Kingdom: My Last Performance

In the shadows of the sanctuary, as she had been for the last three weeks, Kelly sat passively watching, hearing and observing as though the passage of time was a sleeping aid. Since my last musical performance she had gradually allowed less and less light to be around her, cloaking what kind of girl-spirit was working in her, even as our meetings became “Revivalistic” ones, overflowing with prayers and worship offered up with extreme reverence.

While she dozed through the three meetings since “If I Had My Way” was performed, something was revving up through our meeting’s hymns and prayers; it was as though the Spirit of the Living God was begging action from our puny band of Kingdom villagers.

Pastor Harold, nearly complete with his Master’s Degree in theology, was a relentless bull dog chewing on the scriptural text for each evening’s gathering.

That night, Harold nibbled at the bottom line of his talk for nearly fifteen minutes until at last he savagely bit into the meat contained in Jesus’ own words in Luke 12:3-5:

Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.”

“And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.”

“But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.”

Harold nodded to me as he closed, “If God is watching your every word and loves you enough to give you this warning about what you say, how much more will he be watching your every action? Fear God! Fear God! Fear God! Not just tonight listening to me, but fear Him in every part of your life. He will judge every one in the end, and those who are lawless will not have a place in the Kingdom of God.”

On cue I stepped up to the podium and ripped into the song I had been practicing for a month. It was a sweet little cover of Bobby Fuller’s “I Fought the Law.”

Voice, fingers, strings, and rhythms strummed out torrid beats of another realm. In the vacuum of my performance there was a convergence of all my hates, loves, sorrows, joys and hungers. For two minutes I was out of my body and head and drew from the shadows of the sanctuary the one girl who I would have least expected to be moved. Kelly. As the last moments of concussive chords charged from my guitar, the air was resplendent with God’s holy truth. And as if drawn out of a spooky fog by my plaintiff crooning she rose from her chair and moved towards the front.

Kelly stopped at the steps to the platform staring up across the pulpit at me with eyes set to storm from the edges of a deep purple sullen sea. Her eyes did not close during Harold’s benediction and neither did mine. I listened to Harold’s prayer hoping that Kelly’s actions meant she had come forward to pray, worship and give her life to Christ. But it was something else in her soul that was seeking to connect with mine and I could not stop looking into the purple seas that beckoned me to wade in. At the final “Amen” she started up the steps.

“I never knew,” she said as she joined me on the platform. The meeting was closed and the other kids were leaving and laughing and shouting out the last lines of the song. “The Law Won!”

Her hand touched mine for a moment as her tormented face, young and pretty seemed to peer through her own place of darkness directly at me. “I didn’t know you could do that.”

“It was nothing,” I said pulling my hand away from her as though my skin had been burned. I searched her face. In an instant I recognized what I had done. It was something I had been working on for over a year. I wanted to produce out of nothing a devoted fan. Here she was.

It wasn’t stardom or a craving for the spotlight, I just wanted to know if I had it in me to conjure up a “following.” But I could feel in my soul that this was something just a bit beyond me if not for a dark, evil promise. It could be a promise of fame and fortune. I could have if I wanted it. It would only cost me a little bit of my soul. “A small price,” a voice or something eerily near to my ear seemed to infer. “Such a small price.”

I had, it seemed, drawn Kelly out of the shadows. She had been unaffected by everything in this world until tonight. And then… All the chords, notes, lyrics, torment, pretending, acting, and choreography brought her youth, adoration and vulnerability into my sphere of influence. For good or bad, she was opening her life to me. Something in the darkness whispered, “its all yours.”

I felt physically ill all of a sudden. I never despised myself more than I did at that moment. I’m not sure what I said to her after that but the result was I never performed again as I had done that night.

Twelve miles away, though very much out of touch with what was at work in my life, my mother sensed some disturbance in my universe. This was the 60s. No one could have posted a video to Youtube. Telephones were not available for personal use from the church, and who would have cared about what was happening with Kelly and me at that moment anyway.

Perhaps she knew that I had been shut away from my family for too long and perceived the wickedness developing in a way that can happen to Secret Agents with Secret Vaults. Its hard to analyze actually, but she knew there was trouble rising up out of the pool of girls she imagined were awaiting my amorous commands. However her intuition worked, she probably was close to being right.

She called to me from the front porch to come in the house before going to do my chores. Instead of the pajamas and robe she wore to watch Sunday night TV, she was dressed in a simple cotton dress with her face all made up, as if she were on her way to church. She even wore the dangling ear rings dad had given her two wedding anniversaries ago.

“I don’t think you should be a part of that youth group anymore,” she said. I wasn’t surprised by her suggestion, but was curious about the calmness in her communication. No accusations or sermons on the evils of sex. I added a dab of depression to my already forlorn appearance.

“Alright,” I said and walked out the back door to the barn to feed Carla, our prized Guernsey. “What’s the use,” I said to her and scratched a spot behind her ear. She pushed back against my fingers in appreciation. “You know I’ve been thinking about running away. I can’t quite figure it out though. What would I do?” Carla snorted and it tickled me to think she might be laughing at my dilemma.

“Your right of course,” I said, rehearsing a Johnny Rivers song in my head. “I’m a Secret Agent, right? I just have to get better at it. There’s only one problem Carla – I’ve run out of ideas of how to do that.” I took Carla’s long low “Moooo,” to be her dearest expression of sympathy for my lamentations, but then the violent shake of her head against my hands probably meant: “Less talking and more scratching!”

It would be years before I truly understood what happened that night, but now I know. That night, after my performance, and for the first time, the Holy Spirit of God had come to give me direct guidance. He used my feelings of sickness and revulsion to show me graphically something repugnant to my Father God. Suddenly I had a fear of the one and only Holy God. The One who held my life next to His tender, merciful but uncompromising heart.

I believe God had shown something to my mother as well. All of the fullness of who the world could say was me was now crammed into my Secret Vault. But mom knew there would be girls. She was determined there would be no girls. To that end, every avenue that could offer an interaction with the opposite sex, outside of school, had been cut off except “Youth Group.” That now too was closed.

Maybe it was time to get a job.

 

Kingdom: If I Had My Way

I played clarinet in the school band. I sang in the church choir. In honor of my 14th birthday I was given a guitar, a book of the 100 great folk songs of America, and the 1962 number 1 hit album “Peter, Paul and Mary.” My destiny was sealed.

By my sophomore year in high school I had taught myself to play guitar and sing like Glenn Yarborough. I added twenty-seven of the dreariest, darkest most depressing songs ever written to my repertoire. I was a hit at church summer picnics playing for the potato salad, baked bean and hot dog crowd. I even performed at a few ice cream socials. Eventually I was booked into a Sunday morning service introducing, what would become my signature song for the next decade: “Early In The Morning.”

My friend Kim was overjoyed with my endeavors to be a rising folk singing, protest song writing star like Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. She even helped to write a few of my more morose, depressive tunes. And when it seemed I would perish in my Junior year Chemistry class, she encouraged me to change my major from College Preparation to music. By some miracle my parents agreed. Instead of learning useless experiments I found myself in the high school “A cappella Choir” singing tenor.

In the spring of 1965, preparations were underway for the high school “A cappella Choir” presentation of “The Sound of Music.” Kim, who spoke less and less about our engagement and more about how great it was to have such a great brother like me, was playing Maria. Actually she was Maria.

With a bittersweet mixture of joy and sorrow I saw Kim’s star rising. I had not thought of her as beautiful, but something vibrant and joyful was beginning to blossom in her. She was in fact morphing into a total beauty. Her voice, angelic, sweet, sultry and pure made me smile as few things could. With so much self indulgence, and narcissism developing in my life, Kim’s celebrity status began to distance us. There were fewer rides together on the bus. Our intimate conversations were growing fewer and far between.

When we did meet she seemed to look at me with a sadness that reminded me she was going away soon.

“Did you like the play?” she asked me on the Monday morning bus ride after the weekend performance.

“Not really,” I said. “I mean I was moving scenery all night long, I didn’t get to see much of it.”

She took my hand and waited until I turned to look at her. “You thought I was great though, didn’t you?”

My eyes burned with the tears I was fighting back. My throat was tight as if my body had produced something to cram up into my esophogus. This was the moment. I had rehearsed a thousand times what I wanted to say to her, but instead of coming out of my mouth it all seemed to want to gush out through my eye gates.

In misery I only thought once more of the words I wanted to say, “You saved my life Kim. You’re like the best sister I could have ever had and I don’t want you to go. Not now. You are beautiful, gorgeous, amazing and the truest friend I have ever had. I can hardly wait to see you in the morning and I pray for you every night. I know you are beyond me in every way and you have a big life out there somewhere, but I will always love you because you rescued me from teen-hell. You made me feel worthy of love and kindness. You own my heart and you always will. My dearest sister please don’t leave.”

Instead I bent my head towards her and mumbled a: “you were very good.”

I felt her body, soul and mind stiffen. Our one moment of truth was passing as we rolled into the industrial end of town. The pear orchards were in full bloom. The hills around the town were a lush green for the first time in months. The temperature was to be in the mid-eighties that day. I had smiled when I saw Kim dance up the stairs of the bus. She was wearing her favorite white skirt and a floral print blouse. Her hair, which she said many times, “drives me crazy,” was full of life, cascading in vibrant shades of gold, auburn and bronze.

“Look Kim,” I finally said, daring to look into her face that was streaked with a few of her own tears, “I thought you were cool. Better than that Julie person. Way more cool.”

Thankfully she laughed and wiped her cheek with a tissue that appeared from no where. “I was pretty good wasn’t I? Not as good as that Julie person, but I’ll get there.” She let her smile linger as she searched for what more needed to be said. “I’ll write you when…well you know, when I’m on my way.”

“I know you will,” I said, having heard it a thousand times.

As the bus rolled into the school parking lot, Kim squeezed my hand.

“Listen, Carl is going to be picking me up and will drive me to and from school now. You know now that he’s my…”

“Carl? Mr. Christopher Plummer!”

“Yes Carl. We’ve started dating, I told you that.”

“I know you told me. But I didn’t think you meant it. And as a Captain Von Trapp, he was pretty lame!”

“I thought you didn’t see the show?”

“Well I was kind of drawn to the bad parts so I saw a lot of your “Captain.” Kim laughed and gave me the look I had seen for the last couple of weeks. It was her version of cute and she puckered her lips as if to kiss me.

“I will miss your dark moronic ways of looking at life,” she said.

“And I am going to miss you sis,” I thought.

“Anyway I’ll see you in choir and at lunch with the gang. Just like usual, right?”

“Right.” But she was truly Carl’s girl now, and her conveyance out of my life just served to affirm that I was right to stay cool. Never want anything too much or count on having anyone to have and hold in this life forever. I knew in the days of preparing for Kim’s inevitable exit from my life that the “Sound of Music’s” happy ending was such a magnificent lie that even the glorious Miss Julie Andrews couldn’t make it believable to me.

That evening, with these affirmations tucked safely into the Secret Vault of my soul, I began working on the message I was to bring to the Sunday night youth group. As a senior member of that group I traded off giving the message with youth Pastor Harold.

My text was from Judges 16:4 – 31, the story of Sampson’s betrayal by Delilah and his ultimate destruction as he, after twenty years of battling Israel’s enemies, the Philistines, finally killed more of them in one moment than he had in all of his life.

I had thought of a thousand ways of making the message relevant for my group. But on that Sunday night, casting off the last tie I had with Kim, bending into what I believed to be my “Lonely Troubadour Destiny” I did not even try to find an application. I just read the verses that meant the most to me:

“And Samson called unto the Lord, and said, ‘O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.’

And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left.

And Samson said, ‘Let me die with the Philistines.’ And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.” (Judges 16:28-31)

My message, in the end, could not deliver to my peers the immense amount of hope they would need for the coming days, weeks and years. Instead I just let my message serve as an introduction to my song: “If I Had My Way.” I was ready to give the performance of a life time. All I had needed was a few impressionable, floundering souls to be my audience. I was on my way.

In This Wicked World

As I viciously tore my fingers across the strings of my guitar, my voice growled out the words with such an intensity that I was physically gone at the song’s end. Without so much as an amen, I packed away my stuff, stole away to my car and prepared to leave for home.

As I glanced back towards the church an image captured my attention and then was so indelibly engraved on my mind that it haunted me during the ride home, through my night’s sleep and for many waking hours of the next week. It was the image of a face. It was the image of the face of a girl who stood just within the rim of the low church lights. She stood within the farthest edge of the light radiating from the church parking lot’s illumination. She watched intently as I packed away my gear. For the next several Sunday evenings I was always aware of her shadowy presence waiting; as though it were waiting – waiting for my permission to materialize as something real from the edge of night. Kelly.

Kingdom: My First Angel

With the loss of my first love Margie, I developed an extremely morose countenance that helped divide me away from troublesome beings who might have wanted to be my friend. Not that I didn’t have a few friends, but generally they were diagnosticians come to investigate what my problem was. My family knew what my sullen attitudes were about and chose to ignore my darkening moods.

My father’s answer to everything was to “work-it-out” on the farm. I dug trenches, plowed the fields, tended the orchard, raised a lamb, cut and pitched hay. But rather than be the antidote, farm work gave me time to furnish my Top Secret Soul life with idols that I could bring to life in ever increasing exotic scenes. Farm work also gave me the one thing an underachieving 8th grader needs at school, an excuse for why my homework was not being done.

A starlit night arose over the dark road of my soul on the day after my Spanish teacher, Mrs. McNalish died. Her name was Miss Maria Montoya. Beautiful, graceful, and young, I had never imagined a teacher could be so full of life and light. She became central in my fantasy world and the cause of even more scholastic underachievement. But suddenly poetry made sense. Love songs from my parent’s generation became my favorites. I had no aptitude for Spanish but as a tribute to Miss Montoya I became obsessed with all things Mexican and all things beautiful.

Her eyes were made of the deepest darkest chocolate ever created and were precious jewels that sparkled in a soft round face belonging to another realm. She took a throne in the my soul where she became guardian of my Secret Vault of thoughts, dreams and fantasies. Her voice, rich, full and melodic was hypnotic and while I could not assimilate and make mine the knowledge she possessed I embraced her warmth and sincerity with a new level of love and devotion that displaced my feelings for Margie, mother, home and family.

She was only a dream, remote, ethereal and unattainable but thoughts of her comforted me in a way that nothing else in life could. I began to write. I began to draw. I wrote secret notes to her and drew the eyes that were often the last vision of my day before going to sleep. In those days girls seemed to be saying things to me but I could not imagine that they would one day be remotely as womanly and precious as Miss Montoya and I did not return their kindness with anything but blank detachment.

Several weeks after taking over my Spanish class, Miss Montoya asked me to stay after school. My facade of cool almost burst into flames and my love for her nearly revealed. It was the greatest test my Secret Vault would have to endure. But without even the slightest blush I simply said, “Yes Miss Montoya.”

There is no way to explain our little conference. Mariachi music filled my ears, and my heart beat to the rhythm of the guitars and bass. I believe she wanted me to know that I was an awful student.

I think she wanted me to apply myself and show her more aptitude for one of the most romantic languages on earth. It is even possible that she promised to not age a day and would wait for me when I graduated high school and we would run off to Mexico City where I would become a circus clown and a bull fighting novelist and she would be a teacher in a private school for over achieving rich kids. Who knows. I was just thrilled she actually knew who I was.

Her place of reverence and eternal love harbored in my faithful soul would last at least another week or two.

That same day the school bus home bound routes changed. They pushed my departure time back twenty minutes. Instead of the usual route up River Road, my bus went directly to Walt’s Superette instead. For the first time we met a bus dropping off high school students from the big town down south. I rarely looked up from my writings and drawings to witness anything that might be stirring the universe around me. I did not see a blessed force forming to build a new roadway into my sullen soul.

She was a girl. But this girl was on the border of becoming a woman and she had the impropriety that is born into the master race of humanity that are destined to become actresses, movie stars, and great singers. The Debbie Reynolds, Doris Days, and Sandra Dees of this world. With a wry smile and three quick sliding steps she took me into her world, offering to be my bride if she could sit next to me. I may have nodded, but I’m sure she was sitting down before our engagement had been fully arranged.

As she settled into my life she slipped her arm through mine and took my hand. I smelled the apple/cherry blossom perfume she wore as she leaned her head on my shoulder. “I’m Kim, what’s your name?” I told her. “You know that name suits you, it means handsome you know? And you are one of the cutest men I have ever met.” Internally I squirmed but outwardly I stiffened my spine.

“Now about our engagement,” Kim continued, “I want a June wedding but I think we should wait until I graduate high school and have gotten a part in a Broadway show. I am breaking my neck for our choir director Mr. Johnson to learn my part in our production of Carousel. I mean the singing is great. I’m an amazing singer. You’ll have to come and see the show, I’ve got a real cool spot in it. But the dancing. Do you like to dance? I bet you do.” She was an ocean of words that hummed out of some deeper depths of the great seas of the world.

” You know I bet you are a great dancer. You seem very athletic too. And those eyes and eyelashes. I’m surprised the cute girls on the bus haven’t swooped in to take you away from me.”

I heard some shrieks of laughter behind me and I was glad that I had developed a hard outer shell because I could feel the heat of severe humiliation rising in my soul. “Now listen…you know I love you with all my heart and I think our marriage will last an eternity, but I think we should have separate beds after we’re married, don’t you? I mean I love being close to you darling, but when I sleep I really need my space.”

The bus ride that day seemed to go on forever. It was time enough to establish Kim’s likes and dislikes about everything, (or so I thought) and to elicit from me my undying devotion to her though I had no idea what she was talking about. These things would grow crystal clear in the weeks to come.

I had never really appreciated the sight of my family’s farm as much as I did that day. As we rolled into the huge “S” curve where the road skirted our back ten acres I just barely croaked out the words, “this is me!” I was ready to jump to the front of the bus a good hundred yards before the bus stop, but Kim held me close.

“I’ll see you in the morning handsome,” she said and as she let go of my arm she leaned into my face and put her lips ever so lightly on my cheek.

Over the next two years my engagement to Kim would be our secret and one that I would come to cherish. It was a long time before I could be as free with her as she was with me, but she always seemed captivated by my joys, sorrows, pains and frustrations and often drew out of my Secret Vault a humorous way of looking at my vow to be a secret agent in the world of despots, fascists and abusers.

I learned through Kim that a spouse should be your best friend. I learned that love could be chaste, and pure and reverently holy where you truly want the best for the other person. I learned that your spouse would be the one to place you on a pedestal even though there is no way in God’s great universe you deserved it.

One other thing I learned through Kim, or more precisely about Kim – I think she was an Angel sent to me by the Lord God Almighty to save me from taking my own life.

As my relationship with my family grew distant and cold, Kim was always there to help me through it. And there were a few times when I held her as the disappointments in her life became to great for her to bear. We laughed together and cried together. Then one day, as oddly as she had entered my life, she made her exit and I would never hear from her again.

I would learn under the careful tutelage of my youth pastor Harold that in the Kingdom of Heaven there are Angels. Scripture illuminates the many roles Angels perform. They are emissaries, warriors, and worshipers of the Most High God. They are also guardians of his beloved creation – mankind.

Angels were spoken of in the writer’s exaltation of God the Son Jesus Christ in Hebrews 1:14

“Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?”

The place of Angels is revealed in a warning Jesus gave to all mankind in Matthew 18:10

See that you do not despise one of these little ones (children). For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.

God Himself said of His relationship with us and His Angels in Psalm 91:9-11

“If you say, ‘The Lord is my refuge,’
and you make the Most High your dwelling,
no harm will overtake you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

My actual, God assigned Angels, would be vigilant to protect me in the many years to come and to the Lord God Almighty who created me I give my praise, honor and worship. And I pray His blessings to be on Kim, my teen Angel, where ever she may be. Amen.

Kingdom: The Pearl

Her name was Margie May and for one pure and holy moment in time she was my pearl. My buddy Ricky, at that time the greatest friend of all times, took me to his church group one Sunday night when my parents didn’t feel like taking me into town for my usual church youth group meeting.

Ricky introduced me to Margie. He then went off to be goofy with some of his other pals and I fell into instant conversation with her. To this day I don’t know why. From the age of 7 to 11, four glorious years of male macho development, girls were taboo. But there was something about Margie May.

She was a tomboy with short blond curly hair, bright blue expressive eyes, a smile that never seemed to leave her face and a devastatingly coy way of keeping me close to her. She seemed fascinated by every one of my stories and laughed with a sincerity that sparked within my heart a love and devotion for her that I would not experience again for a long long time.

As we said our good-byes that night I knew that I had found a treasure to be adored and a brand new church group. All I had to do was convince my parents that going with Ricky to Sunday night church would make their lives a whole lot easier.

What I didn’t know was that whatever was happening for me about Margie May on the inside was showing on the outside. And while thoughts of my new girl friend were held secretly in a special place deep inside me, my mother knew. Somehow she knew.

When I suggested Ricky’s church group would benefit everyone, especially my spiritual growth, she smiled and said, “I’ll think about it. Don’t say anything to your dad. I want to talk to him about it first. We’ll think about it.”

Her smile was reassuring and I knew that dad would be for me in this since he didn’t like going into church on Sunday nights.

With these assurances in place I let the memories of Margie May’s laugh, and smile and sparkling eyes linger for hours out of each day.

So occupied was I with my dreams of Margie I failed to notice that my mother was watching me and somehow reading my thoughts. I think my dad began to notice it too and sometimes I could over hear their chuckles after some of their “soft talk.”

I spent each day in the wonder of what it would be like to spend time with Margie. And I think it all would have gone along just fine, but on Wednesday evening, before I could secure a promise to go to Ricky’s church, Margie called my home. Mom picked up the phone, listened and then turned to me. Holding out the receiver she looked at me with the queerest expression on her face I had ever seen. “It’s someone named Margie May, and she wants to speak to you.”

I’m sure my face burned hot. I’m sure my throat, chin and cheeks turned apple red. I could see my mom’s head shaking an emphatic, “no!”

The voice on the line was sweet and exuberant and expectant. Would I come to her party on Saturday afternoon? She just knew we would have a good time. In that moment and for months, maybe even years, I wanted nothing more in the entire universe than to go to Margie’s party.

I longed to see her again, like I had never longed for anything in my life. I had been cruel to dopes that had expressed such feelings when we hung out together and now here I was, one of those dopes. The urge to be with my new friend consumed me. “I’ll ask and call you right back,” I said. But I never did.

My mother’s “no!” rose up from somewhere in her gut. Her eyes seemed on fire, and I had never seen such cruelty in her eyes before. She gave me no reason or assurance that this was just a momentary pause in a possible new friendship. What she said was, “You are to never see or talk to that girl again. Go to your room now.”

My eyes burned. Even before the tears broke out. It was like all the salt in my body mounted an attack on my tear ducts. My sight was blinded by salt and tears. From my room I heard my mom on the telephone talking to a parent at Margie’s home. Her voice was stern and with a few clipped syllables declined the invitation to the party and asked that Margie not call our home again. “Good-bye.”

I couldn’t stand it anymore. Mom had to know how disappointed I was. I ran into the kitchen, balling my head off and screamed: “Why?” With no answer and no mercy she watched me stammer, and whine and cry as though some vital organ was being ripped from my body. I stood before my mother unashamed of my emotion and wrath and poured it all out while she coolly observed my tantrum. Then, mysteriously I was done. I mean not just done with my tantrum. Done with something else. “Dinner will be ready in several minutes,” my mother finally said, “why don’t you go wash up?” We were done.

As the days went by I regained control of my inner most thoughts and feelings. Something dreadful was playing out in real life that could not bear a young boy’s happiness or self expression. I could be happy, glad, or sad, it didn’t matter what, but everything had to appear cool on the outside. With cunning and well executed plans I began to succeed where in the past I had failed.

I still had emotional outbursts but it was more often total war within where my internal secret vaults weren’t yet sturdy enough to contain all evidence of my feelings. But with each battle I was winning the war.

One could hurt me, but I was successfully winning the war to shut off all outward expression of the pains. I could even be happy. But there would never be an outward sign of it again. I created a vault for any real emotion in a tree lined graveyard in my soul.

Through the prosecution of my internal war I also curbed my passions for anything and everything. I no longer cared. I shut myself off from potential friendships. Everything that I cared about in this world became a secret.

In my church, as a twelve year old junior high kid, Mrs. Ballinger was now my Sunday School teacher. Mrs. Ballinger was younger than most of the mom’s at church and wasn’t impressed that there was a heaven and a coming King. Her Bible seemed newer and shinier and matched her purse, lipstick and jewelry.

Her teeth were blessed with a magical florescent glow that matched the shimmer and shine of the string of pearls she wore around her neck. Most of the time in class she would talk to the girls about school, and pop music and parties and other such nonsense. The number of boys in the class dwindled and the number of girls increased. I had nothing to contribute so just listened to the chatter knowing it was the new background music for my life.

Mrs. Ballinger, one Sunday in February 1961, handed her Bible to Linda G. and asked her to read Matthew 13:45. Linda in a clear voice read:

“Again, the Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who on finding one of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

Before a clarification of what the parable meant could be given the girls were soon engrossed in reverent conversation about shopping, dresses and an upcoming wedding.

In my heart and mind I was in the park playing baseball. I didn’t need anyone’s interpretation of that parable. I had met my pearl and I would have given everything for her. Discovering that the Kingdom of Heaven was the true pearl took many lonely years. In fact, it would be a long, horrifyingly long time before I gave up everything of this world to make King Jesus the Lord of my life and obtain my place in the Kingdom of heaven.

A Secret Edge in the Storm of Night

My first suspension from school (September 1957) for fighting put me quite unintentionally into my mother’s week day routines one of which, having coffee and chat with three ladies from church, was the most excruciating. Tuesday and Thursday I was fawned over by two of the oldest ladies on earth during the commercial breaks of their favorite day-time Television shows. When they weren’t commenting on my precious looks, personality and manners their third friend scolded me for fighting at school.

The rest of the days I sat near my mom in our claustrophobic living room with its browns, lavenders and teal furnishings and watched television. It was a dreary programming for a nine year old boy. “The Price Is Right,” “Queen For A Day” “Secret Storm,” and the “Edge Of Night,” merged their various sorrows into one single voice that always seemed to whisper, “watch me, buy me, possess me.”

By Friday, 4 p.m. I was aware, deep in my soul that Sunday was coming and that Doc Withrow, Mr. Fourth Grade School Master, would have something to say about the new god of America – materialism. I was right. Of course I was.

Mrs. Esther Withrow was the treasured wife of Doc and had relayed with intricate detail the gory story of my suspension from school. He was also informed of the nature of my punishment and was concerned about what kind of useless, materialistic voodoo had infested my brain cells and invaded my thought waves.

“Your life is not to be given over to the things,” Doc said, not bothering to open our class with his traditional rambling six minute prayer. “You will accumulate things. You’ll get those things no matter what. But no thing must ever own you. To crave things is to forget the one who owns all things. He is a good Father and will give you what you need along the way. But God has made a place for you in heaven and that is where your treasure should be. Where your thinking should be.”

He opened his Bible and read from chapter 13 of Matthew. The parable of the sower. It was one parable I understood perfectly. But I had not cared to act on it much. Today wouldn’t be a good day for it either.

Doc read with passion about the destiny of the seeds and then focused all of his patriarchal energy on the seeds that fell among the thorns in verse 22:

“As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”

“We know about ‘deceit’ don’t we?” asked Doc. He met my eyes soberly as he did each of the other eight boys in the class. “It is like a lie, only it has a lasting impact on who you’ll become in life if you swallow it. Today it may be the candy you want, tomorrow it may be the snazzy shoes, or it may even just be about having some time to yourself, but once that selfish deceit grows inside you it will begin to be sour and distasteful to your family and friends and it will certainly displease your God and Creator and King of the Heavenly Kingdom to come.”

“Dearest Righteous God – Warn these boys!” Doc Withrow prayed, “Not to be filled with the greed and lust for the things they see on this TV everyone seems so preoccupied with. Show them You’re the one and only true path into Your Kingdom! Amen.”

We all said amen and in a shot I was out the door and into the car. Mom was taking me to buy my own transistor radio. I could hardly wait to hear the play by play announcers for the Golden West network describe the 1 p.m. baseball game between the Giants and the Dodgers.

It would actually be many years before my thoughts of the Kingdom of God would eclipse my obsession with things and the San Francisco Giants.

The Kingdom Cupcakes

The hum of mom’s Sunbeam mixer roused me from reading my Donald Duck comic book. It was a Saturday. Mom never baked on Saturday. It took me just five seconds to toss my comic and materialize in the kitchen. She smiled at me and gave me one of the beaters to lick. She took the other. The love for chocolate cake batter was something we shared. But I could not ever recall my mom baking on a Saturday.

Mom could always read my mind so she said with an unusual amount of tenderness, “I am making cup cakes for Reverend Foster’s memorial service. You remember we talked about the day he went to be in heaven?” I did recall the conversation. It had not occurred to me that there would be more to it than the sad prayer my father had made at dinner that night hoping that God would comfort Reverend Foster’s family and everyone in his flock. Amen.

Smith and School Street circa 1910

No one actually took me aside and talked about death and how it all works here on earth. But I had heard plenty about heaven. Growing up in a small town, it was the hottest topic in Sunday school. Thinking back on it now, I am not surprised. Many of my teachers and people we fellowshipped with at church had lost loved ones in World War II and the Korean War. One young couple’s child died with his aunt and uncle in a car accident. Heaven was a big thing when I was growing up, because in most towns in America in the sixties there were as many memorial services on a Saturday as there were weddings.

The most classic teaching on heaven was done by Doc Withrow in my fourth grade Sunday School Class. It was from the book of Luke in the Bible. Jesus is talking to a lot of people who want to know what he is all about and he keeps deferring them to parables about this person or that person. Usually one gets the message and meaning of his teaching while the others do not. Doc Withrow always emphasized in his teaching that people could choose to accept a teaching or reject it.

In Jesus’ day many applauded his teachings and came to know him as the son of God, many did not. Beginning in verse 19 in chapter 16 of the book of Luke, Jesus talks about heaven this way: There was a beggar named Lazarus and there was a rich man. They both die. Angels come and take Lazarus to be with Abraham, and as Doc Withrow explained, that means that the Angels took Lazarus to a wonderful place called heaven.

Lazarus Goes To Heaven With Abraham

There were many things to learn in this lesson, and, as Doc reminded us, Lazarus would have only been escorted by angels to heaven if he had received Jesus as his savior.

So it became clear to me two things. First, there is a heaven where people who believed God’s promises to save them, are now living. Second, at the moment we take our last breath on earth, Angels come to take us directly to that place where Abraham now lives and that place is heaven. I had already made Jesus the Lord of my life, but if I had not, I know after all this talk about Lazarus and the rich man condemned to hell, I would definitely would have asked God to save me.

“Boys,” Doc continued in his swaggering preacher voice now, “I’m going to be going to heaven soon and I am glad for that. This is what waits me fellas.” He read from John 14:1 – “Jesus said, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God. And trust in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house. I would not tell you this if it were not true. I am going there to prepare a place for you.”

It is not hard to know that heaven is a perfect place prepared for those who have put their faith in the loving son of God, Jesus. He came to give us life and life eternal. For now the Kingdom of Heaven is a place where the believers who have passed from this life, now experience a holy, just, true and perfect God face to face. It all happens in a moment.

I did not go to Reverend Foster’s memorial. But I did have two of mom’s cupcakes. To this day cupcakes remind me of heaven, the place where my mom now calls home.

The Kingdom Is

I was taught as a boy to open the car door for my mother. At first I thought that an odd work for me to have on my to-do list because the handle of the door of our yellow 1957 Ford Ranch wagon was just below my eye level, a level at which my mother’s hand could have more easily reached and opened for herself. The door was huge and heavy and I had to make sure I got to the car long before my family because this chore could take a few awkward minutes to accomplish with my slight body and skinny arms.

It took time to learn that “door opening” was a courtesy and did not just apply to cars, but also included house-doors, store-doors, and church-doors. It was not in my DNA to naturally do courteous tasks. In fact it was more in my nature to avoid work and play hard at all costs. It was years of hard coaching from my parents to shape a world view that mankind was created to be for other people. It was through the church-doors that I learned this truth and one thing more, the Kingdom of Heaven is here and now.

In my little church in a valley of many churches our family, with all the other members of our congregation, would say these words of prayer that Jesus taught to his disciples:

“Our Father in heaven,

Hallowed be Your name.

Your Kingdom come

Your will be done

On earth as it is in heaven”

When I open the car door for my wife now, she smiles sweetly at me and thanks me. It turns out this courtesy is one of those things in life for which she has great appreciation. My heart to be courteous at all costs has made our relationship a loving and kind one. I would not have guessed it in all the years praying those words ” Your Kingdom come” that these precious moments of giving kindness and receiving kindness are in truth part of God’s plan for those who must dwell in an evil, corrupt and dying world.

For those who run to the disasters and throw themselves in harms way, it is often as though they have the shield of heaven about them to rescue others while being themselves spared the ravages of plague, disease, and natural disaster. Through video capture devices we can even see the faces of those fighting the fires, cleaning up debris, tending to the injured, sick and dying. We can actually witness a bit of heaven at work here on earth.

From a simple act of courtesy to amazing acts of heroism and selflessness, we witness and experience the answers to the prayers of generations of Christians who for hundreds of years every Saturday and Sunday lifted up their voices to implore the Creator of all things, the Father of Lights, to bless us here on earth with the monumental beauty, peace and majesty of His glorious heaven.

For those who know Jesus as their Lord and Savior there is a place where all “good works done in secret” have become treasures stored up for an eternal life with our Father. (Matthew 6:19-20) And while this is an extraordinary revelation opened up to mankind during Jesus’ teaching here on earth, the greater wonder is that there is a place called heaven where God lives, beyond the one bit of it we live in here on earth, where followers of Jesus will have eternal life with riches beyond the imagination of mankind.

There is only one requirement to enjoy the eternal riches now and forever more and its not that hard. Call on the name of Jesus and be saved. He brings heaven to earth for those who ask.

When I Consider All Thy Hands Have Made How Great Thou Art

Is Anyone Worthy

Do you wish you could see it all made new?  Is a new creation coming? Is it good that we remind ourselves of this?

Is He Worthy
I am a child of the King and a citizen of His glorious Kingdom – May His Will Be Done

First Let There Be Peace

Jefferson Good Club 1

I am sitting in my office surrounded by the shear essence of who I am. There are two calendars on the wall depicting children at play. Hanging on the wall above my computer screen is an oil painting of a rodeo cowboy welded to the saddle of a wild eyed bronc done in hues of gold, red, black and brown. Two laptops are opened to various applications, as I prepare a teacher training for this coming Sunday, while figuring out some labyrinth of administrative hay wire tied to the non-profit for which I am a director.

The evening hour approaches and reminds me of the first afternoons spent in my new office on the 11th green of  a golf and Country club. I was a youthful 68 year old retiree at the time. There was an awakening passion for the small town life to which my wife and I had escaped. The road to this life had become a narrow one. But I still write a bit for my own pleasure and of course watch sunrises and sunsets in absolute bliss.

Some of the clutter in my office includes eight golf balls that fell into our backyard when a few old duffers from my community severely hooked their drive off of the 11th tee this past summer. Each one is a trophy that fits right in with the die cast cars, model paper airplanes and squishy balls I use to award my “club” kids for being extra attentive. They are mostly good kids who enjoy the Bible stories, and the songs we sing, as we mentor their precious souls in the deeper things of God. There is a peace in giving ourselves to the kids in our clubs. Just as there is a peace in the process of collecting mementos of our club adventures. Though never physically present here where I do my pondering and administrating, children never leave my office now. I hear their laughter, their chatter and feel the chaotic love they expend all over my universe.

Songs often rise up from the deepest yet warmest parts of my soul, as memorialized monuments to my olden days that mark the shadowy way to where I sit this afternoon. Someone asks, “What do you like to do,” or “where are you from,” and the ghost-like memories of “how” and “why” it was the way it was, come flooding into my heart accompanied by some old song. Of course some of those ghosts are out of my Alan Jackson period of the ‘90s and some are from my Johnny Rivers period of the ‘60s. An image of my home-coming from ‘Nam is sound tracked by the mellow refrains of “Going Back To Big Sur.” Most of the ghosts are welcome and enchanting, and few of them overstay their welcome. But tonight it is a song from last week’s club that rests easy on my heart. Far from being a ghost, the memory is fresh and vibrant and the words caress my mind: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you, not as the world gives, do I give to you.” I can still hear the children’s voices tenderly and reverently singing the Bible verse from John 14:27. I am at perfect peace.

Peace I give To You

The road to this peace I have with me tonight was a long one, and could never be explored or investigated in a few paragraphs. But gratefully along the way I came into a deep abiding fellowship with the God of all Creation and have his love so near and real in this evening’s sunset. I cherish this rising-moon-over-the-fairway moment like no other. And that is who I am. Not just today, but forever.

Ken

Today With Joy

How the days have slid easily off the point of my pen and pencil to represent the mission that is before me.   The mission would be merely a slight overbite that I entertained in my youth, but now has a squiggly road attached to it that I must follow.  When did the grass get so long that the deer would be so easily distracted by my lawn? Why should they come in when I have posted sentries to hinder their brown hides? Don’t they know they are entering into dangerous territory?

I am not the tyrant that I first appear, after all this is American soil. My neighbors and friends are always welcome here. And the manners of so many warrant my most pronounced invitation.  Come in and see what joy has done for my youth today.  There will be many leisurely moments to spend in wonder in the joys that God has created. I am not restrained today. Perhaps for the first time. I did run out on the grass to address two errant fawns who were provoked by their mother to test my most powerful water cannon. O and when it did not go off wasn’t the mother then bold enough to enter my domain?  But all the pretty deer were observed by my person fleeing the tastiest green grass for miles around and I laughed at how defiant their demeanor, all ears, hooves and Swat-the-bug tails flippantly fussy as I strode behind them away from my bit of paradise.

The day began with a friend and I on the road. His last day here and it was essential we visit the bay and Dungeness river. All of that is done for now as he is on his way to Oregon.  Sad to say goodbye. But the time was heavy on us both and it was time to part. Me to my youth,…my friend to the road. Good Bye.

In My Yard