“Every breath you take and every move you make Every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be watching you Every single day and every word you say Every game you play, every night you stay, I’ll be watching you.” – (1983) – “Every Breath You Take” – Recorded by: The Police (Sting) Composer: Gordon Sumner
Creepy, isn’t it? I always thought so. I felt that way about the lyrics of “Private Eyes” (They’re watching you…) by Hall & Oats. Who would’ve ever thought there would be something so spooky connected with Christmas?
December for me was the anticipation of my mom breaking out my old Christmas pal, Elfie. He was an elf doll dressed in a red velvet body suit with a Santa hat on top of a soft plastic head, along with a face garnished with rosy cheeks. In fact, I believe there was a little jingle bell on the point of his hat. He was skinny and maybe 8″ tall. The mittens on his hands were sown together, creating a loop with his arms for slipping over a doorknob, or a thin bedpost. For this little boy, he not only was a celebratory pal, but he was also the visual symbol that Santa was soon to arrive. He spent many Decembers with me until one Christmas Eve my dog, Tickey, found Elfie’s plastic head to be a chew toy not to be resisted. I cried, but forgave Tickey…eventually.
Many years ago, when producing radio theater plays for a radio network, I had an idea which came to me like a sled on an icy roof. While producing my second Christmas radio theater production, I decorated the recording studio in all things Christmas. When coming into the recording session from a 100 degree July day in Texas, you needed something to help transport the theater of the mind to December. As I recall, I even had the air conditioner set to a frosty level. Some of us even had to wear jackets or sweaters in the session. In honor of my old buddy, Elfie, it seemed appropriate to have a few of his descendants brighten the studio. Some actors found it intimidating while delivering lines from my script.
Of course, all of the above was way before the Christmas craze we now know, and affectionately call, “Elf On The Shelf”. My granddaughter, Skylar has one. If you don’t have children, or grandchildren going headlong into the American Christmas traditions, you may not know who Elf On The Shelf is, or what he is rumored to do. Well, let me enlighten you before December 25th settles upon us. This elf doll sits on the shelf, the bed, the table, the mantle, ect with eyes wide opened. At Skylar’s house he surprisingly appears in the most unexpected places every day. He’s not gazing in amazement at the traditional holiday decor, or the Christmas gifts under the tree, or even the wintry changes in weather. Nope, not at all. Just like the lyrics from The Police, his one and only job is to watch…okay, I’ll use the word “spy”, on the children of the house as he reports back to Santa for his big global flight. The little snitch is all about deduction of potential gifts on Christmas morning. OUCH! I guess Santa is too old to be seeing when you’re sleeping, and knowing when you’re awake. Age has gotten in Kringle’s way when it comes to knowing if you’ve been bad or good. Oh, for goodness sake. Now it seems Claus has a built-in security camera in the form of a sneaky elf, who sits on a shelf, keeping a sharp eye on the do’s and don’ts. Now if that isn’t creepy, I don’t know what is. At least the fat old man in the red suit wasn’t peeking through the closet door of my bedroom each night of the year. I guess that’s of nightmare status, like movies called, “Santa’s Claws” or “Santa’s Slay” Yikes! Okay, I’ve gone amok. I apologize.
Back to sanity now. I will say Skylar isn’t bothered by her Elf On The Shelf at all. She’s had about 3-4 years of having his judging eyes on her for a few Decembers. Frankly, I’m not sure if she is better behaved because of it. So, in the end, I will say he might not cause lasting psychological scars. Maybe we will know more in the next 20 years.
Certainly, if you read my last post you might surmise I am one of those Christians who shuns anything in the fluffy & puffy from the Christmas tradition arena. Well, no, I am not in that category whatsoever. Like a foreclosure sign in the lawn of a palm reader’s house, you didn’t see that coming.
Putting child psychology aside, the Elf On The Shelf, and St. Nick’s omnipresent, omniscient eyes are truly the opposite of the authentic act of the first Christmas. Can you guess what the difference is?
Contrary to a popular belief in our culture, I am not eternally rewarded by superior behavior walking in my shoes today. Let it be known: I AM SOOOOOO IMPERFECT! While I’m at it, don’t take Elf On The Shelf as a picture of what a good Christian does. The Babe in the manger grew up and said we should not judge anyone, or we will be judged. It’s not the Christian’s job to sit on a shelf and search for others to flub, fall, and falter. If you’re under a spiritual teacher which pounds that misnomer into your ears, I say run and never look back. In fact, a better suggestion is to take a pair of your well-worn shoes, nail them to his/her office door with a note which reads, “Walk in these for awhile.”
Sorry for my rabbit trail on thought. I’m no Scrooge. Really, I’m not.
As cute as Elf On The Shelf is, he is theologically off. The child in Bethlehem’s manger Christmas night was a free gift wrapped in swaddling clothes. You don’t get a free gift because you necessarily deserved it, but because someone loved you enough, thought of you enough, cared for you enough to go before you arrived and purchased it with a tag which reads your name, in whatever language you speak. Moreover, this free gift, the Baby in the manger, was given BECAUSE of misbehavior, BECAUSE of abuses, BECAUSE of flubs, falling, and falters, without condition. Let me write that again…WITHOUT CONDITION! Try that on some stranger. No, I mean it. Find a criminal who abused, or injured, or killed your family member, withdraw all you have in the bank, purchase a gift of great price and present it to the guilty law-breaker. Do I see any hands for a volunteer? No, I didn’t think so. Yet, that’s what God, the Author Of The Law did for us all. Today, we call it…Christmas. His unconditional free gift is truly the opposite of Elf On The Shelf.
For anyone who accepts this gift, who believes the adult Jesus when He said, “For God so loved the world that He GAVE…” – John 3:16a (KJV), will have the Spirit of His very essence within. He reminds me inwardly what is best for my life as He writes His law on my heart. It’s a good thing because I could never have a perfect behavioral stat concerning the Mosaic Law from the Torah found in the Old Testament.
So maybe if you see an elf hanging out on a shelf, it might bring to mind the idea of an elf inside yourself (In the flavor of Christmas trinkets.) whispering wisdom, guidance, and unconditional love. However, when diving deeply for a close-up excursion, you find the lacking of an elf, but rather, “RUACH” in Hebrew, the “Breath” of God’s nature.
Christmas can always be merry with a cup of good cheer, spiked with Fuel for the race.
“For the eyes of Yahweh roam throughout the earth to show Himself strong for those whose hearts are completely His.” – 2 Chronicles 16:9 – (Holman Christian Standard Version)
“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.
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.
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)
“Oh, crumpled bits of paper Filled with imperfect thought Stilted conversations I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got…So we open up a quarrel Between the present and the past We only sacrifice the future It’s the bitterness that lasts. So don’t yield to the fortunes You sometimes see as fate It may have a new perspective On a different date…Say it loud, say it clear You can listen as well as you hear It’s too late when we die To admit we don’t see eye to eye.” – (1988) The Living Years, Recorded by: Mike and the Mechanics. Written by Mike Rutherford and B. A. Robertson
The hallway was busy between classes that day. The platform shoes were loud on the polished hard floor like horses on a brick street. Everyone was running to their next classroom before the final bell rang. I, in my bell-bottoms and bell sleeves, was coming out of the choral department rehearsal hall after an a cappella session. My steps were already inside the broad hallway, but had yet to fully walk through the threshold as my hand remained on the thick heavy wooden door. That’s when I looked up and saw her. It was Lori Kennedy high stepping it toward the choir-room door from B-Hall. She was running a tad late to get to her place on the rehearsal risers just inside the entrance for Women’s Select Choir. It was a Friday, game-day at our north Dallas suburban high school of 3,500 students. I recall it was a Friday because Lori was decked-out in her Lionette drill team outfit from a pep-rally earlier the same morning. As she approached the doorway, I quickly made my way through the entrance while holding the door open for her. By the time she was within two, or three steps from me, her dark brown eyes pierced mine as she sternly stated, “I can open my own door!” as she swiftly rushed by me. OUCH! That was unexpected. It wasn’t like me to freeze, but I did due to shock. It was best because it also kept my mouth shut.
Lori Kennedy, 1978 R.L. Turner High School Yearbook.
Lori and I were 16 at the time, in 1976. She was about five weeks older than your’s truly. Our social circles overlapped, so we had mutual friends, but the two of us were mere acquaintances. In fact, I don’t think we ever had a conversation before that uncomfortable moment. It’s not that we avoided one another, or even ignored the other purposefully while within earshot. We both certainly knew about the other, but distantly. From time to time, over four years, we even dated our close shared friends, but never one another. There were multiple occasions where we hitched a ride with other friends while stuffed in a 1973 Chevy Camaro. We were on the same bus during our music concert tours with the choral department’s Spring trip each year. We also found ourselves sharing a bus for choral UIL contests performed in other cities. Then there were gatherings at picnics, parties, and popular hangouts, etc. I should stop here because as I write this I’m remembering many more circumstances where Lori and I shared space through high school. We, for what ever reason, never made the effort to get to know each other. One might say, we knew each other through our fellow classmates.
With all that said, it makes her stark, rude remark, (the first words she ever spoke to me), that much more odd. Maybe she was having a bad day. Maybe her boyfriend just broke up with her. Possibly life at home had hit a wall. Could she had slipped on a banana peel in the cafeteria line? Maybe there was a social undertow of knowing we didn’t see eye-to-eye on life itself.
One thing is for concrete sure, she didn’t know my mom and granddad taught me how to treat the opposite sex going back to my toddler years. Chivalry was the order of the day in my family. I must have been three years old, when walking down the sidewalk with my mom and grandparents, my granddad gently instructed me to always walk closest to the curb when walking next to a lady. When I asked why, in his rural Texas fashion and verbiage, he explained that if a tire splashes a muddy puddle onto the walkway, she will be spared from the splatter. He followed it up with, “That’s what men do.” He taught me to remove my hat if a lady enters the room. If a lady walks by, you tip the brim of the hat. If a lady is about to sit at a table, you pull the chair out for her, followed by the adjustment to table-side. If the lady is ready to remove her coat or sweater, you help remove it from her shoulders. When she is ready to wear the same, you hold it open for her as she slips her arms through. You always allow the lady to walk in front, choosing second place. You always open the car door for a lady before placing yourself in the car. And yes, you always open the door for a lady as she approaches it. In fact, I do that for men, as well as women. To be honest, I still practice all of the above to this day. It’s an act of courtesy, kindness, respect, and honor. I’m branded with it. So, what was up with Lori?
At the time, the women’s liberation movement was well above surging, at least in the U.S. It would be foolish to believe that 100% of women living-out the movement appreciated chivalry with its old Victorian manners. Because I neglected to get to know Lori, the real Lori, I may have missed my cue. It very well may have been Lori was exercising her newly discovered rules of engagement as dictated by the women’s liberation movement of the times. I would have been clueless. Nevertheless, she may have very well been offended by my gesture of holding the door open for her entrance into the choir room. Sure, I meant well, but she may have seen my action in another angle, unbeknownst to me. Just like one can peek through a glass of water while another may see a different distorted view. And here is where I went wrong.
My mind washed my hands of her as I walked away from the moment of friction. Lori Kennedy and I never had a potential conversation throughout the balance of our school years together. Never once. In fact, I totally avoided her. My misdirected thoughts went something like, “Well, if she’s going to treat me like a doormat, than I don’t have any use for her.” This is what unchecked anger can do. And so, in my bitterness over the incident, I made sure I ignored her each time our paths crossed, wherever it was. And what’s worse, I allowed our very quick moment in 1976 to stain my view of her from that time forth. Afterwards, the name Lori Kennedy was held in my grudge-peppered heart. My new title for her was, Little Miss Rudeness. Yes, it was wrong. Very wrong.
One would think in adulthood, with all its twists, turns, and teachings, I would’ve eventually understood better, loved more, and forgave even if I never saw her again in life. However, we did. God had other plans.
Lori Kennedy at a 2018 casual reunion with old friends.
A year ago, I attended two reunions with old friends and classmates. One was a casual gathering of about 200 as we paid tribute to a friend who had passed away the year prior. Two months later, it was our 40th high school reunion. Lori Kennedy and I bumped into each other at both events. During the first reunion, I saw her before see saw me. My first thought was to stay away from her, using my old searing angst as justification. With so many people attending, it would’ve been easy to just remain on the other side of the large club. Two months later, the 40th high school reunion gala would be upon us where most likely we would find ourselves in close proximity with mutual friends. Deep inside, I hated the tensity felt over seeing her again. Getting lost in the crowd was my first thought.
August 2018 at the casual reunion at the Fox & Hound Pub in Dallas.
Someone called out to her through the noisy event. With a turn, my eyes caught her. There she was, laughing, drinking, eating and enjoying a cluster of old friends. My reaction was to look away to protect the sore spot in my psyche. After looking down at my shoes for way too long, I filled my lungs with lots of air, slapped on my big boy pants, and made my way across the room of revelers.
She had changed so much since our teen years. Age hadn’t been particularly polite to her. Lori always lived fast and hard, so I just assumed it all caught up with her. She was a bit pale and thin, and the spark in her dark eyes had faded. Name tags are a gift from God in these cases, but not at this casual gathering. Often, at our age, it’s guesswork. I acted as if I wasn’t sure it was her. “Lori? Is that you?” She turned toward me, cocked her head and smiled. “Alan! Well, as I live and breathe! How are you?” I initiated a quick shoulder-hug. (Still showing signs of my grudge in a tiny gesture. I know, it’s all so stupid.) We spoke very kindly for another couple of minutes. After all, there’s not much to “catch-up on” when you didn’t really have a relationship to start with. I found out she lived alone with her two beloved Chihuahuas. Still, it was somewhat a relief to see her genuine greeting. Surprisingly cordial with a true smile, we shared good words between us. Simultaneously, there was this voice coming from deep inside me delivering a statement I never would’ve believed. It was so clear. Despite our differences, we could have been friends. Part of me began to feel ashamed what I had secretly held against her over the decades. Of course, I never brought up our one and only verbal encounter from the days of yore. Actually, she may not even recall the day she was snarky to me, the “doorman” from early in our junior year. Frankly, the thought had never occurred to me. Just because I always remembered it, shelving her as a tyrant and a princess prude forever, doesn’t necessarily mean she remembered our game-day intersect whatsoever.
Monday morning, October 7th, I got in my car, turned on the radio to my favorite classic rock station, and there it was, Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young”. It was the tripwire to heavy tears as I left my driveway for an hour’s drive to Lori Kennedy’s funeral.
After doing some digging, I discovered Lori was told by her doctor how early tests indicated she had Multiple Myeloma. This form of blood cancer wasn’t new to me. A church friend has been battling it for two years, as well as my brother-in-law, who is in the final stages of this life-sucking illness. An MRI had found a mysterious spot on her pelvic bone a couple of years prior. At that time tests were inconclusive. Apparently, Lori shrugged it off. She had been told most Multiple Myeloma patients have 3-5 years after diagnosis, maybe less. She was looking forward to her first oncologist appointment to confirm, plus discuss various treatments. That was during the last week of September. She passed away in her sleep at home less than a week later. After the very touching service I spoke with her parents. They told me she had been suffering from symptoms for at least 2-3 years, but had no idea she had been stricken with cancer until a few days ago.
Before the minister spoke, they played Eric Clapton’s Tears In Heaven. As it washed over the the ones gathered, I bowed my head and listened intently for the first time.
“…Would you know my name If I saw you in heaven? Would it be the same If I saw you in heaven?
Would you hold my hand If I saw you in heaven? Would you help me stand If I saw you in heaven?
Time can bring you down Time can bend your knees Time can break your heart Have you begging please, begging please…”
My hands trembled as I realized my judging heart. Deeply convicted, I acknowledged my stupidity in not letting go of one moment in time of offense. At my age, how could I have remained so immature? When we engaged last year, I was unaware she was in severe pain throughout her skeletal structure. As we stood there and chatted at the reunion, I was unaware Lori was constantly dehydrated, with bouts of deadly low blood pressure and visits to the ER. Little did I know she was choking down powerful pain killers just to stand, walk, and sit. As it turns out, she rarely left her house to socialize due to her struggle. The reunions were a goal she wouldn’t deny herself. And there I was, trying to be tempered, holding back my old resentment as she smiled at me, even though she should’ve been in the hospital. What a moron I was. So much time wasted. So much life experience gone. So many chances crumbled away in the living years.
After the service was complete, I approached the opened white coffin where an unrecognizable body was displayed. The remains of this person looked as if she was some 25 years my elder, resting among the satin lace. Even though it was way too late, I looked at the face, which once belonged to Lori, and whispered, “Forgive me, Lori. Forgive me.”
As I drove back home, I asked the Redeemer to forgive my unsettled anger.
True lessons in life come at the most heartbreaking times. Lessons of humility learned easier when filled with fuel for the race.
“And whenever you stand to pray, forgive whatever you have against anyone, so that your Father who is in Heaven may also forgive you your faults. But if you are not forgiving, neither will your Father in Heaven forgive you your faults.” – Jesus – Mark 11:25-26 (Aramaic Bible In Plain English)
“Kodachrome They give us those nice bright colors They give us the greens of summers Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah I got a Nikon camera I love to take a photograph So mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away…” (1973) Kodachrome Written & Recorded by: Paul Simon
Many moons ago I was a photography enthusiast. Actually, I still am, just not a practicing one anymore.
Around 1983, one of my co-workers was selling his gently used 35mm Canon AE1. I never had a serious camera before, just happy with an Instamatic and Polaroids, but always wanted one. It didn’t take long in life to discover I had a photographer’s eye and really wanted to dive in. When he realized I was interested, he sold it to me for a little bit of nothing. I made out like a bandit on that deal. I guess I have taken a few thousand shots with it through the years. These days it sits in my old dusty camera bag…in a closet I rarely use.
My photo albums can testify how much I love real film, not to mention the scads of containers of photos stored away. They are just visual moments in time documented for future eyes. Recently, a fabulous photographer encouraged me to pick up the camera once again. A big thanks to Darren across the pond at The Arty Plantsman.
Once I became an owner of a great camera, a telephoto lens and a telephoto zoom lens was added over the years. All-in-all it adds up to some great shutter adventures.
If you’re new to a 35mm camera, one of the first things to learn is the focus of your subject in the viewfinder. In the scope you find uneven lines to mesh together for a sharp focus of the subject targeted. So vital. Line up the focus lines and click away. (I love the sound of the shutter.) The field of depth can be tricky, but it can be mastered. Let me show you some old pictures of mine to give some visual examples.
Below, notice the tight focus of the bee hovering over the blooms at the renowned Ft Worth Botanical Gardens in Ft Worth, Texas. (Theses photos are from the mid 1980’s, so the color has faded with age. However, I’m sure you’ll get the picture. :>)
For the photographer, what I’m about to explain is simple common knowledge. I focused sharply on the bee visiting the blooms, but when I “focused” on the bee, the background became “unfocused”. Notice the leaves and branches are blurry. It’s okay for a shot like this and frankly, it’s expected.
However, when I focused more toward the middle of the field of depth, and not closing up on a bee, all becomes focused. See what I mean?
If Pinocchio came to my house I could zero-in on his nose, but it would leave the rest of his face out of focus. Isn’t it true, sometimes in life we do tend to focus on lies, deceit, and untrustworthy words? Panning back, one can always view the larger picture.
Here’s another example from my old Karate/Kickboxing days. (I used to break concrete for martial arts demonstrations in another life. Patio concrete slabs at Walmart were less than a dollar in those days.)
Notice the tight, sharp focus centering on the concrete slabs atop the mason blocks. Yet, the back of the heads, in the foreground, are very much out of focus. If I had focused on the back of the gentleman’s head on the right, then the stage area would be hazy in the field of depth.
One of my faults is a tendency to be a newshound. With all the jarring frays in the American political world of late, I find I must walk away and focus on other things. I guess you might say I need to fix my eyes elsewhere for a more pleasant subject in my mental viewfinder. Simply put, I need to adjust my field of depth. Do you ever feel that way?
Not long ago, I had a real issue with my 20-something step-daughter. We first met about four years ago. She lives hundreds of miles away making it a bit difficult to have a thriving, authentic relationship. Over a Facebook post, harsh words were spoken. Attitudes, which were hidden, suddenly bubbled out into the raw open. It was a hurtful event. (Much like political hearings on Capitol Hill.) At first, I focused on the words said, words typed, and tried with all my might to keep from judging her too harshly. Unfortunately, I already had. What I needed to do, and eventually did, was to avoid focusing on the words, but also make efforts to step back to get the entire picture inside the frame from a different camera angle. When accomplished, I was able to adjust my lens for a broader view to the point where the up close and personal issue, which involved me, became less of the subject in the field of depth. In that way, the view of the world will always develop much better after possessing. It’s an art, don’t you think?
Photo: Chay Garciavia Pexels
While tell you this, I was hit with a biblical hammer. The parable from Jesus, concerning the Good Samaritan, captures much of the same idea. Here is my layman’s modern paraphrased version. PG13…Suitable with the exception of extreme violence and nudity. (LOL)
A poor traveler was beaten, stripped, and robbed by a gang waiting behind the rocks on a path in rugged desert area. They left him half-dead. Soon, a priest came down the same road, saw the distressed wounded traveler and made it a point to look the other way. In doing so, he went to the opposite side of the path to avoid him. Not long after that, a Levite approached. (A Levite was one who lived in the temple in Jerusalem, born to serve in the daily duties of temple business. Much like a monk or nun.) He too, quickly looked the other direction to avoid the traumatized one in need and walked around the naked, wounded traveler while fixing his gaze on the road ahead. A Samaritan man (From a geographical locale called Samaria in mid-Israel.) came down the same road and saw the poor guy. He had pity and compassion on him as he considered his terrible ordeal. Although the victim was left naked, bloody and unable to walk, he immediately gave him first aid as he bandaged him with what little he had. Then he, not caring if he soiled his own clothes, picked the bleeding man up and placed him on his donkey. Not long afterwards they reached a small hotel. He booked a room, taking care of him throughout the overnight. The next day, he found the wounded man was still in no condition to travel. He left him bandaged in his bed. Before leaving, he gave the hotel clerk a generous amount of funds. He instructed the clerk to take care of him. He went on to tell him to supply whatever needs might arise concerning the unfortunate man. He let it be known he would reimburse him for whatever expenses rose above the money offered when he returned from his trip. (Ref. Luke 10:35-37)
Honestly, volumes have been written about the application of this parable. There is so much taught from the tale. As Jesus shared this parable, He was showing the true heart of God and what kind of heart God can place within each of us who are willing. The “holier than thou” clergymen were focused on where they were going, their schedules, and their own concerns. When the two “men of the cloth” saw the poor, broken traveler, they chose not to focus on him, just like the back of the heads of an audience at a Karate demo. Although the victim was right there in their foreground, for them the idea was to keep the vision of him, and his needs, contained in a blurry haze of forgetfulness. The Good Samaritan had a schedule to keep as well. He was also focused on where his destination was, his clock, and the distance ahead. But when he saw the beaten, bloodied traveler, compassion caused him to think to himself, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Suddenly, he adjusted his lens to a sharp, clear focal point on the needs at hand. His new focus allowed him to see clearly what needed to be done for this stranger who owed him nothing. His new focus delivered a bias for action. You might say, he chewed his gum and walked at the same time. It’s clear, his field of depth changed as he refocused.
After I am dead and gone, my three daughters will be going through my photo albums, my plastic tubs of Kodak prints scanning some forty+ years, as well as boxes of snapshots I felt were important to keep. When they do, they might learn far more about what my true focus was in life. Hopefully they will discuss my authentic field of depth.
Focusing on the subject of need isn’t always easy, but it will add to your personal field of depth. The viewfinder is always located in the mixture of fuel for the race.
“Let us fix (focus) our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:2 (Berean Study Bible Version)
First of all, a big Texas-Sized thank you to Alicia from For His Purpose for the nominee nod. You are truly gracious. Although I feel I don’t deserve the nomination for the Sunshine Blogger Award, I am humbled and grateful. I would nominate you if not for the fact you are already a nominee, and so well deserving.
If you’ve not read Alicia’s posts, expect blue-jean, everyday life experiences wrapped in a personal application for spiritual growth. So well worth it.
DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THIS? IT’S NEW TO ME.
About the Sunshine award:
This award is given to creative, positive and cheerful bloggers by other bloggers as a token of appreciation and admiration.
Here are the rules:
• Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link back to him/her.
• Answer the 11 questions provided by the blogger who nominated you.
• Nominate 11 other bloggers and ask them 11 new questions.
• Notify the nominees by commenting on one of their blog posts.
• List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo on your post.
Okay, Alicia…you asked. Here are her questions for me:
1) Why do you write?
Really, I believe it’s a threefold reason. A: I love, absolutely love the outlet of sharing my thoughts. B: For whatever reason there might be, I adore the friends I have made in the blogging community. I have learned so much through their writings and photos. Getting to know them has simply been an uplifting pleasure in my life. C: Lastly, I love to teach. My heart wants to touch the soul of another for the better. There’s something special about teaching biblical concepts through personal and social proof experiences others can relate to. Life’s race to the finish is long and uphill at times. We need Divine fuel.
2) Who do you admire and why? (sorry I know I’m sneaking two questions)
Wow, Alicia. That’s an umbrella of folks. If you’ve read my blog you might already know I greatly admire my deceased grandparents. Salt of the earth people with extraordinary servanthood hearts of tremendous love. Also, Chuck Norris, who holds up his socks with thumbtacks. LOL For much of the 1970’s, during my karate/kickboxing life, he was always so kind to me whenever I was around him. Of course, he was/is a wiz at business, the Babe Ruth of Karate champions, and a successful instructor and actor. Beyond that, he has gone through much heartache in life and rediscovered God in his journey back to a peaceful place. He is also a champ in helping kids stay away from gangs and drugs. I want to add, CS Lewis for his writings concerning the introductions into a life with God, and the proof thereof. His book, Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters changed my life.
3) What has been your best vacation?
I have to choose just one? Arg! My #1 would have to be when I treated my family (wife at the time and three daughters) on a road trip from Dallas, Texas through Santa Fe, New Mexico and up through Colorado Springs to Denver, Colorado. The family and I had gone through some devastating personal trauma and in need of some immediate healing. It was the week after Christmas in 2001 through the first week of 2002. Plunging straight into the snow and ice we took in the splendor of that beautiful land. No regrets. I would do it again.
4) Where would you love to visit one day?
Scotland, Ireland, and Israel.
5) Why is your best friend, your best friend?
On earth, my wife. I remarried in 2017 to an old high school acquaintance. In 2013, way before we met-up again, I had a major health crash, a near death experience. I wasn’t supposed to survive. It left me in the hospital for six weeks. The hospital staff called me “Miracle Man”. Since then I have struggled physically. She has seen much of the underside of this. Nevertheless, she has been a warrior through it all. We have no secrets between us. We speak truth in love to one another, during the good, bad, and ugly. It makes for a lasting marriage. However, she’s not the one I pray to. She would agree with me that Jesus has been my lifelong best friend.
6) What is your biggest concern (about anything)?
Honestly, above all else, the world my three girls are experiencing as adults, as well as my 8 year old granddaughter. Moral decay, hatred, and violence are causing the earth to groan. Jesus said the times would grow to be like this. Still, it concerns me.
7) When did you last owe someone an apology?
Today! Got to do it before the sun goes down on me.
8) What’s the best movie you’ve ever watched?
Now this isn’t fair. Way too many. If I had to choose one…It’s A Wonderful Life.
9) What’s your most favorite childhood memory?
Mid 1960’s. Waiting until my grandparents, and my mom, went to bed so I could hustle to sit in front of their aluminum Christmas tree to watch the color wheel change the branches to different holiday hues. For me, it was mesmerizing.
10) What do you love most about yourself?
Eek! Is this a trick question, Alicia? Really? Oh, man. Okay, uh….well….uh….I can tell you there’s much I hate about myself. Frankly, I love the Spirit God placed in me to be kind and caring for others. If not for His influence and direction, I would be the opposite. I know this because I know myself without God.
11) If you could ask Jesus a question what would it be?
Why and how did He create music to enrich the brain of humanity, to the point of it being medication? Also, the TRUE story of why and how He did not save the dinosaurs from extinction. To have a Brontosaurus on a leash in the park would be grand. The poop bag would be trouble.
Drum roll please! Now for my nominee choices in alphabetical order:
(If you choose not to participate, you will not hurt my heart. As an admirer, I just want to shine a light on you and your blog for others who may not know of you. No pressure. Nada, zilch, zero. And if you are already a nominee, I am unaware.)
Dominique at 3C Style combines her posts with highly creative photos of her personal showcasing of beautiful stylings from her own closet. She has a talent for matching subjects in nature with her outfits while highlighting eco-friendly ideas. This French scientific journalist from Quebec is a terrific writer who introduces you to possibilities in fashion you might have never imagined before, wrapped in her passion for life. Her zest for life, fashion, and imagination is simply radiant and thought provoking. Most of all, I like the fact that Dominique is a caring, loving person toward others. I’ve learned a lot from my friend from Quebec.
Anel at Barefoot Diary has a highly unique blog. I’ve known and loved her for 41 years and I can tell you of her multiple talents. After the devastating hurricane which leveled so much of Puerto Rico, where she and her husband had been living, they moved on to experience an adventure most would never do. Since they left the island, they have been travelling from one Central or south American country to another, reveling in each culture with gusto. Anel’s blog is all about their adventures. You never know where they will be blogging from next.
Mandy at Blue Collar Theologian is a seminarian and writer. I love to go deep in biblical studies and so does Mandy. She has my admiration for her exclusive casual way of serving up the depths of scripture without going over the head of the reader, especially the seeker. You’ll find she writes about various camera angles of life with a good dose of awareness of biblical thought, shaken together for a personal application anyone can chew on.
Anita at For The Love Of has a smooth way of sharing her love for dogs, which I share, along with God’s love for us. On any given post she will somehow bring to mind the truth of how we crave love, shelter, belonging, and care. Be ready for some brilliant photos that touch the eyes and heart.
Jon at His Grace Is Sufficient is an old childhood friend of mine. He pastors a small church near Green Bay, WI. Recently Jon was diagnosed with ALS. The disruption is already taking its toll on his breathing, his speech, and some mobility. Thus far, he is standing by his word that he plans on delivering sermons until he physically cannot. He asked me about starting a blog to record his journey with ALS. So, I encouraged him to go headlong into it. I love him dearly. Clicking on you will hear his heart of love and his faith through this hard, rocky road he is travelling.
Julien at Julien’s Thoughts can be defined as…his thoughts. He literally takes subjects that press on his mind and heart, considers them against the backdrop of a biblical world view, and woodsheds what he learns. Whenever he writes you can feel his intellect. I am grateful he shares the thoughts as most of us identify with the topics he showcases. A simple devotional thought process which is encouraging, yet challenging at times.
Lisa at Lismore Paper is a master at eyeing antique art forms. She then cleans them up for a visual experience to die for. One terrific graphic design artist, as well as a gardener extraordinaire. I’ve not seen artwork exactly like her talent. Lisa simply is a craft magician. She loves photography, as I do, and often highlights her shutter work in nature. You never know when she will be hiking through the woods taking beautiful shots of plants, birds and trees. One of the items of wizardry from her hands consists of antique prints lifted from pages of old shipping logs, documents, or ledgers and turn them into a background for layering other art subjects. Just amazing. Visit her blog and find options to download her items for your personal use. Sometimes you will find her art on t-shirts, along with other items, which are available. As you explore her visuals she writes of them with the love of an artist at work.
Ann at Muddling Through My Middle Age I believe is my first blogging friend after I launched my blog two years ago. She is so admired. I liken Ann to the wisdom and wit of the late syndicated columnist, Erma Bombeck. She is a volunteer for her local shelter who loves and cares for the four-legged friends behind bars. She adopts, and so do I. She is a loving grandmother who often shares with us of her times with her grandchild. But most of all, Ann writes about the everyday scenarios of life, as well as life’s phases, which can be cantankerous or just plain humorous. She muddles through what life tosses at her while always searching for the rainbow at the end of the day’s conveyor belt.
Ann (another Ann) at Seeking Divine Perspective is an author and truth-teller. I discovered her about the time I was going through some doubts in my spiritual journey. My reading of her posts came just at the right time. Ann is retired and loves CS Lewis, as I do. She is not afraid to share the hard knocks in life, or the current social issues of our times, and what she has learned from them. She is bold with direct conviction, willing to teach with the written word in posts. Don’t be surprised if she types in a prayer on her heart as it often reverberates what the human heart is thirsty for. We are all seekers, some just don’t realize it. Ann spotlights her perspectives.
Stefan at The Fourth Dimension of Life is a young studious thinker. His love for writing truly hits you in the face…softly. Stefan is a bright, multi-talented Indian lad attending one of the best universities in India. Don’t expect his posts to be the norm, or even similar in scope from one to another. Some days you will get a thought in a statement. At other times you will read one of his poems. Inside his random thoughts he often speaks of his life from God’s balcony view. He also can show you his devotional blog link.
Junaisha (June) at The Godly Chic Diaries will lead you to think twice, or three times about the topic she writes about. Unlike some, she is bold about the fact that the spiritual walk is not a perfect stride. She speaks of the fact that there will be failures in the God-driven journey. In her quick devotional posts the spotlight on grace, forgiveness, and mercy are illuminated. Through her telescopic lens concerning life, she will test the mind of the reader with questions not often dissected in one’s own thoughts.
I want to publicly thank all of the above for the influence you have on my life.
And here are my 11 questions for those I’ve nominated:
1 – Who encouraged you to launch a blog?
2 – Who was your first blogger-friend & what drew you to that writer?
3 – What country, or state are you writing from?
4 – Has your writing evolved over time & why?
5 – Be honest with me on this one. How often do you consider the unseen spiritual aspect beyond the tangible? If “never” is the answer, let me know. It’s okay. No tricks.
6 – Do you have a pet?
7 – When you wake up in the morning, what is your first thought?
8 – Do you eat breakfast? If so, what does it consist of?
9 – If you’re still friends with a childhood pal, tell me what has kept you together?
10 – What keeps you returning to the same blogger?
11 – Does your own family read your posts?
Again, if you are on my nomination list of favorites and would rather not participate, just know I understand totally. I appreciate what you do and how you make my life sweeter. Love and hugs from Dallas, Texas. – Alan
“A child is black. A child is white. Together they grow to see the light, to see the light…” (1972) Black & White – Recorded by: Three Dog Night. Composers: David I. Arkin, Earl Robinson.
Appreciation note: A quick thank you to the very kind, Alicia from the blog, For His Purpose for nominating my blog for the Sunshine Blogger Award. I am greatly shocked and humbled. I do enjoy your everyday camera angles of life with the filter of truths.
This will not be a political post. This will not be a ranting post concerning those who play at politics, or the swift blinding blame of another. This will lack the spewing of hatred and emotional blathering of negativity currently blowing across the media. If that’s what feeds you, look elsewhere. However, if you are open-minded, wanting to hop off the meat wagon, serving up all kinds of dangerous rhetoric currently being wielded like a Gladius sword, you are welcome to read below.
Billy Boyd was my best friend in 7th grade. In those times that was our first year at Dillingham Jr. High School, before “middle school” was introduced. We lived in Sherman, Tx where the west side of town was mainly made up of white population. There was also the east side where the African American community settled, or was made to settle in post-Civil War days. Dillingham Jr. High was situated close to the border of the east and west sides of the medium market town. We met on our first day of the new school year.
When we left our elementary schools to enter 7th grade, it was a cultural shock for all of the student body. Obviously my elementary school consisted of mostly white kids. At Dillingham the heavy black and white mix was a first for all of us. Billy was African American from the east side of the tracks. He was my first black school friend ever. At the time I really thought nothing about it. In fact, I thought it was cool to have a black friend who was my age.
What I didn’t expect, nor every experienced before, was racial name-calling, slurs, racial riots on campus, gang violence, and violent ambushes. (Forgive me for giving too much info here, but I must write it.) As a white kid relieving himself at the urinal, I was kicked in the back from time to time. Once, I was slammed in the back of my head with a football helmet while standing there facing the wall. This was the environment I was introduced to. Billy didn’t have anything to do with the vicious tagging of white kids. I was on the sharp end of the above racial abuses in a big way simply because I was a white kid from the west side. There were attacks I received in the hallways, between buildings, after football practice, and after school on my way across campus to the bike rack. Some of these were 15 and 16 years old students who were still repeating 7th or 8th grades. I received threats concerning my dog and my mom. In that school year, I learned how to box and street fight the hard way. My uncle taught me how to box, and another friend trained me in Aikido that same year. Through it all, Billy and I remained friends. You might say we were the odd couple. After the school year slowly dropped me into the summer break, my mom relocated out of town, and just in time. Only God knows what might have been if I had spent another year in racial turmoil. However, the hatred and bigotry had a profound influence on me. But, I would experience it again.
When I was a toddler, 98 years after slavery ended in the U.S., I met my first African American. (I have written about him before, but it’s been a couple of years.) While visiting my grandparents in Greenville, Tx, every-other Saturday they had their lawn work done by an elderly black man named Mr. Amos. To this day I don’t know if that was a surname or his first name. No doubt he was the son of slaves, living in the far east side of Greenville in a sector notable for the African American neighborhood. I recall there being a side street which served as the border between whites and blacks, as it was set-up by the local government leaders in the late 1800’s.
From my toddler days, all the way to 11 years old or so, I LOVED old Mr. Amos. I saw him as an uncle from another grandmother. The neighborhood in those days would remind you of the street scenes from the movie, To Kill A Mockingbird. He would drag his lawn mower down the street cutting grass and hedges for a few dollars. To see him was like imagining Mr. Bojangles in various ways. He was ragged, skinny, and toughened by the years. His very dark skin was weathered and rough from a lifetime of working in the Texas sun, like leather from an old baseball glove. He always had an old rag, or bandanna hanging out his back pants pocket, along with old worn-out hard-soled leather lace-up shoes. The elderly man always did a wonderful job on the lawn and hedges. He had the talent. Whenever I was there, I would watch him out my grandparent’s front window as he worked his fingers to the bone with pride. I never saw anyone sweat as much as he did. When he finished the front lawn he began to pull his mower up the driveway toward the backyard. From the time I was 3, my grandmother would take an ice cold, frosted bottle of Dr. Pepper out of the fridge, pop open the cap with the bottle opener, which hung on her kitchen wall, hand it to me and say, “Alan, you go give this to poor Mr. Amos.” Wrapped around it was the money he earned. (They were very liberal with the payment.) I would grin from ear to ear as I ran outside before he reached the back. There in my Buster Browns I proudly said in my Mickey Mouse voice, “Here ya go, Mr. Amos!” No matter how often our encounters, he always acted surprised as he shook my hand and replied with his gruff voice, “Well, what’s this here? (chuckle) Why…thank ya, son!” When in my earlier age, I would look at the palm of my hand to see if the black color rubbed off his sweating hand. I kid you not, he never took his mouth off the bottle until it was turned upside-down and empty, without taking a breath. There’s no way I could do that. I would watch him drink in shear amazement. Handing the empty bottle back to me, he would exhale with a huge drawn-out gasp, like a swimmer coming up for air and say, “That’s my boy!” I always waited to hear him say those words. It made my day. He didn’t know it but just saying that to this fatherless lad made me feel warm inside. With his statement of gratitude, I ran back in to tell my grandmother once again, how he called me “son” and what’s more, I was “his boy”. I honored and respected him. Through the years of youth, I wondered why he always looked so poor.
I’m not certain what year it was, but I will say I was 13 (1973) when hatred came calling.
Mr. Amos was in my grandparent’s yard, doing his job one Saturday, when he was suddenly interrupted by his son and daughter-in-law who had pulled up in the driveway. The man was angry with his father for mowing the lawns of “Honkies”. (It’s a name I was familiar with from school. I didn’t believe Mr. Amos thought I was one of those.) Mr. Amos protested saying he was doing his purpose in that stage of his life. The voices got louder as they argued in the side yard. I pressed my ear to the nearest window to hear more clearly what was being said. The son of Mr. Amos spewed about how shameful it was to be “workin’ for the white man” and how embarrassed he was to see him on our lawn in the “white part of town”. My granddad came out to see what the issue was. After he was told, my granddad gently explained to Mr. Amos that it was okay if he needed to go and do what he thought was right. Sheepishly looking down at his tired scuffed shoes, Mr. Amos agreed he should load-up and go with his son. Hearing it my heart broke. My granddad paid him in full, even though the job wasn’t completed, then they drove away. I was highly disturbed. Tears rolled down my freckled cheeks at what I had witnessed. That was the last time I saw Mr. Amos after knowing him through 9-10 years of my childhood.
I had a friend like Billy, as well as a man of grit and heart like Mr. Amos for one reason. Early on my mom had coded within me, from the days of Mr. Amos, to love all people, regardless of their skin hues. As a little one, she read the words of Jesus to me at bedtime where He taught what she preached to me. What she didn’t teach at the time was the perspectives and inward struggles some possess, like the son of Mr. Amos.
Still, I came away from my experiences at Dillingham with a chip on my shoulder, combined with an unjustified angst against black people. In fact, the realities left me unwilling to trust African Americans for many years throughout much of the 1970’s until I got the chance to work and worship alongside African Americans from 1979 and onward.
In these days where racial slurs, alongside accusations of racism, are being tossed around like confetti, there’s a warning for us all. When young men soak up vile, filthy hatred from certain websites, or chat rooms brainwashing them to the point of mass murdering another race due to their ethnicity alone, we should take note. Words are like bullets. Enough of them, combined with a deadly spin, will and do rip open the hearts of our youth. Good parenting is so vital. Compassionate parenting is so vital. Informative parenting is so vital. So often these word-projectiles reverberate through the rooms of the home for little ears to plant in the fertile soil of their souls. Each and every community and culture should surgically remove attitudes of hate-filled, damning speech about our neighbors. If not, the next generation will see domestic death, domestic destruction and possibly war. There is a desensitizing which is slow, like marinating a pork loin. Sleeping with the pigs will make you muddy. And oh, how dark that mud can be.
If you dare, journey with me for a moment on the following hypothetical.
If one leans toward Darwinism, and sees another race as beneath their own DNA, then one must ask how it got to such a point. If we, collectively, all derived from an ancient amoeba, which washed up on a beach in ions past, then how can one defend a racial ideology? Maybe the ancient amoeba community rioted against other amoeba of a different thickness of cell wall. Then again, can an amoeba possess hate? Unfortunately, hate is branded in humankind exclusively. There’s a reason for that. Follow me on this.
As we continue to search for the “Missing Link” (still missing), there’s a newer, more popular theory.
If one leans toward the newer idea that humanity was placed here by ancient aliens from another planet, there’s even a bigger leap to make. I suppose it’s plausible ancient aliens also suffered from racism, implanting that curse on the earth as we were left here to populate the world. It would also seem plausible that such an advance interstellar civilization would’ve been cautious to populate the earth with beings like themselves, assuring racism wouldn’t be introduced. If the theory is accurate, then wouldn’t it make sense they would sprout beings which reflected a visual likeness? If so, why do have racial issues at all?
If you come from a biblical world view, as I do, then how can I ever hold to a twisted view of racial hatred? Since I am a creationist, I read and study the account where we were all created in the image of God, a likeness of the Divine. Therefore, how could I ever look at a black, brown, yellow, or red man or woman crying, “Moron!”, “Mistake!”“Mutant” or “Monstrosity!” Racism dictates that you have cheap blood and I do not. But, I’ll take your kidney, or a transfusion if I need one. Cheap? Really? For me, scripture reveals we all came from a set of flesh and blood ancient parents who had a multitude of offspring, and so on. Genesis has the genealogy listed covering about a two thousand year span complete with names, nations and seasons of geology. Even DNA experts have found the evidence which mirrors this view. Within the last few years DNA studies have shown we come from the same part of the world with ancestry funneling into a clan going back to the beginnings of life itself, matching the Genesis timeline. So, why do we, or why should we have this scent of racism?
Let’s be super honest here. I like to call balls and strikes as I see them.
Racism, at its core, is the belief in a lie. Yep, we’ve been snookered.
“…Mmm, no no Lyin’ to the races Help me, come on, come on Somebody, help me now (I’ll take you there)…” (1972) “I’ll Take You There” by: The Staple Singers
Moreover, racism is an ideology which dictates thoughts of I, me and myself am to reign over another due to my skin pigmentation. The lie woos one to beliefs like; if one is darker, or lighter skinned than I, then that person is to be subordinate to me, simply due to color. It even can get down to the shape of a skull, or the nose. Racism methodically massages the mind and heart of the pre-white supremacist, for example, who will claim God made a mistake by creating black, brown, yellow, and red skin. Unfortunately, even shades of skin tones are targets of racial darts. In addition, let’s not forget the racism within the color spectrum itself. English vs Celts, Anglo Gentiles vs Jews, African tribes vs other African tribes, the list goes on. Furthermore, it revels in the false idea which says a particular race was created to be supreme over all peoples, nations, societies and cultures. If one hears it enough, studies it enough, sniffs the belly of the dragon enough, the ideology is perceived as authentic. Just as evil thoughts grow and widen, hatred begins to fester like Multiple Myeloma which eats away at the bones. Racism eats away at the very soul of a person.
Are you still with me? Can I go a step further?
Let’s say you are one who believes in the afterlife. Maybe it’s a belief that the spirit, once separated from its body, roams the earth as a ghostly individual, for whatever purpose. If you were a racist in the flesh, how do you exercise racism in the spirit world? When there’s a failure to control the body in life, how then do we expect to control and navigate our spirits? Interesting thought. Are we suddenly stronger and wiser in spirit than we were when we had flesh? After death the skin, once proudly admired as a trophy in life, grows pale and decays, falling away from the skeleton, which is the same color as all skeletons. So now, in spirit form, how do you rant and rave over other spirits who have no skin color? In spirit form, racism is also dead. Suddenly, racist views are no longer so important. In the end, the 79 year old racist can look back on his/her earthly life and will see the damning foolishness of a faulty ideology.
Let’s say you have a biblical perspective of the afterlife. In the place described so well in scripture as heaven, there are a number of problems if racism is to continue. First, God says haters (which includes racist users) will not see the kingdom of heaven. Secondly, in this present age, there is the spiritual form left after the body fails. How, as an eternal racist, do you push back on another spirit residing in God’s Kingdom? Thirdly, the ancient text is clear on the following. There will come a time in eternity when the old earthly body will be recreated to reunite with the spirit in which it once belonged, much like the resurrection of Jesus. God does the recreation at His sovereign will. Colors or not, He will do what He plans. Whatever skin color, if any at all, is resurrected in God’s timeline. At that point, how could hatred of it exist? Fourthly, in heaven there is no spirit who will submit to another based on color of robe, earthly ethnicity, or thought. Jesus Himself said there’s only One Who reigns in heaven. All is made new in the afterlife, if with God. In Paul’s writings, he mentions that “in Christ” there is no difference in “Jew or Gentile”, “slave or free”, “male or female”, etc. THAT is God’s view of the color spectrum of the souls He created and saw it to be good. Racism is NOT eternal. What does that tell us about the perceived value and validation of racial disharmony in life today?
Racism will always be with us. The seed is there in this imperfect world. It was introduced by God’s adversary early in human history to distort the mind’s view of every created race. It is the management of it which must be priority. If the lion is not tamed, it will eat the foolish ringmaster.
The shooter in El Paso, Texas believed a racial lie. In his manifesto he wrote of multiple issues which pushed him over the edge like, plastic in the oceans, immigration flow, economics, eco-system, etc. But, in the end, his frustrations were decidedly poured out over helpless Hispanics with intention. The shooter in Dayton, OH and the shooter at the Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California were driven by hate, even though it appears not to be racially motivated. As a result, many were brutally murdered and maimed. It’s a seeded lie laced by the enemy of the human brotherhood of soul and spirit. Police in Gilroy reported the shooter there wore a clown mask. Appropriate, don’t you think?
Please accept this warning. Those who ricochet darts coming from the mouths of haters, is a very dangerous thing. Wars have been launched for far less. Unfortunately many like the shooters of El Paso, Dayton, and Gilroy are weak-minded, easily influenced, or simply mentally ill. They are like a weed bending to a dark wind from whichever direction. The result is, “I AM DOMINATE!” For some, all it will take is a spewing of hate-filled venom to cause the voices to ring violence in their minds. Once it takes hold, it is like the gravity of opium to the offender. If it’s not an assault rifle, it will be a bomb, a poison, a chemical, a blade, a flip of a rail switch, a van, a bus, a truck, a water bottle full of gasoline, etc.
Love, compassion, and understanding will always been the answer. In fact, love is the basis found in fuel for the race.
“You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill. – Jesus – Matthew 5:21-22 (MSG Version)
“We took our chance and we flew. Like an arrow, like an arrow. We came to our sense to soar. Like an arrow, like an arrow…” – Like An Arrow (2015) Written and recorded by: Lucy Rose Parton
It was a beautiful April morning. While sitting at my desk, typing away, I got a text from my middle daughter, Megan.
“Dad, Grace Stumberg and Grace Lougen really wants to meet you. They are in town with Joan Baez and wondering if you’re up to anything. They’ve got the day off in Dallas today, with exception of a recording session late this afternoon at a studio downtown. Maybe you guys could meet for food or coffee.”
If you’re unfamiliar with my posts, you may not know about my daughter, Megan Brown.
In 2008, I was leaving Buffalo, NY to move back to my stumping grounds in Dallas, Texas. Megan and I were the last of the family to remain in Buffalo after a divorce two years prior. I got Megan through her last two years of high school. It was a mammoth undertaking leaving our spacious house while squeezing into an apartment. Through her high school years, and right after, Megan grew to be an accomplished vocalist. She did very well in school choirs, musicals and singing in church. She joined a garage band during that time in efforts to sharpen her rock and roll teeth. Along the way, I encouraged her to sing with me at various events. We were a duo team for about 10 years, since she was about 8 years old. I coached her vocally, as well as stage presence and acoustic training, as her talent continued to surface.
Photo: L-R: Tabitha, D’Anna, me, Megan
During the summer of 2008, I had accepted a morning show gig at a new radio station in Dallas. I gave Megan the option of moving back with me. However, she wanted to spread her wings in Buffalo, and shoot for the moon on her own. And boy, did she! I love my girls. Each one is unique, and vastly different from the other two. Of my three daughters, Megan is the one most like me on many levels. It was so difficult to loosen my grip and push her out of the nest.
After I moved back to Texas, Megan was asked to join an up and coming western New York band called, Dirty Smile. As a solo artist she didn’t hesitate. They won international accolades through the Hard Rock Cafe organization, winning awards along the way. Megan became a highly sought-after artist during that time, appearing on many albums as a guest artist. She also has been awarded for Favorite Female Vocalist in Western New York.
Photo: Megan’s old band, Dirty Smile
After many years, and recordings, the band decided to hang it up as band-mate’s wives began having babies. Later she joined another band, which toured nationwide, but was short-lived. She and a friend, Grace Stumberg, started an all-girl band called, Rustbelt Birds. They disbanded late last year due to scheduling conflicts with other bands. Now she is with a new band called, Grosh, with Grace Lougen. They are doing very well, as they released a new CD this very week.
Photo: Megan’s new band, Grosh at their CD release performance event June 13, 2019.
As it turns out, the legendary Joan Baez has something in common with Megan. They share band-mates. Both Grace Stumberg (Joan’s vocal harmonizer) and Grace Lougen (Joan’s lead guitarist) perform in the Joan Baez band.
Photo: Grace Stumberg entering stage with Joan Baez
Thus, the reason for the two Graces to be in Dallas for a couple of days. Joan Baez was performing in an outdoor venue in the downtown Dallas theater district the following day. The weather was perfect. I couldn’t attend as I was doing my own gig in northeast Oklahoma that night.
Photo: Pre-show shot at Annette Strauss Square in the outdoor venue of the AT&T Performing Arts Center Complex.
Soon, in mid July, they will embark for another European concert tour. Joan was one of the artists who performed at Woodstock in 1969. After the Woodstock Fest 50th Anniversary Event was cancelled (slated for this summer) it made it extremely easy to book Europe once again. Joan says it will be her final tour. After five decades of hitting the stage, I can understand why. Still, musician peers of her age are making big splashes on the road these days. (We’ll see.)
To say it was a delight to converge on a Dallas Irish pub for lunch with Grace and Grace, would be a huge understatement. We laughed and told stories about our lives and their “on-the-road” adventures. Since Megan wasn’t at the table with us, I felt free to roll out some of the childhood antics Megan and her sisters got into. We found ourselves at ease with each other as the afternoon went on. We felt as if we had known one another for a thousand years. I was so proud to hear of their enormous respect and love for my daughter. As they spoke of her, I could see a sense of treasure in their eyes. My ears grew as tales of their friendships were described, as well as the professional side as band-mates and fellow-musicians. I can’t tell you how it made me feel.
Photo: L-R: Grace Lougen, me, Grace Stumberg
Sitting there with these highly talented young ladies, I soaked in the warmth of love they shared for my Megan. It truly hit me like never before that Megan and I made the right choice back in August of 2008.
The Texas sun beat down on us as we exited the pub into busy pedestrian traffic. As we hugged out on the walkway, while saying our goodbyes, Grace Stumberg said,
“I am so glad I got to meet the maker of Megan Brown.”
I chuckled as a nervous response. I appreciated what she said, but I KNOW Who made Megan. I am held in His hand.
Just then, I felt my chin quiver. Knowing myself well, I knew tears were next. I had my sunglasses on, so they never saw me shed one drop. But as they walked back to the Joule Hotel, two blocks away, I couldn’t hold them back any longer. My parking meter was beeping at me, which was another excuse to quickly climb back into my car. When I did, I put the key in the ignition, but didn’t turn it. Instead, I just sat silently and wept for a good two or three minutes.
It was written, so us readers who dare to research would know, releasing our kids into the world is like an archer releasing his/her arrow into the air. Kids normally outlive the parents, at least that’s the design of our biological lifespan. So, my girls, my arrows, will go into a future I will not see, a future I will not reach. In August of 2008, once again I found myself holding my fatherly bow. I pulled back the bowstring, tilted upward above all targets for the proper air-arch, distance, and wind direction. Feeling the tension of holding the bow close to my cheek, knowing I could hold it there no longer, I closed my eyes, said a prayer, and let go of the bowstring.
Megan was launched into the world with the swishing sound of the tail-feathers. Her flight continues where I will never be. As she soars, she has pierced hearts, minds, and culture, all of which I cannot. Her trek sails through audiences, lifting their chins from faces I will never see. During her flight, she will look down and see cities, societies, and stigmas without dividing lines mapping out the boundaries I tend to set. Her arch will be observed and heard by many she has not yet seen. As my arrow, she is an extension of me.
Do dads worry? Sure we do. With that said, I have an omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient Father who once launched me at birth. There’s where my comfort rests.
Oh, how those arrows do fly…with fuel for the race.
I must wait for the sunrise
I must think of a new life
And I mustn’t give in
When the dawn comes, tonight will be a memory too
And a new day will begin…” (1981) “Memory” from Cats by Andrew Lloyd Webber
The young Dr. Frankenstein meets Igor, for the first time, at a foggy depot railway platform. As they introduce themselves, the great Marty Feldman, who played Igor, presents himself as “I-gor”. Dr. Frankenstein, played by the fabulous Gene Wildman, thought the pronunciation was a bit odd. He remarks that he was told it was pronounced, “EE-gor”. Without a slip of a beat, Igor cocks his head, leans in and says sharply (in his very British accent), “Well, they were wrong then, weren’t they?”Young Frankenstein, from 1974 from the brilliant Mel Brooks, is not only considered a classic, but it’s also one of my all-time favorite comedies, if not my #1 favorite. So much so, I have it on both VHS and DVD. I just cackle at the late Marty Feldman’s comic timing in the unforgettable scene. He was a comedic genius. To this day, my finger gets busy on the rewind button, just to treat myself a couple of times before the movie moves on.
As I date myself by the following line, I will be straightforward. As a teenager, when graduating from vinyl albums, I had to replace most of them with cassettes for my car and tape player in my apartment. That was a chore. However, the ease of the rewind button allowed me to quickly scan for my favorite cut from the artist I was listening to. After all, you couldn’t do that with the vinyl LP. You had to be steady-handed as you carefully picked up the needle, while locating the correct grove, when hunting for Elton’s “Crocodile Rock”.
Admittedly so, when on my DVR, or On Demand selection, the rewind button is one of my best friends.
Have you ever noticed, the rewinds are usually not for searching that gruesome scene where the stabbing took place? My guess is that you rarely push the rewind button to “re-watch” the tragic scene where the little boy, along with his dog, can’t escape the burning house. No doubt you never raced for the rewind button to capture again the flogging scenes in the movie Amistad. If so, there’s counselling available for that itch. Yet, I’m afraid we do it all the time…mentally. Think about it.
My last post on this format was about too many windows in old hotels. Well, I’m about to pull back the drapes on one of them for you.
Over 40 years ago, I had a troublesome relationship that went on much too long. This individual was my friend through much of the 1970’s. As time went by, we grew close with a very tight bond, which seemingly was permanent. Fast-forward to December of 1979, things abruptly ended hard with a resounding thud. Most all of my old friendships are still intact and loving. I don’t lose friends, for the most part, and I am grateful. Still, this one was substantially significant in my life…or so I thought. The relationship needed some healing, which never took place, and fighting became our norm toward the bitter end. Truly, it was a downhill slope into quicksand. We were teenagers with mounds of maturity which had yet to settle-in. Regrets? Sure, at least for me. I went back to my friend a few times, during the following days, in attempts to mend, soothe, and restore. But I learned quickly that it takes two to do so. Believe me when I say, it was a nasty split. My friend was wrong, and I was wrong. Nobody was innocent. I have been mourning over it ever since. How sick is that? There have been 40 years of rehashing the “what if’s”, “why this”, or “why that”. The questions roll along, wondering what I could have done differently, as it pertained to me and my chosen actions. If the other person is not able to do the same, it makes it almost impossible to make peace in the heart. But I know you can’t go back and change anything. If you pull out a nail in the fence post, you still have a hole. There’s not been a resolve in my own heart. Thoughts of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin comes to mind. Like Jerry and Dean, in retrospect, I believe our lives have been better without each other.
You don’t have to tell me how unhealthy this species of mourning and regret can be. I know all too well. If you’re like me, then you know you can beat yourself up over and over again. Of course, just as you think you have conquered the pain and trauma, you drag out the old dusty remote, hunting for a decades old mental movie from your life, and hit the rewind button. <<
How sad, that we keep an old dusty remote in our minds just to relive heartbreaks which don’t have to be replayed. We lie in our beds, refusing sleep, as we replay infractions from the days of yore. Other times we scan back to a fork in the road, where we turned left instead of right, wondering what might have been. Am I accurate? The scene WILL NOT CHANGE! Oh, sure, you want to see a different outcome, but it is what it is. Yet, in acknowledging that truth, it is also history, where it belongs.
Recently, to my surprise, I discovered my old friend may be struggling emotionally more than I have. While on Facebook, the morbid side of me decided to look for my old friend’s Facebook page. Shockingly, this social butterfly wasn’t anywhere to be found. Later, I sadly learned my old friend blocked my name so that I would vanish when on our mutual friend’s pages. I guess it shouldn’t bother me when thinking someone wants to scrub me from the earth, as if I never existed. There’s not been one word of any communication since January 1980. I was blocked as if I were a troller, stalker, or a monster to be shunned from the town square. “Sanctuary”, cried the hunchback in his chains. I thought it interesting that after 40 years, my name was a curse in the eyes of this person. Wow, maybe I unknowingly inflicted more harm than I received. Somehow, it added salt to my wounds.
Why do we do this to ourselves? What betterment does it apply to our mental and emotional state? Better yet, why do we crave it? We do, you know. We pick up the mental remote, push rewind to find the old scabs in life way too often. What’s more, we push the pause button to gaze for a bit, which makes matters worse. It’s a choice, isn’t it?
I don’t have a psychology degree, but I do know a bit about human nature. Under my belt, there is a ton of biblical advice in which I have marinated. In God’s camera angle, guilt, self-damning, and judgement is what we are to ween ourselves off of. Sure, biblically speaking, when we recognize our own wrongs, we are to loosen our grip, while placing them at the feet of the Righteous Judge. It is written, so we would understand, when wrapped in His forgiveness, there is no divine condemnation staining the humble who apply His forgiveness in a true, heartfelt confession. In doing so, we are to learn to forgive others…and ourselves. The old dusty rewind button should only be for scenes of joy, love, and laughter. Otherwise, take out the batteries.
Thank you Marty, Gene, and Mel.
When in play >, or fast forward >>, always expect fuel for the race.
“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.” – Psalm 103:11-12 (NAS)
“I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins.” – Isaiah 43:25 (NAS)
“Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back.” – A prayer by King Hezekiah found in Isaiah 38:17 (NIV)
“Well there’s too many windows in this old hotel. And some rooms filled with reckless pride. And the walls have grown sturdy, and the halls have worn well, but there is nobody living inside. Nobody living inside…” Heart Hotels (1979) Recorded and composed by: Dan Fogelberg
You know how it is. You grow up in a place, or visit a place as a kid, while often driving by stunning landmarks, oblivious to their existence. Honestly, I still do it.
I didn’t grow up in Greebville, Tx, about an hour’s drive east of Dallas, but I feel like I did. I was born there, but we didn’t stay. My mom’s family lived there, and still do. To describe it, I would say there are certain parts of town that still remind me of the old southern neighborhood scenes in the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird. My brain is sprinkled with fond memories of looking out the car window at the park I played in, the old gothic-style church on the corner near the downtown square, and the narrow street where I would grin from ear-to-ear as we drove toward my grandparent’s house. Those are the simple snapshots a little lonely kid recalls about a place. However, there are so many things this young one missed, probably because it was the loved ones in his focus.
One thing which escaped my interest was an old hotel on Washington Street, across from the old church.
The Washington Hotel – Greenville, Texas. Photo: Texas Historical Commission.
In its youth, it was called The Washington Hotel. Later in years it was changed to The Cadillac Hotel. In 2010, it was awarded a designation in the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1926, about two blocks down from the train depot, it stood as a gem, a glimmering star in the downtown Greenville landscape. She has six floors ascending up to what was a garden roof, with plenty of space for romantic evening dances. A monumental marble staircase rises from the lobby with iron railings. Celebrities, tycoons, and diplomats were served by the old place through the decades, including Frank Sinatra, President Lyndon B. Johnson, and many more. My mom and her parents attended a campaign speech delivered by President Harry S. Truman from the back of his train caboose at the depot near the hotel. (Apparently, it was customary to build a hotel within a short walking distance to the train depot. It makes sense, considering the times.)
The old Greenville train depot.
However, a gem no more. The Washington/Cadillac Hotel, in all of her history and glory, was closed long ago as the town grew. Time and neglect were her new caretakers. In fact, it was abandoned in the worst possible way through the years. Before you could say, “Texas tumbleweeds”, looters and vandals had their way with it. In the early 1990’s a fire was set, destroying much of the interior of the old royal lady. A couple of times in recent years, developers drew promising plans to refurbish her amidst intentions of a rebirth with condominium lofts, studios, and flats on the blueprints. Still, plans fell through for one reason or the other. And now it sits in an almost ruined state. Much of it boarded up, and if not, windows cracked or broken out. I have interior photos, but to be frank, it hurts my heart to look at them. I would rather dream of her glory days. My fear is, the city will give up on it, setting a date for a heartbreaking demolition. My hope is, some wealthy decision-maker will grab a new vision of what this queen could be with some funds and lots of loving care.
Photo: The Herald Banner
Realistically, it’s a long-shot. She sits at the threshold of a section of town in need of a gigantic face-lift. And I mean more than a simple Botox injection.
Recently I heard Dan Fogelberg’s very familiar “Heart Hotels” over a classic soft-rock radio station. You should google it to refresh your ear’s memory. Immediately the old Cadillac Hotel came to my mind. I began to listen to the lyric with larger lobes while realizing I sing-along to it all the time without allowing the lyric to penetrate. The late Fogelberg was an incredible, thoughtful lyricist. “Longer (Then)” was one I did for many weddings since 1979. It’s considered a classic now. He has so many greats in his music catalog. Many bring tears to my eyes. This is one of them.
He aligned his heart in the fashion of an old hotel with way too many windows for outside viewers. Of course, he chose a hotel because he spent his life on the road from city to city. Many artists are introverts. I know I am, to a degree. His lyrics speak of closing the shutters, pushing everyone out, leaving offers of synthetic love, hoping for true love to arrive. In the third verse, his lyric pressed him to include an admittance that the soul needed to be repaired. He wrote of craving the vacancy, while hearing distant echoing voices from the stairwells which brought memories of unanswered prayers. OUCH!
Man, the song hurts! It’s just like the interior photos of the Cadillac Hotel, which I refuse to add here. At the same time, I love heart-breaker songs. Performing them multiple times in my day, I know the powerful movements they deliver. (I trust that doesn’t make me a twisted, bad person in your eyes.)
Truly, he wrote what most of us won’t. I think Fogelberg was a very straightforward composer. His songs spotlight his honesty. If we were forthright with each other, as Dan was, we could relate to the lyric of “Heart Hotels”. Just like too many windows in this old hotel (heart), there are also too many jumping off the roof surrounded by a garden, dancing, and romance. Have you noticed?
The heart is a strong machine. We call the pumping muscle in our chest the strongest organ, but the heart of the spirit is even stronger. The rooms are full of reckless pride and the halls are worn well, but there’s nobody living inside… When empty we are left to our chosen devices.
Like Fogelberg, if there is an honest recognition of “soul repair“, I think Fogelberg would be the first to say, you can’t do this on your own. Sure, try all you want, but the carpet wears out in the pacing years of frustration, loneliness, and heartbreak. Soon there after, the present reality hits like a brass doorknocker where the echoing voices in the stairwell repeat the failures of the past. They do remind us, don’t they? What do we have to show for it? A worn-out carpet, wishing it were a magic carpet for flying. A quick trip to the fire escape proves to be a faulty idea, as the decades have rusted the old scaffolding. Thoughts of the roof flow in again, or medicate with the devices at hand for the numbing of our pain. Honestly, this song should be longer than Stairway To Heaven or Alice’s Restaurant, because it should be a theme and variation which is in loop.
Should I mention something worse than our own heart-sickness? Dare I?
How often do we drive by a dis-connected, seemingly empty person, who for whatever reason, has pulled down the shutters and rolled up the carpet inside? How many of us are shocked when someone we know, or someone we love, takes to the roof for a final inhale of the garden? The shock usually coats our minds because we thought they were doing just fine, as we occasionally peered through their many windows. Still, we drive by them, distracted by the gothic-style church building across the street, not noticing there’s a soul is in trouble and needs repair. Don’t kick yourself too badly. I am the first to say, I am sooooo guilty. My hull has been breached a few times by deliberate final exits of people I love.
Often in my life I have heard others speak of unanswered prayers, as the late Fogelberg penned. Like me, I bet you have, too. You didn’t ask for this, but allow me to quickly shed a laser light on this familiar topic. Prayer-life is a mystery. Make no mistake about it. Scripturally speaking, the problem is solved through three different camera angles.
#1 – Know God first. Read and study Him before you climb up His sleeve. The passage states:
“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who approaches Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” – Hebrews 11:6 (Berean Study Bible)
#2 – We frequently petition God in a misdirected way. We envy, we crave, we itch for this and for that. In the old King James language, we “covet” in general. We also want a rabbit’s foot to stroke, or a genie in a bottle to grant us three wishes, or an item hanging from our rear-view mirror in which we trust to have some sort of empowerment. As often the case, what we ask for could bring us to an intersection which may be unhealthy for our future…the future we are hidden from.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV)
Unfortunately, when we pray, asking for our “coveting” heart to be satisfied, it goes against God’s target for our lives. (IE: ” Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz? My friends all drive porches, I must make amends…” (1971) Composers: Bob neuwirth, Janis Jolin, Michael McClure.) Fun song, yet the humor of it stresses a fundamental truth. One can be wealthy, socially honored, and in need of nothing, yet in reality, naked, poor in heart, and without spiritual sight. Jesus mentioned this many times. After all, God wrote it down so we would know, “Do not covet”. Asking for peace, safety, protection, insight, direction, needs, and most of all, His plans to rule over what we cannot see, is always well applied. Another way of putting it, sometimes our motives are off rhythm, as in an engine which lacks oil on its timing chain.
#3 – Unanswered prayer…at least that’s what we call it. We perceive a prayer hits the ceiling, bouncing back like a rubber ball. In reality, God promises to hear our prayers. If you don’t get what you want, like an angry kid on December 25th, it could be the answer is “No”, or “Not yet”. THIS has occurred in my life many times following premature prayers, where the answer came clearly months or years later. Retrospect is a supreme teacher. I could write a list of times this has happened in my life. Keep in mind, there’s a solid case for follow-up prayers, asking God why He didn’t answer, as you personally weigh answers. Other times, an immediate answer arrived during my prayer-life. In fact, I have had prayers granted before I even finished the prayer. The acknowledgement is always astounding to me, reminding me of my lack of 100% trust in God. There’s a bold statement from Jesus which speaks loudly…
A sweet friend of mine, a vocal harmonizer for Joan Baez, recently said she believed the “Universe” wants her to move to Texas. I should have explained the following, but I didn’t. Unfortunately, the universe doesn’t love her. The universe never reached out to counsel her. The universe never cared for her. The universe never burdens itself with restoration of life. The universe doesn’t oppose evil. The universe never offered a free gift of redemption. The universe never bothers itself to tend to her when naked, poor, and blind. The universe doesn’t have a count of every hair on her head. The universe never wanted to remove her transgressions and faults. The universe never protects her, defends her, or gives grace to her. The universe is faulty and proves to be imperfect, as we are.
Bottom line…the soul/heart, never has to be empty and alone. There is One who loves closer than a brother. Search the world’s religious history. After exhausting yourself, you will find religious systems demanding your “works”, your “efforts”, your climbing up Mt. Olympus to earn the favor of deities. It’s easy to accept because it’s based on our human nature to work, to earn what we want. Then there’s “touch this”, “burn this”, “kiss this”, or my favorite…”buy this”, etc. Do the research. If you know me, you already know I say this out of love, not hatred. I hurt for religious beachcombers. We’ve all been there. Some doctrines even demand starvation, suicide, murder, and self mutilation to achieve a cozy suite in an afterlife hotel. Have you noticed? Only God, through Jesus, who, as a baby, couldn’t find room in the inn, proves to be of this magnificent heart of love, without condition, and grace toward us imperfect people.
(Most recommend reading the book of John, in the Bible, to learn Who Jesus is, and why He is so different.)
Heart hotels don’t have to be vacant. Room service is available with fuel for the race.
“She was just sixteen and all alone when I came to be. So we grew up together…mama-child and me. Now things were bad and she was scared, but whenever I would cry, she’d calm my fear and dry my tears with a rock and toll lullaby…” (1972) Rock And Roll Lullaby. Recorded by: B.J. Thomas. Composers: Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil.
With age, I have learned that…
If I were the teen who fought through a sexual assault, then carried an unwanted pregnancy, debating the heart’s choices, then allowing life to grow, I would be a spectacular teenager wise beyond my years.
If I were a parent who protected my newborn from assault and murder at the hands of the father, with a sacrificial unselfish front, I would be a medal of honor recipient.
If I were to end an abusive marriage, to defend and shield my innocent toddler, knowing there would be no child support, I would be a heroine authors would write about.
If I were a single parent constantly contending with the voices of psychological demons, chanting accusations of worthlessness, depreciation, and shame, all the while rising above it all to raise my child, I would be the dragon-slayer described in countless novels.
If I were to defeat my fear by moving into an uncharted world, away from family, to make a life for my young child, I would be a courageous warrior with monuments anointing the landscape.
If I were one who taught my toddler the true value of the gift of grandparents, I would be a brilliant educator with my name on the walls of universities.
If I were to faithfully read scripture to my young child each night, combined with the simplicity of personal prayer and church attendance, I would be a righteousness seeker with my statue erected by the world’s cathedrals.
If I were to seek out the finest pre-schools and kindergartens, in the attempt to assure my only child got a leg up, I would be a proactive parent to be noticed.
If I were to be rejected for loans and credit, due to being a single parent in the 1960’s, only to exercise faith while tackling a life of poverty with my head held high, I would be a fearless champion in my child’s eyes.
If I were to knock on every door to find a job waiting tables, or struggle with an overnight shift on an assembly line, I would be a humble workhorse of a provider for others to impersonate.
If I were to give away the opportunity to have a brilliant singing & recording career, just to be home with my child at the end of a hard night’s work, I would be self-sacrificing, worthy of a screenwriter’s time.
If I were to provide for my child after several lay-offs, by way of two or three jobs, I would be Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman combined, never being poor in spirit.
If I were to train my child well enough to leave him alone overnight, in order to work the graveyard shifts, I would be an example of a strong tower of faith.
If I were to work overtime to aid in the development of my elementary age child with raw musical abilities, by paying for piano, violin, guitar, and voice lessons, my portrait would hang in Carnegie Hall.
If I were to be a staunch, independent single parent, refusing financial aid from my parents, I would be wealthy of heart.
From my granddad’s cedar coin box. The two of us from 1969.
If I were to resist the temptation of suicide, while being beaten down by company lay-offs, Green Stamp submissions, and accepting government blocks of cheese, I would be a brave ferocious fighter for my child’s future.
If I were to support my teen’s sports and musical interests, which differ from mine, I would be a liberally devoted parent of love and understanding.
If I were to tirelessly stand up to my rebellious teenager, with the possibility of damaging our relationship, I would have attributes resembling the God of the Bible.
If I were to sit all alone in a church pew watching my child wed, I would have earned the vision of a soldier adorned in glistening armor after a long battle.
If I were to bless my grandchildren with my physical presence, my mind, as well as my heart, I would be worth my weight in gold.
My mom with my middle daughter, Megan. (1992)
If I were to deny myself, for the betterment of my child, to the point of self-injury, while killing my own pursuits, and avoiding life’s trinkets that shine in the night, I would be Joan of Arc, Boudicca, Anne Sullivan, and Rosa Parks rolled into one.
If I were to be an example for my adult child, by being the caretaker of my aging parents, suffering from Alzheimer’s and Dementia, along with other elderly ones in my community, I would reflect what I have always been…a mountain of love, compassion, and selflessness.
If I were to describe a fictitious character from my own dreams, they could not come close to the one I have held in my heart for my entire life.
I don’t have to write the words “If I WERE…” The reason being, I simply could never measure up. The one described above is my mom, Carolyn Atherton-Brown.
I am her portrait. I am her monument. I am her novel. I am her screenplay. I am her statue. I am her champion. I am her armored soldier. I am the medal of honor.
To be gracefully broken, brilliantly strengthened, and beautifully poised is to be one who drinks deeply from the well of fuel for the race.
“…As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord. I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given to the Lord…” – The words of Hannah – I Samuel 1:26b-28a (NIV)