You Are Not Alone

Photo:  Guilherme

“Oh, Stormy…Oh, Stormy.  Bring back that sunny day…”  Stormy (1968) Recorded by:  Classics IV.  Composers:  Dennis Yost, James Cobb, Buddy Buie

As I write this, it’s a sunny day in Dallas, Texas with temperature hovering about 102/f degrees.  The heat index, or what it feels like with humidity mixed into the works, is 118/f degrees.  Great day to mow the lawn. LOL  It’s July in Texas, and you can always count on the weather being oppressive.  What I wouldn’t give for a bit of rain right now, but not HOT DROPS.

Our springtime was horribly rough.  May and June alone were pelting us with several tropical storm-type winds, tornadoes galore, and thunderstorms ushering in hail.  We had straight-line winds clocking at 71mph in one of our storms in June.  The trees on our property lost several branches, large limbs, as well as, nerves.  Around here, when the civil sirens go off, you run for shelter, never walk, during tornado warnings.  We’ve had many this year thus far.

Tree from Greenville storm June 2019

Photo:  My cousin sits with a partial of a massive 100+ year old Sycamore, which was uprooted from my mom’s front yard, and landed on her roof.  She was home at the time, but uninjured during the tornado.  The house is about 164 years old.  It took the brunt, with only roof and porch damage.  Texas storms come as quickly as a fake news story cycle.

Meanwhile, at our house, our oldest dog, Sammie, is like bacon on a hot skillet during storms.  I’ve written about this before.

Sammie In Storm Sammie goes bonkers at the smell of rain, not yet fallen.  You can always tell by her attentive look with immediate cravings to cuddle.

Sammie Gimme-Gimme-Gimme

The slightest sound of distant rumbling thunder will set her off with the quivers, shakes and shivers, like a 7.1 California earthquake.  All the while, nestled safely in my arms for shelter.  I’ve been told she runs to me because I’m the biggest one in the room.  When it’s peaceful outside, she rarely notices me, unless I have a treat in my hand.  Of course, I do what I can to calm her vocally, and sometimes it works, but often not.  The storms just seem to override any audible efforts of comfort.

Frankly, I can understand her pretty well.  I mean, growing up in Texas, I have seen what tornadoes, flash floods and hurricanes can do.  Because of past experience, my heartbeat rises a bit during these storms.  On the other hand, I have family and friends who are storm chasers.  They absolutely adore the thrill of getting as close to a tornado as possible, without catching up with Dorothy and Toto.  In my opinion, they are all mad as hares in a cabbage patch.  Yet, I still love them.

Oh, how I wish I could link telepathically, with Sammie’s little brain.  I wish she could know I will cover her with my own body if a tornado hit our house.  I just don’t speak “dogness” as well as I should.  If only my communication skills were on her level, maybe she would understand the kind of protector she has in me.  But, Shorty, our other pal, knows what to say.

Sammie Shorty Relaxing

My communication skills might be lacking during Sammie’s times of trouble, but sometimes lyrics will hit me out of the blue…or the darkness.

Recently, my daughter’s band, Grosh, released their new album.  The last song on the project is my favorite.  The cut is entitled, “Piece of Mind”.  Besides hearing my daughter deliver some terrific vocals once again, the original lyric touched me deeply.  It speaks.  Here’s a section for you:

“…Whether or not you know, whether or not you don’t.  Whether or not you care, whether or not you won’t, you are not alone.  Give me a piece of your mind.  Because whether or not you know, whether or not you don’t.  Whether or not you care, whether or not you won’t, you are not alone.” (2019) Piece of Mind.  Recorded by Grosh.  Composers:  Lougen/English (Her band-mates)

(Sample the cut at:  groshband.com.  Go to “Store”, click on the title of the song and turn up the volume.  (Also available for downloads.)  Tell me how it grabs you.)

There have been unexpected storms in my life when I desperately needed to be reminded I am not solo here in this life.  Most of he time, I didn’t get a siren of warning before I was flattened by a down-burst.  Car crash – no warning.  Job loss – no warning.  Health crisis – no warning.  Death in the family – no warning.  Can you identify?

How honest is this?  At times, I have felt alone.  At times, I felt alone in a crushing crowd of revelers.  At times, I looked around for someone to find peace with and found a vacant place.  At times, I searched for synthetics to numb my loneliness.

Life is so much like the weather.  Lightning WILL clap just when you least expect it, and you WILL leap off the mattress about a meter or so.  Sheets of hail, wrapped in a torrent of rain, WILL beat on the roof, and all you can do is wait to analyse the aftermath.  You might sit at a table, with a fine wine accompanied by broiled brisket, when suddenly, an EF-4 tornado WILL rip the house apart with its 166+mph winds.  (It’ll take about 3 seconds.)  In those moments of oppression, in those moments of turmoil, in those moments of trying to grip the rug beneath your feet, like Sammie, it’s normal to feel a bit shaken.  A bit at a loss.  A bit bewildered.  This is the stuff of life, and life’s surprises.

Because I am a Jesus “accepter”, I do what I can to keep from nursing on other means for quick fixes to sooth my nerves, my fears, my “what next”.  Many times I fail.  In those times I must remember all things I touch, taste, and see, are only temporary at their best.  Synthetics are just that…synthetic.  Who would depend upon a wedding ring fabricated out of a cigar-band?

Sammie runs to me for comfort, but I don’t mention to her that I can be blown away, just like she can.  The comfort from my body is, well…uh…temporary.  In the same way, I can run to my wife, a counselor, a friend, a chemical pacifier, but in the end, they are faulty, too.  We all fall down physically, emotionally, spiritually.  My proven rest relies on the One Who holds me up today, yesterday, and tomorrow.  Why?

Where else could I go?  He simply is the biggest person in the room.  The storm may not be removed each time the radar turns red, yellow, and purple, but I do have the promise He will be with me through what comes my way.  He alone called Himself, “The Rock”.  In Exodus, when Moses was afraid to be God’s spoke-person to the enslaved Jewish community in Egypt, and Pharaoh, he challenged God.

He inquired, “Who shall I say sent me?”  Wouldn’t you ask?

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” (Exodus 3:14 NAS)

Someday I will write on the significance of the title, “I AM”.  It’s a great study of the words in Hebrew.  For now, my point is, scripture details Him as being all-in-all.  Not only that, He goes so far as to invite us to PROVE Himself to be.  Wow!  That’s brave and bold, regardless of who sends the invitation.  Outside of creation, and all things in it, before we began to put names on each other, our animals and plants, He “was” and always will be.  A great reliable comfort in times of unsettled traumatic turmoil inside this sphere of existence.

Jesus was sent to our everyday, bluejeans and work-boots level.  He came to speak our language for understanding of God’s mind, heart and love.  He claimed that He and God were one.  Yes, a heavy thing to say.  And then He proved it several times.  Some 700+ years before Jesus was born, it was foretold He would be referred to as, “Immanuel”.  It wouldn’t be a surname, or a first name, but rather a description.  It literally means, “God with us”, “With us is God”, or “God housing with us”. (Isaiah 7:14)  That’s amazing in itself, but it also means I don’t have to shiver while cowering in the fetal position, stuck in a corner with my chosen toy for distraction.

Learning to lean on the Rock that is higher than I is the beginning of fuel for the race.

“Take My yoke (Guiding, instructive brace.  IE:  A cast on a broken bone.) upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  Come to Me, all those toiling and being burdened, and I will give you rest.”  – Jesus – Matthew 11:28-29 (BLB)

 

Construction Ahead

Photo:  Bartek Wojtas

“..This much I know is true.  That God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you…” – (2004)  Bless The Broken Road   Recorded by:  Rascal Flatts  Composers:  Jeff Hanna, Marcus Hummon, Robert E. Boyd.

Does this sound familiar to you?  A few days ago, as I was on my way to an appointment, I was driving north on one of the main streets in the suburb where I live.  There are three lanes northbound, and three lanes southbound.  It is a very well-known, heavily traveled boulevard.  The speed limit norm allows cruising around 40-45mph.  Suddenly, I am hampered by bumper-to-bumper traffic.  With a rather large exhale, I said out loud in frustration, “Arg!  A standstill.  Figures!”  Inch by inch, foot by foot, I finally arrived at the intersection I was driving toward.  The traffic congestion delayed me for some twenty minutes.  As I was able to get a clearer view of the problem, which caused the bottleneck, it angered me even more.  Yes, I admit, flew off the handle inside my car.  It was unexpected road construction at the busiest time of day for commuters.

Construction-2 Rodolfo Quiros

Photo:  Rodolfo Quiros

Hours later, as I returned home and caught up on social media, I read a notice from the city concerning the specific intersection slowing all of us drivers down to a halt.  It stated that workers were widening the lanes, turn lanes, and reconstructing the curbs, etc.  That’s actually good news, if not for the last part of the traffic notice.  The city was good enough to let us in on just how long the project would take….December of 2019!  That’s a lot of wet concrete, jack-hammering, sawing, frame-working, and all that goes with it.  A tad less than six months for that one intersection.  Ouch!

Well, at least the old pavement itself doesn’t have emotion, pain, and a way to calculate its own history.  It’s very much unlike the way we are constructed.

I don’t know about your life, but I have been hammered, sawed, and broken up a few times.  Even my “No Passing” stripes have been redrawn.  Can you identify?

Shortly after I checked my social media, I locked onto a TV documentary on the National Geographic Channel.  It was a two hour thrill about the Grand Canyon in Arizona.  Stunningly brilliant cinematography, it was a an eye-popper.  It was shot by a hiking crew which began their adventure from the floor of the Grand Canyon.  Not only did they have shoulder cameras, but they also shot their POV scenes from helmet and body cams.  I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen.  It was more than fascinating, it was awe-inspiring.  And then the unanticipated spooky moments came.  As they slowly ascended up the canyon walls, mile by mile, their trek involved tiny narrow ledges, some barely seven inches in width.  One misstep, and it’s at least a 500-foot drop.  Yes, I looked away at times.  My mouth couldn’t hold back the words, “Nope, not for me.  Never!”  I decided, right then and there, I would take road construction tie-ups any time of day.

Not unlike the well-planned professional hikers, engineers for the road construction have a blueprint to adhere to.  The mapped-out details will take the more narrow sections of lanes and broaden them for future traffic.  Their scope involves a turn ramp for easy right turns with only a yield sign for safe merging.  Of course, new curbs will be built to accommodate the widened street.  For night driving, good solid curbs have kept my tires from meandering off the road to where I’ve needed to be.

The times my life have been broken-up, jack-hammered, and cut away, were always for a refashioned purpose.  Mainly in retrospect did I ever see it clearly.  Like those adventurous Grand Canyon hikers, I often found myself trying to balance my stride on very thin ledges, step by step.  It seems to me, during those jaunts, I never noticed the drop-off danger just to my left or right.  But the reality was, my boots were on a potential life-ending, risky trail before the constructive remodeling came about.  Like surgery, life construction often is full of hardships.  There’s breaking, bending, stripping, and scraping, all in the process.  Old paint must come off.  Guardrails which aren’t high enough are torn down.  Stubby curbs often aren’t visual enough.  With a journey on that street, one can easily be distracted causing a kissing of the ditch.

Right now, you might be thinking of some tough steamrolling in your own life.  It may be from your past, or your present.  If you believe it’s never happened…it will.  Possibly you thought you might not get through it all before the new cement dries.  Just gazing at the new scaffolding was a mystery at the time.  In fact, it could be you hunted for a detour, but in the end, you had to go through the unsettled intersection to see more clearly.  Am I right?  Usually reconstruction delivers you more easily to where you are meant to be.  Sometimes, the process WILL temporarily hurt, and maybe lengthy on the calendar, but the destination is the goal.

Sign- Cliff warning

Meanwhile, it’s wise to observe the warning signs on the beaten path ahead.  Sure, it may cause a bottleneck, slowing you down from where you set the cruise control, but in the end, it serves.

There’s one thing to keep in mind.  Nobody ever remodels to design a smaller product.  God doesn’t work that way either.  Count on it.  I know do.

When getting the rough places straightened in life, fill-up with fuel for the race.

“You enlarge my steps under me, and my feet have not slipped.” – Psalm 18:36 (NAS) 

Oh, How Those Arrows Do Fly

Cover Photo:  Pixabay

“We took our chance and we flew.  Like an arrow, like an arrow.  We came to our sense to soar.  Like an arrow, like an arrow…” – Like An Arrow (2015)  Written and recorded by:  Lucy Rose Parton

It was a beautiful April morning.  While sitting at my desk, typing away, I got a text from my middle daughter, Megan.

“Dad, Grace Stumberg and Grace Lougen really wants to meet you.  They are in town with Joan Baez and wondering if you’re up to anything.  They’ve got the day off in Dallas today, with exception of a recording session late this afternoon at a studio downtown.  Maybe you guys could meet for food or coffee.”

If you’re unfamiliar with my posts, you may not know about my daughter, Megan Brown.

In 2008, I was leaving Buffalo, NY to move back to my stumping grounds in Dallas, Texas.  Megan and I were the last of the family to remain in Buffalo after a divorce two years prior.  I got Megan through her last two years of high school.  It was a mammoth undertaking leaving our spacious house while squeezing into an apartment.  Through her high school years, and right after, Megan grew to be an accomplished vocalist.  She did very well in school choirs, musicals and singing in church.  She joined a garage band during that time in efforts to sharpen her rock and roll teeth.  Along the way, I encouraged her to sing with me at various events.  We were a duo team for about 10 years, since she was about 8 years old.  I coached her vocally, as well as stage presence and acoustic training, as her talent continued to surface.

Me and T-M-D Sept 2016

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

During the summer of 2008, I had accepted a morning show gig at a new radio station in Dallas.  I gave Megan the option of moving back with me.  However, she wanted to spread her wings in Buffalo, and shoot for the moon on her own.  And boy, did she!  I love my girls.  Each one is unique, and vastly different from the other two.  Of my three daughters, Megan is the one most like me on many levels.  It was so difficult to loosen my grip and push her out of the nest.

After I moved back to Texas, Megan was asked to join an up and coming western New York band called, Dirty Smile.  As a solo artist she didn’t hesitate.  They won international accolades through the Hard Rock Cafe organization, winning awards along the way.  Megan became a highly sought-after artist during that time, appearing on many albums as a guest artist.  She also has been awarded for Favorite Female Vocalist in Western New York.

Megan Mag Photo:  Megan’s old band, Dirty Smile

After many years, and recordings, the band decided to hang it up as band-mate’s wives began having babies. Later she joined another band, which toured nationwide, but was short-lived.  She and a friend, Grace Stumberg, started an all-girl band called, Rustbelt Birds.  They disbanded late last year due to scheduling conflicts with other bands.  Now she is with a new band called, Grosh, with Grace Lougen.  They are doing very well, as they released a new CD this very week.

Megan Grosh CD Release Performance

Photo:  Megan’s new band, Grosh at their CD release performance event June 13, 2019.

As it turns out, the legendary Joan Baez has something in common with Megan.  They share band-mates.  Both Grace Stumberg (Joan’s vocal harmonizer) and Grace Lougen (Joan’s lead guitarist) perform in the Joan Baez band.

Grace Stumberg on stage with Joan Baez

Photo:  Grace Stumberg entering stage with Joan Baez

Thus, the reason for the two Graces to be in Dallas for a couple of days.  Joan Baez was performing in an outdoor venue in the downtown Dallas theater district the following day.  The weather was perfect.  I couldn’t attend as I was doing my own gig in northeast Oklahoma that night.

Grace 1&2 pre-show in Dallas

Photo:  Pre-show shot at Annette Strauss Square in the outdoor venue of the AT&T Performing Arts Center Complex.

Soon, in mid July, they will embark for another European concert tour.  Joan was one of the artists who performed at Woodstock in 1969.  After the Woodstock Fest 50th Anniversary Event was cancelled (slated for this summer) it made it extremely easy to book Europe once again.  Joan says it will be her final tour.  After five decades of hitting the stage, I can understand why.  Still, musician peers of her age are making big splashes on the road these days.  (We’ll see.)

To say it was a delight to converge on a Dallas Irish pub for lunch with Grace and Grace, would be a huge understatement.  We laughed and told stories about our lives and their “on-the-road” adventures.  Since Megan wasn’t at the table with us, I felt free to roll out some of the childhood antics Megan and her sisters got into.  We found ourselves at ease with each other as the afternoon went on.  We felt as if we had known one another for a thousand years.  I was so proud to hear of their enormous respect and love for my daughter.  As they spoke of her, I could see a sense of treasure in their eyes.  My ears grew as tales of their friendships were described, as well as the professional side as band-mates and fellow-musicians.  I can’t tell you how it made me feel.

Grace 1&2 Irish pub Dallas

Photo:  L-R:  Grace Lougen, me, Grace Stumberg

Sitting there with these highly talented young ladies, I soaked in the warmth of love they shared for my Megan.  It truly hit me like never before that Megan and I made the right choice back in August of 2008.

The Texas sun beat down on us as we exited the pub into busy pedestrian traffic.  As we hugged out on the walkway, while saying our goodbyes, Grace Stumberg said,

“I am so glad I got to meet the maker of Megan Brown.”

I chuckled as a nervous response.  I appreciated what she said, but I KNOW Who made Megan.  I am held in His hand.

Just then, I felt my chin quiver.  Knowing myself well, I knew tears were next.  I had my sunglasses on, so they never saw me shed one drop.  But as they walked back to the Joule Hotel, two blocks away, I couldn’t hold them back any longer.  My parking meter was beeping at me, which was another excuse to quickly climb back into my car.  When I did, I put the key in the ignition, but didn’t turn it.  Instead, I just sat silently and wept for a good two or three minutes.

It was written, so us readers who dare to research would know, releasing our kids into the world is like an archer releasing his/her arrow into the air.  Kids normally outlive the parents, at least that’s the design of our biological lifespan.  So, my girls, my arrows, will go into a future I will not see, a future I will not reach.  In August of 2008, once again I found myself holding my fatherly bow.  I pulled back the bowstring, tilted upward above all targets for the proper air-arch, distance, and wind direction.  Feeling the tension of holding the bow close to my cheek, knowing I could hold it there no longer, I closed my eyes, said a prayer, and let go of the bowstring.

Megan was launched into the world with the swishing sound of the tail-feathers.  Her flight continues where I will never be.  As she soars, she has pierced hearts, minds, and culture, all of which I cannot.  Her trek sails through audiences, lifting their chins from faces I will never see.  During her flight, she will look down and see cities, societies, and stigmas without dividing lines mapping out the boundaries I tend to set.  Her arch will be observed and heard by many she has not yet seen.  As my arrow, she is an extension of me.

Do dads worry?  Sure we do.  With that said, I have an omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient Father who once launched me at birth.  There’s where my comfort rests.

Oh, how those arrows do fly…with fuel for the race.

  “Children are indeed a heritage from the LORD, and the fruit of the womb is His reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are children born in one’s youth.  Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them…”  Psalm 127:3-5a (BSB)

 

Heart Hotels

“Well there’s too many windows in this old hotel.  And some rooms filled with reckless pride.  And the walls have grown sturdy, and the halls have worn well,  but there is nobody living inside.  Nobody living inside…”  Heart Hotels (1979)  Recorded and composed by:  Dan Fogelberg

You know how it is.  You grow up in a place, or visit a place as a kid, while often driving by stunning landmarks, oblivious to their existence.  Honestly, I still do it.

I didn’t grow up in Greebville, Tx, about an hour’s drive east of Dallas, but I feel like I did.  I was born there, but we didn’t stay.  My mom’s family lived there, and still do.  To describe it, I would say there are certain parts of town that still remind me of the old southern neighborhood scenes in the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird.  My brain is sprinkled with fond memories of looking out the car window at the park I played in, the old gothic-style church on the corner near the downtown square, and the narrow street where I would grin from ear-to-ear as we drove toward my grandparent’s house.  Those are the simple snapshots a little lonely kid recalls about a place.  However, there are so many things this young one missed, probably because it was the loved ones in his focus.

One thing which escaped my interest was an old hotel on Washington Street, across from the old church.

Greenville Cadillac otel Old pic

The Washington Hotel – Greenville, Texas.  Photo:  Texas Historical Commission.

In its youth, it was called The Washington Hotel.  Later in years it was changed to The Cadillac Hotel.  In 2010, it was awarded a designation in the National Register of Historic Places.  Built in 1926, about two blocks down from the train depot, it stood as a gem, a glimmering star in the downtown Greenville landscape.  She has six floors ascending up to what was a garden roof, with plenty of space for romantic evening dances.  A monumental marble staircase rises from the lobby with iron railings.  Celebrities, tycoons, and diplomats were served by the old place through the decades, including Frank Sinatra, President Lyndon B. Johnson, and many more.  My mom and her parents attended a campaign speech delivered by President Harry S. Truman from the back of his train caboose at the depot near the hotel.  (Apparently, it was customary to build a hotel within a short walking distance to the train depot.  It makes sense, considering the times.)

Greenville Train Depot

The old Greenville train depot.

However, a gem no more.  The Washington/Cadillac Hotel, in all of her history and glory, was closed long ago as the town grew.  Time and neglect were her new caretakers.  In fact, it was abandoned in the worst possible way through the years.  Before you could say, “Texas tumbleweeds”, looters and vandals had their way with it.  In the early 1990’s a fire was set, destroying much of the interior of the old royal lady.  A couple of times in recent years, developers drew promising plans to refurbish her amidst intentions of a rebirth with condominium lofts, studios, and flats on the blueprints.  Still, plans fell through for one reason or the other.  And now it sits in an almost ruined state.  Much of it boarded up, and if not, windows cracked or broken out.  I have interior photos, but to be frank, it hurts my heart to look at them.  I would rather dream of her glory days.  My fear is, the city will give up on it, setting a date for a heartbreaking demolition.  My hope is, some wealthy decision-maker will grab a new vision of what this queen could be with some funds and lots of loving care.

Greenville Cadillac Hotel Photo:  The Herald Banner

Realistically, it’s a long-shot.  She sits at the threshold of a section of town in need of a gigantic face-lift.  And I mean more than a simple Botox injection.

Recently I heard Dan Fogelberg’s very familiar “Heart Hotels” over a classic soft-rock radio station.  You should google it to refresh your ear’s memory.  Immediately the old Cadillac Hotel came to my mind.  I began to listen to the lyric with larger lobes while realizing I sing-along to it all the time without allowing the lyric to penetrate.  The late Fogelberg was an incredible, thoughtful lyricist.  “Longer (Then)” was one I did for many weddings since 1979.  It’s considered a classic now.  He has so many greats in his music catalog.  Many bring tears to my eyes.  This is one of them.

He aligned his heart in the fashion of an old hotel with way too many windows for outside viewers.  Of course, he chose a hotel because he spent his life on the road from city to city.  Many artists are introverts.  I know I am, to a degree.  His lyrics speak of closing the shutters, pushing everyone out, leaving offers of synthetic love, hoping for true love to arrive.  In the third verse, his lyric pressed him to include an admittance that the soul needed to be repaired.  He wrote of craving the vacancy, while hearing distant echoing voices from the stairwells which brought memories of unanswered prayers.  OUCH!

Man, the song hurts!  It’s just like the interior photos of the Cadillac Hotel, which I refuse to add here.  At the same time, I love heart-breaker songs.  Performing them multiple times in my day, I know the powerful movements they deliver.  (I trust that doesn’t make me a twisted, bad person in your eyes.)

Truly, he wrote what most of us won’t.  I think Fogelberg was a very straightforward composer.  His songs spotlight his honesty.  If we were forthright with each other, as Dan was, we could relate to the lyric of “Heart Hotels”.  Just like too many windows in this old hotel (heart), there are also too many jumping off the roof surrounded by a garden, dancing, and romance.  Have you noticed?

The heart is a strong machine.  We call the pumping muscle in our chest the strongest organ, but the heart of the spirit is even stronger.  The rooms are full of reckless pride and the halls are worn well, but there’s nobody living inside…  When empty we are left to our chosen devices.

Like Fogelberg, if there is an honest recognition of “soul repair“, I think Fogelberg would be the first to say, you can’t do this on your own.  Sure, try all you want, but the carpet wears out in the pacing years of frustration, loneliness, and heartbreak.  Soon there after, the present reality hits like a brass doorknocker where the echoing voices in the stairwell repeat the failures of the past.  They do remind us, don’t they?  What do we have to show for it?  A worn-out carpet, wishing it were a magic carpet for flying.  A quick trip to the fire escape proves to be a faulty idea, as the decades have rusted the old scaffolding.  Thoughts of the roof flow in again, or medicate with the devices at hand for the numbing of our pain.  Honestly, this song should be longer than Stairway To Heaven or Alice’s Restaurant, because it should be a theme and variation which is in loop.

Should I mention something worse than our own heart-sickness?  Dare I?

How often do we drive by a dis-connected, seemingly empty person, who for whatever reason, has pulled down the shutters and rolled up the carpet inside?  How many of us are shocked when someone we know, or someone we love, takes to the roof for a final inhale of the garden?  The shock usually coats our minds because we thought they were doing just fine, as we occasionally peered through their many windows.  Still, we drive by them, distracted by the gothic-style church building across the street, not noticing there’s a soul is in trouble and needs repair.  Don’t kick yourself too badly.  I am the first to say, I am sooooo guilty.  My hull has been breached a few times by deliberate final exits of people I love.

Often in my life I have heard others speak of unanswered prayers, as the late Fogelberg penned.  Like me, I bet you have, too.  You didn’t ask for this, but allow me to quickly shed a laser light on this familiar topic.  Prayer-life is a mystery.  Make no mistake about it.  Scripturally speaking, the problem is solved through three different camera angles.

#1 – Know God first.  Read and study Him before you climb up His sleeve.  The passage states:

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who approaches Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” – Hebrews 11:6  (Berean Study Bible)

#2 – We frequently petition God in a misdirected way.  We envy, we crave, we itch for this and for that.  In the old King James language, we “covet” in general.  We also want a rabbit’s foot to stroke, or a genie in a bottle to grant us three wishes, or an item hanging from our rear-view mirror in which we trust to have some sort of empowerment.  As often the case, what we ask for could bring us to an intersection which may be unhealthy for our future…the future we are hidden from.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV)

Unfortunately, when we pray, asking for our “coveting” heart to be satisfied, it goes against God’s target for our lives.  (IE: ” Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?  My friends all drive porches, I must make amends…” (1971)  Composers:  Bob neuwirth, Janis Jolin, Michael McClure.)   Fun song, yet the humor of it stresses a fundamental truth.  One can be wealthy, socially honored, and in need of nothing, yet in reality, naked, poor in heart, and without spiritual sight.  Jesus mentioned this many times.  After all, God wrote it down so we would know, “Do not covet”.  Asking for peace, safety, protection, insight, direction, needs, and most of all, His plans to rule over what we cannot see, is always well applied.  Another way of putting it, sometimes our motives are off rhythm, as in an engine which lacks oil on its timing chain.

#3 – Unanswered prayer…at least that’s what we call it.  We perceive a prayer hits the ceiling, bouncing back like a rubber ball.  In reality, God promises to hear our prayers.  If you don’t get what you want, like an angry kid on December 25th, it could be the answer is “No”, or “Not yet”THIS has occurred in my life many times following premature prayers, where the answer came clearly months or years later.  Retrospect is a supreme teacher.  I could write a list of times this has happened in my life.  Keep in mind, there’s a solid case for follow-up prayers, asking God why He didn’t answer, as you personally weigh answers.  Other times, an immediate answer arrived during my prayer-life.  In fact, I have had prayers granted before I even finished the prayer.  The acknowledgement is always astounding to me, reminding me of my lack of 100% trust in God.  There’s a bold statement from Jesus which speaks loudly…

And when you pray, do not babble on like pagans, for they think that by their many words they will be heard.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.    Matthew 6:7-8  (Berean Study Bible)

A sweet friend of mine, a vocal harmonizer for Joan Baez, recently said she believed the “Universe” wants her to move to Texas.  I should have explained the following, but I didn’t.  Unfortunately, the universe doesn’t love her.  The universe never reached out to counsel her.  The universe never cared for her.  The universe never burdens itself with restoration of life. The universe doesn’t oppose evil.  The universe never offered a free gift of redemption.  The universe never bothers itself to tend to her when naked, poor, and blind.  The universe doesn’t have a count of every hair on her head.  The universe never wanted to remove her transgressions and faults.  The universe never protects her, defends her, or gives grace to her.  The universe is faulty and proves to be imperfect, as we are.

Bottom line…the soul/heart, never has to be empty and alone.  There is One who loves closer than a brother.  Search the world’s religious history.  After exhausting yourself, you will find religious systems demanding your “works”, your “efforts”, your climbing up Mt. Olympus to earn the favor of deities.  It’s easy to accept because it’s based on our human nature to work, to earn what we want.  Then there’s “touch this”, “burn this”, “kiss this”, or my favorite…”buy this”, etc.  Do the research.  If you know me, you already know I say this out of love, not hatred.  I hurt for religious beachcombers.  We’ve all been there.  Some doctrines even demand starvation, suicide, murder, and self mutilation to achieve a cozy suite in an afterlife hotel.  Have you noticed?  Only God, through Jesus, who, as a baby, couldn’t find room in the inn, proves to be of this magnificent heart of love, without condition,  and grace toward us imperfect people.

(Most recommend reading the book of John, in the Bible, to learn Who Jesus is, and why He is so different.)

Heart hotels don’t have to be vacant.  Room service is available with fuel for the race.

“What can I give Him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;

If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;

Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.” 

      Excerpt from:  In The Bleak Midwinter (1872)  

      By: Christina Rossetti

 

 

If I were…

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

With age, I have learned that…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mom & Me Granddad's Coin Box

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mom & Megan 1992ish

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

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

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

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

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

Mom salon

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

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

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

 

 

EMPTY! But Why?

If you read my posts you will find this to be a bit different in flavor.  My request is that you read this one, leaving bias or preconceived ideas at the door.  Just humor me for now.

Imagine, you wake up in the back of a transport van.  Your wrists and ankles are shackled to a pole attached to the metal bench you’re laying on.  Looking down you find you’re dressed in an orange cotton jumpsuit with your full name sown into fabric across your chest.  Next to you is an assigned armed guard watching.

“What have I done?” you ponder silently.  In frustration you inquire aloud to the guard, “Excuse me, sir.  Why am I here?  Why have I been apprehended in this way?  Where are we going?”  The guard sits there ignoring you, as if you spoke nothing.

Imagine, the van stops just about the time you decide to ask the guard once more, with attitude.  The back double doors fly open as two more armed guards await your wrists and ankles to be unlocked from the pole.  As you continue to wear the shackles, dragging the chain between your feet, you begin to struggle to walk toward the open van doors.  The guards reach out, taking you by both arms, pulling you out of the vehicle.  They walk you into an enormous courthouse, a stately building, you do not recognize.

Imagine, you gasp at what you see as you are led into a large, wide hallway filled with other people who appear to be in the same circumstance.  You are struck by the incredibly long lines of the incarcerated, hugging the walls to the right and the left, as they stand single-file down endless corridors.  Each prisoner lacks the individual ID numbers, as you would assume.  Instead, each one has their name etched across their torsos, just like yours.  As you stumble with the shackles hindering your stride down the hallway, you read some of the names, ordinary names…Bohoah Yudo, Jack Nelson, Zhang Wong, Sherry White, Jesse Mundos, Amy Jones, Ahmad Siddiqui, Running Bear Parker, Angelique Pascal, Lorenzo Giordano…all assorted from every corner of the earth.

Imagine, you have been escorted to a guarded giant set of double doors, made of bronze.  This is odd, considering nobody else is in line for this entrance.  As you are led to the threshold, the thick doors are opened.  As they reveal the interior, your eyes widen in awe of a high judge’s bench made of, what appears to be, the finest mahogany.  There are no spectators, or spectator’s chairs.  In fact, this courtroom lacks a jury box, as well.  Only court officers and clerks are present.

Imagine, an announcement is made that all should rise as the judge is preparing to enter from his chambers.  The chamber door opens.  An amazing, distinguished, and striking robed man makes an appearance, taking his place at the judge’s seat.  You immediately notice the baffling brilliance of his eyes.  If you were to describe them, you would say they were transparent, somehow.  When he looks into your eyes, you feel as if he has known you all your life.  There is a sense he can see through the shell you often use with strangers.  What’s more, he never blinks.

“Are the books opened?” he asks the clerks with a reverberating bass voice.  You didn’t hear the response as you found yourself mesmerized by three enormous antique books, bound in gold leaf.  These books were so thick, it took four clerks to open the volumes.

“Bring the perpetrator before the court,” demands the judge.  “The transgressor will remain bound through these proceedings,” the judge adds.  As the guards nudge you forward, immediately you wonder what kind of judicial system this is.  You know you’ve done nothing wrong, and yet the judge seems to not believe in “innocent until proven guilty.”

Imagine, you stand before this awesome judge as he gazes at your name found in one of the colossal bindings.  As he calls you by your full name, including your middle name you never reveal to anyone, the chains hanging off your limbs rattle as you slightly tremble in fear.  Furthermore, your very soul quakes as you feel the injustice hovering over you like an anvil ready to drop.  His next statement causes your face to go pale as you fight the feeling of tears pushing against your eyelids.

“Are you aware of the charges made against you in this case?” he asks with piercing authority.

You take a deep breath, as if it were your last, and proclaim in a louder voice than you had intended, “No, your honor.  I am stunned I am here at all.”  The judge nods as if to acknowledge he has heard this before in his court.

With a laser-beam glare, the judge turns his unusual translucent eyes toward a rather polished-looking man standing behind a half-wall, where the jury box would normally be located.  He is a handsome looking gent, dressed to the nines, with his hair slicked back in perfect order.  To say he looks wealthy and studious would be an understatement.

In a lower tone, unlike any sound from his voice thus far, the judge states, “The prosecutor, your legal adversary, will now recite the charges against you.  It is imperative you remain silent, without outbursts, during his delivery.  Prosecutor, you may begin.”

The prosecutor rolls out a thick stack of legal documents from his briefcase.  He begins thumbing through the papers.

“Your honor, this one has violated every law you so diligently protect,” the prosecutor quickly cites with a silky, smooth voice.  He continues, “Naturally, you have the full record already prepared in your book.  I will summarize from my copies.  To begin with, this one uttered false notions to the parents multiple times, starting at infancy.  Later in life, while in heated unjustified anger, there would be thoughts of assault, without striking out.  As a preteen, there was a candy bar taken without payment from a local convenient store.  There have been periods of lashing out with words of destruction, targeting the spirit of others, with intent, and without good cause.  Starting during the teen years, this one followed through with lust for others in the classroom.  Then, if that wasn’t enough, your honor, there are countless traffic violations.  Yield signs were neglected, yellow traffic lights turned red while in the process of driving through the intersections. At one point underage drinking took over, with bribery in full play, to keep the infraction quiet.  While on the subject, there was one DUI, but got away with the transgression.  There was an event concerning road rage where the defendant cursed another, while utilizing a selected finger, signaling a violent nature of the heart.  I have a list of selective years this one cheated on taxes, unseen by the government.  The record shows the act of false statements to a supervisor concerning sick days.  When a neighbor bought a bigger house out in the country, this one became secretly envious, followed by malicious desires, developing into severe covetousness.  There are charges of delinquent bills from time to time.  The removal of love comes and goes.  The act of pre-judging fellow man is outrageous on its own.  Even discriminatory hatred, applied to others, appears over the decades.  Admittedly, there is no guilt of carrying out the act of murder or adultery, but on several occasions the mind entertained as much concerning others.  You, yourself, your honor, claimed if one even thinks of murder and adultery, that one is just as guilty as the one who acts upon the thought.  May I remind you, this ruling came from your court, your honor.  It is your prerogative to expunge the law you so graciously gave, if it serves the defendant well.”

(CRACK!)  The gavel came down extremely hard.  The walls seemed to vibrate at the crashing sound of the impact.

“ENOUGH!  My law set forth is who I am.  The law is my very essence.  It will be defended.  The law is a school teacher, educating the public of a guide for a life of goodness.  It will be carried out.  Each law will be filled and completed, and will never be removed.  Once more, I will remind you of the rules of my court, prosecutor.  You have heard it said from this bench in prior cases.  As long as there are lawbreakers, if you violate my rules, here, in this place, I will call for your banishment and have you held in contempt.  You may continue,” the judge remarks with the pointing of his finger.

“As you please, your honor.  As usual, I could go on.  The rap sheet is lengthy.  The guilt is undeniable inside every day, of every month, of every year of this one’s life.  Beyond all, perhaps the most grievous crime, this one wallows in a lack of faith in the Lawgiver, the law’s sincerity, with total disregard of the ramifications.  My office recommends extreme punishment to the law’s fullest extent, as written in your own manuals, your honor.  I rest my case, your honor.”  With that, the prosecutor shuffled his documents as he returned them back to his thick briefcase.

Imagine, you are bursting at the seams to defend your good name.  After all, you never thought of yourself as a lawless individual.  Most everyone you know would stand by your side, testifying to the fact that you’re a pretty good person overall.  Just then, the judge interrupts the thought.

After calling out your name, he asks a hard question, “Do you have counsel to represent you here today?”

You quickly respond in helplessness, “No, your honor.  I am without a defender.  I do have friends that can testify on my behalf, but…”

“Unfortunately for you, they too are in the halls of lawlessness.  Your deeds done are not to be measured by a lawbreaker’s plumb-line.  Your peers are not the surveyor.  The human heart is faulty.  They will morph as their opinions shift.  However, the law changes not and is unforgiving.  It was etched in ancient stone for a purpose.  It is relentless and ferocious.  The law is…quite simply…unable to be kept, ” the judge points out.

Imagine, your jaw drops.  You are in shock, more than you were in the beginning.  You are being prosecuted for transgressions which you always deemed as minimal, unimportant infractions, and now your judge admits nobody can keep the law in its entirety!

In your chains, you melt at the idea of hopelessness.  Somehow you are able to catch your breath from this gut-punch, “Your honor, I cannot defend myself against these charges.  How can I?  The law list is too heavy.  It rules over me in such a way that there’s no escape.”

“Yes, the law is rigid.  It was written to be so.  Where one law is broken, all laws are broken collectively,” the judge explains.  “It instructs that no one is good enough to keep its commands as a whole-not even one person outside these walls.  As you stand before me, the written record concerning your life is damning, indeed.  I find you are guilty as charged.  There is a certificate of debt which I will sign.  It has my seal.  It will state you were born guilty, without self-remedy.  The law is clear.  The payment for your offenses will be…certain death.”

Imagine your fear, your terror, your inability to redeem yourself.  You feel like someone has demanded that you jump across the Grand Canyon.  It can’t be done.  All you can do is hang your head in shame as the tears begin to build and fall.

Imagine now, at that point, a gentle hand strokes your hair, like your mom did when you were a kid.  It startles you, causing you to flinch.  Your head snaps back up in reaction.  You look quickly to your right to see a man standing next to you.  Your eyes glanced his way earlier, but he was unassuming, sitting back away from the proceedings in a shadowed corner.  This man would be easily ignored if you strolled by him on the street.  He isn’t dressed well for an officer of the court.  As you wipe the tears from your eyes, you can see his face more clearly.  There’s nothing really handsome about him.  In fact, it seems he’s a bit on the weathered side.  His hair, clothes, and shoes are unclean and unkempt.  His hands are rough, stained from dirt and grime, like a construction worker at the end of a day’s work.  It’s a mystery to you just why he is in the presence of such a pristine majestic courtroom.  He places his arm around your shoulders as if to comfort, or encourage.  You are moved that you find it warm, even consoling where he touches you.

With kind eyes, he speaks softly to you, “Wait here.  I will return.”

He addresses the judge with great admiration, “Your honor, this one doesn’t understand how this guilt shrouded life.  They don’t know what they are doing.  I will approach for private deliberation.”  Openly, he is welcomed.

He walks toward the judge’s bench.  You can see in their faces that they know one another very well.  Instead of asking the judge’s permission for a side bar consultation, the soiled man makes his way unhindered around the mahogany structure, walks by the clerk and bailiff, as they step aside, and straight up the steps to the judge himself.  He places his arm around the judge’s shoulders as they begin to consult.  You would give anything to hear what is being discussed, but the topic remains a mystery to you, as well as everyone else in the courtroom.  Soon thereafter, the man comes down from the judge’s seat, approaching you with a comforting smile of resolution.

He says only one thing as he leans to reach your ear, “You must trust me.”

With that, he steps back from you, turns, and stands between you and the bench, blocking your view of the judge.

The prosecutor, who has been closely watching the unusual conference, speaks up, “I object, your honor!  This is highly irregular, and certainly…”  (BOOM!)  The gavel pounds the bench in force.

“Objection overruled,” declares the judge.  Silencing the prosecutor soundly, the judge continues, “It is now official.  May the record show the defendant has court appointed counsel at this time.  Counselor, I will ask you one more time for the court record.  Is it your intention to now represent this defendant, this one who has already been pronounced guilty of lawlessness?”

“Yes, your honor.  This one belongs with me,” remarks the defender.

“May it be so.  May the record show I have agreed, thus appointing the defender to this defendant,” states the judge.

Your defender faces you once more.  He finds you’re fixed on the prosecutor’s smirk as he straightens his tie.  At the same time, you feel the eyes of your counselor penetrating your focus.  You turn your eyes to his.  You sense an assurance from him.

“Believe in what I will do for you,” he says with a deep sound of conviction.

With that, he is escorted out a side door by two guards, as if in protection mode.

You seem frozen at the moment at what just happened, even though you do not understand it.

The judge addresses you once again, “Fortunately for you, there is one of this court who has agreed to defend you, even though you have been found guilty and sentenced already.  Many documents must be written and published.  There are facts in this case which will be entered into the ledgers.  This will take some time.  Because you have previously been found guilty by this court, you will not go free, as you count freedom.  You will remain shackled and placed in the hallway of lawlessness with the others, who are due in court.  There you will remain until you hear your name called.  At that time, you will report to the doors of this court for the details of your final sentencing.  Do you understand these words I have spoken them to you?”

You hesitate but respond in puzzlement, “Yes, your honor.”

Almost sounding like a counselor himself, the judge speaks to you one last time in a softer tone, “Let it be known, it is not required for you to understand the timing and ways of this court, or its officers.  Trust your defender.  Listen for your name.”

(BOOM)  The gavel comes down as the judge orders, “Court adjourned!”

At this juncture, you are led, with chains rattling, to your hallway of waiting.

Imagine that it seems no time has passed at all when you hear your name called.  You look up to see the bailiff standing outside the courtroom doors with documents in hand.  Right away, your brows wrinkle, as you whisper to yourself, asking where your defender has been.  You fully expected him to consult you in the hallway at some point, but he never arrived.   There’s a feeling of unmistakable abandonment as you try to pick yourself up.  You stumble a bit with your ankle chains as you attempt to make your way across the hallway toward the waiting bailiff.  You approach him.  He looks at you as he restates your name, even though it is plainly written across your chest.  You acknowledge with a nod of your head, not wanting to hear the outcome of your defender’s work.  That is if any work has been done at all.

Imagine your amazement when the bailiff’s next words are, “You are free to go, if you choose.”

The wrinkles on your concerned face vanish as your mouth drops, “WHAT?”

“Yes, you may walk away, if you so desire,” replies the bailiff.

“Wait a minute.  How can this be?  My defender hasn’t shown his mug at all,”  you quickly point out.

“Oh, your defender arrived exactly at the appointed time.  The judge is appeased.  You were not present to witness it, but he made his appointment,” states the officer.

You cock your head at his strange reply, “What ever do you mean?  He arrived?  Where?”

“Your defender’s father was there to witness his work on your behalf, until it he could no longer observe,” said the bailiff as he enveloped a document.

You eagerly inquire, “My defender’s father?  Who is that?”

The bailiff seems struck by your lack of information, “You didn’t know?  How could you NOT know?  The judge is your defender’s father.”

In a state of perplexity you try to find the right words to ask, “I don’t get it.  That would be a conflict of interest, right?”

“No conflicts between them, ever,” replies the bailiff.

“What did my defender do for my case?” you ask.

At this point the bailiff offers you a document from the court.  As you look closer, it is the certificate of debt, describing your crimes, along with the sentencing of capital punishment.

“Your debt has been paid,” explains the officer.  “Freedom from the judgment rendered is now available.”

“How…what did…I don’t understand,” you admit.

“A reckoning has been accomplished.  Your defender volunteered to pay the debt to the court on your behalf,” explained the man.

You mutter almost under your breath, “You…you mean he…”

“Yes.  Your judge and his son, your appointed defender, agreed to release you from your lawlessness status.  Your defender volunteered to be sacrificed in your place,” replied the officer.  “I was there to witness it.  It was brutal, but it was decreed.  The judge, once the sacrifice was accomplished, was satisfied with the work of your defender.  Retribution has been completed.  There is nothing else needed to be done.  The court considers the matter finished.”

The magnitude of the news stuns you.  You take the certificate of debt from the bailiff as you attempt to summon the right words to the question in the very core of reasoning.

“Why would the judge agree to do this?” you ask.

“Love,” replied the bailiff.  “The judge not only pities your plight, but also expresses great compassion from an endless well of love for you.  He and his son designed this incredible plan together.  Now, it is up to you to accept this gift you have been offered.  You can remain in your shackles, or accept this act of the court’s finding of love toward you today.  Keep in mind, if you choose to deny it, you will remain condemned.”

“How can I thank him for this?” you inquire.  “My defender is dead, but I can still show my gratitude to the judge.”

The bailiff spoke up quickly with urgency, “First, you must take the certificate of debt to the court cashier on your way out.  If you choose to accept this offer of love, hand this certificate to the cashier, stating the debt has been paid.  The cashier will then stamp it, ‘PAID IN FULL!’  After sealing it, your shackles will be removed.  You will then be given new clothing to wear.  It truly is a phenomenal great exchange.  You will discover the doors are already open for you.”

Sheepishly you bring up the obvious, “I hate to be the devil’s advocate here, but what if he changes his mind and sends his guards to bind me again?  Is it possible he will reverse his decision?”

The officer responded, “The judge now sees you as blameless because of his innocent son taking your condemnation upon himself.  Trust this decision.  It will always be a matter of trust.”

Really, you don’t have to imagine.  This is what occurred when Jesus offered Himself to be crucified.  For thousands of years it was foretold this was God’s plan.  The Old Testament is blanketed with the prophecies of where it would happen, why it would happen, the week it would happen, and how it would happen, including the specific wounds he would receive.  On several occasions, Jesus Himself told His followers what would transpire, making it clear He was choosing to give His life away for the redemption of humanity.  At the time, they didn’t quite understand it either.  Although He had multiple opportunities to change plans and escape the arrest, the sentencing, and the cross, He went out of His way to stand ready for it all.  So, some 700 years before Jesus was born, the Old Testament passage was written to assist on identifying Him,

“He was oppressed and He was afflicted.  Yet He did not open His mouth.  Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth.” – Isaiah 53:7

When you think about it, forgiveness takes sacrifice.  It was that way in the Old Testament, as God dealt with humanity’s ills, and the guideline continues today.  When forgiving someone who has raped your good name, or one who offended you, you first must swallow down the idea of your gut reaction.  When being slandered publicly by someone who walks all over your integrity, your first thought is to ring his neck.  A kidnapper takes your four-year old and murders him.  Immediately, you want to hunt him/her down to take retribution to satisfy your screaming grief and rage.  Am I right?  If you’re an average person, you would agree with me on this.  To forgive, as you have been forgiven, is to sacrifice your hot satisfaction of revenge.  It’s so much easier to punch the offender’s lights out.  Forgiveness says, “No.  I will not satisfy the overwhelming desire to inflict my retribution on the offender.  Instead, I will wipe away the debt I want to levy.”  This is what Easter is all about.

Theologically, there is so much more to explain concerning the cross of Christ, along with the plan to redeem fallen humankind since Genesis, and the work of Jesus in the future.  However, simplicity was what God decided to spotlight in this case, so we may not have an excuse to ignore His gift.

So, the tomb is empty.  But why?

Buried in a borrowed garden tomb of a secretive wealthy follower, Jesus was wrapped, placed in the tomb, and a large stone was rolled over the door with a Roman seal.  Several Roman soldiers were placed there to guard the tomb.  However, Jesus would not be held by death, or a sealed grave.

Since the payment for our sin is a death sentence, He needed to show proof of His deity.  Once a guilty inmate is pronounced dead by lethal injection, he stays dead.  That’s the finality of capital punishment.  The penalty states, your life is quenched forcibly.  Over a three year period, Jesus publicly raised other corpses to life.  Even random people came out of their graves the same day Jesus walked out of the tomb. (Matthew 27:50-53)  The account in scripture says the righteous dead appeared to many in the city.  An event uniquely placed for Jesus’ miraculous actions during this time.  He was not bound by nature’s law as He was from outside of nature, looking in.  On Easter, Jesus not only proved He once again had power over death itself, authority over the payment for sin, but He also was following through with His teaching of new life offered.  Death is final.  We all know that.  Conquering death is something the living can not do.  With Jesus, it is a gateway to eternity for the soul.  His sacrifice-replacing my debt for my chronic lawbreaking, satisfied the Author of the Ten Commandments.

The resurrection of Jesus was witnessed by Jews and Gentiles alike.  For some forty days after that Sunday morning, He ate, walked, and talked with all of His friends and family.  In fact, scripture has an account that speaks of a crowd of over 500 who saw Him after the resurrection.  The news of it couldn’t be stopped by the local governing class, or even Rome’s iron fist.  Early Christian history is filled with the accounts of Jesus’ followers being tortured, burned alive, and crucified because they would not stop with their testimonies of the risen Messiah.  Ask yourself what you would be willing to die for.

So yes, the tomb in Jerusalem is empty.  My certificate of debt was paid in full and He, being Who He is, survived it all.

I have been purchased with a great price.  My life was changed from old, to new.

 “I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men (His disciples) testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.” – Charles Colson   (Special Counsel to Pres. Richard Nixon, commonly known as Nixon’s “Hatchet Man”.  He was also named as one of the “Watergate Seven”.  He plead guilty to obstruction of justice and served prison time.)

      “…having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” – St. Paul – Colossians 2:14 (NAS)

“…that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.   For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.…  – Jesus –  John 3:15-17 (BSB)

A Family Affair

“It’s a family affair, it’s a family affair.  One child grows up to be somebody that just loves to learn…”  Family Affair (1971), Recorded by:  Sly & The Family Stone.  Composer:  Sly Stone

Somebody told me once that the terrific thing about grandchildren is, after they visit they go home.  That thought leaves some room for the idea our own kids don’t leave to go home because they ARE home.  For me, as a dad, that was a good thing.  I was/am blessed to have three great daughters.

To my grave I will say, I was gifted by God to be in a position to take on “Mr. Mom” for many years.  Tabitha (31), my oldest, and Megan (29) are two very different ladies.  Who said siblings had to be alike?

Girls - Tabitha And Megan

(1998)

When they were born, it was early in my radio career, working overnights.  When they were about two and four, I was on the air in the evenings (7pm-12am) for a few more years before taking daytime on-air hours.  It was during those sleepy evening and overnight shows I was able to be with my girls in the daytime.  Moreover, it was their formative years, all the way through elementary school days.  I didn’t plan it.  It literally was one of those “God Things” in our lives.

Domestically speaking, those were times of horrific turmoil in hour home.  We did a decent job of hiding it from friends, but it all took its toll.  In efforts to avoid dishing out unnecessary dirt on some private family dynamics, I will say nothing more on the subject.

All things work out together for God’s purpose.  So, it was my pleasure to instill in these young hearts my faith, my real-world experience, and loads of wacky, swinging-from-the-chandelier-playtime.  We built memories.  Most of all, when they needed protection, they knew who to run to.

Nine years after Megan came along, D’Anna, my youngest, was born.  Unfortunately, I was working an afternoon drive-time show during those same years in her life.  I regret I didn’t get the same amount of quantity time with her, but we sure had tons of quality times together.

Girls Sept 2003 - Visit back to Carrollton

(2003)

When thinking back to those days of tea parties by the dollhouse, walking on hands and knees pretending to be a riding horse, or playing dress-up (Complete with make-up.) I would never consider changing any of it.  Nope, not one thing.  It was all so worth it.

Girls - T&M kiddie pool

(1992)

During my daddy/daughter years, I dated my girls.  We set calendar days, reserving them for “Dates with dad.”  Sure, we did stuff as a pack, but I wanted one-on-one time with each girl.  Just a movie, playground, or dinner at a favorite spot always suited us nicely.  Again, all so worth it.

D'Anna & Me in Houston-June 2007

(2007)

If parents were blatantly honest, I feel it would be said we learned so much while parenting.  I know I did.  Do you feel that way?  The triumphant trio grew up knowing they never had to “perform” or “measure-up” for my love.  Each one saw unconditional love, no matter what kind of trouble they fell into, or words spoken in haste, or diverting to another ideology different than mine.  To this day, it holds true.  Scripture taught me the way God loves.  It works.  There are rewards of various shapes and hues.  For one, to this day they want to communicate with me.  The girls want to visit with me, showing honor and respect personally toward their old man.  Although I am faulty, blemishes and all, somewhere, sometime, I must have done something right.  It really was so worth it.

Today, I’m about thirty minutes away from Tabitha and D’Anna.  I love it!  Megan is about a four hour flight away.  That’s hard.  Usually, when she comes for a visit, it’s either for a funeral, a wedding, performing with her band on tour, or to be by my side when I am in the hospital.  In recent years I was on my deathbed twice.  She was there to join Tabitha and D’Anna next to me both times.  Feeling their hands in mine gave me an enormous amount of comfort, a boost to fight for life.

Girls - March 2019]

(This week, march 2019.  L-R:  Megan, Tabitha, and D’Anna.)

This week, Megan, who is literally a busy rock star and recording artist in Western New York, came to spend some time with us in Dallas, with a boyfriend in tow.  Things are getting somewhat serious for them.  He seems like a really nice guy.  In fact, we have a few things in common.  As we watched them drive away for the day in their rent-a-car, my wife leaned over to me and said, “Your girl got her a guy just like her dad.”  I replied, “REALLY?”  She went on to explain our interests, talents, and backgrounds are very much the same.  Even the coloring of our eyes and hair are the same.  How come that didn’t pop out at me?

Girls and Me Sept 2016

(2016)

There is one thing very noticeable to me.  It is the connection we share as a family.  When my girls and I are together, it seems like we pick up right where we left off last time.  The years don’t seem to calculate our ages, or bond.  Our first dinner together this week testified to it all.  We could tell what each other was going to say.  We knew when we were going to laugh, what we would eat, and what our favorite movies are.  It’s amazing to me.

In scripture, God calls those who belong to Him “His children”, an intimate title to say the least.  He states the number of hairs on our head are numbered.  Now THAT’S intimate.  It is written He knows our thoughts before we think them, or speak them.  He knows how and why we tick.  Most of all, He said we know His distinct voice in our hearts.  My favorite name for Him comes from the Aramaic, the ancient language Jesus spoke.  It’s the word  “Abba”, meaning “Daddy”.  It’s a very affectionate, closely knit family title for a father.  When crying out in pain, from the grunting of the core of the hurting heart, one calls out for relief to the cozy “Daddy” instead of the more official and distant term, “Father”.  Two of His biblical descriptions are “The Rock”, and “Shelter”Jesus Himself gave us a snapshot of how He loves by describing a hen.  He mentioned how sheltering she is by spreading her wings over her chicks, pulling them to her side, taking on the downpours onto herself.  What a beautiful picture.  It’s exactly the definition I’ve tried to be, and continue to attempt to be, for my girls.  There are times of failure in this area for me, but it’s what I strive for.  In the end, it’s all so worth it.

My hope is that no matter where they are in life, or on the planet, they can feel our DNA strand.

Family ties can be tightened when knotted with fuel for the race.

“See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are…”  1 John 3:1 (NAS)

The Ragged Bride – An Allegory

Artwork:  My wife, Michelle Niles-Brown

“I’ve got an everlasting love, so tall, so wide, so high above the rumble of thunder down below.  It’s your love I need.  It’s the only show.  And it’s you on an everlasting dream can take us anywhere…(where) are the tears of yesterday?  We killed the pain.  We blew away the memories of the tears we cried.  And an everlasting love will never die.”  – An Everlasting Love, (1978).  Recorded by:  Andy Gibb.  Composer:  Barry Gibb

Author:  Alan Scott-Brown

The pain in the heart of this prince couldn’t be matched, especially when he witnessed his betrothed in strife and struggle.  He whispered to himself, “It is not yet our time.”

****

Long ago, a radiant prince discarded his crown, his robe, and his royal ring for a brief journey to his father’s subjects in the village below.  The time had come to fulfill his duty as a suitor.  As his father’s custom, as well as the tradition of the community, there had been an arranged marriage for the regal son.  The prince was to be betrothed to a commoner.  First, he agreed to shed his garments of nobility, exchanging them for the humble attire of the land.  After all, this betrothal ceremony was to be unassuming, intimate, and somewhat mysterious to the fellow-villagers.  The footmen and trumpeters made ready, but there was to be no fanfare.

For him, it was strange to walk freely among his father’s subjects, without his accompanying courtiers.  He found tremendous pleasure visiting with the peasant farmers,  the laborers at the village well, and the boisterous shepherds by the lone stable.  Conversations among them all were telling of village life.  On the walkway, one by one, citizens passed him, not recognizing his joyful face, or his distinct speech.  It saddened him to see a grave disillusionment on each face as they carried out their daily routines.  The burden of life wore heavily on the countenance of the people.

Nearby, a poor young maiden’s father and mother were expecting the prince to arrive.  Not calculating the time the prince’s father decreed, they left an oil lamp burning in their window, ready and waiting.

It was the midnight hour on a full moon when the soft knock at their door came.  Scurrying about, the parents awakened her.  In haste, the mother set out the best goblets and rugs just before the third and fourth rap on the lintel.  When her father opened the door, he saw a single man, dressed as a lowly workman, with a small bag hanging off his shoulder.  The maiden’s mother spied through the lit window, expecting to see white horses bridled to chariots of gold, accompanied by a host of noblemen.  She leaned closer to the pane, blinked once, twice, a third time, but there was no royal entourage to be seen.  With expectation’s unfulfilled, the prince was invited into the house and offered a seat at their table.

As the young maiden remained in her chamber, the prince, withholding nothing, openly shared his true identity with her parents.  He spoke of things only royalty could.  He presented a scroll, marked with the sovereign’s seal.  He broke the seal himself before presenting it to the father of the maiden.  Enclosed were the fine details of a costly dowry to come, a dowry with a high price, generously offered by the father of the prince.   For the moment, the parents were amazed, even silenced.  Although he wasn’t arrayed like a prince, or traveled as a prince, there was understanding that he had been sent from the royal castle on the hill.  Nonetheless, a mystery lingered in their minds.

The maiden was called to enter for a presentation by her father.  Her entrance displayed a beautiful young maiden, adorned in a pristine, but common, white linen gown, weaved for the occasion.  Just below her striking hazel eyes, a thin light blue veil was fastened.  The prince arose from his chair in respect, coupled with great delight.  At once, her brows raised as she was inquisitive concerning the appearance of the prince.

With suspicion in her speech,  “Uh, father, this man is a commoner.  I thought he…”

The father sharply interrupted her, “Young one, the time has come for you to sit at the table of decision.”

Sheepishly, she took her designated place at the table, across from the prince.  In a softer tone, her mother explained that she, and her husband, would retreat to the back courtyard for a time.  The kindly prince, who admired their traditions, remained standing until they made their exit.

As the parents took their leave, they couldn’t help recalling the last time a suitor appeared with the promise of a dowry.  There was an older daughter at that time, the firstborn, who was of age for marriage.  The charming suitor claimed knighthood from the sovereign’s court, complete with squires and armor-bearers.  One hour after the betrothal ceremony, he returned, stealing her away, leaving the family in ruin.  The daughter was never to be seen again.  Rumors hovered for years that the damsel was enslaved, bound to serve in the chambers of a ruthless king in a far country.  The infliction left them with undeserved fears echoing in their minds.

Time seemed to stand still as the prince, and the maiden, spoke privately of family, faith, and freedom.  An immediate connection was being fashioned.  There was laughter for a time, only to meld into soft tears as he spoke of the hopelessness he witnessed among the villagers.  For her, she had grown accustomed to it, never anticipating a change.  As prince, he vowed to her, he would present the entire community with a free gift of insight to a life well beyond the boundaries they had set for themselves.

He reflected on his father in great reverence and love.  She was all agog concerning the enigma of the castle, and life within it.  The more the prince unveiled about the state of royalty behind the great wall, the more she wanted to cast aside speculations.  The maiden wanted to know more of his majesty’s likeness, his persona, and his plans for them both.

“My father embraces all manner of loveliness and is rich in laughter,” he explained in boldness.  “Not one thing has he ever withheld from me, as well as those he holds in his heart.  The land is unaware of his immense compassion for his people.  Soon, he will prove it to them.  In time, as he greets you, you will find we are alike.”

The sheer enthusiasm in his voice moved her to a place she had never been.  Although his speech was authoritative in nature, there was a soft grace about him.  The maiden acknowledged how his simple joy invaded the distrust nesting in the caverns deep in her soul.  In her very core, she wanted to escape the cloud surrounding her people.  Her dreams cascaded with the memory of her sister who had vanished at the hands of the evil knight.  Yet, for this moment, the maiden found she was wooed by this lamb of a prince, as well as the words of his promises.

Despite the night seemingly frozen in place, the time had come for them to separate.  The prince reached into his bag, pulling out a small loaf of bread, just enough for the two of them.  He explained the loaf was baked by him alone, and not the royal chef.  She was eager to taste of it.  Just before her hand reached for the bread, he then presented a small jar of clay filled with red wine.  He told her it was just enough for one goblet.  The color was brilliant against the table’s candlelight.  She asked him in which vineyard was it harvested.  With a sparkle in his smiling eyes he answered, “This is from my father’s vineyard.  The vine comes out of the earth with ease by his nurturing hand.”

Pinching off a piece of the loaf, he offered it to her.

Just before the maiden bit into the bread, he said, “No doubt, even though I must go, you will always remember this bread when you think of us, here tonight.”

As her eyes gleamed from the flavor of the loaf, he fetched the holiday goblet her mother had set out.  As he poured the wine in the cup, he reminded her of the tradition of the act of betrothal.

In humble sincerity he spoke directly, “Recall that you have a choice remaining.  You can decide now to refuse to drink of my wine, decline the dowry, and the arrangement will be dissolved.  Or, you can drink from this goblet, sealing the covenant that our wedding will take place.  By this, you will forsake all other suitors who come after I depart.”

As he explained the tradition of their culture, he placed the cup in front of her while watching intently with overwhelming eagerness.  She slowly wrapped her fingers around the goblet, holding it in her hand while sniffing the aroma.  Her mind raced with what her future might be as a princess of a great land.  With that, the maiden closed her eyes, placed the the cup carefully beneath the veil, and drank all of it.  Without hesitation, the two of them cheered, clapped their hands, and shouted in the excitement of love’s contract.  They hugged, they danced around the table, leaving them longing to catch their breath.

The table of decision was over.  It was time for him to journey back up the hill.  A sense of melancholy fell over the room.  He held her hand tightly as he reached into his sleeve, retrieving a beautiful scarlet scarf of silk which had been concealed from view.

As he carefully wrapped it around her left wrist, he gently explained, “This silk scarf is to always remain fixed onto your wrist.  Wherever you go, it will be a sign for others you have sipped the royal wine of the prince.  For you, it will always be a reminder of our bonding as one mind, one heart.”

“I will, sweet prince.  I will,” she gladly proclaimed.

The prince continued, “Meanwhile, there is preparation to be done for the coronation.”

With a gasp the maiden shouted, “A CORONATION?”

Delivered with a chuckle, “Yes, you are to be queen of the kingdom.  The wedding itself will be like nothing this village has ever seen, or put to ink.”

“Tell me!  Paint my mind with the image,” the maiden replied as she closed her eyes.

“Of course,” he remarked, “There will be multitudes of guests who will be at the pinnacle of awe.  You will be given the brightest snow-white gown, with a train that will fill the castle.  You will be clad in the finest of jewels, mined from the ends of the earth.  Kings and queens will ask to kiss your white gloved hand adorned with rings.  I am certain even the animals will bow down to you.  (They both reveled in laughter.)  With each step you make, my father’s servants will dip in affirmation of your right as queen.  All of the kingdom’s knights will bend the knee.  They all will be at your disposal.  This is how you will be welcomed.”

The maiden’s exuberance seemed to glow about the room.  Yet, her eyes looked puzzled.

Seeing her bewilderment, he added, “Yes, now you do not realize, but YOU are to rule over the company of the noble knights.”

At this statement, she saw an odd transformation melt over his face.  His countenance turned to concern.

“You look troubled, my prince.  Is there more I should know?” asked the maiden.

He sat her down, leaned toward her in solemness, “There is a caution to disclose.  To this point you have trusted in my words.  So trust this, as well.  Long ago, before you were born, there was a revolt among a remnant of the knights of the kingdom.  Profane words were spoken in the very courts of my father.  A coup was attempted to overthrow the throne.  A war ensued.  Many a knight joined in revolt against his majesty.  Yet he, being greater than them all, cast the insurgents from the highest walls of the castle.  To this day, the rebels do all in their power to spread myths about my father.  They are strategically crafty with fallacies concerning me, and this very kingdom.  With stealth, they charm, deceive, and even slaughter citizens here and foreign lands.”

His shoulders slumped, as great sadness washed over his eyes like a wave.

After a slight pause, “I know the dark knight who swindled your family, the one who robbed you of your sister,” he explained.  “This one is a mighty adversary.  He, and his brood’s code, is to do whatever it takes to end life as you know it, take possession of your treasures, and desolate all innocence.  You, my precious, will be a trophy for their league.  You will be marked by those who hate my father and our sovereignty.  In fact, they will despise the sign of the scarlet gracing your wrist.  There will be those who will even attempt to seduce you.  Efforts will be made to dye your scarf of scarlet into a faded gray.

“How can this be?” asked the young maiden.

“They hate me, so they will hate you, as well,” he replied.  “So, be on guard.  Even some of your own friends and family will despise you.  It is no secret that many of your neighbors do not favor my father.  It all leads back to the uprising.  So listen, and rest on my words of hope and triumph.  There are multitudes of my warriors clothed as I am today, covertly living in this village.  They keep watch.  They are faithful to report.  They will protect.”

The maiden responded to his curious, but comforting words, “Yes, I believe you.  If I find myself enclosed by the enemy, I will look up to the castle for rescue.  I will call out for you.”

The prince, speaking in a different manner, “I will listen for your voice…always.  Know that I will attend to you.  When you begin to doubt, just look at the scarlet of your scarf to remember this night’s cup.  For now, I must return to my father with this joyful news of our betrothal.”

He turned toward the door to start his journey home.

The young maiden jumped from her chair with a quick response, “When will I see you again?  Will we revisit with your bread and wine?”

Stopping as he heard her words, he turned slowly to face her.  Gazing gently into her eyes he said, “Take comfort, precious one.  Know that I will not be back for another filled goblet.  But, I will drink a more superb vintage with you when you enter the castle for all time.  For now, I must go.  The time is short.”

The maiden spoke out with some sense of exasperation, “You didn’t say when I will see you again?  When will we wed?  When should I make ready?”  Clasping her hands together and holding them to her chest,  “Oh, I have a thousand questions to ask!”

“I understand, more than you know,” he replied.  “The traditions of the land are clear.  Betrothal, legal betrothal, can be short, or lengthy.  It is not for the groomsman to dictate.  My father created his calendar.  He has his seasons.  He alone designates the year, the day, the time concerning us.  However, you will feel the time nearing, when others will not.”

The maiden challenged, “Since you and his majesty are alike, why can’t you tell me of his seasons?  Why must the days pass so slowly?”

The prince answered, “They will pass as they should.  No more, no less.  While I am gone, I will be busy tailoring a whole new wing of the castle just for you.  It will be more evidence that I will retrieve you for myself.  Before the coronation and the wedding feast, his majesty expects the construction to be complete.  It must be accomplished prior to your arrival.  Don’t fret, I am known to do well at the process of building.  Until then, you are to remain here, live here, and thrive here.  All the more reason to hold to what happened in your father’s house tonight.  Hold to my promises.  Hold to your goblet.”

At this, he opened the door.  At the threshold he stopped, turning to her one final time.

“Light your lamp in the window for me,” he said with a sparkling grin.  “I will not be adorned like this again, but you will recognize me from the glow of your lamp.  Meanwhile, you will hear from me often.  Take heart, my love.”

With a better understanding, she accepted his words, “I will.  My oil keg will be full.”

As the prince walked out the door, she leaned against the lintel, struck in a swelling impression of amazement and awe.  The young maiden kept her eyes trained on him in the light of the full moon, as he traveled back up the hill toward the castle in the distance.  Just then, a peasant stranger carrying a clay pot of water was passing by the house.  At first thought, she felt it odd, for the hour was late.  She only acknowledged his presence by moving her head slightly, as the man obstructed her view for a wisp of a moment.

The stranger nodded, and spoke with certainty as he walked by, “No need to worry, dear one.  If he promised to come for you, he will.  If you watch, you will see him arrive from that very gate.”

She was stunned at the peasant’s knowledge.  She wondered if he had overheard from the window.  In her daze, she looked up to the hill once again.  After he disappeared from view, she was enraptured by the hours they had spent.  Later, the maiden was taken aback to learn from her parents the length of his visit was only thirty-three minutes.

The hours turned to days.  The days turned to months.  The months added years to the longing of unification.  Daily the prince stood watch at his window from the castle tower.  Day and night, his eyes were roving over the entire village below, keeping watch over his beloved.

Forces from the enemy of the kingdom covertly eroded the lives of each citizen of the community, even the following generations.  There were evil times of plunder and pillage throughout the land.  Knights of the court reported each detail back to the prince.  The wicked hordes raided deep in the night, destroying and abducting for their own sadistic possession.  Although the royal knights, loyal to his majesty, who stayed among the commoners were far more superior in strength than the adversaries’ agents, the battles delivered burdensome tolls.

The prince, wanting to encourage his young princess, wrote love letters to be sent directly by his heralds.  Knowing the times of turmoil, he wrote words on his scrolls like, “Endure,” “Love the villagers and their enemies, just as I have loved you,” “Tend to the wounded,” and “Watch and wait until I come for you.”  Such writings were a treasure chest of his heart and mind.  The maiden read them often.  His words assured his love was not only intact, but active.  So powerful were the words, the maiden began to emulate his heart as she lived out her days without him.  Her quill copied the letters word for word in efforts to share them with her village neighbors to guide and incite a defense against the rebels.  Couriers were dispatched for public readings in village squares elsewhere.  Over the years, multitudes heard the words of the prince because of the copies.  During that season of the kingdom, there were twenty-seven letters in all.

Soon after the scrolls of the prince were known, suitors from across the land came with false dowries, scheming to woo the young maiden away from the prince.  A number of them arrived wearing the regal robes.  Their armored steeds were fed by envy, mixed with a hunger for power.  Yet, she held to his promises from that first moonlit night long ago.  In the midst of it all, the villagers were being persuaded to proclaim allegiance through the art of mimics, misdirection, and misleading tactics.  Like trained blind animals, many turned from the reign of his majesty and his gifts.

As the years moved through the realities of that time, with her view washed in clarity, her soul surged within her, developing an everlasting, faithful love for her groomsman.

Standing at his tower window, the pain in the heart of this prince couldn’t be matched, especially when he witnessed his betrothed in strife and struggle.  He whispered to himself, “It is not yet our time.”

It was a night of the new moon, when the maiden’s house was burned to the ground by enemy torches.  Her parents were placed on a wagon and taken outside the village.  They, as well as many others, vanished in a far country.

Although the maiden survived, her eyes shifted to the hill crying, “How long, oh, prince?  How much longer?”

During the changing of the seasons, after counseling with his father in his chamber, concerning the plight of his people, he returned to the tower window.  The prince observed the streets once again.  The maiden appeared at the far end, drawing water from the community well.  His heart was sore as he witnessed her draped in old soiled raiment, stained and tattered from the doings of trials, coupled with trauma.  She had grown older while still in her youth.  Her skin was weathered from a battered life among the continuing struggle.  Although seemingly weak outwardly, he beheld her as strong.  Although ragged and stained, he counted her as clean as virgin snow.

Moved again with compassion for her, he sent spoken words to be delivered aloud.  Special selections were made for the messengers to dispatch.  The words were consistent with his love letters of the past.  As she listened to the messages, her aged, scarred hand clutched her scarlet silk scarf of promise.  In a still, unassuming voice within her, she heard the words, “It is not yet our time.”

For some groomsmen of those times, a blemished, soiled bride in ragged garments was often denied promises established during more fetching days.  However, this groomsman beheld the truth of her ragged, stained, peasant garment, yet loved her still.

“Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him the glory.  For the marriage of the lamb (prince) has come, and His bride has made herself ready.  It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.  Then he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the lamb (prince).'”  And he said to me, “These are true words of God.”” – (The writings of John.)  Revelation 19:7-9 (NAS)

 

 

 

Slippery Slopes

“…She was going way too fast.  Before she knew it she was spinning on a thin black sheet of glass.  She saw both their lives flash before her eyes.  She didn’t have time to cry.  She was so scared.  She threw her hands up in the air.  Jesus, take the wheel.  Take it from my hands. ‘Cause I can’t do this on my own.  I’m letting go…”  – Jesus, Take The Wheel, (2005)  Recorded by:  Carrie Underwood.  Composers:  Brett James, Gordon Sampson, Hillary Lindsey.

14 years ago, an old friend of mine, Jaylene Johnson, miraculously survived a severe crash.  (See her car above.)

She is a successful singer/songwriter/recording artist, Juno Award nominee and Covenant Award winner from Winnipeg, Canada.  To say she was exhausted at the end of a cross-Canada solo tour, would be an understatement.  With her heater blowing full throttle, as she was driving home after a heavy snowfall in North Western Ontario, she was eager to see her hometown.  Jaylene was negotiating the roads as well as could be expected.  There was a moment in time she thought maybe it was best to grab a hotel before they closed the highways, but that had yet to happen.  Her car was packed to the roof with her guitars, keyboard, sound equipment, promotional products, and luggage.  The only thing on her mind was the weather conditions bearing down on the route.  She is a cautious driver, well versed in winter driving, but the semis nipping at her bumper were not so careful.  The rear-view mirror became her friend.

jaylene johnson performing

Jaylene on-tour.  Photo:  Tim Hellsten

The last thing she recalls is the map.  She had made it just outside of Upsala, Ontario, in the Thunder Bay District, when all went dark.  (Some of the following details came from eyewitnesses, EMT’s & police reports, along with her own post-accident inquiry.)

Travelling westbound, she had reached the top of a ridge overlooking a valley below.  As she began to descend into the valley, she slipped on some unexpected black ice covering the highway, and lost control.  As her little vehicle slid across the highway, she hit a transport coming eastbound head-on.  When she came to in the wreckage, a stranger on the scene, named “Willie”, pulled her through a shattered window, held her hand, and covered her with his coat before the EMT’s arrived.  As she sobbed, he comforted her while stroking her hair as she laid there in shock.  Fast-forward, she spent the rest of the day on a back brace in a Thunder Bay hospital.  Her body was riddled with pieces of broken glass.

Back in 2004, I was doing a radio show in Buffalo, NY while she had just released her first major album.  At the time, it was rare for Canadian artists to get radio airplay on the USA side of the border, especially independent bands.  I wanted to change that trend in the corner where I was.  The station I worked for was operating with 110,000 watts, reaching well north of Toronto, generally all of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).  The signal stretched over the entire Western New York area, northwestern Pennsylvania, and some portions of Ohio.  There was too many stellar Canadian artists putting out top-shelf cuts, not being heard on the U.S. side.  My number one focus was quality writing, production, along with terrific vocals to debut south of the Canadian border.  However, it was under a global relief, development and advocacy banner where our roads converged.

World Vision International had approached the two of us to join their work in El Salvador, as part of an ad campaign for support.  We worked together there, alongside other Canadian artists, for a week or so.  I was doing live reports back to the radio station as I interviewed World Vision workers, as well as benefactors.  It was there Jaylene and I became friends in a much warmer climate.

me in el salvador with world vision 2004

Jaylene took this photo of an interview I was doing with a World Vision recipient through a World Vision interpreter.

After our trip, we kept in touch.  Jaylene graced my show, in studio, a couple of times when she was performing in the GTA or WNY.  Through the years I kept track of her tours and television appearances.

After hearing from her on the details of the accident, I grew concerned about her health in the wake of such trauma.  In the end, there was no need for concern on my part.  God took the wheel, indeed.

I’ve had my own experiences with icy paths.  When you believe you can negotiate the roads in that condition, caution and prep would be top priority.

Come to think of it, no matter what climate you travel through, icy roads can derail your life.  Do you know what I mean?  We can be living life as a smooth operator, no issues in sight.  Then suddenly, without warning, our feet come right out from under us.  Zero traction takes us by surprise.  We’re never really prepared for it.  Just when we think we are, “BOOM”, on our tailbone we go.  (And it’s always the tailbone, right?)  For some, it might be losing traction on funds and finances.  We might experience losing traction on world peace.  Maybe a loss in traction with our child, our health, our marriage, or our nation.  It happens.  Before you know it, we slide hard into a nearby ditch, off the trek we were to be on. Just like Jaylene’s shellacked pavement, the ice doesn’t have to be thick to cause a head-on collision.  We can find slippage on the invisible, and/or what we deem as non-threatening.  It’s a tragic mistake.  Some find slippery slopes that lead to life-ending results.  There are non-negotiables out there which can transport you to where you don’t want to be.

“…stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand….and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace…” – St. Paul, Ephesians 6. 

In Paul’s time, Roman soldiers were fitted into special sandals with studs on the soles, like cleats.  For me, my preference are my insulated snow-boots with cleats on the rubber soles.  Better yet, Paul indicates a true gripping.  It’s more like the spikes on a mountain climber’s boot.  Anyone who has ever fallen hard on the ice, or slid down a slippery slope in the winter, or did so in a social, political, or economic climate, would recommend cleats in decision making.  Just ask the citizens of Venezuela.  Unlike Jaylene, when driving in the ice on bald tires, your future is certain.

Prep all you want.  There’s always the God-factor outside of your own abilities and strength.  Have you been there?  Maybe you have and you didn’t truly take the time to consider it.

As for Jaylene’s ordeal, a couple of mysteries still hover.  One unsolved oddity surrounds “Willie”.  As she was being placed in the ambulance, she looked back for him.  He, and his coat, were gone.  No person at the scene could tell her who he was, where he came from , or where he went.  Plus, according to the reports, the shear impact from the head-on collision with the transport, and her small vehicle, was of tremendous force.  Yet, she walked out of the hospital, on her own power later the SAME DAY!  Just shocking.

Also, one of the EMT’s was familiar with her music from Canadian radio.  He went the extra mile after taking her to the hospital.  He went back to the scene and helped to retrieve her property from the wreckage, all on his own time.

Lasting effects remain with her, mostly psychological in nature.  To this day, Jaylene will tell you, she can’t seem to fully relax anymore.  Yet, she does see God’s hand in the incident on several levels.  So do I.

jaylene johnson promo Jaylenejohnson.COM

I’m proud to say she continues to write, record, and perform.  She’s now married and raising a family.

When in slippery, tight places, it goes better when fitted with the cleats of fuel for the race.

“For He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways.  They will bear you up in their hands, that you do not strike your foot against a stone.”  -Psalm 91:11-12 (NAS)

 

LOST DOG! – Not so much

“… For whatever reason there might be, 
Oh, you’ll be there between each line of pain and glory 
Cause you’re the best thing that ever happened to me.” – “Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me” (1973) Recorded by: Gladys Knight.  Composer: James D. Weatherly

In some post, not that long ago, or far away, I stated something about how dogs teach us so much.  They may not have a pointer (lol), or a marker (lol) board, but they teach nonetheless.

Meet Pippin! (Cover photo above)

Recently, I posted about a young family next door who are moving away.  Steven and Amy are expecting twins, which means four little ones as a total, with only a small two bedroom house.  Yet, they do have three little-bits in the backyard, as well.  I affectionately nicknamed their very territorial duo Chihuahuas, Yipper & Yapper.  (It’s actually, Molly & Pippin.)  The third four-legged pal is a sweet, beautiful dingo.  Her name is Freya, and she believes her main job in life is to try to hush the other two.  They are fun to watch.

I have a new respect for Pippin.  Here’s the scoop.  In the turmoil and business of the family throwing things away, loading trucks, and cleaning the place, the canine trio have shown signs of nervousness.  With all the dust flying in the air from the upheaval, the dogs have been like bacon-on-skillet.  Freya, who doesn’t seem to be as bothered by the activity, tends to bark at the other high-strung Chihuahuas in efforts to calm their nerves.  (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)  While the turnstile rotates back and forth from the old house, to the newly purchased house, the dogs are often left alone.  No doubt they are puzzled, rattled, and bewildered as to why, what, and where.  Transitions are never easy.

Getting to know them over the last 3 years, I’ve noticed Molly, the female Chihuahua, is more of a fighter, in lieu of a flyer.  Pippin is the flyer.  When their uneven gate has been jiggled to a position where the aligning posts don’t mesh very well, leaving about a 4 inch gap, Pippin takes the opportunity.  Yep, three times in two days, Pippin has pushed the gate as hard as he can to gain more wiggle room in order to squeeze through the misaligned fence and gate posts.  When he does, it’s off like a racehorse.  Just as they are pulling out of the drive with the moving truck, they’ll see the little escape artist in the rear-view mirror.  When that occurs, it’s all hands on deck to nab him.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Freya, the dingo, and Molly, the less adventurous Chihuahua, began a barking marathon in the early evening hours on Saturday.  Our dogs, Shorty and Sammie, exploded in stereo.  As we checked out the cause of the canine chorus, there stood Pippin at our front door.  His human parents had been gone for a couple of days, leaving the dogs extra food and water.  My wife carefully placed him over their fence, only to find him at our front door less than ten minutes later.  Looking in his eyes, coupled with his constant trembling, it was clear what was happening.  He was experiencing separation anxiety.  He was craving love and attention from his frequently missing family.  In fact, I surmise he was out to find them, which meant road hazards for the little squirt.  We sent a text to the couple letting them know what had happened, along with how we would dog-sit until they came home.  Our pal Shorty wasn’t pleased at first.

Shorty SulkingHe had this look on his face, which spoke volumes.  The dialogue bubble would read, “Hey, what the heck?  Why is this little yapper in MY house?”  As for Sammie, our Schnauzer/Chihuahua mix, it was different.  Sammie seemed to ask if there would be enough food left in her bowl.  She checked on it just before she hid from all of the clamber.  She wanted no part of it.  Sammie is an old lady.  I don’t blame her.

Sammie Gimme-Gimme-GimmeAfter Shorty’s territorial greeting, he and Pippin began to play reindeer games around the house.  Of course, they know each other between the fence, but now there was nothing to keep them from being fellow pack members.  Although Shorty is a bit taller than Pippin, it didn’t stop the visitor from standing on his hind feet, placing his front paws on Shorty’s head, as a hard statement of dominance.  That thought bubble was so evident, “Okay, I’m the boss here!  YOU are NOT the boss of me!”  Immediately, the horseplay…or rather, the dog-play, ensued.

The overnight went okay.  Pippin was restless, even growled at times, but he liked getting under a blanket in a snuggle cave mode.  No doubt, if you can’t see unfamiliar surroundings, it must not be there.  Can you relate?

The following morning, all three dogs had some time in the backyard.  The two next door, Freya and Molly, watched, whined, and howled as if left out, like there was more going on at our place.  After awhile, Steven and Amy came home for another load of furniture.  Ecstatic to see him, Freya and Molly were jumping up and down, getting in Steven’s way as he walked toward the fence-line.  As soon as Pippin spotted his human dad, he raced to the fence, wagging his entire body, barking up a concerto.  After Steven held him in his arms, Pippin was all about squirming with excitement, licking every inch of Steven’s face that he could possibly reach.  Pippin never looked back.  He never stopped licking to say thanks.  It was as if we didn’t exist.  Frankly, in his noggin, we probably didn’t, at that heartwarming moment.  After all, we weren’t who he belonged to.

After Steven thanked us, I watched him walk away with our rough-n-tumble amigo, happy as a kid on Santa’s lap.  Clearly, Christmas came early for the little yapper.

Later, I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be wonderful for Pippin if Steven and Amy were with him all the time?  Wouldn’t it be magical, if his parents cuddled him every minute of every day?  Wouldn’t it be simply a miracle if Pippin felt the loving arms of his owner 24/7, feeling the surety that abandonment isn’t a word at all?  In fact, wouldn’t it be miraculous if Pippin could always hear a loving response from his adopted owner on any, and all, barking episodes?  If it were possible, wouldn’t it be terrific if Pippin had a tiny amount of faith in knowing his family would always come back?  If so, dog-life would be more tolerable.  Moreover, safety and security would never be in question, even while looking at the back of an increasingly vacant house.

Sometimes, I can be much like Pippin.  In fact, maybe lots of times.  I can identify.  How much do I squirm in life, for the silliest of reasons?  How often do I perceive, or imagine vacancy, with the first thought being, “It will never be full again?”  Too many times I howl at the proverbial moon in sadness, as if there is no relief on the way, or that times will never change.  Why do I forget about Christmas, the original?

“BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL (Emmanuel),” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.”  (Angelic messenger to Joseph, Mary’s betrothed.) – Matthew 1:23 (NAS)

Our commercialized Christmas won’t get anyone to the answers.  It’s only stuff.  A watered-down Christmas only gets us wet and cold.  It’s only seasonal foo-foo.  Celebrating winter only throws curved-snowballs at shopping frenzies.  It all is so unsteady, passing so quickly, leaving many in post holiday blues.

As a Jesus-follower, I revel in His arms daily.  (Only if I choose not to get distracted by the movements around me.)  My heart listens for His still small voice.  Sure, I see vacancy at times, but all the while deeply knowing, with certainty, with intentional expectations, I will see Him soon.  When I do, I rest in the promise that my obnoxious yapping, escaping techniques, and infractions, are all forgiven through grace alone.  I’m always welcomed home.  Now, THAT’S merry!

Dogs teach us so much about what is in the bowl of fuel for the race.

“…God has said:  ‘Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you…’  So we say with confidence:  ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’…”   – Hebrews 13:5b-6a  (Berean Study Bible)