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Archive for October, 2014

Every Day Is Halloween

I am at a rest stop on the New York State Thruway. I decide to adapt to my environment. I rest.

Beyond the trucker in his 18-wheeler Midland who is munching on his McDonald’s are the Catskills showing off their stunning Autumn colors.

Just ahead unveils evidence that this very Fall-ish day is also Halloween. A rather puffy figure in a black flowing robe that hide his feet glides into the Rest Stop. To my left is a man in a brilliant costume sporting a neon, zippered vest. And two lovers dressed to the T stroll past the trellis garden near my parked spot. This latter couple wear costumes that most of us wish we could fit into.

The significant thing about these sightings is that they are not Halloween costumes at all. The portly robed man is actually an Orthodox priest and the vested man is a groundskeeper who works at The Thruway Rest Stop  sweeping near the curb while the lovers are…ahhh, oh-so-real.

My five year-old grandson sticks out his chest when he dons his Superman or Spiderman costume. And his three year-old sister is nothing short of the real-deal when she proclaims, “I’m Sophia Superhero.”

Halloween reminds us of the costumes we choose to wear each day. Daily, some wear ghoulish threads while others stick out their chests.

BELOW: UNDER A TRELLIS, SOME GUY DRESSED AS A WRITER SHIVERS AS HE FINISHES A BLOG:

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There are many skeptics when it comes to miracles and some are even Christians or profess to be.

After witnessing a constant stream of them, it has become clear to me that God is still very much in the miracle business, whether utilizing wild, out-of-the norm stuff or the everyday steady hand of a skilled surgeon or some “remarkable coincidence.”

Every Christmas, we celebrate the “miracle of Christmas” and people seem to accept it. Yet, talk about Christ’s second coming and the skeptics look at you like they have never heard of Bethlehem. It’s as if people think God is now a senior citizen and He has somehow lost a lot of His strength or His memory is going.

There is one particular miracle that is consistently brought up by cynics with disdain, rivaling their consternation over Jonah being in the belly of a fish for three days. I actually excuse the latter right off the bat because Jesus specifically quotes that incident. Even so, the jaded won’t give that a pass.

The peculiar biblical story I refer to is when God to made the sun stand still at the request of Israel’s leader so he’d have more daylight to defeat the enemy. Joshua gets his request granted: “So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. And there has been no day like that, before it or after it, that the Lord heeded the voice of man, for the Lord fought for Israel.” Joshua 10:13-14

I always thought it a bit bizarre. But then it happened. Something so earth-shattering I must recount it. It was dark. I needed light. I needed… a miracle. I was facing four straight days of predicted rain which would begin in a few hours and there were leaves all over my yard. Some were in great piles. I could picture them getting soaked and becoming stubborn about staying. Maybe they would even play on my procrastination and stick around until Spring. Perish the thought.

But God did not command the sun to stay up to illumine my “battle.” Graciously, however, He did authorize a lightbulb to go off in my darkened brain. I turned on every outside spotlight. I drove my Honda CRV onto the lawn and put the low beams  in the direction of the leaf piles. Then, I pulled out my trusty drill. Dragged my two kiddy-swimming pools over. Drilled a hole in the larger one. Inserted a string in the hole and tied a knot and attached the other end of that rope to my four-wheeler. I then drove it around to the piles of leaves. Raked them into the kiddy pools. Put the smaller pool over the leaves like a lid on a pot. Turned my ATV’s high beams on and drove into the woods. I had to repeat this a few times and reorient the CRV headlights more than a few times. It reminded my of our kids tubing off the back of my boat. Hmmm, interesting possibility there.

By 10 PM, I had my miracle. I had beat the rain by a few hours. Noah and company could slosh around this week without the arc hitting bottom and messing with my lawn. I would be in my dry living room admiring my miracle.

Some might call it ingenuity. Others would crack that I’ve watched too many “MacGyver” re-runs. Still others would question my sanity or judge my timing by asking why I didn’t get to it during the day like most normal people.

Call it ingenuity. But then I’d ask where ingenuity comes from? God extended my day in the battle of the leaves in a little different way than back in Joshua’s time and perhaps old Josh and I will exchange notes and few laughs in heaven. But God also shed some new light on the way He chooses to perform His miracles on any given “day.”

BELOW: THE LIGHT STOOD STILL BUT I DID NOT. 

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Nailing it. As a writer, it’s certainly rewarding when my words match the highest ideal or description of what’s swirling around in my head and heart. Think Lincoln and “The Gettysburg Address.” Old Abe is gone, but the blood that ran through his heart from the fallen now pumps through ours and we owe this to words.

I see my job as an investigative reporter; to snoop around heaven and uncover the most scandalous love of all. As I look out into Autumn’s portrait and the heart behind the palette, I feel woefully inadequate to even brush with such beauty no less describe or define it. Yet, I am compelled to do so.

I lift my I Phone or camera to click another arresting sunrise or portrait of Fall’s out-of-control crayons and I know full well that the photograph will never translate or emote the lens of my soul. I click away anyway. I type as if I’ve got a shot.

Sure, I can simply sit back and enjoy some apple cider and watch some dazzling mixture of colors dance in the wind. But there is a restlessness that is not limited to writers and artists and photographers and presidents. It’s a holy frustration that calls us to paint outside the lines of what’s before us. I think of King David’s haunting search when he almost mournfully pens, “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me”* or Jeremiah’s lost-his-brakes lament for his duties as the weeping writer: “Then I said, ‘I will not make mention of Him, Nor speak anymore in His name.’ But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not.”**

Holy frustration or not, pick up your pen or laptop or camera or whatever. Because whatever prose or pose you are trying to capture, you will note that it just captured you. Welcome to Investigative Journalism 101.

* Psalm 42:7

**Jeremiah 20:9

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                      SEEING YOUR SONG  

I want to sing You a love song, a psalm just for You

I want to sing You a love song, one that’s fresh and new

Draw me to Your face, Lord, till I see words come alive

I want them to reflect, O God, what is inside…of You and me

CHORUS:

But words are poor vehicles for the beauty in my view

How can I do justice to the wonder of You?

Let my heart and its song take flight to Your ears

Let them portray the joy that’s in my tears

 

O Father, have Your Spirit spread this song like seed

Soften the ground where there once weeds

Take pleasure in Your fields and gardens of souls

Who heard and saw the song and were made whole

© 1999, Robert J. LaCosta

Words & Music by Robert J. LaCosta  •  Published by No Reputation Communications

 

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Faith Walks on Fear

Grant is five. He was walking alone to the garage to help me with a chore. Before I knew it, he came back with a look of fear.

“Pop,” he said. “There was a lot of noise back there.”

“I think it’s just the acorns hitting the garage roof,” I said, trying to calm him. It didn’t seem to help.

I decided to hold his hand so we could face this dragon together. Within a few steps of us walking on the crackly leaves, the light bulb went on.

“It was just the leaves; it was definitely the leaves,” he said confidently.

Why couldn’t he figure that out when he was alone? How did my presence help him discover the origin of his fear?

Over the past few years, I had been attempting a few chores myself for God and the dread I’ve been feeling seems awfully real. That Grant’s very feet were the source of the noise that caused the fear was an analogy the best writer couldn’t have made up.

In other words, it’s our very steps of faith that cause us anxiety. The obvious solution? Stop walking. The drawback? We start disobeying. Woe is me! What’s my excuse when there are no leaves on the ground?

I guess if fear actually drives us back to Pop for a little handholding, that’s OK. Perhaps that’s His Plan B all along. Pretty smart Pop. Or maybe He just likes a good walk with His kids?

“The Lord stands beside you…keeps you from all evil..The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go [over the noisiest leaves]. Psalm 121:5,7,8 – Brackets mine…and Grant’s.

LEFT: IN ALL FAIRNESS TO GRANT, THESE ARE THE CRUNCHIEST AND LOUDEST LEAVES I’VE EVER HEARD. RIGHT: “LEAVE-ING” FEAR BEHIND, FAITH JUMPING ON FEAR!

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The Fly & The Chandelier

“You could ruin any good thing” or “He breaks everything he puts his hands on” are just a couple of the sayings that come to mind thinking about great or beautiful objects or places.

For example, I have two beautiful miniature chandeliers in my cupola. I love their style, grace and size. They are a throwback to another era and they do justice to this old house. I spend a lot of time up here. I’m writing this from my Lazy Boy just below them even now.

However, I am having a hard time enjoying the light they shed on this writer because it feels like Pharaoh has disobeyed God again and I’m in Egypt: “Flies, flies, flies!” I cry. Yes, at least one fly is incessantly buzzing into the fixture and I can’t swat him without breaking the crystal beads.

It made me think of the Garden of Eden, Camelot and America combined.

In the case of The Garden, the slithering snake snuck past the ticket-taker and we all know the rest of that story.

In Camelot, the benevolent King Arthur sets up a utopian reign and it gets all discombobulated.

In America, life is so attractive here that we draw people who want we have, but not what we stand for and for others, not what they’ve earned. Thomas Jefferson said, “The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.” We are now drawing terrorists, drug cartels and others who could “ruin any good thing.” The thing is, if you carelessly swat at them, you could definitely break some serious crystal as there are a lot of visitors and immigrants who buy into America’s great ideals.

My conclusion is that Satan is behind the destruction of any good thing and it behooves all of us to be aware of his “buzzing” around our families, marriages, kids, circles of friends, churches, synagogues, schools, institutions, etc.

It’s insidious that the devil, like flies, is so attracted to the light.

Be well balanced (temperate, sober of mind), be vigilant and cautious at all times; for that enemy of yours, the devil, roams around like a lion roaring [in fierce hunger], seeking someone to seize upon and devour.” St. Peter, from his writings in 1 Peter 5:8

BELOW: FRUSTRATION FLIES; HE’S TOWARD THE BOTTOM RIGHT SIDE OF THE BULB IN THE CRYSTAL.

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Trip To The Trash

No one has ever accused me of having a green thumb other than when they witnessed me using “Forest Green” spray paint on a windy day.

Yet here I am, sitting on a bumper crop of cherry tomatoes. To further my wonder, they are growing up all around my 50-gallon trash container.

Perhaps it was just a reminder of a memory I had inadvertently “thrown out.” It was something I should never have discarded…

My family was young and impressionable and I thought it would be important to bring our children on a mission trip to a less fortunate area of the world.

Enter Mexico’s “Garbage City” into my memory banks. When we entered the area, the first thing that occurred was that our van ran smack into an all-bones-but-probably-no-wishbones dog. Animals weren’t the only ones with protruding ribs. Small children abounded and a father like me couldn’t help but wonder about their futures – especially after an innocent football toss made one of the kids dive for the catch, only to land next to a dead rat lying in the middle of our path.

Later in the trip, an orphanage full of happy children greeted us. But even with the wonderful house parents at this site, my mind raced to imagine what lie ahead for these abandoned tikes.

A quick trip to my trash can shouldn’t be so messy. Why these memories? But again I thought, “What could come out of the waste heaps of human civilization?” Over the years, I have kept up with some of these young fatherless boys and girls who are now enterprising adults. But what of the many who remain so close to the stench, smell, disease, frustration and hopelessness of the “Garbage Cities” of the various nations? The answer that many people come up with is that the indomitable human spirit will conquer the refuse of the “thrown out.” Yet, it’s been thousands of years and the “Garbage Cities” simply increase. Programs and philosophies that are the pride of universities and governments turn out to be, well, recyclable. Nothing new under the sun. The impoverished increase. Man’s best attempts are garbage.

There once was  a committed, learned  man who was at the top of his class and his philosophy and zeal guided him to the top of the religious mountain of his day. But a funny thing happened on the way to implementing his man-made plans. He found the hill he was standing on was a giant landfill: “The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.” (St. Paul from Philippians 3:7-9 The Message)

I shouldn’t think such thoughts tossing out my garbage. But I was plagued by the memories of Garbage City and how hopeless it all seemed and still does. What of the contrast between my best attempts at gardening failing and this “accidental” bumper crop of beautiful cherry tomatoes through no efforts of mine?

The Man that St. Paul ran into was Christ who was the same one of whom it was said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” John 1:46

An overdone metaphor? a melodramatic memory? Guilt over giving up because of the pile of problems? These are children, not problems. “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”1 Samuel 16:7

Perhaps it was simply a resignation in my heart that needed to be thrown out.

BELOW: 54 TOMATOES THAT I SPOTTED, INCLUDING ONE INSIDE THE LATTICE, AND THAT’S JUST NEXT TO THE GARBAGE PALE, PROBABLY A HUNDRED IN TOTAL:

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photo copy 15TRACES OF LEAVE-BEHINDS

Those little monkeys!!

It’s got to be the morning after! Shoe-grinding dirt on my metal circular staircase in my den, paper towels cut into every conceivable shape scattered across my desk, a partially undressed doll lying in the middle of the floor and beds that need to be made are all evidence of the remnants of Grant and London’s “leave-behinds.”

I like a little order and this might normally throw me into a 3-5 on the Annoyance Meter. But instead, I pick up the doll, carefully help her with her dignity and smile, choosing to remember the giggles instead. As I make the bed, there is a sense of pride that they actually laid down for their nap without fidgeting toward a secure spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for procrastination. Moving toward my desk, I obviously have to pause to discard the paper towels. But upon closer inspection, I see logical shapes and figures. Not bad! Hey, and the circular staircase needed a little cleaning anyway.

Are these rationalizations from a spoiling grandpa? Actually, it emanates from thinking about the little “left-behinds” I leave for God and His undying patience for His clean-up of me. They call it grace. With all of this that I’ve experienced, I’m growing a healthy bank account of grace myself…to give away.

Instead of getting mad, I say, “They’re my little monkeys, Grant and London.” I see the figurines and not the sloppy paper towels. There’s a tremendous amount of grace to go around when it’s your progeny. That’s how God feels about you when you come to understand that you’re his offspring through the blood of Jesus: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:26

So, if you’ll indulge me, take a quick look at the photo below. You might see an extra monkey in there. And he’s being held by the next generation of grace-givers. Look even closer and we’re all smiling.

Picture yourself being held like that by God the Father. You’ll both be smiling as well.

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