the lottery

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I don’t play the lottery. Oh I’ve bought tickets a few times, but that was a long time ago. I didn’t have a clue what a lottery was until I watched a film in grade school titled, you guessed it, The Lottery. Funny how a memory can be so vivid after so many decades.

The star of the short film was a lady with dark hair to match her eyes and wore it pulled back behind her ears. She had a typical house dress on with a sweater over it to keep her comfortable in the dreary morning air.

She was excited, animated by the events of the day in her not so small town. In the fictional film that was designed to make kids think, not an easy task for some of us, the town had The Lottery to help control the population. Winning in that scenario meant being the only loser.

The star was thrilled to take part in the lottery, and for good reason: the mathematical chances of her lottery ticket being picked were slim at best… not so different than the real life lottery.

I’ve wondered if the author of the best-selling books and now movie, Hunger Games, ever saw the short film that I did as a kid… They’re eerily similar.

When the announcer called her name everything changed. All the friendly banter with friends were gone with the wind. She screamed in horror for mercy as the town folks picked up rocks and began to stone her to death.

I think about things like the odds of me dying based on my actions. In life, what we do is a lot like playing the lottery with our lives. For many of us that figured we cheated death during the “all in” games we dared to play when younger, we have learned we didn’t cheat anybody or anything – We got a pass.

If we live long enough we figure out that with those passes or divine interventions, comes wisdom.

When I air up the tires on my bike, fill up the water bottles, and strap on that helmet, I know the forthcoming bicycle ride increases my chances of meeting St. Peter at the golden gate sooner than later.

There’s a reason the life insurance salesman asks questions like, “Do you skydive?” They might grasp the sovereignty of God… but they could also know like we should, that free will while mind boggling, can be a double-edged sword.

We’re not called to live this life in fear, but I don’t think we’re called to necessarily play Russian roulette either.

It’s a fine line between trusting in God and testing Him. That line could very well be in different places for all of us and maybe even drift a bit over the course of our lives.

I once treated the gift of this life like a lottery ticket from the old film I watched in grade school, but seeking and time have a way of opening our eyes to see beyond the surface.

I can tell you this: Along with all the prep work to get my bike ready to ride and more importantly the safety equipment I use, is the prayer I say before I go.


image courtesy of photo

image courtesy of photo

Christian Inspiration

“Cigarette ashes with your cream cheese anyone?” The young man working at the bike shop asked in sarcasm and a chuckle from inside the store looking out the front window. The bike shop doesn’t officially open for business until ten o’clock on Saturday mornings, but they sponsor an early morning serious bicycle ride just after the crack of dawn.

The high-end bike shop lays out a breakfast spread for anybody needing to fuel up before the break-neck-speed-ride. That means bagels with an assortment of spreads, including cream cheese of course.

If you’ve ever eaten at an outside cafe that serves good sized portions and lends itself to having leftover food, especially toast or bagels that sit more than a few moments without being cleaned up, then you’ve witnessed the assortment of birds that swarm like something from an Alfred Hitchcock movie… That’s what free food on Saturday mornings does for the homeless.

The man looked like a Steven King character. His clothes do double time as his pajamas and the wrinkles proved it. The earth is his bed and the ground-in stains confirmed it. The homeless man’s grey hair and teeth left little doubt that he was also brushless.

The man who looked to be in his sixties had a bird feather stuck in the back of his matted hair. It wasn’t for style, he couldn’t have known it was there, not that he would’ve cared anyway. The only thing the homeless fella was caring about on that beautiful Saturday morning was food.

While the man that has been dubbed “a bum” had little, he did have a couple of things – important things to him. One was in his mouth as he dug deep into to the pearly white cream cheese to slather a generous amount on his bagel that was intended for someone else.

His tired and overexposed skin pulled toward his eyes as he leaned over the table preparing his breakfast, the cigarette smoke billowing into them. There are no ashtrays in places where it’s against the law to smoke and the homeless man wasn’t paying attention to the one inch plus of ashes that was quickly losing the war with gravity and right over the free cream cheese.

The other important thing was the old guy’s friend with him. The disheveled man was giving his pal his opinion, and maybe someone else’s, cause he had more than just a few words to share with passion.

His friend was the type just to take it all in and not talk back… he couldn’t… he didn’t exist.

The folks at the secular high-end bike shop laughed off the ashes falling in their cream cheese that they’d bought for their potential customers and let the homeless man have as much as he wanted. No questions asked. No catch.

My hat is off to anyone or organization that serves the homeless, Christian or otherwise. Of all the “fishers of men”, who tend to use “different bait for different fish”, I wonder if different bait may sometimes be no bait at all. No strings attached, no expectations.

There are still some organizations that act like the time share salesman; they’ll give you a gift, but you gotta hear the pitch first.

There’s more to a difficult subject than can be covered in less than six hundred words… but sometimes my soul flinches when I see non-Christians acting more like Christians than the Christians.


John and Karen Still

John and Karen Still

When I heard the news, my heart sank… not too much time lapsed and I thought of my mom. The two of them didn’t have a whole lot in common other than they both worked for the same company. Although it’s been a longer than four decades since my mom pulled the night shift at the convenience store… and she’s still alive.

The Circle K convenience store and gas station is on the northwest corner of two main roads just west of the Deer Valley airport and about a mile and a half from my office.

The truth is I avoid that mini-market like the plague – it’s hard to get into and often even harder to get out of. If there was any saving grace in the frustrations of the comings and goings for in-a-hurry-patrons, it was the guy behind the counter, the man named John.

While the market is part of the neighborhood, it was John that made it personal. The block walls, glass, freezers, gas pumps, and cash register make it a place of business – John and the regulars made it a community.

It’s a comforting thing, community. We come to count on the folks in our everyday walks of life almost as much as we do the essential products or services they provide. The interaction we share over time enriches our lives and turns strangers into acquaintances and sometimes even friends.

There can be treasures in the day to day transactions that most of us take for granted… and a broken heart when the treasure is stolen. That’s what I sensed in the eyes and words of some of my friends that knew John well.

The gift and treasure of John’s life was snatched by a customer that didn’t want friendship or friendly banter… he wanted cash… and shot John multiple times to take whatever green pieces of paper were in the cash register.

The man arrested for John’s murder wasn’t thinking about John. He never stopped to consider or take that time to find out about John’s disabled wife. The robber didn’t try to learn that John was the sole caregiver for his wheelchair-bound wife… or the fact that John worked at the store to support them and wouldn’t have the luxury of a life insurance policy.

The only thing the person who pulled the trigger had on his mind was himself. He was looking for a shortcut in life at someone else’s expense. It didn’t matter if it was a mega corporation or a workin’ man’s life.

It doesn’t take a detective to figure out that this is a fallen world we live in. We’re all weak in different ways in this flesh. I won’t be surprised when we find out that the killer was on drugs. A weakness made even weaker…

The common denominator for all of our weaknesses is the feeding of our selfish nature. God help us – literally, and may He lift up John’s family.

This is an opportunity to learn from the example of John Still’s life, to engage in other folks lives like he did… and a little less in our obsessions.

John’s friends have set up a fund to help care for Karen, John’s widow. Click here if you feel led, and please send up a prayer on her behalf.


image courtesy photo

image courtesy photo

Youngsters have a knack for turning the act of quitting into an art form, but they don’t use the boring and lame words adults do to describe their choices. Now I know its’s been a long time since I was a kid, but I remember some of the terminology. More that just a few of them passed over my lips.

I don’t know one single kid who didn’t love a good game of hide and go seek. Hiding was a blast, but making it back to tag “home base”, where the seeker did his or her counting, that sounded more like an auctioneer, was the best part.

If you got tagged before you could make it to home base, you’d be the next seeking speed counter. On occasion, when the perfect hiding place was discovered like Christopher Columbus did the New World, the seeker would give in or quit.

Of course “quitting” was much too dull a word to be used by the tongues that were in many cases still learning the alphabet. To give up or quit as the seeker you had to say the magic words, “Ollie ollie oxen free!” and presto – game over.

I was no stranger to being pinned with my back to the earth and one of my big brothers with their knees directly on my twig-like biceps, them sitting nonchalantly on my gut waiting for me to quit. Of course sometimes they’d “chicken peck” me on the chest to speed up the process.

Sometimes the term was “give”, but more en vogue at the time was to say “Uncle”… never could figure out why, but I mumbled the words more often than not all the same.

I have a ton of respect for people who don’t quit on the desires of their hearts. It’s easy to admire folks who won’t throw in the towel on their dreams or allow someone else to either.

Every single person wandering this globe faces adversity. Some folks, especially in other countries or tougher neighborhoods, bring a whole new meaning to that term.

I’ve come to realize with enough time and experience that passion is a necessity. I also think it’s a wonderful gift from God, along with the most important one called “free will” that we use to fuel the pursuit.

Even the word “passion” seems to pack a punch, it just sounds powerful. Indeed it is. But passion by itself isn’t enough. It’s like a trying to start a fire with a spark minus the fuel to burn. That fuel is perseverance.

If passion is king, then perseverance is queen…

I have to remind myself of these things every now and then. It’s good to remember that it’s about the journey, not the destination.

In business, every job lost or bidding not awarded, something is learned. With each rejection letter of a manuscript, something can be gained… and I mean more than a grimace on the face or the sinking of a stomach…

In this life, those things just come with the territory.


lonesome whistle

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I didn’t give it a lot of thought as a kid, thinking at the time was, well… an afterthought, but the majority of our relatives, as well as us, lived within walkin’ distance of a major freeway. Looking back, I think Southern transplants felt a little more secure knowing the road home was close by.

Along with those major interstates, like the I-10, we lived less than a country mile from. Not more than a Southern style spit away from that freeway was the concrete, steel, and black top’s companion; the steel rails that the Arlo Guthrie song prophesied would disappear.

Guthrie was wrong about the railroad disappearing, but he was on the money about them not hauling passengers.

Those worn steel tracks spiked to the tired timbers buried in the dirt aren’t overly impressive at a glance, but humility leaps into the middle of your soul and belly when the massive engines rumble by plowing the air and rattling the earth, your bones, and teeth.

It was a rare sight for me as a kid to see a train up close. My parents forbade us being anywhere near the train, and not just for the danger of getting hit by one. Those were the days of hobos, and finding hobos gutted by other presumed hobos wasn’t uncommon.

Between the bums, hobos, and reputation of folks on the other side of those railroad tracks, I wasn’t in an all-fired hurry to cross em’… but I knew they were there.

When living in close proximity to the interstate and railroad tracks, there’s one thing you can count on like a sunrise and a sunset, and that was what Johnny Cash called “That Lonesome Whistle”.

I’m not sure I agree with Mr. Cash’s description of a whistle – sounds more like a bellowing horn to me. But the “Lonesome” Cash calls that honking horn, I do get. The haunting sound of the trains call to warn folks up the track of impending danger from the massive steel centipede, plucks a chord within many hearts of melancholy.

A few nights ago while in California a distant train’s one note song rode up from the tracks and onto the damp ocean night air, up the bluff, through the open windows, and landed gently in my ears.

It was the exact same song I’d heard as a kid so many nighttimes ago. It’s impossible to be taken on a journey back in time and not reflect on a life. The fear, the mistakes, the troubles, the pride that caused most of them… and the humility learned, one way or the other.

I believe God can use anything in His creation to help us remember. Not only our shortcomings and how quickly this life escapes us, but also His sovereignty and grace that has us covered more completely than salt water does the ocean floor.

The trains aren’t disappearing and neither are the whistles nor is this fallen world
through which we travel.

The melancholy blues that show up now and then riding on a lonesome whistle or memory can’t choke the life and joy out of a heart where God resides.