A FALLEN WORLD

It’s that time of year when my mind can’t help but roll back in time to the long gone days of childhood. Maybe it’s because we put the tree up yesterday. Or maybe it’s because I ponder the memories of my children and now my grandchildren here. And that fake tree is a little more broken every year… like all of us with time, I suppose. It is a fallen world after all.

The pale yellow church with the white steeple located on Ramsey had a simple white sign with black letters that read, “First Southern Baptist Church”. That’s where I was baptized and learned John 3:16. Being that it was the late sixties, and violence was alive and well in Southern California, it didn’t take long to learn that they were spot on about it being a “Fallen world”.

image courtesy of churchproducts.com

When you grow up in a setting like that, old hymnals become part of your roots. They get memorized as easy as John 11:35; “Jesus wept”. We learned the words to Amazing Grace and Silent Night with ease. It would be decades before we actually listened and grasped them though. Music was part of church, along with the solos.

My brothers, who were about seven and four years older than me, respectively, my sister only had a year and a half on me, had a theory, or what might be better described as a suspicion or notion. They believed that Mrs. Buchanan was on a sorta pay to sing basis.

Mrs. Buchanan was responsible for more than a couple death stares, thumps on the head, and even some whippings from our dad when we’d laugh at how poorly Mrs. Buchanan sang. My brother Bobby still swears that trying not to laugh during her solos is how he learned to speed read.

That’s when my sister and I learned that if there was any hope of not laughing during a Mrs. Buchanan solo we couldn’t even glimpse at each other. My sister squeezing her mouth so that the sides of her lips touched, trying not to laugh, made me laugh out loud, then and just now. Memories are peculiar like that.

The Buchanan’s lived on top of a mountain north of town that overlooked the entire town. They drove a blue Lincoln Continental that had electric windows. From our perspective they were rich and could very well have paid enough in tithes to get her to sing whenever she wanted. It was, after all, a fallen world.

The Buchanan’s adopted three kids, all siblings, Donald was the oldest and according to him, Mrs. Buchanan was beyond a task master. She treated them like slaves. They were responsible for the maintenance and cleaning of their mini mansion on top of the hill that overlooked the rest of us.

Mrs. Buchanan’s solos came to and end… at the hands of her adopted oldest, Donald. He shot her in the head with a shotgun…

You can’t hide that kind of stuff from kids. Even when they’re in single digit years of age. We learn early in life that this is indeed a fallen world.

This time of year isn’t special for some folks. In this fallen world children will go hungry and be abused. There will be tears for some as they endure the season we cherish. This is the season for us to try and make a difference in this fallen world. And none of us have to look too far to find those in need.

Although my kids have had a life less exposed to the harsh realities of it at a young age, they too have learned that it’s a fallen world. But they, like we did, learned that despite the fallenness of this world, we have hope.

We have hope, or what is translated as “confidence”, in the Creator of life to keep His perfect Word this Christmas season. It’s in that knowledge we celebrate His perfect Gift and look ahead to perfection… from this fallen world.

THE DICK AND JANE DAYS

Like most of the souls behind the eyes reading this, I appreciate words. In fact, it’s not at all a stretch to say I love words. Always have, going all the way back to the Dick and Jane days.

I got a slight advantage when it came to words back in the early days of school. The tool, or one of the main tools, for dealing with a kid with a speech impediment was reading. I was forced to use that tool a lot. And while my mathematics surely suffered, my reading didn’t, least wise until I finally figured out how to say my dead gum “R’s”.

By the time I hit fourth grade I was a regular at the school library on Friday afternoons. I don’t remember the librarian’s name, but I remember her and her New York accent. She was the person that introduced me to Beverly Cleary. I read everyone of her books that they had in our humble grade school library.

The librarian loved that I loved books like she did. Her face would light up with passion as she’d recommend books for me. Eventually she had me reading books that were aimed at teaching life lessons to teenagers, even though I was a long way from being one.

Being all boy, the librarian knew that I’d love and devour the books by Henry Gregor Felsen. And that I did. I loved the mental pictures of those chopped coupes. That’s probably why I still appreciate early ’30’s coupes, especially a ’33 Plymouth… say… bright purple?

image courtesy of Goodreads.com

My book loving librarian gave me another “must read” titled “It’s Like This, Cat”, by Emily Neville. It’s on my top twenty books of all time. I liked it so much that I ended up with a paperback copy of it. And four years later I was that kid who ended up being moved to the big city… with a couple of cats to keep me company.

As time went on, even with the distractions of sports, girls, and cars, I devoured all the classics, Steinbeck probably being my favorite. Bill Shakespeare probably my least, although I recognize his genius. So it’s probably not a big surprise that the kid born in Arkansas and raised in the Arizona desert has read more Louis L’Amour books than you can shake a stick at.

The world of words are a lot like many things, in regard to the gift of using them. I marvel when I see what a professional basketball player can do with a ball and a hoop. A mason brandishing his trowel with mastery, a carpenter sinking a nail with amazing speed and precision, a chef, with the same ingredients we all have access to, making something taste like it’s out of this world.

When I read words, basic words, words we all know and have access to, put together in a way that makes me think or just enjoy the gift of telling a story, I’m gratified in my soul.

When I ponder words, and my utter respect and love for them, I can’t help but hear the words from John 1 in my head; “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

The Word was Jesus Christ and the interpretation of that word “Word”, in part, in Greek is “Divine Expression”. God’s perfect Word. Nothing we can say or create will compare to the most powerful and perfect Word.

But we appreciate The Word and the words from Him. It’s part of being made in God’s image, I believe.

So in the season of Thanksgiving, don’t forget to be thankful for the words we share… and ultimately The Word. ‘Cause if you’re like me, you love Words, going all the way back to the Dick and Jane days.

THANKSGIVING DAY OR OTHERWISE

Long before Tom Petty sang the now famous words, “The waiting is the hardest part,” I, well, me and my siblings, sometimes some cousins, were living, and groaning, through the reality of those words on Thanksgiving Day.

The work for the massive feast started early and the air was filled with the aroma of what was to come… eventually. The better part of a day is a long time for a little kid.

I remember my mom splitting the beaters from the electric mixer, that had all been but shaken clean off, with my sister and me. Pie filling and real whipped cream just whet our appetite and made the longing even worse.

The smell of the turkey, gravy, beans, stuffing, and bacon that went into my mom’s famous baked beans, had everyone’s mouth watering. The pumpkin, apple, cherry, pies and my dad’s fruit salad, that was more whipped cream than fruit, tortured us through the longest day of the year.

image courtesy of atgrovecenterton.com

After surviving the molasses of a day, one of the secret baked beans ingredients, we’d finally hear those two beautiful words, “Let’s eat!” They didn’t have to be said loud, we were within earshot. We’d be hovering close by like a pack of wolfs waiting till it was safe to move in for the kill.

It didn’t take long to figure out that the “Let’s eat!”, didn’t mean we were actually going to eat. It meant that we were one step closer to the magic moment that our bellies were grumbling for.

There was one more step. And that step could be a time consuming one. Because the next words were automatic, “Let’s say blessings”, my dad would say. It didn’t matter where we were, our house or someone else’s, my dad was the official family thanks giver.

“Heavenly Father,” is how he always started his prayer, Thanksgiving or otherwise. When it came to praying, my blue collar dad was always genuinely grateful for God’s provision and protection… and his prayers reflected that fact. He wasn’t an economical prayer.

No sir, when it came to praying our dad was an opulent prayer. Not fancy words, but real ones, straight from his heart. And he wasn’t in a hurry.

That’s where he was different than us as kids. We endured the prayers, like barbarians, ready to tear into the feast like Tasmanian devils. I wasn’t the only heathen that opened one eye to make sure the food hadn’t gotten away. I’d spot one or both of my brothers, on occasion, my sister too sneaking the, if not illegal, immoral peek.

I haven’t heard my dad pray in going on ten years now. And all I can think of from those early days of life and Thanksgiving are the words my dad prayed. I realize now that those words were infinitely sweeter than any dessert, including his fruit salad, I’ve had since then and will have on this side of heaven’s curtain.

I guess I’ll never measure up and be the prayer my dad was, but I’m proud of that fact. But if you ever hear me pray, which I do on many occasions, because I’m usually the appointed thanks giver, you’ll hear remnants of my dad.

“Heavenly, Father…” is how I start every prayer… Thanksgiving Day or otherwise.

I’M NO STRANGER TO TAILGATES

I’ve never been to a tailgate party, but I’m no stranger to tailgates.

Blueprints were almost as much a part of our heritage as the Good Book was. I remember my dad scanning the boring blueprint pages laid out on a pickup tailgate with a contractor or worker, sometimes by his lonesome. I was the bored kid using scraps in a pile of job site debris to make pretend guns, spears, and forts.

Maybe that was the inspiration for all the forts I built? That or the fact that it was just part of my DNA. Maybe that could also be the scapegoat for the pilfering of job sites that I used to build them.

It didn’t take long to figure out that the best part of building those flimsy forts was the building part of it. Once they were done my buddies and I didn’t have a lot of use for them. Being built in the middle of desert arroyos, (a fancy name for desert foothill washes), it also didn’t take long to figure out that the rats had plenty of use for them.

It seemed like an eternity, but it wasn’t but less than a decade later and l was standing behind a pickup truck with the tailgate down looking over blueprints. And I was still thinkin’ that calling them “blue” didn’t make a lick uh sense, since they were mostly white.

It would be impossible to put a number on the amount of time I’ve spent looking over blueprints, on a slab, tailgate, or in offices. It’s even more improbable to put the amount of days, months, or years I spent at a desk designing my own projects that would one day come to be laid out on desks, slabs, bid plan tables… and of course tailgates.

Another job we’re about to finish, designed by the kid who used to build forts in the desert. For scale the glass between the tub and shower is 12′ tall.

We have plenty of office space these days… but I prefer being outside. Meetings are a part of life now-a-days. Some of them I can’t steer outside and to the backside of a Ford, Chevy, Nissan, Toyota, or Hummer for that matter… but some of them I can.

I think about the old adage “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” That makes sense and a plan, or plans, is part of a wise process. We don’t have blueprints for our lives, but we have plans, dreams and desires.

I’ve built so many structures I couldn’t even begin to find them. They’re mostly in Arizona, but they’re in several states. Of all those structures, and all those plans, not a single one was perfect. They all had flaws. That’s part of the challenge to manage jobs and people.

I think our lives are like that. We plan, but we run into problems with the plans and how we navigate around them are how we determine our success in life. Even if our plans are perfect, at least in our mind, we aren’t the Great architect. “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”

I think about Noah building that massive boat. And David designing the temple, Paul making tents… and of course the Greatest Carpenter. Whatever our calling I believe our job is to do it in a manner that brings our Maker honor. What we do, who we are, has purpose. It doesn’t have to be a grand thing. It just has to be what God designed us for in order for us to be gratified in our works.

I’m no stranger to tailgates… and neither is God Almighty… He’s with us wherever we are and whatever we do. And I’m pretty sure he loves the smell of churned up dirt and fresh cut lumber.

IN A HURRY

I’m what you call an aggressive driver. That makes it sound worse than it is, at least for me. See, I’m not mad or crazy, well, not mad for sure, I’m just in a hurry. Aggressive makes it sound like you wanna hurt someone, I don’t wanna hurt anyone, I just want to get around them and get on my merry way.

I don’t get too rattled when someone honks or flips me the bird, I usually smile and wave. The other day I was following, obviously closer than the driver wanted, a little white economy car – waiting for the opportunity to get into either the right or left lane to get around them.

Movement from inside the car in front of me caught my eye. I looked closer to see the person, I couldn’t tell if it was a male or female, flipping the bird to the rearview mirror and shaking it violently to make a point. I smiled. Then gave a friendly wave as I finally got around them and left them shrinking in my own rearview.

The problem, or at least one of the problems, is that at some point there are a few folks who take it personally and they want to talk to me… up close.

A few nights back, on the way to dinner, there were two turtles in the left hand turn lane in front of me. We had enough vehicles in the lane to trigger the left hand turn signal, but I barely made it through the light on a long green and yellow because the first two people in line were moving like molasses.

After we made the turn onto Thunderbird, a four lane road, our two heading east, I pulled into the far right lane, the driver in front of me into the left. He was still lollygagging so as soon as there was enough room to pass I gunned the supercharged engine and shot into the left lane and was off to the races, or dinner as it were.

Pretty soon turtle two was right behind me. After about a mile he started flashing his lights. Lucky for him the restaurant was less than another mile. I whipped into a space right up by the front door. Angry turtle two was pulled in perpendicular in back of my vehicle, window down, telling me exactly what he thought of me. I’ve heard those expletives before.

image courtesy of comix.com

The other problem I inferred earlier is me. And for more than my driving habits; I don’t have a lot in the way of fear. I try to reserve that for the One who says that fear of Him is the beginning of wisdom. I’m still a beginner because I still do dumb things and have more confidence in myself than I probably should.

I grew up in a somewhat violent setting, at least when I was very young, and I’ve been around the block. Get the pun there? I’ve been punched in the face more times than I care to recall and that was long before mixed martial arts training accomplished a severely deviated septum with ease.

Turns out turtle two’s real name is Darren and Darren had a few drinks of some sort. Nothing like alcoholic courage. Eventually he apologized, shook my hand, and off he went.

The other problem is I wasn’t alone… I told my wife to go inside the restaurant as I went to face the stranger in the Ford.

Of course I wouldn’t want to put anyone in a difficult place… but I wasn’t considering anyone but myself when I set out to drive to please me… and to Iceland with anybody else… near or far from me.

Most that know me know that I admire and adore humility. It’s a beautiful trait from God above. The opposite I guess is selfishness. And when I’m honest I have to admit it’s a trait that comes far too easily for me.

That gas peddle makes me a monster… even when if I’m not in a hurry. It’s hard to smell roses going a hundred miles an hour.