The Little Finger

The boy in the orange and lime green shirt lifted the hammer and struck the water worn stone in front of him. It sounded dulled when the hammerhead struck — dull and uneven.

Approaching the boy, he looked at me and my Sheriff’s uniform and immediately stood up. He held both of his hands behind his back.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

The little boy of eleven answered, “Nothing.”

“Then what do you got behind your back?” I countered.

I had a smile on my face, amused by the thought that children never changed.

The boy put his head down and slowly brought his hand from behind his back. In his left hand he held a white tube with yellow and red wires dangling from either end.

I stepped closer to the boy as he extended his right hand out with the palm up.

“Can I have that please?” I asked, more coaxing than demanding.

“Now go home and go quick!” I ordered.

“Am I in trouble?” the boy asked.

I jus’ shook my head “no” and he turned and ran past me and the other Deputy Sheriff standing in the field.

Sighing, I slowly started to turn towards my partner Dale.

“What should…,” I started to say.

BLAM! The white tube exploded with a thunderous roar.

For a second the world seemed to stop for both of us. Dale was frozen in place and I was sitting on the ground blinking; blood squirting from what remained of my right hand.

I raised my hand above my head out of instinct and Dale grabbed at his radio.

As I stood up, Dale commanded, “Sit down, you’re in shock.”

But I was not listening as I was looking at the bright red blood running down my arm and the mangled stump of my little finger. My ring finger was disjointed and misshapen as well.

I looked at the ground in search of the missing little finger.

“Help me find my finger, Dale,” I said.

The words sound like they spoken from a tin can, hollow to the point of nearly an echo, yet they did not echo. The fire department and two other law-enforcement officers arrived including a California Highway Patrolman, but I didn’t realize this, I was so intent on finding his missing finger.

Sam, the highway patrol officer, walked up and put his hand on my shoulder. He said something, but I couldn’t hear it.

That’s when I panicked.

Sam walked me to his patrol car and opened the passenger side, where I sat down. Dale was directing the fire fighters and the other Sheriff’s Deputy in the attempt to recover my lost little finger.

Leaning back, I closed my eyes as Sam bandaged me jus’ enough to stop the bleeding. When I next opened my eyes I was at Seaside Hospital.

Inside the emergency room the nurses were busy making preparations for the doctor to work on my hand. They cleaned the wound which consisted of a deep gauge in the palm, the dislocated ring finger with lots of cuts at the base where it should be attached to the hand, and the absent pinky finger that had been violently ripped from the big knuckle.

My ears were also a great source of irritation for me. It was the sound of the Pacific Ocean pounding the sandy beaches of DeMartin’s Beach, a sound I normally enjoyed, except it was now so loud and I couldn’t get away from it.

“I’m going to have to sew the top of your little finger shut,” the doctor said.

I couldn’t understand him, so he wrote it down, where I stared at it blankly for a few seconds and nodded “Okay”.

I was hoping this was a bad dream and that I’d soon awaken from it.

The doctor started to close the remaining flap of skin over my finger as the nurse cleaned my face. I had a little cut next to his nose jus’ under my left eye.

The nurse felt it, then looked at the doctor and felt it again. Suddenly the cut erupted.

The nurse jumped back as her eyes rolled up into the back of her head as she collapsed to the floor. The doctor’s eyes widened with astonishment as he looked at the cut and then to the object lying in my lap.

The cut burned deep as the nurse had touched it a second time and was a momentary sharp pain jus’ before the nurse fainted. I had my eyes closed tight against that pain.

When I opened them, the doctor was holding the missing part of my little finger. He was busy cleaning it off and getting it ready to be sewn back on.

I leaned back and drifted off.

The medication the doctor had given me was taking affect and could relax now. The bad dream wasn’t so bad after all; I had my little finger back.

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The New Year: 2004

A new year has begun and it hardly seems like the old one got started.

I feel like I am still working on projects I initiated in the year 2000. Yet I look around me and I know it’s not true. It’s just a feeling. Perhaps it is something that comes from age and the perceived movement of time.

For me the changing of the year is a reminder that there is only so much human time in our lives yet an infinite amount of time as God would measure it . It is so hard to wrap my mind around it that I would much rather do winter cleaning than think about it.

Either way God was bound to appear in the mix.

It has been amazing to discover that as I start to clean out drawers and old boxes, some of the items I have run across. I have found papers that I figured were long ago lost.

These are papers that I had first started writing as a child of about nine. My mother saved them all through the years and I did not know it.

I only found out after her death and growing brave enough to open some of the things she left behind. These have become kind of a mini-time capsule of sorts from me.

I read them and discover that I thought some extraordinary things as a child through my young adulthood. I can also see how .come my parents ended up with all those gray hairs, too.

I write about all the many times I found myself in trouble at school or with my schoolmates and such. There are also objects that I had put away so well that I figured that I had tossed them out with the garbage or something.

It is amazing to find a military patch that I once wore over twenty-five years ago tucked under the fold of a cardboard box. It brought back memories that caught me of f guard. It also made me feel young and old all at the same time.

Often times when I get on a cleaning jag it is because I am afraid that I will end up like some pathetic old pack rat, hording every little piece of paper until it is nearly impossible to move around my home. Yet there is a small fear inside me that says that if I should throw out a certain paper or file or item, that’s exactly the time when I will need it.

That’s has happened before and then I’ve found myself stuck, either calling around to get a copy of something I needed or going out and buying a new whatever it was I threw out.

Of course I know I am not that bad, just yet. But that’s why I go on these cleaning terrors and amaze myself by the things I find. This last cleaning jag and the turning of the year got me to thinking about how the Lord works to clean or lives out too, if we let him.

Stop and think about this if you will. I found a file filled with a bunch of old bills dated from 12 years ago. They were telephone bills and I started to put them in the save and review file. My thinking was that perhaps I would find a telephone number of a person in them that I had forgotten about.

After awhile it occurred to me that I was being silly. It had been more than a decade and I had all the current telephone numbers of all the people I needed to know in my life right now. Why waste my time with the past and searching for something that is worthless?

That’s when I heard that gentle voice deep inside me say, “That’s what forgiveness is all about.” It was at that moment that I knew I had to tell as many people as I could about how simple the idea of forgiveness really is for them. It is like getting rid of unwanted and unneeded trash.

All I had to do was decide to get rid of them. I did not really outwardly ask, I just said, “I don’t want to live with these feelings anymore Lord.”

It was instantaneous for me. I cannot say that it will be the same for you as we all work differently on some basic level.

For the longest time I worried about how come I never felt relief after asking for forgiveness. It’s because I insisted on taking my trash back.

Perhaps it is human nature to do that, after all there is a saying that goes something like, “We are always are own harshest critics.”

This is an ongoing process.

Everyday, sometimes two, three and four times a day I have to tell Jesus I don’t want the feelings of guilt, of shame, of uselessness, or remorse, or bitterness or whatever may be shadowing me at the time. I have to decide I don’t want them and then give them up.

One of the best examples I can cite is the thief on the Cross beside Jesus as they were crucified together. Be simply decided to believe and therefore was rewarded with the promise of seeing God in Heaven by the end of that day.

There are still a couple boxes I have to tackle and a closet to clean out and I have no idea what I’m going to do about the garage just yet, but I have .found some peace in my soul through daily prayer and talking to God. It doesn ‘t hurt either that, I allow myself a little quite time too so that I can listen for that quiet little voice to tell me what I need to know .

Paternal Name Calling

The letter said I was the baby’s father. I sat there with my mouth wide open, in shock and having a very difficult time comprehending what I was reading over and over.

I had come in early to the station so I could complete my production assignment prior to my shift.

“What’s the matter?” my co-worker asked.

He was standing next to me as I re-read the letter.

“Some chick is accusing me of being her kids father,” I stated flatly.

“What?” he replied, ”Let me see that.”

I handed him the letter so he could read it.

“You best go talk to the P.D.,” he said.

I agreed.

The Program Director’s door was open as normal, but I knocked any way.

He looked up from his paper work and said, “Come in”.

I felt my hand shaking as I handed the letter to him.

He knew something was wrong as I was also pale as a ghost. He read the letter.

“Is it true?” he asked.

At first I was insulted that he would ask such a thing but I remembered the P.D. never one was never one to assume anything.

“Its not” I answered,”I don’t even know who she is.”

He read the letter again. Then he said, “Lets go talk to the General Manager.”

The G.M. was in a meeting with some station lawyers as luck would have it. The P.D. picked up his telephone and buzzed the G.M.’s office.

The P.D. gave the G.M. the run down on the letter and hung up the phone. A moment later the G.M. was standing in the P.D.’s office and he had the station’s attorney with him.

They both read the letter over. “Tom, you didn’t have sex with her did you?” the General Manager asked.

“No, I didn’t,“ I replied.

Then the lawyer piped in, “Okay, here’s what I suggest we do. Since she sent the letter here, the station is involved and I can help out. Of course that is if you don’t mind?”

He was looking at me.

“I appreciate any help I can get,” I answered.

“Alright,” he said as he clapped and rubbed his hands together, “Lets get a hold of her attorney and arrange a meeting as soon as possible.”

With that he picked up the telephone and dialed the number of the lawyer she had written down in the letter to me.

The following day, I got up and put on a suit and a tie. I had not slept much that night and I had a terrible show from the evening before.

I was under a lot of stress knowing that this woman thought I was the father of her baby.

The worst of it yet was that I had no knowledge of who this woman was. And it made matters worse to know that she had gone as far as to name her son after me.

I felt bad because she truly believed I had given her a baby. But I also knew that I didn’t want to be held responsible for something I hadn’t done.

The meeting was scheduled for ten that morning. I arrived early along with the Program Director and we sat quietly in the conference room waiting for the G.M. to arrive along with the lawyer.

Soon everyone was there including a young woman of about twenty years old. She had in her arms a baby. She was sitting next to her attorney and she had her mother with her for obvious morale support.

I sat jus’ behind the station’s attorney and the P.D. The G.M. sat next to me.

Introductions were made around the room. The young lady and her mother went first out of politeness. I introduced myself last as instructed by the station’s attorney.

The young lady’s eyes flashed open wide and she gasped, “No your not!”

Her attorney looked sharply at her then back at me.

“What’s going on here?” he asked brusquely, “Are you trying to put one over on us?”

”No,” responded the station’s attorney.

“Then where’s Tom?” the young woman asked.

It was a struggle for me to remain quiet. I wanted to jump up and shout “I’m right here.”

But I was told to keep my mouth shut until I was told to do other wise.

“Is that him?” her lawyer asked her.

“No,” she said as she started crying.

Her mother called me a few choice names as well as a liar. But I held his tongue as instructed.

The room was full of tension. The General Manager pulled out his handkerchief and offered it to the young woman, so she could wipe her eyes.

Then she started, “Tom is short with dark brown hair and that’s not him!”

She started crying again. I glanced at the P.D. as he looked over at me.

We were thinking the same thing; each of them had recognized the general description of a former employee. This employee had been fired by him about five months previously.

The Program Director leaned over and whispered in the ear of the station’s attorney. He nodded his head.

The station’s lawyer then said, “Tom, please provide them with you driver’s license.”

I stood up removing my wallet from my hip pocket, pulled out my license and walked around the conference room table, handing it to the other attorney.

I stood there as the woman’s attorney examined it. He handed it to the young lady and she looked it over and burst out in tears again.

“Guess that settles that,” her attorney said as he handed my license back to me.

I felt a wave of relief rush through my body as I walked back to his seat. My knees were shaking and if I had to walk a few steps more I might have fallen over.

“It’s obvious that you are who you say you are and since my client doesn’t know you, you’re not the father of her child,” her attorney continued.

With that the meeting was over.

Later that evening I was on the air when I answered the request line. It was the young lady.

My first impulse was to hang up on her, however I didn’t. Instead I listened to what she had to say.

First she apologized, then she told me how stupid she felt for having been duped into believing that the jerk she was romantically involved with and had got her pregnant had lead her to believe he was someone else.

Then she said,”I don’t even know his real name!”

I was all but too happy to oblige her with the name of that person. I also gave her all the information the Program Director had supplied me with, reading it straight from the guy’s employment file.

Journalism is Literature in a Hurry

On the surface, “Journalism is Literature in a Hurry,” sounds like a wonderfully, poetic statement. However, after awhile of studying this phrase, a person begins to see the awful truth.

Journalism used to be the profession of gathering and reporting NEWS. It was unbiased and straightforward.

This is no longer the case.

Now, society is bombarded with live-feeds from around the world that are nothing more than opinion and gossip coupled to pictures designed to alter our way of thinking much like commercials advertisements.

If you question this theory, ask yourself this: When was the last time you heard a complete enemy body count of Iraqi dead in conjunction with an attack on U. S. troops?

You haven’t.

But daily, you’ll hear how many U. S. Soldiers were killed. What Peter, Tom and Dan want you to believe are our fighting men and women are so demoralized that they will not or cannot fight back.

Don’t you believe it! Never have I felt as proud as when I saw our President in Iraq, on the chow line, serving Thanksgiving Dinner to our service men and women.

The President is their Commander-in-Chief. Typically, they serve him.

What a wonderful role model those men and women have as a leader, for as Jesus said, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Matthew 20:16 (NIV)

Within a few minutes of the first viewing of this tape to come from Baghdad it was immediately followed by file footage of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) visiting the troops. The CNN talking-head reporter was decrying President Bush’s arrival in Baghdad days ahead of the Senator as nothing more than a photo-op for re-election.

Where am I going with this, you ask?

The Senator was not the NEWS. Period.

She should have had no mention in the story what so ever. Somewhere in his job, the talking head stopped reporting the NEWS and started issuing his opinion.

Here is a solid litmus test for what is and is not NEWS, ask these four things of a story: Who, what, where and when. Most NEWS stories can be summed up in a very concise sentence. If they start talking about ‘why’ or add information not relevant to the story or are unable to directly quote sources, then they have crossed that threshold into opinion and gossip.

Here are four very current examples. They are taken directly from the various media resources including television, radio, newspaper, magazine and Internet.

Where is the story, the opinion and the gossip in each of the paragraphs?

“Michael Jackson was arrested on child molestation charges in Los Angeles, yesterday. The Gloved-one invited the boy to spend the night with him at his secluded ranch. It is believed that they may have shared the same bed together.”

“Rush Limbaugh is seeking treatment for a prescription drug addiction in Arizona starting immediately. He may or may not have purchased them illegally. He could be out of a job after he completes rehab.”

“Kobe Bryant has been arraigned on one count of rape in Colorado today. He purchased a large diamond ring for his wife after being arrested. It was purchased to buy her silence.”

“Scott Peterson will stand trial Stanislaus County for the December 2002 murder of his wife, Laci. Mr. Peterson is known to have had several affairs while married. He may have killed her to get out of his marriage.”

The answers are the same for each paragraph. The first sentence is the story. The second sentence is purely gossip. The third sentence is strictly opinion.

It is so easy to be misled by what we hear, see and read. We must safeguard ourselves against this eroding of our hearts and minds. Not everything that happens should be reported in its fullest and lurid detail.

Do not mistake this as a call to censor the media. Instead it is a call to responsibility on our parts as the listener, the watcher, the reader and the consumer, to censor ourselves.

Solomon wrote, “Wise men store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin.” Proverbs 10:14 (NIV)

Finally, all of this is brought to our attention in the hope that we might more closely focus on what the season of Christmas really means. It isn’t journalism and it isn’t literature.

It’s the good NEWS and it’s the truth. It passes the ‘who, what, where and when’ test.

K.I.S.S.

In radio it is often heard said from the Program Director to the On-Air Personality, “Keep it Simple, Stupid.” For me, that saying always bugged the crap out of me, so I changed it to “Keep It Short (and) Simple.”

No insults needed. That’s what I intend to do today.

I realize that there are several kinds of people in the world these days and yet they can all be separated into two columns.

Those who are willing to wait for someone to come along and give them a free hand out and those who are resourceful enough to make things happen on their own. The other thing that crosses my tired mind (lack of sleep due to pain) is the idea of lust.

We all deal with it, whether it is sex or money or a new car or whatever. Here’s a great definition I just heard, “Lust of the heart is anything that takes your eyes off of Jesus.”

Now, to K.I.S.S. this pain good-bye…

Learning from My Backache

It sounds so humiliating, naked, starving, poor, and then to have an iron yoke placed on your neck, all the while serving your enemy. By the end of the first day of such treatment I would probably be begging for death.

To a much lesser degree I had the same thing happen to me just recently and I almost didn’t see it. The Lord had to really humble me to get my attention.

In November I was fortunate enough to complete my doctorate in theology, and then in December I was plagued by a very painful backache. Which· do_ you think got the most attention?

If you said the backache, you would be correct.

It put me down for nearly the entire month . I slept on the floor and walked with a stoop, complained bitterly, blamed this or that for causing it, and refused to be thankful for the good things God had given me in my life.

In short, I was miserable ·and wanted to make everyone around me aware of it. How I came to receive this backache, I do not know, however what is important is that I was taken to the spiritual wood shed and taught that I could be handling the blessings of the pain differently.

I was attempting to bury myself in the television, distracting my thoughts and my feelings, when it occurred to me that I was wasting my life away. I realized I was doing away with a precious gift that the Lord had handed me.

That gift was time.

For years the Lord had granted me time enough to work quietly on my degree, to study and write and study even more. And now when I was laid up I could not be bothered to spend anytime with him in prayer or in his word.

I felt ashamed of myself. The first thing I knew I had to do was to get up of£ the floor and get my Bible.

It hurt terribly to roll over. I was lying on my back, knees bent, holding a mirror that I could see the television. Once I was up, though I hobbled to the back room and got my Bible and laid down there.

I opened it up and just started reading. The second thing I had to do was pray. I prayed for Jesus to forgive me for wasting his time. I also thanked him for the backache.

I feel it was appropriate to thank Him because I needed to have my eyes opened to what I was not doing. I did not blame my backache on him, claiming he gave it to me.

No! Instead, I accepted responsibility for my backache and made it mine!

Many times I find myself in a situation that I don’t want to be in and all I can do is complain and blame. That’s right, I complain and blame. I figure most people do the same thing. I decided to turn over a new leaf and instead of complaining and blaming; I’ll thank the Lord for the opportunity to live in the moment that I find myself in.

I may not understand why I’m in that situation or what I am supposed to do to get out of it, but I’ll say thank-you anyway  As of yet, I have not found ‘happiness ‘promised to us in the Bible.

However, I do find the word ‘joy ‘ mentioned time and· again and that is given freely because the Lord wants us to have great joy in our live . All we have to do is ask for it , but first we must accept responsibility for the circumstances we find ourselves in and treat them as a blessing because we are endowed with free will.

So here’s a simple 5-step plan to get in touch with the Lord and your joy:

1. Turn off the noise and clutter in your busy life, the television, the radio, the internal voice that you use to rationalize your activities, etc.

2. Discipline yourself physically to pick up your Bible, the word of God, and read it daily so that it’s in your hearts and mind.

3. Pray daily to Jesus with all of your heart.

4. Attend church and fellowship on a regular basis sharing in the Lord’s word.

5. Teach yourself to listen with your heart to what the Lord is saying to you. It is really that simple.

Listen for him to speak to you through prayer and the Bible. Remember to serve God through both the good times and the bad and you ‘ll find real joy.

So Now What…

Having just received my doctoral diploma in theology and a pastoral certificate, I am still lost as how to best use either. I have asked God for direction knowing that he has given me a number of skills and a couple of talents. Yet I haven’t a clear picture of the path I am meant to walk.

Faith and religion have always been separate issues for me and I have very little use for religion. The best I can say for it is that religion has caused the death (including Jesus’ death) of more people than any other reason in the history of mankind and without it there would be no  mankind .

O. Henry would love this piece of irony had he thought of it

Faith on the other hand is all about God and what Be does in a person ‘s life. It is all unseen, yet known because there is no other explanation for why things happen.

That is how I came to have a degree in theology. It was the farthest thing from my mind until I sat down with my guidance counselor and we discovered I was nearly there.

But now that I have gotten there and gone beyond that …what am I supposed to do with it?

I have a friend who keeps telling me that my language is too rough and that I shouldn’t involve myself in course joking, etc. She says, “It’s not right for a pastor to talk like that.”

Yet that is exactly who I am! I am rough and tumble and I cuss and I engage in graphic jokes because that’s where I think people who need God the most live.

These are the same people who look at the pages of porno, lusting in their hearts and dirty movies, desiring things of this world and screw around with their neighbor ‘s wife or husband all the time. They go out and get drunk, fight and do other unspeakable things that I really don’t want to know much about.

It wasn’t all that long ago I was exactly like them and I could be just like them still if I hadn’t decided that I needed God more than the trappings of man. I’m not a pulpit pounder or an in-your-face evangelist.

Instead I am a fellow who just leads by example the best way I know how. Too me that means, sipping a beer in some seedy bar discussing, “titties, politics and God.”

It was Billy Joel who sang that being with the sinners is more fun than being with the Saints. On the surface that may look to be true but deeper down it’s the sinners who need the Word more than the Saints.

I can testify directly to that! Besides it was Jesus who said in Matthew 9:12, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” (NIV)

While I’m on a confession kick here, I also have a temper issue. I get real pissed off while driving. I dislike unsafe drivers and I will not hesitate to swear at them. I embarrass myself at times because I get so angry.

I also get very mad at the talking heads on the network news casts. I lose it when they present an opinion as if it were fact. That just ticks me off and I will say the foulest things at the box .

Again it’s embarrassing.

In time, I figure these things will get worked out. That is God ‘s job. Be changes people and I know I am somewhere on that lengthy list so I am not worrying too much about it .

I just hope Be finds the time and I happen to be listening at the moment Be decides to point out to me how I am supposed to use al.l this education he has given me.