Lessons From Damar Hamlin

“There’s a love that’s divine,
And it’s yours and it’s mine,
Like the sun.
And at the end of the day,
We should give thanks and pray,
To the One, to the One.”
(1989) “Have I Told You Lately” Recorded and Written By: Van Morrison

On Monday night, January 2nd, several million eyes were on the screen watching Monday Night Football. It was the Buffalo Bills visiting the Cincinnati Bengals for a tough bout. Not far into the game, the Bill’s safety, 24 year old Damar Hamiln, wearing #3, made a picture perfect, clean tackle, stopping a Bengals advance for yardage. After the play, Damar stood to his feet, took a step back and collapsed. At first, most thought he just had the wind knocked out of him. As the medical team tended to him, it became apparent he no long was breathing. His heart had stopped. For nine minutes CPR was performed. As they feverishly worked his lifeless body, they were able to jump start his heart. He was taken to the hospital where he went into cardiac arrest once again. His mom was in the attendance and went with him to the hospital.

Photo by Jean-Daniel Francoeur on Pexels.com

Thousands in the stands were in shock. You could hear a pin drop as the fans were waiting and watching what was being played out before them. As the cameras panned over the crowd, many were in prayer for the young player. On the field, players and coaches knelt and prayed together. Some players humbly got on all fours with their faces to the turf as they cried out to God for their NFL brother. Many held hands, embraced one another, and on both teams many tears were openly shed. Across the nation, as the broadcast continued, prayers began to go up from living rooms, sports bars, and at places of employment. Later, it was reported that globally people stopped to pray during the tragedy over the airwaves.

It was decided, and rightly so, that the game was to be cancelled. Slowly the stands were emptied in a very eerie silence as the fans poured out into the parking lots. Some in shock, some emotionally distraught, some in silent prayer.

As Damar Hamlin was in a coma, while the medical staff urgently fought for his life in the hospital, the NFL, the coaches, along with the Bills and Bengals, urged the public to continue to pray as his life hung in the balance. Indeed, the prayers continued on through the week, even on the fields across the country the following NFL weekend forged by various team members openly praying together for healing for #3, Damar Hamlin. Prayer requests came from players and coaches combined in the press conferences.

As the days rolled forward, so did the prayers across the nation. On the third day, Hamlin opened his eyes. Each day, the doctors gave encouraging news about his recovery. He is expected to make a full recovery…from DEATH! As I write this, on January 10th, Damar has done so well that he was released from the Cincinnati hospital and flown to Buffalo General Hospital in Buffalo, NY for ongoing treatment. He is overwhelmed by the love and support he has received from all over the world. He is especially grateful for the outpouring of prayer, as he shared how he is a person of faith. He honored his mom for raising him to believe in God, and His ways.

Photo by Ric Rodrigues on Pexels.com

So what have we learned from Damar Hamlin in the aftermath of such a wonderous event in his life, one which was played out before the world?

The lesson didn’t really come from Damar himself. After all, the healthy 24 year old man literally died on the field of play before a global audience. Under the circumstances, he not only shouldn’t be alive today, but he seemingly has not suffered brain damage, significant heart damage, nerve damage, etc. According to the medical professionals tending to him, he is projected to someday soon, run out of the hospital doors. It leaves the thinking person to ask a simple question, which many will ignore.

Millions and millions should be asking, “What just happened here?”

It’s not the first time something miraculous happened. I can think of one very sick man who also had loving friends who cared for him. They cared so much that they tore open a hole in the roof of a house and lowered him down on a stretcher because the house was so full of people. Why go to such trouble? Because the Master of The Universe was just beneath that roof. Jesus had been healing the sick, raising the dead, giving sight to the blind right and left. The ill man’s friends had faith in the One under the roof. So, they went into action out of love for their friend, KNOWING Jesus had the power to heal his infirmities. In scripture it states that not only did Jesus remove the illness, but told him to take up his bed and walk away. In full strength, he did just that.

An executive, a vice president, of the NFL, remarked at the week of prayer for Hamlin in an interview, affirming that there is “power in prayer.” In tears he acknowledged that there is a God who hears our pleas, our cries, our hearts.

There is power in prayer, but moreover, there is power in the One receiving the petitions. If we had prayed to the Buffalo Bill’s medical doctor, he would have lacked the power beyond his medical training. If we had prayed to the sun, the wind, the referees, there would have been a funeral for the Hamlin family. If we had prayed to Hamlin himself, stretched out on the turf without life, the petitions would have bounced off his helmet. Prayer, sincere prayer, is an act of faith toward the One prayed to, the One Who has the power.

Photo by Paulo Mu00e1rcio Dos Santos on Pexels.com

In the earliest manuscripts of scripture, from Genesis onward, God commands us to pray. He even goes so far as to promise He not only will hear faith-filled prayer, but that he also will respond to the prayers offered in humility. Sure, some responses to prayer is the word, “No”. Some responses to prayer comes as, “I will. In My timing.” Sometimes, answers in the affirmative have happened before the prayer is finished. I can testify to that in my own life.

In the scope of God’s purposes, we need to look deeper at what just happened. Ask why this event was so public. Ask why this episode was broadcast around the earth on that designated Monday night. Ask why Hamlin’s miraculous progress has been front page news almost every day since it occurred. Yes, there is a deeper purpose here. I am not one to say what that purpose is, but I do know God promised He would make Himself known throughout the world in the ending of days.

Look around. The mouth of the naysayer was shut. No one is suing the television network, or the NFL, or the Bengals or Bills because prayer was so abundant and public, on a very visual broadcast. The very same people who have sued coaches and school districts over public prayer at sports events were nowhere to be found. I find that very odd.

Another lesson learned over Damar Hamlin’s death-to-life story is the love shown. The general public displayed its humanity. His charity, for impoverished children in his hometown, had only raised $2500.00 at the time of Hamlin’s health event. The last time I checked, it has reach almost 10 million dollars in donations in a matter of a few days. The well wishes continue to stream in. His teammates, as well as other NFL players and coaches, continue to show their love and support while he is in his hospital bed. The general public, whether football fans or not, have poured out concern and love toward this 24 year old who most never heard of before that Monday night game. This personal event for Damar Hamlin has turned many hearts. In fact, it displays a true heart in our culture, a heart we often do not see.

Most of all, we have witnessed something, not only remarkable, but downright awakening for many. There is a multitude of souls who have acknowledged their faith openly during this episode, and many for the first time. In the core of this nation, many are rediscovering their faith in God.

In a down-sliding culture where we are pushing our children to drag queen shows, we must stand up in the field in which we play and acknowledge God. While we see children killing children, and adults as well, we must grip our faith, hold it up and beg for God’s ear. As the love of many cools to a coldness, the people of faith must struggle through what is easy to do and love anyway.

I predict that Damar Hamlin will forever be changed in his spirit. He will grow in life to understand true love and brotherhood even more than what he once understood. I am hoping the rest of us can do the same.

Incorporating prayer in life can be had when being filled with fuel for the race.

“Come close to God and He will come close to you.” James 4:8a (NAS)

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Choosing…A Powerful Act

“Let freedom ring.
May the love of freedom always ring.
It has brought us this far.
It proclaims who we are.
And together we sing, let freedom ring
.” – “Let Freedom Ring” Recorded By: Barry Manilow

We, the American public, stand on rather solid, large shoulders. On America’s Election Day, we remember.

“We do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate” – Thomas Jefferson

“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” – Plato

“Someone struggled for your right to vote. Use it.” – Susan B. Anthony

“The ballot is stronger than the bullet.” – Abraham Lincoln

“The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.” – JFK

“The future of this republic is in the hands of the American voter.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

“Our political leaders will know our priorities only if we tell them, again and again, and if those priorities begin to show up in the polls.” – Peggy Noonan

 “We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord.” – Theodore Roosevelt

“(It is) indispensably necessary to save our country from ruin.… I give my assent to the Constitution in full confidence .” – John Handcock

“There are elections in which everyone knows that ‘the people have spoken’ but they don’t always know exactly what the people have said. This November’s election was different. Not only did the people speak, they spoke clearly.” – Kay Baily Hutchison

I write this on the Saturday prior to America’s midterm Election Day, 2022. Obviously, not knowing the election results at this time, I am confident that the citizens of this nation will rise up and speak their will at the polls. No doubt, there will be some run-offs, and ballot counting controversies, as well as, some states (those who allow such struggles and drama) unable to tally all the returns in a 24 hour block of time. In the end, we can pray all projections will be fair, without fraud, and timely.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

No matter the party affiliation, or whims of political debate, most Americans want what they feel is the best for the country during the days at the ballot box. If I were to mention a hue of caution, it would be my hope in relying on this great nation to vote from the heart, and not the talking heads. With the swirl of lies spewed out from various political players (starting at the very top), the media, and the candidates themselves, one can certainly drown in misinformation, or tunnel vision. Misinformation was the original trap in Eden, and tunnel vision is very much what snaps the trap over the neck of the mouse.

We have seen the polls showing the list of concerns the nation faces in this election cycle. Topping the list tends to be, economics, crime, public school curriculum, immigration (border control). It’s shocking to me to find some other residual topics ranking top of mind for some before personal financial, or physical survival. A great example would be to choose homelessness, or whether or not one can afford sufficient food and fuel for themselves, or their families, over late term abortion rights from Washington vs the voting decision of each individual state. To me, this reeks of not having a clear view of national neglect, allowing America to sink into a weak, needy nation.

The founding fathers were very clear on this point. In order for a people to have rights, the people must have a majority electoral system where the people choose for themselves collectively. Election Day is for the will of the people, not the few, or the selected, the elite, or the loudest. The puppet masters, holding their strings, who sit in their ivory towers can only watch and weep. WE THE PEOPLE rule here!

Election is not a new thing. In a mysterious fashion, God Himself elects His own. Volumes have been written about this unexplainable phenomenon in which only The Great I AM fully understands, but for now, we can only acknowledge that it is true, alongside freewill. The billions who have come to faith in Jesus can only be humbled by the thought that they were chosen before the foundation of the world. Again, it’s a complex truth coming directly from God’s infinite mind and heart. We know this because it was placed in scripture so we would get a taste of His love for fallen humanity. Still, “Whosoever will may come” is written in red.

Choosing is a very powerful act, indeed.

It is a bold statement of truth to say if one does not vote, that one has surrendered. And that’s not America.

Come and find your name on God’s ballot in fuel for the race.

“You did not chose Me, but I chose you and appointed you, that you should go and you should bear fruit, and your fruit should remain, so that whatever you might ask the Father in My name, He may give you. “ – Jesus – John 15:16 (Berean Literal Bible)

Missing

“…I’m lost without your love.
Life without you isn’t worth the trouble of.
And I’m as helpless as a ship without a wheel.
A touch without a feel.
I can’t believe it’s real.
But someday soon I’ll wake,
And find my heart won’t have to break.”
(1976) “Lost Without Your Love” Recorded By: Bread Composer: David Gates

“LOST”…Webster’s Dictionary breaks the definition down in all its various forms. One of which is, “Not made use of.” Another usage, “No longer possessed.” Yet another description, “Taken away, or beyond reach, or unattainable.”

Have you ever felt that way? Let’s present it in another camera angle. Have you ever known a loss?

It was excruciating. The year was 1982, when Tickey, the beloved dog I grew up with, escaped my mom’s apartment while she was at work. He was almost 15 years old at the time. I was married, living across town from where my mom lived. Unfortunately, a neglectful maintenance man entered the apartment unannounced, and Tickey saw his opportunity to dash out the door for a great adventure. He had no idea the dangers he would face while outside of my mom’s protection and shelter.

Photo: Tickey at a year old, may of 1968. Part dachshund/corgi.

Hours and hours passed before my mom came home from work to discover our little pal was gone. I was working during the day as well, chained to the office. I felt so hopeless and helpless to search for him. He was gone for several days. I spent the early mornings and evenings combing the streets and alleys calling out his name in hopes he would hear me and come running. Lots of fear, and loads of falling tears. Of course, I admit to watching for a little lifeless body along our busy streets.

My mom and I both had contacted the local pound with Tickey’s description on a daily basis. Their answer was always the same. “Sorry, you can always call us tomorrow to see if we’ve caught him.” An old friend, who lived in another section of the apartments, told us she had seen a little dog resembling Tickey, dodging cars as he crossed one of the busy streets nearby. Even that episode was a couple of days prior.

A friend of mine at work told me I should spend my lunch hour driving to the city pound and look at the dogs behind bars. After I had mentioned how we call each day, she told me to ignore it and go look for myself. Feeling depressed and a bit defeated, I didn’t go to the pound until after work that day. I drove up to a parking space in the parking lot of the pound and noticed their fenced-in communal dog-run was just about 15 feet from the parking space. The pound was closed already, and the sun was rapidly going down in the west. But there, among 7-10 dogs looking in my direction, was a little brown dog with his pointy ears standing straight up like a rabbit. I could hardly believe my eyes. Getting out of the car, I ran toward the fence thinking it would be too good to be true, only to find Tickey standing on his hind legs, stretching out his little front legs as high as he could get them, as if wanting me to reach through the chain-link fence and pick him up. He licked my fingers through the steel mesh and cried with a sad whine. My words of comfort didn’t seem to sooth his little heart, but I told him I would be back first thing in the morning right after the pound opened its doors. Walking away in a sense of victory, he barked at me over and over again. If I had a set of major wire cutters, I might have done the deed. It broke my heart. Crying gobs of tears, I left to find the nearest phone booth.

The next morning I was overjoyed, yet furious. As it turned out, the pound had him in doggy jail for several days, and would have put him down within a couple of days later. Someone either lied to us on the phone all those days, or they honestly didn’t care enough to do some dog inventory. When I had to bail him out, I realized the longer they had him, the more money they deposited. I was outraged. But, wow. The reunion was fabulous. We hugged, licked and drooled, hugged, licked and and drooled some more. (He licked and drooled, not me.) What a joy to have my old pal back in my arms of safety and love. I will never forget it.

Photo: Tickey, safe back home. I had a hard time letting go of him.

I was reminded of that chapter in my life when a friend of mine posted the picture below on her Facebook page.

Photo: Facebook. Her dog was stolen. After quitting her job, and following several leads, she recovered him. This was the moment they reunited.

Look at her face. She is overcome in a swell of joy and inexpressible relief. The dog also seems beside himself to be back in his mom’s arms again after being away in the unknown. Amazing, isn’t it? She loved him so much that she quit her job to free up the clock and personal energy to search for him. Risking her own provisions, future, and income to find her dearly beloved pal, it paid off. Unsure if she was able to get her job back or not, I know she was rewarded by her diligent work in searching for her stolen buddy. Another happy ending.

This isn’t the first time a story like this has been told. Someone who greatly understood this kindred love described a shepherd who loved so expressly, that he left his job to seek out a single lost sheep. He left a flock of 99 sheep, went out into the unknown, the dark unfamiliar areas, in hopes of finding his lost one. No doubt he called out to the little lamb many times, maybe through the night, through storms, and through rugged terrain. When he did find him, he rejoiced bigtime, held him, and carried him back to the flock where he belonged, where the food, water, and safety resided.

Jesus understood the life of a good, responsible shepherd of his day. He gave this parable in order for us to identify with God’s longing to protect, serve, and nurture, not just a flock of 100, but a single one who strayed from the care of the shepherd.

About 30 years ago, during my radio days, a kind, loyal listener sketched this precious scene, from an original piece of art, depicting the moment the good shepherd found his lost little lamb. If you compare this sketch with the photo of the lady who found her dog, you can see they are very similar in response of the heart.

Photo: Artist, Carmen Appleby

I know what it is to be lost. Full transparency here. I have felt the anxiety, the emptiness of not having a clue of where I was during a horrible blinding lake effect Western New York blizzard while driving through an Indian reservation deep in the night. A night without street lights or signs, encased in frozen fog, along with zero visibility by horizontal blowing sheets of snow, is a desperate place to find yourself. With that said, it is much like times in my life when I was morally lost, spiritually lost, and emotionally lost. When the compass is invisible, it is a very lonely place. The only remedy is guidance by someone who seeks the lost who can direct the way back to where one needs to be.

Today, our world is very, very lost. It doesn’t take long for a generation to lose its way, running after self inflicted ideologies, diving deeper into depravity, and false promises. Utopia is always promised, but it never delivers. Self-serving stab wounds will eventually cause death, along with scars which will never be erased. Gone are the thoughts of returning to a righteous way, a lit path, a road of stability and safety, not to mention true love. Instead, today we call evil good, and good evil. We see bitterness and call it sweet, and sweet whatever is bitter. Our society, our culture is so far removed from where we were just a few years ago.

Still, no matter how far off the narrow road of righteousness, there is a shepherd who seeks to save, one who searches for the lost among the ledges of the thicket. This is one who leaves his comfort zone, his familiar surroundings, his job, to locate the small one who has no clue they are lost, or even stolen, and what most would believe is, beyond unattainability.

The long, loving arms of a rescuer is found only in fuel for the race.

“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” – Jesus – Found in Matthew 18:12-14 (ESV)

An Exit Of Grace

God save our gracious Queen,

Long live our noble Queen,

God save the Queen.

Send her victorious,

Happy and glorious,

Long to reign over us,

God save the Queen(1619, via various historic literature.) National Anthem, or Royal Anthem of Great Britain. Some sources report the melody possibly was composed by: John Bull. Otherwise, composer is unknown.

Some have mournfully reacted to the passing of Queen Elizabeth II in a curious way. Multiple times the words from the Queen’s subjects have been stated something like, “I never thought this day would come. After all, she is the Queen. She just goes on and on.” Deep inside such sentiments, although recalling they were said out of shock and grief, is an eternal urging, a longing for an undying righteousness, a Monarch which never ceases to die, defeating the laws of nature and age. It may not be spoken of while sipping a pint around the dartboard of a rustic low-ceiling pub in Sheffield, but apparently the longing is the undercurrent of the soul. In fact, ancient scripture points this out as an everlasting truth.

Queen Elizabeth II knew this all too well. Her Majesty knew her God. She, herself, yearned for the day when she would bow in His throne room where The Unseen Eternal, The Ancient Of Days remains in constant power. This 70 year Monarch never needed to bend the knee here on this temporary placement, but she looked forward to the day when she would fall on her face before the Eternal Ruler of The Universe. At 96 years of age, she finally was ushered into what she had always imagined.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed. God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a great general (important though they are) – but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.” – Queen Elizabeth II (2011)

Commentators from the BBC to the local small market news outlets in America, have reported the stainless rule of this Monarch. Often the words behind the news desks tell of the Queen’s remarkable record of scandal-free reign. Although every member of the House of Windsor cannot stand under such microscopic scrutiny, the Queen endured to the end with God’s righteousness as her bond. In fact, most Monarchs in the scrolls of history were, and are, flawed in one area or the other, some gravely so. Throughout England’s history, as well as all other nations, Monarchs, wrapped in such power while stewed in elitisms, haunted by ironic jealousies, have proven to be warped, corrupted, and in some cases, evil. That is not to say Her Majesty was sinless, as some may proclaim, but the fact remains, her reign as Queen saw very few flaws. Her reputation as a person was above board in just about every way that has been reported outside the walls of Buckingham Palace. No wonder this long-reigning Monarch has been hailed as one who held to selfless service, self-control, self-restraint, and always reaching for the highest of standards.

There are those in the world who have a disdain for the Queen. Yet, in most every case, the reasons stem from her stance against sin and the appearance of such. She had no room in her house for misbehavior, outlandish hatred, and words and actions against her England.

There is no doubt in my mind, these qualities attributed to this Royal cannot be traced to her jewels, her robes, or her throne. It is my belief this Queen, if raised as a peasant on the back streets of blue-collar Manchester, her qualities would have remained intact. I should add here, it would not have been because she wanted to better than others around her, or to even strive for a life in a monastery, but only because she humbly knew where true righteousness comes from. Her Highness, somewhere in the bowels of her souls and spirit, at some given time in her lengthy days, accepted the forgiveness of sins offered only through Jesus, The King Of Kings.

“For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince Of Peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life. A role-model of reconciliation and forgiveness, He stretched out His hands of love, acceptance and healing. Christ’s example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people of whatever faith or none.” – Queen Elizabeth II (Christmas Day address 2014)

Photo by Gu Bra on Pexels.com

Much will be said of this Queen in the coming days. Her name will be garnished with grandeur, pomp and circumstance. Her memory, and the acts of her rule, will be enshrined by the high praises of accolades from the poorest among us, as well as, the wealthiest and most famous, and rightly so. As these events unfold, as the Queen is laid to rest, keep in mind of what she might say as a parting comment. With what I know of this great lady, as we highlight her achievements, and her vast integrity, she would stop us while pointing to the One Who shared His righteousness with her, holding her hand, and holding her up through a jubilee of her reign. It is her faith in Him which we celebrate, even if unknowingly.

In the pages of modern history, those of the faith, and even those searching for eternal truths, have been graced by irrefutable tangible movings of the hand of God for us to witness. There have been remarkable manifestations throughout history which work to enlighten the blindness of humanity. Although these things are a rarity since the days of Jesus, they have been well documented across the globe. In each case, in those very rare moments, there with it comes a divine message reaching from outside the created galaxies to the world God so loves. On Thursday, September 8th, 2022, just before and after the passing of Queen Elizabeth, a double rainbow appeared over Buckingham Palace where a throng of people watched with collective gasps.

Photo: Whitchurch Herold

About the very same time, another rainbow pierced through the cloudy darkness some 29 miles away at Windsor Castle for the mourners to witness, just as the Union jack was being lowered to half-mast.

Photo: Getty Images

In the days of Noah, the first rainbow ever was seen and recorded. It is written that it was a “sign”, a monument, of God’s promise never to destroy the earth by flood again. Upon the plucking-up of Queen Elizabeth’s soul on September 8th, it’s as if The Rock of Ages visually made it known she was now over the rainbow, under the arch of His everlasting arms. Truly, an exit of grace.

See what is in store for those who mourn, and for those looking for an eternal righteousness which never dies in fuel for the race.

“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.” – Isaiah 6:1 (ESV)

Front Porch Tea

“I hear her voice, in the mornin’ hour she calls me.
Radio reminds me of my home far away.
And driving down the road I get a feeling
I should have been home yesterday, yesterday. Country roads, take me home
To the place where I belong…”
(1971) “Country Roads” Recorded By: John Denver Composers: Taffy Nivert Danoff, Bill Danoff, John Denver

There is just something very special about the backwoods roads, unpaved, rocky, and winding. Of course, if you’re lost, it’s not so special. However, it brings thoughts of peace, tranquility, and comfort. They are so worth the drive onto an unbeaten path. Even more so, if the country roads take you to loved ones, so precious and dear.

Earlier today, an old fond memory just popped into my head from out of the blue. It’s a memory I have not played through my mind in many years. Does that happen to you?

When my mom remarried back in 1965, I was five years old, a wonderful, historic Texas family came with the union. The Brown family, who I am so very proud of to this day. My dad adopted me, changing my name to Brown, and I am so proud of it. My new dad’s family was large in number, a bit on the stoic side, and scattered throughout Young County in west Texas, about 2.5 hours drive west of Dallas. Suddenly, I had many aunts and uncles, and a slew of cousins. Graham, Texas is the county seat, and the general location of the Brown family. Because I have written before concerning the area, the family homestead, and the pioneering family that they are, you might already be a bit familiar with the rich history of my family there.

The nucleus of the large God-fearing clan was my Grandpa and Grandma Brown (Bessie and W.R.) They both were children of Civil War Confederate soldiers. In fact, my great-grandpa, Lewis Pinkney Brooks (Grandma’s dad) was one of the first settlers to the area shortly after the war ended. He came to the area from Georgia on a mule, or donkey, depending on who you ask.

Photo: 1920’s, My great grandpa and grandma Brooks on the porch of the old homestead where my Grandma Brown was raised.. My cousin and her family live there today.

If you have seen the Paramount TV series, “1883”, then you have a taste of what Texas was like during those days of the untamed west. In fact, my great Grandpa Brooks would have been a contemporary of the Duttons, the two main characters in the storyline of the television show. So, my grandparents were not only raised by pioneers, but had firsthand knowledge of the happenings of those days. The family homestead is built just off the Brazos River in what is known as, Upper Tonk Valley, (Short for the Tonkawa tribe who lived there). As a kid, I was mesmerized by their recollections of their parents, the area, and the early days of being homesteaders.

Photo: 1911. My Grandma Brown on the left, with her sisters taking a dip in the Brazos River.
Photo: 1981. My Grandma Brown with some of her grandkids at the time.
Photo: 1971. My Grandpa Brown in his Sunday best.

Anytime we drove out to Graham to spend the weekend with my new grandparents, it was always something I was excited about. I was a city kid. Most of the family lived out in the country, outside the city limits of Graham, Texas. My grandparents didn’t live in the old family homestead, (An uncle resided there at the time.) Their old house was about 5 miles south of the homestead. It sat about a mile off the state highway on a red sandy dirt road among the creeks, mesquite trees, and cactus. There were horses to ride, cows to feed, creeks and rivers to explore, and pastures to run.

Photo; An old abandoned barn, a couple of miles down Tonk Valley Road.

Of course, there was refreshing rainwater to drink right out of a round tin washtub. That’s right. The water from the faucets came from wells which had a strong sulfur, mineral smell. Some got adjusted to it, as they were raised there, but not me. I couldn’t stomach the water, unless you boiled it first. So, my Grandma had a large metal washtub under a downspout off the corner of her kitchen. When full of rainwater, it was brought in where it sat next to her side kitchen window. It had its own ladle. I was always surprised how cool it was to the lips. You didn’t stir it because you didn’t want to bring up the sandy grains of residue resting at the bottom of the tub. But, on a hot summer Texas day, that water was the best tasting H2O I have ever allowed down my gullet.

Although they had an old TV from the 1950’s, they didn’t watch much of it. My Grandpa Brown was a busy farmer, among other things. There were expected pre-dawn sounds of heavy slurping coming from the living room, where I slept on a daybed. Opening my eyes, there he would be, sitting in a chair, in his pinstriped overalls and boots, facing the stove (if winter), or facing the window listening to the first coos of the morning doves, with a bowl and saucer of coffee. No coffee cup for W.R. Brown. I never really understood it, but that’s how he rolled. Afterwards, he was off to his crops close to the banks of a sandy-bottom creek down by the horse pasture. However, I rarely went back to sleep as Grandma’s freshly baked homemade yeast rolls were wafting through the early morning air. Nothing could beat her jarred preserves on the table, and buttered rolls fresh out of the oven. Oh, my! Recently, while visiting my 91 year old aunt, she showed me grandma’s old baking sheet which she used to bake her biscuits and rolls. It literally had holes in it from decades of wear. I sniffed of the old worn pan, but there wasn’t even a hint of bakings past.

Around mid-late afternoon, you could count on the folks sitting out on the wooden plank front porch. They had two or three metal lawn chairs, the kind that bounced a bit, almost like rocking chairs, and usually a couple of old wooden chairs with rope weave, or wicker weave seats were brought out from the dining room. Grandma had the usual large clay pitchers of cool tea made from her rainwater tub, sitting out for anyone who wanted to fill their tall glasses. The ice cubes were there waiting in an aluminum bucket, and tea spoons at the ready. Before you can ask, yes, it was sugar tea. Before I was 15 years old, I didn’t know unsweetened tea existed.

Photo by Arturo Au00f1ez on Pexels.com

Now, you would think, sitting next to elderly folk, with heavy west Texas accents, along with iced tea in hand, out on a front porch looking out at a red dirt country road, would be something only Rip Van Winkle would enjoy. NO WAY! I can’t tell you how much I learned about west Texas history, family history, and life out on the prairie. Sure, there was a lot of chatter about politics, preachers, and current news items of the day, but I was okay with that, too. You know why? Because I knew I was in the presents of greatness, salt of the earth people with dirt under their fingernails. The front porch was what they did for leisure. When family and friends came to visit, they knew to pull up a chair, fill their glasses, and bring up some fat to chew on. Much joy and information was to be had on that front porch of the Brown’s house.

My Aunt Ina Dell’s rendition of Grandma & Grandpa’s house.

As a pick-up truck would drive by from time to time, the driver would wave at the folks on the porch, and a warm kind acknowledgement was exchanged. It seemed everybody knew everybody in the community, especially on the old Lower Tonk Valley Road.

Photo: Old windmill pumping water for the livestock at the old Brook’s Homestead in Upper Tonk Valley.

After Grandma’s larrupin’ dinner, often other family members would come over and we would gather around the slightly out of tune upright piano to sing old hymns. (At the church, the Brown family practically filled the choir loft.) This was a very memorable time as we gathered for what they called, “The Singin'” complete with full harmonies, and old dusty hymn books from a box an uncle would deliver. After about an hour of melody-making, many of us returned to the front porch with tall cold glasses of sweet tea. I was always amazed how DARK it was out in the country. Depending upon the time of year, or weather, we would watch the fireflies dancing around in the front yard for a natural light show. A few of us cousins were given mason jars to do some firefly hunting. It was so much fun. We would chase them around, often bumping into one another in the process, with the sound of the tin jar lids clanging on the glass. Some took their captives home, but I didn’t have the heart for firefly prison. I was happy to let mine go free.

The marriage between my mom and dad only lasted about four years. However, they were terrific, adventurous years for me when at the age of 5-9 years old, I soaked up incredible life-long memories so very worthwhile. The Brown clan continues to be my family today. They are great people.

Grandma and Grandpa Brown have long vacated this earth, but their laughter, voices, and hugs in the pages of my memory, continue to deliver unanticipated smiles on my face. The old house is gone, as well. In the early 1980’s, after my Grandma passed away, after my Grandpa died in 1977, the old place was removed making room for a new house built on the spot by a dear cousin of mine. He and his family have lived on the land ever since. I still drive by there now and then.

Not a lot has changed there over the last six decades, with the exception of a partially paved stretch of road which has taken the place of Young County red sandy dirt. Often I will pull over in an unpopulated spot of Lower Tonk Valley Road, stop the engine of the car, and close my eyes to capture the familiar sounds of the place of old love and wonder. When listening close, one can hear the doves, roosters, and the bellows of the Longhorns close by. Somehow, I tend to leave there with a hankering for a tall glass of iced tea.

In the hustle of today’s schedule and the glow of the screen from the cell phone, a trip back to more innocent days can be as refreshing as a tin washtub of cool rainwater.

We all understand thirst when the heat is overpowering. It’s a craving, especially for cool water for the tongue and throat. It’s so easy for the imagination. Also, we all have a thirst within our natural man/woman, where the hunt for quenching begins, often pulling us to a whirlpool where we don’t belong. The smell of it is distasteful and sour, but unfortunately we, along with our society, grows accustomed to it in our daily choices. Away from the public faucet of such, is prepared a pure reservoir, filled with cool, clear water for the soul. The purity of it pushes down the sediment of the day. A drink to be trusted. A drink to quench deeply. A drink which quells everlasting.

Maybe for you, it might be a quick return visit with the Fount Of Every Blessing found in fuel for the race.

“But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” – Jesus John 4:14 (ESV)

You Just Can’t Take Me Anywhere

“If you only knew what you’re putting me through.
It feels like a heart attack.
You’re giving me a heart attack.
Heart attack.”
(1982) “Heart Attack” Recorded By: Olivia Newton – John Composers: Paul Bliss & Stephen Kipner

It’s funny how the most unexpected things happen when you least expect them. This scenario came down around my ears, Saturday, June 11th of this year (2022).

It had been years since we had seen one another. My bio-dad, and his wife, live in Lindale, Texas, just outside of Tyler. They had moved from out west, to a nice retirement community where they have their own bungalow, complete with their own driveway and carport. They have enjoyed this place for about three years now. However, it had been about four years since our last visit. I know this because they came for a quick visit while I was in the hospital for a quad-bypass. Procrastination was the victor over the years, keeping me from making the lengthy drive to their house before and after their move to east Texas. Our visit was way past due.

Since Father’s Day was in mid June, we felt the urge to take a daytrip to the Tyler area, about three hours away.

The visit was going nicely, and there was a few items to catch up on. Noon was coming up and lunch out was mentioned. Cracker Barrel seemed to be the ideal location, but it was about a 25-30 minute drive from their place to the Cracker Barrel in Tyler.

I am a diabetic, with heart issues, dying kidneys, among various other related problems on the medical list, too lengthy to jot here. To be blunt, I am a mess. Frankly, life expectancy for me isn’t over the horizon somewhere, so my wife and I tend not to discuss it much.

My new GP put me on a new insulin medication (new for me). By June, my history with it had been a short one, and getting the rhythm of things was still in the adjusting department. Dosages are on a part-time sliding scale. Knowing there was a Cracker Barrel meal coming, with all the trimmings, I stupidly chose to excuse myself in order to inject about 10 units of the new med prior to departing for the restaurant. (I also neglected to test my sugar levels prior to medicating myself. THAT was a huge mistake.) But, I felt good about the length of time between the injection and the serving of the meal. After all, I had experience with injections and timing with other brands of medications. You know what the Bible says about pride? Yep, a fall is coming.

To make a long story short, by the time we arrived, ordered, and was served lunch, a good 40-45 minutes had rolled by on the clock. About 5-10 minutes into our eating lunch, unknowingly to me, I began to sweat like a middle schooler at his first dance. My skin turned pale. I began to move in slow motion. My speech was slurred, and I became unresponsive, even though I was awake and eating my food. Across the table, my stepmom, who is a retired nurse, immediately saw I was going down quickly. My wife began to try to speak to me loudly in efforts to rouse me. Assuming I had hit a sugar low, she began to force orange juice down my throat along with honey and yeast rolls to raise my glucose levels. From my perspective, people were moving their mouths, but I couldn’t hear them, or read their lips well enough. A tunnel-like fog began to arise in my vision, and I wasn’t able to discern what was going on. They tried to walk me out, but my body wasn’t cooperating. I was fading fast. Before you could say, “We need to-go bags”, EMT’s were there with a gurney to wheel me away from my fried chicken. To be perfectly honest, I remember very little concerning this episode. It seems you just can’t take me anywhere.

Photo by Nothing Ahead on Pexels.com

While in the ambulance, They were pumping me with fluids through an IV while feeding me loads of questions. Thankfully, my wife was there and filled-in the blanks for me. When I began to be able to grasp the situation, I felt the issue was just shooting myself too many units of the med, and way too early. However, the EMTs were concerned about my heart. They suspected a mild heart attack had occurred, or possibly a stroke. I really don’t blame them. Some symptoms were similar. At the same time, I told them I hadn’t felt any indications of either while in the restaurant. To be safe, we chose to go to the ER.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

If I said the hospital stay in this particular hospital was smooth, I would be less than honest. The ER folks, as well as the cardiologist on duty, suggested I had experienced a mild heart attack, or at the least, a “cardiac event”. Over the next 24 hours, they ran almost every test they could to determine what had occurred. The cardiologist wanted me to be admitted until Monday, or Tuesday, for a coronary angiogram…yes, with the catheter snaking up through the body from the groin area. By this time, my blood pressure had returned to almost normal, sugars were within average range, and absolutely zero symptoms of stroke, or heart episode. One test revealed a concerning area on the lower backside of my heart, as well as as an elevated CPK cardiac enzyme level, indicating a heart under stress, etc. We had already mentioned the fact that I only have 45% functionality of my heart, and only 21% of my kidneys. We felt nobody was truly listening to us. Oh, well.

Within a 24 hour period in the care of this hospital, there had been some noticeable issues of concern for us. They were adding some unnecessary medications, wrong medications replacing my daily meds, and some meds were skipped in the normal dosage schedule. Things didn’t seem right, and we felt the volley of testing was a bit over the top, as well as the cardiologist missing his next update with us. It was now Sunday afternoon. When we finally got the answer as to why he had not given us the promised update, the short-handed faculty sheepishly revealed he had left early and would communicate again on Monday. Right then, I knew I was NOT in an emergency condition. All we could hear was the echo of “ching-ching” from the proverbial cash register down the hallway.

Photo by Enrico Hu00e4nel on Pexels.com

Right or wrong, we made the decision to check out under the official title of, “Against Medical Advice”. Shortly after, we made the 3 hour drive back home to Dallas. Michelle, my wife, insisted she drive us back herself. I’m a terrible backseat driver. Let’s just say, it wasn’t an easy lift across the counties.

All I could think about was getting an appointment with my trusted cardiologist asap. I can’t tell you how grateful we were to sit in his examination room a couple of days later. Not surprising, he already had the records from the Tyler hospital. He explained that the elevated levels of my heart enzyme was not that high of a concern, especially since it always shows up in the lab work due to my heart history. As to the “area of concern”, the anomaly seen in the tests, he explained it wasn’t much to worry about, due to my history, and that it was a bit disturbed due to the low blood sugar episode as the heart goes under stress in such events. As expected, the cardiologist on duty in Tyler, who didn’t know me, or my history, with the exception of a glance, overreacted. At least that’s the kind way I am putting it. My cardiologist added the anomaly to my file. In December, I will do my annual echocardiogram and will consult with him again at that time. Otherwise, I am to continue to monitor any unusual symptoms, if any.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

It was a road trip to remember. In the end, it was my fault for the whole experience interrupting our visit in the first place. Hindsight being 20/20, I would have elected to let the EMTs treat me and then go home. Still, the extent of the episode was enough to raise anyone’s pulse and blood pressure.

While visiting with my cardiologist, I was surprised to see the angst and anxiousness in my wife was still hovering. She remained skeptical about my condition. She questioned the good doctor about my activities. She questioned if I should be driving or not, exercising or not, extending myself or not. He responded so well. He told us that not long ago, he boarded a plane for San Francisco to visit family and friends. As he got to his seat, strapped himself in, he looked up to see that he unknowingly had boarded the problematic Boeing 737 MAX. As you might recall, the Boeing 737 MAX had been grounded worldwide between March 2019 and December 2020, due to flight control mishaps, which caused historic downed flights. At first he said he got overly nervous about his flight. However, after he relaxed his mind, he realized we take chances each and every day, regardless. After he mentioned this, he said his recommendation was to go and live our lives, regardless of my looming health issues. Otherwise, one can become a hermit, leaving one motionless with a weight of concern. That, too, is a biblical concept. My doc is a wise man.

Meanwhile, I have committed myself to return to a local Cracker Barrel and finish my fried chicken. That’s where you can take me.

Whether at home, or on the road, you can read up about “faith steps” in fuel for the race.

“Therefore if you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about the other things? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither labor nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you? You of little faith!” – Jesus Luke 12:26-28 (NAS)

Sprinkles of Joy

“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens.
Brown paper packages tied up with strings.
These are a few of my favorite things.”
(1965) “My Favorite Things” from, “The Sound Of Music” Recorded By: Julie Andrews Composers: Oscar Hammerstein II & Richard Rodgers

Sitting at my desktop computer, where I write, I truly had no clue of what what I would jot. Does this ever happen to you? Usually, something is already on my mind, burning through the noise and the sights of the day. More often than not, a theme is just itching to slide out of my noggin and onto my keyboard. But not today.

A decent psychoanalysis performed by a solid, experienced professional in the field could most likely open me up and explain why this occurred. Then again, maybe not. I can be complicated.

In my frustration, I sat at my desk looking at a blank screen, which mirrored my hollow brain, when suddenly a light came on. A phenomenon which warms me so often that I take it for granted. Well, not taken for granted today.

Just before I pull back my desk chair from the desk, I face a study closet door, which stands about a foot from the chair to the right of the desk. On the doorknob of the closet, hangs two precious items of note. Let me show you.

Draping over the doorknob is a Christmas ornament of hand painted hues displaying blue, purple, yellow, amber, green and black. The small piece of art is encased in glass with a silver alloy frame and backing. If you look closely, you can read the words, “by Skylar 2017”. Skylar is my granddaughter. When she was 6 years old, she won an art competition that year for this little treasure. It is a small print of a much larger piece she painted that year. Hanging behind the ornament, is the collar and tags of my childhood dog, Tickey. (I have written about him before.) We grew up together. He died at 16 years old, I was 23 at the time. The jingle-jangle of his tags was heard anytime he jumped, ran, scratched. I can reach over and shake them right now, always leaving me with a smile.

Tickey, and a 9 year old me – 1969

Once I sit down to face my desktop screen, this is what graces my vision before I boot up the computer.

16″ across the bottom of my computer screen is a plethora, a sprinkling of little keepsakes. Let me explain.

On the left is a 5.5″ tall cross section of a piece of wood with its original thick, rough bark on the backside.

A few years ago, the oldest, largest tree on our short street was damaged heavily in a fierce windstorm. So much so, it had to be cut down. It was a grandfather of a mammoth tree, no doubt 200 years old, or so. As a memorial, the property owners left a 6′ stump. I am so glad they did. It helps to remind us all that at one time, when my neighborhood was once a thriving cattle ranch from the late1800’s, there stood a tree of testimonial. When they sliced down the massive tree piece by piece, leaving tall piles of lumber along the curb of a full city block, I found a small chunk from this old friend. It had a flat bottom, so it stood up vertically, with its beautiful two-toned colors of its outside ring layers. When I first brought it home, I thought of staining it. But no, I couldn’t. I feel its natural look is stunning as it is.

To the right of the wooden memorial, sits a replica of a Ford Mustang Mach 1 made by Hot Wheels. A girlfriend of mine, from my high school days, drove a royal blue one with black leather interior. It was a beauty, and a beast. I keep it on my desk because I was from the 1960’s-1970’s Hot Wheels generation. Growing up, every cool boy in school had a Hot Wheel set. You were even more so if you were able to collect a herd of Hot Wheel cars and trucks. Well, I was raised by a single mom who worked a graveyard shift. We were poor. So, Hot Wheels was not in my shoe box of treasures. There were the Johnny Lightning 500 cars, a cheaper competitor, which I was able to receive one Christmas, but alas…you guessed it…they were not of the coveted Hot Wheels brand. So, I guess you could say I guard this one with my life.

Just to the right of the Mach 1, lays a genuine, honest, true blue fossil. I sincerely don’t recall where I found it, but I believe I discovered it on the sandy dry floor of the Brazos River in west Texas when I was a kid. Looking closely, it looks to be a part of a neck, or backbone. I’ve never had it analyzed, but as a kid my imagination ran away with ideas. Could it belong to a baby Tyrannosaurus Rex??? More than likely, a duck, or a prairie chicken. My wife poured cold water on a boy’s dream by saying it looked like an intestinal track of a dog. “Gee, thanks, honey.” Either way, it’s a full blown fossil. And that’s what counts. Right?

Just behind said fossil, sits a small stapler I had retrieved from my mom’s storage unit, buried under tons of junk. Nothing fancy, or worthy of writing your mom about. It is rust color, about 5″ in length. It looked very familiar when I unearthed it from the stacks of storage boxes. One day, as it sat on my desk, it hit my memory like a a mob at a New York jewelry store. It was the stapler I used during my high school years. It not only is in decent shape, but it also still has staples in it. Suddenly, it felt like an old friend. And it works!

To the right of the stapler, proudly sits a model replica of the Galileo, the space shuttle from the Star Trek TV series. The old, U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701/7 Space Shuttle. It’s more than just a plastic model of the beloved shuttle, but a container. The top hatch opens to a compartment where a library of Star Trek trivia cards can be found. One of my stepsons gave it to me for a few years back. I was a Trek fan ever since the 1960’s series aired. When my three girls came along, they too became fans. That’s one reason why an old picture of my middle daughter, Megan, sits on the back of the shuttle. At that age, she used to say she wanted to ride in a space ship someday.

What the song said is true. Maybe to you raindrops on roses, or whiskers on kittens may not be your bag, but no doubt you have some favorite things. They don’t have to be large, or expensive. The value is in what the item does for you, to you. Because when that dog bites in life, or the bee stings when unanticipated, a few of your favorite things can trip off a few thousands memories which are reserved in a very blessed place inside. It’s God’s gift.

Poundings of threats of war, rising crime, along with thin wallets can melt away our smiles rather quickly. Losing friends over selected desired pronouns, or ideology which goes against your values, can cause bitterness if not guarded. At the same time, I can vouch for what a small desktop item can bring in your day. The sweet thoughts can point you in an alternative direction where we all were meant to be.

In scripture, there are literally dozens of times where we find where God uses the word, “REMEMBER…” Often, it is the first word in a sentence. Still, we are admonished to use our memories to combat negative, or dangerous desires, thoughts, or depression and disobedience. When we do remember what God has done in our lives, and the lives of others, we can begin to turn the tides of our seat of affections, or a darker path we weren’t chosen to walk. Yes, there’s something to turning the heart toward what we have been blessed with. Just little sprinklings of joy do this. Even if it is a petrified intestine.

Sometimes under “R” in your phone index, a simple line of sweet remembrance, refreshes when taken from fuel for the race.

“But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings.” Hebrews 10:32 (NAS)

Name That Car

“Well we’re riding on the freeway.
Oh lord, we can’t stop that.
Yeah we’re riding on the freeway.
Gonna love in my pink Cadillac.”
(1985) “Freeway Of Love” Recorded By: Aretha Franklin Composers: Jeffery Cohen & Narada Michael Walden

I blame my grandmother, really. From the moments of my earliest memories, I learned she named each and every vehicle they ever owned. My granddad was a mechanic for an Oldsmobile/Cadillac dealership for many decades, and took care of his vehicles as if they were his children, but he never named them. Nope, that was up to his wife. I am fairly sure it all goes back to their earlier days when they named their horses along with some of their cows, (The ones who didn’t go to the slaughter houses.)

Photo: My grandmother with her prize horse, Ginger.

Her choices were very descriptive. From what I recall, there would be a “Misty”, an “Old Blue”, and a favorite entitled, “Fancy”. Each one lived up to its name, by appearance.

Photo: My grandparents with one of their earlier cars.

So, I didn’t have a chance. I, too, named all of my vehicles. Just to name a few, there was, “Brit”, “Moose”, and “Rocket”. Unfortunately for me, when I name a vehicle, like a pet, I tend to think of them as…well…okay, I’ll admit it, like a pet. Of course, the car has no feelings toward me, or sit at my knee at dinner moaning for a nibble off of my plate. However, my vehicles were fed whenever they needed feeding by way of oil, gasoline, and whatever fluids when low.

Moose, my beloved, Isuzu Trooper, was the toughest vehicle I ever owned. Honestly, you could go to war in that thing. (In fact, some militaries from various nations have.) Moose was a die hard SUV that served my family for about 17 years with very little auto repair garage time. A terrific road life. I raised my three daughters in that vehicle. When getting out of school at the end of their day, they knew to look for Moose and his luggage rack on top. Later, we added a Toyota 4Runner as a mate in the garage. However, Moose saw a failed marriage, a remarriage, and the marriage of my oldest daughter, as well as the birth of my granddaughter. He survived a move from Dallas to Buffalo, NY, and then another move back to Dallas five years later.

Photo: Renea, my half-sister, and Moose.

What he didn’t survive was outdoor parking where the neighborhood squirrels enjoyed the taste of the plastic covering of the wires in the engine. One day, on the way to the studio for another day at work, a small fuel leak ignited against a naked wire which started an engine fire. Yes, Moose could’ve had surgery to replace the damaged wires, but the wallet, and his high mileage, said no way. You may think I’m nuts, but I shed some tears as I cleaned out Moose and said farewell, along with a little prayer of thanks for the wonderful SUV which took very good care of my family.

At the time of Moose’s curb-side memorial service, my wife and I were temporarily without transportation. In Dallas, there is a fabulous mass transit system, however, not so much in the suburbs. Plus, I just couldn’t imagine being without a vehicle. So the hunt was on.

Enter, “Sampson”, a charcoal 2008 Nissan Xterra.

Photo: Sampson enjoying a rare snowfall in Dallas.

Although he came to us at two years old, with only 23k miles under his fan belt, he was an almost perfect replacement for dear old Moose. He was sharp, quick, and his horsepower was breathtaking. I lost just a tad of cargo space, but he still had loads of hauling room. I treated him with kid gloves. Anything Sampson needed, he got. Over 12 years and 97k miles, our relationship grew into…well…okay, love. Sampson saw another daughter married away, a graduation for another, and a full-organ shutdown, and years later, a quadruple bypass. YES! I LOVED THAT SUV! My wife did too, with the exception that he rode a bit like a jeep, just a bit bumpy for her taste.

Unfortunately, over the last 5 years, I have had to spend a few thousand dollars on parts and labor for the old lad. Recently, his heater core began to slowly leak antifreeze, promising to get worse. It was going to be another $800 to replace the core. At the same time, I knew the brakes would need replacing later in the year. I made the decision to get the heater core replaced about 12 weeks ago. The dealership had to order the heater core, as Nissan no longer produces the Xterra. There was no ETA given, and frankly, I was beginning to believe the part was on a cargo ship stuck out in the Pacific waiting to be unloaded at a thinly managed shipping port. While calling each week, waiting for that part to arrive at the dealership, the calendar punished me. The inspection and registration ran out. I was faced with driving a leaking SUV around illegally, or buying a horse. With a little pressure from my better half, we made the choice to trade Sampson, and her failing VW, in for a newer model.

It was a difficult time, as I hugged the grill of Sampson on that cold February morning. I wiped his headlights as I thanked him for his service during both happy and challenging times in my life. Sampson seemed to wink in an acknowledgment. Afterwards, I quickly looked around to see if any of the neighbors saw my conversation . At least my grandmother would’ve been pleased.

Last week, we found a beautiful, 2016, Toyota Rav4 XLE. His name is, “Silver”. After 30 years of driving large SUV types, I am adjusting to a smaller one. Also, my ailing mom finds it easier to get in/out of this SUV. That needed to happen. So far, we feel we made the right choice.

It’s always been heart wrenching for me to let go of vehicles in my life. Although unhealthy to think of a machine as a living, breathing pet, I have held a sincere heart of thanksgiving to my sets of wheels. My handwriting suffers greatly when signing the back of the car title. When finishing the letter, “N” on my last name, I release the air I hold in my lungs as I pass it on to a new owner.

Have you ever felt like you were traded in for a newer model? Really, think back on your journey. Like yesterday’s rag, being tossed out of a job, a friendship, or even a marriage, the feeling of failure and loss is the same, to certain degrees.

In today’s culture, so many over 60 are no longer respected, or admired. Often times, those past their prime can be viewed as useless, or forgotten. Many don’t look forward to family reunions, or holiday gatherings, because of the unmistakable notion that they have been demoted, or put out to pasture somehow. Age and disabilities have a tendency to beat on the mind, the heart, and the spirit. Once, the mailbox, or in-box was full of Valentine cards and wishes, where now, only echoes of the past can be retrieved. Demotion is a hard thing, especially when you know you have plenty of mileage left to give.

Humanity. Always recall the biblical truth concerning humanity. It is fallen to start with. Humanity came off the assembly line in perfect condition until the first couple fell short of perfection by choice. Humans will let you down, one way or the other. If you’ve been free from this issue, just wait around awhile.

Have you compared yourself to others around you way too often? Is your “get up and go” not what it once was? Maybe, just maybe, you leak from the tank of kindness at times. Maybe you are shy a spark, or two. Have you discovered you are low on battery power in your spiritual road in life? You’ve tried to pray, but you just can’t turn over a decent sentiment that’s directly from a humble heart. As you check under the hood, have you observed a few issues on your intake, and exhaust? Could it be your self-placed air and fuel filters have allowed garbage to enter into your cylinders? Do you wonder if God Himself has given up on you?

Yet, there is One Who never will trade you in because of your personal faultiness. Over, and over again, He has stated in scripture that He will never sign the back of your title. He is the ultimate mechanic, parts-maker, and technician. He’s never going to wait on a component to arrive on a ship from Japan to bring you up to your best. He creates new hearts, new spirits, new light. God will never, ever sign you over to be sold in an auction. That is such good news.

Don’t look to your own power, but search for His fuel for the race.

…do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought for a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” I Corinthians 6:19-20 (NAS)

Name That Tune

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

Photo: Singing in Buffalo, NY (2005)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: My mom & I. April 1963.

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

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

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

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

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

Crevices

“…You can’t always get what you want.
But if you try sometimes well you might find,
You get what you need.”
(1969) “You Can’t Always get What You Want” – Recorded By: The Rolling Stones Composers: Mick Jagger & Keith Richard.

I will preface the below by stating, I have no idea if this has anything to do with the new year ahead.

Watching her, in her mountain climbing gear, scaling up the side of this incredibly steep, rocky red cliffside, I wondered why this stranger felt she had to climb it. The mountain’s top half to the peak was narrow, without sand or soil, just a shear rock, three-sided pinnacle in what you might find in the Arizona desert. I was hot, thirsty, and my mouth felt full of the desert sands. It was uncomfortable. I wasn’t where I wanted to be, or needed to be. Or was I? No doubt, she felt the same.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Her struggle against the giant rock was fierce, steaming, and without signs of submission. The athletic abilities were impressive, but what may have been more impressive was her inner strength to conquer. A moment of jealousy kicked in. One would believe the cliff would be impossible to negotiate, yet there she was, fully dependent upon her spikes, rope, and footholds.

Frankly, while I gazed at the climber’s grit, as she scaled the flat mountainside in her cleats and gloves, I must admit to fearing the moment ahead when I would transition from a casual observer, to a witness of the death of a stranger.

As she approached the last fifty feet to the pencil-like summit, she intentionally unloaded her backpack, allowing it to fall to the base of her rocky challenge. It was clear, all of her tools for survival were bundled in her backpack, spilling out on impact splattered on the desert floor below. Curiosity took over even more as concern for her welfare grew deep inside of me. How would she survive the ongoing battle against this natural skyscraper? Exhaustion or gravity, or both, would be her enemy.

With half the afternoon gone, the peak became reachable as she scaled her way to the last twenty-five feet. The pitch of the rockface was brutal, with only small crevices along the red stone precipice as a saving grace.

Photo by Roussety Gregory on Pexels.com

Her legs were stretched, reaching the precious footholds to her left and right. Her hands were gripping the various sized crevices above her. Like a wise chess player, with every ounce of strength in her body, she carefully studied her next footholds, her next crevice to gain the the rock’s summit. Then, like a spider on a wall, the athlete pulled herself up to a small ledge just below the peak. There, she rested, sitting on a welcomed stone shelf awaiting her.

With a sigh of relief, I began to turn to go on my own way, when suddenly I captured a satisfying smile on her face. She appeared to be looking inside two crevices just above the surface of the ledge itself. My head cocked a bit as I attempted to guess at what she seemed to be happy to discover. Reaching her hand inside what appeared to be a deep crevice, she pulled out a tin cup in her sweating hand. Reaching into the other crevice, she discovered a metal ruler, a meter in length. Revisiting the crevice, she removed a liter of bottled water, a packed nylon lunchbox, a blanket, several crampons, a chisel, a harness, and a bundle of rope. To my amazement, she suddenly had all she needed for the rest of her challenging journey.

To this very day, I do not know who left the goods in the last crevices of the summit. Part of me wondered if she had climbed this rockface before and left herself a survival kit for future climbs. Another part of me came to another conclusion. Could it be, other climbers deposited the goods in the crevices, as an act of goodwill for the next adventurer? Either way, she got what she so desperately needed.

After I was awakened by this dream, I immediately heard an old hymn running through my mind.

” He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock,
That shadows a dry, thirsty land;
He hideth my life in the depths of His love,
And covers me there with His hand,

And covers me there with His hand.”
(1890) “He Hideth My Soul” – Composer: Fanny Crosby

Sometimes, and I truly mean the word, a dream can be a message to the dreamer. If I were a wiseman, surely I could roll out its interpretation to you here and now. But, alas, I cannot. Maybe, just maybe, the interpretation is relative to the reader.

If there’s one thing I have learned in my life, it’s the fact that when in expectation, God is willing, ready, and able to answer my questions.

When exhausted, thirsty, and struggling, there are crevices awaiting you in fuel for the race.

“Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain and a way for the thunderbolt, to bring rain on a land where no man is, on the desert in which there is no man, to satisfy the waste and desolate land, and to make the ground sprout with grass?” – Job 38:25-27 (ESV)