The Wagon

I found myself in bed last night, in the midnight hour of a bleak December, and like Edgar Allen Poe I pondered over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore. We’d spent the evening together as a family; my children, wife, and grandchild in one final hurrah for Christmas before this year slips silently into the one that follows. It was a nice evening in a local restaurant, but that alone gave no cause for the nocturnal mental ramblings that interrupted my sleep. It was the pictures.

The holiday season is rife with photographic opportunities, to cherish memories stored quietly for a later date and freeze those images of a time well spent. But who’s image was that staring back at me from the surreal Polaroid moments I encountered? Surely not mine. The man with the children was too old, had too many wrinkles – an unacceptable caricature of the face I meet in the mirror each morning when I awake to greet another day. And yet I know better: despite its comfortable and familiar façade, the mirror mocks us all accordingly in an equal-opportunity manner.

Each line is a turn in the road, the wrinkles marking memorable changes in direction as decisions, right and wrong, are made along the path. Tired eyes justify and negate at the same instant. But the road continues. Truly we arrive on one road, and depart on another; yet never realizing which of the two we may happen to travel.

And my road is trying, because like everyone else, I pull a wagon behind me. It is filled with things I want to hang on to, treasures accumulated over time and instance. New cars, promotions at work, money made and spent. Houses and swimming pools, clothes fashionable today that have a chance, however small, of dramatically returning to said fashion at a place further down the road. The load accumulates, and it gets harder and heavier to pull as the miles slip silently by.

This is what gripped me and prevented my sleep last night – the wagon and its cruel load. It’s a burden. And I may have made a mistake or two along the way, I’ll admit as much. The things scattered within its cargo area may be practical, and might even make life easier and better in the long run. A dependable vehicle, a warm house; those things are what we aspire to from an early age and they are good things. But as the road turns a corner, narrowing in a way that shows you there is a finite end in sight, you take stock of those items and you become prone to reconsider.

I’m dumping some things from my wagon, and replacing them with others. The Psalmist reminds me: “…we spend our years as a tale that is told. The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”

I’ll gladly replace the option for newer vehicles for time spent holding my wife’s hand, or a spontaneous hug in the hallway with a whispered, “I love you” thrown in for good measure. I’ll barter other items for my youngest daughter’s laughter emanating from her bedroom as she watches or reads something I have no idea about, along with my asserted inability to comprehend the meaning of such.

Is a comfortable house worth more than a silly face performed by my granddaughter, or the knowing smile of her mother and my oldest son? What price can you place on your youngest son’s ceaseless (senseless?) banter on everything from NFL scores to critical moments in the Star Wars saga?

My own promotions and achievements pale in comparison to my oldest daughter’s courage to do things and visit places I never could, utilizing a silent strength that belies both her and her husband’s years. It’s a strength I barely remember from when I was their age and the world was mine alone to conquer. May they never lose that inner strength or merely trade it for mundane responsibilities and frivolous 401k options.

I travel a silent road, pulling a wagon of my own making filled with items of questionable importance and value. When I arrive at the end (and I will), when it comes my time to fly away, I hope my cargo was soundly chosen. Everything else is only this, and nothing more.

The author and his progeny

Year End Random Thoughts, 2010

I’m not sure if there will be any more posts until after the calendar year rolls over in a few weeks. I have accrued some much-needed vacation time and have a decidedly strong urge to spend it with my precious wife, children and granddaughter. In the interim, I appreciate you great folks out there that visit my blog each day, and some who visit more than others. Your comments and emails make my day. I’ve decided to close out the year by adding a few random thoughts that have never managed to find their way into a blog post (yet):

The church is doing well. We have drawn together, as a church should, following the passing on to eternal life by our pastor a few weeks ago. It has caused us all to reflect on our own lives as Christians and shore up many areas where we may have been lacking or complacent. Brother Donnie would be proud, I am sure. I feel a lot of love and compassion out there right now, and we have been blessed through the Holy Spirit with some very fine interim preachers. The search for a new pastor should commence after the first of the year, and we sincerely covet your prayers as we seek G_d’s will for our church.

Fast Asleep has done remarkably well this Christmas season. Those of you who purchased a book are appreciated; and I hope you enjoy my tale of Rikki and Roger, because there is a little bit of both of them in all of us. If you purchased a book on your own via the Internet site, feel free to contact me and I will sign it for you. No problems.

What’s in store for Random Thoughts in the future? Well, I’m quickly approaching my storage limit on the BlogSpot web site, and I may end up going with an actual web site or domain of my own. I’ve never attempted such and I’m not sure how to do it, but if the Lord provides a way, then… I will. But I’m going to wait on Him and not merely jump in blindly on my own.

Speaking of Random Thoughts, I appreciate the emails and comments, as I have mentioned. Some of you are too shy for either, and I understand those sorts of things. But if you like a particular post and want to express it in some manner other than a comment or an email – click on one of the advertisements! The ads on my page are safe, and I get a whopping eight cents each time you do so. Click away!

To my six readers from the Netherlands, “Bedankt voor het volgen van mijn blog!” Despite the language barrier, it is good to know we can rely on Google Translate!

Keurig coffee machines are incredible. Try the hot chocolate! Providing happiness one cup at a time, I say.

I’m not a birther. If the President of the United States was born in Hawaii, I have no problem at all with it. But please, simply release the birth certificate and close the issue as many of us are beyond tired of hearing about it. A long-form birth certificate, like the one I used to get a driver’s license, vote, and join the military would suffice. BTW – I could send in twenty dollars and get a Certificate of Live Birth from Hawaii myself, so don’t go there. “The truth shall set you free.”

WHO DAT! Or is it TWO DAT? Hoping the Saints continue to march toward a Super Bowl repeat. Maybe then they’ll finally get some much-deserved respect from the media.

While we are at it, Go Huskers!

Take a few minutes to read the story of Jesus’ birth from Luke 2 at some point during this Christmas season. It does a Christian good to go back over that special night so long ago where G_d became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus has many names in the Bible, but my favorite is Immanuel, which means “G_d with us”. It really gets no better than that!

But use a King James Version of the Bible. There are so many versions out there that leave so much out and can confuse many other important things. I saw a Cajun version (CBV) that had Jesus taking five loaves of Po-Boy bread and two speckled trout; then using them to feed the multitude at the Superdome during halftime of the Saints/Tampa Bay game. C’mon man! The King James Version is almost four hundred years old. It’s proved the test of time. Just sayin’.

Most of all, thanks again for visiting my blog. I hope you’ve enjoyed the stories this year (all of them true!) (for the most part!) and my prayer is that in some way they’ve managed to touch your heart. Maybe in some manner they’ve drawn you closer to Him, because I find I’m drawn closer to G_d by merely writing them down. I wish for you and your families, wherever you are, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

With all of my heart and my warmest regards,


Reconstructive Thoughts

We drove up to the church on that bright morning; a deep blue horizon tapering to pure cerulean intermingled with wisps of fine, white cirrus above us. I remember that sky very well because I was climbing onto the roof of the church that day. The steeple was gone – an unholy gash remaining in its stead, a silent victim of Hurricane Katrina the morning before. Our goal was to place a well-used tarp over the opening to prevent further damage to the inside of the building. My teenage son accompanied me on the climb, and without incident we stapled the blue plastic in place and stepped back on broken shingles to admire our handiwork. Though far from a final solution, it would have to do in the interim.

From our alpine vantage point, we surveyed a surreal landscape of broken trees and downed power lines, a cluttered world of disarray and nowhere near the way it had appeared only a Sunday before. Our faces grim in the presence of an untold disaster, we climbed back down and walked to the truck. As I loaded the staple gun into the toolbox, a car sped into the parking lot behind us. A haggard woman in tears turned out to be the occupant, and a quick assessment proved her to be alone. I did not recognize her.

She asked if we were going to have church services in the near future, and explained her situation to both my son and me. It was a story all too typical, and one we would be able to recite chapter and verse in the days to come. She had lost everything, abandoning her home on the coast in her last-second flight from the storm’s uncaring path. She wanted to draw closer to the Lord, as anything else was beyond comprehension to her at that moment. I assured her that somehow, someway, we would indeed have services the following Sunday. And in my Christian best I all but promised her that things would be okay. I’ll admit it felt hollow and indifferent. I was lost during that time, and had not yet fathomed a way to make any sense out of it other than to find a way to keep myself busy.

I forgot about this chance encounter in the days that followed, for by then the Great Provider had stepped in to make all things right. Free water, food, and medical care were swiftly imposed upon us; the government having an ability to provide us with everything we needed except for gasoline. The electricity was turned back on and life returned to normal - albeit a few tepid Indian-summer-weeks later. We survived and moved on, most of us anyway, and learned a few new acronyms in the process. FEMA and MEMA became our saviors, by providing not only supplies but much needed jobs for our storm-stricken region. USPHS and the Red Cross followed closely on their heels. SNAP and USDA gave everyone an EBT debit card to purchase food when MREs became passé. Signs of the Great Provider were everywhere to be seen, and the only sacrifice he required was a constant standing in line along with many simplified forms to fill out and turn in.

I did make it to church the following Sunday, as did most of our regular attendees. The penitent victim from an otherwise bright summer day was nowhere to be seen however, as by then a miraculous deliverance was neither desired nor required. Sadly, dependence upon G_d is readily replaced by all things technological in our world today. Society demands as much. There is always some form of governmental assistance to be drawn upon, it seems, despite whatever disaster or circumstance befalls us. The original call for G_d following a disaster of epic proportions is merely an afterthought later, much as dreams in the night lose their significance during the daylight hours that follow.

Some of us grasped the concept of a G_d that provides. We were the ones who said ‘Where do we start?’, ‘Where can I help?’, and most importantly, ‘In Whom can I place my faith?’ Sure, we trusted in the government to do the right thing – they usually do in the end. But it was a trust tempered by a belief in our own talents, skills, and work ethic brought together by a faith in the one true G_d that cannot fail.

Years later I look back upon those days, the aftermath of a critical chapter in American history that has ramifications to our region even at the present. Rebuilding either continues or has been given up on in many areas by this point. Government, though viable and important, can only do so much despite the many and varied resources it can draw upon. Indeed, the Great Provider in most cases turns out to be a god that can neither see nor hear. The fire to rebuild, to work hard, and to strive for a better life can never be garnered from continuous hand-out programs delivered on demand from Washington.

The words of Elijah on Mount Carmel still ring true today, “If the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him.” If you think about it, a comparison between the feddle gub’munt and Baal is not so far-fetched. Baal was known in the Canaanite tongue as the Great Provider. He was depended upon for rain, crops, and fertility in his various shapes and identities. The Children of Israel began following him instead of G_d because it was easier to do so, and a lot more entertaining. (Can’t go into the so-called entertainment value in a G-rated blog!) Furthermore, due to Ahab’s marriage to Jezebel, Baal worship had become the State Religion. Yet by the conclusion of the showdown on Mount Carmel, Baal was proven as toothless, and instead it was the Holy G_d from Israel’s past who answered with fire.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Tink Hijacks My Blog

Waiting, waiting, waiting. I’m consumed with it. Waiting. Everything I am at this moment revolves around anticipating that sound – the one that hurts my ears yet signals that my master is awake and will open the big doorway to the great outside place. I whine a little, but not too loud. The master gets angry when I do so. It wakes the smaller ones in the house. I must be a ‘good girl’. I must, I must, I must!

There! I knew it was close. The sound, oh the hurtful, beautiful sound! I can contain myself no longer. I run to his room, the one he shares with my mistress. Momma and daddy. I wag my tail uncontrollably and dance in circles as his feet touch the floor. The whines escape me because I can no longer refrain from expressing them. I dance around his feet as he moves for the portal, and doing my best to suppress my bark, I scratch at the opening ahead of him. The bad things are out there and I must let them know that this is my territory, my yard. I must. I must. I must!

I burst through the space, scared at first, but definitely excited, for a new day awaits me. At my bark the squirrel-things fly up into the trees, and should one of the Me-Me person’s cats have dared venture into my realm during the night; they will surely get a comeuppance. Many, many smells in the air. I sniff and sniff, then sniff some more. It is cold. I do not like the cold. It hurts my feet and stiffens my six-year-old joints. I bark uncontrollably, delighted in the feel of my chest and the sound that emanates from within me. A quick pass around the yard is enough, I run back to the ingress and scratch my welcome – it is time to go back in. I yelp and throw myself against the screen-thing, unabatedly so. The master will come. He will let me in. He loves me. I feel it in a secret place that no one comprehends, except maybe others of my kind.

Once inside I jump on the couch, forcing myself back under the blanket he has provided for me. The master pats my back and tells me I’m a ‘good girl’. I growl at him, playfully, for I feel loved again. It grows in me, something primordial and untamed, engulfing my every thought. I love the master. I love the mistress. I love the smaller ones – even Sissy. They are mine and I am theirs. We belong.

In a few moments the master sits by me on the couch and watches the glowing, picture-thing in the corner. He drinks the liquid that I long for. I slide from under the blanket and place my nose against his warm leg. He responds by scratching my ears involuntarily. He is engulfed in the glowing thing. He is thinking beyond me, paying me little attention. Not enough attention. I could quickly lick the cup he holds, gaining the tasty nectar for my own benefit, but I know better. I must wait. I am not good at this thing called patience. I’m not. He will drink from the cup, but he will save a sweet-tasting residue for me. He will. He will. He will!

But I also sense the master is worried this morning. He worries too much. It makes me feel funny when he worries. I understand this in a way that only I can. He is thinking about the boy this morning, and he is worried. I sense the boy is ok, but I cannot convey what I know, for I do not have the ability to do so. The master is thinking of the mistress, too, and he worries about her, but I do not know why. I remember that she will give me of the delightful nectar from her own cup, too, and more of her precious liquid than he will save for me. But I am not happy because my master is worried. I feel it. I sense it. I whine a little, and I lick his hand. I wish I could tell him.

I smell the fear in my master, as I have on many occasions. I feel it in the mistress, too. They worry all the time. They worry. They do. They should be happy like me. They have the nectar. They have the other tasty things I smell in the hot room and around the big bowl they sit around when they eat. They have the big bed to sleep in. They have each other. They have the little ones – even Sissy. Why do they worry? I do not know. It is beyond me. I do not worry. Sure, I get hyper at times. But I do not worry. I have my master and my mistress, and the little ones. Even Sissy.

I can also feel the presence of Someone else. Someone I cannot see or hear, except in a secret place somewhere deep inside of me. It’s the Heavenly Master who created all things. He loves me. He watches over me. He knows when I hurt. He knows when I whine. He knows when I am hungry. He designed me. He will never leave me.

Hey! I know. I understand. I do, I do, I do! Maybe the master and the mistress do not know about the Heavenly Master like I do. Maybe He does not watch out for them as he does me? Maybe they don’t trust Him? Sad. Very sad. I wish I could talk to them in a human voice and remind them He is there. He is watching. He is waiting. He will take care of them. He loves them. I would really be a good girl – if only I could do so.

But I’m not thinking about this anymore. My master has set his cup on the floor for me. I leap from the couch. It awaits me, controlling my thoughts for the moment. But I am not worried.

Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.

Tinkerbelle - World's Wisest Dog

French-Style Green Beans

Disclaimer: Mom was not a bad cook. I loved her fried chicken. Her dumplings could give Emeril a run for his money. Red beans and rice with pork chops? Excellent. I had problems only on those occasions where she had meat loaf or liver on the menu. And as an added touch of irony, I actually savor the taste of French-style green beans today.

I looked down at the platter in front of me. The sum all of my afternoon fears since I had arrived home from school that day was now staring back up at me. Liver and onions, with a side order of French-style green beans, mocking me from the small round plate that featured friendly blue flowers along its rim.

It had nothing to do with whether or not I was actually hungry; it seems as though I always was at that age. It was the synopsis of the meal mom had prepared. The cruel liver, mingled with bitter onions and thick gravy always managed to bring out my best gag reflex at the time. The French-style green beans served to enhance that digestive feature - and added muscle to it. Mom fixed our plates, allowing me no chance to limit the portions or bypass altogether the unsavory features of the meal. (None for me, thanks!) But then again, when you are ten years old, the world is not always fair. I cautiously shared a secretive glance with my little brother, and saw that he was having the same reaction. In mom’s kitchen, a clean plate was a happy plate, and one of her children not so inclined to accomplish that task was sure to become a target for her unrefined ire not long afterward.

At that dire moment, I looked for Poco, our poodle, thinking if I could somehow manage to sneak him my cut of liver, half of the dinner battle would be won. Good old Poco, ever faithful and to my rescue. With a practiced stealth, I lightly slapped my leg to garner his attention, and wagging a mere bob of a tail he came over by my feet under the chair, hidden from my mother’s ever watchful eyes. I stole a quick glance around the dinner table, faked putting the sordid meat on my fork, and as mom made conversation with dad and my older sister, I swiftly ‘dropped’ the nasty victual onto the floor in front of him. There was a moment of sheer panic as I (secretively) watched him sniff the offering because a part of me was certain he would ignore the incriminating evidence and walk away. Even a dog has his culinary limitations, you know? In two quick bites my four-legged hero greedily dispatched of the liver portion and looked back up at me, licking his lips in anticipation of ‘more’. You want more, big boy? That I can do! Yessiree!

Faking a chewing presentation worthy of an Emmy, and using a smile I had practiced that was not too broad, yet enough to make mom believe I was in fact eating my liver, I scraped up a bundle of beans onto my fork. When she returned her attention to daddy, I covertly flicked the slimy concoction to my eagerly waiting canine partner-in-crime below me. In one fell swoop, the liver and half of the green beans were gone! I could not believe my good fortune; everything was going to be alright after all and I had been delivered from having to force down vile chunks of things I did not care for. Another quick flick, delicately orchestrated as in the previous manner, being careful not to become careless through overconfidence, and the pretty blue flowers would become my testimony to mom of the requisite proof I had completed the meal.

As I geared up my improvised catapult, an unsettling sound began to emanate from under the table. Poco was choking (or was he gagging?). Mom quickly scanned my end of the table and I did the only thing I could think of: I shoveled the fork-full of detestable green beans into my mouth and began to chew as rapidly as possible, hoping to draw a conclusion of innocence from her as I tried my best to swallow the ever expanding, rubbery green glob in my mouth. They tried to go down my throat, they really did. I give credit where credit is due. But the nervousness of Poco possibly ratting me out evaporated as I began to feel the all too familiar gag reflex rising in my stomach. Please Lord, no! I covered my mouth with my hands and held my breath, the issue remaining in doubt for several seconds as time stood still. And, as if the Lord Himself had intervened in that moment, somehow the rancid cud of green beans miraculously slid uneventfully down my throat.

“There. Not so bad, huh?” My mom said with little quarter. “You cleaned your plate. I knew you would like them if you just tried them.”

I shook my head in a not-so-honest pattern of agreement. My brother gave me a mean look – he was desperately trying to engineer his own solution, one apparently revolving around a few wadded-up napkins and two empty pockets. What an amateur! But the choking of Poco along with my dining end-game had mom on high alert by that point. If I remember correctly, he managed to swallow the liver and the beans in what still ranks as one of the most heroic feats I have ever witnessed in all of my forty-eight years.

As I grew older, I never ate liver again, and barring some cosmic, earth-shattering event, I never will. Furthermore, I have made it a point as a parent to never force my children to do the same. Strangely enough, two out of my four have acquired a taste for it on their own. Go figure.

These days we are asked to keep our minds open, and to ‘think outside of the box.’ We are preached to by the media (and in some pulpits, religious and political) that we should be more tolerant toward the belief systems proposed by others, and less assured of the morals and faith we grew up with. We are reminded by those in the know that there is no right and no wrong, only the various shades of grey in between. We are told that truth is merely relative depending on the situation. ‘Try it, you’ll like it’, a catch-phrase of the 1970’s, has been regurgitated and could very well be used to describe the mantra of our current civilization - if you can still call it that.

Yet I refuse to conform to the modern beliefs of our new-age society in general. Instead I hold dearest to the truths passed down to me from my father and his liver-and-onions-with-French-styled-green-beans cook. I remain firmly within the grips of G_d’s Holy Word, because I understand the concept expressed by the writer of Proverbs when he wrote, ““There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”

Without passing too much judgment, I’ll merely take those modern thoughts and flip them under the table. It’s much safer that way and easier for me to digest.