When Mom Fades

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

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

Mom 1962 Grandmother's Kitchen

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

Mom & Me Granddad's Coin Box

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mom salon

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

The Essentials

Cover Photo:  Pexels

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

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

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

Lake Texoma Map Pinterest

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

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

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

Brooms etc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me and Tommy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Journey On Highway COVID-19

Cover Photo: t0.gstatic.com

“Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free.
Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me…”  (1968)  “The Weight”  Recorded By:  The Band.  Composer:  Robbie Robertson

The Anvil

By:  Alan Scott Brown

There’s nothing like heat in the desert rising off a paved road.  They’ll say, “Oh, but it’s a dry heat.”  Just tell that to the sweltering backpacker, Levon “Fanny” Gates.  He shockingly found himself in the middle of a wilderness, on the road to a place called, Nazareth, just on the other side of the state line.  I say, “shockingly” because before his boots felt the searing concrete of this wasteland, he had been dreaming of the village with its rolling hills, orchards, and well-established vineyards.  His freshly cut front lawn was the launching point for a pleasurable outdoor hike through the pines, the cool brooks, and lavish meadows.

As if he had awakened from a dream of the plush land of plenty, he now absorbs the dangerous sunrays, feeling every drop of sweat rolling down his torso.  His canvas hat certainly covered his head, but the scorching heat invaded his scalp as if he wasn’t wearing anything at all.  Even his denim backpack was soaked in sweat.  If it wasn’t 112 degrees Fahrenheit, it would be soon, when the afternoon sun comes piercing through.

gray concrete road
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

Not much vegetation thrives out here, with the exception of sage, cactus, and the occasional Yucca plant.  Refreshing rains are welcomed, but scarce and quick.  Fanny prayed for, what they called back home, a “gully-washer.”

With each step, he seriously worried about the soles of his old hiking boots.  The baking surface of the road is far from friendly, and he felt the waves all the way up to his sunburned face.  At first, he wrestled with the thought of his soles melting in the staggering temperature.  Then, as he caught up with his fast-forward mind, he envisioned a potential hole in the rubber sole.  None of the options were comforting to imagine in this desolate landscape.

Prior to walking into this wilderness, he knew how many miles he had traveled, but now all had changed.  His harsh surroundings overwhelmed his calculations, thrusting him into a mystery without a map.  A solitary roadside sign mentioned a couple of towns being 200 miles ahead, but they were unfamiliar to him.  The miles seemed unending, without a mile marker.  Disorientation was setting in as a menacing reality.

Rather than stopping for rest, he made the decision to push himself forward in hopes the next curve, the next hill, or the next valley in the road, would reveal a much needed oasis.  Hooked to his belt, he had one full canteen of water, which needed to last longer than anticipated.  Fanny was self-rationing his meager provisions with intent.

“I can do this,” he whispered with uneasiness.

landscape photography of rock formation near highway
Photo by Quintin Gellar on Pexels.com

Keeping his eyes on the road ahead seemed to help him psychologically.  Yet, wild stallions in search for water, a lone service station, or another traveler with a tent would be a sight for soar eyes.  But each time he glanced to the left or the right, it proved to be discouraging.  In fact, most of the view reminded Fanny of NASA’s photos of the surface of Mars.

The feeling of abandonment was authentic, bleeding from his inspirational thought bubbles of solitude.  He tried to be hopeful by telling himself Nazareth must be within 3 miles, 5 miles, or maybe 10 miles.  The attempt to distract himself from the tide of broiling air failed at every turn of the road.  Before the desert sun could bake his mind completely, he scanned through multiple thoughts, thoughts which could fill a library, only to fool himself with wisps of self-constructed hope.

While pushing his legs to walk an incline in the road, he noticed something he had felt once before on this journey.  A pain, a specific pain in his back.  Of all the body aches he had endured, this backache was king of them all.  Hiking slowly up the side of a hill introduced him again to the racking misery coming from his lower back muscles, mainly from the right of the spine.  It was a bit of a mystery in that he hadn’t injured himself, and never had an old trauma from his athletic history.  He suddenly was reminded of the adage, “No pain, no gain” from his high school baseball coach.  He said it aloud, thinking it would be a magic charm the universe would accept.  It wasn’t.  Still, his inward need to persevere pushed his weary bones onward.

As he reached the plateau, he celebrated his efforts shouting into the hot breeze,

“BY GOD, I WILL DO THIS!”

As the late afternoon sun played havoc with his vision, Fanny cocked his head to one side as he caught a distant rumble of an engine.  Since he had begun to adjust to the mirage of water puddles on the pavement, he tossed it up to “hearing things” due to a bit of dehydration.  After a chuckle, he took a couple of strides when he stopped in his tracks.  The sound was getting louder.  He looked up in the blue sky to see which direction the plane was coming from.  It sounded like a single engine airplane from the 1920’s.  As he was hunting for the aircraft, he recognized the distinct sound wasn’t a plane at all, but rather a vehicle approaching from behind.  He quickly turned to scope out where it originated.  Wiping, then squinting his tired eyes, he saw an old blue pickup truck bouncing down the road toward him with its radio blaring a 1940’s big band tune with heavy brass.  He wondered where it came from since the area was void of ranches or farms.  As it approached, he could see only one occupant in the cab.  There was nothing impressive about the old truck, with the exception of the fact it was an older model one might see in a vintage car show, and overly worn, to boot.

 

blue single cab farm truck on brown grassland
Photo by Renato Abati on Pexels.com

As the truck began to downshift, coasting slowly as it pulled alongside him, he could see more clearly the one behind the wheel.  The driver looked as if he had just fallen off a hay trailer.  He was donning faded grey pinstriped overalls, like the old train engineers used to wear.  His misshaped straw hat went well with the old beat-up truck as it, too, had seen better days.  With a metallic squeak, the truck came to a halt.  It was clearly in much need of a muffler replacement.  The ragged driver turned down the radio and leaned over to roll down the passenger side window.  It was then Fanny could take-in what the man looked like.  He was an old-timer with a weather-beaten face.  His bushy eyebrows were salt & pepper mix.  His chest-length beard was white and wiry.  He had piercing ice-blue eyes which displayed a kindness, all by themselves.  Before Fanny could speak, the old man greeted him.

Spoken with a healthy snicker, “Howdy there, young man.  Nice day for a stroll in the badlands, wouldn’t ya say?”

The backpacker detected an accent, which reminded him of the deep south of the United States.  He wasn’t sure if he was being mocked by the question, or if it was an attempt at levity.

“Yes, sir.  It would seem so,” said Fanny, as he took his hat off and wiped his wet forehead.

Without hesitation the elderly man asked with a nod, “What’s your name, kiddo?”

“I’m Levon.  Most everyone calls me, Fanny,”  revealed the traveler.

The old man broke out in a belly laugh, “Well, who on earth pinned that nickname on ya?”

Fanny grinned, uncomfortably so, looked away and explained, “Yeah, that’s a long story, I’m afraid.”

“I bet so,” replied the old man.  “The name’s, Christopher.  Through the years, lots of folks have called me by a slew of other names.  But, Christopher will do.  So glad to meet ya…Fanny.”

“Happy to meet you, Christopher,” the young man said.  “Hey, where did you come from?  I’ve been on this road all day and I’ve not seen one house, truck stop, or vehicle coming or going in either direction.”

“Oh, don’t ya know?” asked Christopher.

“Know what?” inquired the trekker.

Pushing his hat back to the crown of his head, the old man responded, “Well, it’s very possible you were never informed.  This is a one way road you’re on in this dust.  Always been that way.  It’s true, only one-way traffic on this stretch.  That’s the reason why I drove up behind ya.  I’ll tell ya, that afternoon sun is brutal through the windshield.”

“Tell me about it,” agreed the young hiker.  “You know, maybe you can tell me something.  Would you know how far Nazareth is from here?  I really thought I would have spied it by now on the horizon, but nothin’ doin’.”

“Nazareth?” inquired the old one with one raised eyebrow.  “Is that where you’re off to?”

“Yes, sir,” replied Fanny.

While pointing his finger, the old man said, “Well, kiddo.  I can tell ya this, ya won’t get there carryin’ that anvil.”

Puzzled, the young man froze.  He looked behind him, turned back again and asked,  “Anvil?  What anvil?”

The elderly one broke out in laughter once again at Fanny’s answer.  “Boy, it’s that 95 pound chunk of solid iron at the end of the rope, the rope draped across your right shoulder there,” Christopher pointed out.

“Ah, yes.  THAT anvil,” Fanny stated with pride.  “Frankly, I forget it’s there.”

The elder wrinkled up his nose in an inquisitive expression, “You mean to tell me you’ve not felt every muscle in your body burning from the weight you’re towin’?”

“Come to think of it…yes.  Yes, I have,” Fanny admitted.

“Well, if that don’t beat all,” Christopher said in response.  “I’ve got the perfect solution for ya, Fanny.  Take a look inside the bed of my truck.”  Seeing the young man’s hesitation, he continued sharply, “Go ahead, son.  The Loch Ness Monster ain’t gonna jump out and bite ya.  Feel free, take a look.”

Fanny took a cautious small step toward the side of the pickup.  As he leaned closer to get a peek, his mouth fell open with a hushed gasp.

The old man said, “Tell me what ya see, boy.”

Fanny took a big swallow to say, “It’s a truck bed full of…well…full of anvils!”

“A whole stack of ’em, I’d say,” described the old driver.

In amazement, the young man questioned, “But, why are they there?  I mean…what are you doing with all of those anvils?  Are you selling them?  Do you work for a salvage yard or something?  I’m shocked this old antique can carry the load.”

“Fanny, I guess you could say I collect ’em,” answered the old rugged driver.  “In fact, I’ve been addin’ to my collection for many moons now.  I could tell ya how many travelers have allowed me to take the load off their backs, but you’ve been sun-baked enough today to appraise anything.”

The young traveler concurred, “You’re right.  I’m a bit fried.  However, these travelers you’re talking about, are they on this road?  I’ve not seen a soul until you drove up.”

“Yes, but everyone has their own journey, and most have similar burdens,” replied the old man.  “At the same time, some heavier than others.  As you can see, there’s various sizes of anvils here.”  After a brief pause of silence, Christopher added,  “Here’s my offer, kiddo.  If you trust me with your anvil, every pound of it, I’ll help ya toss it behind us, addin’ to the pile.  You can unload, and load-up in the cab with me for a straight shot to where you’re meant to be.  I just love playin’ the Uber out here.  But…keep in mind, the anvil stays in the back.  Alligators aren’t allowed in the cab with me neither, ha-ha-ha…”

Fanny looked down at the scorching concrete between his hiking boots and bit his chapped lips in thought.

Christopher, seeing the struggle to find words, added, “There’s rockslides out here, ya know.  As ya get close to a hillside, or an upcomin’ canyon, ya might stumble over a stone in your path.  When your strength is wrenched, you’ll find it difficult to keep your stance.  It’s even worse to find footing after a heavy fall with nobody around to shoulder the load.”

Shaking his head with a look of uncertainty he replied, “No, sir.  I have made this trip on my own strength, and I intend finishing it on my own.  Besides that, you’re a stranger to me in a beat-up old clunker.  No offense, but who’s to say you could get me to Nazareth?  I’m sorry, sir, but your offer doesn’t look promising from where I stand.  I will do this on my own fuel, and navigation!”

The old man smiled, put his right hand on the stick-shift, looked deeply into Fanny’s eyes and said, “Boy, ask yourself why.  Why don’t ya wanna take your load off?”

After a quick mental search, Fanny answered with a tone of resolve, “Christopher, the only honest answer I can come up with is, I’ve grown accustomed to my anvil.”

With a serious timbre in a lower register, Christopher asked, “And the weight of it?”

“I deal with it, just like this unexpected desert,” explained the young one.  “Do you understand, old man?”

“Oh, I do, son.  I really do understand,” replied Christopher.  “Listen, dusk is knockin’.  No need for walkin’ in the darkness.  I’d say, grab some winks for a fresh start in the mornin’.”

As the elderly man began to roll up his window, he grinned through his long mustache and said, “Well, I know you’ll give it your all.  Still, keep in mind, it’s needless for ya to take this desolation, with all its loneliness, and the weight you’re carryin’ solo.”  With that, he put the truck in gear, turned up the radio, and off toward sundown he drove.

silhoutte of a man
Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Pexels.com

Fanny continued his trek with a bit of angst in his steps.  Christopher somehow offended him with the offer of a free lift, as if the old man thought him weaker, frail, and without survival skills.

He began grumbling to himself, “How dare that ancient dinosaur-of-a-coot say I needed help through this parched piece of earth.”  Still, in the attempt to bolster his decision, he raised his voice a notch, “Who does he think he is?  He’ll see me in Nazareth, sitting under the shade of an apple tree, sipping on a glass of their best vintage.  He’ll be shocked to see me resting on my anvil, without any aid from his sorry rack of rust.”

With all his energy depleted by his rant, Fanny began to look for a safe spot to sleep for the night.  Darkness had fallen, but the moonlight helped in the hunt for a place to bed-down.  Soon, he located a soft sandy mound with his name on it.  He found sun-dried chaparral fit nicely for kindling.

Overnight hours passed and the silence was deafening.  As usual, he used the anvil as a pillow, even though the shape was not friendly for his head.  He found the surface of the iron was still warm from the sun, which was welcomed as desert nights tend to issue a chill.  Unfortunately for the camper, as the nature of anvils, its surface turned cold.

From time to time he heard a small rock roll off the side of a rise just feet from where he was laying.  Another time, he was awakened by what he thought was the flapping of large wings.  He imagined buzzards mistaking him for a dead man.  He then tried to keep one eye opened, but exhaustion won the moment.  Another awakening caused him to jump when he heard an insect scratching on his ear.  He began to inwardly acknowledge his sleep would be thin at best.

Without knowing why, he opened his eyes from a sound sleep.  It was just before dawn.  Across the road from where he camped, he swore he caught a shadow figure racing from the road into a ravine on the other side.  Startled, he bounced up to a sitting position while fixed on the area where it vanished.  What he wouldn’t do for a pair of night-vision goggles.  After a minute or so, and a few hyper heartbeats, he shook his head and took a helping from his canteen.

Unable to go back to sleep, Fanny stretched his legs, and his sore back, in preparation for the day ahead.

“The sun is winking at me from over the hills, ” he said as he reached for his anvil.  “There’s no time like the present.”

He peeled back the wrapper of an energy bar from his cargo pants thigh pocket, finishing it in record time.

With the young morning sun at his back, and the anvil dangling once again from the rope hoisted over his right shoulder, Fanny felt new aches making themselves known in his calves, ankles, and feet.  He thought to himself that if he just put one foot in front of the other, the pain would work itself out.

As he made his way, his mind was flooded with the movements and sounds he heard overnight.  He convinced himself that he was in no real danger…or was he?  Like a video clip running through his mind, he couldn’t erase the glimpse of the unknown shadow figure dashing away from his makeshift pallet.  As hard as he tried, he remained at a loss concerning its identity.  In the end, he boldly rationalized the thought.  He determined the quiet swiftness indicated a cougar, or a coyote.  The “what might have beens” gave him a sense of authentic fear he had not felt before.

Hill after hill, ridge after ridge, no sight of his goal.  With every turn, curve and valley, he had hopes of seeing the ornate village painted in his mind as the heated hours wore on.

During the mid-morning, the searing winds kicked up with a devastating blow of a wall of dust and sand from the west.  Immediately, it became a battle for each inhale.  Fanny pulled his hat over his nose and mouth for protection.  Vision became sparse.  Tiny grains of sand stung his skin like miniature darts speeding from a horizontal projection.  Through the torrent of hot dust and sand, he spotted a boulder nearby and ran to the east side of it, blocking the onslaught of the turbulent blast.  After what seemed like an hour or so, the sandstorm passed.  With tremendous relief, Fanny came out from behind the boulder, grateful he had discovered it when he did.

With a couple of clearing coughs, he thought to himself, “What else can happen on this journey?”

bird s eye view photography of road in the middle of desert
Photo by The Lazy Artist Gallery on Pexels.com

By early afternoon, he was running low on water.  His fear rose each time he shook the canteen to hear the lessening of the swish.  His quads were beginning to burn in his thighs.  His shoulder was bruised from the rope slung over it, cradling the anvil.  A growing headache, once only a nuisance, now pounded from the top of his head.  Realizing he was experiencing a deeper dehydration, he guarded against panic.  He was beginning to despise the constant mirages of heatwaves appearing as glimmering bodies of water.  Suddenly, he heard Christopher’s words from the day before, challenging him with the question of why.  “Why don’t ya wanna take your load off?”  He found himself flirting with the question.

Mid afternoon descended.  After following a sharp curve in the blistering road, Fanny peered into the shadow of a small canyon wall just ahead.  The shade spread all the way across the road, and then some.  There, on the shoulder of the roadway, about 40 yards away, was a figure of some kind.  Cautiously advancing toward it, there, in the shadow of the rock wall, he saw Christopher casually leaning against the tailgate of his blue pickup.

“It seems we meet again, kiddo,” shouted Christopher with a wave.  “The shield of a nice-sized rock in a desolate place is mighty fine, wouldn’t ya say?  It’s nice and comfortable to me.  Come on over, I’ve been waitin’ for ya.”

Fanny found he was somewhat relieved to see the old man, and a convenient shade.  He smiled, shook his head in amazement, entering the cooling shadow of the canyon.

As Fanny got closer to the truck, he scratched his head and asked, “How did you know I would be here at this time of day?  Are you stalking me, old man?”

Christopher laughed at the question and replied, “Who knows?  Maybe the old truck is equipped with radar for weary travelers.”

Wiping his hands on the front of his well-worn overalls,  the elder turned to the pile of anvils in the bed of the truck where he pulled out ice cold bottles of water from a Styrofoam ice chest.

“Here ya go!  Fanny, take a load off.  You deserve it.” ordered Christopher.

Right away, before breaking the cap seal, Fanny first put the cold bottle against his neck, and then his forehead.  With a deep heavy sigh, an expression of relief fell over his face.

“Ahhhhhh, that feels so good,” said the hiker.

“No doubt,” answered Christopher.  “Tell me, how did ya sleep last night?”

After opening the bottle for his first couple of gulps, the backpacker responded, “I hate to say it, but it wasn’t that great.”

“Oh, really?” replied the old man.

Delaying his answer with another long swig of water, “Let me tell you, the desert may not be my kind of surroundings.  I heard noises I couldn’t examine.  There were sounds coming from everywhere, including what I think were buzzard wings.  That’s way too close for comfort.”

“Is that right?” Christopher said slowly.  “What else?”

“You may think I’m nuts, but I spotted a quick shadow I couldn’t identify just on the other side of the road,” described Fanny.  “It’s not something I look forward to seeing ever again.  By the way, just how many miles is it to Nazareth from this canyon?  As far as I can tell….”

“Ya know, owls are night hunters,” Christopher interrupted.  “They keep rabbits and rats on the run for sure.  Wingspans can be impressive.  Such a wonderful creature.  As for nocturnal critters in general, I could write volumes on the kinds and species out here.  They’re everywhere in the cool of the night.  Some folks just let their imaginations run away with them like a train on grease.  Truth is, they all were created with excellent night vision.  In that respect, they’ve got a leg up on ya.”

The young traveler admitted, “It sure made for an uneasy night.”

While checking the lose left side of his back bumper, the elderly man stated, “Ya know, fear is an enemy.  Fact is, it comes in many forms.  You might even compare it to a parade coordinator-sending one flatbed float rollin’ by after another, all designed to frighten every person from every walk of life.  Your walk of life happens to be on this very road, in this very desert.  But always remember, fear is a liar.  It promises the worse case scenario in most all situations under heaven, and yet rarely delivers.  Son, it’s always best to think of all things as fleeting.”

Fanny laughed and belted out, “FLEETING?  Ha, this desert isn’t fleeting  Did you see that sandstorm?”

“Hang on now.  A liar’s performance is to convince his audience,” stated the old one.  “The sudden desert you approach will be full of woes.  Hard things happen.  Expect it.  It’s part of the learnin’ curve.  Oppression bubbles up.  Depression develops.  Illness lurks here and over there.  Pain arrives, creeping into your skin, your muscles, your mind, and even your very soul.  Soon, a lacking drains your strength, your joy, and eventually, your reasonin’.  Yes, the desert is all of that and more.  It’s a beautiful place, too…in its own way.  The colors and scattered shades are brilliant.  Yet, there’s danger out here.  There’s isolation expected, married to obscurity.  It’s all about who ya face it with.  But the sweet truth is, when journeying through the desert, like ya are, you’ll find it’s only temporary.  All parades must end, even sandstorms.”

The young man paused for a moment before speaking, “But if there is a learning curve to suffering, what and where is it?  I mean, where’s the final exam in this hellish classroom?”

Christopher stroked his wiry beard for a moment.  He turned toward a scenic view of the desert and explained, “The better question would be…Why experience it alone?  Look out at this barren ground.  Each step is a test.  You are gettin’ an education, albeit in a lesser degree without an instructor.  My offer still stands, kiddo.  Let’s take this anvil off your back and put it where it belongs…behind ya, without a rope attached.”

Fanny bent down to tighten his boot laces during an uncomfortable silence.  He then stood up, adjusted his canvas hat, looked at Christopher and responded, “No, sir.  I will finish this challenge I’ve walked into.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate your free offer, but, there’s something to be said about knowing my own conditioning will push me to my destination.”

The elderly man’s ice-blue eyes twinkled as he challenged the young traveler, “And when your anvil of comfort breaks your fleeting, temporary strength, with no one there who is stronger to save ya…what then?”

“Thus far, I’ve adjusted to its weight.  It’s okay, really it is,” said Fanny in a softer, kinder delivery.  “It may take me a while, but I will get through this desert.  But, I can’t wait to feel the soft, cool blades of grass in Nazareth under my bare feet  The universe will give me strength.”

“Don’t count on the universe.  She’s unforgivin’, and unable to love, ” said the old one.  “You, my young man, will find you’re bein’ schooled in the land of waitin’.”

With that said, Christopher watched Fanny strap on his anvil for the journey out of the shadow of the rock wall.  Just then, the old man pulled out a brown paper bag and two more bottles of water from the bed of his truck.

“Okay, kiddo,” holding out the items.  “Here, ya take these.  You’re gonna need it.”

Fanny displayed a large grin at the kindness Christopher displayed.  “What’s all this?”

“Well, there’s various items of protein in the bag, some nuts, dried figs, jerky, and some cold sliced pineapple you’ll wanna eat pretty soon,” explained the elder.

Laughing, the hiker inquired, “Pineapple????  Where did you get pineapple out here?”

Christopher just giggled with a lovely childlike delivery as he opened the door to the truck, got in, and started the rattling engine with a backfire.

“Here’s to hopin’ we will see one another again, ” said the old man.  “Ya know, hope is a healin’ thing.  Even in a deserted place.”

Fanny replied quickly, “I could use that for sure.”

“I know ya do, son.  I know ya do,” stated Christopher as he put on his sunglasses.  “Be aware of the shadow figures, Fanny.  It’ll serve ya well.  But, with that said, I’ve never read an obituary where a shadow killed anybody.”

With a whistle on his lips, and his hands on the wide steering-wheel, Christopher began to slowly drive back into the punishing sun.  The young trekker raised his hand slowly to wave the old man off.  Just then, Fanny realized he never thanked Christopher for the provisions.

Two days and nights passed.  It was about noon when Fanny found himself dragging his feet, literally, across the baked concrete in near total exhaustion.   With each painstaking stride, he began scanning the horizon for the old man’s pickup.  His energy was virtually depleted, and he knew it.  The morning delivered some scattered clouds, which aided the weakened young rambler, but now, nothing but abusive piercing sun shutdown all effort.  He felt himself wanting, even craving, a visit with the caring driver.

Just as Fanny journeyed down a slope, from a crest in the roadway, he tripped on something.  As if in slow motion, he fell forward, hard onto the hot pavement, in unison with a loud ringing thud as the anvil met the road.  He screamed in pain from the impact and fierceness of the raging temperature of the road.  He quickly turned over on his backpack as a buffer from the concrete.  It took him a minute to collect his mind.  He looked for wounds, finding a few scrapes and cuts to his elbows, cheek, and the palms of both hands.  He noticed his pants were ripped at the left knee as blood began to find its way through the khaki fabric.  Troubled at what caused him to lose his traction, Fanny looked around to find the object which caused the fall.  There was nothing there.  Unable to bend his left knee, he struggled to push himself up on his right leg.  With the rope still in his hand, he tested his body for limping to the side of the road.  The pain in his knee was crippling.  It was a mammoth project as he slowly hopped his way to the sandy shoulder, dragging the anvil against the hot pavement.

Assessing his ability to trek ahead, he noticed something protruding from the bottom of the toe of his right boot.  A closer look revealed a piece of the sole of the boot had come loose, and had partially folded back while dragging his feet during the endeavor to keep walking.  Whether it was heat exhaustion, the brutal conditions, or a pure wake-up call from injuries, the young hiker admitted being trapped, for the remainder of the day, right where he sat.

As the sun slowly descended into the western sky, Fanny tried to lift his spirits.  Finding a small bit of shade under some brush, he began to sing every hit song he could recall from his teen years-songs that made him smile.  He busied himself mentally listing his family tree as far back as the war of 1812.  With each mental exercise he was surprised at the slowness to fire-off a thought, or memory.  He wondered about heat stroke.

“It would seem the elements are doing a number on you, Mr. Gates,” he sarcastically mumbled to himself.  In pain, the hiker laid under the tiny shade of the brush for any relief he could manage.

Sounds seem louder when sleeping.  Fanny jumped with a start from a nap he didn’t intend on taking.  After a few seconds of clarity, he realized he was hearing the tail of a rattlesnake.  By sheer instinct, Fanny turned over from his position, discovering in the sand to his left a five foot rattler, curled up maybe 12 feet away.  Fear raced through his senses.

close up photo of a brown sidewinder snake on sand
Photo by Miri on Pexels.com

Somehow the young man pulled himself together and looked around for a rock.  There, by his left boot, were five golf ball-sized sandstones.  His eyes once again shifted back to the poised snake.  Visions of film footage of how quickly snakes can crawl and strike ran through his head.  Unable to bend his left knee without shooting pain, he grabbed the anvil rope, tossed it at the rocks, maneuvering one within reach.  He thought to himself, “I have one shot at this and it better be right, or I’m toast.”  He methodically, but slowly, reached the rock, grabbed it, then threw it at the rattler with a shout, all in one motion like a professional shortstop.  Speedily, the snake reacted, slithering out to the middle of the road and stopped.  Fanny trained his eyes on the reptile as it turned its head toward him again.  The hiker pitched another rock toward the snake, but this time unmoved.

“Oh, no you don’t, you little beast!  Don’t even think about it!” threatened Fanny.

Keeping his eye on the snake, he examined his precarious position.  Unable to move quickly, due to his knee, and without a weapon at his disposal, he knew he was a sitting duck.  The unexpected desert miles had been cruel, but he covered much ground.  Just as he began to question his endurance to reach the other side of the wilderness, he now might see it end-thanks to a new enemy-and a damaged sole.

Surveying every item within reach for a defense, the young traveler’s anvil caught his eye.  His mind landed on the reality of the weight of it.  Mentally, he began to blame it for his current dilemma.  Ninety five pounds of iron needlessly held him down from where he wanted to be.  In the assumption he could’ve run from the snake just minutes prior, the anvil would’ve proven to be the end, holding him back for the snake’s lunge.  However, in a sick, twisted thought process, his admiration for the useless anvil melted the angst.

Late afternoon approached, and Fanny’s nemesis remained vigilant in a curl, with its expressionless cold stare from the road.  The scene was looking darker for the injured young man.  He imagined the worst.

Feeling a bit delirious, the trapped hiker’s anger boiled, “So, do you have a nest around here?  Maybe you have a brood nearby you’re protecting.  Is that why you’re gawking at me?  They’ll all make terrific belts, you pile of scales!  How does that make you feel?  Tell me, is your crawl really quicker than my hop?  Look, I know what you’re waiting for.  You can’t fool me,” he said, taunting the rattler.  “When darkness comes, you’ll slither your measly self over here and take chunks out of me, as I slowly kill over from your venom.  I know your kind.  I was married to someone like you!”

Fanny was massaging his emotions to accept his coming death.  Dreams were dashed, hope only a dream, and his efforts toward his goal had been wasted energy.  In a moment of clarity, he looked over at his companion: the anvil.  In the light of his circumstances, he knew it suddenly didn’t seem to hold much value.  True, Fanny had grown accustomed to the weight on his back, but in the reevaluation, it seemed foolish to have imagined it to be part of himself in daily life.  In an odd, and maybe an ironic way, it took a trauma in a desolate place to see the fulfillment of the truth.

Another hour slipped by, closer to the coming dusk.  Fanny suddenly had gained a fever.  He could feel chills and cold sweat rolling down his chest.  His time waned in the growing darkness.  His new enemy seemed to detect Fanny’s weakened state, raising its head off the pavement.  Desperation danced through the stranded hiker as he grabbed the empty canteen, the only defense against the waiting venomous reptile.

During a somewhat morbid consideration, Fanny pictured where the fangs might sink in first.  Like a strategist, he began to maneuver his body so that the strike of the rattler would target closer to his hands and arms for a better shot at defense.  About that time, his ears detected a familiar remote sound.  He cocked his head as he zoomed-in on the distant echo of what appeared to be a big brass band, combined with the hum of an engine.  The young man smiled as he identified the modulation of old pistons, pushing an antique pickup in his direction.  Fanny caught a glimpse of the old blue truck rounding a curve, where it began to slow down with its radio blaring away, until coming to a complete stop.  As it did, the right front tire crowned the head of the cunning rattler with a defining crunch.  The driver’s side door opened and out stepped Christopher.

“Well, if it ain’t young Fanny restin’ on his laurels,” he said with warm grin as he walked toward the young man.

Fanny had gasped when the truck’s tire parked on the snake.

Christopher sarcastically asked, “Son, are ya hungry?  Your mouth is wide open like a newborn sparrow in the nest.”

“You…uh, I guess you know, you rolled right on top of that rattlesnake.  How did you manage to do that?” quizzed the injured traveler.

“Oh, practice, I suppose.  It happens,” answered the lighthearted elder.  “I see ya got yourself all banged-up there.”

Sheepishly, Fanny began to explain,  “Yes, sir.  Earlier today I was so spent.  Not realizing my toes were dragging, my sole separated a bit from my left boot, causing me to trip and…well, here I am.”

While scoping out the young man’s injuries, Christopher mentioned the obvious,  “Ya fell on your face, I see.”

“In a manner of speaking, I sure did.” admitted Fanny.

The old man knelt down to get a closer look at Fanny’s damaged boot.

“Hmmm, yep, I’m no cobbler, but I see what happened,”  speaking slower and in a softer tone, “Ya know, where the ‘soul’ separates is a lonely place to be.  What have ya learned, kiddo?”

One side of Fanny’s bruised lip raised as he said, “Seeking shelter is a wise thing.”

“Is it now?” stated Christopher.

“No doubt, ” admitted the young trekker.  “I have come to realize that I’m not ‘all that’.”

“Now, give yourself some credit in this journey of yours,” the old one said.

“What?” asked Fanny.

Christopher explained, “Ya didn’t think about how ya said it.  In all your boldness and anger, ya once shouted, ‘BY GOD, I WILL DO THIS!‘”

Beside himself, Fanny raised his voice in astonishment, “Hey!  How did you know about…I mean…that was a few days ago now…and on top of that, I was in…”

“In the desert, all by yourself.  I know,” interrupted Christopher.  “You might as well have had on a wireless microphone.  That was actually the beginning of your learnin’ while on this path.  With all the wreckage in your life, you were searchin’ for solitude.  Most people do.  Ya see, there’s a big difference between solitude, and isolation.  It’s ironic, isn’t it?  In your isolation, ya never really were alone.”

The young man being perplexed raised his voice, “Excuse me, but I still don’t understand how you…”

Christopher interrupted again, “Not many do understand, kiddo.  Even the ones who are most scholarly, with all those initials after their names, can’t get their arms around it all.  Some, the honest and most humble, will even admit it.  I’d say you’re in good company.”

Fanny still reclined there, looked down at his skinned hands and torn pants in a sense of surrender.

Breaking the uneasy moment, the old one spoke up, “Now son, here’s the deal for this time, for this place of desolation; will ya accept my offer?  You’re in the middle of this trip, but near the end of your journey.  I won’t return to these parts for some time, and here, in the waitin’, is the opportunity for decisions.  Trust me on this.  Take my hand and I’ll give ya a lift to where ya wanna be.  As a brash up-and-comer, a lad once told me, ‘It doesn’t look promisin’ from where I stand.'”

The young man accepted without delay, “Yes, sir.  I’m ready to move out of this God forsaken place.”

“Uh, not really… ‘forsaken’,” Christopher said with a familiar snicker.  “You have much to learn, young Fanny Gates.  Come on, I’ll help carry ya to the truck.  Ya ain’t heavy.”

With Fanny’s left arm around Christopher’s neck, and the anvil hanging from his sore right shoulder, the duo methodically made their way to the old truck.

After a couple of steps, Fanny asked Christopher a simple question, “I take it you know where Nazareth is, right?”

The old man opened the passenger side door, helped the younger into the truck and informed him, “Well, of course I know where Nazareth is.  As far as the eye can see from this spot, it’s nothin’ but desert.  Still, Nazareth is not too far from here.”

Just before Christopher closed the passenger door, he asked,  “Uh, son, aren’t ya forgettin’ somethin’?”

Fanny looked bewildered until he saw Christopher gazing at the anvil sitting in his lap.

He responded, “Christopher, do I really need to give it up?  It’s been with me for as long as I can remember.  Over my lifetime I’ve adjusted to its weight.”

“This is the very crux of my offer, Fanny,” Christopher uttered with a straight tone.  “Somewhere down the line, you were lied to.  You only ASSUMED ya needed this weight.  Ya must unload what has weighed ya down in order to come with me.  Now, tell me straight up.  Are ya willin’ to allow me to toss it behind us, to put it to bed?”

Seeing the sincerity in the old one’s ice-blue eyes, understanding it meant everything to him, Fanny agreed to let go.

(CLANG!)

With the anvil among the others discarded in the bed of the old truck, the aged one cranked-up the engine, took control of the steering wheel, and began to make a u-turn.

“Hey, Christopher, you’re going in the wrong direction!”, the traveler said with alert.

“You were hopin’ to go to Nazareth,” stated Christopher.  “Number one, ya wouldn’t have been able to get there by your own power.  Number two, I’m your only Uber out this way.  Number three, you were headed west on a one-way road.  Nazareth is east of here.  Always east.”

“Oh, yeah?  Well, I’ll just have to trust you on that.” said Fanny.

With that, the old man replied, “Yep, yep ya must.”

“Christopher, there’s just one thing of concern here,” Fanny said.  “I don’t have any cash on me for your fuel.”

After a satisfying smile on his old weathered face, along with a slight shaking of the head, Christopher replied, “That’s another thing, kiddo.  Ya never could’ve purchased your way to Nazareth.  It’s all been paid for ahead of your arrival.  Burden-free, son.  Burden-free.”

When loaded down, crushed with the stuff of life’s curses, unload with fuel for the race.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.’   For He will deliver you                                                from the snare of the fowlera and from the deadly pestilence.

He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.”  – Psalm 91:1-6 (ESV)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fear Itself

Cover Photo:  South Bend Tribune

“…So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”  –  Franklin D. Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933

Due to retinopathy and glaucoma, I have experienced many an eye surgery over the last five years.  No fun whatsoever.  As part of the give & take, my natural night vision has been damaged, bit by bit.  I still drive at night, but I don’t unless it’s necessary.  Craving light is what I do.  If the road I’m on is dimly lit, or without reflectors along the stripes or curbs, my vision struggles to pierce the velvet blackness just on the other side of the headlight’s reach.  At home, I am so grateful for the little nightlights plugged into the wall sockets for an easier overnight walk to the bathroom, or kitchen.  With a portion of my night vision missing, the difference is truly noticeable.

Let’s say you blindfold yourself, just for a personal experiment.  Once your eyes are covered you begin the attempt to navigate through your house.  Better yet, try this in a home you are unfamiliar with.  Each step is carefully placed as you bump into the baseboards and steps.  Your hands search the walls for maneuvering safely, or the hope of it.  Slowly your feet pioneer themselves across an unknown room, when suddenly they trip over the edge of a rug.  You fall as if it were in slow motion.  On the way down you think to yourself, “It would be helpful if the owner of the house, who knew this floor-plan, were in front of me, guiding me with their vocal directions.”  As you get back up on your feet, you find within yourself a growing emotion…fear.  The fear of falling again.  The fear of breaking your nose on a door.  The fear of knocking out a tooth on the staircase.  The fear of…the unknown ahead.

black metal window frame
Photo by Octopus soul on Pexels.com

We have been dreading the essential drive to the grocery store ever since the Coronavirus began its crawl across the USA.  Droves of unreasonable citizens have been raiding the store shelves as if there was a run on dwindling inventory, buying more than average cupboards could hold without thinking of their neighbor’s needs.  The day came.  My wife fought through the mob to buy staples for the week.  She found a severe lack of eggs, milk, meat, rice, pasta, to name a few.  Just amazing for the average grocery store in America.  The funny part of it is…there’s no real shortage of anything.  She witnessed frantic shoppers racing about with wrinkled foreheads and frowns.  The store was filled with consumers tied up in knots on the inside.  We’ve seen this type of hysteria with gasoline in the past, haven’t we?

There must be a study somewhere within the bowels of a sociology think-tank which can tell us how mass hysteria occurs.  Unfortunately, part of the reason for empty market shelves is greed.  There are those who are so full of themselves that they purchase in large quantities of a targeted item for the purpose of private resale with an enormous price hike for others to pay.  Trust me, this type of individual will receive their reward.  However, the majority of consumers overstock in a crisis for another reason.

What fuels the tanks of the one who fills two or three basket-fulls of toilet paper during a pandemic is…fear itself.

There is a healthy fear each of us possess.  It’s evaluated when you pull away from the edge of a cliff.  We jerk our hand back when a fire ignites.  A healthy fear reminds us to drive under 90 MPH.  Then there are wonderful moments where healthy fear is suppressed by the weight of love.  You see it when a parent runs into a burning house in efforts to save their child.  Fear is quenched when assisting an elderly parent when they are down with the flu.  Fear is pushed aside when a dog owner runs out on the a frozen lake to rescue their four-legged pal who fell through a patch of a thin layer.  Stories like this are inspiring, along with soul searching.

Those prone to unreasonable, unjustified fright are minds that have conjured up scenarios which most likely are not realistic.  Sure, COVID-19 is real.  It is upon us all.  The remedy is on its way, but not yet available.  Citizens are to take precautions.  It is a healthy fear to do so.  Yet, we should guard against being tied up in knots during the panic.

An unhealthy fear is to fill a home up to the crown molding with a few thousand rolls of toilet paper while not have any produce in the fridge.  A person who does this is one who feeds on the extreme as they envision it to be.  Even though retailers, the retail workers, the CEO’s, the government itself, implores consumers to think reasonably with the news that there is no shortage of goods, they dive into a darkened place where they believe they will be in want for all things.  The lack of “items” is the constructed fear.

Shelves - Star News Online

Photo:  Star News Online

FDR wisely raised the issue of unhealthy fear in his inaugural address in 1933.  Yes, people where going through an economic depression.  Americans were going hungry, losing jobs, standing in line at soup kitchens.  The fear was real.  Yet, he sensibly pointed out the deadliest fear facing the nation at the time.  The most costly was, “fear itself”.  He knew, all too well, unhealthy fear can bring someone to harmful illnesses, anxiety, even insanity.  In fact, it was a contagious anxiety.  He was aware unhealthy fear grows hurtful selfishness.  FDR saw the men and women of his nation were not standing strong in the stiff winds of a fierce depression which carried many to suicide, murder, and hatred of neighbors.  Truly costly.  Even the children of those who tied themselves in knots began to lose hope.  In essence, FDR was saying…“FEAR KNOT!”

Knot Pinterest

Photo:  Pinterest

Fear itself is like being blindfolded in a house not your own.  It’s like driving a dark road at 4am while wearing thick sunglasses.  When blind to the unknown, it can cause delusions.  Fear itself develops a mental picture of what might occur, what could happen, what possibly would be in store, all without remedy.  So many who have studied fear say about 90% of what we fear never happens.  In that perspective it gives something to wake-up to tomorrow.

If only we had the owner of the house, who built the floor plan, to give us strong directions just ahead of each step we dare take in the darkest of moments.

I know Who that is.  He is the Author of light, direction, and hope.  He is the One who promised there were new mercies on the shelf every morning.

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’…your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”      – Jesus – (Matthew 6)  (ESV)

Certainty can be defined as this:  Filling a tank with fear is contrary to fuel for the race.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of instruction.”   – Apostle Paul –   2 Timothy 1:7  (Aramaic Bible in Plain English)

COVID-19

Photo:  Corona Virus – NPR

“See me.  Feel me.  Touch me.  Heal me.”  (1969/1970)  “See Me, Feel Me”  Recorded by:  The Who.  Composer:  Peter Townsend  (Later, this song was part of “Tommy”, the rock opera.)

Embedded in my mind are the regular visits I would make to an old cemetery, a couple of blocks away from my grandparents house in Greenville, Texas.  Maybe it was a morbid curiosity, but I really don’t think so.  I first recall walking among the old, weathered tombstones at about 7 years old, enamored with the dates of births and deaths.  I had a love of history even then which continues today.  Among some of the headstones are many which are no longer legible.  The Texas weather, which tends to be extreme at times, has become a giant eraser for engraved letters and numbers, especially with sandstone.  Yet, the old stones remain as monuments of someone who lived in the community long before it was a certified town.  The oldest tombstone you can still read is of a man born the same year George Washington died, 1799.  Here in Texas, that’s old, considering Mexico owned the land at the time, and largely uninhabited by white pioneers from the east.  One thing is for sure, he was a brave soul, staking out land belonging to the Caddo Indians and Mexico.

pexels-photo-460617

Photo:  Pexels

One summer day, I ran from the old cemetery, to my grandparents house, crying all the way.  My grandmother, being concerned, asked why all the tears.  I told her how I had discovered scores of tombstones of babies, toddlers, and kids my age (at the time), all passed away together, or around the same year.  When I told her they died in 1917/1918, she told me of the horrid story of the Spanish Flu pandemic which thrived toward the end of WWI.  The numbers are staggering.  Globally, approximately 500 million were infected.  20 million to 50 million perished, with 675,000 being Americans.  Of course, the elderly, the young, and the weak, were highly susceptible to the pandemic’s reach.  The shared grief among the towns and communities must have taken its toll.  As a little kid I understood it.

Of course, the new Coronavirus, also labelled, COVID-19, doesn’t even come close to those numbers.  As I write this, China quarantined over 60 million people, roughly the size of Italy.  It’s unprecedented.  Again, as I write this, approximately 1,400 have died from the virus in China.  60,000 confirmed cases recorded in China.  Unfortunately, I should mention there are rumors the numbers have been downsized by the Chinese government, and that the actual totals are far above and beyond what they have reported.  Adding to speculations, rumors are growing concerning how and why the outbreak occurred.  Some say it originated from a military bio lab where experiments with bio-weapons takes place.  Others spread rumors that it was done by the Chinese government to distract from the news of the freedom protesters in Hong Kong clashing with the Chinese military and police.  I truly hope it is not the case.

What is without rumor, are hard facts like, no cure, no medical answers, no recourse for the cases but isolation.  Case numbers are growing all across the planet.  Cruise ships have been quarantined.  Ports have been shutdown.  Many cases, who recovered and released, have returned for medical help after resurrected symptoms.  Frankly, the news is bleak, dark, and grave.

In one hundred years, will there be a little kid astounded at the number of tombstones displaying “2020” as a collective death year?  Let us all pray this will not be true.

Check out this inspiring picture…

Corona Virus Prayer at Western Wall in Israel from Israel National News     Photo:  Western Wall in Jerusalem.  Israel National News.

This photo shows a prayer gathering at the sacred Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.  It’s not the average prayer meeting among the people of Israel, but a poignant one.  This shot displays an organized prayer assembly for the COVID-19 victims, as well as, medical organizations working around the clock to defeat it.  The question is…why aren’t we doing this?

When Jesus walked the grounds of the ancient temple there in Jerusalem, He saw multitudes of the infected, the “unclean” outcasts due to leprosy.  Like the quarantined cases, victims of leprosy were bound by law to keep away from the general public.  There were leper colonies where they spent their final days.  If one got too close to the general population, he/she had to yell, “UNCLEAN!”.  Jesus had great compassion for these unnamed cases.  Against the enforced law, He went to them, touched them, healed many, and showed love and grace toward the “Unclean”.  Someone who hasn’t read about Jesus, or maybe not have taken the opportunity to study about Him, may be asking why He would do such a thing.  It’s a fair question.  Why would Jesus risk His own health, and His physical life to see, feel, touch, and heal desperate infected outcasts.  After all, it was hopeless, or so they thought.  There is an answer.

Have you noticed in this post, when referring to COVID-19 victims, I often use the word, “cases”?  For the most part, the media, and the medical community, are doing much of the same when reporting on this expanding concern.  Why not?  Unlike a little kid looking at the name of John Lee Anderson, son of James & Mary Anderson, who died of influenza at 2 years old in 1918, we see a number.  Today we would see the next victim of death in China as 1,401 of 1,401.  The dead one (case) is taken outside of town, to a COVID-19 fire dump, where the bodies piled up and burned.  So much for #1,401.  A cruise ship of 2,000 vacationers may have 52 confirmed cases of COVID-19, quarantined away from shore.  No name, no age, no grandma or grandpa of 18 kids back in Knoxville, Tennessee.  We are just counting the diagnosis leaving out “who” they are and what they are to the loved ones waiting to hear of their condition.

It’s sad, don’t you think?  In these colder times of humanity, we tend to not care of the hurting hearts involved, or the hardships others must take on to themselves.

Jesus saw “the individual” and their need.  Being Who He was, He knew their names, their children, their hopes and dreams.  He knew intimately little John Lee Anderson from 1918.

Count on this.  There are never any “cases”, any “42 0f 57’s” inside fuel for the race.

“And having seen the crowds, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were wearied and cast away, as sheep not having a shepherd.  Then He says to His disciples, ‘The harvest indeed is plentiful, but the workmen are few.'”  – Jesus –  Matthew 9:36-37  (Berean Literal Bible) 

 

What Took Kobe Bryant’s Life?

Photo:  The Sun/UK

“…The rain may never fall till after sundown.
By eight, the morning fog must disappear.
In short, there’s simply not
a more congenial spot
for happily-ever-aftering than here
in Camelot.”  –  (1959/1960)  Camelot (Musical score theme song.)  Composers:  Lyrics, Alan Jay Lerner  Music, Frederick Loewe

I’ve never been a big basketball fan, unless the Dallas Mavericks are in the playoffs (Still waiting).  However, I am a fan of humanity.

Tragic, so very tragic, the recent taking of 9 lives aboard Kobe Bryant’s leased helicopter.  NBA star, Kobe Bryant and his 13 year old daughter, Gianna were among the diseased.  It’s not just NBA fans who are mourning the sudden loss, but literally multitudes around the globe are feeling the sting of this horrific event.

You might have been spending time in a cave somewhere if you’ve not heard the news of this helicopter crash from Sunday morning, January 26th.  In the Los Angeles area, after an early morning church service, Kobe and his daughter boarded the helicopter with 7 other friends, including their well-experienced pilot.  They were planning to attend a youth basketball tournament scheduled for later in the day in Thousand Oaks, California.  Unfortunately, a few minutes after takeoff, the pilot made a maneuver to rise above the morning fog for clearer vision.  He had asked permission from the control tower to fly under “special visual flight rules”, literally flying by vision only.  After getting approval, air traffic officials say that the craft reached 2,300 feet then took a fast dive at 2,000 feet per minute, crashing head-first into the side of a steep mountainside.  Officials report they were 20-30 feet from clearing the mountain.  Truly heartbreaking.

As I write this, the investigation is ongoing.  There’s lots to be learned.  Two facts are certain, there was a thick morning fog which couldn’t be negotiated for lower altitude flights, and no terrain awareness warning system on board to notify the pilot of the mountain in his flight-path.  Experts say the helicopter basically disintegrated on impact.  Death for all on board was instant.

The loss is simply tremendous.  Mourning now are scores of family members from each of the 9 victims from all over the map.  Then there are the friends of each of the 9 deceased passengers from every corner of the globe.  Of course, there are acquaintances of each of the lost ones.  Naturally, there are those who mourn from the ranks of basketball fans, teammates, coaches, millions of fans who never met Kobe, or the others on board.  Each life always touches a multitude of other lives.  A falling rock in a still pond makes wide ripples which travel to its various shorelines.  I guess you could call it, the George Bailey Effect.

There’s always one question finding its way first when tragic news hits in such a disastrous, unexpected exit.  What killed Kobe Bryant and his daughter?  Some will say, the pilot.  Some will point out the helicopter with no warning system.  Others might say the control tower staff.  Those in the valley below, watching the smoke rise from the crash site, might announce the mountain destroyed their lives.  I’m afraid the debate will be long lasting.

God bless the loved ones left behind.  May they find true peace and comfort from the Name Above All Names.

A couple of days before the crash, here in the Dallas area, we experienced soupy conditions as well.  This is what downtown Dallas looked like from a commercial flight coming in for a landing.

Foggy Dallas by Ross Hardin & Dallas Morning News

Photo:  Ross Hardin, via Dallas Morning News

Have you ever driven in such a fog?  Have you ever taken a walk, or a jog on a trail in dense fog?  Imagine being in the air with 50 feet of visibility.  It’s highly disorienting.  You might find yourself without your barings of left/right, up/down.  This may have very well been the enemy of the pilot, the killer of the flight.

art fingers foggy hand
Photo by Pedro Figueras on Pexels.com

Allow me to say bluntly, there have been times when my foggy conditions had nothing to do with humidity, or the weather in general.

Too many times in my life of twists and turns, I invited fog to encroach on my path.  My walk with God became hazy, disorienting, and unable to see His flight-path for my life.  Have you ever been there?  A shinny object over there brought in the haze of a spiritual backslide down a steep slope I never thought I would ever experience.  Rounding the corner on my designated path… look…a beautiful rabbit to chase.  So, in my distraction, I put on my Alice In Wonderland shoes and off I went into a misty cloud of darkness where my vision, my focus was lost.  Over the hill, you spy a gorge below, filled with a blur of a whipped cream-like fog-bank.  Immediately I ponder what it would be like to climb down into such a chasm to get up close and personal inside the misty haze.  Once there, you realize it’s not the chosen path where safety lies waiting.  The climb back up to the clear view is so far away.  Instead, you can’t see above, around, or through the muck.  You can flash your lights on bright, but it only bounces back by the wall of fog.  No need to use your shadow as a compass, for the fog offers no shadows.

Fog is not our friend.  Fog lacks grace.  Fog lacks love.  Fog serves up misdirection.  It cares not who you are, or how many halls of fame you have been inducted.  One thing fog does possess…a weakness.

Ask any ship captain.  The foghorn is imperative when on the sea.  The tiny partials of H2O, making up the low-hanging, ground-loving cloud, is perfect for carrying audio.  Sound waves board these tiny morsels of water within mist as if they were minuscule microphones which transmit quickly to the nearest ear.  The foghorn is set at a very low frequency where the vibration skims off the surface of the water like a thin stone gliding on the exterior of the deep.  The low frequency pierces the dark, murky mist.  It bellows out, “I’M HERE!  ALTHOUGH YOU CAN’T SEE ME, I’M AFLOAT HERE IN THIS CLOUD!”  Soon, a lighthouse ashore, beams its blinding lamp toward the sound of the foghorn, guiding the ship to port.

Lighthouse Final Take

Photo:  My wife’s, Michelle Niles-Brown very first painting.

My flight-path in life has met with mountainsides a few times.  When I segue into the fog of this world, I will be, and have been, disoriented, adrift from my control tower, unable to hear its wise words.  Count on it happening when you seek only “special visuals” from your own judgement.

No matter how thick the cloud bank, no matter how wide the fog may be, no matter if the visibility is only 5 feet, when I hear the cutting foghorn of my Creator, I not only sense my built-in warning system, my flight-path is rediscovered.  The choice is mine to make the correction on faith, and not by sight.

Learning from life’s tragedies can first be navigated by fuel for the race.

“My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow Me.  And I am giving them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them from my hand.”  – Jesus –  John 10:27-28  (Aramaic Bible Into Plain English)

 

 

 

What’s Under The Hat?

“Dream on, dream on, dream on.  Dream until your dream comes true.”  (1973)  “Dream On”  Recorded by:  Aerosmith  Composer:  Steven Tyler

It’s not mystic.  It’s not magic.  It’s a mystery.

This is really a very different subject matter for my blog.  Rarely do I ever share deep secrets about myself, at least subjects most of my family or friends would know.  Actually, only my wife and my mom are aware of what I am about to disclose for the first time.  Simply, the time has come to do so.

“They often say, ‘the man under the hat’.  I always say, the Man behind the man under the hat.” – Dallas Cowboys first head coach Tom Landry

One thing people close to me know is I tend to wear a lot of hats.

Hat Tree

There was a time I could say I wear a lot of hats in regard to juggling of projects, time, or activities.  Now days, it’s more about the physical hats.

At the same time, it’s not so interesting which hat I toss on my noggin, as what’s going on underneath the hat.

Too often I wake up from a strange dream where I could ask myself, “What’s under the hat?”

Hat Duo

In the last year or so, my dream-life has been more vivid, colorful, memorable, and completely in HD than ever before.  I blame much of it on medications.  Most dreams tend to be quick video clips of places, people, or pets.  From time to time there will be a nightmare, but seldom do they show up in my dream festivals.  Maybe this happens to you.  Dreams surrounding my past reoccur in what seems to be a rotation.  That is to say, these would be scenes from decades ago which may, or may not be, of any real significance.  When they splash on my dream-screen, I almost chuckle aloud in my sleep.  Actually, I probably do.

Now for the secret.  Please, don’t think me to be insane, or given to stories of the spectacular.  If you read my posts often then you know the subject is way off of my norm.

I will preface it with this:  What I am about to share with you is accurate without any embellishment.  The confession will be between the two of us, if that’s okay with you.  Just keep it under your…well, you know.

Hat Closet

Several times throughout my life I will dream about a subject, a person, or a geographical place to be followed by the exact item in my dream showing up in my real-life waking hours.  With that said, you might label me as a candidate for some serious meds, combined with therapy sessions.  Yet, I’m not kidding.  Really.  It happens.  How often?  Maybe seven times over a period of a year or so.  Allow me to reveal a couple of examples.  The first one is a doozy.

Last week, I had a dream where I woke up hearing water running through the plumping.  Jumping out of bed (In the dream.) I went on the hunt to find if there was a flooding issue from an overflowing bathtub, sink, or dishwasher.  Nothing found.  No water running amok.  From there I went to the living room window to take a peek at the outside water hose.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw movement coming from the driveway where the cars are parked.  There, in living color, a man dressed in a nice suit and dress hat from the early 60’s, or late 50’s was washing our two vehicles with the garden hose.  Strange, right?  True, but it got even more bizarre.  As the man turned to an angle where I could see his face, I recognized him immediately.  The dressed-up man, busy washing our cars, was none other than the late actor, Raymond Burr of “Perry Mason” and “Ironside” fame.  No rhyme nor reason to it whatsoever.  It woke me up.  Of course my sleepy question was, why am I dreaming about Raymond Burr?  At that point, I get out of bed to start my day.  Fast forward two hours later, I’m watching the news on a national network.  The very professional, well-spoken, near perfect news anchor mentions an upcoming interview with Raymond Burr!!!  Instantly, he smiled, corrected himself and restated.  He meant to say, U.S. Senator from North Carolina, Richard Burr.  He chuckled as he highlighted his mistake by mentioning Raymond Burr played the characters, Perry Mason and Ironside, not a U.S. Senator.  It’s nuts!  I know.

Another example of the peculiarity of one of my dreams came in the form of a color.  Several months ago, in a dream, I was driving.  My line of sight had knocked out every color with the exception of seeing pink everywhere.  It was as if someone gave me Pepto Bismol sunglasses.  No mater where I turned, PINK EVERYTHING!  On the same day, during my waking hours, I was driving down the frontage road of a major interstate for a lunch date with my youngest daughter.  On my way, I saw a new billboard advertisement for an out-of-state casino where a big musical artist was booked for a few performances.  Her name was, Pink!  Yes, the well-known recording artist, Pink.

One night I had a dream where I was with an old high school friend during a musical rehearsal in the school theater after school.  In the dream we were in our teens.  A day later, in my waking hours, this same friend, a classmate from 41 years ago, which I rarely communicate with, sends me a message via text on Facebook.  He was going to be in town and wanted to see if we could get together for dinner.  Go figure.

It’s a baffling anomaly to say the least.  I will say, as a kid I had many, many instances of deja vu.  Were you plagued with those?  Maybe it’s connected to this oddity.  It didn’t scare me at all, but it did cause me to wonder how and why it happened.  Well, nevertheless it faded after I became an adult.  It seems the dreams of connection took its place in my brain.

photo of head bust print artwork
Photo by meo on Pexels.com

Frankly, when this happens to me each and every time it is of no real consequence, or urgency.  There are never any dreams of a flight number where a hijacking takes place that day, or an earthquake to pop up in an unusual location, etc.  The subject matter always tends to be benign, or totally uninteresting.  To be blunt, there’s a nagging within to understand what this is, or why, how, and what for.  I’m sure there is a word for the phenomenon, but I don’t know exactly what it is.

There, that’s my secret.  If this happens to you I would like to hear about it.  Maybe Aerosmith has something under their hat on this topic after all.

One more thing I acknowledge, without wonder or mystery, I know the One Who put me together in the womb.  The computer in the brain is an amazing instrument which is certainly unmatched.

“You know my sitting down and my rising up. You perceive my thoughts from afar.” – Psalm 139:2  (NHEB)

He is the Architect, the Designer, the Thought Provoker.  Most of all, and more importantly, He services my mind with fuel for the race.

“I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.” – Psalm 139:14 (NAS) 

Time In A Bottle

“If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I’d like to do
Is to save every day
‘Til eternity passes away
Just to spend them with you”   Recorded: 1972  Released: 1973  “Time In A Bottle”  Written and Recorded by:  Jim Croce

Have you ever spent time in a bottle?  (Maybe that’s for another post someday.)

I have fond memories of performing this stirring song in the late 1970’s as a duo with a fellow musician.  It’s really a wonderful premise, don’t ya think?  Maybe here is a way to save time in a bottle.  How about this?

Bottle Ship Etsy.com

Photo:  Etsy.com

Jim Croce has left us with somewhat of a mystery here.  The lyric itself was written at a happy time in the life of Croce.  In 1970 he and his wife had just discovered they were going to have a baby when he put pen to paper, but didn’t produce the song for two more years.  Simultaneously there is a blueness about the lyric, accompanied by a smattering of minor chords.  In fact, if you read all the verses you will hover in a hazy fog of wanting, lacking, with a tint of cost.  In Crose’s case, my theory is he was on the road with gig dates, away from his pregnant wife.  Not too vastly different from the overtones of the idea KISS brought us with the rock ballad, “Beth” from 1976.  The composers of both songs seem to be relationally available to their loved ones, and yet not — leaving a sense of sadness, of loss, with a shadow of emptiness.

There is a powerful scene in the 1998 WWII movie, Saving Private Ryan.  It’s a haunting scene, shot without audible dialogue.  Spielberg’s masterful direction begins with Mrs. Ryan, Private James Ryan’s mother,  busy in her farmhouse kitchen, donning her well-worn apron.  Out the kitchen window a telegram messenger drives up the dusty country road, stopping in front of her house.  Spielberg’s frame follows her to the front screen door which she opens.  The camera angle is positioned from behind her, as if the viewer is a member of the household.  (A brilliant choice by Spielberg.)  She steps out the threshold to greet the messanger.  The telegram is handed to her.  An unanticipated intense moment passes as she stands frozen in time.  Suddenly, her knees buckle as she falls faint to the porch floor as she’s informed of the deaths of three of her sons, all killed in combat.  Only one son remained alive, serving on the battlefield somewhere in France, her son James.

No other film moves me so like Saving Private Ryan.  Much of it is hard to watch as it was produced to place the viewer there in the thick of battle alongside the U.S. warriors in efforts to stop Hitler.  I recommend a showing for Veteran’s Day Week.  (Not for younger kids.)

The one and only scene with Mrs. Ryan is etched in my head.  It’s easy to imagine how just seconds prior to the telegram, she was happy, focused on the task at hand, proud and comfortable with a quiver full of valiant sons serving overseas in difficult times.  In those moments, I can understand why she would want to save that time in a bottle, to be poured out in measure at will, to once again revel in her family.  As I watch, knowing what’s coming, I too hold her sense of quiet joy all the way up until the tragic news breaks.  When she collapses, I shed tears of grief for her every single time.

“Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.” ~ C. S. Lewis

The news alert popped up on my television screen a couple of days ago.  I sat in my chair stunned as it was reported how three American mothers, along with six of their children, were mercilessly gunned down and burned on a road in northern Mexico, just south of the Arizona border.  Reports from surviving children, who escaped the scene, revealed mothers shielding their young, begging the attackers not to shoot.  Members of the Mexican cartel unloaded their weapons of war on the innocent, along with burning the bodies, some children still alive in the flames.  In an instant, I was enraged, followed by heartbreaking pain, followed by immense grief.  All within a minute.  “If words could make wishes come true…” – I believe the three moms would’ve wanted back the time of peace they had just prior to the attack.

Isn’t that the way grief goes?  One moment in time there is happiness, joy, or even the mundane, the ordinary.  Suddenly, it can be remembered no more when tragedy strikes rolling over heart and mind like a steamroller over hot tar.  We reach back for it all if possible.  If we had time in a bottle, in our onslaught of misery and mourning, we could uncork the reserve just to sample out some of what was once there before disruption, before loss, before pain.  The word “before” is massive.

Bottle with lamp

When you come across some unwise lecturer spouting out how the enlightened person of faith is care-free, without tears, only living the successful, prosperous life, I urgently suggest you keep searching for the authentic, the truthful.  Jesus Himself made this perfectly clear concerning the above.   “I have spoken these things to you so that you shall have peace in me. You shall have suffering in the world, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33  (Aramaic Bible in Plain English)  Several times, Jesus displayed His own hardships, struggles, sorrow, pain, and even tears.  It was written down on scrolls so we would know He understands what it’s like to live in a painful, sunken, fallen world.  Isaiah’s prophecy was clear.  We would recognize Messiah by certain red flags He would exhibit in His life, in His character.   –  “…a Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief…” – – Isaiah 53:3 (KJV)

Scroll Isaiah

Capturing the good times, the beautiful moments in life, is a terrific thing, even a healthy thing to do.  When they come, store them away in a special place only accessible to you, maybe in the bottle of the heart.  Fill it up, cork it as the days of memorable peace arrive.

As for Mrs. Ryan, along with an American family, with duel citizenship in Mexico can attest, times of quaking will come to a fault-line near you.  Whether it be financial, physical, mental, or relational, shatterings will come in life.  When they do, you might have a bottle of tremendous days reserved for reflection.  And as the tears fall, retrieve this passage from your bottle of times:

Bottle Biblical

“You have kept record of my days of wandering. You have stored my tears in your bottle and counted each of them.” – Psalm 56:8  (Contemporary English Version)  * Many versions add:  “…Are they not in your book?”

Grief, grief held to, can overwhelm the vibrant mind, poison the hopeful spirit, destroy physical health, divert from a career, and breakdown the life of the body.  We MUST grieve, for there IS a time for it.  Wisdom says to embrace it as it comes, bidding it farewell before it spoils like moldy bread.  You’re reading from one who suffers the failure of letting go.

When holding to the biblical promise with the invitation to “…toss ALL cares, ALL anxiety, loading-up on Him because He cares for you” – 1 Peter 5:7 (My paraphrase), one’s bottle will be filled with fuel for the race.

“For thus said the high and exalted One, Inhabiting eternity, and holy is His name: ‘In the high and holy place I dwell, And with the bruised and humble of spirit, To revive the spirit of the humble, And to revive the heart of bruised ones.‘” – Isaiah 57:15  (Young’s Literal Translation)

 

Like A Bridge

“Like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down…Like a bridge over troubled water I will ease your mind.” (1970)  Bridge Over Troubled Water   Recorded by:  Simon & Garfunkel   Composer:  Paul Simon

As I gladly munch down on the left-over Halloween candy, I am looking out my studio window spying the very first turning leaves on my street.  Although faint, they are there.  They lack the brilliance of the stop-sign red maple leaves I loved in my Buffalo, NY days, but they do testify of the season in Texas.

Up north foliage-hunters are taking in the unmistakable aroma in the autumn air, as well as taking to the roads gazing at the mix of hues splashing across the wooded landscape.  Depending upon where you are you just might be on an old country road, with all its twists and turns, where after a few curves in the stretch you might just roll the tires up close and personal to something like this.

Covered bridge from Joan

My fiance, at the time, took this shot as we were overjoyed at the find deep in the woods of Western New York.

If you discover one of these in my home state of Texas it would not only be rare, but an oddity at that.  In fact, in the U.S. where covered bridges are not long gone, they will be unless a local proactive community protects them.  Such a lovely view of a time way beyond the scope of our rear-view mirror.

Most were built like this one, humble and narrow, as the horse & buggies and early automobiles were constructed.  Most were designed to accommodate only one buggy, or car of its day going one way.  And finally, most all were covered with roofs, some shingled while others were tar layers or tin.  The majority of old covered bridges in the U.S. were built between 1825-1875.  The traveler of yesteryear would tell you the reason they were covered was to shelter the rider, along with the horse yoked to the wagon, buggy, or stagecoach.  After all, it was welcomed during storms when pounding country roads.  In the heat of summer, it was a natural bull-run and shade.  The breeze would blow from one end to the other while the roof made for a cooling rest stop.  However, even though the functionality existed, the builders of that time would explain the purpose for roof and walls in another way.  The bridges were covered to protect the wooden floor of the bridge from rain, snow and ice, keeping it from water logging and weather-rot.  And THAT’S why you don’t see them much in the dry state of Texas.

If you ever approach an old covered bridge, I suggest parking off to the side to take a leisurely walk through the old rustic structure.  Much like an antique barn, it has that old weathered lumber smell floating through it.  Look up.  Often birds have their nests in its low hanging rafters.  You can hear your footsteps greeting the wooden planks with all its creaks, pops, and knocks.  Examine the railings, the boarded walls, and beams as you run your hand over the aged grain of the timber.  Peek through the occasional knotholes at the water beneath.  Listen for the wind as it communes with the long-standing structure.  Its breezes have been whistling through the old woody frame for over one hundred years or more, sharing tales of older times.  Close your eyes and hear the echoed wooden wagon wheels against the floor of thick lumber.  Listen for the hooves prancing on the planks from one end to the other.  Feel the vibration from a 1918 milk truck slowly making its way through the antique wooden housing.  It’s a very unique experience.

When we were there, I couldn’t help but think about the various travelers who graced the old covered bridge throughout the last century.  Surely there was a doctor in a Model-T on his way to deliver a baby at the next farm beyond the creek.  Then there’s the rancher’s wagon with a new plow horse in tow rumbling the timber slabs.  Back in the day, a circuit preacher on horseback clopping through for services at the Methodist Church, after closing services at the Baptist congregation earlier the same Sunday.  I can imagine, a farmer on an iron-wheeled tractor pulling a flatbed wagon of freshly harvested hay popping the timber floor.  There had to be someone’s great-great-grandparents who raced to the covered bridge during a stormy honeymoon night on the way to the threshold of a new house.  Many, many lives.  Many, many stories.  Many, many who have gone before us to their resting place.

One caution here.  Today’s vehicles are much heavier, much bulkier than what the old bridge was built to accommodate.  Some may have warning signs at the entrance displaying a weight and height limit for those who wish to drive across.  Some SUV’s may be too wide.  Some trucks, too tall for the rafters.  Also, be aware, the buggy wheel of the times never had to worry about flat tires.  Our trek across may find loosened carpenter’s nails.  Due to weathering and age, many pegs and nails find their way back to which they were driven.  There’s much for a driver to consider.

My picture was taken around 2007.  Although a few years have gone by, I often run across the digital shot in my computer files.  When I do, without fail, a warm flush runs through my veins.  A smile visits my face each time my eyes land on it.  I can’t help but wonder if it’s still there.  A simple brush fire can consume its aged lumber within minutes.

At the time I didn’t think of it, but life tends to point to teachable moments at the most simplest of objects.  The old covered bridge is very much a photo of my personal life, my personal faith.

As life would have it, my faith in Jesus is a narrow path.  The objector might point out the age of the object of my faith.  To that person, Jesus only lived to be a 33 year old man, some 2,000 years ago, in a far away sliver of a weakened country ruled by a dominating Emperor in Rome.  At first glance through the knothole of history, it would seem old, ancient, and rickety.  That one without faith may see Jesus as unable to hold up the weight faith requires, much like the old bridge.  My agnostic friends and family would say having faith in a 2,000 year old Jesus doesn’t yield much.  After all, to trust an old, seemingly fragile bridge, accompanied by all the poundage of the day, might very well deliver a carpenter’s nail in your tire, slowing the progress to the other side.  The Apostle Peter might come up out of the water to warn of the winds which shake and rattle the structure on the journey across.  All are true, fair considerations.  Still, it’s not a bridge too far.  Besides, isn’t that what faith is?  Believing on something without hard evidence, or even unseen would be a biblical description.

Yet, the coin flips to another view etched in metal.  The ancient, rickety, weathered, narrow covered bridge is the perfect picture of faith.  (If you need to scroll up to take a closer look at the photo, now’s the time.  It’s okay, I’ll meet you back here.  I’ll be waiting for you.)

My atheist and agnostic friends, who I dearly love, should consider why I stopped to absorb the framed structure.  The detail, the craftsmanship, the engineering from someone who went before me, prepared it for me, knowing I would arrive at the entrance in due time is a fascinating thought.  That mirrors nicely the One known as The Great I Am.

Consider this:

Jesus makes a way over trouble waters on multi-layered scales.

Jesus makes a way, bridging, connecting my unholy state to His righteousness.

Jesus made His way narrow.  In order to tread through it, you will need to unload.

Jesus made the way to be solo, only one-way.  Nobody goes through as a duet, trio or quartet.  Owning humility is the entrance toll.  Pride must be shed.  All must leave behind their wide vehicle.

Jesus made a way with low hanging rafters.  To be in Him, bow the head, the knee.

Jesus made a way with shelter.  He shields from conjured destructive elements.

Jesus made a way with hardships expected.  Life in faith will have its rusty nails.

Jesus made a way to new birth, new teachings, new crops to harvest, new flock, new home with an everlasting spiritual marriage partner, and a new promised resting place.

Jesus made a way with old creaking planks, supported by The Rock Of Ages beneath.

As for me, I drive across this faith bridge daily.  Challenging at times?  Yes, but He said it would be so long ago.  The victory trophy comes at my last stride.

Non-believers will claim my faith is a crutch.  I say it’s a bridge, weatherproofed with fuel for the race.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;  not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”  – Ephesians 2:8-10 (NAS)

Got Fear?

Photo:  Pixabay

“…Just like a ghost
You’ve been a-hauntin’ my dreams
So I’ll propose on Halloween
Love is kinda crazy with a spooky little girl like you, Spooky!”  (1967/1968)  Spooky.  Recorded by:  Classics IV (Later, The Atlanta Rhythm Section.)   Composers:  Instrumentals – Mike Shapiro & Harry Middlebrooks Jr.  Lyrics – J.R. Cobb & Buddy Buie

What spooks you?  According to the song, love can cause fear.  I’ve been there.  How about you?  Nevertheless, love was meant to be the opposite of spooky.

Me, KDB & Mom Wedding

After a few years as a single mother, my mom had remarried my adopted dad.  They were only married for four years, but I had zero fear in my heart concerning our new lives.  We have a good relationship to this very day and I love him.

Homestead Windmill

Fear wasn’t in my mind at all on one hot summer day in 1966.  One of my favorite things was our trips to Graham, Texas where his family resided.  It was in west Texas, rich in cowboy legends and Texas pioneer history.  Thick in Mesquite, cactus, and brush, the land is rugged.

Being a city boy at six years old, I loved visiting my new grandparents out in the rough and rustic hills.  The new adventures filled my imagination while I ran through the back pastures with their cows and horses in my canvas PF Flyers.  Usually in a cowboy hat with a toy pistol in hand, the hours would pass hiding from Comanches and Tonkawas on the warpath, while protecting the herd.  (Little did I know my great-grandfather did exactly that when he settled there in the late 1860’s.)

There was a sandy creek, mostly dry, running through the pastures where I spent lots of time playing in the sandy bottoms.  In my exuberance, during my brave stance fighting for the homestead, I found myself in an embarrassing, but spooky predicament.  Somehow, and I do mean “somehow”, I galloped my stick-horse to the very edge of a deeper bend of the creek.  By God’s grace I was able to stop my forward momentum before going over a vertical 8 foot drop down to the hard sandstone boulders in the creek bed.  After catching my breath, I could see the rubber tips of my sneakers were roughly two inches from the edge.  Between hard inhales, I said, “Wow!  That was close, Trigger.  Let’s get back to the herd where we belong.”  When I turned right, I found myself trapped by a wide sprawling cactus which couldn’t be negotiated.  Turning to my left, I found myself caged-in by a large amount of…well, I guess I’ll be honest here…cow poop.  Yep, a good pile blocking my only escape, spreading all the way to the prickly-pears.  So, there I was.  I couldn’t jump over the cactus.  I dared not try jumping over the pyramid of cow patties.  With things looking rather dim, I turned to analyze the depth of my chances to the bottom of the creek.  My fear began to build up inside.  A couple of times I considered the risk of breaking an ankle with a leap over the side.  Visions of starvation and coyotes filled my head as I went through a scenario where nobody would ever find me until this is all they would recover, minus the lamps.

Halloween Skeleton

Allow me to put some meat on the bones of my circumstance.

Of course, I know what you’re thinking.  There is the thought of, “This is easy.  He should’ve just walked out the way he romped in.”  True, but honestly, I couldn’t figure it out at the time.  You have to get in the mindset of a boy barely six years old.  To this little kid, there was no way out of the patch of ground I stood on.  But…someone had a different perspective.

Grandpa Brown

Photo:  W.R. Brown in his Sunday-go-to-meetin’-attire.  (He lived in his denim overalls and straw hat.)

After about four minutes, although it felt like four hours, I began to panic in fear.  Through my tears I started to scream out for help.  Unfortunately I was about half a mile from the farmhouse.  If someone was to hear me, it would be carried by a bird.  As I launched into yelling mode, the nearby cattle just stood there gazing at me as if I just arrived from Mars.  A lesson was learned.  They don’t take to commands like Lassie.  Not one bovine left for the farmhouse to alert the folks.  I don’t recall how much time ticked by when I heard a friendly chuckle on the other side of the cactus.

While trying his best not to let out too much cackling, in a very thick Texas accent the voice asked, “Well, what’s wrong, boy?”

Quickly I turned my head toward the voice to see my Grandpa Brown standing there with a farmer’s hoe in his hands.  He was a small, but rugged and weathered, kind, leprechaun-of-a-man with crystal clear light blue eyes.  The long hairs growing out of his ears always impressed me.  In my relief to see him, I explained my simple, but desperate situation.

He chuckled again, “Well I’ll be switched.  How did you get in such a fix?  Can’t you get out?”

After explaining how I boxed myself in, he began to slowly direct me through an escape route, which no doubt was the thin trail I used to get there.  As it turned out, he was working his garden not too far from that spot when he heard me cry out.  Poor guy.  He probably came running thinking I had been bitten by a Rattlesnake.  He was probably more relieved than I was.

Yes, I was embarrassed.  Yes, I should’ve figured a way of escape.  And yes, I worked myself up into a lather which wasn’t necessary.  But that’s what needless fear can do.

Of course, there are healthy fears.  You put some fear into a young child about the dangers of fire.  We have a healthy fear of walking out into oncoming traffic.  What?  You say you have a house for sale at the base of an active volcano?  My healthy fear says, no way.

Please don’t judge my six year old self too harshly.  What about that time you had needless anxiety over a job interview?  You may recall when you felt fear over a final exam.  How about the moments just before you walked down the isle with a wedding bouquet in your trembling hands?  It’s all so spooky.

Do you know how many phobias there are?  I googled the titles.  I was beside myself seeing the lengthy list.  They are real.  There’s the fear of leaving your house.  There’s a fear of lettuce.  There’s even a phobia involving bathtubs and shower stalls.  We all would strongly appreciate you obtain counselling for that one.  Spooky for some, but excessive and pointless.

‘Tis the season, says Halloween.  When you think about how we lather ourselves up in fear, every day of the year, it is all about anticipation.  Right?  We see a darkened line of trees at night, the vanguard of a wooded area, as the mind begins to imagine what “might be” waiting for us there.  Anticipation takes time, a moment or two on the clock to settle.  It all surrounds what we do in those moments before our imagination cooks up the horrid.  Naturally, there are those who orchestrate fright like a band of tubas.

While watching an interview with a so-called “expert” on Sasquatch, I was amazed at the push for fear in the following statement.  The authoritative man set the stage like this:

“Through the years we have learned that Bigfoot is attracted to campsites, and tents specifically.”

The vomit of laughter coming out of me continued for another minute or so.  Think about it.  He claims to be an expert on a beast that has never been found dead, never been captured, never been scientifically verified.  Zero DNA discoveries, or bone fragments.  It’s an animal that’s never been in a clear, sharp video production that wasn’t shaky, or solid focused photograph, all in order to keep the enhancements from detecting a zipper on the costume.  Moreover, any footage (excuse the pun) presented, the elusive Sasquatch always runs away from the photographer.  Very camera-shy.  Certainly, I’m no expert, but it seems to me, with all the footage thus far of a seemingly frightened beast, a human campsite is the last place it would want to invade.  However, it’s fun to be afraid.  Right?  Unless it’s true fright from actual danger.

Here’s my view.  I didn’t have to be afraid of the cactus.  I didn’t need to fear the edge of the creek.  I shouldn’t have been scared of the large pile of poop.  (Then again, I still shy away from poop piles.)  My viewpoint at the time was skewed at best.  My six year old self allowed panic to overtake the true scenario.  What saved me from it all was a gentle old man who saw me from a different perspective.  Love popped the fear-bubble and eased my troubled mind due to my Grandpa Brown.  And THAT made the difference.

When you belong to One who sees all, knows all, and dispatches guardians, the spirits of fear quake and shake.

Sometimes fear is very much like a Jack-o-lantern.  Fearful exterior, but all hollow on the inside.  Fearfulness isn’t heavy to push aside when lubricated nicely with fuel for the race.

‘Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’ – God –  Isaiah 41:10 (NAS)