Plentiful Ponderings of Pastor Kenn 

excerpts order as listed in header
 [out of print] – copyrighted 
 

The Perfect Christmas Tree                                                    Gentle Cheering
Double Dog Dare                                                         Snip-Rip Tear

The Perfect Christmas Tree

         It was supposed to be easy. That’s how I remember it Dad taking my brother’s and me into the woods to cut our Christmas tree. Now grown up, married, and responsible for fetching in the Yule tide log, I find myself eleven days before Christmas and still procrastinating. I almost had to do it last week, but the weather saved me. I was aware ‘T day’ neared like a gold medalist approaching the finish line. So I wasn’t surprised when my wife asked, “When are we going to get the tree?”

WE?  Oh well, just get the annual tree ‘discussion’ over with.

“We don’t need a big tree this year,” I suggested. “A little artificial one on the coffee table will do.”

“Our son’s coming in, and you want a tiny tinsel tree?”

“Christmas isn’t about a tree, it about Christ’s birthday and family.”

“It’s the symbol of Christmas,” she insisted. “It’s not Christmas without a tree.”

“Personally dear, I’ve a preference toward the nativity set. What’s more symbolic of Christmas?”

“Just where do the presents go? Or the garland? How do you decorate a crèche? And you’ve never seen a nativity-tie-tack in your life, or I a crèche earring! The tree has the ‘fit’.”

“So what? I can set the nativity up in twenty minutes, it doesn’t’ need watering, it won’t shed needles, and it’s more authentic.”

“Authentic? Don’t even start that ‘pagan Nimrod log’ sermon. It doesn’t wash.”

“Sweet heart, I accept the tree as a symbol of Christmas, the ages of use have authenticated it. But a nativity…

“It’s authentic is it?” she inputted. It was probably a cave. Nobody knows.”

“I’m only saying, a manger set or tiny tinsel tree would be easier. It’s Christmas. It’s suppose to be easy; a relaxing time.”

She shot back with the retort no man can stomach around Christmas, “Easy’s got nothin’ to do with it? You’re a Scrooge!”

That did it. No man wants to be labeled an old humbug in his own house.

“Okay, we’ll get a real tree. Where do you suggest I find one that won’t be dried out in a couple days?”

“Newspaper said there’s a place west of here where you can ‘cut your own’.”

A good Scrooge knows when to admit defeat. So I set forth on the annual hunt for the perfect tree.

I can either get our tree from a lot, or go on a Christmas tree hunt and cut one down. Humm—grab one off a lot—easier.

I should have pondered it more. I spent all day going from tree lot to tree lot.

 

“Oh I’ve got just the tree.” The cheerful attendant beamed.

“It has to fit my budget.”

“Cheapest in town. If I don’t sell it, I eat it.”

I’m directed to a pile of netted trees, where he sorts through with flare. Grabbing one, he announces, “Yeah, this is it.”

“How can you tell?”

“Experience. Been doing this for ten years.”

Ten years? Ten days should be sufficient.

He cut the netting away with a box knife, banged it on a concrete block and held it erect, “It’ll open up. Fill out great once it’s in place.”

“Looks a bit mashed and misshaped to me. How fresh is it?”

“Our trees are cut in Maine around Thanksgiving and shipped the next day."

Fast trucks. These lots spring up two days after?

I felt the needles and several fell to the ground, “Thanksgiving? Of what year?” I asked.

“It’s a pine tree. They all shed. Won’t do any better this late.”

We haggled then I finally used my trump card, “Have to okay it with the wife.”

No salesman can argue with that. I had to get outta’ there! It’s one of those little white lies we tell. Not to say they’re okay, especially at Christmas, but I was running out of time. I left and moved on. Lot after lot, I encountered the same scenario. With the sun low in the western sky, I realized I should have taken the very first tree hours ago. I rushed back to find the attendant.

“Do you remember me from this morning?”

“Oh yes, of course. You wanted to check with your wife.”

“Yes, and the third tree you showed me will be perfect.”

“Sorry, sold it right after you left. But I have its twin set out down in the corner.”

I followed dutifully as I thought: I’m starting all over! It’s supposed to be easy! I began to fault myself as I followed the attendant. Maybe I expect a Christmas tree to look like more than a tree, or maybe it’s they all pretty much do. After they are strung in ornaments and tinsel new and old, they all serve acceptably well. Can’t recall seeing an ugly Christmas tree? I will admit seeing some ugly decorations, but that's not the tree's fault.

His banging the tree trunk on the block got my attention. I felt the needles, and explained, “Since my son is serving in the military, we don't know exactly when he’ll arrive home to celebrate. It could be a week later. To celebrate without a tree seems less than Christmas.”

“Why didn’t you say so sooner? Military, I’ll knock five bucks off.”

“Appreciate your offer, but I need a freshly hewn tree. Excuse me, but the lots’ standard ‘Thanksgiving cut’ doesn’t cut it.”

“You won’t do any better, lest you cut your own.”

Cut my own! Where did I hear that before? I hastily weighed present tradition against nostalgia. I better find the newspaper.

“And what better day than on the first day of Christmas,” I said to the salesman as I left. “You’ve been a big help.”

 

I came through the kitchen door with a smile. “Dear, where’s today’s paper?”

“Did you get the tree? I didn’t see it in the truck when you pulled in.”

“No, they were all dried out. I realized you had the better idea all the time.”

“I did?” she said perking up.

“Yes, an’ old fashion Christmas. We’ll go cut our own, together. It’ll be a fun outing, a new tradition, it’ll be easy.”

“Do I need to go?”

“Indeed, you have the eye for it. Remember last year: it was you that noticed the tree was stubby, you who detected it leaned, and you can spot a shaggy tree in two shakes and a turn.”

“I suppose,” but we’d need to go early tomorrow.

“First thing, we’ll eat breakfast on the way,” I agreed. A one shot deal; her verified ‘select’ stamp before the axe is swung. There’s no, ‘take it back’ or ‘get another’. It would make things easy.

The thought of our doing an old fashioned Christmas tree hunt should have met strenuous objections from my psyche, but nostalgia dulled it. If I had pondered it honestly I’d have remembered dad hauling me into the woods in my pre adolescent years on tree hunts I thought would never end.

 

After an hour of traveling in circles, I would note, “We’ve been here before.”

“Quit your gripin’, son.”

“But I’m cold, and my feet are wet.”

“Anythin’ else?”

“I’m hungry.”

“We’ll be done soon.”

“When?”

“Soon as I find the perfect tree.”

“There ain’t none.”

“Oh, hush up! Glory be, if’n the GIs had been like you, we would be speakin’ German now.”

“What’s ‘German’?”

We trudged on. Eventually, Dad stopped at the foot of a Fir tree. “Stay put, son, I’m gonna check out the top of this one.”

After some minutes, his voice shouted, "Go out in the clearing over there ‘till you can see me”.

I trudged through the snow. “Yea, Dad, I see you.”

“How does the top of this look?"

I was a kid. I didn’t know? I just wanted to go home, “It’s fine,” I hollered up.

With that, he sawed off the top eight feet, dragged it back to the car, tied it on and we headed for home. Finally, I was getting warm.

 

“Here the add!” Shirley’s voice poked through my thoughts bringing me back to present problems.

Now, I’m about to do it again! “At least, we’ll have a fresh tree. Better than those on the lots,” I conferred.

“We’ll save money too,” She pointed out.

That I like to hear.

“Listen to this,” ‘Sixty-five acres of select firs Any kind, or size. Shaped by quarterly pruning. The perfect tree, cut fresh, at half the price the city lots. You pick it, we’ll cut and load it. Short drive from Cincinnati.’

 That sounds so easy, I thought.

 

Late the next morning we drove along in search of such a farm. It was early afternoon when we turned down a country road, in this case a dirt lane, and proceeded about fifteen miles into the unpopulated terrain of gently rolling Indiana hills and meandering streams.

“We ever going to get there?” I asked rhetorically.

“Paper said it was a short drive, Shirley qualified.

Short drive, for an over the road trucker maybe.

The sun was shining, and for December, it was unseasonably warm; a beautiful day for an old fashioned tree hunt. I enjoyed the scenery until a hand painted sign brought me back to the reality of the task at hand.

The muddy access road winding uphill from the one we were on should have been a clue. A hand painted sign pointing upward read, "Krismus Trees," and a tractor path [tractor being a key word] led back into the wooded hillside. How many clues does a man need? Must have been numbed by the Christmas spirit.

“Well, my dear, we’ve found it,” I said parking near the sign.

“I’m sure they’re better tree farmers than sign painters,” she replied optimistically.

In the warmth of the day the ground was thawed, and prior tree searchers had trampled the soft pathway into a slime slick muddy ramp.

“I can’t drive up that. It’s too narrow, and even if it wasn’t I don’t have four wheel drive. We’ll have to walk,” I pointed out. “Glad you wore the boots now, uh?”

“How far is it?” she replied sternly.

“Never been here before. No idea, maybe, we can see from the top of the hill, it’s only a hundred feet or so.”

Not being easily discouraged, we proceeded where a mountain goat would have been on unsure footing.

Why is it, when you start slipping and sliding, you grab onto the nearest person? It’s not logical because this person, grasped in panic, is also dealing with the same slippery surface. Is it not obvious they’re not the best source of support? All you’re doing is adding to their instability.

How often I have seen this acted out in numerous situations, as someone begins slipping, sliding, and both end up flailing about as they tumble less than gracefully to the ground. So Shirley slipping in an effort to traverse the muddy slope grabbed my arm, and like new born colts trying to stand, our legs wobbled and folded.

Covered in mud, we crawled into an opening at the top of the incline.

“Well, we no longer need worry about getting muddy,” She encouraged.

“What insight you have, Sweetheart, the farmer knowing city folk aren't ready to hunt for trees until seasoned with country mud, has watered the trail down. It takes the edge off of hesitation to wander into his fields to pick a tree.”

“How silly. I don’t believe you.”

We walked toward a scarecrow in a sitting position on a milking stool outside what appeared an abandoned outhouse. A red flannel long-john top under a bib overhaul, waved from under the open Levi jacket with corduroy collar and cuffs. Corn silk wisps of hair peeked from under the broken bent brims of a straw hat. At ten feet distance it spoke, verifying it wasn’t a scarecrow, but an attendant.

 “Pick a tree, cut it, haul it out its fifty cents a foot. I cut or haul, it’s a buck.”

“Thank you,” I acknowledged looking about. There were trees all around. It took me less than ten minutes, no time at all in tree hunting time to choose one.

“How about this one? Think it’s a Douglas Fir.”

“How would you know?”

“It’s what the tag at the limb says.”

“It’s nice, tall enough, but not very full,” Shirley said.

We pushed on. The wind whispered false promises calling us deeper into the trees. There we would find the perfect tree.

“I like that one. Good shape, and if I trim the bottom it won’t be too tall.”

Her top lip chased her bottom lip as she walked around it, and shouted back, “It’s got a gaping hole in the back.”

Deeper and deeper into the woods. Tree after tree failed inspection.

“They all looked great at first,” she admitted. “But they need a closer look.”

“I’m getting hungry. Can’t we hurry?”

As we spent time getting to know each tree we discovered them lacking: leans, too bushy, hole on the left, hole on the right, crooked trunk, too full with no places to hang ornaments, not full enough, lopsided bottom, off-sided top. We walked farther. The trees thickened. On to ‘where none had gone before’ and finally a tree stood apart from all the others.

“It’s perfect,” she gasped.

I knelt with the saw, but thinking a prayer of thanksgiving.”

“Wait! Don’t be in a hurry.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Something?

I stepped back, “You’re right, perfect. It’s shaped just right, full but not too full, trunk curves slightly but adds character, tall with room for the angel at the ceiling, and yet short enough not to dwarf the observer.”

She viewed it from every angle, “Yes it’s acceptable.”

“Acceptable? It’s without blemish!”

“Okay, let’s take it. I’m tired,” she agreed.

Indeed, so perfect was this tree I put the saw to it in reluctance of killing such a fine specimen.

“I’ll carry the pointed end,” she offered.

Five minutes later I was dragging it from the big end.

“Honey, you never know how far you’ve walked into the woods until you try to carry something out.”

I spent some time "bonding" with this little piece of nature, and by the time I arrived at the shed with the scarecrow attendant my affinity for it had faded.

“How much more to haul it to the truck for me?” I asked.

“Six bucks.”

Shirley looked at me in disgust.

Oops, I’ve trashed my herculean image. “Never mind,” I said.

I blazed a new path parallel to the tractor access to avoid dragging our perfect tree through the mud. I laid it in the truck bed as if tucking a sleeping child into bed.

Maybe there’s something to be said for the old fashioned Christmas tree hunt, I thought on the ride home. But by then the memory of my aching and tired muscles were forgotten.

Home, I pruned it to fit in the stand. Inside we turned it left two turns, then right three, and back again.

Finding the best side of a ‘perfect tree’ is a gift.

After adjusting for lean, Shirley said, “There, that’s the good side. Now we decorate.”

Are we never done?

While hanging the new and old ornaments upon it, I wondered, She said, ‘There’s the good side’? That means it has a bad one. It’s not perfect? We finished decorating it, broke out the hot chocolate, and admired our Christmas tree.

With time, I saw the holes, the imperfections. It leans left viewed from the right and slants right when seen from the left. The bottom branch droops and the leader branch is stubby. The trunk is as crooked as the farm road we took to find it. It has a hole on the bottom left, a hole in the upper right, "here a hole, there a hole, everywhere a hole." It is truly a "holey" tree.

They’re not all minor flaws, to be honest. But then can I fault it; I’m like that tree. God looks at me and doesn’t see the flaws. Jesus has covered them with His blood. Indeed it is a Holy symbol of Christmas.

“Sweet heart, I like this tree.”

“It’s not the best we’ve had.”

“Actually, I think it might be. I am glad it’s not perfect.”

“Why’s that?”

“Seems fitting. Its imperfection is the perfect means to contrast the perfect child of Christmas: a perfect child, born to a mission of perfecting man. Born in an all too imperfect of circumstances. Straw upon a mud floor was not the perfect carpet. An open fire was not the perfect heater. The feed trough was not the perfect crib. Swaddling clothes were not the perfect attire. A warning to flee into Egypt was not the perfect greeting. And, why was he born in the first place? To bring the blessed hope of salvation to a not so perfect a people—us.

“Yes, our tree is a holy Christmas tree and perfect. We’ll have to cut our own again next year.”

“Why not, it was easy,” I said.

“It’s supposed to be easy,” she reminded.

 

             Double Dog Dare


        “
Dare you to read this!” 
        
“Oh. ye’?” 
        
“Yeah! I double dog dare ya.” 
        
Gotta keep reading now, don’t you? 
        
There’s something about the DOUBLE DOG DARE. 
        
Many discussions of my youth ended that way. And we knew somebody was about to do a ‘stupid’. Wiser now. I often ponder some of those double dog encounters. If I had been a particularly bright child, I would’ve refused them. Nevertheless, in order to fit in with my brothers and the neighborhood kids, at times I demonstrated less than my full mental acumen. By the early teens, I carried a repertoire of uncountable scares and numerous scares from double dog dares.

Having paid the price often, hearing the cry to arms, “Double dog dare ya,” there arose within my veins chilling uneasiness. Unfortunately, common sense is defenseless against the heat of pride, which dissipates any fear.

Indeed this dog left its teeth marks in my hide on many an occasion, but never so deep as on Sled-Ride-hill along Thirteenth Street’s steep grade. When the snow came, a slight breeze from across the creek transformed flakes into ice crystals, and frequent barricading encouraged the neighborhood gatherings. Even so, the hill was reasonably safe for sledding; if you define “safe” loosely and assume common sense reigns in adolescent minds. (As an aside, I call it “uncommon sense” because not too many people have it.) 
        
Cut into the hillside the street seldom failed to provide a fast ride, but the almost treeless hill to the side of the road was steeper. Near the bottom several briar bushes paralleled the road with a ditch. This treacherous grade leveled out just prior to it. Each run down the street dulled the experience as the side-hill promised one excited fast and furious ride. Repetition being the mother of monotony, within an hour this hillside beckoned as faster and more daring opportunities were sought. 
        
Overlooking that hillside youngsters lured by budding manhood gathered waiting for courage to subdue uncommon sense. Such stirrings guaranteed the advent of the double dog dare. I stood amongst my brothers, playmates, and neighborhood strangers surveying a natural, but rugged, trail down the otherwise overgrown hillside. A car hood from the creek bottom was used as a ramp to jump the ditch and land on the roadway. 
        
Few made it that far. Unless the sled hit the rounded hood just right, it veered into the ditch. Struck center, the sledder shot off the ramp several feet above the road usually parting company with his sled. The landing guaranteed a visit to the thorn bushes or the creek bottom. The most daring made several attempts collecting bloody noses, scrapes or broken bones as trophies. With mishap after mishap, anticipation of a serious injury grew decreasing participation. One by one the sledders picked themselves up, faces wincing with real or imagined pain. 
        
“I hear Momma callin’,” Melvin whimpered limping away. It became the acceptable admission of defeat. 
        
The voice from behind me was inevitable as I considered the now compressed runway snaking down the hillside like the crooked smile of satan[1],
         “Bet YOU can’t do it.” 
        
“Could! IF I wanted to.” 
        
“No, you couldn’t.” 
        
“Yeah I could.” 
        
“No way!” 
        
“Yeah, way!” 
        
Double dog dare you!” 
        
Oh, yeah! I’ll show you! 
        
Lying face down on my new (less than a month old) American Flyer sled. Poised like an Olympic skier at the top of a ski jump, the eighty-foot trail looked interminable. Three big locust trees began the well-packed slalom which midway brandished two large rocks, several aspens just beyond, and then the ramp. Watching provided several lessons: dragging my foot would quick turn the sled, but if the toe dug in, I’d flip. Steering left of the rocks was smoother but risked trees. Going between the jagged rocks was adventurous, but straighter. Only one thing held me back: dawdling courage. 
        
“Well, are you going to do it or NOT?” the voice scorned. 
        
“Yeah, WHEN I’M GOOD AND READY!” I retorted, realizing I was as ready as I would ever be, but not sufficiently foolhardy. 
        
“He’s chicken!” 
        
“Cluck cluck cluck-cluckity- cluck,” the bystanders jeered. Adrenaline fed my mind’s eyes. I saw my cape fluttering. 
        
“I knew you’d be TOO SCARED!” 
        
The voice seemed distant now. I was taking a bow, hearing the cheers, tasting sweet promise of fame. I pushed off. The sled stood up to its name. It was flying. A dragged toe pulled me right of the first tree. Two more toe drags put me back on track toward the boulders. The sled caught the first one sideways. I flipped, bounced, and rolled down the hillside ricocheting off an aspen tree before thumping into the ditch. Assuming I was dying, doubled up with the wind knocked out of me, I lay there several minutes after the onlookers excited cries fell hush. The effort was grand and the pound of flesh exacted. Crawling out, I dragged my bruised body and throbbing hip to the top of the hill. 
        
“I told you. You couldn’t do it!” 
        
I wasn’t dead, but neither was the double dog dare, “Oh, yeah? That- -was just—practice,” I sneered repositioning the sled. Why did I say that? 
        
Granted most of us do wake up stupid some days and never get over it. However, even on a day of savvy, the double dog dare works a spell. With a full dose of adrenaline it seemed the only possible reply.    
        
A closer scrutiny yielded no better plan, but I was determined. I shoved off harder. The sled gained speed. Right toe, left toe, toe again, the trees were behind me. Bump, bump, bump, the sled a bucking bull, I hung on like a cowboy at his last rodeo. The ramp loomed in an instant. “Swoosh,” I was airborne. With every ounce of tenacious strength, I hung onto that sled. We were coming down together. “WHAMM,” it hit the street runners digging in and gravel flying. It jerked. Turning, the sled slid down the street. 
        
I DID IT! 
        
As the sled came to a stop, I rolled off feeling melted snow in my face. I wiped it off and noticed it was red. My nose was bleeding. No matter, I had defeated the double dog dare I reached down and picked up the sled. 
        
Where are the runners? 
        
My brothers approached shouting, “Our new sled! It’s broken to pieces!” 
        
Two brothers each carried a runner and I the sled. It was a shared thing. From that day on, Thirteenth Street hill was known to us as “Sled-Ride hill.” There was never another worthy of us, and at first fresh snow we were off with whatever and however many sleds we could find. I don’t know how many sleds met crushing death on Sled-Ride hill, but my brothers and I contributed more than our share. 
        
Much older now and wiser, I think, I look back and ponder Why was it so hard to resist a double dog dare? And, it seems to me the root pride. As Christians, we no longer need prove who we are; we are sons and daughters of Christ, children of the King of Kings. Our worth proven; we are ambassadors of our Lord, and priests within a Royal Priesthood. My position secure eternally, I no longer sustain my position through physical efforts or spiritual accomplishments. Yet, sometimes the church seems built at the top of “Sled-Ride hill”. 
        
“Did you hear it? There it is again.” 
        
“Hear what?” you ask. 
        
“That voice whispering, ‘Double dog dare ya’.” 
    
Sometimes, I still do. Where does it come from? The devil of course. What might The Bible say about it?

Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before stumbling.[2]

Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, But ?humility goes before honor.[3]

         Now if that isn’t a fitting description of the double dog dare of Sled-Ride hill, I’ll eat my sled, or what’s left of it.

 


[1]    The author is aware “satan” is a proper noun, and grammar cites capitalization; however such infers a measure of propriety or esteem which he declines to imply.

[2] New American Standard Bible : 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA : The Lockman Foundation, 1995, S. Pr 16:18

[3] New American Standard Bible : 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA : The Lockman Foundation, 1995, S. Pr 18:12

            Gentile Cheering

 

As a young lad, several times each summer, I went to the lake with my Granddad. He was not a man to raise his voice. When we went fishing on the lake, Granddad would position himself in the bow of the boat with his good luck pillow, and I would row to a shady place.

Granddad would remind me, "Fish always bite better in the cool shade." Then, securely anchored, he'd throw his line over, and with a smile say, “Shhh, I’ll be going into my ‘ambush pose’ now.

He once confided its purpose was not to scare the fish. That’s when he’d lean back resting his head on his lucky pillow, pull his hat down over his eyes, and remain motionless.

In short order, he’d start calling the fish in with a technique he said he learned from a of a ‘llama doll’ in a monastery during the ‘big war’ I reckon there wasn’t much to do then, for him to play with dolls, but after the war he went back to fishing and man stuff. To me, a child of ten, his knack of calling fish sounded like snoring. I mentioned it to him once, and he explained about frequencies and rhythms. It was pretty complicated.

“Grandpa,” I once asked, “How can you tell when you get a bite?”

He smiled reassuringly, “Easy enough. With age dimming my eyes, it’s easier to feel the bite on the string in the ‘ambush pose’.@

His wisdom so fascinated I begged often, “Will you teach me the ‘ambush pose’?”

“When you’re old enough to master it,” he always said.

I was a fortunate lad to have such an enlightened granddad. His ‘fish calling technique benefited everyone in the boat. It was during one such fishing expedition I caught a great fish.

This great fish, lured by Granddad’s calling, hit my line like bowling ball smashes a strike. The ensuing struggle was so violent it rocked the boat. Granddad thinking I was about to lose the great catch, rolled right out into the water to net the critter. But, in his excitement he forgot to take the net. There arose a mighty upheaval. The boat rocked like two fat boys on a teeter-totter. I yanked and reeled with the anticipation of Charismas eve, and Granddad splashed and thrashed near the boat yelling at the great fish in words only it could understand.

Granddad gave it his very best, but old people tire quickly, and the great fish won out. His head slowly reappeared above the mossy water, spitting, sputtering, and coughing. My eyes caught his peeking through dangling algae, and thereupon was an expression I had never seen before. I could tell he was dissapointed, and I was feeling plenty sad too. Obviously, Granddad was da bit down in the dumps over letting the fish escape.

Nevertheless, Granddad’s character refused to let the broken line get the best of him. He climbed back in the boat. Didn’t say a word about losing the fish the whole time he helped me refit my rod.

Then returning to the bow, Granddad said, “Keep at it. You’ll catch him someday,” and sealed it with a nodding wink. He resumed his ‘ambush stance’, and in a short time was ‘calling in the fish’ again. The summer heat dried his clothes. Neither of us caught anything that day, but it didn’t matter. I knew in my heart, ‘I’d get him someday.’ Granddad said so!

As soon as we returned to the cabin and Granddad told Grandmother, “Young’n caught a big ‘tree snag’ bass, and I went for a swim.”

She answered without losing her granny smile, “Sounds like you had fun.”

“T’was an’ interesting day. What’s for supper, gran-maw?”

“Tree-snag Bass.”

“Humph,” he mumbled going to the rocker on the porch.”

I went about my play until’ supper. I was suppressed to learn. Tree-snag Bass tasted like chicken.”

Looking back on that day, as I best remember it of course, the thing most invigorating was Granddad’s moss framed expression. I now know it was a form of gentle cheering.

My second encounter with gentle cheering came a year later. During my many visits, Granddad taught me to shoot his .22 caliber rifle. We had gone "squirreling" many times. On one particular visit to the lake, he entered me in a rifle marksmanship contest sponsored by the Marines. Hunter safety was a part of the contest. Those Marines were strict, and if you did anything unsafe or outside the rules, you suffered the embarrassment of disqualification!

 I was concerned I would forget or do something to get tossed out. I built my worries of facing Granddad’s eyes of disappointment into a full-fledged anxious phobia. Granddad was there in the front row. It made me more apprehensive, because I knew he would see my every mistake. I thought it unnecessary to go early, but Granddad insisted "A front row seat was the only one where the light was right for his ‘dimming eyes’."

The observers were not allowed to yell out nor talk to the contestants. We were on our own. I took one look at the soldier – it was Hercules in uniform – and I knew it was gonna be tough! He scrutinized every move; loading, shooting, and rifle handling safety. But, every step of the way Granddad was there, talking me through it with his eyes: a gentle nod here, a smile of approval there, a raised eyebrow as I started to slip --  a wink when I caught it.

I didn't win, but I managed honorable mention. Granddad said I should have won first place. But then, we know his eyes are dimming.

There’s a Greek word, [paraklesis; Koinonia Greek], generally translated as “encouragement or comfort”. I’ve never forgotten running across it In one of my studies (In Philippians 2:1) where the commentary translated it “gentle cheering.” The term seemed an oxymoron, as self contradicting as a ‘cruel kindness’. In my world, cheering is foremost associated with sports; at any rate, it s exuberant, ardent, heated, loud, boisterous expressions of vicarious joy. How can such be ‘gentle’?

Granddad wasn’t Greek, but he taught me the meaning of “gentle cheering”. Gentle cheering is empowered by love, acceptance in forgiveness, and the desire for anothers best interests no matter what. I’ve lived long enough to experience my Heavenly Father’s gentle cheeringr. He sets on the front row, watching my every move, a raised eyebrow as I started to slip --  a wink when I catch it. In every respect calming my anxieties. He doesn’t wear a uniform, but he’s a hundred times bigger than a Herculean Marine. I pray I never forget I can trust Him completely. There is a gentle cheering in Christ=s Jesus and it truly is a comfort.

 

 

Snip-Rip-Tear

          My wife and I first set up housekeeping with beg and “please, take it--you need it” furniture.  Oh, the charm of second hand furniture! A gracious friend of my mother’s brother contributed a sofa and chair.    
        
Serviceable. Good stuffing. The springs and stuffing are still there. 
        
We knew this because thread bear fabric allowed ‘inner-spection.’  Although the mismatched wingback chair was in far better condition, they clashed like a Jewish dishwasher in an Italian restaurant. Nevertheless, we being in honeymoon bliss, they were most appealing – especially to the budget. 
        
We solved the sofa problem with an Indian blanket. It fit the developing décor. When guests inquired about our decorator, I answered, “Shirley B. Famolay” and gave them the zoo’s number sufficed. No one ever inquired twice. Apparently, they experienced little difficulty reaching her. Unfortunately the blanket had trouble staying on the reservation. Frequently the spread had to be adjusted and re-pinned. On one of those occasions I came upon an alternative plan and subsequently learned a lesson of marriage: husbands stay out of the curtains and fabric matters of the home, “Yes dear, the purple goes beautifully with green.” 
        
The origin and solution were both products of Shirley B. Famolay, demonstrating the value of family ties. I remembered Opal, my aunt, was the renowned seamstress in the family tree. 
        “Aunt Opal,” I whispered one afternoon, “can you make slipcovers as a surprise anniversary gift?” 
        
(Slipcovers, a term, for the most part, lost to this generation, are cloth coverings tailored to slip over the furniture. If well done, they fit like the original upholstery.) Aunt Opal sewed my mother’s curtains and slipcovers. They looked fine to me 
        
“Buy the material. Sure, I’ll whip it out one afternoon.” 
        
One afternoon? Shouldn’t it take a week? 
        
The materials were procured with the advice and help of my mother, and “one afternoon” two weeks later the project began.  I stood by with pencil, chalk, paper and tape measure for the preparation of a pattern.  Then she began. Standing, swaying, looking and “Um-humming” she puckered like a baby expecting applesauce and getting spinach. Then, Aunt Opal attacked a bolt of cloth. She tossed it out over the chair, stood back, gazed, paused, and started “um-humming" again. 
        
Suddenly she shot to the chair tugging at one corner of outstretched material then the other muttering “Um-humm-hummm-humm” sounding like the backup warning on a highway dump truck. Finally it met her satisfaction and scissors came from her pouch like a quick-draw gunfighter. With sudden sweeping motion, snip-snip, tear, rip-rip-rip!" 
        
I expected the snip-snip, but the tear- rip-rip-rip was too much!  I paid a lot of money for that cloth! She ripped those dollar bills every which way.  No measurements! No pattern! Just rip and tear! Rip to the left and tear to the right, rip up the grain, tear down. But how can I ask her to stop? She’s here because of me. 
        
Minutes passed, the lint settled, and a pile of rippings lay at the foot of the chair, and without hesitation Aunt Opal sidestepped in front of the couch. 
        
"Are you sure we don't want to take some measurements? Shouldn't we work out some kind of a pattern?" I inquired hoping for some small sign of agreement.  I received a busy smile like you might get from a cat entangled in a ball of yarn, yet still playing. 
        
"Makin’ pat-terns. That ‘n’ there’s done," she said pointing to the pile of rippings as Aunt Opal spread a bolt across the sofa and draped another over the back. She ripped two pieces off and laid them across the arms. "See, there's the pattern." 
        
Rip-rip, tear, snip, rip-rip-rip.  Another pile of rippings lay at the foot of the couch. By now I entertained concerns. Had lost my paddle in heavy rapids having dispatched her on this favor? I was left to hang on and ride it out. Wishing I could hit “rewind” I asked, "Do you need my help with anything?" 
        
"Naw, just needs to sew ‘r up," she said carting the first pile to the sewing machine 
        
At least she’s using the sewing machine! That’s a good sign, I think! 
        “I works better alone.” 
        
I knew what that meant. Get out! 
        
I retired to the kitchen. As the afternoon faded into dusk, I occasionally peeked around the corner to see her snipping, or making chalk marks as she smoothed cloth over the arm or back. 
        
About suppertime my feared anticipation peeked.  "DONE. Come see what y’u thinks." 
        
With hesitant, hurried step I moved into the room. I was afraid my worst fears would be realized, yet I anticipated something new. I looked upon the finished job.  It was unbelievable! I scrutinized the perfectly tailored work: every seam straight, no ragged edges, perfect pattern match, and a glove fit. It was so well done the furniture appeared newly upholstered.  And, each cushion had a perfect pattern match top and bottom.  I was amazed.  From rip, rip, snip, tear to a new living room set. 
        
Scarce are people who know enough about their craft to do it expertly. My aunt had sewn since childhood. She knew well what to do and did it well. I love to watch those kinds of craftsmen work. The blending of experience and expertise into pride of workmanship makes the finished product seem to flow or appear before your eyes. 
        
Interestingly enough, God does that with us. He forms each of us uniquely with purpose. He gives us talents to accomplish His purpose, and He promises to meet our every need.  We have far more going for us than we acknowledge. 
        
Sure it’s understandable, when God stands back and the rip-snip-tearing on us starts, for us to get anxious and cry out, “God, you sure you don't need a pattern or something?” I find it hard to let God work in my life. I need to find the patience and confidence to let God’s expertise and knowledge blend me into a final product by His craftsmanship. 
        
I can hear the angels talking now, "It's a joy!” They watch with excited anticipation as we grow spiritually. “Hallelujah, look at ‘em come together; take form before our eyes." 

 

For we are His workmanship, ??created in ??Christ Jesus for ?good works, which God ??prepared beforehand so that we would ??walk in them. [1]

 


 [1] New American Standard Bible : 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA : The Lockman Foundation, 1995, S. Eph 2:10

 

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