Freely Giving… Thanks?

beware of dog

The chain was strong, a little rusted, but it was thick and I could see it was strong. What worried me was the length. I stood there with one hand on the chain link fence, the other balancing three meals and three deserts in Styrofoam containers, my eyes were locked onto those of the subject of the “Beware of Dog” sign. His eyes were locked onto mine.

The fence went around a mobile home with a porch, a deck, a carport, and a loft built up over the carport. There were a few cars in the yard so I was hoping someone was home. But the very full dogfood bowl next to the fence possibly indicated otherwise.

He sat there expressionless, (dogs can have expressions so they can be expressionless) his head pushed a little forward and down, his body looked like a spring, if springs were furry and muscley. I reached for the clasp on the gate and those tawny eyes narrowed, I was looking at a furry, musclebound spring with Clint Eastwood eyes. Only Clint didn’t have a gun, he had perfectly bright white teeth.

Those teeth looked strong, I knew from my days as a vet tech that Pit Bulls came in third behind Rottweilers and German Shepard for bite strength, but that the 240 lbs of pressure that I knew that this guy could chomp down with still made my mouth go dry. That and his silence, no barking, no straining at the end of his chain, he just sat and waited for me to make my move.

“Who’s a gooood boi?” had no effect on him, my cutest dog voice left him just as unwavering like a statue just as before.

That chain. A little rusty, it was blending in with the leaves in the yard. There was a large SUV in the yard between the dog and the house, I was trying to estimate if the chain was long enough for the dog to get past the SUV. If not I could get to the front door to try to deliver these holiday meals, meals provided by the Salvation Army to be delivered by me. It would have been easy to move on, to report back my leader that I couldn’t come through because of the dog. He would have understood, I know he would have, but I hated to think that folks would be expecting a meal and get nothing.

I was actually hoping the dog would bark to alert the residents that someone was here and I wouldn’t have to try to get past him. But he just sat there quietly looking like a cannon ball ready to launch (do cannonballs launch?) Not a peep from him though, cannon balls don’t bark I guess.

I reached again for the big double gate that was about 30 feet from the dog house where this guy was chained. Thinking peaceful thoughts I opened the gate and swung it toward me. I was thinking it would be easier to escape if the gate was opened out rather than in, but it grated and stuck on the gravel drive. I had to push it in. The dog was now standing, waiting with the a confident patience. Moving at the speed of a glacier I eased my first step into the yard. No response from the dog.

I took another step and was now completely in the yard and the dog made no effort to approach. I tried to look as non-threatening as a man in jeans and a polo, carrying three large and three small Styrofoam containers can look. With my face passive I tried to walk slowly without looking like I was stalking and I made it to the SUV. I now had a large, gas guzzling (if broke down) symbol of American Rugged Individualism between me and those strong white teeth that were attached to a very strong tan body.

I couldn’t see the dog but I could faintly hear the chain clink as he shifted. A bead of sweat dripped from my forehead and down my cheek, my brain was telling me how stupid this was, it was just a turkey dinner and not worth getting murdered in the face by a Pit Bull for. My heart told my brain shut up and remember what it’s like to be hungry, to be alone and feel like no one cares at a holiday. My feet took a few more steps. My heart quit yelling at my brain because it was too busy trying to pound itself out of my chest.

Each time the gravel crunched under my feet there was a leafy crunch under the dog’s feet. I bent to look under the SUV and saw those tawny eyes staring at me. Dang. I really felt like the front door was farther than the chain could reach, but there were about 5 feet between me and the door that I wasn’t sure of.  My brain told me not to run, running stimulates a dog’s predator response and makes them want to chase. Instinct what battling intelligence as I stepped past the SUV at almost a half jog. This half jog was immediately interrupted by a sweep of leaves, dust, and chain clanging cacophony. I turned to face the noisy dust cloud and out of it emerged those teeth.

My feet backpedaled and I stumbled on the gravel, I bicycled in the air as I fell backwards, one arm whirling for balance, the other trying not to drop those precious Styrofoam containers. Teeth flew at me, now eye level as my mouth snapped shut when my rear bounced on the ground. I scrunched my face ready to feel those teeth sink into it, but that tearing of flesh never happened.

I opened one eye hoping to see only half the horror and saw the dog sitting, tongue lolling, tail wagging. I swear he looked like he was laughing at this great joke he just played on me. The chain though, was stretched nearly taught and I was beyond his reach. A whimpering whine was the first sound he made and I wasn’t sure if it was because he didn’t get the chance to murder me, eat the food, or have some human contact. I wasn’t about to find out.

I had managed not to drop any of my containers and I stood, brushed off some dust with my free hand, and tried to steady my nerves as I walked up the porch to knock on the door. I couldn’t hear anything inside, no t.v. or voices. Everything was quietly contrasting the commotion of just a few moments previous. So I was extra terrified when the second dog pounced at me when I knocked.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of fur at teeth fly at me only to bash harmlessly against the inside of the window next to the door. This dog was inside. A little shaky I turned to look at the first dog who’s face was split in a wide, toothy (sharp toothy) grin with his tongue hanging so far down it almost dragged the dirt. His tail was kicking up dust and leaves as it furiously wagged back and forth in laughter.

Two things were obvious; no one was home, and this dog thought he was hilarious. I was walking dejectedly from the door, letting my heart rate come down. The chained dog was looking at me wagging his tail so hard it was wiggling his butt. I really wanted to give him a couple pats but thought better of it, those teeth were still looking pretty dangerous.  I’ve known too many dogs who would bite even with a wagging tail because they really enjoyed biting people. (there are times I can really relate)

I walked a wide parabola around the SUV to make sure I was past the farthest extent of the chain and the dog whined even more as I left. He knew his fun was over.

It was hard to walk past that dog, to try to deliver food to someone in need. The smart thing would have been to go to the next house, but I felt like that would have been giving in to fear. Even though there was a sign warning of the danger of proceeding I felt that my mission was more important than fear.

The next house had something that, for me, was even more difficult to get past. It was a beautiful, brand new, shiny black  Harley Davidson trike. Did I say beautiful, looking into the paint of this bike was like looking into forever. I looked at the $35k bike and then glanced at the single container with some turkey and mashed potatoes, balanced on top was a smaller container with a pumpkin spice muffin and I was like, “I can’t even…”

1trike-tri-glide-ultra-gallery-2

*just like this one, I didn’t take a picture of the actual bike

My heart sank and I felt a little sick to my stomach. My judgement was on fire. A guy with a $35 thousand dollar motorcycle was on the list for a free holiday meal. Ug

I would have rather faced twenty viscous dogs on extra long chains than have to face this guy with his expensive bike to give him his free meal, prepared with love and care by sweet and generous volunteers. I was getting angry. I was judging. I was forgetting.

I was forgetting that there are no asterisks in the bible. *Feed the hungry… *Care for the poor… *Visit those in prison. The bible doesn’t do qualifiers.

*unless they’re hungry because they bought a motorcycle they couldn’t afford, unless they’re poor because they can’t keep a job because of drug use, or unless they’re in prison for horrible things

I prayed on my way up to the door, asking God to take away my judgement and fill me with the joy of service.  I knocked and I wish I could tell you that this guy told me the bike was a gift, or that he won it in a contest, or that it belonged to his visiting brother. But no, it was his. I kept praying. I prayed as he asked me where I thought he could get a new blue ray player. I prayed as I told him that he could probably grab one at goodwill. I prayed as he told me through broken teeth and a scraggly mustache, “No… I need a new one because the one I have doesn’t have 3-D.”

I sat and chatted with him longer, through the conversation I stopped praying and just listened to a human who needed someone to talk to. We chatted about movies (3-D and otherwise), the weather, a little football talk, and even about his motorcycle… it was really beautiful. I told him how I love motorcycles but that I made a promise to someone amazing (someone who’s no longer even in my life but some promises you keep) that I would never ride again. He thought that was pretty amazing to hold to  my promise like that.

Then I told him about broken promises I had made and how hanging on to this one was sort of making amends for all the others. He asked what changed about me to make me want to keep promises, I told him that God had changed my heart and made me want to give more than receive. He looked a little thoughtful, told me that was pretty cool, and turned to go watch football on his giant t.v..

I turned to go, walked past his beautiful bike and saw my shiny black jeep, with almost as much chrome as his bike.

jeep

Isn’t she beautiful?

I knew he and I were the same, I tried to find happiness in shiny cars, alcohol, and pretty women. He looked for it in motorcycles, big t.v.s, and 3-D blue ray players. So, I truly believe that the gift I extended to him had nothing to do with the turkey and stuffing, but more I shared with him that I have a new source of joy, a true source of joy. I doubt his life changed on a dime, but maybe he has something new to consider.

As far as the free meal, a gift must be given freely, without judgment of whether it’s deserved, without hope of reciprocation, without anything but the hope that you make someone’s life a little better, a little easier. It’s not easy for us as humans to give in such a way, but I know that gifts I’ve received, and grace I’ve received was undeserved, and so it’s my job to give in the exact same way.

*But seriously?!?! a $35k bike!

…o.k. I still need work, I have learned to overcome fear, but I still struggle with judgement. To get out of judgement I tell myself  about  2 Cornthians 4:15 and I know that my service has a purpose.

All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

 

And as I was walking the parabola around the extent of the change I was wishing I had paid more attention in math class because I couldn’t remember if I need to add or subtract five feet from y squared to shift the vertex to the right….

given x = y^2

x = y^2 -5 or x = y^2 +5, I must have guessed correctly because I survived to write this story! Thanks y’all and God bless. Fair warning I have a few cloud poems floating around in my head…

 

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Is Something Bugging You?

It was completely my fault, like most things really I guess. I was careless and probably even a little arrogant and because of that I was headed for a fall. Not the farthest fall I’ve taken, but a fall nonetheless. (I just found out that nonetheless is one word, learn something new everyday y’all!)

A seemingly typical morning commute was about to turn into a trial and test that would take all of my mental, emotional, and physical strength to remain clean. I was zipping along the interstate with my music and had my mind on my prayers, usually patience and perseverance, always focus so that I could complete the multitude of tasks that lay ahead of me at the office.

I started that Monday with my usual workout in the gym, a workout that is designed to keep an aging body strong and healthy and also designed to wear out an overactive and energetic mind. This particular session I decided to cut down the rest time between exercises and I was really feeling it. The two cups of coffee I usually enjoy at home while getting ready was just not going to get me through this day.

A creature of habit I tend to have some rituals to help me through the day, I have a particular cup that I like to drink from while doing my pre-gym bible study and my post gym preparation work. It’s an insulated stainless steel job with a plastic handle. That handle provides me with the surety of grip and the extra security from I need in my heart during my half asleep bible reading (sorry God, I swear I’m always awake by the end) and my rushing around work preparation.

On days when I need it (so far every day) I’ll have a third cup on my drive in to work. I’m usually not finished with my second cup so at this point I call in my backup cup. The backup cup is a tall and sleek stainless steel vessel that can keep my third cup hot most of the day, and it has a nice little plastic top that keeps me from spilling as I weave in and around the freeway, trying to survive Austin rush hour traffic.

This fateful day, after overdoing my workout, would require cup number three (O.k. workout or no, I require cup number three.) So before leaving for work I pulled the lid from my trusty backup and poured in the steaming hot elixir of life. By some minor miracle the mug filled to the top when I thought there was only about half a cup left in the mug. I shrugged it off never to look a gift horse in the mouth (or gift pot in the cup?) I grabbed the handle of my main cup leaving two fingers and a thumb free to hold the backup at the base, got my keys ready in my left hand, left and locked my apartment, got to my car, and was off.IMG_6528

The last of the second cup went down quickly as I zoomed past cars and pondered ponderings of life and I was transitioning to the my backup third cup. The shiney stainless steel was cool to the touch, sharp contrast to the contents which would still be steamy.

My first drink brought some surprise as the coffee was hot… but no as hot as it should be. This minor mystery was connected to the minor miracle of the full cup, but I would only deduce that later.

I don’t normally finish cup number three before getting to work, I usually have about half a cup left to finish throughout the day. Like I said though, this day was extra (can a 47 old use that term?) so I was gulping the coffee like it was oxygen after a sprint. The trouble came with the last couple gulps…

You might be thinking that because of the OCD habits I mentioned earlier that I am also a neat freak. Your thinking in this case would be wrong, because my OCD comes out in organization systems and patterns, but not a cleanliness. One of the strongest bits of evidence of this OCD omission is my treatment of my coffee cups. I believe that a vessel that on a daily basis receives boiling hot liquid get sanitized regularly by said liquid and therefore requires no cleaning.

I have always been the opposite of a germaphobe anyway and have been known to break the 5 second rule by surpluses of 10 to 65 seconds depending on what I dropped (and sometimes where, I mean, I’m not gonna eat a donut that I dropped on a wet mens’ room floor at the bus stop… unless it had sprinkles.) Therefore this morning, like every other, my main cup and my backup cup had not been washed the night before and sat in their own filth all night on my counter waiting to be cleansed in the fiery baptism of the dark, life bringing liquid.  What I didn’t know, but was about to find out, is that this particular morning, something else received baptism.

Each gulp I gulped was bringing me closer to the fate that I deserved for my cavalier non-coffee-cup-cleaning attitude. Making sure my lane was clear first I began tipping the backup mug farther and farther back for each drink until finally…

(if you have a week stomach skip ahead about 6 paragraphs but you’re going to miss some amazing imagery and alliteration and an actual Shakespeare reference!)

bug

Actual Artist’s Depiction of the Event

My eyes bulged, a lump, a sort of fuzzy yet prickly lump went to the back of my throat. Because the little slit I was drinking from was too small to spit it all back into; it was with herculean effort and determination that I closed my throat and swallowed that lump. My hopes were that this lump was somehow congealed Almond Milk (because my body is a temple) creamer substitute. My brain told me that Almond Milk doesn’t congeal at the same time that my stomach told me that I’d better figure it out because it was about to send it all back up.

At this point I felt something else in my mouth, likely a portion of the lump, the hairy, maybe wiggly lump. The lump had left something behind. By doing the pbth pbth thing with my tongue (this thing was stringy and not going down now matter what) I was able to get the stringy thing to my lips and grab it and look at it. My stomach already knew what my brain was trying to grasp as the message from my eyes settled in.

Antenna… only one… antenna

Brain flashed back to my invertebrate zoology class from college and reassured stomach with the information that, based on the size of the antenna, it was only a small roach I had just swallowed. However Stomach remembered when Abbess said, “Unquiet meals make ill digestions,” and responded as expected. I felt the roach, coffee, my breakfast, and possibly my toenails all trying to come back up.

My stomach heaved but held.

I’m not really bragging here but if you remember from earlier posts I have leather interior in my car… I really didn’t want to puke all over my leather. My stomach didn’t care so much about the leather as it did the thought of that roach sliding down my throat with its prickly legs kicking their way down.

Another heave, another hold

Everything from my teeth to my tummy was in turmoil as my body battle to rid itself of the unwelcome roach. I was sweating from not only nausea but also the effort to keep from spraying my rich leather seats with the contents of every meal I’d eaten in the last week. I tried not to think of the creepy crawly critter escaping my esophagus, I tried not to think of the stringy antenna I just had to spit into my hand, I tried to get to my happy place. My efforts wavered, I remembered, “My seats are sort of coffee colored anyway right? What’s a little puke?” Then I also remembered that my seats are heated and cooled, which means they have little pores for the air to blow through to the backside. I really didn’t want those pore filled with barf.

I took control. I focused. I swallowed hard and I told myself that it was just a bug, I’d eaten bugs before in the Army, grubs even, and this was no different. In total defiance of my digestive systems rejection of the bug I gritted my teeth, squinted my eyes and I swallowed one last time. I overcame the urge to urp up the roach and the curtain on this comedy of errors was drawn, and the roach was destined for digestion.

What I realized had happened was that I must have left some coffee in the cup from the night before, and the sweet creamy contents were too much for a little cockroach to resist. He (or maybe she, I hope she didn’t have eggs…) must crawled in through the little drinking slit and then couldn’t get out. One thing I know is if it died, it died wide awake.

Welcome back those of you who skipped ahead, and thanks for sticking with me you brave soles with strong stomachs. Now that roach was really hard to swallow and hard to keep down, but sometimes the truth is even harder to swallow. Last Sunday in church was a really uncomfortable lesson; one on divorce and the detriments of the patriarchal society. The lesson looked at what Jesus said about divorce and looked at divorce through the lense of a man setting aside his wife because she wasn’t making him happy, as if a woman’s whole purpose in life was to please a man.

With five older sisters and a daughter of my own I am completely outraged by this concept, but the prickly and wiggly truth that I have to swallow is that my actions have not always shown this outrage. My actions have often shown that somewhere in my core… I agree. Or at least I used to. I used to place my happiness in women, my identity in having a great girlfriend or wife, and my worth. The hairy and ill digestible truth is that I’ve been guilty of objectifying women and reducing them to physical confirmation of my manhood in order to sooth my own insecurities and shortcomings.

This truth wrenched my stomach far worse than that little cockroach. I sat there in church feeling nauseous and shameful. But then came the words, “you are no longer bound to your past, you are not what you have done, and you are brand new.” Now rather than spewing from my mouth I was spewing from my eyes, once again the message of God’s great love.

I’m so blessed to belong to a church where we hit the uncomfortable topics in a safe space. I don’t want to stay comfortable in my faith, I want a shake up and a reminder of what my goal and my path needs to be. On Sunday I was given strong conviction, tempered with a reminder of the Grace that was purchased with the blood of Jesus Christ and I was shaken out of complacency (ok I wasn’t really that complacent because I am never going to be that man again) and placed back on my path.

The truth will set us free, even when it goes down like a stow-a-way roach, it will set us free. Even when the truth makes us sweat and squirm it will set us free. The truth that I have fallen short, that I will always fall short is painful, but the truth that He has forgiven me sets me free.

We need both truths though, to rebound back to our path and grow to what we are meant to be. As in Ephesians 4:15

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

And these truths are much better for me than a water logged roach, although I’ve read that they have zero cholesterol…

 

Towers

Babel…

babel

These towers shove Babel

That races through the skies

Clouds bearing witness

With their misty eyes

These towers love Babel

The source of  lies

Babels spread

The young girl cries

Photos fly reaching untold eyes, messages of love, lust, loss of trust, words of hate hiding insecurities proving painful sureties that cycles roll on, all take the toll on sanity, of false

Vanity

 

He towers above Babel

With infinite love

for us sinful rabble

Understanding but hating our reasons

Still forgiving

These electronic treasons

against His way

I struggle with a few things, one is the actual story of the Tower of Babel, in Genesis 11: 1 – 9 it reads as if God is worried that humans will become too powerful… I think it is more that God doesn’t want us to rely overmuch on our own power, and splits the language of man and condemning me to try to learn conjugations and irregular verbs and try to keep from mixing my English, Spanish, and German… (Creo que das ist nicht so gut.)

God wants us to rely on him. I don’t always do that. I know y’all are probably picking yourselves up off the floor at my admission that I’m human. I try to deal with my anxiety and insecurity by getting noticed for physical appearance. I have done it in person, electronically, and even anonymously… I’m not proud of the things that I have done, sent, posted, but I’m not beating my self up about them anymore either.

It is all from a strange mix of pride and insecurity. I write ‘is’ because I still struggle, but with my recovery group and my work the struggle gets smaller all the time. And now I share with you all because there may be someone out there, someone like me, who needs to hear that God still loves them and wants them back.  (I know I should write him or her there but it’s so awkward!)

For so long I thought God didn’t want me because of my dirt and that I had to rely on myself and my works to feel good about myself.  But now I know that He loves me so much that he sacrificed His only Son to wash away my dirt and let me draw near. That love and grace soothes my anxiety and diminishes my prideful insecurities.

And now with the I-phone X out with its selfie features and functions I will need it even more!

When I’m really thinking I can do anything to ease my trouble or guilt I remember Ecclesiates….

Ecclesiastes 2:11 “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”

Thanks y’all and God bless

Orange

She was sent there with her two little brothers, although she was only six she’d been used to caring for them. Her mother sent her this morning, told her to go to the corner grocer and pick up bread, eggs, milk, and as a special treat an orange for herself and each of her two brothers.

On the way she herded her little ducks in each time they’d get distracted by the sounds of the city. Once she had to go back and collect them from a store front window where their frosty breath was fogging the glass between them and a shiny red train set going round and round. Once she had to pull their hungry eyes away from the bakery window where fresh muffins were fogging the inside of the glass.

At six she had already herded her little crew with bags and baggage through three changes of households, back and forth from her mother’s house in the city to her father’s house in the country. And now, because of a storm, and because her daddy was not home during the storm they were back in the city with her mother.

Daddy gone on a date and then there was thunder, the boys were scared (and so was she a little) so she went to the neighbor’s house. About a quarter mile through the thunderstorm. The neighbor looked down at the three little soggy scardies, “Heavens what are you kids doing out this late in this storm?”

The reply came, then some hot cocoa, then men with badges and more questions, then the move back to Mommie’s.

Mommy didn’t leave the apartment much. So shopping trips meant three little tykes would go out into the world to get sustenance. The oldest six, but experience had made her wise.

The milk and eggs made her basket heavy but she could manage, she put the oranges in the bottom so that they wouldn’t crush the bread. Not that mommy would notice but her brothers wouldn’t eat sandwiches made from crushed bread, then mommie would notice and yell.

The grocer looked down with some pity, he’d seen these three before. He’d seen their kind a lot lately. Even honest folks were having trouble finding work, and he was extending credit to proud fathers and families who were trying to get by. He gave the corners of his mouth just a slight rise as she looked up at him over the counter. Those corners dropped when he lifted the bread out of the basked to reveal the oranges. “Oranges?” his voice was rough on her little ears, to her it sounded like a question but felt like she was in trouble. “You want oranges on credit? No, no I can’t. You get the bread and eggs, but oranges? I’m going broke so that you’re lazy mom can have oranges?”

Suddenly she felt hot on her ears, she felt the heat go down the back of her neck. “Mommie told me to get oranges for me and my brothers, not for her though.”

The man’s face got red, “No, no oranges. I won’t have you go hungry but oranges are for paying customers. You go put them back now.”

Her two little brothers watched her as she walked back and put them on the shelf. When she came back to the counter she saw the lip quiver and watery eyes that meant the little one was going to cry. If he threw a fit it meant he would sit down and she wasn’t strong enough to lift him to keep going home and he would cry and probably wet right in the store.

“Please mister, can I just get one for my brothers to share? They don’t ever get anything sweet. I don’t need one, but for them to share?”

Something was going on in the man’s face, it was going red and white, and his lip was doing just like her brothers. “Sweetie I can’t give them away… but… but I need someone to sweep my stoop. If you sweep it I’ll give you an orange in payment.”

Her face exploded with a smile at the thought of being able to earn an orange for the boys, “Yessir! I will, can you watch my brothers?”

She didn’t give him a chance to answer, her shoes clacked the floorboards of the store as she raced to get the broom from the doorway. It towered over her as she struggled to get the bristles to work against the grain of the wooden stoop.

The boys were wrestling on the ground arguing over the orange the man gave them. She scrunched her face and looked up at him, “Mister that stoop wasn’t even dirty… What’d you need it swept for?”

“Oh young lady, sometimes stoops need to be swept for different reasons, you run home now before your milk spoils. Come back next week and I’ll have more work for you to do, you can start working of your mother’s credit.”

Next week came around but she wasn’t there. A morning when mommie wouldn’t get out of bed lead to more men with badges, more questions and a move back to the country. That little girl had always remembered the embarrassment of having to return those oranges, but even better the opportunity of being able to earn one. She never forgot that store owner either.

My grandmother told me that story of her life during the depression when I was about 10 and asked her why she always put an orange in the toe of our stockings each year at Christmas. I hate oranges… but after that story I realized what an amazing gift she was giving us, and I’m so happy to have that part of her life, so saddened by what she had to go through and so inspired by the way she overcame the challenges she faced.

And now, every time I see an orange I think of that story, and of her courage as I reach past the orange to grab some bananas.

On that day my grandmother learned a lesson about humility and grace, about work and pride.

Psalm 32:8 tells how God will teach us and guide us toward a path of grace and light.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.

via Daily Prompt: Orange

Some people swore…

Some people swore that the house was haunted. It wasn’t just because of the way the ancient dark oaks stood guard looming in the moonlight. It was a little because of the way the graying paint pealed off like strips of flesh rotting from a corpse. Also it was a little because the house was built on the site of a great Civil War massacre, although nobody was sure which side massacred what. All these things implied, “Haunted House,” but didn’t prove. Some folks swore it was haunted, knew it was haunted cause some folks had seen me.

A pale apparition in the window late at night, the one the boys would dare each other to sneak out to see, the one teenagers would use to try to scare their dates into a kiss or…maybe more. Sometimes I favor them with a short pass by the window or even a pause. I do love to hear the screams when they see what they can’t explain. It sound like sort of a muffled moan or whimper, the young ones sprint away usually leaving the slower friends to fend for themselves and the teens get pulled into the car by their girls and act tough like they aren’t scared, but I see them looking back over their shoulder trying to convince themselves.

I suppose at this point I could continue the cliché and tell you about the sorrow that ties me to this house. Should I drag the tears out of you with a tale of loss? My boy, my beautiful son, the image of me was taken. It happened when I realized how tightly I was clinging to the memory of the fishing trips, of the walks with a tiny hand in mine, of the way that he would look up to me with such devotion usually reserved for God. The memory mixes with the responsibility of having a little copy of yourself watching your every move trying to become more and more like you that crashes home when you see the pain in his eyes when you become human. And the disappointment that he’d achieved his goal, he’d become you. I lost my son true, but I lost him to life, he is a lawyer now with a beautiful wife and a precious little girl. He’s the God now and has little need of me, I just hope he enjoys the time he has before he’s human.

I guess the reason I haunt this place really is to keep a little mystery in this town, and with it some wonder. I do it so that dads can stay gods just a little longer or maybe so that my son will see that maybe I am something more then human. I’ve been doing it for years, showing just enough to keep people coming out, but not enough to convince everyone. I hide when the cameras come out because lasting proof would be the end of me. My wife, of course worries, “Get away from that window ya old fool,” she says, “fore someone gets too scared and tires to shoot ya.” I guess that could kill me, then I’d be dead and no one would haunt this old house. I won’t live for ever of course. But then my son could tell my tale with a half smile and a tear, he’d tell of how his dad hung on to something as long as he could but in the end he died trying to keep us young and then he’d say how….
Nothing was ever the same again after that.

I wrote that story about seven years ago for an NPR short story contest. I know, NPR, I’ll wait while you silently judge me as a free thinking hippie.
O.k. now that we have that over with you can judge my writing. The contest was to write 600 words or less with the phrases “Some people swore the house was haunted” and “Nothing was ever the same again after that.”

It was a story I had in my head for a while and then the contest prompted me to write it. It was originally going to be more about how the actions of the father can let down the son. How a father acting perfect all the time can set up a son for failure. Because of the 600 word constraint though I cut it short. As I re-read it again for the first time in 7 years I can feel where the story is disjointed, halts, and then goes off in a different direction.

Maybe that still tells a story though, I tried to make this story fit someone else’s idea, I tried to make it match an ideal rather than to life as it was meant to. Because I tried to jam it into a mold it ended up not living up. I really wanted to edit it and make it better and scary and then have the big twist… but, I’m letting the story stay like it is to illustrate something.

I often try to jam myself into the mold of best student, hardest worker, funnest dad, most attentive partner. I just don’t fit that mold, as much as I try, I fall short and I end up disjointed and in the wrong direction.

 

What I realize is that I don’t have to be anyone’s ideal, I am imperfect in my life and my decisions. When I try to be in control and try to be something that glorifies myself I fall, a few times I have fallen very far and brought others down with me.

Now I read my bible every day, I meet once a week with some brothers and sisters who are going through recovery, and I pray for guidance because I know that I am NOT God.

As far as direction I think of Psalm 32-8 and live one day at a time.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

Thanks y’all and God bless. And for you cloud poem folks don’t worry I have a real beaut coming up!

We don’t need no Education…

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Home, solitude, safety. From what? A real son of a gun of a day, when everyone wanted something from me and I could deliver on none of it. And not just the, “Hey you’re an adult, go ahead and solve your problem.” type of me not delivering, but the actual, “Hey I know you really need me on this but I’m not sure how or even when I’ll get to it, “ type of not delivering.
My job is expanding, new role, new responsibility, new opportunity for humility. And that was this day. People wanting out of class or refusing to go (and that’s just the teachers) people wanting in class and it has to be right now, people wanting reports, and on those reports the data needs to look better.
Emails, drop-ins, phone calls have increased exponentially to the point I want to put an out of office message on computer and phone and a “beware of the rabid gorilla” sign on my office door. Of course that’s not my management style, I’m much too far on the other side in fact so I slugged through the emails, answered the phone when I could, and stopped everything for each office visitor so I could give undivided attention to the latest catastrophe that required a day off from school.

On top of all this cruddy yet crucial little tasks the strap to my leather messenger bag (totally not a man purse) for my laptop broke and I had to lug the thing all over (ok just like 25 steps to my car and then about 17 more from the car to my apartment) Texas with no strap. Ugh… So I really felt like as I stepped into my place I needed to lean back against the door to keep the wolves (or people wanting something from me) at bay.
I took a couple of calming breaths and tried to muster the patience to clean out my men’s carry all (NOT a purse!) and figure out how to fix it. I grabbed the glob of papers (my organization hasn’t progressed past “sixth grade boy”) and set them on the table, pulled out the computer and began to look at the broken strap. Yup… it was broken.

My analytical mind told me that it was because it was sewn straight to the bag with no pivot, thereby putting too much stress on the seam. My frugal mind was thinking maybe I should have spent more than $50 on the bag. My fashion mind was still trying to convince itself that this was NOT a purse, but simply a leather bag to carry my items on a strap to throw over my shoulder that may or may not match my belt and shoes.

Of course none of those thoughts would fix the broken strap and I was realizing I’d probably have to go and buy a new computer messenger bag (not a… ok is that joke dead yet? purse.)

I’m cheap, not like re-use tea bags and save toe nail clippings for plant fertilizer (it actually works) cheap but, still pretty cheap. So after a day of defeat the thought of having to put out probably more than $50 for a Personal Utilitarian Retention System Enveloper put my face in my hands. Between my fingers I noticed something on my table.

It was strewn carelessly down when I emptied my bag and there were some other forgotten papers partially covering it. I recognized it immediately and it brought a smile to my face. It was from a student wanting out of school, like about 20 I had talked to that very day. The letter read as follows:

To GED Principal,
This School is not for me and is a waste of my time. GED is not going to help because whenever I return to society I’m going to do what I was doing, why would I sit here and lie to you or myself. I’m wasting time and space being here in class, you have others who really care about their education but I’m not one of them. I feel like the system is forcing an education on me like others try force religion beliefs on others, everyday I’m just sitting here circling answers just to not get wrote up or just to say I was in class. But I told the teacher I don’t want to take anymore test but if she want I will sit here and keep wasting time and space turning in incorrect work. I know y’all doing y’all job but an education is not something I want to receive in life. I’m just being honest!! I rather go to work while I’m here like I did at the other units instead of wasting paper!!

Some names were left off to protect the well, not exactly innocent, but still, people who deserve not to be mentioned. This guy hated school, I’ll call him Jay (not the same Jay as in some of my earlier stories, maybe I need to find a new anonymous name?) but anyway, Jay hated school, even went so far as to have to be separated from the general population because he let an issue escalate until he became threatening. He finally wrote me this letter asking to be let out of school.

I don’t remember giving him a big pep talk, I don’t remember any great wisdom from me. I did tell him that he wasn’t getting out of school and that I thought he was smart enough that he could get the GED. In fact, I do remember telling him that if he really wanted out he should just study, get his GED, and graduate out.

4 weeks after Jay got out of administrative segregation I handed him his GED certificate. I could see the pride building in his eyes, as well as the tears. I invited him into my office mostly so his peers wouldn’t see him cry, but also a little so that they wouldn’t see me cry either.

Well I still have fights with students (well they still try to argue with me), I still have to convince them to at least come to class, that’s step one, then once they show up, I have to convince them to pay attention, then to work… they don’t all get their GED certificates, but they all have a chance. And now I have something to remember on the days when I feel like giving in, when I feel beat down by those that don’t see the value of what I’m trying to help them do. I think of Jay, and how a big, mean, bad muther… well how this man was brought to tears by the first positive thing he had ever done for himself.

It also makes me really think the obvious, “How many times have I rebelled against what God knows to be good for me?” Dang near every time at first at least. How many times has he called me in his office and said, “You’re not getting out of this and I know you can do it.”

Proverbs 1-7 is one that we could all remember when we think we know it all, when we think there’s nothing left to learn.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Thanks for reading y’all and God bless.

Drag on into the shadows

dragon

Dragon slithering
Soars
Across morning sky
Many singed serpent
With cloud shrouded eye

A dusky dark specter
Of future unkind?
Or a hazy mark reflection of
projections of
Darkness in the mind

Trust
Brightening sun will rise
Just
Enlightening dark filled eyes

See
Darkness fading
Shadows shorten shadings
Light
Cascading
into recesses
of the brain

Yet

Still

Shadows Remain

I know, I know, but I love cloud poems and plus that one totally looks like a dragon so… obviously.  In all seriousness this reminded me of a bible study I’m doing on leadership that stated that leaders need to be examples of the truth. Yes! Absolutely! The devotional went on to state that leaders need to show that the truth to be an example of is basically perfection…

Ooops what? If a leader has to be perfect then I’m gonna go ahead and give up my spot, because brothers and sisters I’m a sinner. I’v talked about my journey toward God and away from sin but it’s a journey we don’t finish on Earth. When a leader has the expectation to be perfect or tries to act perfect we are in trouble (and so is he or she.)

The truth I want to be an example of is that I am a sinner and I need God’s grace every day, the truth I want to be an example of is that grace has amazing healing powers, the truth I want to be an example of is that my heart is healing with grace but I’m still a sinner.

I used to get Wilde and say, “I can resist anything but temptation,” Then, through grace I was able to start rising above temptation, but it was still there. Now, through grace, temptations themselves are fading. Fading, not disappearing, and honestly I still have moments of weakness. The truth I want to be an example of is that in those moments, when I’m weakest, I feel my greatest need for God.

In those moments I trust that God loves me, I know that His Son will shine his infinite grace into my brain and help heal me. The imagery of the shadows and feeling like my heart has shadows and that brought to mind the psalm that I first learned in the *Army.

Psalm 23:4

Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil; for Thou art with me, and Thy rod and Thy staff comfort me.

*Of course it was a little different in the Army though because it finished with something like, “because I’m the baddest blankety blank in the valley…”

Thanks for putting up with yet another cloud poem y’all and God bless

write all

 

I Took

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Today
I took
A moment
A breath
A break
for
A rest
From scheduling, solving, collaborating, resolving
From rescuing, encouraging, demanding
From being outstanding

In stead
of Being, seeing, leading, proceeding
A moment
To Be

Still
My thoughts wander
Quiet as I ponder
The sound
Feathers brush the wind
Rising from the ground

bird moment

Still
My heart beats
I check in
Anger retreats
Anger why?

A breath
Escapes
A sigh

a moment

I took…

 

 

Somedays everything is cool, I keep busy, I have lots of important work, work that can help others, work that distracts me from the deep work I need to do.

So today I took my little jeep and found a cornfield at lunch and meditated. I’m sure the farmers were wondering what the hippie was up to as they drove by (although maybe not, we are close to Austin so…)

So today I took some time, not really for myself but to look into myself. To be still and check in. I find some anger and resentment there, angry at myself and and angry at the source of all my crap. I’m so far from where I started, but not there yet. Obviously because today I also took a selfie… Still.

Still have the need to put myself out there for approval to entertain and save.

The interesting thing is that I thought I was smiling when I took it… I thought I was looking whistfully (wistfully?) out at the stubble of the fallow field, bemused at my progress. I see anger on my face though. Is that a problem? Only if I deny it.

If I can just be still and be  for a while and stop moving. So hard for a hard charging go getter with good intentions. But I need these times for myself to check in so that I don’t check out on others in my life. I’m not sure if there’s a better piece of scripture than Psalm 46:10 here.

Be still and know that I Am God.

Amen, I am so glad God that You are God and that I am not, I can barely be me some days.

Thanks y’all, and God bless.

The Future Holds

sun

I Struggle to understand
Violence inside of man
Searching for reason
In a senseless season
It escapes me
The search castrates me
Pain
Undeniable
Explanation intention, safety, prevention, questions, reports, accusations, retorts…
Useless anger flails to find fault
Emotion stretched, strung taut
Control
Evades us
Please God
Let peace invade us
Let us rest and remember
Peaceful pastures lie in wait
Places free from hate
Directions so simple yet so clouded
A point shrouded

Blurring the start
A point within

A human heart

I am not in control

I can’t understand

Serenity still

Fills

The surrendering hand

serenity

On Monday morning I found myself just praying one word, “Help,” I don’t even honestly know if I needed help or wanted help for victims and families, for our country, or a little of everything. When I’m praying and a word stands out in my head I pray it.

I’m sure some were praying, “Why?” Would a God of mercy allow such violence such senseless, severe, and random violence? No Answer.

Is that a dangerous prayer? To question God? Maybe, but it’s a human prayer. I grew up thinking that God would be mad if I questioned him, that I had to work to make God love me, but now I understand that God wants all of us. Our doubts, our accusations, even our anger. Give it up to God even when we don’t know what it is or don’t understand His way, offer it to Him and talk to Him about it.  Is it a sin to question God? We don’t even have to answer that question because if it is we’re forgiven, I think it’s worse to think you can fool God and hide your anger for Him from Him…

And the prayer for help can change with the prayer I say every week with a group of broken and helpless guys , and it’s written on the inside of my bracelet. “*God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

When I talk to my sister (the smart one*2) about trusting God and letting him work she reminds me that He gave me a brain and abilities to work also, that I can’t just sit back and wait. She’s right and it’s right in there.

The question remains, can we do anything about the violence that has occurred and can occur again? Yes, plenty, but it may not look exactly like what we might expect, and nothing I ever do can keep me completely safe. Which is something I struggle with, I am at the mercy of bullets, bombs, cancers, crashes, even the slip of a hand of a professional who thought he was in control of a needle… all these can affect me no matter how strong tough smart careful I am.

The most important I think that I can do then is love; myself, my family, my neighbors. Especially my neighbors… I am going to continue to reach out, to find my friends in isolation and talk with them and try to let some light into their lives.

Reach out and call someone you haven’t talked to in a while, check in with your neighbors and family try to give them a smile. That Aunt (not you Auntie Mi) that you haven’t chatted with in a while, you’re ex brother, father, or mother-in-law, the people who get forgotten, call them. Conversations with those estranged folks can be painful and awkward but it very well could be a conversation  that saves a life.

Paul wrote so much about fellowship and I’m reminded of Ephesians when I think of trying to pull people together in the most difficult of times.

 Ephesians 4:2-3

with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

 

*Quoted above and on my bracelet is The Good Parts Version of the Serenity prayer. The part everyone knows and has on posters. There’s lots more…

*2 Each of my sisters thinks I just wrote about her now

Chances Taken and Branches Shaken

sunrise-oaks.jpg

The wind buffets back and forth

Like taking chances

Each direction like the oak

 

Branches

Perfect?

 

Not quite

Asymmetrical in sight

 

Bark scored from a swing chain

Of children’s laughter only echoes remain

 

It stood through storm and heat

Stayed the rain and sleet

Winds bending not breaking

Limbs creaking

Shaking

 

The whole remains intact

Even as limbs give up and snap

Leaving holes

Gaps

In the soul off center gashes

To beauty’s eye

Empty slashes

 

But the heart sees a different story of these tests

These winds

The heart sees these spaces

As glorious places for the light of grace

to fill in.

 

I have some ugly scars… from winning the jumping from the top step contest, working in a church, and from an accident in the Army along with several others. Each scar though, came with a lesson and left a tough patch of skin. We boys (and maybe girls but I can’t speak for y’all) bear our scars as medals of achievement, of surviving stupidity on the way to wisdom.

I have uglier, emotional scars, some because of what was done to me and some because of what I had done. Men (and maybe women… see above) are taught to hide these and not let anyone see a flaw. Well that’s pure crap. Show off your scars, be proud of surviving, because to do so will help others survive and help others stop their cycle of shame and pain.

Each scar, physical or emotional can be a medal and a space for light to shine through. Each scar can be an example of how our trials shape us and we can decide whether to let them be dark blemishes on our soul or a space for our light to shine through. Thanks and God bless

 

Matthew 5:16

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.