Neon Shades of Gray

The                                                                         Word

Back when I was writing a lot of songs.  I put together a few basement demos on an 8-track recorder.  They were mostly homey folk songs, and southern gospel tunes, but I churned out a few country-twangy pieces like  Always Doesn’t Mean Forever, Men Ain’t Ever Gonna Understand Women, The Teaser, and Crazy By Heart.  Some of them were semi-autobiographical. Some were not.  You can get a lot of mileage out of your imagination when you write songs.

In one, called If You’d Died, or Moved to Texas, I wrote:

I never meant to be enchanted

By your smile, or that sparkle in your eyes,

But, just to hear your stories, woke desires

   for a long lost Paradise,

Until I found that I was drifting,

Like a castaway on a sea of compromise,

Where right and wrong both look the same,

Like nothing more than trading truth for lies.

Not long ago, an old high-school friend (I’ll call him, Jim), posted an online picture of a platter of date bars, with the following caption:

Fresh hot date bars….yummy

Thinking I would be cute, I responded with a double endendre comment:

Hot date?  Where?  Hmm, for a minute I thought you were reliving your youth, my friend. 8-{D

There’s a story behind that, he wrote back.

For the next several days, he tried to arrange a chat time when he could tell me the rest of this great story.  My curiosity was definitely piqued.  By the time we were finally able to start a conversation, however, things had changed.

Hi, Charley

Hey, Jim.

Wow, good to see you.

So, what’s up?

Oh…first, wanted to thank you for the encouragement you’ve been giving me to get writing again.

You tell good stories.

Oh, I’ve got a great one, if I survive the next week.

The date bars…were waiting for me when I went back home for a visit…compliments of an old friend of ours.

(I knew who he meant)

(He went on.)

My wife of nearly 30 years and I have discovered…we have drifted apart since the kids have all vacated..  I ran into our mutual friend on FB last year.  Notes led to chat…to phone calls…to visits…to 2 kids from 40 years ago falling crazy in love for each other…my divorce will be very soon….She has been divorced for over 20 years…Neither of us were looking…but found we shared tons of life experiences…date bars being one…so when I came up for a visit this past week…she had a warm batch waiting…………last night she informed me she is frightened of commitment, and pulled the plug…so my writing inspiration…has left me a bit shell shocked….I’m still moving back, but it’s gonna be very lonesome…right now is more of a “making it thru tomorrow” thing…she had become my world…………

I didn’t know what to say.  I said very little.  I said I was sorry.  That sort of stuff.  I knew he wanted to talk, but I had little experience with being a comforter.   I felt badly about my earlier “prophetic” comment about the hot date.

We chatted awhile longer, but I think he sensed my discomfort, and we said goodnight.

But, I didn’t turn out the light.  I couldn’t sleep.  I knew I had let my fried down.  I hadn’t known what to say.  So, I stayed up, and wrote down what I should have said.  I reinvented the story as it should have played out.  I told my story.

Dear Jim,

I haven’t got a clue as to how to comfort, counsel, or help you through this journey you are traveling in your life right now.  I am a writer.

If I were a counselor, I would try to counsel you.  If I were a theologian, I would try to persuade you.  If I were your best friend, instead of just a friend, I would either say, “there, there,” or I would try to rescue you, and turn you around.  I would know which one to do, too, because I would be your best friend.

But, I am none of these, Jim.  I am a writer.  All I do is observe.  I take notes.  I listen.  I ponder.  I wonder.  I turn things over in my mind, and analyze them.  Sometimes, they make sense.  Sometimes, they don’t.  I write them down, anyway.

I feel sadness, happiness, gloominess, elation, sober somberness, heart swelling pride, drunken stupor, pain, sorrow, hope, relief, angst, ennui, conviction, doubt.

Sometimes people share too much with me, in social media, and I tell them so, in case they want to stop.  I am just being courteous. I don’t want them to stop.  More grist for the writing mill (names changed, of course).

Sometimes, I wish I were a counselor, a theologian, a best friend.  Sometimes, I wish I could put Humpty together again.

But, in the end, each person must discover who they are and where they are going on their own, and the best we can do is learn to listen, and only share when we are asked to share.  For heaven’s sake, we listen.  When we say we are “speaking the truth in love,” we are usually not.  If we pray for someone to have a “renewing of the mind, it’s because we think that we have the answer.  It’s one of those holier-than-thou things.  Even if it turns out we are right, it’s best not to appear holier-than-thou.  That just stratifies things.  We lose credibility when we act that way.

I once entertained the notion of divorce.  I was feeling anchored in sameness and insignificance.  Significance is a big deal to men. The elixir of a greener pasture let me color my world in neon shades of gray.

“They’ll get over it,” I reasoned.

“Don’t I have a right to be happy?”

“This is MY life!”

“What if God is wrong?”

What if there is no God?!”

Well, for me, that created a visceral dilemma.  If there were no God, then there would be no purpose, and if there were no purpose, then anything could be justified, including murder, mayhem, debauchery, and sin, because the definition of “sin” would be relative, instead of fixed.  I was tangled in an intellectual wrestling match between passion and truth.

Pascal’s dilemma.  It’s not a bet.  It’s an unsolvable paradox to finite minds.  That’s why they call the solution faith.  Faith is the calm acceptance that there is no truth that can be absolutely known unless it is revealed by one who absolutely knows.  Well, that counts out you and me, does it not?

The object of my affections, who knew where I was headed before I did, one day turned to me and said, “You are obsessed with me.  Just remember one thing: I am not a side dish!”

When she could see I was formulating a response, she added as icily as she could, “I have never been attracted to you,” and walked away.

Thus ended an affair that never began.

Later, when I was finally able to remove those rosy glasses, and see how embarrassingly I had been acting, I wrote a song called, She Knew.

 I dug around in some old boxes, last week, and found some of those old cassettes.  Next, I had to find a cassette player.  Remember those?  Long story, short, I made a digital copy.

She Knew

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She knew before I knew,

And it was over before it began.

I burned, and then I learned

What a woman can do to a man.

 She said, “It’s in your head.”

And I felt the pain of “goodbye.”

She turned and walked away,

And I thought I would die.

I didn’t know what I would do.

She knew.

Women can read the warning signs

When a man begins to stray.

Flashing from integrity,

Little neon shades of gray.

Long before I faced myself,

And discovered the fool I am,

She knew.

One cup.  “Hey, what’s up?”

“Nothing.  How are things with you?”

“Oh, so, so…you know.”

“Yeah, I think I do… m-me too.”

One look, all it took,

And I was falling in love with my friend.

Thought we were headed for a “new beginning.”

She called it “the end.”

I didn’t know what I would do.

She knew.    

Women can read the warning signs

When a man begins to stray.

Flashing from integrity,

Little neon shades of gray.

 Long before I faced myself,

And discovered the fool I am,

She knew.

I said, “No, no, no, I’m not looking for an affair.”

She looked at me, and said, “You’re already there.”

Long before I faced myself,

And discovered the fool I am,

She knew.     

She knew.


So, then, nothing really happened, did it?

There is a scripture verse that says, “if you lust after a woman, you have already committed adultery with her in your heart.”

I have to ask you, Jim, who showed more depth of character, the compromising, rationalizing church-goer, or the party girl who said, “I am not a sidedish”?   When I stepped back from Fantasy Island (actually, I was kicked off), I saw things more clearly.  I received counseling.  I appreciated prayers.  I was supported by best friends.  I remembered my vows.  They were covenant words.

I had hurt my wife emotionally during those days, and had a lot of rebuilding to do.  Forgiveness does not automatically mean restoration.

There is a phrase, from a book called, Sacred Marriage, that says, “What if God intended marriage more to make me holy than to make me happy?”

What if it’s not all about me?  Does that mean an unhappy marriage is eternally doomed?  I don’t know.  That hasn’t been my experience.  The road my wife and I have traveled has had it’s missteps, but the journey has been worth it. I am satisfied with my own significance, or should we say, content with it.  It is the road we’ve taken.  My experience is that when you focus on the vow, instead of the feelings, the heart will follow.

  It’s All About Your Heart



                        Deep inside of everyone,

                        Where the beat goes on, the intent is done.

                        Pure, or deceitful, who can know?

                        You know, the mind don’t dwell where the heart don’t go.


                        From the Word of Truth, let the truth be known:

                        Feet don’t wander on their own.

                        Hands don’t play where the heart doesn’t stray,

                        And eyes don’t turn where the heart don’t burn.


                        You see, it’s all about your heart.

                        It’s all about your heart.

                        Not what you do, not what you say,

                        But, that’s a good place to start.


                        People’ll come, and people’ll go,

                        Some’ll be true, but some are just “show”.

                        Choose this day, to match His Way,

                        It’s all about your heart.