My Hope In The Shadows…

     Sitting here at my computer and staring out the window, I ponder how it is an unusually overcast and gloomy day for late March. Outside, the wind blows noisily through the trees, stirring up a chill that permeates the spring air and causes me to release an involuntary shiver from within. Belatedly, I realize that I have left the bedroom window cracked open, and now the whistling wind rushing through has brought with it a coldness that begins to fill the room.

     Oftentimes when I become distracted, my mind tends to drift away and carry me to a faraway place somewhere in my past. Although there are quite a few moments in my past that I repressed for many years, there are still many that I remember quite fondly. It is these moments that come flooding back during idle daydreams, bringing a warm touch to fill my being. Indeed, they bring a smile to my face as I vicariously relive them through my memory. The gloomy chill that fills the air on this cold Saturday slowly gives way to a warm summery day as I sit and let my mind carry me to another time.

     I often like to tell people that as a child and adolescent of the 80s and 90s, I grew up in a world that was simultaneously analog and digital. As a kid growing up in rural Mississippi in the late 80s and early 90s, electronic objects to occupy our time were far and few in between; in fact, they were virtually non-existent in my household. As a result, my younger brother and I were often left to our own devices in the summertime, and it was up to us to create our own forms of entertainment. Although we grew up in a small rural town and lived part of those years in the remote countryside, I do not recall us ever being bored. Whether it was having mud-track races behind the shed with our toy cars, fishing in the pond, or zipping through the pasture in our two-seater go-cart in search of our next adventure, we were never bored. One of our favorite pastimes, and a real summertime treat to us, was going to one of three local creeks for an adventure day. Within the wide banks of these creeks, the noisy waters flowed swiftly and created a wonderful backdrop for many summertime adventures. My brother and I were both accomplished swimmers, and the creeks were not big enough to ever permit a fear of drowning to enter our minds.

      Our favorite creek was the beautiful White Sand Creek just down the road from our home. We could literally walk to it from our house and for two young Mississippi boys, it might as well have been heaven. This magical place was the setting for many a summer adventure; in this place, the waters flowed swift and clear, and the beautiful white sand bars felt like a fiery powder under our feet as we ran across them chasing each other. We spent our time alternately splashing around in the water and then searching for treasures such as pieces of driftwood or unusual rocks that we would find lining the banks of the creek. We delighted in digging crawdads out of their holes. If we were lucky, we might spot a frog or perhaps a turtle or two sunning itself on a log. Attempts to catch the turtles were usually futile, as the elusive reptiles seemed to have an inherent sense of our presence and jump into the water before we could reach them. There were times when we would engage in games of hide and seek as we hid in the bushes that lined one bank of the creek. Other times we would float on our backs and see how far the current would carry us downstream before mother began to holler at us and tell us to come back. Sometimes, we would simply sit at the water’s edge in a shallow pool of water and watch the water as it ebbed and flowed around our bodies. We had moments where we would roughhouse, as young brothers are often apt to do, taking turns dunking each other in the water. I remember sometimes just simply sitting there on the banks of the creek, basking in the warm summer sun as I watched the waters flow by.  

     Even as a kid, I had a very active imagination, and I was often prone to daydreaming (which sometimes happened at the most inopportune times such as during lessons at school). One day, I noticed how at times, the clouds would cross the sun’s path, creating dancing shadows that would dart across the landscape. On one side of the creek, was a large forest that seemed scary to my young self. It was filled with bushes and giant hardwood trees that towered as high as the heavens. On the other side of the creek was a broad meadow of Technicolor green filled with cows who would briefly pause their grazing to look up and watch us as we swam in the creek. I loved to watch the shadows move across the meadow, and I took notice of the various shapes and patterns they would make. Sometimes, the clouds would come and the shadows would stay in place, signaling an impending summer storm looming on the horizon. When the clouds covered the landscape, they brought with them, temporary relief from the blazing summer sun. The air would get cooler, and the swiftly flowing waters would for a moment in time, seem darker and scarier. The cool waters that we had played in only moments before suddenly became a bottomless pit of eternal inky depths. Eventually, the clouds would part and I would turn my face to the sky, embracing the return of the sun’s warmth.

Young Pip, following Estella in Great Expectations (1946)

     Life is full of light and shadows. Ever since those early days of my childhood, I have been continually fascinated with the shapes, sizes, and movements of shadows. Sometimes, when the opportunity presents itself, I enjoy sitting outside as I watch the shadows dance their perfectly choreographed dance routine, dancing and fading in and out, synchronized to a mysterious number known only to nature. Part of this fascination is what led me to write a Master’s thesis on David Lean’s use of light and shadow in his film adaptations of Dickens’ Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948). One of my all-time favorite books is Great Expectations, and Lean’s ending deviated significantly from that of Dickens’; this was done in order to give viewers a happier ending. In Lean’s adaptation, Pip rushes into the interior of a ruined mansion to rescue his childhood sweetheart, Estella. In this ruined place, Estella sits in the darkness surrounded by objects in various states of decay. In what I believe is one of the most memorable moments in post-World War II British cinematography, Pip rushes into the room, yanks down the rotted draperies and throws open the windows. He shouts out to Estella, “I have come back to let in the sunlight…. Look, Estella, nothing here but dust and decay!” Pip was aware that nothing can live or thrive in the darkness of night. As he threw open the windows to let in the sunlight, he symbolically saved Estella from the shadows that cloaked her life.

I Have come to let in the light, Estella!

     Sometimes in our own lives, shadows come and cast darkness over every aspect of our lives. Sometimes, these shadows are only temporary, and they quickly pass by as they did across the pastoral landscape on those long-ago summer days. Other times, the shadows come, sink in, and begin to weave themselves into the tapestry of our lives. When this happens over a period of time, we may not even be aware of  how faintly the diminished and filtered light illuminates our lives. Just a few short years after those summer days at the creek, I would begin to get lost in my own shadows. These shadows would follow me around for many years and would keep me from walking in the light that I so desperately needed to be walking in during my formative and adolescent years. I lost my way for a very long time. Finding the Samson Society nearly 5 ½ years ago marked the beginning of my being able to emerge from my own shadows. To be able to walk forward with boldness and courage in my life. To allow the light back into my life as I ripped down my own rotted draperies. To admit my great, and continual need for other men who would walk with me and keep me from making a wrong turn that would ultimately lead back into the shadows. Men who would also call me out and point me back to the cross of Christ.

     We’re living in uncertain times right now. All we need do is turn on the news and we feel that there is a metaphorical shadow covering our world right now. We can’t let these shadows of doubt fill our lives and take root. In my own life, living in the shadows led to hopelessness and despair and could have very well been fatal. I don’t know what kind of things or repressed thoughts hide in your own shadows, but I do know that nothing can grow or thrive in that space. Fortunately, with Samson, we have the gift of a lifeline given to us; it is crucial that we continue walking alongside other brothers and with them, stand in the light that Christ gives us. It is so easy for me to retreat into my own shadows, and that place, my brothers, is a dangerous place for me to be. In the darkness, it is impossible to see the roadmap of where we are going, and it is so easy to take a wrong turn. We have hope in the shadows and the promise of light that shows us the way.

     We recently learned a new song in church a few months ago. Our music director instructed us that when we sang the chorus, we should lift our hands up whenever we sang the words that proclaimed what Christ meant in our lives. And as I proclaimed the words “you’re my hope in the shadows…”, I gratefully lifted my hands in the air.

You’re My HOPE in the Shadows!

     Some time ago, I was travelling on a day trip with my family and passed through the town of my childhood; this town is a place that I avoided for many years and no longer claim a connection to. And as we passed by the place where a part of me had remained lost in the shadows for many years, I caught a glimpse of my eleven-year-old self hidden where he had been left behind all those years ago. Silently, I called out to him…. “It’s going to be ok.” It will take many years, but you will eventually be ok. And for the most part, I am. The shadows still come, dancing their mysterious number across the landscape of my life before dissolving away. But today I have hope. I always have hope in the shadows. And you do too.

Many years later, my son looking down at White Sand Creek, Circa. 2019.

I heard Jesus Singing in an Old Ford Truck ~ “The Story of Old Henry”

Old Henry

Stephen and “Old Henry” the Ford truck in the country circa June 2016

Author’s Note:  No copyright infringement is intended by including the words to the Untitled Hymn in this blog entry.  This beautiful song of hope was composed by Chris Rice the lyrics are merely included here for illustration purposes.

“Come to Jesus” – I Heard Jesus Singing in an Old Ford Truck

 The Story of “Old Henry”

Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better to take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.

 ~ Carl Jung ~

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

~ Martin Luther King, Jr. ~

 For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.  ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:5 ~ (ESV)

          November 2011

          The November night was clear, yet unusually dark and cold.  The harsh orange glow of the overhead street lamps lit my path as I slowly made my way to the beige and brown Ford truck parked on the street.  The sound of the buzzing being emitted from the street lamps was drowned out only by the occasional rumble of a car passing down the ancient brick street.  With my heart heavy and my mind a million miles away, I unlocked the door and pulled myself up onto the bench seat of “Henry,” my old Ford F150.  As I sat in the cold darkness of the truck’s cab, I began to pray.  I prayed the same prayer that I’d prayed over and over during the last few months of my life; a prayer asking God where he was and why he was letting me go through the struggles that I’d been through.  After a few silent moments, I lifted my head and began to search my ring of keys for the one that would bring old Henry to life.  When I finally found Henry’s ignition key, I inserted it and woke him up from his slumber.  For a few moments, the only sound to be heard was the soft and familiar rumble of his V-8 engine – a sound that I’d come to find oddly comforting.  Suddenly without warning, the radio came to life; a radio that had not previously been working properly or even turned on.  As the chords of a familiar song began to strum through the old speakers, Chris Rice started to sing, and his words came and began to fill the emptiness of my heart.

Weak and wounded sinner
Lost and left to die
O, raise your head for love is passing by

Come to Jesus
Come to Jesus
Come to Jesus and live

 As I sat there listening to the song in shocked silence, while simultaneously shivering from the cold, I felt the tears began to fall.

I never really wanted an ugly old Ford truck.  During my high school years, I grew up driving big old trucks – old Fords and Chevys that had all seen better days.  Some guys are die hard loyalists to one brand of truck only, but I am not that way.  I have a particular fondness for all old trucks.  I’m not partial to any particular brand.  While I’d toyed for some time with the idea of purchasing a small truck to take to the lake or to take the dogs riding around in, what I’d had in mind had been a much smaller, late model pickup in relatively good shape.  Certainly, I’d never planned on buying a big old rusty 1988 Ford F-150 that was as ugly as sin.  Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment, or maybe there was something inherently special about Henry that drew me to him.  In any case, I ended up with a big old temperamental money pit of a Ford.  While he only had 93,000 actual miles on his odometer, Henry had definitely seen better days.  With his numerous battle scars and his homemade leopard print seat cover, it was apparent that this truck had lived a very useful life somewhere in the boondocks of Mississippi.  He had also been well loved until his original owner passed away, and he was parked for quite some time before I found him.

For some reason unknown to me, someone had done a real hack job on Henry’s fuse box.  When I took possession of him, I noticed that a lot of things didn’t work; or if they did, they worked sporadically and erratically.  There were a number of missing fuses.  There were fuses of the wrong amperage in the wrong slots.  There were blown fuses.  Some of his lights didn’t work, and his original vintage 1988 AM/FM radio wasn’t working either.  Eventually I ended up taking out all the fuses and replacing every one of them as well as replacing some of the wiring.  Even then, the radio still worked only intermittently.  I had plans to replace it at some point anyway.  At least that had been my plan until that cold November evening.  2011 was a very difficult year for my family.  We’d suffered losses including the loss of my grandmother who had passed away the month before from pancreatic cancer.  We had just buried her in October when I heard someone in my church sing Chris Rice’s “Untitled Hymn” the very next Sunday after her funeral.  I remember thinking to myself what an amazing song of hope it was.  Now there I was on that Wednesday evening when God used old Henry’s radio to play that same message of hope for me.  I know for a fact that the radio had not been turned on when I had parked the truck; it had not even been working earlier that night.  I also know for a fact that it was not tuned to K-Love, a local Christian music station.  I’d previously left it tuned to a country music station the last time it was working.  The sensible side of me knows that it must have been an electrical gremlin related to the fuse box mess.  The spiritual side of me knows that Jesus was sitting next to me on the bench seat in the cold as God gave me that song of comfort at just the right time in my life.

I’ve never been a very religious person.  I know that will come across as a bit surprising to those who know me, but it’s true.  Instead, I consider myself to be more of a spiritual person and I’d much rather focus on building relationships rather than going through rituals out of habit.  I do believe that God in his utmost sovereignty acts in such amazing ways to teach us valuable life lessons.  He places people and things in our lives and uses them in the most unlikely of circumstances to reach us and to teach us.  In this particular situation, he used a Ford to give me a message of hope. 

Now your burden’s lifted,
And carried far away,
And precious blood has washed away the stain… so

Sing to Jesus ,
Sing to Jesus ,
Sing to Jesus and live

 November 2011 – May 2014

In the months and years following that spiritual experience, Old Henry and I enjoyed some good times together.  For the most part, his radio continued to work as it was designed to, and I finally decided against replacing it with a newer and fancier model.  I guess a part of my subconscious has always wondered if God would someday speak to me through that old radio again.  While I have always loved driving Henry, I never made him my daily driver because he did (and still does) have a penchant for gulping fuel like it was going out of style.  He also doesn’t have the most stellar track record for reliability.  With his dual fuel tanks, keeping gas in Henry was often an expensive proposition.  Still, I managed to have good times with him.  My wife and I would load up the dogs and go have a picnic at the reservoir, or I’d take my late grandfather riding around in Henry.  I think I inherited my love of old trucks from him and he loved Henry as much as I do.  I have some really good memories in that truck.  Still, I managed to only put 5,000 miles on Henry in 5 years time.  Maintaining an older vehicle takes a lot of time, effort and money;  but more money than anything else.  Eventually, Henry started requiring more and more work to keep him running, and I started driving him less frequently.  In May of 2014, I had Henry’s cooling system re-done and discovered that he needed a lot more work than I wanted to undertake at the time.  I think the last time I ever drove Henry was around June or July of that year.  Not wanting to have him take up driveway space at my house, I parked him 20 miles away at my great-aunt’s house in the country and promptly forgot about him.  I would occasionally drive out to the country and crank Henry’s engine when I remembered to, but I eventually forgot to do that as well.  As the days turned into weeks, and the weeks into months, Henry sat and slowly continued to deteriorate; however, he was always in the back of my mind. 

And like a newborn baby,
Don’t be afraid to crawl,
And remember when you walk sometimes we fall… so

Fall on Jesus,
Fall on Jesus,
Fall on Jesus and live

April 2015 

 2015 quickly proved to be the most challenging year of my life.  For reasons that I won’t get into at this time, the events that took place in the first three months of 2015 caused me to lose, to suffer, to grieve and to eventually to shut down.  I began to lose hope in people and even started to question my faith.  I know now that my suffering was minor compared to what many believers have gone through.  In my mid 30’s, I’m just now realizing and understanding that loss is an integral part of life here on earth and none of us are immune to it or exempt from it.  The trials that we go through solidify us as humans, and it is our hope which gives us perseverance.  When we lose hope, we have truly lost everything.  In early April 2015, I began to once more think about poor old Henry sadly sitting and being neglected out in the country.  His battery was already pretty old when he was parked, so months of sitting and being unused had discharged it to the point where I found it necessary to remove it and put it on the battery charger for several hours.  I went and got his battery out then brought it home to Clinton and tried to get it charged again.  On April 5, 2015, Easter Sunday, we went to visit my great aunt that evening after church.  I took Henry’s battery with me and had planned to re-install it and get him running again.  It was a dreary, chilly, rainy afternoon.  With my wife holding the umbrella and a flashlight, I opened Henry’s creaky hood and proceeded to hook the battery up.  There was just one problem.  At some point in Henry’s lifetime, someone had changed the battery cables out so that both positive and negative cables were now black.  I didn’t remember which way the battery posts were facing when I’d taken the battery out and didn’t even think about tracing the cables to see which one was going where.  Suddenly, as I hooked the cables up, a giant flash of sparks that rivaled some of the best Independence Day fireworks displays I’ve ever seen materialized before our eyes.  A giant fireball shot out of the engine compartment accompanied by an equally loud bang.  The words of the song I’d heard years ago came rushing back to me: Come to Jesus…Come to Jesus… I just knew at that moment that Denise and I were about to meet Jesus!

I know that many who read this probably aren’t mechanically inclined and aren’t acutely aware of the repercussions that arise from accidentally reversing the battery cables when installing an automotive battery.  If you don’t know the outcome of such a horrible mistake, I first and foremost encourage you to never try this at home with your own vehicle!  Needless to say, just about every electrical component all the way back to Henry’s firewall was fried.  Suddenly, Henry needed a lot more than just a new battery.  Fortunately, his fusible links blew as designed, and this saved the surge from destroying any electrical components from the firewall on back.  But everything under the hood was a mess.  In disgust, I slammed the hood shut and proceeded to forget about him for about 5 more months.  I was angry with myself for being so stupid, angry with the world, and angry at a certain old Ford for being such a costly nuisance and aggravation.  

Sometimes the way is lonely,
And steep and filled with pain,
So if your sky is dark and pours the rain… then

Cry to Jesus,
Cry to Jesus,
Cry to Jesus and live

September 2015 

Spring and summer of 2015 came and went and old Henry continued to sit and rot.  His tires began to go flat as his paint baked and oxidized under the brutal Mississippi sun.  I quit going out to the country because I couldn’t stand the sight of the truck just sitting there.  Occasionally the question of what to do with old Henry would come up in the course of our conversation, and my wife and I never could seem to arrive at mutual solution.  I toyed with the idea of selling him as he was while my wife toyed with the idea of calling the junkyard to come pick him up.  Deep down inside, I somehow knew that neither was the right thing to do.  Fortunately, I decided to postpone the decision until I finally decided in the fall of 2015 to have him fully repaired and put back on the road.  Time had not been kind to Henry, and his problems had continued to multiply as he sat in the weather.  When the tow truck came to pick him up, yellow jackets had built their nest underneath him and literally gave us a run for our money.  In the end, I finally ended up fixing everything that was wrong with Henry and made a promise to him that he’d be driven at least a couple of times each week and would never again be parked and forgotten. 

O, and when the love spills over,
And music fills the night,
And when you can’t contain you joy inside… then

Dance for Jesus,
Dance for Jesus,
Dance for Jesus and live

March 2016         

Since bringing Henry back to life, we have traveled nearly 2,000 miles together.  I guess you could say that we’ve made up for lost time.  Today, he runs better than he ever has and I keep his radio constantly tuned to K-Love.  Whenever I drive old Henry, I’m always reminded of God’s never ending love for me.  You see, everything has a story, no matter how small or insignificant it may be.  This just happens to be Old Henry’s story.  I’ve thought for a long time how I could share it in a way that would also share the message of hope that we have through God’s unfailing love for his children.  I know that Old Henry is just a truck.  He is nothing more than nearly a ton of Detroit steel that has been rusted and battered by years of use and neglect.  He’s nothing more than an inanimate object – a tool if you will – designed for hauling people and cargo.  I’m not a materialistic person in the least, and material possessions have little significance to me.  But I will say this –  Henry is a special truck.  Of the many vehicles I’ve driven and owned through the years, he’s the only one I’ve ever had a bond with.  I don’t know what the future holds for old Henry or even for myself, but I do know that for as long as I have him I will continue to maintain him, care for him, and constantly be listening to his radio for any new message God has for me.  He will never be parked out in the country again, alone and forgotten.

Several people have asked me if I have future plans to restore old Henry.  While some might argue that he is still fairly presentable considering his age, 28 years of time are definitely showing.  My answer is no.  I like Henry just the way he is with his many scrapes, bumps, dents and rust.  You see, these flaws are a part of who he is.  Every dent, every scratch, and every crease tells a part of his story.  Even if I wanted to spend the exorbitant sum of money that it would take to remove these flaws and restore old Henry, he would never be the same as he is now.  He would lose his character.  He’s not a show truck by any means, and he never will be.  Instead, he’s a truck that is accepted for what he is.  In spite of all his flaws, I think he’s a great truck.  We as humans are like old Henry.  We are not perfectly kept show vehicles either.  We all have many flaws, imperfections, and battle scars that mar us.  We can attempt to hide behind a beautiful and restorative veneer of our own making, but in doing so we risk losing sight of who we really are and the river that we’ve traveled down in life.  But in spite of these imperfections, God still loves us and accepts us just as we are.  Sometimes we feel the pain of being alone – forgotten and abandoned like an old Ford truck.  But I know that there is one who will never forget me or abandon me.  Just as I ultimately ended up not giving up on old Henry, our heavenly father never gives up on us and loves us unconditionally for who we are.  I know that now.  I still face struggles in my faith and in life, but I know that God will not give up on me.  Sometimes God shows up and calls out to us in the most unlikely of places and when we least expect it; but it is always when we need it the most.  I really did hear Jesus singing in an old Ford truck.  All we have to do is Come to Jesus and Live!


March 5, 2016


“Old Henry” and Stephen, Circa May 2014.