The Pain of Life . . .

Life is a precious gift . . . but it also involves pain, losses, trials, tribulations, confusion, and unanswered questions. Thus, life while precious . . . is also fragile.

It seems like when we get to feeling like we have figured out how life works, it suddenly throws us a curve and leaves us scratching our head and wondering what happened. I have certainly been rolling merrily along and suddenly be knocked off of the tracks. It is a troubling experience to land in a hospital and learn that an accident years earlier had actually resulted in a serious neck injury and over time has placed you in danger of paralysis. It is even more confusing a year later to step out of your car at McDonalds and fall in the parking lot because your legs just didn’t work . . . and then have the Neurosurgeon tell you that you have a serious spinal cord injury, and they might not be able to repair the injury.

Just this morning I received word from an attorney friend that her Dad had a heart attack over night and is in ICU in Corpus this morning. They all had plans for today and this wasn’t on any of their radar screens.

Sandy and I have an appointment to look at a house we might purchase. The house is owned by a young widow who is in danger of foreclosure. Her world was turned upside down a couple of years back. She and her husband left home for work one morning and their two daughters left for school . . . that afternoon her husband visited a drug dealer’s house, made his purchase, went into the restroom, shot up and instantly fell to the floor dead! That lady’s life and those of her young daughters changed dramatically . . . and they will spend their remaining years seeking to understand what put him at that dealer’s house that afternoon.

Sometimes such experiences wreck people’s lives. However, other folks manage to deal with the pain and confusion and move forward with life.

I know a fellow who lost a son to alcoholism, a daughter to cancer (both middle aged), and his wife to heart attack. Moreover, his once very successful business encountered a serious problem and he was forced to file Chapter 11 . . . he says he went from the penthouse to the out-house. I know that each loss broke his heart, but I never saw him shed a tear or complain about life being unfair or hard. What I did hear him say on several occasions was: “God is the giver of life, and what transpires in a life is in His providence and authority. He has the right to call His children home as he deems appropriate . . . and He doesn’t need to explain His decisions or reasons to the likes of me.” I know that is a rare thing to see such strength and faith. The simple truth is that most of the rest of us struggle in these confusing seasons. We sincerely want to have faith, live in that faith, and trust God in all things, but sometimes our pain gets in the way.

There is a great difference between the abstract and the concrete as evidence by the precious theologian C. S. Lewis. During 1940, Lewis wrote “The Problem of Pain.” His answer to why an all-good and all-powerful God would allow his creatures to suffer pain was a bit too neat and tidy. Among other things, he wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Then two decades later in his publication, “A Grief Observed,” which he wrote after his wife’s death. God’s megaphone didn’t just rouse Lewis, it nearly shattered him. In writing about his bereavement, he described what it was like to go to God “when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.” He added: “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’ ”

A block buster book of a few years ago attempted to answer the question Why Bad Things Happen to Good People. The truth of the matter is that I just don’t know the answer to that question . . . or many others like it. But, here is what I do know . . . There is a loving, all-powerful God out there watching over what is His . . . and I am not Him . . . but I am His . . . bought and paid for in accordance with His Master Plan.

So, I resolve periodically to resist my natural inclination to know and understand everything that comes along . . . and to focus my energy in simply walking by faith and trust Him in all things. It Seems to Me . . . that is about as good as it gets in life on earth.

 

A Poem to which We Can Relate . . .

I remember the corned beef of my childhood,
And the bread that we cut with a knife,
When the children helped with the housework,
And the men went to work . . . not the wife.

The cheese never needed a fridge,
And the bread was always crusty and hot,
The children were seldom unhappy,
And the wife was content with her lot.

I remember the milk from the bottle,
With the yummy cream on the top,
Our dinner came hot from the oven,
And not from a freezer; or shop.

As kids we were a lot more contented,
We didn’t need money for kicks,
Just a game with our friends in the road,
And sometimes the Saturday flicks.

I remember the shop on the corner,
Where biscuits for pennies were sold
Do you think I’m a bit too nostalgic?
Or is it that I’m just getting old?

Bathing was done in a wash tub,
With plenty of rich foamy suds
But the ironing seemed never ending
As Mum pressed everyone’s ‘duds.’

I remember the slap on my backside,
And the taste of soap if I swore
Anorexia and diets weren’t heard of
And we hadn’t much choice what we wore.

Do you think that bruised our ego?
Or our initiative was destroyed?
We ate what was put on the table
And I think life was better enjoyed.

Author, Unknown…

 

G O O D . . .

I suppose I could be described as a terrible Pappy, but Ali and Abi think I am a pretty good one. I know that it is important that children have rules and learn to abide by them . . . but I also believe a Grandpa has a certain license that carries some authority in such matters!

Sarah and Chris have rules for the girls. They are good rules and the girls are quite good in their compliance. I never interfere in any of that . . . except in occasional matters of diet. On a few occasions I slip them a bite of candy . . . that is just something a Pappy does . . . well, at least this Pappy does.

Recently, as we sat around the dinner table I asked Sarah a question about the girl’s home-schooling. I told her that as I recalled Ali was an accomplished reader by age four, but I was surprised that Abi is unable to read anything now that she is age four. Sarah explained like this: “Pappy, by the age of three Ali knew the alphabet and was anxious to learn to read. She worked really hard at that. That one over there,” pointing at Abi, “is a bit lazy and for her there are only three letters in the alphabet, those being: A . . . B . . . I. I decided that I would try to help with that, and adopted a policy of spelling things to her as I interacted with her. The events of that week provided fertile ground in which to plant! It was Sarah’s birthday and Nana told the girls that she was going to bake her a birthday cake. After discussion, they all agreed it would be a double chocolate cake . . . with a purple frosting. Abi was delighted at it all, and squealed in delight when she saw the cake. Her excitement tickled me . . . but also saddened me in that she would not be served a slice with the rest of the family (Sarah tries to keep her gluten-free). As we enjoyed that beautiful cake, Nana served Abi a gluten-free pop tart . . . and that made me sad. After dinner, the birthday celebration, and the kitchen was cleaned up, Nana put the cake in a cake dish and set it in the kitchen island. Everyone moved into the family room to visit.

After a bit, using my index finger, I motioned to Abi to come over to my chair. She came right over and climbed up onto my lap. I cupped my hand over my mouth and whispered into her little ear, “Do you want something good and spelled good?” With her sweet little eyes twinkling she asked me what that meant. I took her by the hand and led her into the kitchen, and put my index finger to my mouth, indicating shhhhh . . . she got it and put her little index finger up to her lips acknowledging her understand that we were in secret mode. I opened the kitchen drawer where the flatware is kept. She was on high alert as to what our crime might be. When I lifted the cover off of that chocolate cake her eyes grew quite large in absolute delight! Using the spoon, I cut a small bite away and placed the spoon down to her level. She was thrilled, and as she leaned forward to taste the forbidden fruit she place her sweet little hands up under her chin to ensure that not a single morsel fell to the floor. She did catch a bit and pushed it up to her mouth. As she lowered her hands, I chuckled that she now had a chocolate circle around her mouth. I must caution you that a four year old is not really a good, reliable, and safe partner in crime! As I looked at that sweet little face, smudged with chocolate, I could not resist giving her a second taste. She looked up at me in total adoration and said, “I love you, Pappy!” I smiled and whispered that I loved her, too. She looked up at me and said, “No, Pappy, I really, really, love you!” I chuckled, took a damp paper towel and wiped her sweet little mouth clean. We grinned at each other and used our index against our lips . . . pinkie-swearing to silence, and went to join the family.

Each evening we would repeat the crime and I would spell G O O D to her and she would spell it back to me. Several times during the day I would spell g-o-o-d out to her and she would spell it back and we would put our index fingers to our lips as we recommitted to our forever silence. I would tell her we had to maintain the secret cause her mom and Dad would skin me if they learned of the crime. She would giggle and say, “yeah!”

The girls needed to return to Waco on Saturday, so on Thursday when Nana came into the kitchen and saw our little angel with chocolate smudged on her face, we let her in on our criminal enterprise. After some grandma scolding, she relaxed and got on board. I reminded Nana that girls just want to have some fun, too . . . to which Abi vigorously nodded her agreement. Later that afternoon Abi took Nana by the hand and walked her into the kitchen and declared, “Nana, tonight my Pappy is gonna feed all of the rest of that cake” . . . and spelled g-o-o-d!”

Nana asked her, “Abi, do you know what G O O D spells?” Abi grinned really big and said, “I sure do!” Nana asked her what it spelled. Abi grinned really big and replied, “it spells Chocolate cake!”

I am not sure that we made much headway on the alphabet, her spelling, or her gaining any desire to learn to read, but I suspect that I managed to endear myself to the little elf . . . now, if she doesn’t forget our pinkie secret pact and throw me under the bus and get me clobbered!

I feel inclined to say the little skunk now owns me . . . but the truth of the matter is that she has owned me for a long time . . . and she know it. That all in all . . . is probably G O O D too! As I recall, one of her first near sentences was, “I Pappy’s girl!” It has been alleged that I taught her to say that, but I don’t recall it being like that.

I delight in being a Pappy!

Where is Ali in all of this mischief? She is now nine years old and far too mature for such shenanigans . . . she is preoccupied with her nose stuck in a book. She will grunt at me occasionally as I walk past.

 

Kejo . . .

It was late afternoon or really early evening when the phone rang and caller ID flashed a number with the 202 area code . . . which, of course, is Washington, D. C. Rather than letting the machine answer the call, I answered it. The gentleman on the other end was a polite, well-spoken fellow with a strong, smooth voice. From his speech, it was obvious that he was an African American. He inquired if I was the property manager; I said that I was the owner. He identified himself and said that his son, Kejo, had just leased an apartment at La Posada by email and telephone, and would be moving to Snyder in about a week. He went on to explain that Kejo had recently graduated from Auburn with a degree in Agricultural Engineering and had accepted a job with USDA—Soil Conservation Service and his first duty station was Snyder. He explained that his family lived in Centerville, VA., just across the Potomac from D. C., and that he was a fireman and his wife was a public school teacher. He paused and I sensed he was struggling to find a polite way to move on with the conversation, so I waited and allowed him time to think. Finally, he cleared his throat and said, “Sir, I was down at the fire-station today and like any proud Dad I told the Brothers about Kejo. Sir, the guys expressed concern and said that area of West Texas was full of Rednecks and, frankly, I am concerned about my son moving out there. I sure don’t want those rednecks to get Kejo!”

I told him that I was also a Dad and I certainly understood his concern. I told him that the guys at the fire-station were probably correct, and there certainly are some dudes in the area that might properly be described as being Redneck . . . especially if one used Jeff Foxworthy’s measuring stick. But I also assured him that his son would probably be safe if he would just avoid goofy situations. I went on to explain that my General Manager at La Posada was also African American, and her husband was the Pastor of a local church. I assured him that Linda would put her arm around Kejo and take him to church and introduce him around. That seemed to give him some comfort. I wrote his cell phone number down and assured him that I would do what I could and would try to keep in contact with him.

The next day, a young fellow from Central Texas showed up with his folks at the office. He announced that he had recently graduated from A & M and was going to work for USDA—Soil Conservation Service and was looking for an apartment. He completed the rental application and put a deposit on an apartment.

The next week the young Aggie and Kejo both moved in and started their new jobs. I got acquainted with them and immediately liked those good guys. I invited them to have dinner with me that evening at the local steak house. They accepted the invitation and both ate like it was the last supper . . . those dudes had spent four years living on Ramen Noodles and delighted in sinking their teeth into a great ribeye! Over dinner I told them that I had bought a nice ranch out in the Lake B J Thomas area. They were interested in seeing the place so we made an appointment for the next afternoon after they got off work. We drove out and they really liked the place and began offering ideas about things I could do to improve the place. The Aggie said he was working on his Master’s Degree and was working on soils, grasses, and range management and would love to use my place in his study. As we drove around on the Polaris Ranger, Kejo spoke of stock tanks, damns, and lakes. He pointed out several areas and offered to bring an instrument out and take some readings and develop a plan, and informed me that USDA—Soil Conservation Service would help with the costs of any such improvements. On the drive back to Snyder, I told the guys that I would have Homero, my foreman, deliver a set of keys for the ranch to their office the next day and told them to make themselves at home. They did just that.

Over the next few months I rarely drove out to the ranch in the afternoon without finding them there. They each had been issued a pickup truck and a four-wheeler by their employer, and they loved riding them in and out of the canyons.

I got busy on an acquisition and went a couple of months without visiting Snyder. Finally, I made my way back out there. My first afternoon back, I drove out to look over the ranch. I recall that I was at the barn pulling the Ranger out to take a spin around the place. As I backed out of the barn, Kejo rode up on his government-issued four-wheeler with a really big grin on his face. As we both got off of our rides to shake hands and greet each other, I was shocked at the transformation that had occurred in a brief period. Kejo was wearing boot-cut Wrangler jeans, cowboy boots, a Western-cut shirt, a white, straw cowboy hat, a large leather belt with a very large round belt-buckle like he had won the local bull-riding event in the annual rodeo. Most shocking was the half can of snuff under his lower lip. As he turned and walked back to his ride, I saw the West Texas status symbol . . . the white ring on the back pocket of his Wranglers!

When I returned to the office at La Posada, I opened the rolodex and found the card I had made on Kejo’s dad. I called him and when he answered I identified myself and told him that he had sure been right to be concerned about “them rednecks getting Kejo.” With concern in his voice, he inquired about what had happened. I explained the transformation that had occurred and said, “Them rednecks sure did get Kejo . . . and that dude is now a full-fledged redneck . . . and happy as a lark!” We shared a strained chuckle about kids and hung up.

As I walked over to the corporate apartment. I recalled Charlie Pride’s old song, “I Wonder Could I Live There Anymore” and thought that Kejo would likely never be able to live in the D. C. area again!

It Seems to Me . . . there is a real truth in the old idiom about getting the country out of the boy . . . being a totally different matter than moving the lad from the country!

 

 

38 Days . . . 6,975 Words . . .

The setting was an extremely remote country cemetery in Central Texas, and there was only a small group gathered to pay final respects. The young woman who had passed a few days before was my first cousin’s adopted daughter. Her name was Sarah. As I sat—graveside—and reflected on how very fragile life is, I remembered when Sarah first joined our family . . . she was only three days old. I remember her as a toddler . . . I remember her at family gatherings in her preteen years. I also remember her as a teenager . . . a pretty blonde-haired girl with large brown eyes that shined and matched her sweet smile. I remember her as a young woman . . . and a new Mama herself. As I sat there, I reflected back on Sarah bringing her husband and young son to our house to visit over a long summer’s weekend several years back. I remembered taking them out on the boat, catching a mess of fish, and our sharing a seafood dinner around our dining room table; it was a sweet time. As I sat in the country silence that afternoon last week, with hushed conversations taking place as folks greeted one another and offered condolences to the grieving Mom, I recalled having heard of the separation and that Sarah had moved to Florida. I didn’t hear much about Sarah for a few years until the past week’s news of her passing. To begin the service, the elderly country Preacher welcomed those gathered and thanked them for their attendance. He then led the group in reciting the Lord’s Prayer. He offered a brief eulogy and invited anyone present wishing to speak to rise and be heard. After a brief silence, a lady 47 years old stood and walked over to stand beside the Preacher. She identified herself as being Sarah’s biological sister.

I was dumbstruck as she told of having searched for Sarah most of her life and having found her just 38 days before Sarah’s passing. She told of their biological family having consisted of ten children . . . eight boys and two girls. For some peculiar reason, the birth parents had chosen to keep the eight boys, but put the two girls up for adoption. The lady said she was age seven when my cousin had adopted Sarah as a three-day-old infant, and had always had a vague recollection of a baby sister. She told of herself being adopted by a family living in Las Vegas. She spoke of the wonder of the Internet and FaceBook and having located Sarah, with some assistance by the adoption agency. She told of Sarah and herself taking DNA tests to verify kinship. It was a heart-breaking story, but one much like I hear far too often in my affiliation with South Texas Children’s Home.

The sister told of her great hunger and need to connect with her long-lost younger sister once the connection had been established. She spoke of many phone calls, e-mails, Facebook exchanges, and Instant messenger messages. She chuckled and told the gathering, “We exchanged 6,975 words in the brief 38 days of our new friendship. FaceBook tells you such information!”

There was certainly an obvious sorrow to be dealt with, but I was deeply touched and inspired as the older sister spoke of her deep and abiding faith in the life-changing power of the Lord Jesus Christ and the hope that comes through His Resurrection. She said, “I know that the Lord has a plan for our lives and sometimes that plan leaves us scratching our heads and even breathless, but I trust Him and fully understand that He knows best. I also know that one day I will be forever reunited with my little Sister and my Savior! I know that after that . . . there will never be another separation!”

As I sat there choking back tears, I offered thanks for the Children’s Home and the wonderful work it does in coming alongside fractured families and putting a large and strong arm around them. I offered thanks for my being asked to serve on that Board of Directors and provided with the opportunity to serve. As I looked over at my two younger sisters standing in the group, I gave thanks for a precious, loving mother who stood in the gap and prevented such from being our story. I smiled in my heart as the thought came to me that my sweet little Mama was there to welcome sweet Sarah as she entered the portals of Glory.

Hope is a great blessing . . . and so critical in times such as these. I plan to make a donation to the Children’s Home in honor of Sarah’s memory (and a sister’s testimony of love, faith, tireless effort, great joy, absolute heart break, and absolute trust and confidence).

It Seems to Me . . . that it is, indeed a fallen world with much heartbreak, but there is also great beauty . . . and there is hope!

Spring Break . . .

Today is March 3, 2017, and I am one happy dude! Ali and Abi are coming on Sunday for Spring Break . . . and will be here an entire week. Chris and Sandy both have to work, so I will be the main guy during the day!

When I was a kid we didn’t even know what a spring break was . . . we certainly didn’t have one. However, as an adult married to a public-school teacher, I have come to enjoy this new holiday . . . and actually look forward to its arrival. This year is made more special by Ali’s and Abi’s visit. Sandy gets her Spring Break the week of March 13, so we have from the 10th (her birthday) until the 19th . . . foot-loose and fancy-free! Courtney is working in Midland and will fly home on the afternoon of the 9th to spend the weekend with the birthday girl. I am sure that we will drive to the Hill Country house some time that week since Sandy loves being there, and she can get some much needed rest. I was up that way last week and saw signs of spring. It will be fun driving around the lake in the little convertible and enjoying the bluebonnets. We might get to enjoy a dinner with the little girls up that way, too.

I signed up for Social Security yesterday!