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


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


“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.









The Gift of “Emptiness”

February 25, 2015 at 8:29 pm

Hand in Hand

When those three  pennies fell from her hand into his, Pastor Jonathan clearly remembered hearing a still, small Voice within him saying, “Come to me… and let Me teach you.”   (John 11:28a, 30b )


written by Debbie Allen

Pastor Jonathan juggled his brief case and a steaming cup of coffee on his way up the crumbling, cement steps of a quaint little Presbyterian church on Maine Street in Olde Towne Littleton, Colorado.  His church.  His second home for the last twenty years.  With some difficulty, he turned his key in the rustic lock embedded in the hundred-year-old oak, forming its beautiful, arched entryway door.  Placing a weary shoulder up against its cross-sawn planks, he gave it a hefty push until it opened.  Once inside the foyer, he secured the door again; knowing it would be a couple of hours before anyone else would enter the building.

Heading for his office, a set of double doors opening up into the small sanctuary behind him drew his gaze.

“Hmmmm…someone must have left the lights on last night,” he reasoned, heading for  the switch inside the doors.

Poking his head inside the double doors, his jaw dropped.  Hundreds of tiny strands of morning’s first-light streaming in through an eastern exposure of stained glass windows splattered an array of color across the entire sanctuary in kaleidoscopic beauty.  In the midst of this rare display of quiet splendor, Pastor Jonathan’s eyes remained fixed on his pulpit.  It had been beautifully transformed into more of a pedestal of hope.  Stretched out across the top of it, lay a perfect, smiling reflection of the little Baby Jesus.

“Good Morning, Lord.” Pastor Jonathan uttered, smiling back.  “And thank you.  Thank you for giving me such a beautiful picture to dwell upon this morning.”

Sipping on his coffee, he lingered a moment longer in the sanctuary and then added softly, “I know You surely must mean this as the replacement thought for that dreadful image of the empty green chair that haunts me every morning.  But…my heart, Lord,it’s still so tender.”

Pastor Jonathan continued in silent prayer, walking down a narrow corridor leading him into his study.  He looked upon this early morning refuge as more a place of solace than of duty.  Lately, these early morning hours provided him a much needed hiding place to escape those unwanted thoughts of the empty green chair back at home.  It was his wife, Lorna’s, chair.  The one sitting so silently in a corner of his living room.

“Only six short months ago…” he thought aloud, shaking his head.

That’s when the cancer stole her away from him so suddenly.  Every morning since then, he tried to turn his eyes away from the chair as he passed by it, but, the image seared his thoughts as if it had been branded there.  Plagued by the thought of it, Pastor Jonathan made his way over to his desk and sat down to try and focus on Sunday’s sermon. Opening his Bible, he read quietly for the next hour and a half.  Then his eyes fell upon these words in Ecclesiastes.

“Everything is appropriate in its own time.  But though God has planted eternity in the hearts of men, even so, many cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” he read aloud.  (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

His Bible still in hand, he rose to walk a few steps beyond his desk to bask in a shaft of warm sunlight, streaming in through a cathedral window.

“Everything is appropriate in its own time.” he repeated again.

“How true this is, Lord.  Even as a man of God, I can barely see my way past one green chair in my life. E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.  No doubt this word includes my emptiness, too,” he commented in a more reflective tone.

Glancing up from his book, Pastor Jonathan caught sight of a group of small children waving at him from the courtyard below.  He couldn’t help but smile; watching them giggle and run away the very minute he acknowledged them.  In a remote corner of that same courtyard, he spotted a young couple almost hidden by a maple tree reaching over them like an enormous umbrella.  Studying them for a bit, he shook his head sadly while he watched the young man storm off in another direction, leaving the girl sobbing in the corner by herself.

“Emptiness again, Lord.  It is in every corner of our world these days.”

Returning to his desk, he picked up his pen.  Eyeing a blank page in his journal before him, Pastor began to write.

Monday…Oct. 4, 1998       Concerning emptiness:

A blank piece of paper.  The silence of a song whose melody remains unwritten.  A green chair where no  one comes to sit any more.  The strained beating of a heart steeped in the pain of a broken relationship…  

All of these are but reflections of the shadowy side of life.  They each speak of a hidden void which eventually seeps into every human soul, as we encounter our battles in life.  Each in its own way reeks of the cruelty of emptiness.  But, Lord…is it ever possible for emptiness to present itself as a ‘gift’ to this world?”

By now, his two deep-brown eyes sought refuge under the precipice of his great brow.  Spidery creases ran throughout his forehead like little tributaries that had been cut there by a swelling river of concern for the needs of those all around him.  In the midst of wrestling with life, Pastor Jonathan glanced up to find three-year-old, Jenny, standing silently in the doorway just looking at him.

“Well hello , Jenny,”  Pastor said, still  surprised to see anyone standing there.

Jenny was among the children who had waved to him from the courtyard a few moments earlier.

“Just what is it that brings you in here today, little one?” he asked, approaching her and kneeling down to her eye level.

Jenny immediately flashed a million-dollar-smile back at him before giving him her answer.

“Mmm…nuffing, Pastor Jonafin,” she managed to say before shrugging and looking down at her feet in her own shy way.  “Mommy is parking the car.  She said for me to wait here…an…ummm…I jus have sumfing for you.”

With these precious words, Jenny opened her tightly crumpled fingers revealing three shiny, new pennies.

“For you,” she repeated, her eyes sparkling like diamonds as she spilled them out into his giant hand.

Carefully, she folded his fingers up around the pennies, pushing his hand gently away from her.  Even though her hand was empty, Pastor Jonathan could see that her heart remained as full as any three-year-old’s heart could ever be.

You see, as Jenny stood in the doorway of his office earlier, she studied the look he wore on his face.  Every line…every grimace…every fold troubled her.  Though she could not begin to understand the reason for them , somehow, in the wisdom of a little child, she knew she needed to do something to bring back his missing smile.  The smile she so loved seeing on his face.

“Thank you, Jenny…thank you.”

His heart still melting inside his chest, Pastor reached up and pulled her face into his gaze.  Finding himself at a loss for words, Jenny seemed perfectly content with the ear-to-ear grin he could not hold back.

Upon seeing his smile, Jenny shrieked, “It wooked!”

Then she reached up to bestow one of her own special bear-hugs on Pastor Jonathan. Right away, she remembered the joy she’d felt when her Mommy placed those three pennies into her own hand that morning.  Immediately, visions of pink bubblegum began to dance in her head!  And…in the mind of this three-year-old visionary, the same miracle just worked for Pastor Jonathan too.

Watching her skip away from him, Pastor Jonathan sighed, feeling as though he’d just been given a Bear-Hug by God Himself!

“Who ever thinks to look for the answers t o some of the world’s biggest problems, in some of the world’s smallest places…in the hands of a little child?”  he marveled silently.

With pen-in-hand, he again sat down to write.  Seeing the three shiny, pennies stacked before him on the desk continued to warm his thoughts; filling up his heart like the warm waters of a sweet tea descending into an empty cup.  Closing his eyes, he pictured Jenny’s little hand laying in his own giant palm.  When those three pennies fell from her hand into his, he clearly remembered hearing a still small Voice within him saying, Come to Me…and let Me teach you.”

Inspired by Jenny’s generosity, Pastor Jonathan’s thoughts flowed faster than his ink could form the words on paper.  “Truely”, he wrote, “…even emptiness is appropriate in its own time.”   Within the next thirty minutes,  he completed Sunday’s sermon.  He entitled if,’Unselfish Giving’.

The following Sunday, Pastor Jonathan delivered this message to his congregation.  Not one dry eye remained in the sanctuary by the time he finished speaking, including his own.  As he stepped from  behind the podium, a man intercepted him before he could reach the foyer.

“Here you go, Pastor. These are for you!” the man said, through a toothy grin, as he dropped three quarters into Pastor’s hand. “There’s one for each of Jenny’s pennies.” he went on to explain.

“Thank you.” Pastor responded, still somewhat taken back by such a gesture. On his way to the foyer, another member of the congregation stepped forward and placed three one dollar bills in his hand.

“Powerful message!”  the lady said, still daubing her eyes.

To his astonishment, one of the choir members intercepted him in the parking lot, handing him three one hundred dollar bills!  Watching the man walk away, Pastor Jonathan sat humbled and speechless in his car.  He was overwhelmed by the generosity and response of so many in his congregation.

“How could I have ever doubted what You are able to accomplish through the hand of a little child, Lord?” he pondered on the drive home.

And so it went throughout the next week.  Every morning when Pastor Jonathan entered his study, he continued to find new stacks of donations in a pile on his desk.  After giving it much thought, he decided he needed to do something special with the money.

“Janice?”  he cried, peeking his head out the office door in search of the church secretary.  “You know that drinking fountain we’ve been wanting in this foyer for so long?”

“Yes, Pastor,”  she replied in a hopeful tone.

“Go ahead and have it installed.” “Oh…and one more thing.  I need you to have a bronze plaque made with these words inscribed on it,”  he added, walking towards her.

Her brow scrunched, Janice picked her way through the scribbles written down on the little piece of paper he handed her.

“JENNY’S THREE-PENNY FOUNTAIN,”  she read aloud, a giant grin of approval overtaking her frown.

“That’s right, Janice. I want to dedicate the fountain to little Jenny. I want it to be a constant reminder to those of us who pass through this foyer of how God takes such small beginnings and turns them into a much greater end.

“I’ll give her parents a call, too.”  Janice  added, picking up the phone.

That following Sunday, Pastor dedicated that new drinking fountain to little Jenny.  Slipping her small hand into his own, they both approached the fountain together.

“Do you know what the sign says, Miss Jenny?” Pastor inquired, pointing up at the bronze plague hanging above it.

Tilting her head to one side like she’d been reading since birth, Jenny  recited, “Jenny’s Thwee-Penny Fowtain.”

“That’s exactly right…and now you get to take the first drink from your fountain.”  he said, picking her up so she could reach the spigot.

“Mmmmm, the water’s just prefit!”  she said in a very grown-up way , wiping the over spray from her cheek.

Pastor smiled, knowing she’d meant to say ‘perfect’.

“Indeed it is, Jenny. Prefit in every way!” he added , letting a mouthful of the cool waters tumble into his open lips.

Waving good-bye to Jenny, he watched her walk away with her parents, still wiping water from her face.

Bending down to sip again from the fountain, something else occurred to him.  The Greatest Blessing that this world has ever known also entered into this world through the emptiness of a little Child’s Hand.  God’s Child…the Baby Jesus.  From the emptiness of a manger, His little Hand reached out into the darkness of this world.  Those tiny Fingers contained the price of One life, which He willingly spilled out into the hands of this world to purchase a Fountain for His Church.

Pastor’s eyes fell upon the bronze plaque once more.  Running his fingers across each individual letter, he whispered softly,

“Lord…Your plaque would have read, “Jesus’ Fountain of Living Water.”

Touched by this thought, Pastor Jonathan continued to marvel at how many ways that God had chosen to weave the story of Jenny’s Three-Penny Fountain into his own emptiness.  Heading into his office for the last time today, he sat down at his desk to make one final entry into his journal for the week.  Eagerly, he wrote the answer to his question from the Oct. 4th entry:

Sunday…Oct. 16, 1998

Concerning the gift of emptiness:

So…I ask the question again,  “Is it ever possible for ’emptiness’ to present itself as a gift to this world?”  From the perspective of both a Pastor and a child of God, all of the wisdom that is needed to answer this question still lays in the Hand of a Child.

If you find yourself staring into an empty page…let His Words fill in the blanks.

When facing the unbearable emptiness of a big green chair…know that His Shoulder is waiting there for you to cry on.

If it is a song in life you lack…the melody has already been written for you.  It is His Love Song, written especially  for you.  The Melody of this Song can always be heard; above even the loudest pounding of your broken heart.

Whatever you  find to be the emptiness in your cup…allow the Hand of God to spill its Love into your own hand.  Let Him sweeten your life and fill your cup with the Waters which flow from His Fountain.  It is a Fountain that will always flow with the unspoken and unforeseen blessings found so unexpectedly hidden in the emptiness of a little Child’s Hand.  Though sometimes we can’t see it, nonetheless it is there.  God put it  there…perhaps as a reminder to each of us of the “Blessedness of Emptiness!”

“Come to Me… and let Me teach you.”

(John 11:28a, 30b)

The Vertical Inch

December 15, 2014 at 1:15 pm

Vertical Inch

“Divine Possibility…the Visible Sign pointing us to an Invisible Reality!”


written by Debbie Allen

Nothing perks the ears of a human heart like the cries of a new born child.  They are the very echoes of human frailty…reminders perhaps of our own neediness.  They resonate with the deepest longings of humanity’s heart cries; ever hungering for the warmth of another’s touch in this life.  Such cries intrude upon our senses in a way like no other. These sounds of innocence awaken our spirits to the utter vulnerability of this newly unfolded mound of squalling flesh who is capable of doing nothing for himself.  In light of these thoughts…why then would the God of the Universe, Creator of all things, purposely choose to enter into our world as a tiny Babe clothed in the flesh on that first Christmas morning?  Though this question will never be fully understood by our own finite minds, I suggest it may require a rather unique standard of measurement, commonly overlooked.  This measurement can’t be found in the math books of childhood or in the lengthy,  complicated equations we master at the hands of college professors.  It is a measurement that doesn’t add up in the minds of even the greatest mathematicians.  Its components can’t be found in the bottom of a test tube in a Science lab; nor can it be deciphered by the world’s deepest thinkers.  More simply put, there is a measurement for measuring the immeasurable.  It is what I have come to call the vertical-inch.  Let me explain.

Many years ago, as a ten-year-old little girl, I lay sprawled on the kitchen floor of my Aunt and Uncles’ house trying to decipher my math homework.  Though math wasn’t one of my favorite subjects, drawing was.  This particular night, my homework involved drawing and labeling a variety of geometric shapes.  With my ruler in one hand and my tongue pasted above my upper lip, I set out to draw the most perfect triangles this world has ever seen!  Soon afterwards, however, the noise level of the grownups visiting around me became too much for this art-matician to work in.  I retired to a nearby bedroom and closed the door.  My ruler in place and my pencil in motion once more; I was again interrupted. This time, by strange staccato-like squeaks and groans emanating from a bassinette standing in a far corner of the room.

“Hmmmm…the new baby,” I thought to myself.  “As if there isn’t enough noise in this family already.”

Pretending I didn’t hear anything, I continued working. After all, I doubted she even knew of my presence in the room.  Unable to shut out the noises, I rose to my feet begrudgingly and took a few steps toward the awkward sounds.  On the way over , I remember thinking a few thoughts of my own on the matter.

“My Dad holds you like you’re made of glass or something.” I recited under my breath with a deepening frown.

“And my Mom…she speaks some foreign baby-talk-babel-language of her own when you’re in the room.”

Growing more disgruntled by the minute; sheer curiosity drove me to the side of that bassinette for a peek at this little disturbance for myself.  Exercising great caution, I peered into the bassinette expecting to see an expressionless, pasty, white-faced china doll type figure.  One who couldn’t speak a word of proper English, yet still somehow managed to rule the worlds of all those around her.  I determined right then she was not going to have that same effect on me.  One hand planted on my hip and the other one still gripping my ruler, I took a deep breath and peered down into that bassinette.  To my surprise, two little eyes still struggling to focus in life, intercepted my gaze.  Much like what happens when two stranger’s eyes lock on an elevator; mine shifted immediately to the floor.  After all, I had nothing to say to her.  That’s when I realized that those awkward squeaks and groans were the sounds of her voice.

“Did she have something to say to me?” I puzzled, still frowning?”

Raising my eyes again,   I saw one of her tiny hands free itself from under the blanket.  Reaching for it as if she’d put it there for me, I dropped to one knee; wrapping her miniature fingers around my thumb.  Fascinated by the size of them, I did what made perfect sense to me at the time.  I lifted my ruler up next to her index finger and measured it.

“One inch?” I whispered aloud to her.  “You are barely even big enough to be real.” I added, shaking my head in the midst of this rare ten-year-old ah-ha moment.

As I stroked her little pink cheek, I remember feeling an unforeseen tear trickle from my eye.  Even at ten, this sudden brush with innocence made me realize that something too precious for words lay in front of me.  Backing away from the bassinette, I picked up my math homework again.  Still captivated by my encounter with this little bundle of new life, I penciled in a one-inch vertical line right next to the string of geometric figures I’d already drawn and labeled.  I didn’t just label this figure though…I named it. The vertical-inch.  The next morning I turned my homework in without having erased my vertical-inch before doing so.  Within the next two days, my teacher returned it to me with her candid remarks written in bold red above my small addition to her mathematical world.  She wrote,  “What’s this???  Doesn’t exist…Not real!”

Though the perfectionist in me abhorred the sight of those red marks written across my discovery, the optimist in me rejected her every word. Our worlds collided in that instant over the vertical-inch.  My teacher based everything on absolutes.  She left absolutely no room for its consideration between questioning its reality and pronouncing its nonexistence.  She supported her conclusions solely on what she could see and thought she knew.  The eyes of her heart were so clouded by the facts and figures that regulated her calculated, mathematical world that logic stepped in and ruled where new possibilities were never invited.

Staring down at my vertical-inch that day, I could only offer my teacher a smile.  I couldn’t sway her to think differently about it, but my own thinking remained transformed by it.  You see…I saw that vertical-inch with my own eyes!  I touched it…and felt an unexplainable measure of its warmth and the indescribable pull it had on my heart that day I knelt beside my cousin’s bassinette.  From that moment on, a simple one-inch vertical line became for me life’s picture of Love’s profound dimensions.  Dimensions that entail much more than length.  Height and depth enter into the picture as well.  For this we need to turn our eyes toward Heaven’s own Vertical Inch.

Pull yourself out of the hustle and bustle of your own world for a moment and step back into time; into the little Judean village of Bethlehem, more than two thousand years ago.  It’s Christmas Eve, but as you walk the streets, no one seems to know it.  The cries of beggars on street corners replace the familiar sounds of bells ringing in your ears.  Angry shop keepers slam their doors in your face proclaiming, “Are you mad!” for asking if they will be open until midnight like you are accustomed to during the holiday season in your world.  Hungry and tired, you turn around and give up on the idea of ever feeling welcomed here in this dark, dirty city.  In doing so, you encounter your first smile since your arrival.  It comes from a rugged, slender young man leading a donkey bearing the weight of a fourteen-year-old, pregnant, single-mom.  Not wishing to pry, you return a hurried smile and then dash off towards the Inn which this young man pointed out to you.  It’s the only inn you see with a vacancy sign still showing above it.  Reaching into your pockets, you haul out a handful of cash and pay the Innkeeper a little extra for what you soon find out to be the last room in town.  Feeling somewhat smug about such good fortune, you walk away to the tune of the Innkeeper’s gruff voice telling the next knock on his door, “No room!  We have no room for you here!”

Giving a quick glance back at the inn door, you are startled to see the tired face of the young man who smiled at you earlier.  His brow is now creased; trying his best to console the pregnant girl’s tears as the Innkeeper points them to a stable out behind the inn.  For one fleeting moment you ponder offering the young couple your room.  After all…the girl is pregnant, and the young man did point this place out to you. But, your guilt passes soon enough.  There is your back to consider…and what about your allergies to animal dander?  Bethlehem has no 24/7 Corner Drug Store.  Besides, it would mean giving up some of the comforts you deserve and paid good money for, to complete strangers.  After finding out this Inn has no room service, you begrudgingly wash a couple of dried figs down with a gourd full of murky-looking well water; and hit the hay!

Only two hours into slumber, you are awakened by a dog barking outside your window.  At home you would’ve just closed the window, but here you discover the windows to be a twelve-inch thick stone opening with nothing covering it.

“Shut up!” you holler down at the barking menace.  He ignores you, but you finally see what his barking is all about.  In a field not far away, the quiet bleating of sheep on a hillside is replaced with what sounds like loud voices singing.  Shielding your eyes from some strange, bright light shining down from nowhere on that same hillside; you walk away grumbling about the wild party those crude shepherds must be throwing in the middle of the night.  Nestling under the covers again, you doze for what seems like seconds before hearing someone yelling in the back alleyway under your window.

“A new thing is torn!  A new thing is torn!”, your sleepy ears hear a man shouting.

“Probably one of those ignorant shepherds…” you mumble aloud.  By the time you get to the window, he’s too far gone to hear your own angry cries at him for interrupting your rest.

Just buy something new!” you holler back, still shaking both your head and your  fist out the window in his direction.

Then, the staccato-like bleating of a little Lamb suddenly pierces the night.  A cow moos simultaneously…and a donkey’s bray adds the finishing touches on what you  deem an ordinary symphony of distractions filling the night air.  All this commotion seems to be coming from the stable behind the inn.

“That poor young couple…how could anybody sleep through all that?” you ask yourself, seeking the warmth of your own covers once more.

Lord…please help me get my rest. After all…I wouldn’t want to sleep through Christmas.” you whisper before slipping into a deep, deep slumber.

If I were to entitle this scenario, I would call it, “Clueless in Bethlehem.”  We don’t have to look too far to see ourselves in this story.  Most of us are so deeply involved in whatever world we find ourselves walking around in; we fail to see the miracles staring us right in the face.  Each of us is guilty of asking, “How could anybody sleep through all that?” and yet, it is we who snore the loudest!

My prayer for each of us throughout this Christmas Season is this.

That you won’t just “Shush!” the barking dog that wakes you in the middle of the night.  Perhaps he is God’s way of alerting you to the sounds of Heaven’s own Angelic Voices singing out the Good News of the  Baby Jesus to quaking shepherds on a hillside not far away.

Tune your sleepy ears to the cries of the one who runs in the streets below the window of your world.  These are the sounds of the shepherd’s own joyous shouts proclaiming, “A New King is born…A New King is born!”

Finally, step beyond the comforts and conveniences of your neatly packaged world.  Experience for yourself the very Reason for all of the bleating…mooing…and braying in the stable that night.  Kneel down with lowly shepherds and worship beside the Kings from the Orient.  Don’t be afraid to look over their shoulders; for they have set aside their own worlds for a peek into the manger.  As your own fearful gaze is captured by the Eyes of this little Stranger; know that your very heart is being held in the gaze of the One who watched you being formed in your mother’s womb.  As His tiny Hand looses itself from the binding of the swaddling cloths; reach for it.  Take it for your own and discover the miracle of God’s own Vertical-Inch.

One inch!” you exclaim, wrapping His Fingers around your own.

“You’re barely big enough to be called real…and yet, somehow too real to be denied.” you whisper.

Basking in the midst of this unforeseen, ah-ha moment, an untended tear slips from your eye.  You are kneeling in the Presence of God’s only Son; Someone too Precious and too Innocent for even words.  His tiny Finger draws your eye beyond the mangers edge; pointing the way to Heaven from Earth.  Oh…the Unspeakable Gift that lay within this Vertical-Inch!  A Divine Measure of the Immeasurable.  The Ultimate Gift of Love.

Much like the teacher from my childhood, there are always going to be those living in the world who will not hesitate to write across what we know to be true  in bold red letters,

“What’s this??  Doesn’t exist…Not real!!”

Such absolutes are merely the sum totals of puny human logic ruling out Divine Possibility.  The world has always been on a collision course with the idea of the Vertical Inch.  It remains a Measurement that will never add up in the minds of men as long as they continue to seek answers within the limited realms of their own earthly-foot.

“Don’t let others spoil your faith and joy with their philosophies, their wrong and shallow answers built on men’s thoughts and ideas, instead of on what Christ has said.”  (Colossians 2:8  LAB)

Don’t sleep through Christmas this year.  Peek into the manger and lock eyes with the Lover of your Soul.  Slip your hand into His.  Experience the unexplainable measure of its warmth and the indescribable pull that He has on your heart.  Truly, an Unspeakable Gift lay within the Realm of this Vertical-Inch.

“For in Christ there is all of God in a human body; so you have everything when you have Christ…” (Colossians 2:9 LAB)

Life’s picture of Love’s Deepest Dimensions…




August 4, 2014 at 4:20 pm



“My whole life hangs in the balance but, I will not give up…”  (Psalms 119:109a  LAB)


Many summers ago, I remember stepping out the kitchen door of our house into our backyard, holding my fifteen month old son, Mike; his legs wrapped tightly about my waist.  The moment I reached the grassy edges of the sidewalk, he always wriggled down anxiously from my grip to the ground.  Hesitant, at first, he’d pause for a moment for his two bare feet to ease into the feeling of green grass blades sawing away at his little toes; before he’d take off running in pursuit of the sandbox.  Situated under the shade of the umbrella-like branches of a giant cottonwood tree, the sandbox was the perfect place for us to begin our day.  While I emptied the caffeine from the cup of coffee I’d carried out with me, Mike filled up his plastic bucket with sand, one shovelful at a time.  My eyes closed and my heart content, I often thanked God for the tenderness of moments like these.  If life offered perfect moments, this was one of them.  I remember feeling the warmth of summer’s morning sunshine kissing my cheeks ever-so-gently.  I felt like one of Disney’s characters, caught up in a moment-come-true. You know…one of those moments in time where everything in life just seems right.  The moment when animated bluebirds sing on the shoulders of real people or a handsome Prince bestows a kiss that miraculously brings his Princess back to life!   These are the moments when the real collides with the surreal.


In my Disney-mindedness, I imagined opening up my eyes and seeing my perfect little boy all aglow in morning’s soft light.  The sunshine would be outlining his small frame and highlighting his amazingly skilled hands; both busy building the most magnificent backyard sandcastle ever.  And in the final scene of my imagination, I’d hear my blue-eyed wonder uttering these sweet words, “It’s for you, Mommy,” as he presents his labor of love to me with a kiss; as a gift from his heart to mine!  This, however, is not quite how my Disney moment played out in real life.  It became more like a Disney-meets-Jerry Springer sort of moment.  Very suddenly, my perfect moment transformed into a stark reality show.  My brain brakes (parts I didn’t know I had), brought my soaring imagination to a screeching halt!


By the time I opened up my eyes, I did see my perfect little boy, all aglow in morning’s soft light.  I also caught a glimpse of the sunshine outlining his small frame and highlighting his busy hands.  His little hands were even presenting me with an unexpected gift from his heart to mine…but, not the one I had imagined!  There, perfectly balanced on the end of his plastic shovel, I watched in horror while loose particles of sand fell away to reveal the un-imaginable.  Cat poo!

“Momma…” he said, pushing it in my direction with a scrunched up nose and a brimming smile.

In his mind, Mike discovered a hidden treasure.  In my mind, I could only hear the accusations of nature’s own Jerry Springer in the angry chattering of a squirrel perched high in the tree above us.  Though I don’t speak squirrel, my own guilt allowed me to translate his chatterings into this.

“Unfit Mom, unfit Mom, unfit Mom!”

After all, what kind of a mom sits her child down to play in the middle of a litter box?  Guilt-ridden for not having checked the sandbox more thoroughly, and aggravated at the furry, four-legged culprit who delivered his buried treasure to our sandbox, I confiscated Mike’s shovel.  In one swift motion, I placed this poo-packed weapon in an upright position, pulled back on its scoop, and hurled the poo straight back into the neighbor’s yard!  Though I realized shooting poo wasn’t a neighborly thing to do, I both justified and excused my action as a side effect of being immersed in the reality of my Jerry Springer moment.  Besides…I had done nothing more than send the poo straight back to its manufacturer along with my dissatisfaction with the product.  Isn’t this the American way?


Returning to the sandbox and handing a newly washed plastic shovel back to Mike, I caught sight of the infamous cat.  A sixteen-year-old, tiger-striped gray, cat named Mr. Jangles.  In my eyes, he was more of a living door mat.  He was the lethargic, fur ball who lived to stretch himself out across his owner’s back porch and wait for life to cater to him every day.  Rarely did anybody see him moving any faster than a snail’s pace anymore.  If I were to guess, Mr. Jangles had to be in the latter stages of his ninth life.  That’s why I was so startled to see him shoot out of the neighbor’s garden where I had launched the poo, like greased lightning.  His back paws only grazed the top of our four foot chain link fence while his front claws strained to connect with our Cottonwood tree.  The moment they did, I watched that old cat climb nearly thirty feet or more up into the tree to gain access to the same branch the Springer-squirrel was anchored to; still chattering intermittently.  Realizing he was about to become Mr. Jangles’ mid morning snack, the squirrel jumped for the telephone lines running through the back of the tree and escaped.  His prey now gone, and his new-found momentum still pushing him along, Mr. Jangles attempted to stop but, his back paws slipped from the branch.  Miraculously, Mr. Jangles caught himself; and there he dangled by his front paws for a couple of minutes.  He struggled to regain control, but seemed to lack the physical strength of kitten-hood to pull him back up onto the branch.  I watched in anguish as two paws became one paw…and then I heard the “MEOW” that preceeded his fall to the ground.  A thirty foot fall!


Picking up my son from the sandbox, I ran for the back fence to investigate what seemed to be a hopeless situation.  With every step I took away from the sandbox, Mike asked me again, “Momma…kitty?” Not wanting to believe kitty was anything but alright, I assured Mike that everything was going to be o.k.  Whether a myth, a miracle, or a unique gift from God, the idea of a cat always landing on his feet was firmly embedded in my mind.  I’d heard that not all cats survived falls, particularly the older and less agile ones.  My fear ws that Mr. Jangles fellinto this last catagory.  Out of breath, I leaned over the fence searching the neighbor’s garden for any sign of Mr. Jangles.  Then I spotted him…but, so did Mike.

“Kitty, Momma!” he cried out with excitement.

“Yes, kitty is taking a little nap.” I responded, seeing Mr. Jangles lying motionless in the garden.

Then I headed for my house to make a phone call to the neighbor I didn’t want to make.


Before I reached the door of my house, Mike wriggled down to the ground and took off running for the back fence again.  I assumed by now, all of the morning drama had overwhelmed his sensitive toddler mind.  I saw him pointing and heard him yelling back at me with desperation.

“Kitty…kitty…Momma, KITTY!”

Heading back for the fence, I was preparing my second, ‘kitty is taking a nap’ speech, in an effort to console Mike’s tender and concerned heart.  I expected tears but, he instead greeted me with a smile and pointed towards Mr. Jangles.  Confused now, I focused on the cat for a minute but, still could see no visible signs of life.  I did catch sight of the cat poo I’d hurled over the fence earlier.  Somehow, it didn’t seem like such a big deal anymore in light of this new life-or-death circumstance.  As I dropped to one knee so I could look Mike in the eye while I told him, “Mr. Jangles went to kitty heaven,”  Mr. Jangles suddenly rolled over, wriggled around  on the ground as if scratching his back, and then righted himself on all four paws!  He acted as though nothing ever happened!  But, I knew something happened to him.  I labeled him brain damaged as I watched him roll numerous more times in the tall garden grasses, batting at previously ignored butterflies with his front paws while doing the two-step  on his two back paws.  Mike stood at the fence giggling at the comical sight of Mr. Jangles and his new, very peculiar behavior.  I sat back down on the edge of the sandbox with my cup of coffee, pondering whether or not I was untangling a mere mystery or playing the part of an eyewitness to a modern day miracle.


Over the next few days, I kept a close eye on the creature I’d deemed, poor brain damaged, Mr. Jangles.  Sometimes on our morning treks to the sandbox, Mike and I would see Mr. Jangles stretched out on the neighbor’s back step like a royal rug.  Other times I’d see him furiously clawing at the base of a wrought-iron shepherd’s hook protruding from the center of the garden area; trying his best to knock down two birds from their houses, hanging high above his head.  For days, his behavior wavered somewhere between door-mat cat and clawing-fury. Then, one afternoon my neighbor solved part of this mystery for me.  While watching her water her garden, I commented on the eye-catching, purplish white flowers growing throughout her garden.  She responded with laughter telling me,

“They are pretty, but…I originally planted them as a remedy for laziness.”

Seeing my confusion, she pointed me back towards Mr. Jangles, napping across her back step.  Then she went on to say,  “You might know them better as catnip.”

Now things were starting to make a little more sense to me!  My neighbor and I laughed at my diagnosis of brain damage as an explanation for her cat’s altered behavior after his accident.  On a more serious note, she also discussed the possibility of the catnip perhaps having played a role in saving Mr. Jangles’ life after his fall.  She suggested that when Mr. Jangles landed in the midst of the catnip; the force of his fall might have released a greater than usual amount of catnip’s volatile oils.  The aromas of these oils would’ve wreaked havoc with Mr. Jangles nasal tissues, stimulating sensory neurons, and prompting both an emotional and a physical response.  This theory supported the sudden behavioral responses Mike and I witnessed when Mr. Jangles sprang back to life again, righting himself on all four paws!


Many years later now, as I look back on Mr. Jangles and this entire scenario, I don’t  just see a Disney-moment-come-true anymore.  I see more of a God-Moment-Come-True.  You see, that day when I walked back to the fence to try and calm the desperation I heard in Mike’s voice, concerning Mr. Jangles, he stood motionless against the fence.  As I drew closer, I saw his little button nose hard-pressed into the fence and his small fingers were turning white from being wrapped so tightly around the chain links.  What I failed to see that morning was that Love had already stepped down into that moment ahead of the unspoken prayers flowing from Mike’s tender heart for one of God’s own little creatures.  I believe Mike was clinging to much more than just the chain link fence that morning.  He was holding tight to Hope…and the Hand that is the Hope that we adults so often fail to see in times of desperation.  While I was too busy composing my toddler explanation and dismissing Mr. Jangles into ‘kitty heaven’, the Loving Hand of a passionate and selfless God was already busy answering the cries of my little boy’s heart and reviving Mr. Jangles in a patch of catnip.  Who knows…perhaps this Amazing God of ours who cares so deeply  about every detail of every life, may even have created the catnip plant with Mr. Jangles and this moment in mind!


Truly, this was a God-Moment-Come-True for both Mike and I.  Though God-Moments sometimes lack the feel good qualities that tend to enhance and define Disney moments, there is nothing like being fully present in a moment when the real collides with the surreal.  I believe every day holds such moments but, we must first be looking for them through the eyes of a little child in order to see them.  My fifteen month old son taught me that in the sandbox long ago.  While I was busy seeing only cat poo and disgust; Mike saw treasure and a gift.  When I saw Mr. Jangles falling to the ground, I put him in kitty heaven right away.  Mike witnessed the beauty of kitty’s new beginning, and I missed the depth of it because while he held fast to Hope, I shook my head in disbelief and labeled it ‘the end.’


When I think of the transformational effects that catnip had on Mr. Jangles whenever he strolled through my neighbor’s garden and brushed up against its purplish flowers; I can’t help but think of God’s Word and how we relate to it.  The Word, too, has the power to change our behaviors in this life.  This Garden of Truth holds the secrets to producing great change in us but, we must first choose to walk there.  Living, moving, and breathing within its boundaries allows us the privilege of rubbing up against the Flowers of God’s Promises, which stirs up the Fragrance of His Truths; reviving our hearts toward the beauty that is ours if only we will choose to live infused with God’s renewed passion and purpose.

Spiritually speaking, there’s a little of Mr. Jangles in each of us.  As a Child of God, the range of our daily behaviors falls somewhere between door-mat-cat, clawing-fury, and greased-lightning. Door-mat cat simply trades away the wisdom growing right in front of him; opting for a porch-life which allows him the small space he needs to become a self-indulgent, comfort-seeking creature, shrouded in ignorance.  His eyes remain closed to the beauty and possibility staring him right in the face. Clawing-fury has left the porch and is out  roaming in the Garden of Truth but, he’s still using his renewed strengths for digging in the dirt of his own agendas.  Greased-lightning is considered most desirable on the Mr. Jangles Behavior Scale.  This fat-cat is finally awakened to the pull of a higher calling on his life; trusting in a new-found strength and renewed vision that propels him to new heights in pursuit of another!


For a Child of God, greased-lightning tells the tale of what its like to live an other-centered life.  A life that strains to reach out and connect with the heart of another.  A Life that isn’t afraid of tackling the arduous climb required of us or enduring, with courage,  the great fall that  may result in going out on a limb for someone else .  This is God’s greatest call on our life; to first know Him…and then every  day afterwards to spend getting to know Him better by choosing to walk with Him in the Garden of Truth.  It is here, strolling through the pages of His Living Word (The Bible),  bumping into His Promises and rubbing up against Truth that we are infused with His power, renewed purpose and untapped wisdom…simply from our contact with God.


Mr. Jangles had nine lives to roam free in and out of the catnip my neighbor planted for him.  I’m not sure he ever really grew past loving much more than his door-mat cat days.  You and I are given only one life and a daily opportunity to walk in the Garden of Truth that our Heavenly Father planted for us here on earth; and we need to make it count.  Even today, when I step outside my back door and look across the backyard; my mind’s eye allows me another fleeting glimpse of Mr. Jangles dangling from our Cottonwood tree, though both the branch and the cat are gone.  I still see a sandbox that isn’t there anymore and a wooden shed now standing in the place where a bed of catnip once grew.  Though the  garden is gone, the memories connected to it still linger in my thoughts.  They point me to life lessons I couldn’t have learned any better than in my own backyard.  They continue to be vivid reminders of these things.  The day my fifteen-month-old son taught his Mother the value of ‘hanging-on’ to Hope and seeing life through a little child’s eyes of blue.  Truth isn’t always hidden inside perfect moments; often it comes at the expense of being able to see past the ‘poo’ the world buries in life’s sandbox. Finally, choose to stroll often in the Garden of Truth and discover for yourself the life changing reality of what can happen when Heaven meets earth, and time  transforms the ordinary into an unforgettable God-Moment-Come-True!

“Your (Words) give me strength in all my troubles; how they refresh and revive me!”

(Psalm 119:50)

“Your (Words) are my joyous treasure forever.”

(Psalm 119:111)

“I will never forget Your (Words), for You have given me life through them.  I am Yours.”

(Psalm 119:93-94a  HCSB)




June 25, 2014 at 4:50 pm


“Forget-Me-Not, for I Am with you there…in the beating of your heart and on the wings of every prayer.”


Forget-Me-Nots  have long been recognized as the little flower that bears a giant message of remembrance.  The arrival of Forget-me-nots on a doorstep even today, brings with it a heartfelt message from the sender.  It’s an expression of a true and faithful love; tender memories, and hope.  This Victorian-blue flower, coupled with it’s beautiful and timely message never fails to stir the hearts and minds of those who’ve ever clasped this bouquet in their hands…sometimes enough to linger over the thoughts of it for the span of a lifetime.  If such a simple gesture tied to the loving thoughts of a mere man is able to affect one’s heart so deeply;consider what happens when the Creator of all a flowers becomes the Sender!  What if God bundled His own loving thoughts of you into a Bouquet of Heaven’s own Forget-Me-Nots and laid it on the doorstep of your heart?  What would you do with it?  How would your world change?


Ok, lets be honest.  If any of us ever stumbled across a bouquet tied with a string attached to a love note addressed to us and signed affectionately, “All My Love…God”, our first reaction would be to dismiss it as a heavenly hoax!  The truth is, I’m not talking about something in the physical world that is tangible and touchable; but rather something in the spiritual realm that can be touched by the Messages left there.  Your heart!  It is in this hidden and secret place God chooses to leave His Bouquets of Forget-Me-Nots.  Too unbelievable?  If you can’t see it, it isn’t there?  Think for a moment about your own heart.  You can’t see it and yet you know it’s real.  You can place your hand on your chest and feel it beating inside of you.  Now, ponder the arrival of a Bouquet of His Forget-Me-Nots.  Though you can’t see them, you can know they are real.  Place your hand on your chest and feel your heart beating.  In the moments you feel your heart skip a beat…these are the intervals He lays His Bouquets on your heart’s doorstep.  Moments such as, feeling your eyes fill with tears in response to seeing  a new born’s very first smile.  Hearing the precious words of a little child’s prayer as he talks to God for the first time.  Being overwhelmed by the simple and quiet beauty of a sunrise or the soft afterglow of a sunset.  Finding the courage to say a last goodbye as you stand over the sick-bed of a loved one.  Being suddenly overwhelmed by the timely words of a song playing on the radio playing in the very moment when you needed it most.  You see…life’s list of such instances is endless because no two hearts are the same.  Rest assured, however, the next time you feel your heart skip a beat; it is Him stepping into those sacred few seconds between breaths.  Setting His Foot down on your heart’s doorstep, making His Special Delivery to you, and vowing for a moment of your undivided attention so He may teach you something of the depths of His Love.


Realistically, our senses are so dulled by the noise, frenzied schedules, and superficial agendas of our own lives we’re unaware of God’s Presence in the world; let alone that He is standing on the front step of our hearts.  That’s why I shouldn’t have been taken by surprise a few years ago when one of His timely Bouquets landed on my own heart’s doorstep  My Husband lay dozing on the couch behind me with the T.V. blaring in the background.  As I stood listening to the wind blowing outside, I found myself stirring not only the pot of spaghetti sauce in front of me but, my own thoughts as well.  My mind was  preoccupied with an earlier visit to my Mom’s and the unwanted news of her Alzheimer’s diagnosis still hung over me.    I didn’t like thinking about the stages of such a disease  Though I know without a doubt that each of our lives counts for something different in this world, I’d have picked a very different story for my Mom to have to tell.


Gravitating my full attention back to the wire whip in my hand, I switched gears; whisking red sauce in a frantic backward motion.  Staring down into the bubbling sauce, my mind followed suit; wandering back many  years to one of the visits I went on to see my Grandmother in a nursing home.  Entering the facility doors that day, I remembered smiling as I thought of  the many firsts in my life I’d shared with her over time.  I chewed my first mouthful of Chick-lets gum with her.  I sewed my first  prize-winning apron on her antique sewing machine, and I crocheted my first bookmark under her watchful eye.  It was her hand I clasped on my first day of Sunday School, and she taught me everything I know about the lost art of canning and jelly making.  Then, in what seemed the blink of an eye, these precious times were replaced with all new firsts.  My first time of finding her missing false teeth down inside a chair pocket where the channel changer used to live.  My first time of staring into a blank T.V. screen, pretending to see what she thought she saw; and my first time of being humbled beyond words as I picked up her fork to cut her meat and helped to feed my Grandma like a small child.  But, even worse than all of these was what I experienced later that same day.  As I bent  down to kiss her good-bye, it became the first time I ever had her look up into my face with a blank stare and ask me a question I shall never forget.

“What did you say your name was again, Honey?”

My heart nearly stopped that day.  Somehow I managed a forced smile, re-introduced myself  and assured her I’d be back soon.


Everything in me still wants to run from that haunting question; even though more than thirty years have passed since that time.  Having entered into my Grandma’s room that day as her treasured Granddaughter and left as a total stranger left its marks on my heart.  There’s a cup of emptiness linked to that memory I never wish to sip from again, yet I know one day I may have to face that possibility once more with my Mom.


That memory was not only tough on me but, hard on my spaghetti sauce.  Staring down into the pan I’d been stirring to the rapid tempo of my own heartbeat for the duration of the nursing home memory; I discovered all the meatballs in my sauce were now missing!  Sadly, they succumbed to the frantic motion of my wire whisk and were now a sacrificial part of the beautiful,  red puree I’d created in front of me.  Smiling, I pulled the pan off the burner, laying my whisk aside.

“I guess…being forgotten has its  affects on everything!”  I joked to myself.


Maybe God had a plan for even this strange little cooking episode in my life!  You see, as I set the whisk down on the counter, my mind was drawn to the muffled mutterings of a monotone voice on the T.V. in my background.  I caught bits and pieces of a commercial segment advertising a trip.

“Not just any trip” it began with enthusiasm, “… a trip to blablabla promising, blabla memorable bla blaba!”

That sentence made no sense to me, at the time.  In fact, the only word I heard audibly and clear was the word, memorable.  Still preoccupied withe the earlier news of my Mom’s Alzheimer’s, I was strangely drawn to that word, memorable.

“Seriously, Lord…does everything have to be about memory tonight?”

My earlier distressing thought about my Mom’s Alzheimer’s…the trauma of a past nursing home visit…and one audible word from a rambling travel commercial!  Two-thirds of these thoughts pointed to diseases whose outcome promised everything would be forgotten, and the third, a trip; promised  nothing less than becoming the most memorable.  Only God could string together such random thoughts and make any sense out of them.  And so He did!  At the sudden collision of these three unrelated thoughts, something miraculous happened!


Everything started coming into focus.  I thought of how most of us throughout the course of our lives; labor and strive for bigger…better…and the most memorable when it comes to dates, spouses, jobs, vacations, foods, boats, houses, house-boats, etc.  You name it, we crave the most memorable anything when it concerns us. If this is true, and our most memorable life’s experiences are so very precious to us…then why do we end up becoming so forgetful over time?


Nothing points this idea of forgetfulness out any better than the story of the Israelites of Old as they journeyed towards the Promised Land.  Moses led 2,500,000 Israelites out of Egypt.  I call that the largest flight plan ever!  As they fled from Pharaoh,  God, Himself was their personal Guide.  God revealed Himself to them by day as a Pillar of Cloud…and by night as a Pillar of Fire.  Imagine that…their own Hand Delivered and very visible Forget-Me-Nots; planted right there before their eyes!  They witnessed the miracle of the Red Sea.  Moses raised his rod out over the water and watched God open up a dry path between two churning, roaring walls of sea water.  By the time the Israelites reached the safety of the banks on the other side, their jaws dropped again.  They turned around to see those same swirling waters swallow-up and drowned all  of the horsemen and 1200 war chariot riders of Pharaoh’s Egyptian army; in hot pursuit of them since their mass exodus!  Freed from the grasp of the Egyptian soldiers, Moses led the Israelites to the foot of Mount Sinai, where they camped for two years at the very feet of God.  It was a time of resting, studying, building and listening to what God had to say to them.  Moses delivered the Ten Commandments, teaching the people, now a brand new Nation; how to live their lives in relation to God and to each other.  Every morning, these Israelites threw back their tent flaps and witnessed another miracle of God!  He continued providing for their every need.  Their shoes and clothing never wore out for the duration of forty years in the wilderness!  Yet…they eventually forgot .


Over and over again, God continued to show His unconditional Love for His Chosen people.  Over and over again, the Israelites murmured, complained, and even yearned for the very things they’s left behind in Egypt.  Numerous heart-rending and heart-stopping moments defined their lives for generation after generation.  Bundle after bundle of His Forget-Me-Nots were delivered day after day, on the doorsteps of each of their hearts.  Standing on the threshold of entering the Promised Land, a second generation of Israelites were again called to remember who God is and what He has done for them as both a People and a Nation.  Moses cried out to them saying,

“Oh that you would choose life; that you and your children might live!  Choose to love the Lord your God and to obey Him and to cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days.  You  will then be able to live safely in the land the Lord promised your ancestors…”  (Deuteronomy 30:19,20  LAB)

A mere two chapters later, Moses delivered a heart-stopping prophecy about Israel’s behavior in the future.

“Yeshurun (Israel) became fat and kicked (rebelled)…and it deserted it’s Maker…”  (Deuteronomy 32:15  LAB)


Truth is always hard to swallow…especially in God-sized doses.  When That Truth is dealing with the unfaithfulness of a Nation and God in the same sentence; it becomes a life and death matter.  Ancient Israel was founded by God and established for His Purposes.  To bring Glory to His Name before the entire World.   But, as His Word tells us, they grew “fat”, too comfortable, in their lives and “rebelled” or departed from His ways.  When Israel turned away from God, they rejected His Covenant…Love; turning to other gods to meet their needs. They worshipped materialism; stooping to every form of sexual depravity.  They even offered their own children up as sacrifices to false gods.  Though God continued to call on them, sending His ancient Forget-Me-Nots through the Prophets of Old; they chose to remain defiant, further hardening their hearts.  They threatened and even killed some of the Prophets who confronted them concerning their social and moral behaviors.  They preferred the comforts and allurments of this world to the Promises of a Loving and Faithful God.  Hear the cries of God’s own broken Heart, bleeding through Jeremiah’s words.

“And my people have given up their Glorious God for silly idols!  The heavens are shocked at such a thing and shrink back in horror and dismay.”  (Jer. 2:11, 12)

“Long ago you shook off my yoke and broke away from my ties.”  (Jer. 2:20)

“How can you disown your God like that?  …yet, for years on end my people have forgotten Me…the most Precious of their Treasures.”  (Jer. 2:32a,b)


MY People have forgotten Me…have forgotten Me…forgotten Me.” Even today, these words resonate much deeper in my soul because of that day I walked out of my Grandma’s room at the nursing home; having experienced firsthand, the pain of being forgotten.  My life erased, my place of specialness  disappeared with it.  Though I didn’t recognize it at the time, I’ve since come to look upon that heart-stopping moment as one of the greatest Bouquets of His Forget-Me-Nots I ever received.  An ever-present reminder on the doorstep of my own heart of God’s Love; a Love I must never forget.  His greatest desire for me has always been for me to choose to let Him Love me; to teach me the wisdom and eternal value of Trusting Him daily, and show me through my circumstances what it means to truly follow His lead my whole life.  The lingering fragrance of those Forget-Me-Nots is what drives me to write these very words.  It’s almost ironic that one of my most memorable  experiences in my life is defined by forgetfulness!  God must feel everyday, infinitely more of what I felt only an inkling of in the nursing home with my Grandma.  The sorrow that must fill His Heart when He looks down upon our own Nation today.  How fast we are departing from His Ways and forgetting His Name.  His Specialness  in the hearts of so many Americans is disappearing with it.  America, too, like Israel, was founded for God’s purposes; established to Glorify His Name in all the world.  With such s blessed heritage, America’s forgetfulness is only priming the pump for the consequences guaranteed to follow.  Right now, it appears we are choosing to walk in the historical footsteps of Ancient Israel.  Judgment followed those who walked that path then…and it will again; unless we turn away from it.  The Reverend Billy Graham put it this way in one of his prayers for our Nation,

“Woe to those who call evil good, but that is exactly what we’ve done.  We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values.  We have exploited the poor and called it lottery.  We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.  We have killed our unborn and called it choice.  We’ve shot abortionists and called it justifiable…We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self esteem.  We have abused power and called it ambition.  We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.  We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment…”

Billy Graham hits the nail on the head with his words to our Nation; as did Moses when he declared to Ancient Israel that, “God is our only Refuge…” our only true security.  Yet, their forgetfulness reigned.  We, as a People and a Nation continue to entrust our lives to the shaky things of this life; our own strength, technology, money, career, fame, entertainment, and even our own noble causes.  God is holding out His Arms to catch us when those things collapse and we fall; and they will.  But, this can only happen if we trust Him once more as our Refuge.  Since laying the foundations of the world, God’s plans have never changed.  His Word tells us, “His intentions remain the same forever.”  It is His story we are telling to the world with our lives; and His Glory will prevail.  Because we prefer comfort and self indulgence as a way of life, as opposed to living out the Promises of God; I believe His Story here in America is being reflected in the most prominent diseases of our time.  Alzheimer’s Disease, Heart Disease, and Cancer.  Think about it!  Alzheimer’s Disease…As a Nation we have forgotten God.  The consequences?  We are experiencing firsthand, the pain of being forgotten; only this time it is our own children we cannot remember!  Heart Disease…We cater to the physical and moral appetites of our hearts; an organ proclaimed by God to be untrustworthy and “deceitful above all things.  Yet, we ignore His warnings to, ” Above all else, guard your heart for it affects everything you do.” ( Proverbs 4:23) The consequences?  Our hearts are telling a story of what happens when we step outside of the boundaries God has set for us physically, morally, and spiritually.  We are a nation reflecting to the world that our hearts are far from right with God.  Cancer…Much like sin, Cancer can’t always be seen; but, it’s eating us up from the inside out and if we let it go unchecked for too long…it will  consume our life.


His matchless Bouquets of Forget-Me-Nots continue to amaze me though they sometimes bring a sobering message such as this.  Truly, they are the little flower that bears a giant message; but , consider Whose Hand is delivering them!  When I feel them piling up on the front step of my heart, I know each bouquet promises to be a Fragrant reminder of His Incredible Love.  On those days When I begin to doubt that one woman’s heart can really make a difference in this chaotic world…or that He is able to tell His Story with the small potatoes of just a housewife’s daily life; He seems to linger a little longer on my heart’s doorstep.  Then, He takes the memory of a pot of meatless spaghetti sauce out and mixes it with a cup of emptiness from a teenage girl’s  traumatic nursing home experience.  Stirring it well, He blends one audible word from a muffled T.V. travel commercial , and adds a disturbing thought about my Mom’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and…voila!  My small potatoes suddenly rise to become the Perfect Recipe put together by the Perfect Hand, served up as the Perfect Warning on a National level!  Living proof that there is no room for doubt in His world.  Trust God with all the pieces of your life.  If anybody can make something of them, He will.  The next time something in this takes your breath away…place your hand on your heart and feel the evidence of God standing on the doorstep of your heart.  Treasure what He is leaving there; a Bouquet of His Forget-Me-Nots bearing a Message from His Heart to your’s.

“Beloved,  REMEMBER ME…Forget-Me-Not for I am with you there, in the beating of your heart and on the wings of every prayer!”






The “Royal” Raft

June 13, 2014 at 12:19 pm

Royal Raft  

“Gripping the paddle as tightly as the fear which now gripped me, all I could think of was the logo written on a sweatshirt I’d seen back in the gift shop.  It pictured a skull and cross-bones labeled with these haunting words…”PADDLE OR DIE!!!”


My husband, oldest son, and I practically toppled over backwards trying to tilt our heads back far enough to catch a glimpse of the awe inspiring Royal Gorge Bridge.  Stretching out so magnificently across the morning sunlight above us, it almost appeared plugged-in to the two steep rock wall outlets mounted on opposite sides of the canyon.  These sheer walls dropped powerfully downward for more than a thousand feet, to channel the Arkansas River into the swift flowing, white-water rapids we were about ready to mount and ride in a raft.

This being a first-time experience for all of us, I couldn’t help but wonder as I spotted our guide, if I could trust the hand that was about to lead us into uncharted waters?  Even so…each of us climbed aboard the Royal Raft; fashionably clad in rented wet suits, splash jackets, and protective head gear.  To the outside world, we looked ready-and-waiting for this new adventure.  Sitting secure in the raft between our two guides and one other couple, an uncomfortable feeling welled up inside of me.  A feeling suggesting those swirling waters meant something entirely different to each one of us that day.

For my Husband, Jim…this was just ‘The River.’ Something he had always wanted to do.

For me…this was ‘The River??’  I didn’t even know how to swim, so what was I thinking?

For my son, Mike…this was ‘The River!!!’  A teenage adrenaline high which offered him the thrill of a lifetime!

Each of our reasons for being there were different.  In spite of these differences, we sat like little kids on the first day of school; hanging onto every word of instruction being given to us by our guides, Chachi and LJ.

“Each of YOU will play an intricate part in this white-water adventure,” LJ emphasized, pushing the Royal Raft out into calmer waters.  As he did so, Chachi handed out paddles to each of us. Immediately, all eyes bulged beyond socket capacity.

Me, paddle?”  Bu…but I thought I was coming along for the ride.”  our facial expressions cried out in mortified silence.

Clearly, we were the Royal Rookies in this matter!  Gripping the paddle as tightly as the fear which now gripped me, all I could think of  was the logo I’d just seen on the front of a sweatshirt back in the gift shop.  It pictured a skull-and-crossbones labeled with these haunting words, “PADDLE OR DIE!!”  Somehow, that all made more sense to me now.  Not wishing to die that day, I opted for my only other choice.  Paddle!  Struggling to refocus in the moment, I could hear Chachi and LJ explaining  how to maneuver the raft using different methods of paddling.

“Right Turn!…Left Turn!…Back Paddle!  LJ shouted , demonstrating each method with his own paddle in the water.

“High Side!… Wrap Side! … ROCK! … and Stop!”  Chachi chimed in.

With every requirement, our guides integrated into this crash course in Paddling 101, it became more evident they knew the river well.  These men understood the treachery of the waters we were about to face because they’d been there before.  With respect and a keen sense of safety, they reinforced each paddle command hurled at us as being a sort of lifeline.  A lifeline thrown at us for the express purpose of pulling us through the churning waters to safety.

Approaching our first stretch of white water, we braced ourselves for impact; each of us taking a deep breath, struggling to hear Chachi shouting above the roaring river.

“Remember…listen carefully, paddle in sync…and most of all…TRUST ME!”  he hollered.

With those words, we plunged head-first into the angry waters.  I could feel the sting of the river’s icy fingers slapping me square in the face.  The early spring flood waters still carried a merciless winter chill.  Every muscle in my body tensed!  Though everything in me wanted to scream out, “NO!” to this experience, somehow I managed to hold onto my paddle using my own newly discovered version of a death-grip.  The river’s relentless fingers again wrapped themselves around my head like a blindfold.  I couldn’t see anything!  Through the confusion, I could still hear the paddle commands being given by both of our guides.

“ROCK!”  cried out Chachi

Knowing this to be a cry of immediate danger, almost without thinking, we reached out with our paddles, pushing ourselves away from its jagged edges and forcing the raft back in the center of the rolling waters.

At the bottom of this run, my heart sang a whole new song.  A song whose words were written in the permanent ink derived from a strange and wonderful mixture of adrenaline and apprehension.  It didn’t take any of us long to realize our raft was the only one of three rafts that hadn’t flipped over and fallen prey to the river’s insatiable appetite.  Our own Royal Raft, for a short time, functioned as a Lifeboat!  Our paddles-in-flight; we maneuvered through the currents to rescue a few VERY grateful friends still struggling in the water to try and keep from becoming the river’s first meal of the day!

In LJ’s own words, “You guys paddled like little Boy Scouts on a search-and-rescue mission!  You never missed a beat.  WOW!”

Each of us paddled for our lives that morning.  Whatever Chachi and LJ told us to do…we did it without question.  We found strength we didn’t even know we possessed.  Our first run through these white waters fostered a whole new respect for the river.  But, even more than this, we quickly learned we could trust the hand guiding us through these treacherous waters.

Before the day ended, I experienced a broad spectrum of emotions.  Excitement laced with apprehension; as I stepped into uncharted waters with my family.  Fear of the consequences of having done just that!  Doubt I had the strength to paddle my way through the difficult waters surrounding me…without drowning.

Just leave it to God to take my excitement, fear, and doubt; and show me how to turn them into trust!  As the sun dropped low in the evening sky, Jim, Mike, and I climbed out of the  Royal Raft; planting our feet firmly on dry ground.  Life never felt so-o-o good!  We waved good-bye to Chachi and LJ.  Turning to go, I heard what I considered to be the last paddle command of the day.

“Stop!”  a Voice said softly in my ear.

“Yes,”  I thought to myself, smiling as I stopped.

This Voice was not audible to the world, but I heard the Message loud and clear.  You see…even the tiniest Whispers of God can be heard over the raging river waters of this world.  God spoke one word to me…but, He whispered it three different ways.

“Life.”  “Life??”  …  or “Life!!!

The waters of “Life” are precious in any form but, why just climb into the raft, sit, and hold the paddle?  Learn not to just paddle, but to paddle well!  At times, we all feel pulled under and blinded by the churning waters of “Life??” trying to drown us.  Remember…just listen for the command, grip the paddle a little tighter, and find the strength you didn’t know you had.  Wholly trust in the Hand that’s guiding you.  For it is He who can be found on the other end of it.  Waiting…wanting to help you discover the truest meaning of “Life!!!”  at its fullest.


“When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be  with you.  When you go through rivers of great difficulty, you will not drown!  For I am the Lord your God, your Savior…”

(Isaiah 43:2a,3a  LAB)



The Fragrance of Friendship

May 10, 2014 at 1:42 pm


“We faithfully tilled the soils of friendship, transforming a story of ‘Bramble and Thorns’ into the beauty of a ‘Bouquet of Roses.”


The recess bell rang, and hundreds of school children swarmed the playground, freedom bound. Kids bolted in every direction in an every-man-for-himself pursuit of their favorite playground equipment. Hand in hand, toddled towards the elusive jungle gym. Third graders pushed and shoved their way towards the swings. Fourth graders stormed the slides, and my fifth grade classmates and I sprinted for the baseball field. Recess lasted only thirty minutes. So our game always ended up at the top of the ‘shortest game in history’ list. But, it never failed to be the best thirty minutes of our day. For even in that short time frame, each of us found a strange contentment just being in the presence of our friends. That is…with the exception of one.

Darcy Fincklwitz forced her way into our line-up that day. She called no one friend. To my knowledge, Darcy never participated in anything ever. If a room had a corner, Darcy could be found sitting in it. She stayed in the shadows of every school event. Her dark eyes hid behind a black curtain of bangs hanging loosely over the precipice of a permanently scowling brow. She walked by herself to and from school and avoided talking to any of us. Given the choice, most of us assumed Darcy would have turned down walking with her own shadow.

“Of all days for me to be chosen captain of one of the baseball teams!” I cried out silently. “Why Darcy…and why today?”

The other team captain, Nicholas, and I flipped a rusty bottle cap for first pick. Nicholas won.

“Frank…I choose you first!” Nicholas yelled out with a smile.

Feeling the pressure to choose quickly, I yelled out a name at random.

“Evan! …come on over!”

I found myself so preoccupied with trying to avoid looking in Darcy’s direction that I couldn’t even concentrate. Nicholas and I batted a couple more picks back and forth until it came down to choosing from the last two people. And you guessed it! Darcy was one of the two.

“It’s your turn Hutty (My childhood nickname)…chop chop! Time’s wastin!”Nicholas reminded me, clapping his hands together.

Had I known in fifth grade the term, “heart palpitation” I would have known what to call what I experienced at this point. I could feel my palms drenched with the waters of my dilemma. Though Darcy stood speechless, I could almost hear her screaming out, “Pick me…please…just choose ME!”
The next thing I remember hearing is Nicholas shouting, “Let’s play ball!” and seeing Darcy heading straight for me.

“What did I just do?” I thought to myself, forcing a smile in Darcy’s direction. My voice seemed to have a mind of its own today; it answered me back saying, “I just chose Darcy Fincklwitz …the class giant…to be on my team.”

Time stood still on the elementary ball field that afternoon when Darcy bent down to pick up a bat. All of us took a deep breath as we watched her take a few wild practice swings. For one brief moment, we panicked. Evan leaned over whispering his warning in my ear.

“Way to go, Hutty,”” He said. You may have just found a way to arm the ‘enemy!’”

Darcy glanced back at us for a brief moment, and then stepped up to the plate to bat. But before she had a chance to swing the bat again, the bell ending recess rang and we all scrambled back to class.

I know that Darcy heard us talking in the background that day. She never said a word to any of us about anything. But after school I found her sitting on the steps outside…alone. I wanted to say something…anything…but I didn’t. As I started past her to catch up with my friends, she hollered out my name. I didn’t even know that she knew my name. Before I could even turn around she stood beside me. Her figure towered over me. I swallowed hard.

“Uh…thanks for being on…uh…the team today, Darcy,” I managed to spit out before her two giant arms reached over and put me in a headlock. Her reaction stunned me. If this wasn’t bad enough, she then took off walking with my head still under her arm. Convinced that she might be delivering me as a parcel of ‘rearranged flesh’ on my own front porch, I started praying! The thought of death at such a young age didn’t appeal to me. Especially death-by-Darcy! Her grip held my ear so firmly up against her rib cage that I could hear her heart pounding like a metronome keeping fast and furious time to a very angry song. A song with just two words… “Kill Hutty! … Kill Hutty!” She dragged me along, stumbling to keep up with her, for five l-o-n-g blocks. Then she just stopped. Still in a headlock, Darcy spoke for the first time since we left the school grounds.

“So, Hutty! Wanna be friends?” she said in a gruff tone.

“I…I guess so,” I answered from my head locked position.

Darcy seemed satisfied enough with my answer to let me stand upright again. Still dazed and confused, but grateful for having my death sentence lifted; I found myself standing at the bottom of my own street. In light of everything else that happened today, I supposed this might be Darcy’s own bizarre way of walking me home from school. She ended this grand entrance into my life with one final scene. Reaching up, she parted the black curtain of bangs across her forehead just long enough to introduce me to two of the saddest brown eyes I’ve ever seen. Then the curtain dropped and the scene ended as quickly as it had begun. Darcy turned and headed for home and I stood there wondering what just happened.

Comedy of Errors? I think not. Years later now, I prefer to gaze on this scene in my life story as more of a Divine Interruption. A truly unique way of God ushering friendship into an orphan’s life. You see, Darcy learned the art of ‘invisibility’ early in her life. Her mom, a school teacher, taught other people’s kids. Her dad, an efficiency expert, organized other people’s lives. At home…both mom and dad alternated shifts around the clock with Darcy’s older brother, Jerry. He suffered from a serious heart condition at birth. And Darcy? She faded into the background and disappeared. At school the story repeated itself. Teased and taunted by class mates, Darcy roamed alone; staying in the shadows life cast on her convinced of her unworthiness to merit anyone’s time and attention.

You see, every one of us as human beings has felt the unbearable ache of being swept aside and held prisoner by life and its unwanted circumstances. It is the heart-sting of orphanism. The gut wrenching loneliness of being abandoned in the streets of our own surroundings…left alone to provide somehow for our needs by scratching around in the dirt and alley ways of an unsympathetic world for love. We find ourselves desperately hungry for more than just the crumbs that others toss our way. It is emptiness beyond comprehension, and a deep longing in the caverns of our soul for someone to look deep into our eyes and listen to our story.

God used a headlock to draw me into Darcy Fincklwitz’s life story. When others might have viewed this scene as bullying; I believe God used her rib cage as a sounding board for my ears …as a way of revealing to me that Darcy had a heart after all. I learned from a unique perspective, about grace and mercy as she dragged me down that pathway headed for what I perceived as ‘sure death,’ only to be given a reprieve at the end of it all. I felt an orphan’s grasp, desperate for someone to walk along-side of her and listen to the cries of her heart. To share the pain hiding behind the loneliness that veiled those two sad eyes.

Each one of us has felt the desperation that drives us to act out of a deep longing in our soul to ‘belong’ in our world. To experience the thrill of being chosen; adopted into the shelter of someone’s circle of love and acceptance. If we are ignored long enough, we begin believing in the lies of a world that gladly steps in and tries to tell us who we are. We lose sight of who we are created to be…a child, forever precious in the eyes of our greatest Friend, our Loving Heavenly Father. We are souls created to love and to be loved. God gives each one of us a special role to play in life. A role which propels us head first into a moving dramatization of a search for companionship. An arduous journey that ever pushes us towards a continuous and growing love for others in life.

God used a thirty minute segment from a childhood baseball game and Darcy Fincklwitz, to set the stage for a lifelong lesson in my life. We are not alone on the stage of our life. Sometimes we are not even the main characters. Blinded by the spotlight shining down on us, too often we fail to notice the orphans hiding in silent misery behind the curtains on the side wings. Waiting…longing for a part in our story; and needing us to play a part in their story. Only when our stories intersect with those of others will we ever discover what King David of Old realized as he entered into the heights of his own story; “… it was for a special reason—to give joy to God’s people.” (1 Chronicles 14:2 LAB)

Darcy and I spent the next eight years of school together as friends. We plodded side by side, through the bramble and thorns of her life story. Darcy’s world really never changed on the outside. Her brother remained sickly; her parents, too busy for her. Even in high school, kids continued to taunt Darcy; and now me, for choosing to walk alongside her. But at the end of it all do you know what we each discovered? Joy. Though we stuck out in this world like sore-thumbs; Darcy Fincklwitz and I ended up as green-thumbs. The undeniable evidence of growth in our journey towards friendship. From head-locked, to hand-held, to heart-felt— we faithfully tilled the soils of friendship and in doing so, transformed the loneliness of a story of “Bramble and Thorns” into the beauty of a “Bouquet of Roses.” It is the Fragrance of Friendship…a fragrance that lingers for the span of a lifetime!