Thanks, TR 7…Wherever You Are

“I told a girl I can start right away
And she said, “listen, babe, I got something to say
I got no car and it’s breaking my heart
But I’ve found a driver and that’s a start…”
(1965) “Drive My Car” Recorded By: the Beatles Composers: Lennon-McCartney (Primarily Paul McCartney was the composer with lyrical contributions by John Lennon.)

“Remember, when the back wheels hit the street, the car is yours without a warranty.” Right then and there, I knew I should back out of the deal, but my eyes and fantasies guided my wallet.

When I was just a wee lad, my mom’s two brothers had hot rods. One had a little French sports car by Renault. The other brother had a nice Chevy Super Sport convertible sports car, which would be called a “muscle car” in today’s terms. I loved sitting in the back seat with my head resting against the radio speaker installed in the middle of the backrest. He is 79 now, and it remains in his garage to this very day. Before I could count, I fell in love with both of these roadsters.

Miss Cain was my first grade teacher in 1966. She was right out of college, and beautiful. But what caught my little eyes was her brand new Chevy Corvair. I lived across the street from the school, and walked and gawked right by her parked road-eater. Like the Volkswagen of that day, the engine was in the back. I fell in love with that set of wheels.

My best friend in high school had a super 1968 royal blue Chevy Camaro. When he slammed the accelerator to the floor, the G-force almost kept me from touching the dashboard. I fell in love with that one, too. (Okay, I’ll admit it. I was jealous.)

A high school girlfriend owned a hot 1976 Ford Mustang Mach 1. When she floored it, your hairstyle changed in under two seconds. A couple of times, when picking her up for a date in my mom’s car, I asked if we could take her car. I fell in love with that babe…not her. (Okay, I’ll admit it. I was jealous.)

In 1983, a co-worker of mine bought an old Triumph TR 6 convertible. It was a forest green color, walnut dashboard, 2-seat little jobber. We took the curves as if we were stunt drivers in a 007 movie. It was tiny, much like the old MG, but an eye-catcher. I was nuts over that foreign road monster. (Okay, I’ll admit it. I was jealous.) It looked something like this…

Photo: TR 6 from Classic Auto Trader

My beloved car, my first car, from 1978-1983ish, was a mint condition, 2-door, tan 1976 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. My grandparents surprised me with it for high school graduation. My granddad was against sports cars simply because of the safety issue. The bigger the body, the better, in case of a crash. Ironically, my first wife totaled it on a busy Dallas freeway a few years later. It was a sad time, but a time of occasion.

With insurance cash in hand, I searched for a sports car to replace my Cutlass. This was MY time, I wasn’t going to miss it. There was a used car dealer advertising a mint condition, 1977 Triumph TR 7. Like the TR 6, it was manufactured by the well-known British Leyland Corp!!! The TR 7 had a nickname, “The Wedge” (See cover photo above title for a better profile view.) All the TR 7 car ads had a slogan, “The shape of things to come.” My TR 6 buddy and I went to check it out for a good solid look and test drive. Below is a picture of her.

When we arrived, there it sat, sticking out like a neon sign that read, “BUY ME NOW!” It was a sharp race-car mustard yellow with black pinstripe trim. Oh, my. I think my mouth was hanging open when we spotted it from the street. It was absolutely beautiful. The interior was perfect and the body didn’t have a scratch on it. The flip-up headlights dazzled me. It took all I had, but I smiled while signing the papers. The only thing that bothered me was when I heard the salesman ask one of the mechanics if it had started that morning. Then he brushed it off by saying a recent water puddle caused the ignition to fail the day before. My eyes were dreamy, interfering with my ears. The test drive went smoothly. It felt like a super-go-kart from one of those public racetracks. During the signing, he repeated the fact that the car came without a warranty. He went on to let me know, once I drove off the lot, I would be the proud owner, with no returns possible. It was cash on the barrel head. The two of us wanted to celebrate somewhere before we drove it to my house.

Did alarm bells go off in my young, 24 year old noggin? Yes, but I quickly dimmed the bells with self-made imaginary cotton balls.

If I were behind you at a signal light, this is what you would see in your rear-view mirror…

My friend followed me in his nice little TR 6 for the joy ride home. About 20 minutes into the drive, at a rainy busy intersection, it died on me without warning. The two of us couldn’t get it started. In fact, I had to have it towed to a local auto repair shop. There, I was told the staff didn’t work on European vehicles. After getting a tip from the garage owner, I had it pulled to a foreign auto repair shop. There, I was told they didn’t have a mechanic who was familiar with British Leyland engines. Once again, I had it towed to a specialty European auto garage who had “a guy” who could look into it. His pant cuffs were too high up and he scratched his belly a lot.

Keep in mind, I worked an inside sales marketing job at the time for an electronic manufacturer. I didn’t have lots to spend on Euro specialty mechanics. After about a week, “the guy” got it running and handed me a huge bill. My gut began to rumble and tumble at the prospect of what I might have gotten into.

Over the following weeks, I paid for a few towings, two or three Euro-garages, and lots of rapid loud words coming from my wife at the time. By then, I knew I had made an enormous mistake.

Yet, it drove like a dream. It hugged the corners like a motorcycle. The gas millage was wonderful, too. That four-banger could get to 60mph in about 9 seconds. It drove beautifully…for very short periods of time. Holding your breath at an intersection, while praying the engine would stay in idle, is never a peaceful ride. I held on to that TR 7 for about a year.

When I was conceived, God left out mechanics in my cellular makeup. I couldn’t work on my TR 7, nor could a majority of professional mechanics in my area. When I found one who could, some 70 minutes away from my house, he explained the issue with my TR 7. It had two carburetors, not just one. (I’ll pretend you know nothing.) A carburetor is in charge of meshing air flow and fuel together before sending the fuel/air to the pistons. Apparently, the two carburetors had to be in perfect sync with each other to perform their duty. In the case of my TR 7, the two carburetors squabbled like a set of twins on a bad double date. My TR 7 carburetors were way too sensitive during their duet of air/fuel volumes. It was a never-ending battle. My mechanic offered to put a new engine in it. (Ching-Ching) As it turns out, my TR 7 wasn’t racing mustard yellow, it had shades of lemon.

Thanks, TR 7, for teaching me a life-long lesson. Never get caught up in the beauty of something which is sour on the inside. Solomon could’ve taught me that, but I wasn’t reading the Bible deeply enough in those times.

2020 has been an awful year for most of us. I won’t spell out a list, I’m sure you have your own. But, yes, it’s been a lemon of a year in about a dozen ways. One has to wonder how to approach the American Thanksgiving on a good, grateful foot. In fact, because of COVID-19, many of us won’t have the traditional Thanksgiving plans with family and friends. If you do, you feel like you should go wrapped in cellophane with a little tube for eating.

It’s funny how the mind and heart work off each other. Scripture indicates they should sync well together. The spirit and the soul shape and move one another. Like my TR 7, if we jam too much of the world into our eyes and ears, without balancing, even filtering it all out with what the Author Of Peace plans for us, we will slow to a shutdown. How about too much news intake? How about sheltering with holy scriptures while living in a cave like a monk, unaware of how our world is doing down in the valley? I had a well intentioned, good hearted pastor once, who did just that. He shut himself off, cocooned himself in his office so much, surrounding himself with biblical commentaries, that he didn’t notice the hurting people in need who rang the church office doorbell. In fact, come Sunday, this man was almost oblivious to the outside world his parishioners contended with on a day-to-day basis. It didn’t take too many years until his personal ministry dwindled at the intersection of life. Soon after, the church closed its doors. The mix of “teach and reach” was out of sync.

Only you know the mix you inject into your system. Would our outlook be better if we evaluated our blend of “grace and truth”? What about the mixing balance of “strength and wisdom”, “awareness and contentment”, “courage and compassion”? Might our corner of the world light up if a synced mix of “prayer and action” were pumped into our cylinders? I can see where our traction on slippery curves might have a more reliable grip.

For Thanksgiving 2020, I will do my part in taking in a better balance of the stuff of life. We all need the richness of the mix which feeds our spirits, as well as, our souls. If not, we can grind to a lifelessness. Simple things like, a healthy intake of bad news and good news will keep those pistons pumping. In the end, we can find gratitude during tough, hard, and harsh times when our back tires hit the streets.

Come to think of it, maybe my twin carburetors were not the most important accessory. Maybe, just maybe, it was that little mirror on the backside of my sun visor.

As for my beautiful TR 7, another co-worker bought it from me. She had a brother who wanted to put a Volkswagen engine under the hood. From what I can recall, it worked out well.

Today, the auto experts say the old TR 7 is considered one of the worst sports cars ever made. It had problems.

When driving toward eternity, it’s always best to inject the carburetors with fuel for the race.

“And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” – Deuteronomy 6:5 (KJV)

What Do You See?

“Oh woe unto me I’m in a desperate state.
Looking for love that will fulfill me.
Maybe engraved from deep within
is that I should be loved, loved to the brim.                                                                              Coz it feels like, I’ve been waiting for a long time, to fill this emptiness…”       Written & Recorded By Indi Artist:  Jennifer Kamikazi

Technology continues to amaze me.  After all, we now have smart cars, smart doorbells, smart houses, flying drones delivering goods, computers in our pockets, Siri and Alexa, all of which have capabilities involving voice command.  I’m in what they used to call, future shock.

If you’re a Star Trek: The Next Generation fan, you might remember the often spoken words directed to the food replicator, via Capt. Picard, “Earl Grey. Hot.”  Immediately, Capt. Picard’s hot cup of English tea appears.  WE ARE THERE!

 

Faucet Skitterphoto via Pexels Photo:  Skitterphoto via Pexels

Just in time for Thanksgiving in the USA, we now have available to us, the Alexa Faucet.  Yes, you guessed it.  You simply tell your kitchen faucet how much water you want, and “poof”, you get it.  If you want a cup, a glass, or thimble of H2O, just say so.  No touch necessary.  What you say is what you get.  Just phenomenal.

Someone with a curious mind might ask how much water they should to ask for.  One might ask the Alexa Faucet to just deliver half a glass.  Another might ask for a full glass.  One might ask for cold water while someone else may say (Using their best Patrick Stewart accent.), “Water. Hot.”  I would venture to say that nobody asks Alexa for a half “empty” glass.  Either way, Alexa will provide on demand.

When hiking in the mountains of New Mexico, you might prefer a full water bottle.  If the bottle is only half full, I will assume your trip up the slopes could very well be a short one on a hot day.  Soak in the idea for a moment.

The way Thanksgiving goes in America, most will over-indulge in the delights on the table spread out for the taking.  Some will pour soft drinks (pop), some milk, some wine, some beer, some coffee, and some water or tea.  But you can bet, most will choose a “full” glass.  Why not?  We’re celebratory.  Here’s to ya!

Glass Half Full

In life, our attitudes drive our gratefulness.  Have you noticed?

The late, great Jerry Lewis had an issue he couldn’t shake.  Doing stand-up, or performing in a comical production, he rested in the laughter of acceptance from the audience.  Unfortunately, Jerry Lewis admitted to scanning the audience through the stage lights in order to find anyone who wasn’t laughing.  Of course, there’s always going to be someone out there not having a good time.  When spotted, it would drive Mr. Lewis to inner-anger.  He would spend the duration of his stage-time doing all he could to bring a laugh to that one individual who refused the comical lines and gestures.  Deep inside he fiercely loved his audience, but that one person not moved by his performance disturbed him so to the point where he was no longer focused on the majority of the fans sitting before him.  Afterwards, he felt let-down by not being able to bring levity to that one person out of a house of 200 or 2,000.  It was hard for him because he would carry that empty feeling home.  I was on the first row when I saw him in “Damn Yankees” some thirsty-five years ago at the Dallas Music Hall.  Knowing he had this problem, I watched him carefully.  There were several times his eyes roamed up and down my row where the lights allowed him to see better the details of audience members.  When eye contact happened, I made sure he saw this fan react favorably to his generous performance.  You could say, Jerry Lewis drank from a glass half empty.

Although you and I may not admit it, we can be the same way.  Right?  Oh, come on.  Be honest.  One thing, just one tripwire, can cause all the blessed things around us to fade in the fog of expectations.  Isn’t that just like the holidays?  We tend to think all things must “measure-up” to carry on the joy of a holiday tradition.

Glass Measuring half Full

The glass can be evaluated as half full if the gratitude is there.  For most, when it is seen as half full, the heart is filled to the brim.  No Alexa needed.

In October of 1621, while celebrating the first harvest, off the shores of Plymouth Rock, the surviving Pilgrims saw the glass as full.  Even though so many perished during the trip over the Atlantic, and many fell ill thereafter on land in the New World, they gave thanks for a perceived half full glass.  Yet their observing mindset was a full glass.  We have their recorded documents, and written prayers riddled with a full glass view.

Imagine not having the solid ground beneath you.  Imagine being unable to inhale the air.  Imagine buying bread with your last dollar.  Imagine being suddenly emptied of loved ones.  All of these things are given to us.  Scripture reveals where gifts come from.   “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” – James 1;17 (ESV)

Maybe you don’t know where the next loaf of bread will come from.  (The same may go for misplaced love, health, job, or home.)  A full glass viewpoint takes today’s bread, love, health, job, home, with thanksgiving.  Understanding and accepting where all things come from reflects very much the ancient Hebrew prayer recited to this very day around the globe.

Blessing Bread

Photo:  Adat Shalom (Messianic Congregation), Dallas, Tx

“Alexa, I’ll take a full glass, please!”

So, what do you see?  Taking inventory of 2019, some may find the glass half empty.  For many, the cup runneth over when the brim finds fuel for the race.

“You have prepared tables in front of me opposite my enemies; you have anointed my head with oil and my cup overflows as if it were alive.” – Psalm 23:5   (Aramaic Bible In Plain English Version)

 

The Fall of Life

Painting by:  My father-in-law, the late Bob Niles.  The Cimarron River, Oklahoma.

“The falling leaves drift by the window.  The autumn leaves of red and gold…And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song.  But I miss you most of all, my darling, when autumn leaves start to fall.” –  “Autumn Leaves” – recorded by many, including Nat King Cole.  English lyric version written by:  Johnny Mercer – Capitol Records, with music for the English by:  Joseph Kosma.  (Adopted from a French song, “Les Feuilles Mortes”, French lyrics composed by: Jacques Prevert.)

To say, the majority of our Texas trees are just now releasing their leaves, will be comical to my friends and family to the north.  Yes, Texas trees turn late in the year when so many are bare in points north on the map.  Although I love my Texas, I do wish the foliage was as brilliant as they are elsewhere.  However, I’ll take what we can get.

In the immediate neighborhood, I enjoy the tree across the street from my front porch the most.

Autumn Tree(Pictures from my phone never do the colors justice.  Don’t ya hate that?)

Here in north-central Texas, grab your camera while you have the time.  The leaves turn and drop really quickly.  In no time at all, they are on the ground, ready for the rake.

God’s artistry is, well…simply divine, so to speak.  Where I live, He paints the leaves in mid-late November in various golds, yellows and maroons, depending upon the species.  The nutrients dry-up, choking-off the green chloroplasts in the leaves, while dashing them with hues only a painter could conjure on canvas.  Then, by mid December, the Season-Holder sends the winds to do their job.  Yet, there are exceptions in Texas.  Not every tree belongs around Dallas/Ft Worth.

In my neighbor’s backyard, just on the other side of the fence, is a rather tall exotic tree, native of Indonesia with large leaves.  It looms mainly over our garage, driveway, and side-yard.  Misbehaving, due to not realizing its no longer in Indonesia, it sheds its leaves overnight if the winds can muster-up moving a flag.  When it does, we wake up to shin deep leaves in the driveway.

Wednesday, during prep for Thanksgiving at our house, as we were expecting a few family members, I tackled the job of raking the platter-sized leaves from the driveway.  Don’t get me wrong, I needed the exercise, but it was a lengthy activity without a leaf blower.  We have a compost pile in the far corner of our backyard.  Seeing how many leaves there were, as well as the ginormous size of each, I knew full well it would fill the designated compost section.  And I was right.

Autumn Compost Pile I must admit, the little boy came out in me as I enjoyed hearing the loud crunching sound beneath my shoes.  After awhile, it wasn’t such a novelty any longer.  It took many trips from the driveway, across the front lawn, around the side of the house, across the backyard, down to the back forty to the compost pile.  There they rested, all dead, in the falling-leaf cemetery.  Sad, isn’t it?  All unwanted, as if they were no longer needed, no longer pleasing to the eye, or of any shading value.

Yesterday, being the day after our Thanksgiving holiday here in the U.S., I visited my oldest uncle.  My precious, Uncle Bob is my mom’s eldest brother.  At 79 years old, he is in the 2nd stage of Alzheimer’s.  I’m old enough now to have seen the dreaded disease a few times in my family, going back a few generations.  My mom’s other brother has dementia, on the foothills of the big “A”, as well.  In fact, my mom wonders if she is experiencing some early warning signs herself.

My visit was mainly with his wife, my Aunt Ellen, and her son, Bobby Jr.  I watched my uncle, a man I have admired since I was a toddler, an intelligent man of mechanical and electrical engineering, sit in his recliner while playing with a blanket like an 18 month old child.  There’s no question concerning his inability to recognize me, and that was okay.  Through the years I learned how to interact with other family members who have suffered from this “long-goodbye” disease.  He shook my hand with a nice grip, smiled, and told me he felt good, after I had told him he looked good.  It won’t be too much longer when he will not interact at all.  How I wish I could wrap my magical arms around him, holding the progression back from changing him any further.  Yet, it’s not the nature of the monster to obey our commands.

Too often a society will see the diseased, or dying, as throw-away items.  Many years ago, my dad told me he had stopped seeing about his mother, overtaken by Alzheimer’s.  When I inquired about his remark, he said, “Well, she’s not the same mother I once knew.  She is no longer useful to me.”  I froze.  It’s astonishing.  Some 34 years have flown by since I heard his explanation and it still astounds me to this very day.  For him, even though sorrow was involved, she was a throw-away item to him.

Allow me to be sarcastic for a moment, with a pinch of anger.

You have seen some “throw-aways”, I’m sure.  For some, it might be the guy at the Thanksgiving table who only makes minimum wage  Or it’s the guy at the table who is of wealth.  For others, it might be the single-mom, working 10 hour shifts as a waitress at a diner, with a pencil behind her ear.  When leaving the eatery, after tipping her as little as possible, it’s common to be approached by a homeless man in the parking lot.  After a well rehearsed sob story, he asks for bus fare, when it’s probably a scam to purchase another bottle of cheap Scotch.  Is it possible there is a neighbor with a heavy accent from another part of the world, or another part of the state?  There might be a co-worker who has a brother, stricken with AIDS, who is no longer claimed as family.  Maybe it has to do with a few hundred people living in the low-rent apartments from the other side of the tracks, not to mention anyone who resides in a mobile home from a trailer park.  It may simply be an individual with an obnoxious nervous tic.  Lately, it seems, the “throw-away” nearby is an outspoken Democrat or Republican, and certainly anyone under a red cap who attends political rallies full of cheering presidential fans.  Where does the list stop?  Seriously.  Do we stop with the elderly, the babies, the ill, the poor, the odd, the mentally handicapped, the black, the brown, the red, the Asian, the blue-eyed, the brown-eyed, the blind, the atheist, the person of faith, the vegetarians???  Before you know it, there are thoughts, coming from those without blemish or issues, surrounding the “raking-up” of these “throw-away” segments of citizenry, appointed for the societal compost where they can pile-up and wither away together.  After all, they are no longer pleasing to the eye, no longer useful or needed.  They are usually noticed when they get in our way of sight, or too loud under our shoes.  Hum, where have we seen that before?

“Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father, as well as the soul of the son is mine…”   – God –  Ezekiel 18:4 (ESV)

The truth is, we ALL fall down, one way or the other.  The universal truth is, we ALL fall short of perfection, the perfect standard.  You know it, and I know it.  The eternal caliper is immovable, uncompromising, and righteous.  Honestly, which one of us can ever measure-up?  Only one did, and He wasn’t you or me.

In God’s undying outreach of love toward us “throw-aways”, GRACE (unearned favor) is offered.  It’s an offer from the spout of fuel for the race.

2 Peter 3:9 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.


Continue reading “The Fall of Life”

Perpetual Horn of Plenty – A Short Story

By: Alan Scott Brown

With the exception of the panhandle, Thanksgiving in Texas is rarely a cold, frozen one.  The Thanksgiving week of 1969 was different.  Every once in a blue moon there will be snow, or any frozen precipitation, falling on Texans during the holiday festivities of Thanksgiving.

It was late Wednesday afternoon when nine year old Scotty, and his twenty-five year old single mom, were carefully driving down an east Texas county road on the way to a Thanksgiving family gathering.  It was a tradition for Scotty’s two cousins, two pairs of aunts and uncles, and possibly a great-uncle and aunt, to descend on the old house of his grandparents for a big turkey feast with the usual trimmings.  Sometimes, even his great-grandmother would also join the holiday visit.  His grandmother always had a knack for tossing together decor for whatever holiday hit the calendar.  Scotty could hardly wait.  He knew there would be a two-on-two football scramble in the backyard, a children’s table all to themselves, and a heart-pounding afternoon watching the Dallas Cowboys vie for the Thanksgiving Day kudos.  He loved his family dearly, especially his grandparents, who were more like parents to him, and young enough to be so.  Only forty-five miles kept them apart.  Weather conditions were not going to push this mother and son away.

Pumkin Tray

Scotty, nor his grandparents, ever knew the poverty he and his mom survived in.  His very independent mom had unique and creative ways of dressing-up the darker news of reality.  Generally, his clothes were made by his mom during those times.  She always let him pick out the bulk fabric.  The block of cheese in the fridge — U.S. government issued due to her low wages — was made to look like a huge feast that mice could only dream about.  He learned countless ways cheese could be used in the oven, the skillet, and with pasta.  Little did he know, for several weeks, it would be his main diet.  The old, broken-down rent house they currently called home, had only one gas stove to go with cold creaking wooden floors.  The windows were original single pane, thin, and cracked.  Honeysuckle grew through the cracks in his bedroom wall from outside vines.  Because of her imaginative story-telling, Scotty saw it all as an adventure the kids at his school and church could never imagine.  The honeysuckle vine in his bedroom was his vortex to a life as a cowboy, living out on the range, with nothing but a saddle for a pillow and a horse-blanket to shield himself from the cold prairie.  The little gas stove in the living-room was the campfire built to warn-off the coyotes and mountain lions.  In the spring, bees would hover over the honeysuckle blooms in his room.  Were they actual bees?  Not at all.  They were flying dragons coming to battle his plastic dinosaurs and GI Joe, and what a battle they pursued.  Since his mom worked overnights on an assembly-line at a factory, he had his imagination to keep his mind busy, away from fear and loneliness.

His mom’s car was a hand-me-down, 1964 Oldsmobile.  She accepted it as a gift from her parents just a year earlier.  It was in good condition, due to Scotty’s granddad being a top-shelf mechanic, who was well-known for babying his vehicles.  For this little lad, it was a limousine.  Although it was solid, and drove nicely in all weather conditions, using caution was his mom’s mantra.

Oldsmobile-1964

eBay.com

Single motherhood was an overwhelming strain.  Her first marriage, at the young age of fifteen to Scotty’s biological father, was a tumultuous, violent, and abusive relationship.  In fact, it lasted less than three years.  The young father was only a vague memory for the young boy, more like a vague mystery.  About a year later, Scotty’s mom went on a blind date which led to a wedding, her last wedding, when Scotty was five years old.

Me, KDB & Mom Wedding

The man was a gentle, intelligent, strict sort, but was incapable of love, as most know it.  For four years, Scotty grew to understand not to approach his dad.  He knew not to ask him to play ball, or watch him try the training wheels on his bike.  It seemed the National Geographic, the checkbook, and the newspaper were priority.  Scotty knew his dad to be distant, even in the same room.  Yet, the boy loved him, in spite of the wall between the two.  The thought passed Scotty’s nine-year-old mind that this would be the first Thanksgiving, out of the last four years, without his dad.  Beyond the failed relationship, it saddened the boy, nonetheless.  He was too young to understand the word “bittersweet,” but was beginning to learn the taste.  The love he experienced, the love he learned, was plentiful from his mom and her family.

Ever since the summer divorce, from his adopted dad, Scotty’s mom engaged him with games, songs and stories to keep him distracted, occupied, and challenged.  To say she was over-protective might be an understatement, but Scotty never detected it.

While on the road, the boy’s mind began to fidget.  “Mom, let’s sing that Thanksgiving song you taught me,” as he leaned into the rhythm of the windshield wipers struggling with the fresh wintry mix.  She was an outstanding, well-known singer in north Texas church circles.  He loved hearing her pipes.  The look in her face, in response, showed a quick hint of puzzlement, then a sudden burst of joy.

Reaching to turn off the radio, she replied, “You mean, (Singing.) ‘Over The River And Through The Woods To Grandmother’s House we go’?”

“Yeah, that’s the one,” he said with a bounce.

They sang a few verses as he wiped the foggy condensation from his window to scout-out rivers and bridges to go with the lyrics.  It was tough.  The rain, mixed with sleet made it difficult to see past the road signs.  Later, they would play the “I Spy” game, along with more songs in prep for a fabulous duo only grandparents could love.

As the late afternoon bled into the long shadows of early evening, the sleet and freezing rain beat against the hood and windshield.  It was clear, the tires began to slip a bit at the curves in the road.  A look of subtle concern crawled across Scotty’s mom’s face, but he was thrilled to see some white dusting by the roadside, as well as flocked barbed-wire posts along the mesquite trees.

Suddenly, and without the smallest of warnings, the car lost power.

“Oh, no,” she said with a start.

Scotty, unaware of the dangerous circumstances, sensed his mom’s concern.  He quickly replied, “What’s wrong, mom?”

“Nothing, son,” speaking very calmly in a lower tone.  “Something went wrong with the car.  Everything shut down at the same time.  We’ll pull over on the side for now.”

As the car began to coast slowly, she steered it carefully toward the icy shoulder until it came to a stop.

As she threw it into park, she said to the surprised lad, “Okay, I guess we’ll just wait for a kind stranger to notice we are stranded.  There’s not a lot of traffic tonight, but people have to go somewhere for the holiday.  We might be able to get a ride into town.  We’re only about five miles out.”  Scotty was fine with the idea of waiting things out.  For him, it was just one more adventure, albeit unexpected..

Seeing his mom was somewhat disheveled, he thought of ways to pass the time.  “Tell me the story about the donkey who talked to the man.  Ya know, in the Bible,” said Scotty with wide-eyed excitement.  He added with laughter, “And use your donkey-voice, too.”

Visibly gathering herself while masking her own insecurities of the moment, she smiled, replying,  “Sure.  Let’s visit with old-man Balaam and his miracle donkey.”

As was his custom, Scotty pitched her ideas of more stories and story-lines for her to retell.  He didn’t see anything around him as threatening.  Although, for a wisp of a nanosecond, he contemplated what his dad might have done in the situation they found themselves in.  But the stories and songs once again swept him away from the creeping “what-might-have-been’s.”

As precious time passed, Scotty noticed the unique formations crystallizing from one end of the windshield to the other.

Icy Windshield pinterest

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Watching his breath in the frigid air as he spoke, “Look, mom!  How cool is that?”

Realizing the seriousness of the threat her son was pointing to, she chose, once again, to see it as a teachable show-and-tell.  She reached out to touch the glass, saying, “Yes!  Isn’t it beautiful?  As the freezing rain collects on the windshield, it connects with the other icy droplets in this way, like a spiderweb.  As it stretches toward its other family members, it causes this wonderful piece of artwork in nature.  It’s a real show for us, don’t you think?”

His jaw dropped at the idea of a family stretching across the span of the windshield to reconnect after being separated from the sky.  “It looks lots like grandmother’s fancy glass goblets.  I bet she’ll have them ready for us when we get there,” he said with a shiver.

She could feel the chills run up her spine as she responded, “Love, real love is like that.  Always looking for ways to reach out, even though miles apart.”

Looking at her watch, she realized an hour blew by like dry snowflakes.  The young mother had a noticeable streak of naivety about her.  Although tough times battered the last ten years of her life, she held to a rose-colored idea that all people are loving and kind.  It was displayed once again when she exclaimed, “I am amazed at just how many cars have driven by us in the past hour, without one person stopping to ask if we need help.”  She then recalled her dad telling her to raise the hood if she ever were to have car trouble.

She couldn’t get the words out quick enough, saying, “Scotty, you stay right where you are.  I’m going to try to raise the hood.”  He agreed with a nod.  Nervously, she said under her breath, “I’ve watched your granddad do it many times.  It can’t be too hard.”

As she opened her door, a loud cracking sound shattered the cold air as ice was forming on the exterior of the body of the car.  She shut the door quickly in efforts to contain as much warmth inside as possible.  Her feet told her the sheet of ice was beginning to glaze dangerously over the concrete of the road.  She held on to the front fender of the car, to steady herself, as she slipped and slid toward the front of the vehicle.  After she found the hand lever, just above the grill to release the hood, she lifted it twice with her cold, red fingers, but to no avail.  She then noticed, along the edges of the hood, where it met the body of the fender, solid ice had formed over the edge, locking the hood in place.  A sense of failure and despair poured over her like a bucket of paint.  At her young age, she had toughened to the point of not accepting defeat in any way.  Just then, from the belly of her spirit, she spoke out into the air, “Lord, help us!  We need rescue.”

Pick-Up...ford-trucks.com

Ford-trucks.com

Before she finished the word, “rescue,” an old pick-up truck slowly drove by.  She watched as the brake-lights engaged.  The old truck maneuvered a slow, wide, slippery u-turn back toward the stranded car.  Pulling up next to her, the driver rolled down his defrosted passenger-side window.  Two large hound dogs, poked their heads out, barking and howling at her.  The elderly man in overalls sharply yelled at the hounds, pushing the two aside, out of his line of vision.

“Get back, you two!” he yelled.  “Hello, ma’am.  Can I help y’all?  If you’re trying to open the hood, good luck in this weather,” said the kind farmer.

Being so relieved, she inadvertently put her hand over her heart in gratitude.  “Yes, thank God.  My son and I have been stuck here for over an hour.  The car suddenly went dead, completely without power.  We’re trying to get to Mineola.  Could you give us a lift?” stating the obvious as she shook in the chill.

As he looked down, shaking his head, he pushed his cap further back on his head and replied, “I’m so sorry, little missy.”

Seeing the disappointment in his face, she added, “Or, maybe you could let us off at the nearest service station with a phone booth.  I could call my…”

He winced at her suggestion.  “I’m sorry to tell you this, but there ain’t no phone booth between here and Mineola.  To make matters worse, as ya can see, I’ve got a bed full of hay-bales, then there’s Yipper and Yapper here in the cab with me.”  He saw the  distraught in her eyes at his answer.  He scratched the stubble on his chin for an unintended pregnant pause.  “I’ll tell ya what I’ll do, little lady.  You get back in that car where it’s safe, and bundle up with your boy there.  Meanwhile, I’ll be headed just south of town where the Mrs is waitin’ fir me.  More than likely it’ll take me…oh, let’s say, half an hour in this mess, and I can call somebody fir ya.  How does that tickle ya?”  He chuckled as he added, “We done got one of those new push-button telephones.  Been just itchin’ to use it!”

Putting her ice-bitten hands under her armpits, she grinned with a chuckle saying, “Yes, sir!  My parents have been waiting for us.  I just know they’re getting worried.”

After writing down the phone number of her parents, he waited to watch her cautiously get back in the car before his tires gripped traction toward the horizon.  Through the glazed windshield, Scotty and his mom watched the blurry red taillights of the truck fade away in the distance.  She never got his name, or where he lived.

“It won’t be long now, son.  Your granddad will be here in no time,” she stated through the cold, biting air.

Thanksgiving morning always came early at the old house in Mineola.  It was 5:00 am when Scotty’s eyes opened slowly to the sounds of pots and pans rattling in the kitchen on the other side of the wall from the guest bedroom.  This was the bedroom he claimed as his own when he was no more than a toddler.  Floating through the early morning air was the scent of pecan pie, bacon, boiling eggs, and freshly baked biscuits right out of the oven.  He smiled at the recognition of his loving grandmother, hard at work in the pre-dawn hours of the holiday once again.  He could hear his mom’s voice explaining the weary traveler’s ordeal from the night before.  Listening to her explanation from the kitchen served as a fog-lifter as he stretched his arms and sat up in bed, grateful for the toasty electric blanket surrounding his body.  During an unanticipated yawn, he felt a bit of a sting coming from his lips.  He could feel they were chapped from the frosty adventure in the car.

This would be the only time he would be alone for the day.  Within six hours, or so, family would begin to arrive with a buffet of dishes in tow for the feast, filling the house with familiar voices, laughter and aromas.

In the stillness, he remembered his Sunday School teacher expressing the importance of being thankful, not just for one Thursday in November, but each and every day.  He wrestled with the truth of it as he thought once again about his dad.  Last year, he was next to him on the couch, watching the Dallas Cowboys play.  Now, there would be an empty place.  With a sudden bound, he recalled a technique taught by his mom.  Scotty threw-off the covers, hopped out of bed, and put on his clothes as a renewed focus in thought.  After putting on his clothes, he dashed out the bedroom door which led into the den.  He expected to see his granddad sitting in his favorite chair by the fireplace, slurping his morning coffee from a bowl and saucer.  The fire was lit, but he wasn’t there.  Scotty thought to himself, “Surely he’s not out picking up pecans in the backyard before the sun comes up.”  That was always reserved as a team-effort.  It was a special time with his granddad he always looked forward to, especially when he watched him feed the squirrels right out of his hand.  Curious, Scotty raced to the warm kitchen to join his mom and grandmother.

Me-OMA-Mom filtered

“Well, I’ll be switched!  If it isn’t Frosty The Snowman.  After last night, I just knew you’d have a hankerin’ to sleep late,” said his grandmother with a chuckle.

“Happy Thanksgiving, Scotty,” his mom said.  She took a step toward him as she stared closely at his face.  “Ooh, your lips are chapped.  In fact, your entire face needs some lotion.  Let’s get you fixed-up right now,” saying as she walked toward the kitchen door.

His grandmother, stirring the contents of a sauce pan asked, “Honey, are you hungry for a spot of breakfast?”

Hastily, as if she hadn’t spoken, he inquired, “Where’s Granddad?”

She replied through laughter, “Well, wouldn’t ya know, he got up before I did to go see about your mom’s car.  He said something about an alternator, a battery, and a belt,” she said with frustration, “Goodnight in the morning, that man!  I swear, he’ll be asleep in his recliner before halftime this afternoon.  He’ll be back directly.”

Covertly looking out toward the bathroom where his mom was scanning the medicine cabinet, he turned to his grandmother.  With a softened delivery, he asked, “Grandmother, where do you think dad is right now?  I mean, do you think he’s driving out in the ice?”

The question caused her to pause from stirring.  She wiped her hands on her apron, thoughtfully lifted his chin, and softly said,  “Knowing your dad, I feel he drove out to his folk’s house out west, away from the bad weather.  In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me a smidgen if he left a couple of days ago.  You know how he likes to hike up in those west Texas hills.”  The boy looked down toward the floor in sadness.  She didn’t hesitate to misdirect the subject matter, “While your mom hunts down the lip-balm, why don’t you go to the coffee table in the living-room and see about the horn of plenty.  You remember what to do, right?”

With bottle-rocket exuberance, he acknowledged her suggestion, “Yes, ma’am!”

Horn of Plenty - Amazon.com

Scotty ran to the living-room where the annual horn of plenty graced the coffee table in front of the couch.  His eyes got as big as half dollars when he spied the extreme variety spilling out of the wicker funnel-shaped basket.  His grandmother had it overflowing with a mix of vegetables, several kinds of fruits, and a plethora of mixed nuts in the shell.

Kneeling beside the table, he shouted, “WOW!”  His grandmother was right behind him with a mischievous grin on her face.  “Now, do I need to remind you of the rules?  Without touching any item in the horn of plenty, you have to decide what’s real and what’s fake,” she explained.  “No cheating now.”

Through the years she filled the horn with plastic items of the garden, which appeared to be the real-deal, with only a few authentic items.  One year, the horn was completely filled with real veggies, fruits and nuts.  It always kept the family guessing what she had up her sleeve.

With a lack of decisiveness in his voice, “Ummm, I give up, Grandmother.  Can I start to separate them?”

Not surprised, she said, “Sure, go for it!”

He dove right in with gusto, separating the true food items from the model versions.  As he dug his way ever so much closer to the back of the horn, he saw gold-foil-covered chocolate coins.  “Oh, cool,” he blurted out.  He started to unwrap one immediately.

His grandmother quickly tapped him on the shoulder.  “Well, if that don’t beat all.  You know that’s not before breakfast, youngin’.  I think you haven’t dug deeply enough just yet,” she hinted.

He took her cue.  Reaching the far back of the horn, he found a crisp, twenty-dollar bill, folded up to resemble an acorn.

Holding it tightly in his hand, he showed his gratitude, “Thank you so much, Grandmother.”

His grandmother was an expert at holding her emotions close to her heart.  But this particular Thanksgiving, she almost couldn’t hold back her tears.

About that time, Scotty’s mom walked in the room behind them.  Seeing the touching moment being shared, she leaned against the french-door and quietly listened.

His grandmother knelt beside her young grandson.  With thoughtfulness, “Ya know, Scotty.  You will spend a lifetime scouring right and left for what is real, and what is not.  Those gold coins are good to eat for a treat, but they last only for a few seconds.  A ripened apple looks larapin, but if it’s hollow plastic, it does you no good.  When you find what is the original article, then you know and taste the goodness of what God has made for you.  Most of all, as you decide what is fake, or what is not, remember God will bring you a variety of days to come.  Not one day will be like another.  Some will be sour days, while another will be a day of blessings.  That’s how life’s horn of plenty will be, full of variety.  Your job is to dig for what’s real and right.  God’s way is to change the horn of plenty into more like a tube, an open-ended tube of plenty.  He just keeps on givin’ from His end, even in days when everything seems like hollow plastic.  The scripture is true, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” – James 1:17 – (NAS)  When those days of emptiness come too often, keep in mind, each day is not forever.”

That’s how Thanksgiving day of 1969 began for Scotty.  He locked it away in his heart.

Later in life, forty-eight years later, after Scotty had children of his own, plus a granddaughter, he cherished the days when he could sit by the side of his Alzheimer’s-stricken grandmother.  Now in her mid 90’s, she had suffered from the disease for about thirteen years.  After he had been told she no longer recognized her loved ones, he refused to stay away from her bedside.  On his final visit with her, in the same old house with a quiver full of memories, there she was.  Only 78 pounds, waiting for the heavenly call to reunite with her husband, he pulled up a chair next to her bed.  Reaching out, he held her thin, weak hand and spoke to her as if she were full of health.

With a lump in his throat, he addressed her, “Hello, Grandmother.  It’s Scotty.  You may not remember me.  I’m your oldest grandson.  I can’t stay long, but I just had to tell you something before I leave.”  He paused to gain strength.  “My horn has been so full.  My life has been blessed with a variety of cultures, love, and laughter.  My adventures have been plentiful, and my plenty has been an adventure.  I have been wrapped in many fruits of the Spirit to this very day.  Not all things in my days have been something to be thankful for, but I’ve learned to be thankful while enduring all things.  I just want you to know, you were a big part of that.  I’ve learned to pack them inside for when the wintry mix becomes seemingly unbearable, when it’s hard to see the road.  Although I regret biting into some plastic fruit at times, I always kept in mind that a day is not forever.”

As he finished what he needed to say, her weakened hand squeezed his.

 

 

 

 

Here’s To The Educators

Photo:  smilingcolors.com

“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man (humankind) a more clever devil.” – C.S. Lewis

Miss Cain’s first grade class was busy in a reading circle.  Each child in the circle was to have his/her turn at a word in a workbook, one after the other.  The teacher herself, in her green Celtic plaid dress, was sitting in a chair inside the ring of readers, listening carefully to each delivery.  A girl in class had just finished her reading only to be followed by silence.  Miss Cain had seen this before, too many times apparently.  It was him again.  There he was, staring out at the meadow he loved playing in just outside the classroom window.  Before he realized it was his turn to read, BOOM!  He suddenly felt a solid bump on his right knee from the edge of Miss Cain’s fist.  “Alan, you’re daydreaming again!  Pay attention!”  It was her first year to teach.  Probably all of 22 years old.  I had a huge crush on her.  After all, her short blonde silky, soft curled hair was cut in a chic fashion (It was 1966.) which bounced up and down like a slinky when she walked.  My mom said Miss Cain had two wardrobes, one for the conservative school-look and one for her other life.  She had steel blue eyes which matched her terrific smile.  She reminded me a bit of a mix of Goldie Hawn and Kim Novak.  Above all, she drove a fire-engine red, MG Midget Roadster convertible.   What little guy wouldn’t be impressed?  (I lived across the street, so she never offered me a lift home.)

MG Migit 1965

I thought she was the cat’s meow.  So, as you can imagine, it broke my heart when she called me out with a firm bop on my knee.  Several times that year she and my mom had meetings about my daydreaming.  It was a sign of things to come.  They didn’t speak much of right-brained, artsy kids in the days of yore.  She probably retired early because of me.

In most districts around here, the new school year is just kicking off.  Skylar, my 2nd grade granddaughter, started school this past Wednesday.  The kids are hopefully prepped and ready to tackle another year in the classroom.  However, the educators have been prepping for awhile.  There’s so much work done behind the scenes that nobody thinks about.  An educator’s work is never done.  I know all too well.  My wife is a tutorial teacher.  My oldest daughter is a teacher.  My middle daughter has been a teacher.  I have a slew of family on both sides who are teachers or school administrators, active and retired.  Many, many of my friends are educators.  And, do they have stories to tell!

Meet my salty, Aunt Grace Atherton.

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She taught school for decades.  She married my great-uncle Robert Atherton who was also a teacher.  The two of them went on to be well-known school district administrators in east Texas, and the Dallas-Ft Worth area, back in the day.  The two of them raised educators, spawning a second generation of teachers and administrators who made a difference.  In fact, in Arlington, Texas, between Dallas and Ft Worth, there is an Atherton Elementary in honor of the couple.  They were salt-of-the-earth types.  He passed away in 1977.  As for her, she always reminded me of our own personal Bette Davis with an unmatched persona.  At 99 years old, she walked faster than I did.  She was a firecracker, a get-it-done lady.  I remember her email address was “grace-a-doer”.  She passed away at the young age of 103.  Sharp as a tack until the very end.  They LOVED teaching.  Moreover, they LOVED the kids under them.  Love matters!

It may be in the genes.  I, too, was a teacher for a broadcasting school in the mid 80’s, then trained many in voice-work, music vocalization and mentored air-staff during my radio years.  Loved every minute of it.

Please, allow me a moment here.  Stay with me on this and see if you recognize someone in your life.

Meet the Irish Rose, Peggy O’Neill.  Choral director, music theory, piano and guitar teacher.

Peggy O'Neill

She looks so calm in this old photo.  To this day, she will tell you, when I walked into her choir room, with a chip on my shoulder in 8th grade, she knew I was trouble from the start.  It was my first year in the area. I had come from a tough Jr. High school where it was the norm for race riots to breed gang warfare.  I think she saw me as a special challenge.  No doubt, she was on target.  Affectionately known as P.O., she did challenge me in a myriad of ways.  Later that year, she had me doing solo work, MC work, stand-up comedy, as well as guitar lessons.  She knew exactly how to keep me perking.  It wasn’t long when I wanted to excel just to make her proud…or because of the sheer fear of her Irish-red-faced wrath.  Unexpectedly, I became her #1 tenor in choir.  She must’ve loved me because she followed me to high school, the following year, where she became part of the choral directorial staff.  We still laugh about that.  She and I remain friends to this day.

Meet Ted Polk, the man, the maestro, the legend.

Ted Polk

T.P. is how we lovingly refer to him.  He was so many things to me during my high school years, but officially he was the top choral director and chief of the choral department.  There were five choirs total in the school of 3,500 kids.  He had a tender way of leading.  He taught music, but more than that, he instructed us in life.  Through my four years with him, I believe he gave some commentary on the lyric of every piece performed.  Rightly so, he made sure us music lovers didn’t just jam to the compositions, but rather knew the meaning of the lyrics and the composer from which they came.  He ushered us into giving each lyric value, not in just musical mathematical mechanics, but also the soul of the phrase.  Under him, I learned how to be more than just a singer and sight-reader, but an artist.  Craftily, he used his faith and philosophy as he directed rehearsals.  He lived what he believed and shared it openly.

I recall a couple of times how T. P. warned us not to get so absorbed in the workforce after school hours.  Gently, his message was how work will always consume your adult life, so free-up those precious days of youth before they fade into history.  The care and the encouragement for each of us was so apparent, available and tangible.  His door was always open and I took advantage of it many times, even after graduation.  He recognized talent and knew how to grow it, mold it and give it wings.  That’s what he did for me.  I could write a novel about this man.  He later would become the district’s Fine Arts Director over all the schools in our Dallas suburb.  Even today there is a middle school which bears his name.  When he died suddenly, a few years later, thousands of us mourned and still do.  You will never find me ashamed to say: I am the man I am today because our paths intersected in my early teen years.  Thank God!

Meet the lovely Anel Ryan.

Anel Ryan

Anel, among other things, was a theater teacher.  It was her first full year to teach when I was a senior in high school.  I was a singer, not an actor…or so I thought.  My choice was not to take theater.  All my electives that year had to do with music and voice.  When I won the male leading role in the musical production that year, Anel took me under her wing.  She was/is a super talented actress and director.  Somehow she saw some seed in me beyond singing and stage presence.  She basically tutored me in and outside school hours with a catch-up acting course, complete with character retention exercises, as well as proper blocking and stage etiquette and disciplines.  It was all so foreign to me, but she pulled out the results she was looking for.  If not for her direction, her challenging this boy and her Job-like patience, I know my performance would have been lacking.  That May, Anel wrote the following in my yearbook, “I’ll be watching your life.”  Oh, my!  I can’t tell you how that small sentence turned my core several times during the days of adulthood.  Afterwards the acting bug stuck!

The following decades were filled with lots of stage and video characters taken, plays written and a couple of thousand pages of script as a voice actor.  There were times she agreed to critique me privately for role development after high school, as well.  Years later, the tables were turned.  One year, while casting my next radio theater project, I asked Anel if she would tackle a tough role for me.  Even though she was living over 160 miles away, she was happy to do it.  She’s one of my heroes in this life.  I love her dearly.

Stay with me.  There’s a method to my madness.

Meet the engaging Eric Bowman.

Eric Bowman

This comes from a humorous newspaper photo as he was pretending to be a student.  Like Anel, Eric was an alumni of our high school.  We used to poke at him while we sang
the “Welcome Back, Kotter” theme song when he walked into the classroom.  Do you remember it?  Are you singing the first line?  Me too.  He taught Government and Civics.  His talented style drew the students in with analogies along with side stories of humor.  I dreaded the class until I discovered his brand of teaching.  He got on our street level to help us understand and respect the due process of law, voting and the systems of civic, state and federal government.  I loved his class, as most did.  When I was chosen to be on a jury for an armed robbery, right after the year I graduated, I couldn’t wait to go back to tell him of my experience.  He soaked in all of my verbal waterfall describing my jury duty, including my youthful, wide-eyed exuberance.  He grinned from ear to ear listening intently.  He was excited to see my excitement.  He followed it up by asking what I learned from it.  He was always finding ways to stretch our minds.  I am so glad I visited that day.  He died in a car crash about a year later.

And then there’s an education of another kind.  Often it can be just as relevant as math or science.

Meet the champ!  Demetrius “The Greek” Havanas.

Demetrius Greek HavanasHe was simply known to his students and friends as “Greek”.  Greek was my Kickboxing and Tae-Kwon-Do trainer.  He was a world renown, blue-collar martial arts instructor and world contender in both standard tournaments as well as full-contact bouts.  It would take about four pages to list all of his titles and accomplishments.  (I suggest a Google tap and/or a YouTube viewing.)  With his professional teaching techniques, he created national and international champions.  This was my life outside of school and church.  While being trained by Greek, he kept me and three or four of my high school mates off the streets and among quality….well, okay, semi-quality competitors.

Channeling certain energies of youth can be a very good thing for the community at large.  He knew the ends and outs of protecting yourself in street fights, or in the ring.  He taught us endurance,physically and emotionally.  He taught us how to respect other athletes studying other styles that were different from our circles.  By just hanging around him we learned much about respecting other races, creeds and cultures.  This boy really needed it at the time.  He taught cool-headed, rewarding confidence which gang members often avoid.  To this very day, 40+ years later, I deal with pain like a fighter in a competitor’s bout.  His training opened our eyes to endure.  He instructed in the knowledge of absorbing pain, struggle and fatigue while never giving up.  Under his training you either were toughened to the hilt, or you dropped out to join a chess club.  Case in point:  Last December, when they opened me up for a quadruple bypass, the cardiac surgeon told me I had old bruising on my chest plate, like a tattoo.  I smiled, knowing whose footprint branded its mark there.  He lost his life in a plane crash in July of 1981.  The who’s-who of the martial arts world came to his memorial service, including Chuck Norris, who couldn’t even get in the building due to overflow, standing outside on the steps for the duration.  Through my tears I thanked him for coming.

People building people.  Constructionists building society.  C.S. Lewis was right.  Education alone will not bring inner peace or enlightenment.  It’s such a misconception not often determined through the lens of study.  The turnip will not be squeezed.  Virtues and attributes like ethics, faith and love will not drip out of degrees and diplomas.  Stellar core values often are discovered in individuals who never finished school, or cracked open curriculum from higher learning institutions.  Educators worth their salt know this, accept it and adhere to it.

Great educators produce great educators.  The evidence is all around us.  Common denominators seem to include:  passion stirred with compassion, intuitiveness and love.  It matters!

The debates rage concerning unions and non-unions, private or public schools, home schooling or the little rural frame building out in the woods with an old school bell.  The rub will most likely continue.  However, if you’re an educator of the heart, you’re enriched already through a higher calling.

May this new school year grant you wisdom beyond your degree, beyond your training, beyond your studies.  May your goals be worthy and focused.  May the care for the kids be authentic, full of grace and discernment.  May you and your classroom be well protected from evil.  May it be a sacred, honored and loving place.  May you be comforted when you burn the midnight oil only to rise up early the following morning.  May you discover new loves this year that will ink themselves on your heart during your coming days of rest.  Most of all, know that your very fingerprints will remain on their hearts and minds for decades to come.

Miss Cain, wherever you are…here’s to ya!

Remind yourself each day that many may write about you long after you are gone, maybe some 40-50 years from today.  When wrapped in the thought, you might just find more fuel for the race.

“My friends, we should not all try to become teachers.  In fact, teachers will be judged more strictly than others.” – James 3:1 (Contemporary English Version)

 

 

How May I Serve You?

You hear it from time to time.  Usually it catches the ear at maybe a highbrow restaurant, tuxedo department in Neiman Marcus or a Rolls Royce dealership.  But it doesn’t have to be.

Thanksgiving afternoon finally arrived at our house.  It was just four of us, my wife and her two adult sons.  After the prayer, the dishes were passed around the table.  My son-in-law, Kellen was sitting next to me, scooping out his portion of the delicious rosemary Swiss cheese sweet potato casserole right out of a heavy corning ware baking dish.  When finished, instead of passing it to me, he said something to the effect of, “Can I dish this out for you?”  That happens at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle, not at our house.  I thought maybe he might place my napkin in my lap, as well.  It was so unusual, but I accepted his offer.  Ever since Thanksgiving I’ve been thinking about that humble moment of servanthood.

Many years ago, while working at KLTY/Dallas, my boss, Jon Rivers, attended a showcase gala of sorts for radio and record labels in a ballroom at one of Nashville’s finest hotels.  The dinner was prepared by the chefs of the hotel.  It was arranged in a buffet style with servers in funny hats and chef smocks, standing at the ready behind each delicacy, under silver domes.  After the meal was served, the reserved seats were waiting for artists, record and radio moguls.  As Jon went through the buffet with the servers assembling his choice of dishes, he made his way to the end of the long line of serving tables to find exquisite dessert selections.  The server asked, “How may I serve you?”  Jon thought he recognized the voice.  As he looked up from the wide range of desserts, there stood, none other than, recording artist and songwriter extraordinaire, Rich Mullins.

That was who Rich Mullins was.  With humility, he was exercising servanthood for the nourishment of his own soul and spirit, but he was also making a quiet statement for the suits in the room.  It was as if he were shouting, “THIS IS THE WAY OF CHRIST!  LET US NOT FORGET!”

In 1979, the cultural music icon, Bob Dylan released the song, “Gotta Serve Somebody” off his “Slow Train Coming” project.  It would receive airplay on many Christian radio stations at the time and through the following years.  It’s been covered multiple times by artists from almost every genre.  Here’s a sample:

“…You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls.  But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.  Yes indeed, you’re gonna have to serve somebody.  Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”  – Bob Dylan

When I see the madness of the mobs on Black Friday, many of which ignored Thanksgiving with family and friends to campout 24 hours prior the retailers Black Friday frenzy, my mind goes into shock concerning the change in our society.  Injured people are carried away from the stores, victims of trampling or punching, kicking and shoving by fellow-shoppers.  WHY?  For a few dollars of savings.  For a new item seen on an ad.  Meanwhile, the Salvation Army volunteer with his/her bell and red collection kettle is run over as if invisible.  Selflessness has been invaded by selfishness.  Giving has been encroached upon by greediness.  Servanthood, out of love for others, has been replaced by self-hooded retail ravagers.  And, I fear it will only get worse in years to come.

Let me challenge myself, and you, to rise above the fray.  As you calculate serving somebody during this Christmas season of giving, donate to that Salvation Army kettle when you see it.  In fact, we invite you to read about, “A Hand Up” homeless initiative I’m involved with.  It’s not a hand-out, but truly lifting up the homeless to opportunities to live a productive life, and planting their feet in a home or apartment, not a shelter.  It’s a great way to serve somebody while you can still choose to do so.  Please read about it at http://www.ccmclassic.com  When you do, you might just hear yourself say, “How may I help you?”

There are two people in today’s world.  Givers and takers.  What would you like to be known for?  Choose well for the soul of our society.  When you do, it will pour out fuel for the race.

(After Jesus washed the feet of His disciples.)

“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” – Jesus, John 13:14-15 (NIV)

Oh, Thanks a Lot

“Yeah, but every little boy grows up, and he’s haunted by the heart that died.  Longing for the world that was before the fall.  Oh, but then forgiveness comes.  A grace that I cannot resist.  And I just want to thank someone.  I just want to thank someone for this.” – Andrew Peterson – 2012 from, “Light For The Lost Boy” CD

I slept in the guest bedroom of my grandparent’s house when visiting.  It’s in an old part of Greenville, Texas, built in 1852.  Creaky wooden slat floors, no insulation in the walls and high ceilings.  Unfortunately, the guest room was next to my grandmother’s kitchen.  It was a blessing and a curse.  My mom and I would arrive for Thanksgiving a day early, way before the uncles, aunts and cousins would pull up at the old house.  By that time, my grandmother had already been in prep for the family feast to come.  Needless to say, on Thanksgiving morning, around 4:00am, I would awake to the sound of egg beaters, along with a collage of holiday aromas, drifting and hovering over my bed like a web of tantalizing treats.  THAT was Thanksgiving morning for me.  Those particular family traditions are gone, fading into treasured memories.  I do thank God for the mental slideshows.

Look at the title of this article.  It’s a common phrase we say all the time.  We hear ourselves blurt it out when someone holds the elevator doors for us.  We speak it when shown to our theater seats.  It’s normal to say it at the drive-thru window, after paying for the sack of fast food.  Funny how you can make it sound sarcastic, or very warm.  Try it.  “Oh, thanks a LOT!” (Maybe ending it with the word, “Pal” or something I can’t type on this format.)  Even the word, “Oh…” can be hurtful to an ear.  “Oh” makes gratefulness appear to be an afterthought, as if the offering of it was almost forgotten.  I recommend dropping the “Oh” and go straight for the cherished words.  Why?  Read on, if you dare.

While listening online to CCM Classic.com, I heard, for the first time, an Andrew Peterson song from 2012, “Don’t You Want To Thank Someone” from his, “Light For The Lost Boy” CD.  Let me tell you, tears may come as you hear the song, or just read the lyric.  It will test you.  The melody is haunting.  His verses will pierce you, even reclaim some memories, but guaranteed to make you put down the phone, turn off the screen and ponder once again.  I highly recommend it for a rich Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving should be a way of heart, daily life, like prayer.  Secular society would discover it takes humility to do so.  When calling up a loved one to say, “Thanks a lot”, recall Who gave that person to you.  Recall Who paved the road that brought the intersections of your relationships.  Many will be grateful for the view on a midnight clear.  That’s terrific; however, many will not thank the Painter of the scene, the Engineer who spins the orbits in precised synchronization like the atomic clock of perfection.  Many will be thankful for their jobs.  That’s great.  But, many employees will neglect gratefulness to the One who inspired the business owner who founded the company who hired them.  Many will be appreciative for good health.  However, many will ignore the One who holds all things together.  Many will tell their child how thankful they are for their young lives mingled with theirs.  However, scads will forget to thank the Creator, the Life Giver and the Birth Giver.  Frankly, in the end, when we thank someone, or some object, we are thanking the “thing” or the “person” God created and graciously gave as a gift.

So, yes, do thanks a lot.

It takes a humble heart to give thanks, instead of using it as a throw-away line.  When we accept this truth, it always adds fuel for the race.

“’Cause I can hear the voice of one.  He’s crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready for the Kingdom Come’.  Don’t you want to thank someone for this?” – Andrew Peterson, 2012- “Light For The Lost Boy” CD. (Youtube this one)