAIN spiritual status and treasures of eternity from a god with a whip who is so distant.  Can’t you just see a religion founder, or leader sitting on the driver’s bench, whipping his yoked-up subjects shouting,
“Here, let’s burden you with this, or with that.  Let’s strap on this unnecessary load upon you because past generations dictated it so.” 
Now, read again what Jesus said, but slower this time.
He left His divine throne to spend 33 years here, living among us, teaching us God’s true heart toward us mules.  His “easy yoke” offer still holds true with the promise of a light load for however many years you have left on this rocky road.  He earned it for you.
When yoked-up with The Everlasting, the burden is lighter with fuel for the race.
 “Surely He took on our infirmities and carried our sorrows; yet we considered Him stricken by God, struck down and afflicted.  But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” – Isaiah 53:4-5  (Berean Study Bible)

Pedaling Through

Cover Photo:  Pexals

“We come together on this special day
Sung our message loud and clear
Looking back, we’ve touched on sorrowful days
Future disappears
You will find peace of mind
If you look way down in your heart and soul
Don’t hesitate ’cause the world seems cold
Stay young at heart, ’cause you’re never, never, never old
That’s the way of the world…” 
(1975)  “That’s The Way of The World”  Recorded by: Earth, Wind, & Fire  Composers:  Charles Stepney, Verdine White, M. (Maurice) White.

It was hot that afternoon in May of this year.  My wife and I were busy doing yard work under an abusive Texas sun.  At the time I was using our manual push-lawnmower, when from behind me I heard my name, “Alan”.  I turned around and there, on our side lawn, was a dear old friend from our high school days.  (For the purpose of this blog we will call him, Terry, because that’s his name.)  With a slight jump, I turned quickly to see who was speaking.  About the time I recognized him he said, “You two look like you’re working harder than I am.”  We laughed because we knew that wasn’t so.

There Terry was, straddling his 10-speed bike, decked out in his spandex, gloves and helmet.  Because we stay connected, we knew he was a cyclist, mad for the road.  A good example of his biking adventures, for a lunchtime ride, he recently ate up a little over 18 miles in one hour and five minutes.  That’s saying a lot for the average amateur cyclist, but Terry is my age…60 years old!  Put that in your tank.  We had a good 10 minute chat and off he went like a oiled-up speed demon on Mountain Dew.

man in blue and black shirt riding on bicycle
Photo by Mídia on Pexels.com

During our visit, we found out he streaks right by our house on his trek.  Often, I catch this blur of color wiz passed the front window in a fraction of a second.  “There’s the Terry-streak,” I always shout out.

Terry and I spoke briefly once about how our street has a slight downhill tilt going from east to west.  It didn’t surprise me when he acknowledged the fact.  I am most certainly sure Terry can tell you where each pothole is, the inclines of each road, and the expected traffic of every city street he tackles.  After so many runs, you get to where you memorize these things.  (In healthier days, I was a runner.  You get to intimately know your pavement.)

Road

Whatever road we find ourselves on can be filled with obstacles, dips, and uneven pavement.  Frankly, it can be an accident waiting to happen.  Terry admitted to experiencing a couple of mishaps.  (He is on notice with his wife.)  It seems to me we tend to focus on the tough, jagged miles ahead of us more than the road we have conquered behind us.  Who is to say which view is best at the end of our race in this life?

July 4th is a big deal for the Unites States.  We usually celebrate it with gusto each year as we commemorate the day we declared our freedom from England’s king and his government.  This year’s celebration has been a bit dampened by the pandemic and recent damaging social unrest in our streets.  Oh, we’ve faced hardships and struggles before, although this struggle, and the combination thereof, is somewhat of a different blend.  America is pedaling up a long incline at the moment.  It’s been a hard few months.  It feels like the Statue of Liberty should have a tear rolling down her cheek.  (That is, if Lady Liberty still stands by the time you read this.)  And if all American flags haven’t been burned by the time you read this, you might find they don’t seem to wave as proudly as the year before.

Flag Not Unfurled

We know from past experience, when we learn from history, there will be times of uneven roadways stretched out before us.  We have seen where potholes arise from nowhere.  We have witnessed a nation can run head-on into mobs of traffic going the opposite direction.  Downhill coasting will come along in a nation’s history, as well as an uphill climb.  It’s all a matter of the cycle of the way of the world.  This world, not the next.

Homestead in Graham

As for me, long may she wave through the harsh winds, uphill battles, cloudbursts, and unexpected rocky surfaces.  Through the breeze there is a Divine whisper which says all things are possible with fuel for the race.

“…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”   –  Declaration of Independence 1776.  Penned by Thomas Jefferson.

 

When Mom Fades

This was not the post I was planning for upload today.  Literally, I sat down at my desk to construct a post I’ve mulled over for three weeks now, when suddenly I remembered to try again to reach my mom on the phone.  It would be the fourth attempt today.  This time it worked.  She answered.  We spoke.  Afterward I felt the sliding of my emotions which tends to be the norm of late.

In the past, on Mother’s Day weekend, I have told her story.  Each year I gained morsels of bravery to shed more light on our tapestry.  It’s a unique, heroic recounting of a strong, courageous single mom.

Mom 1962 Grandmother's Kitchen

At 15, she found herself fighting off, or attempted to fight off, her rapist.  I was the product of that violent attack.  Being out of her crushed mind, heart, and spirit, she attempted suicide twice while pregnant with me, but survived.  She was unaware God had His plans of destiny beyond the messy road she was on.  I told this story with a great amount of reveals a year ago.  I invite you to look at May’s archives from last year to get a sharper camera angle of her torn life. (“If I Were…” From May 10, 2019)

Mom & Me Granddad's Coin Box

In the last 20 years she took-on the role of caregiver for her parents, who suffered from Alzheimer’s.  Nancy Reagan called this disease, “The Long Good-bye”.  She was right.  My mom retired as early as she could to move-in with her ailing parents, giving up her life to hold them up, as best as she could, as they faced the monster of this disease.  My granddad passed away first with complications of dementia in 2008.  My grandmother had full-blown Alzheimer’s, struggling with it for about 14 years before she passed.

My mom aged quickly while being a soldier for her folks.  It was difficult to see her own physical health decline during those years of tremendous servanthood.  I was never more proud of her battling away in those times.

Around 2014, her oldest brother, 4 years older than her, began to show signs of the same disease.  Today, he is deep in the jaws of the struggle, rendering him to a shell of a man, vacant in many ways.  A couple of years ago, my mom’s other brother, 2 years her senior, began to mentally deteriorate with the same invader of the body.  Trust me, it is no respecter of persons, or brilliance.

My mom is only 16 years older than I.  (I’m turning 60 in a few short days.)  Over the last 2 years, I became aware my mom was changing, and not for the better.  She lives alone about 70 minutes from me in the house she grew-up in.  At first, I felt the changes I observed were simple gaffs of the aging process.  Our communication often left me scratching my head.  There were occasions where she got lost while traveling to our part of the Dallas Metroplex, a way she knows like the back of her hand.  About 2 years ago we were to meet at a halfway point, as we have done many times before.  Her sense of direction was totally absent.  She had to call me for help to walk her through which way to turn at each intersection.  When I instructed her to turn left, she would turn right, not understanding the mistake.  It was on that day I realized she…we had a problem.  It would be a problem that would grow.

Recently, almost overnight, she found herself unable to spell the simplest words.  Her cell phone texts became more difficult to read as the days rolled on.  She began having issues with sentence construction and word retrieval during our conversations.  Items would come up missing in her house.  She blames it on her dog.  Asking if I can help is a loss.  She no longer allows me in the house.  Her excuse is it’s too messy for company.  In the last few months, she has had losing battles in operating her cell phone, including prompts, icons, and modes.  Today, in our telephone exchange, she expressed an urge to give it up and order a simple landline phone.  I hope it helps because she has trouble answering the phone these days.

There are also other health issues of concern I recognize as side symptoms of dementia.  She is a proud, independent woman, and holds these cards close to her chest as I attempt to decipher how her daily life is changing.

Frankly, I know where this is going.  As she shrugs it off as amusing, even humorous, I am accepting the fact that my mom is fading before my eyes.

Somewhere in the thicket of my mind, I knew this day was coming.  Although there was a 20 year span as my grandparents experienced massive declining health, there were also wonderful times of mysterious joy in the midst of it all.  I must remember this as I tend to my mom’s needs today and tomorrow.  Currently, I just don’t know how, or where to begin.

Mom salon

So, what’s the purpose of this particular post?  Unaware of the true answer, all I can do is display brutal honesty of how I feel on this Mother’s Day weekend.  Because I didn’t have a dad around, most of the time in my life, I saw her as my touchstone.  I liken it to a small child in a swimming pool, with an inflatable tube around his/her torso.  He/she feels much safer holding on to the side of the pool with his/her waterlogged wrinkled hand grasping tightly to the concrete edge.

I’m turning 60 years old now.  It’s time to let go of the concrete edge.  Scripture tells us not to hold too tightly to this world, especially what we deem as “concrete”.  Even concrete crumbles.

As the concrete crumbles in my grasp, I am reminded once again, God is the life-saving tube around my torso.

My days are filled with the reminder that I need to top off my tank every day with fuel for the race.

“So I said: ‘Do not take me away, my God, in the midst of my days; your years go on through all generations.  In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded.  But you remain the same, and your years will never end.'”  – Psalm 102: 24-27 (NIV)

 

 

 

The Essentials

Cover Photo:  Pexels

“I need you like water
Like breath, like rain
I need you like mercy
From heaven’s gate
There’s a freedom in your arms
That carries me through
I need you”  (2000) “I Need You”  Recorded by:  LeAnn Rimes                                        Composers:  Dennis Matkosky & Ty Lacy

This is embarrassing, but I need to share one of the craziest knuckleheaded things I’m guilty of.  Keep in mind, I was only 15 years old, full of adventure and vigor, with constant daredevil brainstorms.  And of course, I was indestructible in the summer of 1975.  Weren’t you at 15?

I was at a summer camp, with church friends, from my youth group on the banks of the sprawling, Lake Texoma, on the Texas side.  Lake Texoma is huge, as it spans parts of southern Oklahoma, as well as, north-central Texas.  In fact, it’s one of the largest reservoirs in the United States.  It’s a fisherman’s haven, about 74 miles north of Dallas, Texas.  You should Google it to get a better picture of what I’m about to reveal to you.  Sightings of alligators are rare there, but they are there.

Lake Texoma Map Pinterest

Tied-up along the banks, were a few blocks of Styrofoam, the largest about 5’x5′ square, and approximately 2-feet in thickness.  I think they used them for some sort of “King of The Hill” games in shallow waters.  Difficult to keep one’s balance if standing on top.

Three of my extremely bright friends, and I, came up with a brilliant plan.  Like calculating convicts, planning an elaborate overnight escape from prison, we carefully planned out a scheme to barrow some brooms, make our way down to the Styrofoam blocks under the cover of night, board it, and paddle our way to Oklahoma and back before sunup.  Three of us were athletes.  I was a trained tournament fighter in karate/kickboxing.  One was a state award-winning gymnast, headed for the Olympic trials.  One was a football player.  The other was…well…a guitar player.  What could possibly go wrong?

About midnight, we quietly freed ourselves from our barracks.  We made our way to the maintenance worker’s shed.  There we discovered only two brooms, one mop, and a fan rake.  We figured it’s all we had, so we borrowed what God gave us.  What could possibly go wrong?

Brooms etc

Like four teenage ninjas, we quietly made our way down to the shore, untied the biggest block of Styrofoam available, and with each one sitting on each of the four corners, with our legs hanging over the sides, we began to row like madmen on a quest.  Of course, the brooms worked better than the mop and rake, but we strategically placed the two guys with brooms (I was one of them.) on the opposite diagonal corners for better rowing balance.  So, off we went, in our dark clothes into the dark waters, lacking life jackets, flashlights, reflectors, or flares.  What could possibly go wrong?

lighted building near body of water at nighttime
Photo by Lum3n on Pexels.com

We had a blast, rowing 90-to-nothin’, talking about girls, our camp counselors, the mess hall’s food, our youth pastor, and…alligators.  What could possibly go wrong?

Believe it or not, we made good nautical mileage in short order.  To this day I have no true sense of how far out we went, but I will guess two miles, or so.  What we didn’t realize is how far across the Oklahoma shore was from our campsite.  I will say, it looked a lot closer than reality.

I don’t believe we made it even halfway across when we all decided to take a break.  We laid back, with our empty pointed heads meeting in the middle, looking up at the stars with the sound of water licking the sides of our…yacht.

At that time, we all knew we had bit-off more than we could chew, but didn’t speak it into the overnight air.  After a time, in our exhaustion, we debated the idea of defeat.  Someone brought up the thought that if we got caught we would all be sent back home in a shame wagon.  On the other hand, someone brought up the fact that if we didn’t start paddling back, the sunrise would beat us, revealing our naval escapade.  We would be exposed to those headed for breakfast.  The skinniest guy said he didn’t have the strength to paddle with his mop any longer.  Silently, each of us began to consider the danger we were in, sitting on a piece of Styrofoam in the middle of Lake Texoma, without safety flotation devices, not to mention…alligators.  Personally, I was more worried about the lake legend of the wild goat-man who lurks about the shores looking for young campers, no doubt since the days of Moses.

Bravely, one by one, we agreed to make a 180 to paddle back before dawn.  With arms feeling like rubber, half dead on our feet, we made it to shore while it was still dark.  We swore we would never tell anyone.  The four of us made a pact.  What could possibly go wrong?  You guessed it, the week wasn’t over until one of us (Not me.) bragged about it to a girlfriend.  Before you could say, “Gator-bait” everyone on the campgrounds heard about it.  We narrowly escaped an early trip home.  And some, didn’t believe we did it.  I’m grateful I am still here to write about it.  God’s mercy and grace are real, in real-time.

Me and Tommy

Photo:  I’m on the right, with another fearless one acting like fools.

The 1975-Forging Foursome came to mind recently during our current COVID-19 crisis.  That still night out on Lake Texoma involved four teenagers who relied on each other to stay afloat, to stay alive.  Whether one had a broom, a mop, or a rake, we depended on each other, even though we were pooped in the dark on top of 100 feet of water.  For us, we were a team to be reckoned with.  We were essential to one another.

Don’t misunderstand what I’m about to say.  In this pandemic crisis, only essential businesses, essential workers, essential volunteers were called upon to keep America afloat.  The non-essentials were/are under “Shelter-In-Place” orders.  Truly, there was/is a good reason for it.  The virus we battle is like a team of alligators in darkened waters.  I, for one, am extremely grateful for first responders, medical staffers, fast-food services, grocery stores, truckers, farmers and ranchers, gas station managers, sanitation workers, postal workers, etc….  They are all rowing in unison as fast as they can to protect the rest of us.  They were all placed on their jobs for, “such a time as this”.

However, in the end, WE are ALL “Essential”.  Much like pieces of a puzzle, we are all essential to one another.  Where would we be if not for the shoe salesman, the record producer, the librarian, the barber, the DMV clerk, the house painter, and the carpet layer?  Sure, in the crunch-time of paddling through the dark waters of the COVID-19 battle, some jobs are needed to be on the front lines of the viral war.  I get that.  I agree with that.  However, in the end, after life is done, there will be a ditch-digger, a candle-maker, a school janitor, a tool & die maker, who will realize they were part of God’s assorted massive toolbox.  There are no non-essentials here.

God Himself will say to some, “Well done, good and faithful servant”.

Each one is precious, and needed.  Each one has an essential place with fuel for the race.

“…Whatever you might do, work from the soul, as to the Lord and not to men…” – Colossians 3:23 (excerpt) – (Berean Literal Version)

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)