Changed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I am changing the disc in my head.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trust

“This is not what I ordered,” she said, looking at what had arrived in a box on our front steps.

“What is it?”

There were three black bottles with flip tops so a person could squeeze out the liquid inside.

“I don’t know,” she said.

Where we live, because it’s such a busy street, we try to retrieve our deliveries quickly once they are dropped off. Nothing has ever been taken, but there have been instances where items have gone missing all around us. If someone had carried this off, no one would have missed it. Especially since we didn’t know what it was.

“Does the package say it’s for you? Did they bring the wrong box?”

“My name is on it,” she said.

She picked up one of the three mystery items.

“I’m not even sure what this is.”

When she turned it around to read the back, I could tell that the print was microscopic. I would have to take a picture of it and zoom in if she couldn’t determine what it was.

Even with her perfect eyesight, she struggled to come to a conclusion.

“This is not the case of cola I ordered.”

“No, it’s not unless they repackaged it into a really weird container.”

We drink pop with no artificial flavors, colors, or sugar in cans, not black bottles. After reading about the dangerous side effects of sweeteners that can cause health issues, we had discovered a product that helped us replace the old with something that probably won’t shorten our life span.

Probably. Until another study comes out telling us we are on death’s door for ingesting it.

When we decided almost nine years ago to do the switch, there was a gap involved. She was the one who had convinced me to stop buying anything that had a long list of words I couldn’t pronounce on the label.

We started reading the contents of products at every store. It wasn’t just for a beverage, but we got curious and started expanding out to other things that claimed to be good for people that were enhanced with a sweetener. It was in everything. Gum. Mints. Sparkling water. Protein bars. Cereal. And toothpaste.

How unfair is that? You brush your teeth to maintain good oral hygiene with an artificial substance that may not be good for you. It was shocking to me.

It’s an exhausting list, and once we started paying attention, it was like pulling a loose string on a sweater. Most of our conversations in the stores were,

“Does that have it in it?”

“Yes.”

“What about that?”

“Yes.”

We got to the point where we knew just by looking at the front of a product that claimed to be sugar-free and “healthy,” it would be put back. We also became wise to the fact that the name changes so people never really can pin down for sure if it’s used in the ingredients or not. They are required to list everything, and while complying, they will change the name to throw you off.

As she and I labored over this, I watched other shoppers come by and randomly grab whatever they wanted off the shelf without a care in the world. I longed to go back to being uneducated.

It was easier to throw things in a cart and not give what we were consuming a second thought.

One of the most negative consequences, in the long run, is that the presence of these synthetic substances can put the body in a pattern of creating insulin. I read multiple articles regarding this, and none of them were conclusive, but once you know something, it’s difficult not to ignore it anymore.

It was as if they were handing out accurate information to the public but didn’t want to create a lawsuit with any of the giant diet soda industries. So there was always a slight disclaimer at the end of each one, kind of like they were saying, “good luck.”

As we have faced science lately with vaccines and illness, the methods by which we are told that it’s safe to take a shot is the same technique used to warn us to stop drinking artificial stuff. But, one is accepted while the other is downplayed or dismissed.

It makes one wonder.

As the weeks rolled on, I started making iced tea, unsweetened, just to have something that was an alternative to water every day, all day.

The Soda Stream that we had used didn’t make anything without using what we were trying to avoid, so that was discarded.

I could say it was like a desert experience, but we were drinking water by the gallon, so not entirely. We used lemons or anything deemed not wrong to make it more attractive.

We stumbled upon the golden item after she did an online search. An obscure company recognized that the use of fake substances could eventually create poor medical results. They even took out the added color.

The first time I poured it over ice, it was strange to watch the familiar bubbles rise to the top of the glass, smell the scent of the flavor I was trying and see that it was transparent. I believe I tried a Cherry Cola because I had liked that flavor with the other brand.

Anything that seems suitable for you like this and replaces what you have had for years is met with distrust. We found that it was great and could end our search, but we still read labels on everything we were considering trying.

“I still don’t know what they sent me. This is not at all close to what I ordered.”

I was just going to look at it when she said,

“It’s wax.”

“Like for floors?” Or legs? If that was the case, it was made for a house of very hairy people. It was a massive bottle and large quantity for a beauty product.

“I think for anything.”

It was determined that somehow, she had received three bottles of a wax that could be used on multiple surfaces, not people.

My other daughter looked it up online after it sat untouched for a few days.

“Each of these is worth $20.”

“They sent $60 worth of wax when you ordered pop?” I said, holding it up.

Someone was asleep at the switch. I imagined the customer getting her order. Some person somewhere was saying what we were.

“What is this?”

Hopefully, they didn’t use it to shine their floor.

I accidentally dropped one of the three bottles right as her sister told us the cost of each one. They had been collecting dust in a dark corner for a few days. I picked it up off the floor, and it was leaking.

“You owe me $20 for that,” she said, laughing. Now it had value.

“I will drink it first before I hand over any money for this,” I said.

I’m sure it’s free of artificial sweeteners.

This idea of making healthier choices was reiterated a few years ago when I visited a naturopath, and she confirmed the elusive claims of all those articles I read. Because of our quest to find food that possibly won’t bring about an early demise, I read everything before taking it with me.

“Stay away from all that. Stevia or monk fruit is the best. They won’t cause an adverse reaction.”

But with all things, she made the point that water was the best, then drink whatever else afterward. She got me in the habit of doing that, so I viewed all other liquids as add ons except coffee. That’s in a category all on its own and always comes first.

She instructed me on what to look for while out in the stores and what to absolutely stay away from.

So while scanning an aisle for pasta that is made from a vegetable, which sounds horrible but it isn’t, I came across a label listing the price at $1.99. Underneath it, there was a sticker with bold letters saying: SALE $2.39.

This reminded me of when my older brother convinced me that a nickel was worth more than a dime because it was bigger. I was not ever going to fall for that again.

I thought momentarily that I had read it wrong. I looked at the entire row that all had higher sale prices than the original offers. I stood there, saying each number out loud.

It appeared that the person who sent the wax had gotten fired from their job and now worked at this company, putting the wrong signs on things. Or, there was more than one individual in the world making errors. Most likely the last option, but I would rather believe we have more conscientious people surrounding us than less.

But we don’t. We are all subject to malfunctioning.

I don’t think I will ever get used to expecting one outcome and getting another like the wax. That was easily fixed. She told customer service her issue, and they sent out a new order. You can’t do that with all things.

When you have your mind set on how life will go, what then when it doesn’t? How do you come back from having a certain outlook, where everything is falling into place, to one day waking up to see that nothing is how you thought it would be? Revelation has come, and while that can be freeing, it can also be terrifying. It means you have to leave everything you know behind. You can’t unsee what you know to be the truth, and it isn’t in your best interest to keep going in the way that you are.

What has been familiar seems safe and easy, you always know what is next, even if it’s absolutely miserable. There are no surprises until it gets taken away. Then, every day, you live not knowing what is coming next, and you wonder if you can handle it.

Your ability to stay calm and peaceful seems to not exist anymore. There will be moments when you realize you aren’t concerned about a thing, and then it all comes down on you to the point where you cannot breathe. It’s a constant battle between your mind and your spirit that the only escape you can find is to sleep after a while—a lot. Because you don’t have to think but, you are up with insomnia because your mind won’t be quiet. It’s a vicious cycle that it is difficult to get it back under control once it starts. On top of all that, it makes you feel weak and not confident in your faith.

I don’t have the answer on how to fix it. Each person has to figure out their own way to become resilient and rise above the adversity.

Whenever a situation appears that seems too much, and a shift in thinking is required, all you can do is trust.

Yucky Parts

Sometimes it’s the smallest of things that make you realize how much God sees the details. Heaven seems to show up at just the right time to remind you that you have done alright, no matter what memories you might have surface to say otherwise.

She handed me a book that I forgot I even had.

“Where was this?” I asked.

“In my room.”

That happens quite often where we share without me realizing it. But, if it had not been in my possession for that long, then I guess I didn’t really miss it.

I recognized the cover and title from a while ago. I had gone through this phase where I could not absorb enough about people experiencing miracles. It can help you to believe when you read about the circumstances of others, prompting you to follow those leads that God is always putting in front of you.

To say you don’t have any isn’t the truth. You have to get quiet, and one way to do so is to read material about the very thing that you are seeking. While memorizing scripture is excellent, sometimes you need to subject yourself to multiple stories where people of various walks of life have all had incredible things happen to them.

The unusual happenings in the Bible, from the parting of the Red Sea to Jonah being swallowed by ocean life, sometimes don’t seem relevant unless I am stuck in traffic and I need an act of God to move cars along so that I can get back to my real life. The whale thing doesn’t really coincide unless I have to tell someone bad news, and I would rather not. I don’t live where there are whales readily available, though.

What does resonate is when a mortgage gets paid off unexpectedly, a child is healed of an incurable disease, or someone escapes a life that was leading to destruction. The themes are generally the same, with a person needing an unseen hand to intervene and come to the rescue seemingly out of nowhere.

I think it’s difficult to imagine God doing that because we always believe that it’s for everybody else. Our neighbor might fit the bill up the street, but we aren’t good enough to have it happen to us.

Isn’t that what blocks the miracle? Not God, but us.

“I was told to give you that book, and you need to look in the front cover.”

“Why? I haven’t seen this for so long.”

“Just look.”

When she tells me to do something, I do it.

Inside the cover was a note from her that I had used as a bookmark. She had written this to me during the height of a very tormenting and dark time in my life. My marriage had turned into divorce, and I had to figure out somehow how to keep it all on track.

I was constantly concerned that I wasn’t doing enough or being a good mother while working three jobs at once and homeschooling. I struggled to keep a stable environment for them while the world around me looked nothing like it had before.

While some of the existing problems were now absent, a host of other troubles seemed to be cropping up all the time.

One way I can describe it was like walking into one of those rooms where the whole structure is built at an angle. You have to navigate your way through using force to lean and move. You might have to hang on to a few walls to get through it, and right when you think you can let go of the support, you start to fall again. In the middle of it all, you come to a new understanding regarding the instability of life.

Believe it or not, it’s a gift. You realize that what is here today can be quickly gone tomorrow.

I would be rushing through the living room, trying to get to the next responsibility on my list, and she would tackle me with her eight-year-old self. She knew I was faking my way through it all, hiding my pain and trying to convince everyone that all was well.

In a death grip, she wouldn’t let me go and would repeatedly say,

“You are strong, mom. You are strong.”

I learned not to fight to get away because, one, it was pointless because she would suddenly have an iron hold on me that I could not release myself from. She would have both of her arms wrapped around my legs, making it impossible for me to move.

I know it sounds strange, but I had to stand still against my will when this happened. After a few times, I realized that God was speaking to me through her.

I felt the exact opposite of what she was saying. Totally weak and broken down, I was running on fumes, forcing myself out of bed every day, fearing that I would not be able to keep up with it all. And in the chaos of that, I had this shorter version of me stopping me in my tracks, giving me the advice I would give anyone else I saw in the same situation.

I had taught her without knowing it.

When I gave my life to God, I made it my mission to make sure both of my girls understood its importance. I didn’t want them walking the same trail that I had, not knowing who God really was. There were pitfalls along the way as we all learned, and still do, what spirituality really means. My goal was to have God be real to them, not some fictional guy in a book. And here it was on full display as she forced me to take a minute to listen.

“You are strong, mom. You are strong.”

One time, I said to her,

“Our house has been destroyed. Your dad is gone.” I thought that would make her quit doing this. It was inconvenient most of the time.

She looked me in the eye and said with much assertiveness and on the verge of anger,

“He is my real Father!” She pointed up. I couldn’t argue with that, and she made me stand there longer than usual. I learned not to be resistant to it anymore.

When I look at what she wrote back then, I can see now what she meant. Those sessions of making me stop what I was doing were times that God infused me with the strength I needed to go on. I just didn’t know it then like I do now.

She brought to life this verse from Psalm 46:10 that says:

Be still and know that I am God.

Sometimes when you look in the rearview mirror of your life, you see that all isn’t lost. It makes sense now.

In those places that seem impossible to endure, something is changing on the inside of you.

She and I went to a yoga class at a very early hour on a Saturday when the temperature was fourteen below. The drive was nearly forty minutes away, but the class was free, and there would be a litter of puppies.

“I want to go to this,” she said.

I did, and I didn’t. I know dogs and me, and I will want them all. I wasn’t so sure I could do all the moves either, but I was willing to try. Above all of that, I can never say no to her.

As we progressed through a flow of maneuvers that required balancing, many in the class around us were trying not to fall over.

“Relax your face as you move along,” the instructor said randomly with her back to us as she demonstrated, and we followed.

Immediately a woman in the back row said,

“I feel called out,” and started to laugh.

When it got quiet, and all of us were shaking uncontrollably, trying to stay upright while forcing our muscles to be more productive, the leader said,

“Breathe through the yucky parts. You are becoming a better person.”

If I have learned anything, you must know that God is holding your hand, everything will work out when you think it won’t, and now is the time to breathe through the yucky parts.

(I’m not crying..YOU are crying….)

Haunt You

When I was employed as a shelver at the library, I was one of the oldest. I was working with high school kids while I was in my forties. But, I got along well with them. It was some of the patrons that were a little rough.

I had been told on day one to be on the look out for a man who frequented the location and would perversely snap pictures of the workers. I was always aware of my surroundings and who approached me.

Usually.

Some of the places I had to put the heaviest books, usually in the reference section, were high up. And that section was the most secluded, it seemed. So not only did I have to lift the weight up over my head, but I often stood on my tiptoes to reach. This was probably the most challenging part of the job.

I actually felt him breathing loudly on me before I turned around.

“Well, aren’t you just vertically challenged,” he whispered down my back.

There was a tone to the voice that had me instinctively move to protect myself.

I let go of the large volume I had in my hand, sending out a loud thud like a bomb. I backed up so I could see who had invaded my space.

The smell that surrounded him indicated he had not been near a deodorant stick for a while, and he had this crooked smile of yellow teeth.

He came towards me, and I grabbed my cart and put it between us.

“I’m looking for documentaries. Can you help me find those?”

I pointed.

“Over there,” I said, indicating the farthest corner on the other end of the building away from me.

He moved closer.

“I want you to show me.”

The last thing I ever want to do in situations like this is seem afraid. Somehow along the way, I learned how to flip into another mode to combat an unwanted advance.

I never want to bring out my best weapon in my arsenal, but I do when it’s necessary. I cannot see what I look like when someone has gone beyond their boundaries with me, but my girls have said it’s frightening after they have witnessed me doing this in public.

And from the look that came across his face, I knew I was doing whatever that was.

“I believe you are capable of walking yourself in the direction I have indicated. It’s a few short steps away from here, but the people at the reference desk can help you if you get lost on the way there.”

I saw his body language change from aggressive to defeated. Like a dog that had been reprimanded, he hung his head, turned, and walked away.

On another occasion, I had to wear a shirt for a week to promote an event that the library was hosting. Typically, I embrace the idea of not deciding what to wear to a job, especially one where I spent a lot of time crawling on the floor putting books away.

The downside to this was what was written in bold letters across the back: Please ask me for help!

That is like walking into a room full of hungry wolves wearing meat.

Within moments of my shift starting, I had to put something on the tallest shelf. Both of my hands were occupied, and I was again trying to elevate myself up.

There were times when the spaces between the books were too big, so I had to bring an entire row together, hold that and slide a metal bar down to keep it there. All of this while I’m stretching to make myself reach.

A low voice spoke into the back of my head, near my right ear, making my hair move, so way too close for my comfort.

“I could use your help.”

It made me jump, but I executed the same technique as before by putting distance between myself and him.

“Your shirt says I am to ask you for help.”

“Yes, it does. But it isn’t a requirement,” I said.

I had a feeling he wasn’t there for reading material. He towered over me with this weird smile, expecting me to speak or go into fake friendly mode. For some reason, he thought I would be an easy target.

That was part of the problem for the younger girls who did this job. They would end up trying to back out of an intimidating situation with laughing and small talk, which only seemed to prolong the awkward and uncomfortable encounter. I had a few of them run to me afterward just to feel safe.

I did none of that. I continued to stare him down, waiting for the realization to hit.

I saw the same wilting look as he became more aware that his approach toward me was unacceptable.

I was in the mystery section, next to many titles about murder.

He tried to fill in the blank space with words.

“Uh. So…uh..can you tell me where the newspapers are?”

I pointed in the direction that they were kept. He stood there, blinking, waiting for a reaction from me. When he got nothing, he slunk away.

One of the most elusive people was the visitor, who seemed like a phantom. I wasn’t even sure if this was a female or a male, but they went out of their way to find and display every book the library had about human anatomy. I would be moving along quickly, returning items where they belonged, and would stumble right into their handiwork of propped open material that was not rated for general audiences.

I took issue when I started to find them in the children’s section. I wanted so badly to catch this individual.

One evening, as I approached the young adult selections, an elderly lady almost ran into me. Her eyes were huge, and she looked alarmed.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

If she had been wearing pearls, she would have been clutching them.

Trying to spit the words out and short of breath, she said,

“That shouldn’t be there!”

I walked into the aisle where she came from and found at least ten titles standing up, opened for all to see. I pulled them all down. She unknowingly had strolled through skin row.

“That’s terrible!” She said as I came back.

“I know. We have someone I am trying to catch. I’m sorry that happened to you.”

She staggered away.

There was an inconclusive sighting where one of the front desk employees saw a middle-aged man running to his car right after I found his signature calling card. I wanted so badly to get this person. I came close, but again, they dodged me, and I only saw a blur. It was like trying to grab wind. Big Foot got away, and after he was almost apprehended, it quit.

I actually came across something even a bit more ominous than that. And like that situation, it wasn’t easy to comprehend.

Sometimes, while in certain places working, books would fly off shelves. At first, I thought it was gravity, but some were coming from tightly in line places. They were holding each other up, leaving no room for anything to tip over.

I would stop, pick it up, and put it back. Once this started, it would continue in other rows around me. Usually, I was alone, but one time as I heard one hit the floor, a woman said,

“How did that happen?”

I popped my head around to see what she was talking about.

“That book looked like something pulled it off the shelf.”

“I don’t know,” I said as I fit it back into its space.

I tried to implement the same approach I had with intimidating humans coming in. Don’t engage too much, and move on.

Then I heard that there was talk of a ghost or two roaming around. I started praying over myself for protection, just in case. With all the energies entering that location, I just felt it was necessary.

What would it hurt? It could ward off real-life creepers as well as anything ominous in the unseen realm.

I had no inclination to engage with whatever was following me. If I sensed something near me, I would start talking to God. And within moments, I would feel it leave.

“I don’t believe in that stuff!” said a young coworker of mine. He and I usually worked evenings together.

Highly intelligent and extremely likable, he and I always found subjects to discuss and made each other laugh. He was nearing the end of high school with a career aimed at using his natural abilities in architecture.

His nature was to see fiction versus reality very clearly. There didn’t seem to be room in his way of thinking for any grey areas, such as a spirit wandering at his place of employment. He had great insight into solving problems for his age, but this was too much for his belief system that was a little bit on the black and white side.

This was a topic we parted ways on.

“I believe in it. I just try not to disturb anything.”

“This is not real!”

I looked at him and shook my head.

“Listen. Don’t tempt it. Just don’t say anything else.”

“Or what?”

“Just don’t.”

It was the end of the night, and we were in the back setting up carts for the next day’s workers.

He looked right at me and said defiantly,

“Hey, ghost! Come get me!”

“No! I wouldn’t do…”

I tried to warn him.

We had lanyard name tags around our necks that had a stretchy cord. Suddenly, as if someone had taken a pair of scissors, the line on his was snipped real quick, and his photo fell to the floor at his feet.

He looked at me like he had seen a..well..you know..

And, he let out a slight scream.

“I told you to stop!” I said, laughing.

He couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

I had always been taught never to disturb a bee’s nest, and much like that, interacting with a spirit I don’t know, I had learned to shield myself with the first line of defense not to antagonize. Second, I asked for angels to surround me.

It takes discernment to know how to navigate your way through certain circumstances. This is when hearing God’s voice is imperative. Some might have told me to “cast” out that spirit. Some might have said to hug it. At that moment, it wasn’t my job to “fix it.” I did what the voice of the Creator told me to do. Ignore it and carry on.

The same way with the two men who approached me. My reaction in those situations was to send a message that the door was slammed shut and there would be no exchange of energy between us. I had no guilty conscience doing so, hoping that they would stop behaving that way toward me and others.

It takes practice just like anything else to know what to do, how, and when. But that’s the great thing about having heaven speak directly to you.

One of the areas I spent a significant amount of my time reshelving was in self-help. The name can imply that you are working out your issues on your own, and many people must be doing so with the number of books I was putting back.

If you view authors as voices, that’s a lot of talking and advice. While I have found much inspiration from that, it can also become contradictory, leading to confusion. What works for one may not be the answer for another.

But, God knows you through and through because you were a special design put here for a specific purpose.

In Matthew 7:7, it says,

Ask, and you will be given what you ask for. Seek, and you will find. (TLB)

If you are looking for an exclusive answer made just for you, all you have to do is make a request, and it will show up. It will be extremely accurate, give you exactly what you need for the situation, and always comes with peace.

Following God’s voice over all else won’t ever come back to haunt you.

Peaceful Balance

Garbage day shouldn’t be that difficult to remember. Only a handful of times have I missed it. You don’t soon forget it, though, when you do because it becomes a full-time job figuring out how to deal with the excess.

It’s one of those moments when you are minding your own business in a deep sleep that you desperately need after a night of insomnia, and you hear the faint sound of beeping. It floats into your mind, and it tries to make sense of it, turning it into a weird dream where you are disarming a bomb. You have to decide what color wire you should cut to save the world.

Just as you are about to snip the black one because it makes the most sense, you come into consciousness just a bit more as you hear your neighbor’s trash going into the truck.

In a half-sleep state, you start to consider time. Isn’t it Wednesday? No. That was two days ago when you had to take the dog to the vet. It must be Thursday. Maybe not. It doesn’t feel like a Thursday. It seems more like a Tuesday, but you know it isn’t because you had a Zoom meeting you attended where you had to turn off your camera because you were zoning out from lack of sleep. It has to be Thursday, then. But something says it isn’t.

That something is the garbage truck that drives past your house at ninety miles an hour because they don’t need to stop at the next place by yours because they use a different company. It is long gone into the next county by the time you are near the front window.

The last time this happened, it was a short day due to a holiday. They usually will send a driver back later, but they didn’t want to keep anyone from their family this time. I agreed but knew I would have to get creative. A week of garbage plus a week more was going to be trouble.

But when you set your mind on succeeding, you do. By the time the following week came, I had skillfully stacked as much as I could short of needing a ladder to get the final bag on top. It was artistic and practical. There was no way I was missing it again.

Our service was delayed a day, but my structure stood firm even though we had heavy gusts of wind come through. I had proven the saying that necessity is the mother of invention. You learn what your dormant natural abilities are. This is the crucial stuff they will never teach you in school.

If there were an award for cramming as much as possible into a garbage bag, my house would win it, hands down. The metal container I have is not all that big, so often, I will place the bag outside of it and continue to fill it.

The idea is to not waste room toward the top. I am often amazed at the ability of all of us who strategically place more into it just to avoid a trip to take it out. You would think it was a five-mile walk to the garbage cart, but it’s steps from the front door.

The plastic drawstring, used by normal people, is generally cinched together to close it off. Not ours. Those are there to strap down the contents that have been piled over the capacity of what it can hold. They become the glue that holds it all together.

I always have the right intention when I think I could fit just a little more in. And then it becomes a competition to see just how far we can go. If there’s the tiniest space on a side, for sure, someone will find it and force another thing in.

You tell yourself just one more item tossed in there won’t hurt, so you jam in one more paper towel and walk away, not considering that moments later, someone else is going to repeat what you just did.

When it finally looks like the Pillsbury Doughboy with arms, legs, and the beginning of a head, you make the difficult decision to stop the madness. They have outlasted you, and you know it. You now wish you would have trekked it out the day before when there wasn’t a blizzard happening outside with sideways winds.

Now it’s a six-mile walk from the kitchen with a 500-pound bag that is bigger than yourself, so you use both hands to drag it to the door.

We cause ourselves a lot of problems. I could just end this with that sentence and let us all go into a deep depression. Have a nice day.

It’s the truth, though. We take something like trash or dishes and leave them to accumulate; then, it takes more effort and adds time to deal with a task that would have felt like nothing had it been attended to in increments. We let it build up, and now it’s a monster.

Maybe instead of a stockpile of old newspapers, it’s unresolved irritation over something that started so trivial and now has mushroomed into full-blown unforgiveness. It has grown in stages to bitterness.

As you recall the event or moments of the past, the details get uglier, and more gets added to the storyline, making it into a heap that is difficult to see past.

That’s where God comes in. With divine help, you can get over it and move on instead of letting it create a larger mess, like stuffing a bag of garbage to death.

Hebrews 12:17 says,

Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time. (Message)

I have let God work with me while also keeping myself away from the source of my contention. Sometimes it’s only possible to have no emotional reaction about another person by not being in their presence. You can think neutral thoughts from afar. That’s okay, and there should be no beating oneself up over that.

I used to think that my forgiveness of someone hinged on whether or not I could be in the same room with them. If I can think of them and I have no thoughts either way, good or bad, that indicates to me that they have lost control over who I am.

Pushing your feelings down isn’t a bright idea either. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. In Ephesians 4, there is some guidance on how to handle your emotions.

What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.

Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. (Message)

Nowhere does it say to hide your feelings, but you are given parameters on how to conduct yourself. You are not to be a doormat nor a raving lunatic that cannot see anything but red twenty-four hours a day. Why? Because you stay stuck, unmoving spiritually, and cutting yourself off from seeing beyond this realm. You start only to see what’s wrong with the world instead of what’s right.

And that final banana peel that someone carelessly tosses on top of your already packed and ready-to-burst emotional trash bag has you saying and doing things that stunt your growth. Not theirs. Yours.

To put it in scientific terms, to remove the mystery, your choice of how you react and what state of mind you live in most will determine your frequency, like a radio wave. Negative responses keep you in shallow conditions. Heaven is high.

Your spiritual insight and advancement depend on how long you allow yourself to operate in lower states of mind, such as fear, anger, or depression. This doesn’t mean God doesn’t love you. You are limiting and blocking your potential.

If anything, try as much as you can not to do this:

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. (Ephesians 4/Message)

Believe it or not, when you live in a place where you are not happy, either is God. There is the temptation to believe that you are being punished, causing a victim mentality. If you think that you are supported by a power greater than yourself, you will be.

Gradually, what burned you before, won’t be there, and more won’t be added on. You won’t have to try and find a place to put more of your unhelpful perceptions, causing the problem to linger. It will dissolve itself, and you will be given a peaceful balance.

(That’s not even full yet…)

Found

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You lost them?” she asked.

“One of them,” I said.

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

“Where were you last?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(I still have them. Who is winning?)

Welcome Everyone In

I ended up in the second row of seats. It wasn’t the plan as I rode along with my dad and sister. She was at the permit stage of obtaining her license.

Because there were eight of us, my parents owned a station wagon. This was before any of us buckled a seatbelt. They hung unused as we flew at high speeds down highways, never thinking.

I would often play in the car because it was somewhere I could be by myself, out of the chaotic house of all the uproar. The far back was my favorite. It was designed with benches facing each other in a circle, much different than the middle and front.

When it was parked in the garage, I would bring in toys and entertain myself away from the tension of parents and four teens. I was so much younger than the rest of them that I had to separate myself from the noise I didn’t understand.

My brothers were often assigned to sit there when we went somewhere, so I did when I got the chance to have it to myself.

My dad had handed me a pack of MMs just before we got in to go on this drive from hell.

If he had to pick something up on the way home, he would get me some and slide them into his pocket. When he walked in the door, he would put me on top of the refrigerator and ask me if I had been good. It was like a truth serum because it was high up, and I was at his mercy to get me down. I always said I was, so he would secretly hand me the packet so my mom didn’t see.

When I found out he was going out on a drive with her, I begged to go and sat way in the back.

I wasn’t aware of the fact that in her driver’s education classes, she had been exposed to so many scenes of accidents and life-threatening situations, which caused her to be extra jumpy with the brake.

And like I found out later when it was my turn to practice with him, he wasn’t exactly the voice of calm. He could make the most seasoned driver nervous before starting the car.

We had barely left home when it happened. There was a truck turning at a distance. I heard my dad tell her to go, but she stopped abruptly, sending me forward. I smacked into the back of the front seat with a thud. I landed, and I didn’t know how I had been displaced so fast.

This was way before all the commercials showing the crash dummies and the consequences of not being strapped in.

I recall sitting on the floor, dazed, much similar to when a bird flies into a window. You are there, but you aren’t.

His raised voice brought me back around.

“That truck was two blocks away! When I say go, go!”

Both of them were so focused on the road that a few moments went by.

When it got quiet, he suddenly realized he had another child in the car, and I was no longer where I had been. He looked down and said,

“Chris, you can’t sit there! Get up on the seat.” As if that was safer.

Not, “Hey, are you okay?” That speaks volumes to what our life was like then, where every man had to look out for themselves. There wasn’t time for me to be flying forward out of control in a car. It wasn’t convenient.

He said it like I had chosen this for fun. When the realization hit me that my candy had also been a victim, that is when I got upset. Not that I could have gone through the windshield headfirst, but that I was holding an empty bag in my hand. I had no idea the danger I had been in.

That wasn’t the only time I was a passenger and subjected to a scary ride. A part of my social service job was to visit potential residents in their homes, other care facilities, or hospitals. I had a waiting list a million miles long. Legislation had been passed that no more nursing homes could be built in our state. Many needed long-term care, so we were never short of possible cases.

This was before the luxury of speaking into a device that would direct you to your destination. It entailed getting on the phone and having someone give you directions that you had to write down.

“So take a left by the restaurant that is operated by my friend’s brother’s sister’s cousin. Then, take a right by the gravel road, come to a stop sign, and then go about two inches before you run right into a gas station that got robbed last week and take an immediate left. Continue straight until you see a white picket fence that needs a fresh coat, and then there will be this huge sign that you cannot miss. The entryway will be right there. But, you can’t park there, so you will have to drive around to the back, and there is this small section where visitors can park, or you will be towed. Does that make sense?”

Sure, it does. And you drove with a piece of paper in your hand with things scribbled on it that made sense when you wrote them, but now they are not readable.

It was madness, and if I was unfamiliar with an area, I could easily get lost. I struggle with getting left and right correct at times. Throw in a snowstorm, then that was a whole other variable to contend with.

I had to work closely with nursing. While I assessed the person’s personality, they determined how much care we would provide. Depending on where the opening was, we had to match the resident to the proper location in the building.

“I am ready to go,” she said, entering my office.

“Okay,” I said, not knowing much about her. She was a new hire, much older than I was, but she seemed very knowledgeable about her profession. This was her first time going on a visit like this, and her supervisor knew I had gone on many of them and would be able to help her.

“I will drive,” she said.

“Do you have directions?” I asked.

“Yes. I wrote them down. You can help me get there.”

I didn’t notice her edginess at first, but then I did detect her breathing seemed a bit more rapid. I kept my eyes on the road as we had started to get into more heavy traffic. While we had been discussing the details of the family we were about to see, she had seemed relaxed, but as we went, she suddenly got quieter.

That is when she started applying the brake too much. There wasn’t any reason to do what she was doing, so I said,

“Are you having trouble driving?”

Cars were going around her, and I could see that people were getting annoyed with her sudden stops.

“I have a trigger leg,” she said with a choke.

I have this weird thing where I see pictures when people say certain words in my mind. I pictured the horse Trigger.

“What?” I asked. “I don’t understand.”

“When I drive, and I get scared, I can’t control my leg.”

I looked down.

“Which one are we talking about?” I asked. I was hoping to God it was not the one she used to drive.

“The one I drive with.” I saw her hands gripped tighter on the wheel, and her forehead looked sweaty.

“I think we are okay. There isn’t anything to be afraid of right now.”

I said this as if I believed it. I was not frightened by the other cars around her, but more so by her behavior.

“Why didn’t you tell me this? I could have done the driving,” I said, feeling trapped in. I controlled my voice so she didn’t know how terrified I was.

“It embarrasses me to tell people,” she said awkwardly.

It got more pronounced with my neck being jolted forward and back, and I was starting to feel sick. I would have to be admitted to the hospital for whiplash by the time we arrived.

I had that familiar feeling of something else taking over and speaking through me to her. The more I told her she was safe, she seemed to stop doing what she said was so uncontrollable. A peace seemed to take over the car, and she quit repeatedly pushing on the brake.

When she parked the car, she told me that she had never been able to get it under control like that before. After our appointment, she asked me if I wanted to drive.

“No,” I said, not believing I was going to let her take me on another ride. “I think you will do just fine.”

It was now rush hour, and she had no problem getting us back without one hiccup or trigger or anything.

In both cases, I was unknowingly in places with the potential for bad outcomes, but it seems like I had been given some heavenly help to protect from injury or death. I was not where I am spiritually now. I was not even giving God the time of day during those periods of my life. But, I was extended what is described in Psalm 34:7,

The messenger of the Eternal God surrounds everyone who walks with Him and is always there to protect us and rescue us. (VOICE)

That says to me that God looks beyond our faults or ignorance and is not a fire and brimstone deity that has been professed by those who don’t know the truth.

The other day, I saw a man standing by the gates of heaven as he waited for someone to cross over. A lady was in hospice and expected to pass soon. She did that night.

I saw him waiting with a big bouquet of flowers that took both hands to hold. I told her daughter this as she was afraid of the process and felt as if her mom would be alone. There was uncertainty about the afterlife and what to expect. Would she be accepted into heaven?

The flowers represented how much he loved this one about to transition. I saw some specific details of this man who resembled a relative that had passed on. When I don’t personally know the family, I feel like I am shooting in the dark, but it was suspected he was a person the dying woman had been very close to by the way I described him. I was able to comfort the daughter, who was feeling uncertain. That is how God works. Even at the point of leaving this world, we are cared for.

Every time I have seen heaven, the gates are never closed. He doesn’t want to shut us out but longs to welcome everyone in.

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…)

Down the Drain

A few weeks ago I reached my hand under the sink to quickly grab a plastic bag and found it slightly wet. This dark place in my kitchen is rarely paid attention to. Items that need storage are quickly tossed in and the cabinet door is shut. I usually sense what I need by touch and don’t even look. This meant I actually had to get down on my knees and peer inside.

I did not see any water leaking at that present moment. Upon further investigation, I found more wet bags, and a few ruined paper towels. After shifting and dragging things out into the open, I found the entire bottom shelf soaking wet. The paper towels that had come out unscathed were used to sop up the mess.

There was no denying that something was amiss. Before turning on the faucet, I placed a plastic bowl under the pipes to see where the trouble was coming from. I ended up carefully taking off the elbow portion and seeing if something was stuck. As far as I could see, it looked normal. I carefully put everything back fearing that I would damage something.

I have to admit that during times like this I find myself frustrated that I cannot solve it myself. I am not a plumber, an electrician, or a carpenter. Yet, I wish secretly I was so that I would not have to rely on other people.

I was left with one option. To call my dad who always can fix the problem or give me advice on how to go about repairing something. He is the one I give a jingle when a sink isn’t draining, a sink is leaking, a fence is falling apart, a lawnmower is malfunctioning, ect.

He always knows a ‘guy’ if he cannot help me. When I explained my situation, he said,

“I know this handyman. I will give him a call.”

I don’t know why certain words conjure up images in my mind, but the word ‘handyman’ reminds me of a guy wearing overalls who carries a box full of various gadgets and tools of the trade.  Two days later, Tony  the handyman was knocking on my front door. He didn’t disappoint as he fit my imaginative handyman image perfectly.

He arrived at the exact time he said he would which I am not accustomed to. Usually, I am given a three hour window of time for sitting and waiting until the person usually shows at the last minute of the three hours.  Not this time. He was prompt and headed straight for the kitchen sink.

I have had other repairmen in my home over the years, and I often sit nearby while they work to find out more about them. Some have taken my friendliness for an invitation to ask me my relationship status which instantly makes me less friendly. It’s a repair call, not a booty call.

Most, I have found, are very open about their problems. I have spoken to many who have been through divorces such as myself with child support issues, ex-wives that are not very nice and the struggle to juggle work and parenting time with kids. Usually, as I engage in this question and answer period, most of the workmen talk freely about their feelings. I figure as long as they have come all this way to help me, I can at least listen and take an interest in what concerns them.By the time the job is done, they hardly know they have worked, and I am happy to have learned something new about a person.

This was not the case with Tony. He asked me as many questions as I asked him. I found out that he and his wife had raised children to adulthood and then went on to adopt two more children who they home schooled. Because of my experience with home schooling, this made our conversation easy as we connected on this common ground. Our interaction was positive as we discussed triumphs instead of tragedies.

What I found refreshing was his concern with how he billed people and how much time he took to do a job. After putting sealant on the drain, he found that a new drain was in order but didn’t have one with him. He told me he didn’t want to charge for time spent running out and coming back so he would just return the following week to install a new one.

He cleaned up his entire mess, which is not always the case with some, and he bid me goodbye until the following Monday. There was such a peace and calm about him that I had not felt with others before. I wondered what was it with Tony that was different?

True to his word, he showed up ahead of schedule when he said he would and was done with the job in record time.

I walked him to the front door, thanked him for helping me and thought he would rush off. He said he had another job to get to, so I didn’t expect what he said next.

“Could I pray a blessing over your home?” He asked with slight hesitation as if I might decline this wonderful suggestion.

“Yes, ” I replied without a stutter.

He went on to pray the nicest prayer anyone ever could. I was slightly surprised when he made a request to heaven that all of the things in my house would function like they should. Not a normal thing to hear a repairman say. He finished up by speaking a blessing over me and my children.  The entire time he spoke, I felt great waves of peace flooding over me because I knew he had been sent for more than just my sink repair.  When he finished, I thanked him again.

As he drove on to his next appointment, I realized this was what I had sensed was different about Tony. He had a deep faith in something other than himself. He did his job, but at the same time realized that he wasn’t only just living for his work. The person he was doing the job for was the important part.

I found myself thinking back to a few days prior when I didn’t want to rely on someone other than myself to fix the sink. Yet, had I been so self reliant, I would never had Tony come and speak such kind words over my household. His visit turned out to be a surprise gift in encouragement.

When you are in a place where help is needed, God will always send just the right person along to uplift you and remind you that everything has not gone down the drain.

drain

Days of the Weak

Monday Mourning: And so it begins when the eyes have not yet opened, the alarm is set to go off, and that dreamy world is slowly slipping away. The mind begins to conjure up images of the day and the problems that seem unavoidable.  The lips begin to move and form the words, “I hate Mondays.” You crawl out of bed and pick out your best black outfit.  Murmuring into the shower, over the bowl of cereal, and all the way to the dreaded desk in the back office where mounds of work await. And the clock ticks ever so slow as the air is filled with dissatisfaction and not one single moment affords a smile.  Co-workers approach with perky attitudes and depart with heads hung low as if they have just attended a funeral after leaving your presence.  Mumblings continue on the commute home all the way through the evening news until the moment for bed arrives.

Tuesday Tirade: This day finds you at the top of your game demanding and belittling those who are blessed enough to be in your proximity.  You wish you had a missile launcher to clear your path to work because everyone on the road is a moron.  Your colleagues are graced with your snappy responses and treated like something stuck to your shoe that you cannot remove. Even the family dog is not immune to getting ‘barked at.’  You fall into bed exhausted after the multitude of idiots you have had to deal with all day.

Wednesday Whinning:  Why are gas prices so high?  Why can’t anyone put ink into the printer? Why is milk so expensive?  Why do people make stupid decisions?  Why don’t I get a raise? Why do I even work here?  Why do I have to do all the busy work?  Why didn’t I get invited to the important meeting?  Why do people take up two parking spaces?  Why can’t someone else mow the lawn? Why do I have to do all the decision making? Why can’t someone else do the dishes?  Why do I have to always take out the trash?  Why don’t I have more money in my bank account?   Why do I have to get up so early?

Thursday Thin-Skinned:   All questions, compliments and sentences set you off. Whether written or verbal, all forms of communication are going to irritate you.  You find hidden meanings in everyone’s words that send you reeling into a silent simmering anger and possibly tears by lunch.  You ready yourself for arguments that never happen, but you are prepared anyway.  You sit at your desk and rehearse what you will say, how you will say it and practice squinting your eyes to show that you mean business.

Fretful Friday:  You wake up disappointed by the fact that it isn’t payday.  If it is payday, you dread the idea that you have to pay bills and all your money is gone before it has hit your account.  You wonder what you will do all weekend if you are single.  The prospect of a Netflix binge with junk food gorging sounds depressing. While everyone else is out having fun and posting selfies of excitement to their Facebook status, you will be using your shirt as a giant napkin to wipe the excess cheese off your fingers from the crunchy curls you are inhaling.  If you are in a bad marriage or relationship, you wonder what your plan should be this time to avoid the other person for the next three days. You can’t fake being sick every weekend. You clear your throat indicating that a cough is coming on.

Someday Saturday:  You don’t have to jump out of bed today, but this leaves room for the imagination to wander and begin to think about how you are doing nothing that you want to do.  You had big hopes and plans to travel and live the high life, but you have found yourself in the same job year after year doing the same tasks over and over.  Your vacation days are spent at home getting around to all those extra projects that can’t wait.   You make yourself feel better by saying “someday I am going to..” and you repeat this weekly only to find that it never is happening.   The closest you come to taking that big dream trip is watching the Travel station on cable.  With more crunchy cheese curls on hand.

Somber Sunday:  You might as well get into your car now and drive to work.  Your mind is already there filing papers, answering phones and fixing problems.   The entire day is spent dwelling on where you will be tomorrow and you are totally missing today.

I hope none of you are living your days like that.  I know some who do.  When you look for the good things in life, more show up, but it begins with a smile no matter what, having positive conversations with those around you, believing you are here for a reason, and being grateful to God for everything. It doesn’t hurt to pray for help once in awhile either.  Let heaven help make your weak be strong.

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