When Giving Away

“She’ll change her name today.
She’ll make a promise and I’ll give her away.
Standing in the bride-room just staring at her. She asked me what I’m thinking and I said,
“I’m not sure-I just feel like I’m losing my baby girl.”
– (Album Release 1995) “Butterfly
Kisses” Recorded By: Bob Carlisle Composers: Thomas Randy Keith & Robert Mason Carlisle

I thought long and hard about just how to put the following in writing. Let’s start from August of 2008.

While living in Buffalo, NY for five years, I found myself sharing life with my middle daughter, Megan. Single parenting isn’t for the weak. My oldest daughter had already flown the coop to spread her wings a couple of years prior. My youngest daughter, a 2nd grader, left for Texas with her mom after I filed for divorce. I’ve written extensively and openly about this horrible chapter in my life before, so I won’t dive fully into all the sandpaper of history which brought my family so much pain. I will say the divorce occurred after 26 years of domestic violence, white collar crime, as well as, verbal, psychological, and physical abuse from a mentally disturbed wife and mother. Although it costs me almost everything I had, I needed to protect my girls. The history left deep scars upon all of us.

Megan was in the middle of her high school career at the time, and needed as much stability as possible in her life. So, I dedicated myself to staying in the area with my focus on getting her through high school in the school she loved.

After she graduated in May of 2008, I had the opportunity to relocate back to our original home, Dallas, Texas. I sat Megan down and revealed the options. She was welcome to come with me back to Texas, or decide to stay in Buffalo and make it on her own. With bitter-sweetness, she chose to stay. She had lots of friends where we were, and didn’t want to be geographically near her mother in Texas. It broke my heart, but I also knew I needed to support her decision, and respect it. She was 18, strong and independent. I am proud to say, she had a good head on her shoulders, smart, and talented on many levels. We hugged, cried, hugged, and cried some more. Fast forward, she not only made it very well on her own, but in spades. She became a well-known western NY vocalist and recording artist. She was the lead singer in an internationally award-winning band, and voted twice as best female vocalist in western NY. Her current band, Grosh, is considered Buffalo’s rock royalty. She has been on several albums with her bands, and many as a guest artist with other recording projects. To say I am proud of her, isn’t scratching the surface.

It hasn’t always been an easy walk in the park for Megan alone in Buffalo. A few years back she was involved with a guy who was an abusive so-in-so. I won’t go into details, but even after their break-up, he stalked her, threatened her, started brawls to get to her, kidnapped her, and tried a murder/suicide plot. She survived by THE GRACE OF GOD ALMIGHTY. Oh, I could tell you some hair-raising stories. All my prayers for her protection were answered.

About three years ago, she met a really nice guy from another band. The musician circle is a tightly knit group in the area. Most are all friends, and collaborators. The first night of connection with this young man, Kevin, they were able to just sit alone and talk. It lasted hours on end. She began to pray about that spark on her way home, asking God to make this clear to her concerning this new lad. Before you can say, “Tune my guitar”, they were a hot item. They moved-in together a couple of years ago, (not what I wanted for her) and not long after, he asked me for her hand in marriage. They do so well together.

So this happened on Saturday, June 5th, on the banks of the Niagara River where Lake Erie feeds into it.

Yes, I gave her away at the Frank Lloyd Wright Boathouse.

At the mouth of the Niagara, the winds coming off Lake Erie are constant and never just a breeze. Hair and fabric were everywhere.

Waiting to take post-ceremony pictures on the dock.

Just like the lyrics in “Butterfly Kisses”, I arrived at the venue early, found myself gazing at her in the bride-room. She asked me what I was thinking. I admitted to just being in a state of cruise control. There was a tendency to feel I was losing my little girl, but really, I went through that uncomfortable feeling in August of 2008 when I moved back to Dallas without her.

Megan was so nervous.

Her mother was not there, and to be perfectly honest, it was for the best. My wife, Megan’s stepmother, was unable to make the trip. So I gave her away, hugged and kissed them both, then sat down on the front row alone.

The reception was under a classy tent. Being from Texas, she wanted feed everyone tacos instead of wedding cake.

The wedding party, plus the wedding guests, were primarily made up of the who’s who of western New York rock musicians. The band for the reception were well deserved members of the Buffalo Musician’s Hall Of Fame. As the night progressed, it turned into a jam session with other musicians attending the event. To say the least, it was fabulous. I was able to surprise the couple by singing, “Wildflower” from Skylark with the band. I had to change a couple of the lyrics to fit the father singing to the couple, but it was the perfect song about a wounded bride with old scars. I didn’t cry, but I worked very hard at choking back the waterworks.

Singing “Wildflower” from Sklylark

The band performed “Butterfly Kisses” for the daddy/daughter dance. Tears were overpowering at that point. We chose this song because I used to sing it to them at home and at church on Father’s Day while they were growing up.

The last time we danced, she was standing on my feet as I was teaching her steps as a kid. Megan and I shared a beautiful moment during the dance. I will always hold it close to my heart.

One of the unexpected circumstances was initiated by my oldest daughter, Tabitha. My girls were raised on various music icons like, The Beatles, Elton John, and Fleetwood Mac. The band began to play “Dreams” from Fleetwood Mac when Tabitha grabbed my hand and said, “Come on dad!” Before you could say, “Stevie Nicks”, I was dancing with all three of my girls at the same time. Again, that hasn’t happened in about 17 years.

From L-R: Tabitha, D’Anna, and Megan

My 10 year old granddaughter was there, but she was off chasing seagulls most of the time.

Skylar, Tabitha’s daughter.

The reception/concert lasted about 5 hours. As the golden dusk spread over the Canadian shore across the Niagara, a soreness began to settle in my heart. The night was coming to a close. It meant she would drive away a married woman, this little girl I nurtured and protected the best way I could. Now, it would be Kevin’s responsibility to watch over her, comfort her, and allow her to dream on. At the same time, I had to put on a stage face for the scores of strangers congratulating me on gaining a son-in-law. I do feel blessed in that he seems to be a true, honorable guy who is loyal and loving. And yes, I gave her away into his arms.

When Jesus spoke of how important it is to give your very life away, it is for deep purposes beyond ourselves. When we were taught to give of ourselves, it was for the betterment of the recipient. When Jesus urged us to give to strangers, it was to offer our very best, not the crumbs of life. Before my feet left Buffalo, Kevin received my best. As the song, “Wildflower” says, I had cultivated her, attended to her, and raised her in my garden for such a moment as she took another name other than mine. I gave him my best.

Photo: Megan at 4 & 17

Tabitha, Skylar, and D’Anna flew on different flights, different days. I flew solo. The soreness I had felt toward the end of the celebration under the tent didn’t go away. In fact, I felt it not only linger, it grew. Trying to decipher deeply seeded burning stones in the soul can be difficult when negotiating an emotional event. While waiting to board my flight at the Buffalo/Niagara airport, I began to recognize the source. Megan’s mother wasn’t there at the wedding because she didn’t want her there. In other words, Megan knew she would be happier at her own wedding with her mother absent. Although I understand it, knowing the dynamics of the first 15 years of her life, my heart was sagging knowing it shouldn’t be this way. Megan deserved to have a loving mother by her side on her wedding day. Yet, that wasn’t to be.

My flight had a layover in Baltimore where I was to switch planes for Dallas. Sitting in the Baltimore airport, the guilt invaded. Guilt of “what might have been’s”. Torture paints the gut when gnawing on a good chunk of the “what did I not do’s?”. At the same time, I have wonderful, sweet memories with my girls as they were growing up. I miss those days, BEFORE MIDDLE SCHOOL. LOL However, I can’t deny the hardships my girls were faced with. There, right there, at the entrance ramp to board the plane, tears began to escape.

It was a night flight. The sunset was beautiful looking west at 10,000 feet. Looking down at the darkness there were pinpoints of light which could be detected as we flew over small towns and lit highways. Then at on point the pilot spoke to us over the intercom.

“Folks, we are entering Arkansas where there are a couple of severe storm cells of note. We will attempt to fly around them. Please remain in your seats and buckle up.”

Not long after that, I saw the storms out my window to the west. We were flying high above them. The massive storm clouds were ominous. Then, as I kept my eyes on the cell system, various sections of the clouds below lit up with brilliant flashes of lightning. Like popcorn under a glass lid, the illuminations popped up continually as I tried to count them while gazing from above the fray. Only when the lightning ripped through the thunderclouds could I spy the enormous structure of the cell. It was a sight to behold. There was a special beauty about the fantastic light show beneath us, although a danger to those beneath the storm.

So many times in my life, God has spoken to me through unanticipated visuals. Life has taught me to watch for these particular teachable moments as the Master speaks in illustration. Later, after landing in Dallas, I thought back on seeing the turmoil below in the Arkansas sky. An impression gently settled in my mind. The storms we faced as a family was indeed brutal, and harmful. Yet, now, it is in the past, and far away. I can now, I should now, not relive the torments of the life we had, but rather see it from afar, from above it. This is how I know Megan sees the threatening past. So should I. It is in that state I was able to let go, giving her hand to his.

Celebrations can be for a bright future, but also for leaving the past. It’s been done with fuel for the race.

“Now when the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the groom, and said to him, ‘Every man serves the good wine first, and when the guests are drunk, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.'” – John 2:9-10 (NAS) – Wedding at Cana.

Remember?

“When the night has been too lonely,
and the road has been too long,
and you think that love is only
for the lucky and the strong.
Just remember in the winter,
far beneath the bitter snows,
lies the seed that with the sun’s love,
in the spring becomes the rose.”
(1979) “The Rose” Originally Recorded By: Bette Midler Composer: Amanda McBroom

After a heartbreaking divorce, my 15 year old daughter, Megan and I, found ourselves in suburban Buffalo, NY, frantically hunting for a cheap apartment within the school district she had been living in. My oldest daughter had already flown the nest, and my 2nd grade daughter had moved back to Texas with her mother. (That was my idea, which I regret to this very day.) Our lives seemed to be devastated, destroyed. We lost so much in the storm of it all.

It was in the blur of November, 2006. Megan dearly loved her school, along with her nearby friends. We were also looking for an apartment that would accept our family pet, Jojo, a tiny Yorkie, and Megan’s best buddy. With about 10 days to a foreclosure move-out deadline for our house, we found the apartment needed. That sounds like a quick, smooth transition, doesn’t it? Keep reading.

I will always remember, after a two week search, Megan, Jojo and I were sitting in our SUV with a heavy cold rain pounding on the roof of the vehicle in a drug store parking lot. We had just grabbed the latest edition of a local newspaper with a very small apartment ad section. Our area had very few apartments within it. My ex-wife was a white-collar criminal, among other things which I won’t go into, and had ruined my credit rating due to the record of crimes she committed over a 26 year period. I wasn’t sure a landlord would take me after a credit check. We were brokenhearted, exhausted, wet and worried.

As a dad, I feared homelessness. Something inside me boiled up with a fierce fight to keep my child from living under a bridge, or in a foster home away from me. As the lake-effect rain fell like artillery shells, prior to opening up the newspaper, I told her we should pray first. Through giant tears, we prayed together for a place to fit our needs in the area within the boundary lines of the school district, and the scope of the deadline. The odds were tremendously against us. The uttered prayer was a desperate one coming from my gut. My voice shook, my body trembled. My heart was wrenching, and my mind was at war with the facts fighting my faith. After the prayer, as we wiped our wet faces, we opened the ad section to immediately find an apartment which seemed tailored to our needs. Fast forward, it was exactly the right place for the three of us. The property manager graciously heard our story of desperation with all the pain in our bellies. She was a single mom with a history which included a nasty divorce. Even a move-in date of 10 days was accommodated. It was the right place at the right time, with the right person overseeing things at the right location. We stayed there while getting Megan through the high school years. Talk about a Godsend! It’s a crux forever etched in my mind and heart.

Why did I open up this very dark scene of my life to you? I’ll explain.

Recently, I walked into a CVS drugstore to find this candy display…

As much as I love Reese’s, this sign for the display upset me the second I read it. I’m not a legalistic, dogma consuming, strict, uptight, letter-of-the-law guy who rages on at anything written or said which hints at erasing Jesus. We live in a world that pulls away from God, that’s clear. Jesus Himself taught us that we are to expect to be ridiculed, mocked, and even sent behind bars in some cases. So, I understand a world, a culture, a marketing plan of Godless thoughts and intentional secular mandates which ignores the truth of Easter. That’s what a lost society will do. It’s natural for them. I get it. However, will I rely on peanut butter and chocolate to remember Easter on April 4th, 2021? Actually, the opposite happens. I tend to forget candy, plastic grass in baskets, and sugar eggs wrapped in colorful noisy cellophane on Easter. There’s nothing wrong with those things at all, but it’s not my reminder to observe this…

The empty Garden Tomb in Jerusalem.

Memories can be sparked by almost anything. A bubble of a recollection may arise simply with the aid of a song, a movie, or a pressed flower in the pages of a yearbook. What a pleasure when that happens…if it’s a good memory.

Today, I looked up at a basket full of dead flowers on top of a curio cabinet in the corner of our living room. It dawned on me that although I knew the basket was there, I never really took a great deal of notice.

A bit embarrassed of my neglect, I asked my wife about the basket of what appeared to be dead flowers. She kindly educated me without reacting harshly at my lack of awareness. She told me they are some selected flowers I had given to her over the years. Instead of tossing them out when the blooms die, she collects them in the basket above a cabinet full of precious items from the past. These will not spring to life at this time of year, but they do spark living memories. The colors may be faded, and the petals fragile, but they are still valuable. Frankly, I felt like a jerk. I should’ve noticed that about her. It warmed my heart, just like when I see a local newspaper being offered at a drug store stand.

Much like these memorable flowers from days gone by, a Christian, (This is one who accepts, and believes, in the death of Jesus as the substitute for sin, and has faith that He rose again from the tomb.), I remember the cross of Christ, but I celebrate His bodily resurrection. He died in my place, for my space in His eternal family. His death on the sacrificial cross was indeed dark. Yet, His resurrection is bright, and colorful to this very hour. He displayed the knockout punch over guilt, sin, and death itself, which is the penalty for sin which entered humanity’s DNA in the beginning. How could I forget? I am redeemed, spiritually rescued, stamped by His righteousness. The fine folks at Reese’s can’t help me with that.

Because of this resurrection, His guiding Spirit is present in my bright and dark days. If you are not a believer. it would be impossible to truly grasp this.

Remember when you were broken after the death of a loved one? He was there. Remember when you lost that job? He was there. Remember when you suffered that miscarriage? He was there. Remember when you found out your spouse was cheating on you? He was there. Remember when you held your firstborn in your arms for the first time? He was there. Remember when you looked into the eyes of the one you loved and said, “I do”? He was there. Remember when the abuse came when you were an innocent child? He was there. Remember when you narrowly escaped an attack which came out of nowhere? He was there. Remember when you were involved in that car crash? He was there. Remember when your savings ran out and you didn’t know how to pay the next bill? He was there. Remember when you found yourself dazed from a sudden collapse of your reputation? He was there. Remember when you were afraid as you walked in to a new school? He was there. Remember when you found yourself in the hospital, not knowing what was to come? He was there.

The better question might be…Did you look for Him there?

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

Easter comes with a curious wordplay. In English, when we see a single rose, we say, “It’s a rose”. As English tends to do, sometimes words can sound the same, but spelled differently. You can look at the empty tomb of Jesus and say, “He arose. Both brilliant and beautiful. Fresh flowers, alive and thriving, can remind the redeemed person of faith, as well as, everlasting love blooming from Easter’s original event. No faded blossoms here.

So many reasons to remember His resurrection power over all circumstances can be rediscovered in fuel for the race.

Jesus replied to them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I assure you: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces a large crop.” – Jesus – John 12:23-24 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

A Great Fall

“Don’t go jumping waterfalls.
Please, keep to the lake.
People who jump waterfalls,
sometimes can make mistakes.”
(1980) “Waterfalls” Written & Recorded By: Paul McCartney

The cover photo above was taken by my daughter, Megan, last month on the American side of Niagara Falls. Not fully frozen this year, but capturing the late night beauty of the falls is always worth it. At that time of night/overnight, they shut off the colored lights washing over the falls. In this cover photo you can see how it looks naturally at night.

We lived in that region for five years, Megan was the only one of the five of us who stayed. Never did I tire of standing by the majestic Niagara Falls. Only once did we venture out in zero degree air to see the falls in its almost frozen form. Not only does the beauty, and the piercing frozen mist of the frozen falls, take the breath out of you, but the muzzled roar is deafening. Also, in April, you often can watch the breakaway icebergs as big as houses go over the brink and crash in the lower Niagara.

Niagara Falls in winter. The hurricane viewing deck is encased in ice.

My personal favorite location to view the falls is on the Canadian side where the Horseshoe Falls is the most photographed. Below, my daughter, and my future son-in-law, are perfectly happy in the late night hours on the American side.

Megan Brown and Kevin Sampson on the American side of Niagara Falls.

The thundering roar of the falls can amaze you. The fact you can hardly hear your own voice the closer you are to the crashing waters can astound. The rumble beneath your feet from the vibration of the shear weight of the falling waters of the Niagara will raise your eyebrows. While approaching the bottom of the falls in a tour boat, decked out in your plastic raincoat and hood, you can feel the hull shiver and quake from the power of the collision of the millions of gallons from the mighty Niagara.

My late half-sister, Renea & I on the Maid Of The Mist near the bottom of the falls in 2007.

The tremendous wonderment of such a creation has caused presidents, kings and queens, the elite, the ultra famous, the most powerful and wealthy humans on the planet to stand in awe at the might of God’s artwork of Niagara Falls. Yet, its beauty comes with a dark cloud, a stigma.

It’s difficult to shade anything dark upon the majesty of such a place of history and enchantment. The truth is, this wonder of the world is also scarred by many deaths. Niagara Falls is known for being one of the most sought after locations by those who commit suicide. It’s a sad footnote to such a marvel, but true. Multiple deaths recorded there were accidental, as well. Take a look at the picture below taken from the Skylon Tower on the Canadian side from an old friend.

Niagara Falls, Horseshoe Falls.

The upper Niagara, feeding the falls, is several miles in length, reaching the Buffalo Harbor where the mouth of the Niagara begins as it meets the northern end of Lake Erie. This lengthy stretch of the Niagara River is often missed by tourists. It rushes through Buffalo, then splits around Grand Island, NY, and intersects again on the other side of Grand Island, heading with force toward the great falls.

The straightaway from Grand Island to the brink of the falls caught my attention as a kid while watching the 1953 movie, “Niagara” with Joseph Cotten and Marilyn Monroe. They were the two headlining actors, but the star of the movie was the Niagara itself.

I still have the VHS video. The story is of a crime drama with a couple of twists. Sure, the script wasn’t the best, nor some of the acting, but the scenery surrounding the falls is stunning. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I need to get close to the brink of it for this post. There is a horrific, nail-biting scene featuring a couple in a stalled motor boat adrift on the upper Niagara, headed straight for the fringe of the falls. The authorities do all they can to rescue those in certain peril, and the drama causes you to grit your teeth. There, I didn’t give you all the details. If you see the movie, you’ll thank me later.

I thought of that scene the very first time I visited the falls in April of 2003. My future boss took me on a quick tour of the falls that day as we negotiated a contract for me to move to Buffalo to take over a radio show. He drove me down the street, which parallels the banks of the upper Niagara, before reaching the falls. He pointed out a section of the river, just about a mile or so before the falls. There, as the river raged more and more as it rushed toward the falls, were ominous warning signs and bright colored buoys. The closer we drove, the easier they were to read. All the way across the half mile wide river, alarming signs alerting boaters to halt and reverse course immediately. There was no way anyone with eyes could miss the warnings. They detailed that if any vessel went passed that point, it would be the point of no return, literally. Other signs also signaled the fact that the waters were non-negotiable for first responders, including the Coast Guard. It was clear, due to the force of the river, and the rapids scattered about, the force would take its victims to the brink of the falls without remedy. Reading the warnings sent chills up my spine.

Robert Long might have visited the falls, but I can’t say. Maybe he should’ve seen what I witnessed along the road leading to the brink. Have you heard of him?

Robert Long, a kid in his 20’s, made horrific news recently. In a red light district of Atlanta, he shot and killed several female sex workers at three message parlors, and also a male bystander walking past one of the establishments. He then drove toward Florida to unleash another shooting rampage at similar businesses of sex trafficking. He didn’t resist arrest when he was apprehended. Without incident, he was cuffed and questioned. When asked why he did what he did, he gave an interesting answer nobody could guess. He admitted to a driving sex addiction which had overtaken his life and this was how he wanted to take out the people who fed his addiction.

Those who worship the politics of the day, will tell you he was hunting people of Asian decent, blaming it all on white supremacy. Keep reading.

The investigation into the shooting spree continues, but from what has been reported as of now, this kid in his mid 20’s has been a sex addict since he was at least 14 years old. At that time, his Christian parents placed him in a facility for people with addictions. Apparently, the boy was too overtaken to succeed in a clinical treatment of that nature. Even his roommate at the facility reportedly told the authorities how Robert Long was crazed by this sexual addiction.

Scripture says God has a love for His creation. So much so, He calls the stars by name. I imagine a place of His handiwork, like Niagara Falls, holds a great love in God’s heart. Even so, He loves you and I so much more. In fact, he loves the sex worker on a 12 hour shift at a place of red neon. He loves the traffickers who sit on piles of dirty cash while arranging transportation for pre-sex workers. And, he loves Robert Long, who was tricked by the Adversary, into choosing to look at online porn at 14 years old. We know this because He came to earth to offer Himself as a sacrifice to free us from our sins that wrangles and dominates us.

From what I have heard about his parents, a former youth pastor, and church worker and volunteer, no doubt they twisted in their sleep for years over this addiction created for their son. There is so much pain involved for everyone.

Sin comes with a tripwire. It’s like a snare set up to trap a rabbit in a cage. One pull of the string, and “snap“, the rabbit is imprisoned. Along with a tripwire, sin comes with a warning sign. Dire words are given, given again, repeated again, and again, and again.

They are words like, “GO BACK”, “REVERSE COURSE NOW”, “HERE, AND NO FURTHER”, “BEYOND THIS LINE, THE POINT OF NO RETURN”. These words flash in bright, reflecting colors, day and night, night and day for all who travel too close to what will wash boaters down stream to the brink.

Someone once wrote:

“Sin will take you farther than you wanna go,
Slowly but wholly taking control.
Sin will leave you longer than you wanna stay.
Sin will cost you far more than you wanna pay.”

The fall is a long way down.

Warnings of affliction, and a way of escape, are blinking in fuel for the race.

“Do not long for the night, When people vanish in their places. Be careful, do not turn to evil, For you preferred this to misery. Behold, God is exalted in His power; Who is a teacher like Him?” Job 36:20-22 (NAS)

Elf In Myself

“Every breath you take and every move you make
Every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be watching you
Every single day and every word you say
Every game you play, every night you stay, I’ll be watching you.” – (1983) – “Every Breath You Take” –  Recorded by:  The Police (Sting)  Composer:  Gordon Sumner

Creepy, isn’t it?  I always thought so.  I felt that way about the lyrics of “Private Eyes” (They’re watching you…) by Hall & Oats.  Who would’ve ever thought there would be something so spooky connected with Christmas?

December for me was the anticipation of my mom breaking out my old Christmas pal, Elfie.  He was an elf doll dressed in a red velvet body suit with a Santa hat on top of a soft plastic head, along with a face garnished with rosy cheeks.  In fact, I believe there was a little jingle bell on the point of his hat.  He was skinny and maybe 8″ tall.  The mittens on his hands were sown together, creating a loop with his arms for slipping over a doorknob, or a thin bedpost.  For this little boy, he not only was a celebratory pal, but he was also the visual symbol that Santa was soon to arrive.  He spent many Decembers with me until one Christmas Eve my dog, Tickey, found Elfie’s plastic head to be a chew toy not to be resisted.  I cried, but forgave Tickey…eventually.

Tickey - 5-18-68 He was 11 months and 22 days old. Lived to be 15. Died Aug 7th 1982. My dearest childhood pal.

Many years ago, when producing radio theater plays for a radio network, I had an idea which came to me like a sled on an icy roof.  While producing my second Christmas radio theater production, I decorated the recording studio in all things Christmas.  When coming into the recording session from a 100 degree July day in Texas, you needed something to help transport the theater of the mind to December.  As I recall, I even had the air conditioner set to a frosty level.  Some of us even had to wear jackets or sweaters in the session.  In honor of my old buddy, Elfie, it seemed appropriate to have a few of his descendants brighten the studio.  Some actors found it intimidating while delivering lines from my script.

Elf On Mic

Of course, all of the above was way before the Christmas craze we now know, and affectionately call, “Elf On The Shelf”.  My granddaughter, Skylar has one.  If you don’t have children, or grandchildren going headlong into the American Christmas traditions, you may not know who Elf On The Shelf is, or what he is rumored to do.  Well, let me enlighten you before December 25th settles upon us.  This elf doll sits on the shelf, the bed, the table, the mantle, ect with eyes wide opened.  At Skylar’s house he surprisingly appears in the most unexpected places every day.  He’s not gazing in amazement at the traditional holiday decor, or the Christmas gifts under the tree, or even the wintry changes in weather.  Nope, not at all.  Just like the lyrics from The Police, his one and only job is to watch…okay, I’ll use the word “spy”, on the children of the house as he reports back to Santa for his big global flight.  The little snitch is all about deduction of potential gifts on Christmas morning.  OUCH!  I guess Santa is too old to be seeing when you’re sleeping, and knowing when you’re awake.  Age has gotten in Kringle’s way when it comes to knowing if you’ve been bad or good.  Oh, for goodness sake.  Now it seems Claus has a built-in security camera in the form of a sneaky elf, who sits on a shelf, keeping a sharp eye on the do’s and don’ts.  Now if that isn’t creepy, I don’t know what is.  At least the fat old man in the red suit wasn’t peeking through the closet door of my bedroom each night of the year.  I guess that’s of nightmare status, like movies called, “Santa’s Claws” or “Santa’s Slay”  Yikes!  Okay, I’ve gone amok.  I apologize.

Elf On The Shelf

Back to sanity now.  I will say Skylar isn’t bothered by her Elf On The Shelf at all.  She’s had about 3-4 years of having his judging eyes on her for a few Decembers.  Frankly, I’m not sure if she is better behaved because of it.  So, in the end, I will say he might not cause lasting psychological scars.  Maybe we will know more in the next 20 years.

Certainly, if you read my last post you might surmise I am one of those Christians who shuns anything in the fluffy & puffy from the Christmas tradition arena.  Well, no, I am not in that category whatsoever.  Like a foreclosure sign in the lawn of a palm reader’s house, you didn’t see that coming.

Putting child psychology aside, the Elf On The Shelf, and St. Nick’s omnipresent, omniscient eyes are truly the opposite of the authentic act of the first Christmas.  Can you guess what the difference is?

Contrary to a popular belief in our culture, I am not eternally rewarded by superior behavior walking in my shoes today.  Let it be known:  I AM SOOOOOO IMPERFECT!  While I’m at it, don’t take Elf On The Shelf as a picture of what a good Christian does.  The Babe in the manger grew up and said we should not judge anyone, or we will be judged.  It’s not the Christian’s job to sit on a shelf and search for others to flub, fall, and falter.  If you’re under a spiritual teacher which pounds that misnomer into your ears, I say run and never look back.  In fact, a better suggestion is to take a pair of your well-worn shoes, nail them to his/her office door with a note which reads, “Walk in these for awhile.”

Sorry for my rabbit trail on thought.  I’m no Scrooge.  Really, I’m not.

As cute as Elf On The Shelf is, he is theologically off.  The child in Bethlehem’s manger Christmas night was a free gift wrapped in swaddling clothes.  You don’t get a free gift because you necessarily deserved it, but because someone loved you enough, thought of you enough, cared for you enough to go before you arrived and purchased it with a tag which reads your name, in whatever language you speak.  Moreover, this free gift, the Baby in the manger, was given BECAUSE of misbehavior, BECAUSE of abuses, BECAUSE of flubs, falling, and falters, without condition.  Let me write that again…WITHOUT CONDITION!  Try that on some stranger.  No, I mean it.  Find a criminal who abused, or injured, or killed your family member, withdraw all you have in the bank, purchase a gift of great price and present it to the guilty law-breaker.  Do I see any hands for a volunteer?  No, I didn’t think so.  Yet, that’s what God, the Author Of The Law did for us all.  Today, we call it…Christmas.   His unconditional free gift is truly the opposite of Elf On The Shelf.

Nativity

For anyone who accepts this gift, who believes the adult Jesus when He said, “For God so loved the world that He GAVE…” – John 3:16a (KJV), will have the Spirit of His very essence within.  He reminds me inwardly what is best for my life as He writes His law on my heart.  It’s a good thing because I could never have a perfect behavioral stat concerning the Mosaic Law from the Torah found in the Old Testament.

So maybe if you see an elf hanging out on a shelf, it might bring to mind the idea of an elf inside yourself (In the flavor of Christmas trinkets.) whispering wisdom, guidance, and unconditional love.  However, when diving deeply for a close-up excursion, you find the lacking of an elf, but rather, “RUACH” in Hebrew, the “Breath” of God’s nature.

Christmas can always be merry with a cup of good cheer, spiked with Fuel for the race.

“For the eyes of Yahweh roam throughout the earth to show Himself strong for those whose hearts are completely His.”  – 2 Chronicles 16:9 – (Holman Christian Standard Version)

 

 

Not Seeing Eye To Eye

Photo:  Thiago Matos via Pexels

“Oh, crumpled bits of paper
Filled with imperfect thought
Stilted conversations
I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got…So we open up a quarrel
Between the present and the past
We only sacrifice the future
It’s the bitterness that lasts.  So don’t yield to the fortunes
You sometimes see as fate
It may have a new perspective
On a different date…Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It’s too late when we die
To admit we don’t see eye to eye.” – (1988)  The Living Years,  Recorded by:  Mike and the Mechanics.  Written by Mike Rutherford and B. A. Robertson

The hallway was busy between classes that day.  The platform shoes were loud on the polished hard floor like horses on a brick street.  Everyone was running to their next classroom before the final bell rang.  I, in my bell-bottoms and bell sleeves, was coming out of the choral department rehearsal hall after an a cappella session.  My steps were already inside the broad hallway, but had yet to fully walk through the threshold as my hand remained on the thick heavy wooden door.  That’s when I looked up and saw her.  It was Lori Kennedy high stepping it toward the choir-room door from B-Hall.  She was running a tad late to get to her place on the rehearsal risers just inside the entrance for Women’s Select Choir.  It was a Friday, game-day at our north Dallas suburban high school of 3,500 students.  I recall it was a Friday because Lori was decked-out in her Lionette drill team outfit from a pep-rally earlier the same morning.  As she approached the doorway, I quickly made my way through the entrance while holding the door open for her.  By the time she was within two, or three steps from me, her dark brown eyes pierced mine as she sternly stated, “I can open my own door!” as she swiftly rushed by me.  OUCH!  That was unexpected.  It wasn’t like me to freeze, but I did due to shock.  It was best because it also kept my mouth shut.

Lori Kennedy 1978 RLT

Lori Kennedy, 1978 R.L. Turner High School Yearbook.

Lori and I were 16 at the time, in 1976.  She was about five weeks older than your’s truly.  Our social circles overlapped, so we had mutual friends, but the two of us were mere acquaintances.  In fact, I don’t think we ever had a conversation before that uncomfortable moment.  It’s not that we avoided one another, or even ignored the other purposefully while within earshot.  We both certainly knew about the other, but distantly.  From time to time, over four years, we even dated our close shared friends, but never one another.  There were multiple occasions where we hitched a ride with other friends while stuffed in a 1973 Chevy Camaro.  We were on the same bus during our music concert tours with the choral department’s Spring trip each year.  We also found ourselves sharing a bus for choral UIL contests performed in other cities.  Then there were gatherings at picnics, parties, and popular hangouts, etc.  I should stop here because as I write this I’m remembering many more circumstances where Lori and I shared space through high school.  We, for what ever reason, never made the effort to get to know each other.  One might say, we knew each other through our fellow classmates.

With all that said, it makes her stark, rude remark, (the first words she ever spoke to me), that much more odd.  Maybe she was having a bad day.  Maybe her boyfriend just broke up with her.  Possibly life at home had hit a wall.  Could she had slipped on a banana peel in the cafeteria line?  Maybe there was a social undertow of knowing we didn’t see eye-to-eye on life itself.

full frame shot of eye
Photo by Vladislav Reshetnyak on Pexels.com

One thing is for concrete sure, she didn’t know my mom and granddad taught me how to treat the opposite sex going back to my toddler years.  Chivalry was the order of the day in my family.  I must have been three years old, when walking down the sidewalk with my mom and grandparents, my granddad gently instructed me to always walk closest to the curb when walking next to a lady.  When I asked why, in his rural Texas fashion and verbiage, he explained that if a tire splashes a muddy puddle onto the walkway, she will be spared from the splatter.  He followed it up with, “That’s what men do.”  He taught me to remove my hat if a lady enters the room.  If a lady walks by, you tip the brim of the hat.  If a lady is about to sit at a table, you pull the chair out for her, followed by the adjustment to table-side.  If the lady is ready to remove her coat or sweater, you help remove it from her shoulders.  When she is ready to wear the same, you hold it open for her as she slips her arms through.  You always allow the lady to walk in front, choosing second place.  You always open the car door for a lady before placing yourself in the car.  And yes, you always open the door for a lady as she approaches it.  In fact, I do that for men, as well as women.  To be honest, I still practice all of the above to this day.  It’s an act of courtesy, kindness, respect, and honor.  I’m branded with it.  So, what was up with Lori?

At the time, the women’s liberation movement was well above surging, at least in the U.S.  It would be foolish to believe that 100% of women living-out the movement appreciated chivalry with its old Victorian manners.  Because I neglected to get to know Lori, the real Lori, I may have missed my cue.  It very well may have been Lori was exercising her newly discovered rules of engagement as dictated by the women’s liberation movement of the times.  I would have been clueless.  Nevertheless, she may have very well been offended by my gesture of holding the door open for her entrance into the choir room.  Sure, I meant well, but she may have seen my action in another angle, unbeknownst to me.  Just like one can peek through a glass of water while another may see a different distorted view.  And here is where I went wrong.

My mind washed my hands of her as I walked away from the moment of friction.  Lori Kennedy and I never had a potential conversation throughout the balance of our school years together.  Never once.  In fact, I totally avoided her.  My misdirected thoughts went something like, “Well, if she’s going to treat me like a doormat, than I don’t have any use for her.”  This is what unchecked anger can do.  And so, in my bitterness over the incident, I made sure I ignored her each time our paths crossed, wherever it was.  And what’s worse, I allowed our very quick moment in 1976 to stain my view of her from that time forth.  Afterwards, the name Lori Kennedy was held in my grudge-peppered heart.  My new title for her was, Little Miss Rudeness.  Yes, it was wrong.  Very wrong.

One would think in adulthood, with all its twists, turns, and teachings, I would’ve eventually understood better, loved more, and forgave even if I never saw her again in life.  However, we did.  God had other plans.

Lori Kennedy 2018 RLT Reunion

Lori Kennedy at a 2018 casual reunion with old friends.

A year ago, I attended two reunions with old friends and classmates.  One was a casual gathering of about 200 as we paid tribute to a friend who had passed away the year prior.  Two months later, it was our 40th high school reunion.  Lori Kennedy and I bumped into each other at both events.  During the first reunion, I saw her before see saw me.  My first thought was to stay away from her, using my old searing angst as justification.  With so many people attending, it would’ve been easy to just remain on the other side of the large club.  Two months later, the 40th high school reunion gala would be upon us where most likely we would find ourselves in close proximity with mutual friends.  Deep inside, I hated the tensity felt over seeing her again.  Getting lost in the crowd was my first thought.

Miles White Reunion Shot

August 2018 at the casual reunion at the Fox & Hound Pub in Dallas.

Someone called out to her through the noisy event.  With a turn, my eyes caught her.  There she was, laughing, drinking, eating and enjoying a cluster of old friends.  My reaction was to look away to protect the sore spot in my psyche.  After looking down at my shoes for way too long, I filled my lungs with lots of air, slapped on my big boy pants, and made my way across the room of revelers.

She had changed so much since our teen years.  Age hadn’t been particularly polite to her.  Lori always lived fast and hard, so I just assumed it all caught up with her.  She was a bit pale and thin, and the spark in her dark eyes had faded.  Name tags are a gift from God in these cases, but not at this casual gathering.  Often, at our age, it’s guesswork.  I acted as if I wasn’t sure it was her.  “Lori?  Is that you?”  She turned toward me, cocked her head and smiled.  “Alan!  Well, as I live and breathe!  How are you?”  I initiated a quick shoulder-hug. (Still showing signs of my grudge in a tiny gesture.  I know, it’s all so stupid.)  We spoke very kindly for another couple of minutes.  After all, there’s not much to “catch-up on” when you didn’t really have a relationship to start with.  I found out she lived alone with her two beloved Chihuahuas.  Still, it was somewhat a relief to see her genuine greeting.  Surprisingly cordial with a true smile, we shared good words between us.  Simultaneously, there was this voice coming from deep inside me delivering a statement I never would’ve believed.  It was so clear.  Despite our differences, we could have been friends.  Part of me began to feel ashamed what I had secretly held against her over the decades.  Of course, I never brought up our one and only verbal encounter from the days of yore.  Actually, she may not even recall the day she was snarky to me, the “doorman” from early in our junior year.  Frankly, the thought had never occurred to me.  Just because I always remembered it, shelving her as a tyrant and a princess prude forever, doesn’t necessarily mean she remembered our game-day intersect whatsoever.

Monday morning, October 7th, I got in my car, turned on the radio to my favorite classic rock station, and there it was, Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young”.  It was the tripwire to heavy tears as I left my driveway for an hour’s drive to Lori Kennedy’s funeral.

After doing some digging, I discovered Lori was told by her doctor how early tests indicated she had Multiple Myeloma.  This form of blood cancer wasn’t new to me.  A church friend has been battling it for two years, as well as my brother-in-law, who is in the final stages of this life-sucking illness.  An MRI had found a mysterious spot on her pelvic bone a couple of years prior.  At that time tests were inconclusive.  Apparently, Lori shrugged it off.  She had been told most Multiple Myeloma patients have 3-5 years after diagnosis, maybe less.  She was looking forward to her first oncologist appointment to confirm, plus discuss various treatments.  That was during the last week of September.  She passed away in her sleep at home less than a week later.  After the very touching service I spoke with her parents.  They told me she had been suffering from symptoms for at least 2-3 years, but had no idea she had been stricken with cancer until a few days ago.

Before the minister spoke, they played Eric Clapton’s Tears In Heaven.  As it washed over the the ones gathered, I bowed my head and listened intently for the first time.

“…Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
If I saw you in heaven?

Would you hold my hand
If I saw you in heaven?
Would you help me stand
If I saw you in heaven?

Time can bring you down
Time can bend your knees
Time can break your heart
Have you begging please, begging please…”

My hands trembled as I realized my judging heart.  Deeply convicted, I acknowledged my stupidity in not letting go of one moment in time of offense.  At my age, how could I have remained so immature?  When we engaged last year, I was unaware she was in severe pain throughout her skeletal structure.  As we stood there and chatted at the reunion, I was unaware Lori was constantly dehydrated, with bouts of deadly low blood pressure and visits to the ER.  Little did I know she was choking down powerful pain killers just to stand, walk, and sit.  As it turns out, she rarely left her house to socialize due to her struggle.  The reunions were a goal she wouldn’t deny herself.  And there I was, trying to be tempered, holding back my old resentment as she smiled at me, even though she should’ve been in the hospital.  What a moron I was.  So much time wasted.  So much life experience gone.  So many chances crumbled away in the living years.

After the service was complete, I approached the opened white coffin where an unrecognizable body was displayed.  The remains of this person looked as if she was some 25 years my elder, resting among the satin lace.  Even though it was way too late, I looked at the face, which once belonged to Lori, and whispered, “Forgive me, Lori.  Forgive me.”

As I drove back home, I asked the Redeemer to forgive my unsettled anger.

True lessons in life come at the most heartbreaking times.  Lessons of humility learned easier when filled with fuel for the race.

“And whenever you stand to pray, forgive whatever you have against anyone, so that your Father who is in Heaven may also forgive you your faults.  But if you are not forgiving, neither will your Father in Heaven forgive you your faults.”  – Jesus –  Mark 11:25-26  (Aramaic Bible In Plain English)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rewinds

“…Daylight
I must wait for the sunrise
I must think of a new life
And I mustn’t give in
When the dawn comes, tonight will be a memory too
And a new day will begin…”  (1981) “Memory” from Cats by Andrew Lloyd Webber

The young Dr. Frankenstein meets Igor, for the first time, at a foggy depot railway platform.  As they introduce themselves, the great Marty Feldman, who played Igor, presents himself as “I-gor”.  Dr. Frankenstein, played by the fabulous Gene Wildman, thought the pronunciation was a bit odd.  He remarks that he was told it was pronounced, “EE-gor”.  Without a slip of a beat, Igor cocks his head, leans in and says sharply (in his very British accent), “Well, they were wrong then, weren’t they?”  Young Frankenstein, from 1974 from the brilliant Mel Brooks, is not only considered a classic, but it’s also one of my all-time favorite comedies, if not my #1 favorite.  So much so, I have it on both VHS and DVD.  I just cackle at the late Marty Feldman’s comic timing in the unforgettable scene.  He was a comedic genius.  To this day, my finger gets busy on the rewind button, just to treat myself a couple of times before the movie moves on.

As I date myself by the following line, I will be straightforward.  As a teenager, when graduating from vinyl albums, I had to replace most of them with cassettes for my car and tape player in my apartment.  That was a chore.  However, the ease of the rewind button allowed me to quickly scan for my favorite cut from the artist I was listening to.  After all, you couldn’t do that with the vinyl LP.  You had to be steady-handed as you carefully picked up the needle, while locating the correct grove, when hunting for Elton’s “Crocodile Rock”.

Turntable Needle by Pixabay

Photo:  Pixabay

Admittedly so, when on my DVR, or On Demand selection, the rewind button is one of my best friends.

Have you ever noticed, the rewinds are usually not for searching that gruesome scene where the stabbing took place?  My guess is that you rarely push the rewind button to “re-watch” the tragic scene where the little boy, along with his dog, can’t escape the burning house.  No doubt you never raced for the rewind button to capture again the flogging scenes in the movie Amistad.  If so, there’s counselling available for that itch.  Yet, I’m afraid we do it all the time…mentally.  Think about it.

My last post on this format was about too many windows in old hotels.  Well, I’m about to pull back the drapes on one of them for you.

Over 40 years ago, I had a troublesome relationship that went on much too long.  This individual was my friend through much of the 1970’s.  As time went by, we grew close with a very tight bond, which seemingly was permanent.  Fast-forward to December of 1979, things abruptly ended hard with a resounding thud.  Most all of my old friendships are still intact and loving.  I don’t lose friends, for the most part, and I am grateful.  Still, this one was substantially significant in my life…or so I thought.  The relationship needed some healing, which never took place, and fighting became our norm toward the bitter end.  Truly, it was a downhill slope into quicksand.  We were teenagers with mounds of maturity which had yet to settle-in.  Regrets?  Sure, at least for me.  I went back to my friend a few times, during the following days, in attempts to mend, soothe, and restore.  But I learned quickly that it takes two to do so.  Believe me when I say, it was a nasty split.  My friend was wrong, and I was wrong.  Nobody was innocent.  I have been mourning over it ever since.  How sick is that?  There have been 40 years of rehashing the “what if’s”, “why this”, or “why that”.  The questions roll along, wondering what I could have done differently, as it pertained to me and my chosen actions.  If the other person is not able to do the same, it makes it almost impossible to make peace in the heart.  But I know you can’t go back and change anything.  If you pull out a nail in the fence post, you still have a hole.  There’s not been a resolve in my own heart.  Thoughts of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin comes to mind.  Like Jerry and Dean, in retrospect, I believe our lives have been better without each other.

You don’t have to tell me how unhealthy this species of mourning and regret can be.  I know all too well.  If you’re like me, then you know you can beat yourself up over and over again.  Of course, just as you think you have conquered the pain and trauma, you drag out the old dusty remote, hunting for a decades old mental movie from your life, and hit the rewind button. <<

Remote Dusty Buttons

How sad, that we keep an old dusty remote in our minds just to relive heartbreaks which don’t have to be replayed.  We lie in our beds, refusing sleep, as we replay infractions from the days of yore.  Other times we scan back to a fork in the road, where we turned left instead of right, wondering what might have been.  Am I accurate?  The scene WILL NOT CHANGE!  Oh, sure, you want to see a different outcome, but it is what it is.  Yet, in acknowledging that truth, it is also history, where it belongs.

Recently, to my surprise, I discovered my old friend may be struggling emotionally more than I have.  While on Facebook, the morbid side of me decided to look for my old friend’s Facebook page.  Shockingly, this social butterfly wasn’t anywhere to be found.  Later, I sadly learned my old friend blocked my name so that I would vanish when on our mutual friend’s pages.  I guess it shouldn’t bother me when thinking someone wants to scrub me from the earth, as if I never existed.  There’s not been one word of any communication since January 1980.  I was blocked as if I were a troller, stalker, or a monster to be shunned from the town square.  “Sanctuary”, cried the hunchback in his chains.  I thought it interesting that after 40 years, my name was a curse in the eyes of this person.  Wow, maybe I unknowingly inflicted more harm than I received.  Somehow, it added salt to my wounds.

Why do we do this to ourselves?  What betterment does it apply to our mental and emotional state?  Better yet, why do we crave it?  We do, you know.  We pick up the mental remote, push rewind to find the old scabs in life way too often.  What’s more, we push the pause button to gaze for a bit, which makes matters worse.  It’s a choice, isn’t it?

I don’t have a psychology degree, but I do know a bit about human nature.  Under my belt, there is a ton of biblical advice in which I have marinated.  In God’s camera angle, guilt, self-damning, and judgement is what we are to ween ourselves off of.  Sure, biblically speaking, when we recognize our own wrongs, we are to loosen our grip, while placing them at the feet of the Righteous Judge.  It is written, so we would understand, when wrapped in His forgiveness, there is no divine condemnation staining the humble who apply His forgiveness in a true, heartfelt confession.  In doing so, we are to learn to forgive others…and ourselves.  The old dusty rewind button should only be for scenes of joy, love, and laughter.  Otherwise, take out the batteries.

Thank you Marty, Gene, and Mel.

When in play >, or fast forward >>, always expect fuel for the race.

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.  As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.”  – Psalm 103:11-12  (NAS)

“I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins.”  – Isaiah 43:25  (NAS)

“Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back.” – A prayer by King Hezekiah found in Isaiah 38:17  (NIV)

EMPTY! But Why?

If you read my posts you will find this to be a bit different in flavor.  My request is that you read this one, leaving bias or preconceived ideas at the door.  Just humor me for now.

Imagine, you wake up in the back of a transport van.  Your wrists and ankles are shackled to a pole attached to the metal bench you’re laying on.  Looking down you find you’re dressed in an orange cotton jumpsuit with your full name sown into fabric across your chest.  Next to you is an assigned armed guard watching.

“What have I done?” you ponder silently.  In frustration you inquire aloud to the guard, “Excuse me, sir.  Why am I here?  Why have I been apprehended in this way?  Where are we going?”  The guard sits there ignoring you, as if you spoke nothing.

Imagine, the van stops just about the time you decide to ask the guard once more, with attitude.  The back double doors fly open as two more armed guards await your wrists and ankles to be unlocked from the pole.  As you continue to wear the shackles, dragging the chain between your feet, you begin to struggle to walk toward the open van doors.  The guards reach out, taking you by both arms, pulling you out of the vehicle.  They walk you into an enormous courthouse, a stately building, you do not recognize.

Imagine, you gasp at what you see as you are led into a large, wide hallway filled with other people who appear to be in the same circumstance.  You are struck by the incredibly long lines of the incarcerated, hugging the walls to the right and the left, as they stand single-file down endless corridors.  Each prisoner lacks the individual ID numbers, as you would assume.  Instead, each one has their name etched across their torsos, just like yours.  As you stumble with the shackles hindering your stride down the hallway, you read some of the names, ordinary names…Bohoah Yudo, Jack Nelson, Zhang Wong, Sherry White, Jesse Mundos, Amy Jones, Ahmad Siddiqui, Running Bear Parker, Angelique Pascal, Lorenzo Giordano…all assorted from every corner of the earth.

Imagine, you have been escorted to a guarded giant set of double doors, made of bronze.  This is odd, considering nobody else is in line for this entrance.  As you are led to the threshold, the thick doors are opened.  As they reveal the interior, your eyes widen in awe of a high judge’s bench made of, what appears to be, the finest mahogany.  There are no spectators, or spectator’s chairs.  In fact, this courtroom lacks a jury box, as well.  Only court officers and clerks are present.

Imagine, an announcement is made that all should rise as the judge is preparing to enter from his chambers.  The chamber door opens.  An amazing, distinguished, and striking robed man makes an appearance, taking his place at the judge’s seat.  You immediately notice the baffling brilliance of his eyes.  If you were to describe them, you would say they were transparent, somehow.  When he looks into your eyes, you feel as if he has known you all your life.  There is a sense he can see through the shell you often use with strangers.  What’s more, he never blinks.

“Are the books opened?” he asks the clerks with a reverberating bass voice.  You didn’t hear the response as you found yourself mesmerized by three enormous antique books, bound in gold leaf.  These books were so thick, it took four clerks to open the volumes.

“Bring the perpetrator before the court,” demands the judge.  “The transgressor will remain bound through these proceedings,” the judge adds.  As the guards nudge you forward, immediately you wonder what kind of judicial system this is.  You know you’ve done nothing wrong, and yet the judge seems to not believe in “innocent until proven guilty.”

Imagine, you stand before this awesome judge as he gazes at your name found in one of the colossal bindings.  As he calls you by your full name, including your middle name you never reveal to anyone, the chains hanging off your limbs rattle as you slightly tremble in fear.  Furthermore, your very soul quakes as you feel the injustice hovering over you like an anvil ready to drop.  His next statement causes your face to go pale as you fight the feeling of tears pushing against your eyelids.

“Are you aware of the charges made against you in this case?” he asks with piercing authority.

You take a deep breath, as if it were your last, and proclaim in a louder voice than you had intended, “No, your honor.  I am stunned I am here at all.”  The judge nods as if to acknowledge he has heard this before in his court.

With a laser-beam glare, the judge turns his unusual translucent eyes toward a rather polished-looking man standing behind a half-wall, where the jury box would normally be located.  He is a handsome looking gent, dressed to the nines, with his hair slicked back in perfect order.  To say he looks wealthy and studious would be an understatement.

In a lower tone, unlike any sound from his voice thus far, the judge states, “The prosecutor, your legal adversary, will now recite the charges against you.  It is imperative you remain silent, without outbursts, during his delivery.  Prosecutor, you may begin.”

The prosecutor rolls out a thick stack of legal documents from his briefcase.  He begins thumbing through the papers.

“Your honor, this one has violated every law you so diligently protect,” the prosecutor quickly cites with a silky, smooth voice.  He continues, “Naturally, you have the full record already prepared in your book.  I will summarize from my copies.  To begin with, this one uttered false notions to the parents multiple times, starting at infancy.  Later in life, while in heated unjustified anger, there would be thoughts of assault, without striking out.  As a preteen, there was a candy bar taken without payment from a local convenient store.  There have been periods of lashing out with words of destruction, targeting the spirit of others, with intent, and without good cause.  Starting during the teen years, this one followed through with lust for others in the classroom.  Then, if that wasn’t enough, your honor, there are countless traffic violations.  Yield signs were neglected, yellow traffic lights turned red while in the process of driving through the intersections. At one point underage drinking took over, with bribery in full play, to keep the infraction quiet.  While on the subject, there was one DUI, but got away with the transgression.  There was an event concerning road rage where the defendant cursed another, while utilizing a selected finger, signaling a violent nature of the heart.  I have a list of selective years this one cheated on taxes, unseen by the government.  The record shows the act of false statements to a supervisor concerning sick days.  When a neighbor bought a bigger house out in the country, this one became secretly envious, followed by malicious desires, developing into severe covetousness.  There are charges of delinquent bills from time to time.  The removal of love comes and goes.  The act of pre-judging fellow man is outrageous on its own.  Even discriminatory hatred, applied to others, appears over the decades.  Admittedly, there is no guilt of carrying out the act of murder or adultery, but on several occasions the mind entertained as much concerning others.  You, yourself, your honor, claimed if one even thinks of murder and adultery, that one is just as guilty as the one who acts upon the thought.  May I remind you, this ruling came from your court, your honor.  It is your prerogative to expunge the law you so graciously gave, if it serves the defendant well.”

(CRACK!)  The gavel came down extremely hard.  The walls seemed to vibrate at the crashing sound of the impact.

“ENOUGH!  My law set forth is who I am.  The law is my very essence.  It will be defended.  The law is a school teacher, educating the public of a guide for a life of goodness.  It will be carried out.  Each law will be filled and completed, and will never be removed.  Once more, I will remind you of the rules of my court, prosecutor.  You have heard it said from this bench in prior cases.  As long as there are lawbreakers, if you violate my rules, here, in this place, I will call for your banishment and have you held in contempt.  You may continue,” the judge remarks with the pointing of his finger.

“As you please, your honor.  As usual, I could go on.  The rap sheet is lengthy.  The guilt is undeniable inside every day, of every month, of every year of this one’s life.  Beyond all, perhaps the most grievous crime, this one wallows in a lack of faith in the Lawgiver, the law’s sincerity, with total disregard of the ramifications.  My office recommends extreme punishment to the law’s fullest extent, as written in your own manuals, your honor.  I rest my case, your honor.”  With that, the prosecutor shuffled his documents as he returned them back to his thick briefcase.

Imagine, you are bursting at the seams to defend your good name.  After all, you never thought of yourself as a lawless individual.  Most everyone you know would stand by your side, testifying to the fact that you’re a pretty good person overall.  Just then, the judge interrupts the thought.

After calling out your name, he asks a hard question, “Do you have counsel to represent you here today?”

You quickly respond in helplessness, “No, your honor.  I am without a defender.  I do have friends that can testify on my behalf, but…”

“Unfortunately for you, they too are in the halls of lawlessness.  Your deeds done are not to be measured by a lawbreaker’s plumb-line.  Your peers are not the surveyor.  The human heart is faulty.  They will morph as their opinions shift.  However, the law changes not and is unforgiving.  It was etched in ancient stone for a purpose.  It is relentless and ferocious.  The law is…quite simply…unable to be kept, ” the judge points out.

Imagine, your jaw drops.  You are in shock, more than you were in the beginning.  You are being prosecuted for transgressions which you always deemed as minimal, unimportant infractions, and now your judge admits nobody can keep the law in its entirety!

In your chains, you melt at the idea of hopelessness.  Somehow you are able to catch your breath from this gut-punch, “Your honor, I cannot defend myself against these charges.  How can I?  The law list is too heavy.  It rules over me in such a way that there’s no escape.”

“Yes, the law is rigid.  It was written to be so.  Where one law is broken, all laws are broken collectively,” the judge explains.  “It instructs that no one is good enough to keep its commands as a whole-not even one person outside these walls.  As you stand before me, the written record concerning your life is damning, indeed.  I find you are guilty as charged.  There is a certificate of debt which I will sign.  It has my seal.  It will state you were born guilty, without self-remedy.  The law is clear.  The payment for your offenses will be…certain death.”

Imagine your fear, your terror, your inability to redeem yourself.  You feel like someone has demanded that you jump across the Grand Canyon.  It can’t be done.  All you can do is hang your head in shame as the tears begin to build and fall.

Imagine now, at that point, a gentle hand strokes your hair, like your mom did when you were a kid.  It startles you, causing you to flinch.  Your head snaps back up in reaction.  You look quickly to your right to see a man standing next to you.  Your eyes glanced his way earlier, but he was unassuming, sitting back away from the proceedings in a shadowed corner.  This man would be easily ignored if you strolled by him on the street.  He isn’t dressed well for an officer of the court.  As you wipe the tears from your eyes, you can see his face more clearly.  There’s nothing really handsome about him.  In fact, it seems he’s a bit on the weathered side.  His hair, clothes, and shoes are unclean and unkempt.  His hands are rough, stained from dirt and grime, like a construction worker at the end of a day’s work.  It’s a mystery to you just why he is in the presence of such a pristine majestic courtroom.  He places his arm around your shoulders as if to comfort, or encourage.  You are moved that you find it warm, even consoling where he touches you.

With kind eyes, he speaks softly to you, “Wait here.  I will return.”

He addresses the judge with great admiration, “Your honor, this one doesn’t understand how this guilt shrouded life.  They don’t know what they are doing.  I will approach for private deliberation.”  Openly, he is welcomed.

He walks toward the judge’s bench.  You can see in their faces that they know one another very well.  Instead of asking the judge’s permission for a side bar consultation, the soiled man makes his way unhindered around the mahogany structure, walks by the clerk and bailiff, as they step aside, and straight up the steps to the judge himself.  He places his arm around the judge’s shoulders as they begin to consult.  You would give anything to hear what is being discussed, but the topic remains a mystery to you, as well as everyone else in the courtroom.  Soon thereafter, the man comes down from the judge’s seat, approaching you with a comforting smile of resolution.

He says only one thing as he leans to reach your ear, “You must trust me.”

With that, he steps back from you, turns, and stands between you and the bench, blocking your view of the judge.

The prosecutor, who has been closely watching the unusual conference, speaks up, “I object, your honor!  This is highly irregular, and certainly…”  (BOOM!)  The gavel pounds the bench in force.

“Objection overruled,” declares the judge.  Silencing the prosecutor soundly, the judge continues, “It is now official.  May the record show the defendant has court appointed counsel at this time.  Counselor, I will ask you one more time for the court record.  Is it your intention to now represent this defendant, this one who has already been pronounced guilty of lawlessness?”

“Yes, your honor.  This one belongs with me,” remarks the defender.

“May it be so.  May the record show I have agreed, thus appointing the defender to this defendant,” states the judge.

Your defender faces you once more.  He finds you’re fixed on the prosecutor’s smirk as he straightens his tie.  At the same time, you feel the eyes of your counselor penetrating your focus.  You turn your eyes to his.  You sense an assurance from him.

“Believe in what I will do for you,” he says with a deep sound of conviction.

With that, he is escorted out a side door by two guards, as if in protection mode.

You seem frozen at the moment at what just happened, even though you do not understand it.

The judge addresses you once again, “Fortunately for you, there is one of this court who has agreed to defend you, even though you have been found guilty and sentenced already.  Many documents must be written and published.  There are facts in this case which will be entered into the ledgers.  This will take some time.  Because you have previously been found guilty by this court, you will not go free, as you count freedom.  You will remain shackled and placed in the hallway of lawlessness with the others, who are due in court.  There you will remain until you hear your name called.  At that time, you will report to the doors of this court for the details of your final sentencing.  Do you understand these words I have spoken them to you?”

You hesitate but respond in puzzlement, “Yes, your honor.”

Almost sounding like a counselor himself, the judge speaks to you one last time in a softer tone, “Let it be known, it is not required for you to understand the timing and ways of this court, or its officers.  Trust your defender.  Listen for your name.”

(BOOM)  The gavel comes down as the judge orders, “Court adjourned!”

At this juncture, you are led, with chains rattling, to your hallway of waiting.

Imagine that it seems no time has passed at all when you hear your name called.  You look up to see the bailiff standing outside the courtroom doors with documents in hand.  Right away, your brows wrinkle, as you whisper to yourself, asking where your defender has been.  You fully expected him to consult you in the hallway at some point, but he never arrived.   There’s a feeling of unmistakable abandonment as you try to pick yourself up.  You stumble a bit with your ankle chains as you attempt to make your way across the hallway toward the waiting bailiff.  You approach him.  He looks at you as he restates your name, even though it is plainly written across your chest.  You acknowledge with a nod of your head, not wanting to hear the outcome of your defender’s work.  That is if any work has been done at all.

Imagine your amazement when the bailiff’s next words are, “You are free to go, if you choose.”

The wrinkles on your concerned face vanish as your mouth drops, “WHAT?”

“Yes, you may walk away, if you so desire,” replies the bailiff.

“Wait a minute.  How can this be?  My defender hasn’t shown his mug at all,”  you quickly point out.

“Oh, your defender arrived exactly at the appointed time.  The judge is appeased.  You were not present to witness it, but he made his appointment,” states the officer.

You cock your head at his strange reply, “What ever do you mean?  He arrived?  Where?”

“Your defender’s father was there to witness his work on your behalf, until it he could no longer observe,” said the bailiff as he enveloped a document.

You eagerly inquire, “My defender’s father?  Who is that?”

The bailiff seems struck by your lack of information, “You didn’t know?  How could you NOT know?  The judge is your defender’s father.”

In a state of perplexity you try to find the right words to ask, “I don’t get it.  That would be a conflict of interest, right?”

“No conflicts between them, ever,” replies the bailiff.

“What did my defender do for my case?” you ask.

At this point the bailiff offers you a document from the court.  As you look closer, it is the certificate of debt, describing your crimes, along with the sentencing of capital punishment.

“Your debt has been paid,” explains the officer.  “Freedom from the judgment rendered is now available.”

“How…what did…I don’t understand,” you admit.

“A reckoning has been accomplished.  Your defender volunteered to pay the debt to the court on your behalf,” explained the man.

You mutter almost under your breath, “You…you mean he…”

“Yes.  Your judge and his son, your appointed defender, agreed to release you from your lawlessness status.  Your defender volunteered to be sacrificed in your place,” replied the officer.  “I was there to witness it.  It was brutal, but it was decreed.  The judge, once the sacrifice was accomplished, was satisfied with the work of your defender.  Retribution has been completed.  There is nothing else needed to be done.  The court considers the matter finished.”

The magnitude of the news stuns you.  You take the certificate of debt from the bailiff as you attempt to summon the right words to the question in the very core of reasoning.

“Why would the judge agree to do this?” you ask.

“Love,” replied the bailiff.  “The judge not only pities your plight, but also expresses great compassion from an endless well of love for you.  He and his son designed this incredible plan together.  Now, it is up to you to accept this gift you have been offered.  You can remain in your shackles, or accept this act of the court’s finding of love toward you today.  Keep in mind, if you choose to deny it, you will remain condemned.”

“How can I thank him for this?” you inquire.  “My defender is dead, but I can still show my gratitude to the judge.”

The bailiff spoke up quickly with urgency, “First, you must take the certificate of debt to the court cashier on your way out.  If you choose to accept this offer of love, hand this certificate to the cashier, stating the debt has been paid.  The cashier will then stamp it, ‘PAID IN FULL!’  After sealing it, your shackles will be removed.  You will then be given new clothing to wear.  It truly is a phenomenal great exchange.  You will discover the doors are already open for you.”

Sheepishly you bring up the obvious, “I hate to be the devil’s advocate here, but what if he changes his mind and sends his guards to bind me again?  Is it possible he will reverse his decision?”

The officer responded, “The judge now sees you as blameless because of his innocent son taking your condemnation upon himself.  Trust this decision.  It will always be a matter of trust.”

Really, you don’t have to imagine.  This is what occurred when Jesus offered Himself to be crucified.  For thousands of years it was foretold this was God’s plan.  The Old Testament is blanketed with the prophecies of where it would happen, why it would happen, the week it would happen, and how it would happen, including the specific wounds he would receive.  On several occasions, Jesus Himself told His followers what would transpire, making it clear He was choosing to give His life away for the redemption of humanity.  At the time, they didn’t quite understand it either.  Although He had multiple opportunities to change plans and escape the arrest, the sentencing, and the cross, He went out of His way to stand ready for it all.  So, some 700 years before Jesus was born, the Old Testament passage was written to assist on identifying Him,

“He was oppressed and He was afflicted.  Yet He did not open His mouth.  Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth.” – Isaiah 53:7

When you think about it, forgiveness takes sacrifice.  It was that way in the Old Testament, as God dealt with humanity’s ills, and the guideline continues today.  When forgiving someone who has raped your good name, or one who offended you, you first must swallow down the idea of your gut reaction.  When being slandered publicly by someone who walks all over your integrity, your first thought is to ring his neck.  A kidnapper takes your four-year old and murders him.  Immediately, you want to hunt him/her down to take retribution to satisfy your screaming grief and rage.  Am I right?  If you’re an average person, you would agree with me on this.  To forgive, as you have been forgiven, is to sacrifice your hot satisfaction of revenge.  It’s so much easier to punch the offender’s lights out.  Forgiveness says, “No.  I will not satisfy the overwhelming desire to inflict my retribution on the offender.  Instead, I will wipe away the debt I want to levy.”  This is what Easter is all about.

Theologically, there is so much more to explain concerning the cross of Christ, along with the plan to redeem fallen humankind since Genesis, and the work of Jesus in the future.  However, simplicity was what God decided to spotlight in this case, so we may not have an excuse to ignore His gift.

So, the tomb is empty.  But why?

Buried in a borrowed garden tomb of a secretive wealthy follower, Jesus was wrapped, placed in the tomb, and a large stone was rolled over the door with a Roman seal.  Several Roman soldiers were placed there to guard the tomb.  However, Jesus would not be held by death, or a sealed grave.

Since the payment for our sin is a death sentence, He needed to show proof of His deity.  Once a guilty inmate is pronounced dead by lethal injection, he stays dead.  That’s the finality of capital punishment.  The penalty states, your life is quenched forcibly.  Over a three year period, Jesus publicly raised other corpses to life.  Even random people came out of their graves the same day Jesus walked out of the tomb. (Matthew 27:50-53)  The account in scripture says the righteous dead appeared to many in the city.  An event uniquely placed for Jesus’ miraculous actions during this time.  He was not bound by nature’s law as He was from outside of nature, looking in.  On Easter, Jesus not only proved He once again had power over death itself, authority over the payment for sin, but He also was following through with His teaching of new life offered.  Death is final.  We all know that.  Conquering death is something the living can not do.  With Jesus, it is a gateway to eternity for the soul.  His sacrifice-replacing my debt for my chronic lawbreaking, satisfied the Author of the Ten Commandments.

The resurrection of Jesus was witnessed by Jews and Gentiles alike.  For some forty days after that Sunday morning, He ate, walked, and talked with all of His friends and family.  In fact, scripture has an account that speaks of a crowd of over 500 who saw Him after the resurrection.  The news of it couldn’t be stopped by the local governing class, or even Rome’s iron fist.  Early Christian history is filled with the accounts of Jesus’ followers being tortured, burned alive, and crucified because they would not stop with their testimonies of the risen Messiah.  Ask yourself what you would be willing to die for.

So yes, the tomb in Jerusalem is empty.  My certificate of debt was paid in full and He, being Who He is, survived it all.

I have been purchased with a great price.  My life was changed from old, to new.

 “I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men (His disciples) testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.” – Charles Colson   (Special Counsel to Pres. Richard Nixon, commonly known as Nixon’s “Hatchet Man”.  He was also named as one of the “Watergate Seven”.  He plead guilty to obstruction of justice and served prison time.)

      “…having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” – St. Paul – Colossians 2:14 (NAS)

“…that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.   For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.…  – Jesus –  John 3:15-17 (BSB)

My Tribute To Larry Bierl

“I will remember you.  Will you remember me?  Don’t let life pass you by.  Weep not for the memories…”   I Will Remember You, (1995).  Recorded by:  Sarah McLachlan.  Composers:  Sarah McLachlan, Seamus Egan, Dave Merenda

Cover photo:  Anne Neville/Buffalo News

Life sure has its ways of reminding us how we should have corrected ourselves at some point and time.  The rear-view mirror can be a teaching tool.

I lived in Williamsville/Amherst, NY, a Buffalo suburb, from 2003-2008.  It’s approximately 5,300 in population.  I chose Williamsville because it was a beautiful, quaint little area, away from the city where I did a radio show.  The property taxes were higher, with the safe neighborhood, as well as the school district.  It was a superb place for my three girls.

Often times, while driving into the quiet, older downtown village of Williamsville for a dinner run, or a nice walk down to the Ellicott Creek waterfall in Glen Park, we would see a mysterious man walking the sidewalks.  He was quite the oddity for the setting of Williamsville’s more upper-crust reputation.  He was a homeless man, or so we assumed.  The majority of the homeless were seen in the city, not the norm for the Williamsville/Amherst section of Buffalo.  More than likely you would see him clad in camouflage coat & pants, or a pair of cargo khakis, hunting lace-up boots, and long heavy yarn scarves wrapped around his neck that hung down to his thighs.

One evening, while sitting in the car in a parking lot, waiting to pick-up my daughter from a musical rehearsal, I saw the man was nearby, digging through a trash bin outside a Wendy’s fast food location.  At closer glance, I observed the scarves with a better perspective.  The scarves were not scarves at all.  They were extremely long strands of thick, matted hair, appearing to be mufflers of wool.  These strands were not dreadlocks, with crafty braids of hair art, although many attempted a good spin by calling them dreadlocks.  They were as thick as a dock rope.  It was an amazing sight, and certainly highly unique.  It told part of this man’s narrative.

My oldest daughter, Tabitha, 16 at the time, worked part-time for Spot Coffee, a popular coffee and pastry bar.  He made a semi-daily stop there for a tall cup of straight java.  He was offered free coffees and food from most of the businesses in the village. or wherever he showed up, but he always paid when he could.  Empty bottles and cans were his prey.  It was a familiar scene, a plastic trash bag full of the soon-to-be recycled items, draped over his shoulder.  He had a zip-lock plastic bag of coins and dollar bills stashed in the thigh pocket of his pants.  Nobody ever saw him begging on the street corners.  However, the community members, not allowing judgement to overrule them, donated money to him coming and going.  One might wonder how the business owners and the police dealt with him.  I am proud to say, very kindly.  Everyone understood, this man was part of our community, living a life of his choosing.

More days than not, if you drove by Spot Coffee, you would see him sitting at one of the patio tables with coffee in hand, gazing off toward the horizon.  He seemed to live in his own world.  He was gentle, never causing trouble.  Although he was not one to enjoy talking much.  He would respond if spoken to.  My daughter has a big heart.  She made sure she spoke to him while serving him coffee, or whenever she was close enough on other occasions.

Larry Bierl AT Spot Coffee Photo:  Carole Taylor & Buffalo News

Sometimes you could see him sitting outside a Burger King on a sidewalk bench, eating a burger.  Other times, he would be stuffing one into an old worn backpack.  It was not unusual for him to decline someone offering him fries to go with it.  My opportunity was one August afternoon as I jogged by the bench.  You guessed it.  I looked straight ahead listening to Fleetwood Mac on my headset, pretending I didn’t notice him.

Many have seen him walking the campus of the University of Buffalo, watching the pigeons.  There is a subway station there, on the south campus, where he often took shelter.  With that said, I think he simply enjoyed the peaceful surroundings of the campus, even under hostile weather.

After a year of living there, this man just became a fixture to me.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not that I no longer acknowledged his presence, but rather I expected to see him…somewhere.  What’s truly nagging at me is the fact he had a story and I didn’t know it.

Although he was an icon, even a staple in the area, most only heard rumors concerning who he really was.  Not many ever knew his name, including your’s truly.  One rumor painted the man on the street as an alcohol and drug addict.  Another rumor dubbed him as a military vet from the Vietnam conflict.  Because he often paid for his coffee and food, many believed he was covertly wealthy, wanting to experience the street life of the poor.  It’s funny how we can extract scenarios about someone when they are shrouded in mysteries.

One thing is for sure, he was a tough soul.  During the decades of street life, he braved some of the worst winter blasts Buffalo/Niagara had to offer, and they are many.

My middle daughter, Megan, still lives in Buffalo.  Recently I asked if she has spotted the roving man after all these years.  She said he stays pretty much in the Amherst/Williamsville suburbs, but nothing had seemed to change for him.

Last week, Megan posted an article from the Buffalo News newspaper.  During the horrid polar vortex weather system, which blew in sub-zero temps, and all that goes with it, Buffalo was hit extremely hard.

At the height of the storm, he had gone to one of his coffee hang-outs, a Tim Horton’s location, but it was closed due to the travel ban with the deep freeze encasing the region.  (It’s highly rare to see a Tim Horton’s closed due to weather.)  He then entered, for the very first time, the lobby at a nearby luxury hotel.  The manager of the restaurant and bar, offered him coffee and a chair, which he accepted.  Seeing that he was suffering from the penetrating polar winds, he was generously offered a room for the night.  He declined.  (Even if he had accepted, he would’ve abandoned the accommodations soon after.)  The manager then offered hot food, a warm hat, as well as another coat.  As it was his usual form, he declined.  After a small time of warmth,  the poor man began to make his way to the lobby door.  The staff begged him to stay longer, only to watch him nod as he made his frigid exit.

Lawrence “Larry” Bierl, age 67-69, was found the following morning, January 31st, just two blocks down from the hotel, on a bench at a three-sided plexiglass bus stop on Main Street.  Somewhere in the overnight, he had passed away from the wrath of the polar vortex.

Main St Bus Shelter Buffalo

Photo:  Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News

The Buffalo News article had published a beautiful letter from Larry’s extended family.  Nobody was aware he had family at all.  His sister was the writer.  As the family revealed Larry’s story, I could hardly hold my mouth closed.  Larry held a master’s degree.  He was once in management of a well-known airline corporation.  He never was a vet.  He never was a drug addict, or alcohol abuser.  One day, in the mid 70’s, for no apparent reason, he walked away from his life as he knew it to be.  He traveled the country, often hitching rides with truckers and hopping trains, only to return to Buffalo to live as a homeless man.  The family did all they could to help him.  They tried for years to convince him to get help.  He declined.  After many years of tracking him, pushing him to get the much needed assistance he deserved, the family surrendered to his wishes.  Nobody in his family ever knew exactly what happened to his mind, or what derailed his life, but he lived with a mental illness.

After reading of his terrible death, along with his story, I must admit, I cried.  As I write this blog, my mind still hasn’t come to grips with how I feel, or how to process this.  Why?  Because I never spoke to Larry, although many I love had done so.  Not once did I ever offer him a meal, a bottle of water, or a new pair of shoes.  It came to mind to grab a gift card at a hair salon, or a clothing outlet, but I never did.  Clearly, God gave me opportunities, but apparently “I” was more important.

“…Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Jesus –  Mark 12:31a (NIV)

Sure, there were internal excuses.  They went something like this,  “The Buffalo City Mission downtown will take care of him.”  Here’s another,  “My neighbors will do it.”  Of course the most common,  “I don’t have the time on my schedule today.”  Ironically, I’ve volunteered at missions and shelters since I was a teenager.  You could’ve found me feeding the homeless at various soup kitchens, from time to time in my life.  But Larry….not one thing, not once.  Mentioning him on my radio show would’ve been acceptable.  I could’ve brought more awareness to Larry’s plight.  No, I didn’t open up at all.  I had the chance to make a difference in his day.  I did nothing of the sort.  Part of me never wants to hear rejection, even if it’s offering a pair of socks to a homeless one who may decline.  Well, that’s my lame excuse.  Frankly, my tears weren’t just for Larry, but they were also for my seemingly growing jaded outlook.  God forbid that my heart grows cold and hard with age.

Someone very wise once said, “Never cry for a life lost.  Rejoice because it happened.” (Paraphrased)  One sour soul might say Larry’s life was a wasted life, a waste of time, and a waste of space.  However, the hundreds that helped Larry, who gave of themselves through the decades, were enriched by the man.  Think about it.

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” – Jesus (Quoted in Acts 20:35 – NAS)

It might be wise to deice, or defog the rear-view mirror first, before going the extra mile.

The ice melts.  The sub-zero temps vanish.  But life…life makes its stamp.  Somewhere in Williamsville/Amherst, NY, if you go to a quiet place, you just might hear the whisper of Lawrence Bierl, “I was here.”

Remembering and serving, floods from the river of fuel for the race.

“Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh (and blood)?”  Isaiah 58:7 (NAS)

Dog Training

“Me and my Arrow, straighter than narrow.  Wherever we go, everyone knows it’s me and my Arrow.” – Me And My Arrow (1971) Written and recorded by: Harry Nilsson

Ah, the dog days of summer.  Finding those video clips on Facebook just kills me.  You know, the clips of a guilty dog in trouble, being confronted.  It might be a stolen cookie on the table, a trash can raid or a pile of poop in the hallway, the look of guilt on the face says it all.  I can’t hardly catch my breath from the bursts of laughter.  Cuteness on wheels.

Shorty Confession

My Shorty is a well behaved, highly intelligent dog.  Many years ago, I adopted him from a rescue operation and so glad I did.  They found him caged in a kill shelter with just days to live.  Honestly, he is one of the most obedient dogs I’ve ever had.  BUT, when he needs to be confronted about a bad decision on his part, he might first give you a look that says, “What?  All things are as they should be.”  However, it only takes a frown from my mug, or a second vocal nudge like, “Shooortyyyyy?” (Inflection going up at the end.)  That’s all it takes.  Then he goes into a different mode altogether.  Sometimes, it’s a look of denial.  He will turn his head, shifting his chocolate brown peepers away from me as if to say, “Nothing to see here.”  Or, “If I don’t look at him, the issue will disappear.”  The eyes are indeed the window to the soul.

Shorty Couch Denial

He truly speaks with his face, especially when he doesn’t want to hear the words, “Shorty, I’ve got to go, but you have to stay.”

Shorty Guilty

Because we’re so close, like Velcro, just like the “Me And My Arrow” story about a boy and his dog, Shorty knows he can find comfort with me.  There are times he even snuggles his face in the crook of my arm, or the first half of his body behind my back.

Shorty Chair Hidding

At other times, after he shakes off the initial confrontation, he distracts himself with his toy box consisting of bones.  It’s his own collection.  He drags each one out, across the rug to an area in the living room floor.  I call it his boneyard.  (He thinks he is such a fierce creature.)

Shorty Boneyard

At other times he chooses to forego my welcoming arms in efforts to comfort himself.

Shorty Chair Comfort

Way too many times I find I am being trained by my dog.  Have you ever felt that way?  I can really learn about myself from watching Shorty’s behavior.

It’s funny what guilt can do, isn’t it?  Guilt can freeze you to the point of arrested development, even if you’re 75 years old.  Guilt can cause a multitude of reactionary behaviors.  Mostly it stems from a need to cover up the pit you find yourself in.  It’s very much like a device planted in you from birth, signaling a twinge deep inside the soul flagging a misfire, a misstep away from the correct path, the better path laid out for you.  It’s what law was designed to do, to educate the perfect target intended for a peace that is the opposite of imperfection.

Maybe for you the chosen tool is temporary comfort.  Often those tools can be detrimental to your overall health, soul, spirit and body.  Guilt can cause you to shutdown altogether.  For some, it’s sleeping for 12 hours for numbing sake.  For others it’s dragging something familiar from one’s personal treasure toy box, only to find it really is a boneyard when perspective comes.  Guilt often produces a big fat plate of denial.  Like Shorty, you might just look in another direction believing the distraction you focus on will be your way of escape.  Maybe it’s in an effort to say to the guilty self, “There’s nothing to see here.  Nothing is really wrong.”  We do like smokescreens and foggy tints of grey, don’t we?  Somehow it makes it much easier to digest falling short of what it is to be at peace.  Yet, when perspective comes tomorrow, the memory of wrongful acts hits again like a pie to the face.  The morning after syndrome is so common.  Unfortunately, the process begins again like a dog chasing his tail in a loop of behaviorism.  Am I right?  Yep, me too.  We all have that gene in our DNA.  Don’t try making an attempt to cut the gene out of your strand.  You can’t.

No matter how hard we try, guilt must be dealt with.  If not, you will continue to be chewed on like an old soup bone from a box.  Too many times you have noticed you can’t drink it away, eat it away, sex it away, nor work it away.  Driving to a scenic lookout point is nice, and for the moment may ease what drags behind you, but you still have to go back home again.  There are stains, inward tattoos, you just can’t remove on your own, no matter what chemical is your favorite.

We were created that way, you know.  It’s true.  Sure, our society, our misguided culture, has degraded to a level where we trust in relativism.  What’s wrong for me might be right for you, etc.  I get it.  Even ISIS believes they are doing righteous acts.  Yet, relativism will not defy gravity at the edge of the Grand Canyon.  Gravity is gravity because gravity is absolute truth.  The top half of Shorty’s ears flop forward, no matter how hard he might try to point them upward.  That basic doctrine of relativism is faulty at best.  Do not jump off the edge of the Grand Canyon.  It’s like a house built on wet cement.  Would you do that?  The Savior available to the world put it like this, “It’s like a house built on shifting sand.” (Jesus paraphrased from Matthew 7: 24-27)

We act-out in order to cover over where our, often unspoken, fault lies.  Read the story of Adam and Eve.  When they understood they had gone against a perfect rule set for them by God Himself, they did all they could to cover it over, to hide.  That’s what guilt does.  Times haven’t changed.  It’s very much like, “If I don’t look at him, the issue will disappear.”   None of us are innocent of the perfect standard.  Try it, just for one day.

Shorty is a dog, a sweet dog with a terrific disposition, but a dog just the same.  However, in watching his little life, and his acting out, I often see myself.  In fact, Shorty may have been placed with me to be a teaching tool.  My unearned grace and forgiveness toward my pal comes from my unconditional love for him.  Unknowingly, Shorty may be showing me how God views me as His child.  It’s great training from a dog.

Shorty has it right.  Being humble enough to examine the stain on the heart is the first step toward the act of giving up and praying to the original Stain Remover.

Shorty Prays

Understanding the authentic design of the spirit and soul will expose the truth of the need for the removal of sin.  It’s an expensive spiritual surgery.  You can’t perform this surgery on yourself.  The operation has been paid for by your appointed surgeon.  I find Jesus has multiple initials after His name and covered the expense way ahead of time. 

When revived, you not only will find you are an adopted son or daughter, being held tightly to his chest, but also the recovery will require a gift from Him which is fuel for the race.

“…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Jesus (Speaking about Himself.) – Matthew 20:28 (NIV)