A Wonderful Distraction

“When you feel down and out, Sing a song (it’ll make your day).

For you, here’s the time to shout Sing a song (It’ll make a way).

Sometimes it’s hard to care, Sing a song (It’ll make your day).

A smile is so hard to bear, Sing a song (It’ll make a way)…”

(1975) Recorded By: Earth, Wind & Fire Composers: Maurice White/Al McKay

Can I be real frank with you, yet remaining to be Alan at the same time? Okay, I take it that’s a “Yes”.

Over the summer, death has taken a few friends and acquaintances, including one family member, and almost lost another. The losses have been almost on a weekly basis. I have been fighting depression concerning my dementia patient mom who is declining much faster than expected. She still lives alone some 60 miles from me. I am facing mountains of decisions in this arena. My health is slowly headed further south. My wife has been faced with health issues herself, and heavy emotional family issues on her side. I feel like I am going under with my hand stretched out above the surface of a deep, dark ocean. I have needed a distraction…big-time.

It seems I have some new readers which may not know about one of my favorite topics, my middle daughter, Megan. Although I recently posted about her wedding over the summer, here I am again with something new and exciting.

Megan with her band, Grosh
Megan shooting a music video

Megan is a bit of a verified rock star in Western New York. Articles and reviews list her as part of Buffalo, New York’s “rock royalty”, and she’s only 31.

Recently, she was asked to audition to perform the National Anthem at the home opener at the Buffalo Sabres game. She, and her band mate, Grace Lougen from their band, Grosh, (Grace is a superb guitar player.), she recently played for me at Megan’s wedding reception, took the plunge with an audition. BOOM! Before you could say, Ice Capades, she got the call. As it turned out, she needed to learn the Canadian Anthem as well, due to the fact the opposing team was the Montreal Canadiens, (Yeah, that’s how they spell it.)

Although, me being in Dallas Stars’ territory, no outlet was carrying the game, with the exception of ESPN+, which my oldest daughter, Tabitha subscribes to. Thankfully, she shot a cell phone video of the performance, which I posted on my Facebook page. (You can see it there. Search for, Alan Brown Carrollton, Texas. That should do it.)

What’s that? You say you wish you could see some pictures? Really? Well, allow me. Let me grab my slide projector.

Megan (R) with Grace (L) prior to the game.

Megan & Grace at work on the Sabres’ ice.

Megan & Grace remembering the lyrics to “Oh, Canada”
.
Singing without a COVID mask is refreshing for a New Yorker!

It does a dad’s heart some good to find several camera angles for different perspectives from fans in attendance, as well as, those viewing from Canadian networks. (The version on my Facebook page is from the ESPN+ broadcast.) I needed to be ushered away from heavy sorrows and raking worries. It served as an inward reboot button. Thank you, Megan.

Although, with live gigs averaging several times a week, with 19,000+ in the arena that night, plus who knows how many in the television and radio audience, I would say it was her largest audience to date. Yeppers, I was one proud dad. Moreover, I was one distracted dad.

Recently I became aware that the Puritans often used a quote I have used before as a performer through the decades. I had always thought the origin of the quote came from Soren Kierkegaard. Nevertheless, it’s a dandy.

“AN AUDIENCE OF ONE”

Sometime in my mid 20’s, when I became a serious Bible student, anytime I performed a song, a theatrical script, or while on radio and audio commercials, I trained myself to imagine performing to He Who sits on the eternal throne, God Himself. It was a process. Prior to that time, I just focused on the audience of humanity in the seats. That’s all well and good, but it can feel shallow. Laser-focusing on the One Who created talents can bring the performance from the head to the heart rapidly, as if He is the only set of eyes and ears in the room. This is what I taught Megan while she was a child actress back in the day. My hope is that every now and then, she might recall the idea.

When needing a good distraction, find it easily in fuel for the race.

“Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.” – Psalm 96:1-2 (NAS)

Good Grief!

“In the words of a broken heart,
It’s just emotion that’s taken me over,
Tied up in sorrow, lost in my soul…”
(1977) “Emotion” Recorded By: Samantha Sang Composed By: Robin Hugh Gibb / Barry Alan Gibb

It’s been a longer span of time since I wrote a post on this blog. A number of reasons come to mind as I write this, but for now I will say it’s because of grief. Really, grief is just a pinch inside a mix of ingredients. Grief, with a good dose of anger, stirred with a mix of anxiousness makes for a good bunt cake to the belly. Throw that in a pre-heated oven deep down inside, and see what comes out as the temperature rises. Have you felt it yourself? This cake is bitter.

Grief can be born out of many things. Frankly, it could be manifested out of an ongoing flash flood of issues, washing everything down stream, taking out foundations which were once thought as solid and sturdy.

Photo by Ian Turnell on Pexels.com

Take note of the drastic rise in crime across the U.S. Notice the overwhelming splash of drug abuse nationwide. Research the scoreless population of homelessness in our streets and under bridges. Violence is becoming the norm in the streets, against everyone, including Asians, elderly, and children. Much of which were committed by ex-cons who were set free from behind bars. Others act out due to mental illness, peer pressure, or pure hatred. Where is the righteous rage?

Try not to ignore the vast numbers of “illegal” immigrants crossing our southern border at will. Throngs have entered illegally from all over the world. The White House continues to sit in silence about this problem. Many of these are sexually abused on the journey, victims of human trafficking. A few days ago, two little girls under 10 years old, walking solo across the border, had been sexually assaulted. Our border officers have had to get wet while retrieving bodies floating in the Rio Grande, including the bodies of children. Not a peep from the White House, as if it’s not happening. When out of the confines of much of the media, you will find out that thousands of these untested, unmasked, unvaccinated illegal immigrants are ill with COVID as they are freely placed by our government all over the U.S. by plane and bus, possibly in your town unknowingly. It’s not a racial statement to point out the facts of what is going on. That’s a foolish default narrative accusation set-up by those who don’t want to face the problem, but are willing to attack those who do. Pouring in without resistance includes drug mules, various criminals, and well-known gang members, including the murderous, MS-13. Very few are being vetted. There are those close to the the border crisis warning of terrorists taking advantage of an reckless open border. Yet, the White House looks the other way. Yep, nothing to see here. That’s the same people who planned the exit from Afghanistan. Trust?

Unwise massive spending bills, much of which are politically charged from the far left, are being passed that will cripple our economy, leaving generations to come under water. Trillions of dollars we Americans do not have. We are no longer energy self-sufficient. Fossil fuel production here has been dramatically clipped in the last 8 months, and now we are dependent on OPEC, and OPEC’s whims once again. Sure, some nations pay $9.00/gallon and call it, “normal”. Some pay more than that. Is that what we want? My wallet isn’t big enough. How about yours? Maybe we will find a way to grind up all those statues of the founding fathers we have torn down and pour the dust into our gas tanks. Do you think that will work? At the same time, businesses are shutting down, while some can’t stay open due to the lack of employees. Why? Because the White House continues to spoon feed people with unemployment checks, along with stimulus checks, which add up to much more than their salaries.

Critical Race Theory is quickly becoming a norm for school districts all across the nation. Why do we approve of our children being soaked in the false narrative that one race is better than the other, adding that one race is a perpetual victim at birth? CRT teaches against Martin Luther King, Jr. He believed a nation should not judge by the color of skin, but by one’s character. CRT aims to divide the population into tribes, no longer with the goal of ONE NATION, ONE PEOPLE. The White House approves. Why is that?

We have a Godless generation being raised. Marxism is celebrated now. That sound isn’t wooden pews creaking as someone shifts their weight, it’s crickets. Ebbing away are moral directives and disciplines, unless it’s from the gang-banger on the corner, or the leftest professor with a communistic agenda. In fact, I have seen more Christian-haters, and Jew-haters, online now than ever before who rage openly, about how people of faith should be removed, or shut down in the proverbial public square. Just today, I read a post from an old friend who blamed the resistance to mask mandates on…(wait for it)…”religious people.” Have we forgotten how Nero blamed the ills of the Roman Empire, and even the burning of Rome on…(wait for it)…Christians? Oh, yeah. If CRT is replacing true history, than maybe no one will know about that.

Photo by Jonas Ferlin on Pexels.com

I have seen people I know die from COVID. At this very moment, one of my dearest cousins is struggling for her life from this virus, and her husband is in ICU on a ventilator who may not recover from it. At the same time, there are multitudes who will read this and respond with, “If they are part of the unvaccinated, they deserve to suffer and die.” The White House is now using a carefully crafted title, “The Pandemic of The Unvaccinated”. This is dangerous! It sets the idea, for minds of mush, that the pandemic is only here due to individuals who have chosen not to get vaccinated. Thus, the blame-game. This is where we are in our society now. The love of many will indeed wax cold, so says scripture.

Unfortunately, much of our current politicians in Washington DC, care more about applauding themselves on passing a multi-trillion dollar spending bill into law, or the number of vaccines pierced this week, or how many masks are smothered over the faces of Americans than the sloppy mess of how it was decided to exit our people from Afghanistan. Because of this failure, many American soldiers have been killed in the process of helping to evacuate helpless civilians in harms way. Scores of civilian losses. Women who remain will be beaten, raped, murdered, and refused access to education. Why? Because there, they are seen as pack mules and baby factories by extremist pigs like the Taliban and ISIS-K. In THIS crisis, the White House can’t look the other way, only due to the outrage of the majority of Americans, as the White House watches the polls in hopes it will be just another news cycle scenario. Experts now fear another 9/11 will take place. I certainly expect it.

So, yes, my grief is good! It needs to happen. Too many today are NOT grieving over the dragging down of our nation, our culture, our society, our laws. Too many haven’t felt grief at all because of the option to medicate oneself. Drink this. Swallow this. Shoot-up this. Snort this. So many of what’s running through our veins is coming across…(wait for it)…our southern border. Soon, grief is drowned in the pool of a blank mind, a blank spirit, a blank soul. America is in trouble. And if America is in trouble, the free world is in trouble.

Believe me when I say, I am not wallowing in grief, but I do find it difficult to shampoo it all away. How do YOU rinse it out?

Grief itself is not wrong. It is not a sin. In fact, Jesus said it’s even rewarded.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” – Jesus – Matthew 5:3-4 (NAS)

Even Jesus was a man of sorrows. He wasn’t shielded from hurting and pain.

After His friend, Lazarus died, he was hit with grief. Before raising him from the dead…

“Jesus wept.” – John 11:35 (KJV)

He mourned for His nation in peril and disarray.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that murdered The Prophets and stoned those who were sent to it! How many times have I desired to gather your children, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is left to you desolate!” – Jesus – Matthew 23:37-38 (Aramaic Bible In Plain English)

He sees. He knows. He weeps. The Author and Finisher of The Faith wrote of all of the above in prophecies, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament.

He also comforts in the most difficult of times. That means I can react to our state of affairs and grieve. In doing so, I know I am in good company.

Grieving is expected. Righteous action is plainly printed in fuel for the race.

“I heard the LORD of Hosts declare: “‘Surely many houses will become desolate, great mansions left unoccupied. ‘” Isaiah 5:9 (Berean Study Bible)

When Giving Away

“She’ll change her name today.
She’ll make a promise and I’ll give her away.
Standing in the bride-room just staring at her. She asked me what I’m thinking and I said,
“I’m not sure-I just feel like I’m losing my baby girl.”
– (Album Release 1995) “Butterfly
Kisses” Recorded By: Bob Carlisle Composers: Thomas Randy Keith & Robert Mason Carlisle

I thought long and hard about just how to put the following in writing. Let’s start from August of 2008.

While living in Buffalo, NY for five years, I found myself sharing life with my middle daughter, Megan. Single parenting isn’t for the weak. My oldest daughter had already flown the coop to spread her wings a couple of years prior. My youngest daughter, a 2nd grader, left for Texas with her mom after I filed for divorce. I’ve written extensively and openly about this horrible chapter in my life before, so I won’t dive fully into all the sandpaper of history which brought my family so much pain. I will say the divorce occurred after 26 years of domestic violence, white collar crime, as well as, verbal, psychological, and physical abuse from a mentally disturbed wife and mother. Although it costs me almost everything I had, I needed to protect my girls. The history left deep scars upon all of us.

Megan was in the middle of her high school career at the time, and needed as much stability as possible in her life. So, I dedicated myself to staying in the area with my focus on getting her through high school in the school she loved.

After she graduated in May of 2008, I had the opportunity to relocate back to our original home, Dallas, Texas. I sat Megan down and revealed the options. She was welcome to come with me back to Texas, or decide to stay in Buffalo and make it on her own. With bitter-sweetness, she chose to stay. She had lots of friends where we were, and didn’t want to be geographically near her mother in Texas. It broke my heart, but I also knew I needed to support her decision, and respect it. She was 18, strong and independent. I am proud to say, she had a good head on her shoulders, smart, and talented on many levels. We hugged, cried, hugged, and cried some more. Fast forward, she not only made it very well on her own, but in spades. She became a well-known western NY vocalist and recording artist. She was the lead singer in an internationally award-winning band, and voted twice as best female vocalist in western NY. Her current band, Grosh, is considered Buffalo’s rock royalty. She has been on several albums with her bands, and many as a guest artist with other recording projects. To say I am proud of her, isn’t scratching the surface.

It hasn’t always been an easy walk in the park for Megan alone in Buffalo. A few years back she was involved with a guy who was an abusive so-in-so. I won’t go into details, but even after their break-up, he stalked her, threatened her, started brawls to get to her, kidnapped her, and tried a murder/suicide plot. She survived by THE GRACE OF GOD ALMIGHTY. Oh, I could tell you some hair-raising stories. All my prayers for her protection were answered.

About three years ago, she met a really nice guy from another band. The musician circle is a tightly knit group in the area. Most are all friends, and collaborators. The first night of connection with this young man, Kevin, they were able to just sit alone and talk. It lasted hours on end. She began to pray about that spark on her way home, asking God to make this clear to her concerning this new lad. Before you can say, “Tune my guitar”, they were a hot item. They moved-in together a couple of years ago, (not what I wanted for her) and not long after, he asked me for her hand in marriage. They do so well together.

So this happened on Saturday, June 5th, on the banks of the Niagara River where Lake Erie feeds into it.

Yes, I gave her away at the Frank Lloyd Wright Boathouse.

At the mouth of the Niagara, the winds coming off Lake Erie are constant and never just a breeze. Hair and fabric were everywhere.

Waiting to take post-ceremony pictures on the dock.

Just like the lyrics in “Butterfly Kisses”, I arrived at the venue early, found myself gazing at her in the bride-room. She asked me what I was thinking. I admitted to just being in a state of cruise control. There was a tendency to feel I was losing my little girl, but really, I went through that uncomfortable feeling in August of 2008 when I moved back to Dallas without her.

Megan was so nervous.

Her mother was not there, and to be perfectly honest, it was for the best. My wife, Megan’s stepmother, was unable to make the trip. So I gave her away, hugged and kissed them both, then sat down on the front row alone.

The reception was under a classy tent. Being from Texas, she wanted feed everyone tacos instead of wedding cake.

The wedding party, plus the wedding guests, were primarily made up of the who’s who of western New York rock musicians. The band for the reception were well deserved members of the Buffalo Musician’s Hall Of Fame. As the night progressed, it turned into a jam session with other musicians attending the event. To say the least, it was fabulous. I was able to surprise the couple by singing, “Wildflower” from Skylark with the band. I had to change a couple of the lyrics to fit the father singing to the couple, but it was the perfect song about a wounded bride with old scars. I didn’t cry, but I worked very hard at choking back the waterworks.

Singing “Wildflower” from Sklylark

The band performed “Butterfly Kisses” for the daddy/daughter dance. Tears were overpowering at that point. We chose this song because I used to sing it to them at home and at church on Father’s Day while they were growing up.

The last time we danced, she was standing on my feet as I was teaching her steps as a kid. Megan and I shared a beautiful moment during the dance. I will always hold it close to my heart.

One of the unexpected circumstances was initiated by my oldest daughter, Tabitha. My girls were raised on various music icons like, The Beatles, Elton John, and Fleetwood Mac. The band began to play “Dreams” from Fleetwood Mac when Tabitha grabbed my hand and said, “Come on dad!” Before you could say, “Stevie Nicks”, I was dancing with all three of my girls at the same time. Again, that hasn’t happened in about 17 years.

From L-R: Tabitha, D’Anna, and Megan

My 10 year old granddaughter was there, but she was off chasing seagulls most of the time.

Skylar, Tabitha’s daughter.

The reception/concert lasted about 5 hours. As the golden dusk spread over the Canadian shore across the Niagara, a soreness began to settle in my heart. The night was coming to a close. It meant she would drive away a married woman, this little girl I nurtured and protected the best way I could. Now, it would be Kevin’s responsibility to watch over her, comfort her, and allow her to dream on. At the same time, I had to put on a stage face for the scores of strangers congratulating me on gaining a son-in-law. I do feel blessed in that he seems to be a true, honorable guy who is loyal and loving. And yes, I gave her away into his arms.

When Jesus spoke of how important it is to give your very life away, it is for deep purposes beyond ourselves. When we were taught to give of ourselves, it was for the betterment of the recipient. When Jesus urged us to give to strangers, it was to offer our very best, not the crumbs of life. Before my feet left Buffalo, Kevin received my best. As the song, “Wildflower” says, I had cultivated her, attended to her, and raised her in my garden for such a moment as she took another name other than mine. I gave him my best.

Photo: Megan at 4 & 17

Tabitha, Skylar, and D’Anna flew on different flights, different days. I flew solo. The soreness I had felt toward the end of the celebration under the tent didn’t go away. In fact, I felt it not only linger, it grew. Trying to decipher deeply seeded burning stones in the soul can be difficult when negotiating an emotional event. While waiting to board my flight at the Buffalo/Niagara airport, I began to recognize the source. Megan’s mother wasn’t there at the wedding because she didn’t want her there. In other words, Megan knew she would be happier at her own wedding with her mother absent. Although I understand it, knowing the dynamics of the first 15 years of her life, my heart was sagging knowing it shouldn’t be this way. Megan deserved to have a loving mother by her side on her wedding day. Yet, that wasn’t to be.

My flight had a layover in Baltimore where I was to switch planes for Dallas. Sitting in the Baltimore airport, the guilt invaded. Guilt of “what might have been’s”. Torture paints the gut when gnawing on a good chunk of the “what did I not do’s?”. At the same time, I have wonderful, sweet memories with my girls as they were growing up. I miss those days, BEFORE MIDDLE SCHOOL. LOL However, I can’t deny the hardships my girls were faced with. There, right there, at the entrance ramp to board the plane, tears began to escape.

It was a night flight. The sunset was beautiful looking west at 10,000 feet. Looking down at the darkness there were pinpoints of light which could be detected as we flew over small towns and lit highways. Then at on point the pilot spoke to us over the intercom.

“Folks, we are entering Arkansas where there are a couple of severe storm cells of note. We will attempt to fly around them. Please remain in your seats and buckle up.”

Not long after that, I saw the storms out my window to the west. We were flying high above them. The massive storm clouds were ominous. Then, as I kept my eyes on the cell system, various sections of the clouds below lit up with brilliant flashes of lightning. Like popcorn under a glass lid, the illuminations popped up continually as I tried to count them while gazing from above the fray. Only when the lightning ripped through the thunderclouds could I spy the enormous structure of the cell. It was a sight to behold. There was a special beauty about the fantastic light show beneath us, although a danger to those beneath the storm.

So many times in my life, God has spoken to me through unanticipated visuals. Life has taught me to watch for these particular teachable moments as the Master speaks in illustration. Later, after landing in Dallas, I thought back on seeing the turmoil below in the Arkansas sky. An impression gently settled in my mind. The storms we faced as a family was indeed brutal, and harmful. Yet, now, it is in the past, and far away. I can now, I should now, not relive the torments of the life we had, but rather see it from afar, from above it. This is how I know Megan sees the threatening past. So should I. It is in that state I was able to let go, giving her hand to his.

Celebrations can be for a bright future, but also for leaving the past. It’s been done with fuel for the race.

“Now when the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the groom, and said to him, ‘Every man serves the good wine first, and when the guests are drunk, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.'” – John 2:9-10 (NAS) – Wedding at Cana.

The Winters Of Our Lives

“I see trees so green, red roses too,
I see them bloom for me and you.
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.”
(1968) “What A Wonderful World” Recorded By: Louis Armstrong Composers: Robert Thiele & George David Weiss

Me, being more of a landmark hunter while driving, never even noticed. It was my very observant wife who rang out the news as we pulled into the driveway toward the garage earlier this month. It was a sad moment.

It had been an average sleepy weekday for the most part, when we decided we would treat ourselves to one of our favorite Tex-Mex restaurants for dinner. (For those who may not recognize the word, I will define. Tex-Mex is more of a Texas altered fare of Mexican food. Real Mexican food is not so desirable to the average American palate. Still, if you like tripe, cow tongue, goat, mole sauce, or cactus on your plate, then you may enjoy some authentic Mexican dishes. We enjoy whatever we grow up eating.) We had a pleasant dinner. The clock told us it was time to go home and catch the new episode of, “This Is Us”.

It was about dusk, but light enough to see details. Arriving back at the house we turned onto the driveway. The headlights brightened up the garage doors a bit more than the setting sun. That’s when she said, “It looks like that corner tree didn’t survive the February freeze.” I had not noticed this smaller tree wasn’t blooming like all the others.

(Don’t be fooled by the splash of green on the right side of the photo. That is a branch from our neighbor’s tree leaning over for a photo bomb.)

Our place isn’t a large strip of land, but we do have 12 trees. We have 4 large, older trees in the backyard, some mid-sized, and some even smaller. By the way, the further you drive west in Texas, the less trees you will find. Then there are all of the various plants and flowers decorating the property. My wife is a green-thumbed lady. She should have been a landscaper. It’s a bit astonishing, most everything survived the freak wintry zero degree blast we received in Texas, which shutdown our state for a couple of weeks in February. Many Texans are still recovering from all the frozen calamity.

Photo: A freak ice tornado over the frozen Lake Lewisville, about six miles north of us.

Much of the plant life here has been delayed a tad due to the winter storm from two months ago. Even the grass on our lawns hesitated to wake up. Even so, I find myself cocking my head while gazing at the brown leaves still clinging to the branches of our dead tree. Why THIS tree? We have another one just like it, although bigger, on the opposite corner at the front of the house and it thrives. The tree from our neighbor’s front lawn is only about ten feet away, and doing fine. Why was this tree unable to survive? It’s a mystery to me.

I should mention, as I silently mourned the death of our little corner tree, my wife surprisingly said, “Oh well. I never liked that tree anyway. We need to dig it up and get it to the curb.” I didn’t know she felt that way about the tree. In hopes of a resurrection of sorts, I told her we should at least give it the month of May and see if it’s just in shock. Well, here it is, knocking on May’s door, and still no signs of life.

If you’ve not read the details, I wrote about our winter surprise when it occurred back in February. It may help to explain why there’s a corpse in our yard.

Photo: So many lost power, gas, and water. Some for several days.

Life is like that. One day you are experiencing the average comfortable days of life, with all its subject matters and routines, then WHAM!!! Just like that, an unexpected fierce winter hits you blindsided without warning. You know what I mean. My step-daughter, my brother-in-law, and my mother-in-law, all were diagnosed with cancer within a period of four years. Each one of them can tell you how winter blasts can take your breath away just as you are enjoying the warmth of a Texas sun. Yesterday, my kidney doctor gave me some disturbing news concerning a recent lab test result. I shed tears on my way home. Maybe your wintry blast came by way of a disrupting phone call which cracked the windshield of your life. Some might have faced the frozen chill as they held the hand of a dying love in a cold ICU room. Maybe it’s the memory of a sudden loss of a job, a steady income, or fire, or theft. I will tell you, the sudden loss of a marriage, home, and all that goes with it, can be a piercing sharp icicle to the heart and mind. The management of such frozen squalls is the true test. When you can’t trust others, or the fluctuating elements, or even yourself, where do YOU turn?

As for me, I can tell you, I do tend to “freeze-up” when life dishes out a gust of February. This is a trend I’ve discovered about myself. Too many times, I can testify to hitting the bed shortly after the icy hand of trauma grabs me. Please understand, I mean hitting the bed and staying there for days. Call me nuts but it’s happened. Professionals from the medical field tell us depression, depending on the degree, can lead to a shortened lifespan, or even sudden death. It is vital to shake off the icy particles, get out of bed, and begin the journey to healing. If not, we will not produce the way God intended. We become stagnant, bitter, angry, and yes…icy. The leaves on my tree speak volumes about life’s unexpected oppressive winters.

As we dig up the roots, break off the brittle branches, and put the saw to the limbs, I will remember the blooms it once delivered. I will visualize the Robins singing in its branches. I will recall the small shade it cast around the corner in which it lived. In doing so, I will keep in mind my perspective on the harshness of life, and the winters of life still to come. It will be a true test of Who I trust to guide me through such days. For on my own strength, I will shrivel, I will dwindle, I will wither.

Discover His branch, your vine, your bloom of fruit in fuel for the race.

“Because in joy you shall go out and in peace you shall go on, and the mountains and the hills shall break out before you in song, and all the trees of the field shall clap hands!” – Isaiah 55:12 (Aramaic Bible In Plain English)

Christmas Among The Ruins

“If the sky that we look upon
Should tumble and fall
Or the mountain should crumble to the sea
I won’t cry, I won’t cry
No, I won’t shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me”
(1961) “Stand By Me” Recorded By: Ben E. King Composes: Ben E. King, Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller

Did I catch you singing? Yeah, me too. WARNING: You’ll be singing it all day now.

The song, “Stand By Me” was inspired by, and derived from, a Christian song from the great, Sam Cooke & J.W. Alexander. The original was entitled, “Stand By Me Father”, and was written based upon Psalm 46:2-3. Sometimes a music hit is more than meets the ear.

Imagine for a moment that your world, and everything you built your life upon, crashes down all around your head and shoulders, where all things, seemingly solid, tumble and fall. Deep depression settles in like a thick black velvet blanket, with the exception of the fact it’s cold, not warm. Have you ever been there? I have, a few times.

During 2020’s COVID-19 crisis, many across the world have lost everything. Many are now without health, family, loved ones, houses, property, businesses, churches, neighbors, and so much more. It could be one of your trusted neighbors called 911 on you due to how many cars showed up at your house on Thanksgiving. (Truly joyful, grateful people, aren’t they?) If you are one of these smitten by the virus, you know the dull ache of loss due to something you could not control, nor could you escape.

An old friend of mine was bamboozled, broadsided, and bombarded by a tsunami of forces he didn’t see coming, nor could he escape the swinging demolition balls, nor could he control their power and pain. Steamrollers have a way of flattening you…not the curve.

I call this old friend, “old” because his story comes from the oldest biblical manuscript known. The poetic Book of Job is lengthy, and full of sorrow until the end of his ordeal. In a nutshell, Job was a wealthy, honorable man, full of righteous ways, and a full house of children, 10 in all. His marriage was solid, and had a list of many friends. Everyone looked up to Job. God was very pleased with Job and his life.

It’s important to understand, Lucifer, the adversary, was restricted from wrecking Job’s world. I love that! Obviously, the man was guarded from satanic schemes of destruction. It’s an odd scene for us, on this side of the stained glass, but this fallen angel challenged God, using Job as the subject. He wanted the Creator to allow him to tinker with Job’s life. God’s enemy swore that when he was finished with Job, he would no longer worship Him because of bitterness, rage, and a broken faith. I’ve always found it a mystery why God agreed to the experiment concerning Job. He did lay down a line that was not to be crossed. Job’s divine Shepherd gave a stipulation that Satan could not take Job’s physical life. The agreement was inked and off went the unshackled fallen one to do what he wished. Did he send his minions of shadow people to haunt and scare Job and family? If only. Nope. No Halloween tricks for Job, but rather authentic exploits of fright and terror.

If you know the record of Job’s onslaught of destruction, then you know well the hell-on-earth the poor man took on the chin. I won’t list all of the arrows which pierced Job’s existence, but I would say most of humanity never saw what Job experienced.

Photo by Matthias Groeneveld on Pexels.com

His vast property was shredded and burned. All of his offspring met a violent tornado, perishing under a collapsed house. Job was robbed of his numerous and varied livestock, way up in the thousands of all kinds, was gone by fire or sword, leaving him in poverty. His hired hands were slaughtered by thieves and marauders. He became very ill, close to death himself. Racked in pain from huge boils which covered his body, his friends urged him to confess his hidden sins for relief from the devilish curses, even though Job was not guilty of gross sins. Their narrative went so far as to accuse him of being godless. (With friends like that…) His wife’s eroding spirit broke, causing her to demand that he curse God and die. He refused her shameful advice. Although Job questioned God in his torment and grief, the poor man held to his love for his Creator.

“Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him…” Job 13:15a (KJV)

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

If Job’s story ended there, I would hang up my shield of faith forever, but there’s more.

God’s amazing personal encouragement to the battered Job reads like nothing else penned by mankind. Although God’s response covers many chapters, it is so worth the gleaning. It serves a 2020 generation well. Truly, there is nothing else like it.

Eventually, the demonic realm could not prove their projected case. God put a stop to the waves of anguish. He rewarded the faithful Job with all he had lost, and then some, by multiplying over and above what he once held dear to an abundance none had ever witnessed. He was the wealthiest man alive in his times. For Job’s day and culture, he was a billionaire…without all the corruption.

Being the earliest manuscript in the Bible, Job gave us the first human view of Christmas while sitting among the ruins. It came in Job 19, after a couple of so-called friends berated him in chapter 18. As Job responded to their emotional word-salad, Job spoke the following words which are now rich in the writings of scholars and composers across time and space to this very day…

“For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God…” Job 19:25-26 (KJV)

Did you catch it?

This man of antiquity speaks of a faith in the hereafter through a resurrection which includes his own physical body. Most astonishingly, he mentions something his friends must have been floored by. “…and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth…” WOW, says anyone who once read where God walked in the Garden of Eden in Genesis. Job knew of the event of Adam and Eve, and God physically walking in the garden at will, but THIS was an advent to come. Job had the audacity to speak of God’s feet standing, once again, on the planet in Job’s “someday”. Job, in his day, was envisioning the future, but for us, it’s already occurred.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Thousands of years later, about 3 BC, Job’s prophecy came true. Most date the birth of Jesus around 4 BC. Certainly, by 3 BC, a baby Jesus was learning to use his feet and legs to stand and walk. We know this because after the account of His birth, the scripture states…

 And as Jesus grew older He gained in both wisdom and
stature, and in favour with God and man. ” Luke 2:52 (Weymouth New Testament)
(Biblically, outside of His infancy, we only have one scene of His childhood written down for us.)
Photo by Bess Hamiti on Pexels.com

I wonder if Jesus ever visited Job’s graveside. If so, I can imagine Jesus “standing” at the tombstone and saying something like, “Job, blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Because Job’s twofold prophecy was unveiled at the first Christmas, we also wait for the promised second unveiling as His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, just across the valley opposite the Jerusalem gates. In fact, circumstances will be different. When Jesus’ little feet toddled about the house, in His meekness, it was more of a silent event. Zechariah’s prophecy details how His feet will touch the Mount of Olives in the future before walking into Jerusalem. The very act will create an earthquake, splitting the ground beneath His step. Incredible to picture it without a good dose of CGI. (In biblical times they had no way of knowing about the fault line running straight through the Mount of Olives, just east of Jerusalem.) It’s then, the ruins of life will be made new. My ruins, your ruins.

Christmas was wrapped first by fuel for the race.

“As it has been written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those proclaiming good news of good things!'” Romans 10:15b (Berean Literal Bible)

Table Or Booth?

“…We’ll get a table near the street
In our old familiar place
You and I, face to face.”
(1977) “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” Composer and Recorded By: Billy Joel

When Tabitha, my oldest daughter, landed her very first job, it was at a Perkins Restaurant in Williamsville, New York. All of 16, she was ready to make some part-time cash. I was so proud of her. Holding menus each night in her arms, her first words were, “How many in your party? Table or booth?”

If life’s decisions were just that simple, wouldn’t that be nice?

Table or booth for you? Which way do you go? Better yet, what’s more interesting might be why you choose a table or booth.

From the time I was a toddler, I always preferred a booth. It never changed. One of my favorite places in Dallas, Texas was an Italian eatery called, “Caruso’s”. It was a cozy little place, filled with candlelight. Although it closed down long ago, it was well known for their singing waiters. I auditioned there myself back in those times. Caruso’s was a great place for a day job for opera performers and club singers. There was another thing I loved about the place, their booths with privacy doors. Not every booth was equipped with the saloon-style swinging doors, some were simple stall-style doors, but I always asked for it. My dates considered them wow factors. And if someone wanted to pop the question at Caruso’s over a plate of Chicken Alfredo with a glass of Blue Nun, the booth doors were the romantic choice.

For me, the booth was indeed more private. After all, you had a wall on one side, not another table of onlooker diners. Also, the back of the booth conceals who you are with, what you’re eating, and how you hold your fork and knife. As early as I can remember, I loved sitting next to the wall with another person sitting next to me by the isle. What’s worse, sitting on the stool at the counter. Thinking back, I know why I leaned this way.

One of my favorite diners, Rainbow Cafe, Carrollton, Texas.

If I count the first nine months prior to birth, I spent almost three years experiencing evil. My early days were laced with hearing, seeing, and feeling emotional, verbal, and physical abuse. My teenage father was a rapist, an adulterer, and a violent, mentally ill raging alcoholic. The violence not only targeted my mom, but also toward me in my infancy. His parents warned my mom’s parents that he might try to end my life in the crib. I could tell you much more, but I will leave it at that. By the time the divorce was finalized, I was a three year old, living with my mom’s parents in a peaceful, sheltering home. They always were a haven for this lad.

My beloved grandparents in the 1980’s, Martin and Opal Atherton.

So, whenever we went out for a meal, I felt so secure next to my mom, or my granddad with a wall next to me. My guess is, violence must have erupted a lot around the dinner table in our home. It’s funny how even to this day, deep inside, I want to be next to the wall in a booth.

So, yes, “A booth for two, please.”

My middle daughter’s old band, Dirty Smile.

Earlier in the autumn, September/October, the Jewish community celebrates, “Sukkot”, commonly called, “The Feast of (Huts) Booths”. It is also entitled, “The Feast of Tabernacles”. The festival commemorates the days of protection God gave the Jews in the desert after the historical escape from Egyptian slavery. You might say it’s a bit like a Thanksgiving holiday. It was God’s idea. You can find more about it in Leviticus 23, and a few other passages. One might see it today as camping out. They were to set aside a week to live in small makeshift, temporary three-sided shelters where the family lived, ate, and slept guarded from the brutal desert sun, cold nights, and scorching winds. In modern times, depending on what’s available, many build them in backyards, or apartment patios, or balconies, out of plywood, and/or lattice work, vine branches and/or palm leaves. It became known as a time when God sheltered intimately with the family, as He would “Tabernacle, or hut with them”.

It seems to me, after a long scathing, often times brutal election year, I need God to hut with me. I want to be soothed in my booth, with my body touching the wall while the Ancient Of Days, the One Who is always at the helm, sits next to me. On the other side is the isle of tabled onlookers. Until I’ve left this place to sit at His table, it’s what I need.

So let me say again, “Booth for two, please.”

When searching for a strong, and very permanent shelter, fill-up with fuel for the race.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with me.” – Revelation 3:20 (World English Bible)

Muleskinner

Cover Photo:  Wikipedia (Pack Mule)

“Well I’m a lady mule skinner
From down old Tennessee way
Hey hey, I come from Tennessee
I can make any mule listen
Or I won’t accept your pay
Hey hey I won’t take your pay…”  (Composed: 1930)  “Blue Yodel No. 8” (Mule Skinner Blues) Recorded by:  Dolly Parton (1971)  Composer:  Jimmie Rodgers
Odd title, isn’t it?
There’s two solid favorites in my life, animals and the American old west.  An old western movie, or television show, has both.  Of course, before the industrial revolution,  back in the 1800’s, animals were a vital part of life.  Without a horse, donkey, or mule, you had to walk.
Mule Spotted
Photo:  Wikipedia  (Spotted Mule)
Often in an old western novel, or up on the screen, you might come across a person who is called a “Muleskinner”.  The first few times I heard of it I thought it was just a derogatory term for some back-woods liquored-up buffoon without a lick of horse sense.  (You can tell I’m well versed in old-western jargon.)  Usually in description, either in print or film, the “Muleskinner” seems to always wear buckskin coats or pants with the fringes hanging loosely from the edges.  Right away, with a title like, “Muleskinner”, you wonder if the hide adorning such a character is from a mule he skinned out on the prairie somewhere.  To me, that’s a person I wouldn’t want to belly-up to a saloon while jawin’ in a dusty, God-forsaken wet-whistle of a town.  (Ah, there I go again.)
The mule is a beautiful creation.  Actually, the mule is a hybrid of a horse and donkey.  Brilliant minds bred them, for the first time, in what is now known as Turkey prior to 3,000 BC.  Ancient Egyptian history chronicles the mule as a working animal.  King David and King Solomon owned and bred mules in biblical texts.  And it’s no wonder.
Mule Packing
Photo:  Wikipedia  (Mule as beast of burden.)
By definition, the mule is a “beast of burden”.  It can be packed with a household of goods that a horse couldn’t come close to carrying.  The mule doesn’t eat as much as a horse.  A mule is stronger than a horse, yet slower than a horse.  The mule has much stronger  hooves for rocky trails.  And a mule’s skin is not as sensitive as horse hide.  Its hide can take weather elements better, as well as, desert sun, and yokes.  Many farmers traded in plow horses for mules.  It’s been recorded that long-haul stage coaches, which traveled over harsh terrain, often utilized mules because of their outstanding physical endurance.  Their life-span is also greater than a horse.  They can live up to 50 years.  Yoked teams of some 20 mules were used to haul heavy loads, or train-wagons across rugged country.  In the early days of the locks of the Erie Canal, mules were used on the banks to tow boats.
Mule Team
Photo:  Wikipedia  (Mule teams for multiple hitched wagons.)
What an animal.  By the way, the driver of the mule-team in the photo above is…a muleskinner.  No, he doesn’t take a large hunting knife and skin the hide off a mule.
The truth of the origin of the nickname, “Muleskinner” is not pleasant.  Because the skin of a mule is not as sensitive as a horse, many drivers of the mules, with reigns in hand, often whipped the reigns on the mule’s back too harshly.  Many times the end result was the leather reigns, or whips, would cut the mule’s skin in the process of lengthy hauls.  Thus, the nickname, “Muleskinner” was birthed.  It’s sad, and brutal, but true.  I will assume here there were also animal-loving drivers who cared well for the mules they drove and left them unmarked after the yokes and harnesses came off.
No doubt we have all had times in life when we felt whipped, bloodied, and beaten during our path forward.  For whatever reason, being burdened-down with the heaviness of life and life’s masters.
Maybe I’m not describing you, but maybe you know of someone fitting this description.  Maybe it’s someone you’ve not seen for many years, then suddenly your roads cross and you find yourself astonished, or almost speechless.  Your old friend, co-worker, or loved one looked weather-beaten, appearing to be 20, or 30 years older than they are.  You immediately want to ask them what happened in life’s journey which lorded over them.  Maybe you got up this morning, gazed at the stranger in the bathroom mirror while asking yourself, “Why do I look so worn-out lately?”  You’re reading someone like that.
There were wealthier people in the times of Jesus who would’ve owned a mule, or a few.  As Jesus was speaking at one time, I picture a perfectly equaled team of mules going by, yoked up pulling a large wagon piled with a full load of items, including a millstone for grinding grain.  I imagine the well-dressed man of means whipping the backs of his beasts of burden to the point of splitting the hides with each lash of leather.  And just then, Jesus would say…
“Come to Me, all those toiling and being burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  – Jesus – Matthew 11:28-30  (Berean Literal Bible)
So many of the world’s religions are wrapped in “Do this”, “Do that”, “Recite this”, Recite that”, Walk on your knees here and there”, “Pay this, or pay that”, “Suffer for heaven’s reservation”, “Earn your glory”, “Kiss this stone”, “Pray this many times or lose favor”, etc, etc.  Jesus knew about these legalistic demands to GAIN spiritual status and treasures of eternity from a god with a whip who is so distant.  Can’t you just see a religion founder, or leader sitting on the driver’s bench, whipping his yoked-up subjects shouting,
“Here, let’s burden you with this, or with that.  Let’s strap on this unnecessary load upon you because past generations dictated it so.” 
Now, read again what Jesus said, but slower this time.
He left His divine throne to spend 33 years here, living among us, teaching us God’s true heart toward us mules.  His “easy yoke” offer still holds true with the promise of a light load for however many years you have left on this rocky road.  He earned it for you.
When yoked-up with The Everlasting, the burden is lighter with fuel for the race.
 “Surely He took on our infirmities and carried our sorrows; yet we considered Him stricken by God, struck down and afflicted.  But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” – Isaiah 53:4-5  (Berean Study Bible)

When Mom Fades

This was not the post I was planning for upload today.  Literally, I sat down at my desk to construct a post I’ve mulled over for three weeks now, when suddenly I remembered to try again to reach my mom on the phone.  It would be the fourth attempt today.  This time it worked.  She answered.  We spoke.  Afterward I felt the sliding of my emotions which tends to be the norm of late.

In the past, on Mother’s Day weekend, I have told her story.  Each year I gained morsels of bravery to shed more light on our tapestry.  It’s a unique, heroic recounting of a strong, courageous single mom.

Mom 1962 Grandmother's Kitchen

At 15, she found herself fighting off, or attempted to fight off, her rapist.  I was the product of that violent attack.  Being out of her crushed mind, heart, and spirit, she attempted suicide twice while pregnant with me, but survived.  She was unaware God had His plans of destiny beyond the messy road she was on.  I told this story with a great amount of reveals a year ago.  I invite you to look at May’s archives from last year to get a sharper camera angle of her torn life. (“If I Were…” From May 10, 2019)

Mom & Me Granddad's Coin Box

In the last 20 years she took-on the role of caregiver for her parents, who suffered from Alzheimer’s.  Nancy Reagan called this disease, “The Long Good-bye”.  She was right.  My mom retired as early as she could to move-in with her ailing parents, giving up her life to hold them up, as best as she could, as they faced the monster of this disease.  My granddad passed away first with complications of dementia in 2008.  My grandmother had full-blown Alzheimer’s, struggling with it for about 14 years before she passed.

My mom aged quickly while being a soldier for her folks.  It was difficult to see her own physical health decline during those years of tremendous servanthood.  I was never more proud of her battling away in those times.

Around 2014, her oldest brother, 4 years older than her, began to show signs of the same disease.  Today, he is deep in the jaws of the struggle, rendering him to a shell of a man, vacant in many ways.  A couple of years ago, my mom’s other brother, 2 years her senior, began to mentally deteriorate with the same invader of the body.  Trust me, it is no respecter of persons, or brilliance.

My mom is only 16 years older than I.  (I’m turning 60 in a few short days.)  Over the last 2 years, I became aware my mom was changing, and not for the better.  She lives alone about 70 minutes from me in the house she grew-up in.  At first, I felt the changes I observed were simple gaffs of the aging process.  Our communication often left me scratching my head.  There were occasions where she got lost while traveling to our part of the Dallas Metroplex, a way she knows like the back of her hand.  About 2 years ago we were to meet at a halfway point, as we have done many times before.  Her sense of direction was totally absent.  She had to call me for help to walk her through which way to turn at each intersection.  When I instructed her to turn left, she would turn right, not understanding the mistake.  It was on that day I realized she…we had a problem.  It would be a problem that would grow.

Recently, almost overnight, she found herself unable to spell the simplest words.  Her cell phone texts became more difficult to read as the days rolled on.  She began having issues with sentence construction and word retrieval during our conversations.  Items would come up missing in her house.  She blames it on her dog.  Asking if I can help is a loss.  She no longer allows me in the house.  Her excuse is it’s too messy for company.  In the last few months, she has had losing battles in operating her cell phone, including prompts, icons, and modes.  Today, in our telephone exchange, she expressed an urge to give it up and order a simple landline phone.  I hope it helps because she has trouble answering the phone these days.

There are also other health issues of concern I recognize as side symptoms of dementia.  She is a proud, independent woman, and holds these cards close to her chest as I attempt to decipher how her daily life is changing.

Frankly, I know where this is going.  As she shrugs it off as amusing, even humorous, I am accepting the fact that my mom is fading before my eyes.

Somewhere in the thicket of my mind, I knew this day was coming.  Although there was a 20 year span as my grandparents experienced massive declining health, there were also wonderful times of mysterious joy in the midst of it all.  I must remember this as I tend to my mom’s needs today and tomorrow.  Currently, I just don’t know how, or where to begin.

Mom salon

So, what’s the purpose of this particular post?  Unaware of the true answer, all I can do is display brutal honesty of how I feel on this Mother’s Day weekend.  Because I didn’t have a dad around, most of the time in my life, I saw her as my touchstone.  I liken it to a small child in a swimming pool, with an inflatable tube around his/her torso.  He/she feels much safer holding on to the side of the pool with his/her waterlogged wrinkled hand grasping tightly to the concrete edge.

I’m turning 60 years old now.  It’s time to let go of the concrete edge.  Scripture tells us not to hold too tightly to this world, especially what we deem as “concrete”.  Even concrete crumbles.

As the concrete crumbles in my grasp, I am reminded once again, God is the life-saving tube around my torso.

My days are filled with the reminder that I need to top off my tank every day with fuel for the race.

“So I said: ‘Do not take me away, my God, in the midst of my days; your years go on through all generations.  In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded.  But you remain the same, and your years will never end.'”  – Psalm 102: 24-27 (NIV)

 

 

 

B-17

Cover Title Photo:  Pexels

“Please, Mister, please, don’t play B-17
It was our song, it was his song, but it’s over.
Please, Mister, please, if you know what I mean,
I don’t ever wanna hear that song again.”  (1975)  Please Mr. Please   Recorded by:  Olivia Newton-John  Composers:  Bruce Welch & John Rostill

Mama’s Pizza came to my north Dallas suburb in 1976, or so.  It was the first New York style pizza to land in our area and it was a true hit.  In fact, my single mom and I were one of their very first customers after they opened for business.  The interior was very much like the no-frills, old pizza joints in New York City.  It had its dark maroon painted brick walls kissing the eight or ten booths lining the long dark narrow dining area.  There were three, maybe four tables for those that preferred them.  The kitchen was out in the open with its used pizza ovens.  (I say “used” because they didn’t look brand new to me.)  Two brothers ran the place, both from New Jersey.  They were both in their 20’s and going to school.  One was in dental school, the other in business studies.  They often fought publicly, but it only added to the atmosphere.  They didn’t care how loud they were, or who could hear them.  I smile thinking about witnessing shouts of, “DON’T BOTHER ME WITH THIS!”…”I CALLED MA LAST TIME.  IT’S YOUR TURN, BOZO!”…”AH, FORGET ABOUT IT!”

One of my favorite things Mama’s Pizza had, there on the far back wall, an authentic mounted moose head, possibly a caribou, hanging out from the brick wall.  It’s nose was just about eye-level.  A couple of friends of mine had a tradition of kissing the nose of the poor beast.  Just beneath the animal’s mounted head, an old classic jukebox.  My classmates and I almost wore that thing out over our high school years.  It looked something like this…

woman lying forward on parquet floor in front of jukebox
Photo by Cleyton Ewerton on Pexels.com

From what I recall, you could select your song for a dime, or a quarter if you wanted to push more buttons for a few more tunes.  It seems they had current hits from the 70’s, as well as, some hits going all the way back to the late 50’s.  Zero country songs.  Very seldom did you ever see a goat-roper (Our word for cowboys back in those times.) come in for NY pizza.  That’s was fine with us.  We didn’t like country-western music.

Mama’s Pizza hasn’t been here in many years now.  I miss it.

One thing Mama’s didn’t have was this…

Jukebox Tableside Dallas memories

Photo:  Dallas Memories Facebook Group

Now, depending on how you are, you might not recognize what this is.  Back in the day many small diners often sported these little treasures.  Although most have thrown them out as the years marched on, from time to time you can still find some table-side jukeboxes.   It seems like the last one I saw was at the Lake Effect Diner in Buffalo, NY.

Lake Effect Diner curtinresturants.com

Photo:  Lake Effect Diner, Buffalo, NY.  curtinresturants.com

As a kid, and as an adult, sheer excitement would take over whenever I spotted these babies.  In fact, I remember searching for songs even before picking up the menu.

I will pretend you’ve never seen one.  So, allow me to describe the experience.  tThere is a knob, or lever, which turns the pages of the lengthy song-list.  As you scan the titles and the artists, you should have your dime ready for your selection.  Suddenly, you find your favorite tune, “You Ain’t Nothin’ But A Hound Dog” by Elvis.  Next to the song is a letter or number, or both, that you would push the coordinating button for choosing.  Boom, somewhere in the building is a jukebox remotely playing your selection over the speakers at your table.  But usually there are speakers mounted in the ceiling for everyone’s listening pleasure…or hatred.  And there’s the rub.

Like Olivia, there always seems to be a B-17 in our memory.    Maybe you dislike Elvis, and there he comes, forced on your ears because some button-pushing customer in booth #3 selected it without consulting you first.  What’s worse, he might have added a couple more Elvis tunes with a quarter in the slot.  By the time your selection comes around, it may be time to tip the waiter and leave.  Before you know it, just about the time the second verse of “Blue Hawaii” comes around, you’re thinking of taking your sliced tomato off your burger and throwing it toward booth #3.  Do the math.  B-17 + Communal Music = Internal Sour Notes.

Turn Table wikihow.life

Photo:  wikihow-life

For me, the heavy remains to be my personal B-17’s.  You know what I mean.  It’s not so much a disliked artist, but rather a song.  There’s nothing like music that drags you back to a memory, whether it be a good one, or a bad one.  It could be a relationship that went south and the song on B-17 in the selector was what you called, “Our Song”.  Tell me about it, I know it very well.  I could cry a river a few times.  Maybe it was the song on the radio you were singing along with as a truck pulled out in front of you, leaving you in a body-cast for a few weeks.  Someone might think of a song sung at a funeral for a loved one.  That’s what happened to me with Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful”.  To this very day, I sink in sadness when it plays over the air.  The song was performed over the coffin of my friend and mentor back in July of 1981.  All these years later the song stings me.  Music has Velcro.  It’s the way God created it.  Music stamps visuals, times, and places.  So many songs do deliver sweet mental-videos of first cars, first dates, weddings, births, and graduations.  If the guy in booth #3 selected one of those I might be persuaded to buy his grilled cheese sandwich.

Sometimes being in a community isn’t always a pleasant thing.  Am I right?  It’s all about how you handle what you don’t want to hear, or see.  Maybe the group of kids in the corner booth are dropping the F-bomb for all of us to enjoy.  Maybe the idiot cutting people off in traffic gets your match lit.  It simply might be a neighbor with a political sign in the front yard you wouldn’t vote for.  Yep, sometimes being communal isn’t always tasteful.  What’s your B-17?

So Olivia is spot-on with, “Please, Mr. please, if you know what I mean, I don’t ever want to hear that song again.”

Grace, living out grace, handing out grace overcomes a lot of B-17’s in life.  Biblically speaking, it means giving favor to someone, or some thing, who you feel doesn’t deserve favor.  Grace fuels merciful action and thought.

“Lady” by Kenny Rogers is a B-17 for me.  It brings up a life-long choice which turned out to be a youthful mistake.  For many moons the sound of the song angered me, literally.  However, when hearing now, I work hard on hunting for the true value the lyrics have for others, not focusing, or feeding on the sour notes of my own past decision-making.  What’s history is history, grace would say.  I for one, need grace all the time, every day.  So glad the Creator invented it, and distributes it.  It’s what’s on God’s menu for us, the consumer.

Before selecting that button, it’s wise to order-up a good warm cup of fuel for the race.

“Give, and it will be given to you; a good measure–pressed down, shaken together, and running over–will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”  – Jesus –  Luke 6:38  (Holman Christian Standard Version)

Time In A Bottle

“If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I’d like to do
Is to save every day
‘Til eternity passes away
Just to spend them with you”   Recorded: 1972  Released: 1973  “Time In A Bottle”  Written and Recorded by:  Jim Croce

Have you ever spent time in a bottle?  (Maybe that’s for another post someday.)

I have fond memories of performing this stirring song in the late 1970’s as a duo with a fellow musician.  It’s really a wonderful premise, don’t ya think?  Maybe here is a way to save time in a bottle.  How about this?

Bottle Ship Etsy.com

Photo:  Etsy.com

Jim Croce has left us with somewhat of a mystery here.  The lyric itself was written at a happy time in the life of Croce.  In 1970 he and his wife had just discovered they were going to have a baby when he put pen to paper, but didn’t produce the song for two more years.  Simultaneously there is a blueness about the lyric, accompanied by a smattering of minor chords.  In fact, if you read all the verses you will hover in a hazy fog of wanting, lacking, with a tint of cost.  In Crose’s case, my theory is he was on the road with gig dates, away from his pregnant wife.  Not too vastly different from the overtones of the idea KISS brought us with the rock ballad, “Beth” from 1976.  The composers of both songs seem to be relationally available to their loved ones, and yet not — leaving a sense of sadness, of loss, with a shadow of emptiness.

There is a powerful scene in the 1998 WWII movie, Saving Private Ryan.  It’s a haunting scene, shot without audible dialogue.  Spielberg’s masterful direction begins with Mrs. Ryan, Private James Ryan’s mother,  busy in her farmhouse kitchen, donning her well-worn apron.  Out the kitchen window a telegram messenger drives up the dusty country road, stopping in front of her house.  Spielberg’s frame follows her to the front screen door which she opens.  The camera angle is positioned from behind her, as if the viewer is a member of the household.  (A brilliant choice by Spielberg.)  She steps out the threshold to greet the messanger.  The telegram is handed to her.  An unanticipated intense moment passes as she stands frozen in time.  Suddenly, her knees buckle as she falls faint to the porch floor as she’s informed of the deaths of three of her sons, all killed in combat.  Only one son remained alive, serving on the battlefield somewhere in France, her son James.

No other film moves me so like Saving Private Ryan.  Much of it is hard to watch as it was produced to place the viewer there in the thick of battle alongside the U.S. warriors in efforts to stop Hitler.  I recommend a showing for Veteran’s Day Week.  (Not for younger kids.)

The one and only scene with Mrs. Ryan is etched in my head.  It’s easy to imagine how just seconds prior to the telegram, she was happy, focused on the task at hand, proud and comfortable with a quiver full of valiant sons serving overseas in difficult times.  In those moments, I can understand why she would want to save that time in a bottle, to be poured out in measure at will, to once again revel in her family.  As I watch, knowing what’s coming, I too hold her sense of quiet joy all the way up until the tragic news breaks.  When she collapses, I shed tears of grief for her every single time.

“Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.” ~ C. S. Lewis

The news alert popped up on my television screen a couple of days ago.  I sat in my chair stunned as it was reported how three American mothers, along with six of their children, were mercilessly gunned down and burned on a road in northern Mexico, just south of the Arizona border.  Reports from surviving children, who escaped the scene, revealed mothers shielding their young, begging the attackers not to shoot.  Members of the Mexican cartel unloaded their weapons of war on the innocent, along with burning the bodies, some children still alive in the flames.  In an instant, I was enraged, followed by heartbreaking pain, followed by immense grief.  All within a minute.  “If words could make wishes come true…” – I believe the three moms would’ve wanted back the time of peace they had just prior to the attack.

Isn’t that the way grief goes?  One moment in time there is happiness, joy, or even the mundane, the ordinary.  Suddenly, it can be remembered no more when tragedy strikes rolling over heart and mind like a steamroller over hot tar.  We reach back for it all if possible.  If we had time in a bottle, in our onslaught of misery and mourning, we could uncork the reserve just to sample out some of what was once there before disruption, before loss, before pain.  The word “before” is massive.

Bottle with lamp

When you come across some unwise lecturer spouting out how the enlightened person of faith is care-free, without tears, only living the successful, prosperous life, I urgently suggest you keep searching for the authentic, the truthful.  Jesus Himself made this perfectly clear concerning the above.   “I have spoken these things to you so that you shall have peace in me. You shall have suffering in the world, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33  (Aramaic Bible in Plain English)  Several times, Jesus displayed His own hardships, struggles, sorrow, pain, and even tears.  It was written down on scrolls so we would know He understands what it’s like to live in a painful, sunken, fallen world.  Isaiah’s prophecy was clear.  We would recognize Messiah by certain red flags He would exhibit in His life, in His character.   –  “…a Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief…” – – Isaiah 53:3 (KJV)

Scroll Isaiah

Capturing the good times, the beautiful moments in life, is a terrific thing, even a healthy thing to do.  When they come, store them away in a special place only accessible to you, maybe in the bottle of the heart.  Fill it up, cork it as the days of memorable peace arrive.

As for Mrs. Ryan, along with an American family, with duel citizenship in Mexico can attest, times of quaking will come to a fault-line near you.  Whether it be financial, physical, mental, or relational, shatterings will come in life.  When they do, you might have a bottle of tremendous days reserved for reflection.  And as the tears fall, retrieve this passage from your bottle of times:

Bottle Biblical

“You have kept record of my days of wandering. You have stored my tears in your bottle and counted each of them.” – Psalm 56:8  (Contemporary English Version)  * Many versions add:  “…Are they not in your book?”

Grief, grief held to, can overwhelm the vibrant mind, poison the hopeful spirit, destroy physical health, divert from a career, and breakdown the life of the body.  We MUST grieve, for there IS a time for it.  Wisdom says to embrace it as it comes, bidding it farewell before it spoils like moldy bread.  You’re reading from one who suffers the failure of letting go.

When holding to the biblical promise with the invitation to “…toss ALL cares, ALL anxiety, loading-up on Him because He cares for you” – 1 Peter 5:7 (My paraphrase), one’s bottle will be filled with fuel for the race.

“For thus said the high and exalted One, Inhabiting eternity, and holy is His name: ‘In the high and holy place I dwell, And with the bruised and humble of spirit, To revive the spirit of the humble, And to revive the heart of bruised ones.‘” – Isaiah 57:15  (Young’s Literal Translation)