Coming to Grips with Mortality

A few months ago…

…an F3 tornado ripped through my place of work toward the end of my workday.  Though we were spared any loss of life or life-threatening injuries,  the company made it clear that we all had access to the company chaplains and counselors, and suggested that we managers keep an eye out for signs of traumatic stress in those under our charge.

With two manufacturing plants destroyed and hundreds of personal vehicles totaled, I expected there might be some financial stress, but really, except for a handful who were treated and released at the local hospital, we had all come through physically fine. This seemed clearly miraculous in view of the devastation wrought by the storm.

A good month later, during a monthly one-on-one conference session with one in my group, I was surprised that this person had actually written out a pretty textbook description of post-traumatic-stress symptoms he had been dealing with.  So much for my powers of observation, I had been completely missing it, even though I thought I was paying attention.

I reiterated the availability of counselors in an email and copied one of them in on the conversation.  This younger fellow had not followed through with the counselor a week later, which was his prerogative,  but it still got me to thinking further.

The company recognized the possibility of these traumatic issues, but I felt no effect whatever.  Why was that?  Was it something resulting from military training and the six years I served in the US NAVY? Somehow, that just didn’t seem like the reason.  Was I simply in denial?

When did I first have to deal with my own mortality?  It dawned on me as I considered, that I was pretty young.

Most my age will remember the cold-war drills at school, the patently ridiculous duck-and-cover practice.  These things affected kids all across the country with angst about a nuclear war we were ill-prepared to even imagine. The news media amplified the worries.  Every county courthouse had signs pointing to the fallout shelter in the basement.

As I thought more carefully, though, I remembered that in my particular part of the country, because it was sparsely populated, the US government decided to locate their first widely-deployed Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) system, based on the Atlas missile.  Many worried that these installations made our otherwise-remote area a high value target. Perhaps they did.  But over the course of a very few years, it became clear that we were in more danger from mishaps with our own missiles than from those of the other Cold-War participants.



As common as the school drills across the nation were for my generation, in my particular locale, none could miss the arms race and the often open silo blast doors that could be seen on the 70 mile drive from Portales to Roswell NM along highway 70.  The emergency response to the explosions was hard to miss also. The explosions were covered in the local newspapers without giving much real information.  As I recall the gist of my parents talk at the dinner table, the military would only confirm what everyone obviously already new from observation and reports from those civilians nearest to the damaged silos.

Holey Work

When My dad started working on the family fallout shelter, that was hard to miss too.  He used our farm tractor and front-end loader as deep as it was useful.  He talked to a contractor friend about borrowing a backhoe, but the impetus of the Cuban missile  crisis was short-lived and there was still harvesting to do.  The hole next to our well house gaped unmolested  in the arid Eastern New Mexico prairie for the next 20 months.

Boys seem to have a penchant for constructing hideouts and forts.  My brother and I had a habit of making them in the ground by digging a hole  and covering it with salvaged boards.  This was probably not the safest activity for us, though the holes were seldom very deep.  It really annoyed my dad, who had to remember where these pitfalls were if he walked around our ranch after dark.

When the fourth missile exploded in its silo in Frederick Oklahoma, putting my brother and I to work in the bomb shelter pit probably seemed to my dad like a natural solution to the random-hole problem.  We were clearly experienced excavators. 

We dutifully labored under the June sun in the fifteen foot square pit. I wore a white-painted army helmet liner to keep the sun off of my head. The hole was already three feet deep when we started.  The top soil was thin, probably less than a foot. Below was only caliche rock.  It would yield only to a pickaxe, the only useful tool available to us. Given enough effort, a shovelful could be loosed to be thrown laboriously out of the hole. We proved wholly inadequate to the task.

I give this level of detail to take us back to my original point about coming to grips with one’s mortality.  We could not work with shovel and pick in the  slowly deepening depression without the realization that it was like digging your own grave.  A chasm where one would only be forced to huddle if the world was poisoned above. The information about the half-life of nuclear material makes it clear even to ten year old boys that coming back out of a finished shelter would not ever be sunshine and roses. And we could not even finish the hole for it.

No Different, Really

I had to recognize that like my team mate at work.  I had to come to grips with the possibility of my own demise and had to deal with it emotionally. It’s just that my recognition came gradually at the age of ten and his came suddenly a little later in life.  I also have to remember that I always have the comfort described in Psalm 23:4 which others may not have found.




Mahaska Morning

I am grateful to have the opportunity to commune with You, Holy Spirit!

‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’ – Jeremiah 29:11

But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. – John 16:13

Good morning Holy Spirit!

Holy Spirit:
Good morning Jon!

The enemy, I know, is constantly waging a propaganda war, detracting from the message of Truth and hope. He even has his mouthpieces spouting that their particular lie is the truth, that we should be incensed about whatever they are harping about and revolt against that which, I can often see, is proceeding according to Your plan.

Holy Spirit:
This is not new. It has been this way since he showed up in the garden to tempt Adam and Eve. Jesus spoke of it in Jerusalem:

You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. – John 8:44

Those who will turn their hearts to Me and put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6) will be able to extinguish the fiery darts of the evil one by the shield of faith. As the schemes of the devil progress, you will continue to see stronger polarization in beliefs. I am watching over My Word to perform it (Jeremiah 1:12). I say I am working a plan to provide for your future and to give you reason to hope. Have I not said it, and will it not come to pass (Numbers 11:23, Psalm 33:9, Isaiah 55:11)? Those who are open to Me will have the opportunity to walk in the Truth that I Am revealing to them constantly.

Those who reject My voice, will be like those Jesus was speaking to in John 8. Their hearts are hardened. This was predicted:

“Son of man, you are living in a rebellious house. They have eyes to see but do not see, and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious house. – Ezekiel 12:2

Thank You Holy Spirit! Thank You for Your guidance, for revealing the truth and the promise of the future, for giving hope! My faith is in You, God, for You are good and nothing that stands against You will prevail! I love You!

Holy Spirit:
You are welcome! I love you!


This post is a response to a “flash fiction challenge” posed by Stephen Black over at

I can highly recommend that you check out the goings-on over there.  All those followers can’t be wrong, so you are not relying on just my opinion.

I found the receipt on our home office desk. It seemed odd to me that my wife would have purchased a peeler at the same time as two items cryptically identified as “prepared fruit”. I made a mental note to communicate my bemusement at breakfast in the morning. She is used to it, I suppose. “It” being my quirky sense of humor. I have even been known to guffaw at miserable excuses for puns. All who know me eventually have to face it; I am easily amused. Simple pleasures for simple minds, my Granny used to say.

Breakfast turned out to be a special treat, as well as explaining the fruit and peeler purchase. I don’t know about you, but I think having a spouse who tolerates one’s eccentricities because she inexplicably adores you is icing on the cake of life – layer upon layer of wonderfulness! I completely forgot about poking fun at the peeler purchase, as it had clearly been a gift for my own enjoyment.

The toaster was ceremoniously ejecting a perfectly browned quartet of fragrant English muffins as I entered the dining nook, even as the butter dish waited at the ready, with the knife resting across opposite corners of the inverted cover. My wife would never leave the room with the lid off of the butter, lest our aging white cat Vanna had heard the inevitable muted clatter as the dish was set down on the table. The youngest son had succumbed to her raspy meowing for some often enough. He would dab a little on the top of a front paw for her to lick off. Though the son had been married and tending his own butter dish for some years, Vanna clearly still remembered. Funny the memories that the most common things evoke – even for cats.

To go with the warm buttered toast, was a medium-sized bowl. I could smell the delicious contents even over the steaming coffee in the tall mug next to my place at the small round dark-walnut table. The early sun seemed to especially please Pricey, our calico cat. She was already dozing on the window sill next to my wife’s chair. It was, it seemed, her favorite spot this time of year as the mornings turned more crisp with the advent of early fall. I savored the sight of my lovingly-prepared breakfast. It was a feast for the senses and I could hardly wait to taste it. I offered a prayer of heartfelt thanksgiving with my lovely spouse. The first sliced strawberry that my fork located was lovely. I savored it’s sweetness as well as the grainy texture of the tiny seeds dotting the circumference. I know it was “store-bought”, but it was still delightful. I put the fork down and had a sip of dark coffee. The vapor rising over the rim of the cream-colored mug slightly fogged my glasses and the first sip of the morning was particularly satisfying. My wife talked of something her mother had said on a recent visit, as though to draw my attention away from the extra effort she had put into this morning gift.

As she spoke, I picked up my fork and speared one of the uniformly sliced wedges of pineapple as though I had solved the puzzle of the second “prepared fruit” item on the aforementioned receipt with all the prowess of a seasoned MI-6 field agent. Obviously, the yellow confection had never seen the inside of a can.

The crowning glory of our meal explained the peeler and I looked out the bay window at the pear tree in the back yard, heavy with Divinely-provided produce. My wife must have been daily watching closely to detect the very first to ripen this season. In my bowl, the firm cream-colored flesh of the freshly-peeled pear slices beckoned next to the strawberry-pineapple garnish that topped them. There is nothing more edible than a perfectly ripened pear, in my estimation.

And so, as I chatted with my wife and thoroughly enjoyed the moment with her at the start of the day, it entered my mind that I was going to have a difficult time making a decision what aspect of this morning’s experience that I was going to write as a gratitude statement in my journal. You see, a couple of years back, my wise companion had made a suggestion at this very table that I open my morning journal with a single statement of something that I was grateful for. I must say, that following that advice has made a larger difference in my overall attitude about life than I would have ever imagined. Today, I think, it will be to give thanks for the gift of a wife who goes to great lengths to express love for me. I have a receipt to prove it. There is nothing to poke fun at in that.


I am grateful for the cooler morning and shower to settle the dust.

The unfolding of Your words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple. – Psalm 119:130

Good morning Father!

Good morning Jon!

Psalm 119:130 has an intriguing message. Unfolding intimates a process, revealing in stages that which was hidden inside before. I think of a folded map. The outside might only have a title and other identifying markings, the useful details folded inside. I have to unfold the map, one crease at a time, to learn where I should go.

The adjective “the simple” has a connotation of “open minded” (

So it is not just the word which must be unfolded, but realization ripens under the message’s radiance – recognized from rudiments and repeated refinements – a rhythm of revelation and recognition resulting in refreshing and regeneration and renewal, and rejoicing.

If you look closely, you will find also, that some of the fun of the choice of words is lost in translation from the pictographs that underlay the Hebrew alphabet to the words of English:

Opening, unfolding – פֵּ֫תַח pethach (pay’ – phakth) and simple, open-minded – פֶּ֫תִי pthiy (peth-ee’)

Those who assert that Hebrew does not contain “rhymes” have not unfolded all.

Thank You Father! I love You!

You are welcome! I love you!

Coincidental Meditation

There it was, on the third shelf in the basement. One of those artifacts that just seem to aggregate of their own will. The white insulated vinyl shopping tote was a leftover from a 1981 trip my wife made, before she became my wife. She had picked it up to carry her purchases from the refrigerator case back to the rooming house where she was staying. The Tesco logo was plainly visible even in the dim light from the single basement window high on the wall above. I wouldn’t have even noticed it if Stephen Black hadn’t issued that silly flash fiction challenge on his blog and included cellphone photos of the receipt he had picked up at the counter on one of his own shopping expeditions. They were left behind, Stephen said, by those too impatient to wait for the printer on the register to spew out the record of their transaction. What possessed him to pick them up? I can’t say. Did some force of the mysterious universe cause him to take the time to write about them on his Fractured Faith blog? Obviously.

Once I had picked the bag off of the shelf and slid its galvanized zipper open and  peered inside, my eyes straining to pierce the gloom, I knew I would have to strike the word “obviously” forevermore from my vocabulary. (After this one last time.) It was there in the bottom. Just one slip of faded paper.

My mind couldn’t take in the contents of that fragment. The universe had become too weird to comprehend. Yet there it was, identical in every twisted  way, to the one that Stephen had posted, except the year on the date and the parchment-yellowed paper marking its travel through time.

I don’t know what to make of it. It is too strange for coincidence. Somehow, Stephen had to be behind it all. But how? Did he collaborate with her ages ago? For what purpose?  To mess with my mind? Mission accomplished, if that was their aim.  Was there some sinister portent behind waiting until the digits of the year were reversed? Clearly my wife had waited for her receipt, in the Tesco that day.  I decided I wouldn’t risk asking her about it as I went up the basement stairs, whistling in the dark, at least on the inside.


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Featured photo from Garden of the Gods – Colorado Springs Colorado


I am grateful that You are loving!


If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. John 15:10



Good morning Jesus!



Good morning Jon!



If I didn’t know better, from verses like Romans 5:8 (But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.), I could read John 15:10 as a statement of condition for God’s love.



“If” precedes a statement of condition, by definition. But it is not the condition that has come first to your mind. The condition is not stating that God will love you only if you behave in a particular way. The condition stated is that God – because He loves you – has prepared a beneficial (saving, growing, healthy, vibrant, giving, amazing, purpose-fulfilling, life-changing, joyful, …, and on and on) way for you to walk and has told you about it. The “if”, therefore, refers to whether you will accept His goodness and walk in the Way He has prepared; His plan for your good (Jeremiah 29:11).


“Don’t play in the street”, a parent tells his child. Is this a command?



Yes, it is.



Is it given to prevent the child from enjoying the wonders of the roadway?



It is given to protect the child whose experience is not developed enough to avoid the mortal dangers of traffic speeding along the street.



Is protection an expression of love?



Yes, it is. An expression of love by a parent meeting a critical need of the child.



Do all children obey?



No. Not all. Perhaps none obey all of the time.



Does disobedience in this matter dissolve the love of the parent for the child?



Not even if the worst actually happens.



So it is with God.



Thank You Jesus! I love You!



You are welcome! I love you!

Town Deer – Woodland Park Colorado

Grateful for Wrath

A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger. – Proverbs 15:1

It seems Jesus used some harsh words, calling the Pharisees “whitewashed tombs”, “hypocrites”, “brood of vipers”, and other such things.

Which stirred up anger.

Resulting in His crucifixion, according to the eternal plan of the Father.

And resulting in the written record of unmistakable condemnation of the hypocritical behavior of the religious leaders.

Satan is also known for wrath, but of a different sort.  There is no turning away or appeasement of Satan’s wrath. He is consumed and identified by it (Revelation 12:12). The Pharisees were channeling it.

Most Bible verses containing the word wrath refer to God’s. God’s wrath is against evil. Satan’s wrath is against God and those who are His.

The Greek is instructive. ὀργῆς (orgēs) wrath – intrinsically/settled and constitutionally opposed. (As used in Revelation 6:16 of the Lamb.)

Ours is usually of a lesser sort. [F]or the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. James 1:20

As you see from the Greek, God’s wrath – His opposition to evil – is precisely because He is good. He cannot be good and wink at evil¹. We visualize wrath from our own experience with anger, which unredeemed, is based in fear, and certainly not of God. His wrath and righteousness are not mutually exclusive, but complementary and protective (of us, for example).

Satan’s wrath fits the same definition but is pointed in the opposite direction; he has become constitutionally opposed to good.

I have not (ever?) meditated on Your wrath, Father. Probably, I should have. I thank You for Your wrath. I am grateful that it is Your nature to oppose evil – the corruption of Your creation under the influence of sin. I love you! Thank You for Your wrath! Thank You that Jesus bore Your wrath on my account!  It was right that You oppose the evil I have done. Sometimes mindlessly, always selfishly, never justifiable.  It was pure mercy that He bore my penalty.

But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. Isaiah 53:5

[1] Phrase remembered from C. Spurgeon?