Light brown pigtails whipped in the wind as she sat in the backseat of the old ’66 Chevy Impala. Dust from the gravel country road flew up in a cloud behind them, and the car outran it. She had the window down, her arm propped up on the ledge, and a big smile on her face. The backseat was all hers, and, from big rear speakers, the unmistakable voice of Merle Haggard, singing Silver Wings, drowned out all other sounds.
She had never felt better. She was still a kid, yet a little grown up. In the company of her aunt and uncle, yet feeling she was out on her own. She was a good girl, but, away from her parents, she was allowed to smoke and sneak a peek at a True Story magazine. It was summertime and she was eleven.
It’s been a few decades since that day, but all I have to do is hear the sound of Merle’s voice, anytime, anywhere and the memories come flashing back. Tears will always well up in my eyes, as I remember a time before life was tainted. A time when I was innocent and full of wonder…where the world looked like a wonderful place from my eleven-year-old eyes.
The 8-track tape switched to Mama Tried and Merle told the story of a life so sad she couldn’t comprehend it; although she sensed what seemed like some sort of soul connection. She empathized with his plight and she hurt for him. But in that moment, while he sang of a “rebel child on a freight train leaving town”, she was still sitting safely in the backseat.
It was only a few years later when other people’s decisions would change her life. She would go on to make poor choices of her own wishing, then, that silver wings would take her away.
Despite all I have done, I can’t comprehend the pain Merle Haggard pours into his music. When I hear him sing, my heart still hurts for him.
Turning “21 in prison doing life without parole” was obviously not the end of his story. He was paroled and went on to live a life, “…most men only dream of.” He even received a presidential pardon. But, apparently, none of it has ever been quite enough.
“There’s a feeling in my gut that says you haven’t written that one song yet, the one that’s going to live forever. I’ll be satisfied only when I feel like I’ve written that song.”
Some might think a signature song like Okie from Muskogee would have been enough to fill the hole in his soul. I used to think a successful career, the right award or the perfect person could do it for me. But only God can do that for any of us. He created us for relationship, and nothing will satisfy us, until we surrender to him.
Besides, Merle already sings a song with a message that transcends time. He tells of a man named Leonard, who was…
“On his way to having what he wanted, just about as close as one could be, hey once he even followed Elvis Presley and he wrote a lot of country songs for me. But he laid it all aside to follow Jesus, for years he chose to let his music go, but preachin wasn’t really meant for Leonard, but how in the hell was Leonard supposed to know? Well life began to twist its way around him, and I wondered how he carried such a load. He came back again to try his luck in music and lost his wife and family on the road. After that he seemed to bog down even deeper and I saw what booze and pills can really do. And I wondered if I’d ever see him sober. But I’d forgot about a friend that Leonard knew.”
It is never too late, we are never too lost. God is always there waiting.
“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”
All that we have done, no matter the magnitude, no matter how many times or how great the sin, all can be forgiven. And, even after a life lived in rebellion, we can still come to him as innocent as that eleven-year-old child.
He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
Quote taken from PBS American Masters Documentary: Merle Haggard “Learning to Live with Myself.”
Bible verses: 2 Peter 3:9 and Mark 10:14
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