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)

Are We Cutout For It?

“I see you, you see me,
Watch you blowin’ the lines…Private eyes,
They’re watching you.
They see your every move…”
(1981) “Private Eyes” Recorded By: Hall & Oates Composers: Warren Pash, Sara Allen, Janna Allen, Daryl Hall.

Just when you think the tortured memories of this year’s Super Bowl was finally beginning to ebb away, I have to drag you back. Not to Tom Brady, or the political stances taken, or even the rhetorically infused high-priced commercials, nope. I will spare you from the very forgettable items of the game itself…or maybe I should ask if there really was a game at all that day.

To be brutally honest here, there should be hats off to the NFL for being able to punch through the doubters who took a stand to say there couldn’t be a football season in a COVID laced year. You might not be aware of the fear mongers who tried to persuade the NFL from even attempting a football season with fears of contagion mastered locker rooms. The debate was real, as well as, the fear of a pre-season, or spring training in the midst of a pandemic. It’s true, some teams did see some team members infected with COVID, but they were few and far between.

The teacher’s union should take notes.

One of the sacrifices made was the lack of live spectators in the stands. “Ouch”, said the players. What performer doesn’t want a full-house to pull from? Here in Dallas, Texas, the Dallas Cowboys elected to have a smattering of fans in the stands, where as some team owners decided to have 100% empty stadiums. For viewers at home, watching the games, at least they fed us with fake crowd noise, complete with cheers and boos. At some point, the NFL commissioner allowed percentages of ticket holders with strategic seating for healthy social distancing for attending fans.

Photo by Frederico Erthal on Pexels.com

The first time I saw cardboard cutouts of fans in the stands, early in the season, I laughed out loud. Seeing cardboard cutouts of people planted in the seats looked very much like a joke from a team owner with a great sense of humor. Before the following Sunday, many stadiums were filled with people made from trees. A psychological boost, maybe? What a hoot!

Photo by Gabby K on Pexels.com

As for the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay, Florida, there was a twist of all the fiber represented. 25,000 live fans paid dearly for the few seats available to watch the Chiefs play the Buccaneers. There, alongside live spectators, were 30,000 strategically placed cardboard cutouts of fake fans with splashes of red, yellow, bronze, and white. There was one camera shot of four cheering Chief fans in masks standing, jumping, and cheering Kansas City onward as the cardboard cutout fans next to them were being pushed aside and stepped on. In the end, it didn’t help the Chiefs pull off a win. A mannequin in the seat is just a dummy of wax. Cardboard falls apart in the rain. I guess the lack of people with depth flattens a lot of expectations.

Photo by Jeric Delos Angeles on Pexels.com

Maybe the most bizarre experience seen, other than the live streaker running onto the field, were the faces on the cardboard cutout fans. The last time I checked, the NFL offered to place a picture of your face on one of the cardboard cutouts for a price of $100.00. (Frankly, I’m surprised the offer was that cheap.) Yes, for a Ben Franklin you could place your silent face on a cardboard figure overlooking the field. Forget that many have been out of a job because of COVID, living off unemployment, or was once living off unemployment. Forget about the many who are standing in food lines to feed their kids. Forget that many have have faced bankruptcy, foreclosures, repossessions, hospitalization, etc. For me, it had the odor of insensitivity. A move like that smacked of “Because we can!” thinking from the haughty high towered offices of the suits. Don’t get me wrong, I am an NFL fan. I disagree with many things the NFL chooses as they boldly tend to bend to the left in our society, but still, I’m a fan. At the same time, it leaves a stain on their reputation, like a white jersey on freshly cut blades of grass. With the politicization shown by the NFL, I may never see them in the same way again.

Shakespeare wrote it, “All the world is a stage. And all the men and women, merely players. They have their exits and their entrances…” (From the pastoral comedy, “As You Like It”) So true. I’m an old singer and actor. I learned early as a kid that it was considered bad luck to take a peek out the curtain at the house prior to the rising of the curtain. Many times, I broke protocol. Never once would I have been thrilled to see cardboard cutouts in the house seats. In fact, as a performer, I would not have put out a top-shelf effort. Why? Because we draw from one another. Is it not true? Whether good or bad, we pull out energy from each other.

If I act badly in a road rage fiasco, I guarantee the driver in focus will not be made of trees. My actions and language inside my home will be performed in front of my family…made of flesh and blood. If I do a lax job at writing this post, YOU will notice. If I stop you in the grocery store to insult you for your politically printed t-shirt, your face will change expression, unlike a picture. Why? Because you are not a painted piece of cardboard.

Biblically, a believer’s directive is to be careful that your sin finds you out. Why?

A – God, your Judge, is not a mannequin of wax.

B – Because you and I are on a stage, washed in light, and the spectators are not fiberboard cutouts.

Trees were created on a different day than you were, in fuel for the race.

“Therefore, since we also have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let’s rid ourselves of every obstacle and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let’s run with endurance the race that is set before us.” – Hebrews 12:1 (NAS)

There’s Always Tomorrow

“There’s always tomorrow,
For dreams to come true,
Tomorrow is not far away.”
(1964) From the TV production, “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer”. Composer: Johnny Marks

Our 2021 looks just like what we see in my cover photo above the title. A blank sheet, a clean slate, a fresh page. Notice the pen still has its cap over the business end.

I, for one, will be happy to kiss 2020 goodbye. What a nasty year. I mean that, too. Hard, harsh, disgusting, rude, violent, diseased, and dark. And yet, we were responsible for it all. Sure, we could blame others, and we do. But when in retrospect, the wise ones will say, “We made a terrible mess.” And we did.

My middle daughter, Megan sent me a couple of photos from her house in Buffalo, NY over the Christmas week. Here’s one for you.

My daughter, Megan’s street in Buffalo, NY.

I love a fresh snow. It’s the darkened, oily, old snow I look away from. Lots like 2020.

More than the blank sheet of paper, 2021 may resemble more like this…

My daughter, Megan’s backyard in Buffalo, NY.

Isn’t it true? Do you see it? If you don’t see it, you would be right. There’s 2021 right there in that shot. A fresh mound of virgin snow…lacking footprints.

With all of our flaws, our faults, our flubs, God has seen fit to graciously hand us a frsh new year for us to walk carefully onward. In a way, the Creator is saying, “Here you go. I’m allowing you another year, fresh and clean. Now walk in my ways and just see where your footprints lead.”

Our footprints will tell us not only where we go, where we’ve been, and just how heavy our stomping has been, but we will discover more about our ways.

God knows the beginning and the ending. He knows our A through Z. He knows our pre-historic days, and our eternal lives. Isn’t it fair to say, The Ancient Of Days is also, The Maker Of Our Days? With Him, the crooked is made straight. The gift of free-will demands that we choose how to walk in 2021.

It is up to us.

Tomorrow’s trek requires fuel for the race.

“You shall walk in all the way which the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days…” – Deuteronomy 5:33a (NAS)

Christmas Among The Ruins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you catch it?

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

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

 And as Jesus grew older He gained in both wisdom and
stature, and in favour with God and man. ” Luke 2:52 (Weymouth New Testament)
(Biblically, outside of His infancy, we only have one scene of His childhood written down for us.)
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I wonder if Jesus ever visited Job’s graveside. If so, I can imagine Jesus “standing” at the tombstone and saying something like, “Job, blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

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

Christmas was wrapped first by fuel for the race.

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

Rikki, Don’t Lose That Number

“Rikki don’t lose that number
You don’t want to call nobody else
Send it off in a letter to yourself
Rikki don’t lose that number
It’s the only one you own
You might use it if you feel better
When you get home”
– (1974) “Rikki, Don’t Lose That Number” Recorded By: Steely Dan Composers: Walter Becker and Donald Fagen

On my Facebook page I decided to have a little fun with an age old question for old rock consumers. The question was: “Did Rikki ever lose that number?” Considering the song was recorded in 1973, along with the reveal that Rikki was an old college girlfriend of Donald Fagen from Steely Dan, it could be Rikki is in her early 70’s now. If Rikki has already experienced cognitive issues, maybe Rikki no longer has knowledge of where that number may be.

Rikki Don't Lose That Number - Steely Dan.jpg
Photo: Wikipedia

While counting down the hours to Thanksgiving this year, I watched a news feature on the growth of Dementia and Alzheimer’s in our country. Because Alzheimer’s runs through the maternal side of my family, I was glued to the report. Contrary to popular belief, Dementia and Alzheimer’s are not one and the same. The “plaque” which appears in the brain seems to be the main monkey wrench in the gears of the mind. Also, there can be shrinkage of the brain matter itself. Dementia is a general term for a slip in mental abilities which gets in the way of everyday life. Dementia is NOT a disease, but considered a brain disorder. There are various kinds of Dementia, as well. Trust me, it’s complicated and a bit over my lay-person’s head. However, if one has Dementia, the symptoms can mean troubles in connecting names of loved ones, or others. One can find it more difficult to follow driving directions, communication skills and focus, the spelling of words, and losing items like…(wait for it)…phone numbers. In the days of yesteryear, it often was referred to as “senior moments.”

Not long ago I mentioned on this platform the fact that my 76 year old mom is now wrestling with a minor form of Dementia. It does appear to be a fading of figuring out how to use her cell phone, remembering names and places on the fly, and losing train of thought in conversation. It’s difficult for me in that she has always been a sharp person with an incredible skill of trouble-shooting and memory. Before spellcheck software, she was my spellcheck. Now, she’s almost given up on texting words. And yes, she’s very much aware of the cognitive decline. It is very concerning.

Photo: My mom, Carolyn Atherton-Brown

It was a bittersweet privilege to watch her be a selfless 24/7 caregiver for my grandparents. My granddad had Dementia issues, and my grandmother had full-blown Alzheimer’s Disease. There was a great deal I learned from her just observing how she handled the frustration of seeing her parents traveling downhill with this issue. The main lesson i gleaned from her was how to speak to an Alzheimer’s victim. I learned to never correct the victim when they speak inaccuracies. Gently agree, or placate on a subject. Never show anger if the victim made a mess in the kitchen, or bathroom, or soiled their clothing. It’s best to approach them as you would a toddler. (In many cases, the victim almost “youthens” in their reasoning.) Most of all, we must treat them with compassion, and deliver the highest respect, even when at wits end. Remember, your Dementia or Alzheimer’s victim once was a doctor, a pastor, a teacher, a cop, or a quality control inspector, etc. Most of all, they were once loving parents in the majority of cases.

Remember, someday, it could be you needing the comfort of a champion caregiver.

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It would be a crime to suddenly think less of a loved one, suffering from this disorder or disease, who once knew how to care and love you without compromise. Certainly there are exceptions in every relationship. It could be you were a child of an abusive parent who now needs your love and care in the dark years of cognitive failure. It would be a treasure to know Jesus spoke about you…

“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” – Jesus (Matthew 5:7) KJV

An accurate Greek translation from the original text reads like this…

“Happy are the kind – – because they shall find kindness.” – Jesus (Matthew 5:7) YLT

So, Rikki, if you did lose that number, it’s okay. Maybe you ‘sent it off in a letter to yourself’. Come on, I’ll help you find it.

I am full, due to the fact God remembers the count of the hairs on my head. I found out while topping my tank with fuel for the race.

Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.” – GOD From Isaiah 49:15 (NAS)