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Ghost Stories

“The true mark of success in ghost story telling is if someone’s mom has to come pick them up from a sleepover in the middle of the night.”

I’ve heard a good many ghost stories in my life, some of which kept me up all night. If you’re interested I’ll give you the tried and true formula for telling the perfect ghost story. This works 100% of the time, if you’re in the third grade. Once you know the formula, you can take turns making up ghost stories on the spot with your friends the next time you have someone “spending the night” with you. If you’re a grown up it’s probably too late since you lost most of your imagination somewhere before you started caring about the opposite sex and after you realized that using deodorant and brushing your teeth might not just be for the weekends.

Rule number one for telling a good ghost story is establishing when the story happened. You don’t want your audience to be so worried about when the story might have taken place that they miss major plot developments.  For a solid opening, I like to use “Once upon a time.” After vaguely establishing the time, it’s good to pause for a dramatic effect before coming in more intensely with where the story might have happened. I usually go for “In the deep dark woods.” I’m getting scared just writing this right now. Now that we’ve created the perfect spooky setting your audience should be sufficiently hooked and want to hear the rest of your story, now it’s time to real them in with the details. For our next line we need to establish who or what the story is about. A ghost story is only as good as it’s villain. You might try a line like “There lived a man.” You might even throw an adjective in for good measure, “There lived an old man.” The more time you spend on describing the villain the better your villain will be, but don’t spend too time with details, you want to make them wonder. We’ll give him long bushy eyebrows, a lazy eye and bad leg that causes him to limp. Now would be a good time to practice your onomatopoeia as you describe the sound made when he walked across the dirty floor in his decaying cabin. For extra credit you can describe how he received the bad leg, “In a gunfight”, or “on the railroad”, are always good choices if you get stumped. Our next step requires action, what did the old man do? Did he collect toenails, kidnap dogs and cut off their ears, or just knock on doors and run away? Whatever he did, it needs to be something that relates to all of your audience. We’ll go with “Turned off the lights whenever you went to the bathroom.” Now you can wrap up your story with, “And if you’ve ever been in the bathroom and the lights go out, you’ll know it was the old man!” Maybe throw in a little scream at the end for good measure. It helps if later during the sleepover you can cut off the lights while someone is going to the restroom.

It seems humorous writing about it as an adult, but I remember being genuinely scared of improvised ghost stories, even if I was the one telling them. It’s good to know when to stop telling ghost stories and go to bed so you won’t be too scared to sleep. My rule of thumb is to stop whenever I start getting scared at my own story telling. The true mark of success in ghost story telling is if someone’s mom has to come pick them up from a sleepover in the middle of the night.

I remember being quite upset by a ghost story on the 5th grade field trip to a camp in North Alabama. The camp counselor told us that the cabins we were sleeping in were built on Indian Burial mounds that had to be excavated before they were able to start building the campgrounds. During this excavation they found a skeleton that was missing a hand. No one knows for sure, but they think that this hand was lost during initial excavation when they discovered the burial mounds. The counselor told us that every once in a while they saw a skeleton hand, supposedly searching for the missing body. Every time that they had seen the hand they had also heard the Chickasaw Death Whisper. The counselor had been gradually lowering his voice and we were on the edge of our seat with anticipation. He said, “This is how the Chickasaw Death Whisper goes,” and after a slight pause he yelled at the top of his lungs.

A little unconventional, I know, because he deviated from the usual ghost story formula, but I was so scared that night that I eventually got in the bunk with my friend and I didn’t care what anybody said. Perhaps my imagination was a little over active from not having a television in our home. Many of the other students laughed harder than they had screamed once they got over their initial fright. Feel free to tell this one some place I’ve never been.

I remember telling ghost stories with our neighbors, Jared and Creed numerous times. Jared and Creed had a popup camper that they would take on vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains. I know they went to the Great Smoky Mountains because while they were gone I fed their Blue Tick hounds and I still have a pack of Great Smoky Mountain playing cards that Jared brought back as a thank you gesture. I’m sure Mr. McDaniel appreciated the break from his shift work for Alabama Power at the Logan Martin Dam. There was a leak in the dam and his job was to pump concrete into the hole. He’d been pumping concrete for about 30 years. Whenever they got ready to go on vacation, they would air out the popup camper in the basement and this was the perfect place to tell ghost stories. We all four piled into the camper and began the time honored swapping of improvised ghost stories. Zach told one and we all laughed, he was always to jolly of a story teller to be all that scary. Creed told one and it must have been pretty scary, because Jared moved to the back of the camper where Creed and Zach were, leaving me in the front. Now it was Jared’s turn to tell a story. I think he was still doing character development on his villain when I decided that it would be a little safer on the other side of the camper with the other three boys. As I crossed over to the other side the trailer tipped swiftly backwards and the tongue banged against the ceiling of the basement right beneath the living room where Mr. McDaniel was trying to catch up on his sleep in the recliner. Mr. McDaniel was jarred awake by the commotion in the basement and stormed downstairs. We were more afraid of Mr. McDaniel than any ghost story villain our imaginations could drum up, mainly because Mr. McDaniel was real, and at the moment, he was “real mad”. He looked at each of us in turn as we were piling out of the camper, then he said to Zach and Me, “Boys, it might be a good time for y’all to go on home.” We quickly obliged him. I hope his vacation brought his blood pressure down.

In the rural community that I grew up in legends were still very much alive. These legends spawned grown up ghost stories that were terrifying to children. What’s even scarier than that is that many adults still whole heartedly believed that they were true. One example that comes to mind was the legend of The White Thang. I’m sure I should spell it “Thing”, but that isn’t how I heard it spoken. The White Thang was a fantastic white creature that lived on the mountain and terrorized the community. Sort of. No one ever fully saw the White Thang, they just described it as a flash of white. What people were able to describe in detail was the ear splitting noise that the creature made. Some said is sounded like a woman screaming, or a panther. It was taken so seriously by the community that I remember it making the newspaper at least three times in my life. There isn’t much to tell, maybe that’s why it was so widely believed and what makes it so scary, the fear of the unknown. All of the stories about the White Thang were pretty similar. Someone was on the mountain hunting and they heard a scream like a woman and saw a flash of white, or someone was fetching wood late at night and heard a wild screech and saw a flash of white. It may have been an albino panther or mountain lion. There was never enough moon light for anyone to get a good glimpse of the creature. More likely there was too much moonshine. Whatever it was, many people of Sterrett, Alabama swore up and down that it was real and they had heard it and seen it, or at least a credible relative you had seen it. The White Thang might be more believable than some people’s credible relatives.

I haven’t told or heard a good ghost story since the last time I went camping as a teenager. I think I finally realized that I don’t like being frightened. These days I shy away from ghost stories in general because real life is scary enough.

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Dan Theo Wells, 1935-2021

Ology is often translated as the study of. It is from the root word logos, word in Greek. It is more accurately translated as what can be said of.

Theology- that which can be said about God.
Psychology- that which can be said about the mind.

What can be said about Dan Theo Wells?

We must first establish his identity. Who is Dan Theo Wells?

He is a man of many titles: Bub, Slim, Pop. I suppose that some of my cousins could say that they lost Uncle Bub, Uncle Slim, and Uncle Dan and elicit treble condolences from sympathetic friends.

But when the roll was called in the Army only one name was read out, Dan Theo Wells. After a moments hesitation, Slim and Bub both stepped forth.

I knew him as Pop. My paternal grandfather. And really the only grandfather I knew. Tinker Reynolds- or Brant Douglas Reynolds, both one and the same- died when I was only two years old.

Most people knew Pop as Slim. But unless you were one of my cousins from Chicago, it only sounds right if you say it with a Southern accent. For anyone who struggles with a Southern accent, when in doubt make the vowel a diphthong: Slee-um.

Pop was incredibly economic in his elocutionary endeavors. I have ridden from Sterrett to Irondale and back with Pop and said fewer than three sentences.

Throughout my life, Pop was not a church-going man. I used to screw up the courage to invite him to church from time to time.

“Pop, you ought to come to church with us tonight.”

“I know son.” He would sigh.

I remember reading James 1:27 as a teenager and immediately thinking about Pop.

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
‭‭James‬ ‭1:27‬ ‭KJV‬‬

In part, Pop was a deeply religious man. He always kept a substantial garden. Perhaps it may seem a small thing to many, but he grew it to share. I guess you could say that he visited the widow of Tinker Reynolds in her affliction. Among many others.

Pop was also a man of principle. Pop never allowed alcohol at any of the barbecues he hosted. In his way, he more than once warned his employees in the hay business-Zach and me- about the dangers of alcohol.

“I took one drink when I was young and it tasted like horse ?¡$ś.”

I always thought that sounded pretty dangerous.

I think that because he was a man of principle he had an excellent reputation in his community. Integrity doesn’t require wealth or education, integrity requires character. Pop had character.

Around 2012 I think, Pop had an accident on an old Farm-All tractor. He started the tractor before he was fully seated and the tractor was already in gear. The sudden jerky motion threw him off balance and he fell off but his foot hung on one of the pedals and he was trapped in front of the engaged rear wheel. The tractor drug him a few feet until the barn post stopped the forward motion, but the huge tractor tire continued completely tear off his left quadriceps.

Nonna eventually heard him screaming and she ran out to the barn.

“Turn off the tractor!” He said.

It was the hand of God that Dennis Brasher-I think this is the right name, forgive me if I am wrong- happened to be driving by listening to the police scanner. He instinctively knew that the call was for Pop.

“Slim, I’m sorry this is going to hurt.” He said as he applied pressure to the gruesome wound. He kept his hands on what was left of Pop’s thigh for the whole ambulance ride to Birmingham. it is a testimony to Pop’s toughness that he remained conscious for the entire ordeal.

I honestly thought Pop was going to die then, so I got on an airplane and flew to Alabama from Virginia. But he was made of tougher stuff than I thought and lived another nine years out of spite I believe.

Time would fail me to recount a lifetime of fond memories of Pop. Perhaps the best thing that I can say about Pop, is that he had a good name. Even if few used it and even fewer knew it.

A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.
‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭22:1‬ ‭KJV‬‬

The last time I saw him coherent was October 27th. He and Nonna had soundly whipped COVID-19 much to my surprise and delight, but something had interfered with Pop’s Parkinson’s medicine and he had begun to hallucinate.

One moment he would be talking to me as clear as he was capable and the next moment he would just be talking to himself, or to whoever would listen about something that happened 40 years ago. Then he would be in the present 40 years ago, or perhaps in a dream.

But he knew who I was when I walked in.

“Is that Zane? Set me up.”

“I’m sorry you got to see me like this.” He said referring to the hospital bed.

“I’ve been worried about y’all’s sugar so I brought y’all some peach pies.”

We chatted for a little bit. Before Pop said, “Give me one of them pies.”

“The more I eat it, the better it gets.” He said with a grin

I must confess that this is not how I want to remember Pop. Sure the hat is there and those look like his hands. But I want to remember the Pop who hit a charging cow with a 2×4. And the Pop who lifted me with one hand into his Toyota pickup truck because I was too little to climb in by myself. And the Pop who brought me a cowboy hat one night after his trip to Tennessee. And the Pop who would bring all of us grandkids an Icee.

Dan Theo Wells

I want to remember this Pop. And I hope you do too.

I love you Pop.

Dan Theo “Slim” Wells, was born on April 16th 1935 to Daniel Webster Wells and Dovie Dunnaway Wells. He served the United States Army in the 3rd Armored Division from 1958-1960. He married Nola Mae Brasher. They had three children Perry Charles, Melvin Johnny, and Jason Theo.

Mr. Wells began working for Stockham Valves and Fittings shortly after his discharge from the Army. He retired from Stockham in the mid 1990s before the plant closed. During his time at Stockham he helped cast many of the valves for the Alaskan Pipeline.

Dan Theo Wells passed from this life in his home on November 12th, 2021.

Sunday Afternoons

Sometimes I wonder if people who don’t go to church on Sundays still take a Sunday afternoon nap. My parents always took a Sunday afternoon nap between church services. When I was little kid, I didn’t fully appreciate this practice. Instead of napping, I would read the Sunday comic page. Or that was always the first thing I did instead of napping. The Sunday comics were special because they were in color, and many of the strips followed a different story line on Sunday. Some comics only appeared on Sunday, like Prince Valiant. Which I read religiously even though I always felt like I started in medias res and that the only way to get the back story and fully understand what was going on was to have started following the comic back in 1937. But the artwork was good so I toughed it out while Mom and Dad settled in for their nap.

We had to be quiet during the nap, or at least until they fell asleep. Being quiet meant not stomping around or yelling. You can only read the comics for so long and then they are done and you have to look at all of the photographs and read the captions in the various articles until you find something that might be interesting. Then you could read the whole article, or until you got lost in all of the Balkan names. The 90s offered us a lot of good news content. Kosovo, Princess Diana, Monica Lewinski, Elian Gonzalez. Even world events get boring after awhile and I’d go find something else to do, but the newspaper ritual continued as long as I lived at home.

When I started playing guitar I would go back to the church on Sunday afternoons and hang out with Jacob, a friend who was also learning to play guitar. Perhaps that’s misleading, he was learning, he already new how. He was a gifted musician. If it hadn’t have been for him, I probably wouldn’t have started playing guitar. Initially I wanted to play the bass. But Jacob got a bass before I did, so I got a guitar.

He was always saying, “Go get your guitar.”

We’d meet back at the church after lunch and hang out until the next service. I suppose the statute of limitations has expired so I don’t mind telling you that we raided the Sunday School refrigerator and snack cabinet quite a few times. I don’t think they missed that forgotten vanilla ice cream though.

We would spend the afternoon all of the guitar riffs that we new and some of the ones that we didn’t and we couldn’t tell the two apart. It was great fun. I still kind of do the same thing now at band rehearsal. We just don’t raid the Sunday School snack cupboard. And we are practicing church songs that we are going to sing for the evening service, and not trying to perfect Lynyrd Skynyrd licks.

Jacob was notorious about waiting until I had just finally got handle on a rock’n’roll guitar lick enough to make it remotely recognizable when he would suddenly say, “Sir?” while looking toward the front door of the church. It never failed to scare the daylights out of me.

On rare occasions, probably due to impending weather, we would help Pop haul hay on a Sunday afternoon. There was always a tangible unspoken urgency to hurry through the chore in order to make it to church in time for the six o’clock service.

Appreciation for a Sunday afternoon nap comes with maturity. Just like having a steady job comes with maturity. Perhaps the shiftless can enjoy a Sunday afternoon nap, but they didn’t earn it.

There are a lot of differing opinions on the art of a Sunday afternoon nap. Clothes or pajamas? Recliner or bed? Post nap shower or no? I’m a pajama-bed-shower man myself. But sometimes the nap is so good you just have to get up and get to band practice and hope for the best.

“That was a good nap huh?” Adam will say if I ever skip the post-nap shower.

“Yes. How’d you know?”

“You got that nap hair going on. Hehehe.”

I don’t always get a Sunday afternoon nap these days because we have a one year old who can’t entertain herself by reading the Sunday comics yet. But as soon as she can read, I’m taking a Sunday afternoon nap.

Lifestyle Change

There are certain things that, if you really want to do them right require a lifestyle change.

“I’d like to take up the guitar.”

I hear this from time to time and I always get a little tickled. Playing guitar is not something that you simply take up. It takes the kind of lifestyle change that will make a kid who throws fits about having their fingernails clipped start cutting them every five days. In living for God we call this kind of lifestyle change a conversion. You can’t have Christianity without conversion and you’ll never be really good at guitar without a major lifestyle change.

Sometimes people aren’t really ready for a change, they just like the idea of the results the change brings. That’s how I have always looked at being healthy.

“Man, I’d sure like to be fit.” I’d catch myself thinking as I loaded up a second portion of barbecue at one of the feasts that most of my memories are centered around. The fact is, I enjoy eating good food. It has been a part of my lifestyle since I can remember. We ate to celebrate, we ate to mourn.

I love food.

I have been slowly chipping away at college work over the last couple of years. I have always been impressed at how disciplined I can be when someone imposes upon me a syllabus and deadlines. So I decided to do an experiment. I wrote out a set of health/fitness goals and a ten week plan to see what I could achieve. I picked this number partly because it matched my summer semester and partly because I had a Doctor’s appointment at the end of that ten weeks. I want to share with you the plan and the results.

Me and Hollynn, who hardly ever lays her head down on my shoulder. I’m about 235lbs in this picture.

May 22, 2021

I weighed 232.4lbs. My waist measurement was 35″. I had a bike but I wasn’t a consistent cyclist.

Health Goals 5/22-8/02/2021

  1. Take in my belt two notches
  2. Fit into my suits comfortably
  3. Weigh 200lbs
  4. Cycle 500 miles
  5. Waist 30″

Health Plan 5/22-8/02/2021

I suppose this may be the most important part, otherwise those goals are just nice thoughts. This is where the lifestyle change comes in.

  1. Ride or run daily
  2. No snacks, only meals
  3. No sugar
  4. One helping at supper
  5. Avoid fried food
  6. Pushups daily
  7. Weigh in at the end of every week

Results

WeightWaistMiles Ridden
Week 05/22/2021232.435″50
Week 15/29/2021227.432″65.66
Week 26/5/202122932″51.02
Week 36/12/202122932″53.76
Week 46/19/202122531 7/8″101.7
Week 56/26/202122331 3/4″72.27
Week 67/3/202122331 3/4″3.99
Week 77/10/202122331 3/4″86.39
Week 87/17/202122063.07
Week 97/24/2021219.472.92
Week 107/31/2021217.685.2
Dr. Appt8/2/2021215.6Total705.98
  1. Take in my belt two notches-I took it in three
  2. Fit into my suits comfortably-Achieved
  3. Weigh 200lbs – This may have been a tall order. Losing 32.4lbs in ten weeks may not be healthy. I am satisfied with having lost 16.8lbs.
  4. Cycle 500 miles-I rode 705.98 miles.
  5. Waist 30″- I quit measuring after week 7, because after looking closer I think the tape had a manufacturing flaw.

Observations

During week 6 I went to Youth Camp, I ate fried food every day, and staid up until 2:00am every night. The only reason I cycled any is because I rode my brother’s bike. Even so, I didn’t gain any weight that week, which was surprising.

Me at youth camp playing a Bsus4 chord at 223lbs

In week 7 I bought some lights for my bicycle and I started riding before work and before I ate anything. You can see that weight loss is more consistent from that time on out. It was around this time that I also noticed that I was waking up before my alarm clock.

I tried to do some running, but I only managed to get three miles. Running is a lot harder than cycling. I’ll have to tackle that in a different plan.

I have noticed that if I eat much later than 7:00pm I will fill sluggish in the mornings.

I have avoided sticking to a hard diet like Keto, because I feel like I would crash and burn. I did however try to eat more whole foods instead of processed foods.

I asked my doctor about nutrition at my appointment. He said that I was already doing a good job.

“If you are doing it right, it is going to take a long time.”

Sarah and Me on a date. I’m weighing about 216lbs here.

Conclusion

So why am I writing about this?

Anytime someone decides to make a lifestyle change for the better, there are people who will wait for them to fail.

“Oh she’s going to church now? She won’t make it three months.”

“He’s learning the guitar? Hahahah! What a waste of time.”

“He’ll be off that diet come fourth of July.”

People don’t mind telling you what they really think. Some-not all- will comment in hopes that you fail no matter what you’re trying to do.

This is part of a real conversation I had about my health plan.

“You ride that bike on the road? Man that’s dangerous!”

“You’re right, but you know what else is dangerous? Congestive heart failure and diabetes.”

So I am here to encourage someone today. If you are trying to make a healthy lifestyle change, you can do it. That is, if you really want to. Anything worth doing is probably going to be hard.

There are some lifestyle changes that carry a greater pay off than others.

For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. I Timothy 4:8

What I Liked About My Dad

I got a message this week from one of the ladies at church.

Would you mind sharing with me what you liked about your dad, for Father’s Day presentation?

This is the answer I gave her.

I suppose I would be lying if I said I liked everything about my dad. There are the things that he and I share in common that I have to constantly keep in check and I wish I could change. But these kind of things, and more importantly how we deal with them, are a part of what makes up a person’s character. Thankfully, the shortcomings alone of a man are not what define him.

The characteristics that I admire most about my Dad are as follows:

Faithfulness

Most will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find? Proverbs 20:6

I never wondered where my Dad was. He was faithful to his wife, his family, his church, and his God.

Love

He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chaseneth him betimes. Proverbs 13:24

Now that I am trying to raise my kids I can relate to the frustration Dad had trying to raise me. I realize now that the driving force behind everything he did was love.

Integrity

The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him. Proverbs 20:7

As an adult I realize now how rare integrity is.

Love for Truth

Through wisdom is an house builded; and by understanding it is established: and by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches. Proverbs 24:3-4

Dad had a deep love for truth. He was always quoting Proverbs 23:23 Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding.

Communication


A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. Proverbs 25:11

Dad may not have necessarily been a powerful orator, but he was an excellent communicator. A critic once accused Mark Twain’s work as water compared to the fine wine of higher literature, mark Twain replied, “But the people drink water.” Dad was a master at the art of conversation. He could talk to anybody.

Maybe this was more than she was wanting, but I have been thinking about Dad more than usual this week and I didn’t want to give her a generic answer.

These are some of the characteristics that I am striving to master in my own life. More importantly, I want to instill them in my children.

Claude Cornelius Cooper

On the wall in a spare bedroom at my wife’s grandmother’s house hangs an old portrait of a sailor. It was the kind of portrait that was made on black and white film with color added by hand as a part of the development process. I always stop and look at this picture whenever we are visiting Grandma Mattie.

Claude Cornelius Cooper

“That was my father, Claude Cornelius Cooper.” She told me at my first visit.

Mr. Cooper had been a sailor in the 1930s. He got out of the Navy and came back home to south Alabama where he purchased a farm from a cousin or uncle. It was during these last years of the Great Depression that he realized he could reenlist to the Navy for a few years and be able to pay the farm off. So he did just that.

He was on the USS Neosho on December 11th, 1941. The oiler was able to successfully escape the harbor and the destruction of that day of infamy.

It was at the Battle of the Coral Sea on May 11, 1942 that the Neosho was attacked and set afire. A destroyer rescued the surviving crew and then scuttled the Neosho.

Claude Cornelius Cooper was not among the survivors. He left behind his wife and children and the farm.

I read a lot of books about war. Perhaps it is the little boy in me that finds this history so interesting. More likely I find it interesting because I have never experienced the hellish nightmare of combat. One thing that is inescapably painful to me as I read these histories is the massive cost in human life that war demands.

Memorial Day is a day set aside for remembering. We remember the thousands upon thousands of individual Americans who have died in the name of freedom. It is a heavy and somber day. A day when history becomes personal.

Who are you remembering today?

Canoeing

There is something about transporting a large, awkward object like a canoe or a chifforobe in something other than a pickup truck on the interstate that makes for good character development.

My father-in-law gave me an old canoe last year. We hauled it the three hundred miles back home tied to the top of our minivan. There is something about transporting a large, awkward object like a canoe or a chifforobe in something other than a pickup truck on the interstate that makes for good character development.

Not far from the house is the perfect place to take a canoe: Duck River. It’s a relatively new reservoir with three boat landings and a 17 mile hiking trail around the perimeter. The whole family has gone to the hiking trail countless times, but only Wes and I have ventured out in the canoe. The first time we only had one paddle.

Like anything, there is an art to canoeing, but you’ll have to read someone else’s article if you want to know more about that. I do understand, because of firsthand experience, that the canoe is keelless and can be turned with just the slightest stroke of the paddle. If you are located more or less toward the rear of the vessel, you’ll quickly get a handle on how to maneuver the boat with a single paddle. This is what we call, faking it.

The second time Wes & I took the canoe out we each had a paddle. Initially, I decided to sit in the back so I could steer the canoe. It became immediately apparent that the weight in the boat was not equally balanced, so we pulled ashore opposite our launch and redistributed the weight. Which means we swapped seats. Then we realized that since we were facing each other it would be difficult for Wesley to help paddle. So we rearranged the seating once again with Wesley aft and me fore. This was the position I was trying to avoid, because it meant that Wesley would have to be responsible for the main steering of the canoe. But he is good at following instructions, so I gave him a crash course in using his paddle as a rudder and we shoved out into the water again.

It is a funny thing, communication. Something so glaringly clear to you can become a convoluted mess whenever you try to put it into words and convey it to anyone. Especially a child. And if you’re in a hurry.

It was so frustrating to exert a lot of energy paddling only to watch the canoe turn in a wide circle. I looked back and saw that Wesley was steering us the wrong direction. I wanted to be mad at him, but I realized that in my haste all of my instructions had been opposite of the right instructions.

After about the third loop we made, and some heated dialogue, Wesley exclaimed very clearly, “I don’t know what you want me to do! If you tell me exactly what to do I’ll do it!”

After this, I pulled up next to the shore and turned the canoe around backwards so I could show him-in detail and patiently like I should have done in the first place-how to use the paddle as a rudder. It really was quite amazing the canoe instantly responded to such subtle movements of rudder. From then on, we had no more trouble steering the boat. We even executed a couple of loops on purpose in order to get a better look at some water snakes.

A map of our canoe route shows a clear difference between the crooked trip out and the straight trip back.

As I was sitting in that spinning canoe frustrated at myself for rushing out into the middle of what could be a stressful situation and expecting my seven year old son to read my mind as well as react like an adult this verse came to mind.

Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithsoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things… James 3:3-4

No matter the amount of fierce wind-or in our case how hard we paddle-the direction will be set by a small rudder.

But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. James 3:8

I am of the firm belief that only God can tame your tongue. Until then, regardless of how much energy you put into your life, an untamed tongue will be steering the ship.

About Time

“Doesn’t everything take time and money?”

“I’ve always thought skydiving would be fun. I’ve just never found the time or money to do it.” I said this to a friend who skydives all the time.

“Doesn’t everything take time and money?” He asked.

It is true. You can get a lot of things done when you have a lot of time and money. Everyone may not have the same amount of money, but we all are given the same amount of time. The difference is, if you have a lot of money you can buy other people’s time. When I write it out like that it makes me wonder if I’m selling my time too cheaply.

“What’s time to a pig?”

Sean’s grandfather

I had a conversation recently that on the surface was about organization of a daily routine and getting better sleep. At the core though, this conversation revolved around time. And more specifically, the frustration and guilt over the mismanagement of time. In an effort to help my friend, I shared my thoughts about time. It was nothing new, but I think it helped him. So I’m sharing them with you.

Time is currency. We spend it, waste it, or invest it.

Each of us is given and indefinite amount of this currency made payable only in the present. We can make plans on how to use our time just like we make plans to use our future paychecks. We’re not really sure when our time will run out. And we know that at a single instant everything could change. But we do not like to retain this in our knowledge. If dwelt upon, the uncertainty of time is unnerving.

Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.
‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭27:1‬

The gift of time is a great responsibility. If time is indeed currency, or money, I want to get the best deal for my hours and minutes. Perhaps it comes with age or possibly is a byproduct of sheer laziness, but economy of time is very important to me. Let me explain.

I am allotted one hour for lunch. Lunch can cost me the full hour, or I can choose to only pay five minutes for lunch and then have fifty five minutes to spend practicing guitar. If I do this five days a week, that is four hours and thirty five minutes of practice gained.

Currently I have precious time bound in my commute to work. In order to make the most of that nonnegotiable hour in the truck I listen to audiobooks. Which means I can read a book a week on my commute alone. If I adjust the audiobook speed I can sometimes squeeze in two books a week.

There are some times when I’m less concerned about how quickly a task can be completed, or rather how cheaply I was able purchase an activity with my time. Some things are worth however long it takes. I am thinking of the time I invest with my wife and kids. I do not believe that all moments are equal. Five minutes on my lunch break is not worth the same amount as a five minute conversation with my five year old.

Then there are the truly priceless moments of opportunity that can never be regained nor renegotiated. How can we measure their worth? These are the moments of decision in life. It may be possible that they can be anticipated by the wise, although they often go unrecognized by the foolish. These are the moments that if missed will be a source of regret and anguish, if acted upon will be a source of strength and resolve.

So what are you doing with your time? If the Chronological Examiners Board showed up at your door to do an audit could you endure their report?

My prayer for you, dear reader, is that you would take time to address the areas in your life that are of eternal significance. Thank you for your time.

Glasses and Worldview

When I was two years old my mom noticed that my left eye was turning in towards my nose. Thankfully she panicked and took me to an eye specialist. I cannot remember not wearing glasses, but I do remember my first eye doctor visit with Dr. McKinnon.

Dr. McKinnon had an Old South accent.

“Which lens is clearuh?”

“The educated southerner has no use for the letter ‘r’ ,except at the beginning of a word.”

Mark Twain

It turns out that I was farsighted. I always get confused when people start trying to tell me the difference between farsighted and nearsighted. They say things like, “If you’re farsighted you can see far away without your glasses.” Or something like that. I probably got it wrong because I can’t see anything without my glasses. The quickest way to tell if someone is farsighted or nearsighted is to look through their lenses. If their eyes or face look smaller through their lenses they are nearsighted, if their eyes are bigger through their lenses they are farsighted.

I say I can’t see anything without my glasses, but that is only partly true. If the conditions are right I can focus my eyes much like you would focus a manual camera lens. But it’s getting harder to do that.

Not only was I farsighted, I had a lazy eye. Dr. McKinnon had me wear a patch over my good eye to strengthen my weak eye.

The eye patch

Dr. McKinnon told me, “Zane, just tell ’em you have a rabonic eye and if you take the patch off you’ll see right through ’em.”

I don’t know if you’ve ever worn a patch on one eye all day, but it is an interesting feeling. It is even stranger when you take the patch off later in the day and one eye is dilated and the other is accustomed to the light. But the patch worked and my eye no longer crosses.

When I was about fifteen I noticed that it was getting harder to focus my eyes and Dr. McKinnon prescribed my first pair of progressive (lineless trifocals) lenses. Aside from falling down the stairs at the high school entrance the first day I wore them, they turned out to be fantastic.

But progressive lenses are expensive, and when I moved out on my own I realized that I could save a few hundred dollars by just getting single vision lenses. And I started wearing contacts. Which was great because I was able to wear sunglasses. Dr. McKinnon never mentioned contacts because he had been wrestling me down for fifteen years trying to give me eyedrops.

If I am honest with myself, I have never really seen very clearly with contacts. So for the last fifteen years I’ve been squinting through life just so I could wear sunglasses. I think that not seeing has influenced my thinking. For instance, because I can’t see detail on people’s faces in a large room, I think that no one else can see me either. Perhaps this makes me a little less self conscious in front of a large crowd.

A couple of weeks ago I went back to the eye doctor and requested the progressive lenses again. It has been a long time since I have had a prescription this correct, and I am seeing details that I forgot were possible.

Anyway, I wrote all of that about glasses to talk about this. There are some things that you can only see with spiritual eyes.

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭2:14‬ ‭KJV‬‬

I heard a lot about worldview when I first went to college years ago. Worldview is particular philosophy of life, or a conception of the world. Worldview is shaped by a lot of things from how we are raised to our experiences. It is very difficult to divorce a worldview and adopt another. It takes a miracle.

There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
‭‭John‬ ‭3:1-3‬ ‭KJV‬‬

The Bible is full of themes of spiritual blindness and I could rattle a bunch of them off and hope that you could catch some of it. But “The kingdom of heaven cometh not by observation.”

You have to experience it before you understand. Which may seem against your nature.

O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.
‭‭Psalm‬ ‭34:8‬ ‭KJV

Give it a taste, then you’ll see.

VED DU HVAD OCH GOD GLAD

When I was a kid we had an old rusty Ashley wood stove in the living room. It was huge. Dad would load it with wood he had split with a maul in the backyard. Eventually they moved the old wood stove out of the house because I think it rusted through. And probably so us babies wouldn’t burn our hands off. Or maybe it was because the the old house was built out of heart pine a hundred years ago. In essence, the foundation and frame of the house were kindling wood. Dad told us more than once that if the house ever catches on fire, get out immediately because it was going up quick.

So with the big wood stove gone, we were left with a large sealed fireplace with a hole in the center where the stove pipe went, but mom didn’t want to get rid of the mantle. So for years she hung a piece of decorative fabric over the stove pipe hole, and for as long I can remember she had a curious little saying painted under the mantlepiece:

VED DU HVAD VER OCH GOD GLAD

She repainted it every time the living room got painted. I’ve lost count of how many times. She was forever redecorating. For a while it was green. Then later gold. But it was always there.

She told us that it was Danish and meant I tell you what be good and be happy.

I think the translation is closer to You know what be good and happy. Of course I may be remembering it wrong and she may have spelled it wrong, but the thought is clear enough. It was a great conversation piece, but it was also the idea that set the atmosphere for our home.

Bad moods were not encouraged in our home. You weren’t allowed to keep one very long before Mom or Dad would deal with it. My parents believed that no one had an excuse to not be happy, at least for a reasonable season. To many people, especially those to whom life has dealt some pretty miserable cards, this may be a hard doctrine to accept.

Nevertheless, I watched broken people come and sit in that living room and visit. They’d come in downcast and leave, many times well past midnight laughing.

I believe that there is a time to be angry, and a time to mourn. We can write about that another day. But right now we’re talking about being happy.

“…for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”

Philippians 4:11

I believe that happiness-or contentment- is a learned characteristic. Like any skill that is learned, being content takes practice. If you want to be good at anything you have to practice. Some people never get good at anything because they don’t practice anything. I won’t lie to you and say that practice is always easy either.

“People who are miserable over nothing will probably be miserable with everything.”

Now that I have a household, although we don’t have a folk saying in a foreign language painted above the fireplace telling you to suck it up and smile, we do strive for to create the same atmosphere. I have three children, and I didn’t have to teach a single one of them how to whine and pout. They knew how to do that from that first day. A large part of my duty as a parent is teaching my kids how to act. Or “How to don’t”, as Uncle Remus admonished. Learning how to act when things aren’t going your way is pretty important life skill. If you’ve lived long enough you will agree that much of life is dealing with things that don’t go our way.

It is a painful fact that life can be straight cruel. If you allow it, life can suck all of the joy out of, well, life. But if you practice you can learn to be content no matter what. So the next time you’re just about worn out from dealing with life and you need some inspiration, I’ll tell you what, be good and be happy.

Voices

We endure a fool’s speech not because they have some wisdom to offer, but because they may say something so incredibly ridiculous that it becomes entertainment.

I am thinking this morning about voices.

There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.

I Corinthians 14:10

I learned how to talk in a large extended family of loud talkers. So I acquired some of the critical communication skills necessary to be a successful boisterous politician just by going to my grandparent’s house once a week. There are two basic ways to get heard. The first tactic that you learn very young is how to talk someone down. At its basest essence, talking someone down means that you interrupt them and talk louder than them until they shut up and everyone starts listening to you. At its more refined nature it is the ability to successfully address an entire room.

“Zane, you ain’t never heard a story you didn’t think needed interrupting.”

Zach Wells

I admit, interrupting is a bad habit that I am actively trying to fix. But sometimes you must interrupt to rescue people from someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. My Dad called these people blithering idiots. We’ve all been trapped in endless conversations-rather monologues- with people who don’t know how to be clear and concise. We’ve all needed to be freed by someone who isn’t afraid to talk them down. That’s how I justify interrupting anyway.

“We endure a fool’s speech not because they have some wisdom to offer, but because they may say something so incredibly ridiculous that it becomes entertainment.”

The second way to insure that you will be heard is to have something to say that is worth hearing. When you have something worth hearing, you won’t need to talk anyone down. There are people that can walk into a room and almost whisper and everyone will hush, straining to hear what is being said. These are the kind of voices that I have been thinking about.

But the world is full of all kinds of voices. Voices on the radio shows, podcasts, and blogs. Voices on YouTube, Twitter, FaceBook, and Instagram. Voices you only hear on infrequent phone calls. Voices from the pulpit. Voices on your TV. Voices in your college classrooms, discussion boards, textbooks. All competing with each other for our attention. It gets loud at times. Sometimes you need to take stock and silence some of those voices. But make sure you don’t silence the wrong voices.

From time to time I like to ask myself these questions:

What is the loudest voice in my life? What is the most significant voice in my life? What voices are in conflict? What voices are making me worry or angry? How did this voice make its way here?

I am thinking of my Dad’s voice. Although he’ll never again talk to me in the life, I still hear him loud and clear. I remember him preaching about Herod the Tetrarch, who had the head of John the Baptist presented on a platter. Hell tried to silence “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” And when Jesus stood before Herod “he[Jesus] answered him nothing.”

You cannot silence the voice of the man of God and still expect to hear God’s voice.

Hell is still trying to silence the voice that cries “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” It’s an offensive thing preaching. It comes at us without regard to our feelings. It is an assault on our carnal nature. It is foolish, but “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” I Corinthians 1:21

Of all the voices in my life-and none of them without signification-I need most of all the voice of a preacher. And so do you. Please don’t silence the voice of the preacher in your life.