I know not when the seed did fall
Upon this soft and fertile earth,
When God sent rain and sun to bless
The one to whom He’d given birth.
I wish I could have known you then,
When high above the earth’s soft crust
Your gentle arms reached to the sky
And earned through strength the eagles’ trust.
And how I wish I could have seen
You stand up to the wind and rain;
You gathered strength from every test
And turned each loss instead to gain.
But now your glory’s come and gone,
And now the people pass you by;
A stump they see upon the ground,
Not one who used to touch the sky.
And when I bent and wrinkled be,
And others seem to pass me by,
Remember then this lofty tree
And know I too once touched the sky.
Why God placed the rose just there
Along the garden way
Perhaps no one will ever know.
I'm sure no one could say
Why the Master Planter cared enough
To kneel down in the soil,
To lovingly prepare the earth,
To labor and to toil
...over this, His special rose.
A young man ventured down the path,
As young men often do.
A life so full of promise,
I'm sure he never knew
That this one rose would shape his life,
Would give him joy each day,
Would share with him the Planter's love,
Would in a special way
...be his own, his special rose.
And through the many years that passed
With all their sun and rain,
Throughout the many storms of life,
Through sickness and through pain
The rose fulfilled the Master's plan
To be as He would be,
To always put the other first,
To give unselfishly
...to be His special rose.
No one knows how many lives
That lovely rose did sway,
How many souls were taught to care,
Or helped along the way.
But we thank the Master Planter now
Who knew our every need,
Who cared enough to turn the soil
And plant for us a seed
...to become our special rose.
In memory of Mom — 7/9/1912 - 3/28/2007
In the foggy dew of morning I rise before the sun
and walk the time-worn path that generations have trod.
Down to the sea. Down to Killybegs and the sea.
Rustic hulls, aging nets lie sheltered in her arms,
while waters ripple softly
and seabirds soar silently in the awakening sky.
The thatched roofs of Killybegs are strands of gold
in the Midas touch of the sun's first rays,
and I drink the morning cup of this mystical isle.
Was there e'er a land more enchanting?
Did e'er love find more fertile soil?
Or was it just your presence
that caused the earth to breath, to sing, to laugh?
Was it the haunting melody of Irish flute and drum,
or the whistle of the wind on Slieve League cliffs
where once we stood in loving embrace?
The crashing waves,
the haunting sounds of the bodhran,
cannot match the pounding of two hearts, beating as one.
We drank the joy of Ireland
as we hiked the majestic mountains of Mourne
and scaled the walls of Carrickfergus.
And only you could exceed the beauty and dark mystery of Donegal.
Her wild mountains and rugged shores,
her isolated beaches.
We dined on their beauty
and first tasted each other's love at old Fahan pier.
It was a wee bit of Heaven.
And we believed that Heaven was eternal.
From the old stone wall, I witness the gentle kiss of daybreak
on the calm, sheltered waters of the harbor.
Sweet Killybegs, suspended between sea and sky.
Your ships go out; your ships return
and the cycle of life is like the steady beat of the bodhran.
We thought Heaven was eternal, too.
In the foggy dew of the morning I rise before the sun
and walk the time-worn path to Killybegs.
Down to the sea.
But my Celtic lover does not return today.
The land has lost its song,
and Heaven is not eternal.
St Patrick’s Day – 2006Author’s note: “Love Goes Down to Killybegs” is somewhat of a departure from my usual offerings, both in terms of the photo and the writing. The photo is not original, but I have altered it in Photoshop, taking considerable liberty with the original for artistic effect. (Click on it to enlarge the photo and see it better.)
While I wrote the prose in the first person, it is the voice of someone else… one whose limited view of Heaven is the romantic love he finds amid, perhaps even stimulated by the enchanting sights and sounds of Ireland. Though blessed by the bounty of God’s gifts—immersed in the beauty of creation, lifted by the lilting melodies of those to whom God has given the ability to inspire with music, and warmed by the love of another—he mistakes the temporal for the eternal. He is in love with the gifts, but cannot see the Giver. It is all too often the story of man.
One of my most cherished childhood memories is riding in the family car at night. During the week Mom and Dad taught at a Bible college near our home in Minneapolis. But early Sunday morning we traveled to the small Minnesota town where Dad preached.
After the evening service we would head home under a black sky, spangled with stars. Our silver-grey Hudson Hornet severed the serenity of the rural countryside, a baritone monotone of twin-carbureted, straight-eight power. Mile after mile the sleek behemoth chased the illusive dual pools of light that pierced the inky darkness, and rumbled alone down the two-lane asphalt ribbon. Reflections of dashboard lights floated eerily on the inside surface of the car windows. More than one preacher has garnered a reputation for stretching the legs of every pony under the hood. And in this sense, as in many others, Dad excelled at his calling.
It was long before the age of seat belts—a time when parents thought nothing of letting their kids stand between the seats to get a better view. But on Sunday nights the three of us kids would sleep on our way home to Minneapolis, my sister on the back seat, my brother in front of her on a pillow-padded floor. The youngest and smallest, I would wedge myself into the spacious shelf beneath the Hudson’s rear window. I can still recall lying on my back, looking up at the starry sky until sleep would overtake me.
But on those nights when I lay awake as we approached the city, I remember the comfort that came from seeing the lights of home reflected in the clouds on the horizon ahead of us. Tired from a long day, the lights of home were a most welcome sight. The promise of security and rest that only home could provide.
Long before I could see the actual city lights, the reflected light told me all I needed to know. Our own feeble headlights were incapable of showing me where home was; they twisted and turned with every curve in the roadway. But the light in the sky gave me a sense of direction, a goal, and the assurance of my hope for the future.
Today, as I stare into stained glass window reflections in a guitar, and listen to songs of worship and praise, of hope and comfort, I appreciate God’s gift of reflections. How welcome is God’s glory reflected from the consecrated life of a follower of Christ. What hope and comfort come from the reflections of Christ in the testimonies, the praise and the music of His people. In the darkest night, when I’m weary from life’s long, winding road, even the reflection of His light on the horizon is enough to lead me safely home.
It’s the thing of air traffic controllers’ nightmares—everyone landing or taking off at once, wingtip to wingtip, swerving, diving, changing course erratically. But this is no convention of crazed pilots, just a newly filled birdfeeder, for now the most popular bird hangout in the neighborhood.
I find it fascinating, this fusion of flutter and festivity, of feast and flurry. One moment the visitors may be all of one family. The next, three or four varieties play musical perches to an unheard melody. Their mannerisms vary as much as their sizes and color schemes. Some are bold; some timid. Some come and go quickly; others stay for a second helping. But all have one thing in common. They have all come to be fed.
It is said that when the “Iron Duke,” Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, returned from his great victory at Waterloo, he entered a grand cathedral and, making his way to the front, he knelt to receive communion. Soon a poor old man in rags also made his way to the rail and knelt beside the Duke.
Immediately, a vestryman approached the old man, touched him on the shoulder and whispered to him, “Say, my man, come away from there. Don’t you realize that is the Duke you are jostling?”
But before the man could rise, the great commander reached out a hand to prevent him from leaving. “Stay, my friend,” he said. “There are no Dukes at the foot of the cross.”
God has made each of us a unique being. Our stations in life may differ greatly in the eyes of the world. In appearance, in personality, in every way that man may use to separate us we may be as varied as the birds of the air. But when we come together at the foot of the cross, when we commune together around the Lord’s Table, when we lift our hearts and voices together in praise we are on level ground. We have one thing in common: we have all come to be fed.
Dawn, and the fog’s gray curtain silently lifted on the drama of a new day. Frosty branches glistened, tiny diamonds catching the first rays of the morning sun. Still in my slippers, I braced myself for the nippy air, stepped outside the back door, and cautiously crunched my way across the frozen deck to the bird feeder.
A scattering of dropped seeds littered the area beneath the feeder. In the midst of them was one very small bird, just a tiny, fuzzy ball attempting to ward off the cold while partaking of the abundant feast. It hadn’t flown off like the other birds, and I was concerned for the little creature when it showed no sign of fear as I approached. I moved slowly, trying not to frighten it. But suspecting that it must be injured, I extended my hand toward the tiny ball of fluff. Still the little guy hardly moved, but just looked up at me with trusting eyes. Reaching down, I gently stroked its amazingly soft back. Still it remained still.
By now I was convinced it must be hurt, and I stopped petting it. But when I did, the little bird flew with ease up to the railing of the deck. As it sat there waiting for me, I laughed, walked over to it and petted it some more. It actually seemed to enjoy it, but a moment later, my “injured” bird flew off the railing, soaring gracefully across the yard to the icy branch of a nearby tree.
I was still smiling as I returned to the warmth of the house, amazed that this beautiful creature would have been so trusting as to let me enjoy such a special moment with it. And I thought to myself, how the Creator must smile with joy when he finds us shivering in the cold of this world, and we quietly pause to acknowledge our trust in Him, take pleasure in His gentle, warm touch, and give thanks for His abundant provision.
The night air hung hot and humid, the thick darkness punctuated by the occasional soft flicker of a firefly. Hanging light bulbs glowed in the huge tent “green room,” where the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders laughed and talked, waiting their turn to perform. From an open doorway of the nearby auditorium came the booming bass lines of the Oakridge Boys. And in the truck alongside, audio engineers monitored levels, as two massive machines spun reels of 24-track audio tape, locked in synch with each other and the video.
I checked my watch as the Boys resolved their final chord, the bass vocal sliding down the scale, Gospel style, an octave below what was expected, or even thought possible. Nine P.M. We had been at it since morning, and there were still several numbers to tape. The show was Nashville Palace, an NBC series being produced at Opryland, with a star-studded line-up that included Mickey Gilley, Hank Williams, Jr., and other top names from the world of Country Music.
The tight harmonies brought a smile, and I almost forgot how hot and tired I was. My body felt caked with dust, my hands grimy from handling mic cables, and my throat was parched. Offstage, out of camera view, I sensed an old man standing to my side. I wasn’t sure how long he had been there; he seemed to just blend into the backstage clutter. Coveralls, well-worn work shoes and an old denim shirt. Standard custodian attire. His weathered face was turned to me, and a pair of kind old eyes seemed to speak, even before his lips moved.
“Don’t know as I’ve seen you here,” he drawled. “What do you do?” And I told him the company I worked for made the microphones and stage monitor speakers. I was there to see how they were being used, gain input for marketing and product development, and build relationships with important users.
The old man’s eyes lit up with interest, and he asked me more questions about myself and my work, listening intently to every word. When I commented on the heat and humidity of Nashville, he looked concerned and said, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I should have realized you must be thirsty. Would you like some lemonade?”
“You have no idea how good that sounds,” I said.
“Well c’mon, then,” and I followed him through a backstage door, into a long hallway. I expected to find a serving cart there, with refreshments for the crew. But instead the old man led me into a large, well-appointed office. The walls were covered with autographed pictures, plaques, gold and platinum records. And I immediately thought, “Boy, are we going to get in trouble.”
A large cherry desk stood at the end of the office; alongside it against the wall, a matching credenza. Seemingly unconcerned about whose territory we were trespassing upon, my new friend picked up a sweating pitcher of cold lemonade from a tray on the credenza, and poured me a glass. I thanked him and waited while he poured one for himself. My body was immediately renewed by the cold refreshing treat.
As we emptied our glasses, I thanked him. And still a little nervous about getting caught in some recording executive’s office, I suggested that they must be about to roll tape again, and that I thought I should get back. “Oh, I didn’t mean to keep you so long,” he apologized, “but I just enjoyed talking to you.” I thanked him again, and returned to the stage.
After the next number, I headed out to the truck, where I told the two engineers about the old custodian, and the lemonade pilfering adventure. “That’s odd,” one of the men said, “there wouldn’t be a custodian around now. What did he look like?” And I described his attire, his kind eyes and his smile. “That’s no custodian,” one of them said. “Shoot no,” the other continued, “that’s Roy Acuff.”
My blank stare gave it away: I knew nothing of the greats of Country Music. My engineer friends explained to me that the large building behind the one in which we were shooting was the “Roy Acuff Theater,” and that “Mr. Acuff is considered the Granddaddy of the Grand old Opry and The King of Country Music.”
What a strange way for a King to act, I thought. The greatest Country Music performer of all time didn’t give a hoot whether I knew who he was. He didn’t try to impress me with his credentials. He seemed interested only in finding out about me.
“I just enjoyed talking to you,” he had said. But in truth, he had talked very little, and said nothing about himself. He didn’t consider stardom a thing to hold tightly in his grip, but humbled himself, and found joy in serving others. Sure, someone had set the example for him nearly 2,000 years before, but Roy Acuff wasn’t content with just hearing, or even singing the grand old story; he had learned to live it. Indeed, he had become a living example of what Christ taught us to be.
Many talented performers sparkled like diamonds in the Nashville Palace spotlight, impressing hundreds of thousands of their fans. But when my mind goes back nearly 28 years to that warm Tennessee night, I see only the flicker of fireflies and the kind smile of a humble servant. And I recall the most impressive man in Nashville. Truly a sermon in coveralls.