“When I know you know baby, everything I say Meet me in the country for a day We’ll be happy and we’ll dance Oh, we’re gonna dance our blues away…” (1972) “Listen To The Music” Recorded By: the Doobie Brothers Composer: Tom Johnston
Someone very wise once told me that you never are really sure what you’re praying for when praying for your children. Usually it becomes more clear in retrospect of a life event.
Megan is my middle daughter, now 30 years old. I have written of her before, so forgive me if part of this post sounds redundant.
Out of three daughters, Megan is the one most like me, in various ways. My girls are precious to me, and Megan is the one who aligns more closely to who I am. It could be because when she was a toddler and pre-schooler, I was Mr. Mom for a few years. When Tabitha, her older sister (2 years older), went on to kindergarten, Megan and I spent lots of solo time together. In fact, the solo time lasted two of her young years. Although she lives in Buffalo, NY now, and I live in Dallas, Tx where she was born, we do still have a special bond. It’s always apparent when she comes home for a visit.
Megan was a child actress before she turned singer & recording artist. Megan has racked up a mound of accolades in upstate NY for the last 12 years. The bands she fronts have been news worthy and award-winning. (Currently you can see some of her videos when you look-up Grosh, or Grosh Band.) She’s on stage about as much as she sleeps each week.
Photo: Megan in Artvoice Magazine, June 2016.
Exhaustion and burnout can be an issue if not careful in that business.
So, enter kayaking and camping. We didn’t do either of these things for outdoor activities when she was a kid, but she always wanted to. She and a small group of close friends often rough-it out in the beautiful countryside of the southern tier of New York State, or northern Pennsylvania. With kayaks and tents loaded up, they always manage to find these areas of serene landscapes to unplug and get the fingernails dirty. Last weekend, they chose the gorgeous hills of the Allegheny National Forest. Megan always takes pictures for us. (Why am I hearing the whistle of the old Andy Griffith Show theme song?)
The lakes and streams are crystal clear, and cold. With an oar in one hand, and a camera in the other, I love getting to see her kayak perspective.
Honestly, can’t you just smell the pines and feel the cool breeze rising off the calm waters? Yeah, me too.
At night they circle the campfire, laughing at each other’s stories, and roasting s’mores over the open fire. Usually, it’s the wee hours before everyone hits the tents and rolled out sleeping bags. Ah, youth.
Early last Sunday morning, Aug 2nd around 5 o’clock, while nicely wrapped in their sleeping bags, the piercing quietness of the forest suddenly was shattered by the canvas-shaking roar and snorts of a loud animal in the camp. Everyone jumped a couple of inches off the ground by the unexpected wildlife just a few feet from the tent stakes. Peeking out from the flaps of the tent opening, Megan saw something huge and hairy hovering over the food supplies by the now quenched campfire. Someone turned a flashlight on the enormous growling mass of a creature to find a extra large black bear.
Photo: American Black Bear (Wikipedia)
The flashlight in his face didn’t disturb him one iota. Then someone began to yell and scream at the hefty bear with hopes of frightening him away. The vocals fell deaf on his slightly rounded ears. About that time, someone, probably the drummer, had the idea to grab a couple of metal chairs, and beer bottles, and proceeding to clang them together in a sharp ruckus sound for the bear’s fear factors. No doubt the sound echoed throughout the hills with an ear-shaking frequency. Still, the bear did not flinch. Not one eyelash was batted. It seemed an 18-wheeler could hit the big wall of black hair and he would’ve only be slightly annoyed. Fright began to turn in the minds of Megan and friends as their bear-banishing choices came to an end. In cases like this, experts say to flap your arms way up in the air while growling and yelling as you jump up and down to make yourself look bigger than you are. For some reason that is the best way to scare-off a bear, and other wildlife. However, no one was brave enough to try it as close as they were to the massive beast.
Nothing they did worked to spook the animal away because he was laser-beam focused on a nylon backpack full of all the ingredients for s’mores. That’s right. Inside were graham crackers, marshmallows, honey, and chocolate bars. He tore into the tough nylon exterior of the pack, as if it were rice paper, and began to chow down, cardboard boxes, plastic wrappers and all. Nothing that they could do, percussion, scream, or shine on him mattered. His mind was in tune with one thing…his sweet-tooth. Interestingly enough, right next to him was a cooler full of hot-dogs, deli turkey meat, and cheese. I am sure his nose picked up on the scent of the meat and cheese, but even so, the sugar in the backpack was his priority. THANK GOD! Finally, the brute of a beast knocked over a cooking kettle next to him and with a dart, he ran off with the makings of s’mores. The key was…he frightened himself. His own, “fear itself” shook his core.
I told Megan if that had been a mama with her cubs looking for food, they all would be dead in the woods, far from civilization. (It was just the dad in me adding that tidbit.)
Yep, sometimes when you pray for your kids, you often don’t know just what you are praying for until after a life & death event occurs. The Everlasting Arms searches the prayerful heart while holding the future in His hands.
In this strange and spooky election year, full of rage, riots, fires, loud voices, along with a frightening pandemic, we can choose to be the bear, or we can choose to be the kids with noise-making talents. Personally, call me Yogi. With all the distractions of our uneasy, restless times, I shall not be moved. My choice is to stay focused of the life, liberty, and the sweet pursuit of happiness our founding fathers placed in a bag just for me and my descendants. I will NOT be distracted from it by all the noise-making. My choice is to stand on what I know to be true in my heart, that core which turns me to the east or west, north, or south. I will keep my nose in that bag of treats from 1776 and disregard all else that attempts to woo my attention.
Thank you, bear. Thank you for the personal application at this time in my life. Most of all, thank you for obeying your Creator by not caring if my daughter was five feet from you while stuffing your cute face.
Speaking frankly, the bear necessities can be rediscovered in fuel for the race.
“Let a man meet a bear robbed of her cubs, rather than a fool in his folly.” – Proverbs 17:12 (NAS)
“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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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)
“…So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief thatthe only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”– Franklin D. Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933
Due to retinopathy and glaucoma, I have experienced many an eye surgery over the last five years. No fun whatsoever. As part of the give & take, my natural night vision has been damaged, bit by bit. I still drive at night, but I don’t unless it’s necessary. Craving light is what I do. If the road I’m on is dimly lit, or without reflectors along the stripes or curbs, my vision struggles to pierce the velvet blackness just on the other side of the headlight’s reach. At home, I am so grateful for the little nightlights plugged into the wall sockets for an easier overnight walk to the bathroom, or kitchen. With a portion of my night vision missing, the difference is truly noticeable.
Let’s say you blindfold yourself, just for a personal experiment. Once your eyes are covered you begin the attempt to navigate through your house. Better yet, try this in a home you are unfamiliar with. Each step is carefully placed as you bump into the baseboards and steps. Your hands search the walls for maneuvering safely, or the hope of it. Slowly your feet pioneer themselves across an unknown room, when suddenly they trip over the edge of a rug. You fall as if it were in slow motion. On the way down you think to yourself, “It would be helpful if the owner of the house, who knew this floor-plan, were in front of me, guiding me with their vocal directions.” As you get back up on your feet, you find within yourself a growing emotion…fear. The fear of falling again. The fear of breaking your nose on a door. The fear of knocking out a tooth on the staircase. The fear of…the unknown ahead.
We have been dreading the essential drive to the grocery store ever since the Coronavirus began its crawl across the USA. Droves of unreasonable citizens have been raiding the store shelves as if there was a run on dwindling inventory, buying more than average cupboards could hold without thinking of their neighbor’s needs. The day came. My wife fought through the mob to buy staples for the week. She found a severe lack of eggs, milk, meat, rice, pasta, to name a few. Just amazing for the average grocery store in America. The funny part of it is…there’s no real shortage of anything. She witnessed frantic shoppers racing about with wrinkled foreheads and frowns. The store was filled with consumers tied up in knots on the inside. We’ve seen this type of hysteria with gasoline in the past, haven’t we?
There must be a study somewhere within the bowels of a sociology think-tank which can tell us how mass hysteria occurs. Unfortunately, part of the reason for empty market shelves is greed. There are those who are so full of themselves that they purchase in large quantities of a targeted item for the purpose of private resale with an enormous price hike for others to pay. Trust me, this type of individual will receive their reward. However, the majority of consumers overstock in a crisis for another reason.
What fuels the tanks of the one who fills two or three basket-fulls of toilet paper during a pandemic is…fear itself.
There is a healthy fear each of us possess. It’s evaluated when you pull away from the edge of a cliff. We jerk our hand back when a fire ignites. A healthy fear reminds us to drive under 90 MPH. Then there are wonderful moments where healthy fear is suppressed by the weight of love. You see it when a parent runs into a burning house in efforts to save their child. Fear is quenched when assisting an elderly parent when they are down with the flu. Fear is pushed aside when a dog owner runs out on the a frozen lake to rescue their four-legged pal who fell through a patch of a thin layer. Stories like this are inspiring, along with soul searching.
Those prone to unreasonable, unjustified fright are minds that have conjured up scenarios which most likely are not realistic. Sure, COVID-19 is real. It is upon us all. The remedy is on its way, but not yet available. Citizens are to take precautions. It is a healthy fear to do so. Yet, we should guard against being tied up in knots during the panic.
An unhealthy fear is to fill a home up to the crown molding with a few thousand rolls of toilet paper while not have any produce in the fridge. A person who does this is one who feeds on the extreme as they envision it to be. Even though retailers, the retail workers, the CEO’s, the government itself, implores consumers to think reasonably with the news that there is no shortage of goods, they dive into a darkened place where they believe they will be in want for all things. The lack of “items” is the constructed fear.
Photo: Star News Online
FDR wisely raised the issue of unhealthy fear in his inaugural address in 1933. Yes, people where going through an economic depression. Americans were going hungry, losing jobs, standing in line at soup kitchens. The fear was real. Yet, he sensibly pointed out the deadliest fear facing the nation at the time. The most costly was, “fear itself”. He knew, all too well, unhealthy fear can bring someone to harmful illnesses, anxiety, even insanity. In fact, it was a contagious anxiety. He was aware unhealthy fear grows hurtful selfishness. FDR saw the men and women of his nation were not standing strong in the stiff winds of a fierce depression which carried many to suicide, murder, and hatred of neighbors. Truly costly. Even the children of those who tied themselves in knots began to lose hope. In essence, FDR was saying…“FEAR KNOT!”
Fear itself is like being blindfolded in a house not your own. It’s like driving a dark road at 4am while wearing thick sunglasses. When blind to the unknown, it can cause delusions. Fear itself develops a mental picture of what might occur, what could happen, what possibly would be in store, all without remedy. So many who have studied fear say about 90% of what we fear never happens. In that perspective it gives something to wake-up to tomorrow.
If only we had the owner of the house, who built the floor plan, to give us strong directions just ahead of each step we dare take in the darkest of moments.
I know Who that is. He is the Author of light, direction, and hope. He is the One who promised there were new mercies on the shelf every morning.
“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’…your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” – Jesus – (Matthew 6) (ESV)
Certainty can be defined as this: Filling a tank with fear is contrary to fuel for the race.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of instruction.” – Apostle Paul – 2 Timothy 1:7 (Aramaic Bible in Plain English)
“You don’t have to be a star, baby, to be in my show…” (1976) “You Don’t Have To Be A Star”. Recorded by: Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr. Composers: James Dean & John Glover.
It’s called, 52768 (1998 IR2). It’s not named after an astronomer, or a mythical Greek god from ancient history, but rather a cold, non-personality number. Its title may reflect the unimpressive appearance as it tends to resemble a giant potato spud. Through a powerful telescope it may have a bit of light reflecting solar rays off its surface, but nothing as brilliant as a star. It lacks the synchronized rotations of the planets and moons. There are some which become mini-moons, caught in a planet’s orbit, but for the most part, they travel seemingly aimlessly in space. You might say, if it were a person with feelings, it would be an introverted loner, a Sad Sally. Let’s face it, she ain’t nothin’ to write home about…or is she?
First tracked by scientists in 1998, our friend, 52768 (1998 IR2), has been studied ever since, and for good reason. She’s a gigantic space rock almost the size of Mount Everest. She measures up to 2.5 miles wide and travelling at 19,461 miles per hour. A very impressive stone to say the least. What’s more impressive, is her current trajectory. Not unlike a nail-biting science fiction movie, this gargantuan potato-like stone is headed close to our own planet. NASA estimates it will pass within 3,908,791 miles of the earth. It’s way out there. Right? After all, the distance between the earth and the moon is a mere 238,900 miles. That may sound like a Herculean hurdle from here, but in astrophysicist’s standards, NASA considers 3.9 million miles a near miss. No doubt, everyone with a telescope will be out looking for it come next month, on April 29th to be exact.
I am unsure the size of the asteroid which hit us in the Yucatan, back in the day, but those seemingly in the know tell us it changed our entire planet. In fact, many believe it somehow killed off the entire dinosaur species. (I always thought it funny that the Yucatan Asteroid killed off Dino and friends, but not the balance of living species on the planet. Crickets to whales and elephants should’ve all be sunk in the impact as well, along with the nuclear winter which naturally followed. Oh, well. Of course, we are never to question scientific theory, right? If you do, the science police will come in the attempt to shut you down, until you agree to nod yes to everything they print.)
Nevertheless, NASA has sent out an asteroid alert. Even though this killer, almost the size of Mount Everest, will only visit our neighborhood. Still it is good to be alerted. A traffic alert is needed for an alternative route. A tornado alert is a must to warn people on the ground. Just ask the poor folks hurting in the Nashville, Tennessee area right now.
At the risk of appearing to be overly dramatic here, there is an alert of this nature written on papyrus some 2,000 years ago. See if this lines up with NASA’s description.
“…and something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea; and a third of the sea became blood,9 and a third of the creatures which were in the sea [f]and had life, died; and a third of the ships were destroyed….” – Apostle John – Revelation 8:8-9 (Now there’s some climate change for the record books.) It’s interesting that in the following verse (Rev 8:10) is a description of an enormous falling “blazingstar” which poisons the planet. I will say, it’s not for the faint of heart if this planet is considered the highest treasure.
Some may not realize the significance of the writings of John in the scroll of Revelation. In fact, many try to ignore it altogether. A study of it requires one of understanding, so says its writer. The text defines it is an unfolding of times and events concerning the earth. John, the writer, was given strict instructions. “Write, therefore, whatever you have seen and those things that are, and that are going to come to pass after these things.” – Revelation 1:19 (Aramaic Translation Bible) In other words, the ending of the age is detailed. If you plan on a read, expect much imagery and foreshadowing within its pages. It’s not a good bedtime read for the kids. Alerts are a good thing. It means, it’s not happened yet. That’s a good thing. Most agree, knowledge is power.
How many times have you seen a personal asteroid headed your way, and you felt like all you could do is gaze at its approach? Maybe it was a mountain you were up against. You knew it was coming, you were alerted, your radar and telescope captured it, but all you could do is wait for the impact. Maybe it was a loved one, or a dear friend, who came to you with an alert about a person you were letting into your orbit. Maybe you disregarded their warning only to find yourself broken and damaged afterwards. It could be your body has been sending you alerts. You’ve not felt normal while wrestling with the idea of going to a doctor for a test or two. Many are in quarantine with the mountainous asteroid of Coronavirus. It could be that one day you hear a knocking under the hood of your car. A warning alert flashes on the instrument panel. After the mechanic does a diagnostic, you are alerted of a serious issue which needs to be repaired. In the end, we are left with the choice of heeding alerts, or ignoring them, sometimes at our peril.
“Forassuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.Therefore I say to you,whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.” – Jesus – Mark 11:23-24 (NKJV)
There are many moments in life where faith kicks in. Times of your back touching the corner behind you. Someone wise once said, “Prayer is a mystery”. Yet, sometimes, a wise person finds leaning on the mysterious unseen, is the answer.
Here’s to waving along Sad Sally.
Wandering stars, as scripture describes, are never sturdy and safe. But there is stability standing still on The Solid Rock within fuel for the race.
“…I Seek in myself the things I meant to say,
And lo! the wells are dry.
Then, seeing me empty, you forsake
The Listener’s role, and through
My dead lips breathe and into utterance wake
The thoughts I never knew…”
An excerpt from, “A Poem Prayer” – CS Lewis (1964)
“What is to become of us,” said Jehanne, “if that is the way children are made now?” – (1831) Hunchback Of Notre Dame Author: Victor Hugo
Depending on your age, you may not recognize the subject in the cover photo above. I loved mine from the 60’s. It probably was a Christmas gift from my grandparents. I guess you could call it the first modern-day tablet. Etch A Sketch, still available, was wildly popular in the pre-tech world. You, the would-be artist, would turn the knobs to etch horizontal and vertical lines, but never true diagonals with any integrity. My preference was creating cool looking mazes. When you messed up, or drew as much as you could, you simply turned it face-down, as it made a sand-spilling noise, then back to face-up, for magically erasing all you had worked on. It was a brilliant invention at the time. In those days it bordered close to science fiction. What a prize it was, and still is. One thing it can’t do is take pictures.
Many years ago, I took this shot at my ancestral homestead along the Brazos River in Graham, Texas. If I were to ask you if it was a shutter moment of dawn or dusk, what would your answer be? My guess is you’re thinking because you are unfamiliar with the area, the angle, and the direction, you would shrug it off. It could be dusk, or dawn.
Our view of the new 2020 is very much like this shot. Many look at our world and see failure, fear, and folly for the near future. Some think we will all be under icecap water by the end of the new roaring 20’s. Many see this sphere we call earth is in need of medical care. Some believe a nuclear disaster is near. Some feel we are due for a devastating asteroid impact, equally destructive. Others feel overall internal violence and rage will overwhelm societies. The geopolitical scene looks as if it needs emergency surgery. As I write this, Russia, China, and Iran are playing navel wars games for the first time. For biblical scholars, this is alarming indeed as the three nations are mentioned as allies in world-ending wars foretold in Ezekiel and Revelation. Morality has hit the skids. What was once forbidden, or unexceptionable in the last generation are now commonplace with an urgency to be accepted where you live, work, and play. Frankly, all as a convergence can happen during the roaring 20’s to come, and all will add to the fear in every culture. Yeah, 2020 can be a pretty dark view through the lens.
So, how do you see 2020? Will it be a sunrise, or sunset?
Maybe Hugo’s Jehanne, in Hunchback Of Notre Dame, has a valid question that rings true for us and our kids today, “What is to become of us…?”
Don’t look at me, I’m no Ezekiel. I’m just a watcher on the wall.
Individually, I do believe much of what occurs in 2020 relies on you and me. Could it be that each of us are given an Etch A Sketch by the Prince Of Peace, Who filters all things through His hands? The One Who marks out the days, seasons, and times, the One Who it is said “…the government shall be upon His shoulder…” (Isaiah 9:6) has His calendar. Still, He places in our hands the ability of free-will to plan-out our lives, as allowed, but with stipulations and warnings, like a parent cautioning a child about unlit matches, busy streets, and stranger-danger. As we plan, we should keep in mind and heart, the horizontal and the vertical, and the differences between the two.
2019 may not have been out best year, but we can turn it face-down, then face-up for a new clean screen. After all, starting anew is required when living off fuel for the race.
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face. And the things of this world will grow strangely dim by the light of His glory and grace.” (1922) Hymn writer, Helen Lemmel
With the growing disturbances in our world this Christmas, I thought of re-publishing the below from my December 2017 post.
“Silver bells. Silver Bells. It’s Christmas time in the city. Ring-a-ling. Hear them ring. Soon it will be Christmas Day.” – Composers: Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. (1950)
Not long ago I heard of a certain residential neighborhood that took a nearby church to court. Their complaint surrounded the bells joyfully ringing from the church steeple on Sunday mornings. I will assume these would be the same neighbors who clamored about Sunday morning traffic around the church, before and after services. I didn’t attend the trial, but I just know that if I read the transcript of the proceedings, certainly someone said something like, “What’s with all the bells?”
It’s a valid question. So, what’s up with all the bells?
Imagine you’ve had a wonderful 18 year marriage with an incredibly loving and supportive spouse. Whatever the world dishes out, you had shade and shelter at home with your understanding mate. Growing a family together has been a true gift. Now imagine, that the love of your life tragically perished in a devastating accident when her clothes caught fire.
Imagine, by way of this nightmare in life, you are left with children to raise on your own. Your first born son is a stunning, strong 17 year old who is proud to carry on the family legacy.
Imagine war breaking out just down the road from where you buried your soulmate. Your young son’s enthusiasm for the war’s cause, coupled with his school lads running off to take up arms to fight for their country, pulls your son’s interest to join up. He fights with you about being a new recruit, as you sternly stand your parental ground. You debate with him. You state that he is too young to fight a man’s battle where the blood shed has no respecter of age. Imagine he shows honor for your wishes, agrees to continue his high school education, along with sharing the household duties. Imagine for the next two years, each time you looked into his eyes, you saw his smile, or the way he visited his mother’s grave, and how he soothed your grieving heart every day by just being there.
Now imagine, one morning your 19 year old son vanishes overnight without a word or a note. Your heart is pierced. Your fears serve up the worst scenarios to the point of being unable to function and unable to eat or sleep. Suddenly, after several weeks, a letter appears in your mailbox. The envelope is marked with your missing son’s handwriting. You can’t help but notice how his phrasing, even his handwriting, reminds you of his mother. As you read through your tears, he explains his disappearance. He details how he had joined the military to fight on the front lines for his country. He goes on to describe how he had resisted the temptation to join up, as long as he could, and is now in the army fighting alongside his schoolmates. He acknowledges how it must hurt you by his abrupt decision, but also making it clear that he is where he needs to be.
Imagine the worry, the fear, the sadness you would go through for the next several months without word of his health or his location. Imagine a few months later, you receive word that this first born son was gravely injured in a major battle and could no longer be of service. Now imagine it’s nearing the Christmas season, with the familiar sound of bombs and the gunfire of war echoing dangerously through the county. The terror of your first born son offering his life each and every day, facing the blasts of the enemy drowns out all Christmas cheer and celebrations.
You can imagine going through such grief, such turmoil and fear, while fighting the clanging sound of Christmas bells all around you, as if everything was truly right in the world with all of its pretend joy, jolly-hollies and Santa’s jinglings.
This is what happened to American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, from 1861 to 1863 during the Civil War. In his deep depression, coming out of a writer’s block, dating back to his wife’s violent death, he pens an honest reflection of where his hopes and dreams were last seen. One of the verses written in his poem, “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day,” reads like this:
“And in my despair I bowed my head. There is no peace on earth, I said. For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth good will to men.
But the bells are ringing, like a choir singing. Does anybody hear them? Peace on earth good will to men….”
After the poem was published some years later, a songwriter put music to it in 1872. Today we sing this song of Christmas blues with gusto. I seem to sing it through tears each time. and even louder when I arrive at the next verse.
“Then rang the bells more loud and deep. God is not dead, nor doth He sleep. The wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth good will to men.”
“So why all the bells?” one might ask. It’s because ancient bells were an announcement, an attention-getter. Heralds would ring their bells while shouting, “Here ye, hear ye!” Bells were meant to be loud. The bell’s vibration was to pierce the air with a message to be readied to be received. The bell-ringer assigned to pull the bell-clapper rope had the fervor to bring attention to a message of news. A newsflash of importance or urgency, so urgent it mustn’t be ignored. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, through his familiar immense pain, wrote of the interruption of the bells of GOOD NEWS. The bells speak of evil destined to be crushed by a Savior, a Redeemer, a Rescuer being born to us who live in the bondage of a spiritual war. The bells proved the validity and certainty of an Almighty God Whose death is all about pulling back the curtain on the original fake news of no hope, no future, no God in ultimate control.
Maybe this Christmas will not be your best Christmas. Maybe this Christmas might even be your worst on record. This Christmas is not the best our nation has known. Allow it to come, says Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and let it pierce through the wall that seems so solid, so thick, and so unscalable. Because death, sin and the grave has been defeated and utterly destroyed already. Sure, we have the effects of them now, but with that baby from the manger, there is a victory party that has already started that will usher in a nuking of the father of lies in a very short while.
COME ON, RING THOSE BELLS! When you do, hear them proclaim, “There’s fuel for the race.”
“And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ The Lord.'” – Luke 2:10-11 (KJV)
“…Just like a ghost You’ve been a-hauntin’ my dreams So I’ll propose on Halloween Love is kinda crazy with a spooky little girl like you, Spooky!” (1967/1968) Spooky. Recorded by: Classics IV (Later, The Atlanta Rhythm Section.) Composers: Instrumentals – Mike Shapiro & Harry Middlebrooks Jr. Lyrics – J.R. Cobb & Buddy Buie
What spooks you? According to the song, love can cause fear. I’ve been there. How about you? Nevertheless, love was meant to be the opposite of spooky.
After a few years as a single mother, my mom had remarried my adopted dad. They were only married for four years, but I had zero fear in my heart concerning our new lives. We have a good relationship to this very day and I love him.
Fear wasn’t in my mind at all on one hot summer day in 1966. One of my favorite things was our trips to Graham, Texas where his family resided. It was in west Texas, rich in cowboy legends and Texas pioneer history. Thick in Mesquite, cactus, and brush, the land is rugged.
Being a city boy at six years old, I loved visiting my new grandparents out in the rough and rustic hills. The new adventures filled my imagination while I ran through the back pastures with their cows and horses in my canvas PF Flyers. Usually in a cowboy hat with a toy pistol in hand, the hours would pass hiding from Comanches and Tonkawas on the warpath, while protecting the herd. (Little did I know my great-grandfather did exactly that when he settled there in the late 1860’s.)
There was a sandy creek, mostly dry, running through the pastures where I spent lots of time playing in the sandy bottoms. In my exuberance, during my brave stance fighting for the homestead, I found myself in an embarrassing, but spooky predicament. Somehow, and I do mean “somehow”, I galloped my stick-horse to the very edge of a deeper bend of the creek. By God’s grace I was able to stop my forward momentum before going over a vertical 8 foot drop down to the hard sandstone boulders in the creek bed. After catching my breath, I could see the rubber tips of my sneakers were roughly two inches from the edge. Between hard inhales, I said, “Wow! That was close, Trigger. Let’s get back to the herd where we belong.” When I turned right, I found myself trapped by a wide sprawling cactus which couldn’t be negotiated. Turning to my left, I found myself caged-in by a large amount of…well, I guess I’ll be honest here…cow poop. Yep, a good pile blocking my only escape, spreading all the way to the prickly-pears. So, there I was. I couldn’t jump over the cactus. I dared not try jumping over the pyramid of cow patties. With things looking rather dim, I turned to analyze the depth of my chances to the bottom of the creek. My fear began to build up inside. A couple of times I considered the risk of breaking an ankle with a leap over the side. Visions of starvation and coyotes filled my head as I went through a scenario where nobody would ever find me until this is all they would recover, minus the lamps.
Allow me to put some meat on the bones of my circumstance.
Of course, I know what you’re thinking. There is the thought of, “This is easy. He should’ve just walked out the way he romped in.” True, but honestly, I couldn’t figure it out at the time. You have to get in the mindset of a boy barely six years old. To this little kid, there was no way out of the patch of ground I stood on. But…someone had a different perspective.
Photo: W.R. Brown in his Sunday-go-to-meetin’-attire. (He lived in his denim overalls and straw hat.)
After about four minutes, although it felt like four hours, I began to panic in fear. Through my tears I started to scream out for help. Unfortunately I was about half a mile from the farmhouse. If someone was to hear me, it would be carried by a bird. As I launched into yelling mode, the nearby cattle just stood there gazing at me as if I just arrived from Mars. A lesson was learned. They don’t take to commands like Lassie. Not one bovine left for the farmhouse to alert the folks. I don’t recall how much time ticked by when I heard a friendly chuckle on the other side of the cactus.
While trying his best not to let out too much cackling, in a very thick Texas accent the voice asked, “Well, what’s wrong, boy?”
Quickly I turned my head toward the voice to see my Grandpa Brown standing there with a farmer’s hoe in his hands. He was a small, but rugged and weathered, kind, leprechaun-of-a-man with crystal clear light blue eyes. The long hairs growing out of his ears always impressed me. In my relief to see him, I explained my simple, but desperate situation.
He chuckled again, “Well I’ll be switched. How did you get in such a fix? Can’t you get out?”
After explaining how I boxed myself in, he began to slowly direct me through an escape route, which no doubt was the thin trail I used to get there. As it turned out, he was working his garden not too far from that spot when he heard me cry out. Poor guy. He probably came running thinking I had been bitten by a Rattlesnake. He was probably more relieved than I was.
Yes, I was embarrassed. Yes, I should’ve figured a way of escape. And yes, I worked myself up into a lather which wasn’t necessary. But that’s what needless fear can do.
Of course, there are healthy fears. You put some fear into a young child about the dangers of fire. We have a healthy fear of walking out into oncoming traffic. What? You say you have a house for sale at the base of an active volcano? My healthy fear says, no way.
Please don’t judge my six year old self too harshly. What about that time you had needless anxiety over a job interview? You may recall when you felt fear over a final exam. How about the moments just before you walked down the isle with a wedding bouquet in your trembling hands? It’s all so spooky.
Do you know how many phobias there are? I googled the titles. I was beside myself seeing the lengthy list. They are real. There’s the fear of leaving your house. There’s a fear of lettuce. There’s even a phobia involving bathtubs and shower stalls. We all would strongly appreciate you obtain counselling for that one. Spooky for some, but excessive and pointless.
‘Tis the season, says Halloween. When you think about how we lather ourselves up in fear, every day of the year, it is all about anticipation. Right? We see a darkened line of trees at night, the vanguard of a wooded area, as the mind begins to imagine what “might be” waiting for us there. Anticipation takes time, a moment or two on the clock to settle. It all surrounds what we do in those moments before our imagination cooks up the horrid. Naturally, there are those who orchestrate fright like a band of tubas.
While watching an interview with a so-called “expert” on Sasquatch, I was amazed at the push for fear in the following statement. The authoritative man set the stage like this:
“Through the years we have learned that Bigfoot is attracted to campsites, and tents specifically.”
The vomit of laughter coming out of me continued for another minute or so. Think about it. He claims to be an expert on a beast that has never been found dead, never been captured, never been scientifically verified. Zero DNA discoveries, or bone fragments. It’s an animal that’s never been in a clear, sharp video production that wasn’t shaky, or solid focused photograph, all in order to keep the enhancements from detecting a zipper on the costume. Moreover, any footage (excuse the pun) presented, the elusive Sasquatch always runs away from the photographer. Very camera-shy. Certainly, I’m no expert, but it seems to me, with all the footage thus far of a seemingly frightened beast, a human campsite is the last place it would want to invade. However, it’s fun to be afraid. Right? Unless it’s true fright from actual danger.
Here’s my view. I didn’t have to be afraid of the cactus. I didn’t need to fear the edge of the creek. I shouldn’t have been scared of the large pile of poop. (Then again, I still shy away from poop piles.) My viewpoint at the time was skewed at best. My six year old self allowed panic to overtake the true scenario. What saved me from it all was a gentle old man who saw me from a different perspective. Love popped the fear-bubble and eased my troubled mind due to my Grandpa Brown. And THAT made the difference.
When you belong to One who sees all, knows all, and dispatches guardians, the spirits of fear quake and shake.
Sometimes fear is very much like a Jack-o-lantern. Fearful exterior, but all hollow on the inside. Fearfulness isn’t heavy to push aside when lubricated nicely with fuel for the race.
‘Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’ – God – Isaiah 41:10 (NAS)
“I Went to a garden party to reminisce with my old friends, a chance to share old memories and play our songs again. When I got to the garden party, they all knew my name. No one recognized me, I didn’t look the same.
But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well. You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself.” Garden Party (1972) Written and Recorded by: Ricky Nelson
Did I catch you singing? I know. It’s got a terrific hook on the chorus. Truly, it’s the iconic song Ricky Nelson was known for at that stage of his short life. The lyrics sound as if it was a pleasurable garden party with old famous pals, but it was birthed out of rejection and sourness.
It was October of 1971, the Richard Nader’s Rock ‘n Roll Revival Concert was a huge gathering at Madison Square Garden in New York. It was billed to showcase older American Rock ‘n Roll giants, prior to the British invasion, from the 1950’s and early 1960’s, with acts like Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Bo Diddley, and Bobby Rydell. They were among many kickin’ it on stage that night. Back stage, and in the audience, the ultra-famous were in attendance from various corners of the entertainment and sports realm. The lyrics in the song, “Garden Party” point that out.
It was his turn at the mic. Ricky Nelson came out on stage in the fashion of the times, bell bottoms, velvet shirt, complete with bell sleeves, and long hair down to his shoulders. Keep in mind, the order of the concert event was to reminisce with early American Rock ‘n Rollers, so the look was expected, too. Well, unfortunately for Nelson, he didn’t take it to heart who the nostalgic demographics were holding tickets. He performed some of his early songs from the late 50’s and early 60’s. But then he played a peculiar country rendition of The Rolling Stones’, “Honky Tonk Woman”. At that, the crowd began to boo, and boo, and booed some more. He wrapped up his set and left the venue, not even waiting to show up for the all-star finale at the end of the night. However, it worked out because he wrote a song about the experience in, “Garden Party”. And I must admit, “…ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself.”
In the late 1990’s I created an award-winning radio theater department for Criswell Communications Network. I absolutely adored those years writing, acting and building those audio movies. Later, I did the same in Buffalo, NY for the Crawford Broadcasting Network. From time to time I am asked to voice a character for special commercials, promos, or projects. But back then, life got in the way and now it’s been a few years since I was a regular working voice actor.
About a year ago, I was asked to voice a character for a dramatic read of a new novel and CD due to be released simultaneously. Although it was a small walk-on role, I was thrilled to do it. It was like going home again for me, even though I wasn’t the author or director. What was very different, and a bit nerve-racking, was the author himself was in studio with me. Being a hands-on kind of guy, he directed me while I fashioned the vocals needed for this particular character. Don’t get me wrong, the author was/is a terrific guy. I’m sure we will be working together in the future for more projects.
This morning, before I could pour my first cup of java, I got a voicemail. It was the author. He made me aware of the recently released book and audio version. He then invited me to a cast party he was hosting at his very lovely home. I responded before lunch, letting him know how much I enjoyed the recording session, developing the character, and his invitation. Then I politely declined to attend the party. Why, you might ask?
For as long as I can recall, I have never been good at cocktail parties, social dinners, or dances were strangers want me to do the Macarena. Sure, I can act my way through it, which is what I’ve always done, but that’s work, not pleasure, and certainly not comfortable. Being an old stage actor and radio personality, you would think I would be a hoot at a gathering of pre-friends. Trust me, I’ll be the quiet guy in the corner with a china saucer full of chilled shrimp in one hand and a cup of punch in the other. Yes, there’ll be clusters of revelers in a circle laughing, kissing cheeks, along with lines like, “What do you do when you’re not acting?”, or “What a lovely tie. Who are you wearing, sweetie?”, or “So what project are you working on now?” I just don’t mingle well. It’s as simple as that. There, I’ve said it. Arg! I would likely run off stage left like Ricky Nelson.
Cast parties are fine, in fact I have attended lots of them through my acting days, even hosted many myself. Most all cast parties I’ve been a part of were packed with fellow cast-members I had the pleasure of working with face-to-face. Those were actors and crew in which I developed relationships with, or at least decent acquaintances. Those were parties where we could let our hair down and enjoy reminiscing about lines being dropped, favorite scenes, and wardrobe malfunctions. (In 1978, while playing Johnny Brown in The “Unsinkable Molly Brown”, I walked out on stage singing with my fly opened. Thank the Lord it was only a dress rehearsal. Orchestra members noticed it first down in the pit.) Cast parties are always a grand time laced in lots of laughter. Here, the difference is, I never played against another actor in last year’s session. My recorded lines were like a looping studio session where the dialogue was digitally dropped into scenes in post production. There was no actor but me, myself, and I. I played to a mic and a music stand. I never met any of the actors on the bill. To be clear, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that kind of session, it happens more often than not. At the upcoming get-together I would know the author, his wife, and the recording engineer/producer. It’s not that I am really anti-social…or am I? Ouch! What am I admitting?
If you’re a psychologist, you probably know why I am bent this way. The ugly truth is, I am probably afraid of rejection, even eyes of rejection. I’ve been at award shows, green rooms, and backstage at concert venues where you’re chatting with someone who won’t look you in the eye because they’re way too busy scouting out the next celebrity to be cornered. You find yourself answering their question about family, career, or which hotel you’re staying at when suddenly they quickly interrupt with, “Oh, there’s Amy Grant with Vince Gill right behind you. Gotta go.” Is it just me, or is that not rude? I’m guilty of that behavior as well. So awkward. Again, I say, Arg! In the end, I dislike “…players who only love you when they’re playin'” (Fleetwood Mac)
Has it occurred to me that maybe I’m wrong about all this? Maybe by now you’re saying silently, “Hey, this is weird. He needs to loosen up.” Okay, I’ll accept that. But as I’m being super honest with you, hear me out.
To truly engage with another is to be associated with, connected with, to be in tune with the other, even if in a small way. This is me. If you and I are having coffee at a local spot, I will fully hear you, see you, and meld with you. In fact, I like to make people feel that they are the only person in the room, complete with eye-contact and real chuckles, not out of nervous laughter for the sake of sound to fill up dead air. This is how I was raised to believe.
Poor Ricky Nelson. Every time I hear “Garden Party” I listen for the rub, the angst, the sore spots between the words. Bottom line, he didn’t “know” his audience. Moreover, he didn’t take in serious consideration of the theme of the event. Of course, the audience lacked true love for Mr. Nelson. They only loved him when he played what he was known for ten years prior. In those quick tunes he scratched their itch until he ventured onto something new from a British band. It was a mismatch moment, a sting he took with him to his grave. He died in a tragic plane crash on New Year’s Eve 14 years later.
In the end, I believe it’s all about “knowing” someone, or at least making faithful efforts in doing so. Because inside that other person is a story which comes from their hearts. A story worth the fidgeting, even if booed. If we “play” at socializing, we do not do justice in the connection. How else will we learn to love others, as God would have us to love?
Still, I remain shy with strangers in close settings. I shared an elevator today where my total sum of verbiage was, “Third floor. Thanks.”
Engaging another may start out with “How are you?”, but if they begin to tell you about their gout, making you’ll want to slip away with, “Ya know, I need a refill.” If so, then where is the honest interest?
More and more I understand why Jesus told us to love others as we love ourselves, and to treat others as we want to be treated.
You know, maybe I should go to the cast party after all. If I do, the boldness won’t come from my clipped persona, but from a deep well of fuel for the race.
“If you love only those people who love you, will God reward you for this? Even tax collectors love their friends.If you greet only your friends, what’s so great about this? Don’t even unbelievers do that?” – Jesus – Matthew 5:46-47 (Contemporary English Version)
“Oh, Stormy…Oh, Stormy. Bring back that sunny day…” Stormy (1968) Recorded by: Classics IV. Composers: Dennis Yost, James Cobb, Buddy Buie
As I write this, it’s a sunny day in Dallas, Texas with temperature hovering about 102/f degrees. The heat index, or what it feels like with humidity mixed into the works, is 118/f degrees. Great day to mow the lawn. LOL It’s July in Texas, and you can always count on the weather being oppressive. What I wouldn’t give for a bit of rain right now, but not HOT DROPS.
Our springtime was horribly rough. May and June alone were pelting us with several tropical storm-type winds, tornadoes galore, and thunderstorms ushering in hail. We had straight-line winds clocking at 71mph in one of our storms in June. The trees on our property lost several branches, large limbs, as well as, nerves. Around here, when the civil sirens go off, you run for shelter, never walk, during tornado warnings. We’ve had many this year thus far.
Photo: My cousin sits with a partial of a massive 100+ year old Sycamore, which was uprooted from my mom’s front yard, and landed on her roof. She was home at the time, but uninjured during the tornado. The house is about 164 years old. It took the brunt, with only roof and porch damage. Texas storms come as quickly as a fake news story cycle.
Meanwhile, at our house, our oldest dog, Sammie, is like bacon on a hot skillet during storms. I’ve written about this before.
Sammie goes bonkers at the smell of rain, not yet fallen. You can always tell by her attentive look with immediate cravings to cuddle.
The slightest sound of distant rumbling thunder will set her off with the quivers, shakes and shivers, like a 7.1 California earthquake. All the while, nestled safely in my arms for shelter. I’ve been told she runs to me because I’m the biggest one in the room. When it’s peaceful outside, she rarely notices me, unless I have a treat in my hand. Of course, I do what I can to calm her vocally, and sometimes it works, but often not. The storms just seem to override any audible efforts of comfort.
Frankly, I can understand her pretty well. I mean, growing up in Texas, I have seen what tornadoes, flash floods and hurricanes can do. Because of past experience, my heartbeat rises a bit during these storms. On the other hand, I have family and friends who are storm chasers. They absolutely adore the thrill of getting as close to a tornado as possible, without catching up with Dorothy and Toto. In my opinion, they are all mad as hares in a cabbage patch. Yet, I still love them.
Oh, how I wish I could link telepathically, with Sammie’s little brain. I wish she could know I will cover her with my own body if a tornado hit our house. I just don’t speak “dogness” as well as I should. If only my communication skills were on her level, maybe she would understand the kind of protector she has in me. But, Shorty, our other pal, knows what to say.
My communication skills might be lacking during Sammie’s times of trouble, but sometimes lyrics will hit me out of the blue…or the darkness.
Recently, my daughter’s band, Grosh, released their new album. The last song on the project is my favorite. The cut is entitled, “Piece of Mind”. Besides hearing my daughter deliver some terrific vocals once again, the original lyric touched me deeply. It speaks. Here’s a section for you:
“…Whether or not you know, whether or not you don’t. Whether or not you care, whether or not you won’t, you are not alone. Give me a piece of your mind. Because whether or not you know, whether or not you don’t. Whether or not you care, whether or not you won’t, you are not alone.” (2019) Piece of Mind. Recorded by Grosh. Composers: Lougen/English (Her band-mates)
(Sample the cut at: groshband.com. Go to “Store”, click on the title of the song and turn up the volume. (Also available for downloads.) Tell me how it grabs you.)
There have been unexpected storms in my life when I desperately needed to be reminded I am not solo here in this life. Most of he time, I didn’t get a siren of warning before I was flattened by a down-burst. Car crash – no warning. Job loss – no warning. Health crisis – no warning. Death in the family – no warning. Can you identify?
How honest is this? At times, I have felt alone. At times, I felt alone in a crushing crowd of revelers. At times, I looked around for someone to find peace with and found a vacant place. At times, I searched for synthetics to numb my loneliness.
Life is so much like the weather. Lightning WILL clap just when you least expect it, and you WILL leap off the mattress about a meter or so. Sheets of hail, wrapped in a torrent of rain, WILL beat on the roof, and all you can do is wait to analyse the aftermath. You might sit at a table, with a fine wine accompanied by broiled brisket, when suddenly, an EF-4 tornado WILL rip the house apart with its 166+mph winds. (It’ll take about 3 seconds.) In those moments of oppression, in those moments of turmoil, in those moments of trying to grip the rug beneath your feet, like Sammie, it’s normal to feel a bit shaken. A bit at a loss. A bit bewildered. This is the stuff of life, and life’s surprises.
Because I am a Jesus “accepter”, I do what I can to keep from nursing on other means for quick fixes to sooth my nerves, my fears, my “what next”. Many times I fail. In those times I must remember all things I touch, taste, and see, are only temporary at their best. Synthetics are just that…synthetic. Who would depend upon a wedding ring fabricated out of a cigar-band?
Sammie runs to me for comfort, but I don’t mention to her that I can be blown away, just like she can. The comfort from my body is, well…uh…temporary. In the same way, I can run to my wife, a counselor, a friend, a chemical pacifier, but in the end, they are faulty, too. We all fall down physically, emotionally, spiritually. My proven rest relies on the One Who holds me up today, yesterday, and tomorrow. Why?
Where else could I go? He simply is the biggest person in the room. The storm may not be removed each time the radar turns red, yellow, and purple, but I do have the promise He will be with me through what comes my way. He alone called Himself, “The Rock”. In Exodus, when Moses was afraid to be God’s spoke-person to the enslaved Jewish community in Egypt, and Pharaoh, he challenged God.
He inquired, “Who shall I say sent me?” Wouldn’t you ask?
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” (Exodus 3:14 NAS)
Someday I will write on the significance of the title, “I AM”. It’s a great study of the words in Hebrew. For now, my point is, scripture details Him as being all-in-all. Not only that, He goes so far as to invite us to PROVE Himself to be. Wow! That’s brave and bold, regardless of who sends the invitation. Outside of creation, and all things in it, before we began to put names on each other, our animals and plants, He “was” and always will be. A great reliable comfort in times of unsettled traumatic turmoil inside this sphere of existence.
Jesus was sent to our everyday, bluejeans and work-boots level. He came to speak our language for understanding of God’s mind, heart and love. He claimed that He and God were one. Yes, a heavy thing to say. And then He proved it several times. Some 700+ years before Jesus was born, it was foretold He would be referred to as, “Immanuel”. It wouldn’t be a surname, or a first name, but rather a description. It literally means, “God with us”, “With us is God”, or “God housing with us”. (Isaiah 7:14) That’s amazing in itself, but it also means I don’t have to shiver while cowering in the fetal position, stuck in a corner with my chosen toy for distraction.
Learning to lean on the Rock that is higher than I is the beginning of fuel for the race.
“Take My yoke (Guiding, instructive brace. IE: A cast on a broken bone.) upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Come to Me, all those toiling and being burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Jesus – Matthew 11:28-29 (BLB)
“She was just sixteen and all alone when I came to be. So we grew up together…mama-child and me. Now things were bad and she was scared, but whenever I would cry, she’d calm my fear and dry my tears with a rock and toll lullaby…” (1972) Rock And Roll Lullaby. Recorded by: B.J. Thomas. Composers: Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil.
With age, I have learned that…
If I were the teen who fought through a sexual assault, then carried an unwanted pregnancy, debating the heart’s choices, then allowing life to grow, I would be a spectacular teenager wise beyond my years.
If I were a parent who protected my newborn from assault and murder at the hands of the father, with a sacrificial unselfish front, I would be a medal of honor recipient.
If I were to end an abusive marriage, to defend and shield my innocent toddler, knowing there would be no child support, I would be a heroine authors would write about.
If I were a single parent constantly contending with the voices of psychological demons, chanting accusations of worthlessness, depreciation, and shame, all the while rising above it all to raise my child, I would be the dragon-slayer described in countless novels.
If I were to defeat my fear by moving into an uncharted world, away from family, to make a life for my young child, I would be a courageous warrior with monuments anointing the landscape.
If I were one who taught my toddler the true value of the gift of grandparents, I would be a brilliant educator with my name on the walls of universities.
If I were to faithfully read scripture to my young child each night, combined with the simplicity of personal prayer and church attendance, I would be a righteousness seeker with my statue erected by the world’s cathedrals.
If I were to seek out the finest pre-schools and kindergartens, in the attempt to assure my only child got a leg up, I would be a proactive parent to be noticed.
If I were to be rejected for loans and credit, due to being a single parent in the 1960’s, only to exercise faith while tackling a life of poverty with my head held high, I would be a fearless champion in my child’s eyes.
If I were to knock on every door to find a job waiting tables, or struggle with an overnight shift on an assembly line, I would be a humble workhorse of a provider for others to impersonate.
If I were to give away the opportunity to have a brilliant singing & recording career, just to be home with my child at the end of a hard night’s work, I would be self-sacrificing, worthy of a screenwriter’s time.
If I were to provide for my child after several lay-offs, by way of two or three jobs, I would be Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman combined, never being poor in spirit.
If I were to train my child well enough to leave him alone overnight, in order to work the graveyard shifts, I would be an example of a strong tower of faith.
If I were to work overtime to aid in the development of my elementary age child with raw musical abilities, by paying for piano, violin, guitar, and voice lessons, my portrait would hang in Carnegie Hall.
If I were to be a staunch, independent single parent, refusing financial aid from my parents, I would be wealthy of heart.
From my granddad’s cedar coin box. The two of us from 1969.
If I were to resist the temptation of suicide, while being beaten down by company lay-offs, Green Stamp submissions, and accepting government blocks of cheese, I would be a brave ferocious fighter for my child’s future.
If I were to support my teen’s sports and musical interests, which differ from mine, I would be a liberally devoted parent of love and understanding.
If I were to tirelessly stand up to my rebellious teenager, with the possibility of damaging our relationship, I would have attributes resembling the God of the Bible.
If I were to sit all alone in a church pew watching my child wed, I would have earned the vision of a soldier adorned in glistening armor after a long battle.
If I were to bless my grandchildren with my physical presence, my mind, as well as my heart, I would be worth my weight in gold.
My mom with my middle daughter, Megan. (1992)
If I were to deny myself, for the betterment of my child, to the point of self-injury, while killing my own pursuits, and avoiding life’s trinkets that shine in the night, I would be Joan of Arc, Boudicca, Anne Sullivan, and Rosa Parks rolled into one.
If I were to be an example for my adult child, by being the caretaker of my aging parents, suffering from Alzheimer’s and Dementia, along with other elderly ones in my community, I would reflect what I have always been…a mountain of love, compassion, and selflessness.
If I were to describe a fictitious character from my own dreams, they could not come close to the one I have held in my heart for my entire life.
I don’t have to write the words “If I WERE…” The reason being, I simply could never measure up. The one described above is my mom, Carolyn Atherton-Brown.
I am her portrait. I am her monument. I am her novel. I am her screenplay. I am her statue. I am her champion. I am her armored soldier. I am the medal of honor.
To be gracefully broken, brilliantly strengthened, and beautifully poised is to be one who drinks deeply from the well of fuel for the race.
“…As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord. I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given to the Lord…” – The words of Hannah – I Samuel 1:26b-28a (NIV)