Dark Path

You really haven’t lived until your eyeballs are frozen, and you have lost all feeling in your fingers. When I bought tickets to go on a luminary walk in the winter, it sounded peaceful. An event named Candlelight and Ice was so appealing because we had not seen one flake of snow. It was a deceiving offer as it presented itself in October when the days still were sunshine filled, and the wind was warm. Not wicked cold and blowing sideways. And, the sun disappears after not making much of an appearance by 4:30. 

We made our way to the wildlife rescue that was a half-hour away. The temperature was only going to drop more, so I figured if we got there earlier, our chances of dying from hypothermia would be less. Apparently, so did everyone else. There were spaces available for ten cars at the most, and at least seventy-five of us had shown up right when it began. I had to drive away from where we were supposed to enter and park on a side street. 

This added to our time out in the elements where you can see your breath. Something that you would never think about and take for granted suddenly reminds you that you are still alive. 

At first, the fresh air feels decent because we are locked up so much with a furnace running full blast. You breathe it in, wondering why you haven’t done this sooner. By the time you dodge traffic and get back to where you started, it is beginning to occur to you that you should have dressed warmer. This is when your lungs start to let you know that they are not accustomed to taking in air that has come straight from Siberia. 

When you look around during times like this, people are basically all foreheads and eyebrows. Not an inch of bare skin is visible, and everyone moves stiffly because their arms and legs are restricted by limited mobility. They have put on layers and stuffed themselves into jackets and ski pants. The frigid air is filled with the high squeaky sound of nylon rubbing against nylon. Everyone is trying to move quickly, but they are going nowhere. 

You know that all of these people are some of the same ones that were at the Sunflower Festival in August when the temperature hit one hundred degrees, and the suffering was the opposite. Just so you can get that perfect picture of fields teeming with vibrant yellow flowers, you traipse through the dirt that kicks up dust, so you go home a dirty mess. 

“I have your name right on my list,” the lady said. “You can either go to the right or the left. The one to the left is the longer of the two.”

This was to lead us through the woods with the two trails to choose from. If I have taken the time to drive thirty minutes away from home, I will not take the mini version of anything. I am going to make sure that I drag my frozen corpse down the one that is going to give me the whole experience that offers the bluest lips and most windburnt skin. 

Both of us stopped for a minute and decided where to house our phones so we could easily access our cameras. I had on enormous gloves that were three times the size of my hands, so zipping up a pocket was a miracle. In this type of situation, you want to expose any part of yourself as little as possible. 

But then it happened. I saw how beautiful the candles were glowing on the trail ahead of me. So I removed one glove with my teeth and was going to capture it. Right as I was going to take it, two kids ran ahead of me and started tripping and falling all over each other. Then the pushing, shoving, and the wrestling began. 

There went the idea of peace as they beat each other up in the snow. 

This is where the ‘ice’ part of my night began as my right hand became immovable.

“I have to put my fingers together inside of my glove,” she said.

I did the same thing as I moved ahead. Now I was walking with fists inside of my gloves, trying to get them to return to normal, and just as they did, I saw another picture-worthy moment. Thus, began the freeze and thaw process. 

“Weren’t there supposed to be animals out here? Didn’t you say we would see deer or owls?”

“That is what the description said. I think it said if you looked close enough, you might see something.”

If your eyes are still functioning. 

“All the wildlife are smart and have gone someplace warm, unlike us,” she said as both of us felt our legs beginning to go numb. I do pay a mortgage on a fully heated house, so why would I go outside and put myself through that?  

Because it’s pretty.  

There is something that calls us into nature, even if it is miserable. Later, we tell everyone we went, but during it, you are wondering why you came.

I have had the same experience with God. You recognize the still, small whisper telling you to do something and then wonder why you are doing it. It doesn’t make any sense, it feels so uncomfortable, and you don’t have to if you don’t want to. But, you do it because your relationship with heaven is more important than any other thing you can think of.  

During a time when I had next to nothing to live on, I was in a mall with my two daughters. I glanced over at a young couple sitting a few tables away from us in the food court. I had a twenty-dollar bill in my wallet that I was hanging onto. I was limiting what I was eating to be sure that my money would last longer and that they had everything they needed. 

I wasn’t trusting God fully at the time to help me, and I lived in fear. Yet, when I heard the familiar voice say, offer them the money, I pushed my chair away from the table and told my daughters I would be right back. I didn’t give it a second thought as I walked over to them. They both looked up at me.

“I am supposed to give you this,” I said. Whenever I have done this, people look surprised. I noticed a newborn baby in a carrier sitting next to them. I hadn’t seen it from where I was. 

The young mom said,

“We were just talking about how we needed to buy more diapers, but he doesn’t get paid until tomorrow. We don’t have any extra money right now.”  

“Then take it,” I said. “It’s yours, not mine.” I had just relieved the burden of another and forgot all about my own.

That became a pivotal point in my walk with God, where no matter how much I felt I was living the unbearable, I would be a giver and act on it when I was told to. It takes a bit of sharpening of spiritual hearing because all of your logical parts will scream and tell you not to listen. Every single reason you should not do what you are hearing will manifest itself. So I had learned to move fast. Don’t think. 

I had read this in the book of James,

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like. (Message)

I didn’t want my faith to be dead. 

As I walked in the cold air amongst all the softly glowing bags and containers that lit my way, I was reminded of this great verse from Psalm 119:105 that tells you who God can be to you, if you allow it,

By your words I can see where I’m going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path. (Message)

(This may or may not have been when my legs lost all feeling…)

None

One of the biggest challenges of homeschooling was getting my point across. Even though I am terrible at drawing, if I put an abstract idea on paper and it was visual, this made it easier to conceptualize. For math, I bought manipulatives which included colorful objects used for counting, adding, and subtracting. 

When you home educate, people get the impression that there is no structure. There’s this myth that those who forgo the traditional public school system live off the land, eat grass and leaves and make their clothes out of curtains. 

None of that is true. Or at least in my experience, it wasn’t. 

Instead, our days were filled with trying to master skills that would help them to function in a world that requires legible writing and the ability to read. I generally purchased a curriculum that included a Bible study. 

Elementary school was interesting as the oldest tried to pronounce big words, many times beyond her scope. My daughter would often read aloud and walk around the room with the book. She didn’t have to sit up straight at a desk all day to get her work done. That’s where we diverted from the typical way school was conducted.

“Jesus traveled to Jerjuicesalem.”

“Jerusalem?”

“Ya. Jerjuicesalem.”

“It’s not juice. You drink that. It’s Jerusalem. Say it slower.”

“Jer juice salem.”

“Jerusalem.”

“Can I have some juice?”

“Sure.” 

After a few times of trying to correct her, I figured by the time she was in her teens, it would flow off her tongue naturally. 

In middle school, the other daughter had to grasp the structure of the Catholic Church.

“So a monk is a man who commits his life to God. What do they call women who do the same?”

A quiz was coming up, so I reviewed high points from the weekly readings to help her be prepared. If anything, it would come in handy later in life when she played bar trivia during happy hour while she drank a cocktail. 

I could tell she could not readily think of the answer. Sometimes if I shortened the question, it would surface.

“A man is a monk. What is a woman called?”

“A mink?”

I generally tried not to laugh when a wrong answer was given because I didn’t want them to think I was making fun of them, but I could not help myself. 

She made a quick remark without thinking, like when you take a Rorschach test, you are presented with inkblots and say the first thing that comes to mind. 

“A nun. They give up everything to be with God. The last thing one of them would own would be a mink.”

The other day, we played a game where the word ‘nun’ became the center of attention. The concept is to ask your device a question to get it to say the word you have chosen. I was tempted to ask,

“Alexa, who are women who have consecrated their lives to God in the Catholic Church and don’t buy mink coats?”

As we navigated our way through, we found that it’s how you ask the question that brings the correct answer. 

We labored over the word ‘dimension’ for at least thirty minutes. 

“Alexa, in the opening of The Twilight Zone, what is the speech that Rod Serling gives?”

I watched the blue line go back and forth as she put her thinking cap on to bring me information. I know he says it. She just needed to cooperate. 

She rambled on about the origin of the series and came nowhere near speaking about what I needed to get the points so I could advance. 

We were educated on parallel universes and alternate realities, but she would not say what we longed to hear.

Finally, I had an idea.

“Alexa. What does the D mean in 3D?”

Cue the Jeopardy music as she worked her circuits, trying to figure out something to say.

Holding my breath because I didn’t want to spend another second on this subject, she said, 

“This might answer your question. The D in 3D means dimensional.”

As long as the word is included as a part of the whole, it counts. 

We went on to have another half-hour struggle with the term attitude.

My daughter asked,

“If a person is in a sassy mood, what does that mean?”

“Sassy is defined as impertinent, saucy, or insolent.”

“I know the feeling,” I said as I glanced at the clock approaching 2 am. She was going to say this word! There was no way a machine would control me. Yet, it was.

“Alexa, what does it mean to have a sunny disposition in life?”

“Here is something I found that might help. Having a sunny disposition is being annoyingly happy all the time.”

That’s a life lesson right there. 

“Alexa. What is an outlook on life?”

“Here is something I found on the web. It is the outlook on life that changes the whole life for a person.”

“Alexa, what is gratitude?”

For sure, she had to know that attitude and gratitude went together.

“I don’t know,” she said. 

“Talk about stupid,” I said, now having a bad attitude. “Look what she has done to me.” No one will ever accuse me of having a sunny disposition again. 

“Alexa, what is a mood?”

“Here’s something that might help. A prevailing emotional tone or attitude.” Finally!

The absolute worst was when she would go quiet. I would ask a very straightforward question, and the blue line would look as if it was calculating and then disappear. Just leave me hanging there with nothing in return. That would end my turn because you can only ask one question, and if she does not answer, you move on to the next player. Her silence spoke volumes.  

Because she is superior in intelligence, we must first assume that we inquired wrong or that she was too busy shopping on Amazon to answer. Whatever the case, I felt ignored when she would not answer me. 

I did not consider that she was malfunctioning or had a hardware issue. I was the problem, not her.

A couple of days later, during a moment of quiet, God whispered to me: You do this with people, you know.

What? Do I?

Yes, you do. 

How?

I was brought back to when I was seeing a therapist after my divorce.

“Have you ever read the book The Verbally Abusive Relationship?” she asked me. “Patricia Evans wrote it.”

“No.”

She gave that as an assignment, and I found it right away at a second-hand book store. 

Right in chapter one, there was a checklist to go over to help the reader recognize what this subject entails. It wasn’t light material or pleasant because it exposed what I had been subjected to but also what I had allowed. It was shocking to learn that the silent treatment is a form of wrongdoing. 

How ironic is that? When no words are said, that is considered verbal abuse. It’s a form of manipulation, so the other party maintains control. But, it had been utilized against me in my childhood. If I were going against the powers that be, I would be ignored or shut off until I got back in line. I would scramble to try and make things right to get back to where I felt secure. I had to go out of my way, in fear, to get back into the good graces of those in charge.

It’s an unjust way to get someone to conform. Just like Alexa going dark, the truth is that there is nothing wrong with you; it’s the other way around. 

This damage is subtle but long-lasting. It is like a default in a computer program. When you have had an authority figure treat you like that and get used to living this way for so long and have had others treat you the same, you suddenly become paranoid about having done something to cause a problem where none exists. You take on the blame for things that aren’t yours. 

And you give all your power away to someone who will keep on taking it. Once it is revealed to you, though, God can heal it. 

You will also be shown where you think it exists and it doesn’t. You are hypersensitive to it and seek to correct it just like always. 

I had that happen. I got so busy that I didn’t message someone right away, and they accused me of putting them on ignore. That was not my intention, but I was shown how this was their issue, not mine. They probably were treated just like I was in my past and assumed I was not happy with them, ultimately trying to make them feel bad. I had not done that at all. 

Communication gets tiring. There is something to say for going into reverent silence for days on end. Now I know why there are monks and nuns; it starts to appeal. 

I appreciate that God is so in tune with me that I can be made aware of how to do better, undo false thinking from my past, and move forward into a life free of baggage. 

In Psalm 139:4 it says,

God, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand. I’m an open book to you; even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking. You know when I leave and when I get back; I’m never out of your sight. You know everything I’m going to say before I start the first sentence. (Message)

God is a mind reader; unfortunately, most people are not. (I am working on it, though.) That leaves us no choice but to be the best at expressing ourselves. 

Until I reach a state of higher consciousness that requires only thoughts, I will have to rely on putting words into sentences that make sense, figure out where I am a mess and need correction, and try to bring no harm to none. 

(Never to be confused with a mink)
(It’s not as easy as it looks…)

Spill

When you live in a state that gets snow and a lot of it, you are in a season where you have to adjust your thinking when you walk into the house and remove your shoes. There is nothing more annoying than to step in a puddle of water left by the boots of another before you. Somehow, the rug got missed, and you come in unknowingly and find your foot soaking wet. It doesn’t get any better when you remove your socks and then step into another wet place with your bare feet, which are already freezing.

This is where analytical thinking takes over. You have the choice to hop across the room for the paper towels, so you only leave one track versus two to clean up or move faster and have to deal with more of a mess.

If you do not attend to this immediately, you run the risk of this happening for the rest of the day, and words you would not say that many times in a row stream from your mouth as you use multiple pairs of socks and now you have to do laundry because you have gone through all that you own.

Another object that can cause the same havoc is the dog’s water bowl. A pleasant morning can take a turn when you hit that, sending it all over you while trying to put something in the garbage, which then tips over. Within moments of getting out of bed, you wonder what you have done to cause the forces of nature to already be against you.

Adding insult to injury, you go to the fridge, and someone has precariously balanced a can of something on the very edge of the shelf to fit it in because no one has taken the time to declutter and throw unwanted items. It flies out and lands on the foot that went unscathed by the water bowl and splashes all of you. Just go back to bed for the week.

I sat down at a grocery store in a section that had tables and chairs so I could look over my list for a second because there is nothing worse than to make your way through the aisles, get all the way home, and discover you left the one thing that you needed the most.

I was drinking something out of a glass without a lid. After one sip, I knocked it directly into my lap. My workout pants were instantly a sponge sucking up all of the liquid. I jumped up, grabbed anything that would have been in the path of it, and looked to my daughter for help, whose eyes were gigantic.

She, way slower than I would have liked, started to wander, trying to find napkins or anything to assist me. I could not believe how she walked unhurriedly to come to my rescue. Later, she said,

“I was concentrating! Do you want me to panic when I am trying to help?”

Yes! I do.

“It appeared that you did not care when you did not go quicker.”

“I think better when I go slower.”

“While you went slower, the water was soaking into my skin more.”

Seeing my horrible situation, a man sprinted over and handed me a towel. We still don’t know where he got it or where he came from. She threw a bunch of napkins my way to start cleaning up the table.

I froze in place when it happened, but now I had to move.

“I feel like my water broke. I never had this happen in real life. I can cross this off my bucket list now,” I said. “It’s not as glamorous as they make it out to be.”

“I am sorry this happened,” she said. I looked over at her again with a highly wet napkin in my hand as I tried to mop up the damage. That’s when she burst out laughing so loud she couldn’t contain herself. Just when you think they are sincere.

“No, really, I am sorry…” and she couldn’t finish what she was saying because she kept getting hit with laughter. Which then made me laugh.

“Where did that guy come from?” she asked, trying to catch her breath.

“I don’t know, but he moved faster than you did.”

Now I had a decision to make. Do I leave and come back later with dry clothes on? Or do I bite the bullet and walk around with water seeping into places I would rather not have it be? Every time I moved, it made itself at home even more than seconds before.

With every wince, she tried to be sympathetic, she really did, but she couldn’t help her giggles that kept surfacing.

“I feel like I have to walk like I just got off a horse. If I do that, it’s bearable.”

“Let me see how bad it looks,” she said.

I turned all the way around so she could see me from all angles. The front of my legs had dark spots where I had been flooded.

“It’s not that noticeable. I can hardly see anything.” That’s what they all say.

“That’s because the worst of its in a place that cannot be seen with the human eye right now.”

“Put your coat on. That will cover up most of it.”

It was true. I was in good shape until I started to walk, and a draft began.

“You would not believe how cold I am right now,” I said. When we got to the freezer section, the temperature dropped significantly from my waist down.

By the time I was at the checkout, I didn’t notice it as much. I had on moisture-wicking pants, so they had gone to work, giving me a false sense of security. I exited, and a brutal wind chill cut across my lower half, reminding me that I wasn’t home free yet. Running to the car to speed up my departure wasn’t the most exciting either.

“Are you really getting into the car ahead of me?” I asked as she jumped into the passenger side.

“I am COLD!” She said as her hair whipped her across the face.

“Really?”

I could either argue my point or get the cart back. Another sprint wasn’t going to kill me. Sitting down on my cold car seat would.

“I wish I could drive standing up,” I said, with my entire body pushed away as far from a seated position. My head was on the roof as I dangled my keys in my right hand, putting off the unpleasantness that was about to come.

I slowly slid down to face the inevitable. Breathing always helps just when it doesn’t.

“I am going to have icicles where I do not want them,” I said in between clenched teeth.

When I got back home, I became so involved with putting everything away, and my other daughter started telling me about her day, I completely forgot all about the incident.

About an hour later, my daughter said,

“Are you still wearing the same pants you had on in the store?”

I looked down and realized I had forgotten all about it.

“Oh, my gosh! Yes! They have totally dried!”

This sent her into another wave of laughter.

We have secrets that we think are so big that we cannot divulge them to another person. But, God wants us to walk in freedom, so a trusted person will come across your path at some point that you can tell everything to. You will know when you find yourself suddenly talking about something you would have never imagined expressing.

If you haven’t had this happen, pray for it. A person will be sent so you can unburden this weight that so heavily keeps you in a place that feels like torture. And, the one who is supplied to help you won’t ridicule you, they will make you see the truth of a situation that probably isn’t as bad as you think it is and will lead you into breathing easy again.

God is so kind that I have been given more than one who will all say the same things to me in response without anyone knowing except for me. That’s always an indication that God is at work when you hear the same message that brings comfort.

Just like when I unexpectedly gave myself a shower in the middle of a store, revealing this hidden part of yourself will feel uncomfortable at first, but then you will forget all about it. When you let another person or two bring you the support you need, you see the feelings of fear begin to lift as they bring you up higher.

In Ephesians 4:25, we are given a warning against not letting others know true, deep things and how this, in the long run, creates problems,

Stop lying to each other; tell the truth, for we are parts of each other, and when we lie to each other, we are hurting ourselves.(TLB)

Whatever you see on the outside reflects what is happening on the inside of you. If you want to associate with like-minded, caring people, then you will have to change your ways. You can swim in the deep end or wade in the shallow, safe parts of the pool.

In Ephesians 4:15, it is explained how this will work out to your advantage,

God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth, and tell it in love. (Message)

If you insist on hiding, you will, and it’s miserable, stunting your spiritual growth. But, if you allow yourself to be vulnerable and trust that others can help, a whole new world will open up before you. You will see the good in people, and it will prove to you that you are not alone or crazy. Hold yourself back, restrain your authentic self, and live in a minimal way. Or let it spill.

(At least pretend to hurry…)

Clue

“I want to see Miss Scarlett in the billiard room with the wrench.”

There was shuffling of cards as she searched for one of the three so I could mark it off. If she produced nothing, then her sister would have to show me what she had.

We went around the mansion, taking turns rolling dice, trying to land on a space that would give us access to a door. We would use a secret passage to speed things along where a player can instantly move from one room to another. Then the accusation could be given. Ultimately, you want to be the first to reveal which of the characters became a cold-hearted killer.

It could be Mrs. Peacock taking a rope and strangling her victim in the kitchen when he got on her last nerve and asked for the salt shaker.

Or Mr. Green lost his temper and took out a lead pipe in a jealous rage to do away with his enemy in the study while he read a world map. Unknowingly, the next destination was the afterlife.

I didn’t realize in the original game he was known as a Reverand. The title was removed because it sent the wrong message that a church leader could go insane and commit a crime. That would be too shocking for the public to handle with a board game.

Professor Plum’s character always seemed shady to me. I wouldn’t be caught dead with him in a conservatory late at night if I met him in real life. Who knows when he would pull out that candlestick and end my existence while I was looking at a botanical?

Colonel Mustard seemed like he could at any moment take out a revolver, and without a second thought, blow away whoever was standing next to him in the lounge while drinking his scotch.

Other characters were considered, but Mrs. Silver, Miss Grey, Mr. Gold, and Mr. Brown did not make the final cut.

When she revealed her card, I was able to take it off the list. And so, by deduction, we were on the move to hunt down the culprit and figure out where, who and what was involved.

When everything is set up at the beginning of the game, three piles of cards are made with weapons, rooms, and suspects. One of each is drawn and placed in a golden-colored mystery envelope in the center of the board. The most alarming thing for me was discovering that my character had been murdered by one of the others playing with me.

How dare they take me out when they depend on me for everything in life? They just callously knife me while I am in the hall, lost and wandering because I don’t even know the hall’s purpose. Isn’t a hall just something that is used to get to somewhere else?

I kept calling off names, rooms, and weapons during one game and kept coming up with no answers. With confidence, she ticked off all her answers, moved along, and closed in on the solution to put us to shame. I usually go with a specific strategy to get to the bottom of what is happening by eliminating one variable at a time.

But, I was coming up short. So, I kept asking for the same items or people multiple times to be sure that I hadn’t overlooked something.

“Something isn’t right,” I said after exhausting all my tactics. “There is a problem with this.”

“What?” she asked.

We had been playing for a while, and there should have been a conclusion to this by now.

“You don’t think something is missing? I keep trying to determine who did this, and there are two instead of one on my list. I have asked for every single one of them.”

She glanced down and looked at her paper with her name at the top, where she had been marking off her guesses. Both of my girls are very artistic, so their papers always have artwork all over them.

They can’t sit without drawing flowers, dogs, cats, and everything else they can think of. They are so talented at it, I could sell them to pay off the mortgage.

It didn’t seem like she thought anything was wrong. So, we played on until I couldn’t take it anymore.

“I think maybe I put an extra card in the envelope when we started. We aren’t going to solve this.”

I had to quit the game and look at what had been set aside. There were only three cards like there should have been.

“I don’t get it,” I said. I showed her my findings, and she showed me hers.

“I think we have a card that has gone missing, so this would have never ended. Without that one suspect, we cannot come to the right conclusion.”

It was somewhat disappointing, and I thought about going online and buying the vanishing card. As I picked up the game, I noticed it underneath the board. Somehow, as we had put it all out, one of the suspects had hidden himself there.

I saw another rendition where you can lie through it unless the other players hit this big red button and challenge what you are saying. Your body language and facial expressions have to look genuine and go undetected as false by others around you to succeed.

I don’t think many of us would admit out loud how dishonest we really are. I am not talking about flat-out telling lies but living in a way that is not entirely what we want. We fake our way through things to keep the peace and make others comfortable even though we are miserable. If you do that long enough, it starts to feel normal.

In another version, the murderer is at large and can take you out before you figure out who they are. It’s a race against the clock to see if you can escape. You are in constant danger, dodging the fatal blow that will end your life.

I have had those situations in real life without realizing how close I had come to being a victim. It takes strong discernment to see the truth and to act on it.

One evening, I was out working in my yard, and a man approached with a clipboard.

“Do you have cable?”

“Yes,” I said.

“I think I can offer you a better deal.”

There was something about him that made me uncomfortable. It was starting to get dark, and I was near my garage.

“I am happy with what I have,” I said. He advanced closer to me, and I moved a few inches away.

I realized that no one was around, and all the houses were closed up.

“I think you should switch to my plan,” he said.

“I have said I am not interested.”

I moved enough so that he could clearly see that I was not at all needing him to go any further.

“I think you will like this better,” he said, coming into my garage.

I had my phone in my pocket, so I took it out.

“I have asked you to leave. If you don’t, I will call for help.”

I moved away again.

“I think you should take into consideration what I am saying.”

I started dialing.

When the 911 operator answered, he was sprinting down the sidewalk. I explained what had happened, and they sent a police officer my way. Those are the moments when you realize you have angels, and you need to have the best spiritual ears ever.

Friends may betray you, just like your opponent in a game of mayhem, and it’s going to hurt. Maybe they kill you with their gossip about you or slander your character, make unfair judgments, and spread it around. You will have to overcome unfair conditions as you walk through them, but God will show you where you have grown into a new person at the end of all of that.

The one thing that is clear if you ask God for help, it will come. In Jeremiah 33:3 it says,

This is God’s Message, the God who made earth, made it livable and lasting, known everywhere as God: Call to me, and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own. (Message)

When life gets confusing, and nothing makes sense, send out a prayer, ask God for insider information, and listen as heaven will send the most valuable clue.

(Don’t let the Hall fool you…it’s not really a hall..it’s a room with no point…)
(Miss Scarlett was always a problem..)

Wait

It felt like football minutes for her to come back into the building. I often refer to time in that way to indicate when something should go quickly, but then it feels like it takes so much longer. It was one of those parenting moments when your child is involved, and you have to sit it out.

I had taken her to all of her behind-the-wheel classes, took her to pass the permit test, which was a bit of a nail biter even though she passed with flying colors, hired a private company to take her out on the road, spent time going on back roads that I was familiar with so we wouldn’t get lost. Because with me in the passenger seat, it’s a given. Getting lost comes by me easily.

I sat in the area designated for those of us who are not good at staving off panic attacks. I had no one around to help distract or offset my overthinking. Usually, if I can find someone to talk to, I get so wrapped in their life story that I forget where I am—no such luck. I had to wait with me, and I am not the best person to keep myself company.

The window was behind me, and I was tempted to look out and see which section of the test she was on. But then again, I didn’t want to. She was going to pass, and I had to settle it in my mind. These are the moments when I can pray, and God takes over, helping me not count the seconds dragging by.

It is said that time is an illusion. Try using that as an excuse when someone expects you at a specific appointment. Our lives are structured heavily by the clock.

Before I opened my eyes, I knew my furnace had stopped working. Under multiple blankets, the only visible part of me was my face, and I could tell by the frigid air that something had gone amiss. It wasn’t yet the dead middle of winter, but the temperature was starting to drop at night more and more.

I knew what I had to do next because I had to do it so many times before. I have lived in this house long enough that I know all of its quirks. Every other year, this would happen, and there was a reset switch that if I flicked it off and on, crossed all my fingers, and held my breath, it might come back on again. If not, I would have to call the gas company to send someone out.

I have every single appliance covered under their repair plan in case I had something like this happen. At first, it was an excellent service, but it has not been as great over the years. What used to be a one-day wait has become a week unless it is an emergency—a water heater blowing up, for example. Freezing to death isn’t a huge priority to them.

“We can schedule this for tomorrow,” the representative said.

“What time?” I asked, somewhat surprised that this was going to happen so quickly.

“My computer won’t show me a time, but I can see that I have it confirmed for you.”

“So anytime between when the sun comes up and when it goes down?”

“Pretty much. We will send an email confirmation to you so you will then know a more specific time.”

I received no such thing, so I called back in the morning by eight a.m. to verify.

“Yes. We have you in the system as having a furnace appointment today, but I cannot give you an exact arrival time. My computer isn’t letting me do that.”

So, I became a prisoner in my own home. I tried to preoccupy myself and not pay attention to the ticking clock. After four hours, I called them again.

“It says right here that you are on the schedule. I am sure someone will be out to you shortly.”

Another four hours went by.

“Christine? Can you hold?”

Like my whole life wasn’t already on one. After a few moments,

“I found you, and you are on the list for today. But, I cannot give you a time.”

Every time I called in to ask, I got a different person. I had this nagging feeling that something wasn’t right, and I wanted to get out of sitting around if that was the case. I was okay with not having anything done that day, but I needed someone to say it.

Once six o’clock rolled by, and then eight, I called again.

“We have you..”

“Right on the list…I know. Are you sure? Is someone going to come here?”

“Yes. We have technicians out until midnight sometimes. Be sure to turn on your outside lights when it gets dark so our employee can see that you are still waiting. We have had some customers not do that, so it appears they have gone to bed.”

“Okay,” I said, still trusting them.

At ten, I was getting more skeptical. I was feeling stood up. So, I called again.

“Is this an emergency?” I now was getting the after-hours help.

“Not really, but yes. I have no heat, and I have been waiting for someone to show up all day. I have asked if anyone is coming, and I keep being told that I am on the schedule. What can you tell me?”

“Do you have a space heater?”

That was the first crack in the solid foundation of lies they had told me all day long.

“I have ways to stay warm. I just want to know if someone is showing up here at this address on this day.”

“You are scheduled. It says it right here.”

“I know it says that. But, is it true?”

“If someone doesn’t show up by midnight, then call back.”

Click.

Two hours later, I was back on the phone.

“Can you see how many times I have called in today and for what reason?” I asked.

“Yes, Christine. I can see that.”

“So, it shows that I have waited all day, and I have been told that I would get help?”

“Yes.”

“And, now it is midnight, so now what? My problem has not been resolved.”

I was trying to focus on my breathing. I had lost count of how many others I had spoken to, and to take out my frustration on this one would not have been fair.

“All of our technicians go home by eight. So, who told you that you had to wait until midnight? That was wrong information.”

Breathing. Inhale, exhale.

“I am not sure.”

“Let me see what I can do. I need to put you on a brief hold.”

I wanted to scream into the nearest pillow.

“Christine?”

Who else would it be?

“I can have someone come right away in the morning tomorrow.”

Did tomorrow mean the next day or a week, a month, or never?

“How certain are you of this?”

“I am putting you in as a priority. Someone will be there right at eight.”

“Morning or night?”

Earth time?

“Morning.”

I hung up, still not fully believing it was going to happen. I decided to send customer service a note explaining what had occurred.

I got up the next day, and soon, I heard the familiar beep of a truck backing up into my driveway.

When he walked in, I explained what had happened the day before.

“Who told you that someone would be here at midnight? We never do that unless it is way below zero. We aren’t there yet.”

After he left, I was never so glad to have my freedom back. And a warm house. I ended up getting two months of no payment on my bill for my trouble.

While I was in the midst of the dilemma, it seemed like it lasted forever. When I think about it now, I just see the result. It was a hassle not to do what I wanted for an entire day because I was confined to my residence, but I did end up getting what I had asked for, just not when I thought I would.

That has happened to me when I have prayed, and I have had to be patient for an answer. They aren’t always instantaneous. We are accustomed to microwave minutes, not slow cook.

When something doesn’t come as quickly as presumed, it can be easy to lose faith and trust in God. In Lamentations 3:25, there is this promise,

God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks. It’s good to hope and hope for God’s help quietly. (Message)

It says it is ‘good,’ but it doesn’t always seem that way. While I was writing this, a page wouldn’t load due to a slow internet connection. While I was repeatedly hitting the enter button, I became aware of that. God will take every opportunity to have patience become more robust in you through any means possible.

During the ‘hangtime,’ I often have to go back and review what has been done for me in the past. Sometimes, we find ourselves finally thinking about what has been done on our behalf in the most uncomfortable moments. You begin to realize the faithfulness of heaven, and maybe that is its purpose because everything happens for a reason.

You will see clearly where you have come from and where you want to go while you wait.

(It’s 5 o’clock somewhere)

Holes

I had dragged myself out of my bedroom after hours of studying. She noticed the dark circles under my eyes.

I had a final math test the next day, and this subject was never an easy one for me. I didn’t have a sore throat or a fever coming on, so I had to be at my desk with a pencil in hand. I would probably use the eraser more than anything. No matter how hard I tried to find the correct answer, I couldn’t.

She knew of my struggles because my math teacher had told her he felt sorry for me.

“I know she puts in the effort, but for some reason, she has mental blocks that keep her from finding the solution.”

“Have you asked the Holy Spirit to help you solve the problem?”

“No. Why would I do that?” I asked.

She almost dropped her dishrag.

“You’ve got to be kidding me. You don’t know why you would pray and ask for help?”

This came as a shock to her after I had cleared all the Catholic hurdles: baptism, confession, and confirmation. She was so confident that if I had gone through the triathlon of events, I would for sure have ascended to high master status spiritually.

“Didn’t you learn anything in all of your classes?”

How was I supposed to answer that? If I said yes, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. If I said no, then that was stating the obvious.

So I went with,

“I don’t know.”

“Christine. How could you sit through hours and hours of instruction and not know to call on the Holy Spirit if you had trouble with something?”

After years of gym classes, how did she not know how to throw a softball? Or catch one without ducking and running away when I threw it to her? That was the same sort of question.

“I don’t know.”

“They didn’t teach you to ask for help from God?”

They might have, but all I was thinking about was how much I didn’t want to attend the required home group. This meant I was forced to go to a house every Wednesday night and sit through more school work. That is what it felt like as a ninth-grader.

“Did they not tell you that you would receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit when you got confirmed?”

They might have. But, I was not interested, and my mind was wandering the entire time I had to be there.

“What did you think confirmation meant?”

More pain and torture, but away from home.

“I don’t know.”

The typical sigh then followed because she thought I was being difficult. I wasn’t. I just didn’t care.

I had spent all my days with my peer group, which I had no desire to get to know better. I preferred not mingling with them. In fact, one time, when a guy called my parent’s home looking for me, and I answered the phone, and I got rid of him in the kindest way I could think of.

“Is Chris at home?” Recognizing his voice, I said,

“Let me see,” I said, pretending to be my mom. I pulled the phone away from my ear for a couple of seconds. My mom frowned at me as she wiped down the stove.

“No, she isn’t here,” I said. “Can I take a message?”

I pretended to take down his name and phone number.

“I will let her know you called.”

I wanted to be sure who I was dealing with, so I could avoid him more at school if I had to.

My suspicions had been right, so when I hung up, I made a mental note not to engage in conversations with him as much. He was getting the wrong impression. I had this sneaking feeling that this would happen at some point, but I wasn’t sure. So I wasn’t totally devoid of discernment like she was making me out to be.

My goal was to get in and out of school as fast as possible, so the additional class to study religion was not high on my list. And, apparently, I had missed some crucial information on how to pass a math test.

“When you don’t know what to do in life, you are to call on the Holy Spirit and ask for help. An answer will come to you.”

“Really?”

Another sigh.

“Yes, Chris, if you had paid attention, you would know this. Go back into your room and ask for help on the test. Then stop studying. All the answers will come to you as you take the exam tomorrow.”

She had graduated valedictorian from high school and college. Also, she scored on the genius level when asked to take a psychology test. Her advice for school was generally good, even if she couldn’t throw or catch a flying object.

The stop studying part of what she said appealed to me the most. If I could have set the book on fire, that would have been even better.

I did what she said, and the next day, the pressure didn’t feel as high in my math class. It seemed like when I went to work my way through a question, I was being guided to apply specific skills. I scored high on it to increase my overall grade for the year.

That had an impact on me. Not hours of church services or endless reciting of incantations from a book. But a practical application of a prayer that resulted in something positive. When something gives us a payoff, you tend to believe it can work again.

I started to use it in emergencies, not realizing it could be used at any time. What fit the profile of an urgent situation? Something that was beyond my ability to solve by myself or anything that kept me awake at night.

I employed this technique the most when I had to work with a woman named Tilly. She had been admitted to the nursing home under my watch as her social worker. She requested only me when problems arose for her.

I learned as much as I could about her. It was determined that she had a borderline personality disorder.

In a nutshell, that meant she would be challenging to deal with, and when someone would try to calm her down, her behavior usually escalated. I attended a seminar on how to interact with the elderly who had been given a diagnosis such as this, and it was not hopeful.

The presenter held up a piece of Swiss cheese and said that healing this would be like trying to fill in the holes. It was a long-standing issue for her as she was moved from one residence to the next without making much progress.

“Chris, Tilly wants to see you,” would be the daily summons I would get. Sometimes it was more than once, and usually, the last one would be right as I was going to walk out the door at night.

“Do we know what the trouble is?” I would ask.

I was barely in my twenties, with no real life experience, yet somehow, I was the one that was sought after as a source of comfort.

“She says her clothes are all missing.”

“Same as yesterday, then,” I would say.

“Yes. She says that someone came into her room and stole her pink robe, her slippers, and all of her candy.”

It was always the same—a crazed sugar eater who liked to run off with loungewear.

“Okay. I will be right up.”

I would take off my coat, put my purse down and grab my notepad to document what would transpire. I had a script I could have printed off.

The minute I stepped into her room, she would say,

“Hey! Someone stole all of my stuff that my daughter gave me yesterday.”

There was no real sense of time, but I ignored that.

“What is missing?” I already knew, but I wanted to see if she changed her story.

“My brand new pink robe and slippers. They are gone, and someone stole them!”

I opened the closet door, pulled out all the worn items long past new she talked about, and put them on her bed.

“What else?”

“I had candy bars on my dresser, and they are all gone!”

“Did you eat them?” I asked.

“No! Why would I do that?” She could get defensive quickly even if I were her source of help.

I would open her dresser’s top drawer, pull out a container, and show her that they were all there.

“Oh. I didn’t see them.”

“I have the clothing you said was missing on your bed. Do you see it? It is here.”

“Oh.”

As I put things away, I would ask her questions and talk to her until she was in a better mood.

“Is there anything else that is bothering you?” I would ask as I sat on her bed.

“No. I was just worried about all of that. I thought someone stole it.”

“Anyone can help you find things if you think they are gone,” I would tell her. I was trying to unhook myself from this strange obsession she had with me.

“But, they don’t help me as you do.” So, that sealed my fate. If Tilly had a problem, I was her only help in the building that was filled with multiple staff. I was called a few times over weekends to come in and diffuse her behavior because no one else could. I lived close by, so I did just to help.

“She really likes you. She won’t listen to any of the rest of us,” a nurse had told me.

My secret weapon was the Holy Spirit because every time I had to deal with her, I asked for help, and I was always given a solution in every situation. Where she could get so angry and physically combative with others, she would turn into a compliant, grateful person with me.

That is what God can do in every situation, whether dire or not. It can get turned around when it seems as if there is no real way out of it. In Psalm 91, it says,

He will call on me, and I will answer; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue and honor him. (NLT)

I have found that it works for everything from small to big. And, really, in God’s eyes, all things are equal. So if you find yourself in need of help, it is always available to clear a path, show you the way and fill in all the holes.

Be Awake

“Mom?”

“What?” I answered.

“Mom?”

“What?”

“Mom?”

“What! What do you want?”

“Mom!”

I realized she couldn’t hear me. I thought I was responding, but I wasn’t.

I could hear her voice, but I was trapped, unable to move or make my vocal cords function.

I was answering from a deep state of sleep paralysis where my body was completely nonfunctional, but my sense of hearing and mind was wide awake. I tried again to answer, but nothing happened.

I had never had this happen before, and I started to panic, wondering if I would snap out of it.

I wanted so desperately to be able to move, but I couldn’t. And the more I tried, the more stuck I seemed to be.

The closest I had ever come to something like this so horrifying was when I fell asleep once with my left hand in the air.

For some reason, I had put my elbow down on the mattress, and my hand was up. I don’t know why I had fallen asleep in that position, but in the middle of the night, it fell right into my face. I opened my eyes and thought someone had broken into my house from a graveyard and slapped me with a cold hand of death. I don’t know what would be more troubling. An actual intruder or a zombie. I assumed it wasn’t mine because I didn’t feel myself doing it.

I went to sit up to defend myself, and my arm slid lifeless to the side. Great! I was at a disadvantage to fight this invisible enemy who had stolen into my bedroom in the dark of night.

I woke up more, stared straight ahead, and figured out I was the only person in the room. That was a relief, but now I had to compensate by moving and transferring a body part that was sound asleep.

I have also awakened to having both arms exactly how that one was. You don’t realize how much you use your appendages for leverage first thing in the morning until they lay unmoving. The only thing you can do is flip and use your legs to get into a sitting position. You feel so accomplished until all the blood starts circulating again and the tingling starts to take over, causing pain. Having no feeling didn’t seem so bad after all.

“Mom!”

I don’t know where I got the willpower to overcome the prison where my body kept me. I was so overly tired that it had shut down and wasn’t about to let me open my eyes and have a conversation with someone. By the time I broke free, I had sat up quickly and was out of breath as if I had been underwater for longer than I should have been.

“What?” I finally said, sucking in as much oxygen as I could.

Against my better judgment, I flicked on my light switch. Now I had taken away my ability to see, but I was fully conscious, so that is all that mattered.

“I heard a loud explosion.”

It went without saying that I hadn’t.

“Where?”

“Outside.”

“How far away?”

“I don’t know.”

As long as the house wasn’t hit and there wasn’t a crater in the front yard, all was well.

“It was so loud. The house shook.”

I wouldn’t know.

“It was so scary.”

Both of us then realized how far gone I had been, what an odd sensation to want to talk and be aware of someone’s presence but not be able to say a word.

The next day it was reported that a meteor had passed by, breaking the sound barrier. How often had I said that even a bomb going off wouldn’t wake me when I was so depleted of energy?

Recently, this phenomenon happened to me again.

I could hear her yelling,

“Hello! Hello! Hello!”

I thought I was still awake, but I wasn’t. The sound of her voice was faded. This time on some level, I recognized that I wasn’t going to be able to communicate, so I chose to remain nonresistant. I let myself stay stationary until I opened my eyes.

Of course, she had taken that opportunity to shoot a video with her phone of me fast asleep while she was repeatedly trying to get me to respond. She had made a loud noise, told her sister she should run the vacuum cleaner, and started shouting ‘hello’ over and over.

When I opened my eyes, I started laughing, and I couldn’t stop for some reason. It wasn’t the same way I had felt the last time it had happened.

“I was starting to get worried,” said the younger daughter, who was not filming me. “You were not moving at all.”

I have met people who have walked through life like that in a half-sleep state where the world is going on around them, but nothing of eternal value is being accomplished. They are going through the motions. The lights are on, but no one is home.

Looking into a mirror has revealed a truth that I cannot deny. You put on a smile, say all the right words to get yourself out of conflict, and you feel nothing. Your goal becomes blending in and looking like everyone else, so you don’t stand out.

The first time I walked into the storage facility my daughter rented a unit from, I was amazed at how everything looked the same. The multiple rows of garage-type doors and the gleaming bright white floors, and the buzzing of fluorescent lights overhead all in the same order.

Locked up in each one are memories, outdoor equipment, stolen merchandise, and important documents. And you try really hard not to recall that one episode of Dateline where they unlocked one and..forget it.

“What is your number?” I asked. She took out a piece of paper and told me. Without that, we would have wandered for days, not knowing where to go.

It felt like being in a maze where each row was the same as before, and it would be easy to get lost with no direction.

When we got to hers, she had to look again to know what the lock combination was so we could open the door.

God has the answer for escaping your self-prescribed, small way of living. Just like my body going numb from being cut off from the blood supply, you can live in that state for a while and be content with it. But you have to be willing to change. You have to fight to get yourself out of a bed built on a false identity.

The opportunity will present itself where you can either be free or keep doing the same things that only lead to your withering away. If it makes you uncomfortable and it seems impossible, that is just your spiritual circulation kicking in. On the other side of that is liberty.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:5-7, there’s a reminder of this:

You’re sons of Light, daughters of Day. We live under wide open skies and know where we stand. So let’s not sleepwalk through life like those others. Let’s keep our eyes open and be smart. (Message)

You can settle for taking a passive approach to life where God constantly gives you nudges to do something that is not your usual, but you ignore it. You choose to hit the snooze button.

You have to come to the understanding that you weren’t put on earth to look only to serve yourself. Doing the same thing with no new results will only lead to self-destruction. Where there isn’t growth, there is eventual death in some way, shape, or form. You deny yourself and the world your gifts and talents.

A sobering fact is that along with keeping your eyes stubbornly slammed shut, you pass up on the chance to help others who need you to be awake.

(What lies hidden behind all these locked doors?)

Found

I had looked everywhere and couldn’t find them. They had disappeared into the same vortex that had been sucking up our socks for years. The weather had turned bitterly cold, and I knew I would quickly morph into a walking reptile if I didn’t cover my hands.

“I cannot find my gloves,” I said twice a day every day.

I searched all the familiar places. The closets, the garage on the off chance that I had left them there, the shed, the basement, my car, under every seat, the pockets of my winter coats, under the kitchen table, cupboards, and the junk drawer. I would be doing something and suddenly have an image of where I hadn’t looked. I thought for sure I would locate them. Dropping everything, I would search and come up with nothing.

I had purchased them the fall before, so how could I have misplaced them over the summer? This was the mystery I was faced with every year. I didn’t just toss them into the trash, but somehow they ran away from home when the seasons changed.

If I didn’t do something to put a barrier between me and the weather, I would have to suffer through cracks that would bleed. While at the height of raising kids and changing diapers, I had a pediatrician take one of my red, chapped hands and say,

“You need to take care of this. You are probably washing a lot and need to put on moisturizer.”

Until he pointed that out, I had no idea how awful they were. I was too busy trying to sleep when I could and think straight. It wasn’t like I was being chased down to be a hand model.

It had been an ongoing problem even after they were grown. If I let it get out of control, it was the worst session of burning one could imagine when I tried to put a cream on them. It had to be applied with eyes shut, and mouth closed screaming.

“I cannot believe I lost another pair!” I told my daughter. She watched as I pulled items off of shelves and ransacked the entire house.

I decided to let myself suffer until I found them. If it got too bad, I would jam my hands into the pockets of my coat.

I found two mismatched options that were thin and should not have counted as mittens. They did nothing to stop the cold air from going right through to my skin. I searched for the hand lotion and discovered that this had also vanished. I imagined my gloves and the bottle sitting somewhere in the sun laughing at me while I frantically tried to hold off the incoming damage.

By Christmas, I was still periodically slathering on the product I had gotten made especially for ‘working hands.’ It had a picture of a guy with a hammer, so at first, I thought maybe I shouldn’t get it. I didn’t go about my days putting nails into wood. But, my hands were never idle, so I decided I qualified. They should rename it for those who multitask, otherwise, it cuts off a whole population of people who think they aren’t good enough.

Even with that on, I was still walking on thin ice. I am not the best at remembering to apply it because other than winter, who needs it? By the time I would go to bed at night, and as my eyes closed, I would drift off thinking about how I forgot to put it on. I promised I would do it the following day, and by night time, when I was falling asleep again, I realized I had forgotten.

Then I lost the gloves that were doing me no good.

On Christmas Day, my self-inflicted torture came to an end when I opened up a brand new pair of gloves from my daughter, who had stood by sighing, telling me to buy another pair.

When I first got them, I was mindful of where they were at all times. I tried to keep my mind focused on when I put them in my purse. On occasion, when I was in a hurry, which is every day, I would slide them into my coat pockets. Then, I would check my purse and wonder where I had put them. I was fighting a monster, and it was me.

One night, I had to run multiple errands to various places. It was warmer, so my evil twin put them in my pockets. The next day, I checked my purse and went through the entire crazy search again. This time, I only found one of the two in my coat. This led me to my car, under seats, the trunk, the garage, and back to square one. It wasn’t even spring, and I had done it to myself again.

All day I tormented myself with thoughts of how careless I was.

“I don’t deserve gloves,” I texted her.

“You lost them?” she asked.

“One of them,” I said.

At least I was getting better at not losing both. The difficult part was that she had gone out of her way to help me, and I had returned immediately to what I had always done.

“Where were you last?” she asked.

“A lot of places,” I said, thinking about where it could have gotten left.

After not being able to forget it, I decided to be shown where it was. I said out loud,

“Nothing is lost or stolen in the kingdom of heaven. Please let me see where my glove is.”

I had read that in a book, and it had worked to help me find other things. Why I hadn’t thought of it sooner, I don’t know. Maybe because I had decided to punish myself, and that was all I was focused on?

In a flash, I saw my wayward black glove in a parking lot that I had been in the previous night. I drove there, parked where I had, got out, and was reunited with it. Out of all the places I had been, this was the one I had seen when I asked for help. I didn’t delay in acting on it.

When we condemn ourselves, we shut off the divine assistance that would so readily come. In 1 John 3:20, there is an excellent reminder not to follow my horrible example:

My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves. (Message)

What else don’t we see because we write ourselves off as unworthy? God has other great ideas for you, but you are too preoccupied going over all your failures and can’t imagine being forgiven or counted as productive for heaven. As unreal as it sounds, being mean to yourself is a comfort zone. It feels safer to stay in self-condemnation mode if you have practiced it for years.

So when God whispers to your spirit to take on something new, you recall every single thing you have ever done to mess up. You couldn’t possibly be a candidate for the job you are being asked to carry out. And, just like that, you stay where you are because it’s familiar.

It’s so much easier to drift with no strings attached instead of being on a steady course, advancing and going forward. It’s also miserable. At the heart of it, you aren’t happy while you pretend to be content. You have the choice to self-destruct or move in the direction that will have you fulfilling your purpose. It’s up to you, and it won’t be forced upon you.

No one is ever too far out of reach for God to heal and retrieve from the lost and found.

(I still have them. Who is winning?)

Untangled

“I have to be sick to die, Chris,” my dad said.

“No, you don’t. Where did you learn this?”

“I just thought that was how it happened.”

“People move on to heaven all the time that haven’t been sick. They just go from here to there.”

“I don’t want to get sick.”

“Then, you don’t have to. Do you think that God wants you not to be well? It isn’t a requirement to be at your worst when you leave earth.”

“I didn’t know that. I don’t have to be sick?”

“No.”

For weeks, he and I have had discussions about heaven, and I knew something was blocking his complete understanding of how eternity and God operate. Many times, his response to me would be,

“I don’t think about living and dying.”

The last time he said that to me, I said,

“Well, you should.”

He looked at me, surprised, but I was serious. A peaceful passing generally doesn’t make news. We don’t talk about it enough. We spend a lot of our time preoccupying ourselves, using distractions, and social distancing ourselves from death. With a pandemic at the forefront of our minds and the count, I can understand why we believe we need to die in a tragic or ugly way.

His attitude had been formed by a mindset that had somehow been programmed into his thinking for years. We all can fall prey to that unless we start to think for ourselves and question what we are so sure of.

A while ago, I read about a man who was golfing with a friend. One of them made a shot, and the ball landed off the fairway into the rough. As they approached where they had to go, the one who had sent it there was upset that he now had to correct the problem. His friend said to him,

“It’s all how you look at it. If you see yourself hitting it straight, you will. But, if you think it’s going to be difficult, it will be.”

He listened to his friend, closed his eyes, and saw himself hitting it perfectly. He then did that.

Authors from different periods, many of them not knowing one another or the material they wrote about, have stated that the mind doesn’t know reality from false information. If given repetitive images, a belief is formed, then manifested externally. That isn’t good news for those who want to maintain their victimhood. If what goes on around us is a direct result of how we think, then we can’t blame anyone but ourselves.

It felt freeing when I read that for the first time, but some may feel condemned. That means we have to pay attention to what we conceive in our minds. If you think the world is out to get you, it is. If you consider that good can come your way and you can work with God to make things better for yourself, it will.

In Proverbs 23:7, it is stated that what a person thinks in their heart, they become.

Do you believe yourself poor? You will be. Do you consider yourself debilitated? You are. Many say that the evidence showing up on the outside is proof that you are these things. It is projected to your outside world when you have created it on the inside.

That isn’t what we are taught in school or by our authority figures. We learn at a young age to hope for the best because we aren’t in charge. The world is. But what did Jesus say? He tended to state things that directly opposed what we were taught as rock-solid truth. In John 16:33 it says,

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”(NLT)

He also said this:

I tell you for certain that if you have faith in me, you will do the same things I am doing. You will do even greater things, now that I am going back to the Father. (CEV/John 14:12)

It is clearly stated that we can overcome the world. We can reside here but not be ruled by it. That means giving up becoming immersed in it. Turn off the news because it’s a form of brainwashing. It’s the best thing I have ever done to get closer to seeing and hearing from heaven only.

Our realities are distorted because our thinking has become that way.

“That makes me look ugly!” she said as I was scanning items. I glanced up at what she was pointing at. The camera directly above the register was focused solely on us.

“That’s to be sure we don’t steal anything. They want us to look as criminal as possible so when they review the tape later, we will fit the profile of shoplifters.”

She pointed out how it made her appear so much bigger than she really is. I stopped what I was doing and took a good look at what this machine was doing to me.

“I look twice my age and seventeen months pregnant. Am I? No. It’s a lie.”

That is what social media and all the rest do to us. It takes strong discernment to understand that not all we see is as it is. We form impressions based on false information, and then we judge that. Soon we hate ourselves, we despise our neighbors, and life takes on a dark outlook. Some overlook all their own faults and take out their aggression on others around them. A time of silence, prayer, and self-reflection can go a long way when changing your mentality.

I recall working with a woman many years ago who was quiet. She had a strong work ethic, and her job was highly stressful. Before I knew her, I thought she was very standoffish and anti-social. Cold and not very friendly.

I discovered that underneath that exterior, she had a reason for her behavior. She didn’t want to be distracted, so she gave the least amount of energy to what was not going to help her accomplish her job. I found out that she was a nice person, but she had to cut herself off from what would distract her.

I heard coworkers speaking harshly of her once, so I told them what I knew. I changed their opinion of her in just one conversation.

The way we view things is probably the biggest obstacle we will have to deal with while we breathe. And our attitude regarding it determines the outcome. Do you want peace? Then be it.

Where do you start to live a life drama-free and one that has a foundation based on wisdom? Look to 2 Corinthians 10:4-6:

We can demolish every deceptive fantasy that opposes God and break through every arrogant attitude that is raised up in defiance of the true knowledge of God. We capture, like prisoners of war, every thought and insist that it bow in obedience to the Anointed One.(TPT)

You actually can take your thoughts when they come and decide to allow them or not. Did you know that? I didn’t either until I read that verse. When a negative thought floats in, you can say no to it. If you do it enough, it will start to transform you into a different person who will have the eyes of God.

When I got out my Christmas lights this year, they were a tangled mess. I was about to start the process of trying to straighten them out. Instead, I plugged them in, and they were all burnt out. I spent a small amount of time checking where the problem could lie. They were getting older, so I got rid of them and bought new ones.

Take responsibility for your life. Tell God what isn’t working anymore, allow it to be changed, and it will be untangled.

(I love this mess said no one ever…)

Best For Us

The biggest arguments my mom and I had were over apparel. Typically, this happens in the teen years when a girl wears something that shocks the previous generation. Less and less material is used as each decade clicks by, which can cause a young person and her authority figure to be at odds.

I was in kindergarten, so this was way before the appointed time. And I wanted to cover up more, not less. I was raised with a pack of wolves, known as brothers, and I wanted to run free and not be slowed down by dress shoes and skirts.

Depending on what I was wearing determined my comfort level for playing. I couldn’t have my brother launch me halfway across the backyard unless I had pants on.

He would lay on his back and put both of his feet up. He would balance me on them and then do a countdown. He would push me forward with all his strength to see how far I could go. Similar to shotput but from a prone position.

Because I was so young and trusted everything, I never contemplated the head injury I could have sustained. I always landed face first in the grass. I would get up and have him do it again.

This was in direct competition with what my mom was trying to accomplish.

She, on the other hand, had received her last child and wanted to mold and shape me into what she thought was “proper.”

“My job, Chris, is to teach you social graces.”

Whatever that was.

It was like a page ripped out of My Fair Lady. We spoke in different dialects.

She tried her best, but I defied her at every turn.

She recognized that I would fight her every step of the way. I didn’t want to give up my brother’s circus training I was participating in. Who knew where my high-flying tricks would lead me?

Being a negotiator, she said,

“You have to wear a dress to school at least once a week.”

I was five, so I was learning how to tell time. We had analog that actually made you have to think and count. But the concept of what it was still was a mystery to me. I desperately wanted to be like my older siblings, so I even wore one of their old watches.

It had stopped working when it was given to me, but it made me feel less behind the rest of them.

When she would say,

“Today is the day for you to wear a dress,” it felt like it had just happened the day before.

I would slide into whatever she handed over and go into funeral mode. It felt like I was dying. It was bad enough that my days of freedom had been interrupted by the school demanding I be there for half a day.

I had other things I wanted to do instead.

I had to associate with children my age which seemed lame compared to all the older people I lived with. This particular kid always wanted to sit by me, and when the teacher would say,

“Exchange your crayon with a person next to you,” he would always come for mine.

Just because I extended him a few seconds of my time, he thought he owned me. I couldn’t move anywhere in the classroom without him next to me like my shadow. And he always asked me what time it was because of my broken watch. I just made up a number.

The whole experience felt unnecessary, and so did wearing a dress.

I wore her out because she dropped the rule by first grade, but our war moved on to another article of clothing.

Boots.

I did not like wearing them when the weather changed. She would send my tennis shoes with me to change into once I got to school. We did not live that far from the elementary school, so I thought it was overkill to change.

As I went up in grades, I resisted wearing them more and more. I believe I had assimilated into what the rest of my peer group was doing. Snow boots were deemed for babies. I had witnessed a classmate of mine being ridiculed for wearing them, so to ward this off, I would leave the house, take off my boots and wear my other shoes the rest of the way.

What she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her, and I wouldn’t be targeted.

This was all going along swimmingly until the day I forgot to bring my boots home from my locker. In my haste to get out of jail and back into the free world, I grabbed my jacket, my books and walked out the front door.

It was a Friday, so that made it even better.

The house was unusually quiet when I walked in. She was at the kitchen sink rinsing a glass. Turning, she said in a whisper,

“I lost my voice.”

I was going to respond as I saw her eyes travel downward toward my feet.

I was in trouble. She didn’t need her vocal cords to bring fire and fury.

“Where are your boots?” She hissed, moving closer. She knew by motherly intuition that this was probably an ongoing habit that I had hidden.

The look on her face was pure anger. I was trying to come up with an excuse, a lie, a handwritten note from my doctor, but nothing was coming to me. So I went with the truth.

“I left them in my locker at school. I didn’t wear them home.”

If she had stopped interrogating me right there, we would have gone about our lives. But, no, she had to say,

“Do you go to school and change into your tennis shoes before you get there? And put your boots back on when you are almost home?” All of this was forcefully said in a hushed tone.

Had she hired a private investigator to track me and my underhanded ways? How did she know this? Because she could be scary like that. I decided to be bold.

“Yes, I do. I don’t like wearing boots. It looks stupid!”

“You need to wear them! There is ice you could fall on.” A physical injury was less important to me than psychological trauma.

Because of her laryngitis, her lecture wasn’t as long as usual.

“I don’t like them.” I kept it simple.

“I don’t care! Where are they?”

They were in my locker, not available until Monday.

“At school.”

This took it up another notch.

“You better never do this again! You know this was wrong!”

She was trying to exert herself to get me to be compliant. I slid out of my shoes and walked away. It’s hard to take someone seriously when they are whispering.

I realized that if I wasn’t in front of her, she couldn’t yell, and my chances of hearing her were less. I was not committing to her ways anytime soon.

She followed me.

“Christine Ann, don’t you walk away from me while I’m speaking!”

Not the full name. I faced her again.

“You will wear your boots like I have told you!”

I cannot explain why I did what I did next. But instead of talking to her in my normal voice, I whispered back,

“No! I won’t! I hate them!”

She thought I was making fun of her, and now we had another problem.

I was going to try and explain myself, but then the humor of it hit me. I started laughing. It appeared I had just gone into total rebelliousness. This just made it worse. Coffin, meet nail.

“Don’t you dare mock me! How dare you first not listen to me and then think my illness is funny!”

She was straining super hard. I wish I had known then to tell her that she could permanently damage her voice by doing that. It was probably good I didn’t.

I had to get myself under control. I knew she wouldn’t hit me, but I didn’t want to chance it. I had never been this far down the road before.

“I don’t know why..” I started to explain, and then I started laughing again.

She stood there with her arms crossed, looking at me like I didn’t belong to her.

“Get to your room.”

She walked away.

I didn’t dare slam my door because she would make me open and close it quietly whenever I did. So I skipped that part. There was enough to contend with.

I was met with icy silence, and it was not all related to her losing her voice.

Later, she came back into my room and sat on my bed.

“You don’t have to do what I tell you.”

This was the best news I had heard so far.

“Won’t you be mad at me if I don’t?”

This seemed too easy.

“No, I won’t be angry. I will be disappointed. There’s a difference. I have to trust that you will obey me.”

She was speaking directly to my conscience, and it was like she took a hammer to my chest.

“You can keep up with what you are doing, and if you fall and hurt yourself, I won’t be mad. I will be sad that you didn’t listen.”

I wore my boots and put up with the heckling from that time on. Her relationship with me was more important than a group of losers at school.

I have had to get to that point many times on various issues with God. I want my way, but I hear that still, small voice say, “No, do this instead.”

It might put us in an uncomfortable situation, and we don’t always see why at first, but we have to trust that heaven sees and knows what is best for us.

(That’s how I took them off..am I coming or going?)
(Evidence of WHY I should not have been forced into a dress! Ugh!)