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The Breath of Life

little hands on Luke for blog-BW

In January 1999, I was a student in a college class on the campus of Murray State University.  One of the books we were reading suggested that “we read to become more human.”  As I pondered this concept, I let my mind tinker with that thought.  Can one do anything to become , more or less human?  Is the pursuit of this thought a mere exercise in playing word games, or is there a core philosophy at the heart of the matter?

Is there any particular activity that can be engaged in, or a journey that can be embarked upon that would make a dog more, or less, a dog, or a pig, more or less a pig?   Can a cow by eating more grass, producing more milk, or winning more blue ribbons at the county fair, be more a cow?  I think not.

Animals may produce more, show better, and have finer health because of the circumstances around them, but the fact remains that they are all the dog, pig, or cow they were born to be.  So it is that I believe a human is born every bit as human as she or he will ever be.

God created mankind uniquely different from all other creations – “in the image of God”.  He purposed to make human beings.  There was not an evolving process.  God set His plan for humans into motion at the creation of the world.  After forming Adam from the dust of the ground which He had created, “He breathed into man the breath of life”.   That was “in the beginning.”  We are human, because God created us to be so.  No amount of activity or action can cause us to be more, or less the human God designed us to be.

Often when we are not in touch with our humanity, we may behave like a snake in the grass, a shark, or a skunk.  We may refer to
a person as being a dog, or a pig.   We all have choices as to what sort of behavior we will manifest, but we are nonetheless, human, by origin.    We are unique in His creation as the caretakers of the world.  We have the special privilege and ability to commune with the Creator.  He gave us the highest gift of communication, “a living soul.”  Communication is intricately meshed with the gift of being human. In the perfection of His creation God took evening walks with His first created humans, Adam and Eve, therefore giving to us a model of the importance of communication with each other, and with Him.  He placed within our very soul the need to be heard, to understand each other, to feel emotions, and to share those emotions with other human beings.

When Luke, my grandson (pictured above) was born, his life was no surprise.  God formed him, shaped him, and had a particular plan for his little life.  He came into the world seven years ago today, welcomed by his parents, big brother and sister, grandparents, and extended family.  We were all completely awed by his tiny little body, his soft skin, and precious smile. He was born fully human and uniquely fashioned to take his place in this world.  He was and is God’s masterpiece.  He has a heart that desires to know His Creator better with each passing day.  His laughter, his smile, his zest for living, and his unique manner of embracing life is what it is all about in being human.

As I read the Bible and recognize God to be the awesome Creator and Master Designer, I get just a glimpse of His heart.  He had a particular plan, purpose, and design when He created the first man, Adam.  Nothing has changed.  His desire for each new person created in secret, designed while yet unseen,  is unique and specialized.  The more I read, the more precious this truth becomes.

What an uplifting and awesome truth to take hold of.  I am human, by design.  God made ME and He, the Creator of the universe, has a plan for my life.  Do you recognize this truth in your own life?  You are here by design and purpose.    I hope this precious truth will inspire you to be all He wants you to be.


In the Beginning


In memory of my precious Dad
(February 21, 1926 – March 4, 2002)

In the beginning
Dad fed me
Bathed me
Wiped my face
Changed my clothes

Sat with me until I slept
Chased away my bad dreams
Played music to soothe me
Listened to my heart needs
Held my hand

Breathed his strength into my frightened spirit
Protected me from the big bad bullies
Taught me to trust God in all things
All this – in the beginning.

But today, in the ending
I’m feeding him
Bathing his body
Wiping his face
Changing his clothes

Sitting beside him until he sleeps
Chasing away his bad dreams
Singing his music back into his heart
Listening to his heart needs
Holding his hand

Breathing my strength into his frail and frightened spirit
Reminding him to trust God in all things
All this – in the ending.

The nurse says
“He’s gone.”

I watch his body for any sign of life
I know she’s right,

For today in Dad’s life,
It’s the beginning.

Written by Ritchie D. Hale ©2002

Spring Will Come Again

The view from my window

The view from my window

I’ve been pretty busy grumbling about the snow and ice recently…there has certainly been plenty of it.  Having spent the last several years in Florida, I’ve misplaced most of my excitement, and for sure the wonder of it all has been lost  in the chill of it all.  However, I do remember a time when as a child I loved to take walks late at night in the freshly fallen snow. I remember our family meeting the Miller family, or the Nettie and Bob Parker family, or Joyce and Charlie Evans for a day of sledding at Park Hill in Owensboro, Kentucky.

Park Hill, Owensboro, KY 1960

Park Hill, Owensboro, KY 1960

Making snow angels, building snow forts, having snow-ball fights, skating across Carpenter Lake out of Owensboro when it froze over, and tunneling through 6 foot drifts to create mazes and places to play… collectively these memories are all pleasant.  I loved walking to school on mornings when everything had frozen.  It was a challenge between my friends and me to see who could walk on the frozen puddles and cause the ice to break.  Usually this activity resulted in wet, cold feet for the challenge winner for the remainder of the day.

Today as we were out for an afternoon drive, my eyes were riveted on the beauty of the crystals encasing every tree and bush.  The sun, though rarely seen these past many weeks, touched every branch, creating unique art forms of such brilliance, one could not settle into the doldrums.  It was beautiful, and exhilarating to see.  The shadows up into the woods falling on the pristine snow, touched here and there by a ray of sunshine were intricate in design and mystery. I know that underneath all those many inches of snow and ice, God is at work on a masterpiece of equal beauty, and we are just about to see it happen.  We call it spring.  I am truly ready for the cold, dark days of winter to fade into memory, but I am thankful for the beauty of today.

I’m planning on beginning a “watch” for the very first sign of new life.  I wonder, will it be a Robin, a Crocus, or a bud on a tree?  What are you watching for?  Remember, beside what you see, Spring WILL come again…it’s a promise God made, and I will trust Him with the details of when it is going to happen.

A Bucket Full of Adventures

VW Camper on side of RoadA Heap of Livin’ and a Bucket Full of Adventures

 Mom always used the expression, “a heap of livin” to explain all the wonderful adventures my dad dragged us to and through.  As age begins to creep up on me and I am closer to the finish line than when I started out, I recall many of those adventures with a bit more nostalgia and joy than I did when we were actually in the midst of them.  Like the times when Dad would come bursting into the house full of zip and energy – announcing we were going on a trip to the New York World’s Fair!” (We lived in Kentucky) and we were leaving in the morning at day break!  And so the adventure would begin.  We stayed almost all day so we wouldn’t miss a thing!!!!

No Fancy Hotels for us…
Our travels took us to little out of the way places that were not often frequented by other travelers.  That often meant our sleeping arrangements were tiny “hole-in-the-wall” hotel rooms, (or a tent without a floor, – a sheet of canvas over poles, in the middle of a
grassy field).   Mom always carried her electric skillet, so we enjoyed a huge country breakfast right there in the room.  I can only imagine what the other guests might have been dreaming about when Mom heated up her “stove” and the aroma of the sizzling bacon drifted into the other occupant’s rooms. Meals not eaten in the hotel rooms were generally eaten in the car as we traveled, or served on concrete tables in roadside parks along the way. (I still enjoy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches).

Adventures & Misadventures…
When we became teenagers we groaned about “roughing it” on the long trips . . . but as adults we recall those experiences as precious memories. Well . . . mostly precious memories.  There was that time when we literally pushed our Volkswagen Camper Van across the Painted Desert, and the time Dad was hauled off to jail because he illegally made a U-turn on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  But even those memories have the mixture of love and family growth that bonded us into best friends for life.

One family outing was spent traveling in a borrowed car to the North Carolina coastline.  Along with our family of six were my uncle, aunt, two cousins, and all our beach toys, swim gear, and picnic supplies. Oh yeah, the borrowed car was actually a hearse loaned to us by a mortician friend.  At the time we were of course, mortified . . . but today, it’s sheer joy as we recall the “day we went to the beach in
a hearse”.

When Dad would make these announcements, I know it was a bit of a hardship for Mom, but his spontaneity was infectious, and the ever practical side of Mom most often gave way to the thirst for excitement that Dad brought to each of his many “adventures”.

Dad’s Influence on My Adventurous Spirit…
Dad had a unique take on life that lasted him up until he took his last breath on March 4, 2002.  He filled our lives with adventures from our earliest days, giving us the freedom and tools to do special things – different than most children our ages.  Many hours of my play time were spent climbing into the hayloft behind our house, with Dad’s blessings, and Mom’s admonitions.  Even as I write these words, I recall that dusty, dry, grassy smell, and feel the prickle to my skin as I climbed in and over and through my “hay fort” and down  into my seven-story high tobacco-stick house.  (I shudder to think what might have happened if it had toppled over). Hiking alone in the woods,  playing hide and seek in the corn fields, wading in mountain creeks, and using Dad’s tools to fashion forts, tree houses, and secret hide-a-ways…ah, what pleasant memories.

As I approach this February 21, 2014, (the date my dad would have celebrated his 88th year), I look back with joy and forward with anticipation.  Mom said it right about her life, and I can truly say it about my own.  I’ve done a “heap of livin”, and life is certainly full of adventures to remember and many yet to come.

Have you done a heap of livin’ and stored up buckets full of treasured memories of your many adventures?  I can only imagine that your adult children would love to hear about them.

One More Mountain

One More Mountain

 I sat on the front row of the balcony overlooking the crowded auditorium.  When the participants in the center section stood, I eased forward to the edge of my chair, holding my breath, as if by doing so I could prolong the moment.  “Sheldon Hale.”  An involuntary shout escaped my lips and I applauded triumphantly.   It had taken him seventeen years to complete his Master of Divinity degree, and I wanted him to hear my joyful exultation.  Suddenly shy and embarrassed, I realized that I alone was standing while all others were sitting quietly, watching the ceremony.   I sat and glanced at the card my Mother-in-law had handed me a few moments earlier.  On the front cover were the words, “Son, you finally made it . . . .”   Inside the message was completed, “. . . but I always knew you would.”

Nine years later it was my turn to finish at Murray State University, what I had begun at Western Kentucky University nearly thirty years earlier; my degree.  Those intervening years had been chock full with rich and rewarding pursuits.  Our three children were grown,  I had sewed wedding gowns for both my daughters, was enjoying the grandchildren as they came along, had parented twenty-five precious foster children and already taught first grade for twenty-four years.  My role as Pastor’s wife had taken me down intricately complex paths as I juggled children’s choirs, speaking engagements, and many church responsibilities. Sometimes my brain seemed about to explode with overload of data intake, and I wondered if I were about to lose my memory.

One day on the campus of MurrayStateUniversity, I lost my car in the middle of a parking lot located roughly a mile from the nearest building on campus.  As I stood searching not only the parking lot, but also my memory, I felt like a little girl I had once taught in first grade.

She had come into my classroom that first day, knowing nothing about my class rules and routines.  By the end of the day I had taught her, “a place for everything, and everything in its place.”  The next morning she tearfully approached my desk, and between broken sobs, explained to me that she had forgotten where to put some of her things.

Surrounded by hundreds of cars, I became that little girl.  This very morning I had parked a small white car somewhere in this massive asphalt jungle, and now I was unable to sort through my mind and remember where exactly it was that I put it.  I felt afraid, confused, and insecure.  It was good that no one offered me any sympathetic words of consolation.  I feel certain that the gathering fears would have become liquid and streamed down the furrows of worry that etched my face.

My frustration had started that morning when I arrived on campus wearing heels and feeling very professional.  I got into the line that I thought was the path toward my goal.  Forty-five minutes later the person at the desk told me I was supposed to first “go to that line over there.”  Okay, I thought, no problem.  So I moved my satchel over to the next line and waited patiently for the fifteen people ahead of me to finish their business.  When I described to the pseudo-friendly person at the counter what I needed, she informed me that I must go to the desk in the basement.  I’m generally a flexible person, so I gathered up my things and trekked to the basement.  The line there was about ten people long, so I waited, patiently.  Yes, I really did.   Ah, finally it was my turn and I could even sit in a chair while I related my “problem” to the receptionist.

“Oh no,” she said. “You can’t do that here.  You need to go to the Registrar’s office up on first floor.”

“But upstairs sent me here,” I reply.

“I’m sorry, but they were in error.  You simply must go there before I can help you.”

Back on first floor I ask a lady behind the counter where I should go to speak with someone about a registration question.  She points out the direction, and I arrive there just in time to hear a student receive the bad news.  “You can’t graduate this spring because your paper work is not in order.”   As I see the tears accumulate around the inner edges of her eyelids, I ache.  Just as I begin to feel empathy for that student, the bearer of the bad news turns to me.  “May I help you?”

I explain the problem.  Even before I finish, she informs me that her office has no authority in this matter.  “Go to the basement.  They’ll take care of you.”

“I was already there.”

“Well, I’m really sorry . . .” (which I am beginning to seriously doubt), “. . . but that is the only place that can help you.”

One more time I return to the basement.  This time the line is all the way out the door.  Never mind all the manners I have learned over the years.  Gently pushing my way through the crowd, I tower over the secretary in a bit of an obnoxious way.  Finally she looks up and asks, “Yes, what is it?”

“They say that I must see you to get this problem resolved.”

“Let me see the paper you have.  Hmm, yes, just a minute.  I just need to sign this form and you’re home free.”

 Home free.  That would be nice about now.  Home.  Free.  Free of all this nonsense.  Finally I have all my necessary paperwork complete and the first day of classes arrives.  Never being one to do things the simple way, I schedule for twenty-five hours.  My commute is over eighteen hours a week, and I have a bit of a life outside school time.   Did I mention that I am also teaching full-time?  At the conclusion of the first day I know I am in over my head, so I drop one class.

Now we are in the full swing of things.  Homework is beginning to mount higher and higher, as are the stack of dirty dishes and dirty laundry at home.  Each evening as I face my computer to sort through my accumulation of notes, I find that a little invisible demon sits upon my shoulder.  He begins his nightly negative message recital.  “You can’t do that,” he whispers. “You know how difficult learning has always been for you,” he taunts.  “You’ll make horrible grades,” he jeers.

I reach out across time and grab hold of a fleeting memory that bobs upon the many waters of a lifetime of experiences.   My memory settles on the story of the Little Engine that thought he could.  “I think I can . . .  I think I can . . . .”   I’m claiming the strength God promises me in Philippians 1:21. I’ll need something beyond my own ability.  My stamina isn’t what it was when I was twenty years old.  As Minnie Pearl always said, “My get up and go has got up and went.”

My feet ache as if the bones are protruding through the bottom of my heels.  My calf muscles are tight. Fire burns my lungs as I gulp down icy air. Surely passers-by can hear my heartbeat as the blood races through my veins.  My back is as effective after an hour and a half of sitting in a lecture as a rusty bicycle chain. Each link is so rigidly fixed and inflexible that I dread having to sit again in the next class period.

There are visible spasms as the muscles play chase up and down my arm from the elbow to the wrist.  Semi-permanent indentations mark my fingers where I’ve held too tightly to my pen while taking notes.  My elbow craves an ace bandage, an application of HEET, and perhaps a full day of grace without carrying a twenty-four-pound bag of books.  Am I complaining? You betcha’!  Do I want to quit?  Absolutely not!  I’ve come too far to quit!  Oh sure, there are always things to complain about, but in the end those things are small potatoes compared to the goal I have in my sights.

I love the exhilaration of learning new things, or of re-learning old things, long forgotten.  There’s nothing more nostalgic in my memory than the sound of chalk hitting the board and the occasional sound of the chalk as it squeaks irritatingly across the surface.  Those noises of an empty classroom coming to life as first one, then two, then a dozen or more students enter, fill not only the room, but fill my memory with the pleasant thoughts of “school days, good ol’ golden rule days.” Learning is about to happen. 

 Though the crisp breeze has pushed, pulled, and tempted me to skip class and to come out and play, I have resisted the urge, and been a serious student.  I attend all my classes, finally find my car, drive home, fix supper, sort the mail, return phone calls, and start my homework.  A lifetime of adult commitments, time schedules, deadlines, and responsibilities has taught me to use my time efficiently, setting priorities and then working within those parameters.   Finally, homework completed, I can fall into bed. There is no time for a late night television show, leisure, or play.  Tomorrow begins the process all over, and the homework load will be just as heavy.  I’ll dream of an afternoon away from the school routine . . . maybe this Sunday afternoon, or then again, maybe next summer.

There is a persistent, irritating sound.  I knock over the nightstand and almost break the alarm clock as I grope in the darkness, reaching for the source of the noise. I realize as I come more fully awake that the phone is ringing.


 “Mom, did I wake you?”

 “Uh, Son, what time is it?”

 “It’s 10:30.  Are you already in bed?

 “Yeah, I’m bushed.  My classes are about to get the best of me.”

 “Well, I won’t keep you.  Just wanted to let you know I’m proud of you for going back to college.”

 I hang up, feeling refreshed, though tired.  I’m fortunate.  I have a wonderfully supportive cheering squad, my family.  They seem to understand that this is important to me.

 Perhaps someday when I cross the platform and receive my earned degree for the work I’ve completed, my children will send me a card.  I’ll open it, and with tears of joy and satisfaction I’ll read, “Mom, you finally made it  . . . but then, we always knew you would.”

These thoughts were captured almost eighteen years ago.  I finished my goal and walked across the platform to receive my diploma at the age of fifty. My family was all there to celebrate.   I’ve continued teaching first and second grade children until my retirement this year, enjoyed playing with my ten grandchildren, and have decided to be serious about writing my book.  However, technology just keeps changing and I’m already far behind.  Though I finally switched from my Royal typewriter, graduated to a Word Processor, and then into Windows XP, I have discovered I must once again move forward.  Today, I bought Windows 8, and am already feeling a bit apprehensive.

The phone – it’s my youngest daughter.  “Mom, you can do it.” 

“I don’t think so, honey, it’s just too hard and after all, at my age, I don’t think I can learn all this new stuff.”

“Mom, you’re talking like an old person.  This isn’t like you.  You can do anything you set your mind on.”

And so, a new journey begins – again.  New things, new challenges, new mountains to climb….and the thrill of climbing. 

How about you?  Are you reaching out to learn new things?  Are you enjoying the mountains you already climbed?  Look just down the road and you’ll see yet another mountain just begging for you to experience, explore, and enjoy.  Go for it, be a little engine that thinks he can…and start up that mountain. 


Refreshing Waters

"As the deer panteth for the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God. " Psalm 42:1

“As the deer panteth for the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God. “
Psalm 42:1

A Piece of Driftwood

My Testimony - an original oil painting by Ritchie D. Hale

My Testimony – an original oil painting by Ritchie D. Hale

A  Piece of Driftwood
Hidden, discarded, tossed about, on the far-stretching, blinding sands,
A scene of desolation; not made by human hands.
Beyond the distant edge of sea, the green-blue waters still,
Beyond the heavens sun-lit rays, the tempestuous clouds to burst at will. 

Those restless waters closer by with troubled, white-capped surf,
Rolling endlessly to reach the shore of glistening, sandy, turf. 
A towering pine between the surf and I, – driftwood at its base,
Broken, bleached, and scarred by time – scars that nature can’t erase.

I viewed this gnarled starkness, seeing what God might see,
And knew that what I’d been before, no longer would I be. 
My life had been a raging surf, obtaining changing goals,
Joining each new larger wave, with constant, crashing, thrashing rolls.

My life was once a tempestuous cloud, with darkness and despair,
Which overflowed with ugliness, a life in reckless disrepair.
Most of all my life was like the driftwood by the sea,
Broken, gnarled, and scarred by sin, all hope gone out of me. 

But then I saw the sun-lit rays, and lifted up my face
And knew that God who made the world, could all my sin erase,
The raging surf and tempestuous clouds, and driftwood by the sea,
Had preached a mighty lesson on the plan of God for me, 

I knew that as I left those shores I had a brand new start.
And all that God had taught me there, had really changed my heart.

Written by Ritchie D. Hale 1972©

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