The Shelf

“Well, I heard some people talkin’ just the other day, and they said you were gonna put me on a shelf…” (1974) “Already Gone” Recorded By: Eagles Composers: Jack Tempchin & Robb Strandlund.

Although it’s becoming more difficult to save up for college, or trade schools, still a goal for higher education. These days, during the controversies of objections in the curriculum in our public school systems, many parents are hunting for appropriate private schools of education where dark indoctrination isn’t priority. There are many among us who soak in higher education from the streets, and hands-on experience in the real world of industry.

Recently, I have been taught well by a 10×10, non-climate controlled storage unit, on the outskirts of Greenville, Texas.

Many months ago I wrote about my mom’s dementia, forcing a drastic change in her life, and ours. She came to live with us during the final week of November last year. With the alteration of daily life, came the painstaking job of chipping away at cleaning out her old storage unit. She’s been paying monthly for it since the late 90’s. (At that time, $25 /month, now $110/month.) I have been taking the 60 mile drive off/on a few times a month to battle the forest of boxes stacked inside. Below is a picture of my progress when I got to a halfway point. When first diving into the operation, the boxes were from floor to about six feet high, with no path to walk.

When I moved back to Texas, from Buffalo, NY in Aug of 2008, I also added a small few to her cardboard mound, but only to be a temporary pitstop. Yeah, right.

Choking back the collective dust, I have been very careful to open each box, sorting my way through the contents. My mom is a hoarder. She has an issue with throwing anything away. She even saves up gently-used fast food napkins. (Sure, read that again.) You just never know when you’re going to run out, right? With that said, I plow through each and every box, wading through old hotel soap bars, combs and brushes from the 1950’s, and individually wrapped saltine crackers from various restaurants from the last few decades. In about 30% of each box I will discover simple trash…yes, garbage. Trash, in the form of fast food plastic forks and spoons, wadded up paper lunch sacks, discarded Cracker Jack prizes, etc. Trust me, I get challenged when I am sore, hot, and exhausted. I need duct tape for my mouth sometimes.

This cleaning out experience has also taught me well in other areas. If you don’t give up, keep digging through old bank statements, junk mail, and grocery store coupons from 1969, because the bottom of the box can bring forth true treasures.

I found a beautiful blue, blown-glass paperweight, baseball-size, I gave her from a high school choir tour to Colorado Springs. We visited a glass shop where I watched the artist create the glass spectacle.

I was so elated to find my granddad’s Navy pin from WWII.

(I need to clean and clip my fingernails.)

I recovered two ladies dress hats from the days of yore. To this day we do not know if they belonged to my grandmother, or great-grandmother. Either way, they are keepsakes now.

Among the gobs and gobs of photos being rescued, I found about 25 pics from a photo shoot I did for talent agencies going way back to October of 1979. I was 19 at the time.

Remember those shirts?

On the heartbreaking side, I have discovered items that maybe should’ve stayed buried in the warped vortex of boxes. I found the dog tags and collar of my beloved childhood dog, Tickey. She considered him to be another son. He was a treasure. Alone, in that 10×10 aluminum shed, I shook his tags on his collar just to hear the jingle-jangle from my mental dust. It made me smile.

Tickey in 1968.

She had stored tons of letters she had received. Many from old friends, and family, who have gone to be with God. Reading them, it gives me the sense of their spirit, as if they stuck them in the mail just yesterday. Enclosed in one of the boxes, a bundle of letters I had written to her, sharing my sorrows, disappointments and pains during harsh days in my past. In her current condition, I feel most of these would not be appropriate for consumption.

If I don’t stop here, I will go on and on concerning my storage unit adventures.

Yes, I am finding the shelf is indeed a great teacher. A true time capsule. The learning continues.

As for my stuff, I am dedicated to only saving items of family history, documents of family importance, and snapshots which tell my kids and grandkids what was truly golden to me, and to those who came before me. A storage unit can truly speak of who you are…or were. The treasures of the heart, we drag from shelf to shelf, paints a picture of our identity for others who will come after us. One box from my past, reminded me of sins I have had to deal with. Like Jesus does, I tossed it behind me, never to haunt my eyes again.

The shelf has taught me that no matter how important some item can be, it can, and will, be forgotten. Out of sight, out of mind. Some things are meant to be forgotten.

A lesson from the shelf also comes to me in the form of understanding that some “things” which may seem urgent today, may be trivial tomorrow.

The lonely dusty shelf screams out, “NOT EVERYTHING YOU DEEM NOTEWORTHY TODAY IS NOT! ALL WILL FADE, ALL WILL CORRODE!”

Yet, on the spiritual side, it’s gratifying to know, to “store” in your heart, the fact that God Himself never puts YOU on a shelf. In God’s economy, you will never find yourself “put away” in a tin box somewhere, away from His sight, away from His mind. The One Who created dust never has to brush away the settling dust off of those He loves….which includes you.

Unlock the true forgotten treasures just waiting in fuel for the race.

“…I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” John 10:28-29 (NAS)

Standing In The Gap

Recently, I have discovered a new vice in my life. Something that I have noticed in myself before, but shrugged off as a silly diversion. Of late, I have come to realize, I need to guard my time with a bit more scrutiny. While scrolling through my newsfeeds on Facebook, I have found I can get addicted to the various short video clips offered from a plethora of sources. In doing so, I discover I consume much of the clock in that hour without even looking up. What a misuse of precious time. It’s something I need to work on before I slip further down the rabbit hole of a kaleidoscope of clips just waiting to snatch me away from more important things. (Even now, I am tempted to stop here to check out the latest uploads of strange things caught on security cameras. ARG!)

However, now that I have confided in you, concerning the latest leach which sucks on my brain, not all video clips are worthless visuals for the eyes.

Last week, while moving on to the next video clip of the day, I was captured by a very touching, yet painful clip from a cat owner. His beloved cat had a litter in a cubby hole, cave-style, dug out in a sandy area on his property. A couple of the new kittens came up missing from her little makeshift den. It wasn’t difficult to guess what had happened, but he wanted proof. Being a techie, he set up a video camera pointing toward the entrance to the den of little ones. He set it up and reviewed the footage several times a day, often catching the mom’s activities live from his computer screen indoors.

One afternoon, glancing at his screen, the cat owner was shocked at what was displayed. Gazing at the screen, he witnessed his mama cat standing fiercely in the entrance of the cubby hole with teeth showing and hisses spewing out of her mouth. There, directly in front of her, with her babes behind her hidden in the sandy den, was a large snake slithering nearer and nearer to the portal of the home of the kittens. Arching her back, with a strange growl, she swiped the claws of her paw toward the nose of the reptile with every effort of reach she could safely muster in the protective stance she defiantly chose. Time was not on the mama’s side, nor the owner’s. He dropped everything and ran out toward the area of his property where the den of kittens had been prepared. With each step, he contemplated just what his course of action would be once he reached the cubby. He didn’t take note of the species of snake, or the scope of its length. Unsure of what tool he could use to fight the crafty invader, his urgency to run as fast as he could to the mama’s aid took over his mind.

Photo by Diego Madrigal on Pexels.com

As the video continued to record, I could see the snake had advanced to the point of wrapping the mama cat up in a squeezing death grip around her stomach and ribcage. She clawed and fought while her life ebbed away in the same spot where she took her last stand against the enemy of the children. The video shows the owner gripping the body of the resisting reptile where it wound itself around the cat’s torso. With both hands, the owner was able to remove the snake, although it took every ounce of arm strength he had. Simultaneously, a few of the kittens raced out of the protective cave, stampeding over their mother’s lifeless body to escape the danger as the owner continued to wrestle the powerful snake.

After a quick edit of the clip. the owner is shown holding the dead reptile from the tail, followed by the man gathering the kittens who instinctively retreated to various hiding places nearby. Of the kittens she had remaining in the cubby behind her during the fight, not one was lost.

Photo by Cristyan Bohn on Pexels.com

After another edit, the video shows the owner, lovingly and respectfully, placing his cat in a shoebox and placing it in a grave close by.

While watching the clip. I was struck by the bravery of the young mother as she faced an enemy of certain destruction. She fought tooth and nail to defend her brood she had nestled in the dug out shelter. Even as her lifeless body was in the clutch of the snake, her body length stretched out against the opening, kept the reptile from fully entering the little cavern.

Oh, how I mourn for our world, seeing so many mamas seem oblivious to the dragon at the cubby doorway.

My heart goes out to the men and women of Ukraine. So many evacuated their loved ones then stayed to battle the invading military of the serpent from Moscow. Yes, that’s how I feel.

My spirit is also reminded of why Jesus came to rescue the world from itself. If you were to go to the hill, Golgotha, in Jerusalem today, you should not see just a hill. One should say to oneself,

“Here is where the Savior of the world made a stance, a standing in the gap, to give away His life for His own.”

Now imagine with me. What if the mama cat came out of her grave three days later and returned to her babes to nurture, teach, and comfort them? That would be worth an international news conference.

The fact remains, Jesus came to take our spiritual death upon Himself knowing there was no other way to escape the deadly serpent. His resurrection was earthshattering, with enormous evidence that He is truly the Great I AM. He holds the keys to death and the grave. To mindlessly stampede over this truth is an eternal mistake.

The empty garden tomb of Jesus.

Now imagine with me, again. What if only a few kittens took their mama’s sacrifice to heart, escaping certain death, while many more of the litter thought it wise to stay in the cubby with the snake at the door? If not for their willing protective mama, their lame self-wisdom would have cost them their lives. So, the same is true today. Many only see the cross as a trinket for dangling from a rearview mirror. When in reality, the place of the cross is a doorway of safety and comfort. Jesus warned us that there is no other way. No other road. No other hope for eternity.

The beauty of Easter is first found in fuel for the race.

“I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. After a little while, the world no longer is going to see Me, but you are going to see Me; because I live, you also will live…” (Jesus) – John 14:18-19 (NAS)

Name That Car

“Well we’re riding on the freeway.
Oh lord, we can’t stop that.
Yeah we’re riding on the freeway.
Gonna love in my pink Cadillac.”
(1985) “Freeway Of Love” Recorded By: Aretha Franklin Composers: Jeffery Cohen & Narada Michael Walden

I blame my grandmother, really. From the moments of my earliest memories, I learned she named each and every vehicle they ever owned. My granddad was a mechanic for an Oldsmobile/Cadillac dealership for many decades, and took care of his vehicles as if they were his children, but he never named them. Nope, that was up to his wife. I am fairly sure it all goes back to their earlier days when they named their horses along with some of their cows, (The ones who didn’t go to the slaughter houses.)

Photo: My grandmother with her prize horse, Ginger.

Her choices were very descriptive. From what I recall, there would be a “Misty”, an “Old Blue”, and a favorite entitled, “Fancy”. Each one lived up to its name, by appearance.

Photo: My grandparents with one of their earlier cars.

So, I didn’t have a chance. I, too, named all of my vehicles. Just to name a few, there was, “Brit”, “Moose”, and “Rocket”. Unfortunately for me, when I name a vehicle, like a pet, I tend to think of them as…well…okay, I’ll admit it, like a pet. Of course, the car has no feelings toward me, or sit at my knee at dinner moaning for a nibble off of my plate. However, my vehicles were fed whenever they needed feeding by way of oil, gasoline, and whatever fluids when low.

Moose, my beloved, Isuzu Trooper, was the toughest vehicle I ever owned. Honestly, you could go to war in that thing. (In fact, some militaries from various nations have.) Moose was a die hard SUV that served my family for about 17 years with very little auto repair garage time. A terrific road life. I raised my three daughters in that vehicle. When getting out of school at the end of their day, they knew to look for Moose and his luggage rack on top. Later, we added a Toyota 4Runner as a mate in the garage. However, Moose saw a failed marriage, a remarriage, and the marriage of my oldest daughter, as well as the birth of my granddaughter. He survived a move from Dallas to Buffalo, NY, and then another move back to Dallas five years later.

Photo: Renea, my half-sister, and Moose.

What he didn’t survive was outdoor parking where the neighborhood squirrels enjoyed the taste of the plastic covering of the wires in the engine. One day, on the way to the studio for another day at work, a small fuel leak ignited against a naked wire which started an engine fire. Yes, Moose could’ve had surgery to replace the damaged wires, but the wallet, and his high mileage, said no way. You may think I’m nuts, but I shed some tears as I cleaned out Moose and said farewell, along with a little prayer of thanks for the wonderful SUV which took very good care of my family.

At the time of Moose’s curb-side memorial service, my wife and I were temporarily without transportation. In Dallas, there is a fabulous mass transit system, however, not so much in the suburbs. Plus, I just couldn’t imagine being without a vehicle. So the hunt was on.

Enter, “Sampson”, a charcoal 2008 Nissan Xterra.

Photo: Sampson enjoying a rare snowfall in Dallas.

Although he came to us at two years old, with only 23k miles under his fan belt, he was an almost perfect replacement for dear old Moose. He was sharp, quick, and his horsepower was breathtaking. I lost just a tad of cargo space, but he still had loads of hauling room. I treated him with kid gloves. Anything Sampson needed, he got. Over 12 years and 97k miles, our relationship grew into…well…okay, love. Sampson saw another daughter married away, a graduation for another, and a full-organ shutdown, and years later, a quadruple bypass. YES! I LOVED THAT SUV! My wife did too, with the exception that he rode a bit like a jeep, just a bit bumpy for her taste.

Unfortunately, over the last 5 years, I have had to spend a few thousand dollars on parts and labor for the old lad. Recently, his heater core began to slowly leak antifreeze, promising to get worse. It was going to be another $800 to replace the core. At the same time, I knew the brakes would need replacing later in the year. I made the decision to get the heater core replaced about 12 weeks ago. The dealership had to order the heater core, as Nissan no longer produces the Xterra. There was no ETA given, and frankly, I was beginning to believe the part was on a cargo ship stuck out in the Pacific waiting to be unloaded at a thinly managed shipping port. While calling each week, waiting for that part to arrive at the dealership, the calendar punished me. The inspection and registration ran out. I was faced with driving a leaking SUV around illegally, or buying a horse. With a little pressure from my better half, we made the choice to trade Sampson, and her failing VW, in for a newer model.

It was a difficult time, as I hugged the grill of Sampson on that cold February morning. I wiped his headlights as I thanked him for his service during both happy and challenging times in my life. Sampson seemed to wink in an acknowledgment. Afterwards, I quickly looked around to see if any of the neighbors saw my conversation . At least my grandmother would’ve been pleased.

Last week, we found a beautiful, 2016, Toyota Rav4 XLE. His name is, “Silver”. After 30 years of driving large SUV types, I am adjusting to a smaller one. Also, my ailing mom finds it easier to get in/out of this SUV. That needed to happen. So far, we feel we made the right choice.

It’s always been heart wrenching for me to let go of vehicles in my life. Although unhealthy to think of a machine as a living, breathing pet, I have held a sincere heart of thanksgiving to my sets of wheels. My handwriting suffers greatly when signing the back of the car title. When finishing the letter, “N” on my last name, I release the air I hold in my lungs as I pass it on to a new owner.

Have you ever felt like you were traded in for a newer model? Really, think back on your journey. Like yesterday’s rag, being tossed out of a job, a friendship, or even a marriage, the feeling of failure and loss is the same, to certain degrees.

In today’s culture, so many over 60 are no longer respected, or admired. Often times, those past their prime can be viewed as useless, or forgotten. Many don’t look forward to family reunions, or holiday gatherings, because of the unmistakable notion that they have been demoted, or put out to pasture somehow. Age and disabilities have a tendency to beat on the mind, the heart, and the spirit. Once, the mailbox, or in-box was full of Valentine cards and wishes, where now, only echoes of the past can be retrieved. Demotion is a hard thing, especially when you know you have plenty of mileage left to give.

Humanity. Always recall the biblical truth concerning humanity. It is fallen to start with. Humanity came off the assembly line in perfect condition until the first couple fell short of perfection by choice. Humans will let you down, one way or the other. If you’ve been free from this issue, just wait around awhile.

Have you compared yourself to others around you way too often? Is your “get up and go” not what it once was? Maybe, just maybe, you leak from the tank of kindness at times. Maybe you are shy a spark, or two. Have you discovered you are low on battery power in your spiritual road in life? You’ve tried to pray, but you just can’t turn over a decent sentiment that’s directly from a humble heart. As you check under the hood, have you observed a few issues on your intake, and exhaust? Could it be your self-placed air and fuel filters have allowed garbage to enter into your cylinders? Do you wonder if God Himself has given up on you?

Yet, there is One Who never will trade you in because of your personal faultiness. Over, and over again, He has stated in scripture that He will never sign the back of your title. He is the ultimate mechanic, parts-maker, and technician. He’s never going to wait on a component to arrive on a ship from Japan to bring you up to your best. He creates new hearts, new spirits, new light. God will never, ever sign you over to be sold in an auction. That is such good news.

Don’t look to your own power, but search for His fuel for the race.

…do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought for a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” I Corinthians 6:19-20 (NAS)

No Vacancy

"She can feel He's coming soon.  
There's no place, there's no room.  
A baby changes everything.    
A baby changes everything/" (2008) "A Baby Changes Everything"  Recorded By: Faith Hill  Written By: Craig Michael Wisemanm James Timothy Nichols, Kimberly Kerryann Wiseman

If you are not a regular reader of my jots, then you may not know I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s with a single mom, and as an only child.

My bio-father left our lives while I was a toddler. It was not a good marriage, In fact, the reason they got married was because he raped my 15 year old mom on a date and I was conceived. He had many problems which contributed to the divorce. Before I was three years old, the divorce served as a rescue mission from domestic violence, habitual adultery, and alcoholism. It was not only needed, but it was the end of a long nightmare for my mom.

Although my mom remarried a couple of years later (ending in a four year marriage) I grew up always wondering about my mysterious bio-father.

A poor teenage girl with a baby in the early 60’s in Texas, had no idea what counselling was, or even the availability of solid counseling in her circles. Her ripped out heart only went by her depression and emotion. Twice she tried to kill herself during pregnancy. Gathering all photos of my bio-father, cutting him out with scissors was the norm, she exhausted herself in removing the horrid memories. A pre-court deal was made by my granddad which involved an erasing of my bio-father. This meant no child support, no visitations, no contact as long as we both lived. For the first couple of years, gifts and cards would be delivered to me from his parents, but were returned to them. Keep in mind, in those days of tragedy, these were decisions in the attempt to protect me from the man and his brutality. My first name was changed to what was then my middle name. My middle and last name would be legally changed when she remarried, totally deleting the residual of how I was brought into the world.

Old faded memories from my toddler years produced little moments of scenes from when I was two, which included a tall, dark-haired, dark-eyed man with enormous hands. My bio-father wasn’t spoken of as I was growing up. My questions concerning him were quickly snuffed out, for the most part. No pictures, no stories of him, no name. It was as if I came to this planet on a spaceship and was discovered in a cornfield wearing a cosmic diaper.

By the time I was 15 or so, I learned his name, and my birth name. That just made me more curious. Promising myself I would find him after I turned 18, I began sorting out plans to do some detective work on my own without the aid of my family.

Yet, it was nerve-racking watching for him. By the time I was eleven years old, anytime I was on stage performing in a play, musical, or singing solo work, I would scan the audience to see if any man out there in those chairs resembled my vague snapshots from my toddler brain. By the time I was in 7th-8th grades I took up the martial arts. Throughout my teen years, in hopes my bio-father had secretly been scoping out my events and activities, to the point of attending incognito, enjoying my performances in Karate and kickboxing tournaments, I would again, scan the stands for any man who might be tall, dark with large hands. Because I was a singer/actor, years of performances during the 70’s were spent going to the lobby during pre-shows looking at every tall man which walked to the ticket office window. Peering out the curtains before showtime, even though it was highly frowned upon, was the norm for me. I was always hoping that somehow, some way, he would be interested enough to check out who I was becoming and what I looked like.

My high school career ended on a humid night in May of ’78. I had just turned 18. My graduating class of almost 900 kids was prepped and ready to walk across the stage in royal blue cap and gowns. The ceremony was taking place at Texas Stadium, where the Dallas Cowboys played. The stands were filled on the north side of the stadium. Too many in the throng to scan for what might have been my last hope of my bio-father caring enough about me to attend in secret. There were dreams of a surprise introduction.

As it turned out, he never tried throughout my school years. Not once.

Saturdays were very busy days at the Florsheim shoe store where I worked in the Valley View Mall in Dallas. It was my first job right out of high school, while auditioning for various singing and acting gigs. You learn much doing work like that, especially when the goal is to understand how people think. But nothing could compare to the one Saturday in November of ’79, when a kind, and apprehensive elderly couple sheepishly walked up to me in the shoe store and introduced themselves as my grandparents. Talk about being in a daze. I was indeed. As it turned out, an aunt from that side of the family did some detective work to locate me.

They invited me to a dinner. I accepted. Entering into their family room at their house, I found old babyhood pictures of me I had never seen before on their wall, almost like a memorial wall. Honestly, I fought back tears through my shock. The second, or third dinner delivered a question from their side of the table. I was asked if I wanted to meet my bio-father…in person, face to face. Without hesitation, I said yes. He drove over to their house to meet me the same night. 6′-5″ tall, dark eyes, dark hair, olive skin tones, and large hands, just exactly as I had held him in my mind. Still…my mom and her folks were not pleased to say the very least.

Suddenly, there he was, in the flesh. I learned what his voice sounded like. Being an actor, I studied his mannerisms, his speech patterns and accent, his gate as he made his way across the room. Tirelessly, I hunted for anything which identified him as my DNA match. No longer did I have to wonder, dream, or scan an audience. He was there. No longer was he so mysterious, vague, or indescribable. No longer was he over there somewhere.

At Passover, in every Seder dinner, the ancient traditional elements are carefully place on the table. There is so much to be done to prep for such a holiday, including all the texts which are read and lyrics to be song. Like Christmas, or Easter, the feast is for the entire family, and extended family when available. The table can be set for 2 people, 12 people, or 50 people. Of course, the more the merrier. There is one curious tradition which every Jewish family recognizes. The empty chair with a place setting. This is a tradition which reminds those in attendance of “The One To Come”.

Elijah, the Old Testament prophet, was the name they chose long ago to represent the Promised One, the Messiah. To this day, many believe Messiah will be Elijah himself.

Since the days of Genesis, for the Jewish people, God was far to reach. He was over there, over the mountain, over the river, high up on the mountain, etc. Yes, He attended to them in times of trouble, but always having to come from up there, from over there, from the other realms. Although God told them His Spirit would be with the nation, many forgot or disbelieved. Even in their ancient temple, it was believed God resided behind a large, thick drape where the Ark of The Covenant was placed. No one was to enter behind the veil, or death would swiftly come. The ancient scrolls informed them that He can not be seen by the human eye. Only once a year, only the high priest could enter through the drape to perform his sacred duties, but even he had a rope tied to his ankle which had bells on it, just in case he himself fell dead due to seeing God with naked eyes. The other end of the rope rested outside so his body could be recovered. Yet, on Passover, they are always prepared to welcome Elijah, a Messiah-type, to suddenly come to their Seder table. Why? Because Messiah was the Promised One, Who is to come from God’s throne. He is to come in the flesh and fellowship as a member of the clan. So, the chair is empty for those who are still scanning humanity for Messiah.

Christmas cards and songs reflect a great truth about a name given to describe Messiah. It wouldn’t be His personal name like, Fred, or Jim. But rather, a description of an attribute with great and powerful meaning. We first knew about this in an old Hebrew prophecy.

” Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)

Prior to a teenage virgin who would give birth to a son, she was told by an angelic visitor the child would be called, by people who would know Him, “Immanuel”. (Matthew 1:22-23) The writer, Matthew, went further by interpreting the old Hebrew name for us when he included, “(which means, ‘God With Us'”) Since Hebrew is written and read from right to left, literally it can read, “With Us Is God”.

King David was correct in Psalm 139. He mentioned the ever present God in his personal ever changing, ever altering life. Wherever David was to go, wherever his destination, he knew God was there. However, He starts out with the words, “Where can I go to escape your spirit…?” No “Immanuel” in David’s life…in the real physical sense. David understood from scripture, and by life’s experiences, God was spirit. He looked forward to a Christmas, which never came in his day.

WITH us IS God” A Baby changes everything.

Because Messiah came to dinner, the chair is filled, no vacancy anymore. No room for any other god, nor demonic spirit, no room for a lucky charm. He FILLS!

Immanuel brought the world its first Christmas. Because of Immanuel, no need to scan for a higher power sold at truck stops, or spirit mediums. Because of Immanuel, there’s no more need to wonder if God cares. Because of Immanuel, hope rises, hearts are lifted, and lives are rebooted, washed and set to glow in darkened times. A baby changes everything.

No more searching to see if God shows up, to see if He cares about you on a personal level. Jesus came to make sure you understood you are not left as an orphan in your Father’s eyes. For 33 years, He was here to overwhelmingly prove it.

Ironically, He would turn the tables on us a bit. He mentioned to concerned followers, when He did leave, He would have a place built and ready for each one of us who trusts in Him, so that He could be with us after this life is over. So, I imagine, He has an empty chair and place setting readied with your name on it,,,if you belong to Him through faith.

Find Christmas renewed in fuel for the race.

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” – Revelation 3:20 (NIV)

Losing Faith?

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

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

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

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

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

The two of us in 1962.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In recovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Words That Stick

“…You might not see him in person,
But he’ll see you just the same.
Yeah, yeah,
You don’t have to worry ’cause takin’ care of business is his name.”
(1973) “Jesus Just Left Chicago” – Recorded By: ZZ Top Composers: Frank Beard, Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill

Oh, the irony of that last verse from ZZ Top.

So, who is God? Really? If He is to be found, then where is He?

Rarely do I write about an artist twice in a row, but this week turned out to be different.

If not familiar with ZZ Top, it’s not important to the thrust of this post. If you know ZZ Top, but you’re not into their style of music, again, keep reading.

ZZ Top has been together for more than 52 years. Around 1969, some Texas boys put together a three-piece band, which became a giant source of sound, with a southern rock twist. ZZ Top became one of the biggest selling names in the rock arena. If you hear them play, you might think you are hearing a five member band. Artistically, they are phenomenal. Billy, Dusty, and Frank created a powerhouse of music mixes which stamped their brand nicely all through the 1970’s and onward. Their concert tours continue even now.

Photo: Wikipedia – ZZ Top, Dusty Hill, Billy Gibbons, Frank Beard

This past week, Dusty Hill, the iconic bass player from ZZ Top, passed away while sleeping in his home in Houston. He was 72 years old.

Dusty was considered far and wide as being one of the greatest bass players ever to pluck the strings. He also held down the back-up vocals, keyboards (when needed), and the cello. In fact, he began playing the classical cello as a youngster. Seeing Dusty at a truck stop, in his cowboy hat, jeans, and boots, complete with his famous chest-length beard, you wouldn’t assume he was an accomplished tower of a musician, or that his net worth was just north of 60 million dollars. He was a master musician and stage performer.

Photo: Wikipedia – Dusty Hill

During my high school days in the 1970’s, I knew about 70% of their music by heart. My friend, and guitar player for my band, was great at picking ZZ Top songs on his guitar by ear. So, I was a bit heartbroken this week when the news came across that Dusty had quietly left us. Somehow, our rock heroes aren’t supposed to leave this life, or ever get old for that matter. At least that’s in the back of our minds.

Dusty had a few health issues he contended with over the years. He was not a stranger to injuries, most of which occurred while on the road with ZZ Top. After a fall, with a much needed hip replacement, Dusty was advised to sit on a stool during stage performances, but his pride wouldn’t allow it. A few years back Dusty’s trusted Derringer fell out of his boot, accidentally went off and left him with a bullet in the belly. He had the wherewithal at the time to drive himself to the hospital before he went into shock. It’s a good thing he did, too. He made a full recovery.

Sometimes words are spoken and forgotten. Often times, words can be iconic, sticking to the minds of the hearers, and label of the persona who delivered the words.

Once Dusty was asked about what he thought about God, being one of the composers of “Jesus Just Left Chicago”. His answer was stark, and maybe not unusual by today’s cultural standards.

“I believe in God. I just don’t know what, or who God actually is.” – Dusty Hill

Dusty’s answer seems to fit the mindset of many. When faced with the question, if someone laughs it off, then it usually means they fear the answer to the question. The nervous laughter is a self-protective distraction. After all, there is the theory that whatever you actually speak out-loud, you believe deep down. Dusty’s honest answer usually comes from someone who has considered the answer prior to being asked. In many cases, when those words are spoken, the person drowns the heart’s desire “to know” with the stuff of life. Some common tools would be, business, career, family time, substance abuse, talents, or entertainment. Others, may follow-up on their admitted loss “of knowing” the answer, and seriously seek God out. Jesus did say, “Knock and the door shall be opened to you.” -(Matthew 7:7).

Scripture is stuffed with passages speaking of this vital Q&A beyond the cosmos we are all faced with. From the beginning of biblical time, God Himself invites us to come and discover Him, to seek Him out while He may be found. One of my favorites is when God invites us to come to Him with, not just questions about Him, but actual debate, when He said in Isaiah 1:18…

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”

Contrary to some schools of thought, God seeks us out. In reality, we run from the subject matter. Why? Because it’s easier to simply believe we captain our own ships, ships that sail into the afterlife. In a sense, humans are control freaks. We want to be the ones who lay in a bed in our home and say to ourselves, “Well, my body is ebbing away, but my spirit is strong enough to take it from here.”

To this, I would ask, if you can’t control your own thought-life today, this hour, or this very moment, what makes you think you can project your own spirit/soul? Seriously, ask that of yourself. Consider, the afterlife, and what is prepared for you, doesn’t belong to you. You don’t own it, like one owns a car.

Photo by Mark Vegera on Pexels.com

The most prominent self-taught statement on a deathbed is: “Sure, I have sinned, but who doesn’t? I’m a pretty good guy/gal, for the most part. That should speak well of myself at Peter’s gate…if there is one.”

As for Dusty’s “who” and “what”, Jesus addressed this several times so there would be no misunderstandings.

“Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ Jesus says to him, ‘Am I with you so long a time, and you have not known Me, Philip? The one having seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own, but the Father, as He remains in Me, does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves.'” -John 14:10-11 (NAS)

For those who believe, these words of Jesus stick. As for Dusty’s words, he actually answered his own question in the last verse of his song from 1972.

Although you may think you are unknown to God, you’ll see anew in fuel for the race.

“And Jesus was silent. And the chief priest answering said to Him, ‘I adjure You, by the living God, that You may say to us if You are the Christ—the Son of God.’ Jesus says to him, ‘You have said; nevertheless I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of Heaven.’” – Matthew 26:63-64 (Literal Standard Version)

A Major Fault

“I feel the earth move under my feet.
I feel the sky tumbling down, a-tumbling down…”
(1971) “I Feel The Earth Move” – Recorded & Composed By: Carole King

“Of all the luck in the world…”, as my late grandmother always used to say.

Back in 2015, I was bored one summer afternoon, and decided to get out of my north Dallas house. It had been such a long time since I had taken in a movie at the local cinema. One of my weaknesses comes in the form of disaster/action films. However, not just any disaster/action production, but a really good one, without all the comic strip characters. Dwayne Johnson had a brand new flick out about THE earthquake, which many still call, “The Big One”. The movie was, “San Andreas”.

Getting out of the car in the parking lot, the air was heavy, hot, and still. I thanked the Lord for air conditioning as I briskly walked toward the ticket window. To sit in a dark theater, with a bag of buttered popcorn, along with an ice cold cola, waiting to feel the big speakers pump out chair-rattling sound was exactly what the doctor ordered.

“San Andreas” – Warner Bros Distribution

No worries, I will not give any spoilers here.

Deep into the film, maybe 20 minutes before the ending, Dwayne Johnson’s character was frantically doing all he could to find and rescue his daughter from a collapsing high rise building after the major quake. He finds she is trapped on a floor of a sinking multi-story structure partially submerged under water. Us movie-goers were on the edge of our seats as she was swimming under water unable to escape, trapped by a glass wall. (It was difficult to hear over the loud sound system, but I could hear thunder and heavy rain outside the theater, which just added to the drama of the script.) Johnson’s character dives down to the area to retrieve her from a watery demise, only to find himself on the other side of the glass wall, which was almost totally submerged with water, as well. There they were, daddy and daughter, both holding their breath while treading water as they make underwater attempts to break through the glass wall to no avail. With major trimmers from the earthquake, which put them in this precarious place of danger, they placed their hands together with the glass between them, looking at the fear in one another’s eyes with a look of, “What if we give up?”, when suddenly…the power goes out in the theater. One audience member actually shouted, “NO!” I kid you not!

After a few silent minutes, with the exception of popcorn crunching, an usher came in to announce that they were trying to get the power back on. Our instructions were to sit tight as only the emergency lights in the multiplex were working. And that we did. Maybe 25 minutes went by. Another announcement was given saying that a bad storm had zapped all the power in the shopping mall (the theater is inside a mall) and they had received an “all-clear” to exit the building. I thought to myself, “An all-clear? What does that tell us?” As we all left the darkened cinema, theater management graciously offered rain check tickets to be redeemed at any time. As I walked outside, it was very clear just what had occurred while shaking, rattling, and rolling with Dwayne Johnson.

A friend of mine took this shot of the tornado from her car.

As it turned out, a tornado went right over the mall during the movie. The sky still had a greenish/yellow cast to it, with debris all over the parking lot. There was some evidence of hail, but my vehicle didn’t have any major damage.

Although protected by the storm, I still wrestled with the fact I never saw the resolve of the fix the character and his daughter was in, not to mention the outcome of the entire film. Did they give up and die looking at each other through the glass? Did he watch her die, and in sorrow swam back up to the surface? How would he explain it to his estranged wife, her mother? Did he have a firearm to shoot out the glass wall for rescue, or would the weight of the water quench ballistic attempts? Was there another aftershock which broke the glass wall, allowing a quick escape? Did he and his estranged wife reconcile afterwards? Drama, drama, drama.

Photo by Polina Kovaleva on Pexels.com

Although I had a free ticket, life got in the way of a quick revisit to the theater. In fact, I didn’t much want to have to watch the whole first 80 minutes of the production to get to the underwater scene. So, by the time I could get back to the theater, the film had moved on to world of cable, streaming, and DVD. I was left to hold my breath until I could catch it someday, and hope all the while, nobody would spoil it for me.

How long did I wait? Almost 2 years later, I had the opportunity to stream the movie. I made myself a date to sit, with remote in hand, and fast forward to the literal cliff-hanging scene I had been deprived of.

How often I have been where Dwyane Johnson was, under water, desperately trying for a rescue, an escape, in a place where hopelessness sets in. Pain weaves in the dreams at night concerning how to get out, or what might be the key to release, or asking the question, what will tomorrow bring. Like Dorothy, caught up in a vortex, the waiting place is nothing short of haunting. Have you been there, wondering how life, or a scene in life, will play out? For you, it might have only been a 2 minute wait. For others, maybe it was a 2 year wait. For many, the ending to an issue remains hanging on the reels in life’s projection room.

Photo by Pietro Jeng on Pexels.com

When I say I am a, “person of faith”, I may be fudging on the truth of it. Yes, I am a Christian. Yes, I believe in God, and His son, Jesus. Yes, I have trust in the theology of scripture. So, in that sense I am telling the truth. I am a, “person of faith”. Still, I have a major fault line. My tectonic plates shift in life sometimes, often revealing the weaknesses of a faulty faith. Much like Simon Peter, distracted by the wind and the waves of Galilee, it’s easier to sink below the surface than to walk upon the water, even when Jesus is right there making Himself known. Testings can truly smack like a side kick in the UFC.

Unknowns are out there which can be highly disturbing, disrupting, and derailing. My nature is to FIX IT. I want to overcome the impossibles in life on my own internal engine power. No doubt, you feel the same. However, just when you are in the middle of an impossible situation, paradigms suddenly shift and sometimes waiting is required. Many who feel they control everything around them, along with, whatever comes their way, are scheduled for a wake up call from reality. Others fear the future so much, they hide in the cave of inwardness, jumping at each and every shadow.

As a “person of faith”, I must review where I stand in the treading of life’s waters. If I choose to live by faith, and not on my outward circumstances, then I will be brought to hard glass walls for testing. During those spiritual examinations, I have the opportunity to rest, not scramble like egg on skillet. In a faith-driven life, the writer of my script is God, The Great I Am. It’s acknowledging His power in my life, power I do not muster on my own fortitude.

One of the titles of God which eases me is, “Alpha And Omega”. He is A-Z and every letter in between. Scripture states that He calls Himself, “The Beginning And The Ending”. Peace comes when understanding He knows my ending, and was there in my beginning. In all scenes of my life, rather in unrest, or rest, I cannot beat that title. If I ignore such a truth, my weight is on my fault lines just waiting for the plates to shift.

A true test can be conquered where the answers are found in fuel for the race.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Isaiah 43;1b (EVS)

Roads Chosen

“Somewhere out on that horizon,
Out beyond the neon lights,
I know there must be somethin’ better.
But there’s nowhere else in sight…”
(1979) “In The City”, Recorded By: Eagles Composers: Joseph Fidler Walsh, Barry R. De Vorzon

Last week, my wife and I decided we would go out to dinner on a whim. We chose a certain national chain restaurant, common to most medium to large American cities. It was about 6:30pm when we found ourselves alone, waiting for someone to seat us there in the small waiting area. About 3-4 minutes went by without anyone approaching us. The dining area was empty with the exception of one couple eating at a table, and the bar area had 3-4 people on bar stools. Finally, an employee, dressed as if from the waitstaff, or kitchen staff, walked up to us.

He said, “It will be about a 20 minute wait.” We looked around again to find we were the only ones waiting for a table, and 99% of the dining area was empty. My wife asked, “You mean, you can’t seat us with all those empty tables and booths?” (You go get ’em, honey.) That’s when he said the most unheard of thing, “We don’t have a hostess here to seat you. For now, I can offer you the bar, or you can wait here in the lobby.” Guess how we answered in response. “Uh, no thanks.” We scratched our heads as we drove 10 minutes up the road to their competitors for dinner. As time went by, we thought the true story might be a lacking of kitchen staff, or waitstaff.

As I posted our experience on Facebook, many of my friends replied with similar situations. Most felt it was a sign of too many stimulus checks, and unemployment checks left over from the pandemic shutdown. Way too many are depositing more funds than the salaries from their last place of occupation. No wonder so many establishments have “Now Hiring” signs up.

This circumstance we find ourselves in would be very foreign to these students…

Photo: Traces of Texas. Dallas Telegraph College – Class of 1904.

Meet the class of 1904 from the Dallas telegraph College. Nobody looks real happy. If it was 98 degrees out, with those suits and ties, I can see why. My eyes were quickly caught up to the third row where a single woman proudly stands among the men of graduates. In those times, she was an oddity. I wish I knew her story. I am sure she was a bold, “grab the bull by the horns” lady.

Think back on those times. These were lads, and lady, from all walks of life, many from the country. No doubt some were from sharecroppers, ranch families, or hired ranch hands. Others might have been orphaned, just taking the opportunities for a work and trade. A selected few may have gone to telegraph school and worked at the hotel down the street as a bellhop at night. The female in this photo may have been a runaway. Much like my great-grandmother, Roberta Martin, from my granddad’s side of the family, who went to college in disobedience to her father’s demands. Her three sisters stayed at home where their father had told them it was their “place” in life, but not my great-grandmother. Roberta boldly left for college.

One thing is for certain, each and every one of these students of telegraph had to interrupt life as they knew it to reach a higher goal. Each individual had to drop the plow, hang up the spurs, or bought a train ticket to Dallas from out of state to enroll in the Dallas Telegraph College. The grads in the old photo didn’t believe in being spoon-fed. Instead, they all made hard choices.

Photo by Christian Heitz on Pexels.com

At some point, like all of us, each student came to a fork in the winding road, not a spoon. Am I right?

“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Excerpt from: “The Road Not Taken” – Robert Frost

I have always loved Robert Frost’s work, especially, “The Road Not Taken”. It speaks and serves so well.

Jesus said something similar, although clearly an eternal view, but the principle is the same.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is narrow and the way is constricted that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” -Jesus (Matthew 7;13-14 NAS)

Someone might have said to a boy looking at his fork in the road, “Stay on the farm, lad. Every man in the county got his own pigpen by staying on the farm.” Some desk manager possibly could have told a young bellboy, “Hey, someday you might be a night desk clerk at this hotel. Stick with the baggage, boy.” Our lady grad might have heard the words, “No daughter of mine ain’t goin’ go to that there college with all them boys! Why, who ever heard of such a thang? You best stay here and help your mother with house chores. After all, that’s what a man looks for in a woman.”

With that said, the roads mentioned above were more traveled, and wide, too. They were considered less risky. As you can see, the class of 1904 wasn’t a student body of 850. No, it was a more narrow path to work for that diploma. I am sure most said it was worth it… until a few short years later when this happened….

Photo by Eneida Nieves on Pexels.com

In 1914, there were about 10 people for every working telephone in America. After WWI, the number of available telephones for the public began to multiply. Suddenly, telegraph operators were out looking for other employment. No doubt, many of our 1904 grads were in that number. Technology moves onward, no matter what we want, or what we’ve trained for.

Have you been there before? Did you ever feel like you were put out to pasture? A nurse from 50 years ago would have to go back to nursing school today. Telephone operators from the 1990’s found themselves out of work due to the internet and telecommunications technology. The communicator from the Star Trek series on Captain Kirk’s belt is now in every pocket in America. Not a whole lot of phone booths are left.

We plan our course. We draw up our five-year plans. We obtain mortgages based on those plans. We choose our majors and minors. Still, most grads don’t stick with the degrees they earned. Things change. Times develop. Our forks continue to face us. Pandemics come, we get sidelined. Washington throws money at us while we wait. Things open back up, and many are faced with the road of being spoon-fed, or earning their true worth. At the same time, many will forget the plans God has for each footstep. So many of us refuse to ask Him to show the road not taken.

Although it has nothing to do with career, or income, I am facing a new fork in the road currently. It will change our lives drastically. I didn’t ask for this fork. I didn’t exactly know when the fork would arrive. Yet, it’s here. I am faced with heavy choices. Dare I say, I am forced to make a choice? Yes, in honesty, I am.

Somewhere, there’s a hostess from a local restaurant trying to make a clear, worthy choice. Hopefully, she’s not standing in a line at the Dallas Telegraph College.

No need to ask Siri. When choosing the right road, find directions in fuel for the race.

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” – Proverbs 16:9 (NIV)

A Great Fall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Niagara Falls, Horseshoe Falls.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Someone once wrote:

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

The fall is a long way down.

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

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

Plates A-Spinnin’

“You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog,
Cryin’ all the time.
You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog,
Cryin’ all the time.
Well, you ain’t never caught a rabbit,
and you ain’t no friend of mine.”
(1956) “Hound Dog” Recorded By: Elvis Presley Composers: Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller (Originally Recorded By: Big Mama Thorton in 1952.)

What’s not to love about a hound?

Photo by cheptu00e9 cormani on Pexels.com

Well, maybe a little less drool, and a pair of shorts would be nice. But for a country raised kid, who loves raccoon or rabbit hunting, you just can’t get any better than the amazingly instinctive radar nose of a good hound dog.

It happened around 1905, Young County, Texas. William “WR” Brown, my Grandpa Brown (From my dad’s side.) was a hunting lad with a rifle and a couple of excellent hunting hounds. Later in life, he also had champion wolf hunting hounds. If you’ve ever read the book, or saw the movie, “Where The Red Fern Grows”, then you already have the picture of kids living out in the boonies, raising pups for wild game hunting. Dinner on their mother’s table depended on it. (Sorry PETA, that’s how it was…is.) It’s difficult for me to imagine him as a young teenager. This is how I knew my Grandpa Brown during the 60’s and 70’s…

Before I move on, I must explain a bit of what life was like in west Texas in those times. My family was a pioneering clan which aided in establishing the county, about 2.5 driving hours west of Dallas, Texas. I have written about my Grandma Brown’s father who rode a mule from Georgia right after the Civil war settling in Young County, Texas. My Grandpa Brown’s folks moved to the same area not long after. Life was rugged. You lived off the land, or you starved. You carried a firearm wherever you went as the land was not tame on several levels.

A view from our family homestead in Young County, Texas close to the Brazos River.

They lived along the red waters of the Brazos River. In those days, a hunter had to watch his back at all times. They shared the land with bears, wolves, cougars, panthers, rattlesnakes, razorback wild hogs, etc. A boy grew up by his father’s side when roughing it through the brush hunting for the next meal. By the time a kid was 12 years old or so, he went out solo with a rifle strapped to his back. Often it would be an overnight hunt, especially when it came to chasing down raccoons. I remember well my one and only time raccoon hunting overnight with my cousins. Watching the hounds tree a raccoon was like watching a choreographer at work. It was such a learning experience.

At the age of 15, or so, my Grandpa Brown and a friend, gathered their hounds for an overnight raccoon and possum hunt starting along the banks of the Brazos on foot. The night would prove to be frustrating as the critters outsmarted the hounds a few times. The boys were trained to be persistent, never letting the word “quit” come up in their minds. Following the sounds of their barking hounds, they ate-up the clock and the miles deep into the west Texas wilderness. In fact, youth’s enthusiasm drove their steps much further than they had anticipated. To this day, the family still can’t say how far they traveled through the relentless terrain. Some estimate they must have crossed county lines, but no one can be sure.

The miles were unforgiving through the mounting hours. Calling back the hounds in a state of total irritation, the two boys realized they had gone way beyond their intentions while chasing the ever eluding varmints. Exhausted, the boys huddled with the dogs, made a campfire, and nodded on and off in the pre-dawn hours.

Just before sunrise, the two hungry hunters put their heads together to calculate how long it would take to get back to the Brazos. With a quick step, they retraced their journey among the cactus and mesquite trees.

After dawn, they caught the rich aroma of smoked venison floating through the dewy brush. Being so tired and hungry, they let the hounds guide them to the area where the meat was being prepared. Without a traveled road anywhere nearby, they came upon an old one-room shack with prairie hens pecking the ground. They could see the glow of an oil lamp through a window near the front door. Unaware of who lived there, sheer faith and boldness kicked-in as the boys decided to approach in hopes of a bite to eat. Knowing the times of that day, along with the pioneering spirit of new Texans putting down roots, I imagine the place looked something like this…

An actual photo of a home built by one of my relatives sometime in the 1880’s.

The rickety plank door opened as they approached. An old ragged man, holding a rifle, greeted the two teens and their dogs. He asked who they were. As the duo told him their names, along with their failed adventure, the old man sized them up, realizing their obvious circumstance, and generously invited them in. He told them he was just rustling up some breakfast with plenty to spare. Putting my imagination together, I can say he probably looked much like my relatives in that time, like the two gentlemen from family records show…minus the Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes.

An actual photo of two of my Timmons clan from Young County. Unsure of the date of this shot.

The old man invited the hounds to enter as the boys hit a fine wall of cooking eggs and smoked venison. Inside, by the roaring fire, sat his two hunting hounds eagerly waiting for a plate of food. The small cabin was dusty, with a scent of musk competing with the pan on the iron-cast stove.

As the old man directed, the boys took a seat on a wooden bench at a table near the fireplace. As he asked them about where they were from, as well as, information about their folks, he added a few more eggs to a pan after pouring some hot coffee into a tin cup they were to share. It was clear that the old man and his two hounds lived alone with nothing but sage as a neighbor. As the food was about done, the old timer reached up to an opened shelf where he grabbed three tin plates.

The trio had a fine time sharing stories of the country, hunting and fishing spots, and the wildlife. The cabin was warm, the food was hot, and the bellies were filled.

When the plates were emptied, and the conversation began to slow, the teens wiped their hands on their pants, mentioned how terrific the food was, adding how they needed to get back to retracing their original trek. The old man nodded his head stating he sure enjoyed the unexpected company. He admitted, “Ya know, I never see a soul in these parts. Not hide, nor hair.” Just then, the old man picked up the tin plates, and the iron pan off the stove, and placed them on the creaking floor right by the table leg. Stating as a matter of fact, with a slight chuckle, “Come on hounds, have at it! They always lick the pans and plates.” As if waiting for a cue, the old timer’s hounds raced toward the pan and plates, mouths first. As the tongue-lashing began, the plates started to spin with the force of eager tongues, until the dogs instinctively put their paws on the plates to stop the circular motion. The teens laughed as they watched the licking fracas at hand, partially from the sight of it, but also because back home their mothers would’ve never allowed it. As every drop and morsel had been lapped-up, the aged hermit picked up the pan, along with the plates, and placed them back on the shelf where he retrieved them. My Grandpa Brown and his hunting buddy, never went back there again.

True story.

Are you appalled? Of course, we must put ourselves in the position of this old hermit. No doubt, this man’s habits were out of the norm, but not from his perspective. Obviously, for years, maybe decades, he allowed his dogs to clean his plate and pan. After all, a hounds tongue is long and wide, covering a lot of surface in very little time. For him, it sure saved him a lot of well water. From his viewpoint, those plates ended up looking very spotless. And I’m sure they were after the hounds had their way with it all. However, for my grandpa and his pal, they saw the opposite. They saw hunting hounds, who fetched animals in their mouths, dead or alive. These are the same country hounds who would looked forward to finding a leftover stiff carcass in the woods just for the satisfaction of something to chew on. Yes, as cute as they are, they’re the same animals who clean themselves, every part of themselves, with their tongues. Certainly, these canine tongues should not be a poor man’s dish washing machine.

How hungry are you now?

I align it to taking a black felt-tip pen and finely dotting a white poster from corner to corner. Tape it to a wall in a dark room. Go to the other end of the room, hold a flashlight, turning it on with the bulb facing away from the poster. What do you see? In the darker part of the room, you see, through the ambient glow, a blank white poster on the wall. Even taking a step or two closer to the poster, you still can observe a white poster. Yet, if you shine the flashlight on the poster, you suddenly see the speckles you made with your pen. If you dare to bring the flashlight closer, the dots become very present to the eye. What appears to be a clean white poster, is indeed flawed with black dots.

Al Capone, the notorious gangster, murderer, and bootlegger, would perform an action of goodness right after finishing up a most hideous crime. He gave mega funds, over and above to the Catholic Church. He gave away free gifts to the poor. He began soup kitchens for the homeless. Some say it was for laundering money. Yet, all of that was good, but the hound drool was all over it.

Too often, in our measly efforts, the norm to remedy sin’s guilt and shame, we work something we, and others, would see as a good deed. You might say, some see it as an attempt to build a tower to climb the levels of eternal self-insurance. In doing so, it cleans our dirty plate, or so it would seem from our fallen perspective. King David wrote something astonishing. Those who read it were dismayed. Frankly, it is still baffling to most. He wrote, “…There is no one good. Not even one…” (Psalm 53:3 – my translation) He wasn’t saying people don’t do good things, or people neglect displaying explosions of loveliness. Instead, he was showing us the misnomer of a sparkling tin plate, licked by one of the filthiest tongues created. He was pointing out that what we consider good can never rise to God’s holiness, His spotlessness, His sinlessness, His standard.

We see it all the time, even in high places. We now call evil “good”, and good is now “evil”.

I am sure the old hermit died in that shack, believing with all his heart that his plate was cleansed every night. However, two teenagers knew the truth of it.

To leave this earth spotless can only happen with a free offer of washing in fuel for the race.

“All of us have become like something unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a polluted garment; all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities carry us away like the wind.” Isaiah 64:6 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)