Deep Water

As September was sliding into October, my family made a trip to my uncle’s cabin on a lake. We usually went during the summer when the water was warm and crystal clear enough to see white sand. I spent hours floating on an air mattress, letting the waves gently rise and fall around me. An occasional boat would zip by pulling a water skier, or a slow pontoon would motor near, full of people who would raise their drinks to say hello. 

This time, crisp breezes were beginning, the sun was losing its zeal, and leaves were starting to fall. So there was no swimsuit and towel to pack. I wasn’t looking forward to going because without the option to swim, there wasn’t too much to do. 

The drive was always a marathon to endure, and I was not given any option but to sit directly next to my brother. At home, I avoided him as much as I could, so to spend hours in close proximity was a test of my patience. 

He could do sound effects of everything, and he did it accurately. Did I say repeatedly? If we were waiting for my dad to put gas in the car, and another vehicle would start up next to us, he could mimic the engine’s sound before the driver turned the key. He absolutely adored this about himself. 

Most of all, he was so impressed that he could produce the sound of a mosquito better than the real thing. And he loved to do this very near to my ear to make me think I was under attack..especially when I was trying to read. If I had a book in my hand, which I always did, this was his cue to find a way to disturb me. 

To say I was always happy to get out of the car is an understatement. He had a short attention span, so he thought I was a great diversion from his boredom. Before the station wagon was stopped entirely on the gravel drive, I was opening the door to free myself from his presence. 

I helped unpack the car, mainly a hospital supply of first aid choices because my mom was an RN. Any medical emergency that cropped up would immediately be taken care of. From calamine lotion to a tourniquet, she had it along. 

My brother made a beeline for the water with his fishing rod. To stay away from him longer, I chose to sit with the adults, and it didn’t last long.

As I got up to leave, my dad asked,

“Where are you going?”

“Down by the lake.”

“Don’t fall in.”

I was at an age where his overprotective comments didn’t appeal. I was in fourth grade and fully capable of maintaining my balance, so why was he treating me like a newborn? 

He flashed me a smile which only irritated me more. 

As I opened the screen door, I said over my shoulder, 

“Do you think I’m stupid or something? I’m not going to fall in!”

And with my bratty attitude, I let the door slam behind me. I heard him say, 

“Just don’t fall in!”

Ugh! 

Why I went down by the dock he was fishing off is a mystery to me, and I must have been highly bored to subject myself to more of his horrible interpersonal skills. 

For once, he was quiet, and I stood on the shoreline picking up rocks and small shells. I saw him jerk his line and start to reel. He pulled a fish from the water and went about taking it off the hook.

“Look at this! Come here!”

What else was there to do to pass the time? I hesitantly walked onto the dock to see what was such a big deal. There wasn’t anything special; he just wanted me to watch him put it into the floating bucket. How exciting!

He turned back to what he was doing, and I looked into the somewhat murky water. I saw small fish swimming near, darting back and forth. The waves were coming in heavier as the wind began to pick up. Hypnotized by what I was seeing and not realizing how off balance I was becoming, much to my surprise, I hit the water face first as I fell in! 

I surfaced, gasping for air. My brother slowly turned to see the look of surprise on my face, and he looked just as shocked. 

“Chris, are you okay?” He actually mustered up genuine concern. 

I didn’t answer at first because all I heard was my dad’s words ringing in my ears and what I had said. I just stood there soaking wet in a heavy fall turtleneck and jeans. 

“Are you going to cry?”

And that’s as far as his compassion ran. He threw back his head and howled like a rabid dog.  

“You fell in! That is so hilarious!”

He didn’t offer to help me out of the water because he was too weak from finding my predicament so funny. I sloshed over to dry ground and considered my dilemma.

I wanted to run away from him, but I didn’t want to face the music back at the cabin.

My hair was hanging in strings, and my shoes and socks were heavy. Every time he looked my way, instead of feeling bad, he clutched his stomach and doubled over in glee with his whole body convulsing. 

I wished I hadn’t said what I did to my dad. But I couldn’t take this anymore. I got up and made the long, squishy walk back.

I considered not going in right away to see if I would dry out, but it wasn’t summer anymore, and I was so uncomfortable. I had no choice.

The door squeaked loudly, announcing my arrival. I stood in the doorway dripping. All eyes were on me.

My mom was the first to speak, 

“Chris! What happened to you? You are soaking wet!”

It was pretty obvious what had occurred, but she forced me to say it. 

“I fell in.”

As if scripted, the entire room erupted much the same as my brother had. Not a single soul felt my pain. 

My mom grabbed a towel and handed it to me. I wanted to put it over my head and hide because I knew what was coming next. 

“So, Chris, do you remember what you said on your way out of here?” My dad asked. 

Of course, he knew I knew.

“Didn’t you say: Do you think I’m stupid or something?”

It was so humiliating, but I couldn’t take it back.

“Yes, I said it,” trying to dry my hair. 

“Pride comes before the fall,” he replied. 

I had no clue what that meant, but the subject got changed, and so did my clothes. From then on, I learned that when he said something, I tried to conceal my pre-teen eye-roll at least. While his unnecessary concerns still drove me nuts, I didn’t ever want a repeat performance of what happened at the lake. 

In this passage, some valuable information is offered in Proverbs 15:31-32: 

Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise.

Those who disregard discipline despise themselves, but the one who heeds correction gains understanding. (NLT)

Who likes to be corrected? No one. Ever. But, something is to be gained when it does happen; we learn something about ourselves that we can change for the better. It brings us up higher spiritually so mistakes made in the past can be erased and forgotten. 

I had dismissed my dad’s prophecy as ridiculous, but what if I took it seriously? God is speaking to us all the time, whether we want to admit it or not. We are offered protection and can receive it if we incline our ears to hear warnings and instructions from above. What trouble could be avoided if we just took the time to listen versus rushing ahead dismissing that part of our lives? It just might keep us from getting into deep water.

Make Your Way Home

The walk home from middle school was only a mile, but it felt like a million. I packed my books into my canvas bag, slung it over my shoulder, and zipped up my coat.

I pushed open the exit door, happy to leave the place behind. I never felt like I fit in, and I didn’t try all that hard to. I thought my peer group was immature, and I couldn’t bring myself down to that level. I had already tried smoking at 11, felt incredibly guilty, and that was all the farther I was willing to delve into juvenile delinquency type behavior.

I had friends in elementary school, but they had chosen to follow the road of least effort and do drugs and other activities I didn’t care to participate in. I kept dodging their invites, so they deemed me an outsider who thought she was superior to them. When I didn’t bow down to the peer pressure, they ridiculed and threw me aside.

Because of the so called rejection and my decision to walk away, I didn’t trust anyone. If they could turn on me like that, who else would? So I shut myself off and kept a safe distance from everyone.

It had been awhile since his harassment began, and like a winged creature, he would swoop out of nowhere and follow me. I had no protection other than to push the ignore button. He was two years younger than I was, so quite a bold move on his part to try and gain my attention.

His approach was aggressive as he would invade my personal space by standing in front of me, blocking the way. Like a small, yapping dog, he would say vile things. None of what streamed out of his mouth was frightening; it just made me angry.

I generally just kept my eyes locked straight ahead and my hands in my pockets. I said nothing in return and kept on moving as best as I could. Inwardly I could not believe how demented this kid was, and I did not indicate that he even existed.

I had been trained at home to treat my older brother that way. My mom had told me that my reaction would determine whether the situation would halt in its tracks or keep going. I had learned to breeze past my sibling, not giving him the satisfaction of my time. He was left standing by himself with no one to torment.

I was applying that theory to this situation, but it didn’t seem to be working. This troll wasn’t backing down. He had been doing this since the first day of school, and it was now mid-February. I could have told my brothers to handle him, but I felt that was an unfair advantage because they were double his age. On some level, I knew he was a mess, but I was hoping he would get bored and leave me alone.

As usual, he was hiding behind a tree and jumped in front of me. This game was so old and predictable. That particular day, the air was skin burning cold with a wicked wind, and my legs felt frozen with frostbite.

He started in with his usual litany of talk as I tried to escape. I crossed the street, he followed close by, running in circles around me, hurling disgusting comments. I could see my breath in the air as I sighed and made a decision. I stopped and turned around to face him.

He was shorter than me, with a height not even to my shoulders. He seemed to think this was the victory he had been longing for. The big moment had arrived, and he felt he had wooed me with his words. A crooked smile spread across his face. Another surge of fury went through me, and what he didn’t see coming was my gloved fist making contact with his nose. I purposely tried to have him feel the impact of the ring I had on my middle finger. The cold air added to the pain of the punch.

“You hit me!”

I dropped my book bag to the ground, ready to do it again. It felt good to unleash on him finally.

He crouched down at my feet while I
towered over him.

“My nose,” he wailed.

I didn’t feel the slightest bit of remorse. I was more than ready to do it again.

He stumbled back to his feet, covering his face.

“I’m telling my mom!”

“Really?”

I picked up my bag and said,

“Where do you live? I will come with you and tell her everything you have been saying to me.”

He looked like he would have rather died of a stroke.

“Let’s go!”

His target and object of affection had now turned the tables on him.

“Get away from me!”

He started backing up, and I moved in closer. Half looking at me, half beginning to run, he began to flee, but I pursued him. The hunter had now become the hunted.

“Leave me alone! I’m telling!”

“I know. Let’s go tell!”

He broke out into a full on run, and so did I despite the ice. When he rounded the corner, I stopped, and he went on without me, never to bother me again.

Sometimes in life, you have to rise and put a stop to things that are a nuisance. If we passively sit by and let situations or people push us down, we have given away our God given power. Whether we surrender it out of fear or to be “nice”, there comes a time when we have to get honest and cut ties with it to be our authentic selves.

The pest appeared to be intimidating, but he fell like a house of cards when it came right down to it. While I had to fight back physically, most battles will be mental. We will have to go toe to toe with thoughts like worry, low self-esteem, or negativity. Putting them in their place will bring an end to the disruption. Some may linger and taunt relentlessly, seemingly hindering your purpose and destiny. Still, if one keeps persistently refusing to accept the illusion, a new mindset will knock out the false one.

In Romans 12:2, we are given great advice on how to silence the bullying thoughts that plague us:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. (NLT)

You can shut off the unnecessary noise through prayer, filling one’s mind with positive news and acting on the instructions of heaven. When you decide not to allow it anymore, God will clear your path and pave it with peace as you make your way home.

Unexpected

My daughter and I wandered into the air freshener aisle at the store. Cans of seasonal sprays, plug-in devices, and candles pervaded an entire section. It was one massive scent parade. An equally large clearance display housed the already forgotten summer fare of cotton laundry, ocean breezes, sunflower burst, and Malibu sunshine. It was, after all, barely the first week of September. Room needed to be made immediately for everything that suggested colder weather, crackling fireplaces, and sweaters. There was no more running wild in flip-flops and short sleeve shirts. It was time to buckle down and bundle up! Yet, it was still 85 degrees outside. 

She sensed my dissatisfaction with looking at pumpkin anything this early. I pulled out my phone to distract myself as she surveyed her options. 

“You don’t want me to get this,” she said, picking up my thought. 

It felt too early. My tan lines hadn’t faded, and I knew how this always ended. By the stroke of midnight one second past Thanksgiving, everything she was considering buying would be in the trash. All of this seemed so thrilling now but day after day of it got to be monotonous. Half of the product would go unused. Then it would be onto evergreen or sugar cookie, which I already saw on the shelf creeping their way in. 

“No, I don’t. Are you sure you will even use it? You know how you get tired of it quickly.”

She has a slight weakness for anything marked Limited Edition, so I didn’t put a lot of energy into dissuading her as I knew my efforts were futile. 

She went on to smell another offering, and I went back to not paying attention. Locking down her choice and sliding it into the cart, I still had a visual of me throwing it away in two months. 

Once at home, I took out a new box of baking soda. I had scoured the extra refrigerator in the garage, and it needed a replacement. My daughter was emptying the contents of her shopping bags on the kitchen table as I headed out the door. 

I was just about to open the fridge when I realized I forgot to mark the date to remind myself when another box would be necessary. 

I spun around quickly in the pursuit of a black sharpie located in the kitchen. From that moment, I don’t clearly recall everything. Right as I pushed open the door to go back in, I collided with my daughter, who had one arm upraised. This caused me to look upward at her hand. In a swift, sweeping motion, she dispensed pumpkin air freshener into my eyes, onto my lips, and straight up my nose. I gasped, which only caused me to inhale more, and my tongue fell victim. I had luckily slammed my eyes shut out of an initial response. 

“Mom! Oh, no! Are you ok? Mom! Mom!” 

I was saturated in an artificial mist cloud, leaving me without the ability to communicate or breathe properly. 

The more I was frozen in place with my eyes closed, the more she panicked. 

“Mom! Please say you are ok! Mom!”

Finally, able to speak, I said one word, 

“Why?” 

“I wanted you to be able to smell it when you came back in. I was going to spray it around the whole door, so you could see what it was like. You were supposed to walk through it and be surrounded by it.

She had maced me. 

I ventured to open my eyes a crack. There was no burning, just the overpowering aroma of factory produced pumpkin, mainly because I had a wet upper lip dripping with the scent. 

I looked at her through the haze. Her eyes were wide with her finger still on the nozzle. 

I have lived long enough to have tasted pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, and pumpkin bars. This was not that at all. Not even close. It was a disguised can of hair spray marketed for autumn. 

I noticed I had somehow held onto the box of soda as I started to return to a state of consciousness. 

“Mom? Are you ok?”

“No! I am not! I’m not okay! No! None of this is okay! Nothing about this is ok at all!”

And that’s when I started laughing so hard I could not stand up. I ended up lying on my back in the middle of the kitchen. The air closer to the floor wasn’t as perfume ladened, but I was a walking fragrance from which there was no escape. I tried rubbing it off my face, but it soaked in more and transferred itself onto my hands. As I took in oxygen, I got to experience the simulation of fall over and over. 

Assuming I was fine, she laughed with me. 

“I wanted you to see that it wasn’t a waste to buy it, and I would use it.” 

I rolled to my side, trying to stop the waves of laughter that gripped me. 

I caught my breath for a moment to say, 

“It is not even fall yet!”

Being in the wrong place at the wrong time isn’t a pleasant experience. I was going about my life, not anticipating a seasonal assault at the door. 

My daughter intended to “cozy” up the house, but it didn’t turn out that way. Her timing and mine were off. What if your timing and God’s don’t coincide? Do you keep trying to make something happen, or do you wait until the way opens up? 

I think we all know when something is easy, and all the pieces fall simply into place. There’s no force needed or coercion, and it just comes along naturally. Often with God, we are left with mouths hanging open in awe. All of your plans could never be as detailed and take into account all that is involved. 

Lagging is never a good idea either because opportunities get missed, and regrets happen later. So how do you walk in line with the Creator of all? 

Proverbs 3:5-12

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;

    don’t try to figure out everything on your own.

Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;

    he’s the one who will keep you on track. (Message)

So as we move into another season, where things change beyond our control, remember the One who is in control of it all. You never know when that great thing you have been waiting for will suddenly manifest. 

Often God’s timing is just like that pumpkin spray…unexpected.

Stumped

Restringing the weed whipper on the first try is a small victory for me. I have often gone into deep, intercessory prayer for myself while working with the thin nylon line that has a mind of its own. When you think it’s cooperating, it all unravels from the spool, and it’s back to the drawing board. 

Since becoming the sole owner of my home, I have learned that the lawn isn’t going to cut itself, the leaves won’t jump into the bags without my effort, and the weeds need constant attention. 

Last summer, while redoing the rock outside the perimeter, I suddenly saw a man standing nearby. I have noise-canceling headphones, so I didn’t hear him approach. His lips were moving, but I heard absolutely nothing. I removed one earbud. 

In situations such as this, I freeze. I assess my escape plan, and I only half pay attention to what is said. He looked like someone I could easily throw rocks at if I had to for a defense mechanism. Once I had mentally decided I could get away quickly if I had to, I heard, 

“…do you mind if I take some?”

“I didn’t hear the first part of the question. What did you say?”

“I was just asking if I could take one of your rhubarb plants.”

I looked over at the row my dad and I had planted long ago. They were ancestors of some from my grandma’s garden then transplanted at my mom’s house. 

“Well,” I said hesitantly. 

Who was this guy? He shows up and wants something? 

“I don’t need any,” he said quickly. 

“No. I don’t know if I want you to take an entire plant. You can have some stalks if you want because they grow back quickly.”

“Ok. Well, I didn’t know how to ask you, and I have seen you out here as I walked by.”

I had many visitors throughout the days as I did this time consuming chore. No one helped me, but all of them wanted a free therapy session. Some sat on the retaining wall and told me their issues ranging from childhood, parenting troubles, and landlord hassles. It helped pass the time as I filled and moved heavy buckets. 

It was hot, and my clothes were clinging to me, and I didn’t feel like standing there longer than I had to. If I kept working on the task, I didn’t notice how much I was dripping sweat. He appeared to be of retirement age, with nowhere to go. Wonderful. 

He was lingering, telling me of his time in the service, that he had recovered from a heart attack, his mom was in an assisted living, his wife loved quilting and a whole host of other things. I decided that I would give him my time. I was unemployed, so what was my rush? 

“I need to ask you something.”

Bracing myself, I said, 

“Okay.”

“I walk through the neighborhood all the time, and I pray. I ask God who I can help. I used the rhubarb as an excuse to come and speak to you.”

I was slightly concerned and a bit skeptical. What did he really want from me? Because he had mentioned he was married, I felt it was safe to stay, but I kept my distance. 

“Is there anything I can do? God told me to ask you that.”

 I wasn’t used to strangers coming off the street readily asking this question. 

“Really?” 

“Yes. What do you need help with? Do you want me to move all these rocks?” 

I looked down at the million stones at my feet. I could handle this, and I wanted something to do outside. This was like being handed a genie lamp and getting one wish. 

“I cut down trees, I redo bathrooms, I do all kinds of work.” 

I didn’t want him in my house. I wasn’t comfortable with that.

My neighbor had been over the night before and said,

“Chris, you need that tree cut down.”

Dreaded words as I had one taken down the summer before, it was a mess and expensive. 

“You cut down trees?”

“Yes, do you need that?”

I showed him the tree in my backyard. 

“I can do that. God told me to help you.”

He convinced me he could do it. 

I didn’t hear from him for a couple of days, but then he resurfaced. He brought a gigantic ladder and an electric chainsaw. Slightly a bit scary to me on the ground, he ascended with the saw in hand. At one point, he precariously balanced on his right leg while the long extension cord dangled next to me. 

He had no safety net or any harness. He seemed calm as could be. I began to wonder if my homeowner’s insurance would cover an unexpected fall or if he had life insurance to protect his spouse financially after his untimely death. I was pondering this as I heard a cracking sound. 

I barely had time to sprint to the far corner of my yard as a massive branch fell. Maybe I was the one who needed better life insurance.

“Sorry about that,” he yelled. “I was trying to send that in the other direction.” 

As he adjusted himself from side to side, there was a tense moment where he almost dropped the saw. He caught it with one hand by some act of every angel available in heaven, while the other quickly grabbed the ladder. I covered my eyes, not ready to catch him or the power tool. It was like watching a person on a tight rope. His crowd of one was relieved to open her eyes and see him still above, working away without a care. 

More of the tree came down in places he wasn’t expecting, with apologies following. I wasn’t safe anywhere I stood. The last one struck my chain link fence, bending it slightly.

“I’m so sorry!” I could tell he felt terrible. “I will replace it for you.”

I moved it back into place. 

“It’s still standing. That is okay.”

Over the next few days, he returned to keep hacking away at branches. Often I would ask if he wanted my help, but he would shoo me away. Sometimes, I would insist on helping. 

“God told me to do this for you. You don’t have to be out here.” 

I felt guilty seeing him wilting in the summer heat, hauling pieces of wood and remnants into a pile by himself. I would go out and work with him and bring him ice water, even while he tried to get rid of me. I learned he was a very proud grandfather, uncle, and churchgoing man. He loved serving his country and told me of various jobs he had worked to make a living. 

One day, while I was away, my neighbor lady kept an eye on him from their window. I hadn’t asked her to do this, but she looks out for me. 

“What was he doing earlier today?”

I had no idea what she was talking about.

“He was crawling on your lawn, Chris. Down on his hands and knees moving across the back yard.”

That was a new one for me. 

“Why would he need to do that if he’s cutting up a tree?” She asked. 

I ran this by another friend of mine.

“He was on the grass, crawling,” I said.

“Did you ask him why?”

“No. I don’t want him to think my neighbor is spying on him.”

“You said he is a veteran, right?”

“Yes.”

Where was she going with this?

“Well, maybe he was doing tactical maneuvers in your backyard as he used to in the military.”

“Are you serious?” I said with concern. 

She burst out laughing. 

“Ya, maybe he’s re-enacting something from the past.”

“Like he has PTSD?”

“Maybe.”

“I hope not!” What next? Was he going to set up a bunker and blow off a cannon? 

I had no clue, but why question his approach to things? He could have been stretching out his lower back or examining the dirt for all I cared. The job was getting accomplished. 

He ended up taking all the brush away on a day I was gone. It was nice to see the work get finished without barely lifting a finger. 

The wood was piled up, and I lost touch with him for a little while. 

This spring, my rhubarb plants came up as usual. I picked a bunch to give away to a friend. One night while I was out walking, I ran into him.  

“My sister passed away.”

He told me she had been sick for a short time, and he had stepped in to help. He didn’t shed a tear as he spoke of her; I had come to know his slightly stoic, friendly nature. 

“Guess what my wife made for the gathering after the funeral? Rhubarb cake. I came and took some of your rhubarb. People loved it!”

“You finally took some a year later? Get more. It grows non-stop.”

He has been back a few times. 

As I walk with God, I cannot predict who will be sent my way or for whatever reason. 

In mid-summer, I was out in the back working, and I glanced over at where the tree had been removed. It was beginning to look like a small shrub, so I knew I had to deal with the next step, and I wasn’t sure what to do. 

A few hours later, my neighbor, who had been gone all weekend, yelled over my fence, “Do you want that stump removed?”

He had not been around to see me standing there earlier pondering what to do next. 

“Sure!”

I could not believe that I was being helped again without having to beg anyone. In no time, it was done, and my neighbor returned to fill it all in with black dirt.

I asked him what I owed him, and he told me not to worry about it. 

These are the times when I am astonished by God’s hand in my life. Psalm 63:7 expresses it best. 

Because you are my helper, I sing under the shadow of your wings. (NLT)

And what a beautiful picture is painted in these words from John 15:5: 

“I am the vine; you are the branches.” (NLT) 

When God shows up unexpectedly and removes a burden, you might not be able to figure out how or why. And it’s okay just to move on happily stumped. 

Second Chance

I was raised in the Catholic Church, and at a very young age, I became aware that there were many rules to follow. With God so elusive, and when we struggle to grasp what we can’t explain, someone has to lay down laws for comfort sake. Without standards to follow, who knows where the train could go off the track? The masses might all get the crazy idea that God cannot be put into a box. 

So there were the incense-infused ceremonies, no meat on Friday during Lent, and a series of steps a young person had to go through to achieve the accolades of the institution. 

The basic level was first communion. Barely six years old, I was expected to sit and listen to a really old guy speak. It was on a Saturday morning. How do I remember that? All of my weekend cartoons were on, I was finally out of school for the week, and I had to absorb a lecture that made no sense. I’m sure his intentions were great, but my thoughts were back at home. He didn’t seem to understand children. 

To make it worse, we had homework, and I had to pray these long, boring paragraphs that were just words on a page. If anyone was trying to get me to have a connection with God, I wasn’t getting it. Somewhere in my little self, I knew that I had a spirit, but this was not helping me to uncover it. 

One of the experiences that kept occurring was I would feel separated from my body. The only way I can describe it was like looking through my eyes from behind my eyes as if you were looking through a pair of binoculars. 

These feelings were so strange; I decided to tell my mom. At this young age, it wasn’t easy to make her understand, so I said,

“I don’t feel like me.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t feel like I am myself.”

“Who do you feel like?”

“Not me.”

“I feel like a floating feeling.”

“Floating how?”

“Outside of me.”

Our circular discussions amounted to nothing. This started to happen more frequently, even while other people would be speaking to me. I would become an observer, which she began to notice. When she would say something and expect a specific response from me, and I would reply, “I wasn’t feeling like myself,” she started to worry. 

“Chris, you are scaring me.”

Well, who wants to frighten her mother? So I quit talking about it. But it continued. 

Funerals and visitations were another thing. She took me along, and I was so freaked out at first to see an unmoving person displayed in a casket. Everyone was standing around casually talking, and there was a body in the room! Hello?! A dead person! Why was no one feeling alarmed about this? At first, I forced myself to adapt, and then I started to notice something once I got over my initial horror. Around certain dead people, I saw a very bright light. The first time I did, I tried rubbing my eyes to make it go away, and it only expanded farther out. 

With this new feature added, I stopped fearing attending these and started looking for the shine. It made it more like a game. Instead of listening to an adult speak about topics that were way beyond my ability to comprehend, I would stare straight ahead, start to squint, and then look for it. I’m sure the people around me thought I was a little off, but then again, I kind of was. 

I began to notice that most people had this heavenly glow to them while others did not. I also picked up on conversations around me. “I can feel her presence here listening to us,” or “He was such a good man.” Those were the brightest lights. 

One night on the car ride home, I said,

“Isn’t that light around the dead person weird? And others don’t have it.” 

I saw her glance up into the mirror to make eye contact with me in the backseat. 

“What do you mean?”

“The dead people. Some have a bright light around them, and others don’t.”

The silence was loud. She looked back at the road. 

“You see a light around some of them? And not others?”

“Yes. Don’t you?”

“No. Some people call that an aura or an energy type thing. When do you see it?” 

“While I’m sitting there waiting for it to be over.”

“No. I don’t see it at all. I’m too busy listening.”

I felt like she was sending me a message to stop talking about it. We had already dealt with my other odd revelation, so I kept my thoughts to myself from then on.

In the spring, I had to go to confession, and I was petrified. To receive communion, this was an absolute necessity, or the world would end. My infant baptism had begun the process of keeping me from going to hell, but who knew what eternal damnation I could get myself into at the age of six? 

There were a lot of question-and-answer sessions. 

“What do I do? It looks like a closet.”

“You go in, sit down and tell the priest everything you have done wrong,” she said. 

“Like what?”

“Have you lied?”

“No.

“Do you do everything I ask you to do?”

“Yes.”

“You can’t think of one thing?”

I didn’t like getting into trouble, and she had gone out of her way to enforce rules, so no, at that point, I had no infractions to account for that I could conjure up. I tried to avoid punishment and guilt at all costs. 

Seeing that I didn’t have sin on demand, she said,

“Something will come to you. You will know what to say.”

The big day of my unleashing my burdens arrived. I was hoping to wake up sick—no such luck. 

During the drive to the church, I was racking my brain trying to develop a stellar story that I could ask forgiveness for. My quiet demeanor got her attention. 

“What are you going to say?”

“Nothing. I have nothing to say.”

Her mouth popped open.

“Chris, you have to say something. You can’t just go in there and not say a word.” 

Yes, I could. But then I would feel like I let her and the entire Catholic Church down. 

“Ask God to tell you. I thought by now you would know.”

I did know, and I had nothing to say. But that wasn’t going over so well. My mind was blank. 

The church was incensed up when we walked in, and it stung the lungs to inhale. Again, on a Saturday, I was ripped away from my pleasant day of freedom. I stood in a line watching boys and girls enter and exit the tiny closed off rooms. No one looked worse the wear as they walked past me, and most looked happy to have it over with. 

I was up to the plate. I opened the door and sat down. 

In the dark, I could see an outline of a man, and I heard him clear his throat. 

“Bless me, Father, for I sinned,” he whispered.

Oh! I was supposed to say that! I already had messed up my lines. 

Quickly, I repeated it. 

He then instructed me to tell him the biggest offense that was ruining my relationship with God.

On the fly, I said, 

“I hit my brother.”

As soon as the words came out, and he went into some sort of incantations, it was like scalding water was rained down on me. 

I had NOT hit my brother; he had hit me in the arm, hard. And I had just lied to a priest in confession! 

I couldn’t wait to leave that stifling little box. I found my mom sitting with her eyes shut, probably begging God to help her youngest child. I was relieved it was over, but now I had a crushing weight on my chest. I was a liar! In a church of all places! 

She looked down at me and said,

“Do you feel better?”

I started crying so hard she couldn’t believe it. Crying was deemed a weakness in our house and in public? Never! In her eyes, I was obviously having the ultimate spiritual experience. 

“You must have had something that was bothering you. Didn’t it feel good to get rid of that? To free yourself of that burden?”

I sobbed harder, unable to speak. I was going to hell! I had just sealed my eternal fate while in elementary school! 

“No. I lied.”

“What? Chris, what did you say?” She took her hand off my back. The comfort session was over. 

Hunched over ready to throw up, I choked, 

“I lied. I told him I hit Bob. But, Bob hit me.”

She shook her head, accompanied by a sigh. I just wasn’t an easy student. Miraculously, she didn’t make me go back in and undo the damage. She said God would forgive me in the car on the way home. What?! That was an option? 

It is impossible to get through life without missing the mark. If we think we are perfect, we are delusional. But, we also don’t have to swing to the other extreme and live in self-condemnation and write ourselves off as unforgivable. If we do, we are as useless as the prideful and arrogant. 

There’s a nice balance between the two.

In 1 John 1:8-10, it says:

 If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—simply come clean about them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. (Message) 

Why do organizations complicate things? 

Just recognize where there needs to be a minor fix, ask for assistance, and gratefully accept the second chance. 

Breathe Easier

I didn’t know how I came to stand by her hospital bed. It was quite shocking to see such a small child fighting for her life. A family member had asked for prayer, so I said I would go along to stand unassumingly in a dark corner.

During this era, I was getting very little sleep at night, I wasn’t eating, and my whole life seemed out of control. While driving my car, and at a red light, I would tell my daughter to let me know when it was green, so I could open my eyes to go. Often, I fell sound asleep with my head on the kitchen table while going over bills making sure I was doing it right. I would wake up at 2 am, with a stiff neck, pen in hand, and go back to figuring out numbers.

It was a miserable existence trying to adjust to being divorced and having all the responsibility suddenly on me. I was clinging to the idea that God was in charge no matter what, but my mind would tell me otherwise. Every day I anticipated a problem that I would have to fix with a racing heart. I would be struck so hard with anxiety that I would not be able to breathe, gasping for air. That is how I learned that panic attacks exist.

So it was beyond me as to why I, of all people, would be willing to help out in such a high tension situation. According to the child’s grandmother, she had been very sick with a high fever. I don’t fully recall what medical emergency was happening because I was in a bit of a fog, but some critical numbers were off, and the little one was heading for a dire health situation. She wasn’t eating, and if that didn’t occur, a feeding tube was going to be placed. I could feel the fear radiating from the mom. Even though she tried to smile, I could see the worry and fatigue in her eyes, much the same as mine. We shared common ground even though our situations were different.

I observed as others stepped forward to pray while standing in the shadows trying not to be noticed. That is when I started to think of my own two healthy kids at home. How would I feel if I were in this situation with one of them? I remained silent with these images floating around in my head.

A slight pressure began to build in my chest as I heard the words spoken in my mind: Go help, Chris.

Really? How about I stick to the corner of the room and let other people handle it this time? They hadn’t exactly asked me to do anything but be present. The feeling kept growing, and just as everyone was about to leave, I knew that if I didn’t volunteer, the moment would be gone, and the results would not be favorable.

I slid up next to mother and daughter. The quiet chatting that had been happening in the room went silent.

“Can I hold your hand?” I asked.

She hesitantly gave me the one that wasn’t cradling the baby. I could see on her face that this wasn’t something she was used to. I had been told on the trip over that this was a last resort type of thing for her. She had been relying on the physician and nursing staff to bring a miracle, and it wasn’t happening. Nothing was helping.

My hand radiated a warmth that encircled hers, and I placed my other hand on the bed near them.

I closed my eyes and didn’t say a word at first. Strangely, it was like I had my hands on a cradle that was rocking from side to side. I opened one eye to see that nothing was moving, and I went back to not looking while the swaying motion became more pronounced. I just stood still like that, swept up in this heaven sent lullaby minus the music. Amazingly I was becoming calmer in the process as all my cares began to fade away. This otherworldly sensation was hypnotic and relaxing.

I spoke just a few simple words that the child’s condition would immediately improve and that she would return to normal. When I felt the movement stop, I removed my hands, smiled at the parents, and said I was believing for them that all would be well.

The next day, the call came that the little girl’s temperature was normal; she was eating as usual and was discharged to go home. She had a complete turnaround after I prayed.

That bright moment helped me forge ahead despite the hardships and unfamiliarity of everything going on around me. It brought to life this scripture from Hebrews 4:16 that says: Let us step boldly to the throne of grace, where we can find mercy and grace to help when we need it most. (Voice)

When I momentarily put my trouble aside, I became an instrument for the healing power of God to flow through to bless a terrified family. In return, I noticed that some of my unnecessary mental torment lessened; while it didn’t disappear entirely and there were more mountains to climb, it gave me room to breathe easier.

Used

I knew something was amiss every time a certain woman would call. I had somewhat of a loose connection with her, but it seemed she had my number on speed dial in times of crisis. This was when I was at the height of raising two young daughters, one of them an infant and the other a four-year-old, who always had an urgent question for me like, can I have a popsicle? Can I go outside and play? Where are my shoes? Mom? I think the dog is frowing up. You get the picture.

She always started off so brightly when I took my chances by answering, but then the conversation would take a negative turn. She told me that all men were horrible and that no one could be trusted. This was mainly because her ex-husband, who she remained friends with in hopes of a remarriage, kept seeing other women on the side. As I tried to make our communication more positive, she would counter and bring it back down again. While she had no schedule outside of work, I did with hungry children staring at me on the edge of starvation. Many times I had to cut her short.

Alcoholism was rampant in her childhood home, where she was verbally and physically abused. Her brothers and sisters seemed to have buried their past. She did the same by drinking to excess. I didn’t know the extent to which she engaged in this, but there had been multiple attempts through counseling to get a hold of this addiction that seemed to have a firm grip. Looking at it as an outsider, she cared too much without boundaries, and the world seemed to take advantage of that. This, in turn, would activate the need to drown out more sorrow.

One night, she began talking to me about God. I tried to help her understand that grasping for things on the outside would never heal her wounds on the inside. Downing a bottle of wine wouldn’t erase anything but complicate her life more. For a while, she seemed to embrace what I was sharing with her. She told me that she had tried to go to church on occasion, but every message was about how much God hated sin, which made her feel guilty about every area of life where perfection wasn’t reached. Shame didn’t change the behavior; it only ramped it up more. Her family tried to brush it all under the rug, so she did her best to conceal her problem.

The only comfort was to continue the repeated self-inflicted numbing of the mind.

It got to the point when her number was showing up multiple times on my caller ID, I had to let the calls go to voicemail because I didn’t have the time or the energy to help. This made me feel guilty as I knew she was in some sort of struggle, but I also felt that my advice was falling on deaf ears. We kept going around in circles, getting absolutely nowhere.

One morning after praying for her, I had a brilliant idea. I went to a store and purchased a book about how to hear from God. During a moment of no interruption, I sat down and wrote her a letter. I felt that I could get some ideas across without distraction. She would have a chance to look it all over without feeling judged. I hoped that the material would resonate with her. I quoted John 10:10, which says: The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”(NLT)

Sending it off in the mail, I knew it would either do some good, or the message would turn her away from me. There was nothing more I could do.

My worst fear came to pass when my phone went silent. On the one hand, it was a relief to let this go because it was beyond my ability to say anything more than what had been stated. On the other, I felt like I had let her down by pawning her off on God.

A year later, I found out that she had been in yet another emergency treatment, resulting in going to a halfway house. Hearing this, I was hopeful that maybe she was seizing the help to overcome this once and for all. I heard she successfully completed the program, and shortly after, her employer relocated her to a state in the south.

She had won awards due to her success in her career, so all of this sounded wonderful as if she had finally turned over a new leaf. It seemed as if her life was taking a turn for the better with a fresh start. That was until I heard she had died. Her physician had told her during her last bout of hospitalization that if she didn’t halt her imbibing, her body would cease to function.

Far away from family and friends, she secretly kept up her habit with a partner who loved to share drinks with her. She died alone in her bed.

In the quiet of my house at night, when all were tucked into bed, I would find myself wondering where I had let her down. What if I had continued to take her calls? A darkness descended on me that if I could dismiss her like that, maybe I wasn’t such a great person who God could even love.

During the busyness of my days, I wouldn’t ponder these ideas so much, but when I had moments alone, they would come, and I would question my usefulness.

That spring, I was asked by the family if I wanted something of hers. It felt slightly awkward looking at her possessions and realizing I would not see her again. And the guilt that was always right there to remind me of what a horrible, underserving person I was. Underneath a pile of office supplies, I saw the book I had sent with the letter inside of it.

I took that and nothing else. My grief over not being a better friend to her was overwhelming. Later that evening, I opened the book and took out the letter. She had used it to mark a specific page, and she had highlighted several passages. A bright, bold red stamp was marked across the top of my letter. RECEIVED.

I felt warmth flood my chest. Received? In business terms, that means the letter was read. But, in spiritual language, the message was embraced. For the first time since her passing, I had an assurance that she had taken in what I had said. It wasn’t that she was angry with me for trying to shove God down her throat, but she didn’t know how to get away from her habit. She didn’t want me to be disappointed in her like so many others had been.

I had a dream of her shortly after. She walked up to me with a gown on that was so white it hurt my eyes. She thanked me for helping her get to know God, and her smile was the most fantastic thing I had ever seen. Even though I could not help her one way, I had put her squarely in front of her Creator, and she was finally at peace.

When you think you might not be doing any good, you never know how you will be used.

Change of Plans

In the dark ages, better known as my early twenties, I was a social worker at a nursing home. Fresh out of college, I took up this position as an assistant to the director. I had interned that spring and was hired when the previous employee decided to leave. Since high school, I had already been working there in housekeeping, laundry, and the kitchen, so it was an easy transition that didn’t require much of an interview. I walked across the stage with my diploma in hand, knowing I already had a job. 

It wasn’t an easy one, though. I had hardly any real life experience, yet I often found myself comforting those who had said goodbye to a loved one. Other times, I gave a listening ear to a spouse who was visiting and watching as their better half was fading away. 

I think the saddest man I ever met was the one whose wife had gotten early onset Alzheimer’s right after they had both retired. Bill and Lydia had worked very hard to get to this stage so they could travel. They saved every dime toward their future, and now it wasn’t to be. So many tears of grief and anger flowed while we would talk. He confided so much in me, and I often would wonder why? I couldn’t fully understand what he was experiencing, yet the right words always seemed to come out of my mouth to alleviate his pain momentarily. 

In the end, I gave him the permission he was looking for to branch out into the unknown. At first, he could not fathom the idea of leaving his wife to go on an adventure for himself. He felt he had to stand guard over her even though it got to the point where she no longer knew who he was. 

I watched as the months and eventually years dragged on, and he would come in the door with his shoulders slumping more and his eyes filled with an ever increasing depression. As much as she was leaving the earth, so was he. When I would greet him, he would acknowledge me with a quiet voice and eyes to the floor. His withdrawal was apparent to all of us. 

One day, he came into my office, shut the door, and pulled out a pamphlet from his jacket. His hand shook a little bit. 

“What do you think of this?”

It was an advertisement for a group that was going to take a trip to another country.

“I think this is an excellent idea if you think it’s something you want to do. You know your wife is in safe hands here.”

I saw the tears start to well up in his eyes again.

“I think I should try it. It’s not how it was supposed to be. We had it all planned out. We made a decision not to have kids but to work as much as possible. We missed out on so many things together to keep working. But, we thought we would have all our time together now. We chased after money thinking it would give us a safety net. Now, most of it is going for her care.”

“When are you going to do something for yourself? Would she want you to be this unhappy?”

That seemed to strike a chord. 

“No. She would want me to go on without her. I know she would.”

By the time he left, I had a feeling he was going to make a brave move forward.

On his next visit, he held his head high, and a long forgotten smile radiated his whole face. 

“I booked my trip!” 

He excitedly sat in my office in the same spot that was tear stained and told me all the details. There was still a nervousness to his demeanor, but making these plans for himself had given him purpose. He still had some guilt about going, but the joy he was feeling seemed to override it. 

“There’s a group of us, so I won’t feel alone, and that’s important for me right now. I made arrangements for an emergency contact in the family in case she needs something while I’m away.”

I leaned inside the doorframe of her room when he came to tell her goodbye before his excursion. Even though she sat staring at him with absolutely no indication that she knew him, he told her everything and promised he would return with many pictures to show her. 

I saw her take his hand and squeeze it. He looked over at me. 

“I guess that is your sign to go have a great time!”

He agreed. 

He returned with great stories and beautiful scenic photos of where he had been and who he had met. He left nothing out. 

By the time his wife passed on, Bill had an enormous circle of new acquaintances who shared common interests. He had listened to that inner push to put aside what he “thought” he should do and followed a path that seemed a bit less conventional. He was able to grieve the dreams that he and his wife had built by surrendering to another plan that was presented to him. 

Death, divorce, financial loss, retirement, illness, friends moving away…these are all possibilities that can present themselves. And how do we cope? What’s “our” plan then? Usually, we don’t have one. Most of us can hardly handle a slight detour while out driving. Like Bill, we are sidelined and many times try to cling to what’s familiar. 

I have found through my turbulence that God isn’t one to keep you in a comfort zone if there are other plans for you. The resistance to change is what brings unhappiness. I saw Bill blossom the minute he gave up his ideas and traded them in for God’s. He learned a great truth found in Isaiah 43:19:

Watch closely: I am preparing something new; it’s happening now even as I speak,

and you are about to see it. I am preparing a way through the desert;

Waters will flow where there had been none. (The Voice)

Once the initial shock of the event has transpired, and we let ourselves take a moment to sit quietly, consider that ‘our way’ may not be correct, we can be assured that God will always provide the best change of plans.

Inviting Light

It was the dead middle of January and dark outside by 4:30. With the sun down, the air would be frigid in no time. We were covered with snow and more predicted on the way. I was in bed by 7:30 under multiple blankets to try to stop the chills. My temperature felt like it was shooting up, and the pressure in my eyes was excruciating. All I could do was lay there and drink sips through a straw. Somehow moving anything brought on the spinning, so I spent the day drifting in and out. I managed to change scenery and sit elsewhere momentarily, but then it was back to my room, where relief seemed to be waiting. The only escape was to surrender to sleep.

I thought I heard a strange sound near my bedroom door that I had left half open. I opened my eyes, thinking it was one of my dogs trying to figure out what was going on with me. That is when the same peculiar noise came again. Closer. Whispery and constricted, it seemed as if someone was choking. I sat up a little more. I wondered if my daughter heard this. The tv volume in the living room was down low not to disturb me. From my vantage point, I should have been able to see her in the other room. Closer now, the raspy voice drifted to my ears again. A single word finally made sense.

“Mom!”

That was all it took for me to be in an upright position. I flipped on the light to investigate. My daughter was in a mid crawl trying to tell me something but pure terror had overtaken her speaking ability.

“What is going on?” I said, trying not to fall over from the dizziness that was coming on quick.

“Someone is on the porch! I saw a face in the window looking in at me.”

She was breathing so fast I could hardly understand her. I wanted this to be a fever dream! The reality of what she just said left me feeling a bit weaker.

One of my underlying concerns was the addition on the back of my house and that someone would come in and be at the sliding glass door. I knew I had some time because I always locked that entry and put a bar across for extra security.

“I was sitting on the couch and felt like someone was there. I turned my head and saw a face. I don’t even know if this is real! It was this pure white face like a ghost!”

I grabbed my phone and stumbled toward the kitchen. Why had I not put up the drapes I should have years ago? I slowly peered around the corner. Sure enough, a wild eyed girl was staring at me through the glass. The lights were off behind her, but I could see her face. Seeing me, she started to knock slowly and pleaded to come in.

I was thinking,…not on your life, sister! I had just read an article about an elderly man nearby who fell for the same scheme. A pathetic looking young woman showed up at his house asking for help, and when he let her in, a man with a gun beat him nearly to death and robbed him.

The little bit of space between her and me was going to stay intact.

“I’m going to get you some help.” I held up my phone to show her that I was trying to assist her. She started rambling.

“Please let me in. They threw me out of the car, they took my phone, and I have nothing but my purse.”

She proceeded to take a small handbag and dump the contents on the floor. She got down on her knees and rummaged through the pile of junk in front of her.

“I’m not going to let you in, but I’m calling for help right now!”

She angrily looked at me and started calling me a bunch of names I won’t repeat. Including who she thought I supported for the President of the United States. Yep, she definitely was not coming in.

“911. What’s your emergency?”

“There’s a person on my porch needing assistance, and she wants to come in. I have been sick today with the flu and was in bed, and I am not sure what is going on with her.”

I described in detail what was unfolding before my unbelieving eyes.

“Are you taking any medications for your illness? Are you hallucinating?”

What?

“No! Really, a person is talking crazy on my porch right now.”

“Okay. We will send someone over.”

I kept my eyes on my surprise guest as she went from sobbing to cursing to laughing hysterically.

“Help is coming,” I said. This brought on another berating of my character and how awful I was.

“You hate people!” She screamed.

By now, my whole house had every light on, and all occupants were fully aware that we had a weird situation going on. I noticed a trickle of sweat come down my face. Adrenaline is your best friend, as all of my symptoms had momentarily disappeared.

Angrily, she stood up, grabbed a stray towel that had been left outside, and wrapped it around her head like a turban. Turning, she made her exit into my backyard and began running through the snowbanks. That’s when I heard car doors slamming near my driveway.

I opened the front door to see three police officers walking up.

“She’s out in the back!” The wind had picked up, and light snow was beginning.

They took off running with their hands on their holsters.

I went to see what was about to take place. Two of them jumped the fence and started chasing her. It looked like they were playing a game of slippery tag. Somehow, one caught up to her, and she seemed to let him willingly.

The other officer came up to the porch. He had a notepad and pen to take down my name and other incidentals. He kept glancing at the front of my shirt.

“We didn’t believe someone was here. We thought you were high on drugs when you called in.”

“Why?” I said, totally taken off guard. “I have the flu and have a fever, and I’m not seeing things.”

I looked down at the gigantic sweat stain that had appeared like I had gone into the shower with my clothes on. Apparently, my fever took this opportunity to break.

“We believe you now. The girl is 16 years old, and from what she said, she was with friends in a car, they stopped and left her here. They took her phone, so she was wandering looking for help. You are the only person who went through all this trouble. She knocked on doors, but no one would help her. There are some pretty heavy substances in her system, so we are taking her into the emergency room for evaluation. Could you unlock one of the gates so we can get her to a safe place?”

I told him I would. I changed out of my drenched shirt and threw on another. My head was buzzing loudly as I stepped into the cold night to get this over. I watched them handcuff her and made her get into the squad car’s backseat. All of her energy seemed to have been spent, and I hoped this would never happen to her again.

As I watched them drive away, I wondered why she had gone through all the trouble of jumping the fence when she could have kept trying doorbells? I walked around to my backyard and looked up toward the porch. Clearly, I could see the kitchen light.

I heard in my mind: She was drawn to your house because of the light.

I looked around at all the other houses, closed up and dark for the night.

Matthew 5:14 says: You are the light of the world.

Isn’t that the point of our existence? Aren’t we here to offer a kind word, a smile, and encouragement to someone who is downcast? The timing of this person’s appearance wasn’t the greatest, but I found the strength to get her into the hands of people offering shelter. We are called not to add to the frigid darkness but to radiate God’s warm, inviting light.

Garbage

I try to avoid watching things that frighten me. For many years I engaged in movies and shows that would put me in a state of panic, not realizing that my brain didn’t know the difference. The fight or flight response was unknowingly triggered, so while in the thrall of the plot, my mind was recording events and sending out signals on how to protect me. I recall many sleepless nights of “what was that noise?” and “is that shadow in my room the main character who terrorized the town?”

It wasn’t so fun after dark. But sure enough, in broad daylight, I would tune in, telling myself the torture of the night before wasn’t going to occur again. And then it would. 

After repeated sessions of this, I had a legitimate adverse reaction to heights. I had viewed multiple scenes, I am sure, of someone being shoved over a cliff, planes crashing into mountains, and cars plummeting down treacherous hillsides. There was no other explanation for my sweaty hands, racing heart, and an overwhelming feeling of wanting to run away when I was subjected to higher ground. 

I had to combat this for a long time and pretend not to be bothered, especially when my girls were young. I didn’t want them to pick up on something and have the impression that high places were to be avoided. I continued to white-knuckle it so that they wouldn’t know. 

Just before I went to a water park one day, I was silently suffering before leaving because I would have to climb ladders up onto platforms to take my kids on various rides. It’s an old psychology trick to do the action that makes one afraid. I tried to see this as an opportunity to overcome this entrenched idea that my death would come by plummeting to the ground. I heard that still, small voice say:

“Keep putting yourself up high, and you will see the end of this.”

The anxious feelings were a little less that day, and I didn’t have to fake enjoying the scenery. 

I obeyed and also employed Emotional Freedom Technique(EFT). It took a while of administering this self-care to overcome the problems, and I recall getting on a plane feeling calm. I waited for the usual uncomfortable emotions to overtake me, but they didn’t. I had reprogrammed a part of myself to feel secure when I was safe all along. 

After all that work, you would think that I would never put anything that would elicit fear before my eyes. It’s interesting how we forget and go back to doing something, maybe a bad habit, because we convince ourselves that it’s not harmful. 

So I found myself planted in front of the tv one dark and stormy night. In the back of my mind, I kept reminding myself I needed to throw a bag of junk away. I had been cleaning earlier that day, and instead of taking it to the bin, I pitched it into the garage. I didn’t want to leave it there overnight.

The show began, and I felt the old familiar twinge of suspense coming on me. All it takes is sound effects and music to start the process. A few times, I shut my eyes and took a deep breath. This was entertainment? But, I forged ahead, convincing myself I just had to see the outcome as I binge-watched. Right at the height of an intense scene, I heard her say, 

“Mom! There’s a spider on the wall!”

I hit the pause button.

“Where?”

“It’s big, mom. It’s big. Mom, you have to get it!”

The repeating of my title “mom” or “mother” doesn’t thrill me when I’m physically exhausted. I don’t have as much compassion at times when others have their irrational fear. Can’t someone else be the leader for a second?

Again I said,

“Where?”

“On the wall.”

“There’s a lot of walls. Where?” 

By now, she was clutching her blanket and peering over the edge of it like a herd of tarantulas was attacking us.

Sighing, I got up and started to scan the room. Normally, I do a catch and release type of mission, but our temperature had dropped outside to frigid numbers, so this would not end that way. 

“I see it!” She squeaked, pointing straight ahead. 

I got a tissue and appraised my options. Slowly taking small steps forward, I thought I would end this quickly. It knew its number was up and made an attempt to flee. After darting and traveling miles around the living room, it was apprehended. 

I told her she could uncover her head. 

“You got it?”

“Yes.”

I showed her the dark form in the Kleenex. Satisfied that her nerves were back in order, I walked to the wastebasket and put it in there. I thought momentarily about the story line of the show we were watching and that I should remove the bag with the dead spider if it resurrected itself. I was feeling jumpy. An episode of the Twilight Zone flashed in my memory. The one where the guy puts the arachnid in the tub and rinses it down? Ya, that one. It comes back up through the drain and strangles him? I didn’t want that to happen. 

While pondering all this, I didn’t realize she had snuck up behind me. She leaned close to my left ear and whispered in a low, growling, inhuman voice, 

“Scary!”

I dropped the bag and screamed at the top of my lungs! I should have recorded it, sold it, and made millions; it was so well done. Who knew I had a hidden talent for horror movie acting? Whipping around, I found her laughing hysterically.

“Did you really just do that to me after I just made you feel better about a tiny bug?”

She couldn’t catch her breath to speak as the giggles came harder and in bigger waves. My other daughter, who was in the basement, had heard my blood-curdling shriek and sent me a text. 

“What’s happening?”

It was comforting to know that she would at least check in on me from a distance if my life were in danger. She had surmised I was okay because her sister’s merriment was ringing through the entire house. 

I picked up the contents of the spilled bag off the floor and stepped past my child, who thought this was the funniest thing of her life. I found myself shaking my head, trying not to join in on her glee. Her laugh is infectious, but I didn’t want her to think she was off the hook. 

Before going out the door into the garage, I turned and said,

“I will get you back! When you least expect it, this will come back to haunt you!”

She laughed louder. 

As I took the step down, it was like something pushed me from behind. I tried to regain my balance, but there was no stopping my momentum. I was going to fall headfirst into a concrete floor, and I was very aware of this as it was happening. 

Instinctively I threw what was in my hands to the side to free my arms in an attempt to break my fall. I landed straight on the big bag of trash that I had tossed out there earlier. The impact was like a bomb going off as all my body weight smacked into it. 

“Kelsey, help me!” I yelled as I was going down like a freshly cut tree. But apparently, she hadn’t heard me.

I lay unmoving, facedown in the aftermath, doing a physical assessment to see if anything was broken. I felt the cold floor on my right shoulder, but the majority of me had squarely hit the bag like a gigantic pillow. 

I tried calling her name a few more times, but there was no response. After a while, I sat up, hoping nothing was out of line or aching. To my amazement, I was all in one piece. I got up and went back into the house. My chore of taking out the trash could wait.

I found her to be calmly looking at her phone, seemingly unaware of my near-death experience.

“Didn’t you hear me calling your name? I could have hurt myself!”

“What?”

“I fell off the steps. Full on with nothing to stop me! I was out there calling for you!”

“I thought you were trying to scare me. I heard you say my name, but on the way out the door, you said you were going to get me back! I thought you were doing it when I least expected, so I pretended I didn’t hear you!”

This brought on another round of laughs by both of us.

“I wouldn’t try to get you back that fast!”

“Exactly! That’s what I thought, so then I thought maybe you were! You fell?”

“Yes! And my shoulder is getting sore, but the trash bag stopped my crash.”

We burst out laughing. 

I was so thankful I had put off moving that bag; otherwise, my night would have ended in the ER. 

That chain of events proved to me once again that fear is a state of mind. We attract unpleasant things to ourselves by not taking charge of our thoughts. 

The Bible has many scriptures that remind us to fear not.

Why? Because it’s not necessary and just a bunch of garbage.