We completed a long trek across the United States this week by returning to the familiar, the comfortable and most definitely the place that moves me most: Lover’s Key!
I left our condo at 5am with my coffee and an anticipation of revisiting an old friend…a beach filled with memories, space, visual cues that prod and poke my external shell until I exhale fully…and find myself.
It was dark…awaiting the dawn is precious time when you can smell and hear waves swirling the sand beneath your feet. As I approached the shadowy bridge I would cross under, I saw a cigarette glow and heard voices. Warily, I stopped to grasp and assess what situation may unfold. I was about to embark on a moment, a present time stalling itself so that it could absorb me in a timeless pause.
Cautiously, I moved on to walk under the bridge a few steps from the shadowy pillars of the bridge…when out of the darkness steps a man with a dusky voice proclaiming, “You’re a fedora man!” Not the expected at 5 am, beneath a bridge, on Black Island on Lover’s Key. I hesitated to answer as I quickly took inventory of my situation. He was younger than me, about the same size and if he was intent on harming me…he had an unorthodox style: a guitar around his shoulders, a can of cucumber water in his front shirt pocket, and yes, a fedora tilted slightly forward on his head. I responded carefully, as someone else was still in the shadows behind the pillars, “What ya doing out here this morning?”
“Just singing songs for my mom…the acoustics are perfect under this bridge,” he countered. I knew I was present…in this moment.
I stepped through the darkness into the shadows under the bridge to meet Matt Freed and his momma, Anna Freed. Matt asked me what kind of music I like. I mumbled something about country. He queries further, asking my thoughts regarding the Zac Brown band. I gave him a thumbs up. My new friend asked me to accompany him into the water…in the dark…under the bridge…where, apparently the acoustics are the best. And he serenaded me and his mom with “Island Song.” Under the bridge, in the dark, on the beach.
We walked out of the water and he asked if I play the guitar. I nodded and launched into my story of teaching myself to play at 11, trading guitars with my sister without her knowledge, and choosing an Ibanez 12 string instead of a high school class ring, purchased by my mom as a graduation gift. Thus began our swapping family stories until the sun began to rise as dawn awakened. He closed our “in the moment” with a love story of his poppy and the love of his life, following his fearful days in Vietnam. His Poppy challenged Matt on his death bed to not waste his great gift.
Matt then shared one last song, one he had written about his mom called, “Anna.” We walked back in the water and stood together. Myself and a man freed by his Poppy to do what he loved. Matt Freed and I shared numbers, hugged, and I walked on down the shore to contemplate my good fortune…in this moment.
You see…we are often held bound by proposed necessities, the tyranny of the urgent, an impasse caused by the imminence of living. Matt’s Poppy “Freed” him by a death bed blessing. To pursue that which he is called toward…a destiny changed by his involvement in each moment.
Show people you happen upon, the grace of God; by re-enforcing that god-like image you see in them when upon you meet…Present-in the moment.
The Paramores song lyrics:
Creep past the hours like the shorter hand on the clock
Hanging on a wall of a schoolhouse somewhere
We wait for the bell
And we dream of somewhere elseDaydreaming, daydreaming all the time
Daydreaming, daydreaming into the night
Daydreaming, daydreaming all the time
Daydreaming, daydreaming into the night
And I’m alright
We sit around a lot of campfires: vivid in-the-moment enhancers. For daydreamers, a campfire feeds your imagination addiction, taking you down the infamous rabbit hole of inherent plausibility. A campfire rarely results in a male species dominated “nothing box” haze, but rather, blazes a maze of tunnels in and through the past, present and potential of our lives!
Last evening was unremarkable as fires go…but then Christine asked a question, “What kind of kid were you?” She gave example that she was a hider. Loved to find hiding places and hang out there. Ok. Interesting.
Back to me…I replied that I could have been characterized as a “daydreamer.” My imagination was wild and free. Oh sure, there was the typical child plans to be a superhero, policeman, fireman, truck driver, Lemans race car driver…you know, all the usual trains leaving the station with no clear track to return.
Here’s the deal: I still daydream! A lot! I’m 61! I still develop both realistic and unrealistic “plans” that could happen…or not.
Here’s the cool part: God often meets me in that recessed internal daydream place! As the reel is clicking and the tape is rolling, God is directing the lines of the script…making suggestions and rewrites as the thoughts flourish. He reminds me of the past and it’s relevance or lessons. He makes me think of scripture I’ve read and it’s meaning to me as I live and breathe in my moments.
Is this a new look at “prayer?”
Some truths to hang our daydreams upon:
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. ..
The Lord—knows the thoughts of man, that they are but a breath.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Plug these time-worn understandings of scripture regarding God the Father’s intimacy with His creation-children and sit back on your camp chair and fire gaze…it might clarify a few things.
God meets you in the moment and in your heart and mind.
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Proverbs 4:23.
This intentional tranquility doesn’t happen as often as I need it to…but this morning I’m in the moment. In my boat…well, kayak. In the center of the glass-like surface of Lake Wanatchee in Washington state. Floating. Musing. Calming my mind so I can listen. Watching the easy ripples take my frustrations and challenges to a safe distance from the boat.
Here’s what I inherently know: I’m flawed…deeply and darkly flawed. We all are. Thanks to Adam. But the good news is grace. Salvation. Jesus. Eternity settled. Hope secured! Once for all time.
Kenny Cheney recorded a song that I immediately resonated with; in that quiet private inside-me spot. The place that feels intense emotion…all the time.
A Better Boat (partial)
I’m not complaining, sometimes it’s hard to change a man
I think I’m stronger than I was, I let God do what he does
Got friends to call who let me talk about
What ain’t working, what’s still hurtin’
All the things I feel like cussing out
Now and then I let it go
Around the waves I can’t control
I’m learning how to build a better boat”
Seeing America one town at a time will make you rethink the condition of this country! If you are on Facebook or watching the news…don’t believe for a moment that the reality you are being offered is anything at all resembling the real America. It is only a chosen select reality…one designed to deliver a sucker punch. The sad reality is that our country is being defined in our mind… rather than in our experience.
Many of my regular readers of Present-inthemonent, know and follow our Facebook posts offering snapshots of our travels as fulltime RV’ers. Of course we visit many famous landmarks and national treasures and love our historical places and faces. But we also are committing a measure of our adventures, going to small towns and meeting America’s great citizens.
Small towns like Dubois, Wyoming (preferably known as “Never Sweat, Wyoming”). That’s right! The town of Dubois had decided to register their post office as the good ole town of “Never Sweat.” But the resident who made the trip to the state office didn’t like the town resident’s chosen name, so he named it after himself: DuBois…pronounced all French-like as Dubwah. The town residents were so incensed by Dubois’ actions that they prounced it for all time the incorrect pronunciation: DuBoyz!
In small town DuBois, we have decided everything is big and dramatic. From the landscape to the people’s lifestyle and character. You want a slice of American pie? Come visit the amazing and humble people of Dubois.
I have hiked here on the Continental Divide, the Shoshone National Forest, and to one of the largest glacier fields in the United States.
Our Rv backs up to the Wind River and all of its powerful and swift energy roaring downstream!
I’ve met and chewed the fat with Monte (beloved and respected uncle of our server at The Cowboy Cafe…which offers a mighty delicious Huckleberry Pie). Monte may be found in a local trader shop…the one with a piano on the boardwalk out front (Monte is the guy in the derby hat playing the piano and carving moose antlers). He will tell you with serious passion about the history replete with Indian lore and mountain men traders. His eyes dance as he gives you the insider details defining life in these pronounced mountains.
No less grandiose and dramatic is the daily life of a local ranch family. Hardened by the strength it takes to do the mundane and magnificent functions of daily life, the people here reflect peace and respect in action. They do it full speed and slow all at the same time.
And so we decided to attend the every Friday night rodeo tonight. Crossing the furious Wind River on a sturdy and stately wooden beam bridge, we drove up the rocky hillside to park near the lights of the DuBois rodeo arena. The smell of hay and horses prepares you for the melding of humankind and the animals we raise on farms and ranches outside the city lights. The sounds of critters mixed with playing children and conversing adults, to the dusty sight of wranglers and Levi’s, boots and belt buckles.
We found ourselves in America. I watched as mutten-bustin’ toddlers hung on for dear life to earn a dollar and hear the applause of the town. Young ladies barrel racing and young men watching the young ladies. Men…Marlboro men it seems…riding horses more comfortably than most ride a bike….lean and strong, and proud.
I saw hard work in their play, their competition, and the lines around their eyes. In a word I saw respect.
I felt safe and secure in the fact that these folks are my fellow Americans…rich in grace and strong in family. Community. Unfettered Spirit!
As the rider galloped around the arena with the flag of the United States of America…these dramatic and peaceful people exuded united strength as they stood at attention with hands and hats covering their proud hearts.
I was filled with patriotism as I heard a local child sing our national anthem and heard their prayer thanking God in Jesus’ name for country, family, and friends.
I was proud to be an American as I mingled with local Dubois, Wyoming families on old wooden bleachers on this Friday night under lights by the Wind River.
Jesus answered the question, “Which is the great commandment in the law?”
(Matthew 22:37-39) Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The dramatic and peaceful people of Dubois, Wyoming are living in the moment and have not forgotten Whom it is they serve. I saw love of country and love of neighbor and love of God. Present. In the moment.
As many of you already know, my mom Helen took her amazing journey into her eternal home in God’s presence and to be with her beloved husband Cedric a few days ago. I had just returned to Florida the day prior to her passing after spending nearly a week with her in her final hours.
This was time well spent for me…perhaps for her as well.
It has been a year of getting to know my mom, really for the first time, as an individual heart and soul apart from dad. As most who know, my Pops was hands on with people and held a more public persona than mom. Mom was a bit more reserved and content to operate under dad’s wing so to speak. They were married a blessed 67 years, with a noteworthy commitment to their marriage and life together.
And so…it is not surprising that I find myself, having spent a significantly greater amount of time in personal one-on-one with mom this year, coming away with a sharpened appreciation for her depth of faith, incredible quick wit…and most profoundly: her deep passion for those who give kindness and compassion without reservation.
This brings me to the mention of a few people, I am aware of, whom made her life special. First and foremost is mom’s only daughter Becky. Almost always the unsung hero (familiarity often rewards with being taken for granted) for her daily post of standing in the gap for both our parents,. Becky sacrificed many freedoms and pleasures as the constant on call chosen one of us siblings. She needs to know now from me how much mom and dad valued her love and care… and how much this brother appreciates her endless challenging task. I love you Becky!
Equal to my sister’s status as tops in love and care for mom is her true number one son Nick! From combing mom’s hair to clipping her nails…well, truly, if you know Nick…I cannot tell you anything you do not already know well.
I apologize if I leave anyone out, as my view is self-limiting. But beautiful souls of love and care in these last months for mom include…my cousin Kerin, mom’s sister Joyce and brother Kenny, and Dave and Lynn Pestotnik, true neighbors indeed!
As I prayed with mom and read scripture to her the week she died, she almost always requested Psalm 23…it is the Psalm to the Shepherd. It describes an in-the-moment and present relationship with God our Father as He is our Shepherd in a daily path in this life. It may serve as a fitting mantra describing how mom’s soul felt toward her God and Savior!
Psalm 23 King James Version (KJV)
23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
Time well spent…the sacrifice of my sister and Nick, the gift of presence and prayer offered in recent days by loving family and neighbors…in the company of Helen Hall. Indeed, Helen Hall! Not the wife of Cedric or the mom of Becky, Brian, Brent and Blake…but a person of great individual value and praiseworthy faith: Helen Hall!
I have personally chosen not to return again to Iowa right now for her service for friends and family. You know how I feel toward you all who will grieve her passing. And I bid you to grieve well. I have chosen to have a personal Brent Hall family-time of memorial and goodby at her and Pops grave this Spring. My kids desire to say goodby and Spring will be when it most fits their and my respective life circumstances; as I have one daughter rehabbing from a serious motorcycle accident and cannot travel yet, and a daughter and son-in-law in fulltime ministry (holidays are busy and stressful) and a son who works a job that is at its peak of his requirement.
So I am choosing a Spring memorial trip to Sparks cemetery with my kids and grandkids to celebrate the lives of their Grandma Helen Letter J (named such by my eldest daughter Sarah) and of course to renew our memories of their Papa…my Pops.
For those wishing to join the memorial service this Monday, December 17, 2018 at 11:00 AM at the Evangelical Free Church in Boone, Iowa.
In my final thought regarding Helen Hall…it would be her greatest joy here and in Heaven for you to KNOW her Shepherd and the Savior Jesus Christ personally this Christmas season. If you want to know how you can be sure…I would love to tell you about the greatest live story of all time. It will be time well spent! God Bless and Merry Christmas!
Often in my past life as a pastor, I would mention the great understatements found in God’s Holy written Word. For example a casual reading of Genesis 22 reads like an average everyday occurrence. But plug in the known emotions surrounding Abraham as he dutifully obeyed God when he instructed him to take his only son Isaac to Mt Moriah and offer him up as a burnt sacrifice. The words are like a story…but you have to infuse the overwhelming confusion, and fear, and pain and sadness that would have crippled any one of us. As he was about to plunge the knife into his son The text tells us God called out Abraham’s name…twice! Abraham answered, “here I am Lord!” Genuine understatement.
Or how about Matthew 27:17, where we read about the murderous prisoner named Barabbas whom Pilate released when the crowd wanted to crucify Jesus the Christ instead of Barabbas? The understatement here is that we never learn anything more about Barabbas whom was quite literally the first person saved by Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. I want to know more about Barabbas!!!
Scripture records many incidents of human creation coming face-to-face with magnificent angelic beings serving at the pleasure of Almighty God on mankind’s behalf. I’ve always felt rather incredulous as I read about these angel confrontations as they are described in the Word of God. Understatements like, “the angels appeared before them, and they were greatly afraid.” Or, “sorely afraid,” or “greatly terrified.”
I’m pretty sure the description of my reaction to an angel appearing before me would be loud and magnificent included adjectives would be necessary.
Talk about being ” in the moment.”
I find myself in a sudden moment of time that the emotive reality is and will be understated in my writing compared to my living it.
I have come to the bedside of my dying mother who finds herself neither here nor there in her present state of transitioning between life and that moment we call death. I’ve tried to be intimately empathic with mom in order to get some sense as to how it feels to be in this moment of captured time. Time between when a person really lives, vibrant, involved…empassioned in the very act of breathing and interacting among the living saints this side of Heaven. To that instant when God’s holy and terrifyingly majestic angels take a dead ones soul to the feet of the very one whom was sacrificed once for all, including Barabbas as a sort of firstfruit.
In clarity…my mom is somewhere in between, in transit if you will…caught unwillingly without the strength or will to live nor the capacity to hasten her aching heart toward an expedient delivery to her promised estate. I watch her lying helpless and afraid and sure and confident in that state of being no one is aware of until they live it at death.
It is both at once a terrible time in waiting for a magnificent moment of release. I ponder the reasons for delay. My reasons? I want to hang onto the woman I’ve only this year come to an understanding about who she really is. Her wit and candor…her resilient beliefs and faith in her destined outcome. Her ability to laugh and cry in the same moment of thought. I’ve come to see her strength which had been cleverly disguised by my dad’s long shadow. I’ve pondered who she must have been as that girl of 13 with the dreams and aspirations all young ladies most certainly have.
As I lay on her bed with my arms around this frail shell of my mom…does she feel the safe comfort that I felt as she drew me to herself when I was afraid as a child? Does she sense my fear of living without her or is her hesitancy to leave those she loves the reason she hangs on.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll tell her I’ll be ok without her…that it’s ok to let go of this life…perhaps. Or I will just tell her in this moment of transition that I’m at her side until the angels bid me farewell. I don’t know. I’ve never been here in this moment…present.
I know this: it is an incredulous understatement to calmly state that death is a process. It is terrifying and amazing! It is wonderful and uncertain! It is most assuredly grace and anxiety, sadness and peace.
Watching mom walk her final pathway to this certain end to start her beautiful eternity makes me cry, laugh, and sing and pray with unprecedented passion for life and death and in-the-moment in-between. Mom…I will cherish your final lesson to me of how to live while dying. P.S. Tell dad I really miss him.
I read the following Facebook post and would love to pass it on, as it qualifies as an “Present-inthemoment ” story. What a great challenge by Iowa farmer Jeff Ditzenberger, to be willing to pause and take a few moments to elevate someone else’s life! I applaud you sir!!
Here is his story in its entirety:
Today is a day I’ll not soon forget..
As I was combining today, I was unloading into the auger cart and I saw a vehicle go by a couple times slowly and then pull over and stop. I had a minor repair to make and the vehicle stayed… I was a little concerned until I happened to catch 3 little sets of eyes looking out windows.
I went over and they rolled down the window and I asked if they needed anything and the lady explained their grandchildren were visiting from Florida and had never seen “farmer stuff” up close. There were 2 boys and a little girl.. I’d assume they were between the ages of 6 and 9. The two boys were all giddy but the little girl, while sweet and excited was pretty quiet.
I also happen to notice that she kept turning away from me and there was a scar or a birthmark or something on her face… And I felt really bad trying to figure out what it was because I was feeling like I’m staring at her..
The grandmother and her husband thanked me for stopping and saying hi and said they would get going because they knew farmers were busy this time of the year… And I said be careful and have a good trip…
It was then that one of the boys said are you going to be going soon cuz we would like to see what that machine does… the grandmother quickly quieted them and I said would it be okay if I took them for a ride…
She then said No we’re sure your way too busy for that and I said no I’m by myself for now I’ve got time so she asked the two boys if they wanted to go and of course they did but the little girl stayed back.
I asked her again if she wanted to go and she said no thank you and so the boys and I went and got in the combine and we made one round and came back… While in the combine I said why didn’t your sister want to come… they said shes shy. I then, because of curiosity, asked them about her face… And they told me it was a birthmark and that she gets picked on about it a lot.
After their ride I walked them back over to their grandparents car and I said to the little girl How come you didn’t want to go for a ride? And she said well the boys always say that that kind of stuff is just for boys not for girls…
I laughed and said You know, there are girl farmers AND I even had a young girl in that cab just yesterday. Would you like a ride? She looked at her Grandma and she said go ahead if you want.
I then asked the grandmother if she had a smartphone and knew how to video… She laughed and said I have grandchildren of course I know how to video… So I told her have your phone ready and when you see me turn on the yellow flashing lights video the combine.
The little girl and I got in the cab and I turned the machine around and went back into the field at the end of it and came back facing her grandparents vehicle. I then said to her…here.. you can turn the steering wheel… she first looked at me like I was on crack cocaine… But I finally convinced her and I told her not everybody gets to do this but people that are part of the special face Club definitely get to…but its a secret reason why you get to drive so you cant tell anyone. We even pinky swore on it…
The smile she had made this old tired grumpy mans heart soft and there must have been some Bean dust in the cab because my allergies started acting up just a little bit… So I let her “steer” and turned on the yellow lights on the way back so her Grandma could video tape her “driving by”.
We got out of the combine and she still had a huge smile on her face and ran over to her grandma and was a little Chatterbox did you see me did you see me I got to drive I got to drive… Her brothers were obviously a little miffed… And ask her why she got to drive… I was afraid she was going to tell them why… But with all the sass of a little brunette girl with her hair in a pony she looked at them both matter-of-factly and said Because girls CAN farm.
My allergies started acting up a little bit again as she came back running over to me and gave me a huge hug and told me thank you… The grandfather came over and patted me on the shoulder shook my hand said I don’t know what you said to her…but that’s the biggest smile we’ve seen on her this vacation so far… the boys shook my hand and thanked me and got back into the vehicle and drove away… Leaving me to my thoughts
And all I could think of was if one of the combines hadnt broke down yesterday, I wouldn’t have been in that field this morning, and I wouldnt have been by myself and we would have been really pushed wherever we were at to keep up with everything…and it proved to me once again everything happens for a reason…
All three of their faces were on my mind the rest of the day but mostly hers… not because of her birthmark, because of her genuine smile in the confidence that she showed when she got to get out of that combine and “brag” a little to the boys.
My gramps told me long ago to always be patient with children and people you come in contact with. I remember the countless times that he would let me “drive” the tractor… and the exhilaration and happiness that I felt during that time… And I swore that I was going to make other people feel that way when I got older… and I’ve definitely failed at that numerous times.. but I’m trying..
But, Im kind of thinking maybe that’s what I did today or maybe that little girl made me feel like that little boy with his Gramps all those years ago.
30 minutes out of 24 hours… I need to do that more often….
Today was a good day… and one I shall not soon forget.