Water Into Wine

Please see the post Whiny as this is a continuation of that one.

Sometimes you don’t understand the reason for the adversity, or maybe you see the lesson in it, but God expands it further.

The following morning, after being made to feel unwelcome at the pickle court, we drove back, hoping the group that had only been there on Tuesdays hadn’t returned.

As I pulled around the familiar corner, we saw their cars lined up, so we knew it wasn’t worth the effort to try. I wasn’t going to try to negotiate anything.

Some would say,

“Witness to them! Share God’s love with them! Maybe God wants you to play doubles!”

Another voice says, maybe that lady is right. Maybe you are disrespectful.

When met with so much greed and negativity, it’s easier just to make yourself out to be the bad guy. You start to question if you did the right thing or not.

My daughter’s comment that “humanity is sad” led her also to say,

“I’m not going to live my life on their schedule.”

How could we possibly try to figure out what time to show up? Even if I got there at 3 am, they were so possessive and controlling that I swear they would start to appear from the woods like the zombies from Night of the Living Dead.

Instead of my body, they would want my pickleball space.

“Maybe we are supposed to be doing something else,” she said as we watched them happily play with all the people they associated with. There was no room in their agenda to let us in, and I felt I didn’t want to be “in.”

Just as I had sensed the other day, it was their way or the highway, which was why I felt such a clash. I didn’t match up to the attitude, the spirit, or frequency they operated on.

A lot of us try to “fit in.” We conform and scrunch ourselves down to meet others at their level while becoming a shell of ourselves. When you do that, you miss another opportunity God has for you. From toxic people and dead-end jobs, whatever fills up a place that doesn’t bring you life, it’s taking up the spot of something or someone who could.

“I’m going back to where we started,” I told her as I left.

I felt this strong pull to abandon a situation in which I would never make a dent. It would be me beating my head against a wall. I tried and got absolutely nowhere the day before. Sometimes it’s dark, and God isn’t asking you to be the light at that moment.

Jesus said in Matthew 10:14:

When you knock on a door, be courteous in your greeting. If they welcome you, be gentle in your conversation. If they don’t welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way. (Message)

So I shrugged.

The familiar streets and the houses I used to walk by on my way to elementary school brought a sense of peace. The park I used to ride my bike to all summer long, where I played softball, was quiet.

This is where she and I tried to play weeks ago when we had no idea what we were doing. The asphalt is nothing special compared to what we had just had the luxury of using, but I knew I was in the right place.

The city marked tan lines over the white ones used for tennis. It’s not pretty and brightly multicolored. It’s cracked with weeds starting to run all over it.

“I will deal with weeds and cracks at this point just to have the enjoyment of playing.”

A retired couple was doing yard work, and I immediately saw the mourning dove perched on the high wire singing. Those are always a reminder to me that my grandma is close by. Her North Dakota yard was filled with them, and their sad song troubled me when I was little.

“I don’t like those woo birds,” I told her. Every time I heard one, I felt this lonesome feeling that I had difficulty explaining when I was a kid.

“Chrissy,” she said smiling, “that’s just how they sing. It’s nothing to be scared of.”

From that day on, she called them “woo birds” with a slight laugh, and her explanation made me not fear them.

I had noticed it before when we had played here, and now it was back in the same spot. Watching.

We began to play, and I realized how far along we had come from those weeks prior when I had to tape up her arm for tennis elbow. We had learned a lot.

“Does this hurt?” I asked when I tried to remove the first piece. I had helped her apply black tape, the type you see all the Olympians wearing while they tough out an injury to play.

“No.”

I took more off. There was no wincing.

“How about now?”

“No,” she replied calmly.

I thought maybe it was like one of those no-stick bandaids. And with no signs of pain, I ripped it across the rest of the way. That’s when the screaming started, but I was in mid-rip, so the momentum carries you.

“You took off all of my DNA!”

“You said it didn’t hurt!”

“Not at first!”

“Do you want me to put another piece on?”

“NO! I will do it!”

I wasn’t getting by pain-free either. Those first few sessions had left my lower body in agony that would strike, especially when I went up or down stairs. Epsom salts and the tub became my best friend.

That was all behind us now as we had gotten stronger and faster.

“That ball hit this crack over here,” she said. I had traded the superior for not as good, so I did what I always did. I prayed. As the hoo bird was my witness, I said,

“God, have the city fill in these cracks and get all these weeds out of here. I command it in the name of Jesus that they clean this up for us.”

That was it. We played, she won, and we switched sides.

I listened to the elderly couple talk and laugh with each other as she weed whipped, and he picked up sticks and branches. What a great antidote to the ugly behavior I had seen the day before.

Within moments, a city truck pulled up, and a man came to the fence.

I was attempting to return a ball.

“That hit the crack, and I still got it over,” I said to my opponent, who can beat me at every game now that her elbow is healed.

“That’s why I’m here. I just sprayed weed killer not long ago, and now I’m back to assess how I can fix this up.”

I told him what had happened at the other court.

“Pickleball players, especially the older ones, can be very mean.”

One of the comments made to me the day before was how “nasty” I was when pickleball was a sport that was always so nice. It was an attempt to bad-mouth me.

“You run into mean people?” I asked.

“Yes.”

There’s another location he services that has courts like the one we had been kicked off of.

“They are not nice. They act like they own that place,” he said.

I had tried to reason nicely, and because I hadn’t given in, I was also called disrespectful. So I wasn’t a bad person, and his description sounded like what I had said to the woman. Territorial.

“We like to play, and I will play here no matter how awful it is to avoid all that meanness.”

“I will work on this,” he said. “I can make this nicer.”

“Don’t make it too nice. Keep it kind of crappy, so it doesn’t get taken over,” I said.

“I will try,” he said, smiling.

Before I left, I introduced myself to the happy couple working in their yard. Even while they were engaged in manual labor, they would stop every so often, talk, and start to laugh.

“You two don’t seem like you are working. You seem happy together.”

As he slathered on sunscreen, he said,

“You don’t see us all the time,” sending her into another round of laughing.

The next day when we returned, he yelled,

“Good morning, ladies!” as he jumped in his truck and drove away.

And just like that, God turned water into wine.

Peace and happiness no matter what…

King

Some would say she was a determined leader, and that was true. She had to manage many employees, and one catastrophe could pull the rug out from her perfectly orchestrated day at any moment. I could hear her shoes stomping down the hall before she made an appearance.

Her expectations were extremely high, from the dress code to the volume of your voice. If she found a person’s choice of clothing for the day distasteful, she would engage them in a lengthy conversation and then tell that person’s supervisor she disapproved of their appearance.

She was not above producing a ruler to measure where the hem of a skirt fell in relation to a knee cap. She mainly did that to the younger ones she wanted to see wearing apparel from the Victorian era. If anyone questioned this, we noticed they disappeared shortly after. Yes, just like the mafia.

It left us all wondering who her next unsuspecting victim would be.

It was done with the purpose to maintain her position of authority. Literally, she threw her weight around by being intimidating.

The place didn’t run on respect for her; it operated on fear. When I heard her heels coming and saw her entering my office, I knew it usually meant we were about to get reprimanded for some unwritten, vague infraction.

She had at least thirty years on me. Her speech was like a machine gun going off directing, telling, and commanding. As fast as she whipped into a room, she flew out onto her next mission of ridding the place of any peace.

“You are stealing money from the company if you are socializing when you should be working.”

We were forced to attend monthly meetings with that kind of team-building inspirational speech.

“It is considered theft.”

Hypocrisy at its highest.

At one time in my career there, I had worked in the kitchen when I was a teen in high school. At least twice a week, this individual would walk into the cooler and devour the chocolate pudding ordered explicitly for the residents. I never saw a spoon in her hand.

Because the floor was tile, I could hear the cadence of her approach quite clearly. We all would freeze, hoping she didn’t stop to inspect our hairnets and purse her lips as she took in our appearance. We all breathed easier when she disappeared.

“The sergeant is here, I see,” said one of my coworkers who was putting water glasses on a cart.

Once she had ducked into the refrigerator to eat to her heart’s content, an older woman I worked with would always whisper to me,

“It must be her time of the month again, dear. She’s on the rag.”

“That’s what you said last week,” I would reply in a hushed tone.

When she came back out, we knew she hadn’t been in there to run an inventory. Not with pudding as lip liner.

“Make sure you check expiration dates. I think I saw some that were outdated.”

“Okay,” we would say, going along with her game. The clicking of her heels signaled the departure.

Once I moved up into a higher position, the office I worked from was right next to hers. I was fully aware that she was your ally one day, and the next, you were on the hit list.

How did I deal with the madness? I found my sense of humor. I didn’t realize what a great coping mechanism this was. God will have your finest gifts come to the forefront when trying to survive a horrible situation.

When she would swoop in acting uptight, I would say something that would diffuse her anger. Instead of getting her wrath, I would make her laugh, and she would find someone else to chew out. It was a part of me that I had never known that I possessed.

Soon, she was coming in to sit down and rest. She no longer was showing up to rattle off orders but to take a few minutes to talk about life issues that were bothering her. I still would make her laugh, but I also asked her questions to try and build a rapport with her.

It never got to where I wanted her as my best friend, but I understood her better. She conversed about the pressure of her job and the stress of her home life. I got a better understanding of who she was, but she never was a staff favorite. I had learned how to circumvent her tirades and tongue lashings.

I often would walk into the gossip of those she had run over with her harsh behavior. The worst complaint about her was that she would make life miserable behind the scenes if someone weren’t up to her expectations. Every discussion always seemed to revolve around her eventually. She had planted herself firmly in all of our minds by way of bullying.

If a decision had to be made about anything, it always came down to if she would give it her stamp of approval. It had to be strategically laid out step by step, looking for landmines that could trigger a volatile reaction. Even a man’s best-made plans can still be for naught. I heard many staff weeping through the thin walls of my office and hers. Walking on eggshells doesn’t always guarantee bypassing a wicked reaction.

I had watched from my desk people get escorted to their cars after being fired. This wasn’t a gesture of courtesy. It was like watching someone on death row go to the executioner.

We were drilled on state requirements and prepared for drop-in inspections. We were always told to act calm when a state inspector showed, and if they suddenly came, every one of us knew who to contact so the entire facility was aware. There was a chain of command to follow. Her ultimate badge of honor was to be deficiency-free no matter the carnage of staff she left in her wake.

The idea was not to let them see us sweat. She thought if we showed any nervousness, this would go over as guilt. Like we were hiding something.

I was on the phone gathering information on a potential client, and over the loudspeaker, I heard her scream,

“They are here! I repeat! They are here!”If she would have had a nuclear button on her desk, she would have hit it with a hammer.

So much for serenity. I heard the familiar beat of heels getting their workout as she ran for the front door. The atmosphere changed from tense to unbearable. This would be a week of intrusion that we all hoped would result in the news she wanted to hear.

None of us wanted to get a poor result, but the added layer of how she could potentially make us pay if we did was foremost on the minds of all.

As an assistant, it would be rare for me to go head to head with anyone representing the state. Usually, the supervisors of each department were introduced to batten down the hatches. It was one of her worst nightmares to think that one of us underlings would be able to handle a situation and say the right thing.

It was viewed like the segment in the Miss America competition where we had to give answers on the spur of the moment. Minus the swimsuit or evening gown portion. She didn’t want anyone to stumble over their words and appear uneducated. She feared that someone would babble.

Imagine her coronary arteries going into an uproar when I was suddenly greeted by one of the inspectors from the state.

“Can I come in?” He asked, knocking on the door. My supervisor had just left for a few moments, and I had to be her substitute because that was the rule. They could quiz all of us at any given moment.

He extended his hand and introduced himself. Sitting down, I knew from training, I was to close the door. This is when I saw her look at me through the window. Eyes wide and a hard swallow, with a slight head shake, were signs signaling that she thought I was about to blow her perfect record.

I heard her go into her office next door. Probably with her ear to the wall to be sure I was the perfect Stepford Wife.

He started to ask me a series of questions about finances and how payment was processed. I went through each type, pulling out examples of paperwork, explaining each one. About halfway through, I realized he had no idea what I was talking about. He seemed nervous.

“Could you repeat that?” He would say as he took notes on his sheet. So I asked him,

“Do you know the difference between Medicare and Medical Assistance?”

“Not at all. I’m new to this, so you are helping me learn.”

I went from feeling put on the spot to being his mentor in seconds. I knew what it was like not to understand something complex but necessary to perform well on a job.

By the time our interaction was over, he left like he had attended a seminar on the subject and thanked me.

She immediately vaporized in the hall.

“How did it go?”

She had listened through the wall, so she already knew.

This is how I remember her all these years later. I don’t think it was necessarily a personality disorder as it was a drive for perfectionism and power. She conducted herself in a way that left mental scars on many. Some of us could withstand it, while others escaped, often feeling like failures.

No longer able or willing to undergo her temper tantrums, they departed with awful memories of her. For those of us who somehow managed to stay aboard the Titanic, it was for a check. None of us had any loyalty toward her.

Her life stressors didn’t excuse her brutality.

She never considered the pain she inflicted on those around her. While she was so consumed by being monitored by the government, she never thought that God was watching. Every unkind word, act, and power play was being observed by heaven. She didn’t just break the Golden Rule. She crushed it into the ground under her mauve-colored pumps with many spirits attached.

No one is God, so her fate is in His hands.

The other day I saw this advertisement by a fast food restaurant looking to hire:

Why work for a clown when you can work for a King?

I knew the reference, but I saw it in another way.

In many church circles I have been in and out of, one of the repetitive phrases has been that we are “daughters and sons of the King.” So often, we slave under conditions where a message is sent loud and clear. We aren’t valued for what we do.

You might hear a thank you once in a while, but you are very aware of how ungrateful your boss is the rest of the time. You are made to feel that your paycheck is a gift, not a given. While you put in your best effort, you are subjected to the cruel nature of a dictator who is on a power trip.

When you wake up to it because your self-worth increases, there really is no going back. You are done with what was accepted by you before. Boundaries are put into place where there had been none, and you no longer can sit under the weight of someone else’s darkness and be suffocated by it.

You have this epiphany that the fear no longer holds you down. You don’t have to settle anymore to play the punching bag at the office. God has shown you the way, and He is your source for all you need.

You throw all caution to the wind and walk away, freeing yourself from the false tyranny.

In Psalm 37:18-19, God’s character is revealed,

God keeps track of the decent folk; what they do won’t soon be forgotten. In hard times, they’ll hold their heads high when the shelves are bare, they’ll be full. (Message)

Further in verses 25-29,

I once was young, now I’m a graybeard—
not once have I seen an abandoned believer or his kids out roaming the streets. Every day he’s out giving and lending, his children making him proud.
Turn your back on evil, work for the good, and don’t quit. God loves this kind of thing, never turns away from his friends. Live this way, and you’ve got it made, but rotten eggs will be tossed out. (Message)

The choice is yours—Trade in the clown for the King.

(Clowns to the left of me..jokers to the right…)

Precisely Calculated

I would come home from school and see the chalkboard propped up on my bed. Neatly written, there would be four rows of math problems to solve.

It was the basics of addition and subtraction. She knew I was struggling in this area, so she would sit down and go over my work from school during the day, where she saw that I was not grasping a concept and would write it out.

I actually did not appreciate it, but there was a method behind her madness. While she was trying to help me, I only saw it as more work to do. The first time she did this, she was not so sure I would fill in all the answers. It was a wild card moment because she knew I had this inward drive to do what she said, but there had also been times when I would try to put her on ignore. If even for just a few seconds.

“You got all of these right,” she said later after she checked them. Her tactic of using praise was another way for me to be swayed into continuing with her plan.

This started in the lower grades, and she kept it going. It wasn’t every day, only when she noticed that some of my homework had errors. It increased when I was subjected to a new teacher in second grade. I could not learn from him, and she recognized this.

“You have never had a problem with reading and writing; what is happening?”

They had us rotate to another classroom for other subjects at the school I was in. He was not my permanently assigned instructor. I spent an hour being taught by him about verbs, subjects, and the basics of reading. I usually had no difficulty, but I began to disassociate mentally.

“You have a personality clash with him,” she said.

I had no idea what this meant. All I knew was that he targeted me with unkind remarks, then expected me to treat him with respect. This was confusing and made me withdraw as a way to protect myself. When he spoke, I would become afraid he would run me down. It would happen out of the blue, so I became on high alert to prepare myself.

Because of the mental torment, this shut off my ability to learn.

The way public school worked back then was if you were not scoring the greatest, it was overlooked until it got so bad that it was clear that concepts weren’t being understood. You could move along at a subpar level and not fully comprehend ideas built on one another.

She knew this, so she took it upon herself to make sure I wouldn’t get too far off course. Math challenged me, but literacy and reading had never been a problem.

She spoke to this instructor directly. Of course, he was on his best behavior with her on the phone as she was challenging him and looking into why I was not performing well. I was so young I couldn’t articulate what was occurring to me. He felt threatened, I think, and started to leave me alone. There was some inclination that his treatment of me in his classroom was beginning to go too far, so he retreated.

“Chris, you and I will work on this at home. He’s not getting through to you somehow.”

She still wrote out math problems on the board, and every day she worked with me on the other subject.

Because of her tenacity, I got through that grade and on to the next. Amazingly, this is where my ability to write became pronounced. Being aware on some level that God had given me a gift, she was not about to let him steal it away from me.

I had to face him again in sixth grade for math. (See Problem Solved listed below)

One of the phrases that she said repeatedly was,

“It’s not the problem. It’s how you solve it.”

The first time she said this to me, I shook my head at her. It was like she wasn’t listening to what I was trying to tell her. I knew that girls at school were shoplifting, and they wanted me to do it with them.

I kept declining the offer because I knew it was wrong. Day after day, they would talk of what they had stolen after school and how fun it was. When I refused to go along with them, they turned on me. This was the beginning of my awakening that I needed to cut off certain members of society for my good.

When I finally told her the pressure I was under, her response was,

“Chris, it’s not the problem. It’s how you solve it.”

And that was it. No matter what I would bring to her, that would be her answer. I would go over all the details of the injustice or who said what or was acting like a fool. She would look at me and throw out that answer for everything.

“You ALWAYS say this to me!” I said back to her more than once.

“Because it’s the only answer. You already have the problem, so now you have to focus on responding to it. Are you going to keep going over the issue a million times, or are you going to deal with it and move on?”

I didn’t understand her point then, but I do now. The energy one expends on continually bashing against the wall of what was said or done could be channeled toward getting on with your life. She told me that to stop the situation from mushrooming, I had to see the solution, and you can’t do that if you are emotionally stuck in the situation.

Not everyone will like you or get along with you. What I surprise, I know.

Some people will use you and not give it a second thought. They will deceive you. There will be words and actions taken against you that will not be pleasant, and that is a fact. That was not a concept I easily accepted as a child and sometimes as an adult. She was trying to tell me then not to let it devastate my world.

In Matthew 10:14 it says,

Any city or home that doesn’t welcome you—shake off the dust of that place from your feet as you leave. (TLB)

Nowhere does that say to linger.

God had a higher calling on my life, and He does for everyone. When something comes along to disrupt that, this is when you decide to move past it or hang on to it. You get that choice.

I had heard on so many occasions that if you genuinely have forgiven someone of their trespasses against you, you will continually be in their presence. Not true. I have had God physically separate me from what wasn’t working. It might have appeared that I was shutting people out of my life, but I was prompted to move ahead and leave the toxic part behind. The dead end will not lead you anywhere, and while you are expending your thoughts on it, you are missing out on what is valuable.

You are trading your time for something that will not bring you to go where God wants you to.

In Matthew 8:21, Jesus addressed this concept when he said,

First things first. Your business is life, not death. Follow me. Pursue life. (Message)

Not one time did He sweat it out over what people said about Him or their actions toward Him. And that is a great example to follow. Not always easy because of the pain that gets inflicted. How can you be healed if you are so focused on what caused the wound in the first place?

It’s not about stuffing down your feelings or pretending all is well and slapping on a smile. Been there, always done that. That doesn’t work either. So what is your option? Give it to God. There is a promise in Psalm 147: 3-12,

He is the healer of the brokenhearted. He is the one who bandages their wounds. He determines the number of stars. He gives each one a name. Our Lord is great, and his power is great. There is no limit to his understanding. The LORD gives relief to those who are oppressed. (Message)

The one thing that I have come to understand from her simple response is that the work was to be done by me. It wasn’t up to the other party to take responsibility for their actions. To wait around for that or to expect that would have amounted to absolutely nothing. I had to take what had been presented and transmute it into something that no longer harmed me. That has to happen at a spiritual level, not an exterior one. Until you drop the “I am right” fight that can go on mentally for years and years, your peace won’t manifest itself.

I thought that the worst class I ever had to take was geometry. It was an exhausting study for one who just wanted to read a book and not think about numbers. All the steps involved to get from point A to Z were laborious. There were theorems and proofs to work through regarding shapes and how they related to one another. The concepts started slow but then built over the course.

One of the most straightforward ideas to understand was intersecting lines. This is where two lines meet and share a common point.

We will have to deal with this for the rest of our time here. There will be no way around it. The commonality of it is that God is in the middle of it. As two cross paths, for whatever reason, good or not so great, there will be something learned from it.

As we go on, we will be better at discerning, returning to peace more quickly, able to help those who we are supposed to who are having a rough time and waste less of ours on things that have no eternal meaning. This all opens the way to fulfill your true purpose.

Each time you decide not to let a person or concern roll you and take you down, your insight becomes sharper, more accurate, with fewer errors, and precisely calculated.

(This is not the kind of pie I prefer…)

*Problem Solved

Posted on  by Christine

Please don’t call on me. Please don’t call on me.  This was my daily mantra during his math class in sixth grade. I had a history with this man and had hoped to never be his student again.

Previously I was in one of his classes in second grade, and I had gone from being an avid reader with great pronunciation skills to not being able to comprehend sentences.  I began to bring home extra work to do with my mom to improve my understanding.  She noticed that I was not struggling as she and I worked together.  After a couple of these sessions, she said to me,

“I don’t think you like your teacher.”

“No. I don’t.”

“Why?”

My seven-year-old mind could not articulate clearly why I did not like him.  I just knew I didn’t.  In hindsight, it was my first experience with being intimidated, but I didn’t understand it.  It wasn’t that he was a male teacher as much as his attitude. I recall seeing him flirt with the young female teacher across the hall, and in an instant, his demeanor would become harsh with the children in his room.  He was unpredictable, and I never knew when I would meet his approval or not.  He put me on edge, and I always felt his anger simmering below the surface. To add to my fear, he towered over me. One of my brothers was just as tall, but it was the way this man glared at me from above that made me cower.

During our one on one reading sessions, he would often laugh and ridicule those who were not pronouncing words correctly.   He would use another student to ‘correct’ the one who was making a fool of himself.  It was a form of public humiliation amongst the peers.  Not being able to take the pressure, I shut myself down, and with that my favorite subject became my most difficult.  My voice, which once was strong, became small and weak with the idea that he was going to lash out and make me feel horrible about myself.  The best part of my day was when our hour of reading with him was over, and I returned to my homeroom next door.

When second grade ended, I wasn’t only glad to welcome in the freedom of summer but to be away from him forever.  Forever lasted until the sixth grade. He picked up right where we had left off. This time, he was my math instructor which wasn’t my best subject.   His eyes would scan the room looking for his prey to call up to the board. Hands across the room would fly up, but I always put my hands under my desk to be sure there was no mistaking my desire to stay seated.   Regardless, he would pick me.  I never got used to being in front of the entire class sweating over the board trying to appease him only to be interrupted.  I would just begin to write and he would snap.

“No! That’s already wrong. Go sit down.”  I would quietly put the chalk back in its place while he would then call upon his star math student who would go up and show us all how it was to be done.

“Now, that is perfect,” he would say shooting me a satisfied sadistic smile.

The worst part was the homework.  He would hand out our assignment and expect it back by the end of the day.  For a person who caught on to numbers quickly, this would have been easy.  But, I had such a mental block, partially due to him making me feel stupid, I needed the extra time in the evenings to complete the work.  If a student didn’t turn in the homework of the day, then she was expected to ask him permission to take it home and turn it in the next morning.  Every day I made the short but long walk to his door to ask if I could have an extension. It was a ritual short of bowing and kissing a ring on his hand. Some afternoons when he was preoccupied with impressing some of his young female students, I would get a head nod followed by a grunt. Other times, he would torture me with tormenting questions.

“Can I take my math work home tonight?” I would squeak.

“Again? Why can’t you get it done during the day like everyone else?”  He knew full well I needed the extra time.  After making me feel like an absolute idiot, I would finally get the approval to take my work home.

One day, as I walked slowly down the hall, I noticed him standing in his classroom doorway facing his students.  He was quiet and so was the entire class.  Looking back now, I should have known to just turn around and forget it, but I didn’t realize what I was walking into.  As I neared him, he began to yell at the top of his lungs.

“I told you all to shut up, and I mean it!  I don’t want to hear another word until the bell rings!”  His voice echoed off the walls around me.  Sensing I was behind him, he whirled around.  Screaming in my face he said,
“WHAT DO YOU WANT?” Spit flew from his mouth and his eyes were crazy looking.

“I need to take my math home….” I think I actually whispered my request.

“I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU DO!”

He spun on his heel and slammed the door so hard that the floor beneath my feet shook.  I ran back to my class. When I came in the door, my teacher asked,

“Are you okay, Christine?”

I kept my head down and nodded.  He looked at me for a while like he wasn’t so convinced.  I don’t know how he hadn’t heard the commotion out in the hallway, but I was so paralyzed with fear I could not speak.

I left elementary school and went on to middle school, high school, and college bearing the unseen scars that he inflicted.  I was amazed by the other kids who could whip out math answers while I struggled over each and every problem. I had a teacher tell my mom at a conference that he felt sorry for me because he could see that I really wanted to comprehend the material but it just didn’t stick.  Something was blocking my ability to get to the right answer.  When she told me this I must have been touched by it because on the next test I whizzed through it.  By the end of that year, I had gotten a low B in his class.

The damage wasn’t just confined to school.  If I was with a group of people playing a game where a score needed to be tallied, and I was questioned on my accuracy, I would immediately say,

“I am bad at math.” I was merely verbalizing the thought I was having twenty-four seven.

Usually, I hadn’t made an error, but due to early childhood programming by a bully math teacher, I constantly defaulted to what I thought was true.  If the person in my social circle was somewhat aggressive, I found myself thinking for certain I was at fault and he or she was right. I was continuing to exist as a sixth-grade math student.

The pattern of living this way began to dissolve when I decided to home school my daughter. I knew that I was going to excel with instructing her on reading, writing, spelling, and basic math, but there was the nagging question of whether I had what it took to effectively teach math at the sixth-grade level or higher. The summer before she was to begin that grade, a packet came in the mail that included a math placement test. Before I gave the exam to her, I took it. I was shocked to see that I scored rather high. Calculations that would have been confusing made absolute sense. How had I become one of those kids that I had envied so much?

That is when I realized how my thinking was not correct on this matter.  There were other hints along the way, but I had brushed them off quickly because after all, “I was bad at math.”

When I began home school, I purposefully bought a math curriculum that used a hands-on approach to teaching not only basics but also some geometric and algebraic principles. As I showed her the logic to solving equations, I began to understand that I had not been taught properly. I was slowly beginning to see that I was not the stupid idiot I thought I was. I actually had not been given good instructions nor was I treated like I should have been.

This made me begin to question what other lies I was believing about myself that were not true, and I made a determination to begin an ‘uncovering’ process to free myself from deceptive thinking.  This meant asking God to reveal whatever wasn’t right so I could correct it.   After all, it is promised that ‘all crooked paths will be made straight.’  I am realizing that this is an ongoing process.

This man was in my life more than 36 years ago.  And all these years later I can conjure up his face, his words, and his demeanor.  The difference, however, is that I no longer believe him.  I have put a loving arm around my sixth-grade self, and I have told her,

“You are good at math.  Problem solved.”

Best For Us

The biggest arguments my mom and I had were over apparel. Typically, this happens in the teen years when a girl wears something that shocks the previous generation. Less and less material is used as each decade clicks by, which can cause a young person and her authority figure to be at odds.

I was in kindergarten, so this was way before the appointed time. And I wanted to cover up more, not less. I was raised with a pack of wolves, known as brothers, and I wanted to run free and not be slowed down by dress shoes and skirts.

Depending on what I was wearing determined my comfort level for playing. I couldn’t have my brother launch me halfway across the backyard unless I had pants on.

He would lay on his back and put both of his feet up. He would balance me on them and then do a countdown. He would push me forward with all his strength to see how far I could go. Similar to shotput but from a prone position.

Because I was so young and trusted everything, I never contemplated the head injury I could have sustained. I always landed face first in the grass. I would get up and have him do it again.

This was in direct competition with what my mom was trying to accomplish.

She, on the other hand, had received her last child and wanted to mold and shape me into what she thought was “proper.”

“My job, Chris, is to teach you social graces.”

Whatever that was.

It was like a page ripped out of My Fair Lady. We spoke in different dialects.

She tried her best, but I defied her at every turn.

She recognized that I would fight her every step of the way. I didn’t want to give up my brother’s circus training I was participating in. Who knew where my high-flying tricks would lead me?

Being a negotiator, she said,

“You have to wear a dress to school at least once a week.”

I was five, so I was learning how to tell time. We had analog that actually made you have to think and count. But the concept of what it was still was a mystery to me. I desperately wanted to be like my older siblings, so I even wore one of their old watches.

It had stopped working when it was given to me, but it made me feel less behind the rest of them.

When she would say,

“Today is the day for you to wear a dress,” it felt like it had just happened the day before.

I would slide into whatever she handed over and go into funeral mode. It felt like I was dying. It was bad enough that my days of freedom had been interrupted by the school demanding I be there for half a day.

I had other things I wanted to do instead.

I had to associate with children my age which seemed lame compared to all the older people I lived with. This particular kid always wanted to sit by me, and when the teacher would say,

“Exchange your crayon with a person next to you,” he would always come for mine.

Just because I extended him a few seconds of my time, he thought he owned me. I couldn’t move anywhere in the classroom without him next to me like my shadow. And he always asked me what time it was because of my broken watch. I just made up a number.

The whole experience felt unnecessary, and so did wearing a dress.

I wore her out because she dropped the rule by first grade, but our war moved on to another article of clothing.

Boots.

I did not like wearing them when the weather changed. She would send my tennis shoes with me to change into once I got to school. We did not live that far from the elementary school, so I thought it was overkill to change.

As I went up in grades, I resisted wearing them more and more. I believe I had assimilated into what the rest of my peer group was doing. Snow boots were deemed for babies. I had witnessed a classmate of mine being ridiculed for wearing them, so to ward this off, I would leave the house, take off my boots and wear my other shoes the rest of the way.

What she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her, and I wouldn’t be targeted.

This was all going along swimmingly until the day I forgot to bring my boots home from my locker. In my haste to get out of jail and back into the free world, I grabbed my jacket, my books and walked out the front door.

It was a Friday, so that made it even better.

The house was unusually quiet when I walked in. She was at the kitchen sink rinsing a glass. Turning, she said in a whisper,

“I lost my voice.”

I was going to respond as I saw her eyes travel downward toward my feet.

I was in trouble. She didn’t need her vocal cords to bring fire and fury.

“Where are your boots?” She hissed, moving closer. She knew by motherly intuition that this was probably an ongoing habit that I had hidden.

The look on her face was pure anger. I was trying to come up with an excuse, a lie, a handwritten note from my doctor, but nothing was coming to me. So I went with the truth.

“I left them in my locker at school. I didn’t wear them home.”

If she had stopped interrogating me right there, we would have gone about our lives. But, no, she had to say,

“Do you go to school and change into your tennis shoes before you get there? And put your boots back on when you are almost home?” All of this was forcefully said in a hushed tone.

Had she hired a private investigator to track me and my underhanded ways? How did she know this? Because she could be scary like that. I decided to be bold.

“Yes, I do. I don’t like wearing boots. It looks stupid!”

“You need to wear them! There is ice you could fall on.” A physical injury was less important to me than psychological trauma.

Because of her laryngitis, her lecture wasn’t as long as usual.

“I don’t like them.” I kept it simple.

“I don’t care! Where are they?”

They were in my locker, not available until Monday.

“At school.”

This took it up another notch.

“You better never do this again! You know this was wrong!”

She was trying to exert herself to get me to be compliant. I slid out of my shoes and walked away. It’s hard to take someone seriously when they are whispering.

I realized that if I wasn’t in front of her, she couldn’t yell, and my chances of hearing her were less. I was not committing to her ways anytime soon.

She followed me.

“Christine Ann, don’t you walk away from me while I’m speaking!”

Not the full name. I faced her again.

“You will wear your boots like I have told you!”

I cannot explain why I did what I did next. But instead of talking to her in my normal voice, I whispered back,

“No! I won’t! I hate them!”

She thought I was making fun of her, and now we had another problem.

I was going to try and explain myself, but then the humor of it hit me. I started laughing. It appeared I had just gone into total rebelliousness. This just made it worse. Coffin, meet nail.

“Don’t you dare mock me! How dare you first not listen to me and then think my illness is funny!”

She was straining super hard. I wish I had known then to tell her that she could permanently damage her voice by doing that. It was probably good I didn’t.

I had to get myself under control. I knew she wouldn’t hit me, but I didn’t want to chance it. I had never been this far down the road before.

“I don’t know why..” I started to explain, and then I started laughing again.

She stood there with her arms crossed, looking at me like I didn’t belong to her.

“Get to your room.”

She walked away.

I didn’t dare slam my door because she would make me open and close it quietly whenever I did. So I skipped that part. There was enough to contend with.

I was met with icy silence, and it was not all related to her losing her voice.

Later, she came back into my room and sat on my bed.

“You don’t have to do what I tell you.”

This was the best news I had heard so far.

“Won’t you be mad at me if I don’t?”

This seemed too easy.

“No, I won’t be angry. I will be disappointed. There’s a difference. I have to trust that you will obey me.”

She was speaking directly to my conscience, and it was like she took a hammer to my chest.

“You can keep up with what you are doing, and if you fall and hurt yourself, I won’t be mad. I will be sad that you didn’t listen.”

I wore my boots and put up with the heckling from that time on. Her relationship with me was more important than a group of losers at school.

I have had to get to that point many times on various issues with God. I want my way, but I hear that still, small voice say, “No, do this instead.”

It might put us in an uncomfortable situation, and we don’t always see why at first, but we have to trust that heaven sees and knows what is best for us.

(That’s how I took them off..am I coming or going?)
(Evidence of WHY I should not have been forced into a dress! Ugh!)

Vessel

I woke up to take another sip of water. The skin on my forehead felt tight from a sunburn, but my symptoms were not from the after effects of a tropical vacation. Instead, it was the flu.

I had heard all the reports that year about how bad it was. People who were in good health had died because this one was supposedly the worst strain yet. This was three years before the pandemic, but it wasn’t given as much publicity.

I implemented what I had learned from my upbringing from my mom, the personal in-house nurse,

“Drink, Chris,” she would say when I didn’t want to.

“No. I’m not thirsty.”

“Do it anyway.”

I would put my lips on the edge of the glass and pretend.

“You didn’t take any. Drink!”

When I was that sick and fatigued, the last effort I wanted to make was swallowing liquid.

“I can tell by the color in your face that you need water,” she would say. If she forgot her thermometer, she would either put the back of her hand on my face or her lips on my forehead. She never seemed fearful of contracting what I had. She had to run the house, so even germs obeyed. She was in control. Not an illness.

We could be sprayed down with Lysol at the door, made to choke down substances that are illegal to give humans now, and forced to gargle the salt content of the entire Dead Sea. A spoon coming at me always meant something disgusting was about to hit my tongue.

If a disease dared to manifest itself in her home, she would become a totally different person. I wasn’t used to her giving me a lot of attention. And, I would have gladly done without it.

If one or more of us were down, she had lists of medications, times, and temperature checks. You were on her roster, and she would make her rounds.

I couldn’t keep anything from coming back up during one particular illness, so the forced fluids weren’t working. She noticed that I had started to throw up dried blood from my lungs.

The following day I woke up to the smell of popcorn. The minute my eyes opened, she came into my bedroom with a bowl of it and a glass of room temperature pop.

“I want you to try and eat this.”

Everything in me refused, but she insisted.

“Just try it, Chris. Just one small piece.”

I put it in my mouth, too tired to chew, and fell back to sleep. Throughout the day, she would tell me to eat more, and for some odd reason, it started not to be so bad, and I was also developing this incredible thirst. I drank down the initial glass, and she filled it up.

By the end of that day, I had drank a lot. A few days later, I was improving rapidly.

“Remember that night you threw up what looked like coffee grounds?” She asked. It was hard to forget.

“Yes.”

“I asked the Holy Spirit what I should do. That’s one of the first signs of pneumonia. I heard to make you popcorn and put a lot of salt on it, and it would make you well. It would make you thirsty.”

I bet that tip isn’t on any web MD list of recommendations.

She had pulled us all through times of physical distress by applying her nursing skills and praying for guidance.

She ingrained it in me so strongly that when I had a run-in with the superbug of the century that year, I did what she had always said,

“Drink, Chris, drink!”

It is easier to make yourself do it as an adult because you understand the goal better. The idea is to flood the system and force the invasion out. If I did this at the onset, it would shorten its duration by days and give my immune system control.

So I would wake up, try not to think about the death toll, and finish one cup at a time.

During one of my hydro sessions, I went into my email. I don’t know how they had gotten my address, but there was an invitation to be a book reviewer online.

In my feverish haze, I typed in all my information, set up an account, and drifted off. Two weeks later, I recalled I had done something.

Sure enough. I had signed up. I investigated and found I was on the very bottom of the pile. There were six levels to achieve, kind of like a video game where you have to show your merit.

My first undertaking was written by a pastor who took the age-old story of Adam and Eve and made it new. I had specific guidelines to follow as I wrote out my paragraphs from my notes. It had to be run by the elite editors on the site and checked for adherence to the guideline rules.

I had to strictly implement certain criteria into each one or face the firing squad. On the one hand, I could write freely, giving my thoughts, but on the other, I had to include key elements, such as listing the title and the author’s name. And if any of these requirements were missing or not done as ordered, the review could be rejected.

I passed the first one with flying colors, and since I was a novice, they gave me no payment. As I said, I had to prove myself worthy. By my fifth attempt, I was moving up levels quickly, earning bonus points, and was at 6, the writers who were offered the higher paying jobs.

I fought my way through a couple of author disputes. All the writers were grateful for the most part, but a couple had their egos all wrapped up in their books. I understand it is a part of you when you write, but a few of them were so suspicious of us not giving them the perfect review, they would attack for no reason. The moderator had to step in on my behalf to appease the other party.

One of the worst offenders was a church leader.

The business owner changed some of his rules and decided that if you were at the top, you had to participate in editing other reviewers’ work. I did not enjoy this at all. If I felt someone had done an excellent job, but another editor found fault with something, we had to argue our point. I didn’t go to school to be a lawyer. It wasted my time and took away from the real reason I was there.

This created an unhealthy relationship between all of us. Once getting glowing scores, my reviews now became subject to a harsh system where I started to feel as if my writing was failing. It was the same, if not better, but the editors were told to find something wrong to keep too many from climbing too fast. I had to dispute many remarks made and defend my work to keep my score high. The grading became degrading.

Slowly, it took away my joy of what had always come so easily to me.

After three years of being under that scrutiny, I took a long break and kept everything I wrote to myself. The day I quit, I immediately went back to reading what I wanted, just like I always had. It felt like I was taking in oxygen again. Because of the rules, I started to believe I wasn’t a good writer anymore based on a faulty system. I had to conform, or I wasn’t approved. I had let the judgments of others get to me.

I heard The Little Drummer Boy playing in a store the other day. It reminded me of one of my brothers, who is naturally talented in drumming. He, too, went through situations where instead of being allowed to play freely, he was expected to follow a particular beat and restrain his abilities.

While in high school, I recall this happening in a music class where my parents realized an instructor was crushing him down. He wanted to quit and started to feel inadequate. When really, he was great at it.

My mom noticed that his nightly practice in the basement wasn’t happening. Usually, for an hour every evening, we would have to yell at each other to communicate over the crashing sounds from below. You could hear him down the block.

“He used to sit in the middle of the kitchen floor and drag out all my pots and pans to play. He could barely walk and was in diapers when he did that,” she always told me.

It was unusual for his drums to sit silent.

It became a learning time for him as it had for me. Not everyone will see what God has blessed a person with, and from those places, you walk away. If you aren’t appreciated for what you bring, then that’s a sign you aren’t in the spot you have been created for. Sometimes things aren’t going to follow the way that things are ‘normally’ done. I was healed from pneumonia one popcorn bowl at a time.

In 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, it puts it into perspective the only One who we have to please with our abilities:

God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere, but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere, but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! (Message)

When I heard the song, I listened to the lyrics. The drummer comes to play because that’s his gift to offer. He isn’t the main attraction in the story, but he carries an important message. He isn’t there to win over the crowd but to display the abilities that are God given, to do something he loves, make the world better and be a vessel.

Make Your Way Home

The walk home from middle school was only a mile, but it felt like a million. I packed my books into my canvas bag, slung it over my shoulder, and zipped up my coat.

I pushed open the exit door, happy to leave the place behind. I never felt like I fit in, and I didn’t try all that hard to. I thought my peer group was immature, and I couldn’t bring myself down to that level. I had already tried smoking at 11, felt incredibly guilty, and that was all the farther I was willing to delve into juvenile delinquency type behavior.

I had friends in elementary school, but they had chosen to follow the road of least effort and do drugs and other activities I didn’t care to participate in. I kept dodging their invites, so they deemed me an outsider who thought she was superior to them. When I didn’t bow down to the peer pressure, they ridiculed and threw me aside.

Because of the so called rejection and my decision to walk away, I didn’t trust anyone. If they could turn on me like that, who else would? So I shut myself off and kept a safe distance from everyone.

It had been awhile since his harassment began, and like a winged creature, he would swoop out of nowhere and follow me. I had no protection other than to push the ignore button. He was two years younger than I was, so quite a bold move on his part to try and gain my attention.

His approach was aggressive as he would invade my personal space by standing in front of me, blocking the way. Like a small, yapping dog, he would say vile things. None of what streamed out of his mouth was frightening; it just made me angry.

I generally just kept my eyes locked straight ahead and my hands in my pockets. I said nothing in return and kept on moving as best as I could. Inwardly I could not believe how demented this kid was, and I did not indicate that he even existed.

I had been trained at home to treat my older brother that way. My mom had told me that my reaction would determine whether the situation would halt in its tracks or keep going. I had learned to breeze past my sibling, not giving him the satisfaction of my time. He was left standing by himself with no one to torment.

I was applying that theory to this situation, but it didn’t seem to be working. This troll wasn’t backing down. He had been doing this since the first day of school, and it was now mid-February. I could have told my brothers to handle him, but I felt that was an unfair advantage because they were double his age. On some level, I knew he was a mess, but I was hoping he would get bored and leave me alone.

As usual, he was hiding behind a tree and jumped in front of me. This game was so old and predictable. That particular day, the air was skin burning cold with a wicked wind, and my legs felt frozen with frostbite.

He started in with his usual litany of talk as I tried to escape. I crossed the street, he followed close by, running in circles around me, hurling disgusting comments. I could see my breath in the air as I sighed and made a decision. I stopped and turned around to face him.

He was shorter than me, with a height not even to my shoulders. He seemed to think this was the victory he had been longing for. The big moment had arrived, and he felt he had wooed me with his words. A crooked smile spread across his face. Another surge of fury went through me, and what he didn’t see coming was my gloved fist making contact with his nose. I purposely tried to have him feel the impact of the ring I had on my middle finger. The cold air added to the pain of the punch.

“You hit me!”

I dropped my book bag to the ground, ready to do it again. It felt good to unleash on him finally.

He crouched down at my feet while I
towered over him.

“My nose,” he wailed.

I didn’t feel the slightest bit of remorse. I was more than ready to do it again.

He stumbled back to his feet, covering his face.

“I’m telling my mom!”

“Really?”

I picked up my bag and said,

“Where do you live? I will come with you and tell her everything you have been saying to me.”

He looked like he would have rather died of a stroke.

“Let’s go!”

His target and object of affection had now turned the tables on him.

“Get away from me!”

He started backing up, and I moved in closer. Half looking at me, half beginning to run, he began to flee, but I pursued him. The hunter had now become the hunted.

“Leave me alone! I’m telling!”

“I know. Let’s go tell!”

He broke out into a full on run, and so did I despite the ice. When he rounded the corner, I stopped, and he went on without me, never to bother me again.

Sometimes in life, you have to rise and put a stop to things that are a nuisance. If we passively sit by and let situations or people push us down, we have given away our God given power. Whether we surrender it out of fear or to be “nice”, there comes a time when we have to get honest and cut ties with it to be our authentic selves.

The pest appeared to be intimidating, but he fell like a house of cards when it came right down to it. While I had to fight back physically, most battles will be mental. We will have to go toe to toe with thoughts like worry, low self-esteem, or negativity. Putting them in their place will bring an end to the disruption. Some may linger and taunt relentlessly, seemingly hindering your purpose and destiny. Still, if one keeps persistently refusing to accept the illusion, a new mindset will knock out the false one.

In Romans 12:2, we are given great advice on how to silence the bullying thoughts that plague us:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. (NLT)

You can shut off the unnecessary noise through prayer, filling one’s mind with positive news and acting on the instructions of heaven. When you decide not to allow it anymore, God will clear your path and pave it with peace as you make your way home.

Trouble Is Brewing

The aroma of coffee beans permeated my hair and clothing the second I walked in the door. Like a warm, friendly hug it engulfed me. The tables were loaded with drinkers of all sorts sipping on frothy concoctions that were worth every inflated dime. I saw my good friend standing by the counter eyeing her choices on the board.  She was having a hard time deciding what she wanted because this wasn’t her usual drive thru order.  This was a legitimate experience that required more from her than just saying,

“I will take the number 1.”

No, this was a face to face encounter with another human being versus hanging out the car window yelling into a box.  A treat this great comes with much contemplation.

“I love coffee. I love it,”  she said as I watched her eyes scan the board.

“What are you having?” she asked.

“I am having a medium iced peach black tea with a shot of raspberry.”

“That sounds good.  But, I love coffee. ”

After much travail, in which I thought she was going to opt for a fancy whipped up drink on steroids, she said,

“Coffee.  Black.   With a little cream.”

I think she went back and forth on the cream, but I was preoccupied getting out my card to pay.

Both of us were ecstatic to be meeting not only because we hadn’t seen each other for awhile but because it was free time.  No responsibilities and pure freedom.

It wasn’t difficult to find ourselves quickly wrapped up in discussions over writing, talking about God, and how our lives were progressing.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a woman enter the shop. It was one of those subtle things that happen but you don’t really recall the details of it until later.

We continued to talk, and she began telling me a story from her childhood.  Usually most of our time together is spent telling our true life stories.  Some funny, some sad, but we always leave each other feeling better just for having been together for a little while.

I was slightly aware that the woman who had come in was going table to table and talking to the patrons.  I was listening to my friend speak, but I was somewhat distracted as I watched people get out their wallets and go into their purses and hand her cash.

As she made her way closer to us, I didn’t give my friend any indication that I was overhearing or seeing what was going on around us.  My mind and eyes went from the thief making her way to our side of the room to trying to stay focused on what was being said.

I watched stealthily as she hit on a couple next to us.  Again, I made no mention of this to my friend who continued on talking.

When she sidled up to us, I kept my eyes locked straight ahead.  I refused to give her eye contact.

“I need gas money,” she barked.

She was glaring at my friend who responded by gulping and grabbing her purse to rummage for loose change.

I moved my head in slow motion so I could take in her attire. Her attitude was in full broadcast.

“I ran out of gas.  I need gas for my car.”

I saw her lick her lips as my friend handed over cash just like all the other people had done.

She turned to look at me.

“You don’t have cash?  You don’t have anything to give me?” Her annoyance was running high because I hadn’t moved into action to do her bidding.

I felt like I was in a school play yard and the class bully was attempting to take my lunch money. There was no humility or even a ‘please’.  Her approach was aggressive and intimidating.

I looked at my wide eyed friend who had conformed, and I saw the unspoken pleading for me to hand over what was being demanded.

“What color is your car?”  I asked.

She took a slight step back.

“What?” she asked with a sneer.

“I asked you the color of your car.”

“Ah-Ah-Ah-Bl, I mean red,” she snapped.

“What type of car is it?” I said immediately trying to limit her time to think.  Most people are able to say the color and make of their car without much thought.

“Ah- Ah-Ah-What difference does this make?” she snarled.

“What type of car do you drive?” I repeated not blinking.

“I uh, drive a red Pontiac.”

“Where are you stranded?  What are you going to use to put the gas into?  You don’t have a container.”

“I am going to buy a gas can!  Are you going to give me money or not?!”

“There are no stores around here to buy a gas can from.”

As she continued to retreat, her voice was becoming so loud that conversations ceased as we went back and forth.  My questions were making her lies come to light.

“Before I give you money, I am actually trying to help you solve your problem.  I don’t know how you are going to put gas in your car without having something to put it in.”

Realizing that I was exposing her to all those who had just believed her sob story, she shouted,

“I don’t need your money!”

Then, she looked at my friend and screeched,

“Thank YOU for helping me!”

Like that was supposed to make me feel embarrassed in public for not helping.  She ran as quickly as she could out the door and that ended her shift working the room.

When I turned back to my friend, she was shaking her head in disbelief and the couple at the table next to us began to argue.

“Why did you give that lady any money?”  he asked.

“Because she said she was out of gas!”

“She was lying! Why did you listen to her?!  You gave her a lot of money!”

“How was I supposed to know she wasn’t telling the truth?”

They had overheard my entire interaction with the petty criminal and realized they had been scammed.

“So many things get triggered when someone talks to me like that,” my friend said.  “I have had experiences in my past where people have bullied me so I just give them what they want so they will go away.  That is why I gave her the money.”  I could tell she felt bad about her decision now that the dust had settled.

“She was pretty intimidating, so I could see why you did what she wanted you to do.”

I sat for a moment and thought back over the entire exchange.  From the time she walked in the door, I knew that something was not legitimate about the lady.  That still, small voice inside of me was saying: Don’t do what she says.  The line of questioning I put her under was not preplanned and happened spontaneously.

It was similar to breathing. I don’t consider where my next breath is coming from.  It just shows up.

To live like this is the ultimate way to peace because it takes the dilemma out of things.  I like to help people who are in need, but I do not like to assist those who are ripping off the public.  Her yelling at me as if I was a cold hearted individual not willing to help was meant to humiliate me, and I have to say for a couple seconds she did make me feel like a low life. However, I had uncovered so many falsehoods in her story, I was easily able to shake off that notion of myself.

In this day and age of media, we are being told what to believe and how to believe it in the hopes that we will make our decisions based on what we see with our physical eyes and hear with our ears.

Proverbs 20:12 says,

“Ears to hear, and eyes to see-both are gifts from the Lord.” (NLT)

To embrace this wise saying means a wonderful thing.  We all have a powerful second set of senses connected to the spiritual realm that if utilized will help us separate the authentic from fabrications.

We know that God loves us, and we know that prayer helps to lead us on the right path when we have a decision to make.  The combination of that unfailing help of heaven and being willing to take a minute or two to quiet down and wait for an answer to come can make all the difference in the world.  Many times we are blinded by the raging noise from our televisions and radio.  We listen to all the voices telling us what to do instead of going inward and having the honest answer surface.

I didn’t have time to sit and ponder my decision as this person made her way over to our table that day.  However, I had been regularly practicing the quieting of my mind when faced with options to choose from.   With that in operation, I was able to easily identify the truth from fiction.  According to the verse above, we can tap into that supernatural vision and allow God to work on our behalf when trouble is brewing.

 

coffee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crossing the Line

“Give it baaaack!” she screamed as he yanked the scarf from her hand and whizzed away on his skates.

From where I stood, I could see his devil smile as he was encircled by his dark band of friends who congratulated him on his successful mission of disrupting us. It had been going on all afternoon.

A group of us had decided to spend our warm February Saturday at an ice rink in our neighborhood to visit and get some much needed fresh air after being trapped in school all week. We weren’t interested in catching the attention of the boys who shared our sixth grade classroom, but they were determined to annoy us. We had spent almost every waking moment with them and didn’t want to be around them for a minute longer. This was way before selfies and the idea of making oneself the center of attention.  We preferred the idea of enjoying life and the freedom of just being ourselves without putting on a show for the world to see.

We wanted to be out in the sun, talk about silly things, laugh and enjoy a small slice of freedom before the school bell would soon ring before we knew it. But, the creeps who were on the ice with us that day had other plans.

It brought this group of six creatures great joy to skitter by, call us names, grab hats off of heads, and rip off gloves from unsuspecting fingers just so the chase would be on. They knew they could out-skate us as they laughed in response to the shrieks of their various victims.

I had taken notice of what they were doing and kept myself aware of where they were at all times. Attempts were made to take some of my winter wear, but they were unsuccessful as I would turn away just in time so they would come up empty handed. However, I did have to hunt down a few of these perpetrators to help my companions retrieve their stolen items.  We were dealing with a bunch of immature idiots whose brain development had not yet reached its full potential.  If you have ever read the book, “Lord of the Flies” it was playing itself out in real time in a public park.

As the day wore on, our desire to stay waned and we were exhausted from trying to avoid them.  We had positioned ourselves in the farthest spot away, but they kept on with their stupid games.  We decided to give it up and go back to the warming house for our boots.  Noticing that their prey was departing, the six of them skated directly in front of us and formed a line.  The six of us formed a line and linked arms.  We weren’t so sure what they had planned except we were no longer going to passively stand by and let them torture us.

“Don’t cross this line!” one of them commanded.

He took the heel of his hockey skate and etched a line between us and them.  He returned to stand by his friends while leaning on his hockey stick.

It gave new meaning to the phrase Cold War as each of us refused to back down.

“And, what if we do?” one of the girls asked.

“Just don’t you dare!” a boy shot back.

“Who says we can’t?” another girl asked.

“We do!” a boy said.

To this day, I don’t know what prompted my actions, but I unlinked my arms and skated to the edge of the border.  All eyes were on me as I deliberately put the toe of my skate directly over their line.

I locked eyes with the leader who had so brazenly decided he could tell us our coming and going.  His eyes changed from wide to an angry squint and he let out a hair raising howl that indicated his burning rage toward my rebellious act.  My body was moving before my mind had taken a chance to process what was happening.  I saw him lunge at me slightly, but I had escaped his wrath by being one step ahead of him.

As I glided on the ice as fast as I could, his presence behind me was apparent with loud sharp breathing sounds.  The muscles in my legs were burning, but I knew if I paused I would be overtaken.  As in any race, it is a known rule not to look back at your competition, but my curiosity took over.  I thought,

What is he really going to do to me if he catches up to me?

I glanced over my left shoulder just in time to see his hockey stick above my head like a hatchet.  And, then, I was flat on the ice with a searing, throbbing pain by my eye that was unbearable.  Instinctively, I shielded myself from further physical punishment, but he had apparently skated off after clubbing me down.

“Are you okay?”  I heard a friend of mine say in my ear.

I was not moving after being violently smacked, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to see the damage that had been done to my face.

She coaxed me to a kneeling position and looked at my injury.

“I think you better go home right now.”

I could tell by the look on her face that she was shocked but trying not to scare me.

There was no blood, but the pulsating sensation in that particular area was increasing especially as I got up and wobbled to the warming house.

I quietly changed and made the walk home.  When I came into the house, I immediately burst into the tears I had been holding in.  I had not wanted to look like a sniveling cry baby in front of my friends and worse yet, the boys.

Through the tears, my mom tilted my head from side to side making her medical assessment.

“Who did this to you?  How did this happen?  The skin isn’t broken so you don’t need stitches.  You need ice on that right now.”

While I tried to control my emotions, she began cracking ice out of the trays to make an ice pack.

“Who did this?”

“A boy,” I replied.

“Why?”

I explained the entire story.

“I think we need to call his parents.”

“No,” I said.

“Why?”

“I just don’t want you to.”

By this time, my dad had come into the kitchen to see the greenish purple bruising that was forming around my left eye.

“Who gave you the shiner?”

“A boy and his hockey stick.”

Both he and my mom insisted on trying to call the parents, but I wouldn’t let them.

Two days later, I was back in school sporting a swollen eye with a horrible color to match.  As I walked past the boy who had inflicted this upon me, I saw him put his head down in a shameful way.  He did this every time our paths crossed in the hallway, and in the classroom, he never made eye contact with me at all. I think he had expected my parents to call his and probably was waiting for the inevitable punishment to follow.

It was apparent that his rash actions had led him to live with the black clouds of guilt and remorse. Without a verbal apology, I could see this in his body language toward me. His daily misery was almost worse than my physical injury. The boy who had been so in charge and intimidating a few days prior was now under the crushing weight of knowing he had hit a girl like a coward from behind.

I didn’t speak of it, and other than the ones who knew about it, no one else was aware of who had done this to me.  Even though I kept it to myself, one boy of the group repeatedly teased me and called me ‘brusier’ every chance he could.  While the other boys would laugh, the one who had caused the pain would look away, and I would be made fully aware again of his inward acknowledgment that he regretted doing this to me.  In the past, he would have joined in on the merriment, but his heart had changed on some level.

Sometimes, the act of hurting someone and the regret can be punishment enough. Often, there is no way to go back in time to undo the damage, but going forward, a decision can be made to treat others better.  At his young age, he probably didn’t know how to deal with the struggle of being sorry, yet, not wanting to look weak in front of his friends.

The black eye healed but a scar remained that has now been lost in a sea of crow’s feet.  As I apply mascara or eye shadow, I can faintly see the mark that was made so long ago from my act of courageously crossing the line.

 

hockeystick