Losing Faith?

“I will be here for you,
Somewhere in the night.
Somewhere in the night.
I’ll shine a light for you,
Somewhere in the night.
I’ll be standing by,
I will be here for you”
(1992) “I Will Be Here For You” Recorded By: Michael W. Smith Composer: Michael W. Smith

It was late. I had been up since 3am. I traveled for 70 miles in a heavy downpour from a Texas autumn storm to reach a hospital in Greenville, Texas. I spent all day in a plastic chair in a small recovery room with three walls and a curtain. My plan was to drive back home that night, but Glaucoma has wrecked my night vision. Although I didn’t want to, I reserved a nearby hotel room. It was cheap, and on many levels, it should stay cheap.

The night didn’t go well at all. My mind and heart remained in that tiny recovery room at the hospital down the interstate. The last thing I heard, as my head hit the pillow, was a vacuum cleaner at work in the hallway at 10:21pm! I’ll spare you from the profanity which echoed off the concrete walls.

Drained of energy, I checked out around 8:30 the following morning. The rain had stopped, but the parking lot was littered with puddles to avoid. My heart was heavy, and my soul was dry. Somehow I felt I was on an internal cruise control as I opened the door to my parked SUV. My head hit the steering wheel as I placed the key in the ignition. There was no ignoring the craving for answers, the thirst for wisdom, and the starvation for comfort.

Not long ago, I wrote you a brutally honest post concerning my 77 year old mom who recently had been handed a diagnosis of dementia. Since I live in the Dallas area, and she lives in Greenville, we speak on the phone every day, sometime’s more than once. Over the past year or so, I have seen her begin to stumble on word processing during sentences over the phone. Just a few months ago she clearly began to experience hallucinations. When she began to forget the names of her granddaughters, I knew it was getting serious. She holds her cards close to her chest, so I am rarely aware of any specific assistance she needs. Slowly I have learned she can no longer do math, count money, or write well at all, etc. Stubborn and independent as the day is long, she slugs it out with life’s battles alone in her childhood home, the one she inherited from her deceased parents. Tough like a Texas oak tree, a woman made of steel, she raised me as a single mom through poverty, pain, and perseverance during the 60’s and 70’s. Not one CEO of any top 100 corporation could compare to her work ethic and drive to make a living.

The two of us in 1962.

And now…now, she is fading quickly. I’ve heard it said that it is like a great thriving tree losing its leaves in the fall, one by one. So true.

It’s not like my wife and I haven’t spoken to her about the need to sell the house and consider assisted living. She poops it right out of her noggin when the subject is presented. She’ll say, “No, I’m not near ready for that. I’m feeling much better today.”

Many hours have been spent wrestling just how I might be able to convince her to turn this page in her life, without her being forced. I walk a balancing wire because I do all I can to keep from upsetting her, or have her turn angry with me personally for pushing her too hard. My belief is she dreams to live long enough in that special house until she dies in her sleep in bed.

A little over a week ago, when I asked how her day was going, she was hesitant and sheepish. Her voice sounded tired and foggy. It took a few minutes to get her to confess that she had been sick at her stomach for a few days. There were a coup[e of phone conversations interrupted because she had to rush to the bathroom to throw-up. But then the next day she would tell me how well she felt, and how it must have just been a flu bug. Pressing her I could tell she wasn’t back to norms. On the 5th morning from the day she told me of her sickness, she confessed that she wasn’t better after all. My bootstraps were pulled up as I spoke to her like a parent, telling her she must go to a clinic, or ER. She barked at me saying some over-the-counter meds would do the trick, etc. I knew better. No bait was taken. I called her doctor, but she couldn’t see her for several days. I called my cousin, who lives just 5 minutes from her, and told him he needs to take her to get checked out. In the end, it was necessary.

A couple of hours rolled by when I received a call from my cousin who handed me over to a nurse in the ER. Tests were being run. Later in the afternoon, a surgeon called me. He informed me she had a concerning hernia near her navel. He mentioned there was trapped bowel material in the hernia, as well as, a traffic back-up in her GI track. Emergency surgery needed to be done within that very hour. I approved it over the phone. She would be in the hospital for at least 5 days as they attack the blocked GI track. All went well with the surgery. I arrived to be with her the next morning.

That was 8 days ago, as I write this post. Although the procedure went well, and the draining of her bowels was completed yesterday, she remains very weak and in need of rehab. My “Iron Lady” has quickly become frail and needy.

In recovery

I wondered why she wouldn’t let me in the house when I would come for a visit throughout the last few years. I am her only child, just 16 years younger than she, and our relationship has been good. While she was in the hosp[ital, I was able to get into her house as I needed to retrieve her ID and documentations. The word “gasp” would fall short of what I walked into. Without getting into the horrific scenes I saw and walked through, I will just say, she has been living in filth and squalor, seemingly for a long time. My heart broke seeing and smelling the realities of how far my dear mom had spiraled. A dumpster will need to be delivered in order for us to clear and clean. That’s how bad it really is.

Life has been very tough. Without my life-long Christian-based faith, I know where I would be by now, and it wouldn’t be a place where you would want to be. In fact, I know of a few times suicidal thoughts were at play during some personal tragedies in my past. With that said, more than a plethora of times, God Himself reassured me of who I am in Him, and without Him I would be on skid-row, or worse several times over. Honestly, and you know this if you are a long-time reader of my blog, there have been near miraculous moments in my life, where in the darkened corners I found myself in, I was brought to my feet. It grieves me to type the next two words…AND YET, I still have faltered in my faith, even though God showed me His hand through the wind and waves. “AND YET”…don’t you just hate those words?

With my head on the steering wheel, along with waning droplets on the windshield from the night before, I felt spiritually empty. My “worry wart” was getting bigger as I sat there pondering what needed to be done. My mom is ill, and can never live alone again without assistance. Where will she go? My wife and I don’t have room for her, not to mention, she will need more care than what we will be able to do. Even now, she thinks she is going back home to live as she was living. I fear looking into her aged eyes to tell her she can no longer be alone. Frankly, I don’t know how to break it to her without crushing her spirit. I’ve already been taking over her finances. A Power Of Attorney will need to established on her behalf. The herculean job of tackling the house, cleaning, moving her out, selling furniture, then selling the house….arg! Sitting there in my vehicle, I only had less than a quarter of a tank left in my spiritual reserve. The tears began to flow with the current of loneliness taking me downstream to where I shouldn’t be.

My prayer-life has been eaten away, practically. Ashamed to say it, but it’s true. The realization of my forehead hitting the the steering wheel brought me to a place where I needed to scream-out to God. That’s exactly what I did. No dogma involved, no Christianese spoken, no pretense whatsoever was present. With a good old fashioned yelling, in concert with my belly-crying, I called out to God in despair.

Before I go any further, let me caution you on something. If you have not accepted God’s grace and mercy through what His son, Jesus did on the cross for our redemption, you may not get what I am about to write. Please, forgive me if I am describing you. Nevertheless, what I am about to proclaim is factual, even biblical. If you are a Jesus follower, and think of prayer as quietly spoken, laced with a “thee & thou” because it is your habit, or because you believe your prayer would not make it out of the room if not practiced in this way, you might find what I am about to advise somewhat sacrilegious. If you use ritualistic phrases in your prayers, often repeating them several times for punctuation, you may not like what I am about to suggest whatsoever. When in the cave, the belly of the great fish, or at hell’s gate itself, God wants to hear YOU, YOUR HEART, YOUR GUT-WRENCHING SOUL! Scream out to Him in your suffering, in your neediness, in your emptiness. He’s a BIG GOD, He can and will handle what you need to say. Maybe the words might not be so pretty, or elegant, that’s okay. In fact, that’s what He wants from you. In a personal relationship, that’s what you do in tense times. Reveal your passion of the moment to Him. My experience has been, when I do that, I hear from Him, strongly, directly, and timely.

During my prayer, through pouring tears, I reminded God of how much of a servant my mom has been in her faith-walk all of her life. My verbal slideshow to Him consisted of how faithful she has been to Him and His words. The pulse of her deep faith was so evident in her song, her servanthood, her sacrifices. Brutal honesty rolled out of my mouth as I fessed-up to God that I am helpless in facing this giant of an issue. He heard how I felt alone in this task, weak and feckless. In my yelling out to Him, I ended it by confessing how I needed Him to show-up. I admitted that I am clueless on just how to begin all that needs to be done, all that needs to be said, all that needs strength that I don’t seem to have anymore. My sincerity was brutal and blunt when I screamed out, “Lord God, I need to know you are with me! Not tomorrow, or even the next day, but today!”

At that moment, I cleared the drops from my eyes, reach out to turn the key in the ignition, and the radio was on my favorite classic hits station.

The very first sound coming out of my speakers as the engine turned over was…

“When you’re weary,
Feeling small,
When tears are in your eyes,
I’ll dry them all.
I’m on your side…”

In that very moment of my darkened frame, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Like A Bridge Over Troubled Water” began to air. Slotted at that precised juncture in time, not 5 mins before, or 10 minutes after, but right then and there, out of their 600+ songs in rotation, sprinkled in with news, weather, and traffic, the lyrics met me like a subway at the station. I spent about 30 years in radio and radio programming, and I can tell you, this just doesn’t happen at the whim of a programming clock with its categories of rotating songs, separation slots involving artists, titles, and production types. There is a true science to what you hear on the air. I recognized it as a, “God Thing”.

Recently, my wife and I read through a book on odds, the law of averages, chances, and frequencies of events. This would be a good study on the odds of this happening as a coincidence, happenstance, etc. Based upon the book we recently read, I can tell you that the odds are against me hearing the first verse of that song, programmed at the right hour, at the right minute, at the right second after my prayer.

Suddenly, I wept again, but for a different reason. My faith was bolstered as in times past. Because I was shouting out my guts to God in faith that He would hear my pleas, He responded using a medium so very precious to me and my life…music. He arranged all roads to converge at that moment to prove to me that indeed, He is there, and will be there.

When reaching out for God’s grip, look no further than fuel for the race.

“Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:12-13 (NAS)

When Stars Fly

“Good morning starshine.
The earth says hello.
You twinkle above us,
We twinkle below…”
(1969) “Good Morning Starshine” Recorded By:: Oliver Composers: Galt MacDermot, Gerome Ragni, James Rado

It happened at 3:33am, Thursday morning, April 29. I will describe it as it was explained to me.

North Texas had been visited by a swath of severe thunderstorms overnight. As these huge thunderstorms do, spread out far and wide, delivered hail, winds, rain, thunder and lightning, but not everyone gets all of it. A couple of miles north of my street, hail beat on some windows, but not at my place. A tornado was spotted moving across the northern neighborhoods of my town, but not my neck of the woods. High straight-line winds blew down some wooden fences down the street, but not in my backyard. Oh, sure, I’ve had storm damage before, but not this time. Yet, it was enough to lose some sleep due to all the atmospheric activity. By 6:00am, all was wet, calm, with a bit of drizzle.

A couple of hours later, I called my mom, who lives a bit over an hour away, to see how she survived the April application. In case you are a visitor to my blog, I feel the need to explain what you are about to read. My mom lives alone, with her dog, in the house she grew up in. It was built in the mid 1840’s with very thin, non-insulated walls, along with single pane windows. Let me tell you, it needs mounds of work. Not long ago I wrote of her beginning struggles with cognitive issues. Thus far, she is able to care for herself, and others in her town she cares for, but her memory, and the ability to put the right words together in a sentence, is beginning to show.

When she answered the phone she had a strange edge to her voice. After the “Good morning.” and “How are you?“, she asked me if I was calling her to inquire about what took place in her area at 3:33am. I thought to myself, “Oh, no. They had another tornado.” She survived a tornado a couple of years ago which brought down two of her giant trees onto her roof.

Photo: My mom’s house after a tornado blew over her house. A cousin and friend were first on the scene to help.

When I asked what had occurred, she told me the following.

She told me it was something that she had ever experienced before. The severe thunderstorm was loud…very loud. She has an antique aluminum roof which can drown out any conversation you’re having whenever there’s a heavy rain. She also went on to describe the roar of the winds rattling her bedroom window sashes.

Then, as she and her dog, Charlie, tried to go back to sleep, the entire bedroom suddenly illuminated. It was so bright she noticed it with her eyes closed. The radiance, filling the bedroom, was not like filaments from a light bulb. She described the glow was strange, with a tint of a dull yellow. Charlie jumped off the bed and ran out of the room as if he had seen a lion. Out of the corner of her eye, hovering in midair, she observed what she called “a little star.” Instantly, I thought hallucinations may have been at play due to her mild cognitive condition. Hesitant to ask her to repeat what she just said, I asked her to describe it as best she could. She observed a little white “star”, with a bit of yellow to it, floating in the air, very slowly moving toward the other side of the room like “it had somewhere to go”, as she put it. By this time, I was scratching my noggin in dismay. She then stated that as it slowly moved toward the other side of the room, another “smaller star” came up behind it and almost “bumped into the bigger one because it didn’t want the bigger one to feel lonely”. By this addition to the story, I felt sure it was a dream she was having. But then, I remembered how Charlie high-tailed it out of the room, and stayed gone. I asked her what happened next. She said without any warning whatsoever, she witnessed an ear-zapping explosion which shook the walls of the house and lifted her off the mattress. It caused the two stars to burst into several mini stars and vanished. The picture she characterized began to come into focus. I asked her if the “explosion” was thunder. She said, “Yes, I believe that’s probably the proper word people would use”. She went on to say a few minutes later, there were people in the street talking loudly with big trucks, (probably the fire department).

Later, after discussing the scene with my wife, she reminded me of a lightning rod which sits on the edge of the roof just above her curtain-covered bedroom windows. My late uncle had installed it decades ago for my grandparents. No doubt in my mind, with the particles charged in the air, a lightning bolt was about to zoom in and strike the rod about eight feet from her bed. It’s clear that there was an arching of some kind which traveled through her window, or wall, giving her a brilliant light show. It’s a miracle there wasn’t a fire, or electrocution.

Photo by Fabiano Rodrigues on Pexels.com

My mom has always been a selfless, servanthood champion of a person. She has cared for many an elderly person out of love and concern, including being a 24/7 caregiver for her aging parents when they were still with us. Her focus has always been comforting and assisting someone other than herself. She always looked for the “least of these”. I must say, I cannot count the multiple times this woman of faith has been protected from clear and present dangers at her doorstep, whether from would-be attackers, would-be thieves, flying bullets, car crashes, hail, tornadoes, and now lightning strikes. Until very recently her health has been phenomenal, considering she never took good physical care of herself, for the most part. A great example: When she moved in with her parents, when it became necessary to care of them, she did so for 12+ years, completely sick-free! What are the odds? Not even a common cold for that length of time. Amazing!

So many of late are living in fear because of the “charged air” we find ourselves in. Have you felt a bit of it? Racial tensions, wholesale racial accusations, political unrest, a horrific southern border crisis, rumblings of faulty foreign relations and war, COVID, mask shaming, high taxes, trillions of projected dollars being deducted from your income, riots, looting, arson, shootings…..ect. It seems we are all just waiting for the stars to explode.

When I was a little boy, I always watched for the Allstate Insurance TV commercials. In the 1960’s, when it came time to deliver the words…

“You’re in good hands with Allstate.”

It would show a set of a man’s hands, not a drawing, with palms up, cupped together as if catching rain pouring off a gutter. According to my mom, I would tell her that was God’s hands. She would chuckle, and agree with me. I bet Allstate had no idea they were creating a Sunday school lesson for little ones.

Still, in the middle all things chaotic, which fluctuates and hovers in the air for a time, one truth remains, a Solid Rock many ignore, but shouldn’t. The particles in the air may flare up and even ignite, but I also know all things are sifted through the hands of the Great I AM of Genesis. We are, my mom is, in good hands.

Never drive into a raging storm without a tank full of fuel for the race.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, ‘You are my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ Surely He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler, and from the deadly plague. He will cover you with His feathers; under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the calamity that destroys at noon. Though a thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand, no harm will come near you.” Psalm 91:1-7 (Berean Study Bible)

Reduced?

“Can’t buy me love, oh,
Everybody tells me so.
Can’t buy me love, oh,
No, no, no, no.”
(1964) “Can’t Buy Me Love” Recorded By: The Beatles Composers: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Here we go again. Or, maybe I should say, here “I” go again.

The memory of Easter weekend is still fresh as a chocolate bunny in the fridge for most minds of the faithful. And so it’s no wonder someone on my friends list on Facebook was so excited that she posted the below.

Ah, yes. You might say, “Alan, calm down. Don’t get so over-the-top over a statement about a candy sale.” You would probably be right in admonishing me during my little fit I’m having. After all, I understand the heart of what this friend was trying to say. At a local supermarket, there is a sale on all things Easter, ie: eggs, bunnies, and jelly beans. No biggie.

Still…it’s the way she worded it. “Easter…reduced to less than…”

You know the word “reduced”. Pull out the thesaurus. You’ll find, decreased, diminished, shortened, liquidated, compressed, subtracted, and so on.

As I write this, I had just finished watching the very respectful funeral for England’s Prince Philip at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor. The service was more than God-honoring. I was struck and uplifted by the many hymns, prayers, and scripture passages. It was a grand send-off to a historic man in the royal family. Most notably, the words that rose up often in song and in reading was, “resurrection”, and “eternal life”.

Photo: St. George’s Chapel of Windsor during the funeral for Prince Philip from Fox News.

Easter itself, the core of it’s meaning, can never be reduced. Sure, it can be a faded holiday memory, as the calendar flips to other pages, but the substance of Easter is for every day. It cannot be lessened, devalued, or compressed to a lower definition. Cancel culture can’t touch it. Slanderers can try, but the resurrection of Jesus is like the Rock of Gibraltar. You and I could never chop down its value.

Resurrection is a word you can never label over the tombs of Buddha, Zoroaster, Muhammad, or Chairman Mao. Every one of those men remain in their graves. It is only unique in the hearts of a Jesus follower.

What is the true value of the resurrection of Jesus? It is multilayered. For me, I want to mention just one of the greatest treasures of the empty tomb of Jesus.

Dare to seriously consider the following. His body was almost emptied of blood. Water poured from His heart due to His horrific injuries on the cross. Six hours on the cross, only after hours of beatings and floggings. Pathologists who have studied what the body of Jesus went through are amazed He lasted as long as He did, much less to stay conscious. His dead body was sealed in a small dugout tomb on a hillside. On the earliest part of the third day, an earthquake, the millstone sized stone, hewed from a boulder, was rolled away, revealing His body wrappings laying in place as if His body vanished from inside the strips while Roman guards froze in fright.

He immediately visited all of His closest followers, and continued to do so over several weeks to hundreds of people. Suddenly, the cowardice Jesus followers, who were hiding in fear they were next to be executed, became brave, outspoken in the public square, testifying how they were witnesses of His resurrection. Some were killed right away, while others testified for the following 4-6 decades. They were ridiculed, jailed, tortured, beaten, stoned, and killed for not stopping their testimony of the resurrection. Easter morning changed them all.

Would you be willing to go through all that for a hoax, a prank, a lie? Sure, many will die for a lie when they believe it is the truth, but no one will die for a lie they set-up themselves for no personal gain.

The impact for most is the fact that Jesus proved He was Who He said He was. He displayed the power over His own death, just like He did when commanding other dead bodies to come back to life. This is something only God Himself can perform. For thousands of years it was foretold the Messiah, the One true Messiah, would have this power over the finality of life leaving the body. And because this is evident, it also means I can trust His words about my own eternal life. My coffin will not be my ending.

Photo: Prince Philip’s Coffin in St. George’s Chapel from Fox News.

So, no. Easter cannot be reduced. So, toss your dollar up on the counter for a couple of chocolate bunnies. Christ’s tomb remains empty. Eternal life remains the highest of values.

Eternal death is also available when lacking a decision offered in fuel for the race.

(The below was recited at the service for Prince Philip.)

“‘Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.'” – John 11:21-27 (NIV)

Remember?

“When the night has been too lonely,
and the road has been too long,
and you think that love is only
for the lucky and the strong.
Just remember in the winter,
far beneath the bitter snows,
lies the seed that with the sun’s love,
in the spring becomes the rose.”
(1979) “The Rose” Originally Recorded By: Bette Midler Composer: Amanda McBroom

After a heartbreaking divorce, my 15 year old daughter, Megan and I, found ourselves in suburban Buffalo, NY, frantically hunting for a cheap apartment within the school district she had been living in. My oldest daughter had already flown the nest, and my 2nd grade daughter had moved back to Texas with her mother. (That was my idea, which I regret to this very day.) Our lives seemed to be devastated, destroyed. We lost so much in the storm of it all.

It was in the blur of November, 2006. Megan dearly loved her school, along with her nearby friends. We were also looking for an apartment that would accept our family pet, Jojo, a tiny Yorkie, and Megan’s best buddy. With about 10 days to a foreclosure move-out deadline for our house, we found the apartment needed. That sounds like a quick, smooth transition, doesn’t it? Keep reading.

I will always remember, after a two week search, Megan, Jojo and I were sitting in our SUV with a heavy cold rain pounding on the roof of the vehicle in a drug store parking lot. We had just grabbed the latest edition of a local newspaper with a very small apartment ad section. Our area had very few apartments within it. My ex-wife was a white-collar criminal, among other things which I won’t go into, and had ruined my credit rating due to the record of crimes she committed over a 26 year period. I wasn’t sure a landlord would take me after a credit check. We were brokenhearted, exhausted, wet and worried.

As a dad, I feared homelessness. Something inside me boiled up with a fierce fight to keep my child from living under a bridge, or in a foster home away from me. As the lake-effect rain fell like artillery shells, prior to opening up the newspaper, I told her we should pray first. Through giant tears, we prayed together for a place to fit our needs in the area within the boundary lines of the school district, and the scope of the deadline. The odds were tremendously against us. The uttered prayer was a desperate one coming from my gut. My voice shook, my body trembled. My heart was wrenching, and my mind was at war with the facts fighting my faith. After the prayer, as we wiped our wet faces, we opened the ad section to immediately find an apartment which seemed tailored to our needs. Fast forward, it was exactly the right place for the three of us. The property manager graciously heard our story of desperation with all the pain in our bellies. She was a single mom with a history which included a nasty divorce. Even a move-in date of 10 days was accommodated. It was the right place at the right time, with the right person overseeing things at the right location. We stayed there while getting Megan through the high school years. Talk about a Godsend! It’s a crux forever etched in my mind and heart.

Why did I open up this very dark scene of my life to you? I’ll explain.

Recently, I walked into a CVS drugstore to find this candy display…

As much as I love Reese’s, this sign for the display upset me the second I read it. I’m not a legalistic, dogma consuming, strict, uptight, letter-of-the-law guy who rages on at anything written or said which hints at erasing Jesus. We live in a world that pulls away from God, that’s clear. Jesus Himself taught us that we are to expect to be ridiculed, mocked, and even sent behind bars in some cases. So, I understand a world, a culture, a marketing plan of Godless thoughts and intentional secular mandates which ignores the truth of Easter. That’s what a lost society will do. It’s natural for them. I get it. However, will I rely on peanut butter and chocolate to remember Easter on April 4th, 2021? Actually, the opposite happens. I tend to forget candy, plastic grass in baskets, and sugar eggs wrapped in colorful noisy cellophane on Easter. There’s nothing wrong with those things at all, but it’s not my reminder to observe this…

The empty Garden Tomb in Jerusalem.

Memories can be sparked by almost anything. A bubble of a recollection may arise simply with the aid of a song, a movie, or a pressed flower in the pages of a yearbook. What a pleasure when that happens…if it’s a good memory.

Today, I looked up at a basket full of dead flowers on top of a curio cabinet in the corner of our living room. It dawned on me that although I knew the basket was there, I never really took a great deal of notice.

A bit embarrassed of my neglect, I asked my wife about the basket of what appeared to be dead flowers. She kindly educated me without reacting harshly at my lack of awareness. She told me they are some selected flowers I had given to her over the years. Instead of tossing them out when the blooms die, she collects them in the basket above a cabinet full of precious items from the past. These will not spring to life at this time of year, but they do spark living memories. The colors may be faded, and the petals fragile, but they are still valuable. Frankly, I felt like a jerk. I should’ve noticed that about her. It warmed my heart, just like when I see a local newspaper being offered at a drug store stand.

Much like these memorable flowers from days gone by, a Christian, (This is one who accepts, and believes, in the death of Jesus as the substitute for sin, and has faith that He rose again from the tomb.), I remember the cross of Christ, but I celebrate His bodily resurrection. He died in my place, for my space in His eternal family. His death on the sacrificial cross was indeed dark. Yet, His resurrection is bright, and colorful to this very hour. He displayed the knockout punch over guilt, sin, and death itself, which is the penalty for sin which entered humanity’s DNA in the beginning. How could I forget? I am redeemed, spiritually rescued, stamped by His righteousness. The fine folks at Reese’s can’t help me with that.

Because of this resurrection, His guiding Spirit is present in my bright and dark days. If you are not a believer. it would be impossible to truly grasp this.

Remember when you were broken after the death of a loved one? He was there. Remember when you lost that job? He was there. Remember when you suffered that miscarriage? He was there. Remember when you found out your spouse was cheating on you? He was there. Remember when you held your firstborn in your arms for the first time? He was there. Remember when you looked into the eyes of the one you loved and said, “I do”? He was there. Remember when the abuse came when you were an innocent child? He was there. Remember when you narrowly escaped an attack which came out of nowhere? He was there. Remember when you were involved in that car crash? He was there. Remember when your savings ran out and you didn’t know how to pay the next bill? He was there. Remember when you found yourself dazed from a sudden collapse of your reputation? He was there. Remember when you were afraid as you walked in to a new school? He was there. Remember when you found yourself in the hospital, not knowing what was to come? He was there.

The better question might be…Did you look for Him there?

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

Easter comes with a curious wordplay. In English, when we see a single rose, we say, “It’s a rose”. As English tends to do, sometimes words can sound the same, but spelled differently. You can look at the empty tomb of Jesus and say, “He arose. Both brilliant and beautiful. Fresh flowers, alive and thriving, can remind the redeemed person of faith, as well as, everlasting love blooming from Easter’s original event. No faded blossoms here.

So many reasons to remember His resurrection power over all circumstances can be rediscovered in fuel for the race.

Jesus replied to them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I assure you: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces a large crop.” – Jesus – John 12:23-24 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Service, Please

“…But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
Indeed you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord.
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody…”
(1979) “Gotta Serve Somebody” Written and Recorded By: Bob Dylan

Dylan had gone through a spiritual heart conversion, and with it came this song. Many scoffed at it, including John Lennon, who cruelly responded publicly with his own cut entitled, “Serve Yourself”. It was one of Lennon’s final recordings before his death.

His name was, Uncle Doss. At least that’s how I knew him. He was an intriguing, somewhat mysterious man in my early childhood. I was always trying to figure him out.

My Grandmother Swindell lived in the country, just about six miles away from my grandparent’s house in Greenville, Texas. Now, I realize that sentence looks odd, but allow me to explain.

You might be wondering how many grands did I have as the crow flies. Ella Swindell was my grandmother’s mom. Although she was my Great-Grandmother Swindell, my mom called her, “Grandmother”, so I did, too.

To describe her at all would be best done to mention Aunt Bea (Frances Bavier) from The Andy Griffith Show. Although shorter than Frances Bavier, she dressed just like her. Her hair was arranged as Aunt Bea, most of the time. And on Sunday, like Aunt Bea, she wore the little pill hat, combined with a thin netting veil over her face, white cotton dress gloves, and a small black patent leather purse with a short strap. Oh, and yes, she had the “work your fingers to the bone” ethic, with the quick on the draw attitude of Aunt Bea. She was a green-thumb, no-nonsense, get-it-done worker of the soil. My mom called her a workhorse of a woman.

Photo: Wikipedia: The Andy Griffith Show -CBS. Frances Bavier. as Aunt Bea.

Generally, a few times a year in the early to late 1960’s, we visited her little cottage, out in the east Texas farm country, during weekend visits to my grandparent’s house. (If you’re a longtime blogging friend of mine, you might recall that I have written a snippet about Ella Swindell before. However, it’s been a long while.) We would drive down the county dirt road, passing corn and cotton fields, then pull up onto her makeshift driveway of chalky white rocks. I couldn’t wait to jump out in my cowboy boots, crisp blue jeans, and straw cowboy hat, run through her pasture behind the little frame house, and explore the old, haunted barn which rattled and groaned in the Hunt County winds. This city boy truly loved the adventure.

After I was called from the house porch to sit and visit, I would bounce through her opened screen door, greeted by her little Manchester black dog called, “Little Bit”. There was always a memorable aroma wafting from her tiny kitchen as we inched our way toward lunchtime, (Dinnertime, in her vernacular.) She made the best cornmeal fried okra and fried yellow squash you can possibly imagine, all grown from her garden. After hugging my 4′-11″ish Grandmother Swindell, I would immediately ask where Uncle Doss was, if he wasn’t already sitting in his chair in the far back corner of the front living room. Usually, her reply went something like; “Awe, he’ll be along dreckly. He knows when to come eat.” Being such a young lad, I didn’t have my arms around just why Uncle Doss wasn’t always around. After all, he was not what you would call friendly, sociable, or a chatter box. In fact, he was the opposite. He was evidently born without facial expressions, complete sentences, and topical interests. Yet, I couldn’t wait to see him.

Nobody had told me just yet how older generational married couples of certain upbringing lived. A good example was the fact Uncle Doss and Grandmother Swindell had separate bedrooms. Anytime I went to the back of the house toward the back door, which opened up to the back pasture, his room was the door just prior to the back exit. The door was always shut when visiting. My curious little brain always wanted to put my ear to the door to hear if he was in there. The temptation to slowly turn the glass doorknob for a quick covert peek into his domain was great. Before I had a chance to try the door, I usually heard; “Alan, leave your Uncle Doss be!” From kindergarten through 4th grade, I spent a week with my Grandmother Swindell during summer vacation. Once I ventured toward the back of the house, while she was out picking green beans for dinner (Supper, in her vernacular.) When I turned the corner for the back door, I saw his bedroom door wide opened. I tip-toed across the creaking wooden plank floor and took a gander. He was away fishing, or down at the general store trading fishing lures with some other old men in overalls. The room looked like something from a ranch bunkhouse for hired hands. It had a vaulted ceiling, and was just big enough for a single spring bed, a small chest-of-drawers, and a closet. I remember being amazed at how tiny it was. Maybe more amazed why he closed himself up in there whenever he was home.

But there we were, visiting with my Grandmother Swindell and Little Bit as he jumped into our laps begging for scratches behind his ears. When it came time for lunch, you could always expect the back door to open and close as Uncle Doss arrived from wherever he had been that particular day. As Uncle Doss walked into the the living room, I would look up at this tall, thin elderly man with a full head of snow white straight hair, ever-present stubble on his carved handsome face with bushy eyebrows. I was always stunned at how long his nose hairs were. I regret I don’t have a photo of him, but he looked a lot like the old western movie star, Randolph Scott.

RANDOLPH SCOTT PHOTO BY:ROBERT ABRUSCATO/MICHELSON/GLOBE PHOTOS, INC

Unlike Randolph Scott, he was not dapper, or even clean most of the time. He smelled of hay, dead fish, and chewing tobacco. He wore old faded denim overalls, a farmer’s cap, and dirty old lace-up rounded toe boots. With a sparkle in my eye, my exuberance in seeing him again would blurt out like water from a spillway, “Hi, Uncle Doss!” My Grandmother Swindell was regularly and surprisingly a bit sharp with him, “Doss, you go get yourself cleaned up right now! It’s dinnertime. Be quick about it. And scrape off those boots, for Pete’s sake!” He would nod his head at us in a down-home greeting, grunt at her, and head off to the bathroom built just for him. As a kid, I thought it funny, and a bit scary, how he was clearly older than she, and yet she inflicted her husband with such a quick tongue in front of us. Frankly, it was a tad embarrassing.

After a made-from-scratch country lunch, which could win awards at the State Fair Of Texas, we would sit a bit longer in the living room, complete with sweetened iced tea, for more east Texas accented chatter. That was my cue to prepare to head out the door to have make-believe adventures in the old rickety barn, and visit a my great-aunt Madge across the dirt road for a slice of freshly baked homemade pecan or apple pie. No doubt, that woman baked all day, every day. She was invariably such a joy to spend time with, and treated me as if I were the only boy on the planet. But she knew I wouldn’t stay long. After all, there were hay stacks to jump on, and corn fields to get lost in.

Prior to my quick escape from the Swindell cottage, I would try to get Uncle Doss to talk with me. After lunch he would sit in his corner chair and light up his pipe. I would sit on the floor in front of him, next to his tobacco spittin’ can, made from a discarded coffee can, with his knees about eye level to me. My goal was to launch my usual start-up questions. “What kind of a pipe is that, Uncle Doss?” Or, “How long have you been wearing those old dirty overalls?” Or, “Can I touch your prickly whiskers?” (He would allow it. As if it were yesterday, it felt like sandpaper.) Otherwise, if he gave me answers, they were usually one or two word sentences coming from his stone face, “Yep”, “Nope”, and “Oh, a bit.” The dog, Little Bit, loved that old man. Anytime Uncle Doss planted himself in his chair, Little Bit abandoned whatever lap he was on, hopping right up on his dusty lap in one leap. By the time I got back from running around the countryside, Uncle Doss would be gone, or shut-up in his small back room. It didn’t seem like much of a marriage to me, not like the union my grandparents displayed day in and day out.

Later in my childhood, maybe third grade, I was saddened, as well as curious, when finding Uncle Doss in a bed in the front living room off in the corner where his chair would normally sit. I didn’t ask questions of him. I think my mom prepared me beforehand. Although surprised by the living room bed, she must have simply told me he was sick and needed more rest. Frankly, seeing him in that bed spooked me just a little. For some reason I was feeling a little frightened by it all.

It was one of the last times I saw Uncle Doss. However, I did find out it was only a temporary illness at the time. Later, he didn’t need the bed in the living room.

Being a tiny bit afraid of my Uncle Doss was the norm. That may be why I tried so hard to get to know him better, which never happened. While in Jr, high school, after seeing the movie, “To Kill A Mockingbird”, I recognized the feeling I had for Uncle Doss in the view of the children constantly trying to understand their spooky, mysterious neighbor, Boo Radley. I then understood, Uncle Doss was my Boo Radley.

Photo: popsugar.com To Kill A Mockingbird (1962) Robert Duvall as Boo Radley

I’m not sure how old I was when my mom finally broke the news to me. There must have come a time when she thought I could handle the unfortunate truth concerning my Uncle Doss. My Uncle Doss was my Grandmother Swindell’s oldest brother, not her husband. If memory serves me right, there were six brothers, and two sisters in that clan, my grandmother Swindell being the youngest sister, the youngest of all of her sibs. My mom also let me know why Uncle Doss was such a strange individual. Even though he was the oldest, he was like a nine year old child. He was the only one in the family who was stricken with a mental disorder. Being born in the late 1880’s, very little was known on how and why childhood illnesses often caused long-term effects. I’ve been told, Uncle Doss was left with some slight brain damage after a hard bout with a version of the measles when he was a child. Today we know, acute encephalitis can be the result of a measles infection, causing permanent brain damage.

The family was mostly poor share croppers, working the black soil of east Texas, more times than not, travelling from one cotton farm to another, wherever there was work available. Their mother, my great-great-grandmother Molly, was an invalid. The title of, “Invalid” could have various definitions back in those days to country doctors. Nevertheless, their mother was a sickly woman, and unable to take care of her kids. So, Ella, dropped out of school at 2nd grade to become the caretaker of her mom and the sibs who were too young to take care of themselves.

After their mother, Molly died, Ella became the mom of the clan. After everyone was grown and went off on their own, Ella continued to take care of her dad and her oldest brother, Doss full-time.

Sometime in the teens, Ella Tapp became Ella Swindell when she married Claude Swindell, but it was understood how life would be. So, for many years she took care of the three men in her life until her husband died in the late 1940’s. (Records for that branch of my family are scarce. I’m unsure of actual dates of some events.)

This is Ella on the far left next to her daughter & son-in-law, (my grandparents), my mom as a baby, with her two brothers in front. Ella’s husband, Claude, my Great Grandfather Swindell in the back.

The Swindells and Athertons around 1945. Doss not pictured.

A couple of years after I was born in 1960, Ella’s dad passed away, leaving her with her brother, Doss.

In 1971, Doss got out of bed in his long-johns to find the kitchen dark and quiet. He wondered why his breakfast wasn’t waiting for him. After walking to his sister’s bedroom, he saw the door was still closed. He knocked and called her name, “Ella?” Silence. He tried the glass doorknob, opened the door to find her sleeping soundly under a sheet and blanket. He spoke to her again and again. She didn’t rouse. He approached her bed, nudged her, and found her to be cold. All attempts to wake her fell short. Because she was cold, he went back to his room to fetch his patchwork quilt she had made him and covered her. Uncle Doss lit up his pipe and sat in his chair for some time. Getting a little hungry, he called to her several times without any response. At that point he began to believe Aunt Madge, across the road, might be helpful in getting Ella out of bed. He walked over to his brother’s house, still in his long-johns, where his sister-in-law, Madge was busy washing dishes after breakfast. Still wearing her apron, my Aunt Madge rushed over to the cottage to find my Grandmother Swindell had easily roused…in the arms of Jesus at about 67/68 years old.

It may come as no surprise to let you know, my Uncle Doss Tapp passed away not long after, within the following year.

In short, if my Uncle Doss were here today, with a full healthy mind, he would testify of the great and strong servanthood his sister Ella display for her entire life. Literally, she gave over 60 years of her life to serve others. Unlike John Lennon’s response to Bob Dylan’s musical statement on finding someone to serve, without demanding something in return, was about an unselfishness, putting one’s “self” last.

A hero of mine gave 33 years of service to others. He taught the servant was more valuable than a ruling king. Much like today, he served during civil unrest, crude political scandals and unlawful corruption, economic hardships, incurable diseases among the public, violence in the streets, etc. Still, he found a way NOT to say, Every man for himself!

In that bright “gettin’ up” early morning, when my Aunt Madge walked into her sister-in-law’s bedroom, the words could’ve well been spoken of Ella, “Here is one who emptied herself out because of unconditional, gracious love.”

About ten years ago, after many decades had passed, I chose to drive out to my Grandmother Swindell’s old place in the country. Most all expected a new parking lot over her pasture with a sprawling office complex. Rumors about the area had grown concerning new neighborhoods of expansion for new home buyers, along with zoning for business developments. I was emotionally prepared, or so I thought. Yet, not much had changed down her dirt road. It’s been crudely paved now, but that’s almost all the change. When I turned the corner to that favorite stretch of familiar road, I saw my Aunt Madge’s old house still standing next to the cornfield. Shock came over me to find the old rickety haunted barn was still erect. Her pasture was still wild and free from builder’s dreams. Before I move on, have you ever smiled and shed tears at the same time? That’s what happened to me as I pulled up in front of her cottage, or rather, where her cottage once stood. Seeing that her little humble house had been removed wasn’t the cause of my facial reaction at all. Rather, it was the arranged perennial flowers which continued to bloom, outlining where the edge of her house once was, in a rectangle just where she planted them back in the early 1960’s.

God speaks in various ways, doesn’t He? I heard Him loud and clear that day.

The greatest servant of all is highlighted and illustrated in fuel for the race.

“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.” – Apostle Paul – 2 Timothy 4:6 (ESV)

Rikki, Don’t Lose That Number

“Rikki don’t lose that number
You don’t want to call nobody else
Send it off in a letter to yourself
Rikki don’t lose that number
It’s the only one you own
You might use it if you feel better
When you get home”
– (1974) “Rikki, Don’t Lose That Number” Recorded By: Steely Dan Composers: Walter Becker and Donald Fagen

On my Facebook page I decided to have a little fun with an age old question for old rock consumers. The question was: “Did Rikki ever lose that number?” Considering the song was recorded in 1973, along with the reveal that Rikki was an old college girlfriend of Donald Fagen from Steely Dan, it could be Rikki is in her early 70’s now. If Rikki has already experienced cognitive issues, maybe Rikki no longer has knowledge of where that number may be.

Rikki Don't Lose That Number - Steely Dan.jpg
Photo: Wikipedia

While counting down the hours to Thanksgiving this year, I watched a news feature on the growth of Dementia and Alzheimer’s in our country. Because Alzheimer’s runs through the maternal side of my family, I was glued to the report. Contrary to popular belief, Dementia and Alzheimer’s are not one and the same. The “plaque” which appears in the brain seems to be the main monkey wrench in the gears of the mind. Also, there can be shrinkage of the brain matter itself. Dementia is a general term for a slip in mental abilities which gets in the way of everyday life. Dementia is NOT a disease, but considered a brain disorder. There are various kinds of Dementia, as well. Trust me, it’s complicated and a bit over my lay-person’s head. However, if one has Dementia, the symptoms can mean troubles in connecting names of loved ones, or others. One can find it more difficult to follow driving directions, communication skills and focus, the spelling of words, and losing items like…(wait for it)…phone numbers. In the days of yesteryear, it often was referred to as “senior moments.”

Not long ago I mentioned on this platform the fact that my 76 year old mom is now wrestling with a minor form of Dementia. It does appear to be a fading of figuring out how to use her cell phone, remembering names and places on the fly, and losing train of thought in conversation. It’s difficult for me in that she has always been a sharp person with an incredible skill of trouble-shooting and memory. Before spellcheck software, she was my spellcheck. Now, she’s almost given up on texting words. And yes, she’s very much aware of the cognitive decline. It is very concerning.

Photo: My mom, Carolyn Atherton-Brown

It was a bittersweet privilege to watch her be a selfless 24/7 caregiver for my grandparents. My granddad had Dementia issues, and my grandmother had full-blown Alzheimer’s Disease. There was a great deal I learned from her just observing how she handled the frustration of seeing her parents traveling downhill with this issue. The main lesson i gleaned from her was how to speak to an Alzheimer’s victim. I learned to never correct the victim when they speak inaccuracies. Gently agree, or placate on a subject. Never show anger if the victim made a mess in the kitchen, or bathroom, or soiled their clothing. It’s best to approach them as you would a toddler. (In many cases, the victim almost “youthens” in their reasoning.) Most of all, we must treat them with compassion, and deliver the highest respect, even when at wits end. Remember, your Dementia or Alzheimer’s victim once was a doctor, a pastor, a teacher, a cop, or a quality control inspector, etc. Most of all, they were once loving parents in the majority of cases.

Remember, someday, it could be you needing the comfort of a champion caregiver.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

It would be a crime to suddenly think less of a loved one, suffering from this disorder or disease, who once knew how to care and love you without compromise. Certainly there are exceptions in every relationship. It could be you were a child of an abusive parent who now needs your love and care in the dark years of cognitive failure. It would be a treasure to know Jesus spoke about you…

“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” – Jesus (Matthew 5:7) KJV

An accurate Greek translation from the original text reads like this…

“Happy are the kind – – because they shall find kindness.” – Jesus (Matthew 5:7) YLT

So, Rikki, if you did lose that number, it’s okay. Maybe you ‘sent it off in a letter to yourself’. Come on, I’ll help you find it.

I am full, due to the fact God remembers the count of the hairs on my head. I found out while topping my tank with fuel for the race.

Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.” – GOD From Isaiah 49:15 (NAS)

When Mom Fades

This was not the post I was planning for upload today.  Literally, I sat down at my desk to construct a post I’ve mulled over for three weeks now, when suddenly I remembered to try again to reach my mom on the phone.  It would be the fourth attempt today.  This time it worked.  She answered.  We spoke.  Afterward I felt the sliding of my emotions which tends to be the norm of late.

In the past, on Mother’s Day weekend, I have told her story.  Each year I gained morsels of bravery to shed more light on our tapestry.  It’s a unique, heroic recounting of a strong, courageous single mom.

Mom 1962 Grandmother's Kitchen

At 15, she found herself fighting off, or attempted to fight off, her rapist.  I was the product of that violent attack.  Being out of her crushed mind, heart, and spirit, she attempted suicide twice while pregnant with me, but survived.  She was unaware God had His plans of destiny beyond the messy road she was on.  I told this story with a great amount of reveals a year ago.  I invite you to look at May’s archives from last year to get a sharper camera angle of her torn life. (“If I Were…” From May 10, 2019)

Mom & Me Granddad's Coin Box

In the last 20 years she took-on the role of caregiver for her parents, who suffered from Alzheimer’s.  Nancy Reagan called this disease, “The Long Good-bye”.  She was right.  My mom retired as early as she could to move-in with her ailing parents, giving up her life to hold them up, as best as she could, as they faced the monster of this disease.  My granddad passed away first with complications of dementia in 2008.  My grandmother had full-blown Alzheimer’s, struggling with it for about 14 years before she passed.

My mom aged quickly while being a soldier for her folks.  It was difficult to see her own physical health decline during those years of tremendous servanthood.  I was never more proud of her battling away in those times.

Around 2014, her oldest brother, 4 years older than her, began to show signs of the same disease.  Today, he is deep in the jaws of the struggle, rendering him to a shell of a man, vacant in many ways.  A couple of years ago, my mom’s other brother, 2 years her senior, began to mentally deteriorate with the same invader of the body.  Trust me, it is no respecter of persons, or brilliance.

My mom is only 16 years older than I.  (I’m turning 60 in a few short days.)  Over the last 2 years, I became aware my mom was changing, and not for the better.  She lives alone about 70 minutes from me in the house she grew-up in.  At first, I felt the changes I observed were simple gaffs of the aging process.  Our communication often left me scratching my head.  There were occasions where she got lost while traveling to our part of the Dallas Metroplex, a way she knows like the back of her hand.  About 2 years ago we were to meet at a halfway point, as we have done many times before.  Her sense of direction was totally absent.  She had to call me for help to walk her through which way to turn at each intersection.  When I instructed her to turn left, she would turn right, not understanding the mistake.  It was on that day I realized she…we had a problem.  It would be a problem that would grow.

Recently, almost overnight, she found herself unable to spell the simplest words.  Her cell phone texts became more difficult to read as the days rolled on.  She began having issues with sentence construction and word retrieval during our conversations.  Items would come up missing in her house.  She blames it on her dog.  Asking if I can help is a loss.  She no longer allows me in the house.  Her excuse is it’s too messy for company.  In the last few months, she has had losing battles in operating her cell phone, including prompts, icons, and modes.  Today, in our telephone exchange, she expressed an urge to give it up and order a simple landline phone.  I hope it helps because she has trouble answering the phone these days.

There are also other health issues of concern I recognize as side symptoms of dementia.  She is a proud, independent woman, and holds these cards close to her chest as I attempt to decipher how her daily life is changing.

Frankly, I know where this is going.  As she shrugs it off as amusing, even humorous, I am accepting the fact that my mom is fading before my eyes.

Somewhere in the thicket of my mind, I knew this day was coming.  Although there was a 20 year span as my grandparents experienced massive declining health, there were also wonderful times of mysterious joy in the midst of it all.  I must remember this as I tend to my mom’s needs today and tomorrow.  Currently, I just don’t know how, or where to begin.

Mom salon

So, what’s the purpose of this particular post?  Unaware of the true answer, all I can do is display brutal honesty of how I feel on this Mother’s Day weekend.  Because I didn’t have a dad around, most of the time in my life, I saw her as my touchstone.  I liken it to a small child in a swimming pool, with an inflatable tube around his/her torso.  He/she feels much safer holding on to the side of the pool with his/her waterlogged wrinkled hand grasping tightly to the concrete edge.

I’m turning 60 years old now.  It’s time to let go of the concrete edge.  Scripture tells us not to hold too tightly to this world, especially what we deem as “concrete”.  Even concrete crumbles.

As the concrete crumbles in my grasp, I am reminded once again, God is the life-saving tube around my torso.

My days are filled with the reminder that I need to top off my tank every day with fuel for the race.

“So I said: ‘Do not take me away, my God, in the midst of my days; your years go on through all generations.  In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded.  But you remain the same, and your years will never end.'”  – Psalm 102: 24-27 (NIV)

 

 

 

A Quiet Hero

Cover Photo:  findagrave.com

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

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

Most see it like this…

Coins

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

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

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

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

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

Jimmy Porter Baseball

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

Jimmy Porter - Newspaper - findagrave.com

Photo:  Findagrave.com

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

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

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

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

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

Jimmy Porter - Glove Color - findagrave.com

Photo:  Findagrave.com

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

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

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

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

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

Jimmy Porter - House - Findagrave.com

Photo:  Findagrave.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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)

 

Elf In Myself

“Every breath you take and every move you make
Every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be watching you
Every single day and every word you say
Every game you play, every night you stay, I’ll be watching you.” – (1983) – “Every Breath You Take” –  Recorded by:  The Police (Sting)  Composer:  Gordon Sumner

Creepy, isn’t it?  I always thought so.  I felt that way about the lyrics of “Private Eyes” (They’re watching you…) by Hall & Oats.  Who would’ve ever thought there would be something so spooky connected with Christmas?

December for me was the anticipation of my mom breaking out my old Christmas pal, Elfie.  He was an elf doll dressed in a red velvet body suit with a Santa hat on top of a soft plastic head, along with a face garnished with rosy cheeks.  In fact, I believe there was a little jingle bell on the point of his hat.  He was skinny and maybe 8″ tall.  The mittens on his hands were sown together, creating a loop with his arms for slipping over a doorknob, or a thin bedpost.  For this little boy, he not only was a celebratory pal, but he was also the visual symbol that Santa was soon to arrive.  He spent many Decembers with me until one Christmas Eve my dog, Tickey, found Elfie’s plastic head to be a chew toy not to be resisted.  I cried, but forgave Tickey…eventually.

Tickey - 5-18-68 He was 11 months and 22 days old. Lived to be 15. Died Aug 7th 1982. My dearest childhood pal.

Many years ago, when producing radio theater plays for a radio network, I had an idea which came to me like a sled on an icy roof.  While producing my second Christmas radio theater production, I decorated the recording studio in all things Christmas.  When coming into the recording session from a 100 degree July day in Texas, you needed something to help transport the theater of the mind to December.  As I recall, I even had the air conditioner set to a frosty level.  Some of us even had to wear jackets or sweaters in the session.  In honor of my old buddy, Elfie, it seemed appropriate to have a few of his descendants brighten the studio.  Some actors found it intimidating while delivering lines from my script.

Elf On Mic

Of course, all of the above was way before the Christmas craze we now know, and affectionately call, “Elf On The Shelf”.  My granddaughter, Skylar has one.  If you don’t have children, or grandchildren going headlong into the American Christmas traditions, you may not know who Elf On The Shelf is, or what he is rumored to do.  Well, let me enlighten you before December 25th settles upon us.  This elf doll sits on the shelf, the bed, the table, the mantle, ect with eyes wide opened.  At Skylar’s house he surprisingly appears in the most unexpected places every day.  He’s not gazing in amazement at the traditional holiday decor, or the Christmas gifts under the tree, or even the wintry changes in weather.  Nope, not at all.  Just like the lyrics from The Police, his one and only job is to watch…okay, I’ll use the word “spy”, on the children of the house as he reports back to Santa for his big global flight.  The little snitch is all about deduction of potential gifts on Christmas morning.  OUCH!  I guess Santa is too old to be seeing when you’re sleeping, and knowing when you’re awake.  Age has gotten in Kringle’s way when it comes to knowing if you’ve been bad or good.  Oh, for goodness sake.  Now it seems Claus has a built-in security camera in the form of a sneaky elf, who sits on a shelf, keeping a sharp eye on the do’s and don’ts.  Now if that isn’t creepy, I don’t know what is.  At least the fat old man in the red suit wasn’t peeking through the closet door of my bedroom each night of the year.  I guess that’s of nightmare status, like movies called, “Santa’s Claws” or “Santa’s Slay”  Yikes!  Okay, I’ve gone amok.  I apologize.

Elf On The Shelf

Back to sanity now.  I will say Skylar isn’t bothered by her Elf On The Shelf at all.  She’s had about 3-4 years of having his judging eyes on her for a few Decembers.  Frankly, I’m not sure if she is better behaved because of it.  So, in the end, I will say he might not cause lasting psychological scars.  Maybe we will know more in the next 20 years.

Certainly, if you read my last post you might surmise I am one of those Christians who shuns anything in the fluffy & puffy from the Christmas tradition arena.  Well, no, I am not in that category whatsoever.  Like a foreclosure sign in the lawn of a palm reader’s house, you didn’t see that coming.

Putting child psychology aside, the Elf On The Shelf, and St. Nick’s omnipresent, omniscient eyes are truly the opposite of the authentic act of the first Christmas.  Can you guess what the difference is?

Contrary to a popular belief in our culture, I am not eternally rewarded by superior behavior walking in my shoes today.  Let it be known:  I AM SOOOOOO IMPERFECT!  While I’m at it, don’t take Elf On The Shelf as a picture of what a good Christian does.  The Babe in the manger grew up and said we should not judge anyone, or we will be judged.  It’s not the Christian’s job to sit on a shelf and search for others to flub, fall, and falter.  If you’re under a spiritual teacher which pounds that misnomer into your ears, I say run and never look back.  In fact, a better suggestion is to take a pair of your well-worn shoes, nail them to his/her office door with a note which reads, “Walk in these for awhile.”

Sorry for my rabbit trail on thought.  I’m no Scrooge.  Really, I’m not.

As cute as Elf On The Shelf is, he is theologically off.  The child in Bethlehem’s manger Christmas night was a free gift wrapped in swaddling clothes.  You don’t get a free gift because you necessarily deserved it, but because someone loved you enough, thought of you enough, cared for you enough to go before you arrived and purchased it with a tag which reads your name, in whatever language you speak.  Moreover, this free gift, the Baby in the manger, was given BECAUSE of misbehavior, BECAUSE of abuses, BECAUSE of flubs, falling, and falters, without condition.  Let me write that again…WITHOUT CONDITION!  Try that on some stranger.  No, I mean it.  Find a criminal who abused, or injured, or killed your family member, withdraw all you have in the bank, purchase a gift of great price and present it to the guilty law-breaker.  Do I see any hands for a volunteer?  No, I didn’t think so.  Yet, that’s what God, the Author Of The Law did for us all.  Today, we call it…Christmas.   His unconditional free gift is truly the opposite of Elf On The Shelf.

Nativity

For anyone who accepts this gift, who believes the adult Jesus when He said, “For God so loved the world that He GAVE…” – John 3:16a (KJV), will have the Spirit of His very essence within.  He reminds me inwardly what is best for my life as He writes His law on my heart.  It’s a good thing because I could never have a perfect behavioral stat concerning the Mosaic Law from the Torah found in the Old Testament.

So maybe if you see an elf hanging out on a shelf, it might bring to mind the idea of an elf inside yourself (In the flavor of Christmas trinkets.) whispering wisdom, guidance, and unconditional love.  However, when diving deeply for a close-up excursion, you find the lacking of an elf, but rather, “RUACH” in Hebrew, the “Breath” of God’s nature.

Christmas can always be merry with a cup of good cheer, spiked with Fuel for the race.

“For the eyes of Yahweh roam throughout the earth to show Himself strong for those whose hearts are completely His.”  – 2 Chronicles 16:9 – (Holman Christian Standard Version)