Blue Birds and Black Birds

Nothing ceases to amaze me anymore these days, at least not within the realm of human actions and behavior. It has reached the point where the once-potent line between right and wrong is now and forever blurred into stoically soft shades of gray; while morals and shame are relics left relegated to the back burner of society. Are we too far gone to turn back the page to a time where certain things had true meaning and real value?

Probably so, I say.

My book is on Amazon, finally. Barnes and Noble are taciturn, still dragging their feet a little, but eventually they will come around—I feel it to be so. The Amazon guys have been great, and not a little forgiving for someone new to the publishing world. I was encouraged to set up an author page replete with a photo of yours truly and a biography that spanned at least 200 words. I chose a photo of me and my grand-daughter, which was easy because she is precious, but the bio was a little harder to come by. Despite sundry appearances to the contrary, I am a very modest person—an introvert if you will. Conversations that orbit myself will always make me nervous, although in the meantime I have no problem telling stories. I can go on and on in that regard.

And I’m digressing because it has been a while since I posted in this blog; at least for me it has.

So Fast Asleep needed some keywords attached to it, you know, so those search engines could grind and churn and potential readers could actually find my literary monstrosity on Amazon’s website when they choose to do so. I’ve previously been through the keyword spiel with agents and publishers, so I was good there. I added words like Christian, and apocalyptic, and thriller, etc. to the called-for cadre. But that’s when the trouble began.

My author page attaches those words to forum pages that are associated with the keywords I chose. That way, while readers are debating the purchase of the book, they can join ongoing discussions on the related topics should they decide to do so. A Christian forum? Do tell. What a great idea! Sign me up, because I love to talk about the Bible and G_d, and salvation, and any spiritual topic in general!

Not so fast.

Browsing within two or three “Christian” discussion threads, I’d say 80% of the posters were decidedly non-Christian and vehemently vocal about it. It would appear their only goal was to ridicule anyone and everyone that believed in G_d, and even delved deeper along the sordid lines of blaspheme and things I will not mention here. In the end I vacated the forums and wished I had been able to choose other keywords for my book. I’d hate for someone to go to my author page (I was actually quite proud of it) and be greeted by vile comments from those riding a proverbial greased pole to the nether regions of hell. (Is that judgmental?)(Sue me!)Disappointed and full of chagrin, I logged off with a sigh and decided to do something else with my morning.

Yet I wondered, had my keywords included topics such as atheism, wiccans, or pornography, would the discussions on those forums be as vile and slanderous as the Christian forums had proven to be? Would Christians in overwhelming numbers migrate to those topics, spouting religion, punishment, and eternal damnation in unmitigated displays of protest against those carnal things?

Probably not.

Thinking along those lines, I’m again reminded of the irony represented here—a Christian forum inundated with comments from people (by their own admission) who have no dog in the hunt, so to speak, while the inverse is probably and unaccountably not so. Thus, the axiom that blue birds do not nest with black birds should be proven in these areas, statistically beyond the metaphor—so why do unbelievers en masse descend, abounding with pent up hatred, to forums dedicated to conversations on G_d and scripture?

Maybe it is simply more proof that we are in for it. The Days of Vengeance have started clandestinely and subtly while we as Christians were fast asleep dreaming of 401ks and American Idol winners.

Jesus prophesied of those days to come: “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake.” We just might be closer to those days than we know, and His Words not as far-fetched as we yet may ponder them to be—at least not if we’re awake and listening. The approaching hoof-beats are just over the horizon.

My Valentine

It has been commonly stated that love is blind. Check that—first loves are often blind. Maybe later on it drifts into a much closer truth in being that infatuation is always blind; of this I know and am fully conscious to it. And we skillfully use the word ‘experience’ when we try and justify our own past mistakes.

Lake Grenada was tepid that day, and I’m assuming the waters were warmed by an unusually hot July sun, if my memory serves me well. On these-type recollections I am usually secure, so we’ll leave it at that. For safety’s sake and responsibility having placed me as your protector, the tables turned toward knee-boarding because I knew if we skied and you were hurt or injured, your mom would never forgive me. Though I had only recently made the acquaintance of your friends, our host couple seemed nice enough and we had a great time by the moment that winsome sun casually set across the lake. It was a banner day among many, many banner days I’ve treasured with you over the years, but it wasn’t the water, the sun, nor newly minted friendships that made the day perfectly memorable for me.

It was you.

You were young, full of life, and nothing seemed impossible for a brash, South Mississippi boy who happened to find himself by your side. Your raven hair and dark eyes had the innate ability to stop clocks, and I witnessed that feat on more than one occasion—including my own timeless heart beat—and on more than a few episodes. Memorable example: The luckless guys in passing boats whistling uncontrollably as you walked across the sandy beach that afternoon.

Those days are mere memories, faded pictures in long-forgotten photo albums that reside in the attic; filed softly under ‘days gone by’. Yet in my heart and in my eyes they live on still, untouched by life and responsibilities that shape us into what we’ve grudgingly accepted as middle age. When I look at you I do not see simply time, neither accepted nor fulfilled, the good memories along with the bad. I see you still, in a way I can’t describe because you wouldn’t understand it, as the girl on the beach and in the boat—that girl from the carefree weekend spent so many years ago. And I yet have an uncanny desire of my own to whistle, if I possessed that talent.

To paraphrase a line from a much better writer—in your arms I’ve been held by Juliet, as my lips have touched those of Ophelia.

These days are spent more an adherence to family and jobs, church and children. We stay so busy, our life well-scripted in a path that must needs be followed daily. But always we are one, and the distance between us has never grown uncomfortable despite the issues any particular day may happen to bring to our door. I’m thankful for that...

I’m also secure in the knowledge that it will always thus be so. Same as it ever was.

Because you and I are a mathematical certainty set in time by the unseen hand of Providence. He set the wheel in motion and in turn, we made Him a major part of our journey. I cannot fathom of a time or a place where you would not encircle my heart, as I believe that to be so would not only diminish me, but remove both of us from what most assuredly is His Will. “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” May the tandem beat of our hearts continue as time rolls ever forward, and it will be enough. Enough to stave off the twilight years that approach us both seemingly just over the horizon.

Yet still, despite these broken ruminations from an honest heart, in dreams I still pick a time and place where once more we’ll glide over sun-kissed waters, maybe alone or by chance with good friends. A race to find those days of youth, not as payment for things we’ve accomplished, but as a reward for lives well spent.

The Artist

I sometimes sketched very well—at least that was the reason I had enrolled in the sessions. Due to mom’s urging, I began taking a class from an ancient lady in a forgettable part of town, even back in those days. Mom paid for the course, and my biggest decision was whether to go on Thursday nights or Saturday mornings. I opted for the mornings and arrived on that first day to find that I was the only one in the room that could not be considered a septuagenarian. My fellow artists-in-training, sweet but hardly docile ladies they were, did their utmost to embarrass the shy teen-aged boy thrust among them on the weekend morning—but I doubt today if it was out of spite.

They sipped their coffees and painted with chained glasses pulled low on their noses, and I did my best to fade into the background after getting my supplies from my venerable teacher. I sat before an easel in the back corner, and stared at a blank canvas while waiting for inspiration. Over the idle gossip of my indigenous compatriots, a scene formed in my mind; a small creek flowing through an autumn forest, peaceful and serene. Nothing at all like I felt at the moment, but I had to start somewhere. I took out a brush and began to draw.

“No!” My wrist was softly grabbed, and the room became silent as all eyes appeared to be turned in my direction. The instructor took the brush from my hand and set it back in the tray. She began to explain things that someone out of touch with art beyond pen and ink could not comprehend. She showed me how to spread linseed oil on the canvas, rubbing it in with a cloth until the entire surface glistened. Then she advised me to take a dark pencil and sketch in the scene, much as I was used to doing on my own. Once a rough sketch of my forest thoughts were depicted, we were ready for color. Under her guidance, I began at the corners, using darker colors to draw attention to the lighter center of the picture. She showed me the correct brush strokes, and when I could not reproduce her masterful form, she moved me from the seat and demonstrated the required inflections for me with her own gnarled hands—then eagerly watched over my shoulder as I repeated the task. When the two-hour session ended, we rubbed in more linseed oil and draped the canvas with a soft cloth, keeping it safe for my next visit the following Saturday.

Over the weeks that followed, the white oil-covered sailcloth became the forest scene I had envisioned, and it turned out well for a first painting. Over the months that followed, I painted many more scenes and despite my youth, I actually enjoyed the company of my blue-haired classmates. Of course, at school or around my peers I would always profess to be taking “industrial art” at the college annex. Face it, in the world of fifteen-year-old boys, producing an oil painting will never be located on the list of epitomes required for being cool.

I continued the class until after-school jobs and school activities, as well as funding, put an eventual halt to my budding career as a painter. I have no regrets, yet no desire to pursue it once more at this later stage of my life. There is something about painting a picture from your mind—creating an image only you can envision, that fulfills the desires of your heart and stimulates your thought processes. But it is also a lot of work and expense, and requires a voracious commitment from a would-be artist to do so. I draw schematics and diagrams on a computer these days, and for me it is enough to simply be as creative as possible in that regard.

In the beginning, G_d took His brush in front of a blank canvas upon which would become our world. Using a closely related technique to what I learned many eons later, He started at the edges and painted from darkness to light. His brushstrokes were all made with tender care; with love and with distinction. Furthermore, they were perfect and He made them alone. “Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself;”

His glorious masterpiece also pointed to the center, to His greatest creation, namely you and I. With painstaking care, in thoughts unfathomable to our weak minds, He formed the first man from the dust of the earth and breathed His very own breath of life into him. Then He stepped back, observed what He had created, and pronounced it good.

Why He did so, I’ll never know. It is beyond me to comprehend it. The question has been debated through time and space by men much better than I. But more so, the story does not end with the showpiece of creation or an understanding for the divine reasoning behind it. G_d went a step further, performing a wonderfully marvelous and totally unexpected feat during the process—He painted Himself into the picture! The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.


His story, His design for me and my life (as well as mankind in general) is gripping and passionate. When the world with all of its cares gets me down and life no longer makes any sense at all, it’s then that I remember the Master Artist:

The One who loves His most precious creation so much that He offers to become a part of their lives, if only they will accept Him.

The Elevator

In Staten Island, across the river from the Big Apple, there is probably still an elevator in service that abides in my memory from a time more than twenty-five years prior to what I call ‘the now’ of my life. I’m betting it still faithfully carries its residential passengers from the ground to the upper floors, and then back down again. I’ve taken the elevator in nameless places across this country, yet this one stands out above all others for a memory etched therein so many years ago.

I was living in the Big Apple, and on a lark I took the ferry across the harbor to visit a friend who had recently moved into an apartment. Forgoing the excessive rent in Manhattan, he and his wife had chosen the outer borough despite the double-legged, water-borne commute he would face each day to get to the school we both attended on Governor’s Island. He had received his last shipment of furniture and boxes, and asked me to come over and help him get them up to their 16th-floor apartment. I met him in the small parking garage right up the street from the ferry terminal, and of course his boxes were well-packed and heavy. Grabbing two in a stack, I headed for the elevator doors located in the basement parking lot.

The trip in the elevator would not have proven memorable had we simply went all the way up to his floor, but as luck would have her say, we stopped on the lobby level. Several people entered before the doors swished closed, and I found myself pushed into the back wall, boxes in hand, and doing my best not to crush them into someone’s back. A pretty girl was in front of me, petite enough to be much shorter than me if you can believe it, and I caught an unusual movement just below her neck. Upon a closer evaluation, I discovered it was a snake! Not a small one, mind you, but a python of some sort, and the warmth of the elevator, heated by close quarters of the crowded passengers, had caused him to stir and take notice—particularly of me!

People in big cities are much unlike the ones you are likely to meet in a small town like McNeill. You don’t speak unless spoken too, and that applies especially to one imbued with my terminal accent. It could surely frighten the natives—they ponder immediately upon things like family intermarriage and segregation, etc. And unfortunately, being in a larger apartment complex, we made a few more stops on the way up. At each opening and closing of the doors, the snake became more and more interested in the cracker from down south. I, in turn, pressed myself harder against the wall and tried to move sideways to avoid his reptilian curiosity. Finally he began to slide slowly over the girl’s delicate shoulders toward the boxes in my momentary care. I say momentary, because I dropped both while instructing those northern apartment dwellers in a sanguinary rendition of the timeless (and well-accented) rebel yell.

In the pandemonium that ensued, miraculously, no precious box contents were damaged and the snake was drawn much closer to his mistress—and I’ll leave it at that. And other than enduring a few aside glances of contempt for breaking the code of silent decorum in elevators, I was none the worse for wear. She assured me the snake was harmless, and gentle, and many other endearing adjectives that only a serpent-owner would use. By the time we arrived on the designated floor, she and I knew each other better and over coffee the next afternoon we began a friendship that would last for several months, although afterward merely in the form of pen pals.

The relationship, if you are wondering, was decidedly platonic in nature. She referred to me (in an affectionate manner) as her ‘favorite rube from down south’; and I to her as my ‘snobby WASP from a less-than-important borough of the big city.’ In the end, we were close in agreement on many topics, including those dangerous areas associated with politics. And I always paid her the courtesy of asking about the health of her serpentine counterpart when we corresponded. I lost contact with her not long after I met my future wife, yet those conversations are still vivid in my memory in part due to the things we certainly disagreed upon.

She didn’t believe in G_d and felt religion was something for others but not her. I recall she referred to it in such terms as ‘fairy tales’ or at the very least—useless myths from a bygone age. I can honestly say that her arguments never affected my opinions or mindset, but sadly, my own testimony could be described in the same manner from her point of view. I know nothing more today that I could have said back then to change her mind; and my only hope is that something moved her heart over the years to reconsider her stance.

It’s hard to believe the unbelievable. A G_d that loves us so much that He sent His only Son to redeem us from sin and provide for us an eternity with Him is hard to comprehend when viewed by the heart of one who knows only the world and its ways. The things I believe in are hard to grasp, absurd even, unless you know Him in a personal relationship through a faith that without which is “impossible to please Him.”

Maybe my own belief in all things spiritual was aided by growing up in the South with parents who instilled in me the knowledge of the Word of G_d. Ah, but that’s too simple. Jesus told another one who was having trouble grasping the things of G_d: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

The picture is big. It’s real. But it’s too hard to see it or even begin to comprehend its details unless you’ve been born again. Unless you do so, then it will only resemble fairy tales or myths from a bygone age. The elevator you are taking will never get you home.

An Accident By Morning

I’m a dog lover. It’s obvious to anyone who knows me, and maybe even to those who don’t—the evidence of the matter has been supported through several of my previous blog posts. I’ve always had a dog throughout the different ages and eras of my life, and I’ve loved them all. I do not boast when I say that as loyal as they have been to me via their supreme nature; I have matched them in return and have performed to my utmost in that regard.

Thus begins a sad confession on my part, an event that has haunted me over the past twenty-four-plus hours, and shows no sign of relent as I pen these words this morning. I was on my way to work in the still, dawn hours, ready to begin another day of existence in a life that can become approvingly mundane if I had a notion to allow it so. I was driving on the WC, as my oldest son prefers it, but to the older generation it is still known as White Chapel Road. Yes, I was driving too fast, if an excuse is required—but excuses are for those that glean too much knowledge in a failed attempt to become wise. (And “think too much to be beautiful”.)

As I neared one of the all-too-common curves in the road, ahead in the bluing darkness my headlights uncovered a cascade of circular reflectors moving across the road in my path. Seconds being what they are, I knew it was a bicycle, and let off the accelerator with plenty of distance to spare. As I slowed with my eyes riveted on the cyclist, motion on the side of the road caught my attention, but much too late. It was a beautiful yellow lab wearing a red collar, and I swerved too late to avoid him. This action was further complicated by his desire to cross the road at that instant to join his master who rode the bike. All of this occurred in a matter of seconds, and to describe the sounds would open wounds I’m still dealing with, so I won’t.

I drove slowly on up to the man on the bicycle, and rolled down my window in the pale light of what had up to that moment been a beautiful dawn—more so for someone sharing the sunrise with their trusted friend. Of course that was before my sudden and deliberate arrival on the scene.

“Was that your dog?” I asked, but in my heart of hearts I already knew the answer.

“Yes.” He managed, a tone of growing sadness emanating from his voice.

“I’m sorry, man. I really am.” It was all that came to my frazzled mind, and it sounded hollow as I spoke those words, although it assuredly wasn’t.

I apologized to the owner, expressing to him just how much my own dogs mean to me and how I knew how he felt—all the robotic things I should have said and did so. But I knew the anguish he felt as it was clearly written there, and I was the originator of that ruin that had befallen him on a day that moments earlier had certainly held such promise to him. I drove on to work, grief in my own heart sitting heavy in my mind, continuing through yet another day. And after, as always, I wished I would have done more. I should have offered to load his fallen friend in my truck, along with his bicycle, and drive them back to their home wherever it was located. I could have been late for work, at least for one morning, as my record in that regard is stellar and no one would question it had I chosen to do so. I did not think to do it, but I should have.

I often complain of those who drive too fast on our country roads. In fact, I’m extremely vocal about it. I blame them ahead of time for an accident that is sure to happen. Yet what do you do when the thing you abhor most becomes the thing that you are in one swift instance? When reality sets in, it’s a pretty bad deal. The words of Paul ring true within my own ears this morning: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”

The unknown bicyclist may forgive me in time, yet it will prove difficult if he truly loved his dog. Still, it will be quite some time before I can find the means to forgive myself. It was an accident, but a preventable one all the same; and in the meantime I have to live with it in my heart as well as my conscious. Thankfully, after considering the sin in his life Paul answered his own question, and his answer gives me peace today. (Though I probably don’t deserve it!)

“I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Jesus is the only one who can deliver me from the sin in my life, and in Him alone can I place my hope when I fall short of what I know to be right or wrong. If I ever meet up with that fellow dog owner, I’m going to say and do all the things I should have. In the meantime, I am going to depend on G_d’s forgiveness, and drive slower instead of merely complaining hypocritically about others who do not.