Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Blessings and Cursings

About 3,000 years ago, seems like yesterday, when King David was running from his ambitious and bloodthirsty son, he ran into a blessing and a curse in one day. Perhaps observing how he reacted to both can help us understand the way we should respond to the good and the bad we receive from others. After all, David was a man after God’s own heart, wasn’t he?

The blessing came this way as recorded in 2 Sam. 16. Ziba, the servant of David’s best friend’s son, came out of nowhere with a string of donkeys saddled and loaded with 200 loaves of bread, a hundred hunks of dried raisins, a hundred clusters of dried figs and a lot of wine. David wanted to know why Ziba had brought all the donkeys and groceries and he replied, “The donkeys are for your household to ride on (David had a sizeable household, as you know) and the bread and fruit are for your men to eat, and the wine is for refreshment in the desert.”

David accepts the gifts and gives Ziba blessings in return. How many donkeys do you suppose were in that string? I’m guessing at least 20. And they were trained enough to be competent pack animals and apparently they were broke to ride. This was the ancient equivalent of giving someone a fleet of Cadillacs--well, maybe a fleet of Chevys--with a bunch of gift certificates. But on the tail end of all this good fortune, a curse comes:

Old loudmouthed Shimei from Saul’s clan comes out badmouthing David and pelting him and his officials with rocks. Instead of offering gifts as Ziba did, Shimei says to David repeatedly, “Get out, get out, you man of blood, you scoundrel! The Lord has repaid you for all the blood you shed in the household of Saul, in whose place you have reigned. The Lord has handed the kingdom over to your son. You have come to ruin because you are a man of blood!”

David’s men want to cut Shimei’s head off for the affront, but David says, “Leave him alone and let him curse. The Lord may pay me back good for the cursing I am receiving.” Instead of reciprocating evil for evil, David takes comfort in the fact that the Lord judges justly and may well repay the evil David is receiving with good. That should be our attitude when cursings come our way.

Similarly, when someone blesses us as Ziba did David, we should respond with generosity. Even in the Old Testament the attitude is not always an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but mercy and forgiveness are often demonstrated. David himself received God’s forgiveness for major sins when he finally realized what he had done. It took Nathan the prophet to make him stop judging others and look at himself: Thou art the man! As we examine ourselves as David did in Psalm 51, repentance, mercy and forgiveness will motivate us, not revenge.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Dream Team

Knowing that I am a bicycling enthusiast, my son-in-law, Tommy, asked me to participate in a triathlon family relay, with him doing the swim, me doing the bicycle portion and our daughter, Ann, doing the run. Well, I had mainly been doing stationary bicycle workouts rather than regular road bicycle workouts, but, since he asked me early in the summer, I said yes.

The gym I go to has very fancy stationary bicycles with screens that make the various selectable rides very realistic. They give you the mileage, terrain, your heart rate and other data. I love the six-mile tour on those machines in the mountains called the Alpine Tour. The bicycles have 21 gears and on the terrain of that program, I used every one of them. I also enjoyed the Campus Loop, the Redwood Ramble and the Lost Trail, among others. The only problem with that way of conditioning is that you have no wind in your face and a gym can get quite warm.

My son-in-law borrowed a real road bike for me a couple of weeks before the event. It was a Giant brand cruiser and I took it out on my favorite bicycle trail and did the distance of the upcoming triathlon relay in satisfactory time. Even though the bicycle had straight rather than racing handlebars and even though it was a bit heavier than those I used to ride, I enjoyed conditioning on it and was satisfied with the way it adjusted to my, well, my rotundity.

When the day of the event came, hundreds of athletes (dare I count myself as one?) gathered at Alum Creek Reservoir and received instructions for the event. They gave me a number and wrote coded things with markers on my arm and leg, giving me a belt number and issuing our team a Velcro electronic ankle bracelet that we were to pass on to the member of our team next to perform. That’s how they tracked our time.

The swim was first and when Tommy hit the water, I went to stand by at the designated bicycle station, helmet on my head, water bottle full, and adrenaline pumping a bit. About 15 minutes later, Tommy came running up out of the water and we strapped the number around my waist and the Velcro thingy around my ankle and off I went. The tour was well marked and deputies were at every intersection stopping traffic for the racers. The temperature was in the 70’s, the sky was overcast and the ride was fairly flat except for the six-to-eight degree incline on the last mile. My only enemy (besides the excessive calories I carried around my middle) was the wind, the opposite of gym conditions.

People were very friendly as they passed me on the ride, saying things like, “Nice job, sir,” or “Just a few miles left.” Did they pity me? I don’t know, but I wasn’t last. In fact, our team did admirably, probably thanks to the exemplary athleticism of my younger counterparts. The endorphins made me say, at the end of the ride, “That was great family fun. Thanks for including me.” Would I do it again? Can I lose 20 pounds?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Hot One

All three of the sons in my family were in the Air Force when the middle brother fatally crashed in a B-47. The year was 1961. I was overseas when I was notified and when I got to the states on emergency leave, my surviving brother had arranged for me to drive my late brother’s car home to Arkansas. Though I was weary from my transatlantic flight, I knew I couldn’t sleep and was grateful for the task of a long distance drive. I did a lot of reminiscing and praying on that lonely trip. I learned by experience along that highway, though, that thinking of others in their grief helps allay our own.

My sister was Army and all four siblings were in uniform at the funeral. You see, those who shipped the casket asked for a uniform for the deceased. When the bugle played “Taps” and the 21-gun salute resounded and the missing plane formation out of my brother’s squadron flew over, I felt alternating grief and pride. When my siblings and I went into the military, we pledged that we would make the ultimate sacrifice if called upon to do so. Death with honor is much to be venerated and those of us who have lost service men or women in our families know that keenly.

The trip back to my base in Germany was tough. I thought the pain and lack of appetite I was experiencing was grief, but soon learned it was acute appendicitis. One evening not long after I had returned to my barracks from emergency leave, I felt desperately ill. I hadn’t eaten much for the past week and my complexion was greenish. When I reported for duty after a sleepless night, Sergeant McDonald said, “Ford, you better go to the hospital. You look terrible.” I’m sure I looked like the Hulk with a tapeworm.

I obeyed my sergeant’s order and a couple of hours later, I was scheduled for surgery. My father had died of a ruptured appendix and when I told the orderlies that in response to their initial questioning, they got busy and prepped me for the event. As I was reviving afterwards, the officer who had operated on me came to my bedside and said, “Ford, you had a hot one. Got it out just in time.” I think he meant I was at death‘s door.

The recovery from surgery was also a time of recovery from grief. I remember thinking, hey, I feel better now. I have always known that we are all mortal. My faith teaches that we will live forever in Heaven. My brother is there. I will be there one day.

Of course, I didn’t keep that mindset on a constant basis, but it gave wonderful intermittent comfort. I wrote a comical illustrated letter home about my surgery and Mother kept that letter and chuckled over it for the rest of her life. She said she was alarmed to hear of the appendicitis knowing what she knew of the dangerous disorder, but when she got the funny epistle, she said, “Danny is fine.”

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Wise Old Man Fourth of July

The letter from the Wise Old Man came the last day of June. It was an old envelope, coffee-stained and bug-streaked and the paper was from a Big Chief pad. The epistle was written in pencil in careful, painstakingly stately penmanship. The paper looked as if it had been around for decades and it had coffee cup stains in three places. It said:

“Dear Dan and Mrs. Ford, please come to my home in Union Parish north of Choudrant in the New Hope Community for the Fourth of July. I’ll be serving dinner at 5:30 and I sure hope y’all can come. If you are standing in front of the Baptist Church across from New Hope Cemetery, go left for a half mile and when the paved road goes off right, you go straight on the dirt one. My place is on the creek beyond the mounds. With every good wish, ________. P. S. no need to repondez vous.”

Even though we had other plans, it didn’t take much of a conversation between us admiring spouses (or is that spice) to decide to go, which we did and we both were entertained and edified. Even though his directions seemed vague, all the geography fell into place from the time we reached New Hope Baptist to rounding the mounds to discover an antebellum plantation home, all white and shiny in the late Louisiana sunshine. The Wise Old Man was sitting in a cane-bottom chair smoking a cob pipe and waving. There were two well-maintained horses under saddle tied to the porch railing along with a skinny old white mule under pack. Twin middle-aged men, whose faces and hands were Vermeer brown, were sitting on the steps smoking big cigars that gave the atmosphere a very homey smell.

When we got out of the Toyota, the Wise Old Man said, “Hey, y’all, you’ve gone international. Last time we visited you were driving a Chevy.” I replied that it was a bargain lease car and we liked it. “Way to go, son,” he said in an encouraging tone.

“I’d like to introduce Keats and Shelley, my co-owners of this place. We call it Americus Farm and we raise cane. No, really, you know, sugar cane.” The twins grinned and blew big clouds of smoke in reply. Keats and Shelley are going down to D’Arbonne to camp tonight after we eat. They should come riding back up here tomorrow with 40 or 50 channel cat.”

As the five of us were sitting at table after eating some of the most wonderful barbecue pork, beans, slaw, corn and biscuits imaginable, the Wise Old Man said this:

“Our country is 236 years old. We have had trouble as a people, deep trouble. We are diverse, eccentric, independent, free and stubborn. But I have learned that love is the cork on the line and when it jumps you pull. What comes out will always satisfy. The cork is jumping, y’all!”

Keats and Shelley grinned broadly, both sporting identical gold teeth. Then they said in unison, “Any friend of__________is a friend of the twins.” We watched them ride away leading the old mule laden with camping gear and fishing equipment until they disappeared around the mounds. I said, “I miss the simple life.” My wife replied, “Just watch the cork, Danny.”