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)

Advertisement

A Lovely Lady, Indeed

“My love, there’s so many ways I want to say I love you
Let me hold you in my arms forever more…”
(1980) “Lady” Recorded By: Kenny Rogers Composer: Lionel B. Richie

Reading the lyrics to this great old ballad, you get the hint of an undying, long-lived love for the ages, the stuff of thick novels. Before you read on, just know you might have the wrong idea. However, this is a great love story.

For mid June, the weather could not be more perfect for outdoor plans for the Havens family in Idaho Springs, Colorado. In fact, dad had the garage door opened as he was working on a project in the garage. The four young kids, and Lady, their mid-sized chihuahua-pit bull mix, were enjoying their time in the fenced-in yard, playing on the swing-set, while mom was close by, listening to the sounds her little joys at play.

The scene was not unusual for them. Outdoor fun was a natural for the entire family. They had been peacefully living in that house for nine years without a peep of trouble among the woods with its beautiful Colorado countryside.

Suddenly, without warning, the happy sounds of children’s playtime on the lawn was brutally interrupted by an awkward, uncharacteristic aggressive barking and growling from Lady. She could not stay silent, even after the kids admonished her for the ultra loud vocals. Mr. Havens heard the commotion from the garage and took a peek from the driveway. There, just feet away, behind his little girl on the swing, was a large approaching mountain lion, clearly in a stalking prowl, inching toward the little girl. Before he could get the words out of his mouth, Lady ran between the kids and the preying mountain lion, charging the big cat without hesitation. The family momentarily froze. As Lady ran into the battle, like a knight in shining armor protecting a princess, dad began to shout with every ounce of volume he could muster.

“GET IN THE HOUSE! NOW!!! GET IN THE HOUSE, RIGHT NOW!”

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Running up stairs to a bedroom window, they peered out to see the fierce war going on outside. Although Lady was much smaller than the mountain lion, she took the defensive battle to the wild cougar. The family did not own a firearm, with the exception of a BB gun. Dad shot at the lion, to no avail. Mom grabbed items in the room to throw at the beast, but the bloody battle ensued, regardless. The police were called. When they arrived, the big cat had pinned a badly wounded Lady on the turf, having its violent ways with her. The officers shot at the lion several times with non-lethal ammo, and finally, with a blood soaked muzzle, the mountain lion slowly walked away and up a small hill just outside the fenced area.

The Havens family rushed downstairs with tears rolling down their faces. As they opened the door to the yard, poor, wounded Lady somehow found the strength to stand and walk toward her family, into the house where she knew love and care. Immediately, dad saw how serious the injuries were, which included a multi-punctured skull. He wrapped a blanket around her and held her as even then, through her moans and whining, she tried to jump out of his arms to be next to the children she had just saved from a terrible attack.

The family knew the time for Lady was precious as they loaded up the car for the nearest animal clinic. It was there the vet expressed the hopeless diagnosis they didn’t want to hear. Lady’s massive injuries were too extensive and irreversible. It was best to put her down. The four kids, mom and dad, all wrapped their arms around dear Lady as they thanked her for sacrificing her own life to rescue those she loved. With a great amount of personal loss, dad carried her back to a room where Lady was gently, and peacefully rescued from her critical condition.

When I read this heartbreaking story of Lady and her defiant stance against the enemy of her family, I saw us. I imagined you, me, and my neighbors.

There they were, happy, joyful, playing together on their own lawn where it is safe and secure. Right? After all, it was a fenced-in yard, a lawn with boundaries, a protected place of freedom and shelter. The gate wasn’t open. The fence was not breached. Nightfall had not yet arrived. Still, a ferocious enemy, without love for the children, without a sense of honor or respect for this family unit, found within its longing for the blood of the child, exercised the ability to leap the boundaries set in place. Lady was gallant, even sacrificial in the moment, without hesitation, she was outweighed, outsized, and out muscled. The claws and fangs of the enemy were far beyond the caliber of sweet Lady.

Today, many in America are indeed “waking up” to the claws and jaws of the enemy. Yes, Woke crowd, we get it. You have awakened a sleeping bear. Hibernation is over.

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

The attack is carefully strategized. Destroy the child physically, emotionally, and spiritually. When the youth of America are killed prior to birth, when hateful ideology clouds the minds of our school children, when drag queens want to boldly indoctrinate our young ones, when violence and murder are celebrated and encouraged, when our youth has no clue of God, and God’s sacrificial love for them, the future is firmly in the paws and jaws of the enemy. For sure, the enemy is beyond just crouching at our door.

You might feel like Lady against a large mountain lion on the prowl. I admit to feeling that way. Is my bark greater than my bite? Scripture tells us that we are NOT alone, nor do we fight alone for righteousness sake. Our cat is far bigger! Just ask Aslan.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When lacking the fierceness needed to protect, find courage in fuel for the race.

“Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” – 1 Peter 5:8 (NAS)

Standing In The Gap

Recently, I have discovered a new vice in my life. Something that I have noticed in myself before, but shrugged off as a silly diversion. Of late, I have come to realize, I need to guard my time with a bit more scrutiny. While scrolling through my newsfeeds on Facebook, I have found I can get addicted to the various short video clips offered from a plethora of sources. In doing so, I discover I consume much of the clock in that hour without even looking up. What a misuse of precious time. It’s something I need to work on before I slip further down the rabbit hole of a kaleidoscope of clips just waiting to snatch me away from more important things. (Even now, I am tempted to stop here to check out the latest uploads of strange things caught on security cameras. ARG!)

However, now that I have confided in you, concerning the latest leach which sucks on my brain, not all video clips are worthless visuals for the eyes.

Last week, while moving on to the next video clip of the day, I was captured by a very touching, yet painful clip from a cat owner. His beloved cat had a litter in a cubby hole, cave-style, dug out in a sandy area on his property. A couple of the new kittens came up missing from her little makeshift den. It wasn’t difficult to guess what had happened, but he wanted proof. Being a techie, he set up a video camera pointing toward the entrance to the den of little ones. He set it up and reviewed the footage several times a day, often catching the mom’s activities live from his computer screen indoors.

One afternoon, glancing at his screen, the cat owner was shocked at what was displayed. Gazing at the screen, he witnessed his mama cat standing fiercely in the entrance of the cubby hole with teeth showing and hisses spewing out of her mouth. There, directly in front of her, with her babes behind her hidden in the sandy den, was a large snake slithering nearer and nearer to the portal of the home of the kittens. Arching her back, with a strange growl, she swiped the claws of her paw toward the nose of the reptile with every effort of reach she could safely muster in the protective stance she defiantly chose. Time was not on the mama’s side, nor the owner’s. He dropped everything and ran out toward the area of his property where the den of kittens had been prepared. With each step, he contemplated just what his course of action would be once he reached the cubby. He didn’t take note of the species of snake, or the scope of its length. Unsure of what tool he could use to fight the crafty invader, his urgency to run as fast as he could to the mama’s aid took over his mind.

Photo by Diego Madrigal on Pexels.com

As the video continued to record, I could see the snake had advanced to the point of wrapping the mama cat up in a squeezing death grip around her stomach and ribcage. She clawed and fought while her life ebbed away in the same spot where she took her last stand against the enemy of the children. The video shows the owner gripping the body of the resisting reptile where it wound itself around the cat’s torso. With both hands, the owner was able to remove the snake, although it took every ounce of arm strength he had. Simultaneously, a few of the kittens raced out of the protective cave, stampeding over their mother’s lifeless body to escape the danger as the owner continued to wrestle the powerful snake.

After a quick edit of the clip. the owner is shown holding the dead reptile from the tail, followed by the man gathering the kittens who instinctively retreated to various hiding places nearby. Of the kittens she had remaining in the cubby behind her during the fight, not one was lost.

Photo by Cristyan Bohn on Pexels.com

After another edit, the video shows the owner, lovingly and respectfully, placing his cat in a shoebox and placing it in a grave close by.

While watching the clip. I was struck by the bravery of the young mother as she faced an enemy of certain destruction. She fought tooth and nail to defend her brood she had nestled in the dug out shelter. Even as her lifeless body was in the clutch of the snake, her body length stretched out against the opening, kept the reptile from fully entering the little cavern.

Oh, how I mourn for our world, seeing so many mamas seem oblivious to the dragon at the cubby doorway.

My heart goes out to the men and women of Ukraine. So many evacuated their loved ones then stayed to battle the invading military of the serpent from Moscow. Yes, that’s how I feel.

My spirit is also reminded of why Jesus came to rescue the world from itself. If you were to go to the hill, Golgotha, in Jerusalem today, you should not see just a hill. One should say to oneself,

“Here is where the Savior of the world made a stance, a standing in the gap, to give away His life for His own.”

Now imagine with me. What if the mama cat came out of her grave three days later and returned to her babes to nurture, teach, and comfort them? That would be worth an international news conference.

The fact remains, Jesus came to take our spiritual death upon Himself knowing there was no other way to escape the deadly serpent. His resurrection was earthshattering, with enormous evidence that He is truly the Great I AM. He holds the keys to death and the grave. To mindlessly stampede over this truth is an eternal mistake.

The empty garden tomb of Jesus.

Now imagine with me, again. What if only a few kittens took their mama’s sacrifice to heart, escaping certain death, while many more of the litter thought it wise to stay in the cubby with the snake at the door? If not for their willing protective mama, their lame self-wisdom would have cost them their lives. So, the same is true today. Many only see the cross as a trinket for dangling from a rearview mirror. When in reality, the place of the cross is a doorway of safety and comfort. Jesus warned us that there is no other way. No other road. No other hope for eternity.

The beauty of Easter is first found in fuel for the race.

“I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. After a little while, the world no longer is going to see Me, but you are going to see Me; because I live, you also will live…” (Jesus) – John 14:18-19 (NAS)

My Pal, Shorty

People, let me tell you bout my best friend. He’s a one boy cuddly toy, my up, my down, my pride and joy…” (1969) “Best Friend” (Theme song to ABC’s “Courtship Of Eddie’s Father” sitcom.) Written & Recorded By: Harry Nilsson

When I spent my days without a dog, it would only be a few weeks here and there through my 61 years. I’ve had a few dogs in my life, many sizes, shapes, and breeds. As an only child, living most of my childhood with a single mom, my dog was indeed my best friend.

Back in 2011, after a dogless year, or so, it was time to get serious about adopting a little pal. My best buddy for 16 years was a Corgi/Dachshund mix. I thought I would look up websites in my area for Corgi mixes, just to see if any up for adoption resembled my childhood pal. It didn’t take long to find such a website. They certainly had many to offer. The Corgi mixes available came in all sorts of varieties. They were all adorable, but none caught my eye as I scrolled through the long list of little orphans. After scrolling through fifty to sixty, I came to the very end of digital the show & tell (tail). There, on the very last listing, a 12 month old pup who surely could have been the brother of my dog from 1967. I am soooo glad I didn’t give up in my search and looked at the very last dog on their page. His name was Shorty, a brown, brindle Corgi/Dachshund mix.

Shorty had been adopted by a foster mom from a kill shelter two counties southwest of me. She had a mission to save as many dogs as she could. She had a dog ranch where she cared for them while listing them for adoption.

I drove some two hours to meet Shorty. He was with other dogs being shown at a pet store for a few hours. It was love at first sight.

Here, at this point in my post, I should say I could write of Shorty, his personality, and his well behaved manners making for a very long post, or maybe a three-part blog. I will not do that to you. Yet, I will spotlight the little buddy who renovated my life with a couple of stories.

I’ve had some dogs who needed some counselling. I’ve owned dogs who just couldn’t learn to behave themselves. At other times I’ve enjoyed highly intelligent dogs that often wowed me. Let me tell you, Shorty is one of those dogs. His intelligence level runs rings around all other four-leggers from my household past. He stares at me with wanting eyes, ears up, without vocals, and I usually will know what he is asking for. If it’s feeding time, I will say, “Tell me. What is it you need?” Only moving his head, he turns his face to the left, looking toward the kitchen, and then back at me. I will follow up with, “Is it time to feed Shorty?” He then gets off his rump, wags the tail, and tries to talk using a grunt, or a soft whine. So, off we go to the kitchen for dinner. Later, like clockwork, when he finishes his meal, he tosses his metal bowl with his nose, making a clanging sound as it lands up against the fridge. I then know when he is done. It’s a bit of a routine.

Shorty knows the difference between the sound of our engine, and any other vehicle driving by. He can even knows the sound of our car door shutting, unlike other cars.

Although, on the day I adopted Shorty, driving two hours back home without incident, he always got car sick when coming along for a ride in the following months. I tried everything to help him with motion sickness. I gave him Dramamine, sedatives, Pepto chewables, even the Thunder Shirt, advertised as “the answer”. Nothing worked. One day, out of the blue, he avoided his nausea. After a few more journeys in the car, with a puke-free trip each time, I noticed he would keep his head down while the car was rolling. When stopped, he would raise his head only to put it down again when driving. I soon realized, Shorty had troubleshooted his own nausea issue. He discovered on his own that he could not look out the window while the car was in motion. He figure that out before I did. What a keen sense he has.

Many of those rides were to one of his favorite places. The local dog park. What a happy place. He loved running around with the other dogs with full horseplay going on. Once a rude Boarder Collie, who was the alpha dog of a group of dogs running around with a soccer ball, chased Shorty away from the group, barked at him, then went back to his pack. I felt so sorry for him. Shorty, was obviously told he didn’t belong with this little pack and to stay out. He looked so rejected. So, off we went to get an ice cream cone at a Dairy Queen. Problem solved!

Shorty and his collection.

Shorty and I lived in an apartment complex. We would walk around the area, next to a greenbelt creek, three to five times a day. He loves people, and I mean any person out and about. One day, a very courageous squirrel came too close to our path and the length of leash. Before you can say, “Hello”, Shorty stopped, looked up at me with a the squirrel in his mouth. He wasn’t biting down on the little guy, he was just holding him in his jaws as if to say, “Look, dad!” I immediately and sharply told Shorty to put him down. He did. The squirrel was in shock and just froze. Later I found out an elderly lady in the complex had been feeding the squirrel by hand right off of her patio. I think the little thing thought I was going to feed him.

Shorty’s kindness to other animals was always on full display, with the exception of an afternoon at my dad’s house. My dad lives out in the country in west Texas. For many years he had goats in his small pasture. Each time I let Shorty off his leash there, he made a sprint to the goats grazing off in the brush. To our amazement, Shorty herded the goats, right and left, backward and forward. It was like watching something in a movie. We always had to go retrieve him from his herding duties because he wouldn’t come back to us when we yelled at him. It was as if he had been trained to herd. Somewhere in his DNA, something told him not only how to herd, but that he must do it! LOL

Shorty loves his backyard.

Throughout the last ten+ years together, he has been by my side as a constant loving companion. He was there with me through a very abusive 2nd marriage which ended in divorce. He was there when I had my near-death experience back in 2013, and sweetly waited for me each day to come home while hospitalized for six weeks. Shorty fell in love with an old high school friend I was dating. In fact, when sitting together for a romantic night, watching a movie, or listening to music, he would insert himself between us and nest himself for snuggling. A couple of years later, when we married, Shorty and I moved into my wife’s house. He was enamored with his new, very spacious, backyard. She had her own dog, who was queen of her castle, and she made sure Shorty understood the boundaries. She was fairly cold with him, even to the point of not wanting to be touched by him. Shorty from that point on, always gave her first place in everything, as if he had been trained as a gentleman. I know. It’s nuts. Before you know it, she began to see him as a protector, a snuggle buddy, and friend.

When I was told I needed a quadruple bypass, he once again watched out the front window, patiently awaiting my arrival back from a three week stay in the hospital. As usual, our reunion was worthy of video. He always knows when I am sick, sad, or at a loss. His demeanor changes, coming quietly to my side as if to comfort me as only he could. We truly have been through so much together. There have been so many life events we have shared. Too much to list here.

A couple of years ago, Shorty developed some issues with his liver. Some medication seemed to ease his battle with it over a month or so. Frankly, it frightened me at the time. I’m not a med student, but I do know what it is to have organ failure and what it can do.

“I’m not feeling right, dad.”

Around the 1st of March this year, Shorty began to show familiar signs of a struggling liver. He began drinking water by the bowl until he was ready to pop. He began to show a bit of bladder mishaps, mainly due to all the water intake. Soon the panting started, ears stayed behind his head, along with an unwillingness to snuggle up on the couch, or on the bed. Shorty sought a cold wooden floor to go up against his belly area all the time. A couple of days later, he no longer wanted food, and was sleeping way more than usual. It wasn’t long after that, he began tossing up his cookies. Shorty never ignored commands, or my voice, but he began to about the same time. It was telling when Shorty would go hide in closets, facing the walls, or crouch down in rooms all by himself. It broke my heart when outside, he began to hide away under shrubs, or a back corner of the yard, lying flat with his face toward the outside fence. I’m not unaware of the instinct deep inside of him. It worried me deeply.

On March 8th, by the time we took him to the vet, he was hardly walking. I could see in his eyes he was in pain, even though, as in Shorty’s manner, he never complained. The x-ray showed Shorty had a massive enlarged liver, almost twice the size it should be. In fact, it even reached his sternum area. The doctor said it could be a birth defect, but more than likely, considering it’s relatively a new problem, it’s a cancerous liver. The only way to prove it cancer was involved was to do a sonogram, a biopsy, a stint in a hospital away from us, etc. He would be in pain, and would wonder why we weren’t with him. If it was cancer, depending upon the severity, chemo would be next. As the doctor spoke, Shorty began to quiver, and refused to face us, unless we positioned him ourselves. He was dying and he knew it better than we did. With much agony, tears, and with broken hearts, we made the hard decision to put him down. We comforted him to his last breath, holding him, petting him, scratching his ears, speaking softly words of comfort that he knew. I wanted to be sure he was cared for and loved to the very end.

My last photo of Shorty at the vet’s office.

On the cold drive home from the vet, I came to a stirring thought I will always keep with me. Back in August of 2011, out of love, I rescued Shorty. As God as my witness, I know Shorty rescued me each and every day since.

There is a love that is closer than a brother found inside fuel for the race.

“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” – James 1:17 (NAS)

Remember Who You Belong To

“Where you lead, I will follow
Anywhere that you tell me to
If you need, you need me to be with you
I will follow where you lead”
(1970) “Where You Lead” Recorded hit for: Barbra Streisand Composers: Carole King and Toni Stern

—-

“His message was very different. ‘You boys, don’t bring home somethin’ home ya can’t keep.'”

The cover photo above the title is a painting from my study/studio wall, just above my desk. It was painted by an in-law many years ago. It’s very dear to me. Here is my attempt to explain why.

Early July of 1967, I believe it to be, my mom, and my seven year old self, drove across the north Dallas suburbs to a house of an old family friend. My granddad and the husband/father of the home had been best friends for decades. The purpose for our visit was clear.

From the day I was born, I always had a dog. We were animal lovers, especially in the canine arena, and had been without a dog for a couple of years. Through word of mouth our old friends felt impressed to pick up the phone and dial our number. Their female mix recently had a litter of pups. Apparently, she had a secret rendezvous in the backyard with a rather handsome neighborhood escapee who was searching for love in all the wrong places. They told us there were “9” of these little babies, about six weeks old, and asked if we wanted to come over for a free selection. No doubt my mom responded with, “WOULD WE EVER? WE’LL BE RIGHT THERE!” Of course, she had to talk my then stepdad into the acceptance camp first. (He wasn’t thrilled.)

After we arrived, we stepped out onto their back porch. We were met by an onslaught of highly energized pups, jumping, yipping, and peeing. It was a dog zoo. Honestly, they were climbing up on my tennis shoes doing all they could to get our attention. We held, we petted, we were slobbered on. After I had counted the gang, I realized there were only “8” bombarding us. We inquired. Someone pointed out the runt who was always left out of the constant reindeer games. I looked around the yard when suddenly, there in the corner of the backyard, all by himself, looking rather shy and sad, the runt of the litter. Now, at this point all the advice I can offer is that you must just trust me on the following. I…fell…in…love…that…very…instant.

He was medium chocolate brown, with white paws and a white patch on his chest. His ears were partially floppy halfway up, and looked up at me with a pair of blue eyes. (Later the blue eyes turned to a beautiful copper color.) Without hesitation, I told my mom this was the one. She pointed out the fact that he was smaller, quiet, and didn’t want to play with his siblings, nor did he look like any of his siblings or mother. In other words, he was a loaner, a reject from his own family. My heart just bled for this little one.

The deal was sealed. We took him home in a shoe box. It was roomy for him because he could sit in the palm of an adult’s hand. I spoke with him all the way home doing all I could to make him feel comforted and settled. He never uttered a sound. He looked down most of the way back home, but from time to time he would hit me with those baby blues.

My mom has the mind of a persuader. She could’ve run for office. She made it clear we would let my stepdad name the puppy, thinking that would aid in starting a relationship as a dog owner. (With that said, my advice is to never manipulate your spouse. It can be habitual and marriage-ending.) She eased the little pup into my stepdad’s space. It didn’t take him long to find affection for the four-legged pal. He named him, Tickey, after a childhood farm dog from his past, who apparently had trouble with ticks.

Tickey at 11 months old, 1968.

As he grew, we could see signs of a dachshund mix, with his long body, lengthy snout, and short legs. We also saw a bit of what we thought might be Corgi with the long donkey-ears and the Corgi trait of the turned-out ankle of one front paw. His chocolate brown nose blended right in with the hair on his snout. However, his tail was like a Brontosaurus tail, long and dangerous when wagged. He was a funny looking creature, but he was mine.

We were best buddies. We ate, slept, and when mom wasn’t looking, bathed together. He was smart as the day is long. He could also perform magic with his powerful snout. While sitting in a chair, with a glass or coffee cup in hand, he would rear-up, place his nose under the elbow and push upward with a hard jerk. Any beverage would then levitate…for a second or two. Then my mom would perform magic by making Tickey disappear from the room.

Unfortunately, Tickey would chew on my GI Joes, Creepy Crawler bugs, and little plastic army men to the point of disfigurement. So, being a lad of imagination, I pretended he was a dinosaur set loose in the city where the military had to engage. Of course, he agreed to that.

At that time we lived in a house directly across the street from the school I attended. After the school bell at the end of the day, I ran as fast as I could to reunite with my pal.

During those days, both my mom and stepdad had daytime jobs. Through most of my first and second grade years, I came home to an empty house. For awhile I entered the house through the garage using a key to the garage door. Because Tickey proved himself to be a great digger, it was foreseeable he might use his skills to crawl under the backyard fence for greener pastures, we decided to place him in the garage until I came home from school. This became a huge struggle.

Tickey absolutely had the adventurous heart of Marco Polo. My little dog wanted to sniff the world, not to mention we never had him fixed. He was a runner. Any opportunity, he was off to the races like a lightning bolt. I never understood how short legs could run so fast. I mean, you never could open the front door without first seeing where he was. If he saw you walking to the door, he would stalk quietly behind you like a ninja in a Chuck Norris film, just gazing at the first crack of the opening. So as my seven year old arms strained to lift the garage door each day, I had to also play shortstop as I had to nab Tickey shooting out of the garage. Too many times I would try to chase him down in tears, afraid he would get hit by a car. Frantically, I would yell at him, “Tickey, come here, boy! Follow me home. It’s easy, just follow me. It’s safe back at the house. Please, come home! That’s where you belong!” He was way too fast. If only he would’ve taken the initiative to follow me when I called, he would’ve been a lot safer. It didn’t take me long to find out I needed to bribe him with packets of dog food. Only then would he obey. Let me tell you, that got real old, real fast.

In that same year, we were to go out of town for an outdoor family reunion in west Texas. There was no way Tickey could go. After carefully sealing the base of the backyard chain-link fence with bricks, and logs, my stepdad thought it safe to leave Tickey in the backyard for the weekend. A neighbor was to come over each day to give him food and water. The gates were never locked.

It was Sunday night when we arrived back home from the weekend trip. It was dark, and I had just awakened from the backseat of the car, ready for bed. I remember my mom seeing some stains on the dark front porch, wondering what it was and how it got there. In my daze, I didn’t care and went straight to bed. There, on the front door, was a hand written note. What we didn’t know was, Tickey had slipped through a space between the fence post and the gate post for a weekend adventure like no other. That little sneak.

As it turned out, Tickey had his vacation day running around the neighborhood, checking out the sights, sounds, and smells. No doubt he did his part to populate after his own kind while out cruisin’ around, like father like son. Later we heard he outran anyone who tried to catch him. In the driveway of a house a few blocks away, was a tire of a parked car that just must be sniffed. While sniffing the edge of the tire, the car owner got in his car, put it in reverse to leave. As he began to drive out of his parking spot, he heard a dog crying out in pain. The man jumped out to find Tickey rubbing his noes with his paws. Apparently, he ran over the tip of his nose as he had his nose stuck under the tire when he put it in reverse. Right away the man tried to console Tickey. He made the attempt to pick him up to get a better look at the notable nostril nip. However, in classic Tickey-style, like a flash he jolted down the street like a racehorse in Kentucky just as fast as his little legs would carry him. Being a dog lover, the man hopped in the car and followed him all the way to our front porch. Tickey was hurt, bleeding, and frightened. He found him cowering in the corner, right by the front door while crying and bleeding all over the porch. When finding no one was home, he wrote a note asking if we had a small brown puppy with a chain collar. He left his phone number. Tickey was so traumatized and tired, he allowed the man to pick him up and he took him home.

We had a wonderful reunion. No serious damage was done to his nose. We all learned a great lesson from the event, especially Tickey. He got schooled in keeping the nose from where it doesn’t belong. He became more of a homebody afterwards.

Growing up together. The two of us in 1969.

Often in my teen years, just before heading out the door, my mom would say, “Remember Who you belong to”. More than a few times I would look down at Tickey and reply, “You mean, like Tickey?” At one of my best friend’s house, before going out on the town, his gruff dad would deliver his redneck crass wisdom. His message was very different. “You boys, don’t bring somethin’ home ya can’t keep.” The two of us would chuckle as we walked out the door. He meant well, deep down. We knew what he was telling us in code, as his wife replied in disgust, “Leroy, don’t say that!” Two very different directives in two very different households. One message was, to take stalk in all that you do when integrity is at stake, knowing God Himself sees all things. And remember who you follow. The other directive was, what ever you do tonight, sow the wild oats, but don’t bring me trouble because of it. At least that’s the PG version of Leroy’s meaning.

Getting white around the nose. Teen years, 1978.

Full disclosure here. There were many times I did NOT remember Who I belonged to. There were times, being away from home, away from my mom’s teachings, I forgot HOW I needed to come home, and in the same shape I left her front door. Then again, there were moments, and they usually are “moments”, when I made real-time decisions to stop before crossing a dangerous, or unethical line that was before me. Maybe in those moments, I mentally heard my mom’s voice, or maybe the inner voice of God’s Spirit saying “Here, and no further.” If only I could’ve recalled that late Sunday night when blood stains appeared on our front porch, my course might have hit the wiser trek more often. Ironically, my mom’s phrase would be used by me each time my three daughters left the house for a night out. How does that happen?

As for Tickey, he was with me throughout my childhood and teen years. We went through so much together. He stayed healthy, along with some white which grew along his long snout in later years. He was there at my wedding rehearsal dinner in 1981…really.

Our last snapshot together, 1982.

On August 7th, 1982, he was to say goodbye to us. I had been married for over a year, living across town from my mom and Tickey, but visiting often. Old age had taken its toll. That week he showed signs of a mini-stroke. This particular morning, he was taking a dive. Knowing he would probably not survive the day, my mom brought him to my place, on her way to her job, so we could spend some final hours. It was just the two of us all day. He was slowly going down throughout the day. I stretched out on the floor next to him, petting him, scratching his belly like old times. I leaned over speaking softly about our childhood days and his misadventure with the tire. There was a video of him humorously hopping through snow like a bunny in 1977. I showed it to him. I thanked him for his years of loyalty, laughs, and love. Most of all, I thanked him for making my childhood special. I made him as comfortable as I could, although he wasn’t showing signs of pain. Mid afternoon I called my mom to let her know he was slipping away. She came over immediately. Just like that summer day in 1967, it was just the three of us together as we both did all we could to keep him from seeing us shedding tears. He drifted away that afternoon quietly at 15 years of age.

God taught me so much through the gift of Tickey. Lessons of love, belonging, grace, care, and how to remember to turn the heart toward home in darker days.

I am 60 years old now and still miss my runt buddy. Yet my memory is blessed as I recall how he found love and value at our house, enough to remember who he belonged to.

The road map to belonging is printed inside fuel for the race.

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.  But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” – Genesis 3:8-10 (ESV)

Lessons From The Backyard

“…Climbed a mountain and I turned around
And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills
‘Til the landslide brought me down.”  (1975)   “Landslide”  Recorded by:  Fleetwood Mac  Composer:  Stevie Nicks

The cover picture above tells the tale fairly well, before I get to the tail of this post.

Bonnie Piano

Photo:  Bonnie taking her naps on my printer.

I’ve never been a cat person.  I was born and raised with a dog which started a long life of canine palship ever since.  For a short stint, when I was five years old, we had a couple of cats named, “Pete & Repeat”.  They didn’t have much to do with me, with the exception of giving me cat scratch fever.  So, my heart has been wrapped around, what one of my daughters once called, “Dogness”. 

Then in 2017 I remarried.  Inheriting a step-cat was part of the wedding vows.

Bonnie-Bon, as we call her, stole my heart right away.  This little brindle feline loves to cuddle with me when she comes inside for some family time.  She curls up in my lap next to the arm of the recliner, along with a light blanket under her.  She enjoys cocking her head in focus as she paws at my goatee.  If I’m writing at my desk she will often make her place on my printer, only after she walks across my keyboard, jotting down statements only she can decipher.  She will scare the stuffings out of me as I sit in the living room when I suddenly hearing someone playing the piano in the study/studio two rooms over.  Frankly, it sounds like a kid banging away on the keys in efforts to mimic a maestro once seen on Great Performances on PBS.  I’ll jerk my head over to see the doorway of the study/studio just in time to see little Bonnie prancing out of the room as if she had accomplished something of high esteem.  The shocking part is, she is not sporting tux & tails.  (Well, maybe the tail part.)  The best part of Bonnie’s personality, she enjoys our two dogs, even to the point of running about with them as if she’s part of a pack.  Believe it or not, she has learned to mimic a dog’s bark.  She needs to be a guest on a late night talk show.  Yes, I’ve grown very fond of our Bonnie.

Bonnie & Me

Bonnie enjoys selfies.

If you’re a pet-person than you know how it is.  There’s a tendency to be massaged into thinking of your pal-of-another-kind as almost human.  Thus, we begin to speak to them as if they have human minds, wants, and needs.  So true, until they bring in a dead rodent to present as a trophy right in the middle of the kitchen floor.  Not long ago, not once, but twice, Bonnie brought in a live lizard, about 4″-5″ in length.  Not realizing she had it jailed inside her mouth, there was no urge to run her outside.  Instead, she plopped herself down, looked up at us and dropped her prize on the floor, accompanied by a gigantic meow.  Of course, once free from its cell, it ran across the room making a mad dash under the range oven for shelter.  Arg!  Suddenly, I came to the realization that Bonnie was not a human little girl after all.  In both events we caught the reptilians in another room of the house the following day.

Backyard MirrorBonnie spends most of her time in the small sun-room adjacent to the back-steps leading to the backyard.  You might say, the backyard is her jungle, her domain, her personal wildlife preserve, where I’ve witnessed her sitting like a statue in the bushes, as if to say, “Nothing to see here.  Move on.”

Backyard BenchA few days ago, my wife, Michelle, was in the backyard watering the plants.  Our two dogs and Bonnie were out with her enjoying a warm morning in Texas.  Michelle heard a loud, frantic call from a nearby bird.  She spotted an agitated mockingbird yelling her obvious profanities from a lower limb from one of our trees.  She quickly flew from that perch to the top rail of the fence, to another tree, and so on.  Michelle tried to calm the feathered frantic female as she walked around with the garden hose.

The following morning, Michelle walked out into the sun-room and spied the body of a juvenile mockingbird laying at the back door threshold.  The body wasn’t mangled, half-eaten, or torn.  Of course, immediately she put the backyard events from the day before together with the current crime scene.  With a huge sigh, she shouted, “Bonnie-Bon!  You baby bird murderer!”  As expected, Bonnie just sat there on her fanny looking very proud.

Then, morning #2 came.  Michelle walked out into the sun-room to put cat food in Bonnie’s bowl when she saw it.  Another crime scene, in the very same location.  This time, two baby mockingbirds side-by-side, lined up ready for the crime scene photo for the crime lab.  She heard a bird chirp a few feet away.  There, on the back-step handrail, the mama mockingbird.  She was just looking at her deceased babies and Michelle.  She chirped again as if to utter, “Can you fix them?”  Michelle told me later she almost cried at the sight of the saddened mama.  She spoke to her in shared grief, “I’m so sorry, little mama.  I’m so sorry.”

(Excuse me while I grab a tissue.  Wait right here.  I’ll be back.)

A couple of days later, I was watering the plants in the backyard.  I heard several sirens going by in the distance.  The city had warned the residents of a local protest event just a few blocks from our street.  With the riotous mayhem of late, leaving cars and businesses burned or looted, all I could think of was protecting my home.  Then the mockingbird and Bonnie came to mind.

America, and the entire world, have suffered great loss at the jaws and claws of COVID-19.  Then, just as America began to show signs of improvements in the struggle to defeat the virus, the tragic murder of a black man at the hands of a white police officer took place in Minneapolis, launching a barrage of protests across the nation.  Inside the various groups of protesters were anarchists stalking, waiting and ready to use the peaceful protesters as a front to scorch us…we, the people.

It has been said many times in the media that many will not come out the other side of the pandemic intact, some, not at all.  Suicides jumped to record highs.  Drug use has skyrocketed.  Domestic violence has forged its way into the record books.  Vast unemployment landed on most of the population.  Many small and medium sized businesses went belly-up, unable to glide through the torrent of the shutdown’s gravitational pull.  Untold amounts of students have fallen behind due to the closure.  A multitude of deaths have been recorded due to the pandemic.  The punch has been painful.  No one, being honest, would say we are not in a weakened condition.

The leadership of anarchist groups sat still in the shrubbery of the COVID calamity, injecting a dose of national turmoil, just planning a time when a tripwire would be sprung for the pouncing of evil deeds to be lashed upon a battered society.  Yes, that’s right.  I called it “evil”.  If you’re offended, just know I was offended first.  Since the planning and stalking of these murderous groups, countless people have been displaced, injured, and murdered.  The enforcement of public safety for our neighborhoods has been violently assaulted, abused, and dishonored.  In the wake of this pouncing on our nation’s remains are ruined lives, torched dreams, hell-lit hopes.  In the clearing fog of the crippling pandemic, were those perched to destroy America from the inside out, having attempted to breakdown whatever else remains intact.  Meanwhile, those left alive who helped to build this commonwealth of people at liberty, sit helplessly on the handrails to weep at the carnage and wreckage the emptied-souls have waged.

Solomon wrote that there is a time for mourning.  It indicates the mourning is momentary.  When mourning is over, there is the courageous fight, the strength, the victorious raising of the torch for those who come after us.

On a hopeful note, THIS is AMERICA!  Our liberty was fought for several times over.  Our roots are buried here in blood-soaked soil.  The majority of citizenry, the loving, hard-working public of all shades of skin in this nation will stand for justice, law and order, as well as flushing out injustice.  Beyond this truth, there is a God of Righteousness Who birthed this country.  He gave us the right to vote in free elections to remove and place our local and federal representatives, along with various public servants at will.  He still sits on His throne.  Nothing, has not been filtered through His Almighty hand.

As for Bonnie…I’m so grateful she is not 500 pounds.

Bonnie Face 1

Gravity is a harsh reality when out of the nest.  Nestle safely in fuel for the race.

“Be alert, be reflective, because your enemy Satan roars like a lion and is walking and seeking whom he may devour.”  1 Peter 5:8   (Aramaic Bible In Plain English)

L-O-V-E

Photo:  My grandparents as newlyweds in 1938, nesting at the Brazos River, Texas.  They were married 69 years until his death.

“Ohh, whatever happened to old fashioned love, the kind that would see you through? The kind of love my Momma and Daddy knew. Yeah, whatever happened to old fashioned love, the kind that would last through the years, through the trials, through the smiles, through the tears.  (Bridge)   For now the tenderness has been replaced with something less, and it’s hard to find what we left behind…..”                         

(1983) “Whatever Happened To Old-Fashioned Love?”  Recorded By: B.J. Thomas  Composer: Lewis J. Anderson

I love the truthful lyrics in the bridge section.  “…the tenderness has been replaced with something less…”

There I go again, using the highly overused word, “L-O-V-E” when I didn’t mean it.  Oh, sure, I like the lyric, but I can’t say I “love” the lyric…or can I?  Come on, you know what I mean.  My brain, my emotions, my gut, truly holds the lyric close to my heart.  Is that love, or infatuation?

Valentine’s Day can be so cute in so many ways.  The little Valentine cards we used to swap out in out elementary school days cause me to chuckle now.  Just like the little heart candies, “Be Mine”, “I think you’re cool”, “Here’s a heart for you”, etc.  It was all so very innocent, wasn’t it?  Then, we grow into our hormone-owned teen years.  Yikes!  Us guys can truly be a grand example of what love is NOT.  You girls seemed to have a better handle on it.  Maybe I’m wrong about that.  You tell me.  It reminds me a bit when I think of the old TV show, “The Love Boat” from 1977-1986.  You remember the first couple of lines to the theme song, “Love Boat”.  Singer, Jack Jones piped it out:

“Love, exciting and new.  Come aboard.  We’re expecting you….”  (1977)  Composers:  Charles Fox & Paul Williams.

I think that has been one of the distractions about the definition of love in our culture.  Love can be ‘exciting and new’, but usually not.  In fact, ask any couple who just celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary about “excitement” or “newness”.  They will laugh at you.  But wait a minute.  Isn’t passion, sexual desire, and infatuation exciting and new?  My twist would be, yes.  Passion, sexual desire, and infatuation can be exciting, especially if it has just redirected your focus in life, a new focus, even if only for a brief amount of time.  But….is passion, sexual desire, and infatuation, L-O-V-E?  Let’s ask the British rock band, 10cc from 1975…

“I’m not in love, so don’t forget it.  It’s just a silly phase I’m goin’ through.  And just because I call you up, don’t get me wrong, don’t think you’ve go it made.  I’m not in love, no-no…..”

Actually, some of the lyrics in this hit can be downright hurtful, like:

“I keep your picture upon the wall.  It hides a nasty stain that’s lying there.  So don’t you ask me to give it back.  I know you know it doesn’t mean that much to me.  I’m not in love, no-no.  It’s because…”  Composers:  Eric Stewart & Graham Gouldman

OUCH!  I wonder if he was that honest to her face, or if the song was just therapy written on the road in a cheap hotel?

couple walking on city street
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

Valentine’s Day can be a danger for some unsuspecting romantics out there.  (I know of what I speak.  I can write about this with real-world experience.)  Let’s face it, we want to be loved…right?  That desire is in the human heart even before birth.  Like an empty blender just waiting for the colorful mix of goods to be poured into us.  Am I right?  Come on, be honest with me.

So, sure.  We love dogs.  We love cats.  We love horses.  We love romantic movies.  I love that color on you.  I love a brilliant, blazing sunset.  I love Tex-Mex and Chinese food.  Boy, do I love that ’68 Ford Mustang.  What kind of L-O-V-E is that?

Resturant Table tomesto.ru

How ’bout this?  You see him/her from the other side of the restaurant, munching on a burger.  The view is of a nice looking specimen of humanity.  You toss away your slightly tomato-stained napkin and walk briskly straight for him/her.  You only have two words in your vocabulary at the moment as you lock eyes on this beautiful person.  As you arrive at the table, your mouth opens and out comes the channeling of David Cassidy…“Hi, I think I love you.”  He/she chokes on a slice of onion.  After the Heimlich Maneuver, he/she is bold enough to ask…“How do you know?”  Good question.  I guess you could say, “It’s your crystal blue eyes, your matching blue suit, the tattoo of the hammer and sickle over the entire left side of your face.  I love everything about you!”  Okay, got it.  A wise person, with a head on their shoulders, might say you idolize the look of this person.  What you don’t know is, he/she is a closet Neo-Nazi, an axe murderer, and someone who leaves their filthy Mini Mouse socks on the floor.  So, after he/she reveals these details of “WHO” he/she is, you lower your head with embarrassment, turn and walk slowly back toward your table to rejoin your spouse and five children.

It took me decades to reevaluate using the word, “love”.  If you THINK you’re in love because of what the other person can do for you and your life, you should reevaluate.  Too often this is the case.  Or, you love the “idea” of falling for someone with an Irish accent, or someone from your hometown, or someone with red hair.  So, you go on a hunt to find an Irish redhead who just happens to live where you grew up.  Careful.  That smell is from a dead relationship.  Take inventory of your motives and fantasy life.   

I’m grateful for the letter “L”.  It launches both “Love” and “Like”.  If you start to say “love”, and don’t truly mean it, you can easily self-edit as you evolve your pronunciation into “like”.  Try it.  “I need you to know I really, really LLLLike you.”

Are you confused yet?

Scripture defines love as a verb, not a feeling.  Some reveal they didn’t understand love until they had a child added to their lives.  Getting into the weeds of original root word languages, you could discover there are different brands of “love”.  Yes, we should love our neighbors as ourselves.  We should love our families with all that we are.  And yes, we should love our enemies.  “That’s hard”, says Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump.  There’s a picture burned into my mind, from the Desert Storm War in Iraq.  It captured the image of U.S. Marines feeding and hydrating Iraqi POW’s in the sands of southern Iraq.  What high bar to hurdle.

Jesus labelled the highest, premium degree of authentic love.

““There is no greater love than this: that a person would lay down his life for the sake of his friends.”  – Jesus – (John 15:13 (Amarmaic Translation)

Literally, if you cannot agree to die, or be tortured, or to take-on someone’s cancer (if possible) for another person’s well-being, their life, their health, than most likely the highest shelf of the zenith of love is not an active agent in the relationship.  Would you give a kidney to an old friend with stage 5 kidney failure?  Would you run into a burning complex to rescue a co-worker?  I think all various levels of love can be measured starting with the definition given by Jesus, Who loved you enough to do just what He said.

No, I am not willing to be sacrificed for a plate of tacos & egg rolls.

Be careful little mouth what you say.  Be careful little hand what you write.  If Valentine’s Day causes someone to misread your true heart for them, it isn’t kind.  In fact, it would be cruel.  Honesty is always best.  It might be best to find a stain on the wall as you decide which 8×10 should go there.

One thing is certain, love is the very theme of fuel for the race.

Love ya!  Mean it!

 “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a ringing gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have absolute faith so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and exult in the surrender of my body, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.   It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no account of wrongs.   Love takes no pleasure in evil, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.  – Apostle Paul –  1 Corinthians 13:1-8a  (Berean Study Bible)

 

You Are Not Alone

Photo:  Guilherme

“Oh, Stormy…Oh, Stormy.  Bring back that sunny day…”  Stormy (1968) Recorded by:  Classics IV.  Composers:  Dennis Yost, James Cobb, Buddy Buie

As I write this, it’s a sunny day in Dallas, Texas with temperature hovering about 102/f degrees.  The heat index, or what it feels like with humidity mixed into the works, is 118/f degrees.  Great day to mow the lawn. LOL  It’s July in Texas, and you can always count on the weather being oppressive.  What I wouldn’t give for a bit of rain right now, but not HOT DROPS.

Our springtime was horribly rough.  May and June alone were pelting us with several tropical storm-type winds, tornadoes galore, and thunderstorms ushering in hail.  We had straight-line winds clocking at 71mph in one of our storms in June.  The trees on our property lost several branches, large limbs, as well as, nerves.  Around here, when the civil sirens go off, you run for shelter, never walk, during tornado warnings.  We’ve had many this year thus far.

Tree from Greenville storm June 2019

Photo:  My cousin sits with a partial of a massive 100+ year old Sycamore, which was uprooted from my mom’s front yard, and landed on her roof.  She was home at the time, but uninjured during the tornado.  The house is about 164 years old.  It took the brunt, with only roof and porch damage.  Texas storms come as quickly as a fake news story cycle.

Meanwhile, at our house, our oldest dog, Sammie, is like bacon on a hot skillet during storms.  I’ve written about this before.

Sammie In Storm Sammie goes bonkers at the smell of rain, not yet fallen.  You can always tell by her attentive look with immediate cravings to cuddle.

Sammie Gimme-Gimme-Gimme

The slightest sound of distant rumbling thunder will set her off with the quivers, shakes and shivers, like a 7.1 California earthquake.  All the while, nestled safely in my arms for shelter.  I’ve been told she runs to me because I’m the biggest one in the room.  When it’s peaceful outside, she rarely notices me, unless I have a treat in my hand.  Of course, I do what I can to calm her vocally, and sometimes it works, but often not.  The storms just seem to override any audible efforts of comfort.

Frankly, I can understand her pretty well.  I mean, growing up in Texas, I have seen what tornadoes, flash floods and hurricanes can do.  Because of past experience, my heartbeat rises a bit during these storms.  On the other hand, I have family and friends who are storm chasers.  They absolutely adore the thrill of getting as close to a tornado as possible, without catching up with Dorothy and Toto.  In my opinion, they are all mad as hares in a cabbage patch.  Yet, I still love them.

Oh, how I wish I could link telepathically, with Sammie’s little brain.  I wish she could know I will cover her with my own body if a tornado hit our house.  I just don’t speak “dogness” as well as I should.  If only my communication skills were on her level, maybe she would understand the kind of protector she has in me.  But, Shorty, our other pal, knows what to say.

Sammie Shorty Relaxing

My communication skills might be lacking during Sammie’s times of trouble, but sometimes lyrics will hit me out of the blue…or the darkness.

Recently, my daughter’s band, Grosh, released their new album.  The last song on the project is my favorite.  The cut is entitled, “Piece of Mind”.  Besides hearing my daughter deliver some terrific vocals once again, the original lyric touched me deeply.  It speaks.  Here’s a section for you:

“…Whether or not you know, whether or not you don’t.  Whether or not you care, whether or not you won’t, you are not alone.  Give me a piece of your mind.  Because whether or not you know, whether or not you don’t.  Whether or not you care, whether or not you won’t, you are not alone.” (2019) Piece of Mind.  Recorded by Grosh.  Composers:  Lougen/English (Her band-mates)

(Sample the cut at:  groshband.com.  Go to “Store”, click on the title of the song and turn up the volume.  (Also available for downloads.)  Tell me how it grabs you.)

There have been unexpected storms in my life when I desperately needed to be reminded I am not solo here in this life.  Most of he time, I didn’t get a siren of warning before I was flattened by a down-burst.  Car crash – no warning.  Job loss – no warning.  Health crisis – no warning.  Death in the family – no warning.  Can you identify?

How honest is this?  At times, I have felt alone.  At times, I felt alone in a crushing crowd of revelers.  At times, I looked around for someone to find peace with and found a vacant place.  At times, I searched for synthetics to numb my loneliness.

Life is so much like the weather.  Lightning WILL clap just when you least expect it, and you WILL leap off the mattress about a meter or so.  Sheets of hail, wrapped in a torrent of rain, WILL beat on the roof, and all you can do is wait to analyse the aftermath.  You might sit at a table, with a fine wine accompanied by broiled brisket, when suddenly, an EF-4 tornado WILL rip the house apart with its 166+mph winds.  (It’ll take about 3 seconds.)  In those moments of oppression, in those moments of turmoil, in those moments of trying to grip the rug beneath your feet, like Sammie, it’s normal to feel a bit shaken.  A bit at a loss.  A bit bewildered.  This is the stuff of life, and life’s surprises.

Because I am a Jesus “accepter”, I do what I can to keep from nursing on other means for quick fixes to sooth my nerves, my fears, my “what next”.  Many times I fail.  In those times I must remember all things I touch, taste, and see, are only temporary at their best.  Synthetics are just that…synthetic.  Who would depend upon a wedding ring fabricated out of a cigar-band?

Sammie runs to me for comfort, but I don’t mention to her that I can be blown away, just like she can.  The comfort from my body is, well…uh…temporary.  In the same way, I can run to my wife, a counselor, a friend, a chemical pacifier, but in the end, they are faulty, too.  We all fall down physically, emotionally, spiritually.  My proven rest relies on the One Who holds me up today, yesterday, and tomorrow.  Why?

Where else could I go?  He simply is the biggest person in the room.  The storm may not be removed each time the radar turns red, yellow, and purple, but I do have the promise He will be with me through what comes my way.  He alone called Himself, “The Rock”.  In Exodus, when Moses was afraid to be God’s spoke-person to the enslaved Jewish community in Egypt, and Pharaoh, he challenged God.

He inquired, “Who shall I say sent me?”  Wouldn’t you ask?

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” (Exodus 3:14 NAS)

Someday I will write on the significance of the title, “I AM”.  It’s a great study of the words in Hebrew.  For now, my point is, scripture details Him as being all-in-all.  Not only that, He goes so far as to invite us to PROVE Himself to be.  Wow!  That’s brave and bold, regardless of who sends the invitation.  Outside of creation, and all things in it, before we began to put names on each other, our animals and plants, He “was” and always will be.  A great reliable comfort in times of unsettled traumatic turmoil inside this sphere of existence.

Jesus was sent to our everyday, bluejeans and work-boots level.  He came to speak our language for understanding of God’s mind, heart and love.  He claimed that He and God were one.  Yes, a heavy thing to say.  And then He proved it several times.  Some 700+ years before Jesus was born, it was foretold He would be referred to as, “Immanuel”.  It wouldn’t be a surname, or a first name, but rather a description.  It literally means, “God with us”, “With us is God”, or “God housing with us”. (Isaiah 7:14)  That’s amazing in itself, but it also means I don’t have to shiver while cowering in the fetal position, stuck in a corner with my chosen toy for distraction.

Learning to lean on the Rock that is higher than I is the beginning of fuel for the race.

“Take My yoke (Guiding, instructive brace.  IE:  A cast on a broken bone.) upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  Come to Me, all those toiling and being burdened, and I will give you rest.”  – Jesus – Matthew 11:28-29 (BLB)

 

Our Irene

“Farewell, Irene, where your dreams abound…You dream of the north, Irene.  Well then that’s where you oughta be…”  (2016)  Irene.  Recorded and composed by:  Courtney Marie Andrews

WARNING:

As I introduce you to my fabulous cousin, Irene, allow me to lay down a teaser right here.  In a few lines I will deliver a shocker, a twist in my spotlighting of this precious and beloved lady.

When I think of cousins, my memory projects mental Super 8 footage of summer days chasing each other with water guns.  I have snapshots in my childhood haze riding double on horses, bareback through the pastures.  Notably, there’s always visions of playground swings, chasing the ice cream truck down the street, family reunions in the park, and visiting our grandparents together.  Cousins were, and are, so much fun.

Entering stage left, my cousin, Irene.

When I was little, I had trouble calling her, “Irene”.  My understanding the word, “Ring” came out of my mouth.  I was able to overcome that problem.

Over the Easter weekend, the old band got together for a bit of a reunion performance for a Messianic Passover event way north of our home in Dallas.  For a Texan, Oklahoma is north-enough.  I drove myself up to Enid, Oklahoma, in the northwestern part of the state, for our musical adventure.  The long drive gave me lots of time to freshen up my vocals before arriving at the venue in the late afternoon.  We had played there two years ago.  At that time, after a Facebook posting about the gig in Enid, my cousin, Irene, replied with a tad of chastisement for not informing her.  It was my mistake in that I was under the impression she and her husband resided in southwestern Oklahoma, closer to Altus where her mom lived.  Turns out, she lives closer to the Kansas/Oklahoma border, in Tonkawa, OK, just another thirty miles or so north of my turn-off for Enid.  So, I promised her then I would contact her ahead of time if I’m in that area again.  As you can see, we finally got together.  Here’s the beauty with two of her pals and my ugly mug.

Irene (77) Me (58)

(We have Cherokee in our family tree.  The features show up so much more through her branch of the family.  Her mother, my Aunt Evelyn, was very much the same way.)

Although we had kept in touch over the decades, it was always through emails, texts, and Facebook.  Rarely were we hanging out for family picnics.  Literally, the last time we physically sat together was at our uncle’s memorial service in 1977.  It’s such a shame to only see the ones you love at times of sorrow.  Do you know what I mean?

What a terrific visit.  It’s amazing what you can learn about others when you actually sit and talk face to face.  I knew she was an artist, photographer, and an avid activist, a gifted musician, but there’s so much more to my cousin, Irene than I once knew.  Part of her artwork is landscaping.  Her property is a testament to the fact.

Irene Backyard

Irene Front Yard

I must say, it’s vastly different from the natural brush country in that part of the state.  She’s turned it into a showplace.  It reminded me so much of the Dallas Arboretum Park.  (Google for photos.)  Truly a professional would be amazed.

Part of her array of gifts surrounds being active in charity work and fundraisers.  She has donated many items for local charity auctions.  One of the things she is known for is her artwork on chairs.  You saw the cover photo at the top, by the title, of her in action.  Here’s another example of her artsy eye on old unwanted furnishings.

Irene & Gene Doughtery Artwork

(Collaboration Art by:  Irene Ackerson & Gene Doughtery)

Irene Art

These chairs go for a few hundred dollars at various auctions.  You can see why.

Irene stays very busy.  She is well traveled and well educated.  She and her husband were teachers, loving the craft of education.  She is a talented canvas painter.  An active animal lover, Irene rescues dogs, as well as, dog-sitting for others in the community.  Somehow she walks multiple dogs at the same time.  I struggle walking two of them.  My dear cousin collects items of interest, much in the realm of artwork, from all over the world, decorating her home with such.  She’s a volunteer for civic and church events.  She can be found in the throws of various social and charitable occasions.  She probably makes animal balloons, too.  These are just some of the things I have missed out on in not getting to know her better.

We both have a good sense of humor, which has been handed down through our family tree.  One day, back in the 90’s, she got a real kick when I called her the “Kate Jackson (Charlie’s Angels) of our family.”  The resemblance was authentic.  There was a lot of truth to my title for her when we were younger.

Irene & son,

(Irene with her oldest son, Jeff.)

Now for the twister of this story about my cousin, Irene.  We never played in the playground swings together.  We never rode bareback horses through the Texas pastures.  We never chased down the ice cream truck.  Irene and I never once shot each other with water guns.  It’s certainly not because she lived so far north from my stomping grounds.  So what’s the mystery?

If you have seen my Facebook page, (Connect with me anytime – Alan Brown, Carrollton, Texas.)  then you know she’s not shy about her age.  In a recent public post on my Facebook page, Irene mentioned the occasion where we first met.  In fact, there is a photo of the moment, which currently I cannot locate in my stacks of family photos.  It was 1964.  I was four years old, shaking hands with Irene, the beautiful bride!!!  (YES, scroll back up for another look at us from Easter weekend.)  Irene is actually my mom’s cousin, my 2nd cousin.  Not willing to publish her actual age, I will reveal that I will turn 59 in a few days, and Irene is two years older than my mom!  Maybe I should add, she’s never had work done. (Haha)

Let it be known, she can run circles around me.  We had a very sharp aunt who lived to be 103 who walked faster than I did.

Truly, there’s lots to be said about staying active.  There’s lots to be said about keeping the mind youthful and open.  There’s lots to be said about nurturing the body, and keeping it moving.  Irene has done all of that, and more.

I also think love has much to do with the “youthening” process.  Do you agree?  Have you noticed?  Irene pours out love for others as a way of life, including the animal kingdom.  I believe those who chew on hate have bitter, shortened lives.  Frankly, that is a biblical concept.

Jesus taught to love one another as we love ourselves.  He also went further.  He taught we should love the ones we perceive as outcasts, or socially despised.  He said so because that is how God loves.  In following suit, we find life to be more palatable altogether.  Life is sweeter when my mind chooses to love those I normally might not even notice.

Maybe Irene’s teaching days aren’t over.  Turns out, I’ve learned a few things observing our Irene.

Love and youthful endurance are grand products of fuel for the race.

“Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles.  They will run and not get tired.  They will walk and not become weary.” – Isaiah 40:31 (NASB)

 

LOST DOG! – Not so much

“… For whatever reason there might be, 
Oh, you’ll be there between each line of pain and glory 
Cause you’re the best thing that ever happened to me.” – “Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me” (1973) Recorded by: Gladys Knight.  Composer: James D. Weatherly

In some post, not that long ago, or far away, I stated something about how dogs teach us so much.  They may not have a pointer (lol), or a marker (lol) board, but they teach nonetheless.

Meet Pippin! (Cover photo above)

Recently, I posted about a young family next door who are moving away.  Steven and Amy are expecting twins, which means four little ones as a total, with only a small two bedroom house.  Yet, they do have three little-bits in the backyard, as well.  I affectionately nicknamed their very territorial duo Chihuahuas, Yipper & Yapper.  (It’s actually, Molly & Pippin.)  The third four-legged pal is a sweet, beautiful dingo.  Her name is Freya, and she believes her main job in life is to try to hush the other two.  They are fun to watch.

I have a new respect for Pippin.  Here’s the scoop.  In the turmoil and business of the family throwing things away, loading trucks, and cleaning the place, the canine trio have shown signs of nervousness.  With all the dust flying in the air from the upheaval, the dogs have been like bacon-on-skillet.  Freya, who doesn’t seem to be as bothered by the activity, tends to bark at the other high-strung Chihuahuas in efforts to calm their nerves.  (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)  While the turnstile rotates back and forth from the old house, to the newly purchased house, the dogs are often left alone.  No doubt they are puzzled, rattled, and bewildered as to why, what, and where.  Transitions are never easy.

Getting to know them over the last 3 years, I’ve noticed Molly, the female Chihuahua, is more of a fighter, in lieu of a flyer.  Pippin is the flyer.  When their uneven gate has been jiggled to a position where the aligning posts don’t mesh very well, leaving about a 4 inch gap, Pippin takes the opportunity.  Yep, three times in two days, Pippin has pushed the gate as hard as he can to gain more wiggle room in order to squeeze through the misaligned fence and gate posts.  When he does, it’s off like a racehorse.  Just as they are pulling out of the drive with the moving truck, they’ll see the little escape artist in the rear-view mirror.  When that occurs, it’s all hands on deck to nab him.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Freya, the dingo, and Molly, the less adventurous Chihuahua, began a barking marathon in the early evening hours on Saturday.  Our dogs, Shorty and Sammie, exploded in stereo.  As we checked out the cause of the canine chorus, there stood Pippin at our front door.  His human parents had been gone for a couple of days, leaving the dogs extra food and water.  My wife carefully placed him over their fence, only to find him at our front door less than ten minutes later.  Looking in his eyes, coupled with his constant trembling, it was clear what was happening.  He was experiencing separation anxiety.  He was craving love and attention from his frequently missing family.  In fact, I surmise he was out to find them, which meant road hazards for the little squirt.  We sent a text to the couple letting them know what had happened, along with how we would dog-sit until they came home.  Our pal Shorty wasn’t pleased at first.

Shorty SulkingHe had this look on his face, which spoke volumes.  The dialogue bubble would read, “Hey, what the heck?  Why is this little yapper in MY house?”  As for Sammie, our Schnauzer/Chihuahua mix, it was different.  Sammie seemed to ask if there would be enough food left in her bowl.  She checked on it just before she hid from all of the clamber.  She wanted no part of it.  Sammie is an old lady.  I don’t blame her.

Sammie Gimme-Gimme-GimmeAfter Shorty’s territorial greeting, he and Pippin began to play reindeer games around the house.  Of course, they know each other between the fence, but now there was nothing to keep them from being fellow pack members.  Although Shorty is a bit taller than Pippin, it didn’t stop the visitor from standing on his hind feet, placing his front paws on Shorty’s head, as a hard statement of dominance.  That thought bubble was so evident, “Okay, I’m the boss here!  YOU are NOT the boss of me!”  Immediately, the horseplay…or rather, the dog-play, ensued.

The overnight went okay.  Pippin was restless, even growled at times, but he liked getting under a blanket in a snuggle cave mode.  No doubt, if you can’t see unfamiliar surroundings, it must not be there.  Can you relate?

The following morning, all three dogs had some time in the backyard.  The two next door, Freya and Molly, watched, whined, and howled as if left out, like there was more going on at our place.  After awhile, Steven and Amy came home for another load of furniture.  Ecstatic to see him, Freya and Molly were jumping up and down, getting in Steven’s way as he walked toward the fence-line.  As soon as Pippin spotted his human dad, he raced to the fence, wagging his entire body, barking up a concerto.  After Steven held him in his arms, Pippin was all about squirming with excitement, licking every inch of Steven’s face that he could possibly reach.  Pippin never looked back.  He never stopped licking to say thanks.  It was as if we didn’t exist.  Frankly, in his noggin, we probably didn’t, at that heartwarming moment.  After all, we weren’t who he belonged to.

After Steven thanked us, I watched him walk away with our rough-n-tumble amigo, happy as a kid on Santa’s lap.  Clearly, Christmas came early for the little yapper.

Later, I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be wonderful for Pippin if Steven and Amy were with him all the time?  Wouldn’t it be magical, if his parents cuddled him every minute of every day?  Wouldn’t it be simply a miracle if Pippin felt the loving arms of his owner 24/7, feeling the surety that abandonment isn’t a word at all?  In fact, wouldn’t it be miraculous if Pippin could always hear a loving response from his adopted owner on any, and all, barking episodes?  If it were possible, wouldn’t it be terrific if Pippin had a tiny amount of faith in knowing his family would always come back?  If so, dog-life would be more tolerable.  Moreover, safety and security would never be in question, even while looking at the back of an increasingly vacant house.

Sometimes, I can be much like Pippin.  In fact, maybe lots of times.  I can identify.  How much do I squirm in life, for the silliest of reasons?  How often do I perceive, or imagine vacancy, with the first thought being, “It will never be full again?”  Too many times I howl at the proverbial moon in sadness, as if there is no relief on the way, or that times will never change.  Why do I forget about Christmas, the original?

“BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL (Emmanuel),” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.”  (Angelic messenger to Joseph, Mary’s betrothed.) – Matthew 1:23 (NAS)

Our commercialized Christmas won’t get anyone to the answers.  It’s only stuff.  A watered-down Christmas only gets us wet and cold.  It’s only seasonal foo-foo.  Celebrating winter only throws curved-snowballs at shopping frenzies.  It all is so unsteady, passing so quickly, leaving many in post holiday blues.

As a Jesus-follower, I revel in His arms daily.  (Only if I choose not to get distracted by the movements around me.)  My heart listens for His still small voice.  Sure, I see vacancy at times, but all the while deeply knowing, with certainty, with intentional expectations, I will see Him soon.  When I do, I rest in the promise that my obnoxious yapping, escaping techniques, and infractions, are all forgiven through grace alone.  I’m always welcomed home.  Now, THAT’S merry!

Dogs teach us so much about what is in the bowl of fuel for the race.

“…God has said:  ‘Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you…’  So we say with confidence:  ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’…”   – Hebrews 13:5b-6a  (Berean Study Bible)