Magic

I was taught that every story has a beginning, middle, and an ending. From an early age our stories end with “happily ever after.” At the head of the tale, this is the only ‘tail’ that will do. It’s certainly what we all hope.

But life spins a different story for each of us. Whether easy or hard, every life has moments of magic. The big ones are easy to spot. The tragedy is missing the magic in the everyday.

Sometimes it’s easy to miss any of these moments. Especially when the story is framed by dark words and darker deeds. We look for an Enemy without…but the true enemy is within.

No one starts as the antagonist, and the journey into villainy is a story in itself. My crime is believing words spoken about me even before entering my own story.

Cripple,’ she said. God’s punishment for sin and shame. Doctors repaired the deformities but they couldn’t remove the scars.

Don’t tell anyone,‘ she said. Even now I cannot tell.

You’ll never be good,’ he intoned. By this time in the story I was learning to use the rage. I would be good in spite of jealous prophesy. But never quite good enough.

Then the day comes when pride turns fall. Mighty are the fallen…

Like the loneliness of early days in hospitals, overwhelming waves of abandonment come flooding back. But you are the betrayer. Your body is whole but your spirit is crippled.

You are alone even when never alone.

The words cling to your hoping heart. Descriptors of your fall haunt through the decades.

You come to the last act of the story. The arc is not complete, but the incline is steepening toward the end. Mistakes are made and lessons learned and unlearned, a student of life even still.

And the words remain as surely as the scars upon your flesh.

“Rich man, poor man. Beggarman, thief. Liar, betrayer, sinner chief.”

At least I can see the magic…and remember how the tale could have ended.

“A Sky Full of Blue”

A song for those with wounded spirits and forgotten dreams…

 

“A Sky Full of Blue”

Verse One
I don’t need any signs or wonders
I’m trying to keep from being torn asunder
Plenty of time to pray and ponder
God help me as I weep and wander

Chorus
Nothing left to believe
There’s a sky full of blue
And a head full of dreams

Verse Two
I’m dying from a wounded spirit
It doesn’t matter, my heart’s not in it
So many prayers, all unspoken
God help me ’cause I am so broken

Chorus
Nothing left to believe
There’s a sky full of blue
And a head full of dreams

Bridge
There’s nothing to say
Nothing left to do
I just can’t do it anymore

Verse Three
I don’t want a new revelation
Just a road with no destination
All these promises fade from view
The blue sky fades to a darker hue

Chorus
Nothing left to believe
There’s a sky full of stars
And forgotten dreams
Nothing left to believe
There’s a sky full of blue
And a head full of dreams

Message to 1977

In 1977 I was sixteen years old. Young and alive with the world unfolding, yet already building the fortress for my spirit that I have endured for decades now. 

While not an original idea, I would send “77 GV” advice if I could…

Don’t be afraid to take risks.

Take better care of yourself…body soul and spirit.

When your youth pastor asks you to sing a solo in choir say “yes!”

Understand and believe that there really is an artist inside of you waiting to escape his prison.

When the voices tell you you’re no good and worthless, use that as fuel for your life.

When you make mistakes (and you certainly will), remember that there’s Grace for that.

Believe in yourself, even when no one else does.

There will be seasons of agonizing loneliness.

Holy Spirit has given you a new heart. Protect it at all costs…but don’t lock it away.

Never ever give up on the music…it is the fire that will sustain you, and will be the light for your journey.

This is your life: live it with passion and without regret.

The road behind cannot be traveled again. Father, help me heed my own words, and lay waste to the fortress I have built. 

King of Pain

I have stood here before in the pouring rain
With the world turning circles running ’round my brain
I guess I’m always hoping that you’ll end this reign
But it’s my destiny to be the king of pain…

“King of Pain” -the Police
I remember it as a bright afternoon. The slight breeze in my longish hair had a taste of fall, and a hint of the rain that came later in the evening. Was it a Saturday? It must’ve been, as I had been outside playing since lunch. I had started reading a book my sister showed me…”The Hobbit” by a guy with the name of Tolkien. A fallen branch from a tree overhanging the neighbors fence had become a sword, which I was swinging madly. My wild exclamations were subdued, as I had learned even by the age of ten or so that I was different. Most kids were playing sports or playing with pellet guns. My imagination demanded a more noble weapon. But kids are cruel to those with pretensions of nobility, real or imagined.

So between my muted grunts and oaths the only sounds were cars traveling the nearby 25th Avenue in the northeast end of Center Point, Alabama. That and the gentle song of the smallish creek that ran behind our house that emptied into Lake View just three doors down. Across the creek was a huge open area belonging seemingly to no one but a young boy with a head full of hobbits. It was enough to be a battleground or just a place to fly kites on windy days.

It happened so fast. Sword-branch swinging one minute…and the next writhing on the ground consumed by pain.

In addition to other challenges, Nature had given me the gift of a bad knee (the right one, in fact). From time to time my kneecap would dislocate, moving all the way over to the outside of my leg. As suddenly as it would pop out, it would soon pop in and I would be left with little more than some tenderness in the surrounding ligaments…that and the memory of pain.

Pain. Such a short word to describe such agony. I cannot even begin to describe just how badly it hurt. Throughout the course of my preteen years, my knee may have given way four…five times? In fact, this was the last time (knock on wood) that it happened. Thank God, because it seemed to last forever. It hurt sooo bad that I could barely breathe, much less cry for help.

I knew it would be okay in a few minutes, but if you looked out the kitchen window that day you would’ve seen a young boy literally sobbing with pain.

There are many kinds of pain, and it matters not whether physical, emotional, mental, or even spiritual; when wrapped in pain, the world stops.

Pain blinds us to the surrounding world. When your body is engulfed with pain, the other senses tend to shut down, and you focus on stopping the immediate hurt. It’s no different with the other types of pain. Whatever antenna or radar you had deployed to pick up signals from the surrounding world is cut off. You are essentially blinded indeed.

It’s a fairly simple matter to spot those in physical pain. The other kinds? Not so much. We live in a culture where everything is fine, and I’m okay. No one wants to hear about pain. Enough of that crap fills our social media and news feeds. It’s uncomfortable to have to deal with the pain that surrounds, especially as we hide our own agony. The higher the level of hurt and anguish, the higher the walls we build to contain it.

Brick by brick
And row by row
I need protection
So my wall it grows
Higher and higher
Stronger than steel
Blocks all the feeling
All the pain I feel

(Unfinished lyric by yours truly)

So here I sit enthroned, a king behind my walls…no different than most. But the world has stopped spinning. How many of us, I wonder, inhabit this kingdom?

May these walls soon crumble and this reign become a distant memory…

Silo in Thompsons Station

 

Five Years With the Father

Five years ago my sister Cookie came into the presence of the Father. It has been a day of struggle, and I have struggled to find a new way to write my heart and honor my sister. I have failed to find any words more appropriate than what I shared at her memorial.

Marie Georgette ‘Cookie’ Vinson Holmes
1957-2009
“All Things New”

We’ve gathered here today to remember and to say farewell to Marie Georgette Vinson Holmes. On Wednesday, September 30th at approximately 1:30 p.m., Marie succumbed to a sudden pulmonary embolism. Her passing was both quick and peaceful. She was 51 years old.

She is survived by her two children, Jason Holmes (Mobile, AL), and Laura Holmes (Pinson, AL); her father Melvin J. Vinson, Sr. (Rockledge, FL); her sister Donna Faile (Birmingham); brothers Gary Poellien (Rockledge FL), Melvin J. Vinson, Jr. (Birmingham), and myself, George Vinson (Nashville, TN). She is also survived by Jerry Holmes (Byhalia, MS), her ex-husband and special friend. Marie leaves behind a host of family and friends.

Preceding her in death are her mother, Virginia Vinson, brother Jerry Poellien, and sister Patricia Vinson.

Marie was a loving mother and a special friend to all. She worked for eight years as a dedicated childcare worker, most recently at the First United Methodist Church of Trussville. Born in Dothan, AL as the sixth of seven children, she was raised around the world. Marie was proud of her children, with Jason graduating from the University of South Alabama, and Laura from Jefferson State Community College.

At the end point in our journey, each of us will have his or her life reduced to a few paragraphs like the preceding…of about two hundred words or less. To the people who read this entry, these were the pertinent facts in the life of my sister. But this was not the sum of Marie’s journey. The truth of it is far richer and compelling. Let me admit that I don’t know Marie Holmes. Lest you think that grief has addled my wits, I am indeed her younger brother. But the person I wish to remember today will always be known to me…as ‘Cookie’.

Vinson family legends tell that when Marie Georgette Vinson arrived, our sister Patti couldn’t say the name ‘Marie’. When asked what we should call this newest daughter, the response was ‘Cookie’. How you get ‘Cookie’ out of Marie I have no idea, but the nickname stuck, even through high school and beyond. I’m sure there are those of you here today that only knew her as Marie, but please indulge me, because I will invariably use her nickname.

Cookie was probably one of the most laid-back people I have ever known. It was quickly apparent that she would never be accused of being early for anything. ‘Cookie-time’ was a phrase that we used to describe the extra fifteen or twenty minutes she usually needed to get ready to go or to do anything (a fact that would drive friends and family to distraction).

And Cookie became my alarm clock during school years. Without fail, the first word I would hear each morning would be her name. ‘Cookie! Where’s the shirt/pants/skirt/boots/whatever else Cookie would have borrowed or loaned to her friends that belonged to Patty’. Admirably, Cookie was very generous to her friends with anything that was hers (or anyone else’s for that matter).

Cookie inherited from our Dad his open and warm manner, an easy way with people, and a quickness to laugh. She was ‘an easy hang’ as many of you know. From our Mom Cookie received her deep sense of family, a love of reading, and an incredible curiosity. And even though she was ‘laid back’, you would underestimate her at your peril. I know that at a gathering such as this that it’s customary to remember only the best qualities, but let me be clear…Cookie could be mean, and sometimes downright devious!

One hot, Southern summer afternoon, my brother Melvin and sister Patti had decided to grab some rays and work on their tans. But they chose the roof of our little house in Center Point to do so. Cookie comes out and wanted to join them…but of course they decided it was a ‘members only’ roof and she was not invited. So what does dear, sweet Marie do? She parades into the house and informs Dad that Patti and Melvin were on the roof. This provokes the expected parental response of ‘tell them to get down…now!’ So Cookie saunters back outside and delivers the following; ‘you’d better get down from there’ (omitting the tiny detail that this was not a suggestion, but our Army veteran father issuing a command). Not wanting to be bossed around by their baby sister, Melvin and Patti laugh and taunt her with ‘they’ll stay up on the roof as long as they want’. Cookie dutifully delivers this message back to Dad, this time with stunning detail and accuracy. Needless to say, the roof was vacated and my brother and sister learned to stay on Cookie’s good side!

Growing up as we did in the Sixties and Seventies, music was a huge part of our lives. Many of you know that I am a musician, but the first time I ever ‘performed’ in public was on a back-yard stage, pantomiming “I Want to Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles, alongside of Cookie and Patty and Melvin. And while Cookie never did learn to play an instrument, she loved music and helped instill that love in me as well.

She also loved to read, and was quick to turn me onto her latest literary discovery. Cookie passed along J. R. R. Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’ and the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy to me when I was eleven or so…books that filled me with a sense of wonder and of the ‘rightness’ of Good triumphing over Evil. I have read these books many times since then…and I will always be in her debt.

It was this very sense of wonder that informed my sister’s faith. A Christ-follower of many years, Cookie’s relationship with God was deep and central to the way she lived. While never openly ‘religious’, this spiritual center was a large part of her peace and contentment, even through trial and adversity.

And so we come to this final page of our remembrance. It is the very nature of being human to want to understand the ‘why’ of things. Why did Cookie have to leave us so soon? As a minister of the Gospel, I know the truth and comfort of Marie’s Hope. But as a grieving family member, I have no words that can truly assuage the emptiness we all feel at this time.

Since Marie’s passing, I have been shocked and saddened, and yes, even a bit angry and confused. I have questioned God in this, and thought long and prayed for comfort…I have especially prayed for the right words to say this very hour…in this very moment. And the ever-faithful God that knows our coming and going, who knows the very hairs of our heads answered my prayers, and brought comfort and even insight…through a song.

I have mentioned that Marie loved music. In 1964, British soul singer Petula Clark released a single destined to be her only Number One international hit. The record was “Downtown” and Cookie LOVED this song. I can remember one day wanting to listen to a Beatles LP, but Cookie had just gotten the 45 of “Downtown” and had commandeered our little red record player. We must have listened to “Downtown” in it’s 3 minutes and 8 seconds of glory…about 50 times that afternoon! I wanted to so break that record…literally!

But in thinking back to that day…to that song…there must have been some kind of prophetic sense to the lyric. It foreshadows the faith and hope Marie has in Christ, and hints of the place where those of us who know the forgiveness of his grace and mercy will one day gather in worship.

When you’re alone
And life is making you lonely
You can always go, downtown
When you’ve got worries
All the noise and the hurry seems to help, I know
Downtown
Just listen to the music in the traffic of the city
Linger on the sidewalk where the neon lights are pretty
How can you lose?
The lights are much brighter there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares and go
Downtown
Everything’s waiting for you

Revelation 21 says it this way:

The main street of the City was pure gold, translucent as glass. But there was no sign of a Temple, for the Lord God—the Sovereign-Strong—and the Lamb are the Temple. The City doesn’t need sun or moon for light. God’s Glory is its light, the Lamb its lamp! The nations will walk in its light and earth’s kings bring in their splendor. Its gates will never be shut by day, and there won’t be any night. They’ll bring the glory and honor of the nations into the City.

And finally:

I saw Heaven and earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, gone the sea. I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband. I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.”

This is the Hope my sister shared and lived and died anticipating. One day I will see Marie again…young and healed and whole…“new!” I’ll see her arm in arm with all our loved ones who’ve gone before, basking in the light of Christ illuminating the City of God.

Cookie…Marie…save me a spot and I’ll meet you…Downtown.

GV, October 2009

Postscript:

Since that day, Dad followed Cookie home. I can think of no worse hell than to bury your children. I had questions for God then, and have them still today. I have been told not to question…to simply have faith, and there was a time when I would simply accept said advice. But so many questions demand answers, and I cannot help but be reminded of the faith heroes who questioned and yet dared call God friend. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob…Moses, Joshua, and the prophets who proclaimed truth and paid with blood. Even Christ had His questions and moments of dark abandonment. My God can handle my rage and my questions…I just don’t know how much more I can handle.

I am indeed looking forward to a homecoming. But until then, I’ll continue with my questions and my journey.

GV, September 30, 2014