Words That Stick

“…You might not see him in person,
But he’ll see you just the same.
Yeah, yeah,
You don’t have to worry ’cause takin’ care of business is his name.”
(1973) “Jesus Just Left Chicago” – Recorded By: ZZ Top Composers: Frank Beard, Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill

Oh, the irony of that last verse from ZZ Top.

So, who is God? Really? If He is to be found, then where is He?

Rarely do I write about an artist twice in a row, but this week turned out to be different.

If not familiar with ZZ Top, it’s not important to the thrust of this post. If you know ZZ Top, but you’re not into their style of music, again, keep reading.

ZZ Top has been together for more than 52 years. Around 1969, some Texas boys put together a three-piece band, which became a giant source of sound, with a southern rock twist. ZZ Top became one of the biggest selling names in the rock arena. If you hear them play, you might think you are hearing a five member band. Artistically, they are phenomenal. Billy, Dusty, and Frank created a powerhouse of music mixes which stamped their brand nicely all through the 1970’s and onward. Their concert tours continue even now.

Photo: Wikipedia – ZZ Top, Dusty Hill, Billy Gibbons, Frank Beard

This past week, Dusty Hill, the iconic bass player from ZZ Top, passed away while sleeping in his home in Houston. He was 72 years old.

Dusty was considered far and wide as being one of the greatest bass players ever to pluck the strings. He also held down the back-up vocals, keyboards (when needed), and the cello. In fact, he began playing the classical cello as a youngster. Seeing Dusty at a truck stop, in his cowboy hat, jeans, and boots, complete with his famous chest-length beard, you wouldn’t assume he was an accomplished tower of a musician, or that his net worth was just north of 60 million dollars. He was a master musician and stage performer.

Photo: Wikipedia – Dusty Hill

During my high school days in the 1970’s, I knew about 70% of their music by heart. My friend, and guitar player for my band, was great at picking ZZ Top songs on his guitar by ear. So, I was a bit heartbroken this week when the news came across that Dusty had quietly left us. Somehow, our rock heroes aren’t supposed to leave this life, or ever get old for that matter. At least that’s in the back of our minds.

Dusty had a few health issues he contended with over the years. He was not a stranger to injuries, most of which occurred while on the road with ZZ Top. After a fall, with a much needed hip replacement, Dusty was advised to sit on a stool during stage performances, but his pride wouldn’t allow it. A few years back Dusty’s trusted Derringer fell out of his boot, accidentally went off and left him with a bullet in the belly. He had the wherewithal at the time to drive himself to the hospital before he went into shock. It’s a good thing he did, too. He made a full recovery.

Sometimes words are spoken and forgotten. Often times, words can be iconic, sticking to the minds of the hearers, and label of the persona who delivered the words.

Once Dusty was asked about what he thought about God, being one of the composers of “Jesus Just Left Chicago”. His answer was stark, and maybe not unusual by today’s cultural standards.

“I believe in God. I just don’t know what, or who God actually is.” – Dusty Hill

Dusty’s answer seems to fit the mindset of many. When faced with the question, if someone laughs it off, then it usually means they fear the answer to the question. The nervous laughter is a self-protective distraction. After all, there is the theory that whatever you actually speak out-loud, you believe deep down. Dusty’s honest answer usually comes from someone who has considered the answer prior to being asked. In many cases, when those words are spoken, the person drowns the heart’s desire “to know” with the stuff of life. Some common tools would be, business, career, family time, substance abuse, talents, or entertainment. Others, may follow-up on their admitted loss “of knowing” the answer, and seriously seek God out. Jesus did say, “Knock and the door shall be opened to you.” -(Matthew 7:7).

Scripture is stuffed with passages speaking of this vital Q&A beyond the cosmos we are all faced with. From the beginning of biblical time, God Himself invites us to come and discover Him, to seek Him out while He may be found. One of my favorites is when God invites us to come to Him with, not just questions about Him, but actual debate, when He said in Isaiah 1:18…

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”

Contrary to some schools of thought, God seeks us out. In reality, we run from the subject matter. Why? Because it’s easier to simply believe we captain our own ships, ships that sail into the afterlife. In a sense, humans are control freaks. We want to be the ones who lay in a bed in our home and say to ourselves, “Well, my body is ebbing away, but my spirit is strong enough to take it from here.”

To this, I would ask, if you can’t control your own thought-life today, this hour, or this very moment, what makes you think you can project your own spirit/soul? Seriously, ask that of yourself. Consider, the afterlife, and what is prepared for you, doesn’t belong to you. You don’t own it, like one owns a car.

Photo by Mark Vegera on Pexels.com

The most prominent self-taught statement on a deathbed is: “Sure, I have sinned, but who doesn’t? I’m a pretty good guy/gal, for the most part. That should speak well of myself at Peter’s gate…if there is one.”

As for Dusty’s “who” and “what”, Jesus addressed this several times so there would be no misunderstandings.

“Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ Jesus says to him, ‘Am I with you so long a time, and you have not known Me, Philip? The one having seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own, but the Father, as He remains in Me, does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves.'” -John 14:10-11 (NAS)

For those who believe, these words of Jesus stick. As for Dusty’s words, he actually answered his own question in the last verse of his song from 1972.

Although you may think you are unknown to God, you’ll see anew in fuel for the race.

“And Jesus was silent. And the chief priest answering said to Him, ‘I adjure You, by the living God, that You may say to us if You are the Christ—the Son of God.’ Jesus says to him, ‘You have said; nevertheless I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of Heaven.’” – Matthew 26:63-64 (Literal Standard Version)

Why? Here’s Why…

Upon exiting the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was approached by a group of citizens asking what sort of government the delegates had created. His answer was: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

My precious niece, Rachael.

Rachael is a 7 year old doll of a little girl, who also happens to be my niece. We are the best of pals. She is always so kind, along with an all-round simple precious disposition. Her eyes have window dressing laced in wonderment. A few days ago, her parents came home from early voting in the small town in which they live in east Texas. When she asked where they had been, they briefly explained the voting process. Looking puzzled she told her parents she thought voting was where Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden stood at the front of a room while everybody got a good look at them. Then at some point the voter walks up to their chosen candidate, takes their hand and promptly takes him home with them. Oh, sweet Rachael, if it were just that easy.

For my friends outside the U.S.A., this is election week. The word “week” isn’t a mistake. Because millions have cast their votes via mail-in ballots, many votes will be counted as they arrive in the mail after Election day, November 3rd. The splashdown of the results will be drawn-out, and earth-shattering in many ways.

If you know me well, you must know I do not get into politics on this platform, and I won’t start now. However, many do ask why a person votes for he, or she. In this nation, many do not vote at all because they have the freedom to make that choice. It is sad, but true. This year, I find it serves to say just why I vote.

Let me first spew this out. Many false things, hateful things, have been flung on various candidates and the supporters of candidates. Many truths have come out about various candidates which have come into the light. An election year in the modern world obviously is not for the faint of heart. One such splatter comes in the title of “voter suppression” here and there. Does it exist? Sure, in rare cases, suppressing a voter’s right to vote happens, and has happened. Thank God it’s rare, and not widespread. There are terrific checks and balances by election officials to keep this fraud from American citizens. Yet, some make excuses to cause fear and panic. Recently I heard it said, of selective communities, where voter suppression was evident because of lengthy lines at the voting booths. That’s horse slobber! Most voting lines in hotly contested elections are lengthy. When you stand in line at the post office with a package to be mailed two weeks before Christmas, do you call that, “Christmas Suppression”? When you stand in line at Six Flags, or Disneyland for two hours to ride a two minute roller coaster, do you call it, “Rider Suppression”? When you stand in a lengthy line at the DMV or DPS, do you call it, “Driver’s Licences Suppression”? Better yet, While spending the night in a long line to purchase tickets to the next Rolling Stones concert, do you call that, “Stones Suppression”? Sometimes in a heated election year, the whiners squeal like toddlers after a pacifier. It appears there is a suppression of peace and emotional stability.

The fact remains, mail-in ballots, whether we prefer them or not, have forged a noticeable impact this year. Why? They say it’s the fear of COVID-19. Then, there were many days available for early voting at the physical polls. Most of us found an off-hour and day to stand in a shorter line, or sometimes, walk in and out over a 10-15 minute stay. In this country, voting has been made easier than ever before.

So why do I vote?

When I think back to the days, after the Desert Storm War, of the videos of Iraqis standing in huge lines at voting locations, after years of oppression in that country, over threat of suicide bombs, drive-by shooters, and mob violence, I find voting a privilege and sacred honor.

When I think of my granddad standing in a long line to enlist during WWII, leaving his three babies and wife to help to crush the threat against liberty, I find voting lines a welcome sight.

When I think of the oppressed pilgrims who risked their lives fleeing monarchs who made themselves the heads of the church, forcing worshipers to worship as dictated by a king or queen, I find the voting booth a blessed place.

When I think of our forefathers who toiled and fought, were severely injured and died in a war so that slavery might be banished from this nation, I want to run to get in a voting line.

When I think of the father of a friend of mine who fled the poverty and tyrannical oppression in Venezuela, I gladly put on my standing-in-line shoes.

When I think of some of the families of some of my closest friends who crossed the Atlantic due to ethnic cleansing of the Jewish community, I see the voting booth as a horn of an ancient alter, giving legal sanctuary.

When looking at the lootings, the rioters, the mob violence in our streets, where cops stand to shield innocent citizens, the voting booth looks like a place of peace and protection.

When I hear the shallowness of not voting for someone because they don’t like his walk, her make-up, his accent, her hair, without mentioning policies or service records which may, or may not change, or damage our lives, I see the voting lines worthwhile.

When I see flag-draped caskets of the long-forgotten remains of our MIA’s and POW’s from the 1950’s Korean War being unloaded on a tarmac, I know I can, and always will stand in any lengthy line to exercise my God-given right to vote. Those men, and other heroes like them, counted on it.

Photo by Sharefaith on Pexels.com

Yes, our sweet Rachael, you are pretty close to what voting is all about. We DO own our vote. We, in essence, take our candidate home with us in our hearts and prayers. And when events occur where good, or bad decisions are made in Washington, we can say, “I own that decision”.

But most of all, dear Rachael, I vote for your future. I vote for your blessing from God to have the liberty handed down to you, so that long after I am gone, you can vote freely for the next leader of your choice. Mr. Franklin was right. It takes effort, strain, and even pain to keep it.

Whether or not your candidate holds office in this election cycle, knowing how God Himself made a way for this unique gift to be placed in your lap, it is worth it all.

The question remains…”If you can keep it”. The answer is written well in fuel for the race.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” – 2 Corinthians 3:17

 

It’s Greek To Me

“In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade, and he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down, or cut him, ’till he cried out in his anger and his shame, ‘I am leaving, I am leaving, I am leaving’, but the fighter still remains.” (1969) “The Boxer” Recorded by: Simon & Garfunkel Composed by: Paul Simon

No worries if you are not a fan of the martial arts. This memory, I hold dear to my heart, is really not about the martial arts, per se, but rather about the essence of the spirit of an individual.

The cover photo above the title is a promotional shot of an old friend, Demetrius “Greek” Havanas. His friends simply called him, “Greek”. I believe I have written about him before a couple of years ago. Greek was a third degree black belt and kickboxer. He won 90 consecutive tournaments, and in 1971 he racked up 13 grand championships at the age of 21.

Greek at 21 in 1971.

He was ranked in the top ten of American Karate fighters between 1971-1975. He was Texas State Karate champ for 6 years straight, and Louisiana State Champ 4 years straight. In 1975, Greek went full blown full-contact fighting in 1975.

Greek in 1976/1977

He earned the PKA U.S. Welterweight Championship title. Turning his focus as a world contender in full-contact kickboxing. Greek amassed a record of 39 wins, 4 losses, with 24 wins as knockouts. The Star System ranked Greek #1 in the world in the welterweight division in 1980-1981. His garage was packed with trophies, wall-to-wall. In fact, he sold some to collectors when money ran short to pay for airfare when fighting in other countries.

Greek in 1975ish

Prior to moving to the Dallas, Texas area, I had spent three years in Sherman, Texas, about an hour north on Dallas. In those days, 7th grade was the first year of what they once called, Jr. High School. I entered Dillingham Jr. High School where they were still working out the issues of integration. Many African American kids and white kids mixed for the very first time, and it didn’t always go so well. This was 1972/1973, when race riots still popped up in the streets, gyms, and little league baseball fields. 7th grade was hard for me. I saw the ugly side of racial distrust and rage as civil rights issues were still fresh. There was gang warfare, mob brutality, and ambush violence in my school. I received the bitter end many times. There was so much a young guy shouldn’t have seen and heard.

During that same year, a church friend of mine taught me some basics in the art form of Japanese Aikido. Meanwhile, my army vet uncle, and former Golden Gloves boxer, did the same for me every so often. Before you could say jump, I became a fairly good street fighter at 12 years old…because I had to.

My single mom and I moved to the Dallas area the following summer (1973). Trust me, it was a much needed move. Although the north Dallas suburb we moved to was quiet and calm, with very little violence, I was not going to be surprised. I searched for a karate school, but found nothing in our new neighborhood. I talked my mom into letting me take the Korean form, Tae-Kwon-Do at a gym once a week at the campus where she worked, (Texas Instruments). It was free for employees and their families. Even though it was only once a week, I started and was hooked immediately!

Not long after, a top-notch Tae-Kwon-Do school opened up just five blocks from our apartment. BINGO! Great place. My instructor was once a Marine hand-to-hand combat instructor and a world karate champ from the early-mid 1960’s. Once again, I talked her into joining the school. About a year later, the school had to shut down. I was broken-hearted. I was alone with my instructor as he was packing up his belongings in the rented space. He told me of some karate champs he had trained and asked if I was sincere about continuing on with training. After he got my exuberant answer, he introduced me to this young, 5′-5″ stout sweaty guy in a shag haircut. It was Greek. He invited me to his small training center in the downtown Dallas area. Yes, I talked my mom into it. My karate buddy, Steve & I, caught a ride for workouts at Greek’s school. As soon as we walked in, we could see we were entering into the realm of some serious competitive fighters. We were sparing with national & world contenders. You might say we had landed in the cream of the crop in the karate/kickboxing world.

I took this shot of Steve and Greek in 1976.

Through most of my high school years, we ate, slept, and breathed Karate/kickboxing. Chuck Norris would come to visit from time to time as we trained, or fought in tournaments.

Greek and Chuck Norris 1979(?)

Greek was highly respected around the world, and we were grateful to be trained by the very best. I was even more grateful to hear his voice from my corner cheering me on, and giving vocal cues as I fought my opponents in the ring. Being trained by, and placed around talent like that, caused an attitude of never thinking about the possibility of losing bouts. And of course, it was good training for the stuff of life’s struggles.

One summer, when I was 14 or so, I got into a fight while away at summer camp. I lost that one. I was very ashamed. When I was brave enough to tell Greek about it, he said, “You didn’t tell him who trained you, I hope.” Although it was a tongue-in-cheek remark, it was a tad hurtful. But in his own way, he was teaching me something with those words. I had to remember who I was representing with my skills. Greek didn’t train losers. It was understood I was to be an ambassador, a representative of the House Of Greek wherever I went. It was birthed out of the idea of belonging, yet sharing the quality of Greek’s training with those around me who didn’t have a clue. It was a hard lesson. I never forgot it.

During my senior year, I began to be overwhelmed with the music and acting side of my life. For the first time I began to drift a bit from the regular routine of working out at Greek’s place. After graduation in May of 1978, I began to train with him again for about a year.

The only photo of us together. I believe this was in 1976/1977.

Through the years, he became more and more of a friend than a martial arts trainer.

Greek in a surprise shot in 1978.

A phenomenon became apparent as the years wore on. I started to notice how my peers almost mimicked Greek’s style while sparing, or fighting in the ring. When seeing video of some of my fights, I took notice of it about my own style. Noticeable to some, a certain way of blocking punches and kicks, arm positions, stances, weaving and bobbing, etc. I don’t think it was intentional. Greek always taught us to take what we learned and develop our own style. Even today, when I look at his bouts on YouTube, or any of my peer’s fights, I can see it. Following a master closely can do that.

Once again, I broke away from regular training in 1980 as singing, life, love, and thoughts of marriage began to take more of my time.

In late 1980, or early 1981, I was engaged. One night we were seated at one of our favorite eateries in the north Dallas area. Out of the blue, in walks Greek with a few friends. There he was, looking as he always did after a workout, sweaty cut-off t-shirt and Gi pants in much need of a washing. Our eyes connected, he came over to quickly say hello. I introduced him to my bride-to-be. He made a quick joke to her about questioning my gender. I laughed, he laughed, but she was appalled by the colorful language and topic. She wasn’t impressed. Yet, I knew him and his manners, or the lack thereof. He truly was being friendly in his own way. She was a bit of a stuff-shirt from the other side of the tracks from Greek and his crowd. It was awkward, but grateful it happened. God’s timing is always best.

A few months later, on July 23, 1981, Greek, and four friends, were flying in a single engine plane from Dallas to Atlantic City, New Jersey to work the corner of one of his students who was defending his world title. While over the hills of Tennessee, the plane flew into a horrific storm and broke apart in mid-air. There were no survivors. Just like that, Demetrius “Greek” Havanas was gone at 31 years of age. I wept for days, weeks, even years.

His funeral was packed with the highly notables in the world of the martial arts at the time. Chuck Norris was a pallbearer. With tears, I thanked him for making the trip. He didn’t hide the pain in his eyes. The chapel at the funeral home couldn’t hold the crowd, as many stood in the lobby and outside. A half brother of Greek’s, who was in the Eric Clapton band, sang Joe Cocker’s, “You Are So Beautiful”. There wasn’t a dry eye among us. A minister friend of mine, who was also in Karate, was chosen to officiate the service. In his sermon, he said something like this:

“If you had the misfortune not to have known Demetrius Havanas, just look around you. Look at all of his students, competitors, and close friends. There, you will find Greek.”

He was right. Following a master closely can do that.

Greek was inducted into the World Tae-Kwon-Do Hall of Fame, American Black Belt Hall of Fame, and the Texas Martial Arts Hall of Fame. All of the martial arts publications ran a tribute to Greek, as well as sports broadcasters of that day. And I still grieve.

I honestly don’t recall much of the sermon my old friend delivered, with that one exception. But I still carry a little bit of Greek with me every day. Most who know me wouldn’t know the difference as Greek meshed with me so long ago in so many ways.

Greek’s headstone. Also, the last picture I took of Greek as he sat on the edge of the ring with his trophy after winning a bout in 1980.

The same is true for a person of the Christian faith. If you are not of Jesus, you will not fully understand what I am about to say.

When the heart of Jesus enters, by Spirit, into the believer’s heart and spirit, a “Little Christ” begins to grow within that follower. In fact, that’s what the word, “Christian” means, “Little Christ”. Of course, sometimes the fleshly side of self doesn’t allow His Spirit to fully inject into the daily free-will of a follower. The result is the disciplines suffer. We are not robots, or programmed computers. Each believer must wear the helmet of salvation, the breastplate righteousness provides, and the spiritual cleats for traction up the steep climb of fault-hood. Each one must choose to suit-up each morning, just like the protective gear we wore in our sport.

A part of my grief remains entrenched in my lack of living-out my regenerated heart in those times. I doubt Greek ever knew I was a Christian in all the years he knew me. I was a young believer with only “lite bread” spiritual training.

I’m a big CS Lewis fan. In his book, “Mere Christianity”, he describes this process in a terrific way of imagery.

(Jesus would state:) “No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here, or a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.” – CS Lewis “Mere Christianity”

Following a master closely can do that. It will always breed fuel for the race.

Train Up

“There is no power on earth
like your fathers’ love
So big and so strong as your father’s love
A promise that’s sacred,
a promise from heaven above
No matter where you go…
always know You can depend on
your father’s love.”  (1998)  “Father’s Love”  Recorded by:  BOB CARLISLE   Composer’s: RANDY THOMAS, ROBERT MASON CARLISLE

I have a secret I want to reveal to you.  But first…

The cover photo above is our young Japanese Maple in our backyard.  One of the many talents packed inside my father-in-law was landscaping.  In his backyard, he raised a tree to grow sideways.  As you view it, the trunk comes off the ground vertically for a couple of feet, then with an extreme bend grew some five, or six feet horizontally to the ground.  As your eyes would follow the great trunk, you then would see an extreme bend to rise upward toward the sky once again.  The house was sold after he passed away a few years ago, so I do not have a photo of this large zig-zag tree trunk.  It is highly unusual, but stunning.  His daughter, my wife, has his genes coming out of her pores.  As you can see in the cover photo, she is training a young tree to do the same as the tree she grew up with.  If you can expand it, or zoom-in, you can see the stake in the ground, as well as a string pulling the lower trunk outward.  It’s all outer space to me.  She knows what she’s doing in this arena.  One thing I do know, training takes time.  Training takes endurance.  Training takes the touch of love.

I was raised by a single mom.  With the dynamics of my biological father, and a distant step-father who adopted me when I was six years old, I don’t have any good stories of great love from a father.  Even my adopted father ended in divorce only four years after the remarriage.  However, I can point to a plumb-line in my life who vowed earl-on to help raise me.  He was old enough to have been my dad.  He was only 42 when I came into the world.

Granddad at the grill. early 1980s. Photo:  My granddad, Martin Atherton  (1918-2008)

My mom’s dad was a giant of a man.  In stature he was only about 5′-9″ tall.  Yet, his deeds, his love, his ethics, his words were from a heart of gold which only could belong to a herculean man of 6′-9″.

Martin Atherton helped to shape my thinking, even though I never lived under his roof, with the exception of a few short months in my toddler days.  He was a blue-collar worker, master auto mechanic, who never wanted his kids to become a mechanic, as he thought the money wasn’t enough for the hard labor involved.  His hard work was displayed in his rough, strong hands.  Although soft spoken, he was a John Wayne type character.  He would’ve done well in the wild west times.  Oh, the novel I could write about this gent.

I will include the fact that he never once sat me down to lecture me on the Ten Commandments, the birds and the bees, or the “career talk”.  He trained me gently by the sheer act of witnessing his life.  He was a leader in his church, a respected man in his community, his workplace, and a man well-known for honesty, sealed with a handshake and a nod.  His word was his bond.

Most of all, he trained me by my willingness to listen to what others would testify about him.  Scores and scores of men and women spoke highly of him, as the countenance on their faces gleamed while the Martin Atherton soundtrack of the mind rolled out of their mouths.  He was someone God would write about.

He trained me by seeing how he loved my grandmother, and how she responded.

6 OMA MRA Bonnie&Clyde Photo:  Martin & Opal Atherton (1941ish)

He trained me by his love for America’s freedom, fighting in WWII while serving in the navy in the Philippines.  He had two young sons, both under five years old, and one on the way, when he could no longer keep himself tied to the title of “citizen” only.  He heard the urgent alarms of military service needed in the Pacific and answered the call at great risk.

He trained me to do all I could to respect and honor the president of the United States, even if policies and personalities were not personally agreeable.

He trained me to search to find the good in the individual, even if looking the other way at times seemed appropriate.

He trained me to love family, nucleus or extended family, even when greatly tempted to hate.

Example:  Back in the late 1940’s he had a brother-in-law, my Great-Uncle Buster, who was physically abusive to his wife, my Great-Aunt Pauline.  She once lost a baby when he punched her in the belly while pregnant with their first child.  She never could have children afterward.  This man was a severe hyper-alcoholic, to the point of drunken violent rages landing him in jail many times.  He often caused havoc in their small farming community.  At one family gathering in east Texas, this man showed up baked to the very bone with bottle in hand.  It’s unclear just how it started, but the man caused a violent, profane stir in front of the family, including the children attending.  As was the “bent” of my granddad, he tried to calm his brother-in-law down, but the sloshed man wouldn’t abide.  Being a WWII sailor, my granddad knew how this would go.  My granddad began to strongly encourage him to leave and sleep it off.  During the altercation, my Great-Uncle Buster pulled out a knife with one hand and broke off the top of his whiskey bottle with the other.  He charged at my granddad to stab and cut him open in front of the entire clan.  Thank God he disarmed him and knocked Buster cold.  He didn’t hold a grudge against his brother-in-law.  In fact, years later, he trusted Jesus as he put away the bottle, sobered up and lived a peaceful, calm life on his farm until the day he died.  In my growing up years, I never knew the “other” Uncle Buster, and I’m grateful.  Throughout, my granddad showed love and respect for him, even though many did not.

He trained me to valiantly defend the home, family, and loved ones.  It was his way to aid any and all, even if it meant personal loss.  He was always looking out for the needy underdog.

He trained me to think and act with an abundance of generosity and benevolence.

He trained me to troubleshoot difficult circumstances, even if it was a painful road.

He trained me to walk closest to the curb when walking with a lady on the sidewalk.

Many pages could be filled about my granddad.  Again, he was a soft spoken man with very little words, but with great deeds of a legacy to ponder.  Truly, a salt of the earth gentleman.

There is a passage that’s always caused me pause.  It comes from Solomon.

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6 (KJV)

There have been many a commentary on just how to interpret this scripture.  Some believe it simply means, instruct a child in the way he is bent while still pliable.  Some say it speaks of training the child in the tenor of his way.  A few will say this only applies to academia, in which Solomon was a champ.  Another will say, instruct a youth about his way(s), common or uncommon.  Some will say it’s concerning training in a specific trade inside a youthful life.  (You might be a piano player, yet the child shows gifting in construction.)  Some will teach it’s all about moral training from childhood.  Sermons are built on the idea this passage speaks of training in the things of God, and His Law.  While others will preach the meaning surrounds the training of the ways of the culture, the civility of the community one grows up in.

Personally, I think it’s possible all of the above options are accurate.  Whatever the subject matter, not one child will be schooled if there is a lack of an instructor.

At the same time, we all can attest to the well-known fact that all kids do NOT grow up clinging to what they have been taught.  Just ask most ministers with older kids.  How can one say a young rioter deems it righteous to loot and burn down a place of business, if he was trained to honor and respect his/her neighbor?  The other evidence can been found in generations of weeping parents.  It very well could be Solomon was not “promising” a life of roses for all who were trained to observe righteousness and love.  Much of Solomon’s own children were lawbreakers.  For me, I believe the scripture pertains to a generality of the averages.  Certainly the principle is there.  I know my daughters were trained up to observe righteousness, civility, and ways of career and education.  However, as adults, they don’t always abide by what I trained them to do.  Regardless, they have my love and respect even so.

Girls & Me-March 2015

Photo:  L-R:  Tabitha, Megan, me, D’Anna  (2015)

For me, the explosive word in Solomon’s text just might be…”Train UP…”  The idea is, onward and upward for a better future, not the opposite.  It’s always an advantage to have a grandson write about how great you are sixty years from now.  Wouldn’t that be commendable?

The Japanese Maple in our backyard is being trained up with a bend in its trunk.  Although we have plenty of winding, bends in our road of life, if trained well, we trend upward.  My hope is that it will survive gravity and the Texas weather in the years to come.  It takes a stick and a string for now.

Oh, yes.  I mentioned I would share a secret with you.  Here it is.  My secret is, I have failed way too many times to even measure closely to my early training.  When I get it right, I just consider it a special moment from above.

Training UP has a manual within the heart of fuel for the race.

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as reminders on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Teach them to your children, speaking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates,…”  – Deutoronmy 11:18-19  (Berean Study Bible)

 

The Lost Ones

Cover Photo:  “Saving Private Ryan” – Dreamworks/Paramount/Amblin/Mutual Pictures

“Sister Suzie, brother John
Martin Luther, Phil and Don
Brother Michael, auntie Gin.
Open the door and let ’em in…”  (1976)  “Let ‘Em In” – Recorded by: Wings.  Composer:  Paul McCartney

Only God knows what dangers they faced, or what turmoil and unbearable strife they endured.  Nonetheless, they made their mark.

Back in the 1970’s, on a lonely hill, on what we knew were the outskirts of our Dallas suburb, where there were still pastures in the area, was a new church building where I was active in my youth group as a teenager.  Just on the other side of the west-side driveway, which leads from the main road to the parking lot in the back of the building, was our makeshift baseball diamond.  I don’t even think we had a backstop fence behind home-plate.  It was more of a sandlot style field to play ball, and practice for the local softball church league.  We spent some hot summer days out there, as we wiped our sweaty faces with the leather of our baseball gloves.  Just west of home-plate, maybe twenty yards or so, was the edge of a wooded area.  Actually, it was more like a dark thicket, dense in brush, Mesquite trees, along with assorted older kinds of trees.  The unkempt tangled mass was so thick, nobody dared walk through it without a machete.  Therefore, none of us paid any attention to the small wooded clump of pastureland.  In fact, if an overthrown ball made it into the thicket, you couldn’t retrieve it without getting scratched by all the branches, briers, and twigs.  Little did we know at that time the historical significance submerged beneath.

However, communities grow, realtors have their blueprints for a bustling expanse of a commonwealth.  Planning and zoning took their grip as contractors began to clear pastureland for new streets, neighborhoods, and shopping centers.

And so it was, the northern sector of our suburb developed with NASCAR speed in the 1980’s.  I lived here during this wave of development and still held my mouth open in awe of all the changes.

One of those changes was my former church selling a sector of their land just west of the building, where our baseball diamond was.  It wasn’t long afterward, the bulldozers began to roll, making way for a new subdivision of upscale homes.  As they did, they proceeded to clear the wooded area next to our old sandlot.  All the machinery came to a halt when a foreman yelled out, “Hey, wait!  Hold up there!”  As it turned out, there in the midst of all the overgrown thicket, a small cemetery, long forgotten by generations past.

When first discovered, rumors flew around the community.  One such rumor was an old graveyard of black slaves with unmarked graves had been discovered.  My heart sank just thinking about it.  Although it turned out not to be the case, it was the only story I heard about the forgotten patch of a cemetery.  It’s what I handed down to my kids, as well.  Not once did I visit the place throughout the years.  Don’t ask me why.  If you did, I guess I would tell you it was because it’s not a very convenient spot to get to.  And that is still true today.  Nevertheless, I put an end to my procrastination a couple of weeks ago.  The historical cemetery sits less than a mile from my street.

It took several years, and some civic struggle, but after the research was done, and the zoning commission had their hearings concerning the old cemetery, it was agreed to preserve the plot.  So, in a way, they did just that.  They built the new neighborhood around it.  Literally, between two of the new homes built at the edge of the new subdivision.  There is a marker out by the curb of a very busy street.  However, if you blink, while doing 45 MPH, you would never know it’s there.  And yet, it is.  Nestled between a couple of fabulous homes, on a street of the same, lies a small patch of ground about the size of a small frame house, about the length and width of the average front yard of homes from the 1930’s-1940’s.  You might be able to park four or five large SUV’s on the strip of land.

Kennedy Sign

To sum it up, in 1858, a pioneer in a covered wagon, brought his wife and four children across the Midwest reaching the plains, from Illinois to the prairies north of Dallas, Texas.  His name was Snyder Kennedy.  He was one of the first founders of our town, close to, what was then called, the Elm Fork of the Trinity River, approximately three miles west of my house.  On this small spot of land, where his family cemetery is now preserved, over thirty people are possibly buried there, including several infants.  (I say, “possibly” because there are over thirty names listed, but it has been said, only twenty-three are confirmed in the plot.)  There are no longer any individual markers due to the work of vandals during the 1950’s.  There are no outlines designating grave plots, or any other markings highlighting where a final resting place can be located.  It left me in a saddened state.

Snyder Kennedy’s headstone was later moved to a local community cemetery a couple of miles away, but no graves were exhumed or transferred.  The first person buried there is his wife.  In 1859, she was laid to rest under an oak, only one year after they arrived to homestead.

A large stone marker chronicles at least thirty names, with birth/death years.  One of the family members who rests there is the grandson of a man who helped to finance a great deal of the United States Revolutionary War.  At the bottom of the list of family members spanning over five decades, a lone sentence reads, “And others only known to God.”

Kennedy Family Marker

There is so much story missing here.  I wish I knew more about this family, their lives, loves, and adventures.  I’m sure a novel could’ve been written of the life and times of these Texas pioneers.  But, isn’t this the nature of abandonment?

So, what’s my point?

It’s disturbing to me in knowing this hallowed ground was literally just a baseball’s toss away from me as a teenager, and I wasn’t aware.  Moreover, it’s disturbing to me how I drove by this place of honor a thousand times through the decades, never making the attempt to educate myself, and my three daughters, about this courageous Texas homesteading family.  Lost ones, forgotten by the community they helped to launch before the Civil War.

It’s disturbing to me knowing the simple truth that generations of my fellow citizens didn’t care enough to keep this ground of grief as a special historic place of honor.  For whatever reason, Carrollton’s apathy directed inaction which fertilized the thicket encasing these 30+ interned so long ago.

Likewise, It’s disturbing to me when it’s reported that refrigerated 18-wheelers sit outside many American hospitals storing COVID-19 victims in body bags.

It’s disturbing to me when I hear of our WWII vets falling to COVID-19 while in nursing homes, due to poor management, poor care, or simply unattended.  The gravity of the fact that many Coronavirus patients were sent to nursing home communities, infecting others who were sitting ducks, is a hefty weight to digest.

It’s disturbing to me when reports hit the news of funeral homes stacking the bodies of virus victims against storage room walls, due to poorly directed funeral companies.

This is not a political posting, railing against certain politicians, or public health admins, or even a particular nation.  I fear we daily count the departed, and toss them aside as a number for the tote board.  However, if a famous person falls prey to COVID-19, we acknowledge and mourn that person in every news outlet from here to there.  But what about the mom, the dad, those grandparents, that co-worker, and a few 98 year old war heroes?  They had sweet memories, loving families, hopes, and dreams.  NEVER should one of these be “stacked” on top of another in a body bag.

Unfortunately, I feel the overcooked politicization of COVID-19 has become the dark thicket overshadowing the lives cut short during this pandemic.  Beyond that, this Memorial Day in the United States will be less than what it should be due to the restrictions laying upon us.

Yes, it’s disturbing.  What may be even more disturbing, is none of this may be disturbing to many in our society.

God help us if memorializing the lost ones becomes blase while in the jaws of this crisis.  A memorial will be needed.  As on September 11th, names should be recited.  Never should it be said, “And others only known to God”.  We are created in His image.  Humanity deserves more than this.

Is it not true, looking for that silver lining sometimes takes a telescope?

Remembering our lost ones is a dignity taught in fuel for the race.

“Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’  When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to Him, ‘Lord, come and see.’  Jesus wept.  So the Jews were saying, ‘See how He loved him!’” – John 11:32-36  (NAS)

 

 

 

A Quiet Hero

Cover Photo:  findagrave.com

“…Well I thought about it, you know I’m not playing.  You better listen to me,
every word I’ve been saying.  Hot is cold, what’s cold is hot.  I’m a little mixed up, but I’ll give it everything I’ve got.  Don’t want your money, don’t need your car.  I’m doing all right, doing all right so far.  I’m givin’ it up for your love – everything.”  (1980) – “Givin’ It Up For Your Love” – Composer & Recorded:  Delbert McClinton

Merriam-Webster defines “Invest” with three different entries.  The third is this:  “To involve or engage especially emotionally.”

Most see it like this…

Coins

I was given a gift when I was about 10 years old.  It was a piggy bank, but not in the traditional.  It wasn’t in a “piggy” shape at all.  It was transparent glass cylinders melded side-by-side.  There were four of these cylinders, each just the size of each denomination of American coins.  Much like a rain measurement gauge, the cylinders were marked-off to indicate how much was accumulated, depending upon how high the stack of coins.  Unlike the old piggy bank, I could see and count how much my investments added up to based on my deposits.  What a great teaching tool for a little kid.  Within this profile of the man below, I will get back to the transparent bank of deposits.

Today, the north Dallas suburb where I live has a population of around 140, 000 citizens.  When my mom and I moved here in the summer of ’73, it was far smaller.  The suburb is clustered with other suburbs to the point of not knowing which one you are driving through if you are unaware of the borders.  It’s always been a busy place with lots to do for whatever interests you might have.

Perry Road was between our apartment complex at the time, and the school I went to.  It was explored the first week we arrived so we would know the route to my school.  I walked that road every day during my 8th grade school year.  Later, I would consider it my jogging street.

I often saw a little old African-American man walking down Perry next to the curb in a brisk gate.  At first I didn’t really pay much attention to the man as we drove by.  After seeing him a few more times, as the summer went on, I took a bit more notice of the old man.  Once I got a good look, he appeared to be a vagrant, a poor homeless man, with weathered skin like leather.  He looked to be in his 70’s.  The idea of “Mr. Bojangles” came to mind.  His thin faded shirt was oversized, ragged and dirty.  His pants were either old cotton khakis, or worn-out bluejeans, complete with holes in various spots.  There were times he was seen wearing a postal carrier’s uniform, but it was old and frayed.  I always wondered where he got it, as I knew he wasn’t working for the post office.  He always wore an old sweat-stained baseball cap.  After awhile, it was the norm to see him with a burlap bag, or an old army duffle bag, swung over his shoulder with a couple of baseball bats sticking out.  Being new in town, and knowing I would be walking to school, my mom was hoping we had moved to a neighborhood where transients wouldn’t be an issue.  Seeing this old man caused her pause.

After the school year started, from time to time I would see this old man at my school’s baseball diamond swinging bats, hitting old lopsided beat-up baseballs with the stitching unraveling.  There were always kids around him, from 6 year olds to teenagers.  One day, I watched him from behind the backstop knocking one ball after another to whatever part of the field he pointed to.

Jimmy Porter Baseball

I wasn’t into baseball, but this old man was surprisingly talented at the sport.  They say from time to time a kid would beg him to hit one over the fence.  A crooked grin would launch from his sweating weathered face, followed by a soft chuckle, then pick up a ball and at will, knock it over the fence.  Two things come to mind.  First, he did it with ease.  Secondly, he looked far too skinny and old to put one over the fence.  Like a finely tuned choir, the kids would say, “Wow!  Cool!  Far-out!”  I could’ve hung around longer but, there were other things to do, places to go, people to see.  Plus, baseball just wasn’t my sport.

Jimmy Porter - Newspaper - findagrave.com

Photo:  Findagrave.com

The kids in the community knew him simply as, Jimmy.  You could say he was like the Pied Piper, leading countless boys and girls to home plate and the pitcher’s mound.  He was well-known for walking to various elementary schools, as well as the Jr. High schools, and city parks to start pick-up games for whoever wanted to play.

Little did I know he had been doing this for the neighborhood kids since the 1960’s.  This mysterious old black man would come walking to these various baseball fields from seemingly out of nowhere.  Out of his old worn-out bag came a couple of old baseball bats which he held together with screws and nails after being split or cracked.  An armload of old baseballs, three or four ancient left-handed baseball gloves would fall out of the bag.  He coached.  He taught.  He umpired.  He pitched.  He chose players for the teams.  It didn’t matter to him if girls showed up.  Jimmy saw them as no different than the boys.  They all played their roles on the diamond, or outfield.  If there was a kid who struggled at the game, he spent more time with them for encouragement and personal growth.  Many an afternoon was spent teaching the art of baseball to the young community of our suburb.  He loved the kids.  They truly idolized the man.  Jimmy would stay until the very last child had to go home.  After waving the last player homeward, he would gather his baseball equipment in the bag and off down Perry Road he would go.

A few of my friends grew up being coached by Jimmy in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  It’s amazing to me that I never really learned about Jimmy until I became an adult.  Little did I know we had a baseball star in our midst.

Jimmy Porter was born September 2, 1900 somewhere in Tennessee.  For some unknown reason, Jimmy Porter came to Carrollton, Texas in the 1920’s.  Prior to his journey he had played for the old Negro Baseball League in St. Louis.  When he arrived in Carrollton, he was unemployed, uneducated, and didn’t have a dime to his name.  Considering the times, he was what they called a “hobo”, destined for a pauper’s life out on the streets.  On top of that, being a black man in the south, life was not promising in the 1920’s.  At the same time, he was rich in talent with a higher vision.

Shortly after he set foot in our community in the 1920’s, he formed a black semipro baseball team known as, The Carrollton Cats.  He played and coached The Cats for several years until they eventually disbanded.  Later, Jimmy convinced the leaders of the community to found a Carrollton Little League for the children.  As expected, Jimmy coached the league for many years.  Even after the Little League grew way beyond what it was in the beginning, after he no longer was the “official” coach, he continued to coach outside the league through pick-up games, not only in Carrollton, but also in the neighboring suburb, Farmers Branch, Texas.  The games were casual, friendly, and educational.  Jimmy was a small man, so he always made sure the smallest kids got to bat first.  Everyone was welcome to use his old baseball supplies.  Often at the end of the games, he hugged all the players with the warmth of approval.  They say he always left them with a wave and yelled out, “Everybody just love everybody”.  It’s ironic in that his motto described who he was.

Jimmy Porter - Glove Color - findagrave.com

Photo:  Findagrave.com

Jimmy’s coaching grew some fruit.  For many years, our high school’s baseball team was considered one of the best in all of Texas.  In the trophy-case on campus, you can check out the championship trophies racked-up through the years.  Some players went on to terrific college teams and minor league teams across the nation.

Although he was poor, he didn’t ask for money for any of his work with the kids.  He was never seen begging in the streets.  Jimmy did receive high praise from the community through the decades of his selfless work.  Many offered him jobs.  He was known for odd-jobs when he could get them.  He did yard work, janitorial jobs, and grunt-work nobody wanted.

Despite his state in life, there would be awards of honor given, parades where he would be featured, as well as, a front row seat just behind home plate at all Little League games where he would hoop & holler encouragement to the players.  In 1973 a city park, named in his honor with a beautiful baseball field, was built which included a Jimmy Porter monument.  Jimmy didn’t have a family, so in 1977, Jimmy was awarded a lifetime membership by the Texas PTA.  He was featured in several newspapers, local television, as well as, the NBC Today Show in 1982.  Each year there is a recipient who is elected to receive The Jimmy Porter Award for outstanding community service.  Today, some of Jimmy’s old baseballs, caps, bats, and gloves can be seen under glass at the Carrollton Historical Museum.

Little did I know at the time, Jimmy Porter lived in an abandoned railroad boxcar just off the depot about 3 miles from most of the ball-fields he visited.  Frankly, I don’t believe most of the town knew where he lived.  In the early 1980’s, Jimmy’s health began to decline.  A few civic leaders, who once were under Jimmy’s wing in the dugout, built him a small frame house.  It was way overdue.  This old, quite hero shed a tear or two as the keys to the humble house were given to him.

At this point, I must admit I have some lingering anger.  It spews from the fact that decades went by before this community offered Mr. Porter decent room and board.  Think of it.  In 1973, when he was 73 years old, they built a city park for the man and named it Jimmy Porter Park.  Afterward the ceremony, they watched him walk back to his boxcar.  I’ll leave the subject here.

Jimmy Porter - House - Findagrave.com

Photo:  Findagrave.com

Mr. Jimmy Porter softly left us December 11, 1984, just about a year after moving into his new home.  He was 84 years old.  The community purchased a modest plot in one of our cemeteries, on Perry Road, where he wore out his shoes walking to and fro the school’s ball-fields.  His humble headstone features two baseball bats crossed.

Mr. Porter had no idea how important he would be to Carrollton and Farmers Branch, Texas.  Sure, he was a pauper, an uneducated man, a man seen as a vagrant in the eyes of the misled and misdirected.  Yet, as poor as he was, he gave.  Much like the Apostle Paul in scripture, he was willing to be poured out for others, and the generations to come.  Jimmy Porter gave of his personal value, the God-given special wealth inside of him.  Like a transparent piggy bank, he lived long enough to see the dividends of a lifetime of deposits from his heart and talents.  Multitudes who are now between 40-70 years old, who were raised in my neck of the woods, were, and are, his treasures.  His investment was enormous.  I would say, not so poor.

Like any good teacher, Jimmy Porter left an indelible mark on young lives that can be seen to this day.

Often I drive down Perry Road for old-time sake.  It never fails, I admit to looking down the street for an old tattered black man with worn-out baseball bats slung over his shoulder.

Investing in the lives of others, without seeking anything in return, pours out in fuel for the race.

“Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days.’ – Ecclesiastes 11:1 – King Solomon  (New American Standard Bible)

A special thanks to Dave Henderson for some of Jimmy Porter’s memories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

If I were…

“She was just sixteen and all alone when I came to be.  So we grew up together…mama-child and me.  Now things were bad and she was scared, but whenever I would cry, she’d calm my fear and dry my tears with a rock and toll lullaby…” (1972) Rock And Roll Lullaby.  Recorded by:  B.J. Thomas.  Composers:  Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil.

With age, I have learned that…

If I were the teen who fought through a sexual assault, then carried an unwanted pregnancy, debating the heart’s choices, then allowing life to grow, I would be a spectacular teenager wise beyond my years.

If I were a parent who protected my newborn from assault and murder at the hands of the father, with a sacrificial unselfish front, I would be a medal of honor recipient.

If I were to end an abusive marriage, to defend and shield my innocent toddler, knowing there would be no child support, I would be a heroine authors would write about.

If I were a single parent constantly contending with the voices of psychological demons, chanting accusations of worthlessness, depreciation, and shame, all the while rising above it all to raise my child, I would be the dragon-slayer described in countless novels.

If I were to defeat my fear by moving into an uncharted world, away from family, to make a life for my young child, I would be a courageous warrior with monuments anointing the landscape.

If I were one who taught my toddler the true value of the gift of grandparents, I would be a brilliant educator with my name on the walls of universities.

If I were to faithfully read scripture to my young child each night, combined with the simplicity of personal prayer and church attendance, I would be a righteousness seeker with my statue erected by the world’s cathedrals.

If I were to seek out the finest pre-schools and kindergartens, in the attempt to assure my only child got a leg up, I would be a proactive parent to be noticed.

If I were to be rejected for loans and credit, due to being a single parent in the 1960’s, only to exercise faith while tackling a life of poverty with my head held high, I would be a fearless champion in my child’s eyes.

If I were to knock on every door to find a job waiting tables, or struggle with an overnight shift on an assembly line, I would be a humble workhorse of a provider for others to impersonate.

If I were to give away the opportunity to have a brilliant singing & recording career, just to be home with my child at the end of a hard night’s work, I would be self-sacrificing, worthy of a screenwriter’s time.

If I were to provide for my child after several lay-offs, by way of two or three jobs, I would be Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman combined, never being poor in spirit.

If I were to train my child well enough to leave him alone overnight, in order to work the graveyard shifts, I would be an example of a strong tower of faith.

If I were to work overtime to aid in the development of my elementary age child with raw musical abilities, by paying for piano, violin, guitar, and voice lessons, my portrait would hang in Carnegie Hall.

If I were to be a staunch, independent single parent, refusing financial aid from my parents, I would be wealthy of heart.

Mom & Me Granddad's Coin Box

From my granddad’s cedar coin box.  The two of us from 1969.

If I were to resist the temptation of suicide, while being beaten down by company lay-offs, Green Stamp submissions, and accepting government blocks of cheese, I would be a brave ferocious fighter for my child’s future.

If I were to support my teen’s sports and musical interests, which differ from mine, I would be a liberally devoted parent of love and understanding.

If I were to tirelessly stand up to my rebellious teenager, with the possibility of damaging our relationship, I would have attributes resembling the God of the Bible.

If I were to sit all alone in a church pew watching my child wed, I would have earned the vision of a soldier adorned in glistening armor after a long battle.

If I were to bless my grandchildren with my physical presence, my mind, as well as my heart, I would be worth my weight in gold.

Mom & Megan 1992ish

My mom with my middle daughter, Megan. (1992)

If I were to deny myself, for the betterment of my child, to the point of self-injury, while killing my own pursuits, and avoiding life’s trinkets that shine in the night, I would be Joan of Arc, Boudicca, Anne Sullivan, and Rosa Parks rolled into one.

If I were to be an example for my adult child, by being the caretaker of my aging parents, suffering from Alzheimer’s and Dementia, along with other elderly ones in my community, I would reflect what I have always been…a mountain of love, compassion, and selflessness.

If I were to describe a fictitious character from my own dreams, they could not come close to the one I have held in my heart for my entire life.

I don’t have to write the words “If I WERE…”  The reason being, I simply could never measure up.  The one described above is my mom, Carolyn Atherton-Brown.

Mom salon

I am her portrait.  I am her monument.  I am her novel.  I am her screenplay.  I am her statue.  I am her champion.  I am her armored soldier.  I am the medal of honor.

To be gracefully broken, brilliantly strengthened, and beautifully poised is to be one who drinks deeply from the well of fuel for the race.

“…As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord.  I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him.  So now I give him to the Lord.  For his whole life he will be given to the Lord…” – The words of Hannah –   I Samuel 1:26b-28a (NIV)

 

 

Knowing Where You’ve Been

“I guess happiness was Lubbock, Texas in my rearview mirror.  But now happiness was Lubock, Texas growing nearer and dearer…”   Texas In My Rearview Mirror, (1974).  Written and recorded by:  Mac Davis.

I left Texas once to chase a dream, building on my career.  It’s true what they say about never being able to go back home again.  I did come back.  However, my town, Dallas/Ft Worth area, had grown and changed.  Among the alterations, more glass, steel, and concrete.  Nevertheless, I was glad to be back.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, “A Family Affair”, I had the joy of spending lots of time with my three daughters.  It’s been a celebration of hearts as my middle daughter, Megan, was visiting from New York.  She brought her boyfriend with her this time.  He had never been to Texas and truly wanted to get a good taste of the culture.  That’s not always easy to show, as the Metroplex has grown into an international community.  In Dallas we tend to demolish the old and rebuild.  Feeling what he really wanted was to experience our historical side, we pulled out all the stops.  Of course, he wanted to visit the grassy knoll in downtown Dallas where JFK was assassinated.  For Texans, in general, it’s a tourist spot we are not proud of.

Besides treating him to Texas style Mexican food (Tex-Mex), along with some of the best Texas BBQ available, we drove him out west, so to speak.

Grandpa & Grandma Brooks

Photo:  My Grandpa and Grandma Brooks.

We visited Graham, Texas, a couple of hours west of the city, where cowboys and oil fields are the norm.  My dad’s family is there where we are part of the historical landscape.  My great-grandfather, Lewis Pinkney Brooks, helped to found that part of Texas.  In fact, he was the second sheriff of Young County, Texas.  He built a home there in the mid 1870’s where one of my cousins resides to this day.

Homestead in Graham

Photo;  Brooks Homestead

The homestead is registered in the Texas Historical Society.  He was a pioneer, decorated Confederate soldier, builder, and cattle drover.  Individuals like, Doc Holliday, Wild Bill Hickok, and Wyatt Earp were contemporaries.  After the Civil War, he left Georgia on a mule to settle in the Graham, Texas area where the Comanche and the Tonkawa native Americans ruled.  There are hair-raising stories concerning gunfights, grave robbers, horse-thieves, and indian wars.  The old homestead was also used as a stagecoach stop for weary travelers, as well as, frontier families in covered wagons heading west.  His wife was a bit of the community doctor and midwife.  She tended to many who needed physical and medical aid, no matter what race or skin color.  Yet, the land was wild, rough, and untamed.  The gun turrets he built in the attic walls helps to tell the tale.  It’s a rich history and heritage I hold dear to my heart.  It’s never a chore to drive out to spend time in the old homestead.  Frankly, it’s like a museum, with a great deal of love sown into its lintels.  We were honored to share it with our younger generation.

Homestead with Megan and Kevin March 2019

The following day, we drove our New York friend to the famous Ft Worth Stockyards before touring the red waters of the Brazos River, along with Ft. Belknap, just outside of Graham, Texas.

Ft Worth Stockyards At Night

Photo:  fortworthstockyards.org

A wealth of Texas history feeds this area of Ft Worth.  Just to the north of the modern downtown high-rises, the old west is almost unchanged.  Throngs of tourists flood the Stockyard District of the city each year.

Ft Worth Stockyard Cowboy

Photo:  Our friend took this shot from his cell phone.

As early as the late 1850’s, cattle drovers drove their cattle up from many areas including, southern Texas and Mexico, then down Exchange Street to the Ft Worth corrals and railroad.  There the herds were prepared for auctioning, or loading onto outbound cattle cars on trains headed north for places like, Kansas City, Chicago, and Denver.  The unique Texas Longhorn breed was, and is, a high commodity.  The top of their hips are almost six feet high.  There’s no other sound exactly like hooves pounding the antique bricked streets.

Ft Worth Stockyard Longhorns

Photo:  fortworthstockyards.org

Although the Stockyards are family friendly today, it wasn’t always that way.  Just like in the movies, saloons, whiskey bottles, and skimpy-clad women eager to take your money were the order of a cowboy’s day.  It was here where outlaws like, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Sam Bass, and the James brothers frequented the streets.  Also, Bonnie and Clyde found a temporary refuge in the Stockyard Hotel, now a luxury hotel displaying a Texas historical marker.  In fact, the infamous cowboy outlaw from Texas, John Wesley Hardin, didn’t do well in hotels in the late 1800’s.  He once shot a cowboy through the hotel room wall.  It seems the man was snoring too loudly.

Ft Worth Stockyard Hotel

Photo:  stockyardshotel.com

Twice a day, cowboys drive Longhorns across the tracks, down Exchange Street, while onlookers gather with cameras in hand.  It was a stampede of Texas history for our friend from New York.

Ft Worth Stockyards Tracks

Photo:  Sarah Hetrick

May I get real and ask you some hard questions which might offend you?  Either way, I’ll love you.  Okay, here goes.

In an age when a selective younger generation feels empowered by destroying statues representing our history, whether good or bad, I can’t help but feel a mistake is being made.  We saw ISIS doing the same thing to monuments, ancient ruins, and antiquities from the biblical days of Nineveh.  Hear me out before you judge me too harshly.

Sure, one can ask if all of Texas history is good.  Quickly I would be the first to answer in the negative.  On the other hand, I would point out the overwhelming majority of Texas history is positive and inspiring.  In order to appreciate where one lives, it should be understood where one comes from, warts and all.  It’s all about what makes us who we are, and where we are going.  After all, if we, as individuals, take it upon ourselves to burn all things we personally do not like, what does that make us?  What does it say about us?  In this scenario, I dare say, nothing would be left to remember, or observe.  If we succeed in the attempt to erase history, where does that take us?  How does that enrich us?  How do we educate ourselves, or avoid repeating mistakes from the past?  Better yet, how does that serve future generations?  Do we truly want museums to be eradicated, along with the Library of Congress, free speech, free press, etc.?  Something, somewhere will offend someone, somewhere.  Only cows belong in cattle train-cars.

Ancient Egypt declared all historical characters and events were not to be recorded, if they put Egypt’s kingdom in a bad light.  Even certain pharaohs, queens, and races of people were removed from their hieroglyphic records.  If not for archaeological efforts, as well as, other historical documents, we would be unaware of much of Egypt’s history.  It’s a shame.  Their future generations were stiff-armed to learn more of their own culture.   

One of the commands in the Bible, from Genesis and onward, is one simple word spoken by God.  Numerous sentences begin with the word, “Remember…”   The word erupts often in the scrolls, especially in the Torah.  It is filled with God urging Israel to “Remember”, or to “Recall” where they had been, what they had gone through, and Who brought them out of harm and slavery, etc.  He wanted them to remember not only the victories, but also the pain of racism, suffering, defeats, and famines.  There’s value in documenting the sourness of our times.  As we enter the Passover and Easter season, it’s a significant light bulb for us to recall how Jesus broke the bread, then poured the wine and said, (Paraphrased for modern emphasis) “Do this often to remember me and my sacrifice for you.”  Remembering is an important element in the growth, the thanksgiving, and the psychology of a society.

It’s no wonder why in Texas battles for independence it was shouted, “Remember the Alamo!”

Dismantling the rearview mirror isn’t a wise thing.  The road ahead is at stake.

Happy trails begins with fuel for the race.

“Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’…” Isaiah 46:9-10 (ESV)

 

 

Here’s To The Educators

Photo:  smilingcolors.com

“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man (humankind) a more clever devil.” – C.S. Lewis

Miss Cain’s first grade class was busy in a reading circle.  Each child in the circle was to have his/her turn at a word in a workbook, one after the other.  The teacher herself, in her green Celtic plaid dress, was sitting in a chair inside the ring of readers, listening carefully to each delivery.  A girl in class had just finished her reading only to be followed by silence.  Miss Cain had seen this before, too many times apparently.  It was him again.  There he was, staring out at the meadow he loved playing in just outside the classroom window.  Before he realized it was his turn to read, BOOM!  He suddenly felt a solid bump on his right knee from the edge of Miss Cain’s fist.  “Alan, you’re daydreaming again!  Pay attention!”  It was her first year to teach.  Probably all of 22 years old.  I had a huge crush on her.  After all, her short blonde silky, soft curled hair was cut in a chic fashion (It was 1966.) which bounced up and down like a slinky when she walked.  My mom said Miss Cain had two wardrobes, one for the conservative school-look and one for her other life.  She had steel blue eyes which matched her terrific smile.  She reminded me a bit of a mix of Goldie Hawn and Kim Novak.  Above all, she drove a fire-engine red, MG Midget Roadster convertible.   What little guy wouldn’t be impressed?  (I lived across the street, so she never offered me a lift home.)

MG Migit 1965

I thought she was the cat’s meow.  So, as you can imagine, it broke my heart when she called me out with a firm bop on my knee.  Several times that year she and my mom had meetings about my daydreaming.  It was a sign of things to come.  They didn’t speak much of right-brained, artsy kids in the days of yore.  She probably retired early because of me.

In most districts around here, the new school year is just kicking off.  Skylar, my 2nd grade granddaughter, started school this past Wednesday.  The kids are hopefully prepped and ready to tackle another year in the classroom.  However, the educators have been prepping for awhile.  There’s so much work done behind the scenes that nobody thinks about.  An educator’s work is never done.  I know all too well.  My wife is a tutorial teacher.  My oldest daughter is a teacher.  My middle daughter has been a teacher.  I have a slew of family on both sides who are teachers or school administrators, active and retired.  Many, many of my friends are educators.  And, do they have stories to tell!

Meet my salty, Aunt Grace Atherton.

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She taught school for decades.  She married my great-uncle Robert Atherton who was also a teacher.  The two of them went on to be well-known school district administrators in east Texas, and the Dallas-Ft Worth area, back in the day.  The two of them raised educators, spawning a second generation of teachers and administrators who made a difference.  In fact, in Arlington, Texas, between Dallas and Ft Worth, there is an Atherton Elementary in honor of the couple.  They were salt-of-the-earth types.  He passed away in 1977.  As for her, she always reminded me of our own personal Bette Davis with an unmatched persona.  At 99 years old, she walked faster than I did.  She was a firecracker, a get-it-done lady.  I remember her email address was “grace-a-doer”.  She passed away at the young age of 103.  Sharp as a tack until the very end.  They LOVED teaching.  Moreover, they LOVED the kids under them.  Love matters!

It may be in the genes.  I, too, was a teacher for a broadcasting school in the mid 80’s, then trained many in voice-work, music vocalization and mentored air-staff during my radio years.  Loved every minute of it.

Please, allow me a moment here.  Stay with me on this and see if you recognize someone in your life.

Meet the Irish Rose, Peggy O’Neill.  Choral director, music theory, piano and guitar teacher.

Peggy O'Neill

She looks so calm in this old photo.  To this day, she will tell you, when I walked into her choir room, with a chip on my shoulder in 8th grade, she knew I was trouble from the start.  It was my first year in the area. I had come from a tough Jr. High school where it was the norm for race riots to breed gang warfare.  I think she saw me as a special challenge.  No doubt, she was on target.  Affectionately known as P.O., she did challenge me in a myriad of ways.  Later that year, she had me doing solo work, MC work, stand-up comedy, as well as guitar lessons.  She knew exactly how to keep me perking.  It wasn’t long when I wanted to excel just to make her proud…or because of the sheer fear of her Irish-red-faced wrath.  Unexpectedly, I became her #1 tenor in choir.  She must’ve loved me because she followed me to high school, the following year, where she became part of the choral directorial staff.  We still laugh about that.  She and I remain friends to this day.

Meet Ted Polk, the man, the maestro, the legend.

Ted Polk

T.P. is how we lovingly refer to him.  He was so many things to me during my high school years, but officially he was the top choral director and chief of the choral department.  There were five choirs total in the school of 3,500 kids.  He had a tender way of leading.  He taught music, but more than that, he instructed us in life.  Through my four years with him, I believe he gave some commentary on the lyric of every piece performed.  Rightly so, he made sure us music lovers didn’t just jam to the compositions, but rather knew the meaning of the lyrics and the composer from which they came.  He ushered us into giving each lyric value, not in just musical mathematical mechanics, but also the soul of the phrase.  Under him, I learned how to be more than just a singer and sight-reader, but an artist.  Craftily, he used his faith and philosophy as he directed rehearsals.  He lived what he believed and shared it openly.

I recall a couple of times how T. P. warned us not to get so absorbed in the workforce after school hours.  Gently, his message was how work will always consume your adult life, so free-up those precious days of youth before they fade into history.  The care and the encouragement for each of us was so apparent, available and tangible.  His door was always open and I took advantage of it many times, even after graduation.  He recognized talent and knew how to grow it, mold it and give it wings.  That’s what he did for me.  I could write a novel about this man.  He later would become the district’s Fine Arts Director over all the schools in our Dallas suburb.  Even today there is a middle school which bears his name.  When he died suddenly, a few years later, thousands of us mourned and still do.  You will never find me ashamed to say: I am the man I am today because our paths intersected in my early teen years.  Thank God!

Meet the lovely Anel Ryan.

Anel Ryan

Anel, among other things, was a theater teacher.  It was her first full year to teach when I was a senior in high school.  I was a singer, not an actor…or so I thought.  My choice was not to take theater.  All my electives that year had to do with music and voice.  When I won the male leading role in the musical production that year, Anel took me under her wing.  She was/is a super talented actress and director.  Somehow she saw some seed in me beyond singing and stage presence.  She basically tutored me in and outside school hours with a catch-up acting course, complete with character retention exercises, as well as proper blocking and stage etiquette and disciplines.  It was all so foreign to me, but she pulled out the results she was looking for.  If not for her direction, her challenging this boy and her Job-like patience, I know my performance would have been lacking.  That May, Anel wrote the following in my yearbook, “I’ll be watching your life.”  Oh, my!  I can’t tell you how that small sentence turned my core several times during the days of adulthood.  Afterwards the acting bug stuck!

The following decades were filled with lots of stage and video characters taken, plays written and a couple of thousand pages of script as a voice actor.  There were times she agreed to critique me privately for role development after high school, as well.  Years later, the tables were turned.  One year, while casting my next radio theater project, I asked Anel if she would tackle a tough role for me.  Even though she was living over 160 miles away, she was happy to do it.  She’s one of my heroes in this life.  I love her dearly.

Stay with me.  There’s a method to my madness.

Meet the engaging Eric Bowman.

Eric Bowman

This comes from a humorous newspaper photo as he was pretending to be a student.  Like Anel, Eric was an alumni of our high school.  We used to poke at him while we sang
the “Welcome Back, Kotter” theme song when he walked into the classroom.  Do you remember it?  Are you singing the first line?  Me too.  He taught Government and Civics.  His talented style drew the students in with analogies along with side stories of humor.  I dreaded the class until I discovered his brand of teaching.  He got on our street level to help us understand and respect the due process of law, voting and the systems of civic, state and federal government.  I loved his class, as most did.  When I was chosen to be on a jury for an armed robbery, right after the year I graduated, I couldn’t wait to go back to tell him of my experience.  He soaked in all of my verbal waterfall describing my jury duty, including my youthful, wide-eyed exuberance.  He grinned from ear to ear listening intently.  He was excited to see my excitement.  He followed it up by asking what I learned from it.  He was always finding ways to stretch our minds.  I am so glad I visited that day.  He died in a car crash about a year later.

And then there’s an education of another kind.  Often it can be just as relevant as math or science.

Meet the champ!  Demetrius “The Greek” Havanas.

Demetrius Greek HavanasHe was simply known to his students and friends as “Greek”.  Greek was my Kickboxing and Tae-Kwon-Do trainer.  He was a world renown, blue-collar martial arts instructor and world contender in both standard tournaments as well as full-contact bouts.  It would take about four pages to list all of his titles and accomplishments.  (I suggest a Google tap and/or a YouTube viewing.)  With his professional teaching techniques, he created national and international champions.  This was my life outside of school and church.  While being trained by Greek, he kept me and three or four of my high school mates off the streets and among quality….well, okay, semi-quality competitors.

Channeling certain energies of youth can be a very good thing for the community at large.  He knew the ends and outs of protecting yourself in street fights, or in the ring.  He taught us endurance,physically and emotionally.  He taught us how to respect other athletes studying other styles that were different from our circles.  By just hanging around him we learned much about respecting other races, creeds and cultures.  This boy really needed it at the time.  He taught cool-headed, rewarding confidence which gang members often avoid.  To this very day, 40+ years later, I deal with pain like a fighter in a competitor’s bout.  His training opened our eyes to endure.  He instructed in the knowledge of absorbing pain, struggle and fatigue while never giving up.  Under his training you either were toughened to the hilt, or you dropped out to join a chess club.  Case in point:  Last December, when they opened me up for a quadruple bypass, the cardiac surgeon told me I had old bruising on my chest plate, like a tattoo.  I smiled, knowing whose footprint branded its mark there.  He lost his life in a plane crash in July of 1981.  The who’s-who of the martial arts world came to his memorial service, including Chuck Norris, who couldn’t even get in the building due to overflow, standing outside on the steps for the duration.  Through my tears I thanked him for coming.

People building people.  Constructionists building society.  C.S. Lewis was right.  Education alone will not bring inner peace or enlightenment.  It’s such a misconception not often determined through the lens of study.  The turnip will not be squeezed.  Virtues and attributes like ethics, faith and love will not drip out of degrees and diplomas.  Stellar core values often are discovered in individuals who never finished school, or cracked open curriculum from higher learning institutions.  Educators worth their salt know this, accept it and adhere to it.

Great educators produce great educators.  The evidence is all around us.  Common denominators seem to include:  passion stirred with compassion, intuitiveness and love.  It matters!

The debates rage concerning unions and non-unions, private or public schools, home schooling or the little rural frame building out in the woods with an old school bell.  The rub will most likely continue.  However, if you’re an educator of the heart, you’re enriched already through a higher calling.

May this new school year grant you wisdom beyond your degree, beyond your training, beyond your studies.  May your goals be worthy and focused.  May the care for the kids be authentic, full of grace and discernment.  May you and your classroom be well protected from evil.  May it be a sacred, honored and loving place.  May you be comforted when you burn the midnight oil only to rise up early the following morning.  May you discover new loves this year that will ink themselves on your heart during your coming days of rest.  Most of all, know that your very fingerprints will remain on their hearts and minds for decades to come.

Miss Cain, wherever you are…here’s to ya!

Remind yourself each day that many may write about you long after you are gone, maybe some 40-50 years from today.  When wrapped in the thought, you might just find more fuel for the race.

“My friends, we should not all try to become teachers.  In fact, teachers will be judged more strictly than others.” – James 3:1 (Contemporary English Version)

 

 

Haven’t We Been Here Before?

July 1987 (Photo credit Express News.)

“Rescue me.  Take me in your arms.  Rescue me.  I want your tender charm…I need you, and your love too.  Come on and rescue me.” -Recorded by:  Fontella Bass (1965)    Composers:  Carl Smith and Raynard Miner.

Wow!  It’s my first anniversary as a blogger!  Shocking really.  The year has flown by us.  Having lots to say, lots to type, my fingers are sore.  I find it therapeutic.  Allow me to show my gratitude for the new friends I’ve made through the lines posted.  If you are one of those, thank you, dear friend.  My life is sweetened because we share our words.

My first posting, from one year ago, was concerning something horrific I lived through while on the job behind the mic at KOJO-94FM in Dallas/Ft Worth.  (See the cover picture above.)  The surviving stranded teens, coming home from summer camp that July morning of 1987, will never forget the scene.  Neither will I.  Certainly, you are invited to my archives to July 19, 2017 and read the story, “Lost In Comfort”.  To say that today’s article is ironic would be an understatement.  It seems we’ve been here before.

Earlier this month the world was held tightly in an unexpected anticipation as we hoped and prayed for a young boy’s soccer team in Thailand.

Cave Boys Happy AFP Getty Images

Photo:  AFP/Getty Images

The “Wild Boars” soccer team, ages 11-16, along with their 25 year old coach, often went out for a bite to eat followed by some off-the-field-activity after practice on Saturdays.  One Saturday in June, they had lunch and elected to explore the well-known Tham Luang Cave.  During their impromptu excursion deep inside the sprawling cavern, the monsoon rains began to pound the area.  You know the story.  The waters began to rise trapping the team of 12 lads, and their coach, inside the far belly of the cavern.  For much of the 18 day ordeal, they had no food, only the water dripping from the stalactites from the ceiling of the section in which they were confined.  The boys did all they could to try to dig their way out in efforts to seek another exit, but there were none to be had.  Hopelessness and helplessness began to sweep over the group while at the same time trying to inspire one another.

Over 2,000 people from many nations were involved in the search and rescue attempts.  From local citizens to Navy SEALs, construction workers and engineers, they all came together for one goal.  At some point, great minds had to defeat the cloud of despair around them to focus more on a plan of action only supreme bravery could tackle.

As the flood waters continued to rise, as well as global prayers, a brilliant thought-out proposal was hatched. Part of the blueprint had to do with reaching the captured team, teaching them how to use oxygen tanks and swimming under cold water for at least half of a mile, often in tight bottleneck areas.  Everyone knew it was an operation of high risk.  One courageous soul volunteered to dive down to place oxygen tanks strategically along the lengthy swimming route for the rescue divers and the boys inside.  He was 38 year old former Taiwanese Navy SEAL, Petty Officer Samarn Kunan.  Diving into the frigid subterranean rising waters, Officer Kunan carefully deposited several air tanks along the cave route so others could sustain life during the rescue.  He never swam back out.  Later a rescuer found Officer Kunan floating in the flooded tunnel beneath.  He was unconscious from lack of oxygen, the very same element he was placing for others coming behind him.

The project worked.  The boys were freed one by one without serious injuries.  After some time in the hospital for observation and needed attention, the team gave a news conference.  They were all so grateful and praised the passion, compassion and life-giving efforts of their fallen hero, Samarn Kunan.  Some gave a heartbreaking thought that they felt it was their fault he lost his life.  The medical attention also included much needed counselling.

Cave Boys Reuters

Photo: Reuters

When asked what they had learned from this harrowing experience, the answers came loud and clear.  One mentioned, always tell your parents what your plans are before you go anywhere.  (As a dad, I concur.)  Many others expressed how they felt a strange urge to live life more carefully.  Others humbly stated that Samarn Kunan’s gift of bringing them hope and life gives more meaning to life from now on.  One can only hope so.

Valeepoan Kunan, the widow of Samarn Kunan, sent out photos of the “life-sustainer” hero from their personal family moments.  In her grief, she said something I actually felt inside my own heart.  She said of, and to, him, “You are my very heart.”

Cave Boys Navy SEAL

Photo: CBC.Ca

It all reminded me of the WWII movie, “Saving Private Ryan.”  There’s something of inexplainable valor concerning the act of giving one’s life away so that others might live.  Tom Hanks’ character did just that in a final battle while saving Private Ryan’s life in order for the young soldier to leave the front lines and see home again.  His character had been given dangerous orders to take a team deep into enemy territory to extract the young soldier and bring him back to the states.  (SPOILER ALERT)  At one point, toward the end of the movie, Hanks’ character is gravely wounded while shielding the life of Private Ryan during a fierce firefight just as they reach a bridge of freedom and safety.  As his body is propped up in a sitting position, he continues to fire his weapon toward the Nazi advancement, he challenges Ryan in his final breaths.  He charges Ryan to boldly go home and make his life count.  The scene fades, seguing into modern times where the now elderly Private Ryan is kneeling and sobbing at the cross headstone of Hanks’ character in the military cemetery in Normandy, France.  At an extremely touching moment, with his children and grandchildren surrounding him, Mr. Ryan rises to his feet, turns to his wife standing there and makes an astonishing, heart-wrenching request.  Needing confirmation if his life has mattered from the woman who knew him best, he said, “Tell me I have led a good life.  Tell me I am a good man.”  It was as if to say, “Has my life been worthy of this man’s sacrifice?”

Saving Private Ryan

“Saving Private Ryan” – Amblin Entertainment, Mutual Film Company, DreamWorks Pictures, Paramount Pictures

Hear me out on this.  Flat out, let me just say, even in a far greater way, Jesus Christ did this for me.  His purpose, His mission was clear, stating it several times.  He came to rescue lives, our lives that live on after physical death.

We, all of us, are law-breakers in various forms.  Who hasn’t lied, cheated, lusted, coveted, ran from God’s heart, etc?  Some worse than others, but we can’t measure up.  We all are unable to truthfully say we have kept God’s design, His commandments for us.  From the Torah onward, law-breaking has its consequences.  Blood was shed to cover over the sins of the average Joe to the Charlie Mansons of mankind.  It was a price-tag God placed in the beginning to keep righteous wrath in its scabbard.  This is why historically, and even some today in multiple cultures, practiced the sacrificing of animals for spiritual appeasement.  It’s truly no longer needed.  Jesus, the sacrificial lamb from God, was sent to be that atoning sacrifice for the fallen souls of humanity, across cultures, nations and schools of thought.  Love made the difference.  Like Samarn Kunan’s story, He literally took our place when He took the cross upon Himself.  A monumental price was paid for wrong-doing.  Just like the soccer team digging for escape only to find it impossible to rescue themselves.  So too, we are unable to dig-out of our dark spiritual cavern.  I know, it’s our self-programming to attempt to do it ourselves, or call on a crystal for relief, but at the end of the day, we hit the sack still in sin-sickness in our DNA.  This is why Jesus said, and unpopular then, so it is today, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 paraphrased.)  Even our very best behaviors are void.  Taking it — His sacrifice for us that we can live beyond this life — to heart is not only a covering for law-breaking, but also an ongoing renewal cleansing in a deeply spiritual process only the Life-Giver can bring.  Think of it as a life-sustaining oxygen tank you did not own, you did not bring or create.

Jesus' Invitation (pinterest)

Photo:  Pinterest

After a year of insights, there’s even more room in the tank for fuel for the race.

“This is my blood, and with it God makes his agreement with you.  It will be poured out, so that many people will have their sins forgiven.” – Jesus – Matthew 26:28  (Contemporary English Version)