I Almost Couldn’t Bear The News

“When I know you know baby, everything I say
Meet me in the country for a day
We’ll be happy and we’ll dance
Oh, we’re gonna dance our blues away…”  (1972)  “Listen To The Music”  Recorded By:  the Doobie Brothers  Composer:  Tom Johnston

Someone very wise once told me that you never are really sure what you’re praying for when praying for your children.  Usually it becomes more clear in retrospect of a life event.

Megan is my middle daughter, now 30 years old.  I have written of her before, so forgive me if part of this post sounds redundant.

Out of three daughters, Megan is the one most like me, in various ways.  My girls are precious to me, and Megan is the one who aligns more closely to who I am.  It could be because when she was a toddler and pre-schooler, I was Mr. Mom for a few years.  When Tabitha, her older sister (2 years older), went on to kindergarten, Megan and I spent lots of solo time together.  In fact, the solo time lasted two of her young years.  Although she lives in Buffalo, NY now, and I live in Dallas, Tx where she was born, we do still have a special bond.  It’s always apparent when she comes home for a visit.

Megan hug April 1st 2017

Megan was a child actress before she turned singer & recording artist.  Megan has racked up a mound of accolades in upstate NY for the last 12 years.  The bands she fronts have been news worthy and award-winning.  (Currently you can see some of her videos when you look-up Grosh, or Grosh Band.)  She’s on stage about as much as she sleeps each week.

Meganfest

MEGAN-BROWN in Artvoice June 23rd 2016

Photo:  Megan in Artvoice Magazine, June 2016.

Exhaustion and burnout can be an issue if not careful in that business.

So, enter kayaking and camping.  We didn’t do either of these things for outdoor activities when she was a kid, but she always wanted to.  She and a small group of close friends often rough-it out in the beautiful countryside of the southern tier of New York State, or northern Pennsylvania.  With kayaks and tents loaded up, they always manage to find these areas of serene landscapes to unplug and get the fingernails dirty.  Last weekend, they chose the gorgeous hills of the Allegheny National Forest.  Megan always takes pictures for us.  (Why am I hearing the whistle of the old Andy Griffith Show theme song?)

Kayaks PA The lakes and streams are crystal clear, and cold.  With an oar in one hand, and a camera in the other, I love getting to see her kayak perspective.

Kayak 2 PA

Honestly, can’t you just smell the pines and feel the cool breeze rising off the calm waters?  Yeah, me too.

At night they circle the campfire, laughing at each other’s stories, and roasting s’mores over the open fire.  Usually, it’s the wee hours before everyone hits the tents and rolled out sleeping bags.  Ah, youth.

Early last Sunday morning, Aug 2nd around 5 o’clock, while nicely wrapped in their sleeping bags, the piercing quietness of the forest suddenly was shattered by the canvas-shaking roar and snorts of a loud animal in the camp.  Everyone jumped a couple of inches off the ground by the unexpected wildlife just a few feet from the tent stakes.  Peeking out from the flaps of the tent opening, Megan saw something huge and hairy hovering over the food supplies by the now quenched campfire.  Someone turned a flashlight on the enormous growling mass of a creature to find a extra large black bear.

Black Bear Wiki

Photo:  American Black Bear (Wikipedia)

The flashlight in his face didn’t disturb him one iota.  Then someone began to yell and scream at the hefty bear with hopes of frightening him away.  The vocals fell deaf on his slightly rounded ears.  About that time, someone, probably the drummer, had the idea to grab a couple of metal chairs, and beer bottles, and proceeding to clang them together in a sharp ruckus sound for the bear’s fear factors.  No doubt the sound echoed throughout the hills with an ear-shaking frequency.  Still, the bear did not flinch.  Not one eyelash was batted.  It seemed an 18-wheeler could hit the big wall of black hair and he would’ve only be slightly annoyed.  Fright began to turn in the minds of Megan and friends as their bear-banishing choices came to an end.  In cases like this, experts say to flap your arms way up in the air while growling and yelling as you jump up and down to make yourself look bigger than you are.  For some reason that is the best way to scare-off a bear, and other wildlife.  However, no one was brave enough to try it as close as they were to the massive beast.

Nothing they did worked to spook the animal away because he was laser-beam focused on a nylon backpack full of all the ingredients for s’mores.  That’s right.  Inside were graham crackers, marshmallows, honey, and chocolate bars.  He tore into the tough nylon exterior of the pack, as if it were rice paper, and began to chow down, cardboard boxes, plastic wrappers and all.  Nothing that they could do, percussion, scream, or shine on him mattered.  His mind was in tune with one thing…his sweet-tooth.  Interestingly enough, right next to him was a cooler full of hot-dogs, deli turkey meat, and cheese.  I am sure his nose picked up on the scent of the meat and cheese, but even so, the sugar in the backpack was his priority.  THANK GOD!  Finally, the brute of a beast knocked over a cooking kettle next to him and with a dart, he ran off with the makings of s’mores.  The key was…he frightened himself.  His own, “fear itself” shook his core.

I told Megan if that had been a mama with her cubs looking for food, they all would be dead in the woods, far from civilization.  (It was just the dad in me adding that tidbit.)

alone calm faith light
Photo by Garon Piceli on Pexels.com

Yep, sometimes when you pray for your kids, you often don’t know just what you are praying for until after a life & death event occurs.  The Everlasting Arms searches the prayerful heart while holding the future in His hands.

In this strange and spooky election year, full of rage, riots, fires, loud voices, along with a frightening pandemic, we can choose to be the bear, or we can choose to be the kids with noise-making talents.  Personally, call me Yogi.  With all the distractions of our uneasy, restless times, I shall not be moved.  My choice is to stay focused of the life, liberty, and the sweet pursuit of happiness our founding fathers placed in a bag just for me and my descendants.  I will NOT be distracted from it by all the noise-making.  My choice is to stand on what I know to be true in my heart, that core which turns me to the east or west, north, or south.  I will keep my nose in that bag of treats from 1776 and disregard all else that attempts to woo my attention.

Thank you, bear.  Thank you for the personal application at this time in my life.  Most of all, thank you for obeying your Creator by not caring if my daughter was five feet from you while stuffing your cute face.

Speaking frankly, the bear necessities can be rediscovered in fuel for the race.

 “Let a man meet a bear robbed of her cubs, rather than a fool in his folly.”                – Proverbs 17:12 (NAS)

 

Got Fear?

Photo:  Pixabay

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

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

Me, KDB & Mom Wedding

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

Homestead Windmill

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

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

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

Halloween Skeleton

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

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

Grandpa Brown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Ragged Bride – An Allegory

Artwork:  My wife, Michelle Niles-Brown

“I’ve got an everlasting love, so tall, so wide, so high above the rumble of thunder down below.  It’s your love I need.  It’s the only show.  And it’s you on an everlasting dream can take us anywhere…(where) are the tears of yesterday?  We killed the pain.  We blew away the memories of the tears we cried.  And an everlasting love will never die.”  – An Everlasting Love, (1978).  Recorded by:  Andy Gibb.  Composer:  Barry Gibb

Author:  Alan Scott-Brown

The pain in the heart of this prince couldn’t be matched, especially when he witnessed his betrothed in strife and struggle.  He whispered to himself, “It is not yet our time.”

****

Long ago, a radiant prince discarded his crown, his robe, and his royal ring for a brief journey to his father’s subjects in the village below.  The time had come to fulfill his duty as a suitor.  As his father’s custom, as well as the tradition of the community, there had been an arranged marriage for the regal son.  The prince was to be betrothed to a commoner.  First, he agreed to shed his garments of nobility, exchanging them for the humble attire of the land.  After all, this betrothal ceremony was to be unassuming, intimate, and somewhat mysterious to the fellow-villagers.  The footmen and trumpeters made ready, but there was to be no fanfare.

For him, it was strange to walk freely among his father’s subjects, without his accompanying courtiers.  He found tremendous pleasure visiting with the peasant farmers,  the laborers at the village well, and the boisterous shepherds by the lone stable.  Conversations among them all were telling of village life.  On the walkway, one by one, citizens passed him, not recognizing his joyful face, or his distinct speech.  It saddened him to see a grave disillusionment on each face as they carried out their daily routines.  The burden of life wore heavily on the countenance of the people.

Nearby, a poor young maiden’s father and mother were expecting the prince to arrive.  Not calculating the time the prince’s father decreed, they left an oil lamp burning in their window, ready and waiting.

It was the midnight hour on a full moon when the soft knock at their door came.  Scurrying about, the parents awakened her.  In haste, the mother set out the best goblets and rugs just before the third and fourth rap on the lintel.  When her father opened the door, he saw a single man, dressed as a lowly workman, with a small bag hanging off his shoulder.  The maiden’s mother spied through the lit window, expecting to see white horses bridled to chariots of gold, accompanied by a host of noblemen.  She leaned closer to the pane, blinked once, twice, a third time, but there was no royal entourage to be seen.  With expectation’s unfulfilled, the prince was invited into the house and offered a seat at their table.

As the young maiden remained in her chamber, the prince, withholding nothing, openly shared his true identity with her parents.  He spoke of things only royalty could.  He presented a scroll, marked with the sovereign’s seal.  He broke the seal himself before presenting it to the father of the maiden.  Enclosed were the fine details of a costly dowry to come, a dowry with a high price, generously offered by the father of the prince.   For the moment, the parents were amazed, even silenced.  Although he wasn’t arrayed like a prince, or traveled as a prince, there was understanding that he had been sent from the royal castle on the hill.  Nonetheless, a mystery lingered in their minds.

The maiden was called to enter for a presentation by her father.  Her entrance displayed a beautiful young maiden, adorned in a pristine, but common, white linen gown, weaved for the occasion.  Just below her striking hazel eyes, a thin light blue veil was fastened.  The prince arose from his chair in respect, coupled with great delight.  At once, her brows raised as she was inquisitive concerning the appearance of the prince.

With suspicion in her speech,  “Uh, father, this man is a commoner.  I thought he…”

The father sharply interrupted her, “Young one, the time has come for you to sit at the table of decision.”

Sheepishly, she took her designated place at the table, across from the prince.  In a softer tone, her mother explained that she, and her husband, would retreat to the back courtyard for a time.  The kindly prince, who admired their traditions, remained standing until they made their exit.

As the parents took their leave, they couldn’t help recalling the last time a suitor appeared with the promise of a dowry.  There was an older daughter at that time, the firstborn, who was of age for marriage.  The charming suitor claimed knighthood from the sovereign’s court, complete with squires and armor-bearers.  One hour after the betrothal ceremony, he returned, stealing her away, leaving the family in ruin.  The daughter was never to be seen again.  Rumors hovered for years that the damsel was enslaved, bound to serve in the chambers of a ruthless king in a far country.  The infliction left them with undeserved fears echoing in their minds.

Time seemed to stand still as the prince, and the maiden, spoke privately of family, faith, and freedom.  An immediate connection was being fashioned.  There was laughter for a time, only to meld into soft tears as he spoke of the hopelessness he witnessed among the villagers.  For her, she had grown accustomed to it, never anticipating a change.  As prince, he vowed to her, he would present the entire community with a free gift of insight to a life well beyond the boundaries they had set for themselves.

He reflected on his father in great reverence and love.  She was all agog concerning the enigma of the castle, and life within it.  The more the prince unveiled about the state of royalty behind the great wall, the more she wanted to cast aside speculations.  The maiden wanted to know more of his majesty’s likeness, his persona, and his plans for them both.

“My father embraces all manner of loveliness and is rich in laughter,” he explained in boldness.  “Not one thing has he ever withheld from me, as well as those he holds in his heart.  The land is unaware of his immense compassion for his people.  Soon, he will prove it to them.  In time, as he greets you, you will find we are alike.”

The sheer enthusiasm in his voice moved her to a place she had never been.  Although his speech was authoritative in nature, there was a soft grace about him.  The maiden acknowledged how his simple joy invaded the distrust nesting in the caverns deep in her soul.  In her very core, she wanted to escape the cloud surrounding her people.  Her dreams cascaded with the memory of her sister who had vanished at the hands of the evil knight.  Yet, for this moment, the maiden found she was wooed by this lamb of a prince, as well as the words of his promises.

Despite the night seemingly frozen in place, the time had come for them to separate.  The prince reached into his bag, pulling out a small loaf of bread, just enough for the two of them.  He explained the loaf was baked by him alone, and not the royal chef.  She was eager to taste of it.  Just before her hand reached for the bread, he then presented a small jar of clay filled with red wine.  He told her it was just enough for one goblet.  The color was brilliant against the table’s candlelight.  She asked him in which vineyard was it harvested.  With a sparkle in his smiling eyes he answered, “This is from my father’s vineyard.  The vine comes out of the earth with ease by his nurturing hand.”

Pinching off a piece of the loaf, he offered it to her.

Just before the maiden bit into the bread, he said, “No doubt, even though I must go, you will always remember this bread when you think of us, here tonight.”

As her eyes gleamed from the flavor of the loaf, he fetched the holiday goblet her mother had set out.  As he poured the wine in the cup, he reminded her of the tradition of the act of betrothal.

In humble sincerity he spoke directly, “Recall that you have a choice remaining.  You can decide now to refuse to drink of my wine, decline the dowry, and the arrangement will be dissolved.  Or, you can drink from this goblet, sealing the covenant that our wedding will take place.  By this, you will forsake all other suitors who come after I depart.”

As he explained the tradition of their culture, he placed the cup in front of her while watching intently with overwhelming eagerness.  She slowly wrapped her fingers around the goblet, holding it in her hand while sniffing the aroma.  Her mind raced with what her future might be as a princess of a great land.  With that, the maiden closed her eyes, placed the the cup carefully beneath the veil, and drank all of it.  Without hesitation, the two of them cheered, clapped their hands, and shouted in the excitement of love’s contract.  They hugged, they danced around the table, leaving them longing to catch their breath.

The table of decision was over.  It was time for him to journey back up the hill.  A sense of melancholy fell over the room.  He held her hand tightly as he reached into his sleeve, retrieving a beautiful scarlet scarf of silk which had been concealed from view.

As he carefully wrapped it around her left wrist, he gently explained, “This silk scarf is to always remain fixed onto your wrist.  Wherever you go, it will be a sign for others you have sipped the royal wine of the prince.  For you, it will always be a reminder of our bonding as one mind, one heart.”

“I will, sweet prince.  I will,” she gladly proclaimed.

The prince continued, “Meanwhile, there is preparation to be done for the coronation.”

With a gasp the maiden shouted, “A CORONATION?”

Delivered with a chuckle, “Yes, you are to be queen of the kingdom.  The wedding itself will be like nothing this village has ever seen, or put to ink.”

“Tell me!  Paint my mind with the image,” the maiden replied as she closed her eyes.

“Of course,” he remarked, “There will be multitudes of guests who will be at the pinnacle of awe.  You will be given the brightest snow-white gown, with a train that will fill the castle.  You will be clad in the finest of jewels, mined from the ends of the earth.  Kings and queens will ask to kiss your white gloved hand adorned with rings.  I am certain even the animals will bow down to you.  (They both reveled in laughter.)  With each step you make, my father’s servants will dip in affirmation of your right as queen.  All of the kingdom’s knights will bend the knee.  They all will be at your disposal.  This is how you will be welcomed.”

The maiden’s exuberance seemed to glow about the room.  Yet, her eyes looked puzzled.

Seeing her bewilderment, he added, “Yes, now you do not realize, but YOU are to rule over the company of the noble knights.”

At this statement, she saw an odd transformation melt over his face.  His countenance turned to concern.

“You look troubled, my prince.  Is there more I should know?” asked the maiden.

He sat her down, leaned toward her in solemness, “There is a caution to disclose.  To this point you have trusted in my words.  So trust this, as well.  Long ago, before you were born, there was a revolt among a remnant of the knights of the kingdom.  Profane words were spoken in the very courts of my father.  A coup was attempted to overthrow the throne.  A war ensued.  Many a knight joined in revolt against his majesty.  Yet he, being greater than them all, cast the insurgents from the highest walls of the castle.  To this day, the rebels do all in their power to spread myths about my father.  They are strategically crafty with fallacies concerning me, and this very kingdom.  With stealth, they charm, deceive, and even slaughter citizens here and foreign lands.”

His shoulders slumped, as great sadness washed over his eyes like a wave.

After a slight pause, “I know the dark knight who swindled your family, the one who robbed you of your sister,” he explained.  “This one is a mighty adversary.  He, and his brood’s code, is to do whatever it takes to end life as you know it, take possession of your treasures, and desolate all innocence.  You, my precious, will be a trophy for their league.  You will be marked by those who hate my father and our sovereignty.  In fact, they will despise the sign of the scarlet gracing your wrist.  There will be those who will even attempt to seduce you.  Efforts will be made to dye your scarf of scarlet into a faded gray.

“How can this be?” asked the young maiden.

“They hate me, so they will hate you, as well,” he replied.  “So, be on guard.  Even some of your own friends and family will despise you.  It is no secret that many of your neighbors do not favor my father.  It all leads back to the uprising.  So listen, and rest on my words of hope and triumph.  There are multitudes of my warriors clothed as I am today, covertly living in this village.  They keep watch.  They are faithful to report.  They will protect.”

The maiden responded to his curious, but comforting words, “Yes, I believe you.  If I find myself enclosed by the enemy, I will look up to the castle for rescue.  I will call out for you.”

The prince, speaking in a different manner, “I will listen for your voice…always.  Know that I will attend to you.  When you begin to doubt, just look at the scarlet of your scarf to remember this night’s cup.  For now, I must return to my father with this joyful news of our betrothal.”

He turned toward the door to start his journey home.

The young maiden jumped from her chair with a quick response, “When will I see you again?  Will we revisit with your bread and wine?”

Stopping as he heard her words, he turned slowly to face her.  Gazing gently into her eyes he said, “Take comfort, precious one.  Know that I will not be back for another filled goblet.  But, I will drink a more superb vintage with you when you enter the castle for all time.  For now, I must go.  The time is short.”

The maiden spoke out with some sense of exasperation, “You didn’t say when I will see you again?  When will we wed?  When should I make ready?”  Clasping her hands together and holding them to her chest,  “Oh, I have a thousand questions to ask!”

“I understand, more than you know,” he replied.  “The traditions of the land are clear.  Betrothal, legal betrothal, can be short, or lengthy.  It is not for the groomsman to dictate.  My father created his calendar.  He has his seasons.  He alone designates the year, the day, the time concerning us.  However, you will feel the time nearing, when others will not.”

The maiden challenged, “Since you and his majesty are alike, why can’t you tell me of his seasons?  Why must the days pass so slowly?”

The prince answered, “They will pass as they should.  No more, no less.  While I am gone, I will be busy tailoring a whole new wing of the castle just for you.  It will be more evidence that I will retrieve you for myself.  Before the coronation and the wedding feast, his majesty expects the construction to be complete.  It must be accomplished prior to your arrival.  Don’t fret, I am known to do well at the process of building.  Until then, you are to remain here, live here, and thrive here.  All the more reason to hold to what happened in your father’s house tonight.  Hold to my promises.  Hold to your goblet.”

At this, he opened the door.  At the threshold he stopped, turning to her one final time.

“Light your lamp in the window for me,” he said with a sparkling grin.  “I will not be adorned like this again, but you will recognize me from the glow of your lamp.  Meanwhile, you will hear from me often.  Take heart, my love.”

With a better understanding, she accepted his words, “I will.  My oil keg will be full.”

As the prince walked out the door, she leaned against the lintel, struck in a swelling impression of amazement and awe.  The young maiden kept her eyes trained on him in the light of the full moon, as he traveled back up the hill toward the castle in the distance.  Just then, a peasant stranger carrying a clay pot of water was passing by the house.  At first thought, she felt it odd, for the hour was late.  She only acknowledged his presence by moving her head slightly, as the man obstructed her view for a wisp of a moment.

The stranger nodded, and spoke with certainty as he walked by, “No need to worry, dear one.  If he promised to come for you, he will.  If you watch, you will see him arrive from that very gate.”

She was stunned at the peasant’s knowledge.  She wondered if he had overheard from the window.  In her daze, she looked up to the hill once again.  After he disappeared from view, she was enraptured by the hours they had spent.  Later, the maiden was taken aback to learn from her parents the length of his visit was only thirty-three minutes.

The hours turned to days.  The days turned to months.  The months added years to the longing of unification.  Daily the prince stood watch at his window from the castle tower.  Day and night, his eyes were roving over the entire village below, keeping watch over his beloved.

Forces from the enemy of the kingdom covertly eroded the lives of each citizen of the community, even the following generations.  There were evil times of plunder and pillage throughout the land.  Knights of the court reported each detail back to the prince.  The wicked hordes raided deep in the night, destroying and abducting for their own sadistic possession.  Although the royal knights, loyal to his majesty, who stayed among the commoners were far more superior in strength than the adversaries’ agents, the battles delivered burdensome tolls.

The prince, wanting to encourage his young princess, wrote love letters to be sent directly by his heralds.  Knowing the times of turmoil, he wrote words on his scrolls like, “Endure,” “Love the villagers and their enemies, just as I have loved you,” “Tend to the wounded,” and “Watch and wait until I come for you.”  Such writings were a treasure chest of his heart and mind.  The maiden read them often.  His words assured his love was not only intact, but active.  So powerful were the words, the maiden began to emulate his heart as she lived out her days without him.  Her quill copied the letters word for word in efforts to share them with her village neighbors to guide and incite a defense against the rebels.  Couriers were dispatched for public readings in village squares elsewhere.  Over the years, multitudes heard the words of the prince because of the copies.  During that season of the kingdom, there were twenty-seven letters in all.

Soon after the scrolls of the prince were known, suitors from across the land came with false dowries, scheming to woo the young maiden away from the prince.  A number of them arrived wearing the regal robes.  Their armored steeds were fed by envy, mixed with a hunger for power.  Yet, she held to his promises from that first moonlit night long ago.  In the midst of it all, the villagers were being persuaded to proclaim allegiance through the art of mimics, misdirection, and misleading tactics.  Like trained blind animals, many turned from the reign of his majesty and his gifts.

As the years moved through the realities of that time, with her view washed in clarity, her soul surged within her, developing an everlasting, faithful love for her groomsman.

Standing at his tower window, the pain in the heart of this prince couldn’t be matched, especially when he witnessed his betrothed in strife and struggle.  He whispered to himself, “It is not yet our time.”

It was a night of the new moon, when the maiden’s house was burned to the ground by enemy torches.  Her parents were placed on a wagon and taken outside the village.  They, as well as many others, vanished in a far country.

Although the maiden survived, her eyes shifted to the hill crying, “How long, oh, prince?  How much longer?”

During the changing of the seasons, after counseling with his father in his chamber, concerning the plight of his people, he returned to the tower window.  The prince observed the streets once again.  The maiden appeared at the far end, drawing water from the community well.  His heart was sore as he witnessed her draped in old soiled raiment, stained and tattered from the doings of trials, coupled with trauma.  She had grown older while still in her youth.  Her skin was weathered from a battered life among the continuing struggle.  Although seemingly weak outwardly, he beheld her as strong.  Although ragged and stained, he counted her as clean as virgin snow.

Moved again with compassion for her, he sent spoken words to be delivered aloud.  Special selections were made for the messengers to dispatch.  The words were consistent with his love letters of the past.  As she listened to the messages, her aged, scarred hand clutched her scarlet silk scarf of promise.  In a still, unassuming voice within her, she heard the words, “It is not yet our time.”

For some groomsmen of those times, a blemished, soiled bride in ragged garments was often denied promises established during more fetching days.  However, this groomsman beheld the truth of her ragged, stained, peasant garment, yet loved her still.

“Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him the glory.  For the marriage of the lamb (prince) has come, and His bride has made herself ready.  It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.  Then he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the lamb (prince).'”  And he said to me, “These are true words of God.”” – (The writings of John.)  Revelation 19:7-9 (NAS)

 

 

 

Slippery Slopes

“…She was going way too fast.  Before she knew it she was spinning on a thin black sheet of glass.  She saw both their lives flash before her eyes.  She didn’t have time to cry.  She was so scared.  She threw her hands up in the air.  Jesus, take the wheel.  Take it from my hands. ‘Cause I can’t do this on my own.  I’m letting go…”  – Jesus, Take The Wheel, (2005)  Recorded by:  Carrie Underwood.  Composers:  Brett James, Gordon Sampson, Hillary Lindsey.

14 years ago, an old friend of mine, Jaylene Johnson, miraculously survived a severe crash.  (See her car above.)

She is a successful singer/songwriter/recording artist, Juno Award nominee and Covenant Award winner from Winnipeg, Canada.  To say she was exhausted at the end of a cross-Canada solo tour, would be an understatement.  With her heater blowing full throttle, as she was driving home after a heavy snowfall in North Western Ontario, she was eager to see her hometown.  Jaylene was negotiating the roads as well as could be expected.  There was a moment in time she thought maybe it was best to grab a hotel before they closed the highways, but that had yet to happen.  Her car was packed to the roof with her guitars, keyboard, sound equipment, promotional products, and luggage.  The only thing on her mind was the weather conditions bearing down on the route.  She is a cautious driver, well versed in winter driving, but the semis nipping at her bumper were not so careful.  The rear-view mirror became her friend.

jaylene johnson performing

Jaylene on-tour.  Photo:  Tim Hellsten

The last thing she recalls is the map.  She had made it just outside of Upsala, Ontario, in the Thunder Bay District, when all went dark.  (Some of the following details came from eyewitnesses, EMT’s & police reports, along with her own post-accident inquiry.)

Travelling westbound, she had reached the top of a ridge overlooking a valley below.  As she began to descend into the valley, she slipped on some unexpected black ice covering the highway, and lost control.  As her little vehicle slid across the highway, she hit a transport coming eastbound head-on.  When she came to in the wreckage, a stranger on the scene, named “Willie”, pulled her through a shattered window, held her hand, and covered her with his coat before the EMT’s arrived.  As she sobbed, he comforted her while stroking her hair as she laid there in shock.  Fast-forward, she spent the rest of the day on a back brace in a Thunder Bay hospital.  Her body was riddled with pieces of broken glass.

Back in 2004, I was doing a radio show in Buffalo, NY while she had just released her first major album.  At the time, it was rare for Canadian artists to get radio airplay on the USA side of the border, especially independent bands.  I wanted to change that trend in the corner where I was.  The station I worked for was operating with 110,000 watts, reaching well north of Toronto, generally all of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).  The signal stretched over the entire Western New York area, northwestern Pennsylvania, and some portions of Ohio.  There was too many stellar Canadian artists putting out top-shelf cuts, not being heard on the U.S. side.  My number one focus was quality writing, production, along with terrific vocals to debut south of the Canadian border.  However, it was under a global relief, development and advocacy banner where our roads converged.

World Vision International had approached the two of us to join their work in El Salvador, as part of an ad campaign for support.  We worked together there, alongside other Canadian artists, for a week or so.  I was doing live reports back to the radio station as I interviewed World Vision workers, as well as benefactors.  It was there Jaylene and I became friends in a much warmer climate.

me in el salvador with world vision 2004

Jaylene took this photo of an interview I was doing with a World Vision recipient through a World Vision interpreter.

After our trip, we kept in touch.  Jaylene graced my show, in studio, a couple of times when she was performing in the GTA or WNY.  Through the years I kept track of her tours and television appearances.

After hearing from her on the details of the accident, I grew concerned about her health in the wake of such trauma.  In the end, there was no need for concern on my part.  God took the wheel, indeed.

I’ve had my own experiences with icy paths.  When you believe you can negotiate the roads in that condition, caution and prep would be top priority.

Come to think of it, no matter what climate you travel through, icy roads can derail your life.  Do you know what I mean?  We can be living life as a smooth operator, no issues in sight.  Then suddenly, without warning, our feet come right out from under us.  Zero traction takes us by surprise.  We’re never really prepared for it.  Just when we think we are, “BOOM”, on our tailbone we go.  (And it’s always the tailbone, right?)  For some, it might be losing traction on funds and finances.  We might experience losing traction on world peace.  Maybe a loss in traction with our child, our health, our marriage, or our nation.  It happens.  Before you know it, we slide hard into a nearby ditch, off the trek we were to be on. Just like Jaylene’s shellacked pavement, the ice doesn’t have to be thick to cause a head-on collision.  We can find slippage on the invisible, and/or what we deem as non-threatening.  It’s a tragic mistake.  Some find slippery slopes that lead to life-ending results.  There are non-negotiables out there which can transport you to where you don’t want to be.

“…stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand….and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace…” – St. Paul, Ephesians 6. 

In Paul’s time, Roman soldiers were fitted into special sandals with studs on the soles, like cleats.  For me, my preference are my insulated snow-boots with cleats on the rubber soles.  Better yet, Paul indicates a true gripping.  It’s more like the spikes on a mountain climber’s boot.  Anyone who has ever fallen hard on the ice, or slid down a slippery slope in the winter, or did so in a social, political, or economic climate, would recommend cleats in decision making.  Just ask the citizens of Venezuela.  Unlike Jaylene, when driving in the ice on bald tires, your future is certain.

Prep all you want.  There’s always the God-factor outside of your own abilities and strength.  Have you been there?  Maybe you have and you didn’t truly take the time to consider it.

As for Jaylene’s ordeal, a couple of mysteries still hover.  One unsolved oddity surrounds “Willie”.  As she was being placed in the ambulance, she looked back for him.  He, and his coat, were gone.  No person at the scene could tell her who he was, where he came from , or where he went.  Plus, according to the reports, the shear impact from the head-on collision with the transport, and her small vehicle, was of tremendous force.  Yet, she walked out of the hospital, on her own power later the SAME DAY!  Just shocking.

Also, one of the EMT’s was familiar with her music from Canadian radio.  He went the extra mile after taking her to the hospital.  He went back to the scene and helped to retrieve her property from the wreckage, all on his own time.

Lasting effects remain with her, mostly psychological in nature.  To this day, Jaylene will tell you, she can’t seem to fully relax anymore.  Yet, she does see God’s hand in the incident on several levels.  So do I.

jaylene johnson promo Jaylenejohnson.COM

I’m proud to say she continues to write, record, and perform.  She’s now married and raising a family.

When in slippery, tight places, it goes better when fitted with the cleats of fuel for the race.

“For He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways.  They will bear you up in their hands, that you do not strike your foot against a stone.”  -Psalm 91:11-12 (NAS)

 

En Garde

Photo:  natinaproducts.com

“Guard well our human chain.  Watch well you keep it strong.  As long as (the) sun will shine…”  – To My Old Brown Earth, (1964).  Composer:  Pete Seeger

I wish I could tell you, but memories fade.  The name of a frequently visited mountain in northern Mexico escapes me, but it was not too far from Monterrey, Mexico, where Saddleback Mountain overlooks the city.  Forgive me for my mental erasers.

Mountain - Saddleback Mountain in Monterrey, Mexico

Photo:  Pinterest

Every summer, at the church I attended as a teenager, the youth group visited an American missionary family stationed in Monterrey, Mexico.  We teens would spend a week putting our shoulders to the plow, getting our fingernails dirty, right alongside them.  Trust me, the sun was hot, the sweat bountiful, and Montezuma’s revenge (sickness) was eventful.

Certainly, our journey to Mexico was more than just a terrific excursion, but a true life-learning experience, as well.  The time I spent there, working with the impoverished and hungry, can never be replaced.

Our budget was always low, even though we spent each year raising funds for the trip.  Our jaunt below the border, was aboard a couple of old converted (Excuse the pun.) school buses, plus a van.  Of course, when we weren’t doing missionary work, we were given tours and sightseeing trips.

One particular year, I believe it to be the summer of ’75, we went on a trip to one of the highest mountain peaks in northern Mexico.  It was an adventure, to say the least.  The trip consisted of a winding rocky road, in cork-screw style, up the mountain.  The scenery was delightful and the air was thin.  One of the first things I noticed was the uneasy pit in my belly when turning the corners.  You guessed it…NO GUARDRAILS!  It looked something like this…

Mountain Road - drivenachodrive.com

Photo:  drivenachodrive.com

Believe me when I say, the above is not much of an exaggeration.  About every mile or so, when the cliffs allowed, a second lane forked-off for a few yards, only to mesh into a single lane once again.  When a car, God forbid another bus, would come from the other direction, it was a slow, tight squeeze to get by.  At times, it was inch-by-inch.  One of our youth pastors drove our bus.  The other was driven by a layman from our congregation.  All I could do was to sit there with visions of us tumbling down the escarpment to our demise.  There’s a vague memory of holding tightly to the back of the seat in front of me as I held my breath around those curves.  I wondered if our parents would have approved of the ascent.

By lunchtime, the two buses, reached the summit, or near it.  There, we enjoyed a fun picnic as we could see forever.  Naturally, I was not looking forward to the ride back down the mountain.  Before you knew it, it was late afternoon.  The time had arrived to climb aboard the old bounce-queen for the trip down.

Although in low gear, we rode the brakes on the way down, along with great caution.  We squeaked by the corners and curves, keeping the tires as far away from the rocky edges as possible.  You know, they say not to look down, but I’m a glutton for fear.  When I wasn’t looking down the face of the cliffs, I noticed most of the girls in our group were looking down at their feet.  The thought crossed my mind that they were just not into looking out the cliff-side windows.  Then I spied a few of them praying silently.  I’m not afraid to tell you, they were time-sensitive petitions.  A nightmare was about to descend upon us all.

At one point, about halfway down, our brakes burned out.  Our quick-thinking youth pastor pulled up on the emergency brake lever immediately.  The emergency brake didn’t do much as gravity was the enemy.  An eerie hush fell over the bus.  Not one screamed, cried out, or yelled.  It was that serious.  Keep in mind, this was in the mid ’70’s, no cell phones.  Our other bus, behind us, had no clue we were in trouble.  We all feverishly stuck our arms out the windows, frantically motioning the bus to find a place in the narrow road to pass us by in order to get in front of us.  After about a minute, the driver got the idea, as we were moving ahead faster than what was required.  During this near-panic, while coasting toward complete calamity, we all looked for the road to separate into the two lanes for a safe passing.  Just before a scary bend in the road, there was a wonderful sight of the single lane breaking into two.  The rear bus quickly passed us, pulling in front of our bus before reaching the dangerous curve ahead.  As our bumpers hit we began to slow down to a welcomed stop.

THANK GOD FOR…

Guardrail - coralsales.com

Photo:  coralsales.com

Guardrails, for the most part, are something we rarely think about, or even notice.  Usually, we only think of guardrails when we hit one.  Countless lives have been saved by these extruded lengths of alloy, or concrete.  If only the Mexican government thought the same concerning that mountain road.

How many times have we put up guardrails in our lives?  Boundaries come in all shapes and sizes.  At other times, we plow-over our personal guardrails for what we believe will be better scenery.  How many times have we looked back to acknowledge moments of a downward spiral from an out-of-control drive to the edge of stability?  Oh, don’t get me started.  My life’s brakes have failed way more than I want to admit.  Sure, I could fill-up pages of blogs with my mistakes and sins, due to misguided, or misdirected notions.

When you think about it, guardrails are put in place not for aesthetic-sake.  Guardrails are not part of a conversation piece while on the road to a better place.  We drive by them at 75mph with the full throttle of taking them for granted.  The next time you are driving on a high overpass, picture the bridge without guardrails.  It gets you thinking.  Guardrails stand in efforts to protect from sheer inertia, sheer momentum.  Guardrails are placed to defend from gravity, if you should veer off-road.

Laws do the same.  Laws guard us from destruction, desolation, and death.  Laws were made to protect, like guardrails, lest we go too far to the edge of where you will not want to be.  In the same way, law is an educator, a teacher, a guide.  There’s a scriptural theme which delivers the warning signs.  In essence it says, with great wisdom, something like, “Danger ahead!  Here, and no further.”

Sign- Cliff warning

If not for Jesus, who fulfilled the Mosaic law for me, (Galatians 4:4-5) I certainly would be condemned in a million ways.  My efforts will always derail me because I’m only…(Dare I say?),  human.

If you’re like me, there is a tendency to let down the guard too often.  Sometimes we let down our guard with relationships, substances or thought-life, just to name a few.  There have been times in my life when I allowed my heart to be totally unguarded.  Like a hungry wolf, those who are bent on playing the disruptor, delusionist, and disabler, find an unguarded heart by mere sense of smell.  If you’ve not been in the cross-hairs, just wait.  You will be.  Whether it’s a drug, a person, or a darkened thought, which births action, it is wise not to be controlled by the inertia of such.  That final step is a long one.

Life is a winding trek.  Its curves are cut-out of the bedrock with unanticipated sharp turns.  Not to mention, the trip is way too short to veer off course into an abyss that is only beautiful from a distance.

An authentic, fail-safe brake system is only possible with the tested and approved, fuel for the race.

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” – Solomon – Proverbs 4:23 (NIV)

 

In Times of Trouble

Photo:  OnStar.com

“She was going way too fast.  Before you knew it she was spinning on a thin black sheet of glass.  She saw both their lives flash before her eyes.  She didn’t even have time to cry.  She was so scared.  She threw her hands up in the air.  Jesus, take the wheel.  Take it from my hands….” – “Jesus, Take The Wheel” from, Some Hearts album recorded by: Carrie Underwood (2005).  Composers:  Brett James, Hillary Lindsey, Gordy Sampson.

Have you seen it?  It’s the latest OnStar television commercial.  It begins with a peaceful night scene in the forest with a young deer drinking lightly from a moonlit stream.  Incoming fade of a car horn blowing as if stuck.  Then the camera pans up to a freshly stranded white SUV caught in the thicket of young trees, angling downward toward the deep embankment.  The driver, who had activated her OnStar button, hears the soothing voice of a customer service representative.  After asking how he might help her, she seems a bit more settled as she is told help is on the way.  She mentions something about how the deer came out of nowhere.  Isn’t that the way trouble comes to us?  Out of nowhere.

OnStar Car

Photo: OnStar.com

It’s a fascinating technology, isn’t it?  Frankly, I recall the first time I saw a GPS (Global Positioning System) handheld civilian unit.  One of my co-workers bought one around 1993.  It was about the size of a Motorola cell flip-phone of that time.  He simply loved gadgets and this new civilian technology was just too good to pass up.  Now, it’s commonplace.  The satellites above can, and will, navigate you to any corner of the earth.  They also will help to find you, wherever you are.  That’s good and bad news.  Truly amazing.

OnStar technology was born out of the GPS drawing-board.  When you find yourself in times of trouble, who comes to you?  In certain OnStar selected vehicles, you can leave your cell phone where it is.  You push the OnStar activation button, installed in your vehicle and an operator, usually from another part of the planet, speaks, asking how they might be of assistance.  They use GPS on their end to find where you are located on the globe as they then connect with the local authorities, search and rescue, firefighters or auto garage, whatever the need is.  The OnStar customer service coordinator gets back with you confirming that help is on the way, offering to phone a friend or family member on your behalf.  On the television commercial, the calming voice from OnStar tells the driver, “Don’t worry, I’m going to stay with you until they arrive.”  No doubt, during a traumatizing event, it is comforting to hear.

I have an old friend, with a good heart, who lives in New York.  She’s a long-time Broadway actress, singer and dancer.  A few days ago she posted online asking for good vibrations and good thoughts to be sent her way.  She never indicated what her troubles were, just that she needed her friends to send good vibes and thoughts to overcome her current trial in her life.  Understandably, she was being very private about the unspoken issue.  Only God knows.  I have loved my friend for 43 years and would never want to offend her.  I responded, alerting her of “prayers” coming from my house to hers.

Imagine, you are the lady in the stranded SUV out in the forest along the bridge.  Your OnStar button is there, beneath the rear-view mirror, brightened by back lighting with a red circle around it.   You sit there, hanging only by your seat-belt in the darkened woods, 30 miles from humans.  The only thing keeping gravity from taking your vehicle into the embankment, to the river below, are a couple of very young four-foot oak trees with bending trunks.  After you catch your breath, you bellow out toward the animals in the forest (the only ones near you with ears) and shout out, “I need good vibrations here!  Please, send me your good thoughts!”  After the animals run away from your screams, you decide to reach up and push the OnStar button as a last ditch effort.  The live customer rep asks how he can serve you.  You tell him the same, “I need your good vibrations and thoughts.”  He acknowledges the fact that he will have good vibes and thoughts, followed by, “Have a nice day” (click).

Truly, I don’t mean to belittle my friend’s sincere request.  I knew what she was trying to ask for.  Knowing her, I understood there are authentic concerning issue(s) she is fighting right now.  As a person of faith, I elected to go to the One Who lives, Who has shown me His responses in times of trouble, over and over again.  After all, I am a man filled with mistakes and wrong, unethical thinking at times.  My “good vibes and thoughts” may be skewed, off target and misguided.  So, I go to the One who is without failure and impurities, the One Who has the original GPS at hand.  He never fails to deliver in His kind, soothing small voice, “Don’t worry.  I’m here with you.  I will stay with you.  I’m sending help.”

No matter what road you’re on, OnStar or not, you know Who to call when filled with fuel for the race.

“…God is our refuge and strength, a helper Who is always found in times of trouble.” -Psalms 46:1 (CSB)

 

 

Mysterious Visitor

He boldly said, “I won’t be back, but you’re going to be okay.”

A Warning:

Before you read the account below, please read my article entry from last week entitled, “Confronted By Death – February 13, 2013.” This is a continuation of the life-changing event detailed in the earlier blog release.  In fact, I purposefully omitted this chapter of my story from last week’s piece. What is written here will be confusing if you read it prior to reading the entry posted on Feb 12th.

Once again, as I did in last week’s posting, I preface this account with a hard statement:

The documentation below is my accurate testimony, without embellishments or artistic license.  What I have written here was only witnessed by two people, my former wife (depicted for this purpose as “Joan”) and myself.  On more than three separate occasions, I double checked the facts and timelines with Joan in order to be as accurate as possible.  At the time, I told my doctors I would write a book about the experience of the journey I was hurled into.  I never did so.  Then came the promises to family, friends and God that I would tell the story in some format when the time was right.  In one case, I spoke clearly concerning my story during a speaking engagement.  Prior to public speaking of the episode, I documented it for posterity and memory sake.  I was reluctant to share this account on this blog, but was persuaded to do so, only after watching two similar occurrences from interviews with a well known Dallas, Texas business man, as well as Dr. Kenneth Cooper MD, MPH, founder of the renown, Cooper Aerobics Center and the Cooper Institute of Dallas, Texas.  In short, it is what it is.

I will make a request of you.  If you begin to read this stunning, and very personal episode, please read it to the end for a greater understanding of the evidence and circumstances detailed here.

CCU Hallway

A Grim Setting

I believe it to have been Friday the 16th, or Saturday the 17th of February, 2013.  I had just awakened for the first time from a coma.  (The first time with ability to observe and reason.) I was quickly beginning to get clarity of thought, consciousness of people around me and my surroundings.  As mentioned in my posting from last week, I was hooked up to various machines with tubes and cords coming in and out of every part of my body.  I was on life support and had my mouth full of tubes, unable to talk.  My wife, at the time, was there with nurses swiftly coming in and out of my ICU/CCU room like a fast food restaurant.  My room doorway in the ICU/CCU ward remained opened, leaving my bed in a clear line of sight from the nurses’ station just across the hall.  This was on the 3rd floor at the Medical City of Plano in Plano, Texas in the North Dallas area.  Opening my eyes, I recall seeing Joan standing close to the door that led into the hallway, as a nurse was tending to me.

To be as detailed as possible, I do not recall how much time passed from when my eyes opened and the following took place.  I will say less than five minutes, certainly no more than that time-frame.

A Grand Entrance

At a point when a nurse stepped out of my open door, a very familiar tall, slender man, clean-shaven with dark brown short thinning hair, walked briskly into my room as if he owned it, without knocking or asking if he could enter, or inquiring if I was awake or not.  He was dressed in a mid thigh dark coat, or a suit coat.  Aesthetically speaking, he looked to be roughly in his late 40’s.  As for appearances this is all I can honestly remember, with the exception of wearing a million dollar grin with joy-filled warm eyes to match.  There is no certainty, but I want to say his eyes were brown or hazel in color.

Without any hesitation or shyness, he walked right up to my bedside, on my left, and took my hand, which was strapped down.  Looking directly into my eyes he stated with a wide white toothy grin, “It hasn’t been a good day for Alan Brown, has it?”  This is a point that is difficult to explain.  As he asked the question, it was as if my best friend was there with a lighthearted phrase.  He was so very familiar to me, as if we had a past, a history.  Let’s just say, ironically, I recognized him, this man I had never met.

In retrospect, what is remarkable to me is the WAY he said the words.  He uttered them with an authority, as if he knew not only my prognosis at the time, but WHY I was hospitalized. As strange as it might sound, it was as if he wasn’t really asking a question, or even delivering a sounding board for information gathering.  When it hit my ears I thought I was missing time, as if he had been an eyewitness to a tragic event I didn’t recall and was following up with a kind visit.

At this time in my health event, I didn’t know a thing.  Clueless would be a good word.  (I knew I was in a hospital setting, but had no idea why or for how long.)  If I am sounding as if reaching or stretching for an explanation, I certainly understand, but he sounded as if he had the complete history of an event that I had yet to find out about.  My former wife told me later she hadn’t seen him before, outside or in the hallway prior to that moment.

My CCU Room Panned-2013

Dim To Lit

He continued to grip my left hand with his in the way we used to call the “soul handshake” with our thumbs nestled against each other at their base.  During his initial entrance, Joan had moved to the right side of the bed while he remained on my left, just between the railing of the bed and the row of machines keeping me alive.

Although intensely focused on my face, he glanced up at Joan a couple of times as he was speaking to me.  Let me add here, I began to get emotional, shedding a couple of tears.  It was unusual for me to get weepy without much context.  After all, this guy was a stranger who had only spoken one sentence at this point. However, I felt as if I was being caressed by a dear old friend, one I had known for a long time.  There must have been some sort of reading in my face for what he asked next.  I might have nodded my head in the affirmative or squeezed his hand because he reacted by saying, “Do you know who I am?”  I nodded my head to confirm.  Why did I?  Because, again, I felt like we had an old relationship.  I know, it doesn’t make sense as you read this today.  I understand.  One thing I want to add here is a certainty of the boldest expression in which he looked at me and spoke to me as if HE, too, had known me for a long time.  Joan described the look on my face as a look of comfort and connection, as well.  She indicated she thought at the time this man was someone I knew well by the glow on my face and the grip of our hands.  She went on to say for the first time she saw a “light” in my eyes.  (Apparently I had opened my eyes before, while in the coma, but nobody was at home, so to speak.)  One of the thoughts Joan had was that he must have been one of my favorite pastors from the metroplex area, prior to our marriage.  Making the point clear, I will repeat this important element: I never saw this man before that moment, yet somehow I knew him intimately. I only know he was there, the first visitor to comfort me at the moment I became conscious with full mental awareness, not a minute before, nor the next hour afterwards.

In a very cherished moment, he spoke some words that, to this day, cause me to shiver.  Joan believed it to be one of the most defining moments.  It was the stuff of raised eyebrows and confirmation that this man was not your average Joe randomly entering a stranger’s hospital room.  Withholding now the comments made, I will say, I speak of something divulged which was highly personal, shaking us both to the core.  However, I feel uncomfortable to share all he had to say, at this time.

“…This is what the Lord, the God of your father David says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you…” 2 Kings 20:5 (NIV) 

For the following I admit I honestly do not recall the next words used, although I would give away my possessions to know.  After some words of warmth and comfort, the man then said something to the effect of, “Let’s pray”, or “I want to pray for you”.  He reached across the bed to grab Joan’s hand. There we were, the three of us, alone in a CCU room without one interruption from medical staff or the various sounds from monitoring equipment, which seemed constant.  As mentioned earlier, the hospital staff was on high alert, constantly entering and exiting like an endless parade.  Yet, suddenly, there was an astonishing hush.

If I were to explain why I cannot bring up the wording of his prayer it would be simply put, I was mesmerized.  It was as if we were somewhere else with frozen clocks.  To describe exactly how I felt during this part of his very quick visit is to solicit judgment from those who will flush this entire account of my mysterious visitor.  I am hyper-aware some will claim me to be a cloaked new-ager of the highest order, or mystic at heart with deceitful intentions of pulling out of the reader a wow factor.  Allow me to reinstate, as the Lord God is my eternal judge, I speak the truth of the matter written in this testimony, without the tool of artistic license.

A No Latin Or King James Zone

Joan has verified and attests to the following description:  As he prayed, beginning with whatever his opening words were, I was in complete and utter wonderment, we both were, almost to the realm of a trance-like state.  He didn’t “pray TO” the Father, or spoke “AT” the Father, but rather he “communed verbally WITH” the Father.  He gave off the sense of a closeness or intimacy with Whom he addressed.  No dogma, no Christianese, no highbrow factors.  Lacking were the standard Old English verbiage, habitual memorized automatic phrasing, or a listing of the various titles of the Almighty One (often used to impress the human ears).  If you are not a person of faith, or an unchurched individual, you will not understand my meaning, and that’s okay.  Stay with me on this.  If you are a person of faith, let me ask in all sincerity, the following:  Does this make any sense at all?  Has this happened to you in your prayer life?  In my clumsy efforts, I am sure I am not truly revealing, in a comprehensive way, the sheer, raw essence of this man’s prayer.  To say I have known thousands of Christians in my life would be a gross understatement.  It is also a gross understatement to say I have heard thousands of prayers and from many who would certainly be labeled “prayer-smiths”, who could write them as poetry, selling calligraphy or audio copies for years to come.  At no time in my days have I ever been lifted, dazed and amazed as I was with this man’s effectiveness of praying.  He delivered the prayer as if he were speaking to a brother or a dad he had known since hour one.  When you hear someone speaking on the phone with a loved one, where you only hear a one-sided conversation, this is the hew of tone he used with warmth, love and an overwhelming sense of the familiar.  As I laid there I felt as if warm honey had made its way into my IV.  It was nuts!

“There isn’t any problem in my life, there isn’t any uncertainty in my work, but I turn and speak to Him as naturally as to someone in the same room, and I have done it these years because I can trust Jesus.” – D.L. Moody, Founder of the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. 

After he prayed, he walked to the other side of the bed, spoke her name and lovingly hugged Joan, wrapping his hand around the back of her head, patting her as if consoling a long lost daughter, just holding her there for a few seconds.  I watched her simply melt into his embrace like a rag doll.  I had never seen her so moved, nor since.  She later would compare it to a father holding a child in comfort, with designated warmth she had never felt to the point of a physical relaxing of the muscles.

An Astonishing Reveal

The two of us gazed at him as he walked toward the door just as he had entered.  Just before he stepped out into the hallway, while placing his hand on the door frame, he turned and stated something strangely odd for the occasion.  The first part of the sentence was, “I won’t be back…”  It was true, we never saw him again.  Within a six week hospital stay, there were a couple dozen ministers, pastors, chaplains and church layman, with business cards in hand, who took the time to visit with me.  Although I dearly appreciated the encouraging visits and prayers done on my behalf, none could ever compare to this mysterious moment of visitation.  I say his reveal was strangely odd, and it was.  But the proclamation spoken, ending his statement, was the most mysterious phrase of the entire episode. He said something no doctor, EMT or nurse had yet to say and wouldn’t say from that time onward.  Just before his exit, with that enormous grin, in concert with the joy in his eyes, with a forceful delivery, these words were the last thing he uttered, “…but you’re going to be okay.” 

I won’t be back, but you’re going to be okay.”

That declaration was the exact opposite of what we heard during my six weeks in the hospital.  There wasn’t much hope concerning my survival, in fact almost zero when I arrived in the ER.  All through my struggling journey, while in the hospital, I was being told of how handicapped I would be for the rest of my life.  I was told to expect a return to ICU/CCU.  I was told my kidneys were dead and would never come back.  I was told about unexplored brain damage, heart damage, neurological nightmares, motor skills,  muscle depletion, double pneumonia, sepsis in the bloodstream, etc.  So, how dare he blatantly sound off as he walked out the door with these words, obviously said in ignorance and false hope, “…but you’re going to be okay.”  Delivered in the midst of tragedy, as if he knew for certain the outcome of the crucial time, his delivery was smooth and effortless.  How cruel!  Am I right?  Joan, knowing the extent of my condition at that time more than I, was left stunned at this sentence.

My CCU Room Zoom-in 2013

He Might Have Been Olympic Great Jesse Owens

In a state of shock, along with wiping tears from her face, Joan said something to the effect of, “Wow, that was really a different experience.”  She then mentioned to me how she didn’t ask for his card (as was her practice with various ministers visiting me).  Right away she turned toward the door and left to catch him.  After a time, she came back with a pale look.  She told me that he wasn’t seen in the hallway or visiting any other CCU patients in other rooms. (With the exception of my room, the other rooms had sliding glass doors.)  My room was in the corner of two adjacent long hallways where you could see all the way down to other wings, both leading in two different directions.  She approached the nurses at the desk just outside my room, some nine or ten feet from my open door.  After she inquired about our visitor and his description, they claimed they saw no one in my room. Zero, zilch, nada!  I strain to even type the following, but I must.  He simply seemed to have vanished.

My CCU ward layout 2013

Almost as if I had responded to a director’s cue in a tear-jerking scene in Act II, I slipped right back into a coma a short time after he left us.  I remained unconscious for at least another 12-24 hours.

The simple truth sounds absurd.  I awoke, for the first time, before he entered the open doorway, and sunk back under the surface of unconsciousness after his exit.  Beyond being ultra mystifying, it didn’t occur to us until weeks later that while he was there, not one staffer walked in or out.  It was as if time was stilled in that room exclusively for the three of us.  Of course, that never happened again with any other visitors.  It was indeed an exclusive moment.

If you’re like me, your mind is probably scrambling and searching every corner of the imagination to find a key to unlock this mystery.  Don’t spin your wheels, I already have. Joan and I muddled through a mix of scenarios concerning this mysterious visitor.  Between the two of us we came up with a couple of possible explanations.  Allow me to shed some light on our thoughts.

It wasn’t long when I began to wonder about the in-house chaplain service there.  It would be natural for an “on-his/her-toes” chaplain to visit the CCU patients and families every day with some good old fashioned shoe leather, followed by some pressing of the flesh.

A Visit Of Another Kind 

Not too many days after they wheeled me into my new telemetry room on the 5th floor three weeks later, a middle-aged woman with a clipboard sheepishly knocked on my door.  She wasn’t dressed in hospital garb, but did have a badge identifying herself as a member of the chaplain volunteer service.  I never remembered her name, but she was very faithful to visit me when she was on duty.  She explained to me that she was indeed a volunteer who was commissioned, by the chaplain himself, to visit the patients on each floor.  She said there were just a handful of volunteers who participate in that ministry, which are mostly made up of laypeople from different faiths, to be available and suited for any situation and/or needs of various faiths, creeds and cultures.  With direct intension, she asked if I wanted her to pray for me.  I immediately responded in the affirmative.  She asked what faith I belonged to.  I told her I was Christian and quickly added, “I belong to the Lord”.  How evangelical of me.  Frankly, I don’t know why that phrase came out of my mouth, only to say it was like an involuntary reflux. The health event did rekindle a hearth-like closeness to God from the moment I was awake with the ability to reason again.  Like a survey marketer, asking about my race or marital status, she asked if I was protestant or catholic. By this time I just wanted to say, “Sister, forget the titles and the denominational stats.  Place your rubber-garnished hand in mine and let’s get to it.”  After what I had been through up to that point all religious borders, laws and ideas of what God looks like seemed almost silly child’s play to me.  I knew the true Creator, Healer and Lover of my soul and He is a God of intimacy, on the microscopic personal level, Who cares not for the titles we publish to each other.  Somehow, the truth-is-truth notch had been cranked up in my heart and mind.  Instead, I answered very calmly, “Protestant”.  To this day, I don’t recall when I asked her about the man who visited me, but I did ask if he was the chaplain.  She said he wasn’t there every day.  That was one of the purposes for her volunteerism and her co-minister’s efforts.  When I described the mysterious man to her in detail, she didn’t recognize him, but she didn’t believe he was the chaplain.

Being Sherlock 

After several months at home I gained strength to get myself to the desktop computer.  I initiated a bit of research on the chaplain ministry at Medical City of Plano.  Like a would-be gumshoe, I went to the hospital website in hopes of finding a page on the chaplain ministry and perhaps a photo of the chaplain.  Very little info on the ministry was on the site, but it did give me a phone number to the chaplain’s office.  Like a man on a mission and without hesitation, I called.  The chaplain himself answered the phone.  Without delivering all the fine details, I told him a bit of why I was calling.  He reconfirmed to me about the structure of the volunteer staff.  He explained some chaplain office protocols.  He revealed how they are required to wear badges with their names and what service of the hospital they serve under. He mentioned he too dons a name-tag at all times while on duty.  It seems they all are told they MUST ask permission to pray with the patients when introducing themselves and their general ministry.  Also, they MUST ask the individual’s religion of choice in order to pray the selective prayers with all its slants.  After a nervous swallow I inquired concerning his length of service there, thinking he may be new to that location.  He said he had been the one and only chaplain there for ten years.  A lump grew in my throat when I asked if it might have been him in my CCU room that day.  Right away he began to describe his features to me.  By process of elimination he was out of the running fairly quick when he mentioned how he was heavyset and wore a salt-n-pepper beard.  I asked if he would have been clean-shaven the week of Feb 13th.  He proudly replied that he had his beard for at least six years. Like a snapshot flashback, I was reminded of the slender, beardless, tagless, badgeless man who did not ask permission to pray over me in my CCU experience. Nor did he ask what religion I adhered to.  I thanked him for his service and said good-bye. With remarkable timing, my wife walked through the front door.  Right away I told her of my decision to look up the chaplain at the hospital.  Before I could tell her how the minister described himself to me over the phone, she said he, the chaplain, had come by a few times while I was in CCU.  She had his card to prove it.  Before that moment, I had no idea Joan had met the chaplain.  She immediately stated the mystery man was NOT the chaplain.  Her description of him was spot on.  She vividly remembered both the chaplain and the mysterious visitor being two very different men.

Questions have faded in my brain concerning the man.  There is a good reason too.  FAITH!

No need to ask me where God was in my time of trouble, trauma and tragedy.  He will do what He will do.

Poignant Questions

Without my identity on the door, how did he know my full name?  Moreover, how did he know Joan’s name?  Why or how was it that we seemed to know one another?  Why did he know of my desperate, critical condition without seeing my chart or asking a status at the nurses’ station?  Even so, there were medical privacy rights in play.  Why did he not ask permission from the nursing staff, or the welcome desk, or Joan herself to enter my room and approach me, the guy in the coma?  Why did he not knock before entering my room?  During the time of the visit, why did the hospital staff not enter, as was their custom, regardless of who I was with?  Just before he left the room, why did he make it a point to tell us we wouldn’t see him again? I dare say, the average visitor wouldn’t spell that out in a case like mine.  Why was that important to mention?  Could it be he was saying, “So, take this word of encouragement.  Use it and ride it like a wave.  No need for me to come back.”  Lastly, why did he walk in as soon as I came out of the coma and not before and/or after other friends or family visited?  Why was he seemingly aware I had just awakened and was about to go back under?  The timing was, well…impeccably synced to perfection.  How did he vanish in the hallway, alluding the nursing staff?  How could he exit the long hallways before Joan followed him out of the room?  Was he an Olympic sprinter?  Perhaps other questions may arise, but one thing is for certain.  Whoever he was, there is a peace of knowing that after my life is over this same individual will come to me once again with that brilliant grin and say, “Hello, Alan Brown.  Remember me?”  My response will be, “How could I ever forget?”  In that new day I will not be surprised if he then says, “It’s a good day for Alan Brown, isn’t it?”

My veins have been full ever since with warm fuel for the race.

“Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” – Hebrews 1:14 (NIV)

Confronted By Death – Feb 13, 2013

There is a power keeping you alive, and it’s not us.” – Medical City of Plano’s chief respiratory doctor.

This will be different than any other article from my blog page.

At the risk of sounding overtly macabre, I must resist the fear of writing the following account.  I promised myself, God and others, I would write in detail, candor and accuracy of the event that took place five years ago this week.  Please know, the following details are indeed truthful in every way without embellishment, even though some aspects may be difficult to believe unless you know me well or if you were there.  I am one not known for tall tales of fantasies, or a demon under every rock.  My friends and family would assure you of this fact.  If you are from the medical industry, know that other members of the medical field are always amazed when they read my medical history.   Before God, the Living One, the Father of Israel in Whom I trust, all descriptions of the events from February 2013 written below are true and verifiably witnessed events.  The episode I am testifying changed my life on multi-levels that remain with me today.  It is my hope, you, or someone you know, might glean a newness, a sense of hope, a concrete foundation that we (you and I) are never alone.  The reality you will find from the entire reading of my story is that we (you and I) are greatly cared for out of undeserved love and favor.  Know this, going into the text beyond this line, YOU cannot, and never will, defeat death, nor can concentrated grit of fortitude.  Allow me to tell you my story.  Feel free to print this off for an easier read.

The Unexpected

For a few weeks at the beginning of 2013, my former wife (For this account, we will call her Joan.) and I were treating a boil on the back of my head at the base of the skull.  I was reluctant to see a doctor in that I was uninsured at the time.  So, for me, home remedies seemed to be the answer.  The boil grew delivering severe pain, a physical anguish I had not experienced up to that point in life.  One of the soothing routines was to soak the back of my head in a hot salt bath.  I did this often, every couple of days.  On February 10th-12th, a change became evident.  I began to slur my speech, even to the point of being non-intelligible at times.  My body and mind slipped into a stage of being lethargic.  I slept almost around the clock, at one point, 20 hours.  On the 12th, I began to be violently ill.  That is the last thing I remember.

For a good year or two my marriage was also violently ill.  Divorce had already been considered.  The canyon dividing us was vast and bottomless.  Nightly, I slept in the closed master bedroom while Joan made her bed on the living room couch.  It was a joint decision.

Here, I believe it important to note that the following is from her account of the pre-hospitalization event.  It might be wise to include here that Joan probably had been drinking heavily that day.  It was common.

Around 2:00am, on February 13th, Joan heard bath water running from the bathroom, just adjacent to the master bedroom.  Later, Joan admitted she reasoned I had awoke from sleeping around the clock and was prepping for another soak, so she turned over and went back to sleep.

Some six-seven hours later, at approximately 8:30-9:00 that morning, Joan opened the bedroom door only to find me missing.  She then walked to the master bathroom door, opened it and found me lying in a tub full of frigid water, with my face above the waterline, my eyes were open and fixed.  My skin was shell-colored.  I was unresponsive and ice cold to the touch.

For logic I cannot fully understand or explain, she delayed calling 911 for some unverifiable length of time.  In a moment of clarity, Joan called my mom, who lived some 60 miles away, telling her that I had gone to “another place” and described what she had discovered.  My mom recollects those maddening minutes.  Joan mentioned something to her about not having life insurance on me.  Being dismayed at the words, Mom pushed Joan to hang up and call 911 immediately.  While my mom was trying to cut through the confusing conversation, she had Joan place the phone to my ear as my mom yelled at me to awaken, but to no avail.  After several minutes, my mom pleaded with her again to call for an ambulance, and did so several times.  Joan then told her that I was naked in the tub and that I wouldn’t want the EMTs to see me in that condition.  She went on to say she wanted to take a shower first before calling.  (As a side note, the shower was built alongside the bathtub with only a glass wall separating the shower stall and tub.  While taking a shower she would have been looking down at my naked stone cold body.)  With a bit of fire in her tone, my mom finally convinced her to call for help.

Within the hour, I was rushed to the ER, to what is now called, Medical City of Plano in Plano, Texas.  No doubt the EMTs feverishly worked on my body in efforts to revive me.  I was told, many days later, by Dr. Betz, the ICU/CCU doctor in charge, they brought me in dead.

The ER staff was unable to fully revive me and placed me on life support.  At some hour overnight in that bathtub, my body suffered a full-organ shutdown with only minimal brain activity.  I was left comatose.  As common in situations like mine, the ER staff placed an internal thermometer into my torso revealing, at that hour, a core body temperature of 78 degrees!  (Few ever come back to tell of a 78 degree core body temperature.)  Not only had my organs stopped functioning, I was also suffering from hypothermia from being encased in cold bath water for several hours in mid February.  After the ER team consulted with several specialists it was decided that I was a lost cause and to consult my wife in the waiting room.

After discovering I had no directive or legal will, the ER doctor on duty, as well as a nurse, advised Joan of my dire condition explaining a respirator was keeping me breathing.  He went on to tell her they could try to treat me in my current condition, but that patients in my circumstance who survive are 1 out of 20.  He went on to mention there was no way to know how much brain damage had been levied.  The ER doctor made an attempt to have her choose a directive to pull the plug.  In the end, Joan signed a document requesting that they treat me in efforts to sustain my life.

The most common question I am asked surrounds the cause of the full-organ shutdown.  To be as accurate as I can, it remains a mystery.  There were a number of factors, all of which could have ended my life.  It may have originated from hypothermia after falling asleep in the bath, cardiac arrest, infection from the open boil, diabetic shock, kidney failure, etc.  All of the above could’ve happened first, but nothing can be chronologically pinpointed with all certainty.  All we can say is an internal domino effect occurred sometime in the overnight hours.

Sometimes being gone is better.

I am unsure the exact number of days I was in a coma.  I will say I had come out of a coma once for a significantly short time (which I will detail for you next week in a part II article) only to slip back into it for at least another day or two.  The impression from calculations, based upon friends and family who had visited my ICU/CCU room, I believe it was a four-day coma.

When I surfaced to consciousness, for the final time, I was aware I was in the hospital, but unaware of why or what had deposited me there.  It’s funny what can go through one’s head in that circumstance.  I recall being confused as to why my wrists and ankles were strapped down.  I was made aware right away that I was hooked up to loud machines and monitors all around the bed.  There were tubes and hoses going in and out of every orifice, and I mean EVERY orifice, with the exception of my ears.  In fact, besides the IVs and ports in various areas of my body, I also had one tube going into my rib-cage and another planted in the side of my neck.  I couldn’t inquire verbally, with breathing hose and feeding tube down my throat.  Other than a slight ability to nod and shake my head, as well as do a thumbs up in response, my body wouldn’t move on command.  Nurses and doctors were coming in and out like a swinging door, but rarely did anyone speak directly to me, as if I wasn’t there.

My immediate thought was I had been the victim of a car crash.  Curiosity spun my mental gymnastics every minute.  Joan walked in the room at some point telling me things at home would be different from now on.  My first thought was that she meant our relationship would be better now.  Interestingly, my fresh-from-a-coma brain went to the ailing, damaged relationship at home when she uttered those words.  In retrospect, I believe she was trying to say my health, my lifestyle had been compromised.

This new “awakening” was so hard for a plethora of reasons.  In contrast to the state I was in just prior to my days in a coma, the realities of a CCU room were close to torturous.  One of the almost unbearable treatments, still so prominent in my memory, was no liquid whatsoever passed my lips for almost three weeks due to the inability to swallow properly.  Hydration was applied through an IV and a feeding tube into my abdomen.  My tongue became like lizard skin.

While in a coma (or while separated from my body), I was at perfect peace, with a sense of flotation, never touching the ground.  There was no noise, no sound, only solitude.  There was no sense of the passing of time.  There was a lack of care for clocks and calendars.  There were no binding limitations, but rather a feeling of flying or floating at will, wherever I wanted to go.  Vivid ultra-brilliant colors of objects observed were beyond any shades I had ever witnessed in my lifetime.  Frankly, they were shockingly striking to the vision.  Here I will stop with my description that forever will be stamped in my memory.  Just allow me to say I had an experience beyond the reality of the bathtub and hospital bed.  It is incredibly personal and forever shall be.  Only a handful of close friends and family have been given my “beyond view” of that time.

There is a Power

I had 8 doctors working on me.  However, in the beginning while in ER, there was one doctor, the only doctor, who wanted to take on my case, to give me a chance of survival.  All others had felt I was for file 13.  This one courageous and selfless man was a kidney doctor, Dr. Sidiqui.  After I came out of the coma and began to show unanticipated signs of my body functioning, other specialists were assigned to me.  Regardless of the prognosis from a team of professionals, regardless of my 1 out of 20 chance of survival, regardless of how my body was still in resurrection mode, Dr. Sidiqui never gave up hope, always going the extra mile.  Although I was on sessions of dialysis, breathing treatments, oxygen mask and fluid pumps, I was improving very slowly.  I am unsure of when I developed sepsis in the bloodstream, but a debridement surgery of my head was performed where the infected boil was.  I also developed pneumonia in both lungs while in CCU.  After a time, I was helping to plan part of my own funeral with one of my daughters and a dear cousin.  Over the span of several months, I lost some 70+ pounds, much of it in muscle tissue.  I became anemic.  I started with zero body function but gained motor skills at a snail’s pace.  During physical and occupational therapy my body had to learn to swallow again, walk again, talk again and write again all because I had lost most of my motor skills, including various neurological autonomic functions.

Plano Med Center Stan PT guy Sept 2, 2014

Photo:  Stan, my physical therapist from Feb 2013

I spent three weeks in ICU/CCU then I was upgraded to a telemetry room for another three weeks.  One day I found myself listening to three doctors, including a couple of nurses, standing over me.  CCU is NOT a quiet place.  After having several staff members swing by my room, congratulating me on the rise from death, some of whom were telling me they were there when I was brought into the ER, the doctors were discussing what meds to remove, how much fluid to drain and what my prognosis was for each organ.  As the conversation wore down, my respiratory specialist, while looking at my thick chart said, “There’s a power keeping you alive, and it’s not us.”  He slammed the notebook closed and walked out in frustration.  I responded by saying it was the result of many people praying for me.  I will never forget that moment.  It was as if God needed me to hear what he had to say openly to bolster my personal faith.

As for Dr. Sidiqui, he explained the unfortunate truth was that my kidneys had not come back to life.  Simply put, I was at stage five kidney disease.  After leaving the hospital after six weeks, I was admitted to out-patient dialysis three or four times a week, four hours at a time.  This was devastating on my body.  I likened it to chemo treatments.  It left me weak and very ill for two days after each session.  At the same time, I had a Medvac attached to the base of my skull.  This was a suction hose going from the surgical area of the debridement of the boil, which was a 4”-5” square of raw flesh thinly covering that part of my skull, and leading to a briefcase-size unit I had to carry.  It was in efforts to keep the open wound free of particles and toxins which remained on my head 24/7 for several weeks.  Surprisingly, after several months of this harsh regiment, my kidneys began to come back.  In fact, the kidneys rose to a stage three status which discharged me from dialysis.  The nurses at the dialysis center were in shock.  Again, that alone is almost unheard of.  Today, I remain at stage three, leaving a 31% renal working capacity, managing functionality as best as I can.

Being an invalid at home was a new difficult challenge.  Dr. Sidiqui worked hard to place me in a much needed rehab hospital, but was unable.  Slowly, from June to the end of October of 2013, I worked on strength and endurance while using a walker.  October 31st, I was admitted in an out-patient physical therapy program, at another hospital, which lasted through February of 2014.  Because of the fine work there at that facility, I was able to graduate from a walker, to a cane, to walking without assistance.

The personal tsunami of February 13, 2013 still has its waves around my house.  Some effects remain in the aftermath, but I am relatively well, considering the alternative, with a few lasting medical issues that are managed daily (too many to list here).  After all, it’s hard to come back from the dead.

To this day, medical personnel often will ask how I was able to stay alive with the ability to function.  Many answer their own question before I am able to get the words out.  “It must be for a divine purpose” or “God had His hand on you” or “You must believe in prayer”.  I say, all of the above.  As an ER respiratory nurse told me, when our time comes, we have very little to do with it.  Without power of our own, we seem to be like a flower plucked out of a meadow by a force outside of ourselves.  That is so true.  The shear realities, surrounding the fact that you are reading this from my own fingers on a keyboard, dictate that I did not survive because I am an exceptional individual or some righteous leader.  To be blunt, I deserved the opposite of life.  The hospital admitted I walked away beyond the scope of their medical technology, care and the modern medical mechanics available.  They called me “Miracle Man” during those last few weeks.  However, it is clear; the power did not come from me, nor from their medical abilities, but rather from the Creator of the body.  (More proof of this next week in a part II article.)

Some have asked how it all has changed me, other than physical.  My answer is easy.  I love more.  I tell my loved ones more.  I reach out more.  I am grateful more often with a greater measure.  I find I cry more at movies, TV shows, commercials, photos and songs.  How can you not have your life placed back in your lap, knowing you had nothing to do with it, and not be more sensitive in every way?  Furthermore, I don’t get all twisted up in anger at the level I once did concerning trivial, temporal stuff.  I came back realizing there’s too much in the world that doesn’t matter in the end, only eternals.  We are often fooled into thinking temporals matter as priority.

If you’re wondering about my medical bills from that year alone…over $1,000,000.00!

TAKE NOTE:

As mentioned earlier, my next blog, part II, entitled “A mysterious Visitor” will surround an astonishing slice of time in my CCU room that we could not explain away.  Frankly, that part of the story is far more important and stunning than anything I have written here.  Look for it on my page in a few days.  Once you read what I omitted in the account above, you might find it leads to the pump of fuel for the race.

“The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy.  I came that you may have life and have it in fullness.” – Jesus –   John 10:10 (paraphrased)

 

Hey, What Sign Are YOU?

“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign, blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind.  Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?” – Five Man Electrical Band, released in 1971. Composer, Les Emmerson, Ottawa, Canada.

I just finished listening to that cut from 1970-1971.  Wow, the kaleidoscope of memories from my “mind of mush” years came leaking in.  Google it and hear this obscure anti-establishment lyric.  It’s all about a rush of anger at signs, mainly signs of directives.  The songwriter blathers about disobeying and mocking every sign he sees because…well….uh, because…I guess it was the hippie thing to do to “stick it to the man” and everybody that looks like him.  (Actually, watching the news today, that old sentiment seems to be new again.)  If you give it a listen with mature ears it’ll make you cackle, but when I was 11-12 years old I was singing it as a duo with my radio at the top of my lungs.  But, ya know, it never caused me to act-out with sign damage or civil disobedience.  I think it hilarious knowing after they recorded the tune, they drove up to a stop sign and stopped. It’s evident since they survived the journey home.  I’m happy to report, Les Emmerson, the composer, is now almost 73 years old and still playing their old hits. After making a few million off his songs, he no doubt bought a mansion.  I will assume here he must’ve hung a no trespassing sign somewhere on his high-walled gate.  He, himself, turned out to be “the man”. ($$$$)

Signs are on my mind of late.  My 18 year old daughter, D’Anna, is learning how to drive. She’s really doing very well.  She’s learning how to interpret road signs galore.  If she turns right on a red light where a “no right on red” sign is displayed, off comes the points on her upcoming driver’s test.  If there were no signs of instruction, she certainly would be introduced to frequent collisions.  And, of course, if there were a lack of signage concerning geography, she would wind up two states over in short order.

Almost 10 years ago, while living in Buffalo, NY, I had an evening business appointment in the southern tier close to Gowanda, NY.  The “southtowns” beneath Buffalo are blessed with beautiful, picturesque countryside.  You name it, they’ve got it, including ski resorts. I want to say it was December of 2007.  From where I lived, I knew it was a good hour’s drive.  I looked at the clock and off I went.  As often true in the western New York frontier, in a moment’s notice, a lake effect snowfall began (compliments of Lake Erie) while on my journey.  Dusk was done and I was being mesmerized by the gigantic, flakes flying toward my windshield with a velvet black background.  A word to the wise. Exercise caution!  One can fall asleep as the snow effect can seduce and hypnotize.  I was in my trusted “Moose”, a stout Isuzu Trooper, and felt the 4-wheel drive would get me there on time….(said the all-knowing-Texas-born-and bred-fool). Fast forward about 50 minutes or so, I suddenly found myself lost as a flock of baby Canadian Geese.  My cell phone, and that’s all it was back in those days, had zero bars showing.  Dreams of the tragic movies about Mt Everest climbers raced through my mind as I realized I was experiencing a full-blown blizzard with very little light and very little speed.  Truly, the depth of snow can reach a foot or more in an hour in that part of NY, and it did.  I had printed directions from Mapsco. (Remember Mapsco?  You may have to Google that one too.)  I will tell now, it didn’t cover road directions in certain areas as you’re about to see.

Without too much detail on my wintry maze, I arrived at a sparse area.  If I were to describe it, I would sum it up as an old gas station/general store in a wooden frame-style building that looked to be from Opie’s Mayberry, and then nothing for 6 miles. There was an old silver mobile home from time to time, but there were no street lights to aid my snowy vision.  There was nothing but black and white.  I noticed something else strange….NO STREET SIGNS!  Wrong.  I saw one small street sign at a tiny country road intersection, but it was encased in blowing snow making it illegible.  I got out to see if I could wipe it off, but it was too tall, not to mention the snowbank was already to my hips.  Every other country road, including the main road I was on, wasn’t labelled with signs.  I was just about to give up and go back the way I came in the darkness when I saw a distant light.  As I approached the light, I could make out a building with a few pick-up trucks in the parking lot.  Unlike the gas station/general store a few miles behind me, this looked to be a modern building.  My watch said it was about 9:30.  I pulled up into the parking lot and saw it was a civic/recreational center of some kind.  I made my way up to the front entrance and felt as if I were in another country altogether. Turns out, I was.  I had somehow made my way onto the sprawling Cattaraugus Indian Reservation.

To say I was a flopping fish out of water would be an understatement.  It was clear by the looks I received from the citizens there, I was no longer in Kansas with Dorothy’s old Auntie Em.  Turns out it was domino night.  A group of men, around a card table, looked at me as if I had a grass skirt on.  I said, “Hi, how are ya?  I could use some help.”  One of the men responded in a frigid way that went nicely with the weather outside.  When I said I was lost and couldn’t figure out why there were no street signs, the man said, “You don’t belong here, that’s why.”  I’m the only one that chuckled at his reply.  When I told them I was on my way to the town of Gowanda, they were slow to give me directions using landmarks only.  Apparently, if you live on the reservation, you have no need for street signs.  It went something like, “At the post, turn right.  At the bear crossing sign, turn left, cross the log bridge…”, etc.  It took a chunk of time, with the icy trek given me, but I made my way out of the reservation.  Embarrassed and frozen, I arrived almost an hour and a half after my scheduled appointment.  They accepted my apology as I warmed myself by their fireplace.  Needless to say, I went back another direction at the end of the meeting.

Signs are important. A necessity, really.  Scroll up and see the picture from an old friend who recently visited the canyons of Grand Junction, Co.  Would Les Emmerson reject that sign and sing, “WHAT GIVES YOU THE RIGHT?”  Watch that last step, Les.  It’s a long one.

How many signs will my D’Anna see as she drives out on her own?  “No U-Turn, Green Arrow Turn Only, Duck Crossing, Elk Crossing, Deer Crossing, Gator Crossing, School Zone, No Passing Yellow Line, Comfort, Tx -7 miles, Cut And Shoot, Tx -5 miles, Woman Hollering Creek, Tx -10 miles, Hell, Michigan -4 miles, Paradise, Tx -25 miles, West, Tx -10 miles, Italy, Tx -6 miles, Fishkill, NY -50 miles, Welcome to Muleshoe, Tx”  etc.  She could see them all.  They exist.

My most memorable signs were not posted on the road. Do you know what I mean? Have you been there, done that?  You’re thinking of one now.  How about the signs that whisper, “Don’t look at a solar eclipse without protection,” “Don’t go to their house tonight,” “Your buddy has an open can of beer in the cup holder.  You shouldn’t be in the car,” “Slow down before rounding this curb,” “Get your eyes off of her/him,” “Don’t stay angry. Peace, be still,” “Apply for THAT job,” “Run from THAT job,” “Don’t invest in that offer,” “Don’t take that last drink,” “Oops, the label says Opioid,” “You’re sinking into a bad place here,” “Refrain from kicking his teeth in,” etc. Some of these can bring a laugh, but most can bring heartache, destruction and depression.  Have you ever had a LOUD thought about turning here or there, only to find out later, a bridge collapsed or a tragic accident took place ahead of your intended direction, at that precise time?  Your default inner response was something like, “Wow.  I dodged that bullet.”  I know, it helped to smooth over, to clumsily explain the obvious whisper that nudged you earlier.  You physically shrugged and off you went with your day.

Some signs will be spoken softly to your heart while other signs can be heard aloud by a passerby, friend, family member or a teacher.  Often, in amazement, you recognize it only in retrospect. Other signs can read like this one: “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” -King Solomon, Proverbs 14:12 (NIV)  Or, from someone who knows you and the road you’re on better than you know yourself, “Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” -Jesus, Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV).

Without groveling — dishing out sin-sick self-history — I will say, I am living proof that a non-audible sign can be clearly given, that no one else hears, and then pushed off as silly fears of anticipation or imagination.  Watch the footing, the edge is close by.  Heeding such a sign will definitely add fuel for the race.

“Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be.  And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer.  If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.