Losing Faith?

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

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

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

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

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

The two of us in 1962.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In recovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reduced?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The empty Garden Tomb in Jerusalem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

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

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

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

Plates A-Spinnin’

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

What’s not to love about a hound?

Photo by cheptu00e9 cormani on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

True story.

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

How hungry are you now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cancel Culture -VS- God’s Culture

“Go on now, go, walk out the door.
Just turn around now,
‘Cause you’re not welcome anymore.
Weren’t you the one who tried to hurt me with goodbye?
You think I’d crumble?
You think I’d lay down and die?”
(1978) “I Will Survive” Recorded By: Gloria Gaynor Composers: Freddie Perren & Dino Fekaris

If you’ve not heard about it, you soon may become a victim of it with a blindside punch.

Some say it began about 25 years ago on college campuses across America. There were “safe spaces” for young college students who wished to get away from hearing opinions which didn’t align with their’s. In fact, any speech, just right of center, began to be shunned in efforts to push a more left field of thought. As this ideology brewed over repetition, married with time, a type of brainwashing began to occur among students. Of course, silencing other points of view was dressed up to appear to be an exercise in “safety” and “chaotic avoidance”. After all, if you banish dissenting thought, which evolves into speech and writing, then debate, disruption, and deciphering another view means self-conjured peace and quiet ruling over others not in your camp. In other words, it can be translated simply as, “I WANT MY WAY, AND I WILL HAVE IT MY WAY!” That sounds strangely like little voices from the past. “I WANT THAT ICE CREAM! I WANT IT NOW!” In the end, true healthy debate will be over.

Photo by Kamaji Ogino on Pexels.com

Imagine a world where your opposition is no more…all the time.

Fast forward 35 years, America is full of 40-somethings who are CEO’s, owners of corporations, and last but not least, chiefs of Big Tech Corps. With a great deal of help from social media giants and corrupt news media, we now see where a culture has risen in numbers to browbeat and intimidate anyone they do not like, or anyone they do not want to hear from. In the name of safety and concern, and protection, conflicting voices can now be silenced in America by the few, not the majority.

This culture has now spread their tentacles into a dangerous discard mode. Literally, a culture delving into “cancelling out” of the public, those who dare to disagree politically, culturally, religiously, and ideologically. Just like the little ones who marinated themselves in the make-believe magic of Harry Potter, wishing away, or vanishing, anything perceived as evil.

Moreover, it bleeds into guilt by association. A perfect example would be cancelling all who supported conservative politicians, or whoever worked for a conservative candidate, or a particular administration. If you are a famous, well-established entertainer in comedy, movies, TV, or recording artist, who happens to be a conservative thinker, if you voice it, support conservative views, via donations or speech, you are in danger of being erased in the field of your occupation. Not unlike a pack of jackals on an African prairie, you can be ganged up on, chased through the streets, harassed publicly from your front lawn to your favorite social media site. In severe high profile cases, you can be so smudged because of your views, that you find your bank will no longer serve you. Imagine being turned down for career opportunities after a good screening of who you have been associated with. THIS IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW IN AMERICA. History can be rewritten if not opposed.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Yes, the cancel culture is flexing its biceps in the current political atmosphere, in the wake of recent current events. Make no mistake, if it grows, free speech will shrink. In my opinion, free speech essentially could one day be a part of our history…unless they cancel that part in history books. To vanquish, to erase, to delete opposing opinion out of existence is the goal.

If you know world history, you have seen this before. It doesn’t take long to discover nations who lost their freedoms in this way. How about the Salem witch trials right here on our soil? Because of a few disturbed accusing girls, many were executed as they were falsely accused of being witches. It didn’t take long for that small cancel culture to ignite hysteria, anger, and ruin.

At the same time of the growth of this twisted cancel culture, who couldn’t stand up to their own standards for very long, there is a Redeemer Who spent a very short time being crushed by a cancel culture.

Throughout this Redeemer’s life, He taught and exhibited the opposite of a cancel culture. He was okay with being ridiculed to meet up with a Samaritan woman at a well in a town nobody in His culture would ever go through because they had “cancelled” the people who lived there. They thought of it as cursed land. (Sound familiar red states?) He met with her, offered her living water and freedom from accusations. After visiting another town, He invited Himself to the house of a little man who had been “cancelled” by his own fellow citizens because he was a chief tax collector for Rome. Zacchaeus soon found freedom of the spirit after this Redeemer went home with him for a dinner. One day, this Redeemer was approached by a gang of “cancellation experts” who wanted to stone a young woman to death for an accusation of adultery. Even though the law at the time demanded an execution for the crime of adultery, this Redeemer stood between the mob with stones and the accused, boldly challenging the pack of “cancel lovers”. “Whoever here is without a sin in life, let that person throw the first stone at her.” (My paraphrase.) Each one, from the oldest to the youngest, evaluated his own corrupt heart and dropped the stones while walking away. She was not cancelled that day, but rather uplifted.

Jesus was so against a culture of cancellations. He didn’t silence voices of opposition, but asked to hear them. He lived, modeled, and displayed inclusion, not exclusion. Why? Because He knew where it placed a culture. It placed them in a deadly, murderous, unforgiving, and soulless spiral into an inescapable abyss. God’s mercy and grace was rejected, cancelled from the minds of its citizens. In fact, He warned the nation that their stiff-necked destructive behavior, without a turning from it, would direct them to a physical destruction, and a spiritual cancellation. Roughly 40 years passed, and in 70 AD, the Romans utterly destroyed the nation.

In our current worship of cancelling the lives of our fellow citizens, allow me to pick one verse of scripture which shines a brilliant light on how Jesus felt about cancelling those in opposition.

“Jesus then told the crowd and the disciples to come closer, and he said: If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me.” – Jesus (Mark 8:34)- Contemporary English Version)

There’s two things Jesus did cancel. Sin as a master, and eternal death.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Freedom of speech wasn’t new in 1776. It’s first found in fuel for the race.

“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 (ESV)

My Scary Experience

“…He did the mash, it caught on in a flash.
He did the mash, he did the monster mash.”
(1962) “Monster Mash” Composers: Bobby Pickett and Leonard L. Capizzi

At this time of the year in America, you might experience some not-so-paranormal sights. During the Halloween season you just might turn a corner and see something like this…

Super frightening things can pop up from out of nowhere, like this…

Who knows, you may bump into a pumpkin on any given front porch. Or possibly, the most horrid, beastly thing which may be in your path…a political sign.

However, my personal spooky occurrence didn’t happen on a nearby neighborhood street, or a fund raising haunted house, or even a pumpkin patch with a maze. My personal ghastly experience appeared in my own living room a few days ago. Keep reading…if you dare.

It happened earlier this month of October, on a misty autumn evening. We had a family gathering, a reunion of sorts, complete with three generations of family in attendance, a potluck meal, three dogs, and eight people total. (Not to be confused with “ate people”.)

There was an abundance of laughter, snacks, and attempts at social distancing. After dinner, as expected, some games were unpacked and played around the dining table. Before you knew it, someone mentioned the game of charades. The partying group of eight formed a circle in our living room with cards suggesting characters and items to be acted out. It was tough when attempting to guess an apple bobbing in water, or a steam engine train, or Cleopatra. Then a family member read his card, got up on his feet and began to portray a raging, violent lunatic of an individual. This was acted out very well. There was rage plastered on his face with nostrils widening with gnashing teeth, looking down toward the floor while violently throwing invisible items toward invisible characters at his feet. Then ending with the clue of his arms folded and an evil grin of satisfaction on his face. Everyone was shouting out their ideas, “A criminal”, “A rioter”, “An angry sibling trashing his brother”, etc. Then suddenly, to my surprise, someone shouted out…”It’s GOD!” The presenter relaxed his disposition as he let go of the character, admitting that God was the right answer. To be perfectly honest, God was the most distant idea in my mind…but not for some in the room. If someone had shouted, “Zeus”, that would’ve been more of an accurate depiction. For me, it was frightening knowing there were those in the family viewing God in such a way.

You might think me too serious of a so-in-so with my thoughts of the clues given. And, frankly, maybe I should’ve lightened up. But, the One I know in my heart, the One dear to me since my childhood, can not be accurately characterized in such a way. Can one read scripture, especially in the Old Testament, and find God brutal, violent, and scathing? Yes, without a doubt. There have been times when God judged a people, a nation, in fact the entire world in Noah’s time. In context, it is easy to find His actions justified. Here’s a couple of examples: There was a people who offered their living newborn babies as a burnt offering to satisfy their false god. They didn’t have this practice for very long because they were removed from history. You will find entire nations wiped out by God’s hand who assaulted Israel, the people of His promise. Early in human history, you will find two incredibly vile evil cities “nuked” (for a better word) by a duo of angels sent by God. Sure, those actions were accomplished by the Almighty. Yet, what most readers miss is the fact that in each instance, God gave opportunities to stand down, to repent, to live by the truth of His righteousness for blessing instead of curses. Each of His actions teach those left behind. And we still remember. So much so, we make movies about these events.

It is interesting to note that most of God’s enemies knew about Him, knew His works, knew His deeds. At the same time, it’s one thing to know about God, even recognize His existence and authority, and yet another thing to KNOW Him. We may know ABOUT Queen Elizabeth, her likes, dislikes, her family, her homes, her deeds, but we may not KNOW her.

Four hundred years after the Old Testament events were history, Jesus was born. In that miraculous act, divine love, a love that cannot be imitated, was displayed. He came in spirit and in truth. Jesus, in all of His loving kindness, generosity, and unconditional love, told us that if we see Him, we also see the Father. In our finite minds it is hard to wrap our arms around the fact that Jesus, and the Heavenly Father, are One. It is the truth of the scriptures. If I go further on this subject I will write a book here.

Photo: Art.com (Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam”)

Unlike the character portrayed by a family member, God always reaches out in love, not willing to destroy or harm. In fact, the opposite is the case. He sent Himself, in the form of Jesus, to be scourged, beaten, humiliated, and crucified in our place for sin sake. Grace with forgiveness is freely offered by the One who is not willing we all perish…not one.

It’s the reason why you don’t see God as a Halloween character for the front lawn.

True fact-checking is available in fuel for the race.

“…but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. – Jeremiah 9:24 (NAS)

Up On The Roof

“When this old world starts getting me down
And people are just too much for me to face
I climb way up to the top of the stars
And all my cares just drift right into space
On the roof it’s peaceful as can be
And there the world below can’t bother me…”                                                                   
(1962)  “Up On The Roof” – Originally recorded by:  The Drifters  (Multiple artists have covered this song.)  Composers:  Gerry Goffin & Carole King
In “Your Song” (1970) from Elton John, we get a hint of where his songwriting lyricist partner, Bernie Taupin liked to construct his lyrics.
“I sat on the roof and kicked off the moss.  Well, a few of the verses got me quite cross…”
Lots of creativity can happen up on the roof.
It was July 4th, 2003 when I moved from Dallas, Tx to Buffalo, NY.  It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done.  I left my wife and three daughters to take an afternoon-drive radio show at a long-standing Buffalo radio station.  It was a promising, career-healthy move which was almost impossible to refuse.  I had a lengthy radio resume in Dallas and I was at a place in life where a next step was essential.  The idea was to live a lean solo life while hunting for a house to purchase.  After the papers for the mortgage were to be signed, then I would move the family of five to our new home, along with our Yorkie, Great Dane, a hamster, a mouse, and a gerbil, all in an Isuzu Trooper.
Roof Elmwood
Photo:  Google
After my feet hit Buffalo pavement, the first couple of weeks were spent in a motel room while searching for an apartment near the radio station in the downtown area.  All I had with me was a stuffed suitcase, duffel bag, and a briefcase.  Within walking distance of the radio station, I landed a tiny little furnished efficiency in an old brownstone right in the artsy district.  It was near perfect for my needs at the time.
Never living in a city-life efficiency before, there was a learning curve to it.  No elevators.  I was on the top floor, the 4th floor.  The basement (five flights down) housed the laundry area for the building.  I was in good physical shape at that time, but it still challenged me each trip to wash my clothes.  There was no air conditioning, of course, being Western New York.  For this Texas lad, I wasn’t sure I could do without an air conditioner.  However, the only silver lining, to the warm humid days, was the welcomed cool constant winds coming off Lake Erie.
As you can see in the photo, my two windows gave me a view of the apartment windows of the next building just a narrow driveway’s width away.  Nobody kept their blinds shut when the windows needed to be open on warm summer days.  You guessed it, very little privacy.  Jimmy Stewart, in “Rear Window”, never would’ve needed binoculars in my apartment.  In clear view of my neighbors, from the next building, was my bed.  It was vertical inside a wall of my living room, just an arm’s-length away from my kitchen mini-fridge.  When bedtime hit the clock, I just opened the door, pulled down the bed to the living room floor.  The springs squeaked as my body stretched out on the thin musky mattress.  Yep, there was a lot of adjusting for this suburbanite boy.
It took over three months to buy a house for my family, and moved in toward mid November.  So, I had plenty of time to adjust to my new temporary home in the city.  The streets were loud and busy.  With the windows opened throughout the summer, the sounds of yelling, sirens, and the occasional car crash bounced off the walls of our buildings on the block.  It always sounded as if everything was happening right outside my window.  It proved to be a struggle keeping my focus when writing letters to my family, or trying to get some shuteye.  Sometimes the noise was so overbearing, it pushed me out the door for a jog down by the Niagara break wall.  At dusk it was a sight to watch the Canadian side of the river light up their street lamps.
Peace Bridge Break Wall
On my trips up and down the hallways, I would pass a stairwell just off the 4th floor.  Knowing there wasn’t a 5th floor, I would shrug my shoulders and move on.  One day, after curiosity got the best of me, I followed the stairs to a set of old partially rusted Bilco doors.

staircase with black metal handrail
Photo by Octoptimist on Pexels.com

As I reached the top of the stairs I saw the double doors were latched by a bolt from the inside.  When I slid the bolt back it made a loud metallic clang that echoed down the stairwell.  When I pushed open the heavy metal doors, the cool Erie winds hit my face.  I had just discovered a large tar-sheeted flat roof of the building.  I was pleasantly surprised.  Whoever the property owners were they evidently didn’t see the value of constructing a patio-style wet-bar area with outdoor furniture, complete with table umbrellas.  Instead, a large wasted space.  But not for me.  Immediately I found the sounds of the city were faded while displaying a view filled with the downtown slope which met the harbor and the mouth of Lake Erie.  I personally enjoyed seeing the rooftops of the neighborhood showcasing old world architecture from the day when horse-drawn carriages, top-hats, and bonnets were the norm.

Throughout my time there, I visited the old quietened rooftop many times.  I remember signing off the air at the studio, looking forward to climbing up the stairs to my new favorite place.  It’s was a get-away where I would meet with the Creator, watch the sunset over the horizon, and sit on the half-wall at the edge of the roof thinking of how our new lives would be in Western New York.  One weekend, in the fall, I remember seeing The Northern Lights for the very first time.   God truly knows how to put on a light show.  It was a place of comfort from the days of hardship, the rowdy sounds of the streets, and the worries of relocating across the country.  When I see the photo from Google, my eyes first look up toward the rooftop.
Peace, enlightenment, and healing found on rooftops shouldn’t surprise anyone.  In scripture, I am reminded of how a handicapped man was carried by four of his friends to the flat rooftop of a home where Jesus was meeting with a crowd who packed a house.  The entryway was not negotiable.  The Miracle Worker was healing gobs of people in need all throughout the region.  In a desperate move by these men, they reached the roof above where Jesus was teaching, punched a hole in the roof to lower their lame friend to Him on a mat.  Up on the roof love and faith was accessed that day.  In Acts 10, the Apostle Peter was praying up on the roof of a friend’s house when God got his attention concerning the issue of grace vs law, love vs religious racism.  Peter found access to the truth up on the roof that day.  In the book of Joshua, a woman hid two spies of Israel in Jericho from their enemies up on her housetop.  For them, there was access to security up on the roof.  After Solomon felt weary of domestic feuds in the home, twice in Proverbs he mentions it’s better to live in the corner of a roof than with a person (woman) of contention.  (I’m trying to be kind on this one. Apparently he must’ve lost a few battles with some of his wives. LOL)
Roof French
Maybe your place of solitude isn’t up on the roof.  It could be your roof isn’t easily accessible, or physically safe.  For you it might be in your car with the radio turned off.  Possibly it’s on your bike on an open road.  Maybe it’s a place in your garage, or your barn.  I have an old friend who found his access under the roof of his lawn shed.  For many, it’s out on a lake in a boat, a coastline of a lake, a boulder sitting by a creek.  I have a cousin who finds her place of solitude up in the saddle of her horse.  Scripture reads the closet is a good place.
One thing is certain, there is a way of escape.  There is a stairwell to a place to be solo.  You might need to “kick off the moss” first.  In these times of violence, disturbance, pandemic, and masked faces, meeting with the Spirit of God can happen anywhere.  When you find it, that is a place you will always be fond of.
Getting away from the news, social media, and the crashing noise of profanity, there’s always room for two up on the roof with a ample supply of fuel for the race.
“What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops.” – Jesus –  Matthew 10:27 (NAS)

The Poundage Of It All

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

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

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

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

Me at Greek's 1977ish

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

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

Everlast 70 pounder

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

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

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

ANTIFA

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

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

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

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

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)

 

 

Branching Out

“…In my thoughts I have seen
Rings of smoke through the trees
And the voices of those who standing looking…”  (1971)  Stairway To Heaven.  Recorded By:  Led Zeppelin.  Composed by:  Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.

Have you ever found yourself on your back, underneath a tree, just looking through the branches as a breeze sways them from side to side?  Have you ever walked through a wooded area and heard the unique creaking of timber as the branches and limbs wave to the rhythm of the wind?  For me they are mesmerizing moments.

Then there are the wrecking storms which reverse the pleasantries of our trees.  Snap, crackle, and pop!  Suddenly those precious branches that speak in their unique language are left broken, split, and hanging from violent winds.  Afterwards, the clean-up is launched…if procrastination doesn’t have its way.

They say October is a good month for pruning select trees, depending upon where you live, although I know very little about it.  However, we had to swing into it recently.

Over the last several months we have had at least four damaging storms rush through our immediate neck of North Texas.  This blog tells of some of those trying times.  We have a few trees on our property, and they always suffer after major wind events.  If you came over for a backyard BBQ you would observe limbs and branches, some dead and dried up, left dangling, or loosely swinging from larger branches.  One rather large branch, maybe 20 feet in length, has been hanging vertically way above the back steps of our sun-room leading to the backyard.  Literally it has been clinging and swinging by a few strands of the broken timber up top.  Something had to be done.  When September proved to be a rather hot, but calm weather month for us, we felt like the gettin’ was finally good.

Tree - Pecan

A family owned lawn care service was recommended to us by a good friend who lives not even a mile away.  We called for an estimate.  They came out, took a look at the job, which involved a total of four large trees, and gave us an outstanding price.  I just love the sound of chainsaws in the morning.

Little did we know, the tree-trimming team wasn’t insured.  What’s worse, they only do lower hanging limbs and branches.  YIKES!  Okay, so they didn’t tell us that when they presented the estimate, but onward and upward they went.  I sat in a lawn chair under the pecan tree to observe.  After all, if there was going to be a Texas chainsaw massacre, I at least wanted to be an eye-witness for the litigation to come.  All-in-all, without too much trouble, (although there were some vertigo moments), they did a fine job.  I’ll give them a B+, considering the tree climber wore cowboy boots to scale the trunks.  There were some high limbs they felt were too risky, but we let it slide.  In less than two hours they cut on the troublesome trees, sawed up smaller lengths of the branches, placed it all in a pile by the curb, raked and swept-up residual twigs and leaves, and off in their truck they went.  Quicker than you can say sawdust, they eagerly took my $50.00 tip.

Tree Bench

Those in the know call it an “Umbrella Cut”, which sounds like something I might hear in a barber shop.  After the job was complete, I could see why they give it the name.  Of course, not only do the trees have a better appearance, but they will be healthier, not to mention safer.

As I looked at the pile of dead, or dying limbs and branches by the street, I couldn’t help but think about my own tree of life.  Inventory, a true, honest inventory of life, can suck.  Look, there is a dangerous branch up top from my past which still dangles when the slightest gust comes my way.  Duck!  If unaware that 45 year old lower limb, once badly-placed from wilder days, can knock you flat, and its got plenty of bark left.  Ah, on the other side, observe the crooked hanging limb in my years, ready to extract all the sap intended for the healthier, sturdier branches above it.  Careful, don’t walk under that long branch hanging vertically.  To this day it keeps the young branches stunted in growth.  Do I miss them all?  They were important in my life at one time, or so I imagined, but God broke them from the trunk because there was a danger to my house.  Except for that one right over there.  Do you see it?   Unfortunately, day and night, it nourishes my messed-up thought-life, spreading its twigs and seeds.  It shouldn’t remain. No doubt the great Arborist will remove it from my trunk when He decrees.  When He does, I will be a healthier person with rock solid roots.

Can you identify?  It’s true, we all need pruning sometimes.  A life pruned tends to hurt.  Why should the living be among the dead?  Right?  The dangerous, menacing dead wood needs to be taken down and shown to the curb.

Tree Branches Curbside

I’ve learned when it comes to a choice of life or limb…life is better.  After His chipper does its work, the mulch can be added to my fuel for the race.

“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.”  -Jesus-  John 15:1-2 (NLT)