Illusion

Having two daughters spaced four years apart had its challenges. The younger one always wanted to be as advanced as her sister and was slightly annoyed if she felt I was paying more attention to her sibling. She made sure I knew it. Even before she could speak, she would make it known that she wanted to be the top dog.

She noticed early on that our physical abilities were superior to hers, and she wasn’t happy until she was on the same level.

She learned to crawl by eight months old and began to pull herself up by using the furniture to hang on to within that same time frame.

One night, she saw that we were sitting with a blanket over us. My oldest daughter had meticulously set up her pillow, a few stuffed animals and had settled in next to me, absolutely content watching one of her favorite shows.

The other one came by, pulled on the blanket, and screeched. She pulled so hard that before I could lift her that it sent her sister’s enormous bowl of popcorn showering all over us. The quilt we were using ended up on the ground. The stuffed animals were in a crumpled mess with pillows scattered everywhere.

Like that magic trick where the person pulls the tablecloth, but the silverware doesn’t budge.

Jealousy and competition had given her the strength of ten people. It was so shocking to witness an infant take over like that.

While we cleaned up the mess, she sat on the floor laughing.

She progressed quickly from barely walking and was fully able to run by nine months old. Not always steadily, but with speed.

“Mom! Help!”

I saw the two of them run by, but the younger one had gotten a hold of the back of her sister’s nightgown. She had her in a hostage situation, clutching onto the material with both hands. While the little one beamed with glee, the other one panicked.

“Mom! She has me! Help!”

It was the strangest sight to see the younger one executing such a power play over someone who could easily outmatch her.

“You do know she’s a baby. You are four. You are older and can get away from her?”

I unhooked her from her kidnapper so she could go free.

When the oldest was learning to print her name when she turned 5, I thought it would be a great idea to have her write it on all the valentines for a homeschool party she would attend with other kids her age. I figured after 40 of them, she would have it down pretty good.

I didn’t want to leave the other out even though she did not yet possess the motor skills. I found her a little purple ink stamp with her name on it so she could use it.

Before I left the room, I said,

“Only use that on the paper, okay? Don’t put that on anything but the paper.”

She nodded in understanding.

I left for milliseconds and returned to find her name emblazoned across her forehead, arms, and any place bare skin had been. The one across her lips was creative.

Her sister had been so concentrated on forming each letter of her name that she hadn’t noticed the rampage next to her.

It wouldn’t be the last time she had a run-in with ink.

A few months later, while her sister attended a roller skating birthday party, she and I sat off to the side watching. I had brought an assortment of things for her to do, including washable markers and coloring books. I had glanced up to check on her sister when I heard the sucking in of air, like a deep gasp.

I quickly turned back to find her holding both hands up in front of her face in total horror. Her color choice had been red, and it had gotten on her fingers.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, wondering why this was so traumatic. She could come into the house totally filthy and not care. Her mouth was wide open in a silent scream as she gathered in as much oxygen as her lungs would allow. Then the wailing started.

I had a difficult time making out what she was trying to say.

“I..I..I am….bl…eed…”

“What? I don’t understand.”

“I AM BLEEDING!” She used all of her strength to say it as panic shut her down.

It appeared that she had been playing with sharp knives.

I got out a wet wipe and quickly cleaned her hands. Within a split second, she looked down, smiled, and said,

“Oh.”

Things aren’t always as they appear. Like a funhouse mirror that distorts your image to make you look taller or shorter, sometimes our senses and how we think can play tricks on us.

Three years ago, I had my roof replaced after a storm. A sunny day suddenly turned dark as the skies broiled angrily with fast moving clouds.

I had received a message from a family member that they had gotten hit with strong winds, and he sent photos of chunks of hail. It was headed my way.

Our sirens were going off, indicating that we should go into the basement. However, it looked so calm outside that I went out to see how ominous it was. My daughter and I watched as large raindrops started to hit the driveway. We were standing in a corner that provided us the ability to not get wet between the house and the garage.

Slight sprinklings of pea-sized hail began.

“This isn’t good,” I said. “I think we should go in.”

As I said this, it was as if a switch was thrown, and ice baseballs began to come down everywhere. We were trapped because there was no way to come out for a split second without getting nailed with multiple of these.

We watched as puddles in the street looked like they were hit with small bombs nonstop. We huddled in the corner as the wind whipped branches and other debris flew in the air.

Once we quit screaming, we went back into the house unscathed. But, I knew that the house was not.

I immediately contacted my insurance representative, who sent over someone the next day to help. It was determined I had damage, and the process for repair on paper was begun.

First, I had to come up with a $2500 deductible, which I did not have.

“We can fix this right now,” he said.

“I don’t have the deductible at the moment.”

I knew if I had him do the work, I would be in debt. I was using everything I had to pay off a $10,000 debt that had been strangling me financially for over eight years. I had vowed to myself never to create more of it after taking lousy advice under pressure in the past and being too trusting.

This meant living in a limited, constricted way. I didn’t want to add to the stress.

“We do roofs until the first week of October. That way, we know we won’t have any snow. You are one of my first houses. We will book up quickly, so we really should do it right now.”

As he said this, one of my neighbors appeared.

“Do you replace roofs?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“Can you look at mine?“

After inspecting it, it was determined she needed it fixed.

“How quickly can you do this? I’m putting it on the market next week.”

There were workers all over her property by the next day, and I had been given a referral discount off of mine.

I noticed another neighbor needed work done, so I wondered if they wanted a second opinion. They already had a sign in their yard from one of the many companies going door to door. I knew the competition was high.

After my inspection, a stranger came with a ladder and climbed up unsolicited. When I confronted him with the threat I could report him to the city; he realized he was at the wrong address and quickly left.

When my other neighbor signed up with the man I referred, this meant another discount for me.

I was still short $1500.

With work being completed on both sides of me, I was tempted to get it done and figure out the cost later. I kept hearing to wait it out.

By early fall, I received a higher property tax refund than anticipated.

“I think we should fix your gutters, too,” I was told in the interim. “I will do them at cost.”

Four months had gone by while I watched everyone else having work done. We had gorgeous weather, and I had paid it off in full by the time the job was completed. I had made up my mind not to allow more debt.

What had appeared impossible at the start took care of itself.

The only slight setback in the whole process was that the noise of the reconstruction had deeply disturbed one of my dogs. It was as if she anticipated the entire house crashing down even though there was no danger. She refused to sleep lying down, but as fatigue would hit her, she would fall over, wake up, and the process would start again. For days she did this until her body forced her back into a regular sleep pattern.

Her faulty senses and limited ability to understand had resulted in her being a nervous wreck.

Unlike her, we have access to insider information that can be easily tapped into if we allow it.

In Jeremiah 33:3 it says:

This is God’s Message, the God who made earth, made it livable and lasting, known everywhere as God: ‘Call to me, and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.’ (Message)

This leading generally doesn’t come in noisily but rather in subtle, quiet ways that only can be heard when there is no fear interference. Your reaction in the moment of adversity will determine how long you suffer.

Frustration, competition, and jealousy aren’t the ways out.

If you are willing to put aside what you think is true and seek out the One of all truth, the drama gets silenced. You won’t bleed to death because it’s just an illusion.

Imposter

I had a tree taken down in my backyard two years ago. I had gotten rid of some of the wood by offering to cart it over to the new neighbors who had just put in a fire pit. The rest of this massive tree sat stacked up against the shed with the idea it would be burned. 

Common sense took over, and maybe a touch of generosity as I considered getting rid of it. I saw a sign at a store that a small bundle of it was selling for $8, so I thought maybe someone could use it since I probably would not outlive the pile.

On the first day, I did a small test run to see if it would attract any attention. Because it was only 30 degrees at the time, I had the beginning of frostbite set in, so I lost the ability to feel my hands, forcing me to quit. 

I put out smaller pieces with a FREE sign and left for about 30 minutes. I returned to see that where I had placed it was empty. 

The following afternoon, I returned to the backyard with gloved hands, warmer weather, and an anger infused attitude. Like seething, yet justified. They say that faith can move mountains. When you are unhappy, you can use that to your advantage and throw heavy logs around like toothpicks. When you think of one injustice suffered, you can suddenly think of a million of them. They all come flooding in with friends. 

You consider your losses and how they occurred, and why. The things you wished you would have said at the time, but the maddening knowledge it wouldn’t have made a difference. So you turn to the woodpile and take it out on that because it’s an inanimate object that you cannot damage or offend. 

To the outside observer, I looked like a workhorse ripping through a spring clean-up job, getting ahead of the summer heat by performing a strenuous activity in cooler temperatures. My outward rage was really masking a stab directly to my heart that I somehow couldn’t run away from. Whatever barrier God had placed before was gone, so I had to feel it thoroughly to get rid of it. 

Talking about it wasn’t helping me go around it. Praying for it to go away had done nothing. I had to go through it to release it. 

At one point, I stopped for a second and realized that the nagging thoughts about a different issue had gone away momentarily. A while ago, I read that the brain can only have you address one conflict at a time, which is why multitasking leads to overload. My long list of concerns had been whittled down to this one upset consuming all of my emotions and attention. 

What had been bothering me so much earlier was now forgotten as this painful grievance took center stage. It had been ignited from a few words sent my way by text that had set me spiraling into this hurt that had been waiting in the shadows for its time to come.

I went to grab a gigantic piece of trunk, and because it had been untouched for two years, the bark easily slid right off. Before, it had been heavy with water, almost immovable, but now after drying out, I could manage it somewhat without pulling every back and arm muscle. 

I made one trip after another to the front yard, stacking all shapes and sizes, pushing a wheelbarrow up an incline with adrenaline leading the way. As the physical exhaustion hit, I moved to stage two, where the flowing tears slowed me down. The confines and darkness of the shed gave me a minute of privacy. 

Like the tree, I had gotten down to the inner layer of the turmoil. My bark had slipped off, and I let all the water that had been trapped inside of me out to make me feel lighter to let go of this burden that I had been carrying below the surface. 

I stood there alone, wondering why it had come to this and how. 

When I returned to what I was doing, I decided only to take one more load. I knew I was pushing myself beyond my capability. With a lot more to go for a few days ahead, I didn’t want to leave myself physically incapacitated and unable to finish. 

I took smaller pieces this time, feeling weak and barely able to get to the boulevard. I saw him loading his car. He smiled at me as if I were his best friend.

“Take it all,” I said to him as he raced back and forth, and I unloaded what I had been able to manage. 

“I will. You have no idea how happy this makes me. We love building fires, and wood is way too expensive.”

“I put some out yesterday, and it disappeared quickly.”

“That was me. My wife drove by and called me, saying I had to get over here. We live up the street and my neighbor cut down a tree. I knocked on their door to see if I could take some, but they never answered. Then she saw this.”

“I have more,” I said.

“Really? I will take as much as I can.”

When he couldn’t cram anymore in, he said,

“I will come back,” just as another car pulled up to take his place. A lady with two kids rolled down the windows. A boy in the back said, 

“Is the wood free?”

“Yes. You can take as much as you want. I’m trying to get rid of it.”

“Really?”

I didn’t realize how unbelievable this was to people.

“Yes. Whatever I put out here is to be taken, and I have a lot more. Even larger pieces than this.”

They jumped out and started loading their trunk.

The woman asked,

“Is it okay if we come back later to get more?”

“Yes,” I said as I trailed off to keep going. 

Now that I had seen the gratitude, I had to keep going despite wanting to quit. Sometimes you put yourself aside during a struggle to bring joy to others. 

I made one last pile and let the rest go for the next day. I stopped because my daughter came outside and saw my condition. Strangers couldn’t recognize the anguish I had just been through, but she could. Sometimes, you need someone to come along and tell you that you have done enough. 

As I was getting into my car to leave, the woman had returned with her kids and others.

“I told my neighbors so they could take some too.”

“Thank you,” I said. “I thought no one would want it.”

“Are you kidding me? Do you know how much this costs? We should be thanking you!”

We don’t always know the value of things or even ourselves. 

I have been working on writing out an affirmation ten times daily for almost a month now. I follow this by writing out what a dream life would be. This piece of advice was presented to me, and I knew it was God’s direction. 

As I sat writing out everything that came to my mind about how I want the rest of my life to go, I heard,

“If something or someone doesn’t fit into what you write on this paper, let that be the test by which you determine what stays and what has to go. This is the way to make it be what you want so you avoid making mistakes. Only allow what will open the door to the life you want.”

I put together an artificial Christmas tree I no longer need the following day. It was from my past and had been up in the attic for years. When I hear in my mind that “someone can use that,” I don’t hesitate to put it out so it can go to its owner. 

I set it up by the woodpile and realized I was looking at a counterfeit tree up against something that had been living and breathing in my backyard at one time. The one that had provided shade and towered up so high now was in jagged pieces. Disease had brought it to its end, and it had been brought down in mercy. 

Both serve a purpose with the same title, but one is fake, pretending to be something it is not. It’s a green glorified bristle brush that can be beautiful if adorned with sparkly additions. Without all the glitz, it doesn’t hold a candle to a genuine creation by God. 

It never ever will be real, no matter how hard it tries. 

That pine scent in a can? It’s manufactured. You aren’t fooling anyone, especially when you have to spray it to keep the facade going. 

You can’t go on like that, wanting to live an authentic life all the while covering yourself with a smile, hoping that circumstances will line up to how you want them to be. If God has designed you for a purpose, and you have surrendered yourself to heaven’s call no matter what, all the deceptions and situations that hold you back or keep you in your place will be removed not to hurt you but to free you. 

When the saw gets taken to dismantle what isn’t aligned to your spiritual advancement, you are cut through to your core down to the root. Only then do you find what you were missing.

We spend a lot of time stringing up lights and throwing tinsel on ourselves, trying to fit in because that’s all we have ever done. And maybe without realizing it. 

In Matthew 16:25-26, an important truth is revealed:

Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me, and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for? (Message)

I have been shown there’s more to gain by living in honesty, no longer an imposter.

One of these things is not like the others…

Pickle

When I decided to home school, I was not met with much support. Many people had the idea that this direction in life was too risky. They thought I was putting my children into some experiment that would result in them being different from their peer group.

Exactly. 

It wasn’t viewed as I saw it. It was frowned upon as a negative, and I was warping them for life. I could always tell when the conversation was drifting that way.

“Do they have friends?”

“Yes.”

“Can they read?”

“Yes.”

“Are you a teacher?”

“No.”

“Oh.”

There was always this undercurrent of judgment that I was going against the natural order of things, which must have meant a disaster was coming on the horizon. 

An older man said to me,

“So you will have them miss out on dating football players?”

He was serious. 

Out of all the questions about their academia and overall well-being, he was concerned that there wouldn’t be an opportunity for them to go out with a hormone-enraged teenage boy who had no stability to offer. 

How could I be so irresponsible, manipulating my daughters’ futures like this? 

My girls were 14 and 17 at the time. 

“I guess so,” I said. “I have decided to let them bypass that one.”

He shook his head and clicked his tongue at me like I was an absolute lunatic. 

I wonder where all those football players are now? At the chiropractor, getting an adjustment, scheduling an MRI, and paying child support. 

I knew right from the start that what I was doing was not accepted by the general public. So much so that I threw myself into every single activity that came our way.

I helped start a co-op at a church I was attending. I came up with a name, and we printed off tee shirts, so every time we met or went somewhere, the kids and parents had on something that represented to the public we were not hiding behind closed doors. 

I planned field trips, wrote out a monthly newsletter, and taught weekly gym classes to all the kids from kindergarten on up. 

And we fit in school. Sometimes in the car on the way to whatever we were doing for that day. 

While cleaning, I found an old yearbook that I had helped put together back then.

“This is where I spit into the bushes,” I said, paging through it, reminiscing. 

We took the kids to a farm not too far from my house. It’s been converted into a historical working site that allows visitors to see how it was run in the 1800s. The man who was the original owner learned by reading everything out of various books and experimenting with crops and irrigation. He didn’t come from a lineage of farmers. He was just a guy who knew he could be a success at something without any experience by applying his knowledge. He was driven by learning something new despite the naysayers. 

Similar to homeschooling. 

During each season, they did different activities so the kids could get an idea of what life was like during a long-gone period. 

In the fall, they were shown how sorghum(sugar) was pressed out of plants, and they were allowed to do this by turning a wooden handle on an old-looking machine. In the spring, they participated in planting by walking behind two oxen as a plow sliced through the soil. 

From whatever year we had teleported ourselves back into, the instructors were dressed in that attire. The homestead was preserved so we got to see where they lived and how the indoor work was done. They took the kids through the process of churning butter by hand and making homemade pickles. 

I was handed one by an employee playing the part of one of the family members. No one wanted to sample them, and I wasn’t too excited to either, but I took it to be nice. I put it in my mouth but didn’t commit to chewing. I expected the usual salty dill taste of a vegetable that had been brined. 

It was not even close to that. And as my eyes began to water, I wondered if these were a fresh batch or leftover from the actual 1800s. I could not fathom swallowing it, but I had no backup plan. No napkin. There was nowhere to get rid of it as she stayed in character, expounding on the fact that the recipe was ages old. 

The second she freed us, I turned to go up the cellar stairs, but I got trapped behind other people. I silently prayed no one would speak to me as the juices from this rancid circular disc on my tongue slowly dripped down my throat. 

Right outside the door was an enormous bush. This would be where I spit and spit until I had nothing left to give except for my DNA for historical purposes. As I was in the throes of it, I heard a little girl say,

“Those pickles looked gross!”

You have no idea, child.

It reminds me of this verse from Revelation 3:

I know your deeds that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked?’(NIV)

Chasing a high social status and keeping up false appearances that distract you from serving your true purpose can make one blind and deaf spiritually so that you become useless. It’s easy to believe that you are on the right track when you are surrounded by all that you have acquired. Yet, you and God can be distant. 

God wants to use you in the capacity you have been born to fulfill. Material possessions and habitual living, like a comfort zone out of balance, can be stumbling blocks. It can hinder seeking and finding out why you are here. 

I recall spitting out something else surprisingly disgusting on another occasion. My mom was in the middle of baking brownies from scratch. I walked by, saw a piece of chocolate, and popped it into my mouth. 

“You will not like that,” she said, barely looking away from her measuring spoon.

“Why?”

“It’s unsweetened. It’s probably going to be….”

I heard the word “bitter” as I hung my whole face over the garbage, trying to get rid of it. 

How can something that looked so great on the outside be so toxic on the inside? 

For the next time you are in a heated trivia game, here are 11 signs of someone housing bitterness: 

  1. They hold a grudge
  2. They are always complaining 
  3. They are not grateful for the good in their life
  4. They want bad things to happen to others, so they stay superior 
  5. Jealous of others who have good happening 
  6. Can’t share in others’ joy
  7. Want the spotlight 
  8. Highly cynical
  9. Quick to blame others for their problems 
  10. Nothing positive to say about positive people
  11. Make sweeping assumptions 

Why is this so destructive? Because it affects everyone around them negatively with a high potential to cause others to join in and fall away from God. It’s a pattern of behavior not easily broken, and it sucks the life out of life. But, it’s also low-level living and can be appealing because it doesn’t require any growth. Like being drug-addicted, this is easy to start and difficult to end. And misery loves company. 

It’s explained in Hebrews 12:

Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time. Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift to satisfy a short-term appetite. You well know how Esau later regretted that impulsive act and wanted God’s blessing—but by then it was too late, tears or no tears. (Message)

So how do we avoid getting lured in by the enticement and the world’s empty promises? Or the critical, sour voices that want to drag us down spiritually? You get quiet, ask for help, and this will follow: 

Taste and see that the Lord is good;

blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 34:8/NIV) 

He will distance you from the people and things that keep you from your destiny. 

This is promised in Psalm 91: 

If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,” says God,

    “I’ll get you out of any trouble.

I’ll give you the best of care

    if you’ll only get to know and trust me.

Call me, and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times;

   I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party.”(Message)

Whether your problems are self-inflicted or not, heaven’s biggest desire is that you complete the work you were sent here to do. When you set your heart entirely on that, God will help you get out of any pickle. 

Don’t buy these, and skip the sour grapes

Song

I had been putting it off for weeks. I didn’t want to go up the rickety ladder to clean out the attic. But, there was this nagging feeling to get it done. It has pull-down wooden stairs, and then I have to put a shorter ladder underneath it to climb them. One of the springs holding the whole thing has come loose on one side, and it feels wobbly as I go up every time. I always tighten the screws on each side to make myself feel better.

I always keep my fingers crossed that this won’t be when I have to cash in my life insurance policy. I have learned how to go up quickly if everything gives way. And then I will live there for the rest of time, surrounded by all the things that I should have gotten rid of long ago.

I always go up intending to throw things away, but then I come across my kryptonite. The photo albums that I forgot were there. Suddenly, four hours have gone by, and I have nothing to show for it except wondering where the time has gone. Not for just that day, but years that I will never see again. And my natural hair color. Gone. Just like that.

This time, I also was dealing with some items I had taken from my parents’ home when I cleaned it three years ago. I pushed aside my mom’s wedding dress that I couldn’t throw, but no one wanted and started making discard and keep piles.

I felt so sluggish as I attempted to do this. Not energetic at all about setting myself free of things that no longer were serving a purpose. That is how I usually feel when I do this. I donate to the Salvation Army next to new items, which has always motivated me to clean so that someone else can use them. But that mental trick wasn’t working either.

I quit wondering why I was feeling so lazy and decided to wait until the next day to get it finished. I forced myself up there again with my oldest daughter catching what I was tossing to her below. They say that what goes up must come down. That was not the case with the gigantic Christmas tree I forgot was in a bag.

I tried every angle to push that through the opening to no avail. I even placed both of my feet on it and shoved. I realized I was making sounds like you would hear if someone gave birth.

“Are you grabbing this?” I asked, finally getting it past the metal hinges on the stairs it had gotten caught on.

No answer.

“Hey! Are you catching this?” I asked again, trying not to slide down with it.

She was too busy recording me. You just can’t get good help these days.

I kept going, and once the momentum built, I was not slowing down. As I handed her an item that sent a plume of dust all over her, I said,

“Do we still have your old guitar?”

“I don’t think so,” she said, coughing.

I turned and saw the black cloth zippered case and wasn’t sure. But, when I opened it, it was a perfectly brand new Fender electric guitar that was barely used.

This was from a time when she thought she wanted to learn and took brief lessons online with an instructor. After a while, she got bored with it. When I handed her this to take down, she said,

“I don’t know why I thought I wanted to do this.”

Usually, after determining what I would donate, I load everything in my car and drive to the thrift store to give it all away, but I had started so late on a Sunday that I decided to wait until the next day.

When I woke up the following morning, I heard very distinctly that I was to go to a particular location right by my house after an appointment that I had. I wasn’t sure why, but I never usually do.

I pulled around the back of the building and waited behind a car with a small trailer attached to it. A man came and went from the donation center, loading up shopping carts and taking them in.

Once the guy in front of me moved on, I pulled up and started taking things out of the back of my car. The worker pulled another cart and started helping me. When we got down to the last donation, I said,

“I have a strange question.”

This is the part where I always find myself in uncertain territory. Sometimes they take what you have, and other times you have to go elsewhere to get rid of things. During COVID, they took next to nothing for fear of spreading the disease.

“I have a brand new electric guitar to give away. But, I don’t know if you take those here.”

I handed it to him. I knew it was valued at $300, but that made no difference. I just wanted someone who needed it to have it.

Oddly, this very talkative man went mute. I couldn’t tell if he was struggling to tell me I had to go to a music store or list it for sale. He just stood there, staring at it. Because I have been turned away so many times and had to drag things back home, I said,

“I don’t even care if one of the intake workers takes this. I don’t want to have to deal with it.”

He just stared at it. And I kept trying to figure out why he had gone silent. He moved forward and put it back in my car.

Oh, great. He was too afraid to tell me I had to take it back.

Quietly, he said,

“I am in rehab. I am sixty days sober.”

“That’s good,” I said suddenly, unsure where we were going with this conversation.

Stammering, he said quietly,

“I really want that guitar.”

Now I was the one who had lost all of her words.

“You do?”

“Yes. I have been in rehab, and I am learning to play the guitar. I could really use that.”

It was one of those moments where you just know you have not been out of the divine timing of God one second. I might have missed him if I had cleaned the attic on Saturday and driven it over. Our paths were set to cross exactly then so God could show him that he was on the right road. I wasn’t lazy on Saturday! Or, at least, that’s what I decided.

“Where is your car? I can put it in there for you.”

I realized that he could get into trouble for this, so I tried to sneak it into his possession.

“I don’t have one. I lost all privileges. I get picked up by a bus at the end of my shift. Could I take your phone number and have my case manager call you?”

That sounded a little unsafe to me.

“What is your phone number?”

“I had that taken away too. I am still on probation because I have only completed 60 days.”

“You realize that this is God speaking to you right now, right?” I asked. “He sends me to help people, and He is telling you that if you learn how to play this instrument, this will be your way to stay sober and live a better life.”

He smiled and said,

“Yes. I know. That’s why I really want that guitar. Maybe you can Google where I am staying and talk to my caseworker.”

I told him I would and had to pull forward as another person pulled in behind me.

I looked up the address, and after some confusion, I was put in touch with someone in human resources. I left a message for the caseworker he had told me to contact.

I realized I had not heard back the next day, so I called and left another message. It was going to be challenging to get rid of me. I was going to keep calling until I got this delivered to him.

After a day of waiting, I was instructed where I could go to drop off the guitar and the speaker. This meant I would have to drive outside of my comfort zone and into the heart of the city that has had a lot of controversy in the past few years. Riots, violence, and other unsavory things have been going on there, but I was not going to be deterred.

I stuffed down my slight anxiety when I felt the darkness that seemed to be there and hurried into the rehab center.

I was greeted by a man sitting at a desk inhaling a donut.

“How can I help you,” he said, shoving in more of it.

“I was told I could drop off a guitar and speaker for a man who lives here.”

When I told him the man’s name, he said,

“Oh. He is learning how to play the guitar, and he is getting good at it.”

“I wasn’t sure this would work out, so I am glad.”

“I am a little jealous. I wish I had a pretty lady dropping off gifts for me.”

I saw that there was a placard on the desk that said Blessed.

“You are blessed, though,” I said quickly to get the attention off of me.

“Not really,” he said, laughing. “Are you nervous?”

I was trying my hardest not to let that show.

“Yes. I am not familiar with this neighborhood. I am always afraid of getting lost, and this isn’t the nicest spot to be in.”

“Me too,” he said. “It is scary down here.”

How reassuring.

Another guy came down the stairs.

“This is my boss. Is it okay if she leaves this guitar and speaker?”

When it was explained what I was doing, this man said,

“That is so nice of you! This is his second time in, and he is doing so well.”

“I told him that God was telling him to stay on the path he was on. The guitar was his sign.”

“Do you want to be a counselor here?” The donut guy behind the desk asked. Uh, no.

“God can do anything,” the other man said. “He can just come along and do anything. Everyone needs a sign from God.”

I just wanted about one million angels to escort me back to my car parked by a ladened graffiti building.

“We will be sure he gets that to start using it right away.”

I drove past the donation place on the way home, but there was no sign of him. I am sure they rotate their help where it’s needed. It wasn’t lost on me that I had helped a person to know God loved him. And the weird part was that I wasn’t even aware of it at the time. A musician from heaven was directing my steps.

In Psalm 96, it says this:

Good people, cheer God!
Right-living people sound best when praising.
Use guitars to reinforce your Hallelujahs! (Message)

You never know how you will be used to help others sing a new song.

Seeking

“You have to work from the end to the beginning,” he said. 

It wasn’t often that my dad got involved with my homework, but for some reason, he saw me struggling and jumped in to rescue me so I could learn a life-changing skill. 

He graduated with all F’s, so I am sure this shortcut he was about to show me came from his days of looking for an easy way out. And pure genius that they never would teach you in school.

When you are in first grade, the powers that be want to keep you interested in attending, so the workload is minimal. The love-hate relationship between me and having to sit for hours at a desk hadn’t kicked in at that age yet. I was still eager to show up and try to do the assignments that were sent home.

He saw me moving a pencil across a sheet of paper and erasing. So much erasing and sighing. He knew all the signs of overwhelm. 

“What are you doing, Chris?”

He sat down at the table next to me and took the paper so he could see it. 

“Are you having trouble with this?”

It was obvious. 

“Do you see where it says the word end?”

“Yes.”

“Start there. Whenever you do a maze on paper, start at the end and work your way back to the start.”

I looked at it again from a different perspective. 

I was following the crowd, and he was telling me not to. I had been so focused on getting to the conclusion and following the instructions that I didn’t realize I could do it any other way. I thought, on some level, it was cheating if I didn’t do it like everyone else was attempting to. 

I thought it was written in stone that I had only one way of solving the problem, so it was blocking me from figuring it out.  

Having the teacher say,

“I’m sending you home with a puzzle to solve,” was another mental obstacle. 

Even then, I was sensitive to words and their impression on me. One phrase or sentence can emotionally impact me subconsciously, and I have to discern whether it’s the truth or not. I didn’t realize I had this “gift” then. 

I automatically visualize when someone tells me something, and I can’t unsee it. It connects me to what is being said so I can understand and empathize with a situation as if I have experienced it. I can bypass it at other times because I have taught myself how to do that. But, at this age, I was still not aware of what my mind did with information. 

To say I was impressionable was an understatement. It was like a superpower that I had to learn how to harness to use for good.  

The word ‘puzzle’ set the idea it would be difficult. This wasn’t going to be a simple flashcard with an image on it like a cow, dog, or a pig that I had to identify and verbalize. It was a more challenging task to complete, and it wasn’t like she gave us a rallying speech that said she knew we could accomplish it. 

It was more daunting as if we were not going to graduate from life if we came back with the wrong answer. 

He handed it back to me, and with his finger, he showed me this clear-cut path that led to the start. There were no dead ends or starting completely over. There was no questioning of left or right, getting hung up in a far dark corner and then figuring out which way to go. It cut the confusion completely out and illuminated the only way. 

“Start at the opposite end of the paper and work your way to the top.”

I felt like I had been shown a way where there seemed to be no way. I was free from the dilemma that had been handed to me and given guidance from someone who had been in my situation before. 

Within seconds, I followed what he had told me to do, and I was no longer chained down to what the public school system thought would shape me into a better person.  

His advice was good, and when I taught my girls this method, they found it to be foolproof. They were saved from the same torment that I was.  

After proving that we could escape an enclosure on paper, we were sent home with a word search where we had to circle whatever terms were listed at the bottom. 

I was having trouble finding a particular word. It was one massive conglomeration of letters in rows that had no meaning but were hiding what I was determined to find. 

While I was sweating it out, my mom noticed I was stuck. 

“Chris, pick out one letter and just look for that one. It will eventually lead you to what you are trying to find.”

For example, if you are trying to find the word zebra, look for a z only. 

When I put her trick to the test, just like my dad’s instructions for making things less complicated, it saved me time. Instead of looking at the big picture, I focused my attention on a smaller scale.

“If you break something apart, it makes it easier to spot instead of looking at all of it at once.”

There were solid spiritual messages that I don’t think either party was aware of in both cases, but now I get it.  

Starting at the bottom and working your way to the top can happen after you have decided to give up what you thought was right, but God is calling you to a new way. It’s part of a rebuilding process where everything seems as if you are doing things from a backward standpoint to get to where you want to go. So much erasing. 

Nothing is familiar; you feel like you die a new death every day, and by night, you cry yourself to sleep, questioning your decision-making, being pulled by what you know is God because the signs keep on showing up. And somehow, you keep trying to walk in the way your spirit leads you. 

Sometimes you aren’t walking but dragging yourself down the path with the promise that things might get better. Most of that is just the fatigue from insomnia, but you cling to this from Psalm 119:1-8:

You’re blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God.

You’re blessed when you follow his directions,

doing your best to find him.

That’s right—you don’t go off on your own;

you walk straight along the road he set.

You, God, prescribed the right way to live;

now you expect us to live it.

Oh, that my steps might be steady,

keeping to the course you set;

Then I’d never have any regrets

in comparing my life with your counsel.

I thank you for speaking straight from your heart;

I learn the pattern of your righteous ways.

I’m going to do what you tell me to do;

don’t ever walk off and leave me. (Message)

My mom’s help reminds me of this from Matthew 6:34:

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. (Message)

If that doesn’t say to take the largeness of life and go piece by piece, one day at a time, I don’t know what does. 

Most of us want to do things in the order that makes sense, and we want it done yesterday. That usually isn’t how God makes things happen. 

“Seek,” she said to me.  

It was one of those moments when I didn’t want to take her advice, but there it was already in the air and aimed at me.   

“What?” I asked my youngest daughter.

“You need to seek.”

“No, I think you do.”

We were watching tennis, so it felt right to volley it back at her. 

“NO, you do.”  

She wasn’t the one questioning everything, so maybe she was right. 

I picked up a journal that I had written in several months prior, and it fell open to a page where I had written in the margin,

Seek Ye First

I forgot I had written it. I turned it around so she could see it—big mistake. Her piercing stare said it was now an assignment. 

In Matthew 6:30-33 it says:

If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. (Message)

You already know the ending when you see a movie or read a book more than once. Isaiah 46 follows along with that idea. 

I am God, the only God you’ve had or ever will have—

    incomparable, irreplaceable—

From the very beginning telling you what the ending will be,

All along letting you in

on what is going to happen,

Assuring you, ‘I’m in this for the long haul,

I’ll do exactly what I set out to do’. (Message)

And in John 16:13, we are promised this:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. (NLT)

If you find yourself trying to figure something out, God promises to show you things that might not make sense now but will help during the struggle of the seeking. 

(Is it bad if I see the word BAD in the Love puzzle?)

Honorable Discharge

Before taking a single psychology class, I grew up in an environment that taught me more by observation than any professor ever could. No textbook could even come close to the education I received by being born into the household where I somehow landed.

“Your dad is using selective hearing again,” my mom announced as she stalked past me.

I had not heard of that term before. Why would I? I was in middle school and not married.

“What is that?”

“It’s when someone hears you, but they pretend that they don’t. But then you can ask another question, maybe something that interests them, and miraculously they respond to you. He does this to me all the time.”

I had seen it in action, but I didn’t know it had an official name.

There could be two reasons for this. Either he had trained himself to do it because it got overwhelming with so many kids in the house, or she just asked too many questions.

“I wonder why he does it?” She asked.

See? Like that.

“Did you ask him?”

“Yes. He didn’t hear me.”

He was a master.

A few weeks ago, all of these memories of him putting her on ignore came rushing back to me.

I was at his apartment while a physical therapist was working with him.

“Can you stand up?” She said in a highly elevated tone of voice.

It has been officially determined that he now has hearing loss in both ears due to his military training. He had no problem while I was growing up, but he has used hearing aids to help as he has aged.

I went to the audiologist with him for testing a few years ago at a veteran’s clinic.

The room we had to be in was soundproof and actually hurt my ears because it was so quiet. I didn’t realize that seclusion could be painful.

“He lip-reads almost ninety-nine percent of the time even with hearing aids in,” she said.

So when Covid hit, and all the mask-wearing began, it became impossible to communicate with that on.

When the physical therapist asked him to stand, I thought he hadn’t heard her because her mouth was covered.

“Did you hear her say to get up?”

“She did?”

“Yes. Can you stand up?”

At almost ninety, it’s a challenge, but he eventually will. After walking and running through strengthening exercises, I see he starts to fade out, and his attention span gets short.

She explained to me his limitations and what she could do to keep him strong without taking away his independence in other areas. While all of this discussion was going on, I looked over at him, wondering how this fully affected him. He won’t ever tell me anything unless I really probe for answers.

He puts on somewhat of a front, keeping his true feelings hidden.

He was wearing a new listening device that connects to a small battery-operated unit with earbuds to amplify sound.

When I had first put it on him and was going to adjust the volume, I asked,

“Can you hear me?”

He looked right at me and said,

“No, Chris. I can’t hear you.”

That was my sign it was functioning correctly.

With her going through a rundown of all that he can’t do, I was slightly concerned that this would bother him.

“Do you want some water?” I asked him, interrupting her. He didn’t answer me. I thought maybe he hadn’t heard me, so I repeated it. Nothing.

“Can you hear me?” I asked, wondering if the new device was malfunctioning. He still seemed not to hear me.

I repeated my question with no response.

This time I decided to upgrade.

“Can you hear me, or are you choosing not to?”

“Selective hearing,” he said, then smiled.

“Do you have that on your list for him to work on?” I asked her.

Unfortunately, it isn’t.

Later, I started to inquire about his time in the military, which had led to his hearing loss.

“I was in training to use a 40-millimeter anti-aircraft gun.”

“What was that for?”

“To shoot down airplanes.”

“And they didn’t know back then to have you wear ear protection?”

“Right. So that caused damage to my hearing.”

He went into the National Guard at seventeen and served once a month while in high school.

“I made $40 doing that. Then, the Korean War was cropping up, and they needed people, so I went into the army.”

I’m not sure how he gained the position, but he became a sergeant. He had been in a street gang as a leader, so that might have come into play when they looked for recruits who they needed to enforce discipline.

“Those were not the best of days,” he said. “I didn’t like the bayonet training.”

From as far back as I could remember, he didn’t speak much about this time of his life. Just a couple of things like how he would pour cold water on the same guy who took a shower.

My dad would be shaving at a sink, and this man would come in after everyone else had left.

“He liked to have the place to himself. And he would sing at the top of his lungs. He wasn’t that great of a singer.”

While he was in the stall, my dad would pour a cup of cold water on his head and quickly run back to the sink and go back to looking in the mirror.

“Who did that?” the man would yell, pulling back the shower curtain.

My dad, not giving any eye contact and keeping the blade to his face, would say,

“He went that way,” and would nod toward the door.

“He never caught on that it was me. I would let a few days go by in between to throw him off. He always asked me who it was but never thought it was me.”

Another event he went through was not as humorous.

“Was the worst part the guy who died? The one who wouldn’t listen to you?”

“Yes. I had to take his tags and send them to the family after he was killed.”

He put in all the work of getting young men ready for battle, and there was one who never followed his instructions.

“He was belligerent. Always talking back at me and would do what I said but always did something slightly to change it to what he thought was best.”

Just before being sent over to Korea, it was determined that my dad could not go. He had allergies that made his eyes water and burn, so it was decided to hold him back.

“I had trained them, and I didn’t get to go with them. That was not easy. I didn’t know who I would ever see again.”

The first to die was the man who thought he knew it all. A sniper hit him because he hadn’t followed instructions on entering a situation he found himself in, and he became an easy target.

“I tried to get him in line, but he just would not listen to me.”

My dad saw Proverbs 12:1 in action:

If you love learning, you love the discipline that goes with it—how shortsighted to refuse correction! (Message)

Whenever he reflects on this, I still see an incredible sadness overcome him. Like it was his fault in some way, and it haunts him.

I equate that to when we ignore God.

Some portray this as a fire and brimstone type of relationship where if we don’t follow orders, we are subjected to the hatred of God. But we aren’t.

In Ephesians 4:30, we find that we can cause a different reaction when we don’t follow the voice of God:

Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted. (Message)

Being proactive is always better by asking for help and applying this instruction from Jeremiah 33:3:

“Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” (ESV)

What landmines and trouble could you avoid by asking for answers from the One who can see what you can’t? God doesn’t want a spiritual sniper to take you out prematurely from fulfilling what you were put on earth for.

I place before you Life and Death, Blessing and Curse. Choose life so that you and your children will live. And love God, your God, listening obediently to him, firmly embracing him. (Deuteronomy 3:19-20)

Above all else, our goal should be to follow God, do what we are told, and we will be granted from this life into heaven an honorable discharge.

Genuine

Minnesota is known for a food atrocity that probably has graced the tables of those unfortunate enough to have put it in their shopping carts. My mom was one of them, and I absolutely refused to partake of it. Meat processed into a can with a globby gel around it ranks right up there with eating chocolate-covered insects. 

I watched a documentary where this lady could not stop consuming lint no matter how detrimental it was to her health. When she would hear the buzzer go off on the dryer, she would take out the trap and start swallowing down the fuzz that had collected on it. Another person’s obsession was hand sanitizer that was guzzled down like water.

If this meat product had been included, I would not have been surprised. 

There must be those who love it, though, because there has been an entire booth set up at the state fair devoted to this. These are the ones with stomachs of steel and absent gag reflexes. They stand in line and pay actual money that they worked hard for in exchange for something that is said to be food, but is it?

They fry it, bake it, grill it, chop it, slice it. They pass this off as a versatile food source that is convenient because it’s precooked, and it never dies because it’s questionable if it ever walked the earth. 

I recall innocently wandering into the kitchen as a child as a can of this was opened.  

“What is that?” I asked.

She made me smell it, and the gooey appearance brought on an instant hunger strike.

“You will like it.”  

This always was the beginning of the coaxing me to try something that I knew I already would hate. When another person had to tell me that I would have an affinity for something, I was already putting up all sorts of defenses.

She knew I was the type of kid who would not eat cooked carrots but accepted them as raw. Hot cereal was death, and cooked beets, kill me now. There wasn’t enough milk produced in the industry to help me get those down without letting them touch my taste buds. She wouldn’t let me plug my nose, either, because that wasn’t ‘good table manners.’ 

It made her uncomfortable seeing me suffering, so I had to hide it and try not to cough, which would have sent everything from my mouth onto the table, and well, that would have ruined everything.    

And, now she was leaping to selling me on canned meat? She had clearly lost her ability to think straight after eating products ladened with chemicals like the very thing she was trying to convince me to swallow. 

She never got her way, and it was a good thing she didn’t. All she saw were dollar signs because this was a cheap fix for a meal. I could go munch down grass out of the backyard for no charge to maintain my life span and enjoy it more. 

Multiple articles claim that this cube-shaped charlatan acting as a protein is full of salt, sugar and processed as much as it can be. How did they combat the bad press and the negativity? They made a light version to accommodate those who are health conscious. They took out more of the bad things to make it better. 

Don’t sign me up. 

And, there are recipes out there. I came across one that lists the top one hundred. That is one hundred too many. Someone asked what the best way was to eat this—the answer: straight out of the can. The real inquiry should be: why, why, why? 

One person thought it was great to shape it into donuts and fry them. To add to the choke factor, they suggested putting chunks of it into the homemade ‘dough’. 

The draw is the affordability, and its craze, with some, has earned it an iconic place in society where there is a museum and merchandise you can wear on your body to let the entire world know that you eat meat out of a metal can. And if that isn’t enough, some restaurants have it on their menu, and the health department does not shut them down. 

I don’t find it an accident that it shares its name with the category in my email that junk mail lands. 

I hadn’t put much thought into that folder. I just figured the system was filtering out sales pitches or offers that would be a waste of my time. In a way, it’s nice to have an invisible hand doing that on my behalf. Some analytical program decides that I shouldn’t be bothered with information that isn’t necessary. It’s so close to being royalty it’s a little frightening.  

Away with you, peasant! I am sorry, but she cannot read that right now. She is by appointment only.

I didn’t have to be bothered with it, and I was a better person for it until I was forced to go there. 

I had tried to reset a password, and instead of sending it to my primary folder, it got sent to the dark abyss. After waiting more than the long sixty seconds that it said I had to, it was suggested I check the other location. 

Much to my amazement, I had compiled an assortment of correspondence that left me wondering who had sold my address to satan. There were not just a few but hundreds of inquiries in all shapes and forms soliciting all kinds of things that left my eyes burning. I actually shut them and started hitting delete. 

I devote a part of my morning to erasing these that seem to keep finding me every day now. Instead of taking the time to get rid of a week’s worth, I found that if I keep up with it, it’s less time-consuming. 

I began to wonder how one gets a job sending out these invitations? There seems to be some thought that goes into the type of emojis and bold capital letters. Not so much the English language is considered, but someone is making a living doing this, somewhere, hoping I will click on the link. 

Outside of the R-rated biddings for my attention, some offer compensation for the legal problems that are plaguing me. In contrast, others want me to finally claim that sum of money sitting in my account for ages with interest collecting. Why am I not responding to the sweepstakes I entered that would give me the life of my dreams?  

At the same time, the IRS is going to put me in jail for something, Amazon loves me and wants to give me a $1000 gift card, and a long-lost relative wants to find me so we can catch up and wouldn’t you know they live in a foreign country? How wonderful that someone in my family tree branched out like that and made something of themselves, stealing credit card numbers in a coffee shop across the ocean.

While all of this might be tempting to some, I have no problem sending them out of sight forever. 

So, why do I do this? Because I know they are there now. Before, I didn’t. I lived in ignorance, and it was beautiful. 

One of my concerns is that if I should die, what would someone think if they opened up my email and found all of these racy, desperate pleas? Just sitting there, like I hadn’t removed them, as if it was okay. I couldn’t live with myself after death if that happened. So, it’s now part of my daily existence to keep up a good image, even if it’s just for me to know, and to save some poor unfortunate soul if I depart. 

The other thing is, I don’t like fake.

Almost every single one of these is based on a scam and trying to bait people into circumstances that aren’t good. This is where the deception begins, where words are used to manipulate and entice into something that has absolutely no substance. I have seen so many people, usually those who are looking for something that is missing, fall for these types of schemes, thinking it will be life-changing. 

After taking over as my dad’s power of attorney, I had to fight off a company that kept coming to him for money that he shouldn’t have been spending. When they wouldn’t leave him alone and flooded his mailbox with their emotionally driven requests, I sent them a letter explaining my position in his life, which put a stop to it. It seems to quiet the waters when you toss the word ‘lawsuit’ out there. 

It ends your valuable customer status quickly.

I am not the only one who doesn’t like shady offers. Look at what this says from Psalm 101:3:

Help me to refuse the low and vulgar things; help me to abhor all crooked deals of every kind, to have no part in them. (TLB)

They inundate us and constantly seek our attention, but we have the choice to remove them from our experience. 

It’s a worthwhile endeavor to start thinning out those things that pose as real but aren’t. From food to friends, God wants you to have the best, and it will be genuine. 

Nightmares, right here

Watching

“My watch isn’t working,” he said, looking down at his wrist.

“Again?” I asked, hoping silently it was just off by a few minutes.

As my dad has aged, seasons and time have come to mean nothing. Yet, he wants the security of a band encircling his arm, reminding him of the hour and day.

Right as fall changed to winter, and snow was coming down outside his apartment, I said,

“It’s so horrible outside right now.” I had driven on slippery roads to get to him to be sure he was okay.

“Spring is coming,” he said.

I pointed to the large clock displaying the time, day, and month.

“What does that say?”

He squinted.

“It says December 28th.”

“When did winter start? What day?”

“I don’t know. Why?”

“You just said spring is coming. Winter just started on December 21. How many days ago was that?”

He often goes silent while calculating numbers in his mind.

“7 days ago? It’s only been winter for a week?”

“Yes.”

“Spring is still coming, though.”

“When isn’t it?”

The other discussion he has with me a lot lately is how long my mom has been in heaven and the length of time he has been at an assisted living.

“How long have I been here?”

“Three years this summer.”

“What? I thought it was less than a year. Where have I been all this time? I don’t remember almost three years going by.”

“It has.”

“Mom has been gone that long?”

“Yes.”

“I’m losing it, Chris. I really am.”

“It’s okay. What difference does any of this make? As long as you are safe and have help. Nothing else matters.”

To cut down on the confusion, I try to ensure that the time is correct if he has his watch on. So when he said it wasn’t working, I looked at it.

As with everything he has ever owned, this particular timepiece was probably in his possession since the pioneer days. He comes from an era that gets rid of nothing.

Less than a year ago, I had replaced the battery because he wouldn’t let me buy him a new watch. He had two, and both had stopped functioning. He sent me on a mission to have fresh batteries installed.

I walked into a department store, thinking the person at the jewelry counter could help. A guy was trying on sunglasses from a case. As he put each one on and looked in a mirror and handed them back, she had a disinfectant wipe at the ready.

“Can I help you?” She said while Mr. Ray-Ban was preoccupied with himself in the mirror.

I took out both watches and told her what I needed.

“You will have to go to a battery store. Since Covid, our store policy doesn’t allow us to touch personal items anymore.”

“How do these look on me?” He asked like I had shown up as his personal fashion assistant.

“Great,” I answered, wondering how one virus had taken away so many things, except for vanity.

I went to the place she suggested. One was quickly fixed.

“You will have to go to a jewelry store specifically for this other one. I don’t have the proper tool to open it.”

I paid for the one, got back in my car, and went to destination three to see if they could help. You will go to great lengths for the ones under your care.

The second one was put back in working order, and I took them to him.

When I showed him they were fixed, it was like his lifeline to the world had been restored. He promptly fastened it back where he felt it belonged.

The familiarity of it, I realized, was an anchor for him, somehow helping him be grounded in a subtle way.

One of the two stopped working immediately.

“Just forget it, Chris. I can use this one.”

Well, that one less than a year later was now starting to fade again, and I didn’t want to go through the process of a battery change.

“This has quit working.”

“Should I get you a new one?”

The question was going to yield an answer I could not guess. I was assuming he was going to cling to the old.

“Yes. I think I want something else.”

Talk about throwing all caution to the wind!

That small change for a person nearing ninety is quite the step.

Happy that I didn’t have to go through the hassle of the battery, I went to the store. I realized I was not aware of the assortment of watches that there are to choose from. I needed something simple.

I use my phone to see the time. I was delving into an arena I hadn’t been paying attention to since the 80s.

No, I don’t want to monitor his heart rate; he worries enough, and knowing him, he would watch the numbers go up and worry more. No, he doesn’t need a stopwatch function because he isn’t running track. No, it can’t have five million buttons on both sides. Yes, it required a large face with two different hands.

I laughed when I saw the display for Casio. I instantly saw John Candy in Trains, Planes, and Automobiles trying to sell it so he could get a hotel room.

I found a rare one that only kept time and had a small window showing the date.

When I arrived, there was an activity about ready to happen with a lady playing the piano. I showed him the watch.

“I will set it for you while she plays,” I said.

He glanced down at his wrist, remembering something was absent.

“I don’t have the time.”

“I think you have quite a bit of it unless you are now working a full-time job that I’m not aware of.”

He laughed.

“No. I have plenty of time, just not something to tell me how slow the day is going.”

While sitting next to him at the social event, I was trying to read the fine print. Not just fine, but super small, like I needed a magnifying glass. I held up the tiny paper away from me to try and focus.

I heard him laugh slightly. I squinted. I moved the instructions closer.

He leaned over and said,

“You need a new pair of glasses now that you have bought me a new watch.” I didn’t have my glasses on.

“And a refresher course in a foreign language because I just realized I was trying to read in Spanish.”

After I got it set, I slipped it on his arm.

He looked at it and said,

“It’s not working, Chris.”

“What? This is brand new.”

Sure enough, it had stopped for no reason.

“I think you have lived past your time,” I said smiling, and he laughed again. “This is a sign your time is up.” He has been in multiple situations where he has dodged death, so I knew he would not take me seriously.

When I tried to snap the band back in place, it wouldn’t. I thought I had succeeded, and it fell to the floor. But, it was running right. So that was going in my favor.

“When things are fighting me this much, I’m thinking you are not supposed to be concerned with time at all.”

After a lot more struggling, I had it, and so did he.

Sighing, he said,

“Nothing seems easy anymore. I need to move on from all of this.”

“You will someday,” I said.

We all will. The one thing we all can count on besides a Timex that keeps on ticking is our departure. But no one wants to really talk about it.

A few months ago, I took an online course to be certified as a death doula. Just like there are people devoted to bringing babies into the world, there are those who want to help people go on to eternity.

When my dentist asked me what I was up to, and I told him, he said,

“You are a death angel? Is that what you are? People see you coming and run?”

He also asked if I needed less novocaine since I was so in tune with the afterlife.

In one of the chapters of the material, there were resources listed that a person could use to discuss the topic with more ease. One way this is happening is death coffee shops popping up. I have had a cup of coffee or two taste like death, but these places are expressly set up to have people get together and converse solely about their demise. Instead of avoiding it, they are planning what they want and making sure to write out what they don’t.

We aren’t accustomed to not knowing what is next. You can pull up a guide on your remote, and it will list every single show that will be on for days. If you are going somewhere, you can map it out and see precisely where you will be and when. Almost every electronic device has a timer, so you can set it and know it will turn on and off at certain hours.

But when it comes to the ultimate end, we don’t fully know, which causes many not to want to think about it. In Ecclesiastes 12:7 it says,

Life, lovely while it lasts, is soon over. Life as we know it, precious and beautiful, ends. The body is put back in the same ground it came from. The spirit returns to God, who first breathed it. (Message)

You aren’t guaranteed a tomorrow, and while that sounds morbid, it should prompt you to live today with a more significant awareness of the people God has put into your life for a reason, that the minor irritations that come your way, like getting delayed, mean nothing in the vast scheme of things, and that you are a vital piece of the puzzle, needed to fulfill your life purpose.

Colossians 3:2 will help keep your focus on what is important:

Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. (NLT)

A sense of peace will come when you decide to do that. This will help you go through your days, knowing that you are not doing this alone and God is watching.

Trust

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

“What is it?”

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

“I don’t know,” she said.

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

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

“My name is on it,” she said.

She picked up one of the three mystery items.

“I’m not even sure what this is.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Does that have it in it?”

“Yes.”

“What about that?”

“Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

It makes one wonder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s wax.”

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

“I think for anything.”

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

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

“Each of these is worth $20.”

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

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

“What is this?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vision

My parents smoked many cigarettes when the surgeon general wasn’t involved with warning labels.

“We were told it was only dangerous in that it would stunt a person’s growth,” my mom said.

Then the world should be full of short people.

Obviously, this was a myth that kept many citizens puffing away, all the while making their lungs turn black.

“Once we found out that it could cause more health issues, we quit.”

Well, sort of.

My dad traded the death sticks over to smoking a pipe. I remember seeing it hanging out of his mouth while he was sawing something in half, driving a nail into a board, or in the stands watching me play softball.

“I love the smell of that,” many of my friends would say.

While some were impressed by his habit, my mom was not. Usually, she summed it up in one word:

“Ick.”

Part of the reason for her dislike of this was that he would leave pipes all over the house. The basement, outside, or anywhere he felt he was going to need to smoke, he would leave one for later. His dresser was always a mess with a few of them there.

I would often hear him say to her,

“Have you seen my pipe?”

“Which one? You have a million of them.”

He would start looking, unhappily wasting his time when he could be outside doing something else. She would leave for a few seconds, unable to deal with his mumbling during the rescue mission.

“Here. I found one,” she would say, handing him what he had been trying to find.

It took me a while to catch on, but I figured out that she would, in an attempt to keep the clutter down, move all of them into one central location that he wasn’t aware of.

While he would happily leave with it in his possession, thinking she was the best locator of missing items, she knew exactly where they were all along.

Their relationship had small, built-in devices like that, where she got her way without him realizing it.

“When we were first married, he wanted to go sit at a bar with his friends and leave me at home. He did this before we were together, but I wasn’t in favor of that once we got married, and I told him. He refused to listen to me. So one Friday night, I got dressed up and told him I was going out without him.”

I knew he had been extremely protective of her. He had never gotten over witnessing her dance with another guy after he had said no while they were dating. Having her about to leave him in her dust to go off to a shady place on a Friday night set him off into panic mode.

She had been raised in a small town, which made him consider her naive and unable to handle herself in the “real” world. He would always say to me,

“I met her right after she fell off the turnip truck.” Or, “She is a country bumpkin that just fell out of a wagon.”

Then he would laugh while she shook her head. He had no idea how much she actually used all that to her advantage. He believed she was not up to his speed while quietly she got him to do her bidding, believing that it was his own idea. So, who was the turnip?

Seeing her about to leave him brought on a meltdown.

“He would not let me leave. He stood in front of the door, refusing to move. I had made the whole thing up to see what he would do. I never told him I didn’t have plans, but he got so upset by it, he said he wouldn’t leave me sitting at home alone ever again.”

There was a reason why she had done this.

“His friends were wild and not married yet, so I didn’t want him out there acting like them and coming home drunk. I felt this would eventually ruin everything, so that’s why I did it. He would not listen to me, so I thought to myself..I will show you. It worked. He knew what men were like at bars back then, and he couldn’t bear the idea of me being on display. We came to an agreement that we would go places together to guard our marriage at the beginning.”

Her tactic was to get him to see her point of view without saying a word as she was about to walk out the door with no place to go.

She became a full-time mom when all the kids started showing up. This didn’t stop her from educating herself regarding the latest health problems and their causes.

Because I ended up being with her the most as the others grew up and moved out, I was often involved in her findings of what was considered cutting-edge information.

“It says here that steak can harm your arteries.”

She was like a sponge when she read the newspaper, learning as she had extra time with fewer children to deal with.

For some reason, I had no idea that she had discovered that smoking a pipe had been linked to lip, tongue, and cheek cancer. This bothered her so much that she demanded he quit. She couldn’t use her usual technique of getting him to see things her way with a bait and switch approach. He just needed to believe her on this one.

Now we know it to be accurate, but at the time, it wasn’t prevalent knowledge, so it could be easily dismissed as “it won’t ever happen to me.”

One night from work, I came home and parked my car in the garage.

He kept his vehicle outside and gave me his spot—another perk of being born last, way after everyone else.

While my siblings had to leave their cars in the driveway in the heat of summer or blizzards of winter, he moved out so I could move in. I had grandparents at that point.

On that particular night that I pulled in, I heard a loud crunching sound near my front wheel on the driver’s side. I immediately stopped, jumped out, and saw a plastic bag sticking out from my tire.

I backed up with more crunching.

I got out, picked up the bag, and saw that I had crushed his pipes. I had no idea where they had come from. These were on their way to the graveyard with no way to save them. The back and forth over them had murdered them.

I thought nothing of it. I didn’t do it on purpose, and I knew he had more somewhere. I parked and took the bag inside. It was summer with the air running at top speed, and the house was closed up, so she hadn’t heard me come home.

She was in the living room reading. She looked up and said,

“What do you have in your hand?”

I held up the bag.

“I think I ran over some of dad’s pipes.”

Her mouth popped open. I got worried for a minute, thinking she was mad at me. I knew that familiar look where her eyebrows met in the middle, and her eyes looked like they could kill.

“He told me he quit!”

Oh. So I wasn’t in trouble, then? But, there was another storm ready to blow up.

She flew by me, snatched the bag, and stomped out the door.

“John! Where are you?”

Just run! I wanted to send him a message telepathically.

She was taking this outside where the neighbors might hear? She was seeing red.

I walked over to the window and saw him trying to develop some sort of explanation. She was an infuriated country bumpkin.

I opened the window slightly to hear what stellar excuse he was going to give.

“How many more of these do you have?” She said, shaking the pieces in the bag.

I knew she was coming at him for a good reason, but I felt a little guilty, like I had just walked him to the executioner.

“That’s all I had left. I put them in the garage so I could still have some without you knowing.”

Cringe. Not good.

“This is it?”

“Yes. I had them hidden, and I must have left them out. When she pulled in, they fell under her tire.”

A coincidence? I don’t think so.

I watched her walk over to the garbage and throw them away.

“I promise that’s it. I don’t have anymore.”

She noticed that I felt responsible for their argument when she came back in.

“God used you, Chris. Don’t feel bad about that. It was supposed to happen.”

I didn’t fully get it.

He stuck to his word, even though it was difficult at times getting past the craving for it, but his marriage was higher up on the priority list. And in the end, her urgency to get him to stop freed him from suffering consequences that would have been terrible.

Sometimes you can sense the detrimental while the other person can’t.

That is how God works. Everything is seen from a viewpoint that we might not always understand. Throw in our free will, then we can ignore that still small voice and go on our way, thinking we know it all.

God will place people in your life to be seers. They may come in different shapes and styles, but they are there for your good, prompting you to come up higher and dodging around hazards you may not think are harmful because it’s a habit. Or you are just plain ignorant. Yes, I said it.

The Holy Spirit is described this way in John 16:13:

But when the Friend comes, the Spirit of the Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is. He won’t draw attention to himself, but will make sense out of what is about to happen. (Message)

If you aren’t making yourself available to hear God’s message to you, someone will be sent, motivated by heaven, to try to wake you up to what you need to know. This is not punishment or condemnation, but to illuminate something you are not seeing or paying attention to.

From my experience, I don’t walk away feeling dejected or scolded but instead empowered to deal with an issue that was dragging me down spiritually, like fear or worry. A person looking out for your highest well-being is often a messenger, and you might not understand that at first.

In Isaiah 55:9, there is a reason why we might not get it right away:

For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than yours, and my thoughts than yours. (TLB)

Just like it was believed that smoking cigarettes would hinder a person’s height, not heeding what God is gently trying to tell you will slow down your walk to an elevated place, moving in the direction you are supposed to go. When we cling to what is familiar and not useful, refusing to embrace the truth and shutting the door, God will come through another way.

That is how much heaven wants you to achieve your life purpose and protect you from harm.

When you are blind, it is a promise that a helper will come to get your attention and give you the needed direction and vision.