Song

I had been putting it off for weeks. I didn’t want to go up the rickety ladder to clean out the attic. But, there was this nagging feeling to get it done. It has pull-down wooden stairs, and then I have to put a shorter ladder underneath it to climb them. One of the springs holding the whole thing has come loose on one side, and it feels wobbly as I go up every time. I always tighten the screws on each side to make myself feel better.

I always keep my fingers crossed that this won’t be when I have to cash in my life insurance policy. I have learned how to go up quickly if everything gives way. And then I will live there for the rest of time, surrounded by all the things that I should have gotten rid of long ago.

I always go up intending to throw things away, but then I come across my kryptonite. The photo albums that I forgot were there. Suddenly, four hours have gone by, and I have nothing to show for it except wondering where the time has gone. Not for just that day, but years that I will never see again. And my natural hair color. Gone. Just like that.

This time, I also was dealing with some items I had taken from my parents’ home when I cleaned it three years ago. I pushed aside my mom’s wedding dress that I couldn’t throw, but no one wanted and started making discard and keep piles.

I felt so sluggish as I attempted to do this. Not energetic at all about setting myself free of things that no longer were serving a purpose. That is how I usually feel when I do this. I donate to the Salvation Army next to new items, which has always motivated me to clean so that someone else can use them. But that mental trick wasn’t working either.

I quit wondering why I was feeling so lazy and decided to wait until the next day to get it finished. I forced myself up there again with my oldest daughter catching what I was tossing to her below. They say that what goes up must come down. That was not the case with the gigantic Christmas tree I forgot was in a bag.

I tried every angle to push that through the opening to no avail. I even placed both of my feet on it and shoved. I realized I was making sounds like you would hear if someone gave birth.

“Are you grabbing this?” I asked, finally getting it past the metal hinges on the stairs it had gotten caught on.

No answer.

“Hey! Are you catching this?” I asked again, trying not to slide down with it.

She was too busy recording me. You just can’t get good help these days.

I kept going, and once the momentum built, I was not slowing down. As I handed her an item that sent a plume of dust all over her, I said,

“Do we still have your old guitar?”

“I don’t think so,” she said, coughing.

I turned and saw the black cloth zippered case and wasn’t sure. But, when I opened it, it was a perfectly brand new Fender electric guitar that was barely used.

This was from a time when she thought she wanted to learn and took brief lessons online with an instructor. After a while, she got bored with it. When I handed her this to take down, she said,

“I don’t know why I thought I wanted to do this.”

Usually, after determining what I would donate, I load everything in my car and drive to the thrift store to give it all away, but I had started so late on a Sunday that I decided to wait until the next day.

When I woke up the following morning, I heard very distinctly that I was to go to a particular location right by my house after an appointment that I had. I wasn’t sure why, but I never usually do.

I pulled around the back of the building and waited behind a car with a small trailer attached to it. A man came and went from the donation center, loading up shopping carts and taking them in.

Once the guy in front of me moved on, I pulled up and started taking things out of the back of my car. The worker pulled another cart and started helping me. When we got down to the last donation, I said,

“I have a strange question.”

This is the part where I always find myself in uncertain territory. Sometimes they take what you have, and other times you have to go elsewhere to get rid of things. During COVID, they took next to nothing for fear of spreading the disease.

“I have a brand new electric guitar to give away. But, I don’t know if you take those here.”

I handed it to him. I knew it was valued at $300, but that made no difference. I just wanted someone who needed it to have it.

Oddly, this very talkative man went mute. I couldn’t tell if he was struggling to tell me I had to go to a music store or list it for sale. He just stood there, staring at it. Because I have been turned away so many times and had to drag things back home, I said,

“I don’t even care if one of the intake workers takes this. I don’t want to have to deal with it.”

He just stared at it. And I kept trying to figure out why he had gone silent. He moved forward and put it back in my car.

Oh, great. He was too afraid to tell me I had to take it back.

Quietly, he said,

“I am in rehab. I am sixty days sober.”

“That’s good,” I said suddenly, unsure where we were going with this conversation.

Stammering, he said quietly,

“I really want that guitar.”

Now I was the one who had lost all of her words.

“You do?”

“Yes. I have been in rehab, and I am learning to play the guitar. I could really use that.”

It was one of those moments where you just know you have not been out of the divine timing of God one second. I might have missed him if I had cleaned the attic on Saturday and driven it over. Our paths were set to cross exactly then so God could show him that he was on the right road. I wasn’t lazy on Saturday! Or, at least, that’s what I decided.

“Where is your car? I can put it in there for you.”

I realized that he could get into trouble for this, so I tried to sneak it into his possession.

“I don’t have one. I lost all privileges. I get picked up by a bus at the end of my shift. Could I take your phone number and have my case manager call you?”

That sounded a little unsafe to me.

“What is your phone number?”

“I had that taken away too. I am still on probation because I have only completed 60 days.”

“You realize that this is God speaking to you right now, right?” I asked. “He sends me to help people, and He is telling you that if you learn how to play this instrument, this will be your way to stay sober and live a better life.”

He smiled and said,

“Yes. I know. That’s why I really want that guitar. Maybe you can Google where I am staying and talk to my caseworker.”

I told him I would and had to pull forward as another person pulled in behind me.

I looked up the address, and after some confusion, I was put in touch with someone in human resources. I left a message for the caseworker he had told me to contact.

I realized I had not heard back the next day, so I called and left another message. It was going to be challenging to get rid of me. I was going to keep calling until I got this delivered to him.

After a day of waiting, I was instructed where I could go to drop off the guitar and the speaker. This meant I would have to drive outside of my comfort zone and into the heart of the city that has had a lot of controversy in the past few years. Riots, violence, and other unsavory things have been going on there, but I was not going to be deterred.

I stuffed down my slight anxiety when I felt the darkness that seemed to be there and hurried into the rehab center.

I was greeted by a man sitting at a desk inhaling a donut.

“How can I help you,” he said, shoving in more of it.

“I was told I could drop off a guitar and speaker for a man who lives here.”

When I told him the man’s name, he said,

“Oh. He is learning how to play the guitar, and he is getting good at it.”

“I wasn’t sure this would work out, so I am glad.”

“I am a little jealous. I wish I had a pretty lady dropping off gifts for me.”

I saw that there was a placard on the desk that said Blessed.

“You are blessed, though,” I said quickly to get the attention off of me.

“Not really,” he said, laughing. “Are you nervous?”

I was trying my hardest not to let that show.

“Yes. I am not familiar with this neighborhood. I am always afraid of getting lost, and this isn’t the nicest spot to be in.”

“Me too,” he said. “It is scary down here.”

How reassuring.

Another guy came down the stairs.

“This is my boss. Is it okay if she leaves this guitar and speaker?”

When it was explained what I was doing, this man said,

“That is so nice of you! This is his second time in, and he is doing so well.”

“I told him that God was telling him to stay on the path he was on. The guitar was his sign.”

“Do you want to be a counselor here?” The donut guy behind the desk asked. Uh, no.

“God can do anything,” the other man said. “He can just come along and do anything. Everyone needs a sign from God.”

I just wanted about one million angels to escort me back to my car parked by a ladened graffiti building.

“We will be sure he gets that to start using it right away.”

I drove past the donation place on the way home, but there was no sign of him. I am sure they rotate their help where it’s needed. It wasn’t lost on me that I had helped a person to know God loved him. And the weird part was that I wasn’t even aware of it at the time. A musician from heaven was directing my steps.

In Psalm 96, it says this:

Good people, cheer God!
Right-living people sound best when praising.
Use guitars to reinforce your Hallelujahs! (Message)

You never know how you will be used to help others sing a new song.

Fenced In

“I think your dog got out,” she said when I came around the corner. “My boys opened the front door, and she ran off.”

She was still speaking while I was flying toward the front yard. The way it was said so casually indicated to me that she had no idea the jog I was about to take. Or the danger that my pet was in.

It was pouring rain, and I had dashed out without shoes so my socks were soaking wet in seconds. I could see her way up ahead, nose to the ground, oblivious to the cars zipping by.

This wasn’t the first chase I had been on since getting her. I had no idea when I was researching dog breeds and which one to get that this would be something to contend with.

She had been born and raised in a place that wasn’t the best. When I got to the location, there were beagle puppies running everywhere. The mom hid under an old beat-up car and looked at me with sad eyes. I didn’t know about puppy mills back then, but the conditions looked rough. When I took her to the vet because she had so many parasites, I was given medication actually to save her life.

“If you hadn’t taken her in, she would have died soon,” I was told. She was so wild and full of energy that I would have never known.

It appeared to be a farm that hadn’t been taken care of, so dog breeding had been thrown in to raise funds. There were so many dogs going in all directions that I decided to sit on a gravel path to see what would happen.

A very tiny girl puppy came and started pulling on my shoelace. The harder I tried to get it away from her, the more ferocious she held on and threw in a little growl while wagging her tail. When she was tired of that, she curled up in my lap.

“She’s the runt of the litter,” the breeder said. So was I, and she became mine.

My backyard had no fence, but we were told she was so small that we could probably catch her. Probably not. A chain-link fence had to go up immediately.

I took her to obedience classes. While all the other students ran to their owners, she visited everyone else and their dogs around the room. I wasn’t even an afterthought.

“Beagles have a heart of gold, but they will not listen. They will follow a scent and forget what is around them completely. They get focused and do not hear. It’s really difficult to train that out of them.”

So I ran down the sidewalk yelling her name, trying to catch her attention during a spring thunderstorm. We never went out the front door, and the people there were looking to buy something listed in the paper.

A neighbor waved at me from his garage as I tried to get closer to her. All of them had seen this happen so many times between the two of us.

She would spend a few moments on one spot of grass and then suddenly zoom away as if triggered by a smell of something she just had to investigate.

It ended the same way every single time. I was now blocks from home, within inches of her, out of breath, and she would realize I was behind her.

“Libby!” I would say for the millionth time, and she would stop.

“You stay.” And she would, now worn out from her half-crazed jaunt.

She wasn’t sitting still out of realizing she had done wrong; she was exhausted and wanted a lift back home.

Curling into a small ball, she would wait until I picked her up to carry her.

I walked back into my house with a dripping wet dog. I peeled off my socks in the kitchen.

“Oh. You caught her,” the lady said, smiling. My hair was dripping into my eyes. One of her teenage boys went through the front door, and Libby charged again, ready to have a second round. I grabbed her before It could happen.

I went over and locked the door. The lady looked at me like I was being rude, locking her son outside.

With a tight grip on the dog, I said,

“Either they stay in the garage or come in the house. I have had my exercise for today.”

I stalked off to find dry towels with her securely in my arms. If given a chance, she would do it all over again. And that lady didn’t get it.

Some would say that an animal can’t control their behavior, such as Libby, who once on a trail had to follow it.

I have met people who have been on that path. It’s operating on no filter and sheer determination to satisfy something that may be a bit out of balance.

During one of my shifts as a shelver at a public library, I was approached by a woman.

“Can you tell me where the adult videos are?” It was a low whisper.

I held a stack of DVDs that I was putting back. I knew what she was asking me, but I decided to pretend I didn’t fully comprehend.

“All of the material for adults is right here. The children’s section is toward the entry.”

I made no eye contact and went back to my task. This was one of those moments when I wished she had gone to the reference desk. I was a lowly shelver, and they were paid and trained to deal with these issues.

“No,” she insisted. This is not what I am looking for. I want movies for adults.”

I held up what I had in my hands.

“These are for adults.”

I was trying to have her give up and walk away. Inwardly, I was screaming for God to help me. I kept my facial expression neutral.

“You don’t seem to understand me,” she retorted. Now she was getting snippy, not realizing I was brushing her off for her good.

“I want movies made for adults only.”

“You are looking right at them,” I said, not budging for the third time.

“I want X-rated movies. Porn! I want porn!” She said this not with an inside voice, and her quest to get what she wanted had overtaken her ability to practice self-control in a public place.

A couple of patrons glanced our way. It was a quiet weeknight, so the crowd was thin, but the older man looking at the history selection looked a bit shocked. I smiled weakly at him. I knew it was part of my job to keep things orderly, and that wasn’t just the books.

My subtle efforts to redirect her had gone unnoticed, so I had to set her straight now. Her drive for something like my beagle escaping was taking her to places she shouldn’t be.

“This is a public library. Are you aware of how the media gets paid for so you and everyone else can come here and check out material for free? Do you know how that system works?”

She blinked when the realization hit her that I was a lot more intelligent than I had come across initially. I didn’t demean her, but with as much professionalism I had within me, I continued to inform her about the ways and means of purchases made so the community at large could enjoy them.

“This is all possible with taxpayer money. Do you think people will sign up to pay for what you are looking for?”

Now she had gone silent. I had killed the mood with talk about taxes. You can pretty much make a room go silent if you start talking about the IRS.

“You aren’t going to find what you are looking for anywhere in this building. Does that make sense?”

She nodded.

“I don’t want to see you wasting your time going from place to place searching for something that doesn’t exist. You will not find that here or at any other locations.”

I was helping her but also sparing other employees from this conversation later.

I kept my voice low and made sure I didn’t make her feel bad. If anyone felt horrible, it was me! I wanted to drop everything and run for the break room. But I fought off my awkwardness to help her understand.

Suddenly, she looked ashamed, mumbled thank you, and walked away.

She just needed someone to put down a boundary to bring clarity.

No one is immune to saying or doing things based on habits or even false ways of thinking. Self-discipline isn’t always at the top of the priority list, and something that starts out innocently can run amuck.

I learned this when I was in elementary school. Every Christmas, my dad would make homemade chip dip. This was the only time of the year that we would have it, and it was my favorite. I basically ate nothing else but that when he brought it out on Christmas Eve. It was like a bowl of an addictive substance I could not leave alone. And every year at midnight, I was violently throwing up.

When I was nine years old, my mom anticipated my upcoming vomit session by addressing me before it hit the table.

“Chris, try not to overeat that this year.” She told me this while he had the mixer going and was in the process of putting it together.

As she gave me this speech, my brother’s girlfriend asked,

“What are you talking about?”

“Chris throws up every year because she overeats chip dip. Every year!” She had to add a sigh like it was the end of the world.

“I will give you a quarter if you don’t get sick this time,” she said.

As the night went by, I thought about the deal struck, and it made me consider my choices. I limited my indulgence. It was my first year that I didn’t have to run for the bathroom in the early hours of Christmas Day. My mother rejoiced and offered me a quarter until my late thirties to ensure I never did it again.

All that was needed was a guideline so I could adjust my actions. While I had to be the guardian of Libby and give assertive instruction to a stranger in the library, I had control over my own fate.

When it gets difficult to see past the addiction or the behaviors that aren’t for your highest good, that’s where God can help. Heaven will come gently to your side and offer assistance so you can advance. It might be in the form of a counselor, a sign that change must occur, or a quarter. In 2 Corinthians 3:17, it says,

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (NIV)

And if you are wondering if God wants to be there for you, read this from Psalm 91,

If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,” says God,
“I’ll get you out of any trouble.
I’ll give you the best of care
if you’ll only get to know and trust me.
Call me, and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times;
I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party.
I’ll give you a long life.” (Message)

All it takes is realizing that you want better for yourself and a simple prayer. Strength will come to you to get past the situation where you can live at a higher level, with no limitations, never feeling restricted or fenced in.

(Just Say No…)

Come Clean

“Would you have time to write about a lady named Terry who is about to graduate from the program?” He asked me.

I knew that this friend of mine had a heart for those struggling to begin a new life free from drugs. He was a volunteer who helped serve on a board and was involved with the ceremony to celebrate those who had crossed the finish line. My writing would be used as a part of that.

I had never been to a treatment facility before, and an opportunity to highlight the achievements of one of their success stories was being presented to me.

I agreed to meet with her, unsure of what this would look like.

I knew that this resource for helping those with chemical dependency issues had been around for a while, serving teens, men, and women. I was taken to a location in Minneapolis where only female housing was available.

It was afternoon, and I felt a stillness when we entered. I was given a brief tour of the resident rooms, the community meeting place, and the kitchen. It was explained to me that this environment offered peace to those coming from very intense lifestyles, where the addictions ran so strong, many had come close to death.

I met with her in a simple room consisting of a bed and a dresser.

She grew up in a family of wealth, and the high school she attended had a peer group of the same affluence. I had been under the wrong impression that if a person is surrounded by material ease, life will open up much better than one of financial struggle.

This was not the case, as it afforded her a way to buy and use substances that would eventually take over her life.

She was by no means unintelligent. She was a hard worker who found herself at the top of the chain no matter what business employed her. Everything she did made the atmosphere around her better. But, unknown to her coworkers, she was deep into self-destruction.

One of the most shocking things she related to me was that she would go into high-end department stores, grab clothes off the rack, and go put on layers in the women’s changing rooms. She got so crafty at sneaking under the radar that she was carting out expensive items under the nose of security. This was before the invention of the devices attached to items for purchase.

She used all of her dishonest gains to trade on the street for what she wanted. At one point, she was stealing specific items that had been requested. It eventually caught up with her both physically and mentally. And her path led to recovery.

I would not have known for a second the pain she had overcome to now be in such a positive mindset. She had taken all of her coursework seriously, and at the root of it was the understanding that God was on her side, leading the charge to a brand new way of living. He had come in and taken up residence in her heart; that was what she had been longing for that all along. She just didn’t know it.

As much as she had been determined before to get her hands on pills, liquids, and inhalants, she now was going to use that same power to become a mentor to other women.

She had dropped her pursuit of those things that had only brought her harm to embrace a love that was streaming from heaven. This wasn’t a fake display where I saw a person who could easily slip back into her former self. She was upfront and about where she had been and the hurdles she still would face moving on.

But I could see the strength in her eyes and feel the perseverance flooding her spirit. While she had walked a troublesome road, she had her sites set on helping others find their way. That light streaming from heaven was going to touch many around her.

At her lowest, she had been taken in, surrounded by good people who saw her true potential and was given a chance. God had become her priority, and out of a cleansing process, she found her purpose, and there wasn’t anything that would stop her. She had a detailed plan of her every move to keep her on track with laser focus.

I parted ways with her, feeling joy. That is the gift she imparted to me. It was faith building to know that someone could come from such a broken experience and be lifted to a higher plane of existence. I could feel her connection. In her voice, I could hear compassion as she now was moving from self-absorption to an absolute urgent calling to pull others from the flames of despair.

For her life to do a complete turnaround, she had to be willing to look into her past to see where she had been overtaken by darkness that seemed to offer her good but was leading to her early demise. She had to put aside herself and let God take over, and this wasn’t without resistance as her body revolted, wanting its way, just like old times. Habits that had long been entrenched and a mind programmed to respond had to be made new.

But God can do that. And, you don’t have to be in Terry’s same situation to get the help that will reverse a self-control issue or anything that you have fallen prey to. Whatever out of control circumstances seem to have you in their grip, there is a way of escape. Like it says in 1 Corinthians 10:13:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation, he will also provide the way of escape that you may be able to endure it. (ESV)

It requires one of the most challenging actions a person must undertake to overcome. Surrender. To let go of what we might hold onto tightly as a security blanket because it’s familiar.

Terry was very honest about all of her former excuse making. She rationalized her strung-out functioning, which only fueled the problem more. Once she decided that she had value and not all the money that was readily available, this is when the change began. She quit fighting to stay where she was to move ahead.

She had to look back to move forward.

I had this demonstrated through an object lesson.

“I can’t find that letter,” she said, flying past me. I could tell by how she was rushing that something wasn’t right.

I heard things being moved, sighing, and more swift shuffling.

“Where was it last?”

“On the table. It’s not there now.”

I was hoping it would appear in an obscure place because what would happen next wouldn’t be pleasant.

There was more searching, and frantic mode was approaching.

“It isn’t in your room?”

“No.”

“Where did you see it last?”

“In the kitchen.”

I began looking with her trying to calm her down.

Then she said what I was dreading.

“It is probably in the garbage.”

I glanced over at the bag I was about to take outside.

“It cannot be in there,” I said as flashes of times past came to mind.

I had been involved in far too many of these rescue operations, and it was the last thing on earth I wanted to do at midnight. Yet, we don’t always get our way.

I reluctantly sat on the floor and untied the knot I had tightly made because this wasn’t supposed to be happening. My real self was sleeping, not about to delve into a messy, disgusting pile of discarded waste.

“I hate this,” I said, as she stood by looking like she were ready to hurl. It always amazes me that the one not doing the task appears to suffer the most. I got a pair of gloves because, well, because.

I began slogging through the contents, putting them into an empty bag beside me.

“If this piece of paper is in here, it’s going to be soaking wet.”

I had that happen multiple times before, with checks that had come and accidentally been thrown away like we were so rich it was disposable. I had to retrieve them and get out the hairdryer.

“I don’t want to be here right now,” I said. But I was, and I wasn’t finding whatever she had lost; I had just cleaned out the refrigerator where everything was on its final breath to add to the fun.

“What day did you have it last?”

“I think on Monday,” she said with much uncertainty.

Because time is an illusion in my house, that could have been two Fridays ago or a random Wednesday.

Getting to the bottom of the bag, I had to say it.

“There are more bags outside.”

I dragged myself out to the driveway as we both tried to uncover the elusive correspondence.

“Do you realize I am sitting outside at 12:30 in the morning digging through the garbage?”

Wasn’t carrying her for nine months and bringing her into the world enough? No, because once you are a parent, a good one anyway, you’re driven by forces outside of your will to help.

We came up short. While I reassembled the garbage to make it more pretty, she went back into the house to see if she had overlooked a hiding spot.

As I stuffed everything back into the container, I was struck by the thought that going through those bags was returning to the past.

Just like Terry had to retrace her steps, I had to subject myself to what was once edible but now was a massive conglomeration of unwanted and unnecessary baggage. I shut the lid and went back in. There was no way I would do that anymore—both literally and symbolically.

“I think it was a scam.”

The much sought-after prize was business related, with a deadline and payment requirement.

“What?” I said, standing in her doorway feeling unwashed.

“I went online and looked it up. It wasn’t real, and if I had followed the instructions, I would have been scammed. I guess something protected me from falling for it by taking away the letter.”

She smiled at me. It was now 1 am. Spiritual growth can come at all hours, and you just dismiss the bags under your eyes the next day.

God will continually pursue you to get your attention to remove those things that have hounded you and have prevented a higher climb. Whether we believe it or not, we are a critical piece of the puzzle, and in the grand design, your role is needed.

But it won’t be forced upon you.

It’s an invitation to walk away from the false safety nets and go where heaven knows that genuine awaits. All that is required is to get honest with what is not really for your good, recognize what needs to go, and come clean.

(Friend by day, foe by night…)