When I say “Uncle”

Many and long are the tales we could spin about an old uncle of mine (a great uncle, actually). His life did have certain elements that excited the imagination and made one cringe, like being from Bowlegs, Oklahoma, for one. Second, he was named for his mother’s former lover, not the current husband who fathered him—like I said….

His first wife was actually the one I was kin to. She was my blood great aunt. She was rough, bordering on mean, a chronic cheat (yes, I mean an adulteress), cursed worse than her husband, and was addicted to gambling and prescription drugs. Her dark, soulless eyes would bore right through you, and her wrinkled lips would curl up while she asked, “Sugar, do you want a piece of pie?” in that heavy smoker’s voice. (I can talk about my aunt that way, but you can’t.) She could make an awesome pecan pie though.

For many years, they worked together in Alaska hauling oil field equipment. He drove the truck, and she drove the pilot vehicle. Both were tough and would have rivaled the cast of any modern day reality show. After a half century of marriage (you can imagine the dish throwing sessions), they called it quits by filing for divorce. Broke, but able to retain the family homestead, old Uncle sank into self pity. My aunt admitted herself to a retirement home and lived out her days in the care of her daughter.

Old Uncle wasn’t beat yet. In the back of his mind, he recalled a sweet young thing who had been his eighth grade sweetheart. Not sure what his motives were, but he called her up. She was recently widowed and rather loaded. She was the antithesis of my old aunt. This sweet woman was a former social worker, Sunday School teacher, and of the inner circle of the lady’s clubs of genteel society. He told her all his woes. In bleeding heart fashion, she glided down from Oklahoma with the intent of rescuing him from his penniless fate, and taking him back to Oklahoma to live out his days in relative ease. Only, she didn’t count on crafty old Uncle. He wooed her, showed her the ranch and prevailed upon her heart to ditch suburban life and become a ranch wife (or rather benefactor who would save the ranch, with the grand title of “wife” besides).

After the divorce from my aunt and subsequent remarriage to his Oklahoma sweetheart, it never occurred to me not to retain him as Uncle. After all, I had known him my whole life, and it never dawned on me that we weren’t really kin. So, we happily partook in his remarriage plans. At the celebration, he demanded that his mules, Mabel and Sam, be saddled. He and his bride were going to ride across the pasture. Mabel was an ornery old mare, and Sam was a gentle gelding. At ages seventy-eight and eighty, the newlyweds mounted their steeds.

Mabel was outraged. She stampeded with the new bride astride her bony back, while Sam just stood in bewilderment and refused to go anywhere. Assuredly, he was wondering why he had been re-enlisted after six years of retirement. The new bride suffered a broken hip and a rather battered face. They spent their honeymoon in the hospital. Her grown children looked at us with accusatory faces, as if we could have stopped Uncle from his determined attempt to relive his glory days and to demonstrate his former rodeo skills.

Undeterred, the plucky new bride (after months of recovery) found a solution to the deflated pride of her groom who still wanted to be able to ride in style once again. Instead of riding mules, they would buy a draft horse and wagon. Together, they would ride over the 500 acre ranch, checking on the cattle, goats, geese, ducks, and llamas. Yes, they did.

It worked for a while, then the newness wore off, and they didn’t use the horse for months at a time. After about six months of being left alone in a pasture, the draft horse was roped and hooked up to the wagon. At first, he responded, but then, he seemed to have had enough of the nonsense. He shook his head and seemed to have a bright idea: if he refused to acknowledge the tug on the reigns, what exactly were they going to do about it? He picked up more and more speed. As the giant horse hurtled toward the open gate, all seemed lost. Uncle and bride were holding on for dear life when they were suddenly arrested by a friendly neighbor who had witnessed the debacle. Not long after that, the draft horse and the wagon went up for sale.

The influx of income from Oklahoma got the ranch rolling once again. Soon, Uncle was back in good form. And, in truth, they were very happy, and everyone could see it (he hadn’t just married her for her money). We welcomed them with open arms. They often visited our home and decided that they would start attending the small community church where we were members. Their time in our community rendered to many members their own tales of Uncle. He is rather notorious in these parts.

One day he called us and said that he needed to move his cattle from one pasture to another, but his hired hands were on family emergency leave, and would we come help him? Of course we would. When we arrived, my dad was also there. We hadn’t known he was coming. We were slightly confused because he was in a cast and on crutches. How was he going to help move cattle? “He can drive the truck,” Uncle said. He gave some rather blanket and generic instructions, then we all headed to the vehicles. I espied the tires on his cattle trailer and said, “These won’t hold up. How long since this thing has been moved?”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” I was told. “It’ll hold up. That trailer has been around longer than you have.” That’s what I was worried about. It hadn’t been moved in years, and I suspected that the tires had sun rot.

On the way to the pasture where the cattle were, we blew out two tires on the trailer. Uncle said, “Don’t worry. There are six tires. We still have four. We’re good.”

“Where are these cattle?” I asked when I began to realize that we were leaving Uncle’s property and were headed across into a neighbor’s pasture.

“They are over here. I was helping my neighbor with his grazing. He had too much grass.” I swallowed hard. I just hoped that this neighbor was out of town. “And, these ARE your cattle?” I asked, afraid of the answer. I got the look that said, “I should slap you, but I won’t.”

“Of course, they are my cattle, but they are in the neighbor’s pasture.” The story finally came out. Uncle had been “helping” his neighbor graze down the pasture while the neighbor had been gone for nearly a year, blissfully unaware; and, now that the neighbor was returning (he had courteously informed Uncle of his return), it was time to move the cattle.

What ensued was a momentous occasion permanently imprinted in my brain. Uncle dropped off dad by an open gate and told him not to allow the cattle to go through that gate. I hesitated and said, “I thought dad was driving the truck?”

“Naw. I’ll drive. He is better used here.” Dad hobbles to the gate and stands guard. I began to wonder about the second gate that stood open, about fifty yards from the first gate.

“What about that gate?” I asked.

“The cattle know not to go through that gate. They never go through that gate. It’ll be alright. I’ll park the trailer here. You go on up the hill and drive the cattle down here. They’ll load right up.” I had my doubts. How long since he had worked these cattle? Did they even remember what a human being looked like?

I begin my trek on foot up the hill some half mile away. The cattle see me coming and don’t like it. I make it around and behind the cattle and begin my drive, slowly raising my arms and bellowing at the cattle, but not too wildly, so they don’t spook, but just so they are motivated to get up and move down the hill. I think all is going well and continue my walk. I crest the hill and look down toward the trailer. Uncle is waving his arms wildly and screaming at dad, “The other gate! The other gate! Don’t let them go through that other gate!” Dad responds by grabbing his crutches and hobbling as fast as he can over cacti and rocks to close the gap between him and the other gate. Too late. In their haste, the cattle didn’t remember that they weren’t supposed to go through that gate. Four hours later, they were finally loaded onto the trailer and deposited back on Uncle’s property.

By this time, I was so thirsty, I thought I could drink anything. After seeing his water jug, that he so generously offered me, my thirst was quenched without even taking a drop. The tobacco juice all over the spout quenched my thirst better than a cold Gatorade.

The trip back home was agonizingly slow, like 10 mph, because we only had four tires and two rims by now. But, the good news was that dad was no worse for the wear, although, one of his crutches did fall prey to the stampeding hooves of an angry heifer.

It was about ninety-eight degrees outside by that time and we were exhausted and not in very good humor. The lunch hour had long ago come and gone; nonetheless, Uncle invites us in for a very late lunch. Laying out on the bar are hotdogs, mayonnaise and various other lunch items. I look at them in dismay. They were the same items I had seen laying out on the bar early that morning, and I began to suspect that they had been there yesterday, too. Uncle grabs one (without washing his hands) and asks if I am hungry. “Not very,” I manage. I realized that today I was going to fast.

It wasn’t long after this, that one day while at church, Uncle grabs me by the neck and pulls me down so he can whisper in my ear (very loudly, which everyone heard), “I think someone is trying to poison me.” My eyebrows shot up. I pulled away and looked at him questioningly. “I keep getting sick. I think someone is doing something to my food.” I decided it was time to go to Uncle’s house and clean out his refrigerator. After that, there were no more episodes of someone trying to kill him.

One day, his wife called and said that their dog, Jody, a very large Pyrenees sheepherding dog, had puppies in the garage. I smiled and said, “That’s great.” She said yes, it was wonderful, and could I help her find homes for them all. I said I would be happy to. The next weekend, I drove out their way to see the puppies and to do some odds and ends for them around the place. I saw the puppies and was slightly perplexed. I had presumed that the father would also have been a Pyrenees, or something of similar breed/stature. The puppies were quite small and spotted. I asked, “What kind of dog was Jody bred to?”

“Oh, she wasn’t supposed to do that,” I was told. “It was the neighbor’s bird dog/rat terrier cross.” Oh boy, I thought. How was I going to advertise homes for that? I thought of a good line: “Wanted–good homes for sheepherding bird dogs that chase rats.”

Jody was their outside dog. They had five little inside dogs (poodles and Pomeranians). Jody stayed on the place (unless visiting the neighbor), but the little dogs went everywhere that Uncle went—including church and, of course, our house. These little dogs were my nemeses. I hated them. One day while at church, Uncle left the truck running so the dogs could have air conditioning. During the Invitation, we suddenly heard a yowling and gurgling of intense proportions. Some of us rushed outside to see what murder was taking place. One of the little dogs had mashed the window button and rolled himself up and was choking. Unfortunately, he survived. Uncle was so relieved that his favorite poodle hadn’t killed itself, that he swaggered back into the church and sat down in what he thought was his seat…right on top of my brand new cowboy hat. Squished it flatter than flat. The preacher, bless his longsuffering soul, finally finished that Invitation.

It was pretty typical to have an unannounced visit by Uncle about once a week. The little dogs always accompanied these occasions. They would rush out of the truck and toward the house. If we happened to be enjoying the weather and had the doors open, they would not wait for us to open the screen doors. They would simply create little doggy doors. Once inside, they would initiate new turf, including table legs, the corners of the bar, etc. We would chase after them with a spray bottle of Lysol and a rag. We fixed the screen doors many times. One day, we had simply had enough, and we asked Uncle not to allow his little dogs out of the truck when they came to visit. This suggestion hurt his feelings so badly, that he didn’t come see us for months.

On their fourth anniversary of wedded bliss, he called us. They were coming back from Oklahoma where they had been to celebrate, and they wanted to stop in. We said, “Of course.” We had supper waiting and prepared for a visit. When they arrived, they were pulling a small trailer loaded with containers of food—most of which had lost their lids, somewhere between here and Oklahoma. Most notably was a large pot of beans and some kind of green jello, pudding. They eagerly unloaded their goods and brought their offerings into the house, proclaiming that they had brought supper. Seeing as the temperatures were hovering in the high nineties, and the food had been unrefrigerated and uncovered for who knows how long, we were very sincere in asking of the Lord’s blessing over the food as they ladled large portions onto our plates. We graciously declined the more risky dishes, such as the cole slaw, potato salad, deviled eggs and anything containing chicken.

After supper, Uncle excused himself and went out onto the porch. I had a slight red flag raise in my mind, because Uncle didn’t smoke, but I thought that perhaps he just needed to stretch his legs after his long drive and might be enjoying the evening view. After a few minutes, we heard a heart wrenching, “Awwwkkk!” and then an ominous thud. I had a sinking feeling. Outside, we found Uncle on the ground entangled in a yellow rose bush that had been growing beside the porch. His pants were unzipped, and a body part, bleeding profusely, was protruding from his britches. He had been peeing off the porch onto the yellow rose bush when he lost his balance. He was moaning and thrashing about. We grabbed towels and got the bleeding stopped (he was on blood thinners, so it was no easy task). We got him upright and bandaged up. The death of the rose bush ensued, because he had crushed it. But, this event did inspire me to put up rails on the porch, even though the porch was barely six inches off the ground.

As I mentioned, Uncle was on blood thinners. He had already suffered a few heart attacks. We were cognizant of the fact that at any moment, he could “go”, as we like to say. I had been concerned about his eternal reward for some time. He just seemed to live a bit on the edge, in my opinion. One day, while he was visiting our home, I asked him if he “knew our Lord” and/or was “ready” for when that time would come. He was duly offended and shouted, “Of course, I know the Lord. How do you think it would feel if someone questioned YOUR Christianity!?” I shook my head and said, “Well, I think I’d be honored that they cared enough about me to question it.” He blustered, “Well, I’m not honored, you little #$%^@#.” He dusted off his hat and left in a huff. It was some time before we saw him again after that.

When he came back around and forgave us for our audacity, we began to suspect that he was getting unsafe behind the wheel. His brand new, pristine, double cab F-250 looked like it had been in a demolition derby. We asked him what had happened. He said, “Every time I go to Walmart or the grocery store, somebody hits me. I come out and see more dents.” The fact that at church, nobody parked within thirty yards of him (or even his parking spot, if he wasn’t there yet), was somewhat of an indication of what was going on.

His driving would have to be addressed soon. One day he pulled up to the gate at the ranch. His wife got out to open the gate. The truck rolled forward and hit her, knocking her down. Thankfully, it didn’t run over her. He was so upset about it, that he refused to let her open the gate after that. He insisted on doing it himself. One day, he thought he put the truck in park and got out to open the gate himself. The truck rolled forward and did, actually, run right over him. He was once again rescued by the same neighbor who had stopped the runaway wagon ride. But, to add to his wounded pride at running over himself, Uncle suffered a torn off left ear and tire marks across his chest and shoulder. He survived but was hospitalized in a trauma unit about one hundred miles from where he lived.

Everything was about 100 miles from where he lived on his ranch in rural central Texas. On these occasions of medical emergencies, it was not just a hop and a skip to the nearest hospital. It took planning to accommodate such episodes, so we often offered to take his wife to see him at regular intervals. During this time, we realized that her mental capacities had progressed to the point that she needed supervision, so we did not leave her at the hospital when we took her to visit her husband, but stayed for several days with her in hotel rooms, until she was ready to go home again. It came to the point, however, that we needed to notify her children of her condition. They had careers and children and grandchildren of their own and needed some time to arrange their schedules before they could come and take care of her, so, at one point, our constant care of her extended to a two-week interval. During this time, she would have various mental breakdowns (I think because of the stress of her husband’s condition), and she would become impatient with us for not letting her walk-about at will or for not letting her take her car and go shopping by herself. One day, she called her daughter and said that we had kidnapped her and stolen her car and wouldn’t give it back. We were honored, to say the least, to have been implicated in such an outlaw plot. After that, the daughter arrived and kindly took over her mother’s care until Uncle recovered.

Months after that, Uncle resumed his residence at the ranch. But, those heart attacks did continue. After another heart episode that occurred at church, after we picked him up off the floor (he was a rather large individual), he said, “There is no need to call the ambulance this time. Just take me home.” Prior to this, he had been transported twice from the church to the hospital for heart related issues. We said, “No, we’d better get you to the emergency room.” We transported him by private vehicle. He was well acquainted with the medical personnel by this point and couldn’t resist poking at the nurses and female paramedics.

After a few days, he was declared fit enough to leave the hospital. We, along with several family members, were at the hospital to see him and hopefully drive him home. Against the doctor’s advice, Uncle was intent on driving himself home (the doctor had just finished privately instructing us not to let either Uncle or his wife drive home). Uncle suspected that we were plotting against him driving himself and bellowed that he had driven a truck for fifty years, and he was still good behind the wheel. The doctor just shook his head. Uncle was rolled out in his wheelchair, and several folk gathered around to pat him and speak with him. Someone in the family asked how he was. He answered, “I’m fit as a fiddle! Ha! A little old heart attack isn’t going to do me in! You’ll see. I’m going to live a lot longer than this!” He hiccupped and swallowed, then hiccupped again. Then, his face turned a different shade, and we all realized that we were looking at a dead man. He had died right there, in his chair, telling us how long he was going to live.



Let’s Pretend to be Real, so we don’t come across as Fake.

We read some dialogue between two theologians recently. I use the word “theologian” with a grain of salt. You will understand in a minute. Dr. X and Dr. Y (seminary professors and pastors in our locale) were discussing the youth of today. In that discussion, they mentioned that regarding religion, youth “just want realism today”. Ironically, the solution that these two “theologians” agreed upon was that religious leaders in churches and colleges should mold themselves into, and present themselves as, what the youth are looking for because, “youth can spot ‘fake’ a mile away.” HHHmmm. Okay, so, let’s pretend to be real and sincere because that is what the youth want. Because, let’s see again…oh yeah, they don’t like fakes. What can you say?

This is on the heels of another conversation yesterday with an individual who has been a religious leader for decades. We have known this person for many, many years and have never really heard them express gratitude for much. In fact, the opposite was often true. Their attitude was obviously, “you owe me that and a lot more.” Imagine our surprise when this person was loudly expressing thankfulness and gratitude for multiple things that we and others had done over the years. I sat in slightly stunned surprise. What had created the change? Even some tears accompanied the platitudes. Later, I spotted a book that this person had been reading and that they recommended to me. The book was, “Be Thankful or Lose Your Mind…Literally”. The book went on to explain that because of the way God made us, expressing gratitude is important to mental health. Okay. I get it. I agree that thankfulness is indeed important, just as forgiveness is. Holding on to bitter or negative emotions is dangerous to one’s health. But, I sadly realized that this person, although well intentioned, was not expressing gratitude because they were truly grateful…they were expressing gratitude out of a mental health exercise. They wanted to be sure they had healthy mental attitudes…Wow. What can you say? Just the fact that they are doing that shows that they are already in a sad state mentally.

This is the kind of “fake” that youth can indeed spot. Christ doesn’t need “fake” representatives. He is the real thing. He expects the real thing from His followers.

This is along the same theme as another article we wrote but wanted to wait for the Memorial Day weekend to pass. The article is about “Selling” the Gospel. We will post that one a little bit later.

A Godly Moral Compass that Regulates both Private and Public Affairs

We have noticed a trend that seems to have escalated in the last few years. This trend troubles both Sarah and me. We believe that a capitalist based economy is the best economic form for a society. Capitalism not only rewards hard work, ingenuity, creativity, etc., but it encourages it.  I stand to reap the economic rewards for my efforts and creativity; therefore, I have a reason to excel and achieve in the marketplace, much like an athlete has a reason to excel or achieve in his or her chosen sport. If I run the fastest in a race, I am rewarded with a 1st place ribbon or trophy. Actually, that held more true when I was a kid in the days before “participation trophies”; but that is another subject for another time. But I’ll just say that, if in the Olympics, everyone only received participation medals, the games wouldn’t be the same.

While we believe that capitalism is the best economic form, it needs to be kept closely in check by another force. That force is not government, because government is not capable of the task.  Only one entity is capable—it is He who imparts us with the ability to govern ourselves and our actions. I am speaking of God and the Godly moral compass He imparts to his followers.   Without a Godly moral compass or governor, capitalism over time becomes controlled by greed, which results in dishonesty, selfishness, and a list of other vices. These vices, in turn, create all kinds of misery for society at large. Does any of this sound familiar? Has anyone reading this experienced any unscrupulous marketing or business practices of late? This is the trend that we were speaking of earlier. It has always been around, but it is escalating in mainstream, and even small town America. Why? Because we have removed God from most of our society; hence we have removed the Godly moral compass that should keep our business practices in check. Without this governor, our business practices become ruled by profits and bottom lines. If we remove regard for God’s laws and compassion for humanity from the equation, price gouging doesn’t exist, neither would deceptive marketing. It would be about a business extracting as much money as possible for the least amount and least quality of a product or service as possible. Sound familiar? Because we have deemed ourselves too good for God, we now live in a world of escalating deceptive advertising, deceptive packaging, and deceptive pricing of products that are often shrinking in quality and size, all in an attempt to maximize profits. We have lost our Godly moral compass of what is right. While you might expect this type of behavior from the world at large, sadly many people who attend church and claim to follow Christ have developed the attitude that church is  church, and business is business, and they need to be as profitable as possible: it is just good business. God has become compartmentalized; He no longer has complete rule of our lives. We have become out of control. We have in essence removed ourselves from the principle stated in the Scripture passage, 1 Cor. 10:31, which states, “whatever we do, do unto the glory of God.”

Why can’t government step in to remedy this situation? Simple: because without a Godly moral compass, Government is just as corrupt as the businesses they are supposed to keep in check. In our society, “government” is a group of elected or appointed individuals, most often from within our own communities. There is no such thing as a mysterious entity called “government” absent the people. Government, is, in its very essence, people who are in positions to govern. Some societies choose a monarchy and are ruled by royal families. Some societies are prone to dictatorships and are governed at the point of a sword or gun. But, even in those situations, it is still people who are in a position to govern. In our society, those who govern are most often chosen through an election process and are consequently put in charge “at the consent of the people” to manage public affairs. However, they can, and often do, go awry with the power with which they are entrusted. We must return that internal governor of God awareness in order for both private and government affairs to be fair, just, honest, and effective. Otherwise, the strongest one wins, the one with the most money, power, influence, or intimidation techniques runs over the “governed”, and it most certainly does not represent the ideal of “with the consent of the governed.”

Bug Spray and Citronella: An Easter Message

We came in from mowing this afternoon and walked up on the porch. There, for all to see, was a spider web woven between the citronella candle and the can of bug spray. I quickly wiped away the spider web and squished the little fellow; then, I thought, “I should have taken a picture of that.” I know that a picture is worth a thousand words, but here are my thousand words, with no picture.

The bug spray didn’t do any good in the can, and the citronella candle didn’t do any good unlit and just sitting in its canister. What makes the bug spray effective, and what makes the citronella effective as a bug deterrent? The bug spray must be applied, and the candle must be lit. I know that some of you know where this is going.

There is a spiritual parallel here. Now, I’ve known people who display crosses, religious books, Bibles, and other Christian paraphernalia openly in their homes, vehicles, or places of work or business. Sometimes, these same people have forgotten to open the can and spray the bug spray; or, they have forgotten to light that candle, so to speak. What good does it do them? Sometimes these same people are the most difficult to deal with; they are the rudest at restaurants; they are the pushiest in line; they are the loudest and most critical; they are the most inconsiderate of others; they are the first ones to get what they want in product or time and do not seem to care if others are considered. They forget to put themselves last. They forget to go without so others can go with. They forget to be forgotten so others can be remembered.

Having a Bible displayed in a prominent place or hanging a cross around one’s neck is not good enough. One must apply the contents therein. Reading the Bible and applying it are a sure-fired way of not having spiders build nests right on top of you. A spider web represents uncleanliness. Unclean living can be done right in front of a Bible. However, when the Word of God fills you, the desire for uncleanliness leaves. Just like when we spray that bug spray. Suddenly, those spiders don’t want to hang around. When we light that citronella candle, those bugs suddenly find somewhere else to be. When we apply the Word of God and when we are filled with the Living Word (the Spirit of Jesus), those unclean habits will suddenly go elsewhere. They won’t corrode your life with uncleanliness; they won’t cloud your judgement with cobwebs.

Happy Easter, Everyone. God Bless you and fill you.

“They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”

I was seated at an outdoor restaurant on the San Antonio Riverwalk. My date had been thoughtful and had chosen an upscale and picturesque venue. He ordered wine and made light conversation. He was in his mid 30’s and was a professor at a university. I was in my mid 20’s and was writing for a publishing company. Both of our professional futures had promise.

Soon, the conversation turned more serious, and he asked me if I would date him exclusively, with marriage in mind, a little bit down the line. It wasn’t exactly a proposal, but it was a request for a more serious dating relationship with marriage being the goal in a few years.

I paused. I couldn’t fool myself or him. It just wasn’t there for me. He had everything a woman could want; just not this woman. I smiled. It was an awkward moment. I said, “No. I’m looking for something different. I just can’t commit to anything more serious.” He was a bit surprised. He was quite a catch, and he knew it. “Well, what do you want?” He asked, taken aback. I sighed. What did I want? I could feel it, but could I articulate it?

While in college, I had attended a church where I had met a married couple who made a profound impression on me. They were in their 50s at the time. Their children were older than I was and were out of the home. My senior year in college, I was looking for a place to live closer to the university I was attending, instead of having a long commute. I refused to live on campus and had never even considered it. My mother suggested that I ask the couple I so admired if they would rent a room to me. While at Bible study one evening, I mentioned it to the woman. She was delighted and made me feel very welcome. I moved in without delay. They treated me like a daughter and would not take rent money from me. Over the course of the year or so that I was there, I witnessed an amazing marital relationship—such as I had never seen—it was one of love and devotion, respect, fun-loving jabs and retorts, laughter, and eye-rolling at “honey do’s”. It was real. There were no pretenses. She adored him, and he was her everything. He loved her more than he loved himself, and it showed. I subconsciously tucked these things away, not knowing that I had observed in them a standard that no one whom I would date from then on could live up to. I could not get over it. I had to have that, or I would have nothing. I didn’t mind being single. But, being in a pretentious marriage was more than I could bear.

On the Riverwalk that night, when the professor asked me what I wanted, I found myself describing a man that somewhat fit into an old western movie: I wanted a gentleman who said, ‘Yes ma’am.’ I wanted someone who was at ease with either presidents or peasants. I wanted someone with a plain name—John, Tom, or Sam, or something like that—I didn’t want someone named Wellington, Davenport, or Piccadilly. I wanted someone who was confident in who he was and who didn’t obsess in the mirror over his hair gel. I wanted someone who would give you the shirt off his back and who worried more about pleasing God than padding his bank account. I wanted someone whose ‘Yes’ meant ‘Yes’ and whose ‘No’ meant ‘No.’ I didn’t want someone who squabbled over insignificant details and differences. I wanted a self-made man, not a company man or a union man. I wanted a one-woman man—his heart had to be true toward me, and he had to genuinely love me.

My list included a few more items along these lines. My date interrupted me often as I talked. He didn’t agree with me. I had named nothing of ‘importance’ in his mind that made a good marriage: career, social connections, family connections, ambition, politics, religion. “Besides,” he said, “they don’t make them like that anymore. You are describing a throw-back, not a modern man. I’ll bet you can’t even name anyone like that—except maybe your grandpa.” I smiled. No, not even my grandpas (both of whom were deceased) fit this description.

Months later, when God saw fit, He introduced me to the man who would become my husband. Ironically, he was so real, that he once told me that I was a “little snot” who was spoiled and bratty. And he was right. I was selfish and lost in my own little selfish world. My ideals had not met reality, even in myself. For three years we were simply “friends”. I dated; he dated. We would get together and talk about our dates. We admitted one time that whenever we were on a date with someone else, we thought about how much more fun we had together instead of with others. We talked about what we really wanted in a spouse. One day, it hit us. What were we doing? It was right in front of us. He was the first one to broach the subject. Would I consider going on an actual date with him? I said that I was afraid to mess up what we had. It was so good and so real. I said that maybe we could try it. That night, he kissed me. That was it. It was real, and we knew it. Two months later, we were married. That was thirteen years ago this month. He is still the man of my dreams, and so much more. They do still make them like that. But, they are rare. I’m so blessed to have one of those rare models.

Who Decides Right and Wrong?

I have stated many times that man or humanity cannot deem what is right or wrong; it can merely determine legalities according to the laws created by the morality of that society. Like it or not, only God determines right or wrong, and we as humans are subject to his decisions. Recently our nation has recognized the legality of same sex marriage, while it is now legal according to our laws and accepted by many as legitimate, these actions do not , I repeat do not, make it right. Why? As I stated before, God determines right and wrong.  We, as individuals, and as a collective (society), are not sovereign over God, but rather, are subject to Him. He does not have to accept our laws; we have to accept His.  God doesn’t have to accept something as right just because it is now legal in our country.

The strength, health and legitimacy of a society are really judged on how its laws align with God’s laws. If its legal system is based on God’s principles, all of that society’s judges and courts should be the same in determining right or wrong based on God’s stance not their political viewpoint. There is one standard. If the standard was followed, there would be not liberal or conservative judges with personal and political viewpoints coming in to play.

We tend to think of religion (following God’s way) or anti religion (against God’s way) along political lines—if someone is “liberal” he or she tends to be anti religion (not religious themselves and not friendly toward individuals and institutions who are); if someone is “conservative” he or she may be more religion friendly, if not also religious themselves. This is not always the case. Just because someone is “conservative” does not make them godly. In fact, there are such things as conservative atheists who are not hostile to religion but who do not espouse it themselves. There are “conservative” humanists and secularists who believe more in man’s power than God’s power. And, just because one is liberal, does not make one against God. Churches are full of Christians who tend to lean toward a liberal political viewpoint. One cannot be grouped merely by their political affiliation or their religious affiliation.

People on both sides and all along the political scale (from far left to far right) have ideas on what this country should look like in the future and where we should go from here. They have ideas of what laws we need to pass, what laws we need to abolish, and so on. When one side of the political scale gets their way and a law is passed, the other side weeps and mourns, proclaiming doom and gloom; when the other side gets their way in the political system, the first side proclaims that the apocalypse is just around the corner.

The truth is, the only hope we have as a nation is to bring ourselves back in alignment with God. Try as we may, we will never bring God into alignment with us. We must be One Nation, Under God or we will become fragmented along the cracks that have already begun to develop in our society. As much as I urge my fellow countrymen to do so, sadly, I do not see us uniting under God. We will continue to try to unite under laws passed by man and man’s strength, which, in time, will result in a fractured nation that may or may not stay intact. In truth, our country now resembles a broken windshield—pieces of shattered glass barely held together and technically still in place, but obviously very broken. Again, our only hope of our nation’s repair is in God. This is achieved by giving Him His rightful place—Sovereignty over us.

The Scriptures are full of episodes in different nation’s existences that can be summed up best in this verse: Psalm 33:12, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord; and the people whom He hath chosen for His own inheritance.” Throughout history, many nations have risen and fallen as the Lord has seen fit. He can call into existence a nation out of nowhere, and He can cause the mightiest nation to fall. It seems like the stronger a nation gets, the more independent of God it thinks it is. It becomes its own god and offers up a plethora of false deities to its masses to please different regions and groups.

I mentioned Psalm 33:12 in particularly to a man who attends church regularly and who identifies politically as both a Christian and a liberal Democrat. He said that he does not accept that verse because it implies that if the Lord God is not the God of our nation, we will not receive His blessings, and that’s not fair. This person’s beliefs toward God were that He is fair, and like a social program that doles out benefits equally to all, God should do the same. He (God) should not have preferences or dole out His blessings selectively to people who accept Him and follow His ways.

I was speechless. How can one argue with that (ill)logic?

Right now, our nation has many gods. But there is only One Sovereign God, and we seem to want any other god except Him. Ultimately, we want to be our own god.

In Article 3 of the “Declaration of the Rights of Man” approved in 1789 by the French National Assembly, a statement reads, “The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation. No body or individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation.” This socialist, humanist, atheist world view governed the actions of the notable and infamous French Revolution. Clearly, they had become their own god. And, history tells us where that leads.


Rocks for Toilet Paper

We met a family who had recently moved to a small, rural community. They were very happy to be there and were clearing the land of cactus and intended to run some livestock and plant a large garden. They were eager and happy to get out of the city and live in the quiet solitude of the country. They were blue collar at best and had very little disposable income, but they were hard workers and had a vision for their place. It was a very humble home, but cozy for them and their nine-year-old son. They befriended an elderly woman who was their nearest neighbor and volunteered to help her with yard work, etc. One day, while we were visiting this elderly woman, whom we had known for some time, she introduced us to her new neighbors who happened to be there at the same time that we were that day.

We were happy to meet the neighbors and were pleased that they seemed like good folks. For nearly a year, we did not encounter them again. One day while sitting at home, Sarah said she felt like she was supposed to go visit them. I said, “Do you mean Dora?” (the elderly lady whom we already knew). Sarah said, “No. I think I am supposed to go visit John and Miriam.” I said, “Well, you don’t really know them, but okay.”

Sarah baked some cookies and made up a nice gift basket with a note that read, “Just thinking about you guys and hoping all is well.” She drove to where they lived and knocked on the door. The wife answered and was surprised to see Sarah, who explained that she had brought a gift basket and wanted to let them know that we were thinking of them and hoping they were doing well. Miriam graciously invited Sarah into the house and accepted the gift basket. They sat on the couch together, and Sarah asked who the little girl was playing in the corner. She was probably around three years old. Miriam explained that it was one of John’s relative’s daughters. The child had been removed by social services, and John and Miriam said that they would keep her for a while (they ended up keeping her for two years).

During the conversation, Miriam emotionally broke down. No, they were not doing well. Long story short, John had been laid off and was out looking for work. Miriam had always worked at home and cared for the livestock, etc. but she was actively looking for employment as well. They were a one-car family, so they had to work around each other’s employment schedules. Their son had been playing ball at a cousin’s house and had run out in front of a truck that had hit the boy accidentally and broken his leg.

Sarah began to look around. There was hardly any furniture. She asked Miriam about it, who said that they had sold nearly everything to keep food on the table and pay the boy’s medical bills. Sarah noticed that there was hardly any food in the house, either.

Miriam said she wasn’t sure what they were going to do if God didn’t help them. She and John had made the decision not to get on welfare. They did not want to take government subsidies. They wanted to find work and stay out of debt, if possible. They had always paid as they went, and if they couldn’t pay for it, they went without. But they had reached an all-time low. Miriam revealed to Sarah that they were even out of toilet paper and shampoo. Sarah asked what they did for toilet paper. Miriam said that they went out to the pasture and collected rocks that were smooth. After they used the rocks, they collected them in a bucket and took them outside where they dumped them on the ground and hosed them off. Then, they would clean the rocks and reuse them.

Sarah asked what they did for shampoo. Miriam said that they used hand soap because that is all they had. Miriam ran her fingers through her hair with a look of disgust on her face. “It makes my hair feel nasty.” Sarah nodded in agreement. On a camping trip one time she had used hand soap for shampoo. It was not a repeat.

Sarah asked if the elderly neighbor was aware of their dilemma. Miriam said that they had not told anyone because they didn’t want to seem like the kind of people looking for a handout. She laughed and said that the nearby church had met on Sunday for their monthly “pot luck,” and the smell of food had tormented them for hours after. Sarah asked if anyone from the church ever came to visit them. Miriam said that one time, when they had first moved in, a couple had come over and invited them to church, but that had been over a year back and no one had been since.

Sarah noticed a wood stove on the porch with fresh ashes in it. She asked Miriam about it, who said, “I’ve been practicing cooking on it. When we lose electricity tomorrow, because we can’t pay our bill, I will be able to still cook and boil water for laundry.” Sarah said, “How will you get water? Isn’t your well on an electric pump?” Miriam said it was but that they had been collecting rain water in barrels for some time and had also drawn up more water to use until the electricity could be turned back on.

These were tough folks. They knew what to do to get by, even if it was really difficult. Sarah knew why she had felt like she was supposed to go visit them. She told Miriam that the electric bill would be paid and there would be food in the pantry and toilet paper and shampoo in the cabinet by the end of the day. Thankfully, that was so. A friend who came to visit us that evening pitched in, and John and Miriam were back to going with full refrigerator, pantry and cabinets.

Eventually, both of them gained employment, and a family member provided for them a second (rather beat-up, but functioning) vehicle. They are doing much better and still enjoying their home in the country. Their boy has grown up and moved away, but they have taken in two or three other children in need. They have invested in their community in other ways, as well, like helping dig a community storm shelter and taking part in holiday events. They have even been seen taking food to some other neighbors in need. When the elderly woman, Dora, ended up going to an assisted living home, John and Miriam were regular visitors to her.

One day while a construction team was remodeling the church building nearby, one of the workers was overheard talking about “them people.” They were looking in the direction of John and Miriam’s home and were intending to be derisive about them. We happened to be there visiting with some of the construction team and laughed at the ignorant statement.

We assumed, perhaps wrongly, that the “them people” comment was made regarding John and Miriam’s economic status. We don’t know for sure, but one thing we do know for sure–knowing the construction worker who made the comment, we do know who we would rather have for a neighbor. We are so happy to have met “them people”. They are an inspiration. They knew how to knuckle down when times were tough.