You would think that the story of this mower would be over, but it’s not. A week or so after that incident, dad had fixed the mower’s breaks and I got a call from him. Again, make sure to read his lines with a heavy southern accent.
“Well hello there son! How are ya do’n?”
“Hey, Dad, what’s up?”
“Well, after fixin’ the mower there, I was thinking about it and decided to go on out and get myself a new mower. So I was a wonder’n if you would like to buy my old mower?”
I thought about it. Yes, this mower had nearly killed me, but it was fixed now and I wouldn’t need to take it down that steep hill again because it would stay at my house. So it should be alright, right? I bought the mower.
Mistakes were made.
That first day that I had the mower I was in the garage and went over to the mower and noticed it was low on gas. So I opened up the hood, twisted off the gas cap, picked up the gas can, filled the tank, and then shut the hood. I started the mower up and got to the mowing process.
If you caught that, you are a step ahead of where I was at the time.
Now, I should mention something about this mower. It was a little old. As such, if the mower was ever shut off without turning the actual key to shut it off (like if you got off the seat the safety switch turned off the engine), it would backfire with a very loud bang. Anyway, I was about halfway through the first lap around the yard, when I found a hole that I didn’t expect. The front tire took a dive into this hole and I took a dive right off the side of the mower and onto the ground. I wasn’t hurt, but of course, the mower shut off using the safety switch under the seat.
As I was getting back up to the mower to make sure it stopped, the engine backfired, and that would be when a pillar of fire went up from the engine ten feet into the air. I would miss that eyebrow on that side. It was my favorite. For that matter, I enjoyed that half of my beard too… and the hair from that side of my head. Smacking my head seemed to put out the flames from that, but then I was faced with a slightly larger issue, the entire mower was not engulfed in flames.
Looking around desperately, I noticed the water hose was on this side of the house. Quickly I ran over to it, it was a good twenty meters from where I was. Upon reaching it, I noticed it wasn’t the kind that cranked, it was one where you had to unloop each loop to get the length of hose you needed, so you couldn’t just pull. I began unlooping the hose! Flip, flip, flip, flip, flip, flip… check distance and amount of hose dispensed… flip, flip… look again, flip. I grabbed the prayer end of the hose and ran towards the mower, which was still burning. I made it three-fourths of the way when I was suddenly jerked to a halt.
Not enough hose!
I ran back to the hose holder again. Flip, flip, flip, flip, flip. Analyzed the distance yet again. Flip, flip. Ran back and grabbed the sprayer end of the hose and made it to the still burning mower. Pointing the nozzle at the mower, I gripped down on the handle to start the flow of the water…
Again, I ran back to the hose dispenser and turned the little wheel to let the water start to flow. Wonk, wonk, wonk, wonk. Looked out to check the flow of the water, wonk, wonk, wonk. Then I ran back to the mower yet again. Picked up the nozzle and began spraying the water all over the mower. There was a sizzle and hiss as the water doused the flames.
I stood there a moment, soaked, burnt, and exhausted. I felt the side of my head and felt the little balls of burned hair. Luckily, other than the hair, I didn’t seem to be hurt. I called dad and told him what happened, yelling at him that apparently his former mower was possessed and trying to kill me since this was the second time. I was pushing the mower up the hill as I was talking to him, the phone sitting on the wet seat.
After asking me if I was okay, he asked, “Did you put the gas cap back on the gas tank inside the hood? I stopped pushing the mower and cocked my head to the side. Then I opened the hood and looked in. There was the engine and the plastic gas tank just behind it. The cap of the tank sat on top of the engine, not screwed onto the tank. “See!” I yelled, “That proves it! The mower took the gas cap off to attempt to kill me!” I went to screw the cap back onto the gas tank and it didn’t fit anymore. That’s what happens when the threads of the opening look like a painting from Salvador Dali. Placing it on top of the opening I hit it with my fist and it snapped into place. “I wonder if it still runs…” I said to myself. I knew the answer before I even turned the key. A mower doesn’t tend to run with all the wiring for it looks like it came off a taffy puller. Pushing the mower back into the garage, I sighed. Apparently, there were only two realities available to me, either I was foolish enough to leave the cap off, or this mower was possessed and out to get me. Obviously, it was the latter.
Alicia and I had recently bought a new house. It was bigger than our first home and actually had a yard. Part of the plan was to have a yard so we could get the girls (and us) a dog. As such, we needed a new mower, since our old push mower wasn’t really going to be up to the job of this new yard, but they were expensive, and I was cheap. So-called up my dad who now lived just down the hill from us.
“Hey, dad! You wouldn’t let me borrow your mower would you?” I said.
Just as a side note, while it’s not true of him, I find it very funny to give him a strong southern accent when I read his words in my head, or when I am telling this story out loud to people.
“Well, sure son. Why don’t cha just come on down here and we can take a look at letting ya get a hold of that thing.” Again, use a deep southern accent, it helps.
I drove down to dad’s house and then went through the typical dad lecture about how to use a riding lawn mower without chopping off your own leg and also breaking the mower at the same time. I would recount it here for you, but I am sure you have heard similar lectures from your own dad or dad-type person in your own life. As such, I was soon driving the mower back up the hill to my new house to get busy with mowing the lawn.
It should be noted, that our new house was on top of a fairly large mountain. The road to get to the house is also fairly steep. A solid forty-five-degree angle leads the road to get to our house. Several neighbors’ houses dot the road on the way up to ours. That’s an important note for later, remember that. Anyway, I got the mower to the house and began to mow the lawn. Everything went great, the grass was mowed and the mower did fine. And then it came time to take the mower back to dad’s house.
I got back on the mower and began driving it across the top of the mountain to get to the section of the road where it started to slope down the hill. As I started down the steep slope, the breaks began to do… odd things. They became very touchy. I would barely push on them and they would jerk the whole mower to a complete stop. So I would let off the brake, coast down the hill, and then suddenly slam to a halt. Start, stop. Start, stop. Start, stop. For the first twenty meters or so, this was how it went, and then, suddenly… Snap! The breaks broke.
The mower started speeding up. Faster and faster it began careening down the hill. As it was hitting small imperfections in the blacktop, it felt like I was riding a bucking bull at seventy miles per hour. I kept hitting the breaks, but there was nothing, no response at all. The ride was quickly becoming a dangerous situation. Then an idea sprung into my mind. I noticed my neighbor’s driveway going off to the right and his lawn stretching out flat. At the moment, I thought, “I can just steer the mower over across his driveway and into his yard and the flat grass and friction will slow me down!”
So that was what I attempted to do, I swerved the mower onto his driveway, but there was a problem. What I didn’t see was that the edge of his driveway was sloped up into a ramp. So when I hit the edge of his driveway, it ramped the mower up into a jump! I swear three dogs ran underneath the mower while it was in the air. I landed with a hard crunch in the grass and then another problem became apparent.
I was headed directly for the neighbor’s front door, which was made of etched glass. I remember thinking that the gentle swirling pattern of the glass was going to make for beautiful shards. Trying to turn the wheel was useless, the grass was still wet with dew and I was sliding closer and closer to the door. The mower came to a halt and barely tapped its front bumper on the door. I sat on the mower, my legs upended over the hood, with my arms wrapped tightly over the wheel. I’m sure I looked a sight. Slowly I glanced around, looking to see if any of my neighbors had witnessed me nearly kill myself on the back of a John Deere. No one apparently saw. I quickly put the mower back in gear and coasted the rest of the way down the hill and was able to get the mower back to my dad. His response when hearing the story? “So, what you’re saying is… you broke my mower.”
When I was around seven years old my family decided that it was time for us to take a trip down to Florida and go to Disney and then head over to Daytona Beach. We decided I needed a buddy to take with me, and so Cousin Randy went with us. Because we wanted to save money where we could, we decided to drive down there. On the way down, when you are coming out of Georgia and heading into the northern part of Florida, you are driving on a large highway that is very straight in one section. I remember looking up from my Gameboy and seeing that our side of the highway was empty, with no cars at all. However, on the other side of the highway, it was bumper-to-bumper traffic.
I mentioned this to dad and he thought this was odd as well. So turning on the radio, we discovered that Florida was being evacuated because Hurricane Andrew was going to be hitting Florida very soon. Now I don’t know about your dad, but my dad’s reaction to this news was to comment that he would be able to get some really cool video with his camcorder while we were down there. And so we continued our trek down into the sunshine state. Our first stop was at Disney and our first park was supposed to be The Magic Kingdom. Now, I have been to Disney several times since this first trip and have never had the same experience as we did the first time we went.
Upon entering the park, there is a large boulevard running down the middle of the park with Cinderella’s Castle at the end of the road. The road is lined with shops, restaurants, and little boutiques. Every other time I have been to this park, there have been so many people crowding this area, that you can barely see five feet in front of you and are shoulder to shoulder the entire time. It is always packed. However, this first time we went, there were maybe twenty people on that boulevard. No one was in the part hardly at all.
You might think I am exaggerating, but I am not. Normally, each ride has a good hour-long wait to get on it. We walked directly on every ride we wanted to. No, wait at all. In fact, we rode a couple of the rides twice. By lunchtime, we had ridden every ride we wanted to ride in the Magic Kingdom. We went back to the hotel to eat, then decided to go over to the Animal Kingdom to check it out. By dinner, the time we had experienced everything we wanted to at the Animal Kingdom as well. When I tell you it was the best Disney Vacation we have ever had, it’s not an exaggeration. It only rained once, for about twenty minutes.
After our time at Disney, we went over to Daytona Beach. This is where things get a little more interesting. The storm had begun to really become fierce. There were days we were stuck in the hotel room because of torrential rain. Dad was having a ball filming it all and mom kept asking if we needed to get to the first floor of the hotel since she believed we would be blown away. Dad informed her that if we were lower, we were much more likely to be flooded so it was better to stay on the higher floors. I don’t think that made her feel better.
So on Randy and I’s first trip down to the sand, we decided that playing in the surf was the best idea. However, that idea was quickly dashed when we realized that about every twenty minutes or so, a ten-foot-high wave would come along and crash so hard on us that we thought it would rattle our teeth loose. So we moved a little further out into the water so that it was about up to our waste. For some reason, the waves were not nearly as bad at that depth, but it presented a new problem for us; jellyfish.
Apparently, the storm had blown in a very large school of quarter-sized jellyfish. Their tentacles weren’t but three to four inches long, but they could still sting, and sting they did, a lot! The problem was, it wasn’t a bad sting. Let me explain. With a normal jellyfish sting, it hurts bad enough that a little kid might be done swimming for the day. But these little jellies weren’t terrible, and that was the issue. It wasn’t a bad enough sting to make you get out of the water. I would compare the sting to the bite of a horsefly. So you would yelp, and swat at the water, but then keep on going, with only a little red line to show where they had got you.
At the end of the first day, we came up out of the water and it looked like we had red spider webs all over our legs. That’s how many sting lines we had down our legs. Not that we minded really though, we played that entire day in the ocean. So it wasn’t that bad, but by the next day, we were ready to see if there was another way to have fun. Other than swatting at jellyfish.
The deeper out into the ocean we went, the fewer jellies there seemed to be. So we moved out deeper and deeper, which, thinking about it now was very foolish; considering rip tides and what I am about to tell you about. Either way though, we moved further and further out into the ocean until we were around a football fields length out in the water. It was around ten feet deep at this point. We were diving for shells. Both of us were expert swimmers even at such a young age and had no trouble diving to the bottom to search in the dark for the shells.
We had been out in the water for around ten minutes or so and were treading water. We were facing each other talking, I was facing towards the shore, and Randy facing out to sea. Suddenly, as I was swimming there, a large fin rose up out of the water, just behind Randy. It passed by him and silently slipped back down into the water. I was almost speechless, but managed to sputter out,
“R-R-Randy… th-th-theres a shark!”
His eyes went wide, “Where?”
“Just behind you.”
“Well we gotta get outa here then!” he said.
We started swimming as fast as we could back towards the shore, but we only made it about halfway back, before three more fins rose from the water just in front of us. We stopped dead in our tracks. But should take a moment and explain something to you. In the ocean, there are two main types of fins that you should know about. One of them, is a large triangle, like the one I saw just behind Randy. It was nearly a foot long with crisp edges. The other type of fin though is more like the crest of a wave, where the tip of it curls back. This second type of fin was the type we were seeing now, the three of them begin to circle us.
As you may have guessed, this second type of fin is not a shark fin, but a dolphin fin. The three dolphins were about eight feet from where we now trod water and slowly circled us. We were scared, of course. Dolphins are big animals and these weren’t the trained ones you see in Sea World, but wild dolphins of the Atlantic. However, as we continued to swim towards shore, they kept up with us, circling us the whole way into the breaks where we could stand.
Now, I don’t know how you would have taken that situation, but from that day forward, I have believed that the dolphins were protecting Randy and me from the shark. So that’s the story of how Randy and I went to Florida during Hurricane Andrew and nearly got eaten by a shark, only to be saved by dolphins. True story.
I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but it had to be some time after I was seven years old because it was in our new house. Dad and I were scrounging around the attic when we came upon a cedar chest. Asking dad about it, he pulled it over and opened it. Inside, were piles of loose cut-out newspaper clippings and old yellow legal pads covered in handwritten stories, observations, notes, and editorials.
My grandfather Robert Lowe, was a prolific writer apparently. The newspaper clippings were all letters to the editor he had written about many issues that were concerning to him. Some of the writing was stuff he had copied down and others were original writings. In this box was a collection that in some ways laid out who my grandfather was. I know dad poured over the writings trying to get an understanding of who his father was since he had died when dad was only 13 years old. There was a sense that reading what he had written allowed an aspect of who he was to survive his death; beyond just pictures and memories.
I remember believing that the chest had great value. I still believe that. As his Grandson, I could find a lot of insight into my family and who I was by reading his work. That being said, much of what he wrote was not directly about him, but about things he cared about. I wanted some more personal writings; something that told me more about who he was, what his life was like, and how that fit into who he was. I wanted to know his thoughts and beliefs about life. I wanted to see who he was as a man. Some of his writings give that, but other times, it just wasn’t personal enough.
So with my writings, I hope to give my own children and future family insight into who I am and was. I want them to see what my life was like. My plan for my writing is to write about myself, my beliefs, and what I hope for my family. I would also like to write stories that capture not just their imagination, but the imagination of others as well. I have a lot of worlds in my head and I would like others to be able to share in my wonder. Maybe I will be able to do that.
This is my hope anyway, that my writing will be just as meaningful to others as my Grandfathers were to me. As to the quality of the writing, that’s in question. My narratives are spotty at best. Good luck.
In 2001, I was in college at MVNU. We had to take a “Christian Beliefs” course. This was part of the liberal arts education that was a part of all bachelor’s degrees from this institution, regardless of actual major. Looking back on my education, I can’t say that I am thrilled to have spent so much time (and money) on classes that ultimately didn’t enhance my understanding of Psychology (my actual degree), but I can say that I enjoyed these extra classes immensely and feel as though they have enhanced my person greatly.
Anyway, while in this class Dr. Sanders challenged us to write a paper detailing a way to get into Heaven without going through Jesus or a traditional understanding of salvation through grace. We were to present our papers in front of the class and then take questions and discussion after presenting them. I recall many people in my class standing up and talking about Buddhism’s enlightenment or how to seek nirvana and even some discussion about the Muslim faith. I remember being slightly confused, did these people really think these were legitimate ways to enter into Heaven?
I have never been someone to keep the boat from rocking. In fact, I have been the one to jump from side to side, just to see who falls out and how much they scream. That might seem cruel, but honestly, I would rather question everything and be certain than just go along and follow fools. Just know that if I argue with you about your thoughts and keep coming back to do it again, it’s because I value your tenacity and spirit, even if I disagree with you. So, I stood up to take my turn in trying to defend a way to get into Heaven without Jesus. Now, I’m going, to be honest, I haven’t torn through my files from 2001 to find that same paper that I wrote. I’m sure it was very basic and not well-spoken, let’s be honest though, I haven’t matured that much since then and my writing has most likely gone downhill without the constant critique of learned professors. However, I remember my main points and will detail my arguments for you.
So, without further ado, here are 3 ways to get into Heaven, without becoming a Christian.
Let us start with an easy one. When Jesus died on the cross, this was the start of Christianity proper. We could argue that the coming of Jesus’ ministry was the start of it, but without a doubt, we can say for sure that after he died, was resurrected, and then ascended into Heaven, from that point on Christianity was the way to get into Heaven. However, there’s a problem with this idea. The spread of Christianity was limited by the speed at which early missionaries could travel and convert.
The problem here should be apparent; people died before the truth of the gospel could reach them. This was after Christ’s death, but before they were able to have any knowledge at all about what had happened, or what they would need to know about Christianity in order to repent and be saved or even baptized. Because of this, there are a group of people who never had the information needed to be saved, but lived after the death of Christ and should therefore be held to the standard of needing Christ’s blood to be saved from their sin. I often think about native American peoples over in the Americas before Europeans came in and began to spread the gospel to them. If they were to die before the message of Christ came to North America, does that mean that they would automatically go to Hell because they hadn’t accepted Christ?
I honestly doubt that is what a loving God would do. To me, when I think about how those people or anyone who has never had the opportunity to learn about Jesus before face judgment at the end of time, I think God has a different standard by which he judges these peoples. In Romans 2:14–16, it says, “Gentiles don’t have the Law. But when they instinctively do what the Law requires they are a Law in themselves, though they don’t have the Law. They show the proof of the Law written on their hearts, and their consciences affirm it. Their conflicting thoughts will accuse them, or even make a defense for them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the hidden truth about human beings through Christ Jesus.” So, we can see that even if a person does not have the “law”, the ideas of what is good and bad are written on their hearts. It’s in their mind. We all have a conscience and because of that understand basic rules of what is right and wrong. God is able to know all things; He will judge the person based on what they know and how they followed their understanding of what is right and wrong.
So, does this mean that we should never have started the great commission? No, of course not. Jesus, Himself said we should be spreading His words into all the world in Mark 16:15. So we are called to bring people out of ignorance. We aren’t meant to live in ignorance. No, we are called to a higher state of awareness. However, do I believe that when I get to Heaven, there might be some Native Americans there who never heard about Jesus, but followed the law written on their hearts? I believe that is possible.
I think this argument is one that most people would be willing to make. If a person is innocent, then they should not be held to the same standard as people who have lost their innocence. With the holocaust of abortion going on in our country these days, I have a very hard time believing that God would condemn those millions murdered by abortion to an afterlife in Hell. These are a group of people that would include the unborn, the just born, babies, young children, and perhaps even pre-teens. I would also include the intellectually disabled in this group as well. I might also include those peoples who are plagued by severe mental illness as well.
These are folks who do not yet have or will never attain the mental faculties to understand the offer of salvation through grace by Jesus Christ. There are of course degrees of disability or development that might make some people able to understand to differing degrees. In Romans 1:2 Paul states, “Since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” However, we know that the unborn, babies, some children, and even some pre-teens, often do not have the ability to “clearly see” God’s eternal power and divine nature. So I would conclude, that because some of them do not, or cannot “clearly see”, they have an excuse.
While I would not say that all people in this category get a free pass to Heaven (although I would think all aborted children and most young children) I would say that I believe that most do. However, God is of course able to accurately judge a person’s soul completely, so His ability far outweighs our own ability to make this kind of judgment. This is an important thing to look at and think about. I know many variations of Christianity talk about the idea of the “age of accountability”. This is basically what I’m talking about. Again, I’m not saying that all these people will be in heaven, but that I won’t be surprised when/if I see them there upon my arrival.
3. Soul Placement:
This last idea is not going to be popular and I’m not sure I agree with it myself. I say that because I’m not sure it doesn’t border on heresy. My assumption in this idea of how to get to Heaven without becoming a Christian is that God himself decides where to place souls. In Jeremiah 1:5 we see God saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Basically, God is talking about His foreknowledge here. I don’t believe this is Him talking about knowing a person beforehand like they existed before. However, because of this passage, we know that God knows the choices a person will make in their life. He knows before making them, whether or not they will fail in accepting His love and ultimately His forgiveness of sins.
So, with that in mind, God makes a choice of where to place our souls. He made a choice to place my soul within the growing child that was inside my Christian mother’s belly. Which was also a part of Christian marriage, in a Christian home, in a mostly Christian town, in a mostly Christian country, in a time where Christianity was largely free to be practiced without governmental or even individual interference. My statistical chances of becoming Christian were pretty good. Actually, according to Pew Research, I had an 80% chance of continuing to identify as protestant if both my parents were also protestant.
That’s really good odds. My question is, does God take His own decision, as to where He places a soul, into account when judging souls for eternity? I think he does. I verbalized my thoughts in this way back in college. Let’s pretend a man was born in a remote village deep in the heart of a remote area of the world that holds to a non-Christian-minded religious way of thinking. Let’s pretend that this man grows up very sheltered and eventually becomes the leader of this non-Christian religion in his town. Nearing his death, a Christian missionary comes to the town and begins converting some of the people. This missionary goes to the leader of this non-Christian religion and basically ends up telling him that everything he has been raised to believe, lived his life believing, and dedicated his life to honoring and upholding has been a lie. What are the chances this man will convert? Not very good. Statistically, not nearly as good as what I had.
I merely argue that God takes His own choices of where to place souls into account when passing judgment. I’m not saying the hypothetical man in that scenario will go to Heaven. Not at all. What I am merely saying is that I think God takes all aspects of His creation into account when passing judgment on the souls He has created. Obviously, this is not an argument that everyone gets to Heaven. Not in any way am I suggesting that is the case. I am merely saying that God is a merciful God. Something we already know to be true. We know He loves us, all of us. Those of us who choose to accept His gracious gift, and even those who choose to reject it. However, without Christ, how are we to know for sure we have eternal life? I don’t believe we can know that for sure without the blood of Jesus covering us.
Do these three ways to enter Heaven even matter? Most of those who these methods affect, will either never know about it until they experience it in the afterlife, or were never aware they had missed it, or are too lost in the mire of where God placed them that they are truly lost to His truth. I think that knowing this and thinking about this helps us who it doesn’t affect. I believe that thinking about how God’s mercy and understanding affect those of us who might not have gotten the same opportunities as some others help us. Some of us are more privileged in our Christianity than we might have realized. I know I am.
Also, I think about the millions upon millions of children sacrificed on the altar of self in the name of abortion. The blood of these children cries out to us and so often we look the other way. I find comfort in the idea that I believe they now reside with their Heavenly Father. It’s unfair and barbaric, but at least there is that small silver lining. On the idea of the innocent, I think this is an idea we all want to be true. No one wants to believe that a child lost from the womb or one lost at a very young age is lost for all eternity.
I find it hard to believe that God would allow such a thing. I think the Bible upholds God’s view that children and I would say even the “child-like” are what the kingdom of God is made of. Mark 10:15 even states that people who don’t “receive the Kingdom of God “like a little child will never enter it.”, giving us the idea that Children have already received it because of their innocence. I know this post is out there. There is a lot to argue over with these ideas. I’m open to nearly all discussions about this topic. Having not fully made up my own mind about these ideas, I put them out there for critique and argument.
So in the end, I believe that really, there is no way to enter into Heaven WITHOUT Jesus. It is only because He is who He is that through His mercy and love we can start to unravel the idea that a traditional and even Biblical understanding of salvation may not be the ONLY way to which some select peoples enter Heaven.
I paced back and forth in the library of our home with the phone pressed to my ear. On the other end, a friend of mine was going through one of the most traumatic times in his life. This was about the fourth time this week that I had been on the phone for over an hour with this guy. We both cried and often there was yelling. It’s an odd thing though, thinking back on this time now, I find it to be one of the best times I have spent with this friend. It wasn’t a good time, but it was a meaningful time. I am closer to my friend now because of that time spent on the phone. He and I truly are accountability partners. An accountability partner has several distinct qualifications that should be noted. Below I have laid out four of these qualifications that I have come to understand.
They are NOT your opposite gender:
It won’t do to have you in a relationship like this and get distracted by sexually or romantically charged thoughts. This relationship is different. This is why your spouse should not be your accountability partner, as wonderful as I’m sure they are. There is also the point that the level of intimacy expected from this form of relationship should not be with someone to who you are genetically predisposed to be attracted. If you are married, this would be especially a bad thing, since it can lead to infidelity. If you are not married, you will just get distracted and the whole purpose of being accountable to this person is lost.
Friendship is not the main goal:
That sounds odd, doesn’t it? However, it is true. In an accountability friendship, friendship is not the main goal or purpose. It will most likely be a result of this relationship, but at the outset, it isn’t the reason you have it. The main goal here is accountability. This means that oftentimes, you will have to tell this person (or they will have to tell you) things you may not want to hear. Telling your friend that going to the movies with his female friend who is not his wife is a bad idea, could be met with some hostility. It’s not what he wants to hear. However, he needs to hear it. Your goal in this form of relationship is to hold the other person to a Biblical standard of living. Their goal is to do the same for you.
You are to be Christ for this person:
Jesus traveled with 12 other men. Throughout the scriptures we see Him teaching them and often, rebuking them. At one point, He even calls one of them “Satan”. That’s some rough language there, but why did He do it? To mold them further towards Himself. In 1 Corinthians 4:14–17 we see the Apostle Paul saying, “When he had ascended into Heaven, we see the disciples themselves doing this same thing. The bonds they form with each other are important. They act as Christ for each other. I am writing you this not to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Therefore, I urge you, to be imitators of me. For this reason, I am sending you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord; he will remind you of my ways in Christ [Jesus], just as I teach them everywhere in every church.” Notice he says he isn’t trying to shame them, but to admonish or warn them. Then he says to imitate him as he imitates Christ Jesus. He also says he is going to send Timothy to help them as well. Not hard to see this idea of an accountability partner being played out in the early church.
It is not just the two of you:
This relationship is meant to be a threefold relationship. You, the other person, and Jesus. Just as we might talk about marriage being threefold (You, your spouse, and God), the accountability partner relationship also includes God. This means that throughout the relationship, you should be in communion with Christ. Praying for the other person and asking God to lead you as you work to lead them is paramount. They will be doing the same. In this way, both of you rebuff each other to create a communal relationship that works to enhance and strengthen the whole community of God around these two who are in this form of relationship.
These aren’t meant to be an exhaustive list. They are meant to be a guide that can help you when talking with your accountability partner. What does that relationship look like? Does this relationship lead you both closer to Christ? I think within context, all of our life should be asking that question. Does this lead me closer to Christ?
For years, I have been planning out a fantasy novel. Actually, I remember spending hours upon hours talking with one of my roommates in college, detailing the world and how it worked. Over the years, I have drawn maps, written histories, came up with systems of magic and religion for this fictional world.
However, up to this point, it hasn’t been the right time to really get to work on this project. It’s been in development for nearly twenty years now on and off. There has been several books that had to be written first, but those are now done. It’s time. For the last couple of months I have been writing the outline and some other important character info for this upcoming book. So it is with great trepidation, that I reveal a peak into this world I am creating. Release this is very early look. Everything I present below is subject to change.
So let me give you some background. This story will take place in a fictional universe that mirrors our own in look, but will differ in many critical ways. As such, I have begun to write scripture for this universe. Below, you will find an account of creation. Feedback is always completely welcome.
An account of the God Akol Ramous and his creation of the world, as well as the fall of the Enlightened.
In the beginning was information. The information comprised all that was known, is known, and will be known. It always had been, always is, and always will be. The information became aware that it was, and slowly understood it is, and then came to the realization that it always has been. That awareness brought about a progression known as time. As such, the awareness named itself. The name Akol Ramous was applied to itself. And so, God was born from the void of nothingness and it’s name was Akol Ramous.
And it came to pass that Akol found it had desire. This desire came about from wanting another. And so, within the first period of time, Akol Ramous created another and named it Meshiah. Because this other came from the one, Akol did call her daughter, for she was from Akol’s own information. She was one with him, of him, and by him. Akol and Meshiah were one in perfect communion and fellowship and so love was born from community.
Akol did understand that beyond just information there was the ability to create a physical something from the informational nothing within itself. Because of this understanding, there was something, rather than nothing. Akol looked upon the something and expanded it in an instant. And so the universe was born.
In a moment, worlds were born, from fire, and light, and air. The worlds were woven into existence from the information of nothingness. Upon those worlds, creatures were woven together. First came humans great craftsmen and builders, then all other creates were woven as well. To some, Akol gave the gift of Smoke. A light into their darkness. Information instead of instinct, consciousness and awareness, instead of just reaction. Because of this consciousness they were known as the Enlightened. Those without Smoke were called the Lost, forever abandoned by the light, tethered to reaction and instinct.
Akol set about creating leaders. Great beasts meant to inspire and give awe. For a time, the beasts lived with the creatures, but in time, one of those beasts became discontented. Mikahael, the greatest of the beasts fell away. With him, many others of the creation began to fall away, rebelling in their hearts. Believing that Akol was not really the God he had claimed to be. That there was no way they had come from him. And so the hearts of the Enlightened began to be corrupt and forsaken.
So many of the peoples rebelled and fought for control of the land and the peoples. Great cities were erected to show the Enlighten’s self ability. Technology and science became what the creatures turned to for their strength and hope. They believed with enough science and technology, they could defeat the eventual decline of their bodies. In many ways, the Enlightened succeeded in their quest to outshine God. In time, belief and understanding of who Akol was, fell away.
Akol Ramous was saddened by the rebellion of his creation. Calling the remaining beasts to him, he devised a plan. A plan to save the creation who remained true. Akol struck the very sky and from the heavens metal rained down upon the land and was brought together. The very moon which had brought light and hope to the night sky was pulled down to the land. From that, Mekhos, machines of the God of creation came into being.
The Mekhos were mountains unto themselves and using their great might pushed a quarter of the land up into the heavens upon a mighty pillar. Great winds were placed within the pillar to allow life to continue at that great height. The peoples who remained true were swept up into the sky and placed upon the pillar. Akol looked upon his separated creation and proclaimed it was good.
The remaining beasts then fought Mikahael and while they were unable to destroy him, Ashlynn the greatest among those who remained true of the beasts was able to seal Mikahael away within the heart of the pillar. Around that prison each of the remaining beasts lain down as guardians, sealing their minds to forever watch, should Mikahael awaken and threaten creation again. And so creation prospered upon the raised place which it’s peoples called Landia
Christians have failed. I speak to you now as one of them, the failures. All “Christians” are not Christians. It was the pagans at Antiauk that first called the apostles “Christians” (Acts 11:26; 26:28). They used it derogatorily because the apostles didn’t follow the religious and philosophical thoughts of the pagans.
Christians have failed. We are often still despised by the world, but honestly, not enough. If we truly believed, the disapproval would know no end. I say if we truly believed… and I mean that. IF we truly believed. Because I’m not convinced many of us do; believe I mean. We say we do, but often, I question that belief we claim.
Belief without a changed life is not belief in the truth of what you are claiming, but belief in the benefits of believing. I can sit in church on Sunday morning and say I am a good person for doing so. I can shake my head when the Pastor condemns sin and feel high and mighty for not going down that road in my own life, but when I am full of my own piety, where does that leave me?
We are often truly arrogant.
There’s a Zen teaching that says, “Look at everything with a beginner’s mind.” We, as Christians, have to continually empty our cups so that Christ can fill them with himself. We are so very good at filling ourselves… of filling our lives with nonsense, pride, selfishness, and patronization. So what does it mean to be a Christian? What should I expect from Christians? There was a man who asked Jesus a similar question, he said, what must I do to get eternal life? Jesus asked the man to tell him what the law said,
“He (the man) answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27
And Jesus basically says that this is exactly right. Now I don’t agree with everything he says, but Creflo A. Dollar said,
“In order to love God, you must first renew your mind where love is concerned. When many people think of love, they think of human, emotional love, which is basically selfish because it has conditions—it loves when the conditions are right, or when it feels like loving. This is the type of love many people demonstrate toward God. However, God is not interested in you loving Him with your feelings. When we choose what we want or desire over God’s Word, we demonstrate that we love ourselves more than God. We must get rid of our own selfish desires and replace them with the desires God has placed in our hearts. When we love God, we will submit to His plan and purpose for our lives.”
According to Romans 5:5, the Holy Spirit has poured the love of God in our hearts, and that love gives us the ability to love with a Godkind of love, an unselfish love. God’s love is unconditional. Unlike selfish, human love, God’s love puts the needs of others above its own. This is the love God wants Christians to demonstrate.
Every day, you have to make a decision to allow the “you” inside to die and the (unselfish) God Love to live.
That means in order for the love of God to be evident in your life, you have to make a quality decision to allow your thoughts, desires, emotions, and feelings, that oppose the Word of God, to die daily. It is impossible to love God, or others, when you have plans, purposes, and desires that are contrary to the Word of God. How often have you seen Christians who continue to live for themselves? How often have you seen the hypocrisy in one of them? How often have you looked at their lives and thought, “dang, I am a better person than them.”
The interesting part about your thoughts on them… is that you are right. They aren’t any better than you. They aren’t any better, or moral, or anything else. The only real difference between them and you is that they have given their lives over to Christ and are attempting to allow him to lead their lives.
I say attempting because that’s exactly what it is, attempting. Time and again they struggle to live according to his will in their lives and time and again they fail. They fail, and fail, and fail, and fail, and fail. They cry out to him for his help. They say in church and in songs that they believe, but secretly when they are alone in their rooms at night, they pray for God to help them with their unbelief.
I’ve said it before, Christianity is the fantastic fantasy that we as adults are allowed to keep believing in beyond childhood. The Bible tells this beyond belief tale of resurrection from the dead and heaven and entities of evil that angels fight against and we are allowed and privileged to continue believing in.
We have never told Kat (my daughter) that Santa Claus was real. When she would ask about it, we tell her he was a man who lived a long time ago who gave children presents and they called him Saint Nicholas and that he is who all the people we see around Christmas are dressed up like. However, she continues to believe in Santa because she WANTS to believe, regardless of what anyone says. Christians want to believe and because of the truths they see in their own lives, the truth they have seen revealed in scripture, they have the benefit of belief, even if sometimes it’s hard to believe.
I know the truth of the Bible. Sometimes it’s hard to believe. Sometimes it’s hard to live even with all the personal evidence I’ve seen in my life, but I choose to continue my belief because I know it’s the truth.
In 1993, I went to a little school in Sissonville, West Virginia called Flinn Elementary. Just like kids in school today, we had a book fair that would come to our school each year. At this fair, they would haul in large metal containers that would open up to reveal shelves and shelves of books. There were of course books of all genres on the shelves, but I remember specifically one year when I saw a book on “how to be a ninja”.
I’ve since looked all over for this book, both at my parent’s house and my own, but like many childhood things, it seems to have been lost to the boxes in the attic. I’ve even looked on Amazon and other book stores, but have been unsuccessful in my search for this small little black book. But back then, I picked up the book and began flipping through it. Page after page of this book had illustrations about the history of ninjas; how they fought, how they lived, how they remained hidden, and even how they performed seemingly mystical feats.
For a 5th grader, the book was expensive, but I remember thinking that I would pay nearly any price to reveal the ancient secrets of the ninja. I read the book cover to cover several times (it wasn’t that long). The secrets it revealed were not so profound once I had read it, but even still, I remember returning to the book again and again in the years following. Always intrigued and always searching for what made these people so special and how I could emulate their mysteries in my own life. When I entered Middle School for the first time, I was confronted with situations and people that challenged my understanding of human decency. I remember sitting on the steps outside of the shop class during lunch and a boy decided it was time to attempt to beat me up.
We rolled around on the ground for several minutes until a teacher happened by and broke up the fight. After that, a girl decided that it was her job to attempt to beat me with a broom handle in the hall when I was attempting to get to the restroom. Clearly, there were some children in this school with issues, who had no trouble dealing with their own issues by beating on their fellow students. I remember sitting in my room, attempting to think of a solution to the issue that I was not the largest person in school and certainly not the most skilled fighter. How was I to defend myself from people intent on doing me harm? Some of whom would access makeshift weapons. I thought about the school rules; I couldn’t bring a real weapon with me, so while I had access to knives, bats, and other weapons, I clearly could never have those on me at the school.
I remembered my book. Taking out my book I remember flipping over to the page that spoke about how the ninja dressed. While many of the movies I had seen showed ninjas in the classic black outfit with the hood and veil over their face, the book was suggesting that most of the time, the ninja merely looked like everyone else. That while they might have had weapons and tools hidden on their person, as they walked down the street, they appeared as though they were a simple merchant, tradesman, or even a beggar. I had always thought that aspect of a ninja was stupid; I would usually just skim through that part of the book, but now I was starting to see the wisdom. Look like everyone else, but be prepared for nearly anything. I remember believing that training was easily hidden. My parents at the time didn’t have a lot of money, however, so I was unable to be trained in a school for martial arts. What they could afford though, was a book. I asked for and got, Bruce Lee’s book Tao of Jeet Kune Do. Again, I poured over the book time and time again. Some of the illustrations were in Japanese and I remember being frustrated that some of the ideas were lost on me because of language.
Going to the backyard at my house and placing the book on the ground as I went through the different stances and attempted to immolate the strikes I was seeing in the still images. By no means was I even slightly competent, but I studied nonetheless. Compared to the random bully, however, I was a master. I couldn’t take a weapon to school, but I was allowed a belt to hold up my pants. I remember strapping a belt outside of my belt loops and practicing the unstrapping of it quickly. I figured that while a belt was not nunchucks or a whip, it would work in a pinch.
While I never had to use my belt, that summer I was confronted (of all places) at church camp by an entire group of older kids who decided it was time to fight. Looking back, I believe I was quite lucky. These young lads weren’t smart enough to attack me all at once but instead decided to rush in at me one at a time. Using their momentum against them and attempting to channel my inner Bruce Lee, I flung them off to the side as they came in. When they were down, I used my most valuable resource (my legs) and got myself out of there. Whatever meager skills I had learned stumbling around in my backyard had been enough. While I am sure I would have survived the beatings of a couple of ten-year-olds, these instances left a mark in my mind that remains even today. I can’t say that my life has been highlighted by making myself into a honed weapon of hidden skill.
Or that I was always prepared with all tools I would need, but in recent years, I have been brought back to this idea. The hidden warrior. John Lovell; a popular firearms, tactics, and NRA trainer has a video entitled, The Most Dangerous Man in the Room. In the video, he talks about a man he knew who looked like a normal fella in every way possible, but that this man knew how to kill. He had been trained as a warrior and understood that in nearly any room he might enter, he was most likely the most dangerous person in that room.
Upon becoming an adult and finishing my bachelor’s in Psychology, I worked for several years at a psychiatric hospital as one of the men in white coats. I’m sure you have seen them in movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; the men who come running when someone gets out of control. A realization began to form in my mind, that the death threats I was getting every other week from some of the people I was encountering, could possibly be credible. I stood in the front day room and looked out at the parking lot where my car was normally parked and watched one of the nurses as she walked casually to her own vehicle.
At that moment, one of the many patients came up beside me with a cup of coffee and made a remark about how kind this particular nurse had been that day. We stood there and watched her pull away. How easy would it have been for that patient to write down her license number? How easy would it have been for them to see the make and model of the car, then when they got out, just wait for that car to leave and follow the nurse home? It would have been all too easy. I began parking down the street, out of view of the hospital’s windows… and I began to research what it meant to have and carry a gun. I couldn’t carry it inside the hospital (that would have been very foolish), but I could keep it in the glove compartment of my car and on my body when had to leave for home.
After several weeks of research into both the laws of concealed carry in my state, and several nights of talking over the issue with my wife, I finally went and took the required class, bought my first gun (a Smith and Wesson 614 snub-nose revolver), and got a small pocket holster. I went to the range several times and began to get used to this deadly little device that I not-so-casually tucked into my pants. I didn’t feel safer. Much to the contrary. I was scared to death I was going to shoot myself in the foot or shoot someone else when I sat down in a chair. The bulge of the object was a constant reminder of the possible death I was carrying around with me. I understood the need for the thing, but I didn’t like it. The gun scared me, as it should; into having a great deal of respect for it.
It is this understanding of hidden preparedness that lead me to a discussion I had with my father several years ago. We had recently gone to my aunt’s house for a Halloween party and I had decided to wear my gun in a shoulder holster. This was fine, but after walking around the neighborhood with the kids and then coming back into my aunt’s house with the heat blowing, I was warm… very warm. I shed my sweater which left my t-shirt and the holster on top of that t-shirt laid bare for my family to see. No one really commented about it much, but my father noticed. It was a couple of weeks later and he had brought my kids back from a visit he sat out in my driveway and said he wanted to talk to me about something.
“I don’t think you should be showing people that you are carrying a gun like that, even in our family.” He said. “Not that I think there’s anything wrong with carrying a gun, but I just think the fewer people who know about that the better.” I nodded my head in understanding and told him he was most likely right about that. However, later on, that night I really began to ponder what my father had said to me. I had heard about The Gray Man Theory before. Had even watched a few YouTube videos talking about it, but it always came as a novelty and not a necessity in my mind. I’m not a CIA guy or a Spy, why should I care if someone knows I am carrying a gun? What does it ultimately matter? Lots of people open carry every day. Why shouldn’t people be able to see my gun and even comment about it?
I can be an ambassador for the second amendment and have meaningful conversations about firearms rights and how a gun can be a very useful thing in a person’s life. My father’s words ate at me though. He was concerned that people within my own family would know I carried a gun. My family is a fairly calm family for the most part. In the past, there have been some major issues, but in current history, we are a very normal and boring group of folks. There wasn’t anyone at the Halloween party that I would ever need to worry about taking advantage of the fact that I was carrying a firearm. However, I think my father was pointing more to the habit and less to the specific situation we were in.
I thought again about The Gray Man Theory and couldn’t get it out of my head. I thought back to the ninja book. I thought about my childhood and how I had worn my normal belt on the outside of the belt loops of my pants so it could be easily removed as a makeshift weapon. There was value in this idea of being prepared, but hidden. I began to consider what it meant to blend in. What it meant to be normal. What it meant to not stand out in a crowd. What it meant… to be a Gray Man.
NOTE: I find it odd looking back on this article that I wrote some years ago now and thinking about this again. It’s breaking with the very idea of the Gray Man by writing the article itself, but I still find value in it’s being read. I hope you find value in it as well. Thanks for reading.
I think I understand why we cling to who we are. We believe we are good. There is this incessant snare of self-aggrandizement that we are pulled into believing from a young age. Disney and our school counselors have beat the drums of self-esteem so long and so loud that it’s difficult to hear anything other than our dreams and awesome sense of amazement at who we are. “Follow your dreams!” they croon. You are a special and unique flower whose feelings and thoughts are valid. While I don’t believe that we should be looking for depression, or looking to be self-deprecating at all, there is a sense that without a realistic vision of who we are in this world, we can never truly grow. The real danger here is that woven into all this flowery talk is a hidden message; “you are never wrong”.
It is this message that creates in us a sense of acceptableness. That who we are (no matter what) is okay and right. There is no need to change if who you are is already fine. For that matter, if who you are is fine and good, what need is there for a savior? None of us is truly good. Romans 3:23 tells us that, “…all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” But very few of us believe that. My local pastor, Kent Estep said a while back in one of his sermons that we often replace the word “sin” with the word “mistake” and doing that should be seen as a big mistake. When you make a mistake, it’s no big deal. It’s just something you slightly think about so that you don’t make that mistake again, but hey, if you do then no big deal.
However, if we start to understand the gravity of our sinful nature, we can start to unravel our own need for Jesus and his forgiveness. When all you have are “mistakes” you do not need to be saved from your “sins”. The gravity of our situation is that we have convinced ourselves that we do not need to be saved. It’s like swimming with sharks with an open and bleeding gash on our foot. You might be fine with that cut on your foot, but the reality of your situation will soon come up to bite you. Let’s get to the heart of the matter, none of us are okay. None of us are good. Even if we would like to be, we aren’t. We are all flawed. We are all sinful. We are all in need of Jesus. The reality is that Adam’s sin falls heavily upon us all. Humanity is desperately in need of saving. We have to open our eyes to that reality and start to understand that for us to survive, we have to start losing our natural selves and taking on the mantle of Jesus for others.
So, what does that mean? What does it mean to “take up your cross” and follow after Jesus? I believe that a large part of this has to do with how we view who we are, what it means to be human, and where our priorities lie. When we start to understand who we are, we can begin to live according to a new set of rules and ideas. So, let’s begin talking about that. What does it mean to be alive here on earth? Who are you as a human being? I’ve argued with people about purpose. People were created by God for His pleasure and His glory. God didn’t need to create people. He was whole and complete within Himself. In Acts 17:24-25 we see it says, “The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.” The bold text reveals to us His needs; nothing. However, he chose to make us anyway.
In Isaiah 43:7 we see God saying, “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Again, the bold text gives us insight into why God created us; for His glory. Not that he needed that glory, but that by doing so, He would exalt Himself. This speaks directly to our purpose here on earth, above all else. We are meant to bring God glory. Our priority here on earth above all else is to Glorify God. If nothing else, understanding that purpose can point us in the right direction. However, there is more to unpack in this idea that just this overarching idea. What does it mean to glorify God?
The Apostle Paul offers us one of the best ways to look at this idea of dying to self and glorifying God. He observes that no amount of sin can overcome God’s grace. That as sin increases, God’s grace will always be more powerful and overcome it. So, he makes the logical leap to ask if we should continue sinning so that grace will continue to get more powerful. Of course, he says no way. So, Paul lays it out for us in a way that is very easy to comprehend, but hard to live.
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once and for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin, shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. – Romans 6:1-14
At the start of things, Paul argues that just because God’s grace will always be able to cover whatever multitude of sins we may have, it doesn’t mean we should continue to sin just to see God’s grace increase to cover it. Then he hits hard! He says that because we are now dead to our sinful nature if that is truly what has happened, how could we ever live in sin again? We are brought back to life as a new creation, something wholly different and wholly alien. Christ is no longer this unknown entity, but we have become Him for the world. He says not to be a tool for the devil because you have become a tool in the hands of God. You aren’t in charge of your motives or life. You aren’t the master any longer. Jesus is the master of your life, heart, mind, body, and spirit. Your desires are no longer your own. Your purpose is no longer your own. You are a slave to the righteousness that Christ has embedded within you.
Something to consider, this isn’t a mindset that will come about in a single sitting. It isn’t something you should expect from someone who is a new Christian. The path down this road is an ongoing surrender of self. We might call it a slow and painful death. It’s the bleeding out of your own identity.
How are we as Christians supposed to understand the idea of sin? How should we talk about sin to the non-believers? These are tough questions! Let’s start with a simple question; how do I know something is wrong? The way a Christian should understand sin is by looking to God’s Holy Scripture. Through reading God’s Word, we have a direct link into the mind of God and what He thinks is essential for us to know. Yet, some things aren’t mentioned in scripture. But, you can use logic and reason to begin to understand the mind and nature of God. Through the tool of reason, we have divine wisdom in the areas that He was silent in. So, let’s talk about sin and how it manifests in our lives.
First off, what is sin?
Sin is the direct willful turning from God’s known will, direction, or the law. It’s not your actions that are the sin, it’s the decision to turn away from God; to go your own way. This is why no one sin is greater than any other. I turn from God and then I do something. The sin is not the action, but the decision before the action. The action is the result of the decision to turn away. All sin is abhorrent in the eyes of God. Because all sin is the same, we can understand that God is the ultimate decider of what is “wrong” or what “sin” is. In Romans 3:23, we read “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We all require divine grace.
Without God, there is no sin. There is no such thing as evil.
If there is no God, then there is nothing I can do that is wrong. Let’s pretend that God does not exist and everything has been a lie. Would it be wrong for me to steal a candy bar from the supermarket? Nope, if I can get away with it, it’s not wrong. There is no basis for you (my accuser) to say that what I have done is bad or wrong beyond your own opinion or that of others. If you don’t believe that God is the ultimate truth and decider of the moral law, then you have created a moral system for yourself.
You believe that the state is the ultimate authority or the government. However, laws can be changed. If a rich person decided to throw all their money into legalizing sex with little kids, they could get that sort of thing passed into law. But, does that make it right and okay to do that? I would argue no, but under a system where government or the state makes up what is moral and immoral, then it becomes right and okay. The same could be said for people who decide for themselves if what they are doing is right or wrong. Personal beliefs of right and wrong that are not based on Biblical truth are opinions, and everyone has those. Without God’s moral foundation, all opinions are equal.
Now, some of our decisions have to be based on our knowledge of God’s nature. Ultimately though, we believe that God will lead us in a direction through prayer, the study of His Word, and conversation with other believers into knowing his correct direction for us. None of these assumptions can contradict God’s Word or His known nature. For example, I don’t believe God would have it in His will for your life for you to murder your whole family and then use their bodies as shields to defend yourself from the law as you run naked down the street. That’s not in His will and it would go against the known law of God and His nature. However, if a person decides that their feelings and thoughts are the ultimate forms of truth, then there is nothing stopping them from making decisions and creating any form of moralistic code they want. They become a god within their mind.
If their morals dictate that murdering their family and running down the street naked while using those bodies as shields is right… who am I to say they are wrong? Their opinion is as valid as mine. That is if there is no higher power that is greater than our moral code. It should be obvious, that all ideas are not equal. Not everyone can be right. Someone has to be wrong. You will hear it said that all paths lead to “god”. No, they don’t… they don’t. You can’t believe that unicorns and fairies save your soul and still get into Heaven. It doesn’t work that way. There has to be a greater form of truth. There has to be a higher power, other than your own will and selfish thoughts. Without God to lead us, we are lost in our own will.
In Genesis 3:8, we see the first people on Earth starting to understand the gravity of sin. They hid from God and were frightened. Sin causes us to move away from God, it damages the relationship we were created to have with him. Because of our failure as humanity, we are forever in need of Christ’s grace in our lives. From our moment of life, we are depraved and lacking in purity. Our very nature is sin and selfishness.
We continue to see the issue of sin play out in the Old Testament and the Israelites. Time and again the Israelites fail. Sin is ever-present. Then Christ comes on the scene and the story changes. All of a sudden the world is flipped on its head. The religious leaders of the day are taken to task and redirected (sometimes very harshly). God has come down as a man and the world wasn’t ready. The people didn’t know what to do with him. So, they killed him. Their solution to the upset of their selfish lives was to once again sin; to murder God.
It’s almost comical at times to see how easy it is for humans to turn to sin to solve their problems. It would be funny, but we are talking about people’s souls, so there’s nothing funny about it. A man finds himself lonely and needs love. So, he doesn’t cultivate his relationships or seek the company of fellow believers. He instead searches the internet for a cheap and baseless pleasure in pornography. A woman finds herself pregnant when she hadn’t planned on it. So, she doesn’t endure the hardship of pregnancy and then gives the gift of a child to a barren couple. Instead, she chooses legal murder for the sake of convenience and self. There is a reason the road to Hell is wide. Sin gives the easy answer to life’s issues and promises pleasure and a “better life” in exchange for God’s plan.
When I was a kid, I kept questioning why Jesus had to die. Wasn’t there another way? Couldn’t Jesus have come down and forced everyone to believe? Wouldn’t that have been better? Why not stay here on Earth for the rest of eternity? Become a physical king and rule over everyone, decreeing laws and edicts so that everyone would know exactly what God wanted. The idea was so simple in my mind.
It was also not how God chose to solve the issue of human sin. That broken relationship had to be mended by the sacrificial death of a God, no amount of animal or human blood would be able to cover the sin of all of humanity. It might stem the tide for a time (as it did with the Old Testament sacrifices), but that system was just a stop-gap. A temporary solution to what was a permanent problem in humans. People, because of the choice made in the Garden, are forever under the veil of a sinful nature. We are destined to be corrupted for all time… or are we?
Of course, believing in Christ; acting on that belief, and turning from our sin will save our souls from eternal damnation. This is the simplistic idea of what it means to be a Christian. One can do this with a repentant heart on their death bed and still enter God’s Kingdom, but is that all there is? Is that the end of the commitment? Does the journey end there? Did Jesus come for anything else? Perhaps there is more to the story than a single moment in one’s life that “saves” a person.
When Christ came, he changed the game. It wasn’t about the rules anymore. It was getting to the heart of what it means to be human. It was understanding that God’s kingdom was here on Earth, now! It was looking into the heart of God and its foundation of love. God wasn’t out to punish sinners; he was out to redeem humanity and create a people wholly devoted to His vision. A people that grow in relationship with him. It’s no longer about me, it’s about Him.
In Mathew 27:51, we see the moment right as Jesus dies and what happens in the city. The veil to the Holy of Holies is torn. The very physical barrier separating God and man was torn in two by God Himself. This symbolic gesture is more meaningful than it at first appears. Up until this time, only a select few can speak directly with God. He was wholly separate and distant. Then he decided to come down here to Earth and change the way we interacted with God. He was here, present, and you were able to touch Him! A physical being with all the humanity we have. He came down into all the mess, all the dirt, and all the drama of what it means to be human.
The singular event of the sacrifice of a God warps human life into a possibility of salvation. While we are still corrupt, evil, vile, and putrid; God decided to die for us. This is the lynchpin in God’s plan for getting things to be put right. Without God’s decision to be selfless, we would have been lost forever. This is an interesting way to demonstrate His nature to us. He calls us to be selfless and to put others before us, just as he put us before Himself. God raised the nastiness of humanity above himself so that they might be redeemed and saved. That’s how much He cared for humanity.
We had taken a trip to the Smokey Mountains with mom and dad. Our idea of fun on these sorts of trips is shopping at the outlet stores, walking around the specialty shops, going to the aquarium, and most of all; eating at the restaurants. Every time we go through, we always eat at the Apple Barn at least one morning. During this trip, Uncle Ron had called mom and asked her if we could meet with him while on our trip since he doesn’t live far from this area.
At first, she balked at the idea, but he pushed her and said, “You all are going to eat at Apple Barn, right? Well, let me pay for your meal and eat with you.” How could she refuse, a free meal, and without a rude excuse, no real reason to say no. So, we met Uncle Ron for breakfast that morning. I had to explain to the girls who this man was, he had never met them after all. “This is Grammy’s ex-husband, they got a divorce when I was a teenager, I haven’t really talked to him in years, just be nice and it will be fine” I said.
The girls of course were as loveable and cheerful as they have always been and took to Ron immediately. He was cautious though as if he wasn’t sure of himself around us now. Of course, he still had his laughable and gregarious nature about him, the one that makes people want to be around him, telling stories and laughing that full laugh he always had when I was growing up. But something else was there. A tinge of something quiet just on the edge of his voice. He was nervous around us. As we sat there, I couldn’t tell you anything he said. I was just staring at him; inside I was a fury of emotion. Several times I nearly had to get up and leave the table as I was becoming overwhelmed with emotion.
Breakfast ended and I don’t think I said ten words to the man. We walked out and Alicia was taking some pictures with the girls. Mom and dad were talking with Ron and it became time for him and us to leave. I suddenly felt a pang of need. “I’ll walk you to your car”, I said. We walked through the parking lot until we got to his car. We were standing there… not really saying much and I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I burst into tears and grabbed him in a hug. Holding him tight I sobbed uncontrollably, “I miss you, Uncle Ron… I miss you.” We were both crying now. “I don’t want to be angry anymore. I don’t want to be upset anymore. I just want you back.” I said. “I want that too!” He said. “If I can, I want to be your little girl’s grandpa if I can. I know I’ve missed a lot. I know that. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
We most likely stood there for 15 minutes. I don’t honestly remember what we said to each other, but it was a profound healing moment. A letting go of hurts and pain that had been compounding for years on both sides. I got in the car and discussed what had happened with mom, dad, and Alicia. They were skeptical, not sure if we should allow Ron back into our lives too easily. What would Grammy think about it? She had stayed with us throughout the years, not pushed us away, and had even been at my children’s births up to this point, holding them on their first day of life. I never wanted to do anything that would have hurt her. While I would ultimately call her and have a conversation with her about the experience and what it meant to me and to the future, for a while anyway, I just kept it to myself.
Let me talk about the end of 2018. Kyle and Natalie, our music pastor and his wife, came to us and told us that they were pregnant with their third child. I don’t remember the exact date, but it was mid-2018. In my heart of hearts, I can assure you (my reader) that I was done having children. All through college and perhaps even before that, I had always said that I wanted two little girls; no more, no less. And at that moment, I had my two girls and beyond that, Ellie was already seven years old. Having another child wouldn’t make sense at all.
However, when our friend’s words rang in my mind, a spark began to burn inside of me. I couldn’t shake the idea of another child from my mind. It nearly consumed me. God was pulling at me, causing me to question my conviction. At first, I didn’t talk to Alicia about this. How could I? If I told her about it, she would get excited and if these feelings turned out to be nothing, just a passing fancy, then I would have hurt her a great deal. Inside myself though, I knew she wanted more children. She had always said four, but we had compromised on two. She always said no way to three because she didn’t want the third to be left out. Or for there to be a middle child.
I went and spoke with Kyle about my feelings and thoughts. His immediate response was, “You need to have another kid!” Now I know he must have been a little biased since he and his wife had made a very similar decision. I spoke to him about my hesitations. About all the reasons why it was a crazy idea, why we shouldn’t do it. And then I said that despite all that, I was still convicted about it. I didn’t know why. He told me that he had similar feelings before they had made their decisions and that he had come to have peace about it through prayer. He told me I needed to be in prayer and that I should seek Christ’s will. While I appreciated his enthusiasm and advice, I was still unsure.
I went home and spoke to Alicia about it. I came out of our closet just before bed and said, “What would you think about us having another kid?” She stopped. “Are you being serious?” she asked. “Now, you can’t just bring this up with me, if you are serious you need to let me know. Because I had a peace about us not having any more kids, even though it’s something I have really wanted. You can’t just throw this out there you know.”
I paused in the doorway, considering why I had even mentioned it without having come to a solid conclusion just yet. “I haven’t come to a consensus yet on how I feel, or what God is telling me about it. I don’t have peace, but I felt like I needed to tell you what was on my heart. What do you think about that?” I can’t be sure, but I remember her beginning to cry. “I have a peace about it, I say let’s do it!” I regaled her with all my logical reasons as to why I thought it was a bad idea, and still she held firm. When I spoke to my mom and dad about it later, they held to my beliefs about the bad idea of having another kid. It would be too hard, too expensive, and just overall not a good idea. I didn’t have peace about it. I wasn’t sure.
During this time, I was working up in the sound booth for our local church. I can’t tell you what the sermon was about. I can’t tell you what really was even going on in my own mind at that moment. However, while working the sound for our Facebook live feed, Pastor began to speak and my heart suddenly lurched. All I can recall is that for a moment in time, Pastor was no longer speaking to the congregation, God was speaking through him to me.
All my fear was gone. All my reservations were gone. The logical reasoning, I had built up in my mind seemed like foolishness. God had a plan. I didn’t know what it was, but He had one. I needed to trust in His ability to see us through the challenges. Which is interesting. Nikolai was born on August 31, 2019. It was a mostly uneventful birth, but just a day after he was born, he had to be taken to the NICU because he had an infection in his blood. He was there for about a week until he was strong enough to come home with us. It wouldn’t be the last time one of my kids had an extended stay in a hospital.
Looking back at this time now, after Niko was born, Alicia was able to take off enough time from work so that she could get all the way from the beginning of school in August to Christmas break staying at home with him, fantastic. But God took us a step further. One month after Christmas break, the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020 hit and we worked from home for the most part until that Summer, giving Alicia just about a full year of staying at home with Niko.
Even when we did have to go back to work (sorta) in the next school year of 2020 in September of that year, Niko was able to only go to daycare part-time, Mom and Dad kept him two days a week, saving us money and allowing him to spend a lot of time with family. God has a way of working these things out. In ways, we will never understand and will often never see until a long time later.
Now, I continue to look at my son (he’s two and a half now) and Kyle’s little girl and I think about these kids. Who they are becoming and who they are right now. The world is a better place with them in it. A friend of mine recently went through a similar situation as I did and I got to hold his little girl (just a couple months old now) in my arms. We were at dinner with them the other night and I looked over at my son and then down at this little girl in my arms. What a blessing children are. I feel like the meaning of life and love and laughter are brought into clarity through these kids. They will grow up in our church, they will be loved by everyone in it, and they will be loved by us. There will be difficulty, pain, heartache, and tears, and it will all be worth it. All the difficulty that comes with having kids and raising kids will be worth it.
At one point, I don’t remember my age, I had done something wrong and needed to be punished. My mother sat me down looking out a set of windows that faced the backyard. “You sit here until I come to let you up!” She said. I pretended I didn’t care, that the punishment was no big deal. She then went over to the telephone on the wall and called down to the neighbor’s house just below us. These neighbors had three little girls and a little boy. The middle little girl was Ashley, mentioned above. “Hey Chris, would you send your kids up here to play in Michl’s treehouse for a few minutes? Thanks!” and then hung up the phone. I didn’t hear this conversation.
What I saw next was the point of the exercise. All my best friends suddenly appeared and began playing in my backyard. “Hey, mom!” I yelled. “The girls are here; I’m going to go out and play with them!” I was very excited. Mom came into the room. “Oh, I’m sorry, but little boys who don’t listen to their mommies don’t get to go play with their friends. So, no. You are not going out to play with them.” Big tears welled up in my eyes and began running down my cheeks as I suddenly understood the reason, I was facing the backyard. The kids were only playing back there for maybe five minutes at the most, but it was enough to get my attention as a little kid, four or five years old. “Now, if you decide that you are going to listen to mommy for the rest of the day, then maybe tomorrow we will invite the kids up to play with you and then order some pizza for lunch as well. Does that sound like a deal?” It did. Like I said, I don’t remember what I had done, but to this day, that lesson has stuck with me. Take away what is most important to a child and be willing to give it back with a bonus… good parenting advice.
Speaking of eating pizza, it shouldn’t be understated that getting pizza was a big deal when I was a kid. We didn’t have a lot of money because mom and dad were shoving all their extra money into savings to be able to afford to build a house later. Once, Chris Bloss and Mom took all of us kids to McDonald’s so that we could play on the playground there. You weren’t allowed to play on the playground unless you bought something, so Chris and Mom bought a Diet Coke to split. All of us kids had Fox Kids Club Cards. A card you could get from the local radio station that would get you all kinds of cool stuff as a kid, but mainly for us, would get us a free small fry from the Mcdonald’s. So, we brought peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, got our free fries, and then all ordered water, also free and since a diet coke was bought, were allowed to play in the play place.
Looking back at that, it was a little sad, but we didn’t care. We got to play on the playground and had some of the best fries around. Once, when the Bloss’ dad Tom got a bonus at work, Chris decided to buy all of us kids a Slurpee from the Kmart. Back then the only flavor was cherry. She handed them out to us kids and each time she gave one to a kid that kid would say, “Thank you!” and then she would move on to the next kid. Not me though, she handed me that thing and I immediately began downing it. I only made it several slurps in when it was suddenly snatched from my hands. “Next time, you will remember to say thank you.” My mother said. I cried, but you better believe the next time something came along like that, I was the first to say thank you. Manners were important. To this day, I still have a habit of saying, “Yes sir and no sir”, which has fared me well.
One night, I was sitting up in my bed, quietly just waiting to get sleepy. My bed was on the opposite wall from the door to the hallway. As a sat there, I saw a figure of a man walk past my doorway towards the bathroom. It was dark (I didn’t have a night light) and it was only a silhouette that I saw, the color of the back of your eyelids when you close your eyes, a swirling mix of colors that ultimately would be called black. I assumed it was dad going to the restroom, but as I sat there waiting for the light of the bathroom to come on as he used it, that didn’t happen. Instead, the figure came back and stared into my room. It then came into my room and moved silently over to my bed and stood over me.
This was not my father. This was a figure that was made of darkness, the blank face looked down at me and then turned and silently strode from the room. As soon as it passed beyond the threshold of my door, I bolted from the bed, screaming, running towards my parent’s room. When I should have run into the back of that thing, I ran into the front of my dad who had heard me scream, and came running from his room. I was comforted and put back into bed. What did I see that night? I’m not sure. A demon, maybe? This will be a question I get answered when I finally arrive in heaven someday.
One night, my mom and dad went down across from the Bloss’ house to their grandfather’s house, Don Bloss. This was Tom Bloss’ father, Tom being the girl’s dad. They were buying some property from him to start the process of building a house. They wanted to build a house of their own design. My cousins; Randy, Tammy, Tuesday, and I were hanging out together. This had to have been around Christmas time because Tammy lived in Texas and I was only able to see her around that time of the year. As it happens, there was a blacktop road beside the girl’s house that went up the hill near there and had a circle turnaround at the top. Don had paved this to encourage people to buy lots up there.
As mom and dad were negotiating and signing contracts, my cousins and I decided to walk up to the top of the hill and play tag at the top. It was becoming dusk by the time we got to the top of the hill. It was cloudy. There was a large tree just beyond the pavement, which sat in a small field just before the edge of the forest which continued up the hill. I knew just inside the tree line was a barbwire fence. The land Don had broken up into lots, used to be his family’s farm where they had cows. As we played, I noticed some lights at the top of the hill just inside the tree line. I didn’t think much of it. There were a lot of kids around this area that rode four-wheelers down the trails here inside the barbed wire fence. So, I just assumed it was some kids up there riding four-wheelers.
There was a problem with this theory, however. There was no sound of engines. Randy suddenly stopped running having seen me standing over to the side staring up the hill. “What are those lights?” He asked. “I’m not sure.” I honestly answered. “I thought maybe they were four-wheelers, but I don’t think so, there’s no engine sound.” The girls stopped playing as well and came to stand next to us, hearing the conversation. “Maybe it’s some people riding bikes with lights on the handlebars?” asked Tammy. That could have been the case, but those were not cheap and often broke easily. So, seeing so many (five in fact) on bikes would have been rare at this time. As we debated, the lights began to move down the hill, just inside the tree line, down the trail I knew was there.
“I don’t hear any leaves,” I said. Referring to the fact that the foliage was down and we should have been hearing the crunch of leaves as bikes or even feet were coming down the path, but it was completely silent. No sound at all, save for a slight breeze. These lights were round and appeared to be hanging in the air. They were about the size of basketballs and moved slowly down the path, about as fast as some running at a slow jog.
As the lights came closer to our group, they left the woods and began floating across the small field between the blacktop circle beneath the tree that was there. It was at this point that we realized that nothing was holding up these lights, not a bike, a person, or anything else. The balls of light were gently glowing with a yellow-ish orange light and they were floating about three feet above the ground seemingly on their own. As children, we were terrified and immediately began running down the hill. The lights, followed us, close behind. Looking back, I could see they were matching our pace as we ran, being only about twenty feet behind us. We ran all the way down the hill and then up the driveway to where my parents were meeting in the house just above the end of that road. We stopped long enough to look back down at the end of the road we just come from. The lights were at the end of the road. As we watched, they began swirling around each other and then just winked out, as if someone had blown out their candles.
Of course, we told my parents what had happened, but we weren’t believed. My dad just thought we had gotten scared in the dark and whipped ourselves up into a frenzy. However, I can tell you that when I was around 14 years old, I was watching the Discovery Channel with dad when suddenly on the screen were my floating lights. I jumped up and just about scared the pants off of dad. “That’s the lights we saw when I was a kid!” I yelled. Dad was completely confused and I had to tell him again about the lights. So, what did the Discovery show say about the lights? Aliens? Ghosts? Nope! Apparently, it’s a natural phenomenon called “ball lightning”. It’s where lightning forms into a sphere because of magnetism or something. It often floats several feet off the ground or way up in the air. Now the way it seemed to chase us? I’m not sure about that, but I am convinced that we saw ball lightning that night. I guess when I get to heaven this is yet another thing, I am going to have to ask God about.
Around the time I was seven years old, my mom and dad decided that we should move to a new house. They had purchased the land from Don Bloss and we would be moving to the other side of the Bloss girl’s house onto the land they had bought. However, the house had to actually be built. So, they started to build, but also put our little red house up for sale at the same time. As it happened, someone bought our house before the new house was done being built.
We were in the middle of the build for the new house and now had no house to live in while it was being finished. What could we do? Mom spoke with a friend of ours who agreed to allow us to rent a trailer down the road from Sissonville Elementary. It was a very small trailer! In fact, it was only two bedrooms and one of those bedrooms was packed floor to ceiling with our moving boxes. As it was, my bed was placed in a small walk-in closet.
When we first arrived at the trailer, we brought Samson (my dog) and BT, our kitty cat. I remember we got them down out of the car and Samson immediately began running around the small yard peeing on everything and BT ran off into the woods. We were a little concerned about BT, but she was an inside/outside cat, so she could take care of herself. Leaving her some food and water out on the porch, we waited to see if she would come back. When we woke up the next day, the food the water was gone, but there was still no sign of BT.
We left out another round of food and water and left for school and work. When we pulled up to the house from our day, we saw BT on the porch drinking some of the water we had left. However, the moment we got out of the car, she ran off again into the woods. This continued for a couple weeks. One day though, we got out of the car and the food and water were untouched; we didn’t see BT. We continued to leave fresh food and water, but each day that we came home, it was untouched.
This might sound like a really horrible situation, and it was, but in my seven-year-old brain, I created a scenario that made it easier to deal with. In my mind, I forced myself to believe that BT had decided to live out the remainder of her days in the woods hunting squirrels for her food as a Ninja Kitty. I often would imagine her hopping from limb to limb chasing down the squirrels; oddly enough, she was also wearing a Ninja Turtle Style mask on her head in these imaginings as well. We never saw BT again.
Sometime after that, we started to notice a smell coming from inside the trailer. It started off not that bad, just a mild sickly-sweet odor, but then it started to get worse. It became so bad that when we would open the door to go inside, we would have to turn back around and nearly punk off the porch. It was really bad! Dad decided that he would put on his overalls and crawl up under the trailer to see what was going on. When we got under there, he found a large hole in the flooring panels under the trailer, it looked like something had chewed the hole open.
Upon sticking his arm up into the hold, he felt something large and furry that wasn’t moving. Immediately, he thought “oh, no. BT has crawled up in this hole and died. Michl is going to be crushed.” But it wasn’t BT. When dad crawled back from under the trailer, he pulled out a river rat that was as large as BT from there. All told, it was nearly three feet long including the tail. We found out later that our neighbor had been putting out poison for the rats from the river just beyond his house and the poison was meant to make the rats want to drink a lot of water. So, they were supposed to go back to the river and die down there, but for some reason, this particular rat decided to come under our house to die.
Looking back on this time now, I am wondering if perhaps BT got into the poison, he had put out and that’s what really happened to her. I guess that’s a much more realistic explanation for what happened to her, but honestly, I like the seven-year-old explanation better. Sometimes, we encounter situations in young lives where it’s easier to believe the make-believe rather than the somewhat harsh reality of life. As a kid, I think my mind preferred to live within that fantasy instead of actually facing the death of a beloved pet.
We were in the trailer for nearly a year. Most of my memories there were of riding my bike along the flat blacktop road that led up to the house. I mentioned it was a small place and we were there during the Christmas holiday. There wasn’t enough room for an actual Christmas tree, so we settled on a little Charley Brown Christmas Tree that was set on top of our kitchen table. There was only one gift that I remember that year and it was a red microscope, complete with little slides that had sections of bugs, leaves, and other little things to see close up. For all the scrimping and saving our family was doing at the time, this was one of the best Christmas’ I can remember.
When I would go to my Aunt Sherry’s house to spend time with my cousin Randy, we would often make the trek down the road to the local swimming hole. The Little Kanawha River and Little Spring Creek came together in a “T” about a mile down the road from his house. It was here, just beyond the bridge of Little Spring Creek that we had a small sandy beach that resided below the limbs of several trees. It was shady, cool, and slightly deep compared to much of the river. Water that reached our shoulders wasn’t common in the Little Kanawha River around where we were familiar.
So, we would head down there and wade out into the middle of the water, playing as children often do. However, each time we ventured down to that area, there was always a constant, up in the branches of a beech tree, there was a family of black snakes. The beech tree was very large, larger around than I could reach my arms, even today. It was also hollow. On top of the tree, it had been hit by lightning, so it was sheared off at a completely horizontal angle, creating a flat area at the top of the tree where the snakes curled up with each other.
As we swam below, we could look up and see the coils of the snakes drooping down over the edges of the flat area. One of them in particular was extremely large. As a kid, I remember him being at least ten feet long. However, in talking with Randy recently, he states the largest was more like six feet, but I will swear till the day I die that it was at least ten feet long and ten inches around the waist.
The interesting thing about these snakes is that we didn’t mind they were there at all. For one, they never bothered us at all. They stayed in their tree. For another, we understood that black snakes killed and ate poisonous snakes like Copper Heads and Rattlers. They also ate river rats. We knew we didn’t have to worry about those issues at our swimming hole. You might wonder how we knew how big they were if they were always in the tree.
If we sat on the sandbank long enough and quiet enough, eventually the snakes would get hot up in the tree. So, if we were fishing down there on the bank, or just hanging around, sometimes we would see a snake drop down out of the tree and splash into the water. It would bob to the surface and wind its way through the water to the base of the tree and slither up the hollow to get back to the top where it would curl up again. We could see how long they were as they swept through the water. I remember ten feet; Randy, not so much. He says six or seven.
Time spent at Aunt Sherry’s house was cathartic in a lot of ways. Thinking back on that time there was a lot of downtimes; time spent just lazing the days away. However, there were also times when Randy and I would come up with some crazy idea and start something that would be special in some way. Ideas that in retrospect were stories from childhood that would stick with my mind and grow into tales of meaning and adventure.
There was an old barn across the road from Randy’s house. It was falling apart. The walls were leaning at an odd angle and walking into it, you always had to watch your feet for fear that there might be a copperhead lurking under each board. Truthfully, there most likely was, but when we entered that place, it was with a purpose. Usually, it was to get boards. The rusty nails didn’t offer much resistance to our yanks as we would cart tons of this stuff over to the river and up into a tree to make our treehouse. One summer I came back to Aunt Sherry’s only to find that Randy had built an elaborate spire of platforms and walls, and even trap doors into the tree.
At one point we were “fishing” for catfish one night and decided that building a fire on the wooden floor of one of the platforms was a great idea. Twenty minutes into the fire and the fire itself suddenly disappeared in a bright flash. Having burned a hole through the floor, the entire campfire fell right through it and landed on the ground twelve feet below in a spectacular explosion of sparks. We howled in laughter.
One time, we were hunting through the old barn and came across a large tractor tire insert. It was the large rubber part that would go inside the hard ribbed rubber outsole of the tire. Upon examining it, it was clear that if we blew air into this tire, it would expand and become a huge innertube. At first, we were thinking about how neat it would be to go down the river with this large innertube, but as we talked about it, an idea wormed its way into my mind. What if we strapped boards to the top of this and made it into a boat?
So that’s what we did. Taking rope we lashed a platform of boards to the top of the innertube and created a fine boat. We went into the woods and cut down some small trees and removed the limbs to make some twelve-foot-long poles to act as quant poles used to push us through the water instead of paddles. My Uncle helped us to load the boat into the back of his truck and then drove several miles up the river. After unloading the boat into the water, we set sail down the river back towards Randy Allen’s house.
Several times during the journey, we got stuck on sand bars or other obstacles, but we managed to get ourselves free and continue on. After what I remember to be a long time, like nearly an hour, we arrived at the section of the river behind Randy’s house. Since things had gone so well, we decided to continue going. We continued sailing down the river until we got to the old swimming hole where the snakes hung from the giant beach tree. We continued on. However, it was just after this point those things got a little hairy. With the addition of the creek water entering the river at the swimming hole, the river itself got much swifter, deeper, and wider.
It was becoming much more difficult and often impossible for us to steer, slow, and especially to stop our boat. In the end, after trying for some time to get the boat over the side of the river so that we might walk home and have Uncle Randy come to retrieve our boat with his truck, we were unable to stop it. We abandoned our boat, which continued to sail down the river without us. I like to think that somewhere down there it made it out to the ocean and saved some shipwrecked sailors.
When I was a young boy, I spent some time at my Aunt Sherry’s house around ten or twelve. My parents would send me there when I was driving them bananas. There were several times that I went to her house which was always fun for me because my cousin Randy was there. He was several years older than me, but we played well together. Her house was a small one-story place with a large kitchen in the front and a little living room set in the back.
In front of the house was a large mountain and their house was set in the middle of a small field with a river that ran behind that.
One day, we had been playing down in the river below the house trying to catch craw-dads. Coming out of the water onto the sand bar, we saw large tracks. Having studied Boy Scout books (even though neither of us were a part of the Boy Scouts), we knew these tracks were bear tracks. They were very large! We followed the tracks up into the field behind the house and moved up the yard following the tracks in the wet grass.
Yet, upon coming to the paved road we lost the trail. Seeing bear tracks of course made us excited, but also a little frightened. Black bears in these parts were no joke. We had heard stories of hunters who had shot bears with an arrow only to have the bear continue to charge them and kill them when the arrow had not done enough damage.
Several days later, we were coming back from our swimming hole when we decided that we needed a snack. While ideas like this were not common, we decided to not go home to get a snack but to head up onto the mountain to get some blackberries. Randy knew of an area on the side of the mountain called the Blackberry Maze where there were many bushes of blackberries. There were so many in fact that the paths between the bushes made a large maze on the side of the mountain, thus the name.
So off we trudged into the mountains. It wasn’t a difficult climb, but the closer we got to the maze, the thicker the brush became. Coming out into the maze, the bushes were taller than me and the winding paths were close nit. They hadn’t been created by people, but by the animals who frequented the area. Off we went sampling the fresh berries. Picking and eating the berries was fun and made you feel like you were a part of the land. We were natives in a natural world living off of nature—freedom in the truest sense of the word.
That’s when we heard it; a snorting sound coming from the edge of the maze, outside of it, and inside the dense brush of the forest. Both Randy and I stopped. Turning we looked at each other.
“Did you hear that?” I asked. “Yes,” Randy replied, whispering.
“Is that what a bear sounds like?” I asked. “Um, I’m not sure,” Randy said.
We heard that distant snorting again, and this time the brush on the side of the maze began rustling and swaying. Something significant was coming this way. Something that made our skin crawl and our imaginations light up.
“We need to get out of here,” I whispered and Randy nodded his head. He led the way out of the maze and once he got to the edge of the area, he jumped up and swung himself into a tree. I followed and soon we were both sitting in the highest branches of a tree off to the side of the Blackberry Maze.
“Can’t black bears climb trees?” I asked, upon settling myself into the crook of a limb. Randy looked over at me, “Yeah” he said. We both began hopping from limb to limb down the tree as fast as we could, but upon coming to the bottom of the tree once more, the noise from the side of the maze came again louder this time. We both froze.
Then, out from the brush at the side of the maze, stepped the largest example of this creature I have ever seen. A buck stepped into the area of the maze. Not a bear, a buck. A deer with antlers as wide as a car bumper stepped through the brush. He snorted and bounded over to our tree. Now in the years since this happened, I have been told this is not normal deer behavior, but I can attest this is true nonetheless. That deer came directly below our tree and scraped his antlers on the bark. He then proceeded to stamp his hooves and circle the tree for the next hour, not letting either of us come down.
I can only guess as to his motivations, but my assumption is that he had himself a girlfriend somewhere nearby and our presence was disrupting his ability to give her attention in a “baby-making” sort of way, but this is only an assumption. Maybe he didn’t like us eating his berries. Either way, after that hour he seemed to lose interest and wandered off. We were able to come down and head home. That’s the story of how I thought we were being chased by a bear, that turned out to be a deer.