Playing the Game Right

Just before Christmas, I found myself in the game section of the store. I often go there because I like to see what is new with the potential of being added to my large collection. On a shelf at the end of an aisle, I found a rather intriguing box with the words Japanese Card Game written on the back. I had no sooner picked it up to examine it, when a man was at my side with a cell phone to his ear.

“You have to get that game!” he said.

“No, honey, I am talking to a person at the store. She is looking at Machi Koro. I am telling her to buy it,” he said into his phone.

He then said to me, “I am talking to my wife, but I had to come over here to tell you to buy that game. It is really fun. We love playing it.”

“Thank you,” I answered.

He disappeared as quickly as he had shown up. But, he did such a good sales job for a guy who was not even employed by the store, that a lady standing next to me decided to purchase the game as well.

I took note of the price, and with all of the holiday shopping I had completed, I hesitated. I wondered if I should buy if for myself or not. It was only about $20, but I still have moments where I wonder if I should spend my money on me. I had one part of me saying I should, and another part was escorting me to a bankruptcy hearing for purchasing something ‘not necessary’.

I decided to buy it and left the guilt at the store in the toy aisle.

Our first attempt to play was a disaster. While it sounds glamorous and worldly to play a game that is from another country, there is also the formality of the rules not being crystal clear. I kept reading this: Game play should be about 30 minutes.  We read the manual from cover to cover and that took longer than a half hour.  What’s interesting is that when people do not comprehend an idea, the reader will read louder to see if revelation will come. I have concluded that the volume of voice does not bring about understanding. After two hours of being baffled, we turned to a YouTube video to lend us a hand.

It was one of those online viewing sessions where after hours of struggle you continually say, “OH!” “Hey!” “OH!” But, you cannot get the wasted hours back of sweating it out at the table wondering if buying the game in the first place wasn’t a huge mistake.

My daughter and I decided to try again the next day to see if we could get through one round. Basically, players are at the mercy of the roll of dice and how many coins they possess. The objective is to accumulate money to buy landmarks to win. I watched as she spent herself down to her last coin while I hoarded mine and spent very little. Time and again, she beat me by completing her buildings before I had barely begun.

I noticed that she had a very carefree attitude about spending her earnings while I clung to what I had tightly refusing to buy anything on my turn. Then, she would get just the right roll, and more coins would flow into her pile which she would immediately spend.

Finally she said, ‘You have to spend your money or you are going to lose every time.”

I decided to take her advice and fight off the feelings of panic when the space in front of me held no money to spend. I actually had feelings of discomfort rise up in me as this went against everything I had ever conformed to.

I began to buy ‘the ranch’ cards which once accumulated can start to make money back for the one who purchases them. By the end of that game, I had actually beat her! It proved itself to be true whenever we played. I may not have won every time, but when I let go of what I had to spend, I ended up farther ahead than when I held on and refused to spend a dime on anything. I became a stronger competitor by trusting that I could make money by spending money.ranch

 

The next day, I was out in the store looking at water purifiers. The mental dilemma surfaced of if I should buy one or not. Suddenly, a vision of our game from the day prior filled my mind.

“Buy the ranch!” I heard her say.

I put the item into my cart and happily went on my way. I discovered that if I don’t allow myself to have things, then my life is going to be about worry and hoarding versus living the life I know God wants all of us to have.  It is a matter of trust and a deep knowing that there is a love so deep that it won’t let you fall off the edge of a cliff into despair.  We have the choice to limit ourselves or to allow good to come into our lives.

In this new year, our slogan now is: Buy the ranch!

In other words, loosen the grip, and put God’s love for you in motion by not saying no to yourself all the time.  Before you know it, you will be playing the game right.

 

machi koro

 

Turkey for Two

The Sunday paper was lying in a heap on the kitchen table. As usual, it was Monday, and I was finally getting around to reading a few of the ads. Most of the inserts spoke of doorbuster sales, but I wasn’t thinking of finding Christmas gifts early.  Instead, I needed two turkeys for Thanksgiving. As I paged through the various catalogs of information, I wondered what had happened to this holiday? It seemed like we no sooner had Halloween and all its uproar with candy scarfing then we hurtled full speed ahead to boughs of holly and mad dashes to find the perfect gift. What had happened to the cranberries, the stuffing, the giving thanks and a day of digesting one of the best meals of the year?

I located the grocery store ad in hopes of finding a buy one get one on frozen turkeys. In years past, this had been offered, but it became apparent that our economy had taken a hit as I could not find a deal on any turkey. I thought maybe the week before Thanksgiving this would surely be an offering.  No such luck.

The reason for buying two birds was not so I could eat them both, but my intention was to give one to a good friend of mine who had just gone through a divorce just like I had. He was going to be cooking a meal for his kids for the first time as a single man. I guess I was trying to take away some of the stress by helping him along in the kitchen by giving him the main dish to which he could easily add in the sides. I was not at the height of having an abundance of money, but I knew I was to help him out this way.

I put the paper aside, and I made the decision that I would go out and buy each of us a turkey the next day. In the meantime, I had to take my youngest daughter to her dance class. While driving, I mulled over the predicament. I knew exactly to the penny what I had in my checking account and back in those days, a savings account didn’t exist. I was never one for using a credit card to buy my food, so I knew I was going to have to just fight off the fear of lack and do it anyway.

After I dropped her off at her class, I sat in my car and said a quick prayer asking for help in apprehending two turkeys for our meals. It wasn’t anything fancy. Just a quick shout out to heaven with a simple thank you. Then, I put it out of my mind and got out a book to read while I waited.

When I got home, I saw the ad laying on the table where I had left it.  I felt a slight twinge of disappointment because I really wanted to give him a turkey, but I didn’t know how I was going to afford two of them plus all the rest of my meal.  I walked out to the mailbox, and as I shuffled through the usual bills, a bright red postcard surfaced.  Written in fancy font it read:

Your name has been submitted to receive a free Thanksgiving basket.  Please come to the address listed below on Wednesday to pick up your items. Thank you.  

I could not believe it!  Just moments ago I was worrying over how I was going to give away a turkey that I didn’t have to pay for and now I was going to be able to give away an entire meal!   Not even for a moment did I consider keeping this gift for myself.  I wanted to give it away to a person who was going through a hard time of adjusting to a new way of living.  I was so overjoyed that I barely heard the phone ringing when I came back into the house.

“Hello?” I said.

“Is this Christine?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Christine, I am calling because someone gave us your name to receive a Thanksgiving basket.  I am calling to see if you would like one. Our church gave away baskets over the weekend, and we are now trying to find homes for the ones that are leftover.  We sure would appreciate it if you would take one.”

“I just got a postcard in the mail that I am to pick up a basket this Wednesday.  Is this from your church?”

“No.  We didn’t send out postcards.  And, our delivery happened over the weekend.  So, what we have are baskets that didn’t find homes in need of them.  Would you like one?”

It was one of those moments when my mouth hung open on its own accord, and I lost my ability to speak for a few seconds.

“Sure.  I would love one,” I said.

“If you could come and pick this up before Wednesday, that would work out great.”

I assured her that I would.

On Wednesday, I stood in my kitchen with two overflowing baskets both containing two large turkeys, stuffing mix, cranberries, canned vegetables, fresh potatoes and all the staples every well stocked pantry could afford such as flour, sugar, butter and even a gallon of milk!

As we approach this time of the year once again, I am reminded of how I had no need to worry about any of the details.  I had asked for help, and the divine had come to my rescue.  Even before I had prayed, heaven had made a way for turkey for two.

twoturkeys

Angelic Friends

estatesale I was out with my best friend yesterday morning when he spotted this sign. “An estate sale. Should we go?” “I have not ever been to one before.  Ok.” For some reason the title ‘estate sale’ makes me envision a long winding driveway that whisks one by a perfectly manicured sprawling lawn up to the doors of a mansion. A butler greets you at the door and you walk around wonderful antiques and treasures of great value from all corners of the earth. So, when we drove by the townhouse garage I was a bit skeptical.  In fact, the sale was so obscure, we had to circle around because we drove right by it. “Should we skip it?”  he asked. “No,”  I said always on the hunt for a story.   As we approached the end of the driveway, an older man was shuffling his bills back into his wallet.  He wasn’t carrying anything, so I assumed he hadn’t found what he was looking for.  He looked at us, smiled, and said sarcastically, “She had quite the collection.”  He rolled his eyes and shook his head as he stalked off to his car.  This wasn’t looking promising.  When I walked into the garage, I was astonished. garage There were boxes and tables filled with all varieties of angels.  I figured the person having the sale had decided to sell off some of her collectables to downsize.  It occured to me that this probably wasn’t the case as I walked into the home and found more areas filled with angels.  Upon going up the stairs, I discovered another table covered with them.  The walls had angels of many types.  A bedroom housed more.  I was so overtaken as I walked from room to room seeing nothing but angels. I asked a lady who seemed to be running the sale if she could tell me anything about the person these belonged to. “They all were owned by one lady.  She died from cancer.  She was only 64.”  It felt like there was alot of negativity toward the entire situation.  Like it was a burden and the items needed to be gotten rid of.  I walked out of the house feeling awful. “I wouldn’t even know where to begin,” I said.  “How would I even know what was valuable or not?”  I then had an idea to call my youngest daughter because she is a doll collector. “Maybe if I come back with her I can have her look things up and find out more for me.  I noticed that many of the angels were from the Napco company like my cookie jar.” Within a short period of time, I was back at the sale accompanied by my child who has a better ability to find rare items than I do.  I tried to prepare her mind for the massive amount of angels she was about to see.  She had the same reaction I did. “Wow.  This is neat,” she said. She began searching online for angels from Napco and showed me a picture of one. “Do they have this?”  I looked at it and to my own surprise said, “They had that one upstairs on a table!” We climbed the stairs to the living room on the second floor.   I had found my first angel. candyangel As she and I walked around I felt led to go in certain rooms.  If I found one angel in the garage, I found a matching one that went with it in a bedroom at the back of the house. “They have not put the sets together,” I said. I started to feel sad for the woman who had spent so much time taking such care of the pieces. The company that had been hired to run the sale had spent hours unwrapping thousands of angels that had been carefully stored and preserved.  However, they had placed them haphazardly in places out of order. When I went back into the living room area, I noticed a woman sitting in a chair going through boxes at her feet.  We began to talk, and I found out more information about the ‘angel lady’. “She and I were good friends,” she said.  “She was part of an angel club that met together all the time.”  I could see the tears in her eyes as she spoke to me. “Julie told me that she had stage 3 ovarian cancer. When she had gotten the diagnosis she started collecting angels.  I think they brought her comfort, and she lived for twenty-five more years.   I guess there were only eight woman living in Minnesota with cancer that advanced. When she died in March, she was the last one to go.” My daughter and I bought a few items and returned home.  Not knowing what I had purchased, we began looking up Napco and Lefton collectibles.  We discovered that many of them were quite valuable, and I felt compelled to return with a new understanding of what these angels meant. This time as I went through the house I felt as if the owner was leading me to get her collection back in the right order.  I started to get a sense of peace as we sat and carefully looked over all of the items. Many times throughout the day we heard slight comments such as, “what a hoarder” or “why would someone do this?”  I realized these people were missing the point. I also found that many who roared through the place were looking to make money and in that pursuit were missing out on the fact that a woman had died at such a young age from a horrible affliction. As I pieced together various sets to make them more appealing to potential buyers, I found out that the people running the sale had no knowledge of who Julie was and her reason for collecting angels.  Nor did they know that if she became aware of someone in need of food or money, she would make sure she helped with whatever she could give.  Her heart was that of what we would expect of an angel. Giving. Kindhearted.  Helpful.  Friendly. I learned all of this as I sat and listened and tried to gleen as much information about her life from the woman who was her friend.   I left at the end of the day with 24 angels for my shelf at home.  I cleaned off a space to make room and arranged them in a way that was orderly. I felt as if I had been a part of preserving the history of a stranger who I had come to know in one afternoon. I woke up today and the first thing that caught my eyes were my angels.  Because they are so detailed, it is difficult not to get caught up for awhile looking them over and realizing that before I was born, someone had crafted these treasures.  Most of what I bought was made in 1956.  As I sat gazing at them, I wondered if I should return to the sale to see what was left. This was an odd feeling for me as I have never gone to a sale four times in less than a twenty-four hour period. I don’t hardly ever go to sales in the first place.  To be honest, even GoodWill and Salvation Army stores give me the creeps somewhat as I can only think that I am buying stuff that someone died with in their hand. Like that really cheap coffee mug that reads: Have a Great Day! I cannot bring myself to buy it and then enjoy a drink from it. I had spent so much time in this woman’s house, knew of her recent death and had not felt unsettled about that at all.  The more time I spent surrounded by her angels, the more peaceful I became. We decided to visit again today to see if many more pieces had been sold.  I found a few sets still sitting out that I had arranged the day before. As she and I walked around the garage, I began to notice alot of July angels.  I pointed this out to my daughter. “I wonder if her birthday was in July,” she said. Moments later we heard a woman inside the house say, “Julie would have been so happy to see all of her collections being bought by people so they could go on being enjoyed.  Today is her birthday so this sale is just all that more special.” I could not believe my ears!  I quickly snatched up a July angel to take home to my shelf. I didn’t want to leave the sale without taking a token to honor this woman.

julyangel

Apparently, it had been a ‘coincidence’ that the sale of her beloved treasures landed on her birthday.

angelfriends

 This sale showed up in my life the day after I prayed and asked God if I could be made more aware of angels in my life. I have been reading books and different accounts of how people have encountered angels.   I long for that touch of heaven here on earth all the time.  Yet, at the same time, I am a little afraid.  I think about when the angels showed up in the field to announce the birth of Jesus.  The shepherds were scared out of their wits.  Knowing this, I asked to be shown the presence of angels in a way that was gentle and non-threatening that I could easily accept.  I believe now more than ever.

 mygirl

Even though I never met her, I will never forget Julie and her angelic friends.

The Magical Jar

One evening three years ago, while living in Arizona, I was talking to my youngest daughter about the cookie jar that used to sit on my Grandma Hazel’s counter. With my eyes closed, I could vividly see the tiny kitchen where she had spent so much time baking and cooking.

“Her cookie jar had a pink heart on it and was covered with cutout cookies,” I said.

“Like this?” she asked showing me a picture that she had googled.

“That’s exactly it! Where did you find it?”

“I looked it up under ‘cookies all over cookie jar’.”

We went on to read that it had been manufactured in the 1950s by a Japanese company named Napco and given away as a premium gift. Back then, if a housewife saved up enough stamps from purchasing certain items, she could buy a gift for free. Most of the jars for sale on Ebay were either damaged or too highly priced.

I kept looking online once in awhile as the idea would come and go. Last year, during the early summer, I began to think of it again and searched for something that would be affordable and in good shape. As I looked at various pictures by sellers, I was transported back to her house and the days when I would come in from swimming in the community pool that was across the alley. We always took advantage of a swim as she didn’t have air conditioning in her old house. North Dakota summers can get extremely hot especially in July so a soak in cold water could keep a kid cooled off for awhile.

I was usually greeted on her back porch with a glass full of cherry kool-aid and peanut butter cookies from the jar on the counter. It seemed as if that jar never was empty even though we ate one cookie after another. It was as if by magic it refilled itself.

During the time she was moved from her home into assisted living, items were auctioned off, and I regrettably did not ask for it as a keepsake. My hunt to own one was slightly marred by the fact that it wouldn’t be the original from my grandma’s house, but at least I could have the good memories to go with it.

One night about a week before my birthday last year, I began my search again in earnest. I thought it would be special to have it as a gift, but my pursuit was coming up short. Exasperated, I looked up to heaven and said,

“Grandma, if you want me to have this cookie jar, then bring it to me!” I closed my eyes and saw myself standing in her kitchen next to the cookie jar on the counter. In my imagination, picked it up and held it in my hands.

Before clicking out the light, I did one last search. Up popped a seller in Mesa, Arizona. I was surprised because moments before, it had not been there at all. The next day, I passed on the information to my best friend who has relatives in that area. After a few attempts on his part to contact the seller, we thought it had been sold because she wasn’t returning his calls.

I made the decision to drop the idea. If I was to have it, I would. I was not going to struggle anymore to get it. My birthday came and went without the jar in my possession, but I had completely put it out of my mind. In October, I drove to the airport to pick up my friend from his short stay in Arizona. When we arrived at his house, he got out of his car and said,

“I have something for you in the trunk.” I knew he had gone to the massive flea market that they have in Mesa so I said,

“Did you get me some of those really good scrubber things for dishes? Mine are getting old.”

He opened his trunk, pulled out a carry on bag and unzipped it. From where I stood, I just saw a bunch of his socks. My first thought was that some laundry needed to be done. I was shocked when he pulled out the possession I had been so desperately seeking.

“Happy Birthday,” he said handing it to me.

I could not comprehend that I was actually holding it in my hands with the matching lid that has a walnut on top. He had gotten in touch with the woman in Arizona who hadn’t returned his calls.

“She had this in a box labeled ‘Grandma’ and she told me that no one wanted it.” A coincidence that it had that label? I think not.

It was long past my July birthday, but the gift came at just the right time. My mom had been admitted to the hospital a few days earlier with complications due to a severe case of shingles. I had been running back and forth to visit her multiple times, and getting little to no sleep. As I had sat by her bedside watching her rest, I had often thought of my grandma and how she and my mom had kept in touch while living so far apart. They had written letters back and forth to each other over many years until her death. I felt her presence so strongly as I sat during the quiet times in my mom’s room.

Every morning I wake up, look across my bedroom and see the jar sitting on my shelf. (I am that protective of it..it will never be near the kitchen.) And I often wonder, where did the desire come from to track this down? Was it my own or did someone who dearly loves me from the other side want me to remember those hot, happy summers that we spent with one another? To some it would be an antique, and to others it would be perhaps an ugly piece of ceramic. But, to me, it is Grandma’s magical jar.

cookiejar

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