Mine

“She told me to walk on the other side of the street! Can you believe that?”

I was in my front yard on a warm summer evening, battling my way through weeds that were taking over.

“Really?”

He was out for his usual stroll with his hunting dog.

I didn’t want to have a conversation at the time, but whenever I am out there, I wear a sign that says, “Tell me all your problems.”

A few doors down from me, one of the residents wasn’t considering the effects her barking dog was having on the rest of us within hearing distance.

I usually can drown out the sound and go on with my life, but this was unusual. The first time I heard it, I was in the driveway with my daughter talking about her new vehicle lease when I thought I heard a car accident happen. In my mind, I imagined a child being run over. It was a full-on scream, then it reminded me of a dinosaur roaring, and then it switched to the sound of Godzilla eating an entire city.

I stood frozen, not wanting to look in the street for fear of the carnage I would see. My daughter, seeing my reaction, said casually,

“That’s the new dog on the corner.”

“That’s a dog? That sounds like everything else but a dog.”

It went off again, and I heard it for the entire summer, imaging Jurassic park. At the mailbox, when taking out the garbage or mowing the lawn, it was constant.

As summer ended and fall arrived, our house was open less, so I figured it would be quieter. This was not true. Like an ugly alarm, it went off every day at 6 am, and without our air conditioning running, it was like the dog was in my living room.

It wasn’t just the initial shock of it but also the duration. It would go on for hours, and for some reason, during the winter, it was like someone turned up the volume.

“Dinosaur dog is out,” I would say often.

By the time spring came again, I was getting used to it. Every once in a while, it would still startle me, but it was starting to become background noise for the most part. But not to this neighbor.

“I walk my dog past their house every day, and she refuses to control hers.”

I knew there was a fence, so there wouldn’t be an attack, but the way it was being handled bothered him.

“When I go by there, my dog becomes so frightened, and when I’m at my house, I hear it barking nonstop.”

“And you talked to her about this?”

“Yes. She told me that I should walk on the other side of the street if it bothers me so much!”

I could tell by the tone of his voice that she hadn’t been pleasant about it.

“Does it wake you up in the morning?” I asked.

“No.”

“It does us, but I have just put up with it. I don’t want to cause a problem.”

It was an attempt to make him understand that maybe it wouldn’t bother him as much anymore if he quit focusing on it.

He frowned and looked more unsettled. So much for that idea.

“Someone should call a community officer and have them come to speak with her. She spoke to me so rudely when I tried to have a nice discussion with her about this.”

Interestingly, this person has filled her front yard with signs telling all of those who trespass to be tolerant. Her views are on full display, and it’s her property to do so. But her actions toward this guy seemed to say it was her way or the highway and could quickly erupt into a bigger problem. I wanted no part of that.

This is why I wanted to leave sleeping dogs alone.

“That dog wakes you up?”

“Yes, but…”

“I don’t like it,” he said with too much venom and walked away. I had a bad feeling.

Later, my daughter and I went on a walk, and when we went past the house under scrutiny, all was silent. I looked at her as we got near the tall wooden fence, and it was quiet.

Further down the street, she said,

“I think he said something.”

“I hope he didn’t include me.”

On our way back, I was glared at as I walked by a sign in the yard telling me to be considerate of everyone.

“Peace Love and Joy seems upset,” I said when we returned home.

The other day, I saw a post on social media that pointed out how we don’t know our neighbors’ names but make them up by their behavior.

“I think I do this,” I said.

“Yes, you do. You always say ‘the old guy across the street’ is doing something.”

I had just said that because I saw him out raking, and the rake was winning.

“Peace Love and Joy?”

“It’s easy to remember,” I said, defending myself.

“The ‘I don’t like it’ guy?”

“It’s the last thing he said to me.”

“The guy in the blue house?”

Oh, ya. Him. He was the reason I didn’t want to get into a dog fight with Peace Love and Joy. He lives right next to her and has proven to be difficult as well. If he ever changes the paint color on his home, he will still be the guy in the blue house as far as I’m concerned.

He has tried everything in the book to let me know he didn’t like living by me for almost thirty years. If I were in the backyard visiting with people, he would fire up his lawnmower at that exact time to send a message. I would catch him peering out his blinds, watching what I was doing because weed whipping is so criminal.

I had tried to run interference between him and a lady who had lived next door to me for years. She was notorious for leaving her house and letting her two dogs come and go as they pleased. Many times, they had been left out barking, unattended. He had gotten to calling the police at the slightest woof. I knew this, so I have kept an eye on mine not to bring on his wrath over the years.

She never had a good word to say about him, and my first impression of him wasn’t the greatest. He went on a tirade because he wanted no one mowing the lawn outside of the fence near his property because we could claim that inch as ours down the road. He seemed volatile and unpredictable.

I saw a squad car pull up when I got home one day.

“Her dog has been outside barking for hours. I heard it, but I forgot about it,” my daughter told me.

I grabbed the house key for the neighbor’s front door that she had given me after we had to jump her chain link fence the last time this happened.

The police officer rolled down his window.

“Are you here because of a barking dog?”

“Yes.”

“Did the guy in the blue house call?”

“We aren’t supposed to say, but yes.”

“I already know. I have a key, so can I go in and get the dogs back in the house?”

I wanted to be sure he didn’t think I was breaking in and then haul me off to jail.

“You have a key?” He asked, realizing I was his best friend in this situation.

“Yes. The person who lives here gave me one. I can go in and make sure this stops.”

Since then, she has moved, so the guy in the blue house has calmed down somewhat, and I think he has had some spiritual awakening. First, he lives next to Peace Love and Joy and has never complained of her T-Rex. Second, I went by his house last summer, deep in thought, listening to an audiobook, and I saw something move. When I glanced up, he had the biggest smile and waved at me. I think he said hi, but I had my earbuds in.

I slowed down, and I knew I squinted to scrutinize the situation, expecting him to spring into the street and chloroform me suddenly.

I hesitantly raised my index finger to acknowledge and was going to hurry on. He smiled bigger and waved more fervently. I nodded at him and moved away. Baby steps.

Mr. Rogers made it look so easy. He would zip up his sweater, throw a shoe and catch it before putting it on, all the while singing about how great it was to be surrounded by people of various diversity.

He thrived and was thrilled when people had something different from him. He viewed the presence of others as a chance to learn something new.

As an ordained pastor, he was practicing this from Mark 12:31:

The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” (NLT)

Sometimes, you can love people from a few blocks over, especially if they prove to be toxic and you don’t click with them. You don’t antagonize, and keeping your distance can help prevent more issues.

I have no idea where we get the idea that suffering is love.

If any of the people around me had an emergency or needed help, I would, despite their political views or horrible attitude. To me, that’s God’s love.

When the mail carrier whipped her truck into my driveway, I was in my garage.

She gave me that look like my young entrepreneur who works from home had ordered many supplies she didn’t want to heft up to the door from the street.

“Has she been at it again?” I asked.

“Yes, she has! And my knee is swollen again, so I need your help.”

This lady and I are opposites for beliefs, and what is the current argument that the media hopes will entangle us all in snarling encounters.

Despite that, she said,

“I have to go to the bathroom so bad, and I still have two hours left. Can I use your restroom?”

She knows I will always say yes because I always do.

Before she left, she told me all her complicated family issues and then said,

“You always make me feel better after I talk to you. You are a good listener. And I would never ask anyone else to use their bathroom.”

“This is why I’m on your route,” I said. She smiled and limped back to her truck.

The old guy across the street will mow his lawn five times a day; Mr. I Don’t Like It is going to walk his hunting dog at 6:30 sharp every evening on whatever side of the street he wants. Peace Love and Joy will do her best to live out her truth no matter how abrasive she might be, and the guy in the blue house is probably at the hardware store right now picking out a lovely new shade of weird.

And while I live here, they are all His, which makes them mine.

(Who ARE the people in your neighborhood? I bet you don’t have a guy in a blue house…)

Death

I quit my job in January. One that I had done for a long time. Unless there was something new to learn, I could work with my eyes closed throughout my daily existence. When I started, I knew nothing about the industry I was helping in; everything was an acronym. When I was in the presence of seasoned business world employees, I felt so stupid, not knowing what anyone was talking about.

I had to go to the local jail and have my fingerprints taken to do my job. I remember feeling so frightened by the presence of so many in authority and this overwhelming feeling of sadness mixed with aggression. I had to wait, and out of mounting anxiety, I stood with my back against the wall to ensure that no one would be unexpectedly behind me. 

I was alone and didn’t feel safe, even though I was in the presence of law enforcement. I watched as a man went through the process I was there for, but he was not going to work, but rather a cell. Some have said their jobs are a prison, and his was about to be at that moment. The female officer took his fingers, rolled them on an ink pad, and placed them on a white card. 

They said nothing to one another. 

When he was moved on, I was summoned forward with her motioning to me with her hand. There were no pleasantries spoken. 

I went in her direction, not fully knowing what I needed to say. I was adjusting to encountering uncertain circumstances as I had never been in before. 

Just as I was going to speak, a man was escorted past me in handcuffs by two police officers, one on each side. He had his head down, like he was ashamed of himself, not wanting any of us to make eye contact with him. His sins had caught up with him, and he couldn’t bear to look humanity in the eye. 

How does a person get there? He was once a small boy, innocently set into the world, and now going into a cage that clearly wouldn’t offer him any forgiveness. He had to be held accountable for whatever transgressions he had done, but what had created this life along the way? This dejected individual had participated in activity that had landed him here, but why? What had been the mixture of mistakes blended, putting him on a path of self-destruction? 

As a mom of two, newly divorced, and wanting to raise them right, I wanted to know. I turned away quickly and told her what I needed. 

She mechanically went to work, doing the same as the man before me. I glanced nervously around, keeping my purse secured across the front of my body. I was in a place where many thieves were gathered, so I felt this overwhelming need to protect myself. 

As she finished my last finger, I said,

“This is the only time I am ever doing this.”

This brought on a smile from her and a slight laugh.

“That’s a good idea,” she said.

I was given a copy of my identity, the one God gave me at birth, and I left the jail that day a free woman. 

The intimidation there was nothing compared to what was up next. 

I recall being at a meeting and overhearing someone commenting on another assistant. She had asked a basic question, which was being made fun of. It was along the lines of, “Can you believe she asked that? She should know that.” This was when I was brand new. 

I wasn’t up for exposing myself to ridicule. From that point on, I listened intently, wanting so much to learn the language. Never fully revealing that I was so lost, especially not in public. 

I found myself flying under the radar like I always had to smile and nod as if I knew what was going on. I didn’t realize I was advancing as I sat day after day, trying to overcome what felt like a learning disability. While the rest of the class was moving on, I felt the dead weight, looking at paperwork with many questions and writing it down. Multicolored sticky notes graced everything in those early days, or I would spend a lot of energy trying to remember who was who and what was what to exasperation. 

They say it takes six months to comprehend a new job. Don’t give up until you hit that mark, is the advice, so I stayed for fourteen years. Sometimes not fully comprehending what was happening but desperately wanted to do a good job. 

I could have quit many times during that span, but I held on, not fully aware of all the understanding I was getting. God had put me there for a reason, and I knew that I would miss out on something of importance if I quit. 

One day, as I looked at the piles and stacks of everything that needed a proper place, I had a vision of an abandoned field. It had rocks and weeds all over it, left unattended for a while. 

“Don’t give up. Help clean up the field so the ground is good again. I will help you do it; you can do this no matter how difficult it might get.”

Then I was shown a field filled with healthy crops, growing strong, every inch producing as it should.

“Help make that happen,” I heard in my mind. 

I never can say no to God. While I wanted to run and find a different place entirely, I knew that this was what I was being asked to do. I instantly remembered telling God a while before this that I didn’t want my will anymore and was giving myself away to heaven’s lead. I was fully aware of having my own “will,” and many a preacher had expounded on this; God and I would forever be at odds, me wanting my way against His. 

I chose to give mine up, and whenever faced with a moment of possible tug of war between my Creator and me, the still small voice would say,

“Did you give me your will?”

That is still all it takes for me to drop the fight. 

The place I found the most helpful to navigate the unknown waters of this job was one that many would have overlooked. But, God led me in the way I was to go, true to the promise. 

One of the biggest challenges was organizing all the paper that used to accumulate. There were boxes and boxes filled with filing to do, so I began sorting through it all by name, putting everything in alphabetical order, still not fully seeing the bigger picture. This was before the idea of going green existed. To help my mind keep things straight, I implemented a system of colors, with each folder representing a specific type of client and what they had with the company. 

I was so wrapped up in trying to grasp every concept that any small mistake I made was like an absolute failure. When I thought I had mastered something, it would be called to my attention that I hadn’t done something right. That wasn’t easy to swallow and put my self-confidence back at zero. 

In reality, all those missteps taught me how to become what I was striving to be. 

As I went through the organization process, I began creating “dead files” boxes. These were shoved into a far dark corner, known as cold storage. They had no purpose anymore, some from customers who had moved on to other advisors and others who had moved on from earth.

After getting the active cases put away, which took months, I looked around to see what I could fix next. I opened the lid on the first of many. When I had been trying to focus on the “living,” I had randomly placed all of the old ones haphazardly aside to deal with later.

Now was later. 

A critical component of my position was to be sure that past information was locked up and shredded, adhering to the law. If a client no longer was with the company, their files had to be kept for a certain amount of time and then destroyed. I went about creating a database, cataloging everyone, especially those who needed to be disposed of, so we would comply. 

Amazingly, this is what held the key to my understanding. 

Day after day, I spent an entire summer alone, sifting through unneeded material, either shredding on the spot or marking it to be done later. Because these were no longer viable contacts, I became relaxed, and specific ideas and thoughts would become illuminated that had been so dark. It was as if a silent instructor stood by me, telling me what to do, taking away the struggle. I finally started to learn the language. 

I remember being shocked that I could carry on an intelligent conversation, putting words and sentences together because I finally understood what I was doing. Even though it took a lot of trial and error, I was thrilled that I knew more than before. 

Somewhere amongst the dead files, I had found life. 

I did what I knew I was to do, behind the scenes digging up a plot of land, making room for a productive venture that could function at its highest, bringing great benefits to the clients under the company’s care and even myself in some ways I had not imagined at the onset. 

To leave that behind wasn’t easy. But, again, I started to hear that voice telling me there was something else I was needed for. 

I ignored it for a while, not wanting to go back to a time of uncertainty. I had overcome the hurdles, and now I tried to coast along, believing this was it. I had made it. Why mess with something that I had worked so diligently to construct? 

Because I don’t belong to me. 

Driving alone with nothing to distract me, I heard,

“I have something else I need you to do. You will thank me later.”

It wasn’t easy to see the road after that, but I knew I wasn’t staying where I had been. 

It isn’t until you no longer do what you have been that you are mindful of how much of yourself you had committed to that. You have flashes of memories where you see you did what you were told to do even when you didn’t want to. You put everything of yourself in it, and now what? Do that again? 

Within days of resigning, I heard one morning, when I was barely awake, 

“You need to be a hospice volunteer.”

I had wanted to go into this for a while, but I had put it off. Three years ago, I looked at getting a higher education to my B.A. in Psychology to do this and earn money doing it, but as I tried to, doors seemed slammed shut. I was given wrong information, left messages that never got called back, and was told the only way I could do the work I wanted and get paid was to spend at least four years in school far and away from the actual work. 

While out on a walk in deep frustration, again the voice came,

“Work with people for now. Not paper.”

I knew this was an answer to stop pursuing school and sign up for the work, even if it meant doing it for free. 

Then Covid hit, closing the door for a bit.

Now unemployed, I was being told to pick it up again. I looked up hospice in my area, which there are a million, but picked the one that appeared first. I have learned that doors fly open when God leads you, despite trying to reason your way out of it. 

Filling out 21 pages of the orientation requirements made me wonder what they do to a person who they hire for real. I had to submit a resume, give them three references from people who would vouch for my character, do a background check, and even give blood. 

The technician was new, and it sprayed everywhere. I felt so emotionally beat down that it was a sign I was still alive. Usually, that might have bothered me, but I didn’t even care. 

“I am so sorry!” She said, embarrassed, eyes wide behind her mask. 

“That’s ok,” I said, remembering what it was like to start a new job that I had just left. I had moved quickly enough so it missed my clothes. For a week, the massive bruise on my arm reminded me that I had signed up for this. 

I was given some patients and began the journey. It’s a lot of listening, praying, and sometimes just quietly sitting still and observing. 

I often listen with my eyes. That sounds strange, but it’s true. 

A few weeks ago, as I said hello to one under my care, she looked at me, and I knew. 

Nothing was different about her health situation, and it appeared the same, but I was made aware with the voice speaking to me again of what was to come. She wasn’t going to be here much longer. So I did my best despite knowing that it wasn’t going to be long. 

Last week, when I went to see her before I got to her room, I heard in my mind, 

“If you see her lying in bed, this is your sign that you know she’s leaving soon.”

Usually sitting up in the sun in the day room, I found her lying on her bed, sound asleep. I didn’t wake her, but I knew this would be the last time I saw her, so I quietly said goodbye.

I thought of her this past week, the day before I was to visit again. I even commented to my daughter that I felt I wouldn’t see her. Just before I left the house to go to her assisted living, I felt like I was to check my email. There I found a note telling me she had passed that morning. I was thanked for making her time left more pleasant.

I was glad I said certain things to her and made her laugh. It was the only indication that she was okay with me being there. When you know things ahead of time like this, a mixture of emotions follows. 

“I will check in on you next week,” I would say as I would leave. “I wanted to see how you were doing.”

She would then smile and say,

“I am so glad you did.” 

Her door was shut to her room when I got there the other day, and the spot in the day room where she sat was vacant. It appears as if it’s over to those who don’t see. On the other side, however, she is beaming in bright light, fully back to the fullness of her youth. I know that she walks now alongside those who have gone before her, and she is happy to be next to her husband, who she loved on earth so very much. 

This isn’t a job where I shuffle papers, and it’s not going to pay a single bill. 

It is a moment to become more aware of my days and those ahead of me. 

Again I find myself trying to understand something new about life while looking for answers to what is deemed as death. 

 It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going. Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? When the time comes, we’ll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming. (2 Corinthians. 5:7)

He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less. (John 3:30)

(One of the places, I listen with my eyes)

Guide

“She’s going to scare me.”

My oldest daughter had come to me with a familiar concerned look that usually accompanied her when her sister was up to no good. 

“If you know she’s going to do this, doesn’t that make it less scary?”

If you see a car is coming, you don’t step out in front of it. You don’t talk to strangers. And you don’t run with scissors unless there’s an emergency, and then you keep the sharp end pointed toward the ground. 

“She’s planning this for the middle of the night when I’m sleeping!”

That threw in a new variable. 

I knew she was not above such tricks as I had seen the evidence. While my oldest daughter was sleeping off an illness, she had picked up a toy camera that had grainy video capability and shot footage of her. She had quietly filmed without disturbing her and even showed herself backing out of the room undetected. I found out about it later after the camera’s film had ended and it was reviewed. 

Her track record indicated she was capable of being a highly trained spy. 

“Did she tell you this?”

The master orchestrater usually never revealed her plan unless caught, and even then, it wasn’t always clear what she had devised entirely. 

“I found this on the floor in my bedroom!”

The two had shared a room for a while, one being four years old when the other was born. I had no idea until many years later when they would laugh and tell me how they would fake going to sleep at night and be in a full-blown tug of war sheet fight within minutes of my exit from the room.  

As they got older and the skirmishes increased, I knew they needed their own space—kind of like when I had to separate my two dogs from sleeping in the same kennel. 

She handed me a piece of paper. On it was the perfect drawing of my daughter’s bedroom. The details of furniture and room arrangement were exact. 

“Is this a map?” I asked, looking at the jagged edges ripped out of a notebook. 

“Yes! She’s going to hide and jump out and scare me!”

They both have fantastic drawing abilities that they did not inherit from me. She had taken her artistic flair and turned it into mental warfare.

“She didn’t just drop this on accident,” I said, catching on to what she was doing. 

“It was in the middle of the room. It wasn’t there when I left.”

“She did it on purpose to mess with your mind. Your room isn’t that big, so where will she possibly hide so you don’t know she is there?”

The thought of being vulnerable while asleep was the key to her distress. It wasn’t the actual act prompting fear but the anticipation of it. 

“She put a big x in the closet. She’s going to hide in there!”

“There is no way she’s going to do this to you. She wouldn’t tell you what would happen and where she would be ahead of time. She’s planting the idea so you stay up all night while she’s peacefully asleep.”

When I presented the paper to the six-year-old who should have been running a branch of our military, she smiled and admitted that she had put it right where she knew her sister would see it. It was all done just to get a reaction, and she had gotten what she wanted. 

Besides mind games, they were competitive. While I was distracted with a grocery list, they would be arguing over the shopping cart and who would get to sit on what side. Back then, they had plastic seats built onto the carts they sat in while I got a major workout pushing them and all the food up and down every aisle. 

Advertisers took advantage of this by putting their products on the back, just as a subliminal message to get you to buy whatever you spent the next hour or so looking at. 

“I want the Oreo side!” 

“I want it!”

The fight was on. It was Chips Ahoy versus Oreo, and it had been deemed that one was better than the other. I hadn’t recognized it the first few times, but once I did, I had to think quickly about how to solve it so there wouldn’t be a scene in public. It was a battle to convince one of them that both sides were the same. The only way was negotiation on my part.

“I will time it and give you the same minutes sitting there.” This technique calmed many storms that often blew in out of now where. That’s when you know you are winning. 

It never was fail-proof, though. Some conflicts that cropped up were beyond fixing.  

Board games were tense, with the two trying their best to outdo the other. There never was outright poor sportsmanship, but somewhat of a subtle feeling that would creep in when one was losing while the other was not.  

One game that both of them liked was Funky Fingernails. The genius who manufactured this is off on a yacht without care, living off royalties. 

The premise was to collect nine slide on nails of the same color and the prized golden nail. 

Cue the angelic music.

It was the most highly sought piece in the game, and there was only one, so that meant the winner had to secure it. But, just because someone had it didn’t mean it was theirs. A spinner was involved, giving your opponent the chance to swipe whatever they wanted from your hand to add to theirs.  

There is a universal truth I have seen in action with every kid on the planet. They don’t easily give up what they think is ‘theirs.’ 

She took MY chair! When there are a million to choose from, they sat in it for less than a minute, got up to get something, and now their sibling has slid in unknowingly because it was vacant.

He stole my favorite pencil! Same situation as the chair but a writing utensil. 

So to have a game that pits one against another is just asking for trouble. Watching an ego die can be ugly. 

Both would work frantically to gather matching colors to form the perfect fake manicure, which was another point of contention if they were trying for the same shade of pink.  

It was an emotional rollercoaster as one would gain an advantage, but then fate would reverse its course and give the other the upper hand.  

Both had gotten nine of their required nails during one of these hot-blooded matches. The youngest one had somehow managed to get the golden nail and only needed one more color, while her sister was eyeing the gold one that she needed to complete her hand. 

As luck would have it, my oldest spun, and it enabled her to take the golden nail from her sister, making her the winner. Before she could remove it, my youngest daughter started flicking and flinging plastic nails in all directions, stood up, and stormed into her bedroom. 

I sat there wondering what I should do. But before I could act, we both heard the mumblings of a person who had obviously snapped.

“I hate my room! I hate my socks! I hate my bed! I hate my pillow!”

The compulsion to compete had overtaken her ability to think straight. This rant of everything she found not to her liking poured out of her in a high-pitched yell.

I gasped when she said,

“I hate mom!”

I almost went in to silence her outburst, but I let it go to see where we would end up. At first, the two of us sat there shocked but restrained ourselves from laughing as it went on so she wouldn’t hear us. 

“I hate the dog! I hate everything! I hate the trees! I hate my window!”

I really struggled and had to put both of my hands over my mouth not to laugh out loud when she said,

“I HATE OUTSIDE!”

Then it went silent. As fast as it had begun, it was over. I waited to ensure that all of it was out in the open before I crawled over to her door and looked in. 

She was sound asleep on her bed. Later, I realized she had been running a fever, so her behavior was partly based on that and that she had been stuffing down her amped-up anxiety that grew with each turn taken.

We can pretend that our childhood gave way to such things, and we are so much further along and mature as adults. But are we?

Two things that don’t go well together are fear and paranoia. Going to the store meant seeing bare shelves as terror gripped the hearts of many. 2020 is a bit farther away now, but this was a daily existence during the pandemic’s beginning. 

I was checking out at an office supply store the other day, and the cashier said,

“Do you want some hand sanitizer?”

First, I wondered if he thought my hands were filthy. They weren’t. Then, I pondered what the sales pitch was going to be. 

“What?” 

“Do you want some hand sanitizer? We have way too much, and we have to get rid of it, so we have to give it away.”

He handed me two large bottles of it. This would have been like finding gold two years ago. The race to get it and horde it had been at an all-time high. Some guy had made national news because he had scooped up so much of it, was gouging people in price for it, and has charges against him. He is not anyone’s favorite person. Now, it is freely being gotten rid of as a burden. 

What was so feared yesterday isn’t so much today, and what was sought after as the must-have item is available everywhere and to excess. 

What does that say? Our emotions are fleeting, and that is where you have to decide if you will be led by your spirit or by your flawed thinking.  

In John 4:1 it states:

My dear friends, don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. (Message)

This verse was written concerning false prophets and preachers who claim they are genuine, but it could be applied to everything that comes our way. Mass hysteria is built on no one thinking clearly. It’s the insertion of an idea to get a reaction that creates a ripple effect. Instead of reacting to the news, especially what seems dire, take a minute to question it. 

Panic is like watching people do the wave at a sporting event. One section starts it, and it goes from row to row to see if it can make it back to its origin.

Eventually, it dies out because someone decides to quit, and then others make the same decision, much in the same way it got started, just like the highly sought-after hand sanitizer that now is collecting dust on the shelves.

We can learn from these things. 

In 2 Corinthians, 5:7 there’s an additional protective device given to those who wish to make themselves less likely to fall for false appearances, like the possible threat of your sister scaring you in the middle of the night:

For we walk by faith; not by sight. (ESV)

Run it past God; ask to be shown with your spiritual eyes what its reality is. Is this how heaven would deliver a sign or a message? Is it helpful and peaceful? Or is it meant to cause you to go into alarm mode? 

Let heaven be your guide.

(The source of many conflicts….)
(This needs to go right next to that Tickle Me Elmo you bought..and the Cabbage Patch dolls…)

Changed

We used the food scale for weeks to accurately measure portion sizes, watching the digital readout grow dimmer by the second. Once in a while, it would flash a warning reading ‘Lo’ indicating that the batteries might be nearing the end of their existence. It was so worn down, it couldn’t even add the ‘w’ to make a complete word.

As with anything that isn’t blowing up or causing urgency, we kept using it, thinking it wasn’t being serious. It’s like when the gas light goes on in your car. You always have some time before you have to pay attention to it.

I don’t take my chances too long with the car, but it seems like it’s jumping the gun a bit when you have to deal with an issue with electronic devices. I could manage fine if I squinted just right and turned it, so the light wasn’t directly shining on the screen.

Even when I could hardly read if it measured in grams or ounces, I ignored it, and once it had given me what I needed, I would forget about it until the next time I had to use it.

“I really should put new batteries in this,” I would say with every single use with absolutely no intention of doing so.

History seems to repeat itself. I have never gotten a different outcome when I have lived on the edge in this way. I pushed the on button, and it remained silent. I hit it again, thinking I had not done it hard enough. No familiar beep meant the unthinkable. It had died.

How could it betray me like this after so much time of it running on fumes, trying to warn me it was on its way out?

I opened “the drawer.” Everyone has one where you keep items, but nothing resides in there that is useful for times like these.

You move aside keys you have no idea what they open, a flashlight that when you flick it on has the same affliction as the food scale and screws. Lots and lots of mismatched screws that belong to something somewhere, essential oils that have names like breathe easy and relax, glue sticks, charger cords that have gotten separated from whatever they are supposed to bring back to life, and underneath everything, you find that package of homeopathic stress mints.

You do get credit for that extra refrigerator light bulb because you bought it months ago and threw it in there, totally prepared for when that burns out.

You wade through it all on the hunt for the triple A’s that seem to disappear the minute you bring the package across the house’s threshold. You have double-A, C, and D. The square 9 volt. When was the last time you ever needed that? The tiny round ones that no one should ever swallow and the flat pancake-shaped offering that belongs to nothing in the whole house.

You are left with only one choice. Go around and start kidnapping what you need from the other devices you own. Because you don’t need one or two, this monster takes three. You swear on a stack of Bibles that you will replace them. Later, you use the remote for the tv, and it’s not working. Why? Because the food scale is now functioning at its best.

It’s not like you haven’t been near a display at the store where you could solve your problem. But it seems that your brain decides to have amnesia, making you forget you have a crisis at home where inanimate objects run your life and drain your energy.

This leads to getting so over the situation that you make a special trip to get them, buy them and find a stash you have put away in that ‘other’ drawer from the last time you did this.

It’s a fun game I don’t recommend playing.

While not only battery challenged, there’s another issue in my home that baffles the mind. No one except me will put a new roll of toilet paper on the holder. I don’t know where this started and how I became responsible for it; I must have signed a contract I am not aware of.

It’s not uncommon to see a new roll sitting next to the holder on the sink or an entire pile of them on the floor by where one needs to be placed. But, never, will it be hanging on display. Never.

When my daughters were younger, I thought maybe removing the old and putting on the new was not something they could handle, but no one lacks motor skills at this point. If they can brush their own hair and swipe a credit card, they can do this; I know it. So it can only mean one thing. I enabled it.

When I became aware of that, I did try to fight back by going on strike and not doing it anymore so that they would understand what it was like to be me. It was an ‘I will show them’ moment. No one seemed to notice, and it drove me to resume the job of replacing it. You just know when you are up against those who are more strong-willed than you are.

It makes one wonder how we get into the habits we do. According to those who have studied human behavior, it’s not always easy to break patterns we have established because they can become unconscious, making it difficult for us to see them in the first place, like fears, worries, and irrational thoughts.

When my youngest daughter was six, she went through a time of having nightmares. It was not uncommon for her to suddenly be next to my bed, waking me up, tormented, asking for me to come into her room and pray. I had the same thing happen when I was young, so I knew the feeling.

I would get her to calm down, remind her that she had protection around at all times, and she would get through it. This kept happening to her for a while, but then it suddenly stopped. When that occurs, you let it go because it means your prayers have been answered, and you get to go back to not being woken up by a frightened child.

Shortly after her bad dreams had ceased, I noticed one day that she put her finger to the middle of her forehead and pushed on it.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I am changing the disc in my head.”

She went on to tell me that one night, while terrified after another alarming middle of the night awakening, instead of having me help her, something told her to pretend she was putting a new movie into her mind. She followed the instructions she was given, and this cured the problem.

“I use it when I have thoughts I don’t like. It works on everything,” she said.

She told me it was like putting in a new DVD and went through the physical motion of pretending to take out something, put something new in, and push the spot on her forehead again. (This was well before all of the streaming services we have now)

Whether by angelic intervention or not, we can change how we process a situation. Once you realize that the way you are thinking is not serving you, that is the minute you can take over and put things in their proper order.

Another way to end the struggle within over outside circumstances is to do this from Romans 12:2:

Let God change your life. First of all, let Him give you a new mind. Then you will know what God wants you to do. And the things you do will be good and pleasing and perfect. (NLV)

Matthew 7:7-8 describes how you can do that:

Ask, and what you are asking for will be given to you. Look, and what you are looking for, you will find. Knock, and the door you are knocking on will be opened to you. Everyone who asks receives what he asks for. Everyone who looks finds what he is looking for. Everyone who knocks has the door opened to him. (NLV)

Pray and ask God to replace unhelpful ideas that play in your mind and hold you hostage. Like old batteries and empty toilet paper rolls, you can be changed.

Sometimes it looks like they are winning…
(Keep these buried in the drawer where the batteries that you need should be…You will have no problem swallowing all 30 of them at once)

Cross

I sent her to her room for a minute to think. It wasn’t so much for her as it was for me. I had read countless parenting books about how to deal with the unruly. I had gotten it down to steps. First came the warning that someone would be booked on a one-way ticket to another part of the house away from me if things didn’t change.

If that was not heeded by some chance, which was unusual, separation from everyday living occurred. While this would seem like discipline to some, my youngest daughter took this as an opportunity to make the most of it. When many would be beating down the door like it was a prison cell, wanting to escape, she did the opposite.

She got out every available toy, knowing she would not have to share with her sister, and got lost in her imagination as she played alone.

I would have to tell her she could come back out, but she often wouldn’t because she was enjoying herself so much.

One time, she took what should have been isolation a bit too far. She had gotten into an altercation, tested my patience, and landed in solitary confinement. After the prescribed minutes of being in juvenile lockup, I told her that her time of self-reflection was over. The door stayed shut, and she made no move to free herself.

I had gotten to the point where I let her decide, but it was so quiet I decided to check on her. It was just past Easter, and I could tell she had merrily passed the time by living it up, eating her candy, and tossing wrappers all over the room. So much for only bread and water.

As I was taking that in, she ran past me, which I found strangely suspicious. It wasn’t until later when I heard her sister yell her name that she had been up to no good.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

I had given them each a small cross made of chocolate. My oldest daughter had a white one with bright colored flowers in the middle. Unlike her younger sister, she made things last. It wasn’t uncommon for the Fourth of July to roll in, and she still hadn’t finished all of what she had been given.

“She ate my cross!”

You don’t hear that every day. In horror, my oldest explained that she had purposefully not eaten the middle part, but her sister had no problem swallowing it down.

“I had saved where the pretty flowers were, and she ate it!”

She showed me the empty box it had been in.

How do you punish someone that you had already detained in punishment? This was not in any of my parenting books. There were no steps after this one. I found so many times along the way the conflicting emotions that would crop up as I was presented with this type of dilemma.

The first thing you try not to do is smile or laugh at how hilarious it is because of hurt feelings, and it’s so wrong. You mentally repeat that this is not funny, so you can commiserate with the victim whose last bite has been gulped down by a three-year-old who knew precisely what she was doing. You immediately go to the store to try and find something to make up for the loss while doing your best acting job frowning at the other one.

That’s where the forehead wrinkles come from.

Like my daughter, who adapted to wherever her behavior got her, some people can accept unpleasant situations better than others. They make the best of it, knowing that it won’t last forever. They don’t go on social media and rant for hours on end, tell every neighbor they see, and talk to every stranger at the grocery store.

Sometimes I’m surprised when I find out later that a person is plagued with a problem, and I would have no idea until someone told me. It’s not that they are faking their way through it. There’s this heavenly glow about them because they have made up their mind to accept the news, deal with it and still live as if nothing has changed. It’s not a secret, but it’s not been made the focal point of their existence. They don’t seem to be suffering in silence either. They have revealed their pain to a select few who offer steadfast support and give the rest to God.

They have tapped into a part of themselves where the peace that passes all understanding resides.

Since we have been taught that if you receive “bad” news or you have to deal with something that has been identified as unfavorable, this must require you to limp through life, making sure everyone knows how bad off you are.

I have been handed my fair share of circumstances that I would have instead bypassed. But in all those instances, I have learned more about God and a strength that I would have never known.

While embroiled in it, you aren’t always aware of the work that is being done inwardly, but it starts showing up in small ways. You begin to view things differently, as if God has placed a pair of glasses over your eyes and you have keen insider knowledge about situations before they occur.

You get to the point that whatever the trial is that you are involved in, you start to be thankful for it because, without it, you would never have transformed into a better version of yourself—one who can extend herself to those in their times of pain.

In James 1:2-4, it is stated:

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. (Message)

I have to say, this can take a minute to get to this realization. It’s not necessarily an overnight adjustment.

I have been in many spiritual circles where people talk about wanting to be more “mature”. They express that they desire to come up higher and experience the more extraordinary things of God, but I don’t think they understand the sacrifice it takes to come to an elevated level. Usually, this means addressing something you have grown accustomed to blocking your progress. It has become so familiar it can feel like a vital organ or body part needed for survival when it really isn’t.

Take worry, for example. Or substances that disengage you from feeling. And comfort zones that numb your spiritual senses.

When all of those get stripped away because you realize they are only temporary fixes and confront what you don’t want to, you realize there’s a God you can trust. The heaviness of it all seems to lessen even though the trouble may still exist. You get a little wrapped up in this supernatural bubble where you don’t need to run from it anymore because it lost its power over who you are. You only look to God.

When you trade in your default mechanisms for coping, you are rewarded with spiritual tools that far surpass anything else you could ever devise. You are then able to bear your cross.

Bear your cross, don’t eat other people’s crosses…

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. 

Okay

We had gotten home late when she came into my room with pieces of a gold foil wrapper in her hand.

“I found this on my floor.”

“What is it?”

“It’s what’s left of the chocolate bunny.”

It was the week after Easter, and her stash of candy had been left where one of my two dogs had found it.

When you have more than one, and you know it could be either that have devoured something they shouldn’t, you have to collect evidence before making accusations.

In your wildest dreams, you cannot fathom that one of these two perfect creatures from God has transgressed against you when you feed them and take better care of them than yourself. You wonder where you have failed as a guardian over their well-being.

But before you guilt trip yourself too far, you see images of them eating grass and chewing up tree bark like the wild animals they really are. You have witnessed one licking the bathroom floor for no reason and the other dragging out dirty laundry from a basket and ripping it to shreds.

Who can forget the time you came home to a whole bag of flour pulled from the cupboard? You find that it has been ingested because of the dusty paw prints on the floor, and the two of them are lying down, not moving with a white substance caked on their faces.

And you recall how you got down on your knees and thanked God that one of them hadn’t had their lips forever sealed after they bit into a tube of super glue, puncturing it. You saved the day by wiping off the glistening sheen while they struggled to get away from you, not understanding why you were doing what you are.

This was another one of those moments that the drive to eat something they shouldn’t overruled all else. They don’t hesitate and think, “Hmmm. She probably wouldn’t want us to do this.” Oh, no. For those brief seconds of indulging in a forbidden item, I’m sure they believe they are not under the rule of anyone but themselves and it’s green lights all the way.

Because there were two of them at the time, you don’t want to assume. My daughter had previously put them to the test by leaving out half of a sandwich on a plate with a camera focused on it to determine who would be bold enough to scarf it up.

Watching the footage was like an episode of National Geographic.

It hadn’t taken long before the male species came along and swallowed it down whole with his sister looking on. She acted so guiltily afterward that we would have guessed it was her. We figured out that if anything was left unattended, he was most likely the offender even though she acted the part.

He was the one who could do the unthinkable and not bat an eyelash afterward.

One day after doing so, he looked out the living room window on high alert, making sure no prowlers would break in during broad daylight. This was his way of getting past the event. Avoid eye contact. Take up a post like you are the best defense against the bad guys, and all will be forgiven and forgotten.

I told my daughter how I had found an empty bowl on one of the tray tables that I knew had crackers from the night before. As I said this, I saw him swallow hard like he realized I was calling him out.

“Look at that,” I said. “I think he feels guilty for once.”

He burped super loud.

“That’s not guilt! That’s indigestion!” I said, realizing he wasn’t remorseful one bit.

Knowing his history, we figured we had our man pegged for indulging in a toxic food item. We both started the cross-examination anyway, knowing that this was high on the danger list. So while someone had thoroughly enjoyed their session, we now had to save a life potentially.

It didn’t take long to conclude that he was now on health watch as his fur had chocolate all over it.

He waged his tail and looked me squarely in the eye like usual—nothing to see here.

My daughter felt so responsible that she started looking online for signs of the after-effects so we would know what to do.

“How much does he weigh?” she asked.

“I don’t know. They go to the vet next week for their spring check.”

After reading the percentage of dark chocolate and body weight, she said,

“I have to figure out if the amount he ate will hurt him.”

She picked him up and got on the scale, subtracting her own weight from the total.

“He is about fifteen pounds, so he should be alright.”

She then put her hand over his heart.

“It’s racing,” she said.

“He’s probably scared now that you stood with him on the scale.”

She didn’t hear me as she timed the beats while watching the clock.

“It’s really fast.”

The only thing we could see that was different was he was drinking more water than usual. At midnight, I decided to call an emergency vet for advice.

“If he is acting okay, then I wouldn’t worry. If he starts throwing up, give us a call again.”

We decided to do as she said and go to sleep. Both of them had slept on my bed for years, so I would know right away if anything happened.

I shut off my light and laid down when the sound of all sounds that makes you immediately get up started happening.

It was the beginning of the deep heaving that usually gives you seconds to react so you can get them outside. I went to grab him, but it was too late to stop the first round. I knew I would be running the washing machine like I had done many times before because dogs and small children decided that where I slept was the perfect place to throw up in the middle of the night.

I sent him out before the next. He came back in, immediately laid down on his bed, and went into a deep snore. While he was peacefully resting, she and I sat up until six am with bags forming under our eyes, ensuring he was back to normal. We were exhausted by the time the sun was coming up, but he woke up energetic and wanted his food bowl.

He ran outside like he had found his youth again, and I fell asleep on my feet, waiting for him to come back in.

Until I had children and pets, I never realized the lengths of self-sacrifice a person could go to—all for their survival regardless of your own.

And God does the same for us.

When we wantonly disregard all warning labels and put things in our bodies that could cause harm, we are designed with a clean-up system where everything goes to work on our behalf, striving to keep us alive for one more day while we sleep it off.

When we act impulsively, thinking we are not under the observation of heaven, God reacts as we did; correcting a wrong choice and making it right even if we don’t deserve it.

In Isaiah 55:8-9 it says:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”(NIV)

It’s a promise that we will never be left or forsaken in our trouble. God will be up all night to be sure you are okay.

Seeking

“You have to work from the end to the beginning,” he said. 

It wasn’t often that my dad got involved with my homework, but for some reason, he saw me struggling and jumped in to rescue me so I could learn a life-changing skill. 

He graduated with all F’s, so I am sure this shortcut he was about to show me came from his days of looking for an easy way out. And pure genius that they never would teach you in school.

When you are in first grade, the powers that be want to keep you interested in attending, so the workload is minimal. The love-hate relationship between me and having to sit for hours at a desk hadn’t kicked in at that age yet. I was still eager to show up and try to do the assignments that were sent home.

He saw me moving a pencil across a sheet of paper and erasing. So much erasing and sighing. He knew all the signs of overwhelm. 

“What are you doing, Chris?”

He sat down at the table next to me and took the paper so he could see it. 

“Are you having trouble with this?”

It was obvious. 

“Do you see where it says the word end?”

“Yes.”

“Start there. Whenever you do a maze on paper, start at the end and work your way back to the start.”

I looked at it again from a different perspective. 

I was following the crowd, and he was telling me not to. I had been so focused on getting to the conclusion and following the instructions that I didn’t realize I could do it any other way. I thought, on some level, it was cheating if I didn’t do it like everyone else was attempting to. 

I thought it was written in stone that I had only one way of solving the problem, so it was blocking me from figuring it out.  

Having the teacher say,

“I’m sending you home with a puzzle to solve,” was another mental obstacle. 

Even then, I was sensitive to words and their impression on me. One phrase or sentence can emotionally impact me subconsciously, and I have to discern whether it’s the truth or not. I didn’t realize I had this “gift” then. 

I automatically visualize when someone tells me something, and I can’t unsee it. It connects me to what is being said so I can understand and empathize with a situation as if I have experienced it. I can bypass it at other times because I have taught myself how to do that. But, at this age, I was still not aware of what my mind did with information. 

To say I was impressionable was an understatement. It was like a superpower that I had to learn how to harness to use for good.  

The word ‘puzzle’ set the idea it would be difficult. This wasn’t going to be a simple flashcard with an image on it like a cow, dog, or a pig that I had to identify and verbalize. It was a more challenging task to complete, and it wasn’t like she gave us a rallying speech that said she knew we could accomplish it. 

It was more daunting as if we were not going to graduate from life if we came back with the wrong answer. 

He handed it back to me, and with his finger, he showed me this clear-cut path that led to the start. There were no dead ends or starting completely over. There was no questioning of left or right, getting hung up in a far dark corner and then figuring out which way to go. It cut the confusion completely out and illuminated the only way. 

“Start at the opposite end of the paper and work your way to the top.”

I felt like I had been shown a way where there seemed to be no way. I was free from the dilemma that had been handed to me and given guidance from someone who had been in my situation before. 

Within seconds, I followed what he had told me to do, and I was no longer chained down to what the public school system thought would shape me into a better person.  

His advice was good, and when I taught my girls this method, they found it to be foolproof. They were saved from the same torment that I was.  

After proving that we could escape an enclosure on paper, we were sent home with a word search where we had to circle whatever terms were listed at the bottom. 

I was having trouble finding a particular word. It was one massive conglomeration of letters in rows that had no meaning but were hiding what I was determined to find. 

While I was sweating it out, my mom noticed I was stuck. 

“Chris, pick out one letter and just look for that one. It will eventually lead you to what you are trying to find.”

For example, if you are trying to find the word zebra, look for a z only. 

When I put her trick to the test, just like my dad’s instructions for making things less complicated, it saved me time. Instead of looking at the big picture, I focused my attention on a smaller scale.

“If you break something apart, it makes it easier to spot instead of looking at all of it at once.”

There were solid spiritual messages that I don’t think either party was aware of in both cases, but now I get it.  

Starting at the bottom and working your way to the top can happen after you have decided to give up what you thought was right, but God is calling you to a new way. It’s part of a rebuilding process where everything seems as if you are doing things from a backward standpoint to get to where you want to go. So much erasing. 

Nothing is familiar; you feel like you die a new death every day, and by night, you cry yourself to sleep, questioning your decision-making, being pulled by what you know is God because the signs keep on showing up. And somehow, you keep trying to walk in the way your spirit leads you. 

Sometimes you aren’t walking but dragging yourself down the path with the promise that things might get better. Most of that is just the fatigue from insomnia, but you cling to this from Psalm 119:1-8:

You’re blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God.

You’re blessed when you follow his directions,

doing your best to find him.

That’s right—you don’t go off on your own;

you walk straight along the road he set.

You, God, prescribed the right way to live;

now you expect us to live it.

Oh, that my steps might be steady,

keeping to the course you set;

Then I’d never have any regrets

in comparing my life with your counsel.

I thank you for speaking straight from your heart;

I learn the pattern of your righteous ways.

I’m going to do what you tell me to do;

don’t ever walk off and leave me. (Message)

My mom’s help reminds me of this from Matthew 6:34:

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. (Message)

If that doesn’t say to take the largeness of life and go piece by piece, one day at a time, I don’t know what does. 

Most of us want to do things in the order that makes sense, and we want it done yesterday. That usually isn’t how God makes things happen. 

“Seek,” she said to me.  

It was one of those moments when I didn’t want to take her advice, but there it was already in the air and aimed at me.   

“What?” I asked my youngest daughter.

“You need to seek.”

“No, I think you do.”

We were watching tennis, so it felt right to volley it back at her. 

“NO, you do.”  

She wasn’t the one questioning everything, so maybe she was right. 

I picked up a journal that I had written in several months prior, and it fell open to a page where I had written in the margin,

Seek Ye First

I forgot I had written it. I turned it around so she could see it—big mistake. Her piercing stare said it was now an assignment. 

In Matthew 6:30-33 it says:

If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. (Message)

You already know the ending when you see a movie or read a book more than once. Isaiah 46 follows along with that idea. 

I am God, the only God you’ve had or ever will have—

    incomparable, irreplaceable—

From the very beginning telling you what the ending will be,

All along letting you in

on what is going to happen,

Assuring you, ‘I’m in this for the long haul,

I’ll do exactly what I set out to do’. (Message)

And in John 16:13, we are promised this:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. (NLT)

If you find yourself trying to figure something out, God promises to show you things that might not make sense now but will help during the struggle of the seeking. 

(Is it bad if I see the word BAD in the Love puzzle?)

Snowed

With my noise-canceling earbuds in, I was deep in thought when I saw her wave at me frantically. I paused my problem-solving, which some would deem as worry, and looked at her.

She had a shovel in her hand and looked like she had been attempting to chip away at the ice that was thick across the bottom of her driveway. I was nearing my own house, returning from a walk along a trail.

I shut off what I was listening to and smiled at her.

“Could you get my newspaper out of the box?” she asked. I was standing on the street right by it.

“Sure,” I said.

“I don’t want to fall on the ice.”

“I don’t want you to either.”

I reached in and handed it to her.

“We didn’t get around to this last time it stormed, and now it has gotten slippery.”

I could see my own iceberg from where I was standing.

“That’s mine right there. I know the feeling. I think spring can get rid of it for me.”

She told me her name and asked me mine.

“How long have you lived here?”

“Thirty-one years,” I said.

“Really? We have been here thirty-seven.”

Who’s counting? I don’t like to.

“I have been here almost as long as you, and I hardly know anyone around me,” I said.

“We don’t either. Our neighbors in the backyard are really the only ones.”

“The two houses on both sides of me are about it,” I said.

She gestured to the house to her right and said,

“They went to school with my kids and don’t even talk to us. The person on this other side is single and comes home and never is outside.”

“My mom and dad’s neighborhood was full of people who all got together all the time,” I said.

“Ours was too. It just isn’t like that anymore.”

Is it the brutal winter weather that drives us in or the scorching heat of the summer? Or binge-watching?

When I moved into my house, I had an elderly couple who owned property along the entire block, with a super small house planted close to mine. They had raised their kids and had a million grandchildren.

I was in my early twenties and had a full-time job while my house was under construction.

When I would stop by to see how things were coming along, I would be greeted by Ron with a complete report of the day.

“I saw someone show up here at 9 am, and they left at 9:05. I don’t know what they wanted.”

“Okay.”

“I saw them haul out a lot of black dirt and replace it with sand. I don’t think that is right. They are using that on another site, and that is wrong.”

They had created a crater in my backyard. Which they were calling a ‘pond.’

“You need to call the city and tell them.”

This started hostile phone calls from the builder threatening not to finish the job. Because of Ron’s advanced age, he wasn’t intimidated like I was, so I took his advice, and the company had to bring back all that they had taken.

From then on, my house was under the watchful eyes of both of them.

“Chris, I saw a guy come to your front steps right after you left. He got here at 10 am and left at 10:15. I don’t know what he wanted.”

I didn’t need a dog or a security system. Some wouldn’t have liked that, but I thought it was a great bonus to have someone standing guard right next to me.

When Ron got sick, I saw the ambulance come and pick him up. He never returned, dying in the hospital, leaving his wife, who was in her late 80s, alone with the house and property. I watched her over that summer trying to replicate the outdoor work that Ron had done, but it was too much.

She donated the house to the fire department, using it in a burning exercise. I stood next to her and held her hand as she watched it go up in flames. It was something she had wanted to do, but she saw years and memories go up with tears streaming down her face.

The land was parceled into four lots, and new housing went in. I recall smelling a strong scent of pine with my front windows open one day. The tall trees that lined their property were chopped down to their stumps.

It signified that nothing would remain the same, and I started praying for new people who would be just as nice as they had been.

My prayers were answered when a couple who should have been leaning more toward downsizing bought the house. I was astonished that God had given me exactly what I had asked for. And just as much as my former neighbors had watched over my house, so did these two.

Alvin, a retired horticulturist, had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. But, this didn’t stop him from working outside. His wife, raised on a farm, planted flowers in the house in the winter and transplanted them in the spring, so she spent a lot of her time outside. Both of them watched my property like hawks. This was extra comforting because, by this time, I was divorced, raising two girls on my own.

“Do you mind if I come over and pull all the weeds out of your backyard for you?”

Who would say no to that?

I left the back gate unlocked and would find him lying on my lawn, happily plucking weeds by hand. He didn’t believe in pesticides, and the work helped keep him distracted from the physical symptoms that were slowly taking over his body.

They had a slope in their backyard, and with his balance so bad, it was not uncommon for me to see him going forward with momentum putting him into an unexpected run, causing him to fall. More than once, I had to leap over the fence and make sure he was okay.

One night, he rang my doorbell. I was running a fever, but I went outside to talk to him so that I could stay at a distance. Over the years, his posture had deteriorated to the point where he was completely bent over, with his face downward.

When I approached him, I saw tears falling to the ground.

“What is wrong?” I asked. He was generally in a good mood, always smiling no matter what pain he was in.

He said his wife’s name in barely a whisper. His speech had also started to suffer, so I always had to crouch down to understand what he was saying.

“She died.” He started sobbing uncontrollably. It shocked me as I had thought she would be around longer than he would. He struggled to tell me that she had passed on and when her funeral would be.

With him in poor condition, the family had to relocate him. He fought them the whole way, grieving the loss of everything he had known, and I tried to tell him that his wife would want him to be somewhere he was safe. I waved to him as his son drove him away.

I was back to asking God to provide me with quiet people who didn’t have kids who threw crazy parties at all hours. Or left dogs outside to bark nonstop. I was beginning to realize how lucky I had been with the previous people who resided next to me.

Lightning does strike twice, and another couple moved in that checked off all the boxes I had asked for.

The first winter after Alvin was gone was difficult because he always helped me with snow removal. I shoveled, and he would come by for the heavier piles. I had gotten used to him suddenly coming up behind me and telling me to move out of the way.

I was thinking about that one Saturday while down by the end of my driveway, trying to remove the massive wall of snow that the city had plowed from the street. I was thinking about how much I missed his help.

No sooner had I thought that the new neighbor was behind me, telling me to move out of his way so he could help.

Periodically, he has done this for me over the years, but not often. He’s a hard working man, so I appreciate that he comes along when I need it most. Shoveling snow isn’t fun, but it provides exercise and fresh air, so I tell myself this when it falls upon me. I go outside like a zombie and get it over with because I have done it for so long.

I looked out the window with dread. I wasn’t feeling up to fresh air after the last snowfall. By the time we are in the twenty-second month of winter, I am fatigued from clearing the accumulation.

I heard my neighbor start his snowblower from where I was on the couch.

“Please come and clear out my driveway,” I said out loud. I looked over at my daughter who was in the living room with me. I was going to put on my jacket, but I decided to wait.

“I am so tired; I don’t want to go out there.”

After a few minutes, I saw snow flying like someone was at the end of my driveway.

When I looked out, he was removing all the snow for me.

“Oh my gosh!” I screamed. “He is doing it!”

“Hey! Stop!” she said, laughing, as I started to rock her chair violently back and forth, not able to contain my excitement about not having to go out into the cold and do manual labor. I could not believe it was actually happening.

I was being sent the most powerful message from God.

Our words matter.

I had said it so casually with hardly any feeling. It was a wish, at best.

What else can I have that I don’t have because I haven’t asked? In John 16:24 it says,

Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (NKJV)

God had sent help my way even when I didn’t think it was happening. Going back over three decades has me see it more clearly. The world would have us believe that no one cares, everything is harsh and that all is lost, but it isn’t true.

When you go back and recount all the places where divine help showed up, you won’t fall for the idea that God’s goodness doesn’t exist anymore.

You will be less likely to be tricked or snowed.

Suck

A few years ago, my daughter and I had the pleasure of tearing the vacuum cleaner apart on a Saturday. I needed to use it, and it wasn’t working right. 

After unplugging it, I flipped it over, and this particular model wouldn’t let me remove the beater bar. I got out a pair of scissors and began to cut away all the hair that had wrapped itself around it. With all of our technology, this act feels like it’s a throwback to caveman days. 

It’s just one step up from pounding letters onto a rock slab. 

I looked at the pile of hair I had freed and wondered why none of us had gone bald. Or donated it to be made into ten wigs. 

This same problem seems to cause drain issues with the shower. I always seem to be the lucky one who gets to experience water creeping up to my knees because it clogs during my turn. We only have one, so by some luck of the draw, it decides enough is enough, and soon the tub is filling up. 

There are only two solutions at that moment for this kind of trouble. Either stop the water and try to remedy it while you stand there freezing, which generally isn’t the answer because it needs something poured down it to clear it. Or you move faster before you drown in the oncoming flood. 

It’s a blessing to have a healthy head of hair until you have three adults shedding. 

So after untangling the mess, I expected the vacuum to roar back to life. It didn’t. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my youngest daughter possessed the ability to rip things apart and put them back together. I am not mechanically inclined, so I’m unsure where she inherited this trait. 

We both dismantled what we could, tried to make it look new, and then put it back together—some of the screws that should have been easy to get out fought us. 

After hours, magically, it worked. 

“What is this for?” I asked, discovering a piece on the floor after we were done. 

“I don’t know,” she said, looking at it. That is one of those moments where you decide to ignore the leftover part and move on. 

A different vacuum has been purchased since then, one that claimed it could handle a lot of pet fur, so why not apply that to humans as well?

I have not read the instruction manual one time in the five years since we have had the new one unless I have to. I have a stack of books to get through; who has time to read a book on how to vacuum? 

I read an excellent section about using the attachment that is supposed to be used on the upholstery.  

Thrilling.

It seems every so often, I realize there is a new hidden feature on it that needs to be maintained. It took me two years to conclude that I could separate the entire canister from the inside filter to empty it. 

Then I had the revelation of a filter in the filter that also needed attention. 

I have found at least three places where years of debris had collected that should have been emptied. How do I know this? Because it quit working correctly, I had to go through trying to figure out where the problem was. This is usually when I pull up the manual online, deal with that one issue and move on. 

“I found another plastic clamp that unhooks this thing, and I should have known this five years ago,” I say to her.

“Again?“

“Yes.”

This has happened so many times I have lost count. 

The vacuum my parents had didn’t have tubes and valves to deal with. It was a glorified broom and dustpan. You ran it, threw away a bag, and then forgot to put in another bag before your mom used it the next time, so you got in trouble for not replacing it. Simple. 

I am still, in some ways, not accustomed to using a machine that requires me to think. 

I thought I had finally learned everything there was to know about this current one. No longer was I going around being naive to its functions. If something was amiss, it was no longer taking up my time to fix it or have the worry I was going to break it.

A few Saturdays ago, I hit the on button, and the bar wouldn’t spin. It sent out crud instead of picking up. Along the way, you learn that you cannot ignore certain things. Like the filth it is sending out, making the carpet dirtier, and the smell of scorched hair. 

It never fails when there is the slightest hint of this in the air, I will hear from another room,

“What is that horrible smell?”

I want to say that it’s my Saturday afternoon getting burned up while I waste my time on cleaning something that is supposed to be cleaning. 

I got out the scissors again to cut away the accumulation. This did nothing to get it working right; the bar would not budge. 

“You are going to have to help me,” I told her.

Neither of us was looking forward to it as we sat in the middle of the living room, looking at it like we were about to perform surgery. 

“This whole section comes off,” she said with great confidence. 

I had not seen her doing any research to know this. 

“Are you sure? I don’t want to do that and then find out an hour from now it wasn’t right.”

The sigh speaks volumes. 

I found two new red levers I hadn’t realized were there before, which made the entire piece pop off easily in seconds. We got down to the problem at record speed but then realized the whole bar had to come off. 

Something jammed on one side of it, impeding its spinning ability. She got out a tweezer-like instrument and started to pluck away at the stuff that was sticking out. Small, precise movements that had me looking at the clock instantly.  

This is where the prayers to God began. 

At some point, you realize you are threatening the tiniest screw that won’t turn, and it holds you hostage. One small inanimate object has you at gunpoint, bringing to the surface in your mind every swear word you have ever thought of. 

Then you go into the laughing portion of it where you both don’t know why you are, but you are, and anyone walking into the room would think you have gone off your medication or you require some. 

She pulled on the stuck piece while I tried to free the screw one last time. It broke off. Sometimes there are causalities when you are involved in situations like this. 

You cut your losses, fix it, and go on, knowing the other three will keep it together. 

I vacuumed the entire house without any other issues.

“Why is the vacuum not working?” She asked me five days later. She was cleaning her room.

“What do you mean? It worked perfectly after we took it apart.”

“It won’t turn on.”

It had to be the outlet, so I tried another one. It wasn’t that either.

So we began the process of checking all the usual trouble spots, but I saw nothing wrong. The advice I found online pointed to the on/off switch. Once you take off the brush below, a reset button requires you to hold down one of the two buttons to get it going again. 

Who knew it had a snooze function? 

I was dealing with nothing short of a highly advanced piece of equipment that now screamed overkill. It was like I was dealing with the space shuttle, and it did take rocket science to figure it out. 

I did exactly as instructed, and it sat stone-cold silent. 

We looked at each other like we had committed murder.

“This worked after we fixed it. This makes no sense.”

We went over everything again, coming up with no answers. 

Then she had a lightbulb moment.

“Is the power off?”

The sun was out, so there was no need to have lights on. I flicked the light switch, and nothing happened. I tried others and got the same result.

Others were functioning, and I had this experience many times over the years. It was the trek to the circuit box, looking at the small map that shows me what runs on which one. I heard the vacuum come on above me with two switches dealt with. 

Sometimes what you think is the problem isn’t the problem.

Your ability to solve something in your life can seem so black and white when you look at it logically. You should take part A and hook it up to part B and be on your way. But what if that isn’t the solution? What if God is trying to show you a deeper issue that needs healing for you to get past it and never have to deal with it in the future? Unless you are willing to look further into it, it can lay dormant, waiting to present itself again, just like always, causing the same problems.

Instead of that, it’s helpful to undergo a process where God reveals to you the exact source of the issue so you can fix it. 

In Psalm 139:23-24 it says,

Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong—then guide me on the road to eternal life. (Message)

When you allow God to do this, you can move ahead, being led strongly into new power, leaving you able to deal with anything that presents itself that seemed impossible before. 

Heaven’s mission is always to bring you to your highest potential, where your faith runs at its best, you see the good in all, and unlike my rouge vacuum, life doesn’t suck.