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Treasure Hunting

March 23, 2016 at 4:17 pm

Easter Squirrel

“Not all treasure is silver and gold, mate.”

  (Jack Sparrow, Pirates Of The Caribbean)


written by Debbie Allen

After Winter’s frigid breath blows its final veil of frost across a cold, barren earth, there reigns a silence.  A pause between the seasons, into which the welcome voice of Spring speaks the Creator’s Good News of New Life and Eternal Hope into all the earthly places  where death once seemed to rule.  In so many ways, Spring is a vivid re-enactment of the miracle of the Easter Story.   This season is imprinted with the message of Jesus dying on the cross…laying silent in death’s grip for a time…resurrected from the grave to New Life.   Death for a season…silence for a time…new life springing forth! This is the pattern of Spring.

As I walked the perimeters of my backyard , hiding Easter eggs for my Grandchildren one Easter afternoon; it didn’t take me long to realize this pattern was everywhere!  Hiding Easter eggs under the withered stalks and dead leaves of  last year’s lifeless flower beds, I noticed the ground now studded with tender, green shoots pushing up through the dirt and springing forth with the beauty of a Day-Lily’s new bloom.   While maneuvering colored eggs into the crooks and forks of backyard bushes and trees,  I realized the barren tree branches, once laden with snow, were now covered with new buds; pregnant and ready to give birth to the snow-white blooms of the Wild Plum tree.  Any traces of winter that may have lingered behind in my heart were banished in an instant, by the unexpected warmth I felt just hearing the sweet chirps of a Robin’s new song in this new season.   Never before had Spring’s pattern been more evident to me.  Death for a season…silence for a time…new life springing forth!

After hiding all the eggs, I looked up to find my husband standing under the patio, laughing and pointing up at the tree I just walked away from.

“Looks like we have a joiner… an early treasure hunter!” Jim announced, laughing.

When I turned to see what he was talking about, I spotted a squirrel perched on a branch high up in our Cottonwood tree.  His paws were wrapped around the plastic Easter egg he’d managed to steal from the bush below.

That little squirrel recognized treasure in my backyard that day, too!  He wasn’t content to just give it a quick look and scamper away. He somehow understood the value of that treasure and his need to have it. So… he took a risk, leaving his place of safety to obtain it.  He worked furiously with both teeth and claws to bore a hole in the egg.    Because the egg was taped shut, that squirrel struggled for over thirty minutes before retrieving the chocolate candy stuffed inside of it.  Once  the sweet contents were in his little belly, with a surge of new life (His first chocolate high!), that squirrel disappeared out of sight, leaving the empty shell behind!

Spring is beautifully laced with the telling and re-telling of the Easter Story! This season mirrors, in unique ways,  the Story of the Savior’s Victory over Death and the New Life that springs forth because of it. Eternal Life!  Without a doubt, Jesus is the Greatest Treasure mankind will ever seek in his lifetime.  However we, like the little Easter squirrel, must first sit up and take notice of this One-of-a-Kind, Priceless Treasure, realizing that our greatest need in life is to lay hold of it.  Eyeing it from afar is not enough.  Just knowing it is there will not work. We must be willing to risk all, stepping outside our comfort zones to  receive this Treasure for ourselves.  Only then will we discover  it takes a personal sampling of the Sweet Contents of this Personal and Priceless Treasure to awaken us to the New Life that is within us!   Happy Easter…and Happy Hunting!!

“You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord.” (Jer. 29:13-14 NIV )

“The fear of the Lord is your treasure.   “( Isaiah 33:6b NIV)

mini heart fp  Heart Trapping –  What”imprints” of the Easter Season and the pattern of Spring do you see in your own back yard?  What treasures in life are you seeking?   How much are you willing to risk in life to attain them? Have they any Eternal value?   Do you believe that Jesus is your Greatest Treasure in this life?  Why or Why not?

Prayer –  O God, You are my God. You alone are my Treasure in this life.  My soul longs to find you. I hunger deeply for You; my whole heart longs to be satisfied by treasures beyond the silver and gold of this world.  Help me to find the Beauty of Your  undeniable and Priceless Presence in this Easter Season.  Thank you for Your gift of Hope and New Life…     Amen.

“The Miracle of a Magical Moment”

March 6, 2016 at 3:50 pm

Ryan the Great

       “RYAN THE GREAT!”          

“The real secret of Magic lies in the performance.”  (by David Copperfield)


written by Debbie Allen

Not long ago, I walked into my kitchen and heard my 7 year-old Grandson, “Ryan the Great”, speaking his own magic words and waving a wand over a little black box on my kitchen table. He loved the idea of being a magician so I decided to check out his first show!  Scanning the crowd, an audience of three, Ryan the Great, quickly singled me out and fanned a deck of cards out before me.

“Pick a card, Grammie…any card will do!” He advised me.

The card I picked was the Queen of Hearts. Taking the card back, Ryan placed the Queen of Hearts inside of the little black box on the table. Magic wand in hand, he tapped the box and cried,” Abracadabra!”

The audience’s eyes grew wide, anticipating what was next!  Ryan the Great’s eyes grew wide, too, for when he opened the box, the card was still there! Undaunted by failure, this great table-top magician simply shrugged it off and closed the box once more to try again. After studying the instructions inside the Magic Kit for a moment, Ryan tried once more.

“Alakazam!” he hollered out, this time tapping the box twice.  When he opened the box…there she was! That stubborn Queen of Hearts, still smiling back at him.

After shushing the audience (who chose to clap anyway), the Great and Powerful Ryan drew in a deep breath and put on his most solemn expression. Raising his magic wand higher than ever before, he tapped the black box three times, and spoke with the greatest of 7-year-old authority, these powerful words,

“IN THE NAME OF GOD!”

Do you know what? This time when he opened the black box, that stubborn Queen of Hearts had disappeared!  I imagine with words like those being spoken over her…that queen had no choice but to flee!

Every great magician’s first intention is to create an illusion that completely baffles the mind and dazzles the eyes of his audience.  Knowing the instructions for how to make that Queen of Hearts disappear from the little black box were packaged inside of Ryan’s Magic Kit; my eyes weren’t nearly as dazzled as my mind was baffled!  Baffled because when push came to shove…and life wasn’t offering the ending 7-year-old Ryan expected; he set aside the world’s magic words and generic instructions for success, and called on the Name of the One he knew was the difference between failure and success.  “IN THE NAME OF GOD!”

These words will forever be connected in my mind to the growing legacy of one of the greatest table-top magicians of all times (at least in Grammie’s kitchen and heart!) “Ryan the Great”, who even at age 7, understands where his greatness comes from!

 

“You are my King and my God. Decree victories for your people.  For it is only by Your Power and through Your Name that we tread down our enemies.” (Psalm 44:4)

mini heart fp

Heart Trapping:  Where do I find success in my life? What or Who am I calling on for help when failure stalks me again and again? Is my  daily performance before a watching world telling others… I am Great! Or do I cry out to the One Who is greater than I to do Great things through me?

Prayer:  Father, “In the Name of God!”  may each of us experience success by placing all we can do…and all we can’t do, under His Great Name and His Great Power, remembering where true greatness comes from.

 

“Here’s Look’in at You Kid!”

March 4, 2016 at 1:12 pm

                                                                                  “TWO-WEEK-OLD CHELSEA”
Chelsea Joy

“The most precious jewels I’ll ever wear around my neck…are the arms of my Grandchildren.”           


written by Debbie Allen

 Over the course of time, each life is marked by certain moments or seasons of change so influential, the rest of our life remains defined by it.  One such moment for me came about three years ago.  Sitting out on the patio with family, my son handed me my three-week-old granddaughter, Chelsea.  She lived 100 miles away, so I savored any moment I had to hold her close. As her sky-blue eyes pried open, I found myself searching them deeply… wondering what beautiful things God had planted down inside of her heart.  Then, it happened!  Though only for a split-second, our eyes locked and I watched an unexpected smile form across her tiny, rosebud lips. Her first smile.  Overcome by that unforeseen smile, my eyes teared at the realization that something much deeper and more profound than I was stirring my heart.  It wasn’t just Chelsea I was connecting with when our eyes locked.  I felt as though God were looking back at me through her. The innocence of her little heart overwhelmed mine. Her gaze and her smile seemed to be assuring me that I was both known…and loved. It was in that moment, my new little Granddaughter…whom the world tells me, thinks no thoughts past immediate hunger, thirst, or pain; and whose smile is simply the result of very timely gas; was teaching her Grammie a profound and unforgettable Truth.  A Truth I too often forget, in the bustle of my ever-changing circumstances.  My Heavenly Father wants nothing more from me than what I desired from Chelsea in that brief moment.  To rest assured that I am known and loved by Him…and then, for me to just “let” Him Love me back.

This defining moment in my life is a beautiful picture of the pure, undefiled level of trust God desires from us and the unfathomable Love He offers His Children when we just “let” Him Love us back. When we just lay still and helpless as a new born baby, in our Father’s Arms. His Arms will never fail us and if we lay there long enough, we will begin to hear the Melody of His Great Heart beating.  Every beat resounds with the Message of His Eternal Love for you and I…

“I have loved you with an everlasting Love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.”  (Jeremiah 31:3)

mini heart fpHeart Trapping- “What would my own life look like if I learned to trust You more like a new-born baby in my daily walk with You, God?”                

 Prayer:  Teach us, Father, help us to find our rest in your Unfailing Arms, even in the midst of life’s ever-changing circumstances.Hold us close and tune our ears to hear the Message of Your Great Heart…resounding  with every single beat, Your Eternal Love for each of us.    Amen

 

“Forever Autumn”

October 6, 2015 at 11:59 am

 

"Autumn's beautiful heart is, in so many ways,  the  Divine Artist's signature on the portrait of her life."

“Autumn’s beautiful heart is, in so many ways, the Divine Artist’s signature on the portrait of her life.”


 

written by Debbie Allen

When lazy summer days disappear every year under the shadows of the fall season; I sense the Hand of the Divine Artist brushing His most lavish changes onto the canvas of our world.  My eyes are captivated by the trees; as emerald leaves surrender to the kaleidoscopic beauty of bold tangerines and russets, shades of scarlet and deep plums.  Every year I find my heart scarcely able to contain the unmatched beauty of His Fall Glory!  But, all too soon the leaves drift down to the cold, brown earth; each a silent message from Heaven that the Artist is again at work.  This time He white-washes the canvas; leaving only the barren trunks of those same once beautiful trees, shivering along the horizon.  There are no leaves.  There is no color.  What can be the purpose of His brush strokes?

“Why, God?” I ask, watching my favorite season slipping away.

“Why strip these trees of their beautiful autumn raiment, leaving them to weather the coming storms without a decent covering?” “Where is Your Gory to be found in such a scene?”

I’m quite sure the Divine Artist’s Brow must have wrinkled at such a question coming from such a finite mind.  For not long afterwards, it seemed as though He tapped me on the shoulder, took His brush between His Fingers and began painting me the most vivid picture of autumn I could ever have imagined! One I will never forget.  Let me explain.

You see, I took on a part-time job at the end of the summer this past year.  Every morning since August, I stand in the midst of rows and rows of orange lockers; located in a girl’s locker room at a local middle school.  I am, who the girls deem, “The Locker Room Lady.” I am the one who stands in the doorway, arms crossed and a half-smile; ready to blow the whistle if things get too out of hand.  I hand out hair ties, retrieve lost gym suits, and referee dirty sock fights.  Though my job description doesn’t list it, I’ve also found my place among these girls as an official heart-monitor.  The one who steps in and listens to the bleating hearts of twelve-year-old love stories and fourteen-day romances gone awry.

Major drama here, I might add!  Something I’m not accustomed to; being the Mother of three boys.

Let me put it another way.  Watching sixty to seventy girls a day in this locker room setting is not too far removed from my days of watching ants in an Ant Farm with my boys when they were growing up.  Except…now I’m sealed in on the other side of the glass with the ants and the ants I’m watching seem to all be on steroids!

These unique, two-legged, middle-school Creaturettes tunnel furiously in and out of each other’s lives, gathering any little tidbit of love, friendship and acceptance they can find to keep their self-esteems alive in the hours ahead of them.  They run helter-skelter over each other’s hearts, and in and out of each other’s minds; feeding on the little crumbs dropped there by their peers.  Miraculously, they seem to thrive on this steady diet of carelessly misplaced words, vain opinions of who they are, and unrealistic expectations of who they should be.  It’s all part of living up to an unwritten Rule of Thumb that I’m convinced must be posted above every Creaturette’s tunnel entrance.  A rule which if written out, would no doubt read something like this:

“You are not who you are.

You are not even who others think you are.

You are who you think others think you are.”

          With a rule such as this in constant play, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that the locker room is no safe haven for these girls.  It’s a rough ‘n tumble, ant-eat-ant environment where someone’s world is always at risk of caving-in.  Sounds a lot like the real world, doesn’t it?  A frenzied place of constant clamoring for love and acceptance.  If you can’t dig yourself into all the right places while the world’s eyes watch you do it; then, in the spirit of Ant-Farm mentality, your world is quickly reduced to a place where there’s nowhere to run and nowhere to hide!

In any case, life is full of such hindrances and the locker room is no exception.  By the end of the first week as the Locker-Room Lady, I thought I’d grown accustomed to all of the sights and sounds of so many different personalities colliding in a girl’s locker room.  The wind-tunnel effect of several hand dryers blowing full blast.  The ear-shattering squeals emanating from multiple giddy, teenage girls.  The echoes of twenty locker doors all slamming at different times.  All of these things combined made it impossible to actually hear anything in here.  But, one day, right in the middle of all of this controlled chaos; I managed to zero-in on someone’s faint cries echoing from a nearby bathroom stall.

“Can someone help me, please?” I heard a little voice cry out again.

Walking toward where I thought the voice came from, I listened for a moment.  Nothing.  There were two stalls so I bent over casually to inspect the ground for a pair of feet.  To my surprise, I instead found a pair of eyes looking back up at me from under the first stall door.

“I…I can’t get this door open…could you please help me?” the girl asked me softly.

“Sure thing.  Just stand back while I push on it.” I warned her, having been a prisoner in this same stall the day before.

Wham!  Bam!  A couple of hefty jolts with both my hands and the door flung wide open.  That’s when I came face to face with the owner of those two chocolate-brown eyes; now peering back at me from under thick strands of shoulder-length, licorice-black hair.

“Thanks.”  The girl said, speaking just above a whisper.

I introduced myself as the new Locker Room Lady and watched as she brushed her hair out of her eyes with a multi-scarred right hand.  A hand missing all of its four fingers.  Not much more than a fleshy palm with an appendage to the side that had been fashioned to serve as a thumb. No doubt, this was the very reason she’d struggled with the door in the first place.

“I…I’m Autumn,” she said to me, pulling back the curtain of bangs veiling her face.  As she did so, she exposed the face of a young girl whose entire countenance appeared ravaged by angry flames some time in her earlier years.  Trying not to stare, my eyes were quickly drawn back into hers.  It took every ounce of concentration in me not to shed the tears I felt welling up inside of me for what life had been allowed to take from this girl at such a young and tender age.  Oh, how the mother in me wanted to throw my arms around her at this moment.  To run interference for her and try to protect her from the awkward stares and abrasive comments I knew would come from the other girls.  How my heart broke as I watched the other girls glance in her direction and then walk, not just by her, but, around her; like she didn’t even exist. Watching Autumn walk away from me to follow her peers into the gymnasium; the mom in me began to cry softly; while the more brazen, Locker Room Lady proceeded to question God about another of His seasons in Life.  This time…the uninvited season of change that descended into this young girl’s life.

“Why God…why these brush strokes?” I asked, still in shock.

“Why leave her so exposed in this cold, cold world?”

“Where is Your Glory to be found in this scene?” I whispered for the second time in a week.

This time my words didn’t just fall from my mouth.  They, instead, flowed from the depths of my heart.  A heart in unexpected anguish.  A heart with no answers for my own questions.  A heart now made ready for the Divine Artist to step down into and set up His Easel to Paint.

Over the next few weeks, I watched Him paint a portrait of this young lady for me. Her assigned gym locker ended up being right around the corner from where I stood for most of my supervisory time in the locker room.  This allowed me to remain within earshot of many conversations that took place between Autumn and some of the other girls.  Curiosity drove the girls to tunnel a lot deeper into Autumn’s past than I would ever have dared to go.  As I listened to the other girl’s chatting back and forth, I soon learned that Autumn began her life as an orphan; left on the steps of a two-story Chinese orphanage.  She was abandoned by her birth-mother shortly after birth. When Autumn was eleven months old, a fire swept through the orphanage, consuming everything and everyone in its path.  Numerous babies and children lost their lives this day but, not before the wrath of the fire inflicted its permanent damages on her.  Unrecognizable and a near-casualty, baby Autumn spent an extended time in the burn unit of a Chinese hospital.  Nurses and doctors cared for her around the clock; treating extensive burns to her head, face and body; including her right arm and hand.  Burns which left her blind in one eye and bearing the tragic scars that now placed her on a low-eligibility list, concerning Chinese adoption status.  However, Chinese adoption status was no match for the Hand of God in this matter.  For, waiting back in the United States was a family who deliberately chose to adopt this living miracle; above all the other children made available to them.  She arrived in the United States as a toddler and since then, has undergone repeated surgeries and multiple skin grafts.  These surgeries will remain a necessary part of Autumn’s life for as long as she continues to grow and change.

Over the next few weeks, my desire to shelter her never went away.  But each time I felt compelled to run to her assistance, I also felt the Hand of the Artist holding me back…tugging on me as if to keep me out of the way of the portrait He was still painting for me.

“Just watch,” I heard Him whispering into my anxious heart every day…”Just watch.”

And so I did.  Every day I watched the other girls flock to the full-length mirrors, hanging on the ends of the locker bays like ants drawn to sugar.  There they stood, beholding their own reflections; conducting their own mini-beauty contests.  By the time I watched them put a third layer of mascara onto already foot-long lashes, I could almost hear them chanting in their hearts,   “Mirror, mirror, on the wall…It’s true; I’m the fairest of them all!”

Then…I watched Autumn standing in their shadows unnoticed.  She paused there only for a moment; long enough to share a tiny corner of the same mirror.  Though she had no lashes and no vision in one of her eyes, I watched a smile quietly invade the scars stretched so taut across her face.  A beautiful smile.  One that told the story of a grateful heart, uttering with every single beat, “I’m here…and just thankful to be alive!”

I watched the girls banging on their locker doors with both fists in frustration when locker combinations didn’t open up on the first try.  Unwilling to try again, they always hollered out for the Locker Room Lady to, “…”bring us the key!”

Then, I saw Autumn crunched down silently on her knees before her bottom-row locker. I watched as she turned the combination over and over and over again with great difficulty.  Never did she utter a complaint or think to call out for help.  I suppose that in a lifetime that has been filled with endless moments of frustration, this is only one more time of her choosing to not give up.  One more time for her to be thankful for the full use of her one good hand.

On Picture Day, I watched some of the girls break into tears because the picture on their school I.D. didn’t reflect the perfect, unblemished image they hoped to project to the outside world.

But…Autumn only tucked her I.D. away in a book bag with a shrug, claiming, “It’s just a picture…it’s not the real me.”

My heart melted at her words.  Autumn may live inside of a thirteen year old body, but she speaks with a level of wisdom that most adults never reach in a lifetime.  It is the wisdom that comes with learning to see life from the inside out.  A Heavenly Insight, daily reassuring her that the contours of a person’s face should never be given a higher priority than the shape of a person’s heart.  Her beautiful heart is in so many ways, the Divine Artist’s Signature on the portrait of her life.

I stand amazed every day as I watch this young girl whom the world has deemed less-than-perfect , helping to make the world around her a more perfect place to be.  She reaches with her one hand, farther than most of us will ever be willing to go with two good hands.  Though blind in one eye, she never fails to see the needs of those around her.  She has plenty of reasons of her own to cry over…but instead, she saves those tears for the times I’ve seen her sitting on a locker room bench consoling a broken-hearted peer.

There is a quiet strength that abides deep within Autumn.  One that allows her to withstand the coldness that surrounds her.  To live above the Locker Room’s unwritten Rule of Thumb, which dictates, “You are who you think others think you are.”

How fitting that her adoptive parents should choose to name her Autumn.  She is a beautiful reflection of the Fall season.  A season marked by change.  A season that mirrors so well, the meaning of self-sacrifice…the quiet surrendering of a beautiful raiment, so a cold, brown earth might be touched and changed for a time by its leaves of gold.

The Seasons of Life sometimes offer us branches, stripped bare and standing in wide open abandonment on a whitewashed horizon in a cold, cold world.  At first glance, most of us find it too difficult to see past the barrenness of such a scene.  Some of us will even go so far as to question the brush strokes of the Divine Artist; daring to ask Him,

“Why? What purpose is there?”  or even,  “Where is Your Glory to be found in such a scene?”

Whether looking at His portrait of a young teenage girl named, Autumn; framed in the chaos of a girl’s locker room…

Or gazing out across the barren branches of trees, shivering along the whitewashed horizon of a Fall landscape…

Hear His Voice. Just watch, while He sets up His Easel in your own heart to Paint.

The Divine Artist’s Answer will always be the same.

Because the branches are bare… My Glory shines brighter there.”

 

“The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them.  People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the Heart.”  (I Samuel 16: 7b NLT)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Dancing Lightly with Life”

September 7, 2015 at 1:56 pm

 

3-Year-Old, Chelsea, fills the room with her joy... "Today is my day to dance with Life, Sing wild songs of adventure, Invite rainbows & butterflies out to play, Soar my spirit, and unfurl my joy!" _Jonathan L. Huie_

3-Year-Old, Chelsea, fills the room with her joy…
“Today is my day to dance with Life,
Sing wild songs of adventure,
Invite rainbows & butterflies out to play,
Soar my spirit, and unfurl my joy!”
_Jonathan L. Huie_


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

written by Debbie Allen

Who needs a written definition of joy when there’s a picture like this one hanging in the halls of your memory?  Over the years, those hallways of mine have expanded into more of a Gallery of Kodak-moments.  Their steep, Victorian walls are now bulging under the weight of countless snapshots filled with the little faces of my children and grandchildren, captured in their own unexpected moments of undeniable joy.  I walk among them, gazing and praising God for each and every memory hanging before me.  Believe me; I retreat to this special place often.  For it is when I stand here, gazing at pictures like the one of Chelsea, above, I am most reminded of what it feels like when true joy floods the heart.    That deep, abiding kind of joy that so effortlessly frames our faces, sets our hearts aglow, and stirs our souls. While wandering through my Gallery one day recently, I couldn’t help but notice how even true joy seems to subtly fade-away from those same radiant faces with the onset of adulthood.  Intrigued at the very thought of it,  I  couldn’t help but wonder, “What is the source of such inexplicable joy   …and why is it that small children seem to have cornered the market on this rare and beautiful gift?”

Though there is no simple answer, I believe the answer still points us towards something simple.   The simplicity that comes with just being a child. A child’s eyes still see Mom and Dad as heroes worthy of their complete dependence.  Heroes with the answer to everything, and love enough for all things.   A child’s heart is still filled with innocence and wonder at every turn in their world.  Their heads are not yet swimmimg with doubts and worries of this life that steer them towards a life-style tainted by mistrust and unbelief.  Their hands have not yet taken hold of the hands in this world that so eagerly pull them down paths they were never meant to go.   Children wake up wide-eyed and eager to explore whatever a new day brings them.  They spring from puddles of joy, hair parted crooked, and shoes on the wrong feet, to the breakfast table where they wrestle with the hardest decision of their day. A chocolate-frosted, double-dutch doughnut with sprinkles?  …or a bowl of soggy Shredded Wheat? (We both know which one wins!)

There is simply nothing like being a child…and ironically, once we grow-up, we often just wish we were a child again.  Somewhere along the way, as adults, we lose sight of the joy that characterizes childhood. We lose touch with the wonder that God has tucked in the folds of each of our days.  Our wandering eyes are more quickly drawn to focus in on the circumstances surrounding us. It is in this breach between the wondering heart and our wandering eyes  (perspective), that we begin  to push joy and Truth  through our own filter of circumstances and logic; ending up with only  a strained version of what the world calls happiness.

Perhaps this accounts for the difference in the expressions on the faces of those in the snapshots in my Gallery, as they grow older.  I studied the snapshot of Chelsea as she danced with life.  Then, I glanced over at a picture of myself on one of my recent birthday celebrations.  Oh…I wore a big smile on my face, sitting before a glowing birthday cake and a pile of presents, but Chelsea’s expression radiated something mine lacked. (No…not youth vs. age! ).  I remembered being prompted by my Daughter-in-law right before that picture was snapped to, “Smile, Mom!”   So I did.  Evidently happiness is capable of being staged.  It can be put on as quickly as it can be taken off….much like a coat.  My smile was born in just the right moment, for just the right set of circumstances, and then quietly subsided.  My smile was not a world-changing event. Chelsea’s smile, however, filled the entire room, washed over all our hearts, and continued long after I captured her on camera.  She spilled joy into the room that night.   Chelsea beamed.  Grammie had only smiled.

Because of the huge difference I could visibly see in those two snapshots in my Gallery, I decided to further explore the difference between Grammie’s smile and Chelsea’s beam.  Here is what Funk & Wagnalls Dictionary had to say about it:

Smile– to wear a cheerful aspect.  n. an amused expression of the face, characterized by the raising of the corners of the mouth.

Beam- to grin radiantly.  to emit light.

So….a smile can be worn and can be considered more an act of the will, strongly dependent upon surrounding circumstances.

A beam, however, seems to take on a life of its own.  It is more spontaneous and comes from somewhere much deeper inside of us.  It is not forced, and something, or Someone, I can only call Light streams from its source. Light capable of flooding an entire room and touching any heart  captured by its radiance. It is contagious.  This is joy…and it comes from the Source of all Joy, God Himself.

Someone once said, “If you have joy in your heart, it will be heard by the look on your face.”  Chelsea’s snapshot is proof positive of this to me!  It’s the perfect description of what you see on her face.    A priceless picture of sheer Joy.  A living example of the immense difference between just a smile and a big beam…and just happiness and great joy.   Sadly enough, it’s also the difference between adulthood and childhood.   As we grow towards adulthood, the complete trust and peace we once shared while living under the roof of our parent’s love and guidance, slowly erodes with doubts, fears, and the ways of a world who claims to know what’s best for us…and insists on telling us how to find true happiness.   Granted, this world is a beautiful place. We can live within this world and even find happiness in many of its corners, but when life’s circumstances come crashing down around us and happiness transforms into a distant memory; the peace we knew in childhood seems nonexistent.  Without peace…there can be no joy.

I have walked this earth long enough to know the world’s happiness is no substitute for true joy.  Even though I understand this truth with my head, there are still times when I catch my heart feeling robbed of joy.  One day at work not long ago, I was feeling both overwhelmed and under- appreciated.  I let my unhappiness about some unpleasant circumstances surrounding me dictate my inner attitude.  Like a giant billboard, my face became an advertisement for my heart’s disdain.  As I walked by my boss, Billie’s, glass-framed office; she motioned for me to come in.  All I really wanted that morning was to get to my desk and indulge heavily in the cup of black coffee waiting there for me.  Sipping it, I grimaced.  Like the rest of my morning, it wasn’t what I expected.  It was ice cold but, I knew it was the only refreshment available for the pity-party I was about to throw myself.   Putting my pity party on hold until after my meeting with Billie, I headed for her office to see what was up.

Reluctant smile and cold coffee in hand, I braced myself, expecting her to approach me about the 101st thing gone-wrong-in-one-morning in the crazy Middle School world we both worked in. Such a moment never came.  There was a short time of just small talk and then Billie broke out into a story from her childhood that still touches me to this day.

Billie went on to share little bits and pieces about her childhood on a small sheep and cattle ranch in the middle of windy, Wyoming.  She spoke fondly of the brazen, fun-loving Dad she loved dearly; and the staunch, God-fearing, Mom who she adored.  Billie was the baby in the flock of brother’s and sisters she grew up with. Though they were dirt poor, love disguised it well.  She couldn’t think of a time when any of them ever went without a garden-fresh meal on the table or new hand-me-downs on their backs. Sounds to me like love filled in some pretty big gaps back then.  After a few minutes of sharing with me, Billie broke out in a hearty laugh; as she often did at the end of her stories.  But today, laughter didn’t signify, “The End.”  Her laughter was only the interval I saw her countenance transform happiness into joy.  Her laughter ushered in what I believe to be the very reason I was sitting there in front of her. For me, this moment gushed with God.

Without missing a beat, Billie began telling me how her Dad and Uncle would back a flatbed truck up to the barn on shearing day.  To me, a city girl, shearing day sounded like anything but a holiday, however, Billie’s expression told me otherwise. Her eyes danced while she spilled the details to me.  She was a child reliving that moment again!  I don’t believe I could’ve removed her smile with a crow bar even if I’d tried!

Shearing Day took place on the farm, in Wyoming, in the heat of summer.  I imagine such a day was also characterized by scorching winds dancing across sweat-drenched brows, while swift and sweaty palms worked shear magic to transform the wild and wooly into the scraped and scrawny.    Sheep bleating, clippers clipping, and fleece flying!   All of this sounds like more than enough exhilaration to rate “extremely-high” on a child’s joy meter.  Billie’s face reflected this as she proceeded to act out her part in this scene from her childhood.  While still sitting in her rolling desk chair across from me, Billie threw both arms out to the side, lifted her feet straight up, and began to re-enact the dance that little four-year-old Billie danced on shearing day; after being placed down inside of a fifteen foot tall, burlap, fleece-bag dangling from the barn loft high above her head.

“I can’t remember how I got down inside of that bag”, Billie pondered, grinning “…I just remember being there and having so much  fun; laughing and giggling for an entire day, while endless fleece rained down on top of my head!”

Like every other task performed on the farm, Billie’s Dad did not just place his precious, Baby Girl down inside of that stuffy, burlap, fleece-bag without a much greater purpose in mind. She was given a very specific job to do for her Daddy.  She was his own, personal fleece-stomper!  He was to her, the fleece-maker.  He sheared and sheared…Billie stomped and stomped.  At the end of that day, pounds and pounds of sheared fleece became bags and bags full of compressed wool to take to market.  I’m sure each bag brought a great price, but, do you know what I consider to be the most valuable take-away from the farm at the end of shearing day?  The expression of joy that Billie still wears on her face nearly five decades later. Shear joy!  It comes from the heart of that little farm girl inside of her who, even now, looks back on all her stomping…and sees dancing.  She remembers her sweaty, pint-sized brow…and still calls it fun.   She ponders growing tired…yet, still draws strength from her Daddy’s words of encouragement that day, “Just keep stomping, little Bill, keep stomping!”

“What else was I going to do?” Billie asked me, beaming a smile in my direction.

“After all, the only way out of those bags was up!”

Billie and I both chuckled at her last comment and how differently small children see their worlds.  As I walked out of her office that morning, I knew she had no idea just how much her story impacted my heart.  So much so, I dumped out my cold coffee on the way back to my desk and cancelled my pending pity-party!   Billie’s last words made me realize that my own joy meter was stuck on zero. Her childhood story about the joyful fleece-stomper and her beloved fleece-maker, made me sorely aware of the kind of story I was revealing to those around me that morning.  Mine was more a grim tale with a story line that fell somewhere between  the worst of  Hugo’s “Les Miserables”, and the frantic cries of  Chicken Little’s,  Henny Penny crying out, “The sky is falling!  The sky is falling!”  It portrayed nothing of the joyful relationship my Heavenly Father desired for me to be sharing with Him or living out before others.

As I mentioned earlier, this was a God-Gushing moment for me.  Every one of Billie’s words and gestures oozed with God’s message for me; concerning my grumpy, joyless responses to this morning’s unpleasant circumstances.  At one point, I felt God confronting me with this question.

“What if four-year-old Billie had said, “No!” to all of the things her Daddy had in mind for her that day?”

This question both haunted and humbled me.  I knew it was directed at my own heart.  Though I answered with silence that day, later, I clearly understood that if Little Billie had said “No!” that day, I wouldn’t even be writing these words you are reading right now!  So while Billie’s words continued filtering through my brain…God was busy translating her story even deeper in my heart.  Here is what gushed out.

“What if four-year-old Billie woke up on that hot, windy, Wyoming, shearing day on the farm and said, “No!” to the joy awaiting her in that day (As we adults too often do)?  She could’ve chosen to dwell purely on the facts surrounding her.  She was too little…too tired…too busy…and the job was too much for her littleness to comprehend.  But, she didn’t!  Instead, in the way of a little child, she sought her father out and without questioning him, accepted her small part in his BIG world.  Grasping her Daddy’s hand in total trust, she went willingly down into the burlap, fleece-bag which swallowed her up whole and then kept her from seeing him at all.  Little Billie could’ve felt trapped or even alone in this unfamiliar place.  Fear might have won. But, looking up, instead of giving in, she cried out, “Daddy?”

“I’m here!” Daddy answered…and fear was done!

Quickly, she learned that just because the fleece-maker was invisible to her; didn’t mean he wasn’t still standing there beside her.  And when the clumps of fleece from her Daddy’s hands tumbled down upon her head, she didn’t wince or cry out, “Why?”  She simply remembered her littleness…in light of his nearness; and joyfully danced to the sounds of her Daddy’s voice…

“Just keep stomping, Little Bill’…

Keep dancing for me!”

“And let joy teach your heart

to really see!”

 

“To really see…”

 Most of us forfeit the chance to really see because we become paralyzed by, or choose to focus only, on the circumstances falling down around us.  If Little Billie had chosen to do the same, she would have been buried alive at the bottom of the fleece-bag on shearing day.  However, she didn’t.  She chose wisely to heed her Daddy’s words and responded with obedience.  She stomped and stomped, tromping the fleece falling on top of her head, beneath her feet.  In time, with both diligence and fortitude, she rose steadily to the top of that bag; climbing out into the arms of her Daddy’s treasured, embrace.  Though hard work and difficult circumstances abounded in this day, joy overwhelmed it.  Joy enough to teach a child’s heart that trust and obedience brings both treasure and reward at the end of any given day.  Shear joy, so deeply infused in a little girl’s heart; it is still worn on the adult face of that little fleece-stomper today.

“To really see…”

A child’s eyes still see…really see.  They see beyond the point where adults choose to stop looking.  They see the wonder that God has tucked in the folds of their little lives…and their hearts chase after it!  Look again at the expression on my Granddaughter’s face on her three-year-old birthday.  That is a reflection of the very Signature of God upon her little heart…written in the ink of sheer joy!  Her Mom and Dad named her right when they chose “Joy” for her middle name; Chelsea Joy!  She floods an entire room with it when she smiles.  Joy inhabits the sparkle in her blue eyes.  Joy is what propels her little feet to dance in the middle of a room filling up with bubbles.  When we adults looked at those same bubbles that night, we saw only the soapy reminders of our own distant childhood.  Chelsea really saw them!   She saw tiny, shiny, floating spheres filled with miniature, glistening rainbows and the very Breath of God!  Her heart surrendered to joy as she danced on tip-toes, spinning around; her eyes drawn upward into a higher reality.  Reaching towards the beauty she saw in those heights, she listened hard to the good-bye cries of bubbles as they popped against the ceiling and disappeared.  The girlish giggles that followed those good-byes, exhibited anything but disappointment.  I believed them to be the outward signs of the inward Whispers of  a Loving, Heavenly Father assuring  His little girl’s heart  that just because something, or Someone, is out of sight…it doesn’t make them any less real! Oh, the joy that inhabits the trusting ways of a little child!

“To really see…” 

We must learn to embrace the possibility of the impossible.  To see that life is more than filling in the blanks with our own guesses for what is real and possible, and what is not.  Wisdom is not defined according to our own set of rules and boundaries, theories and happenstances.   There are many people today who choose these ways as a filter for living their entire life. Today’s world embraces such thinking, calling it knowledge.  Yet…when the world watches little children at play, doing this very same thing; they choose to call it ‘make-believe.’  So which is it?  Knowledge…or make-believe?

There are no double-standards living inside of Truth.  Even our very best guesses in this life are no substitution for Truth; nor do they change the reality of that Truth.  We were not designed by our Creator for living and making choices in a world where so many double-standards rule.  A place like this is laced with confusion, doubts, unbelief and fear.  These all come with a guaranteed promise to steal your peace, run away with your happiness and kill your joy.  The Truth is…all of us were designed to live as little children in our Heavenly Father’s world.  We can choose to make life up as we go, living on a steady diet of double-standards, or… we can trust God like the little child we were always meant to be and learn to live within the safety of His boundaries of Truth.   He promises His children this:

“ For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”   (Jeremiah 29:13 NIV)

These Words come straight from the Heart of the Perfect Father.  One Who knows His children from the inside out.  He wrote their story and shares their every joy. He daubs every tear.  He bears every complaint.  He treasures every moment of unquestioned reliance.  He endures every season of unmerited defiance…yet, He chooses to Love them anyway. There is great peace of mind living inside the safety of such a Great Plan and such a Great Love.

Little children understand what it is to truly experience life on this level more naturally than adults.   Adults have a tendency to endure what was meant to be enjoyed as a gift.  Chelsea didn’t just wake up on her third birthday, endure the bubble-chasing event, and then mark it off the calendar  before stepping into her new, three-year-old role.  Had this been the case, I’d have one less portrait of Joy hanging in the halls of my memory!  No…Chelsea experienced it!  She jumped and swirled and danced with the bubbles!  She felt them brush up against her pink cheeks and sting her eyes when they popped.  Catching them on her tongue, she sampled their soapy wonder.  She tried to capture their beauty with both hands, scooping at the myriad of bubbles as the floated by her!

Author, Sherwood Wirt, once wrote, “Joy is the enjoyment of God and the good things that come from the hand of God.”

I watched as Chelsea lived out this kind of joy with her whole heart on her birthday night. I witnessed the same joy overtake the adult face of Little Billie, as we sat in her office that day in the library.      Our Heavenly Father desires a life much like this for all of His children. We are designed for experiencing all of the good things He has already planned for us concerning every day of our lives.  Perhaps it is no accident the story of the fleece-maker and his daughter mirrors the story that each of us as God’s children were intended to be living out in this world before others.

The Fleece-maker and his Daughter speaks loudly to me of the kind of relationship a little child is meant to have before his/her Heavenly Father.  It emulates waking each morning and saying, “yes” to Joy.  It is seeing past the obvious; I’m too tired…too busy…and the job is too much.  Seeking our Father out, without question, we are to accept our small part in His BIG world.  Grasping  our Father’s Hand in total trust, we are to go willingly, as He slips us down into the unforeseen circumstances surrounding us each day.  And yes…they swallow us up without reservation and sometimes keep us from seeing the Face of our Father at all!  Feeling alone down in this unfamiliar place; Fear fights to win !

But, we cry, “Father?”

“I AM here,” He answers.

And Fear is done!

Quickly, we learn in this place, that just because our Father is invisible to us, doesn’t mean He isn’t standing right there next to us.  And when the circumstances that fall from our Father’s Hands come crashing down upon our heads; our Father’s Love has taught us we don’t wince and cry out, “Why?”

We remember instead, to ponder our little-ness in light of His  Near-ness and joyfully dance to the sounds of  our Father’s Voice…

“Just keep stomping, Little Child,

Keep dancing for Me;

Let Joy teach your heart

To really see!”

 

 

“..in Your Presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm16:11b NKJV)

Below you will find some of my most treasured Portraits of “Joy”.  These are some of the faces I gaze upon while strolling down the Halls of my Memory:

 

Granddaughter, Makayla, climbing a tree for the very first time!

Granddaughter, Makayla, climbing a tree for the very first time!

Chelsea,  a glimpse of life...riding on Daddy's shoulders!

Chelsea, a glimpse of life…riding on Daddy’s shoulders!

Grandpa Jim...just a big kid, swinging with his Granddaughter!

Grandpa Jim…just a big kid, swinging with his Granddaughter!

Grammie Debbie & Grandpa Jim...sharing a  mountain top experience; learning the art of taking 'selfies'!

Grammie Debbie & Grandpa Jim…sharing a mountain top experience; learning the art of taking ‘selfies’!

Rusty & Blue...the joy of finding you have a new and furry, Kissing Cousin!

Rusty & Blue…the joy of finding you have a new and furry, Kissing Cousin!

Grandson, Ryan...Tossing a little frisbee around at Glennwood Springs!

Grandson, Ryan…Tossing a little frisbee around at Glennwood Springs!

Grammie & Ryan, Chelsea, Makayla... Celebrating the joy of 'silly-ness!'

Grammie & Ryan, Chelsea, Makayla…
Celebrating the joy of ‘silly-ness!’

 

The “Cycle” of Life

June 11, 2015 at 1:46 pm

Blue Schwinn

“My first bicycle, Big Blue, is to me still, the beautiful piece of machinery

from whose framework I gleaned the secrets of living a successful life.”


 

written by Debbie Allen

History offers no man a more unique gift than that of the bicycle.  This priceless set of wheels began as a simple walking machine known as  the Hobby Horse, back in the early 1800’s.  Today’s bicycle has gradually evolved into a modern day, two-wheeled structure whose framework flaunts the very secrets to living a successful life!  No one will ever find a visible set of these instructions inside any box containing a brand new bike.  Such secrets are well disguised but, worth the effort it takes to discover them.  You see, most anyone can learn to ride a bicycle but, to grasp the ‘magic’ involved in learning to pedal with purpose across the paths of time…THAT is where the true secrets lie.

Everything I ever wanted to know about a bicycle I learned from my Dad.  One hot, summer afternoon, I watched him dump hundreds of loose pieces of metal into a pile on our front porch.  Those pieces, large and small, all fell  from an over sized cardboard box containing my first bike.  My eight-year-old brain swam aimlessly around in that metallic sea of confusion.  Dad seemed to understand it all, though.  He skillfully assembled each piece,  occasionally glancing over at a paper scrawled with thousands of tiny, meaningless words and confusing diagrams.  My  Dad proved himself a real miracle-worker  to me that day!  From my perspective, he took metal from cardboard and, using  nothing more than the little piece of  paper in front of him, he created my first bike!

“There you go, Sweetie.  It’s all your’s!” He said, standing it up in front of me.

I paid him in hundreds that day.  Hundreds of times of squealing, “Thank you…Thank you…Thank you!” while jumping up and down at least a hundred times more!

Oh, how I marveled at her beauty as I stood there beside her with my Dad.  Though my Dad called her, Schwinn, I was so awe-struck by the richness of her color, I nick named her, Big Blue.  From that moment on Big Blue became for me an adventure waiting to happen.

Oddly enough, the very first adventure Big Blue and I shared was just trying to keep her upright.  My Dad positioned me on the seat, put the pedals into an up-down position and then held me steady.

“Let me go, Daddy!  Just let me go!”  I cried out with confidence.

As the front wheels rolled forward, I could hear my Dad trying to warn me.

“Are you sure you don’t need these training wheels?” He hollered.

By the time he spit out his last word, I already wibbled and wobbled my way into a three-foot deep ditch.  Though I landed in soft green grass, my pride was brutally shattered.  Big Blue went down and she took me with her…or had it been the other way around?

In the days to come, my Dad spent countless hours coaxing, coaching, and chasing me up and down the driveway.  His hand never failed to steady me when I leaned a little too much one way or another.  And I always did.  For every time I managed to keep Big Blue upright, I fell down five more times.  I became well acquainted with what my Dad called the “ground rules!”

“It’s OK.”  He often said.  “Falling is just part of the learning process.  One of these days you’ll catch the magic!”  He assured me with a brimming smile.

Hills of discouragement heaped themselves all around me.  I spent many hours in these hills at the beginning stages of befriending Big Blue.  In these moments of doubt, I sought refuge in the sound of my Dad’s voice echoing throughout these hills.

“One of these days, you and Big Blue will become the best of friends!” He promised me.

About two weeks later, Big Blue and I did share our first moment of true friendship as I sailed, upright, down the full length of our driveway!  Excited, I skidded to a halt and turned to find my Dad jumping up and down at the other end of the driveway.  He paid ME in hundreds that day!  Hundreds of times of yelling, “Good job, Sweetie…Good job!”  “You just needed to keep pedaling!”

Finally, I grasped the principles he’d been trying to instill in me all along.  My Dad believed in me from the beginning…even when I didn’t.  The sound of his voice, not too far behind me, helped to keep me in proper balance between Big Blue’s wheels.  My Dad never did let me buckle under the idea that the task seemed too daunting for me to master.  After all, he knew what I could accomplish under the loving guidance of his hand.

Big Blue and I began a ride that day which has carried me from childhood into my adult years.  For me, my bi-cycle proved itself to be among the most significant of all of the Cycles of Life.  Its framework provided me the support system I needed for learning balance in life, and the unwritten instructions for living it successfully.

You see, I still wibble and wobble my way across Life’s pathways.  I am forever running ahead of my Heavenly Father crying out, “Let me go!  Just let me go!” (“Pride ends in a fall… ” Proverbs 29:23 LAB).  I fall!

From the midst of the ditch I hear His Voice asking me, “Are you sure you don’t need the training wheels?” (“There is a way which seems right to man, but its end is the way of death.”  Proverbs 14:12 NAS).

My Heavenly Father spends countless hours rescuing, wooing, and instructing me along bumpy roads,, blind curves, and dead ends.  Frequently, in my own discouragement, I have heard His Voice whispering softly in my ear,  “Its OK… falling is just part of the learning process.  Keep on pedaling and one of these days you’ll catch the magic!”

Do you  know what I have discovered that magic to be? It is the unfailing promise of His Hand, always there to steady me.  My Father’s Hand…nothing short of an invisible wall holding me upright throughout Life’s journey.

Everything I learned in Life about riding my bicycle, I learned from my Dad.  Everything I learned on my bicycle about living my life, I learned from my Heavenly Father.  My bicycle is the beautiful piece of machinery from whose framework I gleaned the secrets of living a successful life.  From childhood to becoming a Child of God, the message remains the same.  “Trust your Father’s Hand…hear your Father’s Voice.”  Discover the magic and experience the freedom that comes when you find yourself balancing upright between the Wheels of Life.  Hear Him calling out to you…

“Just keep pedaling…but,  pedal now with greater purpose across the Pathways of Time!”

Blue Schwinn

“She who succeeds in gaining the mastery of the bicycle will gain the mastery of Life.”

—Francis E Willard

 

 

Life…’Tis the Cat’s Meow?

June 9, 2015 at 5:14 pm

Cat wearing glasses

 “Open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things in Thy Word.”  (Psalm 119:18)


 

written by Debbie Allen

 

“Dost Thou love life?  Then

Do not squander time.  For that

Is the stuff life is made of.”

As I poured over these few words of wit and wisdom, written by the quill of great Statesman/Publisher/Musician and Inventor, Benjamin Franklin; I couldn’t help but wonder if his own cat may have played a tiny, inspirational role in the penning of this lofty thought.   But, that is something each of you must decide for yourself. To fully engage in the story I am about to share; requires tapping into an unknown portion of the human brain.  I like to call it the phinnickus-imaginus. It is the  unseen spark that ignites when an unexpected emotional response occurs; forever bonding a cat to its human. More simply put, it is that fur-lined spot inside of human nature where all Cat Tales are stored.

Purr-haps I should elaborate.   One night back in June of 1752, Benjamin Franklin paced back and forth inside his Philadelphia home.  Sleeplessness often plagued him, but this night a raging thunderstorm kept him from slumber.  Deep in thought, he paused to fill his favorite pipe somewhere in-between the stages of inventing the bifocal lens, and securing a skeleton key onto a kite string.  Thinking was his favorite pastime…pacing, his way of doing it.    His own ambitions forever driving him, and his waste-not-want-not nature gnawing at his patience only added to the impossibility of his being able to think clearly.  Franklin struggled to hear his own thoughts over the obnoxious sounds of incessant purring in his background and the rolling thunder rumbling in the heavens above.  Hands clasped, retracing his steps in front of the crackling fireplace; his eyes came to rest on part of the reason. Shaking his head, he did his best to conceal the smile that overtook his countenance at the sight of his own lazy cat, Benjamina, stretched out across the warm stone hearth before him, purring like a freight train.

“Ah-hh…thou dost love life.”  Benjamin uttered, stopping in mid-stride to reprimand his furry name-sake.  “Truly, life is the cat’s meow for thee!” Franklin added.

Pulling his pipe from his mouth, he swung his arm out to one side and with great exaggeration, bowed low, in jest, before the hearth Benjamina claimed now as her throne.

“But I feel it my duty to inform your Royal Highness…that a cat in white gloves catches no mice, for the mice run free while you squander time given you to chaseth them in!” he added, backing away from her before standing up again.

His electrical experiments still weighing heavy on his mind, Franklin reached for his raincoat, stopping for a moment to study the home-made kite he’d constructed earlier. A glance back at the hearth told him his words to Benjamina went unheeded. Her concern carried her only as far as another lingering stretch and a new forced yawn could take her. So Franklin scooped up this furry queen in one hand and grabbed his kite with the other. With his house key now dangling from the kite’s string, he pushed the front door open with his foot and both of them emerged into this soggy night.

Benjamina’s four feet met the ground with protest from the very beginning. Out of the one hundred sounds that a cat can make, only a few were left unexpressed within a minute’s time.

“ME-EE-E-OW!!!”  Benjamina screeched as a last ditch effort to raise her master’s attention to the cruelty of such a hideous act.  If this is what master Franklin meant when he said “Life is the cat’s meow,” then she wanted no part of it! For her this entire incident boiled down to a simple matter of royalty vs. loyalty. Royalty, by the way, wins every time in Benjamina’s fur-lined mind.

Benjamina recoiled  as the cold raindrops continued pelting her; flattening the hair she wanted so very much to be standing straight up on her angry, arched back when her master turned to look at her.  By the time Franklin did turn his head, all he could raise was an eyebrow in her direction.  Even in all of her arched glory, her present de-pouffed condition made her look more like an oversized lucky-horseshoe leaning at a slant against his door.

Repulsed by her master’s unsympathetic gesture, Benjamina raised her chin into the air; higher than it had ever been raised before. Standing at attention on all-fours now, she did what all cats must do whenever their honor is at stake.  She piously flashed the Royal Rump in the direction of her master.  With poised and painful effort, she raised her water-logged tail straight up into the air and sashayed away from the one who just reduced her to the pitiful level of a mere mouse-catcher.

“Mouse-catcher indeed!” she thought once more in sassy silence. Slowly, she ambled away seeking shelter in the tangled root system of a Mulberry tree nearby.  She simply would not….no, could not lower her queenish standards and become the maligned beast her human made her out to be. Besides, why should she hunt for food when she could count on Mrs. Franklin to place a saucer full of milk near the hearth every night before she retired for bed?

“This dear lady…” Benjamina thought, “… appears to be the ONLY one in the entire household who even has a clue when it comes to understanding proper cat-servanthood!

On the other hand, Benjamina also knew Franklin to be a man who stood by his principles. His principles applied both to man and beast.  Anyone living under his roof.   More than once, she’d heard him confronting his teenage son, William; notorious for side-stepping his own household duties time and time again.

“Pulleth only thy weight, not thy punches!” Franklin would bellow at him, squinting over the tops of his glasses.

By the time this favorite dictum passed through all of the 64 twitching muscles in both her ears required for translating English into Cat, Benjamina perceived it more like this.

“Put your paws into it, or your royal rump is out the door!”

This thought in mind, failure to produce the mice she’d been summoned to catch tonight by the master somewhat worried her.  She concealed it well but, rarely did anyone in the Franklin household ever escape punishment concerning idle paws. She had no desire to sleep in the Mulberry tree in the front yard for the night.  She could not fathom what it might be like to have to claw her way up into a tree transporting 60,000 hairs per square inch topside, 120,000 hairs per square inch on her belly; and every single hair saturated to maximum capacity with rain!

“EEEE-EEE-EE-OOOWWW!”  Benjamina shrieked at the unthinkable possibility of experiencing life as a two-ton tabby before morning.

“Perhaps, though…” her devious mind continued to reason, “…should it come to that…I shall think of it only as the opportunity that forced me to become twice the Queen I was before!  Pull my weight, indeed!” she retorted, flashing two angry, luminescent eyes in Franklin’s direction.

It only took seconds for her to spot his silhouette running out in the field about a hundred yards away. He looked somewhat,let’s say…ridiculous to her at this moment.

What manner of human being…” she wondered, “…chases lightning in a field after midnight; with the six inches of mud accumulated on his soles pulling him downward, and more than two hundred feet of kite string pulling him upward?”

This tug-o-war with the heavens that Franklin seemed to have gotten himself into, confirmed more than ever what Benjamina always suspected.   Her master truly was a mad scientist!

On the heels of this thought, the heavens exploded with a flood of both sound and light! A deafening clap of thunder ushered in one of the biggest bolts of lightning Benjamina ever witnessed and it landed right on top of the master’s toy kite!  The ground beneath her still rumbling; her own sudden mixture of royal fear and adrenaline united to drive this trembling two-ton tabby straight up into the Mulberry tree. Before she could even get her eyes open again, Benjamina could hear Mrs. Franklin’s concerned voice calling out from below.

“B-e-n-j-a-m-i-n Franklin! Ben, dear…are you alright?” she hollered out into the darkness from the doorway.  No answer.  Just the sound of raindrops splatting on the ground.

Benjamina listened intently too, straining to hear above the noise level of her own heart pounding. In the silence that followed, she deduced right away who must have lost this game of heavenly tug-o-war.  No doubt, her master by now lay as a pile of dust and  ashes; garnished with only a house key and a smoldering kite frame left as the tell-tale signs that he indeed had been there.

After displaying a split-second of cat-sorrow, her royal instincts drove her back down the tree and across the yard; bolting toward Mrs. Franklin and the door she’d been waiting to open up for her all…night…long.

“Benjamina?  What on earth are you doing out in this storm?”Mrs. Franklin asked.   “Oh-h-h…you poor, poor dear!” she added, her voice now dripping with sympathy.

“Meow…” Benjamina responded in a very untypical, timid fashion. Wrapping her drenched skeletal body around her most loyal servant’s ankles, she allowed Mrs. Franklin the grand privilege of doting on her for a time. But about the time Benjamina decided to melt into this little heavenly moment of her own; she heard the master’s voice ringing again in her ears.

“The mad scientist lives?”  she puzzled in silence, stopping dead in her tracks.

Though she would never admit to fearing him or having done anything wrong; something… maybe the nearest thing to respect a cat can have, drove her back to the safety of her warm hearth.

“Deborah…Deborah …Tis true!” Franklin managed to spill out to his wife before collapsing on the front step to catch his breath.

“I can’t tell thee how excited I am.” He said, his chest still heaving and his right hand tingling and swollen. “Twas the most electrifying experience one could ever encounter in a night’s time! Most incredible!” 

               “Franklin…slow thee down dear. Why on earth did thee choose a night like this to run beneath the stars?”  she asked frowning.

Taking his muddy shoes and stockings from him, she reached for a small quilt just inside the door and wrapped it about his dripping wet torso.

“Come into thy house now.” she urged, nearly pushing him into his rocking chair to doctor his hand.

“Deborah, this discovery shall change the course of all mankind!”  Franklin continued through chattering teeth.

“I’m sure it will, dear, but all mankind needeth its sleep too. I shall be surprised if thou doest not catch thy death of cold this night!  Thou knowest thee takes thine experiments far too serious sometimes.” she carried on without taking a breath in between words.

Seeing her scolding only as her frantic attempts to make him comfortable and warm again, Franklin knew it would do no good to try and share the monumental details of his kite-flying scheme with her tonight.

“I supposeth mankind shall wait til morn, my dear.”  He offered her, smiling and patting her hand as she handed him a glass of warm milk.

“Good night, dearest Benjamin,” Deborah whispered, kissing the balding spot on top of his head.

“The Tabby and I shall be drying out a bit here by the fire.” Franklin answered, raising his eyebrow at Benjamina for the second time tonight.

Though Benjamina remained fully aware of her master’s presence in the room; she chose to remain in her preferred state of royal-anonymousness.  This is the condition whereby a cat’s involvement in their world is kept at the barest minimum. Hearing is optional too. Such a state only allows for the opening of one tiny slit in one eye.  And it is through this slit, Benjamina now observed Franklin’s every move.

His eyes were squarely on her, too.  She could feel the intensity of them scorching her eye-lids; just like earlier, before he dethroned her as queen and deemed her his lowly mouse-catcher. Though she moved not a muscle, mentally she raised her chin high, turned, and flashed him the Royal Rump again.

Hearing the shuffling of feet under Franklin’s chair, Benjamina half-way expected a deserved royal-boot coming her way.  But instead, he leaned forward and spoke softly while stroking her water logged paws.

“My little tiger-on-the-hearth…” Franklin began softly. “The master is not the ogre thou makest him out to be. Sometimes thou needeth only to engage in the work that is his purpose for thee; before soon realizing how even one simple tug-o-war in time, may indeed changeth the world forever.  For me tonight, ’twas tussling with a kite string in the heavens. For thee, Benjamina…perhaps tugging on a mouse’s tail in the night.  But if thou doest love life then do not squander time. For that is the stuff life is made of. One findeth his purpose in that “stuff.”  Idle paws only preventeth such a thing.” He finished.

“How dare he address her in such a manner.  Such big words…such high thoughts! What did this mad-scientist know about an angry-cat anyway?” she rationalized in silence.

Benjamina tried revving her engines another notch to purr-tect herself from the unwanted sounds of his voice drifting her way. She knew full well what might happen if his sounds reached the translation zone!  Should the master’s words start making sense to her…what then?  Acknowledging those sounds might mean trading away the safety of all the things she understood best.  Namely…the purr-tecting of her own throne.  She could not fathom trading her warm hearth away for the purr-fecting of this task the master seemed to have planned for her to do from the very beginning!

Oh, how she longed for the master to leave her be. She had only one desire tonight.  To remain tucked away inside this self-induced, catatonic state. Her royal comfort zone.  The place she retreated when life stepped all over her paws instead of serving them. A grudge-holder at heart, and her royal-fluff now ruffled; she had no intention of making amends with this storm-tosser of a master of hers.

“Not tonight…purr-haps not ever!” she mulled over in silence; still viewing Franklin through her slit.

In the midst of preparing to mentally flash him a third Royal-Rump for this evening; Benjamina watched Franklin backing away from her with an almost respectful nod.  Then he turned and walked straight for her empty dish by the hearth. Following his every move, she saw him do the unexpected. He poured his own warm milk into her empty saucer.

“Sh-h-h-h…tis our own little secret, Benjamina.” Franklin whispered in her direction.

“Did the master find this a-mew-sing?”  she wondered.  Had he known of her great weakness for milk? Especially milk blended with just a touch of honey; like the master always drank it. How could he!” she grimaced.  (If cats could grimace.)

Curiosity, now painfully tugging against her eye lids, and the muscles in her brow beginning to twitch; both eyes flew open like sprung shades loosed on a window. The milk looked even more enticing with both eyes wide open. Though her legs rose ever-so-slowly; her heart raced at the very sight of it.

Yawning once more to give an appearance of disinterest, Benjamina pried herself up from the hearth and stretched-a-mile in the direction of her saucer.

Franklin tried squelching his grin at the sight of Benjamina approaching him in such a nonchalant manner. Looking at her from the front, exactly half of her fur remained matted and flat from lying against the warm hearth; while the other side appeared electrified, pouffed, and frizzy from the rain.

“Benjamina…Thou art truly a perfect picture of the struggle going on inside of thee. An untainted version of a  tabby in turmoil!” Franklin added.

In the next few seconds, Benjamina’s paws came to a grinding halt at the saucer’s edge.  Here she entered her greatest struggle yet. Curiosity’s hand still shoving her royal rump from behind, and Stubbornness trying desperately to hold her back, she stood there quivering from head to tail at the master’s feet.

“Come…taste…see for thyself.” Franklin whispered, reaching a gentle hand down to stroke her back.

Though it went against every grain of reason in her royal thought process; she found herself dipping her rough pink tongue down into the luscious white, frothy liquid.

Never before had she tasted anything so wonderfully sweet before…ever!

“This is more like it…” she thought, purring louder with each swallow.  “This milk is truly a mixture fit for a queen.” she noted, lapping up the very last drop of milk from the bottom of the saucer.

But as soon as this thought entered her mind, she found herself gravely aware of her wrong perception.

“What think ye now of the master’s milk and honey.” She heard Franklin ask her.  Feeling his hand again on her back, she realized for the first time ever, the incredible warmth emanating from both his hands and the tone of his voice.

“Had it been there all along?” she wondered, glancing back towards her own throne for a moment.

“Pur-r-r-r-r-r-r-rrrrrrrrrrrrrrr” roared her engines, warming up to the master’s touch.

It is at this precise moment that a second lightning strike occurred on the Franklin property on that summer’s eve in 1752.  Though unrecorded by history, a giant unseen spark ignited the invisible line of communication that is strung between a cat and its master.

Phinnickus-imaginus! In the glimmering light of this exact electrifying moment, Benjamina acknowledged her task of becoming a lowly mouse-catcher. But not just any mouse-catcher, mind you.  She was now the Master’s mouse-catcher. His crumbs were her concern now. His mice were now her tails to tug-on in the night!

Though Benjamin Franklin took this cat tale with him to the grave many years later; his discovery of electricity that night continues to light our world even today. The tale of Benjamina’s own sweet discovery lives on too, illuminating the minds of her readers; inspiring them to seek greater purpose and softening even the hardest of hearts in this day and age.  For from these two great discoveries from years gone by; springs not only Benjamin Franklin’s proverb, but one more sweet and undeniable Truth for each of us to live by.   In Benjamina’s own words…

Purr-haps being filled and warmed from the inside out by a taste of the Master’s Milk and Honey; makes the thought of our own royal purr-tection, grow strangely dim in Light of the Master’s Loyal-Purr-fection.

 

“O taste and see that the Lord is good…”

   (Psalm 34:8 NAS)

“Fighting Fire with Fire!”

May 18, 2015 at 8:10 pm

fmn_kid2

We do it because we Care more than others think is wise,Risk more than others think is practical, and Expect more than others think is possible!”


 

written by Debbie Allen

 What is it in a human heart, powerful enough to kindle the flickering flame inside a little boy’s day dreams, into the roaring blaze that now daily consumes the grown-up heart of fireman, Derrick Kemp? Captain Derrick Kemp…loving husband to his wife, Clarice. Devoted father to two girls, Amy and Kristine. Loyal friend, firefighter, and mentor to those brothers and sisters fortunate enough to serve with him down at the Fire Station.

Derrick never really questioned why he’d chosen to become a firefighter. From the first moment he laid eyes on the little red fire engine that his father gave him on his third birthday, the matter pretty much settled itself in his own mind.

In morning’s early shadows almost thirty years later now, Derrick caught a glimpse of that same little red fire engine sitting on a bookshelf in his bedroom.  Studying it for a moment, he shook his head and smiled.

“Honestly…I don’t remember ever ‘not’ wanting to be a fireman.” he thought to himself, bending down to kiss Clarice good-bye.

“Oh…honey, do you have to go?” she asked him with only one eye open.

“You know I do.” he said with a smile and a gentle tug on her hand.

Taking his Bible from the night stand, Derrick tip-toed down the hallway to kiss the girls as he always did before he went on duty at the fire station.   They had long given up trying to understand Daddy’s crazy “fire time hours”, as they often referred to his schedule. Usually both of them slept right through his before-the-sun-comes-up kisses, but this morning a raspy little voice emerged from a pile of tousled blonde hair on Amy’s pillow.

“Daddy…is that you?” she said yawning.

“It’s me, squirt…go back to sleep now.” he answered, stroking her hair.

“Don’t go, Daddy, just… don’t go.” she cried softly watching him walk out the door.

“Its ok, Amy…” Derrick answered, turning to blow a kiss in her direction.  By the time his kiss reached her little cheek Amy had already fallen back to sleep.

“Lord, thank you for my family…” Derrick uttered aloud on his drive to the station.

“You know, Lord…those three beautiful women in my life that make it so-o-o-o hard for me to want to leave in the mornings?” he continued, breaking out in a big grin.

“Watch over them while I’m away…please just keep them safe for me. Amen.” He finished praying as he pulled up in front of the Fire Station.

Derrick started all of his shifts this way.  Good-bye kisses to the family he dearly loved. Challenging man-to-God talks on the drive to work.  Then quality time spent with his crew at the station’s kitchen table.  “The Captain’s Table” as the men often called it.

Every day brought something different to this table.  Sometimes tears. Sometimes laughter. Sometimes even the lingering grief from yesterday’s difficult call. But always, the best conversations ever shared took place over some of the worst cups of coffee ever drank, right here.  Derrick’s crew…his God…and his own thoughts converged often in this special place.    Derrick trained most of the men on his crew himself.  He stepped into their lives many times as the big brother they never had.  Over the years they grew to love and appreciate each other as sort of a second family in a home-away-from-home.

Today showed no signs of being busy to start. For men so eager to share themselves with the world, waiting for a call sometimes proved tedious.  Like many other things in his life, Derrick also had a unique way of fostering patience in his men. Humor.

 “Just pour yourselves another cup of bad coffee, guys…” he would say, …waiting here at the Capt.’s table is a lot like being parked in a car on a blind curve.  There’s just no way to know what might be heading straight for you!” 

His easy going ways never failed to spark both laughter and new conversation. As the clock tolled twelve, Derrick and his crew raised their coffee cups high.

“I propose a toast!”  Derrick cried.  “To… the rescuing-cats-out-of-trees sort of morning that it’s been!” he continued, cheering.

Almost simultaneously, the station’s fire bell sounded.  A caffeine drowned and adrenaline pumped crew jumped instinctively to their feet.

“Captain Kemp…this one’s for you!”  Chief Hogan hollered in through the door.  “The old Wadsworth Theatre in Lakewood!  Sprinklers failed…it’s a hot one!”

 “We’re on it Chief!” Derrick hollered, already running for his equipment.

In a matter of minutes, Derrick and his engine company, Engine 2, were pulling up in front of the theatre on 20th Street

“Doesn’t look good, Ace.”  Derrick commented to the Rookie seated next to him, eyeing the billows of black smoke already rolling out of windows on the front side.

“What now, Captain?” the Rookie responded.

“Now?  …I’m going to show you what it means to ‘fight fire with Fire!’” a serious Captain Kemp answered him back.

Before Derrick could explain what he meant, the frantic cries of a lady in the crowd nearby captured his attention.

“Mi pequeno muchacho! she sobbed, pointing toward the theatre.

“My brother is still in there!” yelled the little girl standing next to her.

Derrick’s heart sank.    The fire had started in the offices on the second level of the theatre and spread so quickly to the lower level, he had a hard time believing that anyone left in the building could still be alive.  Even so, he made his way over to the panicked woman in the crowd.

“Where is your son, m’am?” Derrick shouted, trying to focus the woman’s attention on his words.

“Mi pequeno mucha…en el fuego…” her voice trailed off as she fainted to the ground.

Derrick reached forward to catch her slumping body.  Within seconds, the young girl standing next to her jumped in to help.

          “He went to the bathroom a few minutes before the usher yelled “fire!”  I should’ve gone with him…but, they hurried us out so quickly… and in the confusion he was left behind!” she struggled to get out, her voice still quivering.

“What’s the boy’s name?”  Derrick asked, already moving towards the theatre.

“Carlos…my brother, Carlos! She cried out, tending to her mother.

“Start pumping!” Derrick yelled back to his men.  “I’m going in!” he added, masking up again.

Pete and Troy headed for the deck gun.

“Don’t do it, Capt.n!  It’s gonna blow any minute!”  Pete yelled out, choking on the black smoke collecting in the air above their heads.

Within a minute’s time, they sprayed more than five hundred gallons of water into this raging inferno, with little effect.  Policemen continued forcing the crowds back further to safety.

Pete cringed as he watched his Captain step through what once had been the twenty foot glass panels forming the front of the movie theatre.

“God help him…” Pete uttered, knowing that nothing he could have said would have kept his Captain from trying to save the life of this little child.

Feeling sick inside, Troy caught sight of Lieutenant Grady, from Rescue 1, trying to resuscitate the usher boy who felt responsible for leaving the little boy behind in the theatre. Half-crazed and yelling “I’ll lose my job!” he frantically re-entered the burning building to try and find the boy. He made it only a few feet in before he collapsed from smoke inhalation.

“That boy may lose more than just his job today.” Troy thought sadly.

The smoke was so dense inside the theatre; Derrick couldn’t see more than a few inches in front of him.   Just a few steps into the building the heat became so intense it knocked him down to his knees.  He crawled the next thirty feet along a wall, feeling all the way for an opening with his gloved right hand.  He came to what he perceived to be the corridor running parallel to the back wall of the main theatre.

“Oh, God…please keep him alive…just a little longer…” Derrick thought; his right hand still searching for an opening along the wall.  Finally…an opening!  Derrick fell forward into an opening slowly filling with a puddle of steaming water; spewing from what used to be a drinking fountain hanging between two bathroom doors. Derrick shoved the debris blocking the entrance to one side and pushed the door open.

Carlos!  Carlos…are you in here?” he hollered, his voice muffled by his face mask.  No answer. He continued running a desperate hand along the tile floor until his fingers came to rest on a little leg. Still blinded, and his lungs now burning with a mixture of both fear and adrenaline; Derrick held back his tears. It was a small boy, slumped over in a corner next to a urinal. He scooped the motionless torso up into his arms and pulled him close, knowing he didn’t have much time…if any at all.

“Hold on, little buddy…” Derrick whispered, pushing his way out into the corridor.  He stood for a second, trying to get his bearings again in the thick smoke.  For a moment he felt like a pilot flying blind in cloud cover.  Even over the noise level of this raging inferno he managed to hear popcorn going off like little firecrackers behind him. Enough of a reminder to him that the concession stand, where he first entered the building, was now engulfed in flames. This eliminated any possibility of retracing any earlier steps. Embracing the boy in one arm, Derrick had no choice but to try and make his way down the fire riddled, smoke filled corridor toward a side-exit he wasn’t even sure existed.  Running out of both options and air, Derrick dropped to the ground with Carlos and resumed crawling.

“Oh God…please…you are a God who is known for making a way where it looks like there is no way!” Derrick prayed aloud.

This wasn’t the first time, nor would it be the last time that Derrick feared for both the life he was trying to save as well as his own. Pushing his own fears aside, he strained to see through his smoke tainted visor.  Nothing but black…in every direction.   Pulling himself a little further, he thought he heard a voice up ahead of him.  There it was again!  The sounds of hope calling to him from the midst of this black inferno!

“This way, Captain… this way!” a voice beckoned, followed by the sounds of breaking glass.

Dragging himself and Carlos just a little further, Derrick soon found his fingers wrapped around the ankles of the Rookie firefighter.

“This way, Capt’n!  Hurry…she’s about to blow!” he yelled, helping Derrick to his feet.

Relying on the last drop of adrenaline left in his body, Derrick wrapped both arms around Carlos and ran for all he was worth!  Half-way across the parking lot, a tremendous explosion shook the ground beneath them.  An explosion that should have happened five minutes earlier…but didn’t.  Before the debris could even hit the ground, rescue crews were already performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and CPR on Carlos until he could be airlifted to a city hospital. Against all odds, with more medical treatment, the boy would make it!

Carlos’s mother ran toward Derrick; sitting now on the back bumper of an ambulance, holding an oxygen mask against his nose.  As he stood up, she flung her arms around him and spoke.

“Con tudo mi cora´zon, bombero!  Usted sera´ siempre mi he´roe!” she said.  (“You are forever in my heart, fireman.  You will always be my hero!”)

Though he could not comprehend her words, Derrick understood perfectly the tears flowing from this mother’s grateful heart.

“Mi He´roe!” she called out to him once more from her car, as she drove away towards the hospital.

Derrick smiled and waved back; more than grateful that the afternoon had ended on this note.

“Mi He´roe.  It means, ‘my hero.’  You’re that lady’s hero, Captain Kemp.  How does that make you feel?”  the Rookie asked.

Derrick thought for a moment.

“I suppose it’s ok to be looked upon as a hero for a short time but…being a hero is all about glory.  I’m a Fireman…I’m more concerned with saving lives.  It’s not just about what I do… it’s who I am.” he answered back.

The Rookie nodded his head in agreement, always surprised by Captain Kemp’s answers.

“When I step on this side of my badge,” Derrick continued,

I am faceless and nameless to most of the world… most of the time. No one cares who I am…just that I’ll be there when I am called. I constantly walk on a tight rope stretched between life and death.  I do it because I choose to. Finding balance… teetering there between promise and sacrifice is the most difficult thing a fireman ever has to do. Do you know what keeps me up there, Rookie?”

“No sir, Captain… what?” the Rookie answered, still listening intently.

“It’s the Spark…the Fire burning deep inside of here!” Derrick added, tapping his index finger over his own heart.

“The kind of passion powerful enough to drive a man into the flames, willing to risk it all in order to save the life of one.  It’s a Snapshot of Heaven, and I fully believe God nails it to the walls of every Fireman’s heart.” 

“I understand, Captain.  It’s like what you’ve been trying to tell me all along…it’s all about “Fighting fire with Fire!” the Rookie offered, tapping his finger over his own heart with a smile.

 

“Lead them like a Shepherd and carry them forever in Your Arms.”

Psalm 28:9

 

 

 

 

 

Swept Away

March 26, 2015 at 7:28 pm

Swept Away

” When your words reach as far as another’s heart, you open up a portal 

for God’s Love to flow into this world…”

 

written by Debbie Allen

Late Spring showers pelted the grounds outside of the wedding hall where my husband and I sat with our eyes fixed on a set of double doors, anticipating the any-minute-now, grand entrance of the Bride and Groom.  Soon, the doors flung wide open!  Even the heavenly thunder-boomers clashing in the skies outside seemed to chime in at this exact moment, announcing the happy couple.  Then another thunderous jolt rumbled out it’s own unbridled, “con-grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr-atulations,” to them like a hundred bass kettle drums reverberating in a grand symphony.  Nothing quite compares to the sounds of joy flooding across a room filled with hundreds of family members, friends, and friends who have grown to call each other family over the years.  Handshakes, congrats pats, and warm embraces were exchanged.  Then, there were the sweet sounds of laughter and clinking glasses being raised high,  sharing in the toasts of friends and family who remembered the Bride and Groom as kids; and each other with more hair and fewer wrinkles.  Because we bump into so much change in the midst of these momentous occasions, it should have come as no surprise to me that the flood of joy I found myself standing knee-deep in brought with it a tidal wave of emotions.

 

In an attempt to keep my own Maybelline tributaries in check, I moved as far away from the potential bawlers in the crowd as I could, joining my husband in the clappers-and-smilers section of the crowd we were standing in.  At the sight of the new Bride and Groom, pride radiated from both our faces.  After all, we’d known the Groom and his family since childhood.  He was my son’s best friend all through school.  Over the years, his family became our’s and visa versa.  Speaking with  the Groom’s Grandmother, I felt a gentle  tug from behind.  Turning around, I found myself face to face with the handsome Groom himself.

“Debbie…Jim!  I’m so glad you guys made it!” Mick said in his own familiar, sweet, way; reaching for my husband’s outstretched hand.

Though my brain heard those words being spoken with all the same charm of the little boy I watched grow up; my eyes could hardly deny that the voice speaking them now was coming from the man-sized tuxedo standing square in front of me.

“Congratulations, Mick…I’m so proud of you.”  I offered with a heartfelt hug.

Pulling away from that embrace,, I watched a boyish smile overtake Mick’s face.  Then, he leaned over and planted an unexpected peck on my cheek and sealed it with another hug.

“Thanks for being my second mom,” he added with a shyness all his own.  “For just being there…and for  all the time I spent at your house…for everything.”  he continued , looking back down at his feet.

That second squeeze put quite a strain on those Maybelline tributaries I mentioned earlier.  Had there been any Hollywood sound effects available for this moment, the whole world would have heard the sounds of gigantuous tidal waves, wildly slapping against the backsides of my eyeballs, growing hotter by the minute in an effort to control the uncontrollable!

As I watched Mick walk away from me to retrieve his new Bride, Ellie, I felt the sting of a Second-Mom’s apron strings being cut.  An unforeseen moment filled with the bittersweet mixture of both pride and humility.  Pride for the man the little  boy had grown into; yet, humbleness for the God-given role I’d been allowed to play in his life’s story.  It was by far, one of life’s greatest rewards to ever be received  for any kind of a mom.  The fact that Mick was my son’s very best friend made that role easy.  Mick, being the special young man he was made the part an even greater pleasure.

You see, Mick was unique from the very beginning.  While most little boys his age were sticking their  fingers in their ears to try and keep from hearing what their parents and teachers had to say to them, Mick was sticking hearing aids into his ears every morning in an effort to hear them at all.  Until he started school, no one even knew of his hearing handicap.  Shortly afterwards, doctors discovered he’d been born with a type of progressive, heredity nerve damage.  Deafness was inevitable some time in his adult years. To those of us who take our gift of  hearing for granted, Mick’s deaf-sentence may have seemed more like a death-sentence.  But, even with such a bleak picture hanging over him from this time forward, I can’t think of one time when I ever heard Mick openly complain about his loss of hearing.  Even as a little boy, he appeared to accept it and somehow learned to deal with its endless inconveniences.  Believe me…there were many.

Talking with his Grandma during the reception,  she tearfully recalled her little six-year-old Mick, walking a few steps in front of her on the very first day he wore his hearing aids.

“I was so excited to see if the hearing aids worked,” she explained to me.  “So I called out his name.  Softly , at first…and then a little louder.  My heart sank at his lack of response.  But, then an airplane flew overhead.  I watched Mick whip his head upward and turn to watch the plane fly over him with a grin on his face.  I knew he’d heard it!  While still still shielding his eyes from the bright sun, Mick then turned and faced me.

“Grandma?” he asked.  “Did you say something to me awhile ago?”

“Relieved, I nodded, still a little puzzled.” she added.

“I wasn’t sure you were talking to me, Grandma.  It’s the first time I ever heard my name out loud.” he elaborated.

Tears rolled down both her cheeks and mine as we relived the joy that flooded this moment so long ago.

Though a great blessing to Mick, he also discovered his hearing aids to be a great inconvenience at times, especially being a little boy.  Little boys don’t think before they act, they just dive in, head-first.  That’s what happened one summer afternoon in our backyard wading pool.  Mick followed my son, Trevor, across the yard and jumped into the wading pool.  The next thing I remembered is looking up to see a petrified Mick standing with my son’s arm around his shoulders at my back door.  Enclosed in Mick’s dripping wet fist, were two soggy hearing aids.  Looking a bit sheepish, he plopped them into my open hand, hoping I’d know what to do with them.  Smiling like I did, I reached for a paper Dixie cup to house this little boy’s $5000 boo-boo.  Four -hours-on-my –window-sill-in-the-sunshine and thirty-minutes-of-praying-with-a- blow-dryer later, Mick’s hearing aids again proved themselves to be a miracle!  Though I knew they hadn’t been labeled water proof, they must have been boy-proof, at the very least!

Backyard camping proved to be a bit hazardous for Mick, too.  Knowing Mick took his hearing aids out every night to sleep; two of his tent buddies pretended to be asleep until Mick drifted off.  He slept so-o-o sound not being able to hear any noise going on around him that  Trevor and another friend were able to sneak into our house, grab a permanent marker, return to the tent, and make a minor adjustment to Mick’s face while he slept.  The next morning, sitting before three bowls of cheerios, these two midnight bandits could contain themselves no longer.

“Hey, Mick!” What’s up with your face, man?”  my son inquired, staring at him.

“Yeah…” the other friend chimed in. “You r-e-a-l-l-y need a shave!

Puzzled by their strange remark, Mick jumped up and ran for a mirror.

“Oh man!  You guys!”  Mick remarked while staring at the SUPER stylish, black, handle-bar mustache they’d tattooed onto his upper lip with a permanent marker.  Still shaking his head as he walked away from them, Mick did what he did what he always did in the middle of these sporting events.  He laughed right along with his buddies and then spent the better part of the next week trying to undo whatever the’d done to him!  For self-preservation reasons, Mick learned early in his life , the immeasurable value of having developed a sense of humor.

Unfortunately, life didn’t get any easier for Mick when he headed off to college.  There, he was challenged daily by an unspoken decree which tainted his college campus experience from its chalk boards to its cafeterias:

 “Life doesn’t cater to disabilities…keep up or give up!”

His peers often found themselves too busy investing in their own futures to spare even a few moments in the present to help a struggling classmate.  College professors considered it going too far and beyond the call of duty when asked to wear a small transmitting device around their neck, enabling Mick to hear more easily what was being taught.  I don’t know anyone who ever strained any harder in life just to listen.  Mental exhaustion must have set in after every class session.  Yet…somehow he made it.  Through the ceaseless  prayers of many, Mick more than muddled through, in spite of the level of difficulties he encountered every step of the way.  On Graduation Day, he stood at least a head taller than all those in the auditorium combined, when Staff handed him his hard earned diploma.

If the struggle makes the man, Mick is truly a man among men.  It humbles me still to think of how many times in life he allowed his character to be shaped and honed by the sharpness of the ways of this world…not just whittled away, but, pushed aside.  While still mulling the miracle of Mick’s fortitude over, my walk down Memory Lane ended abruptly with the clashing of another thunder boomer and the sounds of the DJ’s voice coercing the crowds to the edges of the dance floor.  There, in the thick of this mob were Mick and Ellie.  They made their way towards the dance floor, excited to share in their first dance together as man and wife.

“If ever there were such a thing as a perfect moment on earth, this would be the one,” I reflected with a sigh.

The Wedding Dance.  That rare and beautiful moment in a lifetime when two hearts truly find they are beating in perfect unison; each soul is still an unblemished reflection in the other’s eyes, and both are oblivious to the world around them.  The DJ gave his signal and the Bride and Groom’s song-of-choice began to play softly in the background.  I watched the handsome Prince reached an eager hand out to pull his Cinderella closer into his heart.  The multi-faceted disco ball, twirling above their heads, continued spilling endless tiny diamonds of light down onto the dance floor, giving them the illusion of dancing in a corner of a star-filled twilight sky.  I marveled at the fluid motion with which they both moved.  Almost as magical as the love guiding it.  Bending…swaying…every move in sync.  That alone seemed a small miracle to me, considering Mick hadn’t been able to hear the room-rumbling sounds of giant thunder a few moments earlier.  I couldn’t help but wonder, ” How does he dance when he can’t hear the music?

Pondering this question in silence, I thought back to the numerous times I’d seen Mick and Ellie mingling with friends and family throughout the afternoon.  Any time Mick wore a confused look, or doubt overtook his expression, without hesitation, there was his Ellie.  By his side…perched on tip-toes, and speaking into Mick’s ear.  She stepped in to rescue him, to translate for him.  She became his link to the outside world; helping him make sense of what often came across his ears as garbled nonsense.  Out on the dance floor, it was no different.  Again, there was his Ellie.  This time, embracing her beloved…dancing on tip-toes…and whispering into Mick’s ear.  Her lips pressed so tightly up against his ear, I’m sure the rush of her warm whispers must have stirred passions locked in the depths of his soul.  Passions that find expression in a language spoken only by the heart.  Bending, swaying, yielding to the sweet sounds of her voice in complete trust.  I believe in some strange and wonderful way, Mick heard music through his Ellie.  And so….he danced!  His ear, now a spillway for the sounds of her voice, provided a unique and precious bond between the two of them.  Her words became for him love’s own stepping-stones; laying out the perfect pathway for him to discover an ever growing faith in the beauty of who she  was, and more importantly, who he became when he held her in his arms.

Following their every graceful movement across the dance floor, I couldn’t help but notice the sweet sounds of an impromptu melody stirring inside of me.  Softly at first, but growing louder by the minute.  The  harder I tried to dismiss them, the louder they played.  Not just any song…not even an entire song, but the first six words of a favorite old hymn.

“Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sounds…Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sounds…”

“Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sounds,” echoed in the deepest chambers of my heart.  These untimely repetitions refused even to be drowned out  by another succeeding bout of room-rumbling thunder-boomers!  Puzzled at their persistence, I gave in to their sounds.  As I did so, it was almost like the Index Finger of God reached down to connect the final dots in a Heavenly Dot-to-Dot Picture I’d been a part of all along.   Each point drawn with His Passion and Purpose…each defined by the Beauty of His Person, and all of them telling the same Glorious Story of what happens when Heaven meets Earth!  You see, this fairy tale-like moment that so captured my attention on earth was no less than Heaven’s own elaborate and timely display of God’s Grace.  From this untimely song welling up inside of me, soothing the tiniest unseen wound of an apron string cut…to a new Bride’s sweet whispers, shattering the silence in her Husband’s hearing-impaired ear…to God’s Voice thundering in the heavens above, announcing spring showers graciously falling down on parched ground.

A song…a whisper…and splashing rain.  In and of themselves, all of these remain uncommonly common.  But , when God’s Finger is connecting the dots, they render an uncommonly beautiful picture of His Grace unleashed.  For these are the sounds of His Amazing Grace, spilling into the cracks of our multi-fractured world…filling up the empty places in life…pouring out His Something into our nothingness.

Overwhelmed by the  beauty of this thought  (Or should I say, Dot-to-Dot?), my eyes rested again on Mick and Ellie.  I had no desire whatsoever for this moment to ever end, but the DJ already began his process of lowering the volume on the Bride and Groom’s song.  Lower and lower it went until it faded completely away.  The music quit, but Mick and Ellie didn’t.  They continued to dance, never missing a beat.  A puzzled DJ stood there in awkward silence.  The watching crowds around them pointed, shrugged, and came to their own conclusions.

“Mick just can’t hear that there isn’t any music.”

The world has a funny way of placing its own limitations on us just because they fail to see beyond the obvious.  However, I knew differently.  I believed Mick was still hearing music.  Music that the rest of the world couldn’t hear.  Music inspired by the same Voice that resides in the thunder, and now inhabits the whispers  of his Ellie.  Whispers of His Amazing Grace…and Oh, How Sweet the Sounds!  And so, in response, completely swept away, Mick continued to dance.

 

“My words shall fall upon you like gentle rain and dew, like rain upon the tender grass, like showers on the hillside.”

(Deuteronomy 32:2  LAB) 

 

 

 

Shifting Gears

February 26, 2015 at 9:19 pm

Capture

“Treat her like the love of your life and she’ll never let you down.”

 

written by Debbie Allen

His fingers laced tightly behind his head, Randy Crandall shifted uncomfortably, laying on the backseat of his candy-apple red , 1967  classic, Chevelle.  Running his hand along the frayed seams of its once, immaculate black, leather seats, a myriad of thoughts clouded his thinking.  In earlier years, he remembered helping his Grandfather customize this car from the ground up.  Every inch of it.  As a teenager, they had both worked side by side in his Grandpa’s barn to restore it.  The barn doubled on the weekends as a machine shop for rebuilding classics like the one Randy now laid in. “But, that was so very…long…ago.”  Randy whispered, finding himself now a prisoner of both exhaustion and disgust.

Not too much made him smile these days, but, the corners of his lips still managed to curl whenever he thought of his Grandfather’s words to him on his sixteenth birthday; now almost a half a lifetime ago .

“Randy, my boy…one day, this car will take you for a ride in life;  one I promise you’ll never forget!” Grandpa said, the day he handed the keys over to him.

“Treat her like the love of your  life and she’ll never let you down,” he’d added, wrapping his sausage-like mechanic’s fingers around Grandma Smith’s ivory hands.

Randy could still remember the pride radiating from both of their faces that day as they watched him climb into the Chevelle.  Yes, his sixteenth birthday  served as a mile-marker in their own lives, too.  After all, Grandma and Grandpa Smith raised him like their only son after his parents died in a car accident before Randy even took his first step.  Though he remembered little about his parents, Grandpa Smith’s words still spilled daily into every crevice of his mind.  Tonight , as he stared at the blackness of night descending on him through the rear view window of the Chevelle, his Grandpa’s words remained the only glue still holding his fractured thoughts together.  Even so,  he felt strangely relieved that his Grandpa had not lived to see the mess he’s made of his life.

Emptiness now plagued his heart.  Every day spoke of uncertainty and apprehension.  As the moral fabric of his life continued unraveling, a sort of self-inflicted hollowness of soul continually drove him away from any thread of common sense left running through him.  He’d settled time after time in his life for what Grandpa Smith, the son of a fiery Baptist preacher, deemed, “…the devil’s playground;  wine, women, and song.”

Though most people these days balked at such prudish thinking, he’d seen and felt the riveting effects and painful realities of denying such a simple truth.

“Maybe, the simpler the truth…the more severe is Life’s lesson.” he concluded with a sigh.

“Swimming in a pool of boiling water woulda’ probably been easier…”  Randy mumbled, “…especially for a married man.”

After losing his entire inheritance, both his Grandpa’s farm and then the machine shop, in a fool-hearted gambling bet earlier in the year; the only roof left over his head was the Chevelle.

Staring up now through it’s rear-view window, Randy tried losing himself in the myriad of stars studding the nighttime sky, stretched over the little farming community of Newborough, Oklahoma.  His eyes froze when they came to rest on one particular constellation. Silently he traced its outline, muttering softly as he landed on each star.

“A stupid gambling bet…a wife that left me for what she called a ‘normal’ life…no way to make a living anymore…and every day I wonder if this will be the day my four-year-old daughter figures out that the hero she calls, Daddy, is just the schmuck who can’t take care of her anymore.And there you have it, Grandpa,” Randy continued, wandering down his own halls of regret.

“Your favorite constellation, the Big Dipper. Only not the one in the sky.  I mean the one laying here in the back seat of this car.  I guess your word for me now would probably be, “Just a promise gone sour!”

“That’s what you always said when the engine in one of those cars we worked on didn’t run quite the way you thought it should.  Oh man! So-o-o-o much has changed in this last year, Grandpa.  So very, very much.” Randy whispered with a deep sigh.

With the sudden movement of his chest rising, a little pile of tousled, brown hair lying next to him stirred.

“Daddy…Daddy, I’m cold,” a sleepy little voice uttered softly.

“Ok, Brandy.  Daddy’ll turn the car on for a little bit.  But, not too long.  Besides, being cold is just part of the fun of camping, Sweetie.” he tried to convince her, bending to kiss her forehead.

“Try to think of something fun…something you really  love to do.  That’ll help take your mind off of your goose bumps,” he suggested, reaching over the front seat to turn the key in the ignition.

“I’m too tired, Daddy,” she whined through chattering teeth.

“Ok.  Well, let me help you out.  How about…the mud cookies we made today down by the stream; didn’t we have fun baking them on a rock in the sunshine?”  he offered, flipping the heater switch on.

That’s when he noticed the gas gauge reflecting  in the moonlight.  It was registering almost empty.

“Not now,” he thought to himself, feeling for any loose change hiding in the corners of his jean pockets.  Nothing.  Both pockets registered empty too.

“Daddy, I don’t want to camp anymore.  I want to go home now,” she said, yawning and squeezing her dolly, Annabelle, a little tighter.

“Brandy, we don’t have anywhere else to…I mean, it’s just that,,,we have to camp out for a little while longer.” he said, beginning to sense her misery.

“Annabelle says she doesn’t like camping anymore either.”  Brandy added firmly, pulling the doll away from her ear as if she’d finished speaking.

“Do you remember me telling you that only big girls get to go camping?”

“Yes, Daddy,”  Brandy responded, looking down in an effort to dodge his frown.

“Aren’t you and Annabelle Daddy’s big girls anymore?” he answered, tucking her back in under one of the extra flannel shirts he pulled out of a paper bag on the floor.

“I am, Daddy…but, just a minute,” Brandy said, holding Annabelle up to her ear again.  Reluctantly, she put the doll back down at her side.

“I’m afraid it’s not good news, Daddy.” she said, shaking her head in a very serious, grown-up way.

“No?  Well…it  won’t be the first time this year, honey.  Hit me with  it anyway.  What is it?”

“Annabelle says she’s as big as she can ever get…and…she’ll never be big enough to have room inside of her for camping again!  Never…ever…EVER!”  Brandy replied, a little fearful of what her Daddy might do to Annabelle.

Hearing Annabelle’s harsh words set into motion a battery of already swirling emotions inside of him.

“Annabelle’s right, Brandy.  Annabelle’s so-o-o-o right.”  He answered her back, suddenly expressionless and monotone in voice.

Though only the words of a little rag doll, they shredded the last scrap of fatherly pride remaining in his heart.

“You and Annabelle stay in the car.” he demanded, lunging forward to turn the  engine back off.  Then he climbed out the side door.

“Daddy, wha…what are you doing?”  Brandy cried out after him, fretting as she watched  the darkness swallow  up her Daddy as he walked through a grove of oak trees and into a field running parallel to the car.

Randy could hear the desperation in her voice but, the weight of his own thoughts drove him forward.  Each stride carried him with greater purpose, towards an old tractor sitting idle in the middle of the field where he’d parked the Chevelle all summer long.

“Come to papa,” Randy spoke aloud, spying the tractor in the moonlight.

Mounting the old Ford beast, he pulled a three foot rubber hose from under the tractor seat.  Then, reaching over the steering wheel, he unscrewed a gas cap protruding from the engine casing.  He’d done it many times over the last summer but, somehow it just felt wrong tonight.  Almost  like someone was watching his every move.  A quick glance around the moonlit field revealed nothing and no one.  Ignoring his prodding conscience, he went on speaking in his usual coaxing manner.

“Come on…you’ve been faithful to me all summer long.  Just one more time  old girl…one more time.”

Then slipping one end of  a siphoning hose into the tank, and the other between his lips, he took a deep breath, drawing the precious liquid to the top of the hose.

“Yech-h-h-h!”  he hollered, gas forcing it’s way across his pursed lips.  Wiping his mouth, he watched with relief as the liquid began draining into  a plastic milk jug.  Short lived, however, the flow dwindled to a drip after making only a scant two inch deposit.

“I can’t believe it.!  I must be cursed when it comes to all the ladies in my life!  I thought you’d be different, old girl…I really did.”  he commented, still fuming and shaking his head as he trudged back to the car.

Frustrations only mounted when he heard a still-sobbing Brandy, now all scrunched up in a little ball against the rear window, clinging ever-so-tightly to Annabelle.  Seeing the ram shackled appearance of his prize-winning Classic in the moonlight only further ignited his already angry outlook on life.  For the second time tonight, Randy found himself unscrewing a gas cap.  This time his own.  When he’d drained what he could from the milk  bottle, he flung it aside.

“Maybe it’ll be enough to at least get me into town,” he thought, his brow now creased with the weight of the decisions he’d soon be making.

As he climbed back into the car, Brandy’s frantic cries subsided into more of a manageable sobbing.

“Da…Da…ddy?  My tummy hurts,” she said, half afraid to speak again.

“My tummy hurts, too, Brandy, but Daddy’s about to take care of it.  Tell Annabelle that camping is done.”

Starting up the engine, he revved it once and then tore off, whipping a u-turn and spitting gravel for several feet behind him.

“Whe…where are we go…going, Daddy?” Brandy asked, crouching down on the back seat floor with Annabelle.

She raised her index finger up and laid it gently on puckered lips.  “Sh-h-h-h!”  she whispered to Annabelle, “Daddy’s thinking.”

Fresh tears began to trickle down her cheeks once more.

“I…I’m  ‘fraid, Daddy.”

Silence was not  the answer she expected but, she settled for it anyway, trying with great difficulty to stay anchored in her spot.  After an endless amount of time swerving and shimmying down a dusty, country road, Randy came to a screeching halt in front of the only convenience store in the town of Newborough.  Dead silence reigned until  he felt Brandy peeking up over the back seat at him.  In one fluid motion, he slipped his hand inside his jacket pocket in order to conceal the contents he seized from inside the glove box.

“You and Annabelle stay in the car!”  he stated firmly.

“I’m hungry, Daddy.  Could you pl-e-a-s-e get me a can…” she managed to speak before he locked her and Annabelle in the car again.  By the time Brandy found the window crank, Randy already stepped through the store’s front door, both hands buried in his jean pockets.

“Howdy, young fella,” an old man standing behind the register spoke to him.

“Hey.”  Randy answered him , forcing a smile and nodding.

“Help you find something?” the clerk offered, running his steely blues over Randy.

Randy ambled toward the man, trying to think of something…anything to say that might sound legitimate coming from the gaunt, rumple-haired man he’d become over the summer.  Sporting a ten-o-clock shadow on his jawline and wandering the isles of a convenience store at four a.m. in the middle of nowhere; he doubted that he himself would even have trusted him.

“I…uh…my daughter an’ I are doin’ some traveling these days.  You know how kids are.  Get hungry at the most inconvenient  times,” he explained, continuing up another isle.

“Yep, I know whatcha mean. My wife and I raised a boy of our own.  Seems like yesterday to me. Boy…they grow up fast.  Why I can remember…” the clerk tried to share, before Randy interrupted him in mid-sentence.

“You got any bathrooms in this place?”  Randy spit out.

“Sure do…on your left, far back corner.”

“Thanks.”  Randy managed, before making a bee-line for the restroom door.

Trivial conversation didn’t interest him right now.  Once behind a closed door, Randy reached for the lock and dropped to his knees.  Raising a sweaty palm, he mopped his brow, now drenched with  the untimely  beads of sweat he’d managed to control up until now.

“God, please …if my Grandpa’s standin’ anywhere near You, well…just cover up his eyes…and forgive me for what I’m about to do.”  he uttered, pulling himself back up on shaky legs.  Taking a deep breath, he flung the door wide open and made his way back up to the register.

“You o.k. young fella?  You don’t look so good.  Doggone flu’s goin’ around you know.  Antacids located just behind you there,” the clerk said, looking back down at his paperwork.

Randy shifted back and forth on his feet a couple of times in hesitation, before grabbing the .32 caliber pistol lodged in his jacket pocket.

“Antacids aren’t exactly the solution to my  problems.  Just give me all the greenbacks in that register…that oughta’ do it!”  Randy yelled.  “NOW!”  he emphasized.

“Whoa, young fells’…I don’t want any trouble. Now…just take it easy.  Think what yer doin’ here.”

Though a bit rattled, the old man spoke with a strange calmness in his voice.

“I’ve thought long and hard about a lot of things lately, and I DO know what I need tonight…money!” Randy shouted, throwing a crumpled brown paper bag on the counter.
“In there…put it all in there!”

His darting eyes unexpectedly found themselves in a dead-lock with the old man’s steely blues.  Mopping his brow again, he shifted back and forth on his feet nervously.

This guy was lookin’ at him like he’d seen him before.  Randy wrestled for a moment inside his adrenaline-drenched brain.   How could anyone possibly know him in this town or visa versa?  He’d been hiding in a grove at the edge of a wheat field all summer long, he reasoned in silence.  Blinking a couple of times to regain his focus, he squeezed on the trigger a little harder.

“Don’t make me do this, old man…I will, I swear I will!” he threatened.

Seeing Randy’s hands trembling, the old man decided to take him serious and popped the register drawer open.

“The name is Mel,”  the old man offered, still composed.

“What!  Are you crazy or somthin’?”  “What kind of person stops to introduce himself in the middle of a robbery anyway?”

“In answer to your question, I guess it’s this old man standing in front of you.The one who doesn’t deserve what’s happening to him right now.  I guess that makes me a lot like you, huh?”  Mel told him, slowly loading a fistful of cash into the brown paper bag.

“Like me?  You don’t know nuthin’ about me, mister!”  Randy argued, taking a step closer to him.

“Well…I know that for pretty near the whole summer, I’ve been watching a sly , two-legged fox raid a poor widow’s chicken house every morning before the sun comes up.  Stolen eggs…miss’in chickens.  You ever seen a two-legged fox, son?”  he added, slipping a rubber band around a wad of twenties.

Randy’s brow buckled for a moment, his heart palpitating to the tune of this man’s words.

“Anyway…this poor widow’s been throwing her money to the wind trying to keep her old tractor’s guzzlin’ gas tank filled this summer.  Can’t figure out where all the gas is goin’.  No hole…no gas…no leak.  Just doesn’t add up, but, she just keeps fillin’ it up anyway.  How’s your math when it comes to figurin’ out Ford tractors and bottomless gas tanks, son?”  Mel continued without blinking an eye or changing his expression.

Randy plowed a set of trembling fingers through his hair.  Right now, he felt more like the one under the gun than the one holding the gun.  He watched as the old man shut the register drawer and folded the top if the brown paper bag; creasing each fold meticulously.

“There you go, son,” Mel said in a tone as natural as a mother who  just finished packing a school lunch.  Then he pushed the bag across the counter toward Randy.

Randy eyed the bag…and then Mel.  “I gotta ask ya, what’s the catch, old man?

No catch, son.  It’s more of a cross-road from where I’m standing.  Let me just remind you of something.  It’s a l9t easier to stay out of trouble than it is to get out of trouble. But…it’s your move.  And right now you’re standin’ between two futures.  Your’s and your little girl’s,”  Mel finished.

This strange old man’s words continued to pierce his heart like little bullets. Bullets aimed square at the core of his being.  Still captured by the intensity of his gaze, Randy stood glued to the floor.  Gripping his gun even tighter, nothing could have prepared him for what happened next.

“Just gimme all your candy, mister!” demanded a little voice from behind him.

“Brandy?”  Randy cried out, shocked to find her inside the store.

He turned around to see her straddling the floor behind him, clad in little pink cowgirl boots on the wrong feet, and a dirty jean jacket.  Worst of all, she was pointing a toy gun in the old man’s direction!

“Do what my Daddy says!” she said, with a sheepish grin on her face.  Traumatized by this whole unforeseen moment, panic surfaced.  Randy’s whole world shifted into slow motion.  Every poor choice he’d ever made flashed now inside his head like little grenades exploding, one right after another.  The life-altering consequences of his gambling escapades…the trauma labeling every drunken stupor…every moment of unfaithfulness spent with forbidden, ladies of the night.  And worst of all, in his mind’s eye, each of these ladies now wore his daughter’s face!  Until now, he hadn’t given much thought to  the little feet that might be following in his footsteps.  Mopping his sweat-drenched brow again, Randy caught a glimpse of Annabelle, now shoved down inside of the plastic holster strapped around Brandy’s pint-sized hips.

“No, God…please no!”  Randy cried out in silent anguish, at the sight of his daughter having exchanged her dolly for a gun.

Guilt-ridden at the sight of her, he thought of the multiple times he, too, traded away the things he loved for selfish, ill-gotten gains…and always at the expense of others.  In many ways that holster stuffed with Annabelle was just a vivid reflection of his own walk in life.  He couldn’t allow Brandy to become the collateral damage for another one of his poor choices along the way.  She was all he had left.

“Brandy, no!”  he spoke gently, releasing his trigger finger and tucking his gun back inside his jacket.

Watching his every move, Brandy hesitated and then decided to do the same.  Much relieved, Randy dropped down on one knee, cradling her pink cheek with the same hand that gripped a gun only seconds earlier.

Maybe it wasn’t too late to make a difference in her life, he reasoned.Though  no words would come to him, tears finally did.  Some found their way down onto Brandy’s head, tucked ever-so-tightly now under the crevice of his chin.  He held her so close he could feel her little heart beating next to his.

Wriggling one hand free from his embrace, Brandy reached up to wipe his tears from her hair.  “It’s the raindrops, Daddy,” she shrieked with delight.

“What do you mean, Sweetie?” he said sniffing.

“Silly Daddy…”Brandy offered, her tiny face contorted at his apparent ignorance on the matter.  “The raindrops that the angel promised me always fall right before the sun comes out.”

“Huh?  What angel?” he said, puzzled.

“You know, Daddy…Mel!” she answered with one hand on her hip now.

Randy whipped his head around to find the check stand empty and Mel nowhere in sight.  The register drawer remained open, completely full of cash again.  Not wanting any more trouble, he reached over the counter and pushed it closed.  But, the brown bag filled with cash moments earlier, still sat in front of him.  Right where Mel left it.

“Open it, Daddy,,,just open it!”  Brandy said, jumping up and down.

“I don’t know, Brandy.”  Randy whispered, taking a deep breath and surveying the store again for the old man.  He fully expected this to be some sort of trap where the minute his hand touched the bag, the police would bust in on him and drag him off to jail for attempted robbery.

“Come on, Daddy!  Annabelle says to open it!”  Brandy said, jumping up and down.

Frowning at the very thought of Annabelle’s influence in his life again, he unfolded the bag.  “Jawbreakers and lollipops?”  Randy asked, peering into the bag.

“Mmmm-m-m-m.  Lollipops are my favoritist!”  Brandy shouted.

“And I hardly remember being without a jaw breaker as a kid,” he said, unwrapping a lollipop for Brandy.

Then he pulled a piece of folded paper from the bag.  “It’s a note of some kind,” he said, reading it silently:

Two Sweet Truths…  She’ll take you for a ride in life…one I promise you’ll never forget!  Treat her like the love of your life…and she’ll never let you down! 

Randy’s eyes blurred with tears again as he read the words.  He recognized them to be his Grandpa’s words.  But, today had given them a whole new meaning.  His pulse raced as he eyed te signature scrawled across the bottom of the paper.  It was signed simply…G.M.

“Grandpa Mel…”  he whispered, remembering it as his nickname for his Grandpa when he was a little boy.

Though Randy never fully understood what took place inside that remote convenience store that night, he never questioned it either.  He just picked Brandy up in his arms and stepped outside feeling like he’d been let out from behind prison walls.  Gulping in the crisp air, the numbness he harbored deep inside of him for so long seemed to crumble away from his heart.  The nothingness of this world that consumed him for so long now paled in the beauty of dawn’s early light.  Though not one circumstance in his life had changed, his whole world somehow shifted.

A summer’s worth of cold, dark nights coupled with the untimely suggestions of a little rag doll steered him down one of the most difficult stretches of road a man ever encounters.  The 18-inch dirt road that stretches between a man’s head and his heart.  Guts wrenching and gears grinding all the way, he’d miraculously shifted from doing the unthinkable…to being challenged by the unbelievable; to experiencing the undeniable, to discovering the unimaginable:  There is a Love that runs much, much deeper than any pit he could ever dig for himself in this world.

As he climbed back into the Chevelle, he slid Brandy close to him and placed her dimpled hand on top of the gear shift knob.

Putting his own hand over hers, he made her a promise.

“Brandy…starting today, Daddy wants you right beside him…always.  And wherever the road takes us, there’ll be no more backseats for you.”

“Yippee!  Brandy squealed, too young to grasp the depth of his words.

Randy felt her little hand squirming beneath his.  As he pulled away from the convenience store, he realized that he was holding much more than just her hand; he was also holding onto her heart.

“Wheeeeee!”  Brandy shrieked , each time the gear shift engaged into another gear.  The sound of her giggles echoed in his soul for miles down the road.  They were the sounds of pure and simple joy.  Sounds that for the remainder of her childhood would become for him as a father, the bitter-sweet reminders of all the moments like them he’d forfeited while camped out on the fringes of his own selfish reality.  Randy’s life had always been a lot bigger than he’d ever allowed it to be.  He just never knew it until now.

As Randy glanced down at Brandy, he caught sight of a soiled and wrinkled Annabelle flopped across her lap.  He couldn’t help but grin.  Yes…even Annabelle brought a smile to his face today.  She, too, had played her own role in helping him to realize that the truest riches in a man’s life come from his soul…not from his wallet.  He now understood with his heart what his Grandpa must have known all along:

Life was meant to be a continual feast…too often we just settle for dirt cookies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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