Black and White

“I don’t know if I can do parallel parking,” she said.

It was the afternoon before her driver’s test and the nerves were a little on edge. Mine included. I just wanted it over for both of us.

“Would it help if we went and practiced in a parking lot somewhere?”

“I guess.”

We drove to a large church nearby. I set up two garbage containers so that she could gauge in the mirror how to maneuver the car in between them.

After a half hour she was feeling more confident so we decided to make the trip back home. We talked along the way about how relieved we would be to have the test behind us. She had been practicing for months to prepare. This was my first experience as a parent sitting in the driver’s seat. I wanted nothing more than to see her achieve this goal and be free of me.

In rush hour traffic, we made our climb up an incline near my home. As she was coming down the other side, I felt that her speed was picking up due to going down hill.

“Slow down,” I said. “The hill is making you go too fast.”

As I said this, I noticed the speed limit sign come up on my right that displayed a ten mile an hour difference.

“Brake!” I said more emphatically.

“I am,” she answered back.

I leaned over to see that her speed was coming down as she slowed the vehicle. As I straightened back up in my seat, I saw the cop car sitting at the bottom of the hill with her radar gun pointed at the oncoming traffic.

For a moment, I thought we were in trouble, but my daughter had corrected the error and we glided on by her within the normal speed limit.

Apparently, this did not matter to the officer. She swung out of her hiding spot that was obscured enough to catch criminals and came up behind us. I wasn’t sure what to do because she didn’t turn on her lights to indicate for us to pull over. We kept on going down the road until I saw them flash.

“You are going to have to get over and stop,”  I said with my heart somewhere in my throat region.

I watched in the mirror as a blonde young officer made her way to the driver’s side of the car.

When she put her head down and was making direct eye contact with me, I said,

“I am really sorry. She has her permit and we were out practicing.  I told her to slow down on the hill as fast as I could.”

“YOU LET HER DRIVE THAT FAST??” she screamed at us.

“No,” I replied.  “It was an accident.  Her speed got away from her, and I was telling her to hit the brake to slow down.  It wasn’t on purpose.”

“Let me see your license,” she barked at my daughter.

“She doesn’t have one,” I repeated.  “She only has her permit.”

I felt my voice quiver out of anger and fear.  She wasn’t listening to what I was saying and she seemed to have her mind made up that we were both out joyriding and breaking the speed barrier.

“Then, let me see your permit, and I am going to need your license.”

Both of us got out our wallets and handed over the requested cards.

When she walked back to her vehicle, I felt my chest tighten from the frustration of not being heard.

“She is going to run my license and see that I have a clean record.”

I had a small glimmer of hope that this would be smoothed over, she would see that we weren’t out to cause trouble and we would be exonerated.

When she returned, she had a number of pieces of paper in her hand.

“This is the speeding ticket,” she said without any emotion.  “And the rest of this tells you how she has to deal with it.”

“She is supposed to take her driver’s test tomorrow,” I replied.

“Oh, she still can.  And, this won’t be put into the system until next week.”

She practically threw the papers in the car at me and sauntered away.

That’s when we both started to cry as a result of the high intimidation level we had just endured.

I switched places with her and drove the few blocks to our house.

I went over the paperwork to find that this ticket was going to cost in the realm of $200, but there was a way out of it being counted against her and my car insurance.  If she attended a session at city hall the violation would be waived.  That still didn’t get us out of paying the ticket, however.

After a night of misery, she passed her test the next day with flying colors.

Within a week’s time, the ticket was processed, so  we chose a date for her to attend a class.

I was able to sit with her as she was forced to watch over an hours worth of video about teen texting and driving.  Various shots were taken of quite graphic scenes of people being mangled and smashed by distracted drivers.  I recall one where a couple was hugging in the street and ended up sandwiched between two cars that crashed head on leaving them dismembered.

About half way through this, with both of us feeling sickened by what we were viewing, I whispered to her,

“Where is the video about going down a hill too fast?  You weren’t texting.  You weren’t distracted.”

My anger began to flare, and once we forked over the money and were leaving, I had an outright hatred for the entire police department.

And, it didn’t disappear.  Every time I saw someone being pulled over I would comment,

“There’s some more money for the city to spend.”

To add insult to injury, I began to hear that others were being pulled over on the same hill for speeding. The police had a nice racket going because some people weren’t aware that the speed limit change would shift so quickly until it was too late.

Many times when someone would speed by me or nearly cause an accident, I would remark,

“Gee. Where are the police when you need them?  Oh, they are sitting at the bottom of the hill hiding so they can collect some more money.”

I had never had these feelings before this incident.  I had been trained as a child to respect authority and never question it.  Now, I was wondering why I had given the police so much honor in all the years prior.

As time clicked by and my animosity was not changing, I decided to make a bold move and go in and speak with the chief of police.

“How may I help you,” he said as he came into the small conference room.  I shook his hand and told him my name.

I went over the details of the incident and the unfair situation that I felt I had been put in.

“You don’t think she deserved the ticket?”

“No,” I replied.

“Why not?” he asked.

“She still had her permit. I was telling her to do the right thing and your officer did not care.  I explained everything and she acted like it was done on purpose.  And, I had no clue she was even pulling us over.  She didn’t turn her lights on but just followed us.”

“Well, we don’t want to scare the other drivers by turning on our lights.”

Each time I explained my side, he countered with a justification.  We were getting no where, and I again felt that I wasn’t being heard.

“You know what,” I said.  “I am going to make sure that every parent who is teaching their kids to drive in this community knows that the police do not care about us.  We are out here trying to teach them the proper way on how to do things, and your officer did not care one bit about that. She wanted to make money,and my daughter was sent to a class that had no relevancy to what happened.  To me, all of this says, you do not care.”

I saw him straighten up slightly in his chair.  My eyes were locked on his,and my children have told me that when I become angry, my stare can melt plastic.  I wouldn’t know because I can’t see it, but I always have taken their word for it, so I reserve it for special occasions only when necessary.

He cleared his voice and said,

“I see your point.  I can’t undo the ticket.”

“I know you can’t.  I am here to tell you that you need to have a meeting with all of your officers and let them know that parents are doing their best to safely train their children to drive.  We don’t need to be hassled and made to feel like criminals while doing so.”

“I can do that.  Some people come straight out of the police academy and follow the rule to the letter.  If they see a speeder, they will give them a ticket no matter what.  I have been doing this long enough now to know to ask questions and find out what is happening.”

“Then you need to train your staff on that otherwise it appears that you don’t care.”

We ended our conversation with him saying this,

“I do go by an old saying: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

“That is a good one to go by,” I said. “I wish you would have been the one to pull us over that day.  I think you would have at least taken into consideration my side of the story.  I live by an old saying as well.  It is this: What comes around goes around. What you sow, you will reap.  So, the way I see it, your officer has some unfair situation coming her way. Probably a lot worse than mine.  She needs to treat people a little more fairly for her own sake.”

“I will talk to her directly and let her know everything we have discussed.”

Once he dropped his wall of defense and became a real person talking to me, I found that we had common ground.

“I am sorry that this happened to you and your daughter,” he said as I left.

“Thank you.”

Did this magically make me trust the police in my area?  No.  In the years that have passed, my outlook has adjusted somewhat, but this encounter changed me.  Instead of believing that all people in uniform are out for my own good, I realized, sadly, that some were not.

I am more aware of where the police situate their cars to catch speeders, and I make sure that as I drive by, I slow down further and look them directly in the eye.  When I am followed by an officer who is right on my bumper, I refuse to speed up to go faster than the posted limit.  Maybe I am saving him from his next accident.

I have had to go about my days and put it behind me, yet,  I now know that injustice can happen to anyone because we live in a society that is run by imperfect humans.

With the recent violent eruptions taking out good people who were doing their jobs correctly, I have to say that all of this is a heart issue wherein we don’t honor the sanctity of life that God has given.  It’s so easy  for people to get angry in this day and age and go out and destroy a life which in turn has a ripple effect.  Revenge trumps sanity leaving broken pieces in its wake.

Therefore, we must come to the understanding that these troubles are far from being explained away by claiming it is all racially driven.  It is the hearts of men that have grown cold toward one another.  This is the issue that must be addressed for healing to come.

Not a simple task to get a handle on, and one with many grey areas that are not so black and white.

police

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Keep On Climbing

I crouched down and placed my hand on the moss covered boulder. Inwardly I imagined a mother figure saying,

“Go slow.  Take your time.  Don’t hurry or you could slip.”

She sounded a lot like me.

I gripped onto the nearest tree trunk for support as I took another step higher.

With sweat pouring down my face and coming out of every gland I own, I looked at the trail ahead.  This particular stairway to heaven was covered with slippery mud covered stones, and the people walking past us who had conquered the mountain were dirty from head to toe.  Most of them looked exhausted, yet oddly, they were all smiling.  I could see that this was not for those who wanted to keep their whites clean.  This was for the rugged adventurist with good knees and expansive lungs.

Everything of mine was burning.

Once past the rocks, the next part became a twisted gnarled maze of tree roots that let me know they were here on earth long before I was.  The challenge was to carefully plant the foot not to trip and fall headlong over the edge and into the jungle.  There was no barrier between the walker and an unexpected airborne experience into heavily wooded territory.

We came upon a small waterfall which made me think this was worth the exertion until we continued past it.  More steep uphill fighting against gravity that worked relentlessly against me.   A little more further, and we were overlooking a grand view of the beach below.  Stopping long enough to catch my breath, I snapped a few pictures just so I could look back and appreciate it later.

My knees and hamstrings were yelling for me to take the nearest escalator back to level ground.

We pushed on more until we all agreed that we would rather be cooling off in the ocean.  Two young boys came by.

“How far did you two go?” I asked.

“Oh, we went the entire eleven miles.  There is a beach up at the top so we did that.”

They looked unwinded and fresh like they had just rolled out of bed.

I was a panting, hunched over mess.

“Is it very far to the bottom?” one of them asked.

“No.  You only have about a half mile to go.”

We let them pass us as we made our descent.  I continued to be mindful of where I put my feet.  If going up was stressful, coming down was even more so.  My right knee, that I had sustained an injury in years ago, began to freeze up.  It decided to rebel and not bend without tightness and a horrible pain.

Squatting down and hanging on to whatever nature was providing as stability for the moment, I silently sent up an S.O.S to the heavens just to get me back safely.  I felt weak, unable to go further, and I realized I was trying to accomplish this all on my own.

A phrase floated into my mind that brought relief.

He makes me as surefooted as a deer, enabling me to stand on mountain heights.” (Psalm 18:33)

The pain lessened, and I was able to reach the end of the trail without a scratch or mishap.  I didn’t care at that moment whether it was an angel who flew me down or an invisible hand holding onto me, but I felt the tangible presence of help. Instead of struggling to reach a goal, I felt an unseen partner come in an assist me.   Don’t let your pride or fear stop you from praying for help.  God isn’t preoccupied helping someone else more worthy.  Ask and expect assistance.  It can make all the difference to an uncomfortable situation to help you keep on climbing.

 

 

rockymountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still Learning

Her gaze was unyielding as she looked at me and said,

“You can do this. You have it in you.”

She squeezed my hand and smiled.

“How many children do you have?”

“A four year old and a baby,” I replied.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake! That would be simple. I have six children! And we have done just fine. You will too.”

Even though I smiled and nodded, I think she spotted the uncertainty in my eyes.

“You really can do this. Trust that you can do anything.”

With that, she handed me cash for her items she had purchased at my garage sale and left. It was as if she had been sent as a confirmation to all the other messages I had received. For weeks leading up to our meeting, every time I turned the dial on the radio or changed the channel on the television I was confronted with the subject but had tried to dismiss it.

The question that hung over my head was: Did I have what it would take to home school?

There were those who would question the socialization of my daughters as if they were living life in a cave sequestered away from “the real world.” And, by what right did I have to educate them when I lacked a teaching degree but had successfully completed high school along with a B.A. in Psychology? Would the kids resent me later for not sending them to school?  Was I damaging them for life?

Despite these terrifying thoughts, this woman’s words penetrated my heart that I could take on the task of home education and successfully raise two strong, intelligent women. Her encouragement brought about a clear cut decision so much so that I began working that summer with my preschooler on workbooks just to test the waters.

It proved to be that it was the right direction to go, and the following year when she was to board a school bus, she was at home sounding out consonants and coming to understand vowels. One of her favorite subjects was reading out loud to me as she walked around the room with her book. I had heard that for some kids, learning came easier for them when not chained to a desk. So as she fluttered about the room, I helped her get a grip on simple sentences and story lines.  At times, I had to draw things on paper to keep her attention, and I am the first to admit that I lack the skill to draw, however, despite this, she discovered ideas about American history.  As we progressed, I bought curriculum packages that had captivating photography and hands on learning to enhance the experience.

Because of a four year age gap between the two girls, I started kindergarten all over again as the older one moved into third grade. This began what I called my “ping pong ball” years where I would bounce between the two to answer questions to clear up brain fog.  While just finishing up in one room I would hear these phrases called out,

“Mom! I don’t get this!”

“I think I am done with this!”

“Mom, what is this?!”

And so my days were consumed with explanations and at times reading my teaching manuals to be sure I was giving out accurate information.  I always had the inner critic telling me that I wasn’t equipped to do it, that I was missing something, and that someone else could do the job better than I could.

In between the studies, we regularly attended group activities that included field trips and specialty classes.  At one point, I was helping plan day trips, writing a newsletter and teaching gym classes to various ages. While one was in ice skating, the other was in dance. Sometimes, we had to do “car school” as we ran from one event to the next. For those who think isolation is inherent to teaching kids outside of school, think again. There were days I longed for quiet time.

So the years rolled on and my first daughter graduated. It was at this point that I realized I only had four years left. It felt like a lifetime in front of us until it wasn’t.

This past week, I sent in the final progress reports to the private school that my youngest child has been apart of. All of her online classes had been viewed and all the book work completed. It was a mixture of sheer joy but also a tinge of sadness like saying goodbye to a friend for good.

It seems unreal to say she is done. I am done. We are finished.

Add to this unconventional way of living the fact that she requested not to have a celebration at home but wanted to go to Hawaii to see the ocean for the first time in her life.

While waiting for take off, I kept wondering where the time had gone and how did I find myself on a plane bound for paradise? Wasn’t it just yesterday that we were learning to color and tell time? I glanced across the aisle at the two who seemed much at ease with leaving behind the old for a new adventure. Youth can somehow do that a little easier than those who have put a few years on.

I looked at my bottle of water and recalled the science lessons on evaporation and how liquids become solids. How we planted seeds in the garden and sprinkled them daily with the hose. How excited they both were to watch the progress of a plant sprout and spread out into a big sunflower in the garden.  Just like them.  How they have grown so much while I thought I was paying attention.

As we took flight, I glanced out my window that took me back to our days of geography and learning about cities and various terrain. Using colored pencils to shade in maps that would help solidify learning for those of us who aren’t so knowledgeable on what country exits on what part of the globe.

All of these things have been on my mind as I don’t know how to fill in the gap of home schooling that has been a part of my house for nearly eighteen years.  The realization has come that just because I was led to complete a short term mission in life doesn’t make it mine forever.

That is the key.  We get caught up in the idea that what we have today will be here tomorrow.   There is a grieving that makes us automatically feel empty and unsure about what to do next when the ‘for sure thing’ no longer exists.  This is the space where we have to make a decision to either see it as a negative or a positive.  I could say,

It has ended,” and spend my time crying in a corner.  Or I can say,

“This is just the beginning of something good coming up next.”  

We all got out of bed at five a.m. to drive to a beach the other day.  Not my normal routine, but when in Hawaii, you do things you usually wouldn’t.  As I stood on the shore and watched the sunrise, I understood.  Some would say that the night had ended, and some would say that the day had begun. Simultaneously, both events were happening and one couldn’t happen without the other.   It’s the natural order of how God has created life to be.  To fight against it mentally really is unnecessary.  We cannot change the ebb and flow of certain situations, but we can chose to see ourselves as instruments to be used  to impart love to our families, our friends and to humanity.  Just because something has come to a halt doesn’t mean that we are washed up or unnecessary.  We are agents waiting with open hearts ready to take on our next assignment for the greater good.  We are meant to expand and develop more understanding as time passes in order to be complete and whole.

“When is high tide?” I asked my daughter as we stood on a beach.

“I don’t know.”

“When is low tide?”

“I don’t know,” she said.

“Me either.”

We looked at each other puzzled.

“How can we not know this?” I said grabbing my cellphone to look it up. All these years of schooling and neither one of us could recall the information.

That says to me that just because the school bell has rung one final time doesn’t mean that we aren’t still learning.

 

sunshine

 

 

The Walking Wounded

My daughter and I were out shopping the other day, and while she went into a dressing room, I stayed nearby looking at various clothing items.

“Get over here, right now!” she shrieked.

I stopped my hand mid-way on the hanger because the tone of the voice was jolting.

I looked up and saw a woman towering over a boy who was no more than three years old.

“I have other things to do. You are slowing me down!  Get over here!” she yelled.

I try not to judge a situation because I am not living her life, but if someone spoke to me the way she was to him, I would have done exactly what he did. Run the other way.

“Fine! I am not getting you anything you want!”

She spun her cart toward a customer service counter while he fled in the opposite direction. I tried to see where he was going but he disappeared. She talked to the store representative as if there was no urgency to find her child. I moved myself farther out to try and get a better look to see where he had gone while she was taking her time focusing on what she thought was so important.

Because I know we live in a society where children are not safe to be left unattended, I felt that I needed to try and find him just to be sure he was okay. I glanced around not trying to draw attention to myself because I didn’t want someone to think I was a predator instead of a protector. After awhile, I heard the wheels on her cart moving, so I knew she was on the hunt for him now that she had taken care of her own needs first.

I observed her run up and down aisles searching for him. By this time, my daughter had come out, and I explained what I was watching. She didn’t call his name but merely walked briskly around the store glancing back and forth. I began to wonder if she really wanted to reconnect with him. Inwardly, I was feeling somewhat panicked as it was taking so long for her to relocate him. I was hoping he had not gone out into the parking lot on his own.

From a few rows over I heard his wails as she said,

“Get into the cart!”

“NO!”

Somehow she managed to put him into the child seat while her tongue lashing continued.

The last words I heard him say to her before I exited the store were,

“You don’t love me.”

They weren’t shouted or screamingly said in a tantrum. It was just a matter of fact statement of not feeling cared about. I turned to look back to see her not paying attention to him with her eyes glued to her phone. No interaction. No correction. No place for apologies. Just silence.

We ventured across the street to another store and within moments, I was in the middle of witnessing another mother and son moment. This time, the boy was close to twelve and was carrying two boxes of shoes.

Normally, I don’t go about listening to other people’s conversations with their children, but when a woman’s voice is so loud that it invades my hearing space, what am I to do? She began chastising him for every small infraction she thought he was doing. I saw him move away from her to give himself some distance.  She was twice his size in weight and her face was one big scowl.

He placed both boxes of shoes on the jewelry counter while she busied herself on her phone. He quietly waited for her when suddenly, she spun around and said,

“Get those boxes off of there!”

Like a brute, she ran over and snatched one out of his hand. He put his head down and placed the other box under his arm.  I could see that he felt he could do nothing right to please her.

“We are leaving!”

My daughter and I glanced over the rack at each other feeling another round of despair for this young boy. As I continued in the store, I began to contemplate what I had observed. Why had such venom been directed at these children? I understand we live in a world where some kids are diagnosed with various physical and mental disorders that can frazzle an adult’s patience,  but in both cases, it appeared to me as if the moms were the ones suffering from a malady.

I silently sent a prayer of love over both situations, and I inwardly asked God a couple questions:

Why is this happening? Why are these moms so angry?

The first thing that popped into my mind was that both of these women had some sort of unresolved anger toward a male figure in their lives and the stress of circumstances was bringing it out toward their boys.  I have to say, I would not have come up with that on my own.  It made me see the situation differently.  In fact, after watching the second lady verbally trash her son, I was so filled with hatred toward her that I would have loved to put her properly in her place.  So to have the thought come that she herself was wounded, made me reconsider my anger.  It made me view the situation through another set of eyes that were more compassionate than my own.

Moving along through the store brought me to yet another mother and son.

“Mom.  I am tired,” he said while she was looking through bras and underwear.

“I know.  Just a couple more minutes.”

She spoke softly and he responded in the same manner.

What was I seeing here?  Respect from both parties toward one another.  Her acknowledgement of his feelings and his trust in her that what she just said back to him would come to pass.

He quietly stood by while she finished.   She took his hand as they walked toward the cash register.  She said,

“I am ready to go. Thank you for waiting so nice.”

I was relieved to have encountered that after the other two experiences.

To some, this wouldn’t matter, but to me it does because what you see going on in public is just a small reflection of what is going on at home and eventually we all have to deal with it.  I know that everyone has a bad day, both children and parents, and parenting is not easy.

I guess what I was struck most by was the tone and the volume that the other two had used so that the entire store was made aware of the conflict.  Like the pressure was so volatile and huge inside of them that they were bursting because they couldn’t contain it.  Unfortunately, their children were the recipients of it and some of us bystanders were splashed by it as well.

With all of the technology, parenting classes, scads of books and articles available you would think our society would be the best at child rearing and healthy adult living.  Yet, you can see many times over we are not at the top of our game.  Something is missing.

So, what is the answer?  What is the key to a good, loving household?  In Ephesians 6:4 it says:

And now a word to you parents. Don’t keep on scolding and nagging your children, making them angry and resentful. Rather, bring them up with loving discipline… (TLB)

If children are expected to honor and love their parents, then the parents need to give their children something to build upon.  And, if mom or dad has past issues and pain, then it’s time to deal with that too.  And guess what? In  Psalm 147:3 it says this:

He heals the brokenhearted, binding up their wounds. (TLB) 

If you are observant, you can see that there are gaping holes in the hearts of people.  A gigantic band aid cannot fix the problem, but we can pray for America’s parents to turn toward and move into the arms of a loving Creator who can repair the damage.  In turn, their children will reap the benefit of wholeness.  God is faithful to restore and make well the lives of the walking wounded.

 

bandaid

 

 

The Right Road

“I think dad has something for you outside,” she said.

“What is it?” I asked.

“You better go see.”

She walked with me to the shed that was at the back of the garage. At first, I didn’t see it until he began to push it toward me.

“This is your bike.”  It was much bigger than my other one that had training wheels.

It was a beauty painted a bright lime green with a flowered banana seat to match and handlebars that were designed to make it look like a motorcycle. I jumped on it so he could adjust it to my height.

“Let’s give it a try,”he said.

This was the first time I was to ride without the help of two extra small wheels. I had reached the age of liberation, and I was thrilled.

When I started to walk toward the driveway with it, he redirected me by saying,

“Not that way. We have to go through the backyard and go on Norway.”

This was how I became introduced to the fact that I was banned from riding freely on the street in front of our house. It had something to do with it being the 1970’s, having the neighborhood filled with teen drivers galore and people zooming so fast that the living room floor vibrated when they roared by.

My mother was adamant that I not put one toe toward that direction for fear of my safety. The route behind our house never had a single vehicle ever drive on it, so she knew I wouldn’t get run over while practicing. My dad hung on to the back while I pedaled to teach me to balance, and in no time I was moving along quite easily. It was all so exciting at first until monotony set in from seeing the same scenery.

I often wondered when I looked out  our front window and saw other kids gliding by why they weren’t quarantined to a dull, obsolete street like I was. Where were their concerned parents? These children were right out in the street living life on the edge.

A neighbor friend rode her bike over one day and asked if I could join her.

I ran in the house and got permission with the usual stern response,

“Yes, but only on Norway Street.”

It was futile to argue as all of my attempts prior had fallen flat.

I backed out from the garage and started walking through the yard to the gate.

“Let’s go ride on the other street,” she said

“I can’t. My mom won’t let me. She thinks it isn’t safe because cars go by so fast.”

“I do it all the time,” she whined.

This conversation went on all the while we walked through the back alley. She was wearing down my already fragile resistance.

“My mom lets me go wherever I want to. Yours treats you like a baby.”

How was I supposed to deal with that? The more she talked the more I was convinced that one small jaunt elsewhere wouldn’t hurt me.

“Okay,” I said.

I turned myself in a direction I had never gone before. The wind whipping through my hair felt better than ever. Just as I would begin to relax, however, I would recall that I was on a forbidden thoroughfare. I quickly checked over my left shoulder and then my right to be sure no one was following and reporting back to headquarters.

Moments into this glorious and freeing experience, I saw a familiar figure up ahead. It was one of my three brothers!

There was no denying what I was up to, and all members of the household knew the rules that were set for me because they had gone through the same thing.

There was no getting around him or fleeing the other way. I had to go past him and face the consequences. As I went by him, he said,

“You aren’t supposed be on this street.”

That’s all he said in the most calm, quiet manner I had ever heard. While I was expecting yelling and ranting and being dragged into the house, that was his only reaction. His unpredictable response threw me straight into fear. I made a beeline for where I was supposed to be.

“Are you in trouble?”

“Probably.”

“I need to go home, ” I said after a few minutes. My momentary adventure had turned the afternoon quite sour.

I put my bike away and noticed that the station wagon was gone.

I walked into the house and found it to be empty and quiet. Just before leaving the kitchen, my brother materialized.

“Mom is gone shopping, so I’m in charge. I didn’t tell her that I saw you riding on the street, and I won’t. Just don’t do it again.”

I should have collapsed with relief at his generous offer, but that was when the tightness in my chest began, and I couldn’t rid myself of it.

I kept replaying the scene over in my head and feeling guilty for not being given a proper sentencing.

I tossed and turned all night, dreaming of being caught, and waking up drenched in sweat from nightmares. I woke up to the sound of my mom working in the kitchen.  How was I going to face her at breakfast? Like ripping off a band aid, I decided to get it over with as quick as I could.  I sprang out of bed, flung open my bedroom door as the floodgate of my tears rushed down my face.

Crying did not relieve the crushing weight on my chest.  It intensified the problem and left me only able to gulp and my vocal cords to fail me.

“What is wrong?” she said looking up at me from the kitchen table.

I saw her give me the usual registered nurse scan to check my coloring, dehydration level, and my pupil size.  When you have six kids, and one comes staggering out of her bedroom at an early hour in the summertime, no good is usually going to come of it.  She was probably getting ready to grab a basin just in case I was about to throw up.

“Don’t you feel good?” she asked.

The compassion in her voice just made me cry harder.  I was not worthy of being asked if I was alright.  I had committed a crime without punishment, and I couldn’t handle it.

The sniffs and shudders continued until I got myself under control and admitted my wrong doing in understandable English.

“So, you rode your bike on the street that you aren’t supposed to?”

“Y-y-yes,” I said.

“Do you promise never to do that again?”

I nodded.  It was easier than trying to speak.

“Then I won’t take your bike away this time.  But, if you ever do it again, you can’t ride it anymore.  Do you understand?”

Another nod as she handed me a tissue.

“Okay.  What do you want for breakfast?”

I couldn’t believe the fortune I had struck at not having something bad befall me after going out of my way to blatantly go against her orders.  She had every right to send me to my room for however long she wanted.  My bike should have been locked up for weeks.  But, none of that happened and instead, I was given a bowl of cereal and a glass of juice.

I found out many years later the behind the scene conversation that my brother had with her.  Apparently, he had told her he had seen me even though he told me he wouldn’t.  I guess his theory was that if he said that to me, and made her aware of my disobedience, then she could be on the lookout for any future rebellion on my part.  My sobbing confession made my mom see that my conscience was alive and healthy, and she could trust that I was not going to put myself into that predicament again.

In my walk with God, and in the times when I have messed things up, it has been demonstrated to me the type of approach that my brother took.  Instead of lashing out, and bringing down the hammer, my misgivings are often shown to me in subtle, non-threatening ways so I can make some changes.  And, the only reason why those mishaps are revealed to me is because of the great love of God.  We are here to live a life that is joyful and rewarding not riddled with shame and guilt.  When we find ourselves veering off into the wrong lane or one that isn’t for our highest good, we can depend on the reliability and faithfulness of heaven to put us back on the right roadbike

(My old bike in the rafters in storage)

A Mother’s Pledge

We met when she was thirty-six. I didn’t know it, but she had five children in her care. By the time we became acquainted, the first four kids were thirteen, twelve, eleven and ten while the fifth one was headed for the age of seven. Unaware of the fact that she cooked, cleaned, washed laundry, cared for the sick when a pandemic swept through the house, made school lunches, and stitched up holes in clothes, I was just another one to round it all out by being the sixth.

She thought her pregnancy years were behind her, but I showed up to let her know she was wrong. According to one of my sisters, after she got home from the doctor and she had learned of her state of affairs, she wasn’t quite herself. She removed her coat, stood and stared out the picture window overlooking the street and absent mindlessly began to remove her blouse button by button. Her idea was to change into more casual clothes but she forgot she was not in the privacy of her bedroom. She was stopped before she got too far and brought back to her senses. She laughed at herself, but it was quite apparent that she was in some form of shock.

It must have been rough to be up at night with a newborn only to have the alarm sound at five a.m. to get breakfast ready so that everyone could be out the door on time for school. Once the house was quiet, much of her time was spent cleaning and making beds. Before she knew it, they were all back home.

As the years went by, life didn’t get any less difficult as everyone had after school sports, activities and jobs. Supper became like a restaurant shift where some had to eat early and others had to eat late. When I was four, she was in the height of carting people from various destinations before everyone had their license to drive or owned their own car.

The one thing she never wavered on was her appearance. No matter the stress, she always wanted to be out in public looking her best with hair combed and clothes neat. She didn’t want the world to see a disheveled woman who looked like she didn’t have it all together.

I always went along in the station wagon while she drove around town. While she was dropping one off, she usually was picking up another. I tried to stick close to her side as she always seemed in a rush during this process, and I didn’t want to get left behind in the chaos.

“Chrissy, we have to go,” she said as she walked through the living room. This meant I was to put away my toys and prepare to leave.  Because of our hectic life, she generally spoke in short sentences to get her point across without explanation.

“Time to get up.”  “Clean your room.”  “Go to your room.” “Go help your dad.”  “Go to sleep.”

I followed her into her bedroom as usual while she went to her dresser. She looked at her reflection in the mirror and began fixing her hair with her hands quickly. I could tell by her movements she was in a hurry. She grabbed a can and sprayed in circles all around her head to be sure all strands would stay in place.  This was the era of big hair and complicated styles requiring many applications of high powered aerosol. She gave herself one quick look and then turned to see me standing waiting for her.

“What smells like lemons?” she asked me.

I didn’t understand, and I didn’t answer. She sniffed the air to try and detect where the odor was coming from.  I saw her eyebrows come together.

“Oh, no!” she exclaimed. “I can’t believe it!”  Her mouth was wide open.

She spun around and glanced at the product she had just used.

“Furniture polish! I just sprayed myself with lemon furniture polish!  I thought it was hairspray!”

We raced out the door with my mother smelling like an end table.

When a woman becomes a mom, there is an invisible document that is signed within the sight of God where an oath is taken to let bits and pieces of oneself go while caring for the family.  It stretches us to our limits at times but in that process we begin to see how wide and deep our love can go. There are moments of such great frustration followed immediately by dandelion bouquets and sloppy hugs in which all is forgiven.

Our world is so fast paced you might not always recognize those who are working in the trenches, and often times, it is subtle. But, the next time you see a mom out in the store patiently dealing with a screaming toddler, stop for a minute and realize how blessed you are that you have just come into contact with someone who has taken a mother’s pledge.

 

mom

(The other thing…it was never too early to begin your first real novel.  Her favorite hobby is reading)

Masterpiece

“Up you go,” he said with a sadistic tone.

He had no idea my fear of heights, and he couldn’t see from where he stood that various areas on my body were beginning to break out in a sweat. The machine whined as I ascended to the vaulted ceiling of the main lobby. I was hoping my spirit would just keep on going up and out of the building rather than face what was coming next.

Clutched in my damp hand was the project that I had spent hours laboring over the entire weekend. The previous Friday our class had been assigned the task of creating a structure that would support an egg from breaking when dropped from a high place. We were given a box of toothpicks, a rubber band and were told we had to supply our own glue to hold it all together.

It was my senior year of college, and I had procrastinated taking an art class.  I was months away from obtaining my Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology, and the class was a requirement for graduating. Because of my dislike of the subject and my lack of skill, I had waited a bit too long.  All of the other art courses had filled, so I was left to join one that combined art with physics.  A deadly combination for a person who is not gifted in either arena.

As I was hoisted upward on a cherry picker in the middle of the campus main hall,  I was expected to free my creation to see how it fared when smashing into the ground.  I was being graded on function as well as a beautiful design.  Neither of those would have described the piece of junk I was about to heft over the ledge to its demise.  I found myself mentally apologizing to the egg that was about to be sacrificed in the ordeal.

“Let it go!” He shouted up at me.

I looked down to see that a crowd had gathered.  It was bad enough that I had to do this in front of my classmates but the entire school had turned out for cheap entertainment.

My index and middle fingertips were numb from burning myself on the hot glue gun I had used.  It looked like I had spent a total of five minutes working on it, when in reality it had sucked up all of my time from Friday evening onward. When my alarm sounded Monday morning I would have rather made a trip to the dentist for a root canal.

I dangled the object of my disdain and dropped it. I watched as it rocketed to the ground picking up momentum along the way.  It bounced and rolled.  That part actually went how I had envisioned. One of the instructors bent over to examine the white oval that hung suspended in the middle with the rubber band.

“It barely cracked, but it still broke.  Bring her down!”

If the egg had survived the fall I would have been guaranteed an A.  Because it had a hairline crack, the teacher was gracious enough to give me a C.

“Nice try,” he said with a quick smile as if to say: Let’s move on to better talent. 

Up next was an Art major.  Of course, she had done what we all should have thought to do.  She had spent hours breaking her toothpicks into small pieces that she glued together.  It was a massive looking hairball that when she let it go, it floated to the ground and the egg never budged.  She had thrown in the rubber band just because she had to.

Both of the instructors applauded and smiled as if she had just presented them with the Mona Lisa while the rest of us non-art majors stood around feeling inadequate.

That was only our first project of many.  Going forward another element of misery was added into the  mix.  For every assignment we did, we were required to get up in front of the class with our final product and explain why we had designed it the way we did.

This caused me many problems.  For one, I had no confidence in what I was building.  Second, I am artistically challenged. And, I had no explanation for the monstrosities I was turning out. I didn’t even know what to say about how messed up it looked.  To make matters more complicated, there were two instructors in charge instead of one. We had to win them both over to get a good grade.

No project was without its oddity.  We were given random materials that made absolutely no sense to work with.  For example, I was given different shaped boxes and told to build something that would show how a person’s life would evolve from childhood to death.  The best I could do was glue them all together and paint the last box black and call it a day. I could tell by their furrowed eyebrows they weren’t impressed, but for some unknown reason, my C average was holding tight.  Angels and unknown forces must have been at work.

The only project I ever felt somewhat good about was a bridge I made from red solo cups.  On the day I was to turn it in, I slammed it in my car door on the way out of the parking lot.  My excuse was not accepted, and I saw them fighting off annoyance.

At one point, a girl who was as anxiety riddled over the class as I was, got up to present. I witnessed the two professors rip her to shreds.  They mocked her, told her it was a piece of useless work and excused her abruptly.  One of them laughed as he used his pen to mark down her grade on his sheet.  I saw her face turn various colors before she fled the room crying.

That was the day that I decided not to care anymore.  I knew I wasn’t any good, and I knew I could work myself to a frazzle and never achieve above average.  I made the decision to formulate the best story I could about what I was showing to the two.  If they believed my tall tale, then maybe my grade would improve, otherwise, I wasn’t going to put my heart into any of it anymore.

The next day in class as we spent our time constructing, the girl who had been publicly demeaned came to me and said,

“I just wanted to come back and say goodbye to you.  You were always so nice to me.  I am dropping this class.”

“You can’t,” I said.  “You won’t graduate.”  I wasn’t the only one who had waited too long.

“I don’t care.  I am not going to let them do that to me again.”

“Just stay and get through it,” I said.  “It isn’t worth quitting now.”

She insisted on leaving and wouldn’t listen.  Although it sounded tempting to depart, I wanted to graduate that spring.  I was tired of school, so I had to get past these two clowns to do so.

The only way out was to get weird and fake my way through.  I also decided to turn a blind eye to the artists who were planning on making a career in the field. I had to nod and smile at their work and remember to not compare anything I did with what they were doing.  I solely relied on my story telling abilities to convince the instructors of the greatness of my work.

I saw the magic of this happen instantly on the next project.  Standing in front of the firing squad, I made up the biggest fabrication I could come up with.  I went into great detail as to why I chose colors, patterns and layout. At the final word, I swallowed hard wondering when I was going to be reprimanded for a job poorly done.  Instead, they started arguing with each other.

“I like what she did with that side of it.  It really represents life in true form.”

“That isn’t what she meant to do. She did that as an abstraction. It is to symbolize life not show it in its true form.”
I ended up sitting down as they yelled at each other over my creation that I had no clue what it even represented. This repeated itself time and again.  I would sell them hogwash, they would argue, and I would then be out of the limelight.  This is how I survived the course and earned a B.  I guess my degree in psychology was the right direction to go since I was so good at using it to change their behavior toward me.

Many years afterward, I was talking to my mom about how much I hated that class.

She said, “I thought it was good for you.”

“What?!  Why?  They were mean to the students.”

“It took away your fear of public speaking.  When will you ever be heckled by an audience?  It took away your anxiety about getting up to talk.”

She had a point.  And, it made me realize something else as well.  When I decided to not worry over every single detail, I did better.  I still did the best I could, but I relaxed. I allowed my imagination to take over to the point that I actually enjoyed the mess I was making.  I also quit comparing myself to the award winners. I became my own individual instead of a competitor.

We are called to a divine path that our Creator has crafted just for each and every one of us.  If only we would let it unfold as it should without looking to the right or the left to see what everyone else is up to.  Put forth your best where you are, don’t quit when it seems too tough, and know that according to Ephesians 2:10, you are God’s masterpiece.

 

 

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Selling Yourself Short

“I know exactly what the problem is,” she said as I was laying face down on the table.

I had just explained that my lower back on my right side had been sending out painful messages, and I didn’t know why.  She had walked down by my feet.

“Are you going to tell me that one leg is shorter than the other?”

The only reason why I said this was because a friend of mine who is very intuitive had told me this months prior after I had sent out a text explaining that I had to crawl out of bed one morning as sharp spasms gripped my entire lower back.

“Yes. Your right leg is shorter than your left.”

For three months I had put up with it figuring it would go away after awhile. Simple tasks became horrible as I would lock into a certain position when trying to put on a sock or grab a pen that had fallen to the floor. Things I had taken for granted now were difficult to perform.

Many hot packs and Epsom salt baths later, I was ready for the truth to set me free.

“This is something that we can fix today.”

The only reason I had finally gone to the chiropractor was because my youngest daughter had complained of stiffness and aches in her lower back. When it comes to the kids, I will go in immediately, but for myself, I will wait.  I had reluctantly put myself up on the table out of necessity.

She came back up toward my head and began to run her thumbs along my spine. The familiar humming of a tune began.  The first few times I saw her for treatment this struck me as odd. Just before the snap and crunch, she would hum a melody that usually consisted of long drawn out notes that made me relax.

“Okay,  I need you to lay on your left side facing the wall.”

This was something we had done before, so I was well versed in flipping over.  She pulled my right leg across my body.  This also was usually part of the procedure, however, she did something different this time.  When she performed the maneuver,  I let out a surprising,

“OOF!”

My eyes must have gone wide and my face pale because my daughter who was observing said,

“Mom, are you okay?”

I did a mental check of my body and realized that she hadn’t caused me pain, but she had taken some of the oxygen out of my lungs.  Whatever she did felt like my right hip had been relocated to its natural spot. I no longer felt the grabbing twinge on my right side.

Afterward, she took out a plastic skeleton and showed me that when a person has an injury on one side of the body, later in life it can cause that side to become shorter than the other.  I left the office feeling so much better now that I wasn’t walking a crooked path.

When I returned home, I checked my home phone for messages and saw a number from a local technical college. I clicked the button to listen.

“I am calling to see if you would like to come in for a free massage at our school in the next month.  Please call us back and let us know.”

The year before, I had been looking for places that gave massages and found that I could volunteer for students.  I had put my name on the list but hadn’t heard anything.  I dialed the number and spoke with a student.

“Sure.  We can get you right in here.  Oh, the other thing is, if you want, you can actually have three free massages over a period of three weeks.”

“Really?” I said astonished.

She booked me for two hot stone massages that would last an hour and a half per session and an hour Swedish massage.  I got off the phone in slight amazement as I was suddenly realizing how small actions can lead to blessings.

Four days before this, I had splurged and sought out a massage therapist close to home who specializes in pain therapy.  I was drawn to this particular spot after reading online that it wasn’t just about the massage but the idea that healing could come to my body.  I felt I was to spend some money on myself as there still are times I catch myself worrying about my finances.  It was to be a two fold mission.  One, to seek out pain relief, and two, to make myself a priority.

I was greeted by a woman who had a calming, welcoming demeanor.  We made our way to a dimly lit room where she and I talked for awhile.  It became clear that she wasn’t just a therapist, but a person who took interest in her clients.  I had given her very little information to go on in my paperwork other than where the location of my discomfort was.

She suddenly said,

“Are you concerned about money?  I sensed that when I said hello to you.”

I smiled but I actually could not hold in my tears.  Whether it was the pain taking its toll on me or the soft spoken words of truth, it hit me emotionally enough that she had to hand me an entire box of Kleenex. I explained a few of my underlying fears revolving about money since my divorce and how eight years later, with my youngest graduating from high school, I felt uncertain about my existence in general.

She openly confessed to me that her marriage was in a shambles, and she was trying not to consider divorce.

“I made it this far,” I said gulping down another round of tears.

“Then, you will make it even farther.  You are a strong person.  I can see that from only you being with me for such a short time.”

We proceeded on to the most wonderful ninety minute session where we spoke very little.  At the conclusion of our time together she said.

“When I treat people, I often pick up on things that they are feeling or thinking.  It’s just part of my job.  I feel like you have a lot of pain built up that you need to keep releasing. I usually will feel a tingling sensation with people, but with you I felt a large amount of burning almost as if a fire is trapped inside of your body. This can cause inflammation as well.   Just let things go and get it out of your system.  Don’t hold things in so much.  So what if people know you aren’t happy all the time? Let it out either through laughter or crying. Whatever makes you feel better.”

To some, her words would be nonsense, but to me they made sense.  I felt relief not only on the outside but on the inside as well.

When I went to pay my bill, I knew that the charge was going to be an amount that I normally would have balked at.  But, this time, I had made up my mind to take care of myself.  In addition, I felt led to give a tip that would bring honor to this person who had just helped me so much.

As I got into bed that night, I wondered how I could get another massage.   Where would the money come from to enjoy such an experience again? Each morning after, I contemplated how I could ‘afford’ to have another treatment.  Not so much by the same person, but to allow myself the indulgence because it made me feel so much better.   Little did I know that by allowing myself the treatment ,and giving her a tip, that days later I would be the recipient of three more free treatments.   Along with the care of a wonderful chiropractor, I felt like I was being offered more help to resolve my painful problem.

I attended my first free massage the other day.  I was assisted by a woman who looked at least ten years older than me. She didn’t fit the description of the typical ‘student’.  I wondered as I got prepared for the session how her hands would hold up because it was to be an hour long.  Gently, she went over all of the instructions, made sure I was doing okay, and at one point while lying on my stomach I started to drift into a dream where I saw myself and my daughters laughing.  It was so real that when I snapped back to reality I didn’t know at first where I was.  She leaned down and said with a smile,

“We are all finished.  What do you think?”

“Thank you. That was great.”

She smiled brighter, and I could see that she loved the work.

Am I totally healed at this point?  No.  I still have moments of residual pain across my lower back that requires an ice bag or two and an occasional adjustment. But, what has this done?  I listen to my body more.  I don’t blow off the signals that tell me something is amiss.  I rest when I need to. I sleep and don’t force myself to stay awake.  And, I have become more mindful of the word ‘short.’  You see, when the chiropractor said my one leg was shorter than the other, I began to consider how many times I have worried about being short on money.  Each month I have fought a small amount of fear that this could be the ‘big one’.  I could be one of those people who suddenly find themselves destitute, so I limit doing nice things for myself because there are more important expenses to take care of.  There is an inner system of judgment that says: “If you can afford this, then why aren’t you paying this particular bill faster?”

There has to be a balance between obligations and taking care of oneself.  In John 10:10 it says: “The thief comes only to kill and destroy.  I have come to give them a rich and satisfying life.” (New Living Translation)  I am the one who robs joy from myself through my worry and unfounded fears. When I limit help, I limit God.   But, the desire of heaven is for all of us to live our days in health and peace. I am grateful for the people who have been put on my path to show me this.

Take care of yourself because it brings honor to your Creator and it stops you from selling yourself short.

 

 

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Hooked

“This is how you cast your line.”

With a smooth fluid motion, he brought the rod over his head and flung it out toward the water.  His bobber hit with a small plop.

He handed me a rod after he put a minnow on for me.  I couldn’t bear to do that part. Looking behind me to make sure no one was there as he had instructed, I held down the big white button and then released it as I made the forward motion just like he had.  My bobber hit the water with more force, however.

“You did okay, but your minnow came off. Bring it in and you can do it again. You can’t do it so hard.”

He rebaited the hook, and I tried again but this time consciously with less arm power behind it.

We were at my uncle’s cabin that sat on a lake that was so clear you could see the sand on the bottom. Fishing off the dock was just as good as a boat because the water housed many crappies, sunnies and walleyes that swam by in large schools.

Just as he had taught my three older brothers to fish, he was passing the ability on to me. For my first few attempts, he stayed close by keeping careful watch as I tried to do as he had said. For eleven years old,  I thought I caught on quickly. I only had a few mishaps of releasing the line too early and getting it caught in the weeds behind me on shore.  A few other attempts left my bait going airborne until I learned control.

When he was satisfied that I could handle myself, he went back into the house. My brother, Bob, was on a dock next to my uncle’s so he thought he could leave and have my sibling supervise me.

“I need you to bait the hook,” I pleaded.

“You have to learn sometime,” he answered without looking at me.

“I don’t like doing it.”

“Too bad.”

He wasn’t about to budge from his spot on his dock beside mine.  It would have taken too much physical effort for him to walk the few feet over to help me.

So, with bravery I did the deed and abhorred every second of it.

While practicing my new skill, my cousin came and stood by me. I wasn’t thrilled with him invading my space, but it wasn’t in my nature to be unkind to him. Whenever we visited our relatives, I felt like he clung to me too much, and he threw temper tantrums over the slightest mishaps.  I never knew when the kid was going to sound off like an alarm without warning so he made me slightly edgy.

He started asking me a bunch of questions that I only half listened to.  I was trying to concentrate on casting and getting it right.  Too many times my minnow was sailing through the air forcing me to reload and try again.  I was determined to learn and show my dad how good I was.

I reeled in my line. I made sure I carefully extended my right arm over my cousin’s head before jerking into a cast.  Even with the careful, deliberate movement, I saw my bait fly over his head.  Then, he started to wail like a wounded animal.

I yanked on my line thinking maybe I had gotten it stuck on the weeds behind us on the shore.  Every time I pulled he screamed bloody murder.  I cranked on the line again and felt much resistance.  This felt different than when I had gotten hung up on something before.  This was quite the puzzle until he bellowed,

“MY EAR!”

I glanced at him to figure out what all the fuss was about and saw the hook securely planted in his big earlobe.  In my defense, the child did not have petite ears.

“Why is he crying?” my brother yelled over.

Great.  Now he takes an interest in what I am doing, I thought.

“I don’t know.”

I gulped at the sight of my handiwork in body piercing.

“Did you hook him?” my brother asked.

He cried louder.

“I will help you.  Just hold still,” I said.  I was trying to quiet him down so the adults wouldn’t come running.

“Did you really hook him in the ear?” my brother asked again from his dock.  I could tell he was trying not to laugh.

I ignored him and carefully removed the source of pain without saying anything about what I was doing.

“Is that better?” I asked hopefully.

“NO!  It still hurts.”

“Let me see,” I said.

It was a very small hole with a spot of blood that was visible.

“I want my mom!” he suddenly yelled.

“Wait.  Let’s just see how it feels,” I suggested before he ran off half crazed and got me into trouble.

I imagined my fishing privileges being revoked if word got out that I had actually impaled him.

I dipped my hand into the frigid water and put it on his ear. I had to come up with something quick. I didn’t know how long I could hold him there.

“You know what?  I think a bee stung you.”

“Really?”

His glasses were fogged up and he was breathing heavily.  He wasn’t at the height of health for a six year old.  He was as round as he was tall and easily got winded just from walking up a set of stairs. Sweating came easily for him and his bright red cheeks were an evident sign that he was in distress.

“Ya.  I think it flew right in and stung you on the ear!  It’s gone now though.  I got it away from you.”

“You did?”

“Yes.  Does it feel better?”

“A little bit.  It doesn’t hurt as much.”

He stopped crying and mopped his face with the back of his pudgy hand.

“I am going to go tell that I got stung by a bee!” He huffed and puffed his way off the dock and ran as best as he could toward the cabin.

“Did you tell him he got stung by a bee?” my brother yelled over.  “That is hilarious!  He actually believed you!”

No longer able to hold in his amusement he began to laugh loudly.

“Shut up!” I said as I followed behind my cousin.

By the time I got to the house, he had told all the adults.

When I walked in the door, I was questioned immediately.

“Did he get stung by a bee?”

I took a slight breath and nodded affirmatively.

When he walked past me his ear was barely pink and almost back to normal.  I had just lied myself into a situation that I didn’t have to.

“I think it will be just fine,” my mom said.  “He seems to be okay.”

I inwardly sighed.  As long as he thought he got stung by a bee and so did everyone else, I was off the..well..I was in the clear.

I returned to the dock, picked up my rod and tried again.

“Does everyone think he got stung by a bee?” my brother asked.

“Yes,” I said.

The fly in the ointment!  My brother knew the truth.

“They don’t know you lied?”

“No.”

I tried to preoccupy myself with the waves rolling up to the shore.

“I do.”

It was left at that, and I thought the incident was over, but I was about to be introduced to a concept that I didn’t understand.  Blackmail.

The next day, as usual, my brother did something to me that was not to my liking.  When I was about to let my mom know, he whispered,

“Remember?  The bee sting?”

If I stepped one toe in my mom’s direction to tell on him, he would spill the beans about my cousin’s ear!

The tightness in my chest at the thought of being exposed was enough to freeze me in place.  In that instance, I was lured into his scheme.

One night, about six months into his game, I was on my way to let my mom know that he had just done something again to upset me.  As I turned to leave, he whispered,

“Remember?” He had shortened it to one code word.  No longer did he need to explain like in the beginning. We both were clear on what he was saying.

I suddenly started yelling at the top of my lungs,

“I don’t care!  Tell her!  Tell her everything!”

Months of this torture had built up inside of me. While I was keeping my mouth shut, he was able to say and do whatever he wanted to me.  I decided in that moment to take back my power and face the punishment that I should have received months prior.

My mom heard all the commotion and said,

“What is going on?”

I ran up the stairs before he could and found her at the table making out her grocery list.  The words gushed out of me.

“Remember that time last summer when I said a bee stung Noel on the ear?  I lied.  I accidentally hooked him with my fishing line.  Bob knew the truth and has held it over my head since then. Every time I was going to come tell you something, he would stop me and tell me he was going to tell that I lied.”

Her eyes turned into a tight squint.

“Robert! Get up here now!” She had used his legal first name.  Trouble!

Her voice reverberated through my chest like one of those huge sonic booms that you hear on the Fourth of July.

I watched him slump up the stairs.

This actually wasn’t going in his favor, and it surprised me.

“Is this true?  Have you been blackmailing your sister all this time?  I don’t allow that in my house!”

That was the first time I had heard the term. I may not have been wise to the vocabulary back then, but the experience was enough for me to never forget.

He admitted to his wrongdoing and was sent to his room.  For once, he had come to find out that he wasn’t always going to be on her good side.  To tell you the truth, I was shocked that she treated him how she did.

She turned to me and said,

“Don’t ever let anyone do that to you.  First, tell the truth and don’t lie.  Second, if you have something to say, then say it.  Don’t let another person ever have that much control over you.”

“Okay,” I replied.

I waited for my sentencing, but there wasn’t any.  She figured I had gone through enough months of emotional turmoil at his dark bidding.

Many years later, as an adult, her message to me still rings true.  Whether it is a relative, a scary financial situation or an unhappy existence in a workplace, do not let anyone or anything hold you hostage.  If anything, go to God and tell the truth so that you can have the help you need and live free.  Unload the burden from your heart, and let your honest prayers be the beginning of you no longer being hooked.

 

hooks

 

(On a side note, the next time we went fishing, and my brother and I were fishing on separate docks, I overextended my cast and hooked him in the palm of his hand.  His yelps could be heard for miles.  My dad actually laughed and said we needed to work more on my technique.)

 

 

 

Blowing Smoke

I unpacked my overnight bag and immediately put the items into the wash with extra soap poured on for good measure. My hair reeked of the smell, but I couldn’t throw myself in with the clothes so a different kind of scrubbing was needed.

Any type of establishment that allows smoking inside the premises leaves its trace long after one has departed. Standing outside in hurricane type gales would not even do the trick to remove the odor.

So it was after a night away that I found myself hurriedly transferring the offensive garments to the machine and thanking myself for quitting the habit at the age of eleven .

What would have happened to me if I would have let it take hold? I wondered.

One day while at a friends house, unattended by any responsible adult, we were left to our own devices.  I was sitting in the living room when she rounded the corner with a lit cigarette between her long skinny fingers.  She sat down next to me, handed me one and said,

“Here.  Try this.”

“Where did you get this from?” I asked.

“My mom’s room. She doesn’t even know when I take some.”

I felt a slight twinge in my stomach.  I wasn’t the type to steal, lie or do anything that suggested shadiness.  However, before I knew it, I had white puffs coming out of my mouth that I was trying to fashion into different shapes.

I didn’t go into a coughing rage or choking fit.  I watched what she did, repeated it and took one drag after another.  Once down to the end of it, we both ran them under cold water and threw them outside into the trash.

That is when the guilt hit.  I had just smoked a cigarette!  All the way home, I wondered,

Would they smell it on me?  Would I look different when I walked in?  Would my mother look me in the eye and know what I had been up to?  

Anxiety overwhelmed me as I strode in the door and made a quick turn into my bedroom.

That entire evening as I ate dinner, worked on my homework and changed into my pajamas, I prepared myself mentally for the bomb to drop.  Nothing happened.

The next day I found myself in the same set of circumstances and the days to follow.  Soon, it was becoming a regular afternoon occurrence to which she invited another girl to join us.  My worries became non-existent as my confidence grew that my parents did not have a clue as to what I was doing.  I generally limited myself to one, but with the three of us smoking in the same room, it would get hazy fairly quickly.

One evening, while eating dinner, my dad said,

“I bet when Chris grows up she is going to smoke.”

It was like he jabbed a hot poker into my chest.

“Why?  What? No I wouldn’t.”

He slurped down a spaghetti noodle and said,

“I think you will.”

I became instantly angry with him for unfairly judging me.

“I would not!  I will not smoke!” I raised my voice much louder than I normally would.

How dare he look across the table and decide what I was going to do when I was an adult? Then, I remembered.  I was already smoking.

“I think you will, ” he said again.  “And anger shows guilt.”

It was like the ceiling fell on top of me.

He knew!  He knew!  How did he know?  I thought I had covered my tracks carefully by spraying myself with perfume and chomping on mint gum.

“When someone is angry like that it shows they are guilty.”

“I am not guilty,” I said looking at my carrots on my plate.

My mom saw how upset I was getting, so she added,

“She won’t smoke.  Smoking is bad for your health.  Chris is too smart for that.”

Oh, boy.  I finished my meal and slunked away.

The following day when I was offered a cigarette, I declined.

“I think my mom and dad might know,” I told her.  “I am quitting right now.”

For a few weeks I was ridiculed by the two smoking partners, but the situation changed when the thief was caught stealing from her mother’s stash.  Fortunately, I was not a part of their group that had grown to a club of eight.  I guess, lifting one or two goes unnoticed, but that amount got her into trouble.

The subject was never discussed in my household again until I was in my twenties.

“How did you know I was smoking?” I asked my dad.

“What do you mean?”

“You know. That time I was sitting at the table and you kept saying I was going to smoke when I grew up, and I got mad. You said anger shows guilt.”

“I was just joking.  You were smoking?”

“Yes!  And, I thought you knew I was so I quit the next day because I thought you were on to me.”

“No.  I was teasing you.”

“You and mom really didn’t know what I was doing?”

“Nope.”

I am grateful to this day for the intervention of an unseen source on my behalf.   We hear of statistics of many dying from lung cancer due to this, and yet if you stop in traffic long enough and glance around, chances are you will see someone who has gotten caught into the addiction.  Most likely, someone made the offer and they took it.  Just like I did.

The other day while in the grocery store, the cashier said,

“You don’t drink pop?”

She held up a bottle of an antioxidant fruit beverage.

“No.  I quit drinking it.  And, that is my substitution.”

“Is it good?”

“Yes, but quitting wasn’t easy.  I am okay now, but it took a few days.”

“I know how that goes.  I quit smoking a year ago.  Cold turkey.  I decided one day not to do it anymore, and I had been smoking for awhile.  I started before my teens.”

“You quit without any type of help?”

“Yes.  My mom told me I would never be able to do it.”

I asked the obvious,

“Does your mom smoke?”

“Oh, yes, really bad.”

“That is why she told you that you couldn’t do it because if you were successful, then she would have no excuse not to quit too.”

Once out in the parking lot, I thought about the power of that mother smoking and discouraging her daughter from doing something healthy.  What a triumph to overcome the cigarettes in the face of such adversity.  Not everyone has the “I will show you” attitude.  In fact, many of us shrink down under the presence of a negative thinker with a bad outlook on life, and we take on their pessimistic stench.

How many times have you gone into an environment in a peaceful state and were inundated with harsh words, a sharp bark or a put down only to find your sunny disposition gone within seconds? Suddenly, the world is dark and unfavorable.  The next thing you know you have a headache or some other sort of pain in your body, and maybe a whole week goes by where you find yourself depressed and out of sorts. All because you allowed someone else’s foul ideas to permeate your spirit.

Here is a possible solution to not living like that anymore.

Above all else, guard your heart,
    for everything you do flows from it.
24 Keep your mouth free of perversity;
    keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
25 Let your eyes look straight ahead;
    fix your gaze directly before you.
26 Give careful thought to the[c] paths for your feet
    and be steadfast in all your ways. (Proverbs 4:23-26;NLT)

Here we are given a wonderful answer to how we can combat and protect ourselves from being pulled into the opinion or drama of another.  If we stay connected closely to the Creator and only exist to please heaven, then one can remain on the outside of the mess without stepping into it.  A love filled relationship with God provides a way for us to see the genuine goodness of life and avoid those who are just blowing smoke.

 

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