That Which Entangles

“And if they stare
Just let them burn their eyes on you moving.
And if they shout
Don’t let it change a thing that you’re doing…

Hold your head up, oh
Hold your head up, oh

Hold your head high.”
(1972) “Hold Your Head Up” Recorded By: Argent Composers: C. White/R. Argent

I admit it. I am an Olympic junkie. I sat on the couch for two weeks, glued to the Tokyo events. I found myself cheering while taking-in certain sports I normally would pass on, like wall climbing. After a few days, I realized I hadn’t even taken a shower. Yeah, sad, I know.

The human spirit in these games was so evident, even in a pandemic. For the most part, no crowds where allowed to cheer the athletes onward toward the goal. Unless a relative was a coach, no parents, wives, husbands, children, significant others were on the grounds. So, in a way, the competitors found the struggle a bit more challenging without the love felt and heard around them.

The human interest stories attached to some Olympians were in abundance. I would list the notables, but the list is way too long. If you weren’t able to watch, trust me, there were plenty of tear-jerking side stories shared.

These games were a bit different for me personally. The daughter of an old friend of mine made the Olympics this year. Melissa Gonzalez is a 27 year old world track contender in the women’s 400 meter hurdles. She has dual citizenship and was able to represent her dad’s country of Colombia. (Her mom, my old friend, was raised in my area.)

Melissa Gonzalez

Melissa grew-up here in my neck of the woods and attended University of Texas in Austin, Tx. She was a track star there, but her speed times were shy of Olympian competition requirements. She work every day for years on end to better her times. She prayed about the decision to tryout for the Tokyo games, made the choice, and qualified. She threw-off the personal disappointment, in her less than luster times at UT, and grew wings on her shoes for Tokyo. Melissa had broken her own Colombian record for the 400 meter hurdles, and in the qualifying heat in Tokyo surpassed her national record for a personal best. A few days later, in the semi-finals, she had to run in the rain against a world record holder, and the up-coming gold medalist.

Although Melissa fell short of winning a medal, coming in the 6th place slot, she remains in the top 24 for women’s 400 meter hurdles in the world. Because of the joy she possesses from her deep faith, she held her head up and displayed God’s love wherever she went. She vows to go to Paris for the next Olympics in 2024. You go, girl!

Scores of friends and family met her at the airport when she came home. There were lots of tears shed as they cheered for a job well done. Really, a life well-lived. I’m very proud of her.

Melissa at DFW Airport

Although I was distracted, as my focus was on Melissa’s efforts and stats in Tokyo, I was literally shaken by another amazing, stunning occurrence in the women’s 1,500 meter qualifying heat. Did you see it?

Ethiopian-born Dutch distance runner, Sifan Hassan, 28 years old, would be unheard-of for the casual sports fan. If you are a fan of world track competitions, than you may recognize her as a two-time gold medalist in both the 1,500 meter, and the 10,000 meter events from the 2019 World Championships.

Sifan was flying out of her shoes as she was entering the final lap in the 1,500, when all went wrong. A runner from Kenya was in front of her, tripped and hit the track on her belly, tripping Sifan in the process, hitting the pavement as well.

Photo: Matthias Hangst – Sifan Hassa in orange top.

Seemingly out of the race, Sifan looked up, watching the world contenders quickly leaving her behind. There were eleven of them, the fastest runners in the world, were now between her and the finish-line.

Photo: Reuters/Dylan Martinez – Sifan Hassan

To everyone’s shock, Sifan looked down in defeat and then looked up again with another expression on her face. The track star then stood up, and turned on the fuel from behind the running crowd. With nothing short of astonishing inward fortitude, Sifan poured on the speed. At this point, I thought, “Wow. Nice second effort, but she’s done.”

The lady from the Netherlands swept passed each and every contender in high gear. I couldn’t help but stand to my feet in my living-room as I watched the focus in her eyes burning like the Olympic torch itself.

As she was gradually making up lost ground, on the final straightaway, she pushed herself passed the front pack of five finalists to outrun them all as she crossed the finish-line in first place.

Photo: NBC Sports – Sifan Hassa 1st place

Later in the week, Sifan Hassan made it through the semifinals. On the day of the final heat for the medals in the 1,500 meters, she won the bronze for the Netherlands.

If you’re not familiar with the Bible, the Apostle Paul was a sports fan, from what he wrote. In his writings he uses some Olympic events to help us understand how spiritual faith works, and how it works itself out into action. It’s as if he saw the women’s 1,500 meter with Sifan, and the 400 meter hurdles with Melissa, and wrote the following…

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” – I Corinthians 9:24 (NIV)

Whenever the winners were given a screen to see their family and friends cheering them on back home, it made most athletes smile, laugh, and cry. When Melissa exited the gate from the baggage claim back in Dallas, when she saw the cheering, weeping crowds with their signs and balloons welcoming her home from an effort well-done, there was joy in her eyes. And so this encouragement was written for us…

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)

Since the days have passed by, I think a lot about Melissa and Sifan. Mostly, I try to get inside their heads when that moment of decision was made. For Melissa, it was holding her head up above the clouds of self-pity as she felt “less-than” from her college track times. She very well could have simmered in the frying pan of loss, holding her away from world competition. For Sifan, there must have been an instant of overwhelming defeat as she tripped over the Kenyan watching the surface of the track come closer and closer to her face. She was faced with walking off the track while calling it a day. But, somehow, someway, she stood to her feet, endured the pain, and found a gear she probably didn’t know she had at the moment.

How about when you have fallen? Do you recall? Do you remember the scrape to the knees as you hit the concrete of life? The losses, the failures, the defeat can be life altering, or even ending for some. I know this all too well. All things CAN BE endured.

Spiritually speaking, we all have fallen short of the target. The goal in our relationship with our Creator is too far away for our arrows to reach. It’s like an attempt at the long jump over the Grand Canyon. You just can’t achieve it. At the same time, God made a way to bridge the great gap we cannot negotiate. Jesus came here to run the perfect race for us, to carry us across the finish-line Himself, for Himself. Otherwise, because of sin in life, which we all are owners, we would be left on the track without a chance to crossover to where we need to be at the end of our heat.

We are born with our backsides on the surface of the track. But we don’t have to stay there.

A race well-done can only be had by grace, through faith, and easily found in fuel for the race.

“Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. So they do it to obtain a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way as not to run aimlessly; I box in such a way, as to avoid hitting air; but I strictly discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” – Paul – I Corinthians 9:25-27 (NAS)

Roads Chosen

“Somewhere out on that horizon,
Out beyond the neon lights,
I know there must be somethin’ better.
But there’s nowhere else in sight…”
(1979) “In The City”, Recorded By: Eagles Composers: Joseph Fidler Walsh, Barry R. De Vorzon

Last week, my wife and I decided we would go out to dinner on a whim. We chose a certain national chain restaurant, common to most medium to large American cities. It was about 6:30pm when we found ourselves alone, waiting for someone to seat us there in the small waiting area. About 3-4 minutes went by without anyone approaching us. The dining area was empty with the exception of one couple eating at a table, and the bar area had 3-4 people on bar stools. Finally, an employee, dressed as if from the waitstaff, or kitchen staff, walked up to us.

He said, “It will be about a 20 minute wait.” We looked around again to find we were the only ones waiting for a table, and 99% of the dining area was empty. My wife asked, “You mean, you can’t seat us with all those empty tables and booths?” (You go get ’em, honey.) That’s when he said the most unheard of thing, “We don’t have a hostess here to seat you. For now, I can offer you the bar, or you can wait here in the lobby.” Guess how we answered in response. “Uh, no thanks.” We scratched our heads as we drove 10 minutes up the road to their competitors for dinner. As time went by, we thought the true story might be a lacking of kitchen staff, or waitstaff.

As I posted our experience on Facebook, many of my friends replied with similar situations. Most felt it was a sign of too many stimulus checks, and unemployment checks left over from the pandemic shutdown. Way too many are depositing more funds than the salaries from their last place of occupation. No wonder so many establishments have “Now Hiring” signs up.

This circumstance we find ourselves in would be very foreign to these students…

Photo: Traces of Texas. Dallas Telegraph College – Class of 1904.

Meet the class of 1904 from the Dallas telegraph College. Nobody looks real happy. If it was 98 degrees out, with those suits and ties, I can see why. My eyes were quickly caught up to the third row where a single woman proudly stands among the men of graduates. In those times, she was an oddity. I wish I knew her story. I am sure she was a bold, “grab the bull by the horns” lady.

Think back on those times. These were lads, and lady, from all walks of life, many from the country. No doubt some were from sharecroppers, ranch families, or hired ranch hands. Others might have been orphaned, just taking the opportunities for a work and trade. A selected few may have gone to telegraph school and worked at the hotel down the street as a bellhop at night. The female in this photo may have been a runaway. Much like my great-grandmother, Roberta Martin, from my granddad’s side of the family, who went to college in disobedience to her father’s demands. Her three sisters stayed at home where their father had told them it was their “place” in life, but not my great-grandmother. Roberta boldly left for college.

One thing is for certain, each and every one of these students of telegraph had to interrupt life as they knew it to reach a higher goal. Each individual had to drop the plow, hang up the spurs, or bought a train ticket to Dallas from out of state to enroll in the Dallas Telegraph College. The grads in the old photo didn’t believe in being spoon-fed. Instead, they all made hard choices.

Photo by Christian Heitz on Pexels.com

At some point, like all of us, each student came to a fork in the winding road, not a spoon. Am I right?

“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Excerpt from: “The Road Not Taken” – Robert Frost

I have always loved Robert Frost’s work, especially, “The Road Not Taken”. It speaks and serves so well.

Jesus said something similar, although clearly an eternal view, but the principle is the same.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is narrow and the way is constricted that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” -Jesus (Matthew 7;13-14 NAS)

Someone might have said to a boy looking at his fork in the road, “Stay on the farm, lad. Every man in the county got his own pigpen by staying on the farm.” Some desk manager possibly could have told a young bellboy, “Hey, someday you might be a night desk clerk at this hotel. Stick with the baggage, boy.” Our lady grad might have heard the words, “No daughter of mine ain’t goin’ go to that there college with all them boys! Why, who ever heard of such a thang? You best stay here and help your mother with house chores. After all, that’s what a man looks for in a woman.”

With that said, the roads mentioned above were more traveled, and wide, too. They were considered less risky. As you can see, the class of 1904 wasn’t a student body of 850. No, it was a more narrow path to work for that diploma. I am sure most said it was worth it… until a few short years later when this happened….

Photo by Eneida Nieves on Pexels.com

In 1914, there were about 10 people for every working telephone in America. After WWI, the number of available telephones for the public began to multiply. Suddenly, telegraph operators were out looking for other employment. No doubt, many of our 1904 grads were in that number. Technology moves onward, no matter what we want, or what we’ve trained for.

Have you been there before? Did you ever feel like you were put out to pasture? A nurse from 50 years ago would have to go back to nursing school today. Telephone operators from the 1990’s found themselves out of work due to the internet and telecommunications technology. The communicator from the Star Trek series on Captain Kirk’s belt is now in every pocket in America. Not a whole lot of phone booths are left.

We plan our course. We draw up our five-year plans. We obtain mortgages based on those plans. We choose our majors and minors. Still, most grads don’t stick with the degrees they earned. Things change. Times develop. Our forks continue to face us. Pandemics come, we get sidelined. Washington throws money at us while we wait. Things open back up, and many are faced with the road of being spoon-fed, or earning their true worth. At the same time, many will forget the plans God has for each footstep. So many of us refuse to ask Him to show the road not taken.

Although it has nothing to do with career, or income, I am facing a new fork in the road currently. It will change our lives drastically. I didn’t ask for this fork. I didn’t exactly know when the fork would arrive. Yet, it’s here. I am faced with heavy choices. Dare I say, I am forced to make a choice? Yes, in honesty, I am.

Somewhere, there’s a hostess from a local restaurant trying to make a clear, worthy choice. Hopefully, she’s not standing in a line at the Dallas Telegraph College.

No need to ask Siri. When choosing the right road, find directions in fuel for the race.

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” – Proverbs 16:9 (NIV)

Train Up

“There is no power on earth
like your fathers’ love
So big and so strong as your father’s love
A promise that’s sacred,
a promise from heaven above
No matter where you go…
always know You can depend on
your father’s love.”  (1998)  “Father’s Love”  Recorded by:  BOB CARLISLE   Composer’s: RANDY THOMAS, ROBERT MASON CARLISLE

I have a secret I want to reveal to you.  But first…

The cover photo above is our young Japanese Maple in our backyard.  One of the many talents packed inside my father-in-law was landscaping.  In his backyard, he raised a tree to grow sideways.  As you view it, the trunk comes off the ground vertically for a couple of feet, then with an extreme bend grew some five, or six feet horizontally to the ground.  As your eyes would follow the great trunk, you then would see an extreme bend to rise upward toward the sky once again.  The house was sold after he passed away a few years ago, so I do not have a photo of this large zig-zag tree trunk.  It is highly unusual, but stunning.  His daughter, my wife, has his genes coming out of her pores.  As you can see in the cover photo, she is training a young tree to do the same as the tree she grew up with.  If you can expand it, or zoom-in, you can see the stake in the ground, as well as a string pulling the lower trunk outward.  It’s all outer space to me.  She knows what she’s doing in this arena.  One thing I do know, training takes time.  Training takes endurance.  Training takes the touch of love.

I was raised by a single mom.  With the dynamics of my biological father, and a distant step-father who adopted me when I was six years old, I don’t have any good stories of great love from a father.  Even my adopted father ended in divorce only four years after the remarriage.  However, I can point to a plumb-line in my life who vowed earl-on to help raise me.  He was old enough to have been my dad.  He was only 42 when I came into the world.

Granddad at the grill. early 1980s. Photo:  My granddad, Martin Atherton  (1918-2008)

My mom’s dad was a giant of a man.  In stature he was only about 5′-9″ tall.  Yet, his deeds, his love, his ethics, his words were from a heart of gold which only could belong to a herculean man of 6′-9″.

Martin Atherton helped to shape my thinking, even though I never lived under his roof, with the exception of a few short months in my toddler days.  He was a blue-collar worker, master auto mechanic, who never wanted his kids to become a mechanic, as he thought the money wasn’t enough for the hard labor involved.  His hard work was displayed in his rough, strong hands.  Although soft spoken, he was a John Wayne type character.  He would’ve done well in the wild west times.  Oh, the novel I could write about this gent.

I will include the fact that he never once sat me down to lecture me on the Ten Commandments, the birds and the bees, or the “career talk”.  He trained me gently by the sheer act of witnessing his life.  He was a leader in his church, a respected man in his community, his workplace, and a man well-known for honesty, sealed with a handshake and a nod.  His word was his bond.

Most of all, he trained me by my willingness to listen to what others would testify about him.  Scores and scores of men and women spoke highly of him, as the countenance on their faces gleamed while the Martin Atherton soundtrack of the mind rolled out of their mouths.  He was someone God would write about.

He trained me by seeing how he loved my grandmother, and how she responded.

6 OMA MRA Bonnie&Clyde Photo:  Martin & Opal Atherton (1941ish)

He trained me by his love for America’s freedom, fighting in WWII while serving in the navy in the Philippines.  He had two young sons, both under five years old, and one on the way, when he could no longer keep himself tied to the title of “citizen” only.  He heard the urgent alarms of military service needed in the Pacific and answered the call at great risk.

He trained me to do all I could to respect and honor the president of the United States, even if policies and personalities were not personally agreeable.

He trained me to search to find the good in the individual, even if looking the other way at times seemed appropriate.

He trained me to love family, nucleus or extended family, even when greatly tempted to hate.

Example:  Back in the late 1940’s he had a brother-in-law, my Great-Uncle Buster, who was physically abusive to his wife, my Great-Aunt Pauline.  She once lost a baby when he punched her in the belly while pregnant with their first child.  She never could have children afterward.  This man was a severe hyper-alcoholic, to the point of drunken violent rages landing him in jail many times.  He often caused havoc in their small farming community.  At one family gathering in east Texas, this man showed up baked to the very bone with bottle in hand.  It’s unclear just how it started, but the man caused a violent, profane stir in front of the family, including the children attending.  As was the “bent” of my granddad, he tried to calm his brother-in-law down, but the sloshed man wouldn’t abide.  Being a WWII sailor, my granddad knew how this would go.  My granddad began to strongly encourage him to leave and sleep it off.  During the altercation, my Great-Uncle Buster pulled out a knife with one hand and broke off the top of his whiskey bottle with the other.  He charged at my granddad to stab and cut him open in front of the entire clan.  Thank God he disarmed him and knocked Buster cold.  He didn’t hold a grudge against his brother-in-law.  In fact, years later, he trusted Jesus as he put away the bottle, sobered up and lived a peaceful, calm life on his farm until the day he died.  In my growing up years, I never knew the “other” Uncle Buster, and I’m grateful.  Throughout, my granddad showed love and respect for him, even though many did not.

He trained me to valiantly defend the home, family, and loved ones.  It was his way to aid any and all, even if it meant personal loss.  He was always looking out for the needy underdog.

He trained me to think and act with an abundance of generosity and benevolence.

He trained me to troubleshoot difficult circumstances, even if it was a painful road.

He trained me to walk closest to the curb when walking with a lady on the sidewalk.

Many pages could be filled about my granddad.  Again, he was a soft spoken man with very little words, but with great deeds of a legacy to ponder.  Truly, a salt of the earth gentleman.

There is a passage that’s always caused me pause.  It comes from Solomon.

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6 (KJV)

There have been many a commentary on just how to interpret this scripture.  Some believe it simply means, instruct a child in the way he is bent while still pliable.  Some say it speaks of training the child in the tenor of his way.  A few will say this only applies to academia, in which Solomon was a champ.  Another will say, instruct a youth about his way(s), common or uncommon.  Some will say it’s concerning training in a specific trade inside a youthful life.  (You might be a piano player, yet the child shows gifting in construction.)  Some will teach it’s all about moral training from childhood.  Sermons are built on the idea this passage speaks of training in the things of God, and His Law.  While others will preach the meaning surrounds the training of the ways of the culture, the civility of the community one grows up in.

Personally, I think it’s possible all of the above options are accurate.  Whatever the subject matter, not one child will be schooled if there is a lack of an instructor.

At the same time, we all can attest to the well-known fact that all kids do NOT grow up clinging to what they have been taught.  Just ask most ministers with older kids.  How can one say a young rioter deems it righteous to loot and burn down a place of business, if he was trained to honor and respect his/her neighbor?  The other evidence can been found in generations of weeping parents.  It very well could be Solomon was not “promising” a life of roses for all who were trained to observe righteousness and love.  Much of Solomon’s own children were lawbreakers.  For me, I believe the scripture pertains to a generality of the averages.  Certainly the principle is there.  I know my daughters were trained up to observe righteousness, civility, and ways of career and education.  However, as adults, they don’t always abide by what I trained them to do.  Regardless, they have my love and respect even so.

Girls & Me-March 2015

Photo:  L-R:  Tabitha, Megan, me, D’Anna  (2015)

For me, the explosive word in Solomon’s text just might be…”Train UP…”  The idea is, onward and upward for a better future, not the opposite.  It’s always an advantage to have a grandson write about how great you are sixty years from now.  Wouldn’t that be commendable?

The Japanese Maple in our backyard is being trained up with a bend in its trunk.  Although we have plenty of winding, bends in our road of life, if trained well, we trend upward.  My hope is that it will survive gravity and the Texas weather in the years to come.  It takes a stick and a string for now.

Oh, yes.  I mentioned I would share a secret with you.  Here it is.  My secret is, I have failed way too many times to even measure closely to my early training.  When I get it right, I just consider it a special moment from above.

Training UP has a manual within the heart of fuel for the race.

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as reminders on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Teach them to your children, speaking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates,…”  – Deutoronmy 11:18-19  (Berean Study Bible)