Del Norte (Prologue and Chapter 1)

by Julia Robb
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PROLOGUE

                   

The white sandstone grave marker stood tall as a man and had a thin, sharp top, like a finger pointed at heaven. It read, “Ameríco Chapas, 1823-1868, Asesinado, Dios Lo Vengará.”

Murdered, God Will Avenge Him.

The carving was easy to read because it never stood above a grave in San Angela’s desolate cemetery, scoured by the sun’s translucent hammer while sinking into six feet of wind-swept dirt. 

Instead, someone carved it, then lugged it down the street and propped it against the back wall in Magdalena’s saloon.

Thomas discovered the stone when he came to work after lunch one day, his usual time. He did his chores with drooping eyes; wiping the bar, washing and polishing glasses, emptying the spittoons, loading the shotgun.

A flash of white washed across his vision and he turned and saw the stone leaning against the dim back wall, shadowy, yet glowing.

What has she done?

Though the saloon was large, filled with wood tables and chairs, a faro table, a bar and back mirror that ran half the length of the building, the monument already dominated the space, as if Ameríco Chapas himself stood beside it, groaning about his dismal fate: “Dios Lo Vengará.”

“Get rid of it, hire somebody to drag it to the graveyard where it belongs,” Thomas said to Magdalena, after she emerged from her rooms in the other half of the building.

“No,” she said, “Nobody remembers him but me, nobody cares, not even mama, not even Rosie.”

“This is trouble,” he said.

Magdalena knew Thomas was right; but since it was Thomas who asked her to remove the gravestone, she was forced to ignore him.

If she listened to him even once, about anything, where would it end?

So the marker stayed.

 

Chapter One

 

A man bent over her in the freezing boxcar and Sing Kum thought he was the most handsome male she had ever seen. Her lungs brimmed with so much liquid they wheezed and her body burned with fever, but she noted the man’s clear dark eyes, blue ink hair, big bones and glowing brown skin. He was taller than most Chinese, almost as big as a white man.

She raised her arms like an infant, knowing he would save her, and he did. He scooped her up, eased off the car and ran, sprinting over rails, over couplings linking boxcars, detouring around engines snorting steam into gray air.

Minutes later, the man folded himself under a doorframe, ran into a hut, laid her down on rags filling two joined packing crates, then piled stained quilts over her body.

It wasn’t possible to stand under the low ceiling, so the man bent his knees and shuffled as he moved around the hut.

Filthy rags were the only defense against wind blowing through the warped, gray board walls, but a fire leaped in a shallow pit scooped from the dirt floor.

A fist-sized hole in the ceiling sucked some smoke up and out of the hut, but most of it swirled around them.

“Who are you?” the man asked, in Cantonese dialect.

“I am Sing Kum,” she said, then closed her eyes and let warmth and sleep take her.

Sing slept for three days, waking only when her bladder filled, forcing her to leave the shelter–one in a long line of huts–and squat on the frosty ground.

On the third day, the fever evaporated, leaving her moist and cool.

“What is your name,” she asked the man.

“I am Lan,” he said in Cantonese, then added, in English, “I’m ace high.”

Ace high?

Lan forced tiny spoons of soup in her mouth, bit by bit, as though she were a baby bird.

“Eat, eat.”

Another sleep. She opened her eyes and saw Lan sitting by the fire, clutching his knees.

“When did you leave Canton, why were you in the boxcar?” he asked.

“Evil men forced me on the ship and we sailed many weeks toward Gum Shan,” Gold Mountain. “They told me I would live as a hundred men’s wife. After many weeks, we came into the harbor, the evil men came and took me from the cabin and over the water in a little boat, then into a town built on hills.”

“San Francisco.”

“Yes. They pushed me through the streets, but they stopped for food and I ran until I saw the Tianlong dragon; I even saw his breathe puffing into the sky! I was afraid to touch it, but I saw the men coming so I climbed in the opening and found it was not a magical creature, but a box. Then it moved!”

              “It was a train.”

“I had no food and no water, I was so thirsty, but then the box ran over high mountains, up and up, and white water came down from the sky and floated inside; I know what it was, Mrs. Stewart, at the mission hospital in Canton, told me about snow. I gathered it up to drink. I was sick, then the box stopped and you found me.”

“You rode the cars all the way from San Francisco to Omaha?”

“What is Omaha?”

“Here. We are in Omaha, a town, in a state called Nebraska; states are like provinces in the Middle Kingdom, like Canton.”

Thinking a moment, Sing Kum concluded she might be luckier than she thought.

“Are you a man?” she asked, politely, reluctant to embarrass him in case he was a heavenly being in disguise, like the ones Mrs. Stewart told her about.

“Yes, I am a man. What do you think I am?”

Blood rushed to her face and she breathed faster. She sat all the way up and felt her hair tumbling over her shoulders.

“Then, will you sell me back to the evil ones?” she asked.

Surely he would not, she concluded, but what if he wanted payment for her care and he could get it by selling her? She was valuable because she was young and pretty, only seventeen.

Sing approved of her slender arch of eyebrow and sensitive lips, and she liked her wide, wondering eyes. She didn’t look like the other peasant girls, broad-faced, with coarse skin.

“No, I won’t sell a strong girl like you, who will prosper in this country. It was cold and you lived all the way from California. That’s very good.”

It was hard to disguise how much she liked the way his eyes filled with lights, like pieces of shattered glass, and the way his rough American clothes clung to his hard, muscled body.

“Did your family sell you?” he asked.

“Yes, the pigs rotted with a sickness, and it stopped raining.” Sing wrinkled her nose against the memories and the smelly quilts currently pulled to her chin. The quilts were grimy and the cotton sprang from the red and blue patches.

How can I trust him, she asked herself, but decided to believe he was a good person because he rescued her, he fed her, and besides, what would she do without him?

Returning to her father’s farm was impossible. How would she get there? Her father would just sell her again, and why would that be better than staying in this new land?

“How did you come here?” she asked.

“Say Omaha.” 

“Omaha.”

“My friend, Ah Ti, said let’s go to America. We took a ship at Canton harbor and went to California. We worked for the railroad. We built rails all the way to Utah and we dug tunnels through the mountains.

“One day he stood in the chair drilling a hole for dynamite, he put the dynamite in the hole and boom, he was gone and we never found his body.”

“Ah Ti was crowbait,” Lan added, in English, shrugging, as if he were talking about a dog.

Crowbait? Dynamite? Tunnels?

Sing Kum didn’t know what to say. She knew people mourned for the dead–but she only knew this by watching what went on around her. She had never personally mourned anybody and knew nobody mourned her.

“What is crowbait?” she asked.

Preening, Lan said, again in English, “He was blown to smithereens.”

“The English word meaning small pieces?”

“Yes, but he was weak. He wanted to return to the Middle Kingdom, he complained, he would not learn English.”

“But he was your friend.”

“Yes, but to prosper here, a man needs a strong heart. I have a strong heart. I will be somebody, I will be head of a prosperous family, I will not be a poor Han man who bows before Manchu.”

“But you are a Han. How can it be different?”

“I am an American, not a celestial. I will never return to Canton.”

“Where is California?”

“Where ships come in from the ocean. Your ship sailed into the harbor in San Francisco, in the province of California. Say Cal-i-for-ni-a,” he said, rolling it on his tongue, as if he were savoring a rice ball spiked with pickles.

“Cal-i-for-ni-a. I know how to speak English because Mrs. Stewart taught me,” she said, in Cantonese, then added, in English, “Nice meet yourself, my name Sing Kum.”

“You pronounce well. I could not speak English for the first three years, my tongue would not stay flat. Nobody knew what I said. Now I speak American.”

Switching to English, Lan said, “I learned a bang-up job.”

Bang-up job?

“I speak English because I listened in the hospital,” she said.

“What hospital?”

“My father…” Sing reverted to dialect. “He put me at a mission hospital in Canton, to work. He kept all my wén. Do you see these clothes? They gave me these clothes at the hospital, before my father took me back to his house, to slave in his fields.”

“I want pretty, clean, new clothes, I want to wear silk,” she added, and was still so weak she could not prevent tears seeping from her eyes.

A Manchu woman once passed the hospital in a horse-drawn carriage, wearing a silk qipáo, embroidered with purple flowers and Sing daydreamed about that dress, what purple flowers would do for her eyes, how the silk would feel against her body.

Skin now gleamed through Sing’s frayed cotton pants and tunic, her long sleeves were tattered on the ends, and the cloth was so dirty it looked black rather than the original blue.

Just thinking about the lice, which fed on her body, made Sing begin scratching.

“Well, if you stay with me, I will buy you new clothes,” Lan said.

“How will you be rich?”

“This is a great nation, everyone who works hard is rich, so money will also come to me.”

Leaning toward her, Lan–radiant, though his noise ran with smoke irritation–grabbed the back of his head: “You see, no queue! The Manchu won’t let Han men come back to China without a queue, so they will know us, so they can force us to kowtow to them, but I will never return. I am different from those peasants.”

“How did you earn wén, in Canton?”

“Some things this, some things that. Someday I will tell you my story.”

Why did he refuse to tell her, she wondered, and in the quiet that followed remembered her father’s house. Sing tried not to think about her family, but she could see her father grabbing her hand and prying her fingers open, grabbing the coins she earned.

It still hurt. She wanted the wen to buy the dress, a hand mirror, earrings. She would have gladly given her father half her money, why did he take all of it? Why did men treat women like slaves?

They stayed in the hut two more days, then the third day, at dawn, Sing heard voices shouting, gunshots, steel pounding wood.

Jumping from his quilts, Lan grabbed her arms and pulled her toward the door, then turned back and snatched the quilts from the floor and threw them over his shoulder. He groped for a bundle hiding behind a box, peeped out the door and then began running, clutching Sing’s wrist.

Outside, men shot guns into the air, they ran up to the shelters with sledgehammers, pulled their arms back and hit the wood until it crumpled into boards.

Flames destroyed shelters. Sleepy people, most of them Chinese, stood looking around them, bewildered.

“Get out, get out, Union Pacific Railroad property,” the white men shouted at the people, who scattered before them.

Footsteps ran up behind her and something hit Sing’s back; Lan turned, threw his burdens down and hit the attacker’s neck with his fist, punched the man’s stomach–hit his bearded, twisted face.

Astonished, the attacker fell back and Lan doubled up his fists and slammed the attacker’s nose, which broke with an audible crack and spray of blood.

Maybe Lan was not a real man, but a god like Lu Tung-Pin, Sing thought, dazzled with admiration, an immortal who rewarded her with a new life because she had been brave in the face of great danger.

That was the first and last day on the run.

If Lan had been anybody else, Sing knew they would have frozen in Omaha, been discovered huddled against a building, like two pieces of human petrified wood.

In China, the poor were discarded on the street like trash.

Instead, Lan led Sing past the fragrant restaurants in town, looking through windows, and then he stopped at The Delmonico, as if he knew something she didn’t.

Peering in, Lan’s nose squashed against frosty glass.

A group of men wearing leather on their legs and guns on their hips threw their coins on the table, then lugged their saddles outside, banging the door behind them.

Her protector picked the cowboys over with his eyes, walked to the man who swaggered most, imitated the expression on the white man’s face–good-humored and tolerant–stuck his hand out and said, “I’m Johnny Lan.”

Johnny?

Grinning, the cattle boss shook Lan’s hand: “You’re the first chinaman I ever met.”

An hour later, she and Lan were in charge of a chuck wagon and cooking three meals a day for ten hungry men, bumping up and down on the wagon seat as the horses pulled them south to the wide horizon.

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This book and others by Julia Robb can be purchased at www.juliarobb.com

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BEN McCULLOCH – Texas Hero

by Julia Robb
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Ben McCulloch was a hero, but most of us don’t know who he was. Yet Ben McCulloch fought in the Texas revolution (barely missing dying at the Alamo), he fought the Comanches, he was a Texas Ranger, a U.S. marshal and a Confederate brigadier general. B_McCulloch_civ_ACW McCulloch was born in Tennessee in 1811 and David Crockett eventually became one of the McCullochs’ neighbors and closest friends. In 1835, Ben and his brother Henry decided to follow Crockett to Texas. They planned to meet in Nacogdoches on Christmas day. Ben and Henry didn’t get there on time and Ben tried to catch up with Crockett, who had left for San Antonio. But Ben got the measles and Santa Anna got to the Alamo before Ben did. That didn’t stop Ben from fighting. He joined Sam Houston’s army, fought at the Battle of San Jacinto and earned a battlefield commission as first lieutenant. At that point, the revolution was more or less won and Ben began working as a surveyor in Gonzales and Seguin. But Ben McCulloch was a restless man. He soon joined the Texas Rangers and won a reputation as an Indian fighter. In 1839, McCulloch was elected to the Texas House of Representatives. Ben is sometimes criticized for his rifle duel with Reuben Ross. It’s complicated. Alonzo Sweitzer, one of Ben’s political enemies, originally challenged Ben to the duel. But he sent his friend Reuben to issue the challenge for him. Ben told Ross he wouldn’t fight Sweitzer because Sweitzer wasn’t a gentleman. Those were fighting words and, predictably, Reuben Ross took offense and challenged Ben to a duel. This time, Ben accepted the challenge. The two men faced off with rifles, at forty paces, two miles north of Gonzales. Ross shot McCulloch, permanently crippling his right arm. Ross, who seems to have been a good man, sent his doctor to treat McCulloch and expressed his regret at having “to meet so brave a man in a private encounter.” Ross’s gallant behavior didn’t save him. Henry McCulloch shot and killed Ross a few months later. Ross was reported to have gotten drunk and picked a fight with Henry. Robert S. Neighbors, an Indian agent and Texas state legislator, killed Sweitzer in 1841.       Ben quit politics and returned to surveying and fighting Indians.       At the Battle of Plum Creek (fought against the Comanches) on August 12, 1840, Ben commanded the right wing of the Texas army.       The Texans won. walker-creek-navajo-ponies-for-comanche-warriors-by-frank-mccarthy2-2 In February 1842, when the Mexican government launched a raid against Texas and seized San Antonio, McCulloch scouted enemy positions and helped push Mexican raiders back across the Rio Grande. On September 11, 1842, a second Mexican expedition captured San Antonio. Ben again fought, helping to defeat the Mexicans. After helping to defeat the second Mexican invasion, McCulloch remained with a ranger company. That company was part of an army that would (it was planned) invade Mexico. Ben and Henry, however, believed the Somervell Expedition was not well managed and they went home. Good thing too, because the expedition was a disaster and many of the men were killed. After Texas joined the Union, McCulloch was elected to the First Legislature and after the Mexican War began he raised a Texas Ranger company. Ben was soon named chief of scouts for the American army and won great admiration for his reconnaissance into northern Mexico. Leading his mounted infantry company at the battle of Monterrey, McCulloch further distinguished himself, and before the battle of Buena Vista his daring scouting saved the army and won him a promotion as major of United States volunteers. McCulloch returned to Texas at the end of the war and served for a time as a U.S. Army scout In 1849, however, when gold was discovered in California, Ben hightailed it to Sacramento and was eventually elected sheriff. A few years later, friends lured McCulloch back to Texas and he was appointed United States marshal for the Eastern District of Texas. In 1858, he was appointed one of two peace commissioners to treat with Brigham Young (in Utah) and the elders of the Mormon Church. Ben is credited with helping prevent war  between the United States government and the Church of the Latter-Day Saints. When Texas seceded from the Union, Ben was first commissioned a colonel and then Jefferson Davis promoted him to brigadier general, the second-ranking brigadier general in the Confederate Army and the first general-grade officer to be commissioned from the civilian community. McCulloch commanded Indian Territory and made friends with the Cherokees, Choctaws, Creeks, and other tribal peoples. Many a good man died in the Civil War. McCulloch commanded the Confederate right wing at Pea Ridge, or Elkhorn Tavern, and on March 7, 1862, overran a battery of artillery and drove the enemy from his original position. As federal resistance stiffened around 10:30 a.m., however, McCulloch rode forward through the thick underbrush to find the enemy line. He was shot from the saddle and killed. McCulloch was first buried on the battlefield, but his body was removed to the cemetery at Little Rock and reburied at the state cemetery in Austin.  

Julia can be reached at her website, at juliarobb.com, by email at juliarobbmar@aol.com, and through Facebook. She is also at pinterest. Julia’s three novels, “Scalp Mountain,” “Saint of the Burning Heart” and “Del Norte,” are for sale through iamatexan.com and at Amazon.com.

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An Open Letter to Aetna from a Texas Doctor

Source: Notification of Termination to Aetna.

January 30, 2014

Dear Mr. Bertolini,

With a deep sense of sadness, I must inform you that I will no longer serve as a physician for Aetna patients under the terms of our contractual agreement, which you most recently unilaterally changed.

I have been privileged and honored to care for thousands of patients covered by Aetna policies since the 1990’s. I have devoted my life to providing the very best, state-of-the-art care to these individuals. We have formed a patient-doctor relationship, which I hope many will chose to continue in spite of my severing ties with Aetna. You see, health insurance has evolved such that insurers and government have inserted themselves smack-dab in the middle of the once sacred patient-doctor relationship. I am called a provider- not a doctor. My patient is now yours- not mine. What I can do as a physician now has strangulating strings and nonsensical numbers attached- to you and government and money-not the best interests of the patients.

Obamacare, the “law of the land”, contains ever-changing-at-the-whim-of-HHS, politically-expedient mandates, rewards, penalties, rules and regulations with which I cannot rationally or morally treat my patients and run a practice, much-less interpret, implement, or comply.

Millions of Americans have lost coverage because of the healthcare law and must now shop on a defective, insecure government website and sign up for more expensive policies through Federal and State exchanges. Only by logging in as a prospective patient did my office manager and I discover that Aetna was selling plans for which I am a provider-effectively selling my services without even asking, much less informing  me that my services would be sold on such a site, under the auspices of new terms with which I will not comply.

Then, after the fact, I received a form letter informing me of Aetna’s “new allowables”. I will not sell my services under such terms. While treated as such, patients and doctors are not commodities worthy of such impersonal, inconsiderate, and cavalier treatment. We choose dignity and personal service over disrespect and form letters.

So here we are, you are getting new business offering health insurance plans featuring my services without my consent under terms which are unacceptable to me. Accept this as my official written notice that the changes that you have unilaterally made to our contract are unacceptable to me and make our contract null and void.  You must explain this to your patients. You must tell them that they have purchased a product that was misrepresented to them and that you cannot deliver. It saddens me to think of the decreased access to care from actual physicians and the shockingly increased costs Aetna patients will now experience because of your choice to collude with big government rather than collaborate with patients and physicians.

Kristin S. Held, MD

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7 Toxic Reasons to Ditch Dryer Sheets

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We are exposed to a plethora of toxins every day, and while we can’t remove every toxin from our life, we can take measures to lessen our exposure as well as enhance our bodies ability to detoxify. In today’s blog post I’m going give you 7 toxic reasons to ditch dryer sheets.

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Why I Decided To Ditch Dryer Sheets

My mother has a form of dementia called Lewy Body Disease (LBD). It is neurological in nature, with no known cure. Most research suggests those who are inflicted with the disease live 8-12 years post-diagnosis. This is not a new disease, but a disease, not commonly diagnosed until post-mortem. Due to the worsening of her symptoms and test results that continued to come back “negative”, my mother had a frontal lobe biopsy, wherein, she was diagnosed with LBD.

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I have routinely challenged her neurologist for insight into the cause of the disease and have never been given much to hang my hat on, except for one thing. With certainty, he has repeatedly said, “the only thing we know for sure, is, environmental toxins contribute to dementia.” You mean like pesticides, herbicides, pollutants, chemicals, heavy metals and stuff like that? Yep.

That is all the motivation I need, to do my very best to lessen the toxic load not only for myself but for my husband and children as well. As a family, we made a commitment to remove toxins from our food, by going “organic“. It was the first step in our journey. We started with food and then I found the best in natural cleaning products and gave my make-up a make-over. Image

As I delved further into how toxins relate to dementia, I came across the book The Brain Wash. This remarkable book explores how exposure to toxins are being linked to not only neurological disease but how they impact our overall health and what we can do to reduce our exposure to every day toxins.

Enter the dryer sheet…

Unless you live in a nudist colony, wearing clothes and washing clothes is a part of every day life. Of course, some of us may hang our clothes to dry on a line, but I would guess, most of us choose the modern-day dryer. If this is true, one of the most toxic things we do, on a regular basis, is the use of fabric softener or dryer sheets (we’ll pick on laundry detergent another day). Those perfume-laden (even fragrance-free) sheets and liquid are full of toxic chemicals. Chemicals that infiltrate the clothes we wear, which in turn get on our skin and absorbed into our body. And according to my mother’s neurologist, and other experts in this arena, contribute to dysfunction and disease of the nervous system.

Headlines around the world are reporting two disturbing trends: the incidence of brain disease is growing at an alarming rate; and increasing levels of industrial chemicals are being found in human bodies.” The Brain Wash

So here’s the real deal…don’t pick up a box of dryer sheets or fabric softener and expect to see a list of ingredients like you would a box of cereal. That is because, there are no laws in place, which require the manufacturers of these products, to list all the chemicals used. Often times what you will see listed, is something along the lines of, “biodegradable cationic softeners”. These so-called softeners that make our clothes fluffy and static-free, are toxic chemicals which build up in our body and over time can wreak havoc on our nervous system. Image

According to the author of The Brain Wash, here are the seven most common chemicals found in dryer sheets and their effect on the central nervous system:

1. Alpha-Terpineol causes central nervous system disorders. Can also cause loss of muscular coordination, central nervous system depression, and headache.

2. Benzyl Alcohol causes central nervous system disorders, headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, central nervous system depression, and, in severe cases, death.

3. Camphor on the US EPA’s Hazardous Waste list. Central nervous system stimulant, causes dizziness, confusion, nausea, twitching muscles, and convulsions.

4. Chloroform on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste list. Neurotoxic and carcinogenic.

5. Ethyl Acetate on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste list. Narcotic. May cause headaches and narcosis (stupor).

6. Linalool causes central nervous system disorders. Narcotic. In studies of animals, it caused ataxic gait (loss of muscular coordination), reduced spontaneous motor activity, and depression.

7. Pentane causes headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, and loss of consciousness. Repeated inhalation of vapours causes central nervous system depression.

Yikes!!! Right?!

True story. I ditched commercial dryer sheets some time ago, opting for a very expensive “healthy” product, that quite honestly didn’t really make a difference in our laundry. So I stopped buying it and went without. Recently my husband came home from work, it must have been a VIM (very important meeting) day as he was wearing dress slacks and a sport coat. I couldn’t help but notice, as he walked past me, his pants were stuck to his socks. Oh no! He was THAT GUY at work. Not only was the break, cut a little too short, on his pants (in my opinion), they were desperately clinging to his socks. It was worth a good chuckle, but he didn’t find it quite as entertaining. Image

There’s just one more thing that needs to be mentioned. The author of The Brain Wash did not address the toxic issues surrounding fragrance in fabric softeners and dryer sheets. However, Mike Adams, editor of Natural News, does a fine job explaining the dangers in this article.

When people use dryer sheets, they are coating their cloths with a thin film of artificial chemical perfumes. Just like other perfumes, a person’s sensitivity to these perfumes decreases over time to the point where they don’t even notice how potent these artificial fragrance chemicals are. None of this would be interesting if it weren’t for the fact that these fragrance chemicals are extremely toxic. They are known carcinogens. They cause liver damage and cancer in mammals.” Mike Adams

Ok, so I presented a problem, but as any good blogger knows, I can’t leave you without a solution. Felted wool dryer balls are an easy to make, non-toxic alternative to dryer sheets and commercial fabric softeners. Throw a few of these in the dryer with your laundry and you will never go back to dryer sheets again.

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Duck Dynasty – The Show That Got Away

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by Pat Archbold

After A&E fired Phil Robertson for saying what every good Christian should believe, social media has been abuzz.  One of the recurring themes has been puzzlement about why A&E would cut off its nose to spite its face.  Duck Dynasty is the franchise right now. Why would they risk destroying their own cash cow?

To understand the why, we have to go back to the beginning.  Duck Dynasty is not the show that they wanted, it is the show that got away from them. Image

It seems what the producers intended and what A&E envisioned with the show is much different than the show that they ended up with, but they didn’t do anything about it because it was so wildly popular and so wildly profitable.  But even with all the money, they have never really been comfortable with what happened.

This is what happened.  The whole idea of the show was to parade these nouveau riche Christian hillbillies around so that we could laugh at them. “Look at them,” we were supposed to say.  “Look how backward they are!  Look what they believe!  Can you believe they really live this way and believe this stuff?  See how they don’t fit in? HAHAHA”

When the producers saw the way the show was shaping up, different than they envisioned it, they tried to change course.  They tried to get the Robertson’s to tone down their Christianity, but to their eternal credit they refused.  They tried to add fake cussin’ to the show by inserting bleeps where no cussword was uttered.  At best, they wanted to make the Robertson’s look like crass buffoons. At worst they wanted them to look like hypocrites.

They desperately wanted us to laugh at the Robertsons.  Instead, we loved them.

A&E wanted us to point fingers at them and laugh at them.  But something else happened entirely.  Millions upon millions of people tuned in, not to laugh at them, but to laugh with them.

And then we pointed at them.  We pointed at them and said things like, “I wish my family was more like them.  I wish we prayed together as a family.  I wish we were together like the Robertsons.”

ImageBy the time this all happened, A&E had a conundrum.  They knew who the Robertsons were and what they believe and they still held it in disdain.  But they really liked the money.  Really liked the money. So they lived with it.

But the progressives whose bank accounts were not growing fatter because of these backward rubes were never inclined to look the other way.  They hate the show and they really hate the response to the show.  They want it destroyed.

Many magazines and interviewers have tried to get the Robertsons to trip up so they could pounce.  When Phil backed the Christian viewpoint on homosexuality and added some personal asides about how he just couldn’t understand it, they had their moment.

I suspect that the folks at A&E, who always disliked the positive Christian message in the show of which Phil is the primary proponent, saw their chance.  They want to keep the cash but dial down the Christianity.  With Phil out, perhaps they could get the show they always wanted. Image

I suspect that the Robertsons are more principled than that and A&E will end up disappointed on many levels.  The Roberstons are who they are and I suspect the money means a great deal more to A&E than it does to them.

It will be interesting to see whether A&E likes the money more than they hate the Christianity.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the hate wins.

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A Christmas Miracle

by Donna Wallace

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Helen. Dear, sweet, elderly, Helen. Such a beloved lady, and friend to all who knew her.

Helen had belonged to the same church for almost all her adult life. She saw many members come and go, bond and feud, but she had always remained faithful to her beliefs, and she was highly respected, and cherished, among all the other parishioners.

Poor Helen. She wasn’t a young spry chicken anymore. She was well into her 70’s, and not quite as energetic and bubbly as when she first visited the church so many years ago.

Christmas 1998 was not destined to be a very kind year to Helen. She had suffered many losses. She lost her beloved husband six years before, but this year she seemed to have lost it all. After her dear husband passed away, she had moved in with her daughter, Becky, and her young grandaughter, Jennifer. They saved her from the loneliness she would surely have visited without their love. They grew closer every day, and each new day, life brought them more to be grateful and appreciative of. They knew they were blessed, and always remembered their blessings in prayer. Image

Jennifer was only two years old when Helen first came to live with them. Cute as a button, rambunctious, outgoing, and always joyful and singing. She made a house a home. Becky and Helen used to kid how it took the two of them to even half keep up with the whirlwind they nicknamed “Sunshine”. Jennifer was curious as a cat, and filled the day with endless questions – some deep, some comical, and each one needing answers! Her mother, and her grandma were careful never to carelessly brush her questions aside, or grow impatient. They answered each and every one, if not with wisdom, then at least with unbridled love. Jennifer grew into a brilliant young lady, and everyone predicted a bright and sunny future for the special little girl.

Life is funny. Predictions sometimes don’t come to pass. Future’s sometimes only last today.

One night, driving home from the store, Becky and Jennifer were hit, head on, by a drunk driver. It was a mistake. A horrid mistake. If it weren’t for a flat tire, they would have been home long before the intoxicated man drove down their street. Nobody can predict the future. Their shiny future ended that night. Their dreams, and plans and goals scattered among the broken glass, and the shredded steel. They were gone – forever. Once again, Helen was alone. Image

The sorrow and remorse that lived in Helen’s heart surely should have killed her, she thought. The agony of losing those closest to her, the loneliness of being all alone, in a house as quiet as a tomb, and the emptiness of having nothing more to live for were more than she could bear.

Every Sunday she continued to go faithfully to her church, pray to her God, and she was always polite, but oh so sad. She had changed – withered, deflated, crumbled. She seemed to hardly be able to put one foot in front of the other. Her joyous laughter was seldom heard, her excitement and zest for life was simply no longer a part of who she was. She was no longer inflated – just completely deflated – flat. Zombie-like instead of lifelike. Just waiting for her turn to go be with her loved ones.

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Naturally, all the other parishioners saw the change. They felt her sadness, and loneliness. She had always been such a pillar of strength, a friend in need, someone who could be counted on when the rest of the world had checked out. She was always there, in every way, for everyone. But now, she wasn’t there at all, and nobody seemed to know how to comfort and help her.

But everyone saw. And everyone knew – from the oldest members, to the toddlers. They all saw the change, and the grief, and the pain.

Months passed. It was now December, and the holiday season was proving to be harder than Helen imagined it would be – and lonelier. She still went about living, kept up appearances, prayed, and was kind to everyone she met. Yet she felt like she was melting – disolving – dying, slowly inside. She wondered if she would see Christmas this year, or go to spend it with those that went before her – the ones she loved. Image

Then, the second Sunday of December, the Sunday School Teacher came to her with a special request. Would she be kind enough to help with trimming the tree that stood in the middle of the children’s classroom? Each child had handmade a special ornament, to place on the tree, and they needed assistance, and adult supervision. Helen tried to gracefully decline, but the teacher smiled, and said that the children had requested that she be the assistant this year. It was important to them for some reason, the teacher whispered.

The night of the special event, Helen was present. She was dressed as immaculate as always, and wore the best smile she could muster. The sight of the young children was bittersweet. The laughter and playfulness were refreshing, but they also held memories of her dear, grandaughter, Jennifer, who had passed away just four short months before. For the first time in months though, you could occassionally see her eyes shining, through a veil of tears. She decided she was happy that the children had thought to invite her, and thankful that she had decided to come join in the merriment. She felt more alive than she had since that dreadful day in August 1998.

Most of the ornaments had already been placed on the tree when an excited, almost giddy group of children came to her and took her by the hand. They led her to an ornate, red velvet chair that the teacher must have pushed into the center of the room, and they begged for her to sit down. Curious, and a little aprehensive, Helen obeyed, goodheartedly. You could see a tiny smile light up the corner of her mouth as she wondered what the little gremlins were up to.

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A group, of five girls and four boys, sat in front of her splendid chair, smiling up at her with eyes moist with tears of happiness, and mouths trying not to prematurely babble the secret they were about to share with her. In the middle of the group sat a magnificent gold, gift-wrapped box addressed to: “Our Grandma, with Love.”

Eight year old Christine stood before Helen, tears overflowing, smiling from ear to ear, eyes dancing at the speed of light. Christine had always been special to Helen, for she had been Jennifer’s best friend ever since she could remember. They had spent much time together over the years, and they had grown close. She placed the box in Helen’s tiny lap and the whole group rose in unison, and began to sing just for an amazed and delighted Helen, who seemed to be crying and laughing and praying all at the same time! With pride in their eyes, and love in their voices, and their notes sometimes off-key, they musically told her the reason that she was there. It was easy, yet touching to see that the children had written the words, and the song just for her. A gift to be cherished. Wonderful memories to last forevermore. Image

Each of the nine small children either had no grandmother any longer, or had never even known theirs. This was a very special celebration and union – a new family meeting, and bonding, and growing and loving – and sharing a very special Christmas. One by one, they unpacked the special ornament they made, and proudly showed her their surprise. Each ornament was addressed, “To my special Grandma, with Love – on our First Christmas”. Every ornament was unique, special, splendid, and every one was a miracle beyond belief, to a heart so desperately in pain.

Once again, proving that predictions, don’t always come true…..Christmas 1998 wasn’t unkind to Helen whatsoever. No, Christmas 1998, was a new beginning, a brand new start, and nine new reasons to celebrate many more Christmas’s to come. The next two weeks Helen became a human dynamo! She baked, she decorated, she sang and filled her house with so much cheer until at last it warmed up again, and became a home. She invited her nine special grandkids over and celebrated a Christmas as only a very special, wonderful grandma knows how to do, filled to the brim with magical memories that only the nine most special grandchildren on earth could ever have provided. Image

You see, dear sweet Helen wasn’t the only one in need that Christmas. She wasn’t the only lonely soul who felt the emptiness and a void which needed filling. The children in their infinite wisdom saw her need, and in filling her need, they filled their own. There is no love as pure and unpretentious as a child’s love, no mind as wise and true as a childs mind can be when given the opportunity to flourish and grow. Every single child is a miracle you can mold and design. Parents have the power, the opportunity, and the responsibility to teach their children love and compassion, peace and kindness. The future is in the hand’s of our children, but our children are first placed in our loving arms, and under our tender guidance. Teach them love. Teach them the true meaning of Christmas. Not only one day in 365 days, but 365 days each and every year. Each new day providing an opportunity to celebrate, and rejoice, and give the gift of love. The gift of abundance that only grows, with no chance of diminishing in time. Image

Christmas is magical. You can see it, feel it, smell it, hear it, taste it. Christmas is a blessed event, that makes believers out of the staunchest cynics at times. It’s wishes being granted – dreams coming true. But most of all, it has to live, all year long, deep within your heart. Christmas isn’t for a day – it’s all year long. Christmas is a lifetime affair. Merry Christmas to all….today, tomorrow, and forevermore.

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What Are You Expecting For Christmas?

by John Killinger

 

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What are you expecting for Christmas this year? Smoke curling from chimneys into cold skies and bare trees standing like sentinels watching for Santa Claus with his sleigh full of toys? A tall fir tree bedecked with soft colored lights and trinkets and candy canes? The smell of Christmas cookies wafting through the house, and the sound of bells and carols on the stereo? Children hanging their stockings on the mantle, or, if the stockings have gotten too large and the gifts too plentiful, laying them on the hearth by a blazing fire?

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It is easy to think of Christmas images, isn’t it, because there is no season of the year so full of nostalgia and ripe with expectation. It takes a Scrooge, with a heart of stone, not to become excited about the approach of this joyous occasion. Visions of sugar plums or their contemporary equivalent—dance in all our heads.

But I wonder, have you ever been disappointed by Christmas? Did you expect something Christmas that didn’t materialize? Maybe you were looking for a bonus in your pay envelope that wasn’t there or expecting somebody home who didn’t arrive or anticipating something, a mood or a feeling, that never quite came to you. Maybe you didn’t receive a present you were looking for—the doll you had seen in the toy shop or the drum set that would have driven Mom and Dad crazy or the microwave oven you had hinted about for months.…

Christmas can be that way. We can build up such impossible hopes and dreams that it can’t possibly fulfill them. That is one reason people often feel depressed when Christmas is over. They have lived for days in a state of perpetual excitation, expecting something to happen; and, when it doesn’t, they feel sad and let down.

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That’s too bad because you know what the real message of Christmas is about? It’s about what we don’t expect. That’s right. Christmas isn’t about what we expect; it’s about what we don’t expect.

Think about it. Zechariah and Elizabeth didn’t expect to have a baby in their old age. Mary didn’t expect to become the mother of the Son of God. She couldn’t believe it when the angel told her. “Why, I’m not even married,” she said. Joseph didn’t expect his young bride to be pregnant. Herod didn’t expect to be disturbed by word of the Child. The shepherds didn’t expect to see angels in their fields. The Magi didn’t expect to find the Savior of the world born in a manger in a poor little country village like Bethlehem. The whole thing was a surprise. God surprised everybody that first Christmas. No_Room_At_The_Inn

And when you think about Jesus’ teachings, you realize that surprise is in the nature of who God is. God is full of surprises.

The meek shall inherit the earth. Think about that. That’s really a surprise, isn’t it? When you look around and see the people who shove and push and talk the loudest getting ahead of everybody else, you wonder about the meek.

The first shall be last and the last first. That’s another corker. The high and the mighty going into heaven behind the low and the poor.…

You see, it isn’t a matter of what we’re expecting for Christmas. It’s what we don’t expect. That’s what we ought to be looking for, what we don’t expect because that’s the way God is. God is a God of surprises.

I don’t have anything against traditional Christmas celebrations. In fact, I love them. I enjoy the trees and lights and Christmas pageants and music and presents and all the rest. But we ought to realize that God may have some surprises in store for us this Christmas. God may not come to us in the old familiar ways. God may speak to us in some new event, in some place where we least expect it.

The surprises of God! We never know where they are or when they are coming. But the word of the gospel is that they are and that they do come. And this is what Christmas is all about.

 

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