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.

 

Honorable Discharge

Before taking a single psychology class, I grew up in an environment that taught me more by observation than any professor ever could. No textbook could even come close to the education I received by being born into the household where I somehow landed.

“Your dad is using selective hearing again,” my mom announced as she stalked past me.

I had not heard of that term before. Why would I? I was in middle school and not married.

“What is that?”

“It’s when someone hears you, but they pretend that they don’t. But then you can ask another question, maybe something that interests them, and miraculously they respond to you. He does this to me all the time.”

I had seen it in action, but I didn’t know it had an official name.

There could be two reasons for this. Either he had trained himself to do it because it got overwhelming with so many kids in the house, or she just asked too many questions.

“I wonder why he does it?” She asked.

See? Like that.

“Did you ask him?”

“Yes. He didn’t hear me.”

He was a master.

A few weeks ago, all of these memories of him putting her on ignore came rushing back to me.

I was at his apartment while a physical therapist was working with him.

“Can you stand up?” She said in a highly elevated tone of voice.

It has been officially determined that he now has hearing loss in both ears due to his military training. He had no problem while I was growing up, but he has used hearing aids to help as he has aged.

I went to the audiologist with him for testing a few years ago at a veteran’s clinic.

The room we had to be in was soundproof and actually hurt my ears because it was so quiet. I didn’t realize that seclusion could be painful.

“He lip-reads almost ninety-nine percent of the time even with hearing aids in,” she said.

So when Covid hit, and all the mask-wearing began, it became impossible to communicate with that on.

When the physical therapist asked him to stand, I thought he hadn’t heard her because her mouth was covered.

“Did you hear her say to get up?”

“She did?”

“Yes. Can you stand up?”

At almost ninety, it’s a challenge, but he eventually will. After walking and running through strengthening exercises, I see he starts to fade out, and his attention span gets short.

She explained to me his limitations and what she could do to keep him strong without taking away his independence in other areas. While all of this discussion was going on, I looked over at him, wondering how this fully affected him. He won’t ever tell me anything unless I really probe for answers.

He puts on somewhat of a front, keeping his true feelings hidden.

He was wearing a new listening device that connects to a small battery-operated unit with earbuds to amplify sound.

When I had first put it on him and was going to adjust the volume, I asked,

“Can you hear me?”

He looked right at me and said,

“No, Chris. I can’t hear you.”

That was my sign it was functioning correctly.

With her going through a rundown of all that he can’t do, I was slightly concerned that this would bother him.

“Do you want some water?” I asked him, interrupting her. He didn’t answer me. I thought maybe he hadn’t heard me, so I repeated it. Nothing.

“Can you hear me?” I asked, wondering if the new device was malfunctioning. He still seemed not to hear me.

I repeated my question with no response.

This time I decided to upgrade.

“Can you hear me, or are you choosing not to?”

“Selective hearing,” he said, then smiled.

“Do you have that on your list for him to work on?” I asked her.

Unfortunately, it isn’t.

Later, I started to inquire about his time in the military, which had led to his hearing loss.

“I was in training to use a 40-millimeter anti-aircraft gun.”

“What was that for?”

“To shoot down airplanes.”

“And they didn’t know back then to have you wear ear protection?”

“Right. So that caused damage to my hearing.”

He went into the National Guard at seventeen and served once a month while in high school.

“I made $40 doing that. Then, the Korean War was cropping up, and they needed people, so I went into the army.”

I’m not sure how he gained the position, but he became a sergeant. He had been in a street gang as a leader, so that might have come into play when they looked for recruits who they needed to enforce discipline.

“Those were not the best of days,” he said. “I didn’t like the bayonet training.”

From as far back as I could remember, he didn’t speak much about this time of his life. Just a couple of things like how he would pour cold water on the same guy who took a shower.

My dad would be shaving at a sink, and this man would come in after everyone else had left.

“He liked to have the place to himself. And he would sing at the top of his lungs. He wasn’t that great of a singer.”

While he was in the stall, my dad would pour a cup of cold water on his head and quickly run back to the sink and go back to looking in the mirror.

“Who did that?” the man would yell, pulling back the shower curtain.

My dad, not giving any eye contact and keeping the blade to his face, would say,

“He went that way,” and would nod toward the door.

“He never caught on that it was me. I would let a few days go by in between to throw him off. He always asked me who it was but never thought it was me.”

Another event he went through was not as humorous.

“Was the worst part the guy who died? The one who wouldn’t listen to you?”

“Yes. I had to take his tags and send them to the family after he was killed.”

He put in all the work of getting young men ready for battle, and there was one who never followed his instructions.

“He was belligerent. Always talking back at me and would do what I said but always did something slightly to change it to what he thought was best.”

Just before being sent over to Korea, it was determined that my dad could not go. He had allergies that made his eyes water and burn, so it was decided to hold him back.

“I had trained them, and I didn’t get to go with them. That was not easy. I didn’t know who I would ever see again.”

The first to die was the man who thought he knew it all. A sniper hit him because he hadn’t followed instructions on entering a situation he found himself in, and he became an easy target.

“I tried to get him in line, but he just would not listen to me.”

My dad saw Proverbs 12:1 in action:

If you love learning, you love the discipline that goes with it—how shortsighted to refuse correction! (Message)

Whenever he reflects on this, I still see an incredible sadness overcome him. Like it was his fault in some way, and it haunts him.

I equate that to when we ignore God.

Some portray this as a fire and brimstone type of relationship where if we don’t follow orders, we are subjected to the hatred of God. But we aren’t.

In Ephesians 4:30, we find that we can cause a different reaction when we don’t follow the voice of God:

Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted. (Message)

Being proactive is always better by asking for help and applying this instruction from Jeremiah 33:3:

“Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” (ESV)

What landmines and trouble could you avoid by asking for answers from the One who can see what you can’t? God doesn’t want a spiritual sniper to take you out prematurely from fulfilling what you were put on earth for.

I place before you Life and Death, Blessing and Curse. Choose life so that you and your children will live. And love God, your God, listening obediently to him, firmly embracing him. (Deuteronomy 3:19-20)

Above all else, our goal should be to follow God, do what we are told, and we will be granted from this life into heaven an honorable discharge.

Transplant

There was a particular place that she wanted to go to. It couldn’t just be a store that sold many things, but one that only focused their attention on what she was looking for. It’s not something I would pursue because of bad experiences, but she often pushes me past my resistance to trying something again.

I didn’t want to take on another responsibility with all the others that I already had. So my idea was to go with her but not buy anything.

As I drove there, I tried to keep quiet and not think about how many other times I had done this, which led to failure.

“Have you read about how to do this? You know what you are doing?”

“Yes.”

Of course she had because she’s smarter than I am.

We walked across the icy parking lot with an intense winter wind whipping, slapping us across the face. The double doors opened, and warm air surrounded us.

Sunlight streamed in, and it was as if we had gone from the Antarctic to a tropical island with plants of all shapes, colors, and variations. There wasn’t anything that I couldn’t kill from the very tiniest to taller than me. This is why I didn’t want to come in the first place. There was a long list of casualties on my record of house plants not making it very long no matter how closely I followed all the rules or not.

“I want to look at the orchids,” she said.

I had never had one of those, so she was on her own with that. Let the blood of the innocent be on her hands this time.

As we looked at them, I saw instructions sticking up, printed on a card:

Place one ice cube in soil three times per week.

“An ice cube? I don’t get it.”

Where we live, the cold instantly takes the life of any outdoor plant, so now, we were to put ice on our indoor plants? That sounded like someone who had murdered growing things like me; get it over with.

Throw a bag of ice on that, and call it good, that I could do.

I looked into it further, and it was actually a way to make sure it was getting enough water without it draining out. It’s a slow release of hydration instead of one big blast.

When a salesperson came over, I asked her if it was effective.

“I wouldn’t do it. It’s a trend now. Dipping the container in water works best.”

She chose the one she wanted, and I did not believe it would make it until spring, but I knew she had to try.

We looked around, and I overheard a lady trying to figure out what to buy.

This is not a quick decision. You have to think about where you will place it concerning how light comes into your house. Does it need direct sunlight, partial or a completely dark room?

“I have a couch I can move over,” I heard her say to her friend.

If you have to remodel to take in one plant, it might be a good idea to forget it because, with my experience, you can put in an extraordinary amount of care, and they will callously keel over without a second thought.

It always starts with the withered look and leaves that lose their sheen. Then it gradually goes downhill into yellowing and pieces falling off. At first, I always try to revive the situation. I start by removing what has died to be sure all the nutrients are going toward what is left living. I test the soil for dryness, or is it damp? Maybe new dirt would help, and a little plant food.

I walk away knowing I have given it the best care, and I am highly hopeful it will make a comeback because I have applied the detailed advice of a botanist I found online. But by morning, it’s deceased. It just totally checks itself out without even saying goodbye.

I can’t handle that kind of rejection over and over.

So while there looking with her, I had decided not to open up my heart to be crushed by another that for no reason would die. That was until I saw something that I had not considered before.

Bamboo.

They had them in clear vases with decorative rock and no soil. This meant no guessing whether they had enough water or not. When I saw them displayed, Chinese New Year had just started, so next to them was a list of all the good luck they could bring me, depending on how many stalks I put together.

With my horrible track record of keeping anything alive past a week, it would need the luck, not me.

One stalk seemed lonely. It had nothing to do with bad fortune. Two represented love, or that good things come in pairs. Three of them meant happiness and a new beginning. Four was not to mess with because it denoted death. We had already had enough of that.

I settled on five because it looked decent and wasn’t overwhelming like the suggested 888 of them.

After saying I would purchase nothing, I brought them home and crossed all my fingers. These, I was told, were difficult to destroy. They hadn’t met me.

The first year, all was well. My five grew somewhat and were not that much of a bother. Her orchid worried me as it stayed the same, with no flowers.

The second year, I ran into trouble and had to move three out of my five into their own vase.

“Why are they not with the rest?” She asked me.

“They look a little sick. And I read online if they have something wrong, it can spread to the others.” The remaining two were flourishing.

So I quarantined the unhealthy and it turned into hospice.

“I read that this can happen,” she said, trying to make me feel better. “They just don’t make it as long.”

And they didn’t.

Her orchid stayed the same, and I wondered if it had died but looked alive.

“Is yours okay?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

“It’s been two years, and it doesn’t look any different than the day you bought it.”

She let it be, and I saw my two start growing more.

If mine made it past the two-year mark, I found out that it could reach five feet.

At nearly three years, my two were inching upward more and more. I guess I was destined to have a pair that would bring more love into my life. The initial five promised me wealth, but 1 Corinthians 13:2 says there is something more significant:

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.(ESV)

Sometimes, you have to lose something to trade up.

The other day I asked her again,

“Is your orchid doing okay? It looks the same as when you bought it three years ago.”

She got out potting soil and a larger container. After all this time, I wondered if this disruption would bring too much trauma. That’s the risk that is run when you move something that has gotten its roots down and is locked into a place that it has been for a long time.

I walked past it the next day, and it had doubled in size.

“Did you see your plant?”

I think she expected me to tell her it had croaked.

“No.”

When she looked at it, she was just as surprised as I was to see it spread out so much in its new home.

“You aren’t supposed to replant them for three years.”

“Really? That’s such a long time.”

To be honest, I thought maybe she had neglected it for too long. But, she had read that this was the perfect time to give it a larger space to expand. Every day, it seems to fill out more, seeming to enjoy the room to grow.

In the same way, when the constricting limitations are removed from a person’s life, it ushers in peace and joy that wasn’t there before. Adapting to a new way of living always comes with uncertainty, but God promises to be with you through each step, guiding and protecting you.

In John 15:5 it says:

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing. (NIV)

This speaks to the idea that a life sworn over into the hands of God is not your own.

If you want heaven to make good use of you, increase your influence, heal the hurting and fulfill a mission on earth, you have to be willing to go through a transplant.

Genuine

Minnesota is known for a food atrocity that probably has graced the tables of those unfortunate enough to have put it in their shopping carts. My mom was one of them, and I absolutely refused to partake of it. Meat processed into a can with a globby gel around it ranks right up there with eating chocolate-covered insects. 

I watched a documentary where this lady could not stop consuming lint no matter how detrimental it was to her health. When she would hear the buzzer go off on the dryer, she would take out the trap and start swallowing down the fuzz that had collected on it. Another person’s obsession was hand sanitizer that was guzzled down like water.

If this meat product had been included, I would not have been surprised. 

There must be those who love it, though, because there has been an entire booth set up at the state fair devoted to this. These are the ones with stomachs of steel and absent gag reflexes. They stand in line and pay actual money that they worked hard for in exchange for something that is said to be food, but is it?

They fry it, bake it, grill it, chop it, slice it. They pass this off as a versatile food source that is convenient because it’s precooked, and it never dies because it’s questionable if it ever walked the earth. 

I recall innocently wandering into the kitchen as a child as a can of this was opened.  

“What is that?” I asked.

She made me smell it, and the gooey appearance brought on an instant hunger strike.

“You will like it.”  

This always was the beginning of the coaxing me to try something that I knew I already would hate. When another person had to tell me that I would have an affinity for something, I was already putting up all sorts of defenses.

She knew I was the type of kid who would not eat cooked carrots but accepted them as raw. Hot cereal was death, and cooked beets, kill me now. There wasn’t enough milk produced in the industry to help me get those down without letting them touch my taste buds. She wouldn’t let me plug my nose, either, because that wasn’t ‘good table manners.’ 

It made her uncomfortable seeing me suffering, so I had to hide it and try not to cough, which would have sent everything from my mouth onto the table, and well, that would have ruined everything.    

And, now she was leaping to selling me on canned meat? She had clearly lost her ability to think straight after eating products ladened with chemicals like the very thing she was trying to convince me to swallow. 

She never got her way, and it was a good thing she didn’t. All she saw were dollar signs because this was a cheap fix for a meal. I could go munch down grass out of the backyard for no charge to maintain my life span and enjoy it more. 

Multiple articles claim that this cube-shaped charlatan acting as a protein is full of salt, sugar and processed as much as it can be. How did they combat the bad press and the negativity? They made a light version to accommodate those who are health conscious. They took out more of the bad things to make it better. 

Don’t sign me up. 

And, there are recipes out there. I came across one that lists the top one hundred. That is one hundred too many. Someone asked what the best way was to eat this—the answer: straight out of the can. The real inquiry should be: why, why, why? 

One person thought it was great to shape it into donuts and fry them. To add to the choke factor, they suggested putting chunks of it into the homemade ‘dough’. 

The draw is the affordability, and its craze, with some, has earned it an iconic place in society where there is a museum and merchandise you can wear on your body to let the entire world know that you eat meat out of a metal can. And if that isn’t enough, some restaurants have it on their menu, and the health department does not shut them down. 

I don’t find it an accident that it shares its name with the category in my email that junk mail lands. 

I hadn’t put much thought into that folder. I just figured the system was filtering out sales pitches or offers that would be a waste of my time. In a way, it’s nice to have an invisible hand doing that on my behalf. Some analytical program decides that I shouldn’t be bothered with information that isn’t necessary. It’s so close to being royalty it’s a little frightening.  

Away with you, peasant! I am sorry, but she cannot read that right now. She is by appointment only.

I didn’t have to be bothered with it, and I was a better person for it until I was forced to go there. 

I had tried to reset a password, and instead of sending it to my primary folder, it got sent to the dark abyss. After waiting more than the long sixty seconds that it said I had to, it was suggested I check the other location. 

Much to my amazement, I had compiled an assortment of correspondence that left me wondering who had sold my address to satan. There were not just a few but hundreds of inquiries in all shapes and forms soliciting all kinds of things that left my eyes burning. I actually shut them and started hitting delete. 

I devote a part of my morning to erasing these that seem to keep finding me every day now. Instead of taking the time to get rid of a week’s worth, I found that if I keep up with it, it’s less time-consuming. 

I began to wonder how one gets a job sending out these invitations? There seems to be some thought that goes into the type of emojis and bold capital letters. Not so much the English language is considered, but someone is making a living doing this, somewhere, hoping I will click on the link. 

Outside of the R-rated biddings for my attention, some offer compensation for the legal problems that are plaguing me. In contrast, others want me to finally claim that sum of money sitting in my account for ages with interest collecting. Why am I not responding to the sweepstakes I entered that would give me the life of my dreams?  

At the same time, the IRS is going to put me in jail for something, Amazon loves me and wants to give me a $1000 gift card, and a long-lost relative wants to find me so we can catch up and wouldn’t you know they live in a foreign country? How wonderful that someone in my family tree branched out like that and made something of themselves, stealing credit card numbers in a coffee shop across the ocean.

While all of this might be tempting to some, I have no problem sending them out of sight forever. 

So, why do I do this? Because I know they are there now. Before, I didn’t. I lived in ignorance, and it was beautiful. 

One of my concerns is that if I should die, what would someone think if they opened up my email and found all of these racy, desperate pleas? Just sitting there, like I hadn’t removed them, as if it was okay. I couldn’t live with myself after death if that happened. So, it’s now part of my daily existence to keep up a good image, even if it’s just for me to know, and to save some poor unfortunate soul if I depart. 

The other thing is, I don’t like fake.

Almost every single one of these is based on a scam and trying to bait people into circumstances that aren’t good. This is where the deception begins, where words are used to manipulate and entice into something that has absolutely no substance. I have seen so many people, usually those who are looking for something that is missing, fall for these types of schemes, thinking it will be life-changing. 

After taking over as my dad’s power of attorney, I had to fight off a company that kept coming to him for money that he shouldn’t have been spending. When they wouldn’t leave him alone and flooded his mailbox with their emotionally driven requests, I sent them a letter explaining my position in his life, which put a stop to it. It seems to quiet the waters when you toss the word ‘lawsuit’ out there. 

It ends your valuable customer status quickly.

I am not the only one who doesn’t like shady offers. Look at what this says from Psalm 101:3:

Help me to refuse the low and vulgar things; help me to abhor all crooked deals of every kind, to have no part in them. (TLB)

They inundate us and constantly seek our attention, but we have the choice to remove them from our experience. 

It’s a worthwhile endeavor to start thinning out those things that pose as real but aren’t. From food to friends, God wants you to have the best, and it will be genuine. 

Nightmares, right here

Let Go

One of the strange things that happens in my house is that snacks get left uneaten and never entirely gone. Nothing is immune. Pretzels, cereal, crackers. If a box of something has been opened, none of us will finish it.

You ignore it when you live like this for a while. For some reason, I realized it the other day while it had fallen upon me once again to go through the snack container and start tossing.

I look at expiration dates, if a clip has been used to preserve whatever it is and what is left of the contents. It isn’t unusual to find multiple boxes with one item at the bottom. We just can’t bring ourselves to be “that” person to take the last one.

And while that sounds so gracious and full of self-denialism, it’s not fun to be the one who goes to get the veggie straws, and there is only part of one left surrounded by what looks like sawdust. It’s deceiving and disappointing, but I can only blame myself for being the person to start this somehow with them.

If there’s a batch of cookies, I will have half of one until someone else comes by, tells themselves it’s only half, and has to eat it.

Then, when I want another half, I do it again, or someone else starts the process all over.

My oldest now says when she sees me breaking it in two,

“You might as well take the entire thing! By the end of the day, you will have eaten a whole one!”

“It gives me time to work off the calories from this one,” I say as she plucks an entire one, carefree, putting me on mute.

It’s kind of like the trick I have seen people engage in while in a restaurant where they have a dessert on a plate and put it as far from their reach as possible to make it appear they really aren’t eating it.

I always want to go over and scooch it closer so that they know we know. But I cut cookies in half, so who am I to judge? They have their psychological crutch, and so do I.

The other challenge I face is knowing what to throw and when to.

I have been known on occasion to get tired of seeing all the accumulation and pitch whatever appears to be past its time. And then two hours later I will hear,

“What happened to that brand new bottle of ranch dressing I just bought the other day?”

“That looked crusty,” I will say in my defense.

“I just got that!”

Yet, most of what I threw away was from a month ago.

This has led to regularly holding food adoption sessions because God help me if I get rid of something too soon.

“Whose is this?”

Both glance up to claim or deny.

“That’s mine.”

“Do you want this?”

Cue the elevator music as we wait on pins and needles.

“Uh….no.”

Out it goes.

“What about this?”

I try to predict whether it’s a keep or toss mentally. It’s like playing Suduko or one of those brain exercise games that strengthen the synapses.

If it’s dripping, leaking, or molding, I make the executive decision to send it on.

Nine times out of ten, it all gets sent to the garbage because no one wants it.

So between the half-eaten items and trying to learn how to discern what’s old and what’s new, it’s madness. Yet, I can always count on finding one crumb left of something or an almost empty bottle that has barely a drop.

I bought a cold brew, ready-made coffee, which I never do so that I could grab it to go on the days I’m in a hurry and can’t make my usual one. I shared it when I brought it home. I knew there was some left, so I went to get it.

“What happened to my coffee that was on the bottom shelf?” I began to wonder if I had put it in another place and couldn’t remember. Did I pour it out and forget?

“There were three ounces left. I drank it,” said my youngest daughter from the other room.

On the one hand, I was proud of her for breaking the curse, yet I wasn’t.

“I cannot believe that someone in this house actually finished something.”

She came around the corner, looking at me hanging off the refrigerator door like I was just invited to a funeral.

“Did you drink it, or are you just saying that?”

“It was three ounces.”

“That three ounces was closure for me.”

“Closure? Three ounces of coffee?”

“Yes. I have to go get more now.”

I had suspicions that she rounded way down on the amount she slurped up.

“There was at least half a bottle.”

“There were three ounces, mother. Three.”

Sometimes when you are a trailblazer, you might encounter resistance from those who aren’t accustomed to such an abrupt change in behavior by the inhabitants of your home.

“Can I have the rest? Or will this not give you closure?” she asked me.

“For what?”

“The coffee?”

I forgot I had gotten a new one.

“You don’t remember how that three ounces I drank left you without closure?”

“Oh. Go ahead. I don’t care.”

“Now it’s not a big deal?” She said as she poured it into a glass.

Keep up, child.

What was so important days ago now was not even on my mind.

That’s not just something that happens with leftover coffee.

I cannot recall what I was concerned about a year ago today. Most of us can’t unless it was a major, life-changing event. Facebook will dredge up what we posted to our attention, but we usually don’t show our fears online. It’s generally masked by something else, so the world thinks we are doing fine.

It can keep us awake at night and consume our thoughts so much that it takes us out of the present.

I recall worrying about how I had a utility bill breathing down my neck while trying to celebrate one of my daughter’s birthdays. She didn’t know, but later, I could not remember it very well when I tried to think about what had happened that day. My mind was elsewhere. I felt like the entire event was erased from my memory. I looked at pictures, and it was as if I was not in attendance. But I do know the bill got paid.

It’s a fight not to do that. But in Matthew 6:34, it is made clear what we are to do:

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)

The other day I decided to clean out my dad’s closet. While he sat on the edge of his bed, I pulled shirts out to have him tell me whether he wanted to donate them or keep them.

“Does it have a pocket in the front?”

“Yes, but it has long sleeves.”

“Put it in the pile.”

There were so many of them that the entire closet was jammed, but I knew he had hardly worn any of them. I had told him that there were people in the world without clothes, so maybe he should get rid of some of them to help out.

He looked at me for a minute and said,

“Like poor people?”

“Yes.”

If I lead him down that road, there is less resistance. He comes from a time in history where people hang on to everything, but if I can convince him there are less fortunate people out there, he will always release his death grip on items.

I brought out hanger after hanger for him to judge.

The first question was if it had a front pocket. If it was no, then it was put aside. If I said yes, then we moved to question number two.

“Is it short-sleeved?”

“No.”

Then the nod to the pile. If I said yes, then it was the scrutiny of color.

Tilting the head with one eye closed while I stood there holding it up. Please, God, help.

“I don’t really like that one. Give it.”

Next up.

“That one I have to keep.”

“Really? Why?”

“I don’t know. I just want it.”

“Okay.”

“There are so many you are giving away,” he said, looking at the ones gathering around my feet. “I am not going to have any clothes left.”

“Do you realize your dresser drawers are full to the point I can barely shut them? These are from the far dark corner of your closet that you have not touched in almost three years?”

“Really? I have been here three years?”

“Almost. What about this?”

“Does it have a pocket in the front?”

An hour later, he had parted ways with prized possessions that he had no idea were taking up space in his closet.

It is human nature to hang on to things because they are familiar. I believe it gives one comfort to look in a dresser, a cupboard, or a drawer and see its space taken up, even if it houses items that aren’t used. It’s a false sense of security.

Along with this, there are people and places that God will call you away from to be moved on to what is next. In Isaiah 43:18 it says,

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? (NLT)

I read in one of the million books I have come across that the mind can only focus its attention on one issue at a time. When you are so stuck on those things that have worn out their welcome, you are expending energy on not seeing what can show up next.

The other day I had to remove a bandage after a blood draw. It hurt, but the tape was uncomfortable on my skin. What was once put there to help stop the bleeding for survival now was no longer functional. It would only affix itself tighter. From experience, I knew that the longer I left it there, the more difficult it would be to remove later.

The decision is always the slow peel or the abrupt, get it over with, ripping off. I chose the quick way and screamed through it just as much as I would have with the other option.

Within hours, I forgot it had been there, and the pain had completely gone away.

When you follow God’s lead, you may have to make choices that don’t always make sense but to trust and grow spiritually means to let go.