Not Seeing Eye To Eye

Photo:  Thiago Matos via Pexels

“Oh, crumpled bits of paper
Filled with imperfect thought
Stilted conversations
I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got…So we open up a quarrel
Between the present and the past
We only sacrifice the future
It’s the bitterness that lasts.  So don’t yield to the fortunes
You sometimes see as fate
It may have a new perspective
On a different date…Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It’s too late when we die
To admit we don’t see eye to eye.” – (1988)  The Living Years,  Recorded by:  Mike and the Mechanics.  Written by Mike Rutherford and B. A. Robertson

The hallway was busy between classes that day.  The platform shoes were loud on the polished hard floor like horses on a brick street.  Everyone was running to their next classroom before the final bell rang.  I, in my bell-bottoms and bell sleeves, was coming out of the choral department rehearsal hall after an a cappella session.  My steps were already inside the broad hallway, but had yet to fully walk through the threshold as my hand remained on the thick heavy wooden door.  That’s when I looked up and saw her.  It was Lori Kennedy high stepping it toward the choir-room door from B-Hall.  She was running a tad late to get to her place on the rehearsal risers just inside the entrance for Women’s Select Choir.  It was a Friday, game-day at our north Dallas suburban high school of 3,500 students.  I recall it was a Friday because Lori was decked-out in her Lionette drill team outfit from a pep-rally earlier the same morning.  As she approached the doorway, I quickly made my way through the entrance while holding the door open for her.  By the time she was within two, or three steps from me, her dark brown eyes pierced mine as she sternly stated, “I can open my own door!” as she swiftly rushed by me.  OUCH!  That was unexpected.  It wasn’t like me to freeze, but I did due to shock.  It was best because it also kept my mouth shut.

Lori Kennedy 1978 RLT

Lori Kennedy, 1978 R.L. Turner High School Yearbook.

Lori and I were 16 at the time, in 1976.  She was about five weeks older than your’s truly.  Our social circles overlapped, so we had mutual friends, but the two of us were mere acquaintances.  In fact, I don’t think we ever had a conversation before that uncomfortable moment.  It’s not that we avoided one another, or even ignored the other purposefully while within earshot.  We both certainly knew about the other, but distantly.  From time to time, over four years, we even dated our close shared friends, but never one another.  There were multiple occasions where we hitched a ride with other friends while stuffed in a 1973 Chevy Camaro.  We were on the same bus during our music concert tours with the choral department’s Spring trip each year.  We also found ourselves sharing a bus for choral UIL contests performed in other cities.  Then there were gatherings at picnics, parties, and popular hangouts, etc.  I should stop here because as I write this I’m remembering many more circumstances where Lori and I shared space through high school.  We, for what ever reason, never made the effort to get to know each other.  One might say, we knew each other through our fellow classmates.

With all that said, it makes her stark, rude remark, (the first words she ever spoke to me), that much more odd.  Maybe she was having a bad day.  Maybe her boyfriend just broke up with her.  Possibly life at home had hit a wall.  Could she had slipped on a banana peel in the cafeteria line?  Maybe there was a social undertow of knowing we didn’t see eye-to-eye on life itself.

full frame shot of eye
Photo by Vladislav Reshetnyak on Pexels.com

One thing is for concrete sure, she didn’t know my mom and granddad taught me how to treat the opposite sex going back to my toddler years.  Chivalry was the order of the day in my family.  I must have been three years old, when walking down the sidewalk with my mom and grandparents, my granddad gently instructed me to always walk closest to the curb when walking next to a lady.  When I asked why, in his rural Texas fashion and verbiage, he explained that if a tire splashes a muddy puddle onto the walkway, she will be spared from the splatter.  He followed it up with, “That’s what men do.”  He taught me to remove my hat if a lady enters the room.  If a lady walks by, you tip the brim of the hat.  If a lady is about to sit at a table, you pull the chair out for her, followed by the adjustment to table-side.  If the lady is ready to remove her coat or sweater, you help remove it from her shoulders.  When she is ready to wear the same, you hold it open for her as she slips her arms through.  You always allow the lady to walk in front, choosing second place.  You always open the car door for a lady before placing yourself in the car.  And yes, you always open the door for a lady as she approaches it.  In fact, I do that for men, as well as women.  To be honest, I still practice all of the above to this day.  It’s an act of courtesy, kindness, respect, and honor.  I’m branded with it.  So, what was up with Lori?

At the time, the women’s liberation movement was well above surging, at least in the U.S.  It would be foolish to believe that 100% of women living-out the movement appreciated chivalry with its old Victorian manners.  Because I neglected to get to know Lori, the real Lori, I may have missed my cue.  It very well may have been Lori was exercising her newly discovered rules of engagement as dictated by the women’s liberation movement of the times.  I would have been clueless.  Nevertheless, she may have very well been offended by my gesture of holding the door open for her entrance into the choir room.  Sure, I meant well, but she may have seen my action in another angle, unbeknownst to me.  Just like one can peek through a glass of water while another may see a different distorted view.  And here is where I went wrong.

My mind washed my hands of her as I walked away from the moment of friction.  Lori Kennedy and I never had a potential conversation throughout the balance of our school years together.  Never once.  In fact, I totally avoided her.  My misdirected thoughts went something like, “Well, if she’s going to treat me like a doormat, than I don’t have any use for her.”  This is what unchecked anger can do.  And so, in my bitterness over the incident, I made sure I ignored her each time our paths crossed, wherever it was.  And what’s worse, I allowed our very quick moment in 1976 to stain my view of her from that time forth.  Afterwards, the name Lori Kennedy was held in my grudge-peppered heart.  My new title for her was, Little Miss Rudeness.  Yes, it was wrong.  Very wrong.

One would think in adulthood, with all its twists, turns, and teachings, I would’ve eventually understood better, loved more, and forgave even if I never saw her again in life.  However, we did.  God had other plans.

Lori Kennedy 2018 RLT Reunion

Lori Kennedy at a 2018 casual reunion with old friends.

A year ago, I attended two reunions with old friends and classmates.  One was a casual gathering of about 200 as we paid tribute to a friend who had passed away the year prior.  Two months later, it was our 40th high school reunion.  Lori Kennedy and I bumped into each other at both events.  During the first reunion, I saw her before see saw me.  My first thought was to stay away from her, using my old searing angst as justification.  With so many people attending, it would’ve been easy to just remain on the other side of the large club.  Two months later, the 40th high school reunion gala would be upon us where most likely we would find ourselves in close proximity with mutual friends.  Deep inside, I hated the tensity felt over seeing her again.  Getting lost in the crowd was my first thought.

Miles White Reunion Shot

August 2018 at the casual reunion at the Fox & Hound Pub in Dallas.

Someone called out to her through the noisy event.  With a turn, my eyes caught her.  There she was, laughing, drinking, eating and enjoying a cluster of old friends.  My reaction was to look away to protect the sore spot in my psyche.  After looking down at my shoes for way too long, I filled my lungs with lots of air, slapped on my big boy pants, and made my way across the room of revelers.

She had changed so much since our teen years.  Age hadn’t been particularly polite to her.  Lori always lived fast and hard, so I just assumed it all caught up with her.  She was a bit pale and thin, and the spark in her dark eyes had faded.  Name tags are a gift from God in these cases, but not at this casual gathering.  Often, at our age, it’s guesswork.  I acted as if I wasn’t sure it was her.  “Lori?  Is that you?”  She turned toward me, cocked her head and smiled.  “Alan!  Well, as I live and breathe!  How are you?”  I initiated a quick shoulder-hug. (Still showing signs of my grudge in a tiny gesture.  I know, it’s all so stupid.)  We spoke very kindly for another couple of minutes.  After all, there’s not much to “catch-up on” when you didn’t really have a relationship to start with.  I found out she lived alone with her two beloved Chihuahuas.  Still, it was somewhat a relief to see her genuine greeting.  Surprisingly cordial with a true smile, we shared good words between us.  Simultaneously, there was this voice coming from deep inside me delivering a statement I never would’ve believed.  It was so clear.  Despite our differences, we could have been friends.  Part of me began to feel ashamed what I had secretly held against her over the decades.  Of course, I never brought up our one and only verbal encounter from the days of yore.  Actually, she may not even recall the day she was snarky to me, the “doorman” from early in our junior year.  Frankly, the thought had never occurred to me.  Just because I always remembered it, shelving her as a tyrant and a princess prude forever, doesn’t necessarily mean she remembered our game-day intersect whatsoever.

Monday morning, October 7th, I got in my car, turned on the radio to my favorite classic rock station, and there it was, Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young”.  It was the tripwire to heavy tears as I left my driveway for an hour’s drive to Lori Kennedy’s funeral.

After doing some digging, I discovered Lori was told by her doctor how early tests indicated she had Multiple Myeloma.  This form of blood cancer wasn’t new to me.  A church friend has been battling it for two years, as well as my brother-in-law, who is in the final stages of this life-sucking illness.  An MRI had found a mysterious spot on her pelvic bone a couple of years prior.  At that time tests were inconclusive.  Apparently, Lori shrugged it off.  She had been told most Multiple Myeloma patients have 3-5 years after diagnosis, maybe less.  She was looking forward to her first oncologist appointment to confirm, plus discuss various treatments.  That was during the last week of September.  She passed away in her sleep at home less than a week later.  After the very touching service I spoke with her parents.  They told me she had been suffering from symptoms for at least 2-3 years, but had no idea she had been stricken with cancer until a few days ago.

Before the minister spoke, they played Eric Clapton’s Tears In Heaven.  As it washed over the the ones gathered, I bowed my head and listened intently for the first time.

“…Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
If I saw you in heaven?

Would you hold my hand
If I saw you in heaven?
Would you help me stand
If I saw you in heaven?

Time can bring you down
Time can bend your knees
Time can break your heart
Have you begging please, begging please…”

My hands trembled as I realized my judging heart.  Deeply convicted, I acknowledged my stupidity in not letting go of one moment in time of offense.  At my age, how could I have remained so immature?  When we engaged last year, I was unaware she was in severe pain throughout her skeletal structure.  As we stood there and chatted at the reunion, I was unaware Lori was constantly dehydrated, with bouts of deadly low blood pressure and visits to the ER.  Little did I know she was choking down powerful pain killers just to stand, walk, and sit.  As it turns out, she rarely left her house to socialize due to her struggle.  The reunions were a goal she wouldn’t deny herself.  And there I was, trying to be tempered, holding back my old resentment as she smiled at me, even though she should’ve been in the hospital.  What a moron I was.  So much time wasted.  So much life experience gone.  So many chances crumbled away in the living years.

After the service was complete, I approached the opened white coffin where an unrecognizable body was displayed.  The remains of this person looked as if she was some 25 years my elder, resting among the satin lace.  Even though it was way too late, I looked at the face, which once belonged to Lori, and whispered, “Forgive me, Lori.  Forgive me.”

As I drove back home, I asked the Redeemer to forgive my unsettled anger.

True lessons in life come at the most heartbreaking times.  Lessons of humility learned easier when filled with fuel for the race.

“And whenever you stand to pray, forgive whatever you have against anyone, so that your Father who is in Heaven may also forgive you your faults.  But if you are not forgiving, neither will your Father in Heaven forgive you your faults.”  – Jesus –  Mark 11:25-26  (Aramaic Bible In Plain English)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Me…Mingle?

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

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

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

It was his turn at the mic.  Ricky Nelson came out on stage in the fashion of the times, bell bottoms, velvet shirt, complete with bell sleeves, and long hair down to his shoulders.  Keep in mind, the order of the concert event was to reminisce with early American Rock ‘n Rollers, so the look was expected, too.  Well, unfortunately for Nelson, he didn’t take it to heart who the nostalgic demographics were holding tickets.  He performed some of his early songs from the late 50’s and early 60’s.  But then he played a peculiar country rendition of The Rolling Stones’, “Honky Tonk Woman”.  At that, the crowd began to boo, and boo, and booed some more.  He wrapped up his set and left the venue, not even waiting to show up for the all-star finale at the end of the night.  However, it worked out because he wrote a song about the experience in, “Garden Party”.  And I must admit, “…ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself.”
Me in session working on The Tree 2006 WDCX
In the late 1990’s I created an award-winning radio theater department for Criswell Communications Network.  I absolutely adored those years writing, acting and building those audio movies.  Later, I did the same in Buffalo, NY for the Crawford Broadcasting Network.  From time to time I am asked to voice a character for special commercials, promos, or projects.  But back then, life got in the way and now it’s been a few years since I was a regular working voice actor.
Mic
About a year ago, I was asked to voice a character for a dramatic read of a new novel and CD due to be released simultaneously.  Although it was a small walk-on role, I was thrilled to do it.  It was like going home again for me, even though I wasn’t the author or director.  What was very different, and a bit nerve-racking, was the author himself was in studio with me.  Being a hands-on kind of guy, he directed me while I fashioned the vocals needed for this particular character.  Don’t get me wrong, the author was/is a terrific guy.  I’m sure we will be working together in the future for more projects.
Me as Skunk Baxter of Dooby Bros 2016
This morning, before I could pour my first cup of java, I got a voicemail.  It was the author.  He made me aware of the recently released book and audio version.  He then invited me to a cast party he was hosting at his very lovely home.  I responded before lunch, letting him know how much I enjoyed the recording session, developing the character, and his invitation.  Then I politely declined to attend the party.  Why, you might ask?
people sitting beside table
Photo by Lee Hnetinka on Pexels.com
For as long as I can recall, I have never been good at cocktail parties, social dinners, or dances were strangers want me to do the Macarena.  Sure, I can act my way through it, which is what I’ve always done, but that’s work, not pleasure, and certainly not comfortable.  Being an old stage actor and radio personality, you would think I would be a hoot at a gathering of pre-friends.  Trust me, I’ll be the quiet guy in the corner with a china saucer full of chilled shrimp in one hand and a cup of punch in the other.  Yes, there’ll be clusters of revelers in a circle laughing, kissing cheeks, along with lines like, “What do you do when you’re not acting?”, or “What a lovely tie.  Who are you wearing, sweetie?”, or “So what project are you working on now?”  I just don’t mingle well.  It’s as simple as that.  There, I’ve said it.  Arg!  I would likely run off stage left like Ricky Nelson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Sunshine Blogger Award

Sunshine Blogger Award

by alimw2013

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

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

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

About the Sunshine award:

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

Here are the rules:

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) Why do you write?

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

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

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

3) What has been your best vacation?

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

4) Where would you love to visit one day?

Scotland, Ireland, and Israel.

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

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

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

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

7) When did you last owe someone an apology?

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

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

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

9) What’s your most favorite childhood memory?

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

10) What do you love most about yourself?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 – Who encouraged you to launch a blog?

 

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

 

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

 

4 – Has your writing evolved over time & why?

 

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

 

6 – Do you have a pet?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

10 – What keeps you returning to the same blogger?

 

11 – Does your own family read your posts?

 

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

The Seed of Racism

“A child is black.  A child is white.  Together they grow to see the light, to see the light…” (1972)  Black & White –  Recorded by:  Three Dog Night.  Composers:  David I. Arkin, Earl Robinson.

Appreciation note:  A quick thank you to the very kind, Alicia from the blog, For His Purpose for nominating my blog for the Sunshine Blogger Award.  I am greatly shocked and humbled.  I do enjoy your everyday camera angles of life with the filter of truths.

This will not be a political post.  This will not be a ranting post concerning those who play at politics, or the swift blinding blame of another.  This will lack the spewing of hatred and emotional blathering of negativity currently blowing across the media.  If that’s what feeds you, look elsewhere.  However, if you are open-minded, wanting to hop off the meat wagon, serving up all kinds of dangerous rhetoric currently being wielded like a Gladius sword, you are welcome to read below.

Billy Boyd was my best friend in 7th grade.  In those times that was our first year at Dillingham  Jr. High School, before “middle school” was introduced.  We lived in Sherman, Tx where the west side of town was mainly made up of white population.  There was also the east side where the African American community settled, or was made to settle in post-Civil War days.  Dillingham Jr. High was situated close to the border of the east and west sides of the medium market town.  We met on our first day of the new school year.

When we left our elementary schools to enter 7th grade, it was a cultural shock for all of the student body.  Obviously my elementary school consisted of mostly white kids.  At Dillingham the heavy black and white mix was a first for all of us.  Billy was African American from the east side of the tracks.  He was my first black school friend ever.  At the time I really thought nothing about it.  In fact, I thought it was cool to have a black friend who was my age.

person holding hands
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

What I didn’t expect, nor every experienced before, was racial name-calling, slurs, racial riots on campus, gang violence, and violent ambushes.  (Forgive me for giving too much info here, but I must write it.)  As a white kid relieving himself at the urinal, I was kicked in the back from time to time.  Once, I was slammed in the back of my head with a football helmet while standing there facing the wall.  This was the environment I was introduced to.  Billy didn’t have anything to do with the vicious tagging of white kids.  I was on the sharp end of the above racial abuses in a big way simply because I was a white kid from the west side.  There were attacks I received in the hallways, between buildings, after football practice, and after school on my way across campus to the bike rack.  Some of these were 15 and 16 years old students who were still repeating 7th or 8th grades.  I received threats concerning my dog and my mom.  In that school year, I learned how to box and street fight the hard way.  My uncle taught me how to box, and another friend trained me in Aikido that same year.  Through it all, Billy and I remained friends.  You might say we were the odd couple.  After the school year slowly dropped me into the summer break, my mom relocated out of town, and just in time.  Only God knows what might have been if I had spent another year in racial turmoil.  However, the hatred and bigotry had a profound influence on me.  But, I would experience it again.

When I was a toddler, 98 years after slavery ended in the U.S., I met my first African American.  (I have written about him before, but it’s been a couple of years.)  While visiting my grandparents in Greenville, Tx, every-other Saturday they had their lawn work done by an elderly black man named Mr. Amos.  To this day I don’t know if that was a surname or his first name.  No doubt he was the son of slaves, living in the far east side of Greenville in a sector notable for the African American neighborhood.  I recall there being a side street which served as the border between whites and blacks, as it was set-up by the local government leaders in the late 1800’s.

From my toddler days, all the way to 11 years old or so, I LOVED old Mr. Amos.  I saw him as an uncle from another grandmother.  The neighborhood in those days would remind you of the street scenes from the movie, To Kill A Mockingbird.  He would drag his lawn mower down the street cutting grass and hedges for a few dollars.  To see him was like imagining Mr. Bojangles in various ways.  He was ragged, skinny, and toughened by the years.  His very dark skin was weathered and rough from a lifetime of working in the Texas sun, like leather from an old baseball glove.  He always had an old rag, or bandanna hanging out his back pants pocket, along with old worn-out hard-soled leather lace-up shoes.  The elderly man always did a wonderful job on the lawn and hedges.  He had the talent.  Whenever I was there, I would watch him out my grandparent’s front window as he worked his fingers to the bone with pride.  I never saw anyone sweat as much as he did.  When he finished the front lawn he began to pull his mower up the driveway toward the backyard.  From the time I was 3, my grandmother would take an ice cold, frosted bottle of Dr. Pepper out of the fridge, pop open the cap with the bottle opener, which hung on her kitchen wall, hand it to me and say, “Alan, you go give this to poor Mr. Amos.”  Wrapped around it was the money he earned.  (They were very liberal with the payment.)  I would grin from ear to ear as I ran outside before he reached the back.  There in my Buster Browns I proudly said in my Mickey Mouse voice, “Here ya go, Mr. Amos!”  No matter how often our encounters, he always acted surprised as he shook my hand and replied with his gruff voice, “Well, what’s this here?  (chuckle) Why…thank ya, son!”  When in my earlier age, I would look at the palm of my hand to see if the black color rubbed off his sweating hand.  I kid you not, he never took his mouth off the bottle until it was turned upside-down and empty, without taking a breath.  There’s no way I could do that.  I would watch him drink in shear amazement.  Handing the empty bottle back to me, he would exhale with a huge drawn-out gasp, like a swimmer coming up for air and say, “That’s my boy!”  I always waited to hear him say those words.  It made my day.  He didn’t know it but just saying that to this fatherless lad made me feel warm inside.  With his statement of gratitude, I ran back in to tell my grandmother once again, how he called me “son” and what’s more, I was “his boy”.  I honored and respected him.  Through the years of youth, I wondered why he always looked so poor.

I’m not certain what year it was, but I will say I was 13 (1973) when hatred came calling.

Mr. Amos was in my grandparent’s yard, doing his job one Saturday, when he was suddenly interrupted by his son and daughter-in-law who had pulled up in the driveway.  The man was angry with his father for mowing the lawns of “Honkies”(It’s a name I was familiar with from school.  I didn’t believe Mr. Amos thought I was one of those.)  Mr. Amos protested saying he was doing his purpose in that stage of his life.  The voices got louder as they argued in the side yard.  I pressed my ear to the nearest window to hear more clearly what was being said.  The son of Mr. Amos spewed about how shameful it was to be “workin’ for the white man” and how embarrassed he was to see him on our lawn in the “white part of town”.  My granddad came out to see what the issue was.  After he was told, my granddad gently explained to Mr. Amos that it was okay if he needed to go and do what he thought was right.  Sheepishly looking down at his tired scuffed shoes, Mr. Amos agreed he should load-up and go with his son.  Hearing it my heart broke.  My granddad paid him in full, even though the job wasn’t completed, then they drove away.  I was highly disturbed.  Tears rolled down my freckled cheeks at what I had witnessed.  That was the last time I saw Mr. Amos after knowing him through 9-10 years of my childhood.

I had a friend like Billy, as well as a man of grit and heart like Mr. Amos for one reason.  Early on my mom had coded within me, from the days of Mr. Amos, to love all people, regardless of their skin hues.  As a little one, she read the words of Jesus to me at bedtime where He taught what she preached to me.  What she didn’t teach at the time was the perspectives and inward struggles some possess, like the son of Mr. Amos.

Still, I came away from my experiences at Dillingham with a chip on my shoulder, combined with an unjustified angst against black people.  In fact, the realities left me unwilling to trust African Americans for many years throughout much of the 1970’s until I got the chance to work and worship alongside African Americans from 1979 and onward.

In these days where racial slurs, alongside accusations of racism, are being tossed around like confetti, there’s a warning for us all.  When young men soak up vile, filthy hatred from certain websites, or chat rooms brainwashing them to the point of mass murdering another race due to their ethnicity alone, we should take note.  Words are like bullets.  Enough of them, combined with a deadly spin, will and do rip open the hearts of our youth.  Good parenting is so vital.  Compassionate parenting is so vital.  Informative parenting is so vital.  So often these word-projectiles reverberate through the rooms of the home for little ears to plant in the fertile soil of their souls.  Each and every community and culture should surgically remove attitudes of hate-filled, damning speech about our neighbors.  If not, the next generation will see domestic death, domestic destruction and possibly war.  There is a desensitizing which is slow, like marinating a pork loin.  Sleeping with the pigs will make you muddy.  And oh, how dark that mud can be.

If you dare, journey with me for a moment on the following hypothetical.

If one leans toward Darwinism, and sees another race as beneath their own DNA, then one must ask how it got to such a point.  If we, collectively, all derived from an ancient amoeba, which washed up on a beach in ions past, then how can one defend a racial ideology?  Maybe the ancient amoeba community rioted against other amoeba of a different thickness of cell wall.  Then again, can an amoeba possess hate?  Unfortunately, hate is branded in humankind exclusively.  There’s a reason for that.  Follow me on this.

As we continue to search for the “Missing Link” (still missing), there’s a newer, more popular theory.

If one leans toward the newer idea that humanity was placed here by ancient aliens from another planet, there’s even a bigger leap to make.  I suppose it’s plausible ancient aliens also suffered from racism, implanting that curse on the earth as we were left here to populate the world.  It would also seem plausible that such an advance interstellar civilization would’ve been cautious to populate the earth with beings like themselves, assuring racism wouldn’t be introduced.  If the theory is accurate, then wouldn’t it make sense they would sprout beings which reflected a visual likeness?  If so, why do have racial issues at all?

If you come from a biblical world view, as I do, then how can I ever hold to a twisted view of racial hatred?  Since I am a creationist, I read and study the account where we were all created in the image of God, a likeness of the Divine.  Therefore, how could I ever look at a black, brown, yellow, or red man or woman crying, “Moron!”, “Mistake!” “Mutant” or  “Monstrosity!”  Racism dictates that you have cheap blood and I do not.  But, I’ll take your kidney, or a transfusion if I need one.  Cheap?  Really?  For me, scripture reveals we all came from a set of flesh and blood ancient parents who had a multitude of offspring, and so on.  Genesis has the genealogy listed covering about a two thousand year span complete with names, nations and seasons of geology.  Even DNA experts have found the evidence which mirrors this view.  Within the last few years DNA studies have shown we come from the same part of the world with ancestry funneling into a clan going back to the beginnings of life itself, matching the Genesis timeline.  So, why do we, or why should we have this scent of racism?

Let’s be super honest here.  I like to call balls and strikes as I see them.

Racism, at its core, is the belief in a lie.  Yep, we’ve been snookered.

“…Mmm, no no 
Lyin’ to the races 
Help me, come on, come on 
Somebody, help me now (I’ll take you there)…”  (1972)  “I’ll Take You There” by:  The Staple Singers

Moreover, racism is an ideology which dictates thoughts of I, me and myself am to reign over another due to my skin pigmentation.  The lie woos one to beliefs like; if one is darker, or lighter skinned than I, then that person is to be subordinate to me, simply due to color.  It even can get down to the shape of a skull, or the nose.  Racism methodically massages the mind and heart of the pre-white supremacist, for example, who will claim God made a mistake by creating black, brown, yellow, and red skin.  Unfortunately, even shades of skin tones are targets of racial darts.  In addition, let’s not forget the racism within the color spectrum itself.  English vs Celts, Anglo Gentiles vs Jews, African tribes vs other African tribes, the list goes on.  Furthermore, it revels in the false idea which says a particular race was created to be supreme over all peoples, nations, societies and cultures. If one hears it enough, studies it enough, sniffs the belly of the dragon enough, the ideology is perceived as authentic.  Just as evil thoughts grow and widen, hatred begins to fester like Multiple Myeloma which eats away at the bones.  Racism eats away at the very soul of a person.

Are you still with me?  Can I go a step further?

Let’s say you are one who believes in the afterlife.  Maybe it’s a belief that the spirit, once separated from its body, roams the earth as a ghostly individual, for whatever purpose.  If you were a racist in the flesh, how do you exercise racism in the spirit world?  When there’s a failure to control the body in life, how then do we expect to control and navigate our spirits?  Interesting thought.  Are we suddenly stronger and wiser in spirit than we were when we had flesh?  After death the skin, once proudly admired as a trophy in life, grows pale and decays, falling away from the skeleton, which is the same color as all skeletons.  So now, in spirit form, how do you rant and rave over other spirits who have no skin color?  In spirit form, racism is also dead.  Suddenly, racist views are no longer so important.  In the end, the 79 year old racist can look back on his/her earthly life and will see the damning foolishness of a faulty ideology.

Let’s say you have a biblical perspective of the afterlife.  In the place described so well in scripture as heaven, there are a number of problems if racism is to continue.  First, God says haters (which includes racist users) will not see the kingdom of heaven.  Secondly, in this present age, there is the spiritual form left after the body fails.  How, as an eternal racist, do you push back on another spirit residing in God’s Kingdom?  Thirdly, the ancient text is clear on the following.  There will come a time in eternity when the old earthly body will be recreated to reunite with the spirit in which it once belonged, much like the resurrection of Jesus.  God does the recreation at His sovereign will.  Colors or not, He will do what He plans. Whatever skin color, if any at all, is resurrected in God’s timeline.  At that point, how could hatred of it exist?  Fourthly, in heaven there is no spirit who will submit to another based on color of robe, earthly ethnicity, or thought.  Jesus Himself said there’s only One Who reigns in heaven.  All is made new in the afterlife, if with God.  In Paul’s writings, he mentions that “in Christ” there is no difference in “Jew or Gentile”, “slave or free”, “male or female”, etc.  THAT is God’s view of the color spectrum of the souls He created and saw it to be good.  Racism is NOT eternal.  What does that tell us about the perceived value and validation of racial disharmony in life today?

Crayons

Racism will always be with us.  The seed is there in this imperfect world.  It was introduced by God’s adversary early in human history to distort the mind’s view of every created race. It is the management of it which must be priority.  If the lion is not tamed, it will eat the foolish ringmaster.

The shooter in El Paso, Texas believed a racial lie.  In his manifesto he wrote of multiple issues which pushed him over the edge like, plastic in the oceans, immigration flow, economics, eco-system, etc.  But, in the end, his frustrations were decidedly poured out over helpless Hispanics with intention.  The shooter in Dayton, OH and the shooter at the Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California were driven by hate, even though it appears not to be racially motivated.  As a result, many were brutally murdered and maimed.  It’s a seeded lie laced by the enemy of the human brotherhood of soul and spirit.  Police in Gilroy reported the shooter there wore a clown mask.  Appropriate, don’t you think?

Please accept this warning.  Those who ricochet darts coming from the mouths of haters, is a very dangerous thing.  Wars have been launched for far less.  Unfortunately many like the shooters of El Paso, Dayton, and Gilroy are weak-minded, easily influenced, or simply mentally ill.  They are like a weed bending to a dark wind from whichever direction.  The result is, “I AM DOMINATE!” For some, all it will take is a spewing of hate-filled venom to cause the voices to ring violence in their minds.  Once it takes hold, it is like the gravity of opium to the offender.  If it’s not an assault rifle, it will be a bomb, a poison, a chemical, a blade, a flip of a rail switch, a van, a bus, a truck, a water bottle full of gasoline, etc.

Love, compassion, and understanding will always been the answer.  In fact, love is the basis found in fuel for the race.

 “You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill. – Jesus –   Matthew 5:21-22 (MSG Version)

 

Oh, How Those Arrows Do Fly

Cover Photo:  Pixabay

“We took our chance and we flew.  Like an arrow, like an arrow.  We came to our sense to soar.  Like an arrow, like an arrow…” – Like An Arrow (2015)  Written and recorded by:  Lucy Rose Parton

It was a beautiful April morning.  While sitting at my desk, typing away, I got a text from my middle daughter, Megan.

“Dad, Grace Stumberg and Grace Lougen really wants to meet you.  They are in town with Joan Baez and wondering if you’re up to anything.  They’ve got the day off in Dallas today, with exception of a recording session late this afternoon at a studio downtown.  Maybe you guys could meet for food or coffee.”

If you’re unfamiliar with my posts, you may not know about my daughter, Megan Brown.

In 2008, I was leaving Buffalo, NY to move back to my stumping grounds in Dallas, Texas.  Megan and I were the last of the family to remain in Buffalo after a divorce two years prior.  I got Megan through her last two years of high school.  It was a mammoth undertaking leaving our spacious house while squeezing into an apartment.  Through her high school years, and right after, Megan grew to be an accomplished vocalist.  She did very well in school choirs, musicals and singing in church.  She joined a garage band during that time in efforts to sharpen her rock and roll teeth.  Along the way, I encouraged her to sing with me at various events.  We were a duo team for about 10 years, since she was about 8 years old.  I coached her vocally, as well as stage presence and acoustic training, as her talent continued to surface.

Me and T-M-D Sept 2016

Photo:  L-R:  Tabitha, D’Anna, me, Megan 

During the summer of 2008, I had accepted a morning show gig at a new radio station in Dallas.  I gave Megan the option of moving back with me.  However, she wanted to spread her wings in Buffalo, and shoot for the moon on her own.  And boy, did she!  I love my girls.  Each one is unique, and vastly different from the other two.  Of my three daughters, Megan is the one most like me on many levels.  It was so difficult to loosen my grip and push her out of the nest.

After I moved back to Texas, Megan was asked to join an up and coming western New York band called, Dirty Smile.  As a solo artist she didn’t hesitate.  They won international accolades through the Hard Rock Cafe organization, winning awards along the way.  Megan became a highly sought-after artist during that time, appearing on many albums as a guest artist.  She also has been awarded for Favorite Female Vocalist in Western New York.

Megan Mag Photo:  Megan’s old band, Dirty Smile

After many years, and recordings, the band decided to hang it up as band-mate’s wives began having babies. Later she joined another band, which toured nationwide, but was short-lived.  She and a friend, Grace Stumberg, started an all-girl band called, Rustbelt Birds.  They disbanded late last year due to scheduling conflicts with other bands.  Now she is with a new band called, Grosh, with Grace Lougen.  They are doing very well, as they released a new CD this very week.

Megan Grosh CD Release Performance

Photo:  Megan’s new band, Grosh at their CD release performance event June 13, 2019.

As it turns out, the legendary Joan Baez has something in common with Megan.  They share band-mates.  Both Grace Stumberg (Joan’s vocal harmonizer) and Grace Lougen (Joan’s lead guitarist) perform in the Joan Baez band.

Grace Stumberg on stage with Joan Baez

Photo:  Grace Stumberg entering stage with Joan Baez

Thus, the reason for the two Graces to be in Dallas for a couple of days.  Joan Baez was performing in an outdoor venue in the downtown Dallas theater district the following day.  The weather was perfect.  I couldn’t attend as I was doing my own gig in northeast Oklahoma that night.

Grace 1&2 pre-show in Dallas

Photo:  Pre-show shot at Annette Strauss Square in the outdoor venue of the AT&T Performing Arts Center Complex.

Soon, in mid July, they will embark for another European concert tour.  Joan was one of the artists who performed at Woodstock in 1969.  After the Woodstock Fest 50th Anniversary Event was cancelled (slated for this summer) it made it extremely easy to book Europe once again.  Joan says it will be her final tour.  After five decades of hitting the stage, I can understand why.  Still, musician peers of her age are making big splashes on the road these days.  (We’ll see.)

To say it was a delight to converge on a Dallas Irish pub for lunch with Grace and Grace, would be a huge understatement.  We laughed and told stories about our lives and their “on-the-road” adventures.  Since Megan wasn’t at the table with us, I felt free to roll out some of the childhood antics Megan and her sisters got into.  We found ourselves at ease with each other as the afternoon went on.  We felt as if we had known one another for a thousand years.  I was so proud to hear of their enormous respect and love for my daughter.  As they spoke of her, I could see a sense of treasure in their eyes.  My ears grew as tales of their friendships were described, as well as the professional side as band-mates and fellow-musicians.  I can’t tell you how it made me feel.

Grace 1&2 Irish pub Dallas

Photo:  L-R:  Grace Lougen, me, Grace Stumberg

Sitting there with these highly talented young ladies, I soaked in the warmth of love they shared for my Megan.  It truly hit me like never before that Megan and I made the right choice back in August of 2008.

The Texas sun beat down on us as we exited the pub into busy pedestrian traffic.  As we hugged out on the walkway, while saying our goodbyes, Grace Stumberg said,

“I am so glad I got to meet the maker of Megan Brown.”

I chuckled as a nervous response.  I appreciated what she said, but I KNOW Who made Megan.  I am held in His hand.

Just then, I felt my chin quiver.  Knowing myself well, I knew tears were next.  I had my sunglasses on, so they never saw me shed one drop.  But as they walked back to the Joule Hotel, two blocks away, I couldn’t hold them back any longer.  My parking meter was beeping at me, which was another excuse to quickly climb back into my car.  When I did, I put the key in the ignition, but didn’t turn it.  Instead, I just sat silently and wept for a good two or three minutes.

It was written, so us readers who dare to research would know, releasing our kids into the world is like an archer releasing his/her arrow into the air.  Kids normally outlive the parents, at least that’s the design of our biological lifespan.  So, my girls, my arrows, will go into a future I will not see, a future I will not reach.  In August of 2008, once again I found myself holding my fatherly bow.  I pulled back the bowstring, tilted upward above all targets for the proper air-arch, distance, and wind direction.  Feeling the tension of holding the bow close to my cheek, knowing I could hold it there no longer, I closed my eyes, said a prayer, and let go of the bowstring.

Megan was launched into the world with the swishing sound of the tail-feathers.  Her flight continues where I will never be.  As she soars, she has pierced hearts, minds, and culture, all of which I cannot.  Her trek sails through audiences, lifting their chins from faces I will never see.  During her flight, she will look down and see cities, societies, and stigmas without dividing lines mapping out the boundaries I tend to set.  Her arch will be observed and heard by many she has not yet seen.  As my arrow, she is an extension of me.

Do dads worry?  Sure we do.  With that said, I have an omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient Father who once launched me at birth.  There’s where my comfort rests.

Oh, how those arrows do fly…with fuel for the race.

  “Children are indeed a heritage from the LORD, and the fruit of the womb is His reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are children born in one’s youth.  Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them…”  Psalm 127:3-5a (BSB)

 

Rewinds

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

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

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

Turntable Needle by Pixabay

Photo:  Pixabay

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

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

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

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

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

Remote Dusty Buttons

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

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

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

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

Thank you Marty, Gene, and Mel.

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

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

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

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

A Family Affair

“It’s a family affair, it’s a family affair.  One child grows up to be somebody that just loves to learn…”  Family Affair (1971), Recorded by:  Sly & The Family Stone.  Composer:  Sly Stone

Somebody told me once that the terrific thing about grandchildren is, after they visit they go home.  That thought leaves some room for the idea our own kids don’t leave to go home because they ARE home.  For me, as a dad, that was a good thing.  I was/am blessed to have three great daughters.

To my grave I will say, I was gifted by God to be in a position to take on “Mr. Mom” for many years.  Tabitha (31), my oldest, and Megan (29) are two very different ladies.  Who said siblings had to be alike?

Girls - Tabitha And Megan

(1998)

When they were born, it was early in my radio career, working overnights.  When they were about two and four, I was on the air in the evenings (7pm-12am) for a few more years before taking daytime on-air hours.  It was during those sleepy evening and overnight shows I was able to be with my girls in the daytime.  Moreover, it was their formative years, all the way through elementary school days.  I didn’t plan it.  It literally was one of those “God Things” in our lives.

Domestically speaking, those were times of horrific turmoil in hour home.  We did a decent job of hiding it from friends, but it all took its toll.  In efforts to avoid dishing out unnecessary dirt on some private family dynamics, I will say nothing more on the subject.

All things work out together for God’s purpose.  So, it was my pleasure to instill in these young hearts my faith, my real-world experience, and loads of wacky, swinging-from-the-chandelier-playtime.  We built memories.  Most of all, when they needed protection, they knew who to run to.

Nine years after Megan came along, D’Anna, my youngest, was born.  Unfortunately, I was working an afternoon drive-time show during those same years in her life.  I regret I didn’t get the same amount of quantity time with her, but we sure had tons of quality times together.

Girls Sept 2003 - Visit back to Carrollton

(2003)

When thinking back to those days of tea parties by the dollhouse, walking on hands and knees pretending to be a riding horse, or playing dress-up (Complete with make-up.) I would never consider changing any of it.  Nope, not one thing.  It was all so worth it.

Girls - T&amp;M kiddie pool

(1992)

During my daddy/daughter years, I dated my girls.  We set calendar days, reserving them for “Dates with dad.”  Sure, we did stuff as a pack, but I wanted one-on-one time with each girl.  Just a movie, playground, or dinner at a favorite spot always suited us nicely.  Again, all so worth it.

D'Anna &amp; Me in Houston-June 2007

(2007)

If parents were blatantly honest, I feel it would be said we learned so much while parenting.  I know I did.  Do you feel that way?  The triumphant trio grew up knowing they never had to “perform” or “measure-up” for my love.  Each one saw unconditional love, no matter what kind of trouble they fell into, or words spoken in haste, or diverting to another ideology different than mine.  To this day, it holds true.  Scripture taught me the way God loves.  It works.  There are rewards of various shapes and hues.  For one, to this day they want to communicate with me.  The girls want to visit with me, showing honor and respect personally toward their old man.  Although I am faulty, blemishes and all, somewhere, sometime, I must have done something right.  It really was so worth it.

Today, I’m about thirty minutes away from Tabitha and D’Anna.  I love it!  Megan is about a four hour flight away.  That’s hard.  Usually, when she comes for a visit, it’s either for a funeral, a wedding, performing with her band on tour, or to be by my side when I am in the hospital.  In recent years I was on my deathbed twice.  She was there to join Tabitha and D’Anna next to me both times.  Feeling their hands in mine gave me an enormous amount of comfort, a boost to fight for life.

Girls - March 2019]

(This week, march 2019.  L-R:  Megan, Tabitha, and D’Anna.)

This week, Megan, who is literally a busy rock star and recording artist in Western New York, came to spend some time with us in Dallas, with a boyfriend in tow.  Things are getting somewhat serious for them.  He seems like a really nice guy.  In fact, we have a few things in common.  As we watched them drive away for the day in their rent-a-car, my wife leaned over to me and said, “Your girl got her a guy just like her dad.”  I replied, “REALLY?”  She went on to explain our interests, talents, and backgrounds are very much the same.  Even the coloring of our eyes and hair are the same.  How come that didn’t pop out at me?

Girls and Me Sept 2016

(2016)

There is one thing very noticeable to me.  It is the connection we share as a family.  When my girls and I are together, it seems like we pick up right where we left off last time.  The years don’t seem to calculate our ages, or bond.  Our first dinner together this week testified to it all.  We could tell what each other was going to say.  We knew when we were going to laugh, what we would eat, and what our favorite movies are.  It’s amazing to me.

In scripture, God calls those who belong to Him “His children”, an intimate title to say the least.  He states the number of hairs on our head are numbered.  Now THAT’S intimate.  It is written He knows our thoughts before we think them, or speak them.  He knows how and why we tick.  Most of all, He said we know His distinct voice in our hearts.  My favorite name for Him comes from the Aramaic, the ancient language Jesus spoke.  It’s the word  “Abba”, meaning “Daddy”.  It’s a very affectionate, closely knit family title for a father.  When crying out in pain, from the grunting of the core of the hurting heart, one calls out for relief to the cozy “Daddy” instead of the more official and distant term, “Father”.  Two of His biblical descriptions are “The Rock”, and “Shelter”Jesus Himself gave us a snapshot of how He loves by describing a hen.  He mentioned how sheltering she is by spreading her wings over her chicks, pulling them to her side, taking on the downpours onto herself.  What a beautiful picture.  It’s exactly the definition I’ve tried to be, and continue to attempt to be, for my girls.  There are times of failure in this area for me, but it’s what I strive for.  In the end, it’s all so worth it.

My hope is that no matter where they are in life, or on the planet, they can feel our DNA strand.

Family ties can be tightened when knotted with fuel for the race.

“See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are…”  1 John 3:1 (NAS)

Slippery Slopes

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

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

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

jaylene johnson performing

Jaylene on-tour.  Photo:  Tim Hellsten

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

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

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

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

me in el salvador with world vision 2004

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

jaylene johnson promo Jaylenejohnson.COM

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

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

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

 

A Trinket Has Lots To Say

“Old man look at my life, I’m a lot like you were…” Old Man – 1972  By: Neil Young.

It’s true.  A trinket has lots to say.  I believe the older one gets, the more this truth stands out.  One of my old high school friends collects guitar picks, some from rock concerts of note from the past.  For you, it might be a bigger trinket like a 1960 Chevy Corvette.  If you were to visit my house and rummaged through some shelves and boxes, you will discover some valuable items.  Sure, they might not appear valuable to you, but for me, they are treasures.

In Greenville, Texas, just one house over, and across the street from my grandparents old home, lived an elderly couple.  I knew them as, Mr. & Mrs. Cook.  (All of the houses there were built in the 1840’s-1860’s.)  They were not just neighbors, but also friends from our church.   My mom tells me the old folks there in the house became like grandparents to her, along with her two brothers throughout the 1950’s.  Mrs. Cook was known to be very astute, a woman who could see clearly what was beneath the surface.  She had the right last name, too.  She was widely known for baking terrific pies.  All the kids on the block were welcomed at their house, mainly after school before parents arrived from work.

Mr. Cook, could usually be spotted sitting in his rocking chair on the front porch just watching the neighborhood grow.  I have one picture of him on his front porch, but at the moment I cannot locate it.  Vivid in my mind is a derby hat, round Teddy Roosevelt-style bottle-lens glasses, a cane and a wooden leg.  (The below is as close as I can come to generally representing him.)

mr. cook

Mr. Cook was a quirky, funny character with loads of stories to tell, usually with a punchline at the end.  The kids would gather on his porch knowing they would hear of adventures, heroes, as well as, the old witch who lived in the large, unkempt, overgrown house some three doors down.  (Actually, he might have been telling the truth.  She was a spooky old lady, who once shot at someone walking in front of her house on the sidewalk.)  His tales told of local ghosts to watch for, the old long-gone minor league Greenville baseball team, and how he lost his leg jumping off a mule wagon where his foot landed in a deep pothole in a dirt road.  As he told it, the leg snapped off and ran away from him in the woods, never to be seen again.  The norm would be that he would raise the cuff of his pant-leg, revealing his old wooden, rather rustic “limb”, so to speak.  There, in the shin area, was a missing oval-shaped knot in the timber.  He would invite the curious, wide-eyed kids, to knock three times on it to see if a squirrel lived inside.  As I’ve been told, he offered the little ones to take a look inside the hole to find the critter in his hollow leg.  Then he would dare them to stick a finger inside the hole just before the kids ran away from fright of the idea.  His belly laughter was loud, so was his good nature.  He loved to tease the neighborhood kids and they loved being teased.

In one of my previous posts, I have written of my mom who was barely 16 when I was born.  Mr. and Mrs. Cook often cared for her when her parents were at work during her pregnancy.  Mrs. Cook could’ve been easily mistaken for a midwife, right up to the day my mom went into labor.  They were at the hospital to greet me when I arrived.

Take a deep breath.  You may find this hard to believe, but you will just have to trust me on this.  Mr. and Mrs. Cook are part of my very first memories.  Although my memories come from my 3rd and 4th year of life, I have been told they often babysat me, gave gifts, including Mrs. Cook’s homemade clothing tailored just for me.  By the time I was 2 years old, we lived with my grandparents, but the Cooks were very much my 2nd grandparents.

Me and Tippy 1962

As early as 3 years old, I have memories of playing on the front porch by his feet.  When I was 4 years old, I remember how he would grab his cane, walk me down the sidewalk and around the corner, to an old general store, about four houses down.  (Long since gone.)   To this very day, vivid is the limp, the cane’s sound as its tip touched the concrete of the sidewalk, as well as, his hard leather wingtips scuffing along the cracks of the pavement.  His caring, rough, large hand held mine as we walked slowly to the old general store.  He never let his handicap keep him from life.

old general store

Photo:  Pinterest

Mr. Cooper’s General Store was a small, old wooden frame, neighborhood store.  Way before large grocery stores were available for small towns, there were “neighborhood” stores and shops.  When the neighborhood was new, merchants would set-up shop near, or in the central area, of the houses built.  One hundred years later, there were some of these old stores still open for business for the very local patrons.  As I recall, we would walk into Mr. Cooper’s store, with burlap, sugar and the scent of old weathered wood wafting through the air.  Creaking sounds came with each step on the old planks of the floor.  There, on the counter-top, sat large thick jars of hard candies.  A ring would reverberate through the small business as the heavy lid was removed from the jar.  I wish I could recall the sound of his voice when he said, “Al, how ’bout that candy cane right there?  A broken cane won’t do.”  No doubt, I didn’t hesitate in confirming.  I do remember walking back to his house with a peppermint cane sticking out of my mouth.  You guessed it, each time we went, I expected to get a candy cane.

candy-cane-classic

There was also a counter-top curio case filled with small items.  Among the shelves was a hodgepodge of assortments like, a children’s slingshot, Indian head nickel, small coin pouches, tiny glass dolls, etc.  One item that stuck out was a small black glass pepper-shaker, in the shape of a baby elephant, Dumbo-style, about 3″ tall.  (In retrospect, it must’ve been a mismatched item, as there wasn’t a salt shaker with it.)  At this point, my memory has faded.  However, a few years ago my mom presented it to me.  She had kept it in a box of little treasures for some 50 years.  She told me Mr. Cook had given the tiny elephant to me while he had taken me to Mr. Cooper’s store on an occasion.  Instantly, I recalled him picking it out for me.  Mr. Cooper placed it in a small paper bag with my candy cane.

As times and circumstances changed, sometime in 1964, my mom and I moved to a boarding house a few blocks away.  Yet, we still spent lots of time at my grandparent’s home, and always looked across the street to see if Mr. Cook was sitting out on his front porch.  His chair sat empty more often as time went by.  When he did appear on his porch, he always waved and yelled out a greeting of some kind.  Visiting him was always a highlight of that time period.

On May, 18th, 1965, Mr. Cook let go of this life.  It happened to be my 5th birthday.  In those days, it was customary to have a wake, with an open casket in the house of the deceased, for family and friends to visit and grieve together in familiar surroundings.  Food would be brought and shared, along with lots of conversation about the one honored.  My mom was heartbroken.  When we arrived at the house, after greeting Mrs. Cook, we approached the coffin.  It was my first experience with death.  Watching my mom cry, I told her something I had obviously been taught in Sunday School at our church.  Although I do not recall doing this, they tell me I looked up at her and said, “Don’t be sad, mom.  This is only the house Mr. Cook lived in.”  She tells me she squeezed my hand, chuckled, choked back the tears, and told me I was absolutely right.  We grieve, but not as those who have no hope.  It would be easy to say, that 5 year old was talking about the old structure, the house we were in, constructed of wood and paint.  However, I was taught well.  The body in the casket was only the cocoon, the shell, or the “house” Mr. Cook lived in.  The spirit of the elderly man we knew, with all his stories, laughter and kindness, had exited to live at the feet of his Creator.

Through the decades, we have seen multiple families move in and out of the old house on Jones Street.  There’s never been a time I didn’t want to walk up to the front porch, introduce myself so I could tell them of the magnificent couple who resided there.  There’s never been a time I didn’t look over at the old porch, imagining Mr. Cook sitting in his chair waving at me with a gigantic grin on his face.  There’s never been a time in my life when unwrapping a candy cane, I didn’t think of him.  Isn’t it odd how an item, or a place, can bring back visions of old love from long ago?

Today, a small trinket, that insignificant little glass elephant, sits on my bathroom shelf.  I see it several times a day.  It makes me smile.

As for Mrs. Cook, she was a strong, healthy woman.  There was no reason why she couldn’t have lived another 10 years or more.  From May 18th, to July 22nd, she lived alone in her house.  As you can see by the dates of their tombstone, she wasn’t without him for very long.

mr. cook tombstone

Over the Christmas holidays, I visited their graveside.  There are two flower vases, one for each side of the tombstone, not seen in the picture.  I went alone.  I stood there in the chilly Texas wind, spoke to him of my gratitude for helping to teach me, early in childhood, more of what love is.  Before walking away, I placed a peppermint candy cane in his vase.  I hope it’s still there.  More than that, I hope he was told what I did there.

A trinket has lots to say when filtered through fuel for the race.

“For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.” – St. Paul – Romans 14:7 (NIV) 

For Something You Love More – A Short Story

By: Alan Scott Brown

The holiday season of 2009 was a lean one for many.  Doug Benford was eager to see the year fade off into the realms of history.

He didn’t hear the alarm this particular Friday morning.  Sparks, his beloved tan and white Jack Russell Terrier and Dachshund mix, jumped on his chest with an ample supply of tongue lashings to the face, warnings for outdoor bladder relief.

“Okay okay, pal, I’m up!” Doug said with a bite to his groggy voice.  “Hop off the bed.  I’ll meet you at the back door.”

On his way to the closet he asked himself common a question, “My better-half brought him home, saying he was part rooster.  Why can’t he just wait for the alarm?”

Doug laid-out his clothes for the day – jeans, flannel shirt, and leather jacket.  As he was changing, he heard a familiar scratching coming from the back kitchen door.

“Hey, Sausage!”  (His wife’s nickname for Sparks.)  “So help me, if I wind up painting that door I’ll have your hide on the garage wall!” said Doug as he threw on his shirt on his way to the back door.  As Doug opened the door, Sparks let out his high pitched terrier yelp.  Just then, like a flash, the short-haired companion headed for his favorite backyard spot.

The Tennessee morning had a light dusting of snow on the ground which gleamed with intermittent rays of sunshine, coming through the high clouds.  As his routine of late, Doug walked slowly across the frosty lawn, taking in each step, each sight, as if organizing a mental photo album.

A streak of unfortunate circumstances had disabled his income.  He had adjusted surviving on what little savings was left, as well as weekly unemployment checks.  He had one more CD he’d not cashed-in, but the clock was ticking.  After almost fifteen years at the Spring Hill GM plant, the layoffs cast him into a devastating position.  He had to put his SUV up for sale just to make it through a few months.  Now, an antique Ford pick-up took up the driveway space.  The truck was a project he once enjoyed, making efforts to refurbish it.  For now, its bed served to hold branches, twigs and scrap lumber.  Doug had resigned to warming part of the house with wood he had chopped-up from selective trees on the property.  He feared cutting electricity altogether, as he considered resigning to a log cabin with a potbelly stove.

With foreclosure looming in the near future, he turned to gaze slowly over the home he and his wife moved into some years ago.  In those times it was sheer dreams of Americana, complete with a house full of visiting kids from the block and friendly next-door neighbors.  Standing in the cold morning air, while facing the back of the house, he caught a quick glimpse of an apparition.  Through the frozen fog of his exhales, he saw a little girl peering out an upstairs bedroom window, wearing an innocent grin only adoring parents could memorize.  For a moment, just before her image melted away, she held out her hand with a slow wave.  After a pregnant pause, he came to himself, shaking his head after a few seconds in the midst of waving back.

Grieving families know all too well how quickly an automatic smile can be transformed into the frown of loss.  Dreams of the tragic car crash on a wet highway that took his wife, Cheryl, and his four year old, Emily, haunted his days and nights.  The years seemed like weeks, since that deadly sword of fate carved a trench in his heart.  What was intended to be a wonderful July 4th get-a-way to the Smokies, had plunged his world into an abyss, so dark and so deep, that only a day’s work at the plant could distract his focus from the torture.  Now, he could no longer use full-time work as the medication of choice.  Jack Daniels was his new covert friend.

The house was filled with echoing vacancy.  Doug’s depression pained his physical body as he stepped up to a young Loblolly Pine tree, the “King Pine” of the South, planted firmly along the back line of the lawn.  It was now the lone tree, carefully nourished and treasured with love.  It was a tree of so much pride, wrapped in a father’s heart.  He got the idea from a neighbor to plant a seedling in the yard on the day Emily was born, a symbol marking the start of a precious God-given life.  As she and the tree grew, he nailed a pink ribbon to the trunk each year on her birthday, gauging her height.  On the day of high school graduation, Emily was to stand next to the tree, in full cap and gown with cameras flashing, as he was to nail the last pink ribbon to the trunk.  Now, the tree grows as a stark reminder of the missing pink ribbons, which would never be added.

A tear slowly rolled down into his salt-n-pepper stubble thinking of what might have been.  He and the family dog were now struggling in the wake of this unexpected cosmic eraser of hopes and imaginings.  As he blinked to see his wristwatch, Sparks broke the heaviness by taking wild, full-beans laps around Emily’s tree.  With a half chuckle he hollered, “Yep, let’s get it together, boy.  The kids will be waiting.”  As much as he wanted to reminisce, the day’s schedule wouldn’t allow it.

The old rusty Ford sat in the driveway nearly every day as Doug took the economically-forced bus ride to his annual part-time gig.  He gave it a pat on the hood as he walked by on the way to the bus stop, some two miles from his house.  After boarding, the sprinkling of a late November snow was already beginning to say its good-byes to the morning sun.  As he traveled from intersection to intersection, watching the angry holiday traffic, he was reminded of the dreary miles to a job he had learned to despise.  His circumstances had soured his very bones, which caused a dismal filter on everyday life.  It was only short-term; a job to keep the water bill afloat with soup cans on the shelf for another month.  Sitting next to another city traveler he whispered to himself, “Homelessness is for February.”

The local mall was overwhelming the day after Thanksgiving.  The insanity of consumerism was in fast forward mode, with shoppers only taking time out for a dash at any empty table in the food court.  Black Friday stress was evident on every face, full of hustle and bustle, and way beyond the expected annual rat race.  A year of recession had taken its toll, especially for low and middle income households.  Customers needed good deals.  Coming down the escalator were platoons of humanity with shopping bags in both arms, trying to recall where they had parked.

At the bottom of the moving stairs, where the steps vanished into the first floor, families were lined-up.  In a roped maze line, displaying a parade of holiday weariness, children were decked out in their festive best.  There were little girls sporting satin gowns, coupled with silk ribbons in their hair.  The boys were squirming, pulling at their neck ties of Christmas colors.  Mothers were busy working on uncooperative strands of hair, along with fathers staring absently into space, eating steaming hot pretzels, in efforts to tune out the mayhem.  And there in the distance, in the center of the activity, was a throne, laced in gold metallic paint and red velveteen, fit for a…Santa.  Cameras were locked and loaded for personal documentary, at a fat cost.

Each morning on the way to the outside employee entrance, Doug passed an elderly Salvation Army kettle volunteer ringing his little tin bell, greeting potential donors loaded down with holiday cares.

“Hello, young fella!” the old man belted, with a sincere warmth that could melt frost.  Doug never wanted to appear as a Scrooge, so he always responded like an award-winning actor on the red carpet, “Good morning!”  The old guy always seemed to pick up on Doug’s tossed spirit.  Wishing to cheer, the jolly man responded, “Yessir, it’s always a good morning when one can serve where you’re doing the most good.”

Doug stepped up his pace, thinking to himself, “Do the most good by staying home, that is.”

Every day – weekdays and weeknights throughout the month – the routine was the same.  And, every day he thought of alternative ways to get to the employee entrance without passing the old man at the red kettle stand.  In his sleep he heard, “It’s always a good morning when one can serve where you’re doing the most good.”  At times he wondered if he said it aloud after Sparks would wake him, jumping up in the high antique bed, landing on his chest, whining and sniffing his face.

The door of the break room flew open as Doug came stumbling in, murmuring under his breath.  Startled with the sudden sound, a cleaning lady, who was pouring a cup of coffee, responded lightheartedly to his clumsy entrance.

“Hey Doug, did Mr. Grinch bring you to work today?”

He closed the door with a bit of frustrated force.  With a large exhale he replied, “Oh, Maggie, that old bell ringer out there has two volume levels, loud and very loud.”

Maggie again responded with a joyful chuckle, “Last year, you complained about that old man just about every day.  Let me ask you, now did it ever get you what you prefer?”

Doug grunted as he took off his jacket.

“Come on,” Maggie said, “I’ve already got you a cup of cheer this morning.  I just made the first pot.  Donuts are in the box.”

Maggie was a poor single mom who worked at the mall, sweeping up debris shoppers left behind, emptying trash cans and mopping floors.  For such a hard working woman, with just above a minimum hourly wage, she never let her state in life rule over her disposition.  It was noticed, and certainly Doug had a front row view of her jovial way of getting through daily life.  Maggie was the type who had Christmas spirit during the storms of the spring, in the heat of July, and while the leaves of every hue let go of their branches in autumn.

Doug had a tendency to hide stored-up layers of envy, wishing he could rise above his strata of fog to shine like Maggie. Through the year he would walk the mall for exercise and visit with Maggie on her breaks where the two would debate about the recession, religion, and geopolitical news.  Yet, the one thing he wouldn’t discuss with his friend was his loneliness, due to his cascading losses in life.  Although they were like a wave he had to surf, he remained embarrassed by his state.  Sadly, he felt the pain was for him to own, not to share.  Maybe it was his pride, or just the way he was raised by somewhat stoic folk, but he kept his troubles to himself.

After taking another sip of the fresh java, Maggie shared more than he expected.  “Ya know, Doug, you’ll have to bring that little mutt of yours up here before Christmas comes and goes.  My little guy, Aiden, has a DVD of “101 Dalmatians” and just cackles at the antics, along with all those cute faces.  He’s in first grade now and has yet to even pet a dog.  Can you believe it?  Honestly, one of these days I’ll have enough saved up for a dog from the pound.”

Doug found himself listening closely to her, dreading all the while the next twelve hours at the job.  With a click, the time clock struck 9:30am.  Downing the last swig of coffee, he pulled the words out of his mouth, “I guess I can’t stop the clock, Maggie.  I’ll see you later.”

“I hear that.  Have a good day!” said Maggie.  She slowly shook her head as she watched him walk away with shoulders slumped, heading to a section of metal lockers.

Chin to his chest, Doug opened the locker door.  He let out a big sigh at the sight of what was hanging on a hook.  The fluorescent lights above him landed on a bright red Santa suit, complete with black boots, a white wooly strap-on beard, and a hat only the best Claus could wear.  With a weak groan, he collected the heavy fur wardrobe and turned to the men’s room to change.

Doug was a man of integrity at heart.  Playing the role of the jolly old elf to the throng of kids and parents was done well; after all, this is what he was hired to do.  Through the weeks he sat in that chair posing for pictures and videos with children from all slices of life.  Overbearing mothers, some with their diamonds and silk purses, bothered him the most as they pushed and prodded their little brats with the will of a perfection-driven, Hollywood director.

He was amazed at the variety of Claus worshippers.  No matter the race, religion or status – whether rich or poor, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, or atheists – the farce continued with plastic smiles and a “HO-HO-HO”.  For weeks on end he fought with the beard-pulling kids and petrified youngsters, forced into this scene by their pseudo stage-moms.  Then came the dreaded college students, who insisted on posing with him for the fun of it.  Oh, and then there was the occasional Calvin Klein-clad seven year old, who must have come from a long line of mobsters, threatening him with Christmas Eve cookie and eggnog withholdings.  Frankly, the shock wore off after hearing a set of twin girls demanding that they get whatever the little girl before them inquired about.  It was that caliber of child that pierced his heart the most, as he thought of the sweetness of his little Emily and her selfless personality.

What kind of young woman could she have been, if life had been granted?  He fought the gravity of the emotional vortex which took him to that awful place of deep inexplicable loss.

With each day he felt a growing anger toward children.  So much so, he counted down the remaining shopping days when he could hang up the suit and candy canes for the very last time.

*****

It was the night of December 23rd, when Doug shuffled his way up the driveway after another marathon day in Santa’s court.  In the darkness he spied an envelope taped to his front door.  It was a notice for interruption of electrical service from non-payment.  He looked down, shook his head, letting the document slip out of his hands.  No amount of cinnamon sticks, sugar cookies, nor magical reindeer dust could keep the feelings of resentment and dejection away.

He found himself shouting into the chilled air, “God, what are you trying to do to me?  Don’t you think I’ve been through enough?”  Exhausted, coupled with anger and sorrow, Doug sat on the front steps, pulled his knees up to his chest and released his tears.

After dragging himself inside, he reached for the liquor cabinet in the kitchen for a shot of synthetic comfort.  Being pragmatic, he immediately began to plan just how he could survive another two months without electricity, until the bank took the house.

Later, that same night, he stoked up the fire in the fireplace, warmed up a can of soup on the hearth and sorted through his mail.  Sparks just looked at him with an expression of, what seemed to be, canine telepathy, ‘Whatever it is, it’s okay.’  Doug, appreciated the cute facial expression.  While scratching the dog lovingly behind the ears, he replied with a whisper, “You’re right, boy.  You’re right.”

As he and Sparks snuggled, with the oak logs ablaze, warming his cold feet, thoughts of his childhood rolled through his memory like an old movie.

Doug’s dad always left the nativity set for him to assemble under the tree.  He recalled taking a great deal of satisfaction placing all the characters where he pleased.  In particular, there was one figurine of a lamb, just tall enough to peer over into the manger, as if curious to why there was a baby where his dinner should be.  Doug broke out with unanticipated laughter just revisiting the thought.  Soon, he would be like the baby Jesus: in a crowded town, without a home, hanging out with an animal.  That was the last thought ushering him into a broken night’s sleep.

Christmas Eve morning was uneventful: same walk to the bus stop, same bus route with the same street scenery.  For the last time he would stroll by the old Salvation Army soldier ringing that hideous bell.  With Doug’s head turned the opposite direction, the familiar daily gruff voice addressed him once again.

“Hello young man!  It’s a good morning, ain’t it?”

In a huffy tone Doug nodded, “Yeah, I guess. I’m sure you’re serving where you can do the most good.”

Without a trace of offence, the old man laughed, “That’s right, son.  Loving others before loving ourselves.  God willin’, next Christmas I’ll be waitin’ for ya, right here.”

With a brisk step, he moved away with the gate of a New York jaywalker.

For the third day in a row Doug entered the break room to find his friend Maggie wasn’t in her usual place.  The coffee pot was empty and the counters hadn’t yet been wiped down.  He felt a sagging inside, knowing this was his last morning to pretend to be someone he’s not.  But, without Maggie’s bright morning face, along with her joy-filled attitude, the boost to make Santa what he could be, would be lacking.

After he suited up, he visited the mall manager’s office to ask about her.  She had left a message that her son had the flu and, actually, asked for Doug to call her when he got a break later in the morning.  He found himself feeling sorry for the little guy as the hours dragged on.  At his noon break, only after a final “HO-HO-HO”, he went back to the office to ring Maggie up.  Her voice shook as she told him of her overwhelming fear of Swine Flu.  She had seen the symptoms before, during a recent outbreak.  Struck by the unsettled sound in her voice, Doug’s heart sank.  Surprisingly so, he experienced a deep emotion for a little boy he had never met.

Maggie’s voice cracked a bit, “Doug, he wanted to come see you…I mean, Santa…before you shut down.  As you can see, that’s not gonna happen.  He simply won’t see Christmas this year at all.  I’m wondering if you would think about doing me a favor.  Why not come here, to the apartment as Mr. Claus, after you get off tonight?  If you can’t, I’ll understand.  No pressure.”

Doug paused only for a moment.  Without thinking it through, his response came so naturally, “Sure, sure I will.  We close down early tonight so Kris Kringle can get back to the North Pole for dinner with the Mrs.”

With a great deal of relief, she gave him her address in hopes for a holiday shocker that would be one of Aiden’s greatest childhood memories.

Around 5:30 that afternoon, Doug got off the bus near the apartment complex.  Right away he realized where he was.  Way back when, he and his co-workers would laugh and mock the “trash” that lived in this ghetto.  If there were second class citizens in town, they lived here, according to his way of thinking.  He looked up into the cloudy sky with a quick and silent thought, “God, why me?”  The neighborhood was known for gang violence year-round.  He began cautiously walking toward the rundown complex.  Looking over his shoulder a few times, he asked himself why he wasn’t carrying a weapon for protection.  He shook off the mental images, as he mustered up some holiday cheer for a sick little boy.  Maggie soon heard a “HO-HO-HO” at the door.

Maggie’s chin quivered as she fumbled a bit disengaging the locks.  She opened the door to find Doug standing there, decked out in his Santa suit, exhausted from the gauntlet of last minute shoppers.  On the verge of collapse herself, Maggie responded, “Oh, Doug, thank you for coming.  You have no idea what this will do for his spirit.  Come in, take a load off.”

He sat nervously on the couch, with his knee bouncing up and down.  After pouring him a mug of hot cocoa, she prepared Doug for the visit to come.  She softly spoke of their financial frailty, admitting Aiden was unaware of the struggles they faced.  Doug was touched by her candor.  He understood and opened up to her the facts of his similar circumstances.  Clearly they shared a harboring of unearned, unnecessary guilt and shame.  He knew their kindred spirit hit a benchmark as the conversation led them both.  With hard truths shared, Maggie squeezed his hand as they both looked down at the floor recognizing their somber moment.

Almost as an afterthought, Maggie reached for a sealed plastic bag, pulling out a surgical mask.  She stepped up closer to him, ready to place it over his strap-on white beard.  Doug quickly grabbed her by the wrists, took it in his hands, and placed it back in the bag.

“But, Doug, he has a 103 temp right now.” she explained with deep concern.

With a half smile he replied, “He doesn’t need to remember a St. Nick who took precautions to be with him in a time of need.  I’ll take my chances.”

She nodded in agreement while holding back the sob rising from her belly once again.  With a deliberate hush in tone, she said, “Okay, Follow me.”

Aiden was in bed, half asleep from the meds prescribed.  He was pale.  His eyelids were swollen and his little face was gaunt.  Being roused by the opening of the bedroom door, he heard his mom’s forced cheerful voice, “Honey, look who dropped by to see you.”

When Doug walked through the door, Aiden gasped, “SANTA!!”

With the best delivery he could put out, Doug moved into Santa-mode, “HO-HO-HO!  Merry Christmas, young man!”  The little guy threw his head back with an exuberant belly laugh of his own, followed by an aggressive, lingering chest cough.

Maggie knew what needed to happen.

“I’ll leave you two alone.  Honey, Santa can’t stay long. Okay?”  She then exited, closed the door softly behind her, bracing herself against the hallway wall.

Right away, Doug’s heart was lifted as he saw a very ill little boy whose bloodshot eyes lit-up with wonderment.  Doug had witnessed hundreds of red-cheeked faces, with a look of awe only a child could express, but this face was vastly different.  The smile Aiden displayed at his unexpected visitor could have ignited Doug’s house with every Christmas light string possible.

Surrendering to being authentically moved, in his best Santa-voice he belted, “Well, son, what do you want under your tree in the morning?  It’ll be here in a flash and I don’t have much time.”

In response, Aiden struggled to sit up in bed, “Santa, can I tell you a secret?”

Doug tried hard not to laugh but managed to say, “The fact is, Santa is well-known for keeping secrets.  Let me have it.”

The boy motioned him to bend down closer so he could speak softly, “Um, we don’t have a Christmas tree this year.  Mom said we couldn’t afford a tree.  So, I know there won’t be anything waiting for me, ’cause without a Christmas tree, you can’t put any gifts under it, right? Everybody knows that.”

As Doug felt a lump growing in his throat, he turned his head away, and looked out the bedroom window for a moment for distraction.  He dared not allow the boy to see Santa breakdown.  Aiden continued sharing his thoughts.

“Santa, there’s just one thing I want, if you can do it.”

Doug quickly responded, holding tightly to his Kringle character, if only by the fingernails, “Of course I can do it!  I’m the king of the elves!  No limitations here!  What will it be?”

Aiden whispered slowly, “Give mom a new face in the morning.”

For the boy’s sake, Doug wanted to look like Father Christmas understood the request.  Concerned he was not going to pull it off, he spoke quickly, “Well, what kind of face should she have tomorrow?”

With a sore throat, the boy swallowed hard, “Uh, Santa, ever since I got sick she no longer smiles.  She wears a strange frown, one I’ve never seen before.”

Doug paused and stroked his fake beard.  A sense of bona fide fatherhood rolled through his veins, a sensation he hadn’t possessed since the loss of his little Emily.  He cocked his head slightly to one side.  It seemed to be an automatic gesture, as he brushed a strand of hair from the boy’s forehead with his white-gloved hand, and with the other, presented a candy cane.

Leaning closer to the lad, he said tenderly, “Boy, just love your mother every minute of every day, and you’ll see that smile.  Now, close your eyes and get to that ‘long winter’s nap’ you hear about.  Merry Christmas, Aiden.”

The boy was weak but had enough strength to squeeze Doug’s finger.  As he broke out with a grin he replied, “Merry Christmas to you, too.  And be careful on the roof.”

With that, Doug left the apartment, as if in a rush, without saying more than Merry Christmas to Maggie on the way out.

Standing in the open doorway, watching him quick-step toward the bus stop, she yelled, “But Doug, what happened in there?”  As he climbed onto the nearly vacant bus, he felt crushed with the perplexing crossroads of what to do for the two of them.  All the way home one phrase from an old man bubbled up in his mind.

‘It’s a good morning when one can serve where you’re doing the most good.’ 

 Once again, he considered his poverty, his rapidly depleted savings, and his last payroll check from the mall.  It was a stark certainty for him, unemployment launched once again on Christmas Day.  The means were slim to none, and for him, humbling.  Taking off his white gloves, he rung his hands, bowed his head, and for the first time in a long time, prayed for wisdom, strength, and clarity

*****.

Christmas morning came early for Maggie.  She had attempted sleeping in a chair in Aiden’s room, which didn’t deliver.  After taking his temperature, she shuffled her way to the kitchen to make her best Christmas breakfast to celebrate the most special, the most meaningful holiday of the year.  It wasn’t long until a weak little boy awoke to the smell of buttermilk flap-jacks and French toast, crowned with cinnamon.  The boy noticed the candy cane still clinched in his hand.  He thought to himself, ‘This can be Mom’s Christmas present.’

Slowly lifting himself out of bed, he stumbled down the hallway to hang the peppermint cane on his mom’s bedroom doorknob.  Walking passed the sliding glass door to the patio, he could see the sunlight peeking through the slats of the vertical blinds, wishing he had snow and health to play in it.  Rounding the corner, he could see his mom working diligently in the kitchen with her hair a mess, along with swollen, sleepy eyes.  Maggie’s tired face brightened as she saw him standing there in his footed pajamas, with some long-awaited color in his cheeks, looking as if he had a little more energy than the day before.

“Merry Christmas, honey!” she said without hesitation.  Hugging his frame, she could feel his weight loss, “Have a seat. Breakfast is almost ready.”

He made his way to the table where a rare sight was waiting.  By a stack of pancakes, dripping in warm maple syrup, was a tall glass of freshly squeezed orange juice blended with milk.  He knew then that this was no ordinary morning.  Maggie had saved up enough to splurge on a holiday breakfast that was beyond their norm of a simple cup of oatmeal.  Aiden felt an appetite for the first time in three days, and it was good timing for them both.  After a quick prayer, which included, a “Happy birthday, Jesus”, he began to dig in.

After a bite or two, Aiden got up the courage to ask a hard question. “Mom, after breakfast can I go outside to play?  Lots of my friends will be playing with their new toys.  I feel good enough.  Really I do.”

Barely drawing a breath, Maggie almost cut him off, “Absolutely not, young man.  You won’t be playing for a few days yet.  You are not out of the woods by far.  Besides silly, the sun isn’t up yet.”   With a puzzled look on his face he charged back, “No, Mom.  I saw the sun coming through the sliding glass door.”

Puzzled, Maggie looked at her watch, put down her fork before heading to the patio door.  As she walked away, he sprinkled more cinnamon on his delectable stack.

From the other room he heard her inquisitive tone, “What in the world?  Aiden, come to the patio, quick!!!”

The boy leapt up, with strength he didn’t think he had, and hurried to the sliding glass door to find his mom pulling back the blinds.  As she did, it revealed a brightly lit patio with a string of white lights up and down the posts, lacing around the patio door frame.  His eyes followed the string of lights along every inch in disbelief, until he spotted a magically lit, gloriously decorated large Christmas tree standing in the corner of the patio.  He couldn’t catch his breath out of pure shock.  All the branches donned silver bells and blue balls that ricocheted gleaming lights, carefully arranged up and down the depth of the branches.  At the very top perched a golden star with tinsel streaming down from its tail like a frozen waterfall.

The two found themselves speechless.  Both mom and son realized their mouths were opened in awe as they spied a large Virginia smoked ham under the tree, with all the trimmings for a traditional family feast.  Next to it, a tin of old fashioned frosted sugar cookies was propped up against the large tree trunk.  But, the biggest surprise of all was something they could not have imagined.  Next to the tree, an animal crate sat with a metal plate over its door.  Etched on the plate was the name, “Sparks”.  Gazing through the mesh door was a curious look from a short-haired dog with big brown eyes.

Aiden dropped to his knees, “MOM!!  It’s  a…it’s a…uh..uh…a…”

Maggie forced herself to speak through her astonishment, “…A DOG!!!”

As the boy opened the crate, the Jack Russell Terrier-mix jumped into his arms, licking his face like flaps from a flag, as Aiden giggled uncontrollably.  The boy looked up at his mom to see a face of laughter, a face shining with joyous, youthful wonder, exuberance, and hope.

“He did come, he did!!” yelled Aiden.

Maggie responded quietly, deeply moved, “Yes, well yes.  I guess he did, indeed.”

She noticed a Christmas stocking hanging down from one of the branches.  She carefully retrieved it while asking her son to reach in for whatever it contained.  With eyebrows raised in anticipation, an enormous grin he pulled out several gift cards from food stores, clothing retailers, and a local toy outlet.  Both began laughing in a sense of bliss that had not been heard in the apartment for quite a long time.

Suddenly, the boy noticed a mysterious color along the trunk, previously covered up by the stocking.

Fixated, he asked, “Huh…What’s that?”

Maggie took a closer look.  In the glow of the festive lights, four weathered pink ribbons were nailed to the trunk, almost evenly spaced apart.

“Whaddya think that’s for, mom?” he asked.

Maggie slowly tilted her head as she stared at the hanging pink ribbons running up the tree’s trunk.

Speaking with a sense of bewilderment, “I’m not sure, honey, but I do know this, it makes this Christmas tree even more unique and magical than ever.”

*****

The Christmas dawn found Doug sitting in his lawn chair, with a mug of coffee warming his hands, looking at his treeless back yard.  There, braced against a freshly cut stump, stood a well-worn axe.

He still didn’t know what his future held.  The anxiety remained.  But, what he didn’t expect was a volley of truths flashing in his heart from outside of himself.  For the first time, he accepted the fact that his pain and depression had morphed him into a modern-day Scrooge, with a twisted complex concerning children.  It was the giving of himself that revealed this tumor growing in his heart.

He sat there in the still crisp air, with a thankful heart for the old bell-ringer’s message each morning.  Doug had found a God-given moment to do the most good where he was.

He smiled at the thought of his childhood nativity set.  He remembered placing the ceramic baby Jesus in the manger next to the one curious lamb, taking in the divine event.  For Doug, he rested in the fact of sacrifice being a choice, rendering joy to the most disturbed souls in his own backyard.  The ancient truth, that giving one’s “self” away, is what the baby in the manger would later say is the best of blessings.

With a silent nod, he smiled thinking that millions of cups of spiked egg nog, millions of angry shoppers, and millions of wrecked lives could never diminish his newly discovered mission.

                                        Sacrifice is giving up something you love

                                                for something you love more.

                                                              – Cindy Beall