Messin’ with Mark – God’s Sitcom! Episode 20 – The Sting

Welcome to episode 20 of Messin’ with Mark! For those of you who are unfamiliar with this series, let me tell you how it started . . .

When I was very young, Jesus was walking around in His heavenly area up there when he saw his Dad looking down through the clouds, laughing His head off. Curious, he walked over and asked, “What’s up, Pop?”

“Oh, just pranking that Mark kid again,” He replied.

Again?” Jesus asked, “Why are You always picking on him?”

I don’t know. There’s just something about him,” God said. “I mean, look at his face right now.”

Jesus looked down and started to chuckle, then stopped Himself. “Okay, I admit it’s kind of funny, but this is wrong. I mean, You created him. With all due respect, what kind of an example are you setting for the angels? We’re supposed to love and protect humanity, not single one out from all the rest for humiliation.”

God thought for a moment, then looked at Jesus and said, “You’re right. I should stop.” They looked at each other seriously, then said, “Naaaaaaaahhh” and laughed some more.

Jesus suggested that he make a regular show of his pranks on me. They named it Messin’ with Mark. 

Remember Rodney Dangerfield’s bit about getting “no respect” from humans? It’s kind of like that, but on a cosmic level.

So, to today’s episode – The Sting.

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As you will see, dear reader, that title has a double-meaning. It was a sting operation by God and I also got my butt stung off by bees. Allow me to explain . . .

I got a wild hair one weekend and decided to go rock climbing. I didn’t want to drive far so I went to Griffith Park, which is a few miles from my house. I wouldn’t admit it then, but in retrospect I must admit I was a classic weekend warrior. Minimal rock climbing experience, no proper gear, not really in top shape for such activity, and no research ahead of time on the area where I’d be hiking. If I had known the mountain was called BEE ROCK (!), I probably would have chosen another one. 

Here it is. Looks inviting enough, doesn’t it?

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See that crevice at the bottom right? That’s where I started. I got to the top and was almost doing the splits with a seventy foot drop beneath me when it finally dawned on me that I had written a check my body couldn’t cash. It was also at that moment that I realized I was smack-dab in the middle of another episode of Messin’ with Mark, God’s sitcom!

As if I weren’t in enough trouble, bees started to sting me. Dozens of them. And I couldn’t run or hide. All I could do was stay there clinging to vertical rock faces on either side, hoping the bees would get bored.

They didn’t. They invited friends.

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I realized I needed to get down or move over. There was only one crag within distance – jumping distance. I knew if I stayed there, the collective bee venom would paralyze me and I would fall to my untimely demise. 

I can just imagine the control booth up in heaven at about this time, with Jesus looking at his Dad sideways, wondering if he was going to let up. Seeing He had no intention of cutting me any slack whatsoever, He had to say something.

JESUS: Okay, Dad, you’ve gone too far this time. He’s gonna die.

GOD: So what? I’m God. I’ll just make another one.

JESUS: But this is a comedy. He’s the original actor. Sequels and look-alike’s never capture the original magic. Didn’t we learn anything from Transporter 3 and 4?

GOD: Maybe you’re right. I’ll put a crag next to him, but far enough away so he has to make a death-defying jump from a splits position to reach it. Should be exciting!

JESUS: Okay, but please just make sure he makes it. Seeing him go splat would definitely be bad for ratings. I mean, humiliating him mercilessly over and over is great entertainment, but killing him outright is just mean. Nobody will tell you you’re a terrible director because you’re God and all, but they’ll be thinking it.

GOD: As if that helps. I know what they’re thinking, too.

JESUS: Dad, don’t get all Old Testament on me.

GOD: Okay, okay! I got the message.

So I jumped, caught it, and managed to crawl far enough up the mountain that the bees finally realized I wasn’t trying to steal their honey or whatever the hell it is bees get all uppity about. 

Bees seem so cute from a distance, flying from flower to flower. The springtime innocence of it warms the very soul. Not so much when there’s 93,000 of them all intent on stinging every square millimeter of your personage. And they look a lot bigger when they’re actually on you, too.

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I spent the next few days looking like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, which I’m sure also fetched big laughs up in heaven.

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As I lay there on the couch, slapping on the calamine lotion, I looked through the window to the big, blue sky and repeated those words I have said so many times before, usually in various states of emotional and/or physical trauma . . .

“Well-played, God. Well-played.”

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Words Are Not Enough (Love Poem)

I wrote this for my wife before we got married. We have been married now for eleven years, and she has given me two glorious orbs of light from heaven (daughters), another gift I am regularly rendered wordless by and can never possibly repay her for. Believe in love, and fight for it when it arrives. It’s worth it.

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We always say the words “I love you”
aren’t strong enough.
They aren’t.
Sometimes an emotion is so strong,
words can’t capture it.
The greatest poet can only come close.
Words can’t express love, not really.
Words are tangible, feelings aren’t.
But I am overwhelmed by my love for you.
So, like all the other fools
down through the ages,
I have to try . . .

I love you
like parched earth loves the rain
which awakens the seeds
deeply buried there,
dormant and forgotten,
gently urging them into blossom.
Thus, my hopes spring into life again
through the hardened soil
of my resignation.
That’s how I love you.

I love you
like a homeless man
loves the first rays of the morning sun
after a cold night, uncovered.

I love you
like a soldier, who,
though scarred and bitter
from all he has seen,
hears the laughter of children
and laughs himself
forgetting it all
for that moment.

And sometimes I love you
the way a frightened child
loves the nightlight by his bed.

You have become the mirror of my soul.

You have inspired me to rise above myself
further than anyone ever has before.

You have reminded me that goodness exists,
not by lecturing or judging
but simply by being yourself,
the way a flower shares its beauty
effortlessly
with all who behold it.

So what does such a person do?
A person with a heart so full,
achingly full,
of compassion for the suffering?

A person whose spirit
overflows with generosity
like a natural spring;

A person who Jesus Christ Himself
would point to proudly and say,
“There. She knows what I meant.
Watch her and she will show you The Way.”

What does such a person do?
The only thing she can imagine doing.
She becomes a nurse
so that she can do His work every day.

So that the sick, the infirm and the dying
can see Him in her eyes and be comforted.

So that those whom the world has forgotten
can know in their final days or moments
that somebody cared
and their last glimpse
of this tired and jaded world
will be of something good, sweet, untainted.
They will look into the eyes of a saint
and their passing will be lighter.

I know, you see.
These are not just words.
I know the works you are capable of.
I know the power you possess
in your eyes, your hands, your voice.
I know how fortunate
those in your care will be
because of the times
when you saved me from utter despair;
because of the times
when you helped me to my feet
after suffering injuries
that no x-ray could detect,
injuries of the spirit.
You helped me up
at the lowest moments of my life,
dusted me off, and guided me forward.

How do I thank you for doing nothing less
than reaching into hell and pulling me out?
Once again, words are not enough.

So I’ll just say “I love you”
with this small, human voice,
and hope you understand.

– Mark Rickerby

Twitter Launch Party for Chicken Soup for the Soul’s New Book – Miracles and More

Join me and many of the other contributors to Chicken Soup for the Soul’s new book, Miracles and More, today at 11:00 A.M. Pacific Time. The information is below. Should be fun and inspiring!

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The Real Greece

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They say it’s impossible to get bored in Mykonos, one of the world’s great crossroads, but I did. The constant hubbub of cafes and discos had finally worn me out. I wanted to see the real Greece. I wanted to look behind the stage prepared for tourists like me. I didn’t want to be just another sunburned fun-seeker collecting hangovers and notches on a bedpost. I wanted to slow down and feel my short existence in an ancient place. I didn’t know if I would ever return. I wanted a real moment or two to stand out above the typical version of Greece most travelers experience.

So one night I picked a direction and started walking, away from the noise, into the interior. The streets of Mykonos, like many Greek villages, have no pattern. They were built this way intentionally to confuse invading pirates and enemy armies. The village of Thira on the island of Santorini is probably the best example of this.

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The villagers would hide in doorways and windows with clubs and knives and slaughter the disoriented attackers as they passed. Now the labyrinthine streets confuse only tourists. After a half hour of wandering, I was lost but didn’t care. I was nervous but at least I felt alive again, out of the tepid bath of familiarity.

It was quiet for a long time as I passed apartments and the occasional shuttered cafe, then I started to hear music. I walked toward it. The sound of bouzouki’s and mandolins became clearer but not the source, until I came to a sunken doorway. Nobody was outside. I touched the handle. I wasn’t sure if it was a private house or a public bar. “I didn’t travel thousands of miles to be timid,” I thought. “What’s the worst that can happen? I’ll get thrown out.”

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I opened the door and saw a very small room, but it was a bar and cafe. I walked in and sat at the nearest table.

The room was filled with the mingled aromas of cigarette smoke, retsina wine, lamb and duck. Five men played vigorously and twenty or so others sang and clapped. A few took notice of me but most were too enraptured by the music to care about the outsider in their midst. A man I would later come to know as the owner walked to my table, looked at me very seriously, and waited for me to order. Wanting to earn the space I was using, I ordered a glass of retsina. He walked away, came back with a glass and, in a somber tone, said, “Welcome. Enjoy.” I had not yet earned his trust.

I watched and listened for an hour as the men did what they had clearly done for decades. They were masters of their instruments but most probably had never signed a recording contract.

Separated by language, the key that unlocks everything, I was unable to communicate with them, but the great gift and joy of that night, aside from the music, were the subtle looks and smiles the musicians and locals occasionally gave me. The bar owner refilled my glass without keeping track and became more friendly as time passed and he saw how much I was enjoying hearing his friends play.

 

I wish now that I would have snuck a photo or two but I didn’t take a single photo of the musicians for the same reason I started walking away from the crowd earlier – I was tired of feeling like a gawking tourist. I wanted something personal, sacred, real.

I stayed until they all went home, and shook hands with many of them as I was leaving. A few even hugged me, perhaps because they knew I didn’t find their secret hideaway to take photos of them and brag to friends back home. They knew I didn’t want to make an exhibit of them on some apartment wall. I’ve never even written about that night until now, twenty years later. They accepted me because they knew I was there to find the heart of Greece, and I did. And as usual, it was delivered to me by the two greatest forces that ever brought people of different cultures together – music and kindness.

 

On Being “Loved”

I saw this today and agreed with most of it, except for the line “Love yourself enough to hold the people who harm you accountable for their words and actions.” This could lead people down a dark road of retribution, seeking some kind of apology that will probably never come, dependent as it is on the offender having a conscience.  It’s more powerful to not care about the opinions of others so much that they are unable to hurt you.

Many believe that strength is thinking “I know they’re going to love me” but a greater strength is thinking “I’m okay if they don’t.”

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For the Children

Like everyone else in America, I’ve been thoroughly disgusted and saddened by the couple who starved, tortured and abused their thirteen children for over a decade. I won’t mention their names because I think anyone who commits such atrocities should not be awarded fame, however twisted, after they’re caught. They even smiled at each other in court yesterday when the judge told them they couldn’t talk to their children for three years. Thankfully, it looks like they’ll spend the rest of their miserable lives in prison.

As a parent of two daughters, it’s unfathomable to me how not only one but two parents can do the things they did. I feel guilty when I raise my voice to my girls even a little.

When my first daughter was born six years ago, I wrote and sang 15 songs on a CD in her honor called Great Big World. Of course, the songs apply to both my girls now. I’m working on a second CD for both of them.

One of the tracks is below. I hope it provides a little therapy to anyone as troubled as I am by all the child abuse stories we hear about these days. I know I need regular therapy, and it usually comes in the form of music.

This song is also for all the children unfortunate enough to be born to parents who don’t appreciate the miraculous blessings that they are.

Becoming My Father

I did two things for my father in the ten years or so before he passed away in December of 2014.

The first was to help him finish his memoir, The Other Belfast – An Irish Youth, and self-publish it so he could hold a real book in his hands and know the stories he told and wrote for forty years would finally be read by others around the world.

I’m proud to say I helped him accomplish that because his last five years on this earth were not good ones. He was whittled away to nothing mentally and physically by Parkinson’s Disease and Dementia until he couldn’t even remember me most of the time. This is his book.

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The second thing I did was dig up every old cassette I could find of his karaoke recordings and turn it into a CD with help from Rick Balentine – Composer (remixing) and Ryan Silo (cd design). I’m so glad I did because it’s a treasure to me now. Good Lord, could that man sing. If you like American standards, click on the link at the bottom of this post and have a listen to the song samples. Here’s his CD – 

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I named it “Get Rickerby Up For a Song!” because that’s what somebody would inevitably yell every time he was at the pub.

Every now and then, I mention his book and CD on some social platform because promoting his legacy helps ease the grief of losing him, particularly to diabolical brain diseases that leave only a shell of someone who was once full of passion, and the life of every party.

I remember listening to these old songs on the car radio for hours during long road trips and banging my head against the window hoping to knock myself out. (jk)  Now I love it, as my dad predicted I would, eventually. He tried to tell me the music I listened to when I was a teenager was garbage. and that someday I would come around and realize what real music was, but I refused to believe it. I’m pretty sure he’s laughing at me in heaven. I hope he’s still singing up there, too, because it was his greatest joy down here.