David C. Hughes, Writer

“For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your JOY will be complete." –Deuteronomy 16:15

Archive for the month “September, 2014”

At the End of the String (2014-09-24 Daily)

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

—Psalm 139:9-10 (NIV®)


I love to fly kites.  One of my earliest memories is of flying a kite off the end of a bridge under construction when I was four or five.  My family had hiked from our single-wide trailer in Vestal, New York, over the railroad tracks slicing through the woods, and onto the unfinished highway.  It was a sunny day, with a moderate breeze blowing out of the west, and we sat on the newly-hardened concrete and watched those multi-colored diamonds dance in the crisp air.  Thus began my love affair with all things that fly.

Fast-forward to when I was in high school, sometime in late winter or early spring.  By that time my family had moved from the trailer in Vestal to a three-bedroom, one-bathroom avocado green ranch house in the town of Maine, New York.  35 years ago Maine had no stop lights, and the town was known for containing a cow population larger than the resident human population.  And at fifteen or sixteen, I possessed a yellow delta-winged kite and an obsession to beat the world’s endurance record for a kite remaining aloft.

Against the odds and common sense, I launched the kite from the back yard one cloudy Sunday morning to hover over the several-hundred acre field behind our house.  No snow covered the ground, and the field lay brown and smashed from the winter’s previous storms.  The wind blew steadily all day from the northwest and the yellow kite, with its five-foot wingspan, flew itself as I tucked the string handle under a rock and hurried back to the house to warm up.  I’m sure I spent the rest of the day watching monster movies or building model airplanes in the basement while the kite did its job in the frigid air.

Darkness rolled in under heavy gray skies, but I knew my trusty delta-winged beauty remained aloft because of the angle of the string rising from that rock, and because I could still hear the muffled snapping of the fluttering wings in the blackness.  I was confident my kite, with its tenacity to keep flying in all but the lightest breezes, would hang out in the inky sky overnight.  That is, until it started sleeting.

The next morning the alarm clock rattled me awake for school, but as soon as I finished getting dressed I slipped on my boots, coat, and wool hat and ran outside.  My heart sank as I traced the white string in the early dawn gloom—it draped across the crowns of the winter-beaten weeds to the southeast corner of the field, near the tree line. The storm had knocked my trusty delta-winged beauty out of the sky.  I slogged through the field, my heavy boots crunching through the substantial layer of ice.  Wind cut through my coat and an occasional pellet of belated sleet tapped me on the shoulders, but all I could think about was my kite—it was my best flyer, and I hoped the ice and my stupidity hadn’t ruined it.

A hundred yards later I found the red keel sticking out of the blanket of sleet.  I pulled the kite from the ice, brushed it off, and inspected it—the wings had been dimpled, but otherwise it appeared okay.  I don’t know how long it had been lying under the sleet, but I was determined to re-launch both it and my bid for a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.  I held the kite over my head and the wind grabbed hold. It darted into the brisk air, eager to get on with it.

As I trudged back to the rock holding the kite handle, I ran my gloved hand along the string to pop it free from the clutch of the weeds.  Certain I’d restarted the clock for the record, I took one last look at that bruised piece of yellow plastic buffeting high above the field and finished getting ready for school.  The kite was still airborne when I climbed aboard the school bus smelling of diesel and ancient leather, and I vividly remember the neighbor kids talking about some idiot flying a kite in the sleet that morning.  I think they also used the word “stupid.”

Needless to say I didn’t break the world’s endurance record.  That came a few years later, in August 1982, when a team of flyers from Long Beach, Washington kept their kite flying for 180 hours 17 minutes—about 178 hours longer than my attempt.  Despite not having my name entered into the record book, I still love to fly kites—I own several—35 years after that failed endeavor.  I especially enjoy my black delta-winged kite, the one with three twelve-foot long nylon tails, blue and green and soft as silk.  That kite flies in any wind conditions, and is especially solid on windy days—a good quality for the plains of north Texas.

Maybe I like to fly kites so much because, in a way, they remind me of the resiliency, steadfastness, and grace of people of faith, with God firmly holding onto the handle at the other end of the string.  God reels us out with the wind and allows us to fly around to experience and learn and dance through life.  We dash, we rise, we descend.  Sometimes, when the wind becomes too strong, we may flip a cartwheel or spiral out of control.  Every so often we may even dive into the ground.  But Daddy is always there, holding on, relishing our beauty and freedom and joy in living.  He lets us out during the gusts, just enough to keep us stable.  He tugs on us when the wind dies down and we start to wobble and falter.  He gently reels us in when the winds aloft turn squirrelly and circumstances start pelting us with the sleet of challenging times.  But He’s always there, our anchor, our Rock.

When we do crash into the ground, He picks us up, repairs us, and re-launches us.  If our string breaks—or worse—if we cut our own string in an attempt to fly higher or farther on our own, He chases after us, watching when and where we fall, ready to put us back together, patch us up, tie us onto His bridle again, and lift us into the sky once more.

but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

—Isaiah 40:31 (NIV®)

I love to fly kites.  But what I love even more is being a kite, one of God’s beloved kites at the end of His string.  And I think He just might be using me to break a world’s endurance record.  I’ll let you know . . . .






Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes


Volunteer Rain (2014-09-19 Daily)

“Even in the familiar there can be surprise and wonder.”

―Tierney Gearon


I’m weather aware. I remember sitting in front of the TV with my dad watching hour after hour of The Weather Channel in its early days, tolerating the “Local on the 8’s” to catch the progress of an arctic cold front or to get the latest update on Tropical Storm Umberto. My fascination with weather may have originated from growing up in one of the most overcast regions in the United States (Binghamton, New York), or from endless hours watching the sky as I cloud danced in a Schweizer 1-26 sailplane. But it wasn’t until I moved to Texas that my weather awareness developed from fascination into fixation.

The wet, cold climate of upstate New York drove me to southern California, where I lived and worked in Santa Monica for eighteen months. It didn’t take long for me to start missing the damp upstate New York weather as I endured day after sunshiny day with temperatures in the 70s. I’m sure many would argue that’s perfect, but I much prefer thunderstorms, the changing seasons and the occasional ice storm to keep things fresh and interesting. So when the opportunity to transfer to Texas came up, I gladly jumped on that plane and rode it east.

I arrived in Texas on January 26th, 1988, and the day I arrived, the temperature climbed to a balmy 76 degrees. The next week, on February 2nd, it snowed, and I developed one of the worst sinus infections I’ve ever experienced. Two years in a row, during the same week in May, tornadoes knocked out power to the building where I worked, forcing us to go home for the day. The area received so much rain from 1989 through 1992 that the “normal” yearly precipitation level had to be adjusted upward. In 1995 hailstones as large as softballs pummeled Fort Worth, causing $2 billion in damage and injuring hundreds of people caught at the Mayfest celebration on Fort Worth’s west side. On March 28th, 2000 a tornado hit downtown Fort Worth dead center, blowing glass out of the high rise buildings and inflicting $500 million in damage to the city. For someone so weather aware, Fort Worth quickly became my Holy Grail. Except in the summer. And especially during this extended drought the entire state of Texas is now experiencing.

As I write this, the latest measurements by the National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office in the Dallas/Fort Worth area show that 82% of the state is experiencing drought conditions, from abnormally dry to exceptional drought. This summer, while cooler than recent years, has been frustratingly rain-free, especially where I live on the west side of Fort Worth, where we’re experiencing extreme drought conditions. Having a large garden, I’ve pumped my fist in the air more than once this year as storm clouds have built to the north or west and then drifted slowly eastward, either dissipating before they reach us, or skirting around us. If clouds had tongues they’d all be giving us the raspberry as they slide over the parched brown fields and wilted jalapeño pepper plants. Pecan trees that Hannah planted last year are now three inches tall instead of the average six to eighteen inches they should be. The only thing green around here is me as I watch storm after storm drop their cargo of abundant rain 20 miles to the east.

Because I’m weather obsessed, my morning routine starts out with a quick peek at the latest weather forecast before I start the day, and lately I’ve dismissed the rain chance predictions because anything between 0% and 100% really means 0%. The forecasters should do themselves a favor and just type 0% into the published forecast so we rain-hopefuls can just suck it up and accept the reality that it doesn’t rain around here anymore.

A few days ago I rolled out of bed at o’dark thirty to take our two fat dogs for a walk. Before I left the bathroom I checked my phone to see how cool it was outside, and noticed the tiny weather radar icon showed a blanket of green pixels overspreading our area. I tapped the icon to bring up the full-screen radar, and much to my surprise, it showed it was raining! But the weather forecasters hadn’t predicted rain, I thought. Is it really …? Could it be …? Is it actually … raining …?  I finished dressing and stepped out onto the back porch and into a veil of sprinkles. “Thank You, Jesus!” I prayed. The porch was still dry, the warm cement gulping up the light precipitation hungrily, and the smell of rain lay thickly in the air. Humidity draped its comforting arm over my shoulders. I smiled. Big. Leaving the dogs in the house, I opened the front door, stepped into the light shower, and walked two miles in it, praising and thanking God for the volunteer rain.

“Surprising sometimes means unpredictable, but it often means more,” wrote Brother David Steindl-Rast in Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer. “Surprising in the full sense means somehow gratuitous. Even the predictable turns into surprise the moment we stop taking it for granted.”[1] I’m convinced God sprinkles our daily paths with little treasures of surprise to find along the way. Why does He do this? For me, these little surprises—volunteer rain, a witty zinger spoken by my six-year-old daughter, or a shooting star lighting up my walk—unburden my heart and brighten my hope. They remind me that God is not only there, He’s also intimately involved in every detail of my life, even if I’m not paying much attention. These surprises—unjustified, uncalled for, unwarranted—inspire thankfulness and shift my attitude from self-centeredness and worry to confidence and trust. Jesus demonstrated time and again that gratitude leads to the miraculous, even if it’s a greater appreciation for the moment and all of its splendor.

Yesterday morning, as I sat in my office with the blinds open and watched a broken layer of cumulous stirred up by Hurricane Odile, I smiled as I recalled the wildly gyrating precipitation chances I’d seen over the past 24 hours. Because, as uncertain as the weather forecast can be, there’s always one thing certain about it: the weather, like God, always surprises and delights those who are open to the possibility of mystery and wonder. As Boris Pasternak, poet and novelist, once said, “Surprise is the greatest gift which life can grant us.” Surprise leads to gratitude, and from gratitude comes miracles. Now go run around in the rain if you can find it. And be surprised!


Copyright © 2014 by David C. Hughes

[1] Steindl-Rast, Brother David. Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer: An Approach to Life in Fullness. Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1984. 9.

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