Mid-life prose


 THE DRIVING SNOW 

by Don M. Blews

 

            It was a busy and bitter cold evening in November as we packed our share of the food for a Thanksgiving dinner awaiting us six hundred miles from home. After missing the last few family reunions, we were anxious to make it this year. "Come on Dad," my son said, "if we don't leave tonight, something else is going to happen." I was quick to agree, "North Carolina or bust!" Although feeling a little weary I found it easy to refocus on the refreshing scene outdoors. The air of the season was set with a fresh blanket of snow covering the frozen soil.           

            The first hour on the road I muttered complaints about not checking the tire pressure, the engine oil, or the battery water. Getting tired of the chatter, my wife insisted, "Please give it a break and shut your brain off long enough concentrate on driving." I understood Jan's reaction, knowing her mind was occupied by more important dilemmas. Although she dearly loved her in-laws, she was nervous about tolerating them for three full days 

            Only a few hours and two hundred miles into our trip something I always feared had finally happened. My memory was muddled but I can remember being strapped down inside a small white cubicle, the wailing of a siren, and soon lights floating overhead. I also recall a room with white drapes separating me from the humming activity of strange voices. "He's a diabetic" Jan's voice stood out from the rest, "but he was doing okay all day."

            I faintly saw a giant man in a white coat hovering over me spouting medical terms, "His blood sugar is dangerously high and his electrolytes are way out of balance." I had heard enough within these white walls to know it was serious.

            The next few days I woke often, each time to more pain, weakness, and plenty of white walls. I remember being wheeled into a few different rooms, each with white uniforms fluttering around. Amidst the confusion, I asked "what's wrong with me and where am I?" The people in the uniforms reassured me "You'll be just fine," and "you're in the right place." But I knew these jesters were merely comforting alibis.

            Early one morning I woke to a tray of soft food and an urgent need to fling it across the white sheets on my bed. I was sickened at the sight and smell of food and too weak to do anything about it. Worse yet, laying there counting hairline cracks in the white ceiling, did nothing to stop the food's aroma from reaching the spinning top in my stomach.

            By the tenth day in the hospital a doctor advised "Since you haven't responded to treatments so far, I've asked a surgeon to talk to you." My spine felt icy as I stared out between the white slats of the blinds where the frosted pines were bowing to the driving snow. After receiving more medication, I again began counting the hairline cracks in the white ceiling just as they faded from view.

            Jan must have talked to that surgeon because I don't remember a thing until opening my eyes to some heavy duty white equipment probing my body. My arms, with those IV lines, where swollen to the size of Popeye's and I was drained of energy. I was frazzled from the only sounds around........haunting, white noises. Frightened by my frailty, I was ready to just let go and give up to this ominous white world.

            After many days of feeling despondent, I was visited by an outreach person from a local church. Hypnotized by colorful design on Sara's white dress and the brilliant white gold cross pendant, I listened. Sara spoke softly, "If we keep our minds healthy through acceptance, love, forgiveness, and faith according to God's will, our bodies will follow." Since it wasn't hard to recall the times when I became physically sick over an emotional problem, reversing the situation had made sense. But it all sounded too simple for a complex guy like myself. "What is God's will?" I asked, "and how can I act if I don't know His will?"

            Sara quoted from Matthew 7:7,8, "Ask, and you will be given what you ask for. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives. Anyone who seeks, finds. If only you will knock, the door will open." She then suggested conscientious prayer, take action on what I could do today, and use my faith to leave the results to God. "Your reward," she said, "is to gain the gift of hope."

            Until now I had done nothing, trapped in the bitterness of my self-pity. Feeling hopeless I had raised the white flag of surrender too soon and for the wrong reason. I was not about to look at any powerlessness and surrender my control. No, not me....it had seemed easier to just give up. However, Sara's warmth, colors, and sincerity inspired me.

My actions began with praying for God's will and the strength to carry that out. I soon discovered spiritual strengths that have been locked deep in my soul. I quickly refocused from self-pity to praising God for His love, forgiveness, and unlimited blessings. Eventually, I began to eat better, move around, and stimulate my weak muscles. After taking action my white flag is up again, but this time to surrender to God's will.

           The most vivid memory on the last night in the hospital was when I said to Jan, "I'm not alone anymore," as I stared out between the white slats of the blinds where the frosted pines were bowing to the driving snow. This time I also saw colors.... many bold colors.

            A new faith has brought vivid colors of hope and warm colors of peace to my soul. After three weeks in the hospital, I came home with a recovering body bathed in color and a spiritual awakening disguised in white. Perhaps we will make it to next year's reunion. But the rest of this year I am learning to surrender to God's will and to the peace of no longer having to fight. I often hear people say just "let go and let God" concerning small problems in life. I believe it's when we can accomplish this during life's big turmoils, that we begin to unleash our most noble colors.

The End


 

 A TROPICAL STORM

by Don M. Blews

 

            The window panes rattled and the old building groaned as the winds howled that night. What started as a tropical depression became a storm as it hit the South Florida coast. With a gust of wet wind, the rusty latch sprang and the side door flew open revealing an odd character looming outside. Reluctant to enter, he mumbled something just before the greeter said, "you're right where you should be." "Oh man," I thought aloud to anyone caring to hear, "but is this where I should be?"

            This new guy was an eyeful with a gnarly face, hair that looked like a seasoned bird's nest, weird objects hanging from both ears, and a mustache too big for his face. He was at least six feet tall, but weighed no more than 120 pounds. Not impressed at tonight's meeting, I glanced sideways and over my shoulder at the rows of heads to see who else I could size up.

            Following a friend's suggestion, "listen and look carefully tonight for a sponsor you can relate to and has a few years in recovery," I listened when I needed to and looked when I could. The topic was good and I heard a lot of experience, strength, and hope, but I saw no one I would want as a sponsor.

            A slam of the door brought my focus back to the man the wind blew in. After finally creeping through the doorway he slowly meandered toward the coffee pot, looking as if he was up all night. He then proceeded to leave a trail of fresh coffee on the floor from the leaking cup he chose. That's when I spotted the tasteless boots bulging under his straight leg jeans. This guy was your typical airhead.

            With at least two dozen seats empty, he chose the one next to me after catching my stare. His beady eyes pierced through my head tossing aside any covers I had, leaving me in an icy 'freeze frame'. I knew I was guilty of staring, but this was unjust and cruel punishment. I loathed this guy who had soon became a target for all the prejudice I could muster up. I had him pegged as a born loser when he spoke to me in short spurts with a low, rasping voice, "How late (pause) am I (sputter) for this here (cough) meeting?" "Just started," I snapped before I whispered to myself, "God, please don't let anyone see me with this guy.

            A few weeks and many meetings later, still not finding a sponsor, my serenity all but disappeared after a devastating experience. Although preoccupied and unable to refocus, I did manage to keep it simple and use one of the tools of recovery.........I began dialing phone numbers from people I had met at my meetings.

            The telephone was not my favorite thing, especially when calling people I hardly knew. But I persevered, only to hear unanswered rings and a machine stating, "Hello, you've reached..........after you leave your message, remember, all it takes is willingness and patience one day at a time." What kind of deck were they dealing with anyway?

            In desperation, I dialed a nameless number from a scrap of paper that was part of my desk clutter. A real voice answered this time and it was even someone in the program. In fact, I struck pure gold. This guy had the patience of a prince and the spirituality of a saint. Even though his voice was slow and rasping, I was amazed at quick he had a grasp of my terrible situation. With all my shining impulsiveness, I quickly set a time to see him at that night's meeting.

            Had this day worked out well, or what? How fantastic this recovery program is! How intense that heat of obsession billowing from my head! On my way to the meeting my thoughts in spasms. I found a great friend, probably a dynamite sponsor, and my whole life was coming together. As they say in recovery, "I would soon be happy, joyous, and free."

           Once at the meeting, I quickly found our prearranged seats and desperately began the search for my super hero. He was nowhere in sight. Worse yet, the tall airhead the storm blew in a few weeks ago took my hero's seat. Turning aside, I whispered, "God, please don't let anyone I know see me with this guy."

            After greeting me with a warm smile, the airhead asked if I was in a better space than I was earlier that day. Once again my covers were tossed aside as those beady eyes pierced through my head, leaving me in an icy 'freeze frame'. How much unjust and cruel punishment could I take? This guy, who I had pegged as a born loser, was the one that would help make my life happy, joyous, and free? How could that possibly be? 

            For the longest time I felt ashamed of being so judgmental, self-righteous, and downright bigoted. But, as denial broken down, I was able to process the situation and make changes in my behavior. And my new sponsor, that airhead with the weird objects hanging from his ears, has helped me open the gifts of humility, tolerance, and acceptance. Today he is my trusted spiritual guide.

            My Higher Power, working through others, has once again helped with my spiritual needs. Today, there are many people in my support group and I thank God for this 'we' program. They'll be more tropical storm brewing this way, and with them there may come more gifts if I look carefully with willingness and an open mind.

The End



WHOSE FATHER? 

by Don M. Blews

 

           The soils of the dry season revealed the trail of a lone traveler. His dusty clothing and parched lips told of the many miles he walked that day. With mercenaries and resistance bands forever roaming this land, time was too short to be tempted by the ripened figs and olives growing along the trail.

            Glancing danger in the distance, he quickly lowered his dried gourd down an old stone well. After placing a rock in his hollowed gourd, he let its rope slip down into one of the grooves worn deep in the wall of the aged well. Retrieving enough water for the rest of the journey, he reflected on the villages of people and fields of cattle this well had served for generations.

            The lean traveler, turning from the well, gazed east with reverence over a field of wildflowers. The twenty-mile journey through his homeland that day brought the contrast of mountain tops, plains, and shores close enough to embrace. Looking west, over the awesome fissures of the gore, he closed his eyes and spoke quietly, "Thank you Father, for all this."

            With the danger creeping closer, as though he had eternal shadows, it became clear he was being followed by a group of thieves. Preparing for the worse, he rewrapped his rope belt several times around his waist and felt for the bulge of his wine soaked animal hide tucked securely under it. He then pulled his cloak between his legs and up under his rope belt before crossing an outcrop of rocks hidden under a tangle of myrtle and acanthus. The safety of a forest with generous oaks and terebinth lay just ahead.

            After losing the shadow of thieves, he emerged on the other side of the forest to spook a rabbit size daman feeding on the meadow grasses and an amorous pair of doves chasing each other in frenzy. Just ahead stood a handsome eighty-foot cedar, a very old and stately evergreen tree, rare this far south of Lebanon. Relaxing under its boughs he found respite in the quiet shade of the westerly mountains surrounding the Sea of Galilee. Here, in the serenity beneath the cedar's lofty boughs, he rewarded himself with water from his flask and fruit from the nearby trees. Once again, he closed his eyes and spoke quietly, "Thank you father, for all this."

            Before returning to the trail he tightened the faded cloth around his forehead, drooping it over his shoulders for protection from the dust and sun. Looking down at the palm bark soles of his camel hide sandals he saw they were faring well over the earthen roads. The rest of that day the miles rolled steady under his feet, but not as fast as the sun neared the far horizon in this part of the country.

            With enough daylight remaining he found a secure spot where he could sense any moon shadows approaching and stripped to the tunic his mother had hand loomed. First shaking the fresh layer of trail dust from his camel's hair cloak, he then laid it to the earth to become his bedroll. Typical to this region, the sun disappeared quickly dropping the temperature by fifty degrees. Now laying safe beneath a quilt of stars, he closed his eyes and spoke quietly, "Thank you father, for all this."

           With tomorrow's light, he would arrive at his destination, one of the small villages on the shores of Galilee. Here, in a house of clay and pebbles under a thatched roof of clay and reed, he would eat with his friends. The house, only one room divided between animals and people, left him the opportunity to renew old friendships before fulfilling his mission.

            Later that morning the slope of one of the gentle hills surrounding the Sea of Galilee become alive with his followers. Feeling the fresh morning air caress his lips and looking down the hill with love in his heart, the lean traveler spoke, saying to them, "After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father.........."

******************

            He was raised as a carpenter in the small Jewish Village of Lower Galilee on this holy Land of Canaan in ancient Palestine. His people were humble and grateful just for their beautiful, diversified land. Henri Daniel-Rops points out in 'The Daily Life in the Time of Jesus', "A walk in a single hour will take one from the richest of plains to the bare hills where the sheep graze: and the caverns, toiling under the hot wind of the desert, took hope again from the sight of the snow shining on Mt. Heron."

            This lean humble man, during his short life on earth two thousand years ago, gave us some of our best known spiritual messages to live by. He has influenced the course of human history more than any other man including Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, or Washington.

            It was him on the hillside that day two thousand years ago who gave his disciples some of the best known teachings, eventually known as the 'Sermon on the Mount'. And, it was a simple prayer he taught his disciples in that fresh morning air during the Sermon on the Mount that contains the essence of all prayer.......a daily guide on the difficult path of life.

            His name was Jesus and that simple prayer was the 'Lord's Prayer'. Uncorrupted and unspoiled through over sixty generations of wars, famines, feasts, and great discoveries, billions have prayed The Lord's Prayer. Jesus warns us however, in the prelude to the Lord's Prayer in St. Matthew 6:7&8, "But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathens do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him."

            Then, as it is written in Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus continued to speak to his disciples on the hill that day:

"Our Father, who art in heaven,

 hallowed be Thy name;

 Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done

 on earth as it is in heaven.

 Give us this day our daily bread;

 and forgive us our trespasses

 as we forgive those who trespass against us;

 and lead us not into temptation,

 but deliver us from evil.

 For thine is the kingdom and the power

 and the glory, forever. Amen.


            The Lord's Prayer begins with an introduction: "Our Father who art in Heaven." Whose father? Jesus asserts often in the Bible that the relationship between man and God is that of son and father. God is not a despot dealing with slaves groveling under him or an employer with workers who free themselves at five o'clock. He is mankind's loving father.

            And where is He? In heaven. The Dictionary calls heaven a place regarded in some religions as the abode of God and the angels, and the good after death. Heaven is where we meet God and our final resting place as we are only pilgrims on earth.

           The remainder of the Lord's Prayer contains seven petitions to God. Three 'you' petitions stressing God's purposes on earth and four 'we' petitions asking for our needs and our protection. Donald Coggans writes of these petitions in The Oxford Companion to the Bible, "In other words, before any thought is given to human need ("our daily bread") or even the divine forgiveness of sins or to the problem of temptation, God's name, God's kingdom, God's will must first engage our attention." Thus, we first focus on God's purpose to put things in His divine perspective, then ask of God our favors.

           The first petition, "hallowed be thy name," means our heavenly father's name must be honored, distinct from others. We simply ask that God may be known, loved and served by all, and His name never be taken in vain. What a blessing it would be to find an eighty-foot cedar, such as Jesus found on the trail in the hills of Galilee. And to be lured under its lofty boughs would show that whoever created all this was most worthy of a hallowed name.

          "Thy kingdom come," the second petition, suggests God's kingdom be extended to earth and to grow in His glory. It is our job to be helping establish the Kingdom of God here on earth. That is to say, our work is to bring more and more of God's love, forgiveness, and goodness into visible earthly realms that all can understand and appreciate.

            Also residing under the boughs of that handsome eighty-foot cedar is the same peace and serenity which Jesus found that day. Visible would be many shades of green and many sounds of birds and misplaced crickets.........an opportunity to sense a mere droplet of "Thy kingdom come."

           "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven," is a request for all people to do God's will on earth just as faithfully as the angels do in heaven. This third petition accomplishes our divine purpose. We must remember not to live for ourselves or make plans without reference to God. We can never be either happy if we are seeking any other long range goals than to do His Will, nor will we ever be successful without including His presence.

           Once again, retreating beneath the tall cedar tree with its tints of green and airs of song, it is possible to reflect on the meaning of these words, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven," even during times of despair or grief.

           The fourth petition to God, "give us this day our daily bread," reminds us to ask for the essentials of life and all the nourishment we need each day, as written in St. Matthew 6:32, "For after all these things do the Gentiles seek: for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things." And, it is only through nourishment of soul that we ultimately receive everything as St. Matthew continues in 6:33, "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." So, if we have the faith to look to a loving God for our needs we will not be looking in vain.

           This time, sitting under the gentle spread of the cedar branches and leaning back against the stately size of the cedar's trunk, God can be seen as the source of our needs, needs supplied through many channels. Since one channel leads to another, but a source is only one, any nourishment coming our way is but one channel of God's infinite source. Other channels will open just as surely as there are more cedars out there.

            In the fifth petition, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us," we are asking our offenses be pardoned just as we pardon the offenses of others. This reveals that His forgiveness of us depends on our forgiving others.

           The verse does not say as "we try" to forgive others, it states "as we" (as in we do) forgive those who trespass against us. So, with our mercy toward others being a condition and measure of God's mercy to us, we might begin by practicing love and forgiveness to those around us. This sounds humbling, but quit simple. St. Luke 6:38 tells us, "The amount you measure out, is the amount you will be given back."

            With burdened souls, retiring under the cedar's boughs and listening for nature's sights, scents, and sounds the stage is soon set for forgiveness. Allowing forgiveness in our hearts, burdens will slowly be released and turned over to God, until we are set free.

             The sixth petition, "Lead us not into temptation," is a request to guide us from the lure of evil and immoral acts. The rewards of asking this petition can be seen in James 1:12, "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him."

            If today, in communion with God under the shade of the restful cedar, impatience due to worldly temptations surround us, those temptations must be endured. Comfort is taken knowing that God rewards this endurance with the promise of the crown of life (the reward of happiness after the victory over evil).

            In  "But deliver us from evil," the seventh and final petition, we are asking for freedom from sin, wickedness, and evil thoughts. The prophet Isaiah has written in Isaiah 7:15, "Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good."

            Today drugs, prostitution, material treasures, and other corruptions taunt us each day. Vigilance is needed in asking for deliverance from this evil. And, by filling our lives with good deeds we will be less available to evils. We could begin this by filling our days with more acts of goodness, such as compassionate understanding and humanitarian deeds. Then, perhaps brighter colors, animals, and songs will be found under the dark green needles of the tall cedar.

            Finally, the closing, "For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever"  reminds us that God is all powerful, assuring the grace and blessings of heaven are for us always. We are stating that God is the divine intelligence present in this world and in heaven. He can turn darkness into light and despair into joy. "The phrase was almost certainly not in the original prayer," writes George A. Buttrick in The Interpreter's Bible, "But we may be glad for the addition; it is a final peal of trumpets."

            "Amen" is a closing word used after any prayer, simply meaning so be it! It is used as a closure to express confidence God will hear our petitions. As Buttrick writes, "The word amen is, more deeply, trust and assurance that God can bring great things to pass." And, it is the final word to this prayer Jesus gave His disciples that day 2,000 years ago in the hills overlooking the sea of Galilee.

            Dr. R. A. Torrey left us with a powerful message in 'How to Pray' when he wrote, "Prayer is God's appointed way for obtaining things, and the greatest secret of all lack in our experience, in our life, and in our work is neglect of prayer." Remembering this, we can settle in grace under the bowed branches of the cedar with closed eyes and repeat softly, "Our Father who art in Heaven.........."

 ******************

Side bar to Whose Father?: The future of a nation under God.......

            Our Puritan ancestors, refugees from strife-torn England, came here from hostile lands and ordained America a place where God would be revered and faith would flourish. Today, centuries later, has the United States lost these moral fibers and spiritual heritage?

           A poll of 1,000 registered voters conducted on America's faith for U.S. News by Celinda Lake and Ed Goes in March, 1994, shows we can speak well of our faith but have lost touch with our actions. "In short, the poll paints a picture of a modern people as religious as ever," states Jefferey L. Sheler in 'U.S. News', April 4, 1994, "but a people who are uncertain how to 'walk the walk' in a pluralistic and secular society."

           The U.S. News poll also shows that over ninety percent of Americans still believe in God or a universal spirit. This is a promising start. Now if we can use one of god's tools given to us by a humble Galileen Jew twenty short centuries ago, it may give our consciousness a lift. And understanding the Lord's Prayer, thereby making it more attractive, will not only help us use it more constructively but also use it more often. Perhaps it will even help us rekindle that proud heritage of a "nation under God"

The End


 

 


© Don Blews 2016