Just Faith

Faith is a gift from God. Faith can move mountains, even the mountain of addiction. Ending a life of self abuse caused by addiction will happen when you trust God to lead the way over, around and even through the mountain. God's "Twelve Step Program" begins with one easy step-believe in Him.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A quick thought

Sunday is my day to contemplate. This can be a dangerous thing when I consider my condition. Today I earnestly tried to think about anything else. I thought about Christmas. Christmases of years past and Christmases of the future. I love Christmas, I think I always have. I remember as a child wanting the Rock-em Sock-em Robots. Oh how I loved those robots and the hours of fun they promised to provide. But I am no longer a child, so childish things must be stowed away.

So what do I want now? I have sat here on this gloomy afternoon, riding my favorite chair, watching the Dallas Cowboys kick butt. But the enthusiasm of a life long fan was lacking. Because dancing before my eyes were the thoughts of more doctors, more tests, more treatments. I can look at my body and see the changes that are happening. I can feel them inside my gut, they are there as a constant reminder. Are these changes coincidence or is the cancer setting a course of destruction?

Don't let my thoughts bring you down, I am determined not to let them do so to me. I wish I could simply swipe them away but I can't. But their mere presence is not fatal and I know that. So I buttress these unwanted thoughts with happy thoughts of Christmas.

So what do I want now?


If you don't know Jesus Christ as your Savior...you need to.
If you do know Jesus Christ as your Savior...then you need to tell someone about Him soon.
I never did get those robots for Christmas, you can make this one different.

Rock em, sock em. Merry Christmas.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Good Ol' Days

Occasionally circumstances in our lives will stymie our inescapable need to think about the future and what it might bring. Sometimes making plans, marking calendars and even refining hope may hold little attraction and therefore these thoughts are put aside.
Quite often when we experience this crimp in our muse we will replace forward thinking with a trip down memory lane, our revamped thoughts carrying us back to The Good Ol’ Days.  Because of recent circumstances I have found myself walking down this memory lane more often than I am accustomed to. Whether this is avoidance or nostalgia does not matter; that is a question for the counselor’s couch, a place I will not tread. 

And sometimes our journey back to The Good Ol’ Days is enhanced by a real life confluence of the past and the present. For me that happened today when I was able to spend time with and old friend in a place that was once my stomping ground. Brian Prince has been a friend for more than forty years (it is hard for me to even admit that forty years have actually passed), and has always had impeccable timing when inserting himself back into my life. Our small reunion took place at Jim’s Coffee Shop, on the corner of Hildebrand San Pedro, where it has stood for more than four decades. The coffee shop has changed in appearance, its menu has been updated and the atmosphere leans more towards that of a meeting place than the old neighborhood diner it once was. 

So many hours were spent inside this coffee shop back in the Good Ol’ Days. My memories of the 70’s would not be complete without the visions of the red oxhide booths, the perpetually sticky table tops, the watered-down tea and waitresses with names like Pepper and Corky.  Jim’s Coffee Shop did not have a gourmet menu and quite often used a microwave instead of a grill; fresh was a word of relativity and not an expectation and the sanitation was often only in competition with a frat-house…but it was our place.

Inside those booths friendships were formed, relationships launched, off-colored jokes told and laughed at, broken hearts formed and then healed. It was a place where we could be judgmental or be judged. It was our place. We didn’t know that memories were being forged, or maybe we did, but we were too busy being teenagers to consider such sentiments.

So who is “we”? Seven young men from Thomas Edison High School formed this pack, which one day would be christened The Magnificent Seven. (Some may argue that in fact there were nine, but that argument should only take place with all seven present, perhaps sitting around a table in Jim’s). The thing that amazes me is that after forty years these seven not so young men are still good friends.

We have all lived our separate lives, sometimes miles apart. Some married high school sweethearts…some divorced the same. We have become parents and then grandparents. We have gained weight and lost hair (some laying claim to both). And we have remained friends. 

I struggle to remember what brought this group together; I just know that one day we were all there, crammed into a booth at Jim’s Coffee Shop, drinking tea (free-refills) and solving the problems of the world, or at least talking about girls. We had something special…we have something special. I don’t know what it is that has allowed this bond to remain strong after so many years. Brian once suggested that I write a story, a memoir, about the Magnificent Seven. I considered it and even started to, but there was no Stand By Me moment in our lives that could explain this everlasting bond. 

If I could tell you what the something special is, I would. I would package and patent it then share it with the world because everyone needs friends like these. 

After forty years I know I can still call any of them and say “Meet me at Jim’s” and they will be there. They will be there to listen to my woes and tell me to keep the faith. They will be there to talk about saving the world... or girls. They will be there because they have my back, because they know I have theirs. They will be there because there is something special about this gang, this Magnificent Seven.
Brian, thanks for the pie, see you in the future!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A New Journey Day 27

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want…”

David set the bar high when he penned the words “I shall not want”. Particularly when we consider the words which would follow-“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” David was a child of God, a king and a warrior; he would face the shadow of death many times during his life. If you read many of the other psalms that David wrote you will discover that the young king would cry out to the Lord each time the dark shadow of death stretched out its long tentacles, brushing the life of David just enough to bring fear to the warrior, yet the full power of Death deprived.

Facing Fear and Death (disguised as the enemies of Israel), David would sing out to his Lord asking for strength, asking for his enemies to be scattered. Singing, he would ask for rest and for wisdom, he would ask that the days of his life be extended. 

He wanted!
And yet in this most acclaimed psalm David declares, “I shall not want!”  Oh, if I could sit with David and ask him how, and then I would ask him why.  Why would he set this bar so high for all who would come after him, all who would follow the Lord? “I shall not want??” Really!

Four weeks ago my own valley was formed, excavated by the discovery of uninvited cancer cells. With scalpel in hand the surgeon removed the forward battalion of this most formidable enemy. But this undesirable invader had already begun to spread its own tentacles. An overreaching shadow cast its darkness upon me as I faced chemotherapy and the late night thoughts of death.

I knew I was surrounded by my own battalion of prayer warriors; friends and family that offered words of encouragement and prayers of hope. But late at night when you are not there... the Shadow of Death whispers quietly to me.

This morning I sat in my favorite chair and read the 23rd Psalm, pondering on David’s declaration-“I shall not want.” I told my Lord there are things that I do want!

Last week my daughter celebrated her 19th birthday…I want to see her 29th.
This year my youngest son began his own journey through the hallways of Canyon High School…I want to see him walk across the stage with the celebrated diploma in hand.
Soon I will be blessed with my 10th grandchild, Kennedy Lucille…I want to get to know her.

I want a Cheddar Cheezy Burger from Chris Madrids. This is a burger that should come with a Surgeon General’s Warning.

I want to see the Dallas Cowboys hoist another championship trophy.

I want to see you have the same peace that I have, a peace that comes from knowing Jesus Christ.

Someday, I am certain, all of these things will happen whether I am here to witness them or not (except the Cheddar Cheezy Burger from Chris Madrids, that will most certainly require my presence). I am at peace with my Lord and the thought of death does not cause me fear…but I still want.
David, please tell me how to sing the words I shall not want!

There is a greater shadow that David sang about…
 Psalm 36:7-9 (paraphrased by me and for me)

How precious is your unfailing love, O God!
I take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
I feast on the abundance of your house;
You gave me drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
In your light I see light…

there is nothing else to want for.
Except maybe a Cheddar Cheezy Burger.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Prayer Jar

Below is an excerpt from my latest short story, "The Prayer Jar". I have thought a lot about prayer over the last couple of weeks; from these thoughts an old book idea surfaced. So I knocked off the dust and cobwebs and finished this short story about Joey Goode and the Prayer Jar.

Tomorrow, November 3, 2014, the complete story will be available to purchase from the Kindle Store for just 99 cents. I will provide the link as soon as it is ready, but you can also find it by going to Amazon and searching for "The Prayer Jar" by J Hirtle.

The Prayer Jar (excerpts)

Joey Goode sat at the small kitchen table savoring the aromas of fresh baked bread and watching his grandmother prepare his sandwich. The flesh on her arms jiggled as the little woman first cut two slices of homemade bread and then carefully spread the peanut butter over the warm slices. He thought her jiggling arms were quite funny but he never laughed. His mother had warned him about always being polite and how sometimes laughter could be taken the wrong way. Besides Joey loved his grandmother too much to ever laugh at her; unless she was being funny, which she was quite often.
Joey knew exactly what would come next. After all he had been in his grandmother’s kitchen every Saturday since he was just seven years old; that was two years ago, when he was just a little boy.
Grandma had moved from her home in Fairbanks to Soldotna after Grandpa had died. She hated leaving her home and friends on Badger Road. She and Grandpa had built that house the same year Alaska had become a state. But she knew and was reminded by her daughter (Joey’s mother) that winters in Fairbanks were extreme; at her age battling the Alaska elements alone would not be a wise decision. Soon after the homestead sold Joey and his parents rented a U-Haul and drove to Fairbanks to fetch Grandma.
She stayed with her daughter’s family for the first two months and then quickly found the house that was now her “new home”. The small two room cabin was on four acres of land and just a mile in one direction from her daughter’s home and a half mile in the other direction from Joey’s school. Neither the land nor the cabin required much maintenance; the sidewalk that leads to the front door was only about thirty feet long and Joey could shovel the snow away in no time at all. His grandmother no longer drove so the driveway stayed covered in snow all winter long; becoming the perfect place for Joey and his school friends to build snow forts and battle the enemies that come from the imaginations of young boys.
As a reward for shoveling the snow from the sidewalk Joey received two crisp dollar bills, a cup of hot chocolate and a sandwich made from freshly baked bread. The bread was the delicious but it wasn't his favorite part of the sandwich.
Joey waited…he saw his small and round grandmother turn around and ask the question she had asked so many times,
“Now, which jelly for the belly?” She would chuckle.
It was okay for Joey to laugh now, even though he had heard this simple rhyme many times and knew it by heart. Joey Goode was the best rhymer in all of Soldotna, Alaska. He had won first place in the Redoubt Elementary inaugural Rhyming Contest, even beating out fifth graders! Some twenty years later he would be known as JT Goode and win a Grammy for the country hit “She Rhymes with Love”.
Now, not only did his Grandma bake homemade bread but she also made her own jams and jellies, even apple butter! Her old neighbors on Badger Road missed her cooking as much as they missed her. The traditional and anticipated Christmas gifts of unique jars filled with delicious jams would still be given each Christmas to her longtime friends, but now it was the UPS man who delivered them door to door instead of the plump granny. 
Joey looked at the counter top where his grandmother had lined up the many jars of jams and jellies. Her son-in-law had built a three tiered stand about four feet long just so his mother-in-law could display her many condiments. There was orange marmalade, apple cinnamon jelly (Joey’s favorite), apricot, peach and blackberry jams. Sassafras jelly, (Joey’s least favorite) rhubarb jam, gooseberry, bumble-berry and boysenberry also filled the jars that lined the counter. Countless others of both common and uncommon varieties stood on the shelf. (His grandmother had challenged him once to find a word that rhymes with boysenberry…he is still working on that one.)
Joey’s eyes started on one end of the jars lined up like soldiers and slowly moved up and down each row, inspecting each hand written label like a Marine captain. It was the same ritual each Saturday, taking great care in making his decision (skipping the sassafras of course). Joey knew that most nine year old boys are told what to eat not asked what jelly for the belly; so he felt that he must take his time in making such an important decision.
As his stomach rumbled in anticipation of the perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich the boy’s eagle like vision spied a jar he was quite certain he had never seen before. It was standing on the top row slightly askant and a bit taller than all the other jars. The late morning sun delivered its rays through the kitchen window, landing on the green glass of this most unusual jar. The jar had no label with his grandmother’s crooked writing stuck to the glass; instead raised letters near the top announced “Mason’s”. Below that the embossed letters spelled out “Patent” and then “Nov 30th” and close to the bottom the numbers “57”.
“Grandma, what’s in that jar?” Joey asked, taking a step closer to the counter.....

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A few ounces lighter...

So the countdown has begun; 135 hours until S-day. You can determine if the “S” stands for “Surgery”, “Scared S…” or “Settle-up”, any of them seem to work for me.

On Monday, November 3, I will enter the hallowed halls of Christus Santa Rosa Hospital. Estimated arrival time to the O.R. is 12:30 PM, ( we all know how ambiguous hospital time really is). I hope to leave there with this unwanted visitor completely excised from my recesses; a few ounces lighter.

This past Sunday I attended church and Sunday school. It wasn’t my plan nor was it easy to do. I haven’t felt very well lately and staying in any one position for a prolonged amount of time is uncomfortable. But it was a great Sunday. “Thee Class”, my Bible study group, included good fellowship and a wonderful lesson taught by Joe Gil. Services were also amazing and a true blessing as I listened to Pastor Leslie Hollon deliver God’s powerful message.   
I made the decision to go to church after wrestling with my own thoughts in the early hours of Sunday morning. I was feeling as if I had already lost a few ounces, or in literary terms I was feeling a bit like Tootles having lost his marbles. If you are a purest then you know that J.M. Barrie’s Tootles never lost his marbles. It was Spielberg’s version of the story, Hook, which robbed poor Tootles of his marbles. 

Early Sunday morning I felt that I too had lost a few marbles. I remembered as a child playing with marbles in the back yard of our home in Oscoda, Michigan. A group of dirty faced boys would draw a circle in the dirt and then challenge each other for ownership of peewees, shooters, creepy crawlers and the coveted steelies. Some days I would add to my marble bag, not so much on other days.

The marbles I lost Sunday morning aren’t tunefully known as peewees or cat-eyes. They have their own monikers-hope, faith and trust. Somewhere along the way I had lost these marbles.

This damned cancer consumes me, monopolizes my thoughts. I listen to the encouraging words of those that have fought their own battles against this sickness; I covet and appreciate them. I carefully do research about this disease, enough to educate but stopping short of entering the realm of morbidity. I have craved knowledge in every corner of my life, there was no reason to act differently now.

I read the prayer-grams sent to me by caring Christian brothers and sisters and recall the days when it was I who was sending words of supplication out to the sufferer. I know the letters I received were written from the heart with the love of Christ.

Yet the dark thoughts would not subside. 

Early Sunday morning I walked out onto my back porch and looked up to the heavens and I told God, “I have lost my marbles. Tell me where they are. Tell me where You are!”

“Go to church.” A simple reply.
And so I did.

I waited until this evening to share this story with you because I departed church Sunday the same way I had walked in, having lost my marbles. But like Tootles I will not give up my relentless search for them. You see because I know they are still there. If I close my eyes I can see them. Their appearance is the same as it was on the day that God gave them to me as a gift, a gift of hope, faith and trust. A gift that will last a lifetime, a gift that can never really be lost…only misplaced.

Tootles encourages me. It seems a bit strange that I would gain reassurance from a fictional character when I am surrounded by real people who truly care. But sometimes we all need to be like a child in order to feel His arms around us.
Here’s to Monday, and seeing Tuesday. (And finding a lost bag of marbles!)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Where the tears go

More than thirty years have passed since I penned my first poem. There have been only a few since then. But today, influenced by my dear friend, Cameron Dockery and a rather melancholic mood and an empty house, I decided to try again to write as a poet.
Below you will find this creation, it is called Where the tears go. I think of it as a work in progress, let me know what you think...

Where the tears go
by J Hirtle

The old man stood bent at the waist.
The autumn of his life
Declared by the lines on his face.
His hands unable to conceal their constant tremble.

Ten thousand days, maybe more, we have had
Since he first enlightened this lyricist, yet but a lad.
He has always seemed old to me
A friend none the less he will always be.
From the beginning I knew he was wise.
Today I asked my question, as oft I do,
"Where do tears go when they depart my eyes?"

I know they wander down my cheeks
When my emotions I cannot disguise
So tell me dear sir,
"Where do tears go when they depart my eyes?"

Without a word he looked at me
A glimpse of sadness broke upon his face
For he already knew the reason I inquired.
The doctor’s words had no hope to lend,
It seems my time here is nearing the end.

A creeping smile slowly began to appear,
He told me sagely,
You have nothing to fear.
Soon you will stand in the place He prepared for you.
There you will see the glorious truth-
Tears never die or go away
They turn to mist
To be used another day

Soon you will understand
He knows every one that has ever dared to fall
And He will stretch out His hand
And gently wipe them all.
That my dear friend
Is where the tears go.