Burning Sandals

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He walked in like a Hollywood movie star who was in-adept at being incognito. Shorts, bright patterned shirt, unbuttoned from the top to reveal a Brillo-pad of chest hair. Tall. Wide shoulders. Worn out flip flops. And sunglasses on a cloudy day.

Not knowing he had walked into a Christian book store he asked, “You got any magazines?”

“Sorry, no magazines. People in the coffee shop just read them and leave them lying around as if we were a library or a doctor’s office. Are you from out of town?”


I love engaging the customers. “What brings you to town?”

“I’m looking for the place that made my sandals.”

I glanced at his flip flops. “Are you talking about Birkenstocks shoe store down the street?”

“No, not there.” He came up to the counter and removed his sunglasses. “A few years back I had these really good sandals but lost one. I need to replace it.”

“You lost it?”

“Yes. I was a dancer for Elton John.”

Looking at his build, I could see that. “What happened?”

“Well, I was up on stage dancing to the song Tiny Dancer. After the song we took a break, and someone called out to me. I knelt down at the front end of the stage and he introduced himself. He was a photographer and he loved my sandals. He ask me if he could take a picture of them.”

I was hooked. A sandal. A dancer for a famous person. A mystery to solve. Wow.

“I told the man, yes, with one stipulation. That he send me a copy of the pic when it was developed. And that is how I lost my sandal,” he said matter-of-factly.

I was confused. “Did he steal it?”

“No. I got the picture in the mail and he had only taken a picture of only one of my sandals. ONE.”

I wrinkled my forehead.

He seemed to get agitated and slapped the counter. “And that’s why I lost my one sandal.”

“Wow, that’s interesting. Did you find the shoe store?”

“Yes and no. The place burnt down….AND THAT IS WHY THE WORLD IS GOING TO END IN FIRE!”

Before I could say anything, like I was sorry for his loss or something, he continued on and on quoting rock songs that mentioned fire to prove his point. I listened intently. Then he put on his sunglasses and leaned in.

“And did you know that the government is hiding all the UFOs in Western Kansas?”

I thought, Where? Kansas is nothing but miles and miles of nothing but miles.

He continued talking about aliens. When he took a breath, I asked him if he had a web site.

He handed me a business card. Yup. He had one.

I immediately got online to view the website. It was full of conspiracy Mumbo Jumbo—nothing made any sense. I was not surprised.

We said goodbyes. As he sauntered away, I thought of the verse in the Bible, “The day of the Lord will come as a robber comes. The heavens will pass away with a loud noise. The sun and moon and stars will burn up. The earth and all that is in it will be burned up.” 2nd Peter 3:10 and… all because of that man’s sandal.


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Precious Love

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Some people call him the Wizard. Or “that Precious Love guy”. I call him Rob. He called me… Sir Jonathan Moonshadow. Of course, that is not my real name. He says that when he looks at me, he sees the color blue. He likes blue. And yellow. He is a painter. He wears two hats at the same time. One an artist’s cap and on top of that—a cowboy hat. Black round glasses balance askance atop his thin nose making it difficult to see his eyes. His long dark hair and long scraggly black beard looks like a Brillo-pad exploded on his face. Lightening-like streaks of white scatter through this midnight tanglement.

His mouth never moved the same way twice when he talked, especially when he was smoking his cheap corncob pipe. He is thin, and when walking away, his shoulders look like someone forgot to take the clothes hanger out of his shirt.

I met him at my place of employment over eight years ago. I worked at a Christian bookstore that also had a coffee shop and an art gallery. Placed in a college town, it was frequented by students, preachers, and once in a while the ever-present homeless men and women of the town.

Rob came in and looked at the art. That is all. He didn’t talk to anyone. Didn’t look at the books. Didn’t get any coffee. At first, I took him for one of the indigents. Someone no one would ever speak to.

I said a kind ‘hello” to him every time he came in to no response. He was known for being extremely rude to people.

One-day he stood in front of a painting that I did not like, and I told him so. He came over to the counter and we struck up a short conversation about our favorite painters. His was Vincent Van Gough. I told him I was a writer. He said he also wrote. Poems. He shared a poem with me that he wrote. I told him I really liked it so he wrote it down for me in what looked like alien hieroglyphics. Unreadable to anyone but him. I remember one line: “the leaves of three dust winds”.

Not long after our first meeting, my wife of thirty years passed away. Sudden and unexpected. For some reason, I talked to Rob about her a lot. Without knowing it, he helped me grieve by just listening. He let me listen to him talk of his days when he was an up and coming artist. And his younger days of abuse and difficulty with his family. Rob ofttimes vehemently shared his hatred for his mother through clinched teeth and spittle on his wire-haired chin. But mostly, he shared new poems and talked often of his favorite person in history—Wild Bill Hickok. When he said goodbye, he always raised both hands in peace signs and said, “Precious Love.”

At times our discussions leaned toward spiritual themes. They usually ended with him storming out loudly cussing Jesus.

After coming in several times a week for a few years, he came in one day and yelled at me. He was not doing well, and he thought I said something about him he didn’t like. I would never do something like that. To me people are people, whoever they are they deserve kindness. I didn’t see him for several months after that except when he would walk by the store window and flip me off.

Then I heard he was hit by a car.

Not long after that, he unexpectedly came into the store and apologized. “I don’t even remember why I was mad at you,” he said. He shared with me about the accident. He woke up in the emergency room and… walked out. He said he was still having some physical problems since then.

He invited me to his birthday party at a place that sold hot-dogs he liked. I was the only friend that came to his party. I bought him some exotic pipe tobacco as a present.

After several years, I began to converse online with a kind woman in Texas. Being so far away, I told Rob, “Nothing will ever come of it.” He said sarcastically, “Sure it won’t.” He enjoyed listening to my stories about Valorie and our long-distance dates where, although miles apart, we attended the same movies, watched The Voice on TV together, and talked for long hours over the phone.

One day Rob appeared very sad. He’d seen a movie about slavery. It really bothered him. He asked me, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” I gave him a standard answer and asked if I could pray for him. Holding his hand over the counter I prayed for his sadness. “God loves you,” I said. “Precious Love,” he replied.

Our behind the counter, in front of the counter friendship grew. Then came a day after seven years that Rob asked me out of the blue, “When did you become a Christian?” I gave him my testimony of accepting Jesus as my Savior when I was nine years old. I explained to him what the Sunday School teacher that day had called the “Roman’s Road”. As I talked of Jesus’ death on the cross and forgiveness of sin, Rob held his head down. His hats bobbed like boats on a stormy sea. When he looked up tears fell like rain into his midnight sky beard. We prayed together, and he asked Jesus to save him. It was the first time we ever hugged.

We had good times until I told him I decided to marry Valorie and was going to move away. He slammed the door on his way out. I could hear him cursing as he crossed the street.

I bought him a parting gift of a Meerschaum pipe carved like Wild Bill Hickok hoping he would come in again before I left. I prayed he would.

The weekend before my last day of work at the bookstore he came in, we said good byes, and I gave him the pipe. “I will miss you terribly, my friend. But I will see you again in heaven,” I said. When leaving, he started to give me the peace signs, but he stopped, fumbled a little as if not knowing what to do with his hands, and said, “God bless you, Sir Jonathan Moonshadow.”






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I relive memories

And depths of love

Garnered from things once shared.

Romance, music, poetry,

Scenes of emotional depth,

Long forgotten moments

That lodged into my heart

Like injuries of younger days.

I revel in the mystery

And wonder that I was not so clueless

To these brief moments

That moved me long-ago.

So, I close my eyes on those days and sigh.

And dream with memories eye.

                                      Jon Hopkins 7/20/2015


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Last Year at this time

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This is a poem I wrote last year at this time. Praise God He has brought me through it and has blessed me with so many things this year.

“A New Year’s Introspection”

I cannot stand outside my own house and look in my window.

When gazing inward there is no mirror to reflect what is real.

Phantoms of pains past haunt me.

Resolutions fall lifeless to the floor.

When I take the next step into darkness, what will I bring with me?

Scars. Memories. Consequences. Fears.

Moments I cling to like handfuls of smoke.

And grieves too heavy to bear.

Lord, speak to my heart and remind me of goodness.

Map out where you kept pace with me on the path.

Show me what could have been worse.

And where I strayed from you.

Help me walk away from the echo of my own regrets.

Weave meaning into memories on my guilt eaten soul.

Motivate my heart toward good today.

And give me the strength to venture on.



Workshop Notes From HACWN Workshop

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Deep Dialogue Workshop presented by Jon Hopkins


“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart

be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14

Usually in a workshop about dialogue you learn basics such as how to use “he said,” and punctuation. But you want to go deeper than that, and expand your mastery. Dialogue is action. It has purpose and meaning. It has conflict. Conflict can be physical, social, personal, and private.  A complex story involves all of these. What lies beneath the action? What is Said? Unsaid? And the Unsayable? Dialogue shows readers how we lie to others and to ourselves. How we love, fight, or see the world. We learn what should be said in good and bad circumstances. We see ourselves in the mirror of dialogue.

Dialogue definition:

“The writer must personalize the role with a unique, character-specific voice worded in the text. Second, whether mental or vocal, whether thought inside the mind or said out into the world, all speech is an outward execution of an inner action. All talk responds to a need, engages a purpose, and performs an action. No matter how seemly vague and airy a speech may be, no character ever talks to anyone, even to himself, for no reason, to do nothing. Therefore, beneath every line of character talk, the writer must create a desire, intent, and action. That action then becomes the verbal tactic we call dialogue.” Dialogue by Robert McKee (much of these ideas are what I learned from this book. I do not claim this as my own. Permission granted from publisher.)

All of writing is action/reaction involving conflict. It is the same with dialogue. Dialogue is action. To say something is to do something. “No one talks to anyone, even to himself for no reason to do nothing.” (in writing) There is intention, or need, or want behind what is said. And most of all, it must move the scene!

Dia = “through” and legein = “speech” It is doing some action through speaking.

There are different kinds of dialogue such as: inner talk, talking to someone else, and talking to the reader. Even inner talk is a dialogue. It is a conversation with yourself. Talking to self involves inner conflict. Even a monologue is a dialogue. You are speaking to the reader. Dialogue includes things that are:

Said: to others. This shows who the person is and what is their social status, education, wit, and emotions.

Unsaid: inner voice to self. Thoughts and feelings that the character withholds. When they talk, the reader looks past the words to sense the meaning of the things left unsaid.

Unsayable: subconscious that cannot be expressed in words. “A person is not known by words but by deeds.” Words ARE deeds. When you say something, you do something. The reader knows what is going on inside the character by what the character does. Sometimes the things that cannot ever be spoken come out in the little nuance of a gesture, touch, or a smile.

Three Functions of Dialogue:

  1. Exposition: Tis is what we call “Telling.” Exposition is a description or dialogue about a place, time, or people. It is a word picture that can express more than the eye can see. i.e. “Her eyes are like gazing longingly into a good cup of herbal tea.” Not all exposition is equal in importance. Stress the things the reader needs to know to push the story along. (i. e. my roman street scene was cut and recut and recut.) Don’t tell facts to a character that they already know but you want the reader to know. It is just you sharing how smart you are. Reminiscing is dishonest if it is only exposition. Exposition must be invisible. The reader is eaves-dropping.

 Pacing and timing: Too little exposition confuses the reader. Too much bores them. Let them know when they need to know. Maintain curiosity and empathy. Make them wait. Make them wonder. Ask questions. Only tell them what they need to know when they need to know it. Sneak it in somewhere else. If it happens in the scene and it advances the scene then use it. Reveal things slowly. Plant and payoff. Let the character reveal things as ammunition to get what they want. Deep character can come when you reveal past events, and feeling. Revelations, secrets, and dark truths should be timed. Secrets come out when you have a choice and choose the lesser of two evils. Read Jachin’s secret. Chp 49 pg 291

  1. Characterization: Speech shows who your characters are. Who they seem to be on the outside, and who they really are. Characterization shows appearance in, and out. This too can be done through dialogue. Dialogue gets us close to the character and their intimate thoughts and feelings. True character is revealed when they are put in a corner and must make a choice or take action to pursue desire.

Vocabulary is important for your characters in dialogue. When writing a dialogue between two characters, you should hear the character’s voices: (different than authors voice)

 First person= “I” or “me.” This is not a perfect witness to the happenings. i.e. Hunger games. Focus is on themselves, their feelings and observations only.

Third person. Omniscience …not a character.  At a distance uses her “he” and “they.” This writing knows all, hears all, sees all.

Third person objective = observes but never interprets.

Third person subjective = shows the characters inner life and jumps heads. Thoughts and feelings of more than one character.  George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire is an example… or Princes of Albion.

Second person= “you” Most dialogue is first person although it could be second person.

Use dialogue: To intrigue. To convince. To individualize. To uncover a character’s inner life and seek the underlying action. To help with this label it with a gerund and an active (ing) phrase. (more on this later)

  1. Action: Physical action– gestures and tasks. Mental action – change in attitude belief understanding etc. Verbal action– What do they want at this moment? What action would they take to get that? What words would they use? Who would they say it to? Dialogue is action; however, it must ring true.

What breaks the flow?

Incredibility: This is not meaningless conversation. It should sound spontaneous. If I were my character what would I do in this situation? All characters are me.

Empty talk: Do not tell something the character already knows.

Overly emotional talk: The words are greater than the actual feeling.

Overly knowing talk: Know what your characters know. It amazes me how some TV shows they know everything. And…they always know what kind of flowers it is? Don’t interject the authors own knowledge or research into the dialogue when that person should not know the information.

Overly perceptive talk: Do they know themselves better than you know yourself, or better than the Psychiatrist?

Know the difference between excuse and motivation: Sexual abuse is overused as motivation. Death of a mother or father or both as enticing incident is cliché. Motivation is basic. Hunger, sleep, food, and love. Motivation is subtext. Don’t put it in dialogue unless necessary.

When someone can’t face the truth, they make excuses. Excuse is what the character tells the other characters. The excuse masks the motive. (i. e. I love this land.)

Melodrama: This is dialogue that uses over expression and under motivation. Would my character understate his action, or state it? Different people are moved by different motives.

Don’t use cliché’s: A cliché’ is an overused phrase. Be creative. (i.e. Her eyes are blue like the sky.)

Word choice: An emotional person uses short words and active, short sentences. Intelligent people use more complex words that show they are well-read, and have better vocabulary. When conflict builds, people get monosyllabic and dumb.

Active verses passive voice: Active dialogue uses action verbs. Passive talk uses linking verbs am, is, are, was, were, be, and been. Passivity really slows things down. Watch for passivity hidden in gerund phrases. The state of being verb connects to an “ing” word. Test it with a direct verb. Badly written dialogue is literal. It means what it says and no more.

Showing vs telling: Don’t force the characters to stop and talk about something. That is telling.  They expound on their life history, thoughts, feelings, loves and hates, past and present for no reason. Telling erases subtext. Don’t tell the reader what to feel or what the person is feeling. They should see that in the action and subtext. A spokesperson “talking head” is boring. Telling stops the scene and destroys pace. It is like putting the child on your lap to explain the obvious.

Dialogue is showing, although sometimes you can sneak in some telling esp. if you use a “dumb puppet” to ask questions.

Writing on the nose: My son says everything he thinks. He tells you exactly how he feels. And he can’t keep it in his head. If you speak your character’s deepest thoughts and feelings aloud, it is pour writing. It is speech that is unlike anyone talks. It makes the character two-dimensional only. Most of these insights are below what the character knows about themselves. It is not conscious.  Let the reader discover it. Dialogue implies, not tells, nor explains.

No conflict: What is underneath the spoken, the desires, the real meaning? A good conversation has conflict with desires that move the story along and gets the reader to turn the page.

The beat: Things put around or in the dialogue to tell the reader who is saying it, what they are doing when they say it, or how they are saying it (if necessary). Usually, place the action before the talk or it sounds like a Kung Fu film.

Narration: This is outside the scene. It is telling.

Inner dialogue: This is puzzling out, rerunning a memory, building up self, fantasizing about the past present and future…NOT description or exposition.

Indirect dialogue: This is description. It is when someone or the narrator tells what someone else said.

How to create dialogue:

A line of dialogue has design: It pivots around its key term; the one essential to its meaning. Suspense and tension is created when the conversation ends with the reader saying, “What happens next? What will they do? Feel? How will it all turn out?”

A periodic sentence withholds its core idea until the final word. Delay the meaning till the last. “If you want me to do it, why did you give me that ________?”

Make meaning wait. Reader must keep going to get to the end of the dialogue. This is also used in jokes: the “punch line.”

Cumulative sentence puts key word up front. Then develop or modify the point. “The last time I saw him…” vs. “He looked like this and did thus etc. etc. ad infinitum the last time I saw him.”

Balanced sentence:  This puts the core words in the middle of the dialogue sentence.

Vary your techniques, if not, it becomes fake.

Say fewest words as possible. Be concise. There is nothing unnecessary, even in dialogue.

A pause tightens tension. Make the dialogue flow and save the pause for the right moment. To make reader think “Oh no, what will happen next?” Putting on the breaks gets attention. Interrupt, squelch, hold back.

Sometimes silence or a non-answer works. Write for the eye and not the ear on that. Use facial expression or gesture. Silence invites the reader in to listen more closely.

Is there a physical action that would say this better than with words?

Speak your dialogue: Or better yet, record it and play it back. When I did an audio of my book it was enlightening. I got to know my characters intimately.

Use of “ing” to determine what is going on. Not just “this is what they really said.” It must have a reason. Examples of how to do this:

Excerpt from Chapter one from The Golden Cord:

Caradoc doused his grandfather’s hot gaze in the water of his tempered pride. He reluctantly sheathed his sword. He was about to be publicly castigated, but it didn’t matter. Punishment meant nothing to him… anymore.

“How many men have you killed, boy?” The King said. CHALLENGING

Caradoc planted his feet and glowered. STANDING GROUND

“I have killed hundreds! And, boy, they weren’t half senseless drunks or half-drowned farmers. They were strong warriors worthy of the fight.” COMPAIRING, CUTTING HIM DOWN


“When I was your age, boy, I led men into battle against the Trinovauntes. I had a wife, a hillfort, and responsibilities. I cared about my family.” CRITISIZING, YOU ARE UNCARING.

Caradoc scoffed. UNBELIEVING

“If you continue down this course—the roads before you will only be paved with the deaths of men who won’t follow you. Can’t win love through threats, boy. Because I serve the people, they serve me. Men follow me because I show purpose. Every life means something, boy.  Every soul has a purpose.” He paused again. “What is your purpose, boy?” QUESTIONING, DISPARAGING HIM BECAUSE HE IS AIMLESS IN HIS ACTIONS

Caradoc shut him out. He’d heard it before. He didn’t care. He turned to leave. FIGHTING BACK WITH ACTIONS. TURNS HIS BACK.

Tasciovaunus clutched Caradoc’s shoulder. Turned him around. “I’m talking to you!” CHALLENGING, SQUELCHING CARADOC’S REBELLIOUSNESS, THREATENING

Caradoc spat. “I have my own purpose.” ANSWERING SMUGLY, GRASPING POWER BACK

“Right now, your purpose is to follow me and do as I say.” PUTTING HIM BELOW HIM

Caradoc opened his mouth. ARGUING

Tasciovaunus back-handed him. “All I want to hear from you is your consent.” CONCLUDING

Caradoc swallowed hard. The men around him seemed to take pleasure in this exchange. They had seen it often.

Tasciovaunus walked to his horse and got an axe from his pack. Tossing the axe to his grandson, he pointed to the carpinus tree. “I have need of this.” GIVING DIRECTION, TESTING


“Up the tree—if you can climb—and start shearing the limbs. Start at the top and proceed down to the crotch. Keep it straight. If you can do that. It will be used in the new longhouse for my throne .” SHOWING IMPORTANCE OF HIS POSITION STILL. BELITTLEING, TREATING CARADOC LIKE A CHILD.

Caradoc unsheathed his sword and laid it on the ground. Biting his tongue, he grabbed one of the limbs and climbed the carpinus tree.  RELINQUISHING POWER… FOR NOW…

Tasciovaunus added, “A throne you will never sit on.” FINAL CUT DOWN

Conclusion: say something funny or a good quote….

“Dialogue is what two characters do to each other.” Elizabeth Bowen

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Overcoming Fear


I love to write deeply. By doing so I learn about myself.

Yesterday, I was writing when I chanced upon things that I had written down from my inner searching to discover motives and characterization for my novel. I ran across a question I had asked of myself, but I have yet to answer. I wrote, “by that time dad was gone… there was no more putting cans up at that point… so I wonder at what point did I stop being afraid in my life?”

Someone told me they didn’t understand my post. Some background story was necessary. Basically, my father was an alcoholic. We feared his coming home so much that we would stack food cans in front of the door to alarm us. He is gone now. I should no longer be afraid. At times, I still am.

I have worked with teens who have been through the horrible trauma of abuse and even though the threat was gone, they still feared Dad would come home at any moment, or that he was around the next corner waiting to harm them. At what point does someone like that give up those fears, and by giving them up, do they become more vulnerable? I asked myself if there will be a time when my book’s character no longer fears. How do I show that? How do I show it in my own life?

There are actual fears such as the fear of my dad when I was younger. The terror I would have when he would come into the room and the threat of danger immobilized me. But not only that, I also had of the fear of pleasing others. It is basically a fear of rejection, the fear of what life, or others, may do to me.

Fear distorts our thinking. We fear what we cannot overcome or what we cannot control. We fear that what is in front of us is far beyond our abilities to conquer. We feel powerless. We feel impotent. The enemies seem all powerful. We fear death. We even fear our own happiness and success. We are uncertain that our own resources—our own strengths—are not good enough to overcome the problem.  We want to escape. Fear produces flight. Anger attacks, but fear escapes.

Fear is not wrong. The question we must ask is which way does fear move us? Yes, fear produces flight, but what is the direction of our flight? In the book, “The Princes of Albion,” the young twin boys, Jachin and Boaz, play in a Wheatfield. They call it their “sanctuary.” That is because it’s the place they escape to hide from their father and his drunken rages. While they are in the field, a bird suddenly flies into Jachin’s tunic. (his shirt) His brother doesn’t believe him at first. They hear the cry of a hawk up above and realize that the bird is trying to escape danger.

When we try to protect ourselves, what we should do is fly to the protector. Fly to something that is greater than us. In our life, we either fear the world or we fear God. God is not impotent as we are, God is omnipotent.

It is okay to feel fear. Big fears make small ones go away. For instance, my daily fears of doing my work well to please my boss, or whether my bills are going to be paid are real fears. Will I say something that will make someone not like me? Those fears go away if someone in my family is in a car accident and I fear for their life. Big fears make small ones go away. I guarantee that when my mother was in an accident I wasn’t thinking whether my bills were going to be paid. Fearing God is a big fear.

We are terrified of love. We even fear God’s love. Love is a scary thing and a lot of times we don’t believe that God loves us enough to take care of our little problems. The Bible says that love casts out fear. It’s God’s love toward us and his willingness to be concerned about our lives that we forget and focus on our small fears instead. We forget that It is His power that can take care of our problems and give us peace over our fears. When we trust in him, we are no longer helpless. We are no longer powerless. Fear is a flight away from harm to a safe place without hurt just like the little bird in Jachin’s shirt.

When you fear, submit to God instead of demanding control or success to overcome the thing you fear. Acknowledge it it’s real. There’s something to be afraid of. Acknowledging it tells us something about ourselves. We should then struggle with why we do not trust God in this matter. Is God all of a sudden not powerful? Are we looking to ourselves and our own lack of ability?

We need to remember God’s acts and the things that He has done in the past. Such as those miracles in the Old Testament and in our lives. Remember the testimony of friends of the things that God has done for them. Let God’s love remove our fear.

What do I mean by fearing God? I don’t mean a “reverential awe.” I mean be afraid of Him. God has the ability to do whatever he pleases. He has the ability to cast us in hell. It is the great fear of separation from God for eternity that moves us. He loved us so much he sent Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for our sins (The things that separate us from God). He desires a loving caring relationship with us as our protector and our provider. You will either fear the world or you fear God. Fear Him.

I certainly don’t negate the fact that fears linger and are triggered when least expected. Some may do things to overcome them. Take Karate, do meditation, push it aside, years of therapy. But when something big happens, that is beyond your control, such as your wife dying or someone you love being diagnosed with cancer, where do you fly to then?

So, the question was… at what point do you give up your fears? The answer is… the moment that you trust God with the circumstance. You fly into his tunic with the feeling that the thing that you are afraid of, can be overcome by Him. By giving those fears up would you become vulnerable? You already are. Recognize that. By giving up your fears to Him, you give it to the One who is all powerful and can handle any problem. Let His love conquer your fears.

Jon Hopkins


The Formula: Part Two



I arrived to the cabin in the middle of nowhere on a Thursday evening, settled in, and started praying. When I grew tired, I read in my bible.  My empty tummy was constantly on my mind.

I don’t remember what I read. But I didn’t do like a friend of mine in Bible college who opened the Scripture and placed his finger on the page and read this: “Judas went out and hung himself.” He said, “That’s not what God wants me to do.” He opened it again, finger down on a verse that this time said, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all of your might;” Uh… that wasn’t it either. One more time: “What you are about to do, do quickly.” He closed his Bible and said, “I think I’ll ask someone else.” Nope, I just read some in the Old Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs to start off.

I told God that I didn’t understand what was happening in my life. I needed answers. What was I doing wrong?

I slept well that night and began again early the next morning. When I was not praying or reading, or thinking about food, I would go on a walk in the woods and cry out to God.

Friday evening it came. A migraine. One of the worst. I had brought no meds. No shots. Not even an aspirin.

I knelt by my bed and held my head while I called out to God. “Take these away from me!”


“God, please remove this pain!”


“Lord, will you take this migraine?”

“No.” It was almost audible. No?

“Why not?” I wailed.

A long pause then very softly, “ I want you to give them to me.”

Ah, yes, there is a difference between taking and giving. I prayed harder giving the migraines, the pain, my health to Him. I didn’t stop there. I gave Him everything I could think of. My family, each by name. Even extended family, in-laws and outlaws. I listed all I owned even the socks and shoes I had on my feet. “God I give you my ministry. And…. My life.”

Kneeling quietly, still in pain, I passed out there beside the bed.

When I woke up I was still on the floor. Cold and cramped, but my head didn’t hurt anymore. I went straight to my routine. No food- only water – and Bible and prayer as if nothing had really happened. My headache was gone, but I didn’t deserve it.

That afternoon as I walked, I told God I was tired of trying to do everything. All I did in life was by my own strength and I couldn’t do it anymore. I did not please others, the pastor, my wife, or the teens I worked with. I was a failure. I talked it through until a formula began to form in my mind. “All I’ve done was of my own power, by the pastor’s direction, to the teens.” I knew that wasn’t right. I tried again. “All I do can’t be like that. It can’t be of my pastor, through my talents, to the teens.” And again, “Of God, through my own strength, to God’s glory.” After going through the many combinations, I realized that no, it had to be this and only this: “Of Him, Through Him, and To Him.” I was satisfied. This was the only formula that was correct. And I had been doing it all wrong. On the walk back, I asked God for forgiveness and told Him I would follow this formula from now on.

A peace came over me when I reached the cabin again. I wasn’t even hungry anymore. That was what I needed. Not food. Not a cure. I needed a formula to hang my life on.

That night I slept well. No migraine. I returned home that day. I wondered if God had really let me give them to Him.

That week I met with my pastor. I told him of my weekend getting alone to talk with God. And about the miracle of the life-changing formula He gave me.

He sat back in his chair. Rubbed his chin and grabbed for his Bible. “Do you know that is in the Bible?”

“No.” I thought it was original because I had to work through and eliminate so many things to come to that conclusion. “I have never heard or read it before.” I told him.

He turned to Romans 11:36 and read, “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen.”

“Let me see that!” I thought he made it up and was kidding me. Yet, there it was on the page in black and white, right above the verse that says we are to give our lives as a living sacrifice. I noted it said “give” and not “Lord, take my life as a living sacrifice.” There is a difference. I was shocked. I had no idea.

A week went by and no migraines. Two weeks. A month, and I began to look at what I was doing differently. Different food? Medicine? No, nothing. Two months, three, then six months went by with no headaches.

That was around twenty years ago. I have not had a migraine since that Friday I prayed by the bedside in the cabin.

And… the formula still rings true. It changed my life. Everything is “Of Him, through Him, and to Him.” Whether it is my writing. My Job. Ministry. Or even how I treat my own children.

You know, we look for God in the little things. The inches, the minutes. The things that didn’t happen that could’ve. I found Him in a great thing. How do you measure a changed life?

And oh, yeah, some advice: don’t eat a big meal after fasting for three days. Good idea, bad idea.


The Formula: part one

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Miracles happen every day. Most times we ignore them and they go unacknowledged.

We tend to measure God in inches, seconds, and by how well we feel.

“One half inch to the left and that bullet would’ve killed me.”

“If we had left for that trip ten seconds earlier, that would be us in that wreck on the highway!”

“My knee stopped hurting. It’s a miracle!”

Now, I don’t discount these things as possible godly interventions, but it seems to me that our measurement should be much broader. Why should we limit God to inches and seconds? He is much bigger than that. I have learned to measure God by His direct actions in my heart that change my life dramatically.

One such miracle began my second year in college. What seemed to start as a healing miracle became so much more.

They began. My first experience was right after finals. I thought my head would burst. I vomited and rode the waves of pain in my dorm room thinking it was just stress.

As the years progressed they became worse and increased in frequency. In the meantime, I graduated, got married, fathered two children, and worked a fantastic job in the field of psychology.

While at work one day, I said I was ill and didn’t wait to be released. I left. My head was killing me. When I got in the car, I vomited. I stumbled back into the building. It was the first time I experienced hyperventilation from the pain. I passed out. My boss called 911, and I was taken to the hospital to spend the night in intensive care. They thought I was dying. So, did I. It would not be the last time I rode in an ambulance for this.

The doctors declared that my problem was called “vaso-constrictor rhinitis.” Basically, my blood vessels in my sinus were overly sensitive to temperature changes, and that in turn triggered migraines.

Once, I was at a professional baseball game with friends sitting in the cool of the shade. However, the sun moved—as it is prone to do—and I soon sat in the heat. They carried me out of the ballpark.

Doctors attempted many things to give me relief. They changed my diet and prescribed various medicines. I began injecting a common migraine medicine called Imitrex that normally cost ninety dollars a shot. There were some days that I was directed to take as many as three shots to quell the migraine to no avail.

After years of suffering, the condition affected my work. I requested to be put on part time work status. At the same time, I also worked as a youth pastor at a church. I struggled to keep that position without it affecting my ministry, but I was now having three to five migraines per week.

Totally frustrated, I talked with my pastor.

“What should I do?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

“Why is God doing this to me?”

“I don’t know. Maybe you should ask Him.”

I wanted answers, wasn’t he the connection to God? Past laying-on-of-hands for healing from several groups didn’t even make a dent in my malady. Even an exorcism at this point would be welcome.

Devastated, I drove home from that meeting and told my wife that I needed to get a way for a few days and talk to God. She always supported me. We called a friend.

“Can I borrow your cabin by the lake for a few days?”

“Whatever you need, come get the keys.”

I picked up my bible, grabbed a change of clothes, and kissed my wife goodbye. I set out to do something I had never done before—fast and pray.

To be continued…







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The time I prayed not to wet my pants.



Bible College was some of the best years of my life. So many new friends, so many new things to learn, and so many adventures.

            Like the time my roommate and I decided it would be fun to shoot marbles at squirrels out our dorm room window—using wrist rocket slingshots! The table we stood on suddenly broke sending us and our other roommates’ fish tank crashing to the floor. We escaped through the broken glass, water and wiggling fish. Thirty years later I saw that roommate and apologized. He never knew it had been us that did it. We went to the park to hunt squirrels after that.

I wanted to do well in college. I wanted to learn all I could and more importantly, be more like Jesus. But, I had to work a full-time job and go home on the weekends to teach a Junior High Sunday School class. So, it was certainly difficult. There was not a lot of free time for opportunity to do good.

One night, coming back to the dorm after work, I prayed that God would use me. As I came to a red light I saw a car sticking out in the middle of the road in front of me. A man flagged me down for help. As soon as he got into my 1974 white mustang, I knew he had been drinking. I knew that odor well.

“I’m outta gas.”

“O.K., I’ll take you to go get some.”

“Gotta gas can at home. Take me there.”

“Sure,” I said, thinking that I was going to help this man and do a good deed.

I told him that I was a Bible college student. He was very friendly and talkative.

“I like the Bible,” he slurred. “Turn here.”

I thought that he would run right in, get the can, and we’d be on our way.

“Come inside. My wife has to meet you.” He patted me hard on the shoulder.

When my dad was drunk, I always did what he said. Perhaps that is why I opened the car door and followed him into the house. It was about midnight by then.

“I want you to meet my friend,” he told his wife as she got out of bed and put on her robe. “What did you say your name was?”


“Yes, Jon. Have a seat in the kitchen, Jon,” then to his wife, “get us a beer!”

“Just water for me. Thanks.”

Guzzling his beer, he sat across from me and talked. He told me of his time in Vietnam. “Are you in the Army?”

I shook my head, no.

He leaned forward, put his finger to his nose and whispered, “I’ve done terrible things. Terrible things.” Taking another long swig of the beer, he told me of the time his platoon entered a Vietnam village and killed every one. “Women and children too.” He started to cry. “I’ve done terrible things.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, wishing somehow I could leave.

Then he said it.

“I blew a little boy’s face off.”

I gulped.

“Put my boot on his chest, my gun under his chin and…fired.” He blubbered, wiping tears from his cheeks. “I’ve… done terrible things. Do you think God can forgive someone like me?”

“Yes, sir.”

A long pause. I didn’t know what to say. There are no good guys in war. I looked at his wife standing against the wall with her arms crossed. She shrugged.

“Can we get the gas can now?”

“Yeah, Yeah, I’ll get it,” he said. He stumbled to the bedroom.

Back in the back room he cursed. I heard things fall. Or were they thrown? He marched out of the room, fuming. “You’ve been goin’ out on me, ain’tcha?” He carried a shotgun. He pointed the gun my direction. “Who are you? You been sleeping with my wife. I know it. Don’t lie to me!” Every other word was a curse word.

Then, he moved forward and placed the end of the shotgun under my chin. Pictures ran through my mind of the little boy in Vietnam. Feeling the cold steel pressed against my throat and chin I prayed, “God don’t let me wet my pants. Get me outta this!”

He swayed in front of me, squinted and snarled. He cocked the gun.

His wife called out, “Don’t!”

I let out a breath and calmly said, “I’m your friend, Jon. Dontcha remember? You ran out of gas. I brought you home to get a gas can. I’m here to help you.”

He blinked. Sniffed. Wiped his nose. Slowly he lowered the shotgun and turned toward the bedroom. “Don’t feel so good. I’m going to bed. She’ll get the gas.” He barely staggered through the bed room door when he passed out crashing to the floor.

A long pause.

“I’ll get the can,” his wife said.

On the way to the gas station, she talked. “You’re a Christian, right? Me too. But he won’t let me go to church.” She went on and on about her life. I felt very sorry for her. She seemed scared all the time. “He’s o.k. when he’s sober. Really. But that’s rare.”

I emptied the gas into the tank and asked her if she would be o.k.

“Yes, Pray for me.”

I looked around, then grabbed her hand and said a prayer. She cried. Then smiled.

That night, I was very late for curfew at the dorm. But no one stopped me. I walked first to the bathroom, and looked in the mirror. At some point, I must have bit my lip. I smiled an awkward smile. “Thank-you God for dry pants.”

I have never picked up strangers ever again.





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Stuck on the threshold. Blue tennis shoes part 3



“Hold the screen door,” I told my twin brother.
“What is it?”
“A Nickel!”
I couldn’t pick it up. It was stuck on the wood.
“Your Uncle glued that nickel to the threshold when he was but a boy,” Grandma said. “It’ll take a miracle to get it off of there.”
I tried anyway.

In the house my Dad yelled at my Mom. He did that a lot.

It was the fall of my fifth grade year. We had moved to a farm outside the town where my parents grew up. The population sign said “360” but I think it was less than that.

“Get in the car!” my Dad screamed at my brother and me. He had my youngest sister in his arms. She was bawling loudly. I could smell her soiled diaper. Shaking, I looked at my brother and we both started for the car. Behind me I heard my other sister—five years old—call him by first name and yell, “NO!”

“I don’t want you any way.” He said, and slammed the screen door behind him so hard I was sure the nickel had come loose.

The car spun out and we went to the farm. We lived in my Great aunt’s two story farmhouse. There was a large front porch and a tire swing on the big tree in the front yard. Our Great Aunt had died of nose cancer. She had done too much tobacco snuff and her nose was completely eaten away by the cancer. My brother and I would gross out at the sight of her. She placed a big Band-Aid over the place where her nose should have been.

“How does she smell?” I would say.
And my brother would reply, “Bad as always!”
We would laugh till our sides ached.

But today I wasn’t in a laughing mood. Mom and Dad had fought before. At times he would beat her terribly. This time was different. Everything was wrong.

“Get outta my face. Go feed the chickens,” Dad yelled at me when we got back to the farmhouse.

Scared to say anything, I went out to the chicken house to feed the chickens. While in there, my mind raced. I thought of the time my brother had frightened a skunk in the hen house and had been sprayed. Or the mountain of chicken dung we shoveled out of that place and how accomplished we felt. There was a time we had to dig up rocks so Dad could plant potatoes. We pretended they were Gold.

But, what was I going to do now? I didn’t want to be with Dad. I wanted to be with Mom. So, I ran away from the chicken house, past the cattle into the dark woods. I crossed the creek, and stopped for a moment at a place where I could see the county road. I held my breath and ducked down when a car drove by. Was that Dad’s car? I wasn’t sure.

Eventually, I came over a hill to another farmhouse. I was hot, tired, and thirsty. I needed help.

“Are you run-away?” the man asked.
“No, Sir. I just need to get to town to my Aunt Marie’s house.” He knew the place.
“Well, if’n you’s a runaway, you just crossed the state line and you’re in big trouble.”
“No, sir. Just going to my aunt’s.”

He took me in his truck into town. I kept looking to see if Dad was following us. I spied two rifles in the back window. I made note of that—just in case.

I liked Aunt Marie’s place. Her husband was a short man—the town milkman. We called him “Uncle Pint”. They both were very kind to us. When we got to aunt Marie’s, the farmer didn’t say anything, just dropped me off. I excitedly ran around back as that door was never locked. Perhaps Mom was there.

I walked in, letting the screen door bang behind me. I felt safe and called out to see if anyone was home.

Just then, the front door opened and the room filled with light. I had a direct view. Standing there was my Dad.

On the way, back to the farm, I found out from my brother that during my run my mother had called the police. They told her that they couldn’t do anything as “He’s the father. He has rights.” They allowed her to pick up a few things and she and my sister went to Kansas City. They went to live with her sister.

The next few months I stayed with Dad, my brother, and my baby sister at the farmhouse. Dad would be gone much of the time. Sometimes he would not come home for several days. When he was home, I never knew when he would hit me or ignore me. Some days he would take us with him to the bar. We would sit out in the car and listen to Old-time Radio Mystery Theatre until the car battery would go down. One time he came out with his friends and gave my baby sister a cupful of whiskey. They laughed as they watched the little baby get drunk.

We started fifth grade. The school was so small that they combined fifth and sixth grades. There were only four boys in the class and two of them were my brother and I. But we didn’t get much schooling that year. To care for my sister, my dad made my brother stay home from school. Then the next day, I stayed home and cared for her. I listened to the radio and did what I could. We drank milk and tried to scramble eggs to eat. The school always made sure we had food to eat when we were there. It was then I grew to love peanut butter.

He enjoyed fishing, but would only take one of us at a time so the other could watch the baby. He couldn’t tell us a part and always took my brother. “You should be glad you didn’t go,” my brother said.

One day I was listening to the radio. I remember clearly that the song “Snoopy and the Red Baron” was playing when they stopped the song and I heard this, “We are in a tornado watch.” I had grown up in California. I didn’t know what to do. I went from room to room, carrying the baby. I looked out the windows all day ‘watching’ for tornados.

Eventually, the School made my dad hire a babysitter for the baby.

One night he brought a woman home.“Think we need a maid,” he said.

One of those nights, the woman had brought along her mentally challenged child. He wanted to play cards. So I went downstairs to get them and I saw Dad in bed with the new maid. They would always be gone in the morning and dad would say, “She didn’t work out.”

During that time, we tried to make everything better by living in a world of adventure. We would play in the wheat field, or the barns, whatever we could do to avoid the pain in our lives.

If we cleaned house, Dad would let us walk several miles to play with a friend. The friend’s mother was the babysitter. We would “coon hunt” or try to shoot frogs with a bow and arrows. We lost all
the arrows.

One day Mom snuck in a call. “I’m praying for a miracle to get you back.”

I felt like that glued nickel. Only, I was not stuck on the threshold of a back door. I felt like I was stuck on the Threshold of Hell.

Days passed. Bad days passed.

“Get out of bed.” My Dad yelled. “Get dressed and meet me at the car.”

He had been gone all night again. I put on a white T-shirt, my ‘farm jeans’, and a pair of blue Converse tennis shoes—no socks. He drove us to town, to Aunt Marie and Uncle Pint’s house.
Mom was there!

My sister had gotten sick at the babysitter’s overnight. She had a 106° temperature. When they couldn’t reach Dad, they got ahold of my aunt. They didn’t want to be involved.

“The baby’s gonna die,” she told her. ”It’s an ungodly fever!”
She gave the babysitter my mother’s phone number.

Mom rode a bus from Kansas City. They said that when she got there, they placed the baby limply in her arms. And then something miraculous happened. The fever broke. The baby survived.

Now, standing there, Dad cussed my mother out. I thought he was going to beat her up again.

“I just started a new job and I’m late.” He yelled. Then to my brother and me, “Go to school.” He quickly left, evidently expecting us to walk to the school. We always did whatever he commanded.

“Let’s take you to school,” my Mother said.
My heart sunk. What was she doing?

We went to school and Mom had us pick up our things. She talked to the office and we left. We then got on a bus and went to Kansas City to live with her.

Many people talk of God healing them of great illness and pain. The miracle here was not the healing but the fever itself. It wasn’t an ungodly illness. It was a Godly illness that God sent my sister to get us out of that terrible situation.

Years later, they bulldozed the farmhouse that we used to live in. My Dad had abandoned it and it had been taken over by wild dogs. My Aunt Marie’s house is no longer there either. But Grandma’s house is still there. I can’t help but wonder if that nickel is still there on the threshold. It would take a miracle to remove it.

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