All posts by SonWorshiper

Husband, father, worshiper, gamer, writer, singer, pianist, coffee fiend

Midnight Chase

This is a flash-fiction entry based on the word, “Flower,” for Rachael Ritchey’s BlogBattle. Every month, she picks a word as the theme for which a number of us write some kind of short story. For many months now, my entries have been the serialized mishaps of a bumbling macho man explorer in the 1930s and the knowledgeable “sidekick” who actually gets things done. 

The Adventures of Grant McSwain

Daring Explorer of Dangerous Environs and Fearless Discoverer of Fang-Filled Dungeons

…accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway

(992 words)

Grant threw his massive form from the cliffside and ran across the mossy bricks of the ziggurat with no loss of momentum. “I’m telling you, Teag,” he called over his shoulder, “the treasure is within reach.”

Crouched under the leafy branches near the ledge, Teagan hissed at her companion and listened to the nocturnal song of the Peruvian jungle. Were those voices in the distance? Could the Kaiser’s thugs be closer than before? Or had she imagined those lantern lights among the trees after sundown?

Grant paused, peering in the darkness. At least the oaf whispered this time. “Are you coming?”

Even though Grant made the leap without injury, Teagan still checked the distance before springing across the gap. Her boots clung to the stone well, despite the overgrowth, and she jogged along the structure’s heights toward Grant. “I’m coming, but I think I’m not the only one.”

Grant surveyed the jungle, though he had no chance of spotting anything through the thick foliage. “Those Germans after us again?”

“Not us so much as the treasure.”

“Coming through the river valley, unless I miss my guess.” He chuckled and gave a dismissive shrug. “They might find the entrance to the ziggurat, but they won’t be able to move all the rubble we left.”

Teagan’s eyes narrowed despite the dim moonlight. “About that… was dynamiting the entry hall really necessary?”

“I wasn’t sure a trap would stop them, so I figured an obstacle might.”

Teagan laid a hand on Grant’s shoulder. “Laugh all you want. But if they learn to exploit Ixthacan relics or, God forbid, unlock the secret of these portal chambers, their militaristic ambitions in Europe could stretch across the globe in an instant.”

He flashed a devilish grin. “Let ‘em come. Maybe FDR will finally get our boys in the mix.” He hustled to the other side of the Ixthacan temple, where some previous explorer or tribesman had stretched a flimsy rope ladder like a bridge to the opposite cliff. Grant tested the thick ropes with his weight, shaking the cords to see how much they might withstand before trusting it fully.

Teagan eyed the ropes with suspicion and mounting fear. “Are you certain no one has found this ritual site before? Maybe someone already claimed whatever this ruin has to offer.”

“I doubt it,” Grant said as he took a step. The rope bridge swayed and dipped under his bulk but held him aloft. “This feels flimsy, Teag,” he added, his knuckles white as he gripped the cords. “We should go one at a time.”

Teagan crossed her arms and shuffled her feet as Grant inched his way across the gap. “What next,” she wondered, recalling the winding path that led them to the temple. A rickety flight skimming the treetops from Caracas, then a showdown in a seedy cantina with guerrilla rebels, followed by rafting through crocodile-infested waters, and finally trudging through treacherous jungles full of pythons, all with enemies nipping at their heels.

“Some anniversary,” she muttered. They had set out three years to the day since their first excursion, and only a month since Grant had professed his love. Seeing him suspended over the chasm between the cliff and the ziggurat, Teagan felt an all-too familiar mix of adoration and frustration.

Grant strained as he worked his way across. “Talk to me, Teag,” he said through gritted teeth. “Tell me something useless about the Ixthacans and the ceremonies.”

Teagan bristled, then recognized the touch of panic in Grant’s voice. He wasn’t mocking her studious nature or detailed note-taking. He needed a distraction.

The thought of pythons sparked a memory, a legend surrounding the ritual site. “Locals claimed spirits would come from the heavens at night to bless the Ixthacan chieftains. Beings of snake-like appearance, much like the Naga of Buddhist and Hindu mythology.”

Grant grunted an acknowledgment.

“Prior to our discoveries with the portals,” Teagan added, “I found the similarities fascinating, given that the Ixthacans and Buddhists lived on opposite sides of the world. Scholars assume Chinese seafarers spread the stories across the Pacific. After all, certain rare flora from the Orient also flourish here, and—”

“Made it,” Grant said, tossing her a rope. He acted unfazed by the brush with danger. “Tie this around your waist, and I’ll hang onto it just in case you slip.”

In short order, Teagan joined Grant on the far side. Had it seemed easier for her because of her comparatively light weight? Was Grant hiding some injury, as he often did?

“Which way?” he asked, checking the stars. Unexpected urgency filled his voice. Had he suddenly believed her concerns?

“It’s supposed to be northwest. We’re very close.”

He crouched and tromped through the brush in the direction she indicated. Teagan watched in confusion, then followed, inspecting plants as she passed. Someone had been this way recently.

Before she could warn Grant, they burst into a wide clearing, surrounded by thick trees with forked limbs reaching into the sky. Large reddish bulbs grew in the joints where branches of tree trunk met. A weathered stone with faded runes marked the Ixthacan site, though much of the jungle’s growth had been cleared away.

“You’ve already been here,” Teagan gasped.

Grant nodded and hushed her. “Last night. Just watch.”

As one, the bulbs spread with lazy movements under the stars, thin red leaves stretching into a sunburst around two rings of ivory petals circling the pistils clustered in the center. While Teagan stood in awe, a dozen blooms of silver-white opened in the moonlight.

Grant slipped his arms around her. “Your treasure, my dear. One of the rarest flowers in the world. Queens of the night for my queen.” He gave her a peck and whispered, “Happy anniversary.”

“What about the Germans following us?”

“Oh, them?” He laughed. “Just some guys I paid off in the market. I knew you wouldn’t have half as much fun if you weren’t being chased.”

Night-blooming cereus.jpg by Aswin KP from Wikimedia Commons. Used under Creative Commons license.

Not Yet

Your promise still stands,

Great is Your faithfulness, faithfulness.

I’m still in Your hands.

This is my confidence:

You’ve never failed me yet.

Elevation Worship has a song called “Do It Again” that is high on the CCLI and music app charts for the genre. It’s a strong tune with a driving beat and a lot of room to rock out with the worship band, yet the song also has a heartfelt, universally relatable theme, somewhat like a prayer:

God, this bad situation hasn’t changed yet, but I’m trusting You while I’m in the middle of it.

My wife and I both love the song, and I worked it into a testimony at church, relating a particular instance of God’s goodness to my family in the midst of a crisis (which I’ll share in another post).

However, my wife is not at all a fan of one word in the song: yet.

“God hasn’t failed us at all,” she explains, “and He’s not going to. We may not always get the answers we want, but God doesn’t let us down… and that word ‘yet’ makes it sound like maybe He might.”

I agree.

And yet…

To me, there’s this humanity, this frailty revealed in that wording. There’s a weakness that lurks in the lyrics just like it lurks in my heart, where even though I belt out that “This is my confidence: You’ve never failed me,” a little choked up voice adds a “yet” with a quiver or whimper.

Doubt whispers that maybe this is the one time. This is the exception. “Yeah, God came through before, but how sure are you?”

Maybe what I thought God was going to do isn’t what He has planned. Maybe the storm isn’t going to miraculously clear up and the waves aren’t going to suddenly fall into calm. Maybe He’s not going to say, “Peace, be still” this time.

I do have a testimony to share about how God met me and my family at a point of desperation and need. I have plenty of evidence of His goodness expressed through others and through sudden changes in our circumstances.

But I also see some dark clouds of the unknown looming over me, and the horizon is dimmed by billowing storms of delayed answers to prayers. It feels like as soon as one batch of questions and concerns are resolved, they tag new ones into the ring.

I apologize as I’m vaguebooking a bit here (we’re not on Facebook, so, blankblogging? blurposting?) mainly because I don’t even know all the questions or details of some of what’s on my mind.

One of the memory verses I am reviewing this week is Isaiah 41:10. It feels more appropriate than I would like.

“’Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’”

‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭41:10‬ ‭NASB‬‬

I also relate all too well to the man who–in response to the assurance that with God, all things are possible–cried out, “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

Surely He helps us in times like this. Great is His faithfulness, and His promises still stand. He’s never failed me…

Yet.

Happy ??th Birthday to my wife

My lovely wife just celebrated a birthday in the midst of what’s probably the biggest transition we’ve ever experienced as a couple.

She has been a rock of stability for our family and a wonderful blessing to me in so many ways.

While we go through these changes, there have been some surprise obstacles and hurdles, but there are also some glorious moments of joy, blessing, and rest.

Someone I know, who is going through far more complicated and troubling circumstances than I ever have, expressed his heart this way (I’m paraphrasing):

Yes, all this trouble is a lot to handle and I feel overwhelmed at times. But God has been too good, too present, and too gracious for me to stay in that place.

That’s definitely how I’m feeling. Here’s how my wife is doing:

Flowers Wither

Like many couples, my wife and I have discussed the value of flowers as a gift to express love.

Of course, a good arrangement is beautiful, and it’s culturally customary, and if you do some research, you can communicate a lot of great sentiments with the flower selection and color choice.

But they’re expensive, and they die quickly, and also they’re expensive, and then they’re useless and dead.

I’m not biased at all. These are objective facts. (/sarcasm)

My wife’s Facebook post of her gift, with an added sparkly filter.

As we headed toward my retirement ceremony, I thought about what I had seen couples do during their celebrations. Usually the active duty spouse gives the other spouse a floral arrangement or some similar token of thanks for all the support that makes being married while working in the military possible.

I certainly wanted to express my gratitude for all my wife has done and continues to do. People often ask, “Does your wife work?” And it’s like, “Yes, of course she does. She deals with four children every day while I’m sitting in my office or on a jet. She handles the whole household while I go off for months to fly missions somewhere else in the world. On top of maintaining and managing a home, she homeschools the kids – because she wants to, not because I’ve ever asked. I can go to work and focus on my job because I know I don’t have to worry about what the boys are up to, or what’s happening at home.”

For over twenty years of marriage, she has stuck with me through all the ups and downs and sideways corkscrews of life. When everything goes pear-shaped or when we’re flying above the storms, she is there, supporting and encouraging no matter what.

But flowers. They’re just going to wither. They’re going in the trash a week or two later. What’s the point?

At first, Jami and I thought about using something like the platinum-covered rose I bought her. Something that says, “Yes, flowers, but actually one that will last.”

Because, hey, eternal love and “not wasting money” and all that obviously super-romantic thought put into this expression of thanks (more sarcasm, I hope you could tell).

Later, Jami said, “You know, maybe it’s selfish, but I think I want some flowers. Is that wrong?” This is my wife, who is worried that after twenty plus years as a military spouse, it’s not right or perhaps too much for her to get the spotlight and a simple bouquet of roses and carnations.

“Of course I can get you flowers. This is your celebration too.” That’s what I think I said.

“God, I hope they’re not TOO expensive,” or something similar, is what I’m ashamed to admit I thought.

It wasn’t until I was standing in the room with chairs arranged and people filing in for the ceremony that my slow and stupid brain finally clicked into gear and understood.

Yes, flowers wither. Yes, they’re temporary. You can’t buy one and have it last, expressing forever the sentiment when it was given.

But that’s how our love works. It’s not an “I said ‘I love you’ when we got married, dear” kind of thing.

Love is expressed in the day-to-day decisions, the small sacrifices and acts of service, all the little things we so quickly forget which add up to a confidence and certainty that wow, this person really does like me.

Plenty of military marriages don’t make it. I’m not judging or assuming anything about them, but I know that my wife kept choosing, day after day, to show her love for me through consistent decisions and deeds that proved her commitment.

That’s all any of us can do to build a real relationship — keep doing the small things, the messy jobs, the hard decisions, the stuff we easily ignore in favor of something flashy or showy.

Love is expressed day by day. At any point, the relationship can wither and die if left unattended, if not nurtured, if not refreshed.

Maybe flowers that wither are exactly the right kind of way to say, “I love you.” Maybe I needed that reminder that saying it once with a big gift isn’t the same as saying it every day with small but meaningful acts of service and devotion.

Still Life

Yesterday was quite busy, but in a good way–playing music for two services at chapels on base.

In between, we enjoyed a gorgeous afternoon of blue skies, warm sunshine and cool breezes. My little guy wanted to go to the slide park near our place, so I took the opportunity to soak up some rays and enjoy the peaceful rest.

Sitting at the park, enjoying the soft instrumental music they push through the speakers, watching the kids laugh and play, it felt refreshing to simply be still for a moment and absorb what God and nature offered.

It was one of those moments you want to immortalize in some way so you can go back to that place and catch a touch of what you experienced at the time.

I didn’t have my camera, no thanks to a young adult son of mine borrowing the phone to Skype with all his friends.

I did, however, have my Bullet Journal. Yes, I still use that system for my daily planner and long-term schedule as well as for quick records of fond memories and unexpected special moments.

I’m not the greatest artist – I’m good enough that I am content with what I draw for me, but not so good that I can do anything professional with it. Nevertheless, the (fake, manufactured) rocky side of the hill the kids climb on and slide down will forever adorn the January 13th entry of this, my second Bullet Journal.

Still Life

Yesterday was quite busy, but in a good way–playing music for two services at chapels on base.

In between, we enjoyed a gorgeous afternoon of blue skies, warm sunshine and cool breezes. My little guy wanted to go to the slide park near our place, so I took the opportunity to soak up some rays and enjoy the peaceful rest.

Sitting at the park, enjoying the soft instrumental music they push through the speakers, watching the kids laugh and play, it felt refreshing to simply be still for a moment and absorb what God and nature offered.

It was one of those moments you want to immortalize in some way so you can go back to that place and catch a touch of what you experienced at the time.

I didn’t have my camera, no thanks to a young adult son of mine borrowing the phone to Skype with all his friends.

I did, however, have my Bullet Journal. Yes, I still use that system for my daily planner and long-term schedule as well as for quick records of fond memories and unexpected special moments.

I’m not the greatest artist – I’m good enough that I am content with what I draw for me, but not so good that I can do anything professional with it. Nevertheless, the (fake, manufactured) rocky side of the hill the kids climb on and slide down will forever adorn the January 13th entry of this, my second Bullet Journal.

Sanity Check

On frustrating days (or rather, on good enough days with some particularly frustrating moments), this view right outside my door is my mental safe space…

My much-needed reminder that the momentary afflictions and annoyances are passing by like the fading sun and the gentle waves.

Sunset at Toguchi Beach

There’s a psalm that comes to mind–or should–when I start getting distracted by what’s not going the way I want:

“I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD.”

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭27:13-14‬ ‭NASB

I’m preaching to myself here, and watching the last amber hues fade behind the gray clouds at the horizon. Tomorrow will be another day, with its own troubles as well as a few left over from today.

With the trouble, there is always a supply of goodness and grace. It’s up to me to choose what to focus on.

A New Man

My oldest son, Jonathan, turned 18 today.

My wife and I keep questioning where all the time went, but it has passed at the same rate as always–one second, one minute, one hour, one day at a time.

We’re celebrating the cute lad flopped over in the hands of someone far younger than I feel today.

My wife chose our daughter’s name–our firstborn, so I got to choose the name of our son. I thought of David and Jonathan in the Old Testament, and though the relationship between father and son involves authority and discipline, my hope has always been that as he grew into an adult, we would develop a close bond that goes beyond mere blood relation.

I’m grateful because I believe we have that. As much as sometimes Jon looks up to me, I am impressed by him–by his concern for others, by his passion for God, by his insights and perception and how those translate into meaningful actions.

For the last few years, Jon has been diving deep into a relationship with God that informs how he reacts and relates to the people around him. The shy guy who barely talked to anyone is now teaching weekly studies on how to share your faith with others.

People approach me and tell me how blessed they are by what Jon does and says–how he shares his faith and his struggles with honesty, how he shows genuine love and interest in those around him, how he carries himself with maturity and responsibility.

There are few things better as a parent than hearing people praise your children… though I can’t claim credit for what God has done in and through Jon.

He’s pretty photogenic, too.

Today, perhaps as a sort of birthday present, Jon got word that he has been accepted into LifeCompass, a 4-month program for young adults that will give him experience performing missionary and humanitarian work in Thailand.

He doesn’t have his whole future mapped out yet, but he’s charting a course that involves impacting the lives of others for the better…

As he has mine.

I’m incredibly proud to call this young man my son, my brother in Christ, and my friend.

Did I say he is photogenic? Maybe that was a stretch…

Year Review

For the last three years, I have tracked my writing using a daily word count log. I find this helps me be honest with myself about what I am doing–or more likely not doing–to achieve the goals I so often claim concerning books and blogs.

2018’s average daily word count was 796. I aim for 1K a day but recognize I may not always make that. Right or wrong (not that anyone can really say), I’m not as disappointed about it as I would have been a couple years ago.

At the start of the year, I thought I might hit Fantasy Book 2 hard and get that near completion. I got several chapters in but found myself slogging through, unmotivated and lacking a clear vision. Even the outlined parts that I know or think are right for the book feel less than thrilling… so I have to go back to the outlining board for that one.

I tried completing 2017’s National Novel Writing Month project, a prequel of sorts starring one of my favorite characters from the fantasy series. I finished a few more scenes but mostly left that unattended, awaiting future revision.

I put forth a few short stories or flash fiction pieces, and some poetry, so I don’t feel like all was lost… but I neglected this blog and major projects for far too long.

Some of my procrastination might be blamed on Dungeons & Dragons. For the better part of the year, I was running a game every other week, trying to craft some interesting story arcs or surprise moments for the friends and family sitting around the table rolling dice. I think I managed to pull off more exciting sessions than train wrecks, so I am proud of that. However, the creative effort involved both satisfies the urge to write and drains me of energy to pour into more writing.

I walked into NaNoWriMo 2018 knowing that I wouldn’t succeed at hitting 50K. I don’t want to keep using retirement from the military and moving our family home as an excuse, but it’s a simple fact that more important things demanded my attention than the blank screen of a manuscript-in-progress.

The few scenes I added to my “someday I’m really going to write this character” gambler prophet were well received by the local writing group, so that gives me hope. It also leaves me wondering if I should work on that while the desire is stirred in me, instead of trying to sort out the “more important” Fantasy Book 2 and all the other parts down the road.

In any event, I am definitely starting to feel the relaxation and liberty of civilian life, and I am looking forward to ways to put my scenic location and extra free time to use in the endeavor of writing.

I’ll continue aiming for 1K minimum each day (I’m already behind!), but I won’t have nearly the same number of reasonable explanations at the end of 2019 if I don’t meet that goal.

Have you set writing goals for this year? I’d love to hear what you have planned. Let me know in a comment so I can cheer you on.

Building A life on the Way Maker

In conjunction with the date of my retirement ceremony and my actual final day of active duty, I had the privilege of leading or organizing worship experiences at the hospitality house near our base called The Harbor.
If you’re looking for some meaningful worship songs for contemplation, may I suggest these four:

On the 28th, we had a three-song set of Way Maker (a favorite from the Gospel Service at the base chapel), Build My Life, and Set a Fire. On the 31st, we completed a collaborative worship set, and then I played Do It Again and Build My Life for my own added moment of encouragement and personal worship.

Way Maker is one of those super-simple songs that can pack an emotional punch. It’s a song of reliance on the God who changes us and carves a path through the obstacles in our lives.

Build My Life flows easily from the end of Way Maker (if anyone ever wants to end it) and speaks to the preeminence of Christ and the desire to let my life be shaped by His love and grace.

It’s another one that could go for a while (as I believe the 10 minute video attests).

I liked ending this song about His love by transitioning into an admission that there’s no place I’d rather be, and that I want more of His power at work in me. Hence, Set a Fire…

odd side note – pretty sure I worked with the guitar player during my time in the Air Force. I had no idea they were involved in worship recordings in Monterey. Super cool!

Finally, one of the most popular praise songs today is Do It Again, which is a fantastic reminder that God comes through even if it sometimes looks and feels like nothing is changing. It’s something I needed to hear when still piecing together all the stuff of our family’s transition to civilian life, a new job, a new home, new ministry opportunities, and so on.

My wife takes issue with the “haven’t failed me yet” because He will never leave us nor forsake us, so the “yet” gives an implication that maybe there’s a chance He might.

Me, I just love the song and what it means.

I hope these encourage you as much as they do me.

If you had to choose one or two songs that capture how you want to start the new year, what would they be? Let me know in a comment!