Along the River (with the Allman Brothers)

‘Twas a federal holiday. Cold, too. Winds lashed bare branches along the Chattahoochee. I passed an archer. He had his bow slung over his right shoulder. The green fletching on the three arrows in his quiver was unimaginably bright limegreen under the day’s leaden sky. The only other colors were grays of the trees, the gray shades of the sky, and flocculent wooly clouds that slid across the skyline. The river was muddy and moved rapidly. The Allman Brothers’ “Blue Sky” lyrics played in my head:

Walk along the river, sweet lullaby, it just keeps on flowing
They don’t worry ’bout where it’s goin’, no, no

Don’t fly, mister blue bird, I’m just walking down the road
Early morning sunshine tell me all I need to know

You’re my blue sky, you’re my sunny day
Lord, you know it makes me high when you turn your love my way
Turn your love my way, yeah

Good old Sunday morning, bells are ringing everywhere
Goin’ to Carolina, it won’t be long and I’ll be there

You’re my blue sky, you’re my sunny day
Lord, you know it makes me high when you turn your love my way
Turn your love my way, yeah, yeah

Cattails grew thick. Game trails going to and from the river and low areas stood out in the red clay under the day’s gray skies. Still I heard Dickey Betts’ voice roll on and his guitar say what words sometimes fail to, that there’s so much to be thankful for, that even on cold windy days along the banks of a muddy river, with a great tune playing in your memory, gratitude seems the proper response.

Strength for Battle

In a few moments, some soldiers who’ve made it this far in their training are pressing on towards earning their right to be Rangers. I will have thirty minutes as their chaplain to open the Bible before them, teach them the gospel, show them what ultimate commitment was and is. I’ve nothing but respect for these young men as they push themselves to limits they’ve not endured before. But it is crucial to teach accurately by explaining what the cross of Christ was and what it was not.

Ten things the ultimate battle was not:

  1. Physical endurance
  2. Sleep deprivation
  3. Insufficient caloric intake
  4. Intestinal fortitude
  5. The power of positive thinking
  6. Bragging rights
  7. A fable
  8. An allegory
  9. Moralism
  10. Man’s plan

The enduring tendency we sinners have is to reduce the cross of Christ and the gospel to man’s work. It wasn’t. It was God’s. And that invariably humbles all those who are teachable.

The hardened, of course, those who refuse the offer of the gospel, do what hardened people invariably do: reject, suppress, deny, scoff, turn away, mock, and heap judgment upon themselves.

What the ultimate battle of the Christian gospel is:

  1. God’s gospel
  2. For individuals
  3. For individuals who repent of their sin
  4. The message of who Christ is and what He has done
  5. God’s plan
  6. God’s mercy
  7. God’s justice
  8. God’s wrath against sin
  9. God’s holiness
  10. Man’s only hope

Of course the list could continue. But when there is such a tendency to assume that strength for battle is reducible to man’s commitment, man’s willpower, man’s promises, humanism in all its forms, we must see in the gospel of Christ the ultimate battle is not physical, emotional, monetary, political, or anything else except the battle between Light and Darkness, the Seed of the woman versus the seed of the serpent.

At the cross, God kept His commitment to crush the head of the serpent. God satisfied His own perfect holy justice.

And God has commissioned His people with the precious treasure of holding the truth of the gospel forth for all who will hear and come–to taste and see that, yes, the Lord is good.

And Just Like That: Harry Chapin, Ice Cream, & A Dad’s Love for His Son

Sometimes only a song will do. That was the case today. My son and I were driving home after church. My daughter was away. My wife was driving in her car because she, as part of the music ministry, goes to church before my son and I do. We typically ride together to Sunday school and church. Anyway, my wife and son and I had just gone to a new burger restaurant in town after church. It was quite good. But my boy and I both got a sweet tooth after lunch, so we pulled into the local Dollar General to pick up something sweet for him, my wife, and me. My son and I both got the same thing, a Snickers ice cream bar. There were only two left in the freezer when I slid back the transparent lid. Seems we’re not the only ones who appreciate the combination of a Snickers bar and vanilla ice cream. I picked up my wife’s favorite, a sleeve of Reese’s Cups. As I stood in line to pay, my son said, “Dad, I need to pick up something.”

“Sure,” I said.

He got his item, handed it to me, and I paid the cashier, and my son grabbed the bag and we walked back out together to the car.

When we closed the doors and I cranked the car, he handed me my ice cream bar and he grabbed his. We both devoured them like we’d not just had lunch thirty minutes before. “Mmmm,” we both exclaimed, as we exited the parking lot in the car and drove up farther into the hills and towards home.

And just like that, it hit me: the Harry Chapin song, “Cat’s In the Cradle,” with these words:

My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talkin’ ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew
He’d say “I’m gonna be like you, Dad
You know I’m gonna be like you”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin’ home, Dad
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then
You know we’ll have a good time then

My son turned ten just the other day
He said, “Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let’s play
Can you teach me to throw”, I said “Not today
I got a lot to do”, he said, “That’s ok”
And he walked away but his smile never dimmed
And said, “I’m gonna be like him, yeah
You know I’m gonna be like him”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin’ home, Dad
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then
You know we’ll have a good time then

Well, he came from college just the other day
So much like a man I just had to say
“Son, I’m proud of you, can you sit for a while”
He shook his head and said with a smile
“What I’d really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later, can I have them please”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin’ home son
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, Dad
You know we’ll have a good time then

I‘ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time
You see my new job’s a hassle and the kids have the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you

And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
When you comin’ home son
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, Dad
We’re gonna have a good time then

As we drove the next fifteen minutes or so up into the hills where we live, and the retail world gave way to the bucolic world where we live, I studied my son even as I drove. I wanted to say what fathers don’t usually say to their sons–that I wish I could freeze this moment, son; that you’re growing too fast, son, and I see your innocence falling away as your voice grows deep now and gravely; that I love you, son, more than you can understand until you’re a dad; that I love watching your personality develop; that I love to see your body develop the dexterous, nimble, lean way adolescent boys’ bodies do; that I love the way you inherited your mom’s skin; and the way your smile is perfect and the way you love music as much as we do; that I wish I could save you from the world’s ugliness; that I wish I could save you from future broken bones, crashed cars, and heartbreaks; that you’ll never know that, this very day, as you sit in my car and enjoy your Snickers ice cream bar, your dad loves you so profoundly that I have to turn my head and look out my window so you won’t see the tears I shed for you even now, as I drive.

There are times when the love one has for what is young and innocent (in worldly terms) overwhelms, when one knows, as a dad, that sin is crouching at the door and seeks to devour the naivete of your children. And your heart bursts inside your chest with words you can’t untangle.

And yet the song from decades ago says it. It says, in its own way, “I love you, boy. I’m far from perfect. I’m gone too much. And you’ll be gone soon. But your dad loves you, more than you can currently understand. But one day you may.”

In the Woods (1 Jan 2022)

I was walking in and alongside the creek. Shadows circled overhead. I looked up and saw the vultures. I knew there had to be carrion nearby. I kept walking and looking. Suddenly white caught my eye and there she lay: a young doe, inches from the creek. Not sure what the backstory is or why her days ended in this manner.

I kept hiking the creek. Crossed several times and sat down occasionally upon the rocks and felt the cool from the water. Saw game trails and scat from deer.

Climbed upon more rocks and spooked some whitetails that were bed down. An 8-point ran behind a doe and up the ridge across from me. I tried to video them but they were too fast for me and unwilling to be filmed today. Next time, perhaps. It’s hard to beat the trails and the scenes they display with the seasons. Here’s to more time in the woods in 2022.

When I returned to the house several miles later, Lady was waiting. Faithful girl:-)

Black Sandals, Silver Shopping Cart, & Emptiness to Go Around

For some reason I cannot explain, my eyes went first to her feet. I pulled into the gas station/convenience store for small items I did not want to patronize a big store for. I don’t care for crowds, so small stores are my thing, at least when I have a need for them. I pulled in and parked adjacent to the ice machines outside. When I put the car’s transmission into park and cut the engine, she caught my eye through my car’s windshield. She had stringy black hair. It was oily, overwhelmingly oily. She was in gray sweatpants, three or four layers of shirts, and a man’s jacket. She had on soiled white socks and black sandals. It was raining today, too, all day, and yet here she was–in sandals, with oily, stringy black hair, in dirty socks and black sandals, pushing a silver shopping cart in front of the ice machine at the gas station/convenience store. She never looked up at me–or at anything. She shuffled her way onto a worn dirt path that ran diagonally from the corner of the gas station to a copse of trees and scrub forty yards from the store. I watched her. I thought it odd she never looked up. She just pushed the cart. There was nothing in it, like it was the symbol of her life. What was I to do? Speak? Get her attention? For what? To offer … money? An ear to listen? Was she a drunk? Or was she an abused wife, living behind the station in squalor, because it was better than returning to some abusive alcoholic, violent man? Was she a mom? Were there children in the woods behind the station? Should I have gone to check?

When I got into the store, I momentarily forgot what I had come for. My thoughts were fixed upon the woman. Where was she? Where was I now? I finally remembered what I’d driven to the store for. I got my small items, paid the Indian or Pakistani man at the counter, and exited through the front door of the store where I had entered just a moment before. But much had changed within me. When I got to my car she was gone. Into the woods behind the store, I figured. With her cart full of nothing.

I drove back to my place, opened the door, laid my items on the table when I walked inside, and felt as empty as the shopping cart. The rain continued to fall. Her hair and those black sandals and that silver cart in the woods behind the station flooded my mind as the gray bore down.

Moonlight Through the Pines

It was like the Ray Charles line from “Georgia On My Mind.” I saw “moonlight through the pines.” I was on the running trail. The humidity was formidable. Thunderstorms were passing through the Southeast. Heavy rains had moved up from the Gulf and across Alabama and were now across Georgia. Tornado watches had been issued for much of the region. The clouds obscured the little moonlight available for most of my miles on the trail, but occasionally I would notice ghostly white light on the trail. I would look up and see there was a clearing in the clouds as they passed between the earth and our orbiting moon. Moonlight through the pines.

I inhaled the smells of rainwater that had pooled in low areas. I saw headlights in the distance from cars driving towards the trails atop a distant hill. Other early morning types were launching their days outside, too.

Countless times I have walked after the rain, smelled the rich earth, smelled the pines, gazed up at the moon, and seen clouds slide slowly across the skies, and known viscerally that we are designed to see and steward well that which we have been given.

Dickens Endures

Over the Christmas holidays, a friend told me of a movie, The Man Who Invented Christmas, about Charles Dickens. I watched the movie at his recommendation. I was not disappointed. It endeared Dickens to me again. His passionate commitment to his craft stagger the imagination. Why? Because of what he endured (some of which was self-inflicted). The trials he endured are now legendary. His permanence in the canon of great literature is justified. Reading of David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Pip, Joe, Sydney Carton, and on and on … these characters live in the literary mind just as much as Macbeth, Puck, and Juliet Capulet.

I have a handful of writers of whom I never tire. To be sure, Dickens is there. I’m now enjoying this bio of him and his work, too. Read books about Dickens, if you can. But by all means, read the works of Charles Dickens, and be enriched by them and deepened through them.