Tag Archives: Papa John

TEOTWAWKI . . . Redux

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People might not agree with him, but I’ve never heard anyone call him anything but a good man.

I have a confession to make. Actually, I’ve made it before, but I’ve picked up a lot of followers since then and recent events plus the date have brought this heavily to my mind once again. Some of y’all that I’ve picked up will read this and dismiss me as kooky and probably never read anything I write again. Well, it’s seventeen months from an event I lived my life believing would never occur, so I’ve got to get this off my chest and I guess the chips will fall where they may.

Until October 16, 2006, I was completely, unshakably convinced I would never die — honestly, hand to Heaven, absolutely no joke.

Not only was I certain I would never die, I was JUST as certain Mama, Papa John, and many of my believing friends and family would never taste death either. Standing in front of Papa John’s casket in a driving rain on October 18, 2006 but a huge crack in my uncrackable faith; standing in front of my Mama’s casket on a beautiful, crisp spring morning seventeen months ago shattered it altogether. I am mortal, Budge is mortal, and all my friends I never expected to see buried are mortal.

The reason for my crystal clarity on the matter of my de facto immortality is twofold and one of those reasons I am not prepared to discuss, and may never discuss here or anywhere else, but the second suffices — Mama raised me believing and expecting the Rapture of the Church. Quite simply, Papa, Mama, and I were never going to die because we — and all other believers — were going to be taken up bodily to Heaven to ride out the coming Great Tribulation before our return with Jesus Christ as part of Heaven’s army at the climactic moment of the Battle of Armageddon. I wasn’t going to die. I was going to watch Jesus deal a death-blow to the Antichrist and usher in the Millennial Reign of Christ on Earth.

At one time, I was just as unshakably certain of this as I am now that the Sun will rise in the east and set in the west tomorrow. That is to say, I took it as a matter of course. I couldn’t get my mind around how anyone WOULDN’T believe Jesus was going to take His Church at any second. Then the massively successful Left Behind series of 16 novels came out and all of a sudden, people were talking about what I had believed for certain all my life on Oprah and the Today Show with Katie Couric. The Last Days were the hottest topic of conversation around for a while. Those books closely mirror what I learned as a child and what my own Bible study convinced me of further as an adult.

This series is pretty close to the doctrine I learned growing up.

Then Papa died. Then Mama died. I wasn’t crystal clear on ANYTHING anymore, much less the imminent return of Jesus. Those were black, black days and their shadow and chill haven’t completely left me even now. Some days even now, it’s all I can do to hold on to ANY faith in anything.

I didn’t think about the Rapture anymore. The church I attend now does not stress or teach on the Last Days because our two teaching pastors are diametrically opposed to each other in their views on eschatology (fancy word for “study of the last thing). Good, conservative thinking, Bible-believing Christian people have several opinions on the matter. It’s a big deal and when I was younger, I studied it religiously (no pun intended). I devoured every book on end times I could find and believe me, there’s a lot written. Then, I just stopped because it didn’t seem important anymore with Papa, and especially Mama, dead.

This evening, however, Budge found and read an article to me with the headline “Billy Graham Sounds Alarm for Second Coming.” That got my attention because Reverend Billy Graham is the real deal. The man is 95 years old; he’s been preaching crusades across the world for over SEVENTY YEARS — and his televised crusades were the ONLY thing Papa Wham would switch a Braves game for — in all that time no one has dug up the first speck of dirt on him and don’t think they haven’t tried. No women, no drug use, no money schemes, NOTHING. Seventy years and he’s squeaky clean.

The article took me aback because in all the years I’ve listened to Dr. Graham speak and preach, I’ve never known him to weigh in on End Times. I figured he probably had solid beliefs, but his message was always more about getting people saved than about a heavy theological topic like eschatology. He never mentions it in either of his biographies or in any other writing I can find he’s done. So what? Well, he’s 95 and preachers with that many miles on them don’t usually start making up stuff. If HE is seeing clear signs of the end of days enough that he wants to go on record about it, maybe it’s time to look around a little.

I’m going to set this plane down now by saying I know this isn’t one of my better pieces, but quite honestly, looking at current events and reading the Bible and listening to what other people are saying . . . well, I can’t help but wonder. Most of the major end time prophecies and theories revolve around the Middle East, specifically Israel. In fact, a great many prophecy scholars point to May 15, 1948 as the moment the End Time clock started ticking — Israel, after 2000 years of wandering, became a nation again and with the way Syria is going . . . and Russia (yes, I know Russia isn’t in the Middle East, but Google “Gog and Magog) and things just start looking, I don’t know . . . plausible?

Anyway, I Love y’all, and keep those feet clean!

 

 

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Life According to Statistical Probability

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flippingCoinChanging therapists resembles remarrying after a divorce or a spouse’s death. You lose someone who knows the most intimate details of the inside of your head, where all your buttons are to push, and the roots of all your issues lie and must start over from “Hi, I’m . . . .” with a complete stranger. It’s difficult at best and psychosis inducing at worst, which — come to think of it — really does make the marriage analogy apropos.

Early last year, my beloved therapist survived a hideous drawn out divorce from a man so thoroughly odious, so far beyond fecal-esque that monkeys wouldn’t fling him in a poo fight; as the dust settled, she got a butterfly tattoo over her heart, bought a little red Mazda Miata, sold “the scene of the crimes against humanity,” and relocated to a cute beachfront bungalow and a home office in the lower latitudes to start her life over. I completely understood, but was still devastated emotionally and not a little terrified because I was without her for the first time in seven years.

I have been most fortunate, however, to end up with an equally sage and compassionate — if not quite so flamboyant — new counselor. He helped me through the early days after my life’s greatest tragedy to date — Mama’s death — with coping techniques, good advice, and empathy. For the last fourteen months, I’ve managed to forge a bond with him similar to and maybe even more helpful than the one my last therapist and I enjoyed. In today’s session, he put a finger on the root of my core issue and the ramifications have kept me ruminating on his illustration ever since I left his office .

It started with our discussion of patterns.

We were talking about how our minds — in striving for maximum efficiency — seem hardwired to look for patterns in everything around us. It’s why we can read passages containing strings of words with jumbled or missing letters without much trouble. Whenever our minds encounter new data, we immediately see if we can fit it into something we have experienced before so we can make an informed and efficient decision on a course of action. Unfortunately, this automatic pattern-seeking has a dark side and, sadly, the same mechanisms our brains use to maximize efficiency in most things can also derail us emotionally.

For example, you know if you have a fair coin like the ones referees use before the Super Bowl or World Cup matches, the odds of it landing on heads is 50/50. That is a mathematical, statistical fact. Now, if you flip that same coin nine times and it lands on tails every single time, what are the odds of it landing on heads the tenth time you flip it? Well, it’s still 50/50. Flip the coin 999 times; even if it comes up tails every time, the odds on that 1000th flip? STILL 50/50. Take the example as far as you like. Go off into the millions of flips, but no matter how many times in a row that coin inexplicably lands on tails , the odds of the next flip will always be 50/50.

The implications for how we view situations in life are profound in some ways because the entire time we’re flipping that coin, the rational “us” knows the chances are 50/50 every time, BUT if we hit a string of tails or heads the pattern-seeking function in our brains starts to falsify documentation with some sort of interior monologue:

Pattern Brain says, “It’s been tails seventeen times in a row!”

Rational Brain says, “Right, but it’s a fair coin. The odds have to be 50/50”

“You’re an idiot!”

“Why am I an idiot? It’s MATHEMATICAL and even though you hate math, it still doesn’t lie.”

“You’re still an idiot! Can’t you see the freaking OBVIOUS pattern? It’s stuck on tails! OBVIOUSLY this coin is different from every other coin. It’s going to land on tails next time as well.”

“What logical reason can you give me for a fair coin defying the mathematical axioms of the universe and NOT having 50/50 odds? I know it looks like a pattern, but it’s not!”

“Piss on your logic, piss on your axioms, piss on you, AND piss on the freaking HORSE Y’ALL RODE IN ON! IT’S A PATTERN!!!”

“Look, Patty –“

“DON’T! Don’t you get that smarmy, condescending tone with ME! I KNOW WHAT I SEE!”

“Okay, take it easy. Listen, I know how it looks, I really do. We are seeing through the same eyes, you know? Big Dude’s only got the one set. I realize it LOOKS like a pattern has developed, but you HAVE to let go of the past flips. Each flip is a brand new event and no matter how the past flips turned out, there’s STILL the same 50/50 shot this time it’ll land on heads . . . let’s watch, Big Dude’s about to do the 18th flip.”

The coin leaves his hand. It flips over and over in the air, lands on the table, and rattles around. He smacks his hand down to stop it, slowly moves his hand away, and reveals the coin has landed on . . . tails . . . again.

“I TOLD YOU, YOU FREAKING MORON! IT’S RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF YOU.”

“But . . .”

“SHUT UP! Stop telling me to ‘ignore the pattern’ or ‘ignore the past events.’ It happened that way. It’s a pattern. IT’S ALWAYS GOING TO BE LIKE THIS.”

That’s life in a nutshell. We do something and fail miserably. Our pattern seeking brains log that data. The next time a similar situation comes up, even though the setting and players may be totally different, we stand predisposed — some more so than others — to believe we’re going to fail because “we ALWAYS fail when we do ____!” The most serious consequence is if we do enough things and have enough experiences to log a LOT of pain, blues, and failures, our brain starts to remove the “_____” and we run the danger of telling ourselves simply “we ALWAYS fail.”

THAT is the point I’ve lived at for over seven years. I’ve always struggled with “living in the past,” but somewhere around the time Papa John died, the pattern-seeking part of my brain went into overdrive and discerned an obvious pattern of failure, pain, and rejection. Even though the circumstances were unique almost every time, I’ve processed a lot of accurate data but drawn false conclusions from it. As a result, I’ve become deeply emotionally crippled. I just can’t seem to get my life into gear because my mind is screaming at me to not do anything else that’s going to HURT.

So, that’s where my journey’s brought me . . . now the question is “Where do I go from here?” At the moment, my honest answer is, “Damned if I know.” Love y’all and keep those feet clean!

 

 

An Emotional Sucker Punch Put Me on the Canvas

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Thursday coming will be Thanksgiving and the “official start” of the Holiday Season. Of course, nearly half the stores around here had Christmas decorations out before Halloween, so I’m not so certain about how “official” the start is anymore.

Since I love to eat and love my family, the holiday season has always been a coveted and special time of the year for me because it involves a great deal of both. The holidays have also been precious to me over the years because I was raised with an eye towards keeping sight of the real reason we celebrate Thanksgiving — to give thanks for all we have — and Christmas — the birth of our Savior. The holidays held meaning beyond turkey, trees, and tinsel ever since I can remember and as unbelievable as it may sound, I once came desperately close to chucking it all and throwing my lot in with the rest of the commercial and material world because I very nearly renounced my faith in God and Christ and became an atheist. Very, very nearly.

The event leading directly to the train wreck of faith I experienced was the death of my maternal grandfather in October 2006. I’ve written about Papa John’s death before, but I’ve never admitted in my writing just how profoundly his death crushed me on a spiritual and emotional level. Nothing else I’ve ever faced, or am likely to face — including Mama’s impending departure from this life — hit me as hard and affected me as deeply in a core area, THE core area, of my life.

I haven’t always been a Christian, but I’ve always been a believer in Christ. Mama took me to church willingly or by force until I was 12 years old and she said I could decide for myself. Granny and Papa Wham took me to church every Wednesday night and many Sunday mornings when I was young and stayed with them on the weekends from time to time. Christ, the Bible, and Church were the warp of my life and I no more doubted the inerrancy and inspiration of the Bible than I doubted the air I breathed.

Quite literally, “Mama ‘n Them” said God said it and they believed it, so I believed it as well. Completely and without question. As I got older, I read a little bit more and studied a little bit more on my own and hashed out some reasons on my own why I believed what I did.

Still, I never put in a lot of thought about my faith or what I believed in. I just took it as a matter of course. Growing up in a small Southern town didn’t really present me with a great many attacks on my beliefs and even when I was challenged by some “Godless” professors at Clemson and later USC, I just laughed them off. I was a de facto associate pastor at the church where Budge and I were married and I was the one many people called and referred others to with hard questions about theology and faith. I was happily and blissfully going along with my Christian life secure in my beliefs and certain beyond doubt God was in His Heaven and all was right with the world.

Then in October 2006, when I was 35, Papa John fell and had to go to the hospital. Seventeen days later, he was dead and when I conducted his funeral in a driving rainstorm the next day, I left my world insofar as what I believed in and the faith I had unquestioningly carried with me from childhood in a hole in the red Carolina mud with him. When I walked away from Papa’s grave, I walked away confused, in more pain than I thought I could bear, and believing in nothing anymore. I’ve mentioned before how much of a hammer blow getting fired from Woodmont and Greenville County Schools had been to me, but that entire event was an emotional scratch compared to the effect Papa’s death had on me.

Here’s where some explanation is due but you aren’t going to get all you need to understand why I reacted so badly mainly because I don’t know how to explain it to anyone but my wife, my therapist, and a tiny handful of people I still call friends. Even if I told the entire story from beginning to end, it still wouldn’t make sense to any of you and worse, you might take the opportunity to think less of and even make a disparaging comment about Papa John and if you did, I’d hate you for the rest of my life. So what broke me? Long story short, Papa John wasn’t supposed to die crippled in a coma the way he did. Oh, he was mortal. I knew that and I’m not stupid. Papa, like all of us, was destined to die, but not the way he did. I hope that’s enough, but just know that’s leaving out 99 and 44/100th% of the story.

I didn’t darken a church door for over a year. For several years before Papa’s death, cracks had been forming between me and my former church and they now became canyons and ended up being hammer blows of their own. Worst of all for my mind though, I started asking questions. I’d always tested and examined every dimension of my life in miniscule detail, but not my faith. Now I did. Once I started asking questions, the gates fell down as questions led to even more questions and the more the questions multiplied, the more the answers disappeared. The more the answers disappeared, the more the doubts grew.

For someone like me for whom faith was the same as oxygen, I was dying. I could have picked up a red hot horseshoe and it may have made a more visible scar, but it wouldn’t have been anymore painful. I couldn’t tell anyone though, because I didn’t want to drag someone down with me. During this entire time, Budge was the only one who knew how bad I was struggling. I had to stay strong for Mama, because for six months after Papa John’s death, I thought we were probably going to lose her also since she was grieving to the point of starvation.

Days dragged in to weeks and weeks turned to months and I was no better off than I’d been standing by Papa’s open grave. It was at that lowest point I figured I would be better off turning my back on everything I had believed in all my life than it was to try to force myself to hold on to what no longer made any sense to me.  At that moment, I was very nearly an atheist and that condition would last for longer than I like to admit.

Come back later and I’ll explain how I ended up still believing today.

Love y’all. Keep those feet clean.

Verbal Brutality — A Still Life in Words

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You ever get something on your mind and you cannot move on to something else because you can’t concentrate with THAT thought rolling around in your head? You know, kind of like getting “It’s a Small World After All” stuck in your head on an endless loop? I’ve run into that syndrome this fine Monday morning.

I was balancing out the checkbook from the weekend, pretty much the way I do every Monday, and I uncovered a couple of bills that had slid or slipped or — knowing me — been placed under a stack of other papers. One was the water bill and of course it was overdue so I went online and paid it immediately since Budge doesn’t ask for much, but running water IS one of her requirements.

Anyway, after settling up those couple of bills and scheduling out the taxes (which were ALSO resting comfortably under the aforementioned pile) I realized we had about a third of the money I’d hoped we’d have for Christmas. Now, please understand, that’s nothing unusual. It was just a little disheartening to get socked with this early on a Monday morning AFTER my awesome new-to-me laptop decided to lose it’s mind (and LCD screen) AND after spilling a heaping cup of Domino’s Extra Fine Granulated Sugar all over the counter and floor as I was making tea. I just wasn’t in the mood to be reminded of this particular incident, but . . . what’re you gonna do? There it was rolling around in my head and I’m hoping that telling this story publicly for the first time will help exorcise this foul mental demon. After all, I need the room up there.

 

So without further fanfare, I want to tell about the most brutal, most condescending, most intentionally hurtful thing ANYONE has ever said to me. Names have been changed to show how even with  BPD, Dysthymic Disorder, anger management problems, and all my other issues I’m not on the same level as this cretin, which gives me a certain cold comfort.

My Papa John had a 1965 Pontiac GTO that he was insanely proud of. He loved that car. When I was small, he would put me on his lap and let me steer it down the highway. The GTO died when I was in middle school, but instead of getting rid of it, Papa took it down to our little white church and put it up on jack stands (not blocks) and threw a nice cover over it. Our plan was for me to “fix it up” and drive it once I got to high school and got my own job. Apparently, at some point, Mr. Ash Whole, the antagonist of this story and filthy rich Pontiac aficionado, found out about the GTO and offered to buy it from Papa John for a pittance. Now, folks, Israel will give up the West Bank of Jordan and leave Jerusalem before my Papa John would have sold that car. So he said, “No thank you.” Undeterred, Mr. Ash Whole would make papa the same offer several times over the years.

Then in my senior year of high school, Papa John had his first major debilitating stroke. It wasn’t his first stroke, but it was the first one to take him out of action. Papa John gave me the title to the GTO and said to go ahead with our plans and as soon as he got well, we’d work on the car together.

Unfortunately, I found out that restoring cars is a rich man’s hobby. Even repairing the GTO enough to return it to the road proved to be beyond my means with my high school jobs. Fortunately, the GTO wasn’t eating anything, didn’t cost much in taxes, and was more or less safe from the elements.

Once Mr. Ash Whole found out about Papa’s stroke, he started turning up the heat on ME to sell him the car. Please bear in mind I had all the same issues back then that I do now, BUT I didn’t know anything was wrong with me, I just thought I was a slight jerk with a hair trigger temper. So I said, “No.” When he kept asking, I upped my response to “Hell no.”

Then, one night after I’d had a pretty disastrous day, the phone rang. This was in the pre-caller id days or I’d never have answered it. It was, of course, Mr. Ash Whole. We started going through the usual preliminary small talk that is expected of Southern men even if they DO hate each other but this time, he had a different tack. He went straight for the guts. He said, “Shannon, I’ll tell you, I’ve been trying to buy that piece of $#@! GTO from your grandfather and now you for too long and I’m just going to be straight with you, John’s never going to drive again and you’ll never get that car running on what you make at a grocery store– you need to sell me that car tonight if for no other reason than

(here it comes)

(the ugliest thing anyone’s ever said to me even to this day)

I know you are dirt poor and could desperately use the money.”

I didn’t have anything to say. He was pretty much right. I told him I’d come by his store with the title and the key after school the next day. What he gave for Papa’s beloved GTO wouldn’t buy a cart of groceries today.

Just as a little side note, I went to high school with Mr. Ash Whole’s son. Later on, I would be roommates in college with Mr. Ash Whole’s son and that dude was one of the most solid friends I’ve ever had. I can only figure he took after his mother. I never mentioned that conversation with his father to my buddy. He wasn’t real crazy about the man either. Still, that did open up some more painful wounds because he knew where the car came from even though he didn’t know the circumstances. With total innocence, he’d update me on his dad’s restoration project. Mr. Ash Whole poured thousands upon thousands of dollars into that car. Today, it is a national show winner.

I don’t think St. Peter allows driving where Papa’s gone to now. It’s most likely hard to get tire marks off golden pavement, so I doubt Papa could care less.

As for me, whenever I see a 1965 GTO, to this very day, I taste bile and — more than that — dirt in my mouth for hours afterwards.

Love y’all, keep those feet clean, and be careful what you say to each other.

Go Rest High on that Mountain, Papa John

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Papa John on Mama's wedding day.

I’ve found it exceptionally difficult to look out the window all day today and see such a beautiful cerulean sky with the Sun shining warm and high.

Five years ago on this day, rain fell so hard and so long that it made a rivulet beneath the funeral tent where I stood giving Papa John’s eulogy. It rained so hard the canvas of the tent sounded almost like a ten roof. I couldn’t see the highway only twenty yards away.

When the time came to leave, Budge and I drove out of the cemetery and I couldn’t think of the words or tune of a single hymn or gospel song. All I could think about were the words to Stevie Ray Vaughn’s signature song . . . “The Sky Is Crying.”

As unbelievable as it was to me, my Papa John – Mama’s father – was gone and it seemed as if Nature herself was taking part in our grief.

It’s taken me five years to write one word about Papa’s death because all these years later, that wound is no less open, raw and putrescent than it was the day Papa John passed away.

I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time with Papa John as I did Granny and Papa Wham for a variety of reasons I will not discuss here. However, of all my close ancestors, I share more traits and characteristics with Papa John than I do any other relative. Some people who read this might not like that. The person writing this doesn’t really care if they do or not.

My Papa John was special. He faced down more calamity and disaster; overcame more ill will and hard breaks; and fought off more despair and personal demons than any man I’ve ever known. Whenever I think of Papa, I think of the quote some attribute to Rabelais “What cannot be remedied must be endured“. My Papa John endured where others would have fainted, if not fled in terror at what was happening to them. Death alone could stop him and even then, he didn’t go without a fight.

Papa was a Pentecostal preacher. He was never happier than when he was at the front of our little white church playing his guitar or delivering a sermon. When he wasn’t preaching, he was busy doing the Lord’s work and when he wasn’t doing the Lord’s work, he was working in textile plants all over Laurens and Simpsonville, SC.

Papa worked hard, but he never had anything to show for it. I’ve seen him give the coat off his back to someone who needed it more than he did. He was big-hearted and generous and kind and the world hated him for it. He was slandered and lied about and run through the petty small town rumor mill over and over — because he was good to people.

Throughout all the false accusations and tribulations in his life, my Papa never lifted a finger against anyone. He didn’t have to. God had Papa’s back. Oh, I know a lot of you reading this, especially members of my own family probably don’t believe that, but again, ask me if I care. You weren’t there. You don’t know as much as you think you do. What I know is everyone — man and woman, kin and stranger alike — who mistreated my Papa John either had to come to him to apologize on bended knee or else died in horrible, Old Testament ways. One wagging tongue silenced itself with a blast from a 12 gauge shotgun. Another died choking while drowning on his own blood. A family member who spoke too harshly about things which weren’t her business one too many times died of a horrible wasting lung cancer . . . and never smoked a day in her life.

Believe what you want to.

From the time I was 13 until I was 35 and he passed, Papa had MULTIPLE strokes and heart attacks. I was with him the night he had his first stroke in our church parking lot. I was 13 and didn’t know what the change in his voice meant and neither did he. The ailments took his body, but Papa never succumbed to the slightest bit of dementia. Until he lapsed into his final coma, he was as sharp as the kitchen knives he used to keep to cut radiator hoses.

For years before he passed away, his left hand and arm were completely useless. He drove his car with a steering knob. His left leg was halt and somewhat withered. He walked anyway.He never stopped. He endured.

I could fill a book with my papa’s life, but most people — even many who knew him — wouldn’t believe parts of it. He was a mystery to most people. I don’t have space or time to talk about cars and restaurants and the Harakin Pine Woods. I could make an entry about Papa in this blog every day for the rest of my life and the half wouldn’t be told.

Papa John didn’t measure success in dollars and cents. That confused lots of people. People might not have known how to take Papa, but they knew who to turn to for help. He never stopped his ministry. When he could no longer stand in a pulpit, he’d sit in a Waffle House at 3:00 AM talking to a stranger about God over a cup of coffee. Five years later, Mama and I are still finding out about lives he touched that we knew nothing about.

Here’s what matters though and here’s what you need to take away from this post about my grandfather. He didn’t have a bank account. He never owned a house. His only possessions were his bible, a few clothes, and a hand-me-down Ford Fairmont. The day he died, he had one $5 bill in his wallet. As I said at his funeral, according to our vision of “The American Dream” he had NOTHING to show for his life. Some people might have looked at him as a complete failure.

I’ll tell you what he did have though — in the middle of a driving rainstorm that would turn to sleet later that day — he had more people at his funeral than the Fletcher’s Mortuary tent could hold, but the people came anyway and stood in that driving rain to pay a last visit to a man who had a heart no one could measure.

THAT is what you need to know about Papa John. That and the fact that I loved him more than breath and since his death nothing has been the same and never will be. Men like Papa John leave a hole too big to ever fill on this side of the Jordan River.

Rest on the mountain for a little while, Papa, and look for me . . . I’m trying.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.