Birthday Hope

I found myself in the early hours of the morning, awake but waiting for the alarm clock to make it official for me to be so. Kim muttered in her sleep, oblivious to me or the dawn that waited quietly, holding an unsteady peace for yet a little while longer before thrusting its welcoming light through our window. As I became cognizant of the day ahead of me, my responsibilities and duties, in the far away distance I overheard the rumble of an early morning freight train barreling through McNeill. Interspersed with those rumbles were the calling barks of an indistinct dog, and I wondered when Tink would come and get me to open the door for her so she could go out and investigate. The air conditioner kicked on, breaking me from my reverie by diminishing those interloping sound bites from the world beyond my bed.

I reached over and aborted the alarm clock from its thankless mission, and rose despite the symphony of newly discovered pains in various joints that I’ve learned to call my own. As I made my way down the hallway to the television and the ever-waiting Tinkerbelle, it occurred to me that today was, in fact, my birthday. It gave me pause, exciting me and flustering me at the same time. The excitement stems from a long, dormant portion of my memory hidden by years passed, of a time when birthdays were special and meant no more than presents and cake. The fluster revolves around birth-date recall, and the addition and subtraction required these days to decipher how old I’ve actually become. Let’s see now, 2010, uh, minus 1962, equals uh, forty-eight. Forty Eight???? What tha… how tha? Followed quickly by the obligatory: Where did all those years go?

They’re not so bad really, these special dates we call birthdays. They should be much more than just an annual measuring stick of days gone by. It’s a time for a reflection of the past year, and a time to set goals for the year that begins anew on that date. The calendar turns, yet the Kingdom of Hope continues, and I hope it stays that way for me as I delve ever onward into my twilight years. The writer of Proverbs understood this inspired concept, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

Despite the abundant evidence of a broken world, I choose to believe in G_d’s unchanging grace and trust in Him because He holds my future in His hands. That’s important, because left to my own devices, I only see the world through the jaded glasses of someone who has read too much and seen far more than he should have. In the perspective of those glasses, bad appears to be winning and good is no more than a dark horse favorite by this part of the journey. Without faith, a strong faith, the doorway to cynicism is the only one that remains unlocked; beckoning me to enter. There could be no other choice for me. But I have a faith that gives me hope, and in turn, hope shares her vision with me.

Her vision tells me that one day I will reach maturity and the stupid things I am prone to do will no longer plague me in life. You’d think I would be there by this point, but all of the internal polling data proves otherwise. With faith and a vision, however, anything is possible.

Her vision tells me that my marriage will only get sweeter as the years go by. A love born of caring and fashioned by so much more than fate will continue to grow; blossoming into something beyond the realm of the merely normal or mundane as we grow old together.

Her vision tells me my children will grow and mature in their own way, and that I’ll be able to grasp the concept that it is supposed to be as such. Their very own faith, instilled by a firm hand that pushed them toward G_d at a young age, will prove to be more than enough to do so. Keagan will pass nursing school. Sheena and Brandon will achieve all of their goals. Scott, KT, and Parker will grow, with Scott now the head of his own little family. Tyler will manage to survive junior high.

Her vision reminds me that things will work out. Life will go on. The bills will get paid. The job will get done. Time will always heal. The blog will get written.

Most of all, this vision shared with me by hope through the faith I have in One who is bigger than I is sure to pervade my consciousness long beyond my birthday.

One Nation, Indivisible

We have a big-screen television in the conference room for video conferences between customers and the sales office staff. During the rest of its existence, it stays tuned to a well-known news network for most of the day. It’s hard to get your morning coffee and not have something displayed thereon catch your eye for a moment or two. It happens to me all the time. This morning as I brewed my K-cup of exotic, not-so-great-tasting-breakfast-blend-java, a story was reported of a woman being stomped at a political rally in Kentucky. The term I use here, stomped, can be taken as literal in this instance; the video could not be interpreted otherwise. Sadly, it was the party I usually consider as ‘the good guys’ who were in charge of the stomping. It was probably a set-up - she had on a fake wig and was the only dissenting voice in the crowd, but the beat-down wasn’t justified regardless. Sometimes you can be completely right and still be totally wrong. Where is this country headed, and what is it all boiling down to here in the good ‘ole USA?

Less than a week ago video surfaced of a U.S. Representative leading Congress from the floor of the House in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, except she conspicuously went silent when she reached the point where the words ‘under G_d’ would normally be said. The incident took place on April 17, 2002, or almost a full decade ago. I guess it took a while for either the video to surface, or for someone to garner the courage to complain about it. Sadly, I feel as though more than likely it is probably the latter. Courage can be found all over the place when an election is right around the corner and my so-called ‘good guys’ need a few more votes.

On three occasions in a little more than a month, our own President, bless him, has been caught deleting the reference to G_d while quoting a portion of the Declaration of Independence. For whatever reason, he glaringly omits the founding document’s acknowledgment of G_d as the “Creator” and therefore the source of human rights. Where the Declaration states, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness," the President has quoted only that all men "are endowed" with certain rights. Again, very few of the ‘good guys’ have called him out on this. Maybe they are saving it for the Presidential election in a couple of years?

On one side we have a party that is consumed with removing and deleting G_d from everything public and private. They propose an agenda of government control, abortion, suicidal economic policy, gay rights, and the destruction of the family. Yet on the other side, the second party seems satisfied to chronically allow this godless agenda to proceed until election time, at which point they begin blasting the ideology of the first party in an effort to gain my (the conservative) vote. We have a two-party system; there are no other viable alternatives when I find myself in line at the ballot box.

Politics makes my head hurt. I think I’ll ignore it and catch up on Survivor instead. Maybe more Monday Night Football is on tap. Pass the biscuits, please.

Our country is fast achieving critical mass right now. (Duh!) The crux of the matter is that we, with very few exceptions, no longer have a recognizable fear of G_d – neither as a society nor as individuals. To openly ridicule the Creator and disavow oneself from His laws is blatantly evil. To attempt to use Him for political gain is another story in itself and just as bad. To stand by and say or do nothing at all, simply ride the storm out while straddling a fence called oblivion is no solution, either. When Pilate washed his hands, by metaphorically making no decision he had in fact made a terminal one.

I sense a need for a return to the time and mind-set of Job. His answer to his detractors is recorded in chapter 13: “Shall not His excellency make you afraid? and His dread fall upon you? Your remembrances are like unto ashes, your bodies to bodies of clay. Hold your peace, let me alone, that I may speak, and let come on me what will.”

It’s time for Christians to boldly speak up, with an expressed fear of the Almighty, and let the chips fall where they may.

On The Watch

I was in a safety meeting this morning and a topic came up about individual responsibility. Now there is a topic for you – a lost art, this concept of individual responsibility. Not in our day and age anyway. We can always find someone else to blame for whatever ails each and every one of us. Momma didn’t love me enough, daddy was too stern, or the bullies were mean to me in school; so I went on a tri-state killing spree but it wasn’t my fault. That’s facetious, but you get my drift.

However, in the meeting this morning, (and thankfully because I had my pulpit ready to go when the topic was first mentioned) the content instead revolved around the responsibility of a person to watch out and be alert for his or her own safety in the workplace. Furthermore, we discussed the responsibility we had to others around us, to warn them if what they were doing was unsafe. The concept of not being your brother’s keeper pales comparatively when your crew works around rotating equipment that contains knives and sharp edges on said equipment. The general consensus by the end of the meeting was to make sure all of our employees understood the importance of watching out for each other.

As I walked back to my office, I thought about a time I had to intervene in the safety of my youngest son. I guess he was four years old at the time, and was ‘helping’ his daddy work on a 1941 John Deere 'H' tractor. I was standing there watching it idle, trying to diagnose an intermittent miss-fire and of course he was right under me. The old tractor has an exposed flywheel, and it was spinning, as they do, while the engine was in play. Something caught my eye, call it serendipity but I know better, and somehow I knew what he was about to do before he did it. Casually he stuck his hand out to grab the spinning flywheel, and thankfully, before he could do so, I grabbed his hand and pulled him back. Even today I shudder to think of the possibilities of a four-year-old hand coming in contact with the jagged bolts in the center of a spinning flywheel. It could have been bad, indeed, and I would have had to live with his damage for the rest of my life.

A few months later he and I were walking through the woods to my parent’s house, him in the lead and babbling incessantly as they do at that age, when I looked ahead and saw a moccasin crossing the path ahead of us. A very angry snake he was, and we were both a potential vent for all of his reptilian frustrations. I stopped Tyler in time, and I used a convenient stick to dispatch the snake to his celestial dirt nap. But it could have been bad. Very small children and snake bites are just not meant for each other.

I watched out for Tyler back then, and I do so now. Sometimes I do better at it than at other times, but for the most part, he has survived with no more than a close call or two. It’s my job as a parent, I get that, and so I do the best I can. It’s been that way with all of my kids over the years, and it is not something a father does to get a medal or achieve public acclaim. Watching out for your children falls more often than not in the areas of responsibility and duty, and should never be merely for justification or a perceived reward. You watch out for them. And you do your utmost to keep them safe. After all, it’s a very dangerous world we live in today.

We watch out for our children because we know the ropes, we’ve been there. We have the experience garnered and stored over our lifetime to share with them. Things like ‘don’t go barefoot on a cold day or you’ll get a sore throat’ and ‘get your finger away from that wall socket or you’ll get shocked’ go hand-in-hand with ‘if everybody jumped off a cliff, would you?’

I was thinking how this principle of watching out for our children also applies to the relationship between older, mature Christians and younger, newer members of the Family of G_d. Walking the Christian walk is difficult enough when you try and go it alone. It gets a lot easier when you have someone on the path with you, especially someone with a little more maturity and experience in the issues each of us will surely face in life. In my walk I have been blessed with many wonderful examples to follow from older folks who knew the way to go. They were quick to point out the flaws in my behavior, and most importantly, they shared their advice with more than a little bit of love thrown in for good measure. Because of the things they taught me and showed me along the way, I can be a better Christian today.

We are our brother’s keeper. Paul writes: “As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children. That ye would walk worthy of G_d, who hath called you unto His kingdom and glory.” That’s plain enough for me. It is our responsibility to watch out for our fellow brothers and sisters in the same manner as we would watch out for our very own children. In return, it is comforting to know that they will also be there watching out for us.

That's a very important relationship to have when the devil puts those proverbial spinning flywheels and poisonous snakes across our path.

Wearing It Well

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about changing my career. With the way my 401k is performing, retirement seems to be an extremely elusive goal - at least as far as my bank account is concerned. I need a job that will pay me huge amounts of money, crazy money, and I need to start looking now. If not, I will have to continue my working career well into my 80s or possibly even my 90s. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Airline pilot. That’s the ticket. I’m sure they probably make well over 200k a year if they are connected with a major airline. Sure, my eyesight isn’t what it used to be and I know nothing at all about flying a jumbo jet, but I can’t let a few tiny little details stop me. True, I’ve never had training as a pilot, but I do recall one time where a friend of mine let me take the controls of a Piper Seneca II while we were airborne en route to Sylacauga a few years back. So I’ve actually (kinda) flown a plane - for a few short seconds, anyway.

I’ve read biographical sketches on some very fine pilots, too. My favorites were Eddie Rickenbacker and John Glenn. I can share many details about their flying exploits as well as their personal lives – they were both exceptional pilots. Eddie cut his teeth during the bi-plane era, while John used his fighter jet experience to propel himself into the space program during its infancy back in the 1950’s and 1960’s. A few good men, they were, with the right stuff. And they were both aviation pioneers in their own right.

Now that I’ve mentioned it, I have also become acquainted with quite a few aeronautical terms in my reading. I know words like yaw and pitch, turbulence, and the deck. With a little brushing up on my part, I should be able to really talk the talk. If I completely immerse and apply myself, I might just be able to convince others of what a fine pilot I am.

Once while we were flying to Sylacauga, my pilot-friend showed me the flight plan and explained it to me. I’ll admit I did not really pay close attention to it at the time, but I know what it was for. To get to your destination, you have to have a flight plan filed with the proper authorities, and flying without one is a punishable offense. I know what a flight plan looks like and, most importantly, I know where to sign it. Surely that will be enough to impress any future, prospective employer.

And here’s the capper: A few years ago I did a little genealogical study on my family’s history. Guess what? Listed in the archives right around the beginning of the last century, via a far-off cousin, my family was related to none other than Orville and Wilbur Wright! That’s right (no pun intended), I even have the proper blood line to be a commercial aviator. At this point I feel as though it’s a shoo-in for me to be very soon flying the friendly skies as a pilot, thundering my 747 or 757 across the globe to the applause of millions of friendly sky travelers, and receiving a substantial pay check to boot. I’m getting chills just thinking about it.

Oh, you say, there’s a problem? What? No degree from an accredited school? No actual experience? No… license?

What do you know? Who are you to rain on my well-thought-out parade?

I can talk the talk, and I have the lineage. I’ve studied the lives of pilots and what is even more; I look good in a uniform due to my younger years in the military. Believe me, I can wear it well.

(Sigh) On second thought, I guess you’re right. There are steps that need to be taken, and talking the talk is not the same as actually walking the walk. I can’t become an airline pilot based on lineage or knowledge of the lives of historical pilots. It’s ludicrous to think that way. And though I can buy a uniform at a costume store, and wear it well enough to actually look like a pilot and might even fool a few people in the process, I’ll still be a cheap imitation. I can know the nuances of a flight plan, and throw in a few words from the pilot jargon handbook, but the problem will arise when I actually get behind the wheel and find myself face-to-face with all of those buttons and switches. At that point even I will have to admit I am lost as a goose in the cockpit. The game will be over. An epic fail will result, as my youngest son would say.

This sounds preposterous and it should, not only in the realm of aviation, but in the spiritual world as well. I also cannot be born again based upon my knowledge of the lives of other Christians, and I can’t merely put on a good show by saying and doing all the right things. In doing so, although I might fool others, I cannot fool G_d. By the same token, salvation cannot be gained through my family or by my relatives; it is something I have to do on my own. Jesus described it like this: “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.”

Salvation must be a personal commitment to Jesus Christ. There is no other way and there is no secret, hidden short cut to achieve it otherwise. Saying the right things over and over, attending church on a regular basis, and talking about G_d to all who will listen is not enough. It has to be personal and from the heart. It’s about losing your will and giving in to His will, and accepting the salvation that He so readily offers to each and every one of us.

Guess I’ll just stick to being an engineer and depend on Him to handle those things in the future that I cannot control. That’s a much better career plan.


Going back through some blog posts this morning, I think I see a pattern developing over the past few days. My blogs have been decidedly dark in both nature and expression. Maybe it is due to some things I have been going through in my personal life that I can’t seem to be able to get a grip on. It appears as though I have lost my mojo at handling issues that would not have been a problem for me in years past. In a nutshell, I have become an angry old man, a curmudgeon, way ahead of my time – the horror! I’d call my shrink but I don’t have one.

I‘m sitting here watching Tink drink her morning cup of coffee, which in itself is a strange enough way to start the day to someone who doesn’t know me. Tinkerbelle is my six-year-old Jack Russell/Mini Daschund mixed dog. I don’t give her a whole cup, (PETA alert!) she only gets to lick the cup when I’m finished. But she loves the taste and I’m guessing it’s the sugar I leave behind in the bottom of the vessel. It is a morning ritual we share before I depart for work - I drink the coffee while she watches me, frantically licking her lips and whining, and then I hold the cup for her as she licks the sweet residue. Crazy dog.

I enjoy watching her tree-up squirrels during these cool, Fall evening as well. The limb rats are as big as she, and I think they have figured it out and are no longer afraid of her. They taunt her from the lower limbs; racing down toward her and then swiftly returning to their just-out-of-reach perches before she can close the deal. Tink used to chase them in anger, barking her distaste for all things squirrel as she hotly pursued them across the yard and up the tree. These days, with age and a little (a lot) of added weight, she merely whines her disapproval at their antics, and looks over at me as if I am supposed to do something – anything. I have a very strict policy against shooting yard squirrels, even if they are in season, so she is on her own.

You’d think she’d learn to live with them or at least ignore them. It would more than likely make things a little easier for her in the doggy realm, especially since the fear has left the equation on the part of her prey. She never learns, though. It is against her nature and all of the instincts she holds on dearest to as a canine. She must chase them, there appears to be no other option. I feel sorry for her and wish I could help her achieve freedom from those demons that harass her, if only in her mind.

Watching Tink these days hits a little too close to home for me, because I find myself doing the same things in my life. I’m taunted by many things that are simply beyond my control, and while I used to attack them head-on with all of the gusto I can manage; now I simply sit back and whine about it. That gets old to not only me, but others as well, I’m sure of it. I cannot change those things no more than Tink can change a squirrel gang’s propensity for searching our yard for fallen or misplaced acorns. It is what they do, and… it is what they do.

Sadly, in my own heart I should be far ahead of her, because I know the answer to achieving freedom from my own demons that badger me in my life. Those demons are sin, and their modus operandi is to find a way to cause me to become a servant to them. I’m human, and I inherited a bad ole sinful nature from my great-great (great great great) grandfather Adam. As a result, I have those demons to face at what appears to be (but is not limited to) each waking moment of every day of my life. Those demons have a dark desire to taunt me, to destroy me, but most of all - to enslave me.

Jesus said, “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.” Those demons with their sometimes hidden, sometimes obvious agenda can far too often obtain their goal of conquering my heart and controlling my life, making me a servant of sin in the process. I know this, yet despite that knowledge things seldom change. I get angry. I get frustrated. I don’t perform the things G_d would have me perform. I get tempted. I fall. And all the while they run down the tree right in front of me, just out of reach, and they taunt me. They laugh and high-five each other every time I go astray and all they leave in their wake is my broken heart, whining for someone to do something about it and knowing that once again I have become a slave to my very own thoughts and actions. It’s a sad state to be in, I tell ya.

There is good news, however...

Jesus has already paid my sin debt. He already conquered those demons. Unlike me and Tink, He will step in and do something about those things in my life I can no longer control - if only I will ask Him to. Following the quote I mentioned above, Jesus went on to say, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” Free from what? Free from being a servant to the sin that besets my heart at every corner and turn. A note worth mentioning here is that it is not a promise I will be perfect in my life. I still have gramp’s inheritance I mentioned earlier to fight and keep under control. But I am free from the penalty and ramification of sin, and that alone ‘takes care of ‘ those malicious things in the trees of my life. And though I may feel compelled, I am no longer forced to chase after them.

Free indeed.

Getting Over It

What a weekend, sports fans! I spent the better part of Saturday in Hattiesburg, and was forced to perform my typical-weekend perusal of college football via my cell phone. I scanned the updates as Alabama absorbed a poll-upheaving loss at South Carolina, while USM jumped out to a big lead and then lost to East Carolina. I made it home in time to witness a dramatic game between Florida and LSU, which seemed to go later into the night than it actually did.

The Saints played late on Sunday afternoon, coinciding with an early-evening NASCAR race start time, so I used my DVR to record both and watched them sans commercial breaks after I arrived home last night from church. My driver did not fare very well in the race and the Saints lost ugly to Arizona, capping off a contest that left many of their so-called fans shaking their heads in disgust. The Times Picayune was rife with reader comments this morning that closely resembled the sound of rats abandoning a sinking bandwagon. (Or something like that, anyway) I’m a lifelong Saints fan – I’ve seen worse times for them in years past. I don’t get too high after a win or too low following a loss because there’s always next week for the boys from the funny-shaped building on Poydras street. I have no real choice in the matter and can take my fan-lumps with the best of them.

Those fickle followers, I tell ya. Nine months ago the streets of New Orleans were filled with fans who believed the team could do no wrong. Sean Peyton could have won in a race for mayor of the beleaguered city; Drew Brees was on pace for an even higher office. (Note the “In Brees We Trust!” banners) Store shelves burgeoned with black and gold merchandise and the mere sight of a Saints player in public would set off a melee for autographs and photo ops. By the time the Super Bowl ended and the victory parades gave way to regular Mardi Gras parades, there yet remained an undiminished feeling of euphoria as ‘our team’ was celebrated for a championship season that came very close to perfection.

Now, less than two months into a new season the same fans are jumping ship because of a perceived shoddy display of output on the part of those same players; players idolized less than a month ago. As one ‘fan’ put it in his comment to an article this morning, “I used to be a fan, but I got over it. Time to bring back the paper bags.” In this statement he is referring to a time in the early 1980’s when fans wore bags over their heads due to the fact the team was so wretchedly bad at the time.

No one stays on top forever. Today’s Tiffany will always be eclipsed by tomorrow’s Miley Cyrus. The Tony Dorsett of yesterday is forgotten with the thrilling ascent of a newer, faster Chris Johnson today. Much like the commenter I quoted above, we get over it and move on in a never-ending search for whatever awaits us over the next horizon.

Sadly, these things are not merely limited to the physical world. A young man stopped by last night to watch the recorded game with me, but it was only a pretense on his part. In actuality he had been encumbered with some recent spiritual questions in his life and basically needed to use me as a sounding board. I did the best I could in providing meager answers and soft advice to the soul searching questions he posited, at least, I hope I did. I do not have all of the answers - and that may be the most truthful thing I’ve yet written in this blog. Thankfully, more than anything else, he just needed a prod in the right direction and I was able to decipher this by the time we finished our conversation. He is a good kid, and by faith I believe that he will continue to walk the straight path that all Christians aspire to. I watched him grow up in our church; he attended my Sunday School class as a teen and I know his heart better than most, maybe.

There have been countless others over the years, some got it and others apparently didn’t. I cringe when I hear the stories, usually second hand, and I pray for those kids, my kids, when I receive an update on a spiritual walk gone awry. It is not for me to judge and I never do, but it has a way of hurting me anyway; a proverbial heartbreak with each and every tidbit that finds its way back to me. As a Sunday School teacher, and as a youth leader – where did I fail them? With no recourse for me beyond a judgment that is not mine to verdict, I do the only thing I can be certain of: I pray for them. And with an admittedly weak faith, I faithfully hope it is enough.

I recall a time in my younger days when I fell away from my Christian walk as well, despite the best efforts of those who taught me and prayerfully advised me as I grew up. Looking back, I acknowledge it was my own fault and also know there was nothing else anyone could have done to coerce me to stick to the right path. It was during that time in my life, despite the Bible, despite knowing G_d had a plan for my life, and despite my Christian faith - I simply got over it. Those were dark days, indeed. I remember with not a little sorrow those lonely days of making an attempt to forge my own way and follow my rules along with my misguided ideas on life. I made it back, albeit in a tough and thankless manner, with many a tear-stained eye in my wake. But someone was praying for me. Somebody loved me. Someone believed in me. My return to G_d would not have happened otherwise.

Paul writes, “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.”

I can return that favor for others who vacate the bandwagon of faith and get over it when a spiritual walk appears meaningless compared to the things Satan’s world apparently has to offer. They might just make it back as well. The possibilities are endless when your Heavenly Father specializes in the impossible.

In The Heart Of A Child

I was reading a news article this morning discussing an 8-year-old in Broward County, Florida who was expelled from school for bringing a toy gun to class. The school has a ‘zero tolerance’ policy on weapons, and although the gun was a toy, it turns out it was capable of firing projectiles. Thus it was considered dangerous and the kid was discharged from school for a year. A quick search on the Net and the story behind the culprit gun was uncovered – it was capable of shooting Styrofoam darts and is available at any Wal-Mart or Toys-R-Us in the neighborhood. Guess he coulda put an eye out or something with that dangerous projectile shooter, who knows. The bad thing is, the incident happened last year, the boy has yet to be reinstated in school, and unless the school board intervenes, he won’t be. Second graders these days, you just can’t trust them, I tell ya.

It made me think of another time and another place, vivid memories of the things boys are prone to do for apparently no good reason. A good friend and I had camped out in the deep woods, hoping to get a jump-start on squirrel-hunting season the following morning. We were using his car, so we had to have been at least fifteen-years-old at the time to have a vehicular license to do such. We had spent an abnormally cold night in his car, a 1953 Chevrolet that had seen better days, and awoke to a dusting of frost on the ground. Fortunately, the night before was cold enough that we had recognized the importance of bringing coats and ski-caps along with us, so we hit the woods at daylight despite the chill. His pump 20-gauge and my father’s borrowed 12-auto reported our progress through the autumnized trees as the crisp dawn gave way to a beautiful South Mississippi morning.

Because we were boys, and the only thing on our mind the night before had been tree rodents, we had brought no food to share between the two of us. I vividly remember that by the time 9 AM rolled around, my stomach was gnawing at my intestines in a way that only a teen-aged boy will ever fully appreciate. We needed a trip to the store, and fast. The squirrel-hunting had played itself out by that hour anyway, so we loaded the guns in the car, got in, and headed for town.

Looking back now, with the benefit of age and wisdom, all we had to do was enter the store, get a honey bun or candy bar, maybe some chips, grab a coke or two, pay, and we’d be on our way. That is the way it works in the sane world - happens just like that every day. Yet for some reason, we decided… No, we postulated. (That can’t be it either as boys in their teens don’t know what that means) We figured it would be a good idea to ‘pull a good ‘un’ on the small store’s proprietor, who we both knew well and who we also knew reciprocated our recognition. He was a young adult at the time, and we thought he was 'cool' because he turned old cars into hot rods as a hobby.

So we exited the vehicle with our ski-masks pulled down over our faces, guns in hand, and loudly announced as we entered the store that we were ‘here to get all your Fig Newton bars’ and if he complied ‘no one would get hurt’. It did not go as planned because he never looked up from his paper. “Shannon, Scott, what are you two idiots up to?” He responded stoically. With much chagrin we leaned our guns against the counter and took off our masks, disappointed that we did not get the desired reaction out of him.

He gave us a mild lecture on the dangers of performing a hold up gag in broad daylight and on the main street of McNeill, no less. He advised us that although it was kind of funny, the local law enforcement officials might not see it as such had they happened to cruise by at that particular moment. We lowered our heads, the reality of our stupid prank beginning to hit home to the two of us. Ever a great person, he fixed us both a cup of coffee and gave us a Little Debbie snack cake ‘on the house’. The free snack paled in comparison to the experience of an adult sharing a cup of coffee with us, and though the remainder of the conversation that morning has faded from my memory, I do fondly remember that much. Lucky for us, he didn’t tell our parents about the prank, and I am sure of that because there were no violent repercussions when I arrived home later in the day. The writer of Proverbs states: “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” The Lord knows my momma believed in that verse sincerely enough to drive out most of the foolishness from my system as I grew up.

I can’t help but wonder, after reading the article from Broward County, how things would end much differently if a current teenager of this day and age pulled the same sort of stunt we did. I shudder to think of it. For us it was a spur of the moment prank and nothing more – we were good kids when all was said and done. There was absolutely no malice, and surely no sincerity to our actions. Maybe kids have changed. Or maybe they just need a few more understanding adults willing to play the part of mentor and guide when their actions get out of hand and cross the gray areas between good and bad behavior. We were lucky enough to have those sorts of people in our lives back then, and I’m very thankful to have known them today.

Silly Little Bracelets

While using the elliptical machine at the gym today, I had an epiphany. Well, sort of anyway. As I watched my heart rate climb (which is important to do at my age) I noticed according to the manufacturer’s chart (placed conspicuously by the display) I had actually gone back in time. Yes, conferring to the chart I had either metaphysically reverted to my twenties again, or I was on a torrid pace for a massive coronary. Looks can be deceiving, eh?

Back at work I am watching as one of my projects comes to fruition. (I actually perform work at the plant from time to time) We are installing a new air compressor, and the piping had been completed, the electrical service and controls were in place; all that remained was for a factory start-up technician to drop by and make sure we had everything as it should be before powering the unit into service. I scheduled the visit last week and following a lot of red tape, our technician was slated to arrive this morning at 8 AM. Of course, things being as they are these days, he didn’t arrive until after lunch.

When he arrived, my first thought was that he was simply too young to be a very good technician. He had a funny haircut and an accent that did not bode well for communicating with the good people of the South. Don’t get me wrong, he seemed nice enough, but what closed the deal for me and my obviously not-so-great first impression was the bracelet on his arm. It was one of those ‘fun bracelets’ that the kids are wearing these days, you know the ones, plastic-colored little animals and such until you put them on your wrist and then they simply look like raggedy scraps of who-knows-what. I tried to hide my disappointment, and instead assigned my best technician to work with him. And of course I also made sure I was in the general area to look over his shoulder in case things went downhill. I was almost certain by this point that they would.

What followed next bordered on the surreal. He went through several checks on the machine before applying power, using a well-used lap-top he had produced from somewhere deep within his greasy tool bag. While he made his very thorough checks, he even took the time to point out things to my technician that could possibly cause problems for us later on down the road. As the afternoon wore on, I got to know him a little better and it turns out he is a pretty sharp guy. But more than that, he was a joy to be around as he punctuated each step of the process with a joke or a well-told story from another job that may prove relevant to how we operate the machine once he is gone. Within a few hours or so he had the machine humming to life and it ran as smooth as catfish skin.

Somewhere along the way he noticed my side-glance infatuation with the bracelet, and offered me an explanation, although I had politely not asked. As a technician, he is on the road a lot and has a six-year-old daughter back at home. She gave him the bracelet, and told him to wear it so he ‘would not forget her.’ That bracelet had a lot of meaning to him, and knowing the story I was ashamed of my first impression. Who was I to judge without knowing the whole story?

Due to his mannerisms, as well as accessories such as a child’s bracelet, I am willing to bet he gets a lot of false first impressions when he visits places like our plant. Strangely enough, I believe after getting to know him better that he does not mind at all. You see, he has something in his demeanor I may have had at one time in my life, and have simply forgotten how it feels to be that way. So many times, so many days, I have been guilty of letting life control me, and not letting myself control life, which is the way it should be - and the way G_d designed us to be.

Most of the time, I wake each morning with a memorized list of things I have to do and a schedule I must keep. There are bills to be paid, children to be fed, and a boss to satisfy – I know the score and how the game is played. I’m pretty good at it by this point in my life. But there has to be more to this than merely keeping a schedule and doing the required things and handling the responsibilities I face as an adult. If not then why am I here and what is this ‘life’ I live really all about? Is the world simply spinning and forcing me to hang on for one more hour, one more day, and if it all works out the weekend will be my only reward? Has my life become nothing more than waiting for four o’clock on Friday? That is quite a sobering thought.


The writer of Ecclesiastes put it this way: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” If I get to the end of the line and find out that all I did was work, come home, watch TV, eat, and sleep for sixty or seventy years, I’ll have a very sad existence to look back upon. There is so much more to this glorious thing we call life. There is a wife to be kissed, children to hug, flowers to smell, and a dog that needs a scratch behind the ears. There are friends to share things with, and birthday parties to attend. There are birds to hunt and fish to catch, and motorcycles begging to be ridden. Most important of all, there are personal times for me to praise G_d for giving me this opportunity to live in such a special world, a world He created, and in turn filled it up to the proverbial brim with very special people.

I’ll remember that tomorrow and be grateful when the elliptical machine transports me back to my youth. And you might just catch me wearing a silly little bracelet as I do so.

Ah, probably not on the latter, but you get my drift…

The Island

A mild sea breeze glides over our coast, while waves expire in their fatal quest of pointlessly mocking the sand. The brilliant sun bakes the shoreline as palms stand sentinel over ruby-coated bougainvillea wreaths intertwined beneath them. Nesting terns call out in a timeless song, proclaiming the symphony of life that has been set before us as we methodically wander our beach, periodically dipping our feet into the cool, azure waters that surround us. Is this paradise we explore together? No, that is reserved for another life and another place much better promised and wistfully anticipated; albeit the two of us appear to be in no hurry to get there and claim that waiting shore.

Endlessly we tread amongst ever-changing dunes, sometimes swatting at sand flies, sometimes growing tired of the diet we subsist upon. Sometimes we take for granted the beauty of the moment, and sometimes we long for things that may possibly be better than those we have. Yet always we wander together.

We are never alone, even when chance or circumstances happen to find us subtly removed from each other’s side.

How did we get here? What cosmic events superseded our existence here, on this, the island we share? Was it chance or merely blind luck that carved our small atoll out of the sea and placed us upon it? We both know the answer and it brings us hope, a hope that is beyond simply ‘necessary’ if we are to face our remaining tomorrows. It is many things, this island, but it is also our island, and we do our best to ‘own it’ by the way we live our lives together. It’s not always easy. Sometimes there are storms that lash out at us from the sea, and pirates have been known to prowl these waters. I think about this as I watch you cautiously avoid stepping on a crab that is bent on crossing our path. You smile at me and it is a smile I will never grow tired of. There are no storms today, no Jolly-Rogers lurking on the horizon.

Some say our island is boring, and while that may or may not be true of their own island, this one keeps us content. Others have advised us to spruce up our island by adding a condo or two - maybe plant a different flora to the gardens we painstakingly tend. But why change what we know to be perfect? Why should we alter the things that make us both happy?

The wind blows your hair and I watch your eyes. I follow your gaze beyond the ever encircling dunes, time in this instance, creeping toward us with little remorse for what it holds in store for the two of us. Yet we walk among them unafraid, those monolithic waves of time. They can’t be stopped, and as with all things once feared, the marching sands have been melded into an acceptable compromise by both of our hearts.

Your hand in mine, something expected and yet treasured still by my heart. Always. Eternal.

Twenty-two years is a long time on an island. We’ve explored most of her reaches together and conquered or laid claim to the better part of it. But oh, there are still places that remain uncovered, and paths that have yet to be trod. They are out there waiting for us, calling our names, offering us an opportunity to avoid the mundane and seek treasures that for now are still hidden there. Together we’ll find them. We will.

When the day comes (as surely it will) to signal an end to our time on this magnificent island called marriage, my biggest hope will be to abandon it together and vacate its seamless perfection via the same vessel. You see, this wonderful place with all of its beauty would be unlivable for me if you were not around to share it with. Besides, another destination surely awaits us.

“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”