Happy New Year, Y’all!

1 01 2019

Here in the South, as with anywhere, we have a number of traditions and superstitions surrounding New Years Day. One such superstition, of which I was unaware until my return home following my years in the U.S. Coast Guard, was that it is considered to be bad luck if the first man who enters your home in the new year has red hair.

I count, among my favorite next-door neighbors of all time, Pleasant and Esther Harrell. Esther passed away, I believe in 2011, but Pleasant, a fellow veteran, passed away on January 2, 2007. They were an older Christian couple who would do anything within their power to help you. I mentioned them in an earlier post, “Hey, That’s Larry!” https://billtaylorcsp.wordpress.com/2011/03/19/hey-thats-larry/

Well, it was around 7:30 or 8:00 New Year’s morning 1978 and Esther was knocking on my door. She explained this red-haired man superstition and told me that her red-headed brother (or could have been her brother-in-law) would be coming over later in the day for their annual New Year’s celebration dinner. She wanted me to come over and just walk through her door so the first man to enter her home would not be one with red hair. I was happy to do it every New Years morning after that, until we moved away anyway.

I still miss my neighbors and am reminded of Pleasant and Esther every New Year’s morning.

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Some Days You’re the Table and Some Days, You’re the Toe!

31 12 2018

Tim Burton has nothing on my wife and me. Christmas 2018 was our own nightmare before Christmas.

It all started when our fully decorated Christmas tree fell over…not once, but twice. I finally solved the problem after realizing the trunk of the tree was too small for the stand I was using, but not until after breaking two of my wife’s favorite ornaments. At least my leg lamp and “fra-jee-lay” ornaments survived unscathed.

“It’s a major award! Must be from Italy!”

The following week, my wife fell, in a cold rain, shattering her right wrist. The injury was so bad, she had to have surgery the following week; four days before Christmas. She was given a nerve block for the surgery and we were told that when it wore off, after possibly as long as 32 hours, her pain would return with a vengeance. On the morning following her surgery, my wife was in the bed asleep while I was in our den reading when suddenly, I heard one of those help, the monster has grabbed me! screams. The scream was loud and terrifying. I tore from my chair and ran at full geezer-speed, which is toward the lower end of the speed spectrum, slightly faster than pushing a Chevy Silverado out of the mud, to get back to my wife. My fear was, the nerve block had worn off and she was in the throes of severe pain. As I made it through the bedroom door, I felt a searing pain in the back of my right thigh and went straight to the floor. When my wife realized I was on the floor at the foot of the bed, writhing in pain, she assured me she was okay. “It was only a bad dream,” she told me.

I told her I was having a cramp. When she realized there was no bone sticking out and all my body parts were still intact, she began to laugh at the situation. But the cramp wouldn’t go away. I soon realized I had pulled a hamstring and limped around the house the rest of the day, caring for her. A clear case now of the lame helping the lamer. I’ll leave it to you to decide which is which.

But, we’re a strong family and everyone pulled together so we could enjoy a good Christmas celebration in spite of my wife’s drug-induced stupor. Merry Christmas!





Inner Peace: George Bailey’s Epiphany

22 12 2018

Psalm 127:1 tells us, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it…”

In this context, “house” is a metaphor. You can plug-in home, family, business, country…just about anything involving people working, living or just existing together. A family without God will break apart. A church without God will split. A country without God will eventually self-destruct because of its corrupt leaders.

Recently, I was watching It’s A Wonderful Life…again. Like A Christmas Story, I just can’t get enough of that movie. And it seems that every time I watch it, I see something new. On this latest viewing, it was the correlation with Psalm 127:1.

George Baily, the Christian?
In the film, director Frank Capra never gives us a look into George’s or the Bailey family’s spirituality until near the end of the movie. We don’t see George teaching a Sunday School class or Janie and Pete singing in the youth choir. We don’t see little Tommy sitting in the pew belching out the tune of Jesus Loves Me. We don’t get a hint of the family’s Christian values until Christmas Eve when George comes home in obvious despair. It is then, Capra shows us the Bailey’s are, in all likelihood, churchgoers. Janie is at the piano practicing Hark the Herald Angels Sing for the Christmas party and Pete is writing a play about the birth of Christ.

Although he wasn’t a money-grubber like old-man Potter, George Bailey did crave the things that money could bring…travel, success, a nice home and new car like the Browns have. Because of his love of money, the root of all evil, George goes into a tirade flipping tables, kicking furniture and scaring the dickens out of the kids before stumbling off into the snowy night only to wind up getting soused at Martini’s and eventually standing on a bridge contemplating suicide. Now, up to this point nothing has happened that would be hard to believe. Enter Clarence, the angel on a crusade to earn his wings, and suddenly, a believable story takes a Charles Dickensish twist.

A Different Story
Suppose we replace George’s epiphany episode with something a little more realistic. Here are two directions the story could take.

In the first scenario, Mary, fed up with his drunken tirades, kicks George out of the house and tells him not to return, bringing to an end the existence of the secular Bailey family unit. Mary has to take a job as the librarian and she and the kids struggle on her measly weekly paycheck. Pete, like his dad, having a thirst for the nicer things in life, is shot during an unsuccessful attempt to rob the Bedford Falls Bank. While Zuzu turns to prostitution to help her mom provide for the family. George winds up sitting at Martini’s bar every night till closing time, sharing double bourbons and a bed with Violet. Having lost his family, his family business, all his friends, his dignity and everything that was good in his life, George eventually jumps to his death into the icy river.

In the second scenario, Mary, a strong believer who is indwelled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the first of which is wisdom, tells the kids to pray. She then sets out to find out what has happened and solves the problem. George realizes that money is merely a commodity that is easily replaced and pales on the value scale when compared to friends, family and, most importantly, salvation. George realizes that in spite of his circumstances, he really does have a wonderful life. All is forgiven and the Bailey family lives happily ever after.

Being Christian is no guarantee the family will survive the trials they are sure to encounter. There is no promise of happily ever after for anyone or any family…at least not on this side of Heaven. But knowing they are walking with God gives believers an inner peace that will greatly improve their chances of survival when hard times come. It’s a peace that helps us to prioritize the things that are important in life because it provides assurance there is a better life coming. Sadly, it’s a peace you will not find in non-believers.





The Quality of Your Faith

28 10 2018

Dr. David Jeremiah spoke of people of weak faith who might say, “Well, I’ve tried everything else; I guess I’ll try prayer.” Faith should be our default mode and it cannot be quantified…either you have faith, or you don’t. It can, however, be qualified, or made stronger. What is the quality of your faith? When the Apostles asked Jesus to increase their faith, Jesus told them at Luke 17:6, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Jesus was telling them they could accomplish great things, even with a tiny bit of faith. Having more faith doesn’t equate to greater accomplishments. It’s like exercising your body. There are over 700 muscles in the human body. When you lift weights, you don’t get 800 muscles, but you make the muscles you already have stronger. David Jeremiah said, “We learn faith by stretching our faith muscles.” When we exercise our faith, we don’t get more faith; but, the faith we have becomes stronger and, eventually, seeking God becomes second nature rather than an afterthought.

 





First Date

20 10 2018

Yesterday morning, after my wife got out of bed and stumbled zombie-like into the den, I told her happy anniversary. Fully aware we had just celebrated our wedding anniversary in August, her gaze suddenly went from “wake me when it’s time for breakfast” to “your senility is showing.” I reminded her it was fifty years ago we had our first date. She was less than overwhelmed. Maybe she just needed coffee.

 

Not many people, I would suppose, celebrate a first date anniversary, especially after 50 years! And, as far as I know, Hallmark hasn’t come out with a first date anniversary card. I guess most people who have been married for 47 years may not even remember their first date; but, I do. In fact, I remember the first time I laid eyes on my wife-to-be. It was the first day of our junior year of high school and I walked into Coach Perry’s Home Room doing what most of the other boys were doing-scoping out the girls who would share class with me over the next 9 months. After all, I was a sixteen-year-old walking sack of hormones. All were familiar faces with whom I had shared classes throughout my scholastic career, except for one. I saw one new face. A pretty face. She wore a navy-blue skirt with a light blue long-sleeved blouse and navy-blue shoes.

 

I suppose, one could argue this date of which I speak was more an outing than an actual date. You see, the local Lions Club sponsored an annual light bulb sale in which high school kids would volunteer to help by going door-to-door hawking bulbs to raise money to provide services for the blind. I asked her if she would like to go with me. Wondering to myself if I had a chance to really get to know this new girl, unbeknownst to me, she was already practicing her new signature…Mrs. Billy Taylor. Mrs. Carolyn Taylor. Carolyn M. Taylor. So, while it wasn’t a date in the truest sense, it was the night I fell in love. But what makes it significant enough to remember so vividly after half a century? Well, they say, every journey begins with the first step and that date was our first step. Without our first date there would have been no Brian, Eric or Mark, without which there would be no Rachel, Brooke or Amanda in our family and thus, no Anna, Abbie, Graecyn or Cody.

 

Then, it was just six says later when I asked her to go steady. “Go what?” the millennials might ask. Ahh, the lost art of courting. I guess in today’s vernacular, we were “hanging out.” But the die had been cast and the makings of a family were born.

 

I like to compare it to the most significant days in the history of the world-without Christmas there would be no Easter.





The Yankees’ Guide to Grilling

30 08 2018

Recently, I asked a Yankee friend of mine if he had plans for the Labor Day weekend. He said after he finished “mowing the lon and washing the cah,” he was planning to have family over for a “bahbecue.” If one couldn’t already tell by his Bostonian brogue, then a strong clue he was from the North was when he referred to this coming backyard bash as a barbecue. Still reeling from the barbecue misnomer, the telltale was when he said he would be putting his barbecue away for the season.  I asked him what season. “Bahbecue season,” he replied. I cringed. This was wrong in so many ways; I felt sorry for this culturally-challenged transplant and decided he needed help. If you plan to live in the South then you need to learn the lingo. As they say, “When in Rome…” So, for those above the Mason-Dixon Line and west of El Paso, who want to blend in, here is the guide to help you understand the art of the grill.

 

The Grill: First of all, let’s get the terminology correct. In the South, it’s called a grill, not a barbecue. And, it’s called grilling, not barbecuing. Barbecue is not a device on which you cook meat; it IS the meat after having been properly treated with your favorite sauce. The grill was invented for the purpose of cooking meat- meat which one coats with a dry rub of top-secret spices or slathers with sauce. It was not created for cooking Brussels sprouts, cream of wheat, or potato gnocchi. Meat!

 

The Gathering: Similarly, a barbecue is not a gathering of your closest friends for backyard drinks and ribs. Call it a party. Call it a get-together. Call it a congregation of your social network, but don’t call it a barbecue. Nothing screams Yankee louder than asking Bubba and Bubbette to come over for a barbecue Saturday night.

 

The Season: There is no barbecue season. There is a football season. There is hunting season. There is even grass cutting season and the farther north you live, the shorter the season. But the grill is like a calendar…it’s to be used year round regardless of where you live.

 

Yankees will hover for hours over a hole in the ice to catch a fish. They’ll sit all Sunday afternoon in a blowing snow with their favorite team’s logo painted on their bare chest. And yet, they can’t stand in the backyard for 20 minutes to cook a steak? I have shoveled six inches of snow out of my grill so I could cook chickens. I have stood on the deck cooking steaks when the temperature was 11 below. I have stood under an umbrella in the middle of a thunderstorm (not my brightest moment) to cook burgers, so this thing about cold and snow means nothing. “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” Man-up and light the coals.

 

The Fuel: Fuel of choice in the South is charcoal. It is permissible to use gas when short on time or if you run out of charcoal. But charcoal, newspaper and a chimney (or lighter fluid) make up your charcoal starting A-team. That means, you need two grills or a grill that allows you to use either gas or charcoal.

 

The Foil: Rookie mistake number one is to cover the grill top with aluminum foil. Sure, it makes clean-up a breeze, but, you’re blocking the smoke from getting to the meat. The meat gets its flavor when fat drips onto the hot

That’s not grilling. That’s frying!

glowing coals and the smoke that wafts through the neighborhood rises to envelop the meat. Don’t cover that grill top with aluminum foil. And don’t buy one of those grill mats, copper or otherwise. Those things are intended for suckers who don’t want to have to clean the gratings on the grill. You may as well throw those steaks in a frying pan. If you’re too lazy to clean the grill top once in a while then you should probably just sell your grill and make friends with someone who owns a grill or plan to spend a lot of time at Smokey Bones.

 

The Sauce: Sauce is personal. It is the one variable in grilling, other than the meat selection. You might want your ribs naked or you might prefer them to be drenched in a heavy layer of smoke-flavored sauce. Your sauce of choice might be a ketchup, mustard or vinegar-based sauce. But the thing to understand about sauce-in fact, the cardinal rule of sauce is, it cannot come from a bottle. You need to create your own signature sauce. Until you do, you can fake it by discretely pouring bottled sauce into a bowl or Mason jar so your guests will at least think it’s your own creation. Don’t forget to hide the empty bottle! Don’t have a Mason jar? No worries, any jar will do. You can use an empty mayonnaise jar (preferably Duke’s), salsa jar or peanut butter jar. For low-viscosity sauces such as a vinegar-based, a wine or liquor bottle works best. That way, you can control the amount of sauce you are dispensing by holding your thumb over the opening as you pour or sprinkle over the meat. An empty Makers Mark might be a bit pretentious but still not a bad choice. Warning: If using a wine bottle, avoid Sangria or anything from Little Black Dress or Moscato and other chick wines. Stick with something such as Gnarley Dude or Mad Dog.

 

You should also understand that a good steak can stand on its own; it doesn’t need to be bathed in sauce. Now, I like the flavor of A-1 as much as the next guy but save the A-1 for when you get cornered into eating something totally unpalatable such as when your host serves you scrapple with roasted Brussels sprouts. See: https://billtaylorcsp.wordpress.com/2015/05/17/internet-recipes-yech/. To mask the flavor of a good rib eye with a sauce is a sacrilege.

 

Following these tips will not make you a grilling expert, but at least you won’t stick out like a giraffe at a possum convention. Happy grill’n, ya’ll!





God is not a Sunday Morning God!

24 06 2018

II Chronicles  7:14- “If my children , who are called by my name, will humble themselves and Pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from Heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 

 

My wife and I raised three sons-three great sons. As children, our sons were a joy. Even as toddlers, we could take them anywhere without fear of tantrums, outbursts or conniptions. We played Lego, sports and ran through the house shooting Nerf guns at each other. We vacationed and, in general spent quality time together as a family.

 

Not to say they were perfect. They would misbehave and we would parent. They would hurt and we would hurt. They sought advice and we always cherished the opportunity to pass on a bit of wisdom. Our sons always made us so proud and I thank God every day in my quiet time for allowing me to be their father. They are, and have always been, thoughtful, loving and grateful. And although each has grown and moved out to raise their own families, hardly a day goes by that I wouldn’t like to see, or at least speak with, my sons.

 

The Father Loves His Children

I believe God, our Father, is much like any other father. I believe He wants to see, or at least speak with, His children every day; yet, so many of His children see Him only as a God to keep in their back pocket to be pulled out as needed, like a fire extinguisher.

 

God is not a God of convenience whom we can call upon only when we are in trouble.

 

God is not a God of opportunity whom we call on only when there is something we want.

 

God is not a God of spectacle whom we visit only on Sunday mornings to demonstrate to others how “religious” we are.

 

Whether we realize it or not, God is in our lives 24-7. What does He ask in return?

  • “…humble themselves…”
  • “…pray and seek My face…”
  • “…turn from their wicked ways…”

 

Humble themselves: Realize and accept that no matter what you experience, no matter what you achieve, no matter how successful you may be, God is greater. God is omnipresent. There is nowhere He isn’t. After all, He made every corner of the universe. He is all-powerful. There isn’t anything He cannot do. He loves us with a love that cannot be measured. How can we be anything but humble when we come before the Lord?

 

Pray and seek My face: Take just a few minutes…two minutes each day to speak with God. Pray. Thank Him for all you have and the many ways in which you have been blessed. Spend five minutes reading Scripture and thinking about what you read.

 

Turn from your wicked ways: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (KJV) None of us is perfect, or ever can be, regardless of how hard we try. We can’t love a sinful world and still love God. If we want to please God, we must deny sinful temptations and turn to God.

 

God wants to share time with you. He wants to hear your voice. Make Him a part of your life every single day. Spend a little time speaking with Him and listening. It’s a dialogue and not a monologue. Enjoy the moments and let Him enrich your life.