The Shelf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(I need to clean and clip my fingernails.)

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

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

Remember those shirts?

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

Tickey in 1968.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Standing In The Gap

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

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

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

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

Photo by Diego Madrigal on Pexels.com

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

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

Photo by Cristyan Bohn on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The empty garden tomb of Jesus.

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

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

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

Name That Tune

“All of her days have gone soft and cloudy, all of her dreams have gone dry.
All of her nights have gone sad and shady. She’s getting ready to fly.
Fly away, fly away, fly away, fly away. Where are my days, where are my nights? Where is the Spring? I wanna fly, I wanna fly…”
(1975) “Fly Away” – Recorded By: John Denver & Olivia Newton-John Composer: John Denver

Photo: Singing in Buffalo, NY (2005)

Music has been my life. It’s been my joy, my friend, my tool of praise, my vocation. I fell in love with music before I could speak, so I’ve been told. And it’s no wonder.

Music is an incredible creation. You will not find it listed among the created items in the beginning of Genesis, during the six day event we know as creation. Do you know why? Because music belongs to eternity past, prior to the universe display. Simply, it’s a Divine attribute. It belongs to God Himself.

Music has immense, long-lasting power. The human, and animal minds are its slave. The music staff, when filled, literally navigates the brain. Indeed, music has the strength to change a life, a wavelength, a thought. Even its soundwaves can destroy a glass, a wall, a notion. It is even a giant in the realm of therapy, to build up.

You might have bought a hamburger due to, “You deserve a great today, so get up and get away to McDonalds.” You might have purchased insurance due to hearing, “Wherever you’re driving, and wherever you’re bound, like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” Do you still smell chicken in the air if I reminded you of, “… Goodbye ho-hum. Say hello to your family. Come on everyone. At Kentucky Fried Chicken, have a barrel of fun.” All written by, Barry Manilow during his hungry years.

Who could forget the TV theme song as Dick Van Dyke trips over the ottoman? If I wrote the lyrics, “Now come listen to a story about a man named Jed…”, would you suddenly see Buddy Ebsen shootin’ at some food? And if I mentioned, Andy Griffith and Ron Howard walking toward a pond with fishing poles, could you immediately hear the whistle of the theme song? I bet you’re hearing it right now. Am I right? If not, you are now.

That’s the long arm of a couple of bars of carefully crafted music notes within a time signature. Tones and arithmetic together can be called, magical.

Recently, it became an urgency to move my mom into our home. Her dementia cognitive levels are causing her personal leaves to fall. Over the past year, it became very clear she could no longer live by herself. She officially moved in with my wife and I the week of Thanksgiving of 2021. Although I watched her be a 24/7 caregiver to her mom, for about 13 years, it is so vastly different to actually BE the caregiver. There is a great learning curve to it all. We also have learned a lot about ourselves. We even learned how we must guard our marriage very carefully during the turmoil of caring for a dementia patient.

I am grateful my mom still has much of her mind still intact with some precious memories which have yet to let go of their branches. Still, names, places, and simple words go missing in the fog of cognitive struggles. However, there remains one large leaf clutching its branch with a strong grip, much like a boat’s anchor on a rope.

When my mom feels the time is right to take her walker to her bedroom for preparations on laying her head on the pillow for the night, I can always count on one thing. My wife follows her there each night as she faithfully assists in bed prep. As I began to do the same on the other side of the house, soon two lovely voices are adrift in the air, reaching my awaiting ears.

My mom looks forward each night to singing a selected hymn from her days gone by. She was, and still is, a terrific soprano. In fact, as I was growing up, she was a much sought after vocalist wherever we lived, singing mainly for churches, weddings and funerals. When I was about 9 years of age, we began doing duo work.

Photo: My mom & I. April 1963.

Nightly, the two of them agree on a hymn, and ring out a duo as my wife tucks her in. (A footnote here. My wife was raised Nazarene, and my mom was raised Baptist. Often, the two denominations did not share hymnals. The two of them decide which hymns to sing, Therefore, many are found to be unknown to my wife, as well as my mom, but they both can read music and have great ears.) At times, I will hear a hymn coming from her room I haven’t heard in five decades, or longer. But each time, I can still recall the melody, harmonies, and most of the lyrics. Music does that. I hate to “spiritualize” everything, but I will say, especially sacred music. Yes, there’s a God-thing going on.

My talents come from my mom, and her mom’s side of the family. They were an artsy clan. My mom has invited me to come make a trio out of the late night serenades, and maybe soon I will. But for now, I enjoy the smile it brings to my face whenever the familiar vocal, which once calmed this child, comes dancing through the air in search of my ear.

I know what you are thinking, and it’s okay. Just know that I know, these bittersweet days are precious. There is a song in her heart because she is simply preparing to fly away.

Your song of the heart can be found in fuel for the race.

The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV)

No Vacancy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WITH us IS God” A Baby changes everything.

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

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

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

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

Find Christmas renewed in fuel for the race.

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

Ornament Of You

“It was late last night.
I was feeling something wasn’t right.
There was not another soul in sight,
Only you, only you…”
(1972) “I Saw The Light” Written/Recorded By: Todd Rundgren

There it is. It’s that dusty box in the corner of the attic, basement, or the garage. Part of you doesn’t look forward with great anticipation to opening the box. As you do, you say to yourself; “I sure am glad it’s only once a year.”

Photo by SHVETS production on Pexels.com

Once you’ve carried it all the way to the Christmas tree by the window, you might begin to feel a bit lighter as your imagination of décor runs amuck.

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Pexels.com

As you dig through the various ornaments in the box, old memories begin to surface. One old Rudolph ornament from your childhood shines up at you from its resting place. Suddenly you can almost feel those warm footed pajamas with the gritted soft plastic soles. Another ornament rediscovered reminds you of your new little tax deduction with painted letters saying; “Baby’s First Christmas.” Still, another ornament way back in the corner of the box, wrapped in a paper towel, has bitterness attached to it. It might be a reminder of the passing of a loved one, a year of a bankruptcy, or the death of a marriage.

A cheerful smile returns about the time you begin to string the festive colored bulbs around the tree. After a quick trip to the fridge for a cup of cheer, you step back to examine the balance of your light display thus far. A tweak here and a tweak there, and it’s on to the hanging ornaments.

Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on Pexels.com

Ornaments themselves come in many shapes and sizes, not to mention textures. One of my favorites comes from my childhood. Made of wood, painted in red and gold, are various musical instruments. I mean everything from a piano to a piccolo. I think every parent has saved precious cardboard or paper ornaments, laced with yarn, crafted by little hands from a son or daughter. I know I have a few. At one radio station I worked for, each year the general manager gave the staff the official tree ornament from the White House from that year. Usually it was made of blown glass, or crystal, and the most pricey ornament on the tree.

Then there are the regular colored glass balls cradled in Styrofoam. Sometimes the wire hooks remain attached from the year before. I know I am guilty of such a crime. Hues of red, blue, green, silver, and gold are the norms. while some prefer the solid colors. Either way, the texture of the surface of each glass ball is designed to ricochet the stringed lights, or that wonderful color wheel I adore. In fact, the average glass ball ornament reflects more than just the holiday lights, but any other item it can catch in its reflective shimmering surface.

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

When the job is complete, there is a quiet satisfaction which descends in your spirit as you take in the sight. The further away from the display, the more beautiful it seems to become.

As a kid, I loved to kneel down to find my reflection in one of the glass balls. Oh, the funny faces you can make as you observe your expressions on the colored balls, with the festive lights changing the color of your skin. The shock is that you find it’s not how you view yourself in a flat mirror. My cousins and I used to cackle at our holiday reflections.

Christmas cards will often spell out the truth of “giving”, or the “giving season”. Most have heard the biblical concept, spoken by Jesus, concerning the joy of gifting. The joy is greater for the one giving than the one receiving. In today’s crash and grab robberies in our culture, the perpetrators have no clue of this joy. Entitlement is a cursed word.

Actually, the purpose for the event of that first Christmas was to help us understand what we DO NOT deserve. Christmas tree time can be a tad cluttered with thoughts of giving in proportion of what’s received. Will they spend more than you? Will the wrapped gift fall short of expectations? Will you run to Walmart afterward to purchase a gift card to make up for a gift you felt was too small? Yikes! What a mess we’ve made of this celebration. The wonderful gift given, the Savior Of All Sinners, the baby in the manger, speaks loudly from heaven’s gates, “I love you so much, I am giving of Myself to rescue you from your sinful nature birthed in Eden so long ago.” Truly, a gift given we do not deserve. When an honest look in the reflection is had, “entitlement” is far from the view. If one feels like the gift is unnecessary, that one will never receive the gift of redemption. Being rescued from oneself can only be accomplished by One Who is holy, without spot, without a condition of the fall.

As you peer into the glass ball ornament, don’t expect to see yourself in what you have come to recognize in the vanity mirror. What you can expect are distortions, coloring of shades not seen on your picture ID.

Yes, the decorated tree is beautiful, and rightly so, but in a private moment of biblical truth, glance closely at the reflective ball. In that moment, allow it to be a reminder of our distorted views, or misshaped slants, our condition of falling short through the prism of God’s righteousness exhibited in Jesus. Bittersweet is the true story of Christmas.

Any time of the year, find out how God truly views you in fuel for the race.

“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” – 2 Corinthians 9:15 (NAS)

Losing Faith?

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

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

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

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

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

The two of us in 1962.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In recovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Wonderful Distraction

“When you feel down and out, Sing a song (it’ll make your day).

For you, here’s the time to shout Sing a song (It’ll make a way).

Sometimes it’s hard to care, Sing a song (It’ll make your day).

A smile is so hard to bear, Sing a song (It’ll make a way)…”

(1975) Recorded By: Earth, Wind & Fire Composers: Maurice White/Al McKay

Can I be real frank with you, yet remaining to be Alan at the same time? Okay, I take it that’s a “Yes”.

Over the summer, death has taken a few friends and acquaintances, including one family member, and almost lost another. The losses have been almost on a weekly basis. I have been fighting depression concerning my dementia patient mom who is declining much faster than expected. She still lives alone some 60 miles from me. I am facing mountains of decisions in this arena. My health is slowly headed further south. My wife has been faced with health issues herself, and heavy emotional family issues on her side. I feel like I am going under with my hand stretched out above the surface of a deep, dark ocean. I have needed a distraction…big-time.

It seems I have some new readers which may not know about one of my favorite topics, my middle daughter, Megan. Although I recently posted about her wedding over the summer, here I am again with something new and exciting.

Megan with her band, Grosh
Megan shooting a music video

Megan is a bit of a verified rock star in Western New York. Articles and reviews list her as part of Buffalo, New York’s “rock royalty”, and she’s only 31.

Recently, she was asked to audition to perform the National Anthem at the home opener at the Buffalo Sabres game. She, and her band mate, Grace Lougen from their band, Grosh, (Grace is a superb guitar player.), she recently played for me at Megan’s wedding reception, took the plunge with an audition. BOOM! Before you could say, Ice Capades, she got the call. As it turned out, she needed to learn the Canadian Anthem as well, due to the fact the opposing team was the Montreal Canadiens, (Yeah, that’s how they spell it.)

Although, me being in Dallas Stars’ territory, no outlet was carrying the game, with the exception of ESPN+, which my oldest daughter, Tabitha subscribes to. Thankfully, she shot a cell phone video of the performance, which I posted on my Facebook page. (You can see it there. Search for, Alan Brown Carrollton, Texas. That should do it.)

What’s that? You say you wish you could see some pictures? Really? Well, allow me. Let me grab my slide projector.

Megan (R) with Grace (L) prior to the game.

Megan & Grace at work on the Sabres’ ice.

Megan & Grace remembering the lyrics to “Oh, Canada”
.
Singing without a COVID mask is refreshing for a New Yorker!

It does a dad’s heart some good to find several camera angles for different perspectives from fans in attendance, as well as, those viewing from Canadian networks. (The version on my Facebook page is from the ESPN+ broadcast.) I needed to be ushered away from heavy sorrows and raking worries. It served as an inward reboot button. Thank you, Megan.

Although, with live gigs averaging several times a week, with 19,000+ in the arena that night, plus who knows how many in the television and radio audience, I would say it was her largest audience to date. Yeppers, I was one proud dad. Moreover, I was one distracted dad.

Recently I became aware that the Puritans often used a quote I have used before as a performer through the decades. I had always thought the origin of the quote came from Soren Kierkegaard. Nevertheless, it’s a dandy.

“AN AUDIENCE OF ONE”

Sometime in my mid 20’s, when I became a serious Bible student, anytime I performed a song, a theatrical script, or while on radio and audio commercials, I trained myself to imagine performing to He Who sits on the eternal throne, God Himself. It was a process. Prior to that time, I just focused on the audience of humanity in the seats. That’s all well and good, but it can feel shallow. Laser-focusing on the One Who created talents can bring the performance from the head to the heart rapidly, as if He is the only set of eyes and ears in the room. This is what I taught Megan while she was a child actress back in the day. My hope is that every now and then, she might recall the idea.

When needing a good distraction, find it easily in fuel for the race.

“Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.” – Psalm 96:1-2 (NAS)

Conformity

“Pressure: pushing down on me,
Pressing down on you, no man ask for.
Under pressure that burns a building down,
Splits a family in two,
Puts people on streets.”
(1981) “Under Pressure” Recorded By: Queen & David Bowie.
Composed By: Roger Taylor, Freddie Mercury, David Bowie (Lyrics), John Deacon, Brian May.

Are you old enough to remember these?

Photo by Yan Krukov on Pexels.com

I’m sorry. I’m referencing the bean bad chairs, not the kids.

I was so proud of mine. During my teen years, in the 70’s (1970’s, not 1870’s) I had one in my bedroom. It was royal blue (My high school colors.) and made of a shiny vinyl. It sat in the corner of my room, right next to my stereo record player and headphones. It lasted several years into my early 20’s until the tiny white Styrofoam beans began to escape the seams. That was tough on burnt orange shag carpet. I think I cried when I finally surrendered to tossing it in a dumpster. Recently, I have noticed ads for a bean bag chair revival, new and improved. Just like my old royal blue friend, I am sure the new ones will memorize the shape of your backside. They have a memory, ya know.

When the Star Trek franchise introduced, “The Borg” aliens to the Star Trek timeline in the late 80’s with The Next Generation, I was reminded of my old bean bag chair.

The Borg. Star Trek franchise. Paramount Pictures. Memory Alpha Fandom.

If you are unfamiliar with the Star Trek story-lines, the Borg is a race of collective drones, part android, part human, or other humanoid species. They are of one mind, no individual thinking or reasoning. Each drone hears only one dialogue from its members in the hive of collectives. Their purpose is to collect humanoid species by force to glean from their experiences and technologies in order to add to their own collective. Their very robotic vocal greeting to planets and space ships is ominous:

“WE ARE THE BORG. YOU WILL BE ASSIMILATED. YOU MUST COMPLY. RESISTANCE IS FUTILE.”

Of course, the victims of such an assimilation means the humanoid species being spoken to will not only cease to live out their own culture and society as they know it, but will lose all identity and individual thought as they will be part of ONE MIND, ONE THOUGHT, ONE PURPOSE. In other words, it ain’t good.

Just like my bean bag chair, victims of The Borg must CONFORM, no longer keeping their own sovereign shape. I thought about this when after the summer Olympics were complete, I could see the outline of my derriere on the couch. Poor cushion, it had no choice but to comply.

What does it take to comply to the force facing you? If someone were to come out from the cavern they reside in, they may not see it. However, if you are plugged into what is going on around you, you will recognize it.

Whenever misinformation is given, the goal is to get you to conform. Whenever an alternative “truth” is unleashed in the media, academia, or from government, you can bet it is an effort to assimilate the “absolute truth” when conformity is the goal. Whenever free speech is attacked with vicious words, and even physical violence, conformity is the goal. Whenever you see a yellow sign and you are constantly told it’s a blue sign, the goal is conformity. Whenever a photo is forced upon you over and over again, accompanied by the word, “Racism” or “Crime”, and the photo clearly shows the absence of racism or crime, you can bet you are being groomed for conformity. Whenever you witness statues of significant officials and warriors, and founding fathers torn down and burned, conformity is the reward. Whenever an elected official, hired by you, the free citizen of democracy, stands behind the podium of significance and states that he/she is “losing patience” with you, conformity is in play. Whenever a growing mob tramples and burns down all that is wholesome and good for a community, conformity is on the menu. Whenever you are assaulted, or publicly showered with curses in order to shame you because of your ideology, theology, or your life-choices, the pressure is to squeeze you into conformity. Whenever shiny objects are dangled in the opposite direction of where I need to be looking, for safety and freedom sake, I am reminded misdirection is a tool which leads to conformity. (Just ask the catfish wrapped up in your local butcher shop.) Whenever righteousness, law & order, and right is rifled out to be evil, lack of justice, and wrong, conformity is the pressure.

My bean bag chair only conformed to my rear end due to the pressure of weight I applied to it. As for The Borg, well, conformity is the only option by way of force.

You might say conformity is the result of impression. To be impressed, whether good or bad, someone, or something must weigh heavily on you. Adam and Eve were introduced to the cleverness of a conformity campaign:

“…You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – The Serpent (Genesis 3:4 – 5) ESV

If I were a bean bag chair, before someone applied their weight to me, I would push back with the boldness of shouting out, “I know my shape! It’s how I was made! That’s the truth of it!” If I were to face The Borg, I would fight for the truth of who I am, loving the freedoms God gave to me. Why? Because with God, resistance is NOT futile! I’ve already been transformed.

When compliance is birthed from a lie, recognize the signs in fuel for the race.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2 (NAS)

Good Grief!

“In the words of a broken heart,
It’s just emotion that’s taken me over,
Tied up in sorrow, lost in my soul…”
(1977) “Emotion” Recorded By: Samantha Sang Composed By: Robin Hugh Gibb / Barry Alan Gibb

It’s been a longer span of time since I wrote a post on this blog. A number of reasons come to mind as I write this, but for now I will say it’s because of grief. Really, grief is just a pinch inside a mix of ingredients. Grief, with a good dose of anger, stirred with a mix of anxiousness makes for a good bunt cake to the belly. Throw that in a pre-heated oven deep down inside, and see what comes out as the temperature rises. Have you felt it yourself? This cake is bitter.

Grief can be born out of many things. Frankly, it could be manifested out of an ongoing flash flood of issues, washing everything down stream, taking out foundations which were once thought as solid and sturdy.

Photo by Ian Turnell on Pexels.com

Take note of the drastic rise in crime across the U.S. Notice the overwhelming splash of drug abuse nationwide. Research the scoreless population of homelessness in our streets and under bridges. Violence is becoming the norm in the streets, against everyone, including Asians, elderly, and children. Much of which were committed by ex-cons who were set free from behind bars. Others act out due to mental illness, peer pressure, or pure hatred. Where is the righteous rage?

Try not to ignore the vast numbers of “illegal” immigrants crossing our southern border at will. Throngs have entered illegally from all over the world. The White House continues to sit in silence about this problem. Many of these are sexually abused on the journey, victims of human trafficking. A few days ago, two little girls under 10 years old, walking solo across the border, had been sexually assaulted. Our border officers have had to get wet while retrieving bodies floating in the Rio Grande, including the bodies of children. Not a peep from the White House, as if it’s not happening. When out of the confines of much of the media, you will find out that thousands of these untested, unmasked, unvaccinated illegal immigrants are ill with COVID as they are freely placed by our government all over the U.S. by plane and bus, possibly in your town unknowingly. It’s not a racial statement to point out the facts of what is going on. That’s a foolish default narrative accusation set-up by those who don’t want to face the problem, but are willing to attack those who do. Pouring in without resistance includes drug mules, various criminals, and well-known gang members, including the murderous, MS-13. Very few are being vetted. There are those close to the the border crisis warning of terrorists taking advantage of an reckless open border. Yet, the White House looks the other way. Yep, nothing to see here. That’s the same people who planned the exit from Afghanistan. Trust?

Unwise massive spending bills, much of which are politically charged from the far left, are being passed that will cripple our economy, leaving generations to come under water. Trillions of dollars we Americans do not have. We are no longer energy self-sufficient. Fossil fuel production here has been dramatically clipped in the last 8 months, and now we are dependent on OPEC, and OPEC’s whims once again. Sure, some nations pay $9.00/gallon and call it, “normal”. Some pay more than that. Is that what we want? My wallet isn’t big enough. How about yours? Maybe we will find a way to grind up all those statues of the founding fathers we have torn down and pour the dust into our gas tanks. Do you think that will work? At the same time, businesses are shutting down, while some can’t stay open due to the lack of employees. Why? Because the White House continues to spoon feed people with unemployment checks, along with stimulus checks, which add up to much more than their salaries.

Critical Race Theory is quickly becoming a norm for school districts all across the nation. Why do we approve of our children being soaked in the false narrative that one race is better than the other, adding that one race is a perpetual victim at birth? CRT teaches against Martin Luther King, Jr. He believed a nation should not judge by the color of skin, but by one’s character. CRT aims to divide the population into tribes, no longer with the goal of ONE NATION, ONE PEOPLE. The White House approves. Why is that?

We have a Godless generation being raised. Marxism is celebrated now. That sound isn’t wooden pews creaking as someone shifts their weight, it’s crickets. Ebbing away are moral directives and disciplines, unless it’s from the gang-banger on the corner, or the leftest professor with a communistic agenda. In fact, I have seen more Christian-haters, and Jew-haters, online now than ever before who rage openly, about how people of faith should be removed, or shut down in the proverbial public square. Just today, I read a post from an old friend who blamed the resistance to mask mandates on…(wait for it)…”religious people.” Have we forgotten how Nero blamed the ills of the Roman Empire, and even the burning of Rome on…(wait for it)…Christians? Oh, yeah. If CRT is replacing true history, than maybe no one will know about that.

Photo by Jonas Ferlin on Pexels.com

I have seen people I know die from COVID. At this very moment, one of my dearest cousins is struggling for her life from this virus, and her husband is in ICU on a ventilator who may not recover from it. At the same time, there are multitudes who will read this and respond with, “If they are part of the unvaccinated, they deserve to suffer and die.” The White House is now using a carefully crafted title, “The Pandemic of The Unvaccinated”. This is dangerous! It sets the idea, for minds of mush, that the pandemic is only here due to individuals who have chosen not to get vaccinated. Thus, the blame-game. This is where we are in our society now. The love of many will indeed wax cold, so says scripture.

Unfortunately, much of our current politicians in Washington DC, care more about applauding themselves on passing a multi-trillion dollar spending bill into law, or the number of vaccines pierced this week, or how many masks are smothered over the faces of Americans than the sloppy mess of how it was decided to exit our people from Afghanistan. Because of this failure, many American soldiers have been killed in the process of helping to evacuate helpless civilians in harms way. Scores of civilian losses. Women who remain will be beaten, raped, murdered, and refused access to education. Why? Because there, they are seen as pack mules and baby factories by extremist pigs like the Taliban and ISIS-K. In THIS crisis, the White House can’t look the other way, only due to the outrage of the majority of Americans, as the White House watches the polls in hopes it will be just another news cycle scenario. Experts now fear another 9/11 will take place. I certainly expect it.

So, yes, my grief is good! It needs to happen. Too many today are NOT grieving over the dragging down of our nation, our culture, our society, our laws. Too many haven’t felt grief at all because of the option to medicate oneself. Drink this. Swallow this. Shoot-up this. Snort this. So many of what’s running through our veins is coming across…(wait for it)…our southern border. Soon, grief is drowned in the pool of a blank mind, a blank spirit, a blank soul. America is in trouble. And if America is in trouble, the free world is in trouble.

Believe me when I say, I am not wallowing in grief, but I do find it difficult to shampoo it all away. How do YOU rinse it out?

Grief itself is not wrong. It is not a sin. In fact, Jesus said it’s even rewarded.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” – Jesus – Matthew 5:3-4 (NAS)

Even Jesus was a man of sorrows. He wasn’t shielded from hurting and pain.

After His friend, Lazarus died, he was hit with grief. Before raising him from the dead…

“Jesus wept.” – John 11:35 (KJV)

He mourned for His nation in peril and disarray.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that murdered The Prophets and stoned those who were sent to it! How many times have I desired to gather your children, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is left to you desolate!” – Jesus – Matthew 23:37-38 (Aramaic Bible In Plain English)

He sees. He knows. He weeps. The Author and Finisher of The Faith wrote of all of the above in prophecies, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament.

He also comforts in the most difficult of times. That means I can react to our state of affairs and grieve. In doing so, I know I am in good company.

Grieving is expected. Righteous action is plainly printed in fuel for the race.

“I heard the LORD of Hosts declare: “‘Surely many houses will become desolate, great mansions left unoccupied. ‘” Isaiah 5:9 (Berean Study Bible)

That Which Entangles

“And if they stare
Just let them burn their eyes on you moving.
And if they shout
Don’t let it change a thing that you’re doing…

Hold your head up, oh
Hold your head up, oh

Hold your head high.”
(1972) “Hold Your Head Up” Recorded By: Argent Composers: C. White/R. Argent

I admit it. I am an Olympic junkie. I sat on the couch for two weeks, glued to the Tokyo events. I found myself cheering while taking-in certain sports I normally would pass on, like wall climbing. After a few days, I realized I hadn’t even taken a shower. Yeah, sad, I know.

The human spirit in these games was so evident, even in a pandemic. For the most part, no crowds where allowed to cheer the athletes onward toward the goal. Unless a relative was a coach, no parents, wives, husbands, children, significant others were on the grounds. So, in a way, the competitors found the struggle a bit more challenging without the love felt and heard around them.

The human interest stories attached to some Olympians were in abundance. I would list the notables, but the list is way too long. If you weren’t able to watch, trust me, there were plenty of tear-jerking side stories shared.

These games were a bit different for me personally. The daughter of an old friend of mine made the Olympics this year. Melissa Gonzalez is a 27 year old world track contender in the women’s 400 meter hurdles. She has dual citizenship and was able to represent her dad’s country of Colombia. (Her mom, my old friend, was raised in my area.)

Melissa Gonzalez

Melissa grew-up here in my neck of the woods and attended University of Texas in Austin, Tx. She was a track star there, but her speed times were shy of Olympian competition requirements. She work every day for years on end to better her times. She prayed about the decision to tryout for the Tokyo games, made the choice, and qualified. She threw-off the personal disappointment, in her less than luster times at UT, and grew wings on her shoes for Tokyo. Melissa had broken her own Colombian record for the 400 meter hurdles, and in the qualifying heat in Tokyo surpassed her national record for a personal best. A few days later, in the semi-finals, she had to run in the rain against a world record holder, and the up-coming gold medalist.

Although Melissa fell short of winning a medal, coming in the 6th place slot, she remains in the top 24 for women’s 400 meter hurdles in the world. Because of the joy she possesses from her deep faith, she held her head up and displayed God’s love wherever she went. She vows to go to Paris for the next Olympics in 2024. You go, girl!

Scores of friends and family met her at the airport when she came home. There were lots of tears shed as they cheered for a job well done. Really, a life well-lived. I’m very proud of her.

Melissa at DFW Airport

Although I was distracted, as my focus was on Melissa’s efforts and stats in Tokyo, I was literally shaken by another amazing, stunning occurrence in the women’s 1,500 meter qualifying heat. Did you see it?

Ethiopian-born Dutch distance runner, Sifan Hassan, 28 years old, would be unheard-of for the casual sports fan. If you are a fan of world track competitions, than you may recognize her as a two-time gold medalist in both the 1,500 meter, and the 10,000 meter events from the 2019 World Championships.

Sifan was flying out of her shoes as she was entering the final lap in the 1,500, when all went wrong. A runner from Kenya was in front of her, tripped and hit the track on her belly, tripping Sifan in the process, hitting the pavement as well.

Photo: Matthias Hangst – Sifan Hassa in orange top.

Seemingly out of the race, Sifan looked up, watching the world contenders quickly leaving her behind. There were eleven of them, the fastest runners in the world, were now between her and the finish-line.

Photo: Reuters/Dylan Martinez – Sifan Hassan

To everyone’s shock, Sifan looked down in defeat and then looked up again with another expression on her face. The track star then stood up, and turned on the fuel from behind the running crowd. With nothing short of astonishing inward fortitude, Sifan poured on the speed. At this point, I thought, “Wow. Nice second effort, but she’s done.”

The lady from the Netherlands swept passed each and every contender in high gear. I couldn’t help but stand to my feet in my living-room as I watched the focus in her eyes burning like the Olympic torch itself.

As she was gradually making up lost ground, on the final straightaway, she pushed herself passed the front pack of five finalists to outrun them all as she crossed the finish-line in first place.

Photo: NBC Sports – Sifan Hassa 1st place

Later in the week, Sifan Hassan made it through the semifinals. On the day of the final heat for the medals in the 1,500 meters, she won the bronze for the Netherlands.

If you’re not familiar with the Bible, the Apostle Paul was a sports fan, from what he wrote. In his writings he uses some Olympic events to help us understand how spiritual faith works, and how it works itself out into action. It’s as if he saw the women’s 1,500 meter with Sifan, and the 400 meter hurdles with Melissa, and wrote the following…

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” – I Corinthians 9:24 (NIV)

Whenever the winners were given a screen to see their family and friends cheering them on back home, it made most athletes smile, laugh, and cry. When Melissa exited the gate from the baggage claim back in Dallas, when she saw the cheering, weeping crowds with their signs and balloons welcoming her home from an effort well-done, there was joy in her eyes. And so this encouragement was written for us…

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)

Since the days have passed by, I think a lot about Melissa and Sifan. Mostly, I try to get inside their heads when that moment of decision was made. For Melissa, it was holding her head up above the clouds of self-pity as she felt “less-than” from her college track times. She very well could have simmered in the frying pan of loss, holding her away from world competition. For Sifan, there must have been an instant of overwhelming defeat as she tripped over the Kenyan watching the surface of the track come closer and closer to her face. She was faced with walking off the track while calling it a day. But, somehow, someway, she stood to her feet, endured the pain, and found a gear she probably didn’t know she had at the moment.

How about when you have fallen? Do you recall? Do you remember the scrape to the knees as you hit the concrete of life? The losses, the failures, the defeat can be life altering, or even ending for some. I know this all too well. All things CAN BE endured.

Spiritually speaking, we all have fallen short of the target. The goal in our relationship with our Creator is too far away for our arrows to reach. It’s like an attempt at the long jump over the Grand Canyon. You just can’t achieve it. At the same time, God made a way to bridge the great gap we cannot negotiate. Jesus came here to run the perfect race for us, to carry us across the finish-line Himself, for Himself. Otherwise, because of sin in life, which we all are owners, we would be left on the track without a chance to crossover to where we need to be at the end of our heat.

We are born with our backsides on the surface of the track. But we don’t have to stay there.

A race well-done can only be had by grace, through faith, and easily found in fuel for the race.

“Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. So they do it to obtain a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way as not to run aimlessly; I box in such a way, as to avoid hitting air; but I strictly discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” – Paul – I Corinthians 9:25-27 (NAS)