No Vacancy

"She can feel He's coming soon.  
There's no place, there's no room.  
A baby changes everything.    
A baby changes everything/" (2008) "A Baby Changes Everything"  Recorded By: Faith Hill  Written By: Craig Michael Wisemanm James Timothy Nichols, Kimberly Kerryann Wiseman

If you are not a regular reader of my jots, then you may not know I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s with a single mom, and as an only child.

My bio-father left our lives while I was a toddler. It was not a good marriage, In fact, the reason they got married was because he raped my 15 year old mom on a date and I was conceived. He had many problems which contributed to the divorce. Before I was three years old, the divorce served as a rescue mission from domestic violence, habitual adultery, and alcoholism. It was not only needed, but it was the end of a long nightmare for my mom.

Although my mom remarried a couple of years later (ending in a four year marriage) I grew up always wondering about my mysterious bio-father.

A poor teenage girl with a baby in the early 60’s in Texas, had no idea what counselling was, or even the availability of solid counseling in her circles. Her ripped out heart only went by her depression and emotion. Twice she tried to kill herself during pregnancy. Gathering all photos of my bio-father, cutting him out with scissors was the norm, she exhausted herself in removing the horrid memories. A pre-court deal was made by my granddad which involved an erasing of my bio-father. This meant no child support, no visitations, no contact as long as we both lived. For the first couple of years, gifts and cards would be delivered to me from his parents, but were returned to them. Keep in mind, in those days of tragedy, these were decisions in the attempt to protect me from the man and his brutality. My first name was changed to what was then my middle name. My middle and last name would be legally changed when she remarried, totally deleting the residual of how I was brought into the world.

Old faded memories from my toddler years produced little moments of scenes from when I was two, which included a tall, dark-haired, dark-eyed man with enormous hands. My bio-father wasn’t spoken of as I was growing up. My questions concerning him were quickly snuffed out, for the most part. No pictures, no stories of him, no name. It was as if I came to this planet on a spaceship and was discovered in a cornfield wearing a cosmic diaper.

By the time I was 15 or so, I learned his name, and my birth name. That just made me more curious. Promising myself I would find him after I turned 18, I began sorting out plans to do some detective work on my own without the aid of my family.

Yet, it was nerve-racking watching for him. By the time I was eleven years old, anytime I was on stage performing in a play, musical, or singing solo work, I would scan the audience to see if any man out there in those chairs resembled my vague snapshots from my toddler brain. By the time I was in 7th-8th grades I took up the martial arts. Throughout my teen years, in hopes my bio-father had secretly been scoping out my events and activities, to the point of attending incognito, enjoying my performances in Karate and kickboxing tournaments, I would again, scan the stands for any man who might be tall, dark with large hands. Because I was a singer/actor, years of performances during the 70’s were spent going to the lobby during pre-shows looking at every tall man which walked to the ticket office window. Peering out the curtains before showtime, even though it was highly frowned upon, was the norm for me. I was always hoping that somehow, some way, he would be interested enough to check out who I was becoming and what I looked like.

My high school career ended on a humid night in May of ’78. I had just turned 18. My graduating class of almost 900 kids was prepped and ready to walk across the stage in royal blue cap and gowns. The ceremony was taking place at Texas Stadium, where the Dallas Cowboys played. The stands were filled on the north side of the stadium. Too many in the throng to scan for what might have been my last hope of my bio-father caring enough about me to attend in secret. There were dreams of a surprise introduction.

As it turned out, he never tried throughout my school years. Not once.

Saturdays were very busy days at the Florsheim shoe store where I worked in the Valley View Mall in Dallas. It was my first job right out of high school, while auditioning for various singing and acting gigs. You learn much doing work like that, especially when the goal is to understand how people think. But nothing could compare to the one Saturday in November of ’79, when a kind, and apprehensive elderly couple sheepishly walked up to me in the shoe store and introduced themselves as my grandparents. Talk about being in a daze. I was indeed. As it turned out, an aunt from that side of the family did some detective work to locate me.

They invited me to a dinner. I accepted. Entering into their family room at their house, I found old babyhood pictures of me I had never seen before on their wall, almost like a memorial wall. Honestly, I fought back tears through my shock. The second, or third dinner delivered a question from their side of the table. I was asked if I wanted to meet my bio-father…in person, face to face. Without hesitation, I said yes. He drove over to their house to meet me the same night. 6′-5″ tall, dark eyes, dark hair, olive skin tones, and large hands, just exactly as I had held him in my mind. Still…my mom and her folks were not pleased to say the very least.

Suddenly, there he was, in the flesh. I learned what his voice sounded like. Being an actor, I studied his mannerisms, his speech patterns and accent, his gate as he made his way across the room. Tirelessly, I hunted for anything which identified him as my DNA match. No longer did I have to wonder, dream, or scan an audience. He was there. No longer was he so mysterious, vague, or indescribable. No longer was he over there somewhere.

At Passover, in every Seder dinner, the ancient traditional elements are carefully place on the table. There is so much to be done to prep for such a holiday, including all the texts which are read and lyrics to be song. Like Christmas, or Easter, the feast is for the entire family, and extended family when available. The table can be set for 2 people, 12 people, or 50 people. Of course, the more the merrier. There is one curious tradition which every Jewish family recognizes. The empty chair with a place setting. This is a tradition which reminds those in attendance of “The One To Come”.

Elijah, the Old Testament prophet, was the name they chose long ago to represent the Promised One, the Messiah. To this day, many believe Messiah will be Elijah himself.

Since the days of Genesis, for the Jewish people, God was far to reach. He was over there, over the mountain, over the river, high up on the mountain, etc. Yes, He attended to them in times of trouble, but always having to come from up there, from over there, from the other realms. Although God told them His Spirit would be with the nation, many forgot or disbelieved. Even in their ancient temple, it was believed God resided behind a large, thick drape where the Ark of The Covenant was placed. No one was to enter behind the veil, or death would swiftly come. The ancient scrolls informed them that He can not be seen by the human eye. Only once a year, only the high priest could enter through the drape to perform his sacred duties, but even he had a rope tied to his ankle which had bells on it, just in case he himself fell dead due to seeing God with naked eyes. The other end of the rope rested outside so his body could be recovered. Yet, on Passover, they are always prepared to welcome Elijah, a Messiah-type, to suddenly come to their Seder table. Why? Because Messiah was the Promised One, Who is to come from God’s throne. He is to come in the flesh and fellowship as a member of the clan. So, the chair is empty for those who are still scanning humanity for Messiah.

Christmas cards and songs reflect a great truth about a name given to describe Messiah. It wouldn’t be His personal name like, Fred, or Jim. But rather, a description of an attribute with great and powerful meaning. We first knew about this in an old Hebrew prophecy.

” Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)

Prior to a teenage virgin who would give birth to a son, she was told by an angelic visitor the child would be called, by people who would know Him, “Immanuel”. (Matthew 1:22-23) The writer, Matthew, went further by interpreting the old Hebrew name for us when he included, “(which means, ‘God With Us'”) Since Hebrew is written and read from right to left, literally it can read, “With Us Is God”.

King David was correct in Psalm 139. He mentioned the ever present God in his personal ever changing, ever altering life. Wherever David was to go, wherever his destination, he knew God was there. However, He starts out with the words, “Where can I go to escape your spirit…?” No “Immanuel” in David’s life…in the real physical sense. David understood from scripture, and by life’s experiences, God was spirit. He looked forward to a Christmas, which never came in his day.

WITH us IS God” A Baby changes everything.

Because Messiah came to dinner, the chair is filled, no vacancy anymore. No room for any other god, nor demonic spirit, no room for a lucky charm. He FILLS!

Immanuel brought the world its first Christmas. Because of Immanuel, no need to scan for a higher power sold at truck stops, or spirit mediums. Because of Immanuel, there’s no more need to wonder if God cares. Because of Immanuel, hope rises, hearts are lifted, and lives are rebooted, washed and set to glow in darkened times. A baby changes everything.

No more searching to see if God shows up, to see if He cares about you on a personal level. Jesus came to make sure you understood you are not left as an orphan in your Father’s eyes. For 33 years, He was here to overwhelmingly prove it.

Ironically, He would turn the tables on us a bit. He mentioned to concerned followers, when He did leave, He would have a place built and ready for each one of us who trusts in Him, so that He could be with us after this life is over. So, I imagine, He has an empty chair and place setting readied with your name on it,,,if you belong to Him through faith.

Find Christmas renewed in fuel for the race.

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” – Revelation 3:20 (NIV)

It’s Greek To Me

“In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade, and he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down, or cut him, ’till he cried out in his anger and his shame, ‘I am leaving, I am leaving, I am leaving’, but the fighter still remains.” (1969) “The Boxer” Recorded by: Simon & Garfunkel Composed by: Paul Simon

No worries if you are not a fan of the martial arts. This memory, I hold dear to my heart, is really not about the martial arts, per se, but rather about the essence of the spirit of an individual.

The cover photo above the title is a promotional shot of an old friend, Demetrius “Greek” Havanas. His friends simply called him, “Greek”. I believe I have written about him before a couple of years ago. Greek was a third degree black belt and kickboxer. He won 90 consecutive tournaments, and in 1971 he racked up 13 grand championships at the age of 21.

Greek at 21 in 1971.

He was ranked in the top ten of American Karate fighters between 1971-1975. He was Texas State Karate champ for 6 years straight, and Louisiana State Champ 4 years straight. In 1975, Greek went full blown full-contact fighting in 1975.

Greek in 1976/1977

He earned the PKA U.S. Welterweight Championship title. Turning his focus as a world contender in full-contact kickboxing. Greek amassed a record of 39 wins, 4 losses, with 24 wins as knockouts. The Star System ranked Greek #1 in the world in the welterweight division in 1980-1981. His garage was packed with trophies, wall-to-wall. In fact, he sold some to collectors when money ran short to pay for airfare when fighting in other countries.

Greek in 1975ish

Prior to moving to the Dallas, Texas area, I had spent three years in Sherman, Texas, about an hour north on Dallas. In those days, 7th grade was the first year of what they once called, Jr. High School. I entered Dillingham Jr. High School where they were still working out the issues of integration. Many African American kids and white kids mixed for the very first time, and it didn’t always go so well. This was 1972/1973, when race riots still popped up in the streets, gyms, and little league baseball fields. 7th grade was hard for me. I saw the ugly side of racial distrust and rage as civil rights issues were still fresh. There was gang warfare, mob brutality, and ambush violence in my school. I received the bitter end many times. There was so much a young guy shouldn’t have seen and heard.

During that same year, a church friend of mine taught me some basics in the art form of Japanese Aikido. Meanwhile, my army vet uncle, and former Golden Gloves boxer, did the same for me every so often. Before you could say jump, I became a fairly good street fighter at 12 years old…because I had to.

My single mom and I moved to the Dallas area the following summer (1973). Trust me, it was a much needed move. Although the north Dallas suburb we moved to was quiet and calm, with very little violence, I was not going to be surprised. I searched for a karate school, but found nothing in our new neighborhood. I talked my mom into letting me take the Korean form, Tae-Kwon-Do at a gym once a week at the campus where she worked, (Texas Instruments). It was free for employees and their families. Even though it was only once a week, I started and was hooked immediately!

Not long after, a top-notch Tae-Kwon-Do school opened up just five blocks from our apartment. BINGO! Great place. My instructor was once a Marine hand-to-hand combat instructor and a world karate champ from the early-mid 1960’s. Once again, I talked her into joining the school. About a year later, the school had to shut down. I was broken-hearted. I was alone with my instructor as he was packing up his belongings in the rented space. He told me of some karate champs he had trained and asked if I was sincere about continuing on with training. After he got my exuberant answer, he introduced me to this young, 5′-5″ stout sweaty guy in a shag haircut. It was Greek. He invited me to his small training center in the downtown Dallas area. Yes, I talked my mom into it. My karate buddy, Steve & I, caught a ride for workouts at Greek’s school. As soon as we walked in, we could see we were entering into the realm of some serious competitive fighters. We were sparing with national & world contenders. You might say we had landed in the cream of the crop in the karate/kickboxing world.

I took this shot of Steve and Greek in 1976.

Through most of my high school years, we ate, slept, and breathed Karate/kickboxing. Chuck Norris would come to visit from time to time as we trained, or fought in tournaments.

Greek and Chuck Norris 1979(?)

Greek was highly respected around the world, and we were grateful to be trained by the very best. I was even more grateful to hear his voice from my corner cheering me on, and giving vocal cues as I fought my opponents in the ring. Being trained by, and placed around talent like that, caused an attitude of never thinking about the possibility of losing bouts. And of course, it was good training for the stuff of life’s struggles.

One summer, when I was 14 or so, I got into a fight while away at summer camp. I lost that one. I was very ashamed. When I was brave enough to tell Greek about it, he said, “You didn’t tell him who trained you, I hope.” Although it was a tongue-in-cheek remark, it was a tad hurtful. But in his own way, he was teaching me something with those words. I had to remember who I was representing with my skills. Greek didn’t train losers. It was understood I was to be an ambassador, a representative of the House Of Greek wherever I went. It was birthed out of the idea of belonging, yet sharing the quality of Greek’s training with those around me who didn’t have a clue. It was a hard lesson. I never forgot it.

During my senior year, I began to be overwhelmed with the music and acting side of my life. For the first time I began to drift a bit from the regular routine of working out at Greek’s place. After graduation in May of 1978, I began to train with him again for about a year.

The only photo of us together. I believe this was in 1976/1977.

Through the years, he became more and more of a friend than a martial arts trainer.

Greek in a surprise shot in 1978.

A phenomenon became apparent as the years wore on. I started to notice how my peers almost mimicked Greek’s style while sparing, or fighting in the ring. When seeing video of some of my fights, I took notice of it about my own style. Noticeable to some, a certain way of blocking punches and kicks, arm positions, stances, weaving and bobbing, etc. I don’t think it was intentional. Greek always taught us to take what we learned and develop our own style. Even today, when I look at his bouts on YouTube, or any of my peer’s fights, I can see it. Following a master closely can do that.

Once again, I broke away from regular training in 1980 as singing, life, love, and thoughts of marriage began to take more of my time.

In late 1980, or early 1981, I was engaged. One night we were seated at one of our favorite eateries in the north Dallas area. Out of the blue, in walks Greek with a few friends. There he was, looking as he always did after a workout, sweaty cut-off t-shirt and Gi pants in much need of a washing. Our eyes connected, he came over to quickly say hello. I introduced him to my bride-to-be. He made a quick joke to her about questioning my gender. I laughed, he laughed, but she was appalled by the colorful language and topic. She wasn’t impressed. Yet, I knew him and his manners, or the lack thereof. He truly was being friendly in his own way. She was a bit of a stuff-shirt from the other side of the tracks from Greek and his crowd. It was awkward, but grateful it happened. God’s timing is always best.

A few months later, on July 23, 1981, Greek, and four friends, were flying in a single engine plane from Dallas to Atlantic City, New Jersey to work the corner of one of his students who was defending his world title. While over the hills of Tennessee, the plane flew into a horrific storm and broke apart in mid-air. There were no survivors. Just like that, Demetrius “Greek” Havanas was gone at 31 years of age. I wept for days, weeks, even years.

His funeral was packed with the highly notables in the world of the martial arts at the time. Chuck Norris was a pallbearer. With tears, I thanked him for making the trip. He didn’t hide the pain in his eyes. The chapel at the funeral home couldn’t hold the crowd, as many stood in the lobby and outside. A half brother of Greek’s, who was in the Eric Clapton band, sang Joe Cocker’s, “You Are So Beautiful”. There wasn’t a dry eye among us. A minister friend of mine, who was also in Karate, was chosen to officiate the service. In his sermon, he said something like this:

“If you had the misfortune not to have known Demetrius Havanas, just look around you. Look at all of his students, competitors, and close friends. There, you will find Greek.”

He was right. Following a master closely can do that.

Greek was inducted into the World Tae-Kwon-Do Hall of Fame, American Black Belt Hall of Fame, and the Texas Martial Arts Hall of Fame. All of the martial arts publications ran a tribute to Greek, as well as sports broadcasters of that day. And I still grieve.

I honestly don’t recall much of the sermon my old friend delivered, with that one exception. But I still carry a little bit of Greek with me every day. Most who know me wouldn’t know the difference as Greek meshed with me so long ago in so many ways.

Greek’s headstone. Also, the last picture I took of Greek as he sat on the edge of the ring with his trophy after winning a bout in 1980.

The same is true for a person of the Christian faith. If you are not of Jesus, you will not fully understand what I am about to say.

When the heart of Jesus enters, by Spirit, into the believer’s heart and spirit, a “Little Christ” begins to grow within that follower. In fact, that’s what the word, “Christian” means, “Little Christ”. Of course, sometimes the fleshly side of self doesn’t allow His Spirit to fully inject into the daily free-will of a follower. The result is the disciplines suffer. We are not robots, or programmed computers. Each believer must wear the helmet of salvation, the breastplate righteousness provides, and the spiritual cleats for traction up the steep climb of fault-hood. Each one must choose to suit-up each morning, just like the protective gear we wore in our sport.

A part of my grief remains entrenched in my lack of living-out my regenerated heart in those times. I doubt Greek ever knew I was a Christian in all the years he knew me. I was a young believer with only “lite bread” spiritual training.

I’m a big CS Lewis fan. In his book, “Mere Christianity”, he describes this process in a terrific way of imagery.

(Jesus would state:) “No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here, or a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.” – CS Lewis “Mere Christianity”

Following a master closely can do that. It will always breed fuel for the race.

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)

 

 

I’ve Been Here Waiting Before

A Christmas Prayer

By:  Alan Brown

I’ve been here waiting before
The plastic holly now unpacked
The same red stocking in fact
My wreath hangs once more

Shoppers agog for a Friday of black
Retailer sales are all the fashion
Passing the Kettle without compassion
Days in traffic we will never get back

Bulbs need renewal on the string
As the tree lots show their pines
I miss the magic once easy to find
Yesterday’s wonder no longer rings

Verse of sugar plums sing out in the frost
Tickets sold for a cracker of nuts
A deer on an odyssey quest and such
And through this fog Your plum-line is lost

Silenced eves when my children prayed
Now vacant rooms echo as omens
Each missing their manger moments
Yet, decor yearns for a garland spray

Tinseled wrappings reflect how You came
Hay and straw, Your newborn scent
Eastern Magi drawn with knees bent
All this plastic never measures Your fame

Gifts come, gifts go, gifts of cloth and steel
They say a man of age checks his list
Somehow I find no strength to resist
There’s stirrings of honesty craving to be real

All these things You already know
All these things weigh as gravity
All these things dismantle sadly
Without You, holiday spirit would lack its glow

Yes, I’ve been here waiting before
Wading through season’s greetings
Fixed in the trappings and feastings
Shine unto me as in the days of yore

“Then you will call upon Me and go 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  (NKJV)

Sunshine Blogger Award

Sunshine Blogger Award

by alimw2013

First of all, a big Texas-Sized thank you to Alicia from For His Purpose for the nominee nod.  You are truly gracious.  Although I feel I don’t deserve the nomination for the Sunshine Blogger Award, I am humbled and grateful.  I would nominate you if not for the fact you are already a nominee, and so well deserving.

If you’ve not read Alicia’s posts, expect blue-jean, everyday life experiences wrapped in a personal application for spiritual growth.  So well worth it.

DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THIS?  IT’S NEW TO ME.

About the Sunshine award:

This award is given to creative, positive and cheerful bloggers by other bloggers as a token of appreciation and admiration.

Here are the rules:

• Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link back to him/her.

• Answer the 11 questions provided by the blogger who nominated you.

• Nominate 11 other bloggers and ask them 11 new questions.

• Notify the nominees by commenting on one of their blog posts.

• List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo on your post.

Okay, Alicia…you asked.  Here are her questions for me:

1) Why do you write?

Really, I believe it’s a threefold reason.  A:  I love, absolutely love the outlet of sharing my thoughts.  B:  For whatever reason there might be, I adore the friends I have made in the blogging community.  I have learned so much through their writings and photos.  Getting to know them has simply been an uplifting pleasure in my life.  C:  Lastly, I love to teach.  My heart wants to touch the soul of another for the better.  There’s something special about teaching biblical concepts through personal and social proof experiences others can relate to.  Life’s race to the finish is long and uphill at times.  We need Divine fuel. 

2) Who do you admire and why? (sorry I know I’m sneaking two questions)

Wow, Alicia.  That’s an umbrella of folks.  If you’ve read my blog you might already know I greatly admire my deceased grandparents.  Salt of the earth people with extraordinary servanthood hearts of tremendous love.  Also, Chuck Norris, who holds up his socks with thumbtacks.  LOL  For much of the 1970’s, during my karate/kickboxing life, he was always so kind to me whenever I was around him.  Of course, he was/is a wiz at business, the Babe Ruth of Karate champions, and a successful instructor and actor.  Beyond that, he has gone through much heartache in life and rediscovered God in his journey back to a peaceful place.  He is also a champ in helping kids stay away from gangs and drugs.  I want to add, CS Lewis for his writings concerning the introductions into a life with God, and the proof thereof.  His book, Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters changed my life.

3) What has been your best vacation?

I have to choose just one?  Arg!  My #1 would have to be when I treated my family (wife at the time and three daughters) on a road trip from Dallas, Texas through Santa Fe, New Mexico and up through Colorado Springs to Denver, Colorado.  The family and I had gone through some devastating personal trauma and in need of some immediate healing.  It was the week after Christmas in 2001 through the first week of 2002.  Plunging straight into the snow and ice we took in the splendor of that beautiful land.  No regrets.  I would do it again.

4) Where would you love to visit one day?

Scotland, Ireland, and Israel.

5) Why is your best friend, your best friend?

On earth, my wife.  I remarried in 2017 to an old high school acquaintance.  In 2013, way before we met-up again, I had a major health crash, a near death experience.  I wasn’t supposed to survive.  It left me in the hospital for six weeks. The hospital staff called me “Miracle Man”.  Since then I have struggled physically.  She has seen much of the underside of this.  Nevertheless, she has been a warrior through it all.  We have no secrets between us.  We speak truth in love to one another, during the good, bad, and ugly.  It makes for a lasting marriage.  However, she’s not the one I pray to.  She would agree with me that Jesus has been my lifelong best friend.

6) What is your biggest concern (about anything)?

Honestly, above all else, the world my three girls are experiencing as adults, as well as my 8 year old granddaughter.  Moral decay, hatred, and violence are causing the earth to groan.  Jesus said the times would grow to be like this.  Still, it concerns me.

7) When did you last owe someone an apology?

Today!  Got to do it before the sun goes down on me.

8) What’s the best movie you’ve ever watched?

Now this isn’t fair.  Way too many.  If I had to choose one…It’s A Wonderful Life.

9) What’s your most favorite childhood memory?

Mid 1960’s.  Waiting until my grandparents, and my mom, went to bed so I could hustle to sit in front of their aluminum Christmas tree to watch the color wheel change the branches to different holiday hues.  For me, it was mesmerizing.

10) What do you love most about yourself?

Eek!  Is this a trick question, Alicia?  Really?  Oh, man.  Okay, uh….well….uh….I can tell you there’s much I hate about myself.  Frankly, I love the Spirit God placed in me to be kind and caring for others.  If not for His influence and direction, I would be the opposite.  I know this because I know myself without God.

11) If you could ask Jesus a question what would it be?

Why and how did He create music to enrich the brain of humanity, to the point of it being medication?  Also, the TRUE story of why and how He did not save the dinosaurs from extinction.  To have a Brontosaurus on a leash in the park would be grand.  The poop bag would be trouble.

Drum roll please!  Now for my nominee choices in alphabetical order:

(If you choose not to participate, you will not hurt my heart.  As an admirer, I just want to shine a light on you and your blog for others who may not know of you.  No pressure.  Nada, zilch, zero.  And if you are already a nominee, I am unaware.)

Dominique at 3C Style combines her posts with highly creative photos of her personal showcasing of beautiful stylings from her own closet.  She has a talent for matching subjects in nature with her outfits while highlighting eco-friendly ideas.  This French scientific journalist from Quebec is a terrific writer who introduces you to possibilities in fashion you might have never imagined before, wrapped in her passion for life.  Her zest for life, fashion, and imagination is simply radiant and thought provoking.  Most of all, I like the fact that Dominique is a caring, loving person toward others.  I’ve learned a lot from my friend from Quebec. 

Anel at Barefoot Diary has a highly unique blog.  I’ve known and loved her for 41 years and I can tell you of her multiple talents.  After the devastating hurricane which leveled so much of Puerto Rico, where she and her husband had been living, they moved on to experience an adventure most would never do.  Since they left the island, they have been travelling from one Central or south American country to another, reveling in each culture with gusto.  Anel’s blog is all about their adventures.  You never know where they will be blogging from next.

Mandy at Blue Collar Theologian is a seminarian and writer.  I love to go deep in biblical studies and so does Mandy.  She has my admiration for her exclusive casual way of serving up the depths of scripture without going over the head of the reader, especially the seeker.  You’ll find she writes about various camera angles of life with a good dose of awareness of biblical thought, shaken together for a personal application anyone can chew on.

Anita at For The Love Of has a smooth way of sharing her love for dogs, which I share, along with God’s love for us.  On any given post she will somehow bring to mind the truth of how we crave love, shelter, belonging, and care.  Be ready for some brilliant photos that touch the eyes and heart.

Jon at His Grace Is Sufficient is an old childhood friend of mine.  He pastors a small church near Green Bay, WI.  Recently Jon was diagnosed with ALS.  The disruption is already taking its toll on his breathing, his speech, and some mobility.  Thus far, he is standing by his word that he plans on delivering sermons until he physically cannot.  He asked me about starting a blog to record his journey with ALS.  So, I encouraged him to go headlong into it.  I love him dearly.  Clicking on you will hear his heart of love and his faith through this hard, rocky road he is travelling.    

Julien at Julien’s Thoughts can be defined as…his thoughts.  He literally takes subjects that press on his mind and heart, considers them against the backdrop of a biblical world view, and woodsheds what he learns.  Whenever he writes you can feel his intellect.  I am grateful he shares the thoughts as most of us identify with the topics he showcases.  A simple devotional thought process which is encouraging, yet challenging at times.

Lisa at Lismore Paper is a master at eyeing antique art forms.  She then cleans them up for a visual experience to die for.  One terrific graphic design artist, as well as a gardener extraordinaire.  I’ve not seen artwork exactly like her talent.  Lisa simply is a craft magician.  She loves photography, as I do, and often highlights her shutter work in nature.  You never know when she will be hiking through the woods taking beautiful shots of plants, birds and trees.  One of the items of wizardry from her hands consists of antique prints lifted from pages of old shipping logs, documents, or ledgers and turn them into a background for layering other art subjects.  Just amazing.  Visit her blog and find options to download her items for your personal use.  Sometimes you will find her art on t-shirts, along with other items, which are available.  As you explore her visuals she writes of them with the love of an artist at work. 

Ann at Muddling Through My Middle Age I believe is my first blogging friend after I launched my blog two years ago.  She is so admired.  I liken Ann to the wisdom and wit of the late syndicated columnist, Erma Bombeck.  She is a volunteer for her local shelter who loves and cares for the four-legged friends behind bars.  She adopts, and so do I.  She is a loving grandmother who often shares with us of her times with her grandchild.  But most of all, Ann writes about the everyday scenarios of life, as well as life’s phases, which can be cantankerous or just plain humorous.  She muddles through what life tosses at her while always searching for the rainbow at the end of the day’s conveyor belt.

Ann (another Ann) at Seeking Divine Perspective is an author and truth-teller.  I discovered her about the time I was going through some doubts in my spiritual journey.  My reading of her posts came just at the right time.  Ann is retired and loves CS Lewis, as I do.  She is not afraid to share the hard knocks in life, or the current social issues of our times, and what she has learned from them.  She is bold with direct conviction, willing to teach with the written word in posts.  Don’t be surprised if she types in a prayer on her heart as it often reverberates what the human heart is thirsty for.  We are all seekers, some just don’t realize it.  Ann spotlights her perspectives.

Stefan at The Fourth Dimension of Life is a young studious thinker.  His love for writing truly hits you in the face…softly.  Stefan is a bright, multi-talented Indian lad attending one of the best universities in India.  Don’t expect his posts to be the norm, or even similar in scope from one to another.  Some days you will get a thought in a statement.  At other times you will read one of his poems.  Inside his random thoughts he often speaks of his life from God’s balcony view.  He also can show you his devotional blog link.  

Junaisha (June) at The Godly Chic Diaries will lead you to think twice, or three times about the topic she writes about.  Unlike some, she is bold about the fact that the spiritual walk is not a perfect stride.  She speaks of the fact that there will be failures in the God-driven journey.  In her quick devotional posts the spotlight on grace, forgiveness, and mercy are illuminated.  Through her telescopic lens concerning life, she will test the mind of the reader with questions not often dissected in one’s own thoughts.

I want to publicly thank all of the above for the influence you have on my life.

And here are my 11 questions for those I’ve nominated:

1 – Who encouraged you to launch a blog?

 

2 – Who was your first blogger-friend & what drew you to that writer?

 

3 – What country, or state are you writing from?

 

4 – Has your writing evolved over time & why?

 

5 – Be honest with me on this one.  How often do you consider the unseen spiritual aspect beyond the tangible?  If “never” is the answer, let me know.  It’s okay.  No tricks.

 

6 – Do you have a pet?

 

7 – When you wake up in the morning, what is your first thought?

 

8 – Do you eat breakfast?  If so, what does it consist of?

 

9 – If you’re still friends with a childhood pal, tell me what has kept you together?

 

10 – What keeps you returning to the same blogger?

 

11 – Does your own family read your posts?

 

Again, if you are on my nomination list of favorites and would rather not participate, just know I understand totally.  I appreciate what you do and how you make my life sweeter.  Love and hugs from Dallas, Texas. – Alan

The Seed of Racism

“A child is black.  A child is white.  Together they grow to see the light, to see the light…” (1972)  Black & White –  Recorded by:  Three Dog Night.  Composers:  David I. Arkin, Earl Robinson.

Appreciation note:  A quick thank you to the very kind, Alicia from the blog, For His Purpose for nominating my blog for the Sunshine Blogger Award.  I am greatly shocked and humbled.  I do enjoy your everyday camera angles of life with the filter of truths.

This will not be a political post.  This will not be a ranting post concerning those who play at politics, or the swift blinding blame of another.  This will lack the spewing of hatred and emotional blathering of negativity currently blowing across the media.  If that’s what feeds you, look elsewhere.  However, if you are open-minded, wanting to hop off the meat wagon, serving up all kinds of dangerous rhetoric currently being wielded like a Gladius sword, you are welcome to read below.

Billy Boyd was my best friend in 7th grade.  In those times that was our first year at Dillingham  Jr. High School, before “middle school” was introduced.  We lived in Sherman, Tx where the west side of town was mainly made up of white population.  There was also the east side where the African American community settled, or was made to settle in post-Civil War days.  Dillingham Jr. High was situated close to the border of the east and west sides of the medium market town.  We met on our first day of the new school year.

When we left our elementary schools to enter 7th grade, it was a cultural shock for all of the student body.  Obviously my elementary school consisted of mostly white kids.  At Dillingham the heavy black and white mix was a first for all of us.  Billy was African American from the east side of the tracks.  He was my first black school friend ever.  At the time I really thought nothing about it.  In fact, I thought it was cool to have a black friend who was my age.

person holding hands
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

What I didn’t expect, nor every experienced before, was racial name-calling, slurs, racial riots on campus, gang violence, and violent ambushes.  (Forgive me for giving too much info here, but I must write it.)  As a white kid relieving himself at the urinal, I was kicked in the back from time to time.  Once, I was slammed in the back of my head with a football helmet while standing there facing the wall.  This was the environment I was introduced to.  Billy didn’t have anything to do with the vicious tagging of white kids.  I was on the sharp end of the above racial abuses in a big way simply because I was a white kid from the west side.  There were attacks I received in the hallways, between buildings, after football practice, and after school on my way across campus to the bike rack.  Some of these were 15 and 16 years old students who were still repeating 7th or 8th grades.  I received threats concerning my dog and my mom.  In that school year, I learned how to box and street fight the hard way.  My uncle taught me how to box, and another friend trained me in Aikido that same year.  Through it all, Billy and I remained friends.  You might say we were the odd couple.  After the school year slowly dropped me into the summer break, my mom relocated out of town, and just in time.  Only God knows what might have been if I had spent another year in racial turmoil.  However, the hatred and bigotry had a profound influence on me.  But, I would experience it again.

When I was a toddler, 98 years after slavery ended in the U.S., I met my first African American.  (I have written about him before, but it’s been a couple of years.)  While visiting my grandparents in Greenville, Tx, every-other Saturday they had their lawn work done by an elderly black man named Mr. Amos.  To this day I don’t know if that was a surname or his first name.  No doubt he was the son of slaves, living in the far east side of Greenville in a sector notable for the African American neighborhood.  I recall there being a side street which served as the border between whites and blacks, as it was set-up by the local government leaders in the late 1800’s.

From my toddler days, all the way to 11 years old or so, I LOVED old Mr. Amos.  I saw him as an uncle from another grandmother.  The neighborhood in those days would remind you of the street scenes from the movie, To Kill A Mockingbird.  He would drag his lawn mower down the street cutting grass and hedges for a few dollars.  To see him was like imagining Mr. Bojangles in various ways.  He was ragged, skinny, and toughened by the years.  His very dark skin was weathered and rough from a lifetime of working in the Texas sun, like leather from an old baseball glove.  He always had an old rag, or bandanna hanging out his back pants pocket, along with old worn-out hard-soled leather lace-up shoes.  The elderly man always did a wonderful job on the lawn and hedges.  He had the talent.  Whenever I was there, I would watch him out my grandparent’s front window as he worked his fingers to the bone with pride.  I never saw anyone sweat as much as he did.  When he finished the front lawn he began to pull his mower up the driveway toward the backyard.  From the time I was 3, my grandmother would take an ice cold, frosted bottle of Dr. Pepper out of the fridge, pop open the cap with the bottle opener, which hung on her kitchen wall, hand it to me and say, “Alan, you go give this to poor Mr. Amos.”  Wrapped around it was the money he earned.  (They were very liberal with the payment.)  I would grin from ear to ear as I ran outside before he reached the back.  There in my Buster Browns I proudly said in my Mickey Mouse voice, “Here ya go, Mr. Amos!”  No matter how often our encounters, he always acted surprised as he shook my hand and replied with his gruff voice, “Well, what’s this here?  (chuckle) Why…thank ya, son!”  When in my earlier age, I would look at the palm of my hand to see if the black color rubbed off his sweating hand.  I kid you not, he never took his mouth off the bottle until it was turned upside-down and empty, without taking a breath.  There’s no way I could do that.  I would watch him drink in shear amazement.  Handing the empty bottle back to me, he would exhale with a huge drawn-out gasp, like a swimmer coming up for air and say, “That’s my boy!”  I always waited to hear him say those words.  It made my day.  He didn’t know it but just saying that to this fatherless lad made me feel warm inside.  With his statement of gratitude, I ran back in to tell my grandmother once again, how he called me “son” and what’s more, I was “his boy”.  I honored and respected him.  Through the years of youth, I wondered why he always looked so poor.

I’m not certain what year it was, but I will say I was 13 (1973) when hatred came calling.

Mr. Amos was in my grandparent’s yard, doing his job one Saturday, when he was suddenly interrupted by his son and daughter-in-law who had pulled up in the driveway.  The man was angry with his father for mowing the lawns of “Honkies”(It’s a name I was familiar with from school.  I didn’t believe Mr. Amos thought I was one of those.)  Mr. Amos protested saying he was doing his purpose in that stage of his life.  The voices got louder as they argued in the side yard.  I pressed my ear to the nearest window to hear more clearly what was being said.  The son of Mr. Amos spewed about how shameful it was to be “workin’ for the white man” and how embarrassed he was to see him on our lawn in the “white part of town”.  My granddad came out to see what the issue was.  After he was told, my granddad gently explained to Mr. Amos that it was okay if he needed to go and do what he thought was right.  Sheepishly looking down at his tired scuffed shoes, Mr. Amos agreed he should load-up and go with his son.  Hearing it my heart broke.  My granddad paid him in full, even though the job wasn’t completed, then they drove away.  I was highly disturbed.  Tears rolled down my freckled cheeks at what I had witnessed.  That was the last time I saw Mr. Amos after knowing him through 9-10 years of my childhood.

I had a friend like Billy, as well as a man of grit and heart like Mr. Amos for one reason.  Early on my mom had coded within me, from the days of Mr. Amos, to love all people, regardless of their skin hues.  As a little one, she read the words of Jesus to me at bedtime where He taught what she preached to me.  What she didn’t teach at the time was the perspectives and inward struggles some possess, like the son of Mr. Amos.

Still, I came away from my experiences at Dillingham with a chip on my shoulder, combined with an unjustified angst against black people.  In fact, the realities left me unwilling to trust African Americans for many years throughout much of the 1970’s until I got the chance to work and worship alongside African Americans from 1979 and onward.

In these days where racial slurs, alongside accusations of racism, are being tossed around like confetti, there’s a warning for us all.  When young men soak up vile, filthy hatred from certain websites, or chat rooms brainwashing them to the point of mass murdering another race due to their ethnicity alone, we should take note.  Words are like bullets.  Enough of them, combined with a deadly spin, will and do rip open the hearts of our youth.  Good parenting is so vital.  Compassionate parenting is so vital.  Informative parenting is so vital.  So often these word-projectiles reverberate through the rooms of the home for little ears to plant in the fertile soil of their souls.  Each and every community and culture should surgically remove attitudes of hate-filled, damning speech about our neighbors.  If not, the next generation will see domestic death, domestic destruction and possibly war.  There is a desensitizing which is slow, like marinating a pork loin.  Sleeping with the pigs will make you muddy.  And oh, how dark that mud can be.

If you dare, journey with me for a moment on the following hypothetical.

If one leans toward Darwinism, and sees another race as beneath their own DNA, then one must ask how it got to such a point.  If we, collectively, all derived from an ancient amoeba, which washed up on a beach in ions past, then how can one defend a racial ideology?  Maybe the ancient amoeba community rioted against other amoeba of a different thickness of cell wall.  Then again, can an amoeba possess hate?  Unfortunately, hate is branded in humankind exclusively.  There’s a reason for that.  Follow me on this.

As we continue to search for the “Missing Link” (still missing), there’s a newer, more popular theory.

If one leans toward the newer idea that humanity was placed here by ancient aliens from another planet, there’s even a bigger leap to make.  I suppose it’s plausible ancient aliens also suffered from racism, implanting that curse on the earth as we were left here to populate the world.  It would also seem plausible that such an advance interstellar civilization would’ve been cautious to populate the earth with beings like themselves, assuring racism wouldn’t be introduced.  If the theory is accurate, then wouldn’t it make sense they would sprout beings which reflected a visual likeness?  If so, why do have racial issues at all?

If you come from a biblical world view, as I do, then how can I ever hold to a twisted view of racial hatred?  Since I am a creationist, I read and study the account where we were all created in the image of God, a likeness of the Divine.  Therefore, how could I ever look at a black, brown, yellow, or red man or woman crying, “Moron!”, “Mistake!” “Mutant” or  “Monstrosity!”  Racism dictates that you have cheap blood and I do not.  But, I’ll take your kidney, or a transfusion if I need one.  Cheap?  Really?  For me, scripture reveals we all came from a set of flesh and blood ancient parents who had a multitude of offspring, and so on.  Genesis has the genealogy listed covering about a two thousand year span complete with names, nations and seasons of geology.  Even DNA experts have found the evidence which mirrors this view.  Within the last few years DNA studies have shown we come from the same part of the world with ancestry funneling into a clan going back to the beginnings of life itself, matching the Genesis timeline.  So, why do we, or why should we have this scent of racism?

Let’s be super honest here.  I like to call balls and strikes as I see them.

Racism, at its core, is the belief in a lie.  Yep, we’ve been snookered.

“…Mmm, no no 
Lyin’ to the races 
Help me, come on, come on 
Somebody, help me now (I’ll take you there)…”  (1972)  “I’ll Take You There” by:  The Staple Singers

Moreover, racism is an ideology which dictates thoughts of I, me and myself am to reign over another due to my skin pigmentation.  The lie woos one to beliefs like; if one is darker, or lighter skinned than I, then that person is to be subordinate to me, simply due to color.  It even can get down to the shape of a skull, or the nose.  Racism methodically massages the mind and heart of the pre-white supremacist, for example, who will claim God made a mistake by creating black, brown, yellow, and red skin.  Unfortunately, even shades of skin tones are targets of racial darts.  In addition, let’s not forget the racism within the color spectrum itself.  English vs Celts, Anglo Gentiles vs Jews, African tribes vs other African tribes, the list goes on.  Furthermore, it revels in the false idea which says a particular race was created to be supreme over all peoples, nations, societies and cultures. If one hears it enough, studies it enough, sniffs the belly of the dragon enough, the ideology is perceived as authentic.  Just as evil thoughts grow and widen, hatred begins to fester like Multiple Myeloma which eats away at the bones.  Racism eats away at the very soul of a person.

Are you still with me?  Can I go a step further?

Let’s say you are one who believes in the afterlife.  Maybe it’s a belief that the spirit, once separated from its body, roams the earth as a ghostly individual, for whatever purpose.  If you were a racist in the flesh, how do you exercise racism in the spirit world?  When there’s a failure to control the body in life, how then do we expect to control and navigate our spirits?  Interesting thought.  Are we suddenly stronger and wiser in spirit than we were when we had flesh?  After death the skin, once proudly admired as a trophy in life, grows pale and decays, falling away from the skeleton, which is the same color as all skeletons.  So now, in spirit form, how do you rant and rave over other spirits who have no skin color?  In spirit form, racism is also dead.  Suddenly, racist views are no longer so important.  In the end, the 79 year old racist can look back on his/her earthly life and will see the damning foolishness of a faulty ideology.

Let’s say you have a biblical perspective of the afterlife.  In the place described so well in scripture as heaven, there are a number of problems if racism is to continue.  First, God says haters (which includes racist users) will not see the kingdom of heaven.  Secondly, in this present age, there is the spiritual form left after the body fails.  How, as an eternal racist, do you push back on another spirit residing in God’s Kingdom?  Thirdly, the ancient text is clear on the following.  There will come a time in eternity when the old earthly body will be recreated to reunite with the spirit in which it once belonged, much like the resurrection of Jesus.  God does the recreation at His sovereign will.  Colors or not, He will do what He plans. Whatever skin color, if any at all, is resurrected in God’s timeline.  At that point, how could hatred of it exist?  Fourthly, in heaven there is no spirit who will submit to another based on color of robe, earthly ethnicity, or thought.  Jesus Himself said there’s only One Who reigns in heaven.  All is made new in the afterlife, if with God.  In Paul’s writings, he mentions that “in Christ” there is no difference in “Jew or Gentile”, “slave or free”, “male or female”, etc.  THAT is God’s view of the color spectrum of the souls He created and saw it to be good.  Racism is NOT eternal.  What does that tell us about the perceived value and validation of racial disharmony in life today?

Crayons

Racism will always be with us.  The seed is there in this imperfect world.  It was introduced by God’s adversary early in human history to distort the mind’s view of every created race. It is the management of it which must be priority.  If the lion is not tamed, it will eat the foolish ringmaster.

The shooter in El Paso, Texas believed a racial lie.  In his manifesto he wrote of multiple issues which pushed him over the edge like, plastic in the oceans, immigration flow, economics, eco-system, etc.  But, in the end, his frustrations were decidedly poured out over helpless Hispanics with intention.  The shooter in Dayton, OH and the shooter at the Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California were driven by hate, even though it appears not to be racially motivated.  As a result, many were brutally murdered and maimed.  It’s a seeded lie laced by the enemy of the human brotherhood of soul and spirit.  Police in Gilroy reported the shooter there wore a clown mask.  Appropriate, don’t you think?

Please accept this warning.  Those who ricochet darts coming from the mouths of haters, is a very dangerous thing.  Wars have been launched for far less.  Unfortunately many like the shooters of El Paso, Dayton, and Gilroy are weak-minded, easily influenced, or simply mentally ill.  They are like a weed bending to a dark wind from whichever direction.  The result is, “I AM DOMINATE!” For some, all it will take is a spewing of hate-filled venom to cause the voices to ring violence in their minds.  Once it takes hold, it is like the gravity of opium to the offender.  If it’s not an assault rifle, it will be a bomb, a poison, a chemical, a blade, a flip of a rail switch, a van, a bus, a truck, a water bottle full of gasoline, etc.

Love, compassion, and understanding will always been the answer.  In fact, love is the basis found in fuel for the race.

 “You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill. – Jesus –   Matthew 5:21-22 (MSG Version)

 

DNA And Me

Photo:  “Our” family reunion of 1902.

“…Scattered pictures of the smiles we left behind.  Smiles we gave to one another for the way we were…Can it be that it was all so simple then?  Or has time rewritten every line?…” (1974)  The Way We Were.  Recorded by;  Barbra Streisand.  Composers:  Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman, Marvin Hamlisch.

There’s much to learn from a simple photograph.  I adore antique photos, always have.  They are even more special when you find images depicting your own flesh and blood.  If you love family history, then you and I could share some time over a few cups of java.

Check out the cover shot I placed above.  This is a 1902 family reunion from my paternal side.  No doubt it’s from the summer time in Texas, yet there’s all that clothing.  Look at all stiff high collars, neckties and gowns that crawl up to the chin, along with the hats.  Summers in Texas can reach 100+ degrees easily.  How did they do it?  In all honesty, the southern tradition was to have an event like this right after church on a Sunday afternoon.  Maybe that’s why everybody is in their Sunday-go-to-meetin’-clothes.  I see watermelon slices, cakes, pies, etc.  And then there’s that guy on the back row, just right of center, swigging a big bottle of….well…uh…Okay, who knows. But remember, church was over. LOL

Being from the south, there is a depth of Confederate soldiers in the family.

Alexander Ambrose Timmons Great Uncle-in-law 1866ish

Photo:  Meet Great Uncle Alexander Ambrose Timmons (1865)  Now THAT’S a knife!

Lewis Pinkney Brooks Great Grandpa 1866ish

Photo:  Meet my Great Grandpa Lewis Pinkney Brooks (1866)  After the war, he rode a mule from Georgia to west Texas to stay.  He found himself to be a cattle drover, pioneer settler, homesteader, 2nd sheriff of Young County, Texas, stage coach inn owner, and Indian fighter.

Yes, sometimes inside family history one can find skeletons which may not be politically correct by today’s self-imposed standards.  I’m not one to erase history.  In fact, I gaze at it, study it, and recognize the truth of the way we were.  We need to see how far we’ve come.  We need to discover how and why issues in society arose.  We are in need of understanding before we repeat some aspects of our history which may stain us as a culture.  We also should value perspectives.  One can title a person an “Indian fighter” but often neglects the realities of circumstance.  As for my my great-grandfather Brooks, he dealt with the pains of pioneering.  Tonkawa and Comanche often raided his barn overnight to steal horses, cattle, and mules.  Another time, he and his cousin were building a three-foot herd wall, made of stone, when they were attacked unprovoked.  Grave plots had to be topped in layers of large stone to discourage grave-robbing for clothes and jewelry.  Outlaws are outlaws, no matter the culture.  Yes, it was a lawless wild country in very different times.  Only after years of fighting back in defense of his wife and children did peace began to rise.

Pioneer women were of a different breed.  They were tough as brass doorknobs while growing and nurturing families in the harshest conditions.

Mary Lucinda (Cinnie) Moore-Brooks Great Grandma 1877ish Photo;  Meet my Great Grandma Mary Lucinda “Cinnie” Moore-Brooks (1877).  She was not a doctor, but performed medical aid for the citizens of the county when needed.  There are stories of her alone on foot, in late night hours, traveling to attend to women in labor miles away.  Once a young family in a covered wagon, headed for the western frontier, stopped at the homestead asking for medical aid.  The couple had a baby who was ill.  The family lodged in their house for a good couple of weeks as Mary Brooks tended to the infant.  Sadly, the child couldn’t be saved.  They buried the baby in our family cemetery on the land.  Brokenhearted, the couple got back on the trail and was never heard from again.  She was not only a woman of great courage, but a woman of heart.

Great Aunt Alverse Brooks 1905ish

Photo:  Let me introduce you to my Great Aunt Alverse Brooks (1905ish).  I don’t know much about Aunt Alverse, I just love her face.  I do know she liked to swim in the Brazos River with her sisters.  She lived as a single woman.  (The men must have been pushed away, or simply stupid.)

Grandma Brown with two sisters 1911ish

Photo:  Say hello to my Grandma Bessie Brooks-Brown, with her two sisters, swimming in the Brazos River just below the family homestead (1909ish).  This lovely refreshed and digitized shot is nothing but a joy to look at.  My grandma is on the left.  Notice the swimwear where EVERYTHING is covered.  How many layers do you think they were wearing?  However, it didn’t keep that guy behind them from gawking in his ten gallon hat.  Yes, times were different.

You might be asking yourself, “Why is Alan forcing all these family pics on us?”  There’s a method to my madness.

Have you seen those DNA test commercials?  How can you miss them?  You know the ones where the actor says something like, “I thought my family came from Scotland, so I bought this kilt.  Then I had my DNA tested and found out I’m actually German!”  Recently I had been given a birthday gift card encouraging me to get my DNA tested.  It’s something I always wanted to do.  One of my thrills comes from reading family trees.  This is a notch above the tree.  So, I ordered a DNA kit.

Not long ago I was reviewing some of my medical lab work from a blood and urine sample.  There was an indicator of a possible unknown ethnic bloodline hidden in my genes.  I was shocked.  I do know of some Native American on my maternal side, but I just assumed Anglo-Saxon was the balance of my strand, due to surnames.  The DNA test will spell out the surprises.  It will be nice to get to know the authentic “me”….or will it?

I find it funny how some of these DNA test ads speak of “…finding the real you”, or “I never knew I was this, or that.”   One TV spot had an actor speaking a line similar to, “I ordered my kit because I wanted to know the true me.”  Of course, I understand what the meaning is behind such scripted lines.  I get it.  My issue is the idea of “the true me”.

Lately I’ve been deeply diving into Larry McMurty’s novel series, Lonesome Dove.  I guess I enjoy tales of the state from which I call home.  Reading of its wilder, unsettled times is a blast.  Frankly, it helps me to understand my family in our photos.  One main character, a former Texas Ranger and drover from the Texas Republic years, lost a leg and an arm in a shootout with a Mexican train robber and serial killer.  After he realized he would live as an amputee for the rest of his life, his bolt, staunch personality changed.  He became more withdrawn. I guess you could say the heart of the man shrunk.  His words often consisted of how “HE” was no longer who he was, or used to be.  He saw his missing limbs as tools that identified his toughness, his persona, and his legacy.  It’s not unusual for depression to invade an amputee’s psyche shortly after the vacuum of trauma.  Yet, why look at an amputated limb on a table and think, “Hey, that’s me over there on the table?”  It’s a terrible mistake that tends to haunt.  A disabled vet can testify to this depression-fed mindset.

A leg, an arm, even a DNA strand does not say WHO you ARE.  These things do not relabel the soul and spirit of the individual person.  After a tragic plane crash, or the sinking of a ship, they do not report, “100 bodies were lost.”  Traditionally it’s printed, “100 souls were lost.”  One can be robbed of a limb, a featured look, or a physical profile, but the person inside has not been altered on the operating table…unless the individual cuts away at it by choice.  Whether I am a burn victim, a man of extreme age, facially mutilated, newly unemployed, or an amputee, I know WHO I am deep inside where flesh doesn’t live, grow, or die.  MY DNA doesn’t alter the ME which turns me to the right or the left.  My genes have no power over the ME which molds behavior, or makes eternal decisions.  No bloodline rules and reigns over the ME who chooses to love, serve, or share.  No bloodline from my family tree can measure up to the ME I select in life.  After all, flesh turns to dust in a future grave, or ashes spread by the winds atop a west Texas bluff.

Have you ever heard someone’s final words on their deathbed to be, “Oh, how I wish I had a Celtic slice in my DNA strand.  I would have been a better person?”

We all have our choices, no matter the accent, skin color, cultural slants, or the soil of our birth.  Even a surname doesn’t register the YOU inside your core.  The heart is key.  It’s what God said He evaluates, nothing else.

I look forward to the DNA reveal concerning the body I host.  I know this because of the intake of fuel for the race.

“…Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?  Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.  – Jesus – Luke 12:6-7  (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

 

 

If I were…

“She was just sixteen and all alone when I came to be.  So we grew up together…mama-child and me.  Now things were bad and she was scared, but whenever I would cry, she’d calm my fear and dry my tears with a rock and toll lullaby…” (1972) Rock And Roll Lullaby.  Recorded by:  B.J. Thomas.  Composers:  Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil.

With age, I have learned that…

If I were the teen who fought through a sexual assault, then carried an unwanted pregnancy, debating the heart’s choices, then allowing life to grow, I would be a spectacular teenager wise beyond my years.

If I were a parent who protected my newborn from assault and murder at the hands of the father, with a sacrificial unselfish front, I would be a medal of honor recipient.

If I were to end an abusive marriage, to defend and shield my innocent toddler, knowing there would be no child support, I would be a heroine authors would write about.

If I were a single parent constantly contending with the voices of psychological demons, chanting accusations of worthlessness, depreciation, and shame, all the while rising above it all to raise my child, I would be the dragon-slayer described in countless novels.

If I were to defeat my fear by moving into an uncharted world, away from family, to make a life for my young child, I would be a courageous warrior with monuments anointing the landscape.

If I were one who taught my toddler the true value of the gift of grandparents, I would be a brilliant educator with my name on the walls of universities.

If I were to faithfully read scripture to my young child each night, combined with the simplicity of personal prayer and church attendance, I would be a righteousness seeker with my statue erected by the world’s cathedrals.

If I were to seek out the finest pre-schools and kindergartens, in the attempt to assure my only child got a leg up, I would be a proactive parent to be noticed.

If I were to be rejected for loans and credit, due to being a single parent in the 1960’s, only to exercise faith while tackling a life of poverty with my head held high, I would be a fearless champion in my child’s eyes.

If I were to knock on every door to find a job waiting tables, or struggle with an overnight shift on an assembly line, I would be a humble workhorse of a provider for others to impersonate.

If I were to give away the opportunity to have a brilliant singing & recording career, just to be home with my child at the end of a hard night’s work, I would be self-sacrificing, worthy of a screenwriter’s time.

If I were to provide for my child after several lay-offs, by way of two or three jobs, I would be Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman combined, never being poor in spirit.

If I were to train my child well enough to leave him alone overnight, in order to work the graveyard shifts, I would be an example of a strong tower of faith.

If I were to work overtime to aid in the development of my elementary age child with raw musical abilities, by paying for piano, violin, guitar, and voice lessons, my portrait would hang in Carnegie Hall.

If I were to be a staunch, independent single parent, refusing financial aid from my parents, I would be wealthy of heart.

Mom & Me Granddad's Coin Box

From my granddad’s cedar coin box.  The two of us from 1969.

If I were to resist the temptation of suicide, while being beaten down by company lay-offs, Green Stamp submissions, and accepting government blocks of cheese, I would be a brave ferocious fighter for my child’s future.

If I were to support my teen’s sports and musical interests, which differ from mine, I would be a liberally devoted parent of love and understanding.

If I were to tirelessly stand up to my rebellious teenager, with the possibility of damaging our relationship, I would have attributes resembling the God of the Bible.

If I were to sit all alone in a church pew watching my child wed, I would have earned the vision of a soldier adorned in glistening armor after a long battle.

If I were to bless my grandchildren with my physical presence, my mind, as well as my heart, I would be worth my weight in gold.

Mom & Megan 1992ish

My mom with my middle daughter, Megan. (1992)

If I were to deny myself, for the betterment of my child, to the point of self-injury, while killing my own pursuits, and avoiding life’s trinkets that shine in the night, I would be Joan of Arc, Boudicca, Anne Sullivan, and Rosa Parks rolled into one.

If I were to be an example for my adult child, by being the caretaker of my aging parents, suffering from Alzheimer’s and Dementia, along with other elderly ones in my community, I would reflect what I have always been…a mountain of love, compassion, and selflessness.

If I were to describe a fictitious character from my own dreams, they could not come close to the one I have held in my heart for my entire life.

I don’t have to write the words “If I WERE…”  The reason being, I simply could never measure up.  The one described above is my mom, Carolyn Atherton-Brown.

Mom salon

I am her portrait.  I am her monument.  I am her novel.  I am her screenplay.  I am her statue.  I am her champion.  I am her armored soldier.  I am the medal of honor.

To be gracefully broken, brilliantly strengthened, and beautifully poised is to be one who drinks deeply from the well of fuel for the race.

“…As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord.  I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him.  So now I give him to the Lord.  For his whole life he will be given to the Lord…” – The words of Hannah –   I Samuel 1:26b-28a (NIV)

 

 

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)