Archive of ‘OBSERVATIONS’ category

FORGOTTEN BIRTHDAY-4

watercolor by m.stewart

 

watercolor by m.stewart

watercolor by m.stewart

PART FOUR:

MONDAY: CHRISTMAS EVE

 

There had been so much excitement yesterday and last night that Joey was just too tired to get up. Joey barely remembered getting in the car as they drove to Memaw’s house this morning. His mom had let him go in his pajamas. She had put his coat around him and steered him out the door and into the back seat of the car. Apparently sleep quickly overcame him again, because he again just barely remembered arriving and going inside. Little bits of memory eked into mind as Joey began to awaken.

There he was curled up on the huge sofa beneath the huge windows in the living room. He was covered with one of Memaw’s handmade quilts. He pulled the soft cloth to his face. He loved to smell the huge old quilts she had made. They smelt of a unique combination of the deep woodsy fragrance of cedar, from their storage chest; and a talcum like powder that always seemed to surround Memaw. In its special smell, Joey always found security and comfort. It was much like Memaw herself and her home. Her house had huge windows and doors, and ceilings almost too high to reach even with a ladder. Its old wooden floors creaked as you walked. Even on a cloudy day there seemed to always be lots of light in her house. And on a cold day like today it was nice and warm inside. Joey knew were everything was in the house. She never moved anything and the furniture had always been the same as long as Joey could remember. Some of it was really old, like the huge old rocking chair that sat in its special place by the door. It was his grandfather’s, his mother had told him. Joey didn’t ever know him, he had died before Joey was born, but the chair was still there. Then there was Memaw’s old Singer sewing machine, with the huge pedal on the floor that rocked back and forth. Joey remembered helping to push it up and down as she sewed.

Joey enjoyed being with Memaw. If he had known to look up safe and loved in the dictionary, he was sure there would have been a picture of her. As long as he could remember he had stayed with her when others were at work or school. Before he started to school, he had stayed with her every day. Her house was in town, so many times she and he would walk to the stores on the square during the day. Now Joey only stayed with her occasionally, like today. His mom and Eli had gone off to work at the grocery store so Joey would stay with her until they got off from work. Before his dad got sick, he and Eli would have been with him doing something on the farm on weekends.

Since school age, Joey had gotten to stay less with Memaw, but nothing ever changed. If there was one thing always consistent about her, it had to be her mild quiet ways. It seemed like she never got angry, never yelled, and never hurried. Joey was sure he had been bad at times with her, but she seemed to always take it in stride. Oh she had scolded him and made him mind her, but she always seemed gentle about it, never harsh. She had her ways, it always seemed she was doing interesting things and didn’t seem to mind if Joey helped. Joey couldn’t explain it all, but staying with Memaw was always ok.

“Memaw, did you see what I got last night at the Christmas program?” shouted Joey as he finally sprang off the sofa. As he ran into the bedroom, he saw her at the sewing machine by the window. With his thick socks on the polished wooden floors he began to slide as he tried to stop. Well he was almost trying to stop; Joey had become a master at sliding across those smooth old floors.

“Mr. Goodrum, you know, my Sunday school teacher at church, well he gave me this real Christmas ornament! It’s the baby Jesus in the stable. It’s just like the play we did last night,” as he held the wooden nativity up for her to see.

“Let’s see Joey,” said Memaw as she took the ornament from his hands. “My my, that is pretty now. Be real careful with it, so you don’t break it, you hear. Well, it looks like there is Mary and Joseph too, with Jesus in the cradle. That is real nice, Joey.”

“Memaw, last night I was in the big play. We did just like when Jesus was born. Mr. Goodrum read the story, and we all acted out the parts. It looked almost real.” exclaimed Joey.  A good night’s sleep had vanquished the tiredness of the previous day and the excitement of the birthday had returned with the presence of a new audience. This time the audience of one had his undivided attention. She had not been there so every exciting detail would be of interest to her and Joey wanted to make sure he didn’t miss a thing.

With a quick breath Joey continued, “I saw mom when I peeked out the curtain before the play started.” Joey replayed the whole scene for his grandmother. He told her every detail as he remembered them. Sometimes they were not in chronological order, but she didn’t seem to mind. She pulled him up onto the sewing bench as he continued to talk as rapidly as he could. Occasionally she would say “oh” or an “I see” not to interrupt, but allow him time to breath. Joey recounted the whole evening to her right up to the part when he received the gift ornament.

“I was really surprised when I opened the box,” said Joey. “I didn’t know Mr. Goodrum was going to give us anything. I wonder if he knew it was like the play we were doing. Anyway, after I got home, Memaw, I figured out something nobody had every figured out yet.”

“What was that Joey?” asked his grandmother with a gentle smile.

“Well, you see it’s like this, you know my birthday is always two days before Christmas. Everybody always says too bad your birthday and Christmas are right together. Sometimes, they just get me one present for birthday and Christmas.” Joey explained as if she had never heard this before.

Memaw nodded her head in agreement and said, “Yes, I know Joey, but what is it you figured out last night that no one knew.”

Joey took a deep breath, paused before he began his story. Joey knew this was important. He wanted to get it right. This was no time to talk fast and hurry. This kind of news could change everything.

“Well Memaw,” Joey started as he glanced down at the figurine once more. “I don’t know if I can explain it just right, but I’ll try. I always knew my birthday was two days before Christmas. It was like the two best days of the year were right together.

Memaw just smiled and nodded for him to continue.

“I always thought that was great. It was like we could celebrate one thing then just two days later we could celebrate again.” Joey cleared his throat as he pondered his next words. “Last night at the play while we were all doing our parts, it almost seemed real. I felt like I was at Jesus’ birthday, really there. You know, watching everything. When we got home from church I was looking at the little manger scene on my ornament and I figured something out.”

Joey raised his head and spoke with a little more confidence, “Me and Jesus have our birthdays together!”

“Well yes dear, your birthday and Christmas are close together,” Memaw said with a puzzled look.

“No, no, you don’t understand, it’s not just Christmas, it’s our birthdays! And we have them together,” Joey exclaimed with a serious look. “Jesus and me have our birthdays at the same time! His birthday is at Christmas and so is mine.”

Joey didn’t know why she couldn’t understand. It was clear to him. Their birthdays were almost the same day, too close to matter. And they were at Christmas time! How great was that. He wasn’t sure why someone else hadn’t figured it out before, but finally he had. It was about the best news ever; he and Jesus had their birthdays together.

Memaw, still with a puzzled look, looked down at Joey and nodded her head in agreement. “O, I see now Joey,” she said softly. “Your birthdays come together and it’s at Christmas?” She didn’t know if Joey was convinced with her last words of agreement but she was content to just know he was satisfied with his new discovery.

 

It was almost dark when they pulled into the driveway. Joey’s mom and Eli had gotten off work a little early. It was Christmas Eve and the store owner had told his mom she could leave early to spend some time with her boys. The car came to an abrupt halt, jarring Joey from the back seat. The headlights blearing into the carport revealed a sudden obstruction and Joey’s mom slammed on the brakes.

“What is it mom?” Joey blurted as he gathered himself from the floor board. He hated when he did that. It seemed whenever someone hit the brakes suddenly, he slid off the seat and down into the floorboard behind the front seats. Everyone knew it, or so it seemed. Sometimes he thought they jarred the brakes just to see him slide. He just laughed too, but he really didn’t think it was that funny.

“Well my my,” said his mom as she glared out the windshield.

There under the carport were two big men, one holding the handle of a little red wagon in his hand, and behind him, the other holding a bright green cedar sapling.

As his mom got out of the car, the short round fellow began to speak. “Sorry mam didn’t mean to cause you a start,” the plump little man sheepishly said as he bowed his head.

By this time Joey had bounded out of the rear door and made his way to the front of the small audience of three just in time to hear the round fellow speak again.

“We were herdin’ in the cows for the night to put them up in the barn. You know it’s posed to turn cold and maybe snow tonight,” he continued.

By this time Joey recognized the two men standing in his carport, talking to his mom. They were two of Uncle Bill’s farm hands. They had been out in the fields by night herding in the cattle. Joey eased back from the front line, not sure of the man’s next words or more importantly his mom’s next words.

The short one continued as he pushed back his oversized floppy hat to expose his round face. “We were bout done when we got glimpse of this bright shiny reflection at the edge of the woods. Didn’t know what it could be, so we walked over there to have a look see.” He pulled the little red wagon with the tools still in it around front of him so everyone could see.

Now Joey knew he was in trouble. It all came rushing back to him. The failed attempt Saturday to retrieve the scheduled Christmas tree was about to be fully exposed. His unsuccessful plan would be visible for all to see. Not only would they discover he had sneaked out on his own but even worse he had failed. The excitement of the past two days quickly faded as he pondered his eminent doom and shame.

“When we saw the boy’s wagon at the tree line, with the saw and axe on top, we knew what was happenin,” chuckled the jolly fellow. “Right behind the wagon was this purty cedar sapling with some marks on it. Looks like somebody had tried to take it down?” as he peered over at Joey.

“And here it is!” burst out the tall lanky fellow from behind the short one. As he stuck his head over the shoulder of his fellow worker, he stretched out his long lanky arm with a bright green cedar tree in his grip. “It’s a beaut, gonin to make a fine Christmas tree mam!” the grin beaming in the still glaring headlights of the car.

Joey’s mom burst out with a huge laugh. She didn’t know what was more comical, the two opposite looking bookends standing in front of her holding a wagon and a Christmas tree, or just the whole turn of events on this Christmas Eve. It was more of an excited laugh, the kind that comes with new developments and new information.

She turned somewhat and looked down at Joey. He had gone out there all on his own without permission and no one knew where he was, he could have gotten hurt. There he could have been hurt and no one knew. She was a little bit mad but probably relieved more now that it was over and he was safe. She was glad she didn’t know at the time. Some of her anger was tempered in knowing how important that tree was to Joey and just how things had not been so good for them lately. But this was good news, Joey was safe, and they had a Christmas tree to decorate on Christmas Eve.

She reached down and took Joey by the chin. “Young man that was wrong to sneak out there on your own, you could have gotten hurt,” scolded his mom. “But you didn’t, and thanks to these gracious men we now have that Christmas tree you wanted so badly.” Joey got a quick hug and a command to give thanks to the farmhands who had finished the job he started.

“Thank you, sirs,” came the muted expression of being humbled from Joey. The next words came with more enthusiasm as Joey shouted, “Wow, thanks, it looks great.” Joey ran over to secure the tree from the tall fellow. The sapling barely came up to his shoulders but it was more than a head taller than Joey.

“Well mam, again sorry if we gave you a start. We were headin home and was gonin to just leave this all here in the cover,” spoke the hand as he and his partner turned to go. “Glad we got to tell you and that the boy is alright. Enjoy the tree boys! Merry Christmas mam!” as there forms faded into the twilight.

The three new recipients of a prized cedar Christmas tree waved their goodbyes and shouted “Merry Christmas” in return.

Joey’s mom wasted little time in organizing the plan for the night. She had not expected this sudden quite pleasant turn of events, but they now had a Christmas tree and she knew what to do next.

“Eli, you take these tools back to the shed and the wagon!” directed his mom. “While you are out there get the tree stand too,” shouted his mom as Eli had wasted no time in beginning his task. He knew just where the tree stand was located and he was excited about their new tree also.

“Come along Joey, help me drag this tree into the living room,” as his mom entered the house.

The next hour or so had been a flurry of activity. Joey and his mom had scampered up the attic stairs to retrieve the cardboard boxes containing the prized Christmas decorations held within. Joey could easily manage the vertical folding steps that spring back into the attic with a push. Everyone else had to duck and hold on; Joey could traverse the incline without holding on or bending down. He was a natural on the attic steps.

The cardboard boxes held the Christmas treasures of all the years past. Of course some things had been replaced periodically as necessary, such as the string of lights. The boxes revealed tiny ornaments carefully wrapped from the year before. Some were quite old, “Mom said some were as old as he was,” thought Joey as they sorted out the treasures.

Eli had placed the huge tree in its stand, with Joey and his mom tightly steadying it as he tighten the base to kept it vertical. Joey couldn’t tell if the tree were straight or not when Eli asked as he tightened the screws into the wood. His arms could barely reach the tree trunk and his face was stuck in the branches once more. Again Joey remembered how he liked the smell of the cedar tree but not the branched that made his nose itch. Joey’s mom had given the “Ok, that’s good,” to Eli beneath the tree.

Everyone dove in to help decorate the tree. The trio ate intermittently as they placed the ornaments on the tree. Eli had secured the huge bright multicolored lights out of their seasonal resting place and began placing them around the tree while their mom had secured a fast mobile meal of hotdogs and chips for the working crew.

The Christmas tree always sat in the corner of the living room in front of the large multi-paned bay window, its bright red, blue, green and yellow bulbs even visible from the road that ran in front of the house. When the overhead room lights were turned off, the brilliant tree gave a special reddish–yellow hue to the room, making it look magical. Occasionally Joey would run over and turn out the overhead light just to expose the glow of the tree lights, usually to the reprimand of the other tree decorating crew members. Joey worked to carefully place the ornaments around his sector of the tree. His mom and Eli decorated from the middle to the upper branches sometimes from the foot stool. Joey found some of him and Eli’s past creations in the ornament boxes. There were hand crafted works of art done at school or church in Christmas’ past. The Christmas tree was taking form in all its glory. The lights were affixed; the shiny ornaments placed with care, the beautiful Angel tree topper had been carefully positioned in its rightful place overlooking the tree below. Joey’s mom had stood atop the stool and placed the Angel this year, usually his dad would have completed the crowning touch.

The trio was just about to randomly toss the shiny silver tinsel about on the tree branches to give them their finishing touches of brilliance when there was a loud knock on the kitchen side door.

“Joey, go see who that is,” said his mom from high atop the stool. “Wonder who could be out at this time of night?” talking more to herself.

Joey flung open the side door leading to the carport from the kitchen. The carport light was still on to expose three commanding figures in its glow.

“Hello Joey is your mom busy, we want to speak to her if we can?” came the voice from the edge of the shadows.

Running back into the living room Joey exclaimed, “Mom, mom, its some men from the church, three of them I think!”

“Well Joey did you invite them in from the cold?” asked his mom as she descended from her perch above the floor. Wiping her hands on her apron she walked back into the kitchen. Seeing the figures looming outside the door she shouted, “Oh, sorry, excuse Joey’s manners, ya’ll come on inside where it is warm please!”

His mom, Eli, and Joey gathered around the kitchen table as the three men stepped from the cold darkness outside. One by one the three night travelers removed their hats as they entered and gave a nod of welcome. Mr. Alcox, the Sunday School leader was the first to speak. “Evening, we saw the light on in the carport but we weren’t sure you were home until we saw the other room lights go off and the Christmas tree lights shone to the road. We knew we could find you then.”

“Yeah, we were fortunate to see the tree lights.” explained Preacher Lyle. “Excuse us for barging in so late but we three were out tonight on our way home from a church meeting and we saw your lights on.”

Mr. Goodrum spoke from the back, “We were going to come by tomorrow but we were not sure if you would be home or not. We thought you might be going to see the boy’s daddy in the hospital so we thought we would stop by when we saw the lights.”

“Oh my, that’s ok. We would have been home tomorrow too. We don’t have the extra gas money to make another trip to Madison,” explained Joey’s mom. “Sorry you had to get out on such a bad night, besides tomorrow is Christmas, you wouldn’t want to be away from home.”

Mr. Alcox spoke once more, “Well, we hate to disturb you and the boys on Christmas Eve, but that is part of the reason we came. We have a gift from us and others at the church for you for Christmas.”

“We hope at this time of year it will be a blessing to you and your family,” said Preacher Lyle as he handed her a large envelope. “We all realized it has been a struggle for your family during this illness and especially here at Christmas time. We pray this will help in some small way and be a blessing to your family.”

Joey’s mom bent down with the envelope to allow Eli and Joey to peer inside as she opened it. “Oh my goodness!” exclaimed his mom as she realized the envelope was filled with dollar bills. “Oh, thank you all so very much.” The tears of gladness were difficult to contain as she continued to speak. “Boys, with this extra money we can go to see your dad tomorrow on Christmas! Wow, will he ever be surprised. Isn’t that great news boys? Oh, say thank you to the gentlemen!”

As the three gracious bearers of gifts exited the room and back out into the cold, Mr. Goodrum paused at the door, “Joey, are you and Jesus having a good birthday?”  He smiled as if he knew something only he and Joey could know. With a step outside, he exclaimed, “Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday Jesus!”

The three of them stood at the door and waved a hearty goodbye to their three late travelers with gifts to bear. “Merry Christmas,” they shouted as the men drove away.

“Look mom, it’s snowing!” as Joey pointed to the dimly lit sky line at the edge of the carport.

 

 

FORGOTTEN BIRTHDAY-3

watercolor by m.stewart
watercolor by m.stewart

watercolor by m.stewart

PART THREE:

SUNDAY: TWO DAYS TILL CHRISTMAS

 

“Happy Birthday to you,

Happy birthday to you,

Happy birthday dear Joey,

Happy birthday to you,” the tender voice of his mom singing his birthday song awakened Joey from his sleep. Eli had mumbled his few words of accompaniment to the song from behind his mom standing in the doorway. Eli was more interested in the huge stack of pancakes and link sausages waiting on the kitchen table. He was hungry and not often were there pancakes.

“Wake up birthday boy,” Joey’s mom said with a cheery ring. “I have fixed your favorites for breakfast, pancakes and sausage links. Come get them while they are hot,” as she turned from the bedroom door and made her way back to the kitchen.

Joey’s mind slowly began to stir. “Aww, sausage links, my favorite,” thought Joey. He wasn’t sure why everyone didn’t like the sausage links better. “Wonder why they even bother to make sausage in patties.” The links had always been easier to handle and they were portable, no utensils necessary. Joey’s mom had not forgotten. She knew that pancakes and sausage links were his favorite birthday breakfast. He was eleven years old today, “My birthday, finally,” mumbled Joey as he washed the sleep from his eyes.

As he turned the corner into the kitchen, there they were a glorious stack of golden brown pancakes. His mom had piled four huge ones on his plate. There was a birthday candle protruding from the top of the stack. As he took his seat, Joey’s mom said grace, and then lit the candle. “Make a wish,” she said. “We will have your birthday cake and celebrate later this week, I promise Joey. But for now we can have birthday pancakes! Happy Birthday, honey.”

Having a birthday breakfast with your favorites, pancakes and sausage will set the course for a good day. Sometimes it is amazing how a ten year old, oops, eleven year old boy’s mind works. Yesterday’s anxiety of bringing home the Christmas tree had faded. The hurt of a dismal failure had been soothed by the love associated with pancakes. For sure the good night’s sleep helped a tired little body from over exertion. When it’s your birthday, it is a little tougher to worry or be upset. If the morning brings about a fresh new start, then a birthday morning erases all worries and hurts of the day before.

Joey did not even think upon his mom’s words of a delayed cake and birthday celebration. The pancakes in front of him at the moment would suffice for now. The anxiety of claiming the Christmas tree on its time honored date, his birthday, had also been swept into the background by the newness and excitement of this day. His mom had said they would get a tree; they would have cake, and celebrate his birthday sometime this week, when they had opportunity. As Joey dove into his mound of buttery syrup drenched pancakes, he took no time to reflect upon the subtle meaning of those tender well intentioned words from his mom. It was probably best.

His mom had been through a long tough haul. With Joey’s dad in the hospital for the past two months, it had been tough all around. Money was certainly tight with only one of them working now. She had to run the household all on her own now. There were only so many hours in a day and lots to be done. Whether she liked it or not some things may have to wait or simply not be done this year as in times past. It was hard for her to accept, Eli seemed to understand, but the coarseness of being that blunt with Joey especially on his birthday was more than she could do. She had tempered the impending disappointment of not collecting the Christmas tree by placing it in the future as an expectation to come. The delay of the birthday cake and celebration was best presented within the confines of a huge pancake breakfast. Besides she knew the plans and excitement of this day would keep Joey’s mind at bay. He would have little time to reflect on what was not occurring. With his birthday, church, play practice, and finally the Christmas pageant tonight at church, Joey would have little time to get sad or worry about how different things might be this year. She was satisfied she had done all she could for now.

“Birthday today, Christmas in two days,” thought Joey’s mom, as she cleared the table. “I need a miracle, dear Lord,” she silently prayed. “Or all this ain’t gonna work out.”

“Boys, get cleaned up and ready for church, Sunday School starts in an hour,” shouted Joey’s mom from the kitchen. She would take it one challenge at a time. She only hoped this birthday and Christmas time for Joey and Eli would not be too disappointing. She didn’t want Joey to think everyone had forgotten or simply ignored his birthday. Hopefully he would enjoy the activities of the day and not worry about tomorrow.

The wind was still bitterly cold as the boys bounded out the door and headed to the car. It had been warming up for about 15 minutes now. Trixie had poked her head out the shed door when Eli had first come out to start the engine but retreated suddenly when she saw him go back into the house. This time she didn’t even bother to look, it was too cold to bark “good morning.” The yellow and white two-tone Bel-Air was nice and toasty when they hopped onto the seats. Eli was 13, old enough for his dad to begin teaching him about cars and motors, just not old enough to drive yet. Joey dove in the back seat, pulling the door closed behind him.

As his mom backed out of the driveway, she began to recite the plan for the day. Although Eli and Joey had heard their itinerary already, they listened intently just in case there had been any updated changes. Joey leaned forward placing his arms on the top of the front seat. It was his birthday, so if there were plan alterations, he would need to know them.

“Now, listen up. Remember right after church, I am headed back down to the hospital to see your dad. I know ya’ll usually go with me on Sunday, but there is play practice this afternoon and the Christmas program is tonight.” She continued as they drove to the church, “I will be back in time for the program to start. I will tell your dad you both said hello. After church, you are going home with Jimmy. His mom said she would take all of you to practice and back to the church tonight for the program. I will see you there, promise.”

“When are we going to see dad?” Eli asked.

“Hopefully soon, maybe later this week,” replied his mom. “We can’t afford to drive to Madison several times a week. I’ll tell him you both miss him too.”

“Joey, did you get your extra clothes I put in the paper bag for you to wear after church. I don’t want you playing in your good clothes, ok sweetie. Remember fold up your church clothes, cause you have to wear them again tonight. Ok?” She turned to Eli and said, “Maybe you better check his clothes when he changes so they won’t get too wrinkled.”

“Ok, gee mom, I can take care of myself, I am eleven years old today you know,” blurted out Joey from the rear seat, feeling kind of proud.

“Alright birthday boy, just don’t get dirty before church tonight, ok?” his mom said with a sigh.

Later that evening:

 

“Mom, mom,” Joey yelled as he ran down the aisle of the little country church. He had seen her from behind the curtain just prior to the start of the program. She had made it back on time after all. Joey was relieved. It was kind of nerve racking to be up front with all those people watching. He couldn’t see their faces, with all the bright lights pointed toward the stage and the auditorium so dark. Although he wasn’t up there on stage all by himself, it felt strange to be in the spotlight.

This was the first year he had been in the big play with the older kids. He didn’t have a big part but he was part of the real program of the Christmas pageant at church. He had stood quietly for almost a half-hour behind the curtains while the little kids sang Christmas songs and said their memory verses. He remembered all the songs, so when Mrs. Frostburg wasn’t looking he sang and danced along just as he had done just a year ago. Of course no one could see him out front. After the little kids were done, Mr. Alcox, the Sunday School leader, had pulled open the curtains and introduced Mr. Goodrum to talk about their play.

Joey liked Mr. Goodrum. He was his Sunday School teacher now. He treated everyone different than Joey’s other classes of the past. There was no more drawing or crafted things to make. Joey did miss that part. Mr. Goodrum would tell them about Jesus, but somehow he made it all more real not just a story. When he talked about Jesus, Joey could almost imagine Him as a real person just like Joey.

When the curtains had opened wide to expose all the cast members, the lights slowly began to brighten until the stage was flooded with light. Mr. Goodrum stood in front and began to read from the Bible. Joey recognized the story about Jesus’ birth. Being in the scene surrounded by the other kids all dressed like the people in the story made it all seem more real to Joey. As he listened to Mr. Goodrum speak about the angels, shepherds, and wise men from the east, Joey found himself in the middle of the story coming to life. He wasn’t nervous anymore; he knew his part to play. It was almost like he was at Jesus’ birthday.

When the play had finished, Preacher Lyle led everybody in some more Christmas songs and closed with a prayer.

“Be careful Joey, don’t run,” said his mom as he scampered her way. He was running full speed, dodging little old ladies and old men with canes as he made his way from the stage to pew where his mom was standing.

“Mom, mom,” as he gasped for breath. “Did you see me? Could you hear me? Did I talk loud enough? How about my costume, great huh? Did you see it all? I was ready when the curtains opened! I couldn’t see a thing, the lights were too bright. I saw you before the play started.”

“Joey, Joey, calm down.” His mom replied. “Yes, I saw you and you did good. I am very proud of you, all of you did great. That was really good.” With a big hug to affirm her approval, Joey knew he had done well.

As he made his way to the top bunk up the ladder, Joey began to realize just how tired he was. His little legs could barely make the climb. But inside he was wide awake. The excitement of the evening buzzed in his mind.  “What a great birthday,” Joey thought. “The play was so much fun, and I did great. Mom even said so.” His mind raced as he gently tinkered with the tiny wooden ornament in his hands.

After the play as customary Mr. Alcox popped through the back door yelling Ho Ho Ho dressed in his Santa costume. Joey knew he wasn’t the real Santa but the little kids were all excited. As he passed out small bags of fruit and candy to everyone in the church, some of the older kids began handing out the gifts from beneath the huge tree in the corner. Joey had received a special Christmas gift this time. The small wooded ornament he held, as he lay in bed pondering the evening. Mr. Goodrum had given him a Christmas ornament with a miniature nativity scene carved in its base. It was almost spellbinding to Joey as he gazed at it over and over. There was baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph in a little wooden stall, just like the play.

“Goodnight you two,” said his mother as she closed the bedroom door. “Sleep tight, early day tomorrow.”

Even after the lights were out Joey could almost still see the tiny manger scene. As he ran his fingers over its intricate details he could identify each character. “Some birthday we had, huh, Jesus,” mused Joey. He had always know his birthday was just before Christmas, but until this year he had never really saw it as Jesus birthday. This made everything different. It wasn’t a holiday season anymore; it was a double birthday celebration. Joey and Jesus were having a birthday at the same time. “Happy Birthday Jesus, Happy Birthday Joey,” Joey mimicked. His eyes grew heavy and closed, a small smile rested on his face as he clutched the birthday symbol to his chest.

FORGOTTEN BIRTHDAY-2

THANKSGIVING 044
watercolor by m.stewart

watercolor by m.stewart

PART TWO:

SATURDAY: THREE DAYS TILL CHRISTMAS

 

“Joey”, his mom called from the kitchen. This time there seemed to be a little more urgency in her tone. “Come on, get up and eat your breakfast before we have to leave!” “You know Mrs. Frostburg is coming to pick you up for play practice later. You’ve got to get ready before she gets here.”

Eli and Joey’s mom would be leaving for work at the grocery soon. Joey knew they would be gone all day till night. Usually on Saturday when his brother and mom were at work he would go to his grandmother’s house, but today was play practice at the church. His mom would not have time to pick him up at Memaw’s during her lunch break and deliver him to the church for practice. Mrs. Frostburg would be by later this afternoon to pick him up and get him to practice on time. She said she would even watch over him till his mom got off from work.

Mrs. Frostburg was nice but a little huggy. Joey always thought he was going to smother when she grabbed him. He was never sure if the hugs were affection or intimidation. She was a little round and large. A small kid like Joey could get lost during one of her hugs and for sure there was little air to breathe. Joey had learned to just go with it; the more he struggled the longer she held him in the death squeeze. He had also learned in her Sunday School Class years before not to argue with her. She could squeeze the bad behavior right out of you. When she spoke everyone in the class listened, fear of not breathing will motivate small children.

Joey had his plan all worked out for the day. Last evening during the barn detail did not work out as expected. Joey had kept to his feeding chores as a model laborer. On the walk back to the house from the barn, he got his opportunity. “Mom, you know it is almost my birthday. Tomorrow is Saturday; it would be the perfect day to get the Christmas tree?” “Joey,” replied his mom in a not so warm tone, “Eli and I both have to work tomorrow, you know that. And besides you have play practice tomorrow at the church. Now I told you we would get a tree when we can, stop worrying me about it. Ok!”

“I don’t think anyone seems to understand,” thought Joey. “Sunday is my birthday; we always get the tree on my birthday, always. Nobody seems to care. I was just trying to remind them so they would not forget.”As he silently walked back to the house Joey’s thoughts continued. He was sad but he also knew the tone of his mother’s voice, so he would leave it alone for now.

It is amazing what a good night’s sleep will do for a ten year old mind. Joey popped out of bed at the first call from the kitchen. He would be prompt and mind his mom well this morning. There would be no sign of disgruntlement or protest from him after the bruising conversation last night. No pouting either, Joey had been rehearsing the Santa Song, and he knew the words of instruction well. He would cheerfully eat his breakfast, help with the dishes, and efficiently groom himself for the day. No reminders to brush his teeth necessary today and he would select his own shirt and jeans. Joey had resolved not to cause any trouble today, tomorrow was his birthday, Christmas was three days away, and he had a plan.

Sometime in the night Joey had awoken with this marvelous plan. It had to be a Christmas thing; he wasn’t sure why he had not thought of it earlier. His mom and brother would be gone for the day. Play practice was not till this afternoon, so Mrs. Frostburg would not be by to pick him up till later. He would go get the Christmas tree himself this morning. Usually his dad and brother would accompany him on this yearly trek to bring home the perfect tree, but they were not around today. He was ten years old now, almost eleven; he could do it without them this year. Besides his mom would be proud, he would not be worrying her about it any longer. They would have their tree, on time before his birthday and with no fuss to anyone else. It was the perfect plan.

He knew better than to reveal his special plan to Eli. He would just tell mom and she would come up with some excuse why the plan would not work. He would just surprise them both tonight. He would have his tree as things should be, two days before Christmas.

“Bye Joey,” his mom spoke as she kissed him on the cheek. “Behave, and mind Mildred when she picks you up. Okay? Also don’t get dirty before practice. We will be home soon, love you.” As she closed the kitchen door behind her, Joey shouted, “Bye mom, love you too!”

“Okay, they’re gone,” thought Joey. It was time to act. There would be little time to waste if he were to accomplish his mission this morning. Joey had done a lot of preparation in his mind before they had left to go to work. His soiled clothes from doing the feeding chores last night were still at the top of the clothes hamper. He had arranged them in the corner this morning and covered them neatly with his pajamas so as not to bring attention to them. “You never know when mom might decide to wash clothes, and I need these so I don’t have to dirty up more,” he thought.  Joey neatly arranged his clean clothes on the bed. He would need them later when he returned from the field. He even slung his clean socks over the end of the upper bunk bed along with his dungarees.

He thought about putting them on Eli’s lower bunk, but no this was his plan all the way, he didn’t need Eli or his bunk to make this work. Besides Eli didn’t seem to care either about his birthday or the Christmas tree, Joey didn’t know what was wrong with him this year. Ever since he had started to work at the store with mom, he didn’t seem to want to do stuff anymore. He was always too busy, or was hanging out with his older friends. “Oh well,” Joey conspired, “I can do this myself.”

After redressing in the work clothes and putting on his mud boots, Joey grabbed his coat, hat and gloves. As he headed out the door the cold blast of December air welcomed him along with Trixie their collie dog. Trixie spent the cold nights in the warmth of the adjacent washhouse on her bed of old blankets. Eli had let her out this morning to feed her and now Trixie was ready for adventure. And so was Joey. He buttoned his coat and pulled down the ear flaps to his hat for warmth. “It’s cold girl, but let’s go,” Joey mumbled to Trixie conserving the warmth of his own breath as it appeared before him.

Joey headed into the shed. “Let’s see now. I need the axe, saw, and my wagon,” as he supplied Trixie with the tool list for this mission. Trixie didn’t have a clue what was about to take place but that was an unnecessary requirement for her. She was just glad to tag along. She would provide the security for this mission, or at least Joey always felt better when Trixie was with him in the woods.

After pulling his red wagon out of the washhouse door, Joey went back inside to retrieve the other items vital to his plan. “There’s the saw,” Joey still explaining things to Trixie. It was high above the shed window hanging on a nail. Joey wondered, “Why did he have to be so short or why everyone had to put stuff up so high.” After scaling the lower two shelves, he was finally able to reach the needed saw. “Ok, now where’s the axe?” Usually it sat in the corner behind the shed door along with the other hand tools. Joey looked through the long handles, rake, shovels, hoes, but no axe to be found. “It must be in the barn shed,” reasoned Joey. “He would have to have it to bring down the tree, but that meant he would have to sneak by his grandfather’s house on the way to the barn. If his grandfather saw him headed to the barn he would have to explain his mission and his mom would be told also.”

Joey’s original plan was to cross over the fence behind the house, make his way down the pasture fence till he was well past the barn and over the hill. From there the woods would be in sight, his tree to be found amongst the vast array of young cedars. But this dilemma called for a change in plan. Joey leisurely strolled up the gravel drive with the wagon in tow. His new plan was to be obvious to all that saw him, just a kid with his dog pulling a wagon. No mystery there, nothing for anyone to be suspicious about, even grandpa. Grandpa, his dad’s father, lived on the other corner edge of the farm closest to the barn. It was the original homestead and the path to the barn included going past his house. Grandpa was ok; Joey never thought he liked him much. Eli was bigger and stronger for farm work. He never said much to Joey, but he might get curious if he saw Joey go in the barn alone.

As he made his way through the fence, he turned down the beaten path that ran beside the barn. Joey noticed the field hands working in Uncle Bill’s pasture across the way, but did not wave hello. He kept his head down and moved quietly down the path. Just in case someone was watching, Joey strolled past the front door of the barn. He turned quickly behind the barn and entered through the rear door. He thought, “This way, no one will think I went in the barn.” The tool shed inside the barn was near the front entrance. Joey was right. There was the axe just inside the door. After loading the axe in the wagon along with the saw, Joey was finally ready to get his tree.

It was probably a 30 minute walk from the barn to the edge of the woods through the pasture. It seemed a lot longer to Joey this time. It was cold, and quiet. The cows were not even around to accompany him on this journey. Trixie was there but she wasn’t saying anything. Finally Joey reached his destination. The edge of the pasture land was bordered by many young saplings, mostly cedar trees. They ranged in height from a foot to well over Joey’s head. This was the sacred Christmas tree place. Each year the trio had come to this spot and brought down the perfect tree that would adorn their living room for the season.

This year it was up to Joey to carry on the once a year quest. “No one else was around to do it, nor did it seem they cared it had not been done,” thought Joey. He surveyed the young trees up and down the tree line. He really didn’t want to venture too deep into the woods to find a tree. “Besides, it would be harder to drag out of there,” reasoned Joey. All the while he would glance around him for sighting of the cows. “Wonder where they went, Trixie?” Joey said softly. Trixie responded by raising her head to the sound of her name.

“Well, I guess it’s time to pick, what you think? “Joey continued talking to Trixie. He didn’t really expect a reply but the talking seemed to push away the quiet. “That one is tall enough but it’s too skinny. Not enough branches to hold up the lights. That one’s big around just too short.” Finally he decided. It seemed to be the right one. He still had his doubts; this was harder than he remembered. Joey unloaded the wagon, placing the tools on the ground; he began to surmise which would be the right choice for the job. “Let’s see,” he thought, “the saw would work if I could get under there enough. Guess I will start with the axe till I can tilt it over to saw.”

As Joey picked up the axe, he discovered something he had never noticed before, that thing was heavy. It had never looked too heavy when his dad was swinging it around, or even Eli. He was sure he had even swung it before, when they had gotten the tree before. Joey moved his hands down the handle closer to the axe head. “That was better. He had remembered that trick from his dad coaching batting practice. If the bat was a little too heavy, just choke up on it.”

“Humph” exhaled Joey as he hoisted his first swing of the axe. “Thump”, the reply of the axe as it bounded off the tree trunk. The repeated “humph” and “thump” played a methodical tune for a short series across the pasture. After a few hardy swings at the tree, Joey paused to inspect the progress of his Paul Bunyan blows on the mighty tree, barely a nick. Some of the tender cedar bark was missing, but unfortunately in different spots on the trunk.

“Ok,” thought Joey, “guess I need to mark a spot with the saw first for the axe to hit the groove and not slide down the tree.” Laying the axe aside, Joey grabbed the long tooth edged saw. It was too heavy to hold level with one hand, so Joey lay down on the ground snuggling beneath the hanging lower branches. After pushing aside the bigger ones, Joey broke off the little ones brushing his face. “Cedar trees smell good for Christmas, not so much when they are all over your face and up your nose,” grumbled Joey.

He picked a spot where some of the previous blows had uncovered the trunk. Again with a mighty push Joey slid the saw along the exposed wood. With quick recoil of the saw, Joey using his whole body as the driving force repeatedly attacked the woody base. There were marks left on the trunk, but not very deep ones. He just couldn’t seem to push the saw hard enough against the tree without sliding around on the ground himself. He couldn’t get to it without lying down. “Ok then, back to the axe, till this thing tilts over some,” with a determined mumble from Joey. Trixie had long since moved just a little further away from the action, purely as a safety precaution.

Once more Joey heaved the weighty axe at the base of the tree. The lower branches obscured most of his vision as well as absorbing most of the blows. He would stop and examine his progress occasionally; the return on his investment of blows was puny. He was determined to wield that axe even harder, he would not give up. Once more Joey changed the attack on the tree to the sabered saw. It seemed he was gaining on the tree but slowly.

Joey continued his assault on the mighty cedar for a while, changing attack tools with each rest stop. As his strength began to wane, Joey’s determination for success began to dwindle also. What earlier this day had seemed like the perfect plan was being ripped apart by circumstances beyond his control. “He knew getting the tree today was the perfect plan. If only someone had been here to help. One could hold back the branches while the other struck the tree. If only they had listened, we need to get this tree by tomorrow,” softly murmured Joey. Exhausted, with little success, Joey sat on the wagon. A dark heavy weight of hurt, disappointment, and anger began to settle upon him. “It’s getting late; Mrs. Frostburg will be at the house soon. Maybe Eli will come help me tomorrow,” thought Joey. He gathered the tools and placed them back in the wagon. “They will be ok here, till tomorrow, come on Trixie,” Joey shouted as he ran back along the fence towards home. The bitter cold on his wet cheeks only served to deepen the hurt of failure.

 

 

 

FORGOTTEN BIRTHDAY

watercolor by m.stewart

 

Jesus spoke of a child-like faith necessary to enter His Kingdom. The depth of that faith is not measured by our understanding of the complexities of God. Child-like faith is measured in the simplicity of just believing.

 

Donald G. Williams

 

watercolor by m.stewart

watercolor by m.stewart

 

 

A SHORT STORY: FORGOTTEN BIRTHDAY

Part One

 

 

FRIDAY: FOUR DAYS TILL CHRISTMAS

 

 

 

“Hurry up! The buses are here.” The yell echoed off the walls of the gym as Eli pushed through the double doors into the hallway of the school.

 

“Wait a minute, I’m coming.” Joey knew it was too late and not much use to even holler back. His older brother would be down the blacktop drive and on the front seat of old bus #7 by the time he got his book satchel repacked. “Who cares anyway, I’ll just walk home,” thought Joey as he slumped to his knees trying to gather up all his books and papers scattered along the linoleum floor.

 

He really didn’t care if Eli went on home. It would be the same old thing as every other day. Eli would take off to Barry’s house on his bike and stay gone until almost time for mom to come home from work. This way by the time he walked home, it wouldn’t be long before she would be there.

 

It had been a really good day at school. The last day before the Christmas break was always the best. Mrs. Cannon, Joey’s sixth grade teacher had planned a party with some of the kids’ moms for the afternoon after lunchtime. They had spent all afternoon playing games, singing Christmas carols, and listening to the teacher read holiday stories. Oh yeah, and the party snacks were the best part. The moms brought cupcakes decorated with holiday candies, mushed down into the gooey icing. There were cookies and peppermint sticks for everyone. They even brought Kool-aid to drink. Just before the final bell, all the kids had pushed their desk back against the walls and gathered on the floor in a circle. It was finally time for the students to exchange gifts. Earlier in the month Mrs. Cannon had written each pupils name on a little square of paper and placed them in a box to draw from. As she made her way down each aisle, the box would receive a hardy shake and everyone took a turn drawing a name out of the box. The gift limit had been set by Mrs. Cannon at one dollar. There were lots of great Christmas gifts that could be found for a dollar.

 

As he stuffed the last of the books into the bag, Joey uncovered the best gift that a dollar could buy. “Queen Anne”, Joey thought. “This really is the best kind of candy you could get for Christmas. I wonder why you can’t buy it except at Christmas time.” He had learned the secret of enjoying the luscious chocolate covered cherry treats. The first bite had to be very carefully. A small bite off the top exposed the creamy filling without disrupting the cherry hidden within. It had to be a precision cut or else the gooey center would dribble down your chin. Then the second bite was to engulf the whole thing in one piece. This would resort in a huge mouthful of chocolate, cream, and cherry to be dissected slowly. It was like a flavor explosion, but one to enjoy. There was that occasional treat that had been cracked, the cream exposed and left to dry. They were ok but not nearly as tasty as the gooey ones. He wasn’t sure why most of the other kids thought this was a yucky gift to receive. This was much better than a toy or game, and the whole box was his to savor one at a time.

 

The excitement of the last day of school before Christmas break had erased the anxiety of Joey’s morning prior to school. That is until now. As he carefully peeled back the clear cover to expose a single chocolate beneath, otherwise the remaining ones would be uncovered and dry out, a sad sense of loss came over him. Just as this whole box of chocolates was his alone, he must not carelessly devour them. They would be gone soon enough. That sense of impending loss regenerated the fear that overwhelmed him earlier that day. As Joey slowly made his way home walking along the two lane roadway, he replayed the conversation in his mind. “Mom”, Joey shouted as he ran into the kitchen for breakfast. “It’s almost Sunday. When are we going to go get the Christmas tree?” His mom paused from her sip of coffee. She began her answer but he could tell she wasn’t nearly as concerned about the upcoming dilemma as he was. “Joey, we will get the tree as soon as we can. Now finish your oatmeal before the bus gets here.”

 

Sunday was his birthday and they had always put up their tree on his birthday. It was the best part of his birthday. His dad would take the boys back on the farm behind the house and cut down their Christmas tree. Near the edge of the woods beyond the pasture, they would find the perfect cedar sapling to bring home to decorate. Oh, the birthday cake and gifts were great for sure, but putting up the tree on his birthday signaled that Christmas was only two days away. Having a birthday so close to Christmas had its down side, more than once would he had heard the familiar phrase. “Well, we got you a Christmas and birthday present together! Hope that is ok?” they would say. What was a kid to say, no, “I don’t like that?” Joey had learned that his birthday could be unique from everyone else, on his birthday the Christmas tree went up in his house. No one else could say that.  Well it was only two days till his birthday and no plans were being made for the annual quest for a tree. Joey had reminded his mom everyday this week but he still had no real answer and none seemed to be coming. Joey was feeling the sense that no one seemed to care that something must be done.

 

A lot of things had been different lately. Ever since his dad had been gone to the hospital, everyone had been too busy to do the regular things. Joey wasn’t sure what a nervous breakdown was but that’s what they said his dad had. It had been almost two months now that he had been in the hospital in Madison. They got to go see him sometimes on a Sunday afternoon. It was strange to see him in his pajamas in the middle of the day. He seemed the same to Joey but he was still there. Mom had been working more at the grocery store to make more money. She had even gotten Eli a part time job there on Saturday to help out. Everyone, even Eli, didn’t seem to be concerned over the tree.

 

It was getting a little colder now. The sun was covered by the grey clouds but Joey was almost home. As he began to walk a little faster, he hoped his mom would be home soon. He really needed to talk to her again about getting their tree. Joey liked having his birthday two days before Christmas. It was like one big celebration lasting for days. His birth date was special to him in other ways. He always knew that the year and his age were the same. He was ten and it was 1960, in two more days he would be eleven and 1961 was coming up soon. He thought that was neat how it worked out. He told everyone just in case they had not noticed how it worked.

 

Joey began to build his determination to bring it up again this evening. When his mom got home, they would have to go out to the barn to feed. He would have her attention then. It would be the perfect time to make a plan to get the tree. That was one thing that had changed since his dad had been sick, they didn’t have to go milk every evening. That part was okay. The farm hands for his Uncle Bill had agreed to help out with the milking until dad got back home. They still had to feed every night. The cows and Lady needed to be put up in the barn at night during the winter and fed. Lady, their horse had her own stall, the cows were just penned up in the barn. He could hardly wait to get his opportunity.

 

DID YOU KNOW?

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A young man sits at the workplace lunch table reading, while his co-worker attacks her salad in a Tupperware bowl. He says speaking to no one in particular, “Huh, 15 minutes could save you 15% or more on your car insurance.” Without breaking concentration on her lunch attack, the co-worker replies, “Everyone knows that!”

This is just one of the numerous Geico car insurance TV ads currently running. I am sure most of you have one of them in the past few weeks. The ending always follows the same plot. The first speaker taken off guard by the frontal attack from his companion, replies with a usually imaginative tale beginning with the phrase, ” Well, did you know . . .”  My favorite refers to a farmer who also happens to be a bad speller. You will just have to watch it for yourself.

I was reading a newspaper article yesterday that was quite interesting and truthfully I could not say afterwards, “Everyone knows that.” At least I didn’t know that. The article was written by syndicated columnist Cal Thomas. In his article Mr. Thomas states that “three famous men died on Nov. 22, 1963.” President John F. Kennedy was assainated, author Aldous Huxley, and C.S. Lewis famed author and theologian all died on that very day. I admit I did not know that. I was familiar with authors Huxley (“Brave New World”) and Lewis ( “Mere Christianity, Narnia, and many more”). I did not become familiar with their works until adulthood and I had no idea they died that day. At the age of thirteen,yes like most my age, I remember that date very vividly when the President was shot and killed. It truly was a day not to forget.

After reading and reflecting on the most informative article written by Mr. Thomas, I had a, ” Well, did you know?” moment. Although I didn’t know this newly acquired information, I felt as if there was more  to say. I wanted to say, “Well did you know that He Lives?” The sum of the newspaper article and most articles written about that dark day in Dallas will center on death. The tragic blunt death of a U.S. president. To add to that, now I know that two other important people died that very day, one a favorite author of mine.  The whole eventful day just seems sad. Or so it seemed until I had my “Did you know?” moment.

“Did you know He Lives?” Luke 24:46, Jesus speaking, “And said to them, Thus it is written that the Christ (the Messiah) should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.”                                             Mark 16: 19, “So then the Lord Jesus, after He had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and He sat down at the right hand of God.” AMP Bible.

In the midst of any day, especially those that seem most dark and dreary the light of truth that Jesus Lives can banish the darkness. The Scriptures say that because Christ lives, we may indeed also have eternal life to those that believe. I cannot speak for our fallen president, my favorite author, or anyone else who may have died that day. Only Jesus can save, but I do know that if they believed on Christ as their resurrected savior and Lord, they live also with Him. If you are a believer, then you too might be saying, “Everyone knows that.” I want to say, do they, does everyone really know.

That co-worker sitting across the table from you at lunchtime, do they know? That friend at the golf course or shopping mall, do they know? That relative that you love, do they know? You see it is not a bad statement. Look at them and say, “Did you know He Lives?” Their first response will be, ” Who lives?” This will give you the perfect opportunity to make sure everyone knows that Christ is Alive today.

I am positive much of the news media, social media, and water cooler conversation tomorrow will be about what happened 50 years ago in Dallas. That’s okay, lots of folks middle age and older will have a interesting story to tell. You might even throw in the new information about the other two notable deaths, but don’t miss out on your opportunity to say, “Well did you know, He Lives?” It will get their attention, but more importantly the truth will be revealed. Perhaps they didn’t know or they had heard before but didn’t believe. This could be the one more time they need to hear this remarkable eternal truth to be convinced of what the Holy Spirit is telling them.

Tomorrow, November 22, listen to the stories others may tell with interest, who knows you might learn something yourself. Pay attention, be prepared and ready when your turn comes to say, “Did you know?”

John 14:2-3, “In My Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, I would have told you; for I am going away to prepare a place for you. And when I go and make ready a place for you, I will come back again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.” AMP Bible

 

THE NEXT STEP

DSC01544

DSC01544The last two weeks in May bring about a recurring annual event across our land which marks a milestone in the lives of our youth. That yearly event is graduation. It may be graduation from high school, technical college, or university studies. In our modern culture of concern over self-esteem for our children, many schools even have graduation ceremonies for primary grades. All this is okay but the interest of this article are those graduations which are major steps in our life plans.

These graduation events are more than the public recording of achieved formal education requirements. Within these events are contained hopes and dreams of the graduate and a sigh of relief from the parenting adults. Each of these graduation ceremonies becomes an inerasable moment in a person’s life. A forever mark in their life timeline that punctuates the end of an era and the beginning of a whole new adventure. The day after graduation, the graduate is required to begin new again. Oh, they may in actuality sleep late from the celebratory activities of the night before, but they do begin again. They may even go back to school or their previous workplace the next day but they begin again. Their next step in life will always be as a graduate now.

As parents, grandparents, or just well wishing relatives and friends once the congratulations are given and received, we immediately turn our attention to their next step. Most often we ask, “What’s next? What are you going to do now? What are your plans for the future?”  These are all good questions most usually asked out of concern and well being of the new graduate. Many times whether requested or no, we in our goodly concern rush in with our opinion of what their next step should be. The graduate may already have considered their next step and options, and we are always obliged to give our free advice to what they should consider. This is all well and good, but there is one declaration we should give which is universal to every graduate.

Every graduate should hear from a concerned loved one, “Seek to do God’s will for your life.” Our advice to them, their next step should always be to discover and pursue God’s will for their life to the best of their ability. God has a plan and a purpose for the future of each new graduate. Within this divine plan are held every good and wonderful blessing our creator has stored up for them. Whatever direction or next step they choose to take, if it is contained within God’s will for them, it will be the right one. We should encourage our new graduates to dream big, be all they can be, live with passion. These too are contained within God’s will for them. What we need to insure that they hear from us is that only within God’s will can all the other things be available to them.

To aid them in their search to ascertain God’s will for their continual next step, suggest prayer, scripture, listening, observing, and finally peace which can truly only come from God. A good place to start , suggest Romans 12:2 for their hearing. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is- his good, pleasing, and perfect will.”(NIV) The Amplified Bible goes on to explain, “even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you].” God knows His plan for you. The new graduate will benefit in the choice of their next step if they seek this plan. Their search to acquire this most valuable information begins with the knowledge of God’s word and self-observation.

Although the entire written word of God, the Bible, is for them and us a source of instruction in choosing our next step, I will also suggest the Psalms as a beginning to the search for God’s will in our life. Here particularly, I suggest Psalm 16 to guide the process of renewing their mind to discover God’s will for their life. The entire Psalm is fruitful, but I wish to make note of a few key verses. Verse 2 says, “I said to the Lord,’You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.’” This simple truth reveals that all our dreams, hopes, and plans exist only within God and His will for us.

In Verse 5 we see that His plan is ordained for us and are given the assurance of His power and providence to see it to completion. “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure.” Within God’s plan and will for us, we have the security to know He is able and will provide to see it through.

Finally Verse 11 tells us that we are able to know His will for our lives and within that plan are found all the goodness that He desires for us, His creation. “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

At this time of year we should celebrate with our new graduates. Their achievements should be marked with congratulations and honors. We should acknowledge their labor and encourage them to take pride in their accomplishments. One further thing we should do to benefit our graduates is prayerfully advise them in their next step. That next step they choose should be to acknowledge their Lord, and to seek His will and plan for their life to come. Congratulations to all the new graduates, especially those I hold dear. Choose your next step wisely.

RAVEN CLIFF FALLS TRAIL

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Although this was not our first hike along the Raven Cliff Falls Trail in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness/ Caesars Head Area, it was our first outing on this trail in early spring before the foliage becomes dense. This provided an entirely new look of the surrounding valley and the Raven Cliff Falls also. Our prior hikes had been in the summer or early fall when the leaves obscured much of the long range views from the trail. The milder temperatures made for a very pleasant hike as well.

PICNIC CAESARS HEAD

PICNIC CAESARS HEAD

We were joined today on our hike by close friends who had hiked with us previously. The group got an early start traveling up Highway 276 towards Caesars Head State Park. Being a beautiful spring day we expected many fellow travelers on the winding mountain incline. There were many sight-seers/ hikers on the road, there were also numerous bikers, the pedal kind. There was some type of competition under way with bikers traveling from Greenville to Brevard, NC.

RAVEN CLIFF FALLS TRAIL

RAVEN CLIFF FALLS TRAIL

Arriving at the park at Caesars Head, we decided to have our picnic lunch prior to our hike. It was a bit cool, but the sunny skies would prevail bringing warmer afternoon temperatures. As we enjoyed our picnic sandwiches and the view of Table Rock, the number of visitors to the scenic vista steadily increased. Sometimes most of the fun of a hike in the mountains is just observation. There is an assortment of hikers, bikers, travelers, and on-lookers filling the grounds. I am sure we made for an interesting observation ourselves.

RIDGE VIEW

RIDGE VIEW

Following our picnic we traveled to the parking lot adjacent to the Raven Cliff Falls Trail Head about a mile north of the Caesars Head Visitors Center. The parking lot was already filled and cars parking along the highway. This parking area serves three different trail heads, so it fills rapidly on weekends. The Raven Cliff Falls Trail is the most popular of all the trails in the area, so we expect it to be crowded with hikers. The ease of the trail with little elevation change and the view of the falls from the sheltered platform make this trail most popular.

TRAIL MARKER

TRAIL MARKER

We begin our descent along the gravel roadway leading to the earthen trail head. About .2 mile the roadway ends and the dirt trail begins an ascent along the ridge lined with hardwoods. It is a moderate climb along the hill side but the views of the valley below are outstanding from the leaf bud trees. Near a half-mile in, we reach our first ridge crest along the trail. From this vantage point we can see the Blue Ridge Mountain range and the rolling Piedmont hills as they fade into the distance. The sun is bright here and the temperatures are rising. With the combination of sunshine and incline hiking we all shed outer layers of jackets that a short time ago were necessary.

HAPPY HIKERS

HAPPY HIKERS

The Raven Cliff Falls Trail is about 2.2 miles one way from parking lot to overlook viewing platform. There are other trails that interconnect with ours, some of which will lead to the crest of the Raven Cliff Falls. At that point there is a suspension bridge that crosses the falls. These trails are much more strenuous and lengthy and best hiked when a full day trip is available. Today our troop will be content to hike to the viewing platform and obtain the less obstructed views associated with spring hiking. The in and out will give us an easy 4.5 mile hike, just right for the first of the year at Caesars Head.

WILD FLOWERS

WILD FLOWERS

About halfway in the trail turns downward along a series of rock and wooden steps. This area is almost enclosed with overhanging mountain laurel and rhododendron. There are outcrops of granite along the trail in this area also. Shortly the we break back out into the sunlight as the trail widens. The broad sandy trail was once a part of the old carriage road that tourists would take to view the falls years ago. It is in this area that the trail splits begin for those wishing to take the more strenuous hike to the crest of Raven Cliff Falls.

RAVEN CLIFF FALLS

RAVEN CLIFF FALLS

The remainder of the trail hike to the viewing platform is mostly an easy walk along the road way until very near the end. Below us we can hear the water of Matthews Creek, the stream that forms Raven Cliff Falls. As we approach the wooden observation platform we get our first peek at the Raven Cliff Falls across the ravine below. The water from the falls tumbles some 420 feet downward into the creek below. We can see the suspension bridge over the falls and a few of the hikers as they cross the bridge. The overlook platform is slightly crowded, with most of the trail hikers wanting to linger and enjoy the view.

SUSPENSION BRIDGE

SUSPENSION BRIDGE

While we resting and enjoying the view as well, we were privileged to be a part of a special treat. A young man approached us as we sat in the sheltered section of the platform. He asked if we would use his camera and take photographs of he and his girlfriend on the open platform below. There was one catch, we were to wait until he got down on one knee. Yes, you are correct, he was proposing to his future bride and we were visual witnesses. We snapped several pictures from his camera and our own. Thankfully, she accepted his proposal. I can’t imagine how long the hike back out would have been for him had she turned down the offer of marriage, but all ended well. Everyone on the platform cheered their approval and congratulated the young engaged couple. They soon left to make plans for their big day.

OBSERVATION PLATFORM

OBSERVATION PLATFORM

We lingered a while, before making our way back along the trail. There were even more hikers on their way in on our exit hike. The afternoon temperatures had drawn many to the great outdoors. We had enjoyed our hiking day in the mountains with friends. The picnic and outdoor proposal added to the pleasure of our hike today. We made plans to perhaps one day cross the great ravine and make our way to the top of the falls. We said all this as we sat rocking in huge chairs on the porch of Dolly’s Ice Cream Parlor in nearby Brevard after our hike. See you on the trail!

SPLASH

SPLASH

PSALM 51

BREVARD CHURCH

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.                       

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done evil in your sight,  so you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.

Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.

Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

In your good pleasure make  Zion prosper; build up the walls of Jerusalem.

Then there will be righteous sacrifices, whole burnt offerings to delight you; then bulls will be offered on your alter.” NIV

As part of our current study in my weekly men’s group, we are reading Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In his writing about Christian fellowship, he encourages the reciting of Psalms by the group of believers. We chose to select a Psalm individually to memorize and recite by heart. The memorization experience will be beneficial to the individual and encouraging to the other group members.

I personally chose Psalm 51 to recite. It is one I have found myself reading and recounting numerous times in my Christian journey. I, like its author David, have found repentance and forgiveness a necessity as I travel through life to be more Christ-like. David was God’s chosen, just as I am after accepting Christ as my Savior. David still sinned against God, so I still sin against God, so we all do in this life. By His sacrifice, Jesus Christ paid our sin debt so there is no further need for burnt offerings at the alter. David does remind us in verse 17 that a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, God will not despise. This is a good Psalm, one I keep in my heart. I encourage you to join us by memorizing a Psalm of your choosing to keep in your heart.

IN BETWEEN

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Have you ever found yourself in between? Well of course you have, life is filled with in between moments. Some are good between, others are just that, in between, and then there are those seemingly bad in betweens we must all endure. I could not neglect to include the actual very real life difficult in betweens that each of us will face in life. This week has presented itself as a procession of in between glimpses of life. At first I did not recognize them as such, viewing each event as just an occurrence in everyday life. As the succession of daily events continued I became more impressed that there was more to this repetition of “in between” moments than I had first realized. The sequence of events of this week have their own individual significance truly, but as a whole they came together to represent an even greater truth. At this very moment while you are reading this blog entry, we are in between life, death, and eternal life.

If you were to ask my wife what is the most frequent “in between” moment that occurs routinely in my life, her answer would most assuredly be ” he is in between meals.” She would probably be correct. It seems to be the one occurrence I most regularly recognize as being between. I have been known to be planning the next one while enjoying the present meal. There are other in betweens which we all are acquainted, good ones include between birthdays, between doctor’s visits, and between lawn mowing to mention a few. There are seemingly insignificant in betweens as well including commercial breaks during your favorite TV show, in between the arrival of next month’s issue of your favorite magazine, or in my wife’s view in between meals. The seemingly bad in betweens have the appearance of occurring more often. Some of those may include in between jobs if you are unemployed, in between pay checks if your bills are due, or in between feeling good if you are ill. There are many more that each of us could add to the list. Finally there are the very real difficult in betweens that we all must face at some time during our life. The time in between the loss of a loved one and when we hope to see them again.

This week began with the sudden loss of a dear friend’s child. Now this child was an adult but in the eyes and heart of the parent they are always their child. At the memorial service the presiding pastor brought the matter of in betweens to the attention of all those in his hearing. He first spoke of how this adult child, father, and friend had accepted Jesus Christ as his savior a few years ago in his presence. He spoke gladly to the mother, family, and friends of how we were all in between seeing this dear one again if we too had accepted Christ. He also wisely warned any unbelievers in attendance that they are in between their own life and death, with no hope of eternal life with Jesus or the departed loved one without change.

In this same week I had the prescribed opportunity to attend a production at a local Christian college. The program was about time “in between.” Specifically the time in between the crucifixion of Christ and His resurrection three days later. The story centered on those closest to Jesus at the time when He was killed. His mother, family, and friends spent several agonizing hours in between the time of His death and when He arose from the dead. They had been previously told by Jesus what events were to unfold over the next few days, but at that moment, they were in between. They were hurt, anxious, confused, in despair, and almost without hope. The similarity of the two occurrences being in between by those still living touched my heart.

Today I find myself in between “Good Friday” and “Easter Sunday”. I have spent some time considering the matter of being “in between”. We as believers in Christ Jesus today have the benefit of God’s Word through the Bible to assure us of the in between time. We, as well as unbelievers, can know what happened before, during, and after the death and resurrection of Christ from the dead. Through Christ’s own words we can understand why He chose to die so we might have forgiveness of our sins and hope of eternal life with Him. We can live the in between time of life, death, and eternal life without the lack of hope or despair. He promises that if we hold on in faith in Him we can see Him and our loved ones again. We can do our in between time with joy and hope. Some of our in betweens will hurt, Jesus knew they would, but He also knew they were just in betweens, not forever like Him. Jesus said as recorded in the gospel of John 14:1-4,

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

If you know Jesus, you know the way, if not you still can know the way. ”Jesus answered, ‘I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (NIV, John 14:6)   

We all are in between something. Some of them more important than others. In the matter of in between life, death, and eternal life with Christ there is hope for believers, and time for those who don’t. Do not wait or waste your in between time, please. I hope each of you enjoy Resurrection Sunday or Happy Easter.

SIMPLE THINGS

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I would question if my recent ponderings are not indeed related to growing older. It would be nice if I could add that growing wiser also automatically accompanied the increase in chronological earmarks but I am not convinced of that yet. I suppose they should but observation will prove me wrong. I have noticed an increasing interest in recent months in what I will label the “simple things.” Things, whether they be activities, surroundings, or occasions, that in times past I may have considered routine or even mundane. They weren’t bad things just didn’t seem as noteworthy at that time. Of course in younger days past, life was marked at a much faster pace. Work schedules, school, kids and the other normal activities of life will consume your day easily. We do what we must given our current circumstances and stage of life activities, so don’t take offense if you find yourself in one of those more hectic periods of normal life. The point is that I am drawn to those things more “simple” at this point of my life.

In my men’s bible study group we are reading or should I say digesting a book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer titled, Life Together. It is a very popular book and I would suggest it for all believers to read. This is not a review of the book, but our study of the book along with 1st Corinthians has reinforced my desire to be more mindful of the simple things of life. I must add that Bonhoeffer wrote this book while in hiding with other Christians from their Nazi persecutors. Although this aspect shadows his writings, overall he does writes from the point of everyday fellowship with our families, friends, and fellow believers. The perspective of this book coupled with scripture added to the current phase of my stage in life have all pointed me in the direction of paying more attention to life’s “simple things.”

This is not another “stop and smell the roses” song. My view is rather to elevate the things that are most important to their rightful position. Life’s circumstances and situations can and do provide distraction from the simple and the necessary. In our discussions within the group we are beginning to realize that all and everything is about Christ. Our lives, our situations, our experiences are all very different, but the one thing we hold in common is Christ Jesus. Christ has become our wisdom, righteousness, holiness, and redemption. As Paul said in his letter, “Therefore, as it is written: Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”(1stCorinthians 1:31, NIV) With this perspective of Christ is all in all, then lots of things that seem complex, that would distract are more easily forsaken for the simple things.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not complex, His truth is simple. He was made a ransom for us, and belief in Him and His resurrection will secure our salvation. The world is complex, and its creator imminently more so, but through the provision of grace in Christ we need not be distracted from the simple things and His simple truth. By His grace we are given the opportunity to experience this activity of the day, or be thankful for the home we share with family, or the occasion to fellowship with friends. Simple things indeed in view of our complex world, but most valued things for sure. So, perhaps it is the value of these “simple things” that have been altered with years and experience.

Bonhoeffer writes about this in his book. The importance of putting aside distractions and giving elevation to praises for God. He writes,

“For Christians the beginning of the day should not be burdened and oppressed with besetting concerns for the day’s work. At the threshold of the new day stands the Lord who made it. All the darkness and distraction of the dreams of night retreat before the clear light of Jesus Christ and his awakening Word. All unrest, all impurity, all care and anxiety flee before him. Therefore, at the beginning of the day let all distraction and empty talk be silenced and let the first thought and the first Word belong to him to whom our whole life belongs.”

The simple things have much value, perhaps now I understand more clearly their worth. A quiet time in the morning, partially used to talk to God, mostly for just being quiet and listening to God. Time given priority to simply sit and read God’s Word. The simple thing of being together and not apart. A simple family dinner or birthday celebration, an occasion to just be there. The simple matter of being home after being away. The simplicity of being grateful for all God’s provision. Awakening in the morning has such value, yet is everyday ordinary till they are gone.

Yes, I am beginning to like the “simple things” more and more. Oh there will be that call to anxiety or worry knock upon my door still occasionally. There will be that distraction that screams for my attention on a quiet day still. The business of life will still try to rob the joy of peace and contentment in a simple day. Life’s complexities are still out there, I doubt if they ever go away, or if they should. How else would I have come to like the “simple things” even more.

 

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