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)

 

 

The Poundage Of It All

“…If you leave me now you’ll take away the biggest part of me…” (1976)  If You Leave Me Now,  Recorded by:  Chicago.  Composer:  Peter Cetera

The barrage has hit us.  The onslaught continues to encroach upon us all.  The public is being laminated day and night.  You know what I’m talking about.  Weight loss commercials!

Every year it happens.  With new resolutions to drop some weight and inches off the frame, the weight loss corporations pull all the stops, slamming us with opportunities to order special meals, special powders, and special pills for the cause.  “Hi, I’m Buffy.  And I lost 150 pounds on _________.”  If I see the beautiful Marie Osmond just one more time I’m going to lose weight by throwing-up my last meal.

In my younger, sporting days, I was no stranger to weight loss.  In my teens and early 20’s I was a competitive kickboxer, managing a certain weight for weight class divisions.

Me at Greek's 1977ish

During my freshman year in high school I was on the wrestling team where you were expected to meet a weigh requirement deadline for tournaments.  Early on I learned how to manipulate my body to gain, or lose weight, even to the point of dehydration.  Unfortunate for me, I got into dangerous weight loss pills, most of which are now outlawed.  Me, and my body, were at war with each other in efforts to meet the competitive expectations.

Later in life, in my late 30’s and early 40’s, I started doing the same thing to get back into top shape.  I was downing diet pills, “speed” actually, as a regular supplement.  In fact, I got up to swallowing up to 12 pills a day!  I was working out twice a day as if I were trying out for the Olympics.  The vinyl plastic sweatsuit was my semi-normal attire for a couple of years, not just while working out, jogging, or mowing the lawn, but trips to the store, too.  Yes, it stunk something awful.  Ahhhh, the price one pays.

Everlast 70 pounder

Don’t get me wrong.  Dietary issues are important, and life-saving.  We all need to work toward a healthy lifestyle, and its habits.  For some of us, even now for me, losing the poundage is bettering self, bettering life lived.  Trust me, I’m all for it, if it’s safe and smart.  Case in point, when I dropped 80+ pounds, at 41 years old by punishing my organs, a doctor reviewing my routine, and various pills, when he informed me I was lucky I hadn’t already had a stroke.  The key is to be wise with dietary choices for authentic lasting results.

Vision is the issue in western culture.  We have this vision problem which feeds the chubby weight loss executives sitting around their conference tables.  We “see” the thin models in ads and are told we MUST look like these dashing, hungry people.  After all, look how happy they are running along Malibu Beach, or grinning from ear to ear while peddling on the latest exercise bike.  (How often do you grin while killing yourself on a treadmill?)  Sorry, that’s my old beaten-up body talking.  Of course, there are exceptions.  But it seems to me, there is a weight loss we often ignore when the new year urges resolutions.

Sure, I can move heaven and earth to look like Tom Brady, Brad Pitt, or David Beckham, but if my heart is packed with arrogance, selfishness, or even a bit of lewdness, it has the tendency to weigh me down.  If I enter the new year with a fatty dose of concealed hatred, it will slow me down.  The obesity of pride, the fatness of dishonesty, or the bloating of uncivil discourse can add inches in my mind’s filter.  If I belly-up to a vast trough judging the neighbor I may not like, or slurping down an unhealthy daily big-gulp-sized helping of impure thoughts, I could gain what I really don’t want.

ANTIFA

I guess the question might be…What is the biggest part of me?  Once found, is it something that needs to leave now?

Enough said. I have a bag of chips to get to.

Noticing one’s intake, with a clear keen eye, certainly carries a lot of weight when measured with fuel for the race.

“Therefore, my brethren, those things that are true, those that are honorable, those that are righteous, those things that are pure, those things that are precious, those things that are praiseworthy, deeds of glory and of praise, meditate on these things.”  -Apostle Paul   Philippians 4:8  (Aramaic Bible)

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)

Lost & Found

“…Okay, so no one’s answering.  Well, can’t you just let it ring a little longer, longer, longer?  Oh, I’ll just sit tight through shadows of the night.  Let it ring forevermore…Yeah, yeah, yeah…”  (1976)  Telephone Line.  Recorded by:  Electric Light Orchestra (ELO).  Composer:  Jeff Lynne

Frantically, in the chill of the frozen air, he yell out, “Kids, help me find it!  Tabitha, you look over there where we were throwing snowballs.  Megan, you look over by the Suburban.  D’Anna, you stay here with me.  Help me push the snow away.  We’ve got to find it before we lose daylight.”

It was this week in August of 2001 when my family and I had experienced an unanticipated devastating blow in our lives.  Today, it still hurts.  Frankly, it lingers in my heart and mind all these years later.  Truly, the person, which caused the groans in my spirit, to this very day, has accomplished that individual’s purpose.  To dive into what occurred would just add to my painful memories, which I try to keep beneath my feet.  Forgive me for keeping it from you just now.  I will not bathe you here in the memory of it.  However, I’ll describe a tad of the domino impact from the personal trauma.

The vicious personal event was quickly followed by America’s incredibly disturbing attack on September 11th.  I must admit, the depths of my depression was a vast, velvet black abyss.  I spent my days in bed, sleeping as if on a sedative.  My marriage had ended years prior, but still living together for the kid’s sake.  My filing for divorce was already being planned through much heartache.  Thoughts of suicide knocked on my door a few times in stages of complete emptiness.  (How honest is that?)  The only thing God used to keep me living was my three precious daughters.

As the months rolled on, my depression continued to eat my lunch, but I was an experienced actor with the ability to hide the pain when needed.  I noticed I had a tremendous urge to wrap myself up in my kids.

By December, I felt a new bravery to take the family on a vacation.  We would wait for Christmas to come and go, and then pull out all the stops to begin a 12-day road trip starting the day after Christmas.  My intention was to use it like a balm for our hurting hearts.  It was money we didn’t have right after Santa’s visit, but it was so needed.  Stupidity or not, I cashed in my 401K.  (I know, it’s not a wise thing.)  We rented a huge Chevy Suburban, packed it up, and off we went.  We left Dallas for a day spent in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Then north to Colorado Springs, Colorado we drove.  It would be our jumping point for all surrounding areas of note, and then up to Denver.  What a blast!

Pike's Peak Dec 2001

R-L:  Tabitha, Megan, D’Anna in front.  Pike’s Peak in the faded background.

One by one we visited the normal sites of awe.  We were holiday tourists and it showed.  We even rode horses during a lite snowfall through the Garden of The Gods National Park.  The red rocks were brilliant up against the white snow.  The photos I rediscovered do not do it justice.  While in the area the snow became heavy through the days.  Yet, that didn’t slow us down.

New Year’s Eve came rather quickly.  We decided to hit the great Seven Falls tourist attraction in the Pike’s Peak area.  (Google Seven Falls to wet yourself down with its picturesque majesty.)  Alas, they were officially closed on New Year’s Eve, but we still were able to drive to the overlook scenic platform, just across the canyon from the high, frozen long falls.  As you can imagine, we had the place all to ourselves.  Along with the frozen famous falls, I adored the silence in the air, also created by the audio-absorbing snow.  The temperature was about 4 above zero that afternoon.  That’s tough for any Texan to endure for very long.  So we took pictures, looked at the frozen falls trough binoculars, until the girls started to beg for the warmth of the SUV.  The fog of my long sigh rolled out of my mouth and up over my head.  Oh, how I wanted to stay and soak it all in.

Seven Falls Frozen Dec 31, 2001

Megan & D’Anna, and your’s truly.  (Tabitha was taking the picture.)

It was almost dusk, so we drove out of the opened gates of Seven Falls. (See cover pic over the title above.) With the tires crushing the hardening snow, we passed a little picnic area with a trickling brook close to the drive leading out toward the main road.  We decided to stop and have ourselves a snowball fight, which the girls had been pleading for ever since we arrived in snow country.  That’s exactly what we did.  My camcorder was in full-swing as I climbed out of the vehicle.  The snow was up to my shins in some places as we dropped to make snow angels with our arms and legs.  Three year old D’Anna was getting too cold during our snowball fight, and didn’t want to stay out any longer.  She wanted back in the warm SUV where her mom remained during our adventure.  Her timing was just about right.

Seven Falls Park Dec 31, 2001

Tabitha and Megan in the park ready to launch snowballs at the man holding the camera.

It was beginning to get dark.  The moonlight was spectacular bouncing off the sparkling snow.  We took the time to climb a small 25foot-30foot hill in the park where we could see the trained colored spotlights skimming off the frozen falls off in the distance.  It was just a magical moment for us.  But all good things must come to an end.  Whoever came up with that phrase must’ve been a recluse.

As I reached the vehicle, I began to search my coat pockets for my cell phone.  Back in 2001/2002 cell phone casings were thicker, with antennas which rose above the scalp when pressed against the ear.  I figured if it fell out I would feel it.  There were only three pockets large enough for placement.  I searched all of them.  My hunt in the Suburban came up empty as well.  I ordered everybody out of the vehicle to form a search party.  It was dark, but the moonlit snow would be a big help in locating a hole in the drifts in the shape of a flip cell phone…or so I thought.  We must’ve spent half an hour walking square foot by square foot of the area where we had been playing, even the roadside hill we climbed.  We came up with nothing.  Obviously, in our wintry frolicking it escaped quietly out of my coat pocket.  We returned to the SUV wondering all the while how we would communicate with the outside world.  In those days, it was the only cell phone we had.

Cell Phone old

After we fell into bed, back at the hotel, I called our family members in Texas to tell them of our adventures, along with the misfortune of the cell phone loss.  We continued our snowy trip throughout the following days, thoroughly enjoying a life-long memorable vacation which was good for our souls.  It was the right thing to do.  No regrets, even now.

One afternoon in late April of 2001, our landline phone rang.  It had a Colorado Springs area code.  I picked up the phone to hear a man’s voice asking if I had been in Colorado Springs recently.  Curiously, I mentioned our Christmas/New Year’s trip.  He then asked me if we had visited Seven Falls.  The bell wasn’t ringing in my head just yet when I heard his question.  With a confusing sound in my voice I said, “Yes, we were at Seven Falls.  They were closed on New Year’s Eve, but we had a fun time hopping around in the deep snow just outside of the falls in a park.  Who is this?  Why are you asking?”  He introduced himself, then explained he was a Colorado Springs police officer who jogged the same road alongside the park outside Seven Falls.  He went on to reveal how he found a frozen mobile phone next to his jogging route and retrieved it.  He had me describe the phone and when he was satisfied that I was the owner, we both had a good laugh about it.  He said after the snow melted in April, it was sitting there in plain sight by the brook.  He went on to tell me he took it to the police lab to charge it up, not knowing it would even take a charge after thawing.  In his surprise, as he looked through the contact index, he found a number that was entitled, “Home”.  He jotted down the number and called us from his cell.  He then graciously asked if I wanted it back.  By that time I had already replaced my mobile phone and really didn’t need it any longer.  He offered to mail it to me at his expense, but I discouraged it.  I thanked him, then gave my permission to use it as a trade-in for another phone for himself.  He said he might just do that.  I hope he did.

To this very day, I pray for guidance in various corners of my daily life.  One subject I pray for are teachable moments in my own life.  Later it hit me concerning an ancient truth written so long ago.

Have you heard about the old woman from Israel, some 2,000 years ago?  She wasn’t a poor woman.  She actually had ten silver coins stored up.  In that day, it signified wealth.  By deduction, she probably didn’t earn the silver coins, as most women of that time wouldn’t have had income reaching such a total.  There’s no mention of a husband, so some surmise she might have been a widow.  If so, in the Middle East during the first century, it would have been the inheritance from her dearly departed husband.  The silver coins must have been precious to her heart, more than the marketplace.

On a cloudy day, the woman reached into a space in her hearth where she had hidden the small drawstring pouch of coins.  Carefully, she poured the collection of silver pieces onto her small dining table for polishing.  As she counted them she stopped at nine.  She counted again, but stopped at nine.  There were ten in the pouch, but only nine rested in the pouch.  One had been stolen, or simply misplaced.  Frantically, she lit a lamp and placed it just a hair’s width from the floor.  With a roving sharp eye she explored every inch of the cold floor on her hands and knees.  She then hastily grabbed her broom to slowly swept each corner, under every chair, bed and table.  She was determined not to give up her search.  With one swipe of her broom in a darkened place, she heard the sound of a coin slide against her stone floor.  The neighbors and friends down the street were unaware she was in great distress, as she hunted for this one lost coin.  She was so elated, she ran outside in almost hysterical laughter and yelled out to her clueless friends and neighbors,  “Celebrate with me!  I had lost this one silver coin and now I have finally found it!”

The parable of the Lost Coin is a story Jesus told.  (I paraphrased and expanded it for a modern dramatic rendition.)  He taught a few things concerning items lost from God’s arms.  A sheep, a prodigal son, a priceless peril, etc.  It must mean a lot to Him.  It speaks of His heart toward those of us who are not close, or in tune with God’s love, along with the righteous rescue He offers.  When He taught about “lost things” He describes them as out of sight, or in a hidden, darker place from clear view.  Even now, I have a beautiful red sock somewhere in a darker, out of clear viewing locale.  Every time I see the mate, I remind myself to turn my house upside down.  Even though it’s here somewhere, I still cannot see it, touch it, or consider wearing it.  In other words, my lost sock is useless to me.  However, I love those red socks!

Unlike my choice, concerning the future of my lost phone, God treasures the soul who He sees as lost.  He never “trades in” for another more fetching, or more accepting.  Many who recognize the vacuum in their world to be a life without spiritual reconciliation, find peace and comfort in His arms.  In God’s view, there are no lost causes.  THIS, is the true purpose for the humble birth in Bethlehem.  God’s way of searching out the lost precious ones.

“For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His…”  2 Chronicles 16:9a  (NAS)

After many months under the Colorado snow, the frozen phone was without juice for communication.  Yet, when plugged into the source of power by a rescuer, it gained life, a resurrected life, so to speak.

My old mobile phone and I have something in common.  After the well-intended butchery of our lives that August, I froze-up.  One might even say I was useless.  For months I crawled into an emotional fetal position with the mental coil of wanting the bury myself in a snow cave somewhere, never to be seen or heard from again.  In a way, I did just that.  I even stopped doing chores, trips to the grocery store, and hid from friends and family outside my walls.  Trust me when I say, it was difficult as I had a very public career as a radio personality.  Climbing on the air became a dreaded thing to me.  I had to “put on” a character, a character I once was.  You might say I was frozen without a charge.  Psychologically I was damaged, altered, and empty.  It went on for years.  I fought to stay alive.

Some relief began to diminish the bubble (somewhat) by 2004.  You can align it to a snow-melt causing me to reappear.  Thank God for the power of resurrection.

You might discover the falls may be frozen, but there’s always a scenic platform available.  It comes with a free viewfinder prepared with the essence of fuel for the race.

“What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the pasture and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders, comes home, and calls together his friends and neighbors to tell them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my lost sheep!’ In the same way, I tell you that there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous ones…” – Jesus –  Luke 15: 3-7a  (Berean Study Bible)

 

Heart Hotels

“Well there’s too many windows in this old hotel.  And some rooms filled with reckless pride.  And the walls have grown sturdy, and the halls have worn well,  but there is nobody living inside.  Nobody living inside…”  Heart Hotels (1979)  Recorded and composed by:  Dan Fogelberg

You know how it is.  You grow up in a place, or visit a place as a kid, while often driving by stunning landmarks, oblivious to their existence.  Honestly, I still do it.

I didn’t grow up in Greebville, Tx, about an hour’s drive east of Dallas, but I feel like I did.  I was born there, but we didn’t stay.  My mom’s family lived there, and still do.  To describe it, I would say there are certain parts of town that still remind me of the old southern neighborhood scenes in the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird.  My brain is sprinkled with fond memories of looking out the car window at the park I played in, the old gothic-style church on the corner near the downtown square, and the narrow street where I would grin from ear-to-ear as we drove toward my grandparent’s house.  Those are the simple snapshots a little lonely kid recalls about a place.  However, there are so many things this young one missed, probably because it was the loved ones in his focus.

One thing which escaped my interest was an old hotel on Washington Street, across from the old church.

Greenville Cadillac otel Old pic

The Washington Hotel – Greenville, Texas.  Photo:  Texas Historical Commission.

In its youth, it was called The Washington Hotel.  Later in years it was changed to The Cadillac Hotel.  In 2010, it was awarded a designation in the National Register of Historic Places.  Built in 1926, about two blocks down from the train depot, it stood as a gem, a glimmering star in the downtown Greenville landscape.  She has six floors ascending up to what was a garden roof, with plenty of space for romantic evening dances.  A monumental marble staircase rises from the lobby with iron railings.  Celebrities, tycoons, and diplomats were served by the old place through the decades, including Frank Sinatra, President Lyndon B. Johnson, and many more.  My mom and her parents attended a campaign speech delivered by President Harry S. Truman from the back of his train caboose at the depot near the hotel.  (Apparently, it was customary to build a hotel within a short walking distance to the train depot.  It makes sense, considering the times.)

Greenville Train Depot

The old Greenville train depot.

However, a gem no more.  The Washington/Cadillac Hotel, in all of her history and glory, was closed long ago as the town grew.  Time and neglect were her new caretakers.  In fact, it was abandoned in the worst possible way through the years.  Before you could say, “Texas tumbleweeds”, looters and vandals had their way with it.  In the early 1990’s a fire was set, destroying much of the interior of the old royal lady.  A couple of times in recent years, developers drew promising plans to refurbish her amidst intentions of a rebirth with condominium lofts, studios, and flats on the blueprints.  Still, plans fell through for one reason or the other.  And now it sits in an almost ruined state.  Much of it boarded up, and if not, windows cracked or broken out.  I have interior photos, but to be frank, it hurts my heart to look at them.  I would rather dream of her glory days.  My fear is, the city will give up on it, setting a date for a heartbreaking demolition.  My hope is, some wealthy decision-maker will grab a new vision of what this queen could be with some funds and lots of loving care.

Greenville Cadillac Hotel Photo:  The Herald Banner

Realistically, it’s a long-shot.  She sits at the threshold of a section of town in need of a gigantic face-lift.  And I mean more than a simple Botox injection.

Recently I heard Dan Fogelberg’s very familiar “Heart Hotels” over a classic soft-rock radio station.  You should google it to refresh your ear’s memory.  Immediately the old Cadillac Hotel came to my mind.  I began to listen to the lyric with larger lobes while realizing I sing-along to it all the time without allowing the lyric to penetrate.  The late Fogelberg was an incredible, thoughtful lyricist.  “Longer (Then)” was one I did for many weddings since 1979.  It’s considered a classic now.  He has so many greats in his music catalog.  Many bring tears to my eyes.  This is one of them.

He aligned his heart in the fashion of an old hotel with way too many windows for outside viewers.  Of course, he chose a hotel because he spent his life on the road from city to city.  Many artists are introverts.  I know I am, to a degree.  His lyrics speak of closing the shutters, pushing everyone out, leaving offers of synthetic love, hoping for true love to arrive.  In the third verse, his lyric pressed him to include an admittance that the soul needed to be repaired.  He wrote of craving the vacancy, while hearing distant echoing voices from the stairwells which brought memories of unanswered prayers.  OUCH!

Man, the song hurts!  It’s just like the interior photos of the Cadillac Hotel, which I refuse to add here.  At the same time, I love heart-breaker songs.  Performing them multiple times in my day, I know the powerful movements they deliver.  (I trust that doesn’t make me a twisted, bad person in your eyes.)

Truly, he wrote what most of us won’t.  I think Fogelberg was a very straightforward composer.  His songs spotlight his honesty.  If we were forthright with each other, as Dan was, we could relate to the lyric of “Heart Hotels”.  Just like too many windows in this old hotel (heart), there are also too many jumping off the roof surrounded by a garden, dancing, and romance.  Have you noticed?

The heart is a strong machine.  We call the pumping muscle in our chest the strongest organ, but the heart of the spirit is even stronger.  The rooms are full of reckless pride and the halls are worn well, but there’s nobody living inside…  When empty we are left to our chosen devices.

Like Fogelberg, if there is an honest recognition of “soul repair“, I think Fogelberg would be the first to say, you can’t do this on your own.  Sure, try all you want, but the carpet wears out in the pacing years of frustration, loneliness, and heartbreak.  Soon there after, the present reality hits like a brass doorknocker where the echoing voices in the stairwell repeat the failures of the past.  They do remind us, don’t they?  What do we have to show for it?  A worn-out carpet, wishing it were a magic carpet for flying.  A quick trip to the fire escape proves to be a faulty idea, as the decades have rusted the old scaffolding.  Thoughts of the roof flow in again, or medicate with the devices at hand for the numbing of our pain.  Honestly, this song should be longer than Stairway To Heaven or Alice’s Restaurant, because it should be a theme and variation which is in loop.

Should I mention something worse than our own heart-sickness?  Dare I?

How often do we drive by a dis-connected, seemingly empty person, who for whatever reason, has pulled down the shutters and rolled up the carpet inside?  How many of us are shocked when someone we know, or someone we love, takes to the roof for a final inhale of the garden?  The shock usually coats our minds because we thought they were doing just fine, as we occasionally peered through their many windows.  Still, we drive by them, distracted by the gothic-style church building across the street, not noticing there’s a soul is in trouble and needs repair.  Don’t kick yourself too badly.  I am the first to say, I am sooooo guilty.  My hull has been breached a few times by deliberate final exits of people I love.

Often in my life I have heard others speak of unanswered prayers, as the late Fogelberg penned.  Like me, I bet you have, too.  You didn’t ask for this, but allow me to quickly shed a laser light on this familiar topic.  Prayer-life is a mystery.  Make no mistake about it.  Scripturally speaking, the problem is solved through three different camera angles.

#1 – Know God first.  Read and study Him before you climb up His sleeve.  The passage states:

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who approaches Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” – Hebrews 11:6  (Berean Study Bible)

#2 – We frequently petition God in a misdirected way.  We envy, we crave, we itch for this and for that.  In the old King James language, we “covet” in general.  We also want a rabbit’s foot to stroke, or a genie in a bottle to grant us three wishes, or an item hanging from our rear-view mirror in which we trust to have some sort of empowerment.  As often the case, what we ask for could bring us to an intersection which may be unhealthy for our future…the future we are hidden from.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV)

Unfortunately, when we pray, asking for our “coveting” heart to be satisfied, it goes against God’s target for our lives.  (IE: ” Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?  My friends all drive porches, I must make amends…” (1971)  Composers:  Bob neuwirth, Janis Jolin, Michael McClure.)   Fun song, yet the humor of it stresses a fundamental truth.  One can be wealthy, socially honored, and in need of nothing, yet in reality, naked, poor in heart, and without spiritual sight.  Jesus mentioned this many times.  After all, God wrote it down so we would know, “Do not covet”.  Asking for peace, safety, protection, insight, direction, needs, and most of all, His plans to rule over what we cannot see, is always well applied.  Another way of putting it, sometimes our motives are off rhythm, as in an engine which lacks oil on its timing chain.

#3 – Unanswered prayer…at least that’s what we call it.  We perceive a prayer hits the ceiling, bouncing back like a rubber ball.  In reality, God promises to hear our prayers.  If you don’t get what you want, like an angry kid on December 25th, it could be the answer is “No”, or “Not yet”THIS has occurred in my life many times following premature prayers, where the answer came clearly months or years later.  Retrospect is a supreme teacher.  I could write a list of times this has happened in my life.  Keep in mind, there’s a solid case for follow-up prayers, asking God why He didn’t answer, as you personally weigh answers.  Other times, an immediate answer arrived during my prayer-life.  In fact, I have had prayers granted before I even finished the prayer.  The acknowledgement is always astounding to me, reminding me of my lack of 100% trust in God.  There’s a bold statement from Jesus which speaks loudly…

And when you pray, do not babble on like pagans, for they think that by their many words they will be heard.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.    Matthew 6:7-8  (Berean Study Bible)

A sweet friend of mine, a vocal harmonizer for Joan Baez, recently said she believed the “Universe” wants her to move to Texas.  I should have explained the following, but I didn’t.  Unfortunately, the universe doesn’t love her.  The universe never reached out to counsel her.  The universe never cared for her.  The universe never burdens itself with restoration of life. The universe doesn’t oppose evil.  The universe never offered a free gift of redemption.  The universe never bothers itself to tend to her when naked, poor, and blind.  The universe doesn’t have a count of every hair on her head.  The universe never wanted to remove her transgressions and faults.  The universe never protects her, defends her, or gives grace to her.  The universe is faulty and proves to be imperfect, as we are.

Bottom line…the soul/heart, never has to be empty and alone.  There is One who loves closer than a brother.  Search the world’s religious history.  After exhausting yourself, you will find religious systems demanding your “works”, your “efforts”, your climbing up Mt. Olympus to earn the favor of deities.  It’s easy to accept because it’s based on our human nature to work, to earn what we want.  Then there’s “touch this”, “burn this”, “kiss this”, or my favorite…”buy this”, etc.  Do the research.  If you know me, you already know I say this out of love, not hatred.  I hurt for religious beachcombers.  We’ve all been there.  Some doctrines even demand starvation, suicide, murder, and self mutilation to achieve a cozy suite in an afterlife hotel.  Have you noticed?  Only God, through Jesus, who, as a baby, couldn’t find room in the inn, proves to be of this magnificent heart of love, without condition,  and grace toward us imperfect people.

(Most recommend reading the book of John, in the Bible, to learn Who Jesus is, and why He is so different.)

Heart hotels don’t have to be vacant.  Room service is available with fuel for the race.

“What can I give Him, poor 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 Him: give my heart.” 

      Excerpt from:  In The Bleak Midwinter (1872)  

      By: Christina Rossetti

 

 

EMPTY! But Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, the tomb is empty.  But why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spring In Texas

“…Now that your rose is in bloom, a light hits the gloom on the grey.”  – Kiss From a Rose (1994)  Recorded & composed by:  Seal.

Spring is springing in Texas.  As we knock on the door of April, there’s visible signs breaking through.  The cover shot above is the celebrated Bradford Pear just across the street from my place.  I always watch from the blooms from this tree as I equate its awakening to Easter season.

A Texas spring is kicked off by an explosion of a rainbow of colors along the highways, side streets, and pastures.

Indian paintbrush

Just hit the nearest entrance ramp to an interstate, or more rural state highway, and soon your eyes will be filled with Indian Blankets, Black Eyed Susans, Pink Primroses, and Indian Paintbrushes.  No need to plant them, although many do for strategic landscaping displays, just expect these little scenic treasures.

However, the most beloved, the most watched-for, the most valued would the the Texas State Flower…the Bluebonnets.

Blue Bonnets with Barn

It’s guaranteed that if a blue-eyed person sits among the Bluebonnet patches, the shade in the eyes radiate.  In fact, as you drive along the freeway, it’s not unusual to see families taking pictures of their kids among the Bluebonnets.  I’ve personally witnessed a bride, fully decked out in her gown, posing in the Bluebonnets for the professional photographer.  Our next door neighbors followed suit.  Before they were married, he came from Oregon, and she was raised in Florida.  After they settled here in Texas they couldn’t wait to have their family photo  taken among the Bluebonnet blooms.  They knew just what to drag out of their closet, too.  Sweet family.

Blue Bonnets w-Rigalls

Earlier I said you can find them mainly in patches.  It’s true.  Rarely will you find a large crop of them, like a cornfield.  But frankly, I like it that way.  When driving along plots of the Texas State Flower, it just seems to push the unanticipated joy button.  Blue Bonnets with Cows

Texas wildflowers are brilliant, especially when nature is used to cluster them like a painter’s palette mix.  It’s fairly normal to witness Bluebonnets intermingling with the yellows of Sunflowers, the ambers and mauves of Indian Paintbrushes, and the golden winks you catch from the Buttercups.  Mowers are careful to mow around them.  However, I hate to throw a wet blanket on it all.  There is a down-side.

Here in Texas, most wildflowers don’t last long at all.  If you are a Texan, you know to take those pictures while you can.  Our prized Bluebonnets wave howdy only for about five or six weeks.  The perennials usually peak in mid April.  By May most wilt away, not to be seen again until mid March, or so.  For those who diligently watch for them in March, it’s a somewhat sad time when the Bluebonnets begin to fade and say goodbye.

My great-grandmother, on my mom’s side, was well known for her green thumb.  Everything she touched turned green.  She lived in Cash, Texas, a small farming community about sixty-five miles east of Dallas.  Her little frame house, some would say cottage, was built on the edge of one of her brother’s pastures.  Sometime in the mid 1960’s, she planted daffodils along the exterior of the foundation.  I remember playing in the barn next to her little house watching her carefully tend to them about this time of year.  Some would eventually wind-up in a vase on her farmhouse dining table .

Daffodils

Photo:  gardeningknowhow.com

In 1971, she passed away while sleeping peacefully in her bed at the young age of 61.  The house, long since removed, can be easily imagined as you drive up to the spot.  There, along the outline of the old forgotten house, are daffodils blooming each and every spring.  I don’t drive out there often, but when I do, it’s this time of year.  You can count on me to stop the car, gaze at the piece of land, and smile.  The perennials line up, just as they did in 1966, testifying that Ella Swindell once lived on that spot.

“…you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” – James 4:14 (NIV)

Our Bluebonnets, and other Texas wild flowers, are a welcomed sight.  But the sweet and sour is reality.  We all admire the beauty, knowing all the while they are short-lived, as the dry Texas sun dictates.

As I get older, I learn so much more than I ever thought I would.  If you’re over fifty years old, you know what I’m talking about.  Not only do we gain knowledge and wisdom (hopefully) we also experience the fragility of life.  Pick a topic.  What fades away after its prime?  What weakens with wear or age?  Could it be the cushy job?  Can it be a bank account?  Dare I mention relationships?  Like a patch of Sunflowers and Bluebonnets, stellar health, often taken for granted, in a single moment collapses.  What about that mid-life crisis red Corvette, once driven with pride, grows old, chipped, and rusty?  Then there’s someone’s model home, the floor-plan of which is the envy of every neighbor to the right and left, sags with age while the pipes and foundation cracks.  Everything depreciates.  Everything thins and erodes.  Everything we touch, feel, see, and taste is temporal.

So James would write, “What is your life?”  It’s a hard question when not distracted elsewhere.  Right?

I think the Bluebonnets, if they were able to verbally communicate, would urge us onward.  I can almost hear them say, “It’s okay.  Bloom where you’re planted, no matter how short the time may be.”  Jesus said we should not take the light, the Spirit of God planted within each who He calls His own, and hide it under a bowl.  The light within is there to share in a darkened world for others to see, and be drawn to the glow of what is done in love for others.  Can the scorching sun beat us down to wither for a time?

Dead Garden

Sure.  Yet, the Creator speaks truths in nature to show we can, and will be, perennials.

So, I say, Bluebonnets don’t bloom for the short span only to take selfies.  They bloom to shine out God’s artistry for our eyes and hearts.  And so are we.

Arise from the dirt.  It can be done when nourished with fuel for the race.

“The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.” -Isaiah 40:8 (NAS)