If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
There’s a common phrase that all of us have heard at least once in our lives. If you’re like me, you’ve probably said it yourself more than a few bazzilion times; “if it ain‘t broke, don‘t fix it.” I am a firm believer in this philosophy on life. If something is running along well, or as well as you think it should, then leave it alone. It doesn’t need any tweaking, adjusting, modifying or otherwise, monkeying around with.
If it is “broken”, however, leaving it to go on it’s own, without intervention, makes absolutely no sense either. Indeed, another cliché comes to mind. “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get, what you always got.” It depends entirely on your perspective of whether the wheels are grinding away as they should, or if things appears to have a bit of a wobble to them.
It’s when you add the factor of “perspective” that things begin to become a bit hazy, and we need to do some deeper research into what “broken” entails.
Our perspective of what broken amounts to is determined in a large part by our own attitude. Are we looking at a certain situation from the “half full cup” perspective, or is our cup mostly “half empty” all the time?
My personal thought is that before we can determine what broken is, or if indeed, something is really broken to begin with, we need to take into consideration what all the factors are. And that, my friends, amounts to the $64,000 question. How do you know if it‘s broken?
Being mortal as we are, we have absolutely no way of knowing what lies beyond the boundaries of our physical perceptions. Better said, “We have no way of knowing what we don’t know, until we know it.” You might say, “Learn!” Which is a valid statement, but once something is learned, it then falls within the realms of our physical perception. No longer the unknown, and therefore part of our responsibility.
Okay, all that sounds like so much psycho babble and isn‘t making a whole lot of sense, right? It might even appear as though even my thought process was “broken”, eh!? Maybe it needs fixing?
Let me put a bit of a spiritual spin on things and maybe I can clear things up.
If we were to take a hard look at our life at this very moment, would it appear that things were running along smoothly? Or, might it appear that things had a bit of a wobble to them? What if we look at our life, and a wobble is evident, but, because we don’t know what we don’t know, we don’t know how to straighten the wobble?
Hear is where “perspective” comes in again. Hear is where we put the spiritual spin on the wobble.
God wants a relationship with you. Ultimately, when all is said and done, He wants us at his side. He has a plan for us that engulfs all the necessary factors to make that happen. Even if our life is broken, at some point, maybe in our youth, or maybe later on, we may come to know of the “plan”. That isn’t to say that we know all aspects about the plan, just that we know it exists, because He calls us, and we trust Him to fulfill it.
I suppose there are those fortunate few, though I’ve never met one yet, who, from very birth have it all together. They are raised in a loving house, have loving parents, know God from infancy, and live the fairy tale life, never knowing failure, hurt, brokenness.
But say we belong to the remaining 99.9999999%, and say we are rolling on through life, a really nice person, doing really nice things, either to other really nice people, or even sometimes, to people who aren’t nice. Does that make us a candidate for a seat on the bus to heaven? Within the realms of my belief doctrine, no. That doctrine says that we must acknowledge God, His Son and His Sacrifice in purchasing the ticket for us. If we don’t, we fall short of His “plan” for our life by refusing to admit that we are broken and need His help.
That’s where intervention becomes necessary. If He wants us, He is going to reveal Himself to us, and give us the chance to acknowledge Him.
Conversely, the enemy has a plan as well. That plan is to keep us in the dark about God’s Plan. Whether by ignorance on our part, or diversion on his part, either way he is successful. This is where his perspective on “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” comes into play. If he can convince us that, either; 1. God doesn’t exist, or, 2. God doesn’t care, he wins. We can be really nice people, but because we don’t recognize God’s plan, still end up toast in the end.
When things begin to shimmy and fall apart, often times we say things like, “The devil made me do it.” That statement only has any validity at all if you know God, and are trying with all your heart to be obedient to His calling. If you’re not, if you don’t know Jesus, and Him crucified, the devil has no reason whatsoever to waste any time, or effort on your life. In this case, from his perspective, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, means you are doing exactly what he wants without any intervention on his part.
It isn’t until God’s plan has been revealed to us, and we are actively participating in that plan, that the enemy of our souls will exert the effort to try and alter our path. Omnipotence isn’t one of his characteristics. He can’t be everywhere at the same time like God can. He has limited resources and doesn’t squander them unnecessarily.
If we aren’t “saved”, meaning we don’t know Jesus, and Him crucified, the enemy of our souls could care less who we are, or what we are doing.
Let me drive this whole point home with a bit of “personal perspective”. I love telling stories, and I often been told that the best way to convey the truth of a story is from the perspective of a “witness”. As one who was there. As one who saw it and felt it. This is the story of how one person came to know that they were broken. How one person, although realizing that the wheel was indeed wobbling, (and rather severely!), had no idea they didn’t possess the means to balance it on their own. I witness.
The summer of 1993 molted around us in typical southern fashion. It was hot, sticky and languid. Cicadas buzzed in the afternoon heat and lightning bugs blinked during the evenings hazy gloom. Life in the south has it’s own particular flavor during the summer. Things have a way of “sauntering” along as opposed to any kind of a clipped pace. Nothing, or nobody, moves very fast. It takes too much energy out of a person to hustle. The air is thick with humidity, heat and the smell of a flora that thrives in the sultry stillness of a land gone almost dormant.
I was working as a logistics manager for an asphalt paving company out of Charlotte, NC. TC was working as an office manager in the city as well. We lived in Monroe, a smaller town some twenty miles to the south and east of Charlotte and made the commute each day. TC to a fixed location, myself all over hell and back. My job had me moving large pieces of equipment from one project location to another. I had recently acquired the position after having left a company that had me moving around states instead of just one city.
We had been in North Carolina for a little more than two years at this point, with most of our work being in the city of Charlotte. TC was pretty well situated with her job, she’s the stable part of this union, while I had done my usual by moving around a bit, working here and there where opportunity and attitude dictated.
My boss had lured me away from my previous employer by offering me both a local, stable job, as well as a possible role in his Amway product distribution business. I didn’t know too much about the Amway stuff, but he talked a good story about a stable family life, a spiritual basis of living and the prospect of making a great deal more money than I previously had. I was more interested, by far, in the “more money” aspect than anything else. I had made a pretty good living up to that point, even if I hadn’t done a good job of using it or stashing any of it away.
We lived in a double wide trailer about six miles to the south and east of Monroe, which put us almost thirty miles out of the Charlotte local districts. Neither of us had good vehicles. TC’s was a twenty year old Cadillac and mine was a thirty year old four wheel drive behemoth that had climbed many, many more rocks and trees than any one vehicle should be allowed. Both were gas hogs without working AC. Not good in a southern summer. Ray, my boss, had all but convinced me that it would be best for us to re-locate to the Charlotte suburbs.
We were speculating that this would be best on several accounts. The most important was the commute issue. Between the two of use, we were driving close to two hundred miles a day, with me running way out in front. Not only were we driving back and forth to work, but we were also making several trips a week into Charlotte in the process of attending meetings for the Amway business.
The boss’s primary reasoning, also related to the commute issue, was that it would place me closer, and therefore more accessible to his business. The nature of the Amway business being that the upper echelons had a vested interested in those functioning below them. He wanted me closer to his area of influence.
The third issue was our social life. Living where we did put us about a hundred years away from any recognizable form of modern culture. Twenty five miles outside of Charlotte and you travel 50-100 years back in time. No kidding. Aside from rubber wheels, things haven’t changed much since the turn of the century. My wife and kids were going crazy. I wasn’t. That’s not so much that I could deal with the local situation any better, it’s that I cheated. I added more miles to my weekly commute by spending most of my time in the bars and pool halls dotting the miles between where we lived and the heart of the city.
Spending time in these environments was nothing new to me. I had spent a goodly portion of my adult life in smoky, noisy, stale beer smelling watering holes from one side of this great country to the other. And I loved it!
Whenever I landed in a new city, finding a cool, shady spot to hang out was first, a place to lay my head to rest second, with finding work taking up third. Unfortunately, looking out for my family’s best welfare fell somewhere after that.
That’s why I had a two hundred dollar a week party budget and we lived in a double wide trailer that was thirty years old with the water heater falling through the floor boards. So long as it kept the rain out and the beer cold, I was in hog heaven. Literally.
As you might expect, all good things must come to an end. Pool halls, booze, and long distance driving most often lead up to one conclusion. The inevitable occurred and one night I got stopped. Actually the inevitable had occurred on several occasions prior to this, but through some constant shucking and jiving, bobbing and weaving, I had managed to stay one step out of the jail house.
The night I got stopped that final time it was sincerely for the good of all associated with me. Me first and foremost. I was doing a really bad job of keeping it between the ditches. Good for the common man, because it wasn’t my fault I didn’t run him over. My wife, because she was flat fed up with it all. Me, my activities, and the life it forced on her and our children.
When they came to get me in the middle of the night, because I blew off my court date, she said she was through. She wasn’t going to bail me out and had every intention of using this as breaking point between herself, the kids, and me. I couldn’t rightly blame her. I had put her and the kids through nine stages of hell in the preceding ten years and she was through.
Fortunately for me, the soft side of TC’s heart faintly glimmered through her disgust and she agreed to bail me out. Not before leaving me sitting in there long enough to get a good dose of “I definitely don’t like this and I wanna go….NOW!”
Upon bringing me home, she informed me that while she had agreed to get me out, she was through with me. She had a good job, she had good kids and she was going to make a good life, with or without me. Preferably at that point, without me.
This was not something that she hadn’t told me on prior occasions, yet there was a big difference this time around. This time she wasn’t crying when she said it. That may sound for all the world like part of the lyrics to a country song, but it was pretty profound from where I stood. I believed her. I believed her enough to feel the world tilt on its axis. I believed it enough to realize that I was standing on the brink of living the rest of my life without my wife and kids. I believed it enough to want to change.
That particular moment for me might very well have been my defining moment. The little ping I heard in my ears, the little flash I saw before my eyes, might very well have been that instant in time when God first made His presence known. Not by virtue of horns blowing, angels singing, or rainbows glistening across a the sky. But through sheer, unadulterated fear. I had never known fear before in my life like I knew it that day.
A hole opened up in my heart. A portal became visible through which I saw the rest of my life devoid of her presence. A life without access to my kids. The thought of it all hurt God awful bad.
In so much as I had spent the largest portion of my life, up to that point thinking about number one, never giving thought to what life might be like without my family, I suddenly knew I would really hate that life. I mean, really, really hate it. I had felt the loneliness that comes from separation before, yet in the back of my mind I guess I always knew that no matter what, I could convince her to take me back. For some reason, this time around, I knew she was bone weary tired of me, and my antics, and she was indeed through.
I told her I’d change. She said, “Maybe, maybe not.” It didn’t make much difference to her. She was going to move forward on the assumption that I couldn’t. There was another room in the house, it was mine to occupy or leave, as I chose to do. So long as I didn’t consume anything the family required without replacing it, I was free to stay. She closed the door and locked it. That’s the way it stayed, for months.
From there, I walked out into the light of day and really saw it for the first time. Suddenly I realized that there was life after Coors and Saturday night. What was once a driving force for me, going out and partying on any and all occasion, became unacceptable. I simply stopped hanging out at the places I used to. I stopped associating with the people I used to and I stayed at home. The crazy part was, I never once got a call from any of those people wondering where I was. Not one single person that I knew from the night life questioned why I was no longer there. Sadly, three years later , I happened to be in the area of my favorite hang out and stopped out of sheer curiosity. Absolutely nothing had changed. Same faces getting the same slack look as evening faded to night. I left and never looked back.
By the end of summer we had located a place in a north western suburb of Charlotte and made plans to move. We wanted to make the transition prior to the kids starting the new school year. TC and I had moved into a marginally better relationship. We still slept in separate spaces, but we had an uneasy truce in affect. She was warily watching me to see signs of my past life creeping in and I was doing my very best not to overtax her graciousness. I knew the change was all about me getting my act together and about her feeling safe about the change. So we moved.
We packed up what was worth moving, a lot wasn’t. The garbage of our lives we left behind. I say that in both a physical and metaphysical sense. Both of us perceived this move as a profound one for us. Something had changed. I don’t believe either one of us could have put our finger on it at the time, but we knew that things were definitely different. Life wasn’t all roses for sure, but for some reason there seemed to be a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Though I couldn’t feel the warmth of it, I could sense the presence of it. Like the faintest glow of a pre-dawn sky.
The new house wasn’t much. Unless you add a factor of relativity into the equation. It was a castle compared to the dump we left. Small, by normal standards, but just large enough for us. It was what they call here in the south, a mill house. Originally constructed on a cookie cutter design, it and every other house in the neighborhood had exactly the same exterior layout. I’ve been in several of the others over the years, and they all are variations on the same theme. This one was owned by a German woman who had spent a fair amount in renovating it. The upstairs attic had been converted into two more bedrooms and a small bath. The rooms, though ideal for children, were a hazard to adults. There was one narrow strip down the center that had a full ceiling, the remainder sloped down to four foot walls on the outside. The bathroom was built into the sloped portion so while using the shower was okay, the standup/sit-down facility presented more than a small challenge to anyone over four feet tall. But it worked.
We plugged the kids into the local school district and settled into more of a suburban life as opposed to the country life we had just left. The kids enjoyed the school and seemed to fit in nicely. Our youngest, born just prior to moving to NC in ‘91 was preschool age and TC, being the ever resourceful one, quickly found daycare for him.
The house had a reasonable rent schedule, one we could afford, that was actually better than what we had been paying out of town. The neighborhood, though rather redneck, was quiet and on the quaint side. There were a number of families close by who had children close to the bunch of ours in age. We gradually melded into a routine that kept everybody busy, if not entirely happy.
In actually going through with the move in the first place, which took me geographically out of my earlier haunts, and put a reasonable distance between them and myself, I had gained some points with TC. That, and the fact that the physical characteristics of the house left just enough room for the five of us to fit comfortably, lent to my exile of a sorts coming to an end. That isn’t to say that everything was back to normal, because it decidedly was not. While a certain tension did still exist, TC and I were getting along better than before.
Being home every night lent to a more solid family atmosphere and I think my bride was beginning to regain some trust in me. As for myself, while I had felt on several occasions the urge to drift back, the thought no more than entered my mind and I broke into a cold sweat. A few of those moments and I was ready to concede that the lifestyle was behind me. My “want to” had changed, the desire to stay out all night and drink rather repulsed me to be honest. Other than the stated fear, I couldn’t have told you why though. It seemed enough at the time to stay busy with work, save some money, save some peace, and rebuild our lives.
The move brought us closer, by design, to my boss’s house and life. We began to reach out socially with some of the other members of his group. This reaching out involved some church attendance, dinners at others homes, and long nights spent going to, and from meetings in other towns with the other members of the Amway group. All of which made TC blossom.
I had kept her in such a state of reclusion, not intentionally really, but through my absents from the parent pool, that she had all but forgotten how to mingle with others in a social environment. The stress of it all had also manifested into a clinical depression that at times overwhelmed her. Without a good support unit from me, she had withdrawn into herself to the point that putting her in a room with more than just a few people often induced panic attacks. Expecting her to speak in any type of formal surrounding was impossible. So the mingling with other women her age, and good people at that, was immensely therapeutic for her.
The Amway branch we belonged to based their social structure on Christian ethics. So while we actually had a pretty good time rubbing shoulders with most of the couples, the essence of their theories went over my head.
I had never had any great respect for religion. The few encounters I’d had throughout my childhood and early adult life had left a rather bitter aftertaste in my mouth. My childhood memories were sprinkled with occasions when my folks would attend church for a short period of time. These periods only lasted as long as they were “friends” with the folks who had prompted us to attend. My stepfather was a rather enigmatic sort of individual who was hard to take on the best of occasions. Friendships didn’t appear to last too long, so our stints in church were all short lived as well. We never stayed long enough to really get to know anybody, or to understand any of the doctrine or philosophy, so I never understood much about it. My stepfather would start complaining about the time we got familiar enough with the church for the tithing expectation to come into effect. Newcomers aren’t normally expected to give, so when we were no longer newcomers, and the expectation was that we invest in the church, we left.
In my early twenties, while in the Marines, my grandmother got tangled up with a dicey sort of cult church out of Tucson, AZ. Seems they didn’t recognize her divorce from her first husband, so forbade her to live “in sin” with her current one, my grandfather. This created a bit of a rift in the family that took until the church was busted for fraud to work itself out. It also further lent to my not taking the church, religion in general, or God, for that matter any too seriously. I rather looked at religion in general as a crutch, with Christians, or any other faith for that matter, as being weak. I guess I felt it had it’s uses, such as a good place for kids to go on Sunday mornings, we always endeavored to keep ours in Sunday school. I just figured that as an adult, one needed to bootstrap themselves up and move on.
So, while I tolerated the exposure to the prayer sessions and the occasional trips to church, I only did so because it appeared to be helpful for TC, and thereby helpful to me. That all changed one Sunday, and as fate would have it, had nothing to do with business.
My oldest son, Chris, had been introduced to a set of twins at school. A good looking set of boys, they were the sons of a Pentecostal preacher from a nearby community. After the first few days of school, they had invited him to attend their church. He needed the exposure to new friends so we agreed he could go. Each Sunday he, and my daughter, would be up and prepared to go. Each Sunday he would come to me and ask for a ride to the church. I did that without any negative reaction, like I said, a great place for young people, but I was far too set in my ways to believe any help from “church” would be forth coming.
Each and every time I took him down to the church, he would ask me in. I would pull up in front of the church and he would tell me that it was different from any of the churches we had ever attended in the past. On occasion, when the kids would be involved in some play or production in Sunday school, we might attend a service to watch. I always felt uncomfortable and pressured when we went and I think, even as a child, he picked up on that. At any rate, he made it a mission to convince me that this church was different.
Each week I had a reasonable excuse why I couldn’t, or didn’t, attend. I had someplace important to go, something important that needed being done. I needed so talk to someone about something. A car, or lawnmower or tennis shoe lace, needed to be fixed. For weeks he asked, and for weeks I answered with an excuse. For what its worth, which isn’t much in hind site, I really did do those things.
Then one Sunday morning, the Sunday morning after an encounter I had had that week, it all changed. Something had happened to me that cast an entirely different light on this whole God, and church thing. My sons perseverance had overlapped with a life changing experience from that week that lent a credibility to my perception of God, and my faith in Him working in my personal life.
As I had mentioned previously, I had a bit of a drinking problem in years removed. Mine wasn’t one of those day to day things, and I never looked at myself as an alcoholic. I could, and often did, go for days and weeks without drinking. No, mine was more an issue of association than anything else. When I went out, I drank. Didn’t seem to be much point in the one without the other. When I played pool, I drank. When I played cards, I drank. Again, I could go for days and weeks without the game, but given the game, the drinking went hand in hand. I have a high tolerance for alcohol, people that associated seldom saw me overly effected by it. But, given the circumstances, and the associated activity, I could tie one on.
I had, and it had cost me. A year earlier I had gotten a DWI, and it wasn’t my first. I had an attorney. We had managed, through some very creative bobbing, and weaving, to keep me out of jail. But my time was running out. .
One afternoon in mid September, I was sitting at the Crackle Barrel Restaurant off of an Interstate 85 exit. My boss, of the asphalt company, had just called and redirected a major move of equipment that I had just then gotten placed for the next mornings project. It was a major pain getting it all to where it needed to be, and to have that all undone and redirected that late in the afternoon meant that it was going to be a long evening. I had no more hung up the phone from him than it rang again. This time my attorney.
My attorney informed me that the piper wanted paying, I needed to post the $1500 fine at the courthouse by 5p.m. or bring my toothbrush to the county lockup.
I sat for the next several minutes seriously considering several different options I might have. Hairy carry, flight from the scene of the stupidity, curling up in a ball and crying uncle, or stepping across the fence to the freeway and kissing a passing bus. None appealed all that much, so rather, I just sat there and thought. A niggle that crept in was, with all that I had been hearing recently about faith and religion and God being benevolent and expressing mercy on us poor, ignorant fools down here on earth, maybe I should pray. I hadn’t the foggiest idea of how to go about doing that so I just shot one from the hip.
“God if you are there, and you can hear me, fix this!” And then I waited. I must have waited all of five or ten minutes. Thinking to myself all the while what an idiot I was, and on several different counts. First that I had gotten myself into the mess in the first place. I’m really not a stupid person. Actually pretty smart, comparing myself to most I come in contact with anyhow. I’ve done some stupid things, and this ranked right up at the top of them, but all in all I was smarter than the average bear.
Second, that in the last year prior to this, I hadn’t saved up enough money to cover the fine. I reminded myself at that point that I had paid the lawyer over five grand in that last year to effect the shuck and jive routines, but still, another fifteen hundred shouldn’t have been impossible to come up with.
And, then lastly, that I was stooping to the silliness of asking a God I had never seen, nor ever heard, nor ever really acknowledged, to help me out of a situation that I myself had placed me in. It all seemed pretty lame so I just sat there fingering the handset to the first generation bag phone I had in the truck.
As I started to punch the phone number to my wife’s office, so I could break the good news, at the same time muttering, “That’s about what I thought”, out loud, the phone rang in my hand.
The fact that it did it with the trailing words from my mouth still in the air, literally scared me speechless. For a fraction of a second it rattled through my brain pan that maybe it was God, and surely he was ticked. But it wasn’t. It was rather, my boss’s brother, our bookkeeper.
Wayne was a nice guy but we didn’t talk much. He was one of the more vocal “Christians” that belonged to our Amway group and I had always looked at him as being a bit weird because of it. I had heard of “holy rollers” in my day, and though I’d never seen one, he fit the description pretty close. Talked a lot about “the laying on of hands”, and “speaking in tongues”, and other radical Christian gibberish I didn’t understand, nor care to. I guess he liked me well enough, yet I always felt a little uncomfortable around him.
I couldn’t fathom him calling unless he needed something specific so I asked him what that might be. What he stated kind of blew me away. He related that he had been sitting there going over the books for the week and had felt compelled to call me. He asked me what I was up to and I told him that aside from being up to my arse in alligators, not much. Wondering out loud about that statement prompted me to tell him what was really up. I didn’t figure I had much to lose at that point, given that in a couple of hours I was going to be in jail and not need a job anyhow. When he responded to amount I told him I needed my heart nearly stopped.
He told me that specifically, while he had been talking to me, that he had been bouncing his pencil eraser on a bank account statement. As I was relating the amount I needed to stay out of the hoosegow, he had been doodling circles around a dollar figure for a small saving account he had acquired by dropping change from his pocket into a jar each night. He told me he had saved $1495 and that in digging in his pocket had found another five spot. I felt my throat constricting along with the faltering heart beat.
Say what you want, but I felt that God, maybe out of spite even, had answered a sarcastic prayer from a virtual non-believer. If that won’t shake up your faith base a bit, nothing is going to.
Wayne met me at the courthouse, we paid the fine and he walked away singing a popular song, “Our God is an awesome God, He reigns from Heaven above…”. Me, I was considering whether God might actually have a phone in heaven.
Above the Clouds
Chris came to me that Sunday morning, as usual, and asked me to take him and my daughter to church. I had heard them fumbling around upstairs, so I knew they were up. While I waited for them to get ready I was skipping through the channel guide looking at what was on the TV that day. Watching westerns on the weekend mornings was a favorite past time of mine.
We made our way over to the church, which really wasn’t much of a church, by my standards. Just an opened up apartment unit, upstairs from a greasy spoon café and a curio shop right down town in Hayseed Ville, USA.
Chris was chatting about the twins. About how involved they were in the church stuff. He babbled about how cool the twins dad was and how he talked to Chris every time he showed up. How this pastor made the kids feel part of the church, even though they had only been attending a few weeks. And again, as we were pulling up in front of the café, he asked me if I would come in. He said Reggie, the pastor, had asked if I would at least come in and introduce myself so he could put a face to a name. The pastor had told the kids he liked to get to know the parents of the kids that were being dropped off.
I was thinking about a movie I had seen in the guide and was about to tell my son that I couldn’t make it. About to tell him I had something more important to do, when a thunderbolt struck me. Just like Marlon Brando said in “Apocalypse Now”, when he said the idea hit him, “Like a diamond bullet in the forehead..” I realized I was about to lie to my son. Fibs or feigning ignorance are one thing, telling a lie, and knowing it, is an entirely different thing.
Rural America is populated with small, quaint towns. These towns, placed along the back country roads like beads on a necklace, usually are seldom more than a street or two wide, yet may extend for a mile or two of the “town square” in either direction along the highway they are situated on. Sometimes they have a few streets that bisect the main artery, but for the most part, the merchants of the burg cluster along the highway and the residential areas exist within a block or two back from that.
The little town of Mt. Holly is much the same. For all practical purposes, life hasn’t changed much since the days of Mayberry, RFD. Opie’s character may well have been taken from one of many of the denizens of this small town. Although there actually is a Mayberry, NC, any one of these “beads” may have been the mold from which the TV town was cast.
Like most of them also, few have buildings that are more than two stories tall. Even the town hall has only two levels. Many of these two story buildings today utilize a more modern term of “multitasking”. Downstairs restaurants and shops may support apartments upstairs that in days gone by housed dentist, barbers, or attorneys. Now days they are singles flats, multi-family dwellings or empty.
The building we pulled up in front of sat on a street that actually runs parallel with the highway serving as the bead “string“. Train tracks run parallel to that in between the highway and the building fronts. Cross-over’s every two or three blocks allow traffic to intersect the tracks.
On the downstairs level, there were a series of doors and store fronts that opened up onto the sidewalk. To the left was a small café that served a breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menu was specific to the day, and usually involved some grits, chicken and cornbread. It was limited and you pretty much got what you got depending on what day it was. Chicken might be available on Monday, and only Monday. Salisbury steak the same deal on Tuesday. Grits, greens and biscuits or cornbread came with most meals. A slice of apple pie or peach cobbler with a scoop of ice-cream might also be available on any given day.
To the right was a second hand curio store. Old sewing machine, butter churns, toasters, doilies and knick knacks lined shelves that had been built sometime back in the thirties. The doors were narrow, with six block panes of glass, diamond shaped glass knobs, and a bell suspended above that tinkled with that familiar sound when the door struck it. Windows partially covered with vertical, collapsible blinds, and glass blemished by cats eyes and warbles common in glass manufactured before the great wars.
In between the plate glass windows of the two shops there stood a narrow door with only one small glass window centered in the top half of the door. There were no signs, placards or other indicators as to what might exist on the other side of the door. On Sunday mornings & evenings, Wednesday evenings, Friday nights and the occasional Saturday afternoon, it was sure to be unlocked. Though the door opened onto the sidewalk, and the adjacent street, it was actually the “back door” that allowed entrance into a small landing marking the bottom of a set of steep stairs leading up to the original shop or apartment space above.
The “front” door leading to the establishment upstairs, was located on a large landing, or porch attached to the back of the building. This landing had a broad set of stairs that lead to a double door entrance. The stairs were fixed to, and supported by, the back of the building on the inside, with four by four posts gradually growing in length on the outside. A large banner hung above the set of double doors proclaiming this to be “Mighty Warriors Ministries” , under which, in smaller print read, “A Full Gospel Pentecostal Church”.
Though, in times ahead, when circumstances required it, I used the double door entrance in the back, I invariably used the small, single door opening to the sidewalk if I had the choice. I liked parking my car on the curb in front of the café, and making my way up the narrow incline to the church using the stairwell. I see ideas in terms of pictures, so when I describe the following, I’m sure you’ll understand my preference.
I parked the car at the curb, and after locking it up, followed my son to the small door situated between the two stores. Chris opened the door and disappeared into the dark void beyond. He immediately began to ascend a very sharply angled set of stairs. They reminded me a lot of ladder wells that are employed in large naval ships designed to get foot traffic from one level to another using the smallest amount of lateral and vertical space as possible. Handrails situated on either side weren’t just for the occasional support, you almost felt compelled to use them to “pull” yourself up the stairs.
My daughter had bolted from the car, and skipped on up the stairs and into the beyond before we had reached the door. With Chris ahead of me, I was forced to look, almost literally, at the back of his heals as we ascended the stairs. Prudence bid me to hesitate for a few of his steps in order to remedy this situation. I could see me catching a heel on the end of my beak if not careful.
Initially, as we had opened the door, strains of music I recognized as southern gospel reached the bottom of the stairs. I had heard it often enough on the radio and the occasional service we had sat in on in. Much of it carried the soft twang of country melodies I was accustomed to, also coupled with the piano or organ. A tambourine could be heard jingling to the beat as well. Mostly what I heard though were the voices of the people. Voices of people lost in heart felt harmony. Though not familiar with the words themselves, I could feel the emotion in the melodies they sang. Music has always moved me so it sparked a mood as I transpired the steep stairs. A mood I couldn’t have explained at the moment, but upon reflection later realized was all part of a very exceptional experience. It all served to more than occupy my conscious mind as I climbed.
If you have ever taken off in an airplane from an airfield encased in clouds on a gloomy, rainy day, you’ll appreciate the visual experience as well.
As I cleared the last step with my head, my first view was of the carpet knap at eye level. The steepness of the stairs lent a proximity to the carpet that one would only experience if they were laying on it with their chins extended in front, sort of like how Spot lays his chin on his paws on the floor. Hard to describe the perspective unless you perhaps are a carpet layer and have seen that perspective close up.
The next sight was of the backs and sides of peoples feet. There was a three sided hand rail that encompassed the stair “well” that opened only to the front. The well itself was situated in what appeared to be the center isle of the sanctuary. Perhaps five to six feet on either side of the side rails is where the first of the pew seats were situated. With the small first floor landing, and the subsequent steepness of the stairs, the opening was situated mostly to the rear of the room, yet there were still several rows of pews, or chairs that extended on behind of the well opening.
A persons first frontal picture coming up the stairs was of the pulpit. Situated maybe thirty feet in front of you, it was the first thing you saw after the knap of the floor.
One came up literally facing the preacher, and rising out of the floor. Quite an extraordinary experience to say the least.
Most remarkable for me though was the personal perception from my emotional and physical point of view. I literally felt like I was rising up from that point in the sky where we break free from the cloud bank, and seeing for the first time the clear blue sky above, feel as though we could actually walk on the solid upper surface of the clouds. You’ve seen this from the airplane perspective.
In my case, though, it was as if I had spent my entire life encased in that cloud bank, and for the first time in my life, I could see clearly. Not only where I was, but in the direction where I was going. Maybe, not so much, in the final destination possibly, but surely I could see a few mile posts ahead.
I felt like maybe I had spent my entire existence wearing a pair of finger smudged, fogged up glasses, that constantly distorted my view of the world. Like a partially blind person regaining full sight. Like looking through a dirty window all your life, then having someone wash it for the first time.
All I know is that for the first time I felt as though I could see without hindrance. With clarity and purpose, I knew that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. More importantly, perhaps, than the where, was the when. My eyes were open. I could see and feel the presence of God, and He was here.
Once known, forever owned
I have had a number of extraordinary experiences in my life since then. Some more profound, and miraculous in nature, to be sure. But, like ones first love, though possibly eclipsed by others, never forgotten.
There has never been a moment in my life, since that experience, that I have felt as though God weren’t somewhere, very near. I have had times, many more than I care to admit, where I have felt as though I might be far from Him, but never once felt like He was more than a prayer away from me. This might be hard for some to understand. Either God is near, or He isn’t. But in the Christian walk it’s not an unheard of concept for a persons “self” to get in the way of their relationship with God. Sometimes we can’t see Him. Sometimes it feels as though He is unreachable. But, invariably, as Christians, we know that it is pilot error on our part more than a separation from God. It is “our” thinking that is skewed. Our “sight” that is impaired. For God is never changing, always the same, always loving and always near.
See it this way. I walked into a small restaurant up on the Blue Ridge Parkway several years ago. It was a travel stop on a route we take a couple times a year, early to see the spring flowers, later to see the fall leaves, and maybe once in the winter to see the snow. In that restaurant, hanging on a wall is a small wooden plaque. It is a cut out relief. Meaning someone, using a jig saw or small ban saw, has spelled out a word with the emphasis on the space between the letters, as opposed to the letters themselves. At first glance, and actually for several glances afterward, it makes no sense at all. Looks like hieroglyphics or something. Or a puzzle with some of the pieces missing. But, like those crazy pictures on the back pages of the funny papers that you see sometimes, if you let your eyes drift out of focus, a pattern comes into view.
In this case, it was several trips, and frustrating moments trying to guess what it said, before I recognized it for what it was. Once, I looked through the plaque instead of at it. I realized that the “letters” were actually comprised of the blank spots between the wood that was left. Kind of like focusing on the shadow of a letter instead of the letter itself. Ironically, the word spelled out “JESUS”. The significance wasn’t lost on me either. Once I could see that, I could never look at it again and not see that. I actually wondered why I had a hard time seeing it in the first place.
Using this as an analogy for my “eye opening” experience, I’m saying that once I saw, and felt the presence of God, it was impossible to dispute His presence ever again. I could never un-know what I now knew. My eyes had forever been opened.
Oh, to be sure, there have been many the time when I thought I might wish that I were still unaware. There is a price to be paid for knowledge. Innocence is never realized until it is lost. We never know we are doing wrong if we are unaware of what right really is. This being one of the basic reasons why the world turns it’s back on Christianity. It doesn’t want to be held accountable for it’s actions.
But, unlike the judge telling a jury to disregard something it just heard in testimony, we always know what we have seen and heard. I could never understand that statement. “Disregard what you have seen and heard.” Un-know what you know? Forget that God loves you after you have proven to yourself, time and time again that he does? How does one truly apostasies from the Christian Faith? I don’t believe that it is possible. We might be able to revert back to a selfish, uncaring, and immoral state, but we can never forget.
As a family, we didn’t stay overly long in that small fellowship. It was more like a spiritual boot camp than anything. I, and most of my family, was baptized there. It was there that we learned the basics of the Christian doctrine. Call it theological grade school. We learned to learn. We learned how to study. We learned how to love when things are unlovely, and we learned how to give when we thought we had nothing to give. Eighteen months later we had outgrown the fellowship and moved on to another. We stayed there nearly thirteen years.
I’ve learned through my Christian experiences that my family is more important than anything in life, short of loving God Himself. I have learned that there is abundant life after wanting, and love after loosing. I have learned that one can be content with sitting at home with nothing more than the ones he loves, and miserable beyond words living a life with everything else but them. Most importantly, I learned that God loves me. I have learned that in that Love, He is merciful, and gracious to forgive the mistakes I make. I have learned that when He feels that we are ready for a relationship with Him, He will reveal Himself to us. That once drawn to Him, He will never willingly let us go.
I have also learned that while we do have these “mountain top experiences”, where we have respite and we see things with the clarity of being “above the clouds", it is in the valleys that we learn the most. It is in these vast, low stretches of fog, and darkness that we fight, gain scars, lose battles, win victories, and grow strong. It is here we learn to depend on the wisdom, vision, and guidance of the Holy One who perpetually dwells “above the clouds”.