Out of Order

The three of us looked on as many approached, saw the sign and backed away. It was clearly written in permanent marker and in no uncertain terms that the machine was out of order.

“It’s not working, ” she said with a dejection that jumpstarts a mother into action.

It had been a simple request for a pack of hard to find cinnamon mints while walking through the mall. The grocery stores and gas stations we frequented did not carry them, but a large glass encased vending machine at the food court offered every color of the rainbow to those who desired fresh breath. Unless the machine was malfunctioning.

Instead of walking away, I began to dig in my wallet for change. Money and the availability of it had become scarce following the divorce. My oldest child saw what I was doing and said,

“Don’t put your money in there. You will lose it.”

I had taught her well. It sounded like my own voice and practical advice that I had doled out on numerous occasions to her and her sister, yet, I persisted in locating another coin. Maybe there was one at the bottom of my purse.

“You are going to lose your money.”

Despite her warnings, I felt I was to ignore what I was seeing and go after the item she had requested. I clutched two quarters in my hand as I watched another person go up, read the sign and leave.

When I made my decision to try it anyway, she kept trying to talk me out of doing something so crazy. Once the coins were in the slots and I pushed them in, I grabbed on to the metal handle.

This is where things got somewhat tricky. The mechanism would not budge so my coins were suspended and not dropping in to allow my candy to be dispensed. I latched on with both hands, gritted my teeth, closed my eyes and put everything I had into turning that knob to the right. I leaned into it. I grunted inwardly.

After a few moments of mother against machine, I heard the soft clinking sound of my two coins falling into other coins. I opened my eyes to see a pack of red hot mints shoot across the room like a machine gun firing a bullet.

“Go get them!” I said as I watched them fly away. I didn’t have any money left to do it again.

As they both raced to retrieve them, I watched as another person walked up to the machine, read the piece of paper and walked away.

I know that I was not operating under my own impulses that day. How do I know? Because during that time of my life I was hanging on by a thread emotionally, physically and financially. Everything in me at all times feared the worst, and I was in survival mode to make sure my two children had what they needed. The divorce had left its scars on all of us, and I was trying to regain some normalcy.   But, to put my money into a machine that was probably going to take what little I had was not what I would have chosen to do.

However, I had this overwhelming thought to do it anyway because someone great was watching over us. Someone besides myself knew and saw the grief, despair and pain my household was enduring. A love greater than what I could hand out to my kids was watching us struggle to find our footing again like new born creatures. Everything seemed uncertain, so to take a chance by sticking my last two quarters into a machine was definitely not an idea generated by my own thinking.

I was being shown that not everything appears as it seems. It was an inward prompting to trust something bigger than myself, and to bring this passage alive: We walk by faith, not by sight.  Two quarters and a pack of elusive mints taught me one of the best lessons of my life.

When the divine is allowed in to bring healing, love and hope, nothing can ever be out of order.

outoforder

Eau De Oxiclean


When a bag of ice is in the trunk on a hot summer day and the trip from Walmart to home isn’t short, there is a sort of panic that ensues. No one wants to arrive home with a gigantic bag of water. In my haste last Sunday to unearth my ice from the thousands of Walmart bags I had carelessly piled on top of it, I grabbed my industrial sized jug of laundry soap and was holding it in one hand while attempting to grasp onto the bag that housed the ice. The large soap container slipped from my hold which I attempted to stop with my right foot. The bottle bounced and landed on its cap smacking the gargage floor sending a beautiful blue shower of fluid onto my new shoes, my ankles and both knee caps. It’s at times like this when a person loses all sense of speech and just keeps on repeating,

“Oh no. Oh no. Oh no,” while trying to reach down to stop the madness of the river forming around the feet.

The dilemma really was to try and get out of the blue puddle and race my fast melting purchase a few steps into the outside freezer without tracking detergent all over. At the same time, I was very aware of the sticky feeling that was beginning to happen between my toes. The ice took precedence as I skipped unhappily over to the refrigeratior to solve problem number one.

When I returned to the scene of the mess, my daughter came outside to help carry in more groceries. Because the liquid was right behind the trunk of my car, she had to keep her feet way back, reach in to grab more groceries and edge her way out without touching the glob. While she did this, I carefully picked up the container to attempt to clean it off and get it to the laundry room.

“I purposely picked out the bigger one with Oxiclean it. Now it’s all over the floor!” I said as I whisked into the house irritated at the circumstances.

While I was downstairs attending to the task, I heard the door to the kitchen open, and I heard her say,

“Trouble. Trouble Trouble.” Followed by a bit of running over ahead and then the sound of the faucet running.

It turned out, she had her run in with the soap as well. As she was trying to get more groceries out of the back, a large wrapped loaf of Italian bread took a dive into the puddle. I found the bread in the sink.

My hands and entire body reeked of detergent.

“Here. You hold the bag. I will use these tongs to slide the bread out without touching the bag, and I think we can save it.”

“My hands smell like laundry soap. I don’t think I can do it. I don’t want to ruin the bread.”

With the skills of a kitchen Ninja I carefully extracted the bread from the bag with the tongs without touching the afflicted bag. And, then it hit me.

Laughter. I was laughing so hard thinking about the two of us nearly running into each other in the garage and walking with my feet spread wide apart as if that would help anything. And it doesn’t. It never does, but I do it anyway to make myself feel better in those types of situations.

This then led me to recalling another time of chaos.

“Mom, I don’t feel good,” she had said just before bed. “I have a headache and my stomach feels weird.” I was exahusted from a full day of chores around the house, and I wanted to get to bed.

“Why don’t you sleep on my floor?” I made up a bed for her with pillows, extra bedding and a basin in case of an emergency.

“Just try to go to sleep. I will be back in a minute. I have dishes to clean up.”

Within moments of being in the kitchen, I heard my bedroom door open. I knew instinctively that something was amiss. Our black lab, Shady, thought my daughter was coming out to play. While I attempted to get to my daughter, the dog lept in my way.

Dog and daughter collided in the hallway and suddenly there was vomit all over the back end of that dog! My daughter scampered into the bathroom while the dog ran crazily into my other daughter’s bedroom, jumped on her BRAND NEW comforter and began rolling around on it. I stood in the hallway not knowing which way to go first. Do I get the dog off of my upset teenager’s bed, or do I go rescue the one in the bathroom?

I opted to check on the one who threw up while hearing the other one yell,

“What is happening?!?!”

The next step was to get the dog calmed down which wasn’t easy. Once in insane play mode at over 80 pounds, she was difficult to harness. I finally grabbed her by the collar and dragged her into the tub. She abhored baths and thought of them as punishment, so to make her feel better, I got in with her and turned on the water. She sat down looking defeated and dumbstruck. How had playtime turned into bath time? As I began scrubbing her down, I began to laugh so hard I was crying. Her face looked so dejected.

It had been months since I had really had a genuine good laugh. I had just come through a horrible divorce where grief and pain greeted me each day as a reminder that my life seemed like a failure. There was no room for joy as I went through the motions of trying to get to everyone and everything. The more I laughed, the more depressed the dog looked which made me laugh more.

Once the dog was dry and escaped the bathroom happily, the ill child was sleeping peacefully, and I had loaded the dirty bedding into the washer, I felt relaxed. It was nearly 2 am before I got to bed, but I went to sleep that night feeling that some of the sadness had departed from my spirit. I was on my way to healing.

I believe it is in the moments of what we would call ‘insanity’ that many of us come to realize we need to find our sense of humor. If we don’t find it, it may just come calling for us. Joy snaps us out of a place of despair and connects us again to the One who wants to see us happy.

I decided not to wash off the smell of the laundry soap. It’s my new scent.  Eau De Oxiclean. (That may be French.  I am not sure)

laundry

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.

Giving Me A Leg Up

I have dealt with self hatred my entire life.  I have gotten better, however, there are moments when I still criticize myself in subtle ways. While entering the store with my daughter the other day,  I noticed my reflection in the glass door. In that split second I thought, “I need to work on my legs to shape them up.” I had on a brand new tank top, shoes and a pair of shorts that I had purchased at the end of the season last year so they are fairly new. Instead of feeling good about my new clothes, I was slightly finding something wrong with myself.   It was a fleeting thought that soon was gone as we went up and down the aisles gathering my items off of my list.

As we exited, I noticed a pair of legs that appeared to belong to a woman.  She was standing near a garbage can off to the right side of where we came out.  Normally, my attention is not drawn to legs, but hers were covered with scabs from her kneecaps to her ankles.  Below her left knee she was wearing a large bandage.  From my quick glance, I could see that her wounds were dry but looked red and inflammed.  As I approached her line of sight I was telling myself,
“Don’t stare. Don’t stare.”  I put my head down as I strode past her.  My arms were full so I just pretended to be preoccupied with my bags.

“You look comfortable,” she said quietly to me. I stopped and turned to her.  Her smile was radiant.

“What?” I asked in disbelief.

“You look comfortable.”  I smiled wondering when she was going to ask me for money.  I knew where this was going.

“I do?” I asked.  I glanced down at myself and said, “Really?” She continued to smile and said again,

“Yes.  You look really comfortable in that.”

I allowed myself to look at her more closely. She was wearing a pretty sundress that came to just above her knees which clearly left her leg wounds exposed and open for all to judge and see.

“You are the one with the nice dress on,”I replied. “This is the best time of year to wear a dress in the warm weather. That looks good on you.”   She nodded and smiled.

“You just look very comfortable,” she said it again.

“Thank you,” I replied.

“Have a good day,” she said.

“You too.”

As I walked to the car, I was dumbfounded.  She had not asked me for any money, but she had given me something.  A compliment!  As my daughter and I discussed the situation I said,

“Did you see how bad her legs looked?”

“No.”

“What?!  Her legs were covered with wounds like she had leprosy.  I was trying not to stare at her before she started talking to me.  And, why did she say I looked comfortable?  I was questioning earlier if I really liked this shirt, but now I do. She actually made me feel good about myself.”

“I thought she was saying that you look comfortable in your own skin,” my daughter said.  “Like you appear confident and you like yourself.”

“HUH?”  Then it hit me. I recalled my harsh mental critique of myself when I had entered the store.

“You didn’t see her legs?”I asked again.

“No.”

“I’m going to drive around and see if she is still there.”  I pulled my car around the building and headed for the entry.  She was gone.  I drove away feeling like she had been sent to get something straightened out on the inside of me.

In the last few days I have been thinking about her smile and her words of kindess.  As I am becoming more aware of my faulty thinking, I am wondering where this all started.  When did I become conditioned to find something wrong with myself instead of finding something right?  Maybe it was demeaning words spoken to me at school as a child, a family member who picked on me or the media and its constant opinion of what is ugly or beautiful.  What do all of these things have in common?  Another person’s idea or judgment.

What trumps all of that?  The One who made me.  There is a passage in the Bible that says, “You are God’s Masterpiece.”  A Masterpiece lacks imperfection.  It is time to live in a place mentally where I let go of the negative self image that has some how made its way into my life.  The only legs I should ever judge should be the chicken legs I am about to purchase and make for dinner.  To the mystery lady who helped me see the error in my thinking, I say thank you for giving me a leg up.

chickenlegs