When I was a young boy and spent much of my time down on the panhandle of Florida with my Granny and Grandpa Tharpe, there was one woman who fascinated me and of whom I was scared half to death. No, it wasn’t my Granny; I was in awe of her. It was Granny’s next door neighbor. Her name was Irene; and she lived in a little house to the left of the Granny’s, if you were facing the place. While Granny’s house was light and airy, Irene’s place was a dark affair. It had live oaks festooned with Spanish moss overhanging the front porch. Wisteria vines clung to the railings and worked their way up the cypress and catawba trees which shaded the rest of the house. Old tar laced roll roofing acted as siding so the house was a motley combination of brown paper and black tar, and the yard was in a perpetual state of disarray.
I don’t know why she scared me so. Perhaps it was the sheer size of the woman, or the evil glare from underneath those seldom washed black bangs of hers, or maybe it was the voice that sounded like a broom should be under it; but one way or the other, I avoided her like the plague. Nonetheless, I was a little boy and apt to be mischievous and a bit restless as most little boys tend to be. In that there were no video games back then to occupy my time and no Ritalin to quell my urges, I tended to get into a bit of trouble from time to time. That being said, I usually had some help.
You see, I have a second cousin by the name of Scott, and back then he had a gift for coming up with devious things to do and having someone else do them; and in that I enjoyed his company, the role of someone else often fell to me.
One late summer Sunday afternoon while the old folks were sitting around visiting, Scott and I were playing in Granny’s backyard. As the afternoon wore on interest in our normal pursuits began to fade, and we started looking for some adventure. After a while Scott’s gaze fell on the enchanted house next door and through a double dare and the dreaded phrase “What are you scared of?” he convinced me to sneak over to Irene’s house, knock on the door and run. Being young and stupid, at least one thing has changed since then, I decided to give it a try. So with a stealth that would make a sniper proud, I slithered through the forest of old pots, rusted car parts, and unkempt weeds without making a sound to her back door and knocked, not just once, but three times to prove I was immune to fear.
When I heard her heavy footsteps coming in my direction, my immunity vanished and I turned tail and ran as fast as I could; but in the midst of my terror I somehow lost my footing, tripped over my feet and fell head long into her flowerbed. Laying there with a face full of forget-me-nots, I heard the back door open, caught just a whiff of sulfur on the air and heard those hobnailed boots coming my way. My life, short as it was, flashed before my eyes.
It was then that I discovered three things. First of all a two hundred and fifty pound woman can be surprisingly swift on her feet, secondly a seven year old boy can’t get much traction with newly watered forget-me-nots under his feet and finally my second cousin could disappear faster than anybody before or since on two feet.
I will dispense with the nasty details, but I soon found myself being held by the scruff of my neck in my Granny’s living room while a bunch of old ladies examined me. Most were just a bit shocked at my appearance, or maybe it was Irene’s. My Granny, however, just looked at me sternly with a slight grin, and I think a little gleam of admiration in her eye. She then asked for an explanation. I told her that Scott made me do it.
I will never forget her reaction. From under her grin her teeth appeared, and then from behind the teeth came a glorious belly laugh. When she finally caught her breath, she simply said “Scott who?” I said “You know, Scott, my cousin.” Then she lost her smile and said “The only Scott I see is Anthony Scott Rowell.” Somehow I had forgotten that Scott was my middle name.
I spent the rest of that day breaking the Sabbath by cleaning Irene’s house from top to bottom to pay for the flowers I had destroyed, and on Monday I replanted the garden, cleaned the backyard and mowed the grass or what passed for grass. Scott, my cousin Scott, on the other hand, headed off to the Chipola River and spent the day fishing.
I tell this story for a couple of reasons. First and foremost I simply enjoy reliving days gone by when things seemed to be a bit simpler, and secondly I tell it as a bit of a warning to those of us who tend to try to cast off personal responsibility for our actions. Remember, if the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, the road to nowhere is paved with excuses.
All too often the human tendency is to cast about for something or someone to blame when things don’t go our way. My challenge to all of us is to look upward and inward for solutions to the challenges we face in life.
The possibilities are endless. Who knows what God has planned for your life? My prayer for you is that you allow Christ to set the agenda. With Christ at the wheel and the Holy Spirit filling your sails, you can have no excuse for anything other than a blessed life.