Surprise Party

“I want to go in there,” she said.

This has become a familiar phrase over the years, and when it’s stated, I know that something that its original owner has long forgotten is going to be in her hands.

It’s always the same smell—the opposite of new car scent. Everything assaults the senses at the door for me. When I first started to frequent second-hand shops with her, I always said,

“I’m looking at dead people’s stuff.”

I just couldn’t get past the idea that those 1970 avocado green coffee cups had once graced Aunt Myrtle’s kitchen counter. Or Olga’s mustard yellow crockpot had seen its final potluck when the grim reaper showed up, halting all the fun. I easily could put faces and names to all the merchandise.

The dusty burgundy brandy glasses had seen Helen’s last toast, and that super ugly lamp in the corner had gone dark after many days of illuminating the room so Fred could read the evening newspaper. Uncle Bud’s collection of beer bottle caps testify to the world that he liked to drink in excess while his team lost, and the ax leaning against the wall that once had given George calloused hands as he chopped wood is on clearance.

The ladle that great-grandma Beatrice used every Thanksgiving for her thick, bland gravy is up for grabs alongside cousin Lucille’s flour sifter and canister set with the yellow daffodils. Who could pass up on Sir Edward the Third’s favorite smoking jacket and Philip’s baseball cards that he had gotten with his first pack of gum? And then there’s the hatpin Betsy fastened neatly before her monthly book club meeting and Richard’s flashing neon man cave signs that have a bit of mid-life crisis attached to them.

I could go on, but besides envisioning the dearly departed, I could only think of one word: hoarding.

And there’s always these extra rooms and signs with arrows pointing to another secret passage that say: more, more, more!

In almost every visit, I have gone into lower levels where it seems like you are intruding into someone’s basement that got stuck in a time machine. Like a dungeon with concrete walls all around. It doesn’t help when you say to yourself,

“This feels like I am descending into hell.”

And the person who placed items for purchase thought it was a great idea to put all the rubber masks right at the bottom of the creaky stairs. So you are greeted by eyeless sockets.

She always gravitates toward the toy section because this is why we are there in the first place. As a successful creator on YouTube, she searches for more props to utilize in future videos. She is also highly skilled at resurrecting the dead through hair restoration and giving new meaning to dolls long fallen by the wayside. Once it’s in her possession, she will provide it with the best home and a life’s purpose.

I try to preoccupy myself with browsing through the items I once owned as a child and now are considered “vintage”. That sounds nicer than ancient.

How reckless were adults to give us real wooden objects to build with and risk getting a sliver? Or paint that contained unknown ingredients had we eaten possibly could have caused severe side effects? We lived on the edge then, I guess.

I have gotten more comfortable as time has rolled by. I try to block out the idea of the deceased and see it as a warehouse for second chances. I still have to combat a lot of sensations, and if I get too overloaded in a space, I move on to another one. My first indication of needing to keep moving is dizziness and a bit of disorientation.

We recently visited a busy store, and I struggled with feeling overwhelmed by all the stuff. As my daughters and I rounded a corner, she appeared with the most dazzling smile.

“Aren’t you girls finding anything fun?”

“Not yet,” I said.

She was beaming.

“There is a lot of good things in here. I was the owner, but I sold the place to my son. I’m 87 years old, and it was time. He has taken over and done way beyond what I did, and I am very proud of him.”

“You do not look your age at all,” I said.

“You are in the will!” She quickly replied.

“What do I get? All of this?” I said, sweeping my hand around as they do on game shows over all the prizes.

She threw her head back and laughed.

“Do you know what keeps me going?”

“No.”

“Fireball whiskey. I was given a huge jug of it, and it was so big it had a handle on it.”

“Did you get through the entire thing?”

“Of course I did!” More radiance.

I don’t recall how we got around to guessing my age, but she put me back into my 40s. She was close, but not quite. She went on to guess the ages of my girls. She couldn’t talk enough about her family living abroad in various countries.

“Would you ever go see them?”

“I don’t want to travel alone.”

Her husband had passed on.

“He had the best sense of humor. We got along so well, and it’s important to laugh in life.”

“And drink whiskey.”

“You are definitely in the will!”

Surprisingly, we left without a purchase, but then hours later, my daughter regretted not listening to her inward leading toward a particular doll.

“I can go back with you tomorrow.”

“I hope it will still be there.”

This is the one who always gives me the “look” when I am at a cross-road decision on something, and she knows I am supposed to have it.

“Angels are guarding it. God will make sure you have it.”

The next day was much quieter and calmer. Her prized possession was still waiting on the shelf, and she decided that there were some others worth looking at in locked cases.

While she stood by what she needed to view, I went to the desk where a woman was pricing merchandise.

“Can I help you?”

“I need key 21 to unlock a case.”

She turned and spoke to a man who I recognized from the night before.

“If you get me the key, I can help them,” he said.

When he came over to us, I asked,

“I met the former owner last night. Are you the son who took over?”

He laughed.

“I am not her son, but I did buy it from her at the beginning of the year. She always refers to me as her son, and it’s so nice of her to do that.”

She was a sharp person, so it wasn’t a case of dementia. She truly counted him as her child.

“I am in her will now,” I said.

“Get in line. She says that to everyone.”

“She had nothing but good things to say about you. You took what she started and are making it even better.”

He pointed to a poster on the wall. The business had earned one of this year’s Best Awards, meaning it was voted as a number one place to visit in the area.

“I did that already, and we aren’t slowing down.”

With both cases laid out on the counter, my daughter began looking through the piles of clothes and accessories. The lady who had been marking items now was watching.

“She restores things,” I said.

“I do too. I redesign old clothing. I have a big room I work in at home, and it passes the time since my husband isn’t around anymore.”

I saw a man standing behind her with his hand on her left shoulder.

“My husband Barry died eight years ago.”

“You know he is standing right next to you. You can feel that, right?”

It’s getting harder lately not to let it be said, and the words seem to fly out of my mouth before I know they are going to.

“Oh, yes! Right here,” she said, pointing to the spot where I could see him. You can’t spend that much time with a person and have them just disappear forever.”

“You are right. I’m glad you know it.”

“He was diagnosed with throat cancer, and we were told that it would be easily cured. Well, it wasn’t. It was a big shock when he passed on. But his alarm clock went off every morning when he used to get up for work. Even if I turned it off, it would wake me up the next morning. He has never left me.”

I know she misses him, but she also seemed very peaceful about it. I guess she has come to accept what is, but the feeling that he is near also is helpful.

God just keeps showing me more as I ask for it. There’s a scripture that says in 1 Corinthians 15:55-57:

O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”(ESV)

I can say that when you know that someone has advanced on and they are at peace, it makes grieving easier. You miss them, but like in this woman’s case, she can still sense him around. I keep having similar experiences.

The night before my birthday last summer, I was in a store by the bakery waiting with my daughter. She was having the worker write a message on a cake. When it was handed off to her, this older woman came out of nowhere, leaned in, and read it out loud to me with much emphasis:

“Happy 53rd Birthday, mom!”

Like loud, like my mom would have. And her body language and clothing were in full mother mode. Then she disappeared into the masses.

The next day, on my birthday, while I was standing outside a building looking at flowers, a man walked right up behind me and started singing Happy Birthday at the top of his lungs in this super booming low voice. He sang it all the way to his car. About a week before that, I had said,

“Mom, I want you to sing Happy Birthday to me.”

I had forgotten I had requested it until he was yelling it practically into my hair!

While driving home that day, I recalled that we would see my grandparents on some of my birthdays in North Dakota. They always saved one firework for me.

In Minnesota, the powers that be don’t think we can handle it, so it’s illegal. But not there. Apparently, the residents have better eye-hand coordination in that state.

I told my girls that I always had one bottle rocket or something sent skyward to commemorate another year.

Later, after I got home, I thought I heard a muffled pop. This was way past the 4th. I went out the front door to see the biggest explosion of color rain down over my house. That was it—just one.

“Thanks, mom,” I said, going back in.

I think we have put the afterlife into a confined space to make it more acceptable. Many people have a low-level fear that keeps them from seeing clearly, and then the sadness of grief gets piled on.

The preoccupation with loss blocks some vital heavenly signs from being seen or heard. And, while it seems like something has been taken, it has been transformed into better. That doesn’t mean there won’t be tears, but there also can be laughter which is just as healing. And those who have walked through the door, we all will someday, wish us joy.

I have gotten used to not being able to explain anything, and the more I allow it, God keeps sending extra my way.

I can’t say I’m okay with all of it at times, especially if it’s something really extraordinary and out there, but I have decided to do this from Proverbs 3:5-6:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight. (NIV)

It is a little scary to live like this, casting yourself totally into the care of heaven. But it also is so fun at times that I can’t imagine living without it. It sets you apart from the trivial cares and traps that are easily laid before us.

It helps you understand and see everything at a higher level of existence so you can drop away from those things that really don’t matter.

In some ways, it’s like being the unsuspecting victim of something good happening. Like when all your friends decide to secretly plan something that you will be the center of attention. You walk into a room expecting one thing, and then they all jump out of hiding. It takes the mind a minute to accept it, but then you realize this has been done for you. Once the shock wears off, you see it for what it really is.

You never know where God will show up next, who you will cross paths with, and how you will be spiritually awakened further by the next surprise party.

Servant

My girls and I decided to go on an evening stroll with a representative from the local historical society. It was advertised as a “ghost” walk, but I was more interested in finding out how some of the landmarks came to be.

Our guide was in vintage attire from the 1940s with a cloche hat and an old-fashioned Halloween print skirt. She had a personality that was a mix of dramatic flair and knowledge like a librarian.

We traipsed through neighborhoods stopping along the way for her to explain the significance of some of the houses and the strange occurrences that had taken place.

One very elaborate home had been built by a colonel who was known for his kindness. The current owner has kept some of his original belongings where he had them, and she has reported that she feels a presence from time to time. One night, she saw the light on in the basement that no one had used, and she went to turn it off. She noticed a strong smell of gas. This prompted a call to the emergency line at the gas company and all occupants evacuated.

A pipe needed repair, and apparently, if it had gone on longer, the house would have blown up with everyone inside.

He also rescued someone who was standing on a chair and began to fall. She said she felt someone hold her up as she was headed for the floor, preventing injury and ensuring a safe landing.

When our fearless leader started to go over the town’s past plague of tornadoes, an unexpected turbo force picked up out of nowhere, throwing leaves and garbage all over the place. It wasn’t lost on any of us in the group that it didn’t seem like a coincidence. We moved on with wind whipping us all in the eyes. And as quick as it came, it went away.

One of the most impressive locations was a home that a married couple had owned. He was a physician who took a streetcar to his office while his wife, Flora, had her practice out of their residence. Only 6 percent of women were doctors in the United States during that time, so her achievement was remarkable. She focused on women’s and children’s health care.

When I stood outside looking up at the second floor, I felt like I was being watched. It wasn’t a bad feeling but just like someone observing. It felt like a lonely person who wanted to talk but couldn’t.

Across the top of the house toward the roof, a banner was displayed when it was open for visitors. Someone had turned it into a store. We were told that those who shopped there often heard footsteps from the upper floor and smelled cigarette smoke when no one was there. It was not the healthiest habit, but in her era, they had no idea of its ill effects.

It sounded like the perfect place for me to go back and see for myself.

The next day my daughter and I returned. The front of the building looked somewhat junked up with merchandise spread all over. For such a majestic entry, nothing was being done to preserve it.

Inside the door, there was the most beautiful spiral staircase. I instantly felt a stifling, closed in feeling as I saw wall-to-wall items for sale. It was advertised as antique offerings but mostly what I saw were handmade items from the present. It felt like I was in a museum that should have been held in high honor, being disrespected, and used to hock trinkets. It felt all wrong to me.

As we made our way around the lower level, the tightness in my chest got stronger. It wasn’t anger but sadness. From the small speaker, the song Like A Bridge Over Troubled Water started to play hauntingly. That song has significance due to seeing my mom transition to heaven over a bridge. So when I hear it, I know I am supposed to pay attention.

I tried to concentrate on finding what remained from the past. Old doorways and windows were still intact amongst the wares being peddled. I looked past the gnomes and the dishcloths to see remnants of a time long ago.

The kitchen was a step back in time with a bell by the window and a pantry. I felt this was the respite where the two doctors came together after a long day at work to finally have a minute of quiet.

I climbed the ornate stairway with it creaking every step of the way. I have always wanted one, and this one was built to pass the test of time.

The upstairs was jam-packed with more items. But I began to picture Flora treating her patients and using her office to keep records. I walked to a far back room just to take a minute to breathe. It was like someone had struck me across the back, and it was an overwhelming sensation of constricted breathing. Not like I was suffocating but as if I was grieving. It was like being in a room with someone who was weary. I got the impression that this lady wasn’t stuck but visiting and not thrilled to see what had been done to the place.

My daughter suddenly felt an extreme coldness next to her. Again, not in a scary way, and just a presence that something was with us, sending out a remorseful feeling that this space once set apart for medicine was now being used for another reason far removed from that.

There was another spiral staircase in this extremely large wrap around. One big circle would have made it so easy for her to go room to room treating ailments and comforting the sick. And she had two ways to return to the first floor if she had to.

I ended up leaving feeling somewhat dejected that it hadn’t been better taken care of so generations would know of her outstanding work within the community. I wanted to hold something in my hand that she had. Like a stethoscope or a thermometer, anything she had touched would be valuable compared to what was being sold.

I looked up her information online to try and get to know her better. She helped spearhead the town’s first public library. No wonder I like her so much. On top of that, she was a published author who had written over two hundred poems plus a couple of books on better health. The fact that she was a leader of a women’s group showed she wasn’t all in it for her own gain. She was determined to make life more meaningful for everyone around her.

It was reported that her mother had died of an illness when she was twelve, moving her to pursue her life’s work. She was going to be a missionary until she met and married her spouse. It seemed her steps weren’t her own, and she walked where God told her to go.

I started to think about what happens to a person’s legacy once they have departed. A woman who dedicated herself to alleviating pain is barely remembered inside her own home. God used her hands to heal, and there was not a scrap of evidence of that.

That is why seeking an eternal reward is more critical than the flaky accolades of this dimension.

In Matthew 6:19-21, it addresses this:

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (NIV)

A clearer picture is given in Luke 12:33-34:

Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (NIV)

In Luke 6:35, another route to gaining what matters is stated,

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great…(ESV)

When the time comes for you to leave here, hopefully, you will know that you joyfully served God to your highest ability, you helped those who needed it, and a heavenly welcome mat will be rolled out with congratulations coming your way as a good and faithful servant.

(Flora did it up big with this entry)
(I did this…maybe they will get it together and remember her more…)