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.”

THE THRILL IS GONE

k15418489As one of the kids in school that was more interested in having fun than studying, I partook of some activities that other people didn’t. Even if it meant “defacing public property”- that was back in the day when the schools supplied books. As a young jumper onto the train bound for Conspiracyville, I never did buy into the fact that it was just “luck of the draw” that my fellow under achievers and I ended up with the books already defaced by the group of slackers that drug their feet before us.

It didn’t bother me so much writing in the books that looked like they’d been to war and lost. One of the popular pastimes for principal office prone people was turning the school book sideways and drawing a cartoon figure, usually a stick caricature in a vehicle with ridiculous big wheels racing across the pages.

Each page would be drawn in the next scene in progression. About five or ten pages in, I’d introduce the massive jump, another five or so pages later and cartoon of the motorized vehicle, including the wavy pencil lines to add the authentic smoke, would fly through the air in a way that would make Evil Knievel proud and would scrape the sky of sideways printed words above.

The best part was grabbing the pages between my thumb and forefinger and fanning the pages one at a time quickly then showing the other derelict friends my action cartoon… thanks to the tax payers of course.

The older I get the more the pages of our lives seem like the pages in those old text books. Each one is a snap shot that represents the seasons of our lives. The pages are provided by the laws of the universe as set forth by the Creator of all. We get to use our free will to draw the action movie of our lives.

As we think back and see the snap shots taken along life’s merry way in our physical lives, they tend to reveal what’s going on inside us and how our perspectives change along the way. In general, the smiles started awkward, struggling to get traction in our lives, but not far down the track of life we begin to move with speed and ease – like art in motion and our smiles reflect it.

While we move down the track or across the sideways pages of our lives in our self made movie, the edges of our mouths begin to level out and for some of us they fall past parallel and begin to sag on the sides… the thrill is gone…

I’ve heard it said “You can’t take it with you when you’re gone.” There are no re-runs in the cartoons of our lives that we scribble on the edge the pages of the text books provided for our lives, but we can take the best this life has to offer with us.

The grandest of things reside within in us and should manifest what they are and Who we represent on the shape of our smiles as we sail through the air over the bumps and jumps of life. We all get bumps and jumps… I guess the expression of our face is directly relative to where we land…

CALIBRATING A PERSPECTIVE

jp2005_0002587“Brake, brake, Brake, BRake-BRAke-BRAKe-BRAKE-BRAKE!!!” I said, then moved on to implored, begged, screamed, demanded, and flat out yelled, and all in less than three seconds. My youngest who now has her drivers permit wasn’t stopping my truck with the same sense of urgency that I felt the scenario called for.

My right calf muscle was screaming from pushing against the invisible brake pedal on the passenger side of my truck.

“I am!” she countered defensively.

“Well not fast enough – You do exactly what I say, remember?” I countered in emotion.

Talk about faith… Sheesh. Putting my life, and even more importantly, my daughter’s life, in my belief that she’s ready and capable of navigating my big truck that to say “is hard to judge” is a ridiculous understatement, shows real faith in action and trust along with my answer to prayers.

It’s a stressful situation to say the least and I’m probably guilty of making it harder. I used to be better… I know that’s the typical declaration of someone who’s been stirring up dust on planet earth for more then four or five decades, but it’s usually true.

It’s been ten years since I taught Kenz to drive and seven since I taught Ali. When I say I was better back then, it’s true, but it’s the why I was better that draws my mind to calculate and consider the change. Sure, I was obviously younger, but I’m not sure it’s a matter of just the sunrises and sunsets that make all the difference, it’s more the attitude and perspective at the time.

One early winter evening, before Kenz was old enough for her permit, (folks that hail from the south believe to be a good driver you gotta start way younger than the law allows) after cruising the desolate streets of a new custom subdivision south of our house, I had Kenz turn the opposite way of our routine route home.

This route took us out to the main city street where I surprised her with a, “Turn right!” with a grin.

“I can’t!” she answered.

“Yes you can, you just listen to me – you’ll be fine,” I assured her.

We cut the night in my old truck, me smiling almost as much as her after she realized she was well qualified. *News Flash* Time has a way of changing folks and I’m no exception to the stubborn rule. Ten years ago I was old enough to be wise with the lives entrusted to me, but I was also ten years closer to the fearless and reckless kid of my youth.

If I can recognize the simple changes and attitude from when I taught my girls to drive, how do other changes affect my world view now? More than I realize I suspect. When we speak of days gone by and the changes of the current generation compared with ours, we might have a slightly skewed point of view.

Not to suggest that things haven’t changed and certainly not all for the best, but I think many of us tend to measure our lives and past actions by our standard and perspective of our life as it is now. Just something to contemplate when we lift the index finger to point and judge by standards we may not have been practicing when we were learning to crawl, ride a bike, drive a car, or anything between then and now.

Doesn’t seem that long ago I watched the newest driver in the family take her first steps…

 

 

THE SIZE OF A SOUL

k10857466I remember the old adage quite well from before the days of full height and face hair. In case you’ve forgotten the old adage, consider this a reminder. One of the first times I ever heard it used was in reference to a kid who went to our church and was around four years older than me and in high school.

The kid was making a name for himself on the basketball court, even though he was short by basketball standards. That was good news to a short point guard on the junior high’s team at the time… I overheard a couple of the elderly ladies at church having a conversation about that kid, who was a nice guy by the way.

I’m not sure the elderly ladies had a clue about basketball, but they were passing on the news they’d learned… I’ve heard elderly ladies in churches are good at that… They were older so I assumed wise. Yes, there was a short time in my life that I did have innocence.

I eavesdropped on the elderly ladies as they were talking about the kid’s game… I’ve heard kids in churches are good at that…

“You know what they say, don’t you?” the generous cheeked woman asked the more frail church pew companion.

“What’s that?” she bit.

“They say dynamite comes in small packages!” They both giggled in appreciation as I pondered the adage briefly before putting two and two together.

Turns out when that kid latched onto his growth spurt he didn’t let go. Last time I saw him he was a lean giant. At least he was from my height back then.

I wasn’t as disappointed as I was surprised that I ended up the shortest of my dad and brothers. But I learned long before my youngest put another adage to work she learned from a preschool teacher, the truth in it, “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.”

I ponder some of the heroes in our culture who are blessed physically. Giants that move like lightning and are strong enough to move cars with their hands, and backs. Impressive to be sure. Their abilities are worthy of note, but the measure of a person when defining their lives can’t be measured by a plain ole number.

I remember learning about a war hero that I watched in black and white re-runs on TV as a kid named Audie Murphy. Although relatively small, especially by today’s standards, his bravery was beyond measure. Tough to the core, the core of his soul. Only God that made that heart and soul can measure it.

I’m reminded too of the history recorded in the Bible of heroes and what God said about them. Such as Samuel regarding David compared to his brothers, “…. people look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at their heart.” (partial NIV)

David’s brothers looked like kings. David was still a lad, but God knew the size of his soul.

Those of us chosen by our Father know that He created our souls and doesn’t care a lot about the way our soul cage looks. He cares about our souls and the capacity of those that He’s designed in us to change the world according to His good will.

Friends, let not your eyes be deceived. Only God can measure the size of a soul.

 

The Precipice: When Everything We Know Ends

21470336Every so often you read a story, essay, or novel that sticks in your mind like peanut butter sticks to the roof of your mouth, but in a good way, in case you’re one of the folks that don’t like peanut butter! The story becomes part of who we are and has an effect on how we look at the world. It takes some pretty powerful imagery to pull that off.

Monday is the day for the release of “The Precipice: When Everything We Know Ends,” a three short story set by my good friend TC Avey.  These stories are action packed and hard hitting reads that will force anyone to consider the world in which we live and how rapidly it’s changing. 

The stories are fiction but based on real life headlines and technology that is happening all around us and impacting our world while most of us are paying little or no attention at all. The futuristic Christian stories by TC will grab the reader from beginning to the end and well beyond.

Hop over to TC’s site and check out her new book, “The Precipice: When Everything We Know Ends”. Brace yourself! Click here, folks.

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