Shedding that stubborn skin


One of my favorite parts of the Narnia stories takes place when the good-kid-in-the making, Eustace, is called on to shed his skin.

That sounds like a pretty big job for anyone, but Eustace has worse problems.

When directed to do this, he is a dragon.

Yeah, you heard me. A fire breathing, gold hoarding, thoroughly nasty character that turns up in C.S. Lewis mythology turned theology “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.”

Eustace was a bad kid. Spoiled, rude, obnoxious, something of a bully if he could get away with it. Not the sort you’d want to take for a long sea trip.

Via an enchanted painting, he and two of his cousins get pulled into the world of Narnia for a long, adventure-filled sea trip that tests, tries and grows all of them.

However, I’d argue that it was Eustace who benefited most.

At the beginning of the story, Eustace was a prize stinker. Think of the person you wanted most to pummel in grade school and then multiply by ten–you’d roughly have Eustace.

Put him on a small ship, with people he quickly made despise him, and two cousins who barely tolerate him, in sometimes life-threatening conditions, and you might say he was lucky he later became a dragon.

If he hadn’t, the others might have fed him to one.

Once enchanted and realizing he is indeed a dragon, he at first sees it as a grand opportunity to exact revenge on his foes back on the ship. Then, he realizes that he no longer really wants to. He learns that he doesn’t want to be alone.

However, with such a frightening countenance, who would want to hang around with him?

Once he awkwardly establishes his identity to his family and crew, it is decided that he can be very useful to them. He tears up trees to repair the ship. He does a number of other things to help that would be hard for the crew to do. And for the first time in his life, he finds he likes being useful.

However, practical heads think he must be left behind when the ships voyage continues. How could a ship haul a dragon, even one that can fly? Where would he sleep? What would he eat?

Eustace, the metaphor for what sin can do to a human who has totally given themselves over to it, and isolated themselves from others, faces a very dismal night of the soul.

Then, Aslan, the Christ figure in the story, shows up.

When directed, Eustace gladly tears away at the dragon skin. And it feels good, like scratching a bad itch. Problem was, no matter how many coats he scratches off, there is a smaller, nastier, better fitting one underneath. Until finally, he can’t scratch the last one off.

“I must do it.” Aslan says.

He tears the final skin off Eustace, and throws him into water in a well. Eustace is again a boy, albeit a much better-behaved one.

This is a fantastic story, if you read it just as that. It hits all the requirements for a humdinger of a great story. But there is something much more to take away from this tale.

It is the story of redemption.

At the time we become a Christian, we wear a layer, perhaps many layers, of acquired sin. Stubbornness, self-deception, pride, you name it. It becomes thicker, and more multi-layered the longer we cling to it, not wanting to give up our autonomy.

We might cling to it for years before awakening to God’s grace. Even after that awakening, we might resist God’s further interventions.

When we first learn that Jesus loves us, and wants to be in our hearts and lives, that first layer is stripped away. If we have support from mature Christians, and a hunger to grow further, many more layers fall off as God works with us.

The thing I realize, though, as I go through my life, is there is always another layer. I have  had times when I was sure I had it all figured out, was Suzy-Super Christian. Knew what I needed to know. Don’t bother me with conviction, Lord, I’ve got it! Aren’t You proud of me?

And, to be sure, God is proud of us. He loved us eight layers ago when we were in a much worse place. Yet, he loves us SO much, that he cares TOO much to let us stay in our current layer of sin and rebellion. And sometimes, depending on how tightly we have hung on to the layer that currently covers us, only God can tear that layer off.

When we hold on too tight, God pulls our hands away. We leave some spiritual skin behind.

It hurts.

But in retrospect, it hurts, as the rock song says, ‘so good.’

Jesus loves you and me, He really does. He looks at all the ugliness of our sins, way under all those layers, to that person He knows us to be. To that person we can be, if we trust him to pull off the layers that we might not even be aware are there.

It might hurt, it might be very inconvenient, but such obedience brings us to another part of our journey. A place where our walk can be a little more free, and a little closer to Him.

Today, consider your life. What might your ‘dragon’ skin consist of? What does God need to help you remove from your heart, ambitions, practices or thoughts to move you forward?

Amen.

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The Trouble with “Thy Will Be Done.”


Thy Will Be Done.

Wow. That’s a scary proposition. Turn over my ideas, my thoughts, the way I think things should be–to God?

I am made of questions as I ponder this. Why would I want to give up my will to anyone, let alone God?

After all, I have my plans, ambitions, the way that I think things should be. What if God doesn’t agree with my plan? Where will I be then?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve struggled with God over my will versus His will for my life. So many times, He’s allowed me to blunder ahead, stubborn and sure that I’m right. Until, painfully, I realize that I am not.

An associate of mine said to me, a long time ago, “I like to be the one who has my hands on the steering wheel of my life. Problem with that is, God calls me to let go. And if I won’t let go willingly, He pulls my hands off the steering wheel. When that happens, I usually leave some skin.”

At the time I heard that, I thought it was a pretty clever thing for someone else to say. Until time passed, and my hands had to be wrenched from the steering wheel of my life. Until I too had to leave some skin on that steering wheel.

It has only come to me gradually that there is only one problem with saying “Thy Will be Done” to God. What is that problem?

Me.

I don’t want to give up my perception of autonomy. I don’t want to surrender my fantasy of control. I don’t want to think even for a second how out of control I am. Sure, I have a comfortable home, loving friends, a great job, adequate income for both needs and wants. I have the world by the tail, don’t I?

But I also have my own past to remind me how quickly things can change for the worse. As a person who has been homeless, jobless, and at one point, without a single person I felt like I could call on for support, I know that I control nothing. Everything good in my life is a gift from God. A gift of His grace.

As I draw closer to God, I find that there is something freeing in giving up my perception of control. It’s a joke, anyway. I control nothing. The certainty of my eventual death proves that. I don’t control the next heartbeat or breath. Whether the world will even be in existence tomorrow. But in knowing that I have no control, I am free to look to the source of all control–God, the Father.

When I give up control, and with the trust of a small child, say with love, “Thy Will Be Done” and try to mean it each time I say it, it becomes a love song to heaven, something great and eternal within my soul. I get out of my own way.

When I wonder how to pray for someone, and say “Thy Will Be Done” about them, I pray the most pure and loving prayer of all. I don’t suggest to the Creator of the Universe what might be best to do for both my loved ones and not so loved ones (though I sure could give God a few ideas!)

When I plan what I study, where I will work, what decisions I should make on the job, when or if I should marry, or when or if a certain type of ministry is right for me, the first course of wisdom are those four words.

The problem with “Thy Will Be Done” for myself and so many others is that in really saying it, we open ourselves up to become the workmanship of Christ. Really His body, hands and feet. We open ourselves up to the unknown.

We open ourselves up to a way that may not be what we think it should be, but the way God knows that it needs to be. By purposefully surrendering our lives day by day, we learn to desire a will that not only loves and desires to protect us, but a will that has our best interests at heart.

And that, my friends, is a very good problem to have.

Amen.

Traveler Found


The walker in the darkness, lost in the storm

Has seen a great light, in the midst of night

The walker had a flame ignite, so softly, softly

That they did not know themselves

And that flame caught on and burned steadily

Until it became a bonfire bright

Still, lost, the traveler became aware

Of the warm glow of a lover of their soul

They can never go back now,

Never be truly lost again

For they have seen the change,

They have seen the light

They will never be lost again.

 

Dreary…..AND Beautiful


It’s a beautiful dreary Saturday morning.
 
What? You may not understand. But, I’m not kidding. 
I’ve recently had a major heart change in how I choose to view things. To look for the good instead of dwelling on what I perceive as bad.
 
This morning there is the reality of the cold drizzle and the ongoing bronchitis. But there is also the reality of my warm, comfortable apartment, my beautiful Bethany snuggled up next to me…wow that cat loves me more than I am sure I deserve!
 
There is the reality of my Comet, who chooses the couch other than the bed to sleep in, but who comes to visit regularly, rubbing his head adoringly on my legs and feet. And the looks he sometimes gives me, the slow sweet blinks, that show me he feels safe and secure in our home…if a Siamese does that, you know you’re doing okay as the ‘owned’ of a pet!!
 
I have so many blessings, why dwell on what isn’t going well?
 
God is so Good and He is still on the throne.
 
And I am infinitely BLESSED.
 
Amen.

A Strange Love–or, how I learned to love Trump (supporters)


At first, I thought I was going to be in trouble.

I had no idea how wrong that initial idea would turn out to be.

I got into a van of a friendly family who were part of my work team last week at Samaritan’s Purse. They were going to take me to a work site in hurricane-devastated Mexico Beach. I had hardly gotten my seat belt buckled when I saw, pasted across the steering wheel, a Trump/Pence campaign sticker.

I wondered how much glorification of Trump that I would have to hear, and how much, in the interest of not starting a holy war, I would have to hold my tongue.

The trip to our work site took about 30 minutes. As is true with any new group meeting for the first time,  we stumbled into conversation, not sure what to say. But that quickly changed, and within a few miles, we were laughing, joking, and sharing cat and other photos from our phones.

Politics did not get mentioned. We liked each other, and we needed no agreement on how we voted for that to be necessary.

In fact, by the time we got out of the van, we were friends. And the fact that the bumper sticker was prominently displayed meant not one thing.

Still, I worried.

We all got busy working, and left the site much cleaner than we had found it. I noted that the daughter of the family with whom I rode, had a wonderful gift of encouragement and used it to soothe the elderly couple who we had served.

On the way back for a communal meal at the church hosting us, we discovered that we loved Jeff Foxworthy, and shared some of our favorite comedy sketches. More laughter ensued.

They found out  that I was a social worker, and that did not lower their opinion of me, especially when I said that I believed in clients owning responsibility for their lives. I realized, a bit guiltily, that prior to meeting this family, that I had automatically  expected rejection from those who considered themselves Conservatives.

But to my happy surprise, rejection wasn’t happening, nor would it.

I quickly realized that I had a whole list of what I ‘thought’ Conservatives would be ‘like.’ As we rode back to our hosting church, one by one, those assumptions were put to death by this warm, loving family.

Still, I feared that the truth would eventually come out.

I fully expected, that as we got increasingly comfortable with one another, that I would give myself away. How, I just do not like Donald Trump. Never have. How, I didn’t vote for Andy Barr. How honestly, I was raised to be a conservative Republican, but had left the fold long ago, and am known by friends and co-workers in Lexington for being something of a bleeding heart liberal.

I dreaded the moment when I made some random comment and would see my new friends head for the hills.

You see, it had happened before.

Decades before, when I was a delegate at a annual convention of my Episcopal diocese, factions were fighting it out about human sexuality. I was shocked by the nastiness inflicted on each side by the other. I finally got sick of the unloving behavior.

I stood up, and addressed both sides sternly, reminding them that our jobs as Christians was first to love each other, even when we disagree. I told both sides that they should be ashamed of their unkind comments to each other.

None of those in the committee room hearing my rebuke spoke to me for the rest of the convention.

So, years later, I expected, once I started earnestly talking about some of my views, to see this new family head for the hills as well.

A great thing happened, however.  They didn’t run off. And what I learned changed me profoundly.

It wasn’t just this family. The group assembled daily lived the value that Christians can completely disagree about who they vote for, what they believe, or what they think about current ‘hot topics’, and still can LOVE each other. They can agree to disagree, and remain friends.

They can CHOOSE to walk in love no matter what the topic in disagreement is and treat one another with respect.

As our time together drew to a close, instead of some conservative/liberal rupture happening, a strange thing happened. We found that we had much MORE in common than we did not. Starting with a great love of our Lord and Savior. I mostly bonded with the woman of the family who was my age, the mother of the great teenager who had made me laugh and blessed me with her loving way towards hurricane victims.

One night, long after we were both exhausted, we sat up and talked about subjects that you would not think a ‘liberal’ or a ‘conservative’ could discuss without coming to blows. I told her that I just didn’t like Trump. She said that she supported another candidate who was defeated by Trump. She just firmly didn’t support Hillary Clinton. So, for her, she didn’t have a choice.

This astounded me, not because I did vote for Clinton, but because I felt the exact same way. I would have voted for another candidate as well, but he was defeated. And I couldn’t stand the idea of Trump being president.

I was not a Hillary fan. However, I talked myself into voting for her because I didn’t think I had a better option. We had different ideas about who would have been the better president, but we had gotten to polling booths just as disheartened. And both cast our votes with an eye to improving (or saving) a country we both loved.

I realized that among some of my more liberal friends, admitting that I didn’t feel comfortable about Hillary might have led to my expulsion from their friends list. How, when conservatives in the past reacted in a nasty way about my views, I had deleted them.

However, as I shared my concerns about issues such as abortion and other issues that make people go after each other, this new friend didn’t want to lay hands on me. She didn’t start praying out loud for my soul.

She even accepted my friendship request on Facebook.

I felt more accepted by her than I have felt by folks, liberal and conservative, who I have known for much longer.  She didn’t judge me, even when we disagreed. When I brought up the way that I thought that abortion could be done away with (See my blog “How the church can end abortion.” April 2011) she agreed with me. We are both big Keith Green fans (imagine that?) and agreed that the church could do so much more by living its faith than through politics.

After that long talk, I took a deep sigh of relief. Because right or left, liberal or conservative, I knew one thing. I loved this woman as a sister in Christ, and I was not about to let her go over something as foolish as politics.

Driving back to Lexington, our conversations replayed in my head. One thing stood out. We acted in great love with one another.  It didn’t occur to either of us to act another way.

Prior to meeting and spending time with my new friend, I knew that there were things that she said or believed politically that might have, at one point, led me to be unkind. Roll my eyes or groan. Make a sarcastic comment or joke.

But now, I knew something I hadn’t considered before. How would acting in such a way be helpful? Useful? How could it do anything to build up the body of Christ? How could indulging myself in a mean-spirited way at the expense of a fellow sister in Christ do anything but bring us both down?

Following our time together, I knew that behaving that way towards anyone  I differed with was out.

It was out in the name of Jesus.

Which means, from now on, with God’s help, no matter how I disagree, name-calling, childish chanting, questioning someone’s level of maturity, intelligence, or wisdom is not an option for me.

Had I walked in their shoes? No. Had I lived their lives? No, again. Did I have the mind of God to be able to judge the rightness or wrongness of their views? Absolutely not.

So, we might disagree, but I would not add to the problem by being unkind.

This wonderful, gentle, funny woman taught me that there was a better way, simply by the way she treated me.

Today, driving back from guardianship court, I was listening to a radio station that had a call in show about topics that often divide people. I listened, and heard a sad thing happening.

The person whose views actually mirrored mine acted disgracefully.

He over talked the female caller, raised his voice, tried to shame the woman calling (who was respectful to him throughout) and basically tried to silence her until she, predictably, hung up on him.

What was gained? Not a thing.

We as a nation and as a body of believers can do better. We have to.

I will never support the immature yelling and name-calling of Chris Plante, Rush Limbaugh or Michael Savage. Occasionally, I have agreed with some of what they say. Might have done some investigating and vetting to see if their views had merit. However, what pushed me back towards the left every time is HOW they said it. The lack of love in their comments. The complete lack of grace.

I also question those of the left who will psycho-analyze (without qualifications to do so) someone’s mental health or confidence in their man or womanhood. Or, worse, will look for every error a political opponent makes, refusing to see any possible good. But in saying that, I must embrace my own sin–I have been the person making such judgments without being willing to give the benefit of the doubt.

When the two dissident sides get really going, it is as if they are two siblings fighting in the back seat during a trip that has gone on far too long for the parents driving the car.

How do we learn to love more like Jesus with those whom we disagree?

It will mean looking at those who support a candidate we can’t stand, and saying, “This is my brother/sister in Christ. They deserve my respect even if I don’t agree. They deserve to be heard, even if what I hear is not what I believe. They deserve my love, because we serve the same risen Savior and will be sharing eternity together. They deserve to be treated like adults, because, hopefully, we have both learned that this is what we are, and should act that way regardless of our views.”

During my mission trip, I could have opened my mouth and caused a lot of damage. So could have others. We didn’t do that, thanks be to God. We were there, united to reach out with the love of Christ to offer help, hope, love and knowledge of salvation to the victims of a horrific, destructive storm.

Samaritan’s Purse accomplished that last week in Wewahitchka, Florida with the help of the Holy Spirit, who set the agenda.

We chose love, and by choosing that, it changed me.

I hope those reading this blog understand the opportunity given here. We may never like the same political candidate, we may never agree on the same issues. But we can listen, be adults, and be willing at the end of the day to take our views and the views of others to the cross and ask God to sort it out, and teach us (both) what is truth and what is not.

We can end this horrible division in this country by loving more and hating less. By not being so convinced that we are right that our consciences are blinded to what might be true.

We can learn to walk the path of love and work together for the kingdom of God. Or, if you are not Christian and don’t want to be, you can walk the path of love because it is the best option out there. We have to learn to disagree in love, work together in love, live in love for anything to be better.

It truly is, in my opinion, this country’s only hope.

Clevus and the ‘Wrassling’ Match


Clevus had always enjoyed a certain reputation in the town of Contentment.

As a child, he was known to be mean as a snake (if said snake was having a really bad day.)

As a teenager, he and Aunt Ginny nearly came to blows a few times over who would rule the young Vernon children after their parents died. Aunt Ginny won that one, and became the only person (other than his future wife, Eleanor Grace) that Clevus was afraid of.

As a young man, he was a frequent prankster. He was also the subject of much prayer, as his favorite thing to do was to worry the mess out of the local preachers. If a snake was found behind the pulpit, or an angry cat released at just the wrong time during a sermon, folks all looked for Clevus.

He was a man of legendary proportions, and this was before he got converted at the Harley Riders for Jesus Revival and became a missionary for them.

He was a star football player for Coach Shug at Auburn. Even grudgingly admiring Alabama fans said he could have been great if he’d chosen the ‘right’ team to play for.

After that, Clevus was president of the People’s Trust and Savings Bank by the time he was 25. When he was 30, he ran for mayor and won against the long–time incumbent, Berney “Hawhaw” Wambles.

Clevus was also quite proficient at siring children. Before they were done, he and Eleanor Grace had three sets of twins, two sets of triplets, a boy and a girl. When Clevus thought his wife was out of ear-shot, and the subject of his offspring came up, he’d just grin and say, “She sure does make pretty litters, don’t she?”

When Eleanor Grace was around, he blamed the whole mess on not having easy access to a television during the early years of their marriage–so there wasn’t much left to do for entertainment.

Clevus was tall, strong, sometimes short tempered, and none of the men in the town cared to take him on. No one even dared to curl a lip at him. That is, until Bruno Jeffcoat came to town in 1973.

No one knew what Bruno’s sainted mother had fed that boy, but by the time he hit puberty he was like a tank. Folks said he could pull a tree up by its roots. He liked to show off and have heavy stuff laid on him to show how much he could take. He’d do exhibitions to show his strength. One person said they’d seen him have a fire truck roll over him, and it only hurt the fire truck.

He was a maverick, a modern Samson, with no pesky Delilah hanging around with scissors.

Bruno came to Contentment in May of 73. He drove a car so broken down,  some folks wondered if he was moving the car like Fred  in a Flintstones cartoon. Surely the smoking, shuddering thing was not running itself.

There were great holes in the seats and floorboards. Most of the windows were knocked out. The tailpipes let out this blue stinky odor that put people in mind of a sewage plant. And the engine make a ‘clickety-click’ sound that made folks think of a time bomb.

Here Bruno came, in this ridiculously ailing car that seemed too small for a man of his stature. Bruno parked it right in front of Clevus’ bank. Not because he was going to go in there to start up a new account, either. It was market day, and that was the only parking place that was open to him.

Bruno was hungry and saw the Milbanks Country Cafe from the road, and decided to try it. He ignored the politely lettered sign in front of his car that said “For bank customers only, please.”

He went into Milbanks, and some folks later said he ordered up half the menu. He said he was hungry, then set out to prove it. Bruno sat there and shoveled food in like eating was a new concept for him. This did Ednera Bell Millbanks’s heart good at first.

Then, after he cleaned his plates for the second time and asked for more, she got a little nervous. She wasn’t sure if she had enough food prepared to meet this giant of a man’s needs.

Bruno was halfway through his third plate when his stomach told him to slow down. He cleaned his plate, out of respect for Ednera Bell and then paid for his meal. He gave many compliments to Ednera Bell and lingered in the cafe, sipping cold iced tea. This was likely because it was one of three establishments in Contentment that had air conditioning.

He started talking to Ednera Bell’s husband,  Marv “Killer” Milbanks  and said he planned to stay in Contentment a while. He asked about clean and cheap accommodations. Marv was telling him about Prissy Gail Sander’s rooming house, when Clevus came into the store.

Now, folks of an active imagination might have likened this to the beginnings of a wild-West shoot-out. For the uninitiated, it very nearly was. You see, Clevus came out for lunch, and saw Bruno’s stinky, hole-filed car where his customer’s cars should be.

He didn’t like it one bit.

Clevus decided to start searching for the scoundrel who had parked the eyesore car there. Inspired, he tried the cafe first.

The two men sighted each other like two alpha male coon dogs. They were similar in stature, both strongly built, and both were very territorial.

Never mind that Clevus had been born in Contentment, and had plans to someday (a long time from then) die there. Bruno Jeffcoat was in town now, and he planned to claim all the town fire-hydrants for himself.

Clevus took on the countenance of a banker who was about to call in a bad loan. He walked up, his face a study of “I’ve got to do this for your own good, boy” and went almost nose to nose with Bruno.  “I spect you’re responsible for that trash heap of a wrecked car out there, ain’t ya, son?”

“Suppose I am? What’s it to you?” When Bruno said this, he succeeded in surprising Clevus for the first time in a long time. Every other man in town, well, they wouldn’t have desecrated Clevus’ parking spots to start. They had more sense than that. But Bruno, as he was about to prove, wasn’t most men.

“It’s my business, partner, because that there” Clevus said, pointing the wall as if the bank could be seen through it, “is my bank. Those spaces are supposed to be for customers only. Now, if you plan to come open an account after you finish here, why, that’s fine. But if you don’t plan to, you need to get on and park somewhere else.”

Bruno’s brows furrowed, as he considered his options. “There ain’t no other place for it. You see how busy it is today.” He said, his voice taking on a tone of negotiation.

Clevus wasn’t having it.

Clevus looked at him as he would one of his numerous, often erring children. “That’s a mighty good excuse, but it ain’t holding. What if a real, good customer wanted to park there? They’d be blocked, wouldn’t they? So, why don’t you go out there and move it, before I have to move it.”

His tone made the air crackle with something that got everyone’s attention. Both Marv and Ednera Bell froze and looked on in half-frightened anticipation. A few late diners who had gotten what was left after Bruno ate held their forks, spoons or what have you in mid-air and just stared.

Bruno thought some more, and shook his head. “I ain’t gonna do it.”

Clevus gave him a big grin, “Alright.”

He walked out of the cafe, like a man on a mission. Bruno, now overwhelmed with curiosity, followed him, practically dancing around him, saying repeatedly, “Whatcha gonna do, tough guy, whatcha gonna do?”

Clevus, silent as the night, went up to the car, and gripped the bumper, about to give it a big pull.

The bumper came off in his hands.

Clevus scratched his head, beginning to sweat from the heat. “How in the world did you get this thing into town?”

“It’s my business.” Bruno exclaimed. “Now, you need to put that bumper back on, or pay someone to fix it.”

Clevus gave him another smile that was closer to a snarl. “I ain’t gonna do it.”

The two men circled each other, like two angry bulldogs. Then, Clevus stopped. “Boy, if you’re going to stay in this town, you’d better get clear on a few things. This ain’t no way to make a first impression.”

Just then, Bessie Ann, Clevus’ sister came running around the corner with Georgia Grace. Apparently someone had gotten on the pay phone at the diner and told the family  what was going on.

Then, they called a few other people.

About twenty folks ended up around them, like they were watching a human rodeo. The two men kept circling each other, each one waiting for the other one to throw the first punch.

“I want you out of my parking place.” Clevus thundered. “I’ll pull off more than your bumper if you don’t get that wrecked up piece of junk outta here.”

Before Bruno could say anything else, someone from the crowd hollered, “Wrassle for it!”

The two men stopped dead in their tracks, and both looked in the direction of the suggestion. As with any great idea, everyone wanted to take credit for it. Soon, even Clevus two sisters were chanting, “Wrassle for it, wrassle for it.” No one had seen a good fight in a long time.

Right then, Eleanor Grace stopped up short in her red impala with four of their kids buckled in (the other ten were in school), and jumped out.

Somebody had called her too.

Eleanor Grace, truth to be told, was always the one with the most business sense in the family. And she had a capital idea.

“I ain’t never seen such a mess. Fighting over a parking place?” She called out. Her tone made Clevus as meek as a bunny rabbit, and it seemed to take the fire out of Bruno too.

“Okay, you boys wanna wrassle, you do it down at the farm center, and we’ll sell tickets to benefit the Daughters of the Confederacy. Let him leave his car there till he checks into the boarding house.”

“But Baby,” Clevus started protesting,

Eleanor Grace walked up to him, in battle pose, and the great man fairly quaked in his shoes. “Don’t you ‘But Baby’ me, Buster. I done told you how its gonna be. Now, MARCH!”

Clevus began to march. Bruno stayed still.

Eleanor Grace waved her fist in front of his surprised nose. “You don’t understand plain English? Do I have to tell you again?”

As Bruno later told it, her tone reminded him of his own sainted mother,  Lila Beth Jeffcoat, who, like Eleanor Grace was about five foot two, and could terrify him and his gang of brothers just by waving a walking stick.

He went and checked into the boarding house. When he got back, the car wouldn’t start until he pounded the hood a few times. He went to the area where the boarding house guests parked, off of Main Street, polluting the air as he went.

The night of the match was that Friday. Eleanor Grace, trailed by most of her children, arranged it all. She negotiated everything, right down to the color of trunks both men would wear. She got the Farm Center to print up tickets.

In a matter of hours, they were sold out. Somehow folks from Montgomery and Huntsville even found out and came down to get a few seats.

Clevus finished his work week wondering again and again why he had married Eleanor Grace. The night of the match, he meekly got into some bright orange trunks sewn by his sister, Tully, and went down to the farm center to meet his fate.

Even Brother Holland was there, even though he greatly disapproved of the wrassling of anything, except perhaps of the devil. He and his wife sat on ring-side so as to see if there was a need to convert any of the out of town referees.

Bruno came marching up to the ring, wearing trunks that were, to everyone’s shock loud plaid. Tully smiled meekly when questioned, and said, “Well, I thought we’d need a way to identify him after Clevus gets through with him.”

Now, what Bruno might not have known was that, at least in Contentment, wrestling or ‘wrassling’ wasn’t just between the two participants. The whole crowd often got involved. If someone didn’t agree with a call the referees made, some folks might even try to wrassle the referees, sometimes with words, sometimes with fists.

Not only that, the house-wives often considered such events as the social events of the season. Bessie Ann, Clevus’ younger sister was briefly between husbands, and felt like walking on the wild side. So, she went over to the next county, and got her hair bleached an unnatural shade of blonde.

She came back with a mini-dress that resembled something she’d seen on Bewitched, and really went all out with her make-up. Too far out, said Aunt Ginny. But Bessie Ann was not to be dissuaded. She got her a ring side seat right next to Brother Holland, who was clutching his large King James bible, and searching the crowds sternly for potential converts.

The bell sounded, and the two men laid in to one another. Clevus flung Bruno, then Bruno flung him back. Eleanor Grace, free of their 14 children for the evening, stood up on a chair and hollered at her husband. “Git that boy!” She yelled. “Git him or you don’t come home tonight!”

Clevus, shocked, looked at his wife to see if she was serious. Bruno saw his opening and flipped him again. The crowd yelled, moaned and hissed. Bruno was about to try to do it again, when Bessie Ann, unseen by anyone, climbed into the ring, crawled on all fours and bit Bruno hard on the ankle.

The wrassling match became a battle of three.

Bruno respected women, but he drew the line at biters. He started to lift her in the air to put her not so gently out of the ring. That got Billie Ray,  and Johnny Paul in the ring, ready to defend their sister, when she took another bite out of Bruno’s arm, and he put her down outside the ring.

The referees, both burly men, who moonlighted as bouncers at the Howling at the Moon Club, started pulling people who didn’t belong in the ring out of it. Last was Bessie Ann who bit one referee and kicked another in his unmentionables. The one who had nearly been unmanned gave up, but the referee who had been bitten started trading words with Bessie Ann.

Aunt Ginny clapped her hands over her ears and started praying out loud. She sure hadn’t taught her niece the words coming out of Bessie Ann’s pretty mouth, and she didn’t want anyone to think she had.

Clevus and Bruno stood watching in shock as two deputy sheriffs finally separated Bessie Ann and the referee. Clevus looked at Bruno and slapped his shoulder. Bruno rared back as if expecting an attack. Clevus shook his head. “What in the heck are we fighting about, Hoss?” He asked.

Bruno considered it a minute. “Well, it started with the parking place.” Then he ducked, as one of Bessie Ann’s high heeled shoes came flying at the other referee. She was back in the ring again.

The sheriff’s deputies, who had come to watch the match, not to work, grumpily pulled her back out.

Clevus got Bruno’s attention. “How bout if I help you get that car looking decent?”

Bruno considered it. “Sure. Okay,” He said. He put out his hand for Clevus to shake.”Hey, I don’t know why I got so hot with ya, Man. I like to work on cars.” Clevus accepted the handshake.

“Do you like to fish for Bass?” Clevus asked, “I got a good Bass boat and Mulberry River is full of ’em.”

He stepped aside, as Bessie Ann came rolling up, wrassling the referee for all she was worth.

“Sure do, Man,” Bruno said, “I used to catch the biggest durn fish you ever saw up near Birmingham, where I’m from.”

Clevus scratched his chin. “You like football?”

Bruno laughed out loud. “Yeah, but I get into a lot of fights. Most of the folks in Birmingham like the Crimson Tide. I hate ’em. Give me a good game with Coach Shug any day of the week.”

The two men smiled at each other, and without another word, stepped out of the ring. With Bessie Ann’s antics going on, no one noticed.

Clevus took Bruno to the Howling at the Moon Club and they took turns buying the beer and flirting with dancers. Bessie kept on fighting until she knocked the referee out. Some folks thought it was the best money, entertainment wise, that they had ever spent.

Bessie had two shiners the next day, but the referee looked much worse. Something about being beaten half silly with a high heeled shoe often had that effect on a man.

Clevus and Bruno finally gave up on his disabled car, and Clevus gave Bruno a loan at the bank to get a new pickup. Bruno had gotten a job at the mill by then, and could make the payments on time, which greatly pleased Clevus.

And,  to the end of theirs lives, Bruno and Clevus were, after that confrontation, the very best of friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mamaw Phillips Throws Herself on the Mercy of the Court


Brother Holland had one bug in his Cheerios.

That would have been his mother-in-law, Martha “Mamaw” Phillips.

To the good reverend, Gussie Fay Holland was the perfect wife. She was nearly six feet tall, so his towering height didn’t look as out of place as with some of his previous dating attempts. She was a good homemaker, and served as church pianist, treasurer, Sunday School teacher, and church secretary. All of this she did well, and without complaint.

But Mamaw Phillips was another story.

Brother Holland had met his bride in Wisconsin, when he was visiting an old army buddy, Homer “Heft” Burns. Heft thought they could do worse than visit a local cafe known for great food and pretty waitresses. Gussie Fay had worked there for years, and it was how she put herself through secretarial school.

She was nearly 30, and no longer held out hope for marriage. For whatever reason, her beanpole-like stature seemed to intimidate most men. So, she was in for the shock of her life when she saw a man taller than her, with bright blue eyes and a goatee, who seemed to like her.

After a short courtship, they married. Gussie Fay’s mother, Mamaw Phillips threw a fit.

It wasn’t right! It wasn’t natural! Who would come to check on Mamaw Phillips if Brother Holland took her daughter down to Alabama? Never mind that Mamaw Phillips was in perfect health, and could out-work five cheese farmers. Mamaw felt small and weak, and was dependent, as a widow, on her daughter.

It didn’t take long for her to sell her home in Wisconsin and trail the young couple to Contentment. She put in to move in to the parsonage, as it had several bedrooms and there was lots of space. Finally, she wore Brother Holland down, and he told her that she could stay ‘until she found a place to live.’

No one knew, however, that it would be a years-long search for Mamaw Phillips, and that she would never find a place in Contentment she was pleased with.

Brother Holland consoled himself by staying in the church as much as he could, as did Gussie Fay, who, truth to be told, had really hoped her mother would stay in Wisconsin. The couple were never able to have children, and so there was very little reason to go home, really.

Mamaw Phillips didn’t like Brother Holland’s style of preaching, and never forgave him for marrying her daughter, so, she went to the Methodist church in town. There, she found several dowagers of the same mindset, aging, needing attention, and not being too discriminate on how they got it. As a result, if there was any major pot bubbling in Contentment, Mamaw Philllips was likely to be one of the chief stirrers.

Things all came to a head when she’d been in Contentment about five years. She’d fixed up the guest room with all things ‘old lady’ to include several vials of stinky smelling ‘rubs’ that she swore by for her non-existent arthritis.

One battle that Brother Holland won (with the help of Gussie Fay) was that if Mamaw had to put that mess on herself, she had to keep the bedroom door closed. That way the whole house didn’t reek of it. Weeping copiously, Mamaw Philips complied.

After a few years, Mamaw had worn her son-in-law out with her attention-seeking. He would walk in the house, and Mamaw would be in the parlor, sorting out her collection of decorative handkerchiefs. Going through there was the only way to get to the dining room, and to his supper. So, invariably, Brother Holland had to pass her. And she always had just about the same comment.

“I guess that it won’t be long now, son.” She’d say, looking at her son-in-law meaningfully.

“What’s that, Mamaw Philips?” Brother Holland would say politely, slowing down to listen to  the minimum that he thought he had to without Gussie Fay getting mad at him.

“Well, I spect, till you’re preaching my funeral. I went down to Marlers Funeral Home today to look at my choices. I have it narrowed down between two caskets.”

“Well, that’s nice Mamaw Phillips,” Brother Holland said, “It’s always good to be prepared.”

“OH!!!” She’d cry out, “You just want me gone! You’d be glad to have the burden of my life off your shoulders! You just don’t care! And you, a preacher!”

“I didn’t mean a bit of that, Mamaw,” Brother Holland would say tiredly, then with a cajoling voice. “Don’t you need some of your cough medicine? Your voice sounds scratchy.”

And though it would be years before the strategy of  ‘distract, distract, distract’ became well known through a misbehaving president, Brother Holland had already developed the skill in spades. He knew Mamaw at least as well as he knew his wayward congregation. And he knew Mamaw liked her cough medicine.

What Brother Holland denied, even to himself, was what everyone knew. That cough syrup was loaded with alcohol. It was so strong that only a few spoon-fulls could bring on giddiness and unchaste behavior in some of the most respected local matrons. The more cough syrup Mamaw Phillips took, the easier she was to live with. So, Brother Holland often encouraged her to take a healthy chug.

When it began to dawn on Mamaw Phillips that her attempts at getting her family’s attention were rarely going to be successful (they knew her too well) she had to branch out in the community. By this time, there was a new Sheriff Downing “Plug” Coursey, and one thing he did not tolerate was nonsense in public. And Mamaw’s ensuing antics were to plunge the new sheriff into a fresh kind of hell.

First, it was the funeral home. Seemed that someone had bought her choice of coffins, and she complained long and loudly to Woody Marler, the funeral home owner and director.

He finally shooed her off, telling her that  if she’d bought the darn thing when she fell in love with it orginally, she’d have a box all ready for her. Making a sound of affront, Mamaw stomped away.

On the way out, she passed the room where a funeral was in process. And stopped.

She walked into a room of folks she didn’t know,  mourning the loss of a Contentment old time settler, Tommy Crenshaw. The room was so packed that no one noticed her arrival.

Tommy Creshaw’s pastor was mad at him at the time of his demise, so the funeral home had to hire somebody from out of town to preach his funeral.  Looking nervous, the out of town pastor started making the necessary comments over the departed. Because he didn’t know Tommy,  he went general, and hoped he was right.

“Well, we all know Tommy Crenshaw was a good man, faithful in Sunday School, never missed a Sunday.”

“And Bingo! Don’t forget Bingo!” Mamaw Phillips called out. The assembled roomful turned to stare at Mamaw. Grumblings of disapproval filled the room. Tommy Crenshaw hadn’t been an especially loved man in Contentment. Some had just come, honestly, to look in the casket and make sure he was really dead. But none of them wanted to admit it.

“Yes,” The rent-a-pastor said, rivers of sweat pouring down his face. “And he was kind to animals, and good to the womenfolk, and…..”

“Never mind that he took a little nip now and then,” Mamaw called out helpfully. “He was just a humble, fault-filled man.”

Now the mourners were really incensed. Bingo and booze? Rumblings of barely concealed dislike filled the chapel. If he’d been doing all that, who knew what else the old codger was doing?

Near panic, the rent-a-pastor tried to finish up quick. “And….” He said firmly, “He will be definitely missed.”

Suddenly, Mamaw Phillips let out a wail of despair so loud that folks on the street heard it. “Won’t he, won’t he, won’t heeeeee?”  Mamaw draped herself across the coffin, weeping real tears over a fellow she’d never met, as if mourning for a lost lover.

It took Woody Marler AND Sheriff Plug to pull her off that coffin.

Brother Holland was summoned to the Sherrif’s office, and told to take his mother-in-law home. “I don’t know what got into her.” Sheriff Plug said to Brother Holland. “But she near about frightened that family into a conniption. Willie Freeman almost wet himself from fright. She can’t come back if she don’t know the person being sent off. I mean it.”

So, instead, Mamaw Phillips started going to trials.

There was no real reason to bar her (yet) from those. Most of them were what was called ‘first appearance’ where all the manner of new crimes were presented for a tri-county region. So, you could have heard anything from a divorce hearing to a driving under the influence case to the rare murder.

Mamaw Phillips found it all very interesting.

She’d watched Perry Mason, so she figured she understood court procedure. She was firmly convinced that she could be helpful to the Judge Oliver “Red” Browning, and to the rest of the court staff. Most of all, Mamaw thought she could help the judge find true justice in each case.

The problem was, she always got it wrong.

Mamaw would sit up in the second floor gallery, reserved for the public, and would call out recommendations to the attorneys, or give her opinion about comments that they had just made. When shushed by the baliff, she got more defiant. The judge and attorneys tried ignoring her, but that just made her worse.

One trial day, James Lawford was brought to first appearance. He’d been found drunk in public once again, and this time, he’d stripped off and was taking a bath in the water fountain that surrounded the Robert E. Lee statue in front of the Courthouse.

James had had his hand slapped before with his many public intoxications, but this was serious business.

Thornton Holley, the county attorney came in, looking like it was for him alone to deliver the wrath of God to James Lawford. Jimmy Lindsay, public defender, fresh from law school and wholly unprepared, practically wilted at the sight of County Attorney Holley. Everyone in the public gallery knew this was going to be a fun day in court..

Mamaw Phillips had been uncharacteristically silent for most of the hearing.  Judge Browning prepared, after hearing the ineffectual defense and the strong prosecutor’s evidence, to lower the boom on James Lawford. Judge Browning ruled that Lawford would have to work on the chain gang for a minimum of six months.

Mamaw stood up, quivering with fury. “That’s it?” She demanded, shaking her finger at the shocked judge. “For what he did? He should get the chair! Give him the chair, give him the chair, give him the chair!!!”

After the Baliff and three deputies hauled her off, Brother Holland was summoned to see the Judge in private chambers. Judge Browning was given the whole story by her despairing son-in-law culminating with “I just don’t know what to do with her.”

Then, Judge Browning had a thought that no one had yet considered. He had a brother-in-law, Lee Warner, that he couldn’t stand, who lived with him. He and Mamaw were just about the right age. Lee needed a hobby to keep him out of the Howling at the Moon Club and from being a general pest around Contentment to most everybody.

No one was sure how they did it, but somehow, before long, the good judge and Brother Holland had introduced the couple, and sparks fairly flew. Before long, Judge Browning gathered his family and the Holland family back in his chambers, but not because of some new outrage by Mamaw or Lee. Instead, to perform a wedding.

The judge offered permanent use of his cabin up by Lake Hogfoot to the new couple, which would put them about 90 miles from Contentment. Since neither of them had a vehicle, that would greatly limit the likelyhood of them coming back to town. Both of the wedded party had their social security pensions, so they were pretty much set.

Brother Holland, as his and Gussie’s Fay’s wedding gift, presented them with a one way Greyhound ticket out of town to their new home.

And as far as anyone in Contentment knew, the couple thrived at Lake Hogfoot and the drama in Contentment, at least for the time being, was greatly reduced.

Trump: Why She Didn’t Tell


I know that some won’t read this blog.

Or, if they do, will get defensive, angry, or completely disagree.

Sexual predators (and those who protect them) have found a new champion in our 45th president.

Still, I am stunned by President Trump’s new low.

He asks why Christine Blasey Ford never reported her alleged sexual assault by Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh when they were teenagers.

Of course, it is an easy question for him, as he is an accused sexual predator himself. He’s been caught on live video saying that if you’re famous, you can grab a woman’s privates and get away with it.

And, like many predators, (and the people who protect them), he finds it easier to blame the victim.

Still, I would like to answer that question. Why didn’t Mrs. Ford report? Where was her ‘loving family?’ Why do so many women like her, victims of sexual abuse and assault take years to tell  (or never tell) what has happened to them?

Okay, let’s look at some possible reasons:

Maybe she was sexually abused as a child, and the family protected the perpetrator/told her not to make family business public.

Maybe she told and was not believed.

Maybe she told and someone asked what she had done to turn the boy on.

Maybe she told and someone told her she should have fought harder to prevent it.

Maybe she was told that if she hadn’t been drinking, dressing provocatively, in a fraternity dorm room or party……it would not have happened.

Maybe she was told that if she hadn’t been such a ‘tease’ it would not have happened.

Today, we are in a country where the sitting president dares to ask the question of a sexual abuse survivor of ‘why didn’t she report it.”

Mr. President, let me give you a few statistics from the early 90’s, when I started to be vocal about my own childhood sexual abuse and a sexual assault which occurred when I was in college. I am quite positive that those stats have not changed except to become worse.

1 in 3 females in America are sexually abused/assaulted by the age of 18.

1 in 5 males face the same abuse.

19 out of 20 cases of rape (either gender) or sexual abuse are NEVER reported.

Of those that are reported, only 1 in about 20 more ever are prosecuted.

I recall writing an editorial about being a victim of crime, and reading it to my Mother. She gave me a threatening look, which I knew well. She had been telling me, as long as I could remember that I wasn’t to tell what happened in my family.

Once she learned about my assault, she apparently felt the need to protect the 17 year old felon who assaulted me as well. When she wasn’t doing this, she was insisting that it was ‘all in my mind.’

I remember three months after my college assault,  crying while talking over the phone to my paternal great grandmother. About how I was having flashbacks, and basically still could not function. How I was failing my classes. How I kept thinking that I saw my attacker every time I went anywhere. (It didn’t help that he was released from jail after his arrest and began to stalk me at my new apartment.)

Her comment? “It’s been three months. You should be over that by now. Aren’t you a Christian?”

We women (and men) who have gone through this baptism of hell-fire and come out on the other side often have to do so alone. When we speak out, we risk making ourselves vulnerable to other perverts who smell fresh meat. We are clearly told that somehow, the abuse/assault was our fault. That if we speak out, we are somehow bad.

In my experience, when a few so-called Christian (and married) men heard of my story, they responded by hitting on me sexually. One proudly told me that he had once been charged with sexual abuse of a teen in his care, and that ‘she couldn’t prove it.’

When I complained about his later sexual harassment of me at work (he owned the place), I was told by him, ‘you’ll never be able to prove it.’ And despite the fact that this man is well known in my former town of residence for not being able to keep his hands off his young female employees, it is likely that a large group still believe his disavowals, and blame the young girls.

It has taken half a lifetime for me to become remotely capable of trusting the men in my life. For years, I avoided commitment by choosing addicts or men who claimed to be in recovery from addiction but who still acted like addicts. I avoided commitment by allowing myself to be re-victimized over and over again.

No abuse/assault survivor’s story is the same. Betrayal can happen so many ways. There are the children whose fathers, uncles, brothers, cousins, etc. treat them as a sexual object and then do their best to keep them silent. Or, it could be a date rape, or mass assault of a girl at a frat party. It could be the betrayal of a stranger, who forces himself on a woman he doesn’t know and should never be sexually violent towards.

Betrayal is betrayal. And sometimes the survivors just don’t have the words or ability to tell.

They’re just trying to survive.

In my current workplace, we are trained that harassment doesn’t have to be proven. If you are uncomfortable with someone’s behavior, and they keep doing it after you tell them to stop, its harassment.

I like that definition.

However, what of the many workplaces who don’t think like that? What of the stories still happening where the ‘blame the victim’ boys club (and their boisterous cheerleaders) try to insure that such behavior is buried?

I wouldn’t expect the current president, or any other male who has such clear disrespect for women to understand why Mrs. Ford didn’t tell until now.

However, I understand. And I honor all those years she tried to make a life rise up from the ashes. Sometimes, with God’s help and good people around you, such victory is possible.

I look at what has been created from my own ashes, and know it is true. But I also know why so many people either never tell, or stop telling.

We stop telling if we are not believed, minimized, mocked, or re-victimized. Or maybe we never tell to start, knowing this is the likely outcome.

I would like to see a stronger, more just America, where such foolish questions as ‘why didn’t she report it?’ never have to be asked.

You deserve to tell your story. It is your most basic human right, whether the predators out there want to hear it or not. But sometimes, you can’t–for years. And, that’s okay.

To all who have lost their voice, I pray that the courage of Christine Blasey Ford will help you learn to speak again.

I pray that someday, a woman speaking up about her darkest moments isn’t treated with disbelief, mockery or idiocy. Our country can do better for the sake of all our female citizens. We truly CAN do better.

This may not happen in my lifetime, but you can’t blame me if I hope.

 

 

Aunt Ginny and the Hat Pin


Sometimes, Brother Holland was inspired.

What’s more, he knew it. He’d wake up, and  hardly be able to finish his Rice Krispies because he knew that today, there would be a bumper crop for Jesus at the altar call at his church. He’d almost trot from the parish house to the church, eager to get about the business of clearing that church of Satan.

But one Sunday, something just wasn’t right.

Brother Holland thought that he had gotten everything ready for a splendid morning of soul-winning. He’d picked very convicting hymns that reminded folks of how desperate their spiritual plight was.

He’d dropped some particularly gory comic-style tracts in the church pews, in the church bathrooms, and at various places downtown where his congregation were known to frequent. These tracts showed Satan hovering over sinners and seeming as hungry as the monster in the movies that showed on Saturday night at the drive-in theater.

Why, sometimes, he’d leave a few tracts at the Howling at the Moon Club, but he’d do it in the early afternoon, before the dancers were ready to bare all, and he’d skidaddle fast, so that no one thought he might like such a den of iniquity.

But there came a Sunday when all his efforts seemed for naught.

He was concluding a sermon designed if not to convince, then to terrify. His devoted wife, Gussie Fay, given the signal, started playing “Just as I am.” It was time for the altar call, and for all Brother Hollands efforts to be rewarded.

No one came.

Who knew why. Maybe Brother Holland was really that good, and had cleansed his whole congregation of the scourge of sin. Maybe he had run the devil smack out of town. People stood, uncomfortable, as verse seven of “Just as I am” was played. Gussie Fay knew when a convicted soul came forward, she could stop and give her fingers a rest.

No one was coming.

Brother Holland reared himself up to his full 6 feet seven in a terrifying fashion. “Some of ya’ll out there ain’t made a decision.” He crowed, his eyes seeming to burn into the pupils of each person assembled, one by one. “You know it, I know it, and what’s more, Jesus knows it. And we’re just going to stay here until we get this little problem worked out. You hear?”

His congregation heard, and some groaned. Brother Holland had gone a bit long on his sermon that day already. Some wanted to get home to tune in to the Sunday football, and didn’t want to tune in late. Some were just plain hungry and wanted to get to Bertha’s Broasted Chicken Breasts before the Methodists got all the Sunday lunch.

But no, the wayward sinner had yet to show his face, and Brother Holland kept signaling to his wife to keep playing. The folks were too intimidated by their good pastor to stage a walk out, and continued to sing “Just as I am” again, and again and one more time after that. Things were getting desperate.

Folks started to grumble against who the hold out was in the congregation.

Finally, Aunt Ginny had had enough. She looked about the congregation and sized up who all was there. Then, carrying her large black patent leather purse, she crossed aisles and sat behind Terry Jenkins and his two boys, Simon and Sylvester. She fumbled in her purse, and then finding what she was looking for, got a big smile on her face.

Terry Jenkins was a big, strong fella, foreman at the local lumberyard. He rarely came to church. Usually, it was because he’d either had a wild night out at the Howling at the Moon club or had lost big at a poker game across the county line. Either way, he was usually hiding out from his wife, Rebekkah.

He was a good husband, but in his mind, after he got through providing for the week, the rest of the time was his to do as he saw fit. And what he saw fit to do, Rebekkah and nearly every one else in the town saw as the devil’s own business.

Terry had come stumbling in at about 8:30 that morning, reeling and beginning to feel very hungover. He hoped Rebekkah would be still asleep. Instead, she stood in the hall, glaring at him, with a wicked looking broom in her hand. “You need to go to church, Terry. You need it bad.” Rebekkah told her husband.

“I don’t.” He swore, trying to look determined, but really only looking very green around the gills.

“You do, and this morning you will, to show your boys what a real father does instead of chasing hussies all night at that strip club. You either go, or I’m going to beat you silly with this broom! Any questions?”

Terry had a few questions, but none that wouldn’t have hastened the beating with the broom. So, grumbling and mumbling, he went and stood under the shower until he near about drowned.

Then, feeling really bad, struggled into the suit jacket, dress shirt and tie his wife had laid out for him along with his newest Wrangler blue jeans. By then the beers of the evening before were trying to re-visit him, so Rebekkah took the car keys from him and loaded everyone in Terry’s truck, putting Terry in the truck bed so he could lean over and throw up if he needed to.

They had gotten there right on time, and Rebekkah had nagged Terry to the front pew. The boys sat on either side of him, which was good, because at parts of the service, they had to hold him up and keep him from pitching forward.

He was a man in misery, but not because of any crisis of the soul. He was just plumb sick from about 15 too many the night before. He sat, hardly hearing Brother Holland rave about sin, wondering how deep in hell he’d go if he puked on the plush red church carpet.

He stood as the sermon was over, and was so miserable he didn’t see Aunt Ginny come up behind him. The congregation was in about verse 14 now, and some had to go answer the call of nature. They began to openly hate and resent the unknown sinner that was keeping them there. Who was he or she?

They were about to find out.

Just as Gussy started on the 15th verse, thinking her fingers were about to give plumb out, a wail of intensity filled the room. She stopped playing, looking for the soul in distress.

What no one knew about, even in the pew with Aunt Ginny was that she’d just taken her sharp hat pin, held it in her fingers so no one could see, and poked Terry hard right in his Wranglers. He jumped, howled, and danced around, but could not figure out who the source of his torment was.

Brother Holland, nearly about to give up, looked at Terry with an eager look on his face. He hadn’t been wrong! Surely, this was the hold-out he’d known was in the congregation. He reached out his hand, putting on his best parental look. “Come on, Son. We all understand. You just have to let go of the world, and give it all up to Jesus.”

Terry looked at Brother Holland dully. He didn’t want to let go of anything. He looked at his wife, who was looking back hopefully, tears of expectation in her eyes. If he gave it all up to Jesus, that would mean giving up the great beer, the gambling and the girls at the Howling at the Moon club. Surely Jesus wouldn’t be that unfair.

“Uh-Uh.” He said, shaking his head.

Aunt Ginny let him have it again. He slapped his buttocks where the pin had gone in, and howled yet again. Ginny whispered sharply in his ear, her voice like a hiss.

“It’s the devil, Terry! It’s the pure devil! He’s come to get you. Don’t you feel his pitchfork?” Then, she let him have it again.

Now, in all of this, Terry didn’t think of a better explanation. All he knew was that something had to change and change fast. Grabbing his sons by the hands, he ran up to Brother Holland and near about climbed him.

Half an hour later, having declared Terry, Simon and Sylvester, free from the scourge of sin, Brother Holland, smiling widely, told everyone they were free to go.

The congregation took off out of there as if some one had just found Termites in one of their Jim Walter Homes.

And as far as everyone knew, Terry never visited any dens of sin again. For the rest of his life, he went around, twitching a little bit, seeming to be afraid that he’d get the pitchfork again. He became the model husband and father.

And Aunt Ginny put her hat pin in a place of honor. From time to time, she’d look at it and smile, thinking about how greatness could be achieved if applied with the right force and in the right place at the right time.