A CALLOUSED HEART

Seeing all the bums and beggars sprinkled at every other major intersection in the city has had the same effect as working or working out; with enough time and reps, the skin gets strong, hard, calloused. Kinda like almost every single person sitting behind the wheel of their car, stopped against their will, reading the signs of the beggars with a calloused heart. Me too.

There was a time when someone begging on the corner was a rarity. If they were there, times were tough indeed. They looked more like beggars back in the day.

a calloused heart

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Back when begging was about as rare as a solar eclipse, compassion came easy, immediately, and with a willing hand. A person’s gotta have big heart and desire to wrestle a wallet outta your pants or shorts or purse, that while fighting with the seatbelt strap that’s pleased as punch to slow you down when you’re trying to move quickly.

Funny how long it takes for the traffic lights to change… until you need a few more seconds.

I don’t dive for my wallet much these days. The beggars, in majority, have changed like the lives of Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind. Not to mention the lives on the giving side that seem to have adopted the attitude of Rhett. We might not say, “Frankly, my dear… I don’t give a damn”, but our actions do it for us.

In fairness, it’s hard to give a hoot about folks that don’t fit the mold of the stereotypical beggar. It’s not uncommon for the person holding the sign to have better tennis shoes than the ones wrapped around my feet.

Not only that, but it’s becoming common place for the folks looking for a handout to be young, fit, and sportin’, not just cell phones, but smart ones.

She was different. She didn’t look so different at a glance, but something inside told me she was. The middle-aged woman wasn’t standing strategically in the shade to shelter her from the record-setting Arizona heat.

I don’t avoid eye contact, even if I’m not going to give anything to folks waiting for a handout, especially the ones that are young, strong, and with knees that are light years better than mine.

The woman’s eyes were desperate, scared… and for good reason; she was caught in the crosshairs of an angry Arizona summer day.

Without thought, I snatched my wallet out, knowing I had only the big bill I keep folded and tucked away that I keep for emergencies… preferably mine.

My hand touched hers when she reached through the passenger side window to grab the cash. Her hands were hard, dry, calloused… like my calloused heart… just moments before God reminded me of His willing hand and compassion on me.

A GHASTLY WEAKNESS

I was driving down the road, (not trying to loosen my load), listening to the radio. I would have needed an extension ladder to reach up to the level of mellow I was toolin’ in. Only God knew the ghastly weakness hiding just under the heartthrob from the seventies.

I was contemplating all the recent changes in life, my radio tuned to the 70’s station cinched it like a sailor’s knot. A song came on that I had to listen to in secret, or at least enjoy inside only when I was a kid.

The artist was one of those that men and boys didn’t listen to. It might not have been against the law, but telling a brother or buddy that you like that guy could get you beat up, punched in the gut at minimum.

The singer was one of those heartthrobs whose pictures from the magazines ended up on the bedroom walls of young girls like he did on my big sisters.

I never told anyone as a kid that this particular song gave me a lump in my throat and squeezed the juice outta my eyeballs. That would’a been suicide.

When Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey” came on I smiled. Funny, after all this time, when he got to the part where Honey dies, I still get a little sad.

a ghastly weakness

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Even in a state of melancholy, I tend to drive like a bat leaving Lucifer’s house. I turned left and headed north at about ten miles an hour over the legal limit. The old guy, (relative term now-uh-days), cruising in the lane next to me, sporting a maroon Chrysler 500 floored it… then proceeded to cut me off.

Heat was rising under my collar, and not just from the Arizona summer, till after he got in front of me. He then slowed to twenty miles an hour less than what he had been doing to cut me off. Presto – my Achilles heel, Kryptonite, weak link, bent nail, whatever you wanna call it, had come back to pay me a visit. I suppose to see if I’d grown up, matured, or come to my senses.

After we turned left and I wheeled around the “speed-up-to-inflict-my-will-upon-you” artist. He was ranting and raving, I assume cussing, at me… Nuclear explosion.

It was the worst version of myself that hit the brakes while rolling my passenger side window down. Now, I’m not given to cussin’, but I wasn’t bashful about inviting the guy to pull over. He rolled up his window, slowed then turned… leaving me driving along with veins pumping poison.

It doesn’t take as long as it used to for me to become smothered in regret. It’s almost instant. I was amazed at how I could go from the peaceful easy feelin’, (another Eagles plagiarism), to that monster that finds it’s fuel in pride.

It’s a ghastly weakness that works like Kryptonite. You’d think I’d be all about showing the world all the grace and mercy shown me… maybe next time.

COOLING MY HEELS

It was the week before the Fourth and I was cooling my heels, literally, where the west coast sand soaks up the Pacific. It was late, the sunset a distant memory. The stars burst brilliant, the Big and Little Dipper looked like, if I got a good running jump, I might be able to grab ’em by the handles.

The night-time ocean air was beginning to drape the coastal community like God was spreading a damp and invisible blanket for an angelic game of Beach Blanket Bingo. It was well past bedtime, but it was one of those nights that was just too magical to spend with your eyes slammed shut.

The night settled around my shoulders like a poncho as I watched the world at night. The temperature was so perfect, the closest cricket, usually in a hurry to pound out his high-pitched song, sounded deeper than normal, almost like a bull frog and about the same cadence.

I drank in the night with my eyes. I listened to the sounds of nature’s most magnificent symphony. I inhaled the night like it was magic, as if it would somehow become part of me, to help me recall the specialness of a night, of a day, of a week, of a year, of a lifetime in a place I happened to be born into blessings beyond my comprehension. A place where people fought, risked their lives, sometimes coming out on the short end of the stick… and life.

Those folks fought for loved ones, for freedom, for a way of life that included religious freedoms for me and anyone else, for that matter, to be able to speak freely without fear of wrongful punishment.

cooling my heels

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People have sacrificed in love, in order that this country might exist. It doesn’t always look like love when folks are fighting for freedom, for a better way of life. It was love that bought us freedom… and liberty, a liberty that’s been perverted by apathy and a new generation of stiff-necked people.

History doesn’t lie, people do, but history won’t. Every single nation on earth that has served God as a nation has been richly blessed. The others that turn their back on Him… have fallen.

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord”.

I’m thankful for a nation where I can share my thoughts, dreams, and desires… as I’m cooling my heels. Happy 4th of July, friend. May we be restored, and may God Bless America.

NOT FOR LONG

My dashboard told me I had zero percent oil life left, but not for long.

“How-you-doin’-today,” the burly baby-faced kid asked me from under the gas pump canopy.

“Pretty good, and you?” I exchanged greetings with the young man taking orders, not the guy that was actually going to be cranking a wrench on my oil pan bolt.

I thought we were done with the pleasantries. My fault – I did ask him a question. I assumed that he assumed, it was a rhetorical one.

not for long

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“It’s hot!” the kid informed me.

In that instance, gone was the understanding older guy. It’s Arizona folks. It gets hot here, I mean Africa hot, but a virile young man with the chubby cheeks and a macho brown beard shouldn’t be whining about it. That’s a sign another generation has sprouted up… and into a world with more guardrails.

In the slight heat of the moment, my mind considered my own hot days in Arizona, but my first thought was that it really wasn’t that hot yet. It was hanging just under triple digits at the time, which meant that the nights would bring a welcomed reprieve, but not for long.

I thought about the days of my youth, the sweltering ones, without an air conditioner. August in Arizona with only a swamp cooler is kin to trying to put out a forest fire by spittin’ on it. I remembered the two-a-day football practices in that same man makin’ month, the dry heaves at the end of wind sprints… and the times when they weren’t dry.

Of course, my dad came to mind, the drops of sweat that rolled off the end of his nose when he was working. The drops were so massive they’d splatter like rain. I recall the white sweat stains on his threadbare work shirts. I never heard him complain about the heat, not one time.

There was an unspoken rule I learned as a kid. A man could laugh about the ridiculous heat, even cuss it, but no one whined about it.

I recollected the days when it was my turn to toil in the Southwest sun, doing fifteen hours a day, daring the blazing ball in the sky to do its worst. Sun of a gun if it didn’t.

I pulled the sweat stuck shirt from my back that was still searing from over exposure the day before while toiling in the yard, not cause I had to, cause there’s something gratifying about “working by the sweat of your brow”.

I’m not so sure an easier life, the one we all strive for, is always the best thing for us.

“Rejoice in your times of trials”. If a person lives long enough, gains a smidge of wisdom along the way, they come to realize that doesn’t just apply to the physical side of life, but to the spiritual ones, even more so.

I handed the kid my keys, “It’s not hot… but not for long,” I chuckled.

WITH A VENGEANCE

Some folks just seem to be contrary. You say black and they’ll say white with a vengeance. Those are the folks that practice arguing as if it were a virtue.

I knew a couple that argued over garbage… just goes to show how endless the supply of things to bicker over there are. He wanted the trash to be rinsed before being tossed in the garbage. It was what he was used to, his culture.

image courtesy photobucket.com

image courtesy photobucket.com

She, especially since she was the one doing the cleaning and keeping, didn’t want to wash the trash like a glass to be reused, just to toss it into the can where its contents would end up three feet under the dirt of the closest municipal dump, what they call landfills these days.

He reasoned the rinsing of the garbage would keep the foul smell associated with garbage down. The clean trash, he explained, would also be less likely to attract flies and insects that take to garbage like pigs do to mud holes.

She countered that it was a waste of time and water to rinse trash and that he just needed to take it out more often.

They had heated debates about washing the trash, neither of them willing to yield or consider the other’s perspective. They both figured that their way was the right way and dug in like a donkey.

It’s a peculiar thing about an argument; many times both sides have valid points. In a way, the trash talkin’ trash fighters were both right… but stubborn pride would never let them admit it. Which made them both dead wrong.

The both of them just wanted to win, to get their way. Not so different than most of us, especially when young, which they were.

There’s another group of folks that are more than willing to argue at the drop of a hat, and with a vicious vengeance; Christians.

That’s no surprise to Christians and non-Christians alike. That’s the reputation gained along the way.

People love to be right. It boosts an ego and satisfies the cancer-like pride… for a short time.

As much as folks love being right, there’s something else that holds an even more precious place within them; the hatred of being wrong. But in line just behind the loathing of being wrong is the thorn of not being able to convince or change someone else’s mind. That can bring a prideful person’s blood to a boil in short order.

Some of the most heated arguments are over Biblical issues. There’s a reason a lot of level headed folks live by the adage, “don’t talk politics or religion”. Both can bring out the worst in people… even, or maybe especially, if they’re called Christians.

How is it reasonably intelligent folks can read about the characteristics that should mark the life of a Christian, namely love and humility, and live the exact opposite?

“The world will know you by the love you have for one another.” Maybe it’s time to try living that out… with a vengeance.