Monday, November 30, 2009

A Country Music Song

My cousin Mike and his lovely wife Sarah came down from Nashville this weekend to visit. They were married a few months ago, so this was the first time we've had to visit since the wedding. I took Mike hunting Saturday morning, and we were all tickled that he bagged a nice ten-point buck. Sarah and Becky did some shopping and toured the Auburn campus while we were in the woods.

Saturday afternoon we sat around and visited and watched some football on T.V. Sarah told us some about her first husband, who is a fairly successful country music song writer. I don't listen to "modern" country music, so I was probably not sufficiently impressed as she listed some of the stars he writes songs for (I thought "Diamond Rio" was a jewelry store at the mall). This guy has apparently made a very nice living and won some major awards in Nashville. Mike remarked that he needed to learn to write songs so he could experience some of that wealth and recognition.

The conversation turned to this and that. Tired from hunting, Mike stretched out on the couch with his head in Sarah's lap. Somehow, we got on the subject of computers, and more specifically laptop computers. Someone remarked that they could never get on their laptop since the other person was always using it.

And then it hit me--there's your country song.

So, this is my first (and probably last) attempt at country music song writing. It's called "Why are you on my laptop, instead of on my lap?"

My nights sure seem so lonely,
I can't find much to do.
I read and watch some T.V.
But I'd rather be lovin' you.
Since you started that Facebook stuff,
I'm left to sit alone.
I haven't felt so lonely
Since I was out on my own.

Don't you want my arms around you
every night of the week?
Sitting on our couch at night
Lovin', cheek to cheek.
I got to ask you honey,
Wouldn't we both like that?
So why are you on my laptop
Instead of on my lap?

What do you find on that Internet
that's so much more than me?
Are you chatting with some other guy
Living in a fantasy?
I know you can surf most anywhere
there's so much online to see.
But that cyber stuff ain't flesh and blood
That can love you like me.

Don't you want my arms around you
every night of the week?
Sitting on our couch at night
Lovin', cheek to cheek.
I got to ask you honey
Wouldn't we both like that?
So why are you on my laptop
Instead of on my lap?

If you don't log off real soon girl
I'm headed out the door.
And we'll find ourselves both on our own
Like we were before.
You can stay in your electronic world
but you know I'll be alright,
'cause I'll find a girl that wants real love
and knows how to treat me right.

You need the real thing honey
And you know we'd both like that.
So please get off my laptop
And come and get on my lap.

Anybody know how to play the fiddle? Have your people call my people.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Over the River

The Opelika Cliftons will soon be gathering to head "over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house" for a Thanksgiving feast.

The river is the Tallapoosa, crossed on a four-lane bridge on US 280 at Alex City. There will be a few nice creeks crossed on the journey as well, which will attract little notice from the travelers. Creeks with equally lyrical Indian names: Saughahatchee, Chattasofka, and Socapatoy. Names and places much older than the holiday that demands their crossing today. The hardwood and pine woods will be designated by five counties, names also Indian or early statesman or soldier: Lee, Chambers, Tallapoosa, Coosa, Clay, and finally Talladega. We will stop short of the actual town, Sylacauga, which is also an Indian name that means "buzzard roost." Yes, I am from buzzard roost. But that is a story for another day. Today the focus is on "grandmother's house". Grandmother is my mom.

The sheer volume and deliciousness of food at this annual gathering will be shocking. There will be turkey, of course, but likely also a country ham. There will be cornbread dressing, giblet gravy (actually two giblet gravies because my brother doesn't like chopped egg in his), squash, green beans, scalloped potatoes, sweet potato casserole, cranberry sauce, vegetable slices, deviled eggs, and various kinds of pickled things (slaws, relishes, etc.). There will be several varieties of casseroles. And of course, the homemade rolls--good for soppin' or just plain good by themselves.

If you are able to survive all that, then comes desert. Probably three or four pies (pecan, sweet potato, cherry cream cheese, and peanut butter) and a couple of cakes. Maybe even some cookies, just in case none of the other sweets strike your fancy. Weight can be gained just by looking, and I can assure you there will be more than just looking.

Almost all of this bounty will be bought and prepared by my mother. She is the glue that holds what remains of this small family together. The extravagant meal is prepared with time and effort, but also with love. At the end of the meal each year, someone will invariably point out the obvious--that this was way too much food--way overdone--and vow that we will not do this next year. But I know we will, as long as mom is able to do it. It is her way, among other ways, of showing her love for us. This gift is taken seriously, so much so that if I call on Saturday and say, "Mom, I'm coming up to visit tomorrow--let's go out to eat," she will likely say "But I've got this roast I can fix us..."

The family has held together for another year. There will be Becky and I, along with our sons John and Kyle. John's girlfriend, Taylor, will be joining us this year, separated from her other family in Mobile. Becky's parents will also be there, although her dad will be a little more feeble than in year's past. My brother and his beautiful wife Wendy will be there. This will be Wendy's second Thanksgiving as a Clifton (she hasn't run away screaming yet, so I guess she's going to make it). My brother finally found her after year's of searching, and their happiness together in their second year of marriage is touching. Sometimes so much so that I have to sternly say "You'll stop, you're making me sick." But I couldn't be more pleased for them. Good things do sometimes come to those who wait.

My dad will be absent from all this. It is hard to believe that he has been for twenty-three years. I am approaching the age at which he died, which is a strange feeling for me. I often wonder if the thoughts I have--my views, my outlook-- are similar to what he was thinking at the same age back then.

The great John R. Cash once sang "Let the Circle be Unbroken". I am thankful, this year, that our remaining little family circle still holds for another year. Because I realize all too well that one day it will, like Johnny's, be only rejoined in the "bye and bye".

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Short-term Missionary

I wrote this little poem after a church group trip to Honduras several months ago. There are those who are critical of these short trips, contending that they do little long-term good for the people they attempt to help. I can't argue how much they impact the visited, but I do know a little about the impact on the visitors. The effect on my life has been profound.

Short-term Missionary

We dutifully assemble from scattered flocks
every summer trickle to steady stream.
A single week to put feet to Faith
Winged migration South, early May until around Labor Day.

Wearing our matching day-glo t-shirts
printed with churchy slogans or perhaps
razor blade snippets of the Ancient Word.
We are coming to save you.

Giddy and obnoxiously loud in the airport.
Nervously departing the "First World" like the Conquistadors before us.
American dream packed along for the journey: Laptop, I-pod, Blackberry.
Useless trappings of our affluence on public display.

We will return redeemed or beyond absolution.
Unexpectedly transformed by the very ones
we pretentiously thought to help.
Repentance is, after all, a change in direction.

Salvation for and from ourselves.
Baptism in the smile of a Honduran child.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

"The Girl": Visited and Revisited

In previous posts I told you a story about a friend of mine in Honduras who I refer to as "the Girl". I wanted to write a brief update of our visit with her on our recent trip to Honduras.

There is an excellent Christian ministry in Tegucigalpa called "The Micah Project" that helps boys get off the street (and usually off drugs, as well) that we became familiar with through our association with the Girl. She has three brothers who have come through their program; so my wife contacted one of their staff members to see if they could assist us in making contact with her. It happened that two of the brothers were celebrating birthdays the weekend we were in Tegu, so Micah graciously arranged a birthday party for them. We were invited, as well as the Girl and her mom.

The party was an evening affair. I mention this because the Micah House is in a really rough section of Tegucigalpa. We had visited once before in broad daylight, and I can assure you that it was one of the few times I have ever been nervous about my safety in Honduras. I got the feeling on that visit that I would soon be "dead meat" if our host Michael Miller didn't command so much respect for the work he does there in the neighborhood. And on the occasion of this visit, it was dark. I don't mean dimly lit. I mean dark as in "no light at all." This particular evening, the power was completely out in this section of Tegucigalpa. So our visit was to be entirely by candle light.

The Girl was friendly and seemed truly glad to see us. After assurances that we still loved her and weren't "mad at her", we were able to have a relaxed conversation for about two hours. We made an earnest attempt to catch up on all the events in our lives since we'd last spoke. She is pregnant--due in January. She was initially living with her baby's father, but he lost interest in her when she got pregnant, and takes no responsibility for her or the unborn child. She lost her job (I assume due to the pregnancy) and is living in a small house with her mother and two brothers. They have little money, relying totally on the meager income from the older brother.

In spite of these prospects, the Girl remains positive. She tells me of her plans to go back to work after the baby comes, and of her continued hope to be able to go to university some day. She confides that she is very lucky to be able to live at home with her mom, as mom can help watch the baby as she pursues these dreams. I smile a lot and nod, encouraging her as best I can. I tell her that she faces difficulties, but she can do it.

At no time does she ask for money. I give her a little anyway. It won't be enough for the days that lie ahead.

The time we spent by candlelight that evening was much too short. As we were leaving, the Girl's mom stopped, kissed my cheek, and said something in Spanish that I didn't understand. But that was O.K. In that dimly lit moment, we were united across cultures by a Girl we both love.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Hurricane Ida and TWC

Hurricane Ida is approaching—and I’m sure the folks at the Weather Channel are absolutely giddy. I’ll bet Cantore is probably stationed on the beach somewhere around Pensacola or Mobile, grim-faced and braced against the howling winds and stinging rain. Surely decked-out in his official Weather Channel slicker, goggles on, feet slightly wider than shoulder width to withstand hurricane force wind. There will be impressive graphics and updates all through the evening, with intense dialogue like this:

Alexis: “Now we go to our storm expert Jim, live on the beach at Pensacola. How’s it going, Jim?”

Jim: “Well, it’s definitely getting rougher out here. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to hold up before I have to take shelter in the Holiday Inn. It’s really coming down.” (camera pans around Jim—just looks dark).

Alexis: “It looks really bad. Was that a garbage can lid I just saw blow by?”

Jim: “Yes Ally, it was. This is really a situation we have here. I wish more people would have heeded my advice to secure their lids. But now we’ll just have to wait and see how many cans are lid-less when the sun comes up tomorrow morning.”

Alexis: “How about the surf? Is it bad?”

Jim: “Yes. The waves are really getting frothy. Kind of reminds me of the sudsy surf I experienced in Destin in 2002.”

You’ll have to let me know about all this. I quit watching The Weather Channel about four years ago when I felt they went off the deep end with their coverage. Before that, I was a Weather Channel junkie—so much so that family and friends made fun of me about it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not minimizing hurricanes--they are serious business. We went through one here in central Alabama (Opal) in 1995. It rained about a foot before the winds hit. Opal blew down about a million trees, seventeen of which were in my yard. The worst part was that she hit during the night. The power went first, followed by howling wind and terrible crashing noises in the blackness. I was doing what I normally do during the night, sleeping, when Becky suggested that I join her, our kids, and an old bird dog we had at the time in the hall of our house. I knew immediately that she was really scared—that dog had never been allowed inside before. That was a long night. Our only contact with the outside world was a local country radio station, which reported crucial information like “I think our station's garbage can just blew away”.

I hope that Ida is not too bad and people won’t get hurt. I also hope that the Weather Channel folks have a good time, and I’m sure they won’t miss me. I’ve gone back to getting my weather like my daddy did—I just walk outside. If I get wet, I know it’s raining.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

And Now for a Brief Commercial...

I want to recommend a great place to stay if you ever have reason to visit Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

We stay at the Humuya Inn (pronounced "Who Moo Ya"). It is very reasonably priced (rates are about what you would expect at a Holiday Inn in the U.S.) for the quality of rooms and the service that you receive. Among the features we enjoyed:

  • A large comfortable room, beautifully decorated, with air conditioner and t.v.
  • Private bathroom with the best shower I have ever had anywhere in Honduras (actual hot water and good water pressure)
  • Wireless internet
  • A large lobby with comfortable furniture, including a big screen T.V.
  • Room T.V.'s include many U.S. network channels (I even got to watch Tennessee vs. Alabama)
  • A great interior courtyard with tropical plants where I watched hummingbirds while I drank my morning coffee
  • A rooftop plaza with a spectacular view of Tegucigalpa
  • Top notch security, including a doorman at the entrance and a safe in each room
  • Free continental breakfast
  • Good food with friendly service.
One important feature is the quality of the staff. Scott Crook is a North American who has created a top-notch hotel out of what was once a private residence. Scott and his wife (and some of his staff) speak English, which is essential if you are linguistically-challenged like me. They were very helpful in making recommendations, arranging transportation (with quality taxi drivers) and going over and above the expected in ensuring that we had a pleasant stay.

I believe Scott has enough space to accommodate small groups and church teams. The next time your organization plans a mission trip, why not consider an extra day to relax and "regroup" before the flight back home? The airport is only minutes away from the airport, the Cascadas Mall, restaurants, and the Central Market district.

Please tell Scott that Ray Clifton sent you. You won't get a discount, but you will likely get a puzzled look and "Who?" for a response.

Check it out online at:

Monday, November 2, 2009

Making a Difference, Part II

In my last post I wrote about a Louisiana lady, Laurie Matherne, who is making a difference in the slums and poor neighborhoods near Tegucigalpa, Honduras. I wrote about her involvement in a feeding program through a medical clinic ministry called "His Eyes", but I wanted to mention a few other things that Laurie is doing.

The church Laurie works with, El Cuerpo de Cristo (The Body of Christ), shares a plot of land with the His Eyes Clinic in the village of Nueva Espania. This church also has a feeding program, providing nutritious meals to about 160 poor children every Sunday. The importance of a few good meals a week for these children is hard for us to grasp here in the States. But consider this: cheap food, which is mostly what these poor families can afford, tends to be "junk" food. I am reminded of this every time we visit Honduras and try to buy groceries. Most of the small neighborhood stores are filled primarily with chips, cookies, candy, and other sugar-laden processed foods. There is very little in the way of meats, vegetables, and fresh foods. As a result, malnutrition and related health issues such as diabetes are prevalent in Honduras. These feeding programs are a small but essential step in the right direction.

Laurie also offers and conducts English language instruction through the church. Many of her students are adults--the mothers of the neighborhood children. Laurie explained that their desire to learn English is primarily in order to be able to help their kids who are taking English in school with their homework assignments.

Another planned project is the establishment of a small library at the church. The importance of such a thing is again hard for us to comprehend here in the U.S., where almost every community has a library and a book store or two. But in most areas of Honduras, a safe place for children and adults to come and read is rare. Laurie's library is modest at present, containing only a few volumes. With time and additional donations, she hopes to add more titles, as well as additional shelves, tables and chairs. Her most requested book is the Bible.

Laurie Matherne is a busy lady, humbly following the example of Jesus Christ in a tough place. Her work is not high-profile or glamorous, and I would imagine that it is often frustrating and very lonely for a single lady so far from the comforts of home, friends, and family. And yet, this is what I believe the Bible teaches following Jesus is to be about--showing God's love by ministering to those in need; bringing hope to people who live in a place where hope is in short supply.

Please visit Laurie's blog and see how you can help support her efforts.