HAPPILY EVER AFTER

image courtesy of photobucket.com

image courtesy of photobucket.com

I believe in happily ever after. I recall as a kid being awestruck in the old theaters after devouring a movie mentally like it was a piece of fine chocolate. I remember walking back outside into reality, my mind paddling to catch up after being suspended in the warp when time stood still.

Even after the gut punches of the reality in this fallen world as kids, many of us still cling to some type of romantic notions. My guess is that it isn’t a precious few of us that got worn down along life’s journey. The rugged paths that beset all of us have a way of grinding us down, the jagged edges broken off and sanded smooth, thin like the perfect stone for skipping across the glassy pond into eternity.

Like Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, most of us have put our childish ways behind us. For some, those ways are so far removed that not even the slightest softer notions cross our minds anymore.

There are a couple different types of “Romantics”. One of them would lean toward terms like “gentle” and “tender”. The folks born in the generations closest to “The Greatest Generation” I think struggle to be described as gentle and tender. Passionate, strong, and disciplined yes, but usually they always seem best described as “tough as nails”.

I was raised in a blue-collar family with ties to a sharecropping-hand-cotton pickers clan. We grew up in a violent world set in the late sixties when it was all about survival of the fittest, long before any of us ever heard of the God forsaken theory.

It seemed like back then romantic happened in books and movies. Gentle and tender were reserved for newborn babies, puppies, and kittens, but that didn’t mean we didn’t have love.

I ponder these days of political correctness and question a “love” that can’t say no to kids. I wonder if we’re really doing the next generation any favors at all. Our generation didn’t see the tough love of our raisin’ as gentle or romantic.

Sometimes it takes several decades stacked like dominoes to get a glimpse over the wise side of this life’s spiritual fence.

In that tough love, we learned self-discipline through discipline. We were demanded to show respect… that’s how we learned self-respect. Character was insisted upon in our lives and sometimes reinforced with a belt.

We stumbled through childhood and adolescence and got to use those Biblical character traits in real life. We were tested, and although we failed more than we wanted to, by and large, we showed our loved ones and this world real love in action. True romance in these character scenarios bring God honor and stiffen the spines of the weaker among us.

The other definition of “romantic” is “an idealized view of reality”. While I fight to be gentle and tender, I think this meaning of romantic describes every Christian. We know this fallen world has a vast cast of antagonists, but we’re the gifted protagonists that know our roles and lives in these soul cages.

True Love keeps and sustains us and the ultimate Happily Ever After is waiting for us on the other side.

See there. Who said we’re not romantics?

THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART

image courtesy of photo bucket.com

image courtesy of photo bucket.com

The majority of the eyes scrolling across this screen or page, along with the hearts behind them, have a great deal in common with me and one another. Many of us have that innate desire to lasso the vivid pictures in our mind’s eye and bring them to life through our words. My guess is that the bottom of your heart is not so different than the bottom of my heart.

The odd part about this creative world of wordsmithing is that when a body of words is complete it doesn’t always resonate or connect with hearts the way we had hoped. Sometimes it feels like an empty theatre with only the sound of a lonely cricket singing… and yet we forge ahead.

It’s an odd dynamic to spend lonely time with a pen and paper or keypad in trying to hitch our hearts and souls up to other’s. When we fail to inspire and connect we still find gratification in the crazy process and calling.

What binds all of us together is our inborn need to connect, regardless of our widget or vocation. In that sense we’re all in this together.

I’m Supremely blessed too with a pretty consistent group of friends that always reach out to one another to encourage and be encouraged. It’s a gift that makes precious gems seem like costume jewelry.

Every once in a while we get an unexpected shot in the arm and heart. The kind of shots that I think are arranged by God to reinforce a sagging soul.

Chris caught my eye from across the gym and waved me over. I raised my chin as I approached him in an unspoken, “What’s up?” manner.

“I just wanted you to know how much that post you did a while back about your daughter touched me and my wife,” Chris said. He went on to explain how it made him remember things about his life and family. Chris shared how after he persuaded his wife to read it she finished with tears in her eyes. He told me that he did too.

My old gym buddy told me he felt like he’d stolen a piece of my world and used it to relate to his world to remind himself how blessed he was and how much he cherished his family. I assured him that no, he wasn’t guilty of swiping anything from me.

I told him that was the whole purpose of my words that often miss the mark or target like an arrow shot in a hurricane… but once in a while I think our words do find their target. I believe that now and then they get Divinely pointed in the direction of other hearts in need of encouragement, inspiration, and reflection.

There is a time when our words hit dead center of a heart and pierce it with wisdom that pours forth love and joy that overflows the shallow banks of our eyes.

As my words encouraged my friend’s heart, his did mine.

For all of you who spend your precious time and heart to encourage mine, I say thank you so much… from the bottom of my heart.

HOW TO SKIN A CAT

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image courtesy of photo bucket.com

I’ve heard it said that there are different ways to skin a cat. I was never too interested in finding out any details in the matter. Truth is, I like cats. I get the point, always did. There can be different steps or processes taken to achieve the same, or at least similar results.

Since the long gone days of youth and innocence have deserted me I’ve come to apply that simple truth to my thought process and perspective as well. It doesn’t come naturally to me even after all this time though.

In one of the battles with the heart and soul, as usual, the flesh took the first shot. We were out of town and for some unknown reason another adage rears its ugly ole head; “Whatever can go wrong will go wrong.”

I got a call from the attorney to let me know that after all the documents I’d signed the day before… there was just one more… That was also the day that business personnel ran off the rails… And our youngest called me in tears with a school emergency. The long weekend we’d planned to celebrate our anniversary, the one I thought I had all the contingencies in place to cover, was coming unwound at the seams.

The flesh claims victory. It’s what comes to it naturally. I can almost see the virile monster of the flesh with one big boot on the neck of a seemingly groggy soul and spirit. The too timid soul struggles to awake to the reality of this fallen world.

I’m pretty sure God doesn’t use the analogy “to skin a cat”, but He does use different ways to get our attention. Sometimes it takes using our senses to see the reality of this world and to bring a less emotional response to ebbs and flows of a day in the life.

I hung up the phone yet again. My flesh clearly in control. Then I spotted her. That’s when my soul and spirit awoke from the haze and assault of the flesh.

She was old. Her grey shoulder-length locks curled naturally at the edges from under her faded brown derby. The skin on her shriveled face was cooked dark brown by the sun. She was sitting at the outside edge of an outdoor food court. The homeless woman had everything she owned with her in her borrowed shopping cart. Her thick ankles and severely swollen and discolored feet spoke to her serious circulation issue.

As my heart melted for this woman, somebody’s daughter at one time, so did my flesh.

The good and even admirable things of this life can be so easily used against us. It’s easy to get wound up with ourselves and all of our own issues and problems, most of which is usually created by us.

God has a way of getting our attention and bringing us back to a better perspective in a host of ways. Of all the different ways He could use to skin a cat so to speak, using the gifts of our senses to control our emotions seems pretty gentle.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING

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image courtesy of photo bucket.com

“You know there are kids starving in Africa right now?” It was posed to me as a question, but I knew from past experience it was really a statement, a declaration if you will. That’s when the short battle of wills and the testing of one of my parent’s patience ensued.

While I didn’t know any kids personally that were starving at the time, I knew my parents weren’t lying to me. I knew they were trying to make a point for me to finish my meal, but moreover to be grateful for what I had. It’s hard for kids to see the value in vegetables, especially green peas.

I usually mumbled something to the effect of “rather starving to death than eating peas”, but it didn’t have any effect on getting me out of forcing them down my hatch. One time, when we had a rare dessert for after dinner, my sister tried to hide her potatoes under her plate… and they weren’t mashed. But that’s a story for another time.

One dinner my parents didn’t have to work too hard to get me to consume like swine was Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey, stuffing, ham, baked beans, with bacon, of course, and gravy to name a few. Then followed by dessert that included fruit salad swimming in whip cream and pumpkin pie that was right up my alley.

It didn’t matter if we were with scads of extended family or just the six of us at Thanksgiving. When it came to dinner time my dad was always the one called on to give thanks to God for the meal we were about to devour.

My dad didn’t just thank God for the food, he’d cover every facet of our lives and make it a point to count every blessing and name them one by one. He was truly grateful. I listened to him then, but I was more focused on calming the hunger pangs… it would take decades to hear him…

I think it’s a lot like that for most of us; we know in our minds the good things we have, but it takes time and wisdom to catch up to us for us to realize deep in our souls the truth of that fact.

I’m thankful for so much. I can’t begin to grasp the depths of our Father’s grace, mercy, and love. His protection and provision are astounding to me and I’m thankful from the depths of my soul. I don’t have to be reminded that others in this life have tribulation for the likes of which staggers my mind.

I’m thankful to God for a path set before me by my Father that he allowed my mom and dad to plow before me. I’m thankful for all the things I was forced to learn, for all the things I wanted but never got. For wisdom from God through my dad.

Thanksgiving changes but the heart behind it never will. Since my dad’s passing my mom calls on me to say a blessing to God over our Thanksgiving dinner. I recount our gifts and give thanks to God above for His blessings on all of us. I’m honored to give thanks to He who gives graciously.

I pray for blessings upon you and your families too, friends.

Happy Thanksgiving and God bless.

RIDING HIGH

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image courtesy of photbucket.com

When we first left I was riding high, but before long I felt like a fish out of water. Not only because I was smack in the middle of a scenario I’d never been in before, but also due to the fact that my body and lungs were almost as useless as a flopping fish.

My wife is the cyclist, I just took it up about a year ago to hang out with her and drop some lbs. She’s pushed me pretty hard, thought I was gonna puke a few times, but I somehow found some inner strength… no doubt the reserve tank of pride and ego, to finish each ride.

Of all the times we’ve ridden I’ve never been first unless you count the downhill parts only, but I’ve never been dead last.

I found myself in California early on a Sunday morning straddling an ole and heavy bicycle, relatively speaking, and having not been on one in months. We planned for a short ride with an older group of riders that promised to be a leisurely jaunt, what those in the bicycle world refer to as “a recovery ride”.

The group had about thirty riders, fit folks, that were humming south along Pacific Coast Highway around twenty-three miles an hour between red lights. Then we turned left… We were about fifteen miles out when I realized I was in trouble.

You don’t have to get too far due east of the Pacific Ocean before you run into what they called “hills”. I’m no geography expert, but I know the difference between hill and mountains. Those were straight up mountains… and yes, pun and sarcasm intended.

The ride that by this time left me feeling like I’d been trapped in an evil plot had one catch in my favor; it was also what those lunatic bikers called “a no drop ride”. That means once they get a fool who has no business being out in the middle of nowhere on a bicycle they won’t just leave them to the vultures.

By the time we were beside the beautiful mountain lake and climbing the other riders, including my wife, had gone from moving dots on the horizon to having disappeared like the dinosaurs. My arms were tingling and the burn from lactic acid had seared my legs. I was gasping the thin mountain air in chunks. Riding high was a memory.

By the time I reached the graded turnout on the two-lane mountain road the entire group had finished their snacks and were waiting for me; the last rider on their “no drop ride”. Some of them tossed me angry looks like a pitcher does a fastball.

I’ve strived to be first all my life, have a few times, but that day in Southern California was the first time I’d been dead last…

The verse from Matthew “Who is last will be first and who is first will be last” rolled around my head faster than my wheels were spinning. It’s harder to lose than to win. Pride comes far easier than humility, yet we can’t begin to please our Father until we can grasp true humility.

“I’m sorry”, I grunted to the leader of the ride who had circled back to ride and literally push me up the hills.

“No worries, just try to enjoy the ride – I got you,” he said without a hint of irritation or pride.

That guy doesn’t grasp the depth of the lesson he reminded me of during this ride of humility.

“Thank you,” I huffed with pure sincerity.