MEMORIAL THANKS

k16014061REPOST  from May of 2012.

I hated being the Private when I was a kid… My older brother Bobby was usually the Captain, he appointed my sister Sergeant, and me private. I hated taking orders from them, especially when they ordered me to eat dirt. I recall the day I mentally snapped from the orders and physically attacked the Sergeant, my sister, with a piece of rubber hose… A piece of cut hose hanging around the house for the often needed practice of siphoning gas says a lot about the folks there.

I’m not sure what title our dad would have had in the make believe scenario, I guess the General, but I didn’t even know he was home… I wasn’t given any time in the stockade, but I did get a few lashings for my actions… whatever his title, my dad wasn’t having anything to do with his only daughter getting whipped by an out of control son of his.

I can’t recall the times as a kid we played “Army Man.” It was the favorite game for the neighborhood boys when we were young. We all had some type of inborn nature to want to be heroes. To pretend to die for a good cause; saving people with our courage and sacrifice.

Like most dreams of childhood, they slip away except for only a small group, the strong, the gifted. The ones who went on to serve our country are a special group of people. Whatever the reason or scenario, I think the ones called to the service of others are a group that can only be called true heroes.

The history of the world is written by God and the ones He’s called for the service of others. We admire the strong people in this life, but none more than the ones who are willing to lay down their lives for the good of others. Jesus Christ spelled it out perfectly, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

It’s funny we don’t associate service, bravery, and courage with love, but that’s exactly what it is. A person who is willing to put themselves last in selfless service is the epitome of love from a Biblical perspective.

I hope we all appreciate and remember the ones who’ve shown us, the people they didn’t even know, the love we didn’t earn. I pray we honor the ones who paid the price of pure love to protect their loved ones and our way of life this Memorial Day.

May God bless the families of the ones who went before us and may He bless the ones serving now. May He keep them from harms way and bring them home quickly and safely. May we remember the blessings and the foundation upon which this country was built, and honor the One who is our ultimate protection. May He raise up all of us to stand for that which He’s called us.

May we serve in the capacity He’s called us for with the same honor as the other men and women who’ve gone before us with the higher calling to serve this country. May God bless our troops… and may God bless America. Happy Memorial Day.

MOUNT PRIDE

k14368049I don’t know of one single person in my life that hasn’t been given a second chance. For some of us the amount of chances we’ve gotten number so many we’d be hard pressed to count that high, me for sure. My good friend and brother Bill, who happens to be a pastor, posts at Cycle Guy’s Spin. He is doing a series on second chances and knows me well enough to know I’ve been given lots of second chances in my life and has asked me to do a guest post at his place.

If you don’t know Bill, you need to. And once you do, you’ll know why it’s such an honor for me to hang out at his place and share a story. Bill has one of the most interactive blogs I’ve seen and I’m proud to be a small part of it. Check out the Cycle Guy and make his place a stop on your weekly rides… you’ll be glad you did.

As you can guess by the title, pride is that thing that happens before a fall. You can see where I landed over at Bill’s place. Hope to see you there! Click here for the shuttle.

A BAD HABIT

It was a ghastly habit, that’s what I was told, but it got their attention. Maybe that’s why I hung onto it like a little boy does a sling shot, but that’s far to innocent a comparison to try and peddle. I was a bad man, and not for just this habit, but the attitude in which I lived my life.

Truth is, I was caught between two worlds. The lure of bad can feel good. Stretch the truth, bend a rule, break an oath, and one day I woke up and the fine line I’d crossed may as well have been in China. The exact time and place I crossed over couldn’t be found or recalled.

It’s not so much the act as it is the attitude or perspective. I’ll admit a big part of the reason kids start bad habits is them trying to exercise their independence, show the world they’ve arrived so to speak. To young people it’s all about image, and to mature folks that lack wisdom or who are haunted by a habit that they started by barely inching over the line, with a smirk of mischief on their face.

As a youngster I was disgusted by the habit. I remember my grandpa, my mom’s dad, when visiting would borrow an empty can out of the garbage and line it neatly with a paper towel or napkin, the edges folded over the top of the can. He’d leave it sitting around with the brown stains of tobacco spit turning the innocent white paper towel into a repulsive sight… Only my mom’s dad could have gotten away with that in her house.

By the time I was in high school, my football coach’s tobacco stained mouth had little impact on me. I was used to a world that treated boys like men and wasn’t shy about telling them if they were coming up short.

“Where’s the powder puff twins?” He’d yell for the two smallest kids who didn’t have an ounce of aggression in them for the hamburger drill. I recall the the tidal wave of tobacco juice that preceded his disgusted tone and words to the timid hearted boys.

You’d think that would have been enough to turn me off from that ugly habit. But I sought the rough and tumble coach’s approval. The smatterings of tobacco rain that flew from his mouth in praise when I’d sacrifice my body to lay someone out was music to my eyes… and my ears as the one note ring played at full volume between my ears.

I wasn’t as blatant when I coached high school lacrosse, but a wad of Redman was usual evident in the bugle in my cheek if someone was paying close attention. I can’t recall how long it’s been since I’ve had a chew of tobacco, maybe two years now.

When the weather is just right and I’m outside, a breeze hits me in a particular way, I find myself reaching for my left pocket. There’s nothing there… there can’t be. If there was a pouch of tobacco there I’d almost certainly fail.

Isn’t that what happens once we cross a fine line and pollute our bodies? Once we compromise or breach the line it becomes like the weak link in our chain. The chain doesn’t keep us in bondage, it keeps us from it.

Funny how this world has that concept backward… No wonder the lines are so easily  broken and so many of us live in bondage.

k6535547“And the Truth will set you free.”

FORD OR CHEVY?

imagesSome folks are more than willing to share their perspective and opinion, and given the chance, they’ll share it with the conviction and flair of a good ole’ southern preacher. Seems that it’s a learned habit, happens over time, adopting other’s opinions, traditions, experiences, and becomes part of us.

Funny how people come to an opinion or belief in something and their minds get set like stone, not willing to yield an ounce. The sermons or debates just depend on our circle.

I’ve heard hunters who swore their hunting dogs were the best and gave ten good reasons to back it up, or why their brand of dog food was better than yours. Just ask a blue collar fella if he’s a Ford or Chevy man and what the best motor ever built was. You’ll get an earful with passion and facts… rarely checked of course.

I’ve heard women speak with the same passion over ingredients in a cake, casserole, or stew. I’ve also been enlightened as to the best way to cook a steak, chicken, fish, and vegetables, along with the best techniques, herbs, spices, and choicest of brands, just in case you don’t get time to grow them on your own, or the birds or dogs eat em’. They all sound right t0 me.

If the everyday subjects of life bring about passion and prejudice, then I’m not quite sure what to call what politics and religion bring… Intensity is just the tip of the iceberg, and I don’t mean lettuce…  Many folks want to believe they’re intelligent, that they have the tools of reasoning, but rarely let facts get in the way of their emotions.

It’s an art or a gift to get others to listen to our beliefs and opinions, some call it charisma. It’s hard to sell truth to a world that cherishes fantasy and fairy tales though. It feels like many of the people of position have bought into the “if you can’t beat em’, join em” mentality.

I spent the majority of my life trying to convince others of my beliefs and opinions with passion and conviction, even with irrefutable facts for good measure, but rarely is a heart changed by mere words. It took some time to figure out in my heart the words of Christ, “Do unto others as you’ve have them do unto you.” Those words truly are golden when grasped by the heart and not just the mind.

Those words were spoken with love and compassion to some of the people our Savior knew would hate and betray Him. Seeking to understand the hearts behind the scared eyes of those who adopt opinions or religions based on their free will and fear is the beginning of being able to really communicate with others. Not just argue and preach truth, but live truth, breathe it into the lives that so desperately need it.

“And the Truth will set you free.”

I suppose as long as either the Ford or the Chevy get you there, it’s all good.

Know what I mean?

CASTLES, BIRDHOUSES, AND MEMORIES

ImageI knew it wasn’t forever, few keepsakes that big ever make it long… especially around our house. Once or twice a year I’d see it, smile inside, my youngest would smile on the outside, my wife will smile later. It was a school project around the time our daughter was in fifth or sixth grade.

Even though my little one was young, she already knew she was dreading having to rely on my help. I could tell my wife felt sorry for her too… shucks, even I felt sorry for her. My wife, she, her sisters, and I, knew it was going to be a task. I don’t have the “that’s good enough” mentality. I admit it. Like most of the eyes reading, I’m an all or nothing type of person.

The mission: build a castle. Now being a builder left me little choice but to live up to my title. I mean how bad would it be for me to build something inferior to the doctor, the lawyer, or anybody for that matter! During the process of buying the materials and beginning to put the castle together… with tools I wouldn’t let a young adult touch, much less and elementary school kid… I remembered.

I remembered standing in front of the class beside my birdhouse, beaming with pride as if I’d built it myself. In truth I barely touched it, but I did watch a good part of the process as my dad built it, I helped with some finishing touches. It’s good for a kid to taste pride and victory I think, to be part of something successful even if only in title.

After the castle structure was built, glued in  place by the little messy hands of my daughter, I directed the imitation slate grey tiles to be cut by my daughter and her classmate and glued in place at my direction. It’s hard to watch someone do things we know could be better, but a powerful way to learn. They glued the chains, windows, the people, the animals, and sprinkled sand over the freshly painted on glue for the interior of the grand castle.

“Dad! It was the best castle by far! I got an A+!” my daughter told me afterward.

I smiled, “You guys did a great job, babe,” I answered.

“Thanks, dad! she beamed.

I wonder what my life would look like if I put that much pride and energy into defending my title of “Christian”? How much more would be gained by all of my family members? I suppose the line between selfish pride and teaching my daughter proper work ethic is too fine a line for me to measure, but trying to is a just cause.

“It’s time to throw the castle out,” my wife said. I agreed. The little one did not. She put up a fight, but in the end stood over the trash can helping me tear it apart so as to fit in the trashcan.

“Doesn’t it make you feel bad to tear it apart, dad?” she asked.

“We have the memory of building it, babe. That’s always the best part,” I answered.

I had her take a picture of her castle above with the camera she got for Christmas… she knew I’d make sure our memory and lesson lived on in cyberspace. Not so different than the sweet memory of my dad and that birdhouse gently easing my mind.

CHIVALRY… REST IN PEACE…

woman-pushing-car“We’re not in Arizona anymore,” I thought to myself. It didn’t happen overnight, but it sure does seem like it. It was mid afternoon, Waffle House, the waitresses and cooks were changing shifts and I was in desperate need of sustenance from the old fashioned coffee joint.

There were only five customers in the place that seats around thirty folks when I strolled in, all men. I sat with my back to the south so I could see the street and parking lot out the almost completely glass front and sides that sits atop an old white speckled ceramic tile about three feet off the ground.

The guy closest to me was around my age, looking out from under his silver glasses as he relished the single waffle he was obviously accustomed to. A kid, probably early twenties, sat at the tiny bar in a swivel chair, his back to the street. He sported designer shades pushed back on his head, a hairstyle and beard stolen from Justin Timberlake. The kid also had the ever popular rings stretching his earlobes that you could pass a rope through.

Two other guys, probably late sixties sat opposite me by the tiny bathrooms, both wearing cowboy hats and work shirts that spoke to a fashion and generation all but gone. I like those types, they usually don’t like me, but I appreciate their value system, generally speaking.

The older fella’s with hair growing like wild flowers out of their noses and ears gave me the stink eye glance on my way to the restroom. Gym clothes, pony tail. I don’t blame them. They looked away quickly, they didn’t want trouble. They’ve lived long enough to know it’s better to gamble with dollars that you’re own hide.

After my quick trip to the restroom, my water and coffee greeting me kindly, I was the last one to spot the waitresses in outside who just finished their shift. One lady I’d guess was mid twenties, the other mid sixties. They were wrestling with a little yellow car in the parking lot.

“Can you watch my bag?” I asked my waitress pointing to my briefcase as I headed for the door.

“Sure,” she answered.

“What are you doing?” I asked the relieved waitresses.

“The reverse is out on my girlfriend’s car,” the elder of the two announced.

I pushed the little car backward up the slight grade with a, “There you go!”

“Thank you so much!” they both called back.

The fresh shift looked at me with appreciation, although surprise. The men pretended like they’d not seen a thing, everything short of the guilty whistle while looking the other way, except the kid, he looked at me like I wasn’t human. As if he was trying to figure out what in the world would possess a human being to help out another.

I’m not sure when society forgot how to help out a stranger. That’s the kind of help you’d offer anyone regardless of gender if needed. The fact that not one man in the place had the automatic instinct to help was disturbing to me. The act isn’t even a matter of Christian values – it’s just plain ole’ manners!

Our new society is missing out on one of the greatest gifts created by God Himself; the act of giving and helping.

I wonder how many folks look in the mirror and avoid eye contact with who they see in the reflection these days…

WHISKEY COLORED EYES

They saw things differently than us. I didn’t pay it much mind as a kid… wish I could have. Most of those eyes are resting now. I remember them though, how they looked at things, how their tired eyes took a deep drink of a cotton field. They saw it in a way only eyes that have worked it, looked at it up close and over a lifetime can.

They seemed drawn to it, although they cussed it regularly. Eyes flanked by deep lines, worn by perpetual squinting in the punishing sun, scanning right to left – left to right slowly. Then up, always up, and back and forth. They mumbled about the weather, but it looked to me like there were looking for a sign from God, a miracle.

The miracle was that their families didn’t starve to death.

How many years did those eyes tear from the smoke and clouds of a year’s crop being burned? There was always work, hard work, that was a guarantee… getting paid for it wasn’t. Surviving on close to nothing most of your life has a way of making a person strong, hard, faithful. For some, like my grandpa, the faith misplaced.

I could be wrong, but it didn’t look like peace or joy of the desert farm fields that reflected in those eyes. I couldn’t grasp at the time that behind that tough as nails exterior, those eyes hid sadness mixed with fear. I don’t guess he gave a lot of thought to faith across the better part of his life.

I didn’t know him when he pulled the cotton sack behind him along with dad and uncles. By the time I knew him the days of share cropping in Arkansas were a distant memory for him. He was old then, but he still did the only thing he ever knew how to; pick cotton. He drove the machines across the dusty southwest for miles and years.

Troy’s days of running moonshine to help put the clothes on the backs and shoes on the feet, at least for winter time, of his nine offspring he rarely talked about. Old habits die hard, the fifth he carried in his dusty coat pocket when he drove cotton pickers spoke to that fact.

Those half Cherokee brown eyes had little compassion or sympathy for others, seemed even less so after my grandma died too young. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say she was the best part of him.

I suppose he did the best he could do. I recall a few times his eyes didn’t look cross with anger or impatience. He seemed more content when smoking catfish he caught from the irrigation ditch out back of his trailer that was smack in the middle of a farm field and nowhere. After a few beers he’d play his harmonica so long and hard he’s huff and puff like he’d sprinted a marathon.

My car broke down the day of his funeral. I never told my dad I was a little relieved. I was just going out of respect for him anyway. I think about him sometimes when I’m sad for no good reason. I’m told he did find his faith in God at the end. I suspect he knew that truth all along, probably explains why he was the way he was…

Sometimes the lessons and examples along the path of life aren’t wrapped in fine silk…

f07-177789Some have whiskey colored eyes… and breath.

FROM FOLSOM PRISON WITH LOVE

imagesWhen it comes to love, I’m no expert, and I’ll be the first to admit it, but my friend Thomas invited me to write a post on the touchy subject so I gave it a whirl. I think sometimes we find love in the most common of places and take it for granted, I know I do, but not this time.

Click here to hitch a ride over to Thomas’ place today and I hope you check out his site on a regular basis. Thomas is very insightful and full of wisdom. His honesty and intellect brings out the same in others. See you over at Living The Story.

THE HEART BROKEN SIDE OF THE GLASS

 

My friend Nancy's son Isaiah on the broken hearted side of the glass!!!

My friend Nancy’s son Isaiah on the broken hearted side of the glass!!!

k12999601It’s probably not right to laugh when I see it, but I can hardly keep from it. I’ve stood in those shoes; the hungry and heart broken side of the glass. Expectation is a hard thing to have stolen from you… even worse when it’s right before your very eyes.

You can tell a lot about a person by how they react to being ripped off in a business exchange. I guess personal expectations could even be worse. Some folks take it in stride, almost as if they’ve had their expectations pulled out from underneath them like a rug so often in life that they’ve come to expect it, like they might deserve to get shafted. Others might chalk it up to a fallen world and move on.

Then there are the other type of people, folks like me, they’re the ones it’s hard not to chuckle at when they stand in front of their desire. They can see it. They can pay for it. But they can’t have it… so close but yet so far.

The most heartbreaking occasion is when the object of our want or need moves toward the glass and metal cliff between a metal corkscrew spinning the treasure ever closer to us. But every once in  a while, Providence, karma, or dumb luck falls to the vending machine side of the glass.

I’ve witnessed the bag of nuts in the hospital cafeteria or office building vending machine as it pushes toward the glass just to stop short of the drop off, like a kid chickening out of jumping off the cliff that’s a little too high. Disappointment lasts only as long as it takes the red hot blood to rush to the face. Usually at that point the sore loser yells too loud for the surroundings, “C’mon!” Typically open handed palm strikes to the machine just about shoulder height and to the side of the glass of the mocking machine. I know…

The nuts, cookies, chips, Diet Dr. Pepper, Diet Coke, or even water, never budge. They’re in it with the machine, they’ve made a pact behind the glass to wreck someone’s day. The hot headed loser sometimes at that point will usually yell one more time at the injustice of it all and punch the machine with a closed fist, not full speed, just about half… or so I’ve heard.

I wonder how many times I’ve been like that hard hearted vending machine in my life. We make implied promises only to break the heart of another soul by not fulfilling their expectations. Likewise, we tend to expect others to treat us as if they were a vending machine, put in the proper amount of time, effort, money, or any number of ways that tend to bring us to the point of expectation, and we’re like the hungry hot head, ready to give that person a piece of our mind. Or worse, walk off and vow to never be taken advantage of again.

The words of Christ don’t leave a lot up to interpretation, “If someone asks for your coat, don’t withhold your shirt from them.” Seems we’re not to treat others like we would a machine, but maybe I shouldn’t expect others to respond like one either.

It’s rarely a fifty-fifty trade off in this life and I’ve probably too often had the mindset that other people are like vending machines. If I were one I’d probably have my sides and glass kicked in by now. We don’t always get what we give, but then again, were not called to give in order to get, except for when it’s a vending machine…

After picking up my things, I turned, dropped my coins into the slot, pressed the plastic button with the back lit “Dr. Pepper”, and waited… Pressed the button again… Nothing. Pressed the coin release lever… Nothing… “Hey, Kevin, your machine just ripped me off!” I called to him in the back. He laughed with a too much pleasure, “Sorry, Floyd, it’s not my machine!”

Hhhhhuuuu… I rest my case…

WHERE ROADS CAN’T GO

k14462919It’s just a plain old road, not so different than all the others, but roads, like folks, are never exactly the same and each one has it’s own story.

This story is about “Fifty Sixth”. Fifty Sixth Street is its proper name, but to me personally it’s memory lane. I was reminded the Saturday winter morning I walked down my memory lane.

“I’m late – I don’t have time to bring you back!” my wife said apologetically on her way to work. “That’s alright, I’ll walk back,” I answered, “I’ll do that instead of going to the gym.”

The Seventy Six gas station, where I get my truck worked on sometimes, is a couple miles north of us on fifty sixth.My brakes had been screaming at me for a couple of weeks before I finally made time and gave in to the shrill demands.

I sipped my coffee from the old but hefty insulated mug I got from the kids several Christmases back as I hoofed it back south on fifty sixth, the sun just beginning too crawl up the west side of the tan stuccoed walls flanking the road, my side still enveloped in forty four degree shade.

I thought about the stretch of pavement when it was a dirt road, long before anyone ever heard of a “Loop 101″. This once dirt road would grow into a two lane blacktop and eventually a four lane with a center island that feeds the giant circle the wraps around the sixth largest city in the U.S.

I gazed over the aging neighborhoods on both sides of “Fifty Sixth” that I’d helped build like Henry Ford did cars. I can’t remember now exactly which roofs I fell off of, or the single stories I jumped off of while racing my co-workers to the roach coach, (lunch truck). The scars from the sharp end of the sixteen penny nails on my chest that slowed my fall from two stories up that ripped me open are almost gone now. I did dumb things on and around that street, lived like hell is an understatement.

I can’t recall either which house was the last one I worked on with my hands before they made me the boss. I walked past the apartments that used to be called Arabian Trails, named for all the horse farms that are now streets and houses as far as the eye can see. I recall a night there, lonely, divorced, my business decimated by the IRS, my face in the filthy and worn out carpet, my pride finally surrendered to God’s last move and firm affirmation of, “Checkmate”.

By the time I got to the high school the sun flashed through the fence pickets like a strobe light, every four inches, a flash representing every memory along “Fifty Sixth”. I thought about Kenz and Ali’s graduations on that field, the same field I coached them on. I remember all the girls, good girls, and my wife’s wisdom to know that coaching was my calling at the time.

A couple blocks from my street I crossed over to the sunny west side, knees aching and nose running. I punched in the code to the gate and the voice crackled from the tiny speaker, “Access granted. Please enter.” That old road has played an integral part in my life, but it’s not the physical roads we travel that really matter.

Although I live in the same area, I’m not the same person. Traveling up and down on “Fifty Sixth” reminds me of the power of God to change lives. As the big gates to my street and house swung open, I thought about this road of life and my eventual destination and the pearly gates that await me. I smiled though watering eyes at the thought of my Father’s voice, “Welcome home, son.”

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