There’s No Place Like Home

9 08 2020

When Rick called me with his request, I knew immediately I couldn’t refuse him; after all Rock _nwe had been friends for years and I knew he wouldn’t be asking if he wasn’t desperate. He lived 120 miles west of me and wanted me to come there, pick him up and take him to parent’s home some 300 miles the other way. Rick was suffering from a type of cancer that had slowly been taking life away for several years. He could no longer drive and even had trouble standing or walking for short periods, and this may be the last time he’d ever see his childhood home. “Rick, you be ready at 8 tomorrow morning; I’ll pick you up and we’ll be to the farm before nightfall.”

It took a little while to load all the things Rick was taking home, including the extra blankets because this disease made him feel cold constantly, but soon we were on our way maneuvering through the busy city streets of Chicago until we were on the highway heading east. During our travels we talked about how he was doing, what good and bad days were like for him; thankfully, he was having a good one at this time, probably fueled with the knowledge he was heading home. We talked on my subjects, music of course since we were both musicians, philosophies, ideologies, life experiences, and the love we both shared for our Lord. It was a nice visit we shared with smiles and laughter since we had not seen each other in years. When we entered northwest Ohio, I pointed out to him how flat the terrain was; something he already knew since we both grew up in that region. “You really don’t care for the land here, do you, John?” “I like it alright Rick, but remember my birth state is West Virginia, and where I live now is rather rolling. So, when you compare to those places, I find this area boring.” “Oh John, you feel that way because you’ve never been a farmer. To them this land is paradise; easy to plow, plant and reap a harvest. When the crop is full, for miles there’s nothing more beautiful.” Taking a quick glimpse of my friend I could see a faraway look in his eyes, as if he could see something no one was able to. Rick, old friend, you make it sound like you miss this world.” There was a pause before he said, “There is no place on the face of the earth that I love as much as I loved my days on the farm.” I found that comment a bit intriguing. Here was a man that left shortly after graduating from high school; he went to college and pursued a career that allowed him many luxuries including hobnobbing with many famous people. He traveled extensively and lived a jet setters’ life, one that many would love to have experienced. But now, my old friend was telling me his greatest love was for the old farmstead, simple, basic, and filled with more life coming from the yield the land produced, than a dozen large cities and a hundred celebrities. He was so happy to be going home. And I like that.

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “Possessions, outward success, publicity, luxury – to me these have always been contemptible. I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for everyone, best for both the body and the mind.”

Perhaps this is what Rick meant when talking about the farm, for once we reached his home, I knew there was something special here. His mother, tears of joy rolling down her face embraced the son she had not seen for some time. She quickly saw to his needs and had set up a place in the living room for him to be comfortable. She offered me something to eat, but I needed to get on the road and back to Indiana.  She thanked me several times for bringing her son home before I could get out the door. As I made the trek home another thought entered my mind as I pictured Rick, his mother and the love that was in that old farmhouse, “There’s no place like home.”

It’s about a year later now, and I’m back in Chicago, in a hospital where Rick is laying in a bed with a few family members and a friend close by his side. The sound of his breathing is almost ear-piercing as his body fights for life. This goes on for over an hour and all we can do it stand by his bedside and pray. At a moment when it seemed the death rattle, as it’s called, was at a crescendo, Rick suddenly became quiet. He looked around the room at each of us standing there. One person quietly said, “It’s okay Rick, you can go now.” He gently sank into his pillow, and he was gone. The brother who loved him stayed by him for over an hour afterwards, and I made my way to the nurse’s station to give them the update, and that the family would like some alone time right now. I walked farther down the hallway to a waiting room and looked out the window. Being seven stories up, there appeared to be a million lights illuminating the city as I look out the window; it’s not my cup of tea, but I could see how Rick could fall in love with Chicago. I imagined Rick was one of the lights staring back at me.

The hour was late; Rick’s brother would be staying to make necessary arrangements, and I started making my way home. As I thought of everything that had transpired over the last year, but especially this final day, I began to smile. Once again Rick was headed to a place he knew and he loved, and there was love waiting when he arrived. No sickness, he was happy and whole; he was in the arms of Jesus. I like the way the Message Bible speaks of John 14:3,4; “Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.” As I think back on that night looking at all those lights, I’m reminded of quote that goes something like this, “Don’t cry that I’m no longer here, for I am shooting through to Heaven like a rocket!”

Rick is one of those “Travelers of the Rock Road” that I still think about fairly often, and how I’m glad God allowed our paths to cross. It was hard watching his decline, but from it I learned something valuable. There’s no place like Home!

See you next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





It May Fade in the Ears, but Never in the Heart

26 07 2020

Recently, thanks to my Lady, I’m now the owner of the guitar of my dreams–a Taylor onRock _n the professional level. I was no excited to get this new instrument, especially at this time in my life. At 66, my fingers don’t move like they used to, which at times makes it difficult to play. But this guitar is so smooth, it makes my fingers feel ten years younger. Of course, I want to show this beauty off to other musicians; they can appreciate how sweet it plays, so I’ve taken to several who like I, love it! One of my oldest and dearest friends lives in Ohio, so I had to make a special trip there so he could see it and take it for a spin. For over 50 years I’ve admired his ability to make a guitar sing and have been privileged to play 2nd fiddle, as they say, to this talented musician.  As my old friend worked his way up and down the fret board of the Taylor, he would say, “Wow, this is so smooth and easy to play.” I was happy that he loved it as much as I do. But then, he said something that nearly broke my heart. “I love this, just wish I could hear it.”

Over the course of life in a noisy occupation plus all the years playing loud music has taken a toll on his hearing. It first started out with minor problems, but as time went on, he couldn’t hear the music well enough to sing, another talent he was great at it. He can play beautifully by feel, but can’t really hear any of the notes. I knew of his problem, but in my excitement to show him my treasure had forgotten. Knowing how much he loves making music, but now not being able to hear is very hard on my friend, as it is on me as I hurt for him also. I put the guitar back in its case and we sat at the kitchen table reminiscing about the music we made in the early days and how beautiful it was. Time might have robbed him of his hearing, but his memory is keen and when he remembers the glory days, it’s good.

There’s a quote that goes like this; “When something bad happens, you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.”

My friend is in good company when it comes to musicians that have suffered hearing loss; Neil Young, Ozzy Osbourne, Phil Collins, Brian Wilson, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend. All these artists, as well as my friend, have something more in common than hearing loss. The music may have been made with their hands and voices that they no longer can hear well, but it’s still alive, well and strong in their minds, and their hearts.

I have found that same perseverance in Christians that have spent a lifetime serving the Lord. Their bodies may no longer allow them to serve the way they did for a lifetime, but in their hearts, they are still working and living for the God of Creation.  For this is a fact they all know.

2 Corinthians 4:17-18 “For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So, we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

My buddy and I will still continue to pick guitars as long as our bodies will let us; it’s what we do and who we are. He may not be able to hear the music in his ears like he used to, but this “Traveler of the Rock Road” will always have the magic of music in his heart. Besides, I took the liberty of booking us a gig in 2023 so we have a lot of time to practice. Awesome!

See ya next time.





Hindus, Highways and Rainbow Stew

12 07 2020

It was 1981 and we had been in Indiana for several years since our move from Ohio. Rock _nCathy and our daughter, Jamie, our only child at that time, were going back there to visit her parents. Seeing we only had one car I had to take them there and then return the next day. I remember that Sunday drive as being extremely warm and was thankful for the A.C. in the car. Outside of Fort Wayne on Rt. 24, I saw a rather unusual looking character, at least for this part of the world. Here was an elderly man dressed in a robe looking garment held closed with a cloth belt or sash, carrying a rather ratty looking bag with a strap. As I passed him, I thought he much be miserable out there with the heat index hovering around the 100 range. Up the road a little way, I pulled into a gas station to fill up. When I came out of the station from paying; I once again saw this odd-looking sojourner as he passed in front of where I was still progressing slowly down the highway west. Pulling up beside him, I offered a ride. With a gentle smile he happily got in. Noticing the red dot on his forehead told me he was Hindu. With curiosity teeming, I asked this gentleman what his story was. Well, he was from India and had come to the U.S. to visit friends and see America. His time here had been wonderful, perhaps a little too much for he had overstayed his visa to a point he thought he might be in trouble. He had traveled mostly by bus and had planned to stay with some friends in the Cleveland area when he realized his dilemma. Another friend in Chicago told him he could help him; but couldn’t come there since he did not have a license. So, this Easterner started walking. Afterall, this was how he got around most his life. He had received numerous rides that he was thankful for, but had been walking several hours when our paths crossed and I could see he rather spent. As we rode along, we made small talk about our lives, and our beliefs. This wasn’t a time of either of us trying to convince the other our views were the right one; more of time of understanding each other’s position. And we enjoyed our time together. I had the radio on low tuned to a country station when my friend began listening intently to the number that was playing. “What is Bubble Up, and Rainbow Stew and would this be wonderful if it was free?” Okay, you lovers of Country music will recognize this as a song written and performed by Merle Haggard, and I had to chuckle. The concept of songs that didn’t make sense and that it was only meant as fun was new and a bit confusing to my new friend, and I struggled to explain the reason why. I turned off the radio, but he liked it and asked if it would turn in back on. So, we tooled down the road kind of shucking and jiving to George Jones, Johnny Lee and Willie Nelson. Gotta love it!

We neared Warsaw/Winona Lake and I told him this is as far as I go, but I would like to buy him a meal or even come to my home to rest for a while. Graciously he declined, wanting to stay on the highway and hopefully get another ride for the final 2 ½ hours to Chicago. So, we went our separate ways there on Highway 30. When I got home, I unloaded the car and settled in to relax before I had to go to work that night. Still, I couldn’t get this man out of my mind. I kept thinking of our time together and how it was so blessed hot out there. After an hour of hearing in my mind, “Sure is hot out there, but hey, don’t give a thought that you let him out on the road and drove away!” Jumping up I went to the refrigerator, grabbed some grapes, poured some orange juice into a large travel mug, put some ice water in a jug and picked up some bananas from the counter and put them in the car along with my guitar in the trunk. (Yes, I used to go everywhere my guitar. Work with me here!) Reaching U.S. 30, I decided to drive ten miles west; if he hadn’t got another ride, he couldn’t made it any father than that. It was within two miles I caught up with him; and my friend was very glad to see me. I gave him what I brought; he ate all the grapes, two bananas, drank all the juice and about half the jug of water. Oh yeah, he had been on the road a long time that day! I urged him to put the seat back and rest, to which he obliged for an hour. When he awoke, we took up where we left earlier, just as if we had been old friends for years, talking, laughing, and listening to Country; even sang along a little, especially when we heard “Free Bubble Up and Rainbow Stew.”

Reaching Chicago was easy; finding the address was another story. This was before cell phones and GPS, so it took another two hours of hunting and getting lost before we found his friend. Before I dropped him off, he must have thanked me a dozen times. He then said, “My God’s blessing be upon you.” For the first time I felt words come to me. “Well, my friend, my Lord has blessed me; He put you in my path today because you had a need, and I can always use another friend. It has been a delight; I thank God He brought us together.” Smiling he then said “Free Bubble Up.” To which I responded “Rainbow Stew.” As I drove off, I could see him in my rearview mirror, he had his hands together, bowing slightly and saying some words in my direction, still with the same smile I had come to enjoy.

Max Lucado has a saying I think of often, “None of us can help everyone. But all of us can help someone. And when we help them, we serve Jesus. Who would want to miss a chance to do that?” I am convinced that God put this man in my path not so that I could evangelize him, but because He saw someone with a need, and He had one of His followers close enough to meet that need. Always and often our actions will tell someone God loves them more than our words will.

Matthew 25:35-40  “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’  And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

“Lord, thank you for allowing me to serve you, by serving another.”

Well, of course, I never saw this Hindu, Country music loving “Traveler of the Rock Road” after that day. I can only pray others showed him kindness, in Jesus name.

As for getting back in time to go to work, well I knew I was going to be late now so might as well make the best of it. Driving down Lake Shore Drive there in Chicago, I came across a big beautiful park where many folks were out enjoying the early evening. I found a place to park, took my guitar and sat under a tree and strummed a few songs. An older man with a mandolin came over and asked if I could play Bluegrass style. Whoa! Let’s do this! And for the next hour I played rhythm and he burned up that mandolin picking some old songs I was familiar with. What an awesome day! Thank you, Lord for all the Blessings!

See ya next time.

 

 

 

 

 





Jesus Showed Up at a Beer Party

5 07 2020

The one thing I can say about being a Christian is that if you’re willing to be used by theRock _n Lord, you just never know what you’ll be called on to do. There are times I wondered if God chose the right guy for the task at hand. One of those moments came late last year.

A dear friend who was very close to me in my youthful days passed away several months back. During his last two years before that sad moment, we spoke often on the phone and even worked it out to get together on several occasions even though there was a good distance between us. The times of reuniting with this dear man were good as we shared stories of the things we did as kids and where life had taken us now. There were times we laughed, cried, and just enjoyed being in each other’s company, just like it was when we were young. But the one thing that weighed heavily on my heart was the knowledge that his time on earth was drawing short. Two matters were in the forefront of my mind; the first was even though we had many years where we didn’t see each other, I stilled loved this man like a brother. And the second, because I was a Christian I felt if I didn’t share with him what Christ had done for me, and what He could do for him, then I didn’t love him enough. You see I’m a not a preachy type Believer who looks to push my faith and belief off on others every chance I get. I learned a long time ago that method could be a big turnoff to many, so I generally don’t say anything; but hopefully let my life and actions say it for me. I believe that what I have in Christ is incredibly special and that it is a free gift of God to all who put their trust in Him. So, if an opportunity avails itself to tell someone of that special gift and I don’t, then I guess what I have isn’t so special. Amen?

Knowing time was drawing to a close for my friend, I felt God urging me to share with him as often as I could. I imagine we had some 20 conversations on the matter of giving one’s life to Christ. I’m sure he didn’t understand for a time what I was saying, thinking I was pushing some form of religion or moral philosophy, until one day he finally understood two of my favorite Bible passages. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in Him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting.” And Romans 10:9, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” My Friend caught on that it’s not what he does, or all the wrong things he’s done in his life; it’s what Jesus did out of love for each of us. The day came when my friend, my brother, called to tell me he had accepted the gift of life through Jesus Christ. And once again, two schoolyard buddies laughed together and cried together.

I remember the Saturday I went to see him and he couldn’t get up from the couch. But we had a good visit, hugged, and said that we loved each other before I left. Twenty-four hours later he was in the hospital; we spoke the following day by phone. He was weak and it was hard for him to speak. I prayed, once again, told him I loved him, and we hung up. Thursday that week he was no longer in pain and his earthly journey had come to an end. It was a sad moment as one would expect. But in my heart, I knew he was okay and that I would see him again. He was now with the Lord.

Now, something I don’t like to advertise, but I am an ordained minister which allows me to perform certain functions; one of those functions is speaker at a funeral or memorial. I told his wife I would be more than happy to perform the service and she was elated that I would do it. As I said, when you’re willing to be used you never quite know what or where God is going to put you. The morning we drove to the location of where we would hold the memorial, we discovered it wasn’t a church; it wasn’t a rented hall or even a graveside service. No, she chose the place where the two of them first met and had many fun times there together in their younger days. This service would be held at an old bar the owner gave permission to use. Oh yeah, this was going to be one I’d never forget. But, Okay.

All the friends and family the two had made began flowing in, many bringing food dishes to be shared after the service. Due to waiting on certain people to arrive from out of town, we were an hour late getting started, so many settled in, talked amongst themselves while enjoying liquid refreshments. Well, this was going to be one for the books! But God put me there so I was going to do my best. When the time came to start the memorial, I shared some stories from the early days and some of the shenanigans the two of us were involved in. I opened the time up for anyone who wanted to share their own memories. There were many crazy stories that kept everyone entertained for well over an hour. When it was time to deliver the message, I was at a loss; for some reason what I had prepared didn’t seem pertinent anymore. So, I shared much of the story I have told you good people today. I told how two old friends laughed, cried, and shared our lives. I then ended with “I know this is a sad time to all who loved him, but I also know one day I will see him again because we both shared Christ as our Savior, just like any of you can. He’s happy, healthy, and living eternally in Heaven. When I finished, there was silence for a bit, tears from different ones. Then it was back to the party.

So, did I do my dear friend and my Lord justice that day? One never knows; I can only hope so. Hudson Taylor said a couple of things that help put it into perspective for me “God isn’t looking for people of great faith, but for individuals ready to follow Him.” Plus, he said, “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.” I imagine some of my friends of a more conservative theology might argue that I shouldn’t have gone to such a place to tell about the Lord. But in my thinking, I didn’t just go, I was sent. Perhaps I did little except plant a few seeds. But, oh my, isn’t it wonderful what can come from a few seeds! All I know is on that day, Jesus showed up at a beer party, and I was His escort. Awesome!

Isaiah 6:8, “And then I heard the voice of the Master: “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” I spoke up, “I’ll go. Send me!” (The Message Bible)

This wasn’t an easy story to write or to tell; each time I sat down to gather my thoughts my friend’s memory came flooding into my mind. I still have sadness that he is gone, but I know someday, this “Traveler of the Rock Road” will be waiting to greet me on Streets of Gold.

I love you, David!

See ya next time.





The Truckstop

14 06 2020

As a young person back in my adopted hometown of Fremont Ohio, seemFleetwing Truck Stoped like my friends and I could always find something to do. Since I was in bands back then, I was at a dance or party nearly every weekend. We would gather at someone’s house, pile into my VW Micro-bus and cruise up and down State St, the main drag that ran four lanes from end to end in our little town. Sometimes after dark we’d head to a couple of places that were rumored to be haunted that had names to go with the persona wrapped around them, like Screaming Mimi Bridge or Crybaby Lanes. Our objective wasn’t to look for spooks in these eerie locations, but to scare the bajeebers out of others who came to see if any supernatural phenomenon was taking place. We’d make noises, shine bring lights from the trees, and jump out suddenly at our unsuspecting but nervous prey. You definitely wanted to be quick at getting out of the way because many would slam down on the accelerator in their car and not slow up until they were miles away. For any who are reading this that might have been on the frightening end of our shenanigans, my deepest apologies. But it sure was funny back then.

As the night got late, everyplace would be closed, that is except for one. The Fleetwing Truckstop, better known to the locals as Mark’s. I wouldn’t venture to count how many times I found myself there in the early hours of the morn chowing down on steak, eggs and home fries. It was there I drank my first cup of coffee. My buddies and I had just walked in and sat down when the short gal who must have been a drill sergeant before becoming a waitress sits coffee cups in front of each of us and starts pouring before we could even say anything. “Oh no mam, I don’t drink coffee, I’d like to have a Coke.” She never looked  at me, just kept pouring and said, “I saw your boy stagger in here from the parking lot. You’re going to sit here and drink coffee until you sober up, and don’t even think about leaving before then!” I couldn’t argue with her, and frankly was a bit intimidated to do so. So, we’d sit and drink coffee with a whole lot of sugar. It became a habit to stop out there every weekend, sometime for breakfast, other times the juiciest cheeseburger you ever sank your teeth in, or a bottomless cup of coffee for $.50. If we didn’t bother the truckers who were relaxing and telling each other tales of the road in the adjoining lounge; we could go in there and play some pinball. All in all, it became a great place just to hang out with some friends and as long as we behaved ourselves, we were welcome there anytime. The workers got to know us by name and often knew what we wanted before we even ordered.

One evening my girlfriend and I had gone to a party that got pretty wild, even for me as crazy as I was back then. I knew my gal was uncomfortable, so we decided to leave. On the way to the car, there was group of guys that probably had too much to drink and were making remarks as we passed them. One reached out and put his arm around her. She screamed and I gave the guy a push. Next thing I know I’m looking at a small group of them, and as the old saying goes, I didn’t know how many of them it was going to take to beat me down, but I had a real good idea how many they planned to use! We hurried to the car and left but I could see them piling into another vehicle and head after us. I didn’t want to go to either of our houses because we both lived on dark streets and it would be easy for them to start trouble with no one to see them. So, I drove the only place I could think of; straight through town and out to Mark’s. We got there about 30 seconds before they did and hurried in. My usual waitress saw us and knew something was wrong so I told her a group of guys were going to be there any second to cause trouble. “Oh no they’re not!” She met them at the door as they were coming in. “Out! You’re not coming here so turn around and leave. I could hear them arguing with her but they weren’t intimidating Old Sargent Coffee Pusher! They were losing, but not ready to give up, that is until a trucker about the size of a refrigerator lumbered over, put his arm around her shoulder and stared at them. Intelligence must have kicked in to this posse of punks, as a friend would call anyone who acted tough in a group. They headed to their car and our hero in an apron watched them until they left.  I must have thanked her several times before she stopped me and said, “Hey, I don’t know them, I know you. No one is going to come in here and caused trouble for anyone who is apart of us.” Wow!

Galatians 6:10: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

Philippians 2:4: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Now I don’t want anyone to think I’m making accusations, but as I was remembering this story, I couldn’t help but think about what a wonderful message to the world it would be if we treated each other like, “You are important to me.” “You are family.” “I am here for you.” Again, I’m not pointing fingers at anyone, except the man in the mirror? And isn’t that where each of us should start anyway? Galatians 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Just a thought.

I left Fremont years ago and since then Fleetwing Truckstop and Mark’s Restaurant closed up, but the memories it left in me and many others still remain. And today, when I look back at the memory, fun, and lesson this “Traveler of the Rock Road” experienced, I’m thankful to God for every moment. And especially Sergeant Coffee Pusher!

See ya next time.





How Well Do We Really Know Someone?

17 05 2020

She was easily noticeable when she came to school. It was clear she didn’t have many Rock _nclothes so she wore about same three outfits where most girls had a different outfit to don everyday of the week; for some, probably two weeks. And where most seemed to wear new clothing, I would guess hers were 2nd hand, possibly hand-me-downs. But that wasn’t what stood out when Joann entered the classroom; it was that one precious possession which she wore proudly every day–the biggest brightest smile you ever saw. Joann had such a wonderful attitude that everyone liked her, students and teachers alike. She was positive in her attitude and my goodness, she was funny. She could do cartoon voices and act out skits that left your side hurting from laughing. It was no wonder when we chose up teams for a project or even a game at recess, this silly ragamuffin would be one of the first selected. I liked her also; living in the same neighborhood on the lower east side (which was looked at as the poor section of town), we’d occasionally walk back and forth to school. All that I’ve said of Joann was true, but there was another side that only a few of us knew about, and as I remember that situation, it brings sadness to my heart.

Joanne lived a street over from me in an old house that had seen its better days. It had been converted into two apartments and she lived in a rather small area with three younger siblings and her parents. Her mom was a rather hard person that I never saw smile. Her dad, well, let’s just say he left much to be desired. When Joanne was home, it was her job to take care of the younger children. Once she was at home that rosy demeanor of hers seemed to withdraw and she became very serious in nature. There were times you could hear yelling coming from inside the house as we approached from school that day, and her facial expression would switch from happy to dark. But the next day at school, the happy switch would come on and no one would be the wiser. That was Joann.

One day I came out of the house to see smoke billowing in the direction of Joann’s house. I jumped on my bike and rode over to find firetrucks blocking the street. The other apartment in the house she lived in had a fire in the kitchen and everybody had to evacuate. Joann saw me with a group of the other neighborhood kids across the street so she walked over to us. When we asked what happened she didn’t know, only that all of them were going to have to find some place different to live. She was mostly concerned with the children from the other apartment; they were crying and I could tell this broke her heart. But before she could say anything else her dad bellowed out with a few explicits mixed in for her to get back over where he and the rest of the family were. Compliant as always, she walked away from us and back to her family. I went back to my house and figured she’d have quite a story to tell at school. But when the time came, she was the same Joann everyone there knew and little was said about the incident. To me, it just didn’t make sense.

In reading Charles Spurgeon, I came upon this quote, “We are too prone to engrave our trials in marble and write our blessings in sand.”  As I pondered those words, I realized how true that was in human nature, how easy it is tell of the bad things that have happened and overlook the good that is there also. Yes, I’m as guilty as anyone. But then there was little Joann. Her life was not easy, one that would make many of us miserable. But once she was at school with friends and an environment that made her happy; she was not going to let misery ruin it for her. The problems were still there, but this child refused to let it dominate her and rob her from the joy she was experiencing. Wow!

When I think of Joann, I’m reminded that the Christian life is not always an easy course to follow especially when it feels like the world is crashing in on you. Perhaps that’s why Paul wrote in Romans, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” And again, in James where we read, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” We can’t always decide the situations we find ourselves in, but we can decide if it’s going to rule over us and rob us of joy that comes in other sources.

It’s now been some 55 years since a little ragamuffin “Traveler of the Rock Road” crossed my path. After the fire her family moved, and she ended up at another school and I never saw her again. But I pray she’s well, happy, and still beaming with that beautiful smile. Something jus tells me, she is.

Thank you for what you taught me,  Joann.

See ya next time.





Lessons from a Little Red Truck and a Man Named Floyd

26 04 2020

Back when I turned 16, I had the distinction of being the first in what you could call myJohn & his truck family circle to get a driver’s license. My mom, two great aunts and a great uncle did not drive, so it was going to be my job to get us around to all the places we needed to go. Unfortunately, though, I was also the first to get a ticket, have my license suspended and wreck a car. Or two. Or three.  To be truthful, what was supposed to be a blessing for all of us was the curse of the reckless teen behind the wheel. Since no one drove, we didn’t have a car or anyone to practice with me. Another distinction I had was being one of the few that the first vehicle I maneuvered was the driver’s ed car. That did not go well either. When I took my driver’s test, I flunked the first time and had to retake it. Thank goodness for my girlfriend at that time, whose dad and a few others came along side to help me learn. I did get my license, but like I said, it wasn’t a pretty situation. I had so many accidents that it wasn’t long before I was back either bumming rides from friends or walking every place I needed to go. Truthfully, I started to think perhaps it was better if I never sat behind the wheel again; might even live longer.

But then the boss at the place I was working pulled me aside one day and asked why I didn’t drive. I told him the truth and he told me to find a way out to his place the next morning. A friend took me over and Floyd, my boss, came out and leaned against this old red truck, a 1963 short bed Chevy. “You ever driven a three on the tree?” he asked. I gave him an honest answer. “What’s that?” He told me to get in the passenger’s seat and he started this old girl up. I couldn’t believe how sweet the hum of the motor was. Pulling out of the driveway, he took me down the road explaining how to shift. When we got a few miles from the house we switched seats and I drove it back, stalling at least once and shaking us up as I rattled through the gears. He never got mad, just told me what I was doing wrong and how to correct. He also told me a couple other things I didn’t know that helped. We got back and Floyd said, “You want to buy it or not?” I sure did, but I didn’t know how much he wanted. “How much do you have?” Opening my wallet, I had $260. I had just gotten paid the day before and by the way, that was two weeks salary. “I’ll take $225, that will leave you enough to get it plated and fill the tank. Try to do that these 48 years later. This was by no means the type of transportation I wanted to be seen in. An old beater truck just didn’t seem to fit my persona, but it was wheels so I was very appreciative to old Floyd. I didn’t realize then he had done me the biggest favor in my early days of driving.

A couple of my favorite verses are Romans 8:38-39; “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I heard a friend define verse 38 like this, “You are not defined by your mistakes; you are defined by God. He loves you no matter what.”

I had almost given up on driving because I was lousy at it; I know a lot people who did. But Floyd made the point that you might make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them. I found out later he really loved that truck, but he saw I not only needed a vehicle, I needed confidence to overcome the problems I had in the past. Legendary basketball coach Dean Smith put it this way, “What do you do with a mistake? Recognize it, admit it, learn from it, forget it.” It’s the same with Christ. When you make a mistake that makes you feel like a failure as a Christian, He’s there telling you that you made a mistake, but that won’t stop His love for you. Ask forgiveness and guess what? He does! And whenever I’ve done that; I’ve accomplished more than I ever did before, knowing my Lord still loves and believes in me.

Psalm 103:10-11 “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him.” Isn’t that awesome?!!

I never saw Floyd after I left that job, but have always been grateful for what this “Traveler of the Rock Road” did for me. Like I said, the truck turned out to be a dream. Ended up taking many road trips including down past Fort Lauderdale in that old girl. I sold it to a neighbor before I left Ohio and he drove it quite a few years. As the years have rolled on; I’ve had many newer and nicer vehicles, but that little red Chevy will always be one of my favorites. Would love to have another just like it. Of course, if I did find one; I’m sure I couldn’t buy it for $225. Who knew what vintage cars and trucks would go for one days. Sheesh!!

See ya next time.

 





Fool 17

12 04 2020

As we’re coming away from this Easter season, I found myself thinking about all that hasRock _n occurred to me and all the people who have come along side to help me understand a true relationship with Jesus Christ. The ones who showed that knowing Christ was more than a religion we practice on Sundays, it’s an everyday walk, talk, sometimes rejoicing, other times struggling. I’ll be the first to admit it hasn’t always been easy; there were times I saw no purpose or reason to continue on this path. But by watching others when they hit rough road and still held strong to their faith, I learned a great deal about trust and faithfulness. One of those individuals is a dear friend of 50 years I some times refer to as, “Fool 17.”

Back in the early 70s a movement started in California and quickly swept the nation was known as the Jesus Revolution. I can’t begin to count the number of young people that began carrying Bibles and openly telling others about the love of God through His Son Jesus Christ. You couldn’t go into the schools, or a store, or even walk down the street without running into some “Jesus Freaks” as we called them. They were blessed everywhere, and the more I encountered them the more I was turned off by what they were pitching. I’ve never been a person to jump on a bandwagon for whatever was popular at the time and this didn’t seem to be much different than a fad that after a while would wear down. But a friend who I happened to be playing music with came to band practice one evening and announced, “Last night I gave my life to Christ, and today I’m a new creature.” New creature, huh? Well, we’ll see, I thought. The prior day had been April 1, known by many as April Fool’s Day. Perhaps I was thinking that’s fitting, seeing that this wasn’t everything it was cracked up to be and he would soon be back to his old self. Besides, he was one of the best male singers I ever worked with and I sure didn’t want to see him going off the deep end being a Jesus Freak for Pete’s sake! But as I watched him, I saw something different.  He wasn’t just toting a Bible; he was reading it. Deeply he would throw himself in the Word to dig out everything it had to offer. It wasn’t long before he was leading Bible studies, sometimes of groups over a hundred. Not only that, he began writing songs about his relationship with Jesus. One of my favorites went like this; “O Holy Jesus, how could you let them nail you to the cross? O Holy Jesus, how could you suffer so and die for us? I don’t know how I can express the things I want to say. O Holy Jesus, I’ve just accepted you today.” His heart began to convince me that this wasn’t a fad he was following; this was knowing a true and loving God and obeying Him. It took about 18 months before I came to the point in my life that I gave my life over Christ, and with the help of my friend and many others, I, too, began to know God, who He was, and why He loved me.

This would be a pretty awesome story if in continued like this, but as I predicted earlier, many who called themselves Believers walked away. Some, like I said, because it was the popular craze; and when it ran it course, they moved on to something else. There were others that fell upon hardships of one type or another, and when God didn’t deliver, they simply walked away. But for others and my friend, they stayed the course, some like him attended Bible Colleges and Seminaries to go into full time Christian work. Another song he wrote seemed almost prophetic. “Many brothers, friends, and lovers now have fallen by the way. Their act is one as if they’d never cared. But deep within their eyes, you see their frightened spirit run, to catch the sweet resurrection train for home.”  So, one could get the idea that his course was set and God was blessing his every move. Oh, if only that was true for any of us. You see, over those 50 years of friendship I’ve seen his high points as well as his low. I’ve been with him when it seemed he couldn’t take another step from the hardships. I’ve been there when he’s lost ones dearest to him, and I’ve witnessed moments when his dreams and plans lay in ruin. On occasions, his life seemed to be in a downward spiral, and truthfully, if had he called me and said, “I can’t do this anymore and I’m not going to,” I probably couldn’t have blamed him. I’ve seen some mighty men with half the trials he’s endured throw in the towel. But you see, that’s what separates those who follow a religion or a practice from those who serve their Lord no matter what comes. That my friends, is my buddy.

James 1:12 “A man who endures trials is blessed, because when he passes the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.” My friend was not going to be swayed from trusting and obeying his Lord. The harder the times came, the deeper he held to Christ. As one fellow put it in the Old Testament, “Though he slays me, yet will I hope in Him.” Reminds me also a quote from Lincoln, “Be sure you put your feet in the right place. Then stand firm.”

So, now that we’re 66 and not 16, I can look back at “Fool 17” and realize what his stand has meant to so many who have needed to know that no matter what, God is still there for them. And that truly means this man as well. Thank you, Donnie, I wouldn’t want to even think of where I would be had God not brought you into my life. I’ve rejoiced with you as our Lord has used you for His purpose, even on three continents, and I’ve cried with you when the world was crashing in; and still, you stood firm. I love you Brother.

Tonight, I want to close with lines that this “Traveler of the Rock Road” wrote that sums up Donnie so well.

“Lord, don’t know where I’m going, no don’t know where I’m bound. Won’t you, come into my heart now, cause I’ve just driven myself in the ground.

Lord I know that you’re with me, and now I submit to your love. I know you’ll always protect me, just the same as the sparrow and the dove.

Lord, you’ve got to carry me, please carry me on to my home. Lord, I’ll slide and I’ll falter, unless you hold, onto my soul.”

Happy Belated Birthday Donnie.  May God continue to raise up many Fool 17s.

See ya next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





Joy in the Jigsaw

29 03 2020

I was born in West Virginia, but the summer of 1959 Ma and I made our way to Rock _nFremont, Ohio. My Great Aunt Pearl and her husband, Price, had already been here for several years. Because of Price’s illness, he couldn’t work so Pearl was happy when they came to Fremont where jobs were plentiful. They first came up when an employee recruiter for Heinz was working the Appalachian states and hired Pearl, gave the two of them bus fare and a place to stay when they got to Fremont. After some time, she found she could make more money at Quikut, a company that manufactured some of the best kitchen knives in the world; some my Lady and I still have to this day. They had a layoff and Pearly Mae found employment at Union Carbide, maker of the Eveready battery. This was where she was working when I arrived to live with them. Mom had a job at Tony’s Bakery, which later became Nickle’s; the company she retired from.

I was too young to understand, but money was very tight back then; Pearl and Ma barely made enough to pay the rent on the little house we lived in on Sandusky Avenue, pay utilities and buy groceries. Even though the place we lived in was small, I liked it. Many of the people around us had come up from West Virginia and Kentucky also, so folks were over constantly.

I have many memories of those days, but one stands out more than some of the others. Pearl came home from work one day and had a big smile across her face. She had been given a raise that would help out greatly. And what was that magical amount that made her so happy. She was now making $1.25 per hour! Okay, I’m sure young folks reading this right now are scratching their heads and saying “Seriously?!!” Trust me, young ones, back in 1960 that wage for a factory worker was worth celebrating. And speaking of celebrating, Pearl had two other surprises. She pulled this small book out of her purse and showed me where she had opened a savings account and deposited $5. “It may not seem like a lot now, but if I put $5 away every week and pretend it doesn’t exist, it will someday be a lot of money.” That was exciting for my young mind, but she had one more surprise. Reaching for a bag she brought home; she pulled out this box with a beautiful picture on the top–a jigsaw puzzle.

On her way home, she stopped by Woolworth’s downtown and purchased this now vintage entrainment center. Getting a card table out from the closet, she poured out the puzzle and we separated the pieces first by straight edge so we could assemble the border, and the rest by color scheme from the picture on the box. You see, we didn’t have TV; so, this was our entertainment for the weekend. Usually two work on it for a while and then let someone else have a turn. By the time Sunday evening rolled around, we had assembled all the pieces and now could view our work, maybe like an artist stands back to view their latest masterpiece. Monday morning the puzzle would be disassembled, placed back in the box and put in the closet. The next Friday we would work on our latest $.25 work of art, and to really make the night special Pearl would sometime make us Chef Boyardee pizza. It must have been expensive because we’d only have it once or twice a month; maybe a buck, buck and half.  Looking back, it sure wasn’t a lot to get excited about compared to novelties, entertainment and cuisines of today; but I remember it sure brought us a lot of happiness.

“Real contentment must come from within. You and I cannot change or control the world around us, but we can change and control the world within us.” Warren Wiersbe.

As a child, I didn’t recognize that we were poor, I was happy with whatever was given to me. The adults on the other hand, well they knew, but that didn’t mean they were sad or bitter of the situation. Pearl taught me to be thankful for everything because as she would say, “All good things come from God.” You could see that in what brought her happiness:  gardening, raising beautiful flowers, tropical fish, and even a crossword puzzle.

Philippians 4:11-13 “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

I thought about those days tonight as my Lady, granddaughter and myself put together in puzzle; I can’t even remember the last time I’ve done one. And I thought about the situation we are all in with this dreaded coronavirus and how we must be isolated as much as possible. And I pray that this pandemic may soon be past us all and we can go back to our normal lives. But during this time of holding up in our homes, maybe we could use some of it to reintroduce ourselves to the joy that comes from simple things; perhaps there’s more blessing in them than we realize.

As for my favorite “Traveler of the Rock Road,” Pearly Mae; well I told you she started putting $5 each week away and not touching it. As time went on the amount grew that when she retired, she had a pretty healthy nest egg. Not bad for an old gal that began working at $1.25 an hour. In my opinion, all because she saw happiness in the simple thing and everything a blessing. Just a thought gang. But I think it’s a good one.

See ya next time.





You Can Hurt Me, But You Can’t Scare Me

15 03 2020

A subject I rarely speak on is that as a child I was physically abused, and not just me but Rock _nmy mother as well. Because Ma, as I called her, had special issues and her mother passed away from cancer, she went to live with her aunt and uncle. I’ve spoken often of my Great Aunt Pearl and how she was the shining light in my life. But the man she married might possibly be the most hate-filled individual I have yet to meet in my 66 years. Pearl’s ways of discipline could be tough at times, but were filled with love and understanding. Price, as everyone called him, believed in force and abuse to get his point across. So, Ma had to walk the line or suffer the consequences. He was a big man over 6 feet tall and weighing in around 300 pounds, so if he hit you, you were going to know it. When I came along, I was subject to the same terror. More than once I would be on the receiving end of an open hand slap to the head that would send me tumbling to the floor. And if I cried, I’d get it even worse. Old man Price was also a master in verbal ridicule or as it’s called today, emotional abuse. I seldom had friends over because he would take that moment to say terrible and mean things about me in front of others; then walk away laughing. Speaking of laughing, his seemed to be the only voice that was allowed that privilege. If I laughed at something I found funny, it was a sure bet I was going to pay the price for acting so stupid. As I said this isn’t an easy subject to write on. As my fingers fly across the keyboard typing each word, the memory of those abusive days come to the forefront. So, I have to stop, relax, maybe get up and walk around the room, then get back to it once more. I’m sure that there are many who can relate to my situation. But tonight’s subject isn’t really about childhood abuse. It’s not about forgiving even though I did that years ago and wrote on it. If someone missed it and would like to see a copy, I’d be more than happy to repost. It’s about overcoming fear and the grip it can have on you. And it all started with a coffee mug, thrown like a Nolan Ryan fastball!

It was during the summer of around 1964. We had moved into an old house there in Fremont, Ohio that needed much repair. I was bouncing a ball on the sidewalk that circled the one side of the house to the back, and Price was fixing something on the porch. We had a very large front yard and grass seed had been recently been planted; the tender little green blades had just started to come up. Price, warned me, “Johnny, don’t you set foot on any of that new grass or you’ll kill it.” To remember back those many years on exactly what transpired is difficult; most likely when my ball got away from me and landed in the yard I didn’t think, just stepped onto the grass to retrieve it. All I know then is everything went numb. My vision blurred and I couldn’t walk without staggering. I made it around the to backdoor of the kitchen where Ma and Pearl were. They both screamed; Ma picked me up and Pearl started running water from the kitchen tap. As rotten as an old fart as Price was, I don’t believe he meant to hit me with the hammer he had in his hand. His anger just exploded, and he swung forgetting the tool he was holding. Blood was everywhere from my wound, shirt, pants, floor and sink. Price came in and Ma unloaded on him. Now a little gal not weighing more that 120 pounds was no match for the likes of a man the size of Price, and he beat her to the floor. Jumping to her feet she let go a barrage of insults that as the old saying goes would have made a sailor blush. He came at her again but this time she had wrapped her hand around a thick coffee mug that probably could have been used as a doorstop. She let that projectile fly with pinpoint accuracy striking him in the forehead and dropping the big man like a giant oak. Standing over Price she told him what would happen if he ever laid a hand on her or me again. There’s a lot more to the story, but to shorten it up; the next day Ma and I were walking up the street with suitcases in hand and moving into a 2nd floor apartment until we returned to the house a year later. Again, another story for another time.

But Ma taught me a valuable lesson from that whole episode. “Johnny, we’re going back to live in the house again. I don’t think he’ll ever hurt either of us again, but he’s still hateful. No matter what don’t let me see fear in you. He feeds off of fear and that’s what gives him pleasure.” She was right, from that point on whatever he said to me I no longer cried nor was I afraid of him. I would simply walk out of the room and if he followed me, I’d go outside and head down the street. When I became a teenager, I saw him in a different light. He was big but mostly fat; Price was good at hurting others smaller and weaker than he was, but as he grew older, I saw he wasn’t as big of a threat as I once thought. Granted, had he still grabbed me with those big hands, he could have hurt me. But he could no longer scare me.

Robert H. Schuller, “If you listen to your fears, you will die never knowing what a great person you might have been.” Old bubble-butt Price used harm, intimidation, and ridicule not just to force me to do what he said, but I think he feared that one day I might develop into someone who saw myself as worth more than he told me, and he less than he proclaimed. For years I bought into that lie and saw myself as worthless, a loser. But Ma, Pearl, and host of others poured into me a confidence that I could achieve and become more than what I, or Price, was giving me credit for. Of course, a lot of chains of fear fell off when I took Christ as my Savior and learned how important I was to Him.

Deuteronomy 31:6 “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.”

Here’s how the Message tells James 1:5-8, “If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who ‘worry their prayers’ are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.”

Over my life I have met so many that have been held back in life because of abuse at the hands of another. Don’t believe the lie! You are special. You have a gift or ability that’s fitted to you only. And you are loved. Jeremiah 29:11, “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

When this “Traveler of the Rock Road” looks back on those days, it’s no longer with anger, hate and fear. Its pity for a big man I once knew; someone must might have failed him in his young days, and he bought into the lie. And that’s sad. But there also is Ma, Pearly Mae, and my Lord to lift me up and remind me, there’s no reason to fear. I am important. I am loved. And that my friends, is an awesome memory!

See ya next time.