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The Bible, The Spirit, & Diet Mountain Dew

Faith, Life, Humor

Baxter’s Story – My Unit (Part 6)

From a February 2016 Facebook Note…  See all the earlier entries for the back story…


Life is hard… But you don’t need me to tell you that… If you need a reminder, just take a trip to your local Walmart… Indeed, life is hard and to try to do it alone is next to impossible. For one, we weren’t meant to do life alone. Look no further than the way Jesus lived. He spent the most critical years of his life with The Twelve. Sure, there were others around too… Quite a few of them at times… But when the stakes got really high, he turned to his inner circle: Peter, James, & John. When he went in to raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5)… At the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17)… In Gethsemane, when the stakes were at their highest (Mark 14)… Each time, he pulled his closest, most trusted friends in for support. I believe this was more than just a coincidence or a biblical factoid. I believe it was meant to model something for us.

Since the day Baxter died, I knew at some point, I’d have to approach the other family to nail down exactly where we go from here. Lots of things were promised in the drama of that Sunday, but a few days had passed now and you just never know how time changes things. I set up the meeting for Thursday Evening… And I made sure I contacted my unit…

The picture above shows nine guys that fight as a unit. They’ve all got a job to do. And they’ve all got each others back. Lots of good Christian books have been written on the Band of Brothers concept. I could recommend a few if you’re interested. But I’m mostly interested in giving you a live action example of how this thing works in the trenches.

For starters, my unit is not all that big. Far less than nine… The key to this thing is that each man has to know the story of the other. ALL OF IT!… Yes, even the things you don’t like to admit to yourself… They have to know all of it because in order to watch your back effectively, they have to know what traps you’re blind to. And they have to be willing to call you on your own B.S. Because at some point, you will try to gloss over something out of embarrassment or self-preservation or whatever…

And know this… It is not easy!… I have failed my guys at times… Didn’t pick up on some things here… Couldn’t put the pieces together there… That sucks the absolute worst. But we keep going & fighting for each other because the alternative is we all get caught in the crossfire.

So as this Thursday evening meeting approached, I knew I was going to need them. I almost waited too late too… One of those things where you meant to do it all day long, but you keep getting pulled in other directions at work. I’m not proud to say that I gave them all of TEN MINUTES NOTICE that this meeting was about to go down & I needed them to cover it in prayer. But that’s the thing… My unit already knew what I was going through & was on high alert. 10 minutes of notice was at least 8 minutes more than they needed… They’re THAT good… So this meeting that could’ve gone sideways so easily… Well simply put… God showed up!… My unit delivered…

The other family right out of the gate, volunteered to cover our costs with the breeder for another King Charles Spaniel puppy this spring. See Baxter’s Story – Part 3 for a refresher on that not small fee. They literally had a check to the breeder the next day.
Next, they confirmed that they’d had the two attacking dogs put down and all of the grief & anguish that caused them. Obviously, they loved their dogs. But they wouldn’t ignore what had happened to Baxter.

As the conversation continued, I could see & feel their torment over what had happened. They re-counted bits & pieces of what had happened that day from their perspective. I got really choked up at one point and the dad… a former Marine… said in his own words… “Hey… I’ve cried like a B- over this thing”. Then we all got choked up for a few minutes.

The best moment though, was when the son… the one trying to get the small dog that day to go for a walk with Baxter & R… came into the room. I was able to look right into his eyes and say “It’s not your fault….” “We don’t blame you…” “It was just a tragic thing that happened, but its not your fault…”

In my experience, its not all that often that we get to breech the lines of the spiritual realm to see or feel the warfare that goes on there. But this was one of those moments… I could literally see the weight lift off of him… And by weight, I mean it was almost like whatever attack he was under spiritually just… STOPPED!… He was smiling again & out the door to Tae Kwon Do with his brother & sister.

Yep… My unit is THAT GOOD!…

I pray you’ve got you’re own unit to support you. If you don’t, please reconsider how you’re approaching life. Find some trustworthy… godly souls, open a bottle of wine, & get to know each others story. That’s where it starts… God makes beautiful things happen from there!…


Continue on to Part 7 here

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Baxter’s Story – Neighbors (Kindness + Glass Houses = Grace)… Part 5

From a January 31st, 2016 Facebook Note…  See Parts 1, 2, 3, & 4 for the backstory…


I mentioned yesterday that something unexpected happened in all the chaos of last Sunday. I’m standing there holding little Baxter’s body, watching R run home when I noticed our next door neighbor’s teenage daughter. She had just backed her car out of their driveway when R had started her run down the hill. She had the car in drive, but she was barely moving up the hill. Her eyes were fixed on R. She crept slowly forward, but didn’t take her eyes off of R until she made it into the house. She’s halfway up the hill now & I see her head turning from R and now she sees me. She’s still creeping forward, but now she’s locked on me. I can only imagine what was going through her mind… R… R’s dad… What is he holding?… She was about 10 yard past me up the hill when she stops the car… She had added it up…

Our immediate neighbors have kids on either side of the ages of our kids. The oldest daughter is older than A (driving obviously)… Then they have a son & another daughter both younger than R by a few years… We have a quasi-cordial relationship with them, but don’t really chat like neighbors should. Life is busy for both of us, but that’s not a good enough excuse.

She steps out of the car and walks towards me… “Is that Baxter?…” Tears are beginning to well up in her eyes. I confirm with a silent head shake… And I take a deep breath to try to compose myself. “Is R okay?…” And there went all of my composure… “What happened?…” I do my best to explain it, but if you’ve been reading all of these notes this week, you know it was a complex situation. But her kindness in that moment was just tremendous. Teenagers get a bad rap for so many things these days, but this kid was a bright spot in a dark place. “You know that those same dogs attacked our dogs too, right?”…

I think I had a pimento cheese sandwich for lunch on Sunday, but I’m honestly not sure. Whatever it was came halfway back up my esophagus in that moment and then slammed backed down HARD!… Did she just say that the same dogs that had just killed Baxter had attacked other dogs in our neighborhood?… She must’ve read my expression because she started explaining the whole scenario to me. I had a later conversation with her dad and got the details on all the vet bills and other damages incurred. How did I not know this?!?!?… He also describes an attack by these same dogs on another neighbors’ dog. A different neighbor confirms that these dogs frequently harassed walkers & joggers at that end of our street.

By now, I’m guessing that many of you are perhaps seething with rage. Aggressive dogs… multiple instances… Why hadn’t this been dealt with long before Baxter lost his life? How irresponsible!… Justice should be demanded!… A pound of flesh!… that’s what they owe!…


John 8:1-11 is one of my favorite Jesus moments ever. These self-righteous religious types were always trying to trap & test Jesus during his time on Earth. They wanted desperately to make him look bad… unqualified… out of his league vs. their clearly superior knowledge of The Law. And Jesus frustrated the hell out of them over & over again. In this particular passage, they’ve caught this woman in an act of adultery and by The Law… she should be stoned to death.

Have you ever thought of Jesus as being cunning? It’s not a quality most would associate with him, but consider it for a moment. These pious little men harass Jesus most everywhere he goes and he very deftly side-steps their traps & landmines again & again. It drives them into such a frustrated state of frenzy that they hatch a plot to kill him. And even in that, he’s still three steps ahead of them.

Back to the woman… She’s expecting to die at any moment. But Jesus throws it back on the accusers… “Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” he says… The little men slink away… beaten again by his cunning & guile… “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

Don’t get me wrong here… I felt that same outrage about the dogs that you probably did… That Baxter’s senseless tragedy could have, no should have been prevented… I was there & gathering my stones… And then Jesus reminded me of my own glass house…


We adults have lots of responsibilities that we’re accountable for. Enough of us tend to manage them well enough that we maintain some sense of credibility as a species. But you’re kidding yourself if you can’t admit that you’ve been negligent at some point with SOME of those responsibilities. Oh you might have gotten away with it… Maybe there were no repercussions at all. Or maybe they were just minimal… perhaps so minimal, that you’re the only one that knows. Or maybe the consequences were greater.

So what makes one person’s negligence… recklessness… better than anothers? The consequences?… Let’s just call that crap & be done with it. When you’re negligent about something… you usually lose control of the consequences. Sometimes you get lucky & they aren’t that bad… And sometimes, IT all hits the fan so hard that it becomes a literal POO-POCALYPSE… Its the same way with sin… Big sin… Little sin… They all place us in Hell apart from God’s grace…

And there it is… The only logical response… Grace… I screw up regularly… So do you… Thank God his grace is generous enough to handle it all. Thank God it never runs out. Thank God his mercies are new every morning, because sometimes, I’m barely out of bed before I start ruining the day.

Nothing at this point can bring Baxter back. Nothing at this point can make my girl UN-SEE the things she saw. Adding to someone else’s guilt & suffering, to make me feel better accomplishes nothing. Their dogs are now gone too… And though we haven’t gotten to that point in the story, they’ve made it as right with us as they can…

So Grace then…


Continue on to Part 6 here

Baxter’s Story ~ My Story (Part 4)

From a January 30th, 2016 Facebook Note…  See Parts 1, 2, & 3 for the backstory…


Its funny what you remember from your childhood. Take this picture above… I have always hated that picture… It might be because of that haircut… which I didn’t get to change until high school. Or it might be because it reminds me of how much hair I used to have. Or maybe its because this picture MUST have been given out with free Tide samples at JC’s Grocery, because every friend, relative, & acquaintance from my hometown seems to have landed a copy of it somehow. I have worked DILIGENTLY to keep this picture off of Facebook. It was easy in the early years of FB, but increasingly harder as more & more relatives, friends, and elementary school teachers migrated onto this platform.

I also remember that the house I grew up in was approximately 25 yards from the edge of Highway 158 when I was a wee lad. Then the state decided to put in a turn lane and 25 yards turned into 10 yards somewhere around the late Elementary School years.

conway-house

I remember that distance really well because it made pets EXTREMELY problematic.  You see, we did not do indoor pets in my house. That was just a thing… Pets, unless they swam in a bowl or a tank, were for outdoors. And really… fish are more decoration than pet. So, I cannot really remember how many dogs we attempted to have growing up, probably because each experience ended up the same way… with that dog dead in the middle of Highway 158. We had better luck with cats… Not with all of them mind you, but enough to be statistically significant.

But I do have one very vivid memory of the last dog we had while I was growing up. He was a mixed breed (see my last post), but if I had to name it… I’d say he was a Yellow LabraBeagle… I don’t remember his name. In fact, I don’t remember the names of most of my pets growing up. That’s not a small detail btw… But anyway, this memory is etched permanently in my brain…

It was the summer of ‘79… I say that because I’m pretty sure I was younger than 10 and I was definitely wearing shorts… and I really like that Bryan Adams song… In truth, it could’ve been ‘80 or ‘81… (my sister later confirmed it was 1980)

I do not remember what I was doing at the time. I was outside my house, playing I think… and my dog was nowhere around. I heard an extremely loud YELP and my big ears pinpointed it to my left and at least two neighbor’s yards away… And it was definitely my dog… I took off in a full sprint and arrived in one of our neighbor’s yards… My dog was under the rear wheel of a mammoth car I did not recognize. He was alive, but he was not moving. A lady I did not recognize started apologizing… At least, I think she was apologizing… But I’m pretty sure she was also the voice actor for that school teacher in all the Charlie Brown cartoons.

They say that wounded animals can act in unpredictable ways and frequently bite people that are trying to help them. I did not know this at the time and it totally would not have mattered. I was moving to pick up the dog out of complete reflex… He did not bite me though. I scooped him up in my arms and ran for home. I remember that one of his hind legs was drooping very badly (it was broken)… And I distinctly remember his blood running down my right leg as I ran…


Let’s pause here & acknowledge something… My dad came from a completely different era than most of my readers can imagine. He was a man’s man that grew up on a farm in central NC… And when animals got hurt on a farm in the mid-20th century, they did not take them to fancy hospitals to be patched up while you sipped complimentary lattes… There was no money for that sort of thing… That animal usually got put down, depending on the nature & severity of the injury.

Now I did not know any of that at the time I arrived in my yard. All I did know was my dog was hurt badly and needed help. I’m standing there with this dog in my arms, his leg broken, his blood all over me, pleading without words… PLEASE DO SOMETHING!!!

And my dad did what a REAL man’s man does… He came through for me & we took that dog to the local vet. Doc Brown patched him up & he wore a little makeshift cast on that leg for awhile. He healed up pretty good… just a minor limp to show for it… And then one day not too far removed from that day in the summer of ‘79… ’80, he must’ve gotten interested in some vehicle that was going down Highway 158 and…


Now flash forward about 35 years to Sunday and I’m standing there holding Baxter’s body in almost exactly the same way as I did the other dog in 1980. He’s wrapped in a towel that was completely soaked in his blood. My coat that I’m wearing is now also covered in his blood. I am not running like before… Instead, I’m watching R run… Down the hill towards home… Completely hysterical… Tears streaming… But she is not running home to get help like I did… Doc Brown was a VERY gifted Vet, but there was nothing he could’ve done to help Baxter that day.

I watched R run down that hill… I turn to the right & see my wife talking with the other family… She is BARELY holding it together… And I think… “DEAR GOD… HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO COME THROUGH IN THIS?”… There is no voice from Heaven that responds. Something else does happen though, but its for another entry… Maybe tomorrow’s…

Come through?… You cannot be serious… Its all I can do to not stand in the street & cry like a toddler. I can see R made it into the house… And I can see my wife is winding down whatever conversation is happening off to the right… And I’m still standing there, holding Baxter… My only thought at this point is, “I can’t let either one of them see him like this.” So I walk slowly down that hill… Its still pretty icy… Somewhere in between, I realize I’ve got to bury him and it cannot wait… I carry him around to the back yard and set him down… I’m returning to the garage to get the shovel and see that my wife has made it back now… That’s good… R won’t be alone…

She says, “We need to take pictures…” My heart stops… I know she’s right, we don’t know how this thing will play out… And that means I have to take the pictures…


>>>STOP… I’ve left most of the details of the other family ambiguous intentionally up until this point because there’s a whole other entry I need to make there. That’s unfortunately left a lot of gaps in the story for people to fill in on their own and I need to clear this up for the moment. That other family is CRUSHED!… They not only had to see the whole thing play out in front of them on their front lawn… They also had to make the decision to put those two dogs down. They have made this thing as right as they can for now, I promise… and my heart breaks for theirs as much as it breaks for my own family’s.


Pictures… right… I have to take pictures… So there I am, unwrapping Baxter in the snow to take pictures. I want to throw up now… Not because of what I’m seeing in front of me, but because the weight of it ALL is starting to settle in… I turn Baxter one direction & then the other… And it is HELL!… There are so many wounds that I cannot tell where the killing blow landed. There is a very large hole in his jugular though, so I’m guessing that was it. Based on what R later tells us, we believe this was the first blow, so at least he didn’t suffer long… Finally… all the pictures are done…

Now, where to bury him?… Well, live in a typical subdivision, so the options are a bit limited, but I settle on a spot just behind our yard through the woods a little bit. The ground was hard and covered in ice & snow. It took awhile to dig that hole, probably because I had to stop frequently to wipe snot & tears off of my face. I laid him as carefully as I could in the hole, paused and spoke words of truth over him. I’ve buried lots of animals over the years… never felt compelled to do that before. I covered him up gently and took a step back.

I need to make a cross or something to mark his grave. I’ve NEVER done that before… I find some old pallet wood I had left over from some wine racks my wife asked me to make for Christmas the year before. I cut a short piece from a longer piece, then nail them together in the shape of a cross. I wrote Baxter across it with one of those fat Sharpie’s I found in the garage. And then I take it back to his grave & drive it into the ground.

My wife shows up about this time… I tell her its done and then she points out the bloody towel laying in the snow. I hear R coming… I manage to fold that towel faster than any other laundry in my life and somehow, manage to find a section of it without much blood on it to leave folded out. R is almost there & I decide to take no chances so I toss the towel behind a tree where she can’t see it. Now we’re all there, standing around Baxter’s grave… We had an informal burial ceremony right then & there. It was mostly blubbering & crying… Later on, we added a wreath that had been made from the clippings of a Christmas tree. It had hung on our front door through the Christmas season. We picked it up the same day we got our tree. Baxter had gone with us that day to pick out out the tree… He had an awesome day & was the superstar/VIP of that very busy tree farm… It had been a perfect day…


A tragic thing happens to most of us as we grow up… We tend to lose little pieces of ourselves along the way to adulthood. Sometimes its in large chunks… And sometimes its 1,000 paper cuts… Sometimes the pieces are taken from us… And sometimes we willingly give them away… But worst of all is that many times… we don’t even know that it has happened.

For instance… I willingly gave us musical training when I was in the 6th grade… Because I thought playing piano was for sissies… Then I bought my first electric guitar when I was 19 & fell in love… Now I wonder what my musicianship would look like if I hadn’t given up on it… Or would I have found my love of guitar sooner?…

I also gave up Singing in public when I was about 5 or 6 years old… Must’ve been something traumatic, right?… No, not really… I just couldn’t stand how uncomfortable it made me. So I told myself, I couldn’t really sing all that well. Even worse… I convinced myself I sang quite badly… Trying to sing out of the Methodist Hymnal helped reinforce that too… Those hymns are theoretically written in keys to fit the “average person”. But I was constantly having to switch octaves mid-song because it either went too high or too low. Pretty soon I just mouthed the words like the older men did. I bought that lie that I couldn’t sing for about 30 years. God eventually pulled it out of me kicking & screaming. Now I LOVE to harmonize and I’ve got a good ear for it. I lead songs at church every so often and I love that too. But every time, that fear & discomfort are still loud & present. I just choose to feel the fear & do it anyway… God takes care of the rest…

And then there’s writing… I NEVER EVEN GAVE WRITING A CHANCE!… I figured out pretty quickly that I could absolutely crush it in Math & Science and that was enough to get me by. We humans tend to glam onto things that work for us and Math & Science were my B-’s… So Writing never stood a chance… Who knows how that could’ve turned out differently?… Maybe that’ll be my retirement plan…

Gave up on Jesus too!… For about 12 years or so… I couldn’t reconcile the faith I grew up with to the world I lived in. How could God allow ____fill in the blank___? At the time, I didn’t truly understand that Evil I talked about a few days ago. Didn’t get that spiritual warfare was happening all around me. I was literally Neo in The Matrix before he took the red pill… (pause to give credit to John Eldredge on that analogy)… I found my way back eventually, but it was touch & go for awhile there.

Back to Baxter… I realize now that at some point in my childhood, I gave up on pets too. Now, we continued to have pets after that Yellow LabraBeagle died. And we’ve had plenty of pets over our married years too. And I loved them all to some degree… but always at a distance… Always with something held back… I realize now that at some level, I was expecting that they’d inevitably end up in the middle of Highway 158.

But Baxter was having none of that… Without even knowing it, I did try to hold back at first. But it didn’t last long. He wouldn’t allow it. Eventually, I loved him deeply and I held nothing back. And I didn’t realize that either until he was gone.

God had a design in mind for each of us. And we usually manage to screw that up… giving away what isn’t taken from us… Or life does it for us in chunks & papercuts… But “the Glory of God is man fully alive!” ~ St. Irenaeus.  So we must fight to get those chunks back… We must work out our salvation with fear & trembling. ~ Philippians 2:12… We must commit to being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory ~ 2Corinthians 3:18…

Baxter reminded me of this in the most beautiful & tragic way possible. And that’s really when I realized what I had to do for R. For while this would forever be a defining moment for her… I refuse to allow it to be a RE-defining moment for her. God defined her perfectly and I will fight like hell to help her hold onto that as long as I have breath in my lungs. That is how I come through…

So dear reader… What chunks have you lost, or had taken away over the years? What papercuts became so relentless, that you just gave in & bled out? What have you willingly given up & now regret? Jesus can heal all of these wounds if you invite him to. And even if you don’t, he’ll keep pursuing you… Its what he does… Beauty from Ashes…


Continue on to Part 5 here

Baxter’s Story (A Reprise) – Part 3

From a January 29th, 2016 Facebook Note…  See Parts 1 & 2 for the backstory…



He was born on August 29th, 2015 along with three brothers… Bill, Brock, & Buzz… & one sister, Bailey. He was the runt of the litter… And they called him Bertie, not Baxter… Its okay that they didn’t know, but he was always Baxter. His Dad was Dickens and he came from a bloodline of Grand Champions. His Mom was Belle… also AKC registered. They were a perfect family.

By mid-October, Bill & Brock & Bailey had all been adopted. Just Buzz & Baxter now, holding the fort down. And that’s when we showed up… October 25th, 2015. We went to visit the pair and it was not long at all before we knew, Baxter was ours. Or were we his?… Its hard to tell the difference.

I remember so much about that day that changed us… changed me, forever. For starters, I dated the check wrong… 10/24, but it was definitely Sunday, not Saturday. We went to get him after church that day. We had no leash… no collar… and no harness…  As it turns out, its really hard to manage a puppy at an active Interstate rest stop with no leash, no collar, & no harness… We played zone defense as we coerced him to get his business done instead of roaming & trying to play with all the other dogs.

After the rest stop, we had to go to Pet Smart for a leash, a collar, & a harness… And of course Sonic, because we were within 5 miles of one and its the law… Also… Baxter HATED riding in the car… whined the whole way home. Fortunately, that wore off before the road trip to Orlando. He whined just a bit that first night when we all went to bed, but hardly ever after that. After that, he had our routine down… Or we had his routine down… Again… its really hard to tell.

And then there’s that monkey… His first chew toy… He loved that thing… Chewed the ever-living snot out of it… One day we came home and found my oldest daught “A” in the dining room (she home schools) with Baxter… & it looked like it had snowed. Apparently the monkey’s head had LOTS of stuffing… Lots & LOTS of stuffing… Key word there is “had”… R sleeps with whats left of that monkey now… It helps… But he did have other chew toys he loved too… a fox… a weasel… ipod cords… laptop cords… table legs… Good times!…

We officially registered him with the Continental Kennel Club with the name Elkay Baxter <last name omitted>. The first name was my pick entirely… You see, where I grew up, pure breed dogs were something that occasionally appeared on ESPN when there was a lull in programming. In my young world… Dogs came into your family in one of three ways… 1) Someone dropped them off near your house and they followed the smell of food, 2) A close friend or family member had a female dog with a litter of pups & you were obliged to “help them out” by taking away one of the mouths to feed, or 3) A hunting dog with no tags gets lost and… follows the smell of food. Notice that in none of those three scenarios is an exchange of money required.

And then there’s Baxter… We paid…. Well lets just say there was a fee for him… If you really want to know, google King Charles Spaniel breeders and you’ll get an idea. So I felt the need to mock the situation because my humor is dark & twisty like that…  So I gave him the first name Elkay… Actually, I gave him initials… L.K. … which stood for Left Kidney… Because that’s about what he cost… L.K. became Elkay…

Ironically, I would TOTALLY give my Left Kidney to take what happened Sunday away. And its a GOOD KIDNEY people… My love of good beer has seen to that…

Did he just say that?… Yes, I just said that… Loves Beer, Loves Jesus… That’s a bumper sticker that will sell people!… But I digress…

I wanted this post to be happier & lighter today because yesterday’s note was not and I have a feeling tomorrow’s post won’t be either. So take a deep breath with me and soak in the happy times with Baxter.

Today, he would have been 5 months old exactly…


Continue on to Part 4 here

Baxter’s Story (A Reprise) ~ Part 2

Dear Readers… In case you missed yesterday’s disclosure, the is a re-posting of a series of Facebook Notes I wrote earlier this year in the wake of personal tragedy.  It is dark… And it is real…  Written four days after “the event” while sitting on gym bleachers during R’s basketball practice, sobbing as quietly as possible… As I read it back now, its a SOBERING REMINDER that this fight for each other in this world must never end…



In the movie A Time to Kill, Matthew McConaughey played the role of lawyer, Jacob Tyler Brigance. Ladies, I’ll pause there & give you a moment… Ok, that’s enough… At the end of the movie, he gave as his Closing Argument, one of the most disruptively brutal, yet beautiful monologues ever captured on film. Its easily one of the best movies of the 90’s and if you haven’t seen it, you should. Ashley Judd alone… … … … but I digress…

WARNING: If you have a weak stomach… If you have delicate sensitivities… If you are easily offended… If you cannot handle the unfiltered truth… PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE… Skip down to “end Jake Brigance”… Because before this thing can get better, it necessarily has to get worse… We process this whole thing or risk glossing over it as inconsequential… And it IS NOT inconsequential…

[channeling Jake Brigance…]


I’d like you to clear you mind for a moment and imagine if you would, that your best friend in the whole world is of the canine variety. And that even though you’ve only known him for 3 months, he is like the air you breathe… you just cannot believe that living without him is possible. Now imagine that you’ve had one of the best weekends ever. School was cancelled… You played all day… no seriously… ALL DAY LONG in the snow… sledding & snowball fights & just everything any kid could love about winter. And towards the end of that amazing 3-day weekend (& counting), you decide you want to share that world with your best bud before it all melts away. He’s so excited to see you, just like always, and eager to get on that leash & out the door with you. He trusts you completely and without question. The two of you, in a winter wonderland is just PERFECT. Close your eyes for a moment & really try to picture it… No seriously… Stop reading this, close your eyes, & picture it…

Now imagine that faster than you can blink, that friend is being attacked right in front of you. The leash is jerked out of your hand as he is drug one way and then the other. You are completely FROZEN in terror… unable to speak… unable to scream… Time is completely standing still… Images flash in front of your eyes that you somehow CANNOT command to close… His head completely inside of the mouth of one of his attackers… And the blood… so much blood… You hear him whimper, was it really just the once? And then all you can hear is the sound of his attackers, still biting & tearing at him viciously…

Now imagine that there are other people there trying to intervene… They are struggling to free him from his attackers… Everyone is yelling… Everyone is screaming… The barking… The growling… The sounds swirling in this cacophony of absolute terror… And finally… its over… The attackers have been subdued by the others… removed from the scene… And there you are… still frozen…

Can you see him?… His broken… bloody body lying there on the ground in front of you… Can you see him?… His completely lifeless 7lb body… No longer breathing… No sounds at all… His eyes are still wide open with terror permanently etched on them…
Now close your eyes again… Can you see him? Your friend… Your BEST FRIEND!… Is he still in one piece?… You’re not even sure… CAN YOU SEE HIM?

Now imagine you’re not you… Because if you’re reading this, you’re an adult or almost an adult… And the adult in you can’t see him at all in this situation… Imagine you are the 9 YEAR OLD YOU and this has just played out in front of you… Close your eyes again… CAN YOU SEE HIM?

[End Jake Brigance]


Jake Brigance used a similar approach in his Closing Argument to try & produce an emotional response from the jury. His case was full of holes, so he did the only thing he could think of… He told the jury the raw & unfiltered truth, because it was all he had. So you may be asking, “The movie reference is great, but just what in the hell were you trying to do by telling that morbid story?”

Well, for starters… That is the end of Baxter’s story. He no longer has the opportunity to tell his story. And he meant too much to us… endured too much… to not have his story told.

This is also R’s story… Thank God it is not over!… I cannot praise God enough for sparing her any physical harm in this event. Literally that VERY SAME DAY, a 7yr old boy in a nearby community lost his life in a dog attack. Thank you Jesus for your protection of her! But nonetheless, R cannot adequately tell her story either… Too much trauma for a 9yr old to process completely. If you’re wondering, all of the fragments she has been able to recall are in the account above. For your sake, I won’t say which are which.

Maybe I used that approach because we live in such a desensitized world these days that it would be all too easy to gloss over this… “It’s tragic… It’s hard… It’s unfair… Now walk it off… And what’s for dinner?” Baxter deserves better than that. R deserves better than that. This is NOT a little thing… So maybe I wanted to put the reader into the story as much as I could so they could feel the actual gravity of this situation.

Or maybe I’m just like Jake Brigance… full of holes (feels that way)… left with nothing but the raw & unfiltered truth. And here it is…

EVIL IS REAL… I am not saying these dogs are evil… I am not saying that their owners are evil… (They aren’t) But this thing that happened was PURE EVIL… And the Father of Evil is SATAN… And he is alive & roaming like a lion, looking for someone to devour [1Peter 5:8].

I just freaked a bunch of you out… That’s okay by me… Maybe you’ve never known a Faith in your lifetime & this concept makes you uncomfortable. Maybe you’ve been exposed to church, but this Satan thing, you’re just not ready for it. Maybe you’re even a true believer and your church just happens to downplay the spiritual warfare that exists all around us… I’ve attended churches like that myself.

So maybe you feel that I’m overblowing this Satan/prowling thing… I can say unequivocally, that he [Satan] probably likes it that way. You’re much easier to take out when you can’t even acknowledge that any danger exists.

Back to this story though… I just want to state loudly & clearly… I SEE YOU SATAN!… I see what you’re doing here… And I swear by Christ’s authority, IT WILL NOT PASS…
Just lost a few more people probably, but it doesn’t matter. R is my priority here… Satan is trying to take her out… Hell, Satan is trying to take all of our kids out!… Satan is trying to take all of US out!… It’s what he does!… Sometimes in big ways & sometimes in small ways, but his assault is relentless.

In this case, Satan is trying to take my bright, shiny, animal loving, life loving R & wound her deeply. He’s hoping she’ll blame herself (and she has tried). Hoping her love of animals will diminish, which could alter the course of her entire life (among many things, she’s talked about being a Veterinarian someday)… He’s hoping her radiance will become dimmer… that she’ll be less likely to love so easily… That she would become at least significantly tarnished or at best, deeply scarred by this event. He’s hoping that she becomes a fraction of the woman God designed her to be.

He can hope all he wants because IT WILL NOT PASS!…

We do not deal with this by playing prevent defense here… We rebuke Satan’s attack with an all out offensive of Love. Love of R… Love of Baxter… Praying for the other family and the tragedy they also experienced… And we confront the self-blaming head on… I feel like I have been playing Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting for four days straight because I’ve said to her “It’s not your fault…” so many times. Today, before I could say it to her, she said to me… “Its not my fault…” [pauses for verklempt moment]…

And we talk about it… If you know R at all, you know we talk about it ALOT … There is no under the rug sweeping going on here… There is no downplaying what she saw… Whatever she remembers… whatever images give her nightmares… We confront it head on… We focus on images of the good times we had with Baxter. And we pray for healing for all of us.

And I do not fight this battle alone… I’ve been progressively reaching out to the guys in my “unit” to pray over this thing. Collectively, we will beat back the gates of Hell here, because there simply is no other option. Thank God I have brothers who have my back, because I can’t do this alone.

R will be impacted by what happened Sunday, we ALL will be impacted by what happened Sunday. But by God’s Grace, she will remain her shiny, happy self and there will be Beauty from these Ashes…


So dear reader… My prayers for you are this… 1) If this story has surfaced anything from your childhood that was traumatic… big or small… Something not fully dealt with… more like glossed over… I’m begging you to go deeper with it. Why do you feel that way? What could/should have happened? Find a friend & talk it out… 2) Really give some thought to Does Evil Exist? And if so, where does it come from? Or more importantly, what should we do about it? Where should we turn for help? Whatever you do, don’t just ignore it… 3) Your kids, if you have them… when you have them… BE PRESENT and guard their hearts closely!… Do not be afraid to fight for them & do not try to do it alone!…

“To those who have sorrow in Zion I will give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes. I will give them the oil of joy instead of sorrow, and a spirit of praise instead of a spirit without hope. Then they will be called oaks that are right with God, planted by the Lord, that He may be honored.” ~ Isaiah 63:3


Continue on to the next part here

Baxter’s Story (A Reprise) – Part 1

One year ago today, my family brought home a sweet new puppy & we named him Baxter.  We were not yet “dog people” at that point and we had no idea of what lay ahead. What you will read in this & subsequent posts, was originally presented as a series of Facebook Notes as I struggled to make sense of the tragedy that would unfold for us.  I didn’t know then that the words I spilled out would have any impact beyond my own catharsis.  But the reverberations were loud & ultimately led us here… to The Bible, The Spirit, & Diet Mountain Dew Blog…

So grab some tissues  & get ready to get yer Feels on…


 


When personal tragedy comes your way, its hard to know what to share via Social Media and what not to share. On the one hand, why burden the ‘internets’ with such a thing? On the other hand, there are some things that can be learned from the tragedy of others, so why not share. The longer this has lingered with me, the more I’m inclined to take the latter approach. “Beauty from Ashes” as my best friend said the other day…

And that’s really the crux of the situation right there. Romans 8:28 says… “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”  TBH… its really hard right now to imagine the “good” in this for me & my family. But I’m hopeful that if I throw this thing out there, God will use it for someone else’s “good”. As he’s stirred this in me, I’ve realized I’ve got quite a few things to say about it all… Not really at the “I need to start a blog” level, but definitely more than a 144 character Tweet. And though the temptation exists to hate & rage on this thing… I’m committed to saying what I need to say in love.

And so… I’ll start Baxter’s story at the end…


January 24th, 2016 was not a typical Sunday, but we had no idea how atypical it would be when it started. Because typically, we’re pretty predictable on Sundays. If we’re in town, most Sunday’s we’re going to be at church until 12:30-1:00, then we go out for Mexican for lunch, because its in the bible somewhere. We’d usually meander homeward about 2:00-2:30 and that frequently meant nap time because if I was serving on team that Sunday, I would have been up since 6:30’ish in the morning. But there was no church that day… Cancelled due to the snow & ice & more snow that fell Friday & Saturday.

My youngest daughter, “R” (age 9 at the time) made a new friend during the snow days that weekend… She does that alot that fearless child o’ mine. She just goes at life with reckless abandon… offering her friendship to anyone that’s in her orbit. What you do with it is up to you… she’s just going to keep on being R regardless. My wife & I met the new friend for the first time on Saturday. Very nice kid… well mannered… polite… had his own light saber with him… They sledded & played hard in the weather all day Saturday & got started again early on Sunday. They knew it was going to get warmer on Sunday and wanted to get all they could out of that hill before everything started to melt.

But it did melt… and so they moved on to other adventures. Over lunch, they watched a Star Wars prequel because Star Wars… (obviously)… And then it happened… They had an idea to take Baxter and one of the kid’s small dogs for a walk around the neighborhood. Seemed harmless enough. Before we knew it Baxter was on the leash & they were out the door. I remember that I was hanging a picture in the living room. They hadn’t been gone but maybe 10 minutes when R busted through the front door wailing…

They had walked Baxter to “the kid’s” house and R stayed with him on the front lawn while the kid went in to get one of their family’s small dogs. In trying to exit the front door, the family’s two pit bulls blew right by the kid and…

Let me stop there & say that this will not become a referendum on pit bulls… My brother-in-law owns a very sweet one that R adores. There’s much more to this story on the dogs… R… Me… but for now just this…

Baxter died at approximately 1:58pm… January 24th, 2016…


Continue on to Part 2 here

Dear Future Boyfriend…

In the 1991 World Championships, Midori Ito had one of the most epic wipe-outs ever witnessed in Women’s Figure Skating.  Why was I watching Women’s Figure Skating in 1991?… Girlfriend…  Future Wife… ‘Nuff Said…  But let’s see the wipe-out in question…

skater

Shortly thereafter, the skater was being interviewed by an eager  NBC sports anchor person.  And in an attempt to bring some real depth to the experience for the viewers back home, asked the skater “What was going through your mind when you realized you weren’t on the ice anymore?…”  The skater, in the best broken English she could muster replied…  “I ask myself…  What am I doing here?…”


With all apologies to Ms. Trainor…  We’re not even close to being THERE yet…  But nonetheless…  What am I doing here indeed?…

This was NOT the PLAN people!…  Her commitment to dance has repelled all other suitors in less time than you can binge watch a season of Stranger Things on Netflix.  The PLAN was perfect…  Finish High School… Dance Professionally all over the globe…  Then maybe at about 30, she might consider dating… Transitioning in her late 30’s from a career in performance to choreography… Start her own company… Conquer the known world…  I mean it was a beautiful plan people!…


But here we are…  And now that I’ve had several days to process the situation, there’s a few things I need to bring you into the loop on…

  1. I distinctly remember 15, 16, 17, & 18…  Like ALL OF IT…  And she has been well versed in all of the things that go along with boys at 15, 16, 17, & 18…  Countermeasures are in place.  You have been warned.
  2. Also… I don’t often shoot firearms, but when I do… I NEVER miss… #CountryBoyStrong the-most-interesting-man-in-the-world
  3. I hope your ego is stable…  She’s in Home School all day… Then Dance until about 10pm…  EVERY… WEEKDAY…  And about a half-day on Saturdays…  There will necessarily be long droughts in communications.  So far, no one has survived this more than a few weeks.
  4. The intensity of the Dance Season is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.  So let me try to give you a glimpse of what a Competition Weekend is like…  If you’re not at the event, she’ll disappear from social media & other forms of communications no later than Friday… sometimes Thursday evening…  And she will not resurface until most likely sometime on Monday…  There are no exceptions…
  5. If you should happen to try attending a Competition in person… Pucker up buttercup!…  It’ll be 6-8 hours of waiting around to watch her dance 3-4 times in 3 minute bursts… And that’s if its a well run event.  The poorly run events have all that, but then make you stick around until midnight for awards.  Before you poke your eyes out, if you’re nice & I like you… I’ll point out a few entertaining Twitter accounts to help you pass the time…
  6. The aforementioned Dance Season is about an every other weekend event from January to May.  Forget the PromPosal…  She’ll be at a competition…  If she’s not at a competition, she’ll be recovering from a competition…  Pretty much just don’t plan to see her or hear from her for those 4-5 months…
  7. If you have survived up to this point, you still need to realize that she has multiple uncles that love Jesus, but not too much… So they’re more than willing to go back to jail again.
  8. She’s a complex individual that equally enjoys The Walking Dead & the Hallmark Channel… Especially during Christmas Season… If that intimidates you, I have a suggestion…

officerbarbrady


Someday, some special someone will clear all the hurdles.  And the thing that pisses me off the most is… I’ll probably like him.  Cause she’s a good kid with a good head on her shoulders.  She’s also a good judge of character & understands how high the bar needs to be set.  And she’s extremely grounded, knows what she wants out of life, & she will not be denied.  So whoever it is… He won’t be a scrub…

scrub

And if one does slip through the cracks…  I’m still very familiar with swamp lands in both Carolinas…

Of Cow Patties & Grace…

DISCLAIMER:  If you have a weak stomach, are faint of heart, or have delicate sensibilities… You may want to skip this entry…

 

A few blog entries ago, I mentioned that I grew up with cows on the “farm”.  I use air quotes for “farm” there because it really wasn’t a farm in the conventional sense.  It was more like 20 acres out in the country that had a house, a good-sized yard, some farm land (that we rented out to other local farmers), & in one sliver of the overall 20 acres…  a small barn & cow pasture.  My dad maintained a small herd of 8-10 cows from as far back as I can remember until he had a heart attack in the late 90’s and could no longer maintain them.

Growing up, I could not for the life of me figure out why he even bothered.  They were A LOT of work… We’d sell one off at auction every year or so when the herd got too big, but the amount you’d receive hardly justified the effort to me.  And as the only son, that meant a lot of effort (aka… work) for ME.  It wasn’t until much later in life that I figured out that those cows for him were actually stress relief.  And he had a plenty enough stressful job.

But for me, they were just work…  And the reason I missed Saturday morning cartoons most of the time.  Or the reason I couldn’t go to a sleepover at a friend’s house.  That was as far as I could see it at the time…  I’m not at all proud of how selfish that sounds now as I type this all out…


There are certain things that have to be done in order to manage even a small herd of cows.  One of the more glamorous annual chores that fell to me once I was old enough, was the cleaning of the stable.  Our stable area wasn’t huge…  Maybe 20′ x 12′ if my memory serves.  It didn’t take much more space than that given the small number we had.  The main purpose it served was it gave us an easy place to feed them.  But it also gave them a place to stay warm in the winter or provide cool shade in the summer.  So when the cows weren’t out grazing the pasture, they inevitably ended up in the stable.

I wonder at this point if any of my readers even have a clue about how much poop 8-10 cows can produce in the course of a year…  I’ll pause here so you can try to get a visual…

smiling-cow

Let’s start with the rough dimensions…  I’ve already given you the stable dimension… 20′  x 12’… But let’s talk depth now…  As it turns out, 8-10 cows… over the course of a year or so… can generate poop that is roughly 2′ deep in a space of that size.  That’s almost 500 CUBIC FEET of cow patties my friends!…  And it was my job to remove them…

Why did it have to be removed you ask?  Wouldn’t it just biodegrade?… Au contraire mes amis…  You have to understand that there is an Imbalance in The Force at work here…  The rate of cow patty degradation is FAR LESS than the rate of cow patty production…  So if you do nothing about it, eventually your cows would trap themselves between the ceiling of the stable & the pile of manure under their hooves.  Because really, they’re not all that bright…

So how exactly does one remove 500 cubic feet of manure?…  Well, one shovel full at a time of course…

Actually that’s not true at all…  There are much greater subtleties involved than just this…

Oh sure, the fresh stuff is of a consistency that requires the use of a shovel.  But once you get beyond that top layer… to the 6, 9, or 12 month old poo… That requires a totally different approach.

You see, cow patties of this maturity have basically hardened into a substance stronger than concrete.  A shovel will do you no good in this scenario…  No, Step 1 involves breaking the substance up into manageable fragments.  For this, a Pick Axe is your weapon of choice.  There’s not much art form to it… Just grab the non-pointy end & swing it like a West Virginia Coal Miner…

coal-miner

With the poop broken down into at least basketball sized chunks, you can move on to Step 2.  Here you’ll just need a good pitch fork.  Just back your trailer up and start pitching the chunks from Point A to Point B.  Its back-breaking work, so you’ll want to pace yourself.  And LOOK OUT for the occasional immature chunk… Those sneaky bastards in the 3-6 month old range still carry some water weight with them and they will wretch your back in a heartbeat!

Once you’re done with those big chunks, you’ve reached the final step.  This is by far the easiest of the three steps as it just involves raking up the small bits into piles so they can be easily scooped up… It’s basically the same process as with leaves in the Fall… Only it smells worse… And you’re less tempted to jump in the pile & make snow angels…


“I’m the man in the box
Buried in my shit
Won’t you come and save me…

~ Layne Staley (Alice in Chains)


Give credit where credit it is due because Layne Staley got this much right…  We’re just like the cows…  If left to our own devices, we’ll bury ourselves knee-deep in our own crap EVERY TIME… We proved it in the Garden and we’ve continued to prove it collectively on a daily basis ever since…

Christians don’t like to admit this, but that doesn’t make it any less true.  I’m not really sure why, but Christian culture… which is based on the need for a Savior… drives us to act as if we really don’t.  It’s a messed up paradigm & one of my biggest daily struggles.

TRUE CONFESSION:  I do not have it all together… but I AM working at it with his help.

And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him. ~ 2 Corinthians 3:18

My closest friends in this world recognize this about themselves & are vulnerable enough to admit it.  And they accept me where I’m at on this journey and we encourage each other to persevere in this race we run together.  This type of fellowship is available to everyone… but you have to be willing to let your guard down to get there…  and maybe deal with a little poop along the way…

Inside Jokes

Six months had gone by since I surrendered my life to Jesus and I was still struggling with so much of the “church stuff” that turned me off when I was 18.  But our church had done the Purpose Driven Life study as a congregation and it gave me some hope that hadn’t previously existed.  As the study drew to a close, one of the key points was to find somewhere to plug in & serve.

So on a Wednesday Night in April, I found myself wandering around the church campus praying to God to reveal to me where it was I was supposed to serve.  My wife had already settled into the choir.  My oldest was in the nursery.  So I’m alone, walking around, feeling like I fit in exactly NO WHERE.  After an hour or so of this, I’m started to get really agitated and I’m quickly drawing the conclusion that there’s no point to ANY of this…


24 After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”

25 “Yes, he does,” he replied.

When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?”

26 “From others,” Peter answered.

“Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. 27 “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” ~ Matthew 17

What an odd little story we have here…  Does anybody else ever have that feeling reading the bible?… No?… Just me then…

Let’s get some perspective here & see if what happens…  We know that Peter is one of Jesus’s closest peeps… He was one of the Big Three…  Peter, James, & John…  You know… Mount of Transfiguration…  Raising a girl from the dead…  Garden of Gethsemane…  At all of these pivotal moments, Jesus pulls in his closest allies…

But in this story, Peter is having a moment of doubt about his friend.  Jesus offers him an explanation without him even asking, but he knows this is something Peter will have to chew on for a bit…  So he sends him fishing…

DID YOU CATCH IT?…  He sends the FISHERMAN… FISHING… to work out his doubts.  That’s either the best or the worst Inside Joke ever!


And its not like this is the only example of Jesus enjoying a good inside joke with the boys…

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee.[a] It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. ~ John 21

DID YOU CATCH IT?…  Jesus stands on the shore, but conceals himself from being recognized .  The boys haven’t caught a thing?…  Throw your nets on the other side?…  Remind you of anything?…  Like that other time by the lake?… Peter caught on quickly, that’s for sure…

Have you ever considered that Jesus has a sense of humor?  That may unnerve some of my readers, but seriously?… Where do you think we got it from given the whole Man in His Image thing?…


[PAUSE]  I’m no theologian…  And I certainly don’t intend to dive into anything so deep as The Trinity in this blog post…

But I have this mental image that has stuck with me ever since that night.  It’s Jesus as he turns to the Father & the Spirit with this big sheepish grin and say, “Watch this!”…


So I’m just about to give up and call it a night when I hear it.  At first, I thought maybe I was hearing things… Because there is NO WAY that I am hearing For Whom The Bell Tolls by Metallica coming from the Old Chapel…  There’s just so much wrong with that picture… I mean did the Southern Baptist Convention know about this?…  Was I being punked?…  Like, where is Ashton Kutcher, cause I know he’s around here somewhere?…

Nope…  Just the Youth Praise Band warming up before someone came in & made them get serious about rehearsal…  Which is actually pretty typical as Youth Praise Bands go…

And so through a love of 80’s Metal he drew me in…And launched a journey into Worship Ministry I could have never seen coming… Inside Joke indeed…

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