A Major Fault

“I feel the earth move under my feet.
I feel the sky tumbling down, a-tumbling down…”
(1971) “I Feel The Earth Move” – Recorded & Composed By: Carole King

“Of all the luck in the world…”, as my late grandmother always used to say.

Back in 2015, I was bored one summer afternoon, and decided to get out of my north Dallas house. It had been such a long time since I had taken in a movie at the local cinema. One of my weaknesses comes in the form of disaster/action films. However, not just any disaster/action production, but a really good one, without all the comic strip characters. Dwayne Johnson had a brand new flick out about THE earthquake, which many still call, “The Big One”. The movie was, “San Andreas”.

Getting out of the car in the parking lot, the air was heavy, hot, and still. I thanked the Lord for air conditioning as I briskly walked toward the ticket window. To sit in a dark theater, with a bag of buttered popcorn, along with an ice cold cola, waiting to feel the big speakers pump out chair-rattling sound was exactly what the doctor ordered.

“San Andreas” – Warner Bros Distribution

No worries, I will not give any spoilers here.

Deep into the film, maybe 20 minutes before the ending, Dwayne Johnson’s character was frantically doing all he could to find and rescue his daughter from a collapsing high rise building after the major quake. He finds she is trapped on a floor of a sinking multi-story structure partially submerged under water. Us movie-goers were on the edge of our seats as she was swimming under water unable to escape, trapped by a glass wall. (It was difficult to hear over the loud sound system, but I could hear thunder and heavy rain outside the theater, which just added to the drama of the script.) Johnson’s character dives down to the area to retrieve her from a watery demise, only to find himself on the other side of the glass wall, which was almost totally submerged with water, as well. There they were, daddy and daughter, both holding their breath while treading water as they make underwater attempts to break through the glass wall to no avail. With major trimmers from the earthquake, which put them in this precarious place of danger, they placed their hands together with the glass between them, looking at the fear in one another’s eyes with a look of, “What if we give up?”, when suddenly…the power goes out in the theater. One audience member actually shouted, “NO!” I kid you not!

After a few silent minutes, with the exception of popcorn crunching, an usher came in to announce that they were trying to get the power back on. Our instructions were to sit tight as only the emergency lights in the multiplex were working. And that we did. Maybe 25 minutes went by. Another announcement was given saying that a bad storm had zapped all the power in the shopping mall (the theater is inside a mall) and they had received an “all-clear” to exit the building. I thought to myself, “An all-clear? What does that tell us?” As we all left the darkened cinema, theater management graciously offered rain check tickets to be redeemed at any time. As I walked outside, it was very clear just what had occurred while shaking, rattling, and rolling with Dwayne Johnson.

A friend of mine took this shot of the tornado from her car.

As it turned out, a tornado went right over the mall during the movie. The sky still had a greenish/yellow cast to it, with debris all over the parking lot. There was some evidence of hail, but my vehicle didn’t have any major damage.

Although protected by the storm, I still wrestled with the fact I never saw the resolve of the fix the character and his daughter was in, not to mention the outcome of the entire film. Did they give up and die looking at each other through the glass? Did he watch her die, and in sorrow swam back up to the surface? How would he explain it to his estranged wife, her mother? Did he have a firearm to shoot out the glass wall for rescue, or would the weight of the water quench ballistic attempts? Was there another aftershock which broke the glass wall, allowing a quick escape? Did he and his estranged wife reconcile afterwards? Drama, drama, drama.

Photo by Polina Kovaleva on Pexels.com

Although I had a free ticket, life got in the way of a quick revisit to the theater. In fact, I didn’t much want to have to watch the whole first 80 minutes of the production to get to the underwater scene. So, by the time I could get back to the theater, the film had moved on to world of cable, streaming, and DVD. I was left to hold my breath until I could catch it someday, and hope all the while, nobody would spoil it for me.

How long did I wait? Almost 2 years later, I had the opportunity to stream the movie. I made myself a date to sit, with remote in hand, and fast forward to the literal cliff-hanging scene I had been deprived of.

How often I have been where Dwyane Johnson was, under water, desperately trying for a rescue, an escape, in a place where hopelessness sets in. Pain weaves in the dreams at night concerning how to get out, or what might be the key to release, or asking the question, what will tomorrow bring. Like Dorothy, caught up in a vortex, the waiting place is nothing short of haunting. Have you been there, wondering how life, or a scene in life, will play out? For you, it might have only been a 2 minute wait. For others, maybe it was a 2 year wait. For many, the ending to an issue remains hanging on the reels in life’s projection room.

Photo by Pietro Jeng on Pexels.com

When I say I am a, “person of faith”, I may be fudging on the truth of it. Yes, I am a Christian. Yes, I believe in God, and His son, Jesus. Yes, I have trust in the theology of scripture. So, in that sense I am telling the truth. I am a, “person of faith”. Still, I have a major fault line. My tectonic plates shift in life sometimes, often revealing the weaknesses of a faulty faith. Much like Simon Peter, distracted by the wind and the waves of Galilee, it’s easier to sink below the surface than to walk upon the water, even when Jesus is right there making Himself known. Testings can truly smack like a side kick in the UFC.

Unknowns are out there which can be highly disturbing, disrupting, and derailing. My nature is to FIX IT. I want to overcome the impossibles in life on my own internal engine power. No doubt, you feel the same. However, just when you are in the middle of an impossible situation, paradigms suddenly shift and sometimes waiting is required. Many who feel they control everything around them, along with, whatever comes their way, are scheduled for a wake up call from reality. Others fear the future so much, they hide in the cave of inwardness, jumping at each and every shadow.

As a “person of faith”, I must review where I stand in the treading of life’s waters. If I choose to live by faith, and not on my outward circumstances, then I will be brought to hard glass walls for testing. During those spiritual examinations, I have the opportunity to rest, not scramble like egg on skillet. In a faith-driven life, the writer of my script is God, The Great I Am. It’s acknowledging His power in my life, power I do not muster on my own fortitude.

One of the titles of God which eases me is, “Alpha And Omega”. He is A-Z and every letter in between. Scripture states that He calls Himself, “The Beginning And The Ending”. Peace comes when understanding He knows my ending, and was there in my beginning. In all scenes of my life, rather in unrest, or rest, I cannot beat that title. If I ignore such a truth, my weight is on my fault lines just waiting for the plates to shift.

A true test can be conquered where the answers are found in fuel for the race.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Isaiah 43;1b (EVS)

Plates A-Spinnin’

“You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog,
Cryin’ all the time.
You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog,
Cryin’ all the time.
Well, you ain’t never caught a rabbit,
and you ain’t no friend of mine.”
(1956) “Hound Dog” Recorded By: Elvis Presley Composers: Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller (Originally Recorded By: Big Mama Thorton in 1952.)

What’s not to love about a hound?

Photo by cheptu00e9 cormani on Pexels.com

Well, maybe a little less drool, and a pair of shorts would be nice. But for a country raised kid, who loves raccoon or rabbit hunting, you just can’t get any better than the amazingly instinctive radar nose of a good hound dog.

It happened around 1905, Young County, Texas. William “WR” Brown, my Grandpa Brown (From my dad’s side.) was a hunting lad with a rifle and a couple of excellent hunting hounds. Later in life, he also had champion wolf hunting hounds. If you’ve ever read the book, or saw the movie, “Where The Red Fern Grows”, then you already have the picture of kids living out in the boonies, raising pups for wild game hunting. Dinner on their mother’s table depended on it. (Sorry PETA, that’s how it was…is.) It’s difficult for me to imagine him as a young teenager. This is how I knew my Grandpa Brown during the 60’s and 70’s…

Before I move on, I must explain a bit of what life was like in west Texas in those times. My family was a pioneering clan which aided in establishing the county, about 2.5 driving hours west of Dallas, Texas. I have written about my Grandma Brown’s father who rode a mule from Georgia right after the Civil war settling in Young County, Texas. My Grandpa Brown’s folks moved to the same area not long after. Life was rugged. You lived off the land, or you starved. You carried a firearm wherever you went as the land was not tame on several levels.

A view from our family homestead in Young County, Texas close to the Brazos River.

They lived along the red waters of the Brazos River. In those days, a hunter had to watch his back at all times. They shared the land with bears, wolves, cougars, panthers, rattlesnakes, razorback wild hogs, etc. A boy grew up by his father’s side when roughing it through the brush hunting for the next meal. By the time a kid was 12 years old or so, he went out solo with a rifle strapped to his back. Often it would be an overnight hunt, especially when it came to chasing down raccoons. I remember well my one and only time raccoon hunting overnight with my cousins. Watching the hounds tree a raccoon was like watching a choreographer at work. It was such a learning experience.

At the age of 15, or so, my Grandpa Brown and a friend, gathered their hounds for an overnight raccoon and possum hunt starting along the banks of the Brazos on foot. The night would prove to be frustrating as the critters outsmarted the hounds a few times. The boys were trained to be persistent, never letting the word “quit” come up in their minds. Following the sounds of their barking hounds, they ate-up the clock and the miles deep into the west Texas wilderness. In fact, youth’s enthusiasm drove their steps much further than they had anticipated. To this day, the family still can’t say how far they traveled through the relentless terrain. Some estimate they must have crossed county lines, but no one can be sure.

The miles were unforgiving through the mounting hours. Calling back the hounds in a state of total irritation, the two boys realized they had gone way beyond their intentions while chasing the ever eluding varmints. Exhausted, the boys huddled with the dogs, made a campfire, and nodded on and off in the pre-dawn hours.

Just before sunrise, the two hungry hunters put their heads together to calculate how long it would take to get back to the Brazos. With a quick step, they retraced their journey among the cactus and mesquite trees.

After dawn, they caught the rich aroma of smoked venison floating through the dewy brush. Being so tired and hungry, they let the hounds guide them to the area where the meat was being prepared. Without a traveled road anywhere nearby, they came upon an old one-room shack with prairie hens pecking the ground. They could see the glow of an oil lamp through a window near the front door. Unaware of who lived there, sheer faith and boldness kicked-in as the boys decided to approach in hopes of a bite to eat. Knowing the times of that day, along with the pioneering spirit of new Texans putting down roots, I imagine the place looked something like this…

An actual photo of a home built by one of my relatives sometime in the 1880’s.

The rickety plank door opened as they approached. An old ragged man, holding a rifle, greeted the two teens and their dogs. He asked who they were. As the duo told him their names, along with their failed adventure, the old man sized them up, realizing their obvious circumstance, and generously invited them in. He told them he was just rustling up some breakfast with plenty to spare. Putting my imagination together, I can say he probably looked much like my relatives in that time, like the two gentlemen from family records show…minus the Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes.

An actual photo of two of my Timmons clan from Young County. Unsure of the date of this shot.

The old man invited the hounds to enter as the boys hit a fine wall of cooking eggs and smoked venison. Inside, by the roaring fire, sat his two hunting hounds eagerly waiting for a plate of food. The small cabin was dusty, with a scent of musk competing with the pan on the iron-cast stove.

As the old man directed, the boys took a seat on a wooden bench at a table near the fireplace. As he asked them about where they were from, as well as, information about their folks, he added a few more eggs to a pan after pouring some hot coffee into a tin cup they were to share. It was clear that the old man and his two hounds lived alone with nothing but sage as a neighbor. As the food was about done, the old timer reached up to an opened shelf where he grabbed three tin plates.

The trio had a fine time sharing stories of the country, hunting and fishing spots, and the wildlife. The cabin was warm, the food was hot, and the bellies were filled.

When the plates were emptied, and the conversation began to slow, the teens wiped their hands on their pants, mentioned how terrific the food was, adding how they needed to get back to retracing their original trek. The old man nodded his head stating he sure enjoyed the unexpected company. He admitted, “Ya know, I never see a soul in these parts. Not hide, nor hair.” Just then, the old man picked up the tin plates, and the iron pan off the stove, and placed them on the creaking floor right by the table leg. Stating as a matter of fact, with a slight chuckle, “Come on hounds, have at it! They always lick the pans and plates.” As if waiting for a cue, the old timer’s hounds raced toward the pan and plates, mouths first. As the tongue-lashing began, the plates started to spin with the force of eager tongues, until the dogs instinctively put their paws on the plates to stop the circular motion. The teens laughed as they watched the licking fracas at hand, partially from the sight of it, but also because back home their mothers would’ve never allowed it. As every drop and morsel had been lapped-up, the aged hermit picked up the pan, along with the plates, and placed them back on the shelf where he retrieved them. My Grandpa Brown and his hunting buddy, never went back there again.

True story.

Are you appalled? Of course, we must put ourselves in the position of this old hermit. No doubt, this man’s habits were out of the norm, but not from his perspective. Obviously, for years, maybe decades, he allowed his dogs to clean his plate and pan. After all, a hounds tongue is long and wide, covering a lot of surface in very little time. For him, it sure saved him a lot of well water. From his viewpoint, those plates ended up looking very spotless. And I’m sure they were after the hounds had their way with it all. However, for my grandpa and his pal, they saw the opposite. They saw hunting hounds, who fetched animals in their mouths, dead or alive. These are the same country hounds who would looked forward to finding a leftover stiff carcass in the woods just for the satisfaction of something to chew on. Yes, as cute as they are, they’re the same animals who clean themselves, every part of themselves, with their tongues. Certainly, these canine tongues should not be a poor man’s dish washing machine.

How hungry are you now?

I align it to taking a black felt-tip pen and finely dotting a white poster from corner to corner. Tape it to a wall in a dark room. Go to the other end of the room, hold a flashlight, turning it on with the bulb facing away from the poster. What do you see? In the darker part of the room, you see, through the ambient glow, a blank white poster on the wall. Even taking a step or two closer to the poster, you still can observe a white poster. Yet, if you shine the flashlight on the poster, you suddenly see the speckles you made with your pen. If you dare to bring the flashlight closer, the dots become very present to the eye. What appears to be a clean white poster, is indeed flawed with black dots.

Al Capone, the notorious gangster, murderer, and bootlegger, would perform an action of goodness right after finishing up a most hideous crime. He gave mega funds, over and above to the Catholic Church. He gave away free gifts to the poor. He began soup kitchens for the homeless. Some say it was for laundering money. Yet, all of that was good, but the hound drool was all over it.

Too often, in our measly efforts, the norm to remedy sin’s guilt and shame, we work something we, and others, would see as a good deed. You might say, some see it as an attempt to build a tower to climb the levels of eternal self-insurance. In doing so, it cleans our dirty plate, or so it would seem from our fallen perspective. King David wrote something astonishing. Those who read it were dismayed. Frankly, it is still baffling to most. He wrote, “…There is no one good. Not even one…” (Psalm 53:3 – my translation) He wasn’t saying people don’t do good things, or people neglect displaying explosions of loveliness. Instead, he was showing us the misnomer of a sparkling tin plate, licked by one of the filthiest tongues created. He was pointing out that what we consider good can never rise to God’s holiness, His spotlessness, His sinlessness, His standard.

We see it all the time, even in high places. We now call evil “good”, and good is now “evil”.

I am sure the old hermit died in that shack, believing with all his heart that his plate was cleansed every night. However, two teenagers knew the truth of it.

To leave this earth spotless can only happen with a free offer of washing in fuel for the race.

“All of us have become like something unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a polluted garment; all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities carry us away like the wind.” Isaiah 64:6 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

I Almost Couldn’t Bear The News

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

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

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

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

Megan hug April 1st 2017

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

Meganfest

MEGAN-BROWN in Artvoice June 23rd 2016

Photo:  Megan in Artvoice Magazine, June 2016.

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

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

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

Kayak 2 PA

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

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

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

Black Bear Wiki

Photo:  American Black Bear (Wikipedia)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Muleskinner

Cover Photo:  Wikipedia (Pack Mule)

“Well I’m a lady mule skinner
From down old Tennessee way
Hey hey, I come from Tennessee
I can make any mule listen
Or I won’t accept your pay
Hey hey I won’t take your pay…”  (Composed: 1930)  “Blue Yodel No. 8” (Mule Skinner Blues) Recorded by:  Dolly Parton (1971)  Composer:  Jimmie Rodgers
Odd title, isn’t it?
There’s two solid favorites in my life, animals and the American old west.  An old western movie, or television show, has both.  Of course, before the industrial revolution,  back in the 1800’s, animals were a vital part of life.  Without a horse, donkey, or mule, you had to walk.
Mule Spotted
Photo:  Wikipedia  (Spotted Mule)
Often in an old western novel, or up on the screen, you might come across a person who is called a “Muleskinner”.  The first few times I heard of it I thought it was just a derogatory term for some back-woods liquored-up buffoon without a lick of horse sense.  (You can tell I’m well versed in old-western jargon.)  Usually in description, either in print or film, the “Muleskinner” seems to always wear buckskin coats or pants with the fringes hanging loosely from the edges.  Right away, with a title like, “Muleskinner”, you wonder if the hide adorning such a character is from a mule he skinned out on the prairie somewhere.  To me, that’s a person I wouldn’t want to belly-up to a saloon while jawin’ in a dusty, God-forsaken wet-whistle of a town.  (Ah, there I go again.)
The mule is a beautiful creation.  Actually, the mule is a hybrid of a horse and donkey.  Brilliant minds bred them, for the first time, in what is now known as Turkey prior to 3,000 BC.  Ancient Egyptian history chronicles the mule as a working animal.  King David and King Solomon owned and bred mules in biblical texts.  And it’s no wonder.
Mule Packing
Photo:  Wikipedia  (Mule as beast of burden.)
By definition, the mule is a “beast of burden”.  It can be packed with a household of goods that a horse couldn’t come close to carrying.  The mule doesn’t eat as much as a horse.  A mule is stronger than a horse, yet slower than a horse.  The mule has much stronger  hooves for rocky trails.  And a mule’s skin is not as sensitive as horse hide.  Its hide can take weather elements better, as well as, desert sun, and yokes.  Many farmers traded in plow horses for mules.  It’s been recorded that long-haul stage coaches, which traveled over harsh terrain, often utilized mules because of their outstanding physical endurance.  Their life-span is also greater than a horse.  They can live up to 50 years.  Yoked teams of some 20 mules were used to haul heavy loads, or train-wagons across rugged country.  In the early days of the locks of the Erie Canal, mules were used on the banks to tow boats.
Mule Team
Photo:  Wikipedia  (Mule teams for multiple hitched wagons.)
What an animal.  By the way, the driver of the mule-team in the photo above is…a muleskinner.  No, he doesn’t take a large hunting knife and skin the hide off a mule.
The truth of the origin of the nickname, “Muleskinner” is not pleasant.  Because the skin of a mule is not as sensitive as a horse, many drivers of the mules, with reigns in hand, often whipped the reigns on the mule’s back too harshly.  Many times the end result was the leather reigns, or whips, would cut the mule’s skin in the process of lengthy hauls.  Thus, the nickname, “Muleskinner” was birthed.  It’s sad, and brutal, but true.  I will assume here there were also animal-loving drivers who cared well for the mules they drove and left them unmarked after the yokes and harnesses came off.
No doubt we have all had times in life when we felt whipped, bloodied, and beaten during our path forward.  For whatever reason, being burdened-down with the heaviness of life and life’s masters.
Maybe I’m not describing you, but maybe you know of someone fitting this description.  Maybe it’s someone you’ve not seen for many years, then suddenly your roads cross and you find yourself astonished, or almost speechless.  Your old friend, co-worker, or loved one looked weather-beaten, appearing to be 20, or 30 years older than they are.  You immediately want to ask them what happened in life’s journey which lorded over them.  Maybe you got up this morning, gazed at the stranger in the bathroom mirror while asking yourself, “Why do I look so worn-out lately?”  You’re reading someone like that.
There were wealthier people in the times of Jesus who would’ve owned a mule, or a few.  As Jesus was speaking at one time, I picture a perfectly equaled team of mules going by, yoked up pulling a large wagon piled with a full load of items, including a millstone for grinding grain.  I imagine the well-dressed man of means whipping the backs of his beasts of burden to the point of splitting the hides with each lash of leather.  And just then, Jesus would say…
“Come to Me, all those toiling and being burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  – Jesus – Matthew 11:28-30  (Berean Literal Bible)
So many of the world’s religions are wrapped in “Do this”, “Do that”, “Recite this”, Recite that”, Walk on your knees here and there”, “Pay this, or pay that”, “Suffer for heaven’s reservation”, “Earn your glory”, “Kiss this stone”, “Pray this many times or lose favor”, etc, etc.  Jesus knew about these legalistic demands to GAIN spiritual status and treasures of eternity from a god with a whip who is so distant.  Can’t you just see a religion founder, or leader sitting on the driver’s bench, whipping his yoked-up subjects shouting,
“Here, let’s burden you with this, or with that.  Let’s strap on this unnecessary load upon you because past generations dictated it so.” 
Now, read again what Jesus said, but slower this time.
He left His divine throne to spend 33 years here, living among us, teaching us God’s true heart toward us mules.  His “easy yoke” offer still holds true with the promise of a light load for however many years you have left on this rocky road.  He earned it for you.
When yoked-up with The Everlasting, the burden is lighter with fuel for the race.
 “Surely He took on our infirmities and carried our sorrows; yet we considered Him stricken by God, struck down and afflicted.  But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” – Isaiah 53:4-5  (Berean Study Bible)

Pedaling Through

Cover Photo:  Pexals

“We come together on this special day
Sung our message loud and clear
Looking back, we’ve touched on sorrowful days
Future disappears
You will find peace of mind
If you look way down in your heart and soul
Don’t hesitate ’cause the world seems cold
Stay young at heart, ’cause you’re never, never, never old
That’s the way of the world…” 
(1975)  “That’s The Way of The World”  Recorded by: Earth, Wind, & Fire  Composers:  Charles Stepney, Verdine White, M. (Maurice) White.

It was hot that afternoon in May of this year.  My wife and I were busy doing yard work under an abusive Texas sun.  At the time I was using our manual push-lawnmower, when from behind me I heard my name, “Alan”.  I turned around and there, on our side lawn, was a dear old friend from our high school days.  (For the purpose of this blog we will call him, Terry, because that’s his name.)  With a slight jump, I turned quickly to see who was speaking.  About the time I recognized him he said, “You two look like you’re working harder than I am.”  We laughed because we knew that wasn’t so.

There Terry was, straddling his 10-speed bike, decked out in his spandex, gloves and helmet.  Because we stay connected, we knew he was a cyclist, mad for the road.  A good example of his biking adventures, for a lunchtime ride, he recently ate up a little over 18 miles in one hour and five minutes.  That’s saying a lot for the average amateur cyclist, but Terry is my age…60 years old!  Put that in your tank.  We had a good 10 minute chat and off he went like a oiled-up speed demon on Mountain Dew.

man in blue and black shirt riding on bicycle
Photo by Mídia on Pexels.com

During our visit, we found out he streaks right by our house on his trek.  Often, I catch this blur of color wiz passed the front window in a fraction of a second.  “There’s the Terry-streak,” I always shout out.

Terry and I spoke briefly once about how our street has a slight downhill tilt going from east to west.  It didn’t surprise me when he acknowledged the fact.  I am most certainly sure Terry can tell you where each pothole is, the inclines of each road, and the expected traffic of every city street he tackles.  After so many runs, you get to where you memorize these things.  (In healthier days, I was a runner.  You get to intimately know your pavement.)

Road

Whatever road we find ourselves on can be filled with obstacles, dips, and uneven pavement.  Frankly, it can be an accident waiting to happen.  Terry admitted to experiencing a couple of mishaps.  (He is on notice with his wife.)  It seems to me we tend to focus on the tough, jagged miles ahead of us more than the road we have conquered behind us.  Who is to say which view is best at the end of our race in this life?

July 4th is a big deal for the Unites States.  We usually celebrate it with gusto each year as we commemorate the day we declared our freedom from England’s king and his government.  This year’s celebration has been a bit dampened by the pandemic and recent damaging social unrest in our streets.  Oh, we’ve faced hardships and struggles before, although this struggle, and the combination thereof, is somewhat of a different blend.  America is pedaling up a long incline at the moment.  It’s been a hard few months.  It feels like the Statue of Liberty should have a tear rolling down her cheek.  (That is, if Lady Liberty still stands by the time you read this.)  And if all American flags haven’t been burned by the time you read this, you might find they don’t seem to wave as proudly as the year before.

Flag Not Unfurled

We know from past experience, when we learn from history, there will be times of uneven roadways stretched out before us.  We have seen where potholes arise from nowhere.  We have witnessed a nation can run head-on into mobs of traffic going the opposite direction.  Downhill coasting will come along in a nation’s history, as well as an uphill climb.  It’s all a matter of the cycle of the way of the world.  This world, not the next.

Homestead in Graham

As for me, long may she wave through the harsh winds, uphill battles, cloudbursts, and unexpected rocky surfaces.  Through the breeze there is a Divine whisper which says all things are possible with fuel for the race.

“…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”   –  Declaration of Independence 1776.  Penned by Thomas Jefferson.

 

The Essentials

Cover Photo:  Pexels

“I need you like water
Like breath, like rain
I need you like mercy
From heaven’s gate
There’s a freedom in your arms
That carries me through
I need you”  (2000) “I Need You”  Recorded by:  LeAnn Rimes                                        Composers:  Dennis Matkosky & Ty Lacy

This is embarrassing, but I need to share one of the craziest knuckleheaded things I’m guilty of.  Keep in mind, I was only 15 years old, full of adventure and vigor, with constant daredevil brainstorms.  And of course, I was indestructible in the summer of 1975.  Weren’t you at 15?

I was at a summer camp, with church friends, from my youth group on the banks of the sprawling, Lake Texoma, on the Texas side.  Lake Texoma is huge, as it spans parts of southern Oklahoma, as well as, north-central Texas.  In fact, it’s one of the largest reservoirs in the United States.  It’s a fisherman’s haven, about 74 miles north of Dallas, Texas.  You should Google it to get a better picture of what I’m about to reveal to you.  Sightings of alligators are rare there, but they are there.

Lake Texoma Map Pinterest

Tied-up along the banks, were a few blocks of Styrofoam, the largest about 5’x5′ square, and approximately 2-feet in thickness.  I think they used them for some sort of “King of The Hill” games in shallow waters.  Difficult to keep one’s balance if standing on top.

Three of my extremely bright friends, and I, came up with a brilliant plan.  Like calculating convicts, planning an elaborate overnight escape from prison, we carefully planned out a scheme to barrow some brooms, make our way down to the Styrofoam blocks under the cover of night, board it, and paddle our way to Oklahoma and back before sunup.  Three of us were athletes.  I was a trained tournament fighter in karate/kickboxing.  One was a state award-winning gymnast, headed for the Olympic trials.  One was a football player.  The other was…well…a guitar player.  What could possibly go wrong?

About midnight, we quietly freed ourselves from our barracks.  We made our way to the maintenance worker’s shed.  There we discovered only two brooms, one mop, and a fan rake.  We figured it’s all we had, so we borrowed what God gave us.  What could possibly go wrong?

Brooms etc

Like four teenage ninjas, we quietly made our way down to the shore, untied the biggest block of Styrofoam available, and with each one sitting on each of the four corners, with our legs hanging over the sides, we began to row like madmen on a quest.  Of course, the brooms worked better than the mop and rake, but we strategically placed the two guys with brooms (I was one of them.) on the opposite diagonal corners for better rowing balance.  So, off we went, in our dark clothes into the dark waters, lacking life jackets, flashlights, reflectors, or flares.  What could possibly go wrong?

lighted building near body of water at nighttime
Photo by Lum3n on Pexels.com

We had a blast, rowing 90-to-nothin’, talking about girls, our camp counselors, the mess hall’s food, our youth pastor, and…alligators.  What could possibly go wrong?

Believe it or not, we made good nautical mileage in short order.  To this day I have no true sense of how far out we went, but I will guess two miles, or so.  What we didn’t realize is how far across the Oklahoma shore was from our campsite.  I will say, it looked a lot closer than reality.

I don’t believe we made it even halfway across when we all decided to take a break.  We laid back, with our empty pointed heads meeting in the middle, looking up at the stars with the sound of water licking the sides of our…yacht.

At that time, we all knew we had bit-off more than we could chew, but didn’t speak it into the overnight air.  After a time, in our exhaustion, we debated the idea of defeat.  Someone brought up the thought that if we got caught we would all be sent back home in a shame wagon.  On the other hand, someone brought up the fact that if we didn’t start paddling back, the sunrise would beat us, revealing our naval escapade.  We would be exposed to those headed for breakfast.  The skinniest guy said he didn’t have the strength to paddle with his mop any longer.  Silently, each of us began to consider the danger we were in, sitting on a piece of Styrofoam in the middle of Lake Texoma, without safety flotation devices, not to mention…alligators.  Personally, I was more worried about the lake legend of the wild goat-man who lurks about the shores looking for young campers, no doubt since the days of Moses.

Bravely, one by one, we agreed to make a 180 to paddle back before dawn.  With arms feeling like rubber, half dead on our feet, we made it to shore while it was still dark.  We swore we would never tell anyone.  The four of us made a pact.  What could possibly go wrong?  You guessed it, the week wasn’t over until one of us (Not me.) bragged about it to a girlfriend.  Before you could say, “Gator-bait” everyone on the campgrounds heard about it.  We narrowly escaped an early trip home.  And some, didn’t believe we did it.  I’m grateful I am still here to write about it.  God’s mercy and grace are real, in real-time.

Me and Tommy

Photo:  I’m on the right, with another fearless one acting like fools.

The 1975-Forging Foursome came to mind recently during our current COVID-19 crisis.  That still night out on Lake Texoma involved four teenagers who relied on each other to stay afloat, to stay alive.  Whether one had a broom, a mop, or a rake, we depended on each other, even though we were pooped in the dark on top of 100 feet of water.  For us, we were a team to be reckoned with.  We were essential to one another.

Don’t misunderstand what I’m about to say.  In this pandemic crisis, only essential businesses, essential workers, essential volunteers were called upon to keep America afloat.  The non-essentials were/are under “Shelter-In-Place” orders.  Truly, there was/is a good reason for it.  The virus we battle is like a team of alligators in darkened waters.  I, for one, am extremely grateful for first responders, medical staffers, fast-food services, grocery stores, truckers, farmers and ranchers, gas station managers, sanitation workers, postal workers, etc….  They are all rowing in unison as fast as they can to protect the rest of us.  They were all placed on their jobs for, “such a time as this”.

However, in the end, WE are ALL “Essential”.  Much like pieces of a puzzle, we are all essential to one another.  Where would we be if not for the shoe salesman, the record producer, the librarian, the barber, the DMV clerk, the house painter, and the carpet layer?  Sure, in the crunch-time of paddling through the dark waters of the COVID-19 battle, some jobs are needed to be on the front lines of the viral war.  I get that.  I agree with that.  However, in the end, after life is done, there will be a ditch-digger, a candle-maker, a school janitor, a tool & die maker, who will realize they were part of God’s assorted massive toolbox.  There are no non-essentials here.

God Himself will say to some, “Well done, good and faithful servant”.

Each one is precious, and needed.  Each one has an essential place with fuel for the race.

“…Whatever you might do, work from the soul, as to the Lord and not to men…” – Colossians 3:23 (excerpt) – (Berean Literal Version)

What Took Kobe Bryant’s Life?

Photo:  The Sun/UK

“…The rain may never fall till after sundown.
By eight, the morning fog must disappear.
In short, there’s simply not
a more congenial spot
for happily-ever-aftering than here
in Camelot.”  –  (1959/1960)  Camelot (Musical score theme song.)  Composers:  Lyrics, Alan Jay Lerner  Music, Frederick Loewe

I’ve never been a big basketball fan, unless the Dallas Mavericks are in the playoffs (Still waiting).  However, I am a fan of humanity.

Tragic, so very tragic, the recent taking of 9 lives aboard Kobe Bryant’s leased helicopter.  NBA star, Kobe Bryant and his 13 year old daughter, Gianna were among the diseased.  It’s not just NBA fans who are mourning the sudden loss, but literally multitudes around the globe are feeling the sting of this horrific event.

You might have been spending time in a cave somewhere if you’ve not heard the news of this helicopter crash from Sunday morning, January 26th.  In the Los Angeles area, after an early morning church service, Kobe and his daughter boarded the helicopter with 7 other friends, including their well-experienced pilot.  They were planning to attend a youth basketball tournament scheduled for later in the day in Thousand Oaks, California.  Unfortunately, a few minutes after takeoff, the pilot made a maneuver to rise above the morning fog for clearer vision.  He had asked permission from the control tower to fly under “special visual flight rules”, literally flying by vision only.  After getting approval, air traffic officials say that the craft reached 2,300 feet then took a fast dive at 2,000 feet per minute, crashing head-first into the side of a steep mountainside.  Officials report they were 20-30 feet from clearing the mountain.  Truly heartbreaking.

As I write this, the investigation is ongoing.  There’s lots to be learned.  Two facts are certain, there was a thick morning fog which couldn’t be negotiated for lower altitude flights, and no terrain awareness warning system on board to notify the pilot of the mountain in his flight-path.  Experts say the helicopter basically disintegrated on impact.  Death for all on board was instant.

The loss is simply tremendous.  Mourning now are scores of family members from each of the 9 victims from all over the map.  Then there are the friends of each of the 9 deceased passengers from every corner of the globe.  Of course, there are acquaintances of each of the lost ones.  Naturally, there are those who mourn from the ranks of basketball fans, teammates, coaches, millions of fans who never met Kobe, or the others on board.  Each life always touches a multitude of other lives.  A falling rock in a still pond makes wide ripples which travel to its various shorelines.  I guess you could call it, the George Bailey Effect.

There’s always one question finding its way first when tragic news hits in such a disastrous, unexpected exit.  What killed Kobe Bryant and his daughter?  Some will say, the pilot.  Some will point out the helicopter with no warning system.  Others might say the control tower staff.  Those in the valley below, watching the smoke rise from the crash site, might announce the mountain destroyed their lives.  I’m afraid the debate will be long lasting.

God bless the loved ones left behind.  May they find true peace and comfort from the Name Above All Names.

A couple of days before the crash, here in the Dallas area, we experienced soupy conditions as well.  This is what downtown Dallas looked like from a commercial flight coming in for a landing.

Foggy Dallas by Ross Hardin & Dallas Morning News

Photo:  Ross Hardin, via Dallas Morning News

Have you ever driven in such a fog?  Have you ever taken a walk, or a jog on a trail in dense fog?  Imagine being in the air with 50 feet of visibility.  It’s highly disorienting.  You might find yourself without your barings of left/right, up/down.  This may have very well been the enemy of the pilot, the killer of the flight.

art fingers foggy hand
Photo by Pedro Figueras on Pexels.com

Allow me to say bluntly, there have been times when my foggy conditions had nothing to do with humidity, or the weather in general.

Too many times in my life of twists and turns, I invited fog to encroach on my path.  My walk with God became hazy, disorienting, and unable to see His flight-path for my life.  Have you ever been there?  A shinny object over there brought in the haze of a spiritual backslide down a steep slope I never thought I would ever experience.  Rounding the corner on my designated path… look…a beautiful rabbit to chase.  So, in my distraction, I put on my Alice In Wonderland shoes and off I went into a misty cloud of darkness where my vision, my focus was lost.  Over the hill, you spy a gorge below, filled with a blur of a whipped cream-like fog-bank.  Immediately I ponder what it would be like to climb down into such a chasm to get up close and personal inside the misty haze.  Once there, you realize it’s not the chosen path where safety lies waiting.  The climb back up to the clear view is so far away.  Instead, you can’t see above, around, or through the muck.  You can flash your lights on bright, but it only bounces back by the wall of fog.  No need to use your shadow as a compass, for the fog offers no shadows.

Fog is not our friend.  Fog lacks grace.  Fog lacks love.  Fog serves up misdirection.  It cares not who you are, or how many halls of fame you have been inducted.  One thing fog does possess…a weakness.

Ask any ship captain.  The foghorn is imperative when on the sea.  The tiny partials of H2O, making up the low-hanging, ground-loving cloud, is perfect for carrying audio.  Sound waves board these tiny morsels of water within mist as if they were minuscule microphones which transmit quickly to the nearest ear.  The foghorn is set at a very low frequency where the vibration skims off the surface of the water like a thin stone gliding on the exterior of the deep.  The low frequency pierces the dark, murky mist.  It bellows out, “I’M HERE!  ALTHOUGH YOU CAN’T SEE ME, I’M AFLOAT HERE IN THIS CLOUD!”  Soon, a lighthouse ashore, beams its blinding lamp toward the sound of the foghorn, guiding the ship to port.

Lighthouse Final Take

Photo:  My wife’s, Michelle Niles-Brown very first painting.

My flight-path in life has met with mountainsides a few times.  When I segue into the fog of this world, I will be, and have been, disoriented, adrift from my control tower, unable to hear its wise words.  Count on it happening when you seek only “special visuals” from your own judgement.

No matter how thick the cloud bank, no matter how wide the fog may be, no matter if the visibility is only 5 feet, when I hear the cutting foghorn of my Creator, I not only sense my built-in warning system, my flight-path is rediscovered.  The choice is mine to make the correction on faith, and not by sight.

Learning from life’s tragedies can first be navigated by fuel for the race.

“My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow Me.  And I am giving them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them from my hand.”  – Jesus –  John 10:27-28  (Aramaic Bible Into Plain English)

 

 

 

But All I’ve Got Is A Photograph

“Every time I see your face
It reminds me of the places we used to go.
But all I’ve got is a photograph
And I realize you’re not coming back anymore…”  (1973)  Photograph.  Recorded by:  Ringo Starr   Composers:  Richard (Ringo) Starkey and George Harrison

I thought I arrived too early, but as I got out of the car, a voice shouted out, “Alan?”  There, just two cars over, it was her, Joan and her nephew, Matthew….When I hugged him, I felt as if I had known him all of his life, as if he were my own son.

Forgive me if there’s nothing really valuable to use in what I’m about to write.  I just know I have to.  I MUST write about it.

Meet Terry Sindle.  Terry was a dear friend of mine.  We were the same age.  He, his younger sister, Joan, and their newly divorced mom, had just moved into the apartment complex where my mom and I lived.  It was 1973 and the Sindle family were fresh off the moving van from Staten Island, New York.  They had such heavy NY accents that this Texas lad could hardly decipher.  But nevertheless, Terry and I had so much in common.

Terry Sindle RLT Choral

(Terry Sindle in high school, 1977/1978.)

He was a bit from the wild side, and I was far more conservative.  He was a casual pot smoker and pill-popper, and I chewed gum.  He was into Led Zeppelin, and I was into Manilow.  I was a spiritually plugged-in church member, and Terry was agnostic at best.  He wore long wavy hair, and my cut looked like a Wall Street lawyer.  I was a martial arts student and tournament fighter, while he could care less about any sport.   Yet, we both experienced our parents divorcing.  We both had poor single moms.  We both loved music, and music performance.  And we both loved pizza…or so I thought.  Being from Staten Island, NY, I figured he liked pizza.  So, another friend and I introduced him to what was the best pizza in our neighborhood, Pizza Inn.  When the cardboard-thin, scantly-topped crispy crusted pizza came out, Terry looked at it and said in astonishment, “WHAT IS THIS?  THIS isn’t pizza!”  Here in Texas we thought pizza was pizza.  We thought Pizza Inn could do no wrong. Terry had to educate us in what real NY pizza consumers enjoy.  It would be two years later before a NY style pizza joint opened up in our suburb, and we’ve never been the same since.

One thing Terry and I didn’t have in common was the guitar.  He was an incredible guitarist.  I was strictly a vocalist, although dabbled lightly in piano and guitar.  His musicianship was keen, to the point where I could call him a “master technician”.  Terry’s grade of musicianship was well beyond the average teenage garage band.  In two days he learned all of the Beatles music catalog.  TWO DAYS!  He, at 14 years old had begun to compose original music, as well as arrangements of cover songs.  He joined the school band and mastered the French Horn.  He was playing for local parties, filling-in with other local bands, and eventually started his own rock band before he was 16.

You could say we looked like a duck and a hawk side-by-side, but we knew we were a team of the same feather.  I was in the top choir in high school always urging him to audition.  I told him it would help sharpen his vocals, along with sight reading.  It didn’t take him long before he realized you can study classical while using what you learn for other genres of music.  He sheepishly did audition, and made the choir in 1977.  He naturally squirmed terribly so when having to wear a tux for serious choral performances.

Meanwhile, my band was more soft rock and ballads.  Naturally when it came time to add a lead guitarist, Terry was my guy.  Musically we knew what each other wanted without discussing it fully.  We both had terrific ears, as well as, the same quality control standards.  With that said, on stage he would hear an extra lick or riff in his mind, then would add it in real time on the fly, often distracting me from my lyrics.  (That was a good and bad problem when singing something like, Manilow’s “I Write The Songs”.)  Frankly, with Terry as my lead guitarist, I knew whatever came out of the amp speakers was going to be a top-shelf sound.

Not long after high school, I moved out to get my own place across town.  Meanwhile, Terry was wanting to move back to NY to further his rock career.  We performed a couple of times together during the summer after graduation, but I was pursuing music theater by that time and he was going deeper into metal rock.  Before you could say, “Y’all”, he moved back to NY to execute just what he set his sights on.  We lost track of each other by 1980.

Later in the 1980’s I heard from Terry a couple of times.  It turned out he continued to grow as a spectacular studio artist, and stage act.  He had even prepped for a move to England with the idea of joining a band there.

Terry Sindle Rocking the 80s

(Terry Sindle with his band in NY during the 1980’s.)

Then…all went silent.

About 10 years ago, I began a search to find my old friend.  By that time I was on Facebook which is where I started scrubbing for a friend link.  Nothing came up.  Internet searches came up empty.  It was as if Terry Sindle had vanished from the planet.

Then one day, and I hesitated to do it, I launched a national obituary search.  With a deep saddening, while swallowing back the lump in my throat, I found my friend’s obit.  Terry died back in 1997 at the age of 37.  What’s worse, the obit was short and simple, without surviving family member names, or details about his passing.  May God forgive me, I first thought his substance abuse finally caught up with him.  My thirst for more info grew almost to the unbearable.  All it gave me was the place of his death…Florida.  All other searches came up zero.  It was highly frustrating.  I gave up and the years went by.

A couple of months ago for  Throw-Back Thursday, I posted the picture below on Facebook and gave tribute to two members of my band who left us early in life.

Me and Band RLT Oct 1977 Terry Sindle far right

(My Alan Brown & Co Band.  Later affectionately referred to as my “Come & Go Band”)

In my defense, this shot goes back to Oct of 1977.  That’s the excuse for my tablecloth sports jacket and sailor pants.  Terry Sindle is seen on the far right in a black shirt with his Gibson guitar, standing in front of his stack of speakers.

Right after the post, a couple of old mutual high school friends contacted me asking if I knew whatever happened to Terry.  I told them what I had discovered, but it didn’t seem enough.  So, I lit a fire under my chair.

Somehow, someway, through a search, I found Joan Sindle, Terry’s younger sister.  I messaged with her right away.  Afterwards we spoke on the phone.  Pushing back tears, she caught me up on Terry’s short adult life and sudden death.  Terry was a victim of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  He beat it once in his life only to return years later like an overnight thief.  After not feeling well, and unable to shake it, he had a check-up with an Oncologist.  Shockingly, after running tests, the doctor gave him less than a week to live.  In fact, he died 3 days later.

Terry did well with his music while here.  In NY, he made radio airplay with one of his records.  Terry’s last album was cut just 3 months before he passed.  His bands always did very well in NY, and later in Florida after moving there.  He met a Floridian girl while in AA, fell in love, and got married.  They eventually were blessed with 3 boys.

Terry Sindle Wedding

While in the cancer ward, both times, he played songs for the other fellow-cancer patients.  That didn’t surprise me a bit.  He had a huge heart.  As for his substance addictions, they did strengthen their grip on his life.  He checked himself into rehab while in his 20’s.  He was clean for many years, fell off the wagon, and became clean again.  At some point, early in his marriage, both Terry and his wife, opened their hearts to God and His redemption offered through Jesus.  AA was good for Terry, but Divinity resting within, gave him the power to control the monkey on his back.  Remembering those days, Joan said he was excited about his new-found faith.

Recently Joan asked if I would hook-up with Terry’s youngest son, Matthew (now 25), who was only 3 years old when Terry passed.  She said because of his young age, he is always wanting to know more about his dad and thought it would be great if an old high school friend could shed light on his dad’s teen years.  I was thrilled!  I did so.  Matthew and I had a few terrific exchanges back and forth over cyberspace.  You might find it isn’t surprising to know that Matthew, along with one of his brothers, are musically talented to the hilt.  In fact, they can play any instrument they pick up.  Matthew also has all of Terry’s guitars and amps, as well as his French Horn from high school.

Terry Sindle and Sons

(Sorry for the flash reflection on this shot.  Terry and his boys less than a year before his death.)

A few days ago, Joan called to tell me Matthew was coming here to Dallas for a visit and wanted to know if we could meet.  Once again, I was thrilled!  I asked 3 other mutual high school friends, who knew Terry, to join us.  They were itching to show up.

When Joan first asked me to connect with Matthew, I could hardly describe the feeling.  It was so strange.  All I can say to paint this canvas with a stroke or two, is I felt a compelling, a strong, very strong tug to reach out to Terry’s son with all that was within me.  As each day rolled on I had this gnawing, this obsession propelling me with the thought that somehow I was doing this for Terry himself, as if he were here asking me to do this as a favor.  Truly, that feeling launched me into an overdrive to find pictures, Terry’s handwriting, and refresh every stand-out memory I could muster.  They were going to bring some pictures of Terry, (as you have seen) in his adult years.  We agreed to meet at a local pub, The Fox & Hound in north Dallas.

I thought I arrived too early, but as I got out of the car, a voice shouted out, “Alan?”  There, just two cars over, it was her, Joan and her nephew, Matthew.  Joan and I hugged as if we were siblings removed at birth.  When I hugged him, I felt as if I had known him all of his life, as if he were my own son.  The others drove up shortly after.

Terry Sindle Memorial Gathering

(My phone died while we were together, so Joan took this shot.  I’m the Celtic-looking guy sitting on the right with Mathew in the middle and some old high school friends.)

For several hours we spoke, laughed, cried, and ate and drank with Terry on our minds and hearts.  The guys poured out all their memories of Terry.  No one could recall anything sour to add concerning our younger times together.  Matthew and Joan shared more about the life and heart Terry displayed to others in his adult years.  He dearly loved his wife and sons.  Terry even wrote letters to his boys to help them understand who there dad was, what he consisted of, and how he wished he could be there to see them grow up.  After his prognosis, he told Joan how he couldn’t die because he had three sons to raise.  That was his concern while preparing to leave this life.  He also wrote to his sons of his spiritual awakening, sharing the love he found in God.

Afterward, Joan said she felt as if Terry had been with us around the table in the pub.  I told her it’s because she was meeting with his close friends that reflect Terry’s touch on our lives, still expressing it after 4 decades.  Of course, I know what she meant.  Again, I felt a rushing swift current of an urge to visit with Matthew sharing personally about his dad.  His eyes lit up as I described our days together.  He laughed at all of our funny stories about Terry.  He showed a great deal of pride displaying the family pictures, and describing the instruments he inherited.  He spoke of what he knew of his dad’s faith, adding that he too was in a music ministry with a desire to pursue a pastoral outreach.

As I looked at the pictures of Terry as an adult, I was nothing short of mesmerized.  It seemed like yesterday we were music-making teens, taking music theory class together, rehearsing quietly in his room, and doing laundry duty.  And now, I see the man in the pictures bringing me smiles, seeing he was a success in fatherhood and being a loving, loyal husband. When the time was right, he was man enough to realize he had substance abuse issues and sought help.  So many don’t.  He showed love, grace and benevolence toward other hurting cancer patients, even while his own life was ebbing away.  To me, a hit record seems tiny in comparison.

As we were saying goodbye in the parking lot, as the sun was setting, I looked into his son’s eyes and told him, “We knew your dad very well.  I can certainly say, with all confidence, he would be very proud of you, and who you have become.  You are an impressive young man, Matthew.  And somehow, I just can’t help but believe your dad is being told about our gathering today.”  Yes, we all teared-up, and rightly so.

Someone once wrote how we are not islands, living our lives separated, disconnected from others.  If the life of Terry Sindle taught us a couple of things, it’s that we are all peninsulas, connected to one another, which aids us in knowing what is most important.

One day I will see Terry again.  And when I do, I think he will say something like, “Thank you for helping me tell Matthew who I am.”

A life well lived is available from the vast cistern of fuel for the race.

“For none of us lives to himself alone, and none of us dies to himself alone.”  – Apostle Paul, from Romans 14:7 (Berean Study Bible)

 

 

Wiseguys On Tour

“We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts, we traverse far
Field and fountain
Moor and mountain
Following yonder star…”  (1857)  Composer:  John Henry Hopkins Jr.

Yeah, the cover photo above is backstage when I played a wise man in a Broadway style Christmas musical in Buffalo, NY in 2003.  That’s me in the red and yellow.  Lucy was the camel.  She was terrific.  Somehow, I often found myself positioned right behind her…behind.  She didn’t care about blocking scenes, apparently.  Her owner/handler told us although Lucy was mild-mannered, camels have been known to lock their jaws over a human’s head and bite them right off the necks.  In this shot, I had no idea she had her face turned toward me.  I do wonder what she was thinking.  However, she seems to be smiling.  My hope is she just liked my peppermint colored hat.  Nevertheless, I’m telling you right now, riding a camel while singing at the same time is not a great combination.  Zero comfort.  And, poor baby, she stunk!  There’s no way I would, or could, ride Lucy over field and fountain, moor and mountain.

Speaking of mountains…take a look at this.

Wagon Ruts Chicago Tribune

Photo:  Chicago Tribune

One of my fondest memories with my single mom were rare times when we shared a summer vacation.  When we did, it meant a road trip.  One of the joys was to learn the history under our feet.  When we saw signs about approaching historical markers, we would faithfully stop and read the history of that particular place.  It was a great way to close your eyes while imagining placing yourself back in time on the landmark where we stood.

When I was 13 years old, or so, we headed west for an adventure through far west Texas, New Mexico, and Carlsbad Caverns in southern New Mexico.  While driving closer to one of the first mountain ranges, along the Texas/New Mexico border, we stopped at a roadside historical marker.  It directed the reader to look up at one of the mountains off in the distance.  It went on to mention a well-traveled pioneer wagon route which went through the area and over the mountains.  It was complete with dates, names, and pioneer stories.  With the info, it pointed out a place carved out of the incline of a mountain where the covered wagon wheel ruts were still visible.  Lo and behold, there they were some five miles away going up and over the top of a particular mountain, not too unlike the photo above.

I loved the old wild west history, and still do.  Yet, seeing where the brave, tough families made their way from east to west in nothing but covered wooden wagons, was vastly different than reading about them.

There are multitudes of old wagon and stagecoach trails, where pioneers made a way across the terrain, which remain visible to this very day.  There are some more visible than others.  We can literally track their treks.

Wagon Ruts Guernsey

Photo:  Guernsey

I feel the same exuberance when I read about the wise men from the east who made their way to Bethlehem, Israel in efforts to visit a single small house of a poor young family.

They have a mysterious story.  Most feel they were from Persia, modern-day Iran.  (The study on why is remarkable and in depth.  Too much of it to write here.)  Also, at this time of year we sing about three of them.  There are three names given for each traveler which are from tradition, not historically accurate.  Because three very expensive gifts are listed among their inventory, the centuries have placed “three” wise men in the biblical story.  Yep, you guessed it.  The stretchers and benders of history assigned one gift to one wise man.  However, the Bible doesn’t number the wise men, or those in the caravan.  There could have been two, or two hundred.  The account doesn’t tell us.  No matter how many wise men, or Magi, as they are also called, we do know they are described in many ancient middle-eastern and Asian documents, some of which are literally carved in stone.

Magi (wise men) were of a nobility, or an aristocratic clan.  They were widely known for being highly educated with collections of vast libraries.  Magi were scholars, well-versed in multiples of subjects like, astronomy, astrology, science, mathematics, literature, religions, even medicine, and magical arts.  You could point to Camelot’s Merlin as one like the ancient Magi.  In fact, it was a bit of a luxurious priesthood, a fraternity of royal order, living their lives alongside kings and queens in palaces.  One thing is certain, history places them with royals and heads of state, serving the crown for the duration of a lifetime.

The Old Testament prophesied of these kingly types, along with their gifts of high value, hundreds of years prior to the birth of Jesus.  The star they had studied from Persia was also prophesied in the Hebrew text.  In fact, they arrived at King Herod’s palace in Jerusalem to ask where this newborn King of Israel was because they saw His prophetic star from their country in the east.  Apparently, they told Herod about how old the baby would be by that time. (Close to toddler range.)  Herod commanded his scribes to find the prophetic passage of the location where the new king would be born.  They looked up the text.  They read from, what was then, a 700+ year old scroll found within the minor prophets.  It was Micah 5:1 – But you, Bethlehem Ephrath, who are little to be among the thousands of Judah, out of you shall come forth to Me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth are from of old, from ancient days.”

Nativity sets, as well as artsy Christmas cards, have the wise men in the cave-like stable bowing before the manger.  Actually, they weren’t there.  Again, they studied the new heavenly body in the sky, the old Hebrew prophetic texts, and apparently put forth a travel plan after the birth occurred.  Scripture tends to lean in such a timeline.  When they arrived to worship the baby boy and present their gifts, the scripture says they didn’t approach a stable, but rather arrived at “the house”.  In the original text it indicates they saw a “boy”, not a newborn.  So, the famous painting of the visitation has it about half right.

We Three Kings - Bartolomé_Esteban_Murillo_-_Adoration_of_the_Magi_-_

“The Adoration of The Magi”,  By:  Bartolome Esteban Murillo

For as long as I can recall, I was always fascinated by the journey of the wise men.  Most all scholars have their origin as Iran, and for good reason.  Some have them residing in modern-day Iraq.  Both Persia and Babylon have long historical records concerning Magi.  There are many scholars placing them south in the regions of modern-day Qatar or Oman because of an ancient trade route there which trailed northwest.  It is interesting that there are Old Testament prophecies stating origins like, Arabia, Sheba, Median, Tarshish, etc.  In the book of Song of Solomon there is a description of nobility approaching in a long caravan resembling a smokestack.  This is why many artist renditions show various ethnic groups represented in the wise men.  In fact, because of the fraternal order of the Magi, I can imagine many from other nations might have joined the caravan.  I could go on about this incredible event, but it is not the point of my post.

I wish there were wagon wheel ruts we could study and map-out detailing their yellow brick road journey.  For such a long journey on camel, and/or horseback, or donkey, lots of prep had to be made.  I guess in a way, we can at least trace their actions.  If so, we could identify with them even more.  Come on, consider the evidence with me.

Think of it.  This team of Magi, first had the ancient Hebrew scrolls full of directives on how to find the baby Messiah.  More than likely left by the Jews when in captivity in the region hundreds of years prior.  In other words, they had in their possession, and researched, the known Hebrew Bible of that day, among others.

Scroll Isaiah

Their testimony was clear.  They told all of Jerusalem they studied the scrolls for direction, for awareness, for identification and verification.  When they saw the mysterious, newly illuminated “lower atmosphere” body, which moved ahead of them, leading them to where they should go, they loaded up.  It was no small thing.  Prep consisted of saddling their camels, assembling their attending slaves, possibly communicating their find to neighboring wise men among surrounding kingdoms, and mapped the course.  Before you think it odd, there’s something to keep in mind.  From the ancient Torah, specifically the book of Numbers, Balaam, the only gentile prophet in scripture, wrote a two-fold prophetic delivery,  “I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not near. A STAR SHALL RISE out of Jacob and a sceptre shall spring up from Israel…” Numbers 24:17a (Douay-Rheims Version)

These doctors of astronomy knew the difference between a celestial conversion, a comet, a meteor, and all other natural universal laws of astronomy.  They understood what they discovered was unnatural, planted for their eyes only.  Keep in mind, it moved as they traveled, like a laser or a drone, vanishing when they arrived in Jerusalem, reappearing only after they left King Herod.  At that point, the illumination directed them south to Bethlehem where it rested over a designated house.  Of course, you realize this was a floating body of light hovering in the lower-atmosphere with actions of intelligence.  So many lose the details of this mystery by not matching up the physical attributes of the object.  Otherwise we are left with a comet, meteor, or a star from millions of miles away hovering over a house among hundreds.  It doesn’t pass the smell test to reasonable readers.  Personally, I believe it was an illuminated angelic being.  But, that’s just my take on it.

They read, they researched, they believed, they saw, they followed.

Do you want to identify with them even more so?  Dare we?  Should we?

Wise men Facts:

They left their comfort zone to make their way to be by His side…on faith!  For those who believe Christianity is a cakewalk, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.  No, it’s not always rosy complete with a comfort bubble in today’s world.  Jesus told us it wouldn’t be a walk in the park to follow Him.

How dangerous was it?  They proclaimed a new King of Israel to the face of the murderous, and insane King Herod, a puppet king for Caesar in Rome.  That fact right there can give us some wagon ruts to view.  He could’ve tied them to wagon wheels for a good flogging.  But, he wanted them to report back to him after they located the boy so he could destroy Him.  Killing babies was nothing for Herod.  He was famous for killing his own family members that he wanted out of the way.  (He did make an attempt to murder the boy-Messiah , but it didn’t work out that way.)  All that to say, the faith of the foreigners was incredibly stout.  They didn’t have to see to believe.  They were already in expectation based on the Old Testament prophet’s writings of the timing Jesus when He would be born found in the book of Daniel, the eternal kingship, the place, the moving star, etc.

So there they were, in a house of a couple with a young toddling boy…THE Boy, THE Spiritual Redeemer of The World, THE Ancient Of Days in an earthsuit.

It’s important to note they just didn’t high-five the Boy, dump their Santa gifts, eat ham & gingerbread cookies, and head back to their countries.  Instead, they bowed their knees in their royal robes, face-to-floor worshiping Him, even with what they prepared…the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  In other words, it cost them something.  They unloaded what they attributed as value.

In hindsight, the Magi found Jesus very similarly as many do today.  They read, they researched, they believed, they saw, they followed.

Frankly, I think I see more clearly their wagon wheel ruts, and I’m right behind them. Somehow I always seem to be looking at a camel’s behind.

Whenever the wheels of the spirit turn, it’s powered by pistons of fuel for the race.

“…What can I give HimPoor as I am? If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb, If I were a Wise Man I would do my part,— Yet what I can I give HimGive my heart.”

From:  In The Bleak Midwinter (1872) – Christina Rossetti

 

 

 

 

 

Like A Bridge

“Like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down…Like a bridge over troubled water I will ease your mind.” (1970)  Bridge Over Troubled Water   Recorded by:  Simon & Garfunkel   Composer:  Paul Simon

As I gladly munch down on the left-over Halloween candy, I am looking out my studio window spying the very first turning leaves on my street.  Although faint, they are there.  They lack the brilliance of the stop-sign red maple leaves I loved in my Buffalo, NY days, but they do testify of the season in Texas.

Up north foliage-hunters are taking in the unmistakable aroma in the autumn air, as well as taking to the roads gazing at the mix of hues splashing across the wooded landscape.  Depending upon where you are you just might be on an old country road, with all its twists and turns, where after a few curves in the stretch you might just roll the tires up close and personal to something like this.

Covered bridge from Joan

My fiance, at the time, took this shot as we were overjoyed at the find deep in the woods of Western New York.

If you discover one of these in my home state of Texas it would not only be rare, but an oddity at that.  In fact, in the U.S. where covered bridges are not long gone, they will be unless a local proactive community protects them.  Such a lovely view of a time way beyond the scope of our rear-view mirror.

Most were built like this one, humble and narrow, as the horse & buggies and early automobiles were constructed.  Most were designed to accommodate only one buggy, or car of its day going one way.  And finally, most all were covered with roofs, some shingled while others were tar layers or tin.  The majority of old covered bridges in the U.S. were built between 1825-1875.  The traveler of yesteryear would tell you the reason they were covered was to shelter the rider, along with the horse yoked to the wagon, buggy, or stagecoach.  After all, it was welcomed during storms when pounding country roads.  In the heat of summer, it was a natural bull-run and shade.  The breeze would blow from one end to the other while the roof made for a cooling rest stop.  However, even though the functionality existed, the builders of that time would explain the purpose for roof and walls in another way.  The bridges were covered to protect the wooden floor of the bridge from rain, snow and ice, keeping it from water logging and weather-rot.  And THAT’S why you don’t see them much in the dry state of Texas.

If you ever approach an old covered bridge, I suggest parking off to the side to take a leisurely walk through the old rustic structure.  Much like an antique barn, it has that old weathered lumber smell floating through it.  Look up.  Often birds have their nests in its low hanging rafters.  You can hear your footsteps greeting the wooden planks with all its creaks, pops, and knocks.  Examine the railings, the boarded walls, and beams as you run your hand over the aged grain of the timber.  Peek through the occasional knotholes at the water beneath.  Listen for the wind as it communes with the long-standing structure.  Its breezes have been whistling through the old woody frame for over one hundred years or more, sharing tales of older times.  Close your eyes and hear the echoed wooden wagon wheels against the floor of thick lumber.  Listen for the hooves prancing on the planks from one end to the other.  Feel the vibration from a 1918 milk truck slowly making its way through the antique wooden housing.  It’s a very unique experience.

When we were there, I couldn’t help but think about the various travelers who graced the old covered bridge throughout the last century.  Surely there was a doctor in a Model-T on his way to deliver a baby at the next farm beyond the creek.  Then there’s the rancher’s wagon with a new plow horse in tow rumbling the timber slabs.  Back in the day, a circuit preacher on horseback clopping through for services at the Methodist Church, after closing services at the Baptist congregation earlier the same Sunday.  I can imagine, a farmer on an iron-wheeled tractor pulling a flatbed wagon of freshly harvested hay popping the timber floor.  There had to be someone’s great-great-grandparents who raced to the covered bridge during a stormy honeymoon night on the way to the threshold of a new house.  Many, many lives.  Many, many stories.  Many, many who have gone before us to their resting place.

One caution here.  Today’s vehicles are much heavier, much bulkier than what the old bridge was built to accommodate.  Some may have warning signs at the entrance displaying a weight and height limit for those who wish to drive across.  Some SUV’s may be too wide.  Some trucks, too tall for the rafters.  Also, be aware, the buggy wheel of the times never had to worry about flat tires.  Our trek across may find loosened carpenter’s nails.  Due to weathering and age, many pegs and nails find their way back to which they were driven.  There’s much for a driver to consider.

My picture was taken around 2007.  Although a few years have gone by, I often run across the digital shot in my computer files.  When I do, without fail, a warm flush runs through my veins.  A smile visits my face each time my eyes land on it.  I can’t help but wonder if it’s still there.  A simple brush fire can consume its aged lumber within minutes.

At the time I didn’t think of it, but life tends to point to teachable moments at the most simplest of objects.  The old covered bridge is very much a photo of my personal life, my personal faith.

As life would have it, my faith in Jesus is a narrow path.  The objector might point out the age of the object of my faith.  To that person, Jesus only lived to be a 33 year old man, some 2,000 years ago, in a far away sliver of a weakened country ruled by a dominating Emperor in Rome.  At first glance through the knothole of history, it would seem old, ancient, and rickety.  That one without faith may see Jesus as unable to hold up the weight faith requires, much like the old bridge.  My agnostic friends and family would say having faith in a 2,000 year old Jesus doesn’t yield much.  After all, to trust an old, seemingly fragile bridge, accompanied by all the poundage of the day, might very well deliver a carpenter’s nail in your tire, slowing the progress to the other side.  The Apostle Peter might come up out of the water to warn of the winds which shake and rattle the structure on the journey across.  All are true, fair considerations.  Still, it’s not a bridge too far.  Besides, isn’t that what faith is?  Believing on something without hard evidence, or even unseen would be a biblical description.

Yet, the coin flips to another view etched in metal.  The ancient, rickety, weathered, narrow covered bridge is the perfect picture of faith.  (If you need to scroll up to take a closer look at the photo, now’s the time.  It’s okay, I’ll meet you back here.  I’ll be waiting for you.)

My atheist and agnostic friends, who I dearly love, should consider why I stopped to absorb the framed structure.  The detail, the craftsmanship, the engineering from someone who went before me, prepared it for me, knowing I would arrive at the entrance in due time is a fascinating thought.  That mirrors nicely the One known as The Great I Am.

Consider this:

Jesus makes a way over trouble waters on multi-layered scales.

Jesus makes a way, bridging, connecting my unholy state to His righteousness.

Jesus made His way narrow.  In order to tread through it, you will need to unload.

Jesus made the way to be solo, only one-way.  Nobody goes through as a duet, trio or quartet.  Owning humility is the entrance toll.  Pride must be shed.  All must leave behind their wide vehicle.

Jesus made a way with low hanging rafters.  To be in Him, bow the head, the knee.

Jesus made a way with shelter.  He shields from conjured destructive elements.

Jesus made a way with hardships expected.  Life in faith will have its rusty nails.

Jesus made a way to new birth, new teachings, new crops to harvest, new flock, new home with an everlasting spiritual marriage partner, and a new promised resting place.

Jesus made a way with old creaking planks, supported by The Rock Of Ages beneath.

As for me, I drive across this faith bridge daily.  Challenging at times?  Yes, but He said it would be so long ago.  The victory trophy comes at my last stride.

Non-believers will claim my faith is a crutch.  I say it’s a bridge, weatherproofed with fuel for the race.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;  not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”  – Ephesians 2:8-10 (NAS)